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Yamanote Line: Tōkyō

In Japanese History on August 3, 2016 at 5:08 am

東京
Tōkyō

tokyo station taisho

Tōkyō Station shortly after its completion

I so just wanna say, we’ve all been there and done that because that would just be easier that repeating myself again and again… After all, my long time readers have all been there and done that. In fact, if anyone knows anything about Japanese history, it’s the fact that the Tōkyō used to be called Edo and the name was changed after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. But if there’s any lesson I’ve learned from Kevin Smith[i] and from the resurrection of the Star Wars franchise[ii], it’s this: When you’re constantly writing about the same topic, you have to be remember that even though you have long time readers, it’s always someone’s first time to learn some of these things. If someone finds this blog post 2 years from now, it could still be their first time to learn anything about the subject.

And that’s where my job gets a bit tricky[iii]. I have to keep things interesting for everyone – longtime readers and first time readers. Hoping to keep everyone happy, especially the longtime readers who probably already know most of this story.

Well, anyways, enough of that. Today, we’re going to cover the Tōkyō Station area.

TOKYO STATION 100 YEARS

Tōkyō Station during its 100 year anniversary jubilee.

Tōkyō Station Area?

Yes. Tōkyō Station is a place, but I don’t think of it as just a station. It’s also the name of the city in general, a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked. This “area” is smack dab in the center of Edo-Tōkyō and it’s kind of one of the oldest developed parts of the city. And while it’s definitely a major hub station, the area itself represents so much more.

The station faces a wide open boulevard that has an Edo Period nickname, 大名小路 Daimyō Koji Daimyō Alley. This thoroughfare bisected an island located between the inner moat and outer moat of Edo Castle[iv]. On this fortified island sat the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residences of some of the feudal lords with the closest connections to the Tokugawa shōguns who lived within the inner moat. The area was 丸之内 maru no uchi inside the citadel[v]. It wasn’t just elite because of all of the daimyō living here with direct access to the shōgun that made this neighborhood unique; it was also its location. The north side of Daimyō Alley was located near the 大手見附御門 Ōte-mitsuke Go-mon Main Gate of the western citadel[vi], essentially the main entrance to the shōgun’s castle[vii].

Directly accessible from Tōkyō Station or accessible on foot if you care to walk 10-15 minutes are a plethora of famous spots:

  • Marunouchi – a financial and banking district; it was formerly a daimyō neighborhood and includes Daimyō Alley (you can walk Daimyō Alley from Yūraku-chō to Taira no Masakado’s Kubizuka).
  • Ōtemachi – a business/financial district; the name refers to the Ōtemon (main gate) of Edo Castle.
  • Sukiyabashi – a shopping district/salaryman nightlife district between Ginza and Marunouchi; tradition says it refers to a tea ceremony instructor of the upper echelons of the daimyō class[viii].
  • Masakado Kubizuka – a haunted tomb dedicated to the head of Taira no Masakado, a symbol of eastern independence from the imperial court in Kyōto.
  • Anjin Street – the last remaining direct reference in Tōkyō to the English samurai William Adams (三浦按針 Miura Anjin in Japanese). He was a close advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu, though to increasingly lesser degrees to the 2nd and 3rd shōguns who were increasingly distrustful of foreign influences on their hegemony.
  • Yaesu – a reference to William Adam’s associate who was given samurai status but was soon forbidden access to the shōgun because he was apparently a drunk twat of the highest order.
  • Daimyō Koji – Daimyō Alley is actually still referenced on some modern maps, but it’s not an official street name.
tokyo construction

Tōkyō Station under construction

Of all the Stations in Tōkyō, Why is this one called Tōkyō?

In 1914 (Taishō 3), this was the largest and most monumental train station in the East. Architecturally, it was more European than American, but in comparison to both modes of thinking, it wasn’t just hub station for Tōkyō, it was a hub station for the new imperial state. It was designed to ensure that Tōkyō was the capital of Asia and had the infrastructure to prove it. In a move the shōgunate would have never tolerated, the station was built on the then fallow yamanote lands confiscated years ago by the imperial government (that were later purchased by the Mitsubishi Corporation) – land that once stood at the front door of Edo Castle[ix].

