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What does Tachiaigawa mean?

In Japanese History on January 18, 2019 at 2:52 pm

立会川
Tachiaigawa
(Tachiai River; more at water meets water)

untitled-1

Tachiaigawa in the Edo Period and today

It’s been about a year since I updated the site. A whole fucking year [i]. Long time readers will remember the time I got rivered and almost abandoned the project altogether. Well, I started an article one year ago that, on the surface, seemed so simple, but actually turned into a nightmare. So, I’ve decided to take smaller bites and get things up and running again. I also apologize for keeping everyone waiting and hope I didn’t have anyone worrying. Also, a note about footnotes. WordPress changed the backend editor, so there is a chance the footnote links may not work.

So without further ado, let’s talk about a place in Tōkyō that foreigners don’t often go. Actually, a lot of Tōkyōites have never heard of this area either. It lies on 東海道 Tōkaidō the Eastern Sea Route[ii], just past the former post towns of 北品川宿 Kita Shinagawa-shuku North Shinagawa Post Town and 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa-shuku South Shinagawa Post Town, between the former fishing village of  鮫洲 Samezu and 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds. Of course, I’m talking about 立会川 Tachiaigawa[iii]. In the Edo Period, travelers leaving the capital for Kyōto would have probably lodged in either Shinagawa Post Town or 川崎宿 Kawasaki-shuku Kawasaki Post Town[iv], but they definitely would have passed this rural seaside area, called 大井村 Ōi Mura Ōi Village at the time.

Further Reading:

suzugamori at night (1 of 1)

Suzugamori Execution Grounds at night. Ooooooh, spooooooky.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


tatsu, tachi
stand, rise, set up

au, ai
meet, join

kawa, -gawa
river

There are several creative theories that try to explain the origin of this place name, yet none of them are particularly convincing to me. I have my own pet theory which is not creative and seems super-obvious, but before we talk about the explanations people have put forward over the years, I want to talk about the geography of the area.

Until the late 1950’s, the coastline of  江戸湾東京湾 Edo-wanTōkyō-wan Edo/Tōkyō Bay was more or less the same. The neighborhood called Tachiaigawa was outside of the old city limits on the Tōkaidō Highway and lay directly on the beach at a place where a distributary of the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River called the Tachiai-gawa which flowed into Edo-Tōkyō Bay[v]. Until 1903, when 立会川駅 Tachiaigawa Eki Tachiaigawa Station opened, the area was not called Tachiaigawa. In fact, this is just a local term. In the Edo Period, this area was just considered 荏原国大井村 Ebara no Kuni Ōi Mura Ōi Village, Ebara Province[vi]. Even today, Tachiaigawa is not an official postal code. These days, this is 南大井一丁目 Minami Ōi Itchōme 1st block of South Ōi. The only thing you have to remember is that the Tachiai River has flown and continues to flow through this area. That’s key to its etymology.

samurai battle

Theory 1: There was a Samurai Battle here

This theory posits that the name derives from the combination 太刀 tachi long sword 会 ai meeting 川 kawa river (ie; the river where long swords met). And sure, since the 弥生時代 Yayoi Jidai Yayoi Period (let’s say from 300 BCE) until the Edo Period (1603), the history of Japan was dominated by warfare, but without a specific battle connected to this location, it’s really hard to say if this is just oral tradition or false etymology. If 太刀会 tachiai meeting of long swords is a prevalent place name in other places in eastern Japan or the rest of the country[vii], I might buy into this theory. However, what would seal the deal for me is if someone could point to a specific battle at this location[viii].

waterfall

Theory 2: There were Beautiful Waterfalls

It’s well a known fact that Edo Period castle towns didn’t have street names, so when people described their villages or neighborhoods to each other they used landmarks, hill names, and bridge names. It’s fair to say that either the bridges over the Tachiai River or the river itself could become an unofficial reference to the area.

The story goes that the original village lie on a calm section of the river between two waterfalls and was originally called 滝間 takima between the waterfalls, so locals began to refer to that stretch of the river as 滝間川 Takima-gawa the river between the falls which over time changed into Tachiai-gawa. I find this to be pretty unconvincing because in all my years running this site, I don’t remember a /ki/ becoming a //. Not that it isn’t possible[ix], I just can’t recall an example of that sound change in Japanese off the top of my head. Also, given the constant waterworks projects over the centuries, it would be hard to prove this.

buddha suzugamori (1 of 1)

Buddha statue at Suzugamori Execution Grounds. Recently, I’ve been going here late at night because I like creepy ghost shit. Awwwww yeah.

Theory 3: The Suzugamori Theory

I’ve written about 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds in the past[x] and in that article, I mentioned 涙橋 Namida-bashi the Bridge of Tears. For reasons of ritual cleanliness, executions were generally carried out beyond the city limits, so Suzugamori was a great place for that. People coming in and out of Edo would have seen the shōgunate’s ultimate authority, that over life and death. Also, it’s well known that 浜川橋 Hamagawa-bashi Hamagawa Bridge is generally known by locals as Namida-bashi. This was the last chance for condemned criminals to say their final farewells to their families[xi]. If this is the case, 立会 tachiai has a literal meaning of “standing and meeting.” Family and friends stood and watched their loved ones for the last time here.

namidabashi at night (1 of 1)

Namidabashi at night. Everyone’s coming home after a hard day of work at Suzugamori…

There is a corollary theory that pertains to the specifics of death sentences in the Edo Period. Condemned criminals would have been paraded through the streets as an example to all and then executed at one of the Three Great Execution Grounds of Edo. This related theory says that this river was where 御立会 o-tachiai government “involvement” happened. In short, shōgunate officials would arrive at Suzugamori to confirm the details of the condemned person’s case and observe (another meaning of the word o-tachiai) the execution. That means Tachiaigawa would mean “the place on the river where the shōgunate observed and confirmed executions.”

