Fuda no Tsuji
(bulletin board crossroads)
I often walk around sections of Tōkyō that Edoites would have recognized as 日比谷 Hibiya[i], 新橋 Shinbashi[ii], 芝 Shiba[iii], 三田 Mita[iv], 高輪 Takanawa[v], and 品川 Shinagawa[vi]. The boundaries and names of these areas have been a little fluid over the centuries, but those are the sweeping Edo Period names of these large districts. Today, things are a bit more specific. When walking from present day 日比谷公園 Hibiya Kōen Hibiya Park towards present day 芝公園 Shiba Kōen Shiba Park, I always pass an overhanging sign for drivers that points in the direction of a place called 札の辻 Fuda no Tsuji. I always thought to myself, “I should look into that someday.” And guess what? My lazy ass has never done it. So having seen the sign a thousand times, I finally decided to look into it.
I soon found out that this isn’t actually an official Tōkyō place name anymore. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, it’s never been an “official” place name. It was a nickname the area has held on to for dear life since the 1700’s when it was inadvertently stolen[vii].
Today, there is a small plaque (shown above) explaining the history of the area – and when I say small, I mean it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the darkness of this place, nor does it do justice to how important the area actually was to the first 100 some odd years of Edo under the Tokugawa.
First Let’s Look at the Kanji
|a notice, a posted bulletin|
|a street corner, a crossroads, an intersection|
The second kanji is really interesting to me because it’s 国字 kokuji, a kanji created in Japan. That is to say, it wasn’t imported from China. I’m 100% sure the Chinese had intersections for thousands of years, but for some reason the Japanese saw fit to create this unique character. It’s not a rare character at all either. It’s so common in Japan that it’s used in a lot of family names and place names throughout the country.
The first character is also extremely high frequency. Its provenance isn’t as important as its association with this place name. The consensus seems to be that it was shorthand for two concepts.
|a bulletin board, official signage (a general term)|
|official posted regulations and prohibitions of a daimyō or the shōgunate (a specific term)|
People don’t learn the rules by osmosis, and they certainly didn’t have the internet, so yeah, you put a sign in a high trafficked area and hoped people would read it and share with their friends. In Edo, these spots were called 御高札場 o-kōsatsuba bulletin board areas, but modern Japanese just call them 高札場 kōsatsuba[viii]. There were at least thirty-five official shōgunate-controlled o-kōsatsuba in Edo. 6 were designated as 大高札場 daikōsatsuba[ix] major bulletin board sites. The major bulletin boards were placed on the main routes into the city. Of course, local towns and villages within Edo-Tōkyō had their own bulletin boards, so it’s impossible to guess how many notice boards existed at any one time in the city until quite recently.
The word 高札 is usually rendered as kōsatsu, which is the 音読み on’yomi Chinese reading. In 訓読み kun’yomi, the Japanese reading, the word can be rendered as takafuda. In the city of Edo, a minor bulletin would be a fuda. But a major bulletin (ie; one issued by the shōgunate) would have been a takafuda – literally a “high announcement.” And yes, these so-called takafuda/kōsatsu were actually larger and posted higher than other announcements.
But to sum it up, Fuda no Tsuji means “the message board intersection.” There are other places throughout Japan with the same name (or some variation thereof). But in short, etymologically speaking, this is about as fucking banal as it gets.
Luckily, there’s much more to this story than the name and believe me, we’re going to get into all of it.
But First! What Does an Edo Period Bulletin Board Look Like?
That is an excellent question! If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve definitely seen the modern version. But if you’ve been to an 温泉町 onsen machi hot spring town or 宿場町 shukuba machi an old post town that eke their existences out of maintaining a traditional “Old Japan” atmosphere, you’ve probably seen the most traditional version. To be sure, you’ll absolutely see them in the Tōkyō Metropolis. In fact, one of the best preserved examples of one is in 府中 Fuchū[x] located in western Tōkyō.
