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What does Uchisaiwaichō mean?

In Japanese History on March 21, 2015 at 6:01 pm

内幸町
Uchisaiwai-chō (Inner Happy Town)

The postal code "Uchisaiwai-chō" is highlighted in red. The green area is Hibiya Park.

The postal code “Uchisaiwai-chō” is highlighted in red. The green area is Hibiya Park.



内幸町 Uchisaiwai-chō is a backwards L-shaped postal code in 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward that borders on 中央区 Chūō-ku Chūō Ward and 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. If you walk from 日比谷公園 Hibiya Kōen Hibiya Park to 新橋一丁目 Shinbashi Itchōme and 新橋二丁目 Shinbashi Ni-chōme you will pass through Uchisaiwai-chō, which is a relatively non-descript business district to be perfectly honest. That said, if you continue on this route, you will eventually hit 御成門駅 Onarimon Eki Onarimon Station (remember that – it’s gonna come up later). These days, the area’s main claim to fame is its unwieldy name in ローマ字 rōma-ji the Roman alphabet and the 帝国ホテル Teikoku Hoteru Imperial Hotel.

Cherry blossoms blooming in front of the moat with the original Imperial Hotel in the background (circa 1890).

Cherry blossoms blooming in front of the moat with the original Imperial Hotel in the background (circa 1890).

Relation to Edo Castle

The history of this area is directly related to the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate because the modern land is located on plots of land that were within the castle enceinte. But let’s explore this a little more. The history of the castle and the moats goes much farther back.

To modern Tōkyōites[i], place names like 虎ノ門 Tora no Mon, 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri, and 赤坂見附 Akasaka Mitsuke may seem a little cryptic. In an age where cars, taxis, buses, and trains make getting around Tōkyō a breeze, the so-called Imperial Palace is an isolated area surrounded by a quaint moat. But in reality, 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle was the largest castle in the world. It was a city in and of itself and it lay at the heart of one of largest cities in the world – if not the largest city in the world[ii]. The moats you can see today are the oldest and innermost moats. Outside of those moats, a population of 大名 daimyō feudal lords lived in palatial residences. A secondary outer moat system protected the residences of those lords. All of that area was considered part of the castle.

Why am I saying this? Because so many names are related to the castle and the system of bridges and gates along the moats. Uchi-saiwai-chō is one of those stories. So let’s take a look!

Sotobori dōri - literally, outer moat road - is a modern road built over the former outer moat.

Sotobori dōri – literally, outer moat road – is a modern road built over the former outer moat.

First, Let’s Go Back to the 12th Century

In the 12th century, the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan used the inlets and rivers of 千代田 Chiyoda[iii] as a natural defense when they built their fortified residence here. Later, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan used the same hills and rivers for his fortress[iv]. Dōkan utilized the unruly network of rivers and inlets by creating a system of moats.

This is Edo circa 1600. Sorry that I haven't translated the text, but basically you can see the sea coming in right up to the castle. By the end of the Edo Period, the castle was about an hour walk on solid, developed land from the bay area.

This is Edo circa 1600. Sorry that I haven’t translated the text, but basically you can see the sea coming in right up to the castle. By the end of the Edo Period, the castle was about an hour walk on solid, developed land from the bay area.

During the Edo Period

It’s generally assumed that the area called Uchisaiwai-chō was reclaimed upon the arrival of 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 1590’s. I suspect some groundwork had already been laid by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan in the 1400’s, but whatever. By the Edo Period the area was solid ground.

If you go to the ruins of Edo Castle today, you’ll see the moat system is still intact. These moats are 内堀 uchibori inner moats. The castle was much more spread out in its heyday. There was another ring called 外堀 sotobori the outer moat. By the 1960’s this was pretty much all filled in and doesn’t exist today.

The area between the inner moat and outer moat was built up in the Edo Period with 大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō mansions. Daimyō, often translated as feudal lords[v], were required by the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate to perform yearly service to the shōgun called 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance[vi].

Long story short, these lords were required to maintain about 3 residences in the shōgun’s capital as well as their own domain. I like to think of these Edo-based residences as embassies. The compounds closest to the Edo Castle were for conducting direct affairs with the shōgunate and remote governance of their respective domains. These were usually the smallest of the 3 estates the daimyō maintained – but make no mistake about it; these were huge compounds on the most valuable real estate in Edo and subsequently Tōkyō.

I've marked the modern postal code of Uchisaiwai-chō in red. I've marked Hibiya Park in green. In the Edo Period these were all daimyō mansions. This is also all solid land, so the Hibiya Inlet no longer exists.

I’ve marked the modern postal code of Uchisaiwai-chō in red. I’ve marked Hibiya Park in green. In the Edo Period these were all daimyō mansions. This is also all solid land, so the Hibiya Inlet no longer exists.

At that time the area consisted of several large city blocks which housed the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residences and 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residences of various daimyō. I mentioned earlier that modern day Uchisaiwai-chō is a backwards L-shaped neighborhood. Well, in the Edo Period, the same area also could have been viewed as a backwards L-shaped area that included 2 discrete city blocks of 3 daimyō residences each and a single fire break[vii]. The estates of the daimyō on the vertical line of the backwards L remain essentially intact today. The horizontal line of the backwards L was broken up and has been redeveloped over the years. Interestingly, the former estates were the smaller compounds, while the latter were the larger.

