(literally “Inlet Door,” but more at “Estuary”)
|Today’s post is a monster!
There are a lot of footnotes trying to clarify things in the text.
Please check those.
There are good links and some additional info there.
A few days ago was, if my math is correct, the 145th anniversary of day Edo was renamed Tōkyō. This happened on September 3rd, 1868 by an imperial decree called 江戸を称して東京と為すの詔書 Edo wo shōshite Tōkyō to nasu shōsho Imperial Edict Renaming Edo Tōkyō. The document was written in the ancient and pretentious language of the imperial court which is above my Japanese level so I’m not going to translate it for you. But we all know what happened. Edo ceased to exist and Tōkyō was born.
I tried to find a picture of the actual document, but I couldn’t. But if you do want to see the section of the text that laid out the command in all its highfalutin imperial court language glory, here it is:
UPDATE: I found a translation of this line at no-sword.jp. Here’s the translation:
But enough about Tōkyō.
Today’s topic is Edo.
Every guidebook and general book on Japanese history says something like:
“Before the coming of the Tokugawa, Edo was a sleepy fishing village.”
“Though it was once an insignificant village in the marshy wetlands, Tokugawa Ieyasu transformed Edo into a glorious capital befitting of the shōguns.”
And while those sorts of statements hold varying degrees of truth, just blowing off everything before the arrival of Tokugawa Ieyasu, raises more questions because why the hell would Ieyasu just pick some crappy fishing village in a marsh and say “Build me a castle from which I can rule Japan!” Ieyasu wasn’t that impulsive and he definitely wasn’t stupid. He was made an offer by Hideyoshi and he took it. He deliberately chose Edo which means the area was strategically important and not a shithole fishing village in East Bumfuck.
One other thing we often hear is:
“A feudal warlord named Ōta Dōkan came into the small fishing village of Edo and built his castle there.”
Again, this seems strategically silly and as you will see, it’s simply not true[i]. Sure, fishing was a big deal in the area – it was for all of Edo’s existence, but things are more nuanced than that.
PART 1 – SHORT ANSWER
for people with short attention spans™
In the 12th century, an influential branch of the Taira clan moved their base from present day Saitama to 江戸郷 Edo-gō Edo Hamlet in 豊島郡 Toshima-gun Toshima District in 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province[ii]. Following standard practice of the time, if a powerful lord wanted to distinguish his line as a new clan, he would take the name of his territory as a surname. Thus this new clan was 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo Clan. Edo’s place name seems to have been quite literal. It meant “estuary.”
PART 2 – LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG ANSWER
for people with too much time on their hands™
OK, so let’s go waaaaaaaaaay back before the Tokugawa.
The Kantō Plain appears to have first been populated in the Late Jōmon Period sometime after 3100 BC. This is well before rice culture found its way to Japan[iii]. It’s fair to say these people were hunter gatherers and don’t really figure into the history of Edo-Tōkyō as an urban space. But still, their presence here gives us some perspective of how long humans have lived here.
The Kofun Period
Fast forward more than 2000 years and…
During the Kofun Period (200-500 AD), the influence of the Yamato State[iv] finally reached the Kantō area. It seems that around the 300’s, Kantō became a vassal state of the Yamato Court. It’s from this period forward that we can see the arrival of the people who are to become what we will later see as Japanese, physically and culturally. They were a literate people who had ideas of governance, philosophy and technology that they learned[v] from the Korean peninsula and China. The spread of Shintō accompanies the Yamato influence. BTW – Kofun are burial mounds typical of this culture. There are kofun scattered throughout the Kantō area – more than 200 exist in the Tōkyō Metropolis. The so-called 丸山古墳 Maruyama Kofun “Round Mountain” Kofun is in 芝公園 Shiba Kōen Shiba Park next to where Tokugawa Hidetada’s funerary temple was built in the early 1600’s[vi].
Maruyama Kofun is the largest in the area, so it must have been built for someone powerful. The kofun sits an easy walk from Edo Bay and is next to the 古川 Furukawa “the Old River,” one of many rivers and inlets in the area (at the time and, to a certain extent, today).
