Today’s article is a reader request. So let’s start with that reader’s message!
I love your site so much! Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge about Tokyo and Japan. I was absolutely overjoyed to stumble on Japan This!. The articles are very well-researched.
I love the praise and I’d like to bask in that glory for a minute or two.
“Published” is quite a big word for what I do with my silly corner of the internet, but I’ll take it! Any praise people feel compelled to hurl at me, I’ll take that too, for sure! Also, if anyone wants to hurl money at me, please go to my Patreon page and help support the site.
Anyhoo, it’s taken a while since I got that message but I’ve kept my word and today, we’re finally gonna talk about 立川 Tachikawa.
That said, I have to start this with a very particular caveat. I’m making this number up, but I’m pretty sure it’s good. I generally write 85-95% of my articles deal about areas located within the 23特別区 Nijūsan Tokubetsu-ku 23 Special Wards.
Occasionally, I’ve left so-called “Central Tōkyō” and covered some other place names, but that’s been the exception and not the rule. The reason for this is simple. I live in the center of Tōkyō and the records and maps are good for these areas, especially during the Edo Period to present. Areas like 調布 Chōfu and 八王子 Hachiōji were extremely rural and even if we have good maps, there’s not a lot of local history available online. Tachikawa is located about 50 minutes[i] west of the 23 Special Wards, north of Hachiōji and west of 三鷹 Mitaka. Despite living in Tōkyō for 11 years, I think I’ve only been to Tachikawa once. I’ll talk about that later, but for now let’s dig into the etymology. What does Tachikawa mean?
- The Tama River
- What does Chōfu mean?
- What does Mitaka mean?
- What does Hachiōji mean?
- Dōryō-dō – the Haunted Temple of Hachiōji
First, Let’s Look at the Kanji
It’s a pretty straight forward place name composed of simple kanji that a first grader could easily read and write[ii].
(keep in mind these 2 distinct readings)
There are a few theories about the origin of the place name Tachikawa, so shall we look at them?
The Somewhat Unhelpful and Generic Theory
This theory assumes that former path of the 多摩川 Tama-gawa Tama River or an associated tributary passed through the area long ago. By long ago, we’re talking the Heian Period or earlier. The idea being that this was a place where 川が立っていた kawa ga tatte ita a river stood. Of course, rivers can’t stand in Japanese just as they can’t in English, but the meaning is more like “a river was noticeable.” While this etymology is plausible, it doesn’t really do enough to get at the real source of the name. It really raises more questions than it answers. Was there some distinct feature of the river that was so curious that it deserved its own place name? Who knows.
The Less Unhelpful and Less Generic Theory
In the Heian Period (imagine the 1000’s), the administrative government of 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province was located in present-day 府中 Fuchū[iii]. It’s said that in those days, travelers passing through the area who stayed at 府中宿 Fuchū-shuku the post town of Fuchū could see the plateau that connects the east and west sides of present day 多摩市 Tamagawa-shi Tamagawa City. That hill happens to be called 横山 Yokoyama the mountain on the side of the river. Of course, the hill was noticeable, but more noticeable was the old course of the 多摩川 Tama-gawa Tama River flowing from north to south cutting across the landscape[iv]. In Japanese, the kanji 立 tachi/dachi can be used with other kanji to mean “visible” or “stand out.”[v] Therefore it was the “notable river” or the “river that stood out.” Thus, the river was called the 立河 Tachikawa[vi]. Whether this was considered part of the Tama River or was just a branch isn’t completely understood. Long time readers who suffered through my brutal series on the Rivers of Edo should know that before the Meiji Coup, rivers often had different names in different locations. They were thought of as local entities with unique tributaries, branches, areas, and not singular waterways with a singular name.
Some Samurai Did It
From the late Heian Period until the late Sengoku Period, a clan of local strongmen operated from a military fortress in the area. Their name? The 立河氏 Tatekawa-shi Tatekawa clan. This theory states that the name is derived from the clan name.
Reinforcing this claim is the fact that in the 1350’s, the lord of this fief, a certain 立河宗恒 Tatekawa Munetsune, founded the temple 普済寺 Fusai-ji which still exists today on the remains of their old fort. The family was active in the area until they perished with the fall of Hachiōji Castle in 1590[vii].
The existence of Fusai-ji and records confirming the existence of the Tatekawa clan make this the strongest theory, but it’s not without problems. The name of this clan is a source of confusion. Although it can be read as Tachikawa[viii], Tatekawa is the favored reading for this clan’s name. That said, from 1590-1868, without any active Tatekawa samurai in the area, it’s not inconceivable that the name could come to be read differently.
So Which is Correct?
