So the other day, I was looking through my Twitter and Instagram accounts. I got into some arguments on Twitter[i], then clicked “like” on some pretty pictures on Instagram[ii]. Soon I noticed a DM from a model I follow[iii] and thought, “well, that’s unusual.” Then I realized it was for an event in the west side of Tōkyō. My first six years in Japan were spent in the city’s west side, but for the last 10 years or so I’ve had very little reason to go there unless it was work related. When I looked at the details of the venue and what sort of hijinks were planned, I realized it was a party of an, um, shall we say “sexy” nature. In short, I don’t usually get invited to fetish parties, but when I do, I always check the etymology of the place name. I mean, ffs, knowledge is power. Right?
Two Topics for the Price of One
As you can tell by the title of the article, our main topic today is, of course, 高井戸 Takaido. However, Takaido is located in 東京都杉並区 Tōkyō-to Suginami-ku Suginami Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis. The name of Suginami Ward is pretty simple to explain, but in my humble opinion, Takaido has a much more interesting history, so I thought I’d try to tackle both[iv]. Those of you who support the site on Patreon or by other means are probably jumping for joy[v]. And I hope so, because I love you.
So, What does Takaido mean?
taka-, –daka; kō
i; sei, shō
to, –do; he
The first kanji 高 takai means “high.” The second two kanji make the word 井戸 ido, the standard word for “well.” One theory says that there used to be a fresh water well next to an unnamed temple or shrine located on the high ground. This would make this place name’s meaning タカ・イド taka ido high well. However, without any specific references to a shrine or temple or even a “high location,” this is a pretty bland origin story. I’d say at best this is a folk etymology[vi].
A more refined version of that theory also exists. It says that we should separate the kanji differently and read it as タカイ・ド takai do high “do.” This posits that the sound ド do is a contraction of 堂 dō a Buddhist hall[vii]. According to this theory, the name is a reference to the 高井家 Takai-ke Takai clan who served as priests at 神宮寺 Jingū-ji – popularly called 高井堂 Takai-dō – which leads a little credence to the previously mentioned hypothesis, except that Jingū-ji doesn’t exist[viii]. Actually, a temple of that name never existed in the area. You see, this is just a generic term used for temples and shrines before Shintō and Buddhism were officially separated in 1868[ix]. That said, another temple whose full name is 高井山本覚院 Takaisan Honkaku-in Mt. Takai Honkaku Temple is still very much alive and well, sitting pretty on 高井山 Takai-yama[x] Takai Hill[xi].
The name Takaido doesn’t appear in records until the 1530’s, when this part of Kantō was very rural and not very well connected with the enlightened imperial capital in the west[xii]. At this time, the place name is clearly written as Takaido not Takai-dō, but it appears people were already speculating about the origins of the village name. Furthermore, supposedly Honkaku-in was home to the graves of 15 generations of Takai family members who served as priests[xiii]. If this connection can be believed, the term Takai-dō is probably a reference to a special funerary hall where the family, its retainers, and others could express their devotion at regular memorial services to the ancestors of the Takai clan in the Buddhist tradition.
I know I said the first etymology about a well on the high ground next to an unnamed temple reeked of folk etymology. And yes, I said that, but now we have more information and we know that 15 generations of the Takai clan did exist in this rural area up till the 1500’s[xiv], which firmly puts the beginning of family activity in the region in the 1300’s, when Kantō was even more wild and more detached from the record keeping we associate with strong centers of government[xv].
Long time readers will remember that as families extended outward from the main imperial court noble clans, they took on the names of their local fiefs. A good regional example is 江戸氏 Edo-shi the Edo clan[xvi]. This wasn’t just an outward expression of their control over an area but reflected their legitimate desire to embrace or integrate into the local culture – or at least be perceived as doing so in the beginning. If we take ancient, pre-Sengoku Period adoption of place names by cadet warrior branches of elite imperial clans as a norm, the first theory I said was merely folk etymology starts to make a little more sense. At the heart of that etymology was the idea that a well existed at the top of hill (高い山 takai yama). If we go outside of the evidence, we could assume that a well existed on a place called Mt. Takai, because the people living there would have needed to get their water from somewhere.
If Takai is literally 高井 takai high well (without the extra steps), the story seems solved. The Takai clan took their name from an area called Takai (doesn’t matter if it was Takaido or Takai-yama). But that leaves us in the 1530’s when people first started asking questions about this. If you go even further back, we’re literally in prehistory – ie; pre-literate society that wasn’t recording its history in written form. I’ve looked for some 蝦夷 Emishi/アイヌ Ainu precursors, but I don’t think those people ventured this far inland until the coming of the 弥生 Yayoi culture which made living in these obscure, inhospitable lands viable without wet rice agriculture. So, if we have to use our friend Occam’s Razor, I think the folk etymology sums up the question in a sound bite, but the longer explanations give it some legitimacy it wouldn’t normally deserve.
So, Where Are We??
