Edo Castle

Dafato Team | Nov 1, 2023

Table of Content


Edo Castle (江戸城, Edo-jō?), also known as Chiyoda Castle (千代田城, Chiyoda-jō?), is a castle on flat ground built in 1457 by Ōta Dōkan. It is now part of the Tokyo Imperial Palace and is located in the Chiyoda Special Ward of Tokyo, a city then referred to as Edo, in the Toshima District of Musashi Province. It was here that Tokugawa Ieyasu established the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was the residence of the shogun and the location of the shogunate, and it also served as the military capital during the Edo period of Japanese history. After the resignation of the shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu and the Meiji restoration, it became the imperial palace of Tokyo. Some moats, walls and ramparts of the original castle still remain today. However, the grounds were much more extensive during the Edo period, with Tokyo Station and the Marunouchi section of the city located within the boundary of the outermost moat. It also includes Kitanomaru Park, the Nippon Budokan and other surrounding monuments.

The Edo warrior Shigetsugu built his residence in what is now part of Edo Castle, Honmaru and Ninomaru, in the late Heian or early Kamakura period. The Edo clan perished in the 15th century as a result of uprisings in the Kantō region. Ōta Dōkan, a member of the Uesugi clan, built the first Edo castle in 1457.

The castle later came under the control of the Go-Hōjō clan in 1524 after the Siege of Edo. The castle was liberated in 1590 following the Siege of Odawara. Tokugawa Ieyasu then made Edo Castle his base after Toyotomi Hideyoshi offered him eight eastern provinces. He then defeated Toyotomi Hideyori, son of Hideyoshi, at the siege of Osaka in 1615, and became the political leader of Japan. When, in 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu received the title of sei-i taishōgun, Edo became the center of the Tokugawa administration.

Initially, some parts of the area were under water. The sea reached the present Nishinomaru of Edo Castle and Hibiya was a beach. So the landscape was changed for the construction of the castle. Most of the work began in 1593 and was completed in 1636 under Ieyasu's grandson, Tokugawa Iemitsu. At that time, Edo had a population of 150,000.

To the pre-existing areas of Honmaru, Ninomaru and Sannomaru were added by the shoguns the areas of Nishinomaru, Nishinomaru-shita, Fukiage and Kitanomaru. The perimeter of the whole was 16 km.

For construction, the shoguns asked the daimyos to provide materials or finances, a method used by the shogunate to control the daimyos' powers. The large granite blocks could be moved from far away, and their size and number depended on the wealth of the daimyos, the richer ones having to contribute more. Those who did not provide stones were required to provide labor to dig large moats and level the landforms. The earth extracted from the moat was used as fill for the creation of new land reclaimed from the sea or for leveling the ground. Thus, the construction of the Edo castle laid the foundation for a part of the city where merchants could settle.

At least 10,000 men participated in the first phase of construction and more than 300,000 in the intermediate phase. At the end of the work, the castle had 38 gates. The ramparts were nearly 20 m high and the outer walls 12 m. Ditches forming approximately concentric circles were dug for additional protection. Some of the ditches reached as far as what is now the Ichigaya and Yotsuya districts, and part of the ramparts still remain today. This area was bordered either by the sea or by the Kanda River, allowing access to ships.

Several fires over the centuries (including the great fire of Meireki in 1657 which destroyed a large part of the castle including the keep) have damaged or destroyed parts of the castle, Edo and most of its buildings being wooden.

On April 21, 1701, in the corridor of the Great Pine Tree (Matsu no Ōrōka) of Edo Castle, Asano Takumi-no-kami drew his short sword and attempted to kill Kira Kōzuke-no-suke who had insulted him. This triggered the events involving the forty-seven rōnins.

After the surrender of the shogunate in 1867, the inhabitants and the shōgun had to leave the place. The castle complex was renamed "Tokyo Castle" (東京 城, Tōkei-jō) in October 1868, then renamed "Imperial Castle" (皇城, Kōjō) in 1869. In year 2 of the Meiji era (1868), on the 23rd day of the 10th month of the Japanese calendar, the emperor moved to Tokyo and Edo Castle became an imperial palace.

