text and photo by
Grigoris A. Miliaresis
On the map, it looks squeezed between the historical hub of Nihonbashi bridge and the moat surrounding the gardens of the Imperial palace; for a city this big it is so small that some tourists are right to wonder why Marunouchi (丸の内) has lent its name to one of the two biggest exits of the central railway station and to one of the subway lines. But it only takes a small walk in its streets to realize that first, it is bigger than it seems on the map and, second, it gives out an air of power so thick that you can almost touch it. Although most cities in the world are content with having two faces, the old and the new, Tokyo prefers to expose all of its history in a distinct fashion and Marunouchi is the part of it reminding the passage of power from the shoguns to the zaibatsu (財閥), the industrial colossi that branded the first half of the 20th century.
Once literally a part of the shogun’s circle (the name means “inside the circle” marking the castle of Edo and the powerful founder of the Tokugawa dynasty, Ieyasu) it was the place where the daimyo, the territorial land holders were forced to build their mansions responding to Ieyasu’s demand that they live every other year in Edo; this way the shogun could control them more efficiently and at the same time use their homes as a second line of defense against a possible attack. The attack never came, at least not from an external enemy, but such an accumulation of powerful people couldn’t but leave its stamp on the land itself. And when it was time for the shogun to be forced to flee, the area hosted the new generation of powerful people, starting with the Iwasaki family, more known by the name of the behemoth it built which was named after its family crest with the three diamonds: Mitsubishi.
A big part of the land called Marunouchi today still belongs to Mitsubishi; what doesn’t belong to it, belongs to other big companies and equally big banks. The buildings are skyscrapers or some leftovers from the beginnings of the Showa era (1926-1989) that managed to withstand the storm of the 1945 bombings, with façades echoing classical Greece, or at any rate, its European interpretation, the avenues are wide, the cars running on them are black and luxurious and the shops exclusive; even the most careless visitor will quickly understand that this area is not for everyone: the daimyo don’t live only in the name of one of Marunouchi’s streets –in effect they never left. They just exchanged their silk kimono with bespoke suits.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.
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