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What does Gotenyama mean?

In Japanese History on February 4, 2016 at 7:15 am

御殿山
Goten’yama (palace mountain)

map

Usually I start off saying “let’s look at the kanji,” but this time I want to look at the actual words we’re going to have to deal with today.

御殿
goten

The meaning is literally “honorable lord” and once referred to any place the lord of castle lived within the castle confines. In the Edo Period, it took on some different meanings. It could be used for any facility the shōgun frequented. In Japanese castle design, the term refers to the residence of the lord of a castle or the main hall where he would receive guests.


yama

hill, mountain


shiro, –

castle; the original meaning was a defensive structure – in Japanese history this usually meant fort/fortified residence until the very late Sengoku Period.

 

According to the 新編武風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō[i] Newly Edited Description of Musashi Province[ii], before entering 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan built a hilltop fort on this section of the 高輪台地  Takanawa Daichi Takanawa Plateau between 1457- 1460. This was going to be his main residence, but after seeing a vision in a dream, Dōkan decided to take Edo Castle as his main residence. He gave the fort in this area, called 御殿山城 Goten’yama-jō Goten’yama Castle (palace mountain castle), to local strong man 宇田川長清 Utagawa Nagakiyo[iii]. The castle overlooked 浅草湊 Asakusa Minato Asakusa Harbor and 品川湊 Shinagawa Minato Shinagawa Harbor, so it was a pretty important defensive location.

takanawa daichi.jpg

The Takanawa Plateau

Something Doesn’t Add Up

For a long time, that’s what people have believed and it seems legit on the surface – that is, until you start digging a little deeper. When people of Ōta Dōkan’s day said 城 shiro, they just meant a fortified residence or fort, not the kind of Japanese castle that usually comes to mind. The Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō was written in Edo in the early 1800’s and when those people said shiro they were referring to the castles of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period that their cities were still based around. A warlord in Kantō of the Sengoku Period couldn’t afford to have a standalone 御殿 goten palace. His house inside the fortress walls might have been called a goten, but that was just a single building. The shiro would be what the people referred to, not the goten. That would be like calling a place where a school was located “the principal’s office.”

A Kantō warlord would also have had a few 出城 dejiro outposts[iv] that he would assign to trusted retainers at strategic locations. Ōta Dōkan was a text book case of this approach to defense. The truth is, Ōta Dōkan may have very well had a fort here – and at the very least, the presence of the Utagawa clan in the area is definitely documented. But the name 御殿山城 Goten’yama-jō Palace Mountain Castle is really suspicious. It seems the compilers of the Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō either got their history or etymology wrong[v]. It turns out, this place name is mostly likely far more recent. In fact, the most logical explanation is that it dates back to the Edo Period.

yamashiro

A large hilltop castle

So What Really Happened?

After the first shōgun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, set up his court in Edo, he used these former Utagawa lands for hunting[vi]. In the mid 1620’s, the 3rd shōgun 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu built a 休憩舎 kyūkeisha rest station for the shōgun when he came to the hill for 鷹狩 takagari falconry and other hunting activities. Usually rest stations were temporary affairs that could range from tents to large wooden shelters. This one seems to have been large enough to accommodate the shōgun and his retinue. Any such shelter or lodging was called a 御殿 goten in the parlance of the day. A space was also built for entertaining 重臣 jūshin senior retainers at 茶会 chakai tea ceremony events[vii]. In the 1660’s[viii], the shōgunate took on the massive beautification project of transplanting hundreds of 桜の木 sakura no ki cherry blossom trees to the area.

Oh, and what was the name of this playground of the shōguns? Well, it was called the 品川御殿 Shinagawa Goten Shinagawa Palace. The goten sat on the top of the hill and this seems to be the true etymology of the place name 御殿山 goten’yama goten hill.

Another theory exists – one that I don’t think is true, though. This one states that whether the shōguns hunted or hosted tea parties in the area is irrelevant because many 社殿 shaden Shintō shrines and 偉い人 erai hito men of high birth lived in the area. The 殿 den of shaden is the same as the 殿ten of goten. This would fall in line with the concept of 山手 yamanote high city and 下町 shitamachi low city. Unfortunately, the only actually evidence we have is the clear Edo Period evidence that says that the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family definitely had goten in this area. Thus, it seems pretty clear to me that the Shinagawa Goten is the source of this place name.

But, get this. The life span of the Shinagawa Goten on Goten’yama was only about 50 years. This is probably why the compilers of the Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō didn’t get the story right. The place hadn’t existed for 100 years when they wrote their shitty book[ix].

diorama.jpg

Who doesn’t love a good diorama?

Only 50 Years?

The area seems to have been visited often enough in the mid-1600’s for the shōgunate to decorate it with cherry blossoms. Daimyō and other high ranking officials were often entertained here. However, in 1702, the buildings were destroyed by a conflagration that tore through the area. This marks a dead zone in the timeline of the area.

The 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, died in 1709. The 6th shōgun, 徳川家宣 Tokugawa Ienobu, died after 3 years in office and he was succeeded by 7th shōgun, 徳川家継 Tokugawa Ietsugu, who then died at the age of 6 in 1716 – effectively ending the direct bloodline of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Rebuilding a stupid rest station for hunting was the least of the shōgunate’s concerns. Re-asserting Tokugawa leadership took up most of the shōgunate’s time. As you can imagine, the Shinagawa Goten was low priority and ultimately abandoned.

gotenyama girls

Hanami on Goten’yama.

A Place of Supreme Beauty

The shōgunate may not have had the time, energy, interest, or budget to maintain the Shinagawa Goten, but the cherry blossoms that they planted continued to thrive. Since the space wasn’t a private facility of the shōgun any more, the hill soon became one of the most popular locations in Edo for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing. The area was located outside of the shōgun’s capital, so it made a good day trip for those who could be granted access to Shinagawa in the spring.

hokusai hanami.jpg

A hilltop view of Edo Bay and Mount Fuji under a surreal white and pink canopy of cherry blossoms? How much more awesome could you ask for?

The cherry blossoms are said to have been in the hundreds. In fact, an account from 1824 claims that there were about 600 sakura trees on Goten’yama. To put this in perspective, 上野公園 Ueno Kōen Ueno Park is said to have about 1,200 sakura and 飛鳥山公園 Asukayama Asuka Hill Park is said to have 650. Both parks have a very different feel today, but the amount of cherry blossom trees is a good comparison – the experience on Asukayama being a little closer to the Edo Period experience than the craziness of Ueno Park.

