History of Roppongi

Poste date: Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Today, Roppongi is a very international area, with many luxury apartments and residences for foreigners, but in the past, like Hiroo, it was a wilderness. In the Edo period, there were only two small communities, Iigura-Roppongi-cho and Ryudo-Roppongi-cho, which were mostly samurai residences and shrines and temples. The name "Roppongi" is said to have come from six old pine trees, but there are various theories as to the origin of the name. In 1869, the town of Azabu-Roppongi-cho was decreed, and in 1967, the current "Roppongi" including the entire Azabu area was established. This article  introduces the history of how Roppongi became the town it is today.

History of Roppongi: Edo Era, Meiji Era to Early Showa Era

江戸切絵図 麻布絵図(国立国会図書館デジタルコレクション)

The above picture shows Azabu in the Edo era. You can see that there are many samurai residences (large lands), temples and shrines. Below is the Akasaka area in the Edo era. Here, too, you can see a vast area of samurai residences.

江戸切絵図 麻布絵図(国立国会図書館デジタルコレクション)

From "Azabu Ipponmatsu" below, you can see what this area looked like in the Edo era.

江戸名所図会 7巻 松濤軒斎藤長秋 著(国立国会図書館デジタルコレクション)

After the Edo era ended and the Meiji era began, large areas of land such as samurai residences were used for military facilities, and Roppongi was transformed into a military town. On March 10, 1945, an air raid on Tokyo killed more than 100,000 people and affected more than 1 million as a result of civilian attacks by the U.S. military. Minato Ward suffered the most damage in the "Yamanote Air Raid," an air attack by the U.S. military that took place on May 25-26, 1945, after the Tokyo Air Raid. More bombs were dropped on this occasion than on the Tokyo Air Raid, and approximately 3,600 people were killed and 560,000 were affected, of which about 110,000 were in the Minato Ward area. Most of the city was destroyed by fire.

    • History of Roppongi: Postwar to Present

      In the postwar period, sites previously used by the Japanese military were seized by the U.S. military. During the period of U.S. occupation of Japan (until 1952), known as Occupied Japan, GHQ was located in Roppongi. It is said that at that time, there were many American soldiers and Japanese were could not approach the area. Later, as postwar reconstruction progressed, the number of Japanese gradually increased, but many of the restaurants and clubs that catered to American soldiers remained.

      In 1959, the former U.S. military facilities were returned to Japan, and as the number of American soldiers decreased, young Japanese who longed for the image of "America" began to go to Roppongi. Furthermore, the number of entertainers and artists increased as TV stations were established in Roppongi. The Italian restaurant Chianti, established in 1960, became known as a cultural center, attracting artists, musicians, writers, film directors, actors, designers, and other cultural figures.

      In the 1970s, discotheques and coffee shops where people could dance increased, and the area developed into a lively district similar to Shinjuku and Shibuya. In 2000, the Oedo Line opened, making it even more convenient to travel from many cities. 17 years after an urban development project began in 1986, Roppongi Hills opened in 2003, and the area's image as a downtown area was transformed into a business district centered on cutting-edge IT-related businesses.

      Once a place for young people, Roppongi has now become a popular neighborhood with a growing number of families and a well-balanced mix of museums, movie theaters, restaurants, office buildings, and residential areas.