Just a heads up.
The first story I heard about the etymology of Chōfu was this: 調布 Chōfu was a town that paid its taxes 調 chō with 布fu/nuno cloth. It seemed legit enough and I didn’t know much about the area or taxation in old Japan so this was good enough for me at the time.
However, this isn’t good enough anymore. After all, this is freaking JapanThis!. We have a certain level of skepticism to maintain around here.
Am I right?
Chōfu is an Ancient Name.
Well as it turns out, the city of Chōfu didn’t exist until the Meiji Era. That said, the city cites one of the oldest and most loved poetry collections of Japanese poetry as the source of its namesake. That anthology is none other than the 万葉集 Man’yōshū Collection of 10,000 Leaves which was compiled in the 700’s[i]. One poem that refers to the beautiful young women of the area is cited as the source of the name.
The fact of the matter is that the etymology of “paying taxes with cloth” seems to be a conflation of an ancient taxation system and a little bit of poetry. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Administrative Reforms in the Asuka and Nara Periods
In the late 飛鳥時代 Asuka Jidai Asuka Period[ii], starting with the 大化の改新 Taika no Kaishin Taika Reforms[iii] in 645, the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court began enacting sweeping administrative reforms based on a Chinese model. One of the results of this was the establishment of the 律令制 ritsuryō-sei ritsuryō system. This resulted in the civil administrative units of 国 kuni provinces, 郡 gun districts, 郷 gō hamlets, and 里 ri/sato neighborhoods. There were many other changes regarding taxation, ranking, governance, and criminal justice[iv].
I mentioned the establishment of civil administrative units, but some of this should look familiar to long time readers[v]. The recognition of traditional nomenclature like 国 kuni province and 郡 gun district persisted throughout the Edo Period. Districts can still be found throughout Japan. Place names all around Japan often retain references to old provincial names, district names, and more local divisions (hamlets, villages, or neighborhoods).
The etymology of 調布 Chōfu coming from taxes is dependent on a particular outcome of the ritsuryō system, a concept called 租庸調 soyōchō. Most dictionaries define this term as “corvee” which looks a little bit like Corvette but is totally different because taxes are boring as hell and Corvettes are cool.
Talking about modern taxation is boring as hell so trust me; I don’t want to get deep into the taxation practices of the Nara Period so here is the simplest explanation I can think of. Soyōchō didn’t require people to pay money; rather you were required to pay in goods and services. For example, if you were a fisherman, a certain percentage of fish of a certain quality might be expected from you. Essentially, you had to do a certain amount of work for free for the good of your local lord, who was presumably a representative of the imperial court. I’m assuming certain types of goods would have made their way all the way to the imperial court in 奈良 Nara or 平安京 Heian-kyō[vi].
The system is much more nuanced than my explanation, but this isn’t a medieval tax blog. It’s about place names for crying FFS.
Anyhoo, if you were paying attention to the kanji, you probably noticed the final character of soyōchō was 調 chō. This is the same chō in Chōfu. Under the soyōchō system there were two particular taxes put on textile workers. The two main categories were: 調絹 chōkinu paying with silk and 調布 chōfu paying with cloth. Please note that the latter has the same kanji as the present day place name. OK, seems legit.
Is Everyone Defined By Taxes?
But something bugs me about this etymology. Who would have been proud of how their ancestors paid taxes? Especially if you were a farmer?
I think no one would. And herein lays the biggest problem with this this etymology.
The Plot Thickens
Nobody likes to pay taxes. I reckon people of this day and age know more about how their tax dollars are spent more than Askuka/Nara period peasants did. I don’t know which group might hate tax more, but I can’t imagine that giving away your profits to rich lords of varying ability would be a source of pride…
Unless your village was famous for some trade and everyone had pride that they were the best. Everyone knew that your cloth was the finest in the area. People came from far and wide to procure your fine cloth. Your cloth was so fine that it captivated the imaginations of the imperial court in Kyōto. It was so fine, that the area was defined (get it?) by that industry.
The problem is that there seem to be no records of this area being famous for textile production. Adding to the mystery is that the kanji 布 fu/nuno is rampant in the place names along the 玉川 Tamagawa Tama River. Surely at least one of these places was famous for cloth production?
