In 1700, Japan Had The Largest City In The World And Was One Of The Most Urban Countries Of Its Age

(Cherry Blossom Time in Nakanochō of the Yoshiwara, by Utagawa Hiroshige (Japan, Edo, 1797-1858), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Warning: Statistics Imminent


In Europe, by the 1700s, the Renaissance had come and gone, eventually leading to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The Protestant Reformation had drawn a tense divide between nations who followed Catholic belief, and those who found the authority of the pope to be corrupt. Europeans had also spent more than two centuries exploring and colonizing both near and faraway lands. With all of Europe’s impressive growth and development, by 1700, Europe still was nowhere near the top of the world’s most urbanized regions on earth.

The reigning champion of urbanization in 1700 was none other than Japan. The island country likely had the largest city in the world at that time—Edo (now Tokyo) had around one million residents in 1700. Edo was not the only sizable city in Japan. Kyoto and Osaka were also around the same size as London, England and Paris, France, all estimated to house around 350,000 people in 1700. One-tenth of the Japanese population lived in communities that had over 10,000 residents. Even more impressive, was that five or six percent of Japan’s population lived in cities with more than 100,000 people, like Edo, Osaka and Kyoto. In 1700, Japan had more than double the percentage of urbanization than its contemporary European peers.

Here are some tidy facts about the world in 1700:

  • 5-6% of Japanese people resided in cities with populations higher than 100,000.
  • 2% of Europeans lived in cities with populations greater than 100,000.
  • 10% of Japan lived in communities over 10,000 in population.
  • Edo, Japan, had around 1 million residents.
  • Kyoto and Osaka had populations of around 350,000 people.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
  • A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present, by Andrew Gordon. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.


Leave a Reply