Tokyo Waterways

Tokyo is a city built on water

Edo Castle

The former Edo Castle and the current Imperial Palace are located on the eastern end of the Musashino Plateau. This location has symbolized the center of Japan since the Edo period (1600–1868) ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate.

However, numerous deep valleys were carved into the ends of this plateau before Tokugawa Ieyasu appeared. Edo Castle was constructed to reap the advantages of this original terrain. The valley was skillfully utilized to build the inner and outer moats and to protect the castle.

The current Hibiya area was a wetland that extended from the bottom of Edo Castle. It was called the Hibiya Inlet in the Edo period, the residences of powerful feudal lords stood in a line in this area; now, there are many high-rise buildings.

A peninsula-shaped sandbar called Edomaejima floats at the other side of the Hibiya Inlet, leading to the Nihonbashi Wave-cut Platform, a shallow and hard seabed hill carved from the earth by waves. This plateau is at an altitude of 5– 10 m and the Bank of Japan Head Office is located here.

The Hibiya and Nihonbashi prototypes built in the Edo period transformed continuously according to the demands of the times, utilizing the characteristics of the terrain.

Nihonbashi, a bustling commercial center

Currently, Nihombashi represents an area extending from the northern part of Edomae Island to the region around the Nihonbashi Wave-cut Platform. Many waterways were constructed to carry construction goods when the Edo Castle was being built. These canals caused boat transportation to flourish, and Nihonbashi thus became a center of commerce.

Astute water management pivotally propelled the city’s extraordinary growth. The famous ukiyoe or “floating world” woodblock prints reflect the centrality of water to the life of the city during the Edo period.

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and WWII

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 instigated catastrophic devastation from fires in Tokyo and killed 70,000 people. A large-scale reconstruction project commenced after the earthquake and transformed Tokyo’s streetscape. Subsequently, the air Raids conducted during WWII transfigured most of Tokyo into burnt ruins.

The rivers and canals filled with debris disposal after these disasters. The city planners embraced a more western style of construction for the extensive rebuilding that followed. The waterways have ceased to discharge a significant function as Tokyo has modernized. Canal transportation and water routes have declined in tandem with the advancement of rail networks.

1964 Tokyo Olympic games

Tokyo decisively veered away from water transport as the 1964 Olympic Games approached and highways obscured many of the city’s waterways. Many highways were erected above rivers and canals to accelerate construction. The Nihonbashi river and bridge were notable victims: the highways running over the Nihonbashi bridge destroyed the landscape. The economy of the waterways was even more devastatingly affected.

Moving the highway above the Nihonbashi bridge underground

The Nihombashi Bridge symbolizes Edo culture and represents the source of the five main roads constructed during the Edo period. It has now been designated an important cultural asset. There are plans to demolish the highway running over the bridge. Instead, it will become a road tunnel under the river. Mitsui Fudosan Co. state that construction on the Nihonbashi project is scheduled to begin around 2025 and should be completed between the end of the 2030s and the 2040s. The project’s developers seek to recreate the water city of the Edo period.

Traveling beneath the concrete and neon on the quieter canals and tributaries, one can still discover the evidence of water running like veins under the city’s concrete skin. The waterways denote crucial elements for the comprehension of Tokyo’s identity. Hopefully, the revitalization of the city’s waterfront areas will also trigger economic and environmental benefits.

If interested in the tour, please refer to:

They provide three cruise courses - Kandagawa Cruise (90 min.), Tokyo Bay Cruise (2 courses available) , OEdo Tokyo Cruise (60 min. A, B, C courses) and (45 min. A, B courses).  Sun Set Night course is also available.  

Please refer to Nihonbashi