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What does Kitami mean?

In Japanese History on February 2, 2015 at 9:49 am

喜多見
Kitami (seeing abundant joy)

In 2012, Kitami Station was voted Best Place to Park a Bicycle.

In 2012, Kitami Station was voted Best Place to Park a Bicycle.

We’ve been exploring the Setagaya and Meguro wards recently. This area includes a place called 喜多見 Kitami. Long time readers of the blog may recall this name from when I wrote about the origin of the name of Japan’s greatest city, 江戸 Edo. Spoiler alert: there isn’t much known about the place name itself, but the backstory speaks volumes about what sort of city Edo was before the Edo Period. It also speaks volumes about a culture that was transitioning from the Sengoku Period to something completely new. Also, for my readers who are interested in samurai and samurai battles, we’ve got plenty of ‘em this time.

As always, I’ve included extra information in the footnotes and links to older articles on JapanThis! as well as other outside sources – there are actually 27 fucking footnotes to this article. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, but if you’re not sure who some of the people or events are that I refer to, I suggest you look them up on Samurai Archives – the rock stars of Japanese history on the internet™.

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Wait. What?  No! Wrong Kitami.....

Wait. What?
Oh, wrong Kitami…..

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OK, Let’s Get the Kanji Out of the Way


ki

happiness, pleasure, rejoicing


ta

many, much, often


mi

seeing, hopes, chances

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At first glance, this place name seems to mean “seeing much happiness.” It’s clear that the meaning is auspicious and – in my opinion – it’s obvious that the kanji are intentional[i]. To be sure, this place existed well before it was written down[ii], however, from the very beginning it seems to have been 当て字 ateji – kanji used for phonetic reasons[iii]. As such, this place name is a construct of the Kamakura Period and the Azuchi-Momoyama Period.

Anyways, I have no etymology to give you so I’m sorry for that. But I’ll give you a quick overview: During the Kamakura Period, we see the place name for the first time – in 1247, to be precise. The writing was finally standardized in the 1500’s, but from the 13th century to the 16th century the name seems to have been written several different ways.

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木田見
Kitami

tree, field, see

北見
Kitami

north, see

木多見
Kitami

tree, abundance, see

喜多見[iv]
Kitami

rejoice, abundance, see

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Get ready to talk about samurai.  Shit is 'bout to get real, son.

Get ready to talk about samurai.
Shit’s about to get real, son.

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OK, So Let’s Talk About The Area!

As I said before, people have been living in the area since time immemorial and the origin of the place name is a mystery. However, at the end of the 12th century, samurai of the 秩父氏 Chichibu-shi Chichibu clan began to move into this area[v]. They had been granted 7 fiefs in the area including 江戸郷 Edo-gō Edo Hamlet and 木田見郷 Kitami-gō Kitami Hamlet by the first Kamakura shōgun, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo, in return for helping him fight the 平氏 Hei-shi Taira clan[vi].

Longtime readers will know some of this story from my article on Edo. 秩父重継 Chichibu Shigetsugu took up residence in Edo and changed his name to 江戸重継 Edo Shigetsugu, thus establishing the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan. He gave the Kitami fief to his son 江戸重長 Edo Shigenaga who fancied calling himself 木田見重長 Kitami Shigenaga. Shigenaga established a 菩提寺 bodai-ji family funerary temple called 慶元寺 Keigen-ji Keigen Temple which still maintains the graves of the Edo clan[vii].

Graves of the Edo Clan. This temple is HIGH on my places to visit list this year.

Graves of the Edo Clan.
This temple is HIGH on my places to visit list this year.

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The Chichibu clan had been longtime rivals of the 熊谷氏 Kumagaya-shi clan[viii] and it seems they continued fighting over control of the area well into the 1400’s when the Kitami-Edo finally established lasting control over the area. I’m not completely clear on the timeline or circumstances but sometime in the 1400’s the Kitami became retainers of the 吉良氏 Kira-shi Kira clan[ix]. I’m guessing it had something to do with bad ass samurai warlord 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan descending upon the area and then thoroughly skullfucking it into submission.

Monsieur Dōkan, as he is known in French, attacked the Edo clan’s fortress in 千代田 Chiyoda in 1457. 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, as it’s known in Japanese, fell and the head of the family, 江戸重康 Edo Shigeyasu surrendered to Monsieur Dōkan. Shigeyasu’s life was spared and he moved his family in with his relatives in Kitami.

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The more I do this blog,, the more I love Ōta Dōkan. He's like a Sengoku version of Captain Japan (Yamato Takeru).

