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What does Hachikō mean?

In Japanese History on May 10, 2017 at 5:54 am

ハチ公
Hachikō (Lord 8, but more at “oh look at you, you widdle cutie wootie eight, you’re a good boy, aren’t you, yes you are, you’re a good boy”)

Akita_inu

First Time in Tōkyō?

You’re probably gonna go to Shibuya to see the famous intersection in front of the Hachikō Exit and you’ll probably take a picture – or try to – with the statue of the legendary dog for whom the exit is named. This is arguably the most famous meet up spot in Japan, and has a truly enduring image in Japanese pop culture. It comes up in TV and movies, and you’ll find casual references in books, news, and everyone’s travel photos.

Because there’s a lot of grammatic and semantic side notes, as always, I encourage you to check out all the footnote links to get the whole picture. You can easily jump to a footnote and back to the article, so… yeah.

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Let’s Look at the Kanji

ハチ
hachi

Actually, these aren’t kanji, they’re katakana. But they are a reference to 八 hachi, which means “the number eight.”


This kanji usually means public, but in medieval times was used for government officials.

So Who the Hell was Hachikō?

Today, he’s usually referred to as 忠犬ハチ公 Chūken Hachikō the Loyal Dog, and in Japan he’s the archetypal embodiment of canine loyalty. This famous dog has been depicted in three movies, three TV shows, two anime, and his actual voice is recorded on a children’s record released in 1934. However, his actual name wasn’t Hachikō, it was just Hachi. And if we’re going to be all technical, it should be written as Hachi-kō not Hachikō, because the -kō is a suffix. But more about that later.

ueno hidesaburo.jpg

Professor Ueno Hidesaburō wearing a cunty outfit.

Hachi was born in 秋田県 Akita-ken Akita Prefecture[i] on November 11th, 1923[ii]. He’s presumed to have been the eighth puppy to pop out of the proverbial oven in the litter[iii], and by early 1924 was sold to a man named 上野英三郎 Ueno Hidesaburō for 30 yen[iv]. Hidesaburō was a professor of Tōkyō Imperial University and the two lived at his home in former 東京市豊多摩郡渋谷 Tōkyō-shi Toyotama-gun Shibuya Machi Shibuya Town, Toyotama District, Tōkyō City[v]. Hachi was the professor’s 3rd dog and it’s said that one of the older dogs was particularly interested in helping nurture the young pup[vi]. Hachi, who quickly bonded with Hidesaburō, took a particular liking to his home’s 玄関 genkan entrance. Every morning when the professor walked from his home to 渋谷駅 Shibuya Eki Shibuya Station, he would follow the whole way to see him off. Then, he would wait patiently for Hidesaburō to come back from work at night and loyally escort him back to their home. Hachi and the professor enjoyed this daily routine, and the locals – knowing that he wasn’t a stray or abandoned dog[vii] – got used to seeing him at the station entrance every day, waiting for his master. What can I say? People love dogs.

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A Year of Bonding with Man’s Best Friend

Hachi escorted Hidesaburō to and from the station every day, and spent his afternoons playing with the locals in front of the station. Shop owners would feed the dog scraps until the professor returned to take his beloved puppy home. After a year of this daily routine, something happened on May 21, 1925. After a faculty meeting at Tōkyō Imperial University, Ueno Hidesaburō suddenly suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, collapsed, and died. He was only 53. Poor Hachi, who couldn’t have known what happened, waited patiently for his master.

According to legend, Hachi didn’t eat for about three days in anticipation of his owner’s return. They also say that all three of Hidesaburō’s dogs waited together at Shibuya Station[viii] on the night of his wake. Hachi passed into the possession of a few different households, but eventually found himself back in Shibuya with a family who let him come and go as he pleased. Naturally, he gravitated towards the station where there were people who knew him and loved him since he was a puppy. By 1927, he was a permanent fixture and when outsiders asked, “who is this cute dog?” the locals told them “this dog came here every day to see his master off to work and waited all day for his return.” Soon the story became “he’s still waiting for his master to come home.”

loyal hachiko.JPG

That’s the Legend, Here’s the Truth

That’s the story everyone knows today. The thing is, it’s only the Shibuya locals who knew about him. Sure, the shop owners saw him coming and going, but Hachi doesn’t appear in the historical record until a 1932 newspaper article introduced the so-called “loyal dog” to the whole country. The article waxed poetic about the dog’s loyalty – and in Imperial Japan, loyalty stories were hot. However, the article was written by the president of the 日本犬保存会 Nihonken Honzonkai Association for the Preservation of Japanese Dogs[ix] to bring attention to Hachi’s plight.

hachi8

btw, don’t even get me started on this photo…

Plight?

Though he was cared for by his last master, 小林菊三郎 Kobayashi Kikusaburō, to whose home he returned every night, it seems Hachi was less of a loyal dog waiting for Hidesaburō and more of a freeloading Party Dog™. The article said that kids had been teasing the dog in front of the station since Hidesaburō’s days, and many of the locals regarded him as an annoying, filthy stray who begged for food. The truth is, while maybe some Shibuya residents liked him, many did not. However, the article argued for compassion. After all, Hachi was a 日本犬 Nihonken native Japanese breed and he was “loyal” – great talking points that worked well in the increasingly militaristic atmosphere of 1930’s Imperial Japan.

This article actually locked down Hachi’s place in history and in our hearts. Sure, he may have been a filthy beggar dog running rampant the streets – friend to some, hated by others – but he metamorphosed into a symbol of canine loyalty and a source of cultural identity to Shibuya, a semi-rural area that was emerging into a distinct neighborhood at that time. In April 1934, a bronze statue of Hachi was placed in front of the station’s main entrance[x]. Hachi himself attended the unveiling ceremony to much fanfare. His popularity skyrocketed, but what happened next gave Hachi his place in history.

funeral 2

He Died

Hachi died in Shibuya on March 8, 1935. The やまと新聞 Yamato Shinbun Yamato Newspaper ran a national article about the dog, his loyalty, and included a touching photo of Hidesaburō’s wife and a handful of station attendants holding a funeral for Hachi. People donated about 25 funerary wreaths and 200 flower arrangements. Another 180 letters and telegrams also came in. It was a major event for the station and for the neighborhood. Hachi was then enshrined – and finally reunited with – his master at Hidesaburō’s grave in 青山霊園 Aoyama Reien Aoyama Cemetery. There’s just a small stone pole commemorating Hachi, but make no mistake about it: nobody visits Hidesaburō. Hachi is Top Dog at this graveyard[xi].

Additionally, Hidesaburō’s former employer, Tōkyō Imperial University, took it upon themselves to run an autopsy and taxidermically preserve Hachi, so you can actually go see him – yes, the real him – at the 国立科学博物館 Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsu-kan National Museum of Nature & Science in Ueno Park. The cause of death was determined to be a combination of cancer and heartworms. Poor doggy…

ieyasu-ko.png

Here you can see the suffix -kō attached to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s name

So, What’s Up with That Suffix?

