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Yamanote Line: Yūraku-chō & Shinbashi

In Japanese History on January 12, 2017 at 1:14 pm

有楽町
Yūraku-chō (literally, “leisure town” but more at “Oda Nobumasu’s town”)
新橋
Shinbashi (literally, “new bridge”)

yurakucho

Yūraku-chō Station shot from within the former castle grounds.

Yūraku-chō

 

The area called Yūraku-chō lies in an area that used be a fortified island between the inner and outer moats of Edo Castle. In fact, the elevated train tracks supported by red brick foundations are built on the reclaimed outer moat of Edo Castle. The palaces of the daimyō most closely aligned with the Tokugawa shōguns were located here and to this day, you can still walk on a road from 数寄屋橋 Sukiyabashi[i] (literally, “tea-house bridge”) to Tōkyō Station on a road that was nicknamed[ii] 大名小路 daimyō koji daimyō alley.

This neighborhood was home to the 南町奉行 minami machi bugyō-sho office of the southern bugyō, a kind of magistrate/governor[iii]. Actually, if you go to the area today, you can see a few remains of the bugyō office. There are some stone walls[iv], plumbing[v], and a cistern[vi] preserved in the basement of the イトシア ITOCiA shopping center[vii].

old-shit

The average Tōkyōite doesn’t realize they’re sitting on an Edo Period plumbing system. One more reason to learn as much about Edo before you visit Tōkyō. Jussayin’.

My Ōsaka readers[viii] may be scratching their heads saying 有楽町 is pronounced Uraku-machi while my Edo peeps are probably saying “Ōsaka people are ridiculous; everyone knows it’s Yūraku-chō.” Both areas are written with the same kanji, and both are attributed to the same individual, a certain 織田信益 Oda Nobumasu, brother of 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga[ix]. Oral tradition maintains that the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, granted him a plot of land for his residence near Sukiyabashi Gate on the banks of the outer moat[x].

Nobumasu became a tea master and used the name 有楽 or 有楽斎 which are Uraku and Uraku-sai respectively[xi]. In the Kansai area – Kyōto and Ōsaka – it retains the Uraku reading. In Kantō, which was admittedly not as cultured as Kyōto at the time, the same characters were read as Yūraku. Which reading is correct? It seems difficult to say because while people in Edo used one reading, and people in Ōsaka used another, Nobumasu himself was native to Owari Province which used a dialect altogether different from those two. However, the reading Yūraku is more prevalent in the modern language, probably because Standard Japanese is essentially the Tōkyō Dialect. However, Uraku is most likely what Nobumasu would have expected to be referred to as.

guardo-shita

Modern Yūraku-chō is partly reasonable shopping district[xii] and partly ガード下 gādo shita drinking town under the tracks of the Yamanote Line and shinkansen. There are great casual dining and drinking establishments in the area with a lingering tinge of post-war Shōwa Period grit. The area is a comfortable middle ground between the sophisticated shopping district of 銀座 Ginza and the salaryman wasteland of 新橋 Shinbashi[xiii].

Further Reading:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some wasted corporate shill in Shinbashi. Love it or hate it. Shit gets real real quick in Shinbashi.

Shinbashi

 

The next station on the Yamanote Line is 新橋 Shinbashi, which literally means “new bridge.” Since I wrote my original article on Shinbashi, I’ve come across more information on the so-called “new bridge” which made what I first said unclear. But without getting into the nitty-gritty, the bridge which appeared on Edo Period maps as シン橋 Shinbashi[xiv] seems to have been an auxiliary bridge or a kind of service entrance to the castle. It wasn’t defended with a 御門 go-mon gate or 見附 mitsuke fortified approach. The area was fortified in the early 1700’s and renamed 芝口御門 Shibaguchi Go-mon Shibaguchi Gate, but the area was lost to a fire about 10 years later and never rebuilt.

After the Meiji Coup, the first station of the first train line in Japan, the Tōkaidō Main Line was built in the bordering area that’s called 汐留 Shiodome today. The station was named 新橋駅 Shinbashi Eki Shinbashi Station. The present day Shinbashi Station area was actually known as 烏森 Karasumori the Crow Forest in the Edo Period and is located a good 5 or 10 minute walk from where the original station sat[xv].

15194635287_26c2204a63_o.jpg

Karasumori Shrine

Shinbashi is a Shōwa Era shitamachi gem in Tōkyō that takes some getting used to. I’ve heard many times from other expats about how much they hate the place. To them it represents old, drunk salarymen drenched in spilt sake and shōchū who reek of cigarette and kitchen smoke stumbling through the streets and pissing down unlit basement stairways before they rudely push their way onto the crowded last train home.

