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What does Uchisaiwaichō mean?

In Japanese History on March 21, 2015 at 6:01 pm

内幸町
Uchisaiwai-chō (Inner Happy Town)

The postal code "Uchisaiwai-chō" is highlighted in red. The green area is Hibiya Park.

The postal code “Uchisaiwai-chō” is highlighted in red. The green area is Hibiya Park.



内幸町 Uchisaiwai-chō is a backwards L-shaped postal code in 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward that borders on 中央区 Chūō-ku Chūō Ward and 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. If you walk from 日比谷公園 Hibiya Kōen Hibiya Park to 新橋一丁目 Shinbashi Itchōme and 新橋二丁目 Shinbashi Ni-chōme you will pass through Uchisaiwai-chō, which is a relatively non-descript business district to be perfectly honest. That said, if you continue on this route, you will eventually hit 御成門駅 Onarimon Eki Onarimon Station (remember that – it’s gonna come up later). These days, the area’s main claim to fame is its unwieldy name in ローマ字 rōma-ji the Roman alphabet and the 帝国ホテル Teikoku Hoteru Imperial Hotel.

Cherry blossoms blooming in front of the moat with the original Imperial Hotel in the background (circa 1890).

Cherry blossoms blooming in front of the moat with the original Imperial Hotel in the background (circa 1890).

Relation to Edo Castle

The history of this area is directly related to the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate because the modern land is located on plots of land that were within the castle enceinte. But let’s explore this a little more. The history of the castle and the moats goes much farther back.

To modern Tōkyōites[i], place names like 虎ノ門 Tora no Mon, 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri, and 赤坂見附 Akasaka Mitsuke may seem a little cryptic. In an age where cars, taxis, buses, and trains make getting around Tōkyō a breeze, the so-called Imperial Palace is an isolated area surrounded by a quaint moat. But in reality, 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle was the largest castle in the world. It was a city in and of itself and it lay at the heart of one of largest cities in the world – if not the largest city in the world[ii]. The moats you can see today are the oldest and innermost moats. Outside of those moats, a population of 大名 daimyō feudal lords lived in palatial residences. A secondary outer moat system protected the residences of those lords. All of that area was considered part of the castle.

Why am I saying this? Because so many names are related to the castle and the system of bridges and gates along the moats. Uchi-saiwai-chō is one of those stories. So let’s take a look!

Sotobori dōri - literally, outer moat road - is a modern road built over the former outer moat.

Sotobori dōri – literally, outer moat road – is a modern road built over the former outer moat.

First, Let’s Go Back to the 12th Century

In the 12th century, the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan used the inlets and rivers of 千代田 Chiyoda[iii] as a natural defense when they built their fortified residence here. Later, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan used the same hills and rivers for his fortress[iv]. Dōkan utilized the unruly network of rivers and inlets by creating a system of moats.

This is Edo circa 1600. Sorry that I haven't translated the text, but basically you can see the sea coming in right up to the castle. By the end of the Edo Period, the castle was about an hour walk on solid, developed land from the bay area.

This is Edo circa 1600. Sorry that I haven’t translated the text, but basically you can see the sea coming in right up to the castle. By the end of the Edo Period, the castle was about an hour walk on solid, developed land from the bay area.

During the Edo Period

It’s generally assumed that the area called Uchisaiwai-chō was reclaimed upon the arrival of 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 1590’s. I suspect some groundwork had already been laid by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan in the 1400’s, but whatever. By the Edo Period the area was solid ground.

If you go to the ruins of Edo Castle today, you’ll see the moat system is still intact. These moats are 内堀 uchibori inner moats. The castle was much more spread out in its heyday. There was another ring called 外堀 sotobori the outer moat. By the 1960’s this was pretty much all filled in and doesn’t exist today.

The area between the inner moat and outer moat was built up in the Edo Period with 大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō mansions. Daimyō, often translated as feudal lords[v], were required by the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate to perform yearly service to the shōgun called 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance[vi].

Long story short, these lords were required to maintain about 3 residences in the shōgun’s capital as well as their own domain. I like to think of these Edo-based residences as embassies. The compounds closest to the Edo Castle were for conducting direct affairs with the shōgunate and remote governance of their respective domains. These were usually the smallest of the 3 estates the daimyō maintained – but make no mistake about it; these were huge compounds on the most valuable real estate in Edo and subsequently Tōkyō.

I've marked the modern postal code of Uchisaiwai-chō in red. I've marked Hibiya Park in green. In the Edo Period these were all daimyō mansions. This is also all solid land, so the Hibiya Inlet no longer exists.

I’ve marked the modern postal code of Uchisaiwai-chō in red. I’ve marked Hibiya Park in green. In the Edo Period these were all daimyō mansions. This is also all solid land, so the Hibiya Inlet no longer exists.

At that time the area consisted of several large city blocks which housed the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residences and 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residences of various daimyō. I mentioned earlier that modern day Uchisaiwai-chō is a backwards L-shaped neighborhood. Well, in the Edo Period, the same area also could have been viewed as a backwards L-shaped area that included 2 discrete city blocks of 3 daimyō residences each and a single fire break[vii]. The estates of the daimyō on the vertical line of the backwards L remain essentially intact today. The horizontal line of the backwards L was broken up and has been redeveloped over the years. Interestingly, the former estates were the smaller compounds, while the latter were the larger.

Domain
Type of Residence

English

Clan Current Plot of Land
白河藩
Shirakawa Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Shirakawa Domain

upper residence

阿部
Abe
帝国ホテル
Teikoku Hoteru
The Imperial Hotel
薩摩藩
Satsuma Han
上屋敷[viii]
kami-yashiki
Satsuma Domain
upper residence
島津
Shimazu
みずほ銀行旧本店
Mizuho Ginkō Kyū-Honten
Former Mizuho Bank HQ
佐賀藩
Saga Han
中屋敷
naka-yashiki
Saga Domain
middle residence
鍋島
Nabeshima
国立印刷局虎ノ門病院[ix]
Kokuritsu Insatsukyoku
National Printing Bureau
Toranomon Hospital
Toranomon Byōin
郡山藩
Kōriyama Han上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Kōriyama Domain

upper residence

柳沢[x]
Yanagizawa
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
飫肥藩
Obi Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Obi Domain

upper residence

伊東
Itō
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
津和野藩
Tsuwano Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Tsuwano Domain

upper residence

亀井
Kamei
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
The Kuro Mon (black gate) of Satsuma's residence. This picture was taken in the early 1940's before the fire bombing of the city.

The Kuro Mon (black gate) of Satsuma’s residence. This picture was taken in the early 1940’s before the fire bombing of the city.

