Text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
I noticed them from the first time I set foot on their areas –Nihonbashi, Kanda, Ginza, Asakusa and all the rest of the more or less touristic areas that in the map of Tokyo can be found to the right of the Imperial Palace- not because I’m very observant but because their difference to the people in the area that was my base, Shinjuku, was glaringly obvious. Still fueled by my stereotypes, I found their behavior on the border of that I thought of as “Japanese”: they were loud, open-hearted, almost wasteful with their money, rather casual when it came to rules, often harsh in their manners, hard workers but at the same time not very fanatic for their jobs, always looking for a chance to have fun and always eager to point out their descendance: “Edokko” (江戸ッ子) that is, “children of Edo”, the city that from the late 19th century we learned to call “Tokyo”.
The name is not very old; it’s not even entirely clear about what it refers to with extremists wanting real Edokko to have been born around Nihonbashi, the city’s (and practically the whole’ country’s) traffic hub and its first commercial center and to have behind them at least two generations of ancestors also born in the same area of Edo, and moderates willing to widen the geographical limits to the broader shitamachi and narrow the temporal ones to the last generation. It’s almost certain though that from the 18th century on, the urban class of the de facto capital of Japan had developed a strong enough status to want to distinguish itself from the “yabo”(野暮), the farmers and provincial samurai and to promote its values, both the aesthetic and those formulating its way of life.
Edo became Tokyo and now the percentage of real Edokko is so small to be, in effect, insignificant (although some insist that it was never that big anyway). Still, as I wrote before, the difference in attitude and behavior remains visible; yes the “iki” (粋) style I have mentioned previously has been lost in the intermixture of alternating fashions and yes, modern society has abolished the classes of those years, negating with them the need of townspeople to differentiate from the nobles and the samurai but the information has been registered in the collective DNA of East Tokyo and its present-day inhabitants realize it in almost all aspects of their lives, albeit with a little different external characteristics. And they insist on using for themselves the same word –Edokko- wearing it as a badge of honor and thinking, probably rightfully, that they are the guardians of the soul of the metropolis.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes on the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years. For more information about his work and his writing, visit http://about.me/GrigorisMiliaresis and http://www.japanarekore.gr/ or see his interview in Tokyocheapo.