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What does Asukayama mean?

In Japanese History on March 21, 2017 at 4:28 pm

飛鳥山
Asukayama (Mt. Asuka)

asukayama sakura

The 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing season is right around the corner, so I thought it was the perfect time to look into one Edo’s most important hanami spots. It’s not as famous these days, but 飛鳥山 Asukayama Mt. Asuka is still a major hanami spot – it just tends to be more for locals these days. However, in the Edo Period, well to do Edoites and inhabitants of 大江戸 Ōedo the Greater Edo Area came from far and wide to enjoy the 桜 sakura cherry blossoms on this hilltop.

Commoners also came, providing they had the time and wherewithal to make a day trip. You see, walking to Asukayama wasn’t easy – even for the rich. This small “mountain” was located outside of Edo in an area known as 武蔵国豊嶋郡王子村 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Ōji Mura Ōji Village, Toshima District, Musashi Province. Today this area isn’t part of 豊島区 Toshima-ku Toshima Ward, but rather a part of Tōkyō’s 北区 Kita-ku Kita Ward on the northernmost border of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis and 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture[i].

asukayama hanami

Just to give you an idea of the distance, it would take someone in modern clothes using modern roads about two hours to walk from 日本橋 Nihonbashi to Ōji. Walking in a kimono on dirt roads could have easily taken three hours or more. The route hanami-goers would have taken in the Edo Period, was the 日光街道 Nikkō Kaidō Nikkō Highway which connected Edo Castle with the elaborate funerary temples dedicated to the first and third shōguns, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu and 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu, in Nikkō[ii].

The village of Ōji wasn’t a 宿場町 shukuba machi post town, but by the middle of the Edo Period, it was fully prepared to accommodate as many hanami-goers as possible. Elegant teahouses in this rustic area catered to samurai and merchants, but there were also more modest accommodations available for wealthy farmers who might also have made the long journey out here. Presumably, drinking & whoring were rampant[iii].

ojiya meiji

Teahouse Oji-ya in the Meiji Period, located on the Otonashi River beneath Asukayama.

Let’s Compare Some Kanji

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阿須賀
Asuka

Asuka
(no meaning, this is ateji; the kanji are just sounds)

飛鳥
Asuka

Asuka
flying bird (this also has no meaning and is ateji)

I provided two spelling variants because the first version is used in religious contexts, but the second is used in maps and local histories. Just as spoken language has dialectal differences, kanji use seems to have been localized as well – especially in the untamed eastern provinces. That said, we know there was a 山城 yamajiro hilltop fortress controlled by the 豊嶋氏 Toshima-shi Toshima clan[iv]. The fortification at the top of this ovoid plateau was called 飛鳥山城 Asukayama-jō Asukayama Castle. This is reflected the area’s larger administrative name until recently, which was the Toshima District.

Asukayama_Park

You can clearly see the shape of the “mountain” and given the general flatness of the area, it’s easy to see why this would have made a good a to built a fortified structure.

The branch of the Toshima clan that moved to this eastern area, originated in modern 和歌山県 Wakayama-ken Wakayama Prefecture. The area we’re going to be referring to is located in the 紀伊半島 Kii Hantō Kii Peninsula[v]. This is the same area where you can find the 熊野古道 Kumano Kodō Kumano Pilgrimages, a series of ancient roads connecting various religious sites in the Kii Peninsula that date back to at least the 900’s. A specific shrine, associated with the Toshima clan was the 33rd station along the course called the 熊野曼荼羅 Kumano Mandara – this shrine was 阿須賀神社 Asuka Jinja Asuka Shrine.

asuka shrine

Asuka Shrine in Wakayama

Open their arrival in the 関東地方 Kantō Chiho Kantō Area, the Toshima used a process called 分霊 bunrei to split the 神 kami deity of Asuka Shrine in Wakayama and transport it to 王子神社 Ōji Jinja Ōji Shrine as the tutelary kami of their fort on the hill. Ōji Shrine was to serve as their tutelary kami[vi]. The difference between the kanji for “Asuka” are quite different, but there doesn’t seem to be any difference etymologically. Maybe the new variant was easier for locals to read – although to me, the original spelling is much clearer[vii].

Further Reading:

Oji Shrine

Oji Shrine where the tutelary kami of the Toshima clan was enshrined to protect Asukayama.

A Strong Connection to Kii Domain

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Anyhoo, so as I mentioned before, the Toshima clan originated in modern day Wakayama Prefecture. From ancient times until the end of the Edo Period, much of that area was called 紀伊国 Kii no Kuni Kii Province[viii], and in fact one of the most important Tokugawa fiefs was in Kii Province, 紀伊藩 Kii Han Kii Domain[ix]. The 紀伊徳川家 Kii Tokugawa-ke Kii Tokugawa Family were part of the 御三家 go-sanke the Three Great Families – branch families sired by Tokugawa Ieyasu that were expected to produce a shogun, should the main line fail to produce a capable male successor. The other two families were the 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari Tokugawa Family and the 水戸徳川家 Mito Tokugawa-ke Mito Tokugawa Family.

wakayama

The Kii Peninsula in perspective

Neither family was called upon to produce an heir until a crisis arose in the early 1700’s. The seventh shogun, 徳川家宣 Tokugawa Ienobu, ruled for a mere three years (from 1709 – 1712). All his male offspring died young. The only one who could inherit the position of shōgun was three year old 徳川家継 Tokugawa Ietsugu. He was made shogun, but being a sickly child, he also tragically died at age six in 1716. He, too, had held the title of shōgun for a mere three years. Being a six year old child, it was unlikely that he would produce an heir, and well, as you can imagine, he didn’t[x].

nitenmon ietsugu

Very little remains of Ietsugu’s once guilded and ornate mausoleum after the war. The Nitenmon gate is in horrible condition today, but is currently being restored before the 2020 Olympics.

The crisis resulted in the shōgunate electing a male member of the Three Great Families deemed closest by blood and by loyalty – oh, and also age-appropriate. The man chosen for the job was of the Kii Tokugawa, and his name was 徳川吉宗 Tokugawa Yoshimune. Up to this point, he had been the daimyō of Kii Domain. After his election and adoption into the main 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family, he was to go down in history as one of the most distinct and memorable shōguns of all time[xi].

Tokugawa_Yoshimune

Tokugawa Yoshimune

Yoshimune inherited a shōgunate in chaos with hemorrhaging coffers. He spent money to build a beautiful mausoleum at 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in Shiba for his predecessor, Ietsugu, but then issued a series of sumptuary laws[xii]. One such law was that no more individual funerary temples would be built for future shōguns, himself included. From this period forward, shōgun’s would be enshrined in existing mausolea in Shiba and Ueno through a process called 合祀 gōshi mutual enshrinement.

