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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.

IMG_2631.PNG

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].

 

IMG_2560

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.

edo mura

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.

 

beheading.jpg

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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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

 


[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, Setagaya[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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[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 Setagaya 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.

25463658994_ca1d9c8faa_o.jpg

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:

ueno daibutsu.jpg

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.

shinjuku gyoen.gif

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.

anaba sakura.jpg

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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[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)

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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:

IMG_5336

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.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

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.

IMG_5322.jpg

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.

daiba2013wk2.jpg

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] .

IMG_2072

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.

What does Asukayama mean?

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

飛鳥山
Asukayama (Mt. Asuka)

asukayama sakura

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

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

asukayama hanami

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

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

ojiya meiji

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

Let’s Compare Some Kanji

.

阿須賀
Asuka

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

飛鳥
Asuka

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

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

Asukayama_Park

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

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

asuka shrine

Asuka Shrine in Wakayama

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

Further Reading:

Oji Shrine

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

A Strong Connection to Kii Domain

.

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

wakayama

The Kii Peninsula in perspective

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

nitenmon ietsugu

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

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

Tokugawa_Yoshimune

Tokugawa Yoshimune

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

Yoshimune Kyoho

Yoshimune going over the shōgunate’s finances.

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

asukayama ukiyo hanami.jpg

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

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

.

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

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

Further Reading:

asukayama hanami pire

The National Park System

.

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

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

1893 Paper Mill

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

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

 

shibusawa

Shibusawa Ei’ichi

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

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

Oji teahouse garden

A garden on the Otonashi River beneath Asukayama.

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

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

Further Reading:

asukayama train

There are two antique trains preserved on Asukayama.

3 Museums of Asukayama

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The park is also home to three museums:

飛鳥山博物館
Asukayama Hakubutsu-kan

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

渋沢史料館
Shibusawa Shiryō-kan

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

紙の博物館
Kami no Hakubutsu-kan

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

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

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

 


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

What does Ōkubo mean?

In Japanese History on March 9, 2017 at 3:03 am

大久保
Ōkubo (“great long term protector,” more at “really low valley”)

station

Ōkubo Station. I’m having a flashback to a bad hookup from years ago…

In our recent trip around the stations of the Yamanote Line, we found ourselves at a certain station called 新大久保 Shin-Ōkubo, literally New Okubo. In that article, I decided to get into some racial/political musings, rather than focus on history. My rational was simple. I wanted to dedicate a whole article on this place name and the area’s history outside of the context of the train system. I also knew that it wasn’t going to be a short and sweet project.

This story is messy, though. I’m gonna do my best to present it in an organized fashion, but it’s probably gonna jump around a little bit. There are multiple narratives that intersect. And let’s be honest. Neither history nor linguistics are actually narratives. We just like to wrap them up in pretty packages and sell them as such because it’s just easier that way.

yotsuya

The Yotsuya Checkpoint

To start things off, I want to be clear that this area wasn’t Edo. West of Edo Castle was all suburbs. The first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, strategically relocated many of his 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers out here. He gave some of them extraordinarily large fiefs for their rank[i] and charged them with the defense of the roads coming into his capital. Very much a Sengoku Period general, he rightly assumed that attacks from the sea in the east would be unlikely, but a land based attack from the west could prove a threat[ii]. One of the main entrances to the city was the 四谷大木戸 Yotsuya Ōkido Yotsuya Checkpoint on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway which was in this area. This area, by the way, was known not as Edo, but as 武蔵国豊多摩郡 Musashi no Kuni Toyotama-gun Toyotama District, Musashi Province in those days[iii].

四谷大木戸跡碑.jpg

All thar remains of the Yotsuya Ōkido is… well, nothing remains of the Yotsuya Ōkido, but there is this stupid monument.

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji


ō, dai/tai

big, great


hisashii, ku/kyū

a long time


tamotsu, ho/

protect

This place name, while seemingly auspicious on the surface, is generally believed to have quite humble roots[iv]. You see, a river called the 蟹川 Kanigawa[v] used to flow through the area between Kabukichō 1-2 chōme 1st & 2nd blocks of Kabukichō and Shinjuku 6-7 chōme 6th & 7th blocks of Shinjuku[vi]. By their very nature, rivers tend to be in geographic depressions, which made this area good for farming, but prone to flooding[vii]. This part of Toyotama seems to have been no different. At the area dividing Nishi-Ōkubo West Ōkubo and Higashi-Ōkubo East Ōkubo, there was a particularly noticeable drop in elevation, an 大きな窪地 ōki na kubochi[viii], if you will. If the story is to be believed, the locals called it an 大窪地 ōkubochi which was eventually reduced to ōkubo.

tokyo-tower-5-colors

Shiki no Michi in Shinjuku

Do you know 四季の道 Shiki no Michi 4 Seasons Trail? That’s the tree-lined foot path that winds from 靖国通り Yasukuni Dōri to ゴールデン街 Gōruden Gai Golden-gai, one of the last remaining Shōwa Era shanty towns in Tōkyō. That tranquil part of Shinjuku is actually a short stretch of the old Kanigawa river course. So, next time you go to Golden-gai, impress your friends by dropping a little knowledge bomb on their asses[ix].

That Spelling, Tho.

Any of you living in Japan will have probably been thinking something this whole time: Ōkubo is a common Japanese family name, and furthermore this hypothetical 大窪 Ōkubo looks nothing like the name 大久保 Ōkubo.

And you would be correct, my friends. They’re nothing alike. What we’re most likely looking at here is another case of 当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic reasons, not meaning[x]. If the etymology given is true, that 2-kanji combination essentially means “mini-valley” or “crappy place at the bottoms of the hill that floods a lot.” It’s a terrible name for a place. On the hand, 大久保 Ōkubo “longtime protector” has a pretty good ring to it.

okubo clan family crest

Ōkubo clan coat of arms.

The name – common today – 大久保家 Ōkubo-ke Ōkubo Family is a distinctly samurai name of rather high pedigree[xi]. They were a branch of the 宇都宮氏 Utsunomiya-shi Utsunomiya Clan which could trace their lineage back to the 900’s. The founders of this new branch were among the most loyal retainers of 松平弘忠 Matsudaira Hirotada. In case you don’t recognize that name, he was the father of the first Edo shogun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu.

odawara castle okubo clan.jpg

Reconstructed Odawara Castle 2.0. Odawara Castle 1.0, controlled by the Late Hōjō clan was destroyed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s forces in 1590, which led to Tokugawa Ieyasu receiving most of Kantō as his fief. The castle is worth a visit if you’re on you’re way to Hakone.

Later, the Ōkubo clan served Ieyasu well. In fact, the second family head, a certain 大久保忠世 Ōkubo Tadayo, served in nearly all Ieyasu’s military campaigns and even commanded his corps of bodyguards. After Ieyasu had secured the title of shogun, he elevated Tadayo to daimyō status gave him 小田原藩 Odawara-han Odawara Domain[xii]. This meant the Odawara clan controlled the 箱根関所 Hakone Sekisho Hakone Check Point as well as 箱根山 Hakone Yama Mt. Hakone, a region famous in Japanese mythology and renowned for its natural hot springs, beautiful lakes and coastal areas.

Odawara, Mt. Hakone, and the Ōkubo clan have nothing to do with this suburb of Edo.

Or Do They?

No, they don’t. Well, not much.

mt hakone

Mt. Hakone

So, I started out telling you about what a dump the area was before the Edo Period. Then we talked about how some random daimyō family who spelled their name the same way the modern place name is spelled. I even added that they were fiercely loyal to the Tokugawa shōgunate. What I didn’t say was that the Ōkubo clan didn’t live anywhere near this area. In fact, to my knowledge there’s no direct connection between this area and the Ōkubo of Odawara. There are, however, some striking coincidences.

Further Reading:

nobunaga's armor

Warlord Oda Nobunaga’s real armor.

Ieyasu’s Bodyguards

With all of that in mind, let’s look at the story of the shōgun’s body guards. And unfortunately to do that, we’re gonna hafta look at some other events in history[xiii]. I’m assuming you know who 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga was, but if you don’t, please read about him here.

