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What does Hatsudai mean?

In Japanese History on April 14, 2020 at 9:23 pm

初台
Hatsudai (the first platform)

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Is it Back to Normal Yet?

Well, apparently things aren’t back to normal yet. The Wuhan Love™️ is still out there taking lives, eroding infrastructure, and killing jobs. We’ve just got a few more weeks to put up with this and if we all do our best, I’m pretty sure we’ll come out of this stronger. That said, I hope you’re all doing well, staying inside, socially distancing yourselves, and discovering ever weirder shit on Pornhub[i]. It looks like the worldwide death toll is over 120,000 people at the time of writing. The global death toll isn’t slowing down because some major first world countries have totally dropped the ball on this one, I’m looking at you Japan and the USA. Get your shit together, please.

Anyhoo, we’re heading back over to 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward because the further west you go in 東京都 Tōkyō-to the Tōkyō Metropolis, the easier the place names get. Or, at least, it’s easier for me to find “bite-sized” articles. So today, we’ll be looking at 初台 Hatsudai, which is a neighborhood that lies just off the side of 旧甲州街道 Kyū-Kōshū Kaidō the former Kōshū Highway[ii] at the border of 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward and Shibuya Ward[iii]. Its primarily a residential area, but it’s also home to the corporate headquarters of Casio[iv].

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First, Let’s Look at the Kanji


hatsu, haji-/hajime; sho

beginning, first


tai, –dai

tower; platform; plateau; stand

Even though I like to start each etymology with “let’s look at the kanji,” I’m going to be perfectly honest and tell you that in this case, knowing the kanji isn’t going to give us much insight into this place name.

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a reconstructed noroshi-dai

The Story

Tradition says this place name is a combination of two legends, one from the end of the Muromachi Period and the other from beginning of the Edo Period.

The first derivation says that in order to secure his re-fortification of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, the warlord 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan built a series of eight 出城 dejiro satellite castles[v], including one in this area. Whether this was a full on 砦 toride fortress or just a 見張台 mihari-dai look-out tower, the main feature was its 狼煙台 noroshi-dai a specialized platform for sending smoke signals to the other defenses. One story says that this was originally called 八台 yatsudai fort #8, or hatsudai in the local dialect[vi].

The most trustworthy etymology comes from the beginning of the Edo Period (1600-1868). The second shōgun, 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada, donated a large fief in this area to his wet nurse, 初台 Hatsudai. This area was countryside until quite recently, so the presence of a member of the shōgun’s household living on a prominent hill brought a lot of prestige to the village[vii]. We’ve seen plenty of other examples for place names derived from the presence of elite residences.

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We have no portrait of Hatsudai no Tsubone, but here is Saigo no Tsubone. She was the mother of Hidetada and the primary concubine of Ieyasu.

Hatsudai no Tsubone

During the finally years of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period[viii], samurai warlord 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu needed someone to look after his eldest son, Hidetada[ix]. He moved his clan to Edo in 1590 and immediately began seeking a proper nanny to raise the twelve-year-old in his new castle. The keyword search for “cultured, devoted, and lactating” pointed directly at one noble woman – a woman whose actual name and lineage is a bit mysterious to us today, yet the Tokugawa court deemed her worthy of raising the next head of the clan, and most likely the next leader of the realm.

In 1591, the wife of a certain 土井昌勝 Doi Masakatsu was selected to raise the second Tokugawa family head, Hidetada. Sadly, we don’t know much about her as records merely preserve her as “the wife of Doi Masakatsu” or even more obliquely as “the wife of the younger brother of 土井利勝 Doi Toshikatsu.”[x] We don’t know who her parents were, nor when and where she was born and died. We do know, however, the Buddhist name she retired under in her old age[xi], and the name and title she held in the shōgun’s court: 初台局 Hatsudai no Tsubone Lady Hatsudai.

Long time readers will recognize the term 局 tsubone, a title given to the highest-ranking matrons of 大奥 Ōoku the shōgun’s harem[xii]. Years ago, we spoke about 春日局 Kasuga no Tsubone, the wet nurse of the third shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu. Seeing how the two tsubone we have come across so far were both trusted with the lives of future shōguns, I think it’s pretty clear how loyal and respected these women were. The kanji 局 tusbone/kyoku literally means “bureau” or “department,” so think of them as the Vice-Presidents of Raising the Next Shōgun. All the other ladies in waiting were at their beck and call. Make no mistake about it. Women with the title tsubone ran shit in the innermost palace of Edo Castle.

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Hatsudai in the Edo Period. Just farmland. Notice the wide yellow road roughly following the Tamagawa Aqueduct, that’s the Kōshū Kaido.

Hatsudai – Mystery Woman

While we don’t know much about Hatsudai’s personal life, we do know a bit about the family she married into. The 土井家 Doi-ke Doi clan had been active in 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province[xiii] and it seems like they were a typical Kantō samurai family of the late Sengoku Period. I mentioned that Hatsudai is sometimes described as the “wife of the younger brother of Doi Toshikatsu,” which is interesting for two reasons: one, it means the younger brother, Masakatsu, wasn’t as distinguished as his older brother; and two, it could mean Ieyasu held Toshikatsu in higher esteem than the younger brother.

You see, Toshikatsu was adopted into the clan by Ieyasu’s councilor, 土井利昌 Doi Toshimasa. He is believed to have been the son of 水野信元 Mizuno Nobumoto, an uncle of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Others claim he was an illegitimate son of Ieyasu himself, entrusted to the Doi clan where he could keep an eye on his growth from a safe distance. Ultimately, Toshikatsu proved to be a worthy ally of the Tokugawa. Not only did he and his younger brother serve as advisors, they led their armies in support of 大坂の陣 Ōsaka no Jin the summer and winter sieges of 大阪城 Ōsaka-jō Ōsaka Castle in 1614 and 1615. Toshikatsu was about six or seven years older than Hidetada, and Masakatsu was probably about four or five years older. Hidetada apparently had great trust in Masakatsu (they were roughly the same age) and he retained both brothers as personal advisors during his nearly 20 years as shōgun and his nine years as 大御所 ōgosho retired shōgun. After Hidetada’s death, the Doi brothers slipped into obscurity.

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Hatsudai today. The Keio Line now follows the Tamagawa Aqueduct.

How long Hatsudai remained in the direct service of the Tokugawa is unclear, but at some point, she retired and became a Buddhist priest – choosing a new name, 安養院 An’yō-in. The shōgun Hidetada granted her a luxurious, hilltop retirement estate in the country. It was a quiet little spot surrounded by rice paddies in Yoyogi Village, conveniently located near the Kōshū Highway. The fief was valued at 二百石 ni hyaku koku 200 koku[xiv], which would be a pretty sweet income to retire on. Also, there was supposed to be enough money for Hatsudai to establish a funerary temple in the area, but it’s unclear what happened next.

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Grave of Hatsudai

Final Resting Place?

In present-day 渋谷区代々木三丁目 Shibuya-ku Yoyogi san-chōme 3rd block of Yoyogi, Shibuya Ward, there’s a small temple called 正春寺 Shōshun-ji Shōshun Temple. It appears that for whatever reason, Hatsudai no Tsubone didn’t establish a temple in her own name. Her daughter, known to history as 梅園局 Umezono no Tsubone[xv], was the original wet nurse in charge of the future third shōgun, Iemtisu. I’m not sure why[xvi], but Umezono no Tsubone was soon replaced by Kasuga no Tsubone — probably the only tsubone most people have ever heard of. What we do know is that in retirement[xvii], she changed her name to the more priestly sounding 正春院 Shōshun-in, hence the name of the temple.

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Hatsudai’s Buddhist name, An’yo-in

If you walk around the cemetery and look really hard, you can find a grave dedicated to a certain 土井次郎左衛門昌勝 Doi Jirōzaemon Masakatsu. We can quickly identify this as Hatsudai’s husband’s tomb[xviii]. If we take a look at a small column of text to the side, we can clearly see the phrase: 土井次郎左衛門昌勝室 Doi Jirōzaemon Masakatsu no shitsu[xix]. This inscription indicates that the 夫婦 fūfu married couple can be honored here together for eternity, and just in case people forgot about poor old Hatsudai, only her Buddhist name (An’yō-in) and her relation to Masakatsu are listed on the grave. The priests of Shōshun-ji say that fires, earthquakes, and the Firebombing of Tōkyō destroyed most temple records, but oral tradition tells that the temple was established by Umezono no Tsubone (Shōshun-in), although maybe her mother Hatsudai no Tsubone (An’yō-in) established something smaller in the area that was absorbed by the current institution. Legend says that in the Edo Period, many local people made pilgrimages here to leave offerings for the wet nurse of the second shōgun, and prayed for their sons to be virtuous and decisive clan leaders. However, the temple cannot confirm whether the actual remains of Doi Masakatsu or — more importantly — those of Hatsudai are interred under that gravestone in their cemetery.

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Hatsudai Awa O-dori 

So, despite Ōta Dōkan having an outpost here, Hatsudai is probably named after Hatsudai no Tsubone’s retirement estate on the hill. The fact that a temple in walking distance has a connection to our woman of mystery bolsters this theory. More importantly, if “name a tsubone other than Kasuga no Tsubone” ever comes up in a drinking game, you’ve got this one covered, bruh. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

On that note, stay safe. Stay home. Leave a comment here or on the Facebook Group and and the Facebook Community. And I’ll see you soon!

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[i] Yo, I’m discovering so many fetishes that once this social distancing bullshit is finished, I’m planning on fucking my way to an early grave. Riddled with STD’s doesn’t sound like a bad way to go when a version of the flu is gutting the world economy and killing people left and right. It really puts the impermanence of life under the microscope, if you know what I mean #TeamIenari
[ii] This stretch is known locally as 甲州道中 Kōshū Dōchū the Kōshū Promenade – sounds so pleasant.
[iii] Whether you’re in Shibuya or Shinjuku, I think it’s fair to call this area 代々木 Yoyogi as just a general term.
[iv] So, if you’re into that sort of thing…
[v] Also described as 砦 toride a fort. Also, who was the fuck was Ōta Dōkan?
[vi] I only found one person citing this “platform #8” etymology, so I don’t have a lot of faith in it. I think the 台 dai kanji reinforces a sense of historical continuity from the name 初台 Hatsudai, but the name is probably from the Edo Period, not Ōta Dōkan’s time. Any relationship between the two stories is probably just a coincidence.
[vii] Present day Hatsudai lies on the south side of the Kōshū Kaidō. This used to be 代々木村 Yoyogi Mura Yoyogi Village. The north side of the Kōshū Kaidō (not present day Hatsudai) was 幡ヶ谷村 Hatagaya Mura Hatagaya Village the (present day Hatagaya).
[viii] The last years of the Sengoku Period (Warring States Period), which saw the rise of the so-called Three Great Unifiers.
[ix] Actually, now Hidetada was the eldest. Ieyasu’s true first-born son was 信康 Nobuyasu who committed 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide at age 20 in 1579.
[x] Toshikatsu was a general closely aligned with the Tokugawa.
[xi] We’ll get to her Buddhist name in due time. But just remember, that noble women were expected to become monks when their husbands retired or died. Often they would found a temple which took their priestly name.
[xii] The Ōoku wasn’t officially created until the time of Kasuga no Tsubone, but the women’s quarters (the innermost palace in Edo Castle) was already a de facto division of castle life in its own right since day one.
[xiii] Present day 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture.
[xiv] One koku = enough rice to feed an adult male for one year.
[xv] Actually, I’m not sure how to read her name. I’m 90% sure it’s Umezono (a Japanese reading, more suitable for a name) or Umeon (another rarer, Japanese variant). It could also be Baien (a Chinese reading, but this seems more literary or topographical).
[xvi] Perhaps Umezono no Tsubone died young, while her mother was still alive?
[xvii] Unless, of course, she died prematurely and received the name Shōshun-in posthumously…?
[xviii] For everyone who’s smoking too much herb or drinking too much booze during the Wuhan Love™️ Pandemic and you already forgot, Hatsudai was married to Doi Masakatsu. All that Jirōzaemon nonsense is just some dumb Edo Period name-game bullshit. Don’t sweat it.
[xix] 室 shitsu literally means “room.” This was a term applied to the wives of the most elite warriors. A general way to think of this is 正室 seishitsu main room (ie; lawful wife) and 側室 sokushitsu side room (ie; formal concubine).

What does Miyakezaka mean?

In Japanese History on April 6, 2020 at 7:22 am

三宅坂
Miyake-zaka (three house hill; more at “Miyake Slope”)

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A bar at Narita International Airport, empty due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Welcome to COVID-19, Bitches

Well, well, well. What do we have here? It seems we’re in the middle of a global freaking pandemic and people are locked up at home just drinking themselves to death[i] watching Netflix and bitching about the government on Facefook. Many writers, musicians, and dorky j-vloggers are taking advantage of the self-isolation requirements by churning out as much content as possible because… hey, who knows when you’ll have this much time off work again? Hopefully, most of you are getting in some quality reading time.

I’d like to take advantage of this opportunity, but my computer, my notes, and books are in Japan and, sadly, I am in the US until this whole thing dies down and I can actually get back to Tōkyō. All I have with me is an iPad, which is hardly conducive to my usual workflow. However, rather than doing my typical deep dives into Edo-Tōkyō places, I’ve chosen a few topics that I can write brief articles about over the coming weeks. Once this is all beyond us and we’re laughing with our friends about “Oh, remember that time when Wuhan Love™️ crashed the global economy and put us all out of work and 70,000[ii] people died? Wow, wasn’t that some shit?” Have no fear, if things come up that require deep dives, I think we can probably spin off some peripheral topics when this all dies down, or maybe in smaller, more concise article in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I apologize for the brevity of these bite sized articles, but I’ll try to keep them educational and entertaining.

道玄坂

Miyakezaka as it looks today. (Spoilers: it’s a hill!)

Miyakezaka

Miyakezaka is a hill in 東京都千代田区 Tōkyō-to Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis near 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle[iii]. It essentially runs from 永田町 Nagatachō[iv] to 国立劇場 Kokuritsu Gekijō the National Theater, which means this is some pretty prime real estate. It’s a short walk to one of the castle’s more infamous gates, which will get to in a bit.

I should mention here that in the Edo Period, Miyakezaka was lined with two distinct types of trees and so it had two additional nicknames which we won’t get into today[v]. Those were: 皀坂 Saikachizaka Gleditsia Hill[vi] and 柏之木坂 Kashinokizaka Kashi Tree Hill[vii].

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Saikachi tree pod 🧐

Let’s Look at the Kanji


san; mi

three


taku; yake

house/houses


saka, –zaka; han

hill, slope

This is essentially a compound word made by combining a family name 三宅 Miyake Miyake[viii] and the topography word 坂 saka hill.

As I mentioned before, this slope is located next to the castle. In fact, it’s right next to the 内堀 uchibori inner moat which separated the shōgun’s citadel from the palaces of his most loyal retainers, the 譜代大名 fudai daimyō, the hereditary lords whose ancestors had supported the 徳川家 Tokugawa-ke Tokugawa clan during the 関ヶ原の戦い Sekigahara no Tatakai Battle of Sekigahara in 1600[ix]. At the very top of the hill was a modest palace: 田原三宅家上屋敷 Tawara Miyake-ke kami-yashiki the upper residence of the Tawara Miyake clan.

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The Miyake clan upper residence is in the center of the map (you can see Miyakezaka Syo Park written inside the compound).

The Miyake Clan?

Yeah, yeah. I’d never heard of them either. And seems that as far as nobility goes, they’re pretty damn forgettable. They were based in 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province, modern 愛知県 Aichi-ken Aichi Prefecture. Allegedly, the clan traces their origins to the imperial court of the 1400’s, but they really didn’t come into their own until the 16th century. They had a long running – and often violent – rivalry with their neighbors, 松平家 Matsudaira-ke the Matsudaira clan. And for those of you who have forgotten, in 1568, a certain 松平元康 Matsudaira Motoyasu established his own family line and changed his name to 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Yes. That Ieyasu.