Yeah, so I promised to explain the whole ~公 -kō part of ハチ公 Hachi-kō and get into why that -kō is a suffix and not actually part of the dog’s name. In order to describe this, let’s talk about levels of formality or register in the Japanese Language.

First year Japanese students generally learn about the concepts of 内 uchi inside group and 外 soto outside group. Your friends, family, and social peers are your inside group. Unknown people, elders, and social superiors are your outside group[xii]. Complicating this in-group/out-group dynamic are several levels of formality. Without making this a grammar lesson, I’m just gonna give you the TLDR version[xiii].

nelson muntz ha ha

BTW, I lied. The TLDR Version isn’t Short

In Modern Japanese, when addressing customers or a head of state, you use honorific language because these people most definitely are in your out-group and using casual language presumes a closeness that could be very off putting to many people[xiv]. Using presumptuous, casual words and phrases in inappropriate situations can be taken as “talking down” to someone[xv]. Take for example, the word お前 o-mae you. This is one of the most basic words for “you” and is often used by males who are extremely close and among siblings. In this case, the meaning is equal, friendly, honest. A father or teacher might address children with o-mae. In this case, the junior-superior relationship is implied. Guys traditionally referred to their girlfriends or wives as o-mae. In this case, affection is implied, as well as a masculine-feminine power dynamic[xvi]. Pets are often addressed with o-mae because they clearly fall in the junior status, but they’re also part of the in-group, so this is an example of both meanings. However, if you just refer to a random person on the street as o-mae, you may find yourself in a street fight.

In addition, when addressing and referring to people, the Japanese attach honorific suffixes to names. In a formal situation, you might address or refer to your customer as 渡辺様 Watanabe-sama Mr. or Mrs. Watanabe. If you have a good relationship with a Mr./Mrs. Watanabe who isn’t in the room, you’d probably use 渡辺さん Watanabe-san, which is essentially the default way to refer to a person. Let’s say this person’s name is 渡辺彩姫 Watanabe Saiki and she’s younger than you or just a close friend. You could address her as 彩姫 Saiki-chan or さいちゃん Sai-chan which is cute. With pets, you wouldn’t use -sama or -san except as a joke. Because it’s a pet and clearly the junior in the relationship, a non-Japanese speaker at that, you don’t need to attach any honorific suffix to its name. But many people will attach -chan specifically because it’s just cute to refer to your pet like it’s a person or a member of the family.

inu kubō.jpg

The kanji for kō was used in Pre-Modern Japan when referring to members of the samurai ruling class. You can find it in such terms as 公方 kubō, a term that changed a little over time, but by the Edo Period was synonymous with shōgun. The most famous kubō is probably the fifth shōgun 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi who is referred to as the 犬公方 Inu Kubō Dog Shōgun because of his edict protecting dogs. When addressing the shōgun directly, you wouldn’t use any words for “you” as that would be too direct and a massive breach of protocol[xvii]. You would refer to him as 上様 ue-sama your highness. You would use this term when talking about him with others, never using his name (ie; the third person). But when talking about past shōguns, you could use names. In fact, it would be really difficult to talk about history in general if you didn’t use a name, right?

But given all the apprehension hard wired into the Japanese language regarding names, in-groups and out-groups, and taboos about saying “you” or directly addressing people, a simple fix evolved over the years. That was -kō. If you visit a temple or shrine dedicated to any of the shōguns, as well as the daimyō, you’ll find their names written in the Edo Period convention using -kō. For example, 徳川家康公 Tokugawa Ieyasu-kō. When translating this title, you have two choices. One, just ignore it because there’s no equivalent in English and we wouldn’t say “Mr. Tokugawa Ieyasu” about an historical personage. Two, translate it as “Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu” which is my preferred modus operandi. In fact, if you look back at my series on the graves of the Tokugawa shōguns, you’ll see that’s exactly what I did.

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Shiba Tōshō-gū

So, in short, -kō was a suffix that showed deep affection or respect for elite members of the samurai ruling class, in particular, the shōguns and the daimyō. After the collapse of the Tokugawa Shōgunate in 1868 and the subsequent abolishment of the samurai, life in Imperial Japan underwent fantastic and far reaching changes. The switch from a highly stratified “feudal” society to a superficial western-style liberal democracy sent shockwaves through the Japanese language. There were paradigm shifts across the board, but most notably in the concepts of junior-senior relationships. The term o-mae, which I mentioned earlier, was once an honorific term[xviii]. Two other honorific terms for “you,” 手前 temae[xix] and 貴様 kisama[xx] also found themselves displaced over the years. In fact, if used inappropriately, these formerly polite words came to be deeply offensive and aggressive. The suffix -kō soon found itself falling by the wayside since you could say anything you wanted about the shōguns – they were gone and there was no fear of repercussion if your etiquette game was weak.

hachiko8.jpg

So How Does Hachi Become Hachi-kō?

Well, since I’ve already given you all the puzzle pieces, hopefully you’re starting to sort this out in your head. For people with a decent understanding of Japanese it should already be obvious, but I have a lot of readers who don’t read/speak Japanese so, let’s wrap this all up now, shall we?

We’ve seen that there are levels of familiarity and politeness in Japanese. We’ve also seen that there is some flexibility to change nuance using these registers in different contexts. Today, a dog named Hachi would probably just be called ハチ Hachi or ハチちゃん Hachi-chan[xxi]. In a ridiculous situation, you might call him 八様 Hachi-sama Honorable Hachi. However, in his own day the suffix -kō could be used in the same way as -sama. ハチ公 Hachi-kō Lord Hachi sounds funny and cute because clearly the dog wasn’t a daimyō or shōgun. On top of that, as I mentioned before, some old Edo Period honorific usage that was unnecessary in post-Tokugawa Japan shifted into completely opposite meanings. -Kō also became a suffix that, when used incorrectly, could be deeply offensive. In contrast to the original use as a term of deep reverence or affection, new words began to appear in Japanese like 先公 senkō shitty sensei (teacher), ポリ公 porikō fucking pig[xxii], and even racial slurs like アメ公 amekō fucking American.

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Hachi and Hidesaburō really existed. Their story became a legend in the Shibuya Station area. And, despite the legend, it seems that Hachi wasn’t liked by all at first, so, sure… maybe some people called him Hachi-kō as an insult, but I don’t think that’s the case. It’s good to know all the nuance and the fluidity and flexibility of language that Japanese speakers are mindful of – particularly in Hachi’s time[xxiii]. That said, I like to think the suffix was given because, one, he was a dog (junior-superior relationship); two, he was part of the in-group of those who looked after him at the station; three, it’s just cute to refer to a dog as a feudal lord or a duke[xxiv].

stuffed hachiko.jpg

Hachi, stuffed and on display in Ueno.

