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.
|no, useless, not good, no way|
(usually not written in kanji)
|an old Japanese shoe used for walking through dirt streets|
|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
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].
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].
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].
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.
[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.