The history of Tsukishima, Tuskiji, Kachidoki, and many other place names are closely linked etymologically. Most of these are late Edo Period and early Meiji Era names. I recommend you read the two links at the end of this section to get the whole story.
But if you go to Tsukishima, you’re there for one thing: もんじゃ焼き monja-yaki, a kind of food you cook at the table made of vegetables and meat or fish toppings sealed together by various soupy bases that make the mix tight enough that you can pick it up with a tiny spoon that allows a bite sized mouthful. The word “monja” is said to be derived from the shitamachi dialect of the early Meiji Period. The grill looked like the newly imported blackboards used in the new public schools. What did you write on blackboards? 文字 moji letters, of course. In Edo, this word was pronounced monji not moji, and according to some accounts, in the low city dialect spoken in the Sumida area, the word was pronounced monja. If this is true, the name means “cooked on a blackboard.”
Because the cooking style is similar to お好み焼き okonomi-yaki, a similarly prepared food from Western Japan, the two dishes are often lumped together. Historically, okonomi-yaki was born in Ōsaka and Hiroshima (very different styles), but monja-yaki was born in Tōkyō’s shitamachi districts. Both are delicious, but okonomi-yaki actually has a predictable shape and most of the recipes are also predictable. Monja-yaki, a dish that developed with the same cooking technology, is much more freeform. Visually, monja-yaki looks like someone puked on a heated service. But, it is easily one of the most versatile dishes to come out of the Meiji Era (though most people associate it with the Taishō and Shōwa Eras). If you want to see how far you can stretch this particular style of cooking; instead of bar hopping, make reservations at 2 famous shops in Tsukishima 5 hours apart. Then, go early on a weekday night to go monja-yaki hopping for the rest of the time[i].
By the way, Tsukishima is a manmade island from the Meiji Period. Name “moon island” is a reference to the Edo Period teahouses and restaurants that straddled the old coast of Edo Bay. These teahouses were famous for “moon watching” because you could watch the moon move across the sky and be reflected in the bay. Without any electricity and no buildings over 2 stories, a full moon over the bay must have been a glorious sight to behold.
- Wanna read my original article about the Tsukishima Area?
- Wanna read my original article about Tsukuda Island?
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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.
[i] Pro-Tip: check out the area around 4:30-5:00 PM and see which shops are already full. Those are the best and most popular shops. Make reservations, and then do the rounds. Once the dinner rush happens, you’ll have to wait and hour or more for the best shops.