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Execution Grounds of Edo

江戸之大三死刑所
Edo no Daisan Shikeijo (the 3 Great Execution Grounds of Edo)

Yamada Asaemon - the last hereditary executioner of the shōgunate.

Yamada Asaemon – the last hereditary executioner of the shōgunate.

Ritual cleanliness and ritual defilement were big issues in Pre-Modern Japan. Some of these issues are clearly still alive and well, though luckily these days things tend to be more focused on physical cleanliness for health reasons and whatnot. But because of an aversion to sick or dead bodies of people or animals as spiritually unclean vessels thought to have held contagious powers, capital punishment was conducted on the outskirts of the city. Places where animals were slaughtered and butchered were also required to be outside of the capital. In the event a samurai was required to commit 切腹 seppuku suicide by self-disembowelment, the ritual was usually conducted outside of the house in the garden – anywhere other than where people slept and conducted their daily lives. In short, people wanted nothing to do with death.

Anyhoo, the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate established 3 execution grounds on the outskirts of 江戸 Edo (the old name of Tōkyō). At the time, some executions were public. Those that weren’t public were often still displayed after the fact. Decapitated heads sat on wooden display shelves at the entrance to the shōgun’s capital as warning to all that certain crimes would not be tolerated. In a culture where even the elite 侍 samurai were held accountable and required to kill themselves to preserve the integrity of their family, this was a strong message.

These guys loved seppuku

These guys loved seppuku

Death Was Everywhere in the Edo Period


Infant mortality rates were high. Executions were often public. Killing yourself for the sake of your family was considered a viable way of preserving your family’s dignity by extinguishing your own failure.

Keep in mind, in Edo, this was something of a common occurrence. Samurai boys throwing temper tantrums would often threaten to commit seppuku when they didn’t get what they wanted. On the other hand, they were sometimes ordered to commit seppuku by older boys who bullied them – but as boys carried wooden swords, they couldn’t actually commit the act. And most importantly, as soon as they began learning the basics of 剣術 kenjutsu the art of the sword, the expectation that you might one day have to kill yourself with a sword was indoctrinated into them. That’s heavy. ISIS heavy. The Edo Period was not all puppy dogs and ice cream.

But I digress. I wrote a series about these 3 execution grounds. I suggest you read all of them. They will be referred to again and again and again in various articles. They’re also locations that you can visit today.

Article Title

Link

Description

Edo Execution Ground Spectacular

Edo Execution Ground Spectacular

My lead article to the series

伝馬町牢屋敷
Denma-chō Rōyashiki
Denma-chō Prison

Denma-chō Execution Grounds

To the best of my knowledge, Denma-chō doesn’t exist anymore, but 小伝馬町駅 Kodenmachō Eki Little Denmachō Station is the main vestige of this place name. Many high profile executions took place here.

鈴ヶ森死刑場
Suzugamori Shikeijo

Suzugamori Execution Ground

Suzugamori Execution Ground

Located on the beach of Ōmori in the Shinagawa area. This was site was warning to travelers coming into the capital by sea. Many high profile executions took place here.

小塚原死刑場
Kozukappara Shikeijo
Kozukappara Execution Ground

Kozukappara Execution Ground

The worst managed execution ground of Edo. The area stunk of death and bones were strewn all over the area by wild animals to the point that to this day it’s considered one of the worst places to live in all of Tōkyō[i].

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[i] Rent is cheap, by the way!!!

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