Japanese History

What does Shibuya mean?

If read literally, Shibuya means “bitter valley.” However, there are multiple theories about this famous place name’s etymology.


(Bitter Valley)

Crazy Shibuya

渋谷 Shibuya is one of 東京 Tōkyō’s iconic neighborhoods. It’s famous for fashion, nightlife, and noise. 渋谷駅前交差点 Shibuya Ekimae Kōsaten Shibuya Crossing, better known as 渋谷スクランブル交差点 Shibuya Sukuranburu Kōsaten Shibuya Scramble or Shibuya Crossing, has the dubious honor of being the World’s Busiest Intersection or the World’s Wildest Intersection1. Take your pick.

The famous ギャル gyaru2 fashion scene of the late 90s/early 2000s started in Shibuya (and boy, do I have some stories to tell!). Pretty much every television drama, movie, anime, and manga set in Tōkyō probably has at least one scene here. It was in a Shibuya sushi shop where Steve-O snorted wasabi and threw up on the counter. This was also the place where I came up with the idea for JapanThis!. Sort of.

You see of all the crazy place names in Edo-Tōkyō, Shibuya is definitely in the Top 5 for weirdest. When I first came to Japan, I spent a lot of time in the area and would often wonder “What the hell does Shibuya mean?” Because the 漢字 kanji are really strange. Well, at least the first one is strange. Also, even with all the research I’ve done and all the cool stories I’ve uncovered, in the end, this one is still a total freaking mystery. And for you lovers of 方言 hōgen dialects, there’s even a crazy regional component to question.

Today I hope to prove to you all how weird this really is. I hope to have a lot of fun too. Let’s get into it, shall we?

Shibuya Crossing at night. Shopping, eating, drinking and whoring. In that order.

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji

This character has many nuances that range from “astringent” to “refined” to “distasteful” to “diarrhea,” yet it appears in the word 渋い shibui which can mean “tastefully elegant in a restrained manner” (like a samurai or something) and therefore “cool.”

tani/-dani; ya

Yep, just plain ol’ “valley.”

To make matters even more complicated, shibu is a modern, simplified character3. However, when we go back in history, shibu was actually written with 15 strokes – making the original spelling 澁谷 look rather lopsided. So put that in your pipe and smoke it4.

While the first character is a mystery, the second character might not be. Unlike 日比谷 Hibiya5, which also uses the kanji , Shibuya is an actual valley. It’s surrounded by obviously-named 道玄坂 Dōgen-zaka (Dōgen Hill), 代官山 Daikan’yama (Daikan Mountain), and 青山 Aoyama (Green Mountain). It also borders 表参道 Omote-sandō and 代々木 Yoyogi, both of which sit atop hills.

If read literally, Shibuya means “bitter valley.” However, there are multiple theories about this famous place name’s etymology.

Further Reading:

The Topographical Theories

There are two theories based on the local geography. Both seem plausible at first glance if you’re familiar with the area or the Tōkyō landscape in general.

The first theory states that in the past – think “time immemorial” – there used to be a river that passed through the valley. Eventually, the river dried up and all that remained was 渋色 shibuiro a dull, rusty color. Because of the area’s unique clay, people began calling this place 渋谷 Shibuya Tan Valley. Without studying any linguistics, I think most people would find this a fairly persuasive etymology.

The second theory proposes that there used to be a small hamlet here called 塩谷 Shioya Salt Valley or 潮谷 Shioya Salt Water Valley. Over the years the pronunciation of Shioya morphed into Shibuya. People changed the kanji to 渋谷 to reflect the way the word sounded. In this case, 渋 shibu is 当て字 ateji kanji used for its sound only, not its meaning. The corroborating evidence for this theory is archaeological. If you dig in the area, you’ll often find crushed shellfish and blue sand (which indicates the presence of salt water in ancient times). Geological surveys have proven that at one time inlets from the Pacific Ocean reached this far inland. Sounds good so far, right?

