The Center of the Universe with its pink bunny neon sign.
The political and economic center of Japan, Tokyo is the center of the largest metropolis in the world at 35 1/2 million people, roughly 30% of the entire Japanese population. (OK, legally Tokyo is one of Japan's 47 prefectures
that encompasses the original city itself as well as the western suburbs and a string of islands up to 1000 kilometers south to Iwo Jima, but the whole place including Saitama, Chiba, and Yokohama is so crowded and built-up it's easier to count it as a city.) That's pretty much the reason why Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe
as far as Japanese media is concerned.
A History Of The Center of The Universe
Up to the end of the 16th Century, it was a small fishing village called Edo. The political center of Japan at the time was in Kyoto, while the economic center was in nearby Osaka - both located in the Kansai Plain. The Kanto Plain, where Tokyo now resides, was at the frontier of Japanese civilization (the "Wild East
", as it were.) Following the Sengoku Jidai
, Tokugawa Ieyasu
set up shop in Edo because of its rich farmland and made it his center of power. The capital was still officially Kyoto, and the Emperor still lived there, but the true power in the 17th through mid-19th Centuries was in the Tokugawa Shogunate's hands. Tokugawa Iemitsu, Ieyasu's grandson, established the policy of sankin kōtai
("alternate attendance"), which required every daimyō to reside in Edo every other year.
When Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in 1853 in his Black Ships, Japan realized just how far behind they were compared with the "barbarian" West, and set upon a crash modernization program. By this point, Edo had grown to a million people, and when the capital and the Emperor were transferred to the city it was renamed Tokyo, which literally means "Eastern Capital" (東京).note
From here on, Tokyo (really all of Japan's cities) exploded in growth as the nation industrialized.
Tokyo had its share of disasters - the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 caused massive fires all over the city (it struck around lunchtime when people were cooking, and buildings were made of wood because said earthquakes discouraged building with heavier materials), and during World War 2 it was the target of many Allied air raids, the most (in)famous of which were firebombing runs. Tokyo wasn't the only city that got torched, but as the largest city and with so many buildings made of wood, those bombing runs killed more people (directly) than even the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is part of the reason why The Tokyo Fireball
is used so often in Japanese media - it's been such a part of their history (not that it's good or that it was just World War 2 that placed it in the collective consciousness.)
After the war Tokyo and the rest of Japan rebuilt themselves. Foreswearing war as a political tool (Article 9) and reliant on the US for defense in the Cold War, Japan set about dominating the world economically. The Japanese economic miracle in the 1960s and 70s was hailed as a triumph of capitalism, and Tokyo as the central engine of it rode the boom to the top of the world's greatest cities. The city felt the effects of success in the 1980s when real estate in Tokyo began to reach truly mind-boggling heights - by 1989, office space in Ginza, Tokyo's main business district, reach 100 million yen (US$1 million) per square meter
. Corporate Japan felt invincible, and most of the US was inclined to agree
Then 1991 came around.
The bubble burst, the Nikkei (the main stock index for the Tokyo Stock Exchange) tanked badly, Japan's economy hit turbulence, and thanks to the Japanese government's closeness with its business (the very same closeness that enabled Japan to rocket out of World War II's destitution in the first place), it did too little too late to turn it around in time. Japan's economy has been stagnant ever since — two "Lost Decades". For Tokyo's part, its real estate price fell to just 1% of that 100 million yen figure in 1989.
Still, Tokyo continues to grow even as Japan as a whole ages and its overall population declines.
A-ward-ed For A Reason
As mentioned before, Tokyo is legally one of Japan's 47 prefectures. Other prefectures are subdivided into cities, towns, and villages; so is the western half of Tokyo Prefecture (the Tama Area). The eastern half, however, is divided into 23 special wards (特別区, tokubetsu-ku
) - before 1943 this area was known as Tokyo City (along the lines of Kyoto and Osaka Cities) before the government reorganized it.
The special wards act much like municipalities elsewhere in Japan (they elect their own mayors and city councils) but they don't have quite as much control over their area as regular municipalities - they can't pass their own laws, for instance. Local councils do promote the local economy and take care of things like car registration (That Other Wiki
compares the situation to the boroughs of London
), mainly using money granted to them by the metropolitan government. Confusingly, each special ward titles themselves as a "City" in English (e.g., "Chiyoda City").
The 23 wards are the part of Tokyo where most of the really interesting stuff happens in media, so this article will focus on those.
- The center of Japanese politics - the ward itself is centered on the Imperial Palace ("Chiyoda" translates as "field of a thousand generations" and is another name for the Imperial Palace) and extends about a kilometer in each direction, encompassing the National Diet and the Prime Minister's residence are located here. Also here are the Budokan, Tokyo Station, and Yasukuni Shrine.
- There's also this one district in its northeast that anime fans might have heard of called Akihabara.
- Michelle and Maggie went bananas at Jinbocho in Kanda, with store after store of used books.
- Literally "Central Ward-ward", as it is more or less in the center of the 23 wards, as well as the location of Nihonbashi, the bridge where all highway mileage markers to Tokyo are measured. It is the historical commerical center of Tokyo (though Shinjuku has recently been an upstart rival in that department) and many companies remain headquartered here.
- Famous areas here include the Ginza district (famous for high-end shopping) and the Tsukiji fish market (famous for...well, fish. And the auctions that start at four in the morning.)
- Tokyo Big Sight, where the twice-annual Comiket is held, is located in Ariake out on Tokyo Bay (next to Odaiba).
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin if you read Japanese - "港" literally means "port" and this ward contains the port facilities of Tokyo itself (though most actual shipping into and out of the Kanto area nowadays is in Yokohama). Tokyo Tower is located here. Odaiba is an island full of various amusement areas and research parks.
- Azabu-juban is located here. And the first anime's Hikawa Shrine is based on a real shrine in Akasaka.
- Anime fans will know of Nakano Broadway, another mecca for related merchandise.
- Home of a really famous scramble crossing and a famous statue of Hachiko the dog, both in front of the train station. Major fashion center, both in front of the station itself and in Harajuku.
- Literally translates as "New Lodge", which makes sense given this was one of the least-devastated areas of Tokyo in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and today contains a great deal of skyscrapers. Most of the metropolitan government's offices are located here - you might recognize the building as the headquarters of Hypnos. When the sun goes down, the area remains lively with a wide array of entertainment options around Shinjuku Station, the most (in)famous area being Kabuki-cho.
- Ōkubo is most known for being Tokyo's greatest aversion to No Koreans In Japan.
- Sensō-ji, the Buddhist temple with the very famous gate and long rows of small shops, is located in Asakusa.
- Ueno contains, you'll never guess, Ueno Park - the park contains several national museums and temples and holds a statue to Saigo Takamori, the real Last Samurai. It's also home to many of Japan's homeless (parks in general are favored sleeping spots of the homeless in Japan; the fact that Ueno Park is both large and one of the country's first public parks just takes it to the logical conclusion).
- To the west of Ikebukuro Station is Otome Road, an anime merchandise center catering to female fans. Including those.