Ancient Map of Tokyo (Edo) Poster
Edo (Japanese: ??, literally: bay-door, "estuary", pronounced [edo]), once also spelled Yedo or Yeddo, is the former name of the Japanese capital Tokyo, and was the seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868. During this period it grew to become one of the largest cities in the world and the site of a vibrant urban culture centred on notions of the "floating world".
The site of the city, on what is now known as Tokyo Bay, had been settled for several centuries, but first became historically significant with the building of Edo Castle in 1457 by order of Ota Dokan. Kyoto was the site of the Japanese emperor's residence and the capital of Japan for many centuries, until the Tokugawa shogunate was established in 1603 and Edo became its seat of government. From that point Kyoto remained merely the formal capital of the country, while the de facto capital was now Edo, the centre of real political power. Edo consequently rapidly grew from what had been a small, virtually unknown fishing village in 1457 to a metropolis of 1,000,000 residents by 1721, the largest city in the world at the time.
Edo was repeatedly devastated by fires, with the Great Fire of Meireki in 1657—in which an estimated 100,000 people died—perhaps the most disastrous. During the Edo period there were about one hundred fires, typically started by accident and often quickly escalating to giant proportions, spreading through neighbourhoods of wooden machiya that were heated with charcoal fires. Between 1600 and 1945, Edo/Tokyo was levelled every 25–50 years or so by fire, earthquakes, tsunami, volcanic eruptions, and war.