hiroo skyscrapers

What does Hirō mean?


(wide tail, spacious tail)


.The area called 広尾 Hirō[i] is the area surrounded by 渋谷区恵比寿 Shibuya-ku Ebisu Ebisu, Shibuya Ward and 南麻布 Minami Azabu, 西麻布 Nishi Azabu, and 南青山 Minami Aoyama – the 3 of which are in 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. The area presently called Hirō is officially located in Shibuya Ward – though traditionally, Hirō is considered more a part of Azabu.

Hirō is boasts some of the priciest real estate in Tōkyō and the area surrounding 広尾駅 Hirō Eki Hirō Station has an upscale, international vibe. Definitely above my paygrade when it comes to rent (and to be honest, I have nothing in common with the average inhabitant of the area).

Let’s Look at the Kanji


wide, spacious


tail;  area where a mountain or hill fans out into a plain

Hirō is located in the lowlands under the 麻布台地 Azabu Daichi Azabu Plateau[ii] and so these kanji make sense. The hill fans out into a wide plain at the bottom of the plateau. But interestingly, this combination of kanji date from the Edo Period. There is an earlier and much more complicated writing 樋籠 Hirō that combines 訓読み kun’yomi Japanese reading and 音読み on’yomi Chinese reading.


gutter, conduit

basket, palanquin, secluded, etc…

This writing could just be ateji. However, there is an area called 埼玉県春日部市樋籠 Saitama-ken Kasukabe-shi Hirō Hirō, Kasukabe City, Saitama Prefecture. That place name is said to derive from its use as an emergency flood plain that protected the villages by absorbing excess water. If this kanji use is the same, the original kanji could be a reference to the nearby 渋谷川 Shibuya-gawa Shibuya River. This area was unsettled until the Meiji Period and so it could be that it was left undeveloped for the same reason: to absorb excess flood water to protect the nearby villages.

At any rate, the area came to have various names such as 広野 Hiroya spacious field, 広野 Hirono spacious field, and by the nickname 土筆ヶ原 Tsukushi-ga-hara cattail field. The nickname definitely sounds like a reference to wetlands so there may be something to the idea that this area regularly flooded or was just wet enough to not be good for building villages in the area. By the coming of the Tokugawa, new flood control and river works came to be implemented on a large scale. One can only imagine that the area became more stable and soon you had daimyō building residences on the surrounding highlands. The sprawling lowlands were left as is.

cattails… yeah.

In the early Edo Period, there was a village here called 下渋谷村 Shimo-Shibuya Mura Lower Shibuya Village[iii] but in 1664 a merchant town was established called 下渋谷広尾町 Shimo-Shibuya Hirō-chō[iv]. The suffix 町 chō indicated that this was a merchant and artisan town. These merchant towns became the residential and commercial centers of Edo Period Hirō.

Then, during the reign of the 5th Shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the shōgunate undertook a series of land surveys collectively referred to as the 元禄検地 Gen’roku Kenchi Gen’roku Land Surveys[v]. The open, spacious field previously referred to as Tsukushi-ga-Hara or Hirono/Hiroya was still there. After the land surveys, the name of the field was standardized and we start seeing maps and art with the name 広尾原 which could be read as Hirō-no-Hara or Hirō-ga-Hara.

inu kubo - tokugawa tsunayoshi

In the early 1800’s, the 江戸名所図会 Edo Meisho Zue Guidebook to the Famous Places of Edo, depicts a wide open field of ススキ susuki Japanese silver grass. You can get a real feeling for the rustic beauty of the area in the Edo Period. One of the images focuses on the area near 山下橋 Yamashita-bashi Yamashita Bridge. The bridge was also known as 水車橋 Suisha-bashi Water Wheel Bridge.

This name nickname is a reference to Hirō-chō’s most famous landmark, the 玉川水車 Tamagawa Suisha Tamagawa Water Wheel, more commonly called 広尾水車 Hirō Suisha Hirō Water wheel. The water wheel may have served several purposes, but my main understanding is that it was for flood control.

