(below the forest)
Morishita is a 下町 shitamachi low city area, located at the bottom of a hill. In the Edo Period, the top of the hill was the residence of the daimyō (lords) of 関宿藩 Sekiyado-han Sekiyado Domain (located near the coast of present day Chiba Prefecture). The residence was a 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki which means lower residence and was essentially a suburban palace replete with an expansive garden (hence the forest). Like many commoners of the day, the chumps who lived at the bottom of the hill lived “under the forest” in cramped quarters in a crappy flood plain.
I’ve only been to Morishita once. It’s a proper post-WWII shitamachi area. In fact, you can still see some crappy post war buildings in the area, too. They’re not fantastic specimens of Japanese architecture, but for what it’s worth they are definitely a dying breed. There are probably some good restaurants in the area, but I don’t know enough about the neighborhood to recommend anything.
One street corner in Morishita features a 纏 matoi banner carried by Edo Period firemen as they rushed through the streets to fight fires. Obviously, they didn’t have sirens and flashing lights, so large banners that could be seen from afar, drums, bells, and lanterns were the best they could do. The banners featured the name of the local firefighting team, which in Edo could have been a single 平仮名 hiragana or 片仮名 katakana character (something like “team a,” “team b,” “team c,” and so on). It could also have been a number or a kanji character. One of the local daimyō – I’m assuming it was the Shirakawa Domain – funded the 三番組 sanban gumi fire brigade team 3 which was based in Morishita.
If you go to the top of the hill, you will find 清澄庭園 Kiyosumi Tei’en Kiyosumi Garden. This park incorporates the remains of the original daimyō garden and later Meiji Era additions by the founder of Mitsubishi[i]. If you’re looking for a traditional Japanese garden in Tōkyō, this is a really good option. The 3 most historically intact and well known gardens always draw a crowd, but this park tends to be less well known, so you should be able to enjoy a cup of tea and some respite from the hustle and bustle of Tōkyō.
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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.
[i] The founder of Mitsubishi was, among many other things, an avid collector of real estate. Many of these holdings are still controlled by the Mitsubishi Group, one of the most powerful conglomerates in the world. You might want to see my article, What does Marunouchi mean? I also recommend the Mitsubishi Group’s company history page.