So, here we are, starting off at the most dramatic moments of the Sengoku Period. In 1582, the first of the three great unifiers of Japan, warlord Oda Nobunaga was surprise attacked by one of his one generals, a certain 明智光秀 Akechi Mitsuhide[xiv]. Nobunaga, like no general before him, was poised to consolidate the 天下 tenka realm[xv], or we can just say “the country.” Nobunaga seemed to have the whole country in his grasp… and then suddenly, he didn’t.

honno-ji.jpg

The attack at Honno-ji was apparently carried about by a bunch of dudes with shitty mustaches.

In a single act of treachery, Mitsuhide successfully attacked and killed[xvi] Nobunaga at 本能寺 Honnō-ji in 京都 Kyōto. In the ensuing chaos, Nobunaga’s closest generals dispersed to figure out what the fuck was going on. To this day, historians still speculate about Mitsuhide’s motivation.

Despite being victims of Nobunaga’s military power grabs, a small faction of samurai from 伊賀国 Iga no Kuni Iga Province and 甲賀郡 Kōka-gun Kōka District came to the aid of one of Nobubaga’s wiliest generals. When shit went down, these samurai from Iga and Kōka helped escort Tokugawa Ieyasu’s army from 堺 Sakai[xvii] back to their base in 岡崎Okazaki[xviii]. They used their local connections to lead the warlord to safety, quickly and quietly.

Further Reading:

Tokugawa_Ieyasu2.JPG

Ieyasu Becomes Shōgun

The Iga samurai served Ieyasu in several other military actions leading up to 1590, when the sitting imperial regent, or 関白 kanpaku, Hideyoshi granted Ieyasu rights to the 関八州 Kanhasshū 8 Kantō Provinces, which included a certain fortified village known as 江戸 Edo.
In autumn of that same year, Ieyasu transferred his most trusted retainers from his ancestral lands in 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province to Musashi Province and the surrounding areas. When he entered 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, he had a huge task ahead of him. Namely, to modernize the outdated castle – which was more of a fort than a castle. He also needed to make it reflect his status as one of the most powerful daimyō in Japan who controlled 8 massive eastern provinces. But for our story, he also brought the clans from Iga and Kōka[xix] to Edo.

These two groups are closely tied into the narrative of 忍者 ninja and 忍術 ninjutsu, the art of stealth[xx], but we’re not getting into the whole ninja thing today. Anyhoo, once they arrived in Edo, they were assigned to very specific jobs. First, they served as a security detail[xxi] of the burgeoning castle town. Certain members were made security guards within the 本丸 honmaru innermost citadel of the castle, including many of the gates lining the inner moats of the castle, the so called 丸之内 maru no uchi[xxii].

daimyo alley

Daimyo Alley is a street that still exists (unofficially) in Tōkyō’s Marunouchi district. This street runs from Sukiyabashi to Tōkyō Station. In the Edo Period, it went a bit farther than the Wadakura Gate to the Ōte Gate.

In those early years, these groups served as police forces within Edo Castle, which was – and I can’t say this enough – a city within a city. Some even served as guards to the innermost section of the honmaru, the 大奥 Ō-oku the women’s quarter[xxiii]. To my understanding, part of their job seems to have been internal espionage, searching for treasonous rumors and plots circulating among the 外様大名 tozama daimyo, the so-called “outer lords,”[xxiv] who were forced to stay in Edo as hostages of the shōgun under the earliest incarnation of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai or the policy of alternate attendance[xxv].

Iemitu.jpg

3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu had strong jaw muscles – all the better for you know what…

In 1642, the 3rd shogun 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu made sankin-kōtai a policy for all daimyo, including the 譜代大名 fudai daimyō, the “inner lords” who were considered the most loyal to the Tokugawa. At this same time, the Kōka samurai and Iga samurai were reorganized into special units called the 甲賀百人鉄砲隊 Kōka Hyakunin Teppō-tai[xxvi] and the 伊賀百人鉄砲隊 Iga Hyakunin Teppō-tai, the Kōka 100 Member Musket Corps and Iga 100 Member Musket Corps, respectively. In addition, there were 2 other squadrons, the 根来百人鉄砲隊 Negoro Hyakunin Teppō-tai Negoro 100 Member Musket Corps and the 二十五騎百人鉄砲隊 Nijūgoki Hyakunin Teppō-tai Nijūgoki 100 Member Musket Corps. In common parlance, all groups were referred to by the abbreviated term 百人組 Hyakunin-gumi 100 Men Corps.

Imperial Palace

The Hyakunin Bansho

The 4 squadrons of 100 men each took turns manning the 百人番所 Hyakunin Bansho, a modest checkpoint located between 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Ōtemon (the main gate) and the honmaru where the shōgun lived[xxvii]. Out of all the castle structures lost to fires, earthquakes, and war, it’s curious that this building survived. Furthermore, one can imagine that by the middle of great peace of the Edo Period, there was really no need for ninja of the sort that we see in video games or the occasional movie. I imagine the Hyakunin-gumi groups manning the Hyakunin Bansho to be like… well, have you ever gone onto a military base? There’s some dude in uniform, fully armed and trained who will check your ID and determine whether you’re a legit person to let on to the premises. That’s basically what happened at the Hyakunin Bansho. They were hereditary security guards.

zozyoji231 (1)

Former grandeur of the Tokugawa funerary temple Zōjō-ji in Shiba, near Tōkyō Tower.

Furthermore, whenever the shōgun and his entourage visited the family funerary temples of 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji and 増上寺 Zōjō-ji, it was the Hyakunin-gumi who guarded the entrances and exits of the temple complexes.

These four groups were garrisoned in present day Omotesandō, Aoyama, Harajuku, and Shinjuku. But it’s the squadron based in Shinjuku that is relevant to our narrative. This group was the Iga Hyakunin-gumi and they were based in Ōkubo. In fact, present day 新大久保駅 Shin-Ōkubo Eki Shin-Ōkubo Station is in 新宿区百人町一丁目 Shinjuku-ku Hyakunin-chō Icchōme 1st block of Hyakunin Town, Shinjuku Ward. It was in this area that the 100 Member Musket Corps lived their day to day lives.

Further Reading:

13402250_1054023804684587_824049163_n

The post town of Naitō Shinjuku

The Plot Thickens…

OK, I hate to do this, but let’s go back to 1590, when Ieyasu entered Edo with his retainers from Mikawa. As I mentioned before, he brought non-Mikawa samurai with him as well – the Kōka and Iga warriors being the case in point.

Ieyasu didn’t garrison these specialized groups willy-nilly. He, like his son and grandson, were extremely cautious and aware of the military strategies of the Sengoku Period. They left nothing to chance when it came to defense of their capital, having learned so much from the stupid mistakes of the losers of the Warring States Era.

The gunnery corps came to Edo when Ieyasu entered the city in 1590 and they were led by a certain 内藤清成 Naitō Kiyonari and 青山忠成 Aoyama Tadanari. They served as Ieyasu’s vanguard and also oversaw the manufacture of ammunition. He stationed the squad in 四谷 Yotsuya, the westernmost perimeter of Edo Castle, and ordered the construction of the residence of the 組頭 kumigashira commander of the Hyakunin-gumi in Ōkubo.

Longtime readers should recognize the name Naitō from the story of Shinjuku. The Naitō clan, originally mere retainers of the shogun, though later raised to daimyo status, were placed here – in the boonies – for a very strategic reason. Should Edo Castle be attacked and face imminent capitulation to an enemy, the Hyakunin-gumi were to escort the shōgun out of Edo Castle’s west-facing 半蔵御門 Hanzō Go-mon Hanzō Gate[xxviii] along the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway to 甲府城 Kōfu-jō Kōfu Castle in present day 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture. So, yeah. These guys were elite security guards in the heart of Edo Castle who lived out in the sticks, and they were entrusted with one of the single most important jobs an Edo Period samurai could have: protecting the shōgun in the event he needed to escape from his capital.

kofu castle

CG version of Kōfu Castle’s inner citadels superimposed over the modern city. It was way more rustic in those days.

