(Little Gold Well)
Koganei – A Suburb Story
Although Spring and the cherry blossom season has come and gone, I thought I’d take a moment to explore one of Edo’s big 5 花見スポット Hanami Supotto Cherry Blossom Spots. Anyone who’s been keeping up with the blog since spring knows that recently I did three articles covering 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing, and in those articles Edo’s most famous cherry blossom spots were mentioned. Today, we’re not going to talk much about cherry blossoms; this will be more of a straight forward etymology thang.
Also, in case you’re new to JapanThis! or you’re too lazy to look back at previous posts, I’ll quickly remind you of the most popular hanami spots Edoites loved. There’s no official list, but the sites that seem to have been the most popular were 上野山 Ueno-yama Ueno Hill, 飛鳥山 Asukayama Asuka Hill, 隅田川堤 Sumida-gawa Tsutsumi Sumida Riverbank, 御殿山 Goten’yama Goten Hill, and a stretch of the 玉川上水 Tama-gawa Jōsui Tamagawa Aqueduct in a village called 小金井 Koganei. Of all these spots, Koganei was without a doubt the farthest from the city of Edo. In fact, on modern paved roads, it would take you at least five hours to walk non-stop from 日本橋 Nihonbashi in central Tōkyō to Koganei. I imagine people in the Edo Period would have walked all day, found lodging, then enjoyed the cherry blossoms the next day, and maybe visited few temples and shrines before returning home – making this a legit two day excursion sandwiched between two days of some serious-ass walking. Also, make no mistake about it: Koganei was waaaaaay outside of the city limits. In those days, this was 武蔵国多磨郡 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Tama District, Musashi Province. This was not cosmopolitan Edo. It was East Bumfuck[i].
- The History of Hanami (short version)
- The History of Hanami (long version)
- The Five Great Highways of Edo
- What does Goten’yama mean?
- Where’s Goten’yama today?
- What does Asukayama mean?
- What does Nihonbashi mean?
- The Sumida River
- The Tama River
Famous Hanami Spot Turned Lame Suburb
Today, Koganei is pretty much synonymous with the “lame suburbs.” You’d have to go to 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture or 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture to get lamer, but at least Koganei is actually part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis. The area that is called 小金井市 Koganei-shi Koganei City is made up of roughly 12 Edo Period villages and rice fields[ii] that were combined to create 小金井村 Koganei Mura Koganei Village when the Meiji Government set up new administrative districts in 1889 (Meiji 22).
Sadly, the old Tamagawa Aqueduct hasn’t aged well as a cherry blossom viewing spot. That said, Koganei is still famous for this cherished springtime tradition. These days, the main attraction is 多磨霊園 Tama Reien Tama Cemetery[iii]. While it’s most definitely a public cemetery, it’s functioned more as a park since the 1960’s[iv]. Completely covered in cherry blossoms, it feels more like an urban green space than a graveyard. There are quite a few famous historical personages interred here, but the most notorious is probably 三島由紀夫 Mishima Yukio, a crazy right wing Japanese author who tried to launch a silly military coup in the 1970’s. When it was obvious that his little political stunt was going to fail, he tried to commit 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment. His boyfriend was to deliver the coup de grace, but apparently sucked at using swords and tried to behead him multiple times before another dude stepped in to behead them both[v]. Total clusterfuck.
OK, Let’s Look At the Kanji
The modern place name Koganei is written with three kanji. However, this apparently wasn’t always the case. In order to explore the name, we’re going to have to focus on four kanji in particular, although later, we’ll be looking at some interesting variations.
|well, spring; community|
|field, meadow, plain|
There seem to be three theories, two of which are closely connected. The first one, though, is a bit of a long shot, but not completely improbable. It suggests that there was a well in the area. Its water was so abundant and pristine that it was worth its weight in 黄金 kogane gold (using the kanji for “yellow” and “gold”)[vi]. The story goes, the locals wrote the name 黄金之井 Kogane no I The Golden Well[vii]. We know the genitive particle 之 no wasn’t necessary when speaking because the name was also rendered in a mix of hiragana and kanji as こがね井 Koganei. Using hiragana was an effective way of communicating the pronunciation (at the expense of the meaning of the first two syllables[viii]), and the use of that single kanji reinforced the meaning of “well.” This theory is vague, yet the orthography kinda supports it… kinda.