A close up of the Kuro Mon gate. This gate served as the entrance to the Rokumeikan. Gonna talk about that later.

A close up of the Kuro Mon gate. This gate served as the entrance to the Rokumeikan. Gonna talk about that later.

Gates of Edo Castle

So, as I mentioned earlier, these daimyō residences were located between the inner moat system and the outer moat. What I didn’t mention is that the mansions we’re talking about were located directly on the inside of the outer moat. Of course, this meant they were protected. But this also meant they were only accessible by bridges the crossed the moat and gates that protected the castle[xi]. Gates and other checkpoints were important landmarks and special economies developed around these places. As a result, many places derive from the names of the gates of Edo Castle. And here is where our etymology story starts to bud.

So Let’s Look at the Gates in the Area

Gate Name
Alternate Gate Name
English Names Modern Location
櫻田御門
櫻田見附門
Sakurada Go-mon
Sakurada Mitsuke Mon
桜田門駅
Sakuradamon StationThe entire gate system (mitsuke) is intact.
日比谷御門
日比谷見附門
Hibiya Go-mon
Hibiya Mitsuke Mon
日比谷公園
Hibiya Park
The stone walls are intact.
山下御門
山下橋見附門
Yamashita Go-mon
Yamashita Mitsuke Mon
No remains
幸橋御門
幸橋見附門
Saiwaibashi Go-mon
Saiwaibashi Mitsuke Mon
No remains
芝口御門
芝口見附門
Shibaguchi Go-mon[xii]
Shibaguchi Mitsuke Mon
銀座8丁目
Ginza 8-chōme
A few stones survive and there is a plaque.
虎之御門
虎之見附門
Tora no Go-mon
Tora no Mitsuke Mon
虎ノ門駅
Toranomon Station
Much of the stone walls survive.
Yamashita Mon at the end of the Edo Period. The moat seems to be a closed of space with still water and lotus plants abound.

Yamashita Mon at the end of the Edo Period. The moat seems to be a closed of space with still water and lotus plants abound.

Nothing remains of Yamashita Mon today. This is where the gate once stood.

Nothing remains of Yamashita Mon today. This is where the gate once stood.

Saiwaibashi Mon in the Edo Period.

Saiwaibashi Mon in the Edo Period.

Where Saiwaibashi Gate used to be.

Where Saiwaibashi Gate used to be.

Saiwaibashi Mon was colloquially referred to as 御成御門 O-nari Go-mon. 御成 o-nari is an obsolete Japanese word that refers to the presence of the shōgun[xiii]. This was the gate the 将軍家 shōgun-ke shōgun family and its entourage used to make pilgrimages to the family funerary temple at 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in 芝 Shiba[xiv]. Movements of the shōgun, or daimyō for that matter, were highly ritualized – as such, people took notice. It’s almost as if at any given moment a parade of samurai might cross your path.

A formal procession at Edo Castle.

A formal procession at Edo Castle.

At the beginning of the article I mentioned a walking course that leads directly to 御成門駅 Onarimon Eki Onarimon Station. That was because, the streets within castle itself led directly to Saiwaibashi Gate which in turn fed directly into a boulevard that led directly to the shōgun’s private gate to the Zōjō-ji funerary complex. In the case of Sawaibashi Mon, the “Onari Gate” name didn’t persist (most likely because all of the trappings of the shōgunate were erased in the Meiji Era), but at Zōjō-ji the nickname “Onari Gate” stuck because the sprawling temple of the shōguns’ remained intact until WWII. Sawaibashi Gate doesn’t exist today, but Zōjō-ji’s Onari Gate is completely intact today and there is even a subway station that bears its name.

The shōgun's private entrance to Zōjō-ji.

The shōgun’s private entrance to Zōjō-ji.

After the Edo Period

As I said before, the present day Uchisaiwai-chō is a reversed L-shaped area, but in the Edo Period, it was 2 discrete blocks. In 1872 (Meiji 5), the daimyō residences of Shirakawa, Satsuma, and Saga were torn down and combined to make 内山下町 Uchiyamashita-chō. The name literally means “the town inside Yamashita” – a reference to Yamashita Mon.  The residences of Kōriyama, Obi, and Tsuwano were torn down and combined to make 内幸町 Uchisaiwai-chō. This name literally means “the town inside Saiwai” – a reference to Saiwaibashi Mon. In 1968, the modern postal code system was established and Uchiyamashita-chō and Uchisaiwai-chō were combined under the name Uchisaiwai-chō.

So there it is. Hibiya Park in green and Uchsaiwai-chō (backwards L).

So there it is. Hibiya Park in green and Uchsaiwai-chō is in red (backwards L).

The modern layout, the park is in green and the areas we've been talking about in red.

The modern layout, the park is in green and the areas we’ve been talking about in red.

The lot formerly belonging to Satsuma was destined for a brief flowering of greatness. The area was home to the 鹿鳴館 Rokumeikan, an early Meiji Era hall built in 1881 to entertain foreign dignitaries. The building is sort of synonymous with Japan’s frantic desire to be taken seriously by foreign powers. They were keen to show how culturally sophisticated and worldly they were[xv]. The idea was that the Meiji elite could show off how well they could do western things like speak foreign languages, wear the latest western fashions, dance the waltz, play the piano, and have group sex with foreigners (allegedly). Even 芸者 geisha would show up in the latest western fashions! For a brief period, the Rokumeikan was a symbol of modernity and all the changes brought about by the Meiji Coup of 1868.

A symbol of the Meiji Era's inferiority complex, the Rokumeikan.

A symbol of the Meiji Era’s inferiority complex, the Rokumeikan.

The building is so inextricably linked to the image of the Early Meiji Period that there is even a term 鹿鳴館時代 Rokumeikan Jidai the Rokumeikan Era. However, in reality, westerners seemed to be laughing at the Japanese pretending to not be Japanese and the average run of the mill Edoite (who wouldn’t have had access to such elite gala events) would have been baffled by what went on in the hall and its gardens. In fact, there seems to have been some public backlash to all the western extravagance and the sex scandals happening at the taxpayer’s expense. The so-called Rokumeikan Era[xvi] didn’t even last 10 years. It seems to have run out of steam by the mid 1880’s. In terms of popular destinations for foreigners, the Rokumeikan was soon replaced by the far more conventional 帝国ホテル Teikoku Hoteru Imperial Hotel which was originally built in 1890[xvii].

