(Inner Happy Town; as in the inner part of Happy Town, not inner happiness)
Uchisaiwachō derives from Edo Castle’s 幸橋 Saiwai-bashi Saiwai Bridge, which was protected by a fortified gate. 内 uchi means inside. Therefore, Uchisaiwai-chō means “town inside Saiwai Gate.” The meaning was lost when the gate and bridge were torn down.
But there is so much more to the story and this area. Let’s dig in!
内幸町 Uchisaiwai-chō is a backwards L-shaped postal code in 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward that borders on 中央区 Chūō-ku Chūō Ward and 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. If you walk from 日比谷公園 Hibiya Kōen Hibiya Park to 新橋一丁目 Shinbashi Itchōme and 新橋二丁目 Shinbashi Ni-chōme you will pass through Uchisaiwai-chō, which is a relatively non-descript business district to be perfectly honest. That said, if you continue on this route, you will eventually hit 御成門駅 Onarimon Eki Onarimon Station (remember that – it’s gonna come up later). These days, the area’s main claim to fame is its unwieldy name in ローマ字 rōma-ji the Roman alphabet and the 帝国ホテル Teikoku Hoteru Imperial Hotel.
Relation to Edo Castle
The history of this area is directly related to the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate because the modern land is located on plots of land that were within the castle enceinte. But let’s explore this a little more. The history of the castle and the moats goes much farther back.
To modern Tōkyōites[i], place names like 虎ﾉ門 Tora no Mon, 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri, and 赤坂見附 Akasaka Mitsuke may seem a little cryptic. In an age where cars, taxis, buses, and trains make getting around Tōkyō a breeze, the so-called Imperial Palace is an isolated area surrounded by a quaint moat. But in reality, 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle was the largest castle in the world. It was a city in and of itself and it lay at the heart of one of largest cities in the world – if not the largest city in the world[ii]. The moats you can see today are the oldest and innermost moats. Outside of those moats, a population of 大名 daimyō feudal lords lived in palatial residences. A secondary outer moat system protected the residences of those lords. All of that area was considered part of the castle.
Why am I saying this? Because so many names are related to the castle and the system of bridges and gates along the moats. Uchi-saiwai-chō is one of those stories. So let’s take a look!
First, Let’s Go Back to the 12th Century
In the 12th century, the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan used the inlets and rivers of 千代田 Chiyoda[iii] as a natural defense when they built their fortified residence here. Later, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan used the same hills and rivers for his fortress[iv]. Dōkan utilized the unruly network of rivers and inlets by creating a system of moats.
During the Edo Period
It’s generally assumed that the area called Uchisaiwai-chō was reclaimed upon the arrival of 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 1590’s. I suspect some groundwork had already been laid by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan in the 1400’s, but whatever. By the Edo Period the area was solid ground.
If you go to the ruins of Edo Castle today, you’ll see the moat system is still intact. These moats are 内堀 uchibori inner moats. The castle was much more spread out in its heyday. There was another ring called 外堀 sotobori the outer moat. By the 1960’s this was pretty much all filled in and doesn’t exist today.
The area between the inner moat and outer moat was built up in the Edo Period with 大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō mansions. Daimyō, often translated as feudal lords[v], were required by the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate to perform yearly service to the shōgun called 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance[vi].
Long story short, these lords were required to maintain about 3 residences in the shōgun’s capital as well as their own domain. I like to think of these Edo-based residences as embassies. The compounds closest to the Edo Castle were for conducting direct affairs with the shōgunate and remote governance of their respective domains. These were usually the smallest of the 3 estates the daimyō maintained – but make no mistake about it; these were huge compounds on the most valuable real estate in Edo and subsequently Tōkyō.
At that time the area consisted of several large city blocks which housed the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residences and 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residences of various daimyō. I mentioned earlier that modern day Uchisaiwai-chō is a backwards L-shaped neighborhood. Well, in the Edo Period, the same area also could have been viewed as a backwards L-shaped area that included 2 discrete city blocks of 3 daimyō residences each and a single fire break[vii]. The estates of the daimyō on the vertical line of the backwards L remain essentially intact today. The horizontal line of the backwards L was broken up and has been redeveloped over the years. Interestingly, the former estates were the smaller compounds, while the latter were the larger.