So Let’s Take a Look at the History
But just a quick warning: In this article we’re going to breeze through the reign of the 2nd and 3rd of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan, the establishment of the Tokugawa Shōgunate and the first 6 shōguns. The details of these rulers aren’t very important to the story of Fuda no Tsuji, but the more you know about Japanese history, the more you will appreciate having them in the background[xi]. For my J-History padawans, skipping the names and dates of the rulers is fair game.
The reason I bring this up is that we’re going to have to look at the persecution and subsequent annihilation of Christianity in Japan. It’s tangential to our story, but so are the people who played a major role in it. We’re going to burn the Christians in a few paragraphs, so those of you with short attention spans may want to stick around.
Some Names to Remember
|A daimyō warlord, often called the first of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan.|
|A daimyō warlord who rose from commoner status to imperial regent. Although he is often considered the 2nd of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan, he pretty much unified Japan. He was an awesome general, but kind of a shit ruler.|
|A daimyō warlord who was the 3rd Great Unifier of Japan and by that I mean, he actually unified the realm and established a dynasty and a peace that lasted more than 250 years. He was granted the rank of shōgun.|
|The 2nd shōgun and first stage of creating a Tokugawa hegemony. He initiated building projects that enhanced Tokugawa power and started a trend of ignoring foreign relations.|
|The 3rd shōgun. He was the first shōgun who wasn’t a Sengoku Period warlord. He continued isolationist policies and focused on enhancing Tokugawa power.|
|The 4th shōgun. He could be considered the first real Edo Period shōgun. He focused on internal issues and rejected foreign notions.|
|The 5th shōgun. Too complex to get into now, but his reign was marked by many cultural events.|
|The 6th shōgun. Nobody gives a shit about this guy today, but I’m sure he thought he was pretty important at the time.|
A Very Different Sight than Today
Visually speaking, the area isn’t much to look at today. But before WWII, this area sat near the coast of Edo Bay[xii]. A traditional highway called the 東海道 Tōkaidō[xiii] “the eastern coastal route” followed the coastline of Edo Bay. This highway had connected 関東 Kantō with the imperial court in 京都 Kyōto since at least the Heian Period. By the time 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu became lord of the 8 Kantō Provinces and established his capital in Edo in the 1590’s, the Tōkaidō was already the main access point to the city. At the beginning of the Edo Period, you would have seen a wide highway of dirt and stone and small clusters of tea houses and other merchant buildings that lined the road. The view of the bay must have been stunning. On a clear day, you probably could have seen 常陸国 Hitachi no Kuni Hitachi Province[xiv] on the far end of the bay. The area was famous for 月見 tsukimi moon viewing. Rich commoners and samurai alike would come to the tea houses that dotted the coast to indulge in a little drinking and whoring and watch the moon move across the sky while reflected in the calm waters of the bay.
Fuda no Tsuji was a fork in the road for the Tōkaidō highway. If you were coming to Edo you were traveling eastward. On the left side of the road was an unnamed street that entered a commoners’ town and led to 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi (near present day Tōkyō Tower). Today that street is called 三田通り Mita Dōri Mita Street. The Tōkaidō itself continued eastward until it terminated at 日本橋 Nihonbashi, the terminus of the 五街道 Go Kaidō 5 Great Highways of Edo[xv]. Because this fork in the road was a major access point to the shōgun’s capital, the area was chosen as a major bulletin board site. Any unique rules of the capital, new proclamations, announcements, and coupons for TGI Fridays were posted here[xvi].