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_________________
[i]
Expats in particular…
[ii] At the time.
[iii] What does Chiyoda mean?
[iv] In the Edo Period, this ancient fortification served as the 本丸 hon maru main citadel (the residence of the shōgun and his family – the most secure enceinte of the castle) and the 二之丸 ni no maru secondary citadel (theoretically, the residence of the shōgun’s adult offspring). If you walk the grounds of Edo Castle (officially known by the BS title of 皇居 kōkyo the Imperial Palace), the terms hon maru and ni no maru are still used on signs, so they’re easy to find.
[v] A contestable term at best, but an easy convention.
[vi] What’s sankin-kōtai?
[vii] Technically speaking, the enclosure from 櫻田御門 Sukurada Go-mon Sakuradamon to 虎之御門 Tora no Go-mon Toranomon was home to 7 discrete blocks of about 28 daimyō residences. The area was accessible by 5 見附 mitsuke “approaches” – Sakurada Mon, Hibiya Mon, Yamashita Mon, Saiwaibashi Mon, and Tora no Mon. More abou that in a minute.
[viii] Some sources say 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence. To be honest, my sources have conflicting info on a few of these, which makes me think (1) daimyō were moved around after fires, (2) daimyō were moved around after changes in rank, (3) daimyō residences were re-designated as upper/middle/lower when necessary, and/or (4) the upper/middle/lower thing wasn’t officially codified nomenclature. Anyhoo, take the designation as upper/middle/lower in this article with a grain of salt.
[ix] It seems Saga Domain’s residence was moved from the Yamashita Mon area to the Tora no Mon area at some point.
[x] Many of you might recognize this name from 柳沢吉保 Yanagizawa Yoshiyasu, sometimes referred to by his honorary title 松平時之助 Matsudaira Tokinosuke. He was the lover of the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. He was originally daimyō of 川越藩 Kawagoe Han Kawagoe Domain, but shōgun Tsunayoshi elevated him to lord of the prestigious (and traditionally Tokugawa controlled) territory of 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain. Yoshiyasu’s descendants were the lords of 郡山藩 Kōriyama Han Kōriyama Domain in modern day 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture. Yoshiyasu was apparently a spiteful little bitch who destroyed the meteoric career of 喜多見重政 Kitami Shigemasa. You can read the story here.
[xi] Remember, if you’re inside the moat, you’re inside the castle – even if it’s the outer enceinte.
[xii] This gate burnt down in 1734 and was subsequently dismantled. Interestingly, Shibaguchi Mon was built where an undefended bridge formerly stood called 新橋 atarashii hashi the new bridge. Once the defensive structure, Shibaguchi Mon, was torn down, a new undefended bridge was set up and reverted to the former name, 新橋, but with the pronunciation Shinbashi. Today, you can find shops in 銀座8丁目 Ginza Hatchōme that use the name Shibaguchi.
[xiii] It was used for other nobles, too.
[xiv] See my article on Shiba here.
[xv] They were hoping to renegotiate the so-called unequal treaties signed by the Tokugawa Shōgunate.
[xvi] If you want to know more about the Rokumeikan, here’s the Wikipedia article.
[xvii] The Imperial Hotel is something of an institution in Tōkyō. Its own history is linked to the ups and downs of Tōkyō itself, but I think it’s outside of the scope of this article. If you want to learn more about the Imperial Hotel, here’s the Wikipedia page.

Why is Roppongi called Roppongi

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on February 12, 2014 at 1:42 am

六本木
Roppongi (the 6 trees)

Mori Tower and the spider sculpture at Roppongi Hills

Mori Tower and the spider sculpture at Roppongi Hills

Just a quick heads up, this was written in Open Office, which is one of the shittiest pieces of software ever. It’s free, so I don’t expect much, but every time I use this program, the text formatting is all funky. So please forgive all the weird font changes and font size changes. It wasn’t written that way.
Word Press and Open Office don’t play well together.

ropponig croossing

I actually wrote about this topic once beforei.

On February 10th of last year, I was still trying to figure out how to breathe life back into a stagnant blog. I was determined to commit to it and was keeping up with my idea of “if I don’t have a big topic to write about, I’ll cover one Tōkyō place name a week.” In the beginning there was minimal research put in because I just covered a few topics that I was familiar with. Now one year later, JapanThis has transformed into something beautiful – something I’m fiercely proud of.

So Roppongi wasn’t the first place name I covered, but it was one of the really early ones. The reason I chose it was because it was relatively easy. Looking back at this 2 paragraph monstrosity, I feel a deep and dark shame. It’s nowhere near the level of quality I demand of myself now. It’s embarrassing and makes me want to vomit out of my ass and/or commit seppuku.

But today I’m going to set the record straight.

Today, Roppongi is a party town. For years it’s been popular with foreigners due to its proximity to so many foreign embassies. Because of this proximity, the area is relatively English-friendly which makes it a destination for foreigners visiting Japan and the seedy businesses that often cater to (or try to take advantage of) foreigners.

Roppongi has a bad reputation among Tōkyōites and among foreigners who try learn the so-called “Japanese Way.” I’m not really into Roppongi. But I’ve learned to not hate on it so much over the years and as it turns out, the area has a very interesting history if you leave the so-called Roppongi Crossing area, which is pretty much one of the most irritating places in the world.

Alright, so let’s get into this…

b0061717_0321615

So, Roppongi. What does it mean?


If we look at the kanji:

六本
roppon

6 tall, cylindrical things


ki

trees
(generally, tall and cylindrical)

There are a few opinions about this etymology. As any seasoned reader of JapanThis knows, the kanji can’t always be trusted to accurately reflect ancient place names. I mentioned as an aside in my article on Why was Edo called Edo? That this area, now called Minato-ku had been inhabited by humans for a very long time. From the get go, I want to say that there is a chance that this is name that may or may not be Japanese. It may or may not have anything to do with the kanji we have have today. To be blunt, there is no way of knowing.

The one thing we do know for sure is that the first recorded reference to “Roppongi” came in 1828 (late Edo Period) in a correspondence with the shōgunate. However, we don’t know exactly what area was being referred to. In fact, Roppongi didn’t appear on a map until 1878 with the creation of 麻布区 Azabu-ku Azabu Wardii.

the top 2 photos are of Edo Period Azabu Juban (the area that is now considered the "shoten-gai." The botom two pitctures are of Roppongi Crossing.

the top 2 photos are of Edo Period Azabu Juban (the area that is now considered the “shoten-gai.” The bottom two pictures are of Roppongi Crossing.

 

THEORY 1
Literal: There were 6 tall trees used as landmarks

Roppongi is one of the highest plateaux in Tōkyō. This theory says that waaaaaaaay back – most likely some time between the Kamakura Period and Sengoku Period – there was a place here called 六方庵 Roppō-an Hermitage of the 6 Directions. In the garden of this residence, there were 6 tall trees.

The kanji iori/an is puzzling. It usually refers to a rustic home or tea house. However, in the Heian Period it could refer to a military encampment, headquarters, barracks, or even a fortress. More about this later.

