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What does Iogi mean?

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

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

Iogi South Entrance

South Exit of Iogi Station

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

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

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

linguistics nerd.jpg

Exploring Edo-Tōkyō Like Locals Do

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

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

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

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

etymology time.jpg

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji


i

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


ogi

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

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

Further Reading:

 

edo period well.jpg

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

The Uncomfortable Bits

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

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

Night Soil Collector in Ōsaka.png

A night soil collector in Ōsaka.

Night Soil and its Legacy

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

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

loop economy.jpg

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

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

night soil collector

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

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

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

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

public toilets.jpg

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

Those Toilets, Though.

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

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

Edo_period_chamber_pot_2.jpg

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

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

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

Shit Train.jpg

Say hello to the Shit Train!

Night Soil After the Meiji Coup – Train Time!

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

 

1944 shit train seibu line

Seibu Shit Train in 1944.

End of the Traditional Loop Economy

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

irori.jpg

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

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

 

gross toilet

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

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

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

washlette.jpg

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

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

back to the subject

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

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

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

 

Iogi Station 1960's.jpg

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

Did the Shit Trains Stop at Iogi Station?

No, they didn’t.

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

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

800px-Seibu-2081F

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

Color of the Seibu Shinjuku Line and Night Soil

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

kiiro.jpg

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

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

 

two tone seibu shinjuku line.jpg

Two-tone Seibu Shinjuku Line in 1962.

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

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

Semi-exp_haijima.JPG

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

Let’s Wrap This Shit Up

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

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

 

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

 


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

The History of Hanami

In Japanese History on April 4, 2017 at 8:01 am

花見
hanami (cherry blossom viewing, but literally “looking at flowers”)

25796603310_d4dc3b6c8e_o

I was recently asked to write an article about the history of 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing, which I was happy to look into. Although I had a broad understanding of this uniquely Japanese tradition – and one of my favorite aspects about living in Japan – I’d never really researched the subject in depth. Needless to say, going all JapanThis! on a non-history website or publication isn’t always appropriate[i], but I was super excited when they agreed to publish the stripped down, 650-word version while allowing me to publish the extended 12” remix here for you guys.

So, without further ado, here’s the history of hanami.

china plum blossom

Chinese courtiers enjoying plum blossoms and crappy plum wine. Sorry, I can’t drink plum wine. It’s so nasty.

The Classical Origins of Hanami

If we take the word literally, hanami just means “looking at flowers.” It’s a Japanese word that falls into a broad category of “looking at things” words – two other famous examples might be 月見 tsukimi moon viewing and 富士見 fujimi Mt. Fuji viewing[ii].

In a world without TV or movies, bored humans have always found ways to entertain themselves. And, as is the case in most cultures, while the poor were toiling in the fields, the rich built lush private gardens. In the West, this happened in the Roman Empire. In the East, this happened in Ancient China. The Chinese were particularly enamored with the fragrant plum blossoms – an equally beautiful flower, but much heartier and less vibrant than 桜 sakura cherry blossoms.

gokusui en

Gokusui no En was a typical Heian Period poetry even linked to seasonal changes practiced by the Northern Fujiwara clan. This one is recreated once a year in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture. It wasn’t a sakura-centric event but definitely influenced by China and was focused on seasonal events like hanami in the literal sense of “looking at flowers.”

When the imperial court was based in Nara in the 700’s, local aristocrats would read Chinese poems celebrating the transient beauty of plum blossoms. In their gardens, each flower’s location became a new venue for poetry writing events or places to engage in other artistic endeavors, such as calligraphy, flower arrangement, and painting. The most common flowers were wisteria[iii], plum blossoms, peach blossoms, and ultimately cherry blossoms which were treasured for their brief yet brilliant bloom. By the Heian Period, the term hanami had become synonymous with cherry blossom viewing specifically, and not just flower viewing in general.

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Toyotomi Hideyoshi at one of his final hanami events in Kyōto before his death.

The Heian Period, as I’m sure you’re aware, essentially ended with the rise of the samurai class. Eventually, in the 1500’s, a warlord named 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified the country. He sought to legitimize the samurai – not just as warriors, but as protectors of aristocratic cultural practices. It’s here that we first find paintings of high ranking samurai, called 大名 daimyō, enjoying hanami – placing themselves on par with the imperial court. Hideyoshi encouraged the warriors to engage in other arts such as poetry, tea ceremony, and flower arrangement.