They served the shōgunate until 1862, when the Hyakunin-gumi were decommissioned. Presumably this was the result of the government running out of money as it was collapsing. That said, certain members were still kept as a security detail. They just didn’t need all 400 of them anymore. Their weaponry was out of date and the traditional defense tactics were quickly becoming obsolete in light of all the new western technology. The last official act of the remaining Hyakunin-gumi was after the last shōgun 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu formally transferred power to the imperial court. At that time, he sent a group of them to Shizuoka to secure the route to what would eventually become his retirement estate.

Further Reading:

kabukicho

Kabukichō today…

Then and Now

If you said Ōkubo in the Edo Period, you were referring to a huge suburb that was composed of present day Kabukichō 2-chōme, Shinjuku 6-7-chōme, Ōkubo 1-2-3-chōme, Hyakunin-chō 1-2-3-chōme, Yochō Machi, and Nishi-Shinjuku 7-chōme. That’s a huge area. The Naitō clan, as mentioned earlier, were given a residence out here. Furthermore, the 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari Tokugawa Family had a property out here called the 戸山山荘 Toyama Sansō Toyama Hillside Retreat which was part of an elaborate garden they constructed.

hakoneyama.jpg

The peak of Shinjuku’s Mt. Hakone as it looks today

The garden featured a man made mountain commonly referred to as 箱根山 Hakone Yama Mt. Hakone because they fancied it a representation of the real Mt. Hakone… which, as also mentioned earlier, was just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Odawara, the fief of the Ōkubo. If you go to present day 戸山公園 Toyama Kōen Toyama Park, you’re standing on the ruins of the Owari Tokugawa’s 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence. If you go to the highest hill in the park, you’re standing on this so-called Mt. Hakone.

I can’t confirm this, but by at least one account I read that this is actually the highest hill in the 23 Wards of Tōkyō[xxix]. True or not, if anyone had the money to build a crazy artificial Mt. Hakone in the outskirts of Edo, it would’ve been the Owari Tokugawa[xxx].

yabusame

Located near the park is a shrine called 穴八幡宮 Ana Hachiman-gū. In the Edo Period, this was called 高田八幡宮 Takada Hachiman-gū. Long time readers of the blog should recognize the name Takada from 高田馬場 Takada no Baba the Takada Horse Grounds, which were located an easy walking distance from this area. Every October, the shrine puts on a 流鏑馬 yabusame horseback mounted archery festival in the park, where competitors dress in full samurai armor and race past a target at full speed and try to hit it. This was a totally unnecessary skill in the Edo Period, just as it is today, but dude… it looks so fucking bad ass. I highly recommend you check it out if you can.

Oh, and Toyama Park is famous among locals for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing and not famous among non-locals, which means it’s not so crowded. Apparently, it’s also a good spot for PokemonGO. Go figure.

Further Reading:

IMG_4527.jpg

Hmmmmm…

So this has been a lot to take in, right?

kanigawa river shinjuku

If you ever thought Golden-gai seemed like a dirty alley without a train, well, here’s your moment of zen.

I could have stuck to the “dumpy valley gets an upgrade via ateji that makes it sound not just noble, but like a retainer of the shogun” narrative. But, that’s not what I do, and the story is really much more nuanced – or at least has become more confused over the centuries. But I’ll put it this way: one would think that the Samurai Museum in the heart of Shinjuku’s red light district was out of place. But considering all this… it actually makes a lot of sense.

IMG_5094

Kaichū Inari Shrine

Strong Ties to Kaichū Inari

As mentioned before, all four 100 Men Squadrons were gunners by default. As such, they were expected to be expert shots.

The Hyakunin-gumi developed a close attachment to a certain shrine near their barracks. One night, an avatar of the god 稲荷大明神 Inari Daimyōjin appeared at the bedside of one of the samurai and gave him special talisman. The next day, while shooting at the archery range[xxxi], he hit every target perfectly. When the other samurai of his barracks saw this, they decided to have a shooting competition and passed the talisman around. Everyone one hit every single target without fail.

last samurai bullshit

Many people believe samurai rejected guns until Tom Cruise introduced them to the country in “The Last Samurai.”

It’s a Freakin’ a Miracle! 

The surrounding villagers heard the story of the Hyakunin-gumi becoming experts at archery and gunnery overnight, and naturally wanted to get in on the action. Who doesn’t want to be a winner? They came to pray to Inari at the shrine and in time came to call the 神 kami diety 皆中之稲荷 Kaichū no Inari which can also be read as Mina Ataru no Inari Hitting all the Targets Inari or Everyone’s Bulls Eye Inari. For non-samurai, and for modern people, this shrine became associated with gambling. Unironically, there’s a large pachinko parlor right around the corner. I’m sure that’s good for the shrine business of selling お守り o-mamori talismans[xxxii].

omamori

Hyakunin-gumi talisman from Kaichū Inari Shrine

In patronage to Kaichū Inari Shrine, the Iga Hyakunin-gumi often gave gifts to the priests, mainly firearms. The shrine, which was much larger back then, amassed a sizeable and valuable collection of expensive weapons over the course of the Edo Period. Unfortunately, all of the shrine complex except for the main structure was destroyed in the Firebombing of Tōkyō by American forces in WWII. Their priceless collection of muskets donated by the Hyakunin-gumi and many documents and other items related to the squad went up in flames.

tsutsuji.jpg

Azaleas. You probably didn’t see this coming…

Azaleas

As if there aren’t enough layers to this story, I’m gonna hafta talk about flowers. When the Naitō clan and the Hyakunin-gumi were transferred out to these suburbs at the beginning of the Edo Period, there were wild 躑躅 tsutsuji azaleas growing everywhere. While many of the gunnery corps were living in barracks, a good deal had proper residences and cultivated azaleas in their private gardens[xxxiii]. Public spaces where azaleas grew were also well known by the end of the Edo Period, and the streets were lined with these colorful flowers. In fact, a few years after 大久保駅 Ōkubo Eki Ōkubo Station opened in 1895 – 1899 (Meiji 32), to be precise – the emperor visited the area to enjoy the azaleas. Doing what emperors do, he wrote a poem:

まがねしく
maganeshiku
道のひらけて
michi no hirakete
つつじ見に
tsutsuji mi ni
ゆく人おほし
yuku hito ohoshi
大久保の里
Ōkubo no sato

Ōkubo Village
where so many people go
to see tsutsuji
developing into
iron roads to the future

I’m not even going to pretend to have translated that poem well[xxxiv]. But the emperor was referring to Japan’s modernization, which he was the figurehead of – rather than the shogun. So, there’s a propaganda aspect to this poem[xxxv], but it’s overall positive and I think it has a sort of conciliatory tone – one that reflects the new imperial governments acceptance of poor and middle class samurai back into fold.

His poem talks about the blooming azaleas, a clear reference to the country opening up to the world and starting a new national venture. As the emperor, this kind of message was crucial to the common people who had no say in the politics of the day, those people who were just being dragged along for the ride. He also uses the word 開ける hirakeru which literally means “to be opened up” or “improve,” but has a secondary meaning of “to become civilized” or “become enlightened.”

Ōkubo was the boonies, but now it was becoming a major section of the new capital. The azalea business was booming because now people could sell them[xxxvi]. Metal was part of the path to the future, it was also the tool and trade of the samurai living in the area. They gave up their iron guns which gave them power to a new world order where iron train tracks connected the country as it had never been before. It put Japan in the same company as western countries that had blossoming economies based on railroads.

You have to admit, the emperor was pretty slick in his wording.

mural

Mural of the Hyakunin-gumi near Shin-Ōkubo Station.

So Where’s This Awesome Shooting Range Today?

By now you’ve probably assumed the shooting range doesn’t exist anymore, as the story usually goes in Tōkyō. And, sadly, you would be correct. It’s long gone.

But actually, not as long gone as you might think.