Domain
Type of Residence

English

Clan Current Plot of Land
白河藩
Shirakawa Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Shirakawa Domain

upper residence

阿部
Abe
帝国ホテル
Teikoku Hoteru
The Imperial Hotel
薩摩藩
Satsuma Han
上屋敷[viii]
kami-yashiki
Satsuma Domain
upper residence
島津
Shimazu
みずほ銀行旧本店
Mizuho Ginkō Kyū-Honten
Former Mizuho Bank HQ
佐賀藩
Saga Han
中屋敷
naka-yashiki
Saga Domain
middle residence
鍋島
Nabeshima
国立印刷局虎ノ門病院[ix]
Kokuritsu Insatsukyoku
National Printing Bureau
Toranomon Hospital
Toranomon Byōin
郡山藩
Kōriyama Han上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Kōriyama Domain

upper residence

柳沢[x]
Yanagizawa
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
飫肥藩
Obi Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Obi Domain

upper residence

伊東
Itō
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
津和野藩
Tsuwano Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Tsuwano Domain

upper residence

亀井
Kamei
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
The Kuro Mon (black gate) of Satsuma's residence. This picture was taken in the early 1940's before the fire bombing of the city.

The Kuro Mon (black gate) of Satsuma’s residence. This picture was taken in the early 1940’s before the fire bombing of the city.

A close up of the Kuro Mon gate. This gate served as the entrance to the Rokumeikan. Gonna talk about that later.

A close up of the Kuro Mon gate. This gate served as the entrance to the Rokumeikan. Gonna talk about that later.

Gates of Edo Castle

So, as I mentioned earlier, these daimyō residences were located between the inner moat system and the outer moat. What I didn’t mention is that the mansions we’re talking about were located directly on the inside of the outer moat. Of course, this meant they were protected. But this also meant they were only accessible by bridges the crossed the moat and gates that protected the castle[xi]. Gates and other checkpoints were important landmarks and special economies developed around these places. As a result, many places derive from the names of the gates of Edo Castle. And here is where our etymology story starts to bud.

So Let’s Look at the Gates in the Area

Gate Name
Alternate Gate Name
English Names Modern Location
櫻田御門
櫻田見附門
Sakurada Go-mon
Sakurada Mitsuke Mon
桜田門駅
Sakuradamon StationThe entire gate system (mitsuke) is intact.
日比谷御門
日比谷見附門
Hibiya Go-mon
Hibiya Mitsuke Mon
日比谷公園
Hibiya Park
The stone walls are intact.
山下御門
山下橋見附門
Yamashita Go-mon
Yamashita Mitsuke Mon
No remains
幸橋御門
幸橋見附門
Saiwaibashi Go-mon
Saiwaibashi Mitsuke Mon
No remains
芝口御門
芝口見附門
Shibaguchi Go-mon[xii]
Shibaguchi Mitsuke Mon
銀座8丁目
Ginza 8-chōme
A few stones survive and there is a plaque.
虎之御門
虎之見附門
Tora no Go-mon
Tora no Mitsuke Mon
虎ノ門駅
Toranomon Station
Much of the stone walls survive.
Yamashita Mon at the end of the Edo Period. The moat seems to be a closed of space with still water and lotus plants abound.

Yamashita Mon at the end of the Edo Period. The moat seems to be a closed of space with still water and lotus plants abound.

Nothing remains of Yamashita Mon today. This is where the gate once stood.

Nothing remains of Yamashita Mon today. This is where the gate once stood.

Saiwaibashi Mon in the Edo Period.

Saiwaibashi Mon in the Edo Period.

Where Saiwaibashi Gate used to be.

Where Saiwaibashi Gate used to be.

Saiwaibashi Mon was colloquially referred to as 御成御門 O-nari Go-mon. 御成 o-nari is an obsolete Japanese word that refers to the presence of the shōgun[xiii]. This was the gate the 将軍家 shōgun-ke shōgun family and its entourage used to make pilgrimages to the family funerary temple at 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in 芝 Shiba[xiv]. Movements of the shōgun, or daimyō for that matter, were highly ritualized – as such, people took notice. It’s almost as if at any given moment a parade of samurai might cross your path.

A formal procession at Edo Castle.

A formal procession at Edo Castle.

At the beginning of the article I mentioned a walking course that leads directly to 御成門駅 Onarimon Eki Onarimon Station. That was because, the streets within castle itself led directly to Saiwaibashi Gate which in turn fed directly into a boulevard that led directly to the shōgun’s private gate to the Zōjō-ji funerary complex. In the case of Sawaibashi Mon, the “Onari Gate” name didn’t persist (most likely because all of the trappings of the shōgunate were erased in the Meiji Era), but at Zōjō-ji the nickname “Onari Gate” stuck because the sprawling temple of the shōguns’ remained intact until WWII. Sawaibashi Gate doesn’t exist today, but Zōjō-ji’s Onari Gate is completely intact today and there is even a subway station that bears its name.

The shōgun's private entrance to Zōjō-ji.

The shōgun’s private entrance to Zōjō-ji.

After the Edo Period

As I said before, the present day Uchisaiwai-chō is a reversed L-shaped area, but in the Edo Period, it was 2 discrete blocks. In 1872 (Meiji 5), the daimyō residences of Shirakawa, Satsuma, and Saga were torn down and combined to make 内山下町 Uchiyamashita-chō. The name literally means “the town inside Yamashita” – a reference to Yamashita Mon.  The residences of Kōriyama, Obi, and Tsuwano were torn down and combined to make 内幸町 Uchisaiwai-chō. This name literally means “the town inside Saiwai” – a reference to Saiwaibashi Mon. In 1968, the modern postal code system was established and Uchiyamashita-chō and Uchisaiwai-chō were combined under the name Uchisaiwai-chō.

So there it is. Hibiya Park in green and Uchsaiwai-chō (backwards L).

So there it is. Hibiya Park in green and Uchsaiwai-chō is in red (backwards L).

The modern layout, the park is in green and the areas we've been talking about in red.

The modern layout, the park is in green and the areas we’ve been talking about in red.

The lot formerly belonging to Satsuma was destined for a brief flowering of greatness. The area was home to the 鹿鳴館 Rokumeikan, an early Meiji Era hall built in 1881 to entertain foreign dignitaries. The building is sort of synonymous with Japan’s frantic desire to be taken seriously by foreign powers. They were keen to show how culturally sophisticated and worldly they were[xv]. The idea was that the Meiji elite could show off how well they could do western things like speak foreign languages, wear the latest western fashions, dance the waltz, play the piano, and have group sex with foreigners (allegedly). Even 芸者 geisha would show up in the latest western fashions! For a brief period, the Rokumeikan was a symbol of modernity and all the changes brought about by the Meiji Coup of 1868.