The next theory states that the plains on the southside of a cliff in the modern city used to be called 金井原 which was read as Koganeihara, Koganei Meadow. The cliff is thought to be くじつ山 Kujitsu-yama Mt. Kujitsu in present day 小金井公園 Koganei Kōen Koganei Park. The field is the south side of present day 前原町 Maehara-chō Maehara Town[ix]. If you’re familiar with this area, you may know that this is one section of Tama Cemetery. It’s a sprawling, modern cemetery that is very, very flat. The geography matches the etymology to a point. However, we’re left with a mystery. What did the kanji 金井 refer to? They mean “gold” and “well,” but did they refer to an actual well, or even gold for that matter?
The third theory is that Koganei – or even Koganei Meadow – was a reference to the clan controlling the area who wrote their name 金井. There are several kinks in this theory, too. First, newly created branch clans usually took the name of their fief as a surname, and not vice-versa[x]. Second, this family name is usually read as Kanai[xi], not Koganei[xii]. However, the Kanai were indeed active in the region, both prior to and during the Kamakura Period. The local branch was founded by a samurai named 新田義宗 Nitta Yoshimune, later 金井義宗 Kanai Yoshimune, who controlled 武蔵国金井原 Musashi no Kuni Koganeihara Koganeihara, Musashi Province. Also, if you refer to the kanji chart above, you’ll see how 金井 could be read as both Kanai and Koganei.
So Which Theory do I Prefer?
Well, let’s do a recap. There may have been a well that flowed abundantly. A field may have taken its name from the well. A branch of the Nitta clan moved in and took the name Kanai (using the same kanji of their new fief). Knowing the new branch families usually adopted the name of their land holdings as a family name, I reject the idea that the area is named after the Kanai clan, but don’t see any reason to see all three of these theories as potentially one in the same. Again, there could have been a well at some point[xiii]. We know there was a huge meadow of arable land whose name referenced a well. Then these Nitta samurai came in and took the name of the field to become the Kanai[xiv]. Given that the Nitta clan was a powerful clan with connections to the imperial court, they wouldn’t want their name to reflect the backwater pronunciation of this area. It was in their best interest to use a reading that was easily intelligible by anyone with a proper education. This doesn’t seem unreasonable to me at all. In fact, it seems the most logical and probable explanation.
Further Nitta/Kanai Hints or Coincidence?
The fact that writers in the Kamakura Period alternated between 小金井 and こがね井 is interesting. To me, this could point to a couple of things. One, the name already existed since protohistoric times and the presence of the Kanai Clan was a bizarre coincidence. Two, the clan’s name was in fact derived from the meadow or village’s name, but they rejected the local reading, whereas the local villagers weren’t sure about the elite reading and just continued “villaging” under the assumption that they were correct. When we find place names written in hiragana, it’s generally done to clarify how to read the kanji since there are always multiple readings – especially in regional dialects.
Furthermore, when Koganei Village was created in 1889, there were a number of fields bearing the name 新田 shinden, which literally means “new field.” The Kanai clan was an offshoot of the 新田氏 Nitta-shi Nitta clan. The word shinden uses the same kanji as the surname Nitta. This could just be a coincidence, or it could be a hint that the local farmers were sucking up to their new samurai overlords in the 1300’s[xv]. If the former is the case, I think it’s safe to assume the area was originally named Koganei, the Kanai clan adopted the name of their fief while rejecting the local reading, and the villagers were aware of all of this.
