marky star

Search for “shinjuku”

Yamanote Line: Harajuku, Yoyogi, & Shinjuku

In Japanese History on May 10, 2016 at 4:54 am

yamanote line new train

Welcome back to my ongoing series exploring Tōkyō’s Yamanote Line. We’re pretty much in one of the most important stretches of the loop. We’ve just been to Ebisu and Shibuya and we’re bound for Shinjuku.

“So, why are you cramming 3 train stations into 1 article?” you ask. That’s a good question. The reason is this: I have a pretty solid article from back in the day on Yoyogi and recently I’ve written about both Shinjuku and Harajuku. All three articles contain the historical and etymological info you’ll need if you want to dig deeper. Since this article is about viewing Tōkyō via the Yamanote Line, I’m going go light on the history and focus on my impressions of these areas.

Read About These Areas in Detail:

takeshita street.jpg

原宿
Harajuku

Harajuku is one of the most famous neighborhoods in Tōkyō. The name is a reference to an ancient relay station where messengers could change horses in what was once one of the most remote parts of Japan. But for the last 30 some odd years, Harajuku has been a sort of ground zero for Japanese fashion. Tōkyō fashion is a serpentine ghost that haunts a certain space for a while and then whisks itself away to a new shelter where it settles or reinvents itself. This means that Harajuku’s flame doesn’t burn as bright as it once did, but the area is still very much associated with shopping and fashion.

The station gives access to such iconic spots as:

  • Meiji Jingū (shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperor[i])
  • Takeshita Dōri (an ally of stylish clothing boutiques)
  • Omotesandō Hills (a stylish shopping mall on ‘roids)
  • Yoyogi Park (one of Tōkyō big 3 “party parks[ii])

meiji jingu.jpg

Long time readers of JapanThis! know that I’m not the biggest fan of the imperial family or the Meiji Coup in general. That said, 明治神宮 Meiji Jingū (which means “Meiji Shrine”) is something you should check out at least once.

Yoyogi Park is a great park and hosts a variety of events around the year. It attracts a bohemian crowd and, well, it’s just a fun park. It’s super crowded on holidays and weekends, but so are Tōkyō’s other huge parks on major train lines.

Further reading:

yoyogi park.JPG

代々木
Yoyogi

Yoyogi is most famous for 代々木公園 Yoyogi Kōen Yoyogi Park which I mentioned earlier. The park is a pretty awesome place to chill out in the summer and fall, but because it always draws a rather bohemian crowd. It’s particularly fun in the spring for 花見 hamami cherry blossom viewing, but the pathways around the park are nice for people wanting to go for a stroll or even jog. When my friend and author Ashim Shanker got accepted to Harvard, we chose Yoyogi Park as the place to catch up over a can of beer and say goodbye before he returned to the US to make something of himself[iii]. We’d hung out in the park a few times back in the day when we were coworkers, so it only seemed natural. I guess what I’m saying is that great parks make great memories.

Anyhoo, the park itself is located on a plateau where some daimyō, notably the 井伊家 Ii-ke Ii clan had their 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence (ie; suburban palace). The name literally means “Generations of Trees” and most likely refers to a forest that existed here in the past. Interestingly, on the grounds of Meiji Jingū, there is a tree called the 代々木村ノ世々木 Yoyogi Mura no Yoyogi Yoyogi Village’s Generations Old Tree which marks the spot of Utagawa Hiroshige’s famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e painting of a tree in the area. Few people know of this spot, but it’s there.

past_and_present_01.jpg

Dude, I Just Remembered…

All of this talk of Yoyogi Park, just reminded me! The best access point to Yoyogi Park is not by Yoyogi Station, it’s by Harajuku Station which is located at the official entrance of the park. So, if you want to visit Yoyogi Park, go to Harajuku Station. I repeat: If you want to go to Yoyogi Park, go to Harajuku Station, not Yoyogi Station.

Why? Well, because other than the park, I’m not sure what else to say about the Yoyogi Station area. It’s just a bunch of companies, restaurants, and convenience stores. You’ll also have to walk quite a distance to get to the park from here because your friends are probably waiting to meet you at Harajuku Station.

Related articles:

shinjuku kabukicho

Shinjuku™

新宿
Shinjuku

If I had a $1.00 Patreon donation for every time I mentioned Shinjuku, I think I could quit my day job. Unfortunately, that’s not the case so I scrape by and stay up late at night pondering how you can explore Tōkyō via the Yamanote Line lol.

Anyways, Shinjuku is a huge business district, a 都心 toshin city center, if you will. It was originally a post town for travelers going in and out of the city. Much like its modern incarnation, the old post town was a notorious destination for those hell-bent on drinking and whoring. It’s also the capital of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis.

That’s all I’m going to say about Shinjuku because if you want to know more, check out my most recent and fairly definitive article on the subject below. Peace out!

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Shinjuku:

 

Please Support My Blog

Follow me on Twitter
Follow me on Facebook
Follow me on Flickr

If you’re gonna be in Japan, let’s take a history tour together!
JapanThis! – Tours for History Nerds

Most Importantly:
You can donate and become a patron to support every new article
⇨ Click Here to Donate via Patreon ⇦
(this is the preferred method)

Paypal fans can contact me here

Bitcoin enthusiasts can also donate:
Ƀ: 1HsKqFBVbyKTwMF3rzCprdw7aYv13fbi2A

 

 

 

______________
[i] And his wife, 昭憲皇太后 Shōken Kōtaigō, usually translated as consort, empress consort, empress or dowager. Without getting into the details of the title kōtaigō, which is peculiar to the imperial family, there are a few reasons why these other words are preferable to “wife.” She was married to the 天皇 tennō emperor, but she did not share any of his political power. If the emperor died, she could not finish out his reign until her death (as is the case in England). Just as the shōguns and daimyō had concubines to ensure hereditary succession of male bloodlines, the emperors did too. Shōken was actually barren and all 15 children of the Meiji Emperor were born by concubines. So, yeah, it’s easiest to just say she was his wife, but these other titles get thrown around to better describe her actual position in Japanese society and in the imperial court.
[ii] The other 2 being Inokashira Park and Ueno Park.
[iii] Meanwhile, I’m stuck here just writing this trainwreck of a blog lol.

What does Shinjuku mean?

In Japanese History on February 10, 2016 at 3:22 am

新宿
Shinjuku
(new post town)

koshu kaido naito-shinjuku

Shinjuku Dōri – this is where it all began.

Today’s article is long overdue. I originally wrote about Shinjuku in February 2013. The blog has matured a lot since then and I think there’s a lot more to say about the history of the area. The etymology is straightforward and was correct in the original article, but I just wanted to go into more detail. After all, Shinjuku isn’t just one of the busiest and most important places in Tōkyō; it’s arguably one of the busiest and most important places in the world. Also, just like Roppongi and Shibuya, Shinjuku has its fair share of both lovers and haters[i].

By the way, there are tons of footnotes[ii] in this article. As always, I suggest you use them. This is a pretty messy story.

My Previous Articles on Shinjuku:

shinjuku crazy

Shinjuku – skyscrapers, densely packed shopping and residential areas. Some are pristine, some are filthy (by Japanese standards, which is clean by many other standards lol).

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji

The kanji are fairly straightforward and longtime readers will probably want to skip to the next section, but for those of you aren’t so familiar with the kanji, here they are.


shin

new

宿
yado; shuku/juku

inn; suffix attached to a place name to indicate that it’s a post town

A note about pronunciation. In the 下町言葉 shitamachi kotoba low city dialect, the pronunciation Shinjiku and Shinshiku are sometimes heard. This usually isn’t done in daily conversation anymore, but is a feature of 落語 rakugo traditional story telling[iii]. I don’t know if it’s a true dialectal variant or an affectation. Also, in other parts of the country the kanji 新宿 can also be read as: Shinshuku, Niijuku, Arajuku, and Arayado. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

five highways.png

The so-called Gokaidō, or 5 Highways.

