Bakuroyokoyama (horse dealers – side of the mountain)
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.
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, that sounds familiar…
As we all know from my article on the Go-Kaidō, in 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.
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.
横山Yokoyama means “side of the mountain” or “mountainside.” Whenever I see a place name with the kanji for mountain (山), 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.
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.