If you’ve been reading this long, convoluted story up to this point, then you remember that there were horse riding and archery grounds in the area that’s now called Takada no Baba. A short distance from there, near present day Toyama Park[xxxvii], there used to be wide open fields called the 戸山ヶ原 Toyama ga Hara Toyama Fields. This is where the Takada Horse Grounds were, and it’s also where the Hyakunin-gumi had their shooting range.

aerial.jpg

This aerial shot gives you an idea of the size of the shooting range.

After the Meiji Coup, the plot of land was appropriated by the Imperial Army to be used as a… wait for it… shooting range. New recruits to the army also practiced marching here. Because marching. Yay 🙄

Under the new regime, the 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Great Empire of Japan, the space was expanded under the general term of the 戸山ヶ原陸軍射撃場 Toyamagahara Rikugun Shageki-ba Toyamagahara Shooting Range. Another name for the same facility was the 大久保小銃射撃場 Ōkubo shōjūshageki-ba Ōkubo Shooting Range[xxxviii].

shooting tunnels

Shooting tunnels in Toyamagahara

By the WWII era, the site was characterized by its very unique architectural design – namely, the 射撃隧道 shageki zuidō shooting tunnels. These were long, semicircular, hangar-esque tunnels designed for practicing marksmanship. I’m not sure why the tunnel shape were necessary… perhaps someone with a military background could explain. I’m guessing, if you’re doing target practice, maybe it’s best to do it without the sun in your eyes, and if you shoot inside a tunnel, the noise doesn’t disturb the neighbors, but I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure. Any insight is appreciated.

Anyhoo, these tunnels were a part of the local landscape for years. Obviously, they were abandoned during the American Occupation, as the Imperial Army was abolished in that time. But the site didn’t just disappear overnight in 1945. In fact, the site stood there for about 20 more years, and the derelict shooting tunnels showed up as a location in the 1961 film, 夕陽に赤い俺の顔 Yūhi ni Akai Ore no Kao Killers on Parade.

The shooting range remained intact until 1967, when the derelict site – essentially a 廃墟 haikyo ghost town – was torn down in order to build the new main campus for 早稲田大学 Waseda Daigaku Waseda University. The school wasn’t new, it was actually established in 1882. But the new campus re-invigorated the university in the post war era, and it helped expand the growth in this old suburb of Edo.

waseda.jpg

Waseda cheerleaders

In Conclusion

So, we had a place name that just referred to what was essentially a flood plain. Whether that’s true or not, at some point people started writing it with a noble family’s name. Is there any connection between the Ōkubo clan and this Ōkubo? I don’t think so, but maybe some of the samurai stationed in this area, including the Owari Tokugawa clan might have preferred writing it a certain way.

All of that said… we can’t know. And what makes this story so interesting is all of the great stories surround the area. This is why the history of Edo-Tōkyō is so great. Even if we can’t pinpoint the etymological source of a place name, sometimes we can just bask in the area’s rich history.

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Historical re-enactment of the Hyakunin-gumi. Photo by friend Rekishi no Tabi. Check him out on Flickr for more cool pix of Japanese history and culture.

 

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[i] It was the boonies, so land was cheap, I guess.
[ii] It didn’t. But the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 which resulted in Ieyasu’s elevation to shogun can be seen as a battle between east and west. Ironically, it was agitators from the southwest of Japan – descendants of the western losers – who marched to Edo in 1868 to finish off the Tokugawa hegemony.
[iii] Toyotama District referred to parts of modern day 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward, 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward, 杉並区 Suginami-ku Suginami Ward, 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward.
[iv] But, as with many of our etymologies, is shrouded in mystery.
[v] Literally “crab river.” I couldn’t find any etymology info on the river.
[vi] You know 四季の道 Shiki no Michi the 4 Seasons Road, the windy tree-lined footpath that leads to ゴールデン街 Gōruden Gai Golden-gai? That’s part of the old Kanigawa course. The river was covered up so it could be used for cable car service, when that was discontinued, this area became a park. You can still walk the course of the river as its preserved as windy road running through Shinjuku.
[vii] This meant when Ieyasu & Co. arrived in Edo, garrisoning high ranking samurai in this area was problematic. This probably accounts for the granting of such large fiefs to non-daimyō in the area. The large land grants were incentives. A famous case is the Naitō clan.
[viii] Literally, a “big geographic depression.”
[ix] If you wanna take it to the next level, you can tell them this. Later, the river was covered up so it could be used for tram service. However, when that was discontinued, this area became a park.
[x] What is ateji? For those of you late to the party, here ya go!
[xi] To my understanding, it’s the 150th most common name with at least 138,000 people currently using it. Sure, it’s no 佐藤 Satō, 鈴木 Suzuki, 高橋 Takahashi, 田中 Tanaka, or 伊藤 Itō, but it’s still common. And yes, those are the top 5 Japanese surnames in descending order.
[xii] Ōkubo Tadayo’s father, 大久保忠員 Ōkubo Tadakazu, was given the castle by Ieyasu.
[xiii] And there’s a lot of “ninja” bullshit in this story and I’m going to try to not get bogged down in the whole ninja thing. #ihateninjas
[xiv] For right or wrong reasons, a name that rings in Japanese ears almost the same way Benedict Arnold does for Americans.
[xv] 天下 tenka – I use this term as a way to describe the potential unification of the samurai families and the families of the imperial court.
[xvi] Whether Mitsuhide’s army actually killed Nobunaga is unknown. Legend has it that Nobunaga killed himself and had the building he was staying in torched to prevent the taking of his head – taking of heads was a traditional samurai practice. Whether he was killed, killed himself, or was trapped in a burning building and died will never be known.
[xvii] Near 大阪 Ōsaka.
[xviii] In modern 愛知県 Aichi-ken Aichi Prefecture.
[xix] Who were not from his home province of Mikawa. Iga is in modern day 三重県 Mie-ken Mie Prefecture and Kōka is in present day 滋賀県 Shiga-ken Shiga Prefecture.
[xx] To my best understanding, ninja were just spies who happened to hold samurai rank. But because #iHateNinjas, it’s not so important to our narrative.
[xxi] Like a police force.
[xxii] Today, Marunouchi and Otemachi are the main remnants of these palace areas, and the outer moats don’t exist anymore.
[xxiii] Usually translated here and there as “the shōgun’s harem,” but this is a bit of an overstatement.
[xxiv] The daimyō who opposed Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara and were forced to pledge fealty to him after his victory.
[xxv] You can read more about sankin-kōtai here.
[xxvi] Often rendered as Kōga Hyakunin-gumi when referring to ninja stuff for some reason.
[xxvii] Today, this is part of the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.
[xxviii] 服部半蔵 Hattori Hanzō, an Iga native himself, was ordered to build a residence outside of this western gate. He handpicked the original iteration of the Iga Hyakunin-gumi.
[xxix] Like I said, I can’t confirm, but I’d love to see a good elevation map of Tōkyō to prove/disprove this remarkable claim.
[xxx] They were part of the 御三家 Go-sanke, the 3 Great Families who could provide a shōgunal heir by adoption, should the main Tokugawa line fail to produce a first-born son. Despite being – or perhaps, in spite of being of being – the richest of the 3 Great Families, the Owari Tokugawa were never tapped to produce an acceptable candidate for shōgun when the 御本家 go-honke main branch died out. Which happened twice. Anyways, suffice it to say, they had mad fuck you money and carried that tradition straight from the Edo Period right down to today.
[xxxi] The accounts are unclear as to whether he was practicing archery or riflery. My gut instinct says archery. I think the riflery allusions come from the Bakumatsu Period and Meiji Period.
[xxxii] Or is it talismen? (笑)
[xxxiii] Whether they were actually doing the gardening themselves is unclear. While they could have done gardening on their own property as a hobby is a possibility, I imagine most had servants/employees who did the dirty work. This was clearly just the Edo Period version of suburban Americans taking pride in their lawns.
[xxxiv] It’s not a literal translation by any stretch of the imagination. I was more concerned with conveying the meaning, the simplicity, and the 5-7-5-7-7 meter.
[xxxv] And I don’t blame him for it, actually. The rebels from Satsuma Domain, Chōshū Domain, and other treacherous domains forced the Meiji Emperor into the position of being a kind of logo or mascot for the new government. That said, dude was good at dragging archaic poetic forms into the new age. I gained a new respect for the Meiji Emperor after reading this poem. It has a depth I didn’t expect.
[xxxvi] Samurai weren’t technically allowed to sell things commercially under the shōgunate.
[xxxvii] The Mt. Hakone place…
[xxxviii] There are various combinations of these words, but all of them describe the same place.