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Hanami in the Premodern Era

Hideyoshi failed to establish a lasting dynasty, but his ideas of promoting cultural practices of the court among the samurai was a success. When Japan’s most stable warrior government was formally established in Edo in 1603 by 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, hanami was an inherent aspect of the elite culture in peace time. But the Tokugawa Shōgunate took things a step further. They began planting cherry blossoms in Ueno, where you could visit the magnificent mausoleums of the shōguns. This vast religious center was open to the public and would become Ueno Park in modern times. Daimyō from other parts of Japan brought the concept of public cherry blossom viewing spaces from Edo back to their respective domains.

shogun harem hanami chiyoda castle edo castle tokugawa

Ladies of the shōgun’s harem enjoying hanami on the expansive grounds of Edo Castle, once the largest castle in the world – a city within a city.

This brought hanami to the commoners. Kabuki and entertainment in the pleasure quarters were looked down upon by the shōgunate as morally questionable, but enjoying cherry blossoms was good clean fun and people of any rank could enjoy it if they had access to the trees. Of course, some of the best groves where behind the high walls of the palaces of the feudal lords in Edo and of shōgun’s castle in particular, but temples, shrines, and common spaces were open to all.

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One of my favorite ukiyo-e of all time, two groups of women doing hanami on Goten’yama. You can see Shinagawa below, the calm waters of Edo Bay below, and the ever present boats on premodern Japan’s busiest harbor. Looking out at the bay must have seemed like looking at the end of the world – and by that I mean the Pacific Ocean and modern Chiba Prefecture.

Furthermore, large scale planting of sakura in Edo in places like 御殿山 Goten’yama[iv], 飛鳥山 Asukayama[v], 道灌山 Dōkan’yama[vi], and other famous spots provided public spaces where anyone could enjoy the beautiful pink blossoms. Even Yoshiwara, the moated and sequestered red light district had streets lined with cherry blossoms. The tradition of 夜桜 yo-zakura, or nighttime sakura viewing, is generally thought to have origins in Yoshiwara and similar Edo Period red light districts because businesses stayed open late and used lanterns to maximum effect to make their shops seems more attractive at night, especially during the short cherry blossom season. While usually men frequented the pleasure quarters, wives and daughters often came to enjoy the illuminated trees and try to catch a glimpse of the courtesans in their flashy kimono. Anyone who has enjoyed yo-zakura knows there’s a dramatic difference between daytime hanami and nighttime hanami.

yoshiwara night hanami

Nighttime hanami in Yoshiwara. You can see the lanterns illuminating the trees. Also, notice the guy covering his head. Men of prominent positions in the community, while allowed to – and often expected to – have concubines, were discouraged by the shōgunate from going to red light districts like the Yoshiwara. They often covered their heads to avoid recognition. But, of course, they went. Because oiran!!! Who wouldn’t?!!💛

With the great Tokugawa Peace came re-branding. The samurai, traditionally warriors, now found themselves with no wars to fight – essentially functioning as bureaucrats. In order to legitimize their function in society, they were expected to be living examples of Japanese morality and behavior for all of society beneath them to admire and emulate. A proverb arose: 花は桜木、人は武士 hana wa sakuragi, hito wa bushi as for flowers, there are sakura – as for men, there are samurai. On the surface, this simply means the greatest of flowers are cherry blossoms and the greatest of men are samurai. But there’s another meaning; it’s a reference to the warrior tradition and the expectation of samurai to commit 切腹 seppuku hara kiri/ritual disembowelment for failing to live honorably. A samurai’s life may seem noble and poetic – a thing of beauty, if you will – but at any moment he may be cut down in battle or asked to give his life. Therefore, the life of a samurai was likened to the sakura. He is beautiful, but fleeting. Likewise, a strong storm or sudden frost might ruin all the cherry blossoms, ending the season early. The link between samurai and sakura persists to this day, and commonly comes up in historical movies and TV dramas.

seppuku

Seppuku Fun™

After the Meiji Coup in 1868, the new government embarked on a decade’s long modernization initiative. One of the biggest changes to Japanese society was the abolition of the caste system, including the samurai. There were some in the new government who lobbied – unsuccessfully, luckily – for the removal of sakura from places associated with the Tokugawa and the samurai, such as Ueno and Edo Castle because of the strong connection between the samurai and cherry blossoms. In the end, cooler heads prevailed and as the concept of public parks was introduced, hanami was rebranded as a pan-Japanese tradition that dated back to the heyday of the imperial family during the Heian Period. In fact, to many westerners who learned about Japan through postcards and movements like Japonisme and Orientalism, Japan was often reduced to imagery of Mt. Fuji, geisha, and cherry blossoms.