Not So Fast

At face value, the first example seems quite reasonable. Afterall, years ago I talked about 赤坂 Akasaka and 赤羽橋 Akabane which both derive from descriptions of their unique soil. But let’s think about it. “This coulda totally happened a really long time ago” is not a convincing argument. Sure, it could have happened, and if this was the only theory we had then maybe this sorta explanation would have to suffice. But this isn’t our only theory.

The second case suggests something that is conceivable, albeit very rare in the world of linguistics. So while it’s not impossible, words generally breakdown into simpler forms over time. A change from /ɕioja//ɕibuja/ would require the insertion of an intervocalic /b/. In diachronic linguistics, such a move towards complexity rather than simplification is pretty freakin’ rare. Words usually don’t just “get longer” for no reason. Oh, and I forgot to mention. There are no records of villages named Shioya in the area6.

Further Reading:

Oooooooh, a samurai!
Now we’re talking!

Theory: Shibuya is a Family Name

By now, some of you may have been thinking “I have a friend named Shibuya” or “so-and-so is a famous person called Shibuya.” If these thoughts crossed your mind, pat yourself on the back, go buy yourself a beer or an ice cream7, and strap yourself in for the rest of the story. We’re going down some very deep rabbit holes.

I first heard this theory in a very abbreviated form. The story went a little something like this. “In the Heian Period, a samurai stopped an attacker who broke into the Imperial Palace in Kyōto. In appreciation of this bravery, the emperor bestowed the name Shibuya upon the warrior and his family. The family had a residence in this area and the name stuck.” To me, it sounded like a typical just-so story.

Suuuuuure, there was some random local samurai from this area (which was the boonies at the time) who just happened to be in Kyōto – in the Imperial Palace, no less! – and all the dirt-grubbing farmers in this obscure, undeveloped wasteland of Kantō thought he was sooooo cool that they just started calling the place Shibuya after this magical name that the emperor gave him. Riiiiiiiiight.

Well, before we get into the details, let me tell you that this area was never called Shioya. Nope. In fact, the earliest records we have (and we have quite a lot, actually8) list this area as 武蔵國豊嶋郡谷盛 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Yamori9 Yamori, Toshima District, Musashi Province10.

Shrine on the former Kawasaki estate

It’s 1051, and a young provincial samurai governor named 河崎基家 Kawasaki Motoie is chilling in his fortified residence along 古東海道 Ko-Tōkaidō the Ancient Tōkaidō11. He’s summoned to the imperial capital Kyōto for official business. One of his meetings is with his benefactor, the powerful northern military governor 源義家 Minamoto no Yoshiie. His lord thanks him for his devoted service in battle and grants him a new eastern fief in the Toshima District of Musashi Province, called Yamori. The area is probably good for horse breeding and growing rice, but it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. Motoie thanks Yoshiie for this honor and returns via the Tōkaidō to his stronghold in 川崎 Kawasaki. He’s in no hurry to develop the boonies of Yamori. Maybe someday he’ll give that territory to his young son, 河崎重家 Kawasaki Shigeie.

Fast forward to 1087, both Kawasaki Motoie and Kawasaki Shigeie have served Minamoto no Yoshiie well in battle again – this time in the famous 後三年の役 Go-Sannen no Eki so-called Later Three-Year War12. As a reward for their bravery, Yoshiie arranges for Shigeie to serve as body guard of the new emperor 堀河天皇 Horikawa Tennō in Kyōto.

The Palace Incident

One night while on his watch, two bandits sneak into the Imperial Palace. Shigeie attacks both intruders, killing one and capturing the other. Interrogating the survivor, he learns that his name was 渋谷盛国 Shibuya Morikuni13 of 相模国 Sagami no Kuni Sagami Province14. History tells us nothing more about Shibuya Morikuni, but the emperor is grateful and thinks it’s appropriate to “steal” the thief’s name and his lands15, then give them to Shigeie. To us, giving a criminal’s name to a man with a good reputation seems insulting. However, that wasn’t how this was seen in those days. Giving Kawasaki Shigeie the surname Shibuya meant the emperor thought highly enough of him to make him the first hereditary head of a brand-new family line. This is a big deal for Shigeie.

Further Reading:

Family crests for the 2 main branches of the Shibuya Clan.