Because there are two theories presented, this seems to be a solid case for this etymology – on the surface. But guess who has two thumbs, writes JapanThis!, and thinks this is bullshit?

two thumbs

The Edo Period wasn’t that long ago. In fact, last year (2018) was the 150th anniversary of 大政奉還 Taisei Hōkan the shōgunate handing political authority over to the imperial court or 明治維新 Meiji Ishin the Meiji Coup (depending on which side you take). But think about it. Who the fuck would want to brag about living in a neighborhood famous for thousands of executions? To this very day, the former execution grounds of Suzugamori and Kozukappara are some of the least desirable places for real estate, with rent being cheap, and zero developers swooping in to build swanky high-rise apartments and shopping centers[xii]. In fact, the only reason people even live in areas like Tachiaigawa is because of necessity caused by urban sprawl in the post-war years. It’s the main reason the area still feels like the post-war years. Very little has changed since the 1960’s and 70’s! I doubt the execution thing would be a source of pride for the local fishermen and seaweed farmers who operated in this area from before the Edo Period until the 1950’s. Even the “Bridge of Tears” is a nickname. The official name is still “Seaside River Bridge” referring to the fact that it was literally a bridge crossing a river that emptied into the sea. Way more kosher than all that dark execution shit.

ryoma warehouse (1 of 1)

Because Tosa Domain had a huge residence here, you’ll find references to Sakamoto Ryōma and the Black Ships everywhere. For example, on this warehouse or whatever it is.

Theory 4: Where Water Meets Water

In doing this research, I remembered that time I got rivered. There were a few times I came across the kanji stand and meet. We see this in place names like 立川 Tachikawa Tachikawa and words like 合流 gōryū confluence. Without ever reviewing my previous research, it just seemed natural that a place where a river flowed into the sea would be called Tachiai-gawa. Why invoke all this stuff about samurai battles and executions?

To quote from my article on the Meguro River:

The Shinagawa clan was a branch of the main 大井氏 Ōi-shi Ōi clan. In order to irrigate their fief, the Ōi clan dabbled in a little river manipulation. Somewhere near the place called 立会川 Tachiaigawa (the modern kanji mean something like “the place where rivers stand together/come together”), the Ōi separated a section of the river 断ち合い川 tachiai kawa rivers that cut off from each other.  This happened in the Kamakura Period. One of the branches passed by 瀧泉寺 Ryūsen-ji Ryūsen Temple in Shimo-Meguro (see my article on Meguro).

I can’t find any maps from the Kamakura Period for this area[xiii], but Edo Period maps are readily available both online and in my private collection. Although it’s underground today, you can still trace a split in the river near Tachiaigawa Station that once flowed into the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki suburban palace of 土佐藩 Tosa Han Tosa Domain. I’m assuming this is a remnant of the Kamakura Period waterworks. And when I say you can trace the path, I mean you can literally walk the path of the river today. Like right now. I dare you to do it, you lazy fuck.

All of those other fantastic theories are great stories, but if I were a betting man, I’d venture to say the etymology of Tachiaigawa is a mix of “rivers that split off from each other” and “where the river meets the sea.” In a bayside region full of rivers, Occam’s Razor comes down hard in favor of this theory. It’s clean and simple, looks like other derivations we’ve seen before, yet doesn’t require unattested battles, unconfirmed waterfalls and irregular diachronic sound changes, or a bizarre glorification of public executions for 250 some odd years and the shōgunate’s protocol in such matters. It’s just where water meets water. Pretty sure that’s it.

Further Reading:

hamakawa daiba (1 of 1).jpg

Cannon commemorating the Hamakawa Battery. Yup, that’s right. There’s a big ol’ cannon in the middle of a playground for children. Sounds more American than Japanese…

Sakamoto Ryōma

If you get off the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line at Tachiaigawa Station, you’ll find yourself in a very 下町 shitamachi low city neighborhood with a distinct post-war looking 商店街 shōtengai shopping street replete with local bars, yaki-tori joints, and a big old statue of 坂本龍馬 Sakamoto Ryōma. I’m not gonna explain who he was, you can read about him here. But across the street from the station is a school and residential area that sit on the suburban palace of his native domain, 土佐藩 Tosa-han Tosa Domain – modern 高知県 Kōchi-ken Kōchi Prefecture. He most definitely spent some time walking on the Tōkaidō while serving guard duty at the nearby by 浜川砲台 Hamagawa Hōdai Fort Hamagawa in his twenties[xiv]. In Tachiaigawa, you can find a cheap knock off of a famous statue in Kōchi, which itself is a cheap knock off of the iconic photograph of Ryōma himself taken at the 上野撮影局 Ueno Satsueikyoku Ueno Photography Studio in Nagasaki some time in 1867[xv]. At any rate, nearby is a placard depicting the four 黒船 Kurofune Black Ships commanded by Commodore Perry that arrived in Edo Bay in 1853: the Susquehanna, Mississippi, Saratoga, and Plymouth[xvi].

Further Reading:

ryoma tachiaigawa (1 of 1)

Ryōma voguing Bakumatsu style

tachiaigawa at night (1 of 1)

After a day of walking the old Tōkaidō, I love grabbing dinner Shōwa-style in Tachiaigawa.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō With Me Japan This Guided Tours
(And yes, I’ll take you through Shinagawa post town and to Tachiaigawa, or even the execution grounds. It’s not for tourists, it’s for history nerds!)

 


