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Setagaya and its Freaky Horse Fetish

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on January 19, 2015 at 2:34 am

What’s Up with Setagaya and Horses?
No, seriously? What’s up wit dat?

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Horse girl

So while I was researching my last article on 三軒茶屋 Sangen-jaya, I came across a few interesting place names that I’d never heard of – granted I rarely go to 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward[i] — but nonetheless I was obviously intrigued.

I saw a lot of references to horses on the map. “I’ll do all the horse names!” I thought. “Surely they’re all related,” I thought. “I can hit all these place names in one article,” I thought. Then the stories started getting longer and longer. “Did I get myself into another River Article Debacle?” I wondered. I really may have, so I’ve decided to go with the local legends over the hardcore etymology this time just to spare everyone the headache and hopefully to get some good folklore out this.

As I said, the one unifying factor is that all of these place names are horse-related. So let’s take a look at what names we will cover today.

Name

Meaning

Current Status

馬引沢
Umahikizawa

horse pulling ravine

This place name survives in abbreviated forms
駒繋
Komatsunagi

horse hitching

This place name survives as Komatsunagi Shrine and as an elementary school name

駒留
Komadome

horse stopping

The name survives as Komadome Hachiman Shrine

駒沢
Komazawa

horse ravine

Survives as a postal code and a university name, etc…

葦毛塚
Ashige-zuka

gray haired horse burial mound

The name survives as a landmark

So just let that sink in a little bit before we continue. Take a few seconds to imagine what you think the etymologies might be. Do you think there is any connection? Do you think it’s all a coincidence? If you’re a long time reader and you remember other horse and animal related etymologies, do you think there will be any similarities to those?

These horses are decked out in the latest spring line up from Prada.

These horses are decked out in the latest spring line up from Prada.

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OK, Let’s Get Started

I mentioned in the last article, that present day Sangen-jaya is comprised of several former villages. Two of those villages were parts of the 3 areas of a Kamakura Period region called 馬引沢 Umahikizawa.

上馬引沢村
Kami-Umahikizawa Mura

Upper Umahikizawa Village

中馬引沢村
Naka-Umahikizawa Mura

Middle Umahikizawa Village

下馬引沢村
Shimo- Umahikizawa Mura

Lower Umahikizawa Village

This is a similar pattern that we see with the classification of daimyō residences in Edo.

上屋敷
kami-yashiki

upper residence

中屋敷
naka-yashiki

middle residence

下屋敷
shimo-yashiki

lower residence

With daimyō residences the designation of upper, middle, and lower seems to refer to their importance in relation to the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The upper residence would be nearer to Edo Castle and is where most of the administrative affairs would be carried out. The lower residence was more like a villa. I give a little more detail in my article on sankin-kōtai.

With place names, things are a little different – these are references to the areas of a village’s location on a river. 上 kami (up) refers an upstream location, 中 naka (middle) refers to a midstream location, 下 shimo (down) refers to a downstream location. In this case, what river might we be speaking of? It’s a river that was called the 蛇崩川 Jakuzure-gawa Jakuzure River. This is a wild name, in my opinion. The kanji mean something like “snake death river.” I dunno. But my guess is the kanji aren’t important to this story, and maybe I’ll tackle them later – but if you’ve got an image of a dangerous river, then great. Let’s take it from there.

Great strategist and general -- but worst horse rider EVER.

Minamoto no Yoritomo. Great strategist and general — but worst horse rider EVER.

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What does Umahikizawa mean?

Legend states that in 1189, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo[ii] traveled back and forth on his favorite horse through this area on his military expedition from his capital in 鎌倉 Kamakura to 大州平泉 Ōshū Hiraizumi[iii]. The purpose of the expedition was to destroy 藤原泰衡 Fujiwara no Yasuhira and put an end to the Northern Fujiwara Clan once and for all[iv]. As he approached a deep stream with an extremely fast current[v], his horse became unsure of its footing and hesitated. Yoritomo, who was plagued by a lifelong battle with bad luck in horses[vi], pressed the horse to cross the ravine. The horse tried to proceed but the ground gave out from underneath it and the horse fell into the stream, either breaking its legs or suffering some other fatal injury, despite Yoritomo’s efforts to save his beloved horse. Heartbroken and teary-eyed, the general ordered his men to pull (引く hiku) the horse (馬 uma) out of the ravine (沢 sawa) and bury it on the other side. A variation of this legend states that after the tragic death of his favorite horse, Yoritomo ordered his men to lead (引いて渡る hiite wataru) their horses (馬 uma) across the ravine (沢 sawa) lest they lose their war horses as well. And so the place came to be known as 馬引沢 Umahikizawa horse pulling river.

