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.”