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What does Takaido mean?

In Japanese History on May 29, 2019 at 2:44 am

高井戸
Takaido
(close to “High Well”)

takaido station

So the other day, I was looking through my Twitter and Instagram accounts. I got into some arguments on Twitter[i], then clicked “like” on some pretty pictures on Instagram[ii]. Soon I noticed a DM from a model I follow[iii] and thought, “well, that’s unusual.” Then I realized it was for an event in the west side of Tōkyō. My first six years in Japan were spent in the city’s west side, but for the last 10 years or so I’ve had very little reason to go there unless it was work related. When I looked at the details of the venue and what sort of hijinks were planned, I realized it was a party of an, um, shall we say “sexy” nature. In short, I don’t usually get invited to fetish parties, but when I do, I always check the etymology of the place name. I mean, ffs, knowledge is power. Right?

takaido sakura

Two Topics for the Price of One

As you can tell by the title of the article, our main topic today is, of course, 高井戸 Takaido. However, Takaido is located in 東京都杉並区 Tōkyō-to Suginami-ku Suginami Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis. The name of Suginami Ward is pretty simple to explain, but in my humble opinion, Takaido has a much more interesting history, so I thought I’d try to tackle both[iv]. Those of you who support the site on Patreon or by other means are probably jumping for joy[v]. And I hope so, because I love you.

suginami-ku

So, What does Takaido mean?


taka-, –daka;
high, tall

i; sei, shō
well

to, –do; he
opening, door

The first kanji 高 takai means “high.” The second two kanji make the word 井戸 ido, the standard word for “well.” One theory says that there used to be a fresh water well next to an unnamed temple or shrine located on the high ground. This would make this place name’s meaning タカイド taka ido high well. However, without any specific references to a shrine or temple or even a “high location,” this is a pretty bland origin story. I’d say at best this is a folk etymology[vi].

A more refined version of that theory also exists. It says that we should separate the kanji differently and read it as タカイド takai do high “do.” This posits that the sound ド do is a contraction of 堂 dō a Buddhist hall[vii]. According to this theory, the name is a reference to the 高井家 Takai-ke Takai clan who served as priests at 神宮寺 Jingū-ji – popularly called 高井堂 Takai-dō – which leads a little credence to the previously mentioned hypothesis, except that Jingū-ji doesn’t exist[viii]. Actually, a temple of that name never existed in the area. You see, this is just a generic term used for temples and shrines before Shintō and Buddhism were officially separated in 1868[ix]. That said, another temple whose full name is 高井山本覚院 Takaisan Honkaku-in Mt. Takai Honkaku Temple is still very much alive and well, sitting pretty on 高井山 Takai-yama[x] Takai Hill[xi].

The name Takaido doesn’t appear in records until the 1530’s, when this part of Kantō was very rural and not very well connected with the enlightened imperial capital in the west[xii]. At this time, the place name is clearly written as Takaido not Takai-dō, but it appears people were already speculating about the origins of the village name. Furthermore, supposedly Honkaku-in was home to the graves of 15 generations of Takai family members who served as priests[xiii]. If this connection can be believed, the term Takai-dō is probably a reference to a special funerary hall where the family, its retainers, and others could express their devotion at regular memorial services to the ancestors of the Takai clan in the Buddhist tradition.

takai grave

A Takai family grave…

I know I said the first etymology about a well on the high ground next to an unnamed temple reeked of folk etymology. And yes, I said that, but now we have more information and we know that 15 generations of the Takai clan did exist in this rural area up till the 1500’s[xiv], which firmly puts the beginning of family activity in the region in the 1300’s, when Kantō was even more wild and more detached from the record keeping we associate with strong centers of government[xv].

Long time readers will remember that as families extended outward from the main imperial court noble clans, they took on the names of their local fiefs. A good regional example is 江戸氏 Edo-shi the Edo clan[xvi]. This wasn’t just an outward expression of their control over an area but reflected their legitimate desire to embrace or integrate into the local culture – or at least be perceived as doing so in the beginning. If we take ancient, pre-Sengoku Period adoption of place names by cadet warrior branches of elite imperial clans as a norm, the first theory I said was merely folk etymology starts to make a little more sense. At the heart of that etymology was the idea that a well existed at the top of hill (高い山 takai yama). If we go outside of the evidence, we could assume that a well existed on a place called Mt. Takai, because the people living there would have needed to get their water from somewhere.

If Takai is literally 高井 takai high well (without the extra steps), the story seems solved. The Takai clan took their name from an area called Takai (doesn’t matter if it was Takaido or Takai-yama). But that leaves us in the 1530’s when people first started asking questions about this. If you go even further back, we’re literally in prehistory – ie; pre-literate society that wasn’t recording its history in written form. I’ve looked for some 蝦夷 Emishi/アイヌ Ainu precursors, but I don’t think those people ventured this far inland until the coming of the 弥生 Yayoi culture which made living in these obscure, inhospitable lands viable without wet rice agriculture. So, if we have to use our friend Occam’s Razor, I think the folk etymology sums up the question in a sound bite, but the longer explanations give it some legitimacy it wouldn’t normally deserve.

simplify

OK, let’s tidy up  this bitch.

So, Where Are We??

That’s a really good question. We don’t have a great deal of information on this part of the country until the 1600’s, but for most of its history it was happy to be known as 武蔵国多磨郡高井戸村 Mushashi no Kuni Tamagawa-gun Takaido Mura Takaido Village, Tamagawa District, Mushashi Province. It was getting along just fine as an agricultural nobody in the great Kantō Plain. Some major roads developed to facilitate local trade, but all of that would change when our good friend 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu took up residence in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle in 1598. From this time on, minor road networks were integrated into a vast and well-developed highway system. Soon, this area became home to 高井戸宿 Takaido-shuku Takaido Post Town, second post town on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway[xvii]. Today, it’s located in 東京都杉並区高井戸 Tōkyō-to Suginami-ku Takaidō Takaidō, Suginami Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis, but originally it was actually a loosely organized post town that combined the villages of 上高井戸村 Kami-Takaido Upper Takaido and 下高井戸村 Shimo-Takaido Lower Takaido[xviii].

Further Reading:

showa 2 takaido 1927

In 1927, Takaido was only slightly more impressive than its Edo Period self. Still the boonies.

Characteristics of Takaido-shuku

Being a particularly nerdy guy, I’ve found myself fascinated by the post town systems[xix] of Edo Period Japan because of their superficial uniformity, but once you scrape beneath the surface, it becomes clear these well-regulated networks were fairly unique from the larger nature of the roads themselves to the amenities and services provided in individual villages. Takaido was located on a road mostly traveled by merchants and pilgrims. Because 大名 daimyō feudal lord traffic was scarce on this stretch of the Kōshū Kaidō, a simple 本陣 honjin suitable inn for a daimyō[xx] was maintained in Lower Takaido and there was never a need for a 脇本陣 waki-honjin sub-honjin[xxi]. Interestingly, if you were to walk into Edo, the next post town was at the intersection of the Kōshū Kaidō and 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō Ōme Highway, which was 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku, a post town that uncharacteristically lacked both a honjin and waki-honjin. It is assumed that this close to Edo[xxii], a daimyō would just proceed to his local palace. If he stopped off in Takaido, it would have only been for a meal, to get fresh day labor to help carrying heavy items, or to possibly do a little drinking and whoring, as one does[xxiii]. The 鎌倉街道 Kamakura Kaidō Kamakura Highway also passed through this area, so if accommodations weren’t available on that route, overflow could be diverted to Takaido. So, in short, Takaido was a minor post town in the grand scheme of things. That said, it had plenty of resources to accommodate local merchant traffic but was fairly prepared to accommodate daimyō and shōgunate officials when lodging wasn’t available at major rest stops.