A fire devastated the old Edo castle on the night of May 5, 1873. This fire destroyed the oldest parts of the castle. In 1888, the new imperial palace (宮殿, Kyūden) was built on the area around the old keep, which had burned down in the Great Meireki Fire of 1657. The Tokugawa period buildings still standing were then destroyed to make way for new structures for the imperial government. However, the imperial palace building itself was built in the Nishinomaru, so not in the same location as the former shōgun's palace which was located in the Honmaru.

The site suffered significant damage during the Second World War and the destruction of Tokyo in 1945 by American bombing.

Today, the site is part of the Tokyo Imperial Palace. The government has declared the area a historical site and has taken steps to restore and preserve the remaining structures of Edo Castle.

The Edo castle was not only large, but also elaborate. The grounds were divided into different sections, or citadels. The Honmaru was in the center, with the Ninomaru (western protected quarter) surrounded by the Nishinomaru-shita (outer part) and the Fukiage (fireproof section) and the Kitanomaru (northern protected quarter). The different districts were separated by ditches and large stone walls on which various defensive houses and towers (yagura) were built. To the east, beyond the Sannomaru, was an outer moat, encompassing the districts of Otomachi and Daimyō-kōji. Ishigaki stone walls were built around the Honmaru and on the east side of the Nishinomaru. Each neighborhood could be accessed by wooden bridges, which were protected by gates located on each side. The circumference is subject to debate, with estimates ranging from 10 to 16 km.

With the establishment of the sankin-kōtai system in the seventeenth century, it became mandatory for daimyos to settle in Edo, near the shōgun. The residences of the daimyos surrounded the inner castle complex. Most of them were concentrated at the outer Sakurada Gate to the southeast and in the Ōtemachi and Daimyō-kōji districts to the east of the castle, inside the outer moat. Some residences were also located in the inner ditches of the outer Nishinomaru.

The mansions were large and elaborate, with the daimyos spending lavishly to build palaces with Japanese gardens and multiple gates. Each block had four to six mansions that were surrounded by ditches for drainage. Less wealthy daimyos were allowed to set up their houses, called banchō, to the north and west of the castle.

To the east and south of the castle were sections reserved for merchants, this area being considered unsuitable for residences. The Yoshiwara entertainment district was also located here.


The interior sections of the castle were protected by multiple large and small wooden doors (mon), built in the empty spaces of the stone wall. Not many of them remain today. From south to southwest to north, the main gates are: Nijūbashi, Sakurada-mon, Sakashita-mon, Kikyō-mon, Hanzō-mon, Inui-mon, Ōte-mon, Hirakawa-mon and Kitahanebashi-mon. Only the stone foundations of the other gates (i.e., the gap left in the large stone walls by the old wooden gate structure) are still preserved. The large gates, such as Ōte-mon, had a guard of 120 men, while the smaller gates were guarded by 30 to 70 armed men.

The French director of the Dutch colony in Dejima, François Caron, gave an eyewitness account. He described the doors and courtyards set up in such a way as to confuse a stranger. Caron noted that the doors were not aligned, but staggered, forcing a person to make a 90-degree turn to get to the next door. This style of construction of the main doors is called masugata (meaning "square"). As Caron noted, the gate consisted of a square-shaped courtyard or enclosure and a two-story guardhouse accessed by three kōrai-mon. The Watari-yagura-mon was built at adjacent corners on either side of the gate. All the main gates had large pieces of timber framing the main entry point and were built to impress and proclaim the power of the shogunate.


Accounts of the number of armed men who served at Edo Castle vary. The Spanish governor general of the Philippines, Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco, gave an eyewitness account in 1608-1609, describing the huge stones that made up the walls and the large number of people in the castle. He claimed to have seen 20,000 servants between the first gate and the shōgun's palace. He passed two rows of 1,000 soldiers armed with muskets and was escorted by 400 armed men near the second gate. He passed stables that could hold 200 horses and an arsenal containing enough weapons for 100,000 men.

The Honmaru (本丸) was the most central part of the castle containing the keep and the residence of the shōgun. The majestic and luxurious main buildings of the Honmaru, including the outer, central, and inner halls, would have covered an area of 33,000 m2 during the Kan'ei era (1624-1644). Around the Honmaru were curtain walls, with 11 towers (yagura), 15 defensive lodges, and more than 20 gates.

