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What does Jinnan mean?

In Japanese History on March 9, 2020 at 4:52 pm

神南
Jinnan (southern spirit; more at “south of the shrine”)

jinnan shibuya
Last time, we explored 宇田川町 Udagawa-chō Udagawa-chō which is located in 渋谷 Shibuya Shibuya. One of the points I hoped to start to convey is that place names in 東京 Tōkyō Tōkyō are far more complicated than you’d think at an initial glance. When most people say “Shibuya,” they could be referring to the train station and its immediate surroundings. That said, they could also be referring to the larger administrative district known as 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward. You’ve probably never heard anyone refer to Udagawachō or 神南 Jinnan Jinnan, yet people living in Shibuya will probably recognize these place names, even if they don’t use them regularly. But lucky for you, we’re going to do a deep dive into the real Shibuya.

Just a quick refresher on your Edo-Tōkyō history. When we get this far west, we’re talking about an area that was straight up rice paddies as far as the eye could see – suburban at best. The area had two major influxes. The first was after the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. The second was after Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945. I like driving this point home again and again because today, Shibuya is a straight up city center. 70 years ago, things would’ve been very different. 100 years ago… whoa, even more different. 150 years ago, you’d just see farmers.

Further Reading:

shibuya magnet 109 mens

109 Mens/Shibuya Magnet

Let’s Look at the Kanji


kami; kan, ; shin/jin

kami (a supernatural being; diety) worshipped at a shrine;
the Japanese emperor (under the system of “State Shintō” – roughly 1868-1945)


minami; nan

south

Now that we know the kanji, I can give you the TL;DR explanation. Jinnan simply means “south of the shrine.” Knowing that the first character can be a reference to the emperor, particularly between 1868 and 1945, I think some of you familiar with Shibuya Ward probably have an idea where this is going. For those of you who don’t and those of you who want to know the whole story, let’s dig into it.

jinnan kafe

Jinnan Cafe in Shibuya

Once Upon a Shrine

In 1868, the last shogun 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu relinquished control of his capital 江戸 Edo Edo and his seat of government 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. The recently ascended 明治天皇 Meiji Tennō Meiji Emperor made the long journey from his palace in 京 Kyō the “Capital”[i] to Edo, which was soon renamed 東京 Tōkyō the “Eastern Capital.” As we all know, this was the beginning of the 明治時代 Meiji Jidai Meiji Period. This emperor reigned for a unusually long time – more than 40 years! – which saw Japan transform itself from an isolated “feudal” society into a “westernized” industrial society asserting itself on the global stage by creating a “western style” empire in East Asia[ii]. While the rest of Asia was being overrun by western imperialist powers, Japan had a lot to be proud of. It was a success story in a part of the world that to this day has many countries that are still “developing.”[iii]

Emperor Meiji Dammit

The Meiji Emperor during a fit of constipation

Then the unthinkable happened. Around midnight on July 29th, 1912 (Meiji 44)[iv] at the age of 59[v], the Meiji Emperor left this mortal coil for the first (and last) time. Not only were his wife, 昭憲皇后 Shōken Kōgō Empress Shōken[vi], and his five official concubines[vii] heartbroken, but an entire nation went into mourning. Afterall, this was a descendant of 天照大御神 Amaterasu-no-Ōkami the sun goddess. He had presided over an unprecedented social, economic, political, and technological revolution. People who remembered the final days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate were geriatrics – and there weren’t many of them left, to be sure. Under the leadership of the first “hands on” emperor[viii] in almost a thousand years, Japan had reinvented itself and its society. The institution of the Chrysanthemum Throne was exalted in religious terms that rejected Buddhism as a foreign religion adopted by the samurai of past and placed the emperor at the head of Japan’s native spiritual cults under the banner something we now call 国家神道 Kokka Shintō State Shintō[ix]. The death of the Meiji Emperor was so traumatic, that one of his top generals, 野木丸介 Nogi Marusuke Nogi Marusuke, forced is wife to “commit suicide” before he killed himself in an act of 殉死 junshi following one’s lord to the grave.

Further Reading:

Emperor Meiji Grave

Emperor Meiji’s burial mound in Kyōto

Establishment of Meiji Shrine

Although the Meiji Emperor died in 1912 and his empress in 1914, no major shrine was erected immediately following their passing. They were interred in a Shintō-style burial mound, reminiscent of 古墳 kofun kofun[x], in Kyōto where emperors had been buried since the Heian Period. Because of empire building and the subsequent foreign wars that came along with all that and the massive tragedy of the Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923, the government had a full plate, so building a major shrine in Tōkyō was put on the backburner.

However, things started to settle down a bit, and in 1915, the government chose an iris garden on the grounds of the former suburban palace of 井伊家 Ii-ke the Ii clan[xi] to build a sprawling shrine complex to honor the emperor and his empress[xii]. The imperial couple loved this garden and so the site had been chosen way back in 1912. Wars and whatnot kept the pace slow, but the shittiest architect Japan ever produced, 伊藤忠太 Itō Chūta Itō Chūta[xiii], finished the main hall of 明治神宮 Meiji Jingū Meiji Imperial Shrine in 1920. The government formally dedicated the space in 1920 and all construction was completed in 1921. The space was opened to the public in 1926 and the state bestowed upon it the title of 官幣大社 kanpei taisha, basically Government Shrine #1 (ie; officially this was the most important Shintō shrine in the country even though way more ancient shrines had existed for millennia).

meiji imperial shrine harajuku

Of course, in 1945, the Americans fire bombed Tōkyō back into the stone age and the shrine was lost. Sadly, it took about 13 years to rebuild the shrine, but in 1958, the current iteration of the shrine was complete. So yeah, for you tourists coming to Tōkyō for the first time, this isn’t an ancient shrine. It’s from the 1920’s, but what you’re looking at is from the 1950’s and… well, it’s still an important shrine. It’s just really modern as far as “important shrines” go[xiv].

Further Reading:

map shibuya jinnan romaji

That’s Cool and All, But I Thought We were Talking about Jinnan…

We’re are definitely talking about Jinnan. So, settle the fuck down, OK? I just wanted to give y’all some context, dammit. You know, because the rest of the story isn’t very interesting, to be completely honest. From here on out, it’s just bureaucratic mumbo jumbo. That said, it’s how we have to wrap this story up.

As I mentioned, Meiji Shrine opened in 1926, but there was a major administrative shake up in 1928. This area used to be called 東京府豊多摩郡渋谷町 Tōkyō-fu Toyotama-gun Shibuya Machi Shibuya Town, Toyotama District, Tōkyō Prefecture[xv]. A huge swath of that district was made up of the areas formerly known as of 前耕地 Maekōchi Maekōchi, 豊沢 Toyosawa Toyosawa, 宇田川 Udagawa Udagawa, and 深町 Fukamachi Fukamachi which were merged and the new area was named 神南町 Kannami-chō Kannami-chō which literally means “the town south of the shrine.” Careful observers will notice that Kannami uses the same kanji as Jinnan.

toyosawa kaizuka shell mound

Toyosawa Kaizuka – a Jōmon Period shell mound in Shibuya Ward.

Fast forward to 1963, Japan establishes the precursor to the modern postal code system. Long time readers of JapanThis! will be familiar with the effect this law has had on local place names. The first thing that happened is that Kannami-chō was divided up into three new administrative districts: 神山町 Kamiyama-chō Kamiyama-chō which means “shrine hill,” 神宮前 Jingūmae Jingūmae which means “in front of the shrine,” and 渋谷区神南一丁目神南二丁目 Shibuya-ku Kannami itchōme/nichōme 1st and 2nd blocks of Kannami, Shibuya Ward.

Fast forward to 1970, Shibuya Ward declares that Kannami shall henceforth be read as Jinnan. But why? You see, in 1946, sweeping orthographic reforms[xvi] were applied to the Japanese language. One of the most important aspects of this was the establishment of 当用漢字 tōyō kanji, an official list of 1,850 general use characters[xvii]. Basically, to be considered literate, you needed to know all these characters. One aspect of these reforms was to eliminate irregular readings of kanji. Basically, they wanted to simplify things for the benefit of public literacy. As Japan’s economy transformed from agriculture to manufacturing, having everyone on same proverbial page as quickly as possible was imperative. It took seven years to do anything about it, but eventually Kannami had to change because it was a flagrant example of irregular kanji reading under the tōyō kanji prescriptions which weren’t just suggestions but actual law. I mean, nobody was going to go to jail for irregular kanji use, but a city ward in the capital wouldn’t be setting a good example if it just endorsed wacky place name, right?

Now, this wasn’t just pedantry by fiat. There’s an interesting logic behind this name change. Meiji Shrine uses the word jingū (grand shrine; imperial shrine). The area in front of the shrine is called Jingūmae, and so Jinnan fits the naming pattern nicely. The name is easier to read, easier to remember, and the ward can wrap this linguistic package up nicely with a tidy little bow.

yoyogi park greasers

“Greasers” dancing in Yoyogi Park. They have great taste in shoes, but terrible taste in music lol

Heart of Shibuya

I mentioned in my last article on Udagawa-chō that anyone who has ever visited Shibuya had most definitely been in that neighborhood. I’m gonna go out on a limb and make the same claim about Jinnan. It’s right next to Udagawa-chō and so similar that unless you check the postal codes on buildings, you probably wouldn’t notice that you’d passed from one area to the other.

band maid tower records shibuya

Tower Records, Shibuya (Jinnan)

Jinnan is essentially a shopping and business district. As of 2017, its population was a whopping 576 people; most of the people you see around are either customers, tourists, or employees of some sort. In this respect, it’s very similar to Udagawa-chō. The area is home to OIOI Marui Marui Department Store, 109 Mens Ichi Maru Kyū Menzu 109 Mens Department Store, and タワーレコード Tawā Rekōdo Tower Records, the main hub for all things J-Pop and J-Rock.

photo by Arne Müseler / www.arne-mueseler.com

Yoyogi National Stadium

It’s not just shopping, though. NHK放送センター NHK Hōsō Sentā NHK Broadcast Center is in Jinnan. 代々木公園 Yoyogi Kōen is in Jinnan. Also, this is home to 国立代々木競技場 Kokuritsu Yoyogi Kyōgijō the Yoyogi National Gymnasium designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect, 丹下健三 Tange Kenzō Tange Kenzō[xviii], which served as the gymnasium and pool for the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics. Apparently, this facility will be used for handball, whatever the fuck that is, in the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics… that is, if they’re not cancelled because of the coronavirus. There are also a handful of businesses offering high-end sexual services, but unless you’re Japanese, these are probably off the table for you[xix].

Further Reading:

shibuya crossing intersection intersexion jinnan

In Conclusion

In conclusion, I’ve got nothing to say, really. Basically, Jinnan is just like Udagawa-chō. It’s what most people think of when they think of Shibuya: the shopping district right in front of Shibuya Station’s ハチ公口 Hachikō-guchi Hachikō Exit.

On a side note, I just noticed that my last article was number 333. That’s just half of 666!!! It’s taken a while to get there, and finally reaching the number of the beast[xx] will definitely take more time as my earliest articles were pretty short and cheesy. I do much more intensive research now. But, hey, here we are. Thanks for reading and sharing, and for those of you try to support the site financially when you can, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

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[i] Also known as 京都 Kyōto Kyōto – duh.
[ii] Yes, I know. Lots of “scare quotes” in that sentence, but that’s because I’m going to “breeze over” all the “nuance” required to “explain” that stuff because it really isn’t important to our “story” today.
[iii] There are those “scare quotes” again.
[iv] The official announcement was on July 30th, at 00:42 so this is the official day of his passing. However, he actually died on July 29th at 22:40. トメトトマト
[v] That’s 413 in dog years!!!
[vi] Her “real name” was 一条勝子 Ichijō Masako. How very Kyōto of her.
[vii] Dude had plenty of side bitches on the DL, too.
[viii] Again, “scare quotes.” How “hands on” the dude actually was… yeah, that’s a conversation for another time.
[ix] It should be said, “State Shintō” was a term created by the American Occupation as a way to erase the cult of “emperor worship.” The term was useful for discussing the need to include the Separation of Church and State in the new post-war constitution.
[x] Ancient burial mounds built between 250-550 CE, essentially the period that saw the consolidation of a “national polity” based around the Yamato clan (ie; the imperial family) before the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. Small versions of these mounds were popular during the Meiji Period among elites who wished to express their loyalty to the emperor. The last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, even requested that he not be buried with the other shōguns and given a Shintō-style grave.
[xi] Yes, the Ii clan. As in 井伊直正 Ii Naomasa Ii Naomasa, one of the first shōgun’s most trusted generals, and 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke Ii Naosuke, the shogunal regent who decided to end Japan’s isolationist policy, only to be assassinated by anti-foreigner terrorist from 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain in front of Edo Castles notorious 桜田御門 Sakurada Go-mon Sakurada Gate.
[xii] Not sure what happened to the concubines and side bitches. Maybe I’ll look into that some day for y’all.
[xiii] Long time readers will recognize this assclown as the architecture of 月島本願寺 Tsukishima Hongan-ji Tsukishima Hongan Temple which I included in this article.
[xiv] Whoa. There are those “scare quotes” again. Seems to be a theme today.
[xv] By the way, Toyotama District was a huuuuuuge area. It used to comprise: 内藤新宿町 Naitō Shinjuku Machi Naitō Shinjuku Town, 淀橋町 Yodobashi Machi Yodobashi Town, 大久保村 Ōkubō Mura Ōkubō Village, 戸塚村 Totsuka Mura Totsuka Village, 渋谷村 Shibuya Mura Shibuya Village, 千駄ヶ谷村 Sendagaya Mura Sendagaya Village, 中野宿 Nakano-shuku Nakano Post Town, 杉並村 Suginami Mura Suginami Village, 高井戸宿 Takaido-shuku Takaido Post Town. I’ve covered most of those place names, so place use the search function if you’re interested in following up on them.
[xvi] “Orthographic reforms” is just smart people talk for “spelling reforms.” Yes, I’m a smart person.
[xvii] In 1981, this system was updated to 常用漢字 jōyō kanji everyday use kanji which were the 1,945 characters in use when I moved to Japan. However, in 2010, the government increased jōyō kanji to 2,136 characters. For native speakers, this was no big deal, as many of these kanji had crept back into common usage anyway, but this was a pretty frustrating move for people studying Japanese for the first time. I mean, they literally made one of the biggest hurdles for most people, ie; kanji, even more intimidating.
[xviii] Even if you’re not into architecture, Tange is a giant in the field. Ever been to 広島平和記念公園 Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Kōen Hiroshima Peace Park? Yeah, he designed that. Dude is kind of a big deal.
[xix] I guarantee you that somebody is googling this now.
[xx] By the way, the so-called “number of the beast” (ie; 666) is the number you get when you add up Emperor Nero’s name in Ancient Greek.

What does Udagawacho mean?

In Japanese History on February 15, 2020 at 11:37 pm

宇田川町
Udagawa-chō
(Uda River Town)

center street

Good luck getting a photo like this lololol

.Since we’re heading back to 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward for the first time since 2013, I’d like to begin this this article by quoting a poem by the late, great 鈴木度助兵衛 Suzuki Dosukebe[i]:

Oh, Shibuya! Thy crazy intersection is overrun by tourists
Taking the same goddamn video everyone else taketh.
Thy streets, once home to
gyaru[ii] and AV scouts,
Now littered with rats and cockroaches,
Descended from the rats and cockroaches of yore
Beckon all to Udagawa-chō.

