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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 Harajuku mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Travel in Japan on April 7, 2016 at 3:01 pm

原宿
Harajuku
(first post town, more at “rest spot on the plain”)

harajuku stupid

Let this image sink in for a minute.

I get emails about the blog. Not a shitload, but I get them from time to time. However, it’s rare that I get blindsided by an email.

That said, I love getting blindsided by emails, so let’s check this out.

I recently moved to Japan and I’m living in Yoyogi. I spend a lot of time in Harajuku. Because I’m studying Japanese now I’m interested in the kanji for Shinjuku and Harajuku. You’re article on Shinjuku was amazeballs and it got me thinking. But I can only find information on Yoyogi and Shinjuku. I searched your website and can’t find anything about Harajuku. Do you have a plan to write about Harajuku? Love the blog. Looking forward to your next article!

I was outraged! I must’ve written about Harajuku 100 thousand times at least.

Well, OK, not 100 thousand times, but I know I’ve written about Harajuku at least 100 times. And I set out to prove this reader wrong, goddammit.

wrong.jpg

But She was 100% Correct

I searched my own site like crazy, convinced that I’d covered the subject before. After all, it’s such a simple one; I knew I had to have written about it! But after a good 15 minutes of scavenging my own work for a single article about Harajuku, I realized that I’ve mentioned Harajuku and the surrounding areas many times, but I’ve actually never written about the etymology of Harajuku itself.

Dear reader, I stand corrected, and this glaring omission is going to be remedied today – right freaking now. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention[i].
.

As for some related articles, you might want to check later:

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Japanese vs English google seach

Your image of Harajuku probably depends on your ethnicity, culture, and language. The image of the left was the first image that came up on a Google image search in Japanese. The image on the right is the first image that came up when I searched in English.

 

First Let’s Look at the Kanji


hara, gen

origin, source, beginning; field, plain

宿
shuku/juku, yado

inn, post town

At first glance the word 原宿 Harajuku looks like it means “first post town,” but its actual etymology is “post town on the plains.” You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

Like many place names in the Kantō area, we don’t get a lot of solid information about this place until the Kamakura Period[ii]. Prior to this period elite culture had flourished in Kyōto and western Japan under the imperial court. Kantō cities like Kamakura or (god forbid) Edo[iii], were nothing before the rise of samurai culture in the East under the 源氏 Genji Minamoto clan[iv]. With their rise in the East, came a rise in literacy in the East and much better record keeping.

harajuku station taisho period.jpg

Harajuku Station in the Taishō Period (1920’s), when it was brand spankin’ new.

What Little We Know

It’s said that the 鎌倉街道 Kamakura Kaidō Kamakura Highway going from 相模国 Sagami no Kuni Sagami Province[v] to 大州 Ōshū (roughly modern 岩手県 Iwate-ken Iwate Prefecture) had a post town in the area. But, if you’ve read my article about Shinjuku, don’t get any big ideas. This “town” wasn’t much more than a scattershot collection of farms just barely subsiding on their (luckily) fertile land. Until quite recently, this was the boondocks.

Specifically, it seems to have been a 宿駅 shukueki relay station[vi] for horses. The Kantō area was famous since time immemorial for horse rearing. The highlands near modern Harajuku seem to have been horse grazing areas in the 11th Century. The area was referred to as a 原 hara field/meadow, so 原宿 Harajuku literally meant “field inn.”

But I want to emphasize that it was basically just a horse relay station. This wasn’t a place to eat, sleep, take a bath, and get your dick wet. For the casual traveler in this area, you were lucky to find a little shelter from the elements and a clean dirt floor to sleep on. There wasn’t even a proper village here for most of its existence.

Minamoto_no_Yoshiie.jpg

Minamoto no Yoshiie was held up as the paragon of samurai values by Minamoto no Yoritomo, founder of the first shōgunate. The family’s reverence of his ideals and beliefs (true or not) came to permeate all of samurai culture. As a result, he’s one of those mysterious people who affected Japanese culture in a way that would have blown his mind if he could rise from the dead and read about himself on the internet today.

I mentioned the rise of the Minamoto clan in the east, and usually we talk about 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo the first Kamakura shōgun. But today we’ll talk about an earlier family member, 源義家 Minamoto no Yoshiie also known as Hachimantarō.[vii] During the 後三年合戦 Gosannen Kassen Gosannen War[viii] which was fought in the 1080’s, Yoshiie set up a camp in this area. Today this day in 神宮前2丁目 Jingūmae Ni-chōme 2nd block of Jingūmae there is a hill called 勢揃坂 Seizoroi-zaka which means “hill where troops are mustered.” The hill is also known as 源氏坂 Genji-zaka Genji Hill – Genji, of course meaning “the Minamoto clan” (but you already knew that).

genjizaka

The hill isn’t much to look at today, but if you do a Google image search in Japanese it’s mostly pictures of amazing looking food. I’m gonna follow up on this.

In the Edo Period, the high grounds were home to daimyō residences and high ranking samurai, while the sides of the hills went to low ranking samurai. The lowlands were fields for growing rice and other types of farming. Keep in mind, this area was on the outskirts of the shōgun’s capital. There really wasn’t much action out here at all.

Watermill_at_Onden.jpg

Farmers cleaning off rice in the area. Why is Mt. Fuji so prominent? Because there was NOTHING in this area in the Edo Period.

So What is Harajuku Today?

Today, Harajuku is kind of a cultural clusterfuck. 15-20 years ago, the bridge leading from 原宿駅 Harajuku Eki Harajuku Station to 代々木公園 Yoyogi Kōen Yoyogi Park (in front of  明治神宮 Meiji Jingū Meiji Shrine) was the spot that saw コスプレー kosuprē cosplay evolve from a hobby to a kind of freaky anime-based exhibitionism[ix]. Photographers, tourists, and foreign gamers/anime fans began descending upon the area to experience Japanese cosplay firsthand or even try to participate in the emerging cosplay culture. As cosplay became more mainstream and otaku culture changed, the Japanese レイヤーreiyā ‘layers (slang for cosplayers) disappeared from Harajuku and “the bridge” came to be populated by foreigners copying a 15 year old, outdated practice. The police cracked down on the crowds of foreign cosplayers, but sometimes you can still see a few foreigners hanging out posing for pictures.

Harajuku is also known as a kind of hair salon mecca. In addition to famous hair salons there are also many small boutique shops. The area was traditionally famous for its street fashion, but Gwen Stefani made the area stupid and to the best of my knowledge these days it’s mostly tourists (both international and from the Japanese countryside).

harajuku station today.jpg

Harajuku Station today. Hasn’t changed at much.

Architecturally speaking, Harajuku Station is interesting because the building dates back to 1901 and it looks like a typical station of the time. Unfortunately, at the time it was build this area was pretty undeveloped and the station can barely handle the amount of traffic it gets. It’s just wall to wall people on the weekends and national holidays. Another interesting aspect of the station is a separate pair of train tracks and platform for the 御召し列車 o-meshi ressha emperor’s private train[x]. The imperial family uses the tracks to visit Meiji Shrine at 御正月 o-shōgatsu the New Year holiday because it leads to a super-secret backdoor.

Harajuku-Kyutei-Platform (1).jpg

OK, it’s not so super-secret… But people like you and me can’t use it.

meiji jingū - damn son

Meiji Shrine is a large shrine, but its architecture is very restrained in contrast to the grand shrines/temples of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. That said the amount of land allotted to the shrine speaks volumes of how rural this area once was and how much money the Imperial Household Agency has.

Which brings me to Meiji Shrine. It’s a big shrine dedicated to the 明治天皇 Meiji Tennō Meiji Emperor of whom long term readers will know I’m not a particularly big fan. That said, the shrine is quite beautiful and definitely worth a visit. If you go on 文化の日 Bunka no Hi Culture Day, you can see an event called 流鏑馬 yabusame which is where people dress up like samurai and do mounted archery. It’s pretty fucking cool and I highly recommend it to everyone. Culture Day is on November 3rd which, incidentally, was originally the Meiji Emperor’s birfday.

yabusame doesn't mean broken shark

Yabusame doesn’t mean “broken shark” that would be 破鮫 and that’s just silly. No language needs a word for that.

Also in the area, though technically not in Harajuku, is 東郷神社 Tōgō Jinja Tōgō Shrine. The shrine is dedicated to 東郷 平八郎 Tōgō Heihachirō who was supposedly Japan’s most decorated naval officer. I don’t know a lot about the dude, but apparently his shrine was partially built as an “eff you” by the Imperial Navy to the Imperial Army. The army had erected a shrine to their hero, the general 乃木希典 Nogi Maresuke in Akasaka, so not to be outdone, the navy set up this shrine. It’s actually a really beautiful spot and it’s popular for weddings because of its photogenic traditional garden. I’ve never served in the military, but I know there are rivalries among the branches, I guess this one got us a scenic city retreat. Not bad.

togo shrine

A wedding at Tōgō Shrine

Alright. So in conclusion, I hope you’ve all enjoyed my take on Harajuku. A lot of people have a lot of opinions – both positive and negative, both reality and fantasy – but the history of the area and its etymology are pretty much straight forward.

As always, thanks for reading to the end and thanks for your support.

Next on the agenda, I’m finally getting around to my Yamanote Line series.If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check my Ōedo Line series. It’s gonna be hardcore, so I hope you’ll join me for what will literally be a wild ride!

.

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[i] I’d much rather update my blog than slice open my own belly, which is what samurai bloggers used to do when they were wrong.
[ii] We could roughly say the 12th century, but it’s easiest to think of this as the first shift of power away from Kyōto in the west to the Kantō region. Samurai strongmen ruled in the name of the western nobles in the east. The shift in power was a logical leap from stupid court politics to real martial control over fiefs.
[iii] What does Edo mean? What? You thought I didn’t have an article about Edo? lol
[iv] 源氏 Genji is essentially a nickname for 源氏 Minamoto-shi. The kanji is the same, it’s just more common to read it as Genji. It’s the same with the 平家 Hei-ke which is shorthand for 平家 Taira-ke. Again the kanji are the same and the meaning is the same: the Taira clan (well, technically “family,” but same thing).
[v] This area was located in central and western 神奈川県 Kanagawa Ken Kanagawa Prefecture. For the purposes of this article, it’s a reference to Kamakura – the capital of the Kamakura Shōguns.
[vi] If that word 駅 eki sounds familiar, it is. The modern word for train station is 駅 eki. The kanji was originally 驛 eki and the radical 馬 uma horse. Before trains it referred to relay station for changing horses, just as the modern term “post office” originated from places where messengers “posted” their horses.
[vii] Also known as 八幡太郎 Hachimantarō. 八幡 Hachiman is the god of war and ~太郎tarō is a suffix of a boy’s name. Hachiman was the tutelary 神 kami deity of the Minamoto clan. If you’ve ever been to Kamakura, you’ve probably visited the shrine 鶴岡八幡宮 Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū which was built by the first shōgun, Yoritomo. As a result of the Yoshiie and Yoritomo’s  devotion to this deity, it became the de factō tutelary spirit of all samurai.
[viii] This war is waaaaay beyond the scope of this article, but here’s the Wiki about it.
[ix] Now it’s a fulltime job for some people, at least that’s what my Twitter feed leads me to believe.
[x] Yes, the emperor has his own train.

Japanese Summer Songs

In Japanese Festivals, Japanese Music, Japanese Subculture on August 13, 2017 at 5:09 pm

img_0-2

Four years ago, I took a break from history and linguistics to do a two-part series called the Top 10 Japanese Songs of Summer. The posts had links to YouTube videos that have long since been taken down[i]. But in four years a lot can change… and a lot can stay the same. Flavors of the month will come and go, but some timeless songs that celebrate the season may never change. In that spirit, I thought I’d make a new list of some of my favorite Japanese songs. There are some from the old list[ii], as well as some new additions. Also, there’s no particular order here, just a smattering of fun music to help you beat the heat and humidity.