Yoshimune Kyoho

Yoshimune going over the shōgunate’s finances.

In addition, Yoshimune passed some dumb laws about what clothes people of certain ranks could wear[xiii], he tried to revitalize the art of sword craftsmanship[xiv], and he encouraged merchants to form monopolies[xv] – all of which prove that samurai didn’t know dick about economic theory[xvi]. That said, he did help make the shōgunate financially solvent, so at least he got that part right.

asukayama ukiyo hanami.jpg

Partying hard at hanami was not a modern invention. Edo Period people were equally boisterous and rowdy.

Wait. Wait. Wait. I Thought This Was About Asukayama?

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Yes, yes. It is about Asukayama. And here’s where it all finally comes full circle.

Despite all his austerity measures, Yoshimune also sought to sprinkle a little joy for the average person on the street in the way of what we would call “public works” today. At the time, Edo only had one famous spot for hanami, 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji one of the funerary temples of the shōguns[xvii]. Feeling an ancestral connection with his native Kii Province, he chose Asukayama in Ōji for a new project. He ordered that the long since demolished fortress of the Toshima clan be reclaimed for the people. Cherry blossom trees were planted at the top of the plateau and people could enjoy a spectacular view of both Edo, Edo Bay, and much farther off in the distance, Mt. Fuji[xviii].

Further Reading:

asukayama hanami pire

The National Park System

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Fast forward to the Meiji Period and the overthrow of Tokugawa Shōgunate.

In 1873 (Meiji 6), Japan created its first public parks, and naturally these were in 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City, literally the new “Eastern Capital”[xix]. The government chose five famous hanami spots to be the first “official” parks; they were 上野公園 Ueno Kōen Ueno Park and 芝公園 Shiba Kōen Shiba Park[xx], both Tokugawa funerary temples, also included were 浅草公園 Asakusa Kōen Asakusa Park[xxi] and 深川公園 Sumida Kōen Sumida Park and, of course, 飛鳥山公園 Asusakayama Kōen Asukayama Park.

1893 Paper Mill

A couple enjoying hanami on Asukayama in 1893. You can see a paper mill down below next to the Otonashi River. The paper thing will come back later.

In 1879 (Meiji 12), an emergent real estate mogul named 渋沢栄一 Shibusawa Ei’ichi bought part of Asukayama and built a house there. Ei’ichi is of particular interest, because unlike other real estate developers of his day, he wasn’t interested in the daimyō holdings of Edo proper. He focused on constructing playgrounds for the rich and fabulous in the suburbs well outside of the dusty and crowded alleys of Edo-Tōkyō). This mode of thought was derived from the British garden city movement.

 

shibusawa

Shibusawa Ei’ichi

Ei’ichi realized that the value of the 山手 yamanote high city lands that were being sold off piecemeal by the new government. So, while the government sought to regain funds it lost by essentially buying out the samurai class during the abolition process, newly made businessmen like his peer, Mitsubishi’s 岩崎弥太郎 I wasaki Yatarō, had more than enough cash to make huge land purchases of this scale. Ei’ichi focused on cheaper suburban lands to make residential developments. Yatarō focused on properties within the former shōgunal capital turned imperial capital.

From 1901 Ei’ichi began sharing this property with his son as a second home[xxii], and after his death in 1931, the house passed on to his son who continued living there.

Oji teahouse garden

A garden on the Otonashi River beneath Asukayama.

Most of the Shibusawa estate was destroyed during the Firebombing of Tōkyō in 1945 by US forces. Luckily, many of the old cherry blossoms survived and as a result, in the postwar years, the whole hill once again became open to the public.

monorail.jpg
Eventually, the city built a tiny monorail in 2009 to take people up and down the “mountain.” You can walk up the hill in five minutes, or stand in line for ten minutes to take the monorail. Officially, I think it’s for people with disabilities, but most people take it expecting a nice view[xxiii].

Further Reading:

asukayama train

There are two antique trains preserved on Asukayama.

3 Museums of Asukayama

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The park is also home to three museums:

飛鳥山博物館
Asukayama Hakubutsu-kan

Asukayama Museum
This museum explores the mountain’s history as far back as the Jōmon Period.

渋沢史料館
Shibusawa Shiryō-kan

Shibusawa Ei’chi Foundation Museum
A museum about the life and work of Sibusawa Ei’ichi, in particular his recovery efforts after the Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923.

紙の博物館
Kami no Hakubutsu-kan

Paper Museum
A four story museum related to this product that we use every day.

I haven’t been to any of these museums, so I can’t say much about them, but I imagine drunken hanami revelers stumbling around the paper museum aimlessly or passed out on the floor of the Shibusawa Museum would be quite a funny sight.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

 


[i] So, it’s way on the outskirts of Tōkyō, so you can imagine just how far away this was from the shōgun’s capital.
[ii] Modern Nikkō City, Tochigi Prefecture.
[iii] “Presumably” – I use the word with a 99% probability.
[iv] Descendants of the 平豊嶋氏 Taira Toshima-shi Taira Toshima clan, one of the strongest warrior families of imperial descent sent from the west to police and monitor the east of Japan.
[v] Remember this name: Kii.
[vi] The name Ōji literally means “child of a kami” and is something I discussed in probably way to much detail in my articles on Hachiōji and Ōji.
[vii] The “flying bird” configuration is identical to the that of the ancient capital of 飛鳥 Asuka which is enshrined in the epoch name 飛鳥時代 Asuka Jidai Asuka Period.
[viii] Often abbreviated as 紀州 Kishū with no change in meaning.
[ix] Also referred to as 和歌山藩 Wakayama-han Wakayama Domain, again with no change in meaning.
[x] And who knows if he was even expected, too. But girls were married off early, so who’s to say young Ietsugu wasn’t expected to get busy in the Ōoku for the sake of the family? (But for the record, I highly doubt it.)
[xi] If I were to compile a list of the great shōguns out of all fifteen, it generally goes like this: Ieyasu, Hidetada, Iemitsu, Tsunayoshi, Yoshimune, Ienari, and Yoshinobu. I include Ienari because ruled the longest and brought #StrongDickGame to the office.
[xii] He relaxed many of the restrictive sankin-kōtai laws to regain the loyalty of the daimyō who surely felt the policy of alternate attendance was oppressive. By his new decree, they wouldn’t be called on to build and support priests for new Tokugawa mausolea, only maintenance of the existing structures.
[xiii] Seems random.
[xiv] There were no wars, so seems pointless.
[xv] Monopolies? Really? Yes. And this sort of thinking is what led to the rise of the 財閥 zaibatsu the industrial and financial business conglomerates who dominated the economy and aspects of the government of 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku the Empire of Japan from 1868-1945.
[xvi] In their defense, even modern economists don’t know dick about economics. Also in their defense, economic theory is an outgrowth of the so-called western “Enlightment,” which spans roughly 1715-1887 – a time Japan was closed to most western nations. Interestingly, upon Yoshimune’s ascendency to the office of shogun in 1716, he relaxed the ban on foreign books. This gave birth to a movement among Japan’s more intellectually minded samurai in the so-called 蘭学 rangaku Dutch Studies – one of the few imported subjects. This led to ambitious samurai scrambling to learn Dutch in order to read and translate military texts from Holland. This also meant that in the final days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, many of the samurai involved in the Meiji Coup had been exposed to, at the very least, not purely Japanocentric ideologies.
[xvii] Located on 上野台 Uenodai the Ueno Plateau, present Ueno Park – still one of the greatest hanami spots in all of Japan.
[xviii] In an era with no skyscrapers – nay, no buildings over two stories – any view from the top of a tall hill was spectacular. This is something that’s hard to imagine today in modern Tōkyō.
[xix] As opposed to 京 Kyō Kyōto the capital (in the west).
[xx] Shiba Park’s cherry blossoms were largely destroyed in the Firebombing of Tōkyō by the US in World War II. That said, a hearty strain of plum blossoms survived. They are ugly yet robust – typical plum blossoms. But they hearken back to origins of hanami in ancient China. They’re a symbol of the influence of Classical Chinese culture over wide swaths of Asia, and Japan in particular.
[xxi] Destroyed in WWII.
[xxii] The main estate was in 三田 Mita.
[xxiii] There isn’t one lol

