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Useful Notes / Tokyo

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The Center of the Universe, as well as pink bunny neon signs.

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 treat it as a single 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, reached the price of 100 million yen (US$1 million) per square meter.note  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.

Now for the A-ward Ceremony

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.

  • 01. Chiyoda (千代田)
    • 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. The boundries largely correspond to the historical outer wall of the old Edo Castle (the current Imperial Palace is just its central part) and the land that's been reclaimed from the sea since: historically, the castle ended roughly where the Tokyo Station currently sits.
    • There's 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. Jinbocho also holds the headquarters of major publishers Shueisha and Shogakukan.
    • Here also is the headquarters of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, roughly Japan's equivalent to Scotland Yard. Very prominent in Detective Conan, among other series.
  • 02. Chūō (中央)
    • 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.
    • The Ginza district (famous for high-end shopping) is here, right next-door to the aforementioned book capital of Kanda.
    • Tsukiji fish market (famous for...well, fish. And the auctions that start at four in the morning) to the south, towards the Minato-ku, was here until it closed in October 2018 - the market moved to the Toyosu area of Kōt&#333-ku.
  • 03. Minato (港)
    • 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, and includes the unusually-shaped headquarters of Fuji TV, as well as a life-size Gundam. A little known fact is that actually very little of the whole area is situated in Minato ward, most of the development being spread through the neighboring districts of Koto and Shinagawa.
    • Azabu-juban is located here. And the first anime's Hikawa Shrine is based on a real shrine in Akasaka.
    • It is also the seat of the other, more Westerners-oriented entertainment district of Tokyo, Roppongi. Though it's not only the merry-making, Roppongi also houses many of the foreign embassies, including the Russian one with its infamously long and ugly concrete fencenote  that everyone has to pass while walking from the station towards the Tokyo Tower (which is also happens to sit there).
  • 04. Shinjuku (新宿)
    • Literally translates as "New Lodge", which makes sense as 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 buildingnote  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 (where most of Gintama takes place, though that might be a bit obscured by the general premise of the series).
    • Ōkubo is most known for being Tokyo's most prominent neighborhood of Koreans in Japan.
    • The gigantic Shinjuku Station is literally the busiest passenger station in the world, serving about 4 million passengers a day (and delivering one of the most heartbreaking goodbyes in anime history).
    • For a look at its darker side, check out Tokyo Godfathers.
  • 05. Bunkyo (文京)
    • The Japanese equivalent of Oxbridge and Ivy League is located here.
    • It headquarters not only the Tokyo U, but also the only slightly less known Waseda and Keio private universities, and the less advertised, but much more posh Gakushuin, a traditional alma mater of Japan's old aristocracy, including the Emperor himself, and, surprisingly to many, Hayao Miyazaki.note 
  • 06. Taitō (台東)
    • Sensō-ji, the Buddhist temple with the very famous Kaminarimon 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).
  • 07. Sumida (墨田)
  • 08. Kōtō (江東)
    • Tokyo Big Sight, where the twice-annual Comiket is held, is located in Ariake out on Tokyo Bay (next to Odaiba).
    • While Odaiba is usually being thought of being in Minato, most of it is actually in Koto — technically speaking, only a very small part of the whole development (officially called Tokyo Rinkai Fukutoushin, or Tokyo Waterfront Secondary Downtown), centered around Daiba station of the Yurikamome line, is officially named Daiba and is in Minato. The rest of the neigborhood, south of Wangan Road, is actually called Aomi, and, together with neighboring Ariake island, is in Koto ward. Odaiba is a strictly unofficial name and refers to the whole area, including as well the Higashi-Yashio district in Shinagawa.
    • Home to many Kawaiiko attractions, from the Rainbow Bridge to a whole Hello Kitty theme park.
  • 09. Shinagawa (品川)
    • A mostly residential and commercial district, it was formerly a large suburb and a first station on the historical Tokaido road betweeen Tokyo and Osaka.
    • Together with Roppongi in Minato, the ward's Shinagawa district houses most of the foreign embassies in Tokyo.
    • A yet another part of the whole Odaiba, Higashi-yashio, also happens to be there.
    • Shinagawa station is often adevrtised as a preferrable transfer point for the tourists heading West, towards Kyoto and Osaka, as both Narita Expressnote  and Tokaido Shinkansen to Osaka stop there, and the station itself is much smaller and easier to traverse than the enormous Tokyo Station.
  • 10. Meguro (目黒)
    • Home of the Meguro Parasitology Museum.
  • 11. Ōta (大田)
    • Mostly a residential suburban district with an industrial waterfront and home to Haneda Airport.
  • 12. Setagaya (世田谷)
  • 13. Shibuya (渋谷)
    • 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.
  • 14. Nakano (中野)
    • Anime fans will know of Nakano Broadway, another mecca for related merchandise.
  • 15. Suginami (杉並)
  • 16. Toshima (豊島)
    • To the west of Ikebukuro Station is Otome Road, an anime merchandise center catering to female fans. Including those.
    • Ikebukuro district, in general, is where Durarara!! takes place.
  • 17. Kita (北)
  • 18. Arakawa (荒川)
  • 19. Itabashi (板橋)
  • 20. Nerima (練馬)
  • 21. Adachi (足立)
    • A sprawling, yet sleepy, shitamachi area, mostly wedged in between the Arakawa and Nakagawa River with a small portion stretching to the northern bank of the Sumida River. This portion is Kita-Senju, a funky residential neighborhood centered around a major transfer station (for the Joban Line Rapid service, Tobu Skytree Line, Tsukuba Express and two subway lines) of the same name.
  • 22. Katsushika (葛飾)
  • 23. Edogawa (江戸川)