Goten’yama was one of the defining beautiful areas of Edo and was often featured in 浮世絵 ukiyo-e wood block prints of daily life in Edo. Sadly, it came to a tragic and devastating end in the Bakumatsu. Long time readers will remember that in 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry dropped anchor in Edo Bay and demanded shōgunate open the country. He said he’d be back in a year to accept the shōgunate’s submission or bomb the shit out of Edo. He dropped the mic and took his fleet of 黒船 kurofune black ships back to the US.

kurofune

Kurofune – the Bakumatsu boogyman

The End of Edo’s Most Beautiful Hanami Spot

Totally freaking out, the shōgunate came up with a plan to build 11 manmade islands[x] across the harbor called the 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries. Each battery would house a garrison of samurai and feature the best cannon technology they could get their hands on at the time[xi]. The problem with manmade islands is that you need to move dirt from the dry ground and put it into the sea.

Now, let’s see. Where did the shōgunate have unused land nearby? Oh yeah! That big hill with all the cherry blossoms is just sitting there taking up space. Why don’t we use that?

daiba_4

Let there be landfill!

They carved out, hauled off, and dumped into the bay the north side of the mountain. The area corresponds to modern 北品川3丁目3番 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme no san-ban section 3 of the 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa, 北品川3丁目4番 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme no yon-ban section 4 of the 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa, and the eastern portion of 北品川4丁目7番 Kita-Shinagawa yon-chōme no nana-ban section 7 of the 4th block of Kita-Shinagawa. They effectively cut out a substantial portion of the Takanawa Plateau and reduced it to nothing.

takasugi shinsuck

Chōshū terrorist Takasugi Shinsuck. He was a jerk.

In 1861, the shōgunate had a plan to set up the 英国公使館  Eikoku Kōshikan British Legation[xii] in the razed Goten’yama area. Normally, they would have ordered a temple to accommodate these early embassies, but for some reason, a brand new facility was built from scratch for the British Empire[xiii].

In 1862, as the complex was nearing completion, some anti-foreign terrorists from 長州藩Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain including the hotheaded 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku[xiv] and future first prime minister of the 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Empire of Japan 伊藤博文 Itō Hirobumi[xv] attacked the site and burned it to the ground. The site is commemorated in the modern 権現山公園 Gongen’yama Kōen Gongen’yama Park in 北品川3丁目 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa[xvi].

english legation memorial

Memorial of the English Legation at Gongen’yama Park

I’m sure some of the cherry blossoms were still there and still bloomed from the 1850’s to 1868, but the national crisis of the Bakumatsu seems to have distracted attention from the Goten’yama area. Between the landfill projects and the ultimately fruitless construction of the British Legation – and let’s not forget, this was the absolute outskirts of the city at the time – Goten’yama sorta fell off the map. But the final nail in the coffin was when the construction of the 東海道鉄道  Tōkaidō Tetsudō Tōkaidō Main Line began. The train tracks cut through present day 北品川3丁目 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa and 北品川4丁目 Kita-Shinagawa yon-chōme 4th block of Kita-Shinagawa. The destruction of Goten’yama and the construction of the Tōkaidō Main Line forever changed the topography and image of the area.

sony village.jpg

Former HQ of Sony

Recent History

In 1947, ソニー Sonī Sony moved their headquarters to Goten’yama. There was a collection of Sony buildings in the area and the strong association with the electronics giant landed the area the nickname ソニー村 Sonī  Mura Sony Village. Around 2006, the company relocated to their new HQ in nearby 港南 Kōnan, next to 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station.

Today, Goten’yama is not an official postal code, but Shinagawa locals refer to the area from Kita-Shinagawa 3-chōme to Kita-Shinagawa 4-chōme as “Goten’yama.” This is roughly the area that the shōgunate mined to build the Shinagawa Batteries. Interestingly, the Shinagawa Palace is believed to have been located in 北品川5丁目 Kita-Shinagawa go-chōme 5th block of Kita-Shinagawa which is the site of an apartment complex called 御殿山パークハウス Goten’yama Pāku Hausu Goten’yama Park House. This shows that the place name Goten’yama still spans a wide area, despite having no official identity within the postal code system. Local place names and traditions are the only thing preserving it.

Some related articles:

 

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[i] I’ll talk about this book a little more later.
[ii] The translation is mine. I don’t know if there’s a standard English translation of the title. I don’t even think the book has ever been translated into English.
[iii] If the name 宇田川 Utagawa looks familiar, that’s because the family name is preserved in place names all over the city. The most famous is 渋谷区宇田川町 Shibuya-ku Udagawa-chō Udagawachō, Shibuya Ward. I may have to look into the pronunciation of this place name in a future article. That said, both Utagawa and Udagawa are legit variant readings.
[iv] Literally, forts to flee to or outside forts.
[v] Or possibly both.
[vi] Or former Ōta Dōkan lands, since technically Dōkan gave them to the Utagawa.
[vii] Although the location isn’t known for sure, most people assume the Shinagawa Goten was located in present day 北品川3丁目5番 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme go-ban section 6 of the 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa. The postal code 御殿山 Goten’yama does not exist today.
[viii] By some standards, this was the peak of the ascendency of the Tokugawa Shōgunate – the reigns of Ietsuna and Tsunayoshi.
[ix] OK, that wasn’t fair. The Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō is a pretty awesome text and we’re lucky to have it.
[x] 7 batteries were begun, but only 6 were actually completed. See my article here.
[xi] This technology was questionable at best compared to the cutting edge technology of the western powers.
[xii] A 公使館 kōshikan legation was the forerunner to the modern 大使館 taishikan embassy. They are essentially the same thing. According to Wikipedia, “A legation was the term used in diplomacy to denote a diplomatic representative office lower than an embassy. The distinction between a legation and embassy was dropped following World War II. All diplomatic representative offices are now designated as embassies or high commissions.
[xiii] Lucky them!
[xiv] Samurai Archives on Takasugi Shinsaku – or as I like to call him, Takasugi Shinsuck. The dude seems like a total wanker. His haircut was retarded, too. Just do a Google image search.
[xv] Samurai Archives on Itō Hirobumi.
[xvi] In Japanese, this act of terror is called the 英国公使館焼き討ち事件 Eikoku Kōshikan Yakiuchi Jiken Burning of the British Legation Incident. Japanese Wikipedia gives a single paragraph to the incident. No other language on Wikipedia even mentions the incident. This speaks volumes about how petty and childish Takasugi Shinsaku and the other Chōshū terrorists were in the early years of the Bakumatsu.

