Takada no Baba
(Takada Horse Grounds)
Today’s 地名 chimei (place name) is long as shit. It’s 高田馬場 Takada no Baba. It’s a college town, and is affectionately referred to as ババ baba because… well, who the fuck wants to say Takada no Baba every time you refer to the area.
The etymology of this name is quite straight forward. 高田 Takada is a surname – and a pretty common one at that. 馬場 baba means “horse place,” which is better translated as “horse grounds” because “horse place” sounds retarded.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s talk some history.
What Are Horse Grounds?
In the old days, the highest ranking samurai elite had horses and they needed large, open spaces to do horse stuff. Remember that Edo was a castle town. The main parts of the city radiated out from the castle. The city proper would have been too crowded for horses, so the suburbs and rural areas were better suited for that sort of thing.
What Went Down at the Horse Grounds?
馬術 went down. Lots and lots of 馬術.
“Oh, what’s 馬術?” you ask.
馬術 bajutsu is horsemanship. And in samurai society, horsemanship meant all kinds of cool shit. In the Olympics, you see the equestrian events… think of that, but without pussies doing it. And these non-pussies are wearing samurai armor and carrying swords and arrows and are just fucking shit up left and right.
OK, they probably weren’t fucking shit up left and right, but they did have swords and armor and they were practicing martial arts on horseback. They would have practiced basic riding skills, but the main art would have been 流鏑馬 yabusame (horseback archery) – which is fucking cool as shit.
So Who is this Takada Guy?
Well, according to one theory, it’s not a guy. It’s a girl.
As I said, the name means Takada Horse Grounds – and we’ve established that Takada is a name.
This one is a little complicated if you’re not familiar with Japanese “feudalism” during the early Edo Period. But I’ll try my best to explain.
Much of the area that is now Niigata Prefecture was called 越後国 Echigo no Kuni (Echigo Province). Inside that area was a fiefdom called 高田藩 Takada-han (Takada Domain). The mother of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s 6th son was from Takada-han. Her name was 茶阿局 Chā no Tsubone, but according to Japanese naming taboo and manners, she was referred to by most people as 高田殿 Takada-dono (Her Highness Takada). She apparently loved the area for sightseeing because it wasn’t too far from the castle and she could watch strapping young samurai ride horses while fucking shit up left and right.
Because she loved the area, her son, Matsudaira Tadateru, built a park here to enjoy 遊覧地遠望 yūranchi enbō (something like “a scenic pleasure resort”).
So the country bumpkins living here nicknamed the spot Takada no Baba because they were so happy to be favored by a court lady who had had sex with the first Tokugawa shōgun – or the park was really named Takada no Baba by the son. Either way, name would mean something like “Her Highness Takada’s Horse Grounds.”
The area was called 戸塚 Totsuka for a long time. But when the Yamanote Line opened in 1910, the original station got the name Takada no Baba. (The local people rejected the official suggestion of 上戸塚 Kami-totsuka (Upper Totsuka) in favor of Takada no Baba. Until 1975, this was just a station name, but the area was still called Totsuka. But in 1975, Shinjuku Ward did a revamping of their displayed addresses and the region that is now Takada no Baba became Takada no Baba officially.
If you’re interested in visiting the site of the old horse grounds, you’ll probably be sadly disappointed. However, there is a monument there to commemorate the site.
I’ve heard there are more than one commemorative plaque for the ruins/spot of the original horse grounds, so if you have links or want to share pictures, contact me. I’m very curious about this.