I suggest just going to the videos to listen to the music, but if you’re into reading and stuff, there’s a little text accompanying each entry.

Original Posts:

 

阿波よしこの
Awa Yoshikono

This traditional song and its lively dance became popular in the early Edo Period in Tokushima Prefecture. After WWII, it became a nationwide phenomenon as areas hit hard by the war turned towards 夏祭 natsuri matsuri summer festivals as a way to revitalize local business and tourism, as well as boost a sense of civic pride. In the case of Tōkyō, which had expanded massively after the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake and the firebombing in 1945, urban sprawl meant building new neighborhoods which had no connection to ancient history or powerful shrines and temples. Many such neighborhoods invited teams of dancers to perform the Awa Dance to the tune of Awa Yoshikono. Since then, the sounds, styles, and atmosphere of this frenetic music has become synonymous with Japanese summer. To me, cicadas and Awa Yoshikono are the official soundtrack of the season.


でんぱ組. Inc
Dempagumi Inc
おつかれサマー
Otsukare Summer

Denpagumi Inc are a six-membe female idol group developed in the heart of Akihabara. They developed a devoted fan base in their early days, but exploded into the mainstream in 2015-2016. And when I say mainstream, I mean… well, I’m not sure what I mean. They’re goofy, nerdy[iii], cute, awkward, “accidentally sexy,” and quintessentially Japanese. Well, not just Japanese. They’re quintessentially Tōkyō, to the point that they were[iv] the official idol group of Tōkyō Metropolis for domestic tourism. Their 2015 video Otsukare Samā is a play on words that toys with the phrase お疲れ様 o-tsukare-sama “thanks for all your hard work” – a throw away phrase people use when you finish work or some task. The lyrics have tons of twists of phrases that are great for anyone learning Japanese. But I love this video because each member becomes an iconic part of the city. Areas represented are Odaiba, Asakusa, Ameyoko-chō, Ueno, Tōkyō Tower, Ginza, Harajuku, Takeshita Street, and Shinabashi. In keeping with the theme of Tōkyō summer, you’ll see fireworks, ukiyo-e references, yukata, rickshaws, a jet ski ride around Tōkyō Bay featuring all the prominent buildings, and discovering you’ve won a prize after eating a popsicle on a stick. Other cultural references are terms like リア充 ria-jū actually going out rather than living online at home, using the LINE app to chat with friends, waving towels (something done by fans when the Tōkyō Giants score a run), and of course, Mt. Fuji and Hachikō. There’s so much crammed into this song and video.

 

GReeen
キセキ

Kiseki

Some of you may already know, but baseball is huuuuuge in Japan. And while most people in the world think of baseball as an American sport, the Japanese took to the game like a fish to water. If sumō is the national sport of Japan, baseball is a close second. Tōkyō Giants’ shortstop and All Star player, Sakamoto Hayato, has this song played in the stadium when he’s up at bat. Total summer classic.

Interestingly, GReeen could have used kanji for the title of the song, which would have made the meaning clear, but they didn’t. Instead, they spelled the word out phonetically in katakana. As such, the meaning is unclear. Just have a look, all of these can be read as “kiseki”:

  • 奇跡奇蹟 miracle, wonder
  • 軌跡 traces of the past, path taken
  • 貴石 foundation
  • 奇石 rare stone
  • 貴石 gem, jewel
  • 鬼籍 list of dead people bound for hell (rather than reincarnation)

(Pretty sure GReeen was all about the dead people ferried off to hell[v])

 

Whiteberry
夏祭り

Natsu Matsuri

Not sure what to say about these girls. They covered an old pop song called Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival) in August 2000 and from that day forward, that single was not only the definitive version of that song, it was also their biggest hit and made the name Whiteberry synonymous with summer. In the video, they wear yukata… but like mini-skirt yukata… while they’re rocking out on their instruments.

At any beach or outdoors area with streaming music, you’re bound to hear this classic in the background. And if you go to karaoke in Japan, there’s a good chance you’ll hear it emanating from a room almost all year long[vi].

 

大塚愛
Ōtsuka Ai
金魚花火
Kingyo Hanabi

The title means Goldfish Fireworks and you probably already know, Japanese summer is all about festivals and fireworks. This tradition came about in the peace of the Edo Period when people had more leisure time. Because cities were made of wood, the Tokugawa Shōgunate and other local governments restricted fireworks to open spaces like rivers and lakes[vii] to prevent horrific conflagrations. Goldfish are a common prize at summer festivals and traditional decoration for yukata. The image of fireworks, water, and goldfish are highly evocative of summer.

 

Begin
島人ぬ宝

Shimanchu nu Takara

The title is not Japanese, it’s Okinawan, a language related to Japanese. Before being annexed by the Japanese Empire, Okinawa was known as the Ryūkyū Kingdom – a culturally and linguistically distinct country with close ties to Taiwan, China, and Japan. Although the main language is now Japanese and the islands are fully integrated as a prefecture and operate within the administrative framework laid out in the post-WWII Japanese Constitution, Okinawa is still very unique, very proud, and pretty much summer all year long. Wubba lubba dub dub!

I’ll put it like this, if anyone in modern Japan knows how to do summer, it’s the Okinawans. Begin released this song, which means “Treasure of the Islanders[viii],” in 2002 and to this day it serves as a kind of pop anthem for natives of the Okinawan islands. The song features Okinawan instruments, some Okinawan words, and most recognizably, call and response phrases ripped straight from traditional Okinawan festival dances that are still performed today.

Speaking of…

エイサー踊り
Eisā Odori

So, while we’re on the topic of traditional Okinawan dance, I’d be a dumbass if I didn’t bring up Eisā, the traditional summer music of Okinawa. I’m not an expert on Okinawa. In fact, I know very little about it, to be completely honest, but no matter what the roots of Eisā are, no one can argue that after the first Japanese tourism boom that occurred after WWII, all kinds of local dance forms began gaining notoriety in Japan. After the Bubble Economy, and Japanese tourists began looking for domestic options, Okinawa was seen as a particularly exotic destination. You could speak Japanese, but visit a beautiful island with a distinct cultural tradition and people who looked kinda different and ate different food. It’s at this time that this unique music and dance found popularity in Tōkyō.

Sure, many Okinawans came to the capital for work, but with abundance and variety of summer festivals to choose from in Tōkyō, Okinawa’s impressive Eisā became a niche selling point for secular neighborhood festivals. In particular, Shinjuku Ward and Nakano Ward embraced this combative and lively music that features aggressive drumming and exotic instruments and refrains from the southern islands.

By the way, the video I shared was shot at the Shinjuku Eisā Festival[ix] and features the Nakano Group, which is made up of Okinawans living in Nakano and other locals who love this music. I used to live in Nakano, so I may be biased, but the Nakano Group is the best. Seriously. They rock it every time.

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Thanks for Reading. The Article is Finished.

But if you’re still reading, you may remember our second video, which was by Dempagumi.

Recently, Dempagumi fans were dealt a big blow. On August 6th, 2017 最上もが Mogami Moga retired from the unit[x]. While the six core members achieved success as idols, on the side, Moga skyrocketed into stardom as a gravure idol – essentially, a bikini and lingerie model. This brought a lot of positive attention to the group from 2014-2016. Her departure from the group seems to be a desire to switch from Akihabara Idol to serious actress.

I’ll just say this outright, I’m not a huge fan of Dempagumi, but I really appreciate what they do. I’ve even seen them live… and it was so much fun.

So, I’m linking two more videos to this post. Why? Because Dempagumi is about as summer as you can get. They’re also the idol queens of Japan[xi]. If you enjoy Japanese culture and the songs you’ve heard up until now, give these last two a listen.

でんぱ組. Inc
Dempagumi Inc

ノットボッチ…夏
Not Bocchi… Summer (Not Alone… Summer)

This is another summer classic by Dempagumi.

でんぱ組. Inc
Dempagumi Inc
生きる場所なんてどこにもなかった
Ikiru Basho Nante Doko ni mo Nakatta

The first time I saw Dempagumi live they opened with this song. The big crowd pleaser was the intro:

みりん!りさ!ねむ!えい!もが!ピンキー!
Mirin! Risa! Nemu! Ei! Moga! Pinky!

Now that Moga is gone, who knows what will happen to the group. All I know is, I’m happy they left us with some crazy summer music and I’m happy I got to see them live.

Two Sections ago I Said the Article was Done.

But thanks for sticking around to the very end. It’s like watching a movie’s credits until the theater lights come on. If you like what I do, then please leave a comment or question below and lets get a little conversation going. And as always, share with your friends.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Guided Tours

 

 


[i] Japanese record companies – Avex, in particular – are really uptight and regressive when it comes to posting music YouTube. While they promote upcoming acts online with full videos, videos by older acts are taken down and replaced with official videos that are nothing more than short clips.
[ii] Some were cut simply because Japanese record companies had the full versions removed because they’re jerks.
[iii] All members claim to be certified オタク otaku geeks.
[iv] Not sure if they still are, but they were for a while.
[v] Of course, I’m joking, but actually, Japanese summer has a lot of connections with death. It’s when the Buddhist season of お盆 O-bon occurs. This is when deceased ancestors return to the main family’s house. It’s also when living family members return to the family graves to clean and maintain them. It’s also when family and friends used to sit around a candle in a dark room and try to tell 100 ghost stories before the candle burnt out.
[vi] No joke. I’ve heard it in the dead of winter. That’s how good the song is.
[vii] And today, bays.
[viii] Which really means “Treasure of the Okinawan People.”
[ix] Which happens every year…
[x] In Japanese, they use the euphemism 卒業 sotsugyō graduate. By fans she was known as もがちゃん Moga-chan, もがたん Moga-tan, or もがたんぺ Moga-tanpe.
[xi] Normally, I’d say Perfume were the idol queens of Japan, but they’ve matured… and matured well. They’re still idols, but there’s no excitement around what they’ll do next.

What does Ōkubo mean?

In Japanese History on March 9, 2017 at 3:03 am

大久保
Ōkubo (“great long term protector,” more at “really low valley”)

station

Ōkubo Station. I’m having a flashback to a bad hookup from years ago…

In our recent trip around the stations of the Yamanote Line, we found ourselves at a certain station called 新大久保 Shin-Ōkubo, literally New Okubo. In that article, I decided to get into some racial/political musings, rather than focus on history. My rational was simple. I wanted to dedicate a whole article on this place name and the area’s history outside of the context of the train system. I also knew that it wasn’t going to be a short and sweet project.

This story is messy, though. I’m gonna do my best to present it in an organized fashion, but it’s probably gonna jump around a little bit. There are multiple narratives that intersect. And let’s be honest. Neither history nor linguistics are actually narratives. We just like to wrap them up in pretty packages and sell them as such because it’s just easier that way.

yotsuya

The Yotsuya Checkpoint

To start things off, I want to be clear that this area wasn’t Edo. West of Edo Castle was all suburbs. The first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, strategically relocated many of his 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers out here. He gave some of them extraordinarily large fiefs for their rank[i] and charged them with the defense of the roads coming into his capital. Very much a Sengoku Period general, he rightly assumed that attacks from the sea in the east would be unlikely, but a land based attack from the west could prove a threat[ii]. One of the main entrances to the city was the 四谷大木戸 Yotsuya Ōkido Yotsuya Checkpoint on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway which was in this area. This area, by the way, was known not as Edo, but as 武蔵国豊多摩郡 Musashi no Kuni Toyotama-gun Toyotama District, Musashi Province in those days[iii].

四谷大木戸跡碑.jpg

All thar remains of the Yotsuya Ōkido is… well, nothing remains of the Yotsuya Ōkido, but there is this stupid monument.

