Edo was arranged as a castle town, around Edo castle. The area immediately surrounding the castle, known as the "Yamanote", consisted largely of daimyo (feudal lords) mansions, whose families lived in Edo year-round as part of the sankin koutai system; the daimyo themselves made journeys in alternating years to Edo and made use of these mansions for their extensive entourages. It was this extensive samurai population which defined the character of Edo, particularly in contrast to the two major cities of Kyoto and Osaka, neither of which were ruled by a daimyo or had any significant samurai population. Kyoto's character was dominated by the Imperial Court, the court nobles, its numerous Buddhist temples, and its traditional heritage and identity, while Osaka was the country's commercial center, dominated by the chounin merchant class.
Other areas further from the center were the domains of commoners, or chounin (町人), literally "townsfolk." The area known as Shitamachi (low-town or downtown), to the northeast of the castle, was perhaps one of the key centers of urban culture. The ancient Buddhist temple of Sensou-ji still stands in Asakusa and marks the center of an area of traditional "low-town" culture. Some of the shops in the streets before the temple have been carried on continuously in the same location since the Edo period.
The Sumida River, then simply called the Great River (大川), ran along the eastern edge of the city, along which one would find the shogunate's official rice storage warehouses and other official buildings, along with some of the city's most famous restaurants.
The Edo Bridge (江戸橋) marked the center of the city's commercial center, an area also known as Kuramae. Many fishermen, craftsmen, and other producers and retailers operated here, as did shippers who managed ships to and from Osaka (called tarubune) and other cities, either taking goods into the city, or simply transferring them from sea-routes onto river barges or onto land routes such as the Toukaidou, which terminated here. The area remains the center of Tokyo's financial and business district today.
The northeastern corner of the city, regarded as a dangerous direction in traditional onmyoudou (cosmology/geomancy), is guarded from evil spirits by a series of temples, including Sensou-ji and Kan'ei-ji. Just beyond these lay the districts of the eta or outcastes, who engaged in unclean vocations and were thus separated from the main sections of commoner residences. A long dirt path extended west from the riverbank, a short distance north of these eta districts, leading along the northern edge of the city to the Yoshiwara pleasure districts. Previously located within the city proper, close to Asakusa, the districts were rebuilt in this more distant location after the Meireki Fire of 1657.