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What does Bakuro-Yokoyama-cho mean?

In Japanese History on January 23, 2014 at 6:32 am

馬喰横山
Bakuroyokoyama (horse dealers – side of the mountain)

The sign that started it all.

The sign that started it all.

When I saw this place name on a subway sign, I thought I’d unearthed the holy grail of bizarre Tōkyō place names. Just look how long it is!! A cursory glance at the kanji had me guessing that it was probably two words combined, but without the research I really had no idea.

Well, it turns out that Tōkyō Metro Tōkyō Metropolitan Bureau of Transport (Toei) has fucked up their rōmaji big-time on this one. The name should be hyphenated. The correct rōmaji transliteration is: Bakuro-Yokoyama.

C'mon, Toei, you can do better than that!

C’mon, Toei, you can do better than that!

Why the hyphen? Well, this area is a merger of two established communities: 馬喰町 Bakuro-chō Bakuro Town and 横山町Yokoyama-chō Yokoyama Town.  So today’s article is a two-for.

The area falls within the administrative district formerly known as 日本橋区 Nihonbashi-ku Nihonbashi Ward, although today it’s in the special ward called 中央区 Chūō-ku Chūō Ward. Even though Nihonbashi Ward doesn’t exist anymore, the postal addresses 日本橋馬喰町 Nihonbashi Bakurō-chō and 日本橋横山町 Nihonbashi Yokoyama-chō still exist. 

Former Nihonbashi Ward and Kyōbashi Ward were combined to make the modern Chūō Ward. Shinbashi Station, btw, is located in modern Minato Ward.

Nihonbashi Ward in 1935

Nihonbashi Ward in 1935

Nihonbashi, that sounds familiar…

As we all know from my article on the Go-Kaidōin the Edo Period Nihonbashi marked the beginning of 5 highways connecting the shōgunal capital with the rest of Japan[i]These two Edo shitamachi towns were located close to Nihonbashi, so they are forever tied to the merchant town of Nihonbashi.

The place names actually seem to pre-date the Edo Period, though it’s hard to say exactly how long. The prefix 日本橋 Nihonbashi came to be added later, as the Nihonbashi area became more well-known, and I dare say, iconic. With their inclusion in the 日本橋区 Nihonbashi-ku administrative district, the area became officially linked with the name Nihonbashi.

Bakuro-chō

There seem to be two theories, both related to horses.

馬喰 bakuro or bakurō referred to the business of and the people who engaged in the buying and selling of horses. Many horse related businesses, including what we might call equestrian veterinarians today, lived in the area. (I can’t imagine Edo Period veterinary medicine was much different from western veterinary medicine of the time, which means they were probably just putting down sick horses most of the time). Anyhoo, the idea here is that the area catered to shōgunate officials carrying time-sensitive information. All of their horse-related needs could be met here[ii].

The second theory states two merchants who dealt in 博労 bakurō horse/cattle trading held lands here in the late 1500’s. Two names are actually cited in this etymology; 高木源兵衛 Takagi Genbei and 富田半七 Tomita Hanshichi[iii]. This theory links the two words 博労 bakurō with 馬喰 bakurō. My dictionaries say these are kanji variants of the same name. But the kanji are quite different, the latter being a uniquely Japanese word (ie; not imported from China). But who knows.

In short, both theories are tied to horse-related business and the proximity to the roads in and out of pre-Tokugawa and Tokugawa Era Edo seem to match. Neither theory can be confirmed 100%, but I don’t see much reason to dismiss them. The Great Meireki Fire of 1657 saw much of this area destroyed[iv]. Some areas near Nihonbashi, including Yoshiwara were transplanted to the outskirts of the shōgun’s capital. I can easily see keeping horses or cattle so close to Edo Castle and the heart of the city as not just unsightly, but also unhealthy and a waste of prime real estate as the sankin-kōtai system became more entrenched in the development of Edo and the culture that was flourishing.

Check out that hyphenless, spaceless run on place name! This is postal area designated at Nihonbashi Bakuro-cho.

Check out that hyphenless, spaceless run on place name!
This is postal area designated at Nihonbashi Bakuro-cho.

Yokoyama-chō

横山Yokoyama means “side of the mountain” or “mountainside.” Whenever I see a place name with the kanji for mountain (), I immediately wonder “where’s the mountain?” But this area is pretty shitamachi (low city) and so there aren’t so many big hills. There is definitely nothing worthy of being called a mountain. So I had to dig a little deeper.