Famously, there were 5 highways leading to and from Edo[iv].  Of those five 街道 kaidō highways, one was the 甲州街道 Kōshu Kaidō which led from 日本橋 Nihonbashi in central Edo to 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain[v] in modern 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture, an important Tokugawa holding. Long time readers will know that before trains and cars, people walked everywhere. If you lived in Edo and wanted to go to any place in Japan, you just had to walk there. Depending on where you wanted to go, this could take weeks. Along the way, you had to sleep somewhere. As a result, a series of 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns were created to accommodate travelers[vi]. 宿 shuku, as you know means “inn” and 場 ba means “place” and 町 machi means “town.” These towns provided food, lodging, and ample opportunities for drinking and whoring.

At the beginning of the Edo Period, the original first rest town on the Kōshū Kaidō was in 高井戸宿 Takaido-shuku Takaido Post Town located in modern 杉並区Suginami-ku Suginami Ward. On a modern paved road, this walk could take you about 3 ½ hours. On an Edo Period road using Edo Period walking shoes, it would have taken a little longer. In addition to that, if you were a daimyō, you would be expected to proceed at a respectable pace and make a spectacle of your entourage which would make the same journey take even longer. Keep in mind that 3-4 hour calculation is assuming you actually started counting at Nihonbashi. If you came from some other area, there’s no telling how long it could take to get to Takaido-shuku.

Some Related Articles:

 

naito family crest upside down

The family crest of the Naitō family is a hanging wisteria. But in Shinjuku, the family crest is depicted upside down. It’s a mystery.

The Rise of Naitō-Shinjuku

In 1590, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu granted the 内藤家 Naitō-ke Naitō clan[vii] a massive fief outside of Edo to monitor traffic on the Kōshū Kaidō and the 鎌倉街道 Kamakura Kaidō. Later, this fief would become the Naitō clan’s 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki suburban residence[viii]. The land given to the Naitō clan was eventually deemed excessive compared to the 石高 kokudaka rice value[ix] of 高遠藩 Takatō Han Takatō Domain. So a certain section of the land was confiscated by the shōgunate and repurposed as a post town. The town came to be called 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku Naitō New Post Town.

the end

The End

Wait. What? Who the fuck are the Naitō?
And Takatō Domain? Dude, You Got Way Ahead of Yourself…

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry! I just wanted to give a quick overview. Bear with me (or bare with me, if you wanna), and I’ll explain everything. I promise.

The name Naitō will be attached to the place name Shinjuku for most of its existence, so let’s look into this family just a little bit.

Born in 1555 in 三河国岡崎 Mikawa no Kuni Okazaki Okazaki, Mikawa Province, a certain 内藤清成 Naitō Kiyonari was an important retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu[x]. In 1560, as a result of the 桶狭間之戦い Okehazama no Tatakai Battle of Okehazama, Tokugawa Ieyasu regained control of his family’s ancestral stronghold at 岡崎城 Okazaki-jō Okazaki Castle. This alliance with 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga was the beginning of Ieyasu’s rise to power and influence. This worked out nicely for all the Mikawa samurai. In 1580, Naitō Kiyonari was made the mentor of Ieyasu’s 3rd son (and future 2nd shōgun), 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada. At the time, he was 25 and Hidetada was just 2.

In 1590, Ieyasu gave up control of the ancestral Tokugawa lands in Mikawa Province and assumed control of the 関東八州 Kantō Hasshū 8 Kantō Provinces. This relocation meant a massive elite transfer. That is, all of Ieyasu’s Mikawa samurai moved to Edo. In the same year, he requested that Naitō Kiyonari also come to Edo to continue attending Hidetada in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. He granted him a large swath of land that provided tactical support to the villages surrounding the intersection of the Kōshū Kaidō and Kamakura Kaidō. The new fief spanned from 四谷 Yotsuya to 代々木 Yoyogi[xi]. At the time, this area was country. It was essentially the undeveloped areas west of the outer moat of Edo Castle. Since it existed outside of the original castle town and was developed by daimyō and 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the Tokugawa, it can be considered 山手 yamanote[xii] the high city.

Oh, and speaking of hatamoto and daimyō and all that. When Naitō Kiyonari came to Edo with Ieyasu, he came as a hatamoto. The clan’s luck changed for the better in 1691. At that time, the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi elevated the Naitō clan’s rank. In 1698, the shōgunate made 内藤清枚 Naitō Kiyokazu daimyō of Takatō Domain in present day 長野県 Nagano-ken Nagano Prefecture.

mail.png

You’ve got mail… from the shōgun.

Bureaucracy. It’s a Bitch.

By this time, Edo had been the Tokugawa capital for about 100 years. Although Ieyasu had granted Kiyokazu’s ancestor, Kiyonari, a vast swath of land, the rules about daimyō and rank had become stricter. Edo was expanding out into the country as well. This wasn’t the Sengoku Period anymore.

I mentioned it earlier, but with their newly earned daimyō status, the Naitō clan were under closer scrutiny by the 老中 rōjū shōgun’s chief advisors. The value of their new fief in Takatō wasn’t high enough to warrant such a large landholding in Kantō. It was bigger than or as big as most of the holdings of the richest daimyō – families that had been daimyō for a much longer time and who commanded huge domains. The shōgunate confiscated a section of the Naitō estate to make things seem fair. The area they were most interested in was the land where the Kōshū Kaidō and the 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō Ōme Highway intersected. This seemed like a good place to establish a shukuba machi (post town). The local villages had already been servicing the Naitō clan’s residence for almost 100 years. A local economy was present on both highways. Making an official post town in the area could take some of the onus off of Takaido and 伝馬町 Denma-chō[xiii] and build up a stronger suburban economy.

Even though the Naitō clan took a hit in terms of landholdings, the newly created shukuba, Naitō-Shinjuku, was destined to be a success – a wet, sticky, hot mess of a success.

Some related reading:

shukuba

Stereotypical image of a post town.

So, What was Naitō-Shinjuku?

Well, before the name Naitō Shinjuku got thrown around, the small town that popped up to service the palatial estate of the Naitō was called Naitō Machi literally “Naitō Town.”[xiv] This was the commoner district outside of the Naitō compound. So, a strong case could be made that the original name of Shinjuku was actually Naitō Machi. The addition of the word Shinjuku definitely came later.

harbinger of things to come

The green areas are the post town. The yellow areas are shrines, temples, and roads. The weird blue line is the Tama Jōsui (Tama Aqueduct). You’ll probably want to come back to this map later.

As I mentioned before, the original fief given to Kiyonari was later reduced when the family was given daimyō status and the area became a shimo-yashiki. But make no mistake about it; the plot of land held by the Naitō was still expansive. Modern 新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen Shinjuku Imperial Park is more or less the former Naitō estate.

tamagawa-en.JPG

This section of the Naitō residence was said to be open to the public.

The Naitō knew what a fantastic rural palace they had. They built several spacious gardens with manmade hills, ponds, and all manner of flowers and trees. The family was apparently very generous to the local people and opened up the玉川園 Tamagawa-en Tamagawa Garden to the general public each season[xv]. Tamagawa-en is easily counted among some of the most famous attractions of the Edo[xvi]. Even to this day, some of the cherry blossoms trees in Shinjuku Gyoen are said to be about 400 years old[xvii].

Related reading:

hiroshige ever the jokester

Utagawa Hiroshige – ever the jokester. What do you think this painting is about?

