What does Aoyama mean?


(Blue Mountain, Green Mountain)

Aerial view of Aoyama Cemetery
Aerial view of Aoyama Cemetery

Today, Aoyama is one of Tōkyō’s most fashionable and expensive neighborhoods. It borders Harajuku and Shibuya and is famous for shopping, high end dining and has a remarkable amount of green space – sorely lacking in other areas of the city.

The word is made of two characters:

ao blue or green (depending on who you ask)
yama mountain

Aoyama is a family name.

Aoyama Coat of Arms

The Gujo Aoyama mondokoro (coat of arms)

In the Edo Period, 郡上藩 Gujō-han Gujō Domain (located in 美濃国 Mino no kuni Mino Province; modern day 岐阜県 Gifu-ken Gifu Prefecture) was administered by the Gujō branch of the Aoyama clan. The castle and seat of the domainal government was at 八幡城 Hachiman-jō Hachiman Castle, so sometimes the domain is referred to as Hachiman-han. Since the clan originated in Mikawa, the family had a special relationship with the Tokugawa. At one point, during the Sengoku Era, they were responsible for the education of Tokugawa Hidetada who would later become the second shōgun.

Gujo-Hachiman Castle Today (it's a reconstruction from 1933), but the town and castle look well worth a visit.
Gujo-Hachiman Castle Today (it’s a reconstruction from 1933), but the town and castle look well worth a visit.

They had a sprawling palatial residence (下屋敷 shimoyashiki) in the outskirts of Edo. When daimyō residences were confiscated by the Meiji government for re-purposing, the land of the Aoyama residence was converted into present day Aoyama cemetery. It’s a massive urban cemetery. If you walk around it, you can get a feel for how large the estate once was. Even though the family was only worth 48,000 koku, this sub-residence was one of the biggest in all of Edo. None of the domain’s buildings exist today, but the Aoyama family temple, 梅窓院 Baisō-in Baisō Temple, can still be found in Minami Aoyama.

Supposedly, the building on the right is one of the Aoyama residences.
Supposedly, the building on the right is one of the Aoyama residences.

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13 thoughts on “What does Aoyama mean?

  1. Cool.

    I thought the area was named after a blue mountain. I had no idea it was named after a samurai.

    1. I think it’s more likely that the clan’s family name came from the mountain, as with other families named for the location they hail from.

      Aoyama was most likely named thus because it was a blue/green mountain. (Could be blue for distance, or green for being covered in trees. Thanks to the ambiguity of “nature-coloured” Ao it’s hard to be sure).

      1. That’s right. It’s very possible that the clan name derived from local features of their original fief. And, this may very well be the case with the Aoyama family.

        (Some noble names were bestowed on the high ranking samurai as gifts from the imperial court in Kyoto, too. These likely have no connection to the land, but to poetic and auspicious use of kanji).

        Since this article only explains the history of the place name in Tokyo, I didn’t explore the history of the Aoyama Clan. To be honest, I don’t know a lot about them, but supposedly the clan originated in Gunma Prefecture (Kōzuke no kuni) in a hamlet called Aoyama-gō. The area is mountainous, and even today is lush and green. So it’s very possible the place name became the clan name. Then the name later became associated with the present day area in Tōkyō.

        But it is clear that the area in Tōkyō did not give the name to the clan, the area got its name from the clan.

      2. Hahahaha, not so fast actually. I just had some notes here that I didn’t use in the blog.

        Trying to stay focused on just Tokyo, otherwise I might get stuck tracing genealogies all the way to the Heian Period lolololol.

        But you brought up a good a fair point! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      3. Yeah, it’s super-hard not to get embroiled in the nitty gritty when you’re just trying to cover one thing in a post. You do awesomely though! 😀

      4. Well, thank you, sir! I appreciate that.

        And I hope to keep the level of quality as is (or higher, time permitting!!)


  2. Hello, do you know, if Kihachi Aoyama (Father of Mitsuko Aoyama alias Mitsuko Maria Thekla Coudenhove-Kalergi) has a connection top the Aoyama Clan?

    Greetz Robert

  3. Hello to everyone, I realize that most of the posts here are quite old but I still want to leave a comment. I have studied the history of The Aoyama Clan for a sort of odd reason. I own one of the original altar candle stands from The Aoyama Temple that was destroyed during the fire bombings of Tokyo during World War Two. It is signed in beautiful Kanji as a donation from “5 surviving soldiers” and dated 1832. The Daimyo of The Aoyama Clan was actually in the area of what is Sasayama. However, one of the practices of The Shogun was that each of the Daimyo (Samurai Clans) was required to leave part of their families to live in Edo Tokyo all the time. That way he was fairly certain that none of the clans would stab him in the back, figuratively speaking. The Aoyama had one of the largest and finest Tokyo “residences”. The huge Aoyama Cemetery was part of this estate. They also had a family temple. That temple still exists but in an ultra modern style. Baoisin Aoyama Temple. I hope that some of this info helps. Erich in Missouri, USA.

    1. Ooops! I left out part of the text of the dedication on the candle stand it says…”To The Aoyama from the 5 surviving soldiers 1832″. sorry. Erich

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