10 EDO-PERIOD SITES TO VISIT IN AND AROUND TOKYO
Japan’s Edo Period (1603–1868) represented the final years of traditional Japanese culture. This was a time of peace and conservatism, when the samurai class sheathed their swords and focused their energies on unification, the arts, a rigid class structure, and isolationism. Unfortunately, due to natural disasters and warfare, much of Edo Period Tokyo has been lost. But there are still places to go to get a taste for the age of samurais, geishas, and shoguns when sightseeing in Tokyo.
1. Edo-Tokyo Museum
Located in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo, this museum chronicles the history of the city from its earliest days to the present, with a special emphasis on the Tokugawa/Edo Period. The architecture, culture, politics, and economy of the city in this era are explored through interactive displays, models, and life-size figures.
2. Asakusa Shrine
One of the few Edo Period sites to survive to this day, Asakusa Shrine, also referred to as Sanja-sama (Shrine of the Three Gods), is located just behind the Buddhist Sens?-ji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. One of the country’s most famous Shinto shrines, Asakusa Shrine was named an “Important Cultural Property” by the Japanese government in 1951. The surrounding area was known as the entertainment quarter (red light district) for the city during the Edo years.
3. Yanaka Cemetery
The resting place of the last shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, as well as Edo Period artists, scholars, politicians, and military leaders, Yanaka Cemetary is almost as famous for its cherry trees as it is for its occupants. Located in the Yanaka district, the cemetery is quite large — nearly 25 acres — with small gardens, stone paths, and some 7,000 graves.
4. Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum
Located in the western suburb of Koganei, the Edo-Tokyo Open-air Architectural Museum is actually an offshoot of the aforementioned Edo-Tokyo Museum. As an open-air site, the Architectural Museum relocates, reconstructs, and preserves historical buildings from as early as the 17th century up to the 20th century.
5. Imperial Palace East Gardens
Once a part of the inner section of the original Edo Castle, the Imperial Palace East Gardens is one of the few parts of the Imperial Palace open to the public. The Ninomaru section is preserved as a traditional Edo Period walking garden.
Just a 30-minute train ride from Tokyo, the city of Kawagoe has an entire district devoted to the preservation of Edo Period buildings and culture, earning it the name “Little Edo.” Of note are parts of the original Edo Castle moved there from Tokyo. Take a ride on an antique bus around the town’s historical attractions.
7. Fukagawa Edo Museum
Smaller and a bit older than the much more talked about Edo-Tokyo Museum, the Fukagawa Edo Museum in Tokyo’s Ryogoku neighborhood is none the less a can’t miss for those out for an Edo Period experience. The lower level is a life-sized recreation of part of downtown Edo during the time of the shoguns.
8. Rikugien Garden
Edo Period nobles built lavish residences in this northern part of Tokyo. Few remnants of these properties remain, except for a garden designed by the feudal lord Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu. Completed in 1695, Rikugien Garden’s paths meander through an idyllic landscape complete with an artificial mountain pass.
9. Nezu Jinja Shrine
With over 50 varieties of azaleas, it’s no wonder Nezu Jinja Shrine is home to an annual azalea festival (held in April and May). It’s also one of Japan’s oldest surviving shrines, having been built some 1,900 years ago. During the Edo Period, Shogun Tsunayoshi Tokugawa moved the shrine from its original location in Sendagi to its present site in Nezu to celebrate the naming of his successor.
So this one may not be an original Edo Period attraction; however, it does try pretty hard to capture the essence of the time, while offering a fun, family oriented atmosphere. Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari is akin to an Epcot Center version of Edo Japan, but what makes it special are the onsen, traditional hot spring baths. For those who have never experienced an onsen, Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari is the perfect place to “get your feet wet.”