Chances are, even if you’ve only been to Shibuya once in your life, this is probably the part of town you came to. As soon as you walk out of the overcrowded and annoying ハチ公出口 Hachikō Deguchi Hachikō Exit, you enter 宇田川町 Udagawachō Udagawachō. Since the 1970’s, the neighborhood has become increasingly commercial, made up mostly of shops, restaurants, clubs, and businesses. In fact, the largest landholders in the area are 渋谷区役所 Shibuya Kuyakusho Shibuya Ward Office, 西武百貨店 Seibu Hyakkuten Seibu Department Store, パルコ PARCO Parco Department Store, LINE CUBE SHIBUYA (a concert venue), and 渋谷区立神南小学校 Shibuya Kuritsu Jinnan Shōgakkō Jinnan Elementary School. It’s also home to the infamous 渋谷スクランブル Shibuya Sukuranburu Shibuya Crossing (“Shibuya Scramble”), often touted as the busiest intersection in the world[iii]. If you’ve ever walked out of the Hachikō Exit and crossed that insanity, chances are you also walked down 渋谷センター街 Shibuya Sentā Gai Shibuya Center Street[iv]. If you’re a fan of the movie Lost in Translation, the karaoke scene was shot at the Udagawachō branch of カラオケ館 Karaoke-kan[v], a nationwide karaoke chain.

lost

While most of Udagawachō is commercial these days and the place is literally teeming with people on every street and in every alley, as of 2017, there were actually only 530 households registered within this postal address, making it home to some 769 residents and an unknown number of pets. Estimates of the number of cockroaches, rats, and super-lethal death-crows are unconfirmed as of the publication of this article[vi].

Anyhoo, if you’ve ever been to Shibuya, you know it’s a shitshow – super-crowded with shoppers and, more recently, completely overrun by tourists. The area is so annoying that Tōkyōites refer to the residents of Shibuya as 渋豚 Shibuta “astringent pigs.”[vii]

Further Reading:

 

shibuya is trash

Yay! Udagawachō!!!

Let’s Look at the Kanji


u

This character means “eaves,” but was commonly used as ateji[viii] and is the origin of the hiragana /u/ and the katakana /u/ which represent the same sound.


ta
,da; den

rice paddy


kawa
, –gawa; sen

river


chō; machi

town

So, at first glance, it looks like this means “town that sits along the Uda River” and I’ll be honest with you: in my personal opinion, this is a case of what you see is what you get. I’m a big fan of Occam’s Razor. However, the story can be made more complicated and I’d like to drag you down the rabbit hole with me, so roll up your sleeves and let’s dive into it!

800px-Outa_Doukan

Ota Dokan, one of the builders of Edo Castle

A Tale of Two Families (but probably just one…)

Records from the 1400’s, late Muromachi Period, state that two clans called Udagawa or Utagawa[ix] controlled coastal areas from 品川 Shinagawa Shinagawa to 葛西 Kasai Kasai. The sources aren’t clear, but both families are said to have been illegitimate offshoots of the 佐々木氏 Sasaki-shi Sasaki clan (and possibly the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan)[x]. These clans were sent to develop the areas surrounding a minor seaside hamlet called 江戸郷 Edo-gō Edo village by the warlord 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan Ōta Dōkan on behalf of the Uesugi clan[xi]. As time went on, branches of the Udagawa clan spread this peculiar family name throughout what is present day 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis. In fact, this name is mostly found in Tōkyō, with more than 7000 people registered as Udagawas[xii]. Some family members have even settled in present-day Shibuya. We’ll talk more about this hypothetical Shibuya Udagawa clan later.

日本橋 nihonbashi

Utagawa Hiroshige capturing a snapshot of life in Edo. This is in Nihonbashi, though. Nowhere near Shibuya.

A Connection to Art that You Never Saw Coming!

Interestingly, the main branch settled in Shinagawa and gave their name to an area that used to be called 芝宇田川町 Shiba Udagawa-chō Udagawa Town, Shiba[xiii]. In the 1700’s, a certain artist named 但馬屋庄次郎 Tajimaya Shōjirō who lived in that coastal village borrowed the name of the town and started calling himself 歌川豊春 Utagawa Toyoharu, literally “poetic river abundant spring.”[xiv] If that spelling looks familiar, it’s because Toyoharu was the ukiyo-e master who established 歌川派 Utagawa-ha the Utagawa school of art[xv]. If the name still doesn’t ring a bell, maybe 歌川豊広 Utagawa Hiroshige, the most famous master of this style[xvi], will. If there’s anything we know for certain about this whole narrative, it is that the Utagawa School definitely takes its name from the coastal Udagawa-chō/Utagawa-chō village. The Shibuya connection is still a mystery.

Further Reading:

1930 dogenzaka

Love Hotel Lane. Dōgenzaka in the post-war era.

But Alas, I Digress[xvii]

The story goes that this part of Shibuya used to be called 宇陀野 Udano the Uda Fields. This combination of kanji is most likely ateji and so the true origin of the place name is probably lost to time. However, if this river existed and flowed through the area, it would logically be named 宇陀川 Udagawa the Uda River. The kanji 陀 ta/-da is fairly obscure in Japanese, usually only showing up in Buddhist loanwords from Chinese, so it was eventually changed to 田 ta/-da. However, the first clan using the name, was definitely in present-day Shinagawa and not Shibuya.

As is often the case in Japanese history, clans usually took family names from their holdings. Due to high infant mortality rates, the 公家 kuge imperial court families in Kyōto tried to have as many sons as possible in order to pass on their lands, titles, and names to their first-born son. But what happened when you more than one son survived? The best solution was to send them out into the boonies to collect taxes and keep the peasants in check. These sons would establish new branch families and take the name of their fief as a family name. If there was another Uda River in Shinagawa, that would make sense. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

As for the hypothetical Shibuya Udagawa clan, we might have an example of the opposite thing happening. In this case, it’s possible that the area’s name derives from the clan. You see, by the same process of spinning off extra sons, the Sasaki clan that I mentioned earlier were descendants of the imperial family. The full name of the clan is 宇田源氏佐々木氏 Uda Genji Sasaki-shi the Uda Minamoto Sasaki clan.

OK, I know this is complicated, but bear with me. 宇多天皇 Uda Tennō, Uda the 59th emperor[xviii], established the Minamoto clan (also called Genji). This Minamoto clan spun off the Sasaki clan, which in turn, spun off the Udagawa clan. By this story, they included the name of Emperor Uda to remind people they had imperial blood in their veins – after all, they were two clans (Minamoto and Sasaki) and more than 400 years removed from their godly ancestor[xix]. If this were the case, the clan may have received their name (or petitioned for it) at the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court in Kyōto and then were sent east to Edo in order to fortify the coast and used their spiffy new name to look super-cool to all the stinky, dirt-crusted peasants and fishermen living in the area.

If we want to assume the family brought their name from the west to the east, there is another theory. This one claims that the family name derives from 大和国宇陀郡 Yamato no Kuni Uda-gun Uda District, Yamato Province in present day 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture. Nara is very near Kyōto and this doesn’t seem any more unreasonable than the last origin story I told you. In short, the result would be the same as above: an elite family is sent eastward and the local people adopt their new lords’ name because it’s prestigious. Suddenly, you’re not just a bunch of filthy, dirt-grubbing, fish-mongering peasants. No, you’re peasants whose masters are a clan of a clan of clan from way out west with a tiny drop of imperial blood running through their veins.

Further Reading:

boring

Yeah, I know… I think so too.

What Really Happened?

The source of the clan name, while not completely understood, at least has some reasonable origin stories. However, we know that an Uda River existed in Shibuya. By the Edo Period, this appellation referred to a very specific tributary of 渋谷川 Shibuyagawa the Shibuya River[xx]. This waterway existed right up until modern times and was ultimately covered up during the build up to the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics. Like many rivers in Tōkyō, the Uda River is now a sewer. If we apply Occam’s Razor, this is really best etymology we can come to. In my opinion – as I stated earlier – the name literally just means “the town on the Uda River” and no more. The connection to the Udagawa clan in Shinagawa is a mere coincidence at best. I think this theory is tidy and logical.

Despite all the muck I’ve dragged you through, dear reader lolololololol

pretend

Clan Name and Place Name Confusion

The annoying this about this particular place name is as annoying as Shibuya itself. Sources constantly try to make a connection between the Udagawa clan and Udagawachō to such an extent that I couldn’t find anything that tried to disentangle the two. This could very well just be a case of folk etmology, but if someone put a gun to my head forced me to reconcile these stories, I think I could present something that sounds plausible given what we know (just so I wouldn’t get shot in the head).[xxi]

I suspect that in the Muromachi Period, a branch of the Sasaki clan was granted the name Udagawa/Utagawa in Kyōto for either reason stated above[xxii]. They were granted a large coastal fief and acted as governors of that territory on behalf of the Uesugi clan, much as Ōta Dōkan also was. Their name came to be attached to their lands, so that’s how the name transferred. As new cadet branches spun off, one family settled in present-day Shibuya[xxiii] and the name stuck, as it carried some imperial prestige. The fact that there is a river in Shibuya probably didn’t hurt. It would have reinforced this name. And the rest, as they say, is history.”[xxiv]

I haven’t heard a trigger go “click” yet, so I think we’re good.

.

.

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[i] His name ド助兵衛 is code for ドスケベ do-sukebe “total pervert.” And yes, this is completely made up, stupid.
[ii] Please tell me you remember what ギャル gyaru were. If not, GTFO lol
[iii] I dunno. I’ve seen some crazy intersections in Ho Chi Minh City… just crowded with scooters instead of people, but whatever…
[iv] The nuance is like Main Street, but uses a word for “town,” “block,” or “neighborhood.”
[v] The room used in the film is actually commemorated with a plaque and can be booked in advance by phone. But warning, it uses the Joy Sound system, which is lame AF.
[vi] To put this into perspective, 西新宿 Nishi-Shinjuku, the area west of Shinjuku Station, is home to just as many businesses (probably more) but also houses 15,700 domiciles with roughly 22,600 residents. This gives it a balance that Udagawachō lacks. It’s basically a town devoured by consumerist culture and tourist culture. In short, there’s no community. It’s a neighborhood drunk on “meh.”
[vii] I totally just made that up.
[viii] We’ve talked about 当て字 ateji many times at JapanThis!. It’s when kanji are used for their phonetic values, rather than ideographic meanings. In the far countryside, like Edo before the 1600’s, many place names used ateji because the meaning of the name had been lost or it was just easier for semi-literate people to understand.
[ix] Both pronunciations are valid and families used them in addition to spelling variations to distinguish their unique family lines. For example, 宇田川 and 宇多川.
[x] That means, somebody been makin’ babies out of wedlock and shit. Awwwwww yeah.
[xi] Both the Ōta and Uesugi were based in Kamakura at that time, but they wanted to relocate to Edo. It seems the Udagawa clans were the vanguard of their development strategy.
[xii] The name is not restricted to Tōkyō, though. There are about 19,200 Utagawas throughout all of Japan. Also this spelling only takes into account 宇田川 Udagawa and not its more distinguished alternate spelling 宇多川 Udagawa/Utagawa.
[xiii] This area is near present day 新橋 Shinbashi Shinbashi, although their castle (fortified residence) was in 北品川 Kita-Shinagawa North Shinagawa, I would assume somewhere on the 高輪台 Takanawa-dai Takanawa Plateau.
[xiv] 歌 uta can mean song or poem.
[xv] When we use “school” in this sense, think of it as a style passed down from master to apprentice, not like some dude is taking finger painting classes on the weekends or like a modern fine arts university.
[xvi] Arguably one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, ukiyo-e artists of all time.
[xvii] Who? Me? lol
[xviii] Emperor Uda ruled from 887 to 888. A short reign to be sure, but he lived from 867 to 931.
[xix] Godly in the sense that the imperial family claims descent from the sun goddess, 天照 Amaterasu, and the other court families likewise claim heavenly descent from other gods.
[xx] Some people believe the name is a coincidence of history. One theory about the origin of the place name Shibuya says it is a reference to a dried up, rust-colored riverbed, but I think that theory is a bit of a stretch.
[xxi] Not a fan of getting shot in the head. Jussayin’.
[xxii] Perhaps they initially lived in Nara…
[xxiii] The area was pretty much the boonies until the 1920’s, so obviously records would be spotty at best.
[xxiv] Again, I’m not convinced that the Shinagawa Udagawa clan and Udagawachō in Shibuya are related. I’m also not convinced there couldn’t be any overlap. There just isn’t enough information to make a strong argument either way other than Occam’s Razor.

What does Inaricho mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on November 28, 2019 at 3:28 am

稲荷町
Inarichō
(Inari town)

inaricho station

Let’s give a hearty thanks to reader Will on fire who suggested this topic on Twitter. You should follow him and if you don’t already follow me, you should. I share lots of Japan-related news, pix, and just vent from time to time. It’s good fun[i]. Also, Twitter and Facebook are great ways to suggest new place names that you’re curious about. Anyhoo, let’s get into it, shall we?

Here’s the original post:

Where is Inarichō?

OK. So, let’s do this. Anyone who’s ever taken the 銀座線 Ginza-sen Ginza Line to 上野 Ueno Ueno or 浅草 Asakusa Asakusa has passed by 稲荷町駅 Inarichō Eki Inarichō Station. With Asakusa becoming an ever-increasing tourist trap[ii], chances are high that most people who visit 東京 Tōkyō will pass by here, though chances of them getting off the train are slim. In general, old timers might refer to this area as 下谷 Shitaya which literally means “the lower valley.”[iii] However, these days Inarichō is located in 台東区 Taitō-ku Taitō Ward, an area famous for its traditional 下町 shitamachi low city vibe[iv].

Further Reading:

inaricho station ginza line.jpg

The Ginza Line stopping at Inaricho Station

Let’s Look at the Kanji

稲荷
Inari
Inari, the primary rice deity

machi, chō
town, city;
neighborhood

Etymology

The origin of this place name is pretty basic. It’s named after a local 稲荷神社 Inari jinja Inari shrine. As I mentioned before, the old timers may call this area Shitaya. This term refers to the areas that lie beneath 上野山 Ueno Yama the Ueno Plateau – the low city areas of 浅草 Asakusa Asakusa, 本所 Honjo Honjo, and 深川 Fukagawa Fukagawa. To this day, these areas are famous for their non-fancy, traditional atmospheres.

