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What does Umayabashi mean?

In Japanese History on December 22, 2015 at 1:29 am

Umayabashi
厩橋 Umayabashi  (stable/barn bridge)

o-umayabashi now

This triple arched green bridge is Umayabashi. If I’ve got my bearing right, the left side is the west bank (ie; Asakusa/Taitō Ward) and the right side is the east bank (ie; Honjo, Sumida Ward).

I’m really, really sorry for the delay getting this article out. I had a problem with my internet connection at home for about 2 weeks and literally couldn’t do any work[i]. Man, 2 weeks without internet is a horrible experience. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Well, maybe on Donald Trump or those assholes in ISIS. I really don’t like them.

Anyhoo…

厩橋 Umayabashi is a bridge that crosses the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River[ii]. It connects 台東区蔵前二丁目 Taitō-ku Kuramae 2-chōme 2nd block of Kuramae, Taitō Ward and 東区駒形二丁目 Taitō-ku Komagata 2-chōme 2nd block of Komagata, Taitō Ward on the west bank with 墨田区本所一丁目 Sumida-ku Honjo 1-chōme 1st block of Honjo, Sumida Ward on the east bank.

The word is made of 2 kanji.


umaya, maya
(baya in some dialects)
barn, stable
(this kanji is extremely rare today)

hashi
bridge

There’s one more kanji we will encounter.


o-, on-, go-
an honorific prefix used in polite speech, but historically also used to refer to possessions of the shōgunate and the imperial court.
Onmayagashi

On-mayagashi (O-umaya Coast) – note the ferry service. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

The Etymology

The name derives from 御厩 O-umaya. The kanji were read as おんまや On-maya and おうまや O-umaya in the Edo Period. Both readings are acceptable, but the former seems more imperial, while the latter appears more shōgunal – or at the very least, it appears more Edoesque. The name is a reference to a short lived stable owned by the Tokugawa Shōgunate. As mentioned earlier, 厩 umaya means stable. 御厩 o-umaya/on-maya are honorific forms of the same word. Any possessions of the shōgun were generally given the honorific prefix 御 go/o[iii]. The exact location of the shōgunate’s stables is unclear today, but they were most likely located on the west side of the river in Kuramae/Komagata[iv].

The horses stabled in this area were not magical samurai war horses[v]. In fact, because the shōgunate restricted horse use to only high ranking samurai, you couldn’t just ride a horse through the city. The horses at O-umaya were merely pack horses used by the granary at 御倉 O-kura the great rice warehouse from which 大名 daimyō feudal lords and 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun were paid their stipends. At that time, Asakusa was a bustling suburb – that is, on the outskirts of Edo – while the east side of the river was generally rural. However, this particular stretch of the river was urbanized[vi] on both sides. 大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō palaces and a detached palace of the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family were located in this area[vii]. Fruit markets and vegetables markets existed on the quays, shōgunal storehouses lined the river, and warehouses of various daimyō dominated the alleyways.

If you’re scratching your head, check out these related articles later:

Umaya Coast

O-umaya Coast during a rainstorm.

Not so much a Place Name as a few Place Names

You’d think that the landholdings of the shōgun would loom large in the historical record, but the O-umaya’s existence seems to have been so short lived or so mundane that little is known about it. However, the place name seems to have been commonplace by 1690, the 10th year of the reign of the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. That year of the “golden age” of the shōgunate, a ferry crossing was established in the area. It was named 御厩之渡し O-umaya no Watashi O-umaya Crossing. The quay on the west bank of the river was referred to as 御厩河岸 On-maya-gashi or O-umaya-kagan the O-umaya Riverbank[viii].

asakusa-gawa shubinomatsu onmayagashi

O-umaya and the Asakusa section of the Sumida River at night.

Meanwhile, on the East Bank of the River

While people occasionally traveled from the west bank to the east, most of the traffic consisted of country merchants or rich farmers from the east bank seeking the pleasures of Edo. A good deal of them took the ferry to make religious pilgrimages to 浅草寺 Sensō-ji Sensō Temple in 浅草 Asakusa, but that was largely an excuse to indulge in the exotic and erotic delights of the 吉原 Yoshiwara, Edo’s licensed red light district. And even though the country bumpkins loved a little drinking and whoring when they had the time, the reality was that the samurai on sankin-kōtai duty in the barracks located on the east bank were the biggest spenders. The ferry services were all for hire, but few ferry services charged samurai. This was out of the commoners respect for their social superiors as there was a legally sanctioned chance of being killed for insulting a samurai’s honor[ix]. In Star Wars terminology, this is called the “let the Wookie win” defense.

asakusa-gawa shubinomatsu onmayagashi

O-umaya and the Asakusa section of the Sumida River at night.

On the east bank of the river, there had also been a rural palace of the Tokugawa shōguns known as 隅田川御殿 Sumida-gawa Goten the Sumida River Palace[x]. The elite, rural side of the river was lined with 桜の木 sakura no ki cherry blossom trees and by 1872 (Meiji 5), it seems to have become a hot spot for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing in the spring. That particular year experienced a rush of Edoites from the west bank who wanted to see the cherry blossoms of 向島 Mukōjima on the east bank. A ferry loaded beyond capacity departed from O-umaya and soon capsized. The cold and rapid currents of the Sumida swept the boat and its passengers downstream. Many of the revelers drowned as few could overcome the force of the river in their heavy, early spring 着物 kimono and 羽織 haori traditional jackets worn with kimono. The incidence prompted quick action from the government.

1502jcii

The O-umaya Ferry

These kinds of accidents had happened quite often since the Meiji Coup in 1868 because of the unprecedented ease of travel that the liberalism of the new imperial government afforded. But tragedies like this were excuses to further modernization[xi]. Ferry service was temporarily halted and construction of a bridge was begun slightly downstream. Finally, in 1874 (Meiji 7), a traditional Japanese-style wooden bridge was opened for service called 厩橋 Umayabashi Umaya Bridge[xii]. The paid ferry service soon ended as the bridge was free to cross on foot[xiii].

4f08732d

The Meiji Era wooden bridge

 

In 1893 (Meiji 26), a steel bridge was built to replace the traditional wooden bridge in order to accommodate trains and automobile traffic. It was finished in 1895 (Meiji 28). The current bridge is a much more stable construction that replaced the first steel bridge following the 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923. Interestingly, the modern bridge only allows automobile and pedestrian traffic. No trains cross it these days, though the 都営大江戸線 Toei Ōedo-sen Toei Ōedo Line, a subway, passes nearby. The bridge is nothing special today – just one of many bridges that cross Edo’s former 大川 Ōkawa Great River.

img_4

The Meiji Era steel bridge. Note it is divided into 3 segments like the modern bridge.

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[i] On the bright side, I was able to plow through a pretty epic book. I hope to have a review for you before New Year’s.
[ii] The river was known by different names at different locales throughout its windy path. Sumida River referred to a very specific stretch of the river. Prior to the Meiji Period, the bulk of the river was referred to as the 大川 Ōkawa the Great River or the Big River. This is a name not unlike that of the Mississippi, which derives from a Native American dialect word that means “Great River.” I don’t know anything about Native American languages or dialects, but this is what Wikipedia has to say about the language group.
[iii] Refer to my article on O-daiba and my article on Kuramae.
[iv] 駒形 Komagata literally means “horse shaped,” but apparently this place name is from the 800’s and is actually a reference to 馬頭観音 Batō Kannon/Mezu Kannon, the Japanese version of हयग्रीव Hayagrīva. I’m not an expert in Buddhism or Hinduism, but for whatever reason the first kanji means “horse.” At nearby 浅草寺 Sensō-ji, you can see a structure called the 駒形堂 Komagata-dō. This is mostly likely where the place name Komagata comes from. The presence of a stable belonging to the shōgunate is most likely a coincidence.
[v] The magical samurai warhorses, as everyone knows, were stabled at your mom’s house.
[vi] Or, more accurately, “suburbanized.” Is that a word?
[vii] More about that in a bit.
[viii] The former, Onmaya-gashi represented in 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints depicting daily life in Edo-Tōkyō. The latter, seems more logical considering other place names, including 大森海岸 Ōmori Kaigan Ōmori Coast (see article on Ōmori here). Also, the most basic rules of reading kanji in modern Japanese tend to favor “kagan/gagan” over “kashi/gashi.” So, Onmaya-gashi may be an affectation.
[ix] Under the Tokugawa Shōgunate’s rules, a practice commonly called 切捨て御免 kirisute go-men, which means “an excuse for killing and discarding someone” existed. The idea was a samurai was more educated and at the top of the hierarchy so if you caused some affront to him, he could kill you on the spot and in the following investigation claim his social status as an excuse. Whether the courts of Edo bought it or not, the samurai would be freed or asked to perform 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide. The suicide option was considered more dignified than execution.
[x] I discussed the palace briefly in my article on Mukōjima.
[xi] I’m not using excuse in a light way here, either. The more lives saved, the better. But with western technology, we see the chipping away at Edo. The old city begins to disappear.
[xii] Note the honorific kanji 御 o was removed for the new bridge name. This was a deliberate move by the imperial government to eradicated traces of the shōgunate from the shōgun’s former capital.
[xiii] Surely, you could walk across the river faster than fight the downstream current on a small boat.

What does Honjo mean?

In Japanese History on September 10, 2015 at 6:16 am

本所
Honjo (main place)

An exit of Honjo-Azumabashi Station and its new friend in the background.

An exit of Honjo-Azumabashi Station and its new friend in the background.

The etymology of this area is pretty straight forward and actually does little justice to the neighborhood’s actual value. The name seems to be derived from the 荘園制度 shōen seido shōen system[i]. Shōen were administrative units that were originally more or less autonomous from the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court, though they owed their legitimacy to their connections to the court. In English, this is often rendered as manor or estate[ii].

Under the shōen system, the 本所 honjo main place (main estate) designated the place where the 荘園領主 shōen ryōshu lord of the shōen lived[iii]. This would include the lord’s 本家 honke main family line and their direct retainers. Branch families would live elsewhere. As such, a honjo is actually a designation of an area that is not unlike the capital of the shōen (the lord’s territory). This use was common throughout Japan and as such there are many places in the country called Honjo. The most popular story ties the area to 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, but whether the name dates from Ieyasu’s time or reflects an ancient honjo is unclear. Some have even suggested it’s a reference to the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo Clan or 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, first of the Tokugawa shōguns and possible namer of the area - also possible non-namer of the area. Nobody knows.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, first of the Tokugawa shōguns and possible namer of the area – also possible non-namer of the area.
Nobody knows.

When 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu was granted control of Edo in the 1580’s by 太閤豊臣秀吉 taikō Toyotomi Hideyoshi imperial regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the term 荘園 shōen was all but obsolete, but some associated place names persisted. If this line of thinking is to be trusted, by the time Ieyasu assumed control of Edo and 関八州 Kanhasshū the 8 Kantō Provinces, the term was just an archaism that gave the area a touch of class. The area set one of the early models for the 山手 yamanote high city. Ieyasu required the old Edo samurai families to move to the area to be closer to Edo Castle where he could keep his eyes on them[iv]. To keep them in check, those samurai families were granted 旗本 hatamoto status (ie; they became direct retainers of the Tokugawa). He later ordered 3 譜代大名 fudai daimyō daimyō loyal to the Tokugawa at the Battle of Sekigahara to build their 上屋敷 kamiyashiki upper residences there to keep the old Edo elite in check. I suppose the granting hatamoto status and naming the area Honjo was essentially the spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down. But because of its elite beginnings, the area was replete with nature. It was famous for its greenery and suburban feel even in the late Edo Period despite the changes that would come with time.

The main gate of Tsugaru Domain's upper residence. The scene is decidedly yamanote. Note the lush greenery behind the mansion walls. Also note the drum tower inside the compound. It was a drum tower and used a huge taiko (Japanese drum) to sound the alarm.

The main gate of Tsugaru Domain’s upper residence. The scene is decidedly yamanote. Note the lush greenery behind the mansion walls. Also note the drum tower inside the compound. It was a drum tower and used a huge taiko (Japanese drum) to sound the alarm.

In the very early Edo Period, people used local terms to identify themselves. Perhaps you were 向島っ子 Mukōjimakko a child of Mukōjima.  Perhaps you were 吾妻っ子 Azumakko a child of Azuma. But for the first half of the Edo Period, if you were 本所っ子 Honjokko a child of Honjo that meant you were a real 江戸っ子 Edokko child of Edo. Your family may have even preceded the Tokugawa – or at least that was the image[v].

Before you perish in a fire, the last sound you might've heard in Honjo was the Tsugaru no Taikō (the Tsugaru Drum) which meant

Before you perish in a fire, the last sound you might’ve heard in Honjo was the Tsugaru no Taikō (the Tsugaru Drum) which meant “Fire! Get to the other side of the river now!!!!”
この写真はイメージです

In 1657, the area was still quite rustic. After the 明暦之大火 Meireki no Taika Meireki Fire[vi], the site was chosen for the burial of those who perished in the conflagration. The fire burned for 3 days in some parts of the city and destroyed 60-70% of Edo – including sections of Edo Castle itself. Some accounts say 100,000 Edoites burned to death in the disaster. To appease the souls of the dead, a temple was built to tend to the mass grave of the victims. The temple is called 回向院 Ekō-in Ekō Temple which is still located in Honjo. By the way, an 回向 ekō is a Buddhist prayer for the repose of the dead[vii].

Mukōjima Ekō-in started when 5th shōgun Tsunayoshi declared the burial mound where bodies were dumped a 万人塚

Mukōjima Ekō-in started when 5th shōgun Tsunayoshi declared the burial mound where bodies were dumped a 万人塚 manninzuka “mound of a thousands of souls.”
Since that time, the temple has been tending to the souls of the poor, those rejected by their families, the unclaimed dead, the executed, and animals. The temple has connections with sumō wrestling, too.

If the Area was so Elite, Why is it Shitamachi Today?

In 1719, the area was officially incorporated into Edo and fell under direct control of the shōgunate. This happened after the construction of 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge. The building of the bridge saw an influx of craftsmen and laborers who worked on the project. Many remained in the area as 町人 chōnin townspeople of the commoner areas. The completion of the bridge created more demand for jobs that only commoners could do under the rigid social hierarchy of the Tokugawa.

The daimyō residences alone must have been big business. They needed maintenance of their villas, but they also needed landscaping work, they needed fish and other foodstuffs brought to their estates. They needed rain coats and new underwear. The other samurai families required the same conveniences of the day. As more businesses arose in the area, the commoner population exploded. Woodworkers and other craftsmen had quick access to the lumberyards of Kiba which made the area famous for woodwork. A unique culture emerged in the area. It was a culture of means – but one that depended on the working class.

The Tsugaru residence is great example of the Edo- Tokyo dichotomy. The streets in yellow were Edo Period thoroughfares, typical of the yamanote. I marked the main entrance of the Tsugaru Estate in blue so you can get a point of perspective from the ukiyo-e I showed earlier.

