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Kura – All About Japanese Storehouses

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on November 30, 2017 at 10:15 am


kura (storehouse, warehouse)

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When traveling through Japanese cities, especially towns in the countryside, you will probably notice distinctive storehouses called kura (written either or ). And although there are many types of kura, the most common types are the ones with white plaster walls, designed to be fireproof and insulated with mud. These are generally called called 土蔵 dozō earthen storehouses.

In the country, these are primarily used for storage and farm equipment. However, in the past, in large cities like Edo, families built kura to protect their valuables. They were a way for merchants and samurai – including 大名 daimyō and even the 将軍 shōgun – to flaunt their wealth. They had valuable things to protect and enough money and land to actually build a storehouse. In fact, there used to be a Japanese idiom, 倉を立てる kura wo tateru, which means “to build a kura” and basically meant “to make it financially.” 福島県喜多方市 Fukushima-ken Kitakata-shi Kitakata City, Fukushima Prefecture claims to have the highest concentration of kura in Japan – so much so that they say that if you haven’t built a kura by age 40, you’re not yet a man.

Anyways, today we’re going to look at the distinguishing features of kura, the construction methods of traditional kura. After that, we’ll talk about the cultural implications of kura in the Japanese imagination, and finally, I’ll tell you a few good places to see them for yourself!

Distinguishing Features

Although the lines are blurred these days, with many kura being repurposed as restaurants and art galleries, traditionally there are two types of kura: the ones used strictly as storehouses, and the ones used as storefronts, or misegura (見世蔵店蔵).

Shutters with janabara

Doors with janbara

 

As mentioned earlier, the earthen walls provided insulation and fireproofing. The stable temperatures inside won’t disrupt the fermentation process, so kura are perfect for making sake, soy sauce, miso, and indigo. To ensure an airtight seal, the shutters and doors employ a 3-tiered stepped and recessed interlocking shape called janbara (蛇腹) which was developed in the Edo Period. Taken literally, the kanji mean “snake belly.”

Kawara tiles

Onigawa with the family name Takahashi in place of an animal or demon

Subtle mizukiri jutting out

Excellent example of an eaves protecting a window

Traditional decorative roofs built with ceramic tiles called 瓦 kawara add another layer of fireproofing and help to disperse rainwater away from the walls. It’s common to find 鬼瓦 onigawara demon tiles, guarding the sides of the rooftop. You may also see vertical rows of pegs or long slats known as 水切り mizukiri water cut offs and additional eaves designed to keep too much water from accumulating on the walls.

Namako kabe fence

Re-purposed and restored kura with namako kabe

More expensive kura tend to feature a black and white criss-cross diamond pattern called 海鼠壁 namako kabe, meaning “sea cucumber walls” because the white semi-circular parts resemble the creature. Believe it or not, this design is more functional than decorative as it further helps to throw water off the surface to protect the walls. Namako kabe originated in southwestern Japan, but is almost universal these days.

The Kitagawa Utamaro Museum in Tochigi City is great example of a massive tripartite misegura decorated in Edo-guro (it’s a fantastic ukiyo-e museum).

In the Kanto area, it was popular to copy the style of rich merchants in Edo who often painted their white kura black, an expensive and high-maintenance process that required constant repainting. The association with the shogun’s capital was so strong that this process came to be called 江戸黒 Edo-guro Edo Black. Many storehouses of this style can be found preserved in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture. When you see Edo-guro buildings, the black paint is usually fading – evidence of the high cost and constant maintenance required to keep up this style.

Hooks

More hooks

Even more hooks

In this ukiyo-e you can see a kura in Nihonbashi with scaffolding up, mounted on – you guessed it – hooks!

Lastly, it’s not uncommon to see rows of hooks wrapping around the second story. Most people don’t notice them, but they’re usually there. These are for attaching scaffolding and ladders when repairs or restorations are needed.

The plaster is peeling off of this neglected kura, exposing the earthen walls beneath.

kura broken


Here you can see the plaster, earth/straw mud walls, and bamboo lathing.

Construction

As mentioned earlier, in the Edo Period, kura were status symbols because it meant you actually had valuable things to protect. Furthermore, it took time and money to build and maintain them. Let’s take a look at how these fireproof storehouses were actually constructed.

  • First, lay a stone foundation.
  • Build a rigid wooden frame with sturdy logs.
  • Add bamboo or palm lathing called komai (木舞) in the shape you want the walls and ceiling to take, sort of like drywall in a modern western house.
  • Apply layer after layer of wet clay and straw on both sides of the lathing until you have the desired thickness of the walls (roughly 16 layers in the Kantō area).
  • Wait about 2-6 months for the clay to dry.
  • Carefully apply a traditional white plaster called shikkui (漆喰) to the outside surface. You’ve seen this plaster if you’ve ever seen a Japanese castle.
  • Apply Edo Black, if you roll like that.
  • Construct a wooden frame across the roof and attach the roof tiles to it.
  • In the country, the insides were usually unadorned, but in cities the insides were often decorated with cypress; recent renovations that you see today may have quite elegant interiors.

Tansu (traditional Japanese “step drawers”)

Once you had finished building your storehouse, you had to maintain it. The floor was regularly swept to keep dust out, and items were kept in boxes and traditional drawers called 箪笥 tansu. Furthermore, a few times a year, items would be removed and aired out, lest they got musty. Interestingly, when some famous temples and shrines aired out their kura, people would come from far and wide to view the treasures that were usually hidden from sight.

Steps inside a wooden floor kura

Workshop inside a kura

The Dark Side

As you can imagine, kura were traditionally very dark on the inside, especially before the advent of electricity, and so there were (and still are!) people afraid of entering them. Sadly, in the Edo Period, family members with mental illness were sometimes imprisoned in kura to keep them from embarrassing the family or running out and committing crimes.

In fact, the fear of kura was so pervasive that until a generation or so ago, it wasn’t unusual to hear of parents locking up misbehaving children in the family kura as a punishment. There was even a book and subsequent movie called 蔵の中 Kura no Naka Inside the Kura, about a girl with a contagious disease who was forced to live in a kura so she couldn’t infect the rest of the family. She had only picture books and Noh masks to entertain herself with.

Traditional bookstore in a kura

The Light Side

Actually, it’s not all grim stories about locking people up in dark, musty storehouses. In some parts of northern Japan, they believed that a 神 kami spirit would inhabit the kura and any family member that attracted its gaze would be rewarded with good luck.

More importantly, as the population declines in rural communities, people buy up old abandoned farmhouses as second homes and often these estates have kura with old family heirlooms accumulated over time. These are a boon to historians when hitherto unknown documents, works of art, and samurai armor and swords are discovered.

Kura at a shrine to house o-mikoshi (portable shrines for festivals)

Where to Check Out Kura

You can find kura all over the country, even in central Tokyo, but there are a few spots around Japan that are particularly famous for having large concentrations of these traditional storehouses.

Matsumoto has many re-purposed kura

In Matsumoto, most kura are in the old merchant district.

If you’re in Nagano, you might want to check out Nawate Dori and the Nakamachi district of Matsumoto. These areas have many preserved Meiji Period kura that have been converted into cafes, shops, and boutiques. The historic atmosphere of the area is perfect for a leisurely stroll before visiting one of Japan’s most majestic buildings, 松本城Matsumoto-jō Matsumoto Castle.

Tochigi City is one of my favorite spots, most people don’t know about it.

There are kura everywhere!