Daimyō Palaces in Uchisaiwai-chō
|Domain and |
Type of Residence
|English||Clan||Current Plot of Land|
The Imperial Hotel
Mizuho Ginkō Kyū-Honten
Former Mizuho Bank HQ
National Printing Bureau
|Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.|
|Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.|
|Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.|
Gates of Edo Castle
So, as I mentioned earlier, these daimyō residences were located between the inner moat system and the outer moat. What I didn’t mention is that the mansions we’re talking about were located directly on the inside of the outer moat. Of course, this meant they were protected. But this also meant they were only accessible by bridges the crossed the moat and gates that protected the castle[xi]. Gates and other checkpoints were important landmarks and special economies developed around these places. As a result, many places derive from the names of the gates of Edo Castle. And here is where our etymology story starts to bud.
So Let’s Look at the Gates in the Area
Alternate Gate Name
|English Names||Modern Location|
Sakurada Mitsuke Mon
The entire gate system (mitsuke) is intact.
Hibiya Mitsuke Mon
The stone walls are intact.
Yamashita Mitsuke Mon
Saiwaibashi Mitsuke Mon
Shibaguchi Mitsuke Mon
A few stones survive and there is a plaque.
|Tora no Go-mon|
Tora no Mitsuke Mon
Much of the stone walls survive.
Saiwaibashi Mon was colloquially referred to as 御成御門 O-nari Go-mon. 御成 o-nari is an obsolete Japanese word that refers to the presence of the shōgun[xiii]. This was the gate the 将軍家 shōgun-ke shōgun family and its entourage used to make pilgrimages to the family funerary temple at 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in 芝 Shiba[xiv]. Movements of the shōgun, or daimyō for that matter, were highly ritualized – as such, people took notice. It’s almost as if at any given moment a parade of samurai might cross your path.
At the beginning of the article I mentioned a walking course that leads directly to 御成門駅 Onarimon Eki Onarimon Station. That was because, the streets within castle itself led directly to Saiwaibashi Gate which in turn fed directly into a boulevard that led directly to the shōgun’s private gate to the Zōjō-ji funerary complex. In the case of Sawaibashi Mon, the “Onari Gate” name didn’t persist (most likely because all of the trappings of the shōgunate were erased in the Meiji Era), but at Zōjō-ji the nickname “Onari Gate” stuck because the sprawling temple of the shōguns’ remained intact until WWII. Sawaibashi Gate doesn’t exist today, but Zōjō-ji’s Onari Gate is completely intact today and there is even a subway station that bears its name.
After the Edo Period
As I said before, the present day Uchisaiwai-chō is a reversed L-shaped area, but in the Edo Period, it was 2 discrete blocks. In 1872 (Meiji 5), the daimyō residences of Shirakawa, Satsuma, and Saga were torn down and combined to make 内山下町 Uchiyamashita-chō. The name literally means “the town inside Yamashita” – a reference to Yamashita Mon. The residences of Kōriyama, Obi, and Tsuwano were torn down and combined to make 内幸町 Uchisaiwai-chō. This name literally means “the town inside Saiwai” – a reference to Saiwaibashi Mon. In 1968, the modern postal code system was established and Uchiyamashita-chō and Uchisaiwai-chō were combined under the name Uchisaiwai-chō.
The lot formerly belonging to Satsuma was destined for a brief flowering of greatness. The area was home to the 鹿鳴館 Rokumei-kan, an early Meiji Era hall built in 1881 to entertain foreign dignitaries. The building is sort of synonymous with Japan’s frantic desire to be taken seriously by foreign powers. They were keen to show how culturally sophisticated and worldly they were[xv]. The idea was that the Meiji elite could show off how well they could do western things like speak foreign languages, wear the latest western fashions, dance the waltz, play the piano, and have group sex with foreigners (allegedly). Even 芸者 geisha would show up in the latest western fashions! For a brief period, the Rokumeikan was a symbol of modernity and all the changes brought about by the Meiji Coup of 1868.
