What does Chōfu mean? (Part Deux)

Chōfu no Tamagawa

(a reference to cloth production and dyeing on the Tama River)

A beautiful young girl bleaching cloth in the Tama River.
A beautiful young girl bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

In reference to my article entitled Setagaya and its Freaky Horse Fetish, I was going to name this article The Tama River Basin and its Freaky Cloth Fetish, but as it turns out the fetish isn’t as freaky as Setagaya and its horse thing. Well, it might be, but we’re only going to talk about a few places today so I don’t want to get your hopes up.

Anyways, in my last article, What does Chōfu mean?, I talked about the 枕詞 makura kotoba “pillow word” 調布の玉川 Chōfu no Tamagawa. The image of beautiful girls with pure white skin bleaching cloth in the Tama River was firmly entrenched in the imagination of the people of 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama District – even though the area doesn’t seem to have actually supported any such industry on a large scale. Anyways, in the last article I mentioned that references to the pillow word or its imagery weren’t limited to 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City. Today I’d like to explain that a little more.

To be precise, we’re going to look at three place names today: 田園調布 Den’en Chōfu the garden city, 布田 Fuda the cloth fields, and 染地 Somechi the dyeing grounds.

OK, so let’s get down to bidness.

If you haven’t read What does Chōfu mean? yet, none of this will make any sense.
Please read that first, mkay?

A house with a yard? In Tokyo?  Yes, in Den'en Chōfu.
A house with a yard? In Tokyo?
Yes, in Den’en Chōfu.

Den’en Chōfu

(Garden Chōfu)

While Chōfu City is located outside of the 23 Special Wards, Den’en Chōfu is within the 23 Special Wards – in 大田区 Ōta-ku to be precise. And while it might not be the most convenient place in the city, it’s definitely one of the priciest and most prestigious residential areas in all of Tōkyō, at least by reputation[i].

For most of its history, this area was just typical farmland along the river basin of the Tama River. That is to say, the river basin was dotted with agricultural villages typical of the area and not much else. However, in Meiji 22 (1889), 4 villages were combined to make 調布村 Chōfu Mura Chōfu Village[ii].

Shibusawa Eiichi in 1866 and then in 1867.
Shibusawa Eiichi in 1866 and then in 1867.

In 1918[iii], the industrialist, financier, philanthropist, and so-called “father of Japanese capitalism,” 渋沢栄一 Shibusawa Eiichi[iv] purchased huge swaths of land in Chōfu Village and slated them for re-development. He envisioned an ideal English suburb based on the concept of the “Garden City[v],” an idea spread by the British urban planner, Ebenezer Howard[vi].

Eiichi grew up in the throes of the Bakumatsu which meant he also lived to see the sprawling daimyō residences of the old 山手 yamanote high city torn down and replaced with crowded merchant houses. It seems he pined for the urbane yet gardened elegance of Edo’s most elite areas and wanted to make that world available to anyone who could afford it. Of course, being a gentleman of the early Meiji Period, he looked to the west as a way of selling innovations to the new Japanese consumer.

Den'en Chōfu as it looks today. Note the semi-circular design which is decidedly un-Edo.
Den’en Chōfu as it looks today. Note the semi-circular design which is decidedly un-Edo.

“Garden City” was translated into Japanese as 田園都市 Den’en Toshi, literally a garden city – though it could also be translated as “a suburban town.” Either way you translate it, the name must have sounded revolutionary at the time. What’s more, the idea was totally different from traditional Japanese urban planning due to its heavy European influence. Eiichi called his vision 田園調布 Den’en Chōfu which means something like Garden Chōfu[vii].

Development of the area was slow at first because the location was far from the most active parts of Tōkyō and there just wasn’t demand for something so far from the city center. In 1923, a train station opened that connected the area with central Tōkyō. As the area was still known as 調布村 Chōfu Mura Chōfu Village, the station was named 調布駅 Chōfu Eki Chōfu Station. Once the station was open for business, the area was finally ready for its big moment, ie; developed and undeveloped lots went on sale that same year.

This hill is called 江戸見坂 (Edomi-zaka) "Edo Viewing Hill." I've seen plenty of places called Fujimi "Fuji Viewing," I think this is the first time I've seen "Edo Viewing." It must have a been a fantastic sight in the Edo Period.
This hill is called 江戸見坂 (Edomi-zaka) “Edo Viewing Hill.” I’ve seen plenty of places called Fujimi “Fuji Viewing,” I think this is the first time I’ve seen “Edo Viewing.” It must have a been a fantastic sight in the Edo Period.

