Some interesting tidbits about Tokyo's 23 wards

TOKYO —

The number of administrative districts in Tokyo referred to in Japanese as ku—now “cities,” but still called wards in some English news media—has waxed and waned over the years. When the capital’s districts were first drawn up in 1878, Tokyo had 15 ku. In 1932, the figure swelled to 35, and then shrank to its current number in March 1947.

Actually for five months of 1947, the ku numbered 22, as the territory of present-day Nerima-ku was incorporated into Itabashi-ku. But it was quickly determined the huge area made it difficult for the local government to provide services, so Itabashi was pared down to size and in August, Nerima became the 23rd ku.

Territorial disputes between ku are not entirely unknown. Shukan Post (Nov 16) notes that there’s a current disagreement over which ku will claim the “Outer Central Breakwater Landfill Site,” being built in two phases, which will eventually occupy 314 hectares of land in Tokyo Bay just to the northeast of Haneda Airport. The man-made island will be connected to the mainland via the Rinkai Tunnel and dinosaur-shaped Tokyo Gate Bridge. The question remains, how will this new territory will be apportioned between Ota-ku and Koto-ku, both of which are claiming sizable chunks of it?

Shukan Post then proceeds to serve up some other interesting nuggets about the 23 ku:

- Snaking along the boundaries of Chiyoda-ku, Chuo-ku and Minato-ku is a “bangai-chi” (no-man’s land) that doesn’t officially belong to any ku. Before the war, the area was all under water, either part of the Sotobori (outer palace moat) and what used to be the Shiodome River. Rubble from bomb damage was used to fill in the moat and river, creating new land, above which was eventually built an elevated highway. As no people reside on the property, it means there’s no one to receive any government services, so its ownership is not disputed.

The land’s current appellation is “Ginza Nine,” which is supposed to mean Ginza 9-chome. Actually, as can be seen on maps, the “chome” numbers on Ginza only go up to eight. But as taxes must be collected from the sales of cigarette vending machines situated on the land, the three respective ku are said to have mutually agreed to an arbitrary line to stake out their territory.

- While eponymous rivers do flow through Sumida-ku and Edogawa-ku, such is not the case for Arakawa-ku. It seems that in olden times, what is now called the Sumida River was a tributary of the Arakawa River and shared the same name as the main channel. But renaming the tributary to Sumida means the Arakawa River no longer flows in Arakawa-ku; in the meantime, another ku grabbed the Sumida name.

- To compound the confusion, JR Meguro station is situated in Shinagawa-ku and JR Shinagawa station is in Minato-ku. It seems back 1870, when the route for what is now the Yamanote line was laid out, Meguro farmers objected to the smoke and ash emanated from steam locomotives, prompting the spot where Meguro station should have been located to be shifted to Shinagawa. JR Shinagawa is one of Japan’s oldest rail stations, and its name derived not from Shinagawa-ku, but from its original district called Shinagawa-ken (province), which ceased to exist in 1871 after Japan’s administrative districts were redrawn at the start of the Meiji Era.

- The male-female population of the 23 ku is not evenly distributed. As of Oct 1 of this year, for every 100 females in Taito-ku, there were 110.1 males.

“Even looking back to the years of the Pacific War, or even during the Taisho Era (1912-1926), males have predominated,” explains a spokesperson for Taito-ku. “It seems to be due to the many small and medium size enterprises that operate here. And the average lot size of homes here is on the small side, so when local women wed, they tend to leave and move somewhere else.”

On the other hand, Meguro-ku plays home to only 88.1 males for every 100 female. This may be why the area boasts a fashionable image that in turn attracts even more single young women to live there.

- Finally, Edogawa-ku can claim the title of Japan’s largest single producer of “komatsuna” (Japanese mustard spinach)—about 40,000 tons per year. The leafy vegetable, often consumed in Chinese restaurants, proliferates in the area around Kasai station, where it has come to be known as “Kasai-na.”

  • 6

    LiveInTokyo

    The number of administrative districts in Tokyo referred to in Japanese as ku—now “cities,” but still called wards in some English news media

    I've always thought it was plain silly that they decided to call the wards, "city". Can't see any logical reason behind it. Does any other city in the world do this?

    Tokyo, to most people I think, is a city. Why call the the suburbs, burrough or other administrative areas of cities in numerous countries, "cities"? Isn't that a little confusing to most people?

    It's like the government here is trying to teach English-speakers their own language.

  • 0

    Maria

    I agree, LiveinTokyo. It has always frustrated me that people call the ku or cho of their city a town as well.