Tochigi’s Kuranomachi – literally “kura town” – is less than an hour from Tokyo by train and home to many historic storehouses that are used as modern shops selling everything from soba to souvenirs. It’s a great escape from the big city for day trippers and photographers looking for a bit of “Old Japan.”

Another great day trip option is Kawagoe which is located in Saitama and is also less than an hour from Tokyo. The city bills itself of as “Little Edo” because of its large number of misegura, storefront kura (which were actually built in the early Meiji Period, but that’s just between you and me). Most of Kawagoe’s kura are fine examples of storehouses that make use of Edo Black, so it really does give you a feel of street life in the merchant districts of the shogun’s capital. The city also has one of the few remaining honmaru goten (本丸御殿), main palace of a Japanese castle, and a section of Edo Castle that was moved to the temple, 喜多院 Kitai-in, by the 3rd shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu.

Of course, the motherlode of kura towns is Kitakata in Fukushima. Depending on who’s counting there are somewhere between 2000-4000 kura in the city. And yes, this is the town where if you don’t have a storehouse of your own by age 40, you’re not a real man. Kura aren’t the only reason to visit this city, there’s also a ramen museum dedicated to the local variety – typified by soy sauce and wavy noodles. It’s a nice place to visit if you’re exploring the Aizu Wakamatsu and Kōriyama areas.

Lastly, if you want to check out some kura in Tokyo, there are two in excellent condition across the street from Tokyo Tower. Just come out of Akabanebashi Station and head to the temple, 明常院 Myōjō-in. The storehouses are located to the left of the main hall and they contain the temple treasures, including a painting by the 9th shogun, Tokugawa Ieshige, as well as the mortuary tablet from the memorial service carried out here on the 49th day after his death. You can still see some of the original Edo Period wall and stone lanterns bearing the shogun’s family crest.

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Also, if you feel like heading out of the city center, you can jump on one of the last remaining tramways, the Setagaya Line, which will take you to the 世田谷代官屋敷Setagaya Daikan Yashiki Setagaya Daikan’s Residence – home of a family of town magistrates in the Edo Period. On the premises, you’ll find two kura and a local history museum. Actually, you can find them throughout the city, but sadly they tend to be covered in aluminum siding because it’s cheaper than maintaining them properly. As a result, you may not even notice them even if they’re right in front of you.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō With Me Japan This Guided Tours
(And yes, sometimes I go to Kawagoe, Kuranomachi, and Matsumoto)

 

What does Kanda mean? (part two)

In Japanese History, Japanese Subculture, Travel in Japan on August 28, 2017 at 5:35 pm

神田
Kanda (holy rice paddies, Batman)

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Next door to Kanda Shrine is the Confucian school, Yushima Seidō. While the shrine is way more active, I preferred the austerity and classic tranquility of this site.

So, welcome to part two of my series What does Kanda mean? This article is basically a supplement to part one, which discussed the complex etymologies regarding the area and Kanda Shrine. This time we’ll talk about some topics that I felt were too distracting, needed to be separated, and were too long for footnotes. We’ll talk about enshrinements and the relationship between Shintō and Buddhism, and we’ll also talk about family names… and who knows, maybe something else will come up along the way[i]. Since this is a supplement to the previous article, I highly suggest that you read part one first. Otherwise, there’s no context for everything that follows.

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Who is Enshrined at Kanda Myōjin?

Time for a little review. In part one, this wasn’t very important. However, in part two, this is going to be critical.

大国主命
Ōkuninushi no Mikoto

An earthly kami who handed over control of Izumo Province to the heavenly kami who were ancestors of the imperial family and the original court. He was blended with a Buddhist kami, Daikokuten.

大己貴命
Ōnamuchi no Mikoto

This kami, who may or may not be the same as Ōkuninushi, was involved in the transfer of earthly lands to the control of the imperial family.

平将門
Taira no Masakado no Mikoto

A Kantō-based samurai who revolted against the imperial family in the 900’s. His attempted to secede failed, but the locals saw him as a hero eastern autonomy. After the Meiji Coup, he was de-enshrined, only to be re-enshrined after WWII[ii].
OKUNINUSHI RABBIT

Ōkuninushi, here called Ōkuninushi Ōkami saving an injured and tortured rabbit – one of the most famous Shintō myths.

Kanda no Miya Kanda Myōjin?

As mentioned in part one, 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine was originally called 神田ノ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine. This name has serious imperial connotations. Imperial princes, princesses, and their respective cadastral families bore the familial suffix ~宮 miya for centuries[iii]. Many shrines still use -miya in their names or when referring to enshrined deities. For example, Taira no Masakado no Mikoto can be called 三宮 San no Miya the Third Kami of Kanda Shrine[iv]. -Miya can also be used to refer to shrine rankings within certain pilgrimage routes or within certain former provinces[v].

When the Tokugawa Shōgunate was established in Edo, a cultural shift occurred. At that time, the people with all the money and prestige were the samurai. The local people preserved their traditions, but the influx of samurai from the provinces who came in on sanin-kōtai duty brought a distinct warrior culture to the new capital. Under the shōgunate, education generally took place at 寺子屋 terakoya schools operated by Buddhist temples. Also, Buddhism made the samurai (and the ruling Tokugawa clan in particular) distinct from the imperial family, which used Shintō mythology to legitimize its existence.

Buddhism, on the other hand, seemed more universal. After all, the Chinese were all about that shit. China had been around long before Japan and they were way bigger and presumed to have been way more philosophically advanced. Furthermore, Buddhism existed all over Asia and even in some distant, exotic land called India.

Shintō was nowhere to be found in the world, except for Japan. Shintō definitely wasn’t discarded in the Edo Period, but among the educated elites, Buddhism offered an alternative to mythology, the imperial family, and folklore. It offered philosophy, a way of life, and even some answers to the question “what happens when you die?”[vi]

shimenawa

The term 明神 myōjin enlightened kami was a Buddhist term that highjacked the Shintō term 名神 myōjin notable kami, a word used by the imperial court to refer to local kami throughout the realm with highly developed cults, worship that dated back to time immemorial (the Age of the Gods[ix]) or appeared in the mythologies of the imperial clan, and those who were particularly powerful.

But long story short, myōjin means “obvious” or “self-evident.” In this case, Ōkuninushi/Ōnamuchi, and more importantly, Taira no Masakado were obviously beloved by the locals and revered as important 氏神 ujigami tutelary deities[x]. Ōkuninushi and Ōnamuchi qualified as “notable kami” in the Shintō sense because they were included in the legitimatory texts of the imperial family[xi]. In fact, the myth of Ōkuninushi isn’t only directly related to the imperial family’s claim to divine descent and dominion over the earthly realm, he may actually represent an ancient historical event in which the powerful 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province either submitted to or formed an alliance with the imperial family after decades of rivalry.

At any rate, by the Edo Period, Shintō and Buddhism were blended quite nicely and Kanda no Miya had come to be known as Kanda Myōjin.  In this period, it was a tutelary shrine of Edo Castle (the Chiyoda area), modern Kanda, modern Akihabara, and most of the shōgun’s capital in general. You could pretty much assume that the main temples/shrines of Edo were 浅草寺 Sensō-ji Asakusa Temple, 山王比叡神社 Sannō-Hiei Jinja Sannō-Hiei Shrine, and 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine – the oldest and most revered religious complexes in central Edo[xii]. To this day, the 神田祭 Kanda Matsuri Kanda Festival is not just one of the most important summer festivals of Edo-Tōkyō, it’s one of the most important in all of Japan[xiii].