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei™ is ready to drop some knowledge.

What does Suginami mean?

OK, so I promised you a two for one and I’m fully committed to following through with that obligation. As we talked about earlier, Takaido is located in modern Suginami Ward. There was a reason I decided to smoosh these two place names into one. To be honest, I just wanted to write an article about Suginami, but it was so simple that I thought it would be better to skip that article. That said, here we are. We now know what Takaido means and Suginami takes a fraction of the brain power of that mess, so let’s dive into it. Awwwwww yeah.

gay japanese cedar tree

Let’s talk about trees, baby. Let’s talk about you and me.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


sugi
cedar trees

nami
row;
line, queue

I’m not going to bury the lead on this one. The name quite literally means “rows of cedar trees.” And while this might seem really mundane and boring, it’s actually a great illustration of one of the most practical policies promulgated by the Tokugawa Shōgunate: that is, planting trees for shade. The government actually ordered local lords or village headmen to plant trees so travelers could walk without being full exposed to the miserable heat of the sun in the humid months[xxiv]. It’s goddamn brilliant!

suginami

A typical cedar-lined highway…

From an administrative standpoint, this area was 天領 tenryō a territory directly controlled by the shōgunate in Edo. Various families oversaw the area, but one of the tasks required of them were the planting and maintenance of cedar trees between 成宗村 Narimune Mura Narimune Village and 田端村 Tabata Mura Tabata Village on the Kōshū Kaidō. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the ways the Tokugawa Shōgunate brilliantly made the highway network better was by ordering local lords or elites to plant cedar trees along the roads to provide shade for weary travelers walking such long distances. In this case, it seems like the burden fell hardest upon the 岡部氏 Okabe-shi Okabe clan who apparently did a bang-up job uniting the villages of Narimune and Tabata. This stretch of road was so famous among locals that they came to refer to it as 杉並 suginami the rows of cedar trees. This stretch of cedar trees was so noticeable that the entire unremarkable area came to be known as Suginami.

cedar tree japan

Cedars as far as the I can see… until modern times.

Herein lies a bit of mystery. What happened to the rows of cedar trees? Well, after the fall of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, history fans know that the next era was the 明治時代 Meiji Jidai Meiji Period, a time of “enlightened government” that modernized Japan and imported western approaches to government, science, and historical research. What few people acknowledge is that the Meiji government often tried to downright erase from popular memory the great achievements of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The introduction of steam locomotives eliminated the need for walkable highway networks but didn’t eliminate the need for many of the post towns along the way. Lucky post towns got train stations and modernized. It’s during this Meiji Period crisis of conscience that the cedar trees were lost[xxv]. Train stations were built in this area in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and as villages expanded into suburban centers and as rail networks built up the walkable pre-modern highways were overrun and most of the trees were felled in the name of modernization. So yeah. Bye bye, trees. Don’t let the concrete streets and western metal doors hit your ass on the way out.

setagaya 1945

This 1945 shot of a street in nearby Setagaya is probably what Suginami looked like at the same time.

In the Modern Era

In Meiji 22 (1889), all the villages surrounding the stretch of road known locally as the suginami were combined into a new administrative district of 東京市杉並村 Tōkyō-shi Suginami Mura Suginami Ward, Tōkyō City and before long came to be called 杉並町 Suginami Machi Suginami Town. After 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake, a lot of writers and scholars fled the burnt out 下町 shitamachi crowded low city of Edo-Tōkyō and made their way to the cheap, burgeoning suburbs and gentrified this rural no man’s land to lay the foundations of what would become to this day one of the last Bohemian party towns of the capital. Eventually, in 1932, this area was incorporated as 杉並区 Suginami-ku Suginami Ward and it looked nothing like its Edo Period past. In fact, if you visit Suginami Ward today, or Takaido, for that matter, you’ll see very little that harks back to its Edo Period agrarian roots. No offense to Takaido, but it’s one of those places you’d never go. That said, if there’s a reader who can prove me wrong, please do so!

 

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______________________________________________
[i]
As one does.
[ii] As one does.
[iii] Full disclosure, I pretty much only follow geisha, maiko, models, and AV girls on Instagram. If I follow you and you don’t fall into those categories, consider yourself special.
[iv] If you’re a huge fan of the etymology of Suginami, brace yourself for a Takaido-oriented article. Feel free to start your own ilovetheetymologyofsuginamisomuchicoulddie.com. I just checked. It’s available and cheap. Go for it!
[v] The rest of you freeloaders pillaging my site for Wikipedia edits and your cheesy “journalism” articles, you can all suck a bag of my supporters’ dicks. Yes, a whole bag.
[vi] But, just wait. I’m not discounting this theory altogether yet…
[vii] It can also refer to Shintō structures as well, as Japanese religion is generally syncretic.
[viii] There exists an apartment building in the area called 神宮寺 Jingūji Biru Jingū Bldg.
[ix] I’m not gonna rehash this discussion, but if you’re curious, here’s what Wiki says about it.
[x] The kanji for mountain or hill is and can be read in native Japanese as yama, but in this case we need to use the Chinese reading san because… well, because Buddhism. See the next footnote.
[xi] Buddhist temples in Japan have a particular naming convention. They usually follow the pattern of 山号 sangō + 寺号  jigō or 山号 sangō + 院号 ingō. Without going into specifics, these roughly translate as “mountain name” + “temple name.” The difference between jigō and ingō is basically main temple and sub-temple (but, again, I’m simplifying things here). To illustrate, Takai-yama Honkaku-in Mt. Takai (mountain name) Honkaku Temple (temple name) indicates a kind of sub-temple or monastery.
[xii] Read: the records suck because literacy was pretty low in the boonies. Also, the “enlightened capital” of which I’m speaking is 京都 Kyōto, but you already knew that.}[xiii] Over the years, it seems some of these graves have been moved to a 無念塚 munen-zuka a mass grave where Buddhist priests pray for the souls of those whose family lines have gone extinct or have no family paying for the maintenance of their graves. Yes, Buddhism sounds all philosophical and shit, but at its most practical level, it’s a funerary racket.
[xiv] At least!!!
[xv] Remember, at this time the 室町幕府 Muromachi Bakufu Muromachi Shōgunate was in control and based in Kyōto. Also remember, that this was the lamest shōgunate ever. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact, jack.
[xvi] Oh, and do I have an article for you.
[xvii] The first post town on the way out of Edo was 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku. BTW, I think I have an article about that.
[xviii] The 上 kami– upper and 下 shimo– lower are references to the upstream and downstream geographic locations along the 玉川上水 Tamagawa Jōsui Tamagawa Aqueduct. Although Takaido-shuku generally refers to a single post town, the shōgunate assigned to official designations: Upper Takaido and Lower Takaido.
[xix] I say “systems” and not “system” because every time I visit a new post town, I realized how decentralized the network actually was.
[xx] Honjin were reserved for daimyō, but when vacant they prioritized shōgunate official and ambassadors from the imperial court.
[xxi] Waki-honjin prioritized daimyo but were available to any samurai or high-ranking commoner of means – this usually meant wealthy merchants.
[xxii] From this route, the official city limit was 四谷大木戸 Yotsuya Ōkido the Great Yotsuya Gate.
[xxiii] All that walking makes a brutha wanna get his dick sucked. Believe me. I walk a lot.
[xxiv] Remember, travelers of sufficient rank were dressed in 着物 kimono, not the best thing to wear during a hot and humid Japanese summer. Day laborers might just wear 褌 fundoshi which were essentially just underwear and so while that’s much more comfortable, they’d be exposed to awful amounts of direct sunshine and heat if there were no trees planted for shade.
[xxv] In fact, there isn’t a solid consensus about where the trees were. The Kōshū Kaidō didn’t link these villages, so it may have been a short-cut that locals used or long-distance travelers used to get to other villages.

