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Aerial view of the inner grounds of Edo Castle, today the location of Tokyo Imperial Palace
, also known as  , is a flatland castle that was built in 1457 by Ōta Dōkan. It is located in Chiyoda in Tokyomarker, then known as Edo, Toshima District, Musashi Province. Tokugawa Ieyasu established the Tokugawa shogunate here. It was the residence of the shogun and location of the shogunate, and also functioned as the military capital during the Edo period of Japanese history. After the vacation of the shogun and the Meiji Restoration, it became the Tokyo Imperial Palacemarker. Some moats, walls and ramparts of the castle survive to this day. However, the grounds were much more extensive during the Edo period, with Tokyo Stationmarker and the Marunouchimarker section of the city lying within the outermost moat. It also encompassed Kitanomaru Park, the Nippon Budokan Hallmarker and other landmarks of the surrounding area.


Map of Edo Castle grounds around 1849 (click to see legend)

The warrior Edo Shigetsugu built his residence in what is now the Honmaru and Ninomaru part of Edo Castle, around the end of the Heian or the beginning of the Kamakura period. The Edo clan perished in the fifteenth century as a result of uprisings in the Kantō region, and Ota Dokan, a retainer of the Ogigayatsu Uesugi family, built Edo Castle in 1457.

The castle later came under the control of the Late Hōjō clan. The castle was vacated in 1590 due to the Siege of Odawara. Tokugawa Ieyasu made Edo Castle his base after he was offered six eastern provinces by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He later defeated Toyotomi Hideyori, son of Hideyoshi, at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, and emerged as the political leader of Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu received the title of Seii Taishōgun in 1603, Edo became the center of Tokugawa administration.

Initially, the area was not habitable with parts of it lying under water. The sea reached the later Nishinomaru area of Edo Castle, and Hibiya was a beach. The land was changed for the construction of the castle. Most construction took place starting in 1593 and reached completion in 1636 under the grandson Tokugawa Iemitsu. By this time, Edo had a population of 150,000.

The grounds grew with the addition of Nishinomaru, Nishinomaru-shita, Fukiage, and Kitanomaru areas to the existing Honmaru, Ninomaru, and Sannomaru areas. The perimeter measured 16 km.

The daimyo were required by the shōgun to supply building materials or finances, a method used by the shogunate to keep the powers of the daimyo in check. Large granite stones were moved from afar, the size and number of the stones depending on the wealth of the daimyo. The wealthier ones had to contribute more. Those who did not supply stones were required to contribute labour in tasks like digging the large moats and flattening hills. The earth that was taken out from the moats were used as landfill for sea-reclamation or to level the ground. Thus the construction of Edo Castle laid the foundation for parts of the city where merchants were able to settle.

At least 10,000 men were involved in the first phase of the construction and more than 300,000 in the middle phase.. When construction ended, the castle had 38 gates. The ramparts were almost 20 metres and the outer walls 12 metres high. Moats in rough concentric circles were dug throughout for further protection. Some of the moats reached as far as Ichigayamarker and Yotsuya areas, parts of the ramparts survive to this day. Either the sea or the Kanda river surrounded it, enabling navigation by ships.

Various fires over the centuries damaged or destroyed parts of the castle, since Edo and the majority of the buildings were constructed out of wood.

On April 21, 1701, in the Great Pine Corridor (Matsu no Ōrōkamarker) of Edo Castle, Asano Takumi-no-kami drew his short sword and attempted to kill Kira Kōzuke-no-suke for insulting him. This triggered the events involving the Forty-seven Ronin.

After the capitulation of the shogunate in 1867, the inhabitants including the shogun had to vacate the premises. The castle compound was renamed in October, 1868, and then renamed in 1869. In the year Meiji 2 (1868), on the 23rd day of the 10th month, the emperor moved to Tokyo and Edo castle became an imperial palace.

A fire consumed the whole of the old Edo Castle on the night of May 5, 1873. The area around the old donjon, which burned in the 1657 Meireki fire, became the site of the new imperial built in 1888. Some Tokugawa era buildings that were still left were destroyed to make space for new structures for the imperial government. The imperial palace building itself, however, was not on the same location as the shogun's palace, which was located in Honmaru.

The site suffered substantial damage during the second world war and the destruction of Tokyo.

Today the site is part of the Tokyo Imperial Palacemarker. The government has declared the area an historic site and have undertaken steps to restore and preserve the remaining structures of Edo Castle.