Hiroo-bashi and you can see the water wheel in the middle ground and the field in the distance.
Hiroo-bashi and you can see the water wheel in the middle ground and the field in the distance.
a colorized version of the aforementioned picture
a colorized version of the aforementioned picture

Hirō-no-Hara (or Tsukushi-ga-Hara) was a place where friends, families, and lovers would come to take a stroll in the beautiful greenery, gaze at the distant hills and mountains, and relax and enjoy picnics. Today that area corresponds to the area from 広尾5丁目 Hirō 5-chōme to 恵比寿2丁目 Ebisu Ebisu 2-chōme. If you note the picture below, I’ve highlighted the area. It’s essentially present day 広尾病院 Hirō Byōin Hirō General Hospital and 慶應義塾幼稚舎 Keiō Gijuku Yōchisha Primary School.

The area had always been quite rustic and located just outside of the city limits of Edo, but in 1713, 広尾橋 Hirōbashi the Hirō Bridge was built over the 古川 Furukawa Furukawa River[vi]. This  added a convenient access point that allowed more traffic in and out of the area. As a result, the area was formalized under the jurisdiction of the 江戸町奉行 Edo machi-bugyō. A machi-bugyō was the senior administrative official of a large city[vii]. The term is often translated as “commissioner,” but in short, he was like a mayor, a police commissioner, a fire commissioner, a tax commissioner, and local chief justice. Regardless of what his job may or may not translate to in Modern English, the move meant that while this area had heretofore been a shōgunate holding, from 1713 on this was officially part of Edo – not some outlying suburb.

In 1870 (Meiji 3), 渋谷広尾町 Shibuya Hirō-chō was split into 3 towns: 渋谷広尾町 Shibuya Hirō-chō, Shibuya Kami-Hirō-chō, and 渋谷下広尾町 Shibuya Shimo-Hirō-chō[viii]. Since then the area has been further divided and re-administered many times. As such, even though the area called Hirō is actually in present day Shibuya Ward, 広尾神社 Hirō Jinja Hirō Shrine is in 港区南麻布 Minato-ku Minami Azabu Minami Azabu, Minato Ward.

The "wide field"
The “wide field”

A Few Famous Places in Hirō

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t spend much time at all in Hirō. That said, I’ve been told by Rekishi no Tabi that Hirō is a goldmine of Edo Period coolness if you know where to look. Given its proximity to massive residences of some of the richest daimyō, I am sure this is true. So apologies if my list comes up short compared to his.

La Jolla Mexican restaurant in Hiro.
La Jolla Mexican restaurant in Hiro.

The First Mexican Restaurant in Tōkyō

A throw’s stone away from Hirō Station is a small Mexican restaurant called La Jolla. Mexican food is still a bit scarce in Tōkyō. If you’re an American used to a variety of home-style dishes and high end Mexican food readily available in your hometown, you’ll find yourself going without for a long time in Tōkyō. I’ve met foreigners who have standing offers to blow anyone who can get them a decent tamale and some pico de gallo that actually has flavor.

This shop opened in 1987 and claims to be the first Mexican restaurant in the metropolis. The shop came highly recommended by a few people and was actually what brought me to Hirō in the first place. It wasn’t bad and if you’re in the area and have a craving for enchiladas or something, it might cure your hankering for a spankering of la cocina mexicana. I’m still looking for the perfect plate of tacos al pastor and… yeah, I’d probably blow you for a decent tamale[ix].

Kuroda Nagamasa's grave or something...
Kuroda Nagamasa’s grave or something…

The Grave of Kuroda Nagamasa at Shō’un-ji

黒田長政 Kuroda Nagamasa was a famous general during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period and early Edo Period. He was originally a retainer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and despite having to lead his troops into Korea on Hideyoshi’s ridiculous mission to invade China, Nagamasa and his samurai held off the Koreans and protected the Japanese forces as they retreated from the Korean Peninsula. It was a shit job, but he was paid well for it. Oh, and if his family name sounds familiar, that’s because he was the son of his even more famous father, Kuroda Kanbei, who was the subject of a recent NHK Taiga Drama.

Later, Nagamasa served directly under 2nd shōgun, Tokugawa Hidetada, in the Winter and Summer Sieges of Ōsaka Castle in 1614 and 1615 respectively. The Kuroda Clan were the lords of 福岡藩 Fukuoka Han Fukuoka Domain until 1871 when a certain douchebag named Price Arisugawa Taruhito was installed as a Provincial Governor. But more about that later.