A symbol of the Meiji Era's inferiority complex, the Rokumeikan.

A symbol of the Meiji Era’s inferiority complex, the Rokumeikan.

The building is so inextricably linked to the image of the Early Meiji Period that there is even a term 鹿鳴館時代 Rokumeikan Jidai the Rokumeikan Era. However, in reality, westerners seemed to be laughing at the Japanese pretending to not be Japanese and the average run of the mill Edoite (who wouldn’t have had access to such elite gala events) would have been baffled by what went on in the hall and its gardens. In fact, there seems to have been some public backlash to all the western extravagance and the sex scandals happening at the taxpayer’s expense. The so-called Rokumeikan Era[xvi] didn’t even last 10 years. It seems to have run out of steam by the mid 1880’s. In terms of popular destinations for foreigners, the Rokumeikan was soon replaced by the far more conventional 帝国ホテル Teikoku Hoteru Imperial Hotel which was originally built in 1890[xvii].

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[i]
Expats in particular…
[ii] At the time.
[iii] What does Chiyoda mean?
[iv] In the Edo Period, this ancient fortification served as the 本丸 hon maru main citadel (the residence of the shōgun and his family – the most secure enceinte of the castle) and the 二之丸 ni no maru secondary citadel (theoretically, the residence of the shōgun’s adult offspring). If you walk the grounds of Edo Castle (officially known by the BS title of 皇居 kōkyo the Imperial Palace), the terms hon maru and ni no maru are still used on signs, so they’re easy to find.
[v] A contestable term at best, but an easy convention.
[vi] What’s sankin-kōtai?
[vii] Technically speaking, the enclosure from 櫻田御門 Sukurada Go-mon Sakuradamon to 虎之御門 Tora no Go-mon Toranomon was home to 7 discrete blocks of about 28 daimyō residences. The area was accessible by 5 見附 mitsuke “approaches” – Sakurada Mon, Hibiya Mon, Yamashita Mon, Saiwaibashi Mon, and Tora no Mon. More abou that in a minute.
[viii] Some sources say 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence. To be honest, my sources have conflicting info on a few of these, which makes me think (1) daimyō were moved around after fires, (2) daimyō were moved around after changes in rank, (3) daimyō residences were re-designated as upper/middle/lower when necessary, and/or (4) the upper/middle/lower thing wasn’t officially codified nomenclature. Anyhoo, take the designation as upper/middle/lower in this article with a grain of salt.
[ix] It seems Saga Domain’s residence was moved from the Yamashita Mon area to the Tora no Mon area at some point.
[x] Many of you might recognize this name from 柳沢吉保 Yanagizawa Yoshiyasu, sometimes referred to by his honorary title 松平時之助 Matsudaira Tokinosuke. He was the lover of the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. He was originally daimyō of 川越藩 Kawagoe Han Kawagoe Domain, but shōgun Tsunayoshi elevated him to lord of the prestigious (and traditionally Tokugawa controlled) territory of 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain. Yoshiyasu’s descendants were the lords of 郡山藩 Kōriyama Han Kōriyama Domain in modern day 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture. Yoshiyasu was apparently a spiteful little bitch who destroyed the meteoric career of 喜多見重政 Kitami Shigemasa. You can read the story here.
[xi] Remember, if you’re inside the moat, you’re inside the castle – even if it’s the outer enceinte.
[xii] This gate burnt down in 1734 and was subsequently dismantled. Interestingly, Shibaguchi Mon was built where an undefended bridge formerly stood called 新橋 atarashii hashi the new bridge. Once the defensive structure, Shibaguchi Mon, was torn down, a new undefended bridge was set up and reverted to the former name, 新橋, but with the pronunciation Shinbashi. Today, you can find shops in 銀座8丁目 Ginza Hatchōme that use the name Shibaguchi.
[xiii] It was used for other nobles, too.
[xiv] See my article on Shiba here.
[xv] They were hoping to renegotiate the so-called unequal treaties signed by the Tokugawa Shōgunate.
[xvi] If you want to know more about the Rokumeikan, here’s the Wikipedia article.
[xvii] The Imperial Hotel is something of an institution in Tōkyō. Its own history is linked to the ups and downs of Tōkyō itself, but I think it’s outside of the scope of this article. If you want to learn more about the Imperial Hotel, here’s the Wikipedia page.

What does Akihabara mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Japanese Subculture on November 12, 2014 at 3:26 am

秋葉原
Akihabara (“autumn leaf field,” but more at “field of Akiha”)

shinsengumi akihabara cosplay maid

I’m gonna get all this “moe” shit out of the way first, then get into the serious history.
That said… A Shinsengumi cosplay cafe… really?
Sounds like a place for a JapanThis meet up! lol

For a certain segment of the population, Akihabara is ground zero for the ultimate experience in Japan. This certain segment of the population is generally referred to by the term オタク otaku – geeks, nerds, in other words people with very specific interests. You won’t find many Japanese history nerds here, though.

In the case of Akihabara, one image is a manga and anime based wonderland inhabited by メイド meido maids, Tōkyō’s coolest gamers, and cutting edge IT specialists. The other image is an IT business district overrun by the biggest losers in Japan who can’t get girlfriends so they collect figures and become obsessed with 抱き枕 dakimakura cuddle pillows and フィギュア figures and are so socially retarded that they have to resort to going to メイド喫茶 meido kissa maid cafes where girls clean their earwax and trim their nails over a cup of tea at inflated prices. Oh, and single, middle aged salarymen who are obsessed with the idol group, AKB-48, who is based in the area.

The reality is somewhere-in-between and not-even-fucking-close.