The more I do this blog,, the more I love Ōta Dōkan.
He’s like a Sengoku version of Captain Japan (Yamato Takeru).

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Kitami Katsushige – The Bad Ass Samurai You’ve Never Heard Of

We don’t really hear much about the clan or the area until 1590, when a certain 江戸勝忠 Edo Katsutada, a retainer of the Kira, who were in turn retainers of the 後北条 Go-Hōjō Late Hōjō[x] is mentioned fighting on the Hōjō side against 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Fans of the Sengoku Period know that the Hōjō obstinately refused to submit to Hideyoshi’s efforts to unify the country under his control to a stupidly tragic end. Not complying with Hideyoshi resulted in the complete eradication of the Hōjō.

So… yeah, that didn’t work out so well for Katsutada.

Edo Katsutada's funerary picture. But don't worry. He's not dead yet.

Edo Katsutada’s funerary picture.
But don’t worry. He’s not dead yet.

But luckily for him, this was the Sengoku Period and samurai always had a fancy trick up their sleeves called “changing sides to save your ass.” Edo Katsutada played his hands right, submitted to Hideyoshi, and in 1591 found himself in the Tōhoku region of Japan. He went there to help Hideyoshi put down the so-called 九戸政実の乱 Kunohe Masazane no Ran Kunohe Masazane’s Insurrection. Masazane was a retainer of the 南部氏 Nanbu-shi Nanbu clan in 盛岡 Morioka (modern day 青森県 Aomori-ken Aomori Prefecture)[xi] and like the defeated Hōjō he just wasn’t ready to submit to a dirty, monkey-faced, millet grubbing farmer like Hideyoshi[xii]. And also just like the Hōjō, Masazane and his cute little rebellion were beaten into cruel submission like little baby dolphins at Taiji.

This defeat paved the way for Hideyoshi’s ultimate hegemony over the country.

That, that dude looks like a monkey!  That, that dude looks like a monkey!

That, that dude looks like a monkey!
That, that dude looks like a monkey!

With the Hōjō gone, Hideyoshi granted 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu control of the 関八州 Kanhasshū 8 Kantō Provinces. Ieyasu became the supreme power in Kantō and took control of Edo Castle in 1593. At this time he did a survey of his new territory and required oaths of fealty from all the local warlords. Edo Katsutada was one of the local lords forced to submit. Ieyasu was now the lord of Edo Castle and he couldn’t allow some local yokel to bare the name of his castle, so he abolished the Edo clan and required them to only use the Kitami name. Accordingly, 江戸勝忠 Edo Katsutada became 喜多見勝忠 Kitami Katsutada. He later changed his name to 喜多見勝重 Kitami Katsushige, adopting the family kanji 重 shige.

In 1600, Edo Katsutada (Kitami Katsushige) supported Ieyasu at the 関ヶ原の戦い Sekigahara no Tatakai Battle of Sekigahara. In 1603, Ieyasu was made shōgun and Edo Katsutada (Kitami Katsushige) was now officially a 旗本 hatamoto direct retainer of the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family – not a bad rank to hold in those days. Katsutada (Katsushige) accompanied shōgunate forces in either (or both) the 1614 (winter) Siege of Ōsaka and/or the 1615 (summer) Siege of Ōsaka. Both campaigns secured Ieyasu’s legendary status in the eyes of his new subjects in Kantō and throughout the country. For someone you’ve probably never heard of, Edo Katsutada had a pretty epic military career at the end of the Sengoku Period.

Ōsaka Castle. No easy task to take it down.  Today the castle is a shadow of its Sengoku Glory - a shadow with an elevator.

Ōsaka Castle.
No easy task to take it down.
Today the castle is a shadow of its Sengoku Glory – a shadow with an elevator.

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The Rise & Fall of Kitami Shigemasa

The family carried on as powerful hatamoto until 1680, when they had an amazing stroke of good luck. In that year, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi assumed headship of the Tokugawa family and became the 5th shōgun. Tsunayoshi “took a liking”[xiii] to 喜多見重政 Kitami Shigemasa, the head of the Kitami family. Almost immediately we see him bestowed with gifts and honors by the shōgun. By the next year, 1681, Shigemasa’s court rank and stipend were raised substantially. In 1683, his rank and stipend were raised again, putting him at the same court level as 譜代大名 fudai daimyō[xiv]. His position was raised yet again in 1685.