Anyhoo, the rivalry between the Miyake and Matsudaira came to end in 1558 when 三宅政貞 Miyake Masasada and his son 三宅康貞 Miyake Yasumasa became retainers of Tokugawa Ieyasu. In fact, the 康 yasu[x] is Yasumasa’s name was given to him by Ieyasu when the boy came of age. He served his lord well as a general and fought with the Tokugawa in two very important battles. One, 姉川の戦い Anegawa no Tatakai the Battle of Anegawa[xi] in 1570, and two, 長篠の戦い Nagashino no Tatakai the Battle of Nagashino in 1575. While loyal retainers of the Tokugawa, it does not seem like they participated in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. When Ieyasu gave up his former holdings and set up his power base in Edo, his Mikawa retainers and generals came with him, this would include the Miyake. This is just conjecture, bought perhaps Ieyasu wanted loyal men to protect his new capital during the Sekigahara campaign, you know… just in case.

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Tawara Castle in Aichi Prefecture, castle of the Miyake clan

At any rate, in 1603, Ieyasu received the title 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun (ie: shōgun) and began dividing up his 天下 tenka realm into 藩 han domains. He allocated 挙母藩 Koromo Han Koromo Domain in modern 愛知県豊田市 Aichi-ken Toyota-shi Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture to the Miyake, which was valued at 一万石 ichiman koku 10,000 koku[xii] and appointed Yasusada as the first hereditary daimyō of that fief under Tokugawa hegemony.

The family must have played its cards right, because in 1615, they were given a promotion – I assume this means they provided some service during 大坂夏の陣 Ōsaka Natsu no Jin the Siege of Ōsaka (summer campaign)[xiii]. I say this because they were promoted and given control over the prosperous fief of 亀山藩 Kameyama Han Kameyama Domain in 伊勢国 Ise no Kuni Ise Province, which is located in modern 三重県亀山市 Mie-ken Kameyama-shi Kameyama City, Mie Prefecture. This domain was valued at 二万石 niman koku 20,000 koku – double their previous worth!

However, fifty years later. Bruh. Somebody dropped the ball big time. The family was demoted in rank and sent to 三河国田原藩 Mikawa no Kuni Tawara Han Tawara Domain, Mikawa Province in present day 愛知県田原市 Aichi-ken Tawara-shi Tawara City, Aichi Prefecture[xiv]. This field was only valued at a measly 一万二千石 ichiman nisen koku 12,000 koku. It’s 2000 koku better than where they started, but, c’mon dawg[xv]. From 1644 until 1873 (Meiji 3), the Miyake would hold on tight to these lands in their ancestral Mikawa for the rest of the Edo Period.

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The modest Miyake residence, the sprawling Ii palace, and the Sakurada Gate

The End of an Era

As for their palace on the top of Miyakezaka, it was located next to one of the most prestigious mansions on the grounds of Edo Castle – 彦根井伊家上屋敷 Hikone Ii-ke kami-yashiki the upper residence of the Ii clan of Hikone Domain. This clan had served Tokugawa Ieyasu well in the Battle of Sekigahara and ever since had been among the most elite and loyal fudai daimyō families. In the final days of the shōgunate, the shōgunal regent, 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke, wisely ordered the country to slowly open and trade with the technologically advanced western powers in order to procure weapons and military strategies to protect the country from being overrun and bled dry by imperialism like all the rest of Asia. Some samurai disagreed with this policy and turned to terrorism in order to get their way. On March 24, 1860, they assassinated Ii Naosuke as he proceeded from his palace to the castle. Because he was killed in front of the 桜田御門 Sakurada Go-mon Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle, this event was called 桜田門外の変 Sakuradamon-gai no Hen the Sakuradamon Incident. The gate still stands today, not too far from Miyakezaka.

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How the Miyake estate looks today. Compare it to the Edo Period map under “Let’s Look at the Kanji.” You can see the Miyakezaka Syo Park label.

When the domain system was abolished, all the lords were sent back to their lands and the majority of palaces were demolished. The palaces of the Miyake and Ii clans were torn down and the Meiji government used these spaces as the new home of 大日本帝国陸軍 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun the Imperial Japanese Army until 1941. At this time, they were considered too close to the castle, so operations were moved out to 市ヶ谷 Ichigaya.

Today there is a park called 三宅小公園 Miyake Shōkōen Miyake Small Park and 三宅坂交差点 Miyakezaka Kōsaten Miyakezaka Junction[xvi] that some of you fancy car-drivin’ types might like[xvii]. But for the most part, the hill is just a memory in the minds of local history nerds.

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Miyakezaka Small Park commemorated the birthplace of bakumatsu era painter Watanabe Kazan who liked western art and committed seppuku in Tawara.

Epilogue

Well, I think I succeeded in crafting a bite-sized article for the first time in years. At this pace, I think I can bang out a few more until all this craziness dies down. Definitely could’ve gone way deeper, but here we are, huh? Anyways, I know this pandemic thing is cramping people’s lifestyles, costing people their incomes and jobs, and generally causing a real sense of unease and fear[xviii]. Oh, and it’s killing people. Let’s not forget that. Stay home. Call loved ones. Wash your hands. Stay six feet apart. Don’t smoke all your weed in one week. And most of all, be safe.

I’ll see you soon.

Further Reading:

 

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[i] Because I know most of you blew through your cocaine stash the first week of lockdown.
[ii] The number as of the time this article was being written. Frighteningly, this will definitely go up by the time the next article is published.
[iii] The current 皇居 Kōkyo Imperial Palace (but we don’t use that word around here).
[iv] Home of 国会議事堂 Kokkai Gijidō the National Diet, ie: Parliament.
[v] In 岡山県 Okyama-ken Okayama Prefecture, this family name is usually spelled with 御 go-/o-/mi– honorable/divine instead of 三 san/mi– three, ie: 御宅 Miyake. This spelling variance occurs with many ancient names (family names, temple/shrine names, place names, etc).
[vi] This is the battle from which the first shōgun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, emerged as the dē factō ruler of Japan.
[vii] Because it’s boooooooooring.
[viii] Gleditsia is also known as Japanese honey locust, if that means anything to you.
[ix] Kashi refers to a family of trees called Fagaceæ which is common in the Kantō area, if that means anything to you.
[x] The kanji means “peaceful.”
[xi] Or, the Battle of the Ane River.
[xii] One koku is considered enough rice to feed an adult male for a year.
[xiii] However, a quick search through the interwebs doesn’t show the name Miyake on any list of generals at the siege. If you know something I don’t, please let me know!
[xiv] Nobody knows where the fuck this place is. JK, actually, nobody wants to know where it is.
[xv] I couldn’t find anything to explain why the clan was demoted and moved, but this happened during the reign of the third shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu, which sets off all sorts of alarms in my head. Iemitsu was notorious for making 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers and low ranking daimyō his lovers and fast tracking them to really prestigious ranks, then when he got bored with his boy toys, he demoted them and humiliated them. What a bitch.
[xvi] This marks the junction of National Route 20 and National Route 246.
[xvii] Why the fuck would you drive in Tōkyō??
[xviii] And let’s be honest, a lot of boredom.

What does Shimbamba mean?

In Japanese History on February 6, 2019 at 6:29 am

新馬場
Shinbanba (new horse place)

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All right. You ready to do this? Cuz I’m ready to do this.

So, in my last article, we explored a little-known area on 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō the old Tōkaidō Highway which connected the shōgun’s capital in 江戸 Edo with the imperial capital in 京都 Kyōto. The road ran from 日本橋 Nihonbashi (literally, the “Bridge to Japan”) in the center of the city to Kyōto. To maintain the Tōkaidō and other similar highways, the shōgunate instituted an official network of 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns[i]. This ensured that travelers – particularly government and court officials – had a roof over their heads, somewhere to get a hot bath, and places to go drinking and whoring. In fact, places that killed three birds with one stone were not uncommon.

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A typical lodging in Shinagawa with sexual hijinx on the menu. This is the Shimazaki-rō. The photo was taken in 1929, but the lodging was established in the Edo Period and was apparently one of the most high end spots in Shinagawa, even providing delivery to the honjin and waki-honjin so government officials could remain anonymous. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk about what honjin and waki-honjin are in a bit…)

Access to well rested servants and horses were also an important aspect to this post town system. The first post town on the Tōkaidō was the main entrance and exit to the city of Edo. Not only was it the first post town on the most important highway in the country, it was the largest – so large, in fact, that it was divided into two separate towns: 北品川宿 Kita Shinagawa North Shinagawa and 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa South Shinagawa[ii]. The official post towns were home to roughly 1600 buildings and had a population of about 7000 people[iii], numbers unheard of in other post towns. Because of traffic from the sea and fishing villages along the bay, the area was a bustling center of commercial activity and the lines between post town and local villages often blurred. I haven’t seen numbers for travelers coming and going, but it must have been massive. Even though this was outside of the city limits and quite country, for 芋侍 imo-zamurai country bumpkin samurai coming to the capital for the first time, it would have been a mind-blowing prelude to the cosmopolitan sensory overload of the shōgun’s capital.

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Today, you can still walk the original route of the old Tōkaidō from Nihonbashi all the way to Kyōto (if you’re into that sorta thing), but one of the best stretches is in Shinagawa. Along the way, you’ll come across an area called 新馬場 Shinbanba[iv]. Long-time fans of JapanThis! may recognize this kanji and come to the same assumption that I did: the etymology of this place name is just like that of 高田馬場 Takada no Baba – both of with end with the characters for “horse” and “place.”

And we’d both be wrong AF.
So let’s dig in and find out where this place name came from.

Further Reading:

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Shinagawa? Strap on and feel the G’s. Outside of the city of Edo, this was where it was at.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


shin
new

uma,
ba
horse

ba
place

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Jūban Baba – the horse riding grounds in Azabu-Jūban. It’s a very distinctive shape.

Assuming this 馬場 banba[vi] was the same as 馬場 baba – I mean, the kanji is the same FFS – I started checking maps for long, rectangular plots of land where you could do mounted archery. I didn’t find any because in the Edo Period, this was the boonies. I found lots of small villages, but the word 馬場 baba didn’t appear on early maps or more accurate later maps. Hmmmmm…

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Female yabusame??? Yes, please!!!!

What Gives?

Well, I mentioned before that Shinagawa post town was so large the shōgunate divided it into two administrative districts, North Shinagawa and South Shinagawa. The separation took place where the Tōkaidō crossed the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River at 品川橋 Shinagawabashi Shinagawa Bridge. Taking a closer look at old maps, I realized something interesting. In North Shinagawa, the stretch of the highway from present-day 八山橋入口 Yastuyamabashi Yatsuyama Bridge to 法善寺門前 Hōzen-ji Hōzen Temple has block after block labeled 北品川歩行新宿 Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku[vii]. So, what the hell does Kachi-Shinshuku mean?

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Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku

So, normally in Edo, when you see the word 馬場 baba/banba on a map, it refers to a place for mounted archery. However, in post towns, the term has a totally different meaning. Furthermore, on these old maps, Kachi-Shinshuku distinguished a special part of North Shinagawa, one that specialized in providing rested and refreshed coolies to rich travelers. I don’t know if coolie is a PC term or not today, but essentially these 歩行人足 kachi ninsoku were day laborers who operated between two post towns carrying luggage and 籠 kago palanquins[viii]. In short, Kachi-Shinshuku means something like “refueling station” because you could relieve exhausted day laborers and hire new ones. Shinshuku means “new post town” because this was a later development of Shinagawa post town; that is to say, the shōgunate wanted the rest of North and South Shinagawa to be for lodging and whatnot but keep all the stinky laborers in a single area.

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One of my fave ukiyo-e prints and I finally have a chance to talk about it. Tired horses and tired coolies have arrived at a post town (Fujieda, also on the Tōkaidō) ready to pass over the packages to a fresh team. Notice the one guy wiping sweat off his brow and the team manager discussing the job with a merchant. Also notice the presence of a samurai inspector.

Wait. What about the Horses?

Well, I said you should think of Kachi-Shinshuku as something like a “refueling station,” right? Let’s say you’ve got a pack animal with you on your trek from Kyōto, or you’re a 大名 daimyō feudal lord who’s sick of being boxed up in a palanquin and wants to ride a horse. To keep the other parts of the post town clean, you could swap out stinky horses in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku. Additionally, coolies who carry shit for a living are pretty much pack animals too, right? They were both the pickup trucks of the Edo Period.

While stinky coolies who carried shit for a living were eking out a sustainable existence in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku, apparently the biggest business in popular memory was the hiring and retiring of stinky-ass 伝馬 tenma/denma pack horses. Thus, the term banba doesn’t mean riding grounds, but the place where you can swap out horses. We can see a related place name in 小伝馬町 Kodenmachō, literally Small Denma Town[ix], which is located near the terminus of the old Tōkaidō at 日本橋 Nihonbashi the Bridge to Japan.

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Day laborers, coolies, whatever you call them, their jobs were disappearing with the Meiji changes, the advent of the railroad, and just like your job is gonna be taken over by AI, they did their best and now we bicker over whether the word coolie is PC or not lol

Why do we Remember Horses and not Humans

I haven’t heard any satisfying answer, but I have a pet theory. After the 明治維新 Meiji Ishin Meiji Coup, Japan tried desperately to impress the western powers that they were on equal footing. They began building a train line to do what the old Tōkaidō once did – link Edo (now Tōkyō) with Kyōto – and they adopted new dress, a new style of government, and they abolished the caste system. There was no concept of PC and centuries of prejudice didn’t evaporate overnight, but I suspect with the end of the post town system in Meiji 5 (1872) and the absorption of Shinagawa into 東京県東京府 Tōkyō-ken Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō City, Tōkyō Prefecture, the pressure to not associate humans with pack animals became self-evident. While marginalized families most definitely continued to work as social minorities in the area, the new era brought new opportunities and the local consciousness chose to remember that the area between Yatsuyama and Hōzen-ji was famous for post horses. In fact, even with the advent of the steam locomotive and the abolition of shōgunate restrictions on who could and who couldn’t ride horses, there was an uptick in demand for horses. It seems like the locals referred to the area as 馬場 banba horse place to preserve its traditional image and erase its humiliating past.

got it, fuck face

Easy Peasy!!!

So Shinbanba means “new horse place.” Got it. I don’t have to read this crap anymore.

Not so fast, buddy. You probably should read this crap a little bit more.

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei thinks you should read this crap more, too. Don’t disappoint Sexxxy Sensei.

It Always Comes Back to Train Stations

In the early 1900’s, on the train tracks that are now the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line there were two stations called 北馬場駅 Kita-Banba Eki North Banba Station and 南馬場駅 Minami Banba Eki South Banba Station, references to where the two post towns in Shinagawa were split by the Meguro River. Today this is a pretty minor line as far as Tōkyō trains go, but it straight up serviced the boonies until the post-war period[x]. However, as we all know, Tōkyō (and Japan in general) experienced a huge economic boom that saw construction and real estate development enter unprecedented levels beginning in the late 1950’s. Massive infrastructure expansions happened in the 1970’s, and new, faster trains eliminated the need for stations that were built for rural areas that had now become urbanized. A new station was built between Kita-Banba and Minami-Banba and was named 新馬場 Shinbanba New Banba and opened in 1976[xi]. By this time, nothing remained of Shinagawa’s post town – even the original Edo Period coastline had been expanded by landfill and massive building projects. It’s fairly obvious in Japanese that New Banba doesn’t mean “place where you swap out horses,” and as the post town’s history faded from collective memory, Shinbanba was just another place name that few people thought about. And that’s the short story, long. Shinbanba isn’t even a real place name. It’s just a station name, only the locals refer to the area in general as Shinbanba. The existence of Kita-Banba and Minami-Banba are long forgotten as time moves farther and farther past Shinagawa’s heyday as Edo pre-eminent post town, the grand entrance to the shōgun’s capital.

Just like 立会川 Tachiaigawa[xii], a majority of Tōkyōites have probably never heard of it.

