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Posts Tagged ‘ashikaga’

Setagaya and its Freaky Horse Fetish

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on January 19, 2015 at 2:34 am

What’s Up with Setagaya and Horses?
No, seriously? What’s up wit dat?

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Horse girl

So while I was researching my last article on 三軒茶屋 Sangen-jaya, I came across a few interesting place names that I’d never heard of – granted I rarely go to 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward[i] — but nonetheless I was obviously intrigued.

I saw a lot of references to horses on the map. “I’ll do all the horse names!” I thought. “Surely they’re all related,” I thought. “I can hit all these place names in one article,” I thought. Then the stories started getting longer and longer. “Did I get myself into another River Article Debacle?” I wondered. I really may have, so I’ve decided to go with the local legends over the hardcore etymology this time just to spare everyone the headache and hopefully to get some good folklore out this.

As I said, the one unifying factor is that all of these place names are horse-related. So let’s take a look at what names we will cover today.

Name

Meaning

Current Status

馬引沢
Umahikizawa

horse pulling ravine

This place name survives in abbreviated forms
駒繋
Komatsunagi

horse hitching

This place name survives as Komatsunagi Shrine and as an elementary school name

駒留
Komadome

horse stopping

The name survives as Komadome Hachiman Shrine

駒沢
Komazawa

horse ravine

Survives as a postal code and a university name, etc…

葦毛塚
Ashige-zuka

gray haired horse burial mound

The name survives as a landmark

So just let that sink in a little bit before we continue. Take a few seconds to imagine what you think the etymologies might be. Do you think there is any connection? Do you think it’s all a coincidence? If you’re a long time reader and you remember other horse and animal related etymologies, do you think there will be any similarities to those?

These horses are decked out in the latest spring line up from Prada.

These horses are decked out in the latest spring line up from Prada.

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OK, Let’s Get Started

I mentioned in the last article, that present day Sangen-jaya is comprised of several former villages. Two of those villages were parts of the 3 areas of a Kamakura Period region called 馬引沢 Umahikizawa.

上馬引沢村
Kami-Umahikizawa Mura

Upper Umahikizawa Village

中馬引沢村
Naka-Umahikizawa Mura

Middle Umahikizawa Village

下馬引沢村
Shimo- Umahikizawa Mura

Lower Umahikizawa Village

This is a similar pattern that we see with the classification of daimyō residences in Edo.

上屋敷
kami-yashiki

upper residence

中屋敷
naka-yashiki

middle residence

下屋敷
shimo-yashiki

lower residence

With daimyō residences the designation of upper, middle, and lower seems to refer to their importance in relation to the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The upper residence would be nearer to Edo Castle and is where most of the administrative affairs would be carried out. The lower residence was more like a villa. I give a little more detail in my article on sankin-kōtai.

With place names, things are a little different – these are references to the areas of a village’s location on a river. 上 kami (up) refers an upstream location, 中 naka (middle) refers to a midstream location, 下 shimo (down) refers to a downstream location. In this case, what river might we be speaking of? It’s a river that was called the 蛇崩川 Jakuzure-gawa Jakuzure River. This is a wild name, in my opinion. The kanji mean something like “snake death river.” I dunno. But my guess is the kanji aren’t important to this story, and maybe I’ll tackle them later – but if you’ve got an image of a dangerous river, then great. Let’s take it from there.

Great strategist and general -- but worst horse rider EVER.

Minamoto no Yoritomo. Great strategist and general — but worst horse rider EVER.

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What does Umahikizawa mean?