Lastly, there is one more layer to this wildly nuanced story. Stray dogs and cats are generally referred to as 野良公 nora-kō lords of the fields/rice paddies. This kō includes every nuance included above. It’s derived from the fact that Japanese people traditionally didn’t let pets into the house[xxv] until quite recently. By modern standards, Hachi was someone’s pet, but he was also kinda left to his own devices – as any dog or cat left outside in his time would have been. This explains why Hidesaburō would have seen taking Hachi home or leaving him at Shibuya Station as totally normal. The dog could have fun with locals, but could also run around the river area and the agricultural fields in the area. When the dog came home, he wasn’t chilling out on the tatami floor doing tea ceremony with humans. He was sleeping at the entrance to the house… outside.

grave.jpg

Grave of Hidesaburō and Hachi in Aoyama Cemetery

And again, this -kō runs the gamut of nuance. It also puts Hachi’s life and the life of many pets in Pre-War Japan in a new light. The whole story is a great illustration of cultural and linguistic change over time. Next time you’re in Shibuya, take a minute to look at the statue of the loyal dog and realize how… well, realize anything you want to. I just live for how all this stuff comes together, and how messy and complicated it is. Trying to wrap your head around something as simple as a dog’s name can be so difficult, yet exploring it can be an edifying roller coaster ride.

I hope y’all had as much fun as I did with this one.

Love ya, mean it!

 

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

[i] He was actually a local breed called an 秋田犬 Akita Inu Akita Dog.
[ii] The records are good. We even know the name of his father and mother – 大子内 Ōshinai and 胡麻 Goma, respectively.
[iii] This is not at all unusual – even in the traditional naming of humans. Boys were often given names like 一郎 Ichirō first born son, 一 Hajime first; 二郎 Jirō or 次郎 Jirō second son and next son, respectively; 三郎 Saburō third born son, etc.
[iv] Which, if my math isn’t correct – which it could be – would be about 10,000 yen today ($100).
[v] Shibuya was pretty undeveloped at this time, except for the station area.
[vi] The other two dogs were ジョン Jon and エス S. Jon, a pointer, was the one who helped raise Hachi.
[vii] More about this later…
[viii] I’d like to point out, this story seems bullshit AF. There’s no account of Jon and S ever accompanying the professor to Shibuya Station, so it would be weird that they would go during a wake. Oh, and by the way, at a traditional Japanese wake of this time, Hidesaburō’s body would have lain in state at his home. If the dogs, or Hachi in particular, were so loyal, they’d probably recognize the corpse of their master.
[ix] This organization still exists today.
[x] During WWII, the original statue was melted down for the war effort. The current statue was erected in 1948 and was created by the son of the original sculptor.
[xi] Sorry, I’m groaning too. That was so bad. Sorry.
[xii] Interestingly, some women, particularly 30 and over, may often use polite Japanese with their husbands or when flirting because it’s seen as more feminine, playing up the traditional view of men and women occupying superior and junior positions in society.
[xiii] If you want to read about Japanese Grammar, here’s a link.
[xiv] This is called 馴れ馴れしい narenareshii which means “too close” and carries the nuance of “presumptuous.”
[xv] Interestingly, when people are in the same inside group or in a junior-senior relationship, often the angry party will revert to polite language – usually not too honorific, but just basic polite forms – when “dressing down” the offending party. A boss in a traditional Japanese company isn’t expected to use polite language to his subordinates. However, when he is angry at his workers, the boss or CEO may chew out an employee in polite language – a very scary situation because of the shocking role reversal. Furthermore, angry wives often chastise their husbands in polite language – another terrifying situation.
[xvi] Recently, this has changed and a lot of girls from thirty and below, use o-mae with their close friends, boyfriends, or husbands. This seems to be a byproduct of a flattening of Japanese society, particularly in regard to gender equality. It’s also fed by otaku culture which has led to many women taking on traditionally male vocabulary these days.
[xvii] Using names is still often preferable to directly referring to a person as “you.” An example: 昨日クラブに行ったよ。Kinō kurabu ni itta yo. Last night I went clubbing. え?さいちゃんが? E? Sai-chan ga? Wow, Sai-chan went? Sai-chan being a girl’s nickname, the sentence is weird in English and would be better translated as “Wow, you did?”
[xviii] It literally means “the honorable (person) in front (of me)” and was a way to avoid directly addressing a person.
[xix] Also, a way to avoid a person, it just means “(the person) right in front of me” and is now only used in fights.
[xx] The word literally means “your noble highness” and was a way to address a daimyō or high ranking aristocrat, but today is word used in manga and anime for fights. In modern usage, I don’t think people use this word in conversation. It’s just for otaku media.
[xxi] More likely はっちゃん Hacchan because it’s less wieldy, less formal, and just sounds cuter.
[xxii] In the meaning of police officer, the term is literally “poli(ce)” + “kō.” But just for your information, these terms are rarely used today. Old timers who remember WWII or the pre-Bubble Era will recognize the American slur, but most people under 30 probably wouldn’t recognize it. The word has vanished. The police slur is only known from ooooold yakuza movies and isn’t used anymore. The “bad teacher” term is well understood, but it has also died out. I most -kō words have all become 死語 shigo obsolete terms.
[xxiii] A fluidity and flexibility still present in modern usage.
[xxiv] And keep in mind, this was before WWII. The former court families from Kyōto and the former daimyō families were all given western style ranks under the peerage system, ie; they had barons, counts, and all kind of stupid aristocratic ranks. The title 公爵 kōshaku duke (yes, same kō) was a term you’d encounter frequently.
[xxv] This is a subject for another time, but fascinating.

A Tour of Denma-chō Prison & Execution Ground

In Japanese History on April 27, 2017 at 3:29 am

伝馬町牢屋敷
Denma-chō Rōyashiki (Denma Town Jail Precincts)
伝馬町処刑場
Denma-chō Shokeiba (Denma Town Execution Ground)

22

Years back, I did a series on the 3 execution grounds of Edo. At that time[i], outside of JapanThis! there wasn’t much reliable info on the subject in English online[ii]. Despite the lazy expat biters over the years, I thought I’d drop a little refresher on this Edo Period Execution Ground. If you missed the original 2013 article on Denma-chō Prison, you can read it here. Today, I thought I’d give you a personal video tour of the premises. If you’re ever in Tōkyō, I can give you a personal tour of the area, too.

Denma-chō Prison was pretty much your average Edo Period Prison, except for the fact it had a special “high end” area. What was “high end” about it? Well, this is where direct retainers of the shogun, samurai in general, or in some cases, rich commoners were imprisoned. These social elites were given clean accommodations that were more like an inn than a prison. It wasn’t Club Med, mind you. Directly across the street was a larger building that housed the general population who lived a horrific existence in filth and squalor as they awaited torture and execution. That said, lots of high profile executions took place here.

Map with English

Map of the prison, I’ve translated some of the main sites. You may want to refer back to this throughout the article or while watching the video.

The prison was in the heart of the city, 日本橋 Nihonbashi, which literally means “bridge to Japan.” This bridge marked the beginning of the 5 major highways, the 五街道 Gokaidō[iii], that led from the shōgun’s capital of Edo to the rest of the country. As the most important crossroads in a country that used crossroads to post laws and regulations nationwide for travelers, Nihonbashi was where the public display of the shōgunate’s power over life and death were felt to be the most effective. The other execution grounds were located at the outskirts of Edo, but Denma-chō was at the center of the country – a place where commoner and samurai alike passed one another. It was the perfect place to display severed heads and to showcase those slated for execution.

detention and torture warehouse.jpg

This is a great illustration that shows the general population detention facility (note the lack of windows), the fireproof warehouse where inmates were tortured, and the moat surrounding this section of the prison.