Long time readers may remember some of the earliest major stations in Tōkyō. The stations that stick out in my mind are Shinbashi, Shinagawa, and Ueno. These stations had all been built in the very early years of the Meiji Period and any of them could have been expanded to become the main station for the city. They were getting a lot of traffic for sure. The problem was that construction would have interrupted traffic for years. Not including the delays cause by the Russo-Japanese War, the actual construction took about 6 years. It was better to leave the other stations alone and build a grand new hub in the former daimyō lands that connected the 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line with the north-south running 東北線 Tōhoku-sen Tōhoku Line[x] while giving direct access areas of the former Edo Castle that were slowly being opened up to the public, sold off to real estate developers, or repurposed by governmental agencies of the Japanese Empire. In short, the station was central[xi], it linked important existing lines, and showcased the city as capital equal to the capitals of Europe and the United States[xii]. That’s a station worthy of the name “Tōkyō Station.”

The station took a bit of a hit in the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake, but it suffered serious damage in the firebombing at the end of WWII. The original building was 3 stories, but 3rd floors of the north and south wings weren’t rebuilt. Although it was repaired and train service was greatly expanded between 1945 and 2000, the station remained a shadow of its former glory until the Bubble Economy. The station was slated for demolition, but an effort to preserve the station as an historical landmark saved the brick monstrosity it had become. From that time on, more and more people became interested in the revitalization of the station and the Marunouchi area in general. Recently, the 3rd floors of the north and south wings have been rebuilt and the temporary triangle shaped rooftops were replaced with domes in accordance with the original design.

View of Tokyo Station in 2000, before renovation work

Tōkyō Station in 2000, before the most recent renovations. Note the north and south wings are only 2 stories. Both wings and the central atrium have cheesy angular roofs rather than elegant domes.

 

When I first visited Japan, some 15 years ago or so, the station looked like ass. However, today it is actually quite impressive. There are a lot of skyscrapers towering over it that detract from its original Taishō Period glory – and the fact that at the time of writing, the main approach to the station is undergoing redevelopment, doesn’t help – but if you spend a little time checking out the exterior of the building, you can clearly see the new bricks and the old bricks. When I see the restored Tōkyō Station, I’m struck by the amazing history of the area. Standing in this area – former holdings of feudal lords, a few minutes’ walk from Edo Castle – a flood of thoughts come to me. I think of Ōta Dōkan. I think of the Tokugawa Shōguns. I think of the Meiji Restoration. I think of the quirky Taishō Era that ended amid recovery from the Great Kantō Earfquake. I think of the rise of ups and downs and subsequent ups of the Shōwa Period. This area, while it looks like a central business district built around a huge garden where the emperor lives, is actually one of the most profound historical areas in Japan. Sadly, most of it doesn’t exist anymore, but Tōkyō Station is most definitely there linking the past with the present.

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[i] Writer, filmmaker, podcaster, professional geek, and a bit of an inspiration to me: Kevin Smith.
[ii] Star Wars: the Force Awakens was Mrs. JapanThis!’s first exposure to the Star Wars universe. I tried to get her to watch the originals but she wasn’t down with it at all. The Force Awakens changed everything.
[iii] That’s metaphorical. This isn’t my job. I write this for free and cross my fingers that one or two of you might decide to donate a dollar or two each month. Fingers crossed!
[iv] The outer moat was filled in after WWII and is now a major thoroughfare called 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri Outer Moat Street, despite not a drop of water in sight.
[v] 丸 maru, which literally means “circle” but in military use means “enclosure” or “encincture,” referred to a variety of fortified enclosures within the walls or moats of a Japanese castle – ie; a “citadel.” In the Edo Period, the 本丸 honmaru main enclosure usually referred to encincture that protected the living quarters of the shōgun or a daimyō (though technically speaking, this was the most secure and final defensive position, so it could also refer to a position a warlord could retreat to and try to hold out or commit seppuku before being overtaken).
[vi] That name is the formal Edo Period parlance; today the gate is just called 大手門 Ōtemon the main gate.
[vii] For you nerdy nerds, Daimyō Alley now stretches from 数寄屋橋 Sukiyabashi (the legendary home of Oda Nobunaga’s younger brother who was a tea ceremony instructor to daimyō; and 数寄屋 sukiya means a kind of tea room) to the 将門塚 Masakado-zuka burial mound of Taira no Masakado’s Head – something I talked about in this unrelated article.
[viii] A 数寄屋 sukiya is tea house for practicing tea ceremony.
[ix] Or as the imperial court liked to call it 東京城 Tōkyō-jō or Teikyō-jō Tōkyō Castle. But until the end of the war, it was usually called the 宮城 Kyūjō Imperial Castle. During the American Occupation, this title was eliminated because the first kanji has religious implications, especially to Shintō and the divine ancestors of the emperor. So it was decided that 皇居 the place where the emperor lives, was best.
[x] This train line wasn’t called the Tōhoku Line until the early 1900’s. Previous to that, these sections of track were part of a network built and operated by 日本鉄道 Nippon Tetsudō Nippon Railways.
[xi] The original proposed name was actually the 中央停車場 Chūō Teishajō Central Depot. The name 東京駅 Tōkyō Eki Tōkyō Station was chosen 2 weeks before the opening of the new station.
[xii] And superior to the capitals of Asia which were just a mess in their opinion – or they’d like you to think so.