What does Kameari mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Sex on April 7, 2014 at 10:00 am

亀有
Kameari (we’ve got turtles, yo!) l_01 It’s been a few weeks since my last update and so I sincerely apologize for the delay, but I have a good excuse. My 7 or 8 year old PC, ピノコちゃん Pinoko-chan Pinoko, finally died. Loads of data, including several works-in-progress went missing. I had to buy a new computer and my new machine is Windows 8. It’s a total departure from previous incarnations of Windows, so not only am I setting up a new computer, I’m actually learning how to deal with the new OS[i]. So anyways, so much has happened since my last update. If you only read the blog, I just want to make sure that you know you can get different updates from me via Facebook and via Twitter. I treat Facebook like the Japan This Plus. I treat Twitter like Japan This On Crack. Either way, you can customize how much you want to deal with me based on those criteria. If you can’t get enough of me, then by all means subscribe to all. If prefer me in small doses, then just keep doing what you’re doing. Also, leave comments whenever you want to! I really love those.

Kameari Station

Kameari Station

OK, so let’s get into today’s Tōkyō place name. Today we’re talking about 亀有 Kameari in 葛飾区 Katsushika-ku Katsushika Ward. It’s an interesting place name because it’s easy to speculate about the etymology because of the kanji. .


kame

turtle


ari

existence, possession

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Judging by the kanji, one would think this is a place where there were many turtles. But you’d be wrong. First of all, it’s 亀有 kameari not 亀居 kamei. Anyone who’s studied even a little basic Japanese knows that the language makes a distinction between the existence of things that move 居る iru be and things that don’t move ある aru be so this rules out turtles being in the area. Aru can be used for possession, though. So if you guessed “having turtles” people wouldn’t fault you and you might be in line with what people generally think when confronted with the name. However, it seems that this is not actually the case. There’s a bit of mystery here.

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cute turtles    .

What We Do Know?

The place was originally written 亀無 Kamenashi “turtle” “without/not having” and 亀梨 Kamenashi “turtle” “Japanese pear.”
The name was mysteriously changed in 1644 to 亀有 Kameari turtle having.

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The first theory that I came across, seems plausible. The story goes that there were no turtles here (or even if there were, they weren’t the source of the name). The name is actually a reference to the shape of the terrain. This is something we see time and time again in place names (valleys, mountains, plateaux, hills, slopes, etc.). We don’t just see this in Japanese place names, but all over the world[ii].

Anyhoo, this theory suggests that at the confluence of the 古隅田川 Ko-Sumida-gawa Old Sumida River[iii] and the 葛西川 Kasai-gawa Kasai River there was a mound – built up over time by the accumulation of detritus from the rivers. The shape and the colors of the foliage on the hill made it look like a turtle’s shell. This theory purports that the origin of the name was 亀を成し kame wo nashi making a turtle/turning into a turtle. By scribal error (or a later adjustment) 亀成 became 亀無 Kamenashi having no turtles – perhaps it was easier to read. Reality check. Just for the record, 亀成 Kamenashi “making a turtle” isn’t an attested form.

.nukui1

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The deus ex machina for this legend is that the local villagers thought the spelling was inauspicious. Well, everyone knows that having a bunch of turtles is so much better than not having any turtles at all. Nobody wants to look like a bunch of losers with no turtles. Rather, they were the people who had turtles. Lots and lots of turtles. All of the turtles because… who the fuck knows? So they asked the shōgnate to change the name from 亀無 Kamenashi (no turtles) to 亀有 Kameari (we got fuckloads of turtles up in this biatch).

This sounded fishy, so I had to go digging around a little more. My first stop was 亀有香取神社 Kameari Katori Jinja Kameari Katori Shrine[iv]. They claim that the name first appeared in the Kamakura Period.

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temlr-gurls[7

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This was easy to verify, as the words 亀梨 and 亀無 Kamenashi are first mentioned in 2 documents. The area is referred to as 下総国葛西御厨亀無村 Shimōsa no Kuni Kasai Mikuri Kamenashi Mura Kamenashi Village, Kasai Mikuri, Shimōsa Province in 1398 in the 下総国葛西御厨注文  Shimōsa no Kuni Kasai Mikuri Chūmon Shimōsa Province’s Kasai Mikuri Annotation[v], a document of the Kamakura Shōgnate. It was mentioned again in 1559 in the 小田原衆所領役帳 Odawara Shū-Shoryō Yakuchō Register of the Territories and Peoples of Odawara, a document of the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi Late Hōjō Clan who controlled this area until Toyotomi Hideyoshi annihilated them in 1590/91[vi].

The next time the place is mentioned is in 1644 during the reign of the 3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu on a map drafted by the Tokugawa Shōgnate called 正保改定図 Shōho Kattei Zu Map of the Shōho Reforms. This map inexplicably has the area formerly referred to as 亀無 Kamenashi “no turtles” labeled as 亀有 Kameari “we’ve got turtles, yo.”

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kuniyoshi014_thumb2

OK, also I’ve been burying the lead about this whole turtle thing. Why were Japanese people so concerned about turtles? I can’t say if they really were or not, any more than I can say the average Roman was really concerned about Vesta or the average Christian is concerned about Little Baby Jesus, but what I can say is that the reference would have been universally recognized across Japan.  Within the syncretic Shintō world view, a turtle was a symbol of 長寿 chōju longevity[vii]. It was an auspicious creature and the kanji was equally auspicious. This is at the heart of why people say the “no turtles” name was changed to “yes, turtles!”[viii]

 20090525184125a72

Why Are You Talking About Maps and Documents That I’ll Never Bother Looking At?

Basically, so you don’t have to. And, also because the name change is very strange, IMO. As I mentioned earlier, we have a clear change in 1644 from 無 nashi having none to 有 ari having some. But there appears to be no official account of this change[ix]. That said all the sources I’ve checked seem to repeat the story that the local villagers petitioned the shōgnate for this change or that the shōgnate itself saw 無 nashi as in auspicious and opted for something more positive. From this point on, the area is consistently referred to as 亀有 Kameari and not 亀無 Kamenashi. In the late Edo Period, Kameari Shrine began decorating the shrine precinct with turtles. Many shrines are guarded by a pair of 狛犬 koma inu guardian dogs, but Kameari Shrine is protected by 狛亀 koma-kame guardian turtles. The earliest extant set of guardian turtles dates from about 1860 – literally the closing years of the Tokugawa Shōgnate.