Shibuya Castle, Shibuya Hachiman, and the Etymology of Shibuya

Remember Yamori? That’s present-day Shibuya.

OK, so in 1092, Kawasaki Motoie and Shibuya Shigeie build a hilltop fort in Yamori. In keeping with tradition, they erect a Shintō shrine to protect their residence and people living there. Their lord, Minamoto no Yoshiie, is an ardent devotee of the war god 八幡 Hachiman, Shintō manifestation of the enlightened Emperor Ōjin16. He’s gone so far as to dress like a famous image of Hachiman and asked others to call him 八幡太郎 Hachimantarō first born son of Hachiman17. Either as a mere act of allegiance or a true act of filial piety towards their lord, Motoie and Shigeie choose Hachiman as their 氏神 ujigami tutelary deity18. On January 15th 1092, they dedicate the shrine as 渋谷八幡 Shibuya Hachiman. And soon, the fort comes to be known as 渋谷城 Shibuya-jō Shibuya Castle19. Once known as Yamori, Shigeie’s territory now appears in official records as 渋谷荘 Shibuya-shō the Shibuya shōen. Now you know what Shibuya means.

Shibuya Castle – possibly made of cake.

But the Story Continues

You didn’t think that was the end of our narrative, did you? Go pour yourself another glass of sake or something. We’re just getting started.

So, where were we? Oh right.

Living comfortably in Shibuya Castle20, Shigeie turns his mind to propagating the family line. Every day, he and his wife pray at Shibuya Hachiman for a son21. One night, the warrior has a bizarre dream. The Buddha 金剛夜叉明王 Kongō Yasha Myō’ō the Indestructible Wisdom King22 appears to him and shows him a hearty, able-bodied boy growing in his wife’s womb. In 1141, when his wife finally gives birth, he decides to name the child with the first and last characters of Kongō Yasha Myō’ō’s name: 夜剛叉明 金王 Konnō. Affectionately known to his family as 金王丸 Konnōmaru, the boy’s true name is 渋谷常光 Shibuya Tsunemitsu.

Konnōmaru’s self portrait

By this time, family headship of the Minamoto clan now lies with 源義朝 Minamoto no Yoshitomo23. In the 1156 保元の乱 Hōgen no Ran Hōgen Rebellion, 17-year-old Konnōmaru distinguishes himself in battle for the first time. Returning to Yamori, er, I mean Shibuya, the young warrior knows there will be more fighting because the Minamoto clan is locked in a seemingly endless, intergenerational power struggle with 平氏 Taira-shi/Hei-shi24 the Taira clan. Worried he may die in battle, pious Konnōmaru carves a wooden self-portrait of himself for his mother. Every time the Minamoto ask the Shibuya to join their military campaigns, he prays for victory at Shibuya Hachiman Shrine.

A few years later, Yoshitomo is killed in battle. 平治物語 Heiji Monogatari the Tale of Heiji says that the young warrior was the one who reported his lord’s death to his lord’s favorite concubine, 常盤御前 Tokiwa Gozen Lady Gozen, mother of the tragic hero 源義経 Minamoto no Yoshitsune25. Deeply saddened by Yoshitomo’s death, the sensitive and devout Konnōmaru decides to retire from the headship of the Shibuya clan at age 20. He shaves his hair and becomes a Buddhist priest to mourn Yoshitomo, taking the name 土佐坊昌俊 Tosanobō Shōshun26. Some traditions say he traveled the country visiting various temples to pray for the repose of his lord’s soul. The Minamoto family headship falls to his ambitious son 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo27 with whom Konnōmaru (now Shōshun) already has a friendly relationship. Family headship of the Shibuya clan and control of both their estates falls upon Shigieie’s second son, 渋谷重国 Shibuya Shigekuni.

Further Reading:

Konnōmaru’s Final Task

In 1185, at 壇ノ浦の戦い Dan no Ura no Tatakai the Battle of Dan no Ura, Yoritomo defeats the Taira decisively, and effectively gains control of all Japan28. His brother Yoshitsune was one of the most important generals involved in the downfall of their enemy, the Taira.

