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Kura – All About Japanese Storehouses

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


kura (storehouse, warehouse)

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

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

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

Distinguishing Features

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

Shutters with janabara

Doors with janbara

 

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

Kawara tiles

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

Subtle mizukiri jutting out

Excellent example of an eaves protecting a window

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

Namako kabe fence

Re-purposed and restored kura with namako kabe

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

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

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

Hooks

More hooks

Even more hooks

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

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

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

kura broken


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

Construction

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

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

Tansu (traditional Japanese “step drawers”)

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

Steps inside a wooden floor kura

Workshop inside a kura

The Dark Side

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

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

Traditional bookstore in a kura

The Light Side

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

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

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

Where to Check Out Kura

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

Matsumoto has many re-purposed kura

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

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

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

There are kura everywhere!

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

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

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

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

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

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō With Me Japan This Guided Tours
(And yes, sometimes I go to Kawagoe, Kuranomachi, and Matsumoto)

 

What does Kanda mean? (part two)

In Japanese History, Japanese Subculture, Travel in Japan on August 28, 2017 at 5:35 pm

神田
Kanda (holy rice paddies, Batman)

IMG_5703

Next door to Kanda Shrine is the Confucian school, Yushima Seidō. While the shrine is way more active, I preferred the austerity and classic tranquility of this site.

So, welcome to part two of my series What does Kanda mean? This article is basically a supplement to part one, which discussed the complex etymologies regarding the area and Kanda Shrine. This time we’ll talk about some topics that I felt were too distracting, needed to be separated, and were too long for footnotes. We’ll talk about enshrinements and the relationship between Shintō and Buddhism, and we’ll also talk about family names… and who knows, maybe something else will come up along the way[i]. Since this is a supplement to the previous article, I highly suggest that you read part one first. Otherwise, there’s no context for everything that follows.

IMG_5671

Who is Enshrined at Kanda Myōjin?

Time for a little review. In part one, this wasn’t very important. However, in part two, this is going to be critical.

大国主命
Ōkuninushi no Mikoto

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

大己貴命
Ōnamuchi no Mikoto

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

平将門
Taira no Masakado no Mikoto

A Kantō-based samurai who revolted against the imperial family in the 900’s. His attempted to secede failed, but the locals saw him as a hero eastern autonomy. After the Meiji Coup, he was de-enshrined, only to be re-enshrined after WWII[ii].
OKUNINUSHI RABBIT

Ōkuninushi, here called Ōkuninushi Ōkami saving an injured and tortured rabbit – one of the most famous Shintō myths.

Kanda no Miya Kanda Myōjin?

As mentioned in part one, 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine was originally called 神田ノ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine. This name has serious imperial connotations. Imperial princes, princesses, and their respective cadastral families bore the familial suffix ~宮 miya for centuries[iii]. Many shrines still use -miya in their names or when referring to enshrined deities. For example, Taira no Masakado no Mikoto can be called 三宮 San no Miya the Third Kami of Kanda Shrine[iv]. -Miya can also be used to refer to shrine rankings within certain pilgrimage routes or within certain former provinces[v].

When the Tokugawa Shōgunate was established in Edo, a cultural shift occurred. At that time, the people with all the money and prestige were the samurai. The local people preserved their traditions, but the influx of samurai from the provinces who came in on sanin-kōtai duty brought a distinct warrior culture to the new capital. Under the shōgunate, education generally took place at 寺子屋 terakoya schools operated by Buddhist temples. Also, Buddhism made the samurai (and the ruling Tokugawa clan in particular) distinct from the imperial family, which used Shintō mythology to legitimize its existence.

Buddhism, on the other hand, seemed more universal. After all, the Chinese were all about that shit. China had been around long before Japan and they were way bigger and presumed to have been way more philosophically advanced. Furthermore, Buddhism existed all over Asia and even in some distant, exotic land called India.

Shintō was nowhere to be found in the world, except for Japan. Shintō definitely wasn’t discarded in the Edo Period, but among the educated elites, Buddhism offered an alternative to mythology, the imperial family, and folklore. It offered philosophy, a way of life, and even some answers to the question “what happens when you die?”[vi]

shimenawa

The term 明神 myōjin enlightened kami was a Buddhist term that highjacked the Shintō term 名神 myōjin notable kami, a word used by the imperial court to refer to local kami throughout the realm with highly developed cults, worship that dated back to time immemorial (the Age of the Gods[ix]) or appeared in the mythologies of the imperial clan, and those who were particularly powerful.

But long story short, myōjin means “obvious” or “self-evident.” In this case, Ōkuninushi/Ōnamuchi, and more importantly, Taira no Masakado were obviously beloved by the locals and revered as important 氏神 ujigami tutelary deities[x]. Ōkuninushi and Ōnamuchi qualified as “notable kami” in the Shintō sense because they were included in the legitimatory texts of the imperial family[xi]. In fact, the myth of Ōkuninushi isn’t only directly related to the imperial family’s claim to divine descent and dominion over the earthly realm, he may actually represent an ancient historical event in which the powerful 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province either submitted to or formed an alliance with the imperial family after decades of rivalry.

At any rate, by the Edo Period, Shintō and Buddhism were blended quite nicely and Kanda no Miya had come to be known as Kanda Myōjin.  In this period, it was a tutelary shrine of Edo Castle (the Chiyoda area), modern Kanda, modern Akihabara, and most of the shōgun’s capital in general. You could pretty much assume that the main temples/shrines of Edo were 浅草寺 Sensō-ji Asakusa Temple, 山王比叡神社 Sannō-Hiei Jinja Sannō-Hiei Shrine, and 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine – the oldest and most revered religious complexes in central Edo[xii]. To this day, the 神田祭 Kanda Matsuri Kanda Festival is not just one of the most important summer festivals of Edo-Tōkyō, it’s one of the most important in all of Japan[xiii].

Ōkuninushi Statue Izumo Taisha

But Wait! I Have a Friend whose Family Name is “Kanda.”

Of course, you do. It’s the 262nd most common name in the country[xiv]. There are more than 86,000 people in Japan with a family name spelled 神田. I say spelled because there are at least eight readings that I know of… and I could be mistaken, maybe there are more: Kanda, Kamita, Kamida, Kanada, Kōda, Gōda, Jinda, Jinden[xv]. Of these names, Kanda is by far the most common, so much so that all the other readings would probably provoke questions about regional origins and family history.

japonesque_2dvd

Check the footnotes for details, but Kōda Kumi’s “Kōda” is actually derived from “Kanda.”

Speaking of family history, as I mentioned in part one, the family name, and subsequent place names, derive from the title 神田宿禰 kanda no sukune a title granted to the 大伴氏 Ōtomo-shi Ōtomo clan[xvi], which traced their roots back to a mythological event called 天孫降臨 Tenson Kōrin the Divine Descent[xvii] – when the 天津神 ama tsu kami heavenly kami came down to earth to rule over humans and the 国津神 kuni tsu kami earthly kami. The group sent from the heavens was led by 瓊瓊杵尊 Ninigi no Mikoto, the grandson of the sun goddess, 天照大神 Amaterasu Ōmikami. The grandson of Ninigi was 神武 Jinmu, the mythological founder of the 大和氏 Yamato-shi Yamato clan – that is to say, the imperial family itself[xviii].

A handful of the most elite families in the 大和朝廷 Yamato Chōtei Yamato Court could also trace their ancestry back to this most important story of all Shintō mythology. The Ōtomo clan were said to be descendants of 天忍日命 Ame no Oshihi no Mikoto[xix], a heavenly kami who was part of Ninigi’s entourage that descended from above to the earthly realm. In other words, they didn’t claim imperial power, but they claimed divine ancestry to justify their closeness and loyalty to the Yamato Court.

The Ōtomo were granted the title kanda no sukune by the son of 嵯峨天皇 Saga Tennō the 52nd emperor in the early 800’s. The title roughly translates as Governors of the Shrine Fields[xx]. Forgive me for repeating myself, but the clan hailed from Izumo Province, an ancient and powerful kingdom so closely tied to the Yamato Court that it plays a significant role in the foundational myths of Japan – in particular, the story of Ōkuninushi.

Daikoku_en_zijn_rat-Rijksmuseum_RP-P-1962-331

Daikokuten… or is it Ōkuninushi? … or is it…?

What’s the connection between Ōkuninushi and Daitokuten?

As stated earlier, myōjin is a term that Buddhism highjacked from Shintō which means something like “dude, he’s obviously a god.” Depending on which legitimatory texts promulgated by the early imperial court you believe, Ōnamuchi represents either a relative of or another iteration of Ōkuninushi[xxi]. It’s probably better to think of them as two kami rolled into one, or one kami unrolled into two. Or something like that….

Whether you understand them as one or two kami in any configuration, what you can’t deny is that ancient Japanese people soon associated them with another kami – a mostly Buddhist kami – that is far more well known today called 大黒天 Daikokuten. If you take them as separate kami, then Ōnamuchi is an earthly kami who helped Ōkuninushi support the Yamato State[xxii]. In this case, he is associated with yet another kami – a mostly Buddhist kami – that is even more well-known than Daikokuten today. That kami is 恵比寿 Ebisu. Since the Edo Period, these two kami have been worshipped as distinct members of the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck. As they’re both Yayoi and/or Kofun Period kami[xxiii], it’s understandable that they are associated with bountiful rice production and prosperity. As such, their importance has been intrinsic to the heart and soul of Japan from time immemorial[xxiv].

masakado

De-enshrinement and Re-enshrinement of Taira no Masakado

OK, so all that crazy mythology dating back to proto-historical times aside, the third and final enshrinement at Kanda Shrine was Taira no Masakado[xxv]. He was an historical personage. He’s well recorded and he clearly made an impact on the people living in the villages and hamlets near 江戸 Edo[xxvi]. His legacy energized eastern samurai, and as a kami he became a symbol of infinite human potential for the everyman[xxvii].

But what did the people in the east find appealing about Masakado’s story; his uprising, his defeat, and head magically flying back to the original Kanda Shrine? He was a warrior who rejected a byzantine imperial court in the west that was interested in milking the outer provinces for taxes, grains, and foot soldiers. He also represented a samurai culture that was growing stronger every day, and year by year distancing itself from the outdated and increasingly insular court in Kyōto. Masakado nor his worshippers knew it, but he set the stage for the Rise of the East.

Once the Tokugawa Shōguns began expanding their castle in the early 1600’s, they exploited the importance of Kanda Shrine for its spiritual value. After all, the Tokugawa were also eastern samurai who distanced themselves from the authority of the imperial court in the west[xxviii].

The Meiji Emperor entering Edo - view of Edobashi and Nihonbashi

Meiji Emperor and his court entering the city of Edo and making their way towards Edo Castle.

The Fall of the East
(AKA, the Second Rise of the East)

As everyone knows, the Tokugawa clan ruled for roughly 250 stable years in Japan. As an eastern samurai family – nay, the premier samurai family in the whole country – they recognized the importance of Kanda no Miya and the enshrinement of Taira no Masakado. They also recognized the importance of such ancient kami as Ōkuninushi and their ties to the imperial family. The Tokugawa Shōgunate also successfully maintained a policy of keeping the imperial family and the imperial court in the proverbial kiddy pool, thus suppressing the west while allowing it to maintain a ritual and literary culture under the close supervision of samurai lords who were loyal to the Tokugawa Shōguns.

The imperial family and its goofball court had been pawns in political games of chess since the 1100’s[xxix], but in the Meiji Coup of 1868, the imperial court – while, yeah, still a pawn – was given legitimacy in a western post-Enlightenment sense. The emperor was likened to German or French monarchs. Shintō effectively became a state religion, one based on the ancient texts that legitimized the Yamato clan as the divine rulers of Japan and a Japanese Empire – an empire in a western sense.

The Meiji Emperor and his court chose not to rule from Kyōto, which by this time was a kind of backwater without a port and access to the world[xxx], but from Edo, arguably the largest city in the world with the most impressive infrastructure in all of Asia. They moved into the shōguns’ castle – again, the largest castle in the world[xxxi] – and then found themselves confronted with a most bizarre situation. While the new imperial government wanted to play the religion card to legitimize its authority, it found that the shōgunate had been playing the religion card all these years to legitimize itself, too. One of Edo’s top three religious centers, Kanda Shrine, and the legacy of Taira no Masakado, a samurai who rebelled against the imperial court, were too much to bear.

In order to build up a new capital, Tōkyō[xxxii], the imperial court focused on the construction of western style buildings on the former lands of feudal lords loyal to the Tokugawa. More importantly, they issued a decree separating Shintō from Buddhism as well as the abolition of the samurai class. One of the first actions they took was the de-enshrinement of Taira no Masakado, a symbol of samurai power, and most importantly, a symbol of defiance against the imperial court and its legitimacy. Masakado’s legendary status as a bad ass was impossible to deny, so the Meiji Government de-enshrined him and hoped he would go away.

 

1280px-Taira_no_masakado_kubiduka_2012-03-22.jpg

Masakado Didn’t Go Away

Local people didn’t forget Masakado, but they didn’t fight his removal from the shrine. Edoites, now called Tōkyōites, seem to not have given a shit about the de-enshrinement. The average person on the street was used to syncretic religion, which meant all religion was mixed together for them. Also, given the heavy influence of Buddhism, many of them in the 1870’s were probably atheists or uninterested in religion beyond its performative aspects[xxxiii]. That said, Masakado was removed from Kanda Shrine because he was seen as an imperial rebel.

