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More than 100 rivers and canals flow beneath Tokyo, but from the ground it’s 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 capital’s 37 million citizens are here at all. From fishing village to seat of political power, canny water management was a key driver of the city’s extraordinary growth.

As Japan’s capital enters a year in the spotlight, from the Rugby World up to the 2020 Olympics, Guardian Cities is spending a week reporting live from the largest megacity on Earth. Despite being the world’s riskiest place – with 37 million people vulnerable to tsunami, flooding and due a potentially catastrophic earthquake – it is also one of the most resilient, both in its hi-tech design and its pragmatic social structure. Using manga, photography, film and a group of salarimen rappers, we’ll hear from the locals how they feel about their famously impenetrable city finally embracing its global crown

As Tokyo has modernised, the role of water has disappeared

Related: ‘This is not a “what if” story’: Tokyo braces for the earthquake of a century

Canals are an excellent base for transport and for managing the heat island effect

Related: Tokyo dawn: is the impenetrable city finally opening up?

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