Anyhoo, because of it’s elevation and high visibility, the 6 tall trees were landmarks. People disagree about whether these were matsu pine trees or keyaki zelkova trees. This theory refers to a time so long ago that we can’t know whether it’s true or not. The presence of keyaki trees is intriguing, though, because today there is a street called 欅坂 Keyakizaka between Azabu and Roppongi.

If you dropped the word iori/an hermitage, and added the kanji ki trees, in the local dialect it became Roppon-gi. A variation of this etymology is that it comes from 六方の木 Roppō no ki which got reduced to Roppo’ n’ gi. More about this later.

Obviously, we don’t know if this place actually existed, but linguistically speaking, it’s plausible. These kind of sound changes are observable in Modern Japanese. Anyone with exposure to day-to-day Japanese of our era will certainly have seen and heard this kind of vernaculariii.

6 trees

THEORY 2
Literal: It’s derived from a family name

This is actually two theories, but they’re based on the premise that that there was a noble family called 六方 Roppō that lived here before the Edo Periodiv.
1) In the local dialect,
六方家 Roppō-ke the Roppō Family was pronounced Roppo-ngi.
2) The area was considered
六方気 Roppō-ki Roppō-ish or Roppō style, which in the local dialect was pronounced Roppo-ngi.

The interesting thing about this theory is that it also refers to Roppō and reinforces the Roppō-an theoryv. Whether it was a rustic hermitage or noble’s fortress, the high ground would be very suitable.

Linguistically, the sound changes are absolutely plausible.

There just isn’t any other evidence besides these etymology stories. No deeds of the Edo Roppō family. No tales of legendary tea ceremonies at Roppō Hermitage. No references to this place at all. And to top it all off, Roppō isn’t a family name today (as far as I can tell)vi.

when i hear the word "庵,”  I imagine this kind of building.

when i hear the word “庵,” I imagine this kind of building.



THEORY 3
Figurative: A legendary 6 man sep
puku party went down here

During the 源平合戦 Genpei Gassen Genpei Warvii, the Genji forces pursued 6 Taira samurai and fought until 5 died here. A single Taira samurai managed to escape and rather than being cut down, slit his own belly to resist capture or execution. He died under a solitary pine tree. They group was remembered by the local people as “the 6 pines trees.” A variation of this story says that they all committed seppuku.

This isn’t a very likely etymology because, of course, there are no suriving shrines, graves, or much of anything to back up this theory. What’s more, there is another twist on this story that says these samurai were actually deserters, and traditionally Japanese people don’t take kindly to stories of deserters.

Either way you look at it, deserters or heros, this is a cool story because any story that ends in seppuku is – by definition – cool. But there’s not a single piece of evidence to back up.

There is such a thing as "seppuku fetish." And yes, is sexualized.

There is such a thing as “seppuku fetish.”And yes, it goes something like this… 

Theory 4
Creative: It’s a reference to 6 daimyō who lived here during the Edo Period

In English, this theory is usually stated as: “In the Edo Period, there were 6 major daimyō residences located here and so the area was named Roppongi.” But this is a great over-simplification, as you will soon see. There were MANY daimyō living in this area. Many city blocks of present Minato Ward still conform to the shape of the vast estates that once stood here. The crux of this theory is not that there were just 6 daimyō here, but that there were 6 daimyō who had family names that referenced trees in their family namesviii.

Let’s take a look at the daimyō who are generally cited:

 

上杉
Uesugi
米沢藩
Yonezawa Han

above the cedar trees The Minsitry of Foreign Affairs and Azabu Post Office sit on the former upper and middle residences of Yonezawa Domain.

朽木
Kutsuki
朽木藩
Kustuki Han

decaying trees I can’t find the location of their Edo residences (one source says the upper residence was in Akasaka), but the family used Sengaku-ji as their funerary temple.

青木
Aoki
新見藩
Niimi Han

green trees I can’t find their Edo residences, but the funerary temple of the Aoki clan of Niimi Domain is located at Zuishō-ji in Shirokane-dai.

片桐
Katagiri
竜田藩
Tatsuta Han

off-kilter pauwlonia tree Allegedly, this family’s lower residence was located on Toriizaka. This is hard for me to confirm because, well, I’ll get into it later.

高木
Takagi
丹南藩

Tan’nan Han

tall tree(s) The middle residence for a Tan’nan Domain was located in Azabu Kōgaibashi.

一柳
Hitotsuyanagi
(Ichiyanagi)
小野藩
Ono Han
小松藩

Komatsu Han

a single weeping willow The family funerary temple was Zōjō-ji! If I’m not mistaken, their cemetary is now located across from Tōkyō tower where Kondō Isami’s father is buried. The upper residence was once located in west Shinbashi. (There were two daimyō families located in this area with same name; I don’t know anything else about them).

This is the most popular theory by a long shot. Even Wikipedia likes it.

But it has a few problems. No Edo Period maps listed anything as Roppongi. This isn’t unusual, as time and time again we say common nicknames get applied to areas in the administrative re-shuffling that happened in the Meiji Era. But it also means, we don’t really know where the area originally referred to was nor do we know its size. Besides, if I had a penny for every Japanese family name with a reference to a tree in it, I’d be able to buy your mom – several times over.

But looking at the table above, you can see these daimyō mansions were in Shinbashi, Akasaka, Azabu, and Shirokane. This is all in present day Minato Ward – which doesn’t mean anything when trying to pinpoint a specific place. But it does mean something when you are walking somewhere, as people did before cars and trains. There is a certain centrality about the location of these daimyō.

But today Roppongi is a specific area and postal address. None of these daimyō had mansions in the area we would consider Roppongi today. In all fairness, the Takagi and Katagiri were literally right on the border, though. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the exact locations of some residences isn’t completely known – and in some cases, the daimyō family moved (or were re-shuffled).

That said, the location of funerary temples of some of the lesser daimyō in the vicinity does lend a bit of credence to the story. The other interesting thing is that some of the “mystery residences” are those of the Aoki, the Kutsuki, the Takagi, and the Katagiri. The first three just barely met the minimum kokudaka for daimyō status. If their domains’ value slipped below 10,000 koku, they could have had their domains confiscated. In 1650, Katagiri Tametsugu was demoted to hatamoto status for 無嗣断絶 mushi danzetsu the crime of dying without an appointed heirix. Tatsuta Domain was confiscated, subsequently abolished, and the family was reshuffled. Dying without an heir was considered an act of such abject stupidity by the shōgunate, that it always required immediate action. I would tend to agree. In a “feudal” society, if you don’t have a designated successor, you probably shouldn’t be governing anything. But then again, the boy was only 15.