But it wasn’t all ice cream, daimyō gardens, and puppy dogs. Day to day life in the area was pretty mundane most of the time. From the Edo Period until the American Occupation, Shinjuku was notorious for drinking and whoring – and by that, I mean the unlicensed sort[xviii]. Since local unlicensed sex industries were a taboo topic, the Naitō Machi area was perhaps best known a relay station. This meant the shōgunate kept horse stables here for messengers who had to relay important messages quickly. The presence of a lot of horses meant this area was famously covered in 馬糞 bafun horse manure – or less politely maguzo horse shit. It’s said that on hot days, pedestrians and horses kicked up dust clouds of dirt and dry shit and the air was yellow and foul.

The neighborhood of 新宿区四谷4丁目 Shinjuku-ku Yotsuya yon-chōme 4th block of Yotsuya, Shinjuku Ward was called 四谷大木戸 Yotsuya Ōkido. This is because from 1616 to 1792 a special 関所 sekisho check point stood here. An ōkido – literally “large wooden door” – was the name given to the border stations that protected the routes in and out of the shōgun’s capital. Edo had 3 main ōkido:

name

highway

板橋大木戸
Itabashi Ōkido

中山道
Nakasendō

高輪大木戸
Takanawa Ōkido

東海道
Tōkaidō

四谷大木戸
Yotsuya Ōkido

甲州街道
Kōshū Kaidō

Travelers coming in and out of Edo would show their paperwork, and if approved they’d be admitted into the city. But apparently by the 1790’s, the shōgunate didn’t see the need for such precautions anymore.

okido

The entrance to Naitō Shinjuku was the Yotsuya Ōkido. The entrance was never this fortified, though. This looks like the center of a castle town, but this drawing was done in the the Late Edo Period when ōkido basically didn’t exist anymore.

Let’s Take a Stroll through Naitō-Shinjuku

Travelers coming in would pass the ōkido and continue on the Kōshū Kaidō through the post town. The area covered present day 新宿一丁目 Shinjuku Icchōme 1st block of Shinjuku, 二丁目 Ni-chōme 2nd block, and 三丁目 San-chōme 3rd block. Today, that stretch of road is called 新宿通り Shinjuku Dōri Shinjuku Street. The street was lined with all kinds of shops and inns and would have been like any other shukuba machi. The town ended when you arrived at a fork in the road in an area called 淀橋 Yodobashi[xix]. This fork was the beginning of the Ōmekaidō[xx].

naito shinjuku diorama.jpg

Everybody loves dioramas!

The post town gained quite a reputation in its first 20 years. There were 52 inns in addition to other businesses. Supposedly, nearly every business in Naitō-Shinjuku offered prostitutes as an additional service. It was so bad that the 奉行所 bugyōsho magistrate’s office was regularly hounded by the proprietors of shops in 吉原 Yoshiwara[xxi] who complained that they couldn’t compete with pricing and availability[xxii]. They insisted that the shōgunate either ban prostitution in Naitō-Shinjuku or at the very least regulate the shit out of it. After a fire devastated the area, the shōgunate mulled the costs of rebuilding. Compounded by complaints from rich proprietors in Yoshiwara, the post town was shut down in 1718.

More reading:

Shinjuku Dori.JPG

You may want to refer to the map I posted earlier. This is the modern route from the Yotsuya Ōkido to the split from the Kōshū Kaidō to the Ōmekaidō.

The Shut Down of Naitō-Shinjuku

However, the party didn’t stop – it just slowed down… but it slowed down a lot.

In the same year, the 8th shōgun, 徳川吉宗 Tokugawa Yoshimune, enacted a series of sumptuary laws called the 享保の改革の最 Kyōhō no Kaikaku Kyōhō Reforms. One of his reforms was aimed at restricting unlicensed prostitution and stated that 旅籠屋一軒につき飯盛女は2人まで hatago-ya ikken ni tsuki meshimori onna futari made inns for travelers may have no more than 2 meshimori onna per shop. Meshimori onna is the Japanese word for girls who served meals and provided sexual favors in post towns. That meant a town like Naitō-Shinjuku could now be regulated so the town was back in business almost as quickly as it had been shut down.

Edo Period Street Walkers.jpg

We’re not a post town anymore. Now we’re just a 岡場所 (okabasho), a local red light district.

The problem was that without its post town status people were passing through and staying at the original first official post town, Takaito. The village headman of Naitō Machi appealed to the shōgunate saying that most of the townspeople had lost their livelihoods. He also argued that other post towns, Takaito in particular, couldn’t handle all the traffic and re-opening Naitō-Shinjuku as a post town would ease the burden. Various appeals were made between 1723 and 1737 – more than 30 years. But every time the shōgunate rejected the petitions. They were effectively drawn off the maps. Naitō-Shinjuku was only known to the local commoner population and the Takatō samurai population who needed to indulge in a nice cup of tea, a bath, and some sex with a local Kantō girl. But this wasn’t enough. The town was suffering.

Finally, in 1772, about 50 years after the post town was closed by the shōgunate, they granted shukuba status to the area again[xxiii].

naito shinjuku in 1919

Naitō Shinjuku in 1919

The Icing on the Cake

Recently, the shōgunate had more or less given up on regulating the number of meshimori onna at inns. They began looking the other way when other shops began employing them too. They even went so far as to make special exceptions for certain villages, certain post towns, and even certain individual businesses. In short, Naitō-Shinjuku was back in full swing.

mesimorionna.jpg

Woo-hoo! Let’s get this party started. More sexxxy food time for everyone. Awwwwwwww yeah.

Shinjuku Swells Up & Gets Bigger and Bigger

Even after the obsolescence of post towns – these were often replaced by train stations – the area’s reputation as a red light district never diminished. To this day, Shinjuku’s lively 歌舞伎町 Kabukichō district is synonymous with the sex industry.

Again, given the sheer number of people, department stores, apartments, and skyscrapers that define Shinjuku today, it’s hard to believe it was never anything but a massive city center. But the area was still pretty underdeveloped until after the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. The real development began after a series of fires in 1925. The site was chosen as a 副都心 Fuku-toshin. Toshin means “city center.” Fuku-toshin literally means “vice city center,” but maybe “urban subcenter” is a better translation? I dunno. “Vice city center” sounds kinda bad ass. Anyways, that was when Shinjuku really began to get its proverbial girth.

Naito Machi.JPG

Modern Naito Machi includes both the former post town and former daimyō residence.

So What Happened to the Name Naitō-Shinjuku?

The creation of Shinjuku Ward is very complicated and boring but here’s the short version. In the 1920’s, Naitō-Shinjuku was combined with some other towns to form 淀橋区 Yodobashi-ku Yodobashi Ward. In 1947, when Shinjuku Ward was created Naitō Machi still existed – indeed, that postal address still exists today. And while Naitō-Shinjuku was the first Shinjuku, it wasn’t the only Shinjuku. There were 西新宿 Nishi-Shinjuku West Shinjuku and 東新宿 Higashi Shinjuku East Shinjuku and… well, you get the picture. Thus when reshuffling administrative units of Tōkyō in 1947, it just made sense to call the whole area “Shinjuku.” This was the common name for the district anyways; Naitō-Shinjuku was just one part of that area.

And while we haven’t lost Naitō Machi as a postal address, we have actually lost Naito-Shinjuku. But the debauchery of Naitō-Shinjuku lives on in Kabukichō and other parts of Shinjuku Ward. I can’t help but feel that the culture of Shinjuku is deeply rooted in its licentious post town days. Don’t forget things were so out of control the fucking Yoshiwara tried to shut them down!

So the next time you visit a prostitute in the area, just remember that you’re actually connecting with a profound, grand, unbroken historical erotic tradition passed down directly from the culture of the Edo Period.

Oh yeah, and the park’s not too bad.

