Yuko Tanaka

The Appeal of Tokyo for Yuko Tanaka

The diversity is a big part of Tokyo’s attraction for me. Each area has its own atmosphere. It’s not just a west-side/east-side phenomenon—you can divide Tokyo into hundreds of towns, each one is different, each one is offering subtle distinctions to take in as you walk around.

When I take guests and students from abroad out for a walk, I have a number of my own “Edo routes” I like to show them. For example, I like to show people the parts of old Edo where people used to go for fun. We start at Sensoji Temple and pass through Saruwakacho, which used to be called Shibaimachi (“theater district”), and head on for Yoshiwara. Today’s east-end Tokyo has pretty much lost the flavor of the Edo era, so I like to show people images of woodblock prints from that period on my iPad as I guide them around, saying “This is the kind of place this was back then. Can you picture it?”

As Edo became Tokyo, much of the old city’s character has been lost. But the opposite is also true that the transformation of Tokyo has made many areas more attractive. For example, during the Edo period Nihonbashi was always so crowded it was almost impossible to walk. Now the area is much more orderly. A number of attractions have been added, such as the statue of the kirin (a mythical creature of Chinese legend), which dates from the Meiji period (late 19th century). The nakamise, a row of shops within the temple precincts, is a relatively recent addition to Sensoji Temple. The temple was a much more austere place in the Edo period, which is why I think the modern version, with its bustling shopping area, is much more fun than the original.

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Yuko Tanaka

Born in 1952 in Kanagawa Prefecture. After graduating from Hosei University with a degree in Literature, Tanaka completed the coursework of a PhD in Humanities from the same university but left before obtaining a degree. After serving as a professor at Hosei University's Daiichi Liberal Arts College, then as director of that university's Sociology Department, in April 2014 Tanaka became the first female president of one of Tokyo's "Big Six" universities. Her major fields of study are Edo-era culture and popular culture and comparative Asian culture. Her book Edo no Sozoryoku ("The Imaginative Power of Edo"), published by Chikuma Gakugei Bunko, won the 1986 Minister of Education's New Writer Award in the Fine Arts category. And her Edo Hyakumu ("100 Dreams of Edo"), also published by Chikuma Gakugei Bunko, won the 2000 MEXT Minister's New Writer Award in the Fine Arts category, as well as the 2001 Suntory Prize for Sorcial Sciences and Humanities.

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