Disturbances of the Peace and those Pesky Christians
If you know anything about Japanese history and Christianity, you probably know that this isn’t going to end well for somebody and there’s a 99% chance that the somebody is a Christian. There’s also a good chance that there will be an ol’ fashioned burning at the stake. Yeehaw 🤠
Since the 1590’s, Tokugawa Ieyasu ruled the Kantō provinces from his new capital of Edo[xvii]. In 1603, Ieyasu was granted the title 征夷大将軍 Sei’i Tai-Shōgun Great General Who Conquers the Barbarians by 後陽成天皇 Go-Yōzei Tennō Emperor Go-Yōzei[xviii] and was basically the supreme power in Japan. Once he felt he had settled in and had gotten his house in order, he retired in 1605. This allowed his son 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada to become the second shōgun which assured a smooth dynastic transition of power. Ieyasu assumed the title 大御所 ōgosho (essentially, “retired guy who sits off stage but is very much still pulling the strings”). Things were more or less peaceful, but there were still factions holding out here and there, particularly among the relatives and supporters of the deceased 豊臣秀吉Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Ōsaka and the foreign Christian population and the Japanese Christian population. About 7-8 years into shōgun Hidetada’s reign, things started to come to a head.
The Ōsaka discussion is another topic unto itself, but needless to say, in the winter of 1614 to the summer of 1615, the retired shōgun Ieyasu and reigning shōgun Hidetada laid siege to 大阪城 Ōsaka-jō Ōsaka Castle. Also in 1614, Ieyasu promulgated an edict that echoed Hideyoshi’s 1587 expulsion of Christians from Japan. Ieyasu wanted to secure his 天下 tenka realm under his family’s control and these 2 groups were causing the most trouble. The Hideyoshi supporters were actually the least of his concern because that could be solved by a clear political and military action. The Christians could have proven more difficult, but after overstaying their welcome and somewhat utilitarian convenience by 27 years, the Christians were just a foreign infection that needed to be stamped out before they spread more.
Daimyō loyal to the Tokugawa began expelling and executing Christians. Forced de-conversions of the Japanese elite became commonplace. Foreigners who weren’t granted express permission to be in the country were expelled or sent to special foreign trade settlements. Japan was quickly becoming a so-called “closed country[xix].”
In 1616, retired shōgun Ieyasu died and reigning shōgun Hidetada ordered the installation of an 御高札場 o-kōsatsuba bulletin board area at the aforementioned intersection of the Tōkaidō road and the unnamed street in 芝 Shiba that led towards 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi[xx] – that is to say, the place where you were getting within walking distance of Edo Castle. The shōgunate felt that any travelers – be they merchants or daimyō – needed to know the local manners before they entered the city. In short, if you diverged from the Tōkaidō here, you were entering the shōgun’s domain and you best act proper, son. You are now entering Edo.
It’s about this time that the local people began referring to the area as the 札之辻 Fuda no Tsuji “bulletin board intersection.” It was definitely a landmark on a highly trafficked road. The local residents were clearly proud of the fact that this intersection was officially endorsed as an entrance to the city.
Time to Burn Some Christians[xxi]
The shōgunate was slowly realizing that one of the main precepts of Christianity was proselytization. That meant they felt there was a real possibility of a “Christian conquest” – or at the very least an effort to destabilize the new Tokugawa peace. Furthermore, the Catholics in the country were loyal to a mysterious distant king called “the pope” whose influence was strong in many European countries. What if this pope guy started meddling in the affairs of the Tokugawa shōgunate?
The second shōgun, Hidetada, was not about to let his family’s newly acquired status go to waste, and so he put into motion processes that would ultimately extinguish Christianity in Japan. But essentially he was just reinforcing the earlier anti-Christian edicts of Hideyoshi and Ieyasu.
In 1622, 55 Christians in Nagasaki who had refused to renounce their religion were punished. Some were beheaded, but the most obstinate offenders were burned alive. The Christian problem in Edo continued to build because the persecution laws weren’t enforced in a uniform way. Foreigners and their foreign religions were still somewhat tolerated[xxii]. But in the same year, Hidetada stepped down as shōgun, and elevated his son 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu to the rank of shōgun. As 大御所 ōgosho (retired shōgun), Hidetada watched over the 19 year old shōgun, as did the 老中 rōjū senior council.
In 1623, an order to burn 50 Christians at the stake was issued in Iemitsu’s name[xxiii]. Since executions meant to send a message, Fuda no Tsuji – the proverbial genkan[xxiv] of Edo – was chosen as the spot. As you can imagine, anyone coming into the shōgun’s capital (and anyone leaving it) via the Tōkaidō would have seen this spot. Just as with the notice boards and signage, it was the perfect location to send a message to people via public execution and display.