The Tsugaru residence is great example of the Edo-Tokyo dichotomy.
The streets in yellow were Edo Period thoroughfares, typical of the yamanote.
I marked the main entrance of the Tsugaru Estate in blue so you can get a point of perspective from the ukiyo-e I showed earlier.

The daimyō residences were essentially palaces. The original 3 daimyō were joined by a few other daimyō families that built 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residences in the area. These were fairly large estates with sprawling gardens and safe, wide streets. They weren’t very populated, though. The truth is, by the middle of the Edo Period, the commoner population of Honjo far outweighed the nobility, much like some parts of 麻布 Azabu[viii].

As such, wealthy artists, writers, farmers, and actors came to this area to hang out. Many 茶屋 chaya tea houses existed in the area that catered specifically to the non-samurai, moneyed bourgeoisie. Commoners of substantial means could come to Honjo and go drinking and whoring in a town that looked and felt like the yamanote. The commoners who grew up in this area were Edokko heart and soul, but they typified the next generation of sophisticates of the Meiji Era. In Honjo, commoners were gentrified, knew the arts and culture, and hobnobbed with the samurai elite[ix].

Tea houses in Honjo

Tea houses in Honjo

Rise of the Shitamachi

By the early Meiji Period, the look of the area changed dramatically. The daimyō and largest samurai residences disappeared and were either reclaimed by nature or became new homes for the working class. The lots that became overgrown with unkempt trees and tall grasses became inhabited by stray animals. Those spots became popular with people who wanted to commit suicide. It was said that in Honjo at least one person a day would hang themselves in the night and be discovered the next morning. Of course, this changed over the 44 years of Meiji. By 1912, most of the abandoned lots had become factories that relied on the river for distribution, bringing in raw material, and dumping of whatever waste byproduct they produced. The Sumida River became extremely polluted and whenever the river flooded it caused outbreaks of disease because of all the waste that was left in the streets and in people’s homes after the waters receded. It was fucking nasty.

View from Ryōunkaku, the 12 story tower in Asakusa. You can see Sensō-ji in the foreground and factories lining the Sumida River on the Mukōjima and Honjo banks of the river.

View from Ryōunkaku, the 12 story tower in Asakusa. You can see Sensō-ji in the foreground and factories lining the Sumida River on the Mukōjima and Honjo banks of the river.

By the middle of the Meiji Period, the area was famous for cheap housing. Notably, day laborers could find daily or weekly lodging for a pittance as they hopped around from menial job to menial job. Whatever entertainment existed there in the Edo Period had long since disappeared[x]. Honjo, in contrast to nearby 向島 Mukōjima, was a place to work and live and nothing more. It also failed to hold on to its vigor in contrast to 浅草 Asakusa, which lay on the other side of the river and was still a bustling hub of 下町 shitamachi low town excitement, art, and culture. Honjo died in the late Meiji Period. And talk about kicking someone when they’re down, the 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake of 1923 laid another epic smack down on the area. It wouldn’t start to recover until after WWII.

The destruction of Honjo by the Earfquake was no less total than other parts of the city. The difference was Honjo was full of poor people and when poor people die they can't rebuild. Factories and other business get cheap real estate quick. It's pretty sad.

The destruction of Honjo by the Earfquake was no less total than other parts of the city. The difference was Honjo was full of poor people and when poor people die they can’t rebuild. Factories and other business get cheap real estate quick. It’s pretty sad.

So Why Should I be Interested in this Area?

Thank you for asking that question. And rest assured, I will answer in the form of biographies that show the diversity of people who have lived in the area. Unfortunately, I ended up with an article that was 18 pages in MS Word with more than 50 freaking footnotes. The footnotes alone were like… 3 or 4 pages. So I’ve decided to cut the article in half, using the first 4 pages and more than 2,000 words to talk about the area. Part 2 will be a beast, clocking in at 13 pages and more than 6,000 words. Trust me, you don’t want the original, unsplit version.

.

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[i] The fine folks at Samurai Archives have a good definition of this term: Shōen – Private estate exempted from central government control and often subject to a multi-layered proprietorship. Established in the Nara Period, the shōen system lasted until the late 16th Century, when it was finally eliminated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s sweeping land surveys.
[ii] I don’t like this translation, but I don’t know a better one. It’s similar in some ways to European feudalism… but in other ways it’s really different. Let’s save this discussion for another day.
[iii] Sometimes translated as “lord of the manor/estate.” I don’t like this translation either.
[iv] We’ll be coming back to this later.
[v] However, by the end of the Edo Period 江戸っ子 Edokko was the only word used to describe natives of Edo and Edoites in general.
[vi] Also called the 振袖之大火 Furisode no Taika Unmarried Woman’s Kimono Fire because legend says the fire began when a Buddhist priest burned a cursed kimono. The kimono was said to be cursed because it was owned by 3 young girls who died when it came into their possession. They never even had a chance to wear it. After the kimono had been passed to the 3rd girl and she died, the family asked the priest to destroy it.
[vii] This name should be familiar to long time readers. There is a temple of the same name near 小塚原死刑場 Kozukappara Shikeijō Kozukappara Execution Ground. You can see my article here.
[viii] See my article on Azabu here. It’s old and not so good, but whatevs.
[ix] Not entirely true. The area was prestigious, even as a commoner area. Even to this day, samurai heredity pulls some weight. But in the late Edo Period and early Meiji Period, Honjo was prime real estate and if you lived there or hung out there, that carried a lot of social power. That said, the shōgunate didn’t want samurai and commoners hanging out with each other too much. They either turned a blind eye to it or it was done on the down low. Of course, in the Meiji Period, there was no problem with mixing if you were “a person of talent.”
[x] The only exception was Mukōjima, where a unique geisha culture emerged.

What does Shiogama mean?

In Japanese History on August 5, 2015 at 4:28 am

塩釜
Shiogama (salt kettle)

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

Today’s place name isn’t an official place name, it’s part of a park name, 塩釜公園 Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park. The park actually takes its name from a shrine.

When I first saw this shrine, which is in such a state of disrepair that I actually thought it was a ruin, I never thought there would be much of a story behind it. The shrine precincts are in shambles, yet it’s designated as an official park of 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. But among the scattered ruins of this park, you can see a lot of Edo Period stonework. It has modern signage that designates it as a park, but it doesn’t look like a park that anyone would go out of their way to see[i]. I stumbled across it quite by accident when I decided to walk down a street I’d never taken before.

IMGK4691s

Anyways, turns out this decrepit little shrine has a pretty amazing backstory. The shrine’s name is derived from 鹽竈神社Shiogama Jinja Shiogama Shrine in 塩竈市 Shiogama-shi Shiogama City in 宮城県 Miyagi-ken Miyagi Prefecture. Miyagi Prefecture’s capital is 仙台市 Sendai-shi Sendai City.

But wait, “those kanji look different,” you must be saying. The first one is incredibly complex and uses kanji from before the post-WWII writing reforms. The second one updated the first character, but kept the obsolete 2nd character. A 3rd writing is used in Tōkyō, 塩釜 Shiogama, which uses 2 simplified, modern characters. But don’t worry; they’re all the same name as you’ll soon see.

There's a lot of this just scattered all over the place.

There’s a lot of this just scattered all over the place.

The Backstory

Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi enters the historical record in the 9th century and came to be associated with the 平泉藤原氏 Hiraizumi Fujiwara-shi Fujiwara clan of Hiraizumi[ii]. In the Edo Period, the 伊達家 Date-ke Date family became the shrine’s main patrons. In 1600, the warlord 伊達政宗 Date Masmune[iii] had been awarded a large and profitable seaside fief that would come to be called 仙台藩 Sendai Han Sendai Domain.

The 4th and 5th lords of Sendai Domain, 伊達綱村 Date Tsunamura and 伊達吉村 Date Yoshimura, repaired and expanded the shrine from 1695-1704. It became a major shrine in the area at this time and was closely connected to lords of Date and the domain’s ruling class. Most of the institution’s present greatness dates from this 9 year development project.

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

The Real Story Starts Here

In 1695, Date Tsunamura had the 神 kami deity of Shiogama Shrine divided[iv] and brought to Edo to be enshrined on the premises of Sendai’s massive 上屋敷 kamiyashiki upper residence which was located at present day 汐留シオサイト Shiodome Shio Saito Shiodome Shio Site[v]. The shrine stood on the private upper residence of Sendai for just over 160 years.

Then, in 1856, the shrine was relocated to the 中屋敷 nakayashiki middle residence in the 芝口 Shibaguchi area of Edo[vi]. This is the current location of the shrine today. It has stood at its present location for just under 160 years.

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

Just to put the relocation in perspective. 1856 was 3 years after Commodore Matthew C. Perry barged into 浦賀湾 Uraga Wan Uraga Bay demanding the Tokugawa Shōgunate open up the country for trade. It was 2 years after his return with diplomats insisting the shōgunate sign treaties. It was 12 years before the Meiji Coup succeeded in ousting the Tokugawa and establishing the Empire of Japan.

After the Meiji Coup, the daimyō were sent back to their domains. It’s in these early Meiji years that Shiogama Shrine became popular with the common people. Previously, they probably didn’t have much access to it because it sat on a daimyō’s private property[vii]. The 神 kami deity housed in the shrine is associated with 安産 anzan safe childbirth[viii]. Once the public had access to such a “powerful” kami formerly horded by the ancestors of Sengoku rock star, Date Masamune, the popularity of the shrine skyrocketed.

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in the Meiji Period.

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in 1901 (Meiji 34).

Shrine Decline

They say the shrine was completely leveled in the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. One of the positive outcomes of the earthquake was the immediate creation of evacuation areas. As a former daimyō residence, the surrounding area was presumably flat and open[ix]. Shiogama Shrine was designated as disaster evacuation spot. I’m not clear if the entire estate was made an evacuation area or just the shrine area, but by late 1923, the City of Tōkyō created 町立盬竃公園 Chōritsu Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park of East Tōkyō City.

In the 1940’s, the Tōkyō Bay area suffered horrific aerial attacks by the Americans. The so-called 東京大空襲 Tōkyō Daikūshū Firebombing of Tōkyō[x] brought the city of rivers and wood to her knees. Historical and religious intuitions that had once had deep pockets were forced out of necessity to sell their real estate holdings[xi]. It seems that this was the death knell of this particular shrine. Its 9th century origins and connection to the Sengoku warlord Date Masamune weren’t enough completely restore this once thriving shrine.

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

The Shrine Today

In 1971, the small block containing the shrine and the park became 区立塩釜公園 Kuritsu Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park controlled by Minato Ward. The kanji were officially changed in accordance with the kanji reforms of the post war era (remember the buggy kanji issue I mentioned before?).

The shrine is still active, but Tōkyōites don’t know about. It’s minor as fuck. Also, as I mentioned before, it’s in such a state of disrepair that no one would visit it unless they were interested in really obscure shit… which yours truly happens to be interested in. Obsessively so. lol.

But the shrine is shambles. The park area is tiny and includes nice seats and signage explaining the history of the area. But the shrine itself, which occupies a larger area, is a mess. I’m just going out on a limb and guessing the shrine gets a tax break and the family running it can get by, but Minato Ward is maintaining the smaller park area.

dirty shrine

The Kabuki Konnektion

Earlier I mentioned the 4th lord of Sendai, Date Tsunamura, brought the kami of Shiogama to Edo. He has been immortalized in the world of 歌舞伎 kabuki in a play called 伽羅先代萩 Meiboku Sendai Hagi. It’s the story of the 伊達騒動 Date Sōdō Date Disturbance which was a succession dispute that lasted from 1660 to 1671.

The 3rd lord of Sendai, 伊達綱宗 Date Tsunamune was a big fan drinking and whoring[xii] who spent all his time and money in the Yoshiwara. He was deposed by a faction of uptight clansmen for his negligence and dissolute ways[xiii].

2009042213521975d

Long story short, the 2 year old Date Yoshimura was made lord of Sendai and 10 years of infighting within the clan began. The shōgunate was finally asked to step in and resolve the issue before things got out of control. Well, in 1671, things did get out of control – swords were dawn, one samurai was killed, and one retainer’s family was abolished and his family executed. Ultimately, the young Tsunamura’s right to rule was reaffirmed by the shōgunate.

Because the shōgunate censored stories about the scandals of elite samurai, the story had to be “disguised” when put into kabuki form. The stage version was set in the Muromachi Period and given an esoteric title. The name, Meiboku Sendai Hagi, is made of 3 words evocative of the events. 伽羅 meiboku (normally read kyara) is a kind of wood used to make clogs. It’s said that Tsunamune wore clogs made of this material when going to the Yoshiwara. 先代 sendai means predecessor, as in the former head of a daimyō family. So Meiboku Sendai means the “former ruler who wore wooden clogs.” Sendai also sounds like Sendai Domain – I see what you did there. The last word, 萩 hagi Japanese clover, is a flowering plant that is famous in Sendai.

In short, the play presents Tsunamura as a just ruler replacing a Tsunamune, a corrupt ruler. I don’t know a lot about kabuki, but it seems there are many variations of this particular story. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

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[i] Unless you’re a Japanese history nerd, of course.
[ii] Who were the Fujiwara?
[iii] Who was Date Masamune?
[iv] The dividing of kami is done through a process called 分霊 bunrei which literally means “sharing a spirit.”
[v] Present day 東新橋一丁目 Higashi-Shinbashi 1-chōme 1st Block of East Shinbashi.
[vi] Present day 西新橋三丁目 Nishi-Shinbashi 3-chōme 3rd Block of West Shinbashi. The area was also called 愛宕下 Atagoshita at the time. The name Shibaguchi persists in shop names and in the parlance of locals, it is not an official place name today. The area near 愛宕神社 Atago Jinja Atago Shrine does preserve the name Atago officially.
[vii] Some daimyō made their tutelary shrines accessible to locals, I’m not sure to what extent – if any – the general populace had access to before Sendai’s middle residence had been vacated.
[viii] This term is broad and includes protection for the baby during gestation and birth, protection for the mother during pregnancy and labor, and protection against birth defects or being “sickly.”
[ix] Today it is most definitely flat, but crowded with small post-WWII shops, homes, and businesses. There is a large park and school on the former daimyō residence as well.
[x] Literally “the Great Air-Raid.”
[xi] Even the richest and most beautiful funerary temples of the Tokugawa shōguns had to finally sell off their properties and consolidate whatever holdings they could hold dear.
[xii] And let’s be honest, who isn’t?
[xiii] A bunch of effin’ killjoys, if you ask me.

Ōedo Line: Shin-Egota & Nerima

In Japanese History on July 16, 2015 at 6:26 am

新江古田
Shin-Egota (New Egota)

Shin-egota has some apartments and a even has its very own tire shop.

Shin-egota has some apartments and a even has its very own tire shop.

I’m going to give an oversimplified explanation of this etymology. There was a station called Ekoda Station. Later, a New Egota Station was created[i]. If Ekoda and Egota look different to you, then you’re normal. They are. This place name may warrant its own article, so I’ve added it to my to-do-list.