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Koma kame

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Alternate Theories

So, is the story above true? Long time readers’ bullshit detectors should be going off by now, but 4 things are definitely true in regards to the historical record.

    The kanji 亀 kame turtle has always been present
    In the Edo Period, a seemingly clear phonetic change in the kanji occurred
③    In the Edo Period, Kameari Katori Shrine began promoting “having turtles” with statuary
    Your mom

There are some other theories out there that… well… should at least be looked at. The biggest mystery for most people is the kanji change in 1644 under the Tokugawa Shōgnate. In short, if I may repeat myself, the standard theory claims that the change is based on the fact that Kamenashi was an inauspicious name because 長寿の亀がない chōju no kame ga nai there is/are no avatar of long life. Turtles were seen to be symbols of long life.  From the 1300’s-1600’s no one gave a crap about changing name phonetically, despite this being such an inauspicious name. The closest thing to a name change is the writing 亀梨 Kamenashi turtle pear, which doesn’t make much sense, but is clearly not talking about a lack of something.

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mito_komon

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The Mito Kōmon Did It Theory

Mito Kōmon visited the area and changed the name because if you don’t have turtles of long life, you suck. So more turtles of long life for everyone! Everyone loves Mito Kōmon, right?[x] This theory is based on the fact that the lords of Mito and their entourage would pass through the area to do falconry in Kasai. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m tired of stories of shōguns and famous daimyō passing through areas and just renaming shit willy nilly[xi].

ainu_bnr.

The Ainu (or Somebody Else) Did It Theory

OK, and here’s the least popular theory, but for me it might be the most likely. The area was known since time immemorial as カメナシ Kamenashi and the kanji were originally ateji[xii]. If this theory is correct, it would suggest that the all of the kanji are useless in determining this place name. It may also allude to a non-Yamato people living in the area. It also throws us into absolute conjecture mode – which means we’ve exhausted our discussion of the etymology of this place name.

box_hashutujo

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Who Gives a fuck about Kameari?

A lot of people, actually. I don’t read manga or watch anime[xiii], but the average Japanese person probably knows about this area because of manga and anime.

But it’s the setting for こちら葛飾区亀有公園前派出所 Kochira, Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen-mae Hashutsujo This is the Local Police Station in Front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward.[xiv]. This manga has been running for more than 30 years[xv].  Statistically, I think it’s the 4th best-selling manga of all time, but don’t quote me on that. It’s affectionately referred to as  こち亀 Kochi-Kame (you can quote me on that) and statues of major characters from the story can be found on the streets near the station.

The area used to be known as the site of the factories of the Japanese pharmaceutical company 三共 Sankyō[xvi] and the famous Japanese electronics company日立 Hitachi, the people who bring much joy to women all over the world due to misuse[xvii] of their best-selling Hitachi Magic Wand. Today, the area is a shitamachi shopping district surrounded by a quiet residential area. Today the name survives as a station name, 亀有駅 Kameari Eki Kameari Station and as 2 postal addresses, 亀有 Kameari Kameari (5 blocks) and 西亀有 Nishi Kameari Kameari West (4 blocks).

The Hitachi Magic Wand

The Hitachi Magic Wand

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[i] I’m not even shitting you when I say I had to google how to shutdown my computer.
[ii] Not to say humans are fucking unoriginal at naming places, but there are common themes around the world. [iii] The river’s course is different today.
[iv] Shrines and temples tend to pass down great stories and for the same reason they keep awesome collections of maps and documents.
[v] To be honest, I don’t know how to translate this text’s name because 注文 chūmon usually means “order” as in “order at a restaurant,” but it has a secondary meaning of “explanatory text.” Sorry, I don’t know more about it.
[vi] Famously, this power vacuum was filled by Tokugawa Ieyasu – ever the hero of any story told from a Tōkyōite’s perspective.
[vii] ie; long life, yo.
[viii] Coming back to this later. So keep this in mind, OK?
[ix] Even if we accept the pre-Edo Period kanji of ~成 nashi making, ~梨 nashi pear, and 無 nashi nothing at face value, at least the pronunciations are the same. The 1644 change is truly remarkable.
[x] I don’t. I hate him, and in a small way blame the theocratic oligarchy of post-Meiji Japan on him.
[xi] Please bear in mind I own copyrights for the “Captain Japan Did It Theory,” the “Mito Kōmon Did It Theory,” the “Tokugawa Iemitsu Did It Theory,” and the “Tokugawa Yoshimune Did It Theory.”
[xii] Phonetic use of kanji.
[xiii] This isn’t entirely true. I read some manga and watch some anime.
[xiv] I don’t know if that’s a good translation of the title. If there’s an official translation, please let me know.
[xv] Apparently, it’s also an anime series and has been re-done as movies, tv series, and it’s even been reimagined in live action as a tv show and on stage!
[xvi] Today the company is known as 第一三共 Daiichi-Sankyō.
[xvii] Or Miss Use, as I like to say.

What does Ohanajaya mean?

In Japanese History on February 27, 2014 at 4:59 am

お花茶屋
Ohanajaya (Tea Shop O-Hana)

map of ohanajaya

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Today’s topic isn’t very complicated, so let’s get right down to business. It’s essentially made of 2 words.

 

お花
O-hana

O-hana
A girl’s name, this is the precursor of the Shōwa era modern Japanese name, 花子 Hanako, literally “Flower Child/Flower Girl.”

茶屋
chaya

A teahouse
A place where you could get some relaxation and most likely do a little drinking and whoring. Yes, you could also get a cup of tea.

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“But wait,” you say, “that spells O-hana Chaya.”

Well, under a normal (and somewhat irregular) linguistic process known as 連濁 rendaku sequential voicing[i], the mora ちゃ cha /tɕa / changes to じゃ ja /dʑa/ and voilà! You have O-hana Jaya[ii].

Today, the area called Ohanajaya refers to three 丁目 chōme “blocks” located within 葛飾区 Katsushika Ward. There is a small train station called お花茶屋駅 Ohanajaya Eki Ohanajaya Station that services the 形成本線 Keisei Honsen Keisei Main Line. The station has two exits. The south exit is 宝町 Takaramachi[iii] and the north exit is お花茶屋 Ohanajaya[iv]. Ironically, Ohanajaya Station is actually located in Takaramachi.
Go figure.