This is a "sawa" and I bet you wouldn't want to ride a horse across it...

This is a “sawa” and I bet you wouldn’t want to ride a horse across it…

How Does This Place Name Survive?

As the village grew, it came to have 3 distinct quarters. One was upstream, one was midstream, and one was downstream. I showed you these place name earlier. 上馬引沢 Kami-Umahikizawa survives today in abbreviated form as 上馬 Kamiuma “up horse.” 下馬引沢 Shimo-Umahikizawa survives as 下馬 Shimouma “down horse.” These are both official postal addresses, but to the best of my knowledge, 中馬引沢 Naka-Umahikizawa hasn’t survived. But an interesting tidbit, in nearby 多摩市 Tama-shi Tama City, there is an area called 馬引沢 Umahikizawa, but it’s completely unrelated.

This also counts as umahiki (leading a horse).

This also counts as umahiki (leading a horse).

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What Does Ashige-zuka Mean?

A mere 4 minute walk from Shimouma, there is an oval shaped, earthen mound in the middle of the street called 葦毛塚 Ashige-zuka. This is a compound word composed of two elements: 葦毛 ashige a gray haired horse and 塚 tsuka a mound. Legend claims that this is the spot where Minamoto no Yoritomo’s horse was buried. We’ve talked about burial mounds quite a few times at JapanThis!, but I think this is the first time we’ve had one allegedly built for a horse.

I wasn't kidding. It's literally in the middle of the road!

I wasn’t kidding. It’s literally in the middle of the road!

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What does Komatsunagi mean?

If you take an 8 minute walk back to Shimouma and you’ll find a place called 駒繋神社 Komatsunagi Jinja Komatsunagi Shrine. Let’s continue our story there.

As I mentioned before, Minamoto no Yoritomo was cursed with all manner of bad horse luck. Being a typical superstitious 12th century samurai, he took the death of his favorite horse before an important battle[vii] as a terrible omen. After the burial mound was finished, a mysterious woman appeared. She told the general about the local 氏神 ujigami tutelary deity named 子之神 Nenokami[viii]. According to the woman, Nenokami wielded great power in the area and had the ability to exorcise any evil influence from the accident. She led him to a nearby humble, unnamed shrine[ix] dedicated to Nenokami and then disappeared. Yoritomo prayed to the kami and then continued his march north to Ōshū Hiraizumi.

Yoritomo and his stupid hat.

Yoritomo and his stupid hat.

At Ōshū, Yoritomo’s army crushed the Fujiwara army, thus annihilating his last major obstacle to power. This particular battle paved the way for him to become shōgun[x]. Marching back to Kamakura victorious, he stopped by the Nenokami shrine to give thanks. After all, being a superstitious 12th century samurai, that’s just what you do. Before approaching the shrine, he tied (繋ぐ tsunagu) his horse (駒 koma) to a pine tree (松 matsu)[xi]. He then threw some cash at the local people to build a proper shrine to Nenokami. After that, he proceeded to his capital in Kamakura.

Komatsunagi Shrine as it looks today.

Komatsunagi Shrine as it looks today.

The tree where he tied his horse came to be known as the 駒繋之松 Komatsunagi no Matsu Horse Hitching Pine and the new improved shrine came to be called Komatsunagi Shrine. If you visit the shrine today, they have a tree that they claim is the 3rd generation of the tree Yoritomo tied his horse to[xii]. Sadly, they never say what happened to the mysterious, disappearing woman.

I want some plot resolution, dammit.

The shrine claims that this is the original pine tree that Yoritomo used.

The shrine claims that this is the original pine tree that Yoritomo used.

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What does Komadome mean?