Legend states that in 1189, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo[ii] traveled back and forth on his favorite horse through this area on his military expedition from his capital in 鎌倉 Kamakura to 大州平泉 Ōshū Hiraizumi[iii]. The purpose of the expedition was to destroy 藤原泰衡 Fujiwara no Yasuhira and put an end to the Northern Fujiwara Clan once and for all[iv]. As he approached a deep stream with an extremely fast current[v], his horse became unsure of its footing and hesitated. Yoritomo, who was plagued by a lifelong battle with bad luck in horses[vi], pressed the horse to cross the ravine. The horse tried to proceed but the ground gave out from underneath it and the horse fell into the stream, either breaking its legs or suffering some other fatal injury, despite Yoritomo’s efforts to save his beloved horse. Heartbroken and teary-eyed, the general ordered his men to pull (引く hiku) the horse (馬 uma) out of the ravine (沢 sawa) and bury it on the other side. A variation of this legend states that after the tragic death of his favorite horse, Yoritomo ordered his men to lead (引いて渡る hiite wataru) their horses (馬 uma) across the ravine (沢 sawa) lest they lose their war horses as well. And so the place came to be known as 馬引沢 Umahikizawa horse pulling river.

This is a "sawa" and I bet you wouldn't want to ride a horse across it...

This is a “sawa” and I bet you wouldn’t want to ride a horse across it…

How Does This Place Name Survive?

As the village grew, it came to have 3 distinct quarters. One was upstream, one was midstream, and one was downstream. I showed you these place name earlier. 上馬引沢 Kami-Umahikizawa survives today in abbreviated form as 上馬 Kamiuma “up horse.” 下馬引沢 Shimo-Umahikizawa survives as 下馬 Shimouma “down horse.” These are both official postal addresses, but to the best of my knowledge, 中馬引沢 Naka-Umahikizawa hasn’t survived. But an interesting tidbit, in nearby 多摩市 Tama-shi Tama City, there is an area called 馬引沢 Umahikizawa, but it’s completely unrelated.

This also counts as umahiki (leading a horse).

This also counts as umahiki (leading a horse).

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What Does Ashige-zuka Mean?

A mere 4 minute walk from Shimouma, there is an oval shaped, earthen mound in the middle of the street called 葦毛塚 Ashige-zuka. This is a compound word composed of two elements: 葦毛 ashige a gray haired horse and 塚 tsuka a mound. Legend claims that this is the spot where Minamoto no Yoritomo’s horse was buried. We’ve talked about burial mounds quite a few times at JapanThis!, but I think this is the first time we’ve had one allegedly built for a horse.

I wasn't kidding. It's literally in the middle of the road!

I wasn’t kidding. It’s literally in the middle of the road!

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What does Komatsunagi mean?

If you take an 8 minute walk back to Shimouma and you’ll find a place called 駒繋神社 Komatsunagi Jinja Komatsunagi Shrine. Let’s continue our story there.

As I mentioned before, Minamoto no Yoritomo was cursed with all manner of bad horse luck. Being a typical superstitious 12th century samurai, he took the death of his favorite horse before an important battle[vii] as a terrible omen. After the burial mound was finished, a mysterious woman appeared. She told the general about the local 氏神 ujigami tutelary deity named 子之神 Nenokami[viii]. According to the woman, Nenokami wielded great power in the area and had the ability to exorcise any evil influence from the accident. She led him to a nearby humble, unnamed shrine[ix] dedicated to Nenokami and then disappeared. Yoritomo prayed to the kami and then continued his march north to Ōshū Hiraizumi.

Yoritomo and his stupid hat.

Yoritomo and his stupid hat.

At Ōshū, Yoritomo’s army crushed the Fujiwara army, thus annihilating his last major obstacle to power. This particular battle paved the way for him to become shōgun[x]. Marching back to Kamakura victorious, he stopped by the Nenokami shrine to give thanks. After all, being a superstitious 12th century samurai, that’s just what you do. Before approaching the shrine, he tied (繋ぐ tsunagu) his horse (駒 koma) to a pine tree (松 matsu)[xi]. He then threw some cash at the local people to build a proper shrine to Nenokami. After that, he proceeded to his capital in Kamakura.

Komatsunagi Shrine as it looks today.

Komatsunagi Shrine as it looks today.

The tree where he tied his horse came to be known as the 駒繋之松 Komatsunagi no Matsu Horse Hitching Pine and the new improved shrine came to be called Komatsunagi Shrine. If you visit the shrine today, they have a tree that they claim is the 3rd generation of the tree Yoritomo tied his horse to[xii]. Sadly, they never say what happened to the mysterious, disappearing woman.

I want some plot resolution, dammit.

The shrine claims that this is the original pine tree that Yoritomo used.

The shrine claims that this is the original pine tree that Yoritomo used.

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What does Komadome mean?

Let’s take a 25 minute walk back to Sangen-jaya[xiii]the article that started all of this – and a 250 year or so jump into the future. Now we’re in the throes of the Sengoku Period – way before the rise of 3 Great Unifiers[xiv]. Edo has been in what you could call a “dark age” ever since the transfer of power from Kamakura back to Kyōto[xv]. Local militarized noble families rise and fall here and there. And among these local nobles, warlords have begun making land grabs and power grabs. Many of these clans come and go, too. One of the ascending powers in Kantō at this time were the 後北条 Go-Hōjō the Late Hōjō[xvi].

So our story is of a somewhat obscure noble who was in the service of the Hōjō, a certain 吉良頼康 Kira Yoriyasu. Much about him is unknown[xvii], but we do know that he served both the 2nd and 3rd successive Hōjō lords, 北条氏綱 Hōjō Ujitsuna and 北条氏康 Hōjō Ujiyasu[xviii]. So while he wasn’t a major player, he was playing with some big time ballers. You can think of him as Jay-Z’s longtime friend who gets invited to parties, but isn’t allowed on the red carpet.

This picture was long said to be Kira Yoriyasu, but recent research suggests that it's actually Takeda Shingen.

This picture was long said to be Kira Yoriyasu, but recent research suggests that it’s actually Takeda Shingen.

If you recall from my article on the etymology of Edo, from the Heian Period to the Kamakura Period this area was controlled by the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan took over the Edo clan’s fort in 1457[xix]. Dōkan was a retainer of the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan[xx] and so after his assassination in 1486, the Uesugi assumed direct control of the castle[xxi]. However the castle was of little importance to their clan and so it seems to have been lightly defended – if defended at all. And so, when the Hōjō came into the region, Edo Castle[xxii] fell easily in 1524[xxiii] and one of the generals who followed the Hōjō into Edo was our new friend, Kira Yoriyasu.

The Kira clan had controlled various fiefs in the area since 1366, and Yoriyasu was given control of Setagaya Village sometime around the attack on Edo Castle. He ruled from 世田ヶ谷城 Setagaya-jō Setagaya Castle[xxiv]. Yoriyasu’s appointment didn’t last long because the Uesugi eventually struck back and burned the castle to the ground in 1530 and Yoriyasu was transferred elsewhere[xxv]. However, in his time as the lord of Setagaya, he managed to leave behind a bit of a local legend.

The fringed orchid is often associated with Setagaya Ward because of a version of Yoriyasu's legend. Unfortunately, we're not going to go into that part of the story today.

The fringed orchid is often associated with Setagaya Ward because of a version of Yoriyasu’s legend. Unfortunately, we’re not going to go into that part of the story today.

The legend states that in the women’s quarters of Setagaya Castle, there was a lot of jealous infighting between his 正室 seishitsu legal wife and his 12 側室 sokushitsu concubines[xxvi]. On the day of birth of Yoriyasu’s first son something went terribly wrong.

As was normal for the day, the lord of the estate was out doing his do (hunting, by some accounts) when suddenly his wife went into labor alone[xxvii] – also normal for the day. Tragically, however, the boy was stillborn – meaning the Kira family line could have ended there. To avoid bad luck, the boy was enshrined at nearby 駒留八幡神社 Komadome Hachiman Jinja Komadome Hachiman Shrine. Because of this, the enshrined kami is sometimes referred to as 若宮八幡 Waka-no-miya Hachiman Young Prince Hachiman which could be interpreted as “little warrior.” At any rate, the rumor mill went into full swing that the boy had actually been smothered to death by a jealous concubine[xxviii].

The enshrinement of the stillborn son seems to have benefitted the family, as they continued to hold extensive lands until the 1590’s and the clan continued until the 元禄時代 Genroku Jidai Genroku Period, which coincided with the reign of 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi[xxix]. In the beginning of the Edo Period, the Kira clan was given 旗本 hatamoto status, ie; they became direct retainers of the shōgun family – not bad at all, but they weren’t a daimyō family as is sometimes thought. One of Yoriyasu’s descendant’s was 吉良上野介 Kira Kōzuke-no-suke[xxx] – the guy usually portrayed as the bad guy in the story of the 47 Rōnin[xxxi]. The family was disgraced and more or less dropped out of history at that point.

Oh ffs, not these clowns again???!

Oh ffs, not these clowns again???!

That’s A Neat Story, But WTF Does It Have To Do With Komadome?

Oh sorry, right. I sorta went off on a tangent there, didn’t I? Actually, the etymology of this shrine doesn’t really have much of a story behind it. It involves a certain samurai courtier of the Kamakura Shōgunate named 北条左近太郎 Hōjō Sakotarō[xxxii]. In 1308, he became a priest and wanted to establish a temple to 八幡 Hachiman the Japanese god of war[xxxiii]. This particular kami was favored by Minamoto no Yoritomo and his shōgunate and so shrines to Hachiman were very popular at this time. According to legend, Hachiman came to Sakotarō in a dream and said, “Dude, listen to your favorite horse and it will totally tell you where to enshrine me.” So he rode east from Kamakura until his exhausted horse (駒 koma) stopped (留まった tomatta) near Setagaya Village and refused to go any further. He totally realized that this was totally the spot. He immediately dismounted his unsurprisingly fatigued horse and decided to build a shrine at that spot and so the shrine is now called 駒留八幡神社 Komadome Hachiman Jinja Komadome Hachiman Shrine – the Hachiman Shrine where the horse totally stopped.

Komadome Shrine as it looks today.

Komadome Shrine as it looks today.

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What does Komazawa mean?

This is the most boring place name ever – not unlike 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward[xxxiv]. 駒沢 Komazawa is an amalgamation of the surrounding places with 駒 koma horse and 沢 sawa ravine that was created in 1889 (Meiji 22) with the formation of Meguro Ward. There is another nearby but non-equine place name, 野沢 Nozawa, which features the kanji 沢 sawa. Easiest place name ever.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this article.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this article.c

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Are These Etymologies True?

Your guess is as good as mine, but these all date back to the Kamakura Period and Sengoku Period which is when we first start getting reliable information from the Kantō area. This is also a time when previously existing place names get written down for the first time and transcribed into kanji. Maybe these events transpired. Maybe they didn’t. But what we can say for sure is that in this area, local legends popped up and many of them were affiliated with horses and the rising prestige of the samurai class in Kantō. In these place names we can see the areas surrounding Edo begin to blossom.

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[i] Aaaaaaaaaaaaand, once again, longtime readers know that I’ve already written about Setagaya here.
[ii] Please tell me you know who Minamoto no Yoritomo is. I’m assuming you do. But if not, check out this fine article about him at Samurai Archives.
[iii] An area in present day 岩手県 Iwate-ken Iwate Prefecture.
[iv] Fans of 源義経 Minamoto no Yoshitsune, will recognize this name. He’s the son of 藤原秀衡 Fujiwara no Hidehira who helped hide Yoshitsune when Yoritomo was trying to kill him. The Fujiwara betrayed Yoshitsune – as Fujiwara do – and it was Yasuhira who attacked Yoshitsune forcing him to kill his wife and daughter and then commit seppuku. The less dramatic version of his demise is that Yoshitsune may have just straight up been overwhelmed and was just cut down in battle by Fujiwara forces. The details of his death are disputed – and in my opinion, irrelevant.
And for those of you scratching your heads at all these names, check out this article at Samurai Archives.
[v] Presumably the Jakuzure River, or an earlier incarnation thereof.
[vi] Shōgun Yoritomo died in 1199 when he was thrown off his horse lol.
[vii] A “baddle,” if you will. (sorry, bad joke)
[viii] This kanji looks like the kanji for “child” but is actually the Chinese Zodiac sign of the rat (or mouse, whichever you prefer). That’s why the reading is ネ ne and not コ ko. Another reading is Nenogami.
[ix] Since this was a local deity in the countryside, we can assume there were tiny, almost impromptu shrines of this scattered all over the area.
[x] Another detail that seems to be in dispute: some claim Yoritomo was made shōgun by the emperor, others claim he just took the title for himself.
[xi] Obviously, this is a different horse than the one that died before the battle because… well, ghost horses hadn’t been invented yet.
[xii] There is some evidence for local worship of Nenokami. If you walk 40 minutes into nearby 目黒区 Meguro-ku Meguro Ward, there is minor shrine called 高木神社 Takagi Jinja Takagi Shrine which also houses Nenokami. In fact, the area surround Takagi Shrine was more or less “officially” called 子ノ神 Ne no Kami up until 1889 (Meiji 22). The name was abolished with the creation of Meguro Ward in 1932. I’ve also found a shrine in 川崎市 Kawasaki-shi Kawasaki City that enshrines Nenokami.
[xiii] And Kamiuma.
[xiv] 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga, 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and of course 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu. If you don’t know who these people are, get the fuck off my blog.
[xv] And Kamakura’s power doesn’t seem to have been very long lasting anyways.
[xvi] Why were they called “late?” Let me google that for you, bitch.
[xvii] For example, we don’t know when or where he was born. We know his legal wife was the daughter of Hōjō Ujitsuna but we don’t know his name. We know he had legitimate male heirs, but he adopted a son and made him head of the Kira Family… but we don’t know why. These early years of the Sengoku Period are very messy.
[xviii] Actually Kira Yoriyasu’s original name was 吉良頼貞 Kira Yorisada. He received the kanji 康 yasu from Hōjō Ujiyasu.
[xix] The Tokugawa Shōgunate considered the massive fortification and new moat system the birth of Edo Castle.
[xx] This particular branch of the Uesugi were the 扇谷上杉家 Ōgigayatsu Uesugi, if you’re into that sort of thing.
[xxi] Technically speaking, the castle was Uesugi property and Dōkan was merely supervising it for them.
[xxii] Also called 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle back in those days.
[xxiii] Please read more about the Late Hōjō here at Samurai Archives.
[xxiv] Let’s use the term “castle” loosely here and think of it more as a fortified noble residence on a hill. The estate (or castle) didn’t survive the fall of the Hōjō and the coming of the Tokugawa. And if you’re in Tōkyō now and saying to yourself, “Whaaaaaa?? There’s a Japanese castle in Setagaya?” then by all means, go and  read this page about it at Jcastle.info – your one stop shop for all your Japanese castle needs.
[xxv] Even if he held the “castle” for 5 years, I’m guessing that’s a pretty good run at that time.
[xxvi] The name 常盤 Tokiwa is often cited as both wife and concubine but the historical record is ambiguous. Also, there are several variations of this story. If you’d like to read more about it, I actually tracked down a guy who translated 3 variations into English here.
[xxvii] ie; not really alone, but not with Yoriyasu. She would have been in the women’s quarters of the fort – most definitely surrounded by the other women. The “joy of birth” wasn’t something often enjoyed together in feudal Japan.
[xxviii] Or by some accounts, a concubine bore the child and the jealous wife murdered it.
[xxix] The 5th Tokugawa shōgun.
[xxx] Kōsuke-no-suke is actually his court title; his real name was 吉良義央 Kira Yoshihisa.
[xxxi] Longtime readers know my opinion of this story.
[xxxii] I’m not sure about the reading of his given name. Also this dude is a “real Hōjō,” not a “Late Hōjō” of the Sengoku Period who adopted the name.
[xxxiii] Calling him “the Japanese god of war” is a bit of simplification, but you can read more about Hachiman here.
[xxxiv] Which, of course, you know I’ve already written about here.

What does Senju mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on July 18, 2013 at 7:01 pm

千住
Senju (1000 Homes, but the actual meaning is lost)

Kita-Senju Station

Kita-Senju Station

Most people in Tōkyō have been to (or at least heard of) 北千住 Kita-Senju North Senju. Few people have heard of its depressing counterpart, 南千住 Minami-Senju South Senju. If you read about life during the Edo Period, especially sankin-kōtai, you’ll come across the name 千住 Senju (usually without a “north” or “south” attached to it).

“1000 Homes” makes this place sound like a bustling suburb of Edo (I’m sure it was a great place to raise a family lol). But the fact of the matter is that this place name is officially a mystery. Let’s look at the 3 prevailing theories about this place name, shall we?

Kita-Senju yankee.

Kita-Senju yankee.

THEORY #1

The 千葉氏 Chiba-shi Chiba clan lived here during the Sengoku Period[i]. This theory would have us believe that the place name is a play on words. The family name Chiba is made of two kanji, 千 chi/sen 1000 and 葉 ha leaves. The word for “lives in” is 住む sumu. With the implicit understanding that the kanji 千 sen represented the Chiba clan and 住 shu represented living, the resulting combination 千住 Senju would mean 千葉氏が住んだ所 Chiba-shi ga sunda tokoro “the place where the Chiba clan lived.” This etymology is not just boring; it’s insulting to the intelligence[ii].

The Chiba clan family crest

The Chiba clan family crest

THEORY #2

Another theory is the 8th Ashikaga shōgun, Yoshimasa[iii], kept a mistress whose hometown was a small village in the area. Her name was 千寿 Senju. The area adopted her name to raise its prestige[iv]. Long time readers of JapanThis can probably guess what I think of this theory, so let’s move on.

Since the place name for Senju first appears in the historical record in 1279 with the ateji 千寿, these Muromachi and Sengoku Era names are most likely fake, but there are schools and other places in the area that still use the kanji 千寿. This probably has little to do with Yoshimasa’s prostitute lover, though, and more to do with the auspiciousness of the kanji. 千 sen means 1000 and 寿 su/kotobuki means “congratulations!” or “long life!” Thus, 千乃寿 sen no kotobuki means “congratulations 1000 times!”[v] Since this is the earliest way of writing the word and it is obviously ateji, it leads me to believe that this represents a much older place name which has unfortunately been lost to history.

Another NO GO. This theory isn't very likely...

Another NO GO.
This theory isn’t very likely…

THEORY #3

The next theory? OK.  A statue of 千手観音 Senju Kan’non 1000 armed Kan’non, was pulled out of the 荒川 Arakawa Arakawa (River)[vi]. Thus the area was known as 千手 Senju 1000 Arms, which just sounds creepy. Over time, the place name came to be written as 千住 Senju 1000 Homes, which sounds like a nice place to raise to a family. Believe it or not, this is the most accepted etymology.

1000 armed Kan'non.

1000 armed Kan’non.

I say “poppycock” to the random 1000 armed statue floating down the river; however the statue was housed at the nearby temple, 勝専寺 Shōsen-ji Shōsen-ji, so it’s possible there might be some connection. But given the antiquity of the place name, I would venture to say that it’s actually the other way around. The old name Senju was the reason for making a senju statue. Japanese temples and shrines capitalize on this kind of play on words all the time; I don’t see why Shōsen-ji would have been any different.

So my guess is that each of these are folk etymologies and that the real place name pre-dates all of them. The original ateji is nice, though. It’s very auspicious. But remember, ateji doesn’t have meaning, so we may never know the true origins of the name.

The shitamachi feeling of Kita-Senju.

The shitamachi feeling of Kita-Senju.

A Few Bits of Trivia About Senju:

The old Edo shitamachi dialect is preserved by some local people in the area. They don’t call the area Senju, but Senji.

The most important town in the area was 千住宿 Senju-shuku Senju Post Town, which was the first 宿場 shukuba post town on the 日光御成街道 Nikkō Onari Kaidō[vii]. Because the 水戸街道 Mito Kaidō and 奥州街 Ōshū Kaidō also branched off from here, it was one of the busiest post towns of the Greater Edo Area.

To supervise the development and maintenance of the Nikkō Kaidō, Tokugawa Hidetada constructed a small 御殿 goten shōgunal lodging at Shōsen-ji[viii]. Hidetada, Iemitsu, and Ietsuna are all recorded as having stayed here. I imagine other shōguns stayed here, too. After all, the Nikkō Kaidō was an Onari Kaidō, that is to say, it was reserved for the private use of the shōgun and his retinue[ix].

北千住 Kita-Senju (literally, North Senju) is well known throughout Tōkyō as a shitamachi (low city) area that preserves some of the so-called Edo-kko culture[x]. It’s lesser well-known counterpart, Minami-Senju (literally, South Senju) is virtually unknown. Those who do know it, have a very bad impression of the town… for reasons I’ll get into next week.

 

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[i] Yes, this is the same Chiba clan whose name now adorns present day Chiba Prefecture in all its, um, glory.
[ii] Although, I had my balls handed to me by the etymology of Daita. So I guess I should keep an open mind.
[iii] Yes, that Ashikaga Yoshimasa. The Ashikaga shōgunate sucked balls from the beginning, but this clown is the guy under whose watch the Ōnin War broke out – that is to say, it was on his watch that Japan descended into the proverbial clusterfuck that we call the 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai the Warring States Period.
[iv] As if the some chick that the 8th shōgun of the lamest shōgunate was banging was prestigious…
[v] Sushi lovers out there will recognize this kanji as the first character of the ateji 寿司 sushi sushi.
[vi] As 1000 armed statues just float down rivers and get caught in fishermen’s nets all the time.
[vii] By now you should all know what shukuba were, but feel free to check my articles on Nihonbashi, Itabashi, and Shinjuku for a quick refresher.
[viii] Goten is often translated as “palace,” but in this case, I think “lodging” is better. Basically, when the shōgun and his entourage rested here, this is where they stayed the night – it wasn’t like a second home or anything. And as making a pilgrimage to the shrines at Nikkō was a spiritual perfunctory task and the procession was a purely martial affair, this sort of goten would have befitted a shōgun but was probably quite spartan.
[ix] I go into detail about the meaning of 御成 o-nari “the presence of the shōgun” in my article on Yūshōin, the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ietsugu.
[x] 江戸っ子Edo-kko child of Edo is what you call a 3rd generation Tōkyōite. The stereotype is a plain speaking local of the shitamachi area. This stereotype has more to do with the post-Tokugawa merchant middle class class than it does with Edo’s samurai past.

What does Muromachi mean?

In Japanese History on June 24, 2013 at 3:14 am

室町
Muromachi (Muromachi)

On the left, Nihonbashi Honkoku-cho. In the Middle, Nihonbashi Muromachi. On the right, Nihonbashi Honcho. The black lines are the original Edo Period blocks. The red lines are the modern blocks that exist today.

On the left, Nihonbashi Honkoku-cho.
In the middle, Nihonbashi Muromachi.
On the right, Nihonbashi Honcho.
The black lines are the original Edo Period blocks.
The red lines are the modern blocks that exist today.

The other day I wrote about Anjin-chō and Anjin Dōri. The street and former town are located in an area of Nihonbashi called Muromachi. I’ve always wondered about the name, and now after 8 years of living in Japan I finally got off my lazy ass and investigated it. But this story is great and full of plot twists.

