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Setagaya and its Freaky Horse Fetish

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on January 19, 2015 at 2:34 am

What’s Up with Setagaya and Horses?
No, seriously? What’s up wit dat?


Horse girl

So while I was researching my last article on 三軒茶屋 Sangen-jaya, I came across a few interesting place names that I’d never heard of – granted I rarely go to 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward[i] — but nonetheless I was obviously intrigued.

I saw a lot of references to horses on the map. “I’ll do all the horse names!” I thought. “Surely they’re all related,” I thought. “I can hit all these place names in one article,” I thought. Then the stories started getting longer and longer. “Did I get myself into another River Article Debacle?” I wondered. I really may have, so I’ve decided to go with the local legends over the hardcore etymology this time just to spare everyone the headache and hopefully to get some good folklore out this.

As I said, the one unifying factor is that all of these place names are horse-related. So let’s take a look at what names we will cover today.



Current Status


horse pulling ravine

This place name survives in abbreviated forms

horse hitching

This place name survives as Komatsunagi Shrine and as an elementary school name


horse stopping

The name survives as Komadome Hachiman Shrine


horse ravine

Survives as a postal code and a university name, etc…


gray haired horse burial mound

The name survives as a landmark

So just let that sink in a little bit before we continue. Take a few seconds to imagine what you think the etymologies might be. Do you think there is any connection? Do you think it’s all a coincidence? If you’re a long time reader and you remember other horse and animal related etymologies, do you think there will be any similarities to those?

These horses are decked out in the latest spring line up from Prada.

These horses are decked out in the latest spring line up from Prada.


OK, Let’s Get Started

I mentioned in the last article, that present day Sangen-jaya is comprised of several former villages. Two of those villages were parts of the 3 areas of a Kamakura Period region called 馬引沢 Umahikizawa.

Kami-Umahikizawa Mura

Upper Umahikizawa Village

Naka-Umahikizawa Mura

Middle Umahikizawa Village

Shimo- Umahikizawa Mura

Lower Umahikizawa Village

This is a similar pattern that we see with the classification of daimyō residences in Edo.


upper residence


middle residence


lower residence

With daimyō residences the designation of upper, middle, and lower seems to refer to their importance in relation to the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The upper residence would be nearer to Edo Castle and is where most of the administrative affairs would be carried out. The lower residence was more like a villa. I give a little more detail in my article on sankin-kōtai.

With place names, things are a little different – these are references to the areas of a village’s location on a river. 上 kami (up) refers an upstream location, 中 naka (middle) refers to a midstream location, 下 shimo (down) refers to a downstream location. In this case, what river might we be speaking of? It’s a river that was called the 蛇崩川 Jakuzure-gawa Jakuzure River. This is a wild name, in my opinion. The kanji mean something like “snake death river.” I dunno. But my guess is the kanji aren’t important to this story, and maybe I’ll tackle them later – but if you’ve got an image of a dangerous river, then great. Let’s take it from there.

Great strategist and general -- but worst horse rider EVER.

Minamoto no Yoritomo. Great strategist and general — but worst horse rider EVER.


What does Umahikizawa mean?

Legend states that in 1189, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo[ii] traveled back and forth on his favorite horse through this area on his military expedition from his capital in 鎌倉 Kamakura to 大州平泉 Ōshū Hiraizumi[iii]. The purpose of the expedition was to destroy 藤原泰衡 Fujiwara no Yasuhira and put an end to the Northern Fujiwara Clan once and for all[iv]. As he approached a deep stream with an extremely fast current[v], his horse became unsure of its footing and hesitated. Yoritomo, who was plagued by a lifelong battle with bad luck in horses[vi], pressed the horse to cross the ravine. The horse tried to proceed but the ground gave out from underneath it and the horse fell into the stream, either breaking its legs or suffering some other fatal injury, despite Yoritomo’s efforts to save his beloved horse. Heartbroken and teary-eyed, the general ordered his men to pull (引く hiku) the horse (馬 uma) out of the ravine (沢 sawa) and bury it on the other side. A variation of this legend states that after the tragic death of his favorite horse, Yoritomo ordered his men to lead (引いて渡る hiite wataru) their horses (馬 uma) across the ravine (沢 sawa) lest they lose their war horses as well. And so the place came to be known as 馬引沢 Umahikizawa horse pulling river.

This is a "sawa" and I bet you wouldn't want to ride a horse across it...

This is a “sawa” and I bet you wouldn’t want to ride a horse across it…

How Does This Place Name Survive?

As the village grew, it came to have 3 distinct quarters. One was upstream, one was midstream, and one was downstream. I showed you these place name earlier. 上馬引沢 Kami-Umahikizawa survives today in abbreviated form as 上馬 Kamiuma “up horse.” 下馬引沢 Shimo-Umahikizawa survives as 下馬 Shimouma “down horse.” These are both official postal addresses, but to the best of my knowledge, 中馬引沢 Naka-Umahikizawa hasn’t survived. But an interesting tidbit, in nearby 多摩市 Tama-shi Tama City, there is an area called 馬引沢 Umahikizawa, but it’s completely unrelated.

This also counts as umahiki (leading a horse).

This also counts as umahiki (leading a horse).


What Does Ashige-zuka Mean?

A mere 4 minute walk from Shimouma, there is an oval shaped, earthen mound in the middle of the street called 葦毛塚 Ashige-zuka. This is a compound word composed of two elements: 葦毛 ashige a gray haired horse and 塚 tsuka a mound. Legend claims that this is the spot where Minamoto no Yoritomo’s horse was buried. We’ve talked about burial mounds quite a few times at JapanThis!, but I think this is the first time we’ve had one allegedly built for a horse.

I wasn't kidding. It's literally in the middle of the road!

I wasn’t kidding. It’s literally in the middle of the road!


What does Komatsunagi mean?

If you take an 8 minute walk back to Shimouma and you’ll find a place called 駒繋神社 Komatsunagi Jinja Komatsunagi Shrine. Let’s continue our story there.

As I mentioned before, Minamoto no Yoritomo was cursed with all manner of bad horse luck. Being a typical superstitious 12th century samurai, he took the death of his favorite horse before an important battle[vii] as a terrible omen. After the burial mound was finished, a mysterious woman appeared. She told the general about the local 氏神 ujigami tutelary deity named 子之神 Nenokami[viii]. According to the woman, Nenokami wielded great power in the area and had the ability to exorcise any evil influence from the accident. She led him to a nearby humble, unnamed shrine[ix] dedicated to Nenokami and then disappeared. Yoritomo prayed to the kami and then continued his march north to Ōshū Hiraizumi.

Yoritomo and his stupid hat.

Yoritomo and his stupid hat.

At Ōshū, Yoritomo’s army crushed the Fujiwara army, thus annihilating his last major obstacle to power. This particular battle paved the way for him to become shōgun[x]. Marching back to Kamakura victorious, he stopped by the Nenokami shrine to give thanks. After all, being a superstitious 12th century samurai, that’s just what you do. Before approaching the shrine, he tied (繋ぐ tsunagu) his horse (駒 koma) to a pine tree (松 matsu)[xi]. He then threw some cash at the local people to build a proper shrine to Nenokami. After that, he proceeded to his capital in Kamakura.

Komatsunagi Shrine as it looks today.

Komatsunagi Shrine as it looks today.

The tree where he tied his horse came to be known as the 駒繋之松 Komatsunagi no Matsu Horse Hitching Pine and the new improved shrine came to be called Komatsunagi Shrine. If you visit the shrine today, they have a tree that they claim is the 3rd generation of the tree Yoritomo tied his horse to[xii]. Sadly, they never say what happened to the mysterious, disappearing woman.

I want some plot resolution, dammit.

The shrine claims that this is the original pine tree that Yoritomo used.

The shrine claims that this is the original pine tree that Yoritomo used.


What does Komadome mean?

Let’s take a 25 minute walk back to Sangen-jaya[xiii]the article that started all of this – and a 250 year or so jump into the future. Now we’re in the throes of the Sengoku Period – way before the rise of 3 Great Unifiers[xiv]. Edo has been in what you could call a “dark age” ever since the transfer of power from Kamakura back to Kyōto[xv]. Local militarized noble families rise and fall here and there. And among these local nobles, warlords have begun making land grabs and power grabs. Many of these clans come and go, too. One of the ascending powers in Kantō at this time were the 後北条 Go-Hōjō the Late Hōjō[xvi].

So our story is of a somewhat obscure noble who was in the service of the Hōjō, a certain 吉良頼康 Kira Yoriyasu. Much about him is unknown[xvii], but we do know that he served both the 2nd and 3rd successive Hōjō lords, 北条氏綱 Hōjō Ujitsuna and 北条氏康 Hōjō Ujiyasu[xviii]. So while he wasn’t a major player, he was playing with some big time ballers. You can think of him as Jay-Z’s longtime friend who gets invited to parties, but isn’t allowed on the red carpet.

This picture was long said to be Kira Yoriyasu, but recent research suggests that it's actually Takeda Shingen.

This picture was long said to be Kira Yoriyasu, but recent research suggests that it’s actually Takeda Shingen.

If you recall from my article on the etymology of Edo, from the Heian Period to the Kamakura Period this area was controlled by the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan took over the Edo clan’s fort in 1457[xix]. Dōkan was a retainer of the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan[xx] and so after his assassination in 1486, the Uesugi assumed direct control of the castle[xxi]. However the castle was of little importance to their clan and so it seems to have been lightly defended – if defended at all. And so, when the Hōjō came into the region, Edo Castle[xxii] fell easily in 1524[xxiii] and one of the generals who followed the Hōjō into Edo was our new friend, Kira Yoriyasu.

The Kira clan had controlled various fiefs in the area since 1366, and Yoriyasu was given control of Setagaya Village sometime around the attack on Edo Castle. He ruled from 世田ヶ谷城 Setagaya-jō Setagaya Castle[xxiv]. Yoriyasu’s appointment didn’t last long because the Uesugi eventually struck back and burned the castle to the ground in 1530 and Yoriyasu was transferred elsewhere[xxv]. However, in his time as the lord of Setagaya, he managed to leave behind a bit of a local legend.

The fringed orchid is often associated with Setagaya Ward because of a version of Yoriyasu's legend. Unfortunately, we're not going to go into that part of the story today.

The fringed orchid is often associated with Setagaya Ward because of a version of Yoriyasu’s legend. Unfortunately, we’re not going to go into that part of the story today.

The legend states that in the women’s quarters of Setagaya Castle, there was a lot of jealous infighting between his 正室 seishitsu legal wife and his 12 側室 sokushitsu concubines[xxvi]. On the day of birth of Yoriyasu’s first son something went terribly wrong.

As was normal for the day, the lord of the estate was out doing his do (hunting, by some accounts) when suddenly his wife went into labor alone[xxvii] – also normal for the day. Tragically, however, the boy was stillborn – meaning the Kira family line could have ended there. To avoid bad luck, the boy was enshrined at nearby 駒留八幡神社 Komadome Hachiman Jinja Komadome Hachiman Shrine. Because of this, the enshrined kami is sometimes referred to as 若宮八幡 Waka-no-miya Hachiman Young Prince Hachiman which could be interpreted as “little warrior.” At any rate, the rumor mill went into full swing that the boy had actually been smothered to death by a jealous concubine[xxviii].

The enshrinement of the stillborn son seems to have benefitted the family, as they continued to hold extensive lands until the 1590’s and the clan continued until the 元禄時代 Genroku Jidai Genroku Period, which coincided with the reign of 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi[xxix]. In the beginning of the Edo Period, the Kira clan was given 旗本 hatamoto status, ie; they became direct retainers of the shōgun family – not bad at all, but they weren’t a daimyō family as is sometimes thought. One of Yoriyasu’s descendant’s was 吉良上野介 Kira Kōzuke-no-suke[xxx] – the guy usually portrayed as the bad guy in the story of the 47 Rōnin[xxxi]. The family was disgraced and more or less dropped out of history at that point.

Oh ffs, not these clowns again???!

Oh ffs, not these clowns again???!

That’s A Neat Story, But WTF Does It Have To Do With Komadome?

Oh sorry, right. I sorta went off on a tangent there, didn’t I? Actually, the etymology of this shrine doesn’t really have much of a story behind it. It involves a certain samurai courtier of the Kamakura Shōgunate named 北条左近太郎 Hōjō Sakotarō[xxxii]. In 1308, he became a priest and wanted to establish a temple to 八幡 Hachiman the Japanese god of war[xxxiii]. This particular kami was favored by Minamoto no Yoritomo and his shōgunate and so shrines to Hachiman were very popular at this time. According to legend, Hachiman came to Sakotarō in a dream and said, “Dude, listen to your favorite horse and it will totally tell you where to enshrine me.” So he rode east from Kamakura until his exhausted horse (駒 koma) stopped (留まった tomatta) near Setagaya Village and refused to go any further. He totally realized that this was totally the spot. He immediately dismounted his unsurprisingly fatigued horse and decided to build a shrine at that spot and so the shrine is now called 駒留八幡神社 Komadome Hachiman Jinja Komadome Hachiman Shrine – the Hachiman Shrine where the horse totally stopped.

Komadome Shrine as it looks today.

Komadome Shrine as it looks today.


What does Komazawa mean?

This is the most boring place name ever – not unlike 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward[xxxiv]. 駒沢 Komazawa is an amalgamation of the surrounding places with 駒 koma horse and 沢 sawa ravine that was created in 1889 (Meiji 22) with the formation of Meguro Ward. There is another nearby but non-equine place name, 野沢 Nozawa, which features the kanji 沢 sawa. Easiest place name ever.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this article.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this article.c


Are These Etymologies True?

Your guess is as good as mine, but these all date back to the Kamakura Period and Sengoku Period which is when we first start getting reliable information from the Kantō area. This is also a time when previously existing place names get written down for the first time and transcribed into kanji. Maybe these events transpired. Maybe they didn’t. But what we can say for sure is that in this area, local legends popped up and many of them were affiliated with horses and the rising prestige of the samurai class in Kantō. In these place names we can see the areas surrounding Edo begin to blossom.


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[i] Aaaaaaaaaaaaand, once again, longtime readers know that I’ve already written about Setagaya here.
[ii] Please tell me you know who Minamoto no Yoritomo is. I’m assuming you do. But if not, check out this fine article about him at Samurai Archives.
[iii] An area in present day 岩手県 Iwate-ken Iwate Prefecture.
[iv] Fans of 源義経 Minamoto no Yoshitsune, will recognize this name. He’s the son of 藤原秀衡 Fujiwara no Hidehira who helped hide Yoshitsune when Yoritomo was trying to kill him. The Fujiwara betrayed Yoshitsune – as Fujiwara do – and it was Yasuhira who attacked Yoshitsune forcing him to kill his wife and daughter and then commit seppuku. The less dramatic version of his demise is that Yoshitsune may have just straight up been overwhelmed and was just cut down in battle by Fujiwara forces. The details of his death are disputed – and in my opinion, irrelevant.
And for those of you scratching your heads at all these names, check out this article at Samurai Archives.
[v] Presumably the Jakuzure River, or an earlier incarnation thereof.
[vi] Shōgun Yoritomo died in 1199 when he was thrown off his horse lol.
[vii] A “baddle,” if you will. (sorry, bad joke)
[viii] This kanji looks like the kanji for “child” but is actually the Chinese Zodiac sign of the rat (or mouse, whichever you prefer). That’s why the reading is ネ ne and not コ ko. Another reading is Nenogami.
[ix] Since this was a local deity in the countryside, we can assume there were tiny, almost impromptu shrines of this scattered all over the area.
[x] Another detail that seems to be in dispute: some claim Yoritomo was made shōgun by the emperor, others claim he just took the title for himself.
[xi] Obviously, this is a different horse than the one that died before the battle because… well, ghost horses hadn’t been invented yet.
[xii] There is some evidence for local worship of Nenokami. If you walk 40 minutes into nearby 目黒区 Meguro-ku Meguro Ward, there is minor shrine called 高木神社 Takagi Jinja Takagi Shrine which also houses Nenokami. In fact, the area surround Takagi Shrine was more or less “officially” called 子ノ神 Ne no Kami up until 1889 (Meiji 22). The name was abolished with the creation of Meguro Ward in 1932. I’ve also found a shrine in 川崎市 Kawasaki-shi Kawasaki City that enshrines Nenokami.
[xiii] And Kamiuma.
[xiv] 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga, 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and of course 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu. If you don’t know who these people are, get the fuck off my blog.
[xv] And Kamakura’s power doesn’t seem to have been very long lasting anyways.
[xvi] Why were they called “late?” Let me google that for you, bitch.
[xvii] For example, we don’t know when or where he was born. We know his legal wife was the daughter of Hōjō Ujitsuna but we don’t know his name. We know he had legitimate male heirs, but he adopted a son and made him head of the Kira Family… but we don’t know why. These early years of the Sengoku Period are very messy.
[xviii] Actually Kira Yoriyasu’s original name was 吉良頼貞 Kira Yorisada. He received the kanji 康 yasu from Hōjō Ujiyasu.
[xix] The Tokugawa Shōgunate considered the massive fortification and new moat system the birth of Edo Castle.
[xx] This particular branch of the Uesugi were the 扇谷上杉家 Ōgigayatsu Uesugi, if you’re into that sort of thing.
[xxi] Technically speaking, the castle was Uesugi property and Dōkan was merely supervising it for them.
[xxii] Also called 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle back in those days.
[xxiii] Please read more about the Late Hōjō here at Samurai Archives.
[xxiv] Let’s use the term “castle” loosely here and think of it more as a fortified noble residence on a hill. The estate (or castle) didn’t survive the fall of the Hōjō and the coming of the Tokugawa. And if you’re in Tōkyō now and saying to yourself, “Whaaaaaa?? There’s a Japanese castle in Setagaya?” then by all means, go and  read this page about it at – your one stop shop for all your Japanese castle needs.
[xxv] Even if he held the “castle” for 5 years, I’m guessing that’s a pretty good run at that time.
[xxvi] The name 常盤 Tokiwa is often cited as both wife and concubine but the historical record is ambiguous. Also, there are several variations of this story. If you’d like to read more about it, I actually tracked down a guy who translated 3 variations into English here.
[xxvii] ie; not really alone, but not with Yoriyasu. She would have been in the women’s quarters of the fort – most definitely surrounded by the other women. The “joy of birth” wasn’t something often enjoyed together in feudal Japan.
[xxviii] Or by some accounts, a concubine bore the child and the jealous wife murdered it.
[xxix] The 5th Tokugawa shōgun.
[xxx] Kōsuke-no-suke is actually his court title; his real name was 吉良義央 Kira Yoshihisa.
[xxxi] Longtime readers know my opinion of this story.
[xxxii] I’m not sure about the reading of his given name. Also this dude is a “real Hōjō,” not a “Late Hōjō” of the Sengoku Period who adopted the name.
[xxxiii] Calling him “the Japanese god of war” is a bit of simplification, but you can read more about Hachiman here.
[xxxiv] Which, of course, you know I’ve already written about here.

