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Why is Kayabacho called Kayabacho?

In Japanese History on April 5, 2013 at 1:08 am

茅場町
Kayabachō (Hay Market)

Why is Kayabachō called Kayabachō?

Kayabachō Station Today

Today’s Tōkyō place name is simple. It’s made of 3 kanji: kaya (hay, straw), ba (place) and chō (town, neighborhood). It sounds so strange in a supermodern, bustling international metropolis like Tōkyō, but there it is. It’s actually a major business and financial center. During the day time it’s salarymen everywhere. At night it’s drunk salarymen for a little while and then it turns into a ghost town.

So why is there an area called “straw place town” in the middle of central Tōkyō?

This area was originally a plain full of nice grass, so when Edo Castle was being built, they came here to get straw for the thatched roofs of some of the buildings. So the area naturally became known as THE place for buying straw for all of Edo’s thatched-roofing needs.

Japanese thatched roof

This isn’t Edo Castle, but this is a typical Japanese thatched roof of a nice building.

I’ve looked all over for pictures buildings in Edo Castle with thatched roofs but I couldn’t find anything. So by the Bakumatsu they’d either replaced all of the roofs with nice fireproof tiles… or through some strange coincidence no one managed to photograph any of those buildings. My guess is that in 250 years of rule, the Tokugawa found the time and money to upgrade.

Kayabacho immediately after the great Kanto Earthquake (1923). This is the oldest picture I've seen of the area. I can't tell if the empty areas a debris and collapsed buildings or yards and fields...

Kayabacho immediately after the great Kanto Earthquake (1923). This is the oldest picture I’ve seen of the area. I can’t tell if the empty areas a debris and collapsed buildings or yards and fields… Also, I’m not 100% sure, but I’m willing to bet that most of those buildings are storehouses/warehouses and not homes. (If anyone can shed light on this picture, I would be most appreciative!)

Actually, I tried to find pictures of Kayabachō from the Bakumatsu and Meiji Periods and I couldn’t find anything on the web. I’ll keep looking and update this page with a picture if I find something.

If you, dear reader, know of pictures of Kayabachō from the old days, let me know!

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  1. I’m working in Kayabacho for 3 months. Thanks for this. It never crossed my mind to ask about the place name. Will talk to my japanese colleagues tomorrow about this!

    By the way, can I ask a question? Why do you put long marks over the letter O in Kayabacho and Tokyo?

    • Japanese has 2 types of vowels: long and short. Long vowels are literally pronounced longer than short vowels.

      So, in Kyōto, the first ‘o’ is held longer than the final ‘o.’

      Hope this helps!

  2. Thanks for the explanation!

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