[i] Or, a hole fucking year, if you’re on #TeamIenari.
[ii] One of the 5 Great Highways. The 東海道 Tōkaidō Eastern Sea Route and 中仙道  Nakasendō Mountain Pass Route connected the shōgun’s capital of 江戸 Edo Edo (modern day Tōkyō) with the imperial capital 京 Kyō (modern day Kyōto).
[iii] Of course I am lol
[iv] I’ve actually walked from 日本橋 Nihonbashi, the easternmost starting point on the Tōkaidō (the name literally means “the bridge to Japan”), to the modern city of Kawasaki. Without visiting too many temples and shrines and walking at a brisk pace, I made the journey in a day. I think most Edo Period people would easily spend a full day and night in Shinagawa before beginning the tedious walk to Kawasaki. Shinagawa offered delicious seafood, plenty of drinking and whoring, and a non-stop variety of amazing views of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. Some ghoulishly curious types probably checked out the execution grounds, cuz, yeah. Humans.
[v] At various points in history and depending on the stretch of river in question, this may have been referred to as the Shinagawa River.
[vi] It was directly controlled by the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate, but it wasn’t part of Edo proper. The term 国 kuni province was basically a traditional term – as it is today – to refer to old Heian Period territories. Today, it’s nostalgic, but in the Edo Period, province names were retained for their “classical appeal” and used in court titles.
[vii] It’s not.
[viii] I can’t find anything that satisfies these criteria.
[ix] This exact sound change is quite well known and regular in Latin languages – Italian and French in particular. Latin centum /kentum/ became Italian cento /tʃento/ (one hundred) and Latin cattus /cattus/ became French chat /ʃat/ (cat).
[x] Here’s my article on Suzugamori.
[xi] If their families even bothered to show up.
[xii] The exception being 小伝馬町 Kodenmachō, which is near 日本橋 Nihonbashi whose thriving business district overshadows the grim atmosphere of the neighborhoods around Suzugamori and Kozukappara. Kozukappara was so awful that the place name doesn’t exist outside of historical landmarks. Suzugamori’s name is still attached to a park and an elementary school.
[xiii] There might not be any, but maybe I’ll visit the 品川歴史館 Shinagawa Rekishikan Shinagawa History Museum again to see if they can help.
[xiv] This is a 30-40 minute walk today. I suspect in the Edo Period it would have taken about an hour.
[xv] If I remember correctly, the statue used to stand in front of a convenience store or something as a kinda gimmick. But since the renewal of the old Tōkaidō beginning in 2008 or so, they’ve played up Ryōma’s association with the area much more and put the (I’m assuming) plastic statue on a large concrete pedestal and put him in a park next to the train station.
[xvi] Not that these ships ever actually made it to Edo. They did their business in Uraga Bay which is actually miles from Edo-Tōkyō.

Kura – All About Japanese Storehouses

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on November 30, 2017 at 10:15 am


kura (storehouse, warehouse)

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When traveling through Japanese cities, especially towns in the countryside, you will probably notice distinctive storehouses called kura (written either or ). And although there are many types of kura, the most common types are the ones with white plaster walls, designed to be fireproof and insulated with mud. These are generally called called 土蔵 dozō earthen storehouses.

In the country, these are primarily used for storage and farm equipment. However, in the past, in large cities like Edo, families built kura to protect their valuables. They were a way for merchants and samurai – including 大名 daimyō and even the 将軍 shōgun – to flaunt their wealth. They had valuable things to protect and enough money and land to actually build a storehouse. In fact, there used to be a Japanese idiom, 倉を立てる kura wo tateru, which means “to build a kura” and basically meant “to make it financially.” 福島県喜多方市 Fukushima-ken Kitakata-shi Kitakata City, Fukushima Prefecture claims to have the highest concentration of kura in Japan – so much so that they say that if you haven’t built a kura by age 40, you’re not yet a man.

Anyways, today we’re going to look at the distinguishing features of kura, the construction methods of traditional kura. After that, we’ll talk about the cultural implications of kura in the Japanese imagination, and finally, I’ll tell you a few good places to see them for yourself!

Distinguishing Features

Although the lines are blurred these days, with many kura being repurposed as restaurants and art galleries, traditionally there are two types of kura: the ones used strictly as storehouses, and the ones used as storefronts, or misegura (見世蔵店蔵).

Shutters with janabara

Doors with janbara

 

As mentioned earlier, the earthen walls provided insulation and fireproofing. The stable temperatures inside won’t disrupt the fermentation process, so kura are perfect for making sake, soy sauce, miso, and indigo. To ensure an airtight seal, the shutters and doors employ a 3-tiered stepped and recessed interlocking shape called janbara (蛇腹) which was developed in the Edo Period. Taken literally, the kanji mean “snake belly.”

Kawara tiles

Onigawa with the family name Takahashi in place of an animal or demon

Subtle mizukiri jutting out

Excellent example of an eaves protecting a window

Traditional decorative roofs built with ceramic tiles called 瓦 kawara add another layer of fireproofing and help to disperse rainwater away from the walls. It’s common to find 鬼瓦 onigawara demon tiles, guarding the sides of the rooftop. You may also see vertical rows of pegs or long slats known as 水切り mizukiri water cut offs and additional eaves designed to keep too much water from accumulating on the walls.

Namako kabe fence

Re-purposed and restored kura with namako kabe

More expensive kura tend to feature a black and white criss-cross diamond pattern called 海鼠壁 namako kabe, meaning “sea cucumber walls” because the white semi-circular parts resemble the creature. Believe it or not, this design is more functional than decorative as it further helps to throw water off the surface to protect the walls. Namako kabe originated in southwestern Japan, but is almost universal these days.

The Kitagawa Utamaro Museum in Tochigi City is great example of a massive tripartite misegura decorated in Edo-guro (it’s a fantastic ukiyo-e museum).

In the Kanto area, it was popular to copy the style of rich merchants in Edo who often painted their white kura black, an expensive and high-maintenance process that required constant repainting. The association with the shogun’s capital was so strong that this process came to be called 江戸黒 Edo-guro Edo Black. Many storehouses of this style can be found preserved in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture. When you see Edo-guro buildings, the black paint is usually fading – evidence of the high cost and constant maintenance required to keep up this style.

Hooks

More hooks

Even more hooks

In this ukiyo-e you can see a kura in Nihonbashi with scaffolding up, mounted on – you guessed it – hooks!

Lastly, it’s not uncommon to see rows of hooks wrapping around the second story. Most people don’t notice them, but they’re usually there. These are for attaching scaffolding and ladders when repairs or restorations are needed.

The plaster is peeling off of this neglected kura, exposing the earthen walls beneath.

kura broken


Here you can see the plaster, earth/straw mud walls, and bamboo lathing.

Construction

As mentioned earlier, in the Edo Period, kura were status symbols because it meant you actually had valuable things to protect. Furthermore, it took time and money to build and maintain them. Let’s take a look at how these fireproof storehouses were actually constructed.