Let’s take a 25 minute walk back to Sangen-jaya[xiii]the article that started all of this – and a 250 year or so jump into the future. Now we’re in the throes of the Sengoku Period – way before the rise of 3 Great Unifiers[xiv]. Edo has been in what you could call a “dark age” ever since the transfer of power from Kamakura back to Kyōto[xv]. Local militarized noble families rise and fall here and there. And among these local nobles, warlords have begun making land grabs and power grabs. Many of these clans come and go, too. One of the ascending powers in Kantō at this time were the 後北条 Go-Hōjō the Late Hōjō[xvi].

So our story is of a somewhat obscure noble who was in the service of the Hōjō, a certain 吉良頼康 Kira Yoriyasu. Much about him is unknown[xvii], but we do know that he served both the 2nd and 3rd successive Hōjō lords, 北条氏綱 Hōjō Ujitsuna and 北条氏康 Hōjō Ujiyasu[xviii]. So while he wasn’t a major player, he was playing with some big time ballers. You can think of him as Jay-Z’s longtime friend who gets invited to parties, but isn’t allowed on the red carpet.

This picture was long said to be Kira Yoriyasu, but recent research suggests that it's actually Takeda Shingen.

This picture was long said to be Kira Yoriyasu, but recent research suggests that it’s actually Takeda Shingen.

If you recall from my article on the etymology of Edo, from the Heian Period to the Kamakura Period this area was controlled by the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan took over the Edo clan’s fort in 1457[xix]. Dōkan was a retainer of the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan[xx] and so after his assassination in 1486, the Uesugi assumed direct control of the castle[xxi]. However the castle was of little importance to their clan and so it seems to have been lightly defended – if defended at all. And so, when the Hōjō came into the region, Edo Castle[xxii] fell easily in 1524[xxiii] and one of the generals who followed the Hōjō into Edo was our new friend, Kira Yoriyasu.

The Kira clan had controlled various fiefs in the area since 1366, and Yoriyasu was given control of Setagaya Village sometime around the attack on Edo Castle. He ruled from 世田ヶ谷城 Setagaya-jō Setagaya Castle[xxiv]. Yoriyasu’s appointment didn’t last long because the Uesugi eventually struck back and burned the castle to the ground in 1530 and Yoriyasu was transferred elsewhere[xxv]. However, in his time as the lord of Setagaya, he managed to leave behind a bit of a local legend.

The fringed orchid is often associated with Setagaya Ward because of a version of Yoriyasu's legend. Unfortunately, we're not going to go into that part of the story today.

The fringed orchid is often associated with Setagaya Ward because of a version of Yoriyasu’s legend. Unfortunately, we’re not going to go into that part of the story today.

The legend states that in the women’s quarters of Setagaya Castle, there was a lot of jealous infighting between his 正室 seishitsu legal wife and his 12 側室 sokushitsu concubines[xxvi]. On the day of birth of Yoriyasu’s first son something went terribly wrong.

As was normal for the day, the lord of the estate was out doing his do (hunting, by some accounts) when suddenly his wife went into labor alone[xxvii] – also normal for the day. Tragically, however, the boy was stillborn – meaning the Kira family line could have ended there. To avoid bad luck, the boy was enshrined at nearby 駒留八幡神社 Komadome Hachiman Jinja Komadome Hachiman Shrine. Because of this, the enshrined kami is sometimes referred to as 若宮八幡 Waka-no-miya Hachiman Young Prince Hachiman which could be interpreted as “little warrior.” At any rate, the rumor mill went into full swing that the boy had actually been smothered to death by a jealous concubine[xxviii].

The enshrinement of the stillborn son seems to have benefitted the family, as they continued to hold extensive lands until the 1590’s and the clan continued until the 元禄時代 Genroku Jidai Genroku Period, which coincided with the reign of 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi[xxix]. In the beginning of the Edo Period, the Kira clan was given 旗本 hatamoto status, ie; they became direct retainers of the shōgun family – not bad at all, but they weren’t a daimyō family as is sometimes thought. One of Yoriyasu’s descendant’s was 吉良上野介 Kira Kōzuke-no-suke[xxx] – the guy usually portrayed as the bad guy in the story of the 47 Rōnin[xxxi]. The family was disgraced and more or less dropped out of history at that point.