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji


ō, dai/tai

big, great


hisashii, ku/kyū

a long time


tamotsu, ho/

protect

This place name, while seemingly auspicious on the surface, is generally believed to have quite humble roots[iv]. You see, a river called the 蟹川 Kanigawa[v] used to flow through the area between Kabukichō 1-2 chōme 1st & 2nd blocks of Kabukichō and Shinjuku 6-7 chōme 6th & 7th blocks of Shinjuku[vi]. By their very nature, rivers tend to be in geographic depressions, which made this area good for farming, but prone to flooding[vii]. This part of Toyotama seems to have been no different. At the area dividing Nishi-Ōkubo West Ōkubo and Higashi-Ōkubo East Ōkubo, there was a particularly noticeable drop in elevation, an 大きな窪地 ōki na kubochi[viii], if you will. If the story is to be believed, the locals called it an 大窪地 ōkubochi which was eventually reduced to ōkubo.

tokyo-tower-5-colors

Shiki no Michi in Shinjuku

Do you know 四季の道 Shiki no Michi 4 Seasons Trail? That’s the tree-lined foot path that winds from 靖国通り Yasukuni Dōri to ゴールデン街 Gōruden Gai Golden-gai, one of the last remaining Shōwa Era shanty towns in Tōkyō. That tranquil part of Shinjuku is actually a short stretch of the old Kanigawa river course. So, next time you go to Golden-gai, impress your friends by dropping a little knowledge bomb on their asses[ix].

That Spelling, Tho.

Any of you living in Japan will have probably been thinking something this whole time: Ōkubo is a common Japanese family name, and furthermore this hypothetical 大窪 Ōkubo looks nothing like the name 大久保 Ōkubo.

And you would be correct, my friends. They’re nothing alike. What we’re most likely looking at here is another case of 当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic reasons, not meaning[x]. If the etymology given is true, that 2-kanji combination essentially means “mini-valley” or “crappy place at the bottoms of the hill that floods a lot.” It’s a terrible name for a place. On the hand, 大久保 Ōkubo “longtime protector” has a pretty good ring to it.

okubo clan family crest

Ōkubo clan coat of arms.

The name – common today – 大久保家 Ōkubo-ke Ōkubo Family is a distinctly samurai name of rather high pedigree[xi]. They were a branch of the 宇都宮氏 Utsunomiya-shi Utsunomiya Clan which could trace their lineage back to the 900’s. The founders of this new branch were among the most loyal retainers of 松平弘忠 Matsudaira Hirotada. In case you don’t recognize that name, he was the father of the first Edo shogun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu.

odawara castle okubo clan.jpg

Reconstructed Odawara Castle 2.0. Odawara Castle 1.0, controlled by the Late Hōjō clan was destroyed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s forces in 1590, which led to Tokugawa Ieyasu receiving most of Kantō as his fief. The castle is worth a visit if you’re on you’re way to Hakone.

Later, the Ōkubo clan served Ieyasu well. In fact, the second family head, a certain 大久保忠世 Ōkubo Tadayo, served in nearly all Ieyasu’s military campaigns and even commanded his corps of bodyguards. After Ieyasu had secured the title of shogun, he elevated Tadayo to daimyō status gave him 小田原藩 Odawara-han Odawara Domain[xii]. This meant the Odawara clan controlled the 箱根関所 Hakone Sekisho Hakone Check Point as well as 箱根山 Hakone Yama Mt. Hakone, a region famous in Japanese mythology and renowned for its natural hot springs, beautiful lakes and coastal areas.

Odawara, Mt. Hakone, and the Ōkubo clan have nothing to do with this suburb of Edo.

Or Do They?

No, they don’t. Well, not much.

mt hakone

Mt. Hakone

So, I started out telling you about what a dump the area was before the Edo Period. Then we talked about how some random daimyō family who spelled their name the same way the modern place name is spelled. I even added that they were fiercely loyal to the Tokugawa shōgunate. What I didn’t say was that the Ōkubo clan didn’t live anywhere near this area. In fact, to my knowledge there’s no direct connection between this area and the Ōkubo of Odawara. There are, however, some striking coincidences.

Further Reading:

nobunaga's armor

Warlord Oda Nobunaga’s real armor.

Ieyasu’s Bodyguards

With all of that in mind, let’s look at the story of the shōgun’s body guards. And unfortunately to do that, we’re gonna hafta look at some other events in history[xiii]. I’m assuming you know who 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga was, but if you don’t, please read about him here.

So, here we are, starting off at the most dramatic moments of the Sengoku Period. In 1582, the first of the three great unifiers of Japan, warlord Oda Nobunaga was surprise attacked by one of his one generals, a certain 明智光秀 Akechi Mitsuhide[xiv]. Nobunaga, like no general before him, was poised to consolidate the 天下 tenka realm[xv], or we can just say “the country.” Nobunaga seemed to have the whole country in his grasp… and then suddenly, he didn’t.

honno-ji.jpg

The attack at Honno-ji was apparently carried about by a bunch of dudes with shitty mustaches.

In a single act of treachery, Mitsuhide successfully attacked and killed[xvi] Nobunaga at 本能寺 Honnō-ji in 京都 Kyōto. In the ensuing chaos, Nobunaga’s closest generals dispersed to figure out what the fuck was going on. To this day, historians still speculate about Mitsuhide’s motivation.

Despite being victims of Nobunaga’s military power grabs, a small faction of samurai from 伊賀国 Iga no Kuni Iga Province and 甲賀郡 Kōka-gun Kōka District came to the aid of one of Nobubaga’s wiliest generals. When shit went down, these samurai from Iga and Kōka helped escort Tokugawa Ieyasu’s army from 堺 Sakai[xvii] back to their base in 岡崎Okazaki[xviii]. They used their local connections to lead the warlord to safety, quickly and quietly.

Further Reading:

Tokugawa_Ieyasu2.JPG

Ieyasu Becomes Shōgun

The Iga samurai served Ieyasu in several other military actions leading up to 1590, when the sitting imperial regent, or 関白 kanpaku, Hideyoshi granted Ieyasu rights to the 関八州 Kanhasshū 8 Kantō Provinces, which included a certain fortified village known as 江戸 Edo.
In autumn of that same year, Ieyasu transferred his most trusted retainers from his ancestral lands in 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province to Musashi Province and the surrounding areas. When he entered 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, he had a huge task ahead of him. Namely, to modernize the outdated castle – which was more of a fort than a castle. He also needed to make it reflect his status as one of the most powerful daimyō in Japan who controlled 8 massive eastern provinces. But for our story, he also brought the clans from Iga and Kōka[xix] to Edo.

These two groups are closely tied into the narrative of 忍者 ninja and 忍術 ninjutsu, the art of stealth[xx], but we’re not getting into the whole ninja thing today. Anyhoo, once they arrived in Edo, they were assigned to very specific jobs. First, they served as a security detail[xxi] of the burgeoning castle town. Certain members were made security guards within the 本丸 honmaru innermost citadel of the castle, including many of the gates lining the inner moats of the castle, the so called 丸之内 maru no uchi[xxii].

daimyo alley

Daimyo Alley is a street that still exists (unofficially) in Tōkyō’s Marunouchi district. This street runs from Sukiyabashi to Tōkyō Station. In the Edo Period, it went a bit farther than the Wadakura Gate to the Ōte Gate.

In those early years, these groups served as police forces within Edo Castle, which was – and I can’t say this enough – a city within a city. Some even served as guards to the innermost section of the honmaru, the 大奥 Ō-oku the women’s quarter[xxiii]. To my understanding, part of their job seems to have been internal espionage, searching for treasonous rumors and plots circulating among the 外様大名 tozama daimyo, the so-called “outer lords,”[xxiv] who were forced to stay in Edo as hostages of the shōgun under the earliest incarnation of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai or the policy of alternate attendance[xxv].

Iemitu.jpg

3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu had strong jaw muscles – all the better for you know what…

In 1642, the 3rd shogun 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu made sankin-kōtai a policy for all daimyo, including the 譜代大名 fudai daimyō, the “inner lords” who were considered the most loyal to the Tokugawa. At this same time, the Kōka samurai and Iga samurai were reorganized into special units called the 甲賀百人鉄砲隊 Kōka Hyakunin Teppō-tai[xxvi] and the 伊賀百人鉄砲隊 Iga Hyakunin Teppō-tai, the Kōka 100 Member Musket Corps and Iga 100 Member Musket Corps, respectively. In addition, there were 2 other squadrons, the 根来百人鉄砲隊 Negoro Hyakunin Teppō-tai Negoro 100 Member Musket Corps and the 二十五騎百人鉄砲隊 Nijūgoki Hyakunin Teppō-tai Nijūgoki 100 Member Musket Corps. In common parlance, all groups were referred to by the abbreviated term 百人組 Hyakunin-gumi 100 Men Corps.

Imperial Palace

The Hyakunin Bansho

The 4 squadrons of 100 men each took turns manning the 百人番所 Hyakunin Bansho, a modest checkpoint located between 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Ōtemon (the main gate) and the honmaru where the shōgun lived[xxvii]. Out of all the castle structures lost to fires, earthquakes, and war, it’s curious that this building survived. Furthermore, one can imagine that by the middle of great peace of the Edo Period, there was really no need for ninja of the sort that we see in video games or the occasional movie. I imagine the Hyakunin-gumi groups manning the Hyakunin Bansho to be like… well, have you ever gone onto a military base? There’s some dude in uniform, fully armed and trained who will check your ID and determine whether you’re a legit person to let on to the premises. That’s basically what happened at the Hyakunin Bansho. They were hereditary security guards.

zozyoji231 (1)

Former grandeur of the Tokugawa funerary temple Zōjō-ji in Shiba, near Tōkyō Tower.

Furthermore, whenever the shōgun and his entourage visited the family funerary temples of 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji and 増上寺 Zōjō-ji, it was the Hyakunin-gumi who guarded the entrances and exits of the temple complexes.

These four groups were garrisoned in present day Omotesandō, Aoyama, Harajuku, and Shinjuku. But it’s the squadron based in Shinjuku that is relevant to our narrative. This group was the Iga Hyakunin-gumi and they were based in Ōkubo. In fact, present day 新大久保駅 Shin-Ōkubo Eki Shin-Ōkubo Station is in 新宿区百人町一丁目 Shinjuku-ku Hyakunin-chō Icchōme 1st block of Hyakunin Town, Shinjuku Ward. It was in this area that the 100 Member Musket Corps lived their day to day lives.

Further Reading:

13402250_1054023804684587_824049163_n

The post town of Naitō Shinjuku

The Plot Thickens…

OK, I hate to do this, but let’s go back to 1590, when Ieyasu entered Edo with his retainers from Mikawa. As I mentioned before, he brought non-Mikawa samurai with him as well – the Kōka and Iga warriors being the case in point.

Ieyasu didn’t garrison these specialized groups willy-nilly. He, like his son and grandson, were extremely cautious and aware of the military strategies of the Sengoku Period. They left nothing to chance when it came to defense of their capital, having learned so much from the stupid mistakes of the losers of the Warring States Era.

The gunnery corps came to Edo when Ieyasu entered the city in 1590 and they were led by a certain 内藤清成 Naitō Kiyonari and 青山忠成 Aoyama Tadanari. They served as Ieyasu’s vanguard and also oversaw the manufacture of ammunition. He stationed the squad in 四谷 Yotsuya, the westernmost perimeter of Edo Castle, and ordered the construction of the residence of the 組頭 kumigashira commander of the Hyakunin-gumi in Ōkubo.