Is it all Bullshit?
It could actually all be bullshit. But maybe not complete bullshit. More like some of that folk etymology bullshit that comes up from time to time.
Until quite recently, the area was quite rural. Today it’s a suburban area. However, until the post-war period, the area was primarily agricultural.
Present day 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City is located outside of the 23 Special Wards (it’s still part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis). But when you read accounts of 近藤勇 Kondō Isami and 土方歳三 Hijikata Toshizō of 新撰組 Shinsengumi[vii], it’s often said that they were men of 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama District. Isami’s hometown was the village of 武蔵国多摩郡上石原村 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Kami-Ishihara Mura Upper Ishihara Village, Tama District, Musashi Province. Today this particular location is part of Chōfu City. Whether Isami would have considered the area Chōfu[viii], I can’t say for sure but he must have been familiar with the term, for reasons I’ll explain later. But until the Meiji Period, Kondō Isami’s hometown was not Chōfu. It was Kami-Ishihara.
But both Isami and Toshizō would have identified themselves as men of the Tama District[ix].
OK. No cloth makers. Lots of farmers. Place names referring to cloth all over the river basin. So what’s going on then?
So earlier, I mentioned that the 万葉集 Man’yōshū Collection of 10,000 Leaves makes a reference to the beautiful young women who lived along the 玉川 Tamagawa Tama River. The Man’yōshū is one of the oldest collections of Japanese poetry. It’s a collection of poetry from various parts of Japan written in various dialects using a version of Japanese writing that was very much in its infancy. For people interested in place names, it’s both a boon and a bane. It often seems to be helpful and wildly confusing at the same time.
和歌 waka were a style of poem[x] that we first find evidence of in the Man’yōshū. It’s in this collection of poems that we find a particular 東歌 Tōka a kind of waka from ancient Kantō. Let’s look at the waka in question, shall we?
Like the cloth
This old poem painted a picture of bleached cloth that was white and tender, just like the beautiful young girls who lived along the Tama River. It doesn’t say anything about a textile industry, but it does evoke a pretty image and it does point out the Tama River. Keep in mind that in the 600’s or whenever this was written, the Tama River was spider-like network of rivers. Whatever section of the river the author refers to as “the Tama River” is completely lost to us[xi], though it is presumably somewhere in Tama District.
But the keyword in the text is: tezukuri (or tatsukuri/tazukuri). The popular translation is cloth. Keep this in mind as we move forward with this crazy conflation.
Was a Town on the Tama River Famous for Cloth or Textiles?
Unfortunately, I don’t know. My sources say it was famous for farming and nothing more. And surely the Tama River provided ample water for irrigating rice paddies right up to the modern era. The beautiful poem in the Man’yōshū would tie in well with the old taxation system theory if we could locate a famous textile village. But if this industry existed in the area, outside of the Man’yōshū we don’t have much literary evidence or physical evidence. What’s more, the Man’yōshū is really vague[xii] and the Kantō region of the 600’s is mysterious place to us today.
So Why Is the Area Called Chōfu?
The word てづくり tezukuri (or たつくり・たづくり tatsukuri/tazukuri) is used in the poem. Today, this is usually written 手作り tezukuri handmade/homemade but the term could be used for any kinds of goods. After all, in those days, there were no machines, so everything that wasn’t natural was handmade, right?
The fact is that the product in question is vague. The verb さらす sarasu means “to expose something” but has another meaning of “to bleach something.” Subsequent generations seem to have taken sarasu tezukuri as “bleaching cloth,” but I wonder if there might have been another meaning (perhaps dialectal?). I’m not qualified to say either way, but seems like a fair question to ask. But one thing is certain. A famous image arose of beautiful, young maidens with fair skin, happily bleaching soft cloth in the clean, life giving waters of the Tamagawa River. This image was to persist right up to the Meiji Period.
Edo Period Poetry in Motion
In a 1000 years, a lot can change – especially if you have shoddy records. Because of the poem from the Man’yōshū, the local people – who were most definitely farmers in the Edo Period – had a certain sense of pride. FFS, 6th century nobles supposedly used to talk about how great their hometown was. Anyone who lived along the Tama River could take pride in their good produce/products and beautiful people. Who wouldn’t be proud of that?
