Last time, I wrote about 目黒 Meguro. The kanji mean “black eyes.” Far across town there is an area called 目白 Mejiro. The kanji mean “white eyes.” A couple of readers brought up the name Mejiro and asked if it was related. Some actually knew the story of the 五色不動 Goshiki Fudō the 5 Colored Fudō. If you don’t know about these 5 temples, you can read about them here. If you didn’t catch my article about Meguro, you can see it here. As seems too often to be the case, there is a little fiction and a little reality served with a healthy dash of mystery – and in this case, an incredibly frustrating mystery.
First, Let’s Start with the Most Commonly Kicked Around Etymologies
★ The Famous White Horse Theory
This theory says, without stating much else, that a famous white horse was born here, a 白い名馬 shiroi meiba, if you will. This theory is plausible because, well… ok, anything’s possible. But naming a place after a single white horse seems a little silly. Anyways, the etymological basis for this derivation is that the original place name was 馬白 Mejiro “white horse” – 馬 representing a dialectal variant of ma (horse), me. If you’re familiar with my article on Meguro, then you’ll likely find the similarity of 馬白 → 目白 to the proposed change of 馬黒 → 目黒 intriguing.
★ The “Tokugawa Iemitsu Did It” Theory
Having researched a ton of Tōkyō place names this year, I’m starting to see patterns emerge that set off my BS detectors. Theories that say the third shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, came into some place and renamed it are a dime a dozen. I’m willing to entertain some of them, but some are just retarded. This is one of them.
The story states that one day Tokugawa Iemitsu came to Meguro for falconry and thought the name 目黒 Black Eyes was inauspicious and ordered the area to be called 目白 White Eyes. The stupidest thing about this theory is that anyone who looks at a map will see that the modern Meguro and Mejiro are nowhere near each other. And while – yes, anything is possible – there could have been another village called Meguro here at one point, it’s pretty fucking unlikely. Even if it was true, why didn’t Iemitsu care about the other Meguro? And he was the shōgun for fuck’s sake – the samurai dictator of the realm. I doubt he was such a pussy as to change the names of villages simply because the name scared him.
★ The “Buddha Did It” Theory
This is by far the most elaborate – and widely told – theory.
At the beginning of the Edo Period, the super monk[i], 天海 Tenkai, was placed in charge of developing Buddhist temples in the area. His pet project was to build a cluster of 5 temples dedicated to Acala, called 不動 Fudō The Unmovable One in Japanese. Each temple’s statue of Fudō had a different colored pair of eyes. The one in 目黒 Meguro Black Eyes had black eyes[ii]. The statue in 目白 Mejiro White Eyes had, you guessed it, white eyes. The presence of a temple established by Tenkai, which was part of a grouping of 4 other temples was prestigious for the area and probably brought many pilgrims to the town’s 門前町 monzen-chō (town built at the front of a temple)[iii]. The area then derived its name from this temple’s claim to fame, the white eyed statue.
This theory sounds plausible on the surface, but the fact is that the name Mejiro pre-dates the Edo Era, so sorry to say, the statue’s eye color might originate from the place name, but the place name does not originate from the statue. The name Mejiro allegedly first appeared in one of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s original surveys of Edo when he moved into the area and was sizing up his new holdings.
By The Way, Why Did The Statues Each Have Different Colored Eyes?
Well, I’m glad you asked. The cluster of temples is called the 五色不動 Goshiki Fudō The Five Colored Fudō. The 5 colors are a reference to something called 五行思想 Gogyō Shisō the Theory of the Five Elements, which is some ancient Chinese woo that views the cosmos through a delicate balance of, you guessed it, 5 “elements;” wood, fire, earth, metal, and water[iv].
As you can see in the image above, there are 5 colors associated with these “elements;” blue, red, yellow, white, black. Which temples actually make up the Goshiki Fudō is a point of contention these days, as the grouping during the Edo Period is different than the grouping now. In fact today’s grouping has 6 statues (a second yellow eyed statue has been added). The truth is the whole story of the naming of these towns and their connections to the temple statues is an invention of the Bakumatsu Era which only gained popularity in the Meiji Era. In other words, there is zero connection between the temples and the place names.
OK, so where does the place name Mejiro really come from?
No one knows.
After reading all that, I hope you feel as let down and disappointed as I was researching this topic. When looking into the origins of Tōkyō place names, there are some that have fascinating stories and some that are just dead ends. At least this story has some interesting tangents that have made it worth your time. I had fun doing the research, but… yeah. I’m disappointed too.
But the story isn’t finished quite yet. Have you ever been to Mejiro? There’s not much to do there so there may be no reason for you to go. But in 1932[v], the head of the 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari branch of the Tokugawa Family built a residence here[vi]. Since then, his property has been turned into an exclusive planned community called the Tokugawa Village. It’s home to high ranking diplomats and über-rich douche bags of every stripe[vii] and it’s home to the 徳川黎明会 Tokugawa Reimeikai Tokugawa Dawn Society which sounds like an evil cult, and may in fact be one, but on the surface it seems to be a group dedicated to historical research related to the Tokugawa. It’s affiliated with the prestigious 徳川美術館 Tokugawa Bijutsukan Tokugawa Fine Art Museum in Nagoya which preserves the largest collection of art and property of the Tokugawa family and has a hell of a gift shop if you want goods with the Tokugawa family crest printed on them[viii].
OK, so, to re-cap: famous horse, Iemitsu, 5 Buddhas, eyeballs, über-rich douche bags, Tokugawa cult, nobody knows.
[i] I say supermonk because it seems like every other temple in Kantō claims to have been established by or have some connection to him. Dude got around. Or who knows? I’m not into monks so don’t hold me to it. (And “supermonk” sounds hilarious.)
[ii] But as mentioned in my article on Meguro, the name of the town predates the Edo Period. So Meguro’s name does not derive from the statue. There is a chance that Tenkai chose the town Meguro for the black eyed statue or it may be a happy little coincidence. But Edo Period people probably dug that kind of shit, so I wouldn’t put it past the supermonk.
[iii] See my article on Monzen-nakachō for more about this kind of town.
[iv] None of which is actually an element.
[v] Shōwa 7
[vi] In the Edo Period he would have been a successive daimyō, but after the reforms of the Meiji Era he was a Marquis – just as I am a Marquis Star (cue cheeseball drumfill).
[vii] That’s totally uncalled for. I don’t know if the people there are douches or not. I’m not rich, so that’s just my jealous oozing out as totally unjustified contempt.
[viii] Yes, I want. Thank you very much.