In 1632, the retired 2nd shōgun Hidetada died and was interred in a magnificent mausoleum in Shiba. But the illegal Christian population continued to cause problems here and there. Things reached a tipping point in the winter of 1637, when 3rd shōgun Iemitsu decided to lay a massive samurai smack down on the city of 島原 Shimabara in southwestern Japan[xxv]. The local Christians and even the local daimyō paid with their lives. For all intents and purposes, this was the end of Christianity in Pre-Modern Japan[xxvi].
Moving Things Away From the Shōgun’s Castle
In 1651, the shōgunate created a new execution ground at 鈴ヶ森 Suzugamori[xxvii] on the coast of Edo Bay in品川 Shinagawa. The city had been growing rapidly, and the city’s “spiritual purity” was seen to be at risk. Moving the executions from Fuda no Tsuji to Suzugamori was a move to keep the shōgun’s capital “untainted.”
60 years later, in 1710, the 6th shōgun 徳川家宣 Tokugawa Ienobu moved the message board to the actual border of the capital on the Tōkaidō. The new location was about 700 meters from Fuda no Tsuji in 高輪 Takanawa. The new entrance to Edo was called the 高輪大木戸 Takanawa Ōkido. The name literally means “the great wooden door of Takanawa.”
When you entered a town, there was usually a 町木戸 machikido town gate guarded by at least 2 木戸番 kidoban guards – usually old men who lived on the premises of the gate. Originally, the Takanawa Ōkido functioned like one of these city gates. It was similar to a 関所 sekisho highway check point where shōgunate or domain officials checked your travel documents. The differences is machikido were located throughout the city. The gates of these machikido would close at about 10 PM and re-open at daybreak. Edo wasn’t in a complete lockdown after 10 PM, though. If you had good reason to pass through a machikido, you’d summon the 番太郎様 bantarō-sama, a friendly nickname for the guards, ask them to open the gate for you, and they’d let you pass. The guards would then strike a pair of 拍子木 hyōshigi wooden clappers to alert the guards of the next gate that a traveler was coming.
Unlike the standard wooden machikido, this grand ōkido was a wooden gate supported by 石垣 ishigaki stone walls. Whether it was due to earthquake, fire, both, or just plain decommissioned, the wooden structure ceased to be used. Artwork from 1800 shows the stone walls in place but any kind of wooden structure isn’t depicted. Artwork 1868, depicting the imperial army clearly shows the stone walls and kōsatsu (bulletins, signage), although there is a wooden pole next to the wall[xxviii]. So despite starting life as a grand doorway to Edo, the Takanawa Ōkido was essentially a glorified o-kōsatsuba bulletin board with 2 disembodied stone walls on either side of the street.
Nice Story. But You’re Talking About Takanawa, not Fuda no Tsuji…
Yes, you’re right, but I wanted to give you the whole story. I also wanted to go back to something I mentioned at the beginning of the article: this isn’t an official place name today and to the best of my knowledge it was never an official place name.
When the kōsatsuba (bulletin board) was moved from the intersection in Shiba to a non-intersection in Takanawa, something new began appearing in maps. Prior to this change, the area was referred to as just 芝 Shiba or 芝口 Shibaguchi[xxix], but after the relocation, the area began to appear on maps as 旧札之辻 Kyū-Fuda no Tsuji Former Bulletin Place or even just 札之辻 Fuda no Tsuji Bulletin Place. What I think we may be able to imply from this is that the literary Chinese words[xxx] that would describe the site, o-kōsatsuba “honorable bulletin board site,” hadn’t been used by the local townspeople – who were commoners. They were using the every day 江戸っ子 Edo-kko Edoite parlance “takafuda.” If this is the case, then 札の辻 fuda no tsuji “bulletin crossroad” is just a lower register of the language used by the average Tarō on the street.