Honmaru was destroyed several times by fire and rebuilt after each fire. The keep and the main palace were destroyed in 1657 and 1863 respectively, and not rebuilt. Some remains, such as the Fujimi-yagura tower and the Fujimi-tamon defense house, still exist.

The Honmaru was surrounded by moats on all sides. To the north separating the Honmaru from the Kitanomaru were the Inui-bori and Hirakawa-bori moats, to the east separating the Ninomaru, the Hakuchō-bori, and to the west and south, the Nishinomaru, the Hasuike-bori and the Hamaguri-bori. Most of these still exist, although the Hakuchō-bori has been partly filled in since the Meiji era.


Kitahanebashi-mon (北桔橋門, "north drawbridge gate") is the northern gate of Honmaru Ward, facing Kitanomaru Ward, across Daikan-cho Street. It is also built as a masu gate, of the same kind as the Ōte-mon and Hirakawa-mon, and has a Watari-yagura-mon in a left corner. The bridge in front of the gate, which was once a drawbridge during the Edo period, is now fixed to the ground. The metal clamps used to pull the bridge are still attached to the roof of the gate.


The main keep (known as Tenshudai, 天守台) was in the northern corner of the Honmaru. The Kitahanebashi-mon which is right next to it was one of the main entrance gates to this innermost part. The measurements of the stone base are 41 m wide from east to west, 45 m from north to south and 11 m high. A 51 m high, five-story keep once stood on this base. It was thus the highest keep in all of Japan, a symbol of the shōgun's power. The keep and its multiple roofs had been built in 1607 and decorated with gold. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of Meireki in 1657 and has not been rebuilt. The foundations of the keep are all that remain.

Despite this, jidai-geki films (such as Abarenbō Shōgun) shot in Edo usually show Edo Castle as having a dungeon and substitute Himeji Castle for this purpose.

A nonprofit Rebuilding Edo-jo (NPO, 江戸城再建) was established in 2004 with the goal of historically reconstructing at least the main keep in a correct manner. In March 2013, Naotaka Kotake, leader of the group, stated that "the capital needs a symbolic building" and that the group planned to collect donations and signatures on a petition in hopes of rebuilding the tower. A reconstruction plan had been developed from old documents. The Imperial Agency did not indicate whether it would support the project.

Honmaru Palace

The Honmaru Residential Palace (本丸御殿, Honmaru-goten) and the gardens of the shōgun and his court were built around the castle keep in Honmaru. They were a series of low buildings connected by corridors and gathered around various gardens, courtyards, or detached houses, similar to those seen at Nijō Castle in Kyoto today. These structures were used for both residential and governmental purposes, such as hearings.

The one-story high Honmaru Palace is divided into three sections:

Over time, various fires destroyed Honmaru Palace, which was rebuilt after each fire. From 1844 to 1863, Honmaru experienced three. After each disaster, the shōgun went to the residences of the Nishinomaru until the reconstruction was complete. However, in 1853, both Honmaru and Nishinomaru burned down, forcing the shōgun to move to a daimyō residence. The last fire occurred in 1873, after which the palace was not rebuilt by the new imperial government. Behind the Honmaru Palace was the main keep. In addition to being the site of the keep and the palace, the Honmaru was also the site of the Treasury. Three warehouses that lined a rampart adjoined the palace on the other side. The entrance was small, made of thick wood and heavily guarded. Behind the wall, the deep moat secured the area.


Fujimi-yagura (富士見櫓, "Mount Fuji observation tower") is located in the southeast corner of the Honmaru compound and is three stories high. Fujimi-yagura is one of the last three yagura, remnants of the inner citadel of Edo Castle, out of a total of 11 originally. The other remaining remnants are the Fushimi-yagura (next to the upper steel bridge of Nijūbashi) and the Tatsumi-nijyu-yagura (at the corner of the Kikyō-bori moat near the Kikyō-mon gate). It is also called the tower of "all sides facing" because all its sides look the same from all directions. It is believed that Mount Fuji was visible from this watchtower, hence the name. As the main keep of Edo castle was destroyed in 1657 and not rebuilt, Fujimi-yagura replaced it and was an important building during Edo period. About 150-160 m north of the Fujimi-yagura is the former site of the Matsu no ōrōka corridor, the scene of dramatic events in 1701 that led to the incident of the forty-seven rōnins.


