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What does Dokanyama mean?

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Travel in Japan on April 16, 2014 at 1:03 am

道灌山
Dōkan’yama (Dōkan’s mountain)

A scene as familiar as today Edoites on Dokanyama having a picnic while enjoying the sunset over Mt. Fuji.

A scene as familiar as today
Edoites on Dokanyama having a picnic while enjoying the sunset over Mt. Fuji.

Hello and welcome back.

Today, I’m just making a quick follow up to the last few articles because, well, I wanted to address an item of interest to Japanese language learners and another item concerning Edo-Tōkyō history.

First, we saw the 2 place names 千駄ヶ谷 Sendagaya and 千駄木 Sendagi[i]. I’ve already gone into the backstory of these words, but I want to just briefly touch on the kanji 駄 da.

I mentioned that this was a unit of measure & weight for a pack horse. At the end of the Edo Period it appears to have been somewhat standardized to roughly 135 kilograms[ii], depending on the horse’s condition.

Well, this kanji isn’t just some obscure vestige of old Japan lingering in place names, it’s a kanji used every day. I’d like to quickly take you through a short list of high frequency words that use this kanji.

Let’s Go!

駄目
ダメ
dame
no, useless, not good, no way
(usually not written in kanji)
無駄
muda
useless, pointless
下駄
geta
an old Japanese shoe used for walking through dirt streets
駄菓子
dagashi
Japanese sweets for the commoners, not for the rich; cheap Japanese snacks

So, I blew off this kanji in my last few posts as just a reference to pack horses. But we still have use for these kinds of kanji today, despite the lack of pack horses[iii].

 

 Now, Let’s Talk About Dōkan’yama

 

Enjoying the view from Dokanyama

Enjoying the view from Dokanyama

 

OK, so our main theme is the hill next to Nishi-Nippori Station. When I visited Japan the first time, I stayed in 鶯谷 Uguisudani, which is a few minutes’ walk from Dōkan’yama. I passed and even climbed this hill many times while exploring 谷中霊園 Yanaka Rei’en Yanaka Cemetery in search of the tombs of the Tokugawa family. Just exploring, without maps, without knowing shit about Japanese history or language, and not really understanding the layout of the area was exciting and mysterious and it’s in this area that my passion for Japanese history was forged. Every time I come back to this area I feel a sense of nostalgia. So, the other day when I discovered that the hill had a name and that it was possibly related to a major player in the story of Edo-Tōkyō I was just giddy with excitement. This whole area truly is the gift that just keeps giving.

Now, please keep in mind, we’re just talking about a freaking hill[iv].

nerd_alert

 

The other day, I wrote that there were 2 theories about this place name. The more I’ve researched it, the more I’m convinced there is only one theory, but they are united by the bizarre coincidence that 2 people with the same name lived here at different points in history.

The area seems to have been inhabited since the 縄文時代 Jōmon Jidai Jōmon Period[v]. Part of the hill is said to have been a 古墳 kofun a kind of burial mound associated with the early Yamato State. Other parts seem to be 貝塚 kaizuka an ancient trash dump for shells. I don’t know much about archaeology, but it seems the relation between these two eras is so far removed that we need more research to prove anything.

The earliest records show that this area was written as 新堀 “the new moat.” Though, we can’t be sure about the pronunciation[vi], the internet seems to think it has been called pronounced /’nip̚pori/ since time immemorial[vii]. The elevated area from Nishi-Nippori Station to Yanaka Ginza was the area formerly called 道灌山 Dōkan’yama. Today the term is usually only applied to the area next to Nishi-Nippori Station (if applied at all). In the Edo Period this area was well outside of the hustle and bustle of Edo and as such it was a popular spot for day trips[viii].

 

Castles before the Muromachi Period were more like forts. The elegant, impressive structure that we usually associate with Japanese castles didn't come until the Sengoku Period came to a close. Oda Nobunaga, I'm looking at you.

Castles before the Muromachi Period were more like forts.
The elegant, impressive structure that we usually associate with Japanese castles didn’t come until the Sengoku Period came to a close.
Oda Nobunaga, I’m looking at you.

The story goes that in the Kamakura Period, the hill was the site of the residence of a powerful noble named 関道閑 Seki Dōkan. Dōkan was a member of the 秩父平氏 Chichibu Taira-shi Chichibu branch of the Taira clan[ix]. Longtime readers will recall that the Edo clan was also from Chichibu. He was married to the daughter of 江戸重継 Edo Shigetsugu, the first person we know of to build a fortification on the site of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle[x].

