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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Tokyo Before Tokyo

Power and Magic in the Shogun’s City of Edo

Distributed for Reaktion Books

Tokyo Before Tokyo

Power and Magic in the Shogun’s City of Edo

Tokyo today is one of the world’s mega-cities and the center of a scintillating, hyper-modern culture—but not everyone is aware of its past. Founded in 1590 as the seat of the warlord Tokugawa family, Tokyo, then called Edo, was the locus of Japanese trade, economics, and urban civilization until 1868, when it mutated into Tokyo and became Japan’s modern capital. This beautifully illustrated book presents important sites and features from the rich history of Edo, taken from contemporary sources such as diaries, guidebooks, and woodblock prints. These include the huge bridge on which the city was centered; the vast castle of the Shogun; sumptuous Buddhist temples, bars, kabuki theaters, and Yoshiwara—the famous red-light district.

272 pages | 105 color plates, 5 halftones | 6 3/4 x 8 3/4


History: General History

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"A fine job of introducing this wealth of historical material to the general reader, serving as [a guidebook] orientating even the first-time traveler to one of the great cities of the early modern world. . . . At the core of his book lie a series of beautifully reproduced graphic images of Edo. These images span a variety of media, from woodblock prints to etchings to oil paintings to folding screens to gold-leafed hand scrolls. They are complemented by photos from the present-day, schematized maps, and CGI reconstructions of lost monuments. In this sense the book resembles, at the most superficial level, a particularly beautiful Fodor’s Guide to a vanished city. . . . Screech adds incisive commentary and illuminating vignettes to these images. There are moments when he sounds like a seasoned local tour guide, who can recommend a great little restaurant tucked beside the Mokubo Temple, point you toward the best erotic bookseller in the red-light district. He is particularly deft at dissecting the numerous jokes, puns, and satirical jibes that Edoites were so fond of. . . .  Screech has a gift for blurring the line between the metaphysical and the aesthetic in such a way as to make a radically alien worldview come alive to modern readers. . . . His deeper point is that Edo existed in the imagination as well as in the flesh, and that this imagined Edo was the product of a lavish textual and visual culture that spread far beyond the city to the furthest corners of the realm."

Los Angeles Review of Books

"Screech is a highly knowledgeable guide to Ieyasu’s Edo. His narrative is generously illustrated. . . . Today, very little of Tokyo’s past remains standing, but the original footprint is still there. With Tokyo Before Tokyo, Screech shows us where to look."

Japan Times

"In this lavishly-illustrated, beautifully-written, and comprehensive book, the splendid yet informal writing enhanced by anecdotes, contemporary art, and poetry from beginning to end, Edo comes back to life, its vibrancy restored and its former grandeur put on display. The feeling is of actually being there, in this departed city, with an informed, instructive, and often witty guide showing the sights. It’s as close as anyone living today could ever get to understanding the Edo 'mentality.'"

Asian Review of Books

"According to Screech, author of Tokyo Before Tokyo: Power and Magic in the Shogun’s City of Edo, the city is the source of much of what we consider to be Japanese culture: sushi, Mt Fuji, cherry blossoms. Tokyo Before Tokyo is a rich illustrated volume that presents the vibrant visual history of Edo. The book is presented as a series of vignettes, dealing with key landmarks and districts from the old city, from the Shogun’s castle to the famous red-light Yoshiwara district."

New Books Network

"Contemporary visitors to the Tokyo megalopolis may be forgiven for failing to ascertain what remnants of the city formerly known as Edo still lie beneath the contemporary cityscape. Those with an interest, however, will be greatly aided by Screech's new study, which excavates and resurrects urban history in a manner that eschews mere chronology, instead presenting a 'selection of vignettes' that reveal the ways in which Edo was experienced by residents and visitors alike. . . . An eminently readable and enlightening sketch of the places and ideas that shaped daily life for the Shogun's urban subjects. Recommended."


"In this beguiling and splendidly illustrated volume, Screech brings to the page an array of fascinating narrative insights that not only tell the story of the shogun’s capital but also set it in the broader context of Japanese cultural history, with its extensive ties to the Chinese world, and even beyond, to Europe."

Paul Waley, University of Leeds, coeditor of "Japanese Capitals in Historical Perspective: Place, Power and Memory in Kyoto, Edo and Tokyo"

Table of Contents


1 The Ideal City
2 The Centre of the Shogun’s Realm
3 Edo as Sacred Space
4 Reading Edo Castle
5 The City’s Poetic Presence
6 A Trip to the Yoshiwara

Epilogue: From Edo to Tokyo

Selected Sources and Further Reading
General Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements

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