____________________________________

.
Old School Akihabara

Before it became the otaku paradise it is today, Nakano, Akihabara were the centers of Tokyo's porn industry (due to their proximity to Shinjuku and Ueno, respectively). Both areas have changed over the years, but blatant  exhibitionism in Akihabara (like in this photo) is rare - replaced by legit cosplay acts. In Nakano, there are still certain off-the-radar spots where you may still encounter some porno-filming shenanigans.

Before it became the otaku paradise it is today, Nakano/Akihabara were the centers of Tokyo’s porn industry (due to their proximity to Shinjuku and Ueno, respectively). Both areas have changed over the years, but blatant exhibitionism in Akihabara (like in this photo) is rare – replaced by legit cosplay acts. In Nakano, there are still certain off-the-radar spots where you may still encounter some porno-filming shenanigans. I rarely go to Akihabara, but I haven’t seen something like this in 10-11 years.

.

A Little Backstory

When I first visited Japan 12 or 13 years ago, Akihabara was a very different place. My friend, Kai, first brought me there. We walked from Uguisudani to Akihabara. He wanted to show me Electric Town, but most of all he wanted to show me a massive, multiple-story porn shop – easily the largest porn shop I’ve ever seen in my life. We’re talking a Tower Records of sex. Needless to say, it was fucking awesome.[i]

Anyhoo, my friend pointed out to me that the town wasn’t just famous for electronics and porn, but it had a gritty, Shōwa Era feeling but it was slowly being cleaned up and taken over by massive commercial interests. He was absolutely correct. 13 years later, Akihabara is a completely different town. There are massive electronics retailers (the tiny specialist shops are still there, though) and skyscrapers and cutting edge IT companies in the area. Some specialist electronics shops have given way to specialist shops centered on オタク文化 otaku bunka otaku/nerd culture. 13 years ago it was still very specialized (for example, the porn shop had a whole floor dedicated to any genre you can imagine), but today there is a more unified theme. Tech, gaming, anime, and computers reign supreme[ii].

Sometimes I think it’s a saccharine technophile dreamland, but today let’s look at what this neighborhood was before it became 電気街 Denki-gai Electric Town and before it became the otaku mecca it is today.

People lived here in the Edo Period and after. Before there were maids and before there was ever electricity, people lived here.

So let’s see Akihabara before its recent transformations.

.

Once you leave the station area, you enter the Showa Era mess that is Electric Town. This is where Akihabara can be a lot of fun.

Once you leave the station area, you enter the Showa Era mess that is Electric Town. This is where Akihabara can be a lot of fun. (and see, I promised the pictures would get more normal…)

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Let’s Look at the Kanji

This place name is made up of three kanji. None of which are particularly helpful in deducing the origin of this place name.


aki

autumn


ha

leaf


hara

field

Also, the location is difficult to nail down. In 台東区 Taitō-ku Taitō Ward there is an official postal address 秋葉原 Akihabara. But the area considered Akihabara by most people is the area immediately surrounding 秋葉原駅 Akihabara Eki Akihabara Station, whose official postal code is in 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward[iii]. The 電気街口 Denkigai-guchi Electric Town Exit of the station is located in Chiyoda Ward, but it spills over into Taitō Ward.

Aki - Autumn/Fall; Ha - Leaves; Hara - source/field

aki – autumn/fall
ha – leaves
hara – source/fieldEnd of Story!

The reality of the situation is that the The place name dates from the Meiji Period. In short, in the Meiji Period, the blocks that make up the immediate Akihabara Station area burned to the ground. The government decided not to rebuild, as this area had long been prone to fires. A small Shintō shrine called a 鎮火社 chinka-sha fire prevention shrine was built on the vacant lot. The 神 kami spirit enshrined there – or believed to be enshrined there – was 秋葉大権現 Akiha Daigongen[iv]. The sprawling vacant lot was referred to as a 原 hara “field.” Thus this was Akihabara – “Akiha’s Field.”

But there is so much more to this story.

Let’s take a trip back to the Edo Period.

Here is a Meiji Era map of the area after the surrounding areas had been built up. Business was still conducted along the main roads, it was only the inner area that wasn't rebuilt.  (I have a photo later)

Here is a Meiji Era map of the area after the surrounding areas had been built up. Business was still conducted along the main roads, it was only the inner area that wasn’t rebuilt.
(I have a photo later)

 .

The Edo Period

In the beginning of the Edo Period, a few 大名 daimyō feudal lords built their 藩邸 hantei daimyō residences near the area in order maintain a good relationship with the new shōgun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu. The area had access to water[v] and quick access to 江戸城 Edo-jō. However, the area was apparently prone to fires and by the time the policy of alternate attendance – 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai – was implemented, most daimyō had moved elsewhere. There were still a few samurai residences in the area, and in nearby 御徒町 Okachimachi[vi] you could find residences and barracks for low ranking 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the 将軍家 shōgun-ke shōgun family and nearby there were still a few daimyō mansions.

By the late Edo Period, the area was a small collection commoner residences and merchants. The term 町 machi/chō town was used because under the Tokugawa regime similar businesses tended to be grouped together, residences of families with similar incomes also tended to be grouped together, but most modern people would just think of these as blocks. But each block had its own name. 神田佐久間町 Kanda Sakuma-chō, is an example of name of one block that persists to this day. But in short, in the Edo Period this area was considered part of Kanda.

The white area shows the presumed extent of the damage of the fire.  The red stars mark the shogun's road from Edo Castle to Ueno.

The white area shows the presumed extent of the damage of the fire.
The red stars mark the shogun’s road from Edo Castle to Ueno.