The hilly area surrounding it could provide high areas for residences and villages. Strategically speaking, these hills were ideal for defense because, duh, it’s better to be at the top of the hill in a ground war than at the bottom. Also, the high ground protected villages from tsunamis and flooding. The proximity to the bay was great for fishing and growing seaweed and the inlets and rivers were convenient for sending heavy supplies and foodstuffs in and out of the area. The bay also provided a natural defense as Japanese ship construction technology sucked ass at this time. The wetland areas were perfect for growing rice. In short, the area was defensible and sustainable. Whoever is buried in the Maruyama Kofun noticed this potential and most definitely exploited it to his and his subjects’ benefit.
From Maruyama Kofun, move a few clicks north on a map of Edo and you will see where Edo Castle stood[vii]. The same conditions existed here[viii] and it’s from here that our story really begins.
The Rise of Samurai in Kantō
Let’s move up to present day Saitama in the area called 秩父郡 Chichibu-gun Chichibu District near 大宮 Ōmiya Ōmiya, not far from the present day Tōkyō-Saitama boarder. At the end of the Heian Period in the 12th century, a noble clan descended from the 平氏 Hei-shi Taira Clan was in control of the area. The original, major samurai houses descended from imperial branch families like the Taira.
The family name Taira essentially means you descend from the imperial family of the Heian Period, but you are not 公家 kuge a court family, so your official status is that of a subject of the emperor. But as a samurai family with imperial blood, you – theoretically –have more power and rank than the average samurai.
By the way, this era marks the true rise of the samurai culture. Lords (daimyō) tended to take the names of their fiefs as family names to establish new branch families[ix]. So, although these families were of Taira blood, this branch took the name of their fief and became known as the Chichibu Clan. It seems that bearing the name of your territory was an expression of your dominance. (Remember that! It’s going to come up again later.)
So, for reasons unclear (to me at least), someone from this Taira samurai family in Chichibu moved south to establish a new clan. The most likely candidate is the guy generally considered the first head of the Edo Clan, Chichibu Shigetsugu.
Chichibu Shigetsugu moved south and fortified a small hill in 千代田 Chiyoda “Eternal Fields”[x]. He probably chose this area because this is where Tōkyō Bay had a major inlet that became the Sumida River. It had a strong current for bringing in goods. Being on the coast, it was immune from attacks by sea on one side and with so much seafood production and rice production in the area it was a sustainable area. The same natural features that made area appealing to the people of the Kofun Period, also made it appealing this 12th century samurai.
The area into which Chichibu Shigetsugu moved was supposedly known as 江戸郷 Edo-gō the hamlet of Edo[xi]. Following the tradition of his day, when he became lord of the area, he assumed the name 江戸 Edo and became Edo Shigetsugu. His descendants would also bear this name.
It’s thought that his fortified residence was built on what is now the current 本丸 honmaru main keep and 二ﾉ丸 ninomaru secondary enclosure of the Imperial Palace (areas still delineated clearly today).
☆ TIP: Check JCastle.info to learn what the heck honmaru and ninomaru are!
This is where it gets weirder. Despite being a minor offshoot of the Taira clan, the second successive lord, Edo Shigenaga, was asked by Minamoto Yoritomo[xii] to help fight against the Taira. Lord Shigenaga switched sides (probably to save his ass) and in about 1180, after the war, he was rewarded with 7 additional fiefs in the surrounding area. I’m not sure about this, but although Edo Hamlet was still one of his holdings, it seems he made his main residence and seat of government at Kitami[xiii]. This consolidated the Edo clan’s influence over a wide area.
Edo Shigenaga continued fortification of the military residence in Chiyoda. Because of the clan’s connection to the Minamoto shōguns[xiv], the Edo family’s influence increased and Chiyoda Castle[xv] increasingly came to be referred to as Edo Castle, though the dual naming would persist[xvi].
Edo from the Kamakura Period to the Muromachi Period
The area was still minor, but it’s clear from archaeological evidence and administrative records that the area began its first baby steps towards urbanization at this time. It was a minor military hub and because of the nearby 隅田川 Sumidagawa Sumida River and Edo Bay, logistically speaking, transportation of goods was most likely increasing.