Anyhoo, this seems to be the strongest theory simply because it’s the only with any evidence. It’s not air tight by any stretch of the imagination; much of its appeal coming from the fact that most people don’t know (or care) exactly where daimyō Edo residences were. True or not, in my opinion, this is the most interesting theory.

The residence at the top is the Uesugi mansion. This picture is great because it gives you an idea of how massive these estates were. They really were the Edo Period equivalents of embassies.

The residence at the top is the Uesugi mansion.
This picture is great because it gives you an idea of how massive these estates were.
They really were the Edo Period equivalents of embassies.
And yes, this is their upper residence. and as such it’s located at Edo Castle.

THEORY 5
Figurative: 6 hitching poles…


There’s another theory about 6 poles (by extension, places) where you could tie up your horse. This is mostly a reference to (by Edo Period standards) nearby
Nihonbashi and not this area. Perhaps the idea being, samurai traveling long distances, could swap out a horse there, and then proceed to their 藩邸 hantei domain residence (essentially an embassay) on a horse that didn’t look worn out.

So, yup! Someone thought hitching poles near Nihonbashi would make a great place name over in Roppongi. The one thing I can say in defense of this theory is that, as I said before, until the name Roppongi was made official in the early Meiji Era under a western administrative system we have no idea where the name Roppongi referred to.

In conclusion, we have no idea where the name comes from. If you love historical linguistics or dialects, you might favor theories 1 & 2. If you’re a big fan of the Edo-Tōkyō, you probably like theory 4. Admittedly, they are appealing. The others have some charm, but ostensibly lack credibility.

But if you know them all, you can really see the hidden beauty of Edo-Tōkyō. Hopefully you can see why I’m so passionate about this city’s history. This is something I would never have said about Roppongi a few years ago. Foreigners who become “lifers” in Tōkyō generally shun Roppongi because Roppongi is for the newbies. Roppongi is for the idiots, Roppongi is for rich foreigners who can’t speak Japanese, Roppongi is where every sort of shadiness goes down. But for those of us who love Japanese History, especially Edo-Tōkyō, there is sooooooooooo much good shit in the surrounding area. Unfortunately for us, most of the best parts of Tōkyō are hidden. You really have to know where to look.

Check out Tokyo Bay in the distance!

Check out Tokyo Bay in the distance!

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i OMG, OMG, OMG, don’t get me started on how bad this blog started out.
ii Pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but Azabu Ward no longer exists.
iii Some well known examples are 本当 hontō true reduced to honto and no is regularly reduced to /n/. And /g/ is often pronounced with a /n/ sound before it; すごい sugoiすんごい sungoi.
iv Allegedly.
v I haven’t come across this etymology, but one wonders if a mix of the Roppōan and Roppō family is possible. If there were 6 trees located on the property of the Roppō family, you could get a pun based on 六方の木 Roppō no ki (Roppo’ n’ gi) the Roppō’s trees and 六本木 Roppongi 6 trees. Call me crazy, but that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
vi A Google search just pulls up restaurants and geometry references (roppō literally means hexagon).
vii What exactly was the Genpei War? In short, it was a war between the Minamoto and Taira. More details here!
viii If you’re wondering what the hell a daimyō is and why there residences are CRUCIAL to understanding the history of Tōkyō, please read my short summary of sankin-kōtai here.
ix The family continued and committed mushi danzetsu a couple more times. After been so heavily punished by the shōgunate, you’d think the family would have set up some policy. I guess they weren’t the brightest bunch.

What does Ushigome mean?

In Japan, Japanese Castles, Travel in Japan on September 24, 2013 at 6:08 pm

牛込
Ushigome (Crowd of Cows)

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon. Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon.
Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.
But nary a cow in sight… lol

ushi

cow

komi[i]

swarming, huddling, amassed, crowded,
“in bulk”

According to Japanese Wikipedia[ii], in 701, in accordance to the Taihō Code, a livestock ranch was established in this area. In fact, two were established which were sometimes referred to as 牛牧 gyūmaki a cow ranch and 馬牧 umamaki a horse ranch. These two locations came to be referred to as 牛込 Ushigome and 駒込 Komagome.

The fact that there was a cattle/dairy ranch here in the Asuka Period is a known fact (it’s documented). The horse ranch is a different story. In all of my research about Komagome, I didn’t find a single mention of this. When you look up Ushigome, many articles tend to mention Komagome, and I think that because of the strength of the evidence in support of the Ushigome being a literal etymology, the writers try to associate Komagome with it. But this would be a false etymology. Their logic: two places have similar names, they must be related, right?[iii]

Well, anyways, it’s possible that there is a connection between the two (one of the theories about Komagome is that it was a place where horses were herded into a confined space). There just isn’t any record of this being so. When we don’t have the evidence we should always take that theory with a grain of salt.

But with Ushigome, rest assured, this is most likely the case.

Cattle ranches aren't really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can't really imagine what one would have looked like. However, I found this 1950's aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950's and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this....

Cattle ranches aren’t really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can’t really imagine what one would have looked like.
However, I found this 1950’s aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950’s and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this….

In an edict during the reign of 文武天皇 Monmu Tennō Emperor Monmu (701-704) a place variously referred to as 神崎牛牧 Kanzaki no Gyūmaki Kanzaki Cattle Ranch and 乳牛院 Gyūnyūin “The Milk Institute” was established in the area in the vicinity of 元赤城神社 Moto-Akasaka Jinja Old Akasaka Shrine[iv].

Asakusa Shrine

Today Old Asakusa Shrine is just an afterthought to this building.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's busiest and craziest areas, Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s busiest and craziest areas, present day Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

A branch of the 大胡氏 Ōgo-shi Ōgo clan from 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province had been living in the Ushigome area since the 1300’s and, if I’m not mistaken, originally held dominion over the area from present day Shinjuku to Ushigome.

In 1553 a member of said clan switched allegiance from the Uesugi to the Hōjō and in return was granted dominion over the area stretching from present day Ushigome to Hibiya (ie; Edo Bay)[v]. The lord built a castle (fortified residence) somewhere in that area and took the place name to establish his own branch of the family and thus the Ushigome clan was born, 牛込氏 Ushigome-shi. The area is elevated so it would have been defensible. It also had a view of Edo Bay and so they could keep an eye on who was coming in and out of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay[vi].

In 1590, the Hōjō were defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Tokugawa Ieyasu was famously granted the 関八州 Kanhasshū the 8 Kantō Provinces, which included Edo. Ieyasu evicted the residents of the castle and confiscated the property.

It’s not clear where the castle was located, but there is a tradition at 光照寺 Kōshō-ji Kōshō Temple that says the temple was built on the site of 牛込城 Ushigome Castle. I’ve never looked for myself, but it seems like there are no ruins that confirm this story[vii]. There is a nice sign, though.

