Visit Tokyo Waterworks Historical Museum

 —  Explore the water management and technology in Edo and Meiji period


Water M- illust 09.JPG     It would be easy to be able imagine that Edo city, where the population had Water M- overview 01.JPGalready surpassed the scale of a million in 19th century, couldn’t have kept the stable and feasible town life in the city, without enough supply system of usable water supply for the people.  The “Waterworks History Museum” in Tokyo described how these waterworks were constructed in the Edo period, and Water M- overview 04.JPGtried to show how these engineering technologies were passed on to the present water system with inherited technology. The museum also informed how waterworks have benefited to our social life, as well as the people’s wisdom to construct them. Under these understanding I visited this historic museum of waterworks in Tokyo recently. This is the record of my visit.

♣  Outline of Tokyo Waterworks History Museum

Water M- illust 03.JPG      “The Museum ” was established in 1995 in Hongo (Bunkyo ward, Water M- overview 05.JPGTokyo) for introducing 400 years’ development history of water supply system in Edo and Tokyo. The facility was inherited the former “Waterworks Reference Hall” at the “Yodobashi Water Purification Plant (1898) and it had passed on to “Water Supply Museum” in 1884. After that this museum was upgraded to the current “History Museum”. It made the major renewal renovation too in 2009.

Water M- Edo Johsui 12.JPGA variety of historic materials related water supply were displayed at the museum. For example, historic traits of Edo-Kanda “Josui” (waterway) in the 17th century, development trace of Tamagawa Waterway, uncovered sites of Water M- Edo Johsui 10.JPGunderground network system of “Water supply channel” in the city of Edo, evolution process to the “modern water service” after the Meiji era, way of securing water sources to the present age, historic evolution of water purification technology, and others. The many goods and materials is involved in the exhibition, like full size models of water channels and old documents of waterworks excavated and historical maps, chronology of development, dioramas and pictures, and so on. These exhibits are amazingly rich.

♣  History  of water supply  observed in Edo period

Water M- illust 12.JPGIt is said that the first construction of full-fledged water supply in Japan Water M- Meiji 11.JPGwas the Odawara Hayakawa Waterway” by Hojyo Ujiyasu in 1540s. After period in 1590s, Tokugawa Ieyasu entered Edo to build Edo Castle and began to develop surrounding towns. He had actively engaged in the construction works on the coastal reclamation (Hibiya inlet), opening of the moat, river refurbishment, including the completion works of water supply to serve people’s life in castle town Edo.

Water M- illust 13.JPG       Initially, Edo government planned to supply water by the Koishikawa waterway, but later this was upgraded to Kanda Josui Waterway. This waterway was using “Inokashira pond” as a water source, and made it going Water M- Edo Johsui 09.JPGthrough to “Sekiguchi-Mura”, then planned to lead to Mito daimyo’s residence, and it was channeled over the Kanda River by an overhead bridge “Kakehi”.  After that finally the water was managed to distribute to the downtown area in Edo city. This Kanda Josui Waterway Water M- Edo Johsui 05.JPGhad been constantly used in the Edo castle town until Meiji period.  So the Kakehi bridge was painted well by famous artists in the artistic Nishikie Paint (multi-color woodblock picture). (This picture is displayed in the Museum. This is an evidence that Kanda waterway site and the bridge were an enjoyable recreation site of local citizens, not only for the daily water use).  This water supply system seems to show the high-level technology at the time that was able to flow the water by siphon principle transcending the complicated topographic conditions.

<Kanda Josui to Tamagwa Josui>

Water M- Tamagawa 05.JPG       However, even after the “Kanda Josui Waterway” construction, the Water M- Tamagawa 06.JPGdemands of water were further multiplied due to the rapid population growth in the Edo town.  Then the Edo government was pressed to secure massive waterway responding these demands. As a counter measure Tokugawa government had chosen the“Tama river” as the additional water source, and the construction began under this idea.  The construction of “Tamagawa Josui Waterway” was Water M- Tamagawa 01.JPGlaunched in 1653 by amazingly a private contractor, named the Water M- Tamagawa 02.JPGShoemon and Seiemon, a ample rich farmer in the outskirt region of Edo city.