  • First, lay a stone foundation.
  • Build a rigid wooden frame with sturdy logs.
  • Add bamboo or palm lathing called komai (木舞) in the shape you want the walls and ceiling to take, sort of like drywall in a modern western house.
  • Apply layer after layer of wet clay and straw on both sides of the lathing until you have the desired thickness of the walls (roughly 16 layers in the Kantō area).
  • Wait about 2-6 months for the clay to dry.
  • Carefully apply a traditional white plaster called shikkui (漆喰) to the outside surface. You’ve seen this plaster if you’ve ever seen a Japanese castle.
  • Apply Edo Black, if you roll like that.
  • Construct a wooden frame across the roof and attach the roof tiles to it.
  • In the country, the insides were usually unadorned, but in cities the insides were often decorated with cypress; recent renovations that you see today may have quite elegant interiors.

Tansu (traditional Japanese “step drawers”)

Once you had finished building your storehouse, you had to maintain it. The floor was regularly swept to keep dust out, and items were kept in boxes and traditional drawers called 箪笥 tansu. Furthermore, a few times a year, items would be removed and aired out, lest they got musty. Interestingly, when some famous temples and shrines aired out their kura, people would come from far and wide to view the treasures that were usually hidden from sight.

Steps inside a wooden floor kura

Workshop inside a kura

The Dark Side

As you can imagine, kura were traditionally very dark on the inside, especially before the advent of electricity, and so there were (and still are!) people afraid of entering them. Sadly, in the Edo Period, family members with mental illness were sometimes imprisoned in kura to keep them from embarrassing the family or running out and committing crimes.

In fact, the fear of kura was so pervasive that until a generation or so ago, it wasn’t unusual to hear of parents locking up misbehaving children in the family kura as a punishment. There was even a book and subsequent movie called 蔵の中 Kura no Naka Inside the Kura, about a girl with a contagious disease who was forced to live in a kura so she couldn’t infect the rest of the family. She had only picture books and Noh masks to entertain herself with.

Traditional bookstore in a kura

The Light Side

Actually, it’s not all grim stories about locking people up in dark, musty storehouses. In some parts of northern Japan, they believed that a 神 kami spirit would inhabit the kura and any family member that attracted its gaze would be rewarded with good luck.

More importantly, as the population declines in rural communities, people buy up old abandoned farmhouses as second homes and often these estates have kura with old family heirlooms accumulated over time. These are a boon to historians when hitherto unknown documents, works of art, and samurai armor and swords are discovered.

Kura at a shrine to house o-mikoshi (portable shrines for festivals)

Where to Check Out Kura

You can find kura all over the country, even in central Tokyo, but there are a few spots around Japan that are particularly famous for having large concentrations of these traditional storehouses.

Matsumoto has many re-purposed kura

In Matsumoto, most kura are in the old merchant district.

If you’re in Nagano, you might want to check out Nawate Dori and the Nakamachi district of Matsumoto. These areas have many preserved Meiji Period kura that have been converted into cafes, shops, and boutiques. The historic atmosphere of the area is perfect for a leisurely stroll before visiting one of Japan’s most majestic buildings, 松本城Matsumoto-jō Matsumoto Castle.

Tochigi City is one of my favorite spots, most people don’t know about it.

There are kura everywhere!

Tochigi’s Kuranomachi – literally “kura town” – is less than an hour from Tokyo by train and home to many historic storehouses that are used as modern shops selling everything from soba to souvenirs. It’s a great escape from the big city for day trippers and photographers looking for a bit of “Old Japan.”

Another great day trip option is Kawagoe which is located in Saitama and is also less than an hour from Tokyo. The city bills itself of as “Little Edo” because of its large number of misegura, storefront kura (which were actually built in the early Meiji Period, but that’s just between you and me). Most of Kawagoe’s kura are fine examples of storehouses that make use of Edo Black, so it really does give you a feel of street life in the merchant districts of the shogun’s capital. The city also has one of the few remaining honmaru goten (本丸御殿), main palace of a Japanese castle, and a section of Edo Castle that was moved to the temple, 喜多院 Kitai-in, by the 3rd shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu.

Of course, the motherlode of kura towns is Kitakata in Fukushima. Depending on who’s counting there are somewhere between 2000-4000 kura in the city. And yes, this is the town where if you don’t have a storehouse of your own by age 40, you’re not a real man. Kura aren’t the only reason to visit this city, there’s also a ramen museum dedicated to the local variety – typified by soy sauce and wavy noodles. It’s a nice place to visit if you’re exploring the Aizu Wakamatsu and Kōriyama areas.

Lastly, if you want to check out some kura in Tokyo, there are two in excellent condition across the street from Tokyo Tower. Just come out of Akabanebashi Station and head to the temple, 明常院 Myōjō-in. The storehouses are located to the left of the main hall and they contain the temple treasures, including a painting by the 9th shogun, Tokugawa Ieshige, as well as the mortuary tablet from the memorial service carried out here on the 49th day after his death. You can still see some of the original Edo Period wall and stone lanterns bearing the shogun’s family crest.

a0146493_00085473

Also, if you feel like heading out of the city center, you can jump on one of the last remaining tramways, the Setagaya Line, which will take you to the 世田谷代官屋敷Setagaya Daikan Yashiki Setagaya Daikan’s Residence – home of a family of town magistrates in the Edo Period. On the premises, you’ll find two kura and a local history museum. Actually, you can find them throughout the city, but sadly they tend to be covered in aluminum siding because it’s cheaper than maintaining them properly. As a result, you may not even notice them even if they’re right in front of you.

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What does Kanda mean? (part two)

In Japanese History, Japanese Subculture, Travel in Japan on August 28, 2017 at 5:35 pm

神田
Kanda (holy rice paddies, Batman)

IMG_5703

Next door to Kanda Shrine is the Confucian school, Yushima Seidō. While the shrine is way more active, I preferred the austerity and classic tranquility of this site.