Please Support My Blog
It Don’t Write Itself™
⇨ Click Here to Donate via Patreon ⇦
BTC: 1HsKqFBVbyKTwMF3rzCprdw7aYv13fbi2A
(I’ve begun making exclusive videos for patrons)

___________
[i] I count myself among both groups. Yes, I’m a lover and a hater.
[ii] Footnote test. lol.
[iii] Here’s the Wikipedia article on rakugo.
[iv] There were more than 5, by the way. But the traditional “big 5” started at Nihonbashi. Here’s my article on them.
[v] For the record, in the Edo Period, 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain was a Tokugawa shōgunate controlled fief located in 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni Kai Province. Fans of the Sengoku Period will recognize Kai Province and Kōfu (which both share the kanji 甲 kai/) as the territory of the Sengoku warlord 武田信玄 Takeda Shingen.
[vi] This system wasn’t a product of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. It popped up naturally as villagers took advantage of inter-provincial/inter-domain traffic. The Tokugawa shōgunate definitely insisted on regulating it.
[vii] Later the clan would be promoted to daimyō rank. They controlled 高遠藩 Takatō Han Takatō Domain in modern 長野県伊那 Nagano-ken Ina-shi Ina City, Nagano Prefecture
[viii] More about that later. At this time, the Naitō family were just retainers of Ieyasu. Ieyasu was just a daimyō, one of the 5 most powerful daimyō in Japan, but he still had a 10 year uphill struggle to become shōgun.
[ix] Here’s a good explanation of kokudaka from Samurai Archives.
[x] Who went by the name 松平元康 Matsudaira Motoyasu in those days.
[xi] According to legend, Ieyasu told Naitō Kiyonari that he would give him a fief based on how far his horse could ride. This ended up being Yotsuya in the east, Yoyogi in the west, Sendagaya in the south, and Ōkubo in the north. Take the story with a grain of salt.
[xii] I know this has been beaten to death here, but if you don’t know what yamanote and shitamachi mean, please read this article.
[xiii] Denma-chō was home to one of Edo’s 3 Great Execution Grounds.
[xiv] This is what happens when commoners suck up to nobles.
[xv] As a 武家 buke military family, of course they didn’t allow full access to the entire residence and all the gardens, but still, that’s pretty cool.
[xvi] This area is now present day 玉藻池 Tamamo Ike Tamamo Lake in Shinjuku Gyoen
[xvii] I don’t know how you confirm this without cutting the tree down, but what the hell do I know?
[xviii] This means, no government regulation free-range prostitution. You’ll see what I mean soon enough.
[xix] If the name Yodobashi sounds familiar to you (ie; like a huge electronics retailer), you’re not going crazy. The shop’s name derives from this location. I have an article about that somewhere.
[xx] Today, parts of this road still exist, including the famous “rape tunnel.” It’s preserved as the 旧青梅街道 Kyū-Ōmekaidō Old Ōmekaidō. The current road that bears the name Ōmekaidō has been moved a little. If you look at the walls in the tunnel, they have the whole length of the Ōmekaidō mapped out and each post town is labeled!
[xxi] Yoshiwara was the main licensed prostitution district of Edo.
[xxii] Yoshiwara was extremely expensive. The whole process was highly ritualized in the classier establishments. You’d go one night to have tea with a proprietor and if you were lucky, you’d be introduced to a girl for some more tea. Then you’d have to come back and court her more until she finally said, “yes.” Of course, there were lower class places that sped up the process. But in a Naitō-Shinjuku it was like “do you want a girl after your tea?” or “thanks for ordering a plate of soba, would you like a blow job after that?”
[xxiii] By 1808 the town had made a full economic recovery as it’s recorded that they had 50 inns and 80 tea houses.

Ōedo Line: Tochōmae & Nishi-Shinjuku Go-chōme

In Japanese History on July 9, 2015 at 6:39 am

都庁前
Tochōmae (in front of the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government Building)

14959690740_a9271e59de_z

The etymology of the place name is straight forward. 都 to means “metropolis” – a kind of “super prefecture.” 庁 chō means office. 前 mae means front. This is the name of the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government Building.

tocho

The TMG Building is quite impressive. It’s a massive 48 floor skyscraper that splits into 2 towers at the 33rd floor. On the 45th floor of each tower there are observation decks which are free to the general public. From here, you can see Tōkyō Tower, Tōkyō Skytree, and Mt. Fuji. 新宿中央公園 Shinjuku Chūō Kōen Shinjuku Central Park is nearby. It’s a nice park, but not an historical park as far as I know. It’s a popular destination for office workers and government employees on their lunch breaks. The park is also known for its cherry blossoms in the spring. I’ve never gone to there for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing, but I imagine it’s not very crowded since this is a business and administrative area, not residential. So if you want a secret hanami spot, Shinjuku Central Park is as good a place as any.

tocho hay

西新宿五丁目
Nishi-Shinjuku Go-chōme (West Shinjuku, 5th Block)

OK, sorry. There’s nothing here, really. 新宿熊野神社 Shinjuku Kumano Jinja Shinjuku Kumano Shrine is located a short distance from the station. The shrine isn’t very famous, but it’s located on the grounds of Shinjuku Central Park, so if you visit the park, you can see it anyways. As far as shrines go, it’s pretty typical.

kumano

As I said in the last post and in the beginning posts, the Ōedo Line is kind of a loop. Once it loops around, it spends a lot of time in Shinjuku.

Here are my other posts about Shinjuku:

Please Support My Blog
It Don’t Write Itself™
Click Here to Donate via Patreon
(I’ve begun making exclusive videos for patrons)

This is part of an ongoing series that begins here

Ōedo Line: Yoyogi & Shinjuku

In Japanese History on July 8, 2015 at 4:49 am

代々木
Yoyogi (never ending trees)

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Yoyogi Park is one of Tōkyō’s greatest parks. It’s pretty much beautiful all year long, but it’s really famous for cherry blossoms in the spring. It attracts a younger and less conventional crowd, including foreigners. For history nerds there is very little to see here unless you search the grounds of 明治神宮 Meiji Jingū the Meiji Shrine for the remnants of the Ii clan’s estate (of which virtually nothing is left).

In my original article, I went into detail about the etymology of this location. But even if you don’t care about Japanese history, Yoyogi Park is a lot of fun. It is without a doubt, one of the most exciting public spaces in Tōkyō. In terms of liveliness, it ranks in my top 3 “party parks” with Ueno Park and Inokashira Park. But all three parks are distinct. There’s no true comparison.

This station gives you access to:

Yoyogi Park is a famous 青姦 aokan (outdoor sex) spot. If you can get away with it, do it!

Yoyogi Park is a famous 青姦 aokan (outdoor sex) spot. If you can get away with it, do it!

新宿
Shinjuku (new post town)

shinjuku

If you’ve been following this series from the beginning, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve come full circle. The Ōedo Line begins at Shinjuku Nishiguchi, the east side of Shinjuku Station. From this point on, we’re going to venture outside of shōgun’s capital. In the Edo Period, this area was on the outskirts of the city. It was suburban along the 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō Ōme Highway and 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway and more or less country if you veered off the main roads.

The old Ōme Kaidō passes under the elevated train tracks near Shinjuku Station.  The tunnel is referred to by foreigners as the

The old Ōme Kaidō passes under the elevated train tracks near Shinjuku Station.
The tunnel is referred to by foreigners as the “rape tunnel” because it was so shady at night, but now it’s well lit and actually features art exhibits 24 hours.
To the best of my knowledge, no one has been raped in there. It’s just a really off color joke by foreigners that I heard. I’ve walked through there at night and it’s always crowded and lively. You’re more likely to smell a homeless person sleeping than encounter any kind of violence there. Nevertheless, the horrible nickname persists.

Shinjuku Station gives you access to almost the whole world. It’s one of the busiest train stations in the world. The name literally means “New Post Town” and refers to its old name as 内藤新宿 Naitō-Shinjuku. Naitō was the daimyō family that had an estate here on the Kōshū Highway which led to modern day Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefectures. Once their estate was built, a post town for travelers popped up. In the post war era, the name Naitō was dropped and the area has officially been known as Shinjuku ever since.

