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Archive for the ‘Travel in Japan’ Category

What does Kanda mean? (part two)

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

神田
Kanda (holy rice paddies, Batman)

IMG_5703

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

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

IMG_5671

Who is Enshrined at Kanda Myōjin?

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

大国主命
Ōkuninushi no Mikoto

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

大己貴命
Ōnamuchi no Mikoto

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

平将門
Taira no Masakado no Mikoto

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

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

Kanda no Miya Kanda Myōjin?

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

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

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

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

shimenawa

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

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

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

Ōkuninushi Statue Izumo Taisha

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

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

japonesque_2dvd

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

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

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

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

Daikoku_en_zijn_rat-Rijksmuseum_RP-P-1962-331

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

What’s the connection between Ōkuninushi and Daitokuten?

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

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

masakado

De-enshrinement and Re-enshrinement of Taira no Masakado

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

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

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

The Meiji Emperor entering Edo - view of Edobashi and Nihonbashi

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1280px-Taira_no_masakado_kubiduka_2012-03-22.jpg

Masakado Didn’t Go Away

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

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

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

masakado kubi-zuka

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

Kanda Matsuri and all that Otaku Shit

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

tojo nozomi kanda shrine.jpg

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

Ooooooh-kay.

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

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What Can we Take Away from all This?

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

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

 

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

What does Kanda mean?

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

神田
Kanda (holy rice paddies, Batman!)

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

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

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

大国主命
Ōkuninushi no Mikoto

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

大己貴命
Ōnamuchi no Mikoto

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

平将門
Taira no Masakado no Mikoto

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

 

IMG_5688

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

What does Kanda mean?
(Hardcore Version)

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

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

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

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

kanda map
Where is Kanda?

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

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

kanda myojin mountain side

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

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

Further Reading:

 

IMG_5667.jpg

Main gate of Kanda Shrine. Impressive.

So, what the hell does Kanda mean?

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

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

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

If that’s a yes, then let’s do this.

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First, Let’s Look at some Kanji


kami, shin/-jin

deity (kami)


ta/da, den

planted field (usually rice)


myō

bright, enlightened; fucking obvious


miya, –

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


na, mei

name; well known; apparent/obvious

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

神田
kanda, shinden

literally, “god field”

御田[xiv]
mita, o-den

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

IMG_5669.jpg

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

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

703
Nara Period

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

939
Heian Period

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

940
Heian Period

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

1185
Kamakura Period
(end of Heian Period)

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

1309
End of Kamakura Period

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

1590
Sengoku Period

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

1603
Edo Period

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

1616
Edo Period

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

1690
Edo Period

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

1868
Meiji Period

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

1984
Shōwa Period

 

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

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

The Five Great Etymologies

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

jomon-period-inlets

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

1. The Kami no To Theory

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

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

ise shrin

Ise Grand Shrine

2. The Kamida Theory

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

Michinoomi_no_Mikoto-2.jpg

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

3. The Kanda Clan Theory

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

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

I’ll talk more about this clan later.

masakado

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

4. The Taira no Masakado Did it Theory

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

fashion_pct_img

Kofun Period Fashion™

5. The Fuck It, Nobody Knows Theory

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5671

The Sandbox

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

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

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

Sure, he lost.

Sure, he was killed.

Sure, his decapitated head was put on display.

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

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

hiroshige kanda myojin

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

The End… or is it?

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

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

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

 

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

300th Article Anniversary!

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan, Uncategorized on May 2, 2016 at 4:07 am

Whoa.

300 articles?!!

IMG_0850

2007 BTB in Nakano. By the way, BTB means “before the blog.” ie; years ago…

To all my long time readers, all my new readers, and anyone who just happened to stumble across my geeky corner of the internet, I have 4 strong words to say to each and every one of you: THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

How Did We Even Get to 300 Articles?

I started this blog in 2008 and didn’t really do much with it. But around 2012/2013, I decided to commit myself heart and soul into JapanThis! despite having a readership of 0. Mrs. JapanThis thought I was crazy. I thought I was crazy, too. And my vast readership of 0 didn’t give a shit.

But the Word Started Getting Out

But slowly, a person here and a person there accidentally ended up here every once in a while. Those of you who remember the early days might even recall that I was originally trying to publish a new article every day Monday through Friday or something stupid like that. I eventually gave that up so I could focus on more research intensive articles. From there, the blog slowly just sorta took on a life of its own.

trust_me_im_a_blogger.jpg

or don’t

A lot of people start blogs and get really into them, only to abandon them to the search engines because, well, let’s face it, they’re time consuming. Other people just run out of things to say[i]. Lots of people come to Japan for a few years, get into it, and blog or make videos about pop culture and food and “my life as a gaijin[ii].” Some of them have tens of thousands of subscribers, which is pretty amazing, honestly. And all of that is good and well. The internet is truly vast and infinite. And everyone’s 100% entitled to their slice of it.

If You’re Gonna Go, Go Deep. Go Hardcore.

revco.jpg

If you recognize this picture, you’re probably hardcore too.

But I like to go deep. I like to go hardcore. This is something I learned from the music world. It’s just how I roll. And that’s not attractive to a lot of people. Hell, I meet a lot of people who fucking can’t stand history of any kind the way I fucking can’t stand math. Soooooo, writing a blog about Japanese history is a hard enough sell as it is. But that’s just it. I don’t just write about Japanese history, I use the etymology of place names of one city as an excuse to explore individual neighborhoods of that one city. Talk about obscure! In Japanese, this site wouldn’t be anything special. But in English, this is some hardcore niche subject matter we’re dealing with. It’s a tough sell any way you look at it.

And that’s why I had to make this post in the first place. That’s also why I had to open with a “thank you” that was truly from the bottom of my heart.

100% - Labor of Love

japan-this.jpg

Then there was that time Metropolis Magazine featured JapanThis!. That gave a big boost to the blog.

I used to say – I think I also said it when I hit my 200th article – that this blog is a labor of love; this is my passion for the subject matter, and I would continue writing it even if I only had 5 readers or even 0 readers. Upon reaching this 300th post (and let’s be honest, there are actually more than that if we include pages), I think I feel differently now.

Yes, this is 100% still a labor of love.

Yes, I think I would continue anyways.

But without you, dear reader, JapanThis! would be a hollow shell of what it is now. I mean that. Every time I get a new subscriber or follower or a new comment, it reminds me that I have to not just maintain the status quō of this blog. I have to constantly strive to go deeper, go harder, and push myself to do more rigorous research, write more creatively, and think of more ways to express my passion for the deeper side of Japanese culture and attract more people - more people like you - who share that passion.

i'm rick james bitch - it's a celebration.jpg

“It’s a celebration, bitches.”

Earlier, I used the term “my corner of the internet.” But the internet isn’t private. You don’t have to knock on the door to come into JapanThis!. You can just come in. It’s a party up in here. It’s a nerdy/geeky party, but it’s a party nonetheless. After 300 articles fueled by your enthusiasm, I think it’s safe to say that for us Japanese History Nerds, JapanThis! isn’t “my corner of the internet,” it’s “our corner of the internet.”

Shout-Out

Before I close out this post. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that there have been a few people out there on social media who have consistently done a lot to share what I do here with the rest of the world. I owe them a lot of gratitude and am humbled by their constant willingness to help promote JapanThis!. If you don’t already follow them, I think you should[iii]. They’re not just good people, but they all share the same common interests that have brought you and me together.