And like I said, there was an ancient Inari shrine in the area. When a train station first opened here in 1927, they chose the name Inarichō “Inari Town” because this particular neighborhood was historically known by that name – the shrine being the area’s only claim to fame. That’s the long story short[v].

shitaya shrine.jpg

There’s Always More to the Story

The shrine that started the whole thing still exists and is called 下谷神社 Shitaya Jinja Shitaya Shrine and according to their records it was established in 730 by what were basically regional tax collectors. They collected rice tax on behalf of the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court in 京都 Kyōto Kyōto[vi]. At this time, eastern Japan was barely under the control of the imperial court. The court’s legend says that a certain samurai warlord named 平将門 Taira no Masakado Taira no Masakado decided to call himself “Emperor of the East.” Historical records point more at regional territorial disputes, but Masakado became a bit of a folk hero in Edo as an easterner who stuck it to the man.

taira no masakado painting

Anyhoo, depending on how you slice up the dates, Masakado’s unsuccessful uprising came to an end when he was unceremoniously beheaded in 940[vii]. Shrine records say that one year before, in 939, a certain 藤原秀郷 Fujiwara no Hidesato Fujiwara no Hidesato rebuilt the shrine complex to pray for the defeat of Masakado because he was a dick like that. Religion is dumb but praying for someone’s death is pretty gross. As a result of his defeat, Taira no Masakado became a symbol of eastern pride, especially in Edo, while Hidesato came to be seen as a toadie of the distant and rarified court in the west. However, Masakado is still famous throughout the country, while Hidesato is a footnote in history books. The fact that he gets a paragraph on JapanThis! is probably the most attention he’s gotten in a thousand years. Yeah, fuck that guy. I’m #TeamMasakado all day long, baby.

And for those of you who follow Japanese baseball, the east/west rivalry pre-dates the 東京ジャイアンツ Tōkyō Jaiantsu Tōkyō Giants and 阪神タイガース Hanshin Taigāsu Hanshin Tigers[viii] by more than a thousand years. Masakado’s uprising wasn’t the beginning, but it was definitely an incident in which eastern Japan, and Edo in particular, finally grew a pair and realized they could be contenders in a country controlled nominally by a bunch of snooty aristocrats in Kyōto who claimed to be the descendants of 神 kami deities, rather than samurai bad asses from the hinterland. But, just to set the record straight, here at Japan this we know that Edo-Tōkyō is cooler. Always has been. Always will be[ix].

Further Reading:

rice plants.jpg

Inari, God of Rice

So, the etymology of Inarichō is very straightforward. Shrine to Inari. Station gets a name. All good. So, who is Inari? Longtime readers probably already know this, but if you’re new to JapanThis! or want a refresher, I’ll give a quick breakdown.

On the most basic level, 稲荷神 Inari no Kami[x] Inari is the 神 kami deity of rice production. His[xi] name is made of two characters 稲 ine/ina rice and 荷 ri something you carry. The kanji clearly imply “rice harvest.”[xii] When the cult of Inari began isn’t known, but we can assume it dates back well into prehistory[xiii]. Rice fields take a lot of time and manpower to build[xiv]. Rice represents food. Surplus rice means money. Large scale rice production requires protection and is a symbol of status because in a world of haves and have nots, the haves can feed more loyal subjects than their neighbors.

rice paddy japan

Hopefully, you can see where this is going. By the time we get to 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai the Warring States Period[xv], you have samurai warlords all around the country making all kinds of territory grabs to control agricultural production (read: money and power). An underlying religious component is that since ancient times, powerful clans often venerated Inari for profitable harvests. The Warring States 大名 daimyō feudal lords often adopted their local Inari as a tutelary kami.

In the Edo Period (1600-1868), when the shōgun’s capital was in… umm… Edo, hence the name, an institution called 参勤交代 sankin kōtai alternate attendance was established. This required the various daimyō to maintain palaces in Edo to take part in the shōgun’s government. Most of them, through a process called 分霊 bunrei splitting a kami, would re-enshrine their local Inari in Edo. Because the area presumably had thousands of Inari shrines to begin with, the addition of new Inari shrines by more than 200 daimyō during the Edo Period, this particular kami became the most recognizable deity in the capital and probably all of Japan[xvi]. I’ve said this many times in many articles, the Edoites had a proverb, 伊勢屋、稲荷に、犬の糞 Iseya, Inari ni, inu no fun which essentially means “you can’t go anywhere in Edo without seeing shops named Iseya, Inari shrines, and dog shit.” To this day, you can still find shops called Iseya everywhere – maybe as many or more Inari shrines. Dog shit… not so much. And, for those of you who are fans of spatial anthropology, know that when you see free-standing Inari shrines in Tōkyō, there’s a good chance you’ve arrived at a former daimyō’s palace.

Further Reading:

 

fushimi inari taisha kyoto

Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine in Kyoto

Inari and Foxes

Anyone who has visited 伏見稲荷大社 Fushimi Inari Taisha Fushimi Grand Shrine in 京都 Kyōto Kyōto knows exactly what to expect of an Inari shrine. In fact, if the image of this shrine isn’t burned into your brain, you need to learn a little more about Japan. No shame, though. We all start somewhere. And so, while a vermilion 鳥居 torii gate is common[xvii], the most striking feature is the shrine being flanked by two semi-tame 狐 kitsune foxes, often holding objects in their mouths, such as scrolls, toy balls, or jewels.

inari kitsune.jpg

The association of Inari with foxes is strong, but the origins are unclear. Obviously, in the Japanese countryside, you’d probably find foxes near rice fields. But as Shintō and Buddhist teachings aren’t very dogmatic or standardized between sects and regions, the link between Inari and foxes is not set in stone – although Inari shrines without fox guardians are almost unheard of. Most people think Inari is a fox, or at least the avatar of Inari is a fox. Others believe foxes are merely emissaries of Inari, as the kami doesn’t possess a physical body. I personally don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer to why foxes are associated with Inari other than the fact that you find foxes in the countryside. I tend to think that foxes are messengers of Inari and not Inari himself[xviii]. That said, Inari and foxes – white foxes specifically – are inextricably tied together.

ginza line 1927

Ginza Line in 1927, somewhere between Asakusa and Ueno, which means there’s a 50/50 chance this is Inaricho Station.

Inarichō Station

Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, Inarichō is a station name. Despite the area being known by locals as Inari-chō, it’s not an official postal address. The neighborhood is located in 台東区東上野三丁目に Taitō-ku Higashi Ueno 3-chōme 3rd block of East Ueno, Taitō Ward. Only the station name preserves this traditional appellation.

In 1927, 東京地下鉄道 Tōkyō Chikatetsudō the company that would become today’s 東京メトロ Tōkyō Metoro Tōkyō Metro that we all know and love opened 稲荷町駅 Inarichō Eki Inarichō Station. Even though it’s gone under many renovations over the years, the station is pretty much the same one that we got in the 1920’s for the 銀座線 Ginza-sen Ginza Line. Essentially an unofficial local nickname based on an Inari shrine in former Shitaya Ward, which is now Taitō Ward birthed a train station name. It could have faded into obscurity, but it didn’t. The train station preserves that legacy.

shitaya shrine entrance.jpg

Entrance to Shitaya Shrine

In Conclusion

Sadly, the etymology of Inarichō is not particularly exciting. But I hope long time readers enjoyed the reiteration of who Inari is and I hope knew readers learned something knew and useful. Coincidentally, I spent the evening tonight at a fashionable tea café called Inari Tea in 恵比寿 Ebisu Ebisu[xix]. It’s nowhere near Inarichō Station, but as Inari shrines are everywhere, it’s impossible to avoid this kind of reference to the auspicious rice god. Inari is a super common place name, so if you see an area named after Inari, I think you can assume its named after the rice god or is at least referencing it. And why not? White foxes are super cute!

Further Reading:

.

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[i] By the way, iTunes forced my computer to reboot and MS Word didn’t save a good 20-30% of the original article. So I apologize for this being so brief. There was actually a lot more to say, but computers suck. Or at least my computer sucks.
[ii] Still worth a visit, mind you.
[iii] And believe me, we’ll be talking about that later.
[iv] This may be a topic for another day, but Taitō Ward is comprised of former 下谷区 Shitaya-ku Shitaya Ward and 浅草区 Asakusa-ku Asakusa Ward. However, the name Shitaya is still used casually by locals for the lowlands in Taitō Ward, but only appears officially in the block names (eg; 下谷一丁目 Shitaya Icchōme 1st Block, Shitaya and so on).
[v] It’s important to remember that today Inarichō is not a postal address, it’s only a station name. Today this area is 東上野三丁目 Higashi Ueno San-chōme 3rd Block of East Ueno. That said, it used to be a place name.
[vi] More about that in a moment.
[vii] OK, I made up the “unceremoniously” part. The imperial court went to great lengths to put down Masakado’s rebellion and… I don’t know… there might have been some “ceremony” surrounding his execution. Or maybe he died in battle and was beheaded ex post facto. We don’t really know.
[viii] If you don’t follow Japanese baseball, this has traditionally been the biggest rivalry. Basically Tōkyō vs. those losers in Ōsaka.
[ix] And yes, I’m shit posting. If you don’t like it, go read that other website about Ōsaka and Kyōto place names. Oh, riiiiiiight….
[x] Also read as Inarishin. Also known by other names like 稲荷大明神 Inari Daimyōjin. In common speech this kami or his shrines can be referred to as 御稲荷様 o-Inari-sama or more casually 御稲荷さん o-Inari-san.
[xi] Actually, Inari’s gender is somewhat ambiguous. Unimportant might be a better way to think of it.
[xii] Though, it should be known that different kanji were used throughout history, but most of them did include a reference to rice. Many historians (I don’t know about linguists), seem to think the name derives from 稲成 ine-nari becoming rice, hence “rice growing.” I’d like to speak to a Japanese diachronic linguist about that one, though. Not sure if I believe it.
[xiii] Just a reminder, “prehistory” means “before written documents.”
[xiv] The kanji 男 otoko man is actually made of two characters rice paddy and power. This doesn’t refer to the manpower required to build rice paddies, rather the power acquired by controlling rice paddies and the power required to protect them.
[xv] Sengoku Period on Samurai Archives.
[xvi] But make no mistake about it. The cult of Inari was pervasive. It had been popular since time immemorial.
[xvii] Non-vermilion gates also exist.
[xviii] But whatever. We’re talking about religion. All of this is made up bullshit anyways lol.
[xix] If you know your Japanese beers, you know YEBISU. Same thing.

What does Meoto-bashi mean?

In Japanese History on October 26, 2019 at 3:20 pm

夫婦橋
Meoto-bashi (“lovers’ bridge,” more at “wedded couple’s bridge”)

meotobashi.jpg
I often get asked, “Marky, how do you find new place names?” Believe it or not, it’s just random. However, I’d say 80% of the time, I’m just riding a bus or train, and something jumps out and I wonder “why is this place called what it’s called?” That other 20% comes from just looking at random places on maps and wondering the same thing, “why is this place called what it’s called?” In today’s case, something really strange happened.

I’m an avid Pokemon GO player. As a result, the app discovers weird place names all the time. I was on the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line coming back to 東京 Tōkyō from 韓国 Kankoku Korea and I had the app open. En route, it found 夫婦橋 Meoto-bashi which I read as Fūfu-bashi. There must be a good story here, I thought.

musume

We’ll talk more about this grave later…

Let’s look at the Kanji


fu, , bu; otto, oto; sore
husband; man


fu; yome

wife, bride; woman


hashi, -bashi; kyō

bridge

夫婦 fūfu is the standard word for a married couple. Sometimes, you might be invited to a party with the phrase ご夫婦で来てください go-fūfu de kite kudasai please come with your spouse. Another common expression is 夫婦生活 fūfu seikatsu married life and 夫婦墓 fūfubaka[i] husband and wife shared grave[ii]. That last term can also be read as meotobaka. While meoto is a proper reading of the kanji, fūfu is far and away the more common pronunciation. In the case of this bridge, the correct reading is Meoto-bashi. That said, the meaning is exactly the same: married couple’s bridge.

open marriage
Where is Meoto-bashi?

That’s a good question, because I’d never heard of this bridge. But, as I said before, Pokemon GO found the location for me and I was just sitting on the train. A quick internet search sorted things out nicely. I soon learned that Meoto-bashi is located in 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward and spans the 平作川 Hirasaku-gawa Hirasaku River[iii] — essentially a three-minute walk from 京急蒲田駅 Keikyū Kamata Eki Keikyū Kamata Station. Nearby the bridge is 夫婦橋親水公園 Meoto-bashi Shinsui Kōen Meotobashi Riverside Park[iv]. Anyhoo, the bridge and the park are a 15-minute train ride from 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station.

Further Reading

sunamura-san

Grave of Sunamura Shinzaemon

Construction of Meoto-bashi

According to records, the first bridge to span the Hirasaku River in this area was built in 1667 by a local farmer named 砂村新左衛門 Sunamura Shinzaemon. When people hear the term farmer, they might think of some kind of country bumpkin peasant, but make no mistake about it, Shinzaemon was a very wealthy landholder and extremely well educated. Despite being a farmer according the class system of the day, it’s probably better to think of him as a pre-modern civil engineer[v].

edo period bridge

Typical, old Japanese bridge minus the mud surface.

The point of creating the bridge wasn’t only to get people from Point A to Point B, but also to create a 水門 suimon floodgate to prevent back current from 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay flowing against the river and flooding the riverside villages. An unexpected side effect of the floodgate was a buildup of silt that created a sand bar upon which another bridge was eventually built. Having two bridges so close together in what was literally the boonies was extremely rare and the people came to think of them as a pair, a married couple, if you will. The bridges seem very rustic when compared to the flashy wooden bridges of Edo that we all know and love from 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints of daily life in the Edo Period. In fact, an 1825 description of Meoto-bashi describes it as a rough, log bridge covered in dirt and mud[vi].

The current concrete bridge was built in 1954, and other than a major update in 1988, it remains unchanged.

meato bridge.jpg

Two Bridges.

A Married Couple. End of Story?

Nope. Not a chance.

Prior to Shinzaemon’s bridge/floodgate, apparently there had been bridges here before. We don’t have specific dates about their construction (remember, this was the boonies), but it’s fair to say there were bridges crossing the Hirasaku River in this area as far back as the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura Shōgunate – roughly 800 years ago, which is when Eastern Japan really began to take off. Because of the counter currents from the bay during typhoons and tropical storms[vii], these ancient bridges were often destroyed and washed away by nature’s temper tantrums.

A local legend persists among the old timers in the area. According to them, after a particularly brutal storm that ruined the bridge and devastated the villages along the Hirasaku River, the village headman called an assembly. In order to appease whatever kami deity was allowing these horrible things to happen to the people, it was decided that a sacrifice must be made. The most beautiful, unmarried girl of the village was chosen by the people. She was dressed in white garments[viii] and marched down to the riverbank where they had begun construction of a new bridge. The young girl was placed into the hole where the first pillar was to be inserted. Her family and the villagers said their farewells – presumably much crying ensued. And then they lowered the pillar into the slot, believing her sacrifice would preserve the safety and prosperity of the village and the bridge which was vital to their survival. This practice is called 人柱 hitobashira. It literally means “human pillar.”

emma ai

Whoa. Human Sacrifice?! Was That Really a Thing???!