Want to read more?

Please Support My Blog
It Don’t Write Itself™
Click Here to Donate via Patreon
(I’ve begun making exclusive videos for patrons)

This is part of an ongoing series that begins here

___________________________________
[i] Before the end of 2015, I will have a comprehensive article about Shinjuku. I promise.

Ōedo Line: Higashi-Shinjuku & Wakamatsu-Kawada

In Japanese History on June 3, 2015 at 2:37 am

東新宿
Higashi Shinjuku (East Shinjuku)

station higashi shinjuku

This is just the station name. The area is actually called 新宿五丁目 Shinjuku Go-chōme 5th Block of Shinjuku. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten off at this station, but I imagine it’s just offices, restaurants, and apartments – nothing too exciting.

higashi shinjuku neighborhood

若松河田
Wakamatsu-Kawada

Wakamatsu

Wakamatsu

The station name is a combination of 2 town names: 若松町 Wakamatsu-chō Wakamatsu Town and 河田町 Kawada-chō Kawada Town. Wakamatsu-chō is said to derive from the 若松 wakamatsu young pine trees that were cut from this area and presented yearly to the shōgun family to decorate Edo Castle at 御正月 O-shōgatsu the New Year Holiday. Kawada-chō is said to derive from a swampy rice paddy in the area. The first kanji 河 kawa means river or stream. The second kanji 田 ta/da means rice paddy. Rice paddies need irrigation, ergo “Kawada.”

I’ve never visited the area, but from my understanding, it’s just a residential neighborhood with high rise apartments. Maybe there’s a convenience store or shrine in the area, but probably not much else.

Wakamatsu Kawada's claim to fame is apparently this big supermarket. Neat.

Wakamatsu Kawada’s claim to fame is apparently this big supermarket. Neat.

Please Support My Blog
It Don’t Write Itself™
 Click Here to Donate 
(I’ve begun making exclusive videos for patrons)
⇨ Bitcoin: 18xSJyYwRRP8bJccHiG7KxWgPKZdd5HKk2 

.

This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

Ōedo Line: Shinjuku Nishiguchi

In Japanese History on June 2, 2015 at 2:09 am

新宿西口
Shinjuku Nishiguchi (Shinjuku West Exit)

Shinjuku Nishiguchi is used to refer to a huge area. This is just one small part.

Shinjuku Nishiguchi is used to refer to a huge area. This is just one small part.

The name derives from the Shinjuku Station. This is more or less a shopping, business district, and drinking area. The station gives you reasonably quick, but not direct, access to 歌舞伎町 Kabukichō, a red light district famous for drinking and whoring. There are a few temples and cemeteries in the area, but nothing particularly famous. If gritty Shōwa Era yaki tori shops are your thing, you might want to check out 思い出横丁 Omoide Yokochō which translates as something like “Memory Lane.” It’s a series of alleys with tiny, cramped specialty shops that offer yaki tori, ramen, sushi, and a few other dishes at reasonable prices. The streets might be old and dirty, but the shops are sanitary and the atmosphere is thick – definitely worth a visit at night. The Omoide Yokochō area has an English website.

Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho

Oh, and just a heads up. Shinjuku was on the outskirts of Edo. It was more of a post town than part of the capital proper. The name actually means “new post town” and refers to the creation of a new station that serviced the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway and the 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō Ōme Highway. Post towns were notorious for catering to the prurient proclivities of horny travelers. One has to wonder if Shinjuku’s very active sex industry is a legacy of that tradition.

Please Support My Blog
It Don’t Write Itself™
 Click Here to Donate 
(I’ve begun making exclusive videos for patrons)
⇨ Bitcoin: 18xSJyYwRRP8bJccHiG7KxWgPKZdd5HKk2 

.

This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

Why is Shinjuku called Shinjuku?

In Japanese History on February 16, 2013 at 6:09 am

新宿
Shinjuku (New Shuku → New Post Town)

The word 宿 shuku (宿場 shuku-ba “rest town”) was used in the Edo Period to refer to post towns on the highway system connecting various feudal domains. When a certain daimyō built his lower residence in the area, a new post town was created on the Kōshū Kaidō post road and named “new post town.”

koshu kaido

Map of the shukuba on the Koshukaido.
The road stretched from Edo to present day Nagano.

The daimyō family who lived here was called 内藤 (Naitō), so the name of the town became NaitōShinjuku (New Shuku Naito). The name Naito-Shinjuku persisted until the 1920’s.

As a post town, there would have been many places to drink and get laid. Modern Shinjuku isn’t much different… except that the Tokyo Municipal Government is also based there. Awwwww yeah.

Shinjuku or Sinjuku?

Shinjuku at night

Japanese Summer Songs

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

img_0-2

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

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

Original Posts:

 

阿波よしこの
Awa Yoshikono

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


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

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

 

GReeen
キセキ

Kiseki

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

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

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

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

 

Whiteberry
夏祭り

Natsu Matsuri

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

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

 

大塚愛
Ōtsuka Ai
金魚花火
Kingyo Hanabi

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

 

Begin
島人ぬ宝

Shimanchu nu Takara

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

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

Speaking of…

エイサー踊り
Eisā Odori

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

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

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

img_0-2

Thanks for Reading. The Article is Finished.

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

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

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

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

でんぱ組. Inc
Dempagumi Inc

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

This is another summer classic by Dempagumi.

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

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

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

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

Two Sections ago I Said the Article was Done.

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

Help Support JapanThis!

Follow

JapanThis! on Twitter
JapanThis! on Facefook
JapanThis! on Flickr
JapanThis! on Instagram

Support

Support Every Article on Patreon
Donate via Paypal (msg via Facebook)
Donate with BitCoin (msg via Facebook)

Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Guided Tours

 

 


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

What does Taitō mean?

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

台東
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:

sensoji

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


east

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:

Seiichiro_Yasui

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.

康熙字典

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.”

kan'ei-ji.jpg

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.

kogan

Nerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd!

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

猶太
Yudaya

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♪

 

Help Support JapanThis!

Follow

JapanThis! on Twitter
JapanThis! on Facefook
JapanThis! on Flickr
JapanThis! on Instagram

Support

Support Every Article on Patreon
Donate via Paypal (msg via Facebook)
Donate with BitCoin (msg via Facebook)

Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Guided Tours

 

______________________________________
[i]
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.”

What does Iogi mean?

In Japanese History on April 19, 2017 at 3:31 am

井荻
Iogi (well and reeds, more at “place between Igusa and Ogikubo”)

Iogi South Entrance

South Exit of Iogi Station

Coming up with new place names in Tōkyō to write about is never a problem. On those rare days when I have no inspiration, a random look at a map of the city might spark an interest. Other times, I get requests from you, the reader. And it’s not unusual for certain place names to come up in face to face conversation. Today is one of those face to face instances.

Last month, I was at an event in which a very interesting story came up – a story typical of hand-me-down stories in Tōkyō. It was a lurid story that involved a train station and a lot of shit and piss[i]. (Oh, and be prepared. I’m gonna use the phrase shit and piss a lot in this article). But it’s a fitting example of how a little truth and a little fiction get mixed up over the years. It’s also a great example of how stories aren’t passed down clearly by the locals themselves leading to confusion once people try to share their local history with outsiders.

As a person obsessed with diachronic linguistics, I think this story demonstrates the murky waters we tread when exploring the etymologies of local place names[ii]. In short, this is why skepticism is important when talking about history, language, and your mom[iii].

linguistics nerd.jpg

Exploring Edo-Tōkyō Like Locals Do

So, I was introduced to a new colleague by Donny Kimball of Distant Dystopia, and when the conversation turned to Edo-Tōkyō place names[iv], my new friend suggested a place name for JapanThis!. The area was called 井荻 Iogi[v], and although I’d never heard of it before, I was intrigued. Our conversation was brief, but what I took away from it was this:

I live in a place called Iogi on the Seibu Shinjuku Line. It’s not much to look at these days, but a local old man told me trains used to carry shit and piss from Tōkyō to the countryside. They used to dump all this excrement in a lake or swamp in Iogi. Furthermore, if you look at the color of the cars on this train, they’re a shitty version of piss yellow. That color was a deliberate indicator (or direct inheritance) of this train line’s association with the transport of human excrement, ie; avoid the yellow colored train!