In descending order of how long their names are (cuz it look perdy):

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This photo was snapped at Kiyomizu Kannon-dō in Ueno Park by longtime reader John on a tour of the northeastern Edo. One of the best things about doing tours is meeting my readers who are all awesome!

To everyone who’s ever given me a retweet or share, thanks you to you too. You’ve helped get me here. And I love you too. If you’ve shared me a lot and I haven’t noticed, but you think you belong on this list, hit me up privately, OK?

And lastly, I finish every article asking for support. I know this is annoying. And I believe that just reading JapanThis! is support and I thank you for that. Please don’t forget sharing on Facebook or Twitter because that really gets the message out there.

Here’s to the next goal: 400 articles!!

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[i] But if there’s one thing I did right when deciding to focus on this blog, I said that it would be focused on the etymology of Tōkyō place names, a topic I considered more or less endless, but could focus on any other aspect of Japanese culture and history – more on the history side, of course.
[ii] Not only one of the most tedious topics for those of us who’ve been here for a long time, but one that perpetuates the use of the outdated term 外人 gaijin outsiders (a term considered discriminatory or rude and usually banned by the media) for foreigners because, surprise! Foreigners use this term about themselves when not speaking Japanese and those who can’t speak Japanese don’t know any better. But this is a debate that would be better in an izakaya over a coupla beers.
[iii] They all have various social media accounts; I’m providing the links to what I consider their most active public accounts. Obviously, I’m not going to send you to their personal Facefook pages lol.

Yamanote Line: Meguro & Ebisu

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on April 30, 2016 at 4:36 pm

目黒
Meguro

MEGURO RIVER.jpg
It’s a weird thing that I’ve encountered over the years but I’ve gotten a few emails asking me to cover Meguro. I usually send them a link to my original article about Meguro and tell them that I have, in fact, already covered Meguro and explain how to search the site and send the link to the article. One person was like, “but can you really cover Meguro in depth?”

Sadly, the answer is, “Probably not in the detail that you’re asking.” You see, I rarely go to Meguro. It’s a residential area with great local shops, but for the most part it’s a local area that other Tōkyōites mostly associate with 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing. The problem is compounded by the definition of Meguro you’re using. Today, it’s important to keep in mind that we are discussing the 目黒駅付近 Meguro Eki fukin Meguro Station Area, not the greater 目黒区 Meguro-ku Meguro Ward. The ward is large and has many stations on many different train lines. Since we’re talking about the Yamanote Line, we’re not venturing far from Meguro Station.

MEGURO STATION.jpg

Meguro Station. Pretty much just a typical JR East station in Tōkyō.

To me, Meguro is a lovely ward and the Meguro Station area is quite famous because it gives instant access to the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River which is lined on both banks with tall cherry blossom trees. It’s one of the most famous hanami spots in the city. Local cafes and restaurants line the river and often set up temporary food stands to cater to hanami goers’ appetites. A few food trucks and other 屋台 yattai food stands also set up shop where they can. Recently, Turks and Iranians selling donner kebabs have been gaining popularity, but traditional Japanese street food like 焼鳥 yaki tori, 団子 dango, and other festival foods are available. Needless to say, there is alcohol everywhere (though, you’re best buying that at a convenience store or supermarket away from the river area because  the food stands markup that shit big time).

MEGURO o-fudo-sama

Ryūsen-ji

Meguro Station gives access to the 目黒寄生虫館 Meguro Kiseichūkan Meguro Parasite Museum and 龍泉寺 Ryūsen-ji Ryūsen Temple. The Parasite Museum is supposedly a popular date site – though I’ve never met a person who went on a date there – and Ryūsen-ji is a temple dedicated to a wrathful Buddhist “deity named Acala, who is called 御不動様 O-fudō-sama, “the unmovable one” in Japanese. Because the statue of this Buddha has black eyes (目 me eyes, 黒 kuro black), there is a popular etymology that the name of the area is derived from this temple[i]. The problem with Ryūsen-ji is that it’s a good 15 minute walk from Meguro Station. Normally, I wouldn’t include it except for that etymologic connection.

Get the Deeper Stories:

MEGURO parasite

Parasites. Trust me. I could have posted some really traumatic pix, but decided to go with something restrained and clinical.

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恵比寿
Ebisu

EBISU god
I’ve covered a lot of place names over the years while writing this blog and Ebisu is actually one of the most boring from an etymological standpoint. Have you ever heard of Ebisu Beer? Oh, let me spell that differently. Have you ever heard of Yebisu Beer? The station and area is named after the Yebisu Beer Company which used to have a factory here. That’s the etymology.

I’m not being flippant, though. Yebisu Beer is effing delicious and is a source of pride in Japan. As far as Japanese macro beers go, it’s up there at the top[iii].

EBISU showa.jpg

What does Ebisu mean?

I’ve already written about this and you can check it out here, but 恵比寿 Ebisu is the name one of the 七福神 shichi fukujin 7 gods of good luck. In the old writing system, those kanji could be rendered as ゑびす/ヱビス both of which are read as Ebisu.

Yebisu is an obsolete transliteration of Ebisu common before the writing reforms in post war Japan. Fans of Japanese horror may know the word 怪談 kaidan ghost stories by its archaic transliteration kwaidan, a term which was popularized by the author Lafcadio Hearn by his book Kwaidan and the 1964 movie by the same title. These words, like many other Japanese words, were updated to reflect the Japanese spelling reforms that came to pass in the post war years. Nobody ever said kwaidan or Yebisu since the 12th century or so, so the new romanization as kaidan and Ebisu were no brainers. The beer continued to use the archaic spelling as an affectation. I guess from a branding standpoint, it makes the beer appear classic. The train station, on the other hand, uses the modern transliteration.

EBISU station.jpg

Ebisu Station, like Meguro Station, looks like any other typical JR East Station in Tōkyō. Imagine that lol.

What to do in Ebisu

Well, I don’t spend much time there personally, but I definitely say “there’s a lot to do in Ebisu!” For locals, just chilling out in the area is enough. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes in the area, and Ebisu Garden Place, a massive shopping area built on the former site of the Ebisu Beer Factory and HQ, offers enough for anyone to hang out in. For tourists, this area may be a little boring. It’s pretty westernized and actually caters to the international crowd – be they Japanese who are internationalized or wealthy expats who live within the Yamanote Loop. That said, there are two places that may be worth your time.

EBISU beer

A little Meiji magic is preserved

Beer Museum

The first place you should know is the ヱビスビール記念館 Ebisu Bīru Kinenkan Museum of Yebisu Beer which tells the history of beer in Japan but also the history of the Sapporo Brewing Company. One might think that this is something unrelated to Japanese history, but believe me when I tell you this now: beer and modern Japanese history go hand in hand. Beer and the history of Tōkyō in particular go hand in hand. I don’t have a course planned out yet, but I’m working on Japanese History + Beer guided tour that is essentially an all-day booze-a-thon focused on historical spots. Think of it as an intellectual pub crawl that starts at the Beer Museum. Hit me up, if you’re interested.