Did You Just Say 1923??

Long time readers should have had a collective freak out when I said “1923.”

This was the year of the horrific 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake, which saw much of the urban center of Edo-Tōkyō burnt to the ground and more than 100,000 people killed. Just like me, you’re probably wondering, “How the hell did this project survive an earfquake of that magnitude?”

Many of more of you are probably also wondering why I always say “earfquake[viii].”

How the Hell indeed?

For some reason, the area – perhaps due to modern building techniques, wide spacious lots as opposed to central Tōkyō old castle town-style cramped quarters , lack of development, or maybe just some good luck – was relatively unaffected by the cataclysmic, epoch-defining earfquake. Many rich Edoites who survived the earfquake with their finances in tact said “Eff that noise” to the burnt out shambles of Tōkyō and headed out of the city to the newly accessible suburbs.

The area had gotten such an injection of cash and activity by 1926 that the train station changed its name to 田園調布駅 Den’en Chōfu Eki Den’en Chōfu Station. Shibusawa Eiichi’s dream was starting to be realized, even if he hadn’t expected a massive earfquake. Today it’s an official postal code in Tōkyō’s Ōta Ward.

Den'en Chōfu Station
Den’en Chōfu Station

I’ve been there once or twice, and I’m sure it’s an awesome place to raise a family if you have a lot of money. It also seems to be popular with a certain class of ex-pats who have been transferred to Tōkyō and demand suburban comforts similar to their home countries (for example, the houses and yards are much larger than most of those found in Tōkyō[ix]). But that said, it’s not a particularly interesting area – as most suburbs aren’t – and historically speaking, there’s not much reason to go here.

Fuda Station in 1987.
Fuda Station in 1987.


(cloth field)

Inside Chōfu City there are many place names and an actual postal code that bear the name 布田 Fuda. The kanji mean “cloth field” and seem to fall in line with the story we heard about Chōfu’s etymology. Except nobody grows cloth in a field. In fact, if you know someone who can grow cloth, let me know. That sounds amazing!

Interestingly, this weird pairing of kanji partially supports the standard Chōfu etymology and its connection to the 租庸調 soyōchō system (corvee system) because the name may be pretty ancient[x]. According to the 倭名類聚抄 Wamyō Ruijushō, a kind of Heian Period encyclopedia[xi], there was an area in the Tamagawa District an area called 爾布多 Nifuda whose name was shortened to 布多 Fuda. Later 多 ta/da came to be written as田 ta/da. In the 新編武蔵風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fudokikō Newly Edited Treatise on the Manners and Customs of Musashi Province (1826), the name is said to have originally been written as 府田 Fuda or 捕陀 Fuda. Muromachi Period documents of 深大寺 Jindai-ji Jindai Temple record the place name as 布田郷 Fuda-gō[xii] Fuda Hamlet.

A rare photo of Chōfu Station in 1914. Modern Chōfu Station exists on to the shopping street/sandō leading to Fudatenjin Shrine (mentioned in the previous article). The spelling of Fuda for the shrine is 布多 - "cloth abounds."
A rare photo of Chōfu Station in 1914. Modern Chōfu Station exists on to the shopping street/sandō leading to Fudatenjin Shrine (mentioned in the previous article). The spelling of Fuda for the shrine is 布多 – “cloth abounds” – this spelling is consistent with the Heian Period source.

All of this is quite suspicious. The use of the kanji 多 ta/da is often 当て字 ateji kanji used for its sound and not meaning. It was so commonly used for phonetic reasons that hiragana and katakana /ta/ are actually derived from it. /ta/ or /da/ is also often used as ateji. In my mind, all of this begs the question: is every /ɸu/ along the Tama River related to a hidden word and all of these kanji are hiding the original place name. I mean, could we be looking at ancient place names that use /ta/ and /fu/ in the area and many of these places rendering the names with /ɸu/ /ɸu/ and /da/ /da/ as ateji? Could these names pre-date the Heian Period language/s spoken in the area? If any of these are the case, the name of 調布 Chōfu and all of its associated place names along the Tama River may have much more mysterious origins[xiii].

That was all just speculation on my part because I haven’t come across anyone else asking the same questions. I’m also just some dude with an internet connection and a goofy hobby, so may I haven’t dug deep enough.

