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What does Haneda mean?

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on January 24, 2014 at 3:23 am

羽田町
Haneda Machi (Wing Field Town)

Haneda Anamori Inari Shrine in the late Meiji or Taisho Period.

Haneda Anamori Inari Shrine in the late Meiji or Taisho Period.

It may sound familiar. It may look familiar. But you will never find this city on a map of Japan.

That’s because this city doesn’t exist anymore. It was abolished in 1947 when 大森区 Ōmori-ku Ōmori Ward and 蒲田区 Kamata-ku Kamata Ward were merged into present day 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward. 3 humble postal codes are all that remain of this obscure Edo Period fishing village: 羽田 Haneda, 羽田旭町 Haneda Asahi-chō, and 羽田空港 Haneda Kūkō.

In 1818, a major shrine called 穴守稲荷神社 Anamori Inari Jinja Anamori Inari Shrine was built here. There were some other Inari shrines scattered throughout the area and since they came to a grand total of seven, someone got the idea of making a 七福稲荷巡りShichi Fukuinari Meguri Pilgrimage of the 7 Lucky Inari Shrines. At the beginning of the year, I spoke about how common courses for the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck are. Well, I know Inari became an extremely popular kami with the common people during the Edo Period, but this is the only 7 Lucky Inari course that I’ve ever heard of. (Of course, if there are more of these, I’d love to hear about it!)

Anyhoo, the area was just an obscure backwater until…

drumroll

They built an airport here.

Haneda Airport.

Above, I mentioned 3 postal codes; the last one is the airport. And that area takes up the bulk of what was once 羽田町 Haneda Machi Haneda Town. That is to say, the town was more or less bulldozed over and everyone was relocated elsewhere[i].

If you want to read about the history of Haneda Airport – which is actually a pretty interesting story in and of itself[ii]I’ll direct you to the English Wikipedia page which seems pretty thorough in my humble estimation.

.

Map of the Haneda Shichi Fuku Inari

Map of the Haneda Shichi Fuku Inari.
Notice the river drawn vertically. That’s the Ebitori River.
Note the river drawn horizontally. That’s the Tama River.
Gonna talk about those again in a minute, mkay?

Ready! Set! Etymologize!

Now let’s talk about where this name came from, which, after all, is pretty much the only reason anyone comes here.

First, I’d like to give a little background. Today, Haneda is part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to the Tōkyō Metropolis. It was never part of Edo. Under the classical administrative system, this was 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province. The area was not a han domain, rather it fell under the direct control of the shōgunate[iii]. Until the 1950’s and 1960’s, the area had been, since time immemorial, a fishing village of little consequence.

Kantō place names start coming into the historical record in a sort of haphazard “abundance” for the first time in the Heian Period – but this particular area was in a dark age of sorts. There doesn’t seem to have been much activity here during the Kamakura Period – which is when we usually start getting solid information on place names in the Kantō area. The next big burst of information usually comes with the ascendancy of the Late Hōjō, but alas, this area gets skipped over (except for a passing reference which I’ll get to in a minute).

It’s not until the Tokugawa Period when we get any sort of reliable information on the area. Up to this point the area is more or less recognized as 羽田村 Haneda Mura Haneda Village. With the creation of 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō Prefecture in the late 1860’s came the arrival of modern census-taking, modern map making, and – thankfully – modern record keeping.

But before that time in this area, we’re probably looking at a place name that went through a number of changes. The phonemes themselves could have changed, the kanji representing the phonemes could have changed, and such willy-nilly kanji-use could have been replaced by other kanji later – also willy-nilly. So, yes, once again, take everything, and I mean, everything, with a grain of salt.


hane
feather

da
field
Japanese Flight Attendants at Haneda Airport in the 60's.

JAL Flight Attendants at Haneda Airport in the 60’s.

So, here we go!

Theory 1
“Haneda” is a reference to where the inlets of the Pacific Ocean met the Tamagawa River.
The idea was that はね met :

跳ね
hane
muddy splash
撥ね
hane
(water) brushing up against (against the shore)

ta/da
Fields (ie; the land being splashed upon or brushed upon)

This actually seems to be one of the most popular theories. The first kanji is rarely used in Modern Japanese place names[iv]. The second kanji is plain rarely used. Let’s file this under “not so crazy, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

This torii marks the original location of Haneda Anamori Shrine (the shrine was removed to make room for the airport). You can see the Tama River in the background.

This torii marks the original location of Haneda Anamori Shrine (the shrine was removed to make room for the airport). You can see the Tama River in the background.