Yamanote Line: Hamamatsu-chō & Tamachi

In Japanese History on February 12, 2017 at 5:11 am

浜松町
Hamamatsu-chō (beachside pine tree town)
田町
Tamachi (rice paddy town)

train

Hamamatsu-chō

So, we’re finally at the end of this series which has spanned the middle of 2016 to the beginning of 2017. I’m hoping that finishing this series will bring some closure to me and to all my longtime and future readers[i]. It’s been a wild year for me, so once again I apologize for the delay in getting this article out there for you.

Anyways… with all that said and done. Let’s get into to what is, for the time being[ii], our final two stops on the Yamanote Line. Hamamatsu-chō Station is located on Edo Bay[iii] in Minato Ward[iv]. Because both loop lines, the Yamanote Line[v] and the Ōedo Line[vi], stop here, this is the perfect location for us to really get off the train, step on to the platform, and scratch our heads.

hamamatsucho_station

Not one of Tōkyō’s more beautiful stations…

The bulks of both the Yamanote and the Ōedo lines are on solid ground, but in comparison to modern day Tōkyō, Edo was built up from a small portion of the bay towards Edo Castle, outward from which it radiated into suburbs and then in countryside. Hamamatsu-chō can be thought of as a convenient seaside suburb of Edo. In fact, not only did many daimyō have beachfront property here, the shōguns themselves had a massive villa replete with extravagant gardens, saltwater moats[vii], and duck hunting grounds. The estate was known as the 浜御殿 Hama Goten Seaside Palace, but today is called the 旧浜離宮庭園 Kyū-Hama Rikyū Tei-en Former Hama Detached Palace Garden[viii]. A short distance away[ix], is a former suburban daimyō residence that is known today as 旧芝離宮庭園 Kyū-Shiba Rikyū Tei-en[x] Former Shiba Detached Palace Gardens. While they are a mere shadow of their Edo Period glory, both plots of land are parks that bring together a mix of classic Japanese gardens and the ultra-modern skyline of Tōkyō.

hama-goten

Hama Goten in the Edo Period. Notice the castle-like fortifications.

The active word in the transformation of both palaces into public parks is 離宮 rikyū which is usually translated as “detached residence” and is a reference any residence of the imperial family that isn’t 皇居 Kōkyo, the remains of Edo Castle, where they are currently squatting. While Shiba Rikyū is a bit more modern, Hama Rikyū actually retains a decent amount of the Edo Period Garden despite all the later development.

And while much of the gardens and duck hunting areas remain intact, sadly none of the Edo Period structures are left except for some of the old stone work. Worse yet is that the magnificent view of Edo Bay has all but perished – replaced by manmade islands that are home to warehouses and industrial harbors. The once beautiful bayside views of pleasure boats cruising on the calm waters from lively teahouses[xi] under the bright hanging moon which were famed in ukiyo-e, poetry, and place names are long gone. If I seem like, I’m getting depressed and unfocused while still waxing poetic about this area that’s because… well, that’s how I am. I love this area today. It’s fucking awesome. However, I really get hung up on how over developed the area has become. I guess I’m just in a real love-hate relationship with the area[xii].

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Hama Rikyu as it looks today.

One final note: Shiodome Station, where the original Shinbashi Station was located is just a few blocks away[xiii]. If you’re in the area, you should definitely check it out[xiv]. You’re also even closer to the Ōedo Line’s Daimon Station which gives you access to Zōjō-ji’s Great Gate and the destroyed mausolea of the Tokugawa shōguns[xv] and Tōkyō Tower.

Further Reading:

tamachi-station-empty

Tamachi Station with no people in it. Weird.

Tamachi

Two commissioned pieces of artwork at Tamachi Station get overlooked everyday by droves of salarymen, salarywomen, and hung over students who schlep through this station like herds of cattle during the morning rush hour. But that artwork, a stone monument and a mosaic that’s easy to miss, are testimony to how important this area was to the End of the Tokugawa Shōgunate and the beginning of the Japanese Empire.

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Statue commemorating the site where Katsu and Saigō met.

What these two monuments commemorate is a famous meeting by Katsu Kaishū and Saigō Takamori. The gist of the meeting was this: Saigō intended to lay siege to the shōgun’s castle and behead the shōgun. Katsu knew Saigō was just crazy enough to try to burn the city of a million inhabitants – not just the largest city in the Japan, but arguably the largest city in the world. Saigō’s path was through war, Katsu’s was through negotiation.

The two met in a seaside teahouse here in Tamachi near the suburban palace of Satsuma Domain[xvi] and worked out a peaceful transfer of power. The newly formed imperial army wouldn’t have to fight the shōgun’s army or kill a million people by fire. The shōgun and his loyal retainers would leave the city peacefully[xvii]. The emperor was then free to enter the castle. Katsu Kaishū had negotiated a deal rarely seen in history.

KeioUniversity.jpg

A few years before the negotiation that saved a million lives, this area also saw the birth of a school for foreign learning. This institution would become Japan’s first western style university, today called 慶応大学 Keiō Daigaku Keiō University, which is now part of Japan’s Ivy League. Tamachi station will lead you directly to the campus, still boasting some Meiji Period architecture and a history deeply entwined in the tumultuous years surrounding the Bakumatsu.

One thing most people don’t think about is why did Saigō Takamori and Katsu Kashū have their meeting here. While all of this area is Tōkyō today, in their time this was actually the border of the shōgun’s capital of Edo and 荏原郡 Ebara-gun Ebara District on the Tōkaidō Highway. If the imperial army coming from the south was going to invade Edo, they’d pretty much have to come this way.

takanawa ōkido.jpg

Takanawa Ōkido – entrance to Edo

If you do a bit of walking from Tamachi Station towards Shinagawa Station, among rows of office buildings and old temples you can find a small trace of the actual city limits. All that remains is a small stone wall overgrown with grass and weeds. Apparently, it looked much this way at the time of Saigō and Katsu’s negotiation as the three traditional entrances in and out of Edo were de-fortified about 100 years before due to a stable peace[xix].

takanawaokido01-l

The Ōkido back then

Today, Tamachi is a great place to go drinking. There are lots of izakaya and small privately owned restaurants that cater to middle aged salarymen working in the headquarters of manufacturing companies as well as students aspiring to be corporate drones. There’s an interesting, and uniquely Japanese, intersection of young and old, modern and historical here.

And on that note, I think this is a good place to finally wrap up this series on the Yamanote Line. I think I’ve made a good case that it’s more than just an ruthless drinking game and I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.

Further Reading:

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[i] I wanna get back to place names, dammit!
[ii] A new station will supposedly be added before the 2020 Olympics. As it’s already 2017 and no construction that I know of has taken place, this now remains to be seen.
[iii] Or “Tōkyō Bay” to you noobs.
[iv] Literally “Harbor Ward.”
[v] A true “loop line.” More here.
[vi] Not quite a true “loop line.” More here.
[vii] Other than being ostentatious, this was presumably of inconsequential defensive worth. I mean, salt water may kill a freshwater fish, but a mammal with a sword doesn’t give a shit about salt water.
[viii] Originally, the 浜御殿 Hama Goten seaside palace of the Tokugawa shōguns.
[ix] Actually, closer to Hamamatsu-chō Station than the shōguns’ villa is.
[x] Originally, the residence of the Ōkubo clan and then the Kishū Tokugawa clan. After the Meiji Coup, the Arisugawa branch of the imperial family took over.
[xi] Pronounced “drinking & whoring.”
[xii] Definitely more on the “love” side, though.
[xiii] Which gives you access to the modern Shinbashi Station.
[xiv] Most Tōkyōites don’t know it exists.
[xv] Truth be told… between Shinbashi and Akabanebashi, you’ll find an area dotted with shrines, temples, and graveyards which once were overseen by the powerful priests of Zōjō-ji – all of whom reported directly to the Tokugawa shōguns.
[xvi] Today it’s the headquarters of NEC.
[xvii] Most did, but a small contingent of loyalists holed up at Kan’ei-ji, present day Ueno Park, in anticipation of a final showdown.
[xviii] All the country samurai who had been required to live in Edo were sent back to their native domains.
[xix] And a fairly rigorous system of checkpoints on the highways far away from Edo, and strategic placement of loyal daimyō surrounding the shōgun’s capital.