What does Narimasu mean?

In Japanese History on May 13, 2019 at 6:38 am

成増
Narimasu (getting better)

narimasu station

Riding the 埼京線 Saikyō-sen Saikyō Line, we passed through a litany of place names that were unarguably 芋っぽい imoppoi country-sounding[ii]. They were so unlikely the names you’d find in the actual castle town of Edo that I had to write some of them down. And thanks to this trip into the outskirts of Tōkyō[iii], the next few articles will be based in this general area. And for those of you who have been complaining that I haven’t written anything lately, hopefully this will be the beginning of a rapid-fire batch of articles to get things back on track.

Let’s Take a Look at the Kanji


nari

become, turn into


masu

increase
tanaka house

The surviving Takana residence. Very rare in Tōkyō.

From the time spanning the Muromachi Period to the Meiji Period, this area was just one of a cluster of farming villages that lay in proximity to the 中仙道 Nakasendō Nakasendō highway[iv] called the 赤塚六ヶ村 Akatsuka Rokkason 6 Akatsuka Villages[v]. The area first seems to be developed by the 田中家 Tanaka-ke some time in the early 1500’s. As far as high-ranking farmers go, they were remarkable record keepers about rural life in the villages[vi]. Not only did they keep good records, but one of the family’s Edo Period farmhouses survived beyond WWII and is still preserved in excellent condition at the 板橋区立郷土資料館 Itabashi Kuritsu Kyōdo Shiryōkan Itabashi Historical Museum[vii]. Anecdotal evidence says Tanaka is the most common family name in the area[viii].

akatsuka castle

CGI rendering of Akatsuka Castle. Yes, in the Muromachi Period, this bullshit counted as a castle.

The story goes, that after the ruination of the 武田氏 Takeda-shi Takeda Clan[ix], the Tanaka family – either retainers or farmers, it’s not clear – fled from Takeda lands[x] to 武蔵国豊嶋郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province. The first Tanaka associated with the development of the Akatsuka region (ie; before its “famous” 6 villages) is a certain 田中左京成益 Tanaka Sakyōnarimasu, a descendant of the original refugees. It seems he wasn’t an ordinary farmer, rather he cultivated medicinal herbs and dealt in folk remedies. His fame spread throughout the other villages that lay in the shadow of the ruins of Akatsuka Castle, making him a bit of a superstar. As his legend spread, his name 成益 Narimasu came to be written as 成増 Narimasu.

Why did this happen? Well, remember, the first character 成 nari means “becoming.”

rice paddies in tokyo

But Let’s Look at that Second Kanji


masu
, mashi

increase; profit/advantage


masu, mashi

increase; to be better than before

Both kanji have very positive meanings and are auspicious. However, the first one has a connotation of profit or some kind of personal gain. The second one, which is used in the place name, Narimasu, has a connotation of “better than before.” The first time I learned this word was with a language exchange partner my first year in Japan. We were chatting at a café and the table was wiggling. I grabbed some napkins and balanced the table. When I asked how do I say or ask if it’s better. She said 増し mashi. I think this makes sense when talking about medical treatment, not only balanced tables.

narimasu rice

How Reliable is the Story?

I think it’s pretty reliable, but it’s missing a couple of important parts. If you’re studying kanji, it’s a really good story to know as a mnemonic. However, what I told you was the popular local tradition, and we’re lucky AF that the Tanaka clan kept meticulous records throughout the ages. Family documents state that Narimasu actually came to the area from 美濃国 Mino no Kuni Mino Province present day 岐阜県 Gifu-ken Gifu Prefecture sometime between 1504-1521. This location and these dates don’t correspond directly with the demise of the Takeda clan, but I can see dumb ass warlords of the Sengoku Period disrupting the lives of farmers all along the periphery. Why’d they’d go from one god forsaken spot to another is beyond me, but hey, I’m not a Sengoku Period farmer.

Anyhoo, besides the popular story about the villagers changing Narimasu’s kanji[xi], in 1914, when the 東武東上線 Tōbu Tōjō-sen Tōbu Tōjō Line opened 成増駅 Narimasu Eki Narimasu Station, they cited chronological Tanaka family documents that began with 成益 Narimasu and ended with 成増 Narimasu. They also pointed out his grave, which uses the latter kanji. For the train company, that was the nail in the coffin[xii].

MOS Burger 1

The original MOS Burger – where fast food hipsters go to die.

MOS Burger

Fast forward to 1972. After a few years of working in the US, a guy named 櫻田慧 Sakurada Satoshi Sakurada Satoshi opened a burger shop in Narimasu. If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve probably seen MOS Burger everywhere. In case you’re wondering, the MOS stands for Mountain, Ocean, Sky to reflect freshness. I’ve never met a Japanese person who knew this bit of weird trivia. But it goes deeper, yo. The real meaning is a reference to Satoshi’s original company: モスフードサービス MOS Food Service, itself an abbreviation of Merchandising Organizing System. Anyways, MOS Burger has become the second largest fast food burger chain in all of Japan.

Film and Television

I Like This Story

This story takes place in a bleak part of Japanese history when Eastern Japan is starting to rise again – and really take precedence over the future of the country (though no one knew it at the time). Literacy is on an uptick, so records are better. Stories start to become more believable, yet we still need to keep our BS Detectors cranked up to 11™.

.