But what actually seems to have happened is that a literary phrase, 調布の玉川 Tezukuri no Tamagawa, had entered the poetic language of the day. The interesting thing is the kanji 調布 which should normally be read as Chōfu had the irregular reading of Tatsukuri/Tezukuri. The phrase Tezukuri no Tamagawa had become a 枕詞 makura kotoba a so-called “pillow word.” This way of writing Tezukuri which reflected “paying taxes with cloth” would then be a special reading of the kanji[xiii]. I’m assuming that for reasons of poetic meter Tezukuri no Tamagawa (9 syllables) was alternatively read as Chōfu no Tamagawa (8 syllables) – Chōfu being preferred to Tezukuri because it was easier to read and because tezukuri is just so goddamn vague.
But Wait. Did You Say “Pillow Word?”
Yes, I did.
What the Fuck is a Pillow Word?
I don’t read classical Japanese poetry[xiv], so I could be butchering this explanation. But it’s my understanding that waka[xv] used “pillow words” to allude to established literary imagery or to instantly conjure up a traditional sentiment. Many of the references referred to poems in the Man’yōshū, but I don’t think they were restricted to that text alone.
Today, if a rapper (or anyone, for that matter) says “got my mind on my money,” clued in listeners will instantly have an image in their head because they know the reference. Wikipedia says that “Japanese poets use makura kotoba to refer to earlier poems and show their knowledge of poetry and the imperial poetry collections.” So I think that supports my explanation[xvi]. Fingers crossed.
Anyhoo, the local people knew the poem quite well. By the Edo Period, artists who painted the Tama area would have known the expression or would have been told by the local villagers. Edo Era locals clearly interpreted tezukuri and tazukuri (handmade) as nuno (cloth). This is when the ancient “cloth tax” story came back into play.
The idea of a 武蔵国調布 Musashi no Kuni Chōfu Chōfu, Musashi Province had entered the imagination. With it came the image of beautiful young girls of the area. This is a concept with a long history in Japan, the local 美女 bijo beautiful women. Some areas are famous for beautiful women[xvii] more than others. Artists from Edo who often wouldn’t bother to make the trip to the Tama District had an image in their head of beautiful, young girls with pure white skin happily bleaching cloth in the Tama River.
Meiji Villagers Name a New Town and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next…
Somehow the local legends and the poem from the Man’yōshū had merged so perfectly that something amazing happened in the Meiji Period.
After the 廃藩置県 haihan-chiken abolition of the domains and creation of prefectures in 1871 (Meiji 4), a whole lot of rural areas were overlooked in the grand changes of the Meiji government. That is to say, day to day life didn’t change very much[xviii]. But new, Western style civil administration was applied to the countryside as well as the cities. This meant that previously autonomous 村 mura villages were combined to create to create 町 machi towns. Now, for the first time, independent villages were asked to re-consider their place in this new system. Sometimes the largest village name was used for the new combination, but other times, completely new names were chose.
So it seems that when forced to look at themselves as a group and not as independent villages, the local people took pride in the pillow word that united them all, 調布の玉川 chōfu no Tamagawa[xix]. Actually a number of villages along the Tama River basin used some variant of the chōfu name and to the best of my knowledge, these efforts weren’t coordinated. It was just ingrained into the spirit of the people who lived along the river.
The first time we see Chōfu on a map is in 1889 (Meiji 22) when a new place name was created; 北多摩郡調布町 Kita Tama-gun Chōfu Machi Chōfu Town, North Tama District. The town deliberately chose to reference the pillow word. The new town incorporated the former villages of 布田小島分村 Fuda-Kojima Wakemura[xx] Divided Village of Fuda-Kojima, 上石原村 Kami^Ishihara Mura Upper Ishihara Village and 下石原村 Shimo-Ishihara Mura Lower Ishihara Village, 上布田村 Kami-Fuda Mura Upper Fuda Village and 下布田村 Shimo-Fuda Mura Lower Fuda Village, 国領宿 Kokuryō-juku Kokuryō Post Town, 上ヶ給村 Agekyū Mura Agekyū Village, and 飛田給村 Tobitakyū Mura Tobitakyū Village.