Oh ffs, not these clowns again???!

Oh ffs, not these clowns again???!

That’s A Neat Story, But WTF Does It Have To Do With Komadome?

Oh sorry, right. I sorta went off on a tangent there, didn’t I? Actually, the etymology of this shrine doesn’t really have much of a story behind it. It involves a certain samurai courtier of the Kamakura Shōgunate named 北条左近太郎 Hōjō Sakotarō[xxxii]. In 1308, he became a priest and wanted to establish a temple to 八幡 Hachiman the Japanese god of war[xxxiii]. This particular kami was favored by Minamoto no Yoritomo and his shōgunate and so shrines to Hachiman were very popular at this time. According to legend, Hachiman came to Sakotarō in a dream and said, “Dude, listen to your favorite horse and it will totally tell you where to enshrine me.” So he rode east from Kamakura until his exhausted horse (駒 koma) stopped (留まった tomatta) near Setagaya Village and refused to go any further. He totally realized that this was totally the spot. He immediately dismounted his unsurprisingly fatigued horse and decided to build a shrine at that spot and so the shrine is now called 駒留八幡神社 Komadome Hachiman Jinja Komadome Hachiman Shrine – the Hachiman Shrine where the horse totally stopped.

Komadome Shrine as it looks today.

Komadome Shrine as it looks today.

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What does Komazawa mean?

This is the most boring place name ever – not unlike 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward[xxxiv]. 駒沢 Komazawa is an amalgamation of the surrounding places with 駒 koma horse and 沢 sawa ravine that was created in 1889 (Meiji 22) with the formation of Meguro Ward. There is another nearby but non-equine place name, 野沢 Nozawa, which features the kanji 沢 sawa. Easiest place name ever.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this article.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this article.c

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Are These Etymologies True?

Your guess is as good as mine, but these all date back to the Kamakura Period and Sengoku Period which is when we first start getting reliable information from the Kantō area. This is also a time when previously existing place names get written down for the first time and transcribed into kanji. Maybe these events transpired. Maybe they didn’t. But what we can say for sure is that in this area, local legends popped up and many of them were affiliated with horses and the rising prestige of the samurai class in Kantō. In these place names we can see the areas surrounding Edo begin to blossom.

