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Why is Marunouchi called Marunouchi?

In Japanese History on May 6, 2013 at 1:03 am

丸ノ内
Marunouchi  (Inside the Circle; more at “Inside the Moat”)

CGI Tokyo Station

CGI Tokyo Station with smoke coming out of a turret.

The derivation of today’s place name is pretty famous, even among foreigners. It’s so famous that even the English version of Wikipedia got it right.

The area was part of the old Hibiya Inlet which fell under the influence of Chiyoda Castle (Edo Castle) and merged into the castle and Yamanote district.

丸 maru (literally circle) was used to refer to 城内 jōnai (inner) castle grounds*  Buildings inside the moat (usually ring shaped) had names like 本丸 honmaru (main citadel), 二ノ丸 ninomaru (secondary citadel), 三ノ丸 sannomaru (tertiary citadel), etc**.  The shōgun (or lord) lived in the honmaru (first citadel) as it was surrounded by all the other maru. By this system of naming, it’s easy to see how 丸ノ内 Marunouchi (inside the circle) could refer to buildings inside the moat (scil; the circle).

Marunouchi - like all of Tokyo, looks nothing like its former self.

I’ve highlighted the “Daimyo Alley,” but in reality, you can see that a lot of other nobles’ residences fall within the “Marunouchi” area. What’s a “Daimyo Alley?” Keep reading!

Over the years Marunouchi has been written a few ways,
the last two being preferred these days:

丸内
丸之内
丸ノ内
丸の内

丸ノ内 Marunouchi was colloquially referred to as 大名小路 daimyō kōji daimyō alley***. It was located on the castle grounds, between the outer moat and inner moat on a small man-made island with its own system of gates and mitsuke’s that made it more or less indistinguishable from the castle proper.

Today, nothing remains of the castle in the area so it’s hard to imagine that this was part of the outermost ring of Japan’s largest castle. However, in the Edo Period, the area was extremely important to the shōgunate. At one point there were 24 daimyō residences here. A list of noble names makes up its residences: Ii, Honda, Sakai, Sakakibara, and Hitotsubashi & Matsudaira**** – to name a few. The daimyō who lived here were mostly hereditary vassals of the Tokugawa shōgun family. That is to say, they were the elite of the elite and the closest to the shōgun. That’s why it was so important that they have palaces within the castle walls.

Daimyo Alley → Marunouchi

The red street is the actual “alley.” From the border of Yurakucho to Tokyo Station to the border of Otemachi is generally considered Marunouchi today, but as you can see other areas were also “inside the moat.”

In the Meiji Era (here we go again), the daimyō were all kicked out and daimyō lands were all confiscated by the new Imperial government.  It seems that the daimyō residences were all knocked down and the area became a training ground for the Imperial Army. A lot of the land was eventually purchased by the forerunner of the Mitsubishi Group and still remains their real estate (can anyone say good business deal?).

Daimyo Alley → Mitsubishigahara → Marunouchi

Mitsubishigahara circa 1902. Not sure what that white building is. Maybe it’s Kochi domain’s upper residence being used as an impromptu office for the Tokyo Governor. Just speculating.

This unsigned oil painting is assumed to also be from 1902. The building in the background is an unknown western style mansion. Until development began in earnest most buildings here were wood, so this is mysterious house is... well, a mystery.

This unsigned oil painting is assumed to also be from 1902. The building in the background is an unknown western style mansion. Until development began in earnest most buildings here were wood, so this is mysterious house is… well, a mystery.

Since the area was just grass and roads and barracks, when Mitsubishi knocked down the few remaining the structures the area was basically a field. In fact from 1890 to about 1910 only the Tōkyō Municipal Government Building and a few Mitsubishi buildings stood in 三菱ヶ原 Mitsubishigahara Mitsubishi Fields. Mitsubishi used the area to build up a central business district and the completion of Tōkyō Station in 1914 definitely sped up that process.

