Why is Tokyo called Tokyo?

Why Tokyo is called Tokyo

Why is Tokyo called Tokyo?

Why is it called Tokyo and what does “Tokyo” mean?

One of the largest congregations in the world presently known as Tokyo was called Edo until 1868. The city of Edo thrived during the Edo Era (1603 to 1868) when the country of Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa Shogunate Government. During this period Japan developed a very unique culture due to the country’s  seclusion policy, which included bannig Christianity and isolating itself from the rest of the world. Transfer of power the from the Tokugawa Shogunate Government to the Emperor took place in 1867.

The name of the area was changed from Edo to Tokyo in September, 1868 because of the Imperial rescript enforced at that time.

Tokyo Meaning

Tokyo is written as 東京 in Japanese and Chinese who both use the same idiograms. Idiograms are the characters which represent the meanings while alphabets represents the sounds.  東 means Eastern (East) and 京 means metropolis or capital. Another Chinese charactor for metropolis or capital is 都. Kyoto is written as 京都. Therefore, Tokyo has the connotation  “a Kyoto in the East.”  In this sense it would be okay to say that Tokyo means Eastern capital with the connotation of Kyoto in the east.

How Tokyo got its name

Some people regarded Edo as “a Kyoto in the East” even during the Edo Era, however, no one explicitly used the term or characters 東京(Tokyo) at that time.

A political figure named Sentaro Kitajima submitted a petition dated April 4, 1868, to the newly established government that the area should be called Tokyo and because of Kitajima’s petition, the name Edo was changed to Tokyo.  This is how Tokyo got its name.

  • Sentaro Kitajima, who named Tokyo, died of epidemic cholera about a decade later.
  • The Tokugawa Shogunate Government banned Christianity, which had spread since 1543 in Japan. There were some riots against the government under the Christianity’s idea of “all men are created equal.” The government perceived this as threat.
  • Japan underwent a number of drastic changes circa 1868 due to the transfer of power from the Shogunate government to the Emperor.  The country opened its door to the world again after over 280 years of seclusion policy.

Although the history of Tokyo is much shorter than that of Kyoto, it goes back to early 15th century when the Tokugawa Ieyasu established a Shogunate goverment there after a number of civil wars between clans in Japan. The country of Japan under Tokugawa’s ruling did not have any kind of civil war for about 300 years. The names of most areas in Tokyo have their origins in Edo Era. Many of them have something to do with the occupations of people in the area, geography, worriors serving Tokugawa goverment or the roles the areas were playing in the society of Edo. Alhtough they may not mean anything phoneticaly especially to the ears of non-Japanese people, if one looks at the charactors used, the names often have some meanings.

Interesting Facts about Edo Era


The reason why Tokyo is called Tokyo.

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