Chōfu is Actually a Pretty Cool Place
Chōfu is located outside of the 23 Special Wards of Tōkyō. That can mean BOOOOOORING to many people. Even if you take a train from 新宿駅 Shinjuku Eki Shinjuku Station[xxi], you need to take an express train to get to Chōfu in a reasonable amount of time. It’s out there. Many people who live in the center of Tōkyō probably wouldn’t see much use in going there. It’s the suburbs. Outside of the station area, you need a car – or at least a bike.
That said, I think Chōfu is a pretty cool place. If I’m not mistaken, many of its charms are accessible on foot, most of them by bus, and all of them by bicycle[xxii]. Modern 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City is essentially a collection of Edo Period 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway. There are some Edo Period structures extant here and there along the old postal road, most notably the 赤門 akamon, a temple gate that has survived since 1649. There’s also a 七福神巡り shichi fukujin meguri 7 gods of good luck pilgrimage if you’re a walker[xxiii].
As I mentioned earlier, Kondō Isami was born and raised here[xxiv]. The home where the Kondō residence once stood is no longer there, but there is a plaque and a picture of a house purported to be his 実家 jikka parents’ home. At nearby 龍源寺 Ryūgen-ji Ryūgen Temple is one of Kondō Isami’s many graves[xxv]. There’s another shrine, 上石原若宮八幡神社 Kami-Ishihara Wakanomiya Hachiman-gū, where Kondō Isami allegedly went to pray for victory of the 甲陽鎮撫隊 Kōyoū Chinbutai – essentially a new name given to the Shinsengumi[xxvi]. A short walk from the station will bring you to 布多天神社 Fudatenjin-ja known by locals as simply Fudatenjin. One of the shrine’s little known secrets – even to locals and Shinsengumi enthusiasts – is that on the precincts there is a large stone monument erected by Isami’s father, 近藤周助 Kondō Shūsuke. The shrine is famous for its 梅 ume plum blossoms in the late winter.
I’m sure there are more charms than these[xxvii], but the real show stopper in Chōfu is a sprawling temple complex called 深大寺 Jindai-ji Jindai Temple[xxviii]. I’m sure it’s beautiful any time of the year, but the time I went was in the autumn – just as the leaves were changing – and it was pretty amazing. I felt like I had stepped back in time. It was years ago when I went, but the beauty of the atmosphere and nature made a big impression on me. It’s said to be the second oldest temple in 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis. The area is famous for soba, so it’s a good place to relax and have something to eat. The distance of this place from Chōfu Station is why I think that if you want to “do Chōfu,” you should probably rent some e-チャリ ī-chari electric bicycles to hit all of the spots. And believe me, I haven’t mentioned all the spots in this area.
OK, we’ve wandered way outside of the 23 Wards but we’re still in Tōkyō Metropolis. I think long time readers can guess what the next few articles will be about. Feel free to take a stab at it in the comments section below.
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[i] That’s the Nara Period to you and me.
[ii] Wanna know about the Asuka Period, here ya go!
[iii] What the hell are the Taika Reforms?
[iv] Much of the system was superseded by new innovations in the 10th century (Heian Period), but some of these administrative units stayed in place until the Meiji Period.
[v] When you talk about place names, you have to talk about civil administrative crap all the time.
[vi] Modern day 京都 Kyōto.
[vii] What’s the hell is the Shinsengumi, you ask? This is the Shinesengumi.
[viii] Today Chōfu City bills itself as 近藤勇のふるさと Kondō Isami no Furusato Kondō Isami’s Hometown.
[ix] Hijikata’s hometown, by the way, was in nearby 武蔵国多摩郡日野 村 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Hino Mura Hino Village, Tama District, Musashi Province.
[x] Waka come in all shapes and sized, so I’m not going into detail. I don’t want to discuss waka any more than I want to discuss taxes. lol. But here’s the Wikipedia article. Knock yourself out.
[xi] Wanna learn more about the Tama River?
[xii] Japanese poetry tends to be pretty fucking vague.
[xiii] And fair enough. Kanji are fairly flexible in how you want to use them in Japanese.
