Akasaka (Red Rise) is a neighborhood of slopes, ridges, hills, and plateaus that have been slowly tamed over the centuries.
In modern Tokyo it is bounded by Imperial family residences in Akasaka Detached Palace to the north, national government buildings in Eidachou to the east, embassy and nightlife district of Roppongi to the south, and high-class shopping and massive cemetary in Aoyama to the west. Akasaka itself is a dense mix of expensive homes, small businesses, condominiums, apartments and office towers.
Akasaka took shape at the beginning of the Edo period, in the early 1600s. It sat just outside a western gate of Edo Castle's outer wall, across the outer moat. At first the area was the site of temples, the rural farming town of Hitotsugi-chou, and official retreats. Its placement on the Atsugi-Ooyama Highway and bucolic wild highlands also made it a prime location for daimyo estates. These led to commoners (artisans and merchants) and then castle workers taking up residence in the lowlands, and group housing for warriors in the remaining uplands.
Edo's history is not easy to see. Other than temples and shrines, there's nothing left of the historic townscape. For that matter, very little exists of the eighty years before the end of World War Two, during the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa Periods. The Great Kanto Eathquake of 1923 and the US firebombings of 1945 were the deciding factors, but in reality Akasaka was in large part used as military bases in the first half of the 1900s, already drastically changed from its Edo roots.
So we set out on our exploration of Akasaka's rises with a strong sense of fancy. We must think of ourselves in Edo. Imagine the oxcarts and heavy foot traffic heading up steep grades from the castle gates along the highway - in large part a Tokaido bypass - to the pilgramage destination of Ooyama and to far-off Shizuoka. Imagine the thickly wooded daimyo estates, with steps leading past their large, dark, wooden gates and mansions. In clusters and at intersections you find the dense tiled rooftops of longhouses and their low-ranking warrior residents. The bustle of old Hitotsugi-chou, now a shop district and home to not a few dealers in entertainment.
We're off to read the geography and the place names of Akasaka's varied terrain. This is a catalog of the named and memorialized rises on Akasaka's streets.