Kasuga Dōri (Kasuga Street)
Anyone who has visited Tōkyō learns very quickly that there are few streets with names. So when a street actually does have a name, it’s a significant detail. Unnamed, meandering streets are
characteristic of Japanese castle towns. If an enemy tried to attack the castle, they’d have to wander around endless street that wrapped around hills and often dead ended in rivers or residences. Only the locals would understand the layout of the town. In the Meiji Era some major thoroughfares were named and so there are a handful of named streets now. One of these is Kasuga Street.
Kasuga Dōri is made of 2 words:
春日 Kasuga (a woman’s name)
通り dōri street
If you’re familiar with the early shōgunate, then you probably know the name Kasuga. For those of you who don’t, she was the wet nurse of the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu. Her original name was お福 O-fuku (sometimes without the honorific お o as just 福 fuku) and she was a daughter of Saitō Toshimitsu*. She was married to Inaba Masanari, a dude whose retainership drifted from the Oda to the Toyotomi and eventually to the Tokugawa. (Well played, sir.) After giving birth to Masanari’s successor to the family in 1597, O-fuku’s ass got divorced by old man Inaba. She was eventually brought into the service of the Tokugawa in Edo Castle.
O-fuku was totally motivated, tho. She helped midwife the birth of Iemitsu and after his real mother died, she handled his official business and was always looking for fine pieces of ass for the shōgun to tap. She spent much of her time locating beautiful women from the elite families and bringing them into the castle. This collective of women was concentrated in the innermost sanctum of the castle, the so-called 大奥 Ō-oku, usually translated as “the great interior” or “the great inner chamber,” but most easily understood as “the shōgun’s harem.” Yes. It’s good to be the shōgun.
In 1629, she was granted Imperial rank by the Emperor and was thenceforth known as 春日局 Kasuga no Tsubone**. In 1630, she was granted ownership of an undeveloped field in present day Bunkyō Ward (near present day 春日駅 Kasuga Station) which she used to build a grand residence. Over time, the area around her residence came to be known as 春日殿町 Kasugadono-chō Lord Kasuga Town and later just 春日町 Kasuga-chō Kasuga Town. The station takes its name from this old town name. The street in turn, takes its name from the station and town.
There’s not a lot of material in English on her life, which is disappointing because there is a lot written about her in Japanese. I only know a little bit about her, but in researching this article I’ve become kind of intrigued. We don’t hear much about women from the pre-modern period except as baby machines and ways to seal political deals (ie; they were like property), so it’s exciting to hear about such a powerful and influential Japanese woman***.
By the way, if you’re interested in her and the Tokugawa and Edo Castle in particular, I recommend visiting 川越市 Kawagoe City in Saitama. It’s a fantastic spot for history enthusiasts, but of particular interest is the temple called 喜多院 Kita’in. After a major conflagration that razed the city, Tokugawa Iemitsu, had parts of the 紅葉山御殿 Momijiyama goten disassembled and donated them to the temple****. Since portions of the castle were rebuilt many times over the years, this is one of the oldest extant portions of the original Edo Castle and the only extant portion you can enter and walk around in! They have Kasuga no Tsubone’s makeup room and the room in which Tokugawa Iemitsu was actually born. The temple’s drawing room, reception hall and kitchen are all original rooms of Edo Castle. They also have a bad ass set of Tokugawa Iemitsu’s armor. It’s well worth the trip from Tōkyō – about an hour from Tōkyō Station, if I remember correctly.
* Fans of the Sengoku Period will recognize this name as one of the douches who helped Akechi Mitsuhide ambush Nobunaga. And by the way, her kanji 福 fuku means “mad luck, son!”
** The name 春日 kasuga literally means “spring day” and 局 tsubone is a title bestowed upon the highest ranking women who served the imperial court or served the shōgunal family.
*** She was so powerful and influential that in terms of income, she was worth 100,000 koku. That’s equivalent to a mid-level daimyō. To even qualify for the rank, you needed a minimum of 10,000 koku. Needless to say, the bitch was a baller.
**** 紅葉山 Momijiyama means “autumn leaves mountain/Japanese maple mountain” and was one of the shōgun’s gardens in Edo Castle. 御殿 goten means “palace.” This was a sub-palace from which the shōgun could enjoy the beauty of the autumn colors of his bad ass garden.