Yedogawa, c. 1910
“The story of the Kanda River is a story as old as Edo itself. It is part and parcel of the evolution of the city. There was a time within recorded history that the Kanda River never existed. Though a portion of it was once a natural tributary of a long vanished inlet of Edo Bay, it is, in fact, a man-made river. All though it may not be on the lips of every Tōkyōite, today the river is a well-recognized part of the well-manicured urban landscape of the modern city.
“1603 is the watershed moment. Ieyasu is named Shōgun and is the effective military ruler of Japan. From this point, the real history of the Kanda River begins. In 1604, Nihonbashi is built and the 5 Great Highways of Edo [the Go-Kaido] are defined. Strict entry and exit points by land and by river are laid out in order to preserve the new Tokugawa hegemony. Edo’s waterways are no longer ‘just Edo waterways’; they are tactical routes, trade routes, and a means of regulating nature for the protection of the commoners who lived along the rivers and were, essentially, part of the city’s infrastructure. In short, the rivers of Edo became a stabilizing mechanism for the shōgun’s capital.
“From 1616 to 1620, during the reign of 2nd shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada, something really resembling a ‘Kanda River’ in a modern sense came in to existence. This is when the Kandayama [Kanda mountain][xviii] was cut through, and the Kanda River and Nihonbashi River became 2 discrete waterways.
“The Kanda Jōsui is considered the first real aqueduct system in Japan … The distribution of water and water management [by the Tokugawa regime] created one of the greatest advances in urban planning and administration that Japan had seen in centuries.”
– The Kanda River, The Kanda River – Japan This!, 2014