So What’s Left Of This Area?
After the notice boards were moved to Takanawa, the execution site of Christians in 1624 and 1639 was replaced with a Buddhist temple called 智福寺 Chifuku-ji[xxxi]. The temple had a grand residence for the monks, all of whom were closely associated with the shōgunate. In nearby 三田三丁目 Mita San-chōme is an area called 同朋町 Dōbō-chō, literally “buddy town.” 同朋 dōhō/dōbō refers to monks who are pursuing the same spiritual pursuits. (This is also a common place name around Japan). I’m not sure about their intentions, but one can imagine the shōgunate wanted to purify the area where they had executed numerous Christians so close to the castle – thus creating a “Buddhist monk town.” The temple doesn’t exist today, but on the site there is a monument honoring those killed. However, just like Fuda no Tsuji, Dōbō-chō isn’t an official postal address. But also just like Fuda no Tsuji, it’s used by the locals and appears on signs and maps.
Today, much of these stories aren’t known except by people who actually live in the area and bothered reading the signs. However, the area is apparently well known among 新幹線ｵﾀｸ shinkansen otaku shinkansen geeks because there is a curve in the tracks and they think they can get dynamic photos of the trains coming around the bend. But to be honest, I think it’s a brutally ugly area to take photos. There’s just a gaggle of tracks and wires and very little greenery. 11 sets of tracks cross through this area, so the city built a bridge called 札の辻橋 Fuda no Tsuji Hashi Fuda no Tsuji Bridge. The bridge is where the train geeks go with their cameras to get full view of trains coming around the corner. In addition to the shinkansen, the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line, 東海道線 Tōkaidō-sen Tōkaidō Line, and 京浜東北線 Keihin-Tōhoku-sen Keihin-Tōhoku Line pass through this spot.
Also in the area is a certain 亀塚公苑 Kamezuka Kōen Kamezuka Park. Located on a large hill, the area was home to the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence of the lords of 沼田藩 Numata Han Numata Domain in 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province (more or less modern day 群馬県 Gunma Ken Gunma Prefecture). After the Meiji Coup, the residence was given to the 華頂宮 Kachō-no-miya Kachō imperial princes, a collateral imperial family established during the Bakumatsu. A single wall of that post-Edo Period mansion still exists today in the park. The Kachō princes typically underperformed and actually went extinct at one point, requiring another imperial relative to assume the name to keep it going. Until the end of WWII, the family was called 華頂宮 Kachō-no-miya indicating their imperial lineage. However, after the war, all imperial branches – except for the direct imperial line – were dissolved and theoretically reduced to commoner status. If I’m not mistaken, the last surviving Kachō died in 1970.
That Imperial Family Shit Was So Unnecessary
Sorry, they were in the neighborhood, but, yeah, I went off on a tangent – but think of it as added value. But, you’re right. It’s time to wind down and bring this article to a finish. So, yeah. Fuda no Tsuji. Sign posts. Gates. Highways. Edo Bay.
In short, Fuda no Tsuji was a place were a major sign post was located at one of the entrances to Edo in Shiba (Mita). The location served as an execution ground on an occasion or two. The execution ground was moved to Shinagawa. The bulletin boards were moved to Takanawa where a major check point was built that didn’t last long. The reference to the old sign stuck. Fuda no Tsuji. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
[i] I have an article about Hibiya here.
[ii] I have an article about Shinbashi here.
[iii] I have an article about Shiba here.
[iv] I have an article about Mita here.
[v] I have an article about Takanawa here.
[vi] My article about Shinagawa is the same as my Takanawa article.
[vii] Long story. Hence the long blog.
[viii] Compare Odaiba which derives from 御台場 o-daiba, originally from 台場 daiba . I have an article about Odaiba here.
[ix] To be honest, I’m not exactly sure about the reading of this word, it could also have been ōtakafudaba. I’ll address the discrepancy a little bit later. But regardless, the meaning is the same.