Masakado’s grave is located in 大手町 Ōtemachi in front of the former Edo Castle. The shōgunate was so superstitious about Masakado that they never moved his grave; his enshrinement at Kanda Shrine was good enough. The Meiji Government was also apparently terrified of his ghost that they, too, left his grave intact.

After the American Occupation and the new secular government’s stance on the separation of religion and government, a new possibility opened for Kanda Shrine. For one, the popular local hero, Taira no Masakado could be re-enshrined without and threat to the imperial family. In fact, since the Shōwa Emperor renounced divine descent, imperial connections to any shrines were minimized to symbolism only. And whether this was a motive or not, I can’t say, but re-enshrining Taira no Masakado seems like a subtle “eff you” to the imperial family squatting on the burned out remains of Edo Castle.

masakado kubi-zuka

Masakado’s grave in Ōtemachi (former Kanda) has been considered haunted since the Tokugawa expansion of Edo Castle, possibly even before that. To this day, the site is well maintained by nearby companies so as to not piss off the rebel samurai.

Kanda Matsuri and all that Otaku Shit

I want to tell you what the Kanda Festival is, but instead, I’m going to show what the Japan National Tourism Organization says about it. Keep in mind, this is one of the most important festivals in Tōkyō and in Japan, and all they can say about it is this:

 

100 portable shrines gather for this festival and a procession of 300 people parades through the streets of Tokyo.

One of the most famous festivals of Tokyo, Kanda Matsuri is also ranked among the three largest festivals of Japan. Protected by the Shogun during the Edo Period (1603-1867) and permitted to enter the grounds of Edo Castle where he lived, it also came to be called ‘Tenka Matsuri’ (‘Tenka’ meaning Shogun). The main festival is conducted in years ending in odd numbers according to the Western calendar, and the festivals held in even-numbered years are much smaller in scale. The rule to change the scale of the festival in alternate years was determined by the Shogun in the Edo Period, for the festivals then were so extravagant.

The main attraction well worth viewing in odd-numbered years is the parade on the Saturday, when some 300 people march through central Tokyo districts such as Kanda, Nihombashi, Otemachi, Marunouchi, and so on. In addition to the portable shrines with a phoenix decorated on the roof there are all kinds of floats, and Shinto priests mounted on horseback line up in rows, producing a spectacular sight. On the Sunday, almost 100 small and large portable shrines gather from each quarter. Recommended souvenirs are T-shirts printed with pictures of the festival scene, fans, towels, etc.

Kanda, the venue of the festival, was formerly the central quarter of Edo (present-day Tokyo) back in the Edo Period. And those born and bred in Kanda were called ‘Edokko.’ Eddokos are considered to be very high-spirited, and their characteristics are reflected in the Kanda Matsuri which is a jovial festival brimming with energy. The Kanda Myojin Museum, which is open to the public on weekends and on national holidays, has a diorama of the Kanda Matsuri and also displays models of floats. If you wish to find out more about the festival, you should visit this museum.

 

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This is the Fukagawa Matsuri which is related to the Kanda Matsuri. The photo is provided by my friend Rekishi no Tabi. You can find him out Flickr at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rekishinotabi/albums

In the 1990’s and more so in the 2000’s, nearby Akihabara became known as an otaku mecca. In 2013, an anime titled ラブライブ! Rabu Raibu! Love Live! aired. It featured a character named 東條希 Tōjō Nozomi who got a part time job as a 巫女さん miko-san shrine maiden at Kanda Shrine. Because of that, and perhaps combined with the otaku penchant for cosplay, working as a shrine maiden here has become a very popular バイト baito part time job for high school and university girls. It’s so popular, in fact, that during the New Year season, applicants are turned away en masse, whereas other shrines have a hard time recruiting enough girls to handle the increased holiday traffic.

tojo nozomi kanda shrine.jpg

A few years ago, my sister-in-law was hired as a shrine maiden for New Year’s break, but I had no idea how popular it was nor how difficult it was to land a gig at Kanda Shrine. When asked why she wanted to do this job so badly, she said she thought the outfit was cute and she wanted to try and wear it at least once in her life.

Ooooooh-kay.

In 2015, the shrine adopted Nozomi as the official mascot, and you can find 絵馬 ema wooden prayer plaques featuring her and other characters from the series. In fact, if you visit today, the combination of traditional Shintō architecture stands in sharp contrast to the anime characters decorating the premises. It’s really weird.

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What Can we Take Away from all This?

Honestly, there’s so much in this story[xxxiv], I hope you just understand why I refused to write about this in 2013, again in 2014, again in 2015, and… you get the idea. The second take away, Japanese history is a black hole of non-stop discovery that’s the greatest soon-to-derail roller coaster I’ve ever dared to board. Lastly, if you’ve read this far, you’re clearly as addicted to this shit as I am. High five.

Before I do my “peace, out!” thing, I want to thank everyone who’s been reading all the while as well as all the new peeps who have come on board. If you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section down below. Also, if you want me to keep doing this, consider supporting JapanThis! via Paypal and Bitcoin, or on Patreon, where I’m making super-secret and exclusive content for Patrons only.

 

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[i] Something that happens here at JapanThis! more often than not.
[ii] More about that later.
[iii] All clans have names. In English, the imperial family is often referred to as the Yamato clan. However, in Japanese, they aren’t commonly referred to this way. While they were, at one time, the Great Kings of Yamato, the main line of emperors has no family name. They are simply emperors. When you’re a descendant of the sun goddess, you can do that. I guess…
[iv] The funerary complex of Tokugawa Ieyasu is called 東照宮 Tōshō-gū. The name brings together a sublime blend of Buddhist and Shintō thought and in doing so, legitimizes the Tokugawa claim to power by divine mandate as a member of the 源氏 Genji Minamoto clan – ie; descendants of the 清和源氏 Seiwa Genji Minamoto family born of Emperor Seiwa’s line.
[v] Provinces, or 国 kuni, existed for most of Japanese history until the Edo Period. Under the Tokugawa Shōgunate, provinces existed as traditional territories, but the real administrative power lay in smaller, more manageable districts called 藩 han domains which were ruled by samurai lords called 大名 daimyo. After the Meiji Coup in 1868, the domain system was abolished and the prefectural system was established. The ancient provinces weren’t addressed because most weren’t functional districts since the Sengoku Period. However, to this day provinces are used to show pride and cultural unity in many areas of Japan. While this is mostly branding today, you can still find regional unity present in cuisine, tradition, and dialects that roughly correspond to the old provinces. And just for the record, Edo and modern Tōkyō fall outside of the Edo Period designations of domains (Edo was the shōgun’s personal property and not a domain). It’s located on the boundaries of two ancient provinces, 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province. This is reflected in the place name Ryōgoku.
[vi] Admittedly, some of Buddhism’s answers to the questions regarding death are pretty ridiculous, but all religions make outrageous claims about the nature of the universe and reality. That’s how they make money.
[vii] Very similar to Rome before Christianity came along and fucked up everything… and then Rome fell.
[viii] To what degree Buddhism and Shintō were considered separate is a discussion for another time.
[ix] Japanese cosmology, as recorded and promulgated by the imperial court in the 7th century, is essentially divided into two major periods: 神代 kamiyo the Age of the Gods and 人代 hitoyo the Age of Men. The dividing point is the mythological founding of the imperial line by the first emperor 神武 Jinmu.
[x] Again, with Taira no Masakado, as a local himself, superseding the former enshrined kami.
[xi] These texts are the 古事記 Kojiki Records of Ancient Matters and 日本書紀 Nihonshoki Chronicles of Japan, often referred to as a set by the term 記紀 Kiki, a word I don’t know how to translate.
[xii] On the outskirts of the city, 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji and 増上寺 Zōjō-ji held the record for being the most ornate religious complexes, as they housed the funerary mausolea of the Tokugawa Shōguns.
[xiii] Learn more about the Kanda Matsuri here.
[xiv] To put this in perspective, Davidson was the 262nd most common family name in the US as of 1990.
[xv] The last two readings are extremely rare and restricted to place names, not family names. An example of this name can be taken from pop culture. A singer from western Japan by the name of 神田來未子 Kōda Kumiko changed her name to 倖田來未 Kōda Kumi. Her actual family name can be read as Kanda, but isn’t. In order to help market her as a singer and performer, management changed 神田 to 倖田. The change of the first character from “kami/deity” to “personal good luck” made the reading of the name easier and more auspicious.
[xvi] Other noble clans were granted this title, most notably the 松浦氏 Matsuura-shi Matsuura branch of the 嵯峨源氏 Saga Genji Minamoto clan descended from Emperor Saga and Taira no Masakado’s branch of the 平氏 Heishi Taira clan, the 桓武平氏 Kanmu Heishi Kanmu Taira clan. Descendants of these families or their clans were granted permission to use the name 神田 in one form or another.
[xvii] Or sometimes, the Descent of the Heavenly Grandson.
[xviii] By accounts of the official records, the imperial family were the rulers of Yamato Province. It’s normal for non-Japanese historians to call the imperial family the Yamato clan, but actually the imperial family has no family name. They are just the imperial family – the soul of Japan.
[xix] A kami so important he was worthy of mentioning in the earliest texts produced in Japan, but not important enough to the purpose of legitimizing the imperial family’s divine rule to preserve the purpose of this god’s function. Nevertheless, as descendants of Ame no Oshihi, the Ōtomo clan were clearly important in the Nara Period, thus the spread of their name under the guise of 神田 Kanda (and its various iterations).
[xx] The title 宿禰 sukune was originally the 3rd highest rank in a hierarchy call 八色の姓 yakusa no kabane. I don’t know how to translate this, but it was a  court rank system that placed families on a hereditary ladder that went like this: 真人 mahito, 朝臣 asomi/ason宿禰 sukune, 忌寸 imiki, 道師 michinoshi, 臣 omi,  連 muraji, 稲置 inagi. There were various types of sukune. Kanda no sukune is just one. The important thing to bear in mind is that this rank is really high in the imperial court of the time.
[xxi] And to be honest, it doesn’t matter because those most ancient of Japanese texts are a mess of contradictions and variations.
[xxii] Also known as 事代主神 Kotoshironushi no Kami. He was a son of Ōkuninushi, but has other roles in other myths that contradict timelines, but whatever. It’s fucking mythology. Anyhoo, he’s associated with agriculture and medicine.
[xxiii] Why do I say they might be Yayoi Period or Kofun Period kami? It’s because of wet rice cultivation. The Yayoi culture brought rice production, land ownership, social stratification, and warfare to Japan. While these people didn’t have writing, we can see a reason for the importance of kami related to rice and land. While we don’t know if these beliefs actually formed at this time, it seems safe to say they were fully developed in the Kofun Period as they appear in the oldest imperial texts.
[xxiv] I just love saying “time immemorial.”
[xxv] I told Masakado’s story in my article What does Ōme mean?
[xxvi] He’s still considered a bad ass in the eastern portion of former Musashi Province (Tōkyō) and the western portion of Shimōsa Province (modern Chiba Prefecture).
[xxvii] This potential would be reached by the Kamakura Shōgunate, and later, on a much grander stage by the Tokugawa Shōgunate. Oh, yeah, the potential of the everyman, if you were a rich guy or samurai… Then again, the everyman always thinks he can be a rich guy someday, doesn’t he?
[xxviii] Of course, they performatively sought legitimacy from the court, then banned the court from any governmental influence as best they could.
[xxix] The Kamakura Period.
[xxx] It kinda had access to Asia, but the Japanese at that time were looking more to the west for inspiration.
[xxxi] Often described as a city within the city.
[xxxii] Edo was renamed 東京 Tōkyō Eastern Capital.
[xxxiii] As most Japanese are today.
[xxxiv] And I had to leave out a lot of stuff to keep your eyes from glazing over…

What does Kanda mean?

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

神田
Kanda (holy rice paddies, Batman!)

IMG_5689.jpg
What does Kanda mean?
(Short Version)

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

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

大国主命
Ōkuninushi no Mikoto

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

大己貴命
Ōnamuchi no Mikoto

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

平将門
Taira no Masakado no Mikoto

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

 

IMG_5688

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

What does Kanda mean?
(Hardcore Version)

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

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

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

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

kanda map
Where is Kanda?

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

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

kanda myojin mountain side

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

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

Further Reading:

 

IMG_5667.jpg

Main gate of Kanda Shrine. Impressive.

So, what the hell does Kanda mean?

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

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

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

If that’s a yes, then let’s do this.

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First, Let’s Look at some Kanji


kami, shin/-jin

deity (kami)


ta/da, den

planted field (usually rice)


myō

bright, enlightened; fucking obvious


miya, –

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


na, mei

name; well known; apparent/obvious

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

神田
kanda, shinden

literally, “god field”

御田[xiv]
mita, o-den

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

IMG_5669.jpg

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

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

703
Nara Period

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

939
Heian Period

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

940
Heian Period

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

1185
Kamakura Period
(end of Heian Period)

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

1309
End of Kamakura Period

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

1590
Sengoku Period

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

1603
Edo Period

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

1616
Edo Period

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

1690
Edo Period

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

1868
Meiji Period

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

1984
Shōwa Period

 

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

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

The Five Great Etymologies

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

jomon-period-inlets

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

1. The Kami no To Theory

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

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

ise shrin

Ise Grand Shrine

2. The Kamida Theory

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

Michinoomi_no_Mikoto-2.jpg

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

3. The Kanda Clan Theory

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

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

I’ll talk more about this clan later.

masakado

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

4. The Taira no Masakado Did it Theory

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

fashion_pct_img

Kofun Period Fashion™

5. The Fuck It, Nobody Knows Theory

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5671

The Sandbox

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

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

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

Sure, he lost.