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi preferred the company of men.  Not an inherently bad thing. Just a little tricky for keeping up that dynasty thing

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi preferred the company of men.
Not an inherently bad thing. Just a little tricky for keeping up that dynasty thing

Kitami Shigemasa must have sucked a mean dick because in 1686, Tsunayoshi elevated him to daimyō status and elevated his fief to 藩 han domain status. The Kitami residence was officially elevated to 陣屋 jin’ya status – which means from the government’s perspective it was a castle[xv]. It served as the center of government for the new domain and would have been an appropriate venue for entertaining the shōgun or other daimyō[xvi]. In return for this honor, Shigemasa supported Tsunayoshi’s first wacky 生類憐みの令 Shōrui Awaremi no Rei Compassion for Living Things Decree[xvii] in 1687. The law protected stray dogs. In order to support the edict, Shigemasa built a huge kennel to protect stray dogs in his newly created domain[xviii].

Shigemasa’s meteoric rise didn’t sit well with all. He was considered 寵臣 chōshin a favored retainer – a term that could be interpreted sexually. Jealous shōgunate officials, one 柳沢吉保 Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu in particular, argued that he disrespected the shōgun’s intentions or just wasn’t up to the task of being a daimyō[xix].

So when some monkey business went down in 1689, shōgunate officials used the opportunity to take Shigemasa out. At the residence of his cousin (or grandson, it isn’t clear), 喜多見重治 Kitami Shigeharu and his sister’s husband 朝岡直国 Asaoka Naokuni got into an argument that led to a sword fight. In the end, Shigeharu killed Naokuni. The details of the fight aren’t preserved, but Shigeharu was evidently deemed to be in the wrong and was beheaded[xx]. Shigemasa, already on the rocks with the shōgunate, got kaiekied (改易された kaieki sareta[xxi]), ie; he was stripped of his rank and titles and placed under house arrest as a hostage of 松平定重 Matsudaira Sadashige, lord of 伊勢国桑名藩 Ise no Kuni Kuwana Han Kuwana Domain, Ise Province (modern Mie Prefecture). Shigemasa, apparently went crazy and then died in 1693.

The family temple at Keigen-ji.

The family temple at Keigen-ji.

A second theory states that the sword fight incident – regardless of whether it really happened or not – had nothing to do with Shigemasa’s dismissal and house arrest. According to this story, once the first Compassion for Living Things Edict had been put into effect, Shigemasa realized it was actually a pretty stupid law. Basically, it was now against the law to kill dogs. Because of this stray dogs were out roaming the streets everywhere. More edicts were promulgated protecting other animals and things were bound to get out of hand[xxii]. To make matters worse, Tsunayoshi had found a new plaything, the aforementioned Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu[xxiii], daimyō of 川越藩 Kawagoe Han Kawagoe Domain. Apparently, he was a spiteful little bitch and turned the shōgun and the senior councilors against the johnny-come-lately, Shigemasa. So if you ever thought the women in the movie 大奥 Ōoku! were back-stabby, well, welcome to men’s version of that[xxiv].

Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu - brilliant daimyō or petty little bitch. You be the judge.

Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu – brilliant daimyō or petty little bitch?
You be the judge.

In short, the jealous Yoshiyasu stole the shōgun’s heart, stole Shigemasa’s position[xxv], turned the shōgun against him, turned the entire shōgunate against him, stripped him of all rank, confiscated his property, and essentially ran him out of town to die disgraced in a faraway land. If this account is true, it’s no wonder Shigemasa went insane while in exile. It also makes Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu look like a total cunt.

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The grave of Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu (Matsudaira Tokinosuke).  Located in Kōfu.

The grave of Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu (Matsudaira Tokinosuke).
Located in Kōfu.

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After The Edo Period

Kitami, like other parts of Setagaya, remained rural until quite recently. After the 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923, the area experienced a population explosion as people relocated away from the devastated urban center. In 1926, 成城学園 Seijō Gakuen was split from 成城学校 Seijō Gakkō in 牛込 Ushigome[xxvi] and moved to Kitami. Part of the former Kitami area now bears the name Seijō. Interestingly, in 1927, the 小田原急行鉄道株式会社 Odawara Kyūkō Tetsudō Kabushiki-gaisha[xxvii] opened train service to the area which reminds me of the connection between the Kitami-Edo clan and the Late Hōjō of Odawara. The presence of the station guaranteed growth in the area as it was now connected with central Tōkyō… and everyone lived happily ever after.

Except for that one guy.

There’s always one.