18898562071_531c233f80_o.jpg

Original Shinbashi Station (reconstructed)

Not unsurprisingly, some of the rawest drinking spots in Tōkyō are located here. Like all Shōwa Period towns, it’s far more social than most of the big city. And believe it or not, it’s considered one of the best ナンパスポット nanpa supotto pick up spots for middle aged office workers of both sexes[xvi]. Some of the ママさん mama-san proprietresses of small スナック sunakku local dive bars are known to match-make solo drinkers for the night in hopes of bringing a pair of lonely hearts together… if only for the moment[xvii].

The present-day Shinbashi area was home to the 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence[xviii] of the Date clan from 仙台藩 Sendai Han Sendai Domain, where the wives and children of Date Masamune’s descendants lived.

Additional Reading:

 

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[i] Where that sushi restaurant from Jirō Dreams of Sushi is located.
[ii] And still bears the informal name.
[iii] There were actually two machi bugyō in Edo. The minami machi bugyō was located in Yūraku-chō, while the kita machi bugyō, the northern bugyō, was located in Yaesu, near present-day Tōkyō Station.
[iv] Complete with 刻印 kokuin symbols denoting the provenance of the stone work.
[v] Repurposed as benches for shoppers.
[vi] That’s another term for a well.
[vii] Don’t ask me about the capitalization, I didn’t name the place.
[viii] Do I even have any?
[ix] The first (and craziest) of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan.
[x] That said, the area wasn’t officially referred to as Yūraku-chō until the Meiji Period when the area was disconnected from the castle and redeveloped as civilian.
[xi] The Edo Period equivalent of a DJ name.
[xii] A refreshing alternative to neighboring Ginza, which has long been considered the standard bearer of high fashion and designer brands in Asia.
[xiii] It also melts into Hibiya and Marunouchi. The more I think about it, Yūraku-chō is like a chameleon.
[xiv] The katakana seems to have been used to clarify the reading – the kanji 新橋 could also be read Arabashi.
[xv] Needless to say, by the “original station” I’m referring to the former Shibaguchi area, which is considered the Shiodome area today.
[xvi] Yup, this is an actual thing.
[xvii] And presumably continued patronage to their bars…
[xviii] Not sure what a “middle residence” is? Have no fear, here’s my primer on the Tokugawa shōgunate’s policy of alternate attendance.

The Year in Review – 2016

In Japanese Holidays on January 9, 2017 at 3:18 am

めでてー!めでてー!
Medetē! Medetē! (“Happy happy! Joy joy!” in the Edo Dialect)
Congratulations!mochi

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve update JapanThis!. In fact, the last article was published on August 3rd, 2016. That’s almost a half year ago; that’s the longest time the site’s gone dark in a long, long time. In that time, I’ve heard from more than a few you of asking if everything is OK with my health or if I’d quit doing the site completely or what.

Well, thank you for all your concern, and I can assure you that there is nothing wrong with my health and I’m most definitely not quitting the site. The real cause for my silence was merely a technical issue. My computer died. With it I lost the research for the final articles for the Yamanote Line Series (and a lot of other stuff not JapanThis!-related). As a Christmas present to myself, I got me a new ‘puter and a new version of MS Office and now I’m back in action. Actually, getting MS Word is just as critical to writing as having a computer. I tried writing using Google Docs and some other options, and it’s just not the same[i]. What’s more, buying MS Word in Japan is like twice the cost of buying it in the US for some reason.

Anyhoo, everything is set up and good to go, so expect to see the site updated with new articles regularly.

ny

Happy Nude Year!

What Happened in 2016?

 

Long time readers know that I like to make my first post of the new year a retrospective. I try to round up all the place names we looked at this year and then I give you a few other updates and things to look forward to in the next year. This year is no exception.

First, you may have not noticed yet, but there was a major – yet subtle – change to the site that came this summer. If you look up in the browser address field you may notice that it no longer says markystar.wordpress.com. The site has an official domain name and that’s the way things will be from here on out[ii].

I’ve decided on a few stylistic changes that are very minor – and, honestly, they won’t be noticeable until well into the new year. These are boring things like, how pages are layed out. For example, until now, I’ve just been putting section headers in bold print, but from now on I’m going to format them as actual headers (a difference that mainly only matters when dealing with HTML). There aren’t many of these changes and they don’t really affect the reader, it’s just more silly stuff I hafta do behind the scenes to make the site look pretty and still be usable.

