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Yamanote Line: Ōsaki & Gotanda

In Japanese History on April 28, 2016 at 4:53 am

大崎
Ōsaki

00411.JPG

It was pointed out to me on Twitter that I unintentionally left you with a cliffhanger. We started this “Explore the Yamanote Line” in Shinagawa and I didn’t say where we were going next.

While the Yamanote Line consists of 2 true loops, one going one way and one going the opposite, for this series I’m going to follow the “official” JR East path which begins in 品川 Shinagawa and heads to 大崎 Ōsaki. So, yeah, that’s where we’re going.

post war osaki station.jpg

Ōsaki Station in the post war years. Here’s a pro tip when eyeballing old photos, besides judging by quality of the image, you can tell a photo is post war because the signage is written left to right, not right to left.

This was probably one of the more boring parts of the Yamanote circle, but it grew in importance since the 1980’s when the 埼京線 Saikyō-sen Saikyō Line began servicing the station. The Saikyō Line is a south-north train that goes from Ōsaki to 大宮 Ōmiya in 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture. Sure, Saitama isn’t very exciting, but the station had to be completely rebuilt. After all, you saw the previous picture, right? Can be handling a population boom in the city and host 2 busy train lines with a shack like that, son.

osaki south gate

Ōsaki Station’s South Exit today.

And even though it was home to Sony’s head office for many years[i], the station area underwent a total redevelopment in about 2006 when a new shopping center and business district opened there and the area is now thriving as a commercial district. Unfortunately, it’s starting to eat up the former 下町 shitamachi low city that flourished since the end of WWII. In the side streets and areas where the shinkansen tracks pass you can still feel the shitamachi vibe. Most of Ōsaki is residential.

Check Out Some Related Articles for Details:

soapland

Gotanda is where Shinagawa’s sex industry retreated to.

五反田
Gotanda

If I hadn’t worked for a year or two in Shinagawa, I’d probably have no reason to go to this place. The first time I had to go here was because they had a CitiBank. I needed to go there to access my old American bank account and at the time this was one of the few places to access international bank accounts 24 hours[ii]. What I discovered was a red light district that pretty much seemed to be an outgrowth of the Edo/Meiji Period bayside culture of Shinagawa – lots of drinking & whoring, lots of hostess clubs, and karaoke[iii]. One very noticeable difference was Chinese streetwalkers operating openly in flagrant disregard for the laws restricting the sex industry to established shops that “kept the streets clean.” This kind of unlicensed prostitution has been under a crackdown in the build up to the 2020 Olympics, I don’t expect you’ll see them for the next few years. I’ve noticed a big “clean up” in 鶯谷 Uguisudani and 歌舞伎町 Kabukichō, two other red light districts; I just haven’t visited Gotanda at night in about 10 years so I can’t say for certain. If anyone has, I’d like to hear what you know about the area.

hatakeyama.jpg

The Hatakeyama Memorial Museum is technically located in the affluent Shirokanedai neighborhood, but it is accessible from Gotanda Station… if you’re willing to walk the distance.

For the average tourist or history buff, there isn’t much reason to visit the area. If you’re up for a 10-15 minute walk from the station (or a 5 minute taxi ride), you can visit the 畠山記念館 Hatakeyama Kinenkan Hatakeyama Memorial Museum of Fine Art which specializes in tea ceremony utensils. The museum rests on the former site of a detached residence of the 島津家 Shimazu-ke Shimazu clan, the lords of 薩摩藩 Satsuma Han Satsuma Domain[iv]. If you’re interested in 茶道 sadō tea ceremony and 侘寂 wabi-sabi a traditional Japanese aesthetic and world view, you’ll probably love this museum! If not, you’ll probably be bored to tears looking tea cup after tea cup after tea cup.

tamales.jpg

Whoa. Wait. Are those tamales? (don’t get your hopes up too high, fellow tamale lovers)

Anything else I’m forgetting? Ummmm, oh yeah! There’s a theater that puts on Broadway musicals. I loathe musicals with every fiber of my being so I haven’t been here and can’t speak to their quality, but they’ve put on some major shows like Miss Saigon, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Mama Mia, and The Lion King. If you’re into that sort of thing, knock yourself out. Oh yeah, one more thing, the Brazilian embassy is located in the area so a Mexican friend and I came here to visit a small grocery store that specialized in South American ingredients. I don’t know if it’s still there – this was like 10 years ago – but we could buy corn masacorn masa, the key ingredient to making tamales. We looooove tamales and couldn’t find any places in Tōkyō to get them, so we decided to make them ourselves. Hopefully the shop is still there.

Even though these 2 station may seem a little boring on the surface, both areas are fascinating to me. Please read the “related articles” for more info and most importantly, please join me for the rest of the series. We’re gonna hit some major areas of Tōkyō, so it’ll be fun to have you all along for the ride (see what I did there?)

If you know the Yamanote Line well, where do you think we’re going next?

Check Out Some Related Articles for Details:

 

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[i] Sony City still remains in the area. I was actually in the old Sony HQ a couple of weeks ago and it was a lot of fun to hang out in their visitors’ section. I got to help test some new prototype technologies and learned that the company cafeteria’s food is shit – didn’t taste it myself, but that’s what I was told by the people who work there.
[ii] Except for 新生銀行 Shinsei Ginkō Shinsei Bank and 7-11 ATM’s, Japanese banks/ATM’s don’t accept foreign ATM cards. In the build up to the 2020 Olympics, this is expected to change but it hasn’t yet. That said, there’s a 7-11 on almost every corner and I dare say 90% of them show up immediately on Google Maps – something I’ve learned very quickly now that I’m giving personalized guided tours of Tōkyō.
[iii] This is a vibrant residential neighborhood; but both high rises and old shitamachi (low city) culture exist side by side.
[iv] Their suburban palace was located in 田町 Tamachi, our final destination when we complete the Yamanote Line Loop.

Shinagawa Station – Then and Now

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on October 11, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I haven’t updated in a while, so please accept my apologies. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment but there is an article in the works. That said, an idea came to me while on the shitter thinking about Edo Bay vs. Tōkyō Bay (as one does). So I thought I’d share a bunch of cool pictures of Shinagawa.

Sorry for the poor quality, I took the picture from a book. Left side is Edo Period. Right side is today.

Sorry for the poor quality, I took the picture from a book.
Left side is Edo Period. Right side is today.

In the Edo Period, the Shinagawa/Takanawa area was a collection of bustling seaside villages, but compared to castle town of Edo, it was quite rural. It was the literal edge of Edo. The Tōkaidō, a highway connecting the shogun’s capital in Edo with emperor’s capital in Kyōto, began in Nihonbashi and the first post town (rest town) was Shinagawa. The men leaving the capital could a decent meal, take care of any drinking and whoring they needed to get out of their system, and hob nob with samurai from various domains (which was arguably illegal). The men coming into the capital could get a decent meal, get their garments cleaned or pick up something new, take care of any drinking and whoring they needed to get out of their system, and any other final arrangements before entering the shōgun’s capital[i]. Shinagawa’s growth was a byproduct of sankin-kōtai, the Edo Period system of “alternate attendance.”

Arguably the most famous image of Shinagawa ever. If you walk the old Tokaido today, you can walk this same road but there is no water anywhere in sight today.

Arguably the most famous image of Shinagawa ever. If you walk the old Tokaido today, you can walk this same road but there is no water anywhere in sight today.

In the Meiji Era, the Tōkaidō was the obvious route for a new railroad. Connecting Edo→Tōkyō with Ōsaka and Kyōto was necessary and preserved the life of many villages by pulling them into the fold of Meiji Japan’s “modernization” efforts. The modern bay area was built up bit by bit since the Meiji Era, but the bulk of construction took place in the post WWII years. By the time of the Tōkyō Olympics in 1964 shit was out of control. Today, Edo’s shoreline is long gone. A few place names preserve its memory— a river channel here and there survive along the old coastline. But for better or worse, Tōkyō Bay is completely different animal than the former Edo Bay.

The former shoreline roughly follows the modern day JR tracks, ie; the Yamanote Line.

Early Meiji ukiyo-e of Shinagawa Station. I think this picture isn't accurate, but it shows a man-made wave breaker that you can see on the Edo Period map.

Early Meiji ukiyo-e of Shinagawa Station. I think this picture isn’t accurate, but it shows a man-made wave breaker that you can see on the Edo Period map.

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

This was Tokyo's beach at one time.  All I think is... tsunami disaster waiting to happen. So glad that never happened.

This was Tokyo’s beach at one time.
All I think is… tsunami disaster waiting to happen. So glad that never happened. Also notice the stone walls. Love Edo Period stone wall work!

b0190242_17214265

Shinagawa Station. On the sea. Note the breakwater out there. I wish this photo was in color.

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Steam locomotive pulling into Shinagawa Station. The coastline is beautiful. But those boats on the water. I’m way more intrigued by them!

Shinagawa Station in the late 19th century, with the Tokyo Bay shore visible immediately next to the station

This is a different scan of one of the photos from above. It’s amazing how much of a normal beach Edo Bay was. Today, most of Tokyo Bay is deep.

Shinagawa_Station_circa_1897

Maybe your last view of Edo Bay before it REALLY becomes Tokyo Bay.

Sh

Shinagawa today. The right side of the train tracks is the former bay

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[i] By the way, a walk from Nihonbashi to Shinagawa is not a day’s walk. Today you can make the walk in less than 2 hours – but that’s with paved roads. If you were moving in a large group, the pace of walking was formalized; you were a kind of regularly occurring parade, especially near the major villages and cities. My guess is the rate that the palanquin bearers could comfortable carry their passenger determined the pace. I’m guessing that at a leisurely pace from Nihonbashi to Shinagawa in old style shoes, on old style roads, it could easily take double that time… maybe triple. And surely, you’d be hungry.

What does Tachiaigawa mean?

In Japanese History on January 18, 2019 at 2:52 pm

立会川
Tachiaigawa
(Tachiai River; more at water meets water)

untitled-1

Tachiaigawa in the Edo Period and today

It’s been about a year since I updated the site. A whole fucking year [i]. Long time readers will remember the time I got rivered and almost abandoned the project altogether. Well, I started an article one year ago that, on the surface, seemed so simple, but actually turned into a nightmare. So, I’ve decided to take smaller bites and get things up and running again. I also apologize for keeping everyone waiting and hope I didn’t have anyone worrying. Also, a note about footnotes. WordPress changed the backend editor, so there is a chance the footnote links may not work.

So without further ado, let’s talk about a place in Tōkyō that foreigners don’t often go. Actually, a lot of Tōkyōites have never heard of this area either. It lies on 東海道 Tōkaidō the Eastern Sea Route[ii], just past the former post towns of 北品川宿 Kita Shinagawa-shuku North Shinagawa Post Town and 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa-shuku South Shinagawa Post Town, between the former fishing village of  鮫洲 Samezu and 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds. Of course, I’m talking about 立会川 Tachiaigawa[iii]. In the Edo Period, travelers leaving the capital for Kyōto would have probably lodged in either Shinagawa Post Town or 川崎宿 Kawasaki-shuku Kawasaki Post Town[iv], but they definitely would have passed this rural seaside area, called 大井村 Ōi Mura Ōi Village at the time.

Further Reading:

suzugamori at night (1 of 1)

Suzugamori Execution Grounds at night. Ooooooh, spooooooky.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


tatsu, tachi
stand, rise, set up

au, ai
meet, join

kawa, -gawa
river

There are several creative theories that try to explain the origin of this place name, yet none of them are particularly convincing to me. I have my own pet theory which is not creative and seems super-obvious, but before we talk about the explanations people have put forward over the years, I want to talk about the geography of the area.

Until the late 1950’s, the coastline of  江戸湾東京湾 Edo-wanTōkyō-wan Edo/Tōkyō Bay was more or less the same. The neighborhood called Tachiaigawa was outside of the old city limits on the Tōkaidō Highway and lay directly on the beach at a place where a distributary of the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River called the Tachiai-gawa which flowed into Edo-Tōkyō Bay[v]. Until 1903, when 立会川駅 Tachiaigawa Eki Tachiaigawa Station opened, the area was not called Tachiaigawa. In fact, this is just a local term. In the Edo Period, this area was just considered 荏原国大井村 Ebara no Kuni Ōi Mura Ōi Village, Ebara Province[vi]. Even today, Tachiaigawa is not an official postal code. These days, this is 南大井一丁目 Minami Ōi Itchōme 1st block of South Ōi. The only thing you have to remember is that the Tachiai River has flown and continues to flow through this area. That’s key to its etymology.

samurai battle

Theory 1: There was a Samurai Battle here

This theory posits that the name derives from the combination 太刀 tachi long sword 会 ai meeting 川 kawa river (ie; the river where long swords met). And sure, since the 弥生時代 Yayoi Jidai Yayoi Period (let’s say from 300 BCE) until the Edo Period (1603), the history of Japan was dominated by warfare, but without a specific battle connected to this location, it’s really hard to say if this is just oral tradition or false etymology. If 太刀会 tachiai meeting of long swords is a prevalent place name in other places in eastern Japan or the rest of the country[vii], I might buy into this theory. However, what would seal the deal for me is if someone could point to a specific battle at this location[viii].

waterfall

Theory 2: There were Beautiful Waterfalls

It’s well a known fact that Edo Period castle towns didn’t have street names, so when people described their villages or neighborhoods to each other they used landmarks, hill names, and bridge names. It’s fair to say that either the bridges over the Tachiai River or the river itself could become an unofficial reference to the area.

The story goes that the original village lie on a calm section of the river between two waterfalls and was originally called 滝間 takima between the waterfalls, so locals began to refer to that stretch of the river as 滝間川 Takima-gawa the river between the falls which over time changed into Tachiai-gawa. I find this to be pretty unconvincing because in all my years running this site, I don’t remember a /ki/ becoming a //. Not that it isn’t possible[ix], I just can’t recall an example of that sound change in Japanese off the top of my head. Also, given the constant waterworks projects over the centuries, it would be hard to prove this.

buddha suzugamori (1 of 1)

Buddha statue at Suzugamori Execution Grounds. Recently, I’ve been going here late at night because I like creepy ghost shit. Awwwww yeah.

