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The reconstruction of Edo Castle:

project for the comprehension and virtual reconstruction of the Tokugawa's Edo Castle

The Imperial Palace of Tōkyō, is today one of the most visited places in Japan. Millions of tourists immortalize it in their photographs, bringing with them the memory of his parks, his majesty, the change of the imperial guard and the aura of the Emperor himself.

Yet not everyone knows its secular history, not everyone knows that the modern city of Tōkyō has structured itself starting from the castle areas, its walls, its canals with bridges and the gates that gave its name to many neighborhoods of the city current.

In short, not everyone knows the hidden face of what was the last stronghold of the Tokugawa shogunate, or the Castle of Edo.

Numerous have been and still are historians, philologists, topographers and archaeologists who have studied the castle's historical, cultural and architectural past. The publications abound, as well as the topographic maps produced since the sixteenth century.

The enormous amount of material makes it difficult to obtain a product that includes all the results produced by the research of the eminent scholars who have dealt with it.

From a archaeological point of view the difficulties can be found in two problems: the first, relating to the "sacredness" of the area in which the main part of the castle stands and the areas currently dedicated to government offices; the second, however, is linked to an element that is also a characteristic of the uniqueness of the castle, or the fact that "it is never dead". This means that since its foundation in the fifteenth century, the castle has always been active as the headquarters of the Tokugawa during the Edo period, then later from the Meiji era to the present day, as the Imperial Palace.
For 5 centuries the castle has expanded to become the only Japanese example comparable to the medieval European citadels. The complex system of walls, canals, bridges and gates has been extended by transforming a small fishing village into a complex urban system on which Tōkyō was built today, so today the ancient components of the Tokugawa Castle are incorporated into the city's districts, many of which kept the name that once identified its gates, its bridges, etc.

The urban transformation produced by the incredible evolution of the medieval citadel has literally and profoundly transformed the topography of the Tōkyō area up to the filling and then the disappearance of the ancient gulf: not being able to extend further into the territory, they began to occupy the sea.


The project and its Methodology

The project in question, aims to bring together Italian and Japanese professionals among archaeologists, historians, topographers, cartographers and surveyors with the aim of re-studying the ancient and modern topographic maps, together with data from archaeological, bibliographic and archive research to realize the dynamic reconstruction of the castle from its origins to the modern era.

This reconstruction, which will be the result of the aforementioned research, will be realized thanks to the use of virtual reality and 3D to revitalize what has been one of the main stages in the history of Japan.

The activities are divided in 3 phases:

  1. archival research: recovery of sources; collection of maps of various periods, mainly those of the origins (15th century), of early Tokugawa works (around 1603), the reconstruction after the Meireki fire (around 1657), the last Tokugawa period and the rise of the Meiji (19th century).

  2. recovery of data from the various archaeological excavations carried out up to the present day.

  3. data processing through modern 3D modeling software: animated reconstruction of the various transformation of the castle through the centuries



The goals are mainly two:

  • The first one is to let the world know a more profound aspect of the Castle, so as to allow a historical reading that does not simply limit it to tourist attraction. What today is the Imperial Palace has much more to tell and the project wants to give a voice to this story.

  • The second one, is to add a new project that develops the already proven collaboration between Japan and Italy in the historical-archaeological-cultural context.

  • The third one, is to create a documentary dedicated to the castle and the project in question.



The idea stems from the results of the excavation of the Hatsushima shipwreck, thanks to which it was possible to dig the wreck of a kaisen that carried the original architectural components, complete with the Tokugawa mon, for the reconstruction of one of the government buildings, following the destruction of the Meireki fire in 1657.

The choice of the participants was based on specific characteristics and on the skills of some IRIAE researchers. In particular:

  • Daniele Petrella 

  • Irene Ciulla

  • Ivan Varriale

  • Sergio Pone

  • Giovanni Borriello

  • Sonia Favi

  • Hayashibara Toshiaki

  • Nicola Lanzaro

Campaign 2022

From 15 to 31 July 2022, research activities took place as part of the project 'Earth and Underwater Archaeology in Japan: from the Hatsushima Wreck to the Reconstruction of Edo Castle' (Arch1059).
After the forced interruption of two years caused by the Covid-19 pandemic emergency, it was finally possible to resume activities, restructuring the research programme with the project partners.
Due to the changes that the pandemic triggered in everyone's lives, Dr. Vittorio Lauro found himself in the position, during the years of stagnation, of having to change jobs, giving up research activities, including those related to the present project.
Therefore, the part of the architectural surveys and the consequent virtual reconstruction was entrusted to Prof. Sergio Pone, Professor of Architectural Technology (Department of Architecture) at the University of Naples 'Federico II', who joined the research team that travelled to Tōkyō.
The team consisted of the writer, as scientific director of the expedition, Dr Irene Ciulla, Dr Ivan Varriale and Pone himself.
During the first week in Tōkyō, it was necessary to carry out surveys and initial tests on the structures of the Edo Castle/Empire Palace and some of the most significant structures of the ancient city still visible in the urban context.
Fortunately, the survey and georeferencing work carried out until 2019 with Dr. Lauro was absolutely useful and effective because it was possible to find all the most hidden points in the complex network of the city, thanks to the georeferenced map produced at the time.
Prof. Pone was able to personally examine the architectural data and structures of the castle-city in relation to the points identified on the numerous Tokugawa-era maps analysed by the team over the years.

On 17 July, a fruitful meeting with the project partners was held on the premises of Hosei University. In addition to the IRIAE team, the meeting was attended by Prof. Jinnai Hidenobu, Professor of Engineering and Design and Spatial Anthropology, Prof. Takamura Masahiko, Professor of Architectural Technology, Dr. Hatakeyama Nozomi and Dr. Naito Keita, both researchers at the Department of Architecture, all members of the Hosei University Research Centre for Edo-Tokyo Studies (ETOS).
During the meeting, Prof. Pone outlined his plan of action for the realisation of the virtual project by bringing a simple test carried out by his team on the Maschio Angioino in Naples. Presenting a 3D-printed model of the Castle (later donated to the University), he showed how the software they created could, through the tablet's camera, recognise the structure and transform it into the shape it was in at the time chosen by the user. The Japanese partners were deeply impressed by the product.

On that occasion, the group officially proposed us to collaborate on another project, again related to the context of the ancient city of Edo, on behalf of our own Embassy. It is about the archaeological-architectural research aimed at the reconstruction and restoration of the garden of the Italian Embassy building in Tōkyō which, as we know, was the residence of the important samurai family, Matsudaira.
The request to collaborate on such a project was then made official by the Ambassador in person, Gianluigi Benedetti, during the customary meeting, held on 20 July, that the IRIAE team has at the Embassy every year to present ongoing projects.

The material produced during the research activities is currently being processed for the realisation of the virtual product. In fact, IRIAE's team of archaeologists and historians is working closely with the group of architects from the Federico II University led by Pone and with Japanese partners.

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