2 rare photos of the original Meiji Era municipal office of Tokyo based in the upper residence of Kochi in Marunouchi's

2 rare photos of the original Meiji Era municipal office of Tokyo based in the upper residence of Kochi in Marunouchi’s “Daimyo Alley.”

Much of the outer moat was filled in after WWII during the massive building efforts that eventually propelled Japan into its legendary “bubble economy.” In fact, if you look back at my articles on Nihonbashi, Kyōbashi, Hatchōbori, Akasaka and Akasaka-mitsuke, you’ll see that most of those areas are all on solid ground now with no moats or canals in sight. The ability to walk (without crossing a bridge from Marunouchi to Yaesu and then to Edomachi (Nihonbashi) would have been shocking to a resident of Edo (read those other links to figure out why)

A view of

A view of “Maruonuchi” from Wadakura Gate. A little bit of Edo still exists…

Today the old Daimyō Alley includes:
Tōkyō Station (about 12 residences stood here)
Hitotsubashi Junction
Ōtemachi (about 10 residences stood here)
Hibiya Station (but not Hibiya Park; about 4 residences)
Yūrakuchō (about 8 residences)
The Kubizuka of Taira no Masakado (one of the most haunted spots in Tōkyō;
daimyō families whose residences maintained the kubizuka were the Doi and Sakai)
The Imperial Palace Park (Kōkyo Gaien) (formerly 9 major residences occupied this space;
it could be argued that this was part of the castle and not daimyō alley)

Bad Ass.

a view of Marunouchi from the Imperial Palace.

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* 丸 maru can also be referred to as or 曲輪, both read as kuruwa.
**Another set of synonyms to 本丸 and the like existed: ―ノ郭, 一ノ曲輪 ichinokuruwa (first citadel), 二ノ郭, 二ノ曲輪 ninokuruwa (second citadel), etc.
*** The area called “Daimyō Alley” took its name from main north/south running street. You can see it on the map. The nickname came to refer the area in general. That said, this was the only long, straight street. Most streets around the castle were intentionally maze-like.
**** Matsudaira, as you may already know, was the Tokugawa family before Ieyasu took the Tokugawa name. For reasons I don’t want to get into now, if you see the kanji (taira/daira) in an old Japanese name, you can assume it’s a noble name. Hitotsubashi is also a collateral family of the Tokugawa.  Fans of the Sengoku era will know why I listed the other 4 names.

_______________________
PS: for all info about Japanese castles, please check out: Jcastle.info.
PPS: for all info about samurai, please check out: Samurai-Archives.
PPPS: for a fucking awesome collection of pictures of Tokyo Station, please check out: Japan Web Magazine.

  1. It’s amazing to think the whole area was built up with castles and then turned into a field and now it’s a wall of skyskrapers! Thank you. This was very interesting.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      And I completely agree. I knew that the Mitsubishi Group was a major real estate holder in the area since the early Meiji Period, but I didn’t know that they actually bought the whole area. I also never imagined that everything was razed to the ground at one time and left to turn into a field for such a long time.

      The picture of the temporary Tokyo City headquarters is so awesome. Oh how I wish the Meiji Government had felt more of a need to preserve the traditional buildings. Photographs like this are priceless windows into the world of Late Edo.

  2. I’m pretty excited that my company will be moving to Otemachi later this year 😉 And yes, it’s a Mitsubishi owned building too.

    • let me guess… lunch breaks exploring Edo Castle?? 🙂

      The one thing I didn’t research is whether there is anything – besides the kubizuka – remaining from the Edo Period in the area. I’ll be interested to hear if you find anything!

  3. Is Edo Castle and The Imperial Palace the same things?

    • Are you being serious? If you follow the Edo Castle links, they’ll take you to the Jcastle.info page that explains about the castle. Lots of great information there.

      And as far as real estate goes, the terms Edo Castle, Chiyoda Caste, and Imperial Palace are more or less synonymous.

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