So, welcome to part two of my series What does Kanda mean? This article is basically a supplement to part one, which discussed the complex etymologies regarding the area and Kanda Shrine. This time we’ll talk about some topics that I felt were too distracting, needed to be separated, and were too long for footnotes. We’ll talk about enshrinements and the relationship between Shintō and Buddhism, and we’ll also talk about family names… and who knows, maybe something else will come up along the way[i]. Since this is a supplement to the previous article, I highly suggest that you read part one first. Otherwise, there’s no context for everything that follows.

IMG_5671

Who is Enshrined at Kanda Myōjin?

Time for a little review. In part one, this wasn’t very important. However, in part two, this is going to be critical.

大国主命
Ōkuninushi no Mikoto

An earthly kami who handed over control of Izumo Province to the heavenly kami who were ancestors of the imperial family and the original court. He was blended with a Buddhist kami, Daikokuten.

大己貴命
Ōnamuchi no Mikoto

This kami, who may or may not be the same as Ōkuninushi, was involved in the transfer of earthly lands to the control of the imperial family.

平将門
Taira no Masakado no Mikoto

A Kantō-based samurai who revolted against the imperial family in the 900’s. His attempted to secede failed, but the locals saw him as a hero eastern autonomy. After the Meiji Coup, he was de-enshrined, only to be re-enshrined after WWII[ii].
OKUNINUSHI RABBIT

Ōkuninushi, here called Ōkuninushi Ōkami saving an injured and tortured rabbit – one of the most famous Shintō myths.

Kanda no Miya Kanda Myōjin?

As mentioned in part one, 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine was originally called 神田ノ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine. This name has serious imperial connotations. Imperial princes, princesses, and their respective cadastral families bore the familial suffix ~宮 miya for centuries[iii]. Many shrines still use -miya in their names or when referring to enshrined deities. For example, Taira no Masakado no Mikoto can be called 三宮 San no Miya the Third Kami of Kanda Shrine[iv]. -Miya can also be used to refer to shrine rankings within certain pilgrimage routes or within certain former provinces[v].

When the Tokugawa Shōgunate was established in Edo, a cultural shift occurred. At that time, the people with all the money and prestige were the samurai. The local people preserved their traditions, but the influx of samurai from the provinces who came in on sanin-kōtai duty brought a distinct warrior culture to the new capital. Under the shōgunate, education generally took place at 寺子屋 terakoya schools operated by Buddhist temples. Also, Buddhism made the samurai (and the ruling Tokugawa clan in particular) distinct from the imperial family, which used Shintō mythology to legitimize its existence.

Buddhism, on the other hand, seemed more universal. After all, the Chinese were all about that shit. China had been around long before Japan and they were way bigger and presumed to have been way more philosophically advanced. Furthermore, Buddhism existed all over Asia and even in some distant, exotic land called India.

Shintō was nowhere to be found in the world, except for Japan. Shintō definitely wasn’t discarded in the Edo Period, but among the educated elites, Buddhism offered an alternative to mythology, the imperial family, and folklore. It offered philosophy, a way of life, and even some answers to the question “what happens when you die?”[vi]

shimenawa

The term 明神 myōjin enlightened kami was a Buddhist term that highjacked the Shintō term 名神 myōjin notable kami, a word used by the imperial court to refer to local kami throughout the realm with highly developed cults, worship that dated back to time immemorial (the Age of the Gods[ix]) or appeared in the mythologies of the imperial clan, and those who were particularly powerful.

But long story short, myōjin means “obvious” or “self-evident.” In this case, Ōkuninushi/Ōnamuchi, and more importantly, Taira no Masakado were obviously beloved by the locals and revered as important 氏神 ujigami tutelary deities[x]. Ōkuninushi and Ōnamuchi qualified as “notable kami” in the Shintō sense because they were included in the legitimatory texts of the imperial family[xi]. In fact, the myth of Ōkuninushi isn’t only directly related to the imperial family’s claim to divine descent and dominion over the earthly realm, he may actually represent an ancient historical event in which the powerful 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province either submitted to or formed an alliance with the imperial family after decades of rivalry.

At any rate, by the Edo Period, Shintō and Buddhism were blended quite nicely and Kanda no Miya had come to be known as Kanda Myōjin.  In this period, it was a tutelary shrine of Edo Castle (the Chiyoda area), modern Kanda, modern Akihabara, and most of the shōgun’s capital in general. You could pretty much assume that the main temples/shrines of Edo were 浅草寺 Sensō-ji Asakusa Temple, 山王比叡神社 Sannō-Hiei Jinja Sannō-Hiei Shrine, and 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine – the oldest and most revered religious complexes in central Edo[xii]. To this day, the 神田祭 Kanda Matsuri Kanda Festival is not just one of the most important summer festivals of Edo-Tōkyō, it’s one of the most important in all of Japan[xiii].

Ōkuninushi Statue Izumo Taisha

But Wait! I Have a Friend whose Family Name is “Kanda.”

Of course, you do. It’s the 262nd most common name in the country[xiv]. There are more than 86,000 people in Japan with a family name spelled 神田. I say spelled because there are at least eight readings that I know of… and I could be mistaken, maybe there are more: Kanda, Kamita, Kamida, Kanada, Kōda, Gōda, Jinda, Jinden[xv]. Of these names, Kanda is by far the most common, so much so that all the other readings would probably provoke questions about regional origins and family history.

japonesque_2dvd

Check the footnotes for details, but Kōda Kumi’s “Kōda” is actually derived from “Kanda.”

Speaking of family history, as I mentioned in part one, the family name, and subsequent place names, derive from the title 神田宿禰 kanda no sukune a title granted to the 大伴氏 Ōtomo-shi Ōtomo clan[xvi], which traced their roots back to a mythological event called 天孫降臨 Tenson Kōrin the Divine Descent[xvii] – when the 天津神 ama tsu kami heavenly kami came down to earth to rule over humans and the 国津神 kuni tsu kami earthly kami. The group sent from the heavens was led by 瓊瓊杵尊 Ninigi no Mikoto, the grandson of the sun goddess, 天照大神 Amaterasu Ōmikami. The grandson of Ninigi was 神武 Jinmu, the mythological founder of the 大和氏 Yamato-shi Yamato clan – that is to say, the imperial family itself[xviii].