Fast forward a couple hundred years or so and in the late Muromachi Period, Sengoku Period fucker-up-of-shit and general-purveyor-of-Kantō-area-bad-assry, the inimitable 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan chose the site for one of his 出城 dejiro branch castles to provide tactical support to his main residence in what is today the 本丸 honmaru of Edo Castle[xi].

Ota Dokan's Edo Castle was probably something like this. Given the similarity of the terrain and the era, it's safe to assume the branch castle was very much the same. #SengokuKanto

Ota Dokan’s Edo Castle was probably something like this.
Given the similarity of the terrain and the era, it’s safe to assume the branch castle was very much the same.

Same picture but in color. If this picture of Dokan's Edo Fortress is to be trusted, the shape of the plateau seems to have been built up with earthen walls. If this is the case, the archaeologists who have found trash dumps for shells and think there may have been a kofun here may be on to something.  Dokan may have ordered the hilltops merged and shaped into a form fitting of a secondary fortress.

Same picture but in color.
If this picture of Dokan’s Edo fortress is to be trusted, the shape of the plateau has been built up with earthen walls.
The flat surface on the top is reminiscent of the shape of Dokanyama.

 

Located on the hill is 諏訪神社 Suwan Jinja Suwan Shrine which is said to house the tutelary deity that protected Ōta Dōkan’s branch castle[xii]. The shrine is located at the highest point of the hill. In Ōta Dōkan’s time, this area is where the 見張台 miharidai lookout tower was located. It’s said that from this miharidai, you could see all the way to 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province (present day Chiba Prefecture). And while the castle was in ruins by time the Tokugawa arrived on the scene, the area was still called Miharidai in the Edo Period and was famous for getting a relaxing view of Mt. Fuji. We actually have quite a few pictures depicting Edoites relaxing in the area.

 

That tower looking look out thingy. Yeah, that's a miharidai.

That tower looking look out thingy.
Yeah, that’s a miharidai.

Today nobody comes to Dokanyama for the view. But you can get an appreciation of the sharp elevation.

Today nobody comes to Dokanyama for the view.
But you can get an appreciation of the sharp elevation. (this photo is from the shrine precincts of Suwan Shrine)

 

Viewing Mt. Fuji from Dokanyama in the Edo Period.

Viewing Mt. Fuji from Dokanyama while the cherry blossoms are blooming in the Edo Period. Notice the village of thatched huts below the hill. This is a clear Yamanote/Shitamachi distinction.

 

Suwan Shrine is located on the former Miharidai area. The shrine is now in an Edo Period style. In the time of Ota Dokan, it would have been a small afterthought.

Suwan Shrine is located on the former Miharidai area.
The shrine is now in an Edo Period style.
In the time of Ota Dokan, it would have been a small afterthought.

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[i] Just go back to the last 2 articles. You might also want to search the site of “yanaka” if you’re interested in this area. There are quite a few independent articles, so if you want to get the big picture, I recommend reading everything.
[ii] About 298 lbs.
[iii] Except for your mom, who is a real trooper, btw.
[iv] One soon learns that nothing in Tōkyō is “just something.” Just like Rome, you can’t a few meters without tripping over some crazy piece of history you’ve never heard of.
[v] Admittedly, an era that I rarely talk about, but I’m thinking about digging deeper into. It’s a loooong time ago. Here’s more info if you’re interested.
[vi] See my article on Nippori.
[vii] I reserve the right to withhold my opinion on this one. It’s pretty complicated.
[viii] Edo people walked everywhere, so this would have been a reasonable day trip. Today, you can access this area by train and from within the 32 Special Wards, it’s pretty much a 20 minute train ride from anywhere.
[ix] Chichibu is the same area in Saitama Prefecture that the Edo Clan (also members of the Taira clan) originated. For more about the Edo clan, please see my article on Edo.
[x] Recent readers, spoiler alert. Edo Castle wasn’t built first by Ōta Dōkan, even that’s what your Tōkyō guidebook says.
[xi] Commonly known by idiots as 皇居 kōkyo the Imperial Palace. There, I said it.
[xii] It should be noted that Suwan Shrines are common throughout the country.

  1. […] What does Dōkan’yama mean? […]

  2. […] What does Dōkan’yama mean? […]

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