Tokyo_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Photography_entrance_2011_January

Photography Museum

As a center of art and culture, Tōkyō never disappoints on the museum side of things. However, recently there are more tourists than ever coming to Japan. Most of the tourist attractions and museums are being overrun by unruly tourist groups[iv]. The museums in Ueno are particularly insane these days. But if you wanna check out some well curated photography exhibitions that most tourists never go to, I suggest the 東京都写真美術館 Tōkyō-to Shashin Bijutsukan Tōkyō Photographic Art Museum (also called the TOP Museum for short) in Ebisu Garden Place. The exhibitions constantly change, so I can’t vouch for every showcase, but in my experience the museum is pretty consistent in quality. I’ve seen exhibits that focus on art history to exhibits that focus on the theater of the absurd – they pretty much run the gamut. It’s mostly locals who frequent the museum, especially couples, so it might be better to skip the bigger, more famous museums to check out this little gem on a weekday.

There’s One Snag, tho…

The Tōkyō Photographic Art Museum, as awesome as it is, has been undergoing a 2 year renovation project. So at the time of this writing, you can’t visit the museum. It’s slated to re-open in September of 2016 and my guess is it will be even more amazing than before. Unfortunately, it may become a much more high profile museum than before. I say “unfortunately” because in the past it’s been kind of a secret spot. After the renovation, I fear it will become overcrowded like other famous Tōkyō museums. Fingers crossed!

Wanna Go a Little Deeper?

 

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[i] This is probably not the case, though, I discuss an alternate theory in my original article.
[ii] Long time readers will remember the horrific train wreck that was my Rivers of Edo-Tōkyō series. I almost quit my blog because of that damn series.
[iii] That said, Japan has an extensive micro/craft brew culture taking root that is putting out some fantastic specialty beers. I don’t want to slam the Japanese macros, though. They put the American macros to shame and I would never put them in the same category, but expats and some Japanese with experience abroad have started to call into question the traditional macros over the last 5-10 years. But this is a conversation for another time. Perhaps another post altogether.
[iv] I’m not going to single out a particular nationality, but you can probably guess who the usual suspects are.

Yamanote Line Extravaganza (intro)

In Japan, Travel in Japan on April 23, 2016 at 2:21 pm

山手線
Yamanote-sen (the High City Line)

yamanote-line-map

After my Ōedo Line Extravaganza back in June 2015, I got a few requests to do a Yamanote Line Extravaganza. One message was hilarious and too long to quote in its entireity here, but the author said (and I quote):

How could you do the Oedo Line before the Yamanote?
It’s an upstart and a poseur. It’s not even a real loop.

He ended the email with:

You are dead to me, sir. Dead.

I don’t get a ton of mail, but gems like that keep me going. If you’re that on board with my JapanThis! style, then by all means, send emails! Well, it’s actually better to leave a comment. I take back the email thing. Leave comments for the sake of my inboxes. But either way, let’s be friends! Also, bonus points for spelling poseur correctly.

YOU-RE-DEAD-TO-ME

Just kidding, I love you all!

Anyhoo, the reason I started with the 大江戸線 Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line is because I’d already covered a lot of the areas it services and because the name 大江戸 Ōedo literally means the Greater Edo Area and was a nice way to wrap up some articles I had written previously to that series.  Also, just including the word 江戸 Edo in the name was enough to make it first. Furthermore, I hadn’t re-written my looooong reference page about Yamanote vs. Shitamachi. I couldn’t very well write about the Yamanote Line without first exploring what those loaded terms meant, could I?

yamanote line.jpg

So What is the Yamanote Line?

The Yamanote Line has been described as Tōkyō’s most important train. It’s just a train line that runs in a circle around some prominent neighborhoods in Tōkyō. And just like the 大江戸線Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line, it runs in a loop around much of the old Edo city limits. However, unlike the Ōedo Line, it is in fact a true loop line that runs in an uninterrupted circle around the city center.

The word 山手 yamanote high city is the opposite of 下町 shitamachi low city. In the Edo Period, it referred to the secure high ground upon which the 大名 daimyō feudal lords and the 武家 buke samurai families lived. These days, residential addresses inside the Yamanote Line loop are seen as prestigious because they lie in the true center of Tōkyō. Owning or renting an apartment within the “Yamanote Line Loop” is generally expensive, but owning actual real estate[i] puts you into a unique segment of the city’s population. Sometimes you’ll see very old wooden houses within the loop that look run down and often decrepit. The owners may not have a lot of money and their houses may not look like much, but they’re the owners of a small plot of ancestral land that is literally worth a fortune. These families try to keep their land and live traditionally, passing on the plot to the next generation. Sometimes some son or daughter gets rich and knocks down the house and builds a modern domicile, but there are a few who resist and try to maintain this disappearing style of home – the idea being that if the head of the family falls into financial ruin, they could sell the ancestral plot for a huge sum of a money and recover the family’s inheritance.

sibadaimon-1.jpg

The train line currently services 29 stations and in terms of passengers per day it puts most cities’ entire public transit systems to shame[ii]. A new, 30th station and business center will be added between 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station and 田町駅 Tamachi Eki Tamachi Station before the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics. This is the first route update to the Yamanote Line since 1971 and it will make use of an old trainyard and maintenance center that is being phased out by JR East, the company that operates the Yamanote Line. Incidentally, it will also give quick access to the 高輪大木戸 Takanawa Ōkido, one of the three original access points to the shōguns’ capital of 江戸 Edo.

The Original Route

The predecessor of the modern loop line was built in 1885 (Meiji 18) and started in 品川 Shinagawa (a seaside port area important for distribution, but relatively rural), then continued to 目黒 Meguro, then 渋谷 Shibuya, then 新宿 Shinjuku, then 目白 Mejiro, then 板橋 Itabashi, and terminated at 赤羽 Akabane (on the border of present day 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis and 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture, at the time a rural area near a river begging for industrial revolution pollution). This was the beginning of a new definition of 山手 yamanote high city. This was when the suburban and rural areas west of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle (then 東京城 Tōkyō-jō) came to be called “yamanote.” Of these stations, none qualified by Edo Period standards as yamanote. Sections of those towns were indeed home to a handful of daimyō, but for the most part they were the outermost suburbs of the shōgun’s capital.

The train line was eventually connected to form its present day loop in 1925 when Akabane was dropped from Yamanote Line service. Like most loop trains in major cities, the Yamanote Line had come to be one of the most efficient ways to get around the city. It united business centers, cultural centers, and the associated red light districts[iii] for maximum economic impact. Tourists tend to find themselves on the Yamanote all the time given the train’s access to major hub stations and hotel districts. Think of a major destination in Tōkyō, it’s probably on the Yamanote Line: 渋谷 Shibuya, 新宿 Shinjuku, 原宿 Harajuku, 代々木 Yoyogi, 上野 Ueno, 秋葉原 Akihabara, 東京駅 Tōkyō Eki Tōkyō Station, and 有楽町新橋 Yūraku-chō/Shinbashi. For residents of the city, almost every station is necessary throughout the year.

I hope you’re excited about this series, because I am. Keep reading and keep watching this spot because I have a special announcement coming up very soon!

Further reading:

 

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[i] In terms of housing, this generally means the plot of land has been passed down the family for generations.
[ii] Yes, you heard me. This single line does more business than most cities’ entire transit systems.
[iii] For, as long time readers know, drinking & whoring.

What does Harajuku mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Travel in Japan on April 7, 2016 at 3:01 pm

原宿
Harajuku
(first post town, more at “rest spot on the plain”)

harajuku stupid

Let this image sink in for a minute.

I get emails about the blog. Not a shitload, but I get them from time to time. However, it’s rare that I get blindsided by an email.