[xiv] I rarely read any poetry anymore, for that matter.
[xv] Read more about waka here.
[xvi] If I’m wrong, say something in the comments.
[xvii] Some areas are famous for handsome men too.
[xviii] In much of rural Japan, daily life didn’t change much until WWII.
[xix] Long time readers who actually read my unbearable river series should know well that in the Edo Period the ancient kanji 多磨 Tama were used for the geographical area and the kanji 玉川 Tamagawa were used for the river and aqueducts.
[xx] I’m rendering 分村 as wakemura. It’s an obsolete word meaning “separated village” – this I’m sure of – but I’m not sure of the reading. It could be bunson (doesn’t look like a place name, though) or wamura or bunmura. I can’t find any information except on Weblio. So, until I hear otherwise, I’m sticking with that reading. But if anyone can confirm or correct this, I’d really appreciate it.
[xxi] You can get to anywhere in the world from Shinjuku Station…
[xxii] I recommend an electric bike because… dude, they’re freaking amazing.
[xxiii] The course is here.
[xxiv] Just for clarification, his 道場 dōjō, the 試衛館 Shieikan was located in 市ヶ谷 Ichigaya, near Shinjuku. I think I wrote an article about Ichigaya, but I don’t remember… Oh well.
[xxv] The temple is technically in 三鷹 Mitaka, not Chōfu. #BorderProblemz.
Also, I’m not joking when I say Kondō Isami has many graves. I wonder if someone has compiled a list of all of them. This might be a good start. #CmonInternetDontFailMeNow
[xxvi] Read more about the Kōyoū Chinbutai here. If memory serves me well, the new name was given by 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū. The 2004 Taiga Drama, 新撰組！ Shinsengumi! made the re-naming of the group look terribly insulting and implied that Katsu Kaishū was just trying to get rid of them by either breaking their morale or getting them killed. That’s just a TV show, but it’s an intriguing theory.
[xxvii] Microsoft has an office here, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
[xxviii] For the record, Jindai-ji is technically in Mitaka, not Chōfu.
6 thoughts on “What does Chōfu mean? (Part One)”
Great article. Well researched and entertaining as always. I especially loved all the beautiful wood block prints.
This isn’t a complaint, but I have no closure with this article. Do you think there is a connection with the old tax system you described and this place name? Do you think there was a town famous for bleached cloth in the area?
Thanks for reading and thanks for the kind comment.
I was deliberately avoiding the first topic you raised. Ummm… Let me flip your 2 questions around (I may have to update my article after this, but it’s so much speculation…)
Do I think there was a town on the Tama River famous for bleached cloth?
Could have been. The river is huge and its definition has changed over the centuries. But it has consistently flown through or touch modern Yamanashi, Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama (Saitama’s “tama” is thought to be related). So, is it possible that anywhere along the Tama River, this sort of activity could have occurred? Absolutely. Do we know when and where? Not at the moment. Could it have happened in the Tama District? Absolutely. Do we know when and where? Not at the moment. Ironically, it’s tax records that show that the Tama District was agricultural.
As for the old tax system, I don’t think we can say. Even if an ancient village somewhere along the miles and miles of the Tama River and its tributaries existed at some point in the 600’s, it seems like no one knows where. The kanji is intriguing, to say the least, but I’ve found that kanji is unreliable for etymology. Why the kanji 調布 (chofu/tax+cloth) came to attached to the concept of てづくり (handmade/cloth) is beyond me. Maybe someone who knows more about Japanese Poetry is better fit to answer that. It’s a real mystery.
The only thing I feel confident about is the idea that the “pillow word” 調布の玉川 ‘chofu no tamagawa) and 美女 (beautiful girls) entered the public consciousness and poets, painters, and other artists seized upon it.. This is the one fact that is undeniable.
Sorry if I left you with no closure. I don’t have any closure on this one either.
Only a certifiable, FULLY-BLOOMING IDIOT uses
The F-Word andG__DD__ to not only show but to PROVE that they have exhausted their pitifully
shallow vocabulary. Grow a less offensive vocabulary. Then and only can you impress others
with your words and be simultaneously more affective.
Feel free to read other websites that cover these topics.
Sorry, you’re stuck with me.