Let’s Look at the Kanji
|The meaning is literally “honorable lord” and once referred to any place the lord of castle lived within the castle confines. In the Edo Period, it took on some different meanings. It could be used for any facility the shōgun frequented. In Japanese castle design, the term refers to the residence of the lord of a castle or the main hall where he would receive guests.|
|castle; the original meaning was a defensive structure – in Japanese history this usually meant fort/fortified residence until the very late Sengoku Period.|
According to the 新編武風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō[i] Newly Edited Description of Musashi Province[ii], before entering 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan built a hilltop fort on this section of the 高輪台地 Takanawa Daichi Takanawa Plateau between 1457- 1460. This was going to be his main residence, but after seeing a vision in a dream, Dōkan decided to take Edo Castle as his main residence. He gave the fort in this area, called 御殿山城 Goten’yama-jō Goten’yama Castle (palace mountain castle), to local strong man 宇田川長清 Utagawa Nagakiyo[iii]. The castle overlooked 浅草湊 Asakusa Minato Asakusa Harbor and 品川湊 Shinagawa Minato Shinagawa Harbor, so it was a pretty important defensive location.
Something Doesn’t Add Up
For a long time, that’s what people have believed and it seems legit on the surface – that is, until you start digging a little deeper. When people of Ōta Dōkan’s day said 城 shiro, they just meant a fortified residence or fort, not the kind of Japanese castle that usually comes to mind. The Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō was written in Edo in the early 1800’s and when those people said shiro they were referring to the castles of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period that their cities were still based around. A warlord in Kantō of the Sengoku Period couldn’t afford to have a standalone 御殿 goten palace. His house inside the fortress walls might have been called a goten, but that was just a single building. The shiro would be what the people referred to, not the goten. That would be like calling a place where a school was located “the principal’s office.”
A Kantō warlord would also have had a few 出城 dejiro outposts[iv] that he would assign to trusted retainers at strategic locations. Ōta Dōkan was a text book case of this approach to defense. The truth is, Ōta Dōkan may have very well had a fort here – and at the very least, the presence of the Utagawa clan in the area is definitely documented. But the name 御殿山城 Goten’yama-jō Palace Mountain Castle is really suspicious. It seems the compilers of the Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō either got their history or etymology wrong[v]. It turns out, this place name is mostly likely far more recent. In fact, the most logical explanation is that it dates back to the Edo Period.
So What Really Happened?
After the first shōgun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, set up his court in Edo, he used these former Utagawa lands for hunting[vi]. In the mid 1620’s, the 3rd shōgun 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu built a 休憩舎 kyūkeisha rest station for the shōgun when he came to the hill for 鷹狩 takagari falconry and other hunting activities. Usually rest stations were temporary affairs that could range from tents to large wooden shelters. This one seems to have been large enough to accommodate the shōgun and his retinue. Any such shelter or lodging was called a 御殿 goten in the parlance of the day. A space was also built for entertaining 重臣 jūshin senior retainers at 茶会 chakai tea ceremony events[vii]. In the 1660’s[viii], the shōgunate took on the massive beautification project of transplanting hundreds of 桜の木 sakura no ki cherry blossom trees to the area.
Oh, and what was the name of this playground of the shōguns? Well, it was called the 品川御殿 Shinagawa Goten Shinagawa Palace. The goten sat on the top of the hill and this seems to be the true etymology of the place name 御殿山 goten’yama goten hill.
Another theory exists – one that I don’t think is true, though. This one states that whether the shōguns hunted or hosted tea parties in the area is irrelevant because many 社殿 shaden Shintō shrines and 偉い人 erai hito men of high birth lived in the area. The 殿 –den of shaden is the same as the 殿–ten of goten. This would fall in line with the concept of 山手 yamanote high city and 下町 shitamachi low city. Unfortunately, the only actually evidence we have is the clear Edo Period evidence that says that the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family definitely had goten in this area. Thus, it seems pretty clear to me that the Shinagawa Goten is the source of this place name.
But, get this. The life span of the Shinagawa Goten on Goten’yama was only about 50 years. This is probably why the compilers of the Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō didn’t get the story right. The place hadn’t existed for 100 years when they wrote their shitty book[ix].
