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What does Tennōzu Isle mean?

In Japanese History on April 8, 2020 at 8:46 am

天王洲 I S L E
Tennōzu Isle (island of the sandbar of the heavenly king)

So, COVID-19 is Still a Thing

I hope everyone is staying at home as much as possible. Deaths worldwide are up 13,000 since the last article. Yeah, so… you know what? Today we’re going to look at a popular man-made island in 東京湾 Tōkyō Wan Tōkyō Bay that is connected to a 神 kami god who has the power to protect mankind from disease epidemics. So, how ya like dem apples, Corona-chan?

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Tennozu Isle at dusk

Tennōzu Isle

It’s dusk, on a hot summer’s eve and you’re strolling along a fashionable boardwalk on a rectangular man-made island. Couples and families bounce in and out of the galleries, restaurants, and creative spaces that line the boulevard as bridges tower overhead. Enjoying the sea breeze in the wind, you pause to take in the flittering lights that dance across the waterfront. It doesn’t seem so hot anymore. The salt water in the wind soothes you. Looking down to where the sea splashes up against the land, you spot something familiar – something old. Everything fades into the background as you squint to get a better look at… yes, yes, you can see them clearly now. This is the only thing that matters now.

Edo muthafuckin’ Period stone walls, bitch. Focused on what must be done now, you grunt with satisfaction and begin rolling up your sleeves and hock a loogie into water. A seagull perched on a rooftop above inhales deeply, opens its beak wide, and releases a single stream of fire writhing like a whip. You growl to the stone walls, “Oh yeah, baby. You ready for this? You think you’re ready? You better be. That’s right. You know you love it. It’s time to get nerrrrrdy. Awwwwwwww yeah.”

The seagull flies away aaaaaaaaaaaand… SCENE!

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First Let’s Look at the Kanji


ten, ama/ame

heaven, sky


ō

king

[i]
su, –zu

sandbar, mid-ocean sandbank

Today’s place name is a combination of two words: 天王 tennō heavenly king and 洲 su sandbar. It has a spiritual connotation which could better be translated as “sandbank sacred to the heavenly king.” In this case, the heavenly king is a reference to 牛頭天王 Gozu Tennō – a syncretic deity with Shintō, Buddhist, and Hindi aspects[ii]. He is the god of plagues, pestilence, and pandemics, who has the power to bring epidemic destruction as well as take it away and protect from it. Soon after the importation of this Indian deity through Buddhism, the Japanese came to equate him with the kami of storms and seas, 須佐之男命 Susano’o no Mikoto. The center of Gozu Tennō worship is 八坂神社 Yasaka Jinja Yasaka Shrine in 京都 Kyōto.

Obviously, Tennōzu Isle glaringly includes an English word. In Japanese, island is shima/-jima and so theoretically we could’ve gotten *天王() *Tennō(zu)jima Tennōzu Island, but let’s face it. That sounds dumb. So, the cool English word “isle” is used in ローマ字 rōma-ji romanization rather than 片仮名 katakana the simplified syllabary, which would be アイル airu. Also, the area is officially known as 天王洲 I S L E, but at the train station name is written only in Japanese characters as 天王洲アイル.

Anyways, the keen reader has probably figured out that water is pretty important to this story. We’ve got the sandbar in the middle of the ocean, a mashup kami who deals with the seas, and a reference to an island. Keep the water theme in the back of your mind.

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Tennozu Isle during the Bakumatsu

The Etymology

Before any artificial islands were built here, there was a large sandbar formed by the accumulation of sediment. It was well known by fisherman who worked in 江戸湾 Edo Wan Edo Bay for centuries.

The story goes that one day in 1751, a fisherman cast his nets across the sandbank, but when he tried to pull it back aboard, there was something heavy weighing it down. He soon realized that he had caught a wooden carving of the face of Gozu Tennō. Realizing that this was “miracle” – which was a more common occurrence than you’d think[iii] – the people began referring to this place as Tennō’s Sandbar. The people of 品川 Shinagawa gathered round and took the sacred object up the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River to 荏原神社 Ebara Jinja Ebara Shrine which protected all of 荏原国 Ebara no Kuni Ebara Province. Gozu was enshrined as Susan’o and came to be worshipped as a triune kami. Furthermore, the locals began celebrating 天王洲祭 Tennōzu Matsuri Tennōzu Festival every spring by parading 御神輿 o-mikoshi portable shrines decorated with the 神面 shinmen sacred visage of Gozu Tennō down to the bay. There, in a rite called 海上渡御 kaijō togyo[iv] they would return him to the sandbar whence he arose to present himself to the good people of Shinagawa.

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Notice the divine face on this portable shrine.

It’s a good story and I suppose it does a decent job of explaining the etymology of this place name. Except, according to Ebara Shrine itself, Gozu Tennō was enshrined as Susano’o all the way back in the Kamakura Period – June 19th, 1247, to be precise. Priests at Yasaka Shrine[v] in Kyōto perfumed a ritual called 勧請 kanjō and split the spirit of Gozu Tennō and sent it all the way across the country to Ebara Shrine. That’s about 500 years before the Edo Period story I just told you!

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Gozu Tenno

So Which is Correct?

Who the fuck knows? But clearly, there’s a strong association between Ebara Shrine and the sea and the local people who make a living off the bay – and I suspect that has to do with the sea god aspect of Gozu Tennō. In the 1200’s, the villages around Edo experienced a boom, so it makes sense that with a little finagling and a little help from the Minamoto court in Kamakura, the shrine could convince the priests of Yasaka Shrine to share a bit of their juju with Shinagawa, both areas were now fairly connected via the 古東海道 Ko-Tōkaidō ancient Tōkaidō trail[vi].

By the Edo Period, Shinagawa was home to the busiest and most prestigious post town on the shōgunate’s most prominent highway. Even to this day, the modern road is littered with temples and shrines once made rich by travelers coming and leaving the bustling capital. It isn’t hard to imagine an overly zealous Ebara Shrine priest taking a boat out one moonless night in 1751, then tossing a wooden carving of Gozu Tennō’s face into the shallow waters covering the sandbar in hopes that some dumb ass fisherman is gonna find it the next day and show it to the other mud-grubbing, low-tide-smelling lemmings of the village. Ebara Shrine would blow the fuck up over night. Every local, every traveler, every priest and monk from far and near would want to throw a few coins in the collection box just to get a look at the miracle face mask, know what I’m sayin’?

 

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Tennozu Isle today

 

From Baby Sandbar to Big Boy Island

Tennōzu was just a sandbar only known to fishermen for most of its history. Then in 1851, Commodore Perry arrived in Edo Bay demanding the shōgunate open up for trade and international relations. He gave them time think about it, vowing to return in a year to accept Japan’s agreement to his terms, or he would bombard the shōgun’s capital. Understandably, the government lost its collective shit and ordered the construction of 11 man-made islands to serve as 台場 daiba cannon batteries to prevent Perry’s 黒船 Kurofune Black Ships from getting to close to the city. The government chose Tennō’s Sandbar as the most efficient spot to build 第四台場 dai-yon daiba Battery #4. Work was completed in 1853, but a fire broke out and burned down the wooden structures. The shōgunate abandoned the island, its stone sea walls being the only indicator that it had once been an artificial island, much less a sandbar.

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Oaki Daiba in the Taisho Period. You can see the factory buildings.

In 1873 (Meiji 6), a shipbuilder named 緒明菊三郎 Oaki Kikusaburō bought former Daiba #4  and renamed it 緒明台場 Oaki Daiba. Then, with a little investment by the 中将 chūjō vice-admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 榎本武揚 Enomoto Takoyaki[vii], a pro-Tokugawa loyalist turned Meiji statesman, he began expanding the island to use as a shipyard. Kikusaburō made a killing building boats, and the island was still is use during 日清戦争 Nisshin Sensō the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895; Meiji 28-28) and 日露戦争 Nichiro Sensō the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905; Meiji 37-38).

From 1925-1939, further land reclamation projects expanded the island ever more. Although no longer used as a shipyard, the site became home to bayside factories, warehouses, and distribution centers. This changed the look of the former sandbar and daiba forever. The former nickname, Oaki Daiba was gradually forgotten and the traditional name Tennōzu came back into use.

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Edo Period stone walls. Awwww yeah.

Fast forward to about 1985, a group of 22 landholders designed the diabolical 東品川二丁目マスタープラン Higashi-Shinagawa Ni-chōme Masutā Puran Master Plan for the 2nd Block of East Shinagawa[viii]. It included a plan to redevelop the area as a stylish boardwalk with a waterfront view, including a new station for the super-spiffy 東京モノレール Tōkyō Monorēru Tōkyō Monorail. It’s during this expansion that the island took its final, rectangular shape which can still be seen today. Two sides (the northwest corner) of the former pentagonal daiba are still visible, this is where you can see the Edo Period seawalls.

The developers thought Higashi-Shinagawa 2-chōme was too long and re-christened the project 天王洲I S L Eマスタープラン Tennōzu Airu Masutā Puran the Tennōzu Isle Master Plan. Now, remember, this was the height of the Bubble Economy, and one of many fads at the time was studying English just because it was popular. Suddenly, 和製英語 wasei eigo Japanese English meant to be understood by Japanese speakers only began popping up everywhere. This place name is a product of that fad. Tennōzu Isle sounded like Tennō’s Isle and rolled off the tongue easier than Tennōzu-jima (both “Tennō’s Island”) [ix], but it looked foreign and exotic – perfect for a population of passively English-literate Tōkyōites with money burning holes in their pockets.

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kaijo togyo

To this day, Ebara Shrine celebrates the Tennōzu Festival and local worshippers still perform the kaijō togyo ritual, returning the Oxhead Heavenly King to the sandbar he first appeared at. This tradition is said to protect the area from floods, hurricanes, and most importantly for us, massive epidemic outbreaks.

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I hope you found this bite-sized JapanThis! article informative. I tried to avoid as many rabbit holes as possible, and I hope I’ve succeeded. We’re not out of the dark on this coronavirus bullshit yet, so please stay home, wash your hands, and stay six-feet apart from everyone. Call your loved ones and take care of yourself. Also, if you see a fire breathing seagull, get the hell away from it.

 

Further Reading:

 

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[i] This is an older kanji still used in place names or to seem old timey. Modern Japanese tends to use , but this kanji can also mean “state” or “province,” so the older kanji is good for clarity in place names.
[ii] Gozu literally means “ox head” and is probably a reference to Mt. Oxhead in Southern India.
[iii] Longtime readers will remember all the other time people were just finding random Buddhist statues in the water. It’s a pretty hilarious trope. I can picture monks whose temples are lacking funds, dumping statues in the water to create “miracles” and drum up a little business for themselves.
[iv] Transferring a sacred object to the sea.
[v] Also known as 祇園神社 Gion Jinja Gion Shrine.
[vi] I use Ancient Tōkaidō and 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō former Tōkaidō (“old Tōkaidō”) to distinguish between the very well organized and regulated Edo Period highway. Ancient refers to the road as it slowly developed over centuries.
[vii] OK, ya got me! He’s real name is Enomoto Takeaki. You can read more about him here.
[viii] Well, let’s be honest. It wasn’t actually diabolical.
[ix] Though, the more natural Tennō-jima doesn’t sound bad. Just doesn’t pop like the Japanese/English hybrid.

What does Miyakezaka mean?

In Japanese History on April 6, 2020 at 7:22 am

三宅坂
Miyake-zaka (three house hill; more at “Miyake Slope”)

9B6A2F2F-DED9-41B9-BB2D-E08B1C631915

A bar at Narita International Airport, empty due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Welcome to COVID-19, Bitches

Well, well, well. What do we have here? It seems we’re in the middle of a global freaking pandemic and people are locked up at home just drinking themselves to death[i] watching Netflix and bitching about the government on Facefook. Many writers, musicians, and dorky j-vloggers are taking advantage of the self-isolation requirements by churning out as much content as possible because… hey, who knows when you’ll have this much time off work again? Hopefully, most of you are getting in some quality reading time.

I’d like to take advantage of this opportunity, but my computer, my notes, and books are in Japan and, sadly, I am in the US until this whole thing dies down and I can actually get back to Tōkyō. All I have with me is an iPad, which is hardly conducive to my usual workflow. However, rather than doing my typical deep dives into Edo-Tōkyō places, I’ve chosen a few topics that I can write brief articles about over the coming weeks. Once this is all beyond us and we’re laughing with our friends about “Oh, remember that time when Wuhan Love™️ crashed the global economy and put us all out of work and 70,000[ii] people died? Wow, wasn’t that some shit?” Have no fear, if things come up that require deep dives, I think we can probably spin off some peripheral topics when this all dies down, or maybe in smaller, more concise article in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I apologize for the brevity of these bite sized articles, but I’ll try to keep them educational and entertaining.

道玄坂

Miyakezaka as it looks today. (Spoilers: it’s a hill!)

Miyakezaka

Miyakezaka is a hill in 東京都千代田区 Tōkyō-to Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis near 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle[iii]. It essentially runs from 永田町 Nagatachō[iv] to 国立劇場 Kokuritsu Gekijō the National Theater, which means this is some pretty prime real estate. It’s a short walk to one of the castle’s more infamous gates, which will get to in a bit.

I should mention here that in the Edo Period, Miyakezaka was lined with two distinct types of trees and so it had two additional nicknames which we won’t get into today[v]. Those were: 皀坂 Saikachizaka Gleditsia Hill[vi] and 柏之木坂 Kashinokizaka Kashi Tree Hill[vii].

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Saikachi tree pod 🧐

Let’s Look at the Kanji


san; mi

three


taku; yake

house/houses


saka, –zaka; han

hill, slope

This is essentially a compound word made by combining a family name 三宅 Miyake Miyake[viii] and the topography word 坂 saka hill.

As I mentioned before, this slope is located next to the castle. In fact, it’s right next to the 内堀 uchibori inner moat which separated the shōgun’s citadel from the palaces of his most loyal retainers, the 譜代大名 fudai daimyō, the hereditary lords whose ancestors had supported the 徳川家 Tokugawa-ke Tokugawa clan during the 関ヶ原の戦い Sekigahara no Tatakai Battle of Sekigahara in 1600[ix]. At the very top of the hill was a modest palace: 田原三宅家上屋敷 Tawara Miyake-ke kami-yashiki the upper residence of the Tawara Miyake clan.

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The Miyake clan upper residence is in the center of the map (you can see Miyakezaka Syo Park written inside the compound).

The Miyake Clan?

Yeah, yeah. I’d never heard of them either. And seems that as far as nobility goes, they’re pretty damn forgettable. They were based in 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province, modern 愛知県 Aichi-ken Aichi Prefecture. Allegedly, the clan traces their origins to the imperial court of the 1400’s, but they really didn’t come into their own until the 16th century. They had a long running – and often violent – rivalry with their neighbors, 松平家 Matsudaira-ke the Matsudaira clan. And for those of you who have forgotten, in 1568, a certain 松平元康 Matsudaira Motoyasu established his own family line and changed his name to 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Yes. That Ieyasu.

Anyhoo, the rivalry between the Miyake and Matsudaira came to end in 1558 when 三宅政貞 Miyake Masasada and his son 三宅康貞 Miyake Yasumasa became retainers of Tokugawa Ieyasu. In fact, the 康 yasu[x] is Yasumasa’s name was given to him by Ieyasu when the boy came of age. He served his lord well as a general and fought with the Tokugawa in two very important battles. One, 姉川の戦い Anegawa no Tatakai the Battle of Anegawa[xi] in 1570, and two, 長篠の戦い Nagashino no Tatakai the Battle of Nagashino in 1575. While loyal retainers of the Tokugawa, it does not seem like they participated in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. When Ieyasu gave up his former holdings and set up his power base in Edo, his Mikawa retainers and generals came with him, this would include the Miyake. This is just conjecture, bought perhaps Ieyasu wanted loyal men to protect his new capital during the Sekigahara campaign, you know… just in case.

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Tawara Castle in Aichi Prefecture, castle of the Miyake clan

At any rate, in 1603, Ieyasu received the title 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun (ie: shōgun) and began dividing up his 天下 tenka realm into 藩 han domains. He allocated 挙母藩 Koromo Han Koromo Domain in modern 愛知県豊田市 Aichi-ken Toyota-shi Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture to the Miyake, which was valued at 一万石 ichiman koku 10,000 koku[xii] and appointed Yasusada as the first hereditary daimyō of that fief under Tokugawa hegemony.

The family must have played its cards right, because in 1615, they were given a promotion – I assume this means they provided some service during 大坂夏の陣 Ōsaka Natsu no Jin the Siege of Ōsaka (summer campaign)[xiii]. I say this because they were promoted and given control over the prosperous fief of 亀山藩 Kameyama Han Kameyama Domain in 伊勢国 Ise no Kuni Ise Province, which is located in modern 三重県亀山市 Mie-ken Kameyama-shi Kameyama City, Mie Prefecture. This domain was valued at 二万石 niman koku 20,000 koku – double their previous worth!

However, fifty years later. Bruh. Somebody dropped the ball big time. The family was demoted in rank and sent to 三河国田原藩 Mikawa no Kuni Tawara Han Tawara Domain, Mikawa Province in present day 愛知県田原市 Aichi-ken Tawara-shi Tawara City, Aichi Prefecture[xiv]. This field was only valued at a measly 一万二千石 ichiman nisen koku 12,000 koku. It’s 2000 koku better than where they started, but, c’mon dawg[xv]. From 1644 until 1873 (Meiji 3), the Miyake would hold on tight to these lands in their ancestral Mikawa for the rest of the Edo Period.

933FE984-BB31-49AE-8731-065722A8C147

The modest Miyake residence, the sprawling Ii palace, and the Sakurada Gate

The End of an Era

As for their palace on the top of Miyakezaka, it was located next to one of the most prestigious mansions on the grounds of Edo Castle – 彦根井伊家上屋敷 Hikone Ii-ke kami-yashiki the upper residence of the Ii clan of Hikone Domain. This clan had served Tokugawa Ieyasu well in the Battle of Sekigahara and ever since had been among the most elite and loyal fudai daimyō families. In the final days of the shōgunate, the shōgunal regent, 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke, wisely ordered the country to slowly open and trade with the technologically advanced western powers in order to procure weapons and military strategies to protect the country from being overrun and bled dry by imperialism like all the rest of Asia. Some samurai disagreed with this policy and turned to terrorism in order to get their way. On March 24, 1860, they assassinated Ii Naosuke as he proceeded from his palace to the castle. Because he was killed in front of the 桜田御門 Sakurada Go-mon Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle, this event was called 桜田門外の変 Sakuradamon-gai no Hen the Sakuradamon Incident. The gate still stands today, not too far from Miyakezaka.

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How the Miyake estate looks today. Compare it to the Edo Period map under “Let’s Look at the Kanji.” You can see the Miyakezaka Syo Park label.

When the domain system was abolished, all the lords were sent back to their lands and the majority of palaces were demolished. The palaces of the Miyake and Ii clans were torn down and the Meiji government used these spaces as the new home of 大日本帝国陸軍 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun the Imperial Japanese Army until 1941. At this time, they were considered too close to the castle, so operations were moved out to 市ヶ谷 Ichigaya.

Today there is a park called 三宅小公園 Miyake Shōkōen Miyake Small Park and 三宅坂交差点 Miyakezaka Kōsaten Miyakezaka Junction[xvi] that some of you fancy car-drivin’ types might like[xvii]. But for the most part, the hill is just a memory in the minds of local history nerds.

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Miyakezaka Small Park commemorated the birthplace of bakumatsu era painter Watanabe Kazan who liked western art and committed seppuku in Tawara.

Epilogue

Well, I think I succeeded in crafting a bite-sized article for the first time in years. At this pace, I think I can bang out a few more until all this craziness dies down. Definitely could’ve gone way deeper, but here we are, huh? Anyways, I know this pandemic thing is cramping people’s lifestyles, costing people their incomes and jobs, and generally causing a real sense of unease and fear[xviii]. Oh, and it’s killing people. Let’s not forget that. Stay home. Call loved ones. Wash your hands. Stay six feet apart. Don’t smoke all your weed in one week. And most of all, be safe.

I’ll see you soon.

Further Reading:

 

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[i] Because I know most of you blew through your cocaine stash the first week of lockdown.
[ii] The number as of the time this article was being written. Frighteningly, this will definitely go up by the time the next article is published.
[iii] The current 皇居 Kōkyo Imperial Palace (but we don’t use that word around here).
[iv] Home of 国会議事堂 Kokkai Gijidō the National Diet, ie: Parliament.
[v] In 岡山県 Okyama-ken Okayama Prefecture, this family name is usually spelled with 御 go-/o-/mi– honorable/divine instead of 三 san/mi– three, ie: 御宅 Miyake. This spelling variance occurs with many ancient names (family names, temple/shrine names, place names, etc).
[vi] This is the battle from which the first shōgun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, emerged as the dē factō ruler of Japan.
[vii] Because it’s boooooooooring.
[viii] Gleditsia is also known as Japanese honey locust, if that means anything to you.
[ix] Kashi refers to a family of trees called Fagaceæ which is common in the Kantō area, if that means anything to you.
[x] The kanji means “peaceful.”
[xi] Or, the Battle of the Ane River.
[xii] One koku is considered enough rice to feed an adult male for a year.
[xiii] However, a quick search through the interwebs doesn’t show the name Miyake on any list of generals at the siege. If you know something I don’t, please let me know!
[xiv] Nobody knows where the fuck this place is. JK, actually, nobody wants to know where it is.
[xv] I couldn’t find anything to explain why the clan was demoted and moved, but this happened during the reign of the third shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu, which sets off all sorts of alarms in my head. Iemitsu was notorious for making 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers and low ranking daimyō his lovers and fast tracking them to really prestigious ranks, then when he got bored with his boy toys, he demoted them and humiliated them. What a bitch.
[xvi] This marks the junction of National Route 20 and National Route 246.
[xvii] Why the fuck would you drive in Tōkyō??
[xviii] And let’s be honest, a lot of boredom.

What does Jinnan mean?

In Japanese History on March 9, 2020 at 4:52 pm

神南
Jinnan (southern spirit; more at “south of the shrine”)

jinnan shibuya
Last time, we explored 宇田川町 Udagawa-chō Udagawa-chō which is located in 渋谷 Shibuya Shibuya. One of the points I hoped to start to convey is that place names in 東京 Tōkyō Tōkyō are far more complicated than you’d think at an initial glance. When most people say “Shibuya,” they could be referring to the train station and its immediate surroundings. That said, they could also be referring to the larger administrative district known as 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward. You’ve probably never heard anyone refer to Udagawachō or 神南 Jinnan Jinnan, yet people living in Shibuya will probably recognize these place names, even if they don’t use them regularly. But lucky for you, we’re going to do a deep dive into the real Shibuya.

Just a quick refresher on your Edo-Tōkyō history. When we get this far west, we’re talking about an area that was straight up rice paddies as far as the eye could see – suburban at best. The area had two major influxes. The first was after the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. The second was after Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945. I like driving this point home again and again because today, Shibuya is a straight up city center. 70 years ago, things would’ve been very different. 100 years ago… whoa, even more different. 150 years ago, you’d just see farmers.

Further Reading:

shibuya magnet 109 mens

109 Mens/Shibuya Magnet

Let’s Look at the Kanji


kami; kan, ; shin/jin

kami (a supernatural being; diety) worshipped at a shrine;
the Japanese emperor (under the system of “State Shintō” – roughly 1868-1945)


minami; nan

south

Now that we know the kanji, I can give you the TL;DR explanation. Jinnan simply means “south of the shrine.” Knowing that the first character can be a reference to the emperor, particularly between 1868 and 1945, I think some of you familiar with Shibuya Ward probably have an idea where this is going. For those of you who don’t and those of you who want to know the whole story, let’s dig into it.

jinnan kafe

Jinnan Cafe in Shibuya

Once Upon a Shrine

In 1868, the last shogun 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu relinquished control of his capital 江戸 Edo Edo and his seat of government 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. The recently ascended 明治天皇 Meiji Tennō Meiji Emperor made the long journey from his palace in 京 Kyō the “Capital”[i] to Edo, which was soon renamed 東京 Tōkyō the “Eastern Capital.” As we all know, this was the beginning of the 明治時代 Meiji Jidai Meiji Period. This emperor reigned for a unusually long time – more than 40 years! – which saw Japan transform itself from an isolated “feudal” society into a “westernized” industrial society asserting itself on the global stage by creating a “western style” empire in East Asia[ii]. While the rest of Asia was being overrun by western imperialist powers, Japan had a lot to be proud of. It was a success story in a part of the world that to this day has many countries that are still “developing.”[iii]

Emperor Meiji Dammit

The Meiji Emperor during a fit of constipation

Then the unthinkable happened. Around midnight on July 29th, 1912 (Meiji 44)[iv] at the age of 59[v], the Meiji Emperor left this mortal coil for the first (and last) time. Not only were his wife, 昭憲皇后 Shōken Kōgō Empress Shōken[vi], and his five official concubines[vii] heartbroken, but an entire nation went into mourning. Afterall, this was a descendant of 天照大御神 Amaterasu-no-Ōkami the sun goddess. He had presided over an unprecedented social, economic, political, and technological revolution. People who remembered the final days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate were geriatrics – and there weren’t many of them left, to be sure. Under the leadership of the first “hands on” emperor[viii] in almost a thousand years, Japan had reinvented itself and its society. The institution of the Chrysanthemum Throne was exalted in religious terms that rejected Buddhism as a foreign religion adopted by the samurai of past and placed the emperor at the head of Japan’s native spiritual cults under the banner something we now call 国家神道 Kokka Shintō State Shintō[ix]. The death of the Meiji Emperor was so traumatic, that one of his top generals, 野木丸介 Nogi Marusuke Nogi Marusuke, forced is wife to “commit suicide” before he killed himself in an act of 殉死 junshi following one’s lord to the grave.

Further Reading:

Emperor Meiji Grave

Emperor Meiji’s burial mound in Kyōto

Establishment of Meiji Shrine

Although the Meiji Emperor died in 1912 and his empress in 1914, no major shrine was erected immediately following their passing. They were interred in a Shintō-style burial mound, reminiscent of 古墳 kofun kofun[x], in Kyōto where emperors had been buried since the Heian Period. Because of empire building and the subsequent foreign wars that came along with all that and the massive tragedy of the Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923, the government had a full plate, so building a major shrine in Tōkyō was put on the backburner.

However, things started to settle down a bit, and in 1915, the government chose an iris garden on the grounds of the former suburban palace of 井伊家 Ii-ke the Ii clan[xi] to build a sprawling shrine complex to honor the emperor and his empress[xii]. The imperial couple loved this garden and so the site had been chosen way back in 1912. Wars and whatnot kept the pace slow, but the shittiest architect Japan ever produced, 伊藤忠太 Itō Chūta Itō Chūta[xiii], finished the main hall of 明治神宮 Meiji Jingū Meiji Imperial Shrine in 1920. The government formally dedicated the space in 1920 and all construction was completed in 1921. The space was opened to the public in 1926 and the state bestowed upon it the title of 官幣大社 kanpei taisha, basically Government Shrine #1 (ie; officially this was the most important Shintō shrine in the country even though way more ancient shrines had existed for millennia).

meiji imperial shrine harajuku

Of course, in 1945, the Americans fire bombed Tōkyō back into the stone age and the shrine was lost. Sadly, it took about 13 years to rebuild the shrine, but in 1958, the current iteration of the shrine was complete. So yeah, for you tourists coming to Tōkyō for the first time, this isn’t an ancient shrine. It’s from the 1920’s, but what you’re looking at is from the 1950’s and… well, it’s still an important shrine. It’s just really modern as far as “important shrines” go[xiv].

Further Reading:

map shibuya jinnan romaji

That’s Cool and All, But I Thought We were Talking about Jinnan…

We’re are definitely talking about Jinnan. So, settle the fuck down, OK? I just wanted to give y’all some context, dammit. You know, because the rest of the story isn’t very interesting, to be completely honest. From here on out, it’s just bureaucratic mumbo jumbo. That said, it’s how we have to wrap this story up.

As I mentioned, Meiji Shrine opened in 1926, but there was a major administrative shake up in 1928. This area used to be called 東京府豊多摩郡渋谷町 Tōkyō-fu Toyotama-gun Shibuya Machi Shibuya Town, Toyotama District, Tōkyō Prefecture[xv]. A huge swath of that district was made up of the areas formerly known as of 前耕地 Maekōchi Maekōchi, 豊沢 Toyosawa Toyosawa, 宇田川 Udagawa Udagawa, and 深町 Fukamachi Fukamachi which were merged and the new area was named 神南町 Kannami-chō Kannami-chō which literally means “the town south of the shrine.” Careful observers will notice that Kannami uses the same kanji as Jinnan.

toyosawa kaizuka shell mound

Toyosawa Kaizuka – a Jōmon Period shell mound in Shibuya Ward.

Fast forward to 1963, Japan establishes the precursor to the modern postal code system. Long time readers of JapanThis! will be familiar with the effect this law has had on local place names. The first thing that happened is that Kannami-chō was divided up into three new administrative districts: 神山町 Kamiyama-chō Kamiyama-chō which means “shrine hill,” 神宮前 Jingūmae Jingūmae which means “in front of the shrine,” and 渋谷区神南一丁目神南二丁目 Shibuya-ku Kannami itchōme/nichōme 1st and 2nd blocks of Kannami, Shibuya Ward.

Fast forward to 1970, Shibuya Ward declares that Kannami shall henceforth be read as Jinnan. But why? You see, in 1946, sweeping orthographic reforms[xvi] were applied to the Japanese language. One of the most important aspects of this was the establishment of 当用漢字 tōyō kanji, an official list of 1,850 general use characters[xvii]. Basically, to be considered literate, you needed to know all these characters. One aspect of these reforms was to eliminate irregular readings of kanji. Basically, they wanted to simplify things for the benefit of public literacy. As Japan’s economy transformed from agriculture to manufacturing, having everyone on same proverbial page as quickly as possible was imperative. It took seven years to do anything about it, but eventually Kannami had to change because it was a flagrant example of irregular kanji reading under the tōyō kanji prescriptions which weren’t just suggestions but actual law. I mean, nobody was going to go to jail for irregular kanji use, but a city ward in the capital wouldn’t be setting a good example if it just endorsed wacky place name, right?

Now, this wasn’t just pedantry by fiat. There’s an interesting logic behind this name change. Meiji Shrine uses the word jingū (grand shrine; imperial shrine). The area in front of the shrine is called Jingūmae, and so Jinnan fits the naming pattern nicely. The name is easier to read, easier to remember, and the ward can wrap this linguistic package up nicely with a tidy little bow.

yoyogi park greasers

“Greasers” dancing in Yoyogi Park. They have great taste in shoes, but terrible taste in music lol

Heart of Shibuya

I mentioned in my last article on Udagawa-chō that anyone who has ever visited Shibuya had most definitely been in that neighborhood. I’m gonna go out on a limb and make the same claim about Jinnan. It’s right next to Udagawa-chō and so similar that unless you check the postal codes on buildings, you probably wouldn’t notice that you’d passed from one area to the other.

band maid tower records shibuya

Tower Records, Shibuya (Jinnan)

Jinnan is essentially a shopping and business district. As of 2017, its population was a whopping 576 people; most of the people you see around are either customers, tourists, or employees of some sort. In this respect, it’s very similar to Udagawa-chō. The area is home to OIOI Marui Marui Department Store, 109 Mens Ichi Maru Kyū Menzu 109 Mens Department Store, and タワーレコード Tawā Rekōdo Tower Records, the main hub for all things J-Pop and J-Rock.

photo by Arne Müseler / www.arne-mueseler.com

Yoyogi National Stadium

It’s not just shopping, though. NHK放送センター NHK Hōsō Sentā NHK Broadcast Center is in Jinnan. 代々木公園 Yoyogi Kōen is in Jinnan. Also, this is home to 国立代々木競技場 Kokuritsu Yoyogi Kyōgijō the Yoyogi National Gymnasium designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect, 丹下健三 Tange Kenzō Tange Kenzō[xviii], which served as the gymnasium and pool for the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics. Apparently, this facility will be used for handball, whatever the fuck that is, in the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics… that is, if they’re not cancelled because of the coronavirus. There are also a handful of businesses offering high-end sexual services, but unless you’re Japanese, these are probably off the table for you[xix].

Further Reading:

shibuya crossing intersection intersexion jinnan

In Conclusion

In conclusion, I’ve got nothing to say, really. Basically, Jinnan is just like Udagawa-chō. It’s what most people think of when they think of Shibuya: the shopping district right in front of Shibuya Station’s ハチ公口 Hachikō-guchi Hachikō Exit.

On a side note, I just noticed that my last article was number 333. That’s just half of 666!!! It’s taken a while to get there, and finally reaching the number of the beast[xx] will definitely take more time as my earliest articles were pretty short and cheesy. I do much more intensive research now. But, hey, here we are. Thanks for reading and sharing, and for those of you try to support the site financially when you can, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō With Me Japan This Guided Tours
(It’s not for tourists, it’s for history nerds!)

 


[i] Also known as 京都 Kyōto Kyōto – duh.
[ii] Yes, I know. Lots of “scare quotes” in that sentence, but that’s because I’m going to “breeze over” all the “nuance” required to “explain” that stuff because it really isn’t important to our “story” today.
[iii] There are those “scare quotes” again.
[iv] The official announcement was on July 30th, at 00:42 so this is the official day of his passing. However, he actually died on July 29th at 22:40. トメトトマト
[v] That’s 413 in dog years!!!
[vi] Her “real name” was 一条勝子 Ichijō Masako. How very Kyōto of her.
[vii] Dude had plenty of side bitches on the DL, too.
[viii] Again, “scare quotes.” How “hands on” the dude actually was… yeah, that’s a conversation for another time.
[ix] It should be said, “State Shintō” was a term created by the American Occupation as a way to erase the cult of “emperor worship.” The term was useful for discussing the need to include the Separation of Church and State in the new post-war constitution.
[x] Ancient burial mounds built between 250-550 CE, essentially the period that saw the consolidation of a “national polity” based around the Yamato clan (ie; the imperial family) before the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. Small versions of these mounds were popular during the Meiji Period among elites who wished to express their loyalty to the emperor. The last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, even requested that he not be buried with the other shōguns and given a Shintō-style grave.
[xi] Yes, the Ii clan. As in 井伊直正 Ii Naomasa Ii Naomasa, one of the first shōgun’s most trusted generals, and 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke Ii Naosuke, the shogunal regent who decided to end Japan’s isolationist policy, only to be assassinated by anti-foreigner terrorist from 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain in front of Edo Castles notorious 桜田御門 Sakurada Go-mon Sakurada Gate.
[xii] Not sure what happened to the concubines and side bitches. Maybe I’ll look into that some day for y’all.
[xiii] Long time readers will recognize this assclown as the architecture of 月島本願寺 Tsukishima Hongan-ji Tsukishima Hongan Temple which I included in this article.
[xiv] Whoa. There are those “scare quotes” again. Seems to be a theme today.
[xv] By the way, Toyotama District was a huuuuuuge area. It used to comprise: 内藤新宿町 Naitō Shinjuku Machi Naitō Shinjuku Town, 淀橋町 Yodobashi Machi Yodobashi Town, 大久保村 Ōkubō Mura Ōkubō Village, 戸塚村 Totsuka Mura Totsuka Village, 渋谷村 Shibuya Mura Shibuya Village, 千駄ヶ谷村 Sendagaya Mura Sendagaya Village, 中野宿 Nakano-shuku Nakano Post Town, 杉並村 Suginami Mura Suginami Village, 高井戸宿 Takaido-shuku Takaido Post Town. I’ve covered most of those place names, so place use the search function if you’re interested in following up on them.
[xvi] “Orthographic reforms” is just smart people talk for “spelling reforms.” Yes, I’m a smart person.
[xvii] In 1981, this system was updated to 常用漢字 jōyō kanji everyday use kanji which were the 1,945 characters in use when I moved to Japan. However, in 2010, the government increased jōyō kanji to 2,136 characters. For native speakers, this was no big deal, as many of these kanji had crept back into common usage anyway, but this was a pretty frustrating move for people studying Japanese for the first time. I mean, they literally made one of the biggest hurdles for most people, ie; kanji, even more intimidating.
[xviii] Even if you’re not into architecture, Tange is a giant in the field. Ever been to 広島平和記念公園 Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Kōen Hiroshima Peace Park? Yeah, he designed that. Dude is kind of a big deal.
[xix] I guarantee you that somebody is googling this now.
[xx] By the way, the so-called “number of the beast” (ie; 666) is the number you get when you add up Emperor Nero’s name in Ancient Greek.

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