What does Setagaya mean?

In Japanese History on July 8, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Setagaya (Valley of the Eternal Rice Paddy)

All of Setagaya looks like this.  Every last bit of it. And they have flying monkeys too...

All of Setagaya looks like this.
Every last bit of it.
And they have flying monkeys too…

This place name is ancient. So take all of this with a grain of salt. But the generally accepted theory is as follows.

瀬戸 seto usually means a strait, as in the Strait of Gibraltar[i], but in Old Japanese, it could also be applied to 谷地 yachi a narrow marsh in a valley. In the old dialect of the area, it’s said that word seto was pronounced seta and written 瀬田 seta. Old Japanese had two possessive particles. Modern Japanese uses の no, but Old Japanese also used が ga. It survives in place names all over the country, the most famous being 関ヶ原 Sekigahara[ii], which literally means “the checkpoint gatehouse’s prairie/field.” Thus 瀬田ヶ谷 seta ga ya meant something like 瀬田の谷地 seta no yachi “the narrow marsh in the valley’s narrow marsh in the valley,” which I would have said was a totally ridiculous name, if they had asked me. But they didn’t.

Eventually, the first kanji was swapped out with 世 se “generation, world” because it’s an auspicious character. 世田 sounds like rice paddies that are bountiful forever, hence my translation of “Valley of the Eternal Rice Paddy.” Also, is a standard ateji character. It was so common in phonetic renderings that the shorthand form of became katakana セ se.

The first attestation of the name is in 1376 as 世田谷郷 Setagaya-gō Setagaya Hamlet. By the Edo Period, the town was listed as 世田谷村 Setagaya Mura Setagaya Village and this name lasted until the Meiji Era. In the Edo Period it was not part of the city of Edo, but of 荏原郡 Ebara-gun Ebara District of 武蔵国 Musashi no kuni Musashi Province[iii]. In 1871, when the 廃藩置県 haihan-chiken[iv] the abolition of domain and establishment of prefectures was enacted, the eastern section of what is now Setagaya Ward was absorbed into 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City within 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō Prefecture. In 1936, the boundaries of present day Setagaya Ward were pretty much fixed. It became a special ward of the newly created Tōkyō Metropolis in 1946 and lived happily ever after.

Maneki Neko

Maneki Neko

Oh wait, I forgot something kinda cool.

So that cat is called 招キ猫 maneki neko, it’s kind of a good look charm for businesses in Japan. 招く maneku means to invite or beckon and 猫 neko means cat[v]. There are a few origin stories for this good luck charm. One involves Setagaya Ward.

The story goes that once upon a time, there was an impoverished temple called 豪徳寺 Gōtoku-ji. Even though the head priest of the temple had barely enough food for himself, he took in a white stray cat and cared for him. Nice guy.

The temple isn't impoverished anymore.  They have a huge market share of the crappy cat statue market in Tokyo.

The temple isn’t impoverished anymore.
They have captured a huge share of the crappy cat statue market in Tokyo.

According to the legend, the daimyō of Hikone Domain, Ii Naotaka[vi], a contemporary of Tokugawa Ieyasu and Hidetada, was passing through Setagaya Village with his entourage as a storm was coming up. As Naotaka’s group passed by the temple, the daimyō noticed the white cat beckoning them to enter the temple precinct. As it was totally about to rain, he and his group commandeered the temple for shelter. It started raining and maybe some lightning struck somewhere and, you know, some legend shit happened. I dunno, maybe it was a crazy storm.

Naotaka was thankful for being able to take shelter at the temple. As a result he requested to make the temple the Ii clan’s 菩提寺 bodai-ji funerary temple in Edo and the family made endowments to the temple and basically just made it rain[vii] on them throughout the Edo Period. As a result the family of the priest attributed the family/temple’s good luck to the white cat[viii]. And they found another awesome way to make money. They  started selling little white cats and telling people that if you buy this little white cat, a hereditary daimyō  might pass by your place and start throwing money at you for 2 and a half centuries. Well, anything’s possible, right?

The Grave of Ii Naosuke, one of the best dudes the late shogunate produced who had a really bad day on March 24, 1860.

The Grave of Ii Naosuke, one of the best dudes the late shogunate produced who had a really bad day on March 24, 1860.

Anyhoo, whatever you think of this story, the Ii clan was definitely a major patron of the club, err, I mean temple. The place is definitely in Setagaya Ward. The temple plays up the maneki neko story and the characters is known far and wide. Even in the ancestral Ii lands based around Hikone Castle, they use a cat character called Hikonyan, a reference to the maneki neko legend.

[i] I don’t know why I gave this example. After all, there are perfectly good Japanese examples.

[ii] As in the Battle of Sekigahara which secured Tokugawa Ieyasu’s position of dominance over Japan. This set the stage for him being granted the title 征夷大将軍 sei-i taishōgun, commander-in-chief of the expeditionary forces against the eastern barbarians, as they say.

[iii] See my article on Shimo-Kitazawa for another passing reference.

[iv] Not to be confused with the 廃藩痴漢 haihan chikan the public groping abolition of domains.

[v] It’s also slang for a “submissive” male homosexual.

[vi] I don’t want to get side tracked, but he is the illustrious ancestor of the no-less illustrious Ii Naosuke who was the regent of the clown shōgun, Tokugawa Iesada.

[vii] Make it rain. If you haven’t experienced this, then (a) you’re not a stripper or (b) you’re not rich or (c) you haven’t lived your life vicariously through rich people and strippers like me.

[viii] Because religious people love to thank imaginary shit instead of the people who actually help them.

What does Takaido mean?

In Japanese History on May 29, 2019 at 2:44 am

(close to “High Well”)

takaido station

So the other day, I was looking through my Twitter and Instagram accounts. I got into some arguments on Twitter[i], then clicked “like” on some pretty pictures on Instagram[ii]. Soon I noticed a DM from a model I follow[iii] and thought, “well, that’s unusual.” Then I realized it was for an event in the west side of Tōkyō. My first six years in Japan were spent in the city’s west side, but for the last 10 years or so I’ve had very little reason to go there unless it was work related. When I looked at the details of the venue and what sort of hijinks were planned, I realized it was a party of an, um, shall we say “sexy” nature. In short, I don’t usually get invited to fetish parties, but when I do, I always check the etymology of the place name. I mean, ffs, knowledge is power. Right?

takaido sakura

Two Topics for the Price of One

As you can tell by the title of the article, our main topic today is, of course, 高井戸 Takaido. However, Takaido is located in 東京都杉並区 Tōkyō-to Suginami-ku Suginami Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis. The name of Suginami Ward is pretty simple to explain, but in my humble opinion, Takaido has a much more interesting history, so I thought I’d try to tackle both[iv]. Those of you who support the site on Patreon or by other means are probably jumping for joy[v]. And I hope so, because I love you.


So, What does Takaido mean?

taka-, –daka;
high, tall

i; sei, shō

to, –do; he
opening, door

The first kanji 高 takai means “high.” The second two kanji make the word 井戸 ido, the standard word for “well.” One theory says that there used to be a fresh water well next to an unnamed temple or shrine located on the high ground. This would make this place name’s meaning タカイド taka ido high well. However, without any specific references to a shrine or temple or even a “high location,” this is a pretty bland origin story. I’d say at best this is a folk etymology[vi].

A more refined version of that theory also exists. It says that we should separate the kanji differently and read it as タカイド takai do high “do.” This posits that the sound ド do is a contraction of 堂 dō a Buddhist hall[vii]. According to this theory, the name is a reference to the 高井家 Takai-ke Takai clan who served as priests at 神宮寺 Jingū-ji – popularly called 高井堂 Takai-dō – which leads a little credence to the previously mentioned hypothesis, except that Jingū-ji doesn’t exist[viii]. Actually, a temple of that name never existed in the area. You see, this is just a generic term used for temples and shrines before Shintō and Buddhism were officially separated in 1868[ix]. That said, another temple whose full name is 高井山本覚院 Takaisan Honkaku-in Mt. Takai Honkaku Temple is still very much alive and well, sitting pretty on 高井山 Takai-yama[x] Takai Hill[xi].

The name Takaido doesn’t appear in records until the 1530’s, when this part of Kantō was very rural and not very well connected with the enlightened imperial capital in the west[xii]. At this time, the place name is clearly written as Takaido not Takai-dō, but it appears people were already speculating about the origins of the village name. Furthermore, supposedly Honkaku-in was home to the graves of 15 generations of Takai family members who served as priests[xiii]. If this connection can be believed, the term Takai-dō is probably a reference to a special funerary hall where the family, its retainers, and others could express their devotion at regular memorial services to the ancestors of the Takai clan in the Buddhist tradition.

takai grave

A Takai family grave…

I know I said the first etymology about a well on the high ground next to an unnamed temple reeked of folk etymology. And yes, I said that, but now we have more information and we know that 15 generations of the Takai clan did exist in this rural area up till the 1500’s[xiv], which firmly puts the beginning of family activity in the region in the 1300’s, when Kantō was even more wild and more detached from the record keeping we associate with strong centers of government[xv].

Long time readers will remember that as families extended outward from the main imperial court noble clans, they took on the names of their local fiefs. A good regional example is 江戸氏 Edo-shi the Edo clan[xvi]. This wasn’t just an outward expression of their control over an area but reflected their legitimate desire to embrace or integrate into the local culture – or at least be perceived as doing so in the beginning. If we take ancient, pre-Sengoku Period adoption of place names by cadet warrior branches of elite imperial clans as a norm, the first theory I said was merely folk etymology starts to make a little more sense. At the heart of that etymology was the idea that a well existed at the top of hill (高い山 takai yama). If we go outside of the evidence, we could assume that a well existed on a place called Mt. Takai, because the people living there would have needed to get their water from somewhere.

If Takai is literally 高井 takai high well (without the extra steps), the story seems solved. The Takai clan took their name from an area called Takai (doesn’t matter if it was Takaido or Takai-yama). But that leaves us in the 1530’s when people first started asking questions about this. If you go even further back, we’re literally in prehistory – ie; pre-literate society that wasn’t recording its history in written form. I’ve looked for some 蝦夷 Emishi/アイヌ Ainu precursors, but I don’t think those people ventured this far inland until the coming of the 弥生 Yayoi culture which made living in these obscure, inhospitable lands viable without wet rice agriculture. So, if we have to use our friend Occam’s Razor, I think the folk etymology sums up the question in a sound bite, but the longer explanations give it some legitimacy it wouldn’t normally deserve.


OK, let’s tidy up  this bitch.

So, Where Are We??

That’s a really good question. We don’t have a great deal of information on this part of the country until the 1600’s, but for most of its history it was happy to be known as 武蔵国多磨郡高井戸村 Mushashi no Kuni Tamagawa-gun Takaido Mura Takaido Village, Tamagawa District, Mushashi Province. It was getting along just fine as an agricultural nobody in the great Kantō Plain. Some major roads developed to facilitate local trade, but all of that would change when our good friend 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu took up residence in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle in 1598. From this time on, minor road networks were integrated into a vast and well-developed highway system. Soon, this area became home to 高井戸宿 Takaido-shuku Takaido Post Town, second post town on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway[xvii]. Today, it’s located in 東京都杉並区高井戸 Tōkyō-to Suginami-ku Takaidō Takaidō, Suginami Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis, but originally it was actually a loosely organized post town that combined the villages of 上高井戸村 Kami-Takaido Upper Takaido and 下高井戸村 Shimo-Takaido Lower Takaido[xviii].

Further Reading:

showa 2 takaido 1927

In 1927, Takaido was only slightly more impressive than its Edo Period self. Still the boonies.

Characteristics of Takaido-shuku

Being a particularly nerdy guy, I’ve found myself fascinated by the post town systems[xix] of Edo Period Japan because of their superficial uniformity, but once you scrape beneath the surface, it becomes clear these well-regulated networks were fairly unique from the larger nature of the roads themselves to the amenities and services provided in individual villages. Takaido was located on a road mostly traveled by merchants and pilgrims. Because 大名 daimyō feudal lord traffic was scarce on this stretch of the Kōshū Kaidō, a simple 本陣 honjin suitable inn for a daimyō[xx] was maintained in Lower Takaido and there was never a need for a 脇本陣 waki-honjin sub-honjin[xxi]. Interestingly, if you were to walk into Edo, the next post town was at the intersection of the Kōshū Kaidō and 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō Ōme Highway, which was 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku, a post town that uncharacteristically lacked both a honjin and waki-honjin. It is assumed that this close to Edo[xxii], a daimyō would just proceed to his local palace. If he stopped off in Takaido, it would have only been for a meal, to get fresh day labor to help carrying heavy items, or to possibly do a little drinking and whoring, as one does[xxiii]. The 鎌倉街道 Kamakura Kaidō Kamakura Highway also passed through this area, so if accommodations weren’t available on that route, overflow could be diverted to Takaido. So, in short, Takaido was a minor post town in the grand scheme of things. That said, it had plenty of resources to accommodate local merchant traffic but was fairly prepared to accommodate daimyō and shōgunate officials when lodging wasn’t available at major rest stops.

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei™ is ready to drop some knowledge.

What does Suginami mean?

OK, so I promised you a two for one and I’m fully committed to following through with that obligation. As we talked about earlier, Takaido is located in modern Suginami Ward. There was a reason I decided to smoosh these two place names into one. To be honest, I just wanted to write an article about Suginami, but it was so simple that I thought it would be better to skip that article. That said, here we are. We now know what Takaido means and Suginami takes a fraction of the brain power of that mess, so let’s dive into it. Awwwwww yeah.

gay japanese cedar tree

Let’s talk about trees, baby. Let’s talk about you and me.

Let’s Look at the Kanji

cedar trees

line, queue

I’m not going to bury the lead on this one. The name quite literally means “rows of cedar trees.” And while this might seem really mundane and boring, it’s actually a great illustration of one of the most practical policies promulgated by the Tokugawa Shōgunate: that is, planting trees for shade. The government actually ordered local lords or village headmen to plant trees so travelers could walk without being full exposed to the miserable heat of the sun in the humid months[xxiv]. It’s goddamn brilliant!


A typical cedar-lined highway…

From an administrative standpoint, this area was 天領 tenryō a territory directly controlled by the shōgunate in Edo. Various families oversaw the area, but one of the tasks required of them were the planting and maintenance of cedar trees between 成宗村 Narimune Mura Narimune Village and 田端村 Tabata Mura Tabata Village on the Kōshū Kaidō. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the ways the Tokugawa Shōgunate brilliantly made the highway network better was by ordering local lords or elites to plant cedar trees along the roads to provide shade for weary travelers walking such long distances. In this case, it seems like the burden fell hardest upon the 岡部氏 Okabe-shi Okabe clan who apparently did a bang-up job uniting the villages of Narimune and Tabata. This stretch of road was so famous among locals that they came to refer to it as 杉並 suginami the rows of cedar trees. This stretch of cedar trees was so noticeable that the entire unremarkable area came to be known as Suginami.

cedar tree japan

Cedars as far as the I can see… until modern times.

Herein lies a bit of mystery. What happened to the rows of cedar trees? Well, after the fall of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, history fans know that the next era was the 明治時代 Meiji Jidai Meiji Period, a time of “enlightened government” that modernized Japan and imported western approaches to government, science, and historical research. What few people acknowledge is that the Meiji government often tried to downright erase from popular memory the great achievements of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The introduction of steam locomotives eliminated the need for walkable highway networks but didn’t eliminate the need for many of the post towns along the way. Lucky post towns got train stations and modernized. It’s during this Meiji Period crisis of conscience that the cedar trees were lost[xxv]. Train stations were built in this area in the 1920’s and 1930’s, and as villages expanded into suburban centers and as rail networks built up the walkable pre-modern highways were overrun and most of the trees were felled in the name of modernization. So yeah. Bye bye, trees. Don’t let the concrete streets and western metal doors hit your ass on the way out.

setagaya 1945

This 1945 shot of a street in nearby Setagaya is probably what Suginami looked like at the same time.

In the Modern Era

In Meiji 22 (1889), all the villages surrounding the stretch of road known locally as the suginami were combined into a new administrative district of 東京市杉並村 Tōkyō-shi Suginami Mura Suginami Ward, Tōkyō City and before long came to be called 杉並町 Suginami Machi Suginami Town. After 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake, a lot of writers and scholars fled the burnt out 下町 shitamachi crowded low city of Edo-Tōkyō and made their way to the cheap, burgeoning suburbs and gentrified this rural no man’s land to lay the foundations of what would become to this day one of the last Bohemian party towns of the capital. Eventually, in 1932, this area was incorporated as 杉並区 Suginami-ku Suginami Ward and it looked nothing like its Edo Period past. In fact, if you visit Suginami Ward today, or Takaido, for that matter, you’ll see very little that harks back to its Edo Period agrarian roots. No offense to Takaido, but it’s one of those places you’d never go. That said, if there’s a reader who can prove me wrong, please do so!