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[i] I actually debated in my mind… should I call this “Edo’s foreskin.” I’m such a fucking adult, dammit.
[ii] Long time readers will remember that 芋 imo potato is a rude substitution for 田舎 inaka countryside. One day, I’ll delve into that more, but that’s for another time.
[iii] Oh yes, Toto, we’re very much still in Tōkyō.
[iv] The two major highways connecting the imperial capital of Kyōto with the shōgun’s capital in Edo were the 東海道 Tōkaidō Eastern Sea Route and the 中仙道 Nakasendō Mountain Route – both descriptors of their unique paths to the same endpoints.
[v] Traditionally, the surrounding area was just called Akatsuka in general. This name was a reference to 赤塚城 Akatsuka-jō Akatsuka Castle. You can find some info here. I’d like to refer you to jcastle, but maybe I can convince him to check it out with me lol.
[vi] Apparently, there are about 10,000 documents registered with the 板橋区立郷土資料館 Itabashi Kuritsu Kyōdo Shiryōkan Itabashi Historical Museum.
[vii] This makes this home and family very unique in the history of Edo-Tōkyō. Although, I can’t claim to have made an effort to research and see them all, I can probably count on one and a half hands, the number of actual Edo Period residences I’ve visited in Tōkyō. I think that puts me in a small handful of foreigners who are Japanese you
[viii] Itabashi Ward Office said they have data on the occurrences of registered family names, but not in a block by block break down. So, take that claim with a grain of salt. And university students looking for thesis ideas, you can thank me later.
[ix] Spoiler alert. The Takeda lose. Everyone loses and the Tokugawa win and people stop killing each other in mindless pitched battles.
[x] Presumably 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni Kai Province roughly modern day 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture. However, the Takeda also exerted direct or at least nominal control over parts of 信濃国 Shinano no Kuni Shinano Province, 駿河国 Suruga no Kuni Suruga Province, 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province, 遠江国 Tōtōmi no Kuni Tōtōmi Province, and 飛騨国 Hida no Kuni Hida Province.
[xi] And wait, wasn’t his name Sakyōnarimasu – not Narimasu? What happened to the first 3 syllables of homeboy’s name?
[xii] See what I did there?

What does Shimbamba mean?

In Japanese History on February 6, 2019 at 6:29 am

新馬場
Shinbanba (new horse place)

IMG-0979

All right. You ready to do this? Cuz I’m ready to do this.

So, in my last article, we explored a little-known area on 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō the old Tōkaidō Highway which connected the shōgun’s capital in 江戸 Edo with the imperial capital in 京都 Kyōto. The road ran from 日本橋 Nihonbashi (literally, the “Bridge to Japan”) in the center of the city to Kyōto. To maintain the Tōkaidō and other similar highways, the shōgunate instituted an official network of 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns[i]. This ensured that travelers – particularly government and court officials – had a roof over their heads, somewhere to get a hot bath, and places to go drinking and whoring. In fact, places that killed three birds with one stone were not uncommon.

shimazaki-rō

A typical lodging in Shinagawa with sexual hijinx on the menu. This is the Shimazaki-rō. The photo was taken in 1929, but the lodging was established in the Edo Period and was apparently one of the most high end spots in Shinagawa, even providing delivery to the honjin and waki-honjin so government officials could remain anonymous. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk about what honjin and waki-honjin are in a bit…)

Access to well rested servants and horses were also an important aspect to this post town system. The first post town on the Tōkaidō was the main entrance and exit to the city of Edo. Not only was it the first post town on the most important highway in the country, it was the largest – so large, in fact, that it was divided into two separate towns: 北品川宿 Kita Shinagawa North Shinagawa and 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa South Shinagawa[ii]. The official post towns were home to roughly 1600 buildings and had a population of about 7000 people[iii], numbers unheard of in other post towns. Because of traffic from the sea and fishing villages along the bay, the area was a bustling center of commercial activity and the lines between post town and local villages often blurred. I haven’t seen numbers for travelers coming and going, but it must have been massive. Even though this was outside of the city limits and quite country, for 芋侍 imo-zamurai country bumpkin samurai coming to the capital for the first time, it would have been a mind-blowing prelude to the cosmopolitan sensory overload of the shōgun’s capital.

tokaido map.jpg
Today, you can still walk the original route of the old Tōkaidō from Nihonbashi all the way to Kyōto (if you’re into that sorta thing), but one of the best stretches is in Shinagawa. Along the way, you’ll come across an area called 新馬場 Shinbanba[iv]. Long-time fans of JapanThis! may recognize this kanji and come to the same assumption that I did: the etymology of this place name is just like that of 高田馬場 Takada no Baba – both of with end with the characters for “horse” and “place.”

And we’d both be wrong AF.
So let’s dig in and find out where this place name came from.

Further Reading:

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Shinagawa? Strap on and feel the G’s. Outside of the city of Edo, this was where it was at.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


shin
new

uma,
ba
horse

ba
place

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Jūban Baba – the horse riding grounds in Azabu-Jūban. It’s a very distinctive shape.

Assuming this 馬場 banba[vi] was the same as 馬場 baba – I mean, the kanji is the same FFS – I started checking maps for long, rectangular plots of land where you could do mounted archery. I didn’t find any because in the Edo Period, this was the boonies. I found lots of small villages, but the word 馬場 baba didn’t appear on early maps or more accurate later maps. Hmmmmm…

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Female yabusame??? Yes, please!!!!

What Gives?

Well, I mentioned before that Shinagawa post town was so large the shōgunate divided it into two administrative districts, North Shinagawa and South Shinagawa. The separation took place where the Tōkaidō crossed the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River at 品川橋 Shinagawabashi Shinagawa Bridge. Taking a closer look at old maps, I realized something interesting. In North Shinagawa, the stretch of the highway from present-day 八山橋入口 Yastuyamabashi Yatsuyama Bridge to 法善寺門前 Hōzen-ji Hōzen Temple has block after block labeled 北品川歩行新宿 Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku[vii]. So, what the hell does Kachi-Shinshuku mean?

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Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku

So, normally in Edo, when you see the word 馬場 baba/banba on a map, it refers to a place for mounted archery. However, in post towns, the term has a totally different meaning. Furthermore, on these old maps, Kachi-Shinshuku distinguished a special part of North Shinagawa, one that specialized in providing rested and refreshed coolies to rich travelers. I don’t know if coolie is a PC term or not today, but essentially these 歩行人足 kachi ninsoku were day laborers who operated between two post towns carrying luggage and 籠 kago palanquins[viii]. In short, Kachi-Shinshuku means something like “refueling station” because you could relieve exhausted day laborers and hire new ones. Shinshuku means “new post town” because this was a later development of Shinagawa post town; that is to say, the shōgunate wanted the rest of North and South Shinagawa to be for lodging and whatnot but keep all the stinky laborers in a single area.

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One of my fave ukiyo-e prints and I finally have a chance to talk about it. Tired horses and tired coolies have arrived at a post town (Fujieda, also on the Tōkaidō) ready to pass over the packages to a fresh team. Notice the one guy wiping sweat off his brow and the team manager discussing the job with a merchant. Also notice the presence of a samurai inspector.

Wait. What about the Horses?

Well, I said you should think of Kachi-Shinshuku as something like a “refueling station,” right? Let’s say you’ve got a pack animal with you on your trek from Kyōto, or you’re a 大名 daimyō feudal lord who’s sick of being boxed up in a palanquin and wants to ride a horse. To keep the other parts of the post town clean, you could swap out stinky horses in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku. Additionally, coolies who carry shit for a living are pretty much pack animals too, right? They were both the pickup trucks of the Edo Period.

