Tokyo's 400th birthday

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edo400logo.gifEdo, the city that became Tokyo, was founded in 1603, so Tokyo is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year.

This afternoon, Tod & I visited the fabulous Edo-Tokyo Museum to learn a little bit more about the history of our city. It's been quite an interesting ride for the Edoko (children of Edo).

Tokugawa Ieyasu founded Edo after being sent here in 1590 from Kyoto, the capital of Japan, where he was a powerful nuisance. He built up his power base in Edo and took over. His descendants held on to power until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

But it wasn't easy. I learned dozens of facts and stories today, but I think I'll focus on two choice tidbits about the Edo era economy.

The Shogun's 5,000 retainers were paid three times a year--in rice. Near the granary in Kuramae where the payments were made, there were rice exchangers who traded rice for cash. When the price of rice dropped, the retainers couldn't afford to to keep up their households, and would promise their next season's payment to the exchangers. Needless to say, the economy wasn't very stable. Currency was devalued several times in the hopes of making things better.

The Tokyo economy ran on the gold standard; in Kyoto silver was the main currency. Currency exchanges in both cities traded silver for gold and vice versa. In a closed economy this worked fine. But when Commodore Perry's "Black Ships" appeared from the US and forced Japan to open its doors to free trade, the Westerners realised that gold in Japan was very cheap, snatched it up, and left Japan considerably richer.

Not long after that, the Meiji Restoration began and that was the end of the Shogunate and its economic woes.

Happy Birthday Tokyo!

To see what else is planned as 400 Years From Edo to Tokyo festivities see the official Event Calendar (Japanese). I'm particularly interested in "Tokyo Lifestyles," September 13 - November 16, at the Edo Tokyo Museum. I'll definitely be going; if you'd like to come along, let's plan a date.

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