The Fujimi-tamon defense house (富士見多聞) is located about 120-130 m north of the Matsu no ōrōka. This defensive house is located atop large stone walls overlooking the Hasuike-bori (lotus-growing moat). Weapons and tools were stored here. During the Edo period, two- and three-story watchtowers (yagura) were built at strategic points atop the stone wall surrounding the Honmaru. Between each tower, a defense house (called tamon) was erected for defensive purposes. There were once 15 such buildings in the Honmaru, of which only the Fujimi-tamon still exists.


To the north of the Fujimi-tamon is the Ishimuro (石室, "stone cellar"), located on a slope. About 20 m2 in size, its precise purpose is unknown, but since it is near the former storage area of the inner palace, it could have been used to store supplies and documents for the shogunate.


Shiomi-zaka (潮見坂) is a slope that runs along the current imperial music department building towards the Ninomaru compound. In ancient times, apparently, the sea could be seen from there, hence the name.

At the foot of the Shiomi-zaka, east of the Honmaru, is the Ninomaru (二の丸, second enclosure) of Edo Castle. A palace for the heirs of the Tokugawa shoguns was built in 1639 to the west, and in 1630 it appears that a garden designed by Kobori Enshū, the founder of Japanese landscaping, was located to the southeast. Several fires destroyed everything there and nothing was rebuilt. Apart from Honmaru Palace, Ninomaru was surrounded by seven yagura, eight defense houses, a dozen gates and other guardhouses. The Tenjin-bori separates a part of Ninomaru from Sannomaru.

Several renovations were made over the years until the Meiji era. A brand new garden has since been laid out around the old Edo period pond. Only the Hyakunin-bansho and Dōshin-bansho are still standing.


The Dōshin-bansho (同心番所) is a guardhouse. A large guardhouse was located in the Ōte-mon where the current security is located. The Dōshin-bansho is on the right side of the passage from the Ōte-mon. This is where the samurai guards were stationed to guard the castle grounds.


The large stone wall in front of the Dōshin-bansho was the foundation of the massive Ōte-sanno-mon watari-yagura gate. The long building to the left of the south side of this foundation is the Hyakunin-bansho (百人番所), so named because it housed about 100 guards closely associated with the Tokugawa clan.


The stone wall in front of the Hyakunin-bansho is all that remains of the Naka-no-mon watari-yagura (inner gate tower). The building on the inner right side of the gate is the Ō-bansho (大番所). The Ō-bansho, which housed castle guards, probably played a key role in the security of Edo Castle, since the Honmaru compound began just behind the Naka-no-mon Gate.


Suwa-no-chaya (諏訪の茶屋) is a teahouse that used to be located in Fukiage Garden during the Edo period. After various moves during the Meiji era, it is now located in the modern Ninomaru Garden.

The Sannomaru (三の丸, third enclosure) is the easternmost enclosure next to the Ninomaru, separated by the Tenjin-bori. The Ōte-bori lies to the north, and to the south is the Kikyō-bori.


A steep slope, Bairin-zaka (梅林坂), connects the east of Honmaru with Hirakawa-mon, opposite the present Archives and Mausoleums Department building. It is said that Ōta Dōkan planted several hundred plum trees there in 1478 in honor of Sugawara no Michizane. Dōkan is also said to have built the Sanno-gongendō here, where there were two shrines when the Tokugawa clan took over the site. With the erection of the Honmaru of Edo Castle, the shrine dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane was transferred to Kojimachi Hirakawa-chō and would later be known as the Hirakawa Shrine. Sanno Shrine was first moved to the Momijiyama of Edo Castle and became its tutelary shrine, but was moved again. Today, it is known as Hie-jinja Shrine.


