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Ōedo Line: Hongō San-chōme

In Japanese History on June 10, 2015 at 3:48 am

本郷三丁目
Hongō San-chōme (3rd block of Hongō)

The famous Akamon (red gate) of Kaga Domain which is now the entrance of Tokyo University

The famous Akamon (red gate) of Kaga Domain which is now the entrance of Tokyo University

Hongō literally means “the main hamlet/village.” Because it is extremely hilly, it was allocated for residences of samurai of various ranks. Theoretically speaking, the location of your house on the hills indicated your rank and the type of house you could have. Naturally, low ranking samurai were at the bottom of the hills and the highest ranking samurai were at the tops of the hills. Today the area is famous for education and medicine. Tōkyō University, Juntendō University, and Tōyō Gakuen University are all located in the area.

It was Pre-Modern Japan. Sometimes, you gotta burn a bitch. Alive.

It was Pre-Modern Japan.
Sometimes you gotta burn a bitch.
Alive.

In the lowlands, in one of the commoner districts of Koishikawa is the place where 八百屋お七 Yayoya O-shichi lived. Loooooong time readers will recognize her as the 16 year old crazy bitch who set tried to burn down a temple in 1683 to get the attention of the monk who had saved her from a fire a year or so earlier. The fire was soon put out and she was apparently caught red handed, but this was arson and had to be dealt with by the 奉行 bugyō magistrate. In the end, the teenage girl was burnt at the stake the same year at Suzugamori Execution Ground near Shinagawa. The story is one of the greatest tragedies of the Edo Period – most of it based on highly fictionalized bunraku[i] and kabuki[ii] adaptations. But at its core, the story is based on some facts. The precise location of her home, the name of the temple she burnt and even the name of the boy she was infatuated with aren’t known for certain[iii]. But shōgunate records apparently confirm the date of her arrest and the location and manner of her execution. The location of her grave is also somewhat contested, but the traditional site of her grave is the temple 円乗寺 Enjō-ji, also written 園乗寺 Enjō-ji, which is a 20 minute walk from Hongō Sanchōme Station. It’s a straight shot on a single street, so it’s probably worth the walk if you’re in the area.

And why should you be in the area? There are plenty of temples and shrines and the area has more hills than other local tourist sites – so you can get a feel for the prime real estate of the Edo Period. Although there are no samurai residences left, you can get the feel for how uniquely 山手 yamanote high city the area was[iv]. You can also get some great photos here because most people don’t come here to take pictures.

But, this station also gives you access to the 東京都水道歴史館 Tōkyō-to Suidō Rekishikan Tōkyō Waterworks Historical Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of water, aqueducts, sewerage, reservoirs, and water treatment in Edo-Tōkyō. At first, you might say, that sounds boring. But trust me, it’s surprisingly eye opening and is easily one of my favorite museums in the city. When I visited, they had English pamphlets, but most of the exhibits were in Japanese only. I’m sure that will change in the build up to the 2020 Olympics. The museum’s website is here.

Tokyo Waterworks Museum.  Don't make me say it again.

Tokyo Waterworks Museum.
Don’t make me say it again.

Wanna read my original article about fires in Edo? (to read O-shichi’s story)
Wanna read my article about Suzugamori Execution Ground? (She gets mentioned)

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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

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[i] Creepy puppet shows that Edoites loved the shit out of.
[ii] Highly ritualized theater of Pre-Modern Japan – also a little creepy, visually-speaking.
[iii] Some versions of the story are more well-known than others, tho.
[iv] I had a great discussion with Jcastle about how you can’t really understand old Japanese castles and samurai homes without walking the terrain yourself. Even if there is nothing left to look at, the lay of the land, the hills, the plateaux are all things the samurai were concerned with during the Sengoku Period. These physical characteristics of the land gave rise to the varying castle types and the subsequent 城下町 jōka machi castle towns. In the Edo Period, things changed, but the earliest samurai districts were built with this Sengoku philosophy in mind.

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