More than 100 rivers and canals flow beneath Tokyo, but from the ground its hard to notice them. Why has the city turned its back on water?
Of the near-endless flow of people over the busy Shibuya scramble crossing every day, few realise that beneath their feet is something else flowing, unseen and unnoticed: the crossing of two ancient rivers, the Uda and the Onden.
Beneath all the concrete and neon, Tokyo is a city built on water. It is the reason the Japanese capitals 37 million citizens are here at all. From fishing village to seat of political power, canny water management was a key driver of the citys extraordinary growth.
Youd never know it today. As cities from Seoul to Chicago to Sheffield revitalise their waterfront areas with huge economic and environmental benefits, Tokyo has turned its back on water. Its rivers have been allowed to stagnate. Streams have been filled in, highways built directly over rivers. Waterways used to be a key method of transport and cultural life. Now the rivers and canals are dirty, desolate and nearly deserted.
Fly over Tokyo and you will almost certainly spot at least one of the four megarivers that converge on the city: the Arakawa, Sumidagawa, Edogawa and Tamagawa. These broad, shimmering belts are just the main ones: more than 100 natural rivers and manmade canals flow underneath a city now more famous for glass, steel and concrete.
In fact, it was water management that made Edo, as Tokyo was known, larger than London by 1700. Warehouses lined Tokyo Bay, goods travelled up the rivers and canals just as they now do on roads, while theatres, teahouses and, inevitably, the red light district took advantage of the bustling waterways.