Ōkuninushi Statue Izumo Taisha

But Wait! I Have a Friend whose Family Name is “Kanda.”

Of course, you do. It’s the 262nd most common name in the country[xiv]. There are more than 86,000 people in Japan with a family name spelled 神田. I say spelled because there are at least eight readings that I know of… and I could be mistaken, maybe there are more: Kanda, Kamita, Kamida, Kanada, Kōda, Gōda, Jinda, Jinden[xv]. Of these names, Kanda is by far the most common, so much so that all the other readings would probably provoke questions about regional origins and family history.

japonesque_2dvd

Check the footnotes for details, but Kōda Kumi’s “Kōda” is actually derived from “Kanda.”

Speaking of family history, as I mentioned in part one, the family name, and subsequent place names, derive from the title 神田宿禰 kanda no sukune a title granted to the 大伴氏 Ōtomo-shi Ōtomo clan[xvi], which traced their roots back to a mythological event called 天孫降臨 Tenson Kōrin the Divine Descent[xvii] – when the 天津神 ama tsu kami heavenly kami came down to earth to rule over humans and the 国津神 kuni tsu kami earthly kami. The group sent from the heavens was led by 瓊瓊杵尊 Ninigi no Mikoto, the grandson of the sun goddess, 天照大神 Amaterasu Ōmikami. The grandson of Ninigi was 神武 Jinmu, the mythological founder of the 大和氏 Yamato-shi Yamato clan – that is to say, the imperial family itself[xviii].

A handful of the most elite families in the 大和朝廷 Yamato Chōtei Yamato Court could also trace their ancestry back to this most important story of all Shintō mythology. The Ōtomo clan were said to be descendants of 天忍日命 Ame no Oshihi no Mikoto[xix], a heavenly kami who was part of Ninigi’s entourage that descended from above to the earthly realm. In other words, they didn’t claim imperial power, but they claimed divine ancestry to justify their closeness and loyalty to the Yamato Court.

The Ōtomo were granted the title kanda no sukune by the son of 嵯峨天皇 Saga Tennō the 52nd emperor in the early 800’s. The title roughly translates as Governors of the Shrine Fields[xx]. Forgive me for repeating myself, but the clan hailed from Izumo Province, an ancient and powerful kingdom so closely tied to the Yamato Court that it plays a significant role in the foundational myths of Japan – in particular, the story of Ōkuninushi.

Daikoku_en_zijn_rat-Rijksmuseum_RP-P-1962-331

Daikokuten… or is it Ōkuninushi? … or is it…?

What’s the connection between Ōkuninushi and Daitokuten?

As stated earlier, myōjin is a term that Buddhism highjacked from Shintō which means something like “dude, he’s obviously a god.” Depending on which legitimatory texts promulgated by the early imperial court you believe, Ōnamuchi represents either a relative of or another iteration of Ōkuninushi[xxi]. It’s probably better to think of them as two kami rolled into one, or one kami unrolled into two. Or something like that….

Whether you understand them as one or two kami in any configuration, what you can’t deny is that ancient Japanese people soon associated them with another kami – a mostly Buddhist kami – that is far more well known today called 大黒天 Daikokuten. If you take them as separate kami, then Ōnamuchi is an earthly kami who helped Ōkuninushi support the Yamato State[xxii]. In this case, he is associated with yet another kami – a mostly Buddhist kami – that is even more well-known than Daikokuten today. That kami is 恵比寿 Ebisu. Since the Edo Period, these two kami have been worshipped as distinct members of the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck. As they’re both Yayoi and/or Kofun Period kami[xxiii], it’s understandable that they are associated with bountiful rice production and prosperity. As such, their importance has been intrinsic to the heart and soul of Japan from time immemorial[xxiv].

masakado

De-enshrinement and Re-enshrinement of Taira no Masakado

OK, so all that crazy mythology dating back to proto-historical times aside, the third and final enshrinement at Kanda Shrine was Taira no Masakado[xxv]. He was an historical personage. He’s well recorded and he clearly made an impact on the people living in the villages and hamlets near 江戸 Edo[xxvi]. His legacy energized eastern samurai, and as a kami he became a symbol of infinite human potential for the everyman[xxvii].

But what did the people in the east find appealing about Masakado’s story; his uprising, his defeat, and head magically flying back to the original Kanda Shrine? He was a warrior who rejected a byzantine imperial court in the west that was interested in milking the outer provinces for taxes, grains, and foot soldiers. He also represented a samurai culture that was growing stronger every day, and year by year distancing itself from the outdated and increasingly insular court in Kyōto. Masakado nor his worshippers knew it, but he set the stage for the Rise of the East.

Once the Tokugawa Shōguns began expanding their castle in the early 1600’s, they exploited the importance of Kanda Shrine for its spiritual value. After all, the Tokugawa were also eastern samurai who distanced themselves from the authority of the imperial court in the west[xxviii].

The Meiji Emperor entering Edo - view of Edobashi and Nihonbashi

Meiji Emperor and his court entering the city of Edo and making their way towards Edo Castle.

The Fall of the East
(AKA, the Second Rise of the East)

As everyone knows, the Tokugawa clan ruled for roughly 250 stable years in Japan. As an eastern samurai family – nay, the premier samurai family in the whole country – they recognized the importance of Kanda no Miya and the enshrinement of Taira no Masakado. They also recognized the importance of such ancient kami as Ōkuninushi and their ties to the imperial family. The Tokugawa Shōgunate also successfully maintained a policy of keeping the imperial family and the imperial court in the proverbial kiddy pool, thus suppressing the west while allowing it to maintain a ritual and literary culture under the close supervision of samurai lords who were loyal to the Tokugawa Shōguns.

The imperial family and its goofball court had been pawns in political games of chess since the 1100’s[xxix], but in the Meiji Coup of 1868, the imperial court – while, yeah, still a pawn – was given legitimacy in a western post-Enlightenment sense. The emperor was likened to German or French monarchs. Shintō effectively became a state religion, one based on the ancient texts that legitimized the Yamato clan as the divine rulers of Japan and a Japanese Empire – an empire in a western sense.

The Meiji Emperor and his court chose not to rule from Kyōto, which by this time was a kind of backwater without a port and access to the world[xxx], but from Edo, arguably the largest city in the world with the most impressive infrastructure in all of Asia. They moved into the shōguns’ castle – again, the largest castle in the world[xxxi] – and then found themselves confronted with a most bizarre situation. While the new imperial government wanted to play the religion card to legitimize its authority, it found that the shōgunate had been playing the religion card all these years to legitimize itself, too. One of Edo’s top three religious centers, Kanda Shrine, and the legacy of Taira no Masakado, a samurai who rebelled against the imperial court, were too much to bear.

In order to build up a new capital, Tōkyō[xxxii], the imperial court focused on the construction of western style buildings on the former lands of feudal lords loyal to the Tokugawa. More importantly, they issued a decree separating Shintō from Buddhism as well as the abolition of the samurai class. One of the first actions they took was the de-enshrinement of Taira no Masakado, a symbol of samurai power, and most importantly, a symbol of defiance against the imperial court and its legitimacy. Masakado’s legendary status as a bad ass was impossible to deny, so the Meiji Government de-enshrined him and hoped he would go away.