Only 50 Years?
The area seems to have been visited often enough in the mid-1600’s for the shōgunate to decorate it with cherry blossoms. Daimyō and other high ranking officials were often entertained here. However, in 1702, the buildings were destroyed by a conflagration that tore through the area. This marks a dead zone in the timeline of the area.
The 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, died in 1709. The 6th shōgun, 徳川家宣 Tokugawa Ienobu, died after 3 years in office and he was succeeded by 7th shōgun, 徳川家継 Tokugawa Ietsugu, who then died at the age of 6 in 1716 – effectively ending the direct bloodline of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Rebuilding a stupid rest station for hunting was the least of the shōgunate’s concerns. Re-asserting Tokugawa leadership took up most of the shōgunate’s time. As you can imagine, the Shinagawa Goten was low priority and ultimately abandoned.
A Place of Supreme Beauty
The shōgunate may not have had the time, energy, interest, or budget to maintain the Shinagawa Goten, but the cherry blossoms that they planted continued to thrive. Since the space wasn’t a private facility of the shōgun any more, the hill soon became one of the most popular locations in Edo for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing. The area was located outside of the shōgun’s capital, so it made a good day trip for those who could be granted access to Shinagawa in the spring.
The cherry blossoms are said to have been in the hundreds. In fact, an account from 1824 claims that there were about 600 sakura trees on Goten’yama. To put this in perspective, 上野公園 Ueno Kōen Ueno Park is said to have about 1,200 sakura and 飛鳥山公園 Asukayama Asuka Hill Park is said to have 650. Both parks have a very different feel today, but the amount of cherry blossom trees is a good comparison – the experience on Asukayama being a little closer to the Edo Period experience than the craziness of Ueno Park.
Goten’yama was one of the defining beautiful areas of Edo and was often featured in 浮世絵 ukiyo-e wood block prints of daily life in Edo. Sadly, it came to a tragic and devastating end in the Bakumatsu. Long time readers will remember that in 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry dropped anchor in Edo Bay and demanded shōgunate open the country. He said he’d be back in a year to accept the shōgunate’s submission or bomb the shit out of Edo. He dropped the mic and took his fleet of 黒船 kurofune black ships back to the US.
The End of Edo’s Most Beautiful Hanami Spot
Totally freaking out, the shōgunate came up with a plan to build 11 manmade islands[x] across the harbor called the 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries. Each battery would house a garrison of samurai and feature the best cannon technology they could get their hands on at the time[xi]. The problem with manmade islands is that you need to move dirt from the dry ground and put it into the sea.
Now, let’s see. Where did the shōgunate have unused land nearby? Oh yeah! That big hill with all the cherry blossoms is just sitting there taking up space. Why don’t we use that?
They carved out, hauled off, and dumped into the bay the north side of the mountain. The area corresponds to modern 北品川3丁目3番 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme no san-ban section 3 of the 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa, 北品川3丁目4番 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme no yon-ban section 4 of the 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa, and the eastern portion of 北品川4丁目7番 Kita-Shinagawa yon-chōme no nana-ban section 7 of the 4th block of Kita-Shinagawa. They effectively cut out a substantial portion of the Takanawa Plateau and reduced it to nothing.
In 1861, the shōgunate had a plan to set up the 英国公使館 Eikoku Kōshikan British Legation[xii] in the razed Goten’yama area. Normally, they would have ordered a temple to accommodate these early embassies, but for some reason, a brand new facility was built from scratch for the British Empire[xiii].
In 1862, as the complex was nearing completion, some anti-foreign terrorists from 長州藩Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain including the hotheaded 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku[xiv] and future first prime minister of the 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Empire of Japan 伊藤博文 Itō Hirobumi[xv] attacked the site and burned it to the ground. The site is commemorated in the modern 権現山公園 Gongen’yama Kōen Gongen’yama Park in 北品川３丁目 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa[xvi].