That said, I love getting blindsided by emails, so let’s check this out.

I recently moved to Japan and I’m living in Yoyogi. I spend a lot of time in Harajuku. Because I’m studying Japanese now I’m interested in the kanji for Shinjuku and Harajuku. You’re article on Shinjuku was amazeballs and it got me thinking. But I can only find information on Yoyogi and Shinjuku. I searched your website and can’t find anything about Harajuku. Do you have a plan to write about Harajuku? Love the blog. Looking forward to your next article!

I was outraged! I must’ve written about Harajuku 100 thousand times at least.

Well, OK, not 100 thousand times, but I know I’ve written about Harajuku at least 100 times. And I set out to prove this reader wrong, goddammit.

wrong.jpg

But She was 100% Correct

I searched my own site like crazy, convinced that I’d covered the subject before. After all, it’s such a simple one; I knew I had to have written about it! But after a good 15 minutes of scavenging my own work for a single article about Harajuku, I realized that I’ve mentioned Harajuku and the surrounding areas many times, but I’ve actually never written about the etymology of Harajuku itself.

Dear reader, I stand corrected, and this glaring omission is going to be remedied today – right freaking now. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention[i].
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As for some related articles, you might want to check later:

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Japanese vs English google seach

Your image of Harajuku probably depends on your ethnicity, culture, and language. The image of the left was the first image that came up on a Google image search in Japanese. The image on the right is the first image that came up when I searched in English.

 

First Let’s Look at the Kanji


hara, gen

origin, source, beginning; field, plain

宿
shuku/juku, yado

inn, post town

At first glance the word 原宿 Harajuku looks like it means “first post town,” but its actual etymology is “post town on the plains.” You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

Like many place names in the Kantō area, we don’t get a lot of solid information about this place until the Kamakura Period[ii]. Prior to this period elite culture had flourished in Kyōto and western Japan under the imperial court. Kantō cities like Kamakura or (god forbid) Edo[iii], were nothing before the rise of samurai culture in the East under the 源氏 Genji Minamoto clan[iv]. With their rise in the East, came a rise in literacy in the East and much better record keeping.

harajuku station taisho period.jpg

Harajuku Station in the Taishō Period (1920’s), when it was brand spankin’ new.

What Little We Know

It’s said that the 鎌倉街道 Kamakura Kaidō Kamakura Highway going from 相模国 Sagami no Kuni Sagami Province[v] to 大州 Ōshū (roughly modern 岩手県 Iwate-ken Iwate Prefecture) had a post town in the area. But, if you’ve read my article about Shinjuku, don’t get any big ideas. This “town” wasn’t much more than a scattershot collection of farms just barely subsiding on their (luckily) fertile land. Until quite recently, this was the boondocks.

Specifically, it seems to have been a 宿駅 shukueki relay station[vi] for horses. The Kantō area was famous since time immemorial for horse rearing. The highlands near modern Harajuku seem to have been horse grazing areas in the 11th Century. The area was referred to as a 原 hara field/meadow, so 原宿 Harajuku literally meant “field inn.”

But I want to emphasize that it was basically just a horse relay station. This wasn’t a place to eat, sleep, take a bath, and get your dick wet. For the casual traveler in this area, you were lucky to find a little shelter from the elements and a clean dirt floor to sleep on. There wasn’t even a proper village here for most of its existence.

Minamoto_no_Yoshiie.jpg

Minamoto no Yoshiie was held up as the paragon of samurai values by Minamoto no Yoritomo, founder of the first shōgunate. The family’s reverence of his ideals and beliefs (true or not) came to permeate all of samurai culture. As a result, he’s one of those mysterious people who affected Japanese culture in a way that would have blown his mind if he could rise from the dead and read about himself on the internet today.

I mentioned the rise of the Minamoto clan in the east, and usually we talk about 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo the first Kamakura shōgun. But today we’ll talk about an earlier family member, 源義家 Minamoto no Yoshiie also known as Hachimantarō.[vii] During the 後三年合戦 Gosannen Kassen Gosannen War[viii] which was fought in the 1080’s, Yoshiie set up a camp in this area. Today this day in 神宮前2丁目 Jingūmae Ni-chōme 2nd block of Jingūmae there is a hill called 勢揃坂 Seizoroi-zaka which means “hill where troops are mustered.” The hill is also known as 源氏坂 Genji-zaka Genji Hill – Genji, of course meaning “the Minamoto clan” (but you already knew that).

genjizaka

The hill isn’t much to look at today, but if you do a Google image search in Japanese it’s mostly pictures of amazing looking food. I’m gonna follow up on this.

In the Edo Period, the high grounds were home to daimyō residences and high ranking samurai, while the sides of the hills went to low ranking samurai. The lowlands were fields for growing rice and other types of farming. Keep in mind, this area was on the outskirts of the shōgun’s capital. There really wasn’t much action out here at all.

Watermill_at_Onden.jpg

Farmers cleaning off rice in the area. Why is Mt. Fuji so prominent? Because there was NOTHING in this area in the Edo Period.

So What is Harajuku Today?

Today, Harajuku is kind of a cultural clusterfuck. 15-20 years ago, the bridge leading from 原宿駅 Harajuku Eki Harajuku Station to 代々木公園 Yoyogi Kōen Yoyogi Park (in front of  明治神宮 Meiji Jingū Meiji Shrine) was the spot that saw コスプレー kosuprē cosplay evolve from a hobby to a kind of freaky anime-based exhibitionism[ix]. Photographers, tourists, and foreign gamers/anime fans began descending upon the area to experience Japanese cosplay firsthand or even try to participate in the emerging cosplay culture. As cosplay became more mainstream and otaku culture changed, the Japanese レイヤーreiyā ‘layers (slang for cosplayers) disappeared from Harajuku and “the bridge” came to be populated by foreigners copying a 15 year old, outdated practice. The police cracked down on the crowds of foreign cosplayers, but sometimes you can still see a few foreigners hanging out posing for pictures.

Harajuku is also known as a kind of hair salon mecca. In addition to famous hair salons there are also many small boutique shops. The area was traditionally famous for its street fashion, but Gwen Stefani made the area stupid and to the best of my knowledge these days it’s mostly tourists (both international and from the Japanese countryside).

harajuku station today.jpg

Harajuku Station today. Hasn’t changed at much.

Architecturally speaking, Harajuku Station is interesting because the building dates back to 1901 and it looks like a typical station of the time. Unfortunately, at the time it was build this area was pretty undeveloped and the station can barely handle the amount of traffic it gets. It’s just wall to wall people on the weekends and national holidays. Another interesting aspect of the station is a separate pair of train tracks and platform for the 御召し列車 o-meshi ressha emperor’s private train[x]. The imperial family uses the tracks to visit Meiji Shrine at 御正月 o-shōgatsu the New Year holiday because it leads to a super-secret backdoor.

Harajuku-Kyutei-Platform (1).jpg

OK, it’s not so super-secret… But people like you and me can’t use it.

meiji jingū - damn son

Meiji Shrine is a large shrine, but its architecture is very restrained in contrast to the grand shrines/temples of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. That said the amount of land allotted to the shrine speaks volumes of how rural this area once was and how much money the Imperial Household Agency has.