 

1280px-Taira_no_masakado_kubiduka_2012-03-22.jpg

Masakado Didn’t Go Away

Local people didn’t forget Masakado, but they didn’t fight his removal from the shrine. Edoites, now called Tōkyōites, seem to not have given a shit about the de-enshrinement. The average person on the street was used to syncretic religion, which meant all religion was mixed together for them. Also, given the heavy influence of Buddhism, many of them in the 1870’s were probably atheists or uninterested in religion beyond its performative aspects[xxxiii]. That said, Masakado was removed from Kanda Shrine because he was seen as an imperial rebel.

Masakado’s grave is located in 大手町 Ōtemachi in front of the former Edo Castle. The shōgunate was so superstitious about Masakado that they never moved his grave; his enshrinement at Kanda Shrine was good enough. The Meiji Government was also apparently terrified of his ghost that they, too, left his grave intact.

After the American Occupation and the new secular government’s stance on the separation of religion and government, a new possibility opened for Kanda Shrine. For one, the popular local hero, Taira no Masakado could be re-enshrined without and threat to the imperial family. In fact, since the Shōwa Emperor renounced divine descent, imperial connections to any shrines were minimized to symbolism only. And whether this was a motive or not, I can’t say, but re-enshrining Taira no Masakado seems like a subtle “eff you” to the imperial family squatting on the burned out remains of Edo Castle.

masakado kubi-zuka

Masakado’s grave in Ōtemachi (former Kanda) has been considered haunted since the Tokugawa expansion of Edo Castle, possibly even before that. To this day, the site is well maintained by nearby companies so as to not piss off the rebel samurai.

Kanda Matsuri and all that Otaku Shit

I want to tell you what the Kanda Festival is, but instead, I’m going to show what the Japan National Tourism Organization says about it. Keep in mind, this is one of the most important festivals in Tōkyō and in Japan, and all they can say about it is this:

 

100 portable shrines gather for this festival and a procession of 300 people parades through the streets of Tokyo.

One of the most famous festivals of Tokyo, Kanda Matsuri is also ranked among the three largest festivals of Japan. Protected by the Shogun during the Edo Period (1603-1867) and permitted to enter the grounds of Edo Castle where he lived, it also came to be called ‘Tenka Matsuri’ (‘Tenka’ meaning Shogun). The main festival is conducted in years ending in odd numbers according to the Western calendar, and the festivals held in even-numbered years are much smaller in scale. The rule to change the scale of the festival in alternate years was determined by the Shogun in the Edo Period, for the festivals then were so extravagant.

The main attraction well worth viewing in odd-numbered years is the parade on the Saturday, when some 300 people march through central Tokyo districts such as Kanda, Nihombashi, Otemachi, Marunouchi, and so on. In addition to the portable shrines with a phoenix decorated on the roof there are all kinds of floats, and Shinto priests mounted on horseback line up in rows, producing a spectacular sight. On the Sunday, almost 100 small and large portable shrines gather from each quarter. Recommended souvenirs are T-shirts printed with pictures of the festival scene, fans, towels, etc.

Kanda, the venue of the festival, was formerly the central quarter of Edo (present-day Tokyo) back in the Edo Period. And those born and bred in Kanda were called ‘Edokko.’ Eddokos are considered to be very high-spirited, and their characteristics are reflected in the Kanda Matsuri which is a jovial festival brimming with energy. The Kanda Myojin Museum, which is open to the public on weekends and on national holidays, has a diorama of the Kanda Matsuri and also displays models of floats. If you wish to find out more about the festival, you should visit this museum.

 

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This is the Fukagawa Matsuri which is related to the Kanda Matsuri. The photo is provided by my friend Rekishi no Tabi. You can find him out Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rekishinotabi/albums

In the 1990’s and more so in the 2000’s, nearby Akihabara became known as an otaku mecca. In 2013, an anime titled ラブライブ! Rabu Raibu! Love Live! aired. It featured a character named 東條希 Tōjō Nozomi who got a part time job as a 巫女さん miko-san shrine maiden at Kanda Shrine. Because of that, and perhaps combined with the otaku penchant for cosplay, working as a shrine maiden here has become a very popular バイト baito part time job for high school and university girls. It’s so popular, in fact, that during the New Year season, applicants are turned away en masse, whereas other shrines have a hard time recruiting enough girls to handle the increased holiday traffic.

tojo nozomi kanda shrine.jpg

A few years ago, my sister-in-law was hired as a shrine maiden for New Year’s break, but I had no idea how popular it was nor how difficult it was to land a gig at Kanda Shrine. When asked why she wanted to do this job so badly, she said she thought the outfit was cute and she wanted to try and wear it at least once in her life.

Ooooooh-kay.

In 2015, the shrine adopted Nozomi as the official mascot, and you can find 絵馬 ema wooden prayer plaques featuring her and other characters from the series. In fact, if you visit today, the combination of traditional Shintō architecture stands in sharp contrast to the anime characters decorating the premises. It’s really weird.

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What Can we Take Away from all This?

Honestly, there’s so much in this story[xxxiv], I hope you just understand why I refused to write about this in 2013, again in 2014, again in 2015, and… you get the idea. The second take away, Japanese history is a black hole of non-stop discovery that’s the greatest soon-to-derail roller coaster I’ve ever dared to board. Lastly, if you’ve read this far, you’re clearly as addicted to this shit as I am. High five.

Before I do my “peace, out!” thing, I want to thank everyone who’s been reading all the while as well as all the new peeps who have come on board. If you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section down below. Also, if you want me to keep doing this, consider supporting JapanThis! via Paypal and Bitcoin, or on Patreon, where I’m making super-secret and exclusive content for Patrons only.

 