The project had been planned to construct the intake gate at the point of Hamura of Tama river which was far away from Edo town, and it had to excavate the waterway of 43 km to the “Yotsuya” in the central Edo city, all the way with overcoming compound topographical conditions. It can image the project was really challenging at the time under the short of enough construction equipment and technological barriers at that time.

Water M- Edo Johsui 14.JPG     This “Tamagawa Josui” was distributed through the underground water channels from Yotsuya area, and Water M- Edo Johsui 11.JPGafter that supplied as drinkable water through out of town in Edo city. In this network, many wood-made water pipes “Mokuhi” were embedded in underground, and the water was delivered every corner using these wooden pipes. The waterworks are boasted to be architected by quite high engineering skills in terms of its Water M- Edo Johsui 07.JPGprecision level which hardly seen even in the world. In addition, it is believed that the waterway had been distributed under the solid management that is controlling water volume by regulation and inspecting water quality at the several Water M- Edo Johsui 01.JPGdepts by the government. The water was delivered to the public wells in town and was shared among the residences neighbored. The water utility fees were calculated by used     volumes and defined by the government.

Water M- Tamagawa 03.JPGAlso, we have to remember fact that this Tamagawa waterways was used as the irrigation channels near the Edo regions as well, and they were used for the new development of paddy field under the Shogunate for expanding agricultural production and economic development too. (This situation is described well in the Museum)

<Edo Johsui’s prominent exhibition>

Water M- overview 02.JPG       At the museum, the real “Josui” water pipes and actual wells models, and the water distribution maps in the Edo period are Water M- illust 06.JPGdisplayed elaborately. These makes us realize the high waterway construction technology and sophisticated management system at that time. Because of these reasons, the Edo was able to grow till matured urban city which Water M- Edo Johsui 16was able to host a million of residences by securing enough living water.

Although it was not on the subject at the visited museum, it is known that the sewage system of the Edo period was also excellent. (I’d like to investigate this subject later if possible)       The water system of London and Paris is well known, but it can be say that the Edo case was seldom found even in Europe in this scale of water supply at the same period.


♣  Construction of modern waterworks in Meiji period

Water M- illust 01.JPG      However, as the Edo era end and the Shogunate administration shifted Water M- overview 06.JPGto Tokyo, the policy of waterworks has changed to new directions.  Since “Edo’s Water supply lines” were beginning deteriorated caused by degrading wooden water pipes and poor management under the Shogunate at the brink of collapse. Then, the epidemics, like cholera and other diseases, frequently occurred and the hygiene problem became serious in the beginning of Meiji.

Water M- illust 14.JPG    For this reason, the Meiji government was forced immediately to construct a new water system that can supply the high purified waterWater M- overview 03.JPG in massive scale. Then the government set up a revision committee on waterworks and decided to construct a modern water supply system by preparing the “Tokyo Prefectural Water Improvement Design Document” in 1877.

This measure was based on the concept that the tapped Water M- Meiji 04.JPGsource water in the river was led to the pant at the designated points, and filtered and pumped out through iron pipes to the modern public water ways in the city. This system became a norm of Tokyo modern water supply afterward. And while advancing the modern water supply this way, Tokyo prefecture was actively conducting repair work of securing safety of drinking water by Water M- Meiji 07.JPGrefining existing wooden pipes and canals, strengthening crackdown on water pollution.   Regarding planning and construction of this modern water way, UK’s engineers Palmer and Harton greatly contributed in Meiji Period by introduction of the advanced Western technology.
The plan was roughly designed like that. The water of Tamagawa river was led to the Water M- Meiji 01Sendagaya plant for sediment and filter process, then sent it to the water supply plant of Azabu and Koishikawa. From there water was pumped out to the city using iron pipes buried underground.