Further Reading:

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The Great Buddha of Edo. It was destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake and had been a minor spot in Ueno Park until quite recently. Now it’s famous with Asian tourists, even though most Tōkyōites don’t even know it exists.

Modern Hanami

In the 1880’s and early 1900’s, newspapers began announcing famous spots for hanami and recommending the best times to go. The blooming of sakura coincided with the newly established school year, and companies latched on to this cycle to welcome in new hires and reinforce the commitment of existing workers’ dedication to the organization. In this way, the sakura became a symbol of birth and rebirth, rather than the fleeting existence of the samurai.

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As horticulture and the art of garden construction incorporated new scientific discoveries, public parks and botanical gardens soon learned that they could extend the hanami season by planting two to three varieties in the same park. Why only have two weeks of hanami when you can have three or four?

yoshino sakura.jpg

Having a picnic and drinking sake while looking at cherry blossoms is a tradition that goes back to the Heian Period.  Until recently, you could usually only carry a bottle or two with you, so the parties were shorter. Since the 70’s and 80’s, there have been convenience stores on every corner in major cities. This has made it possible for hanami parties to run from 6 AM to 11 PM because you can just refuel at 7-11 whenever you run out of booze. Furthermore, hanami goers in parks these days can even order delivery pizza, sushi, or whatever they need. In the age of instant gratification, an old proverb came to be associated with hanami: 花より団子 hana yori dango – literally, sweets over flowers. The implication is that some people don’t come to enjoy the sakura as much as for the wild partying.

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Japanese companies often send the youngest or lowest ranking people on their teams or in their departments to go stake out prime hanami spots in busy locations at the crack of dawn. Inevitably, they begin partying, often from 6 AM until the main group arrives. I came across this poor fellow at noon and it seems like… well… I guess hazing is a thing in his company.

Crazy Parties and Secret Spots

If you go to some of the larger parks in Tōkyō, like Ueno, Yoyogi, Inokashira, Meguro, etc., you’ll find a very party-like atmosphere. Ueno Park, in my experience, tends to be the craziest. People used to bring portable karaoke machine – a practice that has long since been banned – but still it’s the rowdiest and booziest. However, Yoyogi Park definitely gives it a run its money. In fact, I’ve seen DJ’s spinning house and techno in that park. Inokashira Park in Kichijōji is still all about the party, but has a much more hippied-out vibe. The Meguro River isn’t as crazy as those three, but it’s pretty noisy because it’s so congested and the sound of generator powering the food stalls forces people to raise their speaking volume just to communicate with one another.

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All of this is great fun. I love it for sure, but sometimes you just don’t want to deal with all the craziness. As such, a lot of people seek out the best kept secrets, or 穴場 anaba in Japanese (usually shared by word of mouth). This could be anything from a very local shrine to an obscure park. These places tend to have a great hanami experience without the crowds and often don’t have all the drunks shouting and laughing with each other or passing out on wherever on the ground. And while not a secret spot, some places like Shinjuku Gyoen have specific rules banning alcohol – though, that doesn’t actually stop people from bringing it in, but the people who do tend to be low key about it.

So, Edo’s big 5 hanami spots were Goten’yama, Ueno, the banks of the Sumida River, Asukayama, and Koganei. What are your favorite spots in modern Tōkyō? And do you know any cool secret spots?