Appearance of Edo Castle

The plan of Edo Castle is not only large but elaborate. The grounds were divided into various enceintes, or citadels. The Honmaru was in the center, with the Ninomaru (second compound), Sannomaru (third compound), Nishinomaru (west compound) and the outer section of Nishinomaru (now the Outer Gardens of the Imperial Palace), Fukiage (firebreak compound) and the Kitanomaru (north compound). The different enceintes were divided by moats and large stone walls, on which were various keeps, defence houses and towers were built. Ishigaki stone walls were constructed around the Honmaru and the eastern side of the Nishinomaru. Each enceinte could be reached via wooden bridges, which were buffered by two gates on both sides. The circumference is subject to debate, with estimates ranging from six to ten miles.

With the enforcement of the sankin kōtai system in the 17th century, it became expedient for the various daimyo to set up residence in Edo in close proximity to the shogun. Surrounding the inner compounds of the castle were the residences of various daimyo, most of which were concentrated at the Outer Sakurada Gate to the south-east and east of the castle inside the outer moat, although some residences were also located within the inner moats in the outer Nishinomaru.

The mansions were very elaborate and large, with no expenses spared to construct palaces with Japanese gardens and multiple gates. Each block had four to six of the mansions, which were surrounded by ditches for drainage. Daimyo with lesser wealth were allowed to set up their houses, called bancho, to the north and west of the castle.

To the east and south of the castle were sections that were set aside for merchants, since this area was considered unsuitable for residences. The entertainment district Yoshiwaramarker was also located here.


The inner citadels of the castle were protected by multiple large and smaller wooden gates, constructed in-between the gaps of the stone wall. Not many are left today. From south to southwest to north, the gates are the main gate at 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 (meaning the gap left in between the large stone walls for the wooden gates) are still left. Large gates, such as the Ōte-mon, had a guard of 120 men, while smaller gates were guarded by 30 to 70 armed men.

An eye-witness account is given by the French director François Caron from the Dutch colony at Dejimamarker. He described the gates and courts being laid out in such a manner as to confuse an outsider. Caron noted that the gates were not placed in a straight line, but were staggered, forcing a person to make a 90 degree turn to pass on to the next gate. This style of construction for the main gates is called masugata, meaning 'square'. As noted by Caron, the gate consists of a square-shaped courtyard or enclosure and a two story gatehouse, which is entered via three roofed kōrai-mon. The watari-yagura-mon was constructed at adjacent angles to each side within the gate. All major gates had large timbers framing the main entry point and were constructed to impress and proclaim the might of the shogunate.


Accounts of how many armed men served at Edo Castle vary. The Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco gave an eye-witness account in 1608-09, describing the huge stones that made up the walls and the large number of people at the castle. He claimed to have seen 20,000 servants between the first gate and the shogun's palace. He passed through two ranks of 1,000 soldiers armed with muskets, and by the second gate he was escorted by 400 armed men. He passed stables that apparently had room for 200 horses and an armoury that had enough weapons for 100,000 men.


The Honmaru (本丸), sometimes also spelled Hommaru, was the central, innermost part of the castle and residence of the shogun himself. The stately and luxurious main buildings of the Honmaru, consisting of the outer, central, and inner halls, were said to have covered an area of 33,000 square metres during the Kan-ei era (1624-1644). Surrounding the donjon of the Honmaru were eleven keeps, fifteen defense houses and more than twenty gates.

Honmaru, frequently destroyed by fire, was reconstructed each time afterwards. The donjon however was destroyed in 1657 and the main palace in 1863 and not reconstructed. Some remains, such as the Fujimi-yagura keep and Fujimi-tamon defense house still exist.

The Honmaru is surrounded by moats from all sides, although the part to the Ninomaru has partly been filled in in since the Meiji era. The moats to the north to the Kitanomaru are the Inui-bori and Hirakawa-bori, Hakuchō-bori to the east to the Ninomaru, Hamaguri-bori to the Nishinomaru.


 is the northern gate to the Honmaru enceinte, facing Kitanomaru enceinte across Daikan-cho street. It is also constructed as a masu-gate just like Ōte-mon and Hirakawa-mon, and has a watari-yagura-mon in a left angle within. The bridge in front of the gate is now fixed to the ground, but was a drawbridge during the Edo period. The metal clasps used to draw the bridge are still attached to the roof of the gate.