Ohanajaya Station

Ohanajaya Station

 

In the Edo Period this was the straight up boonies – literally, the outskirts of Edo. The area was located on the 曳舟川 Hikifunegawa Hikifune River which was also known as the 葛西用水 Kasai Yōsui the Kasai Waterway or Kasai Kanal[v] which flowed from present day Katsushika Ward to present day Sumida Ward. In fact, its terminus in Sumida is where present day Hikufune is located[vi]. In the early years of the Edo Period, it was a 上水 jōsui a drinking water supply; however it soon was demoted to a common waterway for small boats. Apparently it was a quite scenic spot, as it is depicted in many surviving works of art.

The river was filled in during the preparations for the Tōkyō Olympics in 1964 and subsequent development has completely obscured the river’s original path.

The Hikifune River.

The Hikifune River.

So… About the Etymology

From the name, we can tell that it was clearly named after a teahouse. There’s no reason to doubt the kanji in this case because it seems to be a very straight forward Edo Period name. There is a bit of a problem in that there are multiple explanations for the name, all of which are closely related, but with one simple problem: Most of these explanations invoke a shōgun. So take all of this with a grain of salt.

Why would a shōgun be invoked here? Well, the fact that the Tokugawa family came to this area for falconry is well known[vii]. But the frequency with which these stories come up (always involving a “cool shōgun,” it just seems like they were just moseying around Edo pointing at things and renaming them at will. Sure, they had that power. Do I think they spent their time that way? Not really.

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I just re-named that rock over there. And that teahouse. I saw a small fish I liked and I renamed that.  A shogun's work is never done.

I just re-named this rock.
And that teahouse over there.
I saw a small fish I liked and I renamed that too!
A shogun’s work is never done.

The “Yoshimune Did It” Theory

It is said that the 8th shōgun, wise and good Tokugawa Yoshimune[viii], often came here for falconry. On one occasion, he had a severe stomach ache. For some reason, there were no nobles living in the area and his entourage brought him to a local teahouse[ix] and he was nursed back to health by the daughter of the proprietor. Her name was O-hana. And in celebration of his recovery, he ordered the area be named O-Hana Chaya.

Variations

Yoshimune came out for falconry. He had a stomach ache. He was nursed back to health by O-hana. He performed tea ceremony with her and gave her a 茶釜 chagama tea kettle. The shop became famous for this visit and they displayed the chagama in the shop[x]. Because this was O-hana’s tea kettle the shop became known as O-hana Chaya.

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Whoa!

Whoa!

The “Yoshimune Had Nothing to Do with It” Theory

The oldest, the most frequented, or the only teahouse in the area was named O-hana. Shops all over the world have all kinds of names and Edo Period Japan was no different. In fact, using a person’s given name for a teahouse was quite common. Anyhoo, this theory suggests that this shop was the most famous, most frequented, or (possibly) oldest teahouse in the area. It being such a rustic place there’s no reason to doubt that the area was famous for a certain shop. We’ve seen this before.

This is my theory because it seems the most plausible.  Of course, there is no remaining shop. But this is simple and clean and just plain common sense.

Also, given the manners of the day, I don’t think there was much obligation on the part of a shōgun to do tea ceremony with commoners. While there is an image of Yoshimune loving the common people, I just don’t imagine the real guy hanging out with a bunch of dirty townspeople in the countryside drinking tea. Yes, it would happen in 暴れん坊将軍 Abarenbō Shōgun, but that was a TV show for senile people.

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"You go, girl!"

“You go, girl!”

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[i] What the hell does sequential voicing mean? In short, it’s a sound change and that’s good enough for most people. If you really want to more, check out the Wikipedia article.

[ii] Wait, what the hell’s a mora? Mora (plural: morae) is a Latin word that is used to describe syllables. It’s not exactly the same as a syllable in English. Unless you’re going deep into Japanese Linguistics (or linguistics in general), that’s all you need to know. However, if you really want to know more (and you probably don’t), here’s the Wikipedia article.

[v] It looks cooler with the K.

[vi] And if you think this is an upcoming topic, you’d be right. And you’ve probably been reading this blog too long. Nerd!

[viii] Wise Yoshimune, as Rekishi no Tabi jcalls him. Wise, indeed, but apparently not wise enough to waste a fuck ton of money on the opulent tomb of 6 year old Tokugawa Ietsugu who literally did nothing as shōgun.

[ix] The term chaya (teahouse) is a little ambiguous, but this very well could have been a house of “ill repute.” The legend says nothing of the place other than “teahouse.”

[x] This undoubtedly caused all the towns people who saw it to say すごーい!sugoi! great!

What does Mejiro mean?

In Japanese History on August 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm

目白
Mejiro (White Eyes)

Little known fact. Mejiro Station is haunted by the ghosts of two high school girls.

Little known fact. Mejiro Station is haunted by the ghosts of two high school girls.

Last time, I wrote about 目黒 Meguro. The kanji mean “black eyes.” Far across town there is an area called 目白 Mejiro. The kanji mean “white eyes.” A couple of readers brought up the name Mejiro and asked if it was related. Some actually knew the story of the 五色不動 Goshiki Fudō the 5 Colored Fudō.  If you don’t know about these 5 temples, you can read about them here. If you didn’t catch my article about Meguro, you can see it here. As seems too often to be the case, there is a little fiction and a little reality served with a healthy dash of mystery – and in this case, an incredibly frustrating mystery.

First, Let’s Start with the Most Commonly Kicked Around Etymologies

Hi yo, Silver! Away!

Did someone say famous white horse?

The Famous White Horse Theory

This theory says, without stating much else, that a famous white horse was born here, a 白い名馬 shiroi meiba, if you will. This theory is plausible because, well… ok, anything’s possible. But naming a place after a single white horse seems a little silly. Anyways, the etymological basis for this derivation is that the original place name was 馬白 Mejiro “white horse” – representing a dialectal variant of ma (horse), me.  If you’re familiar with my article on Meguro, then you’ll likely find the similarity of 馬白目白 to the proposed change of 馬黒目黒 intriguing.

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Tokugawa Iemitsu

When in doubt, Iemitsu did it!

★ The “Tokugawa Iemitsu Did It” Theory

Having researched a ton of Tōkyō place names this year, I’m starting to see patterns emerge that set off my BS detectors. Theories that say the third shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, came into some place and renamed it are a dime a dozen. I’m willing to entertain some of them, but some are just retarded. This is one of them.