Anyhoo, Nagamasa’s grave is located at 祥雲寺 Shō’un-ji Shō’un Temple. The temple is located on the 広尾商店街 Hirō Shōtengai Hirō Shopping Street near Hirō Station. In the Edo Period, the temple served as a 菩提寺 bodaiji family temple of the Kuroda family. The Kuroda clan had close connections to the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family and began intermarrying early in the Edo Period. A newly formed branch called the 松平黒田家 Matsudaira Kuroda-ke Matsudaira Kuroda Family was established that had direct bloodlines to the shōgun family. As a result, various shōguns or emissaries of the shōgun family came to this temple for お墓参り o-haka mairi visiting and maintaining graves and observing Buddhist memorial services.

Autumn foliage at the former estate of the Morioka Domain.
Autumn foliage at the former estate of the Morioka Domain.

The Remains of the Nanbu Estate

OK, things might get a little messy now…
Near Hirō Station there is a large park with lush greenery. This park actually lies in Minami Azabu and not Hirō, but that’s neither here nor there. In English, the park called Arisugawa Park – more about that later.

In the Edo Period, this plot of land was the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence[x] of the 南部氏 Nanbu-shi Nanbu Clan.  They were the lords of 盛岡藩 Morioka Han Morioka Domain and based out of 盛岡城 Morioka-jō Morioka Castle in present day Aomori. These days, most people think of Morioka as a city and Nanbu as a region and a dialect – especially people from Aomori. That’s because during the Edo Period the 2 cadet branches were formed that held 支藩 shihan satellite domains[xi]:

Domain Name

Year Established


Morioka Han



Hachinohe Han



Shichinohe Han



Since all three domains were controlled by the same family, it was and is easier to refer to the area collectively as 南部藩 Nanbu Han Nanbu Domain. The Nanbu were loyal to the Tokugawa to the bitter end and fought against the Meiji Coup even after the shōgunate fell. As a result, the Nanbu clan was punished by the newly formed Meiji Government[xiii]. In a moment, we’ll see how this affected their lower residence near Hirō.

But in fiction, Morioka/Nanbu Domain plays a major role in the movies 壬生義士伝 Mibugishiden When the Last Sword is Drawn and たそがれ清兵衛 Tasogare Seibei Twilight Samurai. The Japanese seem to love the idea of a bunch of country bumpkin samurai fighting to the death for a lost cause. The problem is that having been defeated and humiliated by the winners of the Meiji Coup, the Nanbu Clan and their retainers switched sides and went 100% pro-Imperial Theocracy. I’m not even joking when I say that these “fierce Tokugawa loyalists” drank the Meiji Kool Aid so fast it hurts. Case in point: Some prominent 20th century figures in Pre-WWII and Post-WWII descended from high ranking Nanbu retainers. The most infamous were convicted war criminals 板垣征四郎 Itagaki Seishirō and 東條英機 Tōjō Hideki. In our own time, the Nanbu family has gone so far off the deep end that the 45th generational head of the family was the Chief Priest of 靖国神社 Yasukuni Jinja Yasukuni Shrine from 2004-2006.

Anways, the shape of modern day Arisugawa Park is more or less the same as the lower residence of the Nanbu Clan. I haven’t been to this park yet, so I don’t know if anything of their palace remains, but I highly doubt it.

If you haven't seen "When the Last Sword is Drawn," close your browser and go rent it now.
If you haven’t seen “When the Last Sword is Drawn,” close your browser and go rent it now.

Arisugawa Park

Today, the former lower estate of the Nanbu Clan is a beautiful park. The full name of the park is 有栖川宮記念公園 Arisugawa-no-miya Kinen Kōen Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park – commonly abbreviated as Arisugawa Park. As I mentioned earlier Arisugawa was a dude… a dude whom longtime readers will know I don’t hold in very high regard.


Who was Arisugawa?

I recently wrote a little about him in my 15 page review of Romulus Hillsborough’s book, Samurai Revolution. Feel free to download the review (it’s a PDF), but I’m going to give you more Arisugawa Taruhito than you can shake a stick at now.