What does Ōkubo mean?

In Japanese History on March 9, 2017 at 3:03 am

大久保
Ōkubo (“great long term protector,” more at “really low valley”)

station

Ōkubo Station. I’m having a flashback to a bad hookup from years ago…

In our recent trip around the stations of the Yamanote Line, we found ourselves at a certain station called 新大久保 Shin-Ōkubo, literally New Okubo. In that article, I decided to get into some racial/political musings, rather than focus on history. My rational was simple. I wanted to dedicate a whole article on this place name and the area’s history outside of the context of the train system. I also knew that it wasn’t going to be a short and sweet project.

This story is messy, though. I’m gonna do my best to present it in an organized fashion, but it’s probably gonna jump around a little bit. There are multiple narratives that intersect. And let’s be honest. Neither history nor linguistics are actually narratives. We just like to wrap them up in pretty packages and sell them as such because it’s just easier that way.

yotsuya

The Yotsuya Checkpoint

To start things off, I want to be clear that this area wasn’t Edo. West of Edo Castle was all suburbs. The first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, strategically relocated many of his 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers out here. He gave some of them extraordinarily large fiefs for their rank[i] and charged them with the defense of the roads coming into his capital. Very much a Sengoku Period general, he rightly assumed that attacks from the sea in the east would be unlikely, but a land based attack from the west could prove a threat[ii]. One of the main entrances to the city was the 四谷大木戸 Yotsuya Ōkido Yotsuya Checkpoint on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway which was in this area. This area, by the way, was known not as Edo, but as 武蔵国豊多摩郡 Musashi no Kuni Toyotama-gun Toyotama District, Musashi Province in those days[iii].

四谷大木戸跡碑.jpg

All thar remains of the Yotsuya Ōkido is… well, nothing remains of the Yotsuya Ōkido, but there is this stupid monument.

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji


ō, dai/tai

big, great


hisashii, ku/kyū

a long time


tamotsu, ho/

protect

This place name, while seemingly auspicious on the surface, is generally believed to have quite humble roots[iv]. You see, a river called the 蟹川 Kanigawa[v] used to flow through the area between Kabukichō 1-2 chōme 1st & 2nd blocks of Kabukichō and Shinjuku 6-7 chōme 6th & 7th blocks of Shinjuku[vi]. By their very nature, rivers tend to be in geographic depressions, which made this area good for farming, but prone to flooding[vii]. This part of Toyotama seems to have been no different. At the area dividing Nishi-Ōkubo West Ōkubo and Higashi-Ōkubo East Ōkubo, there was a particularly noticeable drop in elevation, an 大きな窪地 ōki na kubochi[viii], if you will. If the story is to be believed, the locals called it an 大窪地 ōkubochi which was eventually reduced to ōkubo.

tokyo-tower-5-colors

Shiki no Michi in Shinjuku

Do you know 四季の道 Shiki no Michi 4 Seasons Trail? That’s the tree-lined foot path that winds from 靖国通り Yasukuni Dōri to ゴールデン街 Gōruden Gai Golden-gai, one of the last remaining Shōwa Era shanty towns in Tōkyō. That tranquil part of Shinjuku is actually a short stretch of the old Kanigawa river course. So, next time you go to Golden-gai, impress your friends by dropping a little knowledge bomb on their asses[ix].

That Spelling, Tho.

Any of you living in Japan will have probably been thinking something this whole time: Ōkubo is a common Japanese family name, and furthermore this hypothetical 大窪 Ōkubo looks nothing like the name 大久保 Ōkubo.

And you would be correct, my friends. They’re nothing alike. What we’re most likely looking at here is another case of 当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic reasons, not meaning[x]. If the etymology given is true, that 2-kanji combination essentially means “mini-valley” or “crappy place at the bottoms of the hill that floods a lot.” It’s a terrible name for a place. On the hand, 大久保 Ōkubo “longtime protector” has a pretty good ring to it.

okubo clan family crest

Ōkubo clan coat of arms.

The name – common today – 大久保家 Ōkubo-ke Ōkubo Family is a distinctly samurai name of rather high pedigree[xi]. They were a branch of the 宇都宮氏 Utsunomiya-shi Utsunomiya Clan which could trace their lineage back to the 900’s. The founders of this new branch were among the most loyal retainers of 松平弘忠 Matsudaira Hirotada. In case you don’t recognize that name, he was the father of the first Edo shogun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu.

odawara castle okubo clan.jpg

Reconstructed Odawara Castle 2.0. Odawara Castle 1.0, controlled by the Late Hōjō clan was destroyed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s forces in 1590, which led to Tokugawa Ieyasu receiving most of Kantō as his fief. The castle is worth a visit if you’re on you’re way to Hakone.

Later, the Ōkubo clan served Ieyasu well. In fact, the second family head, a certain 大久保忠世 Ōkubo Tadayo, served in nearly all Ieyasu’s military campaigns and even commanded his corps of bodyguards. After Ieyasu had secured the title of shogun, he elevated Tadayo to daimyō status gave him 小田原藩 Odawara-han Odawara Domain[xii]. This meant the Odawara clan controlled the 箱根関所 Hakone Sekisho Hakone Check Point as well as 箱根山 Hakone Yama Mt. Hakone, a region famous in Japanese mythology and renowned for its natural hot springs, beautiful lakes and coastal areas.