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[i] There’s a little mantra you’ve probably heard: know your audience.
[ii] Both of these words made their way into architectural terminology of the Edo Period. For example, Edo Castle and Kawagoe Castle both had 富士見櫓 Fujimi Yagura Fujimi Turrets and many places in Tōkyō still bear the place name Fujimi since you could see Mt. Fuji from there, for example 中野富士見町 Nakano-Fujimichō. Tsukimi appears everything from teahouses to castles, most notably Matsumoto Castle’s 富士見櫓 Fujimi Yagura Fujimi Turret.
[iii] Wisteria, or 藤 fuji, were closely linked to the 藤原氏 Fujiwara-shi Fujiwara clan, a powerful family of the imperial court that was the ancestor of a number of powerful samurai clans which preserved the kanji for wisteria when establishing new branch families with new names
[iv] This was one of the preeminent hanami spots in the Edo Period, but sadly shōgunate destroyed the area to build defensive islands to protect Edo from the threat of a sea based invasion by western powers in the 1850’s.
[v] This is still a popular hanami spot located a short distance from Ōji Station.
[vi] There are famous ukiyo-e of this spot, but today it’s a shadow of its former glory.

Where is Goten’yama today?

In Japanese History on March 29, 2017 at 5:55 am

御殿山
Goten’yama
(palace hill)

Hiroshige-Famous_Places_In_The_Eastern_Capital-Twilight_Cherries_At_Gotenyama-01-05-21-2007-8594-x2000

Today, we’re breaking from the usual etymology and location breakdown because I’ve already covered this area. I’m sticking to the recent theme of cherry blossoms, but I’d like to try something a little different. Bear with me. But I think you’re all going to like this. There’s an accompanying video at the bottom in which I’ll walk you around all these places.

御殿山 Goten’yama was one of the most popular 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing spots in 江戸 Edo. It was a bluff in 品川 Shinagawa that sat on the coast of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. It was outside of the city limits of the shōgun’s capital, located in 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni, Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province near the 二里塚 niri-zuka, a milestone indicating this area was roughly 4.88 miles (7.854 km) from 日本橋 Nihonbashi on the 東海道 Tōkaidō, the highway connecting the shōgunal capital of Edo with the imperial capital of 京都 Kyōto. It was one of the most celebrated spots for hanami, and might still be today, had the shōgunate not destroyed the mountain in 1853 to dump the dirt into the bay for the urgent construction of the 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries.

sakura

I’ve written about Goten’yama, the Shinagawa Daiba, and to a certain degree Shinagawa. But, I decided to expand on the topic a little bit. I thought it might be nice to compare the area then and now because it’s changed so much – and I’m not just talking about them literally tearing down the mountain. If we transported an Edoite to our time, they’d recognize the layout of the streets, but would be shocked by the destruction of the coastline by landfill and development. They might also find it funny what bits and pieces still exist today and how they’ve been incorporated into our modern lives.

Long time readers should be familiar with most of these topics, but for noobs or anyone wanting to brush up, it’s highly recommended you check out these past articles:

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Fishing boats in Shinagawa. Actually, you can charter these and they’ll take you fishing in Tōkyō Bay.

Let’s Look at Goten’yama

Hopefully the video walk-through of Goten’yama and its immediate environs will give you an idea of what the place looks like and feels like on the street level. It’s one thing to look at a flat 2D map, it’s another to actually explore the space first hand – everything feels different. Hopefully the video will give you a better sense of this small, but important section of 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku Shinagawa Post Town, nicknamed 江戸の玄関 Edo no Genkan Edo’s Doorstep[i].

And so, I present you with a map of Shinagawa and Goten’yama in the late Edo Period, but before the government made any major changes to the area in the 幕末 Bakumatsu last days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate (1853-1868).

before 1853

Familiarize yourself with a few of these place names and the geography. We’re about to go deep.

Fishermen, Travelers, Merchants, Sightseers, Oiran, and Samurai

Being a safe location on a bay with calm waters rich with seafood and so busy with land based travelers coming and going every day, Shinagawa turned into a town focused on customer service. Travelers needed lodging and places to eat. They needed places to bathe and purchase goods. Fresh fish and a view of the greatest seaside view an Edo Period person could possibly see were more than enough to make Shinagawa an attractive place to spend not only one, but two days. One of the main attractions was prostitution, big business in any post town[ii]. The difference was, Shinagawa offered access to Goten’yama which gave you access to a commanding, aerial view of the bay. During the day, you could see fishing boats on the water, in the evening, you could see pleasure boats – and just imagine the hijinks that went down on those private voyages[iii].

dozo sagami

Dozō Sagami, a kura-zukuri (fireproof warehouse style) high end brothel in Shinagawa-shuku which featured first class courtesans – including oiran, the highest ranking girls to play with.