His full name was 有栖川宮熾仁親王 Arisugawa-no-miya Taruhito-Shinnō. The name can be abbreviated as Prince Arisugawa Taruhito. The family name is technically Arisugawa but the suffix miya is attached. This suffix indicates that the person is a member of the imperial family. His given name was Taruhito. And the suffix shinnō indicates that he was an imperial prince[xiv].

Despite being a courtier, Taruhito seems to have been a fairly intelligent and capable guy. However, personality-wise, he was a total douche bag. He was a close advisor of 孝明天皇 Kōmei Tennō the Emperor Kōmei. The emperor was fiercely xenophobic and anti-foreigner, though he believed the shōgunate was the only apparatus capable of running the country. Later, he was a close confidant of 明治天皇 Meiji Tennō the Meiji Emperor, whose court was made up of anti-shōgunate radicals from Satsuma and Chōshū.

Prince Arisugawa cosplaying as a white imperialist dickhead
Prince Arisugawa cosplaying as a white imperialist dickhead

In 1861, he was betrothed to 和宮親子内親王, Kazu-no-miya Chikako-Naishinnō – daughter of Emperor Ninkō[xv]. She is usually referred to as just Kazunomiya or sometimes Princess Kazu[xvi]. The title naishinnō means imperial princess and is similar to the aforementioned title, shinnō. The engagement was broken off so that she could be married to the 14th shōgun, 徳川家茂 Tokugawa Iemochi. The intention was to build a stronger bond between the imperial court in Kyōto and the shōgunate in Edo[xvii].

In the end, Taruhito ended up being married to a daughter of the batshit crazy daimyō of Mito Domain[xviii], Tokugawa Nariaki. Nariaki, despite being a close relative of the shōgun family who shared a name with the shōgun family, and owed all of his wealth, status, and privilege to the shōgun family was essentially a pro-imperial, xenophobic nutball who was considered a loose cannon by everyone around him.

Kazu-no-miya. I’d hit it.

Do You Have a Point?

So I’m going on and on about this dude’s background and bombarding you with footnotes. I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with all of this (if you haven’t already quit reading). But rest assured – I have a point. I’m trying to paint a picture of Taruhito’s environment. He was surrounded the most negative and radical elements and philosophies of the Bakumatsu for his whole adult life.

This is why it should come as no surprise that after Prince Arisugawa was given nominal control of the newly named “Imperial Army,” he set out to make a name for himself as the imperial courtier who restored the martial dignity of the imperial family that had been dead for… oh, I don’t know, about 600 years. What better way to restore that dignity than bitch slapping the Tokugawa? Yes, the Tokugawa who had protected the imperial court and more or less suppressed war for about 250 years? Oh, and I said he was given “nominal control” over the anti-shōgunate army, right? For all intents and purposes, the psychologically unstable, pro-imperial, anti-shōgunate Satsuma native, Saigō Takamori was really calling all the shots.

I can see where this is going...
I can see where this is going…

Arisugawa’s Demands

Before the pro-imperial forces had reached Edo, Arisugawa proved himself to be a total dick. First, he asked for Edo Castle to be surrendered. He wanted every Tokugawa warship (they had some of the most state of the art western warships). He wanted all weapons, arsenals, and munitions of any sort handed over.

But then his demands got ridiculous. The first of his insane requests was that Tokugawa Yoshinobu turn himself over to the so-called imperial army to await 天誅 tenchū divine punishment or heaven’s revenge. In the context of pro-imperialism, this term implies that you are at the mercy of the emperor (or his cronies) as a living god incarnate. In the context of the Bakumatsu, this was a word that pro-imperial, anti-shōgunate terrorists used to justify their acts of violence. Supposedly, many of them would shout this word at their victims before assassinating them. The word was short hand for a certain, unquestionable death sentence. Yoshinobu would have known that because he was brother of Arisugawa’s wife and they shared a father. Yes, the batshit crazy Tokugawa Nariaki.