Yamanote Line: Yūraku-chō & Shinbashi

In Japanese History on January 12, 2017 at 1:14 pm

有楽町
Yūraku-chō (literally, “leisure town” but more at “Oda Nobumasu’s town”)
新橋
Shinbashi (literally, “new bridge”)

yurakucho

Yūraku-chō Station shot from within the former castle grounds.

Yūraku-chō

 

The area called Yūraku-chō lies in an area that used be a fortified island between the inner and outer moats of Edo Castle. In fact, the elevated train tracks supported by red brick foundations are built on the reclaimed outer moat of Edo Castle. The palaces of the daimyō most closely aligned with the Tokugawa shōguns were located here and to this day, you can still walk on a road from 数寄屋橋 Sukiyabashi[i] (literally, “tea-house bridge”) to Tōkyō Station on a road that was nicknamed[ii] 大名小路 daimyō koji daimyō alley.

This neighborhood was home to the 南町奉行 minami machi bugyō-sho office of the southern bugyō, a kind of magistrate/governor[iii]. Actually, if you go to the area today, you can see a few remains of the bugyō office. There are some stone walls[iv], plumbing[v], and a cistern[vi] preserved in the basement of the イトシア ITOCiA shopping center[vii].

old-shit

The average Tōkyōite doesn’t realize they’re sitting on an Edo Period plumbing system. One more reason to learn as much about Edo before you visit Tōkyō. Jussayin’.

My Ōsaka readers[viii] may be scratching their heads saying 有楽町 is pronounced Uraku-machi while my Edo peeps are probably saying “Ōsaka people are ridiculous; everyone knows it’s Yūraku-chō.” Both areas are written with the same kanji, and both are attributed to the same individual, a certain 織田信益 Oda Nobumasu, brother of 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga[ix]. Oral tradition maintains that the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, granted him a plot of land for his residence near Sukiyabashi Gate on the banks of the outer moat[x].

Nobumasu became a tea master and used the name 有楽 or 有楽斎 which are Uraku and Uraku-sai respectively[xi]. In the Kansai area – Kyōto and Ōsaka – it retains the Uraku reading. In Kantō, which was admittedly not as cultured as Kyōto at the time, the same characters were read as Yūraku. Which reading is correct? It seems difficult to say because while people in Edo used one reading, and people in Ōsaka used another, Nobumasu himself was native to Owari Province which used a dialect altogether different from those two. However, the reading Yūraku is more prevalent in the modern language, probably because Standard Japanese is essentially the Tōkyō Dialect. However, Uraku is most likely what Nobumasu would have expected to be referred to as.

guardo-shita

Modern Yūraku-chō is partly reasonable shopping district[xii] and partly ガード下 gādo shita drinking town under the tracks of the Yamanote Line and shinkansen. There are great casual dining and drinking establishments in the area with a lingering tinge of post-war Shōwa Period grit. The area is a comfortable middle ground between the sophisticated shopping district of 銀座 Ginza and the salaryman wasteland of 新橋 Shinbashi[xiii].

Further Reading:

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Some wasted corporate shill in Shinbashi. Love it or hate it. Shit gets real real quick in Shinbashi.

Shinbashi

 

The next station on the Yamanote Line is 新橋 Shinbashi, which literally means “new bridge.” Since I wrote my original article on Shinbashi, I’ve come across more information on the so-called “new bridge” which made what I first said unclear. But without getting into the nitty-gritty, the bridge which appeared on Edo Period maps as シン橋 Shinbashi[xiv] seems to have been an auxiliary bridge or a kind of service entrance to the castle. It wasn’t defended with a 御門 go-mon gate or 見附 mitsuke fortified approach. The area was fortified in the early 1700’s and renamed 芝口御門 Shibaguchi Go-mon Shibaguchi Gate, but the area was lost to a fire about 10 years later and never rebuilt.

After the Meiji Coup, the first station of the first train line in Japan, the Tōkaidō Main Line was built in the bordering area that’s called 汐留 Shiodome today. The station was named 新橋駅 Shinbashi Eki Shinbashi Station. The present day Shinbashi Station area was actually known as 烏森 Karasumori the Crow Forest in the Edo Period and is located a good 5 or 10 minute walk from where the original station sat[xv].

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Karasumori Shrine

Shinbashi is a Shōwa Era shitamachi gem in Tōkyō that takes some getting used to. I’ve heard many times from other expats about how much they hate the place. To them it represents old, drunk salarymen drenched in spilt sake and shōchū who reek of cigarette and kitchen smoke stumbling through the streets and pissing down unlit basement stairways before they rudely push their way onto the crowded last train home.

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Original Shinbashi Station (reconstructed)

Not unsurprisingly, some of the rawest drinking spots in Tōkyō are located here. Like all Shōwa Period towns, it’s far more social than most of the big city. And believe it or not, it’s considered one of the best ナンパスポット nanpa supotto pick up spots for middle aged office workers of both sexes[xvi]. Some of the ママさん mama-san proprietresses of small スナック sunakku local dive bars are known to match-make solo drinkers for the night in hopes of bringing a pair of lonely hearts together… if only for the moment[xvii].

The present-day Shinbashi area was home to the 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence[xviii] of the Date clan from 仙台藩 Sendai Han Sendai Domain, where the wives and children of Date Masamune’s descendants lived.

Additional Reading:

 

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[i] Where that sushi restaurant from Jirō Dreams of Sushi is located.
[ii] And still bears the informal name.
[iii] There were actually two machi bugyō in Edo. The minami machi bugyō was located in Yūraku-chō, while the kita machi bugyō, the northern bugyō, was located in Yaesu, near present-day Tōkyō Station.
[iv] Complete with 刻印 kokuin symbols denoting the provenance of the stone work.
[v] Repurposed as benches for shoppers.
[vi] That’s another term for a well.
[vii] Don’t ask me about the capitalization, I didn’t name the place.
[viii] Do I even have any?
[ix] The first (and craziest) of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan.
[x] That said, the area wasn’t officially referred to as Yūraku-chō until the Meiji Period when the area was disconnected from the castle and redeveloped as civilian.
[xi] The Edo Period equivalent of a DJ name.
[xii] A refreshing alternative to neighboring Ginza, which has long been considered the standard bearer of high fashion and designer brands in Asia.
[xiii] It also melts into Hibiya and Marunouchi. The more I think about it, Yūraku-chō is like a chameleon.
[xiv] The katakana seems to have been used to clarify the reading – the kanji 新橋 could also be read Arabashi.
[xv] Needless to say, by the “original station” I’m referring to the former Shibaguchi area, which is considered the Shiodome area today.
[xvi] Yup, this is an actual thing.
[xvii] And presumably continued patronage to their bars…
[xviii] Not sure what a “middle residence” is? Have no fear, here’s my primer on the Tokugawa shōgunate’s policy of alternate attendance.

Yamanote Line: Tōkyō

In Japanese History on August 3, 2016 at 5:08 am

東京
Tōkyō

tokyo station taisho

Tōkyō Station shortly after its completion

I so just wanna say, we’ve all been there and done that because that would just be easier that repeating myself again and again… After all, my long time readers have all been there and done that. In fact, if anyone knows anything about Japanese history, it’s the fact that the Tōkyō used to be called Edo and the name was changed after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. But if there’s any lesson I’ve learned from Kevin Smith[i] and from the resurrection of the Star Wars franchise[ii], it’s this: When you’re constantly writing about the same topic, you have to be remember that even though you have long time readers, it’s always someone’s first time to learn some of these things. If someone finds this blog post 2 years from now, it could still be their first time to learn anything about the subject.

