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Historical Description[]

The fishing village of Edo vaulted to prominence when Japanese warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu moved his headquarters there in 1590. Despite its small size, he saw the site’s strategic value commanding the vast Kanto plain and what is now Tokyo Bay. Edo boomed after Tokugawa became shogun in 1603 with samurai, merchants, and artisans flooding in. The new ukiyo-e art style captured the pleasures of life in the 'floating world' of the glamorous de facto capital. However, a United States expedition under Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in 1853 and gave Edo’s dreamy society a rude awakening. By threatening to destroy Edo with modern naval artillery, Perry forced the Japanese to sign a treaty opening the country to trade.

The shock of this humiliation, the example of western colonialism in neighboring regions, and the threat of being left behind in the technological race for ever more powerful weapons, led to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. This revolution marked the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the restoration of the Emperor to power - and started Japan on their bid for Pacific supremacy that culminated with World War II. From a Japanese perspective, Commodore Perry’s naval guns represented an existential threat to the nation. Japan had to expand to acquire the necessary resources for modernization, as America had in its pursuit of Manifest Destiny, or suffer the fate of other societies that had fallen prey to western colonialism.

As part of the Meiji Restoration, the emperor moved to Edo, which was renamed Tokyo or 'eastern capital.' The city rapidly industrialized along with the rest of Japan. Catastrophe struck in 1923 when it was destroyed by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake, and it endured the deadliest bombing raid of all time during World War II. Tokyo has recovered in the postwar period to become the world’s largest metropolitan area by population as well as a world-class financial and cultural dynamo.

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