I don’t know why I haven’t written about Mitaka yet. I’ve known the etymology of this for about 7 years. It was told to me by a monk at one of the temples located around 井ﾉ頭公園 Inokashira Kōen Inokashira Park – which is another interesting place name, actually.
Mitaka is part of the Tōkyō Metropolis, but it is not one of the 23 Special Wards. So it doesn’t use the word 区 ku ward, rather it uses 市 shi city, thus the full name is 三鷹市 Mitaka-shi Mitaka City. Despite not being “special,” Mitaka does have some interesting attractions. The most famous place is the town of 吉祥寺 Kichijōji where the famous Inokashira Park is located. It’s a great park, a little crowded, and popular with young people. It’s famous for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing and hippies. There are some interesting shrines and temples located in and around the park that have their own interesting stories as well. The city is also famous for the Studio Ghibili Museum[i].
My research confirmed the story I was told by the monk and also produced an alternate theory. First, I’ll give you the story I heard 7 years ago.
In the Edo Period, the Tokugawa shōguns used the area as a 鷹場 takaba falconry hunting ground[ii]. The shōguns could use any damn place they wanted for falconry – it’s good to be the shōgun – but as with all things in the Edo Period, there were restrictions on the other noble families, including the other branches of the Tokugawa clan. The vast Mitaka area was reserved for the 御三家 Go-sanke The 3 Families the 3 branches chosen by Ieyasu to provide a shōgun if his direct family line went extinct[iii]. Because members of the 三 mi 3 most elite branches of the Tokugawa family came here frequently to hunt with 鷹 taka falcons, the area came to be known as 三 鷹 mi taka, the 3 falcons.
The alternate story that I came across states that Mitaka was surrounded by 3 領 ryō territories[iv]. Those territories were 世田谷領 Setagaya-ryō , 府中領 Fuchū-ryō , and 野方領 Nogata-ryō, therefore the area was called 三 鷹 mi taka, the takaba surrounded by 3 territories.
In the Edo Period, the area was just a collection of villages and the name Mitaka seems to have been a nickname or deliberately chosen later. It wasn’t until 1889 when the 22 year old Meiji government abolished the old Tokugawa civil administrative units and created the 市町村制 Shichōson Sei City-Town-Village System of administration. At that time the area that is now Mitaka was officially created. Apparently, there was a document that included the reason the name Mitaka was chosen but it was lost when the old village office was destroyed in a fire. This is one of those times when we are close enough to the creation of a name that we could have an official etymology but far enough back in time that backups and copies of things weren’t always so common and – the curse of any person interested in Japanese history – the cities were fire traps. So close and yet so far.
To be honest, both stories sound credible to me. And it’s not inconceivable that the reality lies a little in the middle.
[i] I see no reason to talk about Ghibili here…
[ii] See my article on Kōenji for more about falconry and the samurai elite.
[iii] Anyone reading my blog by now probably already knows these, but just in case, those families are the 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke the Owari branch, 紀伊徳川家 Kii Tokugawa-ke the Kii branch and 水戸徳川家 Mito Tokugawa-ke the Mito branch. And a quick aside, the area wasn’t only for the Go-sanke’s use, of course, the shōgun family could use it if they wanted to.
[iv] Mitaka itself didn’t exist. It was just an unincorporated area of 武蔵国多磨郡 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Tama District of Musashi Province.