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Edo, the City that Became Tokyo: An Illustrated History    by Akira Naito & Kazuo Hozumi order for
Edo, the City that Became Tokyo
by Akira Naito
Order:  USA  Can
Kodansha International, 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This lovely work by Akira Naito presents Japanese history and architecture, in the context of the development of the country's most famous city from a sleepy fishing village named Edo (meaning 'bay door') to the famed megalopolis of today. Kazuo Hozumi's black and white illustrations bring the past to life before our eyes, from the construction of soaring castle walls to daily life in bustling markets.

Edo, the City that Became Tokyo was translated by H. Mack Horton, whose introduction summarizes the historical coverage of the book, that is mainly the Edo period (1603-1867) when the 'castle town' was the capital of a succession of fifteen Tokugawa shoguns, starting with the renowned Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1590. Horton also tells us of the growth in power of the common townspeople during this period. When East and West met so abruptly at the time of Commodore Perry's intrusion into 1863 Japan, Edo was the 'most populous city on earth'. The book covers the social hierarchy of Edo (from warriors to merchants) and the early specialization of districts, e.g. for tatami makers. The town was developed in a spiral fashion outwards from the castle core, its construction being for some time a national project. Reading about the quarrying of stones and the transport of lumber for the construction made me think of similar (almost inconceivable) projects, such as the building of the Pyramids and Stonehenge.

The book tells us about daimyo mansions, fortified checkpoints, waystations and a relay system, canals, nine bells that announced the time of day throughout the city, temples and festivals, bathhouses and the Pleasure Quarter, Sumo wrestling and Kabuki theater - interestingly, just as in Shakespearian England, all roles were performed by men. And Edo had its Great Fire, just as London did - over 100,000 died and Edo's castle and city were destroyed in two days, then rebuilt with firebreaks and other firefighting considerations. I enjoyed the mention of the fifth shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, named 'Dog Shogun' for his laws against the ill-treatment of animals - he was definitely ahead of his time. Later, enlightened rulers placed suggestion boxes around the city and took action on feedback given in them. There was a Japanese version of Robin Hood, named Nezumikozo Jirokichi. We learn about the development of schools, and of the planting of cherry trees - which led to cherry-blossom viewing as an annual pastime - and much more.

The volume ends with the surrender of Edo castle to the Emperor in 1867, when it became Tokyo, the 'Eastern Capital', and its castle was transformed into today's Imperial Palace. There are references for further reading and an 'Edo Chronology'. Edo, the City that Became Tokyo is a fascinating read, beautifully illustrated - I recommend it highly to anyone interested in Japanese history and/or architecture.

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