(yodo bridge; etymology uncertain)
The other day, I was walking home from Shinjuku. I was returning on 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō the Ōme Highway to 中野 Nakano and I crossed 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River. This stretch of water is the border of 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward and 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward (the area is called 中野坂上 Nakano Sakaue). I noticed a small sign on the bridge and became curious.
The sign said 淀橋 Yodobashi Yodo Bridge 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 read more.
Well, it turns out that in the Edo Period this area of the Ōme Kaidō west of the Kanda river was part of 淀橋村 Yodobashi Mura Yodobashi Village.
The Invisible Figures Bridge
The bridge used to be called 姿見ず之橋 Sugata-mizu no Hashi the Bridge of the Invisible Figures. Legend says that in the Muromachi Period, a certain 鈴木九郎 Suzuki Kurō (1371-1440) lived in the area. He was so wealthy that people from his hometown called him 中野長者 Nakano Chōja the Tycoon of Nakano.
His estate was near this bridge, and its said he was worried about the safety of his vast fortunes (remember, this was just lawless countryside in those days) and so he decided to bury his riches in the ground for protection. He hired a team of workers to help him with this labor-intensive project. While the men were hiding his treasure, Kurō became paranoid. He was certain his laborers helping him carry the money and dig the ditch might come back later to steal his money. So, after they buried the money, he drew his sword, and killed each of the workers. Then, he threw their lifeless corpses into the river.
The local villagers claimed to have seen a group of 姿 sugata figures go over the bridge, however only one figure (sugata) came back. Thus they named it the “Invisible Figures Bridge” (I guess this is a kind of 15th century Japanese joke…).
Anyhoo, people said that the ghosts of the murdered men crossed the bridge one-way at night, doomed for eternity to perform their final task for Suzuki Kurō, never to return to their families.
Suzuki Kurō: Devoted Buddhist or Cold Blooded Killer?
The story on the sign makes Kurō seem like a greedy, paranoid psychopath. And he may well have been. We don’t know much about his personality, but we do know a little bit about his humble origins, rise to prosperity, and a handful of acts of piety and devotion.
For starters, he was born in 紀伊国 Kii no Kuni Kii Province (modern day 和歌山県 Wakayama-ken Wakayama Prefecture and 三重県 Mie-ken Mie Prefecture) to a family of 武士 bushi warriors associated with 熊野神社 Kumano Jinja Kumano Shrine. However, they were quite poor, so Kurō struck out on his own and moved to 武蔵国多摩郡中野邑 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Nakano Mura Nakano Village, Tama District, Musashi Province (modern day Nakano and 西新宿 Nishi Shinjuku West Shinjuku), where he bred and sold horses — an industry the Kantō Plains were famous for. He was extremely successful at this business and that is why family and friends in Kii Province gave him the nickname “Tycoon of Nakano.” I can’t help but think it’s kind of a two-faced compliment. Nakano literally means the “fields in the middle of Musashi” which was the straight up boonies back then, middle of nowhere.
He seems to have been quite religious. He built built shrines in his hometown, but he also established the Kumano Shrine in Nishi Shinjuku, which is still quite famous today. Sadly, Kurō’s only daughter 小笹 O-saki (or O-sasa, or O-shino, we’re not sure) died at age 18. Apparently, he was so overwhelmed by grief that, in 1438, he retired from horse trading and became a Buddhist priest, taking the name 正蓮 Shōren. He consecrated his sprawling estate as 成願寺 Chōgan-ji Chōgan Temple, which still stands today. In 1440, at the age of 65, Kurō (now Shōren died) and you can still visit his grave at Chōgan-ji.
The Yodo Bridge
The Tokugawa shōguns used to make a long journey from 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle to 三鷹 Mitaka for falconry. One time, the third shōgun 徳川家光 Tokugawa 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 unlucky to name a bridge after a gruesome murder from 200 years ago. The view of the river crossing reminded him of 淀川 Yodo-gawa the Yodo River in Kyōto, which he thought was a charming river. So, he commanded the people to name the bridge 淀橋 Yodo-bashi the 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 used to make up 淀橋区 Yodobashi-ku Yodobashi Ward, but was merged with 四谷区 Yotsuya-ku Yotsuya Ward in the 1947 restructuring into the 23 Special Wards. The newly created district is present-day 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward.
Now, long time readers of JapanThis! will know that there are a lot of “Tokugawa Iemitsu Did It” theories about various place names in Edo-Tōkyō. You’ll also know, that I’m generally not a fan of those etymologies because they usually seem suspect. In this case, I can’t find any alternate derivations, so the “Iemitsu Did It” theory is all we have. Especially since nobody calls this area Sugatamizu-bashi.
Of course, I think this random story of a 15 century horse dealer called the Tycoon of Nakano and his impact on Tōkyō is far more interesting than the etymology. All too often, we learn history as names, dates, and events — then miss out on the lives of the actual people who definitely didn’t see themselves as footnotes in a textbook or an obscure article on a weird website for Japanese history nerds. I hope you enjoyed this one.
- The Kanda River
- What does Kanda mean? (part one)
- What does Kanda mean? (part two)
- What does Shinjuku mean?
- What does Nakano mean?
- What does Yotsuya mean?
- What does Mitaka mean?
- What does Kōenji mean?
- What does Inokashira mean?
- What does does Kichijōji mean?
Like Stories about Haunted Tōkyō?
- Dōryō-dō – the Haunted Temple of Hachiōji
- Edo Execution Ground Spectacular!
- What does Hachiōji mean?
- Four Haunted Spots in Tōkyō