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What does Katsushika mean?

In Japanese History on November 4, 2013 at 2:50 am

葛飾
Katsushika (Adorned with Kuzu)

What does Katsushika mean?

This is kuzu, sometimes incorrectly spelled kudzu.

kuzu Japanese Arrowroot,
a reed-like grass that grows in wetlands
shika decoration, ornament, embellishment

This is a very ancient name.

The former 下総国葛飾郡 Shimōsa no kuni Katsushika-gun Katsushika District, Shimōsa Province consisted of areas that are today Tōkyō, Chiba, Ibaraki, and Saitama. This wide area comprised the modern areas of: to the north, Katsushika District, Saitama Prefecture; to the west, Sumida Ward and the eastern half of Kōtō Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis; to the east, Koga City, Ibaraki Prefecture; and to the south, Edogawa Ward, Tōkyō and Urayasu City, Chiba Prefecture.

Shimosa Province

This is Shimosa Province. The area marked #1 was the Katsushika District.


The name is attested in the 万葉集 Man’yōshū so we know this is an ancient name[i]. The probability of it not being Japanese in origin is high. As mentioned in previous articles, the kanji used in pre-Edo Period Tōkyō place names should always be taken with a grain of salt[ii].

There are various theories, but none of them are certain.

1 – Katsushika’s かつ katsu comes from an older word カテ kate or ト kato which meant cliff, hill, or knoll. しか comes from an older スカ which meant “sandbar.” The general idea being that this name referred to the lowlands on the right bank and the elevated ridge on the left bank of the 利根川 Tonegawa Tone River (present day 江戸川 Edogawa Edo River[iii]).

2 – The name was given to the area by the “people of the south sea”[iv]. According to this theory, in whatever dialect or language these people spoke it referred to a hunting ground.

3 – The kanji is literal. katsu is an on’yomi[v] and nanori[vi] of kuzu arrowroot. shika is the nanori of kazaru to decorate. Arrowroot is a kind of vine that grows near rivers. It’s an invasive plant that quickly spreads and takes over an area. It is used to make some kinds of jellies for Japanese sweets. If this etymology is accepted, the meaning is then literally “a field or area decorated (overgrown with) Japanese Arrowroot.”

Here is a lowland area overtaken by kuzu.

Here is a lowland area overtaken by kuzu.

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[i] The Man’yōshū is an ancient text written in a kind of ateji. Here is an article on the text. Here is an article on ateji.

[ii] The kanji used in the Man’yōshū – which are all ateji – are 勝鹿 win + deer and 勝牡鹿 win + male deer and 可豆思賀 nice + bean + think + auspicious. These kanji are meaningless and don’t give any indication of etymology.

[iii] This river was famous for changing course after major floods and tsunamis until the area was wealthy enough to implement proper urban planning. The present Edogawa flows through the ancient course, emptying into Edo Bay (Tōkyō Bay).

[iv] 南洋系の民族 nan’yō-kei no minzoku people from the south sea is a mysterious term that may refer to other immigrant groups coming from the south, or may be a direct reference to the spread of Yamato culture, or may refer to older Yayoi or even Ainu people who just moved into the area at some point. I find this explanation ridiculously unclear – it’s obviously over my head.

[v] The Chinese reading of the kanji.

[vi] A set of common readings of a kanji used in names.

Check Out These Japanese Castles!

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History on March 21, 2013 at 12:10 am

If you’re interested in Japanese Castles, you should definitely check out this site: Jcastle.info.

I love this site because it’s organized really well. For example, if I’m travelling in Japan and I want to know if there is (or was) a castle in the area, I can just search by area.

Since I live in Tokyo (and Japan This! is primarily concerned with Tokyo), there is a special grouping on the front page for Tokyo Area castles.

If you want to visit Japanese Castles and you’re not sure which ones are worth the trip you can check out his 5 star castles and 4 star castles.

I didn’t know the Hikone Castle was so bad ass until I read about it on this site. This summer I’ll be visiting Shiga Prefecture — only because I read about Hikone Castle on Jcastle.info.

Learn about Japanese Castles in Japan

The only reason I recommend it is because it’s totally freaking awesome.

There aren’t a lot of people blogging and running websites about Japanese History, so if you are a fan of Japanese History, you should subscribe and support as many quality sites as you can. This one is definitely worth your time.

Oh, I almost forgot! Jcastle is also very newbie friendly. There are a lot of specialized terms that have to be used when discussing castles. He’s got dedicated section to names and types of structures that you’ll see when you visit Japanese castles. For example, wtf is a 天守閣 tenshukaku or a 唐破風 karahafū. (I’m not going to tell you, you’ll have to click the links and visit the site for yourself to find out).

Learn about Japanese Castles!

You can learn about architectural features and terminology so you actually understand what you’re looking at the next time you visit Edo Castle… or any Japanese Castle.

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