However, despite being a retainer of Yoritomo, rumors spread that the imperial court has granted many honors to Yoshitsune. His brother thinks it’s inappropriate for a samurai to take prestigious gifts from anyone other than his own lord. Or maybe he’s just paranoid29. Either way, Yoritomo orders the arrest of his brother Yoshitsune. He calls Shōshun out of retirement and commands him to hunt down his brother.

Shōshun can’t refuse Yoritomo whose power now surpasses that of the imperial government. And so, in October 1185, he reluctantly leads a small retinue of 100 mounted samurai to Kyōto to attack Yoshitsune’s mansion on the 23rd of that month. Legend tell us that Shōshun had no intention of actually killing Yoshitsune (and Yoritomo didn’t know this). So, in keeping with the samurai ethic, he allows himself to be captured knowing full well that the penalty for his actions is death.

At age 4330, Shibuya Tsunemitsu/Konnōmaru/Tosanobō Shōshun is taken to 六条河原 Rokujōgawara execution ground and a cloth is wrapped around his eyes. He kneels down, bows exposing the back of his neck, and is quickly beheaded on the bank of 鴨川 Kamo-gawa the Kamo River. Four years later in 1189, Yoshitsune will finally be captured in the northern frontier and forced to commit 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide.

In 1192, a hundred years after Kawasaki Motoie built Shibuya Castle and Shibuya Hachiman Shrine, Minamoto no Yoritomo will establish Japan’s first samurai government, 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu the Kamakura Shōgunate.

Tosanobō Shōshun handed over to Minamoto no Yoshitsune by Benkei

This is Movie Material

“Wow, that’s quite a story” you might be saying. And YES! It’s a helluva story. I love it!

The problem is that some of it might not be entirely true. There’s hardly anything in the historical record regarding Kawasaki Motoie, Shibuya Shigeie, and Shibuya (Konnōmaru) Tsunemitsu. In fact, the most well-attested member of the Shibuya clan is Shigekuni31, who only got one line in our narrative.

Sexxxy Sensei is ready to drop some knowledge.

“Wait. What do you mean Tsunemitsu isn’t well known?” Well, did you not notice that when he retired at age 20, his story became central to the epic tail of Yoritomo and Yoshitsune and the establishment of the Kamakura Shōgunate?

Yeah, well, many scholars think that’s bullshit. They believe Shibuya Tsunemitsu and Tosanobō Shōshun might be completely different individuals who got confabulated by storytellers and chroniclers. I mean, the tragic story of Yoritomo and Yoshitsune is one of the most famous stories in all of Japan. Shibuya Tsunemitsu is so minor that he gets about a single paragraph (if that!) in dictionaries of Japanese historical persons.

Tosanobō Shōshun, on the other hand, gets at least a full page, not to mention all the times he appears in Noh, Kabuki, and woodblock prints. His inclusion in the Yoritomo/Yoshitsune story ensures him a supporting role credit for all posterity.

Further Reading:

Konnō Hachiman Shrine

What Happened to Shibuya Castle?

Shibuya Castle stood from 1092 until 1524 when it was strategically attacked and burned while 後北条氏 Go-Hōjo-shi the Later Hōjo clan fought 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi the Uesugi clan at 高輪原の戦い Takanawahara no Tatakai the Battle of Takanawa32. This battle was an attempt to route the Uesugi from 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle33 and gave the Hōjo control of 江戸郷 Edo-gō Edo Hamlet and its surrounds villages. Records are spotty, but it’s believed that the Musashi Shibuya clan was completely extinguished34. Subsequently, the castle was never rebuilt.

But hey, let’s put this in perspective. 500 years is a pretty good run. I mean, Shibuya Castle stood longer than America has been a nation.

It’s pretty obvious why the Shibuya name stuck to this region. The clan’s presence here wasn’t just a blip on the map of history. They controlled Shibuya for a looooong time and had direct access to the samurai government in Kamakura because Konnōmaru had been a respected friend of the first shogun and his family had been Minamoto allies for a hundred years before they came to power.