Stone foundation of the main tower (tenshu)
The foundations of the main donjon or tower (known as the ) are all that is left of the once mighty structure. The donjon was located in the northern corner of the Honmaru enceinte. Kitahanebashi-mon is located right next to it and was one of the main gateways to this innermost part. The measurements are 41 metres width from east to west, length of 45 metres from north to south, and height of 11 metres. A five-storey donjon used to stand on this base which had a total height of 51 metres and was thus the highest castle tower in the whole of Japan, symbolising the power of the shogun. The donjon with its multiple roofs was constructed in 1607 and ornamented with gold. It was destroyed in the 1657 Fire of Meireki and not reconstructed.

Despite this, jidaigeki movies (such as Abarembo shogun) set in Edo usually depict Edo Castle as having a donjon, and substitute Himeji Castlemarker for that purpose.

A non-profit "Rebuilding Edo-jo Association" was founded with the aim of a historically correct reconstruction of at least the main donjon.

Honmaru Palace

The residential and the gardens of the shogun and his court were constructed around the castle keep in the Honmaru area. It consisted of a series of low-level buildings, connected by corridors and congregating around various gardens and courtyards or lying detached, similar to the structures that can be seen in Nijo Castlemarker in Kyoto today. These structures were used for either residential or governmental purposes such as audiences.

The Honmaru Palace was one storey high. It consisted of three sections:

1) The Ō-omote (Great Outer Palace) contained reception rooms for public audience and apartments for guards and some officials;

2) The Naka-oku (middle interior) was where the shogun received his relatives, higher lords and met his counselors for the affairs of state;

3) Ōoku (great interior) contained the private apartments of the shogun and his ladies-in-waiting. The great interior was strictly off-limits and communication went through young messenger boys. The great interior was apparently 1,000 tatami mats in size and could be divided into sections by the use of sliding shōji doors, which were painted in elegant schemes.

Various fires destroyed the Honmaru Palace over time, although each time it was rebuilt. In the span from 1844 to 1863, three fires broke out in the Honmaru. After each time, the shogun moved to the Nishinomaru residences for the time being until reconstruction was complete. However in 1853 both the Honmaru and Nishinomaru burned down, forcing the shogun to move in into a daimyo residence. The last fire occurred in 1873, after which the palace was not rebuilt by the new imperial government.

Located behind the Honmaru Palace was the main donjon. Besides being the location of the donjon and palace, the Honmaru was also the site of the treasury. Three storehouses that bordered on a rampart adjoined the palace on the other side. The entrance was small, made with thick lumber and heavily guarded. Behind the wall was a deep drop to the moat below, making the area very secure.


The stands in the south-eastern corner of the Honmaru enceinte and is three storeys high. Fujimi-yagura is one of only three remaining keep of the inner citadel of Edo Castle, from a total number of originally eleven. The other remaining keeps are Fushimi-yagura (located next to the upper steel bridge of Nijūbashi) and Tatsumi-nijyu-yagura (at the corner of Kikyō-bori moat next to Kikyō-mon gate). It is also called the “all-front-sided” keep because all sides look the same from all directions. It is believed that once Mount Fujimarker could be seen from this keep, hence the name. Since the main donjon of Edo Castle was destroyed in 1657 and not reconstructed, the Fujimi-yagura took on its role and was an important building during the Edo period. About 150-160 metres north of the Fujimi-yagura is the former site of the Matsu no Ōrōkamarker corridor, scene of dramatic events in 1701 that led to the Forty-seven Ronin incident.


The defense house is located about 120-130 metres north from the Matsu no Ōrōka. This defence house sits on top of the large stone walls overlooking to the Hasuike-bori (Lotus-growing moat). Weapons and tools were stored in here. During the Edo period, double and triple keeps (yagura) were constructed at strategic points on top of the stone wall surrounding the Honmaru. In between each keep a defence house (tamon) was erected for defensive purposes. There were once fifteen of these houses in the Honmaru, of which only the Fujimi-tamon still exists.


North of the Fujimi-tamon is the , located on a slope. It is about 20 square metres in size. Its precise purpose is unknown, but since it is located close to the former inner palace storage area, it is believed to have been used for storage of supplies and documents for the shogunate.


 is a slope running alongside today's Imperial Music Department building towards Ninomaru enceinte. In old times apparently the sea could be seen from here, therefore its name.