The green area is Somechi. Notice its proximity to the Tama River.
The green area is Somechi. Notice its proximity to the Tama River.


(place where cloth is dyed)

Believe it or not, this place name didn’t exist officially until 1965. Prior to that, it was just an area located inside 国領宿 Kokuryō-chō Kokuryō Town, one of the civil administrative units of 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City. However, the name most definitely existed in the Edo Period. The name 染地 Somechi literally means “place where things are dyed.”

In the grand tradition that the area was supposedly famous for beautiful women bleaching cloth in the Tama River, this area seems to have been credited with dying cloth. The aforementioned Shinpen Musashi Fudokikō (1826) is where this claim is backed up in writing. That said, keep in mind, other than these etymologies which seem to be connected to the pillow word, Chōfu no Tamagawa, there is no evidence that the area was ever anything more than an agricultural backwater with no actual cloth production (bleached or dyed) anywhere in the area.

But the mystery gets deeper. You should know that in nearby 府中市 Fuchū-shi Fuchū City[xiv], there is place called 染屋 Someya which literally means “shop where things are dyed.” This place is located in a region called 白糸台 Shiraito-dai “white thread plateau.” Doubtless, these names are connected to the pillow word and the image it propagated throughout the region.

Feel like this is going nowhere? So do I....
Feel like this is going nowhere?
So do I….

So What Do You Make of All This?

To be honest, it’s hard to say. I’m pretty skeptical that there was widespread textile production in the area because I can’t find any record that anyone takes seriously. Of course, it’s possible that at some time some village was famous for this somewhere on the river – after all, it’s a long ass river. It actually spans 3 prefectures today. But it’s just the Tama District that is dotted with place names related to this and there’s no evidence that the entire region was known for cloth production. I’m also seeing some trends in phonemes. I’m looking at you, /ɸu/ and /da/. Looking at the kanji 布 fu cloth, 糸 ito thread, 染 some dye, 白 shira white,  府 fu government, 調 chō tax on cloth, and one we haven’t looked at yet, 領 ryō territory[xv], you can start to see some patterns emerge: there are phonetic patterns and meaning patterns. From the meaning patterns, it seems we’re essentially talking about textiles and government. This seems to support the claim that Chōfu means a place that paid its “taxes” in “cloth.” But I’m also skeptical of ateji and kanji in general when it comes to ancient place names.

So, in the next article, we’re going to take a look at a few other place names in the area that relate to this topic. I hope to wrap things up but be forewarned: I’m pretty sure there will be no closure with this series.

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[i] I’ve actually never looked at prices there, so I’m just going by reputation.
[ii] This is a separate and distinct Chōfu Village from the one we talked about in the last article. To the best of my knowledge these were not coordinated efforts.
[iii] This was Taishō 7. On this blog, I’ve decided on a convention of only using Japanese years during the Meiji Period (as a countdown away from the Edo Period). But I’ll use Japanese years when relevant to the conversation at any point in time. Taishō 7 is so close to the Meiji Era that I figured I should at least footnote that shit.
[iv] I don’t know much about Eiichi Shibusawa, but here’s the Wiki about him.
[v] I don’t know much about the concept of a “Garden City,” but here’s the Wiki about it.
[vi] I don’t know much about Ebenezer Howard, but here’s the Wiki about him. It seems that Shibusawa and other developers misconstrued Howard’s ideas. But that’s not really important. The influence was there.
[vii] Suburban Chōfu is probably an equally valid translation.
[viii] And I respond with my own question, “Why hell shouldn’t I write earfquake?”
[ix] There are comparable and sometimes larger in some other areas, but that’s a story for another day.
[x] That said, I don’t necessarily believe this “corvee taxes” etymology.
[xi] I don’t know a lot about this text, but it has come up from time to time over the years while researching place names. The Japanese title seems to be commonly used among English speaking scholars, so I don’t have a good translation of the title, but it essentially means “The Japanese Names for Things Categorized and Annotated.” You can read the Wiki article about it here.
[xii] Probably more correctly rendered as Fuda no gō.
[xiii] And I suspect this to be the case, actually.
[xiv] Notice the /ɸu/ sound again and the same kanji as 布田 Fuda.
[xv] A term that came into use with the implementation of the 律令制 ritsuryō-sei ritsuryō system which I discussed in the previous article. Note that the 令 ryō of ritsuryō-sei makes up part of the character 領 ryō.

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