Sure, he was killed.

Sure, his decapitated head was put on display.

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

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

hiroshige kanda myojin

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

The End… or is it?

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

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

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

 

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

What does Taitō mean?

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

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♪

 

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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 Koganei mean?

In Japanese History on June 12, 2017 at 8:08 am

小金井
Koganei (Little Gold Well)

koganei hanami
Although Spring and the cherry blossom season has come and gone, I thought I’d take a moment to explore one of Edo’s big 5 花見スポット Hanami Supotto Cherry Blossom Spots. Anyone who’s been keeping up with the blog since spring knows that recently I did three articles covering 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing, and in those articles Edo’s most famous cherry blossom spots were mentioned. Today, we’re not going to talk much about cherry blossoms; this will be more of a straight forward etymology thang.

Also, in case you’re new to JapanThis! or you’re too lazy to look back at previous posts, I’ll quickly remind you of the most popular hanami spots Edoites loved. There’s no official list, but the sites that seem to have been the most popular were 上野山 Ueno-yama Ueno Hill, 飛鳥山 Asukayama Asuka Hill, 隅田川堤 Sumida-gawa Tsutsumi Sumida Riverbank, 御殿山 Goten’yama Goten Hill, and a stretch of the 玉川上水 Tama-gawa Jōsui Tamagawa Aqueduct in a village called 小金井 Koganei. Of all these spots, Koganei was without a doubt the farthest from the city of Edo. In fact, on modern paved roads, it would take you at least five hours to walk non-stop from 日本橋 Nihonbashi in central Tōkyō to Koganei. I imagine people in the Edo Period would have walked all day, found lodging, then enjoyed the cherry blossoms the next day, and maybe visited few temples and shrines before returning home – making this a legit two day excursion sandwiched between two days of some serious-ass walking. Also, make no mistake about it: Koganei was waaaaaay outside of the city limits. In those days, this was 武蔵国多磨郡 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Tama District, Musashi Province. This was not cosmopolitan Edo. It was East Bumfuck[i].

Further Reading:

koganei nowhere.jpg

Central Tōkyō is located on the bay in the East. Koganei is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. That fuchsia colored spot doing nothing other than looking fuchsia. BTW, I have nothing against fuchsia, I grew up in the 80’s. I actually love the color lol.

Famous Hanami Spot Turned Lame Suburb

Today, Koganei is pretty much synonymous with the “lame suburbs.” You’d have to go to 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture or 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture to get lamer, but at least Koganei is actually part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis. The area that is called 小金井市 Koganei-shi Koganei City is made up of roughly 12 Edo Period villages and rice fields[ii] that were combined to create 小金井村 Koganei Mura Koganei Village when the Meiji Government set up new administrative districts in 1889 (Meiji 22).

koganei hanami meji period.jpg

Hanami along the Tama Aqueduct in the Meiji Period.

Sadly, the old Tamagawa Aqueduct hasn’t aged well as a cherry blossom viewing spot. That said, Koganei is still famous for this cherished springtime tradition. These days, the main attraction is 多磨霊園 Tama Reien Tama Cemetery[iii]. While it’s most definitely a public cemetery, it’s functioned more as a park since the 1960’s[iv]. Completely covered in cherry blossoms, it feels more like an urban green space than a graveyard. There are quite a few famous historical personages interred here, but the most notorious is probably 三島由紀夫 Mishima Yukio, a crazy right wing Japanese author who tried to launch a silly military coup in the 1970’s. When it was obvious that his little political stunt was going to fail, he tried to commit 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment. His boyfriend was to deliver the coup de grace, but apparently sucked at using swords and tried to behead him multiple times before another dude stepped in to behead them both[v]. Total clusterfuck.

Further Reading:

mishima yukio.jpg

Mishima Yukio making a speech during his attempted military coup.

OK, Let’s Look At the Kanji 

The modern place name Koganei is written with three kanji. However, this apparently wasn’t always the case. In order to explore the name, we’re going to have to focus on four kanji in particular, although later, we’ll be looking at some interesting variations.


ko

small


kane, –gane

gold, money


i

well, spring; community


hara

field, meadow, plain

Theory One

There seem to be three theories, two of which are closely connected. The first one, though, is a bit of a long shot, but not completely improbable. It suggests that there was a well in the area. Its water was so abundant and pristine that it was worth its weight in 黄金 kogane gold (using the kanji for “yellow” and “gold”)[vi]. The story goes, the locals wrote the name 黄金之井 Kogane no I The Golden Well[vii]. We know the genitive particle 之 no wasn’t necessary when speaking because the name was also rendered in a mix of hiragana and kanji as こがね井 Koganei. Using hiragana was an effective way of communicating the pronunciation (at the expense of the meaning of the first two syllables[viii]), and the use of that single kanji reinforced the meaning of “well.” This theory is vague, yet the orthography kinda supports it… kinda.

koganei park

Present day Koganei Park

Theory Two

The next theory states that the plains on the southside of a cliff in the modern city used to be called 金井原 which was read as Koganeihara, Koganei Meadow. The cliff is thought to be くじつ山 Kujitsu-yama Mt. Kujitsu in present day 小金井公園 Koganei Kōen Koganei Park. The field is the south side of present day 前原町 Maehara-chō Maehara Town[ix]. If you’re familiar with this area, you may know that this is one section of Tama Cemetery. It’s a sprawling, modern cemetery that is very, very flat. The geography matches the etymology to a point. However, we’re left with a mystery. What did the kanji 金井 refer to? They mean “gold” and “well,” but did they refer to an actual well, or even gold for that matter?

Kanai-Hachiman-Shrine.jpg

Kanai Hachiman Shrine – a direct connection to the god of war, Hachiman, tutelary kami of the Minamoto clan, and by clan bloodlines, affiliated with the Nitta and Kanai clans.

Theory Three

The third theory is that Koganei – or even Koganei Meadow – was a reference to the clan controlling the area who wrote their name 金井. There are several kinks in this theory, too. First, newly created branch clans usually took the name of their fief as a surname, and not vice-versa[x]. Second, this family name is usually read as Kanai[xi], not Koganei[xii]. However, the Kanai were indeed active in the region, both prior to and during the Kamakura Period. The local branch was founded by a samurai named 新田義宗 Nitta Yoshimune, later 金井義宗 Kanai Yoshimune, who controlled 武蔵国金井原 Musashi no Kuni Koganeihara Koganeihara, Musashi Province. Also, if you refer to the kanji chart above, you’ll see how 金井 could be read as both Kanai and Koganei.

nitta yoshimune

Grave of Nitta no Yoshimune (Kanai no Yoshimune)

So Which Theory do I Prefer?

Well, let’s do a recap. There may have been a well that flowed abundantly. A field may have taken its name from the well. A branch of the Nitta clan moved in and took the name Kanai (using the same kanji of their new fief). Knowing the new branch families usually adopted the name of their land holdings as a family name, I reject the idea that the area is named after the Kanai clan, but don’t see any reason to see all three of these theories as potentially one in the same. Again, there could have been a well at some point[xiii]. We know there was a huge meadow of arable land whose name referenced a well. Then these Nitta samurai came in and took the name of the field to become the Kanai[xiv]. Given that the Nitta clan was a powerful clan with connections to the imperial court, they wouldn’t want their name to reflect the backwater pronunciation of this area. It was in their best interest to use a reading that was easily intelligible by anyone with a proper education. This doesn’t seem unreasonable to me at all. In fact, it seems the most logical and probable explanation.

rhe plot thickens
Further Nitta/Kanai Hints or Coincidence?

The fact that writers in the Kamakura Period alternated between 小金井 and こがね井 is interesting. To me, this could point to a couple of things. One, the name already existed since protohistoric times and the presence of the Kanai Clan was a bizarre coincidence. Two, the clan’s name was in fact derived from the meadow or village’s name, but they rejected the local reading, whereas the local villagers weren’t sure about the elite reading and just continued “villaging” under the assumption that they were correct. When we find place names written in hiragana, it’s generally done to clarify how to read the kanji since there are always multiple readings – especially in regional dialects.

Furthermore, when Koganei Village was created in 1889, there were a number of fields bearing the name 新田 shinden, which literally means “new field.” The Kanai clan was an offshoot of the 新田氏 Nitta-shi Nitta clan. The word shinden uses the same kanji as the surname Nitta. This could just be a coincidence, or it could be a hint that the local farmers were sucking up to their new samurai overlords in the 1300’s[xv]. If the former is the case, I think it’s safe to assume the area was originally named Koganei, the Kanai clan adopted the name of their fief while rejecting the local reading, and the villagers were aware of all of this.

lpganei shrine.jpg

Koganei Shrine (former Tenman-gū)

When I checked the records of 小金井神社 Koganei Jinja Koganei Shrine, I thought I’d get some clarity since ancient shrines tend to have old records and preserve local histories and legends. What I soon discovered was that while no one knows when or where Koganei Shrine was originally established, records indicated that it has been at the current location since 1205 (early Kamakura Period) when the Heian Period intellectual, 菅原道真 Sugawara no Michizane[xvi], was enshrined there and it was named 天満宮 Tenman-gū, a standard name for shrines dedicate to him[xvii].

According to a local history compiled between 1804 and 1829 called the 新編武蔵風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō Newly Edited Description of Musashi Province[xviii], Tenman-gū served as the tutelary shrine of 小金井村 Koganei Mura Koganei Village, 下小金井村 Shimo-Koganei Mura Shimo-Koganei Village, and  小金井新田 Koganei Shinden. This 19th century text uses the modern spelling with the initial kanji 小 ko small consistently, which means the orthography was standardized by then. But as I mentioned before, in the Kamakura Period, the place name was often written without the kanji for ko.

koganei jinja.jpg

Incidentally, the shrine itself has nothing to say about the spelling of Koganei or its development over the years. Remember, since 1205 the shrine was called 天満宮 Tenman-gū and protected three villages lying in just boring-ass farmlands where people probably didn’t give a rat’s ass how to spell their village name because… well… they probably didn’t go much farther than the next village. Tenman-gū’s name was changed to Koganei Shrine[xix] in 1870 (Meiji 3) to reflect its status as the main Shintō shrine for this particular area. By this time, the Edo Period spelling – and today’s spelling – was firmly set in stone[xx].

Further Reading:

 

small

So What About That Additional Kanji?

Although  and 黄金 can both be read as kogane, most people wouldn’t look at 金井 and think, “oh yeah, that’s Koganei.” They’d think, “oh yeah, that’s kane” in the first case, and “oh yeah, that’s ōgon” in the second case. In order to avoid any confusion, it seems that by the Kamakura Period, the kanji 小 ko small was added to make the correct reading perfectly clear. The addition of this character is thought to be a function of 当て字 ateji kanji used as a phoneme rather than an ideograph[xxi]. Some ancient place names are thought to be strictly ateji, especially ones that might not be Japanese in origin[xxii]. Other times, ateji are just used to make potentially unintelligible or confusing names easily legible[xxiii].

Regardless of the true etymology of the name, writing 小金井 koganei is pretty much the most reliable way to ensure that when someone sees the word, they’ll say, “oh yeah, Koganei.” Unless you’re a moron, that’s the only way to read it, really[xxiv].

Further Reading:

 

tama reien map.jpg

Map of Tama Cemetery

Hanami and Tama Reien

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, Koganei was famous for cherry blossoms in the Edo Period. It required a bit of time and money for an Edoite to head out there to enjoy the trees in full bloom. While some of the old groves still exist along the former Tama Aqueduct, the main attraction these days is the former Koganei Meadow, modern Tama Cemetery. That said, while Yanaka Cemetery’s 桜通り Sakura-dōri Sakura Avenue[xxv] in central Tōkyō attracts a certain amount of drunken spillover from Ueno Park who picnic and party among the graves, I don’t think that happens in Tama Cemetery. So…, if you go, look around and see what other people are doing and be respectful. When in Rome and all that.

Further Reading:

koganei logo.jpg
There’s a Company Called Koganei

This probably isn’t very interesting, but there’s a company called Koganei. They were established in 1935 (Shōwa 10) as the Yamamoto Trading Company in Tōkyō, but moved their factory and headquarters to 小金井市 Koganei-shi Koganei City in 1941 and changed their name to Koganei, Ltd in 1951. According to their website, they specialize in the “manufacture and sales of pneumatic system products, static electricity removing units, electric actuators, centralized lubrication equipment, and environmental/hygiene related products.” I’m not sure what more to do with that information, so here’s where I’m gonna finish this article.

I hope you enjoyed exploring Koganei, a suburb of Tōkyō. I also hope you’ve learned a little bit about how ateji is a big deal in Tōkyō place names. I hope you enjoyed how these place names tie in with powerful samurai families. If you like my research-intensive articles, please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking forward to your comments down below. Have a great day, ya’ll.