When I checked the records of 小金井神社 Koganei Jinja Koganei Shrine, I thought I’d get some clarity since ancient shrines tend to have old records and preserve local histories and legends. What I soon discovered was that while no one knows when or where Koganei Shrine was originally established, records indicated that it has been at the current location since 1205 (early Kamakura Period) when the Heian Period intellectual, 菅原道真 Sugawara no Michizane[xvi], was enshrined there and it was named 天満宮 Tenman-gū, a standard name for shrines dedicate to him[xvii].
According to a local history compiled between 1804 and 1829 called the 新編武蔵風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō Newly Edited Description of Musashi Province[xviii], Tenman-gū served as the tutelary shrine of 小金井村 Koganei Mura Koganei Village, 下小金井村 Shimo-Koganei Mura Shimo-Koganei Village, and 小金井新田 Koganei Shinden. This 19th century text uses the modern spelling with the initial kanji 小 ko small consistently, which means the orthography was standardized by then. But as I mentioned before, in the Kamakura Period, the place name was often written without the kanji for ko.
Incidentally, the shrine itself has nothing to say about the spelling of Koganei or its development over the years. Remember, since 1205 the shrine was called 天満宮 Tenman-gū and protected three villages lying in just boring-ass farmlands where people probably didn’t give a rat’s ass how to spell their village name because… well… they probably didn’t go much farther than the next village. Tenman-gū’s name was changed to Koganei Shrine[xix] in 1870 (Meiji 3) to reflect its status as the main Shintō shrine for this particular area. By this time, the Edo Period spelling – and today’s spelling – was firmly set in stone[xx].
- What is the Newly Edited Description of Musashi Province? (Japanese)
- Who was Sugawara no Michizane?
- A List of Major Tenman-gū
So What About That Additional Kanji?
Although 金 and 黄金 can both be read as kogane, most people wouldn’t look at 金井 and think, “oh yeah, that’s Koganei.” They’d think, “oh yeah, that’s kane” in the first case, and “oh yeah, that’s ōgon” in the second case. In order to avoid any confusion, it seems that by the Kamakura Period, the kanji 小 ko small was added to make the correct reading perfectly clear. The addition of this character is thought to be a function of 当て字 ateji kanji used as a phoneme rather than an ideograph[xxi]. Some ancient place names are thought to be strictly ateji, especially ones that might not be Japanese in origin[xxii]. Other times, ateji are just used to make potentially unintelligible or confusing names easily legible[xxiii].
Regardless of the true etymology of the name, writing 小金井 ko–gane–i is pretty much the most reliable way to ensure that when someone sees the word, they’ll say, “oh yeah, Koganei.” Unless you’re a moron, that’s the only way to read it, really[xxiv].
Hanami and Tama Reien
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, Koganei was famous for cherry blossoms in the Edo Period. It required a bit of time and money for an Edoite to head out there to enjoy the trees in full bloom. While some of the old groves still exist along the former Tama Aqueduct, the main attraction these days is the former Koganei Meadow, modern Tama Cemetery. That said, while Yanaka Cemetery’s 桜通り Sakura-dōri Sakura Avenue[xxv] in central Tōkyō attracts a certain amount of drunken spillover from Ueno Park who picnic and party among the graves, I don’t think that happens in Tama Cemetery. So…, if you go, look around and see what other people are doing and be respectful. When in Rome and all that.
There’s a Company Called Koganei
This probably isn’t very interesting, but there’s a company called Koganei. They were established in 1935 (Shōwa 10) as the Yamamoto Trading Company in Tōkyō, but moved their factory and headquarters to 小金井市 Koganei-shi Koganei City in 1941 and changed their name to Koganei, Ltd in 1951. According to their website, they specialize in the “manufacture and sales of pneumatic system products, static electricity removing units, electric actuators, centralized lubrication equipment, and environmental/hygiene related products.” I’m not sure what more to do with that information, so here’s where I’m gonna finish this article.
I hope you enjoyed exploring Koganei, a suburb of Tōkyō. I also hope you’ve learned a little bit about how ateji is a big deal in Tōkyō place names. I hope you enjoyed how these place names tie in with powerful samurai families. If you like my research-intensive articles, please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking forward to your comments down below. Have a great day, ya’ll.
[i] Well, technically speaking, in relation to Edo, it was West Bumfuck. But who the hell says that?
[ii] Namely, 小金井村 Koganei Mura former Koganei Village, 貫井村 Nukui Mura Nukui Village, 下染屋村 Shimo-Zomeya Mura Shimo-Zomeya Village, 押立村 Oshitate Mura Oshitate Village, 人見村 Hitomi Mura Hitomi Village, 是政村 Koremasa Mura Koremasa Village, 上石原村 Kami-Ishihara Mura Kami-Ishihara Village, 下小金井新田 Shimo-Koganei Shinden, 梶野新田 Kashino Shinden, 関野新田 Sekino Shinden, 十ヶ新田 Jūjū Shinden (reading suspect), and 本多新田 Honda Shinden. The last five place names that end with 新田 shinden, literally “new fields” refer to uninhabited agricultural lands. More about that later.
[iii] Reien translates literally as “soul garden” or “spirit garden,” but what distinguishes a reien from a 墓地 bocchi cemetery or 墓所 bosho graveyard is that the latter is just a regular cemetery, usually – but not always – affiliated with a temple, whereas the former tends to be larger with a “park-like atmosphere.”
[iv] Apparently, it was filled to capacity.
[v] If you wanna see Mishima after his seppuku and beheading… whoomp there it is.
[vi] See my article on Iogi for another shitty use of the word “yellow gold”/”yellow money.”
[vii] Literally, “yellow gold,” but in this case, it’s just a synonym for “gold.”
[viii] If indeed there was any meaning preserved at all. The reduction to hiragana may just indicate that nobody knew or was in agreement about the origin of the “kogane” part of Koganei as far back as the Kamakura Period.
[ix] The 原 hara in Koganeihara and the 原 hara in Maehara-chō are the same.
[x] This wasn’t a rule set in stone, though. Some place names did occasionally take their names from ruling clan.
[xi] If this theory is correct, the family in question was a minor branch of the main 金井氏 Kanai-shi Kanai Clan, which itself was a minor branch of the 新田氏 Nitta-shi Nitta Clan, which was itself a branch of the 清和源氏 Seiwa Genji Seiwa Minamoto Clan – the Minamoto descended from 清和天皇 Seiwa Tennō Emperor Seiwa (858-876), Japan’s 56th emperor. This is the same bloodline that produced the first Kamakura Shōgun, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo. This connection to such an elite eastern samurai clan with a direct connection to the imperial family should put the prestige of this family in context.
[xii] Or Kanei.
[xiii] Or it could’ve been an ancient word, maybe not even Japanese.
[xiv] Why not the Koganei? Probably because nobody could read it. But let’s get to that later.
[xv] Hell, it could be both.
[xvi] Who the fuck was Sugawara no Michizane?
[xvii] Supposedly there are about 14,000 enshrinements of Sugawara no Michizane throughout the country.
[xviii] This document has come up many times since I started the blog. Fūdoki are essentially local histories and geographical descriptions that the imperial court had been compiling since the Asuka Period. Later the shōgunates, and the Tokugawa Shōgunate in particular continued the practice.
[xix] Using the kanji for ko, of course.
[xx] Though again, I think it’s safe to assume that the spelling was standardized by the Kamakura Period.
[xxi] WTF is ateji?
[xxii] This means, some ancient place names are non-Japonic in origin.
[xxiii] Japan has many dialects, ateji may smooth things out. An example where ateji wasn’t adopted is 山手 Yamate in Yokohama and 山手 Yamanote in Edo-Tōkyō. The words are written the same, but you must know the local reading to pronounce them correctly.
[xxiv] I mean, I guess you could read it Oganei, but… nah, that would just be dumb.
[xxv] Yanaka Cemetery