The small village of Edo was inhabited by the Edo clan as early as the 12th century. The clan soon wanted to fortify it, and in 1457 construction began on the imposing Edo Castle in the East Garden of the Imperial Palace. In the following centuries, a plethora of impressive temples and shrines followed around Tokyo. The eye-catching orange Asakusa Kannon (Sensoji Temple) and the Meiji Jingu Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji, were some of these majestic constructions that still stand today and are must-sees when visiting the city.
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Despite the construction of Edo Castle in the 15th century, it was not until 1590, when Tokugawa Ieyasu established himself in Edo, that Edo gained a central role in the country. He became the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603. Relatively peaceful times followed during the next centuries. Despite many natural disasters, such as fires and earthquakes that struck the city, Edo became the political and cultural centre of Japan. By the mid-eighteenth century the population had risen to over a million.
The peace lasted until the American Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived and forced the country to allow the importation of foreign goods. This drove up prices, led to inflation, and resulted in riots among the population. The last Tokugawa shogun, Yoshinobu, was overthrown in 1867.
A new era began with Emperor Meiji moving from Kyoto to Edo, now renamed Tokyo. With this, Japan’s capital changed location from Kyoto to Tokyo. During the Meiji era (1868-1912), Tokyo became a city of stone and brick houses, paved roads, telecommunications lines, steam locomotives and partially adopted Western lifestyles.
Subsequently, during the Taisho era (1912-1926), Tokyo attracted even more people, the citizens’ level of education increased – and the city’s cultural life flourished!
The Showa era (1926-1989), beginning shortly after the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake, brought further urban and political development and prosperity to the metropolis.
Chiyoda Imperial Palace is the current residence of the Emperor of Japan. Nevertheless, it is also a historical place as it was the site of the ancient Edo Castle, dating back to 1457.
Edo Castle was thus the impressive residence of the Tokugawa shogun, who ruled the country in the years 1603 – 1867, and served as the headquarters of the military government at the time. Subsequently, Emperor Meiji also took up residence at Edo Castle from 1868 to 1888.
In its heyday, Edo Castle covered a huge area with large moats and ramparts – and had 38 gates to enter the castle.
A devastating fire in Tokyo ravaged the old Edo Castle in 1873. However, a new Imperial Palace was built in 1888, thus transforming the old castle into a modern residence for the Japanese Emperor. The former Edo Castle is now part of Tokyo’s Chiyoda Imperial Palace, and efforts have been made to restore some of the original structures.
Today, the East Gardens (with free admittance) is a lovely park to visit in Tokyo. Entering the park completely breaks the illusion of being in a busy metropolis, as it is surprisingly quiet around the old defense area of the monumental Edo Castle. The architectural style leaves the impression that the place is stuck in a 15th-century time warp. There is nothing around to contradict it, and the place is absolutely unique in both beauty and simplicity.
The contrasts in Tokyo are really stark. Modern buildings and high-tech products appear side by side with a traditional Tokyo with reminiscences of the ancient Edo and Meiji periods. One of these is the famous Shinto shrine Meiji Jingu, which also has a fascinating history.
The Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo was dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who ascended the throne back in history in 1867. This was the end of the feudal era. Emperor Meiji moved the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo – or Edo – which was the historical name for Tokyo. The Meiji era, which lasted until 1912, was an era of modernisation, technological improvements, and a positive approach to Western lifestyles.
It was decided to commemorate the emperor’s role in the Meiji Restoration after his death in 1912. Construction of the Meiji Jingu Shrine began in 1915 and was completed in 1921. However, during World War II, the original shrine was destroyed. Public fundraising led to a reconstruction in 1958.
Shinto wedding ceremonies are frequently held at Meiji Jingu Shrine. Elegant white kimono-clad brides and handsome grooms lead the processions with their close family members. It provides a fascinating insight into old Tokyo, as well as into Japanese traditions, culture, and history.
The 7th-century Buddhist Sensoji Temple, also known as Asakusa Kannon, is another spectacular and famous temple construction in Tokyo. As one of the oldest temples in the region, it is one of the main attractions in Asakusa.
Asakusa Kannon was dedicated to Guan Yin (Bodhisattva Kannon) who is the goddess of mercy and happiness. She is known to protect the people and has done so for more than 1,500 years. The temple allowed people to worship their goddess.
To enter Sensoji Temple, you must pass through Kaminarimon, the ‘thunder gate’, which features a giant paper lantern with lightning and thundercloud motifs. To reach the main building, you pass Nakamise Street and its numerous souvenir stalls, as well as the second temple gate, Hozomon, the ‘Treasure House Gate’.
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Meiji Jingu Shrine & Edo Castle (Old Tokyo)
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