An important road, the 下谷御成街道 Shitaya O-nari Kaidō ran through the area. As I mentioned in an earlier article, 御成 o-nari is a word that refers to the presence of the shōgun. An 御成御門 o-nari go-mon is the shōgun’s private gate. An 御成御街道 o-nari o-kaidō is the shōgun’s private road. The Shitaya O-nari Kaidō was the private road of the shōgun to travel back and forth from 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle to 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji Kan’ei Temple. The stretch of present-day 中央道 Chūō Dōri “Main Street” from 上野一丁目 Ueno Icchōme and 上野二丁目 Ueno Nichōme to the Kanda River follows the path of the Shitaya O-nari Kaidō.

The bridge over the shogun's road in 1937 (Showa 12). The city still retains its 2 story structure in the shitamachi. Notice the dome off in the distance? That's Holy Resurrection Cathedral. We'll talk about that later.

The bridge over the shogun’s road in 1937 (Showa 12). The city still retains its 2 story structure in the shitamachi.
Notice the dome off in the distance? That’s Holy Resurrection Cathedral. We’ll talk about that later.

Today, the 総武線 Sōbu-sen Sōbu Line passes through the area on elevated tracks. There is a non-descript bridge that spans Chūō Dōri. And even though the word o-nari became irrelevant after the collapse of the shōgunate, this bridge preserves the name of the O-nari Kaidō. To this day it is called the 御成街道架道橋 O-nari Kaidō Kadōkyō the O-nari Kaidō Overpass Bridge[vii], even though this particular O-nari Kaidō doesn’t exist anymore.

The bridge today. Not sure what the shogun would think of this...

The bridge today.
Not sure what the shogun would think of this…

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In the Meiji Period

The real history of Akihabara begins in the Meiji Period.

In 1869 (Meiji 2), there was a major fire in this part of Tōkyō[viii]. The area we’ve been discussing, which was roughly 17 blocks of Edo Period real estate was completely burnt to the ground. I can’t find numbers on the casualties, but 17 blocks of cramped residential apartments, each unit housing at least 2, possibly 3 generations of a family is an absolutely horrible tragedy. As mentioned earlier, the new Meiji Government decided not to rebuild and designated the area as a 火除地 hiyokechi firebreak. The idea is that if other areas burned, the fire would stop spreading once it hit the 野原 nohara field.

Here you can see the fire break. There is a huge clearing surrounded by buildings. The origin of Akihabara.

Here you can see the fire break. There is a huge clearing surrounded by buildings. The origin of Akihabara. (click to enlarge)

On the field (or near the field, I’m not clear which), a small type of shrine called a 鎮火社 chinka-sha was established to protect the area from further conflagrations. The name of this type of shrine literally translates as “extinguished fire shrine[ix].”

Details are fuzzy, but it seems that the local people incorrectly assumed that the main 神 kami deity of fire protection of the Edo Period had been enshrined here. But it seems like the chinka-sha was nothing more than an empty shack until 1870, when a kami was enshrined here – and it was kami the people assumed had been installed.

So who is the kami in question?

Akiha Daigongen is actually a Buddhist name. This kami's original Shinto name is Hinokagutsuchi-no-Okami. Try saying that 3 times fast.

Meet Akiha Daigongen. His name is Buddhist. His original Shinto name is Hinokagutsuchi-no-Okami.
Try saying that 3 times fast.

His name is 秋葉大権現 Akiha Daigongen, a beaked and winged Shintō-Buddhist syncretic deity who is crowned with an aura of fire. The kami was affectionately called 秋葉様 Akiha-sama or 秋葉さん Akiha-san Mr. Akiha[x] and this name could also be applied to a temple or shrine where he was enshrined.

Initially, I thought some Meiji hijinks were going down, possibly connected to the 1868 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzenrei Order Separating Kami and Buddhas. Part of the government’s efforts to separate Japan’s two fused religions was a specific order banning applying the Buddhist title 権現 Gongen or 大権現 Daigongen to Shintō kami. That would put Akiha Daigongen – as syncretic as they get – in direct violation of the law. But as I thought about it a little more; there were big changes going on in Tōkyō and across the country and realistically, only a year passed before Akiha Daigongen was enshrined into the chinka-sha and the name changed to 秋葉社 Akiha-sha Akiha Shrine. I think people were busy and it just to a long time to transport the priests and necessary implements from the main Akiha Shrine in Shizuoka to Tōkyō[xi].

Sorry autumn leaves have no connection to this place name...

Sorry autumn leaves have no connection to this place name…

So, What’s the Etymology?

The burned out area left as a fire break was officially called a 火除地 hiyokechi, literally “fire prevention land” but to the commoners of Edo – erm, I mean Tōkyō – it was just a 野原 nohara field. When you have roughly 17 blocks of burnt out land in the middle of an urban center, it’s a landmark – especially in a city like Edo-Tōkyō. Streets don’t have names, so giving directions is primarily down by landmarks.

As far as landmark names go, “that burned out field over there” leaves much to be desired. So the people latched on the Akiha Shrine, which is a much more pleasant name given the deadly reality of fires in Japanese cities at the time. Several names were in use before standardization.

秋葉之原 Akiha-no-hara
秋葉っ原 Akihabbara
秋葉ヶ原 Akiha-ga-hara, Akiba-ga-hara
あきばはら Akibahara
あきばっぱら Akibappara
秋葉原 Formal writing; pronunciation is ambiguous.But this is the spelling used to day.

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What’s Up With the AKIHA and AKIBA Thing?

The readings for 秋葉 are /akiha/ and /akiba/. Both are used throughout the country. The main Akiha Shrine in Shizuoka uses the /ha/ sound, but there are shrines that use /ba/. It seems that both /akibahaɽa/ and /akihabaɽa/ were used as readings of 秋葉原 and this is most like the source of the affectionate nickname アキバ Akiba used by otaku. And here I thought it was a diminutive slang term. Go history!
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torii_cute

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I want to visit Akiha Shrine

OK, good for you. You can.

You just can’t do it in Akihabara.

I don't want to break your otaku heart, but this shrine has very little going for it today...

