Kanto Region

Outline of Kanto

Centered around Tokyo, the Kanto Region has six other prefectures (Tokyo is a prefecture itself): Saitama, Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Chiba, and Kanagawa. Perhaps this region can be called the “Tokyo Region,” because here almost everything revolves around Tokyo, which is an international megalopolis where many important government facilities and large corporation’s headquarters are concentrated, and its big commercial districts are always attracting people.

Location of the Kanto Region (関東地方の位置)

And the influence of Tokyo is so big and strong that the other prefectures are affected very strongly by it in every respect. In fact, the inevitable expansion of the Tokyo city area has been so vigorous that now it has crossed the border of the original Tokyo Prefecture, forming an unprecedentedly populated area straddling neighboring prefectures―people call it the “Greater Tokyo Area” (or the “Tokyo Metropolitan Area”).

Overlooking the Tokyo Metropolis from Tokyo Skytree. (スカイツリーから見る東京)
Overlooking the Tokyo Metropolis from Tokyo Skytree (with a P. Angenieux Paris 15mmF1.3 lens).

For example, highly-populated Yokohama City is the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture, but, considering it from a different angle, it is a major commercial hub of the Greater Tokyo Area. The land area of the Kanto Region is the smallest of Japan’s seven regions, occupying only 8% of the entire land of the nation, but almost one-third of the whole population is living in this region.

Geography and Climate of Kanto

Geographically, the Kanto Plain, the largest plain in Japan, occupies about two-thirds of the Kanto Region. To the plain’s south and east lies the Pacific Ocean; mountains surround it to the north and west. Some of these mountains are active volcanoes, and because of this, the large portion of the Kanto Region is covered with a volcanic ash soil called “Kanto loam.”

Map of the Kanto Region, Japan (関東地方の地形)
Seven Prefectures in the Kanto Region.

Quite a few rivers flow through the region, and some of them form a border between prefectures. Among them, the Tone River is the most significant. It has the largest basin area in Japan, and because it has flooded many times in the past, it has provided nutrients to its surrounding areas.

The Edo River (江戸川)
The Edogawa River forms a border between Tokyo and Chiba Prefectures (with an XF35mmF2R WR lens).

The climate in the northern Kanto Region is different than it is in its southern part. The winter in the northern area is sometimes harsh, with occasional snowfalls, while the southern area enjoys relatively warmer winters.

Kusatsu hot spring resort in winter, Gunma Prefecture. (草津温泉)
Kusatsu hot spring resort in winter, Gunma Prefecture.

What is lesser-known is that the isolated islands to the south, such as Izu and Ogasawara archipelagoes, are administratively part of Tokyo Prefecture, and in terms of the climate, the latter belongs to the sub-tropical zone. (The Ogasawara Islands are also referred to as the Bonin Islands in Western countries.)

Jinny Beach in the Ogasawara Islands (小笠原諸島のジニービーチ)
Jinny Beach on Chichi-jima Island in the Ogasawara archipelago.

City Centers of Tokyo

Generally, Tokyo has been considered to be the capital of Japan since 1868 when Emperor Meiji left the court in Kyoto and took up residence in the former site of Edo Castle, turning it into the present-day Imperial Palace (Kokyo). Although Edo (the former name of Tokyo) had been the political center and de-facto capital of Japan from the time Tokugawa Ieyasu opened the feudal government there in 1603, some people don’t consider it to have been the “official capital” of Japan at that time because the Emperor resided in Kyoto until 1868.

The imperial palace in Tokyo
Sightseers at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo (with the DMC-FX30).

Today the area generally regarded as the “city center” of Tokyo (or “downtown Tokyo” as it is sometimes called) consists of the three wards (ku): Chiyoda, Chuo, and Minato. Besides the Imperial Palace and the Tokyo Station building, there are many important government buildings in Chiyoda Ward, including the Diet Building, the Prime Minister’s residence, the buildings of various government ministries, and the Supreme Court. Ote-machi and Maruno-uchi area, the economic centers of Japan, with many headquarters of banks and big corporations, are also included in this ward.

The heart of Tokyo seen from the Imperial Palace
Buildings in central Tokyo with the grove of the Imperial Palace in the foreground (with an XF 35mm F2R WR lens).

Chuo Ward has the major shopping areas of Ginza and Nihonbashi, which are the home of many high-end department stores. The Tokyo Stock Exchange (Tosho) is also located here. And Minato Ward has a lot of foreign embassies and IT companies’ headquarters. Roppongi, whose redevelopment project in the early 2000s produced one of the landmarks of Tokyo, Roppongi Hills, is also part of this ward.

Tokyo has a couple of “sub-centers” which are even bigger than its city center. Notable sub-centers include Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro. These three have all been developed around the stations along the JR Yamanote Line, an inner city route that circles the city. Shinjuku, especially, is not only one of Japan’s most vibrant areas with a lot of department stores and restaurants, but also one of the most important business and administrative centers, and that is why it is sometimes called the “new city center” of Tokyo.

High-rise buildings on the west side of Shinjuku Station (新宿西口付近)
High-rise buildings on the west side of Shinjuku Station (with an XF35mmF2R WR lens).

On the west side of Shinjuku Station, several super high-rise buildings are standing, and one of them is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Once it was relocated from Maruno-uchi in Chiyoda ward in 1991, it immediately became a popular landmark, with its futuristic, gaudy look and the fantastic observation decks on the 45th floors of each building.

Expansion and Redevelopment of Tokyo

After the Second World War, Japan struggled to rebuild from the rubble, and during the so-called “Japanese Economic Miracle” period, which roughly spanned from 1954 to 1973, an enormous number of people migrated to Tokyo from the length and breadth of the country in search of the jobs and new opportunities. But the drastic increase of the city population began to cause various problems, including high land prices and traffic jams, among others. So, people sought to relocate some businesses and administrative functions to the outskirts of Tokyo.

Minato Mirai 21 in Yokohama City (みなとみらい21)
People walking toward Minato Mirai 21 in Yokohama (with a Distagon T*25mm f2.8 lens).

As a result, several highly-developed areas began to emerge in the neighboring prefectures. They are now called the “new sub-centers,” among which are “Makuhari New City Center” in Chiba Prefecture, “Saitama New Urban Center” in Saitama Prefecture, “Tukuba Science City” in Ibaraki Prefecture, and “Minato Mirai 21” in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Odaiba in Tokyo (お台場)
Odaiba district in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government embarked on several redevelopment projects inside Tokyo Prefecture. They reclaimed the coastal areas or bought up pieces of land on which sat buildings of little values, like old factory sites, to construct super high-rise buildings for offices and residences, or amusement facilities. The notable examples include, besides the aforementioned Roppongi Hills, the Odaiba area and River City 21. Through all of this expansion and redevelopment, the Greater Tokyo Area we see today was gradually formed.

Photographs: properties of Unfamiliar Japan Tours.com

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