Without archaeological evidence to back up certain famous claims of hitobashira, it’s hard to say definitively. However, records going back as far as the 700’s, including 日本書紀 Nihon Shoki The Chronicles of Japan, claim this sort of human sacrifice existed in 神道 Shintō the native religion. From time to time, you’ll hear ghost stories in Japan that say things like “underneath every beautiful cherry blossom tree lies a dead body” – often a samurai who fell in battle or committed 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide or a fair maiden who was sacrificed for the good of the village. In 地獄少女 Jigoku Shōjo Hell Girl, the only anime you need to watch[ix], the main character 閻魔愛 Enma Ai is condemned to her role of, um, condemning other people to “hell” after being selected by local villagers to be hitobashira to protect the village. Many Japanese castles have stories about retainers or local beauties being buried alive for the protection of the lord’s keep and therefore, the domain’s security. I sincerely hope these are just spooky stories, but there are a lot of them in the folklore and mythology in Japan, so I wipe a little tear from my eye while I say, this practice most definitely happened in some form or another.

hitobashira grave

Edo Period grave erected to commemorate the life of the young girl sacrificed for the sake of the village.

Happy Halloween

On that note, get your costumes ready. Go be spooky and sexxxy! Also, if you’re trying to get laid, you might want to leave this dark story out of your repertoire. That said, I have a few other Halloween-related articles you might like to share with a friend[x].

Further Reading

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______________________________________
[i] This word can get giggles because it also sounds like 夫婦馬鹿 fūfu, baka couples are stupid.
[ii] As uncomfortable as this may be for some, 夫婦ぶっかけ fūfu bukkake refers to couples who, um, get the bukkake treatment together or engage in cockhold bukkake play. Just trying to be thorough here, folks. This is research.
[iii] I’d never heard of this river before, but for those curious, it flows from 横須賀 Yokosuka in 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture to 東京湾 Tōkyō-wan Tōkyō Bay.
[iv] The official English name of the park is “riverside park.” However, the word 親水 shinsui parent water is sometimes translated as “hydrophilic” which means “water loving.” I don’t think there’s an equivalent English word, but the nuance is something like “next to the water” or “intimate with the water” and can be found in other Tōkyō parks that are located on rivers or sometimes have fountains powered by the nearby river.
[v] Also, just for reference, this part of Tōkyō was not part of Edo. It was just rice paddies and forests as far as the eye could see in 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province.
[vi] I’m going out on a limb an guessing that the dirt and mud was to make pulling carts across the bridge smoother, as logs would have been bumpy and could probably damage axels and goods.
[vii] And the lack of technological know how to combat back currents.
[viii] In Japan, white is a symbol of death. Corpses are dressed in white at funerals and samurai who performed 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment wore white.
[ix] My opinion. I don’t watch other anime.
[x] PS: Any English article you read on these topics was done after I did the research, so please don’t support those lazy “journalists.” You heard it hear first, my friends.

What does Aomonoyokochō mean?

In Japanese History on September 25, 2019 at 2:05 pm

青物横丁
Aomonoyokochō
(green things alley; more at greengrocers’ street)

_dsf6005

Peas in a pod, veggies in a basket. Welcome to Aomoyoko-chō.

One of the things that make exploring Edo-Tōkyō so fun is that every neighborhood is unique. If you’re in the center of the old city, wherever you are is surely surrounded by a few blocks of something different[i]. A term that comes up time and time again is 横丁 yokochō. The modern image of a yokochō is usually a very narrow, dirty, old alley in the 下町 shitamachi low city, but by my understanding, Aomonoyokochō was neither narrow nor dirty – even in the Edo Period. However, if you don’t mind, before we discuss the neighborhood, I’d like to get everyone acquainted with some terminology and concepts.

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei™ is ready to drop some knowledge.

Three Famous Yokochō in Tōkyō

Places called Yokochō had been a consistent attribute of the city until the Bubble Economy when Tōkyō’s government and a handful of prolific developers began reshaping the urban landscape. These unique neighborhoods were not just the first to go, but I would argue they’re the most widespread loss the city suffered since the firebombing during World War II. The few remaining alleys are cherished by Tōkyōites as ever-disappearing respites and escapes to a nostalgic “Old Tōkyō.”[ii] A few just popped into my head as I’m writing.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Omoide Yokocho

思い出横丁 Omoide Yokochō Memory Lane[iii]. Located in 新宿 Shinjuku, this alley is famous for its intimate, postwar style 焼鳥屋 yakitori grilled chicken joints[iv].

nonbeiyokocho

Nonbei Yokocho

のんべい横丁 Nonbei Yokochō Drunkards’ Alley. Located in 渋谷 Shibuya, this alley is also famous for its intimate, postwar style スナック sunakku counter service restaurants run by older women who ruthlessly cater to locals[v].

ebisu yokocho

Ebisu Yokocho

恵比寿横丁 Ebisu Yokochō. Located in 恵比寿 Ebisu, near Shibuya. So-so in my opinion, but to be perfectly honest, I haven’t spent much time there.

I haven’t explored these areas on JapanThis! because they aren’t particularly historic. However, you can make a good case that they are the three most famous of Tōkyō’s remaining yokochō. Of course, there are others, but I’m not going to repeat them here because I’d prefer keeping them lowkey and off TripAdvisor.[vi]

Anyways, if you didn’t know what a typical yokochō was, now you do. That means we can get on to the good stuff.

Further Reading:

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yaoya

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Let’s Look at the Kanji

青物
aomono

literally, green things;
an archaic/dialect term for fruits and vegetables

横丁
yokochō

alley, side street;
town/neighborhood off the main thoroughfare

You may have never heard of 青物横丁 Aomonoyokochō[vii] or the name the street’s local chamber of commerce pushes, あおよこ AOYOKO[viii], because it’s only accessible by a single train line, the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line. For tourists, it’s not a particular noteworthy area. There’s a KFC, a MOS Burger, and a handful of chain 居酒屋 izakaya Japanese style pubs. There are two well-stocked convenience stores, but it’s pretty nondescript. That said, what makes 青物横丁 Aomonoyokochō Green Grocer Town[ix] special is its name and its place in the Edo Period infrastructure of Japan[x]. Also, for the sake of this article, I’m going to use two distinct spellings: Aomonoyokochō refers to the area in general, Aomono Yokochō refers to the side street that connects to the old Tōkaidō highway. It’s a nuanced difference, so you probably don’t need to worry much about it, but the different renderings are intentional on my part.

_dsf6002

Drawing of Aomonoyokocho in 1918 by Takeuchi Shigeo. You can see the greengrocers in action.

Bear in mind, this area exists in 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa-shuku South Shinagawa Post Town on 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō the old Tōkaidō, the main pre-modern highway that connected the imperial court in Kyō Kyōto and 江戸 Edo Edo (modern day Tōkyō). This was the largest post town in the country[xi]. For travelers coming in and out of Edo, there were a plethora of necessities: food, lodging, drinking and whoring, new shoes, and お土産 omiyage souvenirs. That said, Shinagawa-shuku was so large and so highly trafficked that various local economies popped up to support the neighborhood people who likewise supported the mass influx and outflux of regional lords and their samurai entourages[xii]. In short, this Aomono Yokochō was the beating heart of Shinagawa.

Further Reading:

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1200px-Hiroshige02_shinagawa

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Let’s Look at Some More Kanji

野菜
yasai

the standard word for vegetables[xiii]

八百屋
yaoya

greengrocer, vegetable stand

Shinagawa-shuku was most famous for its seafood, seaweed, and a range of low-class prostitutes to a number of high-end courtesans and geisha[xiv]. Aomono Yokochō, being off the old highway, didn’t cater much to travelers. It provided necessary foodstuffs to local restaurants, brothels, and local fisherman who were probably just plain sick of seafood and wanted some fucking vegetables for a change, dammit.

edo period green grocer.jpg

An Edo Period green grocer would stock less and be a far cry from today’s supermarkets. Why? There was no refrigeration so if you couldn’t sell it, you ate it or took a financial hit.

Edo Period streets didn’t have names[xv] and presumably this one didn’t either, but it was well-known that locals called this street Aomono Yokochō. In fact, I’ve got a map here that has the street clearly labeled as such. The place name still isn’t official, it’s just 南品川三丁目 Minami Shinagawa Sanchōme 3rd Block of Minami Shinagawa[xvi]. However, the area surrounding Aomono Yokochō is called Aomonoyokochō because in Meiji 37 (1904), 青物横町駅 Aomonoyokochō Eki Aomonoyokochō Station was established. Today, the character chō town has been simplified to chō town. It had originally been a cable car stop between Shinagawa and Yokohama because it was a convenient spot for travelers commuting between both cities to pick up fresh vegetables and fish. The train just made the area even more convenient until the advent of supermarkets in the Post-War Period.

Aomonoyokocho Edo Period

The road following the coast is the old Tokaido. Two other streets form a triangle. The top street is Aomono Yokocho. The entire triangle is the neighborhood of Aomonoyokocho. This is an Edo Period Map.

If you follow the old Tōkaidō from 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station, the only two yokochō that remain are Aomonoyokochō and 立会川横丁 Tachiaigawa Yokochō , but if you pay attention to other side streets, you’ll find a myriad of plaques commemorating long since vanished yokochō – each one dedicated to a particular industry or class. If you’re a nerd like me, you can revel in imagining these neighborhoods of yore, but to be honest, even the locals just walk past them without even blinking an eye.

edo period green grocer 2

Edo Period green grocer

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No More Kanji. I Promise!
Let’s Look at the Neighborhood

“Hey, Marky, if I were to just get off the train and walk around this neighborhood, what would I see?”

The answer to this question depends on your imagination and level History Nerdiness[xvii]. I don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting any place I discuss on Japan This!. That said, the pay-off here would be low unless you walked from either 日本橋 Nihonbashi to 旧川崎宿 Kyū-Kawasaki-shuku Kawasaki Post Town or some shorter interval therein[xviii]. Without context, it just looks like a pretty average street in a somewhat obscure part of Tōkyō. That notwithstanding, if you take a long, methodical stroll through the old Shinagawa Post Town, you’ll notice immediately how wide this street is and how busy it is. When the post town system was abolished and the trains started running, this area was already well-established as the distribution point for fresh foodstuffs along the highway and its various neighborhoods. And, history nerds, take heed. If we’re talking about Shinagawa Post Town proper, this was the busiest neighborhood[xix]. To this day, it’s busy, just in a different way.

Would you like to take a look at what cool shit you can see in the area? I bet you do, so let’s get into it.

hiranoya aomonoyokocho shinagawa sun drug

Sun Drug, former site of Hiranoya

Hirano-ya

So, there area was famous for supplying food so it’s not surprising that a family-owned business became local rock stars. The most prosperous greengrocer in the area was a family run business established in 1800 called 平野屋 Hirano-ya, literally Shop Hirano[xx]. It stood at the corner of the old Tōkaidō and Aomono Yokochō. They became the dominant purveyors of vegetables and fish in the area until they eventually made the switch to the supermarket business model under the name フードマーケット平野屋  Fūdo Māketto Hirano Food Market Hirano. This grocery store operated for nearly 220 years until it went out of business in May 2018[xxi]. But man, 220 years is a pretty epic run!

[UPDATE: At the 2019 Shinagawa-shuku Matsuri, I noticed paper lanterns with the name Hirano-ya written on them, so the family is probably still running a business under that name, maybe just not brick and mortar.]

tatami matsuoka shinagawa

Tatami Matsuoka

tatami matsuoka inside

When I asked if I could take photos of tatami construction, this guy said “sure!” and gave me a tatami trivet. So cool!

Tatami Matsuoka

Another interesting shop in the area is 畳松岡 Tatami Matsuoka, a traditional tatami “factory.” This business was established in 1779 which makes it even older than the defunct Hirano-ya. Better yet, they’re still doing business which is even older and still operating. To top it all off, they are still working in a Taishō Era building that uses the original signage which displays the original post-war right to left spelling, so it actually reads 岡松畳. As if this business wasn’t old school enough, that kind of sign just adds to the authenticity. That said, this stretch of the old Tōkaidō is home to quite a few traditional tatami factories.

tenmyokokuji shinagawa

Tenmyōkoku-ji

Around the corner is 天妙国寺 Tenmyōkoku-ji Tenmyōkoku Temple which was founded in the Kamakura Period (1285, to be precise). It retains most of its sprawling Edo Period lands, but history nerds may be interested in two particular graves.

ito ittosai kagehisa grave

Ito Ittosai’s grave is on the left

The first is that of 伊東 一刀斎 Itō Ittōsai[xxii], a semi-legendary samurai who may have lived between 1560–1653. He’s attributed as the founder of 一刀流ittō-ryū the one sword/one stroke school of sword fighting[xxiii], hence his adopted first name. Being a branding master, he secured his legacy as one of Japan’s greatest swordsman – second only to the equally annoying and boring 宮本武蔵 Miyamoto Mushashi[xxiv].

matsuri sashichi grave

According to temple staff, the bell is Sashichi’s grave (the sign on the left is his posthumous name).

The second grave is a bit more obscure. That’s the tomb of お祭佐七 O-matsuri Sashichi, an important figure in the world of kabuki in the Late Edo Period and Early Meiji Period.

Location of the teahouse Kamaya, now long gone…

Kamaya

The former site of 釜屋 Kamaya is clearly demarcated but there aren’t any material remains… remaining. This teahouse/inn came to be used by the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate as back up for government officials during the 幕末 Bakumatsu final years of the shōgunate. In North Shinagawa, there was 本陣 honjin the main inn for feudal lords and in South Shinagawa there was the 脇本陣 waki-honjin sub-honjin used for lower ranking officials[xxv]. However, due to the high amount of traffic in and out of Edo, Kamaya was granted official status as a government patronized inn. In 1867 and 1868[xxvi], 土方歳三 Hijikata Toshizō vice-commander of the 新選組 Shinsengumi[xxvii] stayed here. It’s well-known that he was a womanizer and passionate fan of ye good olde drinking and whoring, so the locals still tell stories of him visiting teahouses in order to be introduced to the best prostitutes in Shinagawa[xxviii]. Also, Tom Cruise is fine and all, but many Japanese people will call Hijikata Toshizō the real “last samurai.”

pet cemetery in shinagawa.jpg

If praying for pets is your thing, or you’re a Steven King or Ramones fan, check out the pet cemetery in Aomonoyokocho.

I’ve covered quite a few place names in Shinagawa recently, so I think this will be the last for a while. That said, Aomonoyokochō is an interesting neighborhood to visit if you live in Shinagawa. I don’t know if I’d travel all the way across town just to look around. That said, if you want to take a walking tour of the entire post town with someone who knows it inside and out, I can do that. And Aomonoyokochō is a great place to pick up some cans of beer for the next stretch of the walk. If パチンコ pachinko is your thing, there’s that, too. I’ll probably just have a beer outside and play PokémonGO, though. Smokey pachinko is too stinko for me lol. On that note, I hope you enjoyed the article and I’ll see you next time!

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō With Me Japan This Guided Tours
(It’s not for tourists, it’s for history nerds!)

