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Why is Kasuga Street called Kasuga Street?

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Travel in Japan on May 17, 2013 at 1:44 am

春日通り
Kasuga Dōri (Kasuga Street)

kasuga street

the fabulous pink colored street is 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  o as just 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.

Lady Kasuga = Lord Kasuga = Kasuga no Tsubone = Kasuga Tsubone = Kasuga = Kasuga Station = Kasuga Street = Kasuga Your Mom

Kasuga no Tsubone looking suspiciously like an お巫女さん(shrine girl)

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.

it's good to be the shōgun!

the ō-oku in the time of the 7th tokugawa shōgun, ietsugu, as portrayed in a movie. the middle girl is actress nakama yukie. i looooooooves me some nakama yukie!

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***.

grave of kasuga no tsubone

her grave is still well maintained by rinshō’in temple in bunkyo-ku, tōkyō.

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.

real edo castle - tokugawa castle power, awwwwwwww yeah!

kasuga no tsubone’s make up room in edo castle.

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* 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.

  1. A fan of Nakama Yukie? Have you seen her in the recent TV drama Tempest? I’m in the middle of watching it… it’s kind of ridiculous at times – so much court intrigues! – but really kind of wonderful, too, as one of a very very few TV dramas to take place in the Ryukyu Kingdom (complete with aristocratic bingata robes and hachimaki court caps, Shuri Castle as setting, and all of that).

  2. Yeah, I like her a lot. She has a kind of classical beauty. And she can actually act, a big plus for Japanese celebrities. lol

    I’ve never heard of Tempest. When did it come out?
    Is that the Japanese title?

    I didn’t know much at all about the Ryukyu Kingdom until I heard you on the Samurai Archives podcast and found your blog. So I might give have to give it a go.

  3. I bet this is the first time she has been referred to as both a “bitch” and a “baller” in the same breath.

  4. There was a Kasuga Sushi restaurant in my home town! I never realized the name was connected to such an interesting gal.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting!

      As for your sushi restaurant. I might not jump to that conclusion quite yet. While this street/town/subway station in Tokyo are all clearly linked to Kasuga no Tsubone, there are many other “Kasuga” throughout Japan.

      There are towns named Kasuga in Fukuoka, Gifu, and Hyogo. I’m not sure of the etymology of these places but I doubt there is a connection with Kasuga no Tsubone. There is also Kasuga Grand Shrine in Nara – also probably no connection. As a place name Kasuga also became a family name, so you might meet people named Taro Kasuga or Akiko Kasuga. The place name has also been applied to at least one castle, Kasuga-jo, and one warship in WWII.

      So without asking the sushi shop owner directly, there’s no way to know 100% if there is actually a connection to Kasuga no Tsubone. Could be. But hard to know for sure.

      BTW – here’s a link to Kasuga Grand Shrine: http://www.kasugataisha.or.jp/

    • Kasuga/Kasuka is also a “trick reading” for the girl’s name Haruka. The kanji are the same.
      My friend Haruka uses the name Kasuka on SNS sites to protect her privacy. So a restaurant might do the same out of humility if the shop is named after a family member.

  5. Interesting story.

    Thanks for all the links too. As a first time reader I was glad to see online references that I could check out.

    Cheers!

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