How High End Was the Prison?

For the average prisoner, it definitely wasn’t great. Reportedly, the stench was godawful and there was minimal circulation in the cells so during the hot and muggy summers, it must have smelled like a long-lost garbage truck full of homeless people. The general population was usually denied bathing rights which definitely didn’t help the situation.

While the other execution grounds were just places to display heads and crucified bodies at the outskirts of the city, Denma-chō Prison was a fully functional detention facility in the heart of the city. The elite prisoners were afforded certain luxuries, such as baths. However, to what degree this was true wasn’t really understood until 1949, when archaeologists made some astonishing discoveries. They unearthed the Edo Period plumbing system, which revealed a complex system of pipes bringing clean water into the facility for drinking and bathing, as well as a sewerage system to dispose of dirty water. The clean water came in from the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui Kanda Aqueduct[iv].

sendai domain prison.jpg

Photo of a prison in Sendai Domain, while it must have had better ventilation that Denma-chō, it still looks abysmal.

After the Prison was Torn Down

After the Meiji Coup, the facility was decommissioned in 1875 (Meiji 8). The land lay fallow for a few years before the main detention facility was re-purposed as an elementary school. Two temples also bought property on the newly available lot. One temple assumed the responsibility of the souls of the prisoners who were executed at Denma-chō and the prisoners who had died during torture or in the horrible conditions of the prison. The temple’s name is a little strange as most temples have 3 kanji names. This 4 kanji name is 大安楽寺 Dai’anraku-ji Dai’anraku Temple and derives from the main contributors, two businessmen named 大倉喜八郎 Ōkura Kihachirō and 安田善次郎 Andō Zenjirō. Combine the first kanji of each family name ( + ) and you get “dai’an,” which means “great comfort.” The rest of the temple’s name is familiarly Buddhist, 楽 raku ease/repose and 寺 -ji temple.

denmacho

This graphic is courtesy of Deep Azabu, quite possibly the greatest Japanese history blog ever. I’m very thankful for his help in putting this together. The top image is Edo Period, the bottom image is present day.

The temple used to cover the area from the backdoor of the facility (ie; the killing floor) to its present location. The way modern maps correspond to the Edo Period maps is eerily accurate. The temple sits directly behind a reverse L-shape block of shops, that follows the layout of blocks from back in the day.

Daianraku-ji

Another temple called 見延別院 Minobu Betsu-in[v] also bought real estate next to Daianraku-ji on the former grounds on the old prison. Both temples flourished until the Great Kantō Earfquake of 1923. While these two temples had substantial landholdings and clearly distinct missions, after the earfquake and the war they were both reduced to their current locations. They still seem quite distinct today, though at first glance you’d probably think they were part of the same complex.

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Minobu Betsu-in

After you visit these two temples, you’ll find yourself standing in one of the most normal urban parks ever. Most likely you’ll see housewives playing with their kids or local pre-school kids running around having a great time – completely unaware that this was once an execution ground. And while Suzugamori is probably the most interesting extant killing floor, and Kozukappara is the darkest, I have to say that Denma-chō Prison is the best preserved and ironically, the most friendly. The architectural records and maps of the facility are so good that unlike Suzugamori and Kozukappara, Denma-chō Prison has been recreated accurately with 3D models. In fact, if you go to 日光江戸村 Nikkō Edo Mura Edo Wonderland[vi], they’ve built a fantastic recreation of a tiny corner of Denma-chō Prison[vii].

 

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The Yoshida Shōin yadayadayada monument.

Yoshida Shōin, Teacher of Terrorists & Darling of Ultra-nationalists

Most people who come to the site are curious about a memorial called the 吉田松陰終焉之地 Yoshida Shōin Shūen no Chi Site of the Demise of Yoshida Shōin[viii]. Although the name seems to indicate that Yoshida Shōin was executed at this exact location[ix], this was actually the location of back entrance of the prison. It was also the location of the 揚座敷 agari zashiki, the apartments for the highest ranking samurai jailed at Denma-chō. Such prisoners would have arrived in style and were securely situated on the administrative side of the prison where sanitation was presumably up to societal norms of the day. Being a samurai of 長州藩 Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain, but not quite high ranking enough to stay in the spacious agari zashiki, Yoshida stayed on the other side of the fence in the main detention facility in an area called the 東揚屋 higashi agariya the premium eastern rooms. He was in an “upscale,” semi-private cell that was removed from the filthy confines of the general population, but it was by no means on the level of the nice living quarters of the of the agari zashiki.

twat

Yoshida Shōin – Osama bin Laden of the Bakumatsu.

Who was Yoshida Shōin?

I’m not getting into this again. You have the internet. You can look this one up yourself. Or maybe this is more to your liking. Anyhoo, he was an advocate of overthrowing the Tokugawa Shōgunate, pledging loyalty to the imperial family, and killing or expelling all foreigners who came to Japan. After the Meiji Coup, he came to be revered as a hero, but in fact, he was nothing but a traitor, a xenophobe, and a teacher who preached terrorism and treason. He was duly executed at age 29 in 1859, and in a bizarre twist of fate – at least in the eyes of the shōgunate – factions inspired by his crazy ideas managed to toppled the shōgunate in 1868. In short, the terrorists won.

edo mura

Recreation of Denma-chō Prison at Nikkō Edo Wonderland

That said, Yoshida Shōin was an educated man. He was well read in the Confucian Classics and was steeped in the samurai culture of his day. One aspect of was his ability to write poetry. Before his execution as an anti-shōgunate terrorist, Yoshida wrote his death poem. It’s a 31 syllable 和歌 waka poem[x] that is now inscribed on the stone memorial[xi].

身はたとひ
武蔵の野辺に
朽ちぬとも
 留め置かまし
大和魂

Mi wa tatoe
Musashi no Nobe ni
Kuchinu tomo
Todome-okamashi
Yamato-damashii

Despite my body
Decomposing deep under
The Musashi Plain,
I will always hold on to
My Yamato-damashii

In the last line, Yoshida uses the term 大和魂 Yamato-damashii. This word means “Japanese spirit” or “the soul of Japan.” On the surface, this phrase seems harmless enough, and indeed, in a casual context this can refer to the spirit of a Japanese man and his pride in Japanese culture and tradition. However, the term 大和 Yamato has a deep association with the imperial court and the imperial family[xii]. A case could be made that Yoshida was directly referencing the imperial family as a counterbalance to 武蔵 Musashi, the ancient province in which 江戸 Edo was located. However, what we can really take away from his use of this term is what it has become today. Of course, casually it just means “Japanese spirit,” but the phrase is often used by right wing ultranationalists to show their disdain for Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution, their loyalty to the now secular imperial family, and in a kind of passive-aggressive way, their xenophobia and feeling of racial superiority. No matter how you look at it, Yoshida Shōin definitely ended his death poem with a bang.