We can only imagine that during the Kamakura Period, the villages and hamlets the fell under the protection of the Edo Clan would have grown and prospered a little. Occasionally the area shows up in records of the Kamakura Shōgunate. The Muromachi Period, however, is pretty much silent on the area. Kamakura was not so far away from Toshima and Musashi provinces and so would be up to date on things. The Muromachi Shōgunate was far off in Kyōto and probably too busy to care what a bunch of country samurai in the east were doing. But by 1467, we start to see the country descend into chaos as the shōgunate loses control of the country.
The Sengoku Era saw the rise in castle towns centered around the castles of 大名 daimyō lords who were constantly at war with their positions always changing. So we see great development in castle building and military strategy, but not so much in city building or administration. In the final years of the Sengoku Period castle building reached the stage of what we usually think of when we imagine a stereotypical Japanese castle. In the early years, castle building was a little different. Think dirt-walled, wood-fenced, thatched roofed barn-like firetraps.
1457, at the beginning of the Sengoku Era, a Musashi warlord named Ōta Dōkan attacked Edo Shigeyasu. Shigeyasu surrendered to Dōkan (a vassal of the Uesugi). His life was spared and he was allowed to continue living at the Edo clan’s Kitami residence. (Remember that because it’s going to come up again).
Dōkan and Uesugi recognized the strategic benefits of the Edo Clan’s residence near the bay (and probably its nice view of Mt. Fuji on one side and the ocean on the other side and decided to build (or develop) the structure for Uesugi Sadamasa. The new structures were built in the same area that the original Edo Clan residence had been. As stated before, this is the area that became the honmaru and ninomaru of the Tokugawa Edo Castle (today this area is the Imperial Palace East Garden). The building may not have been terribly large, but he installed a large and complex system of moats and it began to look more like an early Sengoku Era castle.
Also, as mentioned before, in the Sengoku Era we see the rise of 城下町 jōka machi castle towns. As the castles got bigger, they needed to rely on goods from the local people. As fighting got worse, the people needed to be closer to the castles for protection. After all, it was dangerous out there. Also, the lords wanted rings of meandering streets around the castles for 2 reasons; one, it’s difficult to siege a castle when you have to go through a city first and two, human shields. That said, this early in the Sengoku Period, I don’t think we were seeing a lot of that. But, it’s clear that this process had begun before the arrival of the Tokugawa. Dōkan also diverted a waterway that became the Nihonbashi River, one of the outstanding traits of city during the Edo Period.
Before I said, Ōta Dōkan didn’t really build Edo Castle. But now you know the reality. By diverting water supplies and laying out a defensive system of moats, he unwittingly began the urbanization process. This new fortress was the catalyst that made the area not just a lord’s residence with a few villages scattered around here and there. It made it a defensible, sustainable, strategic area with a growing population that would look mighty attractive to one Tokugawa Ieyasu about a hundred years later (at least on paper).
In 1477, Ōta Dōkan attacked Toshima Yasutsune. He took Nerima Castle, Shakujii Castle and the clan’s administrative center, Hiratsuka Castle. Then he literally annihilated the Toshima clan. Bye bye.
In the general narrative of the Sengoku Period, Ōta Dōkan is a kind of minor guy. But history isn’t a narrative. The actions he took, some barbaric, some wise, don’t play into the unification of Japan. But in the history of Edo-Tōkyō, he looms large.
It’s safe to say that he was definitely a product of his violent age. And in 1486, he met a violent end typical of that age when he was murdered by the Uesugi Clan for a perceived betrayal.
His control of the fortress (can we really say “castle” yet?) in Chiyoda was a little over 20 years.
Now, as for what happened next, I’m not exactly certain. I’ve usually read that the castle remained abandoned from 1486-1590, but it seems that in 1525, Hōjō Ujitsuna took possession of the region and the castle. However, I don’t know if he actually lived there or did anything with it. If I had to speculate, I’d say that in the constant state of war of the Sengoku Period, rehabilitating a hundred year old castle would have been a risky and expensive operation.
If anyone knows, I’d appreciate the info!