Longtime readers should recognize the name Naitō from the story of Shinjuku. The Naitō clan, originally mere retainers of the shogun, though later raised to daimyo status, were placed here – in the boonies – for a very strategic reason. Should Edo Castle be attacked and face imminent capitulation to an enemy, the Hyakunin-gumi were to escort the shōgun out of Edo Castle’s west-facing 半蔵御門 Hanzō Go-mon Hanzō Gate[xxviii] along the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway to 甲府城 Kōfu-jō Kōfu Castle in present day 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture. So, yeah. These guys were elite security guards in the heart of Edo Castle who lived out in the sticks, and they were entrusted with one of the single most important jobs an Edo Period samurai could have: protecting the shōgun in the event he needed to escape from his capital.

kofu castle

CG version of Kōfu Castle’s inner citadels superimposed over the modern city. It was way more rustic in those days.

They served the shōgunate until 1862, when the Hyakunin-gumi were decommissioned. Presumably this was the result of the government running out of money as it was collapsing. That said, certain members were still kept as a security detail. They just didn’t need all 400 of them anymore. Their weaponry was out of date and the traditional defense tactics were quickly becoming obsolete in light of all the new western technology. The last official act of the remaining Hyakunin-gumi was after the last shōgun 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu formally transferred power to the imperial court. At that time, he sent a group of them to Shizuoka to secure the route to what would eventually become his retirement estate.

Further Reading:

kabukicho

Kabukichō today…

Then and Now

If you said Ōkubo in the Edo Period, you were referring to a huge suburb that was composed of present day Kabukichō 2-chōme, Shinjuku 6-7-chōme, Ōkubo 1-2-3-chōme, Hyakunin-chō 1-2-3-chōme, Yochō Machi, and Nishi-Shinjuku 7-chōme. That’s a huge area. The Naitō clan, as mentioned earlier, were given a residence out here. Furthermore, the 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari Tokugawa Family had a property out here called the 戸山山荘 Toyama Sansō Toyama Hillside Retreat which was part of an elaborate garden they constructed.

hakoneyama.jpg

The peak of Shinjuku’s Mt. Hakone as it looks today

The garden featured a man made mountain commonly referred to as 箱根山 Hakone Yama Mt. Hakone because they fancied it a representation of the real Mt. Hakone… which, as also mentioned earlier, was just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Odawara, the fief of the Ōkubo. If you go to present day 戸山公園 Toyama Kōen Toyama Park, you’re standing on the ruins of the Owari Tokugawa’s 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence. If you go to the highest hill in the park, you’re standing on this so-called Mt. Hakone.

I can’t confirm this, but by at least one account I read that this is actually the highest hill in the 23 Wards of Tōkyō[xxix]. True or not, if anyone had the money to build a crazy artificial Mt. Hakone in the outskirts of Edo, it would’ve been the Owari Tokugawa[xxx].

yabusame

Located near the park is a shrine called 穴八幡宮 Ana Hachiman-gū. In the Edo Period, this was called 高田八幡宮 Takada Hachiman-gū. Long time readers of the blog should recognize the name Takada from 高田馬場 Takada no Baba the Takada Horse Grounds, which were located an easy walking distance from this area. Every October, the shrine puts on a 流鏑馬 yabusame horseback mounted archery festival in the park, where competitors dress in full samurai armor and race past a target at full speed and try to hit it. This was a totally unnecessary skill in the Edo Period, just as it is today, but dude… it looks so fucking bad ass. I highly recommend you check it out if you can.

Oh, and Toyama Park is famous among locals for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing and not famous among non-locals, which means it’s not so crowded. Apparently, it’s also a good spot for PokemonGO. Go figure.

Further Reading:

IMG_4527.jpg

Hmmmmm…

So this has been a lot to take in, right?

kanigawa river shinjuku

If you ever thought Golden-gai seemed like a dirty alley without a train, well, here’s your moment of zen.

I could have stuck to the “dumpy valley gets an upgrade via ateji that makes it sound not just noble, but like a retainer of the shogun” narrative. But, that’s not what I do, and the story is really much more nuanced – or at least has become more confused over the centuries. But I’ll put it this way: one would think that the Samurai Museum in the heart of Shinjuku’s red light district was out of place. But considering all this… it actually makes a lot of sense.

IMG_5094

Kaichū Inari Shrine

Strong Ties to Kaichū Inari

As mentioned before, all four 100 Men Squadrons were gunners by default. As such, they were expected to be expert shots.

The Hyakunin-gumi developed a close attachment to a certain shrine near their barracks. One night, an avatar of the god 稲荷大明神 Inari Daimyōjin appeared at the bedside of one of the samurai and gave him special talisman. The next day, while shooting at the archery range[xxxi], he hit every target perfectly. When the other samurai of his barracks saw this, they decided to have a shooting competition and passed the talisman around. Everyone one hit every single target without fail.

last samurai bullshit

Many people believe samurai rejected guns until Tom Cruise introduced them to the country in “The Last Samurai.”

It’s a Freakin’ a Miracle! 

The surrounding villagers heard the story of the Hyakunin-gumi becoming experts at archery and gunnery overnight, and naturally wanted to get in on the action. Who doesn’t want to be a winner? They came to pray to Inari at the shrine and in time came to call the 神 kami diety 皆中之稲荷 Kaichū no Inari which can also be read as Mina Ataru no Inari Hitting all the Targets Inari or Everyone’s Bulls Eye Inari. For non-samurai, and for modern people, this shrine became associated with gambling. Unironically, there’s a large pachinko parlor right around the corner. I’m sure that’s good for the shrine business of selling お守り o-mamori talismans[xxxii].

omamori

Hyakunin-gumi talisman from Kaichū Inari Shrine

In patronage to Kaichū Inari Shrine, the Iga Hyakunin-gumi often gave gifts to the priests, mainly firearms. The shrine, which was much larger back then, amassed a sizeable and valuable collection of expensive weapons over the course of the Edo Period. Unfortunately, all of the shrine complex except for the main structure was destroyed in the Firebombing of Tōkyō by American forces in WWII. Their priceless collection of muskets donated by the Hyakunin-gumi and many documents and other items related to the squad went up in flames.

tsutsuji.jpg

Azaleas. You probably didn’t see this coming…

Azaleas

As if there aren’t enough layers to this story, I’m gonna hafta talk about flowers. When the Naitō clan and the Hyakunin-gumi were transferred out to these suburbs at the beginning of the Edo Period, there were wild 躑躅 tsutsuji azaleas growing everywhere. While many of the gunnery corps were living in barracks, a good deal had proper residences and cultivated azaleas in their private gardens[xxxiii]. Public spaces where azaleas grew were also well known by the end of the Edo Period, and the streets were lined with these colorful flowers. In fact, a few years after 大久保駅 Ōkubo Eki Ōkubo Station opened in 1895 – 1899 (Meiji 32), to be precise – the emperor visited the area to enjoy the azaleas. Doing what emperors do, he wrote a poem:

まがねしく
maganeshiku
道のひらけて
michi no hirakete
つつじ見に
tsutsuji mi ni
ゆく人おほし
yuku hito ohoshi
大久保の里
Ōkubo no sato

Ōkubo Village
where so many people go
to see tsutsuji
developing into
iron roads to the future

I’m not even going to pretend to have translated that poem well[xxxiv]. But the emperor was referring to Japan’s modernization, which he was the figurehead of – rather than the shogun. So, there’s a propaganda aspect to this poem[xxxv], but it’s overall positive and I think it has a sort of conciliatory tone – one that reflects the new imperial governments acceptance of poor and middle class samurai back into fold.

His poem talks about the blooming azaleas, a clear reference to the country opening up to the world and starting a new national venture. As the emperor, this kind of message was crucial to the common people who had no say in the politics of the day, those people who were just being dragged along for the ride. He also uses the word 開ける hirakeru which literally means “to be opened up” or “improve,” but has a secondary meaning of “to become civilized” or “become enlightened.”

Ōkubo was the boonies, but now it was becoming a major section of the new capital. The azalea business was booming because now people could sell them[xxxvi]. Metal was part of the path to the future, it was also the tool and trade of the samurai living in the area. They gave up their iron guns which gave them power to a new world order where iron train tracks connected the country as it had never been before. It put Japan in the same company as western countries that had blossoming economies based on railroads.

You have to admit, the emperor was pretty slick in his wording.

mural

Mural of the Hyakunin-gumi near Shin-Ōkubo Station.

So Where’s This Awesome Shooting Range Today?

By now you’ve probably assumed the shooting range doesn’t exist anymore, as the story usually goes in Tōkyō. And, sadly, you would be correct. It’s long gone.

But actually, not as long gone as you might think.

If you’ve been reading this long, convoluted story up to this point, then you remember that there were horse riding and archery grounds in the area that’s now called Takada no Baba. A short distance from there, near present day Toyama Park[xxxvii], there used to be wide open fields called the 戸山ヶ原 Toyama ga Hara Toyama Fields. This is where the Takada Horse Grounds were, and it’s also where the Hyakunin-gumi had their shooting range.

aerial.jpg

This aerial shot gives you an idea of the size of the shooting range.

After the Meiji Coup, the plot of land was appropriated by the Imperial Army to be used as a… wait for it… shooting range. New recruits to the army also practiced marching here. Because marching. Yay 🙄

Under the new regime, the 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Great Empire of Japan, the space was expanded under the general term of the 戸山ヶ原陸軍射撃場 Toyamagahara Rikugun Shageki-ba Toyamagahara Shooting Range. Another name for the same facility was the 大久保小銃射撃場 Ōkubo shōjūshageki-ba Ōkubo Shooting Range[xxxviii].

shooting tunnels

Shooting tunnels in Toyamagahara

By the WWII era, the site was characterized by its very unique architectural design – namely, the 射撃隧道 shageki zuidō shooting tunnels. These were long, semicircular, hangar-esque tunnels designed for practicing marksmanship. I’m not sure why the tunnel shape were necessary… perhaps someone with a military background could explain. I’m guessing, if you’re doing target practice, maybe it’s best to do it without the sun in your eyes, and if you shoot inside a tunnel, the noise doesn’t disturb the neighbors, but I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure. Any insight is appreciated.

Anyhoo, these tunnels were a part of the local landscape for years. Obviously, they were abandoned during the American Occupation, as the Imperial Army was abolished in that time. But the site didn’t just disappear overnight in 1945. In fact, the site stood there for about 20 more years, and the derelict shooting tunnels showed up as a location in the 1961 film, 夕陽に赤い俺の顔 Yūhi ni Akai Ore no Kao Killers on Parade.

The shooting range remained intact until 1967, when the derelict site – essentially a 廃墟 haikyo ghost town – was torn down in order to build the new main campus for 早稲田大学 Waseda Daigaku Waseda University. The school wasn’t new, it was actually established in 1882. But the new campus re-invigorated the university in the post war era, and it helped expand the growth in this old suburb of Edo.

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Waseda cheerleaders

In Conclusion

So, we had a place name that just referred to what was essentially a flood plain. Whether that’s true or not, at some point people started writing it with a noble family’s name. Is there any connection between the Ōkubo clan and this Ōkubo? I don’t think so, but maybe some of the samurai stationed in this area, including the Owari Tokugawa clan might have preferred writing it a certain way.

All of that said… we can’t know. And what makes this story so interesting is all of the great stories surround the area. This is why the history of Edo-Tōkyō is so great. Even if we can’t pinpoint the etymological source of a place name, sometimes we can just bask in the area’s rich history.

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Historical re-enactment of the Hyakunin-gumi. Photo by friend Rekishi no Tabi. Check him out on Flickr for more cool pix of Japanese history and culture.