 

beheading.jpg

Good old fashion beheading.

Yoshida Shōin a Drop in the Bucket

Denma-chō Prison operated from 1613 to 1875, so Yoshida is just a blip on the radar. The sad fact is that historians think that somewhere between 100,000 – 200,000 prisoners met their own demises here. Not all the prisoners died at the hands of the executioner. Many of them died of diseases they contracted from the filthy living conditions of the general population, and others were assassinated by other inmates due to personal grudges or for simple annoyances like snoring too loudly.

Despite how crappy it must have been to be a prisoner at Denma-chō, and how even worse it must have been to have been killed at Denma-chō, the present facility is actually quite lovely today. What I like about the present site is how peaceful and inviting it is. I also love the fact that the original compound is still preserved – and visibly so by maps. It’s a strong contrast to Suzugamori and Kozukappara, which just feel really dark and ominous.

Special Thanks:

  • I’d like to thank Iwata-san who writes Deep Azabu, one of my favorite Japanese History blogs. He prepared the image comparing maps from today and the Edo Period.

 

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[i] 2013, to be exact. Here are the original articles: Edo Execution Ground Spectacular.
[ii] Since then, interestingly a lot more has surfaced. In fact, a lot of subjects that were never covered in English online that I’ve written about have magically appeared in all kinds of places online. I wonder how that happened…
[iii] And, yes, I have an article about the Gokaidō.
[iv] What’s the Kanda Aqueduct? I’m glad you asked!
[v] The priest whom I asked if it was OK to take a picture of the famous sitting Buddha statue in their main hall called it “Minobe” not “Minobu,” so in the video I keep saying “Minobe,” but all the written Japanese sources say みのぶ Minobu. Both readings are possible, but Minobu seems way more common. On the other hand, the priest at the temple clearly said Minobe several times. Maybe he knows something we don’t…., or maybe it’s 下町言葉 shitamachi kotoba the shitamachi dialect, a holdover of the Edo Dialect used by commoners. Who knows.
[vi] Here’s the link to Edo Wonderland.
[vii] Unironically located across the street from the office of the 代官 daikan city magistrate.
[viii] Who was Yoshida Shōin? Good question!
[ix] BTW, in my original article I said that Yoshida Shōin was imprisoned at Denma-chō and then later executed at Kozukappara in Senjū. Now, I’m not so sure about that. At the time of writing the original article, I came across a few sources that insisted Yoshida wasn’t killed at Denma-chō. Now, I can’t find any of those sources. In fact, everything I see now insists that he was executed where he was detained (at Denmachō), but was buried at Kozukappara. This leads me to think his decapitated head may have been exposed at Kozukappara as well – just speculation, though.
[x] Waka, literally “Japanese poems” are written in the format of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7.
[xi] I’m not a great judge of waka or haiku or any Japanese poetry in general, but I have to say when I compare the Meiji Emperor’s poem about Ōkubo with Yoshida’s death poem, I have to say, the Meiji Emperor was way more adept at the art than Yoshida was. Here’s the article where I translated the Meiji Emperor’s poem.
[xii] The rise of the imperial family and its influence in the Japanese islands both martially and culturally is generally referred to as the Rise of the Yamato State.

What does Iogi mean?

In Japanese History on April 19, 2017 at 3:31 am

井荻
Iogi (well and reeds, more at “place between Igusa and Ogikubo”)

Iogi South Entrance

South Exit of Iogi Station

Coming up with new place names in Tōkyō to write about is never a problem. On those rare days when I have no inspiration, a random look at a map of the city might spark an interest. Other times, I get requests from you, the reader. And it’s not unusual for certain place names to come up in face to face conversation. Today is one of those face to face instances.

Last month, I was at an event in which a very interesting story came up – a story typical of hand-me-down stories in Tōkyō. It was a lurid story that involved a train station and a lot of shit and piss[i]. (Oh, and be prepared. I’m gonna use the phrase shit and piss a lot in this article). But it’s a fitting example of how a little truth and a little fiction get mixed up over the years. It’s also a great example of how stories aren’t passed down clearly by the locals themselves leading to confusion once people try to share their local history with outsiders.

As a person obsessed with diachronic linguistics, I think this story demonstrates the murky waters we tread when exploring the etymologies of local place names[ii]. In short, this is why skepticism is important when talking about history, language, and your mom[iii].

linguistics nerd.jpg

Exploring Edo-Tōkyō Like Locals Do

So, I was introduced to a new colleague by Donny Kimball of Distant Dystopia, and when the conversation turned to Edo-Tōkyō place names[iv], my new friend suggested a place name for JapanThis!. The area was called 井荻 Iogi[v], and although I’d never heard of it before, I was intrigued. Our conversation was brief, but what I took away from it was this:

I live in a place called Iogi on the Seibu Shinjuku Line. It’s not much to look at these days, but a local old man told me trains used to carry shit and piss from Tōkyō to the countryside. They used to dump all this excrement in a lake or swamp in Iogi. Furthermore, if you look at the color of the cars on this train, they’re a shitty version of piss yellow. That color was a deliberate indicator (or direct inheritance) of this train line’s association with the transport of human excrement, ie; avoid the yellow colored train!

I’d heard about feces used for compost as early as my elementary school days. My parents had spent two years in the countryside of Kanagawa Prefecture before I was born and they showed me a curious bill that they had saved. It was a bill for a shit and piss collection service. Seemed weird to me as a young kid who knew nothing about Japan, but whatever. I soon forgot about this because, it was totally irrelevant to my life.

When I heard this story about Iogi, I remembered my parents’ story about the shit and piss collection service they paid for every month. I quickly made a connection to the Pre-Modern custom of selling so-called “night soil.” Soon I was determined to see how much of this story was true and immediately thought that you, dear reader, would be curious too.

etymology time.jpg

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji


i

usually this kanji means well, the sort you would draw water from; it has a secondary meaning of community.


ogi

this means reeds; it commonly occurs in marshy lowlands or where lakes once stood.

The etymology of 井荻 Iogi is simple, really. Iogi is not a place name, just a station name[vi]. Located in Tōkyō’s 杉並区 Suganami-ku Suginami Ward, it’s surrounded by 上井草駅 Kami Igusa Eki Upper Igusa Station and 下井草駅 Shimo Igusa Eki Lower Igusa Station. Upper and Lower Igusa are references to their respective locations upstream and downstream on the 井草川 Igusa-gawa Igusa River. Directly south of Iogi Station is an area called 荻窪 Ogikubo. In 1927, when naming the station, the 西武鉄道 Seibu Tetsudō Seibu Railroad decided to take the 井 i from Igusa and the 荻 ogi from Ogikubo and voila! We have Iogi.

Further Reading:

 

edo period well.jpg

An Edo Period well, ie; nothing related to today’s topic.