I’d heard about feces used for compost as early as my elementary school days. My parents had spent two years in the countryside of Kanagawa Prefecture before I was born and they showed me a curious bill that they had saved. It was a bill for a shit and piss collection service. Seemed weird to me as a young kid who knew nothing about Japan, but whatever. I soon forgot about this because, it was totally irrelevant to my life.

When I heard this story about Iogi, I remembered my parents’ story about the shit and piss collection service they paid for every month. I quickly made a connection to the Pre-Modern custom of selling so-called “night soil.” Soon I was determined to see how much of this story was true and immediately thought that you, dear reader, would be curious too.

etymology time.jpg

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji


i

usually this kanji means well, the sort you would draw water from; it has a secondary meaning of community.


ogi

this means reeds; it commonly occurs in marshy lowlands or where lakes once stood.

The etymology of 井荻 Iogi is simple, really. Iogi is not a place name, just a station name[vi]. Located in Tōkyō’s 杉並区 Suganami-ku Suginami Ward, it’s surrounded by 上井草駅 Kami Igusa Eki Upper Igusa Station and 下井草駅 Shimo Igusa Eki Lower Igusa Station. Upper and Lower Igusa are references to their respective locations upstream and downstream on the 井草川 Igusa-gawa Igusa River. Directly south of Iogi Station is an area called 荻窪 Ogikubo. In 1927, when naming the station, the 西武鉄道 Seibu Tetsudō Seibu Railroad decided to take the 井 i from Igusa and the 荻 ogi from Ogikubo and voila! We have Iogi.

Further Reading:

 

edo period well.jpg

An Edo Period well, ie; nothing related to today’s topic.

The Uncomfortable Bits

There are two other terms that are going to be critical to this story. The first is 汚穢 owai, commonly translated as “night soil[vii].” The second is 汚穢屋 owai-ya, the people or organizations who handled this so-called night soil. Night soil is the euphemistic English translation of urban shit and piss, especially in the big cities like Edo and Kyōto, but it was by no means limited to the large urban centers. Any castle town, post town, or village would have needed a way to remove human excrement from residential areas. Actually, the post towns had a particularly unique problem as they kept horses stabled for official use by shōgunate officials[viii].

And just a heads up, the term owai-ya is inextricably linked to the 穢多 eta, the class of untouchables who existed outside of the class system and were relegated to work that was considered spiritually defiled or filthy. In modern Japan, the terms owai-ya and eta are considered some of the most extreme 差別用語 sabetsu yōgo discriminatory words. So, don’t throw these terms around lightly – especially outside of specific historical contexts[ix][x]. They are extremely offensive when not used correctly.

Night Soil Collector in Ōsaka.png

A night soil collector in Ōsaka.

Night Soil and its Legacy

Now that we’ve got etymology and some basic concepts out of the way, let’s get to the heart of the discussion.

You’ll often hear the Japanese praise the Edo Period, and Pre-Modern Japan in general, as being particularly environmentally friendly. There are a lot of ways in which this was true. In the case of disposal of human excrement and sanitation, this is pretty much undeniable. While westerners were just dumping their chamber pots out on to the street spreading germs and disease, the Japanese had developed a so-called circular economy[xi]. They weren’t the first in doing so – most pre-industrial societies made attempts at this – but the Japanese excelled at it in many regards.

loop economy.jpg

So, what’s a circular economy? The term describes an efficient loop system where produced items are either repaired, reused, or recycled[xii]. In this kind of closed loop, there is no waste produced that isn’t used. The owai-ya, night soil collectors, would visit public latrines and toilets of private residences at night and collect[xiii] the day’s contents in order to bring them to the nearest agricultural lands to compost and sell as fertilizer. Farmers could pay for this natural fertilizer with money, or by repaying the collectors with high end crops grown in the rich soil they had purchased. This meant, human waste was no longer urban pollution, but rather a valuable commodity. It was a source of employment for Edo’s outcastes who were relegated to the filthiest and most abhorrent types of work[xiv].

owaiya-san
This closed loop economy kept cities sanitary in the Edo Period, and the system was particularly rigorous in the shōgun’s capital. The business became so lucrative for the night soil collectors that many of them had relationships both directly and indirectly with the shōgunate that made several outcaste families very wealthy[xv]. Sure, they could never marry up. But, some of them did better than low level do-nothing samurai of the late Edo Period who had status, but not much else[xvi].

night soil collector

Passersby cover their noses as a night soil collector carries shit and piss down the street.

Interestingly – but not unsurprisingly – there was a hierarchy of shit and piss that mirrored the hierarchy of Edo Period society. Naturally, the excrement of the samurai class was deemed the most valuable – that of the shōgun’s castle being at the top of the pyramid, followed by the daimyō and their castles and residences. Of these samurai families, the night soil was further divided by gender – men’s feces being deemed more valuable than women’s, as men were generally served higher quality food than women because… you know, misogyny and all. The human and animal waste of the 下町 shitamachi low city (ie; commoner districts) was presumably higher in volume, but fetched the lowest price on the market because… you know, fuck the poor.

This system of waste disposal was so efficient by the end of the Edo Period and the “companies” that dealt with the retrieval, transport, and sale of all this shit and piss were so highly developed that, even as the newly established Meiji Government began building the first western-style sewers in Japan, they saw no need to abolish this delicate balancing act between Japan’s castle towns and agricultural areas. On top of that, the introduction of germ theory from the West confirmed the superiority of Japan’s night soil economy over that of America and Europe in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s[xvii].

In Edo, the system was so effective and so integral to the economy that it wasn’t just dirty outcaste guys pushing carts of excrement from residential areas to local fields. No, there were huge barges on the rivers transporting excess night soil from the shōgun’s capital to strategic agricultural domains in modern Saitama and Chiba Prefectures on a regular basis. Believe it or not, seaworthy “tankers” even transported enormous amounts of excreta from Edo to the cotton fields of Kansai, on the complete other side of the country.

public toilets.jpg

Public toilets in the commoner districts weren’t always separated by gender, but sometimes had one room for squatters and a separate room for “tachishonben,” standing and peeing… which I think is safe to assume was only used by men. However, such distinct rooms were usually only found in the homes of the samurai where the shit and piss was valued higher.

Those Toilets, Though.

An interesting side note about Edo Period toilets. Samurai and rich merchants had toilets in the homes, but the average commoner in a huge city like Edo was stuck using public latrines. In the 下町 shitamchi low city, they were not separated by gender. They were, however, generally restricted to individual use[xviii]. These latrines consisted of little more than a space to do your business over a deep pit dug into the ground that was periodically cleaned out by the outcastes during the day to keep them from overflowing.

Relegated to the back alleys off the main thoroughfares, they afforded a little privacy and reduced the problem of “main street stink.” The half-doors gave a little privacy, but the upper door was cut away for circulation so you didn’t choke to death on the smell of all your neighbors’ shit and piss. Because of this opening, you were theoretically exposed to the view of anyone passing by[xix]. The nature of the kimono and yukata combined with the shame of being watched while doing your business reinforced the habit of squatting while using a toilet to such a degree that you can still find squat toilets – albeit in a modern form with plumbing – to this day all over Japan, even in central Tōkyō. Normally, I hate these modern 和式 washiki Japanese-style toilets, but if I’m wearing a kimono or yukata, I prefer them.