This is a good question and it’s one that we’ve struggled with from time to time when dealing with ancient Kantō place names. In Japanese, most rural place names seem to derive from geographical characteristics[ix]. And indeed, some place names are clearly derived from what you could see from certain locations[x].
What confounds the issue sometimes is that when the Heian Period imperial court and the Kamakura Shōgunate granted fiefs to samurai, those clans started new branch families and took the name of their local fiefs. The famous example I always like to quote is the samurai of the Fujiwara clan who took the name Chichibu when given the fief called 秩父 Chichibu. Later, the samurai of the Chichibu clan took the name Edo when granted the fief called 江戸 Edo. Their ancestors were forced by Tokugawa Ieyasu to assume the name Kitami because they lived in 喜多見 Kitami when Ieyasu assumed control of Edo Castle[xi].
Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?
Did the place name exist first, and the Tatekawa (or Tachikawa) clan adopted the name? This seems to have been the norm before the Edo Period[xii] and therefore the most likely theory.
Or, did the area earn its name from the presence of the Tatekawa (or Tachikawa) clan? This seems to have been rarer, but not entirely unheard of, particularly in the Edo Period[xiii].
Another option is that it’s purely a coincidence: a clan called Tatekawa could have operated near an area called Tachikawa.
And while we’re playing a magical game of “nobody fucking knows, so let’s just throw out some ideas,” how about this one? What if I told you the name could be a Japanization of a pre-existing ｱｲﾇ Ainu or 蝦夷 Emishi[xiv] place name the whole time and the Tatekawa (or Tachikawa) clan adopted that Japanized place name? If that’s the case, we may never know the origin of the name. Ouch!
To be fair, none of these etymologies are conclusive, but I will say that all of them are interesting. Not only can we explore a few possible diachronic paths Japanese place names often take, we touched on a few recurring themes that long time readers should be familiar with.
In Conclusion, What is Tachikawa Today?
I have no freaking idea to be perfectly honest. Like I said before, I’ve only come here once. But I have a friend or two from the area and I’ve visited a lot of the surrounding areas, so I can make a few short statements about Tachikawa today.
My image is that it’s a really suburban town, and while there is some train service, you pretty much need a car if you want to live out there. In short, despite being part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis, this is very, very different from “Central Tōkyō.” Anyone who has spent time here or lived here, feel free to leave descriptions of the town in the comments section below.
Tachikawa is home to 昭和記念公園 Shōwa Kinen Kōen Shōwa Memorial Park. The park was a former Air Force base for the US military, but since the early 80’s it’s been a public park. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard good things about it. They have the space and distance from the city to make a really good park. In the spring, Shōwa Memorial Park is a famous 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing spot and also holds a yearly 花祭 Hana Matsuri Flower Festival. In the summer, it’s famous for ﾋﾏﾜﾘ himawari sunflowers… which brings me to the only time I ever visited Tachikawa; summer of 2005 – my first summer living in Japan!
I went with some friends to the ﾚｲﾝﾎﾞｰﾌﾟｰﾙ Reinbō Pūru Rainbow Pool in Tachikawa which is located next to the Shōwa Memorial Park. Why would anyone in Tōkyō make a 50-60 minute trek by train to a distant suburb just to go swimming? Because it’s not just a pool, it’s a full on waterpark. There are no tall buildings in sight. The periphery is just greenery and blue skies. Oh, and it being a waterpark means bikini girls as far as the eye can see[xv]. This was like 10 years ago, but I have really fond memories of Rainbow Pool. One added bonus was that even though they had signs all over the place saying “tattoos prohibited,” I noticed that they let a lot of Japanese girls with small tattoos like hearts and flowers slip by. When I took off my shirt which exposed my back, which is completely covered in ink, no one batted an eye[xvi].
Near 立川駅 Tachikawa Eki Tachikawa Station, there is supposedly a red light district that allows for all manner of drinking & whoring 24-7[xvii]. The English Wikipedia page on Tachikawa claims that it’s called Mini Kabukichō, but I can’t find anything else to back this up[xviii]. But again, I’ve only been to Tachikawa once and I did no drinking and/or whoring there, so… I’d love to hear more about this seedy side of the city. Again, feel free to leave comments below.
Tachikawa is also home to 1 of 10 remaining North Korean schools in Tōkyō Metropolis. The school is called 西東京朝鮮第一初中級学校 Nishi Tōkyō Chōsen Dai-Ichi Sho-Chūkyū Gakkō West Tōkyō North Korean Elementary & Junior High School #1[xix].
Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Whaaaaat?