At any rate, the station is located near the border of Nakano Ward and Nerima Ward. It’s a residential area. No need to go there.

Nerima Station in 1972

Nerima Station in 1972

練馬
Nerima (horse training)

Nerima Station today

Nerima Station today

I wrote a whole article about this place that was very thorough. The history of this place name is pretty much a mystery, but there are a variety of theories. I suggest you click the link below if you’re interested in the etymology.

In the Sengoku Period, this area was controlled by the 豊嶋氏 Toshima-shi Toshima clan. In the Edo Period, this was all country – mostly farmland located well outside of the city limits. Today Nerima refers to one of the 23 Special Wards, so the name applies to an area much larger than the immediate station area. Supposedly, Nerima is the ward that can boast the most farmland. Woo-hoo.

Apparently, you can go drinking and whoring in Nerima. Who'd a thunk it?

Apparently, you can go drinking and whoring in Nerima. Who’d a thunk it?

As for the area modern area, I don’t know much. I’ve been to Nerima Ward before but never Nerima Station. My impression is that it’s a local shopping district with restaurants, small shops, and some department stores.

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[i] They added the “new” because the old station is still in use.

Ōedo Line: Roppongi

In Japanese History on July 6, 2015 at 6:03 am

六本木
Roppongi (6 Trees)

the pong

In the Edo Period, this plateau was the home of many daimyō residences. Today it’s has a reputation as the place where foreigners who can’t speak Japanese and are in Japan for a minute hang out. That reputation especially applies to the area near 六本木交差点 Roppongi Kōsaten Roppongi Crossing. It’s a kind of shitty area, in my opinion. There are a lot of people on the streets trying to lure people into restaurants of varying repute. Some are fine, but the good ones don’t need to pull in people off the street. Remember that if you visit this area.

Mōri Garden, a step back into the Yamanote of the Edo Period.

Mōri Garden, a step back into the Yamanote of the Edo Period.

That said, Roppongi Hills and Roppongi Mid-Town are actually quite upscale shopping and relaxing areas. They have movie theaters, art museums, restaurants, gardens, and high end shopping. At Roppongi Hills, the Mōri Garden is said to be the vestigial garden of the Mōri clan who had a palace on this land in the Edo Period. If you venture off the main thoroughfare from Roppongi Crossing, you’re bound to discover a plethora of tiny izakayas and restaurants that only the locals know.

But to be honest, if you’re a tourist or short term resident of Tōkyō, I’d rather not send you to Roppongi. It’s our Mos Eisley Space Port. But I can’t deny that it is very foreigner-friendly. There’s a Hard Cock Café and shop staff at stores and restaurants can usually speak English. Just be careful of people trying to lure you into shady establishments. I don’t disapprove of drinking and whoring at all. I just think there’s a risk of getting ripped off or straight shaken down in Roppongi – especially if you’re not fluent in the language and aware of the usual MO’s as compared to this area. Additionally, if you’re a tourist, go do something interesting that you can only do in Japan. Roppongi is the least Japanese place you can visit in Japan.

Roppongi,,,  lol

Roppongi,,,
lol

Oh, I almost forgot the name. There are quite a few theories about the origin of the word Roppongi[i]. As I mentioned, the name means “the 6 trees.” The most accept etymology is that “the 6 trees” is a reference to 6 daimyō (feudal lords) who maintained palaces in the area. These 6 feudal lords had kanji relating to trees in their family names. If you’re interested in the whole story, you should visit my main article about Roppongi below.

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[i] And in fact, there is actually another place name in Tōkyō, 五本木 Gohongi the 5 trees. You can see my article here.

Ōedo Line: Kuramae

In Japanese History on June 15, 2015 at 4:00 am

蔵前
Kuramae (in front of the warehouse)

Location of the original

Location of the original “kura” (warehouse).

The name means “in front of the warehouse” and is a reference to the shōgunate owned a giant rice warehouse used to pay the stipends of the retainers of the Tokugawa. Think of the area as the ATM of Edo. Conveniently located on the Sumida River, the area was home to a ferry that took the freshly paid samurai to the Yoshiwara for epic benders of drinking and whoring. The Meiji government took control of the warehouse and reused the land for new government buildings as rice was no longer used the basis of the Japanese monetary system.

Like most warehouses in the Edo Period, this one was located on a river which was the cheapest, fastest, and easiest way to transport heavy material like rice. In this case, we’re talking about the Sumida River.

This is a famous ukiyo-e print of a man with one shoe on/one shoe off making a snowman is set at Kuramae. You can see the small canal in the midground. I believe that's the Sumida River in the background.

This is a famous ukiyo-e print of a man with one shoe on/one shoe off making a snowman is set at Kuramae. You can see the small canal in the midground. I believe that’s the Sumida River in the background.

There is a commemorative sign where the warehouse once stood and you can see the river the ferries used to go to the Yoshiwara. You also can take a leisurely walk to 両国 Ryōgoku, an area that should be on every tourist’s to-do-list because… it’s freaking awesome (I’ll talk about it tomorrow).

If there’s no warehouse left and there’s just a sign, is there any reason to actually go there? There might be. In the area is a very old shop called 浅草御蔵前書房 Asakusa O-kuramae Shobō Asakusa O-kuramae Bookstore. The same Asakusa O-kuramae is the Edo Period name of the place and shobō is an old word for bookstore[i]. The store sells Edo Period and Meiji Period books, maps, and other printed documents – in particular those that are related to Edo-Tōkyō!

Now that's what I call a bookstore!!!

Now that’s what I call a bookstore!!!

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[i] The modern word is 本屋 hon-ya. The modern word is “book store” while the old word literally means “writings/documents room.”

Ōedo Line: Shinjuku Nishiguchi

In Japanese History on June 2, 2015 at 2:09 am

新宿西口
Shinjuku Nishiguchi (Shinjuku West Exit)

Shinjuku Nishiguchi is used to refer to a huge area. This is just one small part.

Shinjuku Nishiguchi is used to refer to a huge area. This is just one small part.

The name derives from the Shinjuku Station. This is more or less a shopping, business district, and drinking area. The station gives you reasonably quick, but not direct, access to 歌舞伎町 Kabukichō, a red light district famous for drinking and whoring. There are a few temples and cemeteries in the area, but nothing particularly famous. If gritty Shōwa Era yaki tori shops are your thing, you might want to check out 思い出横丁 Omoide Yokochō which translates as something like “Memory Lane.” It’s a series of alleys with tiny, cramped specialty shops that offer yaki tori, ramen, sushi, and a few other dishes at reasonable prices. The streets might be old and dirty, but the shops are sanitary and the atmosphere is thick – definitely worth a visit at night. The Omoide Yokochō area has an English website.

Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho

Oh, and just a heads up. Shinjuku was on the outskirts of Edo. It was more of a post town than part of the capital proper. The name actually means “new post town” and refers to the creation of a new station that serviced the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway and the 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō Ōme Highway. Post towns were notorious for catering to the prurient proclivities of horny travelers. One has to wonder if Shinjuku’s very active sex industry is a legacy of that tradition.

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What does Fuda no Tsuji mean?

In Japanese History on May 5, 2015 at 2:42 pm

札の辻
Fuda no Tsuji (bulletin board crossroads)

Spoiler Alert: This is the commemorative plaque set up by Minato Ward.

Spoiler Alert: This is the commemorative plaque set up by Minato Ward.

I often walk around sections of Tōkyō that Edoites would have recognized as 日比谷 Hibiya[i], 新橋 Shinbashi[ii], Shiba[iii], 三田 Mita[iv], 高輪 Takanawa[v], and 品川 Shinagawa[vi]. The boundaries and names of these areas have been a little fluid over the centuries, but those are the sweeping Edo Period names of these large districts. Today, things are a bit more specific. When walking from present day 日比谷公園 Hibiya Kōen Hibiya Park towards present day 芝公園 Shiba Kōen Shiba Park, I always pass an overhanging sign for drivers that points in the direction of a place called 札の辻 Fuda no Tsuji. I always thought to myself, “I should look into that someday.” And guess what? My lazy ass has never done it. So having seen the sign a thousand times, I finally decided to look into it.

I soon found out that this isn’t actually an official Tōkyō place name anymore. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, it’s never been an “official” place name. It was a nickname the area has held on to for dear life since the 1700’s when it was inadvertently stolen[vii].

Today, there is a small plaque (shown above) explaining the history of the area – and when I say small, I mean it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the darkness of this place, nor does it do justice to how important the area actually was to the first 100 some odd years of Edo under the Tokugawa.

This is a depiction of Fuda no Tsuji in Nagoya. The place name is common throughout Japan. Even though this is Nagoya, I hope that when you finish this article, you'll be able to spot the similarities and differences between the Edo-Tokyo location and the Nagoya location.

This is a depiction of Fuda no Tsuji in Nagoya. The place name is common throughout Japan.
Even though this is Nagoya, I hope that when you finish this article, you’ll be able to spot the similarities and differences between the Edo-Tokyo location and the Nagoya location.

First Let’s Look at the Kanji

This place name is simple. It’s made of 2 kanji:


fuda, satsu

a notice, a posted bulletin


tsuji

a street corner, a crossroads, an intersection
A traditional Japan sign (fuda).

A traditional Japan sign (fuda).

The second kanji is really interesting to me because it’s 国字 kokuji, a kanji created in Japan. That is to say, it wasn’t imported from China. I’m 100% sure the Chinese had intersections for thousands of years, but for some reason the Japanese saw fit to create this unique character. It’s not a rare character at all either. It’s so common in Japan that it’s used in a lot of family names and place names throughout the country.

A random photo of a Taisho Period intersection. Modern Japanese cities are generally huddled together close knit towns and so intersections have always been very important. This photo includes a

A random photo of a Taisho Period intersection. Modern Japanese cities are generally huddled together close knit towns and so intersections have always been very important. This photo includes a “police box” which emphasizes the importance and centrality of this particular location.

The first character is also extremely high frequency. Its provenance isn’t as important as its association with this place name. The consensus seems to be that it was shorthand for two concepts.

高札
kōsatsu

a bulletin board, official signage (a general term)

制札
seisatsu

official posted regulations and prohibitions of a daimyō or the shōgunate (a specific term)

People don’t learn the rules by osmosis, and they certainly didn’t have the internet, so yeah, you put a sign in a high trafficked area and hoped people would read it and share with their friends. In Edo, these spots were called 御高札場 o-kōsatsuba bulletin board areas, but modern Japanese just call them 高札場 kōsatsuba[viii]. There were at least thirty-five official shōgunate-controlled o-kōsatsuba in Edo. 6 were designated as 大高札場 daikōsatsuba[ix] major bulletin board sites. The major bulletin boards were placed on the main routes into the city. Of course, local towns and villages within Edo-Tōkyō had their own bulletin boards, so it’s impossible to guess how many notice boards existed at any one time in the city until quite recently.

The word 高札 is usually rendered as kōsatsu, which is the 音読み on’yomi Chinese reading. In 訓読み kun’yomi, the Japanese reading, the word can be rendered as takafuda. In the city of Edo, a minor bulletin would be a fuda. But a major bulletin (ie; one issued by the shōgunate) would have been a takafuda – literally a “high announcement.” And yes, these so-called takafuda/kōsatsu were actually larger and posted higher than other announcements.

But to sum it up, Fuda no Tsuji means “the message board intersection.” There are other places throughout Japan with the same name (or some variation thereof). But in short, etymologically speaking, this is about as fucking banal as it gets.

Luckily, there’s much more to this story than the name and believe me, we’re going to get into all of it.

You can see the name Fuda no Tsuji on this overpass.

You can see the name Fuda no Tsuji on this overpass.

But First!

What Does an Edo Period Bulletin Board Look Like?

That is an excellent question!  If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve definitely seen the modern version. But if you’ve been to an 温泉町 onsen machi hot spring town or 宿場町 shukuba machi an old post town that eke their existences out of maintaining a traditional “Old Japan” atmosphere, you’ve probably seen the most traditional version. To be sure, you’ll absolutely see them in the Tōkyō Metropolis. In fact, one of the best preserved examples of one is in 府中 Fuchū[x] located in western Tōkyō.

An old kosatsuba (I believe this one is from Nagano on the Nakasendo highway, but don't quote me on that).

An old kosatsuba (I believe this one is from Nagano on the Nakasendo highway, but don’t quote me on that).

One of the major kosatsuba of Edo, was this one located in Nihonbashi. Note that it's propped up on stone base. This must have sucked for people with bad eyesight - remember no glasses back then.

One of the major kosatsuba of Edo, was this one located in Nihonbashi. Note that it’s propped up on stone base.
This must have sucked for people with bad eyesight – remember no glasses back then.

This is the Edo Period kosatsuba preserved in Fuchu. It's pretty impressive. Obviously there are no active announcements on it.

This is the Edo Period kosatsuba preserved in Fuchu. It’s pretty impressive. Obviously there are no active announcements on it.

So Let’s Take a Look at the History

But just a quick warning: In this article we’re going to breeze through the reign of the 2nd and 3rd of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan, the establishment of the Tokugawa Shōgunate and the first 6 shōguns. The details of these rulers aren’t very important to the story of Fuda no Tsuji, but the more you know about Japanese history, the more you will appreciate having them in the background[xi]. For my J-History padawans, skipping the names and dates of the rulers is fair game.

The reason I bring this up is that we’re going to have to look at the persecution and subsequent annihilation of Christianity in Japan. It’s tangential to our story, but so are the people who played a major role in it. We’re going to burn the Christians in a few paragraphs, so those of you with short attention spans may want to stick around.

names & dates

Some Names to Remember

織田信長
Oda Nobunaga
1534-1582

A daimyō warlord, often called the first of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan.

豊臣秀吉
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
1536ish-1598

A daimyō warlord who rose from commoner status to imperial regent. Although he is often considered the 2nd of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan, he pretty much unified Japan. He was an awesome general, but kind of a shit ruler.

徳川家康
Tokugawa Ieyasu
1543-1616

A daimyō warlord who was the 3rd Great Unifier of Japan and by that I mean, he actually unified the realm and established a dynasty and a peace that lasted more than 250 years. He was granted the rank of shōgun.

徳川秀忠
Tokugawa Hidetada
1579-1632

The 2nd shōgun and first stage of creating a Tokugawa hegemony. He initiated building projects that enhanced Tokugawa power and started a trend of ignoring foreign relations.

徳川家光
Tokugawa Iemitsu
1604-1651

The 3rd shōgun. He was the first shōgun who wasn’t a Sengoku Period warlord. He continued isolationist policies and focused on enhancing Tokugawa power.

徳川家綱
Tokugawa Ietsuna
1641-1680

The 4th shōgun. He could be considered the first real Edo Period shōgun. He focused on internal issues and rejected foreign notions.

徳川綱吉
Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
1646-1709

The 5th shōgun. Too complex to get into now, but his reign was marked by many cultural events.

徳川家宣
Tokugawa Ienobu
1662-1712

The 6th shōgun. Nobody gives a shit about this guy today, but I’m sure he thought he was pretty important at the time.
Pop Quiz!!! I'll give a cupcake to whomever can tell me which shogun this is.