 

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[i] Well, technically speaking, in relation to Edo, it was West Bumfuck. But who the hell says that?
[ii] Namely, 小金井村 Koganei Mura former Koganei Village, 貫井村 Nukui Mura Nukui Village, 下染屋村 Shimo-Zomeya Mura Shimo-Zomeya Village, 押立村 Oshitate Mura Oshitate Village, 人見村 Hitomi Mura Hitomi Village, 是政村 Koremasa Mura Koremasa Village, 上石原村 Kami-Ishihara Mura Kami-Ishihara Village, 下小金井新田 Shimo-Koganei Shinden, 梶野新田 Kashino Shinden, 関野新田 Sekino Shinden, 十ヶ新田 Jūjū Shinden (reading suspect), and 本多新田 Honda Shinden. The last five place names that end with 新田 shinden, literally “new fields” refer to uninhabited agricultural lands. More about that later.
[iii] Reien translates literally as “soul garden” or “spirit garden,” but what distinguishes a reien from a 墓地 bocchi cemetery or 墓所 bosho graveyard is that the latter is just a regular cemetery, usually – but not always – affiliated with a temple, whereas the former tends to be larger with a “park-like atmosphere.”
[iv] Apparently, it was filled to capacity.
[v] If you wanna see Mishima after his seppuku and beheading… whoomp there it is.
[vi] See my article on Iogi for another shitty use of the word “yellow gold”/”yellow money.”
[vii] Literally, “yellow gold,” but in this case, it’s just a synonym for “gold.”
[viii] If indeed there was any meaning preserved at all. The reduction to hiragana may just indicate that nobody knew or was in agreement about the origin of the “kogane” part of Koganei as far back as the Kamakura Period.
[ix] The 原 hara in Koganeihara and the 原 hara in Maehara-chō are the same.
[x] This wasn’t a rule set in stone, though. Some place names did occasionally take their names from ruling clan.
[xi] If this theory is correct, the family in question was a minor branch of the main 金井氏 Kanai-shi Kanai Clan, which itself was a minor branch of the 新田氏 Nitta-shi Nitta Clan, which was itself a branch of the 清和源氏 Seiwa Genji Seiwa Minamoto Clan – the Minamoto descended from 清和天皇 Seiwa Tennō Emperor Seiwa (858-876), Japan’s 56th emperor. This is the same bloodline that produced the first Kamakura Shōgun, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo. This connection to such an elite eastern samurai clan with a direct connection to the imperial family should put the prestige of this family in context.
[xii] Or Kanei.
[xiii] Or it could’ve been an ancient word, maybe not even Japanese.
[xiv] Why not the Koganei? Probably because nobody could read it. But let’s get to that later.
[xv] Hell, it could be both.
[xvi] Who the fuck was Sugawara no Michizane?
[xvii] Supposedly there are about 14,000 enshrinements of Sugawara no Michizane throughout the country.
[xviii] This document has come up many times since I started the blog. Fūdoki are essentially local histories and geographical descriptions that the imperial court had been compiling since the Asuka Period. Later the shōgunates, and the Tokugawa Shōgunate in particular continued the practice.
[xix] Using the kanji for ko, of course.
[xx] Though again, I think it’s safe to assume that the spelling was standardized by the Kamakura Period.
[xxi] WTF is ateji?
[xxii] This means, some ancient place names are non-Japonic in origin.
[xxiii] Japan has many dialects, ateji may smooth things out. An example where ateji wasn’t adopted is 山手 Yamate in Yokohama and 山手 Yamanote in Edo-Tōkyō. The words are written the same, but you must know the local reading to pronounce them correctly.
[xxiv] I mean, I guess you could read it Oganei, but… nah, that would just be dumb.
[xxv] Yanaka Cemetery

What does Hachikō mean?

In Japanese History on May 10, 2017 at 5:54 am

ハチ公
Hachikō (Lord 8, but more at “oh look at you, you widdle cutie wootie eight, you’re a good boy, aren’t you, yes you are, you’re a good boy”)

Akita_inu

First Time in Tōkyō?

You’re probably gonna go to Shibuya to see the famous intersection in front of the Hachikō Exit and you’ll probably take a picture – or try to – with the statue of the legendary dog for whom the exit is named. This is arguably the most famous meet up spot in Japan, and has a truly enduring image in Japanese pop culture. It comes up in TV and movies, and you’ll find casual references in books, news, and everyone’s travel photos.

Because there’s a lot of grammatic and semantic side notes, as always, I encourage you to check out all the footnote links to get the whole picture. You can easily jump to a footnote and back to the article, so… yeah.

2ybf4Yr.jpg

Let’s Look at the Kanji

ハチ
hachi

Actually, these aren’t kanji, they’re katakana. But they are a reference to 八 hachi, which means “the number eight.”


This kanji usually means public, but in medieval times was used for government officials.

So Who the Hell was Hachikō?

Today, he’s usually referred to as 忠犬ハチ公 Chūken Hachikō the Loyal Dog, and in Japan he’s the archetypal embodiment of canine loyalty. This famous dog has been depicted in three movies, three TV shows, two anime, and his actual voice is recorded on a children’s record released in 1934. However, his actual name wasn’t Hachikō, it was just Hachi. And if we’re going to be all technical, it should be written as Hachi-kō not Hachikō, because the -kō is a suffix. But more about that later.

ueno hidesaburo.jpg

Professor Ueno Hidesaburō wearing a cunty outfit.

Hachi was born in 秋田県 Akita-ken Akita Prefecture[i] on November 11th, 1923[ii]. He’s presumed to have been the eighth puppy to pop out of the proverbial oven in the litter[iii], and by early 1924 was sold to a man named 上野英三郎 Ueno Hidesaburō for 30 yen[iv]. Hidesaburō was a professor of Tōkyō Imperial University and the two lived at his home in former 東京市豊多摩郡渋谷 Tōkyō-shi Toyotama-gun Shibuya Machi Shibuya Town, Toyotama District, Tōkyō City[v]. Hachi was the professor’s 3rd dog and it’s said that one of the older dogs was particularly interested in helping nurture the young pup[vi]. Hachi, who quickly bonded with Hidesaburō, took a particular liking to his home’s 玄関 genkan entrance. Every morning when the professor walked from his home to 渋谷駅 Shibuya Eki Shibuya Station, he would follow the whole way to see him off. Then, he would wait patiently for Hidesaburō to come back from work at night and loyally escort him back to their home. Hachi and the professor enjoyed this daily routine, and the locals – knowing that he wasn’t a stray or abandoned dog[vii] – got used to seeing him at the station entrance every day, waiting for his master. What can I say? People love dogs.

awwwwwww.jpg

A Year of Bonding with Man’s Best Friend

Hachi escorted Hidesaburō to and from the station every day, and spent his afternoons playing with the locals in front of the station. Shop owners would feed the dog scraps until the professor returned to take his beloved puppy home. After a year of this daily routine, something happened on May 21, 1925. After a faculty meeting at Tōkyō Imperial University, Ueno Hidesaburō suddenly suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, collapsed, and died. He was only 53. Poor Hachi, who couldn’t have known what happened, waited patiently for his master.

According to legend, Hachi didn’t eat for about three days in anticipation of his owner’s return. They also say that all three of Hidesaburō’s dogs waited together at Shibuya Station[viii] on the night of his wake. Hachi passed into the possession of a few different households, but eventually found himself back in Shibuya with a family who let him come and go as he pleased. Naturally, he gravitated towards the station where there were people who knew him and loved him since he was a puppy. By 1927, he was a permanent fixture and when outsiders asked, “who is this cute dog?” the locals told them “this dog came here every day to see his master off to work and waited all day for his return.” Soon the story became “he’s still waiting for his master to come home.”

loyal hachiko.JPG

That’s the Legend, Here’s the Truth

That’s the story everyone knows today. The thing is, it’s only the Shibuya locals who knew about him. Sure, the shop owners saw him coming and going, but Hachi doesn’t appear in the historical record until a 1932 newspaper article introduced the so-called “loyal dog” to the whole country. The article waxed poetic about the dog’s loyalty – and in Imperial Japan, loyalty stories were hot. However, the article was written by the president of the 日本犬保存会 Nihonken Honzonkai Association for the Preservation of Japanese Dogs[ix] to bring attention to Hachi’s plight.

hachi8

btw, don’t even get me started on this photo…

Plight?

Though he was cared for by his last master, 小林菊三郎 Kobayashi Kikusaburō, to whose home he returned every night, it seems Hachi was less of a loyal dog waiting for Hidesaburō and more of a freeloading Party Dog™. The article said that kids had been teasing the dog in front of the station since Hidesaburō’s days, and many of the locals regarded him as an annoying, filthy stray who begged for food. The truth is, while maybe some Shibuya residents liked him, many did not. However, the article argued for compassion. After all, Hachi was a 日本犬 Nihonken native Japanese breed and he was “loyal” – great talking points that worked well in the increasingly militaristic atmosphere of 1930’s Imperial Japan.

This article actually locked down Hachi’s place in history and in our hearts. Sure, he may have been a filthy beggar dog running rampant the streets – friend to some, hated by others – but he metamorphosed into a symbol of canine loyalty and a source of cultural identity to Shibuya, a semi-rural area that was emerging into a distinct neighborhood at that time. In April 1934, a bronze statue of Hachi was placed in front of the station’s main entrance[x]. Hachi himself attended the unveiling ceremony to much fanfare. His popularity skyrocketed, but what happened next gave Hachi his place in history.

funeral 2

He Died

Hachi died in Shibuya on March 8, 1935. The やまと新聞 Yamato Shinbun Yamato Newspaper ran a national article about the dog, his loyalty, and included a touching photo of Hidesaburō’s wife and a handful of station attendants holding a funeral for Hachi. People donated about 25 funerary wreaths and 200 flower arrangements. Another 180 letters and telegrams also came in. It was a major event for the station and for the neighborhood. Hachi was then enshrined – and finally reunited with – his master at Hidesaburō’s grave in 青山霊園 Aoyama Reien Aoyama Cemetery. There’s just a small stone pole commemorating Hachi, but make no mistake about it: nobody visits Hidesaburō. Hachi is Top Dog at this graveyard[xi].

Additionally, Hidesaburō’s former employer, Tōkyō Imperial University, took it upon themselves to run an autopsy and taxidermically preserve Hachi, so you can actually go see him – yes, the real him – at the 国立科学博物館 Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsu-kan National Museum of Nature & Science in Ueno Park. The cause of death was determined to be a combination of cancer and heartworms. Poor doggy…

ieyasu-ko.png

Here you can see the suffix -kō attached to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s name

So, What’s Up with That Suffix?

Yeah, so I promised to explain the whole ~公 -kō part of ハチ公 Hachi-kō and get into why that -kō is a suffix and not actually part of the dog’s name. In order to describe this, let’s talk about levels of formality or register in the Japanese Language.

First year Japanese students generally learn about the concepts of 内 uchi inside group and 外 soto outside group. Your friends, family, and social peers are your inside group. Unknown people, elders, and social superiors are your outside group[xii]. Complicating this in-group/out-group dynamic are several levels of formality. Without making this a grammar lesson, I’m just gonna give you the TLDR version[xiii].

nelson muntz ha ha

BTW, I lied. The TLDR Version isn’t Short

In Modern Japanese, when addressing customers or a head of state, you use honorific language because these people most definitely are in your out-group and using casual language presumes a closeness that could be very off putting to many people[xiv]. Using presumptuous, casual words and phrases in inappropriate situations can be taken as “talking down” to someone[xv]. Take for example, the word お前 o-mae you. This is one of the most basic words for “you” and is often used by males who are extremely close and among siblings. In this case, the meaning is equal, friendly, honest. A father or teacher might address children with o-mae. In this case, the junior-superior relationship is implied. Guys traditionally referred to their girlfriends or wives as o-mae. In this case, affection is implied, as well as a masculine-feminine power dynamic[xvi]. Pets are often addressed with o-mae because they clearly fall in the junior status, but they’re also part of the in-group, so this is an example of both meanings. However, if you just refer to a random person on the street as o-mae, you may find yourself in a street fight.

In addition, when addressing and referring to people, the Japanese attach honorific suffixes to names. In a formal situation, you might address or refer to your customer as 渡辺様 Watanabe-sama Mr. or Mrs. Watanabe. If you have a good relationship with a Mr./Mrs. Watanabe who isn’t in the room, you’d probably use 渡辺さん Watanabe-san, which is essentially the default way to refer to a person. Let’s say this person’s name is 渡辺彩姫 Watanabe Saiki and she’s younger than you or just a close friend. You could address her as 彩姫 Saiki-chan or さいちゃん Sai-chan which is cute. With pets, you wouldn’t use -sama or -san except as a joke. Because it’s a pet and clearly the junior in the relationship, a non-Japanese speaker at that, you don’t need to attach any honorific suffix to its name. But many people will attach -chan specifically because it’s just cute to refer to your pet like it’s a person or a member of the family.

inu kubō.jpg

The kanji for kō was used in Pre-Modern Japan when referring to members of the samurai ruling class. You can find it in such terms as 公方 kubō, a term that changed a little over time, but by the Edo Period was synonymous with shōgun. The most famous kubō is probably the fifth shōgun 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi who is referred to as the 犬公方 Inu Kubō Dog Shōgun because of his edict protecting dogs. When addressing the shōgun directly, you wouldn’t use any words for “you” as that would be too direct and a massive breach of protocol[xvii]. You would refer to him as 上様 ue-sama your highness. You would use this term when talking about him with others, never using his name (ie; the third person). But when talking about past shōguns, you could use names. In fact, it would be really difficult to talk about history in general if you didn’t use a name, right?

But given all the apprehension hard wired into the Japanese language regarding names, in-groups and out-groups, and taboos about saying “you” or directly addressing people, a simple fix evolved over the years. That was -kō. If you visit a temple or shrine dedicated to any of the shōguns, as well as the daimyō, you’ll find their names written in the Edo Period convention using -kō. For example, 徳川家康公 Tokugawa Ieyasu-kō. When translating this title, you have two choices. One, just ignore it because there’s no equivalent in English and we wouldn’t say “Mr. Tokugawa Ieyasu” about an historical personage. Two, translate it as “Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu” which is my preferred modus operandi. In fact, if you look back at my series on the graves of the Tokugawa shōguns, you’ll see that’s exactly what I did.

32433180763_c7cbe7af99_o.jpg

Shiba Tōshō-gū

So, in short, -kō was a suffix that showed deep affection or respect for elite members of the samurai ruling class, in particular, the shōguns and the daimyō. After the collapse of the Tokugawa Shōgunate in 1868 and the subsequent abolishment of the samurai, life in Imperial Japan underwent fantastic and far reaching changes. The switch from a highly stratified “feudal” society to a superficial western-style liberal democracy sent shockwaves through the Japanese language. There were paradigm shifts across the board, but most notably in the concepts of junior-senior relationships. The term o-mae, which I mentioned earlier, was once an honorific term[xviii]. Two other honorific terms for “you,” 手前 temae[xix] and 貴様 kisama[xx] also found themselves displaced over the years. In fact, if used inappropriately, these formerly polite words came to be deeply offensive and aggressive. The suffix -kō soon found itself falling by the wayside since you could say anything you wanted about the shōguns – they were gone and there was no fear of repercussion if your etiquette game was weak.

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So How Does Hachi Become Hachi-kō?

Well, since I’ve already given you all the puzzle pieces, hopefully you’re starting to sort this out in your head. For people with a decent understanding of Japanese it should already be obvious, but I have a lot of readers who don’t read/speak Japanese so, let’s wrap this all up now, shall we?

We’ve seen that there are levels of familiarity and politeness in Japanese. We’ve also seen that there is some flexibility to change nuance using these registers in different contexts. Today, a dog named Hachi would probably just be called ハチ Hachi or ハチちゃん Hachi-chan[xxi]. In a ridiculous situation, you might call him 八様 Hachi-sama Honorable Hachi. However, in his own day the suffix -kō could be used in the same way as -sama. ハチ公 Hachi-kō Lord Hachi sounds funny and cute because clearly the dog wasn’t a daimyō or shōgun. On top of that, as I mentioned before, some old Edo Period honorific usage that was unnecessary in post-Tokugawa Japan shifted into completely opposite meanings. -Kō also became a suffix that, when used incorrectly, could be deeply offensive. In contrast to the original use as a term of deep reverence or affection, new words began to appear in Japanese like 先公 senkō shitty sensei (teacher), ポリ公 porikō fucking pig[xxii], and even racial slurs like アメ公 amekō fucking American.

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Hachi and Hidesaburō really existed. Their story became a legend in the Shibuya Station area. And, despite the legend, it seems that Hachi wasn’t liked by all at first, so, sure… maybe some people called him Hachi-kō as an insult, but I don’t think that’s the case. It’s good to know all the nuance and the fluidity and flexibility of language that Japanese speakers are mindful of – particularly in Hachi’s time[xxiii]. That said, I like to think the suffix was given because, one, he was a dog (junior-superior relationship); two, he was part of the in-group of those who looked after him at the station; three, it’s just cute to refer to a dog as a feudal lord or a duke[xxiv].

stuffed hachiko.jpg

Hachi, stuffed and on display in Ueno.

Lastly, there is one more layer to this wildly nuanced story. Stray dogs and cats are generally referred to as 野良公 nora-kō lords of the fields/rice paddies. This kō includes every nuance included above. It’s derived from the fact that Japanese people traditionally didn’t let pets into the house[xxv] until quite recently. By modern standards, Hachi was someone’s pet, but he was also kinda left to his own devices – as any dog or cat left outside in his time would have been. This explains why Hidesaburō would have seen taking Hachi home or leaving him at Shibuya Station as totally normal. The dog could have fun with locals, but could also run around the river area and the agricultural fields in the area. When the dog came home, he wasn’t chilling out on the tatami floor doing tea ceremony with humans. He was sleeping at the entrance to the house… outside.

grave.jpg

Grave of Hidesaburō and Hachi in Aoyama Cemetery

And again, this -kō runs the gamut of nuance. It also puts Hachi’s life and the life of many pets in Pre-War Japan in a new light. The whole story is a great illustration of cultural and linguistic change over time. Next time you’re in Shibuya, take a minute to look at the statue of the loyal dog and realize how… well, realize anything you want to. I just live for how all this stuff comes together, and how messy and complicated it is. Trying to wrap your head around something as simple as a dog’s name can be so difficult, yet exploring it can be an edifying roller coaster ride.

I hope y’all had as much fun as I did with this one.

Love ya, mean it!

 

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[i] He was actually a local breed called an 秋田犬 Akita Inu Akita Dog.
[ii] The records are good. We even know the name of his father and mother – 大子内 Ōshinai and 胡麻 Goma, respectively.
[iii] This is not at all unusual – even in the traditional naming of humans. Boys were often given names like 一郎 Ichirō first born son, 一 Hajime first; 二郎 Jirō or 次郎 Jirō second son and next son, respectively; 三郎 Saburō third born son, etc.
[iv] Which, if my math isn’t correct – which it could be – would be about 10,000 yen today ($100).
[v] Shibuya was pretty undeveloped at this time, except for the station area.
[vi] The other two dogs were ジョン Jon and エス S. Jon, a pointer, was the one who helped raise Hachi.
[vii] More about this later…
[viii] I’d like to point out, this story seems bullshit AF. There’s no account of Jon and S ever accompanying the professor to Shibuya Station, so it would be weird that they would go during a wake. Oh, and by the way, at a traditional Japanese wake of this time, Hidesaburō’s body would have lain in state at his home. If the dogs, or Hachi in particular, were so loyal, they’d probably recognize the corpse of their master.
[ix] This organization still exists today.
[x] During WWII, the original statue was melted down for the war effort. The current statue was erected in 1948 and was created by the son of the original sculptor.
[xi] Sorry, I’m groaning too. That was so bad. Sorry.
[xii] Interestingly, some women, particularly 30 and over, may often use polite Japanese with their husbands or when flirting because it’s seen as more feminine, playing up the traditional view of men and women occupying superior and junior positions in society.
[xiii] If you want to read about Japanese Grammar, here’s a link.
[xiv] This is called 馴れ馴れしい narenareshii which means “too close” and carries the nuance of “presumptuous.”
[xv] Interestingly, when people are in the same inside group or in a junior-senior relationship, often the angry party will revert to polite language – usually not too honorific, but just basic polite forms – when “dressing down” the offending party. A boss in a traditional Japanese company isn’t expected to use polite language to his subordinates. However, when he is angry at his workers, the boss or CEO may chew out an employee in polite language – a very scary situation because of the shocking role reversal. Furthermore, angry wives often chastise their husbands in polite language – another terrifying situation.
[xvi] Recently, this has changed and a lot of girls from thirty and below, use o-mae with their close friends, boyfriends, or husbands. This seems to be a byproduct of a flattening of Japanese society, particularly in regard to gender equality. It’s also fed by otaku culture which has led to many women taking on traditionally male vocabulary these days.
[xvii] Using names is still often preferable to directly referring to a person as “you.” An example: 昨日クラブに行ったよ。Kinō kurabu ni itta yo. Last night I went clubbing. え?さいちゃんが? E? Sai-chan ga? Wow, Sai-chan went? Sai-chan being a girl’s nickname, the sentence is weird in English and would be better translated as “Wow, you did?”
[xviii] It literally means “the honorable (person) in front (of me)” and was a way to avoid directly addressing a person.
[xix] Also, a way to avoid a person, it just means “(the person) right in front of me” and is now only used in fights.
[xx] The word literally means “your noble highness” and was a way to address a daimyō or high ranking aristocrat, but today is word used in manga and anime for fights. In modern usage, I don’t think people use this word in conversation. It’s just for otaku media.
[xxi] More likely はっちゃん Hacchan because it’s less wieldy, less formal, and just sounds cuter.
[xxii] In the meaning of police officer, the term is literally “poli(ce)” + “kō.” But just for your information, these terms are rarely used today. Old timers who remember WWII or the pre-Bubble Era will recognize the American slur, but most people under 30 probably wouldn’t recognize it. The word has vanished. The police slur is only known from ooooold yakuza movies and isn’t used anymore. The “bad teacher” term is well understood, but it has also died out. I most -kō words have all become 死語 shigo obsolete terms.
[xxiii] A fluidity and flexibility still present in modern usage.
[xxiv] And keep in mind, this was before WWII. The former court families from Kyōto and the former daimyō families were all given western style ranks under the peerage system, ie; they had barons, counts, and all kind of stupid aristocratic ranks. The title 公爵 kōshaku duke (yes, same kō) was a term you’d encounter frequently.
[xxv] This is a subject for another time, but fascinating.

A Tour of Denma-chō Prison & Execution Ground

In Japanese History on April 27, 2017 at 3:29 am

伝馬町牢屋敷
Denma-chō Rōyashiki (Denma Town Jail Precincts)
伝馬町処刑場
Denma-chō Shokeiba (Denma Town Execution Ground)

22

Years back, I did a series on the 3 execution grounds of Edo. At that time[i], outside of JapanThis! there wasn’t much reliable info on the subject in English online[ii]. Despite the lazy expat biters over the years, I thought I’d drop a little refresher on this Edo Period Execution Ground. If you missed the original 2013 article on Denma-chō Prison, you can read it here. Today, I thought I’d give you a personal video tour of the premises. If you’re ever in Tōkyō, I can give you a personal tour of the area, too.

Denma-chō Prison was pretty much your average Edo Period Prison, except for the fact it had a special “high end” area. What was “high end” about it? Well, this is where direct retainers of the shogun, samurai in general, or in some cases, rich commoners were imprisoned. These social elites were given clean accommodations that were more like an inn than a prison. It wasn’t Club Med, mind you. Directly across the street was a larger building that housed the general population who lived a horrific existence in filth and squalor as they awaited torture and execution. That said, lots of high profile executions took place here.

Map with English

Map of the prison, I’ve translated some of the main sites. You may want to refer back to this throughout the article or while watching the video.

The prison was in the heart of the city, 日本橋 Nihonbashi, which literally means “bridge to Japan.” This bridge marked the beginning of the 5 major highways, the 五街道 Gokaidō[iii], that led from the shōgun’s capital of Edo to the rest of the country. As the most important crossroads in a country that used crossroads to post laws and regulations nationwide for travelers, Nihonbashi was where the public display of the shōgunate’s power over life and death were felt to be the most effective. The other execution grounds were located at the outskirts of Edo, but Denma-chō was at the center of the country – a place where commoner and samurai alike passed one another. It was the perfect place to display severed heads and to showcase those slated for execution.

detention and torture warehouse.jpg

This is a great illustration that shows the general population detention facility (note the lack of windows), the fireproof warehouse where inmates were tortured, and the moat surrounding this section of the prison.

How High End Was the Prison?

For the average prisoner, it definitely wasn’t great. Reportedly, the stench was godawful and there was minimal circulation in the cells so during the hot and muggy summers, it must have smelled like a long-lost garbage truck full of homeless people. The general population was usually denied bathing rights which definitely didn’t help the situation.

While the other execution grounds were just places to display heads and crucified bodies at the outskirts of the city, Denma-chō Prison was a fully functional detention facility in the heart of the city. The elite prisoners were afforded certain luxuries, such as baths. However, to what degree this was true wasn’t really understood until 1949, when archaeologists made some astonishing discoveries. They unearthed the Edo Period plumbing system, which revealed a complex system of pipes bringing clean water into the facility for drinking and bathing, as well as a sewerage system to dispose of dirty water. The clean water came in from the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui Kanda Aqueduct[iv].

sendai domain prison.jpg

Photo of a prison in Sendai Domain, while it must have had better ventilation that Denma-chō, it still looks abysmal.

After the Prison was Torn Down

After the Meiji Coup, the facility was decommissioned in 1875 (Meiji 8). The land lay fallow for a few years before the main detention facility was re-purposed as an elementary school. Two temples also bought property on the newly available lot. One temple assumed the responsibility of the souls of the prisoners who were executed at Denma-chō and the prisoners who had died during torture or in the horrible conditions of the prison. The temple’s name is a little strange as most temples have 3 kanji names. This 4 kanji name is 大安楽寺 Dai’anraku-ji Dai’anraku Temple and derives from the main contributors, two businessmen named 大倉喜八郎 Ōkura Kihachirō and 安田善次郎 Andō Zenjirō. Combine the first kanji of each family name ( + ) and you get “dai’an,” which means “great comfort.” The rest of the temple’s name is familiarly Buddhist, 楽 raku ease/repose and 寺 -ji temple.

denmacho

This graphic is courtesy of Deep Azabu, quite possibly the greatest Japanese history blog ever. I’m very thankful for his help in putting this together. The top image is Edo Period, the bottom image is present day.