[x] My 2 part series on Chōfu was supposed to be a 3 part series which would have included Fuchū, but I wanted to take a break from cute young girls bleaching cloth in the river to move on to a few other topics. I will cover Fuchū eventually. Don’t worry.
[xi] If we discussed some small event in early American history, you’d want to know who was president at the time….
[xii] Obviously, Tōkyō Bay today.
[xiii] I have an article about the main highways of the Edo Period.
[xiv] Modern day 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture. By the way this “Hitachi” has nothing to do with the famous company that has given the world the Hitachi Magic Wand – widely regarded as the most intense vibrator on earth. That company’s kanji are 日立 Hitachi and mean “rising sun.”
[xv] I have an excellent article about the 5 Great Highways of Edo that I know you’d love to read!
[xvi] Apparently, TGI Fridays was huuuuuuge in Edo.
[xvii] He was originally from 三河国岡崎 Mikawa no Kuni Okazaki Okazaki, Mikawa Province (present day 愛知県岡崎市 Aichi-ken Okazaki-shi Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture).
[xviii] The 後 go means “later” and is the equivalent to when European monarchs/popes with the same name are referred to by II, III, IV, etc. The Japanese don’t count the iteration; they just indicate that this is later usage of the same name. Long time readers will recognize this prefix from the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi Late Hōjō clan who modeled their clan name off the 北条氏 Hōjō-shi Hōjō clan. At Samurai Archives, you can read about the Hōjō and the Late Hōjō. Oh, sorry, if you’re interested in the emperor himself (which you’re probably not because no one ever is), you can read more about him here.
[xix] A lot of people bicker about the use of the terms 鎖国 sakoku closed country and 海禁 kaikin maritime restrictions to describe Tokugawa foreign policy, but I actually like both terms. Clearly at this point, there are some maritime restrictions, but soon things will get very North Korea-esque (closed country, anyone?). That said, for the average Joe on the street, Japan would become a closed country. For the reality of certain conduits of trade, Japan was just a severely restricted country. As much as I love Japan now, the closest modern analogy is North Korea.
[xx] I have an article about Akabanebashi here. It also comes up in my articles on Huesken, Kiyokawa, and, Kiyokawa’s grave.
[xxi] After all, that’s probably why you’re still reading anyways, you sick fucks.
[xxii] And until you’re told to kill someone for believing some different religion, I imagine the average Japanese person didn’t really want to hate or kill these people. The feudal lords and the Tokugawa Shōgunate itself were benefiting from information, technology, and trade imported by westerners.
[xxiii] I can totally see an impulsive 19 year old burning people at the stake and Iemitsu could be the guy who did it. But it could have been Hidetada or the senior council who pushed him to do it. It’s fair to say we don’t know who actually pushed for this action the most.
[xxiv] This is my term. A 玄関 genkan is the entrance of a Japanese house. When entering a Japanese home, there is a small area at ground level for taking off your shoes and stashing your umbrellas. Then you enter the home by stepping up on to the elevated floor of the house.
[xxv] It’s usually painted as a religious smack down, but actually, the causes of the Shimabara Rebellion go beyond religious issues. But for the flow of this article, I’m staying with the religious narrative for the sake of being concise.
[xxvi] Christianity re-emerged in the Bakumatsu but even today only small segment of the population will admit to believing it. Christians make up about 1% of the population, and most of them are in Tōkyō. While modern Japan isn’t officially anti-Christian, the country is more or less secular and crucified zombie god myths don’t go over so well here.
[xxvii] Check out my article on Suzugamori here.
[xxviii] This may just be symbolic or the artist may have misremembered the scene.
[xxix] As I also alluded to at the beginning of this article, the place names of Mita, Shiba, and Hibiya are very fluid. They warrant another article in and of themselves. So for this article let’s not worry about borders and what not.
[xxx] But to be honest only the “kōsatsu” part is the Chinese reading. The honorific “o-” and the suffix “ba” are both the Japanese readings.
[xxxi] I’m fuzzy on the details. The temple may have existed previously to attend graves and funerary rites of the executed, but I don’t know.