The story states that one day Tokugawa Iemitsu came to Meguro for falconry and thought the name 目黒 Black Eyes was inauspicious and ordered the area to be called 目白 White Eyes. The stupidest thing about this theory is that anyone who looks at a map will see that the modern Meguro and Mejiro are nowhere near each other. And while – yes, anything is possible – there could have been another village called Meguro here at one point, it’s pretty fucking unlikely. Even if it was true, why didn’t Iemitsu care about the other Meguro? And he was the shōgun for fuck’s sake – the samurai dictator of the realm. I doubt he was such a pussy as to change the names of villages simply because the name scared him.

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There it is! The statue that named a village.  Or is it?

There it is! The statue that named a village.
Or is it?

★ The “Buddha Did It” Theory

This is by far the most elaborate – and widely told – theory.

At the beginning of the Edo Period, the super monk[i], 天海 Tenkai, was placed in charge of developing Buddhist temples in the area. His pet project was to build a cluster of 5 temples dedicated to Acala, called 不動 Fudō The Unmovable One in Japanese.  Each temple’s statue of Fudō had a different colored pair of eyes. The one in 目黒 Meguro Black Eyes had black eyes[ii]. The statue in 目白 Mejiro White Eyes had, you guessed it, white eyes.  The presence of a temple established by Tenkai, which was part of a grouping of 4 other temples was prestigious for the area and probably brought many pilgrims to the town’s 門前町 monzen-chō (town built at the front of a temple)[iii]. The area then derived its name from this temple’s claim to fame, the white eyed statue.

This theory sounds plausible on the surface, but the fact is that the name Mejiro pre-dates the Edo Era, so sorry to say, the statue’s eye color might originate from the place name, but the place name does not originate from the statue. The name Mejiro allegedly first appeared in one of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s original surveys of Edo when he moved into the area and was sizing up his new holdings.

Now it's time to some useless trivia.

Now it’s time to some useless trivia.

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By The Way, Why Did The Statues Each Have Different Colored Eyes?

Well, I’m glad you asked. The cluster of temples is called the 五色不動  Goshiki Fudō The Five Colored Fudō. The 5 colors are a reference to something called  五行思想  Gogyō Shisō the Theory of the Five Elements, which is some ancient Chinese woo that views the cosmos through a delicate balance of, you guessed it, 5 “elements;” wood, fire, earth, metal, and water[iv].

Gogyo - the Theory of the 5 Elements

Gogyo – the Theory of the 5 Elements

As you can see in the image above, there are 5 colors associated with these “elements;” blue, red, yellow, white, black. Which temples actually make up the Goshiki Fudō is a point of contention these days, as the grouping during the Edo Period is different than the grouping now. In fact today’s grouping has 6 statues (a second yellow eyed statue has been added). The truth is the whole story of the naming of these towns and their connections to the temple statues is an invention of the Bakumatsu Era which only gained popularity in the Meiji Era. In other words, there is zero connection between the temples and the place names.

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OK, so where does the place name Mejiro really come from?

No one knows.

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After reading all that, I hope you feel as let down and disappointed as I was researching this topic. When looking into the origins of Tōkyō place names, there are some that have fascinating stories and some that are just dead ends. At least this story has some interesting tangents that have made it worth your time. I had fun doing the research, but… yeah. I’m disappointed too.

See that large section of green?

See that large section of green labeled “Tokugawa Village?”
Let’s talk about that a little bit…

But the story isn’t finished quite yet. Have you ever been to Mejiro? There’s not much to do there so there may be no reason for you to go. But in 1932[v], the head of the 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari branch of the Tokugawa Family built a residence here[vi]. Since then, his property has been turned into an exclusive planned community called the Tokugawa Village. It’s home to high ranking diplomats and über-rich douche bags of every stripe[vii] and it’s home to the 徳川黎明会 Tokugawa Reimeikai Tokugawa Dawn Society which sounds like an evil cult, and may in fact be one, but on the surface it seems to be a group dedicated to historical research related to the Tokugawa. It’s affiliated with the prestigious 徳川美術館 Tokugawa Bijutsukan Tokugawa Fine Art Museum in Nagoya which preserves the largest collection of art and property of the Tokugawa family and has a hell of a gift shop if you want goods with the Tokugawa family crest printed on them[viii].

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OK, so, to re-cap: famous horse, Iemitsu, 5 Buddhas, eyeballs, über-rich douche bags, Tokugawa cult, nobody knows.

The end.

 

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[i]
I say supermonk because it seems like every other temple in Kantō claims to have been established by or have some connection to him. Dude got around. Or who knows? I’m not into monks so don’t hold me to it. (And “supermonk” sounds hilarious.)
[ii] But as mentioned in my article on Meguro, the name of the town predates the Edo Period. So Meguro’s name does not derive from the statue. There is a chance that Tenkai chose the town Meguro for the black eyed statue or it may be a happy little coincidence. But Edo Period people probably dug that kind of shit, so I wouldn’t put it past the supermonk.
[iii] See my article on Monzen-nakachō for more about this kind of town.
[iv] None of which is actually an element.
[v] Shōwa 7
[vi] In the Edo Period he would have been a successive daimyō, but after the reforms of the Meiji Era he was a Marquis – just as I am a Marquis Star (cue cheeseball drumfill).
[vii] That’s totally uncalled for. I don’t know if the people there are douches or not. I’m not rich, so that’s just my jealous oozing out as totally unjustified contempt.
[viii] Yes, I want. Thank you very much.

What does Inokashira mean?

In Japanese History on June 28, 2013 at 3:10 am

井ノ頭
Inokashira (Well’s Head, but more at Top of the Well – a poetic way to say “source of water”)

Inokashira Park in the day time.

Inokashira Park in the day time.

This place name has some written variants:

井頭
_________

井之頭
_________

井ノ頭
_________

井の頭
_________

They are all read the same way.

Also there is some dispute over the correct pronunciation of the name. The name is pronounced Inogashira or Inokashira and people who prefer one pronunciation will ardently defend their use of it by saying that the other one is just stupid. But I’m a foreigner and a non-native speaker, so I don’t fucking give a shit. Both pronunciations are perfectly acceptable[i].

wCkVnGTy_ZWuo-0

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Alright, now that we’re one F bomb deep,
I think we’re ready to get started.