The Uncomfortable Bits

There are two other terms that are going to be critical to this story. The first is 汚穢 owai, commonly translated as “night soil[vii].” The second is 汚穢屋 owai-ya, the people or organizations who handled this so-called night soil. Night soil is the euphemistic English translation of urban shit and piss, especially in the big cities like Edo and Kyōto, but it was by no means limited to the large urban centers. Any castle town, post town, or village would have needed a way to remove human excrement from residential areas. Actually, the post towns had a particularly unique problem as they kept horses stabled for official use by shōgunate officials[viii].

And just a heads up, the term owai-ya is inextricably linked to the 穢多 eta, the class of untouchables who existed outside of the class system and were relegated to work that was considered spiritually defiled or filthy. In modern Japan, the terms owai-ya and eta are considered some of the most extreme 差別用語 sabetsu yōgo discriminatory words. So, don’t throw these terms around lightly – especially outside of specific historical contexts[ix][x]. They are extremely offensive when not used correctly.

Night Soil Collector in Ōsaka.png

A night soil collector in Ōsaka.

Night Soil and its Legacy

Now that we’ve got etymology and some basic concepts out of the way, let’s get to the heart of the discussion.

You’ll often hear the Japanese praise the Edo Period, and Pre-Modern Japan in general, as being particularly environmentally friendly. There are a lot of ways in which this was true. In the case of disposal of human excrement and sanitation, this is pretty much undeniable. While westerners were just dumping their chamber pots out on to the street spreading germs and disease, the Japanese had developed a so-called circular economy[xi]. They weren’t the first in doing so – most pre-industrial societies made attempts at this – but the Japanese excelled at it in many regards.

loop economy.jpg

So, what’s a circular economy? The term describes an efficient loop system where produced items are either repaired, reused, or recycled[xii]. In this kind of closed loop, there is no waste produced that isn’t used. The owai-ya, night soil collectors, would visit public latrines and toilets of private residences at night and collect[xiii] the day’s contents in order to bring them to the nearest agricultural lands to compost and sell as fertilizer. Farmers could pay for this natural fertilizer with money, or by repaying the collectors with high end crops grown in the rich soil they had purchased. This meant, human waste was no longer urban pollution, but rather a valuable commodity. It was a source of employment for Edo’s outcastes who were relegated to the filthiest and most abhorrent types of work[xiv].

owaiya-san
This closed loop economy kept cities sanitary in the Edo Period, and the system was particularly rigorous in the shōgun’s capital. The business became so lucrative for the night soil collectors that many of them had relationships both directly and indirectly with the shōgunate that made several outcaste families very wealthy[xv]. Sure, they could never marry up. But, some of them did better than low level do-nothing samurai of the late Edo Period who had status, but not much else[xvi].

night soil collector

Passersby cover their noses as a night soil collector carries shit and piss down the street.

Interestingly – but not unsurprisingly – there was a hierarchy of shit and piss that mirrored the hierarchy of Edo Period society. Naturally, the excrement of the samurai class was deemed the most valuable – that of the shōgun’s castle being at the top of the pyramid, followed by the daimyō and their castles and residences. Of these samurai families, the night soil was further divided by gender – men’s feces being deemed more valuable than women’s, as men were generally served higher quality food than women because… you know, misogyny and all. The human and animal waste of the 下町 shitamachi low city (ie; commoner districts) was presumably higher in volume, but fetched the lowest price on the market because… you know, fuck the poor.

This system of waste disposal was so efficient by the end of the Edo Period and the “companies” that dealt with the retrieval, transport, and sale of all this shit and piss were so highly developed that, even as the newly established Meiji Government began building the first western-style sewers in Japan, they saw no need to abolish this delicate balancing act between Japan’s castle towns and agricultural areas. On top of that, the introduction of germ theory from the West confirmed the superiority of Japan’s night soil economy over that of America and Europe in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s[xvii].

In Edo, the system was so effective and so integral to the economy that it wasn’t just dirty outcaste guys pushing carts of excrement from residential areas to local fields. No, there were huge barges on the rivers transporting excess night soil from the shōgun’s capital to strategic agricultural domains in modern Saitama and Chiba Prefectures on a regular basis. Believe it or not, seaworthy “tankers” even transported enormous amounts of excreta from Edo to the cotton fields of Kansai, on the complete other side of the country.

public toilets.jpg

Public toilets in the commoner districts weren’t always separated by gender, but sometimes had one room for squatters and a separate room for “tachishonben,” standing and peeing… which I think is safe to assume was only used by men. However, such distinct rooms were usually only found in the homes of the samurai where the shit and piss was valued higher.

Those Toilets, Though.

An interesting side note about Edo Period toilets. Samurai and rich merchants had toilets in the homes, but the average commoner in a huge city like Edo was stuck using public latrines. In the 下町 shitamchi low city, they were not separated by gender. They were, however, generally restricted to individual use[xviii]. These latrines consisted of little more than a space to do your business over a deep pit dug into the ground that was periodically cleaned out by the outcastes during the day to keep them from overflowing.

Relegated to the back alleys off the main thoroughfares, they afforded a little privacy and reduced the problem of “main street stink.” The half-doors gave a little privacy, but the upper door was cut away for circulation so you didn’t choke to death on the smell of all your neighbors’ shit and piss. Because of this opening, you were theoretically exposed to the view of anyone passing by[xix]. The nature of the kimono and yukata combined with the shame of being watched while doing your business reinforced the habit of squatting while using a toilet to such a degree that you can still find squat toilets – albeit in a modern form with plumbing – to this day all over Japan, even in central Tōkyō. Normally, I hate these modern 和式 washiki Japanese-style toilets, but if I’m wearing a kimono or yukata, I prefer them.

Edo_period_chamber_pot_2.jpg

A portable toilet, one that might be found in the house of a wealthy person.

The toilets of Edo Castle or any samurai residence in the city were a different story altogether. These were completely private, and located in a remote corner of the building near a small garden[xx]. These residences were raised off the ground and the toilet was simply a hole in the floor with a lid to contain the stench. Underneath the hole was a wooden trough that collected the excreta, which could be easily removed at night or at regular intervals during the day by a night soil collector who climbed under the house and pulled out the trough and replaced it with a clean one.

toilet.jpg
As for the toilets of the daimyō class and the residences of the first westerners in Japan, we have an interesting account from a Jesuit priest named João Rodrigues who visited Japan in the late 1500’s. He wrote that toilets of the elites were kept extremely clean – cleaner than in Europe. They were “perfumed” and had “fresh cut paper” provided for wiping, and in the case of the most elite, a stream of clean water was available to wash your hands. He also noted that there were attendants who ran in to clean out the toilet after each use to make sure the next person who used it wouldn’t be squicked out[xxi]. The custom of squatting while doing the do was pretty much the norm among the elites, too. But the conditions seem to have been waaaaaaaay better if you had the money and rank.

Shit Train.jpg

Say hello to the Shit Train!

Night Soil After the Meiji Coup – Train Time!