While stinky coolies who carried shit for a living were eking out a sustainable existence in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku, apparently the biggest business in popular memory was the hiring and retiring of stinky-ass 伝馬 tenma/denma pack horses. Thus, the term banba doesn’t mean riding grounds, but the place where you can swap out horses. We can see a related place name in 小伝馬町 Kodenmachō, literally Small Denma Town[ix], which is located near the terminus of the old Tōkaidō at 日本橋 Nihonbashi the Bridge to Japan.

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Day laborers, coolies, whatever you call them, their jobs were disappearing with the Meiji changes, the advent of the railroad, and just like your job is gonna be taken over by AI, they did their best and now we bicker over whether the word coolie is PC or not lol

Why do we Remember Horses and not Humans

I haven’t heard any satisfying answer, but I have a pet theory. After the 明治維新 Meiji Ishin Meiji Coup, Japan tried desperately to impress the western powers that they were on equal footing. They began building a train line to do what the old Tōkaidō once did – link Edo (now Tōkyō) with Kyōto – and they adopted new dress, a new style of government, and they abolished the caste system. There was no concept of PC and centuries of prejudice didn’t evaporate overnight, but I suspect with the end of the post town system in Meiji 5 (1872) and the absorption of Shinagawa into 東京県東京府 Tōkyō-ken Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō City, Tōkyō Prefecture, the pressure to not associate humans with pack animals became self-evident. While marginalized families most definitely continued to work as social minorities in the area, the new era brought new opportunities and the local consciousness chose to remember that the area between Yatsuyama and Hōzen-ji was famous for post horses. In fact, even with the advent of the steam locomotive and the abolition of shōgunate restrictions on who could and who couldn’t ride horses, there was an uptick in demand for horses. It seems like the locals referred to the area as 馬場 banba horse place to preserve its traditional image and erase its humiliating past.

got it, fuck face

Easy Peasy!!!

So Shinbanba means “new horse place.” Got it. I don’t have to read this crap anymore.

Not so fast, buddy. You probably should read this crap a little bit more.

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Sexxxy Sensei thinks you should read this crap more, too. Don’t disappoint Sexxxy Sensei.

It Always Comes Back to Train Stations

In the early 1900’s, on the train tracks that are now the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line there were two stations called 北馬場駅 Kita-Banba Eki North Banba Station and 南馬場駅 Minami Banba Eki South Banba Station, references to where the two post towns in Shinagawa were split by the Meguro River. Today this is a pretty minor line as far as Tōkyō trains go, but it straight up serviced the boonies until the post-war period[x]. However, as we all know, Tōkyō (and Japan in general) experienced a huge economic boom that saw construction and real estate development enter unprecedented levels beginning in the late 1950’s. Massive infrastructure expansions happened in the 1970’s, and new, faster trains eliminated the need for stations that were built for rural areas that had now become urbanized. A new station was built between Kita-Banba and Minami-Banba and was named 新馬場 Shinbanba New Banba and opened in 1976[xi]. By this time, nothing remained of Shinagawa’s post town – even the original Edo Period coastline had been expanded by landfill and massive building projects. It’s fairly obvious in Japanese that New Banba doesn’t mean “place where you swap out horses,” and as the post town’s history faded from collective memory, Shinbanba was just another place name that few people thought about. And that’s the short story, long. Shinbanba isn’t even a real place name. It’s just a station name, only the locals refer to the area in general as Shinbanba. The existence of Kita-Banba and Minami-Banba are long forgotten as time moves farther and farther past Shinagawa’s heyday as Edo pre-eminent post town, the grand entrance to the shōgun’s capital.

Just like 立会川 Tachiaigawa[xii], a majority of Tōkyōites have probably never heard of it.

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This is Tachiaigawa, a pretty decent walk from Shinbanba, check out my previous article for more about this little known secret in Tōkyō.

What’s in Shinbanba?

For the average person, there might not be a lot. But if you’re a history nerd like me and you love Edo-Tōkyō, there’s a fuck ton to see here. Just make sure your history level is cranked up to 11 because you’ll spend the majority of your time looking where places used to be, because there are only scant traces of the Edo Period preserved – and even those are disappearing.

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One of many nori (seaweed) shops in the area

Traditional Japanese Food

OK, it’s Japan, so this isn’t a stretch, but being a post town on the bay, foods like 海苔 nori seaweed, 寿司 sushi sushi, and 天ぷら tenpura tempura were famous in the region. In many famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints of daily life, you can see seaweed farms in the shallow parts of the sea where crops could be easily harvested at low tide. Sushi in its most common form is what is called 江戸前寿司 Edomae-zushi sushi in the Edo-style or sushi from Edo Bay. Likewise, tempura as you know it today was once called 江戸前天ぷら Edomae-tenpura[xiii], also a reference to either the bay or the local style. For travelers who just wanted a light snack that they could carry with them for the journey, there were many 煎餅屋 senbei-ya rice cracker shops, and you’ll still find the old Tōkaidō dotted with these family owned storefronts.

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Remnant’s of Shinagawa’s once thriving fishing industry still remain

Temples and Shrines

In the famous words of Scientology founder and all-around charlatan wackjob, L. Ron Hubbard, “If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” In this case, just establish a temple or a shrine. With all the travelers coming and going in and out of Edo, this entire stretch of the old Tōkaidō is teeming with Buddhist and Shintō institutions, some are pretty cool and some are kinda meh. I’m just going off the top of my head, but I think there are something like 20-30 temples and shrines in the area. With all those Edo Period travelers, these places must have been making bank.

Besides the fact that there are two 七福神巡り shichi fukujin meguri pilgrimages of the seven gods of good luck, the must-see spiritual spots in the area are 品川神社 Shinagawa Jinja Shinagawa Shrine, 荏原神社 Ebara Jinja Ebara Shrine, and 東海寺 Tōkai-ji Tōkai Temple.

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Calligraphy by the third shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, preserved by Tōkai-ji. It says Tōshō-gū, posthumous name of his grandfather, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The first two are Shintō shrines that are part of seven gods of good luck pilgrimages, the latter is a Zen Buddhist temple established by 沢庵 Takuan, a priest who founded this major temple during the reign of the third shogun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu Tokugawa Iemitsu. Takuan hobnobbed with all manner of high-ranking samurai and is sometimes criticized for his advocacy of killing, a general no-no in Buddhism, but Zen and martial arts go hand in hand and if you want to sell your religion to the warrior class, you have to make it appealing to them – and that he did. Tōkai-ji preserved several of his calligraphic works and tea sets which are now on display in the 品川歴史館 Shinagawa Rekishikan Shinagawa History Museum.

Shinagawa Shrine was established to protect the local village in 1187. It houses the 神 kami gods of 天比理乃命 Amenohiritome no Mikoto — a somewhat mysterious god[xiv], 素戔嗚尊 Susano’o no Mikoto the god of seas and storms[xv], and 宇賀之売命 Toyoukebime a goddess of abundant food that predates the importation of wet rice agriculture[xvi]. The enshrinement of a harvest goddess and a god of the sea makes sense for this area which was rural and located on the bay. I think that makes sense at any time in human history.