I’m sure some of the cherry blossoms were still there and still bloomed from the 1850’s to 1868, but the national crisis of the Bakumatsu seems to have distracted attention from the Goten’yama area. Between the landfill projects and the ultimately fruitless construction of the British Legation – and let’s not forget, this was the absolute outskirts of the city at the time – Goten’yama sorta fell off the map. But the final nail in the coffin was when the construction of the 東海道鉄道 Tōkaidō Tetsudō Tōkaidō Main Line began. The train tracks cut through present day 北品川３丁目 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa and 北品川４丁目 Kita-Shinagawa yon-chōme 4th block of Kita-Shinagawa. The destruction of Goten’yama and the construction of the Tōkaidō Main Line forever changed the topography and image of the area.
In 1947, ソニー Sonī Sony moved their headquarters to Goten’yama. There was a collection of Sony buildings in the area and the strong association with the electronics giant landed the area the nickname ソニー村 Sonī Mura Sony Village. Around 2006, the company relocated to their new HQ in nearby 港南 Kōnan, next to 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station. The corporate archives are still located on Goten’yama.
Today, Goten’yama is not an official postal code, but Shinagawa locals refer to the area from Kita-Shinagawa 3-chōme to Kita-Shinagawa 4-chōme as “Goten’yama.” This is roughly the area that the shōgunate mined to build the Shinagawa Batteries. Interestingly, the Shinagawa Palace is believed to have been located in 北品川5丁目 Kita-Shinagawa go-chōme 5th block of Kita-Shinagawa which is the site of an apartment complex called 御殿山パークハウス Goten’yama Pāku Hausu Goten’yama Park House. This shows that the place name Goten’yama still spans a wide area, despite having no official identity within the postal code system. Local place names and traditions are the only thing preserving it.
Some related articles:
- What do Shinagawa & Takanawa mean?
- What does Dōkan’yama mean?
- What does Asakusa mean?
- What does Odaiba mean?
- Yamanote vs. Shitamachi
- What does Kōnan mean?
- What does Edo mean?
- Fires of Edo-Tōkyō
[i] I’ll talk about this book a little more later.
[ii] The translation is mine. I don’t know if there’s a standard English translation of the title. I don’t even think the book has ever been translated into English.
[iii] If the name 宇田川 Utagawa looks familiar, that’s because the family name is preserved in place names all over the city. The most famous is 渋谷区宇田川町 Shibuya-ku Udagawa-chō Udagawachō, Shibuya Ward. I may have to look into the pronunciation of this place name in a future article. That said, both Utagawa and Udagawa are legit variant readings.
[iv] Literally, forts to flee to or outside forts.
[v] Or possibly both.
[vi] Or former Ōta Dōkan lands, since technically Dōkan gave them to the Utagawa.
[vii] Although the location isn’t known for sure, most people assume the Shinagawa Goten was located in present day 北品川3丁目5番 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme go-ban section 6 of the 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa. The postal code 御殿山 Goten’yama does not exist today.
[viii] By some standards, this was the peak of the ascendency of the Tokugawa Shōgunate – the reigns of Ietsuna and Tsunayoshi.
[ix] OK, that wasn’t fair. The Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō is a pretty awesome text and we’re lucky to have it.
[x] 7 batteries were begun, but only 6 were actually completed. See my article here.
[xi] This technology was questionable at best compared to the cutting edge technology of the western powers.
[xii] A 公使館 kōshikan legation was the forerunner to the modern 大使館 taishikan embassy. They are essentially the same thing. According to Wikipedia, “A legation was the term used in diplomacy to denote a diplomatic representative office lower than an embassy. The distinction between a legation and embassy was dropped following World War II. All diplomatic representative offices are now designated as embassies or high commissions.”
[xiii] Lucky them!
[xiv] Samurai Archives on Takasugi Shinsaku – or as I like to call him, Takasugi Shinsuck. The dude seems like a total wanker. His haircut was retarded, too. Just do a Google image search.
[xv] Samurai Archives on Itō Hirobumi.
[xvi] In Japanese, this act of terror is called the 英国公使館焼き討ち事件 Eikoku Kōshikan Yakiuchi Jiken Burning of the British Legation Incident. Japanese Wikipedia gives a single paragraph to the incident. No other language on Wikipedia even mentions the incident. This speaks volumes about how petty and childish Takasugi Shinsaku and the other Chōshū terrorists were in the early years of the Bakumatsu.