 

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

 

 


[i] It was the boonies, so land was cheap, I guess.
[ii] It didn’t. But the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 which resulted in Ieyasu’s elevation to shogun can be seen as a battle between east and west. Ironically, it was agitators from the southwest of Japan – descendants of the western losers – who marched to Edo in 1868 to finish off the Tokugawa hegemony.
[iii] Toyotama District referred to parts of modern day 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward, 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward, 杉並区 Suginami-ku Suginami Ward, 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward.
[iv] But, as with many of our etymologies, is shrouded in mystery.
[v] Literally “crab river.” I couldn’t find any etymology info on the river.
[vi] You know 四季の道 Shiki no Michi the 4 Seasons Road, the windy tree-lined footpath that leads to ゴールデン街 Gōruden Gai Golden-gai? That’s part of the old Kanigawa course. The river was covered up so it could be used for cable car service, when that was discontinued, this area became a park. You can still walk the course of the river as its preserved as windy road running through Shinjuku.
[vii] This meant when Ieyasu & Co. arrived in Edo, garrisoning high ranking samurai in this area was problematic. This probably accounts for the granting of such large fiefs to non-daimyō in the area. The large land grants were incentives. A famous case is the Naitō clan.
[viii] Literally, a “big geographic depression.”
[ix] If you wanna take it to the next level, you can tell them this. Later, the river was covered up so it could be used for tram service. However, when that was discontinued, this area became a park.
[x] What is ateji? For those of you late to the party, here ya go!
[xi] To my understanding, it’s the 150th most common name with at least 138,000 people currently using it. Sure, it’s no 佐藤 Satō, 鈴木 Suzuki, 高橋 Takahashi, 田中 Tanaka, or 伊藤 Itō, but it’s still common. And yes, those are the top 5 Japanese surnames in descending order.
[xii] Ōkubo Tadayo’s father, 大久保忠員 Ōkubo Tadakazu, was given the castle by Ieyasu.
[xiii] And there’s a lot of “ninja” bullshit in this story and I’m going to try to not get bogged down in the whole ninja thing. #ihateninjas
[xiv] For right or wrong reasons, a name that rings in Japanese ears almost the same way Benedict Arnold does for Americans.
[xv] 天下 tenka – I use this term as a way to describe the potential unification of the samurai families and the families of the imperial court.
[xvi] Whether Mitsuhide’s army actually killed Nobunaga is unknown. Legend has it that Nobunaga killed himself and had the building he was staying in torched to prevent the taking of his head – taking of heads was a traditional samurai practice. Whether he was killed, killed himself, or was trapped in a burning building and died will never be known.
[xvii] Near 大阪 Ōsaka.
[xviii] In modern 愛知県 Aichi-ken Aichi Prefecture.
[xix] Who were not from his home province of Mikawa. Iga is in modern day 三重県 Mie-ken Mie Prefecture and Kōka is in present day 滋賀県 Shiga-ken Shiga Prefecture.
[xx] To my best understanding, ninja were just spies who happened to hold samurai rank. But because #iHateNinjas, it’s not so important to our narrative.
[xxi] Like a police force.
[xxii] Today, Marunouchi and Otemachi are the main remnants of these palace areas, and the outer moats don’t exist anymore.
[xxiii] Usually translated here and there as “the shōgun’s harem,” but this is a bit of an overstatement.
[xxiv] The daimyō who opposed Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara and were forced to pledge fealty to him after his victory.
[xxv] You can read more about sankin-kōtai here.
[xxvi] Often rendered as Kōga Hyakunin-gumi when referring to ninja stuff for some reason.
[xxvii] Today, this is part of the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.
[xxviii] 服部半蔵 Hattori Hanzō, an Iga native himself, was ordered to build a residence outside of this western gate. He handpicked the original iteration of the Iga Hyakunin-gumi.
[xxix] Like I said, I can’t confirm, but I’d love to see a good elevation map of Tōkyō to prove/disprove this remarkable claim.
[xxx] They were part of the 御三家 Go-sanke, the 3 Great Families who could provide a shōgunal heir by adoption, should the main Tokugawa line fail to produce a first-born son. Despite being – or perhaps, in spite of being of being – the richest of the 3 Great Families, the Owari Tokugawa were never tapped to produce an acceptable candidate for shōgun when the 御本家 go-honke main branch died out. Which happened twice. Anyways, suffice it to say, they had mad fuck you money and carried that tradition straight from the Edo Period right down to today.
[xxxi] The accounts are unclear as to whether he was practicing archery or riflery. My gut instinct says archery. I think the riflery allusions come from the Bakumatsu Period and Meiji Period.
[xxxii] Or is it talismen? (笑)
[xxxiii] Whether they were actually doing the gardening themselves is unclear. While they could have done gardening on their own property as a hobby is a possibility, I imagine most had servants/employees who did the dirty work. This was clearly just the Edo Period version of suburban Americans taking pride in their lawns.
[xxxiv] It’s not a literal translation by any stretch of the imagination. I was more concerned with conveying the meaning, the simplicity, and the 5-7-5-7-7 meter.
[xxxv] And I don’t blame him for it, actually. The rebels from Satsuma Domain, Chōshū Domain, and other treacherous domains forced the Meiji Emperor into the position of being a kind of logo or mascot for the new government. That said, dude was good at dragging archaic poetic forms into the new age. I gained a new respect for the Meiji Emperor after reading this poem. It has a depth I didn’t expect.
[xxxvi] Samurai weren’t technically allowed to sell things commercially under the shōgunate.
[xxxvii] The Mt. Hakone place…
[xxxviii] There are various combinations of these words, but all of them describe the same place.

The Year in Review – 2016

In Japanese Holidays on January 9, 2017 at 3:18 am

めでてー!めでてー!
Medetē! Medetē! (“Happy happy! Joy joy!” in the Edo Dialect)
Congratulations!mochi

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve update JapanThis!. In fact, the last article was published on August 3rd, 2016. That’s almost a half year ago; that’s the longest time the site’s gone dark in a long, long time. In that time, I’ve heard from more than a few you of asking if everything is OK with my health or if I’d quit doing the site completely or what.

Well, thank you for all your concern, and I can assure you that there is nothing wrong with my health and I’m most definitely not quitting the site. The real cause for my silence was merely a technical issue. My computer died. With it I lost the research for the final articles for the Yamanote Line Series (and a lot of other stuff not JapanThis!-related). As a Christmas present to myself, I got me a new ‘puter and a new version of MS Office and now I’m back in action. Actually, getting MS Word is just as critical to writing as having a computer. I tried writing using Google Docs and some other options, and it’s just not the same[i]. What’s more, buying MS Word in Japan is like twice the cost of buying it in the US for some reason.

Anyhoo, everything is set up and good to go, so expect to see the site updated with new articles regularly.

ny

Happy Nude Year!

What Happened in 2016?

 

Long time readers know that I like to make my first post of the new year a retrospective. I try to round up all the place names we looked at this year and then I give you a few other updates and things to look forward to in the next year. This year is no exception.

First, you may have not noticed yet, but there was a major – yet subtle – change to the site that came this summer. If you look up in the browser address field you may notice that it no longer says markystar.wordpress.com. The site has an official domain name and that’s the way things will be from here on out[ii].

I’ve decided on a few stylistic changes that are very minor – and, honestly, they won’t be noticeable until well into the new year. These are boring things like, how pages are layed out. For example, until now, I’ve just been putting section headers in bold print, but from now on I’m going to format them as actual headers (a difference that mainly only matters when dealing with HTML). There aren’t many of these changes and they don’t really affect the reader, it’s just more silly stuff I hafta do behind the scenes to make the site look pretty and still be usable.

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Good luck in 2017!

Where Did We Go in 2016?

 

Well, since half the year was silent, we didn’t really have a lot of articles. That said, we still covered a lot of Edo-Tōkyō in a short time.

Early in 2016, we explored Kōnan and Ōsaki (two places we would revisit in our soon-to-be-completed Yamanote Line Series). I always love getting down to this area because it’s really water, both the rivers and the bay, that brought life to Edo-Tōkyō. While we were down here, we took a little time to explore Irugi Shrine – a shrine most would overlook, but actually has a great history. We also looked at Goten’yama, one of Edo’s most famous hanami spots, which is now just a shitamachi town in Shinagawa.

Then, we took an epic look at Shinjuku’s sordid past (and present) as well as Ōme, whose pre-modern highway passed through the area[iii]. It was nice to have the chance to re-do Shinjuku and give it the attention it deserved. And while way out, suburban Tachikawa wasn’t high on everyone’s To Do List, it was a reader request and so we took a quick look out that direction.

We also looked at some  areas that are synonymous with government, Nagata-chō and Kioi-chō. The latter of the two is no doubt of interest to fans of James Bond, as a few scenes from You Only Live Twice were shot in the area.

The last place name we visited in 2016 was Harajuku, one of Tōkyō’s many fashion districts. I was actually surprised I hadn’t covered it yet, but apparently, it was one of the few remaining “big names” in the metropolis that merely got mentioned here and there.

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We reviewed two excellent books this year. First, there was Terry Bennet’s Photography in Japan: 1853-1912 which was published by Tuttle and is a great look at the evolution of this art and science in Japan. The other was Taschen’s lovely hardbound issue of Hiroshige: One Hundred Views of Edo the artist’s epic series on daily life in the shōgun’s capital.

The bulk of the year consisted of the series, Explore the Yamanote Line. This was meant to be a companion guide to the Explore the Ōedo Line series and, of course, was meant to be finished quickly. Unfortunately, when my computer died, the last 2-3 articles got put on hold indefinitely. I intended to finish those articles as soon as possible and put that project behind me. One cool thing about the Yamanote Line series, if you go back, there are now short videos for many of the station areas with their corresponding platform chimes produced by my friends over at Digital Hub.

av-kimura-tsuna2-1

Oh, and today is Cumming of Age Day.

Milestones in 2016

 

Despite leaving the blog to lie dormant for the last half of the year, we crossed a couple of amazing thresholds and grew quite a bit.

First, in the beginning of spring, just as the weather started getting nice again, I announced 5 or 6 super-geeky historical walking tours based on the history of Edo-Tōkyō. While people aren’t banging down my door every day to take these tours, quite a few groups and individuals did. We had a lot of fun on all the tours I’ve done so far and I look forward to doing some more in 2017. I’m going to add a few more possible courses to the existing ones and I hope to have those up in time for spring.

A big anniversary came in May of 2016. That was the 300th article posted on JapanThis! – a definite major achievement, if I do say so myself. The big thanks actually go to you the reader because you guys keep me going!

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And while I’m patting myself on the back, I might also add that sometime between Dec. 31st 2016 and Jan. 1st 2017, the number of my Twitter followers passed the 3,000 mark. The reason I bring this up is because I initially joined Twitter just to promote JapanThis!, and I remember very well how lonely it felt tweeting out to only 10 followers – most of whom were just friends and family showing their support[iv]. These days promoting the blog isn’t even 1/10th of what I tweet. I generally just use it to goof around with likeminded people, probably people like you.

Alright, that’s about all I have to wrap up this year. And if anyone’s interested, you can compare 2016 with past years and see how I did:

The Year in Review: 2015
The Year in Review: 2014

And on that note, Happy New Year to all of you. Thank you so much for reading, commenting, and encouraging me to keep on keepin’ on. Here’s to 2017, let it be a year that would make the 11th shōgun Ienari blush[v].

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

 

 


[i] For example, I need MS Word to get Word Press to play well with certain features of the JapanThis!, like the footnotes.
[ii] You don’t need to update your bookmarks or anything because the old address will just forward you to the new one.
[iii] That being, of course, the 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō.
[iv] And probably counting down the days to when they could unfollow without me noticing lol.
[v] Longtime readers will remember that Tokugawa Ienari was my most favoritest shōgun ever.

Yamanote Line: Shibuya

In Japanese History on May 9, 2016 at 5:56 am

渋谷
Shibuya

shibuya river

The Shibuya River. It smells as good as it looks.

I don’t really have a lot to say about Shibuya because… you should just experience Shibuya on your own terms if you’re interested in it[i]. But if you ask a native New Yorker what they think of Times Square, you’ll probably get a similar response from a native Tōkyōite about Shibuya. Not exactly the same, but close in many ways.

shibuya crossing

Just by coincidence, between today’s article and my last article about exploring Tōkyō via the Yamanote Line, a discussion was raised on the Twitter account @BeingTokyo[ii] about the most overrated and underrated places in Tōkyō. Shibuya seemed to come up as the most overrated.