Being a large plateau, in the Edo Period, this area was clearly 山手 yamanote the high city and was populated by massive daimyō residences and the homes of high ranking 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun.

Fans of Edo Castle or just any history-minded resident of Tōkyō will recognize the name 牛込橋 Ushigomebashi Ushigome Bridge. This bridge led from Kagurazaka to Edo Castle. If you crossed the bridge you would arrive at  牛込見附 Ushigome-mitsuke Ushigome Approach[viii] and there you would see the 牛込御門 Ushigome go-mon Ushigome Gate. The bridge spanned 牛込濠 Ushigomebori Ushigome Moat. Today the moat is dammed up under the bridge and the Chūō Line runs under it. On one side you can see the moat, on the other side – if I remember correctly – are just trees, a small skyscraper, and a train station; another fine example of Japan bulldozing over and building over its past. That said, there’s plenty to see and do in the area if you feel like having a history walk in the area.

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke. The area under the bridge is already partially dammed up.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It's a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you're trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It’s a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you’re trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

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[i] For an explanation of this sound change from /komi/ to /gome/, please see my article on Komagome.
[ii] By the way, I didn’t get all my info from Wikipedia. Duh!
I just quoted it to show you how commonplace this Komagome/Ushigome thing is.
[iii] Wrong.
[iv] I’m pretty sure the name Akasaka Shrine and the name of Akasaka are a coincidence… but I may need to look further into this (because OMG my original article says nothing about this). The Ōgo clan was originally based at a mountain in present day Gunma Prefecture called 赤城山 Akagi-san Red Castle Mountain, when they came to this area, they established a shrine called Akasaka Shrine (Red Hill). The original shrine is in Waseda, Shinjuku. Originally in 牛込台 Ushigomedai Ushigome Plateau, it was moved twice – once in 1460 by Ōta Dōkan and again in 1555 by the Ōgo themselves. The shrine still exists in Shinjuku.
[v] Their holdings included 桜田 Sakurada (yes, the same Sakurada of 桜田門 Sakuradamon fame), 赤坂 Akasaka, and 日比谷 Hibiya. Anyone familiar with Edo Castle will immediately recognize their names and their connection to the castle.
[vi] The presence of another lord so close to where the Edo Clan and Ōta Dōkan had their fortified residences adds more to my assertion that Edo wasn’t just “an obscure fishing village” when the Tokugawa arrived.
[vii] UPDATE: There may be some evidence. If you’re interested, check out this blog! (Japanese only)
[viii] Essentially a look out and security check point leading into the castle grounds. For more on what a mitsuke is, check my article on Akasaka-mitsuke.

What does Akasaka-Mitsuke mean?

In Japanese History on May 1, 2013 at 1:45 am

赤坂見附
Akasaka-mitsuke (Approach to Akasaka Gate)

Akasaka-mitsuke approaching Akasaka-mitsuke Go-mon (Akasaka-mitsuke Gate) as it looked at the end of the Edo Period.

Akasaka-mitsuke approaching Akasaka-mitsuke Go-mon (Akasaka-mitsuke Gate) as it looked at the end of the Edo Period.

Just a little update on yesterday’s post.

If you come out of Akasaka-mitsuke station, you’ll find yourself on a major road called 外堀道り Sotobori Dōri Outer Moat Street. This street’s name comes from — you guessed it — the outer moat of Edo Castle.

So anyhoo, we usually translate 見附 mitsuke as “approach,” as in the approach to a castle. From a military perspective, a mitsuke was a defensive installation. The roads approaching the gates of the castle were defended by 見張り番所 Mihari bansho look out guardhouses. Architecturally speaking, most Japanese buildings – be they shrines or castles, businesses or homes – traditionally place importance on a space that leads you from the street into the building or space proper (ie; an approach). In the case of Edo Castle, these spaces required a clear field of vision from the 番所 bansho guardhouse. In pictures of such approaches, you will see a lack of trees, no buildings and a moat and a bridge. The mitsuke provided the guards a clear view of approaching guests (or enemies), and provided the guest with an imposing view of the might of the shōgun’s castle.  The gate provided the name of the mitsuke or the area provided a name for the gate and mitsuke. The place name Akasaka was applied to the mitsuke and the 御門 go-mon gate.

What does Akasaka-mitsuke mean?

Very little remains of the original Edo Castle, but this so-called 100 Man Bansho, is still extant. It’s an example of a REALLY BIG bansho – supposedly it could be manned by 100 samurai.

三十六見附 Sanjū-roku Mitsuke The 36 Mitsuke of Edo Castle.

There weren’t actually 36 mitsuke, this was just an expression. Some of the mitsuke have given place names to Tokyo and can still be seen to today (at least the ruins can).*

Akasaka-mitsuke
Yotsuya-mitsuke
Hibiya-mitsuke
Ushigome-mitsuke
Ichigaya-mitsuke
Shibaguchi-mitsuke (taken down before the end of the Edo Period)**
(if you know any other mitsuke names, hit me up, I’ll add them to this list).

If you’re in Akasaka-mitsuke and you’re interested, be sure to check out 山王日枝神社 Sannō Hie Jinja Hie Shrine. The tutelary deity of Edo Castle is enshrined there. Say “kon’nichiwa” to it for me.

And as always, if you have any questions about Japanese Castles, please visit JCastle.net because this guy knows a lot more about Japanese castles than I do.

Going down Akasaka hill towards Akasaka-Mitsuke. The building on the left is an entrance to the Imperial Residence, but now it's the Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ.

Going down Akasaka hill towards Akasaka-Mitsuke. The building on the left is an entrance to the Imperial Residence, but now it’s the Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ.***

A view from Akasaka Mitsuke coming down from Akasaka hill.

A view from Akasaka Mitsuke coming down from Akasaka hill.***

 

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* According to my sources, there were at most 27 gates to Edo Castle. I’m fairly certain that the presence of a gate does not guarantee the presence of a mitsuke or mihari bansho. An important interection might warrant an installation. But I could be wrong.
** Shibaguchi-Mitsuke and Shibaguchi Gate are linked to Shibaguchi Bridge, an alternate name for the original Shinbashi (new bridge).
*** These amazing postcards are taken from Old Tokyo.

Why is Akasaka called Akasaka?

In Japanese History on April 30, 2013 at 1:59 am

赤坂
Akasaka (Red Hill)

Today Akasaka just looks like any other business district in Tokyo. It's not much to look at from the street.

Today Akasaka just looks like any other business district in Tokyo. It’s not much to look at from the street.