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As one does.
[ii] As one does.
[iii] Full disclosure, I pretty much only follow geisha, maiko, models, and AV girls on Instagram. If I follow you and you don’t fall into those categories, consider yourself special.
[iv] If you’re a huge fan of the etymology of Suginami, brace yourself for a Takaido-oriented article. Feel free to start your own I just checked. It’s available and cheap. Go for it!
[v] The rest of you freeloaders pillaging my site for Wikipedia edits and your cheesy “journalism” articles, you can all suck a bag of my supporters’ dicks. Yes, a whole bag.
[vi] But, just wait. I’m not discounting this theory altogether yet…
[vii] It can also refer to Shintō structures as well, as Japanese religion is generally syncretic.
[viii] There exists an apartment building in the area called 神宮寺 Jingūji Biru Jingū Bldg.
[ix] I’m not gonna rehash this discussion, but if you’re curious, here’s what Wiki says about it.
[x] The kanji for mountain or hill is and can be read in native Japanese as yama, but in this case we need to use the Chinese reading san because… well, because Buddhism. See the next footnote.
[xi] Buddhist temples in Japan have a particular naming convention. They usually follow the pattern of 山号 sangō + 寺号  jigō or 山号 sangō + 院号 ingō. Without going into specifics, these roughly translate as “mountain name” + “temple name.” The difference between jigō and ingō is basically main temple and sub-temple (but, again, I’m simplifying things here). To illustrate, Takai-yama Honkaku-in Mt. Takai (mountain name) Honkaku Temple (temple name) indicates a kind of sub-temple or monastery.
[xii] Read: the records suck because literacy was pretty low in the boonies. Also, the “enlightened capital” of which I’m speaking is 京都 Kyōto, but you already knew that.}[xiii] Over the years, it seems some of these graves have been moved to a 無念塚 munen-zuka a mass grave where Buddhist priests pray for the souls of those whose family lines have gone extinct or have no family paying for the maintenance of their graves. Yes, Buddhism sounds all philosophical and shit, but at its most practical level, it’s a funerary racket.
[xiv] At least!!!
[xv] Remember, at this time the 室町幕府 Muromachi Bakufu Muromachi Shōgunate was in control and based in Kyōto. Also remember, that this was the lamest shōgunate ever. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact, jack.
[xvi] Oh, and do I have an article for you.
[xvii] The first post town on the way out of Edo was 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku. BTW, I think I have an article about that.
[xviii] The 上 kami– upper and 下 shimo– lower are references to the upstream and downstream geographic locations along the 玉川上水 Tamagawa Jōsui Tamagawa Aqueduct. Although Takaido-shuku generally refers to a single post town, the shōgunate assigned to official designations: Upper Takaido and Lower Takaido.
[xix] I say “systems” and not “system” because every time I visit a new post town, I realized how decentralized the network actually was.
[xx] Honjin were reserved for daimyō, but when vacant they prioritized shōgunate official and ambassadors from the imperial court.
[xxi] Waki-honjin prioritized daimyo but were available to any samurai or high-ranking commoner of means – this usually meant wealthy merchants.
[xxii] From this route, the official city limit was 四谷大木戸 Yotsuya Ōkido the Great Yotsuya Gate.
[xxiii] All that walking makes a brutha wanna get his dick sucked. Believe me. I walk a lot.
[xxiv] Remember, travelers of sufficient rank were dressed in 着物 kimono, not the best thing to wear during a hot and humid Japanese summer. Day laborers might just wear 褌 fundoshi which were essentially just underwear and so while that’s much more comfortable, they’d be exposed to awful amounts of direct sunshine and heat if there were no trees planted for shade.
[xxv] In fact, there isn’t a solid consensus about where the trees were. The Kōshū Kaidō didn’t link these villages, so it may have been a short-cut that locals used or long-distance travelers used to get to other villages.

Kura – All About Japanese Storehouses

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

kura (storehouse, warehouse)


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.


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.


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.


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 Kanda mean?

In #rivered, Japanese History, Travel in Japan on August 23, 2017 at 5:54 am

Kanda (holy rice paddies, Batman!)

What does Kanda mean?
(Short Version)

神田 Kanda means something like “holy rice field” or “field of the gods.” You can find places all over Japan that use the same characters (with various pronunciations) that derive from this meaning. In short, these place names are references to special agricultural spaces which originally produced food for shrines connected to the imperial court during the Nara Period. These holy fields were technically tax exempt as they usually had to only send the first harvest to the court. The rest was profit. The court then used the produce as currency to fund the maintenance of the shrines they deemed most important. In the case of Edo-Tōkyō, this place name is generally associated with a religious complex called 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine[i].

There are three 神 kami deities[ii] enshrined at Kanda Myōjin. All three are earthly kami[iii], though the first two enshrinements are gods included in the earliest recorded creation and foundation myths. The third and final enshrinement was so beloved by locals in Kantō (Eastern Japan) that he subsumed the popularity of the original kami until the Meiji Coup in 1868[iv].

Ōkuninushi no Mikoto

An earthly kami who handed over control of the world to the heavenly kami who were ancestors of the imperial family and the original court. He was blended with a Buddhist kami, Daitokuten.

Ōnamuchi no Mikoto

This kami, who may or may not be the same as Ōkuninushi, was involved in the transfer of earthly lands to the control of the imperial family.

Taira no Masakado no Mikoto

A Kantō-based samurai who revolted against the imperial family in the 900’s. His attempt to secede failed, but the locals saw him as a hero defending the east’s cultural difference from the west[v]. After the Meiji Coup, he was de-enshrined, only to be re-enshrined after WWII[vi].



Ōkuninushi, Ōnamuchi, Daikokuten – many names, basically the same kami.

What does Kanda mean?
(Hardcore Version)

Today we’re looking at a place name that I’ve wanted to write about since 2013. At that time, my pieces were more short form blog posts. Obviously, things have gotten more long form and “article-like” since then, yet every time I went back to visit the subject of Kanda, it just seemed too convoluted. I couldn’t figure out a way to present the material in a coherent way. Long time readers will remember when I “got riverred” doing a series on seven great waterways of Edo[vii]. I didn’t want that to happen again.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit that as far as place names go, Kanda seems as superficially straightforward as they come. However, the truth is complex as fuck. It requires a solid knowledge of geography – not just of Edo-Tōkyō, but all of Japan. It also requires a strong understanding of Japanese mythology[viii], religion[ix], and the economic system of the Nara Period[x].

I tried to keep things concise, but after 11 pages of text, it became clear that I should divide the topic into two parts. Even after that, the article got longer and longer. Long time readers will know what you’re in store for. New readers, welcome aboard. Help us batten down the hatches. Every article on JapanThis! sails through rough waters.

Anyhoo, let’s get back to the topic at hand (and be prepared for lots of tables).

kanda map
Where is Kanda?

First of all, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with this: in Tōkyō today there is no official place name Kanda. After WWII, in 1947 the former 神田区 Kanda-ku Kanda Ward and 麹町区 Kōjimachi-ku Kōjimachi Ward were combined to make modern 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward. Now, don’t think Kanda just disappeared off the map completely. A few postal addresses actually still exist. For example, 外神田 Soto-Kanda is where 秋葉原駅 Akihabara Eki Akihabara Station is located, and 神田錦町 Kanda Nishiki-chō Kanda Nishiki Town is still part of 日本橋 Nihonbashi.

But in short, the area from modern 大手町 Ōtemachi to 駿河台 Surugadai (originally 神田山 Kanda-yama Mt. Kanda)[xi] was called 神田 Kanda in general. This changed over the centuries, but for our purposes today, this is good enough. That was Kanda and you can see it originally referred to a large and relatively vague area[xii].

kanda myojin mountain side

Apparently, the view from Kanda Shrine used to be pretty good and this stairway used to be hella effed up. I’m not sure what part of the shrine this depicts, but I guess it’s from the opposite point of view of Hokusai’s painting posted above.

This is a very informal rule of thumb, but if I look at a modern map, I tend to think of Kanda as the area stretching from Kanda Station to Akihabara Station to Ochanomizu Station. However, prior to the Edo Period, the area from 大手町 Ōtemachi[xiii] to Kanda Station could be considered Kanda. What changed was the building of the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui Kanda Aqueduct. With that, the name Kanda moved farther away from the castle along the waterway into the generic area of Tōkyō that we call Kanda today.

Further Reading:



Main gate of Kanda Shrine. Impressive.

So, what the hell does Kanda mean?

Well, I already told you at the beginning of this article. Are you saying that isn’t enough? Are you saying you want more? Are you a glutton for this shit?

Of course, you are.
You wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t.

So, let’s roll up our sleeves, cuz we’re about to get knee deep in all kinds of muck and mire. This is a messy swamp of history, mythology, and linguistics. You ready to hold your nose and get down and dirty?

If that’s a yes, then let’s do this.


First, Let’s Look at some Kanji

kami, shin/-jin

deity (kami)

ta/da, den

planted field (usually rice)


bright, enlightened; fucking obvious

miya, –

divine descendant of a heavenly kami; relative of the imperial family; imperial prince/princess

na, mei

name; well known; apparent/obvious

And, Here are 2 Words Ya Best Know, Son.

kanda, shinden

literally, “god field”

mita, o-den

literally, “honorable field” – nuance is more at “field owned by a ruler”[xv] or “field owned by a god”


Now, Let’s Look at a Brief History of the Shrine

OK, so… I know this is gonna be a little annoying, but bear with me a bit more on the timeline. We need some historical framework before we can go any farther. Also, it will be good to have all of these charts to refer back some time… you know, when you need to refer back them for some reason…

Nara Period

An ancient court clan from 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province establishes a shrine in 武蔵国豊嶋郡芝崎村 Musashi no Kuni Shibazaki Mura Shibazaki Village, Mushashi Province. The shrine is called 神田ノ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine and by orders of the imperial court in 平城京 Heijō-kyō[xvi], it is responsible for providing rice to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine.

Heian Period

Taira no Masakado, a belligerent Kantō-based samurai (east), takes over hostile fiefs on his borders. When the imperial court (west) demands submission, he says “fuck no!” and goes rogue. Samurai armies loyal to the imperial court in Kyōto (west), are ordered to suppress his rebellion.

Heian Period

Masakado is killed in battle. His in-house biographers portray him as a hero of the Kantō region and Eastern Japan[xvii]. According to legend, Masakado’s head flies back to the East and rests at Shibazaki Village where a burial mound is made for him near Kanda no Miya.

Kamakura Period
(end of Heian Period)

源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo is appointed 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun shogun[xviii] and becomes the first samurai government to rule Japan (thus achieving what Masakado couldn’t). He rules safely (but briefly[xix]) from his capital in Kamakura (also in Kantō). The system of court control over shrines and their fields is disrupted.

End of Kamakura Period

Masakado is enshrined at Kanda no Miya as a kind of local hero, he soon becomes the de factō principal kami[xx]. It’s around this time Shibazaki Village is renamed Kanda Village.

Sengoku Period

徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu formally takes control of Edo Castle.

Edo Period

Tokugawa Ieyasu is granted the title 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun shōgun. When 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle is expanded in 1603, Kanda no Miya is moved to the 神田台 Kanda-dai Kanda Plateau in order to make room for the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon the grand entrance of the castle and a new neighborhood of samurai and high-ranking merchants and artisans in 大手町 Ōtemachi, literally “main gate town.” Because of mysterious deaths and superstitions surrounding Masakado’s burial mound, his enshrinement at Kanda no Miya is considered adequate for the protection of Edo, but the burial mound is left in sitū so as not to disturb his spirit, in hopes that he will protect the castle and the samurai who come and go through the main gate, including the shōgun himself. Also, 江戸神社 Edo Jinja Edo Shrine, which was located on the castle grounds since the time of 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan, is moved to the shrine precincts[xxi].

Edo Period

The shrine is moved to its current location when the Tokugawa Shōgunate reorganized parts of the city. Although it seems very urban today, until the post-WWII period, this area was wooded and considered very 山手 yamanote high city. During the Edo Period the shrine came to be called Kanda Myōjin. The new name reflected the Buddhist philosophy of the samurai class and distanced itself from the ancient imperial court traditions.

Edo Period

The 5th shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, relocated a Confucian school next to Kanda Shrine called 湯島聖堂 Yushima Seidō Yushima Hall of Wise Men[xxii]. The shrine and temple were closely connected until 1868 when the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei Separation of Kami and Buddhas Edict was decreed. However, Yushima Seidō still has an entrance called 明神門 Myōjin Mon Kanda Shrine Gate where people could easily come and go between the temple and shrine.

Meiji Period

Taira no Masakado was de-enshrined because he was seen as a rebel against the authority of the imperial family and he offended the sensitivities of the delicate snowflake known as the Meiji Emperor who had just moved into Edo Castle – newly renamed 東京城 Tōkyō-jō Tōkyō Castle.

Shōwa Period


Because of his local popularity and the constitutional guarantee of separation of religion and government in Article 20 of the Constitution of Japan, Masakado was re-enshrined. This move was made roughly 30 years after end of WWII, presumably because the political climate was such that the anti-imperial connection was more or less lost on the general public and the concept of a divine emperor had been lying in the trash bin of history for three decades.
kanda myojin yushima seido hokusai

In the left background, you can see Yushima Seidō and its stone walls (still extant), in the right foreground, Kanda Myōjin. Thanks, Hokusai-dono.

The Five Great Etymologies

OK, so there are 5 basic theories about the origin of the place name Kanda. All of them, except for two, are related to the shrine, Kanda Myōjin – or Kanda no Miya (as it was also known). I’m going to list the theories, and then I’m going to break them all down.


Map of Edo-Tokyo in the paleolithic era. No wonder rivers are so crucial to the development of the city.

1. The Kami no To Theory

This theory states that Kanda is a contraction of 神田 Kamida, which itself is a corruption of 神ノ戸 kami no to. The idea is based on a possible etymology of 江戸 Edo which postulates that the city got its name from 江ノ戸 e no to “door to the estuary,” a reference to the hamlet’s location on the bay[xxiii]. Proponents of this theory point at the city of 神戸 Kōbe, claiming that it derives from 神ノ戸 kami no he “door to the kami” (contracted as Kanbe or Kōbe) due the presence of 生田神社 Ikuta Jinja Ikuta Shrine[xxiv] near the bay. The original location of Kanda no Miya was very near the bay before it was moved in the Edo Period. In fact, the former place name of this area was 芝崎 Shibazaki which literally means grassy cape, a clear indication that it was on the water.

While I find the similarities between Kōbe and Edo intriguing, I’m not sure if I’m onboard with kami no to breaking down to Kanda. It’s not unimaginable[xxv], but I think there are more convincing etymologies.

ise shrin

Ise Grand Shrine

2. The Kamida Theory

This is the most straight forward hypothesis. It states the name literally derives from 神ノ田 kami no tanbo sacred rice field or rice field of the kami. As I mentioned earlier, at the time Kanda no Miya was founded, shrines were expected to send 初穂 hatsuho the first harvest[xxvi] as an offering to a major shrine associated with the imperial court. In this case, the first harvest went to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine. These fields were in an area that sits roughly between the original location of Kanda no Miya and the modern location of Kanda Shrine[xxvii]. As a phrase, 神ノ田 would be read “kami no tanbo,” but as a place name it would be written 神田kamida,” which then could easily be contracted to Kanda. There are hundreds of place names throughout Japan written with the same kanji, and while their readings may differ, the etymology is generally the same. A change from /kamida/ to /kaɴda/ is quite plausible and, surprisingly, preserves the same number of mōræ of the original[xxviii].


Michi no Omi no Mikoto, a male version of the Empress Jingū, is one of the three great war gods of Japan. The Ōtomo clan, very closely tied to the ancient imperial court, claimed descent from this particular kami.

3. The Kanda Clan Theory

This theory is related to the last one, but it gets a little more political. While the foundation of Kanda no Miya dates back to historical times, it dates back to a time when eastern Japan was a fucking backwater and records are scant to say the least. While we don’t know exactly who established the shrine, a little knowledge of Nara Period court bureaucracy may shine a bit of light on the issue.

A few high-ranking clans in the imperial court were given the title 神田宿禰 kanda no sukune lords of the fields of the kami[xxix]. Many branch families and descendants from clans that held this hereditary title eventually came to use the characters 神田 as a surname, adopting a range of regional variations, including Kanda. One of the most ancient and elite families to bear the title kanda no sukune was the 大伴氏 Ōtomo-shi Ōtomo clan from 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province[xxx]. If you remember from the beginning of the article, the original kami enshrined at Kanda no Miya were two earthly gods from Izumo who play major roles in the earliest written histories of Japan.

I’ll talk more about this clan later.


Taira no Masakado was one bad muthafucka. Sadly, his life ended without his head. Happily, his story lives on… and is pretty much all about his head.

4. The Taira no Masakado Did it Theory

Again, if you’ll refer to the list of kami enshrined here and the historical timeline, you’ll recall that in 940, a samurai by the name of Taira no Masakado was killed in battle during his uprising against the imperial court. Scholars debate the motivation for Masakado’s so-called “revolt,” but one thing is certain: the people of the Kantō Area, and the area near Edo in particular, latched on to him as a kind of folk hero. He stood up against a western court that they thought lorded power over them. According to legend, Masakado’s decapitated head was reanimated and fled the imperial court of Kyōto to return to his beloved Kantō. His spirit was then enshrined as Masakado no Taira no Mikoto. This theory states that the name Kanda is a corruption of 躯 karada corpse[xxxi]. A change from /kaɾada/ to /kaɴda/ is quite plausible and, surprisingly, preserves the same number of mōræ of the original[xxxii].


Kofun Period Fashion™

5. The Fuck It, Nobody Knows Theory

This sort of theory, like all ancient place names is a last resort when all other etymologies fail. This is the diachronic linguistics version of the God of the Gaps. In short, if we can’t prove anything with historical records and can’t come up with satisfactory hypotheses, there’s a chance that the name may be hiding in proto-history. That is to say, Kanda may be a vestige of pre-literate Japan. People superimposed kanji on locally existing place names that may reflect an unrecorded Jōmon (Emishi/Ainu) place name or an unrecorded Yayoi/Kofun period dialect. In such cases, the kanji is considered 当て字 ateji, or characters used for phonetic values rather than meaning.

show me what you got-2
So, What do I Think?

Today we have such a complicated mess, I hope you can understand why I’ve hesitated to tackle this subject for so many years. I started this article but it rapidly got out of control.

First of all, I think the first theory which relates the etymology of Kōbe and Edo to Kanda is a bit of a stretch. If anything, it illustrates a fascinating link between the naming of Kōbe[xxxiii] and Edo[xxxiv], but it doesn’t do shit to explain Kanda, in my opinion. It’s an interesting pattern, and we see many place names (and subsequent family names) in the 東北地方 Tōhoku Chihō Tōhoku Region that are clearly derived from this model[xxxv]. However, applying it to Kanda doesn’t make any sense.