Edo_period_chamber_pot_2.jpg

A portable toilet, one that might be found in the house of a wealthy person.

The toilets of Edo Castle or any samurai residence in the city were a different story altogether. These were completely private, and located in a remote corner of the building near a small garden[xx]. These residences were raised off the ground and the toilet was simply a hole in the floor with a lid to contain the stench. Underneath the hole was a wooden trough that collected the excreta, which could be easily removed at night or at regular intervals during the day by a night soil collector who climbed under the house and pulled out the trough and replaced it with a clean one.

toilet.jpg
As for the toilets of the daimyō class and the residences of the first westerners in Japan, we have an interesting account from a Jesuit priest named João Rodrigues who visited Japan in the late 1500’s. He wrote that toilets of the elites were kept extremely clean – cleaner than in Europe. They were “perfumed” and had “fresh cut paper” provided for wiping, and in the case of the most elite, a stream of clean water was available to wash your hands. He also noted that there were attendants who ran in to clean out the toilet after each use to make sure the next person who used it wouldn’t be squicked out[xxi]. The custom of squatting while doing the do was pretty much the norm among the elites, too. But the conditions seem to have been waaaaaaaay better if you had the money and rank.

Shit Train.jpg

Say hello to the Shit Train!

Night Soil After the Meiji Coup – Train Time!

Anyhoo, back to this circular economy concept. As I mentioned earlier, the system was so sanitary and so efficient, and the industry was so robust and integrated into daily life, the Meiji Government saw no need to abolish it. In fact, the new government encouraged this lucrative business to grow and the train companies were the first to try to expand the existing business model and push it into the new era. Rather than pushing carts of shit and piss around on dirt roads, they built special train lines that could transport more of this rich fertilizer farther, faster, and more discreetly than ever before. This new technology-based efficiency made the companies that dealt with 糞尿輸送 funnyō yusō excrement transportation extremely profitable. The main companies in Tōkyō were the 西部鉄道 Seibu Tetsudō Seibu Railroad and the 東武鉄道 Tōbu Tetsudō Tōbu Railroad[xxii]. Both companies were highly competitive in various aspects of business, chiefly the transport of humans and goods between Tōkyō to Saitama[xxiii].

 

1944 shit train seibu line

Seibu Shit Train in 1944.

End of the Traditional Loop Economy

Because the night soil trade was such a huge part of the day to day economy, the Japanese were slow to modernize their toilets and sewerage systems. During the Edo, Meiji, and Taishō Periods[xxiv], they were far superior to the West in this regard. However, by the Shōwa Period, they had fallen far behind, and by the end of WWII, the Americans and other foreigners operating in Japan were shocked and appalled by the massive cargo trains transporting foul smelling, steaming hot excreta out of the city on sizzling summer days. It’s in the post-war era that the night soil business began to disappear in the big cities, with Tōkyō leading by example. By the early 1970’s, the business still existed in the countryside, but the model had changed fundamentally: in the past, people paid to buy shit and piss, now people were paying to get rid of it.

irori.jpg

This is an irori. Please do not shit or piss in it.

You’d think that by 2017, this industry would be a thing of the past. But I wouldn’t be too sure. I first visited Japan in 2002/2003. At that time, I spent the New Year’s holiday with a friend’s family in their remote cottage home in the mountains of Nagano. It was a traditional wooden house with an 囲炉裏 irori traditional farmhouse stove and no running water; you had to use a local 温泉 onsen hot spring if you wanted a bath. The toilet was in a small corner room away from the main living area[xxv]. There was a small hole in the floor, beneath which I could see a large rectangular plastic tub and from which I felt the frosty winter air rushing in and filling up the unheated room. There was toilet paper, but that’s it. There were 6 of us staying there.

 

gross toilet

Ummm, I didn’t really want to include a picture of this kind of toilet… but I kinda had no choice.

Needless to say, I was shocked and horrified by the contents accumulating in the dark tub below. Japan clearly wasn’t a third world country, but what was this primitive horror show? I resigned myself to not using the toilet unless it was absolutely necessary.

The next afternoon, when we all hopped in the car to drive back to Tōkyō, I asked my friend’s dad what happens to… you know, all that shit and piss. He told me, “Before we leave, I call a service that comes and picks it up and turns it into compost.” Then I put that awful memory out of my head forever. That is, until this article brought that memory flooding back. That was 2003, and the area was really isolated, but if they still don’t have running water up there, I can totally imagine that system still working now[xxvi].

washlette.jpg

Equipped with wifi, vibrating seats, and mood lighting, modern Japanese toilets elevate the experience of shitting and pissing to the level of fine art.

That said, upon reflection, I think my reaction to such a primitive latrine would be very different today. I wouldn’t be overjoyed to use it, but you know, first world problems. And as for modern Japanese toilets, such as the Washlette… all I have to say is anywhere I go in the world, even my native home of the United States, I look down on toilets as barbaric and primitive. I can’t wait to get back to the luxurious Japanese toilets. So, the country really has kind of gone all the way around from good to bad to the best.

back to the subject

Yo, I Thought this Article was about Iogi, Dawg.

Yes. Yes, it is. So, now let’s talk about how accurate the original story I was told about Iogi was.

In short, the story is pretty close to the truth, which makes all this talk of shit and piss meaningful and not just an excuse to talk about people in kimono squatting down to poop. Iogi Station is indeed located on the Seibu Railroad which connects 新宿 Shinjuku and 荻窪 Ogikubo[xxvii]. Today this particular stretch of tracks is a commuter route known as the 西武新宿線 Seibu Shinjuku-sen Seibu Shinjuku Line. Furthermore, special trains owned by Seibu did indeed carry night soil from the outskirts of central Tōkyō to this once rural area – kind of.

 

Iogi Station 1960's.jpg

Iogi Station in the 1960’s. Clearly a commuter station at the time.

Did the Shit Trains Stop at Iogi Station?

No, they didn’t.

Seibu’s shit trains picked up and dropped off at five stations only. Those were 東久留米駅 Higashi Kurume Eki Higashi Kurume Station, 秋津駅 Akitsu Eki Akitsu Station, 三ヶ島村駅 Mikajima Mura Eki Mikajima Mura Station[xxviii], 仏子駅 Bushi Eki Bushi Station, and 飯能駅 Hannō Eki Hannō Station. The first two are located in modern 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis, while the last three are located in modern 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture. After WWII, the shit train path was modified and a little, causing it to pass through Iogi Station on the north set of tracks. Luckily for the good people of Igusa, Suginami[xxix], they didn’t make stops here. They merely passed through. They also weren’t dumping shit and piss into – god forbid! – a well for drinking water, or some random lake in the area.

Now that we know, they weren’t dumping trainloads of excrement into a lake anywhere near Iogi Station, I’d like to talk about why I mentioned at the beginning of the article that skepticism is important. The kanji 井 i, which means “well,” always refers to a well for human use or human consumption. The very inclusion of this character sent off warning alarms in my head. Why would anyone do something as unsanitary as dump feces into a source of water used by humans? Additionally, knowing that the city of Edo recycled excrement as fertilizer for profit, why would anyone just dump the shit into a lake in the countryside. It didn’t add up, and hopefully you also understand why now.

800px-Seibu-2081F

Old rolling stock of the Seibu Shinjuku Line. That’s definitely a shitty shade of piss yellow.

Color of the Seibu Shinjuku Line and Night Soil

So, about the color of the Seibu Shinjuku Line. According to the story I was told, it’s a nasty color and that was by design, perhaps to steer people clear of it. However, after a little research, it seems there are actually two main colors on the modern Seibu trains: yellow and orange, with a third variant for rush hour trains that run on certain sections of track, and a fourth variant of green. I’m not interested in the color differences. I just want to know if the current color is a holdover from the shit trains of yesteryear? One might ask, “is it a shit stain of the shit train?”

kiiro.jpg

Modern rolling stock of the Seibu Shinjuku Line… still looks shitty and old, though.