Akasaka is business and commercial district located between Aoyama and Roppongi and Edo Castle. Due to its elevation and proximity to the castle (ie; right next to it), it was the site of many residences of those daimyō who were the closest to the Tokugawa shōgun, including other branches of the Tokugawa clan. Today it is just one train station away from the 国会議事堂 Kokkai-gijidō National Diet Building. The area has long been a meeting ground of the rich and powerful, and even today it is one of the few areas where you can still find geisha in Tōkyō. The crown prince’s residence is in Akasaka, as is one of the former imperial villas (now a guesthouse for visiting heads of state).

The word is made of 2 kanji:
赤 aka red
坂 saka hill, slope

Akasaka Geihinkan - the State Guest House.

Akasaka Geihinkan – the State Guest House.

There are two explanations. A third explanation is just a combination of these two.

The first explanation is that the slope had ruddy clay that gave it a distinctive look. The second explanation is that the hill was formerly referred to as Akanesaka or Akaneyama (written赤根山 Akaneyama or 赤根坂 Akanesaka or 茜坂 Akanesaka). 茜 akane  Japanese madder or 赤根 akane Japanese madder (literally “red root”), is a plant used to make a brilliant red dye (from its root). Supposedly the area was famous for this plant and it was easily collected there before the arrival of the Tokugawa. Over time, the pronunciation became slurred and Akanesaka turned to Akasaka. The 赤根坂 Akanesaka variant could easily be reduced to 赤坂 Akasaka. The third theory is a mixture of those. It points out that the roots of the Japanese madder, being used for making red dye, naturally turned the dirt and clay of the slope red. Therefor the hill was known for a plant already associated with red and a hill that had reddish dirt.

Akane, Japanese madder. Could the root of this plant be the source of the name? Maybe we'll never know.

Akane, Japanese madder. Could the root of this plant be the source of the name? Maybe we’ll never know.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I believe any of these theories, but the third theory does a good job of tying up the first two. Since the area doesn’t have any Japanese madder growing anymore – and I haven’t seen any red clay there – let’s just say the jury is out on this one until we get more evidence.

By the way, check tomorrow’s post because I’ll be expanding on Akasaka by talking a little bit about Akasaka-mitsuke.

What does Tameike-Sannō mean?

In Japanese History on April 17, 2013 at 2:10 am

溜池山王
Tameike-Sannō (Reservoir-Sannō)

What does Tameike-Sanno mean?

Sign inside Tameike-Sanno Station

溜池山王 TameikeーSannō.
The hyphen is important. It’s not Sannō Reservoir. It’s Reservoir-Sannō. “Why?” you ask. I’ll tell you. But we need to look into a little history. Some of which will take us all the way to Kyōto. Are you ready?

Let’s Start With The Complicated One

Sannō is a reference to 山王日枝神社Sannō Hie Jinja Sannō Hie Shrine in nearby Akasaka-Mitsuke (hyphen ranking: not so important).

The term 山王 is made of the kanji mountain and ruler. The meaning is something like “the mountain that protects the ruler.” The shrine is on a big hill. Edo Castle (the Imperial Palace) is nearby. In fact, the street is called 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri “Outer Moat Street.” Seems to make sense.

What does Sanno-Hie Jinja mean?

One of 2 giants torii marking the entrances to Hie Shrine. (Yes, that is an escalator on the right hand side!)

Sorry, you’re just scratching the surface.

Sannō Hie Jinja (commonly just called Hie Jinja) was affiliated with 日吉神社 Hiyoshi Jinja Hiyoshi Shrine, at the bottom of 比叡山 Hiezan Mt. Hie in Kyōto.  According to the rules of 風水 fūsui feng shui used in urban planning in old Japan, Kyōto was built with Mt. Hie to its northeast side (the so-called 鬼門 kimon unlucky direction). Many temples and shrines are on Mt. Hie to protect the emperor’s palace (and therefore the city itself) from evil influences. One of several names used for Hie Shrine is Hiyoshi Shrine. Apparently the phoneme “HIE” can be rendered in to kanji as 比叡, 日吉, or 日枝.

There are many “branch shrines” called 日吉神社 Hiyoshi Jinja Hiyoshi Shrine all over Japan. The one in Akasaka was just another local branch. In many cases, wherever one of these affiliate shrines was built, the surrounding area took on the name 山王 Sannō.

Sounds good, right?  Sannō Hie Shrine was built on this big ass hill to protect the shōgun and now the emperor. The area took the name Sannō. Got it.*

Mt. Hie, Enraku Temple, Hiyoshi Shrine

Mt. Hie in Kyoto. (Not sure why the text is pointing to the only mountain in the picture… hmmm….)

So How About Tameike? What’s That Mean?

溜池, sometimes written ため池*tameike means “reservoir” and is made of 2 kanji “collect” and “lake.” The other day I wrote about Suidōbashi and briefly mentioned the main waterways of Edo, right? Well, maybe you can guess where this is going.

In the Edo Period, the 赤坂溜池 Akasaka Tameike Akasaka Reservoir was a massive lake that was used to collect and distribute water throughout this yamanote (elite) area. Today the reservoir is gone, completely covered with offices and such. Hard to believe that one of the main lifelines of the city is totally unnecessary now.

But that said, the area retained the name 溜池 Tameike in the form of 赤坂溜池町 Akasaka Tameike-chō the Akasaka Reservoir Neighborhood until 1967 when Japan implemented its current ZIP Code system.

map2

What does Akasaka Tameike mean?

In the modern map (which is drawn to scale), you can see that there is only a depression where the Akasaka Tameike (reservoir) once stood. In the Edo Period map (not drawn to perfect scale), you can see the reservoir where the modern depression is). Today the only water that remains is the moat on the NW side (left) of Akasaka Mitsuke (“mitsuke” being the Japanese word for an approach to a castle gate).

So Why Is The Hyphen So Goddamn Important?

Well, in 1997 a new station was built to connect the Ginza Line and the Namboku Line. Tōkyō Metro had to work with 2 wards in the digging and building and – presumably – funding of said station. Those two wards would be 千代田区 Chiyoda Ward and 港区 Minato Ward. These are very rich, very prestigious, very well-funded and as such very proud wards. Apparently the local politicians wanted their respective wards’ names represented in the new station name. Bus stops already existed with the names 山王 Sannō and 溜池() Tameike(-chō), but since the Tameike bus stop was closer, Tōkyō Metro had a working-title of Tameike Station. 溜池町 Tameike neighborhood was on the border of the Minato Ward, Sannō was on the border of Chiyoda Ward. What to do? What to do?

So they just combined the two names, TAMEIKE SANNŌ, and all the shitty politicians were apparently happy.
.

.

THE END.

