In Tōkyō’s Chūō Ward, there is a small alley called 安針通り Anjin Dōri. Until 1932, this neighborhood was called 安針町 Anjin-chō Anjin Town. Some of you probably know exactly where this is going, for those of you who don’t, let’s get started.
In Early Modern Japanese there was a word 按針 anjin, literally “searching needle,” which referred to the process of using a compass. At the time, this was the main way in which ships were navigated and so, by extension, the word was applied not just to ship navigation, but also to ship navigators[i].
If anyone has ever seen the 1980’s American mini-series, Shogun, then they already know this Japanese word. The main character is referred to as Anjin-san and he is an English navigator stranded in Japan who has been pressed into service of the first shōgun, Lord Toranaga. This mini-series was a dramatization of James Clavell’s novel, Shogun, which is based on the life of one William Adams. He was an Englishman, stranded in Japan who was pressed into the service of the first shōgun, Lord Tokugawa.
Am I repeating myself?
Anyways, he’s so famous in the English speaking world and there are excellent sources available online about him (see the bottom of the page for links).
Sometime after 1610, the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, granted William Adam’s samurai status and made him a 旗本 hatamoto direct retainer of the shōgun family. He granted him a fief in an area called 逸見 Hemi which is located in present day 横須賀 Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture. The area is located in the 三浦半島 Miura Hantō Miura Peninsula. Ieyasu, being a pretty clever guy, thought of a Japanese name for William. 三浦安針 Miura Anjin Anjin of Miura.
But wait, didn’t you say, anjin meant navigator? Yes. But “navigator” isn’t a fucking name in English, is it? Well, it isn’t in Japanese either. Ieyasu changed the kanji from 按針 to 安針. The first kanji changed from “search” (which is never used in names) to “safe/safety” (which is used in names). The official place name changed in the 1930’s, which was before a major reformation of spelling happened. The word 按針 is a title and the word 安針 is a name. As you can see from the street sign at the beginning of this article, the title is used for the street. But any Google search shows that the kanji Ieyasu bestowed upon him was and is still preferred.
OK, so Miura Anjin (aka William Adams) is a white dude samurai receiving a 250 koku a year stipend (an income equivalent to a local magistrate; he supported a village with some 70 or so servants, his Japanese wife and 2 kids, and still managed to send money back to his former family in England). His main residence was at the fief in Kanagawa.
So why is there a place in Tōkyō named after him?
Well, in those days, there were no cars. So walking from Yokosuka to Edo Castle took a long time[ii]. Before he became a samurai and all, Ieyasu had granted him some property near Nihonbashi. It’s near the castle so he could visit easily (and so the shōgunate could keep an eye on him, no doubt). Also it wasn’t in the daimyō neighborhoods, but the merchant neighborhood as he was originally seen as a sort of tradesperson[iii]. So Anjin kept the house in Edo for when he visited the city.
Because he was a unique dude, and according to the stories we have, he was not only gracious to his Japanese neighbors and servants, but he made every effort to Japanize himself and get along with the Japanese on Japanese terms. This won him great respect from the shōgun and the people around him, while it apparently irritated some of the other foreigners he dealt with who, like the foreigner trash in Roppongi today, refuse to learn about Japan.
So, after he died the area where his estate in Edo came to be known as 安針町 Anjin-chō Anjin Town. In his own lifetime, Anjin (William) saw the slow but steady restriction of maritime travel and trade into and out of Japan. He himself may have been a major factor in the expulsion of the Portuguese and Spanish and the later suspicion of Christianity in general[iv].
Anjin died in Kyūshū, but in Japanese style, he is enshrined in various places. The main grave is considered the one in Yokosuka near the 安針塚駅 Anjinzuka Eki Anjin Burial Mound Station. The story goes he wanted to be buried with a view of Edo as he helped to protect the city with the deified Tokugawa Ieyasu[v]. 浄土寺 Jōdo-ji temple in Yokosuka administers the grave and claims to hold items associated with his family and the grave. They also claim that in the early Edo Era, residents of Anjin-chō donated money and materials for the grave and its upkeep.
The site of his Edo residence is commemorated in the place formerly known as Anjin-chō. If you’d like to see it, there is a stone tablet which was set up in 1951. Take the A1 exit of Mitsukoshi-mae Station. It claims this was the site of his home.
William Adam’s (Miura Anjin)’s commemorative plaque today:
Learn About William Adams Here….
A Quick Write Up on William Adams:
John Blackthorne and the Shogun Mini-Series:
[i] This word is often translated as pilot in its older meaning of a ship’s navigator, which I just find confusing since pilots fly planes these days. Navigation, literally “driving a ship” in Latin, is a much more apt term.
[ii] Hell, taking the local train from Edo Castle to Yokosuka can take up to 2 hours in bad conditions.
[iii] If you don’t know his story, please read the links provided. I’m not going to rehash his entire story.
[iv] All good things, if you ask me.
[v] I don’t buy this story for a minute, but it does play into Japanese sensibilities and myths of the time, so it’s pretty interesting.