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Shinagawa Shrine

Speaking of history, the shrine has an interesting history. Apparently, it was established as 品川大明神 Shinagawa Daimyōjin Shinagawa Shrine[xvii] by 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo, first shōgun of the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura Shōgunate, when he enshrined Amenohiritome in 1187. In 1319, it’s said that a high-ranking retainer of 北条高時 Hōjō Takatoki, the last regent of the Kamakura Shōgunate, enshrined Toyoukebime — presumably, this was before Takatoki and his retainers committed 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide as Kamakura burned[xviii]. In 1478, Kantō warlord and all around bad muthafucka, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan enshrined Susano’o here[xix].

In 1600, a funny thing happened on the way to 関ヶ原 Sekigahara. A little-known local hero whom I may have mentioned here once or twice, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, made a stop at Shinagawa Shrine to pray for victory in battle. Well, we all know how that turned out[xx]. Ieyasu had patronized the shrine since the 1590’s, but after his victory at Sekigahara, the shōgunate prioritized the institution and to this day you can see the family crest of his clan everywhere. Other Tokugawa shōguns, including 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu (#3) and 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari (#11, but he’s always #69 in our hearts), are known to have visited here[xxi].

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Dozō Sagami – the most infamous adult playground in Shinagawa

Dozō Sagami

For samurai of means and rich merchants coming and going from Edo, one of the most famous and glamorous spots was 土蔵相模 Dozō Sagami, officially known as 相模屋 Sagami-ya, a deluxe brothel. This inn featured high-end 芸者 geisha and talented 遊女 yūjo courtesans[xxii]. Long time readers, especially those who remember my piece on Shinjuku, will remember that Edo Period post towns were hot beds[xxiii] of drinking and whoring. That’s right, dear reader, Shinagawa wasn’t all about pack horses and coolies.

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Model of he main building of Dozō Sagami inside the Shinagawa History Museum

Perhaps the most historically important people who partied all night here were a team of racist, xenophobic, and backwards-thinking 水戸藩の志士 Mito Han no Shishi Terrorists from Mito Domain who checked in to do the last drinking and whoring of their lives. The next morning was March 24th, a day that changed Japanese history forever. These ass clowns attacked the entourage of 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke lord of 彦根藩 Hikone Han Hikone Domain and 大老 Tairō head of the 老中 Rōjū High Council, the lords posted at the highest level of the shōgunate. They succeeded in assassinating him, knowing full well that they would either die in the attack, be sentenced to 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide, or worse yet, be executed like stinky, filthy commoners. Yup, these racist, terrorist fucks killed the guy who made the decision to slowly begin opening up Japan in order to get new military technology so Japan wouldn’t collapse under foreign imperialism like other Asian countries had – learn the foreigners’ ways and then beat them at their own game. This assassination, known as the 桜田御門外之変 Sakurada Go-mon-gai no Hen Sakuradamon Incident sent the shōgunate into a downward spiral that left the fate of the country in a precarious place.

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The back of Dozō Sagami (also called Sagami-ya casually). From here, you had a view of Edo Bay, the garden, the well, and that dope kura. You’re all kura fans now, right? The view must have been stunning in its heyday.

In the midst of this chaos, some other famous guests stayed at Sagami-ya. They were 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku an anti-foreigner terrorist with terrible hair and 伊藤博文 Itō Hirobumi a garden variety terrorist, unapologetic womanizer, and the future first prime minister of 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku the Empire of Japan. Apparently, they partied here after burning down the first British Embassy[xxiv] – which wasn’t too far from the area. A bold move to be sure, but when foreign powers displayed their military and technological superiority, these two 芋侍 imo-zamuri country bumpkin samurai from the rogue state of 長州藩 Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain suddenly became interested in foreign weaponry. Because of his famously dumb haircut, Takasugi Shinsaku didn’t live to see the shōgunate fall, but maybe Itō Hirobumi’s drinking and whoring saved his life. I dunno. Just throwing that out there.

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Sagami Hotel – the last days of a Shinagawa legend

Anyhoo, my understanding is that the Sagami-ya in some form or other lasted until 1972. The establishment fell on hard times due to American-influenced anti-prostitution laws enacted between 1946 and 1956. During its last days, it was known as the さがみホテル Sagami Hoteru Sagami Hotel and presumably there were no in-house prostitutes. But by the 1970’s, its garden and beautiful view of the bay had been destroyed by landfill, factory pollution, and the fact that the old Tōkaidō was meaningless in the modern world.

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A nostalgic remembrance of Hotel Sagami

The long standing 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line, the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line, the construction of 国道15号 Kokudō Jūgo-gō National Route 15[xxv] in 1952, and finally the 1964 completion of the 東海道新幹線 Tōkaidō Shinkansen Tōkaidō Shinkansen hammered the last nail in the coffin for Shinagawa’s old post town forever[xxvi]. The shinkansen route connected 新大阪駅 Shin-Ōsaka Eki New Ōsaka Station with 横浜 Yokohama[xxvii], totally neglecting Shinagawa. The loss of Sagami-ya represented the last gasp of Shinagawa as a lodging spot. Simply put, it had just become inconvenient.

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Dozō Sagami/Sagami-ya/Sagami Hotel is no longer with us. Oh, how the mighty hath fallen.

Rolled Over by Modernization

Shinagawa is a classic case of another place where Japan has paved over its own proud history. Tōkyō has done this in particularly egregious ways, IMO. The transition from the Edo Period to the pre-war period wasn’t that crazy, I think. It’s the post-war era that saw everything change. The 1964 Olympics also changed the city in huge ways[xxviii] and pretty much killed off the old city while also killing off Shinagawa’s fishing tradition and transforming the area into a land of warehouses and factories. From the 60’s-70’s, Japan was on a trajectory greater than the Japanese Empire could ever imagine. By the 1980’s… don’t even get me started. The US feared Japan like the US fears China and India now[xxix]. However, Shinagawa declined more and fell into a really horrible state.

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Whoa. Wait? How is that even legal?

In 2003, Tōkaidō Shinkansen service came to Shinagawa and this changed everything. Tōkyō now had multiple high-speed and “localish” train routes come to this sleepy town. This reinvigorated Shinagawa service breathed new life into an already vibrant manufacturing culture. 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward[xxx] began courting hotels, suggesting they set up shop in the old post town. Furthermore, they encourage the establishment of 民泊 minpaku residential lodgings in the area along the old Tōkaidō. In addition to setting up signage — albeit in Japanese only — and repaving the road to clearly convey its original width, they incentivized businesses old and new along the pre-modern highway. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it one of Tōkyō’s hot spots, the area around Shinbanba is definitely interesting for us history nerds.

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Did You Just SayHistory Nerds?

Of course, I did. And long-time readers know I don’t throw that term around lightly[xxxi]. Short term readers who have read this far are probably scratching their heads thinking “we haven’t gotten to the nerdy part yet? WTF??!!”

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You can’t see it now, but there’s a sign saying “two ‘miles’ from Nihonbashi” – “two ‘miles’ to Kawasaki.” If you don’t believe me, I dare you to go look for yourself and prove me wrong.

