Riding the 埼京線 Saikyō-sen Saikyō Line, we passed through a litany of place names that were unarguably 芋っぽい imoppoi country-sounding[ii]. They were so unlikely the names you’d find in the actual castle town of Edo that I had to write some of them down. And thanks to this trip into the outskirts of Tōkyō[iii], the next few articles will be based in this general area. And for those of you who have been complaining that I haven’t written anything lately, hopefully this will be the beginning of a rapid-fire batch of articles to get things back on track.
Let’s Take a Look at the Kanji
|become, turn into|
From the time spanning the Muromachi Period to the Meiji Period, this area was just one of a cluster of farming villages that lay in proximity to the 中仙道 Nakasendō Nakasendō highway[iv] called the 赤塚六ヶ村 Akatsuka Rokkason 6 Akatsuka Villages[v]. The area first seems to be developed by the 田中家 Tanaka-ke some time in the early 1500’s. As far as high-ranking farmers go, they were remarkable record keepers about rural life in the villages[vi]. Not only did they keep good records, but one of the family’s Edo Period farmhouses survived beyond WWII and is still preserved in excellent condition at the 板橋区立郷土資料館 Itabashi Kuritsu Kyōdo Shiryōkan Itabashi Historical Museum[vii]. Anecdotal evidence says Tanaka is the most common family name in the area[viii].
The story goes, that after the ruination of the 武田氏 Takeda-shi Takeda Clan[ix], the Tanaka family – either retainers or farmers, it’s not clear – fled from Takeda lands[x] to 武蔵国豊嶋郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province. The first Tanaka associated with the development of the Akatsuka region (ie; before its “famous” 6 villages) is a certain 田中左京成益 Tanaka Sakyōnarimasu, a descendant of the original refugees. It seems he wasn’t an ordinary farmer, rather he cultivated medicinal herbs and dealt in folk remedies. His fame spread throughout the other villages that lay in the shadow of the ruins of Akatsuka Castle, making him a bit of a superstar. As his legend spread, his name 成益 Narimasu came to be written as 成増 Narimasu.
Why did this happen? Well, remember, the first character 成 nari means “becoming.”
But Let’s Look at that Second Kanji
|increase; to be better than before|
Both kanji have very positive meanings and are auspicious. However, the first one has a connotation of profit or some kind of personal gain. The second one, which is used in the place name, Narimasu, has a connotation of “better than before.” The first time I learned this word was with a language exchange partner my first year in Japan. We were chatting at a café and the table was wiggling. I grabbed some napkins and balanced the table. When I asked how do I say or ask if it’s better. She said 増し mashi. I think this makes sense when talking about medical treatment, not only balanced tables.
How Reliable is the Story?
I think it’s pretty reliable, but it’s missing a couple of important parts. If you’re studying kanji, it’s a really good story to know as a mnemonic. However, what I told you was the popular local tradition, and we’re lucky AF that the Tanaka clan kept meticulous records throughout the ages. Family documents state that Narimasu actually came to the area from 美濃国 Mino no Kuni Mino Province present day 岐阜県 Gifu-ken Gifu Prefecture sometime between 1504-1521. This location and these dates don’t correspond directly with the demise of the Takeda clan, but I can see dumb ass warlords of the Sengoku Period disrupting the lives of farmers all along the periphery. Why’d they’d go from one god forsaken spot to another is beyond me, but hey, I’m not a Sengoku Period farmer.
Anyhoo, besides the popular story about the villagers changing Narimasu’s kanji[xi], in 1914, when the 東武東上線 Tōbu Tōjō-sen Tōbu Tōjō Line opened 成増駅 Narimasu Eki Narimasu Station, they cited chronological Tanaka family documents that began with 成益 Narimasu and ended with 成増 Narimasu. They also pointed out his grave, which uses the latter kanji. For the train company, that was the nail in the coffin[xii].
Fast forward to 1972. After a few years of working in the US, a guy named 櫻田慧 Sakurada Satoshi Sakurada Satoshi opened a burger shop in Narimasu. If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve probably seen MOS Burger everywhere. In case you’re wondering, the MOS stands for Mountain, Ocean, Sky to reflect freshness. I’ve never met a Japanese person who knew this bit of weird trivia. But it goes deeper, yo. The real meaning is a reference to Satoshi’s original company: モスフードサービス MOS Food Service, itself an abbreviation of Merchandising Organizing System. Anyways, MOS Burger has become the second largest fast food burger chain in all of Japan.
I Like This Story
This story takes place in a bleak part of Japanese history when Eastern Japan is starting to rise again – and really take precedence over the future of the country (though no one knew it at the time). Literacy is on an uptick, so records are better. Stories start to become more believable, yet we still need to keep our BS Detectors cranked up to 11™.
[i] I actually debated in my mind… should I call this “Edo’s foreskin.” I’m such a fucking adult, dammit.
[ii] Long time readers will remember that 芋 imo potato is a rude substitution for 田舎 inaka countryside. One day, I’ll delve into that more, but that’s for another time.
[iii] Oh yes, Toto, we’re very much still in Tōkyō.
[iv] The two major highways connecting the imperial capital of Kyōto with the shōgun’s capital in Edo were the 東海道 Tōkaidō Eastern Sea Route and the 中仙道 Nakasendō Mountain Route – both descriptors of their unique paths to the same endpoints.
[v] Traditionally, the surrounding area was just called Akatsuka in general. This name was a reference to 赤塚城 Akatsuka-jō Akatsuka Castle. You can find some info here. I’d like to refer you to jcastle, but maybe I can convince him to check it out with me lol.
[vi] Apparently, there are about 10,000 documents registered with the 板橋区立郷土資料館 Itabashi Kuritsu Kyōdo Shiryōkan Itabashi Historical Museum.
[vii] This makes this home and family very unique in the history of Edo-Tōkyō. Although, I can’t claim to have made an effort to research and see them all, I can probably count on one and a half hands, the number of actual Edo Period residences I’ve visited in Tōkyō. I think that puts me in a small handful of foreigners who are Japanese you
[viii] Itabashi Ward Office said they have data on the occurrences of registered family names, but not in a block by block break down. So, take that claim with a grain of salt. And university students looking for thesis ideas, you can thank me later.
[ix] Spoiler alert. The Takeda lose. Everyone loses and the Tokugawa win and people stop killing each other in mindless pitched battles.
[x] Presumably 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni Kai Province roughly modern day 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture. However, the Takeda also exerted direct or at least nominal control over parts of 信濃国 Shinano no Kuni Shinano Province, 駿河国 Suruga no Kuni Suruga Province, 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province, 遠江国 Tōtōmi no Kuni Tōtōmi Province, and 飛騨国 Hida no Kuni Hida Province.
[xi] And wait, wasn’t his name Sakyōnarimasu – not Narimasu? What happened to the first 3 syllables of homeboy’s name?
[xii] See what I did there?