That’s a really good question. We don’t have a great deal of information on this part of the country until the 1600’s, but for most of its history it was happy to be known as 武蔵国多磨郡高井戸村 Mushashi no Kuni Tamagawa-gun Takaido Mura Takaido Village, Tamagawa District, Mushashi Province. It was getting along just fine as an agricultural nobody in the great Kantō Plain. Some major roads developed to facilitate local trade, but all of that would change when our good friend 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu took up residence in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle in 1598. From this time on, minor road networks were integrated into a vast and well-developed highway system. Soon, this area became home to 高井戸宿 Takaido-shuku Takaido Post Town, second post town on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway[xvii]. Today, it’s located in 東京都杉並区高井戸 Tōkyō-to Suginami-ku Takaidō Takaidō, Suginami Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis, but originally it was actually a loosely organized post town that combined the villages of 上高井戸村 Kami-Takaido Upper Takaido and 下高井戸村 Shimo-Takaido Lower Takaido[xviii].
- What does Edo mean?
- Go-kaidō – The 5 Highways of Old Japan
- What does Shinjuku mean?
- What does Shinbanba mean?
- What does Setagaya mean?
- Setagaya and its Freaky Horse Fetish
Characteristics of Takaido-shuku
Being a particularly nerdy guy, I’ve found myself fascinated by the post town systems[xix] of Edo Period Japan because of their superficial uniformity, but once you scrape beneath the surface, it becomes clear these well-regulated networks were fairly unique from the larger nature of the roads themselves to the amenities and services provided in individual villages. Takaido was located on a road mostly traveled by merchants and pilgrims. Because 大名 daimyō feudal lord traffic was scarce on this stretch of the Kōshū Kaidō, a simple 本陣 honjin suitable inn for a daimyō[xx] was maintained in Lower Takaido and there was never a need for a 脇本陣 waki-honjin sub-honjin[xxi]. Interestingly, if you were to walk into Edo, the next post town was at the intersection of the Kōshū Kaidō and 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō Ōme Highway, which was 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku, a post town that uncharacteristically lacked both a honjin and waki-honjin. It is assumed that this close to Edo[xxii], a daimyō would just proceed to his local palace. If he stopped off in Takaido, it would have only been for a meal, to get fresh day labor to help carrying heavy items, or to possibly do a little drinking and whoring, as one does[xxiii]. The 鎌倉街道 Kamakura Kaidō Kamakura Highway also passed through this area, so if accommodations weren’t available on that route, overflow could be diverted to Takaido. So, in short, Takaido was a minor post town in the grand scheme of things. That said, it had plenty of resources to accommodate local merchant traffic but was fairly prepared to accommodate daimyō and shōgunate officials when lodging wasn’t available at major rest stops.
What does Suginami mean?
OK, so I promised you a two for one and I’m fully committed to following through with that obligation. As we talked about earlier, Takaido is located in modern Suginami Ward. There was a reason I decided to smoosh these two place names into one. To be honest, I just wanted to write an article about Suginami, but it was so simple that I thought it would be better to skip that article. That said, here we are. We now know what Takaido means and Suginami takes a fraction of the brain power of that mess, so let’s dive into it. Awwwwww yeah.
Let’s Look at the Kanji
I’m not going to bury the lead on this one. The name quite literally means “rows of cedar trees.” And while this might seem really mundane and boring, it’s actually a great illustration of one of the most practical policies promulgated by the Tokugawa Shōgunate: that is, planting trees for shade. The government actually ordered local lords or village headmen to plant trees so travelers could walk without being full exposed to the miserable heat of the sun in the humid months[xxiv]. It’s goddamn brilliant!
From an administrative standpoint, this area was 天領 tenryō a territory directly controlled by the shōgunate in Edo. Various families oversaw the area, but one of the tasks required of them were the planting and maintenance of cedar trees between 成宗村 Narimune Mura Narimune Village and 田端村 Tabata Mura Tabata Village on the Kōshū Kaidō. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the ways the Tokugawa Shōgunate brilliantly made the highway network better was by ordering local lords or elites to plant cedar trees along the roads to provide shade for weary travelers walking such long distances. In this case, it seems like the burden fell hardest upon the 岡部氏 Okabe-shi Okabe clan who apparently did a bang-up job uniting the villages of Narimune and Tabata. This stretch of road was so famous among locals that they came to refer to it as 杉並 suginami the rows of cedar trees. This stretch of cedar trees was so noticeable that the entire unremarkable area came to be known as Suginami.
Herein lies a bit of mystery. What happened to the rows of cedar trees? Well, after the fall of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, history fans know that the next era was the 明治時代 Meiji Jidai Meiji Period, a time of “enlightened government” that modernized Japan and imported western approaches to government, science, and historical research. What few people acknowledge is that the Meiji government often tried to downright erase from popular memory the great achievements of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The introduction of steam locomotives eliminated the need for walkable highway networks but didn’t eliminate the need for many of the post towns along the way. Lucky post towns got train stations and modernized. It’s during this Meiji Period crisis of conscience that the cedar trees were lost[xxv]. Train stations were built in this area in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and as villages expanded into suburban centers and as rail networks built up the walkable pre-modern highways were overrun and most of the trees were felled in the name of modernization. So yeah. Bye bye, trees. Don’t let the concrete streets and western metal doors hit your ass on the way out.