Secondly, the “Fuck It, Nobody Knows” theory is one that we can’t really prove one way or the other[xxxvi]. If we had some Ainu words suggested, then maybe we could make some kind of conjecture, but I couldn’t find any ideas tossed out there. Furthermore, we have a pretty nice linguistic sandbox to play in if we combine the remaining theories.


The Sandbox

So…, we know the original name of the shrine was Kanda no Miya. This name is somewhat ambiguous. It can mean “Imperial Shrine of Kanda” or “Imperial Shrine of the Holy Fields.” I think these are absolutely related. Imperial Shrine of Kanda (by that, I mean the Kanda clan) seems to be a reference to a branch of the Ōtomo clan, while Imperial Shrine of the Holy Fields seems to be a reference to the fields required by law for the Kanda to maintain on behalf of the court to maintain Ise Grand Shrine. We also know that the Ōtomo (and therefore the Kanda) came from Izumo Province. In my mind, it can’t be a coincidence that the kami who were originally enshrined were Ōkuninushi and Ōnamuchi – the most important deities from Izumo.

I think we’re looking at a cut and dry example of the Nara Period system of establishing shrines dedicated to the imperial cult in the outlands and I think the name of the shrine clearly reflects that. I think the presence of the “holy fields” isn’t just related to that, it reinforces that imperial connection. However, after the gradual breakdown of imperial power in the East, the Kantō Area started to feel a little more autonomous.

This autonomy was writ large on the pages of history when Taira no Masakado essentially said “fuck you” to the imperial court and went to war[xxxvii].

Sure, he lost.

Sure, he was killed.

Sure, his decapitated head was put on display.

But like they say in Game of Thrones, “the North remembers.” Well, in this case, the East remembered, and they enshrined him at Kanda no Miya in the 1300’s. It’s also around this time that the area formerly called 芝崎村 Shibazaki Mura Shibazaki Village was renamed 神田村 Kanda Mura Kanda Village.

Do I think the /kaɾada/ (body) → /kaɴda/ etymology was the main reason? No. But I do think the timing of the name change from Shibazaki to Kanda and the strength of Masakado’s fame and spectral power worked its way into local lore and folk etymology. I can’t give a “hard no” to this theory, but I think it’s very much a part of the history of this area and its cultural tapestry.

hiroshige kanda myojin

One of Utagawa Hiroshige’s takes on Kanda Shrine in the Edo Period. This time, he chose to focus on a tree.

The End… or is it?

For most people, that’s about as much as you need to know about the origins of Kanda. In fact, that’s probably more than anyone needs to know. If you stop reading now, you’re probably doing yourself a favor. But for those of you with a masochistic streak, I’d like to explore a few tangents so we can tie up a few loose knots before I wrap this bitch up.

I’ll do that in part two of this article, which is pretty much complete as you’re reading this. I just need to find some pictures, proofread, and double check my facts. Anyhoo, expect me to post that in a day or two.

As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to leave comments and questions down below, and if you’d like to support JapanThis! on social media or throw me a dollar or two, all the details are directly below this sentence.


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[i] The original name was 神田ノ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine.
[ii] Deity and god are just rough translations. To learn more about what a kami is, check out this article on Wikipedia. If you already have a good understanding of how kami differ from the English words “god/goddess,” “deity,” and “spirit,” then you might want to do a little further reading.
[iii] I’m not going to get into the intricacies of Shintō cosmology, but in short, kami are generally divided into two groups: 天津神 ama tsu kami heavenly kami and 国津神 kuni tsu kami earthly kami. At the end of the 神世 Kami no Yo Age of the Gods, the heavenly deities descended to earth with a mandate from the sun goddess 天照大神 Amaterasu Ōmikami to rule over the lands of the earthly gods and all of humans that inhabited those lands, thereby establishing the Yamato clan – the imperial family.
[iv] This is something we’re gonna talk about in part two.
[v] A rivalry still very much alive in Japan today, particularly in Japanese Professional Baseball, with the Tōkyō Giants and Hanshin Tigers being the fiercest rivalry.
[vi] As I said, more about that later.
[vii] Years ago, I did a series on Edo’s rivers, which you can read here. I didn’t really understand the scope of what I was getting into and I got to a point where I literally almost quit JapanThis! completely – or at least I was ready to quit the series.
[viii] Because of a recent project, I’m getting more and more familiar with Japanese mythology.
[ix] I think I have this down to a certain degree, but I’m def not an expert.
[x] I’m gradually getting better acquainted with ancient and classical Japanese culture, but since Edo-Tōkyō is my favorite period, all of my recent studies on these three topics (mythology, religion, and ancient/classical Japan) are all strictly for improving the quality of JapanThis!.
[xi] Roughly 千代田区神田駿河台一丁目と二丁目 Chiyoda-ku Kanda-Surugadai Icchōme to Nichōme 1st and 2nd blocks of Kanda-Surugadai, Chiyoda Ward.
[xii] Long time readers will know that before the Meiji Coup in 1868, place names were quite generic. machi/-chō tended to be fixed but only referred to blocks (neighborhoods organized by social class and rank). But areas like 上野 Ueno, 麻布 Azabu, 芝 Shiba, 品川 Shinagawa, etc., were slightly ambiguous.
[xiii] Ōtemachi refers to the neighborhood of rich merchants and high ranking samurai bureaucrats that sat in front of the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon main entrance of Edo Castle.
[xiv] Don’t worry, you don’t need this word for this etymology, but if you go back to my old article about Mita, it might be helpful, since this article sheds light on the old one.
[xv] Usually the imperial court.
[xvi] Modern day 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture.
[xvii] Game of Thrones fans could think of him as Rob Stark. And rather than “the North remembers,” this is “the East remembers.” Masakado became the archetype of eastern samurai, Kantō samurai in particular, overcoming the overbearing and failing imperial court in the west.
[xviii] Who is Minamoto no Yoritomo? Glad you asked!
[xix] Dude had bad luck with horses, and that bad luck finally caught up with him. The whole article is interesting, but if you’re interested Yoritomo and horses, check out the section on Ashige-zuka and the associated footnotes.
[xx] I say de factō because the locals saw Masakado as the most powerful kami of Kanda no Miya, even though he was officially 3rd in rank.
[xxi] Who is Ōta Dōkan? Maybe you should read What does Toshima mean? You might also want to learn a little about Edo Castle, by reading What does Edo mean? Oh, I almost forgot. The kami enshrined at Edo Shrine (established in 武蔵国豊嶋郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province in 702) is 建速須佐之男命 Takehaya Susano’o no Mikoto, usually shortened to Susano’o – the kami of seas and storms (and brother of the sun goddess, 天照大御神 Amaterasu Ōmikami).
[xxii] While not popular today, this is one of the few spots where you can really feel the 山手 yamanote high city atmosphere of the Edo Period. Of course, Kanda Shrine was high city, but it was always open to the public. It also banks on its popularity with the masses. Yushima Seidō shuns the masses, maintaining its Edo Period elite status as a center of Confucian and Buddhist learning. The amount of greenery on the site is testimony enough to its desire to left to its own devices – a very Edo Period mentality. Not sure about low city vs. high city? Check out my article about Yamanote vs Shitamachi.
[xxiii] There were many inlets from the bay that pushed far inland. The Kanda River once flowed out into the bay before the Tokugawa Shōgunate re-routed it into something closer to its modern course.
[xxiv] There are three major ancient shrines in Kōbe, not all of them near the bay. But apparently the area where Ikuta Shrine is located was home to a handful of other shrines as well.
[xxv] One idea being that as the land was reclaimed for agriculture and the sea retreated, the kanji 戸 to door was replaced with 田 ta/da field. But, I’m not going to lie, I think this is a stretch.
[xxvi] Usually rice, but sometimes wheat.
[xxvii] The place is called 神田美土代町 Kanda Mitoshiro-chō today, and I’m thinking about covering that place name next time.
[xxviii] WTF is a mōra? Glad you asked!
[xxix] This translation is mine. I might also render it as “lords of the kanda,” or “overseers of the kanda.”
[xxx] In modern 島根県 Shimane-ken Shimane Prefecture.
[xxxi] This word usually appears as and 身体/ kaɾada and usually just means “body.” The kanji listed above is specifically for dead bodies and has a ghostly or spectral connotation.
[xxxii] WTF is a mōra? Glad you asked!
[xxxiii] In the west of Japan…
[xxxiv] In the east of Japan…
[xxxv] The primary examples are family names like Kanbe (rather than Kōbe), and 一戸 Ichinohe, 二戸 Ninohe, and 三戸 Sannohe – Tōhoku place/family names that literally mean “first door,” “second door,” third door,” and so on…
[xxxvi] If you take this position, you have to deal with some evidence that might not be so clear at first. One, the name Kanda no Miya doesn’t appear in records until the Heian Period. Two, the Ōtomo clan’s peak was in the 5th century. By the 700’s when Kanda no Miya was established they were in steady decline. In fact, they disappear from the historical record in about 940. It’s not hard to understand why branch families would have seen using new names as wise political moves.
[xxxvii] In short, once the imperial court had consolidated power, it adopted and promulgated a Chinese socio-political framework. It held for a while, but as Japanese culture and society was different from that of China, it slowly broke down. During this breakdown, power vacuums came to be filled by samurai. This trend continued until the samurai class took power in the Kamakura Period.

What does Taitō mean?

In Japanese History on June 28, 2017 at 5:41 pm

Taitō (plateau east, more at the Elevated East)

town hall

Taitō City Hall

Today we’re looking at one of my favorite places in Tōkyō, 台東区 Taitō-ku Taitō Ward. It’s actually surprising I haven’t covered this area yet. Long time readers of the blog will be familiar with many place names located in this area. I’ve written about spots here since the earliest days of JapanThis! because… well, it’s just that cool.

Despite being jam packed with cool shit, Taitō is actually the smallest of the 23 Special Wards. In terms of the sheer density of historical remains, neighborhoods, and world class museums[i], it’s the only place in Tōkyō that gives 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward a run for its money. And Minato is twice the size of Taitō!

oiran dokuchu

The Oiran Dokuchū was a daily form of advertising carried out in Yoshiwara, the official red light district of Edo. Once a year it’s recreated today in Taitō Ward. You can see a similar recreation every day at Nikkō Edo Wonderland.

It’s home to the former red light district, 吉原 Yoshiwara[ii]. It’s home to 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji, funerary temple of the Tokugawa Shōguns[iii]. It’s home to 上野公園 Ueno Kōen Ueno Park, one of the most epic, historically important urban green spaces in the world. Oh, and 上野駅 Ueno Eki Ueno Station is there –a critical hub station linking a variety of local train lines, but also connecting Tōkyō with the rest of Japan and the world via 新幹線 shinkansen high speed trains as well as by other long distance trains.

ueno station 1930s

Ueno Station in the 1930’s. Keen readers will notice the pre-WWII orthography, ie; it goes right to left).

I’m not going to give you much more of a sales pitch on Taitō Ward because we’ve been here so many times before, and rest assured we will return many times again. If you want to know more about the ward’s virtues, then enjoy the Further Reading links. That’s what they’re for.

Further Reading:


Number 1 Destination for most tourists to in Tōkyō is Sensō-ji in Asakusa. It’s a great area, but for history nerds, it requires a little poking around to find the good stuff. Like much of Tōkyō, this area suffered terribly in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake and the Firebombing during WWII.

So, Let’s Look at the Kanji

tai, dai

pedestal, platform


First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Tōkyō’s Taitō was not an Edo Period name, nor a holdover from any earlier point in history. It was, in fact, a product of the Post War Occupation restructuring of the city’s administrative districts. In short, it was a new ward to be made of former 下谷区 Shitaya-ku Shitaya Ward and 浅草区 Asakusa-ku Asakusa Ward – neither of which exist today. This new ward needed a new name to not piss off the residents of either wards, both of which had existed since the Meiji Period and whose names were deeply tied to the Edo Period in terms of spatial anthropology and socio-cultural identity[iv].

hiroshige shitaya hirokoji.jpg

Shitaya Hirokoji by Utagawa Hiroshige depicts the wide boulevard leading up to the main gate of Kan’ei-ji, funerary temple of the Tokugawa shōguns. Notice the samurai at the center bottom who are wearing western trousers, a novelty only the most elite could afford at the time Hiroshige captured this scene.

The former Shitaya Ward, whose name means “bottom of the valley,” included 上野山 Ueno-yama the Ueno Plateau where the graves of the Tokugawa Shōguns were located. There’s no documentation to back this theory up, but it seems logical to assume that the Meiji Government did not want to emphasize the graves of the rulers they had overthrown in an illegal coup. Rather than creating a 上野区 Ueno-ku Ueno Ward – literally, field on the top of a hill[v] – they chose to emphasize the valley at the bottom of the plateau. Thus, they made a Shitaya Ward and included the ornate mausolea[vi] in Ueno as a kind of dis[vii]. This 下町 shitamachi low city image persists to this day, even though parts of Ueno were considered 山手 yamanote high city in the Edo Period.

Further Reading:

taito ward map

Map of Taitō Ward today

The Creation of Taitō Ward

Anyhoo, in 1947 Shitaya Ward and Asakusa Ward were officially combined to create Taitō Ward. Regardless of whether late 19th century concerns about neutralizing the place names of samurai and shōgunate lands were still an issue or not, the post-war government adopted a more conciliatory attitude that would unify the inhabitants of this historic and cherished part of Tōkyō.

However, the inhabitants of the former wards had separate agendas.

Advocates from Shitaya pushed for 上野区 Ueno-ku Ueno Ward. Advocates from Asakusa pushed for 東区 Higashi-ku East Ward[viii]. The Shitaya faction clearly wanted to shake off the “bottom of the valley” image of their former name while emphasizing the elite, yamanote implication of “field on the top of the hill” – a hill that everyone knew was important to the Tokugawa Shōguns. The Asakusa faction wanted to emphasize the eastern side of the proposed district – that is to say, the vibrant, shitamachi culture. The two factions were at an impasse, so the governor of Tōkyō stepped in and made a judgement call based on the recent approval of a project to build a new school in Shitaya. The school was to be called 台東小学校 Taitō Shōgakkō Taitō Elementary School.

Further Reading:


Yasui Sei’ichirō, the first governor of the newly created Tōkyō Metropolis.

 The Compromise

Obviously, nobody wanted to piss off the residents of either faction, and I think it’s safe to say that in the reconstruction years, the Tōkyō Government wanted to ensure both Shitaya residents and Asakusa residents could save face and come out of this as winners. Furthermore, the new proposed district really did feature both yamanote and shitamachi aspects. When the new ward name was announced, it was 台東区 Taitō-ku Taitō Ward. The committee announced that the decision was based on the same criteria used for the naming of the new elementary school.


The book that forever changed how Japanese was written and taught.

The naming of the elementary school and the subsequent ward weren’t trifling matters. They were very much part of the post-WWII zeitgeist in Japan. It was influenced by a Classical Chinese place name 台東 Táidōng which was found in the 康熙字典 Kāngxī Zìdiǎn Kangxi Dictionary – the Kōki Jiten, in Japanese. This reference book, compiled between 1710-1716, included more than 47,000 kanji, but more importantly, it laid out a simplified standard for writing them. It reduced the previously existing 540 radicals to a cool 214 standard radicals[ix]. Don’t get me wrong. The average Japanese person on the street didn’t give a shit about this 47,000 kanji dictionary from the 1700’s. However, the intellectuals involved in the sweeping post-WWII reforms of Japanese orthography[x] were very familiar with this work and they pushed for – and pushed through – the adoption of the 214 radical system proposed by the Kōki Jiten. Whether they know it or not, every Japanese teacher today is teaching kanji based on a version of this system and every student is learning from it.

cool story.jpg
So Why Taitō?

So, I know you’re saying something like, “Nice dictionary story, bruh. But why did they choose those kanji?” And to that, I can only say, “I’m glad you asked.”

台 tai is a character commonly associated with elevation – often geographic elevation, as in 台地 daichi  high ground or plateau. The Ueno Plateau which was the home to the shōgun’s tombs and present-day Ueno Park, while called 上野山 Ueno-yama by casual speakers of the time, was called 上野台地 Ueno Daichi by cartographers and smart people involved with urban planning. While creating a Ueno Ward might have annoyed the Occupation Forces by emphasizing the samurai past, using acknowledged the areas elite, yamanote status. 東 higashi/ east, on the other hand, was an easy concession to grant the Asakusa faction who were proud of their shitamachi culture that spread from the base of the Ueno Plateau to the west bank of the Sumida River.

The name Taitō gave both old wards the proverbial high ground. It was the “Elevated East.”


Main temple complex of Kan’ei-ji as it looked before the Battle of Ueno in 1868.

Growing Pains

The name was officially promulgated as Taitō, but apparently old people often pronounced it Daitō until quite recently – you know, after they died. This wasn’t the first time there was confusion with kanji. When the city of Edo was renamed Tōkyō, many people thought it was supposed to be read Teikyō. Also, the mortuary temple of the second shōgun 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada, who died in 1632, is written 台徳院 but has no official reading[xi]. Speakers are free to use Daitoku-in or Taitoku-in. There’s no one alive from the early 1600’s to confirm which pronunciation is correct, but in the case of Taitō, it’s official and spelled out phonetically in many places, including the ward’s website.

Additionally, within the ward, there’s a postal address 台東区台東 Taitō-ku Taitō, Taitō, Taitō Ward. Some people might speculate that the ward derives its name from this area. However, this just ain’t so. This so-called “display address” was created in 1967 as the result of postal[xii] reforms that are standard throughout Japan today. But make no mistake about it. It’s derived from the name of the ward, not vice-versa.

taito station.jpg

Taito Station is one of the preeminent video arcades (game centers) in all of Japan.

Taito Corporation

Some readers may associate the name TAITO with video games and ゲームセンター gēmu sentā video game arcades that go by the same name. That’s because TAITO was a major influence on the early development of video gaming culture in Japan and around the world. They still loom large in the world of gaming as an arcade-experience.

space invaders 1996

Apparently, Space Invaders was still a thing in 1996. I didn’t know this. I was too busy raving.