Holy Mile Markers, Batman

One cool spot that most people overlook is 二里塚 niri-zuka the two ri mound, a kinda mile marker. While pre-modern Japan had a whole gaggle of weights and measurements, a 里 ri was a unit of distance that — to the best of my knowledge – had no fixed distance[xxxii]. The niri-zuka indicates the spot that is two ri from Nihonbashi, the start of the Tōkaidō. The distance from Edo to Kyōto was 124 ri (the majority of miles markers are known (though few are labeled as such and fewer yet are preserved)[xxxiii]. Sadly, the marker near Shinbanba is not preserved and there’s simply a sign in Japanese at the entrance to 品海公園 Hinkai Kōen Hinkai Park[xxxiv]. In their heyday, these spots would have definitely stood out. At each marker, the shōgunate built and maintained a large man-made earthen mound on each side of the highway and planted a pine tree on each[xxxv]. While I’m sure these markers assured travelers that they were making progress and the next post town would be coming up soon, the real reason for these markers was to indicate rates for pack horses and coolies[xxxvi].

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What real mile markers used to look like. This one is in Wakayama Prefecture.

Shinagawa Daiba

Long time readers will remember my article on Odaiba. But to sum it up briefly, in 1853 Commodore Perry brought a fleet of gunboats into the “entrance” of  江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay near 浦賀 Uraga in present day 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture and demanded that Japan open for trade or he’d bombarded the city of Edo. Then he gave them a year to think about it, promising to return.

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Yo, b. That ship is black af.

As you can imagine, the shōgunate had a collective freak out at this breach of their strict isolationist policy. While they ultimately – and wisely – decided to open the country up to the Americans[xxxvii], they decided to build a system of cannon batteries to protect the city of Edo. These were all artificial islands, two of which still survive to this day.

One such battery was the 御殿山下台場 Goten’yamashita Daiba Battery at the bottom of Goten’yama. I’m not sure what the space was used for after the Edo Period[xxxviii], but I do know that with all the land reclamation that took place in the 1950’s, this plot of land was re-purposed for 品川区立台場小学校 Shinagawa Kuritsu Daiba Shōgakkō Shinagawa Ward Daiba Elementary School. And while I think it would have been cooler to have not fucked with the shape of the bay, I have to admit it sounds pretty bad ass to say you went to “Cannon Battery Elementary School.” Today, a lighthouse shaped monument sits at the front gate of the school to commemorate the historical value of the land.

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Map of the Shinagawa Honjin – stepped on by everyone who walks into the park. By the way, only old geezers and homeless people hang out in the park today. Just smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap sake.

Remains of the Shinagawa-shuku Honjin

So, with the big deal that I made about pack horses and coolies[xxxix], I don’t want to give the impression that Shinagawa was a dump. Every post town had accommodations for people from all walks of life. Without a doubt, the two most important lodgings were the 本陣 honjin main encampment and 脇本陣 waki-honjin secondary encampment. The honjin was reserved for 大名 daimyō feudal lords and 公家 kuge members of the imperial court in Kyōto. The “wacky” honjin was reserved for silly people like 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun and other high-ranking officials, and if it was available — for a price — super rich merchants could rent a room. In most post towns, the honjin and waki-honjin were located in the town center for strategic reasons. After all, these compounds were considered military installations.

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This picture wasn’t easy to find. It might be the only known photo of Shinagawa Honjin (in its days a hospital for the Tōkyō City Police). It looks pretty lush and definitely retains its Edo Period atmosphere.

After the Meiji Coup, the emperor and his entourage moved from Kyōto to Edo and then renamed the city 東京 Tōkyō Eastern Capital. The honjin being the swankiest accommodation in Shinagawa, obviously, this where they stayed. However, after the post station system was abolished in 1872 (Meiji 5), this luxurious building and its beautiful garden became the 警視庁品川病院 Keishichō Shinagawa Byōin Shinagawa Police Hospital. It must have been a gorgeous location at which to recuperate. In addition to its beautiful architecture, this area was still in the countryside and while it wasn’t located right on the beach, I assume you had a nice view of the bay from the second floor. What’s more, it seems the Edo Period building[xl] was used right up until 1938.

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You’re either experiencing déjà vu right now or you haven’t been paying attention to the pretty pictures. Either way is fine. I love you just the same.

By 1938, the building was deemed antiquated, decommissioned, and torn down. In its place, a small park was built on one section of the compound, an office building on the remaining land. In commemoration of the Meiji Emperor’s visit, the park was named 聖蹟公園 Seiseki Kōen Sacred Spot Park[xli]. The current incarnation of the park dates back to 1960 and the original office building is no longer with us, today its place is taken by a daycare center or kindergarten or some dumb shit for annoying little kids.

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One of the Coolest Shoe Stores in Tōkyō

Keeping in mind that Shinagawa was either the last town you’d pass on your way to Edo or the first town you’d pass on your way out, either way, you’d probably need new shoes. If you were leaving the capital, it would have been cheaper to buy them here than in the city center. If you were arriving in the capital, your shoes probably got pretty beat up. Plus, shoes for long distance walking and casual walking around town were different. Either way, you’d want to dress to impress. There were several shoe stores in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku, but today only 丸屋履物店 Maruya Hakimono-ten Maruyama Shoes remains. This traditional shop was established in 1865, three years before the collapse of the shōgunate, and has been run by six generations of expert craftsmen. The building is a classic two-story structure typical of the Edo Period. The first floor is a showroom and work area where the manager sits and literally makes shoes by hand on a tatami mat. They specialize in Japanese shoes, in particular 下駄 geta, 草履 zōri, and 雪駄 seta. That said, they also construct specialty shoes that I don’t know the name of, all I can say is they’re those big ass platform shoes worn by 花魁 oiran courtesans of the highest rank. You can buy ready to wear shoes or choose a base that you want and then pick your own strap design and style. It’s pretty awesome if you’re trying to put together your own 着物 kimono or 浴衣 yukata ensemble[xlii]. Even if you can’t make it to Shinagawa, you can order online or at the very least follow their twitter account lol

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Shinbanba Fun Facts

I think I mentioned that as part of the revival of the area in the early 2000’s, Shinagawa Ward clearly marked the width of the original Tōkaidō. Don’t think I would drop something casually like that without giving you guys more details.

According to an official decree of the third shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada in 1616, the Tōkaidō was formally classified as an 大海道 Ōkaidō a major sea route and the width of the street was required to be 六間 rokken six ken which is roughly 10.8 m (35 feet 6 inches). The original width of the road is clearly demarcated now, even though there’s no signage indicating this deliberate measure taken by the ward.  When the Tōkaidō Line was built which bypassed the old post town, the area was frozen in time. With the advent of cars, a much wider road for cars called the 第一京浜 Daiichi Keihin replaced the old highway because the pre-modern width was unsuitable for heavy traffic. That said, this stretch of road is extremely pedestrian-friendly to this day. There’s very little car traffic even during the day, and at night you’ll only see occasional foot and bike traffic.

godzilla tokyo bay

Wait. What?? We just rebuilt this city after the fucking Americans… fuck… it’s a giant rubber lizard. Japan is fucked!! Run away! Run away!!