Wait a minute! You mentioned, Mt. Hie. Haven’t I heard of that before?
No, you haven’t. ***

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* Actually, we can’t confirm whether or not the shrine was originally built at this location. The tradition says that Ōta Dōkan built the shrine to protect his castle. Since the 神 kami enshrined here is the protector of Edo Castle it was also seen as a protector of the whole city, so the shrine was moved outside of the castle so the people of Edo could worship there. It was destroyed a few times by fires and rebuilt, but for most of its life it’s been located here on this hill and the area has been referred to as Sannō and the former locations are not called Sannō.
Oh, also it’s not on the 鬼門 (northeast evil side) of the castle. It’s on the 裏鬼門 (southwest just as evil side). But we don’t know where the original location was, so fuck it.

** And sometimes irritatingly written 溜め池.

*** OK, yes you have. Sorry I lied about that…
I just didn’t really want to get into this.

Fuck it. 比延山 Mt. Hie is the same Mt. Hie that is famous to all lovers of Japanese History, especially the 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai Warring States Era. At the top of this mountain was a famous temple precinct called 延暦寺 Enryaku-ji Enryaku Temple (its name itself deserves a post, but not now). The mountain has primarily been associated with this temple because of its prestige among the samurai class. The temple was home to a large group of 僧兵 Sōheiwarrior monks” who stood in the way of Oda Nobunaga’s rise to power. So in 1571 he surrounded the mountain, and in a move that would have made General Sherman proud, he ordered his men to march up the mountain and kill anything that moved. The warrior monks were effectively dealt with and their slaughter was one of Nobunaga’s biggest steps to bring all of Japan under his rule.

Enryaku-ji’s history, indeed the history of Mt. Hie in general, goes back before the Heian Period. But, luckily for me, the history of Edo/Tōkyō does not**** so I can stop writing now?

**** Goddammit! Can I stop writing now? Please? OK, yes, the history of Edo/Tōkyō goes back to before the Heian Period, but I don’t know shit about it. So I’m done. Is that alright with you?

Thanks. Good night! 💟♥💟♡❤💟

Why is Nogizaka called Nogizaka?

In Japanese History on March 27, 2013 at 3:05 pm

乃木坂
Nogizaka (Nogi Hill)

Sign inside Nogizaka Station

Sign inside Nogizaka Station

Today’s place name is an easy one.

Nogizaka (Nogi Hill) is… you guessed it! a hill.

It’s located in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, a walkable distance from Roppongi and Azabu-Juban and Aoyama Cemetery. Officially, there isn’t an area called Nogizaka, but because the train station is named Nogizaka, the immediate area is sometimes informally referred to as such.

The hill is named after 乃木希典  Nogi Maresuke (1849-1912) who lived on the hill. Nogi was a bad ass general in the Imperial Army. He was born into a samurai family in the final years of the Edo Period and actually participated in the official smack down of the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. He lost the Imperial Banner in a battle and wanted to commit seppuku to atone for his fuck up, but the Meiji Emperor wasn’t having it. “You’ll have to wait, little Maresuke,” said the emperor, “I need you now.”

General Nogi and his wife, Shizuko.

General Nogi and his wife, Shizuko.

OK, the emperor didn’t actually say that, but he effectively said that. And don’t worry… little Maresuke will get his chance to commit suicide eventually.

Maresuke’s biggest success was forcing Russia to surrender after the Siege of Port Arthur – a battle that I have to confess I know absolutely nothing about.  Well, OK, I know something about it. I know that the Imperial Army faced much harder resistance than expected and took massive casualties. Despite winning the battle, little Maresuke met with the emperor to beg for forgiveness for losing so many men. He told the emperor he wanted to kill himself… again. But this time, the emperor said, “You’ll have to wait, little Maresuke. The battle was an imperial order. You’ll have to live at least as long as I.”

Little Maresuke in fundoshi.

Little Maresuke in happier times…

And so little Maresuke waited and waited and waited.

And waited.

Then on July 30th, 1912, his chance finally came. The Meiji Emperor died and little Maresuke could finally commit seppuku after all. But there was one problem. The funeral wouldn’t be for another 45 days.

So he waited a little bit more.

Then his chance finally came. For real.

After the funeral procession had left the Imperial Palace (formerly Edo Castle), Maresuke and his wife, Shizuko, snuck out the back and headed to their home on the hill (that’s Nogi Hill to you, buddy). They went into a nice room with a view and committed 殉死 junshi (following your lord into death). He “helped” his wife “stab herself” in the neck (seems legit), a ritual called 自害 jigai. Then he performed seppuku by making three slits in his belly.

Shizuko was quite the minger in her day.

Shizuko was quite the minger in her day.

I’m not sure who had to clean up the tatami room after this little escapade, but I’m sure it wasn’t fun. Anyways, the house is still there and you can even visit the seppuku room and see the bloody kimonos they were wearing if you go in September for the special suicide anniversary extravaganza. Nearby in Akasaka is 乃木神社 Nogi Jinja Nogi Shrine where Shizuko and little Maresuke are enshrined along with their 2 kids. If you take a short walk to Aoyama Cemetery, you can visit the couple’s grave. All these sites are accessible from 乃木坂駅 Nogizaka Station.

The Nogi Residence back in the day.

The Nogi Residence back in the day.

Don't worry, they cleaned the tatami mats a long time ago.

The Nogi residence today. Don’t worry, they cleaned the tatami mats a long time ago. There’s no suicide blood anymore.

When we learn about history, we have to take the culture and the ethos of the time into consideration. While General Nogi was unquestionably a great Japanese general in these early days of the Imperial Army and Japan’s modernization and industrialization, he was essentially trapped between two worlds – the world of Tokugawa Japan and the world of Meiji Japan. He wasn’t the only one. Everyone at that time was in the same situation.

The problem I have with little Maresuke is that his junshi (ritual suicide upon a leader’s death) is the first warning symptom we get of the fanatical emperor worship that plagues Imperial Japan and eventually leads to the near annihilation of Japan in WWII. In my mind, there was no reason for him to kill himself and even less reason for his wife to do it (keep in mind he “helped” her). Maybe I’m falling into the trap of looking at this through modern eyes, then again… this wasn’t that long ago. Apparently, opinions on this “double suicide” were divided. Some people who still romanticized the ways of bushido saw it as noble, other saw it as embarrassing – a sign that Japan hadn’t yet joined Western “modernity” or at least wouldn’t be seen as “modern” in the eyes of the foreign powers that forced Japan open in the Bakumatsu.

Whatever our modern opinions of his actions, they are distinctly Japanese. And let’s just leave it at that.

RIP

Little Maresuke and Minging Shizuko’s final resting spot.

Nogi Shrine: http://www.nogijinja.or.jp/

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