In the 1970’s, the company, known in Japanese as 株式会社タイトー Kabushiki-gaisha Taitō Taitō Corporation, invented a little game known as スペースインベーダー Supēsu Inbēdā Space Invaders. This was one of the first games that crossed over from the arcades to the home console/computer markets to such a degree that Space Invaders is even known to young gamers today. It’s real breakout to the home console market roughly coincided with the release of the original Star Wars movie. The merging of futuristic technology and a renewed enthusiasm for sci-fi couldn’t have come at a better time.



Jewish Taitō Time

In Japanese, Taitō (the company[xiii]) is always written without kanji as タイトー Taitō – a name that is simply phonetic and has no meaning. But the name of the company is way more interesting than its phonetic spelling, and it has nothing to do with Taitō Ward. Believe it or not.

The entrepreneur who built Taitō was a Russian Jew named Майкл Коган Michaell “Misha” Kogan[xiv]. I’ll let Wikipedia do a little more explaining about him:

He was born in Odessa, but his family moved to HarbinManchuria to escape the Russian Revolution of 1917, where he later met Colonel Yasue Norihiro, a member of the Japanese Army’s intelligence services and one of the architects of the Fugu Plan, an ill-fated plan to settle European Jewish refugees in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. He moved to Tokyo in 1939, where he spent most of the duration of the war studying at Waseda School of Economics. He moved to Tianjin in 1944 before returning to Japan in 1950, settling in Setagaya, Tokyo.

Michaell, Mikhail, Michael, Misha, or however you want to call the guy, was a brilliant dude. Naturally, he spoke Russian, but he also learned Chinese, Japanese, and English. He was a smart guy who was in all the wrong places at the wrong times in his childhood, and that provided him with a unique point of view and skill set that when he was in the right place at the right time, he grabbed the bull by the horns and rode that bitch straight to millionaire land. The craziest thing is Mikhail was born in the early 1900’s, but his company came to be centered on the tech industry. He started off importing Russian vodka, but soon expanded to jukeboxes and vending machines, symbols of Japanese post-war recovery. By the time he died, his company was pioneering video arcade culture. Just let that set in for a minute. He grew up as a refugee in the early 1900’s and died as a rich guy whose company made video games – arcades, in particular – mainstream. Taitō changed gaming and the promulgation of digital entertainment forever.

azabu space invader.jpg

One of many mysterious Space Invaders in Tōkyō’s Minato Ward.

Let’s Look at Some Other Kanji


Judea (Jewish)

The East

The first set of characters is read as Yudaya (which means “Israel”), but these are 当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic values rather than proper ideographs. If you combine the kanji, you can make 太東 Taitō which is essentially a Japanese abbreviation for a Chinese rendering of the 極東猶太人会社 Jídōng Yóutàirén Huìshè Jewish East Asia Company. To make things work in Japanese, the name was rendered as 極東の猶太人会社 Kyokutō no Yudayajin-gaisha, which seems to convey the same meaning as the Chinese original[xv].

OK, so long story short: 太東 Daitō/Taitō – which has nothing to do with Taitō Ward – was an abbreviation that meant “Jews in the East,” or something like that. While the pronunciation is more or less the same, the kanji are quite different: 太東 Taitō the company vs. 台東 Taitō the ward.

Taitō the company was more interested in branding itself as an international company than a Japanese company, so they used ローマ字 rōma-ji the Latin alphabet to render their name: TAITO. They back-translated the name into Japanese using 片仮名 katakana, a script traditionally associated with foreign words that also had a masculine nuance. Thus, the company didn’t use kanji for their name in Japan, they used katakana. They weren’t 太東 Taitō, they were タイトー Taitō. That said, the company tends to prefer the Latin alphabet in all caps: TAITO.

TAITO LOGO.pngAlright, so I hope you enjoyed that break down of the etymology of Taitō Ward as well as the unexpected tangent about the Taitō Corporation. Be sure to check out all the Further Reading links for articles related to this area of Tōkyō because I’ve been covering it for years. Also, if you’re ever in Tōkyō, I give a particularly nerdy and fun tour of the a major portion of the area.

If you like what I do, please consider supporting my blog on Patron. Also, all my social media accounts are listed below, so there are lots of ways that we can interact every day. I’m particularly active on Twitter, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing. Looking forward to hearing from you♪


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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Guided Tours


Or musea, as I like to say – using the Latin neuter plural, like datum/data.
[ii] Shut down by US Occupation Forces, though still home to a thriving sex industry – most of which is off limits to foreigners, unless you have connections, or speak great Japanese and are willing to pay inflated prices.
[iii] The other being 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in Minato-ku. Hence, the “rivalry” between the two wards in terms of historical importance. I used “quotes” because there isn’t any real rivalry except in my own head – and that boils down to a simple question: “where should I spend my time exploring Edo-Tōkyō history?” The answer is “both places.”
[iv] In other words, Shitaya and Asakusa had actually fallen under direct control of the shōgun in the Edo Period and the people who lived here were fiercely proud of that. They considered themselves bonā fide 江戸っ子 Edo-kko Edoites, as opposed to the clowns who lived out in places like 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku. (Curious about that? Here’s my article about Shinjuku).
[v] Remember, hilltops are yamanote, lowlands and riverbanks are shitamachi.
[vi] At this time, the shōguns’ funerary temples were intact, but the main temple of Kan’ei-ji had been burnt down in the 上野戦争 Ueno Sensō Battle of Ueno in 1868, when Tokugawa samurai holed up at Kan’ei-ji to protect the last (and retired) shogun, 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu who had put himself under voluntary house arrest at the temple in submission to the Meiji Emperor.
[vii] If the theory is to be believed. However, Shitaya was a popular area during the Edo Period up to the pre-war era. Visiting Ueno – or living in Ueno – was for rich people. Perhaps, Shitaya was just more relatable. Then again, if it’s more relatable to the common person, it’s less associated with the samurai class. This theory seems reasonable to me.
[viii] This is similar to another ward created at the same time, 北区 Kita-ku North Ward. (And yes, I have an oooooold ass article here).
[ix] What the fuck is a radical?
[x] Orthography is “spelling.” It’s boring, but here’s a history of orthographic reforms in Japan.
[xi] It’s not a place name or postal code… Oh, and it was destroyed in the war.
[xii] ZIP code
[xiii] More about this later…
[xiv] ミハエルコーガン Mihael Kōgan in Japanese.
[xv] Full disclosure: I have never studied Chinese, and the Japanese is more like “Far East Jewish Company.”

Yamanote Line: Ōtsuka, Sugamo, Komagome, Tabata

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


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].



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.


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]


Yeah, that’s pretty much bukkake…

Fuck, I lost my train of thought.

Oh, right. Buddhism.


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].



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.


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?


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.


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].


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].





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 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.


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.



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 – the highlight of 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.

The Year in Review – 2015

In Japanese History on January 3, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Medetē! Medetē! (“Happy happy! Joy joy!” In the Edo Dialect)
Happy New Year, everyone!

an kanji 2015

Japan was 安 (an) “safe” in 2015…

As has become a tradition here at JapanThis!, my first post of the year is a heartfelt ありがとうございます arigatō gozaimasu thank you very much! and a very humble 今年もよろしくお願い申し上げます kotoshi mo yoroshiku o-negai mōshiagemasu I’m hoping for your support this year, too!

Waaaaaaaaay back in the day, I started writing this blog because I thought it would be fun, but the real fun has been seeing that people actually read it and enjoy it. I’m honored and humbled by you, dear reader. This is my little corner of the internet and I’m so happy that you take time out of your day to come here – regularly or not – and read my ramblings about arcane aspects of Edo-Tōkyō and how they relate to Japanese History.


Katajikenai – thank you very much!

2015 was a year of ups and downs for me. Well, isn’t every year? But looking back on this year, nothing really negative comes to mind[i][ii]. So, I’d like to take this opportunity to look back at what happened here at JapanThis! over the course of 365 days. Whether you’re a longtime reader or if you’ve just started following, I hope you’ll join me in a little stroll down Memory Lane.



In the past, I covered the Graves of the Tokugawa Shōguns, the Execution Grounds of the Edo Shōgunate, the 5 Great Highways of Edo, and the series that almost killed me – until it didn’t – the Rivers of Edo. So, yeah, that river thing… It served as a launch pad for many more articles. Even though the river series was a tough one to research and write, it was rich in 浮世絵 ukiyo-e wood block prints of daily life and 写真 shashin photographs. It was also rich in 地名 chimei place names, the primary vehicle I use to explore the city. So, it should be no surprise that 2015 started off with 3 articles about bridges: Azumabashi, Suijin Ōhashi, and Eitaibashi.


Setagaya Ward is one of the biggest wards in Tōkyō. You’d think it wasn’t historical at all, but it has all kinds of history going on.

It wasn’t really intentional, but 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward can be considered a theme. It’s one of the largest of the 23 special wards and… it’s apparently awash with references to horses. In early 2015, I was most definitely fascinated with Setagaya and its obsession with horses.


Then I Did a Real Series….

Then I did something crazy. I decided to follow the entire 大江戸線 Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line station by station around the city. Normally, when people think of a train that loops around the city, they immediately think of the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line. However, I wanted to point out the “other loop train” first because… well, it uses the old the name of the city, 江戸 Edo. The whole series took 32 articles. Coincidentally, the other content for this year was essentially made up of 32 articles so it’s safe to say that ½ of 2015 was spent on a train. I thought this was an interesting way to go around the city. I hope to cover the Yamanote Line at some point in 2016 – maybe in the late summer.


Here’s a Simplified Thematic Breakdown of 2015


Place Name/Link

Chiyoda Ward


Chōfu City[iii]

Chōfu pt. 1
Chōfu pt. 2

Hachiōji City


Katsushika Ward


Kita Ward


Meguro Ward


Minato Ward

Fuda no Tsuji

Setagaya Ward

Baji Kōen

Shinjuku Ward


Suginami Ward


Sumida Ward

People From Honjo

Taitō Ward

Suijin Ōhashi


Articles Outside of the Usual Format

Kiyokawa Hachirō

I revisited the topic of Kiyokawa Hachirō ― arguably one of the douchiest samurai of the Bakumatsu. We looked at a little of his life and, specifically, the mystery surrounding his corpse.

Book Review
Japanese Capitals in Historical Perspective

Review of a book about urbanism – compares/contrasts Kyōto and Edo-Tōkyō.

Book Review
Tokyo: From Edo to Showa

Book review of a book about Edo-(mostly) Tōkyō’s urbanism – before urbanism was cool.


Ōedo Line

Every station of a train line that loops around most of the Greater Edo Area (Ōedo).

And So Here We Are…

Setagaya Ward, Sumida Ward, and Taitō Ward got a lot of attention in 2015. From feedback I got last year, people said I didn’t focus enough on the shitamachi areas. This year, it looks like I spent most of my time there. The Setagaya thing was a pure indulgence on my part, but it turned out to be pretty interesting!

We strayed outside of the 23 Special Wards into areas like Chōfu and Hachiōji. In 2016, I’d like explore more areas outside of the 23 wards.


Hits & Misses – the Stats Game

In 2015, the blog beat its former best, 2013, both in terms of views and visitors. I’m not too concerned with what those actually mean or how they’re different. I just know that 2014 wasn’t nearly as good in both regards. Not sure what we did right in 2015, but I’m pretty happy about that. So, thank you very much. 2013 was the year the blog sort of matured, and it looks like 2015 hit another high point. I’m pretty proud of that.

2015 was a good year

Twitter is a hard one for me to follow, since they don’t generate stats the same way Word Press does. That said, I was hoping for 1,000 new followers (ie; double what I had last January) and as of now I have about 1,800 – 200 followers short of my goal. Not bad at all considering I suck at social media[iv]. I used to feel like Twitter was my mullet: all business in the front, all party in the back. But these days, I feel pretty comfortable with it[v].


The JapanThis! Facebook Group got about 200-300 new followers in 2015. On the surface, this looks bad. But considering Facebook actively suppresses posts from Groups that don’t pay for advertising, I think it’s pretty good for such an arcane page. I also get the most direct feedback via Facebook[vi].

Why do I care about these numbers? Well, it’s not about popularity or getting my ego stroked. It’s about getting exposure. I’d write the articles even if only a handful of people read them, but I’d really love it if more people who shared our passion for this subject matter had access to the blog. And while JapanThis! only appeals to a small niche group of people, the more the merrier, I say.


Patreon, Patrons, Donations: What No One Wants to Talk About (Including Me)

Lastly, donations – long time readers know that every article ends with a half-assed request for donations via Patreon[vii]. My articles are and will forever be free. The blog itself has gotten more popular, but the 5-6 people who support it financially are carrying the weight for a lot of people. My Ōedo Line series was published more frequently than my usual publishing schedule and it caused confusion and a lot of patrons reduced their contributions (or completely withdrew their much appreciated donations). There were a few good months in 2015, to be sure. However, the income generated by donations is roughly $15-$35 a month. This is a decline from 2015, when the blog averaged $50 dollars a month. Go figure. lol.

Rewarding Patrons with Videos

One thing I was nervous about was making videos for patrons. I don’t really like public speaking or making videos, I’d much rather hide behind the written word. But I made a few and it wasn’t as bad for me as I thought it would be. I’d like to have more rewards for patrons, but time is a big issue. I’ll continue making videos on and off for patrons, but if there are other things you think would be good ways thank you, let me know. I’m all ears!!!


Speaking of videos, every New Years I watch this Taiga Drama with Mrs. JapanThis. It’s silly tradition that we have. We’ve watched it so many times, we can quote whole scenes like Americans and British people quote Monty Python.

Here’s to 2016!!

Finally, I apologize for the end of the year slow down. This always happens. Things get very busy from Christmas to New Year’s for me – both at work and with family. And actually, the 2015-2016 transition has been my busiest and – in terms of days off – my shortest 正月 Shōgatsu New Year’s Holiday in a long time[viii]. But I have to say, thank you to each and every one of you for reading JapanThis!. I thank you for your support in 2015 and I look forward to exploring Edo-Tōkyō and Japanese History further in 2016.

If you have any questions, suggestions, comments (constructive, rude, or otherwise), make a comment below. I’m always happy when you interact with me.

Happy 2016!

Please Support My Blog
⇨ Writing a Comment Below ⇦

[i] OK, the 読売巨人 Yomiuri Kyojin Tōkyō Giants lost the Japan Series to the ヤクルトスワローズ Yakuruto Suwarōzu Tōkyō Swallows. That was pretty embarrassing. The team is called “swallows” ffs. But let’s not dwell on negative things.
[ii] OK, I spoke too soon. There was a death in the family. That’s pretty much as negative as it can get and so, technically speaking, we’re in mourning and aren’t supposed to be too festive during  正月 Shōgatsu the New Year Holiday, but it’s 2016 and old traditions are dying off.
[iii] I originally planned a 3 part series, the third one looking at 布田市 Fuda-shi Fuda City, which is possibly related etymologically to Chōfu (and definitely is geographically). Sadly, people weren’t so interested in the topic of Chōfu, so I just let the series end at 2 parts. I’ll do that 3rd article someday, but it’s not very high priority at the moment.
[iv] I think my Flickr page got 5 new followers in 2015. Hahahahahaha.
[v] My NSFW Twitter account is still active, but it’s nothing to brag about.
[vi] This is strange because most posts on there just redirect to JapanThis!
on Word Press.
[vii] There is also a BitCoin option, though I’ve only ever received one donation that way. I get a lot of requests for PayPal, but they make working with Japanese banks a real pain in the ass. If you want to contribute this way, leave a comment or contact me. The more pressure you put on me, the more pro-active I’ll be in setting it up.
[viii] Even on my days off, I’ve been busier than usual – I think going back to work will actually be less stressful lol.

What does Yotsugi mean?

In Japanese History on November 12, 2015 at 5:08 am

Yotsugi (4 trees)

Yotsugi Station

So sorry for the long break. October, November, and December are my busiest times of the year at work. The good thing about this season is I actually economize my writing time and my articles. For most of the year it’s a free for all and I just go crazy. I thought this article would be really brief, but it turned into a monster. Better yet, I think I’ve found some more specific locations to explore as a result.

So What Slowed Me Down This Time

Honestly, I’m re-watching Twin Peaks since the first time it originally aired when I was in high school lol. Family stuff. Work stuff. Yada yada yada.

Culture Day also Slowed me Down

Hell, on October 4th it was 文化の日 Bunka no Hi Culture Day and I had a half day, so I went crazy. I couldn’t stand another minute in the office and the only way I could take in some Japanese Culture was to go see a movie by myself[i]. So I watched We Are Perfume. As a pretty dedicated fan for about 9-10 years, I think it was time and money well-spent. It wasn’t history, but it was nice to just have fun and got me thinking a lot about how Japanese culture has and hasn’t changed over the centuries. The film is a documentary about their 3rd so-called “world tour” and so it focuses on how Perfume is received abroad[ii] and how the group experienced their appreciation and fame abroad. As the only foreigner in the theater, I could sense how Japanese people were looking out at the world with fascination at fans from Taiwan, Singapore, Los Angeles, New York, and London. All of these fans were looking right back, trying to get a glimpse of some aspect of Japan.

Here on JapanThis!, I think a lot of the same thing happens. If web stats are anything to go by (and they are), there are a lot of people from Japan looking to see how foreigners view their history. There are also a lot of foreigners wanting to learn more about Japan. I find this mutual fascination very comforting – beautiful, really. If there’s ever any hope for world peace and understanding, it’s through mutual respect and understanding. Maybe Perfume is some aspect of disposable pop culture. But, hey, samurai were disposable, too. They gave it a good run, but you don’t see them around anymore, do you?

Anyhoo, I’m not gonna ramble on anymore about how I tried to justify my use of Culture Day by watching a documentary about Perfume that set me back $25[iii]. But I did do some reflection on the context of Japanese history and everything I know about Japanese Culture in its various fluctuations over time. And I’m pretty sure the first shōgun 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu would not only be totally WTFed by this movie – he would have totally been #TeamKashiyuka.

On the left, you can see the Sumida River. In the middle, the Arakawa and Ayase Rivers. On the right, the Nakagawa. Come back to this map later and you'll see more familiar faces.

On the left, you can see the Sumida River. In the middle, the Arakawa and Ayase Rivers. On the right, the Nakagawa. Come back to this map later and you’ll see more familiar faces.