Yamanote Line: Akihabara & Kanda

In Japanese History on July 15, 2016 at 4:53 am

秋葉原
Akihabara
(Akiba’s field)
神田
Kanda (holy rice paddies)

Dempagumi

Denpagumi Inc. is an idol group born out of Akihabara’s otaku culture. They perform at a local venue called Dear Stage.

This is the stretch of the Yamanote Line that I’ve been dreading from the beginning. The reason is twofold: Akihabara is a loaded place name that carries a lot of baggage and it’s not my cup of tea[i]. Kanda is also loaded, but I haven’t done a proper article on it yet. That makes it one of the most overdue place names on JapanThis!. But for all intents and purposes, Akihabara and Kanda are historically kinda the same place. In fact, while the name Kanda may date back to the Heian Period or earlier, the name Akihabara wasn’t even necessary until the 1890’s when a train station was opened here. And that’s the real bitch, now isn’t it? I can refer you to my thorough article on Akihabara (the new place), I yet I can’t do much about Kanda (the old place) because I haven’t covered it yet.

So rather than go in deep this time, I’m just going to give a light description of the areas and make a promise to cover Kanda in depth before the end of the year and then update this article with a link the new article.

kanda-takemura

Before there was Akihabara there was Kanda

Originally, the whole area from平将門首塚 Taira no Masakada no Kubizuka Taira no Masakado’s Head Mound[ii] in 大手町 Ōtemachi[iii] to 駿河台 Surugadai (originally 神田山 Kandayama Mt. Kanda) was called 神田 Kanda in general. This changed over the centuries, but for our purposes today, this is good enough. That was Kanda and you can see it originally referred to a large and relatively vague area.

KANDA
Early in the Edo Period – about 1613 – Edo’s main fish market was established in Nihonbashi on the border of Kanda. It was said to stink to high hell and was remained an important fixture of daily life in Edo-Tōkyō until it was destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake[iv]. Also bordering Kanda was Denma-chō, home of one of Edo’s prisons and execution grounds.

By the late Edo Period, a number of very famous 剣術 kenjutsu fencing dōjō’s had come to operate in the area. These schools had close ties with the upper echelons of samurai and were some of the richest and most distinguished schools in the shōgun’s capital. With the arrival of Commodore Perry and his black ships in 1853, the shōgunate immediately established the 講武所 Kōbusho in the area. This was its official military academy to prepare elite samurai for a possible showdown with the west and teach whatever western military strategies and tactics they could get their hands on.

kanda vegetable market

Kanda’s shitamachi. This photo makes it clear how tightly integrated the shitamachi and yamanote were with each other. Much of the area looks shitamachi today despite having yamanote origins during the Edo Period. Most of this image is a holdover from the Tasishō and Shōwa Periods.

In the Fine Tradition of People Getting Shit Wrong on Wikipedia

Let’s see how the editors of a typical English language article on Wikipedia fare on the topic of Akihabara, shall we?

One of Tokyo’s frequent fires destroyed the area in 1869, and the people decided to replace the buildings of the area with a shrine called Chinkasha (now known as Akiba Shrine (秋葉神社 Akiba Jinja), meaning fire extinguisher shrine, in an attempt to prevent the spread of future fires. The locals nicknamed the shrine Akiba after the deity that could control fire, and the area around it became known as Akibagahara and later Akihabara.

The city was barely even Tōkyō in 1869[v], but that’s just being nitpicky so I’m not going to go there.

“The people decided to replace the buildings of the area with a shrine called Chinkasha.” Umm, no they didn’t. The fire in question burned down about 17 blocks of commoner housing. The whole area wasn’t rebuilt as a shrine. That would have been a pretty major shrine if it were in this part of town. And 鎮火社 chinka-sha isn’t the name of a shrine; it’s a category of shrine. Chinka-sha means “fire extinguisher shrine.” No, it doesn’t. 消火 shōka means “extinguish a fire.” 鎮火 chinka means “extinguished fires” with the implied Edo Period notion that more than one fire has occurred.

The locals set up a minor, impromptu shrine that honored the area and mourned the loss of life and property. This wasn’t proper shrine like you’d usually think of. Maybe something made of stones or just wherever people decided to leave offerings that may have grown over time[vi]. Furthermore, the area wasn’t rebuilt for many years because it was designated as a 火除地 hiyokechi firebreak – an empty field that, should a fire break out again, wouldn’t be breached thus protecting the surrounding blocks.