Well, it’s a little bit of yes and no. There’s one theory that it was a reference to 黄金 ōgon yellow gold, a reference to the value of night soil[xxx]. However, the original color of the Seibu shit trains was two-tone, actually. They were painted 黄色 ki’iro yellow and 茶色 cha’iro brown. Whether this reflected the foul contents or not, there’s no record either confirming nor denying. However, it’s known that this yellow and brown design persisted until the night soil transportation system disappeared after the war, and yellow is most definitely still used to this day.

 

two tone seibu shinjuku line.jpg

Two-tone Seibu Shinjuku Line in 1962.

Another theory about the yellow color of the Seibu Shinjuku Line is branding. In those days, the color was called 金色 kin’iro gold – not 黄色 ki’iro yellow – and was applied to most of the Seibu trains to make them stand out and look cool. The color was expensive in its day, and looked dramatic at the time. It also may have been a safety measure. Trains that were gold/yellow colored moving at high speeds on cloudy days, at night, or running through tunnels could be spotted quickly by pedestrians walking along the tracks[xxxi]. This seems way more reasonable to me than the idea that the company made the shit and piss train brown and yellow as a reference to its contents, so… I’m going with branding.

Oh, and while I couldn’t find information on the color of the Seibu shit trains, they don’t seem to have been decorated. So there’s no connection between the modern color of the Seibu Shinjuku line and th shit trains of old.

Semi-exp_haijima.JPG

Proof that not all Seibu Shinjuku Line trains are piss yellow. This one is a pleasant blue and green and even has a smiley face.

Let’s Wrap This Shit Up

So, this has been a pretty long, strange trip. But let’s be honest. It usually is, isn’t it? lol

As always, thanks for sticking around to the end of the article. And thank you in particular because I think this time I gave you guys a little insight into my approach to Japanese history, etymology, and local stories. More than that, I hope you could see how old stories get muddied over the years, but also how they often have a kernel of truth in them. It also shows how one part of the Edo Period economy survived the Meiji Coup, yet collapsed when post-war Japan transformed into the power house it has become. Sure, we’ve been talking about shit and piss, but we’ve been talking about so much more. As always, feel free to leave a comment – especially if you’ve had any experiences with night soil.

 

Help Support JapanThis!

Follow

JapanThis! on Twitter
JapanThis! on Facefook
JapanThis! on Flickr
JapanThis! on Instagram

Support

Support Every Article on Patreon
Donate via Paypal (msg via Facebook)
Donate with BitCoin (msg via Facebook)

Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

 


[i] Shit and piss is now an official tag and searchable term on the site. However, at this point, this is the only article using it lol.
[ii] Folk etymology is real.
[iii] You know your mom was a little crazy in her youth, right? Good.
[iv] As it usually does, no?
[v] It’s not Logi, but Iogi.
[vi] 井荻駅 Iogi Eki Iogi Station.
[vii] The modern PC term in Japanese is 人糞 jinpun which literally means “human feces.” The un-PC Edo Period term owai literally means “filthy dirt” or “dirty filth.”
[viii] And you know, um, horses shit a lot. Like a lot. And this issue came up in my article on Shinjuku.
[ix] Eta, which means “extreme filth,” was interchangeable with 非人 hinin non-human. This gives you an idea of how offensive these terms are today. The descendants of these families try to hide their low status of old, or if they can’t or have chosen to embrace it, identify by the label 部落民 burakumin today. The term literally means “village inhabitant” and references the segregated communities they once lived in.
[x] The preferred term over owai is 屎尿 shinyō or 下肥 shimogoe, because, yep, this job still exists. In the remote countryside, you can still find traditional toilets that empty into containers under buildings and must be manually removed by a service (or by the owners themselves). I’ve experienced it once and it wasn’t pleasant to use or think about who was going to have to clean up the mess (more about that story later). But owai has those old class system connotations and it makes this sensitive topic difficult to discuss outside of historical contexts where everyone is on the same page.
[xi] Also called a closed loop economy or closed loop system.
[xii] And only thrown away when necessary.
[xiii] The term for the collection of night soil was 汲取 kumitori which literally means “scooping up” with a connotation of something wet and dirty. Ewwwwww.
[xiv] Instant economy!
[xv] Essentially, they had hereditary monopolies.
[xvi] Other outcaste families had lucrative family businesses during the Edo Period. Executioners, sword testers, heads of outcaste villages come to mind.
[xvii] Remember, not every city had good sewers, and cities like New York had thousands of workhorses just shitting willy-nilly all over the place. It was so bad, that the cleanup required more horses to take out the horseshit, and said horses just shat willy-nilly all over the place… creating an endless cycle of stinky, gross, and unsanitary city streets.
[xviii] That is to say, you had to wait until someone finished before you could enter. Very different from the public multiuser public toilets of the Roman Empire.
[xix] Presumably, people didn’t walk past these unless they had to. Remember, they were back in the alleyways. But who knows? There was probably the occasional pervert who wanted to sneak a peek.
[xx] Because of the Shintō belief in spiritual defilement, in samurai homes, the toilet was often located next to the 切腹の間 seppuku no ma room or space reserved for committing seppuku. I’m not kidding by the way. The seppuku room is a real thing.
[xxi] You can be sure that by “attendants” he means outcastes.
[xxii] Both companies still exist today, but they don’t work in this sector anymore.
[xxiii] These days, both companies have defined themselves. They’re not really competitors anymore. They are well established parts of the well-greased infrastructure of Kantō.
[xxiv] A quick note about Tōkyō in the Taishō Period. The city was very polluted because of companies dumping industrial waste into the rivers. Shinjuku was still a bit out of the way, so it was easy to transport excrement by train. But the center of the city, former Edo, was too congested and the shit trains were impossible, so it was still being transported by cart, and sometimes stored in tanks near rivers, where occasionally a tank would “accidentally” break and spill into the rivers. The shitamachi areas of Taishō Era Japan seem to have been a mess. That said, in the lovely yamanote areas, things were still extremely sanitary. Furthermore, because Shinjuku was sort of the epicenter of the night soil train industry, it was considered the 東京の穴 Tōkyō no Ketsu Ass of Tōkyō as early as the late Meiji Period. This is where the city blew it all out and flushed it all away.
[xxv] In retrospect, this reminds me of the construction of samurai houses and the deliberate placement of the toilet and seppuku room in a far corner.
[xxvi] Keep in mind, the locals live in towns with all the regular conveniences, but getting running water out to super-remote locations where there’s, say, one house on the north side of the mountain, and another house on the south side – and that’s it – would be costly, to say the least.
[xxvii] The company was established in the 1890’s, but this particular train route to Ogikubo only dates back to the 1920’s. And actually, as I’ll point out later, the Seibu train network actually connects Tōkyō with Saitama. The name 西部 Seibu actually means “West Musashi,” a reference to former 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province.
[xxviii] This station no longer exists. It was replaced by 狭山ヶ丘駅 Sayamagaoka Eki Sayamagaoka Station.
[xxix] Remember, Iogi Station is located in Suginami Ward. In Shimo-Igusa, to be exact.
[xxx] Similar to the notion of “black gold” meaning “oil.”
[xxxi] You may be thinking, “why the fuck would a pedestrian be walking along train tracks?” Remember, most of the early train lines ran parallel to well established highways (and people usually walked everywhere anyways, especially in the country). The new railways of the late Meiji and Taishō Periods sometimes connected rural villages better than the old Edo Period roads, and traditional farmers often opted to just walk as they had done for generations, but it’s speculated they used the new path cleared by the railroad companies. The Seibu Railroad connected Tōkyō with Saitama (ie; the countryside) and as such, probably ran over its fair share of farmers carelessly moseying along the train tracks – hence the gaudy yellow color that has been passed down to us today.

%d bloggers like this: