It is very interesting to know how towns and cities have developed over time. Many major cities in Japan started off small – from a ward or a suburb before becoming a metropolitan area. Let’s have a look at the two different ways most of the towns and cities in Japan have been able to become what they are right now.
Jouka-machi means “castle town” in English. These towns are developed around a castle. In the olden days, people used to gather near the castle for trade, commerce, administrative purposes, and so on. The jouka-machi style of town building dates back to the Sengoku period (戦国時代). It is believed that Oda Nobunaga (織田信長), a daimyo of the 16th century, has started this policy. He separated warriors from farmers and encouraged them to live near his castle, while the farmers and lower-ranked officials lived far from the castle.
These type of towns usually have a long main street that directly connects to the castle. The closer you get to the castle through this main road, the higher is the social status of the people living alongside. This type of town-building is also a way to protect the castle from any external threat. Any enemy who wants to attack the castle needs to go through half of the town to get there. The entire town is like a big fortress hiding the inner castle effectively. Some examples of this type of towns are Otemachi (大手町), Gofukumachi (呉服町), and others which still continue to use their old names despite being modernized over time.
Monzen-machi refers to “temple towns” in English. These towns and cities are developed around famous shrines, temples, or religious organizations. During the Edo period (江戸時代), people have lived quite peacefully without many wars and thus spirituality and religion have become major influences on people’s lives. A shrine or a temple normally acts as a crowd-puller encouraging people to set up stores and build homes around it. Compared to jouka-machi, these type of dwellings are quite urban with prominence on commerce.
Big cities like Narita (成田) of Chiba Prefecture (千葉県) and Nikko City (日光) of Tochigi Prefecture (栃木県) are developed around Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple (成田山新勝寺) and Nikko Toshogu Shrine (日光東照宮) respectively. A town or a city with a shrine as its center of attraction is called “torii-mae-machi (鳥居前町)” which means “a town in front of a Shrine gate.” Some more examples are as follows: Izumo City (出雲) of Shimane Prefecture (島根県) built around Izumo-Taisha Shrine (出雲大社教), and Ise City (伊勢) of Mie Prefecture (三重県) developed around Ise Grand Shrine (伊勢神宮).
These are the two main ways major urban dwellings in Japan have been developed naturally. There are many famous castles, shrines, and temples across Japan that initially fueled the urban culture.