At the foot of the Shiomi-zaka on the east side of the Honmaru lies the of Edo Castle. A palace for the heirs of the Tokugawa shoguns was constructed in 1639 in the west area and in 1630 it is reported that a garden designed by Kobori Enshu, who was the founder of Japanese landscaping, was located to its south-east. Several fires over the time have destroyed whatever stood here and it was not reconstructed. Aside from the Honmaru palace, the Ninomaru was surrounded by seven keeps, eight defence houses, approximately ten gates and other guardhouses. The Tenjin-bori separates a part of the Ninomaru to the Sannomaru.Several renovations were carried out over the years until the Meiji era. A completely new garden has been laid out since then around the old pond left from the Edo period. Only the Hyakunin-bansho and Dōshin-bansho are still standing.


The is a guardhouse. A big guardhouse was located just within the Ōte-mon where today’s security is located. The passageway proceeding west from the guardhouse becomes narrower within the stone walls on both sides. The dōshin-bansho is located on the right side past this passageway. This is where the samurai guardsmen were posted to watch over the castle grounds.


There is a big stone wall in front of the Dōshin-bansho, which is the foundation of the Ōte-sanno-mon watari-yagura keep. The long building to the left on the south side of this foundation is the . The Hyakunin-bansho is so called because it housed hundred guardsmen closely associated with the Tokugawa clan.


The large stone wall in front of the Hyakunin-bansho is all that is left of the Naka-no-mon watari-yagura (Inner Gate Keep). This building to the inner-right side of the gate is the . As the Honmaru enceinte was said to begin right behind the Naka-no-mon gate, the Ō-bansho probably played a key role in the security of Edo Castle.


The is a teahouse that used to be located in the Fukiage garden during the Edo period. After various relocations in the Meiji era it is located today in the modern Ninomaru Garden.


The is the eastern most enceinte next to the Ninomaru, separated by the Tenjin-bori. Ōte-bori is located to the north, running then south is Kikyō-bori.


A steep slope, , runs from the Honmaru east toward Hirakawa-mon in front of the today's Archives and Mausolea Department building. It is said that Ota Dokan planted several hundred plum trees here in 1478 in dedication to Sugawara-no-Michizane. Dokan is said to have built the Sanno-Gongendo here, where two shrines were located 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 moved to Kojimachi Hirakawa-cho and later became known as Hirakawa Shrine. The Sanno Shrine was first moved to Momijiyama of Edo Castle and became its tutelary shrine but was moved later again. It is today known as Hie Shrinemarker.


 is said to have been the main gate to the Sannomaru of Edo Castle. It is also said to have been the side gate for maidservants and therefore called the Otsubone-mon. The shape of this gate is in the masugata, similar to the Ōte-mon. However a watari-yagura-mon is built to an adjacent left angle within the kōrai-mon, of which it has two. The other kōrai-mon is located to the west of the watari-yagura-mon which was used as the "gates of the unclean" for the deceased and criminals from within the castle.
Outside this gate is a wooden bridge with railings crowned with giboshi-ornamental tops.


 was the main gate of the castle. During the reign of the second shogun Tokugawa Hidetada, the castle underwent repairs in the 1620s and the gate is said to have taken its present form at this time, with the help of Date Masamune, lord of Sendai Castle, and Soma Toshitane, lord of Nakamura Castle.

A disastrous fire in Edo destroyed the Ōte-mon in January 1657, but was reconstructed in November the following year. It was severely damaged twice, in 1703 and 1855, by strong earthquakes, and reconstructed each time to stand until the Meiji era. Several repairs were conducted after the Meiji era, but the damage caused by the September 1923 Great Kantō earthquakemarker lead to the dismantling of the watari-yagura and rebuilding of the stone walls on each side of the gate in 1925.

The watari-yagura was completely burnt down during World War II on April 30, 1945. Restoration took place from October 1965 through March 1967, to repair the kōrai-mon and its walls, and the Ōte-mon was reconstructed.


Tatsumi-yagura at Kikyō-bori
The , also known as , is a two-storey high keep at the easternmost corner of the Sannomaru and the only keep still remaining in it.


One of the few gates left of the Ninomaru is the , which is also known as the Inner Sakurada-mon, as opposed to the (Outer) Sakurada-mon to the south. The architecture of the tower is a gate and in the kōrai style.


Nishinomaru and Fukiage, residences of the three Tokugawa families (17th century)
The was the location of the palaces and residences of the retired shogun and the heir-apparent for a while. The outer part of the Nishinomaru to the east (today's Outer Gardens of the Imperial Palace) was the site of various residences of daimyo. The Nishinomaru is bordered off by moats to the west such as the Dōkan-bori, Sakurada-bori and Gaisen-bori to the south, Kikyō-bori and Hamaguri-bori to the north. After each fire in the Honmaru, the shogun normally moved into the Nishinomaru, although it too was destroyed in a fire in 1853. On May 5, 1873 the Nishinomaru residence burned down for the last time and was never rebuilt.


