(three post towns)
The other day we looked at 五本木 Gohongi and 2 years ago we looked at 池尻 Ikejiri. Next to Ikejiri, there lays a relatively obscure neighborhood called 三宿 Mishuku. One would think there isn’t much to say about this place and to be honest, there isn’t a lot to say[i]. But I’m gonna try my best to show you that this area actually has some historical value. On the surface, the name seems to mean “3 post towns” because the first kanji means “3” and the second kanji means “lodging.”
Own the Moan!
In the past we’ve seen Shinjuku, Shinagawa, Narai-juku and Senju – all of which were post towns – and longtime readers will know that a whole lotta drinking and whoring went down in these kinds of places. All over Japan you’ll see place names with 宿 shuku/juku in the name and 9 times out of 10, these were post towns. But this time, it seems that this isn’t quite the case[ii].
Let’s Look at the Kanji
OK, so admittedly, there could have been 3 inns in the area at some point in history. That said, no Edo Period maps indicate anything of the sort[iii] and prior to the Edo Period, this area rarely appeared in maps because it was so country. And while the village did sit on an important road during the final years of the Kamakura Period, by the late 1300’s[iv] the area was more or less irrelevant. The road system soon became cut off from the “national[v]” road system and was just used by local peasants doing whatever boring shit it is that peasants do[vi].
So What Do We Know About the Area?
If you recall from my article on Ikejiri, most of modern 目黒区 Meguro-ku Meguro Ward originally consisted of marshes and swamps until the Edo Period. Fans of the blog will surely remember that the Meguro River flows through this area. Really hard core fans will remember that one of the rivers that feed into the Meguro River is the Kitazawa (where the name Shimo-Kitazawa comes from). Swamps, rivers, ravines, wetlands… I think you can see where this is going[vii].
A Land Rich with Water
This brings us to our etymology. The general consensus is that the original writing was 水宿 Mishuku – a uniquely classical rendering of these kanji. Usually when we see 宿 shuku inn used as a suffix we can use its 音読み on’yomi Chinese reading and we can also assume it means “post town.” But the first kanji is 水 mizu which means “water.” Its standard 訓読み kun’yomi Japanese reading is usually “mizu.” In place names, however, 水 can sometimes be read as ミ mi instead of ﾐｽﾞ mizu. So does this mean “water post town” or does this mean “three post towns?”
Let’s Look at the Kanji Again
|pregnant, replete with|
This old way of writing gives us a completely new way of looking at this place name. This different way of writing suggests a terrain wherein 水が宿る mizu ga yodoru the water is teeming[viii]. This older writing seems legit according to what we know about the area prior to the Kamakura Period. The old kanji were difficult to read and were replaced with the current ones[ix].
So Why Does This Place Name Survive At All?
There was a castle here. In its day it was called 三宿城 Mishuku-jō Mishuku Castle. There used to be a temple here called 多聞寺 Tamon-ji Tamon Temple and so sometimes the castle is called 多聞城 Tamon-jō Tamon Castle. It was a 支城 shi-jō satellite fort of 世田ヶ谷城 Setagaya-jō Setagaya Castle[x]. When and who built the first fortified residence here is unclear, but the fort sat on a plateau that is now home to 多聞小学校 Tamon Shōgakkō Tamon Elementary School.
In its day, the fort gave the lord of the manor a fantastic view of the area. To the west, you could observe the primary fortification of the fief, Setagaya Castle, but to the north you would see the 北沢川 Kitazawa-gawa Kitazawa River and to the south you would see the 烏山川 Karasuyama-gawa Karasuyama River. To the east, you would see the confluence of the two rivers merging into what we today call the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River[xi]. That is to say, you were looking at a flood plain dominated by 3 rivers – a land that was “teeming with water.” The fact that there were 3 waterways may also explain the change of change from 水 mizu water to 三 mi three.
The existence of Mishuku Castle was well-known for centuries, but the place name 三宿村 Mishuku Mura Mishuku Village wasn’t recorded until 1625, during the reign of the 3rd shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu. In 1889 (Meiji 22), 7 villages were combined to make up a larger administrative unit called 世田ヶ谷村 Setagaya Mura Setagaya Village which included an area called Mishuku. The current postal code designating Mishuku １丁目 icchōme block 1 and ２丁目 nichōme block 2 dates from 1965 when the current postal code system was established.
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[i] I’ve never even been there myself.
[ii] Guess dis ‘hood ain’t ownin’ the moanin’ til 6 in the mornin’. Too bad. Woulda made a much more interesting story.
[iii] Even in the Edo Period, the area doesn’t appear on some maps because it was so minor.
[iv] The Muromachi Period saw the power base move away from the east (Kamakura) and back to the west (Kyōto).
[v] And, yeah, I use the word “national” loosely.
[vi] Because fuck the peasants. Am I right?
[vii] And I promise you that it’s not going to another river series.
[viii] Literally, an area that is “pregnant with water.” Also, just as 荒川 Arakawa’s 川 kawa is not a suffix, 水宿・三宿 Mishuku’s 宿 shuku is not a suffix either.
[ix] The current kanji are 読みやすい, right??? (If you can’t read that, then study a little more Japanese, OK?)
[x] As you should know from my article about Setagaya’s Freaky Horse Fetish, you’ll know that the 吉良氏 Kira-shi Kira clan controlled this area in the 1300’s and we can be sure that the Kira clan controlled this fort at some point.
[xi] See my article on the Meguro River.
One thought on “What does Mishuku mean?”
Thanks, that was actually super interesting. Coming from someone who lived for a couple of months right there in Mishuku I just suddenly wondered what it means. I think you’re spot on there with the etymology!