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What does Kichijoji mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on July 1, 2013 at 2:40 am

吉祥寺
Kichijōji  (Temple of the Lucky Omens)

You can take good pictures at Kichijoji, but you can't take good pictures of Kichijoji. These kind of streets go on and on and so does the awesomeness.  Trying to get lost in Kichijoji is how you play the game.

You can take good pictures at Kichijoji, but you can’t take good pictures of Kichijoji.
These kind of streets go on and on and so does the awesomeness.
Trying to get lost in Kichijoji is how you play the game.

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OK, my friends…

This is a bit of a weird one.

The place name of Kichijōji means “Temple of Auspicious Omens.”

It’s a temple’s name and yet….  there is no temple of that name here.

What could have possibly happened?

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Most people enter the park this way because this is one of the closest entrances to the station. The dark portion on the left are the trees of the park, so you walk from the elevated street level down into the park. It's a fantastic way to enter a park.

Most people enter the park this way because this is one of the closest entrances to the station.
The dark portion on the left are the trees of the park, so you walk from the elevated street level down into the park.
It’s a fantastic way to enter a park.
But topside, there are many shops serving all kinds of good food for you to eat before you go into the park and as you leave the park.

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The name of the temple supposedly dates back to 1458.

When the Sengoku Era warlord, Ōta Dōkan, came into Edo and began expanding Chiyoda Castle[i], he put a few temples and shrines on the premises. One of the temples he included was 吉祥寺 Kichijō-ji Temple of the Lucky Omens[ii]. He must have liked the kanji 吉 kichi/yoshi because he also included 日枝神社 Hie Jinja Hie Shrine which was actually a branch shrine of the Kyōto shrine called 日吉神社 Hiyoshi Jinja Hiyoshi Shrine which includes the same character. Hie Shrine still exists in Akasaka.

The story goes that when Ōta Dōkan was fortifying his estate and they were digging the moats, they pulled some water from a well near the 和田倉 Wadakura Mon Wadakura Gate. They found 金印 kin’in a gold stamper inscribed with the words 吉祥増上 kichijō zōjō. Kichijō means “auspicious” or “lucky omen” and so they chose the first word as the name of the temple. The second word, zōjō, is identical to the zōjō of Zōjō-ji, the Tokugawa funerary temple in Shiba. Not sure if there’s a connection, but it’s intriguing[iii]. Anyhoo, the original temple was built in 西之丸 Nishi no Maru the west enclosure of Edo Castle[iv].

When I said gold stamper, I meant something like this.

When I said gold stamper, I meant something like this.

Reversed for her pleasure.

This is what was supposedly written on the gold stamper.
Reversed for her pleasure.

In 1590, the 太閤 taikō, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, transferred Tokugawa Ieyasu to Edo Castle. In 1591, during his first expansion and rebuilding phase, Ieyasu for reasons that are not clear[v], moved Kichijō-ji temple near present day 水道橋  Suidōbashi (near Tōkyō Dome) in 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward.

As I’ve mentioned before, in old Japan, towns would spring up around temples. These towns were called 門前町 monzen-chō towns in front of the gate[vi]. So, near Suidōbashi a town called 吉祥寺門前町 Kichijōji Monzen-chō popped up. The town had a pretty sweet location near the river and main water supply of Edo.

A typical Monzencho.

A typical Monzencho.

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Then Some Shit Went Down

・In 1657, the Meireki Fire happened.
・Edo was burnt to shit.
・Kichijō-ji itself was burnt to shit.
・The town of Kichijōji Monzen-chō was burnt to shit.

The Meireki Conflagration lasted 3 days and literally incinerated about 70% of Edo. More than 100,000 lives were lost. It's easy to look at this as an historical event with dispassionate eyes. But this was such a large scale tragedy that it permanently change the face of Edo-Tokyo.

The Meireki Conflagration lasted 3 days and literally incinerated about 70% of Edo.
More than 100,000 lives were lost.
It’s easy to look at this as an historical event with dispassionate eyes.
But this was such a large scale tragedy that it permanently change the face of Edo-Tokyo.

 

Because of its sweet-ass location, the shōgunate wanted to repurpose the land for daimyō mansions. So they offered monetary incentives to the residents of Kichijōji Monzenchō to entice them to move to 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama County[vii]. Under the purview of some 浪士 rōshi masterless samurai, most of the community was moved to present day Kichijōji. They brought the name with them but they couldn’t bring the temple.