“[The] locals nicknamed the shrine Akiba after the deity that could control fire[vii].” I don’t know if they nicknamed it that or not, but through a ritual called 分霊 bunrei the dividing of a 神 kami spirit, 秋葉大権現 Akiba Daigongen[viii], a Buddhist/Shintō syncretic deity related to fire was installed in the small shrine in 1870. This is really when the place name began to take place. That said, the name could have been lost to time, had a train station not been built in the area. As this area was essentially Kanda, the train company had to come up with a unique name. It was for the purpose of public transportation and zoning that the place name Akihabara ever came into existence[ix].

The explanation of the writing lacks any nuance at all, so I’ll just leave it alone. Ugh.

meiji bridge akihabara kanda river.jpg

This looks like a really expensive Meiji Era bridge, which makes me think it’s actually from the Shōwa Period.. going with my gut instinct because it’s Akihabara and I don’t care so much lol. But that tunnel on the right side… that’s a total rape tunnel isn’t it? Gross. Board it up!

I have to say I was totally dreading writing this mash up of these 2 places. But now that I think about it, they were pretty easy to bring together without getting outside the scope of this series. This also makes a good launch pad for us when I finally get around to discussing Kanda. Like I said, I think Kanda is going to be a bit of an epic article.

For me, I’m just happy that there are only 5 more stations until we make a full circle on the Yamanote Line. I’m thinking about how to break these up in terms of stations. In order to keep up the 2 stations per post, I may include the “ghost station” that is planned between Tamachi and Shinagawa is still just a glimmer in the eye of the JR East. I’m sure they’ll build it – the plan is before the 2020 Olympics – but, honestly, there doesn’t seem any immediate need for it. Worse yet, this station would serve to condense more of Japan’s population in Tōkyō at a time when it should probably be developing urban centers outside of the capital. Anyhoo, that would be a place marker because I can’t write about it until it’s actually built and active as a station lol.

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[i] But even that’s not completely true; there are things about Akihabara that I like. Mainly, maids. Oh, and the giant sex shop. Oh, and the Oculus Rift demo software with the bikini girl on the beach. Oh, and that really good kebab shop whose name I can’t remember. Oh, and the ruins of a samurai residence. Oh, and… oh. That’s all.
[ii] The allegedly haunted burial mound of the head of Taira no Masakado.
[iii] Ōtemachi refers to the district located in front of Edo Castle’s 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate. Now it’s pretty much just a banking and finance district.
[iv] The replacement was Tsukiji Market, which is being moved to Toyosu this year and is a huuuuuge controversy.
[v] The name of the city changed from Edo to Tōkyō in 1868.
[vi] There seem to be no surviving pictures of the shrine.
[vii] Akiba isn’t the only kami who has power over fire.
[viii] Or Akiha Daigongen.
[ix] If you read my original article, you’ll see there were a lot of different ways to refer to this area before the train companies and government standardized things.

Yamanote Line: Ueno & Okachimachi

In Japanese History on June 29, 2016 at 10:37 am

上野
Ueno

16991357795_70e9650c4a_o.jpg

Close up of the restored sukibei of Ueno Tōshō-gū. A sukibei is a kind of fence that goes around the main halls of a shrine built in the gongen-zukuri style.

Long time readers will know that we’ve just rolled into one of my favorite areas of Tōkyō.

Ueno is an access point to a myriad of fantastic spots connected to Japanese history. I’ve covered it numerous times before so I’m just gonna keep it brief this time. In short, the place name Ueno refers to the area immediately surrounding Ueno Station in the vocabulary of a typical Tōkyōite. However, prior to the arrival of trains, Ueno was – strictly speaking – the high ground above the station that is now 上野公園 Ueno Kōen Ueno Park. The lowlands below the park are very 下町 shitamachi low city and betray their commoner origins. The high ground was 山手 yamanote high city and wasn’t so much a “city” per se as much as it was religious center based around 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji Kan’ei Temple one of 2 funerary temples of the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family. The name 上野 Ueno itself means “high field” and is a reference to the 上野台地 Ueno Daichi Ueno Plateau.

ueno daibutsu

The Ueno Daibutsu (Big Buddha), sometimes called the Edo Daibutsu, before it was toppled by the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake.

