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Japanese History

Ōedo Line: Kuramae

Continuing with our 9th installment of exploring Edo-Tōkyō via the Ōedo Line.

蔵前
Kuramae

(in front of the warehouse)

Location of the original “kura” (warehouse).

The name means “in front of the warehouse” and is a reference to the shōgunate owned a giant rice warehouse used to pay the stipends of the retainers of the Tokugawa. Think of the area as the ATM of Edo. Conveniently located on the Sumida River, the area was home to a ferry that took the freshly paid samurai to the Yoshiwara for epic benders of drinking and whoring. The Meiji government took control of the warehouse and reused the land for new government buildings as rice was no longer used the basis of the Japanese monetary system.

Like most warehouses in the Edo Period, this one was located on a river which was the cheapest, fastest, and easiest way to transport heavy material like rice. In this case, we’re talking about the Sumida River.

This is a famous ukiyo-e print of a man with one shoe on/one shoe off making a snowman is set at Kuramae. You can see the small canal in the midground. I believe that’s the Sumida River in the background.

There is a commemorative sign where the warehouse once stood and you can see the river the ferries used to go to the Yoshiwara. You also can take a leisurely walk to 両国 Ryōgoku, an area that should be on every tourist’s to-do-list because… it’s freaking awesome (I’ll talk about it tomorrow).

If there’s no warehouse left and there’s just a sign, is there any reason to actually go there? There might be. In the area is a very old shop called 浅草御蔵前書房 Asakusa O-kuramae Shobō Asakusa O-kuramae Bookstore. The same Asakusa O-kuramae is the Edo Period name of the place and shobō is an old word for bookstore[i]. The store sells Edo Period and Meiji Period books, maps, and other printed documents – in particular those that are related to Edo-Tōkyō!

Now that’s what I call a bookstore!!!

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

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[i] The modern word is 本屋 hon-ya. The modern word is “book store” while the old word literally means “writings/documents room.”

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