On the other hand, Nakajima Eiji, an engineer of Waterworks Improvement Office of Tokyo City, has greatly contributed for the implWater M- Meiji 05.JPGementation of plan and the revision of whole design of this project. So, the actual construction was launched by changing the route to the Yodobashi plant for water purification and designated Hongo and Ashiba plants for water supply and water distribution.
From this contribution, the portraits of both Water M- Meiji 12.JPGforeign engineers of UK and Nakajima are displayed in the museum as great contributors of modern water service in Tokyo.    In addition, the museum exhibits a variety of goods and materials, such as the water distribution maps of the time, the water iron pipes and various shape water taps as the monuments showing the development of modern water supply in Tokyo in the initial stage.

♣   Growing  megalopolis Tokyo and improvement of  water supply

Water M- overview 07.JPG      However, Tokyo, which became the metropolitan capital, couldn’t keep up with the huge demand of water if based on the previous facility because of rapid population growth. To deal with these problems, the “Murayama Reservoir” dam was Water M- Dam 01.JPGplanned to construct, in addition to the enhancement of capacity of the Sakai‘s water purification plant, expansion of the waterway and other projects around 1911. In implementation process of these, many obstacles and technological challenges were involved, but after the decades finally the projects were completed by overcoming these Water M- Meiji 06.JPGdifficulties step by step. The museum exhibits these evidences together with detailed explanations of engineering elaborations, and materials, real machinery and equipment  really used.

When we are looking into the long historic process though, the modern waterworks in Tokyo Water M- Dam 02.JPGhas suffered from the countless devastation due to the massive natural disasters and war damages, such as the Great Kanto Earthquake in the 1920s, the subsequent flooding, and calamity caused by the Pacific War of the 1940s, and others. However, in the course of overcoming these Water M- Meiji 13.JPGdifficulties, the civil engineering technology has amazingly advanced and water management was showing the outstanding achievement. For examples, the successful construction of the Ogochi dam, the completion of of Higashi-murayama water treatment plant, the installation of Water M- Meiji 10.JPGKanamachi water purification plant, the reinforcement of the Kinuta water purification plant, and so on.
Even after the War, several new projects and expansion plans were launched too, such as the construction of new water channel to intake water from the Tone River, the start operations of water purification Water M- Meiji 08.JPGplant at Asaka and Misato area, and enhancement of the Kanamachi water purification plant. They are still continuously working now with technological improvement.

And the Yodobashi water purification plant (established in 1898), which became the starting point of Tokyo’s modern water development, was relocated to Higashi-murayama in 1965 with the several Water M- Meiji 14.JPGscaled-up function added. The former Yodobashi site was redeveloped and transformed into the great urban center ” Tokyo’s Subcenter Shinjuku,” which is now fully filled with multi lines of high-rise buildings. This Yodobashi water purification plant is now renown as a certain monument which symbolizes the development of Water M- illust 02.JPGTokyo’s urban development itself. The part of building of the Yodobashi Purification Plant was exhibited in the museum as a museum monument, and it seems to silently describe the history of modern waterworks in Tokyo.

♣  Remarks after visit

Water M- illust 10.JPG      The most impressive things in my visit was the high level of civil Water M- illust 05.JPGengineering technology of the waterworks built in the Edo era and the well-organized  water supply systems at that time. And it was enjoyable to be able to see the historical process to build modern dynamic waterworks since the Meiji era. It is obvious that securing effective “water supply” is crucial for the metropolitan big cities and to keep the healthy and sound social life in the society. Water M- Meiji 15.JPGMoreover, the elaborate water network is indispensable to industrial development.   By visiting museum, I was able to deepen my knowledge about the water problems in history.
These days, there are many reports that numerous artifacts of the Edo period have been excavating at construction sites in Tokyo. These old artifacts would beWater M- overview 04 the evidence to show the situation of the community life and social systems, as well as the level of civil engineering technology at that time. (These excavations and artifacts are extensively exhibited at the museum.) The museum has also disclosed the fact that Edo was a really matured city which seldom seen in the world at the time of the 18th century. I can recognize how the water network has been evolved until now and what sorts of problems they are now facing too.   The museum was really an educational to know these history and reality.






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