Theory 2

The area was famous for 半田 handa solder (heating up metals to melting point and fusing them). I couldn’t find many references to this business in the area, so who knows.

The story goes that in the old Kantō dialects, はんだ handa solder/pewter was pronounced はねだ haneda. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure the kanji 半田 are ateji[v]. So, if this etymology is true, it’s referencing a very ancient Japanese word and any kanji attached to it were added post hoc. Let’s file this under “adventures in ateji.”

I've got no pictures for this theory. But, hey, here's a picture of a cloud that looks like a dick.

I’ve got no pictures for this theory.
But, hey, here’s a picture of a cloud that looks like a dick.

Theory 3

OK, this is a kind of a stretch, because I probably can’t provide you with a visual for this, but, when viewed from the sea, the 海老取川 Ebigtori-gawa Ebitori River[vi] was split in two by the fields (). The fishermen said it had a shape that looked like a bird with its hane wings spread as if about to take flight. Let’s file this under “unlikely.”

Aerial shot of Haneda Airport. The bulk of the current airport is built on landfill that didn't exist during the Edo Period so there's no way to confirm this theory now.  I'm too lazy to pull out an old map because this theory sounds like BS. But from the air, you can see how various inlets split off into new rivers. I guess that could look like a bird's wings. Just not sure how you'd see it from a boat.

Aerial shot of Haneda Airport.
The bulk of the current airport is built on landfill that didn’t exist during the Edo Period so there’s no way to confirm this theory now.
I’m too lazy to pull out an old map because this theory sounds like BS.
But from the air, you can see how various inlets split off into new rivers.
I guess that could look like a bird’s wings. Just not sure how you’d see it from a boat.

Theory 4

This one is a total déjà vu, but it’s Totally Tōkyō®. First, let’s compare Akabane and Akabanebashi to this one. It’s said that the area was famous for its hani clay (for pottery, etc). In the local dialect, はに hani was pronounced はね hane. Completely plausible and consistent with other place name origins in the region. Let’s file this under “my preferred theory.”

"Haniwa" (the "hani" means "read clay") are ancient pottery or modern pottery done in the ancient style made of, yup, red clay.

“Haniwa” (the “hani” means “clay”) are ancient pottery or modern pottery done in the ancient style made of, yup, red clay.

Theory 5

The final one isn’t really a theory at all. It’s more of a half-assed observation.

This “theory” states that because fields () were so common in this part of Ebara-gun, many place names in the area included the kanji which means field.

OK, sure. But you can find place names and family names[vii] all over Japan with the kanji in them. And if we wanted to see if there was a particular trend for using that kanji here, we’d need to do some heavy statistical research that just sounds waaaaaaay too boring to me. Not to mention, this theory doesn’t say anything about the first part of the name. Let’s file this under, “not thought out very well.”

At ease, soldier.

The Mac Daddy himself.
“At ease, soldier.”
Haneda airport’s first real expansion effort was begun by the Supreme Allied Command during the American Occupation of Japan.

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[i] Of course, this didn’t all happen at once. The original airfield was a modest fraction of what it is today. The bulk of eviction and development was initiated by the Supreme Allied Command under General MacArthur. The Americans didn’t just evict a bunch of people, though. The area had been thoroughly devastated by firebombing and so most of the people were probably happy to get the hell out of the rubble and move to the new Haneda area which was fresh for development.

[ii] Although, its official story begins in 1931, it had become Japan’s major airport by 1938. But even just a quick look at the planes flying in and out and the size of the airfield bares testament to just how technologically unprepared for WWII Japan actually was. Wow.

[iii] If I’m not mistaken – and please correct me if I’m wrong – this was called 天領 ten’ryō and referred to lands that didn’t fall under the control of daimyō, but were nevertheless obviously part of the 天下 tenka the realm. So these lands traditionally fell under direct imperial control, but in the Edo Period they fell under control of the shōgun and his direct retainers. Basically they were worthless fiefs in the boonies. It seems like there were many ways to categorize these types of fiefs, so today a general term 幕府領 bakufu-ryō “shōgunal territory” is used.

[iv] A quick Google search only turned up 6 place names across Japan that use .

[v] The literal meaning is “half a field” which doesn’t mean shit when talking about blacksmithing.

[vi] Interestingly enough, this river’s name means the “the river where we pull up some delicious-ass shrimp.”

[vii] And apparently words (I’m looking at you, 半田 handa solder).

  1. Wow, I actually DID think it had something to do with airplane wings!

  2. Whoa. Is McArthur grabbing that old guy’s dick??!!

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