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228 × 180 × 20 mm
240 pages
110 illustrations, 105 in colour
14 Sep 2020

Tokyo Before Tokyo Power and Magic in the Shogun’s City of Edo Timon Screech

Tokyo today is one of the world’s mega-cities, and the centre of a scintillating, hyper-modern culture – but not everyone is aware of its past. Founded in 1590 as the seat of the warlord Tokugawa family, Tokyo, then called ‘Edo’, was the locus of Japanese trade, economics and urban civilization until 1868, when it mutated into Tokyo and became Japan’s modern capital.

This beautifully illustrated book presents important sites and features from the rich history of Edo, drawn from contemporary sources such as diaries, guidebooks and woodblock prints. These include the huge bridge on which the city was centred, the vast castle of the shogun, sumptuous Buddhist temples, bars, kabuki theatres and the Yoshiwara, Edo’s famous red-light district.

‘Screech is a highly knowledgeable guide to Ieyasu’s Edo. His narrative is generously illustrated . . . Today, very little of Tokyo’s past remains standing, but the original footprint is still there. With Tokyo Before Tokyo, Screech shows us where to look.’ — Japan Times

‘In this lavishly-illustrated, beautifully-written and comprehensive book, the splendid yet informal writing enhanced by anecdotes, contemporary art and poetry from beginning to end, Edo comes back to life, its vibrancy restored and its former grandeur put on display. The feeling is of actually being there, in this departed city, with an informed, instructive and often witty guide showing the sights. It’s as close as anyone living today could ever get to understanding the Edo “mentality”.’ — Asian Review of Books

‘[Timon Screech does] a fine job of introducing this wealth of historical material to the general reader, serving as [a guidebook] orientating even the first-time traveler to one of the great cities of the early modern world . . . At the core of his book lie a series of beautifully reproduced graphic images of Edo. These images span a variety of media, from woodblock prints to etchings to oil paintings to folding screens to gold-leafed hand scrolls. They are complemented by photos from the present-day, schematized maps, and CGI reconstructions of lost monuments. In this sense the book resembles, at the most superficial level, a particularly beautiful Fodor’s Guide to a vanished city . . . Screech adds incisive commentary and illuminating vignettes to these images. There are moments when he sounds like a seasoned local tour guide, who can recommend a great little restaurant tucked beside the Mokubo Temple, point you toward the best erotic bookseller in the red-light district. He is particularly deft at dissecting the numerous jokes, puns, and satirical jibes that Edoites were so fond of . . . Screech has a gift for blurring the line between the metaphysical and the aesthetic in such a way as to make a radically alien worldview come alive to modern readers . . . His deeper point is that Edo existed in the imagination as well as in the flesh, and that this imagined Edo was the product of a lavish textual and visual culture that spread far beyond the city to the furthest corners of the realm.’ — Los Angeles Review of Books

‘According to Screech, author of Tokyo Before Tokyo: Power and Magic in the Shogun’s City of Edo, the city is the source of much of what we consider to be Japanese culture: sushi, Mt Fuji, cherry blossoms. Tokyo Before Tokyo is a rich illustrated volume that presents the vibrant visual history of Edo. The book is presented as a series of vignettes, dealing with key landmarks and districts from the old city, from the Shogun’s castle to the famous red-light Yoshiwara district.’ — New Books Network

‘In this beguiling and splendidly illustrated volume, Screech brings to the page an array of fascinating narrative insights that not only tell the story of the shogun’s capital but also set it in the broader context of Japanese cultural history, with its extensive ties to the Chinese world, and even beyond, to Europe.’ — Dr Paul Waley, University of Leeds, co-editor of Japanese Capitals in Historical Perspective: Place, Power and Memory in Kyoto, Edo and Tokyo

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Timon Screech is Professor in the History of Art at SOAS, University of London, and a Fellow of the British Academy. He is the author of many books, including Sex and the Floating World: Erotic Images in Japan, 1700–1820 (2nd edn, Reaktion, 2009).


1 The Ideal City
2 The Centre of the Shogun’s Realm
3 Edo as Sacred Space
4 Reading Edo Castle
5 The City’s Poetic Presence
6 A Trip to the Yoshiwara

Epilogue: From Edo to Tokyo

Selected Sources and Further Reading
General Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements