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Posts Tagged ‘aoyama’

Ōedo Line: Aoyama Icchōme

In Japanese History on July 7, 2015 at 2:18 am

Aoyama Icchōme (Green Mountain, first block)

Aoyama Cemetery. A daimyō residence could cover this much territory.

Aoyama Cemetery. A daimyō residence could cover this much territory.

This area derives its name from the 青山氏 Aoyama-shi Aoyama clan who had their lower residence here. The family originated in Tokugawa Ieyasu’s native 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province. The western portion of their estate was converted into Aoyama Cemetery. The Aoyama clan’s family temple 梅窓院 Baisō-in Baisō Temple is also located in the area. I haven’t been myself, but I suspect there be daimyō graves in them hills, yarrr. But that’s a story for another day.

The stupidest dog in Japanese history.

The stupidest dog in Japanese history.

Aoyama Cemetery’s most famous graves are those of ハチ公 Hachi-kō the stupid dog at Shibuya Station who didn’t know how to read between the lines and 乃木希典 Nogi Maresuke the suicidal general from Satsuma whom the Meiji Emperor forbade to kill himself until he died; but once the emperor died, he murdered his wife, killed himself, and became a hero of the Japanese Empire. By the way, the Nogi house is preserved as a museum in the area[i] and you can visit it and on the anniversary of the murder-suicide, the curators display the bloodied kimonos they wore on that fateful day. Personally, I’m more interested in seeing Hachi-kō’s grave[ii].

Amuro Namie is an Okinawa native, but here label is based in Aoyama. This is the epicenter of the Japanese music industry,

Amuro Namie is an Okinawa native, but her label is based in Aoyama. This is the epicenter of the Japanese music industry,

Aoyama is interesting, though. While most of the area is skyscrapers and fashionable apartments, you can find some huge residential plots of land with 2-3 story houses and yards if you dig deep. In the business of J-Pop, Aoyama has a huge reputation. Many recording studios are located in the vicinity – many of which have close connection to the Avex Group[iii] which had its headquarters here until 2014.

gogyo ramen

One of my favorite rāmen shops is located here, 五行 Gogyō. It’s located near Nogizaka Station and it serves a kind of soy sauce rāmen called 焦がし醤油拉麺 kogashi shōyu rāmen torched soy sauce rāmen. It’s normal soy sauce rāmen but they light it on fire which gives a deeper and more intense taste to the soup. It also turns it black. This shop is always in my top 3 favorite rāmen shops in Tōkyō.


There is another rāmen shop in the area. かおたんKaotan. This shop is located across the street from Gogyō. The drawback is that it’s decrepit to the point that when I brought Mrs. JapanThis! here for the first time, she was hesitant to even enter the shop. Once we got inside, she was pleased to see that like Gogyō it was non-smoking – despite its Shōwa Style image. The rāmen here is considered Chinese soy sauce style. This shop is in my top 10 of Tōkyō rāmen shops not only because of taste, but because of vibe. I’m surprised this shop still exists in a temporary looking shop on such hot real-estate.

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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here

[i] It’s called 乃木坂 Nogizakazaka Nogi Hill because he was such a hero to the imperial government.
[ii] I like dogs.
[iii] Arguably, Japan’s most successful home-grown major pop label.

What does Yoyogi mean?

In Japanese History on June 26, 2013 at 1:57 am

Yoyogi (Generations Old Tree or Trees)

Yoyogi Station.

Yoyogi Station.
Don’t hold me to this, but I think the present Yoyogi Station wasn’t actually part of Yoyogi Village.


Once again, I want to throw out a million thanks to my readers. If none of you followed, commented, messaged or just generally showed up, I wouldn’t be able to continue. Y’all make this so much fun.

I was asked by a reader the other today to talk about Yoyogi. So I bumped it up in the pecking order. Hope this is a good one.

Hatsune Miku.

And for no particular reason, here’s Hatsune Miku.


The name 代々木村 Yoyogi Mura Yoyogi Village is attested in the writings of the Sengoku Period. But it’s not clear where that name came from. There’s a good chance the name is much older than the Edo Period. But without other records, we can’t say.

In the Edo Period, the area called Yoyogi was what is now more or less the Meiji Jingū and Harajuku Station area.


Let’s Look at the Kanji:


alternate: yoyo
an adverb meaning “for generations, for ages”
alternate: gi 



The simplest explanation seems to be the most believable to me. There were a lot of trees in the area for a long time – generations, if you will.

There are a few slight variations of this theory. The reason I put off doing this place name for so long[i] was because sorting thru all the details of etymologies that varied little except for a slightly different angle or a curious anecdote was too time consuming. Given the amount of time and effort I’ve put into JapanThis since that time, this topic seems much less daunting now[ii]. And in reality, it wasn’t difficult to research this one.

One theory states that 皀莢 saikachi honey locust trees were cultivated here[iii]. I like this theory best because it’s simple and plausible. It doesn’t try to hard.

This is a close up a honey locust tree.  You can see its bean pods. Legumes FTW... or something

This is a close up a honey locust tree.
You can see its bean pods.
Legumes FTW… or something


Another theory states specifically that on the Ii family’s lower residence, which made up part of Meiji Jingū and some of the hill at the high point of Harajuku, was covered in  樅 momi Japanese fir trees. This story has some cool anecdotes attached to it, but reeks of folk etymology.

a Japanese fir tree, It looks very firry. Good for it.

a Japanese fir tree,
It looks very firry.
Good for it.


It should be noted that today both types of trees exist in the area around Meiji Jingū, although after WWII, local trees from all over Japan were donated here during the rebuilding effort.
Also, the area that is now Meiji Jingū Gaien was the original site of the Ii clan’s palatial lower residence’s tea garden. To my knowledge, nothing remains of the site.




If you go to Meiji Jingū, near the garden’s east gate, there is a tree with a sign that says 代々木の大樅 Yoyogi no Ōmomi The Great Japanese Fir of Yoyogi. The tree is no bigger or smaller than any of the other trees near it. But the story goes that once upon a time, there was a super tall Japanese fir tree that had stood here for generations. The current unimpressive tree is a replacement that stands on the site of the original Great Japanese Fir of Yoyogi Village.

This is where the sign says the big fir tree of Yoyogi was.

This is where the sign says the big fir tree of Yoyogi was.
Note: it’s not a fir tree….


It was said that this 大樅 ōmomi great fir tree on the Ii family’s lower residence was so great, that mapmakers from the shōgunate would climb to the top of it to survey the city. Another anecdote states that the Ii family’s watchmen would keep an eye on the family’s upper residence which was located near the 桜田門 Sakuradamon Sakurada Gate[iv]. In fact, it was said that you could see all the way to Shiba and Edo Bay. Utagawa Hiroshige even painted a picture of the tree titled 代々木村ノ世々木 Yoyogi Mura no Yoyogi The Generations Old Tree of Yoyogi[v].

There was an imperial residence built on the site of the Ii family’s lower residence[vi]. The tree was preserved… or at least the location of the alleged tree. Eventually the land was incorporated into Meiji Jingū and, as I said, the old tree doesn’t exist anymore, but the new tree does and it has its own sign. So, good for it.




[i] When I started looking into place names, it was one of the first I wanted to write about.

[iii] 代々木 daidai ki, (alternatively, yoyo ki) “generations of trees” was basically shorthand for 代々皀莢ヲ生産  daidai/yoyo saikachi no ki wo seisa “cultivating honey locust trees for generations.”

[iv] I’m sure I’ve alluded to the Sakuradamon Incident (which sounds like a euphemism, it should be called “the Assassination of Ii Naosuke at Sakuradamon”). Many people consider this the opening of the Bakumatsu.

[v] The Yoyogi of Yoyogi. See what he did there? In the second “yoyogi” he used a variant for 代々 daidai/yoyo generations 世々 yoyo. I can’t find this picture on the internet, so if someone can help me find it, I’d really appreciate that!

[vi] Remember, the lower residences were much more palace like and rustic than their urban upper residences near the castle. When the Meiji Era urban sprawl began in earnest, the Harajuku area became a prime target for rich people and the elite imperial family who wanted to build their own estates in the area.

What does Aoyama mean?

In Japanese History on April 26, 2013 at 1:19 am


Aoyama (Blue Mountain, Green Mountain)

Aerial view of Aoyama Cemetery

Aerial view of Aoyama Cemetery

Today, Aoyama is one of Tōkyō’s most fashionable and expensive neighborhoods. It borders Harajuku and Shibuya and is famous for shopping, high end dining and has a remarkable amount of green space – sorely lacking in other areas of the city.

The word is made of two characters:
ao blue or green (depending on who you ask)
yama mountain
Aoyama is a family name.

Aoyama Coat of Arms

The Gujo Aoyama mondokoro (coat of arms)

In the Edo Period, 郡上藩 Gujō-han Gujō Domain (located in 美濃国 Mino no kuni Mino Province; modern day 岐阜県 Gifu-ken Gifu Prefecture) was administered by the Gujō branch of the Aoyama clan. The castle and seat of the domainal government was at 八幡城 Hachiman-jō Hachiman Castle, so sometimes the domain is referred to as Hachiman-han. Since the clan originated in Mikawa, the family had a special relationship with the Tokugawa. At one point, during the Sengoku Era, they were responsible for the education of Tokugawa Hidetada who would later become the second shōgun.

Gujo-Hachiman Castle Today (it's a reconstruction from 1933), but the town and castle look well worth a visit.

Gujo-Hachiman Castle Today (it’s a reconstruction from 1933), but the town and castle look well worth a visit.

They had a sprawling palatial residence (下屋敷 shimoyashiki) in the outskirts of Edo. When daimyō residences were confiscated by the Meiji government for re-purposing, the land of the Aoyama residence was converted into present day Aoyama cemetery. It’s a massive urban cemetery. If you walk around it, you can get a feel for how large the estate once was. Even though the family was only worth 48,000 koku, this sub-residence was one of the biggest in all of Edo. None of the domain’s buildings exist today, but the Aoyama family temple, 梅窓院 Baisōin Baisō Temple, can still be found in Minami Aoyama.

Supposedly, the building on the right is one of the Aoyama residences.

Supposedly, the building on the right is one of the Aoyama residences.




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Why is Omotesando called Omotesando?

In Japanese History on February 28, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Omotesandō (Main Approach to the Meiji Shrine)

Today, Omotesandō is one of Tokyo’s most fashionable and expensive neighborhoods. It’s famous for Japanese and international brand shops and world-renowned hair salons. Its location next to Harajuku, a fashion center for young people, serves a balancing act making Omotesandō a fashion playground for adults. But what the hell does Omotesandō mean?

A 参道 sandō is the general word for a road that leads up to a shrine.

Every shrine has a sandō, even if the word isn’t preserved in a place name. 表 omote means “front” or maybe better put into English as “main.” If you go north from Harajuku on the Chiyoda Line, you’ll find a station called 北参道 Kitasandō (North Approach to the Shrine). But I digress.

The area was a sparsely populated suburb in the Edo Period and Meiji Period. The shrine was finished in the mid-1920’s and the area began to attract business and residences.

omotesando nogi maresuke

this is nogi maresuke a general in the meiji period. he committed seppuku (hara kiri) when the emperor died so he could follow the emperor in death. that’s how crazy shit got in japan after the fucking meiji restoration. (btw – the only reason i put up his picture is because i couldn’t find any pictures of omotesando from the meiji or taisho eras.)

But wait a minute, you say.
The main street that leads up to the Meiji Shrine is called 青山通りAoyama dōri and not Omotesandō. WTF?

omotesando hills

omotesando hills, a big ass shopping mall in the middle of omotesando. (a mall?? in central tokyo?? go figure!!)

Why, yes it is called Aoyama dōri.

Aoyama dōri is not the Omotesandō. It has been and always will be (presumably, I mean) Aoyama-dōri. But beginning in 1920, a bus that traveled up Aoyama dōri to the 表参道 omote sandō began service. The name of the bus was the “Omotesandō Bus.” This is when the connection with the shrine’s omote sandō began. The station that is now Omotesandō Station was originally called 青山六丁目駅 Aoyama roku-chōme eki. Later it was renamed 神宮前駅 Jingū-mae eki. By the 1970’s the neighborhood had a personality of its own, distinct from Harajuku, Aoyama and – of course – the Meiji Shrine, so it was renamed 表参道駅 Omotesandō eki.

nihonshu is japanese sake

if you happen to be in omotesando, hit up the hasegawa saketen in omotesando hills. it’s a great place to do a quick sake tasting.

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