Come on. Look at this face. You don't want to behead me. What would the ladies do? Tokugawa Yoshinobu
Come on.
Look at this face. You don’t want to behead me.
What would the ladies do?
Tokugawa Yoshinobu

But Wait, There’s More

Arisugawa didn’t stop at demanding his brother-in-law’s head. He demanded that all 旗本 hatamoto be put under house arrest. Hatamoto were the direct retainers of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family. There were ranks within the grouping of hatamoto and I’m not sure which definition Arisugawa was referring to, but we can say that depending on how strictly or loosely he was using the term, the number of hatamoto could have been somewhere between 5000- 17,000 samurai.

Imagine your city had a population of 1,000,000 people. Now, imagine 5,000-17,000 public officials serving various administrative roles where suddenly, randomly confined to their homes and weren’t allowed to work. Now, imagine what would happen to the infrastructure and day to day operations of the government. The imperial army had a war strategy, but they had no plan in place for governing the country. Clowns.

Arisugawa… remember this face.

Oh, It Gets Crazier

Demanding his brother-in-law submit to execution was harsh. After all, the former shōgun was the protector of his relative and ex-fiancée, Kazunomiya[xix] and the other imperial women and court women in the 大奥 Ōoku women’s quarter of Edo Castle[xx]. Killing the shōgun would also turn not just the city of Edo against you, it could have caused fence-sitting Tokugawa branch families to turn against you as well. It could have turned Edo into a guerrilla warfare battleground that resulted in the utter destruction of the city. But all of this wasn’t enough.

In Arisugawa’s imagination, he would march his army into a pristine Edo with no shōgun. Magically, the city would have no hatamoto doing any jobs because they were under house arrest. And again, magically, the government would be fully operational and the commoners and merchants would welcome the Meiji Army as liberators. But Arisugawa had one final way to ingratiate himself with the people of Edo. He demanded that 100 shōgunate official be beheaded.

Beheading would have been the ultimate insult to a member of a samurai family. 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide would have at least allowed the offending member of the family to ritually atone for his transgressions in an effort to take ownership of his actions and release the family from any responsibility. I don’t know if he had a list of names or if he just wanted 100 random samurai officials, but FFS, I have no idea what he thought beheading all those people would accomplish. But all of these insane demands basically secured Arisugawa’s reputation as a total asshole.

Beheading 17 people looks like this. Imagine 100.
Beheading 17 people looks like this. Imagine 100.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū worked out a deal with 西郷隆盛 Saigō Takamori and negotiated a peaceful and bloodless surrender of Edo Castle. Later, the Nanbu clan joined an alliance of northern domains and rebelled against the imperial government. The coalition was called the 奥羽越列藩同盟 Ō-U-Etsu Reppan Dōmei[xxi] also known as 北部同盟 Hokubu Dōmei the Northern Alliance. The coalition soon fell apart and all the clans were punished by the Meiji Government. The Nanbu clan’s estate in Hirō was confiscated and supposedly Saigō Takamori took it over as a temporary residence.

Saigo Takamori and Katsu Kaishu negotiating a reasonable surrender of Edo Castle in Mita (modern day Tamachi Station area)
Saigo Takamori and Katsu Kaishu negotiating a reasonable surrender of Edo Castle in Mita
(modern day Tamachi Station area)

Prince Arisugawa had expressed a desire to buy the property and retire there, but it seems he never had the chance. He got malaria or some shit while staying Kansai[xxii] and died in 1895 during the first Sino-Japanese War. In 1896 the Arisugawa-no-miya family formally acquired the property and 有栖川宮威仁親王 Arisugawa-no-miya Takehito-Shinnō Prince Arisugawa Takehito moved in. Takehito died in 1913 without an heir, thus ending the Arisugawa-no-miya line. His best friend had been adopted into the family but wasn’t allowed to continue the family name, so he established a new cadet family under the name 高松宮宣仁親王 Takamatsu-no-miya Nobuhito-Shinnō Prince Takamatsu Nobuhito.

Prince Takamatsu looking  fabulous in his imp-wear.
Prince Takamatsu looking fabulous in his imp-wear.