Shibuya Castle was located on 鎌倉街道 Kamakura Kaidō the Kamakura Highway, a road linking Musashi Province with the shōgun’s capital in Kamakura. Furthermore, the Shibuyas’ other estate in Sagami Province was just a 4-5 hour walk from Kamakura. I presume they still maintained a residence in Kawasaki, at least until the fall of the Kamakura Shōgunate – if not longer. All that land was very strategic and sat along a very important highway.

Honoring the Legend

Legend says that upon hearing of Konnōmaru’s capture and execution in Kyōto, the shōgun Yoritomo himself sent a special cherry blossom tree from his palace in Kamakura35 to Shibuya Castle. His brother Shibuya Shigekuni planted the tree in the garden in front of Hachiman Shrine and they say that the tree standing there today is a descendant of that original tree.

In the 1590s, when 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu entered Edo Castle, he did a survey of has new capital. The future shōgun apparently showed great interested in the number of shrines, temples, and locations associated with Minamoto no Yoritomo. Before building their own temple complexes, the Tokugawa briefly became patrons of a number of minor shrines, including Shibuya Hachiman. 春日局 Kasuga no Tsubone, wet nurse of the future 3rd shōgun 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu, financed the expansion of the shrine and rebuilt its 鳥居 torii gate. The shrine claims that the current form is the one she sponsored36.

The Fort Stone

Today Shibuya Hachiman is called 金王八幡宮 Konnō Hachiman-gū and stands on the hill where – presumably – the castle’s 本郭 honkuruwa main enceinte was located. Since the Edo Period, locals have referred to it as 八幡坂 Hachiman-zaka Hachiman Hill. Nearby 明治道り Meiji-dōri Meiji Street runs over a channel of 渋谷川 Shibuya-gawa the Shibuya River, indicating that the river – believed to have been part of a primitive moat system – flowed from the west to the south of the castle. In addition, east of the hill, was the old Kamakura Kaidō. The modern pathway, unofficially called 八幡道り Hachiman-dōri, is a stretch of the ancient highway37. In front of Konnō Hachiman-gū’s 本殿 honden main hall, there is a stone called 砦の石 Toride no Ishi the Fort Stone. Tradition says it was part of the castle’s original stone wall38.

Closest you and me will ever get to Konnōmaru’s personal weapons.

Lastly, the 神 kami spirits enshrined at Konnō Hachiman-gū are 応神天皇 Ōjin Tennō the regnal name of Emperor Ōjin and 品陀和気命 Homutawake no Mikoto the real name of Emperor Ōjin. Hachiman is the Shintō name of Ōjin as a Boddhisatva. Now, I think I’ve made the connection between Hachiman and the Minamoto clan already, so we don’t need to review that. However, with the establishment of the Kamakura Shōgunate, the cult of Hachiman spread among the samurai class throughout the whole country. He’s often called “the Japanese God of War,” but I think it’s better to think of him as “the Japanese God of the Sword and Pen.” Elite warriors strove to excel at both martial skills and artistic endeavors, mimicking the glorious, ascendant days of the ancient imperial court.

Four Treasures of Konnō Hachiman-gū

Toride no Ishi
The Fort Stone
Alleged remnant of the castle’s stone walls
The Konnō Sakura
Cherry blossom sent by Yoritomo from Kamakura to honor Konnōmaru;
Blooms at the end of March
Konnōmaru no Zō
The Konnomaru Statue
The wooden self-portrait allegedly carved by Konnomaru for his mother;
Open to the public on the last Saturday in March39
Dokuhebi Nagatachi
The Viper Longsword
Said to be Konnōmaru’s favorite sword or halberd (not on display)

Alright, that’s pretty much the end of the article. If you’re a glutton for punishment, I’ve included a little more info that just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story, but I think you’ll like.

It’s gonna be about Japanese dialects and names from here on out. And I promise this will be short. Thanks for sticking around.

Further Reading:

Hachiman Shrine as it looked in the 1830s

Japanese Dialects

So, there’s another crazy aspect of this story – least of which is the fact that tradition says the emperor “stole” a guy named Shibuya Gonnosuke’s name and lands and gave them to Kawasaki Shigeie. If that’s true, then that isn’t the origin of the family name Shibuya. Clearly some other people had been using that name. For argument’s sake, let’s say the first topographical theory is correct. Yeah, sure. Perhaps somewhere (Who knows? Maybe in Sagami Province, why not?) there was a river that dried up and left behind rust colored dirt – the Tan Valley. Or maybe, just maybe, some other obscure Shibuya family got their name from something else altogether. How Shibuya got its name is patently obvious. Where the family name came from is still a mystery.