Many of the 茶屋 chaya teahouses (read: brothels) here became quite famous. One place in particular, the 土蔵相模 Dozō Sagami, remained in operation up until the ban on prostitution by the American Occupation. After that, it operated as a hotel well into the 1950’s. Dozō Sagami had a reputation as a quite high class brothel and was popular among the samurai class. Many anti-shōgunate terrorists frequented this teahouse during the Bakumatsu. The most infamous of these anti-government agitators was a group 17 samurai from 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain and one from 薩摩藩 Satsuma Han Satsuma Domain who held an all-day party here eating, drinking, and banging “tea girls” as if it was their last day on earth.

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A room called the Midōshi no Ma inside Dozō Sagami

And, indeed, it was their last day on earth. The next day, resolved to achieve their goal or die trying, they ambushed the shōgunal regent 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke as he and his entourage left his 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence to attend a meeting next door in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. This brazen assassination of the highest ranking shōgunate official in broad daylight was the first of many instances of terrorism that would plague the shōgunate as well as foreign diplomats and merchants in what would become the end of the Pax Tokugawa.

Shinagawa-shuku wasn’t just blessed by the calm waters of Edo Bay, the old post town was protected by a promontory, originally a sandbar created by the estuary of the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River that flowed into the bay. That finger-shaped jetty protected the mainland from the occasional irregular high tide or, presumably, tsunami[iv]. Whether it actually prevented catastrophes or not, I don’t know. However, this natural land mass was built up by the shōgunate and came to be known as 洲崎 Susaki which literally means “sandbar promontory,” and it was a permanent fixture of Shinagawa-shuku and you can clearly see it in many famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e wood block prints. Families of certain fishermen here produced 御菜肴 o-saisakana snacks made from seafood and veggies that were presented to Edo Castle in exchange for their piscatory monopoly in the area.

whale.jpg

Not in Shinagawa, but this scene of a beached whale in a harbor gives you a good idea of how impressive the scene we’re about to talk about must have been to the average person on the street. The view from up on a hill is strikingly similar to how the view would have been from Goten’yama.

In 1798, during the reign of 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari[v], a whale washed ashore onto this promontory. This seems to have been a pretty unusual occurrence[vi], and it attracted a lot of local attention. In an age without TV, the word on the street finally made it to Edo Castle itself. Everyone one wanted to come see this huge sea creature that died on the banks of Susaki. It was such a big deal that the shōgun himself even came down to see what was up with this big ass dead fish on his doorstep[vii]. To this day, Shinagawa uses whales in various places as a decorative theme.

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Kagata Shrine (former Susaki Benten/Benzaiten) on the old Susaki promontory – the cherry blossoms buds are ready to bloom.

A notable feature of the promontory was 洲崎弁天 Susaki Benten a temple dedicated to 弁才天 Benzaiten, the only female deity in the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck. After the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei Edict Separating Shintō and Buddhism in 1868, the temple chose to retain its Shintō attributes and came to be known as 利田神社 Kagata Jinja Kagata Shrine, the name it retains to this day[viii].

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Kujira-zuka, the memorial stone of the beached whale.

On the grounds of the shrine, you can find a monument called the 鯨塚 Kujira-zuka Whale Mound. This was a grave built in memory of the beached whale that died on Susaki. It’s an interesting hold over of premodern syncretic religion in Japan. While Shintō tends to distance itself from the spiritual defilement of death, Buddhism embraces it as part of the cycle of life[ix]. However, Shintō is strongly tied to locations with unique spiritual attributes. Susaki Benzaiten was not constrained by any distinction between the religions (they were blended) and so it could justifiably perform funerary rites for the whale and honor it as a 神 kami Shintō deity local to the area all in one fell swoop[x].

Further Reading:

 

gotenyama hanami

This ukiyo-e is amazing because it is composed at the top of Goten’yama, but you can clearly see the commoner post town of Shinagawa-shuku below. The people on the mountain top are clearly elites. Oh, and look to the right side, you can see the Susaki promontory. You can also see that hanami habits haven’t changed much. People threw down towels so they didn’t have to sit on the ground, something very true in Japan today.

oiran.jpg

Oiran such as this provided upscale sexxxy time at the Dozō Sagami.