Protecting the Nishinomaru from the south is the large Outer . This gate is not to be confused with the Inner Sakurada-mon, also known as Kikyo-mon between Nishinomaru and Sannomaru.


The old Nijūbashi before it was replaced with a European-style bridge during the Meiji-era, with the Fushimi-yagura in the back
Two bridges, known as led over the moats. The bridges used to be wooden, arched bridges that were replaced with modern stone and iron cast structures in the Meiji era. The bridges used to be buffered by gates on both ends, of which only the Nishinomaru-mon has survived, which is the main gate to today's Imperial Palace.

The bridge in the foreground used to be called , while the one in the back was called . After their replacement in the Meiji era, the bridge is now called ) and respectively. The stone bridge is also called because of its shape. Both bridges are today closed to the public except on January 2 and the Emperor's birthday.


 is a two-storey keep that still exists at the western corner leading towards the inner Nishinomaru, flanked by two galleries (tamon) on each side. It is the only keep that is left over in the Nishinomaru. It comes originally from Fushimi Castlemarker in Kyoto.


 originally faced the north, but was changed to face the east in the Meiji era. This tower gate overlooks Hamaguri-bori. The assassination of Nobumasa Ando, a member of the shogun's Council of Elders, occurred outside this gate.


 is an area in the northern Nishinomaru. The area had shrines dedicated to former shoguns in which ceremonies to their memory were regularly held.

Tokugawa Ieyasu built a library in 1602 within the Fujimi bower of the castle with many books he obtained from an old library in Kanazawa. In July 1693, he set up a new library at Momijiyama (Momijiyama Bunko).

The so-called "Momijiyama Bunkobon" are the books from that library, which lie preserved in the National Archives of Japan today. This group comprises chiefly of books published during the Song dynasty, Korean books that were formerly in the possession of the Kanazawa Bunko library, books presented by the Hayashi family as a gift, and fair copies of books compiled by the Tokugawa government.


The is the western area that was made into a firebreak after the great Meireki fire of 1657. The Fukiage is encircled by the Dōkan-bori to the Nishinomaru to the east, the Sakurada-bori to the south, the Hanzō-bori to the west, the Chidorigafuchi to the northwest and the Inui-bori to the north.


Inui-mon, former Nishinomaru Ura-mon
The was originally located in the Nishinomaru area next to today's headquarters of the Imperial Household Agency and called Nishinomaru Ura-mon. It was relocated to its present location between the Kitanomaru and Fukiage garden in the Meiji era. It has its name because of its location in the northwestern part of the Imperial Palace grounds.


Hanzō-mon, former Wadakura Gate
The is a gate in the kōrai style. The old gate was destroyed by fire during World War II. The Wadakura Gate was moved here in its stead. The Hanzō-mon is the only gate to the Fukiage area from outside today.


The is the northern enceinte next to the Honmaru. It was used as a medicinal garden (Ohanabatake) during the shogun's rule. During the 17th century, the Suruga Dainagon residence was located there as well, which was used by collateral branches of the Tokugawa clan. Today this site is the location of the Kitanomaru Park which is public. Not much is left from the times of the Edo Castle except for two gates, Shimizu-mon and further north Tayasu-mon.

Kitanomaru is surrounded by moats. The Inui-bori and Hirakawa-bori to the south separate it from the Honmaru, the Chidorigafuchi to the west.

Modern Tokyo

Many place names in Tokyo derive from Edo Castle. Ōtemachi ("the town in front of the great gate"), Takebashi ("the Bamboo Bridge"), Toranomon ("the Tiger Gate"), Uchibori Dōri ("Inner Moat Street"), Sotobori Dōri ("Outer Moat Street"), and Marunouchi ("Within the enclosure") are examples.


  1. Schmorleitz, pg. 101
  2. Schmorleitz, pg. 103
  3. Schmorleitz, pg. 102
  4. Ponsonby-Fane, Richard A. B. (1956). Kyoto: The Old Capital of Japan, 794-1869, p. 328.
  5. Schmorleitz, pg. 105
  6. Schmorleitz, pg. 108
  7. Hinago, pg. 138
  8. Schmorleitz, pg 105
  9. Schmorleitz, pg. 104


  • Ponsonby-Fane, Richard A. B. (1956). Kyoto: The Old Capital of Japan, 794-1869. Kyoto: The Ponsonby Memorial Society.

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