Theory 3: The Suzugamori Theory

I’ve written about 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds in the past[x] and in that article, I mentioned 涙橋 Namida-bashi the Bridge of Tears. For reasons of ritual cleanliness, executions were generally carried out beyond the city limits, so Suzugamori was a great place for that. People coming in and out of Edo would have seen the shōgunate’s ultimate authority, that over life and death. Also, it’s well known that 浜川橋 Hamagawa-bashi Hamagawa Bridge is generally known by locals as Namida-bashi. This was the last chance for condemned criminals to say their final farewells to their families[xi]. If this is the case, 立会 tachiai has a literal meaning of “standing and meeting.” Family and friends stood and watched their loved ones for the last time here.

namidabashi at night (1 of 1)

Namidabashi at night. Everyone’s coming home after a hard day of work at Suzugamori…

There is a corollary theory that pertains to the specifics of death sentences in the Edo Period. Condemned criminals would have been paraded through the streets as an example to all and then executed at one of the Three Great Execution Grounds of Edo. This related theory says that this river was where 御立会 o-tachiai government “involvement” happened. In short, shōgunate officials would arrive at Suzugamori to confirm the details of the condemned person’s case and observe (another meaning of the word o-tachiai) the execution. That means Tachiaigawa would mean “the place on the river where the shōgunate observed and confirmed executions.”

Because there are two theories presented, this seems to be a solid case for this etymology – on the surface. But guess who has two thumbs, writes JapanThis!, and thinks this is bullshit?

two thumbs

The Edo Period wasn’t that long ago. In fact, last year (2018) was the 150th anniversary of 大政奉還 Taisei Hōkan the shōgunate handing political authority over to the imperial court or 明治維新 Meiji Ishin the Meiji Coup (depending on which side you take). But think about it. Who the fuck would want to brag about living in a neighborhood famous for thousands of executions? To this very day, the former execution grounds of Suzugamori and Kozukappara are some of the least desirable places for real estate, with rent being cheap, and zero developers swooping in to build swanky high-rise apartments and shopping centers[xii]. In fact, the only reason people even live in areas like Tachiaigawa is because of necessity caused by urban sprawl in the post-war years. It’s the main reason the area still feels like the post-war years. Very little has changed since the 1960’s and 70’s! I doubt the execution thing would be a source of pride for the local fishermen and seaweed farmers who operated in this area from before the Edo Period until the 1950’s. Even the “Bridge of Tears” is a nickname. The official name is still “Seaside River Bridge” referring to the fact that it was literally a bridge crossing a river that emptied into the sea. Way more kosher than all that dark execution shit.

ryoma warehouse (1 of 1)

Because Tosa Domain had a huge residence here, you’ll find references to Sakamoto Ryōma and the Black Ships everywhere. For example, on this warehouse or whatever it is.

Theory 4: Where Water Meets Water

In doing this research, I remembered that time I got rivered. There were a few times I came across the kanji stand and meet. We see this in place names like 立川 Tachikawa Tachikawa and words like 合流 gōryū confluence. Without ever reviewing my previous research, it just seemed natural that a place where a river flowed into the sea would be called Tachiai-gawa. Why invoke all this stuff about samurai battles and executions?

To quote from my article on the Meguro River:

The Shinagawa clan was a branch of the main 大井氏 Ōi-shi Ōi clan. In order to irrigate their fief, the Ōi clan dabbled in a little river manipulation. Somewhere near the place called 立会川 Tachiaigawa (the modern kanji mean something like “the place where rivers stand together/come together”), the Ōi separated a section of the river 断ち合い川 tachiai kawa rivers that cut off from each other.  This happened in the Kamakura Period. One of the branches passed by 瀧泉寺 Ryūsen-ji Ryūsen Temple in Shimo-Meguro (see my article on Meguro).

I can’t find any maps from the Kamakura Period for this area[xiii], but Edo Period maps are readily available both online and in my private collection. Although it’s underground today, you can still trace a split in the river near Tachiaigawa Station that once flowed into the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki suburban palace of 土佐藩 Tosa Han Tosa Domain. I’m assuming this is a remnant of the Kamakura Period waterworks. And when I say you can trace the path, I mean you can literally walk the path of the river today. Like right now. I dare you to do it, you lazy fuck.

All of those other fantastic theories are great stories, but if I were a betting man, I’d venture to say the etymology of Tachiaigawa is a mix of “rivers that split off from each other” and “where the river meets the sea.” In a bayside region full of rivers, Occam’s Razor comes down hard in favor of this theory. It’s clean and simple, looks like other derivations we’ve seen before, yet doesn’t require unattested battles, unconfirmed waterfalls and irregular diachronic sound changes, or a bizarre glorification of public executions for 250 some odd years and the shōgunate’s protocol in such matters. It’s just where water meets water. Pretty sure that’s it.

Further Reading:

hamakawa daiba (1 of 1).jpg

Cannon commemorating the Hamakawa Battery. Yup, that’s right. There’s a big ol’ cannon in the middle of a playground for children. Sounds more American than Japanese…

Sakamoto Ryōma

If you get off the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line at Tachiaigawa Station, you’ll find yourself in a very 下町 shitamachi low city neighborhood with a distinct post-war looking 商店街 shōtengai shopping street replete with local bars, yaki-tori joints, and a big old statue of 坂本龍馬 Sakamoto Ryōma. I’m not gonna explain who he was, you can read about him here. But across the street from the station is a school and residential area that sit on the suburban palace of his native domain, 土佐藩 Tosa-han Tosa Domain – modern 高知県 Kōchi-ken Kōchi Prefecture. He most definitely spent some time walking on the Tōkaidō while serving guard duty at the nearby by 浜川砲台 Hamagawa Hōdai Fort Hamagawa in his twenties[xiv]. In Tachiaigawa, you can find a cheap knock off of a famous statue in Kōchi, which itself is a cheap knock off of the iconic photograph of Ryōma himself taken at the 上野撮影局 Ueno Satsueikyoku Ueno Photography Studio in Nagasaki some time in 1867[xv]. At any rate, nearby is a placard depicting the four 黒船 Kurofune Black Ships commanded by Commodore Perry that arrived in Edo Bay in 1853: the Susquehanna, Mississippi, Saratoga, and Plymouth[xvi].

Further Reading:

ryoma tachiaigawa (1 of 1)

Ryōma voguing Bakumatsu style

tachiaigawa at night (1 of 1)

After a day of walking the old Tōkaidō, I love grabbing dinner Shōwa-style in Tachiaigawa.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō With Me Japan This Guided Tours
(And yes, I’ll take you through Shinagawa post town and to Tachiaigawa, or even the execution grounds. It’s not for tourists, it’s for history nerds!)

 


[i] Or, a hole fucking year, if you’re on #TeamIenari.
[ii] One of the 5 Great Highways. The 東海道 Tōkaidō Eastern Sea Route and 中仙道  Nakasendō Mountain Pass Route connected the shōgun’s capital of 江戸 Edo Edo (modern day Tōkyō) with the imperial capital 京 Kyō (modern day Kyōto).
[iii] Of course I am lol
[iv] I’ve actually walked from 日本橋 Nihonbashi, the easternmost starting point on the Tōkaidō (the name literally means “the bridge to Japan”), to the modern city of Kawasaki. Without visiting too many temples and shrines and walking at a brisk pace, I made the journey in a day. I think most Edo Period people would easily spend a full day and night in Shinagawa before beginning the tedious walk to Kawasaki. Shinagawa offered delicious seafood, plenty of drinking and whoring, and a non-stop variety of amazing views of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. Some ghoulishly curious types probably checked out the execution grounds, cuz, yeah. Humans.
[v] At various points in history and depending on the stretch of river in question, this may have been referred to as the Shinagawa River.
[vi] It was directly controlled by the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate, but it wasn’t part of Edo proper. The term 国 kuni province was basically a traditional term – as it is today – to refer to old Heian Period territories. Today, it’s nostalgic, but in the Edo Period, province names were retained for their “classical appeal” and used in court titles.
[vii] It’s not.
[viii] I can’t find anything that satisfies these criteria.
[ix] This exact sound change is quite well known and regular in Latin languages – Italian and French in particular. Latin centum /kentum/ became Italian cento /tʃento/ (one hundred) and Latin cattus /cattus/ became French chat /ʃat/ (cat).
[x] Here’s my article on Suzugamori.
[xi] If their families even bothered to show up.
[xii] The exception being 小伝馬町 Kodenmachō, which is near 日本橋 Nihonbashi whose thriving business district overshadows the grim atmosphere of the neighborhoods around Suzugamori and Kozukappara. Kozukappara was so awful that the place name doesn’t exist outside of historical landmarks. Suzugamori’s name is still attached to a park and an elementary school.
[xiii] There might not be any, but maybe I’ll visit the 品川歴史館 Shinagawa Rekishikan Shinagawa History Museum again to see if they can help.
[xiv] This is a 30-40 minute walk today. I suspect in the Edo Period it would have taken about an hour.
[xv] If I remember correctly, the statue used to stand in front of a convenience store or something as a kinda gimmick. But since the renewal of the old Tōkaidō beginning in 2008 or so, they’ve played up Ryōma’s association with the area much more and put the (I’m assuming) plastic statue on a large concrete pedestal and put him in a park next to the train station.
[xvi] Not that these ships ever actually made it to Edo. They did their business in Uraga Bay which is actually miles from Edo-Tōkyō.

Where is Goten’yama today?

In Japanese History on March 29, 2017 at 5:55 am

御殿山
Goten’yama
(palace hill)

Hiroshige-Famous_Places_In_The_Eastern_Capital-Twilight_Cherries_At_Gotenyama-01-05-21-2007-8594-x2000

Today, we’re breaking from the usual etymology and location breakdown because I’ve already covered this area. I’m sticking to the recent theme of cherry blossoms, but I’d like to try something a little different. Bear with me. But I think you’re all going to like this. There’s an accompanying video at the bottom in which I’ll walk you around all these places.

御殿山 Goten’yama was one of the most popular 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing spots in 江戸 Edo. It was a bluff in 品川 Shinagawa that sat on the coast of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. It was outside of the city limits of the shōgun’s capital, located in 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni, Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province near the 二里塚 niri-zuka, a milestone indicating this area was roughly 4.88 miles (7.854 km) from 日本橋 Nihonbashi on the 東海道 Tōkaidō, the highway connecting the shōgunal capital of Edo with the imperial capital of 京都 Kyōto. It was one of the most celebrated spots for hanami, and might still be today, had the shōgunate not destroyed the mountain in 1853 to dump the dirt into the bay for the urgent construction of the 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries.

sakura

I’ve written about Goten’yama, the Shinagawa Daiba, and to a certain degree Shinagawa. But, I decided to expand on the topic a little bit. I thought it might be nice to compare the area then and now because it’s changed so much – and I’m not just talking about them literally tearing down the mountain. If we transported an Edoite to our time, they’d recognize the layout of the streets, but would be shocked by the destruction of the coastline by landfill and development. They might also find it funny what bits and pieces still exist today and how they’ve been incorporated into our modern lives.

Long time readers should be familiar with most of these topics, but for noobs or anyone wanting to brush up, it’s highly recommended you check out these past articles:

IMG_5336

Fishing boats in Shinagawa. Actually, you can charter these and they’ll take you fishing in Tōkyō Bay.

Let’s Look at Goten’yama

Hopefully the video walk-through of Goten’yama and its immediate environs will give you an idea of what the place looks like and feels like on the street level. It’s one thing to look at a flat 2D map, it’s another to actually explore the space first hand – everything feels different. Hopefully the video will give you a better sense of this small, but important section of 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku Shinagawa Post Town, nicknamed 江戸の玄関 Edo no Genkan Edo’s Doorstep[i].

And so, I present you with a map of Shinagawa and Goten’yama in the late Edo Period, but before the government made any major changes to the area in the 幕末 Bakumatsu last days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate (1853-1868).

before 1853

Familiarize yourself with a few of these place names and the geography. We’re about to go deep.

Fishermen, Travelers, Merchants, Sightseers, Oiran, and Samurai

Being a safe location on a bay with calm waters rich with seafood and so busy with land based travelers coming and going every day, Shinagawa turned into a town focused on customer service. Travelers needed lodging and places to eat. They needed places to bathe and purchase goods. Fresh fish and a view of the greatest seaside view an Edo Period person could possibly see were more than enough to make Shinagawa an attractive place to spend not only one, but two days. One of the main attractions was prostitution, big business in any post town[ii]. The difference was, Shinagawa offered access to Goten’yama which gave you access to a commanding, aerial view of the bay. During the day, you could see fishing boats on the water, in the evening, you could see pleasure boats – and just imagine the hijinks that went down on those private voyages[iii].

dozo sagami

Dozō Sagami, a kura-zukuri (fireproof warehouse style) high end brothel in Shinagawa-shuku which featured first class courtesans – including oiran, the highest ranking girls to play with.

Many of the 茶屋 chaya teahouses (read: brothels) here became quite famous. One place in particular, the 土蔵相模 Dozō Sagami, remained in operation up until the ban on prostitution by the American Occupation. After that, it operated as a hotel well into the 1950’s. Dozō Sagami had a reputation as a quite high class brothel and was popular among the samurai class. Many anti-shōgunate terrorists frequented this teahouse during the Bakumatsu. The most infamous of these anti-government agitators was a group 17 samurai from 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain and one from 薩摩藩 Satsuma Han Satsuma Domain who held an all-day party here eating, drinking, and banging “tea girls” as if it was their last day on earth.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

A room called the Midōshi no Ma inside Dozō Sagami

And, indeed, it was their last day on earth. The next day, resolved to achieve their goal or die trying, they ambushed the shōgunal regent 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke as he and his entourage left his 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence to attend a meeting next door in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. This brazen assassination of the highest ranking shōgunate official in broad daylight was the first of many instances of terrorism that would plague the shōgunate as well as foreign diplomats and merchants in what would become the end of the Pax Tokugawa.

Shinagawa-shuku wasn’t just blessed by the calm waters of Edo Bay, the old post town was protected by a promontory, originally a sandbar created by the estuary of the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River that flowed into the bay. That finger-shaped jetty protected the mainland from the occasional irregular high tide or, presumably, tsunami[iv]. Whether it actually prevented catastrophes or not, I don’t know. However, this natural land mass was built up by the shōgunate and came to be known as 洲崎 Susaki which literally means “sandbar promontory,” and it was a permanent fixture of Shinagawa-shuku and you can clearly see it in many famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e wood block prints. Families of certain fishermen here produced 御菜肴 o-saisakana snacks made from seafood and veggies that were presented to Edo Castle in exchange for their piscatory monopoly in the area.

whale.jpg

Not in Shinagawa, but this scene of a beached whale in a harbor gives you a good idea of how impressive the scene we’re about to talk about must have been to the average person on the street. The view from up on a hill is strikingly similar to how the view would have been from Goten’yama.

