U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: East Asia and Pacific Bureau

Tokyo City Profile

Fact sheet released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
U.S. Department of State, July 28, 1997.

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Tokyo lies at the head of Tokyo Bay on the Kanto Plain, the largest level area in Japan, and occupies sea-level stretches along the bay and rivers as well as rolling areas further inland. The city incorporates 23 wards, 26 smaller cities, and several towns and villages, sprawling 55 miles east to west and 15 miles north to south. Tokyo's climate is comparable to that of cities on America's east coast at about the latitude of Washington, D.C. The pace of life in the capital city is quick, as almost 30 million people live within a twenty-mile radius of the Imperial Palace in downtown Tokyo.

Tokyo was founded in the twelfth century as a fishing village known as Edo. By 1680, it was a feudal stronghold of the Tokugawa shogunate and home to over one million Japanese. By 1868, when the Emperor Meiji overthrew the shogunate, established a Western-style constitutional government, and renamed the city Tokyo, the population had grown to almost two million. After World War II, vast numbers of Japanese moved to Tokyo to participate in the nation's remarkable postwar economic growth.

Today, two areas--Yamanote and Shitamachi--make up central Tokyo. In the south and west of the city lies Yamanote, where the shogun's palace and the estates of his feudal underlords were located during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Below the high ground of Yamanote lies bustling Shitamachi, home to the markets, workshops, printers, and kimono makers that thrived in the shogun's day. Yamanote today is home to the city's major office buildings, department stores, and public halls, while in Shitamachi one finds banks and government ministries, boutiques and restaurants.

Tokyo is the political, financial, commercial, industrial, communications, and educational center of Japan. It supports more than one hundred four-year colleges and universities and more than twenty daily newspapers. Certainly the nation's most cosmopolitan city, the headquarters of most foreign companies doing business in Japan are found here.

Tokyo is a city of marked contrasts. It is a thoroughly modern city of broad thoroughfares, tall office buildings and hotels, expressways, large department stores and flashing lights. But behind all this lies another world of narrow streets, markets, theaters, traditional restaurants and houses that make Tokyo a uniquely Japanese city.

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