Yes, North Korea and Japan are sworn enemies. But the 朝鮮学校 Chōsen gakkō Korean schools have operated as international schools in Japan since before WWII. In 1910, Japan made Korea part of the 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Empire of Japan and many Koreans began immigrating to the Japanese islands[xx]. Many of these Korean 在日 zainichi residents of Japan sought to preserve their Korean identity and values and one way they could do that was through education. Everyone knows Japan and Korea haven’t been on the best of terms since the late 1500’s, but things got really bad in the mid-20th Century. These days, South Korea and Japan have a love-hate relationship, but things aren’t so bad. They’re actually military allies, sort of.
But North Korean schools in Japan? That’s fucked up, right?
Rather than explain it myself, here’s a brief excerpt from a 2013 article in the Economist:
Between 1905 and 1945, when Japan occupied Korea, ethnic Koreans were considered Japanese nationals. After Japan lost control of the peninsula in WWII, Koreans wishing to stay in Japan (known as Zainichi Koreans) were provisionally registered as nationals of Joseon, the name of undivided Korea between the 14th and 19th centuries. But when the North and South declared independence in 1948, the term Joseon no longer corresponded to a specific country. From 1965 Zainichi Koreans could register as South Koreans. Those who retained their Joseon nationality (rather than register as either South Korean or Japanese) became de factō North Korean citizens.
A hiccup in history produced a generation or so of people living in a political and national limbo. The question that most Japanese people (and probably most readers of this blog) are asking is, “well, if you live in Japan, speak Japanese, pay Japanese taxes, and are most likely culturally more Japanese than Korean, why not register as a Japanese citizen? Or if you really want to maintain your Korean-ness, why not just register as a South Korean?” Good questions, but…
As an American, I grew up in a multicultural, multi-racial society that encouraged integration while celebrating diversity[xxi], so I don’t know the answer to that question. It’s a very messy issue and we’re not going to save the world here today, but some of you may not have heard about these North Korean schools in Japan. I don’t want to rabble rouse, but I definitely think that this phenomenon might be an interesting note to leave on.
And you thought the etymology was complicated!
As always, feel free to leave a comment on this article, like it, or share on Facebook or Twitter or wherever. I hope you enjoyed it.
[i] By trainね
[ii] I’m not saying this to be a jerk to my non-kanji reading readers, Mrs. JapanThis! is actually an elementary teacher and told me this. But that’s OK, if you learn Japanese, these kanji will be among the first you learn too.
[iii] A name which seems to mean “government center.”
[iv] Or that unnamed tributary alluded to earlier.
[v] Maybe the best example is 目立つ medatsu to stand out, literally “stand before your very eyes.”
[vi] 立河 and 立川 are variations of the same word. In many old sources, 河 was preferred over 川. I haven’t heard any convincing arguments in terms of usage.
[vii] See my article about Hachiōji here.
[viii] Tachigawa and Tategawa are also possible readings, but are rare in the Kantō area. In Kamakura and Sengoku Period records, the name is generally recorded as 立河 which is just a variant of 立川, and so can be read as Tatekawa or Tachikawa (or any of the other variants mentioned above).
[ix] ～さか –saka hill, ～原 –hara field, ～田 ta rice paddy are among the countless examples long term readers will be familiar with.
[x] Granted, these are quite rare, but they’re not unrepresented. The best example is ～富士見 –fujimi can see Mt. Fuji which has countless examples in Tōkyō alone.
[xi] For this whole convoluted story, you need to read 2 articles: What does Edo mean? and What does Kitami mean?
[xii] But it definitely wasn’t a rule.
[xiii] But this name is clearly much older. Most indications put it at the Heian Period which means it could be even more ancient.
[xiv] The Ainu and the Emishi were essentially the same people, at least genetically, though culturally they may have been distinct. They are both descendants of the 縄文 Jōmon people – the Paleolithic first people of Japan. You can read more about them here.
[xv] And to be fair, if you’re into dudes, I suppose there’s even better “people watching” lolol.
[xvi] When my girlfriend at the time asked a lifeguard about the park’s tattoo policy, he told her that tattoos were not allowed, but the staff rarely enforced the rule and they were only on the lookout for yakuza tattoos. That’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart, and basically I have never cared about entering public baths in Japan since. But if someone says something, you have to be able to be confident and polite and explain your position in Japanese. Then it’s no problem. The whole “no tattoos” thing in hot springs and pools is somewhat negotiable in my experience.
[xvii] Because if you’re not drinking & whoring 24-7, you’re not really drinking & whoring properly, are you?
[xviii] English Wikipedia pages on Japan tend to be shit anyways.
[xix] And yes. As the name implies, there is a #2.
[xx] Some came by choice seeking economic opportunities; others were forced by military or labor conscription. It’s a really complicated issue that I’ll admit I don’t fully understand and have no intention of getting into here because it’s way outside of the scope of this article (and my blog in general).
[xxi] And America isn’t perfect, but it is diverse and most of the time it works.