But let’s suppose, again for sake of argument, that Emperor Horikawa had just pulled the name Shibuya out of his butt. Just rolled up his sleeves, closed his eyes and clinched his teeth, and reached right on up there. Being a Kyōto native, the emperor would read the characters 渋谷 as Shibutani. On the other hand, Kawasaki Shigeie, being a native of Sagami, would read the same kanji as Shibuya.

The thick gray line is the dialect line (Gifu-Aichi)

You see, there’s a linguistic divide that cuts Japan’s main island in half – roughly from Fukui to Nagoya. Southwest of this line are the Kansai Dialects. Northeast of this line are the Kantō Dialects. Yes, I know I’m oversimplifying, but that’s all we need for our purposes. In Tōkyō, for example, the kanji is always read /ja/. In fact, I can only think of two place names where it’s not: 鶯谷 Uguisudani and 茗荷谷 Myōgadani. If there are other examples, please let me know in the comments.

While there are more people named Shibuya in Japan, there are also plenty of people named Shibutani. The highest concentration of Shibuyas seems to be in Eastern Japan (Kanagawa and Tōkyō, in particular)40. Shibutanis are rarer, but as expected, they are concentrated in Western Japan (Nara and Kōbe, in particular)41. Both families appear to have different origins. The Shibuya seem to come from 桓武平氏 Kanmu Taira-shi the Taira clan descended from Emperor Kanmu → 秩父氏 Chichibu-shi the Chichibu clan → Sagami Shibuya clan (Kanagawa). This is the same as the Sagami/Musashi Shibuya who lived in Shibuya Castle. The Shibutani, on the other hand, seem to come from 中臣氏 Nakatomi-shi the Nakatomi clan → 藤原氏 Fujiwara-shi the Fujiwara clan. The Fujiwara dominated imperial court politics in the early Heian Period, so it makes sense that the Shibutani have been active in Nara and near Kyōto. By pointing this out, I only hope to dispel any rumors that, despite being written the same way, the Shibuya and the Shibutani are the same families. Unless, of course, for some ridiculous reason a Shibuya and Shibutani got married at some point and made babies. I guess then they’d be the same family. But that’s just silly.

Lastly, while we’re on the subject of ya/tani. Do you remember the original place name of Shibuya? It was Yamori. While I can’t find any evidence of Yamori as a family name, there is a Tanimori family. The name is super rare, and as you may have guessed, it only occurs in Western Japan. There are 10 people with this name in Hyōgo Prefecture and another 10 in Tottori. Just as Shibuya and Shibutani don’t seem to be related, I assume Tanimori (family in Western Japan) and Yamori (place in Eastern Japan) are just a coincidence. Also, with only about 20 of them around, I wonder if that surname is destined for extinction.

All right. This was a long one, and we covered a lot of topics. I hope you enjoyed the article – especially since we got a cool samurai story in there. And on that note. Have a great day.


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  1. Shibuya Crossing is so famous that the word “Tōkyō” doesn’t even appear until the 24th paragraph of the Japanese Wikipedia page. And that’s only in the name “Tōkyō Metro,” one of the subway operators that runs through Shibuya Station. Everybody just knows what you’re talking about when you say “Shibuya Crossing” or “Shibuya Scramble.”

  2. Gyaru is a Japanese rendering of the English word “gal” or “gals.” It refers to a girls’ fashion subculture that was originally characterized by dark tan skin, long eyelashes, sexpot makeup, miniskirts/microskirts, FMBs, bleach blond hair, color contacts, and long customized gel nails. The look evolved over time and broke off in to a variety of other styles, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

  3. Only 11 strokes.

  4. Interestingly, Japan hasn’t purged the character 澁 from the language. These days it’s classified as 人名用漢字 Jinmeiyō Kanji a special set of 863 (at the time of writing – 11/2020) archaic or non-standard kanji allowed for personal names.