Sorry For All That. Now, Let’s Get Down to Bidness.

Today, we’re talking about an area of Tōkyō that isn’t so famous. Tōkyōites know about it, but probably just as a train station. The area is called 四ツ木 Yotsugi and is located in 葛飾区 Katsushika-ku Katsushika Ward and it lies between 中川 Nakagawa (literally, the “Middle River”) and the parallel stretch of the 荒川 Arakawa Arakawa River and 綾瀬川 Ayase-gawa Ayase River. Long time readers may recognize the area due to its proximity to お花茶屋 Ohanajaya, 宝町 Takaramachi, and 曳舟 Hikifune. It’s also not very far from 向島 Mukōjima and 浅草 Asakusa.

Wanna read more?

Afterhours, Shotuku Taishi knew how to party. This has led to his everlasting fame.

Afterhours, Shotuku Taishi knew how to party. This has led to his everlasting fame.

History of Yotsugi

The earliest mention of Yotsugi is an inscription[iv] on a statue of 聖徳太子 Shōtoku Taishi at 西光寺 Saikō-ji. The statue has the presumably authentic date of 1341 written on it[v]. This is roughly 140 years after Minamoto no Yoritomo’s death so let’s put some things into perspective, namely why is Yoritomo even relevant to the story? He may or may not be, but when he became the first shōgun of the 3 great shōgunates[vi], his government put Kantō on the map – politically and economically speaking. Edo was just a fishing village at the time, but the proximity to the shōgunal capital of Kamakura was a massive boon to tiny villages in the area. By 1341, power had transferred back to Kyōto in western Japan with the establishment of the 室町幕府 Muromachi Bakufu Ashikaga Shōgunate. 140 years had passed and the prestige of Kantō was diminished.

The earliest surviving textual mention of Yotsugi comes to us from 1398 (Muromachi Period) in a document called 下総国葛西御厨注文  Shimōsa no Kuni Kasai Mikuri Chūmon Shimōsa Province’s Kasai Mikuri Annotation [vii]. It references a place called 四ツ木新田村 Yotsugi-Shinden Mura Yotsugi-Shinden Village.


In the Edo period, this area was primarily agricultural – fields and trees as far as the eye could see. It fell under the administration of 江戸葛飾郡 Edo Katsushika-gun Katsushika District, Edo area. Yotsugi was technically under the direct control of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, but administration was handled by various organs of the shōgunate over the almost 250 years of Tokugawa control. These ranged from 町奉行 machi bugyō[viii] to 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun to 大名 daimyō lords controlling the bordering 藩 han domains – but more often than not, the administrators were high ranking hatamoto.

It lay along the 本所上水 Honjo Jōsui Honjo Clean Water Aqueduct, which was later known as the 葛西用水 Kasai Yōsui Kasai Aqueduct[ix] or more popularly as the 曳舟川 Hikifune-gawa Hikifune River. The site where the Hikifune River and Ayase-gawa intersected offered a scenic riverside view that Edoites cherished. This spot was where the Hikifune Towpath began.



Because of its proximity to the shōgun’s capital and its scenic beauty, it was a popular destination for Edoites who wanted to get out of the city for a day or two. The most popular destinations were the religious institutions of 西光寺 Saikō-ji, 客人大権現Maroudo Daigongen (modern 渋江白髭神社 Shibue Shirahige Jinja Shibue Shriahige Shrine), 木下川薬師 Kinoshita-gawa Yakushi (modern 浄光寺 Senkō-ji), and 柴又帝釈天Shibamata Taishakuten. With the exception of Shibamata Taishakuten, these temples (and one shrine) are pretty minor, but in the Edo Period they were quite important. Each site is pretty interesting in its own right, so I may come back to them in a later article – especially if you guys are interested in that.

Shibamata Taishakuten

Shibamata Taishakuten

During the Meiji Period, the area remained rural and agricultural – it was more or less unchanged from the Edo Period. However, in 1912 (Taishō 1), 四ツ木駅 Yotsugi Eki Yotsugi Station was built. This made the area accessible and factories that wanted to take advantage of the space, cheap land, and access to rivers for distribution and “waste disposal[x]” were set up in the area. It’s around this time that the area became famous for the production of celluloid[xi].

Old Yotsugibashi

Old Yotsugibashi

In 1922, a wooden bridge called 四ツ木橋 Yotsugibashi Yotsugi Bridge was built across the Arakawa River linking 墨田区 Sumida-ku Sumida Ward and 葛飾区 Katsushika-ku Katsushika Ward. In the chaos following the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake, the 旧四ツ木橋 Kyū-Yotsugibashi Former Yotsugi Bridge – as it’s known today – was the site of wanton racist attacks against Chinese and Koreans living on the Sumida Ward side of the bridge. Apparently, some Tōkyōites blamed them for the earfquake or just took advantage of the chaos to indulge their own fucked up racism.  At any rate, another wooden bridge was soon built and life went on as usual.

View of Sumida Ward/Tokyo Sky Tree and Yotsugibashi from Katsushika Ward.

View of Sumida Ward/Tokyo Sky Tree and Yotsugibashi from Katsushika Ward.

In the post-WWII years, the area rapidly urbanized. City historians cite the building of a new 四ツ木橋 Yotsugibashi Yotsugi Bridge in 1952 as making urbanization possible. Prior to the post-war era, cars were relatively rare in Tōkyō – trains and trolleys were the norm. The new bridge was a modern truss bridge made of steel that allowed automobile traffic to cross the Arakawa in this area. The area’s agricultural heritage began to fade quickly.

In 1964, the name was changed from 四ツ木 Yotsugi to 四つ木 Yotsugi and astute readers will note that the only change was orthographic:  katakana ツ tsu became hiragana つ tsu.

Hikifune Hydrophilic Park

Hikifune River Hydrophilic Park today

In 1989, during the Bubble Economy, the 曳舟川 Hikifune-gawa Hikifune River was filled in due to pollution and presumably to use it as a sewer. The remaining marshes that surrounded the river also became landfill. By 2000, the only left over bit of this once scenic Edo Period day trip spot was present-day 曳舟川親水公園 Hikifune-gawa Sunsui Kōen the Hikifune River Hydrophilic Park.

Let’s Take a Look at the Kanji




Not kanji, but a syllabary character used to indicate pronunciation.

ki, gi


In Pre-Modern Japan, there weren’t writing standards as we would recognize them today[xii], so the place name was written as 四木, 四つ木, or 四ツ木 – all read “Yotsugi” or “Yottsugi.” The final variant was the most common in the Edo Period because the first variant was ambiguous as to pronunciation[xiii].

Unfortunately, due to the seemingly mundane nature of the kanji, the origin of this place name is either a just mystery or could be one of the most boring place names ever. That said, we do know that the area appeared on Pre-Meiji maps as Yotsugi Shinden Mura, which literally means Yotsugi New Field Village.

lets etymology

Theory 1: The Trees Did It

There used to be 4 tall pine trees in the center of the village.

This is the simplest and most literal attempt at an etymology. It’s hard to disprove without corroborating evidence and it’s impossible to prove without corroborating evidence. That said, roads, trains, or routes in general can be counted with ~本hon/-bon/-pon. So, while the kanji looks like 4 trees, it could be 4 routes – which we’ll get to a little later.

We have no paintings or literary references to 4 huge trees in the area from any point in history, so I’m gonna have to say this is iffy. It’s not impossible, but there’s just no way to prove it one way or the other.

Founder of the Kamakura Shōgunate and Unlucky Guy With Horses, Minamoto no Yoritomo.

Founder of the Kamakura Shōgunate and Unlucky Guy With Horses, Minamoto no Yoritomo.

Theory 2: Minamoto no Yoritomo Did It

This theory is actually 3 interpretations of the same story.

First, there’s a legend from the Edo Period that 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo passed through the area 4 times coming and going on various expeditions to put down resistance of the 藤原氏 Fujiwara-shi Fujiwara clan. According to this theory the name is derived from 四ツ過ぎ yottsu sugi the 4 passes through the village.

Second, in coincidence with the previous etymology, this theory often claims that as Yoritomo’s army was composed of various samurai warlords who supported him with their armies, this was the most convenient spot to meet. They came from various regions and converged upon this area, camped out, resupplied, and then moved on to battle. Therefore 四ツ過ぎ yottsu sugi actually means “4 armies passed through” or “4 armies passed through on 4 roads.” The idea of four roads leading to this area stands up to a point – after all, the 古東海道 Ko-Tōkaidō Ancient Tōkaidō Highway passed through here[xiv]. However, no one seems to agree on which roads are referenced in the name.

Lastly, another interpretation of this theory is that Yoritomo and his army passed through the small village at 四ツ過ぎ yottsu sugi just past the 4th hour. Prior to the adoption of the western hour, the Japanese used temporal hours. That is to say, the “hours” were of unequal lengths that varied throughout the seasons[xv]. The 4th hour was more commonly called 巳 hebi the hour of the snake[xvi]. If my sources are to be trusted, the meaning of “just past the 4th hour” means “roughly after 10 AM.”

Passing through the village 4 times might be possible, but I don’t have access to records that record Yoritomo coming to Edo 4 times. I’ll have to defer to Yoritomo nerd out there. But even if he did, I just don’t think people would name a village after that unless he established a shrine or something one of those times – and I can’t find any evidence of that, either. Also the reference to 4 armies is ambiguous so again, I’ll defer to the Yoritomo nerds on this one.

And while the 4 routes theory seems reasonable, the lack of agreement on which roads these would have actually been makes that theory questionable at best. Naming a village after the approximate time a bad ass samurai warlord strolled through town in an era when the chances of a bad ass samurai warlord marching through any given place were reasonably high, seems tenuous at best.

Wanna read more about Yoritomo in Edo?

shotoku taishi

It may be made of 4 kinds of wood – hard to tell from the picture – but it’s also made of metal.

Theory 3: Shōtoku Taishi Did It

Long time readers will know about 聖徳太子 Shōtoku Taishi Imperial Crown Prince Shōtoku or Shōtoku the Great Teacher. He was an imperial prince and one of first great propagators of Buddhism in Japan. He lived during the Asuka Period[xvii].

In 四つ木一丁目 Yotsugi Icchō-me 1st Block of Yotsugi, there is a temple called 西光寺 Saikō-ji Saikō Temple. The temple was established in 1225 at the beginning of the Kamakura Period and as far as written records go, it pre-dates the first record of the place name Yotsugi by about 100 years. Saikō-ji claims to have statue of Shōtoku Taishi that is made of a unique combination of four kinds of wood. In Japanese 木 ki means both “tree” and “wood,” thus they say the name is a reference to this revered Buddhist statue.

That’s all well and good, but time and time again we see temples claiming to be the namesake of an area when in fact, the place names pre-date the temples. Some objects in those temples match the place name by coincidence or have been deliberately manufactured to match the place name. In any case, I find this etymology highly dubious.

This is the Japanese word for "heir, successor" - yotsugi. It's one of the most generic words you can imagine.

This is the Japanese word for “heir, successor” – yotsugi. It’s one of the most generic words you can imagine.

Theory 4: A Truly Half-Assed Folk Etymology

A noble family’s 世継 yotsugi heir lived here. See what they did there? Yotsugi and yotsugi are homonyms.

I’ve come across a lot of stupid folk etymologies[xviii] over the years of doing this blog and this one falls into the top 5. This is like getting a place name like “Trust Fund Hill.” Sure, it’s possible, but it’s just too vague for me. Without a family name a reason for them to be here, this reeks of people just making up shit.

A 4-way intersection in West Tōkyō.

A 4-way intersection in West Tōkyō.

Theory 5: The 4 Roads Did It

This theory posits that the original reading was a 四辻 yotsu tsuji 4-way intersection – or possibly 4 intersections. This ties back into part of the theory about Minamoto no Yoritomo.

In ancient times, there was an intersection of 官道 kandō provincial highways in the area – or so the story goes. Kandō were established under the 律令制 ritsuryō-sei ritsuryō system in the 600’s based on the Chinese model and the word literally means “government road.” The kandō would later evolve into the 街道 kaidō highways that most people associate with Pre-Modern Japan – the Edo Period in particular. The term kaidō is even still used today when referring to old highways that survived into the Modern Period.

In the Yoritomo Did It Theory, the number 4 and the idea of 4 roads was a persistent theme. This theory asserts that certain aspects of those theories are true but suggests that the name may actually date back to at least the Heian Period or earlier. Having 4 kandō in the area (or a whopping 4 major intersections of 8 roads, depending on which interpretation you choose), would definitely be something special. Trade would be massive and travelers and armies passing through the area would be a constant source of income. You can see how a place might come to be called Yotsu Tsuji since that the area’s defining characteristic.

In Yoritomo’s time, there may not have been 4 great highways in the area anymore. It’s actually unclear if there ever were, but the one fact we do know is that in 1341 we find the first record the place name. It is written as 四木 with the character for “4” and “tree.”

There's a Yotsutsugi Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

There’s a Yotsutsugi Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

This is actually the best theory that I’ve come across. It’s pretty believable and there are place names all over Japan based on the kanji 辻 tsuji crossing. It’s not unreasonable to imagine Yotsutsuji getting contracted to Yotsuji in the local dialect since the /tsutsu/ in the middle is awkward. A phonetic change from YotsutsujiYottsujiYotsuji[xix] seems fairly consistent with Modern Japanese slang, dialects, and even the slurred speech drunk old men. I don’t see why a similar transformation couldn’t happen in older versions of the language.

The only problem? There’s no agreement on the exact routes that existed here from 600-1200 in the area. Furthermore, the just because the theory suggests kandō, any street or path can intersect with another one. This could be a reference to really minor routes. The area was always rural until quite recently[xx] and that’s probably the reason we never hear about the great trading village of Yotsugi. But again, if it’s a particularly ancient name, it might have just had its boom when no one was taking things seriously Kantō, the roads fell into disuse, and only the name remained with new kanji because there were no long 4 intersections to speak of.

Wanna check out another intersection place name?

Wanna read about the 5 Great Roads of Edo?

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[i] It was my first time to see a movie by myself. But Japanese people travel abroad and watch movies and karaoke by themselves a lot recently, so I was OK with it. But still, that first time is a little scary or embarrassing.
[ii] Japanese people tend to be shocked that anyone understands them. That said, god damn, foreign Perfume fans are a bunch of fucking weeaboos. Ewwww.
[iii] Yes, it fucking costs 2000円 ($20 USD) to see a freakin’ movie in Tōkyō.
[iv] This is called epigraphic evidence in diachronic linguistics as compared to textual or manuscript evidence.
[v] The actual date in Japanese is 暦応4念7月5日 Ryakuō yon nen shigatsu no itsuka 5th day of the 7th month of the 7th year of Ryakuō.
[vi] The Kamakura Shōgunate (headed by the Minamoto and Hōjō clans), the Muromachi Shōgunate/Ashikaga Shōgunate (headed by the Ashikaga clan), and the Tokugawa Shōgunate/Edo Shōgunate (headed by the Tokugawa clan).
[vii] The name 下総国葛西御厨 Shimōsa no Kuni Kasai Mikuri Kasai Mikuri, Shimōsa Province refers to an area of Kasai. The last word 注文 chūmon usually means “order” as in “order at a restaurant,” but it has a secondary meaning of “explanatory text.” Not sure what chūmon means in this context. This document came up in 2014, in my article on Kameari.
[viii] Here’s a quick explanation about machi bugyō.
[ix] 上水 jōsui, literally “high grade water,” refers to aqueducts that supplied drinking water. 用水 yōsui, literally “usable water,” refers to aqueducts that supplied water for irrigation, washing, firefighting, and general use.
[x] Read: “pollution.”
[xi] Celluloid is a tough, highly flammable substance consisting essentially of cellulose nitrate and camphor. It’s used in the manufacture of motion-picture film, x-ray film, and other products.
[xii] And to be honest, even in modern Japanese, there is so much flexibility that people exploit the looseness of spelling for humor or slang all the time.
[xiii] Without the kana ツ tsu, the name could be read: Shiki, Shigi, Shimoku, Yonhon, Yotsuki, Yotsugi, or possibly by some other regional variants. And why the katakana character was more prevalent than the hiragana character is a mystery. I can only speculate that the katakana was easier to write because the brush strokes were more similar to the cursive style of kanji and therefore more quickly written.
[xiv] On JapanThis!, I often reference the 東海道 Tōkaidō the Eastern Sea Route of the Edo Period. In Modern Japanese, this Edo Period highway is referred to as the 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō the Old Tōkaidō or Former Tōkaidō. The 古東海道 Ko-Tōkaidō Ancient Tōkaidō is a slightly different route. Vast stretches were abandoned over the years as the Tōkaidō was made more efficient by centuries of successive logistical demands.
[xv] ie; western hours were equally 60 minutes each and did not change with the seasons.
[xvi] This kanji is from the Chinese zodiac. The usual kanji for snake in Japanese is 蛇 hebi. People often translate this as “the hour of the serpent” because it sounds more classical, I guess. But same difference.
[xvii] I’m not going to get into his story because I have many times before. Here’s my break down of Japanese Eras. And here’s Shōtoku Taishi’s story. If you want to know more, I suggest you check those out.
[xviii] Folk etymology is when people just take a guess at the history of the word without paleographic or scientific inquiry.
[xix] Bear in mind, this is completely hypothetical on my part.
[xx] And by recently, I mean the last 100 years.

10 Famous People From Honjo

In Japanese History on September 12, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Jūnin no Yūmei na Honjokko
(10 famous people from Honjo)

Taishō Era postcard of the memorial for the more 100,000 lives lost in the Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923.

Taishō Era postcard of the “Ireidō” memorial for the more 100,000 lives lost in the Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923. It is located in former Honjo Ward (today Sumida Ward). It was built on the mass grave of the victims. The more than 100,000 victims of the American firebombing in WWII are also enshrined here.
Today’s article isn’t talking about a neighborhood of Tokyo. Today we’re talking about a cross-section of people who lived in the same area over the centuries. Today’s article is celebrating the lives of some remarkable humans.

This is Part Two of an Article I Published the Other Day

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you read it before this article. This piece should stand on its own, but the 2 articles were actually meant to be a single piece. I decided to split them at the last minute because it was just too long. Click here for the original article. The end of that article has a link that will bring you right back here.