I don’t want to break your otaku heart, but this shrine has very little going for it today…

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The chinka-sha was built in 1869. It was renamed the Akiha-sha in 1870 (Meiji 3), and in 1888 (Meiji 21) was moved to present day 台東区松ヶ谷 Taitō-ku Matsu-ga-ya Matsugaya, Taitō-ku and became 秋葉神社 Akiha Jinja Akiha Shrine.

You might be thinking, why the hell would you move a shrine to another place? Well, this happened all the time – Kichijō-ji and Yanaka, I’m looking at you! – but in this case, it happened because of the area’s next big step: a freight train station was to be built here. Due to its proximity to the Kanda River, the area was a major lumber town. Lumber distribution had traditionally made use of Edo’s vast river network prior to trains. Once the train network was in place, merchants could increase their reach.

In 1890 (Meiji 23) the train station was opened under the hiragana name あきはのはらえき Akiha no Hara Eki Akiha no Hara Station. Since 1870, various informal names had appeared on maps, but this was the first time the area had an official sign. The hiragana is a testament to the confusion caused by the kanji and the casualness of the name – it was just a burned out field by the river after all.

Since people don’t really use freight trains so much, over time the local people’s reference to the neighborhood was based on the formal kanji use, which was today’s 秋葉原. This kind of kanji is ambiguous as to pronunciation, but it seems fairly clear that the final 2 contenders were /akihabaɽa/ and /akibahaɽa/.

1960's Akihabara Station was all about distribution. High end electronic parts came in and out of here and gave birth to Electric Town.

1960’s Akihabara Station was all about distribution. High end electronic parts came in and out of here and gave birth to Electric Town.

However, until re-administration of the Tōkyō in 1964 there had never been an official place name using the kanji 秋葉原. In that year, two traditionally shitamachi towns in Taitō Ward named 松永町 Matsunaga-chō and 練塀町 Neribei-chō officially became 秋葉原 Akihabara. The names of those towns date back to the Edo Period. Again, it’s interesting to point out that the official Akihabara is in Taitō Ward, while the station and much of the original burned out field where the name began are in Chiyoda Ward.

So that is the end of the story of Akihabara. The evolution of the name isn’t preserved step by step, but we’ve got signs, maps, and finally an official government endorsement of a place name. In Tōkyō, this is place name gold.

Speaking of gold...  This is the main shrine in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Speaking of gold…
This is the main shrine in Shizuoka Prefecture.

But I Want To Talk About The Main Shrine in Shizuoka…

Will you humor me for a few more paragraphs? I’m comparing an Edo Period map with a modern map and I want to go on, but I think it’s more interesting if we return to Akihabara’s namesake for a moment.

The main shrine that houses Akiha Daigongen is located in 静岡県浜松市 Shizuoka-ken Hamatsu-shi Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture and called is called 秋葉山本宮秋葉神社 Akihasan Hongū Akiha Jinja Akiha Mountain Main Shrine Akiha Shrine[xii]. The name Hamatsu should ring a bell as this is where Tokugawa Ieyasu ruled from 1570-1586[xiii]. As such the shrine was well patronized by the Tokugawa. In December they celebrate the 火祭り Hi Matsuri Fire Festival. The shrine boasts a collection of 浮世絵 ukiyo-e paintings and a collection of swords donated by such notable Sengoku warlords as 武田信玄 Takeda Shingen, 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and 加藤清正 Katō Kiyomasa.

By the way, there are roughly 800 Akiha/Akiba Shrines scattered throughout Japan. There are more of these than there are Tōshō-gū.

The Akiha Fire Festival. Where Shinto priests play with fire inside wooden structures. Ummm... ok...

The Akiha Fire Festival.
Where Shinto priests play with fire inside wooden structures.
Ummm… ok…

What’s Left Today?

Finding bits of Edo in Tōkyō isn’t hard, but it takes a careful eye and you really have to know what you’re looking at and looking for. But given Akihabara’s reputation as the technology epicenter of Japan – possibly Asia – and that it was burnt to the ground in the early Meiji Period, you’d think there’d be little left of the Edo Period there. But you’d be wrong.

What could this possibly be?

What could this possibly be?

When they began construction on the 秋葉原UDXビル Akihabara UDX Building in 2006, the construction company discovered some suspicious stones. An archaeology team was called in who quickly realized this was an 石垣 ishigaki stone wall from the mid-Edo Period. Given the quality of the construction and location, they were able to determine this was the remains of a 武家屋敷 buke yashiki samurai residence. The stone work was painstakingly excavated and re-assembled and the design team scrambled to incorporate the walls into the design of the building. Today, the average person probably wouldn’t recognize them, but the traditional stonework and random stones here and there on the street level of this ultramodern sky rise date from the Edo Period. There is a small sign describing the wall.

I'm not even kidding. With minimal effort you can find a piece of Edo in Akihabara.  Bet you didn't see that coming!

I’m not even kidding. With minimal effort you can find a piece of Edo in Akihabara.
Bet you didn’t see that coming!

The monument displays a picture during the excavation

The monument displays a picture during the excavation

I Want to Finish By Revisiting a Photo

Take a look at the Akiha no Hara (Akiha's Field), then note the rebuilt buildings around it. Why are those buildings there?  To answer that question, look at streets. You can see street cars. The street cars were the predecessors of buses    and were active in this area. Business was good, and station front property was (and is) the hottest real estate.  That said, in the bottom left-hand corner note the traditional wooden Edo Period bridge....

Take a look at the Akiha no Hara (Akiha’s Field), then note the rebuilt buildings around it. Why are those buildings there?
To answer that question, look at streets. You can see street cars. The street cars were the predecessors of buses and were active in this area. Business was good, and station front property was (and is) the hottest real estate.
That said, in the bottom left-hand corner note the traditional wooden Edo Period bridge….

The panoramic photo was taken from the 東京復活大聖堂 Tōkyō Fukkatsu Taiseidō Holy Resurrection Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox cathedral built in the 1890’s[xiv]. I don’t know the details of this photo, but my guess it was taken shortly after construction was finished. So this is mostly likely the only photo of the area. It’s pretty amazing.

