|Otemon was the main gate for Edo Castle, which in its day was
the biggest castle in Japan. Unfortunately, the only traces of Edo Castle remaining
today are the stone foundations of the tenshukaku (main tower) and several of
structures of the Honmaru (main citadel), Ninomaru (second citadel), and Sannomaru
(third citadel), as well as the baileys surrounding them.
The first incarnation of Edo Castle was built in 1457 by Ota Dokan, where the
Edo family had constructed their residence in the early twelfth century. It is
said that the area comprising the present Hibiya and Marunouchi districts was
part of the waterfront and that fishing communities lived there. The place name
Edo itself appears to signify that the area had been a fine bay. Renovation and
expansion of the castle began 400 years ago, in 1603, when the Tokugawa clan
established the seat of the shogunate in Edo, and it grew into Japan's largest
castle in 1710. The five-story castle tower stood an impressive 51 meters high
and was surrounded by as many as 111 gates. The castle has burned numerous times
and was repeatedly reconstructed. In 1863, right before the dissolution of the
shogunate, the main palace burned to the ground and was never rebuilt.
Today, the portion of the palace grounds now known as Kokyo Higashi Gyoen (Imperial
Palace East Garden) is open to the public. This Japanese garden is an ideal place
to take a stroll. Within the garden is the Sannomaru Shozokan, a museum that displays
paintings, documents, and handcrafted objects handed down through the Imperial
family over the generations. It is well worth stopping in to view the collection.