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[i] Something that happens here at JapanThis! more often than not.
[ii] More about that later.
[iii] All clans have names. In English, the imperial family is often referred to as the Yamato clan. However, in Japanese, they aren’t commonly referred to this way. While they were, at one time, the Great Kings of Yamato, the main line of emperors has no family name. They are simply emperors. When you’re a descendant of the sun goddess, you can do that. I guess…
[iv] The funerary complex of Tokugawa Ieyasu is called 東照宮 Tōshō-gū. The name brings together a sublime blend of Buddhist and Shintō thought and in doing so, legitimizes the Tokugawa claim to power by divine mandate as a member of the 源氏 Genji Minamoto clan – ie; descendants of the 清和源氏 Seiwa Genji Minamoto family born of Emperor Seiwa’s line.
[v] Provinces, or 国 kuni, existed for most of Japanese history until the Edo Period. Under the Tokugawa Shōgunate, provinces existed as traditional territories, but the real administrative power lay in smaller, more manageable districts called 藩 han domains which were ruled by samurai lords called 大名 daimyo. After the Meiji Coup in 1868, the domain system was abolished and the prefectural system was established. The ancient provinces weren’t addressed because most weren’t functional districts since the Sengoku Period. However, to this day provinces are used to show pride and cultural unity in many areas of Japan. While this is mostly branding today, you can still find regional unity present in cuisine, tradition, and dialects that roughly correspond to the old provinces. And just for the record, Edo and modern Tōkyō fall outside of the Edo Period designations of domains (Edo was the shōgun’s personal property and not a domain). It’s located on the boundaries of two ancient provinces, 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province. This is reflected in the place name Ryōgoku.
[vi] Admittedly, some of Buddhism’s answers to the questions regarding death are pretty ridiculous, but all religions make outrageous claims about the nature of the universe and reality. That’s how they make money.
[vii] Very similar to Rome before Christianity came along and fucked up everything… and then Rome fell.
[viii] To what degree Buddhism and Shintō were considered separate is a discussion for another time.
[ix] Japanese cosmology, as recorded and promulgated by the imperial court in the 7th century, is essentially divided into two major periods: 神代 kamiyo the Age of the Gods and 人代 hitoyo the Age of Men. The dividing point is the mythological founding of the imperial line by the first emperor 神武 Jinmu.
[x] Again, with Taira no Masakado, as a local himself, superseding the former enshrined kami.
[xi] These texts are the 古事記 Kojiki Records of Ancient Matters and 日本書紀 Nihonshoki Chronicles of Japan, often referred to as a set by the term 記紀 Kiki, a word I don’t know how to translate.
[xii] On the outskirts of the city, 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji and 増上寺 Zōjō-ji held the record for being the most ornate religious complexes, as they housed the funerary mausolea of the Tokugawa Shōguns.
[xiii] Learn more about the Kanda Matsuri here.
[xiv] To put this in perspective, Davidson was the 262nd most common family name in the US as of 1990.
[xv] The last two readings are extremely rare and restricted to place names, not family names. An example of this name can be taken from pop culture. A singer from western Japan by the name of 神田來未子 Kōda Kumiko changed her name to 倖田來未 Kōda Kumi. Her actual family name can be read as Kanda, but isn’t. In order to help market her as a singer and performer, management changed 神田 to 倖田. The change of the first character from “kami/deity” to “personal good luck” made the reading of the name easier and more auspicious.
[xvi] Other noble clans were granted this title, most notably the 松浦氏 Matsuura-shi Matsuura branch of the 嵯峨源氏 Saga Genji Minamoto clan descended from Emperor Saga and Taira no Masakado’s branch of the 平氏 Heishi Taira clan, the 桓武平氏 Kanmu Heishi Kanmu Taira clan. Descendants of these families or their clans were granted permission to use the name 神田 in one form or another.
[xvii] Or sometimes, the Descent of the Heavenly Grandson.
[xviii] By accounts of the official records, the imperial family were the rulers of Yamato Province. It’s normal for non-Japanese historians to call the imperial family the Yamato clan, but actually the imperial family has no family name. They are just the imperial family – the soul of Japan.
[xix] A kami so important he was worthy of mentioning in the earliest texts produced in Japan, but not important enough to the purpose of legitimizing the imperial family’s divine rule to preserve the purpose of this god’s function. Nevertheless, as descendants of Ame no Oshihi, the Ōtomo clan were clearly important in the Nara Period, thus the spread of their name under the guise of 神田 Kanda (and its various iterations).
[xx] The title 宿禰 sukune was originally the 3rd highest rank in a hierarchy call 八色の姓 yakusa no kabane. I don’t know how to translate this, but it was a  court rank system that placed families on a hereditary ladder that went like this: 真人 mahito, 朝臣 asomi/ason宿禰 sukune, 忌寸 imiki, 道師 michinoshi, 臣 omi,  連 muraji, 稲置 inagi. There were various types of sukune. Kanda no sukune is just one. The important thing to bear in mind is that this rank is really high in the imperial court of the time.
[xxi] And to be honest, it doesn’t matter because those most ancient of Japanese texts are a mess of contradictions and variations.
[xxii] Also known as 事代主神 Kotoshironushi no Kami. He was a son of Ōkuninushi, but has other roles in other myths that contradict timelines, but whatever. It’s fucking mythology. Anyhoo, he’s associated with agriculture and medicine.
[xxiii] Why do I say they might be Yayoi Period or Kofun Period kami? It’s because of wet rice cultivation. The Yayoi culture brought rice production, land ownership, social stratification, and warfare to Japan. While these people didn’t have writing, we can see a reason for the importance of kami related to rice and land. While we don’t know if these beliefs actually formed at this time, it seems safe to say they were fully developed in the Kofun Period as they appear in the oldest imperial texts.
[xxiv] I just love saying “time immemorial.”
[xxv] I told Masakado’s story in my article What does Ōme mean?
[xxvi] He’s still considered a bad ass in the eastern portion of former Musashi Province (Tōkyō) and the western portion of Shimōsa Province (modern Chiba Prefecture).
[xxvii] This potential would be reached by the Kamakura Shōgunate, and later, on a much grander stage by the Tokugawa Shōgunate. Oh, yeah, the potential of the everyman, if you were a rich guy or samurai… Then again, the everyman always thinks he can be a rich guy someday, doesn’t he?
[xxviii] Of course, they performatively sought legitimacy from the court, then banned the court from any governmental influence as best they could.
[xxix] The Kamakura Period.
[xxx] It kinda had access to Asia, but the Japanese at that time were looking more to the west for inspiration.
[xxxi] Often described as a city within the city.
[xxxii] Edo was renamed 東京 Tōkyō Eastern Capital.
[xxxiii] As most Japanese are today.
[xxxiv] And I had to leave out a lot of stuff to keep your eyes from glazing over…

What does Kanda mean?

In #rivered, Japanese History, Travel in Japan on August 23, 2017 at 5:54 am

神田
Kanda (holy rice paddies, Batman!)

IMG_5689.jpg
What does Kanda mean?
(Short Version)

神田 Kanda means something like “holy rice field” or “field of the gods.” You can find places all over Japan that use the same characters (with various pronunciations) that derive from this meaning. In short, these place names are references to special agricultural spaces which originally produced food for shrines connected to the imperial court during the Nara Period. These holy fields were technically tax exempt as they usually had to only send the first harvest to the court. The rest was profit. The court then used the produce as currency to fund the maintenance of the shrines they deemed most important. In the case of Edo-Tōkyō, this place name is generally associated with a religious complex called 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine[i].

There are three 神 kami deities[ii] enshrined at Kanda Myōjin. All three are earthly kami[iii], though the first two enshrinements are gods included in the earliest recorded creation and foundation myths. The third and final enshrinement was so beloved by locals in Kantō (Eastern Japan) that he subsumed the popularity of the original kami until the Meiji Coup in 1868[iv].

大国主命
Ōkuninushi no Mikoto

An earthly kami who handed over control of the world to the heavenly kami who were ancestors of the imperial family and the original court. He was blended with a Buddhist kami, Daitokuten.

大己貴命
Ōnamuchi no Mikoto

This kami, who may or may not be the same as Ōkuninushi, was involved in the transfer of earthly lands to the control of the imperial family.

平将門
Taira no Masakado no Mikoto

A Kantō-based samurai who revolted against the imperial family in the 900’s. His attempt to secede failed, but the locals saw him as a hero defending the east’s cultural difference from the west[v]. After the Meiji Coup, he was de-enshrined, only to be re-enshrined after WWII[vi].

 

IMG_5688

Ōkuninushi, Ōnamuchi, Daikokuten – many names, basically the same kami.

What does Kanda mean?
(Hardcore Version)

Today we’re looking at a place name that I’ve wanted to write about since 2013. At that time, my pieces were more short form blog posts. Obviously, things have gotten more long form and “article-like” since then, yet every time I went back to visit the subject of Kanda, it just seemed too convoluted. I couldn’t figure out a way to present the material in a coherent way. Long time readers will remember when I “got riverred” doing a series on seven great waterways of Edo[vii]. I didn’t want that to happen again.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit that as far as place names go, Kanda seems as superficially straightforward as they come. However, the truth is complex as fuck. It requires a solid knowledge of geography – not just of Edo-Tōkyō, but all of Japan. It also requires a strong understanding of Japanese mythology[viii], religion[ix], and the economic system of the Nara Period[x].