Odawara, Mt. Hakone, and the Ōkubo clan have nothing to do with this suburb of Edo.

Or Do They?

No, they don’t. Well, not much.

mt hakone

Mt. Hakone

So, I started out telling you about what a dump the area was before the Edo Period. Then we talked about how some random daimyō family who spelled their name the same way the modern place name is spelled. I even added that they were fiercely loyal to the Tokugawa shōgunate. What I didn’t say was that the Ōkubo clan didn’t live anywhere near this area. In fact, to my knowledge there’s no direct connection between this area and the Ōkubo of Odawara. There are, however, some striking coincidences.

Further Reading:

nobunaga's armor

Warlord Oda Nobunaga’s real armor.

Ieyasu’s Bodyguards

With all of that in mind, let’s look at the story of the shōgun’s body guards. And unfortunately to do that, we’re gonna hafta look at some other events in history[xiii]. I’m assuming you know who 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga was, but if you don’t, please read about him here.

So, here we are, starting off at the most dramatic moments of the Sengoku Period. In 1582, the first of the three great unifiers of Japan, warlord Oda Nobunaga was surprise attacked by one of his one generals, a certain 明智光秀 Akechi Mitsuhide[xiv]. Nobunaga, like no general before him, was poised to consolidate the 天下 tenka realm[xv], or we can just say “the country.” Nobunaga seemed to have the whole country in his grasp… and then suddenly, he didn’t.

honno-ji.jpg

The attack at Honno-ji was apparently carried about by a bunch of dudes with shitty mustaches.

In a single act of treachery, Mitsuhide successfully attacked and killed[xvi] Nobunaga at 本能寺 Honnō-ji in 京都 Kyōto. In the ensuing chaos, Nobunaga’s closest generals dispersed to figure out what the fuck was going on. To this day, historians still speculate about Mitsuhide’s motivation.

Despite being victims of Nobunaga’s military power grabs, a small faction of samurai from 伊賀国 Iga no Kuni Iga Province and 甲賀郡 Kōka-gun Kōka District came to the aid of one of Nobubaga’s wiliest generals. When shit went down, these samurai from Iga and Kōka helped escort Tokugawa Ieyasu’s army from 堺 Sakai[xvii] back to their base in 岡崎Okazaki[xviii]. They used their local connections to lead the warlord to safety, quickly and quietly.

Further Reading:

Tokugawa_Ieyasu2.JPG

Ieyasu Becomes Shōgun

The Iga samurai served Ieyasu in several other military actions leading up to 1590, when the sitting imperial regent, or 関白 kanpaku, Hideyoshi granted Ieyasu rights to the 関八州 Kanhasshū 8 Kantō Provinces, which included a certain fortified village known as 江戸 Edo.
In autumn of that same year, Ieyasu transferred his most trusted retainers from his ancestral lands in 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province to Musashi Province and the surrounding areas. When he entered 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, he had a huge task ahead of him. Namely, to modernize the outdated castle – which was more of a fort than a castle. He also needed to make it reflect his status as one of the most powerful daimyō in Japan who controlled 8 massive eastern provinces. But for our story, he also brought the clans from Iga and Kōka[xix] to Edo.

These two groups are closely tied into the narrative of 忍者 ninja and 忍術 ninjutsu, the art of stealth[xx], but we’re not getting into the whole ninja thing today. Anyhoo, once they arrived in Edo, they were assigned to very specific jobs. First, they served as a security detail[xxi] of the burgeoning castle town. Certain members were made security guards within the 本丸 honmaru innermost citadel of the castle, including many of the gates lining the inner moats of the castle, the so called 丸之内 maru no uchi[xxii].

daimyo alley

Daimyo Alley is a street that still exists (unofficially) in Tōkyō’s Marunouchi district. This street runs from Sukiyabashi to Tōkyō Station. In the Edo Period, it went a bit farther than the Wadakura Gate to the Ōte Gate.

In those early years, these groups served as police forces within Edo Castle, which was – and I can’t say this enough – a city within a city. Some even served as guards to the innermost section of the honmaru, the 大奥 Ō-oku the women’s quarter[xxiii]. To my understanding, part of their job seems to have been internal espionage, searching for treasonous rumors and plots circulating among the 外様大名 tozama daimyo, the so-called “outer lords,”[xxiv] who were forced to stay in Edo as hostages of the shōgun under the earliest incarnation of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai or the policy of alternate attendance[xxv].

Iemitu.jpg

3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu had strong jaw muscles – all the better for you know what…

In 1642, the 3rd shogun 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu made sankin-kōtai a policy for all daimyo, including the 譜代大名 fudai daimyō, the “inner lords” who were considered the most loyal to the Tokugawa. At this same time, the Kōka samurai and Iga samurai were reorganized into special units called the 甲賀百人鉄砲隊 Kōka Hyakunin Teppō-tai[xxvi] and the 伊賀百人鉄砲隊 Iga Hyakunin Teppō-tai, the Kōka 100 Member Musket Corps and Iga 100 Member Musket Corps, respectively. In addition, there were 2 other squadrons, the 根来百人鉄砲隊 Negoro Hyakunin Teppō-tai Negoro 100 Member Musket Corps and the 二十五騎百人鉄砲隊 Nijūgoki Hyakunin Teppō-tai Nijūgoki 100 Member Musket Corps. In common parlance, all groups were referred to by the abbreviated term 百人組 Hyakunin-gumi 100 Men Corps.

Imperial Palace

The Hyakunin Bansho

The 4 squadrons of 100 men each took turns manning the 百人番所 Hyakunin Bansho, a modest checkpoint located between 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Ōtemon (the main gate) and the honmaru where the shōgun lived[xxvii]. Out of all the castle structures lost to fires, earthquakes, and war, it’s curious that this building survived. Furthermore, one can imagine that by the middle of great peace of the Edo Period, there was really no need for ninja of the sort that we see in video games or the occasional movie. I imagine the Hyakunin-gumi groups manning the Hyakunin Bansho to be like… well, have you ever gone onto a military base? There’s some dude in uniform, fully armed and trained who will check your ID and determine whether you’re a legit person to let on to the premises. That’s basically what happened at the Hyakunin Bansho. They were hereditary security guards.

zozyoji231 (1)

Former grandeur of the Tokugawa funerary temple Zōjō-ji in Shiba, near Tōkyō Tower.

Furthermore, whenever the shōgun and his entourage visited the family funerary temples of 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji and 増上寺 Zōjō-ji, it was the Hyakunin-gumi who guarded the entrances and exits of the temple complexes.