So, otaku people. Stuff that up your proverbial pipe and smoke it.

The Church of the Holy Resurrection - once the tallest building in the area, now it's obscured by skyscrapers.

The Church of the Holy Resurrection – once the tallest building in the area, now it’s obscured by skyscrapers.

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_____________________________
[i]
Cuz we all love sex. Awwwww yeah!
[ii] This is seen by the old school otaku of 中野 Nakano as the ultimate sell out. They will proudly tell you that true spirit of otaku culture is alive and well in Nakano and that Akihabara is a fucking clown show.
[iii] I have an article about that, by the way.
[iv] This chinka-sha seems to have been built informally and later enshrined, but it’s not clear.
[v] The 神田川 Kanda-gawa Kanda River was nearby.
[vi] I have an article about Okachimachi here, bitches.
[vii] I could go a lot deeper into the history of the bridges, but that would take me back down the river rabbit hole. I could go on about the history of Chūō Dōri, but that would also take me back down the river rabbit hole. No thank you. Not going there now. No way. I have river rabbit hole trauma.
[viii] The name of the city was changed from Edo to Tōkyō the year before.
[ix] Though, interestingly, if you pop the word into Chinese Google Translate, it comes up as “town fire company.” Not sure if that’s accurate, cuz Google Translate is usually a trainwreck.
[x] Mr. Akiha doesn’t really convey the nuance of the Japanese, but I can’t think of a better translation.
[xi] You’re off the hook on this one, Meiji government. But I’m watching you.
[xii] Yes, I know the name is redundant, but don’t blame me. I didn’t name the place.
[xiii] He then relocated to 駿府城 Sunpu-jō Sunpu Castle.
[xiv] The cathedral is more commonly referred to by its nickname, ニコライ堂 Nikorai-dō Nikolai’s Church. The name is a tip of the hat to the church’s founder, St. Nikolai of Japan.

Yushoin

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves on June 6, 2013 at 3:05 am

有章院
Yūshōin  (Divine Prince of Who the Fuck Knows[i])
七代将軍徳川家継公
7th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Ietsugu
Zōjō-ji

Tokugawa Ietsugu looking quite mature for his age.

Tokugawa Ietsugu looking quite mature for his age.

The 7th shōgun, Ietsugu, was the last descendent of the direct line started by Tokugawa Ieyasu. He was only shōgun for 3 years.

He died at age 6.

The next shōgun, Yoshimune, threw mad loot at Zōjō-ji for the construction of a large mausoleum next to Ienobu’s. The wood carvings and engravings were said to rival those at Nikkō making it a popular sightseeing spot until it was destroyed in the Great Tōkyō Air Raid in 1945.

Ietsugu’s mausoleum, called Yūshōin, was the last great funerary complex built by the shōgunate. Ietsugu’s short reign saw one of the first serious financial crises of the Edo Period. As an austerity measure, Yoshimune opted for a 合祀 gōshi group enshrinement. I don’t know if this is this was an edict, but the practice continued until the fall of the bakufu in 1868. Just to put things into perspective, there were 15 shōguns. We’re at the halfway point now and sadly, there will be no more funerary temples. The rest of this series is going to go by very quickly. lol

Structures of Yūshōin

Structure Name Description Condition Status
本殿
honden
the main hall destroyed

相之間
ai no ma
in gongen-zukuri architecture, the structure that connects the honden and haiden. destroyed

拝殿
haiden
the inner or private worship hall destroyed

前廊
zenrō
a latticework fence that forms the border to a temple destroyed

中門
nakamon
The “middle gate” which usually opens from a court yard into the worship hall  destroyed

左右廊
sayūrō
portico on the left and right side of a shrine destroyed

渡廊
watarō
portico destroyed

透塀
sukibei
latticework fence that encloses a temple or shrine destroyed

内透塀
uchi-sukibei
?
name means inner latticework fence
destroyed

外透塀
soto-sukibei
?
name means outer latticework fence
destroyed

仕切門
shikirimon
entrance to the oku no in destroyed

鐘楼
shōrō
belfry, bell tower destroyed

井戸屋形
ido yakata 
roof over a well, or spring destroyed

勅額門
chokugaku
mon
imperial scroll gate; posthumous name of the deceased hand written by the emperor which marked the official entrance to the funerary temple destroyed

二天門
niten
mon
main gate, protected by 2 gods extant, but in awful condition

Tōkyō Prince Hotel

奥院波板塀
oku no in

nami itabei
“wave fence” made of planks around the
inner sanctuary
destroyed

奥院拝殿
oku no in

haiden
worship hall within the inner sanctuary destroyed

奥院宝塔
oku no in hōtō
A copper 2-story pagoda styled funerary urn that houses the remains of the deceased fair condition in the Tokugawa Graveyard at Zōjō-ji
奥院唐門
oku no in
karamon
so-called Chinese style gate that provided entry and exit to the tomb of the deceased destroyed

奥院中門
oku no in

nakamon
presumably the gate to another small fence around the hōtō destroyed

水盤舎
suibansha
water basins for ritual purification destroyed

石灯籠
ishidōrō
traditional stone lanterns scattered all over the Kantō area

銅燈
dōdōrō 
copper lanterns scattered all over the Kantō area

御成門
o-nari mon
private “backdoor” entrance to Zōjō-ji for the private use of the shōgun[ii]. extant and in fair condition Tōkyō Prince Hotel

Located inside Ietsugu’s complex, was another mortuary temple for the 9th shōgun, Ieshige, who was co-enshrined at Yūshōin. I’ll talk more about that in a later article.

