Sunday I took advantage of Tara and Patty being out of town to set off on a Tokyo castle mission. (Be still your beating hearts, another castle post!) Edo castle would have been one of the biggest–befitting the shogun–but only the foundation stones and a few protected gates remain. Tokyo still centers around the old castle site, though, starting with our little neighborhood which once sat just outside the outer walls and beside a reservoir. There’s a 5km jogging track around the inner-moat where the Imperial Palace still stands, but I wanted to trace the outer walls and see what was left. The path is still clearly visible, sketched out by train lines, a few canals, and Sotoboridori– “castle moat road”–which traces the old perimeter in a roughly 13km ring.
Starting from our little neighborhood of Akasaka, the closest remnant is the Akasaka-mitsuke neighborhood to the west. Mitsuke is an approach to a castle gate– one of the guarded entrances across the moat and into the castle grounds. The castle bridge is gone, but there’s a small ‘historic’ bridge over a bit of the canal, guarded only by helpful traffic cops.
This neighborhood would have housed estates for major regional lords and the select family members who staying in Tokyo as year-round hostages. The daimyo’s compounds would also have housed warriors who could help defend the castle if necessary. A friendly castle guide at the end of my wanderings told me this western approach to Edo castle was considered the most dangerous so three of the strongest vassal families had huge residences there. The current residences (hotels and impressive-only-by-modern-standards apartment buildings) are manned by small armies of starched bellhops, but they appear to be less intent on repelling the outsiders than on welcoming them further into the city…
After determining there was little else to be found in this neighborhood than a friendly pair of cultists out to introduce reincarnated prime ministers, I popped back out onto the main moat where you can see another of the old bridge crossings and the end of this modern stretch of canal.
Just across Sotoboridori is the Akasaka Palace– an impressive and totally western looking building, but one built long after the Edo castle period, so merely a distraction from the day’s mission!
Past the Palace, the road keeps looping west and gradually north to Yotsuya, a major train intersection and the beginning of the train/Sotoboridori link-up. It seems fitting considering the hustle and bustle that these canals would have seen in Edo’s heyday, that the roads and train lines are thrumming with traffic. Although it’s tempting to imagine that the canal commuters would have been less noisy, I’m sure they kicked up considerably more ruckus hawking their wares…
North of Yatsuya, eventually the road curved back into Iidabashi, where Tara, Vida, and I had a lovely canal-side lunch, oh, ages and ages ago.
Iidabashi really struck me as keeping much the same bone-structure as it would have had hundreds of years ago. The bridge still crosses right between the two old stone foundations where a guarded gate would have stood. And just on the far side, the streets are positively packed with little restaurants and stores, where its easy to imagine old travelers to Edo could have stopped for the night or a small snack before continuing on in. One thing I can’t quite wrap my head around– apparently back in the day, you could see Fuji from the hills in this part of town and the guarded bridge into the castle was called Ushigome, or crowded with cows…. Despite the odd smoky truck, I’m sure the roads smell much better now!
Just north of here, you can still get a small feel for a more genteel way of life at Korakuen park, where we went plum blossom viewing recently. Some of the old castle wall stones were transported here for the garden walls, but I’ve seen them before so I didn’t trek back out there. On we go!
Next up is Suidobashi, which the friendly guide at the castle grounds reminded me is why Edo/Tokyo was able to become such a massive town– a very efficient waterway that delivered fresh water and removed waste water with relatively few plagues. (And when you have earthquakes, fires, typhoons, and volcanoes to worry about, every little bit helps!)
Following the water theme, the next major point on the walk is Ochanomizu– or tea water. This area supplied drinking water to mid-eastern parts of Tokyo until the early 1900s.
It also had a number of large hills, most of which were torn down to make defending the castle easier and to fill in the area east of the castle, which all used to be uninhabited marshland. This marshy area is partly why the castle walls wouldn’t have extended in a full circle. (Actually, despite the map I posted in the beginning, the canals wouldn’t have gone in complete circles either, they spiraled in on the castle, leading a hypothetical enemy in vulnerable spirals if you burned your key bridge crossings early. Since Edo castle was never attacked, I’m sure the ferry boatmen just swore bloody murder at the lack of cross-cutting options.)
Most of the older maps I’ve seen show the walls petering off somewhere around Akihabara, so I turned south there along with Sotobori road and came back along the eastern edge of the castle grounds. From there, I followed the inner castle moat back to Akasaka, but the inner moat is for another walk and another post!