The sad part about this story is that I thought this would be an easy place name to cover. I hoped to research and write it in an under 2 hours. It turns out that it’s pretty fucking complicated.
Let’s start with the kanji:
汐 shio tide*
留 tome stop*
Two quick notes.
One, it’s possible that this place name predates the arrival of the Tokugawa. Names that predate the Tokugawa are problematic for a number of reasons, the chief of which is that before the Edo Period records are spotty at best.
Two, Shiodome is not a postal address in Tōkyō – even though it was an official place name (associated with Azabu and Shiba) from 1868 until the 1960’s. Nowadays the area’s most official claims to fame are Shiodome Station and Shiodome Shio Site. But if someone says they live or work in Shiodome, they’re probably referring to Hamamatsuchō, Daimon, or Shinbashi, which have official postal addresses. Today the Shiodome area refers to the area from modern Shiodome station to the bay (In the Edo Period, it was the Bay, in modern Tōkyō, landfill stretches out all the way to Odaiba).
There are a couple of theories about this name.
In the Edo Period it was believed that in prior to the coming of the Tokugawa, there was a 塩問屋 shio toiya or shio tonya (a sea salt production and wholesale area) in this area. The area had inlets from the bay which support this theory (but no archaeological evidence does). A sound change from “tonya” and “toiya” to “tome “ seems unlikely, but I don’t know shit about Japanese diachronic linguistics, so let’s leave that “undetermined.”
At the same time that the Hibiya inlet started drying up, major areas of Edo bay dried up. The area became more developed and the area became a natural barrier between the sea and solid land — literally “stopping/blocking the tide.” After the arrival of the Tokugawa, there were were vacation homes of some very important Tokugawa vassals from Tōhoku; Sendai domain, Aizu domain and Nanbu Domain. The Shōgun family also had a detached palace here whose gardens are still intact.
Who the fuck knows. The salt processing area could just be folk etymology, but future archaeological evidence could change that. The barrier between land and see isn’t far-fetched either. It’s supported by common sense and without more documentary evidence we can only take it at face value. But Shiodome, which wasn’t a very well-known place name got a second chance at life when the former Shinbashi Depot was renamed Shiodome Station in the Taishō Era. So it could be argued that the place name’s origin is irrelevant since the modern designation is a product the early 1900’s. There was a chance of the place name disappearing into oblivion in the late 80’s, but recent economic revival efforts since the early 90’s have brought the name into notoriety – and some might say the name notorious.
An Era-by-Era Guide to Shiodome
Before the Edo Period (before 1600):
Unclear. The tidal area may have been used for salt extraction and sales, but this is unconfirmed.
Edo Period (1600-1868):
In terms of developing Edo, Tokugawa Ieyasu went balls out. Daimyō were ordered to finance and move into the area as part of Ieyasu’s plan to surround his castle with his subordinate lords. Shinbashi (Shiodome), Nihonbashi, Hamachō and much of present Minato-ku fell under this influence.
The gardens of the Hama detached palace are still preserved as part of this elite palace area.
Many Tōhoku daimyō built lower residences here. Sendai (descendents of Date Masamune) and Aizu (whose family intermarried with the Tokugawa and remained loyal until the bitter end) had massive residences in the area. The Morioka clan (Nambu domain)’s residence was purchased by an Imperial prince and the garden still exists today, Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park. The Tokugawa family (centered in the Hamachō area) also possessed a seaside estate here, the garden of which is still intact, Hamarikyu Garden (mentioned earlier). There were a few samurai residences also built in the area.
Meiji Period (1868-1912):
The government confiscated the daimyō holdings. In 1872 新橋停車場 Shinbashi Depot was built as Japan’s first major hub station (starting point of the Tōkaidō Line). For most of the Meiji era, the area is known as Shinbashi and is associated with trains.
Taishō Period (1912-1926):
1914 – The station moves to Karasumori (which is renamed to Shinbashi) and the old station is renamed Shiodome Station. The area is increasingly referred to as Shiodome colloquially since Shinbashi is now next to Ginza in former Karasumori.
The old station continues life as a freight station and the area becomes a shipping and warehouse town.
Shōwa Period (1926-1989):
In the 1960’s more highways are built and freight train routes fall into disuse.
In 1987 Shiodome station closes. This could have been the final death knell for Shiodome, but….
Heisei Period (1989-any day now…)
In the 90’s (from Shōwa 60 to Heisei 7) The site of the former freight junction was gutted, excavated and re-developed into a new urban space called Shio Site. One of the interesting things about this activity was that the original Shinbashi Depot was reconstructed as a sightseeing spot. The area was a boon to archaeologists and helped expand much of what was known about Edo Period engineering and daimyō residences. As part of the urban development, skyscrapers were built to encourage big companies to relocate to this new “urban oasis” by the sea. The Tōkyō monorail also stops by the new and improved Shiodome Station. Many Tōkyōites will claim that the Shio Site is effectively a “wall of skyscrapers” that blocks the natural sea breeze from Tōkyō Bay. This “wall” is often blamed for Tōkyō’s excessively humid “heat island.” People even ironically lament the name, saying that we should be getting sea breezes from Tōkyō Bay, but that Shiodome is literally “blocking the sea” from Tōkyō.
* both of these kanji are poetic, other variants are 潮 shio (which also has a sexual meaning), and 止 tome (a more mundane rendering).