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[i] This reeks of 当て字 ateji, ie; the kanji were added or modified later for phonetic reasons and don’t reflect any etymological history. They were easy to read and looked pleasant. That’s it.
[ii] Archaeologists know the area has been inhabited since the Final Jōmon Period (about 1000 BCE). This means the place name could be fairly ancient – perhaps dating from as far back as the first century CE.
[iii] There’s a possibility that the name goes way farther back in time, but no one seems to have taken a stab at it.
[iv] The temple called 北院 Kita-in, literally the North Temple, in Kawagoe was renamed 喜多院 Kita-in Temple of Abundant Joy by the 3rd shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu. These are the same kanji. Remember that city name, Kawagoe. We might come back to that.
[v] The clan originally held lands in modern 駄埼玉県 Dasaitama-ken Saitama Prefecture.
[vi] Ironically, the Chichibu clan was actually descended from the Taira.
[vii] The temple seems to have originally been located on 紅葉山 Momiji-yama Momiji Hill on the grounds of Edo Castle, but was relocated here in 1451. The temple was originally established in 1186.
[viii] This is hilarious to Tōkyōites who hate Saitama, because today Chichibu and Kumagaya are about the lamest places in the country.
[ix] Yes, the same Kira clan whose descendant would play a role in the story of the 47 Rōnin. See my article on Setagaya.
[x] The Late Hōjō had become the primary power in Kantō and ruled from 小田原城 Odawara-jō Odawara Castle.
[xi] His family name 九戸 Kunohe literally means the “9th Door.” This unique name and its unique reading are… um… unique to Aomori. If you meet an 一戸さん Ichinohe-san or 七戸さん Shichinohe-san, you can rest assured, they have roots in Aomori. You can read about the castle that Katsutada attacked here at Jcastle.
[xii] All rights reserved, Samurai Archives.
[xiii] In a very #TeamIenari sort of way, Tsunayoshi seems to have “taken a liking” to a great number of samurai, elevating the status of all sorts of, ehem, “qualified men.”
[xiv] Fudai daimyō were the daimyō families that had sided with Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara. These daimyō families were among the most prestigious in terms of rank.
[xv] Supposedly, this was the only jin’ya located within the present 23 Wards.
[xvi] A hatamoto’s residence, no matter how grand it may have been, would not have been appropriate. I guess this means Shigemasa and the Tsunayoshi could have sleepovers now.
[xvii] This is the decree that earned the shōgun the laughable nickname, 犬公方 Inu Kubō “Dog Shōgun” because he especially wanted to protect dogs.
[xviii] The other kennels were in 大久保 Ōkubō and 四ツ谷 Yotsuya, and the main kennel was in 中野 Nakano. I have an article about Nakano here.
[xix] A job that, let’s be honest, wasn’t too difficult anyways.
[xx] Remember, beheading was reserved for criminals or samurai who had committed an act so egregious that 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment was disallowed.
[xxi] 改易 kaieki is the Japanese word for “sudden dismissal and deprivation of position, privileges, and properties.”
[xxii] And indeed, things did get out of hand.
[xxiii] Yoshiyasu’s 吉 yoshi was given to him by Tsunayoshi. The shōgun later promoted him to daimyō of 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain in the former lands of 武田信玄 Takeda Shingen. He also granted him a courtly name that essentially made him an honorary Tokugawa, 松平時之助 Matsudaira Tokinosuke. Yoshiyasu was given land in 駒込 Komagome to build a new 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence. He built an elaborate garden there called 六義園 Rikugien. The garden still exists today in Tōkyō.
[xxiv] This doesn’t show the back-stabby stuff, but this is the movie I’m referring to.
[xxv] His position in the shōgunate was 御側御用人 o-soba go-yōnin, which is usually translated as “lord chamberlain” and called 御側 o-soba for short. The o-soba was the shōgun’s closest advisor and it was his job to report the shōgun’s commands to the 老中 rōjū senior councilors. In the case of Shigemasa and Yoshiyasu, the o-soba also served as the royal penis cleaner.
[xxvi] I have some articles about Ushigome.
[xxvii] This train line was the forerunner of the present 小田急電鉄株式会社 Odakyū Dentetsu Kabushiki-gaisha Odakyu Electric Railway Co., Ltd.

  1. Monsieur Dokan!
    Hahahaha.

  2. I just laughed so hard on the train when I read “Kitami Shigemasa must have sucked a mean dick because in 1686, Tsunayoshi elevated him to daimyō status”. I lost it at the part about the baby dolphins too.

    People must think I’m crazy.

    Great post!

  3. I just read the footnotes. You got some digs against Saitama too. Nobody made it out of this post unscarred.

  4. The only Kitami I knew before reading this is my Japanese hometown up in Hokkaido. Thanks mate! Nice read.

  5. Oh my God.

    You made a joke about the dolphin hunt at Taiji.

    You sir are one sick mofo.

    And a frickin’ comedic genius.

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