Which brings me to Meiji Shrine. It’s a big shrine dedicated to the 明治天皇 Meiji Tennō Meiji Emperor of whom long term readers will know I’m not a particularly big fan. That said, the shrine is quite beautiful and definitely worth a visit. If you go on 文化の日 Bunka no Hi Culture Day, you can see an event called 流鏑馬 yabusame which is where people dress up like samurai and do mounted archery. It’s pretty fucking cool and I highly recommend it to everyone. Culture Day is on November 3rd which, incidentally, was originally the Meiji Emperor’s birfday.

yabusame doesn't mean broken shark

Yabusame doesn’t mean “broken shark” that would be 破鮫 and that’s just silly. No language needs a word for that.

Also in the area, though technically not in Harajuku, is 東郷神社 Tōgō Jinja Tōgō Shrine. The shrine is dedicated to 東郷 平八郎 Tōgō Heihachirō who was supposedly Japan’s most decorated naval officer. I don’t know a lot about the dude, but apparently his shrine was partially built as an “eff you” by the Imperial Navy to the Imperial Army. The army had erected a shrine to their hero, the general 乃木希典 Nogi Maresuke in Akasaka, so not to be outdone, the navy set up this shrine. It’s actually a really beautiful spot and it’s popular for weddings because of its photogenic traditional garden. I’ve never served in the military, but I know there are rivalries among the branches, I guess this one got us a scenic city retreat. Not bad.

togo shrine

A wedding at Tōgō Shrine

Alright. So in conclusion, I hope you’ve all enjoyed my take on Harajuku. A lot of people have a lot of opinions – both positive and negative, both reality and fantasy – but the history of the area and its etymology are pretty much straight forward.

As always, thanks for reading to the end and thanks for your support.

Next on the agenda, I’m finally getting around to my Yamanote Line series.If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check my Ōedo Line series. It’s gonna be hardcore, so I hope you’ll join me for what will literally be a wild ride!

.

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__________________
[i] I’d much rather update my blog than slice open my own belly, which is what samurai bloggers used to do when they were wrong.
[ii] We could roughly say the 12th century, but it’s easiest to think of this as the first shift of power away from Kyōto in the west to the Kantō region. Samurai strongmen ruled in the name of the western nobles in the east. The shift in power was a logical leap from stupid court politics to real martial control over fiefs.
[iii] What does Edo mean? What? You thought I didn’t have an article about Edo? lol
[iv] 源氏 Genji is essentially a nickname for 源氏 Minamoto-shi. The kanji is the same, it’s just more common to read it as Genji. It’s the same with the 平家 Hei-ke which is shorthand for 平家 Taira-ke. Again the kanji are the same and the meaning is the same: the Taira clan (well, technically “family,” but same thing).
[v] This area was located in central and western 神奈川県 Kanagawa Ken Kanagawa Prefecture. For the purposes of this article, it’s a reference to Kamakura – the capital of the Kamakura Shōguns.
[vi] If that word 駅 eki sounds familiar, it is. The modern word for train station is 駅 eki. The kanji was originally 驛 eki and the radical 馬 uma horse. Before trains it referred to relay station for changing horses, just as the modern term “post office” originated from places where messengers “posted” their horses.
[vii] Also known as 八幡太郎 Hachimantarō. 八幡 Hachiman is the god of war and ~太郎tarō is a suffix of a boy’s name. Hachiman was the tutelary 神 kami deity of the Minamoto clan. If you’ve ever been to Kamakura, you’ve probably visited the shrine 鶴岡八幡宮 Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū which was built by the first shōgun, Yoritomo. As a result of the Yoshiie and Yoritomo’s  devotion to this deity, it became the de factō tutelary spirit of all samurai.
[viii] This war is waaaaay beyond the scope of this article, but here’s the Wiki about it.
[ix] Now it’s a fulltime job for some people, at least that’s what my Twitter feed leads me to believe.
[x] Yes, the emperor has his own train.

I Have a Huge Announcement!

In Japan, Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Japanese Manners, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Japanese Subculture, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on March 24, 2016 at 3:45 am

大きな発
Ōki na happyō (a huge announcement)

twitter-4

Today I have a big announcement to make. Japanese history nerds, this is something I’ve thought about for a long time. You see, I spend a lot of time walking around Tōkyō trying to see what obscure pieces of Edo I still find lingering. From time to time, I go on what I call 歴史散歩 rekishi sanpo history walks with my friends. When my friends visit from other countries I always show them around the city – often times focusing on aspects of the city that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

But over the years, I’ve been thinking… “Hey, why don’t WE walk around the city talking about Japanese history? How fun would it be to show people what I’ve found? How fun would it be to hang out with other people who want to see different historical spots and geek out together?”

meshimori onna

Red light districts. We can do that.

Japan This! History Walks

So today, I’m proud to announce the beginning of JapanThis! Guided Tours for History Nerds[i]. I’ve put together a small series of informal history walks that cater specifically to Japanese History Fans. Most of them focus on topics that have come up on JapanThis!.

Some of them are super nerdy, but some of them are inclusive enough to bring your friend or family. I’m working on more that expand on other aspects of the city, but I’m also working on setting up tours that go across the country and ones that even focus on particular eras! I’ve tried to make customization an option in most cases so I hope I can accommodate everyone’s budget. Also, since this is all informal, we can keep it real. I mean, if we visit any places related to Kiyokawa Hachirō, we’re gonna have to call a douche a douche.

Due to preparation, time, materials, and the possibility of changing my work schedule, there’s a very modest, suggested tip for each history walk. It’s super reasonable, so just hit me up via Facebook and we can discuss the details.

The main page for tours can be found on the menu at the top of the blog or by clicking this link. That page contains costs and recommended tips. Oh, also some comments from past customers!

shinsengumi-scan1

You either know the Kiyokawa reference or you don’t….

I’ve developed a ranking system in terms of how geeky a course is and how much time or walking you’d have to do. At the time being I have a few courses devoted to the graves of the shōguns – all of which could be combined into a 3 day combination package if you’re into that sort of thing. However, most of what I offer now are just simple one day intensive history walks of Edo-Tōkyō[ii] and a few cultural experiences. All tours will come with printed background information so you can brush up on the history. You’ll also get a PDF version e-mailed to you with links to relevant articles so you can easily access related articles on the go. Of course, I’ll be with you the whole time to answer your questions, help you with the language, or – god forbid – talk the police out of arresting you.

Here’s a breakdown of my rating system.

What does is mean?

Geek Ranking

☆☆☆☆☆

A low ranking means less obscure shit (you can bring a non-nerd), a high ranking means we’re going deeeeep (way off the beaten path).

Walking Intensity

☆☆☆☆☆

I can walk for hours and never get tired. That’s a 5. Watching kabuki, that’s a 1 (or less).

Time Intensity

☆☆☆☆☆

Are you a half-day whiney little bitch or are you ready to go ballz to the wallz?

Keep in mind, a low ranking doesn’t mean it’s boring and high ranking doesn’t mean it’s super cool. There’s no correlation. I’m just trying to make sure everyone’s on the same page as to what their getting into. If you have any questions, just ask. If you use a wheelchair or have any other difficulties with mobility, vision, or otherwise, contact me directly and I’m pretty sure I can sort you out. No problem. Everyone is welcome!

——————

geisha

Let’s Start with the Not-So-Nerdy Tours

These are tours made for Japanese history nerd traveling with friends or family.

koishikawa korakuen

Light Crash Course in Edo-Tōkyō

Starts at Ryōgoku and finishes at Tōkyō Dome. Want to learn more about the history of Tōkyō? Have a traveling companion who is coming from zero but wants to learn a little bit? This might be the course for you!