A handful of the most elite families in the 大和朝廷 Yamato Chōtei Yamato Court could also trace their ancestry back to this most important story of all Shintō mythology. The Ōtomo clan were said to be descendants of 天忍日命 Ame no Oshihi no Mikoto[xix], a heavenly kami who was part of Ninigi’s entourage that descended from above to the earthly realm. In other words, they didn’t claim imperial power, but they claimed divine ancestry to justify their closeness and loyalty to the Yamato Court.

The Ōtomo were granted the title kanda no sukune by the son of 嵯峨天皇 Saga Tennō the 52nd emperor in the early 800’s. The title roughly translates as Governors of the Shrine Fields[xx]. Forgive me for repeating myself, but the clan hailed from Izumo Province, an ancient and powerful kingdom so closely tied to the Yamato Court that it plays a significant role in the foundational myths of Japan – in particular, the story of Ōkuninushi.

Daikoku_en_zijn_rat-Rijksmuseum_RP-P-1962-331

Daikokuten… or is it Ōkuninushi? … or is it…?

What’s the connection between Ōkuninushi and Daitokuten?

As stated earlier, myōjin is a term that Buddhism highjacked from Shintō which means something like “dude, he’s obviously a god.” Depending on which legitimatory texts promulgated by the early imperial court you believe, Ōnamuchi represents either a relative of or another iteration of Ōkuninushi[xxi]. It’s probably better to think of them as two kami rolled into one, or one kami unrolled into two. Or something like that….

Whether you understand them as one or two kami in any configuration, what you can’t deny is that ancient Japanese people soon associated them with another kami – a mostly Buddhist kami – that is far more well known today called 大黒天 Daikokuten. If you take them as separate kami, then Ōnamuchi is an earthly kami who helped Ōkuninushi support the Yamato State[xxii]. In this case, he is associated with yet another kami – a mostly Buddhist kami – that is even more well-known than Daikokuten today. That kami is 恵比寿 Ebisu. Since the Edo Period, these two kami have been worshipped as distinct members of the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck. As they’re both Yayoi and/or Kofun Period kami[xxiii], it’s understandable that they are associated with bountiful rice production and prosperity. As such, their importance has been intrinsic to the heart and soul of Japan from time immemorial[xxiv].

masakado

De-enshrinement and Re-enshrinement of Taira no Masakado

OK, so all that crazy mythology dating back to proto-historical times aside, the third and final enshrinement at Kanda Shrine was Taira no Masakado[xxv]. He was an historical personage. He’s well recorded and he clearly made an impact on the people living in the villages and hamlets near 江戸 Edo[xxvi]. His legacy energized eastern samurai, and as a kami he became a symbol of infinite human potential for the everyman[xxvii].

But what did the people in the east find appealing about Masakado’s story; his uprising, his defeat, and head magically flying back to the original Kanda Shrine? He was a warrior who rejected a byzantine imperial court in the west that was interested in milking the outer provinces for taxes, grains, and foot soldiers. He also represented a samurai culture that was growing stronger every day, and year by year distancing itself from the outdated and increasingly insular court in Kyōto. Masakado nor his worshippers knew it, but he set the stage for the Rise of the East.

Once the Tokugawa Shōguns began expanding their castle in the early 1600’s, they exploited the importance of Kanda Shrine for its spiritual value. After all, the Tokugawa were also eastern samurai who distanced themselves from the authority of the imperial court in the west[xxviii].

The Meiji Emperor entering Edo - view of Edobashi and Nihonbashi

Meiji Emperor and his court entering the city of Edo and making their way towards Edo Castle.

The Fall of the East
(AKA, the Second Rise of the East)

As everyone knows, the Tokugawa clan ruled for roughly 250 stable years in Japan. As an eastern samurai family – nay, the premier samurai family in the whole country – they recognized the importance of Kanda no Miya and the enshrinement of Taira no Masakado. They also recognized the importance of such ancient kami as Ōkuninushi and their ties to the imperial family. The Tokugawa Shōgunate also successfully maintained a policy of keeping the imperial family and the imperial court in the proverbial kiddy pool, thus suppressing the west while allowing it to maintain a ritual and literary culture under the close supervision of samurai lords who were loyal to the Tokugawa Shōguns.

The imperial family and its goofball court had been pawns in political games of chess since the 1100’s[xxix], but in the Meiji Coup of 1868, the imperial court – while, yeah, still a pawn – was given legitimacy in a western post-Enlightenment sense. The emperor was likened to German or French monarchs. Shintō effectively became a state religion, one based on the ancient texts that legitimized the Yamato clan as the divine rulers of Japan and a Japanese Empire – an empire in a western sense.

The Meiji Emperor and his court chose not to rule from Kyōto, which by this time was a kind of backwater without a port and access to the world[xxx], but from Edo, arguably the largest city in the world with the most impressive infrastructure in all of Asia. They moved into the shōguns’ castle – again, the largest castle in the world[xxxi] – and then found themselves confronted with a most bizarre situation. While the new imperial government wanted to play the religion card to legitimize its authority, it found that the shōgunate had been playing the religion card all these years to legitimize itself, too. One of Edo’s top three religious centers, Kanda Shrine, and the legacy of Taira no Masakado, a samurai who rebelled against the imperial court, were too much to bear.

In order to build up a new capital, Tōkyō[xxxii], the imperial court focused on the construction of western style buildings on the former lands of feudal lords loyal to the Tokugawa. More importantly, they issued a decree separating Shintō from Buddhism as well as the abolition of the samurai class. One of the first actions they took was the de-enshrinement of Taira no Masakado, a symbol of samurai power, and most importantly, a symbol of defiance against the imperial court and its legitimacy. Masakado’s legendary status as a bad ass was impossible to deny, so the Meiji Government de-enshrined him and hoped he would go away.

 

1280px-Taira_no_masakado_kubiduka_2012-03-22.jpg

Masakado Didn’t Go Away

Local people didn’t forget Masakado, but they didn’t fight his removal from the shrine. Edoites, now called Tōkyōites, seem to not have given a shit about the de-enshrinement. The average person on the street was used to syncretic religion, which meant all religion was mixed together for them. Also, given the heavy influence of Buddhism, many of them in the 1870’s were probably atheists or uninterested in religion beyond its performative aspects[xxxiii]. That said, Masakado was removed from Kanda Shrine because he was seen as an imperial rebel.