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This is Tachiaigawa, a pretty decent walk from Shinbanba, check out my previous article for more about this little known secret in Tōkyō.

What’s in Shinbanba?

For the average person, there might not be a lot. But if you’re a history nerd like me and you love Edo-Tōkyō, there’s a fuck ton to see here. Just make sure your history level is cranked up to 11 because you’ll spend the majority of your time looking where places used to be, because there are only scant traces of the Edo Period preserved – and even those are disappearing.

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One of many nori (seaweed) shops in the area

Traditional Japanese Food

OK, it’s Japan, so this isn’t a stretch, but being a post town on the bay, foods like 海苔 nori seaweed, 寿司 sushi sushi, and 天ぷら tenpura tempura were famous in the region. In many famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints of daily life, you can see seaweed farms in the shallow parts of the sea where crops could be easily harvested at low tide. Sushi in its most common form is what is called 江戸前寿司 Edomae-zushi sushi in the Edo-style or sushi from Edo Bay. Likewise, tempura as you know it today was once called 江戸前天ぷら Edomae-tenpura[xiii], also a reference to either the bay or the local style. For travelers who just wanted a light snack that they could carry with them for the journey, there were many 煎餅屋 senbei-ya rice cracker shops, and you’ll still find the old Tōkaidō dotted with these family owned storefronts.

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Remnant’s of Shinagawa’s once thriving fishing industry still remain

Temples and Shrines

In the famous words of Scientology founder and all-around charlatan wackjob, L. Ron Hubbard, “If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” In this case, just establish a temple or a shrine. With all the travelers coming and going in and out of Edo, this entire stretch of the old Tōkaidō is teeming with Buddhist and Shintō institutions, some are pretty cool and some are kinda meh. I’m just going off the top of my head, but I think there are something like 20-30 temples and shrines in the area. With all those Edo Period travelers, these places must have been making bank.

Besides the fact that there are two 七福神巡り shichi fukujin meguri pilgrimages of the seven gods of good luck, the must-see spiritual spots in the area are 品川神社 Shinagawa Jinja Shinagawa Shrine, 荏原神社 Ebara Jinja Ebara Shrine, and 東海寺 Tōkai-ji Tōkai Temple.

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Calligraphy by the third shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, preserved by Tōkai-ji. It says Tōshō-gū, posthumous name of his grandfather, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The first two are Shintō shrines that are part of seven gods of good luck pilgrimages, the latter is a Zen Buddhist temple established by 沢庵 Takuan, a priest who founded this major temple during the reign of the third shogun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu Tokugawa Iemitsu. Takuan hobnobbed with all manner of high-ranking samurai and is sometimes criticized for his advocacy of killing, a general no-no in Buddhism, but Zen and martial arts go hand in hand and if you want to sell your religion to the warrior class, you have to make it appealing to them – and that he did. Tōkai-ji preserved several of his calligraphic works and tea sets which are now on display in the 品川歴史館 Shinagawa Rekishikan Shinagawa History Museum.

Shinagawa Shrine was established to protect the local village in 1187. It houses the 神 kami gods of 天比理乃命 Amenohiritome no Mikoto — a somewhat mysterious god[xiv], 素戔嗚尊 Susano’o no Mikoto the god of seas and storms[xv], and 宇賀之売命 Toyoukebime a goddess of abundant food that predates the importation of wet rice agriculture[xvi]. The enshrinement of a harvest goddess and a god of the sea makes sense for this area which was rural and located on the bay. I think that makes sense at any time in human history.

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Shinagawa Shrine

Speaking of history, the shrine has an interesting history. Apparently, it was established as 品川大明神 Shinagawa Daimyōjin Shinagawa Shrine[xvii] by 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo, first shōgun of the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura Shōgunate, when he enshrined Amenohiritome in 1187. In 1319, it’s said that a high-ranking retainer of 北条高時 Hōjō Takatoki, the last regent of the Kamakura Shōgunate, enshrined Toyoukebime — presumably, this was before Takatoki and his retainers committed 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide as Kamakura burned[xviii]. In 1478, Kantō warlord and all around bad muthafucka, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan enshrined Susano’o here[xix].

In 1600, a funny thing happened on the way to 関ヶ原 Sekigahara. A little-known local hero whom I may have mentioned here once or twice, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, made a stop at Shinagawa Shrine to pray for victory in battle. Well, we all know how that turned out[xx]. Ieyasu had patronized the shrine since the 1590’s, but after his victory at Sekigahara, the shōgunate prioritized the institution and to this day you can see the family crest of his clan everywhere. Other Tokugawa shōguns, including 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu (#3) and 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari (#11, but he’s always #69 in our hearts), are known to have visited here[xxi].

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Dozō Sagami – the most infamous adult playground in Shinagawa

Dozō Sagami

For samurai of means and rich merchants coming and going from Edo, one of the most famous and glamorous spots was 土蔵相模 Dozō Sagami, officially known as 相模屋 Sagami-ya, a deluxe brothel. This inn featured high-end 芸者 geisha and talented 遊女 yūjo courtesans[xxii]. Long time readers, especially those who remember my piece on Shinjuku, will remember that Edo Period post towns were hot beds[xxiii] of drinking and whoring. That’s right, dear reader, Shinagawa wasn’t all about pack horses and coolies.

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Model of he main building of Dozō Sagami inside the Shinagawa History Museum

Perhaps the most historically important people who partied all night here were a team of racist, xenophobic, and backwards-thinking 水戸藩の志士 Mito Han no Shishi Terrorists from Mito Domain who checked in to do the last drinking and whoring of their lives. The next morning was March 24th, a day that changed Japanese history forever. These ass clowns attacked the entourage of 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke lord of 彦根藩 Hikone Han Hikone Domain and 大老 Tairō head of the 老中 Rōjū High Council, the lords posted at the highest level of the shōgunate. They succeeded in assassinating him, knowing full well that they would either die in the attack, be sentenced to 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide, or worse yet, be executed like stinky, filthy commoners. Yup, these racist, terrorist fucks killed the guy who made the decision to slowly begin opening up Japan in order to get new military technology so Japan wouldn’t collapse under foreign imperialism like other Asian countries had – learn the foreigners’ ways and then beat them at their own game. This assassination, known as the 桜田御門外之変 Sakurada Go-mon-gai no Hen Sakuradamon Incident sent the shōgunate into a downward spiral that left the fate of the country in a precarious place.

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The back of Dozō Sagami (also called Sagami-ya casually). From here, you had a view of Edo Bay, the garden, the well, and that dope kura. You’re all kura fans now, right? The view must have been stunning in its heyday.

In the midst of this chaos, some other famous guests stayed at Sagami-ya. They were 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku an anti-foreigner terrorist with terrible hair and 伊藤博文 Itō Hirobumi a garden variety terrorist, unapologetic womanizer, and the future first prime minister of 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku the Empire of Japan. Apparently, they partied here after burning down the first British Embassy[xxiv] – which wasn’t too far from the area. A bold move to be sure, but when foreign powers displayed their military and technological superiority, these two 芋侍 imo-zamuri country bumpkin samurai from the rogue state of 長州藩 Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain suddenly became interested in foreign weaponry. Because of his famously dumb haircut, Takasugi Shinsaku didn’t live to see the shōgunate fall, but maybe Itō Hirobumi’s drinking and whoring saved his life. I dunno. Just throwing that out there.

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Sagami Hotel – the last days of a Shinagawa legend

Anyhoo, my understanding is that the Sagami-ya in some form or other lasted until 1972. The establishment fell on hard times due to American-influenced anti-prostitution laws enacted between 1946 and 1956. During its last days, it was known as the さがみホテル Sagami Hoteru Sagami Hotel and presumably there were no in-house prostitutes. But by the 1970’s, its garden and beautiful view of the bay had been destroyed by landfill, factory pollution, and the fact that the old Tōkaidō was meaningless in the modern world.

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A nostalgic remembrance of Hotel Sagami

The long standing 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line, the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line, the construction of 国道15号 Kokudō Jūgo-gō National Route 15[xxv] in 1952, and finally the 1964 completion of the 東海道新幹線 Tōkaidō Shinkansen Tōkaidō Shinkansen hammered the last nail in the coffin for Shinagawa’s old post town forever[xxvi]. The shinkansen route connected 新大阪駅 Shin-Ōsaka Eki New Ōsaka Station with 横浜 Yokohama[xxvii], totally neglecting Shinagawa. The loss of Sagami-ya represented the last gasp of Shinagawa as a lodging spot. Simply put, it had just become inconvenient.

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Dozō Sagami/Sagami-ya/Sagami Hotel is no longer with us. Oh, how the mighty hath fallen.

Rolled Over by Modernization

Shinagawa is a classic case of another place where Japan has paved over its own proud history. Tōkyō has done this in particularly egregious ways, IMO. The transition from the Edo Period to the pre-war period wasn’t that crazy, I think. It’s the post-war era that saw everything change. The 1964 Olympics also changed the city in huge ways[xxviii] and pretty much killed off the old city while also killing off Shinagawa’s fishing tradition and transforming the area into a land of warehouses and factories. From the 60’s-70’s, Japan was on a trajectory greater than the Japanese Empire could ever imagine. By the 1980’s… don’t even get me started. The US feared Japan like the US fears China and India now[xxix]. However, Shinagawa declined more and fell into a really horrible state.

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Whoa. Wait? How is that even legal?

In 2003, Tōkaidō Shinkansen service came to Shinagawa and this changed everything. Tōkyō now had multiple high-speed and “localish” train routes come to this sleepy town. This reinvigorated Shinagawa service breathed new life into an already vibrant manufacturing culture. 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward[xxx] began courting hotels, suggesting they set up shop in the old post town. Furthermore, they encourage the establishment of 民泊 minpaku residential lodgings in the area along the old Tōkaidō. In addition to setting up signage — albeit in Japanese only — and repaving the road to clearly convey its original width, they incentivized businesses old and new along the pre-modern highway. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it one of Tōkyō’s hot spots, the area around Shinbanba is definitely interesting for us history nerds.

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Did You Just SayHistory Nerds?

Of course, I did. And long-time readers know I don’t throw that term around lightly[xxxi]. Short term readers who have read this far are probably scratching their heads thinking “we haven’t gotten to the nerdy part yet? WTF??!!”

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You can’t see it now, but there’s a sign saying “two ‘miles’ from Nihonbashi” – “two ‘miles’ to Kawasaki.” If you don’t believe me, I dare you to go look for yourself and prove me wrong.

Holy Mile Markers, Batman

One cool spot that most people overlook is 二里塚 niri-zuka the two ri mound, a kinda mile marker. While pre-modern Japan had a whole gaggle of weights and measurements, a 里 ri was a unit of distance that — to the best of my knowledge – had no fixed distance[xxxii]. The niri-zuka indicates the spot that is two ri from Nihonbashi, the start of the Tōkaidō. The distance from Edo to Kyōto was 124 ri (the majority of miles markers are known (though few are labeled as such and fewer yet are preserved)[xxxiii]. Sadly, the marker near Shinbanba is not preserved and there’s simply a sign in Japanese at the entrance to 品海公園 Hinkai Kōen Hinkai Park[xxxiv]. In their heyday, these spots would have definitely stood out. At each marker, the shōgunate built and maintained a large man-made earthen mound on each side of the highway and planted a pine tree on each[xxxv]. While I’m sure these markers assured travelers that they were making progress and the next post town would be coming up soon, the real reason for these markers was to indicate rates for pack horses and coolies[xxxvi].

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What real mile markers used to look like. This one is in Wakayama Prefecture.

Shinagawa Daiba

Long time readers will remember my article on Odaiba. But to sum it up briefly, in 1853 Commodore Perry brought a fleet of gunboats into the “entrance” of  江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay near 浦賀 Uraga in present day 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture and demanded that Japan open for trade or he’d bombarded the city of Edo. Then he gave them a year to think about it, promising to return.

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Yo, b. That ship is black af.

As you can imagine, the shōgunate had a collective freak out at this breach of their strict isolationist policy. While they ultimately – and wisely – decided to open the country up to the Americans[xxxvii], they decided to build a system of cannon batteries to protect the city of Edo. These were all artificial islands, two of which still survive to this day.

One such battery was the 御殿山下台場 Goten’yamashita Daiba Battery at the bottom of Goten’yama. I’m not sure what the space was used for after the Edo Period[xxxviii], but I do know that with all the land reclamation that took place in the 1950’s, this plot of land was re-purposed for 品川区立台場小学校 Shinagawa Kuritsu Daiba Shōgakkō Shinagawa Ward Daiba Elementary School. And while I think it would have been cooler to have not fucked with the shape of the bay, I have to admit it sounds pretty bad ass to say you went to “Cannon Battery Elementary School.” Today, a lighthouse shaped monument sits at the front gate of the school to commemorate the historical value of the land.

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Map of the Shinagawa Honjin – stepped on by everyone who walks into the park. By the way, only old geezers and homeless people hang out in the park today. Just smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap sake.

Remains of the Shinagawa-shuku Honjin

So, with the big deal that I made about pack horses and coolies[xxxix], I don’t want to give the impression that Shinagawa was a dump. Every post town had accommodations for people from all walks of life. Without a doubt, the two most important lodgings were the 本陣 honjin main encampment and 脇本陣 waki-honjin secondary encampment. The honjin was reserved for 大名 daimyō feudal lords and 公家 kuge members of the imperial court in Kyōto. The “wacky” honjin was reserved for silly people like 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun and other high-ranking officials, and if it was available — for a price — super rich merchants could rent a room. In most post towns, the honjin and waki-honjin were located in the town center for strategic reasons. After all, these compounds were considered military installations.

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This picture wasn’t easy to find. It might be the only known photo of Shinagawa Honjin (in its days a hospital for the Tōkyō City Police). It looks pretty lush and definitely retains its Edo Period atmosphere.

After the Meiji Coup, the emperor and his entourage moved from Kyōto to Edo and then renamed the city 東京 Tōkyō Eastern Capital. The honjin being the swankiest accommodation in Shinagawa, obviously, this where they stayed. However, after the post station system was abolished in 1872 (Meiji 5), this luxurious building and its beautiful garden became the 警視庁品川病院 Keishichō Shinagawa Byōin Shinagawa Police Hospital. It must have been a gorgeous location at which to recuperate. In addition to its beautiful architecture, this area was still in the countryside and while it wasn’t located right on the beach, I assume you had a nice view of the bay from the second floor. What’s more, it seems the Edo Period building[xl] was used right up until 1938.

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You’re either experiencing déjà vu right now or you haven’t been paying attention to the pretty pictures. Either way is fine. I love you just the same.

By 1938, the building was deemed antiquated, decommissioned, and torn down. In its place, a small park was built on one section of the compound, an office building on the remaining land. In commemoration of the Meiji Emperor’s visit, the park was named 聖蹟公園 Seiseki Kōen Sacred Spot Park[xli]. The current incarnation of the park dates back to 1960 and the original office building is no longer with us, today its place is taken by a daycare center or kindergarten or some dumb shit for annoying little kids.

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One of the Coolest Shoe Stores in Tōkyō

Keeping in mind that Shinagawa was either the last town you’d pass on your way to Edo or the first town you’d pass on your way out, either way, you’d probably need new shoes. If you were leaving the capital, it would have been cheaper to buy them here than in the city center. If you were arriving in the capital, your shoes probably got pretty beat up. Plus, shoes for long distance walking and casual walking around town were different. Either way, you’d want to dress to impress. There were several shoe stores in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku, but today only 丸屋履物店 Maruya Hakimono-ten Maruyama Shoes remains. This traditional shop was established in 1865, three years before the collapse of the shōgunate, and has been run by six generations of expert craftsmen. The building is a classic two-story structure typical of the Edo Period. The first floor is a showroom and work area where the manager sits and literally makes shoes by hand on a tatami mat. They specialize in Japanese shoes, in particular 下駄 geta, 草履 zōri, and 雪駄 seta. That said, they also construct specialty shoes that I don’t know the name of, all I can say is they’re those big ass platform shoes worn by 花魁 oiran courtesans of the highest rank. You can buy ready to wear shoes or choose a base that you want and then pick your own strap design and style. It’s pretty awesome if you’re trying to put together your own 着物 kimono or 浴衣 yukata ensemble[xlii]. Even if you can’t make it to Shinagawa, you can order online or at the very least follow their twitter account lol

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Shinbanba Fun Facts

I think I mentioned that as part of the revival of the area in the early 2000’s, Shinagawa Ward clearly marked the width of the original Tōkaidō. Don’t think I would drop something casually like that without giving you guys more details.

According to an official decree of the third shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada in 1616, the Tōkaidō was formally classified as an 大海道 Ōkaidō a major sea route and the width of the street was required to be 六間 rokken six ken which is roughly 10.8 m (35 feet 6 inches). The original width of the road is clearly demarcated now, even though there’s no signage indicating this deliberate measure taken by the ward.  When the Tōkaidō Line was built which bypassed the old post town, the area was frozen in time. With the advent of cars, a much wider road for cars called the 第一京浜 Daiichi Keihin replaced the old highway because the pre-modern width was unsuitable for heavy traffic. That said, this stretch of road is extremely pedestrian-friendly to this day. There’s very little car traffic even during the day, and at night you’ll only see occasional foot and bike traffic.

godzilla tokyo bay

Wait. What?? We just rebuilt this city after the fucking Americans… fuck… it’s a giant rubber lizard. Japan is fucked!! Run away! Run away!!

Oh, and how could I leave this out? Yo, Godzilla made this place his bitch! 八つ山入口 Yatsuyama Iriguchi Yatsuyama Entrance is the entrance to Shinagawa coming from Edo[xliii]. Technically this spot, now marked by a bridge crossing the train tracks is closer to Kita Shinagawa Station than Shinbanba Station) is where Godzilla first entered Tōkyō via Tōkyō Bay. I haven’t seen these movies since I was a kid, but presumably the bay still had its original shape and the monster made a b-line for the city center via the Tōkaidō. In the Edo Period, the 5 Highways into the city were heavily guarded by the suburban palaces of various daimyō, but even with all the 1950’s military technology, the city could do nothing about a crazy, fire-breathing mutant dinosaur-thing with a penchant for knocking over the newly rebuilt capital of Japan[xliv].

With all that said, I’m assuming I’ve spent enough time in Shinagawa for a while. I’ve got a few ideas for upcoming articles, but if you have some locations you’re interested in (in Edo-Tōkyō), leave a comment down below and I’ll see what I can do. As always, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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

 


[i] Another term was 宿駅 shukueki, although this term emphasized the presence of places to swap out pack horses (something we’ll talk about later in the article). Interestingly, the second kanji 駅 eki is now used for train stations. This something that will make sense as you read the rest of the article.
[ii] Some people divided it into three post towns, though this wasn’t official. In the end, visit any other former post town in Japan is you’ll instantly realized how tiny they are and how seemingly endless Shinagawa was.
[iii] The official post town, South Shinagawa-shuku in particular, bled over into neighboring villages which adapted to handle overflow on heavy days.
[iv] Officially Romanized as Shimbamba, but homie don’t play that shit.
[v] In other spaces, like the 麻布馬場 Azabu Baba Azabu Horse Riding Grounds, there’s not a single trace of the old topography.
[vi] The pronunciation of banba seems to be a contraction of 馬の場 uma no ba.
[vii] An alternate reading, perhaps more standard is Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinjuku. The -shuku/-juku distinction seems to be regional, but locals in Shinagawa have preserved the less common -shuku pronunciation. This indicates the variety of dialects in Edo, while emphasizing the fact that Shinagawa was not Edo. It was just country.
[viii] If you visit the preserved post towns on the Nakasendō in Nagano Prefecture, you can see 高札場 kōsatsuba regulating the fixed prices coolies could charge to carry shit from one town to the next.
[ix] And for all you perverts out there, it’s 伝馬 denma/tenma a horse for passing along, not 電マ denma a high-powered vibrator like the Hitachi Magic Wand – short for 電気マッサージ器 denki massāji-ki. Click this sentence if you want to read my article about Kodenma-chō.
[x] One could make a strong argument that it still services the straight up boonies today – the urban boonies.
[xi] Yes, that’s right. The term Shinbanba is just a little over 40 years old.
[xii] Covered in my previous article.
[xiii] Word on the street is Edo style tempura was a favorite food of the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and that it gave him stomach cancer and that killed him. I’m suspicious of this, but it’s the story everyone knows for some reason.
[xiv] Amenohiritome no Mikoto seems to be the ancestral kami of the 忌部氏斎部氏 Inbe-shi Inbe clan (they changed their spelling in the 800’s), a high-ranking family in the imperial court who tended to spiritual matters.
[xv] Susano’o was the brother of the sun goddess, 天照大神 Amaterasu-ōmikami – mythical progenitor of the imperial family.
[xvi] For most of very early Japanese history, Toyoukebime was the pre-eminent kami related to food abundance and food preservation. After rice became a staple food, 稲荷 Inari became the primary kami of rice and food, in time local iterations of Inari becoming tutelary kami or good luck kami to local 大名 daimyō samurai warlords. Due to the policy of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance, local lords built shrines to their local version of Inari and so modern day is one place where you can find Inari shrines everywhere. They were so ubiquitous – and I’ve mentioned this many times before – there was a proverb among Edoites: 伊勢屋、稲荷に、犬の糞 Iseya, Inari ni, inu no fun which essentially means “you can’t go anywhere in Edo without seeing shops named Iseya, Inari shrines, and dog shit.” Even though this was the so-called Pre-Modern Era, it sounds like a typical urban gripe. I’ve seen a few sources claiming that Toyoukebime is actually a precursor of Inari – Inari being an easier name to remember.
[xvii] In this case, daimyōjin is just shorthand for tutelary kami and saves people the trouble of remembering the deity’s confusing name.
[xviii] Not to state the obvious, but if they all killed themselves, said retainer wouldn’t have been able to carry out said enshrinement. Who the hell was Hōjō Takatoki?
[xix] Come on, Ōta Dōkan is our favorite here at JapanThis!
[xx] He won, stupid. If you don’t know the Battle of Sekigahara, feel free to check out Samurai Archives.
[xxi] I have to chuckle to myself when wondering if 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada (#2) visited Shinagawa Shrine. Because of the association with Ieyasu and the Battle of Sekigahara, he might have felt a bit weird since… you know, he showed up late to the battle — something Ieyasu never forgive him for.
[xxii] Read “prostitutes.”
[xxiii] See what I did there?
[xxiv] Construction wasn’t even complete yet. Did the construction workers get paid? Samurai Privilege anyone?
[xxv] This stretch of the road known as the 第一京浜 Dai-ichi Keihin Tōkyō-Yokohama Route 1.
[xxvi] Seemingly, at the time. Not actually forever…
[xxvii] This served the same purpose of the original Tōkaidō – connect Edo-Tōkyō with Kyōto. However, the civil engineers wisely set the end points at cities located outside of the urban centers of Tōkyō and Kyōto. This is something the Japanese government isn’t taking into consideration at all these days.
[xxviii] Probably for the worst (PS: I whispered that).
[xxix] Yeah, I see those rich Chinese girls’ Instagram pages. That’s the Japanese Bubble Years, there just wasn’t any social media. Also, when your go to other countries, keep your voices down ffs.
[xxx] They call themselves Shinagawa City, but they’re really Shinagawa Ward.
[xxxi] Well, alright. Sometimes I throw it around lightly.
[xxxii] My dictionary says it’s approximately 3.927km (2.44 miles), but emphasis on “approximately.”
[xxxiii] In case you were curious, the first marker is near 金杉橋 Kanasugibashi Kanasugi Bridge in 芝大門二丁目 Shiba Daimon Nichōme 2nd block of Shiba Daimon. The third marker is in 大森一丁目 Ōmori Itchōme 1st block of Ōmori. The fourth is in 東麓郷三丁目 Higashi Rokugō Sanchōme 3rd block of Higashi Rokugō. After that, you’ll be well outside of Tōkyō city limits.
[xxxiv] Literally “Seaside Park,” despite the fact that the coast is now miles away.
[xxxv] And yes, I also know that sometimes there was a cluster of pine trees. And yes, I know sometimes there were stone monuments clearly indicating the distance. It was the Edo Period. Uniformity wasn’t the shōgunate’s strong point.
[xxxvi] There’s that word again.
[xxxvii] Good call on their part.
[xxxviii] I think it might have been used for a lighthouse, but don’t quote me on that.
[xxxix] There’s that word again…
[xl] And presumably its garden.
[xli] Remember, this was the height of State Shintō and all that emperor worship bullshit.
[xlii] I assume I don’t have to explain what these are and the differences to you
[xliii] Or the last exit heading towards Edo, depending on your trajectory.
[xliv] And what’s up with that?!! They just rebuilt this bitch!

Kura – All About Japanese Storehouses

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on November 30, 2017 at 10:15 am


kura (storehouse, warehouse)

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When traveling through Japanese cities, especially towns in the countryside, you will probably notice distinctive storehouses called kura (written either or ). And although there are many types of kura, the most common types are the ones with white plaster walls, designed to be fireproof and insulated with mud. These are generally called called 土蔵 dozō earthen storehouses.

In the country, these are primarily used for storage and farm equipment. However, in the past, in large cities like Edo, families built kura to protect their valuables. They were a way for merchants and samurai – including 大名 daimyō and even the 将軍 shōgun – to flaunt their wealth. They had valuable things to protect and enough money and land to actually build a storehouse. In fact, there used to be a Japanese idiom, 倉を立てる kura wo tateru, which means “to build a kura” and basically meant “to make it financially.” 福島県喜多方市 Fukushima-ken Kitakata-shi Kitakata City, Fukushima Prefecture claims to have the highest concentration of kura in Japan – so much so that they say that if you haven’t built a kura by age 40, you’re not yet a man.

Anyways, today we’re going to look at the distinguishing features of kura, the construction methods of traditional kura. After that, we’ll talk about the cultural implications of kura in the Japanese imagination, and finally, I’ll tell you a few good places to see them for yourself!

Distinguishing Features

Although the lines are blurred these days, with many kura being repurposed as restaurants and art galleries, traditionally there are two types of kura: the ones used strictly as storehouses, and the ones used as storefronts, or misegura (見世蔵店蔵).

Shutters with janabara

Doors with janbara

 

As mentioned earlier, the earthen walls provided insulation and fireproofing. The stable temperatures inside won’t disrupt the fermentation process, so kura are perfect for making sake, soy sauce, miso, and indigo. To ensure an airtight seal, the shutters and doors employ a 3-tiered stepped and recessed interlocking shape called janbara (蛇腹) which was developed in the Edo Period. Taken literally, the kanji mean “snake belly.”

Kawara tiles

Onigawa with the family name Takahashi in place of an animal or demon

Subtle mizukiri jutting out

Excellent example of an eaves protecting a window

Traditional decorative roofs built with ceramic tiles called 瓦 kawara add another layer of fireproofing and help to disperse rainwater away from the walls. It’s common to find 鬼瓦 onigawara demon tiles, guarding the sides of the rooftop. You may also see vertical rows of pegs or long slats known as 水切り mizukiri water cut offs and additional eaves designed to keep too much water from accumulating on the walls.

Namako kabe fence

Re-purposed and restored kura with namako kabe

More expensive kura tend to feature a black and white criss-cross diamond pattern called 海鼠壁 namako kabe, meaning “sea cucumber walls” because the white semi-circular parts resemble the creature. Believe it or not, this design is more functional than decorative as it further helps to throw water off the surface to protect the walls. Namako kabe originated in southwestern Japan, but is almost universal these days.

The Kitagawa Utamaro Museum in Tochigi City is great example of a massive tripartite misegura decorated in Edo-guro (it’s a fantastic ukiyo-e museum).

In the Kanto area, it was popular to copy the style of rich merchants in Edo who often painted their white kura black, an expensive and high-maintenance process that required constant repainting. The association with the shogun’s capital was so strong that this process came to be called 江戸黒 Edo-guro Edo Black. Many storehouses of this style can be found preserved in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture. When you see Edo-guro buildings, the black paint is usually fading – evidence of the high cost and constant maintenance required to keep up this style.

Hooks

More hooks

Even more hooks

In this ukiyo-e you can see a kura in Nihonbashi with scaffolding up, mounted on – you guessed it – hooks!

Lastly, it’s not uncommon to see rows of hooks wrapping around the second story. Most people don’t notice them, but they’re usually there. These are for attaching scaffolding and ladders when repairs or restorations are needed.

The plaster is peeling off of this neglected kura, exposing the earthen walls beneath.

kura broken


Here you can see the plaster, earth/straw mud walls, and bamboo lathing.

Construction

As mentioned earlier, in the Edo Period, kura were status symbols because it meant you actually had valuable things to protect. Furthermore, it took time and money to build and maintain them. Let’s take a look at how these fireproof storehouses were actually constructed.

  • First, lay a stone foundation.
  • Build a rigid wooden frame with sturdy logs.
  • Add bamboo or palm lathing called komai (木舞) in the shape you want the walls and ceiling to take, sort of like drywall in a modern western house.
  • Apply layer after layer of wet clay and straw on both sides of the lathing until you have the desired thickness of the walls (roughly 16 layers in the Kantō area).
  • Wait about 2-6 months for the clay to dry.
  • Carefully apply a traditional white plaster called shikkui (漆喰) to the outside surface. You’ve seen this plaster if you’ve ever seen a Japanese castle.
  • Apply Edo Black, if you roll like that.
  • Construct a wooden frame across the roof and attach the roof tiles to it.
  • In the country, the insides were usually unadorned, but in cities the insides were often decorated with cypress; recent renovations that you see today may have quite elegant interiors.

Tansu (traditional Japanese “step drawers”)

Once you had finished building your storehouse, you had to maintain it. The floor was regularly swept to keep dust out, and items were kept in boxes and traditional drawers called 箪笥 tansu. Furthermore, a few times a year, items would be removed and aired out, lest they got musty. Interestingly, when some famous temples and shrines aired out their kura, people would come from far and wide to view the treasures that were usually hidden from sight.

Steps inside a wooden floor kura

Workshop inside a kura

The Dark Side

As you can imagine, kura were traditionally very dark on the inside, especially before the advent of electricity, and so there were (and still are!) people afraid of entering them. Sadly, in the Edo Period, family members with mental illness were sometimes imprisoned in kura to keep them from embarrassing the family or running out and committing crimes.

In fact, the fear of kura was so pervasive that until a generation or so ago, it wasn’t unusual to hear of parents locking up misbehaving children in the family kura as a punishment. There was even a book and subsequent movie called 蔵の中 Kura no Naka Inside the Kura, about a girl with a contagious disease who was forced to live in a kura so she couldn’t infect the rest of the family. She had only picture books and Noh masks to entertain herself with.

Traditional bookstore in a kura

The Light Side

Actually, it’s not all grim stories about locking people up in dark, musty storehouses. In some parts of northern Japan, they believed that a 神 kami spirit would inhabit the kura and any family member that attracted its gaze would be rewarded with good luck.

More importantly, as the population declines in rural communities, people buy up old abandoned farmhouses as second homes and often these estates have kura with old family heirlooms accumulated over time. These are a boon to historians when hitherto unknown documents, works of art, and samurai armor and swords are discovered.

Kura at a shrine to house o-mikoshi (portable shrines for festivals)

Where to Check Out Kura

You can find kura all over the country, even in central Tokyo, but there are a few spots around Japan that are particularly famous for having large concentrations of these traditional storehouses.

Matsumoto has many re-purposed kura

In Matsumoto, most kura are in the old merchant district.

If you’re in Nagano, you might want to check out Nawate Dori and the Nakamachi district of Matsumoto. These areas have many preserved Meiji Period kura that have been converted into cafes, shops, and boutiques. The historic atmosphere of the area is perfect for a leisurely stroll before visiting one of Japan’s most majestic buildings, 松本城Matsumoto-jō Matsumoto Castle.