The building is so inextricably linked to the image of the Early Meiji Period that there is even a term 鹿鳴館時代 Rokumei-kan Jidai the Rokumeikan Era. However, in reality, westerners seemed to be laughing at the Japanese pretending to not be Japanese and the average run of the mill Edoite (who wouldn’t have had access to such elite gala events) would have been baffled by what went on in the hall and its gardens. In fact, there seems to have been some public backlash to all the western extravagance and the sex scandals happening at the taxpayer’s expense. The so-called Rokumeikan Era[xvi] didn’t even last 10 years. It seems to have run out of steam by the mid 1880’s. In terms of popular destinations for foreigners, the Rokumeikan was soon replaced by the far more conventional 帝国ホテル Teikoku Hoteru Imperial Hotel which was originally built in 1890[xvii].
[i] Expats in particular…
[ii] At the time.
[iii] What does Chiyoda mean?
[iv] In the Edo Period, this ancient fortification served as the 本丸 hon maru main citadel (the residence of the shōgun and his family – the most secure enceinte of the castle) and the 二之丸 ni no maru secondary citadel (theoretically, the residence of the shōgun’s adult offspring). If you walk the grounds of Edo Castle (officially known by the BS title of 皇居 kōkyo the Imperial Palace), the terms hon maru and ni no maru are still used on signs, so they’re easy to find.
[v] A contestable term at best, but an easy convention.
[vi] What’s sankin-kōtai?
[vii] Technically speaking, the enclosure from 櫻田御門 Sukurada Go-mon Sakuradamon to 虎之御門 Tora no Go-mon Toranomon was home to 7 discrete blocks of about 28 daimyō residences. The area was accessible by 5 見附 mitsuke “approaches” – Sakurada Mon, Hibiya Mon, Yamashita Mon, Saiwaibashi Mon, and Tora no Mon. More abou that in a minute.
[viii] Some sources say 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence. To be honest, my sources have conflicting info on a few of these, which makes me think (1) daimyō were moved around after fires, (2) daimyō were moved around after changes in rank, (3) daimyō residences were re-designated as upper/middle/lower when necessary, and/or (4) the upper/middle/lower thing wasn’t officially codified nomenclature. Anyhoo, take the designation as upper/middle/lower in this article with a grain of salt.
[ix] It seems Saga Domain’s residence was moved from the Yamashita Mon area to the Tora no Mon area at some point.
[x] Many of you might recognize this name from 柳沢吉保 Yanagizawa Yoshiyasu, sometimes referred to by his honorary title 松平時之助 Matsudaira Tokinosuke. He was the lover of the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. He was originally daimyō of 川越藩 Kawagoe Han Kawagoe Domain, but shōgun Tsunayoshi elevated him to lord of the prestigious (and traditionally Tokugawa controlled) territory of 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain. Yoshiyasu’s descendants were the lords of 郡山藩 Kōriyama Han Kōriyama Domain in modern day 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture. Yoshiyasu was apparently a spiteful little bitch who destroyed the meteoric career of 喜多見重政 Kitami Shigemasa. You can read the story here.
[xi] Remember, if you’re inside the moat, you’re inside the castle – even if it’s the outer enceinte.
[xii] This gate burnt down in 1734 and was subsequently dismantled. Interestingly, Shibaguchi Mon was built where an undefended bridge formerly stood called 新橋 atarashii hashi the new bridge. Once the defensive structure, Shibaguchi Mon, was torn down, a new undefended bridge was set up and reverted to the former name, 新橋, but with the pronunciation Shinbashi. Today, you can find shops in 銀座８丁目 Ginza Hatchōme that use the name Shibaguchi.
[xiii] It was used for other nobles, too.
[xiv] See my article on Shiba here.
[xv] They were hoping to renegotiate the so-called unequal treaties signed by the Tokugawa Shōgunate.
[xvi] If you want to know more about the Rokumeikan, here’s the Wikipedia article.
[xvii] The Imperial Hotel is something of an institution in Tōkyō. Its own history is linked to the ups and downs of Tōkyō itself, but I think it’s outside of the scope of this article. If you want to learn more about the Imperial Hotel, here’s the Wikipedia page.