End of the Sengoku Period
At any rate, fast forward 100 years later to 1590. Toyotomi Hideyoshi stamped the shit out of the last independent clan remaining on his quest for unification; this last remaining pocket of resistance was the Hōjō who were based in Odawara, thus ending about 80 years Hōjō influence in the area. As everyone who studies Japanese history knows, one of the generals helping Hideyoshi in this final act of unification was Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Of course, we also all know that Ieyasu despised Hideyoshi and, well, Hideyoshi pretty much didn’t trust Ieyasu either, especially after Ieyasu fought – but lost – against Hideyoshi in 1584. So after the defeat of the Hōjō/Odawara, Hideyoshi devised a unique plan to pacify and distance himself from Ieyasu. At the time, Ieyasu controlled 5 provinces, Mikawa[xvii], Tōtōmi, Suruga, Shinano, and Kai[xviii] which had fast access to Kyōto. Hideyoshi offered to buy out Ieyasu of his five provinces by giving him the so-called 関八州 Kanhasshū the 8 Kantō Provinces. The Kanhasshū included Musashi, Sagami, Kazusa, Shimōsa, Awa, Kōzuke, Shimotsuke, and Hitachi[xix] — quite literally the whole Kantō region.
Ieyasu took the deal and could have chosen any place within his sprawling new dominion for his main seat of government. But he chose Edo.
Sure, he chose fixer-upper. But he chose one with a well-fortified castle that had room for expansion (and Ieyasu now had the money for it). He had waterways in and out of the city. He had a view of Mt. Fuji (a territory that had once been his). He had a view of the ocean, which not only was beautiful – it was a kind of super moat. The area was fertile and partly urbanized.
It’s said that when Ieyasu came to survey the city he planned to make the base of his 8 provinces, the castle that Ōta Dōkan had built consisted of around 100 buildings with thatched roofs surrounded by wide moats and earthen walls. Although it didn’t look like much upon his arrival, the moat system alone was enough to know he’d chosen well.
At the height of Tokugawa power, the castle is said to have been the biggest in the world and the city was likely the most populous.
So, um… What Happened to the Edo Clan?
Oh, I almost forgot.
Now that we’ve come to the Tokugawa Period, which is generally referred to as the Edo Period, I have to back track to something I said earlier about a certain Edo Shigeyasu.
Shigeyasu surrendered the Edo residence to Ōta Dōkan in 1457 in the early Sengoku Period. Keep in mind that ancient samurai families often took their branch names from the lands that they controlled.
Ieyasu arrived in 1590 and began establishing his new capita at Edo. He was still in the service of Hideyoshi at the time[xx], but as the lord of the Kanhasshū he had to establish rapport with his new retainers (lords in their own right). Likewise, his new retainers had to swear allegiance to him.
There was one major problem… with the name!
The Edo clan still had a residence in Kitami, which is present day Setagawa Ward. In light of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s dominance over the area, it would be presumptuous (and confusing) for a clan to retain the name of the capital city when a new daimyō, appointed by the unifier of Japan, controlled that city. So in 1593, taking an oath of submission and fealty to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the last Edo Clan daimyō gave up the name Edo and assumed the name, Kitami, which was where their primary holdings were.
In 1600, Ieyasu was victorious at the Battle of Sekigahara and became the de facto leader of a more-or-less unified Japan. In 1603, the emperor granted him the title of 征夷大将軍 seii taishōgun great barbarian subduing general.
The Edo Clan’s Final Disgrace…
In 1693, the direct family line, no longer Edo but Kitami, was extinguished after the banishment of Kitami Shigeyasu to Ise when his grandson murdered somebody or something. The once powerful country samurai family, descended from Taira blood in the 1100’s, who had held such influence over the area and had long born the name of the area, just fizzled out into oblivion[xxi].
And the rest, as they say, is history.
But Wait, There’s More!
Now, if this were any other blog, that would be the end of the story. But long time readers of JapanThis! will surely be wondering why so many other ancient place name etymologies are so difficult and Edo was so easy. Is it really just “estuary???”
Well, not everyone agrees. It seems there are multiple theories on the origin of the name “Edo.”
|Theory 1 – It’s literal.|
|Theory 2 – It derives from the Ainu word ｴﾄ eto which means “cape” or “peninsula.” This theory claims that the name refers to the original shape of the Hibiya inlet around the beginning of the Heian Period[xxii].|
|Theory 3 – It derives from 井戸 ido well. エ e and イ i confusion in the Kantō dialects is something that we’ve come across many times in Tōkyō place names. So it’s possible that an ancient spring (or hot spring) existed here at one time. References to wells in place names are common in Japan. This is because people would naturally build new villages near fresh water supplies. No wells that would be a candidate have been found, though.|
There are a few other theories too ridiculous to bother with here. According to the Kadokawa Dictionary of Japanese Place Names, the literal meaning (estuary = edo) is the most likely derivation and the Ainu word (eto = cape, small peninsula) is the second most likely. I tend to agree.