Pop Quiz!!!
I’ll give a cupcake to whomever can tell me which shogun this is.

A Very Different Sight than Today

Visually speaking, the area isn’t much to look at today. But before WWII, this area sat near the coast of Edo Bay[xii]. A traditional highway called the 東海道 Tōkaidō[xiii] “the eastern coastal route” followed the coastline of Edo Bay. This highway had connected 関東 Kantō with the imperial court in 京都 Kyōto since at least the Heian Period. By the time 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu became lord of the 8 Kantō Provinces and established his capital in Edo in the 1590’s, the Tōkaidō was already the main access point to the city. At the beginning of the Edo Period, you would have seen a wide highway of dirt and stone and small clusters of tea houses and other merchant buildings that lined the road. The view of the bay must have been stunning. On a clear day, you probably could have seen 常陸国 Hitachi no Kuni Hitachi Province[xiv] on the far end of the bay. The area was famous for 月見 tsukimi moon viewing. Rich commoners and samurai alike would come to the tea houses that dotted the coast to indulge in a little drinking and whoring and watch the moon move across the sky while reflected in the calm waters of the bay.

The famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku that I've posted hundreds of times. Yeah, so... it's near Fuda no Tsuji.

The famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku that I’ve posted hundreds of times.
Yeah, so… it’s near Fuda no Tsuji.

Fuda no Tsuji was a fork in the road for the Tōkaidō highway. If you were coming to Edo you were traveling eastward. On the left side of the road was an unnamed street that entered a commoners’ town and led to 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi (near present day Tōkyō Tower). Today that street is called 三田通り Mita Dōri Mita Street. The Tōkaidō itself continued eastward until it terminated at 日本橋 Nihonbashi, the terminus of the 五街道 Go Kaidō 5 Great Highways of Edo[xv]. Because this fork in the road was a major access point to the shōgun’s capital, the area was chosen as a major bulletin board site. Any unique rules of the capital, new proclamations, announcements, and coupons for TGI Fridays were posted here[xvi].

Here you can see the Tokaido (eastern coastal road) and its intersection with the road this is called Mita Dori today.

Here you can see the Tokaido (eastern coastal road) and its intersection with the road this is called Mita Dori today.

On a modern map, the only real difference is the fact that the land has been built out so far that the shape of the bay is very different. The intersection is the same, though.

On a modern map, the only real difference is the fact that the land has been built out so far that the shape of the bay is very different. The intersection is the same, though.

Disturbances of the Peace and those Pesky Christians

If you know anything about Japanese history and Christianity, you probably know that this isn’t going to end well for somebody and there’s a 99% chance that the somebody is a Christian. There’s also a good chance that there will be an ol’ fashioned burning at the stake. Yeehaw 🤠

Since the 1590’s, Tokugawa Ieyasu ruled the Kantō provinces from his new capital of Edo[xvii]. In 1603, Ieyasu was granted the title 征夷大将軍 Sei’i Tai-Shōgun Great General Who Conquers the Barbarians by 後陽成天皇 Go-Yōzei Tennō Emperor Go-Yōzei[xviii] and was basically the supreme power in Japan. Once he felt he had settled in and had gotten his house in order, he retired in 1605. This allowed his son 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada to become the second shōgun which assured a smooth dynastic transition of power. Ieyasu assumed the title 大御所 ōgosho (essentially, “retired guy who sits off stage but is very much still pulling the strings”). Things were more or less peaceful, but there were still factions holding out here and there, particularly among the relatives and supporters of the deceased 豊臣秀吉Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Ōsaka and the foreign Christian population and the Japanese Christian population. About 7-8 years into shōgun Hidetada’s reign, things started to come to a head.

The Ōsaka discussion is another topic unto itself, but needless to say, in the winter of 1614 to the summer of 1615, the retired shōgun Ieyasu and reigning shōgun Hidetada laid siege to 大阪城 Ōsaka-jō Ōsaka Castle. Also in 1614, Ieyasu promulgated an edict that echoed Hideyoshi’s 1587 expulsion of Christians from Japan. Ieyasu wanted to secure his 天下 tenka realm under his family’s control and these 2 groups were causing the most trouble. The Hideyoshi supporters were actually the least of his concern because that could be solved by a clear political and military action. The Christians could have proven more difficult, but after overstaying their welcome and somewhat utilitarian convenience by 27 years, the Christians were just a foreign infection that needed to be stamped out before they spread more.

Daimyō loyal to the Tokugawa began expelling and executing Christians. Forced de-conversions of the Japanese elite became commonplace. Foreigners who weren’t granted express permission to be in the country were expelled or sent to special foreign trade settlements. Japan was quickly becoming a so-called “closed country[xix].”

This is a 踏み絵 (fumi-e). The anti-Christian movement wanted Christians to step on and grind into the ground Christian imagery to prove they weren't Christians.

This is a 踏み絵 (fumi-e). The anti-Christian movement wanted Christians to step on and grind into the ground Christian imagery to prove they weren’t Christians.

Keep Out!

In 1616, retired shōgun Ieyasu died and reigning shōgun Hidetada ordered the installation of an 御高札場 o-kōsatsuba bulletin board area at the aforementioned intersection of the Tōkaidō road and the unnamed street in Shiba that led towards 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi[xx] – that is to say, the place where you were getting within walking distance of Edo Castle. The shōgunate felt that any travelers – be they merchants or daimyō – needed to know the local manners before they entered the city. In short, if you diverged from the Tōkaidō here, you were entering the shōgun’s domain and you best act proper, son. You are now entering Edo.

It’s about this time that the local people began referring to the area as the 札之辻 Fuda no Tsuji “bulletin board intersection.” It was definitely a landmark on a highly trafficked road. The local residents were clearly proud of the fact that this intersection was officially endorsed as an entrance to the city.

In this awesome picture of Tokiwabashi (bridge) and Tokiwabashi Go-Mon (gate), you can see the large kosatsuba. This was also one of the 6 main kosatsuba of Edo.

In this awesome picture of Tokiwabashi (bridge) and Tokiwabashi Go-Mon (gate), you can see the large kosatsuba. This was also one of the 6 main kosatsuba of Edo.

Time to Burn Some Christians[xxi]

The shōgunate was slowly realizing that one of the main precepts of Christianity was proselytization. That meant they felt there was a real possibility of a “Christian conquest” – or at the very least an effort to destabilize the new Tokugawa peace. Furthermore, the Catholics in the country were loyal to a mysterious distant king called “the pope” whose influence was strong in many European countries. What if this pope guy started meddling in the affairs of the Tokugawa shōgunate?

The second shōgun, Hidetada, was not about to let his family’s newly acquired status go to waste, and so he put into motion processes that would ultimately extinguish Christianity in Japan. But essentially he was just reinforcing the earlier anti-Christian edicts of Hideyoshi and Ieyasu.

In 1622, 55 Christians in Nagasaki who had refused to renounce their religion were punished. Some were beheaded, but the most obstinate offenders were burned alive. The Christian problem in Edo continued to build because the persecution laws weren’t enforced in a uniform way. Foreigners and their foreign religions were still somewhat tolerated[xxii]. But in the same year, Hidetada stepped down as shōgun, and elevated his son 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu to the rank of shōgun. As 大御所 ōgosho (retired shōgun), Hidetada watched over the 19 year old shōgun, as did the 老中 rōjū senior council.

In 1623, an order to burn 50 Christians at the stake was issued in Iemitsu’s name[xxiii]. Since executions meant to send a message, Fuda no Tsuji – the proverbial genkan[xxiv] of Edo – was chosen as the spot. As you can imagine, anyone coming into the shōgun’s capital (and anyone leaving it) via the Tōkaidō would have seen this spot. Just as with the notice boards and signage, it was the perfect location to send a message to people via public execution and display.

In 1632, the retired 2nd shōgun Hidetada died and was interred in a magnificent mausoleum in Shiba. But the illegal Christian population continued to cause problems here and there. Things reached a tipping point in the winter of 1637, when 3rd shōgun Iemitsu decided to lay a massive samurai smack down on the city of 島原 Shimabara in southwestern Japan[xxv]. The local Christians and even the local daimyō paid with their lives. For all intents and purposes, this was the end of Christianity in Pre-Modern Japan[xxvi].

Christins about to get burnt alive. Ouch.

Christins about to get burnt alive. Ouch.

Moving Things Away From the Shōgun’s Castle

In 1651, the shōgunate created a new execution ground at 鈴ヶ森 Suzugamori[xxvii] on the coast of Edo Bay in品川 Shinagawa.  The city had been growing rapidly, and the city’s “spiritual purity” was seen to be at risk. Moving the executions from Fuda no Tsuji to Suzugamori was a move to keep the shōgun’s capital “untainted.”

60 years later, in 1710, the 6th shōgun 徳川家宣 Tokugawa Ienobu moved the message board to the actual border of the capital on the Tōkaidō. The new location was about 700 meters from Fuda no Tsuji in 高輪 Takanawa. The new entrance to Edo was called the 高輪大木戸 Takanawa Ōkido. The name literally means “the great wooden door of Takanawa.”

When you entered a town, there was usually a 町木戸 machikido town gate guarded by at least 2 木戸番 kidoban guards – usually old men who lived on the premises of the gate. Originally, the Takanawa Ōkido functioned like one of these city gates. It was similar to a 関所 sekisho highway check point where shōgunate or domain officials checked your travel documents. The differences is machikido were located throughout the city. The gates of these machikido would close at about 10 PM and re-open at daybreak. Edo wasn’t in a complete lockdown after 10 PM, though. If you had good reason to pass through a machikido, you’d summon the 番太郎様 bantarō-sama, a friendly nickname for the guards, ask them to open the gate for you, and they’d let you pass. The guards would then strike a pair of 拍子木 hyōshigi wooden clappers to alert the guards of the next gate that a traveler was coming.

Unlike the standard wooden machikido, this grand ōkido was a wooden gate supported by 石垣 ishigaki stone walls. Whether it was due to earthquake, fire, both, or just plain decommissioned, the wooden structure ceased to be used. Artwork from 1800 shows the stone walls in place but any kind of wooden structure isn’t depicted. Artwork 1868, depicting the imperial army clearly shows the stone walls and kōsatsu (bulletins, signage), although there is a wooden pole next to the wall[xxviii]. So despite starting life as a grand doorway to Edo, the Takanawa Ōkido was essentially a glorified o-kōsatsuba bulletin board with 2 disembodied stone walls on either side of the street.

The simplest version of a machikido looked like this one at the Fukagawa Shitamachi Museum.

The simplest version of a machikido looked like this one at the Fukagawa Shitamachi Museum.

This is a more elaborate and imposing gate in Tatebayashi. It served as a checkpoint between the commoner section of town and the samurai section of town that surrounded Tatebayashi Castle. This is a more elaborate and imposing gate in Tatebayashi. It served as a checkpoint between the commoner section of town and the samurai section of town that surrounded Tatebayashi Castle.
(If you want to see more photos of this structure, click the photo to my Tatebayashi album on Flickr.)
The Takanawa Okido in the early 1800's. This picture clearly shows the stone walls. I haven't been able to find a single picture with a gate. Note that the tops are overgrown with grass. This is typical of stone fortifications after the wooden structures were removed. This is sight that would become commonplace when the outer gates of Edo Castle were torn down in the Meiji Period. The stone bases often stayed in place and grass sprung up on the earth inside the walls.

The Takanawa Okido in the early 1800’s. This picture clearly shows the stone walls. I haven’t been able to find a single picture with a gate.
Note that the tops are overgrown with grass. This is typical of stone fortifications after the wooden structures were removed. This is sight that would become commonplace when the outer gates of Edo Castle were torn down in the Meiji Period. The stone bases often stayed in place and grass sprung up on the earth inside the walls.
Also note that there is no kostasuba.

The Takanawa Okido in the 1830's. This picture clearly shows the stone walls. I haven't been able to find a single picture with a gate. Note that the top is overgrown with grass. This is typical of stone fortification after the wooden structures were removed. This is sight that would become commonplace when the outer gates of Edo Castle were torn down in the Meiji Period. The stone bases often stayed in place and grass sprung up on the earth inside the walls.

The Takanawa Okido in the 1830’s. You can see some free standing sign posts; I’m assuming those associated with the kosatsuba, but I don’t know.

This is the Takanawa Okido in 1868, after the Meiji Coup. You can see troops of the imperial army marching out of the city through the Okido. Interestingly, there is a tall wooden post on the inside of the stone wall. I'm not sure if this was a temporary structure, a late 1800's thing, or just part of the artist's imagination.

This is the Takanawa Okido in 1868, after the Meiji Coup. You can see troops of the imperial army marching out of the city through the Okido. Interestingly, there is a tall wooden post on the inside of the stone wall. I’m not sure if this was a temporary structure, a late 1800’s thing, or just part of the artist’s imagination.

Nice Story. But You’re Talking About Takanawa, not Fuda no Tsuji…

Yes, you’re right, but I wanted to give you the whole story. I also wanted to go back to something I mentioned at the beginning of the article: this isn’t an official place name today and to the best of my knowledge it was never an official place name.

When the kōsatsuba (bulletin board) was moved from the intersection in Shiba to a non-intersection in Takanawa, something new began appearing in maps. Prior to this change, the area was referred to as just Shiba or 芝口 Shibaguchi[xxix], but after the relocation, the area began to appear on maps as 旧札之辻 Kyū-Fuda no Tsuji Former Bulletin Place or even just 札之辻 Fuda no Tsuji Bulletin Place. What I think we may be able to imply from this is that the literary Chinese words[xxx] that would describe the site, o-kōsatsuba “honorable bulletin board site,” hadn’t been used by the local townspeople – who were commoners. They were using the every day 江戸っ子 Edo-kko Edoite parlance “takafuda.” If this is the case, then 札の辻 fuda no tsuji “bulletin crossroad” is just a lower register of the language used by the average Tarō on the street.

A map showing the intersection in 1868.

A map showing the intersection in 1868.
Interestingly, this map refers to the area in a variant of the popular place name Dōbō-chō which means “monk town.”

So What’s Left Of This Area?

After the notice boards were moved to Takanawa, the execution site of Christians in 1624 and 1639 was replaced with a Buddhist temple called 智福寺 Chifuku-ji[xxxi]. The temple had a grand residence for the monks, all of whom were closely associated with the shōgunate. In nearby 三田三丁目 Mita San-chōme is an area called 同朋町 Dōbō-chō, literally “buddy town.” 同朋 dōhō/dōbō refers to monks who are pursuing the same spiritual pursuits. (This is also a common place name around Japan). I’m not sure about their intentions, but one can imagine the shōgunate wanted to purify the area where they had executed numerous Christians so close to the castle – thus creating a “Buddhist monk town.” The temple doesn’t exist today, but on the site there is a monument honoring those killed. However, just like Fuda no Tsuji, Dōbō-chō isn’t an official postal address. But also just like Fuda no Tsuji, it’s used by the locals and appears on signs and maps.