Edo-Tōkyō Museum

The foremost museum on the history of the city. A fantastic insight into the evolution of the shōgun’s capital into one of the greatest economic powerhouses in the world.

Tōkyō Waterworks Museum

Edo was a city of 1 million people at its peak – the largest city in the world at the time by some accounts. It was also considered the Venice of East. This museum tells the story of how water played a major factor in the history of the city.

Kōraku-en Garden

This is one of the few daimyō gardens that still remain relatively intact from the Edo Period. It was on the grounds of the residence of the Mito Tokugawa. It was designed to change over the course of the 4 seasons. Bring a camera!!

Options

Eat chanko nabe, the staple food of sumō wrestlers. Eat takoyaki, a popular snack or drinking food. Eat both. May change the order of the course, but we can do it all!

Geek Ranking: ★★✬☆☆ 2.5
Walking Intensity: ★★☆☆☆ 2
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

2000円 per person (to cover admission fees)
Contact me via Facebook.

edo bay

One of the few places you can see the original shoreline of Edo Bay

Quirky Tōkyō Museum Tour

Tōkyō has a lot of museums. Seriously. A lot! This tour hits up 4 of the most unique museums in the city. Unfortunately, most don’t provide comprehensive English support, but don’t worry. I got your back.

Ōmori Nori Museum

Learn about nori[iv] production and even get hands on practice at the making it the way people did in Pre-Modern Japan. Also, see Japan’s first manmade beach.

Tōkyō Waterworks Museum

This is seriously one of the most underrated museums in the world. It studies the history of water in Edo-Tōkyō, in particular, how did the shōgunate provide water and sewerage for a city of a million people?!

Tōkyō Parasitological Museum

Supposedly one of Tōkyō’s most popular date sites, this science museum looks at… yup… parasites! You can even buy one of your very own and smuggle it back into your country.

Meiji University Museum

We’ll only visit the wing of the museum dedicated crime, policing, sentencing, incarceration, torture, and execution – with an emphasis on the Edo Period.

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★☆☆☆☆ 1
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

Personal transportation cost (we’ll use the subway)
Contact me via Facebook.

The hands on “nori experience” is first come first serve, so it needs to be book at least 2 months in advance. Believe it or not, it fills up super quick.
Also, the museum hours change by season.
The Parasitological Museum is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays.
I’ll work closely with you to make this happen!

 

ebizo

Ready to get yo ass cultured?

Kabuki – From Edo’s Low Style to Meiji’s High Style

Ginza

Early lunch; discussion about shitamachi/yamanote culture and kabuki.

Kabuki-za

3 kabuki shows, high class Japanese sweets

Option 0

Return to hotel

Option 1

Cheap Shōwa Era dinner, drinks, & a lot of vibe in Yūraku-chō

Option 2

High end Shōwa Era tempura dinner and a lot of vibe in Ginza

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ✬☆☆☆☆ .5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

Price varies greatly depending on number of people and proximity of seats and if you add an option. Since there are many factors involved, we should discuss this in detail.
Contact me via Facebook.

kamon

Shōgun Courses

There are 3 of them! You can do one. You can do two. Hell, you can do all three!
And that’s not branding. We’re literally gonna look at shōgun-related shit.

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Grave of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

Edo from Ōta Dōkan to the Bakumatsu
Shōgun Graves Part 1

Starts at Dōkan’yama or Nishi-Nippori and finishes at Ueno Station spanning the 1440’s to the 1860’s. We’ll see many shrines and temples and a sprawling necropolis that will blow your mind. I’ll also get you the closest you can get to the shōguns’ graves in Ueno[v]. We’ll also see sites associated with the Battle of Ueno which destroyed much of the area in the 1860’s resulting in the building of Ueno Park.

Dōkan’yama

Suwa Shrine, former satellite castle of Ōta Dōkan and Edo Period cherry blossom spot

Yanaka

 

Yanaka Cemetery and environs; graves of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, Higuchi Ichiyō, Date Munenari, and Takahashi O-den

Ten’nō-ji

Main hall, pagoda ruins

Kan’ei-ji

Graves of the Tokugawa shōguns, post-Boshin War main hall, pagoda, Tōshō-gū, Ghost Lantern, Ueno Big Buddha, Benzaiten, Shinobazu Lake, Kiyomizu Kan’non-dō, Shōgitai Grave and other sites associated with the Battle of Ueno, Saigō Takamori Statue (and possibly access to the Aoi no Ma)

Uguisudani

See a shitamachi red light district, place where Katsu Kokichi[vi] retired and wrote his memoires

Nezu Shrine

One of Tōkyō’s most beautiful shrines

Option

Visit an Edo Period tōfu shop or a Shōwa Period soba shop

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity
: ★★★★★ 5
Time Intensity
: ★★★★☆ 4

Cost will vary if you add an option.
Contact me via Facebook.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grave of Tokugawa Hidetada

A Walk from Edo Castle to Shiba
Shōgun Graves Part 2

Starts in the Outer Moat area of Edo Castle and finishes at Azabu-Jūban. Roughly follow the path the shōgun and his retinue would take from the castle to his funerary temples at Zōjō-ji . Food options exist along the way, so we can discuss by email.

Edo Castle

Hibiya Gate, Saiwai Gate, Shibaguchi Gate, Sukiyabashi Gate/Yūraku-chō, Edo Magistrate’s Office, Sotobori/Marunouchi/Daimyō Alley overview, Tiger Gate

Shinbashi

Remains of original Shinbashi Bridge, Original Shinbashi Station, Karasumori Shrine, Shiogama Shrine, Red Brick Way, remains of Sendai Domains lower & middle residences (Date clan), site of Asano Naganori’s seppuku

Zōjō-ji

Graves of the Tokugawa Shōguns, O-nari Gate, Ietsugu’s Niten Gate, remains of Ietsugu’s innermost stone wall, consolidated graves of the shōguns (there is a museum with regularly changing exhibits – if interested), cemetery for dead babies, Hidetada’s main gate, lesser known remains of Hidetada’s mausoleum, Tōshō-gū, a sakura planted by Iemitsu

Akabanebashi

Fushimi Sanpō Inari Shrine, Shin’ami-chō, upper residence of Kurumae Domain (Arima clan), Kurumae fire watchtower

Bakumatsu Murder Bridges

Site of Henry Heusken’s murder, site of Kiyokawa Hachirō’s murder

Additional Options

Tōkyō Tower; graveyard of the women of Nanbu Domain, Zōjō-ji Museum, shopping/eating in Azabu-Jūban and/or Roppongi Hills – Edo Period shops are in the area.

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★★★★★ 5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

[viii]
Cost will vary if you add an option.
Contact me via Facebook.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu

A Day and Night in Nikkō
Shōgun Graves Part 3

We start at Tōkyō Station, go to Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture for sightseeing and fun, stay in at traditional Japanese inn with a hot spring, then return to Tōkyō the next morning. This is the final resting place of the 1st and 3rd Tokugawa shōguns and the best extant example of shōgunal mausoleums. This tour is great for anyone, but especially good for people whose traveling companions aren’t history nerds but want to do some must-see sightseeing and have a really unique Japanese experience.