Western Tokyo

The rest of the Tokyo Metropolis is made up of several other cities (市 shi) collectively known as the Tama (多摩) Region.
  1. Hachiōji (八王子)
  2. Tachikawa (立川)
  3. Musashino (武蔵野)
  4. Mitaka (三鷹)
  5. Ōme (青梅)
  6. Fuchū (府中)
  7. Akishima (昭島)
  8. Chōfu (調布)
  9. Machida (町田)
  10. Koganei (小金井)
  11. Kodaira (小平)
  12. Hino (日野)
  13. Higashimurayama (東村山)
  14. Kokubunji (国分寺)
  15. Kunitachi (国立)
  16. Fussa (福生)
  17. Komae (狛江)
  18. Higashiyamato (東大和)
  19. Kiyose (清瀬)
  20. Higashikurume (東久留米)
  21. Musashimurayama (武蔵村山)
  22. Tama (多摩)
  23. Inagi (稲城)
  24. Hamura (羽村)
  25. Akiruno (あきる野)
  26. Nishitōkyō (西東京)

Further to the west is the Nishitama District (西多摩郡), made up of 3 towns (町 machi) and 1 village (村 mura) rather than incorporated as cities:

  1. Mizuho Town (瑞穂町)
  2. Hinode Town (日の出町)
  3. Hinohara Village (檜原村)
  4. Okutama Town (奥多摩町)

The Islands

Tokyo also has incorporated several islands south of the Japanese main islands as part of several Subprefectures (支庁 shichō) of Tokyo. These comprise the Izu Islands and the Ogasawara Islands (also called "Bonin Islands" in English sources).
  • Izu Islands
    • Ōshima (大島) Subprefecture
    • Miyake (三宅) Subprefecture
    • Hachijō (八丈) Subprefecture
  • Ogasawara Islands
    • Ogasawara (小笠原) Subprefecture

The Volcano Islands are also administered as part of Tokyo, and Iwo Jima is one of these islands, but they have no civilian population. Also, the official name in Japanese is actually "Iwo-to" (硫黄島 Iō-tō) and it literally means "Sulfur Island".


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