The temple used to cover the area from the backdoor of the facility (ie; the killing floor) to its present location. The way modern maps correspond to the Edo Period maps is eerily accurate. The temple sits directly behind a reverse L-shape block of shops, that follows the layout of blocks from back in the day.

Daianraku-ji

Another temple called 見延別院 Minobu Betsu-in[v] also bought real estate next to Daianraku-ji on the former grounds on the old prison. Both temples flourished until the Great Kantō Earfquake of 1923. While these two temples had substantial landholdings and clearly distinct missions, after the earfquake and the war they were both reduced to their current locations. They still seem quite distinct today, though at first glance you’d probably think they were part of the same complex.

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Minobu Betsu-in

After you visit these two temples, you’ll find yourself standing in one of the most normal urban parks ever. Most likely you’ll see housewives playing with their kids or local pre-school kids running around having a great time – completely unaware that this was once an execution ground. And while Suzugamori is probably the most interesting extant killing floor, and Kozukappara is the darkest, I have to say that Denma-chō Prison is the best preserved and ironically, the most friendly. The architectural records and maps of the facility are so good that unlike Suzugamori and Kozukappara, Denma-chō Prison has been recreated accurately with 3D models. In fact, if you go to 日光江戸村 Nikkō Edo Mura Edo Wonderland[vi], they’ve built a fantastic recreation of a tiny corner of Denma-chō Prison[vii].

 

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The Yoshida Shōin yadayadayada monument.

Yoshida Shōin, Teacher of Terrorists & Darling of Ultra-nationalists

Most people who come to the site are curious about a memorial called the 吉田松陰終焉之地 Yoshida Shōin Shūen no Chi Site of the Demise of Yoshida Shōin[viii]. Although the name seems to indicate that Yoshida Shōin was executed at this exact location[ix], this was actually the location of back entrance of the prison. It was also the location of the 揚座敷 agari zashiki, the apartments for the highest ranking samurai jailed at Denma-chō. Such prisoners would have arrived in style and were securely situated on the administrative side of the prison where sanitation was presumably up to societal norms of the day. Being a samurai of 長州藩 Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain, but not quite high ranking enough to stay in the spacious agari zashiki, Yoshida stayed on the other side of the fence in the main detention facility in an area called the 東揚屋 higashi agariya the premium eastern rooms. He was in an “upscale,” semi-private cell that was removed from the filthy confines of the general population, but it was by no means on the level of the nice living quarters of the of the agari zashiki.

twat

Yoshida Shōin – Osama bin Laden of the Bakumatsu.

Who was Yoshida Shōin?

I’m not getting into this again. You have the internet. You can look this one up yourself. Or maybe this is more to your liking. Anyhoo, he was an advocate of overthrowing the Tokugawa Shōgunate, pledging loyalty to the imperial family, and killing or expelling all foreigners who came to Japan. After the Meiji Coup, he came to be revered as a hero, but in fact, he was nothing but a traitor, a xenophobe, and a teacher who preached terrorism and treason. He was duly executed at age 29 in 1859, and in a bizarre twist of fate – at least in the eyes of the shōgunate – factions inspired by his crazy ideas managed to toppled the shōgunate in 1868. In short, the terrorists won.

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Recreation of Denma-chō Prison at Nikkō Edo Wonderland

That said, Yoshida Shōin was an educated man. He was well read in the Confucian Classics and was steeped in the samurai culture of his day. One aspect of was his ability to write poetry. Before his execution as an anti-shōgunate terrorist, Yoshida wrote his death poem. It’s a 31 syllable 和歌 waka poem[x] that is now inscribed on the stone memorial[xi].

身はたとひ
武蔵の野辺に
朽ちぬとも
 留め置かまし
大和魂

Mi wa tatoe
Musashi no Nobe ni
Kuchinu tomo
Todome-okamashi
Yamato-damashii

Despite my body
Decomposing deep under
The Musashi Plain,
I will always hold on to
My Yamato-damashii

In the last line, Yoshida uses the term 大和魂 Yamato-damashii. This word means “Japanese spirit” or “the soul of Japan.” On the surface, this phrase seems harmless enough, and indeed, in a casual context this can refer to the spirit of a Japanese man and his pride in Japanese culture and tradition. However, the term 大和 Yamato has a deep association with the imperial court and the imperial family[xii]. A case could be made that Yoshida was directly referencing the imperial family as a counterbalance to 武蔵 Musashi, the ancient province in which 江戸 Edo was located. However, what we can really take away from his use of this term is what it has become today. Of course, casually it just means “Japanese spirit,” but the phrase is often used by right wing ultranationalists to show their disdain for Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution, their loyalty to the now secular imperial family, and in a kind of passive-aggressive way, their xenophobia and feeling of racial superiority. No matter how you look at it, Yoshida Shōin definitely ended his death poem with a bang.

 

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Good old fashion beheading.

Yoshida Shōin a Drop in the Bucket

Denma-chō Prison operated from 1613 to 1875, so Yoshida is just a blip on the radar. The sad fact is that historians think that somewhere between 100,000 – 200,000 prisoners met their own demises here. Not all the prisoners died at the hands of the executioner. Many of them died of diseases they contracted from the filthy living conditions of the general population, and others were assassinated by other inmates due to personal grudges or for simple annoyances like snoring too loudly.

Despite how crappy it must have been to be a prisoner at Denma-chō, and how even worse it must have been to have been killed at Denma-chō, the present facility is actually quite lovely today. What I like about the present site is how peaceful and inviting it is. I also love the fact that the original compound is still preserved – and visibly so by maps. It’s a strong contrast to Suzugamori and Kozukappara, which just feel really dark and ominous.

Special Thanks:

  • I’d like to thank Iwata-san who writes Deep Azabu, one of my favorite Japanese History blogs. He prepared the image comparing maps from today and the Edo Period.

 

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[i] 2013, to be exact. Here are the original articles: Edo Execution Ground Spectacular.
[ii] Since then, interestingly a lot more has surfaced. In fact, a lot of subjects that were never covered in English online that I’ve written about have magically appeared in all kinds of places online. I wonder how that happened…
[iii] And, yes, I have an article about the Gokaidō.
[iv] What’s the Kanda Aqueduct? I’m glad you asked!
[v] The priest whom I asked if it was OK to take a picture of the famous sitting Buddha statue in their main hall called it “Minobe” not “Minobu,” so in the video I keep saying “Minobe,” but all the written Japanese sources say みのぶ Minobu. Both readings are possible, but Minobu seems way more common. On the other hand, the priest at the temple clearly said Minobe several times. Maybe he knows something we don’t…., or maybe it’s 下町言葉 shitamachi kotoba the shitamachi dialect, a holdover of the Edo Dialect used by commoners. Who knows.
[vi] Here’s the link to Edo Wonderland.
[vii] Unironically located across the street from the office of the 代官 daikan city magistrate.
[viii] Who was Yoshida Shōin? Good question!
[ix] BTW, in my original article I said that Yoshida Shōin was imprisoned at Denma-chō and then later executed at Kozukappara in Senjū. Now, I’m not so sure about that. At the time of writing the original article, I came across a few sources that insisted Yoshida wasn’t killed at Denma-chō. Now, I can’t find any of those sources. In fact, everything I see now insists that he was executed where he was detained (at Denmachō), but was buried at Kozukappara. This leads me to think his decapitated head may have been exposed at Kozukappara as well – just speculation, though.
[x] Waka, literally “Japanese poems” are written in the format of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7.
[xi] I’m not a great judge of waka or haiku or any Japanese poetry in general, but I have to say when I compare the Meiji Emperor’s poem about Ōkubo with Yoshida’s death poem, I have to say, the Meiji Emperor was way more adept at the art than Yoshida was. Here’s the article where I translated the Meiji Emperor’s poem.
[xii] The rise of the imperial family and its influence in the Japanese islands both martially and culturally is generally referred to as the Rise of the Yamato State.

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.

 

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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.

The History of Hanami

In Japanese History on April 4, 2017 at 8:01 am

花見
hanami (cherry blossom viewing, but literally “looking at flowers”)

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I was recently asked to write an article about the history of 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing, which I was happy to look into. Although I had a broad understanding of this uniquely Japanese tradition – and one of my favorite aspects about living in Japan – I’d never really researched the subject in depth. Needless to say, going all JapanThis! on a non-history website or publication isn’t always appropriate[i], but I was super excited when they agreed to publish the stripped down, 650-word version while allowing me to publish the extended 12” remix here for you guys.

So, without further ado, here’s the history of hanami.

china plum blossom

Chinese courtiers enjoying plum blossoms and crappy plum wine. Sorry, I can’t drink plum wine. It’s so nasty.

The Classical Origins of Hanami

If we take the word literally, hanami just means “looking at flowers.” It’s a Japanese word that falls into a broad category of “looking at things” words – two other famous examples might be 月見 tsukimi moon viewing and 富士見 fujimi Mt. Fuji viewing[ii].

In a world without TV or movies, bored humans have always found ways to entertain themselves. And, as is the case in most cultures, while the poor were toiling in the fields, the rich built lush private gardens. In the West, this happened in the Roman Empire. In the East, this happened in Ancient China. The Chinese were particularly enamored with the fragrant plum blossoms – an equally beautiful flower, but much heartier and less vibrant than 桜 sakura cherry blossoms.

gokusui en

Gokusui no En was a typical Heian Period poetry even linked to seasonal changes practiced by the Northern Fujiwara clan. This one is recreated once a year in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture. It wasn’t a sakura-centric event but definitely influenced by China and was focused on seasonal events like hanami in the literal sense of “looking at flowers.”

When the imperial court was based in Nara in the 700’s, local aristocrats would read Chinese poems celebrating the transient beauty of plum blossoms. In their gardens, each flower’s location became a new venue for poetry writing events or places to engage in other artistic endeavors, such as calligraphy, flower arrangement, and painting. The most common flowers were wisteria[iii], plum blossoms, peach blossoms, and ultimately cherry blossoms which were treasured for their brief yet brilliant bloom. By the Heian Period, the term hanami had become synonymous with cherry blossom viewing specifically, and not just flower viewing in general.

800px-Sasaki_Toyokichi_-_Nihon_hana_zue_-_Walters_95221.jpg

Toyotomi Hideyoshi at one of his final hanami events in Kyōto before his death.

The Heian Period, as I’m sure you’re aware, essentially ended with the rise of the samurai class. Eventually, in the 1500’s, a warlord named 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified the country. He sought to legitimize the samurai – not just as warriors, but as protectors of aristocratic cultural practices. It’s here that we first find paintings of high ranking samurai, called 大名 daimyō, enjoying hanami – placing themselves on par with the imperial court. Hideyoshi encouraged the warriors to engage in other arts such as poetry, tea ceremony, and flower arrangement.

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Hanami in the Premodern Era

Hideyoshi failed to establish a lasting dynasty, but his ideas of promoting cultural practices of the court among the samurai was a success. When Japan’s most stable warrior government was formally established in Edo in 1603 by 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, hanami was an inherent aspect of the elite culture in peace time. But the Tokugawa Shōgunate took things a step further. They began planting cherry blossoms in Ueno, where you could visit the magnificent mausoleums of the shōguns. This vast religious center was open to the public and would become Ueno Park in modern times. Daimyō from other parts of Japan brought the concept of public cherry blossom viewing spaces from Edo back to their respective domains.

shogun harem hanami chiyoda castle edo castle tokugawa

Ladies of the shōgun’s harem enjoying hanami on the expansive grounds of Edo Castle, once the largest castle in the world – a city within a city.

This brought hanami to the commoners. Kabuki and entertainment in the pleasure quarters were looked down upon by the shōgunate as morally questionable, but enjoying cherry blossoms was good clean fun and people of any rank could enjoy it if they had access to the trees. Of course, some of the best groves where behind the high walls of the palaces of the feudal lords in Edo and of shōgun’s castle in particular, but temples, shrines, and common spaces were open to all.

gotenyama hanami.jpg

One of my favorite ukiyo-e of all time, two groups of women doing hanami on Goten’yama. You can see Shinagawa below, the calm waters of Edo Bay below, and the ever present boats on premodern Japan’s busiest harbor. Looking out at the bay must have seemed like looking at the end of the world – and by that I mean the Pacific Ocean and modern Chiba Prefecture.