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[i] Aaaaaaaaaaaaand, once again, longtime readers know that I’ve already written about Setagaya here.
[ii] Please tell me you know who Minamoto no Yoritomo is. I’m assuming you do. But if not, check out this fine article about him at Samurai Archives.
[iii] An area in present day 岩手県 Iwate-ken Iwate Prefecture.
[iv] Fans of 源義経 Minamoto no Yoshitsune, will recognize this name. He’s the son of 藤原秀衡 Fujiwara no Hidehira who helped hide Yoshitsune when Yoritomo was trying to kill him. The Fujiwara betrayed Yoshitsune – as Fujiwara do – and it was Yasuhira who attacked Yoshitsune forcing him to kill his wife and daughter and then commit seppuku. The less dramatic version of his demise is that Yoshitsune may have just straight up been overwhelmed and was just cut down in battle by Fujiwara forces. The details of his death are disputed – and in my opinion, irrelevant.
And for those of you scratching your heads at all these names, check out this article at Samurai Archives.
[v] Presumably the Jakuzure River, or an earlier incarnation thereof.
[vi] Shōgun Yoritomo died in 1199 when he was thrown off his horse lol.
[vii] A “baddle,” if you will. (sorry, bad joke)
[viii] This kanji looks like the kanji for “child” but is actually the Chinese Zodiac sign of the rat (or mouse, whichever you prefer). That’s why the reading is ネ ne and not コ ko. Another reading is Nenogami.
[ix] Since this was a local deity in the countryside, we can assume there were tiny, almost impromptu shrines of this scattered all over the area.
[x] Another detail that seems to be in dispute: some claim Yoritomo was made shōgun by the emperor, others claim he just took the title for himself.
[xi] Obviously, this is a different horse than the one that died before the battle because… well, ghost horses hadn’t been invented yet.
[xii] There is some evidence for local worship of Nenokami. If you walk 40 minutes into nearby 目黒区 Meguro-ku Meguro Ward, there is minor shrine called 高木神社 Takagi Jinja Takagi Shrine which also houses Nenokami. In fact, the area surround Takagi Shrine was more or less “officially” called 子ノ神 Ne no Kami up until 1889 (Meiji 22). The name was abolished with the creation of Meguro Ward in 1932. I’ve also found a shrine in 川崎市 Kawasaki-shi Kawasaki City that enshrines Nenokami.
[xiii] And Kamiuma.
[xiv] 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga, 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and of course 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu. If you don’t know who these people are, get the fuck off my blog.
[xv] And Kamakura’s power doesn’t seem to have been very long lasting anyways.
[xvi] Why were they called “late?” Let me google that for you, bitch.
[xvii] For example, we don’t know when or where he was born. We know his legal wife was the daughter of Hōjō Ujitsuna but we don’t know his name. We know he had legitimate male heirs, but he adopted a son and made him head of the Kira Family… but we don’t know why. These early years of the Sengoku Period are very messy.
[xviii] Actually Kira Yoriyasu’s original name was 吉良頼貞 Kira Yorisada. He received the kanji 康 yasu from Hōjō Ujiyasu.
[xix] The Tokugawa Shōgunate considered the massive fortification and new moat system the birth of Edo Castle.
[xx] This particular branch of the Uesugi were the 扇谷上杉家 Ōgigayatsu Uesugi, if you’re into that sort of thing.
[xxi] Technically speaking, the castle was Uesugi property and Dōkan was merely supervising it for them.
[xxii] Also called 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle back in those days.
[xxiii] Please read more about the Late Hōjō here at Samurai Archives.
[xxiv] Let’s use the term “castle” loosely here and think of it more as a fortified noble residence on a hill. The estate (or castle) didn’t survive the fall of the Hōjō and the coming of the Tokugawa. And if you’re in Tōkyō now and saying to yourself, “Whaaaaaa?? There’s a Japanese castle in Setagaya?” then by all means, go and  read this page about it at Jcastle.info – your one stop shop for all your Japanese castle needs.
[xxv] Even if he held the “castle” for 5 years, I’m guessing that’s a pretty good run at that time.
[xxvi] The name 常盤 Tokiwa is often cited as both wife and concubine but the historical record is ambiguous. Also, there are several variations of this story. If you’d like to read more about it, I actually tracked down a guy who translated 3 variations into English here.
[xxvii] ie; not really alone, but not with Yoriyasu. She would have been in the women’s quarters of the fort – most definitely surrounded by the other women. The “joy of birth” wasn’t something often enjoyed together in feudal Japan.
[xxviii] Or by some accounts, a concubine bore the child and the jealous wife murdered it.
[xxix] The 5th Tokugawa shōgun.
[xxx] Kōsuke-no-suke is actually his court title; his real name was 吉良義央 Kira Yoshihisa.
[xxxi] Longtime readers know my opinion of this story.
[xxxii] I’m not sure about the reading of his given name. Also this dude is a “real Hōjō,” not a “Late Hōjō” of the Sengoku Period who adopted the name.
[xxxiii] Calling him “the Japanese god of war” is a bit of simplification, but you can read more about Hachiman here.
[xxxiv] Which, of course, you know I’ve already written about here.

  1. Another exciting story! well done. Actually I lived in Shimouma the first time I came here. Just learning kanji, I thought they were crazy to name the place “under horse”. Now the riddle is solved! I don’t think I ever saw the horse grave, or at least i never noticed it.

    • Thanks! All those strange horse names jumped off the page as soon as i started poking around a map of Setagaya.

      If they dug up the Ashige-zuka i wonder if they’d find anything.

  2. […] alleged murder, mysterious disappearing women, burial mounds and unfortunate equine events, this is the blog post to read. *Note: some […]

  3. I didn’t realize that koma meant horse. What’s the difference between uma and koma?

    • To the best of my knowledge there isn’t much of a difference. Koma just isn’t used much these days in Standard Japanese outside of place names and compound words.

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