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Tokyo History

Long before neon lights and advertising signs could be spotted on Tokyo's skyscrapers, there stood a small fishing village named Edo. It was the 12th century and a local warlord, Edo Taro Shigenada, had built a fort in the area. The village of Edo grew, gaining prominence, and expanded into a small city. In 1456, a ruler of a nearby region constructed a castle in Edo, which was eventually passed on to another leader, who declared Edo the capital of the province it was

situated in. Although the imperial capital remained Kyoto, Edo became a bustling city encircled by feudal barons, merchants and samurai. It was also, however, ruled by a feudal military dictatorship known as the Tokugawa shogunate. Established in 1603, this period is now commonly known as the Edo period (for, perhaps, obvious reasons), where the area was ruled by descendants of the Tokugawa family with strict adherence to the warrior-caste system: samurai were at the top, followed by peasant farmers, artisans and merchant traders on the bottom.

But while Edo prospered and became a culturally rich city, its economy weakened and, in 1868, the last Tokugawa descendant gave up the castle in Edo to imperial forces. Having been restored to power, the Japanese emperor took over Edo and made the castle his royal palace. It was at this time when he also renamed the city Tokyo (meaning, “eastern capital”) in order to distinguish it from Kyoto (or, as it’s sometimes called today, Saikyo, meaning “western capital”). Although Tokyo has been known as Japan's capital since 1869, there's been some debate as to whether or not the capital was ever legally transferred to it from Kyoto, which has led to some debate about which is the true capital.

Regardless, Tokyo became the urban epicenter of Japan. It continued to expand, until, in 1923, a devastating earthquake and fire wiped out nearly half of the city's population. It rebuilt, of course, and planners redesigned the city to brace it from future natural disasters (city workers paved wider streets to serve as firebreaks, for example). A few decades later, when World War II hit, the allied forced bombed much of Tokyo's landmarks, industrial plants and ended up killing around 100,000 people.

Yet, over the next two decades, the Japanese witnessed an economic miracle. Jobs were created, buildings were rebuilt—bigger and better than ever before—social welfare improved and Tokyo boomed. So did the rest of the country, as Japan began dominating a range of industries, from steel to shipbuilding and automobiles to home electronic goods. In the early 1990s, Tokyo was hit by a recession. Their bubble economy had burst, temporarily though, and in the past decade and a half, Tokyo became one of the most dynamic cities in the world. It’s full of vibrant clubs, rich museums, a myriad of restaurants, numerous strips of shops and a major financial district.

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Tokyo Travel Guides
 Frommer's Tokyo
 Lonely Planet Tokyo
 Let's Go Tokyo
 Fodors Tokyo