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Why is Takeshita Street called Takeshita Street?

In Japanese History on April 14, 2013 at 9:54 pm

竹下通り
Takeshita Dōri (Takeshita Street)

I Love Japanese History!

Trust me. She loooooooves learning about the etymology of place names!

Today’s place name is one of the most famous places in Tōkyō, probably one of the most famous places in all Japan, and definitely one of the most famous places in the fashion world. In the early 2000’s Takeshita Street attracted fashion-hungry high school kids from all over Japan.

This area of Tōkyō, called Harajuku has been – and still is very much – a fashion center. Takeshita Dōri was ground zero for young people’s fashion for about a decade. It is still very popular, especially with kids from rural Japan and foreign tourists.

Old School Harajuku!

Takeshita Dori in 1997 when it was still cool.

The name 竹下通り Takeshita Dōri is quite literally “Takeshita” and “street.” 竹下 Takeshita is a family name. In this case, it refers to a turn of the century admiral of the Japanese Navy named 竹下勇 Takeshita Isamu. It seems old man Takeshita had a house on the street, and being the son of a samurai and a high ranking officer in the Navy and diplomat his name brought prestige to the area. In fact, until 1965 the area at the bottom of the hill and both areas to the left & right of Takeshita Street were known as 竹下町 Takeshita-chō Takeshita Neighborhood. Now that area is 神宮前1丁目 Jingūmae 1-chōme.

The family name itself means “below the bamboo.”

Your mom was awesome last night!

the admiral himself

I tried to find a picture of the dude’s house but couldn’t. I tried to find a plaque commemorating the dude’s house, but I couldn’t. I tried to find an old map of the area, but I couldn’t. I tried to find pictures of Takeshita Street from any period before now and I couldn’t. Edo Period maps just show unused grasslands. There must be some pictures out there, so if you have any – or come across any – please share with me.

Admiral Takeshita might not want to see those photos, though. Apparently the area was famous for love hotels, brothels, and counterfeit goods until the 1990’s. Around that time, the zoning laws changed and they started cleaning up the area. I haven’t been there in a long time, but I don’t remember ever seeing any places like that so I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it’s been completely “gentrified” for at least a decade – especially with its proximity to Omotesandō Hills.

  1. Wow! How interesting! I know that plenty of placenames are named after famous people, of course, but somehow it never occurred to me that Takeshita-dôri would be one of them – I always just took it literally, as being “below-the-bamboo street.”

    Anyway, it may well have been the bias / rose-colored-glasses of it being my first time in Japan, but when I was first in Japan, as an undergrad, ten years ago, Takeshita-dôri and the surrounding area seemed very active, vibrant, happening. And then, when I went back five years later, was it just that I was used to it, that it wasn’t so new to me? Or had Harajuku in some objective way actually declined, quieted down? Is Harajuku still what it was? Has somewhere else replaced it? Shimokita seems to be among the new hot neighborhoods, but it’s certainly not as goth-loli, not as niche in its fashion / sub-cultural identity as Harajuku…

    • I assumed the same thing! I thought the same thing about Shibuya as well, but it turns out that one is more than likely also a family name.

      As for what Takeshita Dōri is now… it’s hard to say. I mean, it’s still crowded. It’s still a narrow street with tons of little shops. But it’s definitely not the “IT” spot it was 10 years ago. But Harajuku was quite different 10 years ago, I think. You mentioned the goth/loli, I think that’s pretty much over. Every once in a while I see one of those girls, but it’s quite rare these days. 10 years ago on the bridge in front of Meiji Jingū there were cosplayers every weekend. Well, these days there are still cosplayers but they’re mostly foreigners who have dreamt about cosplaying there and finally come over and do it. But the Japanese cosplayers do it elsewhere. A friend came to Japan for the first time last summer and his girlfriend asked me where she could see “the Harajuku girls” and I was seriously at a loss. She said Gwen Stefani had a song about “Harajuku Girls” and she wanted to see them. All I could say is “There are girls. In Harajuku.” But I don’t think there is any particular style that is typical of the area anymore. Just a nice area for shopping.

      Shimokitazawa is still busy, but it’s more university students and young adults, right? More of a drinking town. I’m not sure what (if anything) has replaced Takeshita Dōri, but the area has evolved. Maybe that’s the best way to put it.

  2. I was just going to ask about Harajuku Girls.

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