These four groups were garrisoned in present day Omotesandō, Aoyama, Harajuku, and Shinjuku. But it’s the squadron based in Shinjuku that is relevant to our narrative. This group was the Iga Hyakunin-gumi and they were based in Ōkubo. In fact, present day 新大久保駅 Shin-Ōkubo Eki Shin-Ōkubo Station is in 新宿区百人町一丁目 Shinjuku-ku Hyakunin-chō Icchōme 1st block of Hyakunin Town, Shinjuku Ward. It was in this area that the 100 Member Musket Corps lived their day to day lives.

Further Reading:

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The post town of Naitō Shinjuku

The Plot Thickens…

OK, I hate to do this, but let’s go back to 1590, when Ieyasu entered Edo with his retainers from Mikawa. As I mentioned before, he brought non-Mikawa samurai with him as well – the Kōka and Iga warriors being the case in point.

Ieyasu didn’t garrison these specialized groups willy-nilly. He, like his son and grandson, were extremely cautious and aware of the military strategies of the Sengoku Period. They left nothing to chance when it came to defense of their capital, having learned so much from the stupid mistakes of the losers of the Warring States Era.

The gunnery corps came to Edo when Ieyasu entered the city in 1590 and they were led by a certain 内藤清成 Naitō Kiyonari and 青山忠成 Aoyama Tadanari. They served as Ieyasu’s vanguard and also oversaw the manufacture of ammunition. He stationed the squad in 四谷 Yotsuya, the westernmost perimeter of Edo Castle, and ordered the construction of the residence of the 組頭 kumigashira commander of the Hyakunin-gumi in Ōkubo.

Longtime readers should recognize the name Naitō from the story of Shinjuku. The Naitō clan, originally mere retainers of the shogun, though later raised to daimyo status, were placed here – in the boonies – for a very strategic reason. Should Edo Castle be attacked and face imminent capitulation to an enemy, the Hyakunin-gumi were to escort the shōgun out of Edo Castle’s west-facing 半蔵御門 Hanzō Go-mon Hanzō Gate[xxviii] along the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway to 甲府城 Kōfu-jō Kōfu Castle in present day 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture. So, yeah. These guys were elite security guards in the heart of Edo Castle who lived out in the sticks, and they were entrusted with one of the single most important jobs an Edo Period samurai could have: protecting the shōgun in the event he needed to escape from his capital.

kofu castle

CG version of Kōfu Castle’s inner citadels superimposed over the modern city. It was way more rustic in those days.

They served the shōgunate until 1862, when the Hyakunin-gumi were decommissioned. Presumably this was the result of the government running out of money as it was collapsing. That said, certain members were still kept as a security detail. They just didn’t need all 400 of them anymore. Their weaponry was out of date and the traditional defense tactics were quickly becoming obsolete in light of all the new western technology. The last official act of the remaining Hyakunin-gumi was after the last shōgun 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu formally transferred power to the imperial court. At that time, he sent a group of them to Shizuoka to secure the route to what would eventually become his retirement estate.

Further Reading:

kabukicho

Kabukichō today…

Then and Now

If you said Ōkubo in the Edo Period, you were referring to a huge suburb that was composed of present day Kabukichō 2-chōme, Shinjuku 6-7-chōme, Ōkubo 1-2-3-chōme, Hyakunin-chō 1-2-3-chōme, Yochō Machi, and Nishi-Shinjuku 7-chōme. That’s a huge area. The Naitō clan, as mentioned earlier, were given a residence out here. Furthermore, the 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari Tokugawa Family had a property out here called the 戸山山荘 Toyama Sansō Toyama Hillside Retreat which was part of an elaborate garden they constructed.

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The peak of Shinjuku’s Mt. Hakone as it looks today

The garden featured a man made mountain commonly referred to as 箱根山 Hakone Yama Mt. Hakone because they fancied it a representation of the real Mt. Hakone… which, as also mentioned earlier, was just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Odawara, the fief of the Ōkubo. If you go to present day 戸山公園 Toyama Kōen Toyama Park, you’re standing on the ruins of the Owari Tokugawa’s 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence. If you go to the highest hill in the park, you’re standing on this so-called Mt. Hakone.

I can’t confirm this, but by at least one account I read that this is actually the highest hill in the 23 Wards of Tōkyō[xxix]. True or not, if anyone had the money to build a crazy artificial Mt. Hakone in the outskirts of Edo, it would’ve been the Owari Tokugawa[xxx].

yabusame

Located near the park is a shrine called 穴八幡宮 Ana Hachiman-gū. In the Edo Period, this was called 高田八幡宮 Takada Hachiman-gū. Long time readers of the blog should recognize the name Takada from 高田馬場 Takada no Baba the Takada Horse Grounds, which were located an easy walking distance from this area. Every October, the shrine puts on a 流鏑馬 yabusame horseback mounted archery festival in the park, where competitors dress in full samurai armor and race past a target at full speed and try to hit it. This was a totally unnecessary skill in the Edo Period, just as it is today, but dude… it looks so fucking bad ass. I highly recommend you check it out if you can.

Oh, and Toyama Park is famous among locals for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing and not famous among non-locals, which means it’s not so crowded. Apparently, it’s also a good spot for PokemonGO. Go figure.

Further Reading:

IMG_4527.jpg

Hmmmmm…

So this has been a lot to take in, right?

kanigawa river shinjuku

If you ever thought Golden-gai seemed like a dirty alley without a train, well, here’s your moment of zen.

I could have stuck to the “dumpy valley gets an upgrade via ateji that makes it sound not just noble, but like a retainer of the shogun” narrative. But, that’s not what I do, and the story is really much more nuanced – or at least has become more confused over the centuries. But I’ll put it this way: one would think that the Samurai Museum in the heart of Shinjuku’s red light district was out of place. But considering all this… it actually makes a lot of sense.

IMG_5094

Kaichū Inari Shrine

Strong Ties to Kaichū Inari

As mentioned before, all four 100 Men Squadrons were gunners by default. As such, they were expected to be expert shots.

The Hyakunin-gumi developed a close attachment to a certain shrine near their barracks. One night, an avatar of the god 稲荷大明神 Inari Daimyōjin appeared at the bedside of one of the samurai and gave him special talisman. The next day, while shooting at the archery range[xxxi], he hit every target perfectly. When the other samurai of his barracks saw this, they decided to have a shooting competition and passed the talisman around. Everyone one hit every single target without fail.

last samurai bullshit

Many people believe samurai rejected guns until Tom Cruise introduced them to the country in “The Last Samurai.”

It’s a Freakin’ a Miracle! 