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[i] At least, historically speaking.
[ii] Any way you want to take that term.
[iii] Or sometimes known as Piss Ally.
[iv] These days, it’s overrun by foreign tourists and many of the shops are no longer run by Japanese. The atmosphere is still good, but don’t be surprised if the owners and staff are Chinese or Korean. They still provide Japanese food, though. They’re smart and they know what foreigners who believe everything they see on TripAdvisor want. #FuckTripAdvisor.
[v] Also, thanks to TripAdvisor, attracting more foreign tourists and losing its cool.
[vi] TripAdvisor Ruins Everything. #FuckTripAdvisor
[vii] The street name was originally written as 青物横町 Aomonoyokochō. The new final character was simplified using a shorthand kanji that was easier to scan, but more notably was standard on maps in the capital since the early Edo Period.
[viii] I’ve seen this in print, but I’ve never heard locals use the word. They might, but I’ve never come across it. If you’re new to the Japanese language, many long words regularly get shortened. For example, あけましておめでとう akemashite omedetō happy nude year becomes あけおめ ake ome, while 今年もよろしく kotoshi mo yoroshiku happy nude year to you too becomes ことよろ koto yoro. These kinds of abbreviations sound cute, catchy, or funny and reflect a long-standing attribute of the language. At the time of writing, I just saw it written あをよこ a(w)oyoko which uses an outdated use of hiragana.
[ix] I’m being liberal with the translation here, but I think that’s a legit rendering. Also, locals hate the long name so they’ve abbreviated it to 青横 aoyoko. And good on them for doing so. Aomonoyokochō is a mouthful. Also, please note that the usual word these days for a greengrocer is 八百屋 yaoya.
[x] Which became the modern infrastructure of Tōkyō and the rest of Japan.
[xi] It was so large, in fact, that it was split into 北品川宿 and 南品川宿 and bled out for miles into the boonies. The Edo shōgunate considered Shinagawa as part of 荏原国 Ebara no Kuni Ebara Province. This area mostly fell under the administrative power of 大名 daimyō regional lords loyal to the Tokugawa Shōgunate and also to village headmen who… you know… oversaw villages.
[xii] Somewhere some dead traveling merchant or pilgrim is rolling in their urn screaming “but what about me?” And so, yeah. There were plenty of merchants and pilgrims traveling this road who were also staying overnight and drinking and whoring.
[xiii] ie; 青物 aomono = 野菜 yasai.
[xiv] Minus the prostitutes, dried versions of seafood and seaweed where prized souvenirs by people in the outer domains.
[xv] And for the most part Tōkyō streets don’t have names either.
[xvi] Minami means “south.”
[xvii] History Nerdiness by the way, is not a quantifiable term.
[xviii] Even at that, you’re not gonna see much….
[xix] Again, not for travelers, but for local businesses.
[xx] Hirano is the family name.
[xxi] It was replaced the same month by a chain pharmacy called サンドラッグ San Doraggu Sun Drug (which sounds more fun than it actually is lol).
[xxii] His real “first name” was 景久 Kagehisa.
[xxiii] Here’s the Wikipedia article on this style of swordsmanship.
[xxiv] Who is Miyamoto Musashi? Another branding expert who secured his legacy as a sort of archetypal samurai. Weebs love this guy.
[xxv] If the terms honjin and waki-honjin are new to you, check “further reading” sections at the beginning of this article.
[xxvi] The 1868 stay was after the defeat of shōgunate forces by the newly established imperial army at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. The Shinsengumi retreated to Edo (well, modern Chiba Prefecture, actually) in order to regroup and figure out the situation as the last shogun, 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu had voluntarily stepped down and transferred power to the imperial court in Kyōto. By this time, both 近藤勇 Kondō Isami commander of the Shinsengumi and Hijikata were 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shogun and should have been allowed to stay at the honjin or waki-honjin. Presumably, they were already booked by people who outranked them, or, in a problem that plagued both commanders for much of their adult lives, they were formerly 百姓 hyakushō farmers. Despite their samurai status and recently obtained honors, they were frequently discriminated against for having low family pedigree. That may explain why Hijikata didn’t stay in the honjin or waki-honjin. I’m not sure, though.
[xxvii] The Shinsengumi were an anti-terrorist police force that primarily operated in Kyōto on behalf of the Edo Shōgunate.
[xxviii] Whether there’s any truth to these stories, I can’t say. But they’re not implausible.

What does Takaido mean?

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

高井戸
Takaido
(close to “High Well”)

takaido station

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

takaido sakura

Two Topics for the Price of One

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

suginami-ku

So, What does Takaido mean?


taka-, –daka;
high, tall

i; sei, shō
well

to, –do; he
opening, door

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

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

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

takai grave

A Takai family grave…

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

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

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

simplify

OK, let’s tidy up  this bitch.

So, Where Are We??

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

Further Reading:

showa 2 takaido 1927

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

Characteristics of Takaido-shuku

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

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei™ is ready to drop some knowledge.

What does Suginami mean?

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

gay japanese cedar tree

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

Let’s Look at the Kanji


sugi
cedar trees

nami
row;
line, queue

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

suginami

A typical cedar-lined highway…

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

cedar tree japan

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

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

setagaya 1945

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

In the Modern Era

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

 

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

What does Narimasu mean?

In Japanese History on May 13, 2019 at 6:38 am

成増
Narimasu (getting better)

narimasu station

Riding the 埼京線 Saikyō-sen Saikyō Line, we passed through a litany of place names that were unarguably 芋っぽい imoppoi country-sounding[ii]. They were so unlikely the names you’d find in the actual castle town of Edo that I had to write some of them down. And thanks to this trip into the outskirts of Tōkyō[iii], the next few articles will be based in this general area. And for those of you who have been complaining that I haven’t written anything lately, hopefully this will be the beginning of a rapid-fire batch of articles to get things back on track.

Let’s Take a Look at the Kanji


nari

become, turn into


masu

increase
tanaka house

The surviving Takana residence. Very rare in Tōkyō.

From the time spanning the Muromachi Period to the Meiji Period, this area was just one of a cluster of farming villages that lay in proximity to the 中仙道 Nakasendō Nakasendō highway[iv] called the 赤塚六ヶ村 Akatsuka Rokkason 6 Akatsuka Villages[v]. The area first seems to be developed by the 田中家 Tanaka-ke some time in the early 1500’s. As far as high-ranking farmers go, they were remarkable record keepers about rural life in the villages[vi]. Not only did they keep good records, but one of the family’s Edo Period farmhouses survived beyond WWII and is still preserved in excellent condition at the 板橋区立郷土資料館 Itabashi Kuritsu Kyōdo Shiryōkan Itabashi Historical Museum[vii]. Anecdotal evidence says Tanaka is the most common family name in the area[viii].

akatsuka castle

CGI rendering of Akatsuka Castle. Yes, in the Muromachi Period, this bullshit counted as a castle.

The story goes, that after the ruination of the 武田氏 Takeda-shi Takeda Clan[ix], the Tanaka family – either retainers or farmers, it’s not clear – fled from Takeda lands[x] to 武蔵国豊嶋郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province. The first Tanaka associated with the development of the Akatsuka region (ie; before its “famous” 6 villages) is a certain 田中左京成益 Tanaka Sakyōnarimasu, a descendant of the original refugees. It seems he wasn’t an ordinary farmer, rather he cultivated medicinal herbs and dealt in folk remedies. His fame spread throughout the other villages that lay in the shadow of the ruins of Akatsuka Castle, making him a bit of a superstar. As his legend spread, his name 成益 Narimasu came to be written as 成増 Narimasu.

Why did this happen? Well, remember, the first character 成 nari means “becoming.”

rice paddies in tokyo

But Let’s Look at that Second Kanji


masu
, mashi

increase; profit/advantage


masu, mashi

increase; to be better than before

Both kanji have very positive meanings and are auspicious. However, the first one has a connotation of profit or some kind of personal gain. The second one, which is used in the place name, Narimasu, has a connotation of “better than before.” The first time I learned this word was with a language exchange partner my first year in Japan. We were chatting at a café and the table was wiggling. I grabbed some napkins and balanced the table. When I asked how do I say or ask if it’s better. She said 増し mashi. I think this makes sense when talking about medical treatment, not only balanced tables.

narimasu rice

How Reliable is the Story?

I think it’s pretty reliable, but it’s missing a couple of important parts. If you’re studying kanji, it’s a really good story to know as a mnemonic. However, what I told you was the popular local tradition, and we’re lucky AF that the Tanaka clan kept meticulous records throughout the ages. Family documents state that Narimasu actually came to the area from 美濃国 Mino no Kuni Mino Province present day 岐阜県 Gifu-ken Gifu Prefecture sometime between 1504-1521. This location and these dates don’t correspond directly with the demise of the Takeda clan, but I can see dumb ass warlords of the Sengoku Period disrupting the lives of farmers all along the periphery. Why’d they’d go from one god forsaken spot to another is beyond me, but hey, I’m not a Sengoku Period farmer.

Anyhoo, besides the popular story about the villagers changing Narimasu’s kanji[xi], in 1914, when the 東武東上線 Tōbu Tōjō-sen Tōbu Tōjō Line opened 成増駅 Narimasu Eki Narimasu Station, they cited chronological Tanaka family documents that began with 成益 Narimasu and ended with 成増 Narimasu. They also pointed out his grave, which uses the latter kanji. For the train company, that was the nail in the coffin[xii].

MOS Burger 1

The original MOS Burger – where fast food hipsters go to die.

MOS Burger

Fast forward to 1972. After a few years of working in the US, a guy named 櫻田慧 Sakurada Satoshi Sakurada Satoshi opened a burger shop in Narimasu. If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve probably seen MOS Burger everywhere. In case you’re wondering, the MOS stands for Mountain, Ocean, Sky to reflect freshness. I’ve never met a Japanese person who knew this bit of weird trivia. But it goes deeper, yo. The real meaning is a reference to Satoshi’s original company: モスフードサービス MOS Food Service, itself an abbreviation of Merchandising Organizing System. Anyways, MOS Burger has become the second largest fast food burger chain in all of Japan.

Film and Television

I Like This Story

This story takes place in a bleak part of Japanese history when Eastern Japan is starting to rise again – and really take precedence over the future of the country (though no one knew it at the time). Literacy is on an uptick, so records are better. Stories start to become more believable, yet we still need to keep our BS Detectors cranked up to 11™.

.

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[i] I actually debated in my mind… should I call this “Edo’s foreskin.” I’m such a fucking adult, dammit.
[ii] Long time readers will remember that 芋 imo potato is a rude substitution for 田舎 inaka countryside. One day, I’ll delve into that more, but that’s for another time.
[iii] Oh yes, Toto, we’re very much still in Tōkyō.
[iv] The two major highways connecting the imperial capital of Kyōto with the shōgun’s capital in Edo were the 東海道 Tōkaidō Eastern Sea Route and the 中仙道 Nakasendō Mountain Route – both descriptors of their unique paths to the same endpoints.
[v] Traditionally, the surrounding area was just called Akatsuka in general. This name was a reference to 赤塚城 Akatsuka-jō Akatsuka Castle. You can find some info here. I’d like to refer you to jcastle, but maybe I can convince him to check it out with me lol.
[vi] Apparently, there are about 10,000 documents registered with the 板橋区立郷土資料館 Itabashi Kuritsu Kyōdo Shiryōkan Itabashi Historical Museum.
[vii] This makes this home and family very unique in the history of Edo-Tōkyō. Although, I can’t claim to have made an effort to research and see them all, I can probably count on one and a half hands, the number of actual Edo Period residences I’ve visited in Tōkyō. I think that puts me in a small handful of foreigners who are Japanese you
[viii] Itabashi Ward Office said they have data on the occurrences of registered family names, but not in a block by block break down. So, take that claim with a grain of salt. And university students looking for thesis ideas, you can thank me later.
[ix] Spoiler alert. The Takeda lose. Everyone loses and the Tokugawa win and people stop killing each other in mindless pitched battles.
[x] Presumably 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni Kai Province roughly modern day 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture. However, the Takeda also exerted direct or at least nominal control over parts of 信濃国 Shinano no Kuni Shinano Province, 駿河国 Suruga no Kuni Suruga Province, 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province, 遠江国 Tōtōmi no Kuni Tōtōmi Province, and 飛騨国 Hida no Kuni Hida Province.
[xi] And wait, wasn’t his name Sakyōnarimasu – not Narimasu? What happened to the first 3 syllables of homeboy’s name?
[xii] See what I did there?

What does Shimbamba mean?

In Japanese History on February 6, 2019 at 6:29 am

新馬場
Shinbanba (new horse place)

IMG-0979

All right. You ready to do this? Cuz I’m ready to do this.

So, in my last article, we explored a little-known area on 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō the old Tōkaidō Highway which connected the shōgun’s capital in 江戸 Edo with the imperial capital in 京都 Kyōto. The road ran from 日本橋 Nihonbashi (literally, the “Bridge to Japan”) in the center of the city to Kyōto. To maintain the Tōkaidō and other similar highways, the shōgunate instituted an official network of 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns[i]. This ensured that travelers – particularly government and court officials – had a roof over their heads, somewhere to get a hot bath, and places to go drinking and whoring. In fact, places that killed three birds with one stone were not uncommon.

shimazaki-rō

A typical lodging in Shinagawa with sexual hijinx on the menu. This is the Shimazaki-rō. The photo was taken in 1929, but the lodging was established in the Edo Period and was apparently one of the most high end spots in Shinagawa, even providing delivery to the honjin and waki-honjin so government officials could remain anonymous. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk about what honjin and waki-honjin are in a bit…)

Access to well rested servants and horses were also an important aspect to this post town system. The first post town on the Tōkaidō was the main entrance and exit to the city of Edo. Not only was it the first post town on the most important highway in the country, it was the largest – so large, in fact, that it was divided into two separate towns: 北品川宿 Kita Shinagawa North Shinagawa and 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa South Shinagawa[ii]. The official post towns were home to roughly 1600 buildings and had a population of about 7000 people[iii], numbers unheard of in other post towns. Because of traffic from the sea and fishing villages along the bay, the area was a bustling center of commercial activity and the lines between post town and local villages often blurred. I haven’t seen numbers for travelers coming and going, but it must have been massive. Even though this was outside of the city limits and quite country, for 芋侍 imo-zamurai country bumpkin samurai coming to the capital for the first time, it would have been a mind-blowing prelude to the cosmopolitan sensory overload of the shōgun’s capital.

tokaido map.jpg
Today, you can still walk the original route of the old Tōkaidō from Nihonbashi all the way to Kyōto (if you’re into that sorta thing), but one of the best stretches is in Shinagawa. Along the way, you’ll come across an area called 新馬場 Shinbanba[iv]. Long-time fans of JapanThis! may recognize this kanji and come to the same assumption that I did: the etymology of this place name is just like that of 高田馬場 Takada no Baba – both of with end with the characters for “horse” and “place.”

And we’d both be wrong AF.
So let’s dig in and find out where this place name came from.

Further Reading:

1200px-Hiroshige02_shinagawa.jpg

Shinagawa? Strap on and feel the G’s. Outside of the city of Edo, this was where it was at.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


shin
new

uma,
ba
horse

ba
place

IMG-6797

Jūban Baba – the horse riding grounds in Azabu-Jūban. It’s a very distinctive shape.

Assuming this 馬場 banba[vi] was the same as 馬場 baba – I mean, the kanji is the same FFS – I started checking maps for long, rectangular plots of land where you could do mounted archery. I didn’t find any because in the Edo Period, this was the boonies. I found lots of small villages, but the word 馬場 baba didn’t appear on early maps or more accurate later maps. Hmmmmm…

2017003-1500x675

Female yabusame??? Yes, please!!!!