A shinkansen rolling under Fuda no Tsuji Bridge.

A shinkansen rolling under Fuda no Tsuji Bridge.

Today, much of these stories aren’t known except by people who actually live in the area and bothered reading the signs. However, the area is apparently well known among 新幹線オタク shinkansen otaku shinkansen geeks because there is a curve in the tracks and they think they can get dynamic photos of the trains coming around the bend. But to be honest, I think it’s a brutally ugly area to take photos. There’s just a gaggle of tracks and wires and very little greenery. 11 sets of tracks cross through this area, so the city built a bridge called 札の辻橋 Fuda no Tsuji Hashi Fuda no Tsuji Bridge. The bridge is where the train geeks go with their cameras to get full view of trains coming around the corner. In addition to the shinkansen, the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line, 東海道線 Tōkaidō-sen Tōkaidō Line, and 京浜東北線 Keihin-Tōhoku-sen Keihin-Tōhoku Line pass through this spot.

Kamezuka Park, long thought to be a kofun (pre-historic tumulus), turned out just to be a kids park.

Kamezuka Park, long thought to be a kofun (pre-historic tumulus), turned out just to be a kids park.

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Also in the area is a certain 亀塚公苑 Kamezuka Kōen Kamezuka Park. Located on a large hill, the area was home to the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence of the lords of 沼田藩 Numata Han Numata Domain in 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province (more or less modern day 群馬県 Gunma Ken Gunma Prefecture). After the Meiji Coup, the residence was given to the 華頂宮 Kachō-no-miya Kachō imperial princes, a collateral imperial family established during the Bakumatsu. A single wall of that post-Edo Period mansion still exists today in the park. The Kachō princes typically underperformed and actually went extinct at one point, requiring another imperial relative to assume the name to keep it going. Until the end of WWII, the family was called 華頂宮 Kachō-no-miya indicating their imperial lineage. However, after the war, all imperial branches – except for the direct imperial line – were dissolved and theoretically reduced to commoner status. If I’m not mistaken, the last surviving Kachō died in 1970.

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Some of the surviving walls of the Kacho family's estate.

Some of the surviving walls of the Kacho family’s estate.

That Imperial Family Shit Was So Unnecessary

Sorry, they were in the neighborhood, but, yeah, I went off on a tangent – but think of it as added value. But, you’re right. It’s time to wind down and bring this article to a finish. So, yeah. Fuda no Tsuji. Sign posts. Gates. Highways. Edo Bay.

In short, Fuda no Tsuji was a place were a major sign post was located at one of the entrances to Edo in Shiba (Mita). The location served as an execution ground on an occasion or two. The execution ground was moved to Shinagawa. The bulletin boards were moved to Takanawa where a major check point was built that didn’t last long. The reference to the old sign stuck. Fuda no Tsuji. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

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[i] I have an article about Hibiya here.
[ii] I have an article about Shinbashi here.
[iii] I have an article about Shiba here.
[iv] I have an article about Mita here.
[v] I have an article about Takanawa here.
[vi] My article about Shinagawa is the same as my Takanawa article.
[vii] Long story. Hence the long blog.
[viii] Compare Odaiba which derives from 御台場 o-daiba, originally from 台場 daiba . I have an article about Odaiba here.
[ix] To be honest, I’m not exactly sure about the reading of this word, it could also have been ōtakafudaba. I’ll address the discrepancy a little bit later. But regardless, the meaning is the same.
[x] My 2 part series on Chōfu was supposed to be a 3 part series which would have included Fuchū, but I wanted to take a break from cute young girls bleaching cloth in the river to move on to a few other topics. I will cover Fuchū eventually. Don’t worry.
[xi] If we discussed some small event in early American history, you’d want to know who was president at the time….
[xii] Obviously, Tōkyō Bay today.
[xiii] I have an article about the main highways of the Edo Period.
[xiv] Modern day 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture. By the way this “Hitachi” has nothing to do with the famous company that has given the world the Hitachi Magic Wand – widely regarded as the most intense vibrator on earth. That company’s kanji are 日立 Hitachi and mean “rising sun.”
[xv] I have an excellent article about the 5 Great Highways of Edo that I know you’d love to read!
[xvi] Apparently, TGI Fridays was huuuuuuge in Edo.
[xvii] He was originally from 三河国岡崎 Mikawa no Kuni Okazaki Okazaki, Mikawa Province (present day 愛知県岡崎市 Aichi-ken Okazaki-shi Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture).
[xviii] The go means “later” and is the equivalent to when European monarchs/popes with the same name are referred to by II, III, IV, etc. The Japanese don’t count the iteration; they just indicate that this is later usage of the same name. Long time readers will recognize this prefix from the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi Late Hōjō clan who modeled their clan name off the 北条氏 Hōjō-shi Hōjō clan. At Samurai Archives, you can read about the Hōjō and the Late Hōjō. Oh, sorry, if you’re interested in the emperor himself (which you’re probably not because no one ever is), you can read more about him here.
[xix] A lot of people bicker about the use of the terms 鎖国 sakoku closed country and 海禁 kaikin maritime restrictions to describe Tokugawa foreign policy, but I actually like both terms. Clearly at this point, there are some maritime restrictions, but soon things will get very North Korea-esque (closed country, anyone?). That said, for the average Joe on the street, Japan would become a closed country. For the reality of certain conduits of trade, Japan was just a severely restricted country. As much as I love Japan now, the closest modern analogy is North Korea.
[xx] I have an article about Akabanebashi here. It also comes up in my articles on Huesken, Kiyokawa, and, Kiyokawa’s grave.
[xxi] After all, that’s probably why you’re still reading anyways, you sick fucks.
[xxii] And until you’re told to kill someone for believing some different religion, I imagine the average Japanese person didn’t really want to hate or kill these people. The feudal lords and the Tokugawa Shōgunate itself were benefiting from information, technology, and trade imported by westerners.
[xxiii] I can totally see an impulsive 19 year old burning people at the stake and Iemitsu could be the guy who did it. But it could have been Hidetada or the senior council who pushed him to do it. It’s fair to say we don’t know who actually pushed for this action the most.
[xxiv] This is my term. A 玄関 genkan is the entrance of a Japanese house. When entering a Japanese home, there is a small area at ground level for taking off your shoes and stashing your umbrellas. Then you enter the home by stepping up on to the elevated floor of the house.
[xxv] It’s usually painted as a religious smack down, but actually, the causes of the Shimabara Rebellion go beyond religious issues. But for the flow of this article, I’m staying with the religious narrative for the sake of being concise.
[xxvi] Christianity re-emerged in the Bakumatsu but even today only small segment of the population will admit to believing it. Christians make up about 1% of the population, and most of them are in Tōkyō. While modern Japan isn’t officially anti-Christian, the country is more or less secular and crucified zombie god myths don’t go over so well here.
[xxvii] Check out my article on Suzugamori here.
[xxviii] This may just be symbolic or the artist may have misremembered the scene.
[xxix] As I also alluded to at the beginning of this article, the place names of Mita, Shiba, and Hibiya are very fluid. They warrant another article in and of themselves. So for this article let’s not worry about borders and what not.
[xxx] But to be honest only the “kōsatsu” part is the Chinese reading. The honorific “o-” and the suffix “ba” are both the Japanese readings.
[xxxi] I’m fuzzy on the details. The temple may have existed previously to attend graves and funerary rites of the executed, but I don’t know.

Kiyokawa Hachirō & the Mystery Graves Nobody Cares About

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on April 23, 2015 at 6:25 pm

清河八郎
Kiyokawa Hachirō
(no meaning, it’s just the dude’s name)

Kiyokawa Hachiro - Nobody's Favorite Samurai™

Kiyokawa Hachiro – Nobody’s Favorite Samurai™

Back in April 2013, I wrote a two part series about 2 murders during the 幕末 Bakumatsu final years of the Tokugawa Shōgunate (you may want to read those 2 very short articles before this long one). The articles attracted a bit of attention (and Lorde knows I wasn’t getting any attention at the time). As a result, I landed me a strange private message. It’s a message I’ll never forget… mostly because I saved it. And if the sender is still reading, I’m sure you know who you are.

The mail was short and sweet:

Hi Sir.

I love your blog but do you know you called Kiyokawa Hachiro douche 5 times?
Can you tone down the Language?

Thanks.

Anyways, I’ve cherished this e-mail because I never counted how many times I’d used the word douche in the original article and even though the words shit and bitch also appeared, our concerned writer didn’t seem to care. Also they said they loved my blog. Everything balances out, right?

Well, the other day, I read a blog that mentioned the grave of Kiyokawa Hachirō. I have to be honest and say that I never thought about where the guy was buried. He was a douche, after all. Who would want to go there?

So today I decided to revisit Kiyokawa Hachirō’s story, even though I think he was a douche par excellence[i]. The story actually gets pretty deep, so I’ve included all relevant links and about 34 footnotes. So have at it.

So first, I’d like to talk about who the hell Kiyokawa Hachirō was and why he was a douche. Then, I’m going to talk about his assassination. After that, things are going to get messy as we explore new information that came to light in the 50 years after his assassination. And finally, I’m going to talk about how none of this matters and how I wasted my time researching and writing it and how you wasted your time reading because… Kiyokawa Hachirō was such a douche that he is actually reaching from the grave trying to be a douche to not just me, but you too. Make no mistake about it, dear reader. He’s totally screwing you over as you read these very words.

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Shirai Akira played Kiyokawa Hachiro in the 2004 Taiga Drama

Shirai Akira played Kiyokawa Hachiro in the 2004 Taiga Drama “Shinsengumi!”

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Who the Hell is Kiyokawa Hachirō?

In short, he was a racist, a murderer, and a two-faced anti-shōgunate terrorist fuckwit.

He was born in 出羽国庄内藩 Dewa no Kuni Shōnai-han Shōnai Domain, Dewa Province in present day 山形県庄内 Yamagata-ken Shōnai Shōnai, Yamagata Prefecture. His family’s rank was 郷士 gōshi which means something like “hamlet/village warrior” – a kind of high ranking commoner who was allowed rights usually reserved for the samurai class. In case of the Kiyokawa clan, they were allowed to carry 2 swords. They also ran a sake business. The rest of his boring life has little to do with this article until 1863.

The Saito House (1907) in Kiyokawa Village, Yamagata. This is where Hachiro was born.

The Saito House (1907) in Kiyokawa Village, Yamagata. This is where Hachiro was born.

Another view of the birthplace of Hachiro.  The Saito family were relatives.

Another view of the birthplace of Hachiro. The Saito family was a branch family of the Kiyokawa.

In the story that most people love to tell themselves, the Edo Period was a peaceful and magical era of fireworks, candy, and puppy dogs that lasted for about 250 years. That is, until Commodore Perry and his American goon squad rolled into 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay and fucked everything up. Under the watch of 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke the 大老 tairō shōgunal regent, the Tokugawa shōgunate signed treaties with some western powers and began the process of opening up the country. The shōgunate knew they had no choice, but to samurai who weren’t in-the-know and perhaps to the average person on the street, Japan’s sanctity was being violated. The threat of the brutish yet technologically superior, tall and fat barbarians with big noses and stinky clothes plunged the country into chaos. Samurai from every part of Japan were proposing their own “quick fixes” and began building factions that then started fighting with each other[ii].

This is pretty much the Edo Period. I'm totally serious. It was just like this.

This is pretty much the Edo Period. I’m totally serious. It was just like this.

Much of the violence was being committed by 浪士 rōshi rōnin (masterless samurai) united under a philosophy that was abbreviated by the slogan 尊皇攘夷 sonnō-jōi “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians.[iii]” These rōnin turned to terrorism to strike out at the shōgunate, foreigners, and opposition groups in various places around the country. However, much of the violence would be perpetrated in the imperial city of Kyōto. In 1863, 公明天皇 Kōmei Tennō Emperor Kōmei summoned 徳川家茂 Tokugawa Iemochi, the 14th shōgun, to Kyōto. The meeting was part of the overall strategy to unify the imperial court with the shōgunate in hopes of quelling dissent among the rōnin and other dissident groups. The emperor, who was fiercely xenophobic[iv], was to issue a decree to the shōgun to expel the barbarians[v].

This is an actual photograph of the attack on regent Ii Naosuke by sonno-joi radicals from Mito in front of the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle in 1860.

This is an actual photograph of the attack on regent Ii Naosuke by sonno-joi radicals from Mito in front of the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle in 1860. A little known fact is that Naosuke was completely oblivious to the attack because he was in the palanquin using LINE to sext the cute daughter of merchant in Nihonbashi. He never saw it coming.

Sonnō-jōi Terrorists on the Rise

In 1860, Kiyokawa Hachirō and his buddy 山岡鐵太郎 Yamaoka Tetsutarō[vi], formed their own sonnō-jōi terrorist group with 14 other members – mostly students of Hachirō’s dōjō in Edo. They called the group 虎尾之会 Torao no Kai (sometimes rendered as Kobi no Kai). which means “the tiger tail association.” I don’t know much about the group’s terrorist activities except that most fingers point at them for one of the most egregious murders of the Bakumatsu. It’s generally believed that Hachirō and his douchey friends carried out the brazen murder of the innocent translator and man-about-town, Henry Heusken, in 1861. As Heusken was riding his horse home towards the American 公使館 kōshikan embassy[vii] at 善福寺 Zenpuku-ji Zenpuku Temple, Torao no Kai radicals killed him on 中之橋 Naka no Hashi “the middle bridge” in Azabu.

A photo taken at Henry Heusken's wake at Zenpuku-ji. Sadly, I think this is the only photo that exists of him. By most accounts he was a sociable guy who curious about other cultures. But like all foreigners of his day, he wasn't versed in the complex nuances of Japanese culture. No one was.

A photo taken at Henry Heusken’s wake at Zenpuku-ji. Sadly, I think this is the only photo that exists of him. By most accounts he was a sociable guy who curious about other cultures. But like all foreigners of his day, he wasn’t versed in the complex nuances of Japanese culture. No one was.

At any rate, because of the violence in Kyōto, a plan was hatched to fight fire with fire. Send a force of rōnin and low ranking samurai who were loyal to the shōgun to Kyōto before Iemochi’s entourage went. They could subdue any terrorists and hopefully inspire the bad guys to switch sides and support the shōgunate. The rules were simple: the status of the samurai was not important. They only had to be 攘夷派 jōi-ha supporters of expelling the barbarians. Since the emperor and the shōgun were pushing an idea called 公武合体 kōbu-gattai “union of the imperial court and shōgunate[viii],” including sonnō-jōi dissidents wasn’t seen as counterproductive to the overall strategy. After all, if the shōgunate was seen as supporting the imperial court (which it sorta wasn’t) and the court was supporting the shōgunate (which, except for the emperor, it sorta wasn’t), then everybody was playing on the same team… theoretically speaking.

Because of his sonnō-jōi stance, Hachirō commanded a certain respect among anti-foreigner rōnin in Edo.  Presumably because he thought he could recruit the right men quickly, 松平主税之介 Matsudaira Chikaranosuke, head fencing instructor at the 講武所 Kōbusho (the shōgunate’s official military academy in Edo) asked Hachirō to head up the group of rōnin that was to be the shōgun’s vanguard. The group was given the pretty unimaginative name 浪士組 Rōshigumi the rōnin group, or le groupe des ronins in French.

Denzu-in - a Tokugawa mortuary temple in modern Bunkyo Ward.

Denzu-in – a Tokugawa mortuary temple in modern Bunkyo Ward.

The Perfect Venue

Anyhoo, in February of 1863, an event to recruit and vet samurai for the new group was held at 伝通院 Denzū-in[ix] Denzū Temple in 小石川 Koishikawa[x] (near Tōkyō Dome). Since the time of the first shōgun, Denzū-in has been a Tokugawa 菩提寺 bodai-ji funerary temple. The shōguns weren’t buried here[xi], but the mother of the first shōgun, Ieyasu, is interred here. In fact, the temple’s name is the same name she assumed after retiring to the priesthood[xii]. There are other Tokugawa relatives enshrined at this temple. Its proximity to the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of the 水戸徳川家 Mito Tokugawa-ke Mito branch of the Tokugawa surely guaranteed a deep and long lasting patronage[xiii].

Denzu-in is still a major temple with strong connections to the Tokugawa.

Denzu-in is still a major temple with strong connections to the Tokugawa.

It was at this event on sacred Tokugawa land that roughly 250 masterless samurai were chosen to be the 14th shōgun’s vanguard. Since the time of the 3rd shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu, no shōgun had left Edo to meet the imperial court. Most of the rōnin probably saw this as a once in a life time chance. They just wanted a patron and a decent income and saw this as a chance to improve their lives. Some were just xenophobic. Some were just hungry. Let’s remember “Union of Court and Camp” and “Revere the Emperor and Expel the Barbarians” had a lot of overlapping points. It’s under these conditions that this group of mismatched rōnin set out from the Tokugawa funerary temple Denzū-in to the imperial city of Kyōto.

The grave of Ieyasu's mother.

The grave of Ieyasu’s mother (circa 2010)

SIRI Says It Only Takes 4 Days to Walk From Tōkyō to Kyōto

It took the rowdy band of rōnin about 15 days to make the trek from the shōgun’s capital. I just asked SIRI how long it would take to walk from Denzū-in to 壬生村 Mibu Mura Mibu Village (their final destination) and she said 3-4 days depending on the route. Granted, 4 days of straight walking with no sleep would have been pretty hard core in a world that didn’t have Jordans™, so let’s have an understanding that 4 days would become 8 days if we account for sleeping. Crossing rivers by ferry may have taken a day for 235 or so men and their equipment. If the group got too rowdy, a few days of drinking and whoring here and there would have added another day or two to the march. And finally, they were walking on highways made of individual stones – not smooth pavement. Even if an 8 day high speed walk from Tōkyō to Kyōto  sounds like fun to you (and it might actually be a lot of fun), you would be making a trek that is so much better than what these men undertook. In short, this was a hard trip to take.

The Tokaido Highway was the fastest.

The Tokaido Highway was the fastest.

The Nakasendo Highway was the longest route, but there were sub-highways that linked these routes. I don't know the Roshigumi's exact route and it's not really important for our story.

The Nakasendo Highway was the longest route, but there were sub-highways that linked these routes. I don’t know the Roshigumi’s exact route and it’s not really important for our story.

Surprise, Muthafucka!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After 15 days of walking, the Rōshigumi finally arrived at Mibu Village. The men were allowed to rest for the night. The next morning, Kiyokawa Hachirō made an announcement to all of the men who had coming all this way to support the shōgun. He gathered them all in a hall and announced that he had actually lied to them about their mission[xiv]. Hachirō announced that he wasn’t just a jōi supporter; he wanted to take down the shōgunate and replace it with the imperial court. To make things worse, he told the rōnin that he had submitted a petition with all of their names on it to the emperor pledging loyalty to the imperial court. Theoretically, this meant that any rōnin who didn’t follow Hachirō could be branded an imperial traitor. But as it turned out, Emperor Kōmei wasn’t having any of this and rejected the petition outright[xv]. Hachirō and his band of rōnin found themselves in an awkward position. He openly declared his opposition to the shōgunate and loyalty to the emperor, but the emperor was like, “go fuck yourself, son.” Hachirō marched back to Edo looking like a duplicitous snake and began planning his next brilliant move: to burn down the entire city of 横浜 Yokohama because… foreigners[xvi].

wait what

Most of the rōnin were desperate dumbasses who bought into the whole sonnō-jōi fad, so Hachirō returned to Edo with most of his retinue (all of this on the shōgunate’s dime). But 19 members of the group refused to return to Edo. This tiny faction would become the infamous 新撰組 Shinsengumi[xvii]. They had just enough “expel the barbarians” in their hearts, but their interpretation of “reverence” leaned towards the shōgunate and not towards “all out reverence for the emperor[xviii].” And as I said before, at this time the shōgunate and Emperor Kōmei were trying to unify the Kyōto imperial court and the Edo shōgunate court in order to quell internal violence – and ultimately avoid a civil war.

The offspring of the Roshigumi was the almost larger than life Shinsengumi. Since the meteoric rise of Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the end of the Sengoku Period, social mobility was severely curtailed. The Shinsengumi are awesome to follow because their 13 minutes of fame were epic. The leaders came from humble beginnings and eventually earned incomes that made them financial equals with lesser daimyō. Their final 2 minutes of fame were also epic. They went down in a blaze of glory that burned so hot, their reputation barely recovered until the last 10-20 years or so when they became the poster child of the imaginary last war cry of the samurai.

The offspring of the Roshigumi was the almost larger than life Shinsengumi. Since the meteoric rise of Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the end of the Sengoku Period, social mobility was severely curtailed. The Shinsengumi are awesome to follow because their 13 minutes of fame were epic. The leaders came from humble beginnings and eventually earned incomes that made them financial equals with lesser daimyō. Their final 2 minutes of fame were also epic. They went down in a blaze of glory that burned so hot, their reputation barely recovered until the last 10-20 years or so when they became the poster child of the imaginary last war cry of the samurai.

Karma’s a Muthafucka, Yo.

Kiyokawa Hachirō’s duplicity cost him his life. In the spring of 1864, as he was crossing a bridge called 一之橋 Ichi no Hashi “the first bridge” in the 麻布十番 Azabu-Jūban area, Hachirō was intercepted by a group of 6 pro-shōgunate samurai. The leader of these samurai was a certain 旗本 hatamoto direct retainer of the Tokugawa named 佐々木只三郎 Sasaki Tadasaburō[xix]. They descended upon Hachirō and cut him down at a firebreak on next to the bridge. The exact spot had been commemorated at 一の橋親水公園 Ichi no Hashi Shinsui Kōen Ichinohashi Water Park until 2010. Sadly the park is a construction site until 2016 so you can’t visit today. That said, Sailor Moon fans (who probably don’t even read my blog), may recognize this park from said anime.

The old firebreak become a park next to a dirty river and a noisy elevated highway.

The old firebreak became a park next to a dirty river and a noisy elevated highway. But yes, this is where Sasaki Tadasburo finally ended the scourge upon intelligence that was named Kiyokawa Hachiro.

What really cracks me up is that, where Hachiro died is the place where young girls have big dreams of

What really cracks me up is that, where Hachiro died is the place where young girls have big dreams of “kawaii.”
As a privileged, self-absorbed samurai of his own day, I’m sure Hachiro would hate this spot.
No worries, mate. It’s been under construction for 4 years and looks like shit. And more people know who Sailor Moon is than you because you were a douche.

Despite his demonization by the later Meiji Regime, Tadasaburō was well within his rights to kill Hachirō – arguably he was duty-bound to do so. The oddest quirk of the story seems to be that Kiyokawa Hachirō was killed at Ichi no Hashi – literally a 3 minute walk from 中之橋 Naka no Hashi, the spot where Hachirō and his sonnō-jōi Torao group had murdered Henry Heusken in 1861. How is that for justice?

Pretty fucking poetic if you ask me.

Henry Heusken is a guy who explored the world and learned languages in a time when there was no radio, tv, or internet. He was a civilian who was murdered by that.  Kiyokawa Hachiro might have changed his life around had he lived longer. But he played the douche card from the beginning and it's a surprise he lived as long as he did.

Henry Heusken is a guy who explored the world and learned languages in a time when there was no radio, tv, or internet. He took a risk coming to Japan but was apparently fascinated by the Japanese people. He strikes me as a guy who would ask an attacker to enjoy a few drinks in the Yoshiwara and talk about their grievances before fighting. He was a civilian who was interested in people and communication and he was murdered for that.
Kiyokawa Hachiro might have changed his life around had he lived longer. But he played the douche card from the beginning and it’s a surprise he lived as long as he did.

Heusken Became a Martyr, Hachirō Remains a Douche

So, the details of the Henry Heusken’s assassination in 1861 are fairly well recorded. He apparently lay slowly dying in the street for an hour while passersby were like “whoa, look at this dying white guy” and did nothing to help him. Heusken’s assassination attracted international attention. The Americans, the Dutch, the Germans, and indeed, a few Japanese were completely outraged by his slaughter. Kiyokawa Hachirō, on the other hand, had become a kind of persona non grata among both sides. Both the shōgunate and the sitting emperor[xx] saw him as a treacherous douchebag. As such, he pretty much slipped into obscurity[xxi].

Why don't we have more pictures of Hachiro? Because no one respects him. Even Sailor Moon couldn't save his reputation for being an  asshole.

Why don’t we have more pictures of Hachiro?
Because no one respects him.
Even Sailor Moon couldn’t save his reputation for being an asshole.

So Where Is Kiyokawa Hachirō’s Grave?

This has been a mystery since the Meiji Period and 4 temples make the dubious claim that they have his grave[xxii]: 正念寺 Shōnen-ji in Azabu, 長玄寺 Chōgen-ji in Azabu, 吸江寺 Kyūkō-ji in Shibuya (but near Azabu), and 伝通院 Denzū-in in Koishikawa.

But let’s look at the assassination account. In April of 1864, Kiyokawa Hachirō was walking across the 古川 Furukawa Furukawa River in Azabu-Jūban. He crossed Ichi no Hashi “the first bridge” walking towards Naka no Hashi “the middle bridge” and 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi “the red wing bridge.[xxiii]” He was killed at the firebreak on the left side of the bridge. Allegedly, one of his supporters came back for the head and left the lifeless decapitated body in the street.

The assassination happened across the street from the palatial estate of 柳沢家 Yanagisawa-ke Yanagisawa family[xxiv]. Daimyō residing in Edo were required to clean up and bury the bodies of people who did 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide, murder victims, and homeless who died near their estates. As a result, the responsibility of cleaning up the mess fell upon the servants of the Yanagisawa[xxv]. According to tradition, the Yanagisawa took the headless corpse to their nearby family temple, Shōnen-ji, where it was buried in a 無縁塚 muen-zuka a grave for people who have no relatives to attend and maintain their graves. Most likely, the Yanagisawa were upholding their legal responsibility while trying to obscure the fact there was an anti-shōgunate traitor buried in their family cemetery. Essentially, they dumped him in an unmarked grave and kept their mouths shut about it.

This is a typical muen-zuka. I took this picture at Zendō-ji in Gunma. You've probably seen similar sights at really old temples with a lot of land.  BTW, if you click this picture, it will take you to my Flickr page. If you're interested in my photography, please check it out.

This is a typical muen-zuka. I took this picture at Zendō-ji in Gunma. You’ve probably seen similar sights at really old temples with a lot of land.
BTW, if you click this picture, it will take you to my Flickr page. If you’re interested in my photography, please check it out.

So What Happened to the Head?

The standard narrative says that a certain 石坂周造 Ishizaka Shūzō cut off Hachirō’s head and took it to the residence of 山岡鐵太郎[xxvi] Yamaoka Tetsutarō, a friend of Hachirō’s. They preserved the head in sugar. Then Tetsutarō put the head in a sack and ran with it to 伝通院 Denzū-in in 小石川 Koishikawa for emergency burial.

Wait? Did you just say Denzū-in?

If you thinking I’m repeating myself, you’re not crazy.

Is this the temple named after the first shōgun’s mother? Was this some kind of irony? Was it some twisted insult on the part of anti-shōgunate terrorists? Was this a kind of Edo Period “your mom” joke?

No.

Yamaoka Tetsutarō the Pickle Delivery Guy.

Yamaoka Tetsutarō the Pickle Delivery Guy.

There Was a Deeper Treachery Afoot

Why was Hachirō’s head brought to a Tokugawa funerary temple? Well, it appears the chief priest of an affiliated temple called 処静院 Shojō-in, a certain 琳瑞 Rinzui, was the reason. He idolized 徳川斉昭 Tokugawa Nariaki the batshit crazy[xxvii] lord of 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain.  He was also a supporter of 尊皇憂国 sonnō yūkoku “imperial reverence and patriotism” and 尊皇攘夷 sonnō jōi “revere the emperor, expel the barbarians” – 2 decidedly anti-shōgunate philosophies. He allowed Hachirō to use Denzū-in as the meeting place to begin the Rōshigumi’s long march to Kyōto. Despite having close connections with the Tokugawa, he allowed and encouraged 水戸学 Mito Gaku Mito Learning to spread – the idea that the shōgun was subordinate to the emperor. Rinzui flew under the radar for a pretty long time.

But eventually Rinzui paid for his double dealings with his life. Once the connection between the monk and other sonnō jōi terrorists was understood, pro-shōgunate samurai assassinated him in 1867. The shōgunate then abolished his temple, Shojō-in, forever.

A couple signs a stone monument here and there is all that remains of Shojo-in.

A couple signs a stone monument here and there is all that remains of Shojō-in.

The End of Shōnen-ji

(Not to be confused with the aforementioned Shojō-in)

The Yanagizawa funerary temple, Shōnen-ji, had existed since 1752. But after the Meiji Coup, most daimyō families left Edo (now called Tōkyō) and returned to their old fiefs. Naturally, many of them lost connections with their funerary temples in the city. Many temples formerly associated with the daimyō clans became derelict. Shōnen-ji met its end in 1894 (Meiji 27) when it was overtaken by nearby 長玄寺 Chōgen-ji. The temple grounds were to be sold off, the buildings razed, and the graves and temple records would have to be moved. The temple grounds were purchased by the Police Department of Tōkyō City to build a police station. The police department paid for the demolition and moving costs. Nothing was said in city council records about specific graves or the muen-zuka. It’s at this point that the grave of Hachirō’s headless body faded into oblivion.

Incidentally, the remains of Shōnen-ji and the subsequent police station, are now the now the 元麻布三丁目緑地 Moto-Azabu 3-chōme Ryokuchi The Old Azabu 3-chōme Green Space, sometimes called the ビオトープ biotōpu biotope, a small natural habitat for plant and animal life.

I don't even know if this space still exists. If it does, it's not much to look judging by this picture.  But this is the remaining

I don’t even know if this space still exists. If it does, it’s not much to look judging by this picture.
But this is the remaining “green area.”

Anyhoo, 1912 (Meiji 45[xxviii]) was the 50th anniversary year of Kiyokawa Hachirō’s death and for some bizarre reason some people got it in their minds that the duplicitous d-bag deserved to honored. At 伝法院 Denbō-in Denbō Temple in 浅草 Asakusa, they posthumously[xxix] conferred upon Hachirō the imperial court rank of 正四位 shōshi’i (senior 4th rank)[xxx]. In attendance was an old man named 柴田吉五郎 Shibata Kichigorō who claimed to have witnessed Hachirō’s execution when he was 11 years old. If his story is true, he was the sole witness of the assassination – or at the least the longest living person with any firsthand knowledge of the incident.

Kichigorō said that as Hachirō crossed Ichi no Hashi, 6 samurai appeared as if they had been waiting for him. They greeted him in a friendly manner with 「清河先生! 」 “Kiyokawa Sensei!” But as soon as he acknowledged them, the 6 samurai descended upon him and violently cut him down. The assassins then fled the scene disappearing as quickly as they had appeared. At the time, the boy didn’t know who the victim was. It was only a month or two later that he heard that the victim was somewhat well-known guy and learned his full name.

Sure, this sounds like any Edo Period assassination, but what Kichigōrō said next blew the lid off of the whole story of Hachirō’s death. He said that Hachirō hadn’t been decapitated and that the body was completely intact when servants of the Yanagisawa clan cleaned up the mess on the street. The whole body was then interred by the Yanagisawa at Shōnen-ji.

Believe it or not. This is an actual photograph of the attack.

Believe it or not.
This is an actual photograph of the attack.

An Old Man’s Memories of a Childhood Event

Is this information even worthwhile? After all, it’s well known that the witnesses of a crime may have wildly varying stories in court. Human memory is an imperfect thing. If you asked me what grade I was in or what I liked at age 11, I wouldn’t be able to tell you without Googling some things first. So, yeah, we have to take Kichigōrō’s statements with a grain of salt. But that said, he lived his whole life in 宮村町 Miyamura-chō Miyamura Town in the Azabu area. As a townsman of Miyamura, he was active in the local community. In particular, he was active at Chōgen-ji.

Chogen-ji today is pretty much just a cemetery. But I plan to follow up on this story on my Flicker account.

Chogen-ji today is pretty much just a cemetery.

So Get This.

Back in 1893 (Meiji 26), Chōgen-ji’s take takeover of Shōnen-ji began. The person put in charge of transfer of the temple archives and graves was Shibata Kichigorō[xxxi]. He was involved in many aspects of the merger. His biggest task was processing the remains of about 30,000 ashen and skeletal remains with no families to care for them. Chōgen-ji didn’t have space for all the unclaimed graves, so Kichigorō also was charged with transporting them to Kyūkō-ji in modern Shibuya Ward to a new muen-zuka. Among the remains, Kichigorō’s team discovered a 甕 kame earthenware funerary urn with the name Kiyokawa Hachirō written on it. The remains had been cremated, so it’s not known if they had found headless or “headful” remains.

The same year, a relative of Hachirō’s named 斉藤治兵衛 Saitō Jihei[xxxii], heard about the discovery and went to Kyūkō-j. Since his family had been maintaining the grave of Hachirō’s head at Denzū-in, he asked them to exhume Hachirō’s urn and remove it from the unmarked grave at Kyūkō-ji so he could bury it under the grave stone marking the supposed burial spot of his head at Denzū-in.

The burn remains were most likely interred in a jar not unlike this.

The burn remains were most likely interred in a jar not unlike this.

So What Really Happened to Kiyokawa Hachirō’s Head and Trunk?

Well, we don’t know. As I said, the Yanagisawa clan cremated the body and put it in a mass burial. They probably wanted nothing to do with him but were just fulfilling their obligation in the eyes of the law. They probably also didn’t want anti-shōgunate rōnin coming to their family temple to honor a guy who was clearly a dick. Silently burying him where only the monks attended the grave was probably a good move. Whether they buried a corpse with or without a head can’t be said, but it doesn’t really matter because the “alleged head grave” at Denzū-in was marked and was considered the “official grave.”

The grave of the headless body was soon lost to the sands of time until Shibata Kichigōrō told his side of the story. And when the cremated remains where interred at the “official” marked grave at Denzū-in, it seems like nobody bothered to check for a pickled head – or if they did, no one wrote it down for us.

The only picture I can find of Saitō Jihei - the only relative to take responsibility for Hachirō's grave and body.

The only picture I can find of Saitō Jihei – the only relative to take responsibility for Hachirō’s grave and body.

To be honest, Kiyokawa Hachirō has never been at the top of anyone’s “cool samurai” list. I’ve met a lot of Bakumatsu fans and it’s usually the same names that come up. But if anyone says, “I love Hachirō,” then I’ll be a monkey’s uncle[xxxiii]. By that I mean, pretty much nobody gave a shit where his grave was except for a few relatives. If Shibata Kichigōrō hadn’t said anything to the right people or had died before 1912, this wouldn’t even be worth writing about.

But there is one closing thought I’d like to share with you before signing off. The Japanese enshrine their dead. The short explanation of this is simple: you don’t even need a body for a grave in the Japanese tradition. This is also why there are multiple graves for hundreds[xxxiv] of individuals throughout the centuries.

This is Yasukuni Shrine. It is a product of the Meiji Coup. It's a product of Mito Learning. It's a product of Japan's coming to terms with an international world as it dragged itself kicking and screaming into a new world.  It's also creepy as all hell.

This is Yasukuni Shrine. It is a product of the Meiji Coup. It’s a product of Mito Learning. It’s a product of Japan’s coming to terms with an international world as it dragged itself kicking and screaming into a new world.

What does that mean to you?,

Well, you just wasted your time reading about the location of the missing grave of some douchebag samurai that nobody cares about only to find out that in the eyes of the Japanese; the exact location of the body is a complete non-issue. But don’t feel too bad. I’m the asshole who actually researched all this pointless crap.

Thanks Kiyokawa Hachirō. You truly are the douche who keeps on giving.

Even from beyond the grave.

Follow Up:
I visited Denzū-in and shot some video!

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[i] French joke much?
[ii] You can read more about the Bakumatsu here. Even though this link looks like a weak Wiki, it’s not. Follow up on the links they recommend.
[iii] In Japan, the term sonnō-jōi originally referred to revering the Tokugawa and expelling the Christians.
[iv] And was most likely being manipulated by anti-shōgunate courtiers.
[v] The title shōgun is actually short for 征夷大将軍 sei’i tai-shōgun “great general who subdues the barbarians.” The title is one of those little ironies of history that fucked over the shōgunate in the end. The original name was created in a different world and there was no realistic way Japan could expel these “barbarians.”
[vi] Tetsutarō seems to have been his nickname; most sources refer to him by the name 鉄舟 Tesshū. While Kiyokawa and Yamaoka may have shared the jōi (expel the barbarians) component of sonnō-jōi, Yamaoka apparently leaned more towards the shōgunate. He was on good terms with 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū and actually supported the last shōgun, 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu, in a military capacity. Yamaoka lived through these turbulent years only to die of cancer in 1888 (Meiji 21).
[vii] This term is regularly translated as “legation” in most English publications because that term gives some nuance to how tenuous the positions of the embassies actually were at the time. But in light of the ambassadorial continuum that has existed in Japan since that time, I’m comfortable translating this word as embassy. The usual modern Japanese word is 大使館 taishikan.
[viii] It’s often translated as “union of court and camp” because 幕府 bakufu shōgunate literally means “the shōgun’s battlefield encampment.
[ix] Ironically, the temple is where Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mother is buried. The temple’s name is actually her Buddhist name.
[x] This is very near the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain. Long time readers will recognize Mito as one of the undisputed sources of the sonnō (imperial reverence) component of the sonnō-jōi movement.
[xi] The shōguns were buried here.
[xii] Before that she was known by her court title of 於大の方 Odai-no-kata. After their husbands died, it was common for women to “retire” to the priesthood – something that became a codified fact of life for women in the 大奥 Ōoku women’s quarters of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle under the Tokugawa.
[xiii] I hope warning lights are flashing in your mind.
[xiv] Suck on that, bushidō. Here’s the first episode of a 2 or 3 part series on how bushidō is bullshitto from the Samurai Archives Podcast.
[xv] Emperor Kōmei supported the shōgunate and the concept of “union of court and camp.”
[xvi] The largest foreigner settlement in Eastern Japan was in Yokohama at the time.
[xvii] The 19 members were made of 2 factions, the 芹沢派 Serizawa-ha Serizawa faction and the 近藤派 Kondō-ha Kondō faction. Read more about the Shinsengumi here.
[xviii] Revering the shōgun could be interpreted as revering the emperor because one mode of thought stated that the shōgun was granted his authority by the emperor.
[xix] Long time readers of JapanThis! should know this name well by now. Later in the decade he would have close ties with the Shinsengumi. Although it has never been proven, he is the most likely suspect in the assassination of 坂本龍馬 Sakamoto Ryōma. Furthermore, if he was the assassin of Sakamoto Ryōma, he might have been a bigger douche than Kiyokawa Hachirō. That would mean that – and most likely does mean – that Tadasaburō sold the Shinsengumi down the river. To make the indictment worse, it meant that Kondō Isami was dishonorably executed for the assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma. All of this is somewhat questionable, but basically, he was a shady dude.
[xx] Please note I said “sitting emperor” and not “imperial court.” To be sure, there were members of the court who would have loved to see Hachirō
[xxi] And to be perfectly honest, if it wasn’t for the meteoric rise of the Shinsengumi, he would be one of the more obscure agents of the Bakumatsu; simply the murderer of Henry Heusken.
[xxii] A major distinction between Christianity and Buddhism and Shintō is that the Abrahamic religions require for a grave. Buddhism and Shintō don’t require a body. Enshrinement will suffice every time. So if a places claims to have a grave of someone, if it was formally enshrined, they have a legitimate claim to a grave. Today, I just want to talk about the body.
[xxiii] Read the real story of Akabanebashi here.
[xxiv] Long time readers will recognize this as the estate of 松平時之助 Matsudaira Tokinosuke, the jerk who built 六義園 Rikugien (an amazing garden) and ruined the 喜多見氏 Kitami clan (originally the Edo clan). You can read his story at the end of this article.
[xxv] This was an actual law; if a person died or was killed in front of a samurai’s residence, they had to clean up the mess and make sure that proper funerary rites were carried out.
[xxvi] Also known as 山岡鉄舟 Yamaoka Tesshū. Tesshū is a bit of a complicated guy. He was asked to lead the Rōshigumi with Hachirō. Tesshū was a progressive guy, but he clearly knew about Hachirō’s intention to change the mission of the Rōshigumi. However, it seems that by the time he was told or figured it out, it was too late for him to stop the madness. He later served the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, and accompanied him to Shizuoka when he retired.
[xxvii] He’s a good article on Nariaki by Rekishi no Tabi.
[xxviii] This event happened in the last year of Meiji. From July 1812, the year was known as Taishō 1.
[xxix] Well, duh. Obviously it was posthumous.
[xxx] Don’t ask me about court rank. I don’t know much about it at all because it’s boring.
[xxxi] I don’t know whether this was a coincidence or whether he asked for the appointed, perhaps feeling some personal connection to Hachirō as a result of witnessing his death.
[xxxii] I don’t know the connection.
[xxxiii] A very clean shaven monkey’s uncle, but a monkey’s uncle nonetheless.
[xxxiv] Thousands? Could be, I’m not actually counting. That’s just a stupid number I threw out there to illustrate a point.

What does Taishido mean?

In Japanese History on February 8, 2015 at 6:07 pm

太子堂
Taishi-dō (Taishi Hall)

Taishido Shotengai (shopping arcade) is closed off to automobile traffic on the weekends.

Taishido Shotengai (shopping arcade) is closed off to automobile traffic on the weekends.

Just a heads up. All of these places I’ve been writing about over the past few weeks are located in Setagaya and Meguro. Since they seemed to be centrally located, I decided to walk around and take photos of some of the spots – especially the ones related to Minamoto no Yoritomo and his ill-fated horse. If you’re interested, check out my Flickr page to see the pictures. You’ll find the Ashige-zuka (Yoritomo’s horse’s grave), Komatsunagi Shrine (where he gave thanks to the local deity, Ne no Kami), Komadome Hachiman Shrine (related to the Late Hōjō clan), Yūten-ji (grave of the 36th high priest of Zōjō-ji which was well patronized by the Tokugawa shōguns), and Ensen-ji (which is central to today’s article).

If you’re here for the first time, you may want to read the last 5 articles. At the very least, you should probably read this one about the abundance of horse related place names in Setagaya.

Let's go!

Let’s go!

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The origin of this place name is well known and it has documents and buildings to back it up[i]. It’s actually a very simple etymology. The story could go very deep, but let’s start out simple. If you wanna go deeper into the area and its culture, just keep reading. If you just want to know the etymology, feel free to quit after a few paragraphs. After that, it’s going to turn into a lot quasi-historical religious bullshit.

However, if you’ve been following the last few articles about 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward and 目黒区 Meguro-ku Meguro Ward, you might want to stick around a little. I’m hoping that with this article I will have brought everything full circle and woven a colorful historical tapestry of this part of Tōkyō. It might not be a hot spot for tourists, but if you’ve got a passion for Edo-Tōkyō, there is plenty worth seeing in this part of the metropolis. I hope I’ve done justice to the area.

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Long Story, Short

On the grounds of 円泉寺 Ensen-ji Ensen Temple there was a special building dedicated to the reverence of 聖徳太子 Shōtoku Taishi Crown Prince Shōtoku. That building was called 太子堂 Taishi-dō Taishi Hall. The Taishi-dō pre-dates the current temple and was this rural area’s original local claim to fame, thus the area was called Taishi-dō.

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Long Story, Long

As I said in the short version, Ensen-ji has a special hall housing a statue of Shōtoku Taishi (574-627). Don’t worry about who he is yet, I’ll get to that later. The building was called the Taishi-dō which literally means “place to worship the imperial prince[ii].” The structure is said to have been built during the late 南北朝時代 Nanbokuchō Jidai Period of the Northern & Southern Courts (1336-1392)[iii]. Over the years it was made more beautiful and the temple became quite important in the area. To moderns, the name Taishi-dō sounds like a Buddhist structure, but in reality Shintō and Japanese Buddhism were perfectly compatible until they were made legally incompatible by the Meiji government in the 1870’s. This blending of religions is called syncretism[iv] and is usual in pantheistic religions. Anyways, this Taishi-dō houses the enshrined Shōtoku Taishi as a 神 kami Shintō deity.

But as stated before, the Taishi-dō was the main religious attraction, but later a 別当寺 bettō-ji a temple attached to the shrine was built. Eventually the entire complex was renamed 円泉寺 Ensen-ji as the Buddhist aspect took precedence over the Shintō aspect. Still, the hall dedicated to Shōtoku Taishi was the main draw. Hence the surrounding area came to be called Taishi-dō.

Older 10,000 yen notes used to feature Shotoku Taishi because he was a straight up pimp. Sort of. OK, not really.

Older 10,000 yen notes used to feature Shotoku Taishi because he was a straight up pimp.
Sort of.
OK, not really.

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Who the Hell is Shōtoku Taishi?

Shōtoku Taishi is one of those people in Japanese history that it’s OK to dismiss as semi-fictional, but at the same time you have to acknowledge his place in the historical narrative of the country. I’ll say right now that most historians agree that he is a composite character. Whether he actually existed or not is even a debatable topic. But he looms large in the semi-legendary imperial narrative and acknowledging characters like Shōtoku Taishi[v] is pretty much necessary because… well, it’s just part of the narrative.

He supposedly lived during the 飛鳥時代 Asuka Jidai Asuka Period[vi] (roughly 538-710). This era saw the transition from 古墳 kofun burial mound culture to more Buddhist-style burial practices. In short, whether he was a real person or not, he is placed in the historical narrative at a time of great change in Japanese culture.

Shotoku Taishi. Notice the archaic hairstyle and clothing.

Shotoku Taishi. Notice the archaic hairstyle and clothing.

His main claim to fame is that he was the first major patron of Buddhism in Japan. To this day, he’s respected as a purveyor of peace and benevolence. Because he gave up his right to succeed to the emperorship, he’s considered an example of humility. He’s also admired for his deeds and his connection to the imperial family.

In 604, Shōtoku Taishi allegedly wrote the 十七条憲法 Jūshichijō Kenpō 17 Article Constitution based on Buddhist and Confucian moral teachings. While you might expect to the find rules of governance, it’s actually a preachy document telling the bureaucrats and nobles of the imperial court at Asuka how to behave in a way worthy of their high office and rank. It’s really boring, but if you’re into that sort of thing, you can read a translation of the constitution here.

Stupidest system for identifying rank ever

Stupidest system for identifying rank ever

We can also thank Shōtoku Taishi for establishing the first cap and rank system called the 冠位十二階 Kan’i Jūni Ka Twelve Level Cap & Rank System™. This was the first of several rank systems which involved funny-shaped Chinese hats with different colors to show what your rank was. These court rank systems got so convoluted later in Japanese history that I have refused to learn anymore about it until I have to. Also, since this blog rarely concerns itself with matters of the imperial court, it’s not really necessary to know. That said, if you must torture yourself and learn about the cap and rank systems of the court, you can read more about it here. BTW, a somewhat easier system that persisted in the court of the shōgun during the Edo Period is the system of honorary titles – you can read more about that here.

In conclusion, Shōtoku Taishi is an important semi-legendary figure in the history of the imperial court and the rise of Buddhism. Later great figures in Buddhism revered him and so you can find him enshrined in many temples throughout Japan. I’m not going to make this blog post about some guy who lived at the turn of the 7th century and probably never even set foot in the Kantō area, but if you want to read more, this article is pretty good.

Afterhours, Shotuku Taishi knew how to party. This has led to his everlasting fame.

Afterhours, Shotuku Taishi knew how to party. This has led to his everlasting fame.

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About the Area and the Temple

Long time readers will know that the presence of a temple or shrine meant business opportunities. Pilgrims needed food to eat, places to rest, souvenirs to bring back, and most importantly, places for drinking and whoring. Whole economies grew up around temples and shrines. The town in this area adopted the name of its rock star bodhisattva/kami and so it was called Taishi-dō. From what I can tell, the name 武蔵国荏原郡太子堂村 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Taishi-dō Mura Taishi-dō Village, Ebara District, Musashi Province first appears in the historical record during the 安土桃山時代 Azuchi-Momoyama Jidai Azuchi Momoyama Period[vii], the climax of the Sengoku Period.

In my recent article on nearby Gohongi, we took a look at the popular belief called 庚申 Kōshin which maintains that there are 3 magic morality spy-worms living inside everyone – watching your every move. This superstition is usually associated with agricultural areas, like the Taishi-dō area used to be, and in fact the highest concentration of 庚申塔 Kōshin-tō Kōshin statues in Tōkyō is in Meguro and Setagaya. Ensen-ji erected the 庚申供養塔 Kōshin Kuyō-tō Blue Warrior Kōshin Statues[viii] inside a hollowed out dead tree in 1672. Something about this Blue Warrior Kōshin was special and that is why the temple claims that it was the center of Kōshin belief in the area and that is why there are so many Kōshin statues in the area. If you’re scratching your head about Kōshin, you really need to read the article on Gohongi.

Two Koshin statues housed inside a hollowed tree.

Two Koshin statues housed inside a hollowed tree.

By the 1680’s, Ensen-ji was popular with Edoites as well as samurai on sankin-kōtai duty who wanted to do a little sightseeing and essentially go partying with their friends or other travelers. The shōgunate had heavy restrictions on travel, but religious pilgrimages to Buddhist temples were an easy way to get permission to travel. If you had enough money and wanted to see some new places, a pilgrimage was pretty much the only way. This brought that sweet, sweet tourist money to the local temples and shrines and the 三軒茶屋 Sangen-jaya area[ix]. As a result the temple grounds were expanded and beautified. At some point, it became a branch temple of 宝仙寺 Hōsen-ji Hōsen Temple in 中野坂上 Nakano Sakaue[x]. This relationship also saw an influx of cash filling Ensen-ji’s coffers.

By the 1800’s, the temple complex was apparently quite splendid. Unfortunately, in 1857 a fire devastated the entire precinct destroying all of the temple records and treasures – including the original statue of Shōtoku Taishi. Reconstruction started immediately and by 1860, the Taishi-dō, the priests’ living quarters and, of course, the 本殿 honden main hall had been rebuilt – however the temple was a shadow of its former glory. The temple itself claims that the ridiculous Meiji Era 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzenrei Edict Separating Kami and Buddhas[xi] is what prevented the temple from returning to its former glory after the fire. I’m not sure how that would have made much a difference. That said, today the temple architecture is clearly modern but the visual focal point is definitely the Taishi Hall which is perched up on the high ground and is only accessible by stairs.

Today the area called Taishi-dō is a fairly affluent residential neighborhood. From my walking around the area, it seemed pretty inconvenient – no convenience stores or vending machines and recycle bins that one would expect. I found some large houses, including one western style home with a large yard. I also found a traditional wooden house with a yard that looks like a blue collar home from the country side – quite a rare city within the 23 Wards of Tōkyō. But as you head towards the 散華茶屋 Sangen-jaya area[xii] it gets much more convenient and lively. There are probably some great places to hang out and eat in that area, but it seems to me that the bulk of Taishi-dō is a quiet residential escape from the hustle and bustle for well to do families.

A New England style home with a yard in Tokyo? What is this magic?

A New England style home with a yard in Tokyo?
What is this magic?

A country home in the traditional Tama style with a yard... in Tokyo. Once again, I ask. What is this magic?

A country home in the traditional Tama style with a yard… in Tokyo.
Once again, I ask. What is this magic?

88 Holy Places

Today the temple is not famous at all. It’s not even famous in its own neighborhood. But in the Shōwa Period, a new pilgrimage course called the 玉川八十八ヶ所霊場 Tamagawa Hachijū Hakkadokoro Reijō 88 Holy Sights of Tamagawa was created. It covers 4 former 郡 gun districts[xiii] and this temple Ensen-ji is #51 on the course. The pilgrimage is apparently a knock off of the 四国遍路 Shikoku Henro Shikoku Pilgrimage, another 88 temple pilgrimage related to legendary supermonk, 空海 Kūkai. You can read about the Shikoku Henro here. If you’re interested in this local version of the pilgrimage, here is the list (Japanese). It starts in 神奈川県川崎市 Kanagawa-ken Kawasaki-shi Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture and ends in 東京都大田区 Tōkyō-to Ōta-ku Ōta Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis.

That's a pretty hard course. I'm guessing it would take 2-3 days? What do you think?

That’s a pretty hard course. I’m guessing it would take 2-3 days? What do you think?

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The Supermonk

The pilgrimage is centered on 88 temples that were supposedly established by (or related to) the supermonk Kūkai – also known as 弘法大師 Kōbō-Daishi which means something like “the great teacher who spread the Buddhism[xiv].” As I’ve mentioned before, the Tokugawa shōgunate imposed strict travel measures on the highways. Also, you couldn’t leave your domain without written authorization of some shōgunate official. However, the shōgunate loved itself some Buddhism and actually required every person to officially register with a temple. So if a group of people requested permission to go on a pilgrimage, the shōgunate was a little more lenient about saying “yes” and voilá! you had yourself a vacation, son.

The problem is that for most people, the cost of traveling a very far distance was too high. If an Edoite wanted to do a pilgrimage, the cost alone would theoretically have been much more prohibitive than the shōgunate. So, large domains came up with imitation pilgrimages to keep things local. For example, tiny Mt. Fuji hills are located all over Tōkyō so people can replicate the action of actually climbing Mt. Fuji. Yearly pilgrimages to 日光東照宮 Nikkō Tōshō-gū to worship the enshrined 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu were required of the 大名 daimyō feudal lords, but there were substitute enshrinements at the Tokugawa funerary temples in Edo. A visit to these shrines was considered sufficient if a lord couldn’t afford or didn’t have time to travel all the way to Nikkō. In short, there was a well-established tradition of replicating pilgrimages (and, of course, remotely enshrining kami). This pilgrimage seems to have gotten momentum in the early Meiji Period and was stopped when it reached 88 temples in the Shōwa Period.

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Kūkai the Superskunk.

Kūkai the Superskunk.

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Spreading Buddhism & Writing Reform

Anyways, back to Kūkai. He was supposedly born in 774 at a time when the imperial capital was still in 奈良 Nara and in his youth would have seen the court moved to 平安京 Heian-Kyō Kyōto. This means he lived in a Japan that was becoming more literate and worldly and emerging from Shōtoku Taishi’s world. He studied Buddhism[xv] and Sanskrit in China and returned to Japan with a mission to Buddhify the fuck out of the country. In this, Kūkai and Shōtoku Taishi has some things in common.

Legend will also credit him with inventing 平仮名 hiragana the native Japanese syllabary. I haven’t looked into this attribution’s veracity, but it’s well known that hiragana was a byproduct of a limited set of cursive kanji for women. The even simpler 片仮名 katakana script developed along similar lines as a shorthand script for Buddhist monks taking notes of sermons. Supermonk Kūkai may have been involved, but there’s no definite proof. After all, we do have records of other writing systems that were created out of whole cloth. Cyrillic is somewhat logically attributed to Byzantine missionaries, Κύριλλος καὶ Μεθόδιος Kýrillos kai Methódios Cyrillus and Methodius, who lived in the early 800’s – but it evolved over the centuries. Korea’s 한글 Hangul seems to have been created by a documented group of scholars in the 1400’s, and while I know very little about it, I do know that it was supplemented by 한자 hanja kanji[xvi]. Kūkai lived at the time when hiragana and katakana appear on the historical radar, but there’s no signed document saying, “Yo, I made this cool syllabary. What do y’all think? Love, Kūkai.”

Katakana didn't happen overnight...

Well, what did you think? Hiragana didn’t happen overnight. Neither did the Roman alphabet.

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His one confirmable contribution to Japan is the popularization of 真言宗 Shingon-shū Shingon Buddhism, an esoteric sect. I wouldn’t know one sect of Japanese Buddhism from another and I have no interest in learning[xvii] so I don’t want to go on about Kūkai’s contributions to Buddhism because I’m not qualified to speak about them. But Buddhist temples love him and often claim to be founded or have some connection to him. Hence, he is the Supermonk.

A dragon carved into wood at the shrine to Toshoku Taishi.

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Closing the Book on Setagaya

OK, so I’ve written 6 articles on Setagaya this year and it’s only February. And if you’re wondering what the name Setagaya itself means, I have an article for that from 2013. For me it’s been eye opening and I hope you all have enjoyed it too. I think I’ll move on to another area for a little bit – we can come back here at any time, of course. And as always, if you have any place names in Tōkyō that you’re curious about, hit me up in the comments section below, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Patreon, and on Flickr. I’ll add your suggestion to my to-do list. And I usually put requests at the top of the list. Jussayin’.

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[i] Well outside sources, at least. The temple’s own records were destroyed in a fire in the 1800’s.
[ii] I’ll talk more about his name later, but 太子 taishi isn’t actually his given name. It’s actually an imperial title designating the son of an emperor who will inherit the chrysanthemum throne.
[iii] What the fuck are the Northern and Southern Courts? Glad you asked. Actually, no I’m not. While this is a really explosive incident in samurai history, it’s actually one of the most boring events in Japanese history. Anything involving the imperial family is boring as fuck. This term refers to a period of time when there were two separate imperial courts claiming imperial legitimacy. In reality the 足利幕府 Ashikaga Bakufu Ashikaga Shōgunate controlled the Northern Court and protected that line. In the Meiji Period, the Northern Court were branded pretenders. So if the imperial family can brand the Ashikaga Shōgunate and their puppet emperors illegitimate rulers of Japan, I think I can brand the present imperial family a puppet family of usurper clans during the Bakumatsu. Two can play at that game.
[iv] If Westerners are familiar with Roman history, they will recognize syncretism.
[v] Like 大和武尊 Yamato Takeru – Captain Japan.
[vi] Read more about the Asuka Period here.
[vii] Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, Ieyasu, blah blah blah…
[viii] Not sure what the Blue Warrior is? Neither am I. This short article on Wiki might be related. But I’m not running a blog about Japanese Buddhism, so that’s as far as I’m going.
[ix] If you take a walk down the Old Tōkaidō in Shinagawa, you’ll notice that the road is littered with shrines and temples. Why do you think this is? Daimyō, rank and file samurai, merchants, and even rich farmers would walk along this road, stay overnight in the area, and spend all kind of money. Establishing a shrine or temple on this road was one of the best business decisions one could have possibly made in old Japan. It’s religion. You don’t even have to do any real work!
[x] This totally surprised me because I lived in Nakano for 6 years and saw this temple all the time. I never thought it would pop up in my blog years later.
[xi] We’ve talked about the Edict Separating Kami and Buddhas so many times; I’m not going to go into it again. Either search for it on my site using the search function, or here’s the Wiki article. I should probably make a once and for all post on my site…
[xii] Yes, yes, yes. I have an article about Sangen-jaya.
[xiii] The districts are 荏原郡 Ebara-gun, 橘樹郡 Tachibana-gun, 都筑郡 Tsuzuki-gun, 多摩郡 Tama-gun.
[xiv] This was his posthumous name.
[xv] And if I’m not mistaken, some Hinduism.
[xvi] And I think kanji are still used to a certain degree in South Korea, because I saw it in a few places the one time I visited Seoul.
[xvii] Unless there are magical moral spy-bugs involved.

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