Let’s Walk up the Hill to Goten’yama

Sure, people were coming and going through Shinagawa all the time. Some were leaving the capital, some were coming to the capital. They came by land and they came by road. As I mentioned earlier, some were already in town and just came for drinking and whoring because… who doesn’t enjoy banging courtesans on the balcony of a traditional Japanese room with a decanter of sake in one hand while the sun sets over the bay with all those fishing boats out there on the water and no one’s the wiser[xi]?

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But it wasn’t all dead whales and prostitutes. The real highlight of the year, was the cherry blossom season. Goten’yama was THE hanami spot par excellence for the discerning Edoite[xii]. This small mountain was located a hop, skip, and a jump away from the shoreline and was covered in cherry blossoms. The commoners who lived in the shitty towns below could make a quick trek up to the top of the mountain in minutes. The rich samurai and daimyō who lived at the top could do the same. And if their timing was right, travelers coming and going could spend an hour or so enjoying the view under the cherry trees[xiii]. The ease of coming here on foot in a kimono from the heart of the city[xiv] can’t be understated[xv].

hiroshige gotenyama hanami-2.jpg

The top of the hill on the bayside was open to the public like a modern park. Going slightly further inland, it was home to massive estates owned by the daimyō and smaller estates owned by samurai closely affiliated with the Tokugawa Shōgunate. To this day, you can still see a huge difference between Shinagawa the post town and Shinagawa in modern Goten’yama.

hiroshige shinagawa susaki

Shinagawa-shuku, Toriumi Bridge, and Susaki Benzaiten.

Anyhoo, hanami-goers often broke up their celebrations under the floating pink petals to venture down the hill to visit the plethora of shops in Shinagawa to eat or buy goods to bring back up to the top of the mountain[xvi]. Couples often descended the mountain to cross 鳥海橋 Toriumibashi Toriumi Bridge to visit Susaki Benten (Kagata Shrine), in flagrant disregard of the unwritten taboo against couples visiting shrines dedicated to Benzaiten[xvii].

gotenyamashitadaiba2010-2

Defending the Bay from the Foreign Threat

So, as we all know, in 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Edo Bay with his so-called Black Ships. He told the shōgunate to open the country or be opened by force. He then left, promising to come back in one year to seal the deal. The second he had left the bay, the government freaked out. One faction, led by the regent Ii Naosuke recognized the Americans’ superior military technology and wisely opted to open the country to foreigners in order to purchase modern weaponry and bring the country to equal footing with the westerners[xviii]. In the meantime, they decided, it was in the shōgunate’s best interest to build a string of 11 batteries across the bay to take out any warship that might attempt to invade Edo by sea.

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Only 7 batteries were built in the end, the so-called 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries. Most of the landfill used to create these manmade islands had to come from somewhere. The shōgunate identified two large, uninhabited sources of dirt on the coast: Goten’yama and Yatsuyama[xix]. Goten’yama famously suffered the worst of the devastation. The government began quarrying the famous hanami spot tirelessly over the ensuing months[xx] .

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Typical Edo Period stone walls along the coast.

The Tokugawa Shōgunate planned to build 11 cannon batteries across the bay, but given they had only 12 months and limited resources to scramble and execute this plan – and let’s not forget, Perry actually returned a bit earlier than promised – they were only able to constructed seven manmade islands in the bay. The term Shinagawa Batteries usually refers to this entire project, but the common understanding is that it means the seven forts that were actually constructed and fortified. An eighth coastal battery which was an extension of the Susaki Promontory is generally not included in the mix. We’ll look at this unsung daiba in a minute.

cut away

This ukiyo-e by Hiroshige clearly shows the devastation of the quarrying. The ground below is flat, and now there are cliffs of bare rock. There are still a few cherry blossoms up top, though.

The areas most heavily quarried were 北品川3丁目 Kita Shinagawa Sanchōme 3rd Block of North Shinagawa and 北品川4丁目 Kita Shinagawa Yonchōme 4th Block of North Shinagawa[xxi]. The 3rd block was completely gutted – so much so that a flat-as-flat-can-be parking lot shows up in Google Maps as the remains of the mining operation. The 4th block was well-gutted, but stood at the top of the road from which they brought dirt down to the bay – a road that is today called 御殿山通 Goten’yama Dōri Goten’yama Street.