In 1798, during the reign of 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari[v], a whale washed ashore onto this promontory. This seems to have been a pretty unusual occurrence[vi], and it attracted a lot of local attention. In an age without TV, the word on the street finally made it to Edo Castle itself. Everyone one wanted to come see this huge sea creature that died on the banks of Susaki. It was such a big deal that the shōgun himself even came down to see what was up with this big ass dead fish on his doorstep[vii]. To this day, Shinagawa uses whales in various places as a decorative theme.

IMG_5322.jpg

Kagata Shrine (former Susaki Benten/Benzaiten) on the old Susaki promontory – the cherry blossoms buds are ready to bloom.

A notable feature of the promontory was 洲崎弁天 Susaki Benten a temple dedicated to 弁才天 Benzaiten, the only female deity in the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck. After the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei Edict Separating Shintō and Buddhism in 1868, the temple chose to retain its Shintō attributes and came to be known as 利田神社 Kagata Jinja Kagata Shrine, the name it retains to this day[viii].

kujira zuka.jpg

Kujira-zuka, the memorial stone of the beached whale.

On the grounds of the shrine, you can find a monument called the 鯨塚 Kujira-zuka Whale Mound. This was a grave built in memory of the beached whale that died on Susaki. It’s an interesting hold over of premodern syncretic religion in Japan. While Shintō tends to distance itself from the spiritual defilement of death, Buddhism embraces it as part of the cycle of life[ix]. However, Shintō is strongly tied to locations with unique spiritual attributes. Susaki Benzaiten was not constrained by any distinction between the religions (they were blended) and so it could justifiably perform funerary rites for the whale and honor it as a 神 kami Shintō deity local to the area all in one fell swoop[x].

Further Reading:

 

gotenyama hanami

This ukiyo-e is amazing because it is composed at the top of Goten’yama, but you can clearly see the commoner post town of Shinagawa-shuku below. The people on the mountain top are clearly elites. Oh, and look to the right side, you can see the Susaki promontory. You can also see that hanami habits haven’t changed much. People threw down towels so they didn’t have to sit on the ground, something very true in Japan today.

oiran.jpg

Oiran such as this provided upscale sexxxy time at the Dozō Sagami.

Let’s Walk up the Hill to Goten’yama

Sure, people were coming and going through Shinagawa all the time. Some were leaving the capital, some were coming to the capital. They came by land and they came by road. As I mentioned earlier, some were already in town and just came for drinking and whoring because… who doesn’t enjoy banging courtesans on the balcony of a traditional Japanese room with a decanter of sake in one hand while the sun sets over the bay with all those fishing boats out there on the water and no one’s the wiser[xi]?

IMG_5352

But it wasn’t all dead whales and prostitutes. The real highlight of the year, was the cherry blossom season. Goten’yama was THE hanami spot par excellence for the discerning Edoite[xii]. This small mountain was located a hop, skip, and a jump away from the shoreline and was covered in cherry blossoms. The commoners who lived in the shitty towns below could make a quick trek up to the top of the mountain in minutes. The rich samurai and daimyō who lived at the top could do the same. And if their timing was right, travelers coming and going could spend an hour or so enjoying the view under the cherry trees[xiii]. The ease of coming here on foot in a kimono from the heart of the city[xiv] can’t be understated[xv].

hiroshige gotenyama hanami-2.jpg

The top of the hill on the bayside was open to the public like a modern park. Going slightly further inland, it was home to massive estates owned by the daimyō and smaller estates owned by samurai closely affiliated with the Tokugawa Shōgunate. To this day, you can still see a huge difference between Shinagawa the post town and Shinagawa in modern Goten’yama.

hiroshige shinagawa susaki

Shinagawa-shuku, Toriumi Bridge, and Susaki Benzaiten.

Anyhoo, hanami-goers often broke up their celebrations under the floating pink petals to venture down the hill to visit the plethora of shops in Shinagawa to eat or buy goods to bring back up to the top of the mountain[xvi]. Couples often descended the mountain to cross 鳥海橋 Toriumibashi Toriumi Bridge to visit Susaki Benten (Kagata Shrine), in flagrant disregard of the unwritten taboo against couples visiting shrines dedicated to Benzaiten[xvii].

gotenyamashitadaiba2010-2

Defending the Bay from the Foreign Threat

So, as we all know, in 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Edo Bay with his so-called Black Ships. He told the shōgunate to open the country or be opened by force. He then left, promising to come back in one year to seal the deal. The second he had left the bay, the government freaked out. One faction, led by the regent Ii Naosuke recognized the Americans’ superior military technology and wisely opted to open the country to foreigners in order to purchase modern weaponry and bring the country to equal footing with the westerners[xviii]. In the meantime, they decided, it was in the shōgunate’s best interest to build a string of 11 batteries across the bay to take out any warship that might attempt to invade Edo by sea.

daiba2013wk2.jpg

Only 7 batteries were built in the end, the so-called 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries. Most of the landfill used to create these manmade islands had to come from somewhere. The shōgunate identified two large, uninhabited sources of dirt on the coast: Goten’yama and Yatsuyama[xix]. Goten’yama famously suffered the worst of the devastation. The government began quarrying the famous hanami spot tirelessly over the ensuing months[xx] .

IMG_2072

Typical Edo Period stone walls along the coast.

The Tokugawa Shōgunate planned to build 11 cannon batteries across the bay, but given they had only 12 months and limited resources to scramble and execute this plan – and let’s not forget, Perry actually returned a bit earlier than promised – they were only able to constructed seven manmade islands in the bay. The term Shinagawa Batteries usually refers to this entire project, but the common understanding is that it means the seven forts that were actually constructed and fortified. An eighth coastal battery which was an extension of the Susaki Promontory is generally not included in the mix. We’ll look at this unsung daiba in a minute.

cut away

This ukiyo-e by Hiroshige clearly shows the devastation of the quarrying. The ground below is flat, and now there are cliffs of bare rock. There are still a few cherry blossoms up top, though.

The areas most heavily quarried were 北品川3丁目 Kita Shinagawa Sanchōme 3rd Block of North Shinagawa and 北品川4丁目 Kita Shinagawa Yonchōme 4th Block of North Shinagawa[xxi]. The 3rd block was completely gutted – so much so that a flat-as-flat-can-be parking lot shows up in Google Maps as the remains of the mining operation. The 4th block was well-gutted, but stood at the top of the road from which they brought dirt down to the bay – a road that is today called 御殿山通 Goten’yama Dōri Goten’yama Street.

At the bottom of Goten’yama, a place called quite literally 御殿山下 Goten’yama-shita the bottom of Goten’yama, the shōgunate built an 8th coastal battery. The name, unexpectedly, was 御殿山下台場 Goten’yama-shita Daiba Battery at the Bottom of Goten’yama. Presumably, this took minimal work to construct, since they were just dragging down wheelbarrows of dirt from Goten’yama to the Susaki Promontory and dumping it into the bay. They built a pretty bad ass fort for themselves there, and to this day you can still actually walk the shape of the original landfill. Spoilers – it’s an elementary school today.

misaki1

After the construction of the Goten’yama-shita Daiba on the coast of the Susaki promontory. The red line is the Tōkaidō.

misaki2

Today, you can still kinda see the shape of the Daiba, but the bay has been completely filled in except for a few channels and inlets. The red line, again, is the Old Tōkaidō.

The Death of Goten’yama

Despite its easternmost section completely demolished, and a huge section of the neighboring western section quarried beyond repair, Goten’yama could have recovered as a prime hanami spot in Edo-Tōkyō. It really could have. After all, except for the harbor and post town, the area was still quite rustic in those days.

gotenyama train

However, in 1872, the government decided to replace the old Tōkaidō with a new train line[xxii]. The new train line roughly followed the path of the old highway, and required gutting huge areas of land for train tracks. The dividing line for the 3rd and 4th blocks of Kita Shinagawa was created by the train tracks that pass through the area. Since the shōgunate had done all the heavy lifting by quarrying Goten’yama in the 1850’s, this seemed like the easiest place to lay tracks connecting 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station with 川崎駅 Kawasaki Eki Kawasaki Station. To this day, the difference in elevation between the bottom of Goten’yama on one side of the tracks and the top on the other is striking. Also, you can get a feel for the differences between the 山手 yamanote high city and 下町 shitamachi low city. Down below, all the lots are tiny, cramped, and located directly on the noisy, old Tōkaidō – and they’re mostly shops. Up top, the lots are spacious, walled off, and quiet – and mostly residential.

Further Reading:

IMG_5335

Houses on what was a later extension of the Susaki Promontory.

Obscure Today, but Shinagawa is a Key Understanding Edo-Tōkyō

Shinagawa is waaaaay more than just the Goten’yama area. We could talk about this whole stretch of the old Tōkaidō for hours. In the video, I said I could spend all day here just exploring – and that’s really true. I could spend a lifetime exploring the area. And I do. I spend an inordinate amount of time in Shinagawa and the surrounding areas because… the stories to be discovered and retold never end. Ueno is the same way. All of Edo Period history converges on these areas.

So, there’s the video. I explored the whole area and I hope you this article gave you a better context for what I was talking about when I’ve written about Shinagawa, Goten’yama, and the old Tōkaidō highway.

sakura_report00

As usual, I have no way to conclude this article. We’ve looked at a huge swath of history and geography. So, go back and look at the pictures and maps. There’s no narrative this time. Look at what Edo was and what Edo became and then what Tōkyō did with that.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

[i] Translating Edo no Genkan is tough. In English, maybe “the Entrance to Edo” is the most natural and easily understood. But that would 江戸の入口 Edo no Iriguchi. Everything has an iriguchi (entrance) – buses, highways, bathrooms, etc. A genkan is literally “the entrance to a Japanese home where you take off your shoes, put away your umbrellas, and then literally step up into the owner’s private living area which is raised up above the filthy ground level.” When you arrived in Shinagawa, you weren’t in the shōgun’s capital yet. You were on the periphery, but you were about to enter the greatest city in the realm – which was, quite literally, the property of the shogun. Travelers into Edo, would have thrown out old shoes and bought new ones in Shinagawa, hoping to make a good impression in the cultural epicenter of Japan (outgoing travelers also would have bought shoes here for their long treks as well). Getting a hot bath in Shinagawa was another way of preparing yourself before “stepping up into the shōgun’s home.” Even though, you may still have a few miles to go, the more presentable you were, the better.
[ii] In fact, Shinagawa was so synonymous with prostitution, that Edoites had a nickname for it. Shinagawa was the みなみ minami south, while they reserved the きた kita north for the upscale licensed pleasure quarters, 吉原 Yoshiwara. Keep in mind, in this era, it was not just normal for a man of rank or means to have concubines, it was expected. Furthermore, frequenting teahouses and being a patron of 舞子 maiko geisha apprentices and 芸者 geisha social performance artists was just a normal “guys’ night out.”
[iii] Hint: drinking & whoring
[iv] To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a tsunami in Edo/Tōkyō Bay – I’ve heard this is attributed to the shape and size of the bay.
[v] Here’s my article on Ienari’s grave.
[vi] To my understanding, whales are pretty intelligent and tend to avoid bays where they are easy targets because of their size. They do much better in the oceans which, before modern naval technology, were off limits to humans. Beached whales are generally wounded, sick, or already dead, which means the current brought them to the coast. Nevertheless, this seems to have been a unique case in Edo.
[vii] Yes, I know whales aren’t fish (Edo Period didn’t know that), so for them, this was like seeing a sea monster prostate itself before the shōgunate. Quite politely, I might add. The whale didn’t die in Edo, it beached itself well outside of the city, with no spiritual defilement of the Tokugawa government.
[viii] Interestingly, the name has nothing to do with Shintō. This area of Susaki was known as 猟師町 Ryōshi Machi Ryōshi Town, a fishing village at the time. The village headmen of Ryōshi Machi used an ancestral name 利田吉左衛門 Kagata Kichizaemon which was passed down through the generations. While Susaki Benzaiten was the official name of the shrine (and the name that appears in texts and maps), it seems like the locals referred to it as Kagata Shrine – a hint that the village headmen doubled as priests of the shrine.
[ix] As such, Buddhism in Japan essentially runs a funerary racket.
[x] Someday I’m gonna have to tackle syncretic religion in Japan, but that’s a huge undertaking… and kinda boring to me.
[xi] Sorry, if that was oddly specific, but c’mon. You know everybody was doing it, right?
[xii] Or any samurai serving time in the city on sankin-kōtai duty – who generally seem to have been in awe of the metropolis and all it had to offer compared to their shitty backwater domains.
[xiii] I say an hour or so because travelers were generally expected to keep a certain pace as they traversed certain highways. Who knows? Maybe some people spent all day and did the Edo Period equivalent of “calling in sick.”
[xiv] Nihonbashi.
[xv] OK, somebody could understate it… but that would be a mistake lol. The walk from Nihonbashi, the center of Edo, to Shinagawa was probably the most well maintained section of road in the entire country.
[xvi] I’m sure a few went down to get their dicks sucked under the pretense of getting food for everyone, as one does.
[xvii] As mentioned earlier, Benzaiten is the only female deity among the 7 Gods of Good Luck. It’s said that she gets jealous when male-female couples approach her enshrinement and will curse the couple to break up. I think same sex couples are fine because apparently Benzaiten is straight according to this logic lol. Actually, today, this aspect of Benzaiten is relatively unknown by most people. However, the tradition persists in 井の頭公園 Inokashira Kōen Inokashira Park in 吉祥寺 Kichijōji. They say that couples who visit shrine there will break up. The story of the curse has actually become separated from the shrine in most accounts which say any couple who rents a boat to go out on the water will break up.
[xviii] Another faction, such as those samurai from Mito and Satsuma who assassinated Ii Naosuke, stupidly doubled down on the status quō, insisting that Japan stay closed and reject anything and everything foreign to the point of standing on the beach shaking their samurai swords at steamships hurling cannon balls at them, if need be.
[xix] The kanji for Yatsuyama is 八ッ山 and can be found in the modern place names of 八ッ山橋 Yatsuyamabashi Yatsuyama Bridge and 八ッ山通り Yatsuyama Dōri Yatsuyama Street, the road that now covers the inlet that once lay between Shinagawa and the Susaki Promontory.
[xx] Job creation!
[xxi] I have misidentified both areas as Goten’yama 3-chōme and Goten’yama 4-chōme in my video. I apologize for that and totally own up to it.
[xxii] This would become the 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line and eventually even the 東海道新幹線 Tōkaidō Shinkansen, the high speed train connecting Tōkyō with Kyōto.

