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Some Bad Ass Books on Japanese History

Today I just want to recommend a few books that help me write my blog. I love these books. I hope you do too!

Make that… on Edo/Tōkyō History specifically.

For my series on place names in Tōkyō, I often scour the interwebs for old maps of Edo so I can get a feel for the local landscape back in the day. I also constantly refer to a couple of books that I have at home for comparison.

Today, I’d like to share a few of these books with you.

江戸散歩東京散歩 Edo Walk Tokyo Walk


Japanese bookstores are full of flavor-of-the-month history books, so you should always check the shelves. But this one was definitely cool. (The link is to the new edition, I have the old one).

This book lays out some Edo-centric walking tours you can do around Tōkyō. It includes side by side maps of Edo and Tōkyō as well, so you can plan your own walks and sightseeing adventures. The beauty of the old maps is that they include a legend that breaks down daimyō residences into specific categories (upper, middle and lower residences) and it uses current pen-based writing conventions (for example an original Edo Period map might say 甲ヒ literally Kōhi but actually Kōfu while this book uses the modern 甲府 Kōfu). It also recommends shops and restaurants in certain areas, which is why if you decide to buy it, definitely by the newer edition.

よみがえる江戸城 Edo Castle Resurrected


One of the most disappointing things about living in Tōkyō and loving Japanese history is that the biggest and most important castle of the Edo Period is pretty much gone. All that remain are a few moats, a few gates and bridges and some turrets.

This book is totally bad ass. With maps and pictures (some real, some digital reconstructions) it takes you on a tour Edo Castle building by building. The maps of the moat and gate systems are invaluable to me when I write about place names near the castle because much of the original network has been torn down or simplified. If you love castles or just want to know what the hell Edo Castle was like on the inside, you’ll love this book. Even if you can only read minimal Japanese (or nothing), I think you could get a lot out of this book. When I bought it, I could barely string together a complete sentence in Japanese let alone read about Japanese History, so… there ya go.

Tokyo – A Spatial Anthropology

Tokyo – A Spatial Anthropology (English Edition)

This is out of print, but I recently scored a copy to research my neighborhood. What’s awesome about this book is that the author, Jin’nai Hidenobu clearly loves the shit out of Tokyo. He talks about all the transformations of the city (fires, wars, earthquakes, urban sprawl) and especially illuminates the more mysterious side of the transformations – for example, how was all the land that compromised daimyō estates redistributed by the Meiji government? This is a question I could never find a decent answer for via Google. But something as simple as this explains volumes about how former daimyō residences of the Edo Period became centers of 下町 shitamachi downtown culture in Tōkyō in successive eras. It’s a fascinating book. I can’t recommend it enough if you, too, love the shit out of Tōkyō.

I might buy the Japanese version for my wife.

Tokyo – A Spatial Anthropology (Original Japanese Edition)





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9 replies on “Some Bad Ass Books on Japanese History”

Yes, I have it. There are too many photos to count. I heard part of the background story awhile back from someone who wrote part of the book. The album of photos was actually mixed in with some other materials that was sold or donated to a photography museum/society. It’s a series of photos from the first couple years of the Meiji Period as the castle was falling into disrepair. There are some rare shots of different gates at the time and they show a modern picture of roughly the same angle from today making for an interesting comparison. It’s easily worth every one of the 1890 yen. If it were a catalog from a museum collection it would easily cost more.

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