Tamagawa Josui: Edo’s Precious Waterworks
—Basic artery for a city of one million people—
Water is an eternal problem for humankind. Culturally too, the Japanese have a deep relationship with water. Good-quality water is essential for making Japanese food, such as rice, tofu, and Japanese confectionery, as well as sake. And water displays its power in purification and ablutions at shrines too.
It was about four centuries ago when Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616) stepped onto land that was swampy as far as the eye could see and began building Edo (present-day Tokyo) as the center of Japan’s new politics. There was one big problem, however: The land was not blessed with fresh water. Crucial for Edo’s development, the securing of water supplies turned into an enormous project.
The pride of Edo and Tokyo
Tamagawa Josui in Hamura
Edoites used to boast that “I was born in the shogun’s neighborhood and used piped water for my first bath!” Records show that foreigners visiting Japan toward the end of the Tokugawa shogunate were impressed by two things: the giant statue of Buddha in Nara and Edo’s waterworks. These waterworks, which at the beginning of the eighteenth century supported the world’s largest city with a population of one million people, had a total pipe length of 150 km. At that time, both the population and the area served by this water-supply system were the largest in the world.