Memory Lanes

Go on a walking tour of Tokyo for a glimpse into the city's past, advises Jaime Ee.

Jaime Ee
Published Fri, Oct 21, 2016 · 09:50 PM
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SO you think you know Tokyo because you've mastered the route on the JR Yamanote line and have the ability to navigate Shinjuku like an Akita on the trail of a city squirrel ?

Wait. There's another side to Tokyo. The old side. You can't see it now, but there was a time when it was a swampy fishing village of just 1000 people without much of a future. Until a shogun showed up in 1603 and said, "Hmm, I like this place. Sounds like it could use a cool name. I shall call it Edo."

There was fire, earthquake, war and some questionable property development to come before the name change to Tokyo. If the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, somehow stumbled into a time travel portal and landed in Ginza today, he would need the help of Walk Japan to find some clues to get him back to his time zone. The boutique agency, which pioneered off-the-beaten-track walking tours of Japan, developed a two-day jaunt through Tokyo to help lost shoguns and curious tourists spot little pockets of Edo that still exist in the city.

Start with Nihonbashi Bridge - originally a rickety wooden bridge that marked the pivotal 'zero milestone' from where the first roads from Edo were built. Even in 1603, the concept of location, location, location, applied. Edo Castle was at the top of an estuary (hence its name), with six rivers flowing inland - meaning huge potential for shipping, ie, commerce. The fore-sighted Ieyasu's first task was to provide clean drinking water. He had a 26km canal dug from Edo to connect to three natural springs. People had plenty of fresh water, so they were healthy and productive. Meanwhile, all the mountains and land cleared for the canal and more helped turn Edo into the large reclaimed land space it is now.

Nihonbashi is also home to the original Mitsukoshi, which was the first store to introduce fixed prices and glass display cases.

Ieyasu may not be pleased to see how his Edo castle grounds - the Imperial Palace - is now a fraction of its original size. But he can wander through the Koishikawa Korakuen, a Japanese garden that was once the stomping grounds of a powerful daimyo (feudal lord).

But life didn't always revolve around him. The commoners had their own neighbourhoods where they mingled and shopped. Yanaka Ginza is one of the few original suburban shopping streets that still exist. It's located in the eastern side of Tokyo, where many temples can be found and are tranquil escapes for nearby residents. Except for Senso-ji temple in Asakusa - the oldest and most raucous gathering place for worshippers and merchants selling tacky stuff.

So yes. Life in Tokyo has certainly changed in the past 400 years. But it's nice to know that in just two days, you can get a whole new perspective of it.

For more information about this and other WalkJapan tours, go to

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