At the bottom of Goten’yama, a place called quite literally 御殿山下 Goten’yama-shita the bottom of Goten’yama, the shōgunate built an 8th coastal battery. The name, unexpectedly, was 御殿山下台場 Goten’yama-shita Daiba Battery at the Bottom of Goten’yama. Presumably, this took minimal work to construct, since they were just dragging down wheelbarrows of dirt from Goten’yama to the Susaki Promontory and dumping it into the bay. They built a pretty bad ass fort for themselves there, and to this day you can still actually walk the shape of the original landfill. Spoilers – it’s an elementary school today.

misaki1

After the construction of the Goten’yama-shita Daiba on the coast of the Susaki promontory. The red line is the Tōkaidō.

misaki2

Today, you can still kinda see the shape of the Daiba, but the bay has been completely filled in except for a few channels and inlets. The red line, again, is the Old Tōkaidō.

The Death of Goten’yama

Despite its easternmost section completely demolished, and a huge section of the neighboring western section quarried beyond repair, Goten’yama could have recovered as a prime hanami spot in Edo-Tōkyō. It really could have. After all, except for the harbor and post town, the area was still quite rustic in those days.

gotenyama train

However, in 1872, the government decided to replace the old Tōkaidō with a new train line[xxii]. The new train line roughly followed the path of the old highway, and required gutting huge areas of land for train tracks. The dividing line for the 3rd and 4th blocks of Kita Shinagawa was created by the train tracks that pass through the area. Since the shōgunate had done all the heavy lifting by quarrying Goten’yama in the 1850’s, this seemed like the easiest place to lay tracks connecting 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station with 川崎駅 Kawasaki Eki Kawasaki Station. To this day, the difference in elevation between the bottom of Goten’yama on one side of the tracks and the top on the other is striking. Also, you can get a feel for the differences between the 山手 yamanote high city and 下町 shitamachi low city. Down below, all the lots are tiny, cramped, and located directly on the noisy, old Tōkaidō – and they’re mostly shops. Up top, the lots are spacious, walled off, and quiet – and mostly residential.

Further Reading:

IMG_5335

Houses on what was a later extension of the Susaki Promontory.

Obscure Today, but Shinagawa is a Key Understanding Edo-Tōkyō

Shinagawa is waaaaay more than just the Goten’yama area. We could talk about this whole stretch of the old Tōkaidō for hours. In the video, I said I could spend all day here just exploring – and that’s really true. I could spend a lifetime exploring the area. And I do. I spend an inordinate amount of time in Shinagawa and the surrounding areas because… the stories to be discovered and retold never end. Ueno is the same way. All of Edo Period history converges on these areas.

So, there’s the video. I explored the whole area and I hope you this article gave you a better context for what I was talking about when I’ve written about Shinagawa, Goten’yama, and the old Tōkaidō highway.

sakura_report00

As usual, I have no way to conclude this article. We’ve looked at a huge swath of history and geography. So, go back and look at the pictures and maps. There’s no narrative this time. Look at what Edo was and what Edo became and then what Tōkyō did with that.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

