When you first start learning kanji, you start noticing characters everywhere. In writing, they always have a context, so it’s possible to figure out what’s going on. In place names, often the characters seem totally random. And even when something should be painfully obvious, it often isn’t. The name Iidabashi stumped me for a long time. The average Japanese could probably make a decent guess at this one and would be pretty much correct.
Let’s Look at the Kanji
The first kanji, 飯, is an important character. It has multiple readings. The most notable are meshi (meal, food), manma (food) and han (cooked rice). The second kanji, 田 ta rice field, also has multiple readings, but ta is the most common. The third kanji, 橋 hashi bridge, is well known to readers of JapanThis because Edo was a city of waterways and bridges and there’s a place name with hashi in it every 100 meters, it seems.
The last two characters are pretty standard. But “WTF does Cooked Rice Rice Field Bridge mean?” I kept asking myself. I imagined there were a lot of restaurants in this area in the Edo Period. And a lot of rice fields. And, of course, a bridge. But it didn’t make any sense.
Well, understanding how to read the first kanji is the key to the puzzle. If it’s in a personal or family name, it can be read as ii. For the longest time, I wasn’t putting two and two together. The combination of 飯 and 田 was actually a family name, Iida.
Having met countless people with the family named Iida, I feel like an idiot for not picking up on the obvious.
OK, so here’s the story
As mentioned repeatedly throughout JapanThis, in 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu entered the city of Edo under the orders of the imperial regent, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Upon entering the city, he wanted to inspect the surrounding areas of his new domain. He recruited an elite local resident to show him around each of the areas he was inspecting. The person who served as his guide for the present day Iidabashi area was a certain samurai named 飯田喜兵衛 Iida Kihei. Ieyasu apparently to a liking to the little bugger and appointed him as village headman and then said that the area should be called 飯田町 Iidamachi Iida Town. For most of the Edo Period, town names were in a state of flux as “official names” don’t seem to have been a priority of the shōgunate[i]. But it seems like this name stuck for a while. Sometime before 1711, an official name was given to a big-ass hill in the area, 九段坂 Kudanzaka Kudan Hill (more about this name in the next blog). But the name of the town persisted until it was officially registered as a town under the new administrative structure of the Meiji Government in 1872.
In 1881, a bridge was built across the 外堀 sotobori outer moat of Tōkyō Castle[ii] to the north side of Iidamachi. The bridge was named 飯田橋 Iidabashi Iida Bridge.
In 1895, 飯田町駅 Iidamachi Eki Iidamachi Station was built. In the 1930’s, traffic to west Tōkyō was redirected to Shinjuku Station and eventually Iidamachi Station closed to commuter traffic. But prior to that, in 1928, there was another station built near the bridge and the major intersection there. Due to its proximity to the bridge, the station was called 飯田橋駅 Iidabashi Station. Iidamachi Station continued to be use, but more and more as a freight station. Since commuter traffic shifted to Iidabashi Station, the area came to be more and more referred to as Iidabashi instead of Iidamachi.
In 1966, when the Japanese postal address system was revamped, the area’s place name was officially changed to Iidabashi. Today there is no place called Iidamachi, but there is a marker for the site of the former Iidamachi Station.
Good for it.
[i] In an era when people changed their names regularly, this isn’t very surprising. But place names tended to stick longer.
[ii] After the city’s name was changed from Edo to Tōkyō, the castle’s name naturally changed too.