Furthermore, large scale planting of sakura in Edo in places like 御殿山 Goten’yama[iv], 飛鳥山 Asukayama[v], 道灌山 Dōkan’yama[vi], and other famous spots provided public spaces where anyone could enjoy the beautiful pink blossoms. Even Yoshiwara, the moated and sequestered red light district had streets lined with cherry blossoms. The tradition of 夜桜 yo-zakura, or nighttime sakura viewing, is generally thought to have origins in Yoshiwara and similar Edo Period red light districts because businesses stayed open late and used lanterns to maximum effect to make their shops seems more attractive at night, especially during the short cherry blossom season. While usually men frequented the pleasure quarters, wives and daughters often came to enjoy the illuminated trees and try to catch a glimpse of the courtesans in their flashy kimono. Anyone who has enjoyed yo-zakura knows there’s a dramatic difference between daytime hanami and nighttime hanami.

yoshiwara night hanami

Nighttime hanami in Yoshiwara. You can see the lanterns illuminating the trees. Also, notice the guy covering his head. Men of prominent positions in the community, while allowed to – and often expected to – have concubines, were discouraged by the shōgunate from going to red light districts like the Yoshiwara. They often covered their heads to avoid recognition. But, of course, they went. Because oiran!!! Who wouldn’t?!!💛

With the great Tokugawa Peace came re-branding. The samurai, traditionally warriors, now found themselves with no wars to fight – essentially functioning as bureaucrats. In order to legitimize their function in society, they were expected to be living examples of Japanese morality and behavior for all of society beneath them to admire and emulate. A proverb arose: 花は桜木、人は武士 hana wa sakuragi, hito wa bushi as for flowers, there are sakura – as for men, there are samurai. On the surface, this simply means the greatest of flowers are cherry blossoms and the greatest of men are samurai. But there’s another meaning; it’s a reference to the warrior tradition and the expectation of samurai to commit 切腹 seppuku hara kiri/ritual disembowelment for failing to live honorably. A samurai’s life may seem noble and poetic – a thing of beauty, if you will – but at any moment he may be cut down in battle or asked to give his life. Therefore, the life of a samurai was likened to the sakura. He is beautiful, but fleeting. Likewise, a strong storm or sudden frost might ruin all the cherry blossoms, ending the season early. The link between samurai and sakura persists to this day, and commonly comes up in historical movies and TV dramas.

seppuku

Seppuku Fun™

After the Meiji Coup in 1868, the new government embarked on a decade’s long modernization initiative. One of the biggest changes to Japanese society was the abolition of the caste system, including the samurai. There were some in the new government who lobbied – unsuccessfully, luckily – for the removal of sakura from places associated with the Tokugawa and the samurai, such as Ueno and Edo Castle because of the strong connection between the samurai and cherry blossoms. In the end, cooler heads prevailed and as the concept of public parks was introduced, hanami was rebranded as a pan-Japanese tradition that dated back to the heyday of the imperial family during the Heian Period. In fact, to many westerners who learned about Japan through postcards and movements like Japonisme and Orientalism, Japan was often reduced to imagery of Mt. Fuji, geisha, and cherry blossoms.

Further Reading:

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The Great Buddha of Edo. It was destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake and had been a minor spot in Ueno Park until quite recently. Now it’s famous with Asian tourists, even though most Tōkyōites don’t even know it exists.

Modern Hanami

In the 1880’s and early 1900’s, newspapers began announcing famous spots for hanami and recommending the best times to go. The blooming of sakura coincided with the newly established school year, and companies latched on to this cycle to welcome in new hires and reinforce the commitment of existing workers’ dedication to the organization. In this way, the sakura became a symbol of birth and rebirth, rather than the fleeting existence of the samurai.

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As horticulture and the art of garden construction incorporated new scientific discoveries, public parks and botanical gardens soon learned that they could extend the hanami season by planting two to three varieties in the same park. Why only have two weeks of hanami when you can have three or four?

yoshino sakura.jpg

Having a picnic and drinking sake while looking at cherry blossoms is a tradition that goes back to the Heian Period.  Until recently, you could usually only carry a bottle or two with you, so the parties were shorter. Since the 70’s and 80’s, there have been convenience stores on every corner in major cities. This has made it possible for hanami parties to run from 6 AM to 11 PM because you can just refuel at 7-11 whenever you run out of booze. Furthermore, hanami goers in parks these days can even order delivery pizza, sushi, or whatever they need. In the age of instant gratification, an old proverb came to be associated with hanami: 花より団子 hana yori dango – literally, sweets over flowers. The implication is that some people don’t come to enjoy the sakura as much as for the wild partying.

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Japanese companies often send the youngest or lowest ranking people on their teams or in their departments to go stake out prime hanami spots in busy locations at the crack of dawn. Inevitably, they begin partying, often from 6 AM until the main group arrives. I came across this poor fellow at noon and it seems like… well… I guess hazing is a thing in his company.

Crazy Parties and Secret Spots

If you go to some of the larger parks in Tōkyō, like Ueno, Yoyogi, Inokashira, Meguro, etc., you’ll find a very party-like atmosphere. Ueno Park, in my experience, tends to be the craziest. People used to bring portable karaoke machine – a practice that has long since been banned – but still it’s the rowdiest and booziest. However, Yoyogi Park definitely gives it a run its money. In fact, I’ve seen DJ’s spinning house and techno in that park. Inokashira Park in Kichijōji is still all about the party, but has a much more hippied-out vibe. The Meguro River isn’t as crazy as those three, but it’s pretty noisy because it’s so congested and the sound of generator powering the food stalls forces people to raise their speaking volume just to communicate with one another.

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All of this is great fun. I love it for sure, but sometimes you just don’t want to deal with all the craziness. As such, a lot of people seek out the best kept secrets, or 穴場 anaba in Japanese (usually shared by word of mouth). This could be anything from a very local shrine to an obscure park. These places tend to have a great hanami experience without the crowds and often don’t have all the drunks shouting and laughing with each other or passing out on wherever on the ground. And while not a secret spot, some places like Shinjuku Gyoen have specific rules banning alcohol – though, that doesn’t actually stop people from bringing it in, but the people who do tend to be low key about it.

So, Edo’s big 5 hanami spots were Goten’yama, Ueno, the banks of the Sumida River, Asukayama, and Koganei. What are your favorite spots in modern Tōkyō? And do you know any cool secret spots?

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

 

 


[i] There’s a little mantra you’ve probably heard: know your audience.
[ii] Both of these words made their way into architectural terminology of the Edo Period. For example, Edo Castle and Kawagoe Castle both had 富士見櫓 Fujimi Yagura Fujimi Turrets and many places in Tōkyō still bear the place name Fujimi since you could see Mt. Fuji from there, for example 中野富士見町 Nakano-Fujimichō. Tsukimi appears everything from teahouses to castles, most notably Matsumoto Castle’s 富士見櫓 Fujimi Yagura Fujimi Turret.
[iii] Wisteria, or 藤 fuji, were closely linked to the 藤原氏 Fujiwara-shi Fujiwara clan, a powerful family of the imperial court that was the ancestor of a number of powerful samurai clans which preserved the kanji for wisteria when establishing new branch families with new names
[iv] This was one of the preeminent hanami spots in the Edo Period, but sadly shōgunate destroyed the area to build defensive islands to protect Edo from the threat of a sea based invasion by western powers in the 1850’s.
[v] This is still a popular hanami spot located a short distance from Ōji Station.
[vi] There are famous ukiyo-e of this spot, but today it’s a shadow of its former glory.

Where is Goten’yama today?

In Japanese History on March 29, 2017 at 5:55 am

御殿山
Goten’yama
(palace hill)

Hiroshige-Famous_Places_In_The_Eastern_Capital-Twilight_Cherries_At_Gotenyama-01-05-21-2007-8594-x2000

Today, we’re breaking from the usual etymology and location breakdown because I’ve already covered this area. I’m sticking to the recent theme of cherry blossoms, but I’d like to try something a little different. Bear with me. But I think you’re all going to like this. There’s an accompanying video at the bottom in which I’ll walk you around all these places.

御殿山 Goten’yama was one of the most popular 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing spots in 江戸 Edo. It was a bluff in 品川 Shinagawa that sat on the coast of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. It was outside of the city limits of the shōgun’s capital, located in 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni, Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province near the 二里塚 niri-zuka, a milestone indicating this area was roughly 4.88 miles (7.854 km) from 日本橋 Nihonbashi on the 東海道 Tōkaidō, the highway connecting the shōgunal capital of Edo with the imperial capital of 京都 Kyōto. It was one of the most celebrated spots for hanami, and might still be today, had the shōgunate not destroyed the mountain in 1853 to dump the dirt into the bay for the urgent construction of the 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries.

sakura

I’ve written about Goten’yama, the Shinagawa Daiba, and to a certain degree Shinagawa. But, I decided to expand on the topic a little bit. I thought it might be nice to compare the area then and now because it’s changed so much – and I’m not just talking about them literally tearing down the mountain. If we transported an Edoite to our time, they’d recognize the layout of the streets, but would be shocked by the destruction of the coastline by landfill and development. They might also find it funny what bits and pieces still exist today and how they’ve been incorporated into our modern lives.

Long time readers should be familiar with most of these topics, but for noobs or anyone wanting to brush up, it’s highly recommended you check out these past articles:

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Fishing boats in Shinagawa. Actually, you can charter these and they’ll take you fishing in Tōkyō Bay.

Let’s Look at Goten’yama

Hopefully the video walk-through of Goten’yama and its immediate environs will give you an idea of what the place looks like and feels like on the street level. It’s one thing to look at a flat 2D map, it’s another to actually explore the space first hand – everything feels different. Hopefully the video will give you a better sense of this small, but important section of 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku Shinagawa Post Town, nicknamed 江戸の玄関 Edo no Genkan Edo’s Doorstep[i].

And so, I present you with a map of Shinagawa and Goten’yama in the late Edo Period, but before the government made any major changes to the area in the 幕末 Bakumatsu last days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate (1853-1868).

before 1853

Familiarize yourself with a few of these place names and the geography. We’re about to go deep.

Fishermen, Travelers, Merchants, Sightseers, Oiran, and Samurai

Being a safe location on a bay with calm waters rich with seafood and so busy with land based travelers coming and going every day, Shinagawa turned into a town focused on customer service. Travelers needed lodging and places to eat. They needed places to bathe and purchase goods. Fresh fish and a view of the greatest seaside view an Edo Period person could possibly see were more than enough to make Shinagawa an attractive place to spend not only one, but two days. One of the main attractions was prostitution, big business in any post town[ii]. The difference was, Shinagawa offered access to Goten’yama which gave you access to a commanding, aerial view of the bay. During the day, you could see fishing boats on the water, in the evening, you could see pleasure boats – and just imagine the hijinks that went down on those private voyages[iii].

dozo sagami

Dozō Sagami, a kura-zukuri (fireproof warehouse style) high end brothel in Shinagawa-shuku which featured first class courtesans – including oiran, the highest ranking girls to play with.

Many of the 茶屋 chaya teahouses (read: brothels) here became quite famous. One place in particular, the 土蔵相模 Dozō Sagami, remained in operation up until the ban on prostitution by the American Occupation. After that, it operated as a hotel well into the 1950’s. Dozō Sagami had a reputation as a quite high class brothel and was popular among the samurai class. Many anti-shōgunate terrorists frequented this teahouse during the Bakumatsu. The most infamous of these anti-government agitators was a group 17 samurai from 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain and one from 薩摩藩 Satsuma Han Satsuma Domain who held an all-day party here eating, drinking, and banging “tea girls” as if it was their last day on earth.

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A room called the Midōshi no Ma inside Dozō Sagami

And, indeed, it was their last day on earth. The next day, resolved to achieve their goal or die trying, they ambushed the shōgunal regent 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke as he and his entourage left his 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence to attend a meeting next door in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. This brazen assassination of the highest ranking shōgunate official in broad daylight was the first of many instances of terrorism that would plague the shōgunate as well as foreign diplomats and merchants in what would become the end of the Pax Tokugawa.

Shinagawa-shuku wasn’t just blessed by the calm waters of Edo Bay, the old post town was protected by a promontory, originally a sandbar created by the estuary of the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River that flowed into the bay. That finger-shaped jetty protected the mainland from the occasional irregular high tide or, presumably, tsunami[iv]. Whether it actually prevented catastrophes or not, I don’t know. However, this natural land mass was built up by the shōgunate and came to be known as 洲崎 Susaki which literally means “sandbar promontory,” and it was a permanent fixture of Shinagawa-shuku and you can clearly see it in many famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e wood block prints. Families of certain fishermen here produced 御菜肴 o-saisakana snacks made from seafood and veggies that were presented to Edo Castle in exchange for their piscatory monopoly in the area.

whale.jpg

Not in Shinagawa, but this scene of a beached whale in a harbor gives you a good idea of how impressive the scene we’re about to talk about must have been to the average person on the street. The view from up on a hill is strikingly similar to how the view would have been from Goten’yama.

In 1798, during the reign of 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari[v], a whale washed ashore onto this promontory. This seems to have been a pretty unusual occurrence[vi], and it attracted a lot of local attention. In an age without TV, the word on the street finally made it to Edo Castle itself. Everyone one wanted to come see this huge sea creature that died on the banks of Susaki. It was such a big deal that the shōgun himself even came down to see what was up with this big ass dead fish on his doorstep[vii]. To this day, Shinagawa uses whales in various places as a decorative theme.

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Kagata Shrine (former Susaki Benten/Benzaiten) on the old Susaki promontory – the cherry blossoms buds are ready to bloom.

A notable feature of the promontory was 洲崎弁天 Susaki Benten a temple dedicated to 弁才天 Benzaiten, the only female deity in the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck. After the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei Edict Separating Shintō and Buddhism in 1868, the temple chose to retain its Shintō attributes and came to be known as 利田神社 Kagata Jinja Kagata Shrine, the name it retains to this day[viii].

kujira zuka.jpg

Kujira-zuka, the memorial stone of the beached whale.

