[Three hollyhocks within a circle is the emblem of the Tokugawa shoguns]
Edo Castle was the biggest castle in Japan - something now difficult to imagine. As with all destroyed castles, only the giant walls stand as a silent testimony to former greatness. The castle at which feet the city of Edo grew up (and to which it thanked its very existence) was first founded in 1457 by the warlord Ota Dokan. He built it on a hill adjacent to Tokyo Bay. It was also known as the Chiyoda Castle, a name still reverberating in the ward encompassing the castle grounds.
In 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu took over that castle and in 1603 turned it into the centerpiece of his new capital Edo. It would remain the political center of Japan for the next 250 years of Tokugawa rule. It had a total circumference of 16 kilometers, an area within which also the shogun's palace and government offices were enclosed. The castle originally boasted a black donjon that looked down upon Edo like a soaring eagle. This towering structure burned in 1657 and was never rebuilt. By that time, Tokugawa power was secure and this type of fortification had become unnecessary.
[Moat and tower of Edo Castle]
The shogunal palace, which stood in the Honmaru area (the first citadel) was destroyed in 1863. In its heyday, it covered an area of 33,000 sq. m. One can get a glimpse of the beauty of these palatial quarters in the Nijo Castle in Kyoto, the only case where such a ceremonial palace has been preserved intact. The only remaining original Honmaru buildings are the Fujimi Yagura and Fujimi Tamon (a small keep and defense house).
The Ninomaru or second citadel contained shogunal residences as well - usually the heir apparent lived here. These buildings were also destroyed in 1867 and now we only have the Hyakunin Bansho (a guardhouse for 100 samurai) and Doshin Bansho left as sad remnants. After Edo had become Tokyo, the empty shell of the castle was partly filled by setting up the imperial palace in the grounds of the Nishinomaru. The Kitanomaru site, the northern part of the castle grounds, has become an open park, with the National Museum of Modern Art and the Budokan.
[Location of the donjon of Edo Castle]
Since the early sixties of the 20th c., also parts of the Honmaru and Ninomaru were restored and opened to the public. Together these are now called the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace or Higashi Gyoen. There are green lawns, a Japanese-style garden, and impressive, crumbling walls, but above all it is a welcome oxygen break in the city. Don't miss the small but fine museum housing the imperial collection, called the Sannomaru Shozokan. Almost next to the museum is a rest house with a small shop where a good English brochure of the East Gardens is sold.
One enters by either the Otemon (one of the original castle gates, built in 1620), Hirakawamon or Kitahanebashimon gates. All three are in the masugata form, meaning there is a square-shaped enclosure between two separate doors, like the security gates in modern buildings. In the central part of the gardens, large blocks of stone have been put in place where once the donjon rose into the sky. Once one could look down upon the city from here, but now the surrounding office buildings soar much higher, so it takes some effort to dream them away and imagine the donjon and, in the grassy field in front of it, the shogunal palace (a small-scale model of this palace is on view in the Edo-Tokyo Museum). Anyway, you need a lot of imagination of you want to see old Edo in present-day Tokyo...
[Remnants of the Ninomaru Garden of Edo Castle]
The carefully landscaped Ninomaru garden of Edo Castle was restored in the 1960s. It lies at the foot of the Shiomizaka slope and is thought to incorporate a garden originally laid out in 1630 by Kobori Enshu. There is not much left of that old garden; in fact, it would be correct to state that the old pond has been used as a starting point to lay out a completely new garden. In part of the Ninomaru area, also 260 symbolic trees from all of Japan's prefectures have been planted and there is a small teahouse to make the refined atmosphere complete. The Honmaru, by the way, has spacious lawns and thus provides the contrast of a more Western-style garden. The East Gardens are not at the pinnacle of garden art, but this is as close as one can come to nature in the center of the metropolis.
There were two shogunal temples in Edo: Zojoji and Kaneiji and both have fallen on sad times. If you think the fate of Zojoji is hard (having had to give up much of its land to the Prince Hotel, a bowling center, and the obscenity of Tokyo Tower, now towering over it like a modern pagoda), then you have not seen Kaneiji yet. Kaneiji has been so much split up and scattered that it seems as if there never was a temple here. Its Main Hall has been tucked away behind the heavy barrier of the Tokyo National Museum, and its pagoda has ended up right in the middle of Ueno Zoo.
Kaneiji Temple was established in 1625 by the Buddhist priest Tenkai, on the request of the Tokugawa shogun. The temple was located to the northwest of Edo Castle, a direction that was considered to be unlucky and therefore needed some spiritual protection. The temple complex was enormous, covering more than a million square meters, and possessing dozens of buildings. It was one of the most important temples of the Tendai sect, with headquarters on Mt. Hiei near Kyoto, and therefore was called the "Hiei of the East." In its glory days it was twice as large as Ueno Park today. Its buildings were almost all destroyed by fire during the short war that raged here when the shogunate fell in 1867, as some of its troops used the temple grounds to make a last stand.
The rather simple, present temple buildings were brought from the Kitain Temple in Kawagoe in 1879; they stand north of the park. In the park itself, only two of the original buildings still survive: the Kiyomizudo Temple, a smaller imitation of the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, including the stage; and the Five Story Pagoda (Goju no To) standing forlornly inside Ueno Zoo.
[Gate to Shogunal graveyard, Kaneiji]
As all buildings have disappeared, one could say that all that is left of the shoguns, are their graves, and even these are not intact. Except for Ieyasu, the first, and Iemitsu, the third shogun, all others were buried in Edo, in either Kaneiji or Zojoji in Shiba. War and real estate development have taken their toll of both places. In both locations the dead shoguns were literally bombed out of their graves in WWII. In Zojoji the shogunal remains were moved with what was left of their tombs to a new cemetery at the back of the temple. Precious buildings, on a par with those of Nikko, were destroyed; close to Zojoji still one of the gates remains in half dilapidated state.
In Ueno their fate was not much better - here the cemetery lies next to Kaneiji, right behind the Tokyo National Museum. The cemeteries, by the way, are usually closed; the one in Zojoji I once found open on one of the temple's festival days (September 15), but there was not much to see.
What is left is the Ueno branch of the Nikko Toshogu shrine, where Ieyasu has been deified. Such branches, all on a smaller scale but often as gorgeously decorated as the original, were in the 17th century set up all over the country. The shrine, built in Gongen style like the ones in Nikko, was erected in 1627 and the elaborately decorated buildings were remodeled in 1651. The 50 stone and bronze lanterns that line the approach were gifts of daimyo. The best part is perhaps the Karamon or Chinese-style gate in front of the main building, which has been attributed to the famous 17th century sculptor Hidari Jingoro. With its delicate wood carvings and golden screens it is the only place where one can get a glimpse of the splendor of the shoguns - the splendor that dominated Edo but which now has faded into oblivion...
[Lanterns donated by daimyo, Ueno Toshogu]
East Gardens of the Imperial Palace
Where: 5-min. walk from Otemachi Station (exit C13b) on the Chiyoda and other subway lines; 15-min. walk from Tokyo Station (if one enters via the Otemon gate).
When: 9:15-16:15. Cl. Monday, Friday, Year-end and New Year period. The gardens may also be closed unexpectedly for court functions.
How much: free
Where: 15-min. walk from Ueno Station on the Ginza and Hibiya Subway Lines or JR Line.
When: grounds open in daytime
How much: free
Where: 10-min. walk from Ueno Station on the Ginza and Hibiya Subway Lines or JR Line.
When: 9:00-17:30 (summer: 18:00)
How much: ¥200