And that’s where my job gets a bit tricky[iii]. I have to keep things interesting for everyone – longtime readers and first time readers. Hoping to keep everyone happy, especially the longtime readers who probably already know most of this story.

Well, anyways, enough of that. Today, we’re going to cover the Tōkyō Station area.

TOKYO STATION 100 YEARS

Tōkyō Station during its 100 year anniversary jubilee.

Tōkyō Station Area?

Yes. Tōkyō Station is a place, but I don’t think of it as just a station. It’s also the name of the city in general, a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked. This “area” is smack dab in the center of Edo-Tōkyō and it’s kind of one of the oldest developed parts of the city. And while it’s definitely a major hub station, the area itself represents so much more.

The station faces a wide open boulevard that has an Edo Period nickname, 大名小路 Daimyō Koji Daimyō Alley. This thoroughfare bisected an island located between the inner moat and outer moat of Edo Castle[iv]. On this fortified island sat the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residences of some of the feudal lords with the closest connections to the Tokugawa shōguns who lived within the inner moat. The area was 丸之内 maru no uchi inside the citadel[v]. It wasn’t just elite because of all of the daimyō living here with direct access to the shōgun that made this neighborhood unique; it was also its location. The north side of Daimyō Alley was located near the 大手見附御門 Ōte-mitsuke Go-mon Main Gate of the western citadel[vi], essentially the main entrance to the shōgun’s castle[vii].

Directly accessible from Tōkyō Station or accessible on foot if you care to walk 10-15 minutes are a plethora of famous spots:

  • Marunouchi – a financial and banking district; it was formerly a daimyō neighborhood and includes Daimyō Alley (you can walk Daimyō Alley from Yūraku-chō to Taira no Masakado’s Kubizuka).
  • Ōtemachi – a business/financial district; the name refers to the Ōtemon (main gate) of Edo Castle.
  • Sukiyabashi – a shopping district/salaryman nightlife district between Ginza and Marunouchi; tradition says it refers to a tea ceremony instructor of the upper echelons of the daimyō class[viii].
  • Masakado Kubizuka – a haunted tomb dedicated to the head of Taira no Masakado, a symbol of eastern independence from the imperial court in Kyōto.
  • Anjin Street – the last remaining direct reference in Tōkyō to the English samurai William Adams (三浦按針 Miura Anjin in Japanese). He was a close advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu, though to increasingly lesser degrees to the 2nd and 3rd shōguns who were increasingly distrustful of foreign influences on their hegemony.
  • Yaesu – a reference to William Adam’s associate who was given samurai status but was soon forbidden access to the shōgun because he was apparently a drunk twat of the highest order.
  • Daimyō Koji – Daimyō Alley is actually still referenced on some modern maps, but it’s not an official street name.
tokyo construction

Tōkyō Station under construction

Of all the Stations in Tōkyō, Why is this one called Tōkyō?

In 1914 (Taishō 3), this was the largest and most monumental train station in the East. Architecturally, it was more European than American, but in comparison to both modes of thinking, it wasn’t just hub station for Tōkyō, it was a hub station for the new imperial state. It was designed to ensure that Tōkyō was the capital of Asia and had the infrastructure to prove it. In a move the shōgunate would have never tolerated, the station was built on the then fallow yamanote lands confiscated years ago by the imperial government (that were later purchased by the Mitsubishi Corporation) – land that once stood at the front door of Edo Castle[ix].

Long time readers may remember some of the earliest major stations in Tōkyō. The stations that stick out in my mind are Shinbashi, Shinagawa, and Ueno. These stations had all been built in the very early years of the Meiji Period and any of them could have been expanded to become the main station for the city. They were getting a lot of traffic for sure. The problem was that construction would have interrupted traffic for years. Not including the delays cause by the Russo-Japanese War, the actual construction took about 6 years. It was better to leave the other stations alone and build a grand new hub in the former daimyō lands that connected the 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line with the north-south running 東北線 Tōhoku-sen Tōhoku Line[x] while giving direct access areas of the former Edo Castle that were slowly being opened up to the public, sold off to real estate developers, or repurposed by governmental agencies of the Japanese Empire. In short, the station was central[xi], it linked important existing lines, and showcased the city as capital equal to the capitals of Europe and the United States[xii]. That’s a station worthy of the name “Tōkyō Station.”

The station took a bit of a hit in the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake, but it suffered serious damage in the firebombing at the end of WWII. The original building was 3 stories, but 3rd floors of the north and south wings weren’t rebuilt. Although it was repaired and train service was greatly expanded between 1945 and 2000, the station remained a shadow of its former glory until the Bubble Economy. The station was slated for demolition, but an effort to preserve the station as an historical landmark saved the brick monstrosity it had become. From that time on, more and more people became interested in the revitalization of the station and the Marunouchi area in general. Recently, the 3rd floors of the north and south wings have been rebuilt and the temporary triangle shaped rooftops were replaced with domes in accordance with the original design.

View of Tokyo Station in 2000, before renovation work

Tōkyō Station in 2000, before the most recent renovations. Note the north and south wings are only 2 stories. Both wings and the central atrium have cheesy angular roofs rather than elegant domes.

 

When I first visited Japan, some 15 years ago or so, the station looked like ass. However, today it is actually quite impressive. There are a lot of skyscrapers towering over it that detract from its original Taishō Period glory – and the fact that at the time of writing, the main approach to the station is undergoing redevelopment, doesn’t help – but if you spend a little time checking out the exterior of the building, you can clearly see the new bricks and the old bricks. When I see the restored Tōkyō Station, I’m struck by the amazing history of the area. Standing in this area – former holdings of feudal lords, a few minutes’ walk from Edo Castle – a flood of thoughts come to me. I think of Ōta Dōkan. I think of the Tokugawa Shōguns. I think of the Meiji Restoration. I think of the quirky Taishō Era that ended amid recovery from the Great Kantō Earfquake. I think of the rise of ups and downs and subsequent ups of the Shōwa Period. This area, while it looks like a central business district built around a huge garden where the emperor lives, is actually one of the most profound historical areas in Japan. Sadly, most of it doesn’t exist anymore, but Tōkyō Station is most definitely there linking the past with the present.

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[i] Writer, filmmaker, podcaster, professional geek, and a bit of an inspiration to me: Kevin Smith.
[ii] Star Wars: the Force Awakens was Mrs. JapanThis!’s first exposure to the Star Wars universe. I tried to get her to watch the originals but she wasn’t down with it at all. The Force Awakens changed everything.
[iii] That’s metaphorical. This isn’t my job. I write this for free and cross my fingers that one or two of you might decide to donate a dollar or two each month. Fingers crossed!
[iv] The outer moat was filled in after WWII and is now a major thoroughfare called 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri Outer Moat Street, despite not a drop of water in sight.
[v] 丸 maru, which literally means “circle” but in military use means “enclosure” or “encincture,” referred to a variety of fortified enclosures within the walls or moats of a Japanese castle – ie; a “citadel.” In the Edo Period, the 本丸 honmaru main enclosure usually referred to encincture that protected the living quarters of the shōgun or a daimyō (though technically speaking, this was the most secure and final defensive position, so it could also refer to a position a warlord could retreat to and try to hold out or commit seppuku before being overtaken).
[vi] That name is the formal Edo Period parlance; today the gate is just called 大手門 Ōtemon the main gate.
[vii] For you nerdy nerds, Daimyō Alley now stretches from 数寄屋橋 Sukiyabashi (the legendary home of Oda Nobunaga’s younger brother who was a tea ceremony instructor to daimyō; and 数寄屋 sukiya means a kind of tea room) to the 将門塚 Masakado-zuka burial mound of Taira no Masakado’s Head – something I talked about in this unrelated article.
[viii] A 数寄屋 sukiya is tea house for practicing tea ceremony.
[ix] Or as the imperial court liked to call it 東京城 Tōkyō-jō or Teikyō-jō Tōkyō Castle. But until the end of the war, it was usually called the 宮城 Kyūjō Imperial Castle. During the American Occupation, this title was eliminated because the first kanji has religious implications, especially to Shintō and the divine ancestors of the emperor. So it was decided that 皇居 the place where the emperor lives, was best.
[x] This train line wasn’t called the Tōhoku Line until the early 1900’s. Previous to that, these sections of track were part of a network built and operated by 日本鉄道 Nippon Tetsudō Nippon Railways.
[xi] The original proposed name was actually the 中央停車場 Chūō Teishajō Central Depot. The name 東京駅 Tōkyō Eki Tōkyō Station was chosen 2 weeks before the opening of the new station.
[xii] And superior to the capitals of Asia which were just a mess in their opinion – or they’d like you to think so.