[i] Translating Edo no Genkan is tough. In English, maybe “the Entrance to Edo” is the most natural and easily understood. But that would 江戸の入口 Edo no Iriguchi. Everything has an iriguchi (entrance) – buses, highways, bathrooms, etc. A genkan is literally “the entrance to a Japanese home where you take off your shoes, put away your umbrellas, and then literally step up into the owner’s private living area which is raised up above the filthy ground level.” When you arrived in Shinagawa, you weren’t in the shōgun’s capital yet. You were on the periphery, but you were about to enter the greatest city in the realm – which was, quite literally, the property of the shogun. Travelers into Edo, would have thrown out old shoes and bought new ones in Shinagawa, hoping to make a good impression in the cultural epicenter of Japan (outgoing travelers also would have bought shoes here for their long treks as well). Getting a hot bath in Shinagawa was another way of preparing yourself before “stepping up into the shōgun’s home.” Even though, you may still have a few miles to go, the more presentable you were, the better.
[ii] In fact, Shinagawa was so synonymous with prostitution, that Edoites had a nickname for it. Shinagawa was the みなみ minami south, while they reserved the きた kita north for the upscale licensed pleasure quarters, 吉原 Yoshiwara. Keep in mind, in this era, it was not just normal for a man of rank or means to have concubines, it was expected. Furthermore, frequenting teahouses and being a patron of 舞子 maiko geisha apprentices and 芸者 geisha social performance artists was just a normal “guys’ night out.”
[iii] Hint: drinking & whoring
[iv] To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a tsunami in Edo/Tōkyō Bay – I’ve heard this is attributed to the shape and size of the bay.
[v] Here’s my article on Ienari’s grave.
[vi] To my understanding, whales are pretty intelligent and tend to avoid bays where they are easy targets because of their size. They do much better in the oceans which, before modern naval technology, were off limits to humans. Beached whales are generally wounded, sick, or already dead, which means the current brought them to the coast. Nevertheless, this seems to have been a unique case in Edo.
[vii] Yes, I know whales aren’t fish (Edo Period didn’t know that), so for them, this was like seeing a sea monster prostate itself before the shōgunate. Quite politely, I might add. The whale didn’t die in Edo, it beached itself well outside of the city, with no spiritual defilement of the Tokugawa government.
[viii] Interestingly, the name has nothing to do with Shintō. This area of Susaki was known as 猟師町 Ryōshi Machi Ryōshi Town, a fishing village at the time. The village headmen of Ryōshi Machi used an ancestral name 利田吉左衛門 Kagata Kichizaemon which was passed down through the generations. While Susaki Benzaiten was the official name of the shrine (and the name that appears in texts and maps), it seems like the locals referred to it as Kagata Shrine – a hint that the village headmen doubled as priests of the shrine.
[ix] As such, Buddhism in Japan essentially runs a funerary racket.
[x] Someday I’m gonna have to tackle syncretic religion in Japan, but that’s a huge undertaking… and kinda boring to me.
[xi] Sorry, if that was oddly specific, but c’mon. You know everybody was doing it, right?
[xii] Or any samurai serving time in the city on sankin-kōtai duty – who generally seem to have been in awe of the metropolis and all it had to offer compared to their shitty backwater domains.
[xiii] I say an hour or so because travelers were generally expected to keep a certain pace as they traversed certain highways. Who knows? Maybe some people spent all day and did the Edo Period equivalent of “calling in sick.”
[xiv] Nihonbashi.
[xv] OK, somebody could understate it… but that would be a mistake lol. The walk from Nihonbashi, the center of Edo, to Shinagawa was probably the most well maintained section of road in the entire country.
[xvi] I’m sure a few went down to get their dicks sucked under the pretense of getting food for everyone, as one does.
[xvii] As mentioned earlier, Benzaiten is the only female deity among the 7 Gods of Good Luck. It’s said that she gets jealous when male-female couples approach her enshrinement and will curse the couple to break up. I think same sex couples are fine because apparently Benzaiten is straight according to this logic lol. Actually, today, this aspect of Benzaiten is relatively unknown by most people. However, the tradition persists in 井の頭公園 Inokashira Kōen Inokashira Park in 吉祥寺 Kichijōji. They say that couples who visit shrine there will break up. The story of the curse has actually become separated from the shrine in most accounts which say any couple who rents a boat to go out on the water will break up.
[xviii] Another faction, such as those samurai from Mito and Satsuma who assassinated Ii Naosuke, stupidly doubled down on the status quō, insisting that Japan stay closed and reject anything and everything foreign to the point of standing on the beach shaking their samurai swords at steamships hurling cannon balls at them, if need be.
[xix] The kanji for Yatsuyama is 八ッ山 and can be found in the modern place names of 八ッ山橋 Yatsuyamabashi Yatsuyama Bridge and 八ッ山通り Yatsuyama Dōri Yatsuyama Street, the road that now covers the inlet that once lay between Shinagawa and the Susaki Promontory.
[xx] Job creation!
[xxi] I have misidentified both areas as Goten’yama 3-chōme and Goten’yama 4-chōme in my video. I apologize for that and totally own up to it.
[xxii] This would become the 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line and eventually even the 東海道新幹線 Tōkaidō Shinkansen, the high speed train connecting Tōkyō with Kyōto.

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