Shinagawa (Product River)
Takanawa (Tall Dock)
Here’s a 2 for 1:
OK, here’s the story that I was told by a docent at the Edo-Tokyo Museum while pointing to a floor map of Edo with the kanji written that supported his argument. There were two place names, side by side, one was 高輪 Takanawa, the other was 品輪 Shinagawa. The kanji 輪 refers tying up ships on a dock. (Edo Bay came right up to about where the Yamanote Line tracks are at Shinagawa Station and even today, Shinagawa Station has 2 exits, the 港南 Kōnan ”South Port” and 高輪 Takanawa “High Dock”). Anyways, he said the name 品輪 referred to where goods were loaded and unloaded from the bay and 高輪 referred to where goods would be stored on high ground to protect from tsunamis or thieves. Sounded reasonable.
But now I just read something that referred to a similar etymology. Some people claim that 高輪 sounds like the expensive or high quality 輪 and 品ヶ輪 refers to the refined 輪 (品の良い). But then he says this isn’t very credible since the modern writing 品川 has been in use since the 1200’s.
So what’s up, Mr. Docent at the Edo-Tokyo Museum? Did you lie? And if so, why the hell was the suspect kanji written on your floor map? Is this a conspiracy??
Not entirely, it seems that in the Kamakura Period 高縄原 Takanawabara “Source of the High Rope” was the way the place name for 高輪 Takanawa was originally written. The 高縄 taka nawa refers to the 高縄手道 Takanawa-tedō, a major street which started in this area. The street was on high ground and appeared clearly on maps so that it seems as if a rope was pulled taut across the highest and safest areas to travel. This name truly did change from 高縄 to 高輪, most likely as a result of the docks gaining importance over the road.
But Takanawa has always only referred to a small area, be it village, neighborhood or town. Shinagawa on the other hand has always referred to a much greater area. In fact, in the Meiji Era, there was a Shinagawa Prefecture!
The most likely explanation about Shinagawa is the simplest one. The Meguro river entered Edo and flowed downstream through Shinagawa (and of course, Takanawa), and the entire area thrived because of the “products” and the “river” – the “product river,” if you will.