Once upon a time Tokyo was a sleepy town on the east coast known as Edo. Kyoto was the official capital of Japan till the 19th century. Tokyo was old Edo which was home of the powerful general Shogun and his Samurais. Towards late 19th century Japan underwent huge political change. Industrialization and growth brought in a new sense of identity. Power was transferred out of the Shoguns clasp to the Emperors once again. It was the beginning of the Meiji era. Tokyo became the new capital of the Meiji emperor. The upper class Edo citizens stayed in an elevated fortified mound naturally protected on the sides by the rivers Sunida Edogawa Kanda and their tributaries. The labour class the potters the fishmongers the iron foundry workers stayed in the lower regions called Shitamachi. Over the years both areas expanded and changed. As the business class with newly acquired riches moved into the Edo, banks/financial institutions sprouted up in Edo. The wood log processing companies, the trading houses, stores and boat loading unloading piers extended Shitamachi. This was again changed as the war drew in. Firebombing by allied air power destroyed a huge swathe of Shitamachi. Post war redevelopment redrew the dynamics of rich-poor segregation. The rapid economic growth saw huge real estate buildup to accommodate the rural population moving in for education and jobs. Thus the current Tokyo landscape is a blend of old and new juxtaposed in a loving and sometimes surprising manner.
The center of the city is Otemachi, a business power center housing the skyscrapers which claim their fame as headquarters of the Japanese conglomerates the Mitsubishi the Mitsui the Sumitomo etc etc. Otemachi gained its original importance being right next to the Imperial palace complex. The imperial economic policies were passed onto the business house representatives through the court members. Thus proximity was important. Around imperial palace on the two sides of Otemachi there is Hibiya, Kudanshita, Kanda, Ochanomizu, Ginza and such places each with a story and character of its own. Right about Otemachi there is the Tokyo railway station, an ornate building that is celebrating 100 th year in 2015. Bullet train (Shinkansen), long distance buses that travel overnight start from Tokyo station. Hibiya has its share of business houses along with a large central park. Kudanshita houses colleges and embassies. Ochanomizu is the center of educational institutions and student activities lined with sports and musical instrument shops. Ginza is the shopping Mecca, with each mall building competing with its next in terms of pomp and grandeur. These areas are business-like in the daytime, but are lively with office returnees hitting the pubs in the evening.
To the south west, there are the foreign embassies and residences with a mix of foreigners. Language schools western music schools clubs and western cuisine restaurants share their place amongst the residential neighborhoods. Roppongi aoyama azabu-juban akasaka Shibuya Omotesando broadly define this area. Western style condominiums along with glitzy hotels and shopping districts dot the area. Roppongi is diners and clubbed paradise while Shibuya is the young ones fashion district. Shibuya 5 point crossing is a famous point if for nothing else but for the sheer number of people crossing the 5 way traffic junction heading to the malls around. Hotels to shacks, eateries to Internet parlours that are open whole night, Shibuya is the place to be if you are young at heart. Nearby Onotesando is more upscale, developed in the style of Paris Boulevard housing dedicated showrooms of Gucci Channel Prada etc etc. yoyogi park next to Omotesando is a vast expanse of greenery with cycling playing resting skating romancing keeping the place ever busy.
Amongst all these the Old traditions and heritage hold their own in the form of Meiji Jingu, the royal Shinto shrine next to Omotesando and Shogun Buddhist Zozoji temple south of Roppongi. Meiji Jingu is one of the finest example of Shinto shrine hidden in a forested precinct in the midst of the fashion districts of Omotesando and yoyogi. Zozoji was where the Shoguns prayed and were buried in the shadows. Do not miss to visit Meiji Jingu and Zozoji if you are staying on Tokyo for a couple of days . Feelings of peace and quiet fill in the mind while the tradition tracing back hundreds of years unfurl before ones eyes.
To the West of the city lies Shinjuku, the busy busy busy center of transport and business combining the trappings of the modern skyscrapers with the sleaze of the oldest profession of mankind. Tokyo metropolitan government office complex boasts of the tallest twin tower in the area, offering a view of the vast city from the free viewing tower. Shinjuku grew as the traffic rest area on the way to Kyoto in the olden days. No wonder thus that Shinjuku rail station now is the busiest rail station in the world. Long distance trains as well as subway converge into the innards of the complex. Huge malls of Odakyu and Keio sprung up around the railway networks managed by the two companies. Other malls in the area belong to Lumine, Takashimaya, Bic Camera. Overnight long distance buses leave from the stop next to the station complex. Hotels of all budget and the continuous flow of trains and buses ensure Shinjuku never sleeps. For a break from all this you can head off to Shinjuku Goen the vast garden with Japanese and Eurpean landscaping and grassy play areas.
Over in the North West lies Ikebukro, another neon-lit transportation center with malls hotels and a mixed population comprising of foreigners and local youth.
To the North lies Akihabara the famed electronic district of Tokyo. In a region of several square miles tax-free shops selling latest TVs washing machines mobiles jostle with the counterculture shops selling Japanese ‘Manga’ comics and Otaku characters.
east of Akihabara is Ueno, a place of historical importance, converted into a sanctuary comprising of greenery, temples, swan boat lake, a zoo with rare animals, and several national museums of arts and science. Ueno is also a major junction with Keisei line to Narita airport leaving from here. ameyokocho next to Ueno park is the quintessential market with sellers selling all kinds of wares and fresh food items at discounted prices. Somehow amongst all the glitzy development this market fell back retaining the old market charm with small shops having wares spilling onto the alleys.
Further east at the North East of Tokyo lies Asakusa which is home to Sensoji the largest and oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Set up by the sacred Sumida river, the temple hosts some of the biggest religious-social festivals that started hundreds of years ago. Over the years the popularity of this place gave rise to Nakamise shopping district a dense array of shops selling all kinds of touristy Japanese memorabilia likes Japanese fans umbrella bells dolls and other trinkets. Sumida river is the site for annual Hanabi the fireworks festival. Tracing back its history to at least six hundreds years back, this festival draws a crowd of hundred thousands and a major annual day on Tokyo calendar.
Finally the east south east region is a more later day development, converting the lazy marshy lowlands of Shitamachi into a sprawling residential area. This is also the place where Sumo schools are there and the Sumo competitions are held. The setting up of the Tokyo Sky tower a leisure cum shopping area has given a new momentum to this area giving rise to multiple shopping malls parks and annual fIairs in the region around Kinshicho. Asian especially Indian and Korean community calls this region home.
Administratively the expansive city of Tokyo is divided into 23 districts. Each district has its own government with elected representatives. Further details on city administration and civil facilities are given in Settling down chapter later.