On the grounds of the shrine, you can find a monument called the 鯨塚 Kujira-zuka Whale Mound. This was a grave built in memory of the beached whale that died on Susaki. It’s an interesting hold over of premodern syncretic religion in Japan. While Shintō tends to distance itself from the spiritual defilement of death, Buddhism embraces it as part of the cycle of life[ix]. However, Shintō is strongly tied to locations with unique spiritual attributes. Susaki Benzaiten was not constrained by any distinction between the religions (they were blended) and so it could justifiably perform funerary rites for the whale and honor it as a 神 kami Shintō deity local to the area all in one fell swoop[x].

Further Reading:

 

gotenyama hanami

This ukiyo-e is amazing because it is composed at the top of Goten’yama, but you can clearly see the commoner post town of Shinagawa-shuku below. The people on the mountain top are clearly elites. Oh, and look to the right side, you can see the Susaki promontory. You can also see that hanami habits haven’t changed much. People threw down towels so they didn’t have to sit on the ground, something very true in Japan today.

oiran.jpg

Oiran such as this provided upscale sexxxy time at the Dozō Sagami.

Let’s Walk up the Hill to Goten’yama

Sure, people were coming and going through Shinagawa all the time. Some were leaving the capital, some were coming to the capital. They came by land and they came by road. As I mentioned earlier, some were already in town and just came for drinking and whoring because… who doesn’t enjoy banging courtesans on the balcony of a traditional Japanese room with a decanter of sake in one hand while the sun sets over the bay with all those fishing boats out there on the water and no one’s the wiser[xi]?

IMG_5352

But it wasn’t all dead whales and prostitutes. The real highlight of the year, was the cherry blossom season. Goten’yama was THE hanami spot par excellence for the discerning Edoite[xii]. This small mountain was located a hop, skip, and a jump away from the shoreline and was covered in cherry blossoms. The commoners who lived in the shitty towns below could make a quick trek up to the top of the mountain in minutes. The rich samurai and daimyō who lived at the top could do the same. And if their timing was right, travelers coming and going could spend an hour or so enjoying the view under the cherry trees[xiii]. The ease of coming here on foot in a kimono from the heart of the city[xiv] can’t be understated[xv].

hiroshige gotenyama hanami-2.jpg

The top of the hill on the bayside was open to the public like a modern park. Going slightly further inland, it was home to massive estates owned by the daimyō and smaller estates owned by samurai closely affiliated with the Tokugawa Shōgunate. To this day, you can still see a huge difference between Shinagawa the post town and Shinagawa in modern Goten’yama.

hiroshige shinagawa susaki

Shinagawa-shuku, Toriumi Bridge, and Susaki Benzaiten.

Anyhoo, hanami-goers often broke up their celebrations under the floating pink petals to venture down the hill to visit the plethora of shops in Shinagawa to eat or buy goods to bring back up to the top of the mountain[xvi]. Couples often descended the mountain to cross 鳥海橋 Toriumibashi Toriumi Bridge to visit Susaki Benten (Kagata Shrine), in flagrant disregard of the unwritten taboo against couples visiting shrines dedicated to Benzaiten[xvii].

gotenyamashitadaiba2010-2

Defending the Bay from the Foreign Threat

So, as we all know, in 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Edo Bay with his so-called Black Ships. He told the shōgunate to open the country or be opened by force. He then left, promising to come back in one year to seal the deal. The second he had left the bay, the government freaked out. One faction, led by the regent Ii Naosuke recognized the Americans’ superior military technology and wisely opted to open the country to foreigners in order to purchase modern weaponry and bring the country to equal footing with the westerners[xviii]. In the meantime, they decided, it was in the shōgunate’s best interest to build a string of 11 batteries across the bay to take out any warship that might attempt to invade Edo by sea.

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Only 7 batteries were built in the end, the so-called 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries. Most of the landfill used to create these manmade islands had to come from somewhere. The shōgunate identified two large, uninhabited sources of dirt on the coast: Goten’yama and Yatsuyama[xix]. Goten’yama famously suffered the worst of the devastation. The government began quarrying the famous hanami spot tirelessly over the ensuing months[xx] .

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Typical Edo Period stone walls along the coast.

The Tokugawa Shōgunate planned to build 11 cannon batteries across the bay, but given they had only 12 months and limited resources to scramble and execute this plan – and let’s not forget, Perry actually returned a bit earlier than promised – they were only able to constructed seven manmade islands in the bay. The term Shinagawa Batteries usually refers to this entire project, but the common understanding is that it means the seven forts that were actually constructed and fortified. An eighth coastal battery which was an extension of the Susaki Promontory is generally not included in the mix. We’ll look at this unsung daiba in a minute.

cut away

This ukiyo-e by Hiroshige clearly shows the devastation of the quarrying. The ground below is flat, and now there are cliffs of bare rock. There are still a few cherry blossoms up top, though.

The areas most heavily quarried were 北品川3丁目 Kita Shinagawa Sanchōme 3rd Block of North Shinagawa and 北品川4丁目 Kita Shinagawa Yonchōme 4th Block of North Shinagawa[xxi]. The 3rd block was completely gutted – so much so that a flat-as-flat-can-be parking lot shows up in Google Maps as the remains of the mining operation. The 4th block was well-gutted, but stood at the top of the road from which they brought dirt down to the bay – a road that is today called 御殿山通 Goten’yama Dōri Goten’yama Street.

At the bottom of Goten’yama, a place called quite literally 御殿山下 Goten’yama-shita the bottom of Goten’yama, the shōgunate built an 8th coastal battery. The name, unexpectedly, was 御殿山下台場 Goten’yama-shita Daiba Battery at the Bottom of Goten’yama. Presumably, this took minimal work to construct, since they were just dragging down wheelbarrows of dirt from Goten’yama to the Susaki Promontory and dumping it into the bay. They built a pretty bad ass fort for themselves there, and to this day you can still actually walk the shape of the original landfill. Spoilers – it’s an elementary school today.

misaki1

After the construction of the Goten’yama-shita Daiba on the coast of the Susaki promontory. The red line is the Tōkaidō.

misaki2

Today, you can still kinda see the shape of the Daiba, but the bay has been completely filled in except for a few channels and inlets. The red line, again, is the Old Tōkaidō.

The Death of Goten’yama

Despite its easternmost section completely demolished, and a huge section of the neighboring western section quarried beyond repair, Goten’yama could have recovered as a prime hanami spot in Edo-Tōkyō. It really could have. After all, except for the harbor and post town, the area was still quite rustic in those days.

gotenyama train

However, in 1872, the government decided to replace the old Tōkaidō with a new train line[xxii]. The new train line roughly followed the path of the old highway, and required gutting huge areas of land for train tracks. The dividing line for the 3rd and 4th blocks of Kita Shinagawa was created by the train tracks that pass through the area. Since the shōgunate had done all the heavy lifting by quarrying Goten’yama in the 1850’s, this seemed like the easiest place to lay tracks connecting 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station with 川崎駅 Kawasaki Eki Kawasaki Station. To this day, the difference in elevation between the bottom of Goten’yama on one side of the tracks and the top on the other is striking. Also, you can get a feel for the differences between the 山手 yamanote high city and 下町 shitamachi low city. Down below, all the lots are tiny, cramped, and located directly on the noisy, old Tōkaidō – and they’re mostly shops. Up top, the lots are spacious, walled off, and quiet – and mostly residential.

Further Reading:

IMG_5335

Houses on what was a later extension of the Susaki Promontory.

Obscure Today, but Shinagawa is a Key Understanding Edo-Tōkyō

Shinagawa is waaaaay more than just the Goten’yama area. We could talk about this whole stretch of the old Tōkaidō for hours. In the video, I said I could spend all day here just exploring – and that’s really true. I could spend a lifetime exploring the area. And I do. I spend an inordinate amount of time in Shinagawa and the surrounding areas because… the stories to be discovered and retold never end. Ueno is the same way. All of Edo Period history converges on these areas.

So, there’s the video. I explored the whole area and I hope you this article gave you a better context for what I was talking about when I’ve written about Shinagawa, Goten’yama, and the old Tōkaidō highway.

sakura_report00

As usual, I have no way to conclude this article. We’ve looked at a huge swath of history and geography. So, go back and look at the pictures and maps. There’s no narrative this time. Look at what Edo was and what Edo became and then what Tōkyō did with that.

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

[i] Translating Edo no Genkan is tough. In English, maybe “the Entrance to Edo” is the most natural and easily understood. But that would 江戸の入口 Edo no Iriguchi. Everything has an iriguchi (entrance) – buses, highways, bathrooms, etc. A genkan is literally “the entrance to a Japanese home where you take off your shoes, put away your umbrellas, and then literally step up into the owner’s private living area which is raised up above the filthy ground level.” When you arrived in Shinagawa, you weren’t in the shōgun’s capital yet. You were on the periphery, but you were about to enter the greatest city in the realm – which was, quite literally, the property of the shogun. Travelers into Edo, would have thrown out old shoes and bought new ones in Shinagawa, hoping to make a good impression in the cultural epicenter of Japan (outgoing travelers also would have bought shoes here for their long treks as well). Getting a hot bath in Shinagawa was another way of preparing yourself before “stepping up into the shōgun’s home.” Even though, you may still have a few miles to go, the more presentable you were, the better.
[ii] In fact, Shinagawa was so synonymous with prostitution, that Edoites had a nickname for it. Shinagawa was the みなみ minami south, while they reserved the きた kita north for the upscale licensed pleasure quarters, 吉原 Yoshiwara. Keep in mind, in this era, it was not just normal for a man of rank or means to have concubines, it was expected. Furthermore, frequenting teahouses and being a patron of 舞子 maiko geisha apprentices and 芸者 geisha social performance artists was just a normal “guys’ night out.”
[iii] Hint: drinking & whoring
[iv] To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a tsunami in Edo/Tōkyō Bay – I’ve heard this is attributed to the shape and size of the bay.
[v] Here’s my article on Ienari’s grave.
[vi] To my understanding, whales are pretty intelligent and tend to avoid bays where they are easy targets because of their size. They do much better in the oceans which, before modern naval technology, were off limits to humans. Beached whales are generally wounded, sick, or already dead, which means the current brought them to the coast. Nevertheless, this seems to have been a unique case in Edo.
[vii] Yes, I know whales aren’t fish (Edo Period didn’t know that), so for them, this was like seeing a sea monster prostate itself before the shōgunate. Quite politely, I might add. The whale didn’t die in Edo, it beached itself well outside of the city, with no spiritual defilement of the Tokugawa government.
[viii] Interestingly, the name has nothing to do with Shintō. This area of Susaki was known as 猟師町 Ryōshi Machi Ryōshi Town, a fishing village at the time. The village headmen of Ryōshi Machi used an ancestral name 利田吉左衛門 Kagata Kichizaemon which was passed down through the generations. While Susaki Benzaiten was the official name of the shrine (and the name that appears in texts and maps), it seems like the locals referred to it as Kagata Shrine – a hint that the village headmen doubled as priests of the shrine.
[ix] As such, Buddhism in Japan essentially runs a funerary racket.
[x] Someday I’m gonna have to tackle syncretic religion in Japan, but that’s a huge undertaking… and kinda boring to me.
[xi] Sorry, if that was oddly specific, but c’mon. You know everybody was doing it, right?
[xii] Or any samurai serving time in the city on sankin-kōtai duty – who generally seem to have been in awe of the metropolis and all it had to offer compared to their shitty backwater domains.
[xiii] I say an hour or so because travelers were generally expected to keep a certain pace as they traversed certain highways. Who knows? Maybe some people spent all day and did the Edo Period equivalent of “calling in sick.”
[xiv] Nihonbashi.
[xv] OK, somebody could understate it… but that would be a mistake lol. The walk from Nihonbashi, the center of Edo, to Shinagawa was probably the most well maintained section of road in the entire country.
[xvi] I’m sure a few went down to get their dicks sucked under the pretense of getting food for everyone, as one does.
[xvii] As mentioned earlier, Benzaiten is the only female deity among the 7 Gods of Good Luck. It’s said that she gets jealous when male-female couples approach her enshrinement and will curse the couple to break up. I think same sex couples are fine because apparently Benzaiten is straight according to this logic lol. Actually, today, this aspect of Benzaiten is relatively unknown by most people. However, the tradition persists in 井の頭公園 Inokashira Kōen Inokashira Park in 吉祥寺 Kichijōji. They say that couples who visit shrine there will break up. The story of the curse has actually become separated from the shrine in most accounts which say any couple who rents a boat to go out on the water will break up.
[xviii] Another faction, such as those samurai from Mito and Satsuma who assassinated Ii Naosuke, stupidly doubled down on the status quō, insisting that Japan stay closed and reject anything and everything foreign to the point of standing on the beach shaking their samurai swords at steamships hurling cannon balls at them, if need be.
[xix] The kanji for Yatsuyama is 八ッ山 and can be found in the modern place names of 八ッ山橋 Yatsuyamabashi Yatsuyama Bridge and 八ッ山通り Yatsuyama Dōri Yatsuyama Street, the road that now covers the inlet that once lay between Shinagawa and the Susaki Promontory.
[xx] Job creation!
[xxi] I have misidentified both areas as Goten’yama 3-chōme and Goten’yama 4-chōme in my video. I apologize for that and totally own up to it.
[xxii] This would become the 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line and eventually even the 東海道新幹線 Tōkaidō Shinkansen, the high speed train connecting Tōkyō with Kyōto.

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