The 小田原衆所領役帳 Odawara Shūshoryō Yakuchō, a description of territorial holdings of the Late Hōjō clan, mentions fief held by a branch of the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan called 横山 Yokoyama[v]. Apparently that passing reference is all we have. It doesn’t mention the location of the fief so we can’t be 100% sure, but given the lack of mountains in the area, I’d say a pretty strong case could be made that this area derives its name from the Yokoyama branch of the Edo clan[vi].

I’m happy to say that despite not having all of the details, these are pretty plausible etymologies.

Phew!!!

Map of the Nihonbashi Yokoyama-cho area.  Notice it's right next to Nihonbashi Bakuro-cho.  You can also see the area is surrounded by Asakusa-bashi, Akihabara and Kodenma-cho.

Map of the Nihonbashi Yokoyama-cho area.
Notice it’s right next to Nihonbashi Bakuro-cho.
You can also see the area is surrounded by Asakusa-bashi, Akihabara and Kodenma-cho.

How about today???

Today Bakuro-Yokoyama is known as a shitamachi wholesale district[vii]. In the early Edo Period, the area had about 20 shops. By the end of the Edo Period, there were nearly 150 shops being passed down by successive families[viii]. That number must have been bigger considering unlicensed shops and whatnot. The Great Kantō Earthquake and World War II saw the area knocked down and built up again.

It’s kind of weird but if you’re interested, check out this video.

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[i] There it is again! I resurrected the word “shōgunal!” Still wondering if this is an actual word, though…
[ii] The name is attested pretty early in the Edo Period, which stands to reason since the so-called “first mile marker” at Nihonbashi wasn’t really a Tokugawa invention. Routes in and out of Edo had existed for some time. One can easily imagine an area to take care of incoming and outgoing horses popping up here organically.
[iii] I can’t find a good reading for this name. I’ve seen Hanshichi, Hanbichi, Hashichi, Hahichi, Habichi. Some of those look Edo dialect style, but I’m going with Hanshichi because it is a fairly standard, modern reading of that name. (The 3 I thought looked like the might be the Edo Dialect are in bold – but this is purely conjecture on my part.  I’m not a scholar.)
[iv] Conservative estimates say that 50-60% of the city was burnt to the ground. Others have suggested much more was destroyed. Either way, since the Edo Period this particular area hasn’t been known for horses.
[v] Oh, did you just say “Edo clan?” Yes, I did. Read more about the Edo Clan in my article on Why was Edo called Edo?
[vi] Just to give you a little perspective. You can walk from the oldest portion of Edo Castle to Nihonbashi Yokoyama-chō in under 30 minutes. The distance from the Edo clan’s residence in Kitami to Nihonbashi Yokoyama-chō can be walked in under 20.
[vii] Not sure why I said “is known as” because it “actually is.” lol
[viii] I’ve been tossing around this term “successive _____” for some time now on the blog, and I may have to come back to it later in detail. But basically this refers to the 家元 iemoto system. Someone establishes a business or dynasty and it will be passed down through successive generations of the family.
  1. I’m just now reading Eiji Yoshikawa’s epic work Mushashi. (Written between 1935 and ’39). Earlier today I read where Mushashi enters Edo and stays at Bakurocho. He headed there because accomodation in the area was cheaper than alternatives.
    Here goes….
    “The guests staying at the inexpensive inns of Bakurocho were mostly horse traders in from the provinces. …………………………….Like the other inns, the one he chose had a large stable, so large in fact that the rooms themselves seemed rather like an annex”.

    There’s a good bit more about the area as well. I recommend this book. It’s a great read (and a long one) and does a really good job of evoking the historical feel of Edo, Kyoto and more.

  2. Thanks for that! I haven’t read “Musashi,” but I have read “Taiko” – which was also quite the lengthy read.

    I know he was a fiction writer, but If Yoshikawa’s got his facts straight, it’s interesting to hear that the area was still known for horses in the early 1600’s.

    More amazing in the coincidence that you read that the same day I published this article! lol

  3. Thanks, you just totally ruined it for me. I pass through this area all the time and had fantasies of a town of horse (馬) eaters (喰う) . But maybe that’s what happened to all those horses they put down. Oh well, back to reality…

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