The surrounding villagers heard the story of the Hyakunin-gumi becoming experts at archery and gunnery overnight, and naturally wanted to get in on the action. Who doesn’t want to be a winner? They came to pray to Inari at the shrine and in time came to call the 神 kami diety 皆中之稲荷 Kaichū no Inari which can also be read as Mina Ataru no Inari Hitting all the Targets Inari or Everyone’s Bulls Eye Inari. For non-samurai, and for modern people, this shrine became associated with gambling. Unironically, there’s a large pachinko parlor right around the corner. I’m sure that’s good for the shrine business of selling お守り o-mamori talismans[xxxii].

omamori

Hyakunin-gumi talisman from Kaichū Inari Shrine

In patronage to Kaichū Inari Shrine, the Iga Hyakunin-gumi often gave gifts to the priests, mainly firearms. The shrine, which was much larger back then, amassed a sizeable and valuable collection of expensive weapons over the course of the Edo Period. Unfortunately, all of the shrine complex except for the main structure was destroyed in the Firebombing of Tōkyō by American forces in WWII. Their priceless collection of muskets donated by the Hyakunin-gumi and many documents and other items related to the squad went up in flames.

tsutsuji.jpg

Azaleas. You probably didn’t see this coming…

Azaleas

As if there aren’t enough layers to this story, I’m gonna hafta talk about flowers. When the Naitō clan and the Hyakunin-gumi were transferred out to these suburbs at the beginning of the Edo Period, there were wild 躑躅 tsutsuji azaleas growing everywhere. While many of the gunnery corps were living in barracks, a good deal had proper residences and cultivated azaleas in their private gardens[xxxiii]. Public spaces where azaleas grew were also well known by the end of the Edo Period, and the streets were lined with these colorful flowers. In fact, a few years after 大久保駅 Ōkubo Eki Ōkubo Station opened in 1895 – 1899 (Meiji 32), to be precise – the emperor visited the area to enjoy the azaleas. Doing what emperors do, he wrote a poem:

まがねしく
maganeshiku
道のひらけて
michi no hirakete
つつじ見に
tsutsuji mi ni
ゆく人おほし
yuku hito ohoshi
大久保の里
Ōkubo no sato

Ōkubo Village
where so many people go
to see tsutsuji
developing into
iron roads to the future

I’m not even going to pretend to have translated that poem well[xxxiv]. But the emperor was referring to Japan’s modernization, which he was the figurehead of – rather than the shogun. So, there’s a propaganda aspect to this poem[xxxv], but it’s overall positive and I think it has a sort of conciliatory tone – one that reflects the new imperial governments acceptance of poor and middle class samurai back into fold.

His poem talks about the blooming azaleas, a clear reference to the country opening up to the world and starting a new national venture. As the emperor, this kind of message was crucial to the common people who had no say in the politics of the day, those people who were just being dragged along for the ride. He also uses the word 開ける hirakeru which literally means “to be opened up” or “improve,” but has a secondary meaning of “to become civilized” or “become enlightened.”

Ōkubo was the boonies, but now it was becoming a major section of the new capital. The azalea business was booming because now people could sell them[xxxvi]. Metal was part of the path to the future, it was also the tool and trade of the samurai living in the area. They gave up their iron guns which gave them power to a new world order where iron train tracks connected the country as it had never been before. It put Japan in the same company as western countries that had blossoming economies based on railroads.

You have to admit, the emperor was pretty slick in his wording.

mural

Mural of the Hyakunin-gumi near Shin-Ōkubo Station.

So Where’s This Awesome Shooting Range Today?

By now you’ve probably assumed the shooting range doesn’t exist anymore, as the story usually goes in Tōkyō. And, sadly, you would be correct. It’s long gone.

But actually, not as long gone as you might think.

If you’ve been reading this long, convoluted story up to this point, then you remember that there were horse riding and archery grounds in the area that’s now called Takada no Baba. A short distance from there, near present day Toyama Park[xxxvii], there used to be wide open fields called the 戸山ヶ原 Toyama ga Hara Toyama Fields. This is where the Takada Horse Grounds were, and it’s also where the Hyakunin-gumi had their shooting range.

aerial.jpg

This aerial shot gives you an idea of the size of the shooting range.

After the Meiji Coup, the plot of land was appropriated by the Imperial Army to be used as a… wait for it… shooting range. New recruits to the army also practiced marching here. Because marching. Yay 🙄

Under the new regime, the 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Great Empire of Japan, the space was expanded under the general term of the 戸山ヶ原陸軍射撃場 Toyamagahara Rikugun Shageki-ba Toyamagahara Shooting Range. Another name for the same facility was the 大久保小銃射撃場 Ōkubo shōjūshageki-ba Ōkubo Shooting Range[xxxviii].

shooting tunnels

Shooting tunnels in Toyamagahara

By the WWII era, the site was characterized by its very unique architectural design – namely, the 射撃隧道 shageki zuidō shooting tunnels. These were long, semicircular, hangar-esque tunnels designed for practicing marksmanship. I’m not sure why the tunnel shape were necessary… perhaps someone with a military background could explain. I’m guessing, if you’re doing target practice, maybe it’s best to do it without the sun in your eyes, and if you shoot inside a tunnel, the noise doesn’t disturb the neighbors, but I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure. Any insight is appreciated.

Anyhoo, these tunnels were a part of the local landscape for years. Obviously, they were abandoned during the American Occupation, as the Imperial Army was abolished in that time. But the site didn’t just disappear overnight in 1945. In fact, the site stood there for about 20 more years, and the derelict shooting tunnels showed up as a location in the 1961 film, 夕陽に赤い俺の顔 Yūhi ni Akai Ore no Kao Killers on Parade.

The shooting range remained intact until 1967, when the derelict site – essentially a 廃墟 haikyo ghost town – was torn down in order to build the new main campus for 早稲田大学 Waseda Daigaku Waseda University. The school wasn’t new, it was actually established in 1882. But the new campus re-invigorated the university in the post war era, and it helped expand the growth in this old suburb of Edo.

waseda.jpg

Waseda cheerleaders

In Conclusion

So, we had a place name that just referred to what was essentially a flood plain. Whether that’s true or not, at some point people started writing it with a noble family’s name. Is there any connection between the Ōkubo clan and this Ōkubo? I don’t think so, but maybe some of the samurai stationed in this area, including the Owari Tokugawa clan might have preferred writing it a certain way.

All of that said… we can’t know. And what makes this story so interesting is all of the great stories surround the area. This is why the history of Edo-Tōkyō is so great. Even if we can’t pinpoint the etymological source of a place name, sometimes we can just bask in the area’s rich history.

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Historical re-enactment of the Hyakunin-gumi. Photo by friend Rekishi no Tabi. Check him out on Flickr for more cool pix of Japanese history and culture.