What Gives?

Well, I mentioned before that Shinagawa post town was so large the shōgunate divided it into two administrative districts, North Shinagawa and South Shinagawa. The separation took place where the Tōkaidō crossed the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River at 品川橋 Shinagawabashi Shinagawa Bridge. Taking a closer look at old maps, I realized something interesting. In North Shinagawa, the stretch of the highway from present-day 八山橋入口 Yastuyamabashi Yatsuyama Bridge to 法善寺門前 Hōzen-ji Hōzen Temple has block after block labeled 北品川歩行新宿 Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku[vii]. So, what the hell does Kachi-Shinshuku mean?

IMG-6786

Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku

So, normally in Edo, when you see the word 馬場 baba/banba on a map, it refers to a place for mounted archery. However, in post towns, the term has a totally different meaning. Furthermore, on these old maps, Kachi-Shinshuku distinguished a special part of North Shinagawa, one that specialized in providing rested and refreshed coolies to rich travelers. I don’t know if coolie is a PC term or not today, but essentially these 歩行人足 kachi ninsoku were day laborers who operated between two post towns carrying luggage and 籠 kago palanquins[viii]. In short, Kachi-Shinshuku means something like “refueling station” because you could relieve exhausted day laborers and hire new ones. Shinshuku means “new post town” because this was a later development of Shinagawa post town; that is to say, the shōgunate wanted the rest of North and South Shinagawa to be for lodging and whatnot but keep all the stinky laborers in a single area.

fujieda.jpg

One of my fave ukiyo-e prints and I finally have a chance to talk about it. Tired horses and tired coolies have arrived at a post town (Fujieda, also on the Tōkaidō) ready to pass over the packages to a fresh team. Notice the one guy wiping sweat off his brow and the team manager discussing the job with a merchant. Also notice the presence of a samurai inspector.

Wait. What about the Horses?

Well, I said you should think of Kachi-Shinshuku as something like a “refueling station,” right? Let’s say you’ve got a pack animal with you on your trek from Kyōto, or you’re a 大名 daimyō feudal lord who’s sick of being boxed up in a palanquin and wants to ride a horse. To keep the other parts of the post town clean, you could swap out stinky horses in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku. Additionally, coolies who carry shit for a living are pretty much pack animals too, right? They were both the pickup trucks of the Edo Period.

While stinky coolies who carried shit for a living were eking out a sustainable existence in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku, apparently the biggest business in popular memory was the hiring and retiring of stinky-ass 伝馬 tenma/denma pack horses. Thus, the term banba doesn’t mean riding grounds, but the place where you can swap out horses. We can see a related place name in 小伝馬町 Kodenmachō, literally Small Denma Town[ix], which is located near the terminus of the old Tōkaidō at 日本橋 Nihonbashi the Bridge to Japan.

5-oj9PNrH

Day laborers, coolies, whatever you call them, their jobs were disappearing with the Meiji changes, the advent of the railroad, and just like your job is gonna be taken over by AI, they did their best and now we bicker over whether the word coolie is PC or not lol

Why do we Remember Horses and not Humans

I haven’t heard any satisfying answer, but I have a pet theory. After the 明治維新 Meiji Ishin Meiji Coup, Japan tried desperately to impress the western powers that they were on equal footing. They began building a train line to do what the old Tōkaidō once did – link Edo (now Tōkyō) with Kyōto – and they adopted new dress, a new style of government, and they abolished the caste system. There was no concept of PC and centuries of prejudice didn’t evaporate overnight, but I suspect with the end of the post town system in Meiji 5 (1872) and the absorption of Shinagawa into 東京県東京府 Tōkyō-ken Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō City, Tōkyō Prefecture, the pressure to not associate humans with pack animals became self-evident. While marginalized families most definitely continued to work as social minorities in the area, the new era brought new opportunities and the local consciousness chose to remember that the area between Yatsuyama and Hōzen-ji was famous for post horses. In fact, even with the advent of the steam locomotive and the abolition of shōgunate restrictions on who could and who couldn’t ride horses, there was an uptick in demand for horses. It seems like the locals referred to the area as 馬場 banba horse place to preserve its traditional image and erase its humiliating past.

got it, fuck face

Easy Peasy!!!

So Shinbanba means “new horse place.” Got it. I don’t have to read this crap anymore.

Not so fast, buddy. You probably should read this crap a little bit more.

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei thinks you should read this crap more, too. Don’t disappoint Sexxxy Sensei.

It Always Comes Back to Train Stations

In the early 1900’s, on the train tracks that are now the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line there were two stations called 北馬場駅 Kita-Banba Eki North Banba Station and 南馬場駅 Minami Banba Eki South Banba Station, references to where the two post towns in Shinagawa were split by the Meguro River. Today this is a pretty minor line as far as Tōkyō trains go, but it straight up serviced the boonies until the post-war period[x]. However, as we all know, Tōkyō (and Japan in general) experienced a huge economic boom that saw construction and real estate development enter unprecedented levels beginning in the late 1950’s. Massive infrastructure expansions happened in the 1970’s, and new, faster trains eliminated the need for stations that were built for rural areas that had now become urbanized. A new station was built between Kita-Banba and Minami-Banba and was named 新馬場 Shinbanba New Banba and opened in 1976[xi]. By this time, nothing remained of Shinagawa’s post town – even the original Edo Period coastline had been expanded by landfill and massive building projects. It’s fairly obvious in Japanese that New Banba doesn’t mean “place where you swap out horses,” and as the post town’s history faded from collective memory, Shinbanba was just another place name that few people thought about. And that’s the short story, long. Shinbanba isn’t even a real place name. It’s just a station name, only the locals refer to the area in general as Shinbanba. The existence of Kita-Banba and Minami-Banba are long forgotten as time moves farther and farther past Shinagawa’s heyday as Edo pre-eminent post town, the grand entrance to the shōgun’s capital.

Just like 立会川 Tachiaigawa[xii], a majority of Tōkyōites have probably never heard of it.

tachiaigawa at night (1 of 1)

This is Tachiaigawa, a pretty decent walk from Shinbanba, check out my previous article for more about this little known secret in Tōkyō.

What’s in Shinbanba?

For the average person, there might not be a lot. But if you’re a history nerd like me and you love Edo-Tōkyō, there’s a fuck ton to see here. Just make sure your history level is cranked up to 11 because you’ll spend the majority of your time looking where places used to be, because there are only scant traces of the Edo Period preserved – and even those are disappearing.

IMG-0980.JPG

One of many nori (seaweed) shops in the area

Traditional Japanese Food

OK, it’s Japan, so this isn’t a stretch, but being a post town on the bay, foods like 海苔 nori seaweed, 寿司 sushi sushi, and 天ぷら tenpura tempura were famous in the region. In many famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints of daily life, you can see seaweed farms in the shallow parts of the sea where crops could be easily harvested at low tide. Sushi in its most common form is what is called 江戸前寿司 Edomae-zushi sushi in the Edo-style or sushi from Edo Bay. Likewise, tempura as you know it today was once called 江戸前天ぷら Edomae-tenpura[xiii], also a reference to either the bay or the local style. For travelers who just wanted a light snack that they could carry with them for the journey, there were many 煎餅屋 senbei-ya rice cracker shops, and you’ll still find the old Tōkaidō dotted with these family owned storefronts.

IMG-0977

Remnant’s of Shinagawa’s once thriving fishing industry still remain

Temples and Shrines

In the famous words of Scientology founder and all-around charlatan wackjob, L. Ron Hubbard, “If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” In this case, just establish a temple or a shrine. With all the travelers coming and going in and out of Edo, this entire stretch of the old Tōkaidō is teeming with Buddhist and Shintō institutions, some are pretty cool and some are kinda meh. I’m just going off the top of my head, but I think there are something like 20-30 temples and shrines in the area. With all those Edo Period travelers, these places must have been making bank.

Besides the fact that there are two 七福神巡り shichi fukujin meguri pilgrimages of the seven gods of good luck, the must-see spiritual spots in the area are 品川神社 Shinagawa Jinja Shinagawa Shrine, 荏原神社 Ebara Jinja Ebara Shrine, and 東海寺 Tōkai-ji Tōkai Temple.

IMG-6489.JPG

Calligraphy by the third shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, preserved by Tōkai-ji. It says Tōshō-gū, posthumous name of his grandfather, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The first two are Shintō shrines that are part of seven gods of good luck pilgrimages, the latter is a Zen Buddhist temple established by 沢庵 Takuan, a priest who founded this major temple during the reign of the third shogun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu Tokugawa Iemitsu. Takuan hobnobbed with all manner of high-ranking samurai and is sometimes criticized for his advocacy of killing, a general no-no in Buddhism, but Zen and martial arts go hand in hand and if you want to sell your religion to the warrior class, you have to make it appealing to them – and that he did. Tōkai-ji preserved several of his calligraphic works and tea sets which are now on display in the 品川歴史館 Shinagawa Rekishikan Shinagawa History Museum.

Shinagawa Shrine was established to protect the local village in 1187. It houses the 神 kami gods of 天比理乃命 Amenohiritome no Mikoto — a somewhat mysterious god[xiv], 素戔嗚尊 Susano’o no Mikoto the god of seas and storms[xv], and 宇賀之売命 Toyoukebime a goddess of abundant food that predates the importation of wet rice agriculture[xvi]. The enshrinement of a harvest goddess and a god of the sea makes sense for this area which was rural and located on the bay. I think that makes sense at any time in human history.

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Shinagawa Shrine

Speaking of history, the shrine has an interesting history. Apparently, it was established as 品川大明神 Shinagawa Daimyōjin Shinagawa Shrine[xvii] by 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo, first shōgun of the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura Shōgunate, when he enshrined Amenohiritome in 1187. In 1319, it’s said that a high-ranking retainer of 北条高時 Hōjō Takatoki, the last regent of the Kamakura Shōgunate, enshrined Toyoukebime — presumably, this was before Takatoki and his retainers committed 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide as Kamakura burned[xviii]. In 1478, Kantō warlord and all around bad muthafucka, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan enshrined Susano’o here[xix].

In 1600, a funny thing happened on the way to 関ヶ原 Sekigahara. A little-known local hero whom I may have mentioned here once or twice, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, made a stop at Shinagawa Shrine to pray for victory in battle. Well, we all know how that turned out[xx]. Ieyasu had patronized the shrine since the 1590’s, but after his victory at Sekigahara, the shōgunate prioritized the institution and to this day you can see the family crest of his clan everywhere. Other Tokugawa shōguns, including 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu (#3) and 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari (#11, but he’s always #69 in our hearts), are known to have visited here[xxi].

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Dozō Sagami – the most infamous adult playground in Shinagawa

Dozō Sagami

For samurai of means and rich merchants coming and going from Edo, one of the most famous and glamorous spots was 土蔵相模 Dozō Sagami, officially known as 相模屋 Sagami-ya, a deluxe brothel. This inn featured high-end 芸者 geisha and talented 遊女 yūjo courtesans[xxii]. Long time readers, especially those who remember my piece on Shinjuku, will remember that Edo Period post towns were hot beds[xxiii] of drinking and whoring. That’s right, dear reader, Shinagawa wasn’t all about pack horses and coolies.

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Model of he main building of Dozō Sagami inside the Shinagawa History Museum

Perhaps the most historically important people who partied all night here were a team of racist, xenophobic, and backwards-thinking 水戸藩の志士 Mito Han no Shishi Terrorists from Mito Domain who checked in to do the last drinking and whoring of their lives. The next morning was March 24th, a day that changed Japanese history forever. These ass clowns attacked the entourage of 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke lord of 彦根藩 Hikone Han Hikone Domain and 大老 Tairō head of the 老中 Rōjū High Council, the lords posted at the highest level of the shōgunate. They succeeded in assassinating him, knowing full well that they would either die in the attack, be sentenced to 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide, or worse yet, be executed like stinky, filthy commoners. Yup, these racist, terrorist fucks killed the guy who made the decision to slowly begin opening up Japan in order to get new military technology so Japan wouldn’t collapse under foreign imperialism like other Asian countries had – learn the foreigners’ ways and then beat them at their own game. This assassination, known as the 桜田御門外之変 Sakurada Go-mon-gai no Hen Sakuradamon Incident sent the shōgunate into a downward spiral that left the fate of the country in a precarious place.

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The back of Dozō Sagami (also called Sagami-ya casually). From here, you had a view of Edo Bay, the garden, the well, and that dope kura. You’re all kura fans now, right? The view must have been stunning in its heyday.

In the midst of this chaos, some other famous guests stayed at Sagami-ya. They were 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku an anti-foreigner terrorist with terrible hair and 伊藤博文 Itō Hirobumi a garden variety terrorist, unapologetic womanizer, and the future first prime minister of 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku the Empire of Japan. Apparently, they partied here after burning down the first British Embassy[xxiv] – which wasn’t too far from the area. A bold move to be sure, but when foreign powers displayed their military and technological superiority, these two 芋侍 imo-zamuri country bumpkin samurai from the rogue state of 長州藩 Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain suddenly became interested in foreign weaponry. Because of his famously dumb haircut, Takasugi Shinsaku didn’t live to see the shōgunate fall, but maybe Itō Hirobumi’s drinking and whoring saved his life. I dunno. Just throwing that out there.

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Sagami Hotel – the last days of a Shinagawa legend

Anyhoo, my understanding is that the Sagami-ya in some form or other lasted until 1972. The establishment fell on hard times due to American-influenced anti-prostitution laws enacted between 1946 and 1956. During its last days, it was known as the さがみホテル Sagami Hoteru Sagami Hotel and presumably there were no in-house prostitutes. But by the 1970’s, its garden and beautiful view of the bay had been destroyed by landfill, factory pollution, and the fact that the old Tōkaidō was meaningless in the modern world.

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A nostalgic remembrance of Hotel Sagami

The long standing 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line, the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line, the construction of 国道15号 Kokudō Jūgo-gō National Route 15[xxv] in 1952, and finally the 1964 completion of the 東海道新幹線 Tōkaidō Shinkansen Tōkaidō Shinkansen hammered the last nail in the coffin for Shinagawa’s old post town forever[xxvi]. The shinkansen route connected 新大阪駅 Shin-Ōsaka Eki New Ōsaka Station with 横浜 Yokohama[xxvii], totally neglecting Shinagawa. The loss of Sagami-ya represented the last gasp of Shinagawa as a lodging spot. Simply put, it had just become inconvenient.

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Dozō Sagami/Sagami-ya/Sagami Hotel is no longer with us. Oh, how the mighty hath fallen.

Rolled Over by Modernization

Shinagawa is a classic case of another place where Japan has paved over its own proud history. Tōkyō has done this in particularly egregious ways, IMO. The transition from the Edo Period to the pre-war period wasn’t that crazy, I think. It’s the post-war era that saw everything change. The 1964 Olympics also changed the city in huge ways[xxviii] and pretty much killed off the old city while also killing off Shinagawa’s fishing tradition and transforming the area into a land of warehouses and factories. From the 60’s-70’s, Japan was on a trajectory greater than the Japanese Empire could ever imagine. By the 1980’s… don’t even get me started. The US feared Japan like the US fears China and India now[xxix]. However, Shinagawa declined more and fell into a really horrible state.