Hirakawa-mon (平川門) would have been the main gate of the Sannomaru part of Edo Castle. It could also have been the side gate for the maids and is therefore also called the Otsubone-mon. This gate is in the form of masugata (a set consisting of two gates perpendicular to each other, preventing direct entrance to the castle), similar to the Ōte-mon. The Watari-yagura-mon is thus flanked by two kōrai-mon, one built at the right adjacent corner precedes the entrance and the other, parallel, to the west, served as a "gate to those who were unclean" for the deceased and criminals from within the castle. Outside this gate is a wooden bridge with giboshi railings.


Ōte-mon (大手門, "Gate of the Great Hand") was the main gate of the castle. During the reign of the second shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada, the castle underwent remodeling in the 1620s and the gate is said to have taken its present form at that time, with the help of Date Masamune, lord of Sendai Castle, and Soma Toshitane, lord of Nakamura Castle.

The Great Fire of Meireki destroyed the Ōte-mon in January 1657, but the building was rebuilt in November 1658. It was severely damaged twice, in 1703 and 1855 by powerful earthquakes, and then rebuilt until the Meiji era. Several repairs were made after the Meiji era, but damage from the Kantō earthquake of 1923 led to the dismantling of the main gate and the rebuilding of the stone walls on either side of the gate in 1925.

The Watari-yagura-mon was completely burned down during the World War II bombings on April 30, 1945. Restorations were carried out from October 1965 to March 1967, to repair the kōraimon and walls, and the Ōte-mon was rebuilt.


The Tatsumi-yagura (巽櫓), also known as the Sakurada-yagura (桜田櫓), is a two-story high turret located in the easternmost corner of the Sannomaru.


One of the few remaining gates of Ninomaru is the Kikyō-mon (桔梗門), also called the inner Sakurada-mon, as opposed to the Sakurada-mon (outer) to the south. The gate consists mainly of a tower gate and another gate in the kōrai style.

The Nishinomaru (西の丸, "western enclosure") was the location of the palaces and residences of the retired shōgun and his heir for a time. The outer part of the Nishinomaru to the east (the current outer garden of the imperial palace) was the site of various daimyo residences. Nishinomaru is bordered by moats such as the Dōkan-bori to the west, the Sakurada-bori and Gaisen-bori to the south, and the Kikyō-bori and Hamaguri-bori to the north. After each fire in his Honmaru palace, the shōgun normally went to the Nishinomaru, although it was also destroyed by fire in 1853. On May 5, 1873, the Nishinomaru residence was burned down. The imperial palace was built on its site in the Meiji era.


The large outer Sakurada-mon (桜田門) protects Nishinomaru to the south. This gate should not be confused with the inner Sakurada-mon, also known as Kikyo-mon, between Nishinomaru and Sannomaru. It was here that the tairō Ii Naosuke was murdered in 1860 by a band of seventeen ronins.

Seimon Ishibashi and Seimon Tetsubashi

The two bridges cross the moat. The ancient bridges once made of typical Japanese wooden arches were replaced by modern European-style stone and cast iron structures in the Meiji period. The bridges were once protected by gates at both ends, of which only the Nishinomaru-mon has survived, which is the main gate of the present Imperial Palace.

The bridge in the foreground was previously called Nishinomaru ōte-bashi (西の丸大手橋), while the one in the back was called Nishinomaru shimojō-bashi (西の丸下乗橋).

After their reconstruction in the Meiji era, the bridges are now known as the "Imperial Palace Stone Bridge" (皇居正門石橋, Kōkyo seimon ishibashi) and the "Imperial Palace Iron Bridge" (皇居正門鉄橋, Kōkyo seimon tekkyō). The iron bridge is also known as the Nijūbashi (二重橋, literally "double bridge"), as the original wooden bridge was built on top of an auxiliary bridge due to the depth of the moat. The stone bridge on the other hand was also called Meganebashi (眼鏡橋, literally "eyeglass bridge") because of its shape. However, the two bridges together are often mistakenly called Nijūbashi.

Today, both bridges are closed to the public except on January 2, the emperor's birthday, the national holiday of Japan.


Fushimi-yagura (伏見櫓) is a two-story turret that still exists at the western corner, flanked by two galleries (tamon) on each side. It is the only surviving Edo period tower in Nishinomaru. It comes from the Fushimi Castle in Kyoto.