Rin’nō-ji
(Nikkō Tōshō-gū and Taiyū-in)

Grave of the found of Rin’nō-ji and origin of all Buddhist activity in the area, Roku Butenzō – the oldest Buddhist monuments in Nikkō, Rin’nō-ji – the temple controls most of the area, Tōshō-gū (grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu), Taiyū-in (grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu). Tōshō-gū is one of the top 5 spots in Japan!

Edo Wonderland

A theme park that recreates the spirit of Edo in architecture, costume, shows, and hands on experience. All of the staff is in character, so they offer guests the chance to cosplay in character! When you’re done, you can enjoy a beer or too watching the sun set over “Edo” in the mountains.

Relax in a Japanese hot spring

Have traditional dinner and a bath (or 2 or 3) in natural, geothermally heated water; get a good night’s sleep on a futon in a traditional Japanese room.

Options

If you want, a traditional Buddhist vegetarian course meal can be arranged.

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

There is a Japanese proverb, “Don’t say something is ‘splendid’ until you’ve seen Nikkō” because of its sublime beauty. This may not be the nerdiest destination, but it will definitely make a big impression. In a addition, a famous Kyōto and Nikkō tōfu specialty is widely available.

Final cost will vary depending on number of people, options, etc., but I’m fairly sure I can keep things reasonable, especially for groups![ix]
Contact me via Facebook.

butwaittheresmore.jpeg

Other Tours!

hama goten.jpg

Scenic Gardens, Tokugawa Palaces, and Zōjō-ji

Starts at the seaside villa remains of the shōguns, continues to the seaside villa of a high ranking retainer of the shōguns, and ends at one of 2 funerary temples of the shōguns. This is a fairly hands-off course so you’re free to explore at your own pace, but I’m available for everyone at all times.

Former Hama Palace

This was the shōgun’s seaside villa. It retains a unique salt water moat system and Edo Period hunting grounds. It also offers a beautiful view of the city and nature. We can enjoy tea and Japanese sweets a teahouse built in the middle of a lake.

Shiba Rikyū Garden

Originally a seaside fort of the Hōjō clan of Odawara, it was later a daimyō residence of the Ōkubo clan (who originated from Tokugawa Ieyasu’s homeland, Mikawa Province).

Zōjō-ji

We can approach Zōjō-ji the way it was intended to be approached, from the sea. We’ll pass the Great Gate and then move on for a look at a funerary temple of the Tokugawa shōguns.

Options

Feeling a little garden crazy? We could easily swap out Zōjō-ji for 1 or 2 other Edo Period gardens. Perfect for photographers interested in Japanese nature!

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ★★★☆☆ 3.5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

2000円 per person (to cover admission fees)
Contact me via Facebook.

beheading

Ready to go somewhere really dark?

The 3 Great Execution Grounds of Edo

I think this will be popular! If you want to see the dark and macabre side of Edo-Tōkyō, you’re not alone. I’m as fascinated with it as I am repulsed by it. Depending on where your hotel is, I will re-arrange the order for the most convenient order – though my personal favorite is Denma-chō→Kozukappara→Suzugamori[x].

Suzugamori

See the killing floor, the posts for burnings at the stake and crucifixions, the well for cleaning heads before display, Namidabashi (the place families said goodbye), “Bone Street.”

Denma-chō

See the “supposed” killing floor, monuments to Yoshida Shōin (who was a prisoner here); discuss why Yoshida Shōin was a douche.

Kozukappara

See the killing floor of the worst prison in Edo, the Kubikiri Jizō (the last thing the beheaded saw before they died), Ekō-in (temple for the repose of the dead), Namidabashi (the place families said goodbye), “Bone Street.”

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★☆☆☆☆ 1
Time Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5[xi]

Contact me via Facebook.

 

I’m Working on a few New Tours

Please remember, I’m just starting this up and I’m doing this all on my own. I have a lot to learn and I’m starting to reach out to other people to try and make a partnership that will help me expand my offerings to longer tours, and even nationwide tours. Imagine a 4-5 day nationwide Shinsengumi tour? How fun would that be??!

Anyways, I really think the sky’s the limit with this. In my mind, it’s the ultimate way to bond with you guys – face to face, high fives and all. And after a serious “thank you” for your support, let’s go take a look at this city – no, this country – that I absolutely love! Also, if you are looking for a more personalized experience, let me know. I’m willing to make custom tours.

Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you like this idea, share with a friend!

_________________________
[i] JK, actually it’s just Japan This! History Walks because that other name is long as hell and we’re just gonna be chilling out seeing some cool obscure parts of the city and geeking about Japanese history and culture.
[ii] This is 100% negotiable at the moment. Since I’m just doing this in my spare time, I maaaaaaay be able to offer you far more customizable tours. Just let me know what you want.
[iii] I don’t believe these are actual terms used in the real tourism industry…
[iv] An edible seaweed. If you eat sushi rolls, the wrapper is nori.
[v] Working on getting better access, but the area has been pretty much off limits for a long time. They don’t even allow photography in the off limits areas, even if you can get in.
[vi] Son of Katsu Kaishū, the father of the Japanese Navy.
[vii] To get a 360° view of the main structure itself, it costs 500円 per person. There is a famous peony garden on the site which costs 1200円 per person.
[viii] To get a 360° view of the main structure itself, it costs 500円 per person. There is a famous peony garden on the site which costs 1200円 per person.
[ix] Nikkō is in the mountains, so I don’t recommend winter at all. Also, the area is extremely crowded in autumn because people come to see the autumn leaves. If you want to come in the fall, I recommend booking 6 months or more to guarantee a comfortable bed and hot bath.
[x] In terms of subway use, it’s an impractical course unless you do alone or unless it’s a one-on-one tour. For groups, I have to find the most cost efficient/time efficient route for everyone.
[xi] Because a good deal of your time will be taking trains to the next execution ground. I’m good at conversation, so it won’t be boring but expect to change trains a few times lol.

Ōedo Line: Kachidoki

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on June 23, 2015 at 3:00 pm

勝どき
Kachidoki (victory war cry)

Kachidoki Bridge crossing the mouth of the Sumida River. (Click the picture to read more about this photo.)

Kachidoki Bridge crossing the mouth of the Sumida River.
(Click the picture to read more about this photo.)

Nearby Tsukishima was home to the Naval Academy of the Japanese Empire. A memorial was built – and still stands today – near an old ferry crossing. The memorial was dedicated to the Japanese victory at the Siege of Port Arthur, which was probably the most dramatic battle of the Russo-Japanese War (February 1904 – September 1905). Later a bridge replaced the ferry crossing and was called 勝鬨橋 Kachidoki-bashi Kachidoki Bridge. The area’s name is derived from the “war cry monument” and the subsequent bridge still bears that name.

You can see the monument when the ferry service was. The area is a mix of modern high rise apartments and gritty, wooden 下町 shitamachi (low city) homes. One famous high rise is Kachidoki View Tower which offers 2 viewing platforms for residents (including a party room) and boasts a view of Tōkyō Bay, Tōkyō Tower, and Tōkyō Skytree. You also have access to Tsukuda Island. Tsukuda is where the story of all of the massive man made islands in Tōkyō Bay begins. The area still retains a lot of its Edo appeal and is worth the trip for history geeks and photographers.

tsukudajima1Unless you want to go on an epic walking tour of the Tsukishima area, this station might not be high on your to-do-list. If you’re a real JapanThis! nerd, this might actually be a great place to start your walk through history. Just be sure to have GPS, you’ll be doing a lot of walking. The area is primarily residential today (it didn’t even exist in the Edo Period). But access to the monument that is the area’s namesake is limited to this station. Even if you make the trek all the way out to the end of the island, 晴海 Harumi “clear seas,” your view of the bay will still be obstructed by so much reclaimed land and development. If you want to see the open bay, your best bet is to take a bus or taxi to 若洲海浜公園 Wakasu Kaihin Kōen Wakasu Seaside Park. It’s probably the farthest place you can go in Tōkyō Bay without trespassing on shipyards and the places where they ship out Tōkyō’s garbage to some magical place that no one knows about.

