(literally Pond Bag, but closer to Damp Wetlands)
Today’s Tokyo place name is one of my least favorite places in Tokyo.
It’s crimey and yakuza-y.
And it’s infested by riff raff from Saitama. (no offense to people from Saitama…)
Yes, that’s right. It’s Ike-fuckin’-bukuro.
The one and only.
At first glance, it’s a strange place name. It’s made of two kanji that literally mean “pond” and “bag.” The strange “pond bag” name has been documented since at least the Sengoku Period (15th-17th centuries). The area to the northwest of Ikebukuro Station was referred to as 池袋村 Ikebukuro Mura (Ikebukuro Village).
Well, let’s take a look at what the English Wikipedia page says:
The kanji for Ikebukuro literally means pond bag. Outside the west exit of Ikebukuro station near an entrance to the Fukutoshin Line is a small plaque explaining three origins of the name Ikebukuro. The first is that in the northeastern part of the village there was a lake shaped like someone holding a bag. The second is that there was once a large number of lakes in the area of various sizes (thus implying a bag full of lakes). The third is that long ago a turtle came out of the lake carrying a bag on its back.
Now, I don’t want to hate on Wikipedia, but… seriously… fuck Wikipedia. (no offense to Wikipedia…)
I looked around for this alleged plaque and guess what…
There’s no plaque proclaiming these ridiculous derivations. Especially the stupid one about the turtle crawling out of a lake with a bag on its back. That totally smacks of bullshit folk etymology. (no offense to turtles…)
Anyways, here’s the real plaque:
OK, so now that we know Wikipedia can’t be trusted for shit, here’s the real deal.
Originally, this area was a damp, low lying wetland habitat (低湿地 teishicchi in Japanese) with a lot of spring water. Naturally, there were many lakes and ponds in the region, hence the 池 ike (pond).
The 袋 fukuro (bag) part is interesting. If you check a good dictionary, 袋 has an extended meaning as “a plot of land surrounded by water.” In particular it can be used to refer the land where rivers or lakes meet – such as happens in wetlands. I asked a few Japanese people around me if they had ever heard of this meaning and no one seemed to know it. That said, one person said that she’d heard of another place – besides Ikebukuro – that had the kanji 袋 in it. So in my [admittedly limited] experience, this use of the kanji is for place names and not everyday discourse. The word 袋 fukuro changes to bukuro when combined with 池 according to a phonological rule called 連濁 rendaku. The word 袋 fukuro/bukuro is reinforced by the onomatopoeic word ぶくぶく buku buku, the sound of water bubbling up, as from a spring.
So while it literally translates as “Pond Bag,” the real meaning is more like “Wetlands.”
What’s up with the freakin’ owl?
Spend 24 hours in Japan, and you’ll realized that everything must have a character. That includes towns and schools and even snacks. If you don’t have a character to promote your whatever, you’re not cool. So, as we said before, the word for bag is 袋 fukuro. The word for owl is 梟 fukurō (fukuro being a variant pronunciation). Some genius at town hall came up with the idea of making Ikebukuro’s mascot the “Ikefukuro.” So all over Ikebukuro you will see these stupid looking owls everywhere. The original Ikefukuro is located at the station’s East Exit and is used as a landmark. People from Saitama use the statue as a meeting so they don’t get lost in the big city. (again, no offense to people from Saitama…)