The Sakashita-mon (坂下門) originally faced north, but the gate was changed during the Meiji era to face east. This gate tower overlooks the Hamaguri-bori moat. The attempted assassination in 1862 of Andō Nobumasa, a member of the shōgun's Council of Elders, took place in front of this gate.


Momijiyama (紅葉山, the "Mountain of Maples") is an area north of Nishinomaru where shrines dedicated to former shoguns were set up, shrines where ceremonies were regularly held in their memory.

Tokugawa Ieyasu had built a library in 1602 in the Fujimi tower of the castle for the many books he had obtained from an old library in Kanazawa. In July 1693, a new library was built in Momijiyama (Momijiyama bunko).

The so-called Momijiyama bunkobon are the books of this library, which are kept in the National Archives of Japan. This collection mainly includes books published during the Song Dynasty, Korean books that once belonged to the Kanazawa Bunko Library, books presented by the Hayashi family as gifts, and faithful copies of books collected by the Tokugawa government.

The Fukiage (吹上, "blown clean") is the western area that was turned into a firebreak after the Great Meireki Fire in 1657. The Fukiage is encircled by the Dōkan-bori to Nishinomaru in the east, the Sakurada-bori in the south, the Hanzō-bori in the west, the Chidorigafuchi in the northwest and the Inui-bori in the north.


The Inui-mon (乾門) was located in the Nishinomaru, next to the current headquarters of the Imperial Household Agency, and was called Nishinomaru ura-mon. This gate was moved to its present location, between Kitanomaru and Fukiage Gardens, in the Meiji period. It owes its name to its location in the northwestern part of the imperial palace park.


The Hanzōmon (半蔵門) is a kōrai style gate. The old gate was destroyed by fire during World War II. The Wadakura Gate was moved to this location. The Hanzō-mon is the only gateway to Fukiage from the outside today.


Kitanomaru (北の丸) is the northern enclosure, adjacent to the Honmaru. It was used as a medicinal garden (Ohanabatake) during the reign of the shōgun. During the 17th century, the Suruga Dainagon residence was also present, and was used by the collateral branches of the Tokugawa clan. Today, this site is the location of Kitanomaru Park. From the Edo castle period, there is not much left except two gates, Shimizu-mon and Tayasu-mon, more in the north.

Kitanomaru is surrounded by a moat. The Inui-bori and Hirakawa-bori in the south separate it from Honmaru and the Chidorigafuchi moat in the west separates it from the city.

Many place names in Tokyo originate from Edo Castle. Ōtemachi (大手町, "the city in front of the great gate"), Takebashi (竹橋, "the Bamboo Bridge"), Toranomon (虎ノ門, "the Tiger Gate"), Uchibori dōri (内堀通り, "inner moat street"), Sotobori dōri (外堀通り, "outer moat street"), and Marunouchi (丸の内, "inside the compound") are examples.


  1. Edo Castle
  2. Château d'Edo
  3. a et b « Map of Bushū Toshima District: Edo », World Digital Library (consulté le 24 juillet 2019).
  4. (en) Stephen Turnbull, The Samurai Sourcebook, Londres, Cassell & Co., 1998, 320 p. (ISBN 1-85409-523-4), p. 208.
  5. Schmorleitz, p. 101.
  6. Schmorleitz, p. 103.
  7. ^ Turnbull, Stephen (1998). The Samurai Sourcebook. Cassell & Co. p. 208. ISBN 1854095234.
  8. ^ Schmorleitz, pg. 101
  9. ^ Schmorleitz, pg. 103
  10. The ones who got there first | The Japan Times
  11. Das Gebiet 9 ist das Marunouchi-Viertel mit dem Hauptbahnhof Tokio bei der 9.
  12. Ein weiterer Ringgraben ist der „Äußere Graben“ (外堀・外濠), der den Innenbereich der Stadt umschließt. Das entspricht dem heutigen Chiyoda-Bezirk ohne Kanda.
  13. Die dritte Familie der Gosankyō, Hitotsubashi, erhielt ein Anwesen an der namensgebenden Brücke in der Nähe.
  14. Nicht alle Shogun-treuen Samurai waren damit nicht einverstanden. So kam es zu Kämpfen um den Ueno-Hügel mit dem Kanei-ji.

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