Edo Castle 2.0

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Kickstarter is really changing the way that people make their dreams come true, from Levar Burton’s reboot of “Reading Rainbow” to some guy trying to make himself a bowl of potato salad.  But this summer, a few Tokyo Olympic organizers are trying to “kickstart” a project of an ever bigger magnitude:  A complete rebuild of Edo Castle.  Otake Naotaka, director of the authorized NPO “Committee For Rebuilding the Keep of Edo Castle” (江戸城再建), claims that he came up with the idea while traveling the world promoting the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, frustrated that Tokyo did not have an iconic landmark like other major world cities. 


Edo Castle is so named because Tokyo was known as Edo until 1868, when it was renamed Tokyo, meaning “eastern capital,” in contrast to the previous capital of Kyoto to the west. Before then, it was perhaps the world’s largest city, home to more than a million residents in the mid-eighteenth century. Edo was established in the 11th century, but it wasn’t until 1457 that the place got a proper compound and was called a “castle.”  And it was enormous:  Edo Castle’s outer moat stretched 15 km (9.3 miles), while the inner moat was 5 km long. Without stopping for anything, it’d take you about 3 hours to walk the outer moat and 1 hour for the inner one.


While there is some disagreement about where the original Edo Castle was, there is no disagreement about one thing:  rebuilding it will be VERY expensive.  The location is assumed to be in the East Garden of the Tokyo Imperial Palace, which is open to the general public. This is because even today, the foundations of the keep remain there. Unfortunately, the original keep of Edo castle burned to the ground in 1657 during the“Great Fire of Meireki”, which claimed the lives of 100,000 people (1/5th of the city’s population at the time). After that, the Maeda House of Kaga Domain funded rebuilding the foundations of the keep, but work stopped after the people protested spending valuable resources rebuilding the castle while the rest of the city (and country) suffered.  Today, only the foundation stands; the Shogunate never completed the remainder of the castle.  


The cost of rebuilding would be around 4 — 5 billion yen if the keep were to be restored faithfully as an entirely wooden structure. This is on the same scale as Tokyo Station, which was restored in 2012 at a cost of approximately 5 billion yen. The cost for the rebuild would be covered by donations from corporate sponsorship and individuals.  Their plan is to rebuild a historically accurate 6-floor citadel on the same old pedestal. The costs would be around 40-50 billion yen (400-500 million USD), and would have to get special permissions for: 1) being such a tall wooden structure, 2) looming over the residence of the imperial family, and 3) being rebuilt on the yet-untouched, unexcavated pedestal remains.  It would not be unprecedented, however.  In preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games, the nation built major new transportation infrastructure, including the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka, the Tokyo Monorail, and the Metropolitan Expressway network.


If you’d like to learn more, the folks over at JCastle have a fantastic profile of the Edo Castle project and its history, including a cool overlay of the Google map of modern Tokyo with the original castle grounds.