Tochigi City is one of my favorite spots, most people don’t know about it.

There are kura everywhere!

Tochigi’s Kuranomachi – literally “kura town” – is less than an hour from Tokyo by train and home to many historic storehouses that are used as modern shops selling everything from soba to souvenirs. It’s a great escape from the big city for day trippers and photographers looking for a bit of “Old Japan.”

Another great day trip option is Kawagoe which is located in Saitama and is also less than an hour from Tokyo. The city bills itself of as “Little Edo” because of its large number of misegura, storefront kura (which were actually built in the early Meiji Period, but that’s just between you and me). Most of Kawagoe’s kura are fine examples of storehouses that make use of Edo Black, so it really does give you a feel of street life in the merchant districts of the shogun’s capital. The city also has one of the few remaining honmaru goten (本丸御殿), main palace of a Japanese castle, and a section of Edo Castle that was moved to the temple, 喜多院 Kitai-in, by the 3rd shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu.

Of course, the motherlode of kura towns is Kitakata in Fukushima. Depending on who’s counting there are somewhere between 2000-4000 kura in the city. And yes, this is the town where if you don’t have a storehouse of your own by age 40, you’re not a real man. Kura aren’t the only reason to visit this city, there’s also a ramen museum dedicated to the local variety – typified by soy sauce and wavy noodles. It’s a nice place to visit if you’re exploring the Aizu Wakamatsu and Kōriyama areas.

Lastly, if you want to check out some kura in Tokyo, there are two in excellent condition across the street from Tokyo Tower. Just come out of Akabanebashi Station and head to the temple, 明常院 Myōjō-in. The storehouses are located to the left of the main hall and they contain the temple treasures, including a painting by the 9th shogun, Tokugawa Ieshige, as well as the mortuary tablet from the memorial service carried out here on the 49th day after his death. You can still see some of the original Edo Period wall and stone lanterns bearing the shogun’s family crest.

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Also, if you feel like heading out of the city center, you can jump on one of the last remaining tramways, the Setagaya Line, which will take you to the 世田谷代官屋敷Setagaya Daikan Yashiki Setagaya Daikan’s Residence – home of a family of town magistrates in the Edo Period. On the premises, you’ll find two kura and a local history museum. Actually, you can find them throughout the city, but sadly they tend to be covered in aluminum siding because it’s cheaper than maintaining them properly. As a result, you may not even notice them even if they’re right in front of you.

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What does Asukayama mean?

In Japanese History on March 21, 2017 at 4:28 pm

飛鳥山
Asukayama (Mt. Asuka)

asukayama sakura

The 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing season is right around the corner, so I thought it was the perfect time to look into one Edo’s most important hanami spots. It’s not as famous these days, but 飛鳥山 Asukayama Mt. Asuka is still a major hanami spot – it just tends to be more for locals these days. However, in the Edo Period, well to do Edoites and inhabitants of 大江戸 Ōedo the Greater Edo Area came from far and wide to enjoy the 桜 sakura cherry blossoms on this hilltop.

Commoners also came, providing they had the time and wherewithal to make a day trip. You see, walking to Asukayama wasn’t easy – even for the rich. This small “mountain” was located outside of Edo in an area known as 武蔵国豊嶋郡王子村 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Ōji Mura Ōji Village, Toshima District, Musashi Province. Today this area isn’t part of 豊島区 Toshima-ku Toshima Ward, but rather a part of Tōkyō’s 北区 Kita-ku Kita Ward on the northernmost border of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis and 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture[i].

asukayama hanami

Just to give you an idea of the distance, it would take someone in modern clothes using modern roads about two hours to walk from 日本橋 Nihonbashi to Ōji. Walking in a kimono on dirt roads could have easily taken three hours or more. The route hanami-goers would have taken in the Edo Period, was the 日光街道 Nikkō Kaidō Nikkō Highway which connected Edo Castle with the elaborate funerary temples dedicated to the first and third shōguns, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu and 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu, in Nikkō[ii].

The village of Ōji wasn’t a 宿場町 shukuba machi post town, but by the middle of the Edo Period, it was fully prepared to accommodate as many hanami-goers as possible. Elegant teahouses in this rustic area catered to samurai and merchants, but there were also more modest accommodations available for wealthy farmers who might also have made the long journey out here. Presumably, drinking & whoring were rampant[iii].

ojiya meiji

Teahouse Oji-ya in the Meiji Period, located on the Otonashi River beneath Asukayama.

Let’s Compare Some Kanji

.

阿須賀
Asuka

Asuka
(no meaning, this is ateji; the kanji are just sounds)

飛鳥
Asuka

Asuka
flying bird (this also has no meaning and is ateji)

I provided two spelling variants because the first version is used in religious contexts, but the second is used in maps and local histories. Just as spoken language has dialectal differences, kanji use seems to have been localized as well – especially in the untamed eastern provinces. That said, we know there was a 山城 yamajiro hilltop fortress controlled by the 豊嶋氏 Toshima-shi Toshima clan[iv]. The fortification at the top of this ovoid plateau was called 飛鳥山城 Asukayama-jō Asukayama Castle. This is reflected the area’s larger administrative name until recently, which was the Toshima District.

Asukayama_Park

You can clearly see the shape of the “mountain” and given the general flatness of the area, it’s easy to see why this would have made a good a to built a fortified structure.

The branch of the Toshima clan that moved to this eastern area, originated in modern 和歌山県 Wakayama-ken Wakayama Prefecture. The area we’re going to be referring to is located in the 紀伊半島 Kii Hantō Kii Peninsula[v]. This is the same area where you can find the 熊野古道 Kumano Kodō Kumano Pilgrimages, a series of ancient roads connecting various religious sites in the Kii Peninsula that date back to at least the 900’s. A specific shrine, associated with the Toshima clan was the 33rd station along the course called the 熊野曼荼羅 Kumano Mandara – this shrine was 阿須賀神社 Asuka Jinja Asuka Shrine.

asuka shrine

Asuka Shrine in Wakayama

Open their arrival in the 関東地方 Kantō Chiho Kantō Area, the Toshima used a process called 分霊 bunrei to split the 神 kami deity of Asuka Shrine in Wakayama and transport it to 王子神社 Ōji Jinja Ōji Shrine as the tutelary kami of their fort on the hill. Ōji Shrine was to serve as their tutelary kami[vi]. The difference between the kanji for “Asuka” are quite different, but there doesn’t seem to be any difference etymologically. Maybe the new variant was easier for locals to read – although to me, the original spelling is much clearer[vii].

Further Reading:

Oji Shrine

Oji Shrine where the tutelary kami of the Toshima clan was enshrined to protect Asukayama.

A Strong Connection to Kii Domain

.

Anyhoo, so as I mentioned before, the Toshima clan originated in modern day Wakayama Prefecture. From ancient times until the end of the Edo Period, much of that area was called 紀伊国 Kii no Kuni Kii Province[viii], and in fact one of the most important Tokugawa fiefs was in Kii Province, 紀伊藩 Kii Han Kii Domain[ix]. The 紀伊徳川家 Kii Tokugawa-ke Kii Tokugawa Family were part of the 御三家 go-sanke the Three Great Families – branch families sired by Tokugawa Ieyasu that were expected to produce a shogun, should the main line fail to produce a capable male successor. The other two families were the 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari Tokugawa Family and the 水戸徳川家 Mito Tokugawa-ke Mito Tokugawa Family.

wakayama

The Kii Peninsula in perspective

Neither family was called upon to produce an heir until a crisis arose in the early 1700’s. The seventh shogun, 徳川家宣 Tokugawa Ienobu, ruled for a mere three years (from 1709 – 1712). All his male offspring died young. The only one who could inherit the position of shōgun was three year old 徳川家継 Tokugawa Ietsugu. He was made shogun, but being a sickly child, he also tragically died at age six in 1716. He, too, had held the title of shōgun for a mere three years. Being a six year old child, it was unlikely that he would produce an heir, and well, as you can imagine, he didn’t[x].

nitenmon ietsugu

Very little remains of Ietsugu’s once guilded and ornate mausoleum after the war. The Nitenmon gate is in horrible condition today, but is currently being restored before the 2020 Olympics.

The crisis resulted in the shōgunate electing a male member of the Three Great Families deemed closest by blood and by loyalty – oh, and also age-appropriate. The man chosen for the job was of the Kii Tokugawa, and his name was 徳川吉宗 Tokugawa Yoshimune. Up to this point, he had been the daimyō of Kii Domain. After his election and adoption into the main 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family, he was to go down in history as one of the most distinct and memorable shōguns of all time[xi].

Tokugawa_Yoshimune

Tokugawa Yoshimune

Yoshimune inherited a shōgunate in chaos with hemorrhaging coffers. He spent money to build a beautiful mausoleum at 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in Shiba for his predecessor, Ietsugu, but then issued a series of sumptuary laws[xii]. One such law was that no more individual funerary temples would be built for future shōguns, himself included. From this period forward, shōgun’s would be enshrined in existing mausolea in Shiba and Ueno through a process called 合祀 gōshi mutual enshrinement.

Yoshimune Kyoho

Yoshimune going over the shōgunate’s finances.

In addition, Yoshimune passed some dumb laws about what clothes people of certain ranks could wear[xiii], he tried to revitalize the art of sword craftsmanship[xiv], and he encouraged merchants to form monopolies[xv] – all of which prove that samurai didn’t know dick about economic theory[xvi]. That said, he did help make the shōgunate financially solvent, so at least he got that part right.

asukayama ukiyo hanami.jpg

Partying hard at hanami was not a modern invention. Edo Period people were equally boisterous and rowdy.

Wait. Wait. Wait. I Thought This Was About Asukayama?

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Yes, yes. It is about Asukayama. And here’s where it all finally comes full circle.

Despite all his austerity measures, Yoshimune also sought to sprinkle a little joy for the average person on the street in the way of what we would call “public works” today. At the time, Edo only had one famous spot for hanami, 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji one of the funerary temples of the shōguns[xvii]. Feeling an ancestral connection with his native Kii Province, he chose Asukayama in Ōji for a new project. He ordered that the long since demolished fortress of the Toshima clan be reclaimed for the people. Cherry blossom trees were planted at the top of the plateau and people could enjoy a spectacular view of both Edo, Edo Bay, and much farther off in the distance, Mt. Fuji[xviii].

Further Reading:

asukayama hanami pire

The National Park System

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Fast forward to the Meiji Period and the overthrow of Tokugawa Shōgunate.

In 1873 (Meiji 6), Japan created its first public parks, and naturally these were in 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City, literally the new “Eastern Capital”[xix]. The government chose five famous hanami spots to be the first “official” parks; they were 上野公園 Ueno Kōen Ueno Park and 芝公園 Shiba Kōen Shiba Park[xx], both Tokugawa funerary temples, also included were 浅草公園 Asakusa Kōen Asakusa Park[xxi] and 深川公園 Sumida Kōen Sumida Park and, of course, 飛鳥山公園 Asusakayama Kōen Asukayama Park.

1893 Paper Mill

A couple enjoying hanami on Asukayama in 1893. You can see a paper mill down below next to the Otonashi River. The paper thing will come back later.

In 1879 (Meiji 12), an emergent real estate mogul named 渋沢栄一 Shibusawa Ei’ichi bought part of Asukayama and built a house there. Ei’ichi is of particular interest, because unlike other real estate developers of his day, he wasn’t interested in the daimyō holdings of Edo proper. He focused on constructing playgrounds for the rich and fabulous in the suburbs well outside of the dusty and crowded alleys of Edo-Tōkyō). This mode of thought was derived from the British garden city movement.

 

shibusawa

Shibusawa Ei’ichi

Ei’ichi realized that the value of the 山手 yamanote high city lands that were being sold off piecemeal by the new government. So, while the government sought to regain funds it lost by essentially buying out the samurai class during the abolition process, newly made businessmen like his peer, Mitsubishi’s 岩崎弥太郎 I wasaki Yatarō, had more than enough cash to make huge land purchases of this scale. Ei’ichi focused on cheaper suburban lands to make residential developments. Yatarō focused on properties within the former shōgunal capital turned imperial capital.

From 1901 Ei’ichi began sharing this property with his son as a second home[xxii], and after his death in 1931, the house passed on to his son who continued living there.

Oji teahouse garden

A garden on the Otonashi River beneath Asukayama.

Most of the Shibusawa estate was destroyed during the Firebombing of Tōkyō in 1945 by US forces. Luckily, many of the old cherry blossoms survived and as a result, in the postwar years, the whole hill once again became open to the public.

monorail.jpg
Eventually, the city built a tiny monorail in 2009 to take people up and down the “mountain.” You can walk up the hill in five minutes, or stand in line for ten minutes to take the monorail. Officially, I think it’s for people with disabilities, but most people take it expecting a nice view[xxiii].

Further Reading:

asukayama train

There are two antique trains preserved on Asukayama.

3 Museums of Asukayama

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The park is also home to three museums:

飛鳥山博物館
Asukayama Hakubutsu-kan

Asukayama Museum
This museum explores the mountain’s history as far back as the Jōmon Period.

渋沢史料館
Shibusawa Shiryō-kan

Shibusawa Ei’chi Foundation Museum
A museum about the life and work of Sibusawa Ei’ichi, in particular his recovery efforts after the Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923.

紙の博物館
Kami no Hakubutsu-kan

Paper Museum
A four story museum related to this product that we use every day.

I haven’t been to any of these museums, so I can’t say much about them, but I imagine drunken hanami revelers stumbling around the paper museum aimlessly or passed out on the floor of the Shibusawa Museum would be quite a funny sight.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

 


[i] So, it’s way on the outskirts of Tōkyō, so you can imagine just how far away this was from the shōgun’s capital.
[ii] Modern Nikkō City, Tochigi Prefecture.
[iii] “Presumably” – I use the word with a 99% probability.
[iv] Descendants of the 平豊嶋氏 Taira Toshima-shi Taira Toshima clan, one of the strongest warrior families of imperial descent sent from the west to police and monitor the east of Japan.
[v] Remember this name: Kii.
[vi] The name Ōji literally means “child of a kami” and is something I discussed in probably way to much detail in my articles on Hachiōji and Ōji.
[vii] The “flying bird” configuration is identical to the that of the ancient capital of 飛鳥 Asuka which is enshrined in the epoch name 飛鳥時代 Asuka Jidai Asuka Period.
[viii] Often abbreviated as 紀州 Kishū with no change in meaning.
[ix] Also referred to as 和歌山藩 Wakayama-han Wakayama Domain, again with no change in meaning.
[x] And who knows if he was even expected, too. But girls were married off early, so who’s to say young Ietsugu wasn’t expected to get busy in the Ōoku for the sake of the family? (But for the record, I highly doubt it.)
[xi] If I were to compile a list of the great shōguns out of all fifteen, it generally goes like this: Ieyasu, Hidetada, Iemitsu, Tsunayoshi, Yoshimune, Ienari, and Yoshinobu. I include Ienari because ruled the longest and brought #StrongDickGame to the office.
[xii] He relaxed many of the restrictive sankin-kōtai laws to regain the loyalty of the daimyō who surely felt the policy of alternate attendance was oppressive. By his new decree, they wouldn’t be called on to build and support priests for new Tokugawa mausolea, only maintenance of the existing structures.
[xiii] Seems random.
[xiv] There were no wars, so seems pointless.
[xv] Monopolies? Really? Yes. And this sort of thinking is what led to the rise of the 財閥 zaibatsu the industrial and financial business conglomerates who dominated the economy and aspects of the government of 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku the Empire of Japan from 1868-1945.
[xvi] In their defense, even modern economists don’t know dick about economics. Also in their defense, economic theory is an outgrowth of the so-called western “Enlightment,” which spans roughly 1715-1887 – a time Japan was closed to most western nations. Interestingly, upon Yoshimune’s ascendency to the office of shogun in 1716, he relaxed the ban on foreign books. This gave birth to a movement among Japan’s more intellectually minded samurai in the so-called 蘭学 rangaku Dutch Studies – one of the few imported subjects. This led to ambitious samurai scrambling to learn Dutch in order to read and translate military texts from Holland. This also meant that in the final days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, many of the samurai involved in the Meiji Coup had been exposed to, at the very least, not purely Japanocentric ideologies.
[xvii] Located on 上野台 Uenodai the Ueno Plateau, present Ueno Park – still one of the greatest hanami spots in all of Japan.
[xviii] In an era with no skyscrapers – nay, no buildings over two stories – any view from the top of a tall hill was spectacular. This is something that’s hard to imagine today in modern Tōkyō.
[xix] As opposed to 京 Kyō Kyōto the capital (in the west).
[xx] Shiba Park’s cherry blossoms were largely destroyed in the Firebombing of Tōkyō by the US in World War II. That said, a hearty strain of plum blossoms survived. They are ugly yet robust – typical plum blossoms. But they hearken back to origins of hanami in ancient China. They’re a symbol of the influence of Classical Chinese culture over wide swaths of Asia, and Japan in particular.
[xxi] Destroyed in WWII.
[xxii] The main estate was in 三田 Mita.
[xxiii] There isn’t one lol

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.

waseda.jpg

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.

3961928087_355c4bf95f_o

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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[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.

Yamanote Line: Ōtsuka, Sugamo, Komagome, Tabata

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

大塚
Ōtsuka

Old Otsuka Station.jpg

Ōtsuka Station prior to the firebombing of Tōkyō

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

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

 

OTSUKA KOFUN

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

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

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

love_jam

Ōtsuka Ai is a Japanese pop star.

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

LOVE_JAM_DVD

Yeah, that’s pretty much bukkake…

Fuck, I lost my train of thought.

Oh, right. Buddhism.

gokoku-ji

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

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

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

TSUTSUMI SAYAKA

巣鴨
Sugamo

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

TOGENUKI

The sign tell old people where to go…

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

Wait. What?

SUGAMO FUZOKU

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

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

SUGAMO AKA PANTSU

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

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

WAGASHI

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

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

Jussayin’

rikugien

Rikugi-en

駒込
Komagome

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

 

yanagisawa

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

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

 

furukawa teien.JPG

The Old Furukawa Gardens

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

conder kimono.jpg

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

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

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

Awkward.

josiah conder grave.jpg

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

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

 

16476060739_ae8d9e1e71_z

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

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

Further Reading:

TABATA STATION

Tabata Station – the highlight of Tabata

田端
Tabata

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

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

tabata shopping street.JPG

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

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

Akutagawa Ryunosuke.jpg

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke – I’m an artist, bitch.

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

Further Reading:

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

Yamanote Line: Takadanobaba, Meijiro, & Ikebukuro

In Japanese History on May 24, 2016 at 3:10 am

高田馬場
Takada no Baba

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Grave of Chā no Tsubone, concubine of Tokugawa Ieyasu, often referred to as Lady Takada.

Takada no Baba, or “Takadanobaba” as JR East likes to write it, was a quiet village called 戸塚村 Totsuka Mura Totsuka Village in the Edo Period. While this area was rustic (or suburban at best) at that time, today it’s a buzzing party town that caters to the students of 早稲田大学 Waseda Daigaku Waseda University[i]. As soon as you exit the station, you’ll find a sea of 居酒屋 izakaya Japanese style pubs and restaurants. But just a heads up about drinking in Takada no Baba: These are university students – most of them are lightweights under pressure to overdrink by their peers and 先輩 senpai upper-classmates. They can be loud. They can be obnoxious. They can be oblivious to everything because… they’re lightweights. They stumble around like zombies on the weekend. They pass out on the floors of restaurants. They walk zig-zag and side-puke on the street. They’re basically Japanese salarymen in training. It ain’t pretty.

waseda party school.jpg

Takadanobaba (or just Baba, as locals call it) in a nutshell.

The name Takada no Baba means “Horse Grounds of Takada Domain.” In the Edo Period, a 馬場 baba horse grounds was a spot, usually a long rectangular shaped spot, for practicing horsemanship and mounted martial arts. While mounted attacks with swords on bound bales of hay was one sort of training, the most interesting practice was a martial art called 流鏑馬 yabusame. This is mounted archery and it looks fucking bad ass. If you are in Japan and have a chance to watch yabusame, I highly recommend it.

As I mentioned earlier, the area was called Totsuka and that was the original name for the station, but it was rejected in favor of the more noble sounding Takada no Baba. Takada no Baba conjured up an image of the area’s connection with the daimyō and samurai class in general – a decidedly 山手 yamanote high city connotation. However, the location of the old horse grounds is not in the immediate station area. The city blocks preserve the shape of the horse grounds and can be found in 戸塚一丁目 Tostuska Icchōme 1st block of Totsuka near 甘泉園公園 Kansen’en Kōen Kansen’en Park, which was part of the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence of the 清水家 Shimizu-ke Shimizu Clan of Satsuma Domain.

TAKADA NO BABA no BABA.jpg

If you compare the Edo Period maps with a modern map, you can see that the the shape of the horse grounds ⑦ is completely intact. I dare say the Shimizu compound (located to the right of the baba) is still intact. This is what I looooooove about Tōkyō!!! Edo is still here when you know what you’re looking at.

Long time readers may be scratching their heads. Why was Satsuma Domain’s lower residence located next to a horse ground named after Takada Domain (which was located in present day Niigata)? It’s purely coincidence. According to legend, the horse grounds were established in 1636 by the 3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu to honor 茶阿局 Chā no Tsubone, the mother of 1st shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu’s 6th son. She either loved the area for relaxing in nature or she was a fan of mounted archery (probably the latter). When her and Ieyasu’s son became the daimyō of Takada Domain, she came to be addressed as 高田殿 Takada-dono Lady Takada[ii]. If this theory is correct, and it seems to make sense, the real meaning of the name Takada no Baba is something like the Chā no Tsubone (ie; Lady Takada) Memorial Horse Grounds.

Additional Reading:

rich assholes in tokyo.jpg

While most of Tokyo lives in economy class, the 1% live in Mejiro

目白
Mejiro

MEJIRO TEMPLE

Mejiro means “white eyes” as is commonly thought to be a reference to a Buddhist statue housed at 金乗院 Konjō-in, a nearby temple. The statue has white eyes, but this most definitely a reflection of the place name, not the origin of the place name. In my original article, I went into the etymology pretty thoroughly and so I only have a few things to say about the area today.

Honestly, I haven’t spent any time in Mejiro. In fact, if I ever went there, I really don’t remember. It’s an upscale, residential neighborhood and my image of the area is that if you don’t live there, there’s not much reason to go there. The station only has a single exit – a rare attribute for a train on the Yamanote Line.

aso taro can't read kanji.jpg

Think kanji is difficult? So does this guy… and he became Prime Minister!

The area is home to 学習院大学 Gakushūin Daigaku Gakushuin University, arguably the snobbiest university in Japan. Members of the imperial family, descendants of the former Tokugawa shōgun family, and 宮崎駿 Miyazaki Hayao grace their illustrious list of graduates. Then again, certified nutjobs like 三島由紀夫 Mishima Yukio, 麻生太郎 Asō Tarō, and 小野洋子 Ono Yōko also went here. Pedigree and wealth is the name of the game here. The lower residence of the Owari Tokugawa[iii] was located in this area has been converted into a planned community that takes advantage of the traditional aspects of the old 山手 yamanote high city. There’s a lot of greenery and privacy. Land ownership is encouraged[iv] over renting/buying high rise apartments in order to protect property values and give the residents a sense of security, tranquility, and – let’s face it – isolation.

Mejiro seems like the sorta place I’d like to walk through the streets just getting drunk and rowdy, yelling at people, doing coke, smoking cigarettes, pissing on buildings, and humping trees and cars just to make people feel uncomfortable[v]. Punk’s not dead.

Additional Reading:

ikiebukuro piss.png

Dude passed out shoes off in the foreground. Pay no attention to the old guy pissing on his own luggage in the background. This is Ikebukuro.

池袋
Ikebukuro

Today, we’ll finish with Ikebukuro.

God, where do I start? First keep in mind that the word 山手 yamanote means high city and used to refer to elite, high ground where samurai and feudal lords lived. But the meaning eventually came to mean areas west of the outer moat of the Imperial Palace (former Edo Castle). This shift in meaning pretty much rendered the terms yamanote and 下町 shitamachi low city (commoner districts) meaningless in many cases. On the surface, Ikebukuro seems to be living proof of this. But yeah, Ikebukuro has always been a lowland area, both geographically and metaphorically.

IWGP

Scene from an old drama called Ikebukuro West Gate Park.

Ikebukuro is essentially the Armpit of Tōkyō. A lot of people say Minami Senju is the Armpit, but at least Minami Senju has some deep history. Ikebukuro is crowded, smells awful, and excels at sucking. The area was countryside until the 1950’s and for history nerds, there’s no reason to visit this place that I can think of. The name Ikebukuro literally means “pond bag” but is actually a reference to the land between 2 bodies of water. This area was essentially a marsh or wetland and the original village built in the area was called 池袋村 Ikebukuro Mura Ikebukuro Village – the village between 2 lakes (probably used for rice farming).

埼玉 池袋 ださい

Stay classy, Ikebukuro.

Being a wetlands area, for a long time I thought that the only reason Ikebukuro was on the Yamanote Line was because it connects 新宿 Shinjuku and 大塚 Ōtsuka, which were both home to 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki palatial “lower residences” of daimyō. But upon closer inspection, it seems there was a concentration of 武家屋敷 buke yashiki samurai residences in the area. Even though it was rural and marshy, the presence of samurai families in a location west of Edo Castle qualify parts of Ikebukuro as yamanote in both the Edo Period and modern day definitions. But strictly speaking this area was not part of the shōgun’s capital. This would have been 武蔵国豊嶋郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province and it was pretty much rural until recently.

districts of Musashi Province

Districts of Musashi Province. Toshima District is the gray one on the northwestern most portion of Edo-Tōkyō Bay.

As I mentioned in the introductory article of this series, the Yamanote Line evolved out of an original train line connecting Shinagawa and Akabane (on the border of Tōkyō Metropolis and Saitama Prefecture).

In the 1950’s, to avoid overcrowding in central Tōkyō, the so-called 都心 toshin city center, development began in several 副都心 fuku-toshin sub-centers. Ikebukuro was one of these and later, so was 大宮 Ōmiya in Saitama. 2 trains provide direct access from Ōmiya to Ikebukuro which means it’s really easy for rural Saitama-folk to get access to the capital. Since the Bubble Years, Ikebukuro has come to be associated with Saitama. That is to say, Tōkyōites generally don’t have a good impression of Ikebukuro. The reason is simple: Saitama is to Tōkyō what New Jersey is to New York.

sunshine titty ikebukuro

Sunshine City is a multi-building shopping/entertainment complex built on the remains of Sugamo Prison (where WWII war criminals were kept). To my knowledge, nothing of the prison remains.

Sunshine City is the area’s main claim to fame. It’s a large shopping development that is one of the most architecturally bland structures in Tōkyō. It features, I dunno, a half-assed aquarium, a half-assed planetarium, and a half-assed museum of Ancient Asian History[vi]. There’s an observation deck where, on a clear day, you can take a picture of the boring, dirty, and smelly shopping area called Ikebukuro. Amazing, huh?

To Read About the Place’s Boring Etymology:

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[i] Waseda is a fairly prestigious school in Japan, but gained the image of a party school when it was rocked by a scandal in the early 2000’s. A student club was organizing huge parties executing coordinated rapes and gang rapes female attendees. Luckily, some of the organizers and participants were arrested and jailed, but who knows how many people got off free or how many other victims there are that have never come forward? It’s pretty fucking disgusting.
[ii] This is a reflection of a linguistic taboo in Pre-Modern Japan about referring directly to a person by name. This taboo is still evidenced in modern Japanese culture by a tendency to avoid words like “you” when referring to people you’re not close with. Names are OK with honorific suffixes like ~さん -san or ~さま -sama, but sometimes even the polite あなた anata you is avoided. Calling her Chā or even Chā no Tsubone (which is a title) would have been presumptuous.
[iii] Does Nagoya Castle ring a bell?
[iv] A very costly option in Tōkyō.
[v] For the record, while I do enjoy a drink now and then, I absolutely HATE smoking and I don’t do coke. In fact, I rarely even drink Coca-Cola, lololol. I prefer tea, thank you very much.
[vi] OK, full disclosure. I’ve never seen the aquarium, planetarium, or museum, but they sound a little lame. If you’ve been, let me know your impressions in the comments section.

I Have a Huge Announcement!

In Japan, Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Japanese Manners, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Japanese Subculture, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on March 24, 2016 at 3:45 am

大きな発
Ōki na happyō (a huge announcement)

twitter-4

Today I have a big announcement to make. Japanese history nerds, this is something I’ve thought about for a long time. You see, I spend a lot of time walking around Tōkyō trying to see what obscure pieces of Edo I still find lingering. From time to time, I go on what I call 歴史散歩 rekishi sanpo history walks with my friends. When my friends visit from other countries I always show them around the city – often times focusing on aspects of the city that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

But over the years, I’ve been thinking… “Hey, why don’t WE walk around the city talking about Japanese history? How fun would it be to show people what I’ve found? How fun would it be to hang out with other people who want to see different historical spots and geek out together?”

meshimori onna

Red light districts. We can do that.

Japan This! History Walks

So today, I’m proud to announce the beginning of JapanThis! Guided Tours for History Nerds[i]. I’ve put together a small series of informal history walks that cater specifically to Japanese History Fans. Most of them focus on topics that have come up on JapanThis!.

Some of them are super nerdy, but some of them are inclusive enough to bring your friend or family. I’m working on more that expand on other aspects of the city, but I’m also working on setting up tours that go across the country and ones that even focus on particular eras! I’ve tried to make customization an option in most cases so I hope I can accommodate everyone’s budget. Also, since this is all informal, we can keep it real. I mean, if we visit any places related to Kiyokawa Hachirō, we’re gonna have to call a douche a douche.

Due to preparation, time, materials, and the possibility of changing my work schedule, there’s a very modest, suggested tip for each history walk. It’s super reasonable, so just hit me up via Facebook and we can discuss the details.

The main page for tours can be found on the menu at the top of the blog or by clicking this link. That page contains costs and recommended tips. Oh, also some comments from past customers!

shinsengumi-scan1

You either know the Kiyokawa reference or you don’t….

I’ve developed a ranking system in terms of how geeky a course is and how much time or walking you’d have to do. At the time being I have a few courses devoted to the graves of the shōguns – all of which could be combined into a 3 day combination package if you’re into that sort of thing. However, most of what I offer now are just simple one day intensive history walks of Edo-Tōkyō[ii] and a few cultural experiences. All tours will come with printed background information so you can brush up on the history. You’ll also get a PDF version e-mailed to you with links to relevant articles so you can easily access related articles on the go. Of course, I’ll be with you the whole time to answer your questions, help you with the language, or – god forbid – talk the police out of arresting you.

Here’s a breakdown of my rating system.

What does is mean?

Geek Ranking

☆☆☆☆☆

A low ranking means less obscure shit (you can bring a non-nerd), a high ranking means we’re going deeeeep (way off the beaten path).

Walking Intensity

☆☆☆☆☆

I can walk for hours and never get tired. That’s a 5. Watching kabuki, that’s a 1 (or less).

Time Intensity

☆☆☆☆☆

Are you a half-day whiney little bitch or are you ready to go ballz to the wallz?

Keep in mind, a low ranking doesn’t mean it’s boring and high ranking doesn’t mean it’s super cool. There’s no correlation. I’m just trying to make sure everyone’s on the same page as to what their getting into. If you have any questions, just ask. If you use a wheelchair or have any other difficulties with mobility, vision, or otherwise, contact me directly and I’m pretty sure I can sort you out. No problem. Everyone is welcome!

——————

geisha

Let’s Start with the Not-So-Nerdy Tours

These are tours made for Japanese history nerd traveling with friends or family.

koishikawa korakuen

Light Crash Course in Edo-Tōkyō

Starts at Ryōgoku and finishes at Tōkyō Dome. Want to learn more about the history of Tōkyō? Have a traveling companion who is coming from zero but wants to learn a little bit? This might be the course for you!

Edo-Tōkyō Museum

The foremost museum on the history of the city. A fantastic insight into the evolution of the shōgun’s capital into one of the greatest economic powerhouses in the world.

Tōkyō Waterworks Museum

Edo was a city of 1 million people at its peak – the largest city in the world at the time by some accounts. It was also considered the Venice of East. This museum tells the story of how water played a major factor in the history of the city.

Kōraku-en Garden

This is one of the few daimyō gardens that still remain relatively intact from the Edo Period. It was on the grounds of the residence of the Mito Tokugawa. It was designed to change over the course of the 4 seasons. Bring a camera!!

Options

Eat chanko nabe, the staple food of sumō wrestlers. Eat takoyaki, a popular snack or drinking food. Eat both. May change the order of the course, but we can do it all!

Geek Ranking: ★★✬☆☆ 2.5
Walking Intensity: ★★☆☆☆ 2
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

2000円 per person (to cover admission fees)
Contact me via Facebook.

edo bay

One of the few places you can see the original shoreline of Edo Bay

Quirky Tōkyō Museum Tour

Tōkyō has a lot of museums. Seriously. A lot! This tour hits up 4 of the most unique museums in the city. Unfortunately, most don’t provide comprehensive English support, but don’t worry. I got your back.

Ōmori Nori Museum

Learn about nori[iv] production and even get hands on practice at the making it the way people did in Pre-Modern Japan. Also, see Japan’s first manmade beach.

Tōkyō Waterworks Museum

This is seriously one of the most underrated museums in the world. It studies the history of water in Edo-Tōkyō, in particular, how did the shōgunate provide water and sewerage for a city of a million people?!

Tōkyō Parasitological Museum

Supposedly one of Tōkyō’s most popular date sites, this science museum looks at… yup… parasites! You can even buy one of your very own and smuggle it back into your country.

Meiji University Museum

We’ll only visit the wing of the museum dedicated crime, policing, sentencing, incarceration, torture, and execution – with an emphasis on the Edo Period.

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★☆☆☆☆ 1
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

Personal transportation cost (we’ll use the subway)
Contact me via Facebook.

The hands on “nori experience” is first come first serve, so it needs to be book at least 2 months in advance. Believe it or not, it fills up super quick.
Also, the museum hours change by season.
The Parasitological Museum is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays.
I’ll work closely with you to make this happen!

 

ebizo

Ready to get yo ass cultured?

Kabuki – From Edo’s Low Style to Meiji’s High Style

Ginza

Early lunch; discussion about shitamachi/yamanote culture and kabuki.

Kabuki-za

3 kabuki shows, high class Japanese sweets

Option 0

Return to hotel

Option 1

Cheap Shōwa Era dinner, drinks, & a lot of vibe in Yūraku-chō

Option 2

High end Shōwa Era tempura dinner and a lot of vibe in Ginza

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ✬☆☆☆☆ .5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

Price varies greatly depending on number of people and proximity of seats and if you add an option. Since there are many factors involved, we should discuss this in detail.
Contact me via Facebook.

kamon

Shōgun Courses

There are 3 of them! You can do one. You can do two. Hell, you can do all three!
And that’s not branding. We’re literally gonna look at shōgun-related shit.

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Grave of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

Edo from Ōta Dōkan to the Bakumatsu
Shōgun Graves Part 1

Starts at Dōkan’yama or Nishi-Nippori and finishes at Ueno Station spanning the 1440’s to the 1860’s. We’ll see many shrines and temples and a sprawling necropolis that will blow your mind. I’ll also get you the closest you can get to the shōguns’ graves in Ueno[v]. We’ll also see sites associated with the Battle of Ueno which destroyed much of the area in the 1860’s resulting in the building of Ueno Park.

Dōkan’yama

Suwa Shrine, former satellite castle of Ōta Dōkan and Edo Period cherry blossom spot

Yanaka

 

Yanaka Cemetery and environs; graves of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, Higuchi Ichiyō, Date Munenari, and Takahashi O-den

Ten’nō-ji

Main hall, pagoda ruins

Kan’ei-ji

Graves of the Tokugawa shōguns, post-Boshin War main hall, pagoda, Tōshō-gū, Ghost Lantern, Ueno Big Buddha, Benzaiten, Shinobazu Lake, Kiyomizu Kan’non-dō, Shōgitai Grave and other sites associated with the Battle of Ueno, Saigō Takamori Statue (and possibly access to the Aoi no Ma)

Uguisudani

See a shitamachi red light district, place where Katsu Kokichi[vi] retired and wrote his memoires

Nezu Shrine

One of Tōkyō’s most beautiful shrines

Option

Visit an Edo Period tōfu shop or a Shōwa Period soba shop

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity
: ★★★★★ 5
Time Intensity
: ★★★★☆ 4

Cost will vary if you add an option.
Contact me via Facebook.

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Grave of Tokugawa Hidetada

A Walk from Edo Castle to Shiba
Shōgun Graves Part 2

Starts in the Outer Moat area of Edo Castle and finishes at Azabu-Jūban. Roughly follow the path the shōgun and his retinue would take from the castle to his funerary temples at Zōjō-ji . Food options exist along the way, so we can discuss by email.

Edo Castle

Hibiya Gate, Saiwai Gate, Shibaguchi Gate, Sukiyabashi Gate/Yūraku-chō, Edo Magistrate’s Office, Sotobori/Marunouchi/Daimyō Alley overview, Tiger Gate

Shinbashi

Remains of original Shinbashi Bridge, Original Shinbashi Station, Karasumori Shrine, Shiogama Shrine, Red Brick Way, remains of Sendai Domains lower & middle residences (Date clan), site of Asano Naganori’s seppuku

Zōjō-ji

Graves of the Tokugawa Shōguns, O-nari Gate, Ietsugu’s Niten Gate, remains of Ietsugu’s innermost stone wall, consolidated graves of the shōguns (there is a museum with regularly changing exhibits – if interested), cemetery for dead babies, Hidetada’s main gate, lesser known remains of Hidetada’s mausoleum, Tōshō-gū, a sakura planted by Iemitsu

Akabanebashi

Fushimi Sanpō Inari Shrine, Shin’ami-chō, upper residence of Kurumae Domain (Arima clan), Kurumae fire watchtower

Bakumatsu Murder Bridges

Site of Henry Heusken’s murder, site of Kiyokawa Hachirō’s murder

Additional Options

Tōkyō Tower; graveyard of the women of Nanbu Domain, Zōjō-ji Museum, shopping/eating in Azabu-Jūban and/or Roppongi Hills – Edo Period shops are in the area.

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★★★★★ 5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

[viii]
Cost will vary if you add an option.
Contact me via Facebook.

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Grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu

A Day and Night in Nikkō
Shōgun Graves Part 3

We start at Tōkyō Station, go to Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture for sightseeing and fun, stay in at traditional Japanese inn with a hot spring, then return to Tōkyō the next morning. This is the final resting place of the 1st and 3rd Tokugawa shōguns and the best extant example of shōgunal mausoleums. This tour is great for anyone, but especially good for people whose traveling companions aren’t history nerds but want to do some must-see sightseeing and have a really unique Japanese experience.

Rin’nō-ji
(Nikkō Tōshō-gū and Taiyū-in)

Grave of the found of Rin’nō-ji and origin of all Buddhist activity in the area, Roku Butenzō – the oldest Buddhist monuments in Nikkō, Rin’nō-ji – the temple controls most of the area, Tōshō-gū (grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu), Taiyū-in (grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu). Tōshō-gū is one of the top 5 spots in Japan!

Edo Wonderland

A theme park that recreates the spirit of Edo in architecture, costume, shows, and hands on experience. All of the staff is in character, so they offer guests the chance to cosplay in character! When you’re done, you can enjoy a beer or too watching the sun set over “Edo” in the mountains.

Relax in a Japanese hot spring

Have traditional dinner and a bath (or 2 or 3) in natural, geothermally heated water; get a good night’s sleep on a futon in a traditional Japanese room.

Options

If you want, a traditional Buddhist vegetarian course meal can be arranged.

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

There is a Japanese proverb, “Don’t say something is ‘splendid’ until you’ve seen Nikkō” because of its sublime beauty. This may not be the nerdiest destination, but it will definitely make a big impression. In a addition, a famous Kyōto and Nikkō tōfu specialty is widely available.

Final cost will vary depending on number of people, options, etc., but I’m fairly sure I can keep things reasonable, especially for groups![ix]
Contact me via Facebook.

butwaittheresmore.jpeg

Other Tours!

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Scenic Gardens, Tokugawa Palaces, and Zōjō-ji

Starts at the seaside villa remains of the shōguns, continues to the seaside villa of a high ranking retainer of the shōguns, and ends at one of 2 funerary temples of the shōguns. This is a fairly hands-off course so you’re free to explore at your own pace, but I’m available for everyone at all times.

Former Hama Palace

This was the shōgun’s seaside villa. It retains a unique salt water moat system and Edo Period hunting grounds. It also offers a beautiful view of the city and nature. We can enjoy tea and Japanese sweets a teahouse built in the middle of a lake.

Shiba Rikyū Garden

Originally a seaside fort of the Hōjō clan of Odawara, it was later a daimyō residence of the Ōkubo clan (who originated from Tokugawa Ieyasu’s homeland, Mikawa Province).

Zōjō-ji

We can approach Zōjō-ji the way it was intended to be approached, from the sea. We’ll pass the Great Gate and then move on for a look at a funerary temple of the Tokugawa shōguns.

Options

Feeling a little garden crazy? We could easily swap out Zōjō-ji for 1 or 2 other Edo Period gardens. Perfect for photographers interested in Japanese nature!

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ★★★☆☆ 3.5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

2000円 per person (to cover admission fees)
Contact me via Facebook.

beheading

Ready to go somewhere really dark?

The 3 Great Execution Grounds of Edo

I think this will be popular! If you want to see the dark and macabre side of Edo-Tōkyō, you’re not alone. I’m as fascinated with it as I am repulsed by it. Depending on where your hotel is, I will re-arrange the order for the most convenient order – though my personal favorite is Denma-chō→Kozukappara→Suzugamori[x].

Suzugamori

See the killing floor, the posts for burnings at the stake and crucifixions, the well for cleaning heads before display, Namidabashi (the place families said goodbye), “Bone Street.”

Denma-chō

See the “supposed” killing floor, monuments to Yoshida Shōin (who was a prisoner here); discuss why Yoshida Shōin was a douche.

Kozukappara

See the killing floor of the worst prison in Edo, the Kubikiri Jizō (the last thing the beheaded saw before they died), Ekō-in (temple for the repose of the dead), Namidabashi (the place families said goodbye), “Bone Street.”

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★☆☆☆☆ 1
Time Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5[xi]

Contact me via Facebook.

 

I’m Working on a few New Tours

Please remember, I’m just starting this up and I’m doing this all on my own. I have a lot to learn and I’m starting to reach out to other people to try and make a partnership that will help me expand my offerings to longer tours, and even nationwide tours. Imagine a 4-5 day nationwide Shinsengumi tour? How fun would that be??!

Anyways, I really think the sky’s the limit with this. In my mind, it’s the ultimate way to bond with you guys – face to face, high fives and all. And after a serious “thank you” for your support, let’s go take a look at this city – no, this country – that I absolutely love! Also, if you are looking for a more personalized experience, let me know. I’m willing to make custom tours.

Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you like this idea, share with a friend!

_________________________
[i] JK, actually it’s just Japan This! History Walks because that other name is long as hell and we’re just gonna be chilling out seeing some cool obscure parts of the city and geeking about Japanese history and culture.
[ii] This is 100% negotiable at the moment. Since I’m just doing this in my spare time, I maaaaaaay be able to offer you far more customizable tours. Just let me know what you want.
[iii] I don’t believe these are actual terms used in the real tourism industry…
[iv] An edible seaweed. If you eat sushi rolls, the wrapper is nori.
[v] Working on getting better access, but the area has been pretty much off limits for a long time. They don’t even allow photography in the off limits areas, even if you can get in.
[vi] Son of Katsu Kaishū, the father of the Japanese Navy.
[vii] To get a 360° view of the main structure itself, it costs 500円 per person. There is a famous peony garden on the site which costs 1200円 per person.
[viii] To get a 360° view of the main structure itself, it costs 500円 per person. There is a famous peony garden on the site which costs 1200円 per person.
[ix] Nikkō is in the mountains, so I don’t recommend winter at all. Also, the area is extremely crowded in autumn because people come to see the autumn leaves. If you want to come in the fall, I recommend booking 6 months or more to guarantee a comfortable bed and hot bath.
[x] In terms of subway use, it’s an impractical course unless you do alone or unless it’s a one-on-one tour. For groups, I have to find the most cost efficient/time efficient route for everyone.
[xi] Because a good deal of your time will be taking trains to the next execution ground. I’m good at conversation, so it won’t be boring but expect to change trains a few times lol.

🌌 Japan This! Tours 🌌

In on March 23, 2016 at 7:57 am

Japan This! Tours
Guided Tours for History Nerds

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UPDATE: (1/1/2018) When I started these tours in 2016, I wasn’t sure how things would go. I’m happy to say, they’ve gone extremely well and 2018 is poised to be my busiest year yet. Contact me on Facebook and let’s work something out!

UPDATE: (3/15/2020) I’ve recently start doing general sight seeing and pop culture tours for all kinds of independent travelers, too. Furthermore, I can also customize any tour — be it a day tour or a week long tour. If you want to do more than 3 days, let’s do a Skype chat and plan out the perfect itinerary.

I’m flexible, so any tours you see can be customized, mixed, or incorporated into your existing travel plans in a way that’s more meaningful to you.

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A Very General Overview

I’ve put together a small series of tours that cater specifically to Japanese History Fans. Most of them focus on topics that have come up on JapanThis!. I’m developing some new tours and I’m open to the idea of creating a personalized tour just for you.

Some of these are super nerdy, but a lot of them are inclusive enough to bring your friend or family. I’m here to make sure your tour goes smoothly. I’ll show you loads of cool stuff and take you off the beaten path. I have tons of peripheral insights and anecdotes to enhance the experience and I’m always on hand to answer your questions. Oh, and most importantly, I’m not a jerk. We’re totally gonna have fun!Because some tours are very walking intensive, I’ve developed a ranking system in terms of how geeky a course is and how much time or walking you’d have to do. I can walk for hours and hours or sit seiza for hour and hours no problem. Not everyone can. That’s why I made this. If a course seems too demanding, just contact me via Facebook and we can discuss alternatives.

Here’s my Ranking System

What does is mean?

Geek Ranking

☆☆☆☆☆

A low ranking means less obscure shit (you can bring a non-nerd), a high ranking means we’re going deeeeep (way off the beaten path).

Walking Intensity

☆☆☆☆☆

I can walk for hours and never get tired. That’s a 5. Watching kabuki, that’s a 1 (or less).

Time Intensity

☆☆☆☆☆

Are you a half-day whiney little bitch or are you ready to go ballz to the wallz?

Keep in mind, a low ranking doesn’t mean it’s boring and high ranking doesn’t mean it’s super cool. There’s no correlation. I’m just trying to make sure everyone’s on the same page as to what their getting into. If you have any questions, just ask. If you use a wheelchair or have any other difficulties with mobility, vision, or otherwise, contact me directly and I’m pretty sure I can sort you out. No problem. Everyone is welcome!

geisha

Let’s Start with the Not-So-Nerdy Tours

These are tours made for Japanese history nerd traveling with friends or family.

koishikawa korakuen

Light Crash Course in Edo-Tōkyō

Starts at Ryōgoku and finishes at Tōkyō Dome. Want to learn more about the history of Tōkyō? Have a traveling companion who is coming from zero but wants to learn a little bit? This might be the course for you!