The area that is called 井之頭 Inogashira[ii] derives its name from the lake, 井ノ頭池 Inogashira Ike Inokashira Pond. On a falconry outing to the Mitaka area for the first time, the 3rd shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, is alleged to have said something along the lines of 「ほら此処は井之頭じゃhora koko wa i no kashira ja “Yo, this is where the water comes from, homie.”

Inokashira Lake is the source of the Kanda River.

Inokashira Lake is the source of the Kanda River.

What the hell was he talking about?

Well[iii], before the Tokugawa came, Edo was a tiny coastal town. With the establishment of the shōgunate and the establishment of Edo residences for all of the lords across Japan, water came into short supply. One of the primary sources of water for Edo Castle was Inokashira lake, located some 10 km outside of Tōkyō in modern Mitaka (to be specific, Kichijōji). Whether the story of Iemitsu visiting the lake for the first time and naming the well is true or not, the fact was that this lake which had natural springs in it was providing fresh water to the shōgunal residence and providing water to the other daimyō (feudal lords) living in the yamanote. Soon that waterway was diverted to other samurai families and later to the general populace of Edo in general.

So, whether Iemitsu really named the lake or not doesn’t really matter (and I totally made up the quote). Maybe the engineering team who came in and started the building project came up with the name and Iemitsu got credited for it. What does matter is that it demonstrates how massive the city of Edo had become in a short time and that the shōgunate had the wherewithal to increase the water supply in a timely manner. It was mostly under Tokugawa Iemitsu’s watch that these changes took place.

By the way, some of the walking paths through the park were formally part of the 玉川上水 Tamagawa Jōsui Tama River Aqueduct. They’re labeled in Japanese, but I don’t think there’s anything in English. Let me know if you’ve seen English signs.

There is another story about the lake. As the area was used for falconry by the Go-sanke, the local villagers asked Tokugawa Mitsukuni, the vice-shōgun, and lord of Mito if they could also use the water for drinking. Mitsukuni said, “Go ahead, I don’t give a shit.” The people were happy and they built a special stairway to thank him. The stairway can still be seen in the park.

Anyways, to today’s modern Tōkyōite the name is associated with the park in Kichijōji which is next to Mitaka. There is also a train line that runs from Shibuya to Kichijōji called the Inokashira Line[iv].

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Some guy’s blog about the extant portions of the Tamagawa Jousui (Japanese only):
http://hakkaisan-photo.com/y-ok/2013/06/tamagawajyosui-8.html
The first pix are in Inokashira Park.

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[i] I would say the 江戸っ子 Edokko native Tōkyōites of 2 generations or more prefer “ga” over “ka” and that it is a dialect thing, but I’ve been told by one or two people who qualify as Eddoko that it’s not. I don’t know who to believe and at this point, it doesn’t matter. Dialects change. Personally, I use “ga” because it’s easier to say.

[ii] Or Inokashira.

[iii] Not a pun, really, I swear.

[iv] But many locals will pronounce it Inogashira.

What does Mitaka mean?

In Japanese History on June 27, 2013 at 2:56 am

三鷹
Mitaka (3 Falcons)

Three falcons.

Three falcons.
Let’s get it on!

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I don’t know why I haven’t written about Mitaka yet. I’ve known the etymology of this for about 7 years. It was told to me by a monk at one of the temples located around 井ノ頭公園 Inokashira Kōen Inokashira Park – which is another interesting place name, actually.

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Inogashira Park has a beautiful canopy.

Inogashira Park has a beautiful canopy.

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Mitaka is part of the Tōkyō Metropolis, but it is not one of the 23 Special Wards. So it doesn’t use the word 区 ku ward, rather it uses 市 shi city, thus the full name is 三鷹市 Mitaka-shi Mitaka City. Despite not being “special,” Mitaka does have some interesting attractions. The most famous place is the town of  吉祥寺 Kichijōji where the famous Inokashira Park is located. It’s a great park, a little crowded, and popular with young people. It’s famous for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing and hippies. There are some interesting shrines and temples located in and around the park that have their own interesting stories as well. The city is also famous for the Studio Ghibili Museum[i].

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Mitaka Station

Mitaka Station

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My research confirmed the story I was told by the monk and also produced an alternate theory. First, I’ll give you the story I heard 7 years ago.

In the Edo Period, the Tokugawa shōguns used the area as a 鷹場 takaba falconry hunting ground[ii]. The shōguns could use any damn place they wanted for falconry – it’s good to be the shōgun – but as with all things in the Edo Period, there were restrictions on the other noble families, including the other branches of the Tokugawa clan. The vast Mitaka area was reserved for the 御三家 Go-sanke The 3 Families the 3 branches chosen by Ieyasu to provide a shōgun if his direct family line went extinct[iii]. Because members of the 三 mi 3 most elite branches of the Tokugawa family came here frequently to hunt with 鷹 taka falcons, the area came to be known as 三 鷹 mi taka, the 3 falcons.

The alternate story that I came across states that Mitaka was surrounded by 3 領 ryō territories[iv]. Those territories were 世田谷領 Setagaya-ryō ,  府中領  Fuchū-ryō , and  野方領 Nogata-ryō, therefore the area was called  三 鷹 mi taka, the takaba surrounded by 3 territories.

Falcons.... not so cool in our era....

Falcons…. not so cool in our era….

In the Edo Period, the area was just a collection of villages and the name Mitaka seems to have been a nickname or deliberately chosen later. It wasn’t until 1889 when the 22 year old Meiji government abolished the old Tokugawa civil administrative units and created the 市町村制 Shichōson Sei City-Town-Village System of administration. At that time the area that is now Mitaka was officially created. Apparently, there was a document that included the reason the name Mitaka was chosen but it was lost when the old village office was destroyed in a fire. This is one of those times when we are close enough to the creation of a name that we could have an official etymology but far enough back in time that backups and copies of things weren’t always so common and – the curse of any person interested in Japanese history – the cities were fire traps. So close and yet so far.

To be honest, both stories sound credible to me. And it’s not inconceivable that the reality lies a little in the middle.

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[i] I see no reason to talk about Ghibili here…

[ii] See my article on Kōenji for more about falconry and the samurai elite.

[iii] Anyone reading my blog by now probably already knows these, but just in case, those families are the 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke the Owari branch,  紀伊徳川家 Kii Tokugawa-ke the Kii branch and 水戸徳川家 Mito Tokugawa-ke the Mito branch. And a quick aside, the area wasn’t only for the Go-sanke’s use, of course, the shōgun family could use it if they wanted to.