Map of former Honjo Ward, later absorbed into present day Sumida Ward.

Map of former Honjo Ward, later absorbed into present day Sumida Ward.

We Left Off at “So, Why Should I be Interested in this Area?”

Thank you for asking that question. I had prepared 9 answers for you, but named the article 10 Famous People from Honjo because… who’s really counting? I know I’m not[i].

There are quite a few famous people from Honjo. I’ve put together a short list that I think typifies the wide range of people who at some point called Honjo their 地元 jimoto hometown or were at least associated with the place. Rather than using place names, I’ve decided to try something new. Let’s look at the people who lived here and explore the changing face of Honjo through them. Might work. Might not work. But you never know until you try, right?

Oh yeah, one more thing. During the Edo Period there many place names that broadly referred to large areas. The generalizations of Tokugawa controlled Edo don’t always reflect those of modern Tōkyō Metropolis today.

Prior to the Meiji Period, 本所 Honjo referred to a large area – much of which isn’t designated as Honjo today. In earlier articles we’ve talked about places like 向島 Mukōjima, some of which was considered Honjo in the Edo Period. Think of Honjo as a region without borders. People in Deerfield, Illinois will tell you that they are from Chicago – they’re not officially, but close enough. People from New Jersey who live close to NYC will say they’re from NYC – they’re not officially. In both cases, most people sort of go with the flow. A lot of areas in Edo-Tōkyō are like those places.

In the Meiji Period, there was a 本所区 Honjo-ku Honjo Ward. Later, this ward would be broken up and part was merged with 浅草区 Asakusa-ku Asakusa Ward to form present day 墨田区 Sumida-ku Sumida Ward.

Alright. Enough about all of that crap. Are you ready to strap in and feel the G’s, baby? This is going to be looooong.

Famous People Associated with Honjo

Keishō-in (Mother of the 5th Shōgun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi)



Keishō-in is the Buddhist name awarded to お玉の方 O-tama no Kata[ii] after she retired. Details on her early life are scarce, but it seems she was born in 京都 Kyōto to a commoner family – greengrocers, to be specific. At some point, she was adopted into the 本庄家 Honjō-ke Honjō family who were retainers of a 公家 kuge court noble family in Kyōto. The family established a residence in Edo because of their connections with the Tokugawa.  It’s said O-tama lived with the Honjō in a modest residence in Honjo. The location of the residence was next to the present day 旧安田庭園 Kyū-Yasuda Tei-en Former Yasuda Gardens – itself the former estate of 本庄 宗資 Honjō Munesuke. Don’t worry. I’m going to talk about both the gardens and Munesuke eventually.

Anyhoo, O-tama soon joined the 大奥 Ōoku shōgun’s harem[iii] in Edo Castle and became a 側室 sokushitsu concubine of the 3rd shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu. She produced 2 sons, both of whom would later be elevated to shōgun: 4th shōgun 徳川家綱 Tokugawa Ietsuna and 5th shōgun 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi.

(L) Keishō-in's grave in the ruins of Zōjō-ji in the 1950's. (R) Keishō-in's grave today in Sayama Fudōson.

(L) Keishō-in’s grave in the ruins of Zōjō-ji in the 1950’s. (R) Keishō-in’s grave today in Sayama Fudōson.

An interesting side note related to my series on the graves of the Tokugawa shōguns; although both brothers, Ietsuna & Tsunayoshi, were interred in adjacent mausolea at 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji in 上野 Ueno, their mother was interred at 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in 芝 Shiba. When Zōjō-ji was burnt to the ground in WWII[iv], all the graves became overgrown with trees and weeds. In the 1950’s, Zōjō-ji had recovered financially by selling off much of its real estate. Then they reorganized the temple precincts. They consolidated the shōguns’ graves into a single graveyard and shipped off “superfluous” graves and structures. Keishō-in’s grave was moved to 狭山不動尊 Sayama Fudōson, a temple in 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture[v].

Wanna Read More?


Honjō Munesuke (first daimyō of Ashikaga Domain)

This is the location of Ashikaga Domain's Upper Residence

This is the location of Ashikaga Domain’s Upper Residence

OK, so I promised to explain this one. To be perfectly honest, I’d never heard of this dude before but as I said before, the Honjō family was originally from Kyōto and had close ties with both the imperial court and the Tokugawa. Their adopted daughter, O-tama (later Keishō-in), was not just the mother of one, but two shōguns – not to mention she was the concubine of Tokugawa Iemitsu who was considered a cultured shōgun with martial savoir-faire[vi]. As a result, the status of the Honjō family skyrocketed within the shōgunate. Munesuke was Keishō-in’s step-brother. He also served under Tsunayoshi when he was lord of 館林藩 Tatebayashi Han Tatebayashi Domain. Needless to say, he was a very influential guy and very well connected.

If you get fast tracked by Tsunayoshi, you're probably having sex with him... or so I've heard.

If you get fast tracked by Tsunayoshi, you’re probably having sex with him… or so I’ve heard.

After becoming shōgun in 1680, Tsunayoshi elevated Munesuke to hatamoto status[vii]. Not long after that, he elevated him to 譜代大名 fudai daimyō hereditary daimyō status and gave him control of newly created 下野国足利藩 Shimotsuke no Kuni Ashikaga Han Ashikaga Domain, Shimotsuke Province. This new status required an appropriate 屋敷 yashiki mansion and so the shōgunate granted him a large swath of land in Honjō adjacent to the residence where his mother had grown up. He also received the courtly title of 因幡守 Inaba no Suke Protector of Inaba Province[viii].

By the way, there is an alternative etymology of 本所 Honjo the place that says it derives from 本庄 Honjō the family having their residence here. It’s not true. The place pre-dates Honjō Munesuke’s elevation to daimyō and the construction of his upper residence here. Also, there were other daimyō in the region for years before the construction of the Honjō family palace. Any connection between Honjō and Honjo is pure folk etymology.

Wanna Read More Later?


Kira Yoshihisa (the “bad guy” in the 47 Rōnin stories)

Kira Kozuke no Suke

Kira Kozuke no Suke

Kira Yoshihisa[ix], better known as 吉良上野介 Kira Kōzuke no Suke lived in the area. Long time readers should recognize him as both the so-called “bad guy” of the 47 Rōnin stories and as a descendent o f吉良頼康 Kira Yoriyasu[x]. Yoriyasu was a local strongman whose family held various swaths of the Kantō plain until the 後北条家 Go-Hōjō-ke Late Hōjō clan began taking control of the area by force[xi]. Kira Yoriyasu served the early Hōjō lords as a general helped them take Edo Castle from the 上杉家 Uesugi-ke Uesugi clan in 1524[xii]. As a thank you, he was granted a large fief centered at 世田ヶ谷城 Setagaya-jō Setagaya Castle. When Tokugawa Ieyasu moved to Edo, all of the petty strongmen were required to submit to him. The Kira clan submitted, accepted hatamoto status, and the 本家 honke main branch of the family relocated to Honjo.

The story of the 47 Rōnin is so messed up that I don’t want to get into it here (my usual excuse), so if you want to read more about the event, I refer you to this excellent article at Samurai Archives (also my usual excuse).

That said, you can still visit the 吉良邸跡 Kira Yashiki-ato Ruins of the Kira Residence in nearby 両国 Ryōgoku. The remains of the estate are preserved as a park that roughly gives you the idea of how big a hatamoto estate was.

Wanna Read More?


Katsushika Hokusai (one of the greatest ukiyo-e artists)

春画 (shunga), literally

春画 (shunga), literally “spring pictures,” were the Chaturbate of the Edo Period.

In the art world, Hokusai is one of those guys who loom large[xiii]. Way large. Even if you don’t like his art, you’ve probably seen it at some point or another. And even if you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen art influenced by him. While Japanese art has had influences globally, few people are as iconic as Hokusai.

He was born around 1760 in 武蔵国葛飾郡本所 Musashi no Kuni Katsushika-gun Honjo Honjo, Katsushika District, Musashi Province, hence the name Katsushika. However, the specifics of his family name are not certain[xiv]. And although he was born into the artisan class, he claimed his mother had been the grand-daughter of a retainer of Kira Kōzuke no Suke which meant he had some good ol’ Honjo samurai blood running through his veins. Unfortunately, his mother and a lot of things regarding his early family life are unclear and filled with speculation.

What’s known for sure is that Hokusai was hailed as a 天才 tensai genius in his own day and art historians today clearly revere him as one of the greatest 浮世絵師 ukiyoeshi ukiyo-e painters of the Edo Period[xv]. He is perhaps best known for his series 富嶽三十六景 Fugaku Sanjūrokkei Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji which was born out of Hokusai’s obsession with 富士山 Fuji-san Mt. Fuji. Of the 36 woodblock prints, the most famous is probably 神奈川沖浪裏 Kanagawa Oki Nami Ura The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.

If you don't know this painting... oh, who am I kidding? Everybody knows this one.

If you don’t know this painting… oh, who am I kidding? Everybody knows this one.

The golden ratio (golden mean) - one of the most boring controversies of the art world since 1509™

The golden ratio (golden mean) – one of the most boring controversies of the art world since 1509™

Fans of JapanThis! and the #TeamIenari esthetic probably have a particular print that they prefer. That print would be 蛸と海女 Tako to Ama which is usually translated as the Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, but literally means Octopus and Shell Diver[xvi]. This is the famous image of a woman having a threesome with 2 octopodes[xvii]; one is making out with her while the other licks her pussy. Tentacles are everywhere, because octopodes are really grabby like that.

If you had 8 arms, you'd be grabby too.

If you had 8 arms, you’d be grabby too.

The picture is quite controversial today as some uptight people associate it with modern tentacle porn. Tentacle porn was a thing in 漫画 manga and アニメ anime for a while, though to be honest I think it got played out 15 years ago or so[xviii]. But the modern incarnation of the genre was pretty fucking rapey. That said, the woman is clearly getting off judging by her position and facial expressions. The octopodes are harder to read visually because… they’re fucking octopodes. But fortunately for us, Hokusai’s print includes a lot of text which describes the scene[xix]. The daddy octopus, the son octopus, and the female shell diver are all waaaaaay into this threesome. So, by the artist’s own description it’s fully consensual. Awwwww yeah!

OK, maybe this is a good place to move on to the next topic...

OK, maybe this is a good time to move on to the next topic…


Katsu Kaishū (hatamoto, father of the Japanese navy, teacher, visionary)

Katsu Kaishū in San Francisco posing like a straight up pimp.

Katsu Kaishū in San Francisco posing like a straight up pimp.

In 1823, Katsu Kaishū was born in 江戸本所亀沢町 Edo Honjo Kamezawa-chō Kamezawa-chō, Honjo, Edo. To the best of my knowledge – and I could be totally wrong here – this part of Honjo was part of the shōgun’s capital which stands in contrast to the area where Hokusai lived, which was technically not part of Edo, but of the Katsushika District.

I’ve talked about Katsu Kaishū so many times on JapanThis! that I just recommend searching the site for him if you don’t know who he is. Samurai Archives has a concise biography if you just want something quick. Wikipedia has a decent article about him if you want to go deeper. There are plenty of books, including Samurai Revolution, that go into his life and times in great detail.

kaishu kakko ii

In short, he was born into an impoverished hatamoto family[xx], but he was obsessed with learning about the world. He supposedly taught himself Dutch in order to read foreign books – in particular military books and naval books. He came to the attention of the shōgunate by making the bold assertion that ability and motivation rather than birthright be used a basis for promoting men to important positions. This was when Japan was caught with her proverbial panties down by Commodore Perry and his 黒船 Kurofune Black Ships and a crisis ensued. He insisted that a Navy would be necessary to defend the country against foreign invaders who were taking advantage of and at times colonizing weaker Asian kingdoms.

Halloween is just around the corner. This is how you make the Katsu Kaishū hairdo.

Halloween is just around the corner. This is how you make the Katsu Kaishū hairdo.

He helped establish Japan’s first navy. He helped preserve the Tokugawa family. He helped save Edo from being burnt to the ground by the hostile Satsuma-Chōshū alliance that was hell bent on overthrowing the Tokugawa. He negotiated the peaceful transfer of the city during the Meiji Coup. And on top of all that, he had great hair.

Wanna Read More?


Enomoto Takeaki
(President of the Ezo Republic)

The fitted suit didn't come about for another 50-100 years. But still, that moustache. lololol.

The fitted suit didn’t come about for another 50-100 years. But still, that moustache. lololol.

Enomoto Takeaki is an interesting character during the Bakumatsu. He was born in 1836 to a low ranking hatamoto family in 江江戸下谷御徒町 Edo Shitaya Okachimachi Okachimachi, Shitaya in Edo.

Anyways, despite his low rank, he was a smart, forward thinking dude. He eventually earned himself the title of 海軍中将 kaigun chūjō Vice Admiral in the shōgunate’s navy. Like Katsu Kaishū, he learned Dutch and was fascinated by the world outside of Japan. Like Katsu Kaishū, he supported the shōgunate’s progressive efforts to modernize and take on foreign learning. Unlike Katsu Kaishū, he would actually tell the imperial army to go fuck itself by stealing a fleet of ships and starting a country of his own. Say what you will about him, but Takeaki had balls, yo.

Big balls. We're coming back to this topic in a minute.

Big balls. We’re coming back to this topic in a minute.

From 1862 to 1867, he studied abroad in Europe and focused on learning western military strategies and technologies. In particular, Takeaki was interested in western naval warfare. It’s said he became fluent in both Dutch and English. He also developed a taste for western uniforms and fashion. He also realized the importance of the telegraph for long distance communication and he pushed for this technology to be used in Edo.

However, in his years abroad, Enomoto Takeaki had acquired a few tastes that were too progressive for some of the conservative ass hats from Satsuma and Chōshū who were trying to overthrow the Tokugawa.  He eschewed traditional Japanese clothes for western suits and military uniforms. He also began sporting a pretty awesome moustache. This moustache would take on a life of its own in his later years, but that’s a story for a blog about moustaches – not Japanese history.



When he returned to Japan, he was appointed vice admiral of the navy – which was a cool gig to have at the time. Who doesn’t want to be second in command of the navy? However, part of Katsu Kaishū’s deal for the peaceful surrender of Edo Castle and Edo itself to the imperial army was the handing over of all naval assets to the imperial army. Just for the record, Katsu Kaishū was 海軍奉行 kaigun bugyō – ie; first in command of the navy. Takeaki wasn’t having this surrender bullshit at all so he stole an entire naval fleet – the shōgunate’s 8 best warships – and took it northwards to an area called 蝦夷地 Ezo-chi the Ezo Lands[xxi] at the time.

So, WTF is Ezo-chi?

To the average Japanese at the time, Ezo-chi referred to “the barbarian islands” north of 本州 Honshū the main island of Japan – present day 北海道 Hokkaidō[xxii] and a few associated island chains. His liberal European views shone through when he declared the island a sovereign territory separate from the new “imperial state” being established by the Satsuma-Chōshū terrorists.

Up to this point, a Japanese fief had existed on the south west peninsulas of the island. It was called 松前藩 Matusmae Han Matsumae Domain. The rest of Hokkaidō was “undefined land” inhabited by the アイヌ Ainu whom the Japanese from Honshū held in little regard.

Matsumae Castle marked the limit of Tokugawa authority. They were the northernmost boundary of the shōgunate.

Matsumae Castle marked the limit of Tokugawa authority. They were the northernmost boundary of the shōgunate.

Takeaki established a headquarters at the port of 函館 Hakodate. Among his rag-tag team of pro-shōgunate samurai and foreign advisors was a certain 土方歳三 Hijikata Toshizō, the 旧副局長 kyū-fukukyokuchō former vice commander of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi[xxiii] and all an around bad ass. Since they were establishing a new, modern country, they needed a government and so developed a tentative organizational model and then did something that had never happened before in Japan. They held a general election. This is why the country was called the 蝦夷共和国 Ezo Kyōwakoku the Ezo Republic[xxiv].

The government hall of the Ezo Republic.

The government hall of the Ezo Republic.

The election is a pretty amazing political milestone in Japanese History. The results are also interesting: Enomoto Takeaki became the first and last 蝦夷島総裁 Ezoshima Sōsai President of the Ezo Islands. Hijikata Toshizō was elected the first and last 陸軍奉行 Rikugun Bugyō a term which literally means “Military Magistrate,” but in a republic that relied on military power out of necessity you can think of this as “Vice President.” Only men of samurai rank could vote – ie; the military[xxv].  It wasn’t an all free persons can vote thing, but for the first time in Japanese history, a general election happened!

The Ezo Republic was defeated by the imperial army in about 5 months. Takeaki had claimed the entire island of Hokkaidō as Ezo[xxvi] so after the victory, the Meiji Government annexed the Republic of Ezo. This was one of the first imperialist land grabs of the new imperial government. Modern Japan had acquired a whole new island – not a tiny island but a huge, beautiful island with untold agricultural potential. Oh, and Hijikata Toshizō  died at 函館戦争 Hakodate Sensō the Battle of Hakodate.

flag of the Ezo republic

flag of the Ezo republic

Meanwhile Back In Edo

Sorry about the Ezo tangent. Let’s get back to Honjo.

After the collapse of the shōgunate, Edoites held the uncouth and culturally unsophisticated ex-samurai[xxvii] from western Japan in contempt. Imagine if a bunch of rich people from Missouri and Kansas overthrew the government of New York City and made themselves the new leaders. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think you can figure out that the native New Yorkers would feel they were culturally superior to the outsiders who claimed dominion over them. After all, these outsiders didn’t know the nuances of the city, the etiquette, or the history. They had overthrown a nearly 250 year old system that put them at the center Epicenter of Japanese Culture for generations. Suddenly, they felt, their world had been turned upside down[xxviii].

If the stories are to be believed, the Edoites considered their new 田舎侍 inaka-zamurai country samurai masters as bad as – if not worse than – the tiny groups of foreigners (mostly business people, diplomats, teachers, and missionaries[xxix]) who had been making inroads into the country before the Meiji Coup.

Edoites Were Pissed Off, I Get It.
What about Enomoto Takeaki?