 

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[i] It was the boonies, so land was cheap, I guess.
[ii] It didn’t. But the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 which resulted in Ieyasu’s elevation to shogun can be seen as a battle between east and west. Ironically, it was agitators from the southwest of Japan – descendants of the western losers – who marched to Edo in 1868 to finish off the Tokugawa hegemony.
[iii] Toyotama District referred to parts of modern day 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward, 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward, 杉並区 Suginami-ku Suginami Ward, 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward.
[iv] But, as with many of our etymologies, is shrouded in mystery.
[v] Literally “crab river.” I couldn’t find any etymology info on the river.
[vi] You know 四季の道 Shiki no Michi the 4 Seasons Road, the windy tree-lined footpath that leads to ゴールデン街 Gōruden Gai Golden-gai? That’s part of the old Kanigawa course. The river was covered up so it could be used for cable car service, when that was discontinued, this area became a park. You can still walk the course of the river as its preserved as windy road running through Shinjuku.
[vii] This meant when Ieyasu & Co. arrived in Edo, garrisoning high ranking samurai in this area was problematic. This probably accounts for the granting of such large fiefs to non-daimyō in the area. The large land grants were incentives. A famous case is the Naitō clan.
[viii] Literally, a “big geographic depression.”
[ix] If you wanna take it to the next level, you can tell them this. Later, the river was covered up so it could be used for tram service. However, when that was discontinued, this area became a park.
[x] What is ateji? For those of you late to the party, here ya go!
[xi] To my understanding, it’s the 150th most common name with at least 138,000 people currently using it. Sure, it’s no 佐藤 Satō, 鈴木 Suzuki, 高橋 Takahashi, 田中 Tanaka, or 伊藤 Itō, but it’s still common. And yes, those are the top 5 Japanese surnames in descending order.
[xii] Ōkubo Tadayo’s father, 大久保忠員 Ōkubo Tadakazu, was given the castle by Ieyasu.
[xiii] And there’s a lot of “ninja” bullshit in this story and I’m going to try to not get bogged down in the whole ninja thing. #ihateninjas
[xiv] For right or wrong reasons, a name that rings in Japanese ears almost the same way Benedict Arnold does for Americans.
[xv] 天下 tenka – I use this term as a way to describe the potential unification of the samurai families and the families of the imperial court.
[xvi] Whether Mitsuhide’s army actually killed Nobunaga is unknown. Legend has it that Nobunaga killed himself and had the building he was staying in torched to prevent the taking of his head – taking of heads was a traditional samurai practice. Whether he was killed, killed himself, or was trapped in a burning building and died will never be known.
[xvii] Near 大阪 Ōsaka.
[xviii] In modern 愛知県 Aichi-ken Aichi Prefecture.
[xix] Who were not from his home province of Mikawa. Iga is in modern day 三重県 Mie-ken Mie Prefecture and Kōka is in present day 滋賀県 Shiga-ken Shiga Prefecture.
[xx] To my best understanding, ninja were just spies who happened to hold samurai rank. But because #iHateNinjas, it’s not so important to our narrative.
[xxi] Like a police force.
[xxii] Today, Marunouchi and Otemachi are the main remnants of these palace areas, and the outer moats don’t exist anymore.
[xxiii] Usually translated here and there as “the shōgun’s harem,” but this is a bit of an overstatement.
[xxiv] The daimyō who opposed Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara and were forced to pledge fealty to him after his victory.
[xxv] You can read more about sankin-kōtai here.
[xxvi] Often rendered as Kōga Hyakunin-gumi when referring to ninja stuff for some reason.
[xxvii] Today, this is part of the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.
[xxviii] 服部半蔵 Hattori Hanzō, an Iga native himself, was ordered to build a residence outside of this western gate. He handpicked the original iteration of the Iga Hyakunin-gumi.
[xxix] Like I said, I can’t confirm, but I’d love to see a good elevation map of Tōkyō to prove/disprove this remarkable claim.
[xxx] They were part of the 御三家 Go-sanke, the 3 Great Families who could provide a shōgunal heir by adoption, should the main Tokugawa line fail to produce a first-born son. Despite being – or perhaps, in spite of being of being – the richest of the 3 Great Families, the Owari Tokugawa were never tapped to produce an acceptable candidate for shōgun when the 御本家 go-honke main branch died out. Which happened twice. Anyways, suffice it to say, they had mad fuck you money and carried that tradition straight from the Edo Period right down to today.
[xxxi] The accounts are unclear as to whether he was practicing archery or riflery. My gut instinct says archery. I think the riflery allusions come from the Bakumatsu Period and Meiji Period.
[xxxii] Or is it talismen? (笑)
[xxxiii] Whether they were actually doing the gardening themselves is unclear. While they could have done gardening on their own property as a hobby is a possibility, I imagine most had servants/employees who did the dirty work. This was clearly just the Edo Period version of suburban Americans taking pride in their lawns.
[xxxiv] It’s not a literal translation by any stretch of the imagination. I was more concerned with conveying the meaning, the simplicity, and the 5-7-5-7-7 meter.
[xxxv] And I don’t blame him for it, actually. The rebels from Satsuma Domain, Chōshū Domain, and other treacherous domains forced the Meiji Emperor into the position of being a kind of logo or mascot for the new government. That said, dude was good at dragging archaic poetic forms into the new age. I gained a new respect for the Meiji Emperor after reading this poem. It has a depth I didn’t expect.
[xxxvi] Samurai weren’t technically allowed to sell things commercially under the shōgunate.
[xxxvii] The Mt. Hakone place…
[xxxviii] There are various combinations of these words, but all of them describe the same place.

Yamanote Line: Hamamatsu-chō & Tamachi

In Japanese History on February 12, 2017 at 5:11 am

浜松町
Hamamatsu-chō (beachside pine tree town)
田町
Tamachi (rice paddy town)

train

Hamamatsu-chō

So, we’re finally at the end of this series which has spanned the middle of 2016 to the beginning of 2017. I’m hoping that finishing this series will bring some closure to me and to all my longtime and future readers[i]. It’s been a wild year for me, so once again I apologize for the delay in getting this article out there for you.

Anyways… with all that said and done. Let’s get into to what is, for the time being[ii], our final two stops on the Yamanote Line. Hamamatsu-chō Station is located on Edo Bay[iii] in Minato Ward[iv]. Because both loop lines, the Yamanote Line[v] and the Ōedo Line[vi], stop here, this is the perfect location for us to really get off the train, step on to the platform, and scratch our heads.

hamamatsucho_station

Not one of Tōkyō’s more beautiful stations…

The bulks of both the Yamanote and the Ōedo lines are on solid ground, but in comparison to modern day Tōkyō, Edo was built up from a small portion of the bay towards Edo Castle, outward from which it radiated into suburbs and then in countryside. Hamamatsu-chō can be thought of as a convenient seaside suburb of Edo. In fact, not only did many daimyō have beachfront property here, the shōguns themselves had a massive villa replete with extravagant gardens, saltwater moats[vii], and duck hunting grounds. The estate was known as the 浜御殿 Hama Goten Seaside Palace, but today is called the 旧浜離宮庭園 Kyū-Hama Rikyū Tei-en Former Hama Detached Palace Garden[viii]. A short distance away[ix], is a former suburban daimyō residence that is known today as 旧芝離宮庭園 Kyū-Shiba Rikyū Tei-en[x] Former Shiba Detached Palace Gardens. While they are a mere shadow of their Edo Period glory, both plots of land are parks that bring together a mix of classic Japanese gardens and the ultra-modern skyline of Tōkyō.

hama-goten

Hama Goten in the Edo Period. Notice the castle-like fortifications.

