Discover Edo, the Historic Green/Sustainable City of Japan

When you pic­ture mod­ern day Tokyo, what comes to mind?

The elec­tron­ic bill­boards of Shibuya and Shin­juku?

The teem­ing streets?

The maid cafes?

The robot hotel?

A 97 square foot micro apart­ment?

Bernard Guer­ri­ni’s doc­u­men­tary Natur­opo­lis — Tokyo, from mega­lopo­lis to gar­den-city describes Tokyo as “a giant city, a city which nev­er stops grow­ing:”

It has destroyed its nat­ur­al spaces. It has cre­at­ed its own weath­er. It’s too big for its own good. They say Tokyo is like an amoe­ba that absorbs every­thing in its path.

It’s a far cry from the urban space Toku­gawa Ieya­su, founder of the Toku­gawa Shogu­nate, intend­ed when plant­i­ng the seeds for Edo, as Tokyo was orig­i­nal­ly called.

As the above excerpt from Natur­opo­lis explains, the 16th-cen­tu­ry city was inno­v­a­tive in its incor­po­ra­tion of green space.

The daimyō, or mil­i­tary lords, were required by the shogu­nate to keep res­i­dences in Edo. Each of these homes was fur­nished with a gar­den­er and a land­scap­er to main­tain the beau­ty of its al fres­co areas.

Mean­while, crops were cul­ti­vat­ed in all com­mu­nal out­door open spaces, with irri­ga­tion canals sup­ply­ing the nec­es­sary water for grow­ing rice.

These plant-rich set­tings pro­vid­ed a hos­pitable envi­ron­ment for ani­mals both wild and domes­tic. The care­ful­ly curat­ed nat­ur­al zones invit­ed qui­et con­tem­pla­tion of flo­ra and fau­na, giv­ing rise to the sea­son­al cel­e­bra­tions and rites that are still observed through­out Japan.

Whether admir­ing blos­soms and fire­flies in spring and sum­mer or autumn leaves and snowy win­ter scenes in the cold­er months, Edo’s cit­i­zens revered the nat­ur­al world out­side their doorsteps.

Bashō did the same in his haiku; Uta­gawa Hiroshige in his series of ukiyo‑e prints, One Hun­dred Famous Views of Edo.

Some­what less poet­i­cal­ly cel­e­brat­ed was the impor­tance of night soil to this bio­dy­nam­ic, pre-indus­tri­al shogu­nate cap­i­tal. As envi­ron­men­tal writer Eisuke Ishikawa del­i­cate­ly notes in Japan in the Edo Peri­od — An Eco­log­i­cal­ly-Con­scious Soci­ety:

A long time ago, when excre­ment was a pre­cious fer­til­iz­er, it nat­u­ral­ly belonged to the per­son who pro­duced it. Farm­ers used to buy excre­ment for cash or trade it for a com­pa­ra­ble amount of veg­eta­bles. Fer­til­iz­er short­ages were a chron­ic prob­lem dur­ing the Edo peri­od. As the stan­dard of liv­ing in cities improved, sur­round­ing vil­lages need­ed an increas­ing amount of fer­til­iz­er…

(Any­one who’s shoul­dered the sur­pris­ing­ly heavy interactive–not THAT interactive–night soil buck­ets on dis­play in Tokyo’s Edo Muse­um will have a feel for just how much of this nec­es­sary ele­ment each block of the cap­i­tal city gen­er­at­ed on a dai­ly basis.)

The Mei­ji Restora­tion of 1868 brought many changes — a new gov­ern­ment, a new name for Edo, and a race toward West­ern-style indus­tri­al­iza­tion. Many parks and gar­dens were destroyed as Tokyo rapid­ly expand­ed beyond Edo’s orig­i­nal foot­print.

But now, the Tokyo Met­ro­pol­i­tan Gov­ern­ment is look­ing to its past in an effort to com­bat the effects of cli­mate change with a push toward envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

The goal is net zero CO2 emis­sions by 2050, with 2030 serv­ing as a bench­mark.

In addi­tion to hold­ing the busi­ness, finan­cial, and ener­gy sec­tors to envi­ron­men­tal­ly respon­si­ble stan­dard, the zero emis­sion plan seeks to address the aver­age citizen’s qual­i­ty of life, with a lit­er­al return to more green spaces:

Accel­er­at­ing cli­mate change mea­sures is impor­tant to pre­serve bio­di­ver­si­ty and con­tin­ue to reap its boun­ty. In recent years, the idea of green infra­struc­ture that uti­lizes the func­tions of the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment has attract­ed atten­tion. It is one of the most impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tions for the future: achiev­ing both bio­di­ver­si­ty con­ser­va­tion and cli­mate change mea­sures.

A Unit­ed Nation report* point­ed out that COVID-19 is poten­tial­ly a zoonot­ic dis­ease derived from wildlife, such infec­tious dis­eases will increase in the future, and one of the rea­sons is the destruc­tion of nature by humans.

Read Tokyo Met­ro­pol­i­tan Government’s Zero Trans­mis­sion Strat­e­gy and Update here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Met Puts 650+ Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed Books Online: Mar­vel at Hokusai’s One Hun­dred Views of Mount Fuji and More

Down­load 1,000+ Beau­ti­ful Wood­block Prints by Hiroshige, the Last Great Mas­ter of the Japan­ese Wood­block Print Tra­di­tion

Wabi-Sabi: A Short Film on the Beau­ty of Tra­di­tion­al Japan

See How Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Car­pen­ters Can Build a Whole Build­ing Using No Nails or Screws

The Entire His­to­ry of Japan in 9 Quirky Min­utes

Cats in Japan­ese Wood­block Prints: How Japan’s Favorite Ani­mals Came to Star in Its Pop­u­lar Art

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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