Anyhoo, back to this circular economy concept. As I mentioned earlier, the system was so sanitary and so efficient, and the industry was so robust and integrated into daily life, the Meiji Government saw no need to abolish it. In fact, the new government encouraged this lucrative business to grow and the train companies were the first to try to expand the existing business model and push it into the new era. Rather than pushing carts of shit and piss around on dirt roads, they built special train lines that could transport more of this rich fertilizer farther, faster, and more discreetly than ever before. This new technology-based efficiency made the companies that dealt with 糞尿輸送 funnyō yusō excrement transportation extremely profitable. The main companies in Tōkyō were the 西部鉄道 Seibu Tetsudō Seibu Railroad and the 東武鉄道 Tōbu Tetsudō Tōbu Railroad[xxii]. Both companies were highly competitive in various aspects of business, chiefly the transport of humans and goods between Tōkyō to Saitama[xxiii].

 

1944 shit train seibu line

Seibu Shit Train in 1944.

End of the Traditional Loop Economy

Because the night soil trade was such a huge part of the day to day economy, the Japanese were slow to modernize their toilets and sewerage systems. During the Edo, Meiji, and Taishō Periods[xxiv], they were far superior to the West in this regard. However, by the Shōwa Period, they had fallen far behind, and by the end of WWII, the Americans and other foreigners operating in Japan were shocked and appalled by the massive cargo trains transporting foul smelling, steaming hot excreta out of the city on sizzling summer days. It’s in the post-war era that the night soil business began to disappear in the big cities, with Tōkyō leading by example. By the early 1970’s, the business still existed in the countryside, but the model had changed fundamentally: in the past, people paid to buy shit and piss, now people were paying to get rid of it.

irori.jpg

This is an irori. Please do not shit or piss in it.

You’d think that by 2017, this industry would be a thing of the past. But I wouldn’t be too sure. I first visited Japan in 2002/2003. At that time, I spent the New Year’s holiday with a friend’s family in their remote cottage home in the mountains of Nagano. It was a traditional wooden house with an 囲炉裏 irori traditional farmhouse stove and no running water; you had to use a local 温泉 onsen hot spring if you wanted a bath. The toilet was in a small corner room away from the main living area[xxv]. There was a small hole in the floor, beneath which I could see a large rectangular plastic tub and from which I felt the frosty winter air rushing in and filling up the unheated room. There was toilet paper, but that’s it. There were 6 of us staying there.

 

gross toilet

Ummm, I didn’t really want to include a picture of this kind of toilet… but I kinda had no choice.

Needless to say, I was shocked and horrified by the contents accumulating in the dark tub below. Japan clearly wasn’t a third world country, but what was this primitive horror show? I resigned myself to not using the toilet unless it was absolutely necessary.

The next afternoon, when we all hopped in the car to drive back to Tōkyō, I asked my friend’s dad what happens to… you know, all that shit and piss. He told me, “Before we leave, I call a service that comes and picks it up and turns it into compost.” Then I put that awful memory out of my head forever. That is, until this article brought that memory flooding back. That was 2003, and the area was really isolated, but if they still don’t have running water up there, I can totally imagine that system still working now[xxvi].

washlette.jpg

Equipped with wifi, vibrating seats, and mood lighting, modern Japanese toilets elevate the experience of shitting and pissing to the level of fine art.

That said, upon reflection, I think my reaction to such a primitive latrine would be very different today. I wouldn’t be overjoyed to use it, but you know, first world problems. And as for modern Japanese toilets, such as the Washlette… all I have to say is anywhere I go in the world, even my native home of the United States, I look down on toilets as barbaric and primitive. I can’t wait to get back to the luxurious Japanese toilets. So, the country really has kind of gone all the way around from good to bad to the best.

back to the subject

Yo, I Thought this Article was about Iogi, Dawg.

Yes. Yes, it is. So, now let’s talk about how accurate the original story I was told about Iogi was.

In short, the story is pretty close to the truth, which makes all this talk of shit and piss meaningful and not just an excuse to talk about people in kimono squatting down to poop. Iogi Station is indeed located on the Seibu Railroad which connects 新宿 Shinjuku and 荻窪 Ogikubo[xxvii]. Today this particular stretch of tracks is a commuter route known as the 西武新宿線 Seibu Shinjuku-sen Seibu Shinjuku Line. Furthermore, special trains owned by Seibu did indeed carry night soil from the outskirts of central Tōkyō to this once rural area – kind of.

 

Iogi Station 1960's.jpg

Iogi Station in the 1960’s. Clearly a commuter station at the time.

Did the Shit Trains Stop at Iogi Station?

No, they didn’t.

Seibu’s shit trains picked up and dropped off at five stations only. Those were 東久留米駅 Higashi Kurume Eki Higashi Kurume Station, 秋津駅 Akitsu Eki Akitsu Station, 三ヶ島村駅 Mikajima Mura Eki Mikajima Mura Station[xxviii], 仏子駅 Bushi Eki Bushi Station, and 飯能駅 Hannō Eki Hannō Station. The first two are located in modern 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis, while the last three are located in modern 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture. After WWII, the shit train path was modified and a little, causing it to pass through Iogi Station on the north set of tracks. Luckily for the good people of Igusa, Suginami[xxix], they didn’t make stops here. They merely passed through. They also weren’t dumping shit and piss into – god forbid! – a well for drinking water, or some random lake in the area.

Now that we know, they weren’t dumping trainloads of excrement into a lake anywhere near Iogi Station, I’d like to talk about why I mentioned at the beginning of the article that skepticism is important. The kanji 井 i, which means “well,” always refers to a well for human use or human consumption. The very inclusion of this character sent off warning alarms in my head. Why would anyone do something as unsanitary as dump feces into a source of water used by humans? Additionally, knowing that the city of Edo recycled excrement as fertilizer for profit, why would anyone just dump the shit into a lake in the countryside. It didn’t add up, and hopefully you also understand why now.

800px-Seibu-2081F

Old rolling stock of the Seibu Shinjuku Line. That’s definitely a shitty shade of piss yellow.

Color of the Seibu Shinjuku Line and Night Soil

So, about the color of the Seibu Shinjuku Line. According to the story I was told, it’s a nasty color and that was by design, perhaps to steer people clear of it. However, after a little research, it seems there are actually two main colors on the modern Seibu trains: yellow and orange, with a third variant for rush hour trains that run on certain sections of track, and a fourth variant of green. I’m not interested in the color differences. I just want to know if the current color is a holdover from the shit trains of yesteryear? One might ask, “is it a shit stain of the shit train?”

kiiro.jpg

Modern rolling stock of the Seibu Shinjuku Line… still looks shitty and old, though.

Well, it’s a little bit of yes and no. There’s one theory that it was a reference to 黄金 ōgon yellow gold, a reference to the value of night soil[xxx]. However, the original color of the Seibu shit trains was two-tone, actually. They were painted 黄色 ki’iro yellow and 茶色 cha’iro brown. Whether this reflected the foul contents or not, there’s no record either confirming nor denying. However, it’s known that this yellow and brown design persisted until the night soil transportation system disappeared after the war, and yellow is most definitely still used to this day.