  5. Hibiya used to be an inlet, but Tokugawa Ieyasu had it filled in with land dug up when he expanded the moat system of Edo Castle. What does Hibiya mean?

  6. That said, 塩谷 Shioya is a place name in 栃木県 Tochigi-ken Tochigi Prefecture and family name in both the eastern and western parts of central 本州 Honshū Japan’s main island. 潮谷 Shioya is an even rarer family name, but I can’t find any examples of it as a place name.

  7. Or both! Fuck it. It’s a free country and I’m not your mom.

  8. Super exciting land surveys. Woohoo!!!

  9. These kanji have also been updated. 武蔵國豊嶋郡谷盛 → 武蔵国豊島郡谷盛

  10. It’s not an exact match, but this area spanned parts of present day 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward and 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward.

  11. The Tōkaidō Highway linking Edo with Kyōto has two specific names. 旧東海道 Kyuu-Tōkaidō the Old Tōkaidō or Former Tōkaidō refers to the road from the Edo Period until the late mid-1950s. The Ancient Tōkaidō is the road in any pre-1600 iteration of the trail. Motoie’s original residence was located in 河崎荘 Kawasaki-sō the Kawasaki Estate (later known as 川崎宿 Kawasaki-shuku Kawasaki post town). His name is taken from his territory. The kanji 川 kawa river was considered a crappy character, so elites used an alternative kanji 河 kawa which had the same meaning.

  12. You can read about the war here, if you want to.

  13. Nickname 権助 Gonnosuke. BTW, I’m not sure about this guy’s name. Only elites (court nobles or samurai descended therefrom) had family names. Why an elite person would be breaking into the Imperial Palace to steal stuff is beyond me.

  14. This is modern 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture. Oddly, Sagami is where his family’s fief is (Kawasaki).

  15. Again, this story is very sketchy, but what we do know is the fief given to Shibuya Shigeie was in 相模国高座郡 Sagami no Kuni Kōza-gun Kōza District, Sagami Province. Today this is area comprised 神奈川県綾瀬市・藤沢市・大和市 Kanagawa-ken Ayase-shi, Fujisawa-shi, Yamato-shi Ayase City, Fujisawa City, and Yamato City, Kanagawa Prefecture. In Yamato, there is also a place called 渋谷 Shibuya. In fact, the local train station’s name is 高座渋谷 Kōza-Shibuya.

  16. Ōjin’s official regnal dates are 270-310, but modern scholars think 370-390 are more realistic dates. Some even suggest he lived as late as the 400s. Stick around until the very end of the article, I’ll give a little more explanation about Hachiman then.

  17. Because of Yoshiie’s adoration of Hachiman and subsequent adoption as the clan’s protector, years later Minamoto Yoritomo’s shōgunate would promulgate the idea that Hachiman was the tutelary kami of all samurai. It’s in this late Heian Period/Early Kamakura Period that Hachiman came to be thought of as a war god. Also, I’m pretty sure everybody thought Yoshiie was a pretty eccentric guy. Cosplay wasn’t really a thing in the late Heian Period.

  18. A few people have pointed out in the comments that I use this phrase a lot and they don’t understand it. Tutelary kami = protector deity.

  19. When we say “castle” in this time period, don’t think of the majestic white and black Japanese castles you can see today in Japan. These were more like fortified residences. Sometimes they have simple moats, usually dry. Everything is made of earth and timber. Very basic.

  20. Presumably, his father Motoie continued to live in Kawasaki.

  21. Presumably they were banging too because eventually they conceived a child. Usually, just praying doesn’t achieve the same results.

  22. Learn more about Kongō Yasha Myō’ō.

  23. Yoshitomo is a pretty interesting guy, you can read more about him here.

  24. In English, we more often call them 平家 Heike. Likewise, we often call the Minamoto 源氏 Genji. The battles between them are called 源平合戦 Genpei Kassen the Genpei War (Gen = Minamoto, Hei = Taira).