The plateau was also home to swaths of 武家屋敷 buke yashiki samurai residences and a handful of  大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō residences. This is in direct conflict with the area’s modern image of being 下町 shitamachi low city. And while it certainly has a feel of old, traditional Tōkyō, Ueno is located on the Yamanote Line for a reason[i]. Despite the station being located in the old lowland commoner district, the term traditionally referred to the elite high ground.Most of the confusion deals with a shift in the usage of the terms and the fact that the high ground here is still very traditional.

ueno park hanami

Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in Ueno is pretty much a mad house and it gets crazier and crazier every year. Pretty sure the shōgunate wouldn’t approve.

In Ueno today, you can find bits and pieces of the Tokugawa mortuary temple, Kan’ei-ji, the 書院 shoin room where the last shōgun, 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu put himself under self-imposed house arrest as an act of submission and loyalty to the emperor, numerous temples and shrines, and the battleground of the 上野戦争 Ueno Sensō Battle of Ueno, in which a volunteer samurai militia loyal to the shōgunate fought the imperial rebels in a one day battle that resulted in the destruction by fire of the main hall of Kan’ei-ji and many of its other buildings. The bulk of Kan’ei-ji’s land holdings have become Ueno Park which is famous for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing and for years has been one of the crazier hanami spots – most likely because about 80% of the trees in the park are cherry blossoms. If you can look past the big crowds and drunk zombies stumbling around everywhere, the sheer number and density of 桜 sakura cherry blossoms is stunning.

Further Reading:

drought shinonazu pond.jpg

In 1960, there was a drought so bad that Shinobazu Pond, in the lowlands under the Ueno Plateau actually went dry. The pond had been famous for unagi and lotus. The lotus plants remain, but the drought killed off the unagi. These 3 boys may have killed them all. Look at those stone cold killers toss an unagi into the air to its certain death. Ueon and Okachimachi still have many unagi restaurants but the unagi isn’t local anymore.

御徒町
Okachimachi

I think my original article on Okachimachi pretty much sums up the origin of this place name. 徒 kachi were the very bottom rung on the ladder of 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the Tokugawa shōguns. Long story short, they were samurai but they essentially lived like commoners. That is to say, they lived in the lowlands in barracks similar to (and often adjacent to) the 長屋 nagaya row houses for poor commoners in the 下町 shitamachi low city. In Edo, they were the “white trash” of the samurai class – not through their own fault, though. Class was hereditary. Commoners afforded them the usual courtesy a samurai deserved, but the rest of the samurai class thought very little of them.

 

okachimachi 1955

Okachimachi in 1955. The elevated train tracks for the Yamanote line are still there, but the other buildings are long gone. I’m guessing that tree is gone too.

In the Edo Period, there was a small barracks town in this area. It was essentially home to many 御徒o-kachi the polite term for this class of hatamoto. Keep in mind, the commoners would never dare refer to them by their rank to their face (they were considered just barely samurai by their own class)[ii]. But to the commoners in the area, it looked good to have samurai in the neighborhood. Sure, these weren’t daimyō or high ranking shōgunate officials, but they were still samurai. I don’t know if this affected property values in the Edo Period, actually, I sort of doubt it did, but really I don’t know. That said, what would you be more proud of having across the street from your house; a bunch of cheap yukata makers and green grocers or some sword wielding samurai?

Hopefully now you can sort of imagine why the title of low ranking samurai would have held so much sway among their commoner neighbors after the abolition of the samurai class in 1868 (which would have meant the destruction of the barracks and those kachi had to fend for themselves in the real world). Still, it sounded cool to have had samurai in the neighborhood once the samurai were all but gone.

mizushōbai

2 girls eating a late night dinner in Ameyoko-chō in summer, 1955. It’s unclear if they’re hostesses, prostitutes, or both. Anyways, it’s a pretty hot shot lol.

Between Okachimachi and Ueno Station, there is an area called アメヤ横丁 Ameya Yoko-chō which has a somewhat obscure etymology, but by most accounts seems to be a reference to a post war black market area where American military surplus was sold off to Tōkyōites living in the burnt out capital. アメ屋 ame-ya is said to be short for アメリカ屋 Amerika-ya America shops. 横丁 yoko-chō means something like alley or side street/town. When visiting Ueno, I think it’s great to stop off here for a few drinks and 焼鳥 yakitori grilled chicken to soak in the shitamachi vibe, reflect on history, and chat with local salarymen who are generally drunk enough to engage foreigners in conversations. It’s a really cool part of town and if you take my guided tour of this part of Tōkyō, chances are we’ll end up here for drinks at the end of the day.

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[i] There has been confusion over the years as to what the terms 山手 yamanote high city and 下町 shitamachi low city mean and to which parts of town the terms apply. The area from Tabata to Okachimachi is a leading factor in this confusion.
[ii] They were called 御侍様 o-samurai-sama sir samurai by commoners.

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