Nitenmon, the Main Gate

The main gate of many Buddhist temples is a 二天門 nitenmon. The name doesn’t mean “main gate” it means “2 ten” gate. the character 天 ten (“heaven”) refers to the names of the 2 deities that are housed inside of the gate. Next time you visit an Edo Period temple, see if you see this type of gate. Here’s a little background on a famous Nitenmon located at Sensō-ji, a famous tourist destination in Tōkyō (note the connection to the Tokugawa… see what I did there?).

I can’t find any pictures from the before the firebombing, so you’ll have to do with modern pictures.

The nitenmon is in deplorable condition. It's in the original location, but the property is no longer Zojo-ji.  It's now on the Tokyo Prince Hotel's land, a stone's throw from the main entrance to Zojo-ji.

The nitenmon is in deplorable condition.
It’s in the original location, but the property is no longer Zojo-ji.
It’s now on the Tokyo Prince Hotel’s land, a stone’s throw from the main entrance to Zojo-ji.

Go back to my article on Daitokuin and check out Hidetada's So-mon (essentially a nitenmon). Then look at this one. I wish they'd restore it or just tear it down.

Go back to my article on Daitokuin and check out Hidetada’s So-mon (essentially a nitenmon).
Then look at this one.
I wish they’d restore it or just tear it down.

ietsugu_nitenmon_modern (2)

Seriously, WTF, people???

ietsugu_nitenmon_modern (4)

If this were restored, it would be a fantastic addition to the Shiba area.

広目天 Kōmokuten (Virupaksha in Sanskrit) - basically a pissed off deity.

広目天 Kōmokuten (Virupaksha in Sanskrit) – basically a pissed off deity.

多聞天 (Tamonten, generally equivocated with the other Japanese kami, Bishamonten - one of the 7 gods of good luck).

多聞天 (Tamonten, generally equivocated with the other Japanese kami, Bishamonten – one of the 7 gods of good luck).
Still… dude looks pissed off as hell.
A message to Edo riff raff, don’t try to pull any shit inside the mausoleum precinct.

Imperial Scroll Gate

After walking through the nitenmon (main entrance), you would come to a courtyard which led to the next gate, the imperial scroll gate. By now you know what an imperial scroll gate is, so I’m not going to harp on it. However, apparently the scroll gate of Yūshōin was considered a masterpiece for its ostentatious color, gold leafing and most of all, for its elaborate wood carvings.

View of the courtyard between the main entrance (right) and the imperial scroll gate (left) from the o-narimon (the shogun's private entrance).

View of the courtyard between the main entrance (right) and the imperial scroll gate (left) from the o-narimon (the shogun’s private entrance).

zozyoji_k11

View of the imperial scroll gate and behind it you can see the nakamon (middle gate) of the haiden (worship hall).

View of the imperial scroll gate and behind it you can see the nakamon (middle gate) of the haiden (worship hall).

After passing thru the Nitenmon, this would be the next thing you see - the scroll gate.

After passing thru the Nitenmon, this would be the next thing you see – the scroll gate.

People loved taking pictures of the scroll gate.

People loved taking pictures of the scroll gate.

People loved taking pictures of the scroll gate.

People loved taking pictures of the scroll gate.

People loved taking pictures of the scroll gate.

People loved taking pictures of the scroll gate.

People loved taking pictures of the scroll gate.

People loved taking pictures of the scroll gate.

People loved taking pictures of the scroll gate.

People loved taking pictures of the scroll gate.

Most surviving pictures of this mausoleum of this gate. It was obviously something to behold.

Most surviving pictures of this mausoleum of this gate.
It was obviously something to behold.

Nakamon and Oku no In

After you passed through the scroll gate, you’d find the bell tower on your right.

Backside of the imperial scroll gate and the bell tower.

Backside of the imperial scroll gate and the bell tower.

Bell Tower and the back of the Imperial Scroll Gate

Bell Tower and the back of the Imperial Scroll Gate

Oku no in – Inner Sanctuary

Not sure what most of these structures are… except for the water basins, etc….

1812

Perhaps the Ai no Ma

The water basin and the well.

The water basin and the well.

0033_shiba_go06_img06-16

Not exactly sure, but probably part of the haiden or honden.

増上寺s旧御霊屋s008

Not exactly sure, but probably part of the haiden or honden.

portico inside the haiden

portico inside the haiden

After we leave the haiden, we enter another courtyard and then come to the Chinese Style Gate.

After we leave the haiden, we enter another courtyard and then come to the Chinese Style Gate.

Tamaya – the graveyard

After passing through the Chinese Gate, we come to the actual graveyard.

A bronze okunoin nakamon leading to tomb

A bronze okunoin nakamon leading to tomb

Ietsugu's grave today....

Ietsugu’s grave today….

What About that Secret Shogun Door you Mentioned?

Well, yes… there was a special gate for the shōgun which was called 御成門 o-nari mon.
But it wasn’t a secret.
In fact, it was so famous that even today there is a train station named 御成門駅 onarimon eki onarimon station. And the neighborhood itself is also called onarimon.

The shogun's private entrance....

The shogun’s private entrance….
(shot from inside Yushoin, I think.

The shogun's private gate,

The shogun’s private gate,
Notice the bansho (check point) on the left.

O-nari mon.... the shogun's back door......

O-nari mon…. the shogun’s back door……
(that’s what she said!)

back of the o-narimon

back of the shogun’s backdoor – o-nari mon

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[i] I have no idea how to render this name. 有 means exist and in Buddhism refers to a bhavana. 章 is a kind of poem or composition. He died when he was 6, so they couldn’t very well make a posthumous name based on his reign. Maybe it has something to do with his studies. Or it could just be random.

[ii] The term 御成り o-nari refers to the presence of the shōgun. In the Edo Period, this gate would have been referred to as 御成御門 o-nari go-mon, but today the casual form is used and the second 御 is dropped. By the way, this gate was not technically an entrance to Yūshōin per se, but a general entrance to Zōjō-ji that just happened to be located at the outer wall of the site. The gate led to the courtyards between the main gates (nitenmon) and imperial scroll gates of Yūshōin and Bunshōin.

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