The other day, I was walking home from Shinjuku. I walked on the Ōmekaidō towards Nakano and I crossed the Kanda River. The area is the border of Shinjuku Ward and Nakano Ward (the area is called 中野坂上 Nakano Sakaue). I noticed a small sign and became curious.
The sign said 淀橋 Yodobashi and talked about the history of the bridge. There’s a famous electronics shop called Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku so I got curious and decided to check out the sign.
Well, it turns out that in the Edo Period this area of the Ōmekaidō west of the Kanda river was part of 淀橋村 Yodobashi Mura (Yodobashi Village).
Supposedly, the 3rd Tokugawa shōgun, Iemitsu named this area.
The bridge used to be called 姿見ずの橋 Sugata-mizu no Hashi (Invisible Figures Bridge). The reason was that in this area there was a legend that a certain Suzuki Kūrō (1371-1440) – the so-called “Tycoon of Nakano” – who hid his vast fortunes underground here. While burying his treasure, he became paranoid that the people helping him dig and carry the money might try to come back to steal his money. So, he killed the dudes who helped him bury it and threw their corpses into the river. People in the town saw a group of figures (姿) go over the bridge, but only one figure (姿) came back. So they named it the “Invisible Figures Bridge” (I guess this is a kind of 15th century Japanese joke…)
The Tokugawa shōguns used to make a long journey from Edo Castle to Mitaka for falconry. One time, Iemitsu and his entourage rested their horses by the bridge and heard the local story about the bridge’s inauspicious name. He thought it was an unlucky name for the bridge. The view of the river crossing reminded him of the 淀川 Yodogawa (Yodo River) in Kyōto and so he commanded the people to name the bridge 淀橋 Yodobashi (Yodo Bridge).
Of course, it was a great honor for the people to have the shōgun rename their bridge, so they started to call their town Yodobashi. The famous electronics store, Yodobashi Camera began in the area that is now Shinjuku Nishiguchi. The name of the store and area comes from this bridge.
Actually this area made up a ward called 淀橋区 Yodobashi-ku, but was merged with 四谷区 Yotsuya-ku in the 1947 restructuring into the 23 Special Wards. The merged area became present day 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku.
UPDATE: To learn more about Shinjuku, click here for What does Shinjuku mean?