Nobuhito seems to have been a pretty cool dude. Although he served in the imperial army in various capacities, his diaries expressed his objections to Japan’s actions in Manchuria and he opposed military action against China and the US. In November 1941 he told his older brother, Hirohito[xxiii], that Japan couldn’t defeat America and would possibly face defeat in “about 2 years.” Hirohito, who was too busy playing war god while squatting in Edo Castle[xxiv], started to ignore Nobuhito and the two became estranged. He and the empress actually pressed the cabinet and the emperor to remove Tōjō Hideki from his role as Prime Minister.

At any rate, before the war Nobuhito had taken an interest in the role of nature as a tool for educating children. In 1934, upon the anniversary of the death of Arisugawa Taruhito, he donated the land to Tōkyō City as a park for children to play sports and enjoy nature. That is when Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park was born. In 1975, the Tokyo metropolitan authority transferred the administration of the park to Minato Ward.

And now I realize how truly bizarre it is that I spent the bulk of this article talking about this park which isn’t even in Hirō. The end.



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[i] Also written Hiroo.
[ii] If you walk from Azabu past Arisugawa Park, you’ll notice that you are descending the Azabu Plateau and the Hirō Station area is lowlands.
[iii] I’ve mentioned this before 下 shimo lower was a prefix that designated a village that sat downstream, whereas 上 kami upper was a prefix that designated a village that sat upstream. The village in between would have been prefixed with 中 naka which means middle.
[iv] The merchant town quickly expanded and soon there were: Shimo-Hirō-chō, Naka-Hirō-chō, and Kami-Hirō-chō.
[v] Gen’roku is 年号 nengo a Japanese era name that occurred during Tsunayoshi’s reign. The Gen’roku Era is roughly 1688-1704, however these surveys took place here and there from 1680-1697.
[vi] The name for this stretch of the Shibuya River.
[vii] Edo actually had two machi-bugyō – and for a short time three!
[viii] The 上 kami, 中 naka, and 下 shimo place names have long since disappeared from the official post codes. I’m not sure if bus stops bear these designations anymore either, but I couldn’t find anything via Google, so I’m assuming those labels are now defunct.
[ix] Somebody should start a Mexican Food in Tōkyō Blog!
[x] What’s a lower residence? Please read a quick primer on sankin-kōtai.
[xi] Literally, branch domains.
[xii] Kokudaka is the system for determining land value for taxation purposes in Edo period. One 石 koku was more or less the amount of rice it took to feed one person for a year. The system was used to value the incomes of daimyō and homes and fields of landowners. Read more about it here at Samurai Archives.
[xiii] In 1871, the Nanbu were divested of prefectural control and some dickhead named Arisugawa was given control. More about this later.
[xiv] The 世襲親王家 seshū shinnōke were the 4 cadet branches of the Imperial Family that could provide a successor to the Chrysanthemum Throne via adoption. 親王 shinnō is usually translated as “imperial prince” (but the literal meaning is more like “close blood relative of the emperor”). Basically, this was the imperial version of the Tokugawa 御三家 go-sanke, the three cadet families who could provide a successor to the shōgunate.
[xv] The emperor before Kōmei.
[xvi] If her name is modernized it would be Kazunomiya Chikako or Kazu Chikako.
[xvii] This effort was called 公武合体 kōbu gattai, Union of Court and Camp. The Japanese term for shōgunate, 幕府 bakufu, originally referred to the shōgun’s camp on the battleground. The reason for this particular princess to marry the shōgun was because Kazunomiya had been raised to the rank of naishinnō. If I’m not mistaken, this particular rank meant she could provide a successor to the imperial throne. If this was the case, then had she and Iemochi given birth to a boy, there would have been a very possibility that an emperor born of mixed imperial and Tokugawa blood could have ascended the throne instead of the Meiji Emperor. Japanese history would have taken a very, very different course…
[xviii] Who happened to also be the father of the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu.
[xix] Who loyally supported the Tokugawa after her marriage, it must be noted.
[xx] The wives of the shōguns had long been chosen from the imperial court.
[xxi] You can read more about the Northern Alliance here.
[xxii] As one does.
[xxiii] That’s 昭和天皇 Shōwa Tennō Shōwa Emperor to you and me.
[xxiv] 東京城 Tōkyō-jō Tōkyō Castle.

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