[iv] Mitaka itself didn’t exist. It was just an unincorporated area of 武蔵国多磨郡 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Tama District of Musashi Province.

Why is Kōenji called Kōenji?

In Japanese History on April 12, 2013 at 1:45 am

高円寺
Kōenji  (High Circle Temple)

Koenji

Koenji

Kōenji is funky town in Suginami Ward next to Nakano. Like Nakano, it’s got everything. It’s residential and convenient, but you have plenty of places for shopping and eating and drinking and whoring.

The name seems pretty straight forward. Any place name that ends with (ji/tera) is named after a temple. Lots of those, as you can imagine. And yes, Kōenji is named after a temple.

The west part of Tōkyō – Takadanobaba, Nakano, Kōenji, Mitaka, Kichijōji, etc. – was pretty fucking rural in the Edo Period. It was a good place for bored samurai to practice various 武術 bujutsu martial arts. This particular area was well known for falconry which was what Japanese nobility did for fun because they didn’t have video games yet and life was pretty boring. Some of the Tokugawa shōguns and daimyō doing alternative attendance service came out here for falconry.

Tokugawa Ieyasu and a falcon.

Tokugawa Ieyasu and a falcon.

Wait! What the Fuck is Falconry?

In Japanese, it’s called 鷹狩 taka-gari (falcon hunting). It’s a kind of “game” by which you hunt birds or other animals with a trained bird of prey. Since getting trained birds of prey was expensive, it was a “game” that was pretty much restricted to the nobility. It sounds fucking boring as hell to me, but all the rich daimyō loved this shit.

Wait, if they loved it so much, why do you never see it much in samurai movies these days?  Because… well, it was probably boring as hell. What do you expect? These people didn’t have smartphones, purikura, bukkake, and bit torrents yet. Making a bad ass bird go catch another bird for you might be cool if you’ve never seen the internet.

koenji

The temple

Anyways, back to Kōenji.

In the mid-1550’s there was a temple established on a hill in the area. The name of the temple was (and still is) 宿鳳山高円寺 Shukuhōzan Kōenji*, but most people just call it Kōenji.  The story goes that Tokugawa Iemitsu (the 3rd Tokugawa shōgun) stopped by this temple often whilst getting his falconry on in the area. In fact, the planting of a few trees on the premises are attributed to him (a topic for another time).

It’s said that originally, the area had the name 小沢 Ozawa “little creek,” but after the shōgun became a patron of the temple, the temple’s prestige rose and the area naturally took on the name of the temple.

Koenji Awa Odori

Koenji Awa Odori

On last note, Kōenji is famous for a summer festival that features a kind of dances called 阿波踊りAwa Odori. This traditional dance comes from Tokushima (formerly 阿波国 Awa no Kuni). I have a certain friend who might slit my throat – with good justification – if I didn’t mention that this dance is not Kōenji’s local dance. It’s just a way for Tōkyō people to enjoy this traditional dance. Anyways, real 阿波踊り Awa Odori comes from Tokushima and if you meet a person from Tokushima and you say that, you may earn a friend for life. Awa Odori is beautiful and the music is cool and the costumes are beautiful. If you can’t see itin Tokushima, try it in Kōenji.

*鳳山 is an interesting word itself. 鳳 ōtori refers to a kind of mythological bird of prey that can turn into a fish. It’s not a phoenix, but if you think of it as a phoenix, it makes sense. This area was famous for bad ass birds.

Yodobashi – A Haunted Bridge in Nakano-Sakaue?

In Japanese History on June 8, 2011 at 12:00 am

The other day, I was walking home from Shinjuku. I walked on the Ōmekaidō towards Nakano and I crossed the Kanda River. The area is the border of Shinjuku Ward and Nakano Ward (the area is called 中野坂上 Nakano Sakaue). I noticed a small sign and became curious.

yodobashi_english

The sign on the modern bridge.

The sign said 淀橋 Yodobashi and talked about the history of the bridge. There’s a famous electronics shop called Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku so I got curious and decided to check out the sign.

Well, it turns out that in the Edo Period this area of the Ōmekaidō west of the Kanda river was part of 淀橋村 Yodobashi Mura (Yodobashi Village).

Yodobashi Village Nakano Sakaue Edo Period

Yodobashi Village as it looked in the Edo Period. Seems like a pretty lively place.

Supposedly, the 3rd Tokugawa shōgun, Iemitsu named this area.

The bridge used to be called 姿見ずの橋 Sugata-mizu no Hashi (Invisible Figures Bridge). The reason was that in this area there was a legend that a certain Suzuki Kūrō (1371-1440) – the so-called “Tycoon of Nakano” – who hid his vast fortunes underground here. While burying his treasure, he became paranoid that the people helping him dig and carry the money might try to come back to steal his money. So, he killed the dudes who helped him bury it and threw their corpses into the river. People in the town saw a group of figures (姿) go over the bridge, but only one figure (姿) came back. So they named it the “Invisible Figures Bridge” (I guess this is a kind of 15th century Japanese joke…)

Suzuki Kuro Yodobashi Nakano-sakaue Shinjuku

“Hey don’t kill me, bro! You asked me to help you carry all this shit out here and….”

The Tokugawa shōguns used to make a long journey from Edo Castle to Mitaka for falconry. One time, Iemitsu and his entourage rested their horses by the bridge and heard the local story about the bridge’s inauspicious name. He thought it was an unlucky name for the bridge. The view of the river crossing reminded him of the 淀川 Yodogawa (Yodo River) in Kyōto and so he commanded the people to name the bridge 淀橋 Yodobashi (Yodo Bridge).

Of course, it was a great honor for the people to have the shōgun rename their bridge, so they started to call their town Yodobashi. The famous electronics store, Yodobashi Camera began in the area that is now Shinjuku Nishiguchi. The name of the store and area comes from this bridge.

Yodobashi Nakano Shinjuku 1960's Tokyo

Yodobashi Bridge in the 1960’s.

Actually this area made up a ward called 淀橋区 Yodobashi-ku, but was merged with 四谷区 Yotsuya-ku in the 1947 restructuring into the 23 Special Wards. The merged area became present day 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku.

Yodobashi Bridge Nakano Shinjuku 2011

View from Yodobashi Bridge Today

UPDATE: To learn more about Shinjuku, click here for What does Shinjuku mean?

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