Japanese nickname: Mitsuke
The inspiration people seek: The images that will probably come to mind when people hear “Akasaka-mitsuke” are the remains of Edo Castle’s moat and stone walls, the entertainment districts near Hitotsugi-dori, the iconic intersection of Sotobori-dori and Route 246, the Ginza and Marunouchi subway lines and the numerous luxury hotels that tower over it all.
Since there are TV stations and leading advertising companies around the Akasaka area nearby, some people may think of the area as a playground for celebrities and businesspeople, and others will imagine scenes of the politicians they see on TV leaving a traditional Japanese restaurant after finishing a late-night meeting. Much like Tokyo’s high-end districts of Ginza, Roppongi, Nishi-azabu and Aoyama, there are numerous exclusive late-night entertainment outlets here, making it a place many may find slightly difficult to venture into than other downtown areas.
If riding motorcycles or driving cars is your hobby, you’ll want to head here for the smooth right/left bends and up/downs of Sotobori-dori, R246 and Shutoko Route 4. If you’ve ever taken to these streets early in the morning or in the middle of the night when there’s no traffic, you’ll definitely put them down on your list of fun roads. Also, Akasaka-mitsuke’s intersection serves as a “final corner” that’s become quite iconic worldwide.
In short: Akasaka-mitsuke refers to both the remains of one of the “Edo Castle’s 36 Mitsuke” and the general area surrounding the Akasaka-mitsuke subway station. The word mitsuke means a gate that lies beyond a Japanese castle’s masugata gate (a compound gate built into a square-shaped fortification) or a guard station or watchtower at key locations such as the points where the old highroads intersected and other thoroughfares where traffic converged.
The name of the central area of Iwata City where Yamaha Motor headquarters is located is also called mitsuke, by the way.
The intersection at Akasaka-mitsuke in Tokyo consists of the Sotobori-dori ring road that runs along the site of the now-filled-in Outer Moat of Edo Castle (Sotobori) and Route 246. It’s a five-point junction also joined by the road running from Kioi-cho over Benkei Bridge, and overhead runs an elevated section of Shutoko Route 4. There are also five subway lines that can be boarded at Akasaka-mitsuke Station, and numerous luxury hotels in the area, such as the Hotel New Otani Tokyo that was constructed for the previous Tokyo Olympics. This means there’s always a flow of people going to and from this area of the city.
Some background: Shell mounds have been discovered in the surrounding area and it’s known that this area was also blessed with natural spring water since ancient times. It’s been several thousands of years since people first began settling here, but when the area acquired the name of “Akasaka” is actually unknown, and there are several theories regarding the name’s origins.
Documents refer to this area as “Akasaka” from the Edo Period onward (17th–19th century). It’s thought that because the road that led to and from Akasaka-mitsuke Gate was sloped, headed west and was made of red dirt, the road’s surface would shine red (Akasaka literally means “red slope”) in evening sunlight when viewed from the bottom of the slope (where the Akasaka-mitsuke intersection is today).
Entering the Meiji Period, the area was officially named “Akasaka Ward.” Its Ward designation no longer exists today, but the greater area around the remains of Akasaka-mitsuke has been divided up by the local governments into Minato Ward’s Akasaka and Moto-Akasaka districts, and Chiyoda Ward’s Kioi-cho and Nagata-cho districts. However, people will generally refer to this area as “Akasaka-mitsuke.”