After the Meiji Coup, Takeaki was arrested and thrown in jail for high treason. His military prowess and charisma were well known and so as the Meiji Government made peace with the former Tokugawa supporters it became apparent that he should be released from prison. He was then given a new position in the Imperial Navy. At some point in his later years, Takeaki bought an estate in 向島 Mukōjima. People often said they saw him riding his horse along the banks of the Sumida River[xxx].


牛嶋学校 Ushima Gakkō Ushima School was established in 1873 (Meiji 6) and was one of the first public schools in the area. In 1881 (Meiji 14), the school was relocated to the location of the present day 本所高校 Honjo Kōkō Honjo High School. The school possesses a 扁額 hengaku a kind of sign that decorates an entrance. Traditionally, hengaku are copies of handwritten 書道 shodō calligraphy which is written by brush then made into a wooden plaque[xxxi]. Local legend insists that this sign was written by Enomoto Takeaki in 1873 (Meiji 6) to give endorsement to the school. The people of Honjo inferred that Takeaki hoped to instill the spirit of Edo in the new generation of children (who were now children of Tōkyō not children of Edo). He was a symbol of Edo and a symbol of modernity – and most of all, he wasn’t from Satsuma or Chōshū. This is a sentiment I can completely understand.

Takeaki's calligraphy

Takeaki’s calligraphy

He continued to serve in military and government rules for the rest of his life until he died at his home in Mukōjima in 1908 (Meiji 41).

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Yasuda Zenjirō (founder of the Yasuda Zaibatsu)

People in the 1800's found out some ways make beards creepy and the Japanese copied them.

People in the 1800’s found out some ways make beards creepy and the Japanese copied them.

Yasuda Zenjirō was born a low ranking samurai in 1838 越中国富山藩 Ecchū no Kuni Toyama Han Toyama Domain, Ecchū Province. As a teenager he moved to Edo and worked in money changing and later taxation consulting to rich farmers – something I never knew existed in the Edo Period.

He was 17 years old when he moved to Edo and began working in a money changing house. In 1863, became an outsourced tax collector of the shōgunate[xxxii]. This made him a rich man and gave him a network that included the richest commoners and poorest (but most powerful daimyō).

After the Meiji Coup, he established a western style bank. This gave him the power to set up the Yasuda Bank (later known as the Fuji Bank) in the 1880’s. His clients formed a fully consolidated network focused on the emerging market of small and medium sized businesses. By the late 1800’s he had created a 財閥 zaibatsu[xxxiii] of his very own that he could love and cherish like a precious bunny rabbit.

That would be part of his group...

That would be part of his group…

Call Back. Say Whaaa?

Earlier, I wrote about Keishō-in (the 5th shōgun’s mother) and the Honjō clan (the samurai family that adopted her and brought her to the Honjo area). Time to bring these elements of the local history back to whatever kind of kind of fucked up narrative I’m telling.

Zenjirō was one of the richest men of his time. When the daimyō all moved out of Honjo, he moved in. He bought the former 本庄 Honjō estate which included a large garden. We’re lucky today because Zenjirō’s version of the garden is still preserved as a park[xxxiv] and is known by the name 旧安田庭園 Kyū-Yasuda Tei-en Former Yasuda Gardens[xxxv].

yasuda honjo nice

As Tōkyō pushed for industrialization, the Sumida River area became a filthy, polluted area. The emerging middle class got the fuck out of the area. Socially stigmatized people were trapped in the flood plains. Traditional families who couldn’t afford a move to leave were truly stuck there. Despite the exodus of – I dare say complete abandonment by – the wealthy, Yasuda Zenjirō stayed in the area. Despite being of samurai stock, he did have humble origins so maybe he felt a connection to these proud, hardworking people whom he employed. Their hard work and his leadership skill made him a very, very rich man. That all afforded him an amazing piece of real estate with a former daimyō garden and a history tied to the shōguns. Who would give that up?

He lived among the low city people and depended on them for the development of his financial empire. I don’t know much about his personality, but apparently he pissed off a lot of rich people. He also pissed off a lot of the rising militarists/imperialists born after the Meiji Coup. Sadly, this actually resulted in his final demise. In 1921, he was assassinated in Honjo by an 右翼 uyoku ultra-nationalist, ultra-conservative terrorist[xxxvi].

The financial empire he created survived him until the end of WWII and though it’s fragmented now, huge companies that were spun off from his group survive to this day.

Floody It was really floody.

It was really floody.

The Family Has a UK/US Connection

Yasuda Zenjirō was the great-grandfather of Yoko Ono[xxxvii], widow of John Lennon. She’s an artist hated by baby boomer Beatles fans (they blame her for the band’s break up). Yoko Ono – no matter what your parents think of her – has been a powerful force in the world of art.


Anyways, she told a story once that upon seeing Zenjirō’s photograph for the first time, John Lennon said “That’s me in a former life.” They were hippies at the time and believed in re-incarnation and other stupid shit[xxxviii] so this comment bothered Yoko a lot. She told him “Don’t say that. He was assassinated.” Years later, John Lennon himself was assassinated in front of their home in the Upper West Side of New York City on December 8th, 1980.

Wanna Read More?


Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (Meiji Era author)


Just when you thought it was dark, it’s about to get a whole lot darker.

Ryūnosuke was born in 1890 (Meiji 23) and raised in Honjo[xxxix]. He was a writer – in particular, he was a novelist of a new sort that emerged after the Meiji Coup. He apparently loved English literature and even worked as an English teacher for a short time. However, he was an 江戸っ子 Edokko a child of Edo[xl] through and through. In his personal life, he surrounded himself with other Edokko. He was talented enough that he was taken under the wing of one of his idols, 夏目漱石 Natsume Sōseki, the guy who wrote 吾輩ハ猫デアル Wagahai Wa Neko De Aru I Am a Cat[xli]. In the west, Soseki’s cat book is very famous, but Ryūnosuke’s stories are a little more obscure.

In my first article, I mentioned that in the early 1900’s the abandoned samurai estates were overtaken by trees and weeds. Wild animals took refuge there. Men who had lost their savings, women who had been scorned by their families or lovers, and other despondent people used the overgrown plots of land as places to commit suicide by hanging. It was so frequent that it was said to be a daily occurrence.

That story actually comes to us from Akutagawa Ryūnosuke. His father and other Honjo locals told these stories to him. I have no reason to doubt them either. Other areas of Tōkyō[xlii] descended into the same chaos after the Meiji Coup.


“I totally should have combed my hair before this photoshoot.”

The saddest part of this whole story is that Akutagawa Ryūnosuke couldn’t endure his own life. His art was respected by his idols. It was respected by his peers. To this day, he is considered one of modern Japan’s greatest writers. However he suffered from serious depression.  The condition finally got the best of him and he killed himself in 1927 (Shōwa 2) at the age of 35.

For what it’s worth, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke lives on. He is regarded as the “Father of the Japanese Short Story” and Japan’s premier literary award is named after him. It’s called 芥川龍之介賞 Akutagawa Ryūnosuke Shō the Akutagawa Prize. The winner walks away with a new watch, a million yen[xliii], and instant national media attention.

A Meiji/Taishō Era watch

A Meiji/Taishō Era watch

Ō Sadaharu (record setting baseball player and manager)

As some of you may know, baseball was brought to Japan in 1872 (Meiji 5) and is one of the most popular sports in the country. Even high school baseball gets a lot of attention with the 夏の甲子園 Natsu no Kōshien Summer Kōshien[xliv], a high profile yearly summer high school tournament. This competition is where the Japanese get their first peak at the next generation of those who play with balls professionally.


The Japanese consistently perform within the top 5 teams of international baseball. At the time of writing, they’re ranked #1 by the International Baseball Federation, followed by the United States, Cuba, Chinese Taipei (Tawain), and the Netherlands. The Japanese professional leagues are highly competitive and in recent years have been providing top tier players for Major League Baseball in the US. Players like 田口壮 Taguchi Sō, 松井秀喜 Matsui Hideki, and 鈴木一朗 Suzuki Ichirō immediately come to mind.

The rivalry between the Yomiuri Giants in Tōkyō and the Hanshin Tigers in Ōsaka is legendary. Actually, the rivalry between the Giants and basically every other team in Japan is legendary. The Giants are an interesting phenomenon: you either love them or you hate them. There’s no gray area. It’s into this team’s epic 81 year history where most of Sadaharu’s story takes place. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Ō Sadaharu was born in Honjo to a Taiwanese father and a Japanese mother. In foreign publications, his family name is generally transcribed as 王 Oh. This convention is a relic of the age where newspaper print setters and computer manufacturers couldn’t be bothered with differentiating Japanese /o/ and オー // with diacritics. So, in English this guy is usually called Sadaharu Oh (first name/last name reversed in the western style). But that’s just lazy, in my opinion. He’s Ō Sadaharu on JapanThis! because… screw that “H.” Nobody needs it. By the way, in Mandarin his name is read Wáng Zhēnzhì and I have no idea how to pronounce that correctly. And neither does he. Despite his Chinese citizenship, supposedly he doesn’t speak Chinese.



Sadaharu played first base 22 seasons from 1959-1980 for the Yomiuri Giants based out of the former 後楽園球場 Kōrakuen Kyūjō Kōrakuen Stadium, predecessor of 東京ドーム Tōkyō Dōmu Tōkyō Dome. In that time he set the lifetime homerun record by knocking out an incredible 868 homeruns and the team won 11 championships. He was voted MVP of セントラルリーグ Sentararu Rīgu the Central League’s 9 times. Then, from 1984-1988 he served as manager of the Giants. Under his leadership, the Giants clinched the Central League pennant in 1987.

korkakuen stadium

He was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994 and returned to the game in 1995 to manage the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks[xlv]. The Hawks took 3 Pacific League pennants under his management and they won the Japan Series twice. In 2008, he became the general manager of the Hawks.

In 2006, Sadaharu became the coach of Samurai Japan, the Japanese national team, during the first World Baseball Classic (WBC) where his team won the championship by defeating Cuba 10-6 in the final game.

The Dude Has 2 Other Claims to Fame

First, he was so famous all over the world[xlvi] that he was even memorialized in the lyrics of the Beastie Boys’ 1989 single Hey Ladies! The line goes “there’s more to me than you’ll ever know / and I’ve got more hits than Sadaharu Oh” which occurs within the first 4 lines of the track.

The other claim is of a more dubious nature. His single-season home run record clocked in at #2 on ESPN’s Phoniest Records in Sports list. It’s not that he was on ‘rhoids or all out cheating to get his homerun record, it’s that when foreign challengers in the Nippon Professional Baseball popped up, so did a little controversy. It seems Manager Ō and Co. deliberately tried to protect his record by some fairly obvious and unsportsmanlike plays. This link explains the controversy in detail, but some American baseball commentators and an actual columnist from the Yomiuri Daily News (the company that owns the Giants) have stated that Sadaharu’s record should recognized but it needs an asterisk to show that fair play been thrown out the window. There are many indications that there was also a strong desire to keep the record from being broken by a stinky foreigner.

In the end, it doesn’t matter because in 2013 Sadaharu’s single season home run record was finally broken – by a stinky foreigner, no less. Wladimir Ramon Balentien, an outfielder for the Yakult Swallows[xlvii], hit 60 home runs beating Ō’s 55. Incidentally, this record wasn’t without controversy either. This time, rather than blocking foreigners from breaking the record, Nippon Professional Baseball had actually issued new balls that were “livelier.” The new balls resulted in increased home runs overall – presumably a tactic to increase interest and revenues overall in the sport. Oh well, at least his record breaking 56th and 57th homers were against the Hanshin Tigers.

Let’s Go Giants!!!

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[i] And the internet loves lists of 5, 10, 20, etc… apparently.
[ii] Her given name was お玉 O-tama or just 玉 Tama (to her superiors). The ending の方 (something) no kata was a title used in the 大奥 Ōoku shōgun’s harem at Edo Castle.
[iii] Bow chicka bow bow♪
[iv] Kan’ei-ji was also completely destroyed in WWII.
[v] A few beautiful treasures from the resplendent mausoleum of the 2nd shōgun 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada and his wife were also moved to this temple. Additionally, many people believe that Keishō-in’s grave is at 護国寺 Gokoku-ji, a temple located in 大塚 Ōtsuka. This isn’t true. Tokugawa Tsunayoshi and Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu built the original temple on the site to honor her, but her remains are in Saitama. Interestingly, her hair went back to Kyōto – presumably so her birth family could honor her. Incidentally, there is a grave for 38 Tokugawa women in the Tokugawa Cemetery at Zōjō-ji. Keishō-in is also enshrined there.
[vi] Reputation only. Who knows how long he’d last on a Sengoku Period battlefield?
[vii] Given Tsunayoshi’s past, one wonders if they were fucking
[viii] The title is strictly ceremonial. No one controlled the provinces in the Edo Period. They were a just traditional way to refer to large areas of the country.
[ix] His name was read Yoshihisa in his time, but because his kanji are ambiguous the more common Yoshinaka has been used for years and years. This is why I tend to use his courtly title instead of his name. His courtly title is much more widely known than Yoshihisa or Yoshinaka.
[x] Yoriyasu’s story is mentioned in my article on Setagaya and its Freaky Horse Fetish.
[xi] Please see my friends at Samurai Archives for more info on the Late Hōjō.
[xii] Uesugi clan, holla!! Again, see my friends at Samurai Archives.
[xiii] By the way, if you haven’t studied Japanese, the closest way to say his name correctly is dropping the “u” and just calling him Hōk’sai. Close enough.
[xiv] His grave actually says 河村 Kawamura.
[xv] Of course, I love his work, but my personal favorite is 歌川広重 Utagawa Hiroshige. Unfortunately, he was born in another part of Edo, so there will be no epic ukiyo-e battle this time.
[xvi] This work was only done by women and the kanji for the word clearly reflect this: 海女 ama sea girl. Both English translations fail miserably. Keep in mind, the original never had a title.
[xvii] Just for the record, octopi is not the plural of octopus. It’s a Greek, not Latin word. Even octopuses, which sounds stupid, is more correct that octopi. #TheMoreYouKnow
[xviii] I really haven’t seen it since then. But, it’s not really my cup of tea anyways. I don’t really read manga or watch anime.
[xix] If you’re curious about the text of this iconic bestiality-centered threesome, read a translation of it here.
[xx] His father 勝子吉 Katsu Kokichi is probably one of the most hilarious samurai who ever lived. There’s an English transition of his autobiography. He’s basically the opposite of what a samurai was held up to be in his day. His autobiography is essentially this: “I’ve been a bad samurai. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. But goddamn, it was so much fucking fun!!!!” Then he passes on headship of the family to his 15 year old son, Katsu Kaishū.
[xxi] The kanji  蝦夷 can be read as Emishi or Ezo and literally means “crustacean barbarians.” This was an unflattering term used by the early Yamato people to refer to indigenous peoples of Japan.
[xxii] Never mind that the area was already home to the アイヌ Ainu. Since the 1300’s the area of 函館 Hakodate was controlled by the 松前氏 Matsumae-shi Matsumae family. The domain was called 松前藩 Matsumae Han Matsumae Domain. During the Bakumatsu, Sakamoto Ryōma wanted to expand his business to Ezochi. His wife was even learning the Ainu language to help in this effort. Ryōma strongly advocated doing business with the Ainu and bringing them into the fold of a modern Japanese state. His thinking was that Hokkaidō, being a huge land mass, could help provide a buffer against the Russians. Imperial Japan agreed with this and annexed the territory and began colonizing in 1869.
[xxiii] Who are the Shinsengumi?
[xxiv] The imperial government, on the other hand, would call itself 大日本帝国 Dai-Nihon Teikoku the Empire of Greater Japan because they had no intention on given up Takeaki’s land grab in Hokkaidō or Satsuma’s tributary state, 沖縄 Okinawa.
[xxv] Again, this is a time of transition. The idea of a military (in the modern sense) and a warrior (as a social caste) were in a state of flux.
[xxvi] Pretty sure he didn’t ask the Ainu for their thoughts on the matter.
[xxvii] In their opinion.
[xxviii] In reality, for the average person on the street life went on as usual and slowly but surely things began to change. But initially there was definitely deep resentment among Edoites towards the Satsuma and Chōshū influx into Edo (which had become 東京 Tōkyō in 1868).
[xxix] Surely the missionaries were annoying as shit. lol.
[xxx] This is the same “western behavior” that is alleged to have prompted anti-shōgunate samurai assassinate Henry Heusken.
[xxxi] This is the same process used to make the signs that marked the entrance to the funerary temples of the Tokugawa shōguns. These were called 勅額門 chokugaku mon imperial scroll gates. An emperor wrote the posthumous name of the shōgun in calligraphy and it was transferred to a wooden plaque and decorated.
[xxxii] I’ll be completely honest, I don’t know what this means. But my gut instinct tells me that he was a glorified bill collector with a sword.
[xxxiii] Business and Finance are really boring for me. But if you want to learn more about zaibatsu, read this.
[xxxiv] The park is very different from the daimyō residence’s garden. Still, it’s a splendid Japanese garden.
[xxxv] Here’s more info about the park. They don’t appear to have an official English website.
[xxxvi] The assassin, 朝日平吾 Asahi Heigo, upon being learning he had been found out, sliced his own neck with a razor and died.
[xxxvii] I always keep Japanese as family name first and given name last. However Yoko Ono is mostly known by her westernized name. I’ve also chosen to not use diacritics for the same reason. But if you care, her name in Japanese is 小野洋子 Ono Yōko.
[xxxviii] Judging by Yoko Ono’s Twitter feed, she still believes in stupid shit. lol
[xxxix] He may have been born in 京橋 Kyōbashi, near 日本橋 Nihonbashi and modern 銀座 Ginza.
[xl] Today the term refers to people whose families have lived in Tōkyō for 2 or 3 generations but at the time – because mobility was still a bit restricted by economic factors – it basically referred to Tōkyōites who knew the city really well. And Ryūnosuke knew the city better than most.
[xli] I’ve never read the book, but here’s a summary.
[xlii] Marunouchi, I’m looking at you.
[xliii] At the time of writing, 1,000,000 yen is about $8,300 US.
[xliv] The series is named after the stadium.
[xlv] Today this team is the SoftBank Hawks.
[xlvi] Or ended up in a rhyming dictionary or something.
[xlvii] The name is a never ending source of pre-pubescent giggles and laughter to English speaking foreigners.

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