 

two tone seibu shinjuku line.jpg

Two-tone Seibu Shinjuku Line in 1962.

Another theory about the yellow color of the Seibu Shinjuku Line is branding. In those days, the color was called 金色 kin’iro gold – not 黄色 ki’iro yellow – and was applied to most of the Seibu trains to make them stand out and look cool. The color was expensive in its day, and looked dramatic at the time. It also may have been a safety measure. Trains that were gold/yellow colored moving at high speeds on cloudy days, at night, or running through tunnels could be spotted quickly by pedestrians walking along the tracks[xxxi]. This seems way more reasonable to me than the idea that the company made the shit and piss train brown and yellow as a reference to its contents, so… I’m going with branding.

Oh, and while I couldn’t find information on the color of the Seibu shit trains, they don’t seem to have been decorated. So there’s no connection between the modern color of the Seibu Shinjuku line and th shit trains of old.

Semi-exp_haijima.JPG

Proof that not all Seibu Shinjuku Line trains are piss yellow. This one is a pleasant blue and green and even has a smiley face.

Let’s Wrap This Shit Up

So, this has been a pretty long, strange trip. But let’s be honest. It usually is, isn’t it? lol

As always, thanks for sticking around to the end of the article. And thank you in particular because I think this time I gave you guys a little insight into my approach to Japanese history, etymology, and local stories. More than that, I hope you could see how old stories get muddied over the years, but also how they often have a kernel of truth in them. It also shows how one part of the Edo Period economy survived the Meiji Coup, yet collapsed when post-war Japan transformed into the power house it has become. Sure, we’ve been talking about shit and piss, but we’ve been talking about so much more. As always, feel free to leave a comment – especially if you’ve had any experiences with night soil.

 

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[i] Shit and piss is now an official tag and searchable term on the site. However, at this point, this is the only article using it lol.
[ii] Folk etymology is real.
[iii] You know your mom was a little crazy in her youth, right? Good.
[iv] As it usually does, no?
[v] It’s not Logi, but Iogi.
[vi] 井荻駅 Iogi Eki Iogi Station.
[vii] The modern PC term in Japanese is 人糞 jinpun which literally means “human feces.” The un-PC Edo Period term owai literally means “filthy dirt” or “dirty filth.”
[viii] And you know, um, horses shit a lot. Like a lot. And this issue came up in my article on Shinjuku.
[ix] Eta, which means “extreme filth,” was interchangeable with 非人 hinin non-human. This gives you an idea of how offensive these terms are today. The descendants of these families try to hide their low status of old, or if they can’t or have chosen to embrace it, identify by the label 部落民 burakumin today. The term literally means “village inhabitant” and references the segregated communities they once lived in.
[x] The preferred term over owai is 屎尿 shinyō or 下肥 shimogoe, because, yep, this job still exists. In the remote countryside, you can still find traditional toilets that empty into containers under buildings and must be manually removed by a service (or by the owners themselves). I’ve experienced it once and it wasn’t pleasant to use or think about who was going to have to clean up the mess (more about that story later). But owai has those old class system connotations and it makes this sensitive topic difficult to discuss outside of historical contexts where everyone is on the same page.
[xi] Also called a closed loop economy or closed loop system.
[xii] And only thrown away when necessary.
[xiii] The term for the collection of night soil was 汲取 kumitori which literally means “scooping up” with a connotation of something wet and dirty. Ewwwwww.
[xiv] Instant economy!
[xv] Essentially, they had hereditary monopolies.
[xvi] Other outcaste families had lucrative family businesses during the Edo Period. Executioners, sword testers, heads of outcaste villages come to mind.
[xvii] Remember, not every city had good sewers, and cities like New York had thousands of workhorses just shitting willy-nilly all over the place. It was so bad, that the cleanup required more horses to take out the horseshit, and said horses just shat willy-nilly all over the place… creating an endless cycle of stinky, gross, and unsanitary city streets.
[xviii] That is to say, you had to wait until someone finished before you could enter. Very different from the public multiuser public toilets of the Roman Empire.
[xix] Presumably, people didn’t walk past these unless they had to. Remember, they were back in the alleyways. But who knows? There was probably the occasional pervert who wanted to sneak a peek.
[xx] Because of the Shintō belief in spiritual defilement, in samurai homes, the toilet was often located next to the 切腹の間 seppuku no ma room or space reserved for committing seppuku. I’m not kidding by the way. The seppuku room is a real thing.
[xxi] You can be sure that by “attendants” he means outcastes.
[xxii] Both companies still exist today, but they don’t work in this sector anymore.
[xxiii] These days, both companies have defined themselves. They’re not really competitors anymore. They are well established parts of the well-greased infrastructure of Kantō.
[xxiv] A quick note about Tōkyō in the Taishō Period. The city was very polluted because of companies dumping industrial waste into the rivers. Shinjuku was still a bit out of the way, so it was easy to transport excrement by train. But the center of the city, former Edo, was too congested and the shit trains were impossible, so it was still being transported by cart, and sometimes stored in tanks near rivers, where occasionally a tank would “accidentally” break and spill into the rivers. The shitamachi areas of Taishō Era Japan seem to have been a mess. That said, in the lovely yamanote areas, things were still extremely sanitary. Furthermore, because Shinjuku was sort of the epicenter of the night soil train industry, it was considered the 東京の穴 Tōkyō no Ketsu Ass of Tōkyō as early as the late Meiji Period. This is where the city blew it all out and flushed it all away.
[xxv] In retrospect, this reminds me of the construction of samurai houses and the deliberate placement of the toilet and seppuku room in a far corner.
[xxvi] Keep in mind, the locals live in towns with all the regular conveniences, but getting running water out to super-remote locations where there’s, say, one house on the north side of the mountain, and another house on the south side – and that’s it – would be costly, to say the least.
[xxvii] The company was established in the 1890’s, but this particular train route to Ogikubo only dates back to the 1920’s. And actually, as I’ll point out later, the Seibu train network actually connects Tōkyō with Saitama. The name 西部 Seibu actually means “West Musashi,” a reference to former 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province.
[xxviii] This station no longer exists. It was replaced by 狭山ヶ丘駅 Sayamagaoka Eki Sayamagaoka Station.
[xxix] Remember, Iogi Station is located in Suginami Ward. In Shimo-Igusa, to be exact.
[xxx] Similar to the notion of “black gold” meaning “oil.”
[xxxi] You may be thinking, “why the fuck would a pedestrian be walking along train tracks?” Remember, most of the early train lines ran parallel to well established highways (and people usually walked everywhere anyways, especially in the country). The new railways of the late Meiji and Taishō Periods sometimes connected rural villages better than the old Edo Period roads, and traditional farmers often opted to just walk as they had done for generations, but it’s speculated they used the new path cleared by the railroad companies. The Seibu Railroad connected Tōkyō with Saitama (ie; the countryside) and as such, probably ran over its fair share of farmers carelessly moseying along the train tracks – hence the gaudy yellow color that has been passed down to us today.

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