The active word in the transformation of both palaces into public parks is 離宮 rikyū which is usually translated as “detached residence” and is a reference any residence of the imperial family that isn’t 皇居 Kōkyo, the remains of Edo Castle, where they are currently squatting. While Shiba Rikyū is a bit more modern, Hama Rikyū actually retains a decent amount of the Edo Period Garden despite all the later development.

And while much of the gardens and duck hunting areas remain intact, sadly none of the Edo Period structures are left except for some of the old stone work. Worse yet is that the magnificent view of Edo Bay has all but perished – replaced by manmade islands that are home to warehouses and industrial harbors. The once beautiful bayside views of pleasure boats cruising on the calm waters from lively teahouses[xi] under the bright hanging moon which were famed in ukiyo-e, poetry, and place names are long gone. If I seem like, I’m getting depressed and unfocused while still waxing poetic about this area that’s because… well, that’s how I am. I love this area today. It’s fucking awesome. However, I really get hung up on how over developed the area has become. I guess I’m just in a real love-hate relationship with the area[xii].

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hama Rikyu as it looks today.

One final note: Shiodome Station, where the original Shinbashi Station was located is just a few blocks away[xiii]. If you’re in the area, you should definitely check it out[xiv]. You’re also even closer to the Ōedo Line’s Daimon Station which gives you access to Zōjō-ji’s Great Gate and the destroyed mausolea of the Tokugawa shōguns[xv] and Tōkyō Tower.

Further Reading:

tamachi-station-empty

Tamachi Station with no people in it. Weird.

Tamachi

Two commissioned pieces of artwork at Tamachi Station get overlooked everyday by droves of salarymen, salarywomen, and hung over students who schlep through this station like herds of cattle during the morning rush hour. But that artwork, a stone monument and a mosaic that’s easy to miss, are testimony to how important this area was to the End of the Tokugawa Shōgunate and the beginning of the Japanese Empire.

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Statue commemorating the site where Katsu and Saigō met.

What these two monuments commemorate is a famous meeting by Katsu Kaishū and Saigō Takamori. The gist of the meeting was this: Saigō intended to lay siege to the shōgun’s castle and behead the shōgun. Katsu knew Saigō was just crazy enough to try to burn the city of a million inhabitants – not just the largest city in the Japan, but arguably the largest city in the world. Saigō’s path was through war, Katsu’s was through negotiation.

The two met in a seaside teahouse here in Tamachi near the suburban palace of Satsuma Domain[xvi] and worked out a peaceful transfer of power. The newly formed imperial army wouldn’t have to fight the shōgun’s army or kill a million people by fire. The shōgun and his loyal retainers would leave the city peacefully[xvii]. The emperor was then free to enter the castle. Katsu Kaishū had negotiated a deal rarely seen in history.

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A few years before the negotiation that saved a million lives, this area also saw the birth of a school for foreign learning. This institution would become Japan’s first western style university, today called 慶応大学 Keiō Daigaku Keiō University, which is now part of Japan’s Ivy League. Tamachi station will lead you directly to the campus, still boasting some Meiji Period architecture and a history deeply entwined in the tumultuous years surrounding the Bakumatsu.

One thing most people don’t think about is why did Saigō Takamori and Katsu Kashū have their meeting here. While all of this area is Tōkyō today, in their time this was actually the border of the shōgun’s capital of Edo and 荏原郡 Ebara-gun Ebara District on the Tōkaidō Highway. If the imperial army coming from the south was going to invade Edo, they’d pretty much have to come this way.

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Takanawa Ōkido – entrance to Edo

If you do a bit of walking from Tamachi Station towards Shinagawa Station, among rows of office buildings and old temples you can find a small trace of the actual city limits. All that remains is a small stone wall overgrown with grass and weeds. Apparently, it looked much this way at the time of Saigō and Katsu’s negotiation as the three traditional entrances in and out of Edo were de-fortified about 100 years before due to a stable peace[xix].

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The Ōkido back then

Today, Tamachi is a great place to go drinking. There are lots of izakaya and small privately owned restaurants that cater to middle aged salarymen working in the headquarters of manufacturing companies as well as students aspiring to be corporate drones. There’s an interesting, and uniquely Japanese, intersection of young and old, modern and historical here.

And on that note, I think this is a good place to finally wrap up this series on the Yamanote Line. I think I’ve made a good case that it’s more than just an ruthless drinking game and I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.

Further Reading:

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

[i] I wanna get back to place names, dammit!
[ii] A new station will supposedly be added before the 2020 Olympics. As it’s already 2017 and no construction that I know of has taken place, this now remains to be seen.
[iii] Or “Tōkyō Bay” to you noobs.
[iv] Literally “Harbor Ward.”
[v] A true “loop line.” More here.
[vi] Not quite a true “loop line.” More here.
[vii] Other than being ostentatious, this was presumably of inconsequential defensive worth. I mean, salt water may kill a freshwater fish, but a mammal with a sword doesn’t give a shit about salt water.
[viii] Originally, the 浜御殿 Hama Goten seaside palace of the Tokugawa shōguns.
[ix] Actually, closer to Hamamatsu-chō Station than the shōguns’ villa is.
[x] Originally, the residence of the Ōkubo clan and then the Kishū Tokugawa clan. After the Meiji Coup, the Arisugawa branch of the imperial family took over.
[xi] Pronounced “drinking & whoring.”
[xii] Definitely more on the “love” side, though.
[xiii] Which gives you access to the modern Shinbashi Station.
[xiv] Most Tōkyōites don’t know it exists.
[xv] Truth be told… between Shinbashi and Akabanebashi, you’ll find an area dotted with shrines, temples, and graveyards which once were overseen by the powerful priests of Zōjō-ji – all of whom reported directly to the Tokugawa shōguns.
[xvi] Today it’s the headquarters of NEC.
[xvii] Most did, but a small contingent of loyalists holed up at Kan’ei-ji, present day Ueno Park, in anticipation of a final showdown.
[xviii] All the country samurai who had been required to live in Edo were sent back to their native domains.
[xix] And a fairly rigorous system of checkpoints on the highways far away from Edo, and strategic placement of loyal daimyō surrounding the shōgun’s capital.

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