Oh, and how could I leave this out? Yo, Godzilla made this place his bitch! 八つ山入口 Yatsuyama Iriguchi Yatsuyama Entrance is the entrance to Shinagawa coming from Edo[xliii]. Technically this spot, now marked by a bridge crossing the train tracks is closer to Kita Shinagawa Station than Shinbanba Station) is where Godzilla first entered Tōkyō via Tōkyō Bay. I haven’t seen these movies since I was a kid, but presumably the bay still had its original shape and the monster made a b-line for the city center via the Tōkaidō. In the Edo Period, the 5 Highways into the city were heavily guarded by the suburban palaces of various daimyō, but even with all the 1950’s military technology, the city could do nothing about a crazy, fire-breathing mutant dinosaur-thing with a penchant for knocking over the newly rebuilt capital of Japan[xliv].

With all that said, I’m assuming I’ve spent enough time in Shinagawa for a while. I’ve got a few ideas for upcoming articles, but if you have some locations you’re interested in (in Edo-Tōkyō), leave a comment down below and I’ll see what I can do. As always, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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

 


[i] Another term was 宿駅 shukueki, although this term emphasized the presence of places to swap out pack horses (something we’ll talk about later in the article). Interestingly, the second kanji 駅 eki is now used for train stations. This something that will make sense as you read the rest of the article.
[ii] Some people divided it into three post towns, though this wasn’t official. In the end, visit any other former post town in Japan is you’ll instantly realized how tiny they are and how seemingly endless Shinagawa was.
[iii] The official post town, South Shinagawa-shuku in particular, bled over into neighboring villages which adapted to handle overflow on heavy days.
[iv] Officially Romanized as Shimbamba, but homie don’t play that shit.
[v] In other spaces, like the 麻布馬場 Azabu Baba Azabu Horse Riding Grounds, there’s not a single trace of the old topography.
[vi] The pronunciation of banba seems to be a contraction of 馬の場 uma no ba.
[vii] An alternate reading, perhaps more standard is Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinjuku. The -shuku/-juku distinction seems to be regional, but locals in Shinagawa have preserved the less common -shuku pronunciation. This indicates the variety of dialects in Edo, while emphasizing the fact that Shinagawa was not Edo. It was just country.
[viii] If you visit the preserved post towns on the Nakasendō in Nagano Prefecture, you can see 高札場 kōsatsuba regulating the fixed prices coolies could charge to carry shit from one town to the next.
[ix] And for all you perverts out there, it’s 伝馬 denma/tenma a horse for passing along, not 電マ denma a high-powered vibrator like the Hitachi Magic Wand – short for 電気マッサージ器 denki massāji-ki. Click this sentence if you want to read my article about Kodenma-chō.
[x] One could make a strong argument that it still services the straight up boonies today – the urban boonies.
[xi] Yes, that’s right. The term Shinbanba is just a little over 40 years old.
[xii] Covered in my previous article.
[xiii] Word on the street is Edo style tempura was a favorite food of the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and that it gave him stomach cancer and that killed him. I’m suspicious of this, but it’s the story everyone knows for some reason.
[xiv] Amenohiritome no Mikoto seems to be the ancestral kami of the 忌部氏斎部氏 Inbe-shi Inbe clan (they changed their spelling in the 800’s), a high-ranking family in the imperial court who tended to spiritual matters.
[xv] Susano’o was the brother of the sun goddess, 天照大神 Amaterasu-ōmikami – mythical progenitor of the imperial family.
[xvi] For most of very early Japanese history, Toyoukebime was the pre-eminent kami related to food abundance and food preservation. After rice became a staple food, 稲荷 Inari became the primary kami of rice and food, in time local iterations of Inari becoming tutelary kami or good luck kami to local 大名 daimyō samurai warlords. Due to the policy of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance, local lords built shrines to their local version of Inari and so modern day is one place where you can find Inari shrines everywhere. They were so ubiquitous – and I’ve mentioned this many times before – there was a proverb among Edoites: 伊勢屋、稲荷に、犬の糞 Iseya, Inari ni, inu no fun which essentially means “you can’t go anywhere in Edo without seeing shops named Iseya, Inari shrines, and dog shit.” Even though this was the so-called Pre-Modern Era, it sounds like a typical urban gripe. I’ve seen a few sources claiming that Toyoukebime is actually a precursor of Inari – Inari being an easier name to remember.
[xvii] In this case, daimyōjin is just shorthand for tutelary kami and saves people the trouble of remembering the deity’s confusing name.
[xviii] Not to state the obvious, but if they all killed themselves, said retainer wouldn’t have been able to carry out said enshrinement. Who the hell was Hōjō Takatoki?
[xix] Come on, Ōta Dōkan is our favorite here at JapanThis!
[xx] He won, stupid. If you don’t know the Battle of Sekigahara, feel free to check out Samurai Archives.
[xxi] I have to chuckle to myself when wondering if 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada (#2) visited Shinagawa Shrine. Because of the association with Ieyasu and the Battle of Sekigahara, he might have felt a bit weird since… you know, he showed up late to the battle — something Ieyasu never forgive him for.
[xxii] Read “prostitutes.”
[xxiii] See what I did there?
[xxiv] Construction wasn’t even complete yet. Did the construction workers get paid? Samurai Privilege anyone?
[xxv] This stretch of the road known as the 第一京浜 Dai-ichi Keihin Tōkyō-Yokohama Route 1.
[xxvi] Seemingly, at the time. Not actually forever…
[xxvii] This served the same purpose of the original Tōkaidō – connect Edo-Tōkyō with Kyōto. However, the civil engineers wisely set the end points at cities located outside of the urban centers of Tōkyō and Kyōto. This is something the Japanese government isn’t taking into consideration at all these days.
[xxviii] Probably for the worst (PS: I whispered that).
[xxix] Yeah, I see those rich Chinese girls’ Instagram pages. That’s the Japanese Bubble Years, there just wasn’t any social media. Also, when your go to other countries, keep your voices down ffs.
[xxx] They call themselves Shinagawa City, but they’re really Shinagawa Ward.
[xxxi] Well, alright. Sometimes I throw it around lightly.
[xxxii] My dictionary says it’s approximately 3.927km (2.44 miles), but emphasis on “approximately.”
[xxxiii] In case you were curious, the first marker is near 金杉橋 Kanasugibashi Kanasugi Bridge in 芝大門二丁目 Shiba Daimon Nichōme 2nd block of Shiba Daimon. The third marker is in 大森一丁目 Ōmori Itchōme 1st block of Ōmori. The fourth is in 東麓郷三丁目 Higashi Rokugō Sanchōme 3rd block of Higashi Rokugō. After that, you’ll be well outside of Tōkyō city limits.
[xxxiv] Literally “Seaside Park,” despite the fact that the coast is now miles away.
[xxxv] And yes, I also know that sometimes there was a cluster of pine trees. And yes, I know sometimes there were stone monuments clearly indicating the distance. It was the Edo Period. Uniformity wasn’t the shōgunate’s strong point.
[xxxvi] There’s that word again.
[xxxvii] Good call on their part.
[xxxviii] I think it might have been used for a lighthouse, but don’t quote me on that.
[xxxix] There’s that word again…
[xl] And presumably its garden.
[xli] Remember, this was the height of State Shintō and all that emperor worship bullshit.
[xlii] I assume I don’t have to explain what these are and the differences to you
[xliii] Or the last exit heading towards Edo, depending on your trajectory.
[xliv] And what’s up with that?!! They just rebuilt this bitch!

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