Edo-Tōkyō Museum

The foremost museum on the history of the city. A fantastic insight into the evolution of the shōgun’s capital into one of the greatest economic powerhouses in the world.

Tōkyō Waterworks Museum

Edo was a city of 1 million people at its peak – the largest city in the world at the time by some accounts. It was also considered the Venice of East. This museum tells the story of how water played a major factor in the history of the city.

Kōraku-en Garden

This is one of the few daimyō gardens that still remain relatively intact from the Edo Period. It was on the grounds of the residence of the Mito Tokugawa. It was designed to change over the course of the 4 seasons. Bring a camera!!

Options

Eat chanko nabe, the staple food of sumō wrestlers. Eat takoyaki, a popular snack or drinking food. Eat both. May change the order of the course, but we can do it all!

Geek Ranking: ★★✬☆☆ 2.5
Walking Intensity: ★★☆☆☆ 2
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

 55,000(one time charge for guide/organization/materials)
Contact me via Facebook.

Related Articles

edo bay

One of the few places you can see the original shoreline of Edo Bay

Quirky Tōkyō Museum Tour

Tōkyō has a lot of museums. Seriously. A lot! This tour hits up 4 of the most unique museums in the city. Unfortunately, most don’t provide comprehensive English support, but don’t worry. I got your back.

Ōmori Nori Museum

Learn about nori[iv] production and even get hands on practice at the making it the way people did in Pre-Modern Japan. Also, see Japan’s first manmade beach.

Tōkyō Waterworks Museum

This is seriously one of the most underrated museums in the world. It studies the history of water in Edo-Tōkyō, in particular, how did the shōgunate provide water and sewerage for a city of a million people?!

Tōkyō Parasitological Museum

Supposedly one of Tōkyō’s most popular date sites, this science museum looks at… yup… parasites! You can even buy one of your very own and smuggle it back into your country.

Meiji University Museum

We’ll only visit the wing of the museum dedicated crime, policing, sentencing, incarceration, torture, torture, and execution – with an emphasis on the Edo Period.

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★☆☆☆☆ 1
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

50,000(one time charge for guide/organization/materials)
Personal transportation cost (we’ll use the subway)
Contact me via Facebook.

The hands on “nori experience” is first come first serve, so it needs to be booked at least 2 months in advance. Believe it or not, it fills up super quick.
Also, the museum hours change by season.
The Parasitological Museum is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays.
I’ll work closely with you to make this happen!

Related Articles:

ebizo

Ready to get yo ass cultured?

Kabuki – From Edo’s Low Style to Meiji’s High Style

Ginza

Early lunch; discussion about shitamachi/yamanote culture and kabuki.

Kabuki-za

3 kabuki shows, high class Japanese sweets

Option 0

Return to hotel

Option 1

Cheap Shōwa Era dinner, drinks, & a lot of vibe in Yūraku-chō

Option 2

High end Shōwa Era tempura dinner and a lot of vibe in Ginza

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ✬☆☆☆☆ .5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

Price varies greatly depending on number of people and proximity of seats and if you add an option. Since there are many factors involved, we should discuss this in detail.
Contact me via Facebook.

kamon

Tokugawa family crest

Shōgun Courses

There are 3 of them! You can do one. You can do two. Hell, you can do all three!

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Grave of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

Edo from Ōta Dōkan to the Bakumatsu
Shōgun Graves Part 1

This is easily my most popular tour. It starts at Nezu Shrine, climbs Dōkan’yama and finishes at Ueno Station spanning the mythological Age of the Gods to the 1870’s. We’ll see many shrines and temples and a sprawling necropolis that will blow your mind. I’ll also get you the closest you can get to the shōguns’ graves in Ueno[v]. We’ll also see sites associated with the Battle of Ueno which destroyed much of the area in the 1860’s resulting in the building of Ueno Park.

Dōkan’yama

Suwa Shrine, former satellite castle of Ōta Dōkan and Edo Period cherry blossom spot

Yanaka

 

Yanaka Cemetery and environs; graves of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, Higuchi Ichiyō, Date Munenari, and Takahashi O-den

Ten’nō-ji

Main hall, pagoda ruins

Kan’ei-ji

Graves of the Tokugawa shōguns, post-Boshin War main hall, pagoda, Tōshō-gū, Ghost Lantern, Ueno Big Buddha, Benzaiten, Shinobazu Lake, Kiyomizu Kan’non-dō, Shōgitai Grave and other sites associated with the Battle of Ueno, Saigō Takamori Statue (and possibly access to the Aoi no Ma)

Uguisudani

See a shitamachi red light district, place where Katsu Kokichi[vi] retired and wrote his memoires

Nezu Shrine

One of Tōkyō’s most beautiful shrines

Option

Visit an Edo Period tōfu shop for dinner

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity
: ★★★★★ 5
Time Intensity
: ★★★★☆ 4

55,000(one time guide/organization/materials donation)[vii]
Cost will vary if you add an option.
Contact me via Facebook.

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Grave of Tokugawa Hidetada

A Walk from Edo Castle to Shiba
Shōgun Graves Part 2

Starts in the Outer Moat area of Edo Castle and finishes at Azabu-Jūban. Roughly follow the path the shōgun and his retinue would take from the castle to his funerary temples at Zōjō-ji . Food options exist along the way, so we can discuss by email.

Edo Castle

Hibiya Gate, Saiwai Gate, Shibaguchi Gate, Sukiyabashi Gate/Yūraku-chō, Edo Magistrate’s Office, Sotobori/Marunouchi/Daimyō Alley overview, Tiger Gate

Shinbashi

Remains of original Shinbashi Bridge, Original Shinbashi Station, Karasumori Shrine, Shiogama Shrine, Red Brick Way, remains of Sendai Domains lower & middle residences (Date clan), site of Asano Naganori’s seppuku

Zōjō-ji

Graves of the Tokugawa Shōguns, O-nari Gate, Ietsugu’s Niten Gate, remains of Ietsugu’s innermost stone wall, consolidated graves of the shōguns (there is a museum with regularly changing exhibits – if interested), cemetery for dead babies, Hidetada’s main gate, lesser known remains of Hidetada’s mausoleum, Tōshō-gū, a sakura planted by Iemitsu

Akabanebashi

Fushimi Sanpō Inari Shrine, Shin’ami-chō, upper residence of Kurumae Domain (Arima clan), Kurumae fire watchtower

Bakumatsu Murder Bridges

Site of Henry Heusken’s murder, site of Kiyokawa Hachirō’s murder

Additional Options

Tōkyō Tower; graveyard of Nanbu Domain and/or Nabeshima Domain, Zōjō-ji Museum, shopping/eating in Azabu-Jūban and/or Roppongi Hills – Edo Period shops are in the area; karaoke in Shinbashi/Hamamatsuchō/Roppongi

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★★★★★ 5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

55,000(one time guide/organization/materials donation)[viii]
Cost will vary if you add an option.
Contact me via Facebook.

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Grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu

A Day and Night in Nikkō
Shōgun Graves Part 3

We start at Tōkyō Station, go to Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture for sightseeing and fun, stay in at traditional Japanese inn with a hot spring, then return to Tōkyō the next morning. This is the final resting place of the 1st and 3rd Tokugawa shōguns and the best extant example of shōgunal mausoleums. This tour is great for anyone, but especially good for people whose traveling companions aren’t history nerds but want to do some must-see sightseeing and have a really unique Japanese experience.

Rin’nō-ji
(Nikkō Tōshō-gū and Taiyū-in)

Grave of the found of Rin’nō-ji and origin of all Buddhist activity in the area, Roku Butenzō – the oldest Buddhist monuments in Nikkō, Rin’nō-ji – the temple controls most of the area, Tōshō-gū (grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu), Taiyū-in (grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu). Tōshō-gū is one of the top 5 spots in Japan!

Edo Wonderland

A theme park that recreates the spirit of Edo in architecture, costume, shows, and hands on experience. All of the staff is in character, so they offer guests the chance to cosplay in character! When you’re done, you can enjoy a beer or too watching the sun set over “Edo” in the mountains.

Relax in a Japanese hot spring

Have traditional dinner and a bath (or 2 or 3) in natural, geothermal heated water; get a good night’s sleep on a futon in a traditional Japanese room.

Options

If you want, a traditional Buddhist vegetarian course meal can be arranged. If we extend the trip to two full days (or three and a half), we can visit Tochigi City, famous for its traditional warehouses and samurai residences. A spiritual hike up the sacred mountain that made Nikkō so important to both Shintō and Buddhism

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

There is a Japanese proverb, “Don’t say something is ‘splendid’ until you’ve seen Nikkō” because of its sublime beauty. This may not be the nerdiest destination, but it will definitely make a big impression. In a addition, a famous Kyōto and Nikkō tofu specialty is widely available.

65,000 (per day for guide/organization/materials; if you add a day, this charge may decrease depending on the options, but it won’t increase)
However, final cost will vary depending on number of people, options, etc., but I’m fairly sure I can keep things reasonable, especially for groups![ix]
Contact me via Facebook.

Related Articles:

butwaittheresmore.jpeg

Other Tours!

hama goten.jpg

Scenic Gardens, Tokugawa Palaces, and Zōjō-ji

Starts at the seaside villa remains of the shōguns, continues to the seaside villa of a high ranking retainer of the shōguns, and ends at one of 2 funerary temples of the shōguns. This is a fairly hands-off course so you’re free to explore at your own pace, but I’m available for everyone at all times.

Former Hama Palace

This was the shōgun’s seaside villa. It retains a unique salt water moat system and Edo Period hunting grounds. It also offers a beautiful view of the city and nature. We can enjoy tea and Japanese sweets a teahouse built in the middle of a lake.

Shiba Rikyū Garden

Originally a seaside fort of the Hōjō clan of Odawara, it was later a daimyō residence of the Ōkubo clan (who originated from Tokugawa Ieyasu’s homeland, Mikawa Province).

Zōjō-ji

We can approach Zōjō-ji the way it was intended to be approached, from the sea. We’ll pass the Great Gate and then move on for a look at a funerary temple of the Tokugawa shōguns.

Options

Feeling a little garden crazy? We could easily swap out Zōjō-ji for 1 or 2 other Edo Period gardens. Perfect for photographers interested in Japanese nature!

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ★★★☆☆ 3.5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

50,000 (one time charge for guide/organization/materials)
2000円 per person (to cover admission fees)
Contact me via Facebook.

beheading

Ready to go somewhere really dark?

The 3 Great Execution Grounds of Edo

I think this will be popular! If you want to see the dark and macabre side of Edo-Tōkyō, you’re not alone. I’m as fascinated with it as I am repulsed by it. Depending on where your hotel is, I will re-arrange the order for the most convenient order – though my personal favorite is Denma-chō→Kozukappara→Suzugamori[x].

Suzugamori

See the killing floor, the posts for burnings at the stake and crucifixions, the well for cleaning heads before display, Namidabashi (the place families said goodbye), “Bone Street.”

Denma-chō

See the “supposed” killing floor, monuments to Yoshida Shōin (who was a prisoner here); discuss why Yoshida Shōin was a douche.

Kozukappara

See the killing floor of the worst prison in Edo, the Kubikiri Jizō (the last thing the beheaded saw before they died), Ekō-in (temple for the repose of the dead), Namidabashi (the place families said goodbye), “Bone Street.”

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★☆☆☆☆ 1
Time Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5[xi]

55,000円 (one time charge for guide/organization/materials/commutation)
Contact me via Facebook.

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Shinagawa – Japan’s Greatest Post Town

This is a day tour that, depending on your stamina could stretch from 4 hours to 8 hours. There are so many possible add ons. That said, the basic course follows the old Tōkaidō highway from the entrance to Edo all the way to Suzugamori Execution Ground. One trip though this post town is a crash course for all post towns and feudal highway networks. There are hundreds of temples and shrines and points of cultural/historical interest. If you’d like to add on a trip to Nagano to see some preserved Edo Period post town (or do that instead), just let me know.

Takanawa Ōkido

 

This was the actual entrance to the shōgun’s capital. It’s the only extant example of such a checkpoint.

Yatsuyama Bridge

 

This bridge was built to traverse the Tōkaidō Main Line, Japan’s first train which connected Tōkyō and Yokohama, then eventually Yokohama. It’s also where Godzilla first attacked the capital.

Kita-Shinagawa

 

See where the day laborers worked, an Edo Period shoe maker, famous eel and soba restaurants, Edo’s most famous cherry blossom viewing spot, “tea house” where samurai terrorists partied before assassinating the acting shogun, site of the cannon battery that protected this stretch of the highway, tutelary shrine of Ebara Province (the region west of Edo).

Minami-Shinagawa

Shinagawa Bridge and the Meguro river, sites of the inns reserved for feudal lords, actual Edo Period seawalls built into modern houses, Edo Period tatami factories, one of Edo’s 6 Great Buddhas, the site of Tōkyō’s first supermarket, a beautiful shrine dedicated to Hachiman (the god of war), a cannon battery where legendary Sakamoto Ryōma worked,

Suzugamori

 

See the killing floor, the posts for burnings at the stake and crucifixions, the well for cleaning heads before display, Namidabashi (the place families said goodbye).

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5 (can be 4 if we want)
Time Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5 (can be 4 or 5 if we want)

55,000 (one time charge for guide/organization/materials/commutation)
Contact me via Facebook.

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Just for you -  hand drawn lettering  on the white texture background

Customized Day Tours and Small Group Tours

I’ve been doing more non-history nerd specific day tours, so I’d like to put it out there that I can do those too. Some examples might be: a mix of gardens, temples, shrine; bike rides around Edo Castle; pop-culture tours, maid cafes, and a little traditional culture thrown in for spice; night time foodie tours; red light district strolls (not kid-friendly); anime/manga “pilgrimages” and scene recreations; day trips or overnights near Tōkyō (eg; Kawagoe, Sawara, hiking up the ruins of Hachiōji Castle, Nikkō, Edo Wonderland, etc). If my schedule allows it, I can coordinate and guide in various places on the main Japanese islands). If you want things like geisha experiences, these can be a bit tricky, but are not necessarily off the table.

Geek Ranking: ☆☆☆☆☆ It’s up to you!
Walking Intensity: ☆☆☆☆☆ It’s up to you!
Time Intensity: ☆☆☆☆☆ It’s up to you!

Contact me via Facebook.

 

I’m Working on a few New Tours

Please remember, I’m just starting this up and I’m doing this all on my own. I have a lot to learn and I’m starting to reach out to other people to try and make a partnership that will help me expand my offerings to longer tours, and even nationwide tours. Imagine a 4-5 day nationwide Shinsengumi tour? How fun would that be??!

Anyways, I really think the sky’s the limit with this. In my mind, it’s the ultimate way to bond with you guys – face to face, high fives and all. And after a serious “thank you” for your support, let’s go take a look at this city – no, this country – that I absolutely love! Also, if you are looking for a more personalized experience, let me know. I’m willing to make custom tours.

Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you like this idea, share with a friend!

 

 


[iv] An edible seaweed. If you eat sushi rolls, the wrapper is nori.
[v] Working on getting better access, but the area has been pretty much off limits for a long time. They don’t even allow photography in the off limits areas, even if you can get in.
[vi] Son of Katsu Kaishū, the father of the Japanese Navy.
[ix] Nikkō is in the mountains, so I don’t recommend winter at all. Also, the area is extremely crowded in autumn because people come to see the autumn leaves. If you want to come in the fall, I recommend booking 6 weeks or more to guarantee a comfortable bed and hot bath.
[x] In terms of subway use, it’s an impractical course unless you do alone or unless it’s a one-on-one tour. For groups, I have to find the most cost efficient/time efficient route for everyone.
[xi] Because a good deal of your time will be taking trains to the next execution ground. I’m good at conversation, so it won’t be boring but expect to change trains a few times lol.

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