  25. If you haven’t heard of Yoshitsune, I’ll be disappointed in you. But, whatever. You can read about him here.

  26. Sometimes read Tosabō Shōshun or Tosabō Masatoshi.

  27. Again, if you haven’t heard of Yoritomo, I’ll be disappointed in you. But, whatever. You can read about him here.

  28. What? You don’t know the Battle of Dan no Ura? All this stuff is really basic Japanese history lol. Whatever. You can read about it here.

  29. You’d be in good company if you think that.

  30. That’s 185 in dog years.

  31. Shibuya Shigekuni is the best attested warrior from the Shibuya clan. Most records attribute the spread of this family name and both place names in Kanagawa and Tōkyō to him. I think this is because Tsunemitsu and Shigekuni were the first sons born into the name Shibuya (remember their father was originally Kawasaki Shigeie). Shigekuni probably gets credit with family headship because Tsunemitsu was only family head for a few years, or he became a Buddhist priest before becoming family head (it’s not clear), thus forfeiting his inheritance. If this is the case, family headship went like this: Kawasaki Motoie → Shibuya Shigeie → Shibuya Shigekuni. This might account for the use of a child’s name Konnōmaru instead of Tsunemitsu. The family never thought of him as becoming a full-grown man. Another theory is that Tsunemitsu actually died at age 17, perhaps of a sudden disease or something embarrassing. If this is true, and he did not die as a warrior, the family might have concocted a story of him becoming a monk and wondering the countryside, never heading the clan. It might also account for the use of a child’s name. Perhaps the grieving family continued using his childhood name because he died a tragic, young death.

  32. Known by English Wikipedia as the Battle of Edo.

  33. Also known as 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle.

  34. I can’t find anything saying the Sagami Shibuya were annihilated. If you look into the etymology of the family name (not the family history), things usually point to the Sagami Shibuya as the source of the name. Despite saying the Musashi Shibuya were descended from them, it was basically the same clan in the beginning – holding both territories. So, I take this to mean the Sagami Shibuya survived the Hōjo takeover of the Kantō region. Today there are roughly 100,000 people named Shibuya, with the largest concentration being in Kanagawa Prefecture (Tōkyō is a close second).

  35. His palace was called 大蔵御所 Ōkura Gosho Ōkura Palace and sat next to 鶴岡八幡宮 Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū the main Hachiman shrine for the entire country – an ode to his grandfather, Yoshiie, who venerated Hachiman over all other deities – and the tutelary god of all warriors.

  36. This is only partially true. Until the end of the Edo Period, the adjacent Buddhist temple 東福寺 Tōfuku-ji was part of the religious complex. They managed all shrine operations beginning in 1600. This ended in 1868 with 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzenrei the decree separating Buddhas and kami. Read more about that here.

  37. I wonder if you can still follow it all the way to Kamakura on foot…

  38. However, considering that Shibuya Castle was active from the late Heian Period until the middle of the Sengoku Period, castle experts have been skeptical. First, were there stone walls in the first place? Most castle of this time had earthen walls or very crude stone walls that served to prevent erosion more than defensive purposes. Second, even if there were stone walls, this stone seems beyond the technical capabilities of the eras when the castle was in use.

  39. When the Konnō Sakura blooms, the shrine holds 金王丸御影堂例祭 Konnōmaru Mieidō Reisai the Konnōmaru Holy Image Festival.

  40. That is, in Sagami and Musashi. This fits in line with our narrative.

  41. Both regions that use dialects related to that of Kyōto and the imperial court.


Why are you still here? Did you actually read all the footnotes?
Get a fucking hobby! lol

Left over crap from my original 2013 article

Yeah, so in the 1920’s there was that whole thing with the dog.

Hachi-kō – woof woof!

In the 1950’s there was a gondola that went over the station front area.

a freaking gondola!!!!
I miss the beer vending machines in Shibuya and Daikanyama.


7 replies on “What does Shibuya mean?”

Shibuya sounds more like ‘Sibuya’ which is a Zulu word for when ‘we come back’ and to me is it so fascinating that a train station where people go and come back is named Shibuya in Japanese. And according the Hashiko story the dog was waiting for its owner to come back for ten years in Shibuya.

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