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Whoa. Wait? How is that even legal?

In 2003, Tōkaidō Shinkansen service came to Shinagawa and this changed everything. Tōkyō now had multiple high-speed and “localish” train routes come to this sleepy town. This reinvigorated Shinagawa service breathed new life into an already vibrant manufacturing culture. 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward[xxx] began courting hotels, suggesting they set up shop in the old post town. Furthermore, they encourage the establishment of 民泊 minpaku residential lodgings in the area along the old Tōkaidō. In addition to setting up signage — albeit in Japanese only — and repaving the road to clearly convey its original width, they incentivized businesses old and new along the pre-modern highway. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it one of Tōkyō’s hot spots, the area around Shinbanba is definitely interesting for us history nerds.

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Did You Just SayHistory Nerds?

Of course, I did. And long-time readers know I don’t throw that term around lightly[xxxi]. Short term readers who have read this far are probably scratching their heads thinking “we haven’t gotten to the nerdy part yet? WTF??!!”

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You can’t see it now, but there’s a sign saying “two ‘miles’ from Nihonbashi” – “two ‘miles’ to Kawasaki.” If you don’t believe me, I dare you to go look for yourself and prove me wrong.

Holy Mile Markers, Batman

One cool spot that most people overlook is 二里塚 niri-zuka the two ri mound, a kinda mile marker. While pre-modern Japan had a whole gaggle of weights and measurements, a 里 ri was a unit of distance that — to the best of my knowledge – had no fixed distance[xxxii]. The niri-zuka indicates the spot that is two ri from Nihonbashi, the start of the Tōkaidō. The distance from Edo to Kyōto was 124 ri (the majority of miles markers are known (though few are labeled as such and fewer yet are preserved)[xxxiii]. Sadly, the marker near Shinbanba is not preserved and there’s simply a sign in Japanese at the entrance to 品海公園 Hinkai Kōen Hinkai Park[xxxiv]. In their heyday, these spots would have definitely stood out. At each marker, the shōgunate built and maintained a large man-made earthen mound on each side of the highway and planted a pine tree on each[xxxv]. While I’m sure these markers assured travelers that they were making progress and the next post town would be coming up soon, the real reason for these markers was to indicate rates for pack horses and coolies[xxxvi].

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What real mile markers used to look like. This one is in Wakayama Prefecture.

Shinagawa Daiba

Long time readers will remember my article on Odaiba. But to sum it up briefly, in 1853 Commodore Perry brought a fleet of gunboats into the “entrance” of  江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay near 浦賀 Uraga in present day 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture and demanded that Japan open for trade or he’d bombarded the city of Edo. Then he gave them a year to think about it, promising to return.

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Yo, b. That ship is black af.

As you can imagine, the shōgunate had a collective freak out at this breach of their strict isolationist policy. While they ultimately – and wisely – decided to open the country up to the Americans[xxxvii], they decided to build a system of cannon batteries to protect the city of Edo. These were all artificial islands, two of which still survive to this day.

One such battery was the 御殿山下台場 Goten’yamashita Daiba Battery at the bottom of Goten’yama. I’m not sure what the space was used for after the Edo Period[xxxviii], but I do know that with all the land reclamation that took place in the 1950’s, this plot of land was re-purposed for 品川区立台場小学校 Shinagawa Kuritsu Daiba Shōgakkō Shinagawa Ward Daiba Elementary School. And while I think it would have been cooler to have not fucked with the shape of the bay, I have to admit it sounds pretty bad ass to say you went to “Cannon Battery Elementary School.” Today, a lighthouse shaped monument sits at the front gate of the school to commemorate the historical value of the land.

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Map of the Shinagawa Honjin – stepped on by everyone who walks into the park. By the way, only old geezers and homeless people hang out in the park today. Just smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap sake.

Remains of the Shinagawa-shuku Honjin

So, with the big deal that I made about pack horses and coolies[xxxix], I don’t want to give the impression that Shinagawa was a dump. Every post town had accommodations for people from all walks of life. Without a doubt, the two most important lodgings were the 本陣 honjin main encampment and 脇本陣 waki-honjin secondary encampment. The honjin was reserved for 大名 daimyō feudal lords and 公家 kuge members of the imperial court in Kyōto. The “wacky” honjin was reserved for silly people like 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun and other high-ranking officials, and if it was available — for a price — super rich merchants could rent a room. In most post towns, the honjin and waki-honjin were located in the town center for strategic reasons. After all, these compounds were considered military installations.

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This picture wasn’t easy to find. It might be the only known photo of Shinagawa Honjin (in its days a hospital for the Tōkyō City Police). It looks pretty lush and definitely retains its Edo Period atmosphere.

After the Meiji Coup, the emperor and his entourage moved from Kyōto to Edo and then renamed the city 東京 Tōkyō Eastern Capital. The honjin being the swankiest accommodation in Shinagawa, obviously, this where they stayed. However, after the post station system was abolished in 1872 (Meiji 5), this luxurious building and its beautiful garden became the 警視庁品川病院 Keishichō Shinagawa Byōin Shinagawa Police Hospital. It must have been a gorgeous location at which to recuperate. In addition to its beautiful architecture, this area was still in the countryside and while it wasn’t located right on the beach, I assume you had a nice view of the bay from the second floor. What’s more, it seems the Edo Period building[xl] was used right up until 1938.

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You’re either experiencing déjà vu right now or you haven’t been paying attention to the pretty pictures. Either way is fine. I love you just the same.

By 1938, the building was deemed antiquated, decommissioned, and torn down. In its place, a small park was built on one section of the compound, an office building on the remaining land. In commemoration of the Meiji Emperor’s visit, the park was named 聖蹟公園 Seiseki Kōen Sacred Spot Park[xli]. The current incarnation of the park dates back to 1960 and the original office building is no longer with us, today its place is taken by a daycare center or kindergarten or some dumb shit for annoying little kids.

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One of the Coolest Shoe Stores in Tōkyō

Keeping in mind that Shinagawa was either the last town you’d pass on your way to Edo or the first town you’d pass on your way out, either way, you’d probably need new shoes. If you were leaving the capital, it would have been cheaper to buy them here than in the city center. If you were arriving in the capital, your shoes probably got pretty beat up. Plus, shoes for long distance walking and casual walking around town were different. Either way, you’d want to dress to impress. There were several shoe stores in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku, but today only 丸屋履物店 Maruya Hakimono-ten Maruyama Shoes remains. This traditional shop was established in 1865, three years before the collapse of the shōgunate, and has been run by six generations of expert craftsmen. The building is a classic two-story structure typical of the Edo Period. The first floor is a showroom and work area where the manager sits and literally makes shoes by hand on a tatami mat. They specialize in Japanese shoes, in particular 下駄 geta, 草履 zōri, and 雪駄 seta. That said, they also construct specialty shoes that I don’t know the name of, all I can say is they’re those big ass platform shoes worn by 花魁 oiran courtesans of the highest rank. You can buy ready to wear shoes or choose a base that you want and then pick your own strap design and style. It’s pretty awesome if you’re trying to put together your own 着物 kimono or 浴衣 yukata ensemble[xlii]. Even if you can’t make it to Shinagawa, you can order online or at the very least follow their twitter account lol

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Shinbanba Fun Facts

I think I mentioned that as part of the revival of the area in the early 2000’s, Shinagawa Ward clearly marked the width of the original Tōkaidō. Don’t think I would drop something casually like that without giving you guys more details.

According to an official decree of the third shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada in 1616, the Tōkaidō was formally classified as an 大海道 Ōkaidō a major sea route and the width of the street was required to be 六間 rokken six ken which is roughly 10.8 m (35 feet 6 inches). The original width of the road is clearly demarcated now, even though there’s no signage indicating this deliberate measure taken by the ward.  When the Tōkaidō Line was built which bypassed the old post town, the area was frozen in time. With the advent of cars, a much wider road for cars called the 第一京浜 Daiichi Keihin replaced the old highway because the pre-modern width was unsuitable for heavy traffic. That said, this stretch of road is extremely pedestrian-friendly to this day. There’s very little car traffic even during the day, and at night you’ll only see occasional foot and bike traffic.

godzilla tokyo bay

Wait. What?? We just rebuilt this city after the fucking Americans… fuck… it’s a giant rubber lizard. Japan is fucked!! Run away! Run away!!

Oh, and how could I leave this out? Yo, Godzilla made this place his bitch! 八つ山入口 Yatsuyama Iriguchi Yatsuyama Entrance is the entrance to Shinagawa coming from Edo[xliii]. Technically this spot, now marked by a bridge crossing the train tracks is closer to Kita Shinagawa Station than Shinbanba Station) is where Godzilla first entered Tōkyō via Tōkyō Bay. I haven’t seen these movies since I was a kid, but presumably the bay still had its original shape and the monster made a b-line for the city center via the Tōkaidō. In the Edo Period, the 5 Highways into the city were heavily guarded by the suburban palaces of various daimyō, but even with all the 1950’s military technology, the city could do nothing about a crazy, fire-breathing mutant dinosaur-thing with a penchant for knocking over the newly rebuilt capital of Japan[xliv].

With all that said, I’m assuming I’ve spent enough time in Shinagawa for a while. I’ve got a few ideas for upcoming articles, but if you have some locations you’re interested in (in Edo-Tōkyō), leave a comment down below and I’ll see what I can do. As always, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō With Me Japan This Guided Tours
(And yes, I’ll take you through Shinagawa post town and to Tachiaigawa, or even the execution grounds. It’s not for tourists, it’s for history nerds!)

 


[i] Another term was 宿駅 shukueki, although this term emphasized the presence of places to swap out pack horses (something we’ll talk about later in the article). Interestingly, the second kanji 駅 eki is now used for train stations. This something that will make sense as you read the rest of the article.
[ii] Some people divided it into three post towns, though this wasn’t official. In the end, visit any other former post town in Japan is you’ll instantly realized how tiny they are and how seemingly endless Shinagawa was.
[iii] The official post town, South Shinagawa-shuku in particular, bled over into neighboring villages which adapted to handle overflow on heavy days.
[iv] Officially Romanized as Shimbamba, but homie don’t play that shit.
[v] In other spaces, like the 麻布馬場 Azabu Baba Azabu Horse Riding Grounds, there’s not a single trace of the old topography.
[vi] The pronunciation of banba seems to be a contraction of 馬の場 uma no ba.
[vii] An alternate reading, perhaps more standard is Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinjuku. The -shuku/-juku distinction seems to be regional, but locals in Shinagawa have preserved the less common -shuku pronunciation. This indicates the variety of dialects in Edo, while emphasizing the fact that Shinagawa was not Edo. It was just country.
[viii] If you visit the preserved post towns on the Nakasendō in Nagano Prefecture, you can see 高札場 kōsatsuba regulating the fixed prices coolies could charge to carry shit from one town to the next.
[ix] And for all you perverts out there, it’s 伝馬 denma/tenma a horse for passing along, not 電マ denma a high-powered vibrator like the Hitachi Magic Wand – short for 電気マッサージ器 denki massāji-ki. Click this sentence if you want to read my article about Kodenma-chō.
[x] One could make a strong argument that it still services the straight up boonies today – the urban boonies.
[xi] Yes, that’s right. The term Shinbanba is just a little over 40 years old.
[xii] Covered in my previous article.
[xiii] Word on the street is Edo style tempura was a favorite food of the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and that it gave him stomach cancer and that killed him. I’m suspicious of this, but it’s the story everyone knows for some reason.
[xiv] Amenohiritome no Mikoto seems to be the ancestral kami of the 忌部氏斎部氏 Inbe-shi Inbe clan (they changed their spelling in the 800’s), a high-ranking family in the imperial court who tended to spiritual matters.
[xv] Susano’o was the brother of the sun goddess, 天照大神 Amaterasu-ōmikami – mythical progenitor of the imperial family.
[xvi] For most of very early Japanese history, Toyoukebime was the pre-eminent kami related to food abundance and food preservation. After rice became a staple food, 稲荷 Inari became the primary kami of rice and food, in time local iterations of Inari becoming tutelary kami or good luck kami to local 大名 daimyō samurai warlords. Due to the policy of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance, local lords built shrines to their local version of Inari and so modern day is one place where you can find Inari shrines everywhere. They were so ubiquitous – and I’ve mentioned this many times before – there was a proverb among Edoites: 伊勢屋、稲荷に、犬の糞 Iseya, Inari ni, inu no fun which essentially means “you can’t go anywhere in Edo without seeing shops named Iseya, Inari shrines, and dog shit.” Even though this was the so-called Pre-Modern Era, it sounds like a typical urban gripe. I’ve seen a few sources claiming that Toyoukebime is actually a precursor of Inari – Inari being an easier name to remember.
[xvii] In this case, daimyōjin is just shorthand for tutelary kami and saves people the trouble of remembering the deity’s confusing name.
[xviii] Not to state the obvious, but if they all killed themselves, said retainer wouldn’t have been able to carry out said enshrinement. Who the hell was Hōjō Takatoki?
[xix] Come on, Ōta Dōkan is our favorite here at JapanThis!
[xx] He won, stupid. If you don’t know the Battle of Sekigahara, feel free to check out Samurai Archives.
[xxi] I have to chuckle to myself when wondering if 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada (#2) visited Shinagawa Shrine. Because of the association with Ieyasu and the Battle of Sekigahara, he might have felt a bit weird since… you know, he showed up late to the battle — something Ieyasu never forgive him for.
[xxii] Read “prostitutes.”
[xxiii] See what I did there?
[xxiv] Construction wasn’t even complete yet. Did the construction workers get paid? Samurai Privilege anyone?
[xxv] This stretch of the road known as the 第一京浜 Dai-ichi Keihin Tōkyō-Yokohama Route 1.
[xxvi] Seemingly, at the time. Not actually forever…
[xxvii] This served the same purpose of the original Tōkaidō – connect Edo-Tōkyō with Kyōto. However, the civil engineers wisely set the end points at cities located outside of the urban centers of Tōkyō and Kyōto. This is something the Japanese government isn’t taking into consideration at all these days.
[xxviii] Probably for the worst (PS: I whispered that).
[xxix] Yeah, I see those rich Chinese girls’ Instagram pages. That’s the Japanese Bubble Years, there just wasn’t any social media. Also, when your go to other countries, keep your voices down ffs.
[xxx] They call themselves Shinagawa City, but they’re really Shinagawa Ward.
[xxxi] Well, alright. Sometimes I throw it around lightly.
[xxxii] My dictionary says it’s approximately 3.927km (2.44 miles), but emphasis on “approximately.”
[xxxiii] In case you were curious, the first marker is near 金杉橋 Kanasugibashi Kanasugi Bridge in 芝大門二丁目 Shiba Daimon Nichōme 2nd block of Shiba Daimon. The third marker is in 大森一丁目 Ōmori Itchōme 1st block of Ōmori. The fourth is in 東麓郷三丁目 Higashi Rokugō Sanchōme 3rd block of Higashi Rokugō. After that, you’ll be well outside of Tōkyō city limits.
[xxxiv] Literally “Seaside Park,” despite the fact that the coast is now miles away.
[xxxv] And yes, I also know that sometimes there was a cluster of pine trees. And yes, I know sometimes there were stone monuments clearly indicating the distance. It was the Edo Period. Uniformity wasn’t the shōgunate’s strong point.
[xxxvi] There’s that word again.
[xxxvii] Good call on their part.
[xxxviii] I think it might have been used for a lighthouse, but don’t quote me on that.
[xxxix] There’s that word again…
[xl] And presumably its garden.
[xli] Remember, this was the height of State Shintō and all that emperor worship bullshit.
[xlii] I assume I don’t have to explain what these are and the differences to you
[xliii] Or the last exit heading towards Edo, depending on your trajectory.
[xliv] And what’s up with that?!! They just rebuilt this bitch!

