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Geography Shitamachi (下町)

Shitamachi (下町) means "low town" or "downtown." During the Edo period, shitamachi described all districts lower than Edo castle, in opposition to Yamanote (山の手) or "upper town" (note the name of the JR Yamanote line, which encircles the Imperial palace or former Edo Castle). Shitamachi encompasses the old districts of Tokyo, such as Asakusa, Shitaya (Ueno), Honjō, Kanda, Nihombashi, Kyōbashi and Fukagawa.




The term initially indicated just the three areas of Kanda, Nihonbashi and Kyōbashi, but as the city grew, it came to cover also the areas mentioned above. Shitamachi was the centre of Edo, so much so that the two were often thought of as coterminous. While Shitamachi was not, in fact, synonymous with Edo, there was originally a particular "conflation" of the two terms, and those born in Shitamachi are typically considered true Edokko, children of Edo. This conflation is evident in the Edo period habit of saying "I am going to Edo" to mean going from the area around Fukagawa in Kōtō ward to anywhere east of the Sumida river. While the Yamanote grew west on the Musashino Plateau, in time, the Shitamachi expanded east beyond the Arakawa river and now includes the Chūō, Kōtō (Fukagawa), Sumida, and Taitō wards, plus part of Chiyoda ward. The centre of Ueno in Taitō lies at the heart of the old Shitamachi and still has several museums and a concert hall. Today the immediate area, due to its proximity to a central transportation hub, retains high land value. The Shitamachi Museum in Ueno is dedicated to the area's way of life and culture, with models of old environments and buildings. The Edo-Tokyo Museum, in Tokyo's Ryogoku district, also has exhibits on Shitamachi. Bunkyo and Minato are generally considered Yamanote. However, Nezu and Sendagi in eastern Bunkyo and Shinbashi in northeastern Minato are typical Shitamachi districts.

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