Yamanote Line: Ōtsuka, Sugamo, Komagome, Tabata

In Japanese History on June 5, 2016 at 7:39 am

大塚
Ōtsuka

Old Otsuka Station.jpg

Ōtsuka Station prior to the firebombing of Tōkyō

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten off the Yamanote Line at Ōtsuka Station. Sure, I’ve seen it on maps and I’ve definitely passed the station many times[i]. The area is primarily residential, but is also home to a variety of restaurants, cafés, and izakaya[ii]. If the hustle and bustle of Ikebukuro or Shinjuku isn’t to your liking, you can probably find something to eat near this station.

The place name literally means “the big mound.” The word for mound is usually associated with graves or memorial monuments. In this case, it’s said that there was a 古墳 kofun ancient burial mound[iii] located in the area[iv]. Long time readers will know that in the Heian Period and Kamakura Period, local Kantō strongmen adopted the place names of their territories as family names to distinguish their particular branches of the old western noble families. The story goes that a certain provincial warlord of 豊嶋郡小石川村 Toshima-gun Koishikawa Mura Koishikawa Village, Toshima District adopted the name Ōtsuka. It’s not clear where they were based and the family’s pedigree and provenance is obscure[v], but at any rate, the name Ōtsuka stuck and the name 大塚村 Ōtsuka Mura Ōtsuka Village eventually appeared on a map in 1629[vi].

 

OTSUKA KOFUN

If there was a kofun at Ōtsuka it may be impossible to discover because many eastern kofun were so small compared to their western counterparts.

The concept of a “great mound” was not limited to this area. In fact, Ōtsuka is a very common place name all around Japan. There’s even a Paleolithic trash dump[vii] in Ibaraki Prefecture that bears the name Ōtsuka and a well-known kofun in Tōkyō’s Setagaya Ward that also bears the name. Because of this commonality, there are many families called Ōtsuka. In fact, it’s the 82nd most common name in Japan.

Fans of J-Pop may be familiar with the singer, 大塚愛 Ōtsuka Ai[viii]. She got a little negative attention when she released her 2004 album, Love Jam, which featured strawberry jelly splattered across her face and hair on the album cover. The album artwork got a lot of attention after a huge billboard was put up in Shibuya in the direction of 道玄坂 Dōgenzaka[ix], a hill that leads to Shibuya’s red light (famous for, yes, drinking & whoring, love hotels, and swinger bars). Passersby instantly connected the splattered “love jam” imagery with a genre of porn that had recently become mainstream – that is to say, bukkake.

love_jam

Ōtsuka Ai is a Japanese pop star.

 For those of you who appreciate a little blasphemy, I’m about to make a connection you probably never thought of. In 2002, the largest Japanese pornography company, Soft On Demand (SOD), released a video[x] starring one of the hottest actresses at the time, 堤さやか Tsutsumi Sayaka. The video in question jokingly suggested that the term bukkake derived from a quasi-religious term, 仏賭 bukkake, which means something like “gambling on Buddha” or “Buddha gambling.”[xi]

LOVE_JAM_DVD

Yeah, that’s pretty much bukkake…

Fuck, I lost my train of thought.

Oh, right. Buddhism.

gokoku-ji

Miraculously, Gokoku-ji is one of the few temples that survived the firebombing of Tōkyō.

So anyhoo, one of Tōkyō’s major temples is located in Ōtsuka. Its name is 護国寺 Gokoku-ji Gokoku Temple. The temple was built by decree of the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi and dedicated to his mother, 桂昌院 Keishō-in[xii]. The temple houses the grave of a certain English architect who launched a new era in aristocratic and state-related architecture in the post-Edo Period. His name was Josiah Conder and we’re gonna talk about him later in the article.

I’m gonna take a break to admire Sayaka’s brilliant corpus of work, and then I’ll meet you all at the next station[xiii].

TSUTSUMI SAYAKA

巣鴨
Sugamo

The most commonly touted origin of this place name is that because it was a wetland area, there were many 鴨 kamo geese living in the area. 巣 su means nest and so the idea goes that this area was a bunch of 鴨の巣 kamo no su goose nests. The problem is that the order of the kanji doesn’t quite work out. If the name were Kamosu (goose nest) instead of Sugamo (nest goose), this etymology would hold up. The fact of the matter is that this word is probably much older than the historical record, so it’s most likely 当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic reasons rather than meaning[xiv]. A future article discussing the other possible origins of this place name is forthcoming, either immediately after this Yamanote Line Series or in the late summer.

TOGENUKI

The sign tell old people where to go…

Sugamo is usually famous for 2 things. First and foremost, it’s famous for old people. Old people loooooove this place. Secondly, it’s famous for drinking and whoring[xv].

Wait. What?

SUGAMO FUZOKU

An expat and Japanese friend of mine worked in Sugamo briefly. The amount of money they made weekly was crazy. Neither of them have any regrets.

Yeah, the area has a thriving sex industry. There’s not much to say about it because it is what it is. It’s not as big as what’s found in Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, or Minowa[xvi], but it is a very well-known destination for those looking for paid sexual adventures.

SUGAMO AKA PANTSU

Selling “red underwear” Japan’s finest, at that!

But what’s more noticeable is the sheer amount of senior citizens and the shops catering to them[xvii]. The most noticeable product being sold is 赤パンツ aka pantsu red underwear. In many Asian countries, red is an auspicious color thought to bring health and good fortune to anyone, but the elderly often need more good luck than most when it comes to health which make red underwear a funny and well-meaning present for aged loved ones. Also, there are a few shops specializing in 漢方 kanpō, traditional Chinese herbal medicine[xviii]. On top of all that, you can find a lot of great traditional foods in the area. I had soba at a restaurant in the area that was fantastic. They made the noodles by hand in the store window and blended different types of buckwheat from around Japan to achieve different tastes and textures[xix]. There are also shops specializing in Japanese sweets that downplay the sweetness – not that traditional J-sweets are sweet by western standards. But the idea is that old people lose their sense of taste, so eating subtle sweets with green tea is thought to exercise the mind and the taste buds[xx].

WAGASHI

So, just why are all these old people descending upon this area in droves? And why are all these shops catering to the elderly? The reason is simple, really. This particular niche market is an outgrowth of the presence of 高岩寺 Kōgan-ji Kōgan Temple which is home to a particular object of reverence, the とげぬき地蔵尊 Togenuki Jizō-son spirit who takes away your maladies. The traditional belief is that through some sort of sympathetic magic, if you wash the part of statue that corresponds to the ailing part of your body[xxi], the Jizō will absorb your pain and thus you will be cured.

Sugamo Jizo
Sugamo is crawling with old people and all of them stop by Kōgan-ji. This is truly a sight to see. And by all means, visit the temple and wash the statue. However, if you’re actually sick, see a doctor. Last I checked, statues don’t cure diseases or fix baldness[xxii].

Jussayin’

rikugien

Rikugi-en

駒込
Komagome

OK, so, yeah, I’ve written about Komagome in the past. And I’ll say right now that we don’t know the etymology of this place name for sure. It seems to be quite ancient and falls in line with other horse-related place names in the area. The Kantō area was traditionally famous for horse breeding in the Heian Period and earlier. Horse breeding is also closely associated with the rise of the samurai in the East[xxiii].

 

yanagisawa

Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, also known by his honorary court title, Matsudaira Tokinosuke.

There are quite a few reasons a history fan might want to explore Komagome. The first reason to come here is to visit 六義園 Rikugi-en, one of the few remaining daimyō gardens in Tōkyō. The garden was built by 柳沢吉保 Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, who was made lord of Kōfu Domain by the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi – the so-called “dog shōgun.”[xxiv] Yoshiyasu seems to have been a tastemaker of his day – an arbiter of elegance, if you will – but he was also a spiteful little prick hell bent on destroying the reputation of Tsunayoshi’s former lover. Oh, sorry. I forgot to mention that after the shōgun broke up with his old sidedick, 喜多見重政 Kitami Shigemasa, Yoshiyasu became the shōgun’s new favorite and got all sorts of new status and rank as a result. If you’ve ever been dumped and shit on by your ex and his/her new partner, you probably haven’t even had it this bad. Yoshiyasu set out to destroy Shigemasa[xxv].

 

furukawa teien.JPG

The Old Furukawa Gardens

Another reason to go to Komagome is to visit another garden called the 旧古川庭園 Kyū-Furugawa Teien Old Furugawa Gardens. This garden was the former property of a Japanese aristocrat whose name isn’t really important for this article[xxvi]. What is important is that the residence that still stands here today was built by a guy named Josiah Conder. Known as ジョサイア・コンドル Josaia Kondoru, but sometimes as コンドル暁英 Kondoru Kyōei in Japanese, he has come to known as the father of Japanese architecture. He was an Englishman who taught at the University of Tōkyō and built many prestigious buildings in Japan, including the 鹿鳴館 Rokumeikan, a party hall for elite Japanese to entertain foreign dignitaries. They could hobnob with foreign elite and learn about all things western while showing off how western they could be[xxvii].

conder kimono.jpg

Josiah Conder culturally appropriating the fuck out of a kimono. Oh wait, I almost forgot, cultural appropriation doesn’t exist. Whew.

The Rokumeikan was Conder’s magnum opus, but it was actually located quite far from here. That said, here in Komagome, Josiah built the western style residence of Meiji Era businessman 古河市兵衛 Furukawa Ichibei – hence the name Old Furukawa Gardens. To modern westerners, this house isn’t anything special. However, in 1917, just 6 years after the death of the Meiji Emperor, a western-style manor like this was still a rarity. Tucked away on a former daimyō residence, the average Tōkyōite would have been very unfamiliar with this architectural mode[xxviii]. The only people who set eyes upon this home before the 1950’s were top industrialists, diplomats, politicians, and military leaders.

Oh, and now you can go back to Ōtsuka Station to visit Gokoku-ji to visit his grave.

Awkward.

josiah conder grave.jpg

Grave of Josiah Conder. Yeah, it’s pretty much crap.

All of that stuff is cool, but if you ask me, there is a much cooler place to see. It’s totally obscure and admittedly it’s not much to see today, but it’s one of those places where you can play your Japanese history nerd card if you’ve actually been.

 

16476060739_ae8d9e1e71_z

I keep telling you people “There’s a little bit of Edo still remaining in Tokyo.You just have to know where to look and what you’re looking at.” This is as Edo as it gets.

So, yeah, if you ever make a friend from Komagome and you’re hell-bent on impressing them, you can try asking them about the Edo Period home of the Komagome Village Headman – which actually still exists today and is still owned by the same family[xxix]. It’s a private residence, so I don’t recommend ringing the doorbell or trying to open the gate[xxx]. The compound is walled off and – to the best of my knowledge – always closed to the public. But from the outside, you can see the original Edo Period gate and fence which are in excellent condition. This gives you a real firsthand view of what residences of samurai or high ranking commoners would have looked like at the time. In central Tōkyō, this is almost unheard of today. That said, I bet most residents of Komagome have no idea this place exists.

Further Reading:

TABATA STATION

Tabata Station – the highlight of Tabata

田端
Tabata

So we’ve been all over the place today, haven’t we? Something like 4 stations in just one article, right? Fuck, my head is spinning. Yet, here we are in a place most people have never heard of called Tabata.

Tabata is pretty much a no man’s land on the Yamanote Line. Its 商店街 shōtengai shopping street is a byproduct of the Shōwa Period, but on the surface, this neighborhood isn’t much more than a residential area built up during the post war years. However, it does have a distinctly Shōwa Era 下町 shitamachi low city feel.  An artist friend of mine lived here while he got his master’s degree in fine arts. I came over to his place for a birfday party once and that’s was my most in depth exposure to the area.

tabata shopping street.JPG

In the picture above you can see the plateau and field. This is the shopping street. Look at how much fun everyone is having.

The place name is ancient and is thought to mean something like “plateau on the edge of the fields.” There is a plateau and the area was rural until quite recently so, this etymology seems legit[xxxii]. In 1889 (Meiji 22), the Tōkyō University of Fine Arts was established in Ueno. This saw an influx of writers and artists to the surrounding areas. Tabata became particularly well known for a concentration of influential Meiji Era authors who lived in the newly developing area and it earned the nickname 文士村 Bunshi Mura Writers Village. Although the area isn’t a mecca for authors anymore, it’s still home to reasonably priced housing that appeals to graduate students of the Fine Arts University and artists trying to make a names for themselves.

Akutagawa Ryunosuke.jpg

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke – I’m an artist, bitch.

Unless you want to check out the topography to compare the elevations of the former plains and the plateau, I can’t think of any reason to ever come here[xxxiii]. However, if you’re really into Meiji Era Japanese literature, the 田端文士村記念館 Tabata Bunshi Mura Kinenkan Tabata Writers Village Museum is located near the station[xxxiv]. The museum features memorabilia related to 芥川龍之介 Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, the so-called Father of the Japanese Short Story. Ryūnosuke was a mover and shaker of the new Meiji Era literary movement. He combined Sino-Japanese traditions with western traditions. He was also suffered from some kind of trauma or severe depression and killed himself at age 35. He also had some pretty wild hair going on.

Further Reading:

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[i] And by many times, I’m including a few early mornings after drinking all night and immediately falling asleep on the Yamanote Line and just going around in circles for hours until waking up and realizing I was still on the train. Ahhhh, my first years in Japan – those were the days lol.
[ii] Usually defined as “Japanese style pubs,” but more drinking/eating establishment that focus on individual groups than an open free-for-all like western style pubs.
[iii] What’s a kofun? Click here to find out.
[iv] Where is this kofun located? Good question. I have no idea if its existence is confirmed.
[v] They are generally referred to as 小名 shōmyō minor feudal lords. The term is literally the opposite of daimyō: 小名 shōmyō minor name, 大名 daimyō major name.
[vi] This was in the early years of the rule of the 3rd shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu.
[vii] You can call it a shell mound (cuz it was full of discarded shells) or a midden.
[viii] She’s a great performer, and because of her use of double entendre and veiled references to sex, it’s not surprising that people made the connection between her poster and bukkake. Many are convinced it was a deliberate and calculated marketing decision. I do want to say that the album Love Jam features one of the great summer songs of Japan, 金魚花火 Kingyo Hanabi (Goldfish Fireworks). I love this song.
[ix] A place name that I haven’t covered yet. Sorry.
[x] The video was entitled ロリタザーメン Rorita Zāmen Lolita Semen and was apparently so popular that it was re-released in 2004. You can preview/buy this classic video here. Don’t ask how I know all of this.
[xi] This was a 100% pure fabrication on the part of the production company. Bukkake is actually a non-sexual term that refers “pouring onto something.” The famous example that is usually cited is the ubiquitous dish, ぶっ掛け饂飩 bukkake udon. When making this dish, you pour the broth on to the noodles in a bowl.
[xii] Keishō-in is the Buddhist name she took after retirement. Her actual name was 御玉 O-tama.
[xiii] By the way – and this is no joke, while looking for a pic of Tsutsumi Sayaka, I googled her name in Japanese a picture of the cover art for Ōtsuka Ai’s Love Jam came up. Apparently I’m not the only one making this connection. The only difference is I’m using etymology and history to masquerade as an educator of some sort lol.
[xiv] What’s ateji? Here you go. This article is constantly updated and recently it’s turned to dogshit. Don’t blame me for what you read, but in general used to be pretty good.
[xv] It’s famous for a third thing, Sugamo Prison, but was actually located in present day Ikebukuro. I’m not posting a link to the articles on Sugamo because I’m not you’re bitch. Just use the search function or google (it was in the previous article, btw).
[xvi] Minowa = Yoshiwara.
[xvii] It seems there’s a ピンサロ pinsaro pink salon (a blowjob shop) that caters to the fantasy of men who fancy getting blown by women in their 60’s and 70’s. Not my cup of tea, but definitely rocking the Sugamo image like a boss lol.
[xviii] Apparently, the testing and manufacture of Japanese kanpō is highly regulated, but I don’t trust it. If medical marijuana gets approved – which has proven uses, I might trust it. But if they won’t even take that step, then I’m just 100% suspicious of these leafy, bad-tasting concoctions.
[xix] The shop keep claimed the blends were developed in the Edo Period and Meiji Period to cater to the varying tastes of samurai from outer provinces stationed in Edo during sankin-kōtai duty. He said Edo’s soba didn’t taste good to the provincial samurai/merchants, but shops that blended exotic buckwheat strains appealed to both provincials and Edoites alike. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it may have a kernel of truth in it.
[xx] This clearly isn’t backed up by science, but it seems to make sense from a “keep your mind as active as possible for as long as you’re alive” standpoint.
[xxi] Note, I didn’t say “body part,” but “part of the body.” That’s because this is just a statue. Ain’t no real healing happening here.
[xxii] I’ve tested the baldness cure first hand. Sadly, didn’t work.
[xxiii] Early samurai were generally mounted warriors; however by the Edo Period horseback riding was restricted to the highest echelons of the samurai class.
[xxiv] Informed by his Buddhist principals, shōgun Tsunayoshi issued several decrees protecting living creatures beginning with dogs because he had been born in the Year of the Dog. If the stories are to be believed, huge kennels had to be built to house all of the stray dogs that began to overrun the city. Anyways, this earned him the nickname 犬公方 inu kubō the dog shōgun.
[xxv] You can get the whole story here.
[xxvi] His name was 陸奥宗光 Mutsu Munemitsu, if you care.
[xxvii] Here’s what Wiki has to say about the Rokumeikan.
[xxviii] Remember, most of the city was still more or less Edo – still a wooden city, but now with trains and trolleys.
[xxix] The family is called 高木 Takagi.
[xxx] Trespassing!
[xxxi] In their time, they were called 御雇ひ外國人 o-yatoi gaikokujin.
[xxxii] Some have suggested the place name is actually prehistoric. If that’s the case, we can never know the true origin of the place name.
[xxxiii] Besides my friend’s birfday party, the only time I ever came here was for a stupid one night stand. That was cool and all. Since it was on the Yamanote Line, it made it easy to get the fuck outta there and go home the next morning ASAP, if you know what I mean.
[xxxiv] Hopefully you can read Japanese literature in Japanese because this museum apparently has no English exhibitions.

Yamanote Line: Harajuku, Yoyogi, & Shinjuku

In Japanese History on May 10, 2016 at 4:54 am

yamanote line new train

Welcome back to my ongoing series exploring Tōkyō’s Yamanote Line. We’re pretty much in one of the most important stretches of the loop. We’ve just been to Ebisu and Shibuya and we’re bound for Shinjuku.

“So, why are you cramming 3 train stations into 1 article?” you ask. That’s a good question. The reason is this: I have a pretty solid article from back in the day on Yoyogi and recently I’ve written about both Shinjuku and Harajuku. All three articles contain the historical and etymological info you’ll need if you want to dig deeper. Since this article is about viewing Tōkyō via the Yamanote Line, I’m going go light on the history and focus on my impressions of these areas.

Read About These Areas in Detail:

takeshita street.jpg

原宿
Harajuku

Harajuku is one of the most famous neighborhoods in Tōkyō. The name is a reference to an ancient relay station where messengers could change horses in what was once one of the most remote parts of Japan. But for the last 30 some odd years, Harajuku has been a sort of ground zero for Japanese fashion. Tōkyō fashion is a serpentine ghost that haunts a certain space for a while and then whisks itself away to a new shelter where it settles or reinvents itself. This means that Harajuku’s flame doesn’t burn as bright as it once did, but the area is still very much associated with shopping and fashion.

The station gives access to such iconic spots as:

  • Meiji Jingū (shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperor[i])
  • Takeshita Dōri (an ally of stylish clothing boutiques)
  • Omotesandō Hills (a stylish shopping mall on ‘roids)
  • Yoyogi Park (one of Tōkyō big 3 “party parks[ii])

meiji jingu.jpg

Long time readers of JapanThis! know that I’m not the biggest fan of the imperial family or the Meiji Coup in general. That said, 明治神宮 Meiji Jingū (which means “Meiji Shrine”) is something you should check out at least once.

Yoyogi Park is a great park and hosts a variety of events around the year. It attracts a bohemian crowd and, well, it’s just a fun park. It’s super crowded on holidays and weekends, but so are Tōkyō’s other huge parks on major train lines.

Further reading:

yoyogi park.JPG

代々木
Yoyogi

Yoyogi is most famous for 代々木公園 Yoyogi Kōen Yoyogi Park which I mentioned earlier. The park is a pretty awesome place to chill out in the summer and fall, but because it always draws a rather bohemian crowd. It’s particularly fun in the spring for 花見 hamami cherry blossom viewing, but the pathways around the park are nice for people wanting to go for a stroll or even jog. When my friend and author Ashim Shanker got accepted to Harvard, we chose Yoyogi Park as the place to catch up over a can of beer and say goodbye before he returned to the US to make something of himself[iii]. We’d hung out in the park a few times back in the day when we were coworkers, so it only seemed natural. I guess what I’m saying is that great parks make great memories.

Anyhoo, the park itself is located on a plateau where some daimyō, notably the 井伊家 Ii-ke Ii clan had their 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence (ie; suburban palace). The name literally means “Generations of Trees” and most likely refers to a forest that existed here in the past. Interestingly, on the grounds of Meiji Jingū, there is a tree called the 代々木村ノ世々木 Yoyogi Mura no Yoyogi Yoyogi Village’s Generations Old Tree which marks the spot of Utagawa Hiroshige’s famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e painting of a tree in the area. Few people know of this spot, but it’s there.

past_and_present_01.jpg

Dude, I Just Remembered…

All of this talk of Yoyogi Park, just reminded me! The best access point to Yoyogi Park is not by Yoyogi Station, it’s by Harajuku Station which is located at the official entrance of the park. So, if you want to visit Yoyogi Park, go to Harajuku Station. I repeat: If you want to go to Yoyogi Park, go to Harajuku Station, not Yoyogi Station.

Why? Well, because other than the park, I’m not sure what else to say about the Yoyogi Station area. It’s just a bunch of companies, restaurants, and convenience stores. You’ll also have to walk quite a distance to get to the park from here because your friends are probably waiting to meet you at Harajuku Station.

Related articles:

shinjuku kabukicho

Shinjuku™

新宿
Shinjuku

If I had a $1.00 Patreon donation for every time I mentioned Shinjuku, I think I could quit my day job. Unfortunately, that’s not the case so I scrape by and stay up late at night pondering how you can explore Tōkyō via the Yamanote Line lol.

Anyways, Shinjuku is a huge business district, a 都心 toshin city center, if you will. It was originally a post town for travelers going in and out of the city. Much like its modern incarnation, the old post town was a notorious destination for those hell-bent on drinking and whoring. It’s also the capital of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis.

That’s all I’m going to say about Shinjuku because if you want to know more, check out my most recent and fairly definitive article on the subject below. Peace out!

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Shinjuku:

 

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[i] And his wife, 昭憲皇太后 Shōken Kōtaigō, usually translated as consort, empress consort, empress or dowager. Without getting into the details of the title kōtaigō, which is peculiar to the imperial family, there are a few reasons why these other words are preferable to “wife.” She was married to the 天皇 tennō emperor, but she did not share any of his political power. If the emperor died, she could not finish out his reign until her death (as is the case in England). Just as the shōguns and daimyō had concubines to ensure hereditary succession of male bloodlines, the emperors did too. Shōken was actually barren and all 15 children of the Meiji Emperor were born by concubines. So, yeah, it’s easiest to just say she was his wife, but these other titles get thrown around to better describe her actual position in Japanese society and in the imperial court.
[ii] The other 2 being Inokashira Park and Ueno Park.
[iii] Meanwhile, I’m stuck here just writing this trainwreck of a blog lol.

What does Shinjuku mean?

In Japanese History on February 10, 2016 at 3:22 am

新宿
Shinjuku
(new post town)

koshu kaido naito-shinjuku

Shinjuku Dōri – this is where it all began.

Today’s article is long overdue. I originally wrote about Shinjuku in February 2013. The blog has matured a lot since then and I think there’s a lot more to say about the history of the area. The etymology is straightforward and was correct in the original article, but I just wanted to go into more detail. After all, Shinjuku isn’t just one of the busiest and most important places in Tōkyō; it’s arguably one of the busiest and most important places in the world. Also, just like Roppongi and Shibuya, Shinjuku has its fair share of both lovers and haters[i].

By the way, there are tons of footnotes[ii] in this article. As always, I suggest you use them. This is a pretty messy story.

My Previous Articles on Shinjuku:

shinjuku crazy

Shinjuku – skyscrapers, densely packed shopping and residential areas. Some are pristine, some are filthy (by Japanese standards, which is clean by many other standards lol).

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji

The kanji are fairly straightforward and longtime readers will probably want to skip to the next section, but for those of you aren’t so familiar with the kanji, here they are.


shin

new

宿
yado; shuku/juku

inn; suffix attached to a place name to indicate that it’s a post town

A note about pronunciation. In the 下町言葉 shitamachi kotoba low city dialect, the pronunciation Shinjiku and Shinshiku are sometimes heard. This usually isn’t done in daily conversation anymore, but is a feature of 落語 rakugo traditional story telling[iii]. I don’t know if it’s a true dialectal variant or an affectation. Also, in other parts of the country the kanji 新宿 can also be read as: Shinshuku, Niijuku, Arajuku, and Arayado. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

five highways.png

The so-called Gokaidō, or 5 Highways.

Famously, there were 5 highways leading to and from Edo[iv].  Of those five 街道 kaidō highways, one was the 甲州街道 Kōshu Kaidō which led from 日本橋 Nihonbashi in central Edo to 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain[v] in modern 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture, an important Tokugawa holding. Long time readers will know that before trains and cars, people walked everywhere. If you lived in Edo and wanted to go to any place in Japan, you just had to walk there. Depending on where you wanted to go, this could take weeks. Along the way, you had to sleep somewhere. As a result, a series of 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns were created to accommodate travelers[vi]. 宿 shuku, as you know means “inn” and 場 ba means “place” and 町 machi means “town.” These towns provided food, lodging, and ample opportunities for drinking and whoring.

At the beginning of the Edo Period, the original first rest town on the Kōshū Kaidō was in 高井戸宿 Takaido-shuku Takaido Post Town located in modern 杉並区Suginami-ku Suginami Ward. On a modern paved road, this walk could take you about 3 ½ hours. On an Edo Period road using Edo Period walking shoes, it would have taken a little longer. In addition to that, if you were a daimyō, you would be expected to proceed at a respectable pace and make a spectacle of your entourage which would make the same journey take even longer. Keep in mind that 3-4 hour calculation is assuming you actually started counting at Nihonbashi. If you came from some other area, there’s no telling how long it could take to get to Takaido-shuku.

Some Related Articles:

 

naito family crest upside down

The family crest of the Naitō family is a hanging wisteria. But in Shinjuku, the family crest is depicted upside down. It’s a mystery.

The Rise of Naitō-Shinjuku

In 1590, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu granted the 内藤家 Naitō-ke Naitō clan[vii] a massive fief outside of Edo to monitor traffic on the Kōshū Kaidō and the 鎌倉街道 Kamakura Kaidō. Later, this fief would become the Naitō clan’s 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki suburban residence[viii]. The land given to the Naitō clan was eventually deemed excessive compared to the 石高 kokudaka rice value[ix] of 高遠藩 Takatō Han Takatō Domain. So a certain section of the land was confiscated by the shōgunate and repurposed as a post town. The town came to be called 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku Naitō New Post Town.

the end

The End

Wait. What? Who the fuck are the Naitō?
And Takatō Domain? Dude, You Got Way Ahead of Yourself…

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry! I just wanted to give a quick overview. Bear with me (or bare with me, if you wanna), and I’ll explain everything. I promise.

The name Naitō will be attached to the place name Shinjuku for most of its existence, so let’s look into this family just a little bit.

Born in 1555 in 三河国岡崎 Mikawa no Kuni Okazaki Okazaki, Mikawa Province, a certain 内藤清成 Naitō Kiyonari was an important retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu[x]. In 1560, as a result of the 桶狭間之戦い Okehazama no Tatakai Battle of Okehazama, Tokugawa Ieyasu regained control of his family’s ancestral stronghold at 岡崎城 Okazaki-jō Okazaki Castle. This alliance with 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga was the beginning of Ieyasu’s rise to power and influence. This worked out nicely for all the Mikawa samurai. In 1580, Naitō Kiyonari was made the mentor of Ieyasu’s 3rd son (and future 2nd shōgun), 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada. At the time, he was 25 and Hidetada was just 2.

In 1590, Ieyasu gave up control of the ancestral Tokugawa lands in Mikawa Province and assumed control of the 関東八州 Kantō Hasshū 8 Kantō Provinces. This relocation meant a massive elite transfer. That is, all of Ieyasu’s Mikawa samurai moved to Edo. In the same year, he requested that Naitō Kiyonari also come to Edo to continue attending Hidetada in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. He granted him a large swath of land that provided tactical support to the villages surrounding the intersection of the Kōshū Kaidō and Kamakura Kaidō. The new fief spanned from 四谷 Yotsuya to 代々木 Yoyogi[xi]. At the time, this area was country. It was essentially the undeveloped areas west of the outer moat of Edo Castle. Since it existed outside of the original castle town and was developed by daimyō and 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the Tokugawa, it can be considered 山手 yamanote[xii] the high city.

Oh, and speaking of hatamoto and daimyō and all that. When Naitō Kiyonari came to Edo with Ieyasu, he came as a hatamoto. The clan’s luck changed for the better in 1691. At that time, the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi elevated the Naitō clan’s rank. In 1698, the shōgunate made 内藤清枚 Naitō Kiyokazu daimyō of Takatō Domain in present day 長野県 Nagano-ken Nagano Prefecture.

mail.png

You’ve got mail… from the shōgun.

Bureaucracy. It’s a Bitch.

By this time, Edo had been the Tokugawa capital for about 100 years. Although Ieyasu had granted Kiyokazu’s ancestor, Kiyonari, a vast swath of land, the rules about daimyō and rank had become stricter. Edo was expanding out into the country as well. This wasn’t the Sengoku Period anymore.

I mentioned it earlier, but with their newly earned daimyō status, the Naitō clan were under closer scrutiny by the 老中 rōjū shōgun’s chief advisors. The value of their new fief in Takatō wasn’t high enough to warrant such a large landholding in Kantō. It was bigger than or as big as most of the holdings of the richest daimyō – families that had been daimyō for a much longer time and who commanded huge domains. The shōgunate confiscated a section of the Naitō estate to make things seem fair. The area they were most interested in was the land where the Kōshū Kaidō and the 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō Ōme Highway intersected. This seemed like a good place to establish a shukuba machi (post town). The local villages had already been servicing the Naitō clan’s residence for almost 100 years. A local economy was present on both highways. Making an official post town in the area could take some of the onus off of Takaido and 伝馬町 Denma-chō[xiii] and build up a stronger suburban economy.

Even though the Naitō clan took a hit in terms of landholdings, the newly created shukuba, Naitō-Shinjuku, was destined to be a success – a wet, sticky, hot mess of a success.

Some related reading:

shukuba

Stereotypical image of a post town.

So, What was Naitō-Shinjuku?

Well, before the name Naitō Shinjuku got thrown around, the small town that popped up to service the palatial estate of the Naitō was called Naitō Machi literally “Naitō Town.”[xiv] This was the commoner district outside of the Naitō compound. So, a strong case could be made that the original name of Shinjuku was actually Naitō Machi. The addition of the word Shinjuku definitely came later.

harbinger of things to come

The green areas are the post town. The yellow areas are shrines, temples, and roads. The weird blue line is the Tama Jōsui (Tama Aqueduct). You’ll probably want to come back to this map later.

As I mentioned before, the original fief given to Kiyonari was later reduced when the family was given daimyō status and the area became a shimo-yashiki. But make no mistake about it; the plot of land held by the Naitō was still expansive. Modern 新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen Shinjuku Imperial Park is more or less the former Naitō estate.

tamagawa-en.JPG

This section of the Naitō residence was said to be open to the public.

The Naitō knew what a fantastic rural palace they had. They built several spacious gardens with manmade hills, ponds, and all manner of flowers and trees. The family was apparently very generous to the local people and opened up the玉川園 Tamagawa-en Tamagawa Garden to the general public each season[xv]. Tamagawa-en is easily counted among some of the most famous attractions of the Edo[xvi]. Even to this day, some of the cherry blossoms trees in Shinjuku Gyoen are said to be about 400 years old[xvii].

Related reading:

hiroshige ever the jokester

Utagawa Hiroshige – ever the jokester. What do you think this painting is about?

But it wasn’t all ice cream, daimyō gardens, and puppy dogs. Day to day life in the area was pretty mundane most of the time. From the Edo Period until the American Occupation, Shinjuku was notorious for drinking and whoring – and by that, I mean the unlicensed sort[xviii]. Since local unlicensed sex industries were a taboo topic, the Naitō Machi area was perhaps best known a relay station. This meant the shōgunate kept horse stables here for messengers who had to relay important messages quickly. The presence of a lot of horses meant this area was famously covered in 馬糞 bafun horse manure – or less politely maguzo horse shit. It’s said that on hot days, pedestrians and horses kicked up dust clouds of dirt and dry shit and the air was yellow and foul.

The neighborhood of 新宿区四谷4丁目 Shinjuku-ku Yotsuya yon-chōme 4th block of Yotsuya, Shinjuku Ward was called 四谷大木戸 Yotsuya Ōkido. This is because from 1616 to 1792 a special 関所 sekisho check point stood here. An ōkido – literally “large wooden door” – was the name given to the border stations that protected the routes in and out of the shōgun’s capital. Edo had 3 main ōkido:

name

highway

板橋大木戸
Itabashi Ōkido

中山道
Nakasendō

高輪大木戸
Takanawa Ōkido

東海道
Tōkaidō

四谷大木戸
Yotsuya Ōkido

甲州街道
Kōshū Kaidō

Travelers coming in and out of Edo would show their paperwork, and if approved they’d be admitted into the city. But apparently by the 1790’s, the shōgunate didn’t see the need for such precautions anymore.

okido

The entrance to Naitō Shinjuku was the Yotsuya Ōkido. The entrance was never this fortified, though. This looks like the center of a castle town, but this drawing was done in the the Late Edo Period when ōkido basically didn’t exist anymore.

Let’s Take a Stroll through Naitō-Shinjuku

Travelers coming in would pass the ōkido and continue on the Kōshū Kaidō through the post town. The area covered present day 新宿一丁目 Shinjuku Icchōme 1st block of Shinjuku, 二丁目 Ni-chōme 2nd block, and 三丁目 San-chōme 3rd block. Today, that stretch of road is called 新宿通り Shinjuku Dōri Shinjuku Street. The street was lined with all kinds of shops and inns and would have been like any other shukuba machi. The town ended when you arrived at a fork in the road in an area called 淀橋 Yodobashi[xix]. This fork was the beginning of the Ōmekaidō[xx].

naito shinjuku diorama.jpg

Everybody loves dioramas!

The post town gained quite a reputation in its first 20 years. There were 52 inns in addition to other businesses. Supposedly, nearly every business in Naitō-Shinjuku offered prostitutes as an additional service. It was so bad that the 奉行所 bugyōsho magistrate’s office was regularly hounded by the proprietors of shops in 吉原 Yoshiwara[xxi] who complained that they couldn’t compete with pricing and availability[xxii]. They insisted that the shōgunate either ban prostitution in Naitō-Shinjuku or at the very least regulate the shit out of it. After a fire devastated the area, the shōgunate mulled the costs of rebuilding. Compounded by complaints from rich proprietors in Yoshiwara, the post town was shut down in 1718.

More reading:

Shinjuku Dori.JPG

You may want to refer to the map I posted earlier. This is the modern route from the Yotsuya Ōkido to the split from the Kōshū Kaidō to the Ōmekaidō.

The Shut Down of Naitō-Shinjuku

However, the party didn’t stop – it just slowed down… but it slowed down a lot.

In the same year, the 8th shōgun, 徳川吉宗 Tokugawa Yoshimune, enacted a series of sumptuary laws called the 享保の改革の最 Kyōhō no Kaikaku Kyōhō Reforms. One of his reforms was aimed at restricting unlicensed prostitution and stated that 旅籠屋一軒につき飯盛女は2人まで hatago-ya ikken ni tsuki meshimori onna futari made inns for travelers may have no more than 2 meshimori onna per shop. Meshimori onna is the Japanese word for girls who served meals and provided sexual favors in post towns. That meant a town like Naitō-Shinjuku could now be regulated so the town was back in business almost as quickly as it had been shut down.

Edo Period Street Walkers.jpg

We’re not a post town anymore. Now we’re just a 岡場所 (okabasho), a local red light district.

The problem was that without its post town status people were passing through and staying at the original first official post town, Takaito. The village headman of Naitō Machi appealed to the shōgunate saying that most of the townspeople had lost their livelihoods. He also argued that other post towns, Takaito in particular, couldn’t handle all the traffic and re-opening Naitō-Shinjuku as a post town would ease the burden. Various appeals were made between 1723 and 1737 – more than 30 years. But every time the shōgunate rejected the petitions. They were effectively drawn off the maps. Naitō-Shinjuku was only known to the local commoner population and the Takatō samurai population who needed to indulge in a nice cup of tea, a bath, and some sex with a local Kantō girl. But this wasn’t enough. The town was suffering.

Finally, in 1772, about 50 years after the post town was closed by the shōgunate, they granted shukuba status to the area again[xxiii].

naito shinjuku in 1919

Naitō Shinjuku in 1919

The Icing on the Cake

Recently, the shōgunate had more or less given up on regulating the number of meshimori onna at inns. They began looking the other way when other shops began employing them too. They even went so far as to make special exceptions for certain villages, certain post towns, and even certain individual businesses. In short, Naitō-Shinjuku was back in full swing.

mesimorionna.jpg

Woo-hoo! Let’s get this party started. More sexxxy food time for everyone. Awwwwwwww yeah.

Shinjuku Swells Up & Gets Bigger and Bigger

Even after the obsolescence of post towns – these were often replaced by train stations – the area’s reputation as a red light district never diminished. To this day, Shinjuku’s lively 歌舞伎町 Kabukichō district is synonymous with the sex industry.

Again, given the sheer number of people, department stores, apartments, and skyscrapers that define Shinjuku today, it’s hard to believe it was never anything but a massive city center. But the area was still pretty underdeveloped until after the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. The real development began after a series of fires in 1925. The site was chosen as a 副都心 Fuku-toshin. Toshin means “city center.” Fuku-toshin literally means “vice city center,” but maybe “urban subcenter” is a better translation? I dunno. “Vice city center” sounds kinda bad ass. Anyways, that was when Shinjuku really began to get its proverbial girth.

Naito Machi.JPG

Modern Naito Machi includes both the former post town and former daimyō residence.

So What Happened to the Name Naitō-Shinjuku?

The creation of Shinjuku Ward is very complicated and boring but here’s the short version. In the 1920’s, Naitō-Shinjuku was combined with some other towns to form 淀橋区 Yodobashi-ku Yodobashi Ward. In 1947, when Shinjuku Ward was created Naitō Machi still existed – indeed, that postal address still exists today. And while Naitō-Shinjuku was the first Shinjuku, it wasn’t the only Shinjuku. There were 西新宿 Nishi-Shinjuku West Shinjuku and 東新宿 Higashi Shinjuku East Shinjuku and… well, you get the picture. Thus when reshuffling administrative units of Tōkyō in 1947, it just made sense to call the whole area “Shinjuku.” This was the common name for the district anyways; Naitō-Shinjuku was just one part of that area.

And while we haven’t lost Naitō Machi as a postal address, we have actually lost Naito-Shinjuku. But the debauchery of Naitō-Shinjuku lives on in Kabukichō and other parts of Shinjuku Ward. I can’t help but feel that the culture of Shinjuku is deeply rooted in its licentious post town days. Don’t forget things were so out of control the fucking Yoshiwara tried to shut them down!

So the next time you visit a prostitute in the area, just remember that you’re actually connecting with a profound, grand, unbroken historical erotic tradition passed down directly from the culture of the Edo Period.

Oh yeah, and the park’s not too bad.

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[i] I count myself among both groups. Yes, I’m a lover and a hater.
[ii] Footnote test. lol.
[iii] Here’s the Wikipedia article on rakugo.
[iv] There were more than 5, by the way. But the traditional “big 5” started at Nihonbashi. Here’s my article on them.
[v] For the record, in the Edo Period, 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain was a Tokugawa shōgunate controlled fief located in 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni Kai Province. Fans of the Sengoku Period will recognize Kai Province and Kōfu (which both share the kanji 甲 kai/) as the territory of the Sengoku warlord 武田信玄 Takeda Shingen.
[vi] This system wasn’t a product of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. It popped up naturally as villagers took advantage of inter-provincial/inter-domain traffic. The Tokugawa shōgunate definitely insisted on regulating it.
[vii] Later the clan would be promoted to daimyō rank. They controlled 高遠藩 Takatō Han Takatō Domain in modern 長野県伊那 Nagano-ken Ina-shi Ina City, Nagano Prefecture
[viii] More about that later. At this time, the Naitō family were just retainers of Ieyasu. Ieyasu was just a daimyō, one of the 5 most powerful daimyō in Japan, but he still had a 10 year uphill struggle to become shōgun.
[ix] Here’s a good explanation of kokudaka from Samurai Archives.
[x] Who went by the name 松平元康 Matsudaira Motoyasu in those days.
[xi] According to legend, Ieyasu told Naitō Kiyonari that he would give him a fief based on how far his horse could ride. This ended up being Yotsuya in the east, Yoyogi in the west, Sendagaya in the south, and Ōkubo in the north. Take the story with a grain of salt.
[xii] I know this has been beaten to death here, but if you don’t know what yamanote and shitamachi mean, please read this article.
[xiii] Denma-chō was home to one of Edo’s 3 Great Execution Grounds.
[xiv] This is what happens when commoners suck up to nobles.
[xv] As a 武家 buke military family, of course they didn’t allow full access to the entire residence and all the gardens, but still, that’s pretty cool.
[xvi] This area is now present day 玉藻池 Tamamo Ike Tamamo Lake in Shinjuku Gyoen
[xvii] I don’t know how you confirm this without cutting the tree down, but what the hell do I know?
[xviii] This means, no government regulation free-range prostitution. You’ll see what I mean soon enough.
[xix] If the name Yodobashi sounds familiar to you (ie; like a huge electronics retailer), you’re not going crazy. The shop’s name derives from this location. I have an article about that somewhere.
[xx] Today, parts of this road still exist, including the famous “rape tunnel.” It’s preserved as the 旧青梅街道 Kyū-Ōmekaidō Old Ōmekaidō. The current road that bears the name Ōmekaidō has been moved a little. If you look at the walls in the tunnel, they have the whole length of the Ōmekaidō mapped out and each post town is labeled!
[xxi] Yoshiwara was the main licensed prostitution district of Edo.
[xxii] Yoshiwara was extremely expensive. The whole process was highly ritualized in the classier establishments. You’d go one night to have tea with a proprietor and if you were lucky, you’d be introduced to a girl for some more tea. Then you’d have to come back and court her more until she finally said, “yes.” Of course, there were lower class places that sped up the process. But in a Naitō-Shinjuku it was like “do you want a girl after your tea?” or “thanks for ordering a plate of soba, would you like a blow job after that?”
[xxiii] By 1808 the town had made a full economic recovery as it’s recorded that they had 50 inns and 80 tea houses.

What does Umayabashi mean?

In Japanese History on December 22, 2015 at 1:29 am

Umayabashi
厩橋 Umayabashi  (stable/barn bridge)

o-umayabashi now

This triple arched green bridge is Umayabashi. If I’ve got my bearing right, the left side is the west bank (ie; Asakusa/Taitō Ward) and the right side is the east bank (ie; Honjo, Sumida Ward).

I’m really, really sorry for the delay getting this article out. I had a problem with my internet connection at home for about 2 weeks and literally couldn’t do any work[i]. Man, 2 weeks without internet is a horrible experience. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Well, maybe on Donald Trump or those assholes in ISIS. I really don’t like them.

Anyhoo…

厩橋 Umayabashi is a bridge that crosses the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River[ii]. It connects 台東区蔵前二丁目 Taitō-ku Kuramae 2-chōme 2nd block of Kuramae, Taitō Ward and 東区駒形二丁目 Taitō-ku Komagata 2-chōme 2nd block of Komagata, Taitō Ward on the west bank with 墨田区本所一丁目 Sumida-ku Honjo 1-chōme 1st block of Honjo, Sumida Ward on the east bank.

The word is made of 2 kanji.


umaya, maya
(baya in some dialects)
barn, stable
(this kanji is extremely rare today)

hashi
bridge

There’s one more kanji we will encounter.


o-, on-, go-
an honorific prefix used in polite speech, but historically also used to refer to possessions of the shōgunate and the imperial court.
Onmayagashi

On-mayagashi (O-umaya Coast) – note the ferry service. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

The Etymology

The name derives from 御厩 O-umaya. The kanji were read as おんまや On-maya and おうまや O-umaya in the Edo Period. Both readings are acceptable, but the former seems more imperial, while the latter appears more shōgunal – or at the very least, it appears more Edoesque. The name is a reference to a short lived stable owned by the Tokugawa Shōgunate. As mentioned earlier, 厩 umaya means stable. 御厩 o-umaya/on-maya are honorific forms of the same word. Any possessions of the shōgun were generally given the honorific prefix 御 go/o[iii]. The exact location of the shōgunate’s stables is unclear today, but they were most likely located on the west side of the river in Kuramae/Komagata[iv].

The horses stabled in this area were not magical samurai war horses[v]. In fact, because the shōgunate restricted horse use to only high ranking samurai, you couldn’t just ride a horse through the city. The horses at O-umaya were merely pack horses used by the granary at 御倉 O-kura the great rice warehouse from which 大名 daimyō feudal lords and 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun were paid their stipends. At that time, Asakusa was a bustling suburb – that is, on the outskirts of Edo – while the east side of the river was generally rural. However, this particular stretch of the river was urbanized[vi] on both sides. 大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō palaces and a detached palace of the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family were located in this area[vii]. Fruit markets and vegetables markets existed on the quays, shōgunal storehouses lined the river, and warehouses of various daimyō dominated the alleyways.

If you’re scratching your head, check out these related articles later:

Umaya Coast

O-umaya Coast during a rainstorm.

Not so much a Place Name as a few Place Names

You’d think that the landholdings of the shōgun would loom large in the historical record, but the O-umaya’s existence seems to have been so short lived or so mundane that little is known about it. However, the place name seems to have been commonplace by 1690, the 10th year of the reign of the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. That year of the “golden age” of the shōgunate, a ferry crossing was established in the area. It was named 御厩之渡し O-umaya no Watashi O-umaya Crossing. The quay on the west bank of the river was referred to as 御厩河岸 On-maya-gashi or O-umaya-kagan the O-umaya Riverbank[viii].

asakusa-gawa shubinomatsu onmayagashi

O-umaya and the Asakusa section of the Sumida River at night.

Meanwhile, on the East Bank of the River

While people occasionally traveled from the west bank to the east, most of the traffic consisted of country merchants or rich farmers from the east bank seeking the pleasures of Edo. A good deal of them took the ferry to make religious pilgrimages to 浅草寺 Sensō-ji Sensō Temple in 浅草 Asakusa, but that was largely an excuse to indulge in the exotic and erotic delights of the 吉原 Yoshiwara, Edo’s licensed red light district. And even though the country bumpkins loved a little drinking and whoring when they had the time, the reality was that the samurai on sankin-kōtai duty in the barracks located on the east bank were the biggest spenders. The ferry services were all for hire, but few ferry services charged samurai. This was out of the commoners respect for their social superiors as there was a legally sanctioned chance of being killed for insulting a samurai’s honor[ix]. In Star Wars terminology, this is called the “let the Wookie win” defense.

asakusa-gawa shubinomatsu onmayagashi

O-umaya and the Asakusa section of the Sumida River at night.

On the east bank of the river, there had also been a rural palace of the Tokugawa shōguns known as 隅田川御殿 Sumida-gawa Goten the Sumida River Palace[x]. The elite, rural side of the river was lined with 桜の木 sakura no ki cherry blossom trees and by 1872 (Meiji 5), it seems to have become a hot spot for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing in the spring. That particular year experienced a rush of Edoites from the west bank who wanted to see the cherry blossoms of 向島 Mukōjima on the east bank. A ferry loaded beyond capacity departed from O-umaya and soon capsized. The cold and rapid currents of the Sumida swept the boat and its passengers downstream. Many of the revelers drowned as few could overcome the force of the river in their heavy, early spring 着物 kimono and 羽織 haori traditional jackets worn with kimono. The incidence prompted quick action from the government.

1502jcii

The O-umaya Ferry

These kinds of accidents had happened quite often since the Meiji Coup in 1868 because of the unprecedented ease of travel that the liberalism of the new imperial government afforded. But tragedies like this were excuses to further modernization[xi]. Ferry service was temporarily halted and construction of a bridge was begun slightly downstream. Finally, in 1874 (Meiji 7), a traditional Japanese-style wooden bridge was opened for service called 厩橋 Umayabashi Umaya Bridge[xii]. The paid ferry service soon ended as the bridge was free to cross on foot[xiii].

4f08732d

The Meiji Era wooden bridge

 

In 1893 (Meiji 26), a steel bridge was built to replace the traditional wooden bridge in order to accommodate trains and automobile traffic. It was finished in 1895 (Meiji 28). The current bridge is a much more stable construction that replaced the first steel bridge following the 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923. Interestingly, the modern bridge only allows automobile and pedestrian traffic. No trains cross it these days, though the 都営大江戸線 Toei Ōedo-sen Toei Ōedo Line, a subway, passes nearby. The bridge is nothing special today – just one of many bridges that cross Edo’s former 大川 Ōkawa Great River.

img_4

The Meiji Era steel bridge. Note it is divided into 3 segments like the modern bridge.

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[i] On the bright side, I was able to plow through a pretty epic book. I hope to have a review for you before New Year’s.
[ii] The river was known by different names at different locales throughout its windy path. Sumida River referred to a very specific stretch of the river. Prior to the Meiji Period, the bulk of the river was referred to as the 大川 Ōkawa the Great River or the Big River. This is a name not unlike that of the Mississippi, which derives from a Native American dialect word that means “Great River.” I don’t know anything about Native American languages or dialects, but this is what Wikipedia has to say about the language group.
[iii] Refer to my article on O-daiba and my article on Kuramae.
[iv] 駒形 Komagata literally means “horse shaped,” but apparently this place name is from the 800’s and is actually a reference to 馬頭観音 Batō Kannon/Mezu Kannon, the Japanese version of हयग्रीव Hayagrīva. I’m not an expert in Buddhism or Hinduism, but for whatever reason the first kanji means “horse.” At nearby 浅草寺 Sensō-ji, you can see a structure called the 駒形堂 Komagata-dō. This is mostly likely where the place name Komagata comes from. The presence of a stable belonging to the shōgunate is most likely a coincidence.
[v] The magical samurai warhorses, as everyone knows, were stabled at your mom’s house.
[vi] Or, more accurately, “suburbanized.” Is that a word?
[vii] More about that in a bit.
[viii] The former, Onmaya-gashi represented in 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints depicting daily life in Edo-Tōkyō. The latter, seems more logical considering other place names, including 大森海岸 Ōmori Kaigan Ōmori Coast (see article on Ōmori here). Also, the most basic rules of reading kanji in modern Japanese tend to favor “kagan/gagan” over “kashi/gashi.” So, Onmaya-gashi may be an affectation.
[ix] Under the Tokugawa Shōgunate’s rules, a practice commonly called 切捨て御免 kirisute go-men, which means “an excuse for killing and discarding someone” existed. The idea was a samurai was more educated and at the top of the hierarchy so if you caused some affront to him, he could kill you on the spot and in the following investigation claim his social status as an excuse. Whether the courts of Edo bought it or not, the samurai would be freed or asked to perform 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide. The suicide option was considered more dignified than execution.
[x] I discussed the palace briefly in my article on Mukōjima.
[xi] I’m not using excuse in a light way here, either. The more lives saved, the better. But with western technology, we see the chipping away at Edo. The old city begins to disappear.
[xii] Note the honorific kanji 御 o was removed for the new bridge name. This was a deliberate move by the imperial government to eradicated traces of the shōgunate from the shōgun’s former capital.
[xiii] Surely, you could walk across the river faster than fight the downstream current on a small boat.

What does Honjo mean?

In Japanese History on September 10, 2015 at 6:16 am

本所
Honjo (main place)

An exit of Honjo-Azumabashi Station and its new friend in the background.

An exit of Honjo-Azumabashi Station and its new friend in the background.

The etymology of this area is pretty straight forward and actually does little justice to the neighborhood’s actual value. The name seems to be derived from the 荘園制度 shōen seido shōen system[i]. Shōen were administrative units that were originally more or less autonomous from the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court, though they owed their legitimacy to their connections to the court. In English, this is often rendered as manor or estate[ii].

Under the shōen system, the 本所 honjo main place (main estate) designated the place where the 荘園領主 shōen ryōshu lord of the shōen lived[iii]. This would include the lord’s 本家 honke main family line and their direct retainers. Branch families would live elsewhere. As such, a honjo is actually a designation of an area that is not unlike the capital of the shōen (the lord’s territory). This use was common throughout Japan and as such there are many places in the country called Honjo. The most popular story ties the area to 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, but whether the name dates from Ieyasu’s time or reflects an ancient honjo is unclear. Some have even suggested it’s a reference to the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo Clan or 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, first of the Tokugawa shōguns and possible namer of the area - also possible non-namer of the area. Nobody knows.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, first of the Tokugawa shōguns and possible namer of the area – also possible non-namer of the area.
Nobody knows.

When 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu was granted control of Edo in the 1580’s by 太閤豊臣秀吉 taikō Toyotomi Hideyoshi imperial regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the term 荘園 shōen was all but obsolete, but some associated place names persisted. If this line of thinking is to be trusted, by the time Ieyasu assumed control of Edo and 関八州 Kanhasshū the 8 Kantō Provinces, the term was just an archaism that gave the area a touch of class. The area set one of the early models for the 山手 yamanote high city. Ieyasu required the old Edo samurai families to move to the area to be closer to Edo Castle where he could keep his eyes on them[iv]. To keep them in check, those samurai families were granted 旗本 hatamoto status (ie; they became direct retainers of the Tokugawa). He later ordered 3 譜代大名 fudai daimyō daimyō loyal to the Tokugawa at the Battle of Sekigahara to build their 上屋敷 kamiyashiki upper residences there to keep the old Edo elite in check. I suppose the granting hatamoto status and naming the area Honjo was essentially the spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down. But because of its elite beginnings, the area was replete with nature. It was famous for its greenery and suburban feel even in the late Edo Period despite the changes that would come with time.

The main gate of Tsugaru Domain's upper residence. The scene is decidedly yamanote. Note the lush greenery behind the mansion walls. Also note the drum tower inside the compound. It was a drum tower and used a huge taiko (Japanese drum) to sound the alarm.

The main gate of Tsugaru Domain’s upper residence. The scene is decidedly yamanote. Note the lush greenery behind the mansion walls. Also note the drum tower inside the compound. It was a drum tower and used a huge taiko (Japanese drum) to sound the alarm.

In the very early Edo Period, people used local terms to identify themselves. Perhaps you were 向島っ子 Mukōjimakko a child of Mukōjima.  Perhaps you were 吾妻っ子 Azumakko a child of Azuma. But for the first half of the Edo Period, if you were 本所っ子 Honjokko a child of Honjo that meant you were a real 江戸っ子 Edokko child of Edo. Your family may have even preceded the Tokugawa – or at least that was the image[v].

Before you perish in a fire, the last sound you might've heard in Honjo was the Tsugaru no Taikō (the Tsugaru Drum) which meant

Before you perish in a fire, the last sound you might’ve heard in Honjo was the Tsugaru no Taikō (the Tsugaru Drum) which meant “Fire! Get to the other side of the river now!!!!”
この写真はイメージです

In 1657, the area was still quite rustic. After the 明暦之大火 Meireki no Taika Meireki Fire[vi], the site was chosen for the burial of those who perished in the conflagration. The fire burned for 3 days in some parts of the city and destroyed 60-70% of Edo – including sections of Edo Castle itself. Some accounts say 100,000 Edoites burned to death in the disaster. To appease the souls of the dead, a temple was built to tend to the mass grave of the victims. The temple is called 回向院 Ekō-in Ekō Temple which is still located in Honjo. By the way, an 回向 ekō is a Buddhist prayer for the repose of the dead[vii].

Mukōjima Ekō-in started when 5th shōgun Tsunayoshi declared the burial mound where bodies were dumped a 万人塚

Mukōjima Ekō-in started when 5th shōgun Tsunayoshi declared the burial mound where bodies were dumped a 万人塚 manninzuka “mound of a thousands of souls.”
Since that time, the temple has been tending to the souls of the poor, those rejected by their families, the unclaimed dead, the executed, and animals. The temple has connections with sumō wrestling, too.

If the Area was so Elite, Why is it Shitamachi Today?

In 1719, the area was officially incorporated into Edo and fell under direct control of the shōgunate. This happened after the construction of 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge. The building of the bridge saw an influx of craftsmen and laborers who worked on the project. Many remained in the area as 町人 chōnin townspeople of the commoner areas. The completion of the bridge created more demand for jobs that only commoners could do under the rigid social hierarchy of the Tokugawa.

The daimyō residences alone must have been big business. They needed maintenance of their villas, but they also needed landscaping work, they needed fish and other foodstuffs brought to their estates. They needed rain coats and new underwear. The other samurai families required the same conveniences of the day. As more businesses arose in the area, the commoner population exploded. Woodworkers and other craftsmen had quick access to the lumberyards of Kiba which made the area famous for woodwork. A unique culture emerged in the area. It was a culture of means – but one that depended on the working class.

The Tsugaru residence is great example of the Edo- Tokyo dichotomy. The streets in yellow were Edo Period thoroughfares, typical of the yamanote. I marked the main entrance of the Tsugaru Estate in blue so you can get a point of perspective from the ukiyo-e I showed earlier.