And while now I kind of agree with that as an 11 year resident of the greatest city in the world, I’m not ready to flush the area down the toilet and be done with it.

However, before we get into my opinions about Shibuya, I just have to say that when I first visited Tōkyō, Shibuya was one of my favorite 3 places here[iii]. But as the foundation of JapanThis! is built on history and linguistics, if that’s your thing, dear reader, there’s not much tangible history going on in the area. Shibuya’s charms and whatever the opposite of “charms” is lie in other areas – which we will explore as we get off the Yamanote Line at Shibuya Station and prepare to take a look at this infamous neighborhood.

Oh, and before we get too deep, I’d like say that Shibuya has the same problem Meguro had in the previous article. That is, there’s a 渋谷駅 Shibuya Eki Shibuya Station (our topic today) and a much larger 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward. I’m gonna try to confine most of this article to the Shibuya Station area.

Aaaaand… Cuz We’ve Been There and Done That:

shibuya night

Intense!

Yes, the first time you experience the 渋谷交差点 Shibuya Kōsaten Shibuya Crossing[iv] will be intense. It’s probably the busiest intersection in the world! Shibuya Station is certainly up there as one of the busiest train stations in the world, so this is to be expected.

A walk across the street from the ハチ公出口 Hachikō Deguchi Hachikō Exit to センター街 Sentā-gai Center Street is par for the course the first time you visit Japan. Everyone does it and you should too. Go ahead, take pictures and videos to blow your friends’ minds (but keep in mind, Tōkyōites and longtime expats will look at you like you’re an FOB newbie buffoon, but it’s OK, you definitely will impress your friends and family). Knock yourself out. Just try not to get in the way of the other people getting in your way.

Oh yeah, and the mall called Shibuya 109? It’s pretty iconic.  When Shibuya was ruled by ギャル gyaru gals[v], this place was the epicenter of a kind of subculture generally described by Japanese girls as めっちゃやばい meccha yabai totally off the hook.

Today, it could be argued that Shibuya has lost some of its fashion mojo. As the once outlandish style of the gyaru has slowly seeped into the mainstream in diluted form over the years, the area is different. Extreme gyaru have come to be seen as ヤンキー yankī rebellious country girls who were late getting onboard – the Japanese equivalent of having a mullet after 1986 or so. It should be noted that gyaru style is still a very popular image in Japanese porn and the Japanese sex industry. I don’t know if this is nationwide or just a Tōkyō thing. It could just be a Kabukichō esthetic that refuses to die. Sorry, I try to keep up with these things, but as a married dude I just don’t know.

st_bladerunner_f.jpg

Blade Runner

Now, don’t get me wrong. Shibuya hasn’t become obscure or anything and maybe I’ve just gotten old and outgrown the area, but I used to love it!

I remember the first time I exited Shibuya Station. It was night and Shibuya Crossing was a complete and total sensory overload. I felt like I’d stepped into Blade Runner or something. Not only were the big screens and sounds intense, the sheer crowdedness and raw energy of the area was exciting beyond belief. Thinking I was the only person to ever have the idea, I took pictures of the crowds crossing the intersection and emailed them back to my family in the States. This was 2003 or something – before smartphones, but Japanese flip phones were still years ahead of the average phone and… dammit, I was visiting the future!

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Not only Blade Runner, but the shitty Star Wars prequels also borrowed from Shibuya’s iconic look.

Since I’d come to Japan to perform[vi], I met the promoters and organizers who brought me over and they were all so cool and friendly and I loved the clubs and record stores they took me to. Oh, and the fashion! At that time there were still コギャル kogyaru and 顔黒ギャル ganguro[vii]. They had dark tans, blonde hair, and the shortest mini-skirts ever. Even the 山姥 yamanba gyaru[viii] ran the gamut from trashy to glam. I was younger and even though I’d seen pictures of these Japanese girls with crazy fashion, everything about Japan was new to me at that time and actually seeing the real deal was intense. So yeah, Shibuya was fucking awesome!

kogyaru

Ganguro kogyaru. Ganguro means “black face” and is a reference to the tan skin. Kogyaru means “high school gyaru.” Gyaru is a Japanization of “gal” (girl).

Today, and again, this could just be me being an old fart, it’s just crowded. The fashion isn’t as bold and crazy as it used to be. There are foreigners all over the place taking the obligatory shots/videos of the Shibuya Crossing area – the same shot I thought I was original about but wasn’t; except now, half of that sea of people are carrying selfie sticks and smartphones. It’s just… crowded. Listen to me… I really am an old fart, aren’t I?

If you’re interested in the dimming vibrancy of Harajuku and Shibuya:

shibuya station hachiko exiy.jpg

Shibuya Station’s Hachikō Exit

What Can You Do in Shibuya Today?

You can change trains.

And after your obligatory first visit, this is by far your best bet. Suffer the shit station that Shibuya Station has become[x] and get on other trains. That’s the best the station is good for. The sad thing is that even as a hub station, Shibuya Station is kinda crap. It’s not as crap as Shinjuku Station, but… yeah… it’s super crowded and super chaotic and has just gotten worse over the years.

module

Me, playing at Module (another club in Shibuya) years ago. The t-shirt is from a night my friends did at another Shibuya club.

Clubbing

Unless you’re in the fashion industry or the music industry, Shibuya is basically just for shopping, honestly. Shopping and eating. However, there are a few famous clubs there – some are really good and some are really cheesy[xi]. For example, Womb is one of the longest running dance music institutions in Tōkyō. Like any club, you have to check the schedule to see who’s spinning, but its status as a major club in the city intersected with a special time in Tōkyō clubbing history. It’s generally considered part of the Trifecta of Tōkyō that actually played underground music and featured international talent on the regular: Maniac Love, Yellow, and Womb. I’m basically 9 years out of the loop, but back in the day Shibuya was the center of House Music in Japan and Womb is pretty much all that remains of that era without including smaller operations.

nakatayasutaka.jpg

Nakata Yasutaka, producer extraordinaire

A Musical Tangent

Shibuya was such an epicenter of music that in the 1990’s and lasting well into the early 2000’s, a very vaguely defined, broad genre[xii] of music called 渋谷系 Shibuya-kei Shibuya Style flourished. It was influenced by… god, I dunno, J-Pop, disco, Chicago House, and lounge music. A certain Pizzicato 5 and Capsule emerged from this scene. Capsule was the personal project of an up and coming producer named 中田ヤスタカ Nakata Yasutaka whose sound became increasingly electronic and techno-influenced. While Capsule is his still his main project in name, he’s most famous for developing such acts as Perfume, Meg, Kyari Pamyu Pamyu, and the melody they play when the shinkansen arrives at 金沢駅 Kanazawa Eki Kanazawa Station, which is his hometown.

Famous Things in Shibuya

shibuya crowded.png

The Crowds

Shibuya Station has about 2.4 million passengers a day, making it one of the busiest stations in the world. Most of my readers live in cities with train service that that never comes close to that. Hell, most of my readers live in cities without train service.

hachiko.JPG

The Dog

The story of ハチ公 Hachikō is pretty well known outside of Japan now. If you want to know the dog’s story, you can read it here. For the etymology/linguistics nerds who read JapanThis!, let me break down his name. The dog, often called 忠犬ハチ公 Chūken Hachikō Loyal Hachikō in Japanese, wasn’t named Hachikō. His name was ハチ Hachi which just means 8 and is presumably a reference to his number in the litter in which he was born. ~ is an obsolete honorific suffix. It’s similar to ~さんsan or ~sama but was reserved for the most elite male members of society. When you visit shrines like 東照宮 Tōshō-gū which is dedicated to the first Edo Shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, you may see his name written as 徳川家康公 Tokugawa Ieyasu-kō which is something like Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu. With the abolition of the samurai cast, certain linguistic trappings of the feudal period disappeared from common parlance. –Ko came to be used in a joking and friendly manner with pets. Just as a good friend who never uses honorifics with you (because you’re close), may jokingly apply –san or –sama to your name, people do this with pets today. I have a friend with a cat named Momiji. She sometimes affectionately refers to Momiji as Momiji-san or Momiji-sama. In this same way, Hachi was affectionately referred to as Hachi-kō. I guess that’s something like Lord Hachi or His Lordship Sir Hachi of the Vale[xiii].

nonbei yokocho

Shopping

Because Shibuya blew up during the Bubble Economy, it’s basically a shopping and party district. It’s a place to spend money and have a good time. Restaurants, department stores, newly developed malls, and masses of annoying people are par for the course.

However, famous among Tōkyōites, のんべい横丁 Nonbei Yokochō Drunkard Side Street, is one of the few remaining areas in central Tōkyō that preserves the feeling of the Shōwa Period. This atmosphere is a direct descendent of the commoner districts of the Edo Period. This website has some great photos. Most of the shops seat something like 5-10 people max and some have menus you can’t choose from. The best whale bacon I ever had was at a shop I visited here in 2003. Just amazing.You should not miss it.

technique.jpg

Technique

Technique is one of Tōkyō’s – no, scratch that[xiv] – one of Japan’s greatest record stores. If you love house or techno, this store caters to all your vinyl needs. The selection of vinyl is fastidiously curated and frequented by many of Tōkyō’s most active underground DJ’s. If you buy something there, tell them Marky Star of OMNI A.M. sent you. It might bring a smile to their faces[xv].

shibuya 108

Shibuya 109 is so iconic that it commonly appears in manga and anime. In the opening credits of the 2nd season of 地獄少女 (Jigoku Shōjo – Hell Girl), it appeared under a slightly modified name as 108.

Shibuya 109

Although the big sign says SHIBUYA 109 it’s really just called ichi maru kyū which means 109.

This was ground zero for gyaru culture back in the day. It’s still popular with fashionable high school and university girls. Because the original gyaru were kind of rebels, they were also sexually rebellious.  As such, the Shibuya Crossing used to be (and may still be) a famous spot for ナンパ nanpa hitting on girls. I say “it may still be,” but I think online options have made “street nanpa” a thing of the past. Some people I’ve spoken with have told me that the only girls who get picked up on the street these days are 田舎者 inakamono hicks who moved to Tōkyō.

Is the street in front of Shibuya 109 the best place to find a random hook up? I don’t know. I have no idea. I know it used to have that reputation[xvi], but I think these days, the whole “nanpa” thing has been shifting away from “street nanpa” to “online nanpa.” That said, if you head up 道玄坂 Dōgenzaka Dōgen Hill you’ll come to an area with a thriving sex industry and most notably the collection of love hotels infamously known in English as “Love Hotel Hill.”

fukubukuro trade

During the first sale of the new year, Japanese stores clear out last year’s merchandise in randomized grab bags called 福袋 (fukubukuro – lucky bags). After the fukubukuro event at 109 (akin to a non-violent version of Black Friday), the girls all stand in the street exchanging sizes and colors all morning long.

hikarie.jpg

In the vast ocean of shopping malls that is Tokyo, what’s one more?

Shibuya Hikarie

So, look, I’ve been done with Shibuya for years. I just don’t want to go there. I don’t give a fuck about it because it used to be exciting but now it’s as boring as Ikebukuro, which is a total shithole. But in 2012 a massive retail development was completed called Shibuya Hikarie. Like Shibuya 109, it’s essentially a mall in a somewhat unique shape. I’ve never been there, but the managing company’s website actually uses the word synergy – and they were serious.

Shibuya Hikarie is essentially a mall in denial. It markets itself as some lifestyle changing force in the universe, but it is, in fact a mall, just like any other mall – and probably less unique than Tōkyō’s more expansive retail developments in Roppongi. And they actually used the word “synergy” seriously lol.

thumper.jpg

Dear whomever created this meme at (ehem) memegasms.com, It’s “then” not “than.” English. Do you speak it?