Yamanote Line: Akihabara & Kanda

In Japanese History on July 15, 2016 at 4:53 am

秋葉原
Akihabara
(Akiba’s field)
神田
Kanda (holy rice paddies)

Dempagumi

Denpagumi Inc. is an idol group born out of Akihabara’s otaku culture. They perform at a local venue called Dear Stage.

This is the stretch of the Yamanote Line that I’ve been dreading from the beginning. The reason is twofold: Akihabara is a loaded place name that carries a lot of baggage and it’s not my cup of tea[i]. Kanda is also loaded, but I haven’t done a proper article on it yet. That makes it one of the most overdue place names on JapanThis!. But for all intents and purposes, Akihabara and Kanda are historically kinda the same place. In fact, while the name Kanda may date back to the Heian Period or earlier, the name Akihabara wasn’t even necessary until the 1890’s when a train station was opened here. And that’s the real bitch, now isn’t it? I can refer you to my thorough article on Akihabara (the new place), I yet I can’t do much about Kanda (the old place) because I haven’t covered it yet.

So rather than go in deep this time, I’m just going to give a light description of the areas and make a promise to cover Kanda in depth before the end of the year and then update this article with a link the new article.

kanda-takemura

Before there was Akihabara there was Kanda

Originally, the whole area from平将門首塚 Taira no Masakada no Kubizuka Taira no Masakado’s Head Mound[ii] in 大手町 Ōtemachi[iii] to 駿河台 Surugadai (originally 神田山 Kandayama Mt. Kanda) 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.

KANDA
Early in the Edo Period – about 1613 – Edo’s main fish market was established in Nihonbashi on the border of Kanda. It was said to stink to high hell and was remained an important fixture of daily life in Edo-Tōkyō until it was destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake[iv]. Also bordering Kanda was Denma-chō, home of one of Edo’s prisons and execution grounds.

By the late Edo Period, a number of very famous 剣術 kenjutsu fencing dōjō’s had come to operate in the area. These schools had close ties with the upper echelons of samurai and were some of the richest and most distinguished schools in the shōgun’s capital. With the arrival of Commodore Perry and his black ships in 1853, the shōgunate immediately established the 講武所 Kōbusho in the area. This was its official military academy to prepare elite samurai for a possible showdown with the west and teach whatever western military strategies and tactics they could get their hands on.

kanda vegetable market

Kanda’s shitamachi. This photo makes it clear how tightly integrated the shitamachi and yamanote were with each other. Much of the area looks shitamachi today despite having yamanote origins during the Edo Period. Most of this image is a holdover from the Tasishō and Shōwa Periods.

In the Fine Tradition of People Getting Shit Wrong on Wikipedia

Let’s see how the editors of a typical English language article on Wikipedia fare on the topic of Akihabara, shall we?

One of Tokyo’s frequent fires destroyed the area in 1869, and the people decided to replace the buildings of the area with a shrine called Chinkasha (now known as Akiba Shrine (秋葉神社 Akiba Jinja), meaning fire extinguisher shrine, in an attempt to prevent the spread of future fires. The locals nicknamed the shrine Akiba after the deity that could control fire, and the area around it became known as Akibagahara and later Akihabara.

The city was barely even Tōkyō in 1869[v], but that’s just being nitpicky so I’m not going to go there.

“The people decided to replace the buildings of the area with a shrine called Chinkasha.” Umm, no they didn’t. The fire in question burned down about 17 blocks of commoner housing. The whole area wasn’t rebuilt as a shrine. That would have been a pretty major shrine if it were in this part of town. And 鎮火社 chinka-sha isn’t the name of a shrine; it’s a category of shrine. Chinka-sha means “fire extinguisher shrine.” No, it doesn’t. 消火 shōka means “extinguish a fire.” 鎮火 chinka means “extinguished fires” with the implied Edo Period notion that more than one fire has occurred.

The locals set up a minor, impromptu shrine that honored the area and mourned the loss of life and property. This wasn’t proper shrine like you’d usually think of. Maybe something made of stones or just wherever people decided to leave offerings that may have grown over time[vi]. Furthermore, the area wasn’t rebuilt for many years because it was designated as a 火除地 hiyokechi firebreak – an empty field that, should a fire break out again, wouldn’t be breached thus protecting the surrounding blocks.

“[The] locals nicknamed the shrine Akiba after the deity that could control fire[vii].” I don’t know if they nicknamed it that or not, but through a ritual called 分霊 bunrei the dividing of a 神 kami spirit, 秋葉大権現 Akiba Daigongen[viii], a Buddhist/Shintō syncretic deity related to fire was installed in the small shrine in 1870. This is really when the place name began to take place. That said, the name could have been lost to time, had a train station not been built in the area. As this area was essentially Kanda, the train company had to come up with a unique name. It was for the purpose of public transportation and zoning that the place name Akihabara ever came into existence[ix].

The explanation of the writing lacks any nuance at all, so I’ll just leave it alone. Ugh.

meiji bridge akihabara kanda river.jpg

This looks like a really expensive Meiji Era bridge, which makes me think it’s actually from the Shōwa Period.. going with my gut instinct because it’s Akihabara and I don’t care so much lol. But that tunnel on the right side… that’s a total rape tunnel isn’t it? Gross. Board it up!

I have to say I was totally dreading writing this mash up of these 2 places. But now that I think about it, they were pretty easy to bring together without getting outside the scope of this series. This also makes a good launch pad for us when I finally get around to discussing Kanda. Like I said, I think Kanda is going to be a bit of an epic article.

For me, I’m just happy that there are only 5 more stations until we make a full circle on the Yamanote Line. I’m thinking about how to break these up in terms of stations. In order to keep up the 2 stations per post, I may include the “ghost station” that is planned between Tamachi and Shinagawa is still just a glimmer in the eye of the JR East. I’m sure they’ll build it – the plan is before the 2020 Olympics – but, honestly, there doesn’t seem any immediate need for it. Worse yet, this station would serve to condense more of Japan’s population in Tōkyō at a time when it should probably be developing urban centers outside of the capital. Anyhoo, that would be a place marker because I can’t write about it until it’s actually built and active as a station lol.

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[i] But even that’s not completely true; there are things about Akihabara that I like. Mainly, maids. Oh, and the giant sex shop. Oh, and the Oculus Rift demo software with the bikini girl on the beach. Oh, and that really good kebab shop whose name I can’t remember. Oh, and the ruins of a samurai residence. Oh, and… oh. That’s all.
[ii] The allegedly haunted burial mound of the head of Taira no Masakado.
[iii] Ōtemachi refers to the district located in front of Edo Castle’s 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate. Now it’s pretty much just a banking and finance district.
[iv] The replacement was Tsukiji Market, which is being moved to Toyosu this year and is a huuuuuge controversy.
[v] The name of the city changed from Edo to Tōkyō in 1868.
[vi] There seem to be no surviving pictures of the shrine.
[vii] Akiba isn’t the only kami who has power over fire.
[viii] Or Akiha Daigongen.
[ix] If you read my original article, you’ll see there were a lot of different ways to refer to this area before the train companies and government standardized things.

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