So there you have it. More background on Edo before the coming of the Tokugawa than you ever wanted to know. Definitely more than you needed to know. Now you can bore your friends to tears at the next party with all of this pointless trivia.
I should probably print this whole article on a t-shirt, dammit.
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[i] It’s also incorrect to apply the term “feudal” to Japan.
[ii] For more information on Toshima, click here.
For more information on Musashi Province and what a district was, click here.
[iii] Wet rice cultivation and bronze and iron technologies were imported sometime around 900 BC and eventually spread across the islands.
[iv] The Yamato Court were the predecessors of or origins of the current imperial line, depending who you ask. Their capital was based in Asuka (in current Nara Prefecture).
[v] Learned or brought, depending on who you ask.
[vi] Read more about Maruyama Kofun here.
[vii] Don’t use a map of Tōkyō because the shape of the bay is radically different today.
[viii] And it’s not unreasonable to assume that the ruler buried in Maruyama Kofun exerted influence over the Chiyoda area as well.
[ix] A reverse pattern sometimes occurs when an area derives its name from the ruling family, but this is not the case with Edo.
[xi] The name 江戸 Edo means “river/bay door.” This describes the inflow of water from Edo Bay into the rivers that gave the coastal regions life. Also, people always say Edo was a small fishing village. If I’m not mistaken, at the time a 郷 sato/gō was bigger than a 村 mura village. So, technically speaking, at this point Edo wasn’t a small fishing village.
[xii] The guy who established the Minamoto Shōgunate (ie; Kamakura Shōgunate).
[xiii] In present day Setagaya Ward.
[xiv] The Minamoto Shōgunate is more commonly referred to as the Kamakura Shōgunate.
[xv] I’m not sure if we can call it a “castle” at this point. I imagine it was a large fortified residence, not unlike Shakujii Castle (see the CG reconstruction to get an idea).
[xvi] Even today, if you google Chiyoda Castle, Edo Castle will come up in the search results. Also, technically speaking any castle they held could theoretically be referred to as Edo Castle since this was also their Clan name.
[xvii] Mikawa was Ieyasu’s home province.
[xviii] If you’re good with your Japanese geography… this territory was roughly present day Nagano, Aichi, Shizuoka, and Yamanashi (think Mt. Fuji). It was a fair chunk of territory, but with so many allies at Ieyasu’s command so close to the capital, it apparently was too close for Hideyoshi who wanted a buffer around his court in Kyōto.
[xix] Again if you’re good with your Japanese geography… This is roughly Tōkyō, Saitama, Kanagawa, Chiba, Ibaraki, a part of Gunma and Tochigi.
[xx] In fact, he would be serving him in Kyūshū for a few years, while Hideyoshi embarked on a retarded plan to invade China via Korea.
[xxi] They didn’t fizzle out into oblivion completely. There is a 喜多見駅 Kitami eki Kitami Station in present day Setagaya.
19 thoughts on “What does Edo mean?”
Wow, very well done. Interesting.
Thank you, feel like I should have done a re-write. But there are so many missing pieces that I can’t yet.
But I learned a lot about castles in different eras!!
Wish some website explained the evolution of Japanese castle construction in English…. if only… lol
Ha ha, I’ll think about putting together something for Jcastle 😉
東アナル!!!!!!! That’s hilarious!!
THAT WAS EPIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I think I need a cigarette now.
That was some pretty intense history/etymology mindfuckery.
It was freaking intense for me too. lol
There is a new/temporary-looking exhibit in front of the Ōta Dōkan statue at 東京国際フォーラム called 太田道灌と江戸城. It is tiny, but entertaining. One nice feature is the list of a 12 or so Dōkan statues in the region, with dates and other details. Check it out if you are in the Tōkyō Station area
Oh, that’s great to know! Thank you for sharing.