And before everyone craps on me for crapping on Shibuya, I will say that I have had a lot of memorable, life changing experiences in Shibuya. While most of them were during my first visit to Japan which compelled me to move to Tōkyō in the first place, one night in particular comes to mind. The first time I met Mrs. JapanThis face to face was in Shibuya to eat 焼肉 yaki niku. I have tons of other great memories of crazy parties and stories I could never repeat here[xvii] and they all happened in Shibuya. But as you’ve probably noticed, there hasn’t been a lot of history up in this bitch yet.

flatulent historian.jpg

Don’t Worry. Shibuya is not Culturally Vapid

Off the top of my head, there are two cool cultural things you can do in Shibuya.

bunkamura.jpg

Bunkamura

The building called 文化村 Bunkamura literally means “culture village” and is essentially a museum/arts center.

They put on art shows of varying quality. My image is that it’s focused on the performing arts, but admittedly, I’ve only been once or twice. From time to time they do have decent exhibitions, so check the website first. Also, there was a time when none of this was available in English, but it looks like their website is totally English-friendly now.

shaden.jpg

Konnō Hachiman Shrine and the Ruins of Shibuya Castle

Don’t get your history nerd hopes up too high. 金王八幡宮 Konnō Hachiman-gū Konnō Hachiman Shrine is really all you can see here. Well, that and the elevation of the terrain.

This shrine once sat on the grounds of 渋谷城 Shibuya-jō Shibuya Castle. Don’t imagine a beautiful white castle like Himeji Castle[xviii]. Imagine a sprawling fort on a plateau protecting the residence of a local strongman. In this case, the warlords in question were the Shibuya clan[xix] who made the hill their home in the Heian Period.

Nothing of the Shibuya “Castle” remains except for this shrine dedicated to 八幡 Hachiman, the Japanese god of war. This god was the 守護神 shūgoshin tutelary kami (tutelary spirit) of the Minamoto clan which rose to power and established the first 幕府 bakufu shōgunate in Kamakura in 1192. The Shibuya supported the Minamoto in their rise to power, so this shrine may be a tip of the hat to their benefactors in Kamakura. The site was destroyed in 1524, but there’s a single stone on the shrine grounds that the priests claim is a remnant of the original fortifications of Shibuya “Castle.” I’m not sure how anyone could prove or disprove this claim, but for what it’s worth, yeah, there’s a rock.

shibuya castle.jpg

Shibuya “Castle” in all its glory. And yes, it may very well be made of mashed potatoes or Play-doh.

Oh, and one piece of trivia for you. Until massive redevelopment in the 50’s, Center Street was a small river called the 宇田川 Udagawa Udagawa River, hence that area is still called 宇田川町 Udagawa-chō Udagawa Town today.

In conclusion, visit Shibuya Crossing. Experience Hachikō Exit once. Walk down Center Street once. Go to Shibuya 109 once. Absorb it. Do it at day time or do it at night time. Then get the fuck out of there.

This is the same advice I’d give you about Roppongi or Shinjuku.

My original article on Shibuya:

 

 

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__________________________
[i] Long time readers know that “I don’t have a lot to say about x” is code for “this is going to be a long article.”
[ii] What is @BeingTokyo? It’s a rocur account on Twitter. What the hell does rocur mean? I had to ask too, so don’t feel bad. RoCur is an abbreviation of “rotating curation” or “rotating curator.” Basically, the account is owned (“curated”) by a rotating (or ever-changing) line up of hosts. In the case of @BeingTokyo, the curators change every week. The account ranges from super-hysterical, to really interesting & insightful, to insipid, to occasionally irritating to the point of wanting to smash your phone. In short, it spans the whole perspective of foreigners and foreign-friendly English-capable Japanese living in Tōkyō.
[iii] First favorites were Uguisudani and Ueno.
[iv] Usually referred to as 渋谷スクランブル Shibuya Sukuranburu Shibuya Scramble.
[v] A fashion movement from the late 80’s to early 2000’s that still exist in the mainstream as standard fashion, but in the sex industry still exists as an イメージ imēji “image fantasy.”
[vi] Longtime readers know what this means. If you just found the blog, the reason for the crazy name Marky Star is because I was a DJ and producer (mostly producer, I’ll be honest) of dance music. Don’t believe me?
[vii] There were many types of gyaru. Here’s a list of types of gyaru.
[viii] “What’s a yamanba gyaru?” you ask… Yes, this was a real thing.
[ix] Most of what she says is true in regards to everyday girls in Tōkyō. However, many people in Tōkyō are from the countryside, especially young people. There is still a large contingent of girls in 歌舞伎町 Kabukichō working in the 水商売 mizu shōbai “entertainment industry” and in 風俗 fūzoku the sex industry who maintain some of these looks. If you move out of Tōkyō to towns with thriving sex industries, for example 横浜 Yokohama, 沼津 Numazu, or 大宮 Ōmiya, you’ll find the classic ヤンキーJK yankī  JK “bad high school girls” are very much still alive and well in real life and in “fantasy image.” To the best of my knowledge, most of these girls are university aged girls (not necessarily students) who roleplay this look to appeal to mid-career salarymen who always had a fantasy of getting with an exotic “bad girl” – something they never had the chance to do while young or couldn’t do outside of the privacy of the sex industry.
[x] There are other shit stations in Tōkyō. I’m looking at you, Shinjuku Station.
[xi] Which is a topic for another time. As a former DJ, I have strong opinions on the matter that probably don’t interest the average reader of JapanThis!.
[xii] And I use the term “genre” very loosely, it was more of a scene than a style.
[xiii] OK, I made up that reference to the Vale. Game of Thrones season 6 just started, so sue me. Interestingly, in Japanese, superiors are not required to use honorifics to their juniors. However, when they get angry, superiors often resort to using honorifics to their subordinates. The psychological effect is that junior is placed in an awkward and humiliating position where their superior implies that some shame has befallen them as a result of the junior’s mistakes. It’s for this same reason that feudal honorific terms like 貴様 kisama your nobleness and お前 o-mae honorable sir (both roundabout ways of saying “you”) have become potentially insulting ways to say “you” in Modern Japanese. O-mae requires a very close relationship, whereas kisama is pretty much a good way to start a fight. In the same way, the suffix – is used in racist epithets. For example, アメ公 ame-kō means “fucking American.” Not that words like this are thrown around much these days, mind you.
[xiv] See what I did there?
[xv] Or they may scratch their heads thinking, “haven’t heard that name in a loooooong time.”
[xvi] And I have heard some stories from my friends and exes lol. Legendary shit.
[xvii] At least not without some serious blowback lol.
[xviii] Himeji Castle and other Japanese castles that you usually think of are products of the final years of the Sengoku Period called the Azuchi-Momoyama Period. This is the transition from a century of civil wars and power grabs by samurai to the 250ish years of peace of the Edo Period. Because of its relative stability, samurai strongmen could build gorgeous defensive structures with solid military functionality and display their power, wealth, and authority. That’s the era when the samurai became a social and political class and were able to (literally) lord their power over all of Japanese society. Learn more about Japanese Eras here.
[xix] Many people attribute the name Shibuya to this clan. I wrote about that in my article about the area in 2013 and asserted that this was the most likely etymology. Since then, I’ve come to have a more nuanced understanding of the history of this place name. My original article does a crappy job of explaining what happened, so I’m planning to revisit the article and give it a makeover sometime this year.

Yamanote Line Extravaganza (intro)

In Japan, Travel in Japan on April 23, 2016 at 2:21 pm

山手線
Yamanote-sen (the High City Line)

yamanote-line-map

After my Ōedo Line Extravaganza back in June 2015, I got a few requests to do a Yamanote Line Extravaganza. One message was hilarious and too long to quote in its entireity here, but the author said (and I quote):

How could you do the Oedo Line before the Yamanote?
It’s an upstart and a poseur. It’s not even a real loop.

He ended the email with:

You are dead to me, sir. Dead.

I don’t get a ton of mail, but gems like that keep me going. If you’re that on board with my JapanThis! style, then by all means, send emails! Well, it’s actually better to leave a comment. I take back the email thing. Leave comments for the sake of my inboxes. But either way, let’s be friends! Also, bonus points for spelling poseur correctly.

YOU-RE-DEAD-TO-ME

Just kidding, I love you all!

Anyhoo, the reason I started with the 大江戸線 Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line is because I’d already covered a lot of the areas it services and because the name 大江戸 Ōedo literally means the Greater Edo Area and was a nice way to wrap up some articles I had written previously to that series.  Also, just including the word 江戸 Edo in the name was enough to make it first. Furthermore, I hadn’t re-written my looooong reference page about Yamanote vs. Shitamachi. I couldn’t very well write about the Yamanote Line without first exploring what those loaded terms meant, could I?

yamanote line.jpg

So What is the Yamanote Line?

The Yamanote Line has been described as Tōkyō’s most important train. It’s just a train line that runs in a circle around some prominent neighborhoods in Tōkyō. And just like the 大江戸線Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line, it runs in a loop around much of the old Edo city limits. However, unlike the Ōedo Line, it is in fact a true loop line that runs in an uninterrupted circle around the city center.

The word 山手 yamanote high city is the opposite of 下町 shitamachi low city. In the Edo Period, it referred to the secure high ground upon which the 大名 daimyō feudal lords and the 武家 buke samurai families lived. These days, residential addresses inside the Yamanote Line loop are seen as prestigious because they lie in the true center of Tōkyō. Owning or renting an apartment within the “Yamanote Line Loop” is generally expensive, but owning actual real estate[i] puts you into a unique segment of the city’s population. Sometimes you’ll see very old wooden houses within the loop that look run down and often decrepit. The owners may not have a lot of money and their houses may not look like much, but they’re the owners of a small plot of ancestral land that is literally worth a fortune. These families try to keep their land and live traditionally, passing on the plot to the next generation. Sometimes some son or daughter gets rich and knocks down the house and builds a modern domicile, but there are a few who resist and try to maintain this disappearing style of home – the idea being that if the head of the family falls into financial ruin, they could sell the ancestral plot for a huge sum of a money and recover the family’s inheritance.

sibadaimon-1.jpg

The train line currently services 29 stations and in terms of passengers per day it puts most cities’ entire public transit systems to shame[ii]. A new, 30th station and business center will be added between 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station and 田町駅 Tamachi Eki Tamachi Station before the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics. This is the first route update to the Yamanote Line since 1971 and it will make use of an old trainyard and maintenance center that is being phased out by JR East, the company that operates the Yamanote Line. Incidentally, it will also give quick access to the 高輪大木戸 Takanawa Ōkido, one of the three original access points to the shōguns’ capital of 江戸 Edo.

The Original Route

The predecessor of the modern loop line was built in 1885 (Meiji 18) and started in 品川 Shinagawa (a seaside port area important for distribution, but relatively rural), then continued to 目黒 Meguro, then 渋谷 Shibuya, then 新宿 Shinjuku, then 目白 Mejiro, then 板橋 Itabashi, and terminated at 赤羽 Akabane (on the border of present day 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis and 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture, at the time a rural area near a river begging for industrial revolution pollution). This was the beginning of a new definition of 山手 yamanote high city. This was when the suburban and rural areas west of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle (then 東京城 Tōkyō-jō) came to be called “yamanote.” Of these stations, none qualified by Edo Period standards as yamanote. Sections of those towns were indeed home to a handful of daimyō, but for the most part they were the outermost suburbs of the shōgun’s capital.