What does Tachiaigawa mean?

In Japanese History on January 18, 2019 at 2:52 pm

立会川
Tachiaigawa
(Tachiai River; more at water meets water)

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Tachiaigawa in the Edo Period and today

It’s been about a year since I updated the site. A whole fucking year [i]. Long time readers will remember the time I got rivered and almost abandoned the project altogether. Well, I started an article one year ago that, on the surface, seemed so simple, but actually turned into a nightmare. So, I’ve decided to take smaller bites and get things up and running again. I also apologize for keeping everyone waiting and hope I didn’t have anyone worrying. Also, a note about footnotes. WordPress changed the backend editor, so there is a chance the footnote links may not work.

So without further ado, let’s talk about a place in Tōkyō that foreigners don’t often go. Actually, a lot of Tōkyōites have never heard of this area either. It lies on 東海道 Tōkaidō the Eastern Sea Route[ii], just past the former post towns of 北品川宿 Kita Shinagawa-shuku North Shinagawa Post Town and 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa-shuku South Shinagawa Post Town, between the former fishing village of  鮫洲 Samezu and 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds. Of course, I’m talking about 立会川 Tachiaigawa[iii]. In the Edo Period, travelers leaving the capital for Kyōto would have probably lodged in either Shinagawa Post Town or 川崎宿 Kawasaki-shuku Kawasaki Post Town[iv], but they definitely would have passed this rural seaside area, called 大井村 Ōi Mura Ōi Village at the time.

Further Reading:

suzugamori at night (1 of 1)

Suzugamori Execution Grounds at night. Ooooooh, spooooooky.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


tatsu, tachi
stand, rise, set up

au, ai
meet, join

kawa, -gawa
river

There are several creative theories that try to explain the origin of this place name, yet none of them are particularly convincing to me. I have my own pet theory which is not creative and seems super-obvious, but before we talk about the explanations people have put forward over the years, I want to talk about the geography of the area.

Until the late 1950’s, the coastline of  江戸湾東京湾 Edo-wanTōkyō-wan Edo/Tōkyō Bay was more or less the same. The neighborhood called Tachiaigawa was outside of the old city limits on the Tōkaidō Highway and lay directly on the beach at a place where a distributary of the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River called the Tachiai-gawa which flowed into Edo-Tōkyō Bay[v]. Until 1903, when 立会川駅 Tachiaigawa Eki Tachiaigawa Station opened, the area was not called Tachiaigawa. In fact, this is just a local term. In the Edo Period, this area was just considered 荏原国大井村 Ebara no Kuni Ōi Mura Ōi Village, Ebara Province[vi]. Even today, Tachiaigawa is not an official postal code. These days, this is 南大井一丁目 Minami Ōi Itchōme 1st block of South Ōi. The only thing you have to remember is that the Tachiai River has flown and continues to flow through this area. That’s key to its etymology.

samurai battle

Theory 1: There was a Samurai Battle here

This theory posits that the name derives from the combination 太刀 tachi long sword 会 ai meeting 川 kawa river (ie; the river where long swords met). And sure, since the 弥生時代 Yayoi Jidai Yayoi Period (let’s say from 300 BCE) until the Edo Period (1603), the history of Japan was dominated by warfare, but without a specific battle connected to this location, it’s really hard to say if this is just oral tradition or false etymology. If 太刀会 tachiai meeting of long swords is a prevalent place name in other places in eastern Japan or the rest of the country[vii], I might buy into this theory. However, what would seal the deal for me is if someone could point to a specific battle at this location[viii].

waterfall

Theory 2: There were Beautiful Waterfalls

It’s well a known fact that Edo Period castle towns didn’t have street names, so when people described their villages or neighborhoods to each other they used landmarks, hill names, and bridge names. It’s fair to say that either the bridges over the Tachiai River or the river itself could become an unofficial reference to the area.

The story goes that the original village lie on a calm section of the river between two waterfalls and was originally called 滝間 takima between the waterfalls, so locals began to refer to that stretch of the river as 滝間川 Takima-gawa the river between the falls which over time changed into Tachiai-gawa. I find this to be pretty unconvincing because in all my years running this site, I don’t remember a /ki/ becoming a //. Not that it isn’t possible[ix], I just can’t recall an example of that sound change in Japanese off the top of my head. Also, given the constant waterworks projects over the centuries, it would be hard to prove this.

buddha suzugamori (1 of 1)

Buddha statue at Suzugamori Execution Grounds. Recently, I’ve been going here late at night because I like creepy ghost shit. Awwwww yeah.

Theory 3: The Suzugamori Theory

I’ve written about 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds in the past[x] and in that article, I mentioned 涙橋 Namida-bashi the Bridge of Tears. For reasons of ritual cleanliness, executions were generally carried out beyond the city limits, so Suzugamori was a great place for that. People coming in and out of Edo would have seen the shōgunate’s ultimate authority, that over life and death. Also, it’s well known that 浜川橋 Hamagawa-bashi Hamagawa Bridge is generally known by locals as Namida-bashi. This was the last chance for condemned criminals to say their final farewells to their families[xi]. If this is the case, 立会 tachiai has a literal meaning of “standing and meeting.” Family and friends stood and watched their loved ones for the last time here.

namidabashi at night (1 of 1)

Namidabashi at night. Everyone’s coming home after a hard day of work at Suzugamori…

There is a corollary theory that pertains to the specifics of death sentences in the Edo Period. Condemned criminals would have been paraded through the streets as an example to all and then executed at one of the Three Great Execution Grounds of Edo. This related theory says that this river was where 御立会 o-tachiai government “involvement” happened. In short, shōgunate officials would arrive at Suzugamori to confirm the details of the condemned person’s case and observe (another meaning of the word o-tachiai) the execution. That means Tachiaigawa would mean “the place on the river where the shōgunate observed and confirmed executions.”

Because there are two theories presented, this seems to be a solid case for this etymology – on the surface. But guess who has two thumbs, writes JapanThis!, and thinks this is bullshit?

two thumbs

The Edo Period wasn’t that long ago. In fact, last year (2018) was the 150th anniversary of 大政奉還 Taisei Hōkan the shōgunate handing political authority over to the imperial court or 明治維新 Meiji Ishin the Meiji Coup (depending on which side you take). But think about it. Who the fuck would want to brag about living in a neighborhood famous for thousands of executions? To this very day, the former execution grounds of Suzugamori and Kozukappara are some of the least desirable places for real estate, with rent being cheap, and zero developers swooping in to build swanky high-rise apartments and shopping centers[xii]. In fact, the only reason people even live in areas like Tachiaigawa is because of necessity caused by urban sprawl in the post-war years. It’s the main reason the area still feels like the post-war years. Very little has changed since the 1960’s and 70’s! I doubt the execution thing would be a source of pride for the local fishermen and seaweed farmers who operated in this area from before the Edo Period until the 1950’s. Even the “Bridge of Tears” is a nickname. The official name is still “Seaside River Bridge” referring to the fact that it was literally a bridge crossing a river that emptied into the sea. Way more kosher than all that dark execution shit.

ryoma warehouse (1 of 1)

Because Tosa Domain had a huge residence here, you’ll find references to Sakamoto Ryōma and the Black Ships everywhere. For example, on this warehouse or whatever it is.

Theory 4: Where Water Meets Water

In doing this research, I remembered that time I got rivered. There were a few times I came across the kanji stand and meet. We see this in place names like 立川 Tachikawa Tachikawa and words like 合流 gōryū confluence. Without ever reviewing my previous research, it just seemed natural that a place where a river flowed into the sea would be called Tachiai-gawa. Why invoke all this stuff about samurai battles and executions?

To quote from my article on the Meguro River:

The Shinagawa clan was a branch of the main 大井氏 Ōi-shi Ōi clan. In order to irrigate their fief, the Ōi clan dabbled in a little river manipulation. Somewhere near the place called 立会川 Tachiaigawa (the modern kanji mean something like “the place where rivers stand together/come together”), the Ōi separated a section of the river 断ち合い川 tachiai kawa rivers that cut off from each other.  This happened in the Kamakura Period. One of the branches passed by 瀧泉寺 Ryūsen-ji Ryūsen Temple in Shimo-Meguro (see my article on Meguro).

I can’t find any maps from the Kamakura Period for this area[xiii], but Edo Period maps are readily available both online and in my private collection. Although it’s underground today, you can still trace a split in the river near Tachiaigawa Station that once flowed into the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki suburban palace of 土佐藩 Tosa Han Tosa Domain. I’m assuming this is a remnant of the Kamakura Period waterworks. And when I say you can trace the path, I mean you can literally walk the path of the river today. Like right now. I dare you to do it, you lazy fuck.

All of those other fantastic theories are great stories, but if I were a betting man, I’d venture to say the etymology of Tachiaigawa is a mix of “rivers that split off from each other” and “where the river meets the sea.” In a bayside region full of rivers, Occam’s Razor comes down hard in favor of this theory. It’s clean and simple, looks like other derivations we’ve seen before, yet doesn’t require unattested battles, unconfirmed waterfalls and irregular diachronic sound changes, or a bizarre glorification of public executions for 250 some odd years and the shōgunate’s protocol in such matters. It’s just where water meets water. Pretty sure that’s it.

Further Reading:

hamakawa daiba (1 of 1).jpg

Cannon commemorating the Hamakawa Battery. Yup, that’s right. There’s a big ol’ cannon in the middle of a playground for children. Sounds more American than Japanese…

Sakamoto Ryōma

If you get off the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line at Tachiaigawa Station, you’ll find yourself in a very 下町 shitamachi low city neighborhood with a distinct post-war looking 商店街 shōtengai shopping street replete with local bars, yaki-tori joints, and a big old statue of 坂本龍馬 Sakamoto Ryōma. I’m not gonna explain who he was, you can read about him here. But across the street from the station is a school and residential area that sit on the suburban palace of his native domain, 土佐藩 Tosa-han Tosa Domain – modern 高知県 Kōchi-ken Kōchi Prefecture. He most definitely spent some time walking on the Tōkaidō while serving guard duty at the nearby by 浜川砲台 Hamagawa Hōdai Fort Hamagawa in his twenties[xiv]. In Tachiaigawa, you can find a cheap knock off of a famous statue in Kōchi, which itself is a cheap knock off of the iconic photograph of Ryōma himself taken at the 上野撮影局 Ueno Satsueikyoku Ueno Photography Studio in Nagasaki some time in 1867[xv]. At any rate, nearby is a placard depicting the four 黒船 Kurofune Black Ships commanded by Commodore Perry that arrived in Edo Bay in 1853: the Susquehanna, Mississippi, Saratoga, and Plymouth[xvi].

Further Reading:

ryoma tachiaigawa (1 of 1)

Ryōma voguing Bakumatsu style

tachiaigawa at night (1 of 1)

After a day of walking the old Tōkaidō, I love grabbing dinner Shōwa-style in Tachiaigawa.

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(And yes, I’ll take you through Shinagawa post town and to Tachiaigawa, or even the execution grounds. It’s not for tourists, it’s for history nerds!)

 


[i] Or, a hole fucking year, if you’re on #TeamIenari.
[ii] One of the 5 Great Highways. The 東海道 Tōkaidō Eastern Sea Route and 中仙道  Nakasendō Mountain Pass Route connected the shōgun’s capital of 江戸 Edo Edo (modern day Tōkyō) with the imperial capital 京 Kyō (modern day Kyōto).
[iii] Of course I am lol
[iv] I’ve actually walked from 日本橋 Nihonbashi, the easternmost starting point on the Tōkaidō (the name literally means “the bridge to Japan”), to the modern city of Kawasaki. Without visiting too many temples and shrines and walking at a brisk pace, I made the journey in a day. I think most Edo Period people would easily spend a full day and night in Shinagawa before beginning the tedious walk to Kawasaki. Shinagawa offered delicious seafood, plenty of drinking and whoring, and a non-stop variety of amazing views of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. Some ghoulishly curious types probably checked out the execution grounds, cuz, yeah. Humans.
[v] At various points in history and depending on the stretch of river in question, this may have been referred to as the Shinagawa River.
[vi] It was directly controlled by the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate, but it wasn’t part of Edo proper. The term 国 kuni province was basically a traditional term – as it is today – to refer to old Heian Period territories. Today, it’s nostalgic, but in the Edo Period, province names were retained for their “classical appeal” and used in court titles.
[vii] It’s not.
[viii] I can’t find anything that satisfies these criteria.
[ix] This exact sound change is quite well known and regular in Latin languages – Italian and French in particular. Latin centum /kentum/ became Italian cento /tʃento/ (one hundred) and Latin cattus /cattus/ became French chat /ʃat/ (cat).
[x] Here’s my article on Suzugamori.
[xi] If their families even bothered to show up.
[xii] The exception being 小伝馬町 Kodenmachō, which is near 日本橋 Nihonbashi whose thriving business district overshadows the grim atmosphere of the neighborhoods around Suzugamori and Kozukappara. Kozukappara was so awful that the place name doesn’t exist outside of historical landmarks. Suzugamori’s name is still attached to a park and an elementary school.
[xiii] There might not be any, but maybe I’ll visit the 品川歴史館 Shinagawa Rekishikan Shinagawa History Museum again to see if they can help.
[xiv] This is a 30-40 minute walk today. I suspect in the Edo Period it would have taken about an hour.
[xv] If I remember correctly, the statue used to stand in front of a convenience store or something as a kinda gimmick. But since the renewal of the old Tōkaidō beginning in 2008 or so, they’ve played up Ryōma’s association with the area much more and put the (I’m assuming) plastic statue on a large concrete pedestal and put him in a park next to the train station.
[xvi] Not that these ships ever actually made it to Edo. They did their business in Uraga Bay which is actually miles from Edo-Tōkyō.

Kura – All About Japanese Storehouses

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


kura (storehouse, warehouse)

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

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

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

Distinguishing Features

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

Shutters with janabara

Doors with janbara

 

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

Kawara tiles

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

Subtle mizukiri jutting out

Excellent example of an eaves protecting a window

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

Namako kabe fence

Re-purposed and restored kura with namako kabe

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

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

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

Hooks

More hooks

Even more hooks

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

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

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

kura broken


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

Construction

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

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

Tansu (traditional Japanese “step drawers”)

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

Steps inside a wooden floor kura

Workshop inside a kura

The Dark Side

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

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

Traditional bookstore in a kura

The Light Side

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

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

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

Where to Check Out Kura

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

Matsumoto has many re-purposed kura

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

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

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

There are kura everywhere!

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

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

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

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

a0146493_00085473

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

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