Masakado’s grave is located in 大手町 Ōtemachi in front of the former Edo Castle. The shōgunate was so superstitious about Masakado that they never moved his grave; his enshrinement at Kanda Shrine was good enough. The Meiji Government was also apparently terrified of his ghost that they, too, left his grave intact.

After the American Occupation and the new secular government’s stance on the separation of religion and government, a new possibility opened for Kanda Shrine. For one, the popular local hero, Taira no Masakado could be re-enshrined without and threat to the imperial family. In fact, since the Shōwa Emperor renounced divine descent, imperial connections to any shrines were minimized to symbolism only. And whether this was a motive or not, I can’t say, but re-enshrining Taira no Masakado seems like a subtle “eff you” to the imperial family squatting on the burned out remains of Edo Castle.

masakado kubi-zuka

Masakado’s grave in Ōtemachi (former Kanda) has been considered haunted since the Tokugawa expansion of Edo Castle, possibly even before that. To this day, the site is well maintained by nearby companies so as to not piss off the rebel samurai.

Kanda Matsuri and all that Otaku Shit

I want to tell you what the Kanda Festival is, but instead, I’m going to show what the Japan National Tourism Organization says about it. Keep in mind, this is one of the most important festivals in Tōkyō and in Japan, and all they can say about it is this:

 

100 portable shrines gather for this festival and a procession of 300 people parades through the streets of Tokyo.

One of the most famous festivals of Tokyo, Kanda Matsuri is also ranked among the three largest festivals of Japan. Protected by the Shogun during the Edo Period (1603-1867) and permitted to enter the grounds of Edo Castle where he lived, it also came to be called ‘Tenka Matsuri’ (‘Tenka’ meaning Shogun). The main festival is conducted in years ending in odd numbers according to the Western calendar, and the festivals held in even-numbered years are much smaller in scale. The rule to change the scale of the festival in alternate years was determined by the Shogun in the Edo Period, for the festivals then were so extravagant.

The main attraction well worth viewing in odd-numbered years is the parade on the Saturday, when some 300 people march through central Tokyo districts such as Kanda, Nihombashi, Otemachi, Marunouchi, and so on. In addition to the portable shrines with a phoenix decorated on the roof there are all kinds of floats, and Shinto priests mounted on horseback line up in rows, producing a spectacular sight. On the Sunday, almost 100 small and large portable shrines gather from each quarter. Recommended souvenirs are T-shirts printed with pictures of the festival scene, fans, towels, etc.

Kanda, the venue of the festival, was formerly the central quarter of Edo (present-day Tokyo) back in the Edo Period. And those born and bred in Kanda were called ‘Edokko.’ Eddokos are considered to be very high-spirited, and their characteristics are reflected in the Kanda Matsuri which is a jovial festival brimming with energy. The Kanda Myojin Museum, which is open to the public on weekends and on national holidays, has a diorama of the Kanda Matsuri and also displays models of floats. If you wish to find out more about the festival, you should visit this museum.

 

35685022774_7542fd0284_o (1)

This is the Fukagawa Matsuri which is related to the Kanda Matsuri. The photo is provided by my friend Rekishi no Tabi. You can find him out Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rekishinotabi/albums

In the 1990’s and more so in the 2000’s, nearby Akihabara became known as an otaku mecca. In 2013, an anime titled ラブライブ! Rabu Raibu! Love Live! aired. It featured a character named 東條希 Tōjō Nozomi who got a part time job as a 巫女さん miko-san shrine maiden at Kanda Shrine. Because of that, and perhaps combined with the otaku penchant for cosplay, working as a shrine maiden here has become a very popular バイト baito part time job for high school and university girls. It’s so popular, in fact, that during the New Year season, applicants are turned away en masse, whereas other shrines have a hard time recruiting enough girls to handle the increased holiday traffic.

tojo nozomi kanda shrine.jpg

A few years ago, my sister-in-law was hired as a shrine maiden for New Year’s break, but I had no idea how popular it was nor how difficult it was to land a gig at Kanda Shrine. When asked why she wanted to do this job so badly, she said she thought the outfit was cute and she wanted to try and wear it at least once in her life.

Ooooooh-kay.

In 2015, the shrine adopted Nozomi as the official mascot, and you can find 絵馬 ema wooden prayer plaques featuring her and other characters from the series. In fact, if you visit today, the combination of traditional Shintō architecture stands in sharp contrast to the anime characters decorating the premises. It’s really weird.

IMG_5688

What Can we Take Away from all This?

Honestly, there’s so much in this story[xxxiv], I hope you just understand why I refused to write about this in 2013, again in 2014, again in 2015, and… you get the idea. The second take away, Japanese history is a black hole of non-stop discovery that’s the greatest soon-to-derail roller coaster I’ve ever dared to board. Lastly, if you’ve read this far, you’re clearly as addicted to this shit as I am. High five.

Before I do my “peace, out!” thing, I want to thank everyone who’s been reading all the while as well as all the new peeps who have come on board. If you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section down below. Also, if you want me to keep doing this, consider supporting JapanThis! via Paypal and Bitcoin, or on Patreon, where I’m making super-secret and exclusive content for Patrons only.