The shōgunate relocated the temple Kichijō-ji to nearby 本駒込 Hon-Komagome, also in modern Bunkyō Ward. The temple was rebuilt and it still stands today.

I'm not making this stuff up!!!

The main gate to Kichijo-ji in Bunkyo.
For those of you who don’t believe me, it’s clearly written right there on the stone pillar!

The modern temple isn't much to look at, but they're a pretty major land holder in Tokyo. That's prime real estate, my friend.

The modern temple isn’t much to look at, but they’re a pretty major land holder in Tokyo.
That’s prime real estate, my friend.

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These days, it’s not a well-known temple around Tōkyō. Most people have no idea that “the real Kichijōji” is here. But the local residents definitely know about it. And the temple cares for a decent sized cemetery, which includes the grave of Ninomiya Sontoku, an Edo Period “peasant economist” dude whom I’ve never heard of, but I’ve seen countless statues and representations of him all over the place. Never realized who he was until today. Wow. Ya learn something every day, huh?

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Little Edo Period boy with a backpack reading while walking = Ninomiya Sontoku. An ubiquitous image around Japan.

Little Edo Period boy with a backpack reading while walking = Ninomiya Sontoku.
An ubiquitous image around Japan.

Eventually, the little boy reading a book while walking died.

Eventually, the little boy reading a book while walking died.
This is his grave.

Of course, today when you say Kichijōji, everyone thinks of the vibrant city in Mitaka famous for reasonable shopping, a quasi-Bohemian lifestyle, and the fabulous 井ノ頭公園 Inokashira Park[viii]. But we know better now, don’t we? The real Kichijō-ji is in central Tōkyō and that famous Kichijōji is a freaking poseur. And now you’re armed with enough useless trivia about this subject to shock and bore Japanese people to pieces at parties[ix].

I haven’t been to Kichijōji in about 2 years. I used to live in Nakano and was so easy to get there that I often headed out that way just to relax and explore the town. Writing this has made me feel a little nostalgic for the area and all the time I spent there. May have to head out there again soon[x].

This turned up in a random Google search for Kichijoji. No complaints here.

This turned up in a random Google search for Kichijoji. 

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[i] Also known as Edo Castle, ie; the present Imperial Palace.

[ii] Henceforth, I shall refer to the town as Kichijōji and the temple as Kichijō-ji.

[iii] Maybe someone who knows more about Japanese Buddhism in the early modern era could help me out here. Yoroshiku ne!

[iv] If you’re a long time reader of Japan This, you’ll know what a maru is. If you’re new to here, you might want to see my article on Marunouchi. You might also want to check out the explanation at JCastle.info and his Edo Castle Project – which is totally bad ass. Japanese Castle Explorer also has a nice piece on Edo Castle.

[v] My guess is expanding the castle was a priority and he probably saw having temples and shrines on the castle grounds as security risks. The reigns of the first 3 shōguns weren’t the most stable of times.

[vi] Literally 門前 monzen in front of the gate  町 chō town. See my article on Monzen-Nakachō.

[vii] Pronounced /ˈist ˈbʌtfʌk / for you linguistics nerds.

[viii] And yes, some people think of the Studio Ghibili Museum which we’re not going to talk about. Sorry, Ghibili nerds.

[ix] Kind of like my party trick of listing all 15 Tokugawa shōguns in order. And my new party trick of listing their posthumous names in order after that for added effect.

[x] But definitely not to see the Ghibili Museum.

  1. Ahhh duuude, all these pretty pictures make me yearn for Japan and Tokyo… ;_;

    But I just learned the word for ‘scandal’ in Japanese (不祥事) which of course contains the 「祥」kanji in 吉祥寺. This post was interesting AND good for memory reinforcement!

  2. I was just wondering this very thing the other day. Your blog has me thinking about place names all the time now.

    I asked my colleague who lives in Kichijoji if it was named after a temple or shrine. She said “maybe” but she has never seen a place called that.

    I showed her your blog and she loved it. She said maybe you know more about Japan than the Japanese.

    • Thank you!

      Actually, I get that a lot. But that’s just Japanese people being polite.
      But this blog is pretty nerdy. It’s all about obscure shit, so maybe I can beat some people at an Edo Trivia game or something. But that’s about it.

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