30005-1

Good luck in 2017!

Where Did We Go in 2016?

 

Well, since half the year was silent, we didn’t really have a lot of articles. That said, we still covered a lot of Edo-Tōkyō in a short time.

Early in 2016, we explored Kōnan and Ōsaki (two places we would revisit in our soon-to-be-completed Yamanote Line Series). I always love getting down to this area because it’s really water, both the rivers and the bay, that brought life to Edo-Tōkyō. While we were down here, we took a little time to explore Irugi Shrine – a shrine most would overlook, but actually has a great history. We also looked at Goten’yama, one of Edo’s most famous hanami spots, which is now just a shitamachi town in Shinagawa.

Then, we took an epic look at Shinjuku’s sordid past (and present) as well as Ōme, whose pre-modern highway passed through the area[iii]. It was nice to have the chance to re-do Shinjuku and give it the attention it deserved. And while way out, suburban Tachikawa wasn’t high on everyone’s To Do List, it was a reader request and so we took a quick look out that direction.

We also looked at some  areas that are synonymous with government, Nagata-chō and Kioi-chō. The latter of the two is no doubt of interest to fans of James Bond, as a few scenes from You Only Live Twice were shot in the area.

The last place name we visited in 2016 was Harajuku, one of Tōkyō’s many fashion districts. I was actually surprised I hadn’t covered it yet, but apparently, it was one of the few remaining “big names” in the metropolis that merely got mentioned here and there.

9784805313114__09290.1455208216.1280.1280

We reviewed two excellent books this year. First, there was Terry Bennet’s Photography in Japan: 1853-1912 which was published by Tuttle and is a great look at the evolution of this art and science in Japan. The other was Taschen’s lovely hardbound issue of Hiroshige: One Hundred Views of Edo the artist’s epic series on daily life in the shōgun’s capital.

The bulk of the year consisted of the series, Explore the Yamanote Line. This was meant to be a companion guide to the Explore the Ōedo Line series and, of course, was meant to be finished quickly. Unfortunately, when my computer died, the last 2-3 articles got put on hold indefinitely. I intended to finish those articles as soon as possible and put that project behind me. One cool thing about the Yamanote Line series, if you go back, there are now short videos for many of the station areas with their corresponding platform chimes produced by my friends over at Digital Hub.

av-kimura-tsuna2-1

Oh, and today is Cumming of Age Day.

Milestones in 2016

 

Despite leaving the blog to lie dormant for the last half of the year, we crossed a couple of amazing thresholds and grew quite a bit.

First, in the beginning of spring, just as the weather started getting nice again, I announced 5 or 6 super-geeky historical walking tours based on the history of Edo-Tōkyō. While people aren’t banging down my door every day to take these tours, quite a few groups and individuals did. We had a lot of fun on all the tours I’ve done so far and I look forward to doing some more in 2017. I’m going to add a few more possible courses to the existing ones and I hope to have those up in time for spring.

A big anniversary came in May of 2016. That was the 300th article posted on JapanThis! – a definite major achievement, if I do say so myself. The big thanks actually go to you the reader because you guys keep me going!

img_1514

And while I’m patting myself on the back, I might also add that sometime between Dec. 31st 2016 and Jan. 1st 2017, the number of my Twitter followers passed the 3,000 mark. The reason I bring this up is because I initially joined Twitter just to promote JapanThis!, and I remember very well how lonely it felt tweeting out to only 10 followers – most of whom were just friends and family showing their support[iv]. These days promoting the blog isn’t even 1/10th of what I tweet. I generally just use it to goof around with likeminded people, probably people like you.

Alright, that’s about all I have to wrap up this year. And if anyone’s interested, you can compare 2016 with past years and see how I did:

The Year in Review: 2015
The Year in Review: 2014

And on that note, Happy New Year to all of you. Thank you so much for reading, commenting, and encouraging me to keep on keepin’ on. Here’s to 2017, let it be a year that would make the 11th shōgun Ienari blush[v].

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[i] For example, I need MS Word to get Word Press to play well with certain features of the JapanThis!, like the footnotes.
[ii] You don’t need to update your bookmarks or anything because the old address will just forward you to the new one.
[iii] That being, of course, the 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō.
[iv] And probably counting down the days to when they could unfollow without me noticing lol.
[v] Longtime readers will remember that Tokugawa Ienari was my most favoritest shōgun ever.

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.

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