In the Modern Era
In Meiji 22 (1889), all the villages surrounding the stretch of road known locally as the suginami were combined into a new administrative district of 東京市杉並村 Tōkyō-shi Suginami Mura Suginami Ward, Tōkyō City and before long came to be called 杉並町 Suginami Machi Suginami Town. After 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake, a lot of writers and scholars fled the burnt out 下町 shitamachi crowded low city of Edo-Tōkyō and made their way to the cheap, burgeoning suburbs and gentrified this rural no man’s land to lay the foundations of what would become to this day one of the last Bohemian party towns of the capital. Eventually, in 1932, this area was incorporated as 杉並区 Suginami-ku Suginami Ward and it looked nothing like its Edo Period past. In fact, if you visit Suginami Ward today, or Takaido, for that matter, you’ll see very little that harks back to its Edo Period agrarian roots. No offense to Takaido, but it’s one of those places you’d never go. That said, if there’s a reader who can prove me wrong, please do so!
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[i] As one does.
[ii] As one does.
[iii] Full disclosure, I pretty much only follow geisha, maiko, models, and AV girls on Instagram. If I follow you and you don’t fall into those categories, consider yourself special.
[iv] If you’re a huge fan of the etymology of Suginami, brace yourself for a Takaido-oriented article. Feel free to start your own ilovetheetymologyofsuginamisomuchicoulddie.com. I just checked. It’s available and cheap. Go for it!
[v] The rest of you freeloaders pillaging my site for Wikipedia edits and your cheesy “journalism” articles, you can all suck a bag of my supporters’ dicks. Yes, a whole bag.
[vi] But, just wait. I’m not discounting this theory altogether yet…
[vii] It can also refer to Shintō structures as well, as Japanese religion is generally syncretic.
[viii] There exists an apartment building in the area called 神宮寺 Jingūji Biru Jingū Bldg.
[ix] I’m not gonna rehash this discussion, but if you’re curious, here’s what Wiki says about it.
[x] The kanji for mountain or hill is 山 and can be read in native Japanese as yama, but in this case we need to use the Chinese reading san because… well, because Buddhism. See the next footnote.
[xi] Buddhist temples in Japan have a particular naming convention. They usually follow the pattern of 山号 sangō + 寺号 jigō or 山号 sangō + 院号 ingō. Without going into specifics, these roughly translate as “mountain name” + “temple name.” The difference between jigō and ingō is basically main temple and sub-temple (but, again, I’m simplifying things here). To illustrate, Takai-yama Honkaku-in Mt. Takai (mountain name) Honkaku Temple (temple name) indicates a kind of sub-temple or monastery.
[xii] Read: the records suck because literacy was pretty low in the boonies. Also, the “enlightened capital” of which I’m speaking is 京都 Kyōto, but you already knew that.}[xiii] Over the years, it seems some of these graves have been moved to a 無念塚 munen-zuka a mass grave where Buddhist priests pray for the souls of those whose family lines have gone extinct or have no family paying for the maintenance of their graves. Yes, Buddhism sounds all philosophical and shit, but at its most practical level, it’s a funerary racket.
[xiv] At least!!!
[xv] Remember, at this time the 室町幕府 Muromachi Bakufu Muromachi Shōgunate was in control and based in Kyōto. Also remember, that this was the lamest shōgunate ever. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact, jack.
[xvi] Oh, and do I have an article for you.
[xvii] The first post town on the way out of Edo was 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku. BTW, I think I have an article about that.
[xviii] The 上 kami– upper and 下 shimo– lower are references to the upstream and downstream geographic locations along the 玉川上水 Tamagawa Jōsui Tamagawa Aqueduct. Although Takaido-shuku generally refers to a single post town, the shōgunate assigned to official designations: Upper Takaido and Lower Takaido.
[xix] I say “systems” and not “system” because every time I visit a new post town, I realized how decentralized the network actually was.
[xx] Honjin were reserved for daimyō, but when vacant they prioritized shōgunate official and ambassadors from the imperial court.
[xxi] Waki-honjin prioritized daimyo but were available to any samurai or high-ranking commoner of means – this usually meant wealthy merchants.
[xxii] From this route, the official city limit was 四谷大木戸 Yotsuya Ōkido the Great Yotsuya Gate.
[xxiii] All that walking makes a brutha wanna get his dick sucked. Believe me. I walk a lot.
[xxiv] Remember, travelers of sufficient rank were dressed in 着物 kimono, not the best thing to wear during a hot and humid Japanese summer. Day laborers might just wear 褌 fundoshi which were essentially just underwear and so while that’s much more comfortable, they’d be exposed to awful amounts of direct sunshine and heat if there were no trees planted for shade.
[xxv] In fact, there isn’t a solid consensus about where the trees were. The Kōshū Kaidō didn’t link these villages, so it may have been a short-cut that locals used or long-distance travelers used to get to other villages.