Short Answer:  The name of Tōkyō’s Muromachi is copied from Kyōto’s Muromachi.

Not sure where this was, but this is probably what Muromachi looked like in the Edo Period... minus the telegraph poles.

Not sure where this was, but this is probably what Muromachi looked like in the Edo Period…
minus the telegraph poles.

The people of Edo saw similarities to the area in Kyōto as it was in the Edo Period. Kyōto Muromachi was a merchant district with many 土蔵 dozō earthen warehouses and the Edo Muromachi was also the home to many 土蔵 dozō – as it was located in the Nihonbashi area. The first kanji 室 muro means room, but can also refer to cellars or greenhouses or warehouses, such as dozō, that are designed to keep the stock cool or at a reasonable temperature. Apparently this was an apt comparison for the people of Edo.

CG dozo warehouse

CG dozo warehouse

Here's a modern dozo warehouse in the country.

Here’s a modern dozo warehouse in the country.

And here’s a disclaimer, I’ve only been to Kyōto twice so I really don’t know as much about the city as I’d like to. If anyone else knows more about this stuff that me, then feel free to chime in. The rest of this article is probably a train wreck…

Anyhoo, we are talking about the Muromachi of Kyōto in the Edo Period, which I’m guessing was a very different place than it had been before the Sengoku Period.

What makes me think that?

Well, the period from 1337 – 1465/1467/1573 is called the Muromachi Period[i]. In 1573, the last Ashikaga shōgun was forced to leave Kyōto by none other than His Noble Badassness, Lord Oda Nobunaga. Just as the Tokugawa Shōgunate is also called the Edo Shōgunate because of its location, the Ashikaga Shōgunate is also called the Muromachi Shōgunate because of its location[ii].

Ashikaga Takauji, founder of the Lame Bakufu... Errr, I mean, the Ashikaga Bakufu.

Ashikaga Takauji, founder of the Lame Bakufu…
Errr, I mean, the Ashikaga Bakufu.

So what’s the dilly, yo?

I have no idea where the first two Ashikaga shōguns held their court[iii], but the third shōgun, Yoshimitsu[iv], built a lavish palace on an old Heian Period street known as 室町小路 Muromachi Kōji Muromachi Alley. The residence was officially known as 室町殿 Muromachi-dono Muromachi Palace, but because of its legendary beauty it was colloquially known as the 花之御所 Hana no Go-sho the Palace of Flowers[v]. The location was ideal because it was a sprawling tract of land and it was very close to the real 御所 Go-sho Imperial Palace, or in reality close to one of the “temporary imperial residences” granted to the emperor by other court nobles or, at times, the shōgunate. The 花之御所 Hana no Go-sho Flower Palace aka the 室町殿 Muromachi-dono Muromachi Palace was the cultural, political, and military center of Japan for over 200 years.

Hana No Gosho aka Muromachi-Dono

The Hana no Gosho.
Seat of the Ashikaga Shogunate.
(Is it just me or does it look a little bit like Nijo Castle?)

Wait, what??? This place sounds so elegant and beautiful.
Why is this place famous for merchants and warehouse?

In its day, Muromachi was the center of Japan. From what I’ve read it seems like it was the most elite area of the most elite city. Unlike the Tokugawa Shōgunate, the Ashikaga Shōgunate was on pretty shaky ground from the beginning. Somehow they managed to last almost as long as the Tokugawa, but economic and political stresses rose to the surface and in 1467 war erupted. An 11 year war called the 応仁の乱 Ōnin no Ran Ōnin War broke out. Within the first year of fighting, the north half of Kyōto had been burnt to the ground. 11 years into the war the city was fucked beyond belief. When the Portuguese arrived in Japan 1543 looking to trade and convert the country, they were shocked to learn that the emperor of the country was living in a capital city more or less in ruins. Even more bizarre to them, the emperor was living in conditions they described as a shack or hut.

Even though we don’t tend associate lasting stability with Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it is from Nobunaga’s time that we see rebuilding in earnest in Kyōