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What does Meoto-bashi mean?

In Japanese History on October 26, 2019 at 3:20 pm

夫婦橋
Meoto-bashi (“lovers’ bridge,” more at “wedded couple’s bridge”)

meotobashi.jpg
I often get asked, “Marky, how do you find new place names?” Believe it or not, it’s just random. However, I’d say 80% of the time, I’m just riding a bus or train, and something jumps out and I wonder “why is this place called what it’s called?” That other 20% comes from just looking at random places on maps and wondering the same thing, “why is this place called what it’s called?” In today’s case, something really strange happened.

I’m an avid Pokemon GO player. As a result, the app discovers weird place names all the time. I was on the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line coming back to 東京 Tōkyō from 韓国 Kankoku Korea and I had the app open. En route, it found 夫婦橋 Meoto-bashi which I read as Fūfu-bashi. There must be a good story here, I thought.

musume

We’ll talk more about this grave later…

Let’s look at the Kanji


fu, , bu; otto, oto; sore
husband; man


fu; yome

wife, bride; woman


hashi, -bashi; kyō

bridge

夫婦 fūfu is the standard word for a married couple. Sometimes, you might be invited to a party with the phrase ご夫婦で来てください go-fūfu de kite kudasai please come with your spouse. Another common expression is 夫婦生活 fūfu seikatsu married life and 夫婦墓 fūfubaka[i] husband and wife shared grave[ii]. That last term can also be read as meotobaka. While meoto is a proper reading of the kanji, fūfu is far and away the more common pronunciation. In the case of this bridge, the correct reading is Meoto-bashi. That said, the meaning is exactly the same: married couple’s bridge.

open marriage
Where is Meoto-bashi?

That’s a good question, because I’d never heard of this bridge. But, as I said before, Pokemon GO found the location for me and I was just sitting on the train. A quick internet search sorted things out nicely. I soon learned that Meoto-bashi is located in 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward and spans the 平作川 Hirasaku-gawa Hirasaku River[iii] — essentially a three-minute walk from 京急蒲田駅 Keikyū Kamata Eki Keikyū Kamata Station. Nearby the bridge is 夫婦橋親水公園 Meoto-bashi Shinsui Kōen Meotobashi Riverside Park[iv]. Anyhoo, the bridge and the park are a 15-minute train ride from 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station.

Further Reading

sunamura-san

Grave of Sunamura Shinzaemon

Construction of Meoto-bashi

According to records, the first bridge to span the Hirasaku River in this area was built in 1667 by a local farmer named 砂村新左衛門 Sunamura Shinzaemon. When people hear the term farmer, they might think of some kind of country bumpkin peasant, but make no mistake about it, Shinzaemon was a very wealthy landholder and extremely well educated. Despite being a farmer according the class system of the day, it’s probably better to think of him as a pre-modern civil engineer[v].

edo period bridge

Typical, old Japanese bridge minus the mud surface.

The point of creating the bridge wasn’t only to get people from Point A to Point B, but also to create a 水門 suimon floodgate to prevent back current from 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay flowing against the river and flooding the riverside villages. An unexpected side effect of the floodgate was a buildup of silt that created a sand bar upon which another bridge was eventually built. Having two bridges so close together in what was literally the boonies was extremely rare and the people came to think of them as a pair, a married couple, if you will. The bridges seem very rustic when compared to the flashy wooden bridges of Edo that we all know and love from 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints of daily life in the Edo Period. In fact, an 1825 description of Meoto-bashi describes it as a rough, log bridge covered in dirt and mud[vi].

The current concrete bridge was built in 1954, and other than a major update in 1988, it remains unchanged.

meato bridge.jpg

Two Bridges.

A Married Couple. End of Story?

Nope. Not a chance.

Prior to Shinzaemon’s bridge/floodgate, apparently there had been bridges here before. We don’t have specific dates about their construction (remember, this was the boonies), but it’s fair to say there were bridges crossing the Hirasaku River in this area as far back as the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura Shōgunate – roughly 800 years ago, which is when Eastern Japan really began to take off. Because of the counter currents from the bay during typhoons and tropical storms[vii], these ancient bridges were often destroyed and washed away by nature’s temper tantrums.

A local legend persists among the old timers in the area. According to them, after a particularly brutal storm that ruined the bridge and devastated the villages along the Hirasaku River, the village headman called an assembly. In order to appease whatever kami deity was allowing these horrible things to happen to the people, it was decided that a sacrifice must be made. The most beautiful, unmarried girl of the village was chosen by the people. She was dressed in white garments[viii] and marched down to the riverbank where they had begun construction of a new bridge. The young girl was placed into the hole where the first pillar was to be inserted. Her family and the villagers said their farewells – presumably much crying ensued. And then they lowered the pillar into the slot, believing her sacrifice would preserve the safety and prosperity of the village and the bridge which was vital to their survival. This practice is called 人柱 hitobashira. It literally means “human pillar.”

emma ai

Whoa. Human Sacrifice?! Was That Really a Thing???!

Without archaeological evidence to back up certain famous claims of hitobashira, it’s hard to say definitively. However, records going back as far as the 700’s, including 日本書紀 Nihon Shoki The Chronicles of Japan, claim this sort of human sacrifice existed in 神道 Shintō the native religion. From time to time, you’ll hear ghost stories in Japan that say things like “underneath every beautiful cherry blossom tree lies a dead body” – often a samurai who fell in battle or committed 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide or a fair maiden who was sacrificed for the good of the village. In 地獄少女 Jigoku Shōjo Hell Girl, the only anime you need to watch[ix], the main character 閻魔愛 Enma Ai is condemned to her role of, um, condemning other people to “hell” after being selected by local villagers to be hitobashira to protect the village. Many Japanese castles have stories about retainers or local beauties being buried alive for the protection of the lord’s keep and therefore, the domain’s security. I sincerely hope these are just spooky stories, but there are a lot of them in the folklore and mythology in Japan, so I wipe a little tear from my eye while I say, this practice most definitely happened in some form or another.

hitobashira grave

Edo Period grave erected to commemorate the life of the young girl sacrificed for the sake of the village.

Happy Halloween

On that note, get your costumes ready. Go be spooky and sexxxy! Also, if you’re trying to get laid, you might want to leave this dark story out of your repertoire. That said, I have a few other Halloween-related articles you might like to share with a friend[x].

Further Reading

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[i] This word can get giggles because it also sounds like 夫婦馬鹿 fūfu, baka couples are stupid.
[ii] As uncomfortable as this may be for some, 夫婦ぶっかけ fūfu bukkake refers to couples who, um, get the bukkake treatment together or engage in cockhold bukkake play. Just trying to be thorough here, folks. This is research.
[iii] I’d never heard of this river before, but for those curious, it flows from 横須賀 Yokosuka in 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture to 東京湾 Tōkyō-wan Tōkyō Bay.
[iv] The official English name of the park is “riverside park.” However, the word 親水 shinsui parent water is sometimes translated as “hydrophilic” which means “water loving.” I don’t think there’s an equivalent English word, but the nuance is something like “next to the water” or “intimate with the water” and can be found in other Tōkyō parks that are located on rivers or sometimes have fountains powered by the nearby river.
[v] Also, just for reference, this part of Tōkyō was not part of Edo. It was just rice paddies and forests as far as the eye could see in 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province.
[vi] I’m going out on a limb an guessing that the dirt and mud was to make pulling carts across the bridge smoother, as logs would have been bumpy and could probably damage axels and goods.
[vii] And the lack of technological know how to combat back currents.
[viii] In Japan, white is a symbol of death. Corpses are dressed in white at funerals and samurai who performed 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment wore white.
[ix] My opinion. I don’t watch other anime.
[x] PS: Any English article you read on these topics was done after I did the research, so please don’t support those lazy “journalists.” You heard it hear first, my friends.

What does Aomonoyokochō mean?

In Japanese History on September 25, 2019 at 2:05 pm

青物横丁
Aomonoyokochō
(green things alley; more at greengrocers’ street)

_dsf6005

Peas in a pod, veggies in a basket. Welcome to Aomoyoko-chō.

One of the things that make exploring Edo-Tōkyō so fun is that every neighborhood is unique. If you’re in the center of the old city, wherever you are is surely surrounded by a few blocks of something different[i]. A term that comes up time and time again is 横丁 yokochō. The modern image of a yokochō is usually a very narrow, dirty, old alley in the 下町 shitamachi low city, but by my understanding, Aomonoyokochō was neither narrow nor dirty – even in the Edo Period. However, if you don’t mind, before we discuss the neighborhood, I’d like to get everyone acquainted with some terminology and concepts.

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei™ is ready to drop some knowledge.

Three Famous Yokochō in Tōkyō

Places called Yokochō had been a consistent attribute of the city until the Bubble Economy when Tōkyō’s government and a handful of prolific developers began reshaping the urban landscape. These unique neighborhoods were not just the first to go, but I would argue they’re the most widespread loss the city suffered since the firebombing during World War II. The few remaining alleys are cherished by Tōkyōites as ever-disappearing respites and escapes to a nostalgic “Old Tōkyō.”[ii] A few just popped into my head as I’m writing.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Omoide Yokocho

思い出横丁 Omoide Yokochō Memory Lane[iii]. Located in 新宿 Shinjuku, this alley is famous for its intimate, postwar style 焼鳥屋 yakitori grilled chicken joints[iv].

nonbeiyokocho

Nonbei Yokocho

のんべい横丁 Nonbei Yokochō Drunkards’ Alley. Located in 渋谷 Shibuya, this alley is also famous for its intimate, postwar style スナック sunakku counter service restaurants run by older women who ruthlessly cater to locals[v].

ebisu yokocho

Ebisu Yokocho

恵比寿横丁 Ebisu Yokochō. Located in 恵比寿 Ebisu, near Shibuya. So-so in my opinion, but to be perfectly honest, I haven’t spent much time there.

I haven’t explored these areas on JapanThis! because they aren’t particularly historic. However, you can make a good case that they are the three most famous of Tōkyō’s remaining yokochō. Of course, there are others, but I’m not going to repeat them here because I’d prefer keeping them lowkey and off TripAdvisor.[vi]

Anyways, if you didn’t know what a typical yokochō was, now you do. That means we can get on to the good stuff.

Further Reading:

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yaoya

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Let’s Look at the Kanji

青物
aomono

literally, green things;
an archaic/dialect term for fruits and vegetables

横丁
yokochō

alley, side street;
town/neighborhood off the main thoroughfare

You may have never heard of 青物横丁 Aomonoyokochō[vii] or the name the street’s local chamber of commerce pushes, あおよこ AOYOKO[viii], because it’s only accessible by a single train line, the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line. For tourists, it’s not a particular noteworthy area. There’s a KFC, a MOS Burger, and a handful of chain 居酒屋 izakaya Japanese style pubs. There are two well-stocked convenience stores, but it’s pretty nondescript. That said, what makes 青物横丁 Aomonoyokochō Green Grocer Town[ix] special is its name and its place in the Edo Period infrastructure of Japan[x]. Also, for the sake of this article, I’m going to use two distinct spellings: Aomonoyokochō refers to the area in general, Aomono Yokochō refers to the side street that connects to the old Tōkaidō highway. It’s a nuanced difference, so you probably don’t need to worry much about it, but the different renderings are intentional on my part.

_dsf6002

Drawing of Aomonoyokocho in 1918 by Takeuchi Shigeo. You can see the greengrocers in action.

Bear in mind, this area exists in 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa-shuku South Shinagawa Post Town on 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō the old Tōkaidō, the main pre-modern highway that connected the imperial court in Kyō Kyōto and 江戸 Edo Edo (modern day Tōkyō). This was the largest post town in the country[xi]. For travelers coming in and out of Edo, there were a plethora of necessities: food, lodging, drinking and whoring, new shoes, and お土産 omiyage souvenirs. That said, Shinagawa-shuku was so large and so highly trafficked that various local economies popped up to support the neighborhood people who likewise supported the mass influx and outflux of regional lords and their samurai entourages[xii]. In short, this Aomono Yokochō was the beating heart of Shinagawa.

Further Reading:

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1200px-Hiroshige02_shinagawa

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Let’s Look at Some More Kanji

野菜
yasai

the standard word for vegetables[xiii]

八百屋
yaoya

greengrocer, vegetable stand

Shinagawa-shuku was most famous for its seafood, seaweed, and a range of low-class prostitutes to a number of high-end courtesans and geisha[xiv]. Aomono Yokochō, being off the old highway, didn’t cater much to travelers. It provided necessary foodstuffs to local restaurants, brothels, and local fisherman who were probably just plain sick of seafood and wanted some fucking vegetables for a change, dammit.

edo period green grocer.jpg

An Edo Period green grocer would stock less and be a far cry from today’s supermarkets. Why? There was no refrigeration so if you couldn’t sell it, you ate it or took a financial hit.

Edo Period streets didn’t have names[xv] and presumably this one didn’t either, but it was well-known that locals called this street Aomono Yokochō. In fact, I’ve got a map here that has the street clearly labeled as such. The place name still isn’t official, it’s just 南品川三丁目 Minami Shinagawa Sanchōme 3rd Block of Minami Shinagawa[xvi]. However, the area surrounding Aomono Yokochō is called Aomonoyokochō because in Meiji 37 (1904), 青物横町駅 Aomonoyokochō Eki Aomonoyokochō Station was established. Today, the character chō town has been simplified to chō town. It had originally been a cable car stop between Shinagawa and Yokohama because it was a convenient spot for travelers commuting between both cities to pick up fresh vegetables and fish. The train just made the area even more convenient until the advent of supermarkets in the Post-War Period.

Aomonoyokocho Edo Period

The road following the coast is the old Tokaido. Two other streets form a triangle. The top street is Aomono Yokocho. The entire triangle is the neighborhood of Aomonoyokocho. This is an Edo Period Map.

If you follow the old Tōkaidō from 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station, the only two yokochō that remain are Aomonoyokochō and 立会川横丁 Tachiaigawa Yokochō , but if you pay attention to other side streets, you’ll find a myriad of plaques commemorating long since vanished yokochō – each one dedicated to a particular industry or class. If you’re a nerd like me, you can revel in imagining these neighborhoods of yore, but to be honest, even the locals just walk past them without even blinking an eye.

edo period green grocer 2

Edo Period green grocer

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No More Kanji. I Promise!
Let’s Look at the Neighborhood

“Hey, Marky, if I were to just get off the train and walk around this neighborhood, what would I see?”

The answer to this question depends on your imagination and level History Nerdiness[xvii]. I don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting any place I discuss on Japan This!. That said, the pay-off here would be low unless you walked from either 日本橋 Nihonbashi to 旧川崎宿 Kyū-Kawasaki-shuku Kawasaki Post Town or some shorter interval therein[xviii]. Without context, it just looks like a pretty average street in a somewhat obscure part of Tōkyō. That notwithstanding, if you take a long, methodical stroll through the old Shinagawa Post Town, you’ll notice immediately how wide this street is and how busy it is. When the post town system was abolished and the trains started running, this area was already well-established as the distribution point for fresh foodstuffs along the highway and its various neighborhoods. And, history nerds, take heed. If we’re talking about Shinagawa Post Town proper, this was the busiest neighborhood[xix]. To this day, it’s busy, just in a different way.

Would you like to take a look at what cool shit you can see in the area? I bet you do, so let’s get into it.

hiranoya aomonoyokocho shinagawa sun drug

Sun Drug, former site of Hiranoya

Hirano-ya

So, there area was famous for supplying food so it’s not surprising that a family-owned business became local rock stars. The most prosperous greengrocer in the area was a family run business established in 1800 called 平野屋 Hirano-ya, literally Shop Hirano[xx]. It stood at the corner of the old Tōkaidō and Aomono Yokochō. They became the dominant purveyors of vegetables and fish in the area until they eventually made the switch to the supermarket business model under the name フードマーケット平野屋  Fūdo Māketto Hirano Food Market Hirano. This grocery store operated for nearly 220 years until it went out of business in May 2018[xxi]. But man, 220 years is a pretty epic run!

[UPDATE: At the 2019 Shinagawa-shuku Matsuri, I noticed paper lanterns with the name Hirano-ya written on them, so the family is probably still running a business under that name, maybe just not brick and mortar.]

tatami matsuoka shinagawa

Tatami Matsuoka

tatami matsuoka inside

When I asked if I could take photos of tatami construction, this guy said “sure!” and gave me a tatami trivet. So cool!

Tatami Matsuoka

Another interesting shop in the area is 畳松岡 Tatami Matsuoka, a traditional tatami “factory.” This business was established in 1779 which makes it even older than the defunct Hirano-ya. Better yet, they’re still doing business which is even older and still operating. To top it all off, they are still working in a Taishō Era building that uses the original signage which displays the original post-war right to left spelling, so it actually reads 岡松畳. As if this business wasn’t old school enough, that kind of sign just adds to the authenticity. That said, this stretch of the old Tōkaidō is home to quite a few traditional tatami factories.

tenmyokokuji shinagawa

Tenmyōkoku-ji

Around the corner is 天妙国寺 Tenmyōkoku-ji Tenmyōkoku Temple which was founded in the Kamakura Period (1285, to be precise). It retains most of its sprawling Edo Period lands, but history nerds may be interested in two particular graves.

ito ittosai kagehisa grave

Ito Ittosai’s grave is on the left

The first is that of 伊東 一刀斎 Itō Ittōsai[xxii], a semi-legendary samurai who may have lived between 1560–1653. He’s attributed as the founder of 一刀流ittō-ryū the one sword/one stroke school of sword fighting[xxiii], hence his adopted first name. Being a branding master, he secured his legacy as one of Japan’s greatest swordsman – second only to the equally annoying and boring 宮本武蔵 Miyamoto Mushashi[xxiv].

matsuri sashichi grave

According to temple staff, the bell is Sashichi’s grave (the sign on the left is his posthumous name).

The second grave is a bit more obscure. That’s the tomb of お祭佐七 O-matsuri Sashichi, an important figure in the world of kabuki in the Late Edo Period and Early Meiji Period.

Location of the teahouse Kamaya, now long gone…

Kamaya

The former site of 釜屋 Kamaya is clearly demarcated but there aren’t any material remains… remaining. This teahouse/inn came to be used by the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate as back up for government officials during the 幕末 Bakumatsu final years of the shōgunate. In North Shinagawa, there was 本陣 honjin the main inn for feudal lords and in South Shinagawa there was the 脇本陣 waki-honjin sub-honjin used for lower ranking officials[xxv]. However, due to the high amount of traffic in and out of Edo, Kamaya was granted official status as a government patronized inn. In 1867 and 1868[xxvi], 土方歳三 Hijikata Toshizō vice-commander of the 新選組 Shinsengumi[xxvii] stayed here. It’s well-known that he was a womanizer and passionate fan of ye good olde drinking and whoring, so the locals still tell stories of him visiting teahouses in order to be introduced to the best prostitutes in Shinagawa[xxviii]. Also, Tom Cruise is fine and all, but many Japanese people will call Hijikata Toshizō the real “last samurai.”

pet cemetery in shinagawa.jpg

If praying for pets is your thing, or you’re a Steven King or Ramones fan, check out the pet cemetery in Aomonoyokocho.

I’ve covered quite a few place names in Shinagawa recently, so I think this will be the last for a while. That said, Aomonoyokochō is an interesting neighborhood to visit if you live in Shinagawa. I don’t know if I’d travel all the way across town just to look around. That said, if you want to take a walking tour of the entire post town with someone who knows it inside and out, I can do that. And Aomonoyokochō is a great place to pick up some cans of beer for the next stretch of the walk. If パチンコ pachinko is your thing, there’s that, too. I’ll probably just have a beer outside and play PokémonGO, though. Smokey pachinko is too stinko for me lol. On that note, I hope you enjoyed the article and I’ll see you next time!

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[i] At least, historically speaking.
[ii] Any way you want to take that term.
[iii] Or sometimes known as Piss Ally.
[iv] These days, it’s overrun by foreign tourists and many of the shops are no longer run by Japanese. The atmosphere is still good, but don’t be surprised if the owners and staff are Chinese or Korean. They still provide Japanese food, though. They’re smart and they know what foreigners who believe everything they see on TripAdvisor want. #FuckTripAdvisor.
[v] Also, thanks to TripAdvisor, attracting more foreign tourists and losing its cool.
[vi] TripAdvisor Ruins Everything. #FuckTripAdvisor
[vii] The street name was originally written as 青物横町 Aomonoyokochō. The new final character was simplified using a shorthand kanji that was easier to scan, but more notably was standard on maps in the capital since the early Edo Period.
[viii] I’ve seen this in print, but I’ve never heard locals use the word. They might, but I’ve never come across it. If you’re new to the Japanese language, many long words regularly get shortened. For example, あけましておめでとう akemashite omedetō happy nude year becomes あけおめ ake ome, while 今年もよろしく kotoshi mo yoroshiku happy nude year to you too becomes ことよろ koto yoro. These kinds of abbreviations sound cute, catchy, or funny and reflect a long-standing attribute of the language. At the time of writing, I just saw it written あをよこ a(w)oyoko which uses an outdated use of hiragana.
[ix] I’m being liberal with the translation here, but I think that’s a legit rendering. Also, locals hate the long name so they’ve abbreviated it to 青横 aoyoko. And good on them for doing so. Aomonoyokochō is a mouthful. Also, please note that the usual word these days for a greengrocer is 八百屋 yaoya.
[x] Which became the modern infrastructure of Tōkyō and the rest of Japan.
[xi] It was so large, in fact, that it was split into 北品川宿 and 南品川宿 and bled out for miles into the boonies. The Edo shōgunate considered Shinagawa as part of 荏原国 Ebara no Kuni Ebara Province. This area mostly fell under the administrative power of 大名 daimyō regional lords loyal to the Tokugawa Shōgunate and also to village headmen who… you know… oversaw villages.
[xii] Somewhere some dead traveling merchant or pilgrim is rolling in their urn screaming “but what about me?” And so, yeah. There were plenty of merchants and pilgrims traveling this road who were also staying overnight and drinking and whoring.
[xiii] ie; 青物 aomono = 野菜 yasai.
[xiv] Minus the prostitutes, dried versions of seafood and seaweed where prized souvenirs by people in the outer domains.
[xv] And for the most part Tōkyō streets don’t have names either.
[xvi] Minami means “south.”
[xvii] History Nerdiness by the way, is not a quantifiable term.
[xviii] Even at that, you’re not gonna see much….
[xix] Again, not for travelers, but for local businesses.
[xx] Hirano is the family name.
[xxi] It was replaced the same month by a chain pharmacy called サンドラッグ San Doraggu Sun Drug (which sounds more fun than it actually is lol).
[xxii] His real “first name” was 景久 Kagehisa.
[xxiii] Here’s the Wikipedia article on this style of swordsmanship.
[xxiv] Who is Miyamoto Musashi? Another branding expert who secured his legacy as a sort of archetypal samurai. Weebs love this guy.
[xxv] If the terms honjin and waki-honjin are new to you, check “further reading” sections at the beginning of this article.
[xxvi] The 1868 stay was after the defeat of shōgunate forces by the newly established imperial army at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. The Shinsengumi retreated to Edo (well, modern Chiba Prefecture, actually) in order to regroup and figure out the situation as the last shogun, 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu had voluntarily stepped down and transferred power to the imperial court in Kyōto. By this time, both 近藤勇 Kondō Isami commander of the Shinsengumi and Hijikata were 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shogun and should have been allowed to stay at the honjin or waki-honjin. Presumably, they were already booked by people who outranked them, or, in a problem that plagued both commanders for much of their adult lives, they were formerly 百姓 hyakushō farmers. Despite their samurai status and recently obtained honors, they were frequently discriminated against for having low family pedigree. That may explain why Hijikata didn’t stay in the honjin or waki-honjin. I’m not sure, though.
[xxvii] The Shinsengumi were an anti-terrorist police force that primarily operated in Kyōto on behalf of the Edo Shōgunate.
[xxviii] Whether there’s any truth to these stories, I can’t say. But they’re not implausible.

What does Takaido mean?

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

高井戸
Takaido
(close to “High Well”)

takaido station

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

takaido sakura

Two Topics for the Price of One

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

suginami-ku

So, What does Takaido mean?


taka-, –daka;
high, tall

i; sei, shō
well

to, –do; he
opening, door

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

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

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

takai grave

A Takai family grave…

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

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

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

simplify

OK, let’s tidy up  this bitch.

So, Where Are We??

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

Further Reading:

showa 2 takaido 1927

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

Characteristics of Takaido-shuku

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

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei™ is ready to drop some knowledge.

What does Suginami mean?

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

gay japanese cedar tree

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

Let’s Look at the Kanji


sugi
cedar trees

nami
row;
line, queue

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

suginami

A typical cedar-lined highway…

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

cedar tree japan

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

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

setagaya 1945

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

In the Modern Era

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

 

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

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