Choose your battles wisely.

The history of this area is a bit complex, so if you want to know more about it, I recommend you check my earlier, much more detailed articles:

Wakasu Park is probably furthest accessible point of Tokyo Bay.

Wakasu Park is probably furthest accessible point of Tokyo Bay.

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

Ōedo Line: Tsukishima

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on June 23, 2015 at 6:32 am

月島
Tsukishima (moon island)

tsukishima

The history of Tsukishima, Tuskiji, Kachidoki, and many other place names are closely linked etymologically. Most of these are late Edo Period and early Meiji Era names. I recommend you read the two links at the end of this section to get the whole story.

monja

But if you go to Tsukishima, you’re there for one thing: もんじゃ焼き monja-yaki, a kind of food you cook at the table made of vegetables and meat or fish toppings sealed together by various soupy bases that make the mix tight enough that you can pick it up with a tiny spoon that allows a bite sized mouthful. The word “monja” is said to be derived from the shitamachi dialect of the early Meiji Period. The grill looked like the newly imported blackboards used in the new public schools. What did you write on blackboards? 文字 moji letters, of course. In Edo, this word was pronounced monji not moji, and according to some accounts, in the low city dialect spoken in the Sumida area, the word was pronounced monja. If this is true, the name means “cooked on a blackboard.”

Because the cooking style is similar to お好み焼き okonomi-yaki, a similarly prepared food from Western Japan, the two dishes are often lumped together. Historically, okonomi-yaki was born in Ōsaka and Hiroshima (very different styles), but monja-yaki was born in Tōkyō’s shitamachi districts. Both are delicious, but okonomi-yaki actually has a predictable shape and most of the recipes are also predictable. Monja-yaki, a dish that developed with the same cooking technology, is much more freeform. Visually, monja-yaki looks like someone puked on a heated service. But, it is easily one of the most versatile dishes to come out of the Meiji Era (though most people associate it with the Taishō and Shōwa Eras). If you want to see how far you can stretch this particular style of cooking; instead of bar hopping, make reservations at 2 famous shops in Tsukishima 5 hours apart. Then, go early on a weekday night to go monja-yaki hopping for the rest of the time[i].

This half-naked maid has absolutely nothing to do with Tsukishima. Woo-hoo!

This half-naked maid has absolutely nothing to do with Tsukishima.
Woo-hoo!

By the way, Tsukishima is a manmade island from the Meiji Period. Name “moon island” is a reference to the Edo Period teahouses and restaurants that straddled the old coast of Edo Bay. These teahouses were famous for “moon watching” because you could watch the moon move across the sky and be reflected in the bay. Without any electricity and no buildings over 2 stories, a full moon over the bay must have been a glorious sight to behold.

Wanna read my original article about the Tsukishima Area?
Wanna read my original article about Tsukuda Island?

In defense of

In defense of “moon watching,” there was no “Game of Thrones.” Watching the moon was about the best thing you could do outside of the Yoshiwara.

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

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[i] Pro-Tip: check out the area around 4:30-5:00 PM and see which shops are already full. Those are the best and most popular shops. Make reservations, and then do the rounds. Once the dinner rush happens, you’ll have to wait and hour or more for the best shops.

Ōedo Line Extravaganza (intro)

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on May 31, 2015 at 5:32 pm

大江戸線
Ōedo-sen (the Greater Edo Line)

Oedo Line Map

The 大江戸線 Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line’s full name is the 都営大江戸線 Toei Ōedo-sen Toei Ōedo Line. 都営 Toei means “operated by the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government.” Most official signage includes the full name. It’s one of the deepest subways in the world.

elevator

Tōkyō’s famous loop train, the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line circles the city limits of 江戸 Edo – more or less[i]. Likewise, the Ōedo Line forms an incomplete loop around the old city but also includes areas that were well outside the city limits of Edo, including Shinjuku[ii], Nakano[iii], and Nerima[iv]. One of the original names proposed for this train line was the 都庁線 Tochō-sen which roughly translates to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Line. The reason was because the train line starts at the 東京都庁舎 Tōkyō-to Chōsha Tōkyō Metropolitan Government Building in 西新宿 Nishi-Shinjuku West Shinjuku. But because the line was mostly within the confines of historical Edo but also hit some peripheral areas closely connected to the old city, the word 大江戸 Ōedo was thrown out as a suggestion. Ōedo means “the greater Edo area.” This term includes the proximity, cultural ties, and economic ties of the villages that sat on the outskirts of the city on the major highways[v]. 内藤新宿 Naitō-Shinjuku (the old name of Shinjuku) was located outside of the city limits but was home to a major highway, the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway, and a less famous highway, the 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō Ōme Highway. In the end, the name 大江戸線 Ōedo-sen “Great Edo Line” was chosen[vi]. The train opened for service in 平成12年12月12日 Heisei jūninen jūnigatsu jūninichi 12/12 of the 12th year of Heisei. To the Japanese, this date could be read as 12/12/12. The rest of the world reads it as 12/12/2000.

kasuga

Before this writing, I was under the impression that the Ōedo Line was just a normal subway train. After all, it looks like, sounds like, and feels like all the other subways I’ve ridden in Tōkyō. But it turns out that that the Ōedo Line was Tōkyō’s first linear motor car. Previously, I’d thought “linear motor car” and “maglev train” were synonymous – in Japanese I always hear maglev trains described as linear motor cars. But apparently, they are not synonymous. While both use linear motor propulsion, the new SCMaglev being tested in 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture has no wheels, but the Ōedo Line has wheels like a normal train. I’m not an engineer, so that’s about as far as I can talk about the whole “linear motor car” thing.

So, assuming that the Ōedo Line covers the Greater Edo Area, I thought it might be fun to hit every station on the line and see if we can take a tour of Edo-Tōkyō. I’ll try to give a really quick etymology of each station name or area name. After that, I’ll give a quick description of the area’s historical significance and sightseeing (if any). I haven’t done any research, as each station comes up, it should be a bit of an adventure for me too.

EDIT:
I’ve written the entire article. Every freaking station on the Ōedo Line. Not sure why I thought this was a good idea as a single article.

So I’ve decided that, as one article this is boring as fuck. Therefore, I’m going to chop this up into little pieces. Let’s enjoy the Ōedo Line station by station, day by day.

 

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[i] It doesn’t follow the exact borders, but it does hit many 山手 yamanote high city areas characterized by samurai residences and daimyō residences.
[ii] Here’s my article on Shinjuku.
[iii] Here’s my article on Nakano.
[iv] Here’s my article on Nerima.
[v] Read my article about the 5 Great Highways of Edo.
[vi] Some other names were bantered about, including the unwieldy都営地下鉄12号線 Toei Chikatetsu Jūnigō-sen Toei Subway Line #12 and東京環状線 Tōkyō Kanjō-sen Tōkyō Loop Line.

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