The train line was eventually connected to form its present day loop in 1925 when Akabane was dropped from Yamanote Line service. Like most loop trains in major cities, the Yamanote Line had come to be one of the most efficient ways to get around the city. It united business centers, cultural centers, and the associated red light districts[iii] for maximum economic impact. Tourists tend to find themselves on the Yamanote all the time given the train’s access to major hub stations and hotel districts. Think of a major destination in Tōkyō, it’s probably on the Yamanote Line: 渋谷 Shibuya, 新宿 Shinjuku, 原宿 Harajuku, 代々木 Yoyogi, 上野 Ueno, 秋葉原 Akihabara, 東京駅 Tōkyō Eki Tōkyō Station, and 有楽町新橋 Yūraku-chō/Shinbashi. For residents of the city, almost every station is necessary throughout the year.

I hope you’re excited about this series, because I am. Keep reading and keep watching this spot because I have a special announcement coming up very soon!

Further reading:

 

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[i] In terms of housing, this generally means the plot of land has been passed down the family for generations.
[ii] Yes, you heard me. This single line does more business than most cities’ entire transit systems.
[iii] For, as long time readers know, drinking & whoring.

Explore the Yamanote Line

In on July 27, 2015 at 6:45 pm

JR東日本山手線
JR Higashi Nippon Yamanote-sen
(East Japan Railway, Yamanote Line)

 train

Japan has a lot of trains. Tōkyō is probably the train capital of the world. But if there’s any train that you will ride in Japan, and even more so, ride in Tōkyō, it’s the JR Yamanote Line. It’s a loop line that “starts” on the former coast of Edo Bay and stretches out to the farthest borders of the shōgun’s capital and returns safely to the old coastline. While not every station is exciting and historically rich[i], it does hit some of the most important areas in the city. It also hits most of the major party towns which means that certain stretches of the line[ii] are lively, to say the least, at night. And by night, I don’t mean the weekends. I mean every night.

For history fans, the Yamanote Line, just like its younger brother, the Ōedo Line, offer a unique glimpse into the history of Edo-Tōkyō. Yeah, you can ride the whole circuit in an hour or something, but to actually explore each area would take ages. That said, if you know what you’re looking for, you can hit up some of the best historical spots in the capital and you could do so efficiently and economically.

So Without Further Ado, Here Are The 29 Stations of the Yamanote Line in 15 Articles:[iii]

The Yamanote Line Extravaganza
(intro to the series, highly recommended)

Shinagawa

Ōsaki & Gotanda

Meguru & Ebisu

Shibuya

Harajuku, Yoyogi, & Shinjuku

Shin-Ōkubo

Takadanobaba, Meijiro, & Ikebukuro

Ōtsuka, Sugamo, Komagome, Tabata

Nishi-Nippori, Nippori, & Uguisudani

Ueno & Okachimachi

Akihabara & Kanda

Tōkyō

Yūraku-chō & Shinbashi

Hamamatsu-chō & Tamachi

Touring the city via the Tōkyō via the Yamanote Line or Ōedo Line is awesome for fans of Japanese History, but particularly fun for fans of the Edo Period and the history of early Tōkyō. And while you can’t do both lines in a day, if you need a guide, you know where to find me.

I hope you enjoy the series!

 

Further Reading:

 

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

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[i] I’m looking at you, boring ass Meguro.
[ii] I’m looking at you, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Gotanda, Shinagawa, Tamachi, Hamamatsu-chō… oh, god let’s add Ueno… dude, this list could go on…
[iii] How’s that for efficiency?! Pretty frickin’ awesome… until you realize it took me a year to complete this stupid series.

Ōedo Line: Kokuritsu Kyōgijō

In Japanese History on July 7, 2015 at 6:00 am

国立競技場
Kokuritsu Kyōgijō (National Stadium Station)

stadiumUntil recently, this station gave you access to the 1964 Olympic Stadium. Today it gives you access to a massive construction area as the city prepares for the 2020 Olympics.

This station gives you access to:

What does Sendagaya mean?

In Japanese History on April 9, 2014 at 5:47 am

千駄ヶ谷
Sendagaya (1000 “da” valley)

Quite possibly the most useless map of Sendagaya ever.

Quite possibly the most useless map of Sendagaya ever.

Sendagaya is the area surrounded by Shinjuku, Yoyogi, Harajuku, and Akasaka. In my experience, 千駄ヶ谷駅 Sendagaya Eki Sendagaya Station is famous, but unless you live or work there, I think the area is overlooked. Much of what people may consider to be Harajuku or Yoyogi is actually Sendagaya[i]. Anyways, I’ll talk about what Sendagaya is today at the end of the article.

.

OK, Let’s Look at the Kanji!


sen

1000


da

a pack horse, a load (carried by a horse)


ga

the genitive particle in Old Japanese, similar to の no in modern Japanese.


ya

valley

Seems pretty random, right? .

.

駄 Da

The key to this place name are the Old Japanese words 一駄壱駄 ichida 1 da or 二駄弐駄 nida 2 da. These are units of measurement that describe how much stuff you can put on a horse’s back. I don’t know the specifics, but it’s probably something like a size and weight measurement. So you could say “This horse is carrying 3 da.” 千駄 senda 1000 da, of course, would be a crazy number and as such, the local people used the word senda to mean 沢山 takusan a lot of.

So the idea is that this area was 千駄の谷 senda no ya “the valley with a 1000 da.” This begs the question, a 1000 da of what? Well, it’s said that when Ōta Dōkan came to the area to inspect his new holdings, the valley was primarily used for rice cultivation so the name meant “the valley where a lot of rice is grown.”

The word 千駄 appears in another Tōkyō place name, 千駄木 Sendagi. I haven’t researched this place name but I’ll take a guess that it means “a lot of trees.” But that’s topic for another day.

This is a 駄馬 daba, a pack horse. I don't know how many da the horse is carrying, but you get the idea...

This is a 駄馬 daba, a pack horse. I don’t know how many da the horse is carrying, but you get the idea…

 But Wait, There’s More!

One theory states that the 渋谷川 Shibuya-gawa Shibuya River ran through this valley and there were so many 萓 gi day-lilies growing along the bank of the river, that in a single day you could carry out 1000 da of them. This etymology is suspect because of the reference to day-lilies which isn’t preserved in the name.

In 1644, we have a shōgunate record that spells the place name 千駄萱村 Sendagaya Mura Sendagaya Village. This name means 1000 da and 萱 kaya is a kind of reed. This theory states that long ago, along the bank of the Shibuya River, a lot of reeds were growing. It seems that the current writing dates from 1688.

Lastly, another theory states that the writing was 千駄茅 senda kaya a 1000 da of kaya, a kind of hay. (We’ve seen this kanji before in my article on Kayabachō.) While the exact origin of this place name isn’t known, the common theme seems to be the use of the word 千駄 senda 1000 da. Take your pick of which one you like the best.

While yes, today Sendagaya is real area in Tokyo, many people don't know where it actually is because the area is only serviced by a single train line. That said, it's proximity to other well traveled stations makes it an attractive residential district. It's quiet, yet has access quick walking access to major areas.

While yes, today Sendagaya is real area in Tokyo, many people don’t know where it actually is because the area is only serviced by a single train line. That said, it’s proximity to other well traveled stations makes it an attractive residential district. It’s quiet, yet has access quick walking access to major areas.

A Little Bit About the Area

In the Edo Period, the area was just countryside. Some daimyō had residences out this way. The 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari branch of the Tokuagawa Family had maintained a 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence in Sendagaya for a long time. In 1877 or 1878, 篤姫 Atsu-hime Princess Atsu[ii], wife of the 13th shōgun,  徳川家定 Tokugawa Iesada[iii], moved to this residence until she lost her battle with Parkinson’s Disease in 1883. Atsu-hime was originally born in Kagoshima and helped negotiate the bloodless eviction of the Tokugawa from Edo Castle. Her counterpart was none other than the Kagoshima-born general 西郷隆盛 Saigō Takamori[iv].

The Owari Tokugawa maintained their residence here for some time. Today the palace’s lands have been transformed into 戸山公園 Toyama Kōen Toyama Park, but believe it or not, one of the Edo Period buildings of this residence still survives.

In 1957, the 書院 shoin study of the residence was moved to 總持寺 Sōji-ji Sōji Temple in 横浜市鶴見区 Yokohama-shi Tsurumi-ku Tsurumi Ward, Yokohama, not far from Tōkyō. The former study is now the reception hall of the temple. So if you want to see a beautiful daimyō study from a daimyō compound, you can.

The entrance to the study of the Owari Tokugawa's sprawling residence.

The entrance to the study of the Owari Tokugawa’s sprawling residence. Pretty freakin’ dope, huh?

Later, the area around the former Tokugawa residence was used by the Imperial Army as a training ground. Later, under the American Occupation, the US military used the confiscated training ground. Probably due to all the soldiers being there, the area became famous for love hotels and the sex industry. The red light district was shut down in the buildup to the 1960 Tōkyō Summer Olympics and today the area is mostly known as the home to many fashion and design related businesses. I think this is due to its proximity to Harajuku and Shibuya, both of which are fashion epicenters. .

Toyama Park

Toyama Park

There is another Bakumatsu personage associated with the area. One account of of the untimely death of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi commander, 沖田総司 Okita Sōji took place here. There are conflicting accounts of this due to the confusion generated by the abdication of the last shōgun 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Also, Sōji’s brothers-in-arms were scattered at the time. All of the accounts of his death come to us years later.

A sento (public bath) near Jingumae Stadium.

A sento (public bath) near Jingumae Stadium.

鳩森八幡神社 Hatomori Hachiman-gū Hatomori Hachiman Shrine is a famous shrine in the area. I’ve talked about what a Hachiman shrine is before, so I’m not going to get into that today. However, this particular shrine is special in that it has a 富士塚 Fuji-zuka Fuji Mound. In the Edo Period, travel was tightly controlled by the shōgunate and non-samurai would have had a difficult time getting travel permission to leave their 藩 han domains. Many people wanted to make a pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji, so a trend was to bring rocks from Mt. Fuji to Edo and build a huge mockup of the volcano at a shrine and the local people could make the journey up the hill to honor the 富士浅間 Fuji Sengen, the kami of Mt. Fuji. There are still a few of these remaining today in Tōkyō – I’ve been to about 3 of them, I think.

The Fuji-zuka

The Fuji-zuka

The NTT DoCoMo building which looks like the Empire State Building is also in Sendagaya. If you’ve ever been shopping at the Southern Terrace of Shinjuku Station or enjoyed a stroll through 新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The NTT DoCoMo Building. Sometimes a purely derivative and truly bizarre choice in architecture can work.

The NTT DoCoMo Building.
Sometimes a purely derivative and truly bizarre choice in architecture can work.

Oh, any expat resident of Tōkyō will tell you that Mexican food is hard to come by. While not in Sendagaya proper, there are two very famous Mexican places in nearby Yoyogi and Shibuya – both walkable from Sendagaya. One is a super famous date-spot known as Fonda de la Madrugada located in 北参道 Kita-sandō. It’s expensive, but they have a mariachi band that come to the tables and take requests (unfortunately, the only Spanish song most Japanese people know is the Gypsy Kings’ cover of Volare, so expect to hear it a few times throughout the course of your dinner)[v]. The other one is the more casual and less expensive, El Torito, located in the Southern Terrace of Shinjuku Station. OK, that’s about all I’ve got on Sendagaya.

 

 

 

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 _____________________________
[i] Or maybe that’s just me.
[ii] She’s also called 天璋院 Tenshō-in because this is the name she took after the death of Iesada. It’s a Buddhist name, and I think it’s more like a title. I was told that after the Meiji Restoration she would have been called 篤子 Atsuko, since the title 姫 hime (usually rendered as “princess”) was banned by the new government.
[iii] Yes, the same Tokugawa Iesada who is generally depicted as a complete moron. You can read about his grave here.
[iv]  A guy I don’t have a lot of respect for.
[v] Of course, I’m speaking very broadly here. I’ve personally met Japanese people who know loads of Spanish music – waaaaaay more than I do – but just the average person doesn’t know much.

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