  • 0

    Virtuoso

    What's even more confusing are the telephone exchanges. Komae City, which borders on Setagaya, is allowed to use a 03 exchange, but Chofu City, which also borders on part of Setagaya, uses 0424. Not a great deal of logic to this. The post office ZIP code system (which is much newer) is a bit better organized in this regard.

  • 0

    davidnorell

    I live in the Phoenix Metro Area in Arizona. It is now comprised of about ten cities. Each city is independent. With its own elected mayors and legislators. All these cities, Phoenix, Tempe, Glendale, Peoria, Scottsdale, Gilbert, Paradise Valley, Mesa, Apache Junction(there are a few more that I will gloss over, please forgive me) comprise a megalopolis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megalopolis(citytype) when seen from a mountain or raised area looks like one very big glob of light at night. Each city has grown so large that one cannot make the difference where one city ends and another begins. For all outsiders the Phoenix Metropolitan Area looks like one very big city. Same as Tokyo. Please, do not get into that the Japanese have gotten anything wrong, it just works this way.

  • 1

    LiveInTokyo

    I live in the Phoenix Metro Area in Arizona. It is now comprised of about ten cities. Each city is independent. With its own elected mayors and legislators. All these cities, Phoenix, Tempe, Glendale, Peoria, Scottsdale, Gilbert, Paradise Valley, Mesa, Apache Junction(there are a few more that I will gloss over, please forgive me) comprise a megalopolis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megalopolis(citytype) when seen from a mountain or raised area looks like one very big glob of light at night. Each city has grown so large that one cannot make the difference where one city ends and another begins.

    I hope I understand what you're saying. Would it be correct to say that they were all independent cities that grew into one megalopolis? But the situation with Tokyo is quite different. All the wards were an integral part of Tokyo from the beginning. If I remember correctly, it was some time in the late 90s that the government/s here decided to refer to them as cities.

  • 0

    Geoff Gillespie

    What's even more confusing are the telephone exchanges. Komae City, which borders on Setagaya, is allowed to use a 03 exchange, but Chofu City, which also borders on part of Setagaya, uses 0424. Not a great deal of logic to this. The post office ZIP code system (which is much newer) is a bit better organized in this regard

    I live in Komae City,, it works for me....

  • 0

    Meguroman

    Always interesting to note that Tokyo has the Ogasawara islands. Yes, Meguro has lots of women....

  • 0

    Jonathan Harston

    In the English-speaking world they'd be called boroughs. London Borough of X, Manchester Borough of X, New York Borough of X, etc. Wards are subunits of local authorities used to elect the council.

  • 1

    WilliB

    " Meguro-ku plays home to only 88.1 males for every 100 female. "

    Ha! I knew there was a good reason to live here.

  • 0

    serendipitous

    Interesting article. I always wondered about the Shinagawa/Meguro situation!

  • 0

    blackbagger

    I think whether subunits of a metropolis are called boroughs, wards, or are themselves separate cities depends on the culture and how the metropolis grew up. When they drew up the ku plan for Tokyo I think it was to try to unify areas that had been up till then under separate leadership. I think boroughs are more for places where the city as an entity existed long before it grew to a huge size requiring separate govt for each area.

    Oh, and I'm pretty sure Los Angeles also has the same system, right? They call the sub-units Cities. Anyone from LA want to correct me on this?

  • 0

    sighclops

    Interesting article!

    Also worth noting that Edogawa-ku has the highest population of the elderly and thus, the highest health care rates*

    Killing me as someone living alone (ie. I pay as much as some families!)...

    (*citation needed)

  • 0

    Jonathan Harston

    The London Boroughs, the Manchester Boroughs and the New York Boroughs were all seperate municipalities that were absorbed and consolidated as the larger entity expanded, surrounded and absorbed them. All three of these examples have constituents that have the same name as the larger entity. the City of London is within Greater London, the City of Manchester is a constituent borough of Greater Manchester.

  • 0

    tairitsuiken

    One of the things that make Tokyo a great and interesting city to live in is the diversity between Ku's.

    Having lived in Meguro, it will always be the most attractive place for me; close enough to the very center of Tokyo but far enough away to feel, kinda like a separate place. Meguro has a great relaxed vibe that no Tokyo ku can match.

  • 0

    Ramzel

    @tairitsuiken

    Agreed 100%. Meguro is very central, but also quite relaxed. In fact, it has the lowest population of all wards.

  • 0

    Laurenço Iscariot Shells

    Meguro gets all the women.

    Looks like once again, I get the short end of the komatsuna”

  • 0

    Ian Duncan

    I thought the word was tit-bit?

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