I tried to keep things concise, but after 11 pages of text, it became clear that I should divide the topic into two parts. Even after that, the article got longer and longer. Long time readers will know what you’re in store for. New readers, welcome aboard. Help us batten down the hatches. Every article on JapanThis! sails through rough waters.

Anyhoo, let’s get back to the topic at hand (and be prepared for lots of tables).

kanda map
Where is Kanda?

First of all, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with this: in Tōkyō today there is no official place name Kanda. After WWII, in 1947 the former 神田区 Kanda-ku Kanda Ward and 麹町区 Kōjimachi-ku Kōjimachi Ward were combined to make modern 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward. Now, don’t think Kanda just disappeared off the map completely. A few postal addresses actually still exist. For example, 外神田 Soto-Kanda is where 秋葉原駅 Akihabara Eki Akihabara Station is located, and 神田錦町 Kanda Nishiki-chō Kanda Nishiki Town is still part of 日本橋 Nihonbashi.

But in short, the area from modern 大手町 Ōtemachi to 駿河台 Surugadai (originally 神田山 Kanda-yama Mt. Kanda)[xi] was called 神田 Kanda in general. This changed over the centuries, but for our purposes today, this is good enough. That was Kanda and you can see it originally referred to a large and relatively vague area[xii].

kanda myojin mountain side

Apparently, the view from Kanda Shrine used to be pretty good and this stairway used to be hella effed up. I’m not sure what part of the shrine this depicts, but I guess it’s from the opposite point of view of Hokusai’s painting posted above.

This is a very informal rule of thumb, but if I look at a modern map, I tend to think of Kanda as the area stretching from Kanda Station to Akihabara Station to Ochanomizu Station. However, prior to the Edo Period, the area from 大手町 Ōtemachi[xiii] to Kanda Station could be considered Kanda. What changed was the building of the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui Kanda Aqueduct. With that, the name Kanda moved farther away from the castle along the waterway into the generic area of Tōkyō that we call Kanda today.

Further Reading:

 

IMG_5667.jpg

Main gate of Kanda Shrine. Impressive.

So, what the hell does Kanda mean?

Well, I already told you at the beginning of this article. Are you saying that isn’t enough? Are you saying you want more? Are you a glutton for this shit?

Of course, you are.
You wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t.

So, let’s roll up our sleeves, cuz we’re about to get knee deep in all kinds of muck and mire. This is a messy swamp of history, mythology, and linguistics. You ready to hold your nose and get down and dirty?

If that’s a yes, then let’s do this.

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First, Let’s Look at some Kanji


kami, shin/-jin

deity (kami)


ta/da, den

planted field (usually rice)


myō

bright, enlightened; fucking obvious


miya, –

divine descendant of a heavenly kami; relative of the imperial family; imperial prince/princess


na, mei

name; well known; apparent/obvious

And, Here are 2 Words Ya Best Know, Son.

神田
kanda, shinden

literally, “god field”

御田[xiv]
mita, o-den

literally, “honorable field” – nuance is more at “field owned by a ruler”[xv] or “field owned by a god”

IMG_5669.jpg

Now, Let’s Look at a Brief History of the Shrine

OK, so… I know this is gonna be a little annoying, but bear with me a bit more on the timeline. We need some historical framework before we can go any farther. Also, it will be good to have all of these charts to refer back some time… you know, when you need to refer back them for some reason…

703
Nara Period

An ancient court clan from 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province establishes a shrine in 武蔵国豊嶋郡芝崎村 Musashi no Kuni Shibazaki Mura Shibazaki Village, Mushashi Province. The shrine is called 神田ノ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine and by orders of the imperial court in 平城京 Heijō-kyō[xvi], it is responsible for providing rice to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine.

939
Heian Period

Taira no Masakado, a belligerent Kantō-based samurai (east), takes over hostile fiefs on his borders. When the imperial court (west) demands submission, he says “fuck no!” and goes rogue. Samurai armies loyal to the imperial court in Kyōto (west), are ordered to suppress his rebellion.

940
Heian Period

Masakado is killed in battle. His in-house biographers portray him as a hero of the Kantō region and Eastern Japan[xvii]. According to legend, Masakado’s head flies back to the East and rests at Shibazaki Village where a burial mound is made for him near Kanda no Miya.

1185
Kamakura Period
(end of Heian Period)

源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo is appointed 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun shogun[xviii] and becomes the first samurai government to rule Japan (thus achieving what Masakado couldn’t). He rules safely (but briefly[xix]) from his capital in Kamakura (also in Kantō). The system of court control over shrines and their fields is disrupted.

1309
End of Kamakura Period

Masakado is enshrined at Kanda no Miya as a kind of local hero, he soon becomes the de factō principal kami[xx]. It’s around this time Shibazaki Village is renamed Kanda Village.

1590
Sengoku Period

徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu formally takes control of Edo Castle.

1603
Edo Period

Tokugawa Ieyasu is granted the title 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun shōgun. When 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle is expanded in 1603, Kanda no Miya is moved to the 神田台 Kanda-dai Kanda Plateau in order to make room for the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon the grand entrance of the castle and a new neighborhood of samurai and high-ranking merchants and artisans in 大手町 Ōtemachi, literally “main gate town.” Because of mysterious deaths and superstitions surrounding Masakado’s burial mound, his enshrinement at Kanda no Miya is considered adequate for the protection of Edo, but the burial mound is left in sitū so as not to disturb his spirit, in hopes that he will protect the castle and the samurai who come and go through the main gate, including the shōgun himself. Also, 江戸神社 Edo Jinja Edo Shrine, which was located on the castle grounds since the time of 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan, is moved to the shrine precincts[xxi].

1616
Edo Period

The shrine is moved to its current location when the Tokugawa Shōgunate reorganized parts of the city. Although it seems very urban today, until the post-WWII period, this area was wooded and considered very 山手 yamanote high city. During the Edo Period the shrine came to be called Kanda Myōjin. The new name reflected the Buddhist philosophy of the samurai class and distanced itself from the ancient imperial court traditions.

1690
Edo Period

The 5th shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, relocated a Confucian school next to Kanda Shrine called 湯島聖堂 Yushima Seidō Yushima Hall of Wise Men[xxii]. The shrine and temple were closely connected until 1868 when the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei Separation of Kami and Buddhas Edict was decreed. However, Yushima Seidō still has an entrance called 明神門 Myōjin Mon Kanda Shrine Gate where people could easily come and go between the temple and shrine.

1868
Meiji Period

Taira no Masakado was de-enshrined because he was seen as a rebel against the authority of the imperial family and he offended the sensitivities of the delicate snowflake known as the Meiji Emperor who had just moved into Edo Castle – newly renamed 東京城 Tōkyō-jō Tōkyō Castle.

1984
Shōwa Period

 

Because of his local popularity and the constitutional guarantee of separation of religion and government in Article 20 of the Constitution of Japan, Masakado was re-enshrined. This move was made roughly 30 years after end of WWII, presumably because the political climate was such that the anti-imperial connection was more or less lost on the general public and the concept of a divine emperor had been lying in the trash bin of history for three decades.
kanda myojin yushima seido hokusai

In the left background, you can see Yushima Seidō and its stone walls (still extant), in the right foreground, Kanda Myōjin. Thanks, Hokusai-dono.

The Five Great Etymologies

OK, so there are 5 basic theories about the origin of the place name Kanda. All of them, except for two, are related to the shrine, Kanda Myōjin – or Kanda no Miya (as it was also known). I’m going to list the theories, and then I’m going to break them all down.

jomon-period-inlets

Map of Edo-Tokyo in the paleolithic era. No wonder rivers are so crucial to the development of the city.

1. The Kami no To Theory

This theory states that Kanda is a contraction of 神田 Kamida, which itself is a corruption of 神ノ戸 kami no to. The idea is based on a possible etymology of 江戸 Edo which postulates that the city got its name from 江ノ戸 e no to “door to the estuary,” a reference to the hamlet’s location on the bay[xxiii]. Proponents of this theory point at the city of 神戸 Kōbe, claiming that it derives from 神ノ戸 kami no he “door to the kami” (contracted as Kanbe or Kōbe) due the presence of 生田神社 Ikuta Jinja Ikuta Shrine[xxiv] near the bay. The original location of Kanda no Miya was very near the bay before it was moved in the Edo Period. In fact, the former place name of this area was 芝崎 Shibazaki which literally means grassy cape, a clear indication that it was on the water.

While I find the similarities between Kōbe and Edo intriguing, I’m not sure if I’m onboard with kami no to breaking down to Kanda. It’s not unimaginable[xxv], but I think there are more convincing etymologies.

ise shrin

Ise Grand Shrine

2. The Kamida Theory

This is the most straight forward hypothesis. It states the name literally derives from 神ノ田 kami no tanbo sacred rice field or rice field of the kami. As I mentioned earlier, at the time Kanda no Miya was founded, shrines were expected to send 初穂 hatsuho the first harvest[xxvi] as an offering to a major shrine associated with the imperial court. In this case, the first harvest went to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine. These fields were in an area that sits roughly between the original location of Kanda no Miya and the modern location of Kanda Shrine[xxvii]. As a phrase, 神ノ田 would be read “kami no tanbo,” but as a place name it would be written 神田kamida,” which then could easily be contracted to Kanda. There are hundreds of place names throughout Japan written with the same kanji, and while their readings may differ, the etymology is generally the same. A change from /kamida/ to /kaɴda/ is quite plausible and, surprisingly, preserves the same number of mōræ of the original[xxviii].

Michinoomi_no_Mikoto-2.jpg

Michi no Omi no Mikoto, a male version of the Empress Jingū, is one of the three great war gods of Japan. The Ōtomo clan, very closely tied to the ancient imperial court, claimed descent from this particular kami.

3. The Kanda Clan Theory

This theory is related to the last one, but it gets a little more political. While the foundation of Kanda no Miya dates back to historical times, it dates back to a time when eastern Japan was a fucking backwater and records are scant to say the least. While we don’t know exactly who established the shrine, a little knowledge of Nara Period court bureaucracy may shine a bit of light on the issue.

A few high-ranking clans in the imperial court were given the title 神田宿禰 kanda no sukune lords of the fields of the kami[xxix]. Many branch families and descendants from clans that held this hereditary title eventually came to use the characters 神田 as a surname, adopting a range of regional variations, including Kanda. One of the most ancient and elite families to bear the title kanda no sukune was the 大伴氏 Ōtomo-shi Ōtomo clan from 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province[xxx]. If you remember from the beginning of the article, the original kami enshrined at Kanda no Miya were two earthly gods from Izumo who play major roles in the earliest written histories of Japan.

I’ll talk more about this clan later.

masakado

Taira no Masakado was one bad muthafucka. Sadly, his life ended without his head. Happily, his story lives on… and is pretty much all about his head.

4. The Taira no Masakado Did it Theory

Again, if you’ll refer to the list of kami enshrined here and the historical timeline, you’ll recall that in 940, a samurai by the name of Taira no Masakado was killed in battle during his uprising against the imperial court. Scholars debate the motivation for Masakado’s so-called “revolt,” but one thing is certain: the people of the Kantō Area, and the area near Edo in particular, latched on to him as a kind of folk hero. He stood up against a western court that they thought lorded power over them. According to legend, Masakado’s decapitated head was reanimated and fled the imperial court of Kyōto to return to his beloved Kantō. His spirit was then enshrined as Masakado no Taira no Mikoto. This theory states that the name Kanda is a corruption of 躯 karada corpse[xxxi]. A change from /kaɾada/ to /kaɴda/ is quite plausible and, surprisingly, preserves the same number of mōræ of the original[xxxii].

fashion_pct_img

Kofun Period Fashion™

5. The Fuck It, Nobody Knows Theory

This sort of theory, like all ancient place names is a last resort when all other etymologies fail. This is the diachronic linguistics version of the God of the Gaps. In short, if we can’t prove anything with historical records and can’t come up with satisfactory hypotheses, there’s a chance that the name may be hiding in proto-history. That is to say, Kanda may be a vestige of pre-literate Japan. People superimposed kanji on locally existing place names that may reflect an unrecorded Jōmon (Emishi/Ainu) place name or an unrecorded Yayoi/Kofun period dialect. In such cases, the kanji is considered 当て字 ateji, or characters used for phonetic values rather than meaning.

show me what you got-2
So, What do I Think?

Today we have such a complicated mess, I hope you can understand why I’ve hesitated to tackle this subject for so many years. I started this article but it rapidly got out of control.

First of all, I think the first theory which relates the etymology of Kōbe and Edo to Kanda is a bit of a stretch. If anything, it illustrates a fascinating link between the naming of Kōbe[xxxiii] and Edo[xxxiv], but it doesn’t do shit to explain Kanda, in my opinion. It’s an interesting pattern, and we see many place names (and subsequent family names) in the 東北地方 Tōhoku Chihō Tōhoku Region that are clearly derived from this model[xxxv]. However, applying it to Kanda doesn’t make any sense.

Secondly, the “Fuck It, Nobody Knows” theory is one that we can’t really prove one way or the other[xxxvi]. If we had some Ainu words suggested, then maybe we could make some kind of conjecture, but I couldn’t find any ideas tossed out there. Furthermore, we have a pretty nice linguistic sandbox to play in if we combine the remaining theories.

IMG_5671

The Sandbox

So…, we know the original name of the shrine was Kanda no Miya. This name is somewhat ambiguous. It can mean “Imperial Shrine of Kanda” or “Imperial Shrine of the Holy Fields.” I think these are absolutely related. Imperial Shrine of Kanda (by that, I mean the Kanda clan) seems to be a reference to a branch of the Ōtomo clan, while Imperial Shrine of the Holy Fields seems to be a reference to the fields required by law for the Kanda to maintain on behalf of the court to maintain Ise Grand Shrine. We also know that the Ōtomo (and therefore the Kanda) came from Izumo Province. In my mind, it can’t be a coincidence that the kami who were originally enshrined were Ōkuninushi and Ōnamuchi – the most important deities from Izumo.

I think we’re looking at a cut and dry example of the Nara Period system of establishing shrines dedicated to the imperial cult in the outlands and I think the name of the shrine clearly reflects that. I think the presence of the “holy fields” isn’t just related to that, it reinforces that imperial connection. However, after the gradual breakdown of imperial power in the East, the Kantō Area started to feel a little more autonomous.

This autonomy was writ large on the pages of history when Taira no Masakado essentially said “fuck you” to the imperial court and went to war[xxxvii].

Sure, he lost.

Sure, he was killed.

Sure, his decapitated head was put on display.

But like they say in Game of Thrones, “the North remembers.” Well, in this case, the East remembered, and they enshrined him at Kanda no Miya in the 1300’s. It’s also around this time that the area formerly called 芝崎村 Shibazaki Mura Shibazaki Village was renamed 神田村 Kanda Mura Kanda Village.