 

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[i] Something that happens here at JapanThis! more often than not.
[ii] More about that later.
[iii] All clans have names. In English, the imperial family is often referred to as the Yamato clan. However, in Japanese, they aren’t commonly referred to this way. While they were, at one time, the Great Kings of Yamato, the main line of emperors has no family name. They are simply emperors. When you’re a descendant of the sun goddess, you can do that. I guess…
[iv] The funerary complex of Tokugawa Ieyasu is called 東照宮 Tōshō-gū. The name brings together a sublime blend of Buddhist and Shintō thought and in doing so, legitimizes the Tokugawa claim to power by divine mandate as a member of the 源氏 Genji Minamoto clan – ie; descendants of the 清和源氏 Seiwa Genji Minamoto family born of Emperor Seiwa’s line.
[v] Provinces, or 国 kuni, existed for most of Japanese history until the Edo Period. Under the Tokugawa Shōgunate, provinces existed as traditional territories, but the real administrative power lay in smaller, more manageable districts called 藩 han domains which were ruled by samurai lords called 大名 daimyo. After the Meiji Coup in 1868, the domain system was abolished and the prefectural system was established. The ancient provinces weren’t addressed because most weren’t functional districts since the Sengoku Period. However, to this day provinces are used to show pride and cultural unity in many areas of Japan. While this is mostly branding today, you can still find regional unity present in cuisine, tradition, and dialects that roughly correspond to the old provinces. And just for the record, Edo and modern Tōkyō fall outside of the Edo Period designations of domains (Edo was the shōgun’s personal property and not a domain). It’s located on the boundaries of two ancient provinces, 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province. This is reflected in the place name Ryōgoku.
[vi] Admittedly, some of Buddhism’s answers to the questions regarding death are pretty ridiculous, but all religions make outrageous claims about the nature of the universe and reality. That’s how they make money.
[vii] Very similar to Rome before Christianity came along and fucked up everything… and then Rome fell.
[viii] To what degree Buddhism and Shintō were considered separate is a discussion for another time.
[ix] Japanese cosmology, as recorded and promulgated by the imperial court in the 7th century, is essentially divided into two major periods: 神代 kamiyo the Age of the Gods and 人代 hitoyo the Age of Men. The dividing point is the mythological founding of the imperial line by the first emperor 神武 Jinmu.
[x] Again, with Taira no Masakado, as a local himself, superseding the former enshrined kami.
[xi] These texts are the 古事記 Kojiki Records of Ancient Matters and 日本書紀 Nihonshoki Chronicles of Japan, often referred to as a set by the term 記紀 Kiki, a word I don’t know how to translate.
[xii] On the outskirts of the city, 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji and 増上寺 Zōjō-ji held the record for being the most ornate religious complexes, as they housed the funerary mausolea of the Tokugawa Shōguns.
[xiii] Learn more about the Kanda Matsuri here.
[xiv] To put this in perspective, Davidson was the 262nd most common family name in the US as of 1990.
[xv] The last two readings are extremely rare and restricted to place names, not family names. An example of this name can be taken from pop culture. A singer from western Japan by the name of 神田來未子 Kōda Kumiko changed her name to 倖田來未 Kōda Kumi. Her actual family name can be read as Kanda, but isn’t. In order to help market her as a singer and performer, management changed 神田 to 倖田. The change of the first character from “kami/deity” to “personal good luck” made the reading of the name easier and more auspicious.
[xvi] Other noble clans were granted this title, most notably the 松浦氏 Matsuura-shi Matsuura branch of the 嵯峨源氏 Saga Genji Minamoto clan descended from Emperor Saga and Taira no Masakado’s branch of the 平氏 Heishi Taira clan, the 桓武平氏 Kanmu Heishi Kanmu Taira clan. Descendants of these families or their clans were granted permission to use the name 神田 in one form or another.
[xvii] Or sometimes, the Descent of the Heavenly Grandson.
[xviii] By accounts of the official records, the imperial family were the rulers of Yamato Province. It’s normal for non-Japanese historians to call the imperial family the Yamato clan, but actually the imperial family has no family name. They are just the imperial family – the soul of Japan.
[xix] A kami so important he was worthy of mentioning in the earliest texts produced in Japan, but not important enough to the purpose of legitimizing the imperial family’s divine rule to preserve the purpose of this god’s function. Nevertheless, as descendants of Ame no Oshihi, the Ōtomo clan were clearly important in the Nara Period, thus the spread of their name under the guise of 神田 Kanda (and its various iterations).
[xx] The title 宿禰 sukune was originally the 3rd highest rank in a hierarchy call 八色の姓 yakusa no kabane. I don’t know how to translate this, but it was a  court rank system that placed families on a hereditary ladder that went like this: 真人 mahito, 朝臣 asomi/ason宿禰 sukune, 忌寸 imiki, 道師 michinoshi, 臣 omi,  連 muraji, 稲置 inagi. There were various types of sukune. Kanda no sukune is just one. The important thing to bear in mind is that this rank is really high in the imperial court of the time.
[xxi] And to be honest, it doesn’t matter because those most ancient of Japanese texts are a mess of contradictions and variations.
[xxii] Also known as 事代主神 Kotoshironushi no Kami. He was a son of Ōkuninushi, but has other roles in other myths that contradict timelines, but whatever. It’s fucking mythology. Anyhoo, he’s associated with agriculture and medicine.
[xxiii] Why do I say they might be Yayoi Period or Kofun Period kami? It’s because of wet rice cultivation. The Yayoi culture brought rice production, land ownership, social stratification, and warfare to Japan. While these people didn’t have writing, we can see a reason for the importance of kami related to rice and land. While we don’t know if these beliefs actually formed at this time, it seems safe to say they were fully developed in the Kofun Period as they appear in the oldest imperial texts.
[xxiv] I just love saying “time immemorial.”
[xxv] I told Masakado’s story in my article What does Ōme mean?
[xxvi] He’s still considered a bad ass in the eastern portion of former Musashi Province (Tōkyō) and the western portion of Shimōsa Province (modern Chiba Prefecture).
[xxvii] This potential would be reached by the Kamakura Shōgunate, and later, on a much grander stage by the Tokugawa Shōgunate. Oh, yeah, the potential of the everyman, if you were a rich guy or samurai… Then again, the everyman always thinks he can be a rich guy someday, doesn’t he?
[xxviii] Of course, they performatively sought legitimacy from the court, then banned the court from any governmental influence as best they could.
[xxix] The Kamakura Period.
[xxx] It kinda had access to Asia, but the Japanese at that time were looking more to the west for inspiration.
[xxxi] Often described as a city within the city.
[xxxii] Edo was renamed 東京 Tōkyō Eastern Capital.
[xxxiii] As most Japanese are today.
[xxxiv] And I had to leave out a lot of stuff to keep your eyes from glazing over…

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