The Tsugaru residence is great example of the Edo-Tokyo dichotomy.
The streets in yellow were Edo Period thoroughfares, typical of the yamanote.
I marked the main entrance of the Tsugaru Estate in blue so you can get a point of perspective from the ukiyo-e I showed earlier.

The daimyō residences were essentially palaces. The original 3 daimyō were joined by a few other daimyō families that built 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residences in the area. These were fairly large estates with sprawling gardens and safe, wide streets. They weren’t very populated, though. The truth is, by the middle of the Edo Period, the commoner population of Honjo far outweighed the nobility, much like some parts of 麻布 Azabu[viii].

As such, wealthy artists, writers, farmers, and actors came to this area to hang out. Many 茶屋 chaya tea houses existed in the area that catered specifically to the non-samurai, moneyed bourgeoisie. Commoners of substantial means could come to Honjo and go drinking and whoring in a town that looked and felt like the yamanote. The commoners who grew up in this area were Edokko heart and soul, but they typified the next generation of sophisticates of the Meiji Era. In Honjo, commoners were gentrified, knew the arts and culture, and hobnobbed with the samurai elite[ix].

Tea houses in Honjo

Tea houses in Honjo

Rise of the Shitamachi

By the early Meiji Period, the look of the area changed dramatically. The daimyō and largest samurai residences disappeared and were either reclaimed by nature or became new homes for the working class. The lots that became overgrown with unkempt trees and tall grasses became inhabited by stray animals. Those spots became popular with people who wanted to commit suicide. It was said that in Honjo at least one person a day would hang themselves in the night and be discovered the next morning. Of course, this changed over the 44 years of Meiji. By 1912, most of the abandoned lots had become factories that relied on the river for distribution, bringing in raw material, and dumping of whatever waste byproduct they produced. The Sumida River became extremely polluted and whenever the river flooded it caused outbreaks of disease because of all the waste that was left in the streets and in people’s homes after the waters receded. It was fucking nasty.

View from Ryōunkaku, the 12 story tower in Asakusa. You can see Sensō-ji in the foreground and factories lining the Sumida River on the Mukōjima and Honjo banks of the river.

View from Ryōunkaku, the 12 story tower in Asakusa. You can see Sensō-ji in the foreground and factories lining the Sumida River on the Mukōjima and Honjo banks of the river.

By the middle of the Meiji Period, the area was famous for cheap housing. Notably, day laborers could find daily or weekly lodging for a pittance as they hopped around from menial job to menial job. Whatever entertainment existed there in the Edo Period had long since disappeared[x]. Honjo, in contrast to nearby 向島 Mukōjima, was a place to work and live and nothing more. It also failed to hold on to its vigor in contrast to 浅草 Asakusa, which lay on the other side of the river and was still a bustling hub of 下町 shitamachi low town excitement, art, and culture. Honjo died in the late Meiji Period. And talk about kicking someone when they’re down, the 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake of 1923 laid another epic smack down on the area. It wouldn’t start to recover until after WWII.

The destruction of Honjo by the Earfquake was no less total than other parts of the city. The difference was Honjo was full of poor people and when poor people die they can't rebuild. Factories and other business get cheap real estate quick. It's pretty sad.

The destruction of Honjo by the Earfquake was no less total than other parts of the city. The difference was Honjo was full of poor people and when poor people die they can’t rebuild. Factories and other business get cheap real estate quick. It’s pretty sad.

So Why Should I be Interested in this Area?

Thank you for asking that question. And rest assured, I will answer in the form of biographies that show the diversity of people who have lived in the area. Unfortunately, I ended up with an article that was 18 pages in MS Word with more than 50 freaking footnotes. The footnotes alone were like… 3 or 4 pages. So I’ve decided to cut the article in half, using the first 4 pages and more than 2,000 words to talk about the area. Part 2 will be a beast, clocking in at 13 pages and more than 6,000 words. Trust me, you don’t want the original, unsplit version.

.

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[i] The fine folks at Samurai Archives have a good definition of this term: Shōen – Private estate exempted from central government control and often subject to a multi-layered proprietorship. Established in the Nara Period, the shōen system lasted until the late 16th Century, when it was finally eliminated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s sweeping land surveys.
[ii] I don’t like this translation, but I don’t know a better one. It’s similar in some ways to European feudalism… but in other ways it’s really different. Let’s save this discussion for another day.
[iii] Sometimes translated as “lord of the manor/estate.” I don’t like this translation either.
[iv] We’ll be coming back to this later.
[v] However, by the end of the Edo Period 江戸っ子 Edokko was the only word used to describe natives of Edo and Edoites in general.
[vi] Also called the 振袖之大火 Furisode no Taika Unmarried Woman’s Kimono Fire because legend says the fire began when a Buddhist priest burned a cursed kimono. The kimono was said to be cursed because it was owned by 3 young girls who died when it came into their possession. They never even had a chance to wear it. After the kimono had been passed to the 3rd girl and she died, the family asked the priest to destroy it.
[vii] This name should be familiar to long time readers. There is a temple of the same name near 小塚原死刑場 Kozukappara Shikeijō Kozukappara Execution Ground. You can see my article here.
[viii] See my article on Azabu here. It’s old and not so good, but whatevs.
[ix] Not entirely true. The area was prestigious, even as a commoner area. Even to this day, samurai heredity pulls some weight. But in the late Edo Period and early Meiji Period, Honjo was prime real estate and if you lived there or hung out there, that carried a lot of social power. That said, the shōgunate didn’t want samurai and commoners hanging out with each other too much. They either turned a blind eye to it or it was done on the down low. Of course, in the Meiji Period, there was no problem with mixing if you were “a person of talent.”
[x] The only exception was Mukōjima, where a unique geisha culture emerged.

What does Shiogama mean?

In Japanese History on August 5, 2015 at 4:28 am

塩釜
Shiogama (salt kettle)

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

Today’s place name isn’t an official place name, it’s part of a park name, 塩釜公園 Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park. The park actually takes its name from a shrine.

When I first saw this shrine, which is in such a state of disrepair that I actually thought it was a ruin, I never thought there would be much of a story behind it. The shrine precincts are in shambles, yet it’s designated as an official park of 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. But among the scattered ruins of this park, you can see a lot of Edo Period stonework. It has modern signage that designates it as a park, but it doesn’t look like a park that anyone would go out of their way to see[i]. I stumbled across it quite by accident when I decided to walk down a street I’d never taken before.

IMGK4691s

Anyways, turns out this decrepit little shrine has a pretty amazing backstory. The shrine’s name is derived from 鹽竈神社Shiogama Jinja Shiogama Shrine in 塩竈市 Shiogama-shi Shiogama City in 宮城県 Miyagi-ken Miyagi Prefecture. Miyagi Prefecture’s capital is 仙台市 Sendai-shi Sendai City.

But wait, “those kanji look different,” you must be saying. The first one is incredibly complex and uses kanji from before the post-WWII writing reforms. The second one updated the first character, but kept the obsolete 2nd character. A 3rd writing is used in Tōkyō, 塩釜 Shiogama, which uses 2 simplified, modern characters. But don’t worry; they’re all the same name as you’ll soon see.

There's a lot of this just scattered all over the place.

There’s a lot of this just scattered all over the place.

The Backstory

Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi enters the historical record in the 9th century and came to be associated with the 平泉藤原氏 Hiraizumi Fujiwara-shi Fujiwara clan of Hiraizumi[ii]. In the Edo Period, the 伊達家 Date-ke Date family became the shrine’s main patrons. In 1600, the warlord 伊達政宗 Date Masmune[iii] had been awarded a large and profitable seaside fief that would come to be called 仙台藩 Sendai Han Sendai Domain.

The 4th and 5th lords of Sendai Domain, 伊達綱村 Date Tsunamura and 伊達吉村 Date Yoshimura, repaired and expanded the shrine from 1695-1704. It became a major shrine in the area at this time and was closely connected to lords of Date and the domain’s ruling class. Most of the institution’s present greatness dates from this 9 year development project.

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

The Real Story Starts Here

In 1695, Date Tsunamura had the 神 kami deity of Shiogama Shrine divided[iv] and brought to Edo to be enshrined on the premises of Sendai’s massive 上屋敷 kamiyashiki upper residence which was located at present day 汐留シオサイト Shiodome Shio Saito Shiodome Shio Site[v]. The shrine stood on the private upper residence of Sendai for just over 160 years.

Then, in 1856, the shrine was relocated to the 中屋敷 nakayashiki middle residence in the 芝口 Shibaguchi area of Edo[vi]. This is the current location of the shrine today. It has stood at its present location for just under 160 years.

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

Just to put the relocation in perspective. 1856 was 3 years after Commodore Matthew C. Perry barged into 浦賀湾 Uraga Wan Uraga Bay demanding the Tokugawa Shōgunate open up the country for trade. It was 2 years after his return with diplomats insisting the shōgunate sign treaties. It was 12 years before the Meiji Coup succeeded in ousting the Tokugawa and establishing the Empire of Japan.

After the Meiji Coup, the daimyō were sent back to their domains. It’s in these early Meiji years that Shiogama Shrine became popular with the common people. Previously, they probably didn’t have much access to it because it sat on a daimyō’s private property[vii]. The 神 kami deity housed in the shrine is associated with 安産 anzan safe childbirth[viii]. Once the public had access to such a “powerful” kami formerly horded by the ancestors of Sengoku rock star, Date Masamune, the popularity of the shrine skyrocketed.

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in the Meiji Period.

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in 1901 (Meiji 34).

Shrine Decline

They say the shrine was completely leveled in the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. One of the positive outcomes of the earthquake was the immediate creation of evacuation areas. As a former daimyō residence, the surrounding area was presumably flat and open[ix]. Shiogama Shrine was designated as disaster evacuation spot. I’m not clear if the entire estate was made an evacuation area or just the shrine area, but by late 1923, the City of Tōkyō created 町立盬竃公園 Chōritsu Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park of East Tōkyō City.

In the 1940’s, the Tōkyō Bay area suffered horrific aerial attacks by the Americans. The so-called 東京大空襲 Tōkyō Daikūshū Firebombing of Tōkyō[x] brought the city of rivers and wood to her knees. Historical and religious intuitions that had once had deep pockets were forced out of necessity to sell their real estate holdings[xi]. It seems that this was the death knell of this particular shrine. Its 9th century origins and connection to the Sengoku warlord Date Masamune weren’t enough completely restore this once thriving shrine.

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

The Shrine Today

In 1971, the small block containing the shrine and the park became 区立塩釜公園 Kuritsu Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park controlled by Minato Ward. The kanji were officially changed in accordance with the kanji reforms of the post war era (remember the buggy kanji issue I mentioned before?).

The shrine is still active, but Tōkyōites don’t know about. It’s minor as fuck. Also, as I mentioned before, it’s in such a state of disrepair that no one would visit it unless they were interested in really obscure shit… which yours truly happens to be interested in. Obsessively so. lol.

But the shrine is shambles. The park area is tiny and includes nice seats and signage explaining the history of the area. But the shrine itself, which occupies a larger area, is a mess. I’m just going out on a limb and guessing the shrine gets a tax break and the family running it can get by, but Minato Ward is maintaining the smaller park area.

dirty shrine

The Kabuki Konnektion

Earlier I mentioned the 4th lord of Sendai, Date Tsunamura, brought the kami of Shiogama to Edo. He has been immortalized in the world of 歌舞伎 kabuki in a play called 伽羅先代萩 Meiboku Sendai Hagi. It’s the story of the 伊達騒動 Date Sōdō Date Disturbance which was a succession dispute that lasted from 1660 to 1671.

The 3rd lord of Sendai, 伊達綱宗 Date Tsunamune was a big fan drinking and whoring[xii] who spent all his time and money in the Yoshiwara. He was deposed by a faction of uptight clansmen for his negligence and dissolute ways[xiii].

2009042213521975d

Long story short, the 2 year old Date Yoshimura was made lord of Sendai and 10 years of infighting within the clan began. The shōgunate was finally asked to step in and resolve the issue before things got out of control. Well, in 1671, things did get out of control – swords were dawn, one samurai was killed, and one retainer’s family was abolished and his family executed. Ultimately, the young Tsunamura’s right to rule was reaffirmed by the shōgunate.

Because the shōgunate censored stories about the scandals of elite samurai, the story had to be “disguised” when put into kabuki form. The stage version was set in the Muromachi Period and given an esoteric title. The name, Meiboku Sendai Hagi, is made of 3 words evocative of the events. 伽羅 meiboku (normally read kyara) is a kind of wood used to make clogs. It’s said that Tsunamune wore clogs made of this material when going to the Yoshiwara. 先代 sendai means predecessor, as in the former head of a daimyō family. So Meiboku Sendai means the “former ruler who wore wooden clogs.” Sendai also sounds like Sendai Domain – I see what you did there. The last word, 萩 hagi Japanese clover, is a flowering plant that is famous in Sendai.

In short, the play presents Tsunamura as a just ruler replacing a Tsunamune, a corrupt ruler. I don’t know a lot about kabuki, but it seems there are many variations of this particular story. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

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[i] Unless you’re a Japanese history nerd, of course.
[ii] Who were the Fujiwara?
[iii] Who was Date Masamune?
[iv] The dividing of kami is done through a process called 分霊 bunrei which literally means “sharing a spirit.”
[v] Present day 東新橋一丁目 Higashi-Shinbashi 1-chōme 1st Block of East Shinbashi.
[vi] Present day 西新橋三丁目 Nishi-Shinbashi 3-chōme 3rd Block of West Shinbashi. The area was also called 愛宕下 Atagoshita at the time. The name Shibaguchi persists in shop names and in the parlance of locals, it is not an official place name today. The area near 愛宕神社 Atago Jinja Atago Shrine does preserve the name Atago officially.
[vii] Some daimyō made their tutelary shrines accessible to locals, I’m not sure to what extent – if any – the general populace had access to before Sendai’s middle residence had been vacated.
[viii] This term is broad and includes protection for the baby during gestation and birth, protection for the mother during pregnancy and labor, and protection against birth defects or being “sickly.”
[ix] Today it is most definitely flat, but crowded with small post-WWII shops, homes, and businesses. There is a large park and school on the former daimyō residence as well.
[x] Literally “the Great Air-Raid.”
[xi] Even the richest and most beautiful funerary temples of the Tokugawa shōguns had to finally sell off their properties and consolidate whatever holdings they could hold dear.
[xii] And let’s be honest, who isn’t?
[xiii] A bunch of effin’ killjoys, if you ask me.

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