Do I think the /kaɾada/ (body) → /kaɴda/ etymology was the main reason? No. But I do think the timing of the name change from Shibazaki to Kanda and the strength of Masakado’s fame and spectral power worked its way into local lore and folk etymology. I can’t give a “hard no” to this theory, but I think it’s very much a part of the history of this area and its cultural tapestry.

hiroshige kanda myojin

One of Utagawa Hiroshige’s takes on Kanda Shrine in the Edo Period. This time, he chose to focus on a tree.

The End… or is it?

For most people, that’s about as much as you need to know about the origins of Kanda. In fact, that’s probably more than anyone needs to know. If you stop reading now, you’re probably doing yourself a favor. But for those of you with a masochistic streak, I’d like to explore a few tangents so we can tie up a few loose knots before I wrap this bitch up.

I’ll do that in part two of this article, which is pretty much complete as you’re reading this. I just need to find some pictures, proofread, and double check my facts. Anyhoo, expect me to post that in a day or two.

As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to leave comments and questions down below, and if you’d like to support JapanThis! on social media or throw me a dollar or two, all the details are directly below this sentence.

 

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[i] The original name was 神田ノ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine.
[ii] Deity and god are just rough translations. To learn more about what a kami is, check out this article on Wikipedia. If you already have a good understanding of how kami differ from the English words “god/goddess,” “deity,” and “spirit,” then you might want to do a little further reading.
[iii] I’m not going to get into the intricacies of Shintō cosmology, but in short, kami are generally divided into two groups: 天津神 ama tsu kami heavenly kami and 国津神 kuni tsu kami earthly kami. At the end of the 神世 Kami no Yo Age of the Gods, the heavenly deities descended to earth with a mandate from the sun goddess 天照大神 Amaterasu Ōmikami to rule over the lands of the earthly gods and all of humans that inhabited those lands, thereby establishing the Yamato clan – the imperial family.
[iv] This is something we’re gonna talk about in part two.
[v] A rivalry still very much alive in Japan today, particularly in Japanese Professional Baseball, with the Tōkyō Giants and Hanshin Tigers being the fiercest rivalry.
[vi] As I said, more about that later.
[vii] Years ago, I did a series on Edo’s rivers, which you can read here. I didn’t really understand the scope of what I was getting into and I got to a point where I literally almost quit JapanThis! completely – or at least I was ready to quit the series.
[viii] Because of a recent project, I’m getting more and more familiar with Japanese mythology.
[ix] I think I have this down to a certain degree, but I’m def not an expert.
[x] I’m gradually getting better acquainted with ancient and classical Japanese culture, but since Edo-Tōkyō is my favorite period, all of my recent studies on these three topics (mythology, religion, and ancient/classical Japan) are all strictly for improving the quality of JapanThis!.
[xi] Roughly 千代田区神田駿河台一丁目と二丁目 Chiyoda-ku Kanda-Surugadai Icchōme to Nichōme 1st and 2nd blocks of Kanda-Surugadai, Chiyoda Ward.
[xii] Long time readers will know that before the Meiji Coup in 1868, place names were quite generic. machi/-chō tended to be fixed but only referred to blocks (neighborhoods organized by social class and rank). But areas like 上野 Ueno, 麻布 Azabu, 芝 Shiba, 品川 Shinagawa, etc., were slightly ambiguous.
[xiii] Ōtemachi refers to the neighborhood of rich merchants and high ranking samurai bureaucrats that sat in front of the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon main entrance of Edo Castle.
[xiv] Don’t worry, you don’t need this word for this etymology, but if you go back to my old article about Mita, it might be helpful, since this article sheds light on the old one.
[xv] Usually the imperial court.
[xvi] Modern day 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture.
[xvii] Game of Thrones fans could think of him as Rob Stark. And rather than “the North remembers,” this is “the East remembers.” Masakado became the archetype of eastern samurai, Kantō samurai in particular, overcoming the overbearing and failing imperial court in the west.
[xviii] Who is Minamoto no Yoritomo? Glad you asked!
[xix] Dude had bad luck with horses, and that bad luck finally caught up with him. The whole article is interesting, but if you’re interested Yoritomo and horses, check out the section on Ashige-zuka and the associated footnotes.
[xx] I say de factō because the locals saw Masakado as the most powerful kami of Kanda no Miya, even though he was officially 3rd in rank.
[xxi] Who is Ōta Dōkan? Maybe you should read What does Toshima mean? You might also want to learn a little about Edo Castle, by reading What does Edo mean? Oh, I almost forgot. The kami enshrined at Edo Shrine (established in 武蔵国豊嶋郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province in 702) is 建速須佐之男命 Takehaya Susano’o no Mikoto, usually shortened to Susano’o – the kami of seas and storms (and brother of the sun goddess, 天照大御神 Amaterasu Ōmikami).
[xxii] While not popular today, this is one of the few spots where you can really feel the 山手 yamanote high city atmosphere of the Edo Period. Of course, Kanda Shrine was high city, but it was always open to the public. It also banks on its popularity with the masses. Yushima Seidō shuns the masses, maintaining its Edo Period elite status as a center of Confucian and Buddhist learning. The amount of greenery on the site is testimony enough to its desire to left to its own devices – a very Edo Period mentality. Not sure about low city vs. high city? Check out my article about Yamanote vs Shitamachi.
[xxiii] There were many inlets from the bay that pushed far inland. The Kanda River once flowed out into the bay before the Tokugawa Shōgunate re-routed it into something closer to its modern course.
[xxiv] There are three major ancient shrines in Kōbe, not all of them near the bay. But apparently the area where Ikuta Shrine is located was home to a handful of other shrines as well.
[xxv] One idea being that as the land was reclaimed for agriculture and the sea retreated, the kanji 戸 to door was replaced with 田 ta/da field. But, I’m not going to lie, I think this is a stretch.
[xxvi] Usually rice, but sometimes wheat.
[xxvii] The place is called 神田美土代町 Kanda Mitoshiro-chō today, and I’m thinking about covering that place name next time.
[xxviii] WTF is a mōra? Glad you asked!
[xxix] This translation is mine. I might also render it as “lords of the kanda,” or “overseers of the kanda.”
[xxx] In modern 島根県 Shimane-ken Shimane Prefecture.
[xxxi] This word usually appears as and 身体/ kaɾada and usually just means “body.” The kanji listed above is specifically for dead bodies and has a ghostly or spectral connotation.
[xxxii] WTF is a mōra? Glad you asked!
[xxxiii] In the west of Japan…
[xxxiv] In the east of Japan…
[xxxv] The primary examples are family names like Kanbe (rather than Kōbe), and 一戸 Ichinohe, 二戸 Ninohe, and 三戸 Sannohe – Tōhoku place/family names that literally mean “first door,” “second door,” third door,” and so on…
[xxxvi] If you take this position, you have to deal with some evidence that might not be so clear at first. One, the name Kanda no Miya doesn’t appear in records until the Heian Period. Two, the Ōtomo clan’s peak was in the 5th century. By the 700’s when Kanda no Miya was established they were in steady decline. In fact, they disappear from the historical record in about 940. It’s not hard to understand why branch families would have seen using new names as wise political moves.
[xxxvii] In short, once the imperial court had consolidated power, it adopted and promulgated a Chinese socio-political framework. It held for a while, but as Japanese culture and society was different from that of China, it slowly broke down. During this breakdown, power vacuums came to be filled by samurai. This trend continued until the samurai class took power in the Kamakura Period.

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