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What does Ichigaya mean?

In Japanese History on November 19, 2013 at 6:17 am

市ヶ谷
Ichigaya (Market Valley)

Ichigaya Station

Ichigaya Station

This place name has 3 variations.

市谷 ichi ga ya
市ヶ谷 ichi ga ya
市ケ ichi ga ya

Most Tōkyōites probably associated Ichigaya with train stations that bear the name “Ichigaya,” but in reality there are many places named Ichigaya. I think this is a pretty complete list:

市谷加賀町 ichigaya-chō
市谷甲良町 ichigaya kōra-chō
市谷砂土原町 ichigaya sadohara-chō
市谷左内町 ichigaya sanai-chō
市谷鷹匠町 ichigaya takajō-machi
市谷田町 ichigaya tamachi
市谷台町 ichigaya daimachi
市谷長延寺町 ichigaya nagano-chō
市谷八幡町 ichigaya hachimangū-chō
市谷船河原町 ichigaya funagawara-machi
市谷本村町 ichigaya honmura-chō
市谷薬王寺町 ichigaya yakuōj-machi
市谷柳町 ichigaya yanagi-chō
市谷山伏町 ichigaya yamabushi-chō


Don’t be surprised if we come back to those place names
[i]. There’s gold in them hills.

One of the stranger things in Tokyo is this urban fishing spot in Ichigaya.

One of the stranger things in Tokyo is this urban fishing spot in Ichigaya.

OK, so I’ve wanted to write about this place for a long time, but it is connected to a few other place names which have made it difficult to cover until now. In my non-professional opinion, this seems like a very ancient place name. I’m just gonna through this out there now and say my gut instinct tells me none of the etymologies we’ll see today are correct and we’ll never know the true etymology.

First let’s look at the kanji .

ichi

market

ga

genitive particle

ya, tani

valley

In my opinion, all of these kanji are suspect. You’ll see why soon.

So, let’s look at the circulating theories.

 There was a dude named 市谷孫四郎 Ichigaya Magojirō attested in a Kamakura Period document who controlled an area near Edo. Other than this name, nothing else is known about the guy. A cursory glance of his name isn’t very impressive. He doesn’t seem to be descended from any imperial branch families and he doesn’t have a samurai-sounding clan name. If such a guy really existed, he may have been an elite lord who adopted the local place name as a family name, but… that just raises more questions. The jury is out on this one.

 Two theories exist which say the first character is deceptive. I’ve said again and again that kanji are not reliable for ancient Tōkyō place names. Here’s a good demonstration of why. This theory states that the original name was 一ヶ谷 ichi ga ya the first valley. Nearby we can find 四ッ谷 yotsu ya the fourth valley. The problem with this theory is where are the ニヶ谷 2nd valley and 三ヶ谷 3rd valley???

 It’s almost the same theory, but…. because of the prominence of daimyō residences here, the area had a reputation as an elite residential area well into the Meiji Era. According to this theory, 一ヶ谷 “first valley” was the preeminent (ie; first) 山手 yamanote valley[ii].  This one is also weird because why this area is the first, but Marunouchi isn’t? Also valleys tend to be 下町 shitamachi low city. So this one is just weird…

 This place name is another story unto itself, but as for the general story of Ichigaya, Kameoka Hachiman-gū is important. As mentioned many times before, Hachiman is the Shintō god who protects warriors (ie; samurai). This shrine located in Ichigaya claims that after its establishment in the late 1470’s a market (or many markets) sprung up around the shrine. They say that in the old Edo Dialect 市買 ichi kai “market buying” became ichi gai and in turn as a place name 屋 shop or  valley got attached to the area.

The shrine claims to possess Ota Dokan's  gunbai uchiwa.  A gunbai uchiwa is the (non-folding) fan used by Sengoku Period generals to give signals to troops. It's also said the Ota Dokan established this shrine - that's why it's dedicated to Hachiman, the Japanese god of bad asses.

The shrine claims to possess Ota Dokan’s gunbai uchiwa.
A gunbai uchiwa is the (non-folding) fan used by Sengoku Period generals to give signals to troops.
It’s also said the Ota Dokan established this shrine – that’s why it’s dedicated to Hachiman, the Japanese god of bad asses.

On a side note, for the train freaks out there, JR and Tokyo Metro use the writing 市ケ, while Tōei uses 市ヶ (ie; JR and Tokyo Metro use a large and Tōei used a small ). The official place names as used in postal codes and regular correspondence by Tōkyōtes drop the /all together and just write the name as 市谷.

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[i] Long time readers will know that I will come back.
[ii] Of course Yamanote means “the high city” and refers to the Edo Period distribution of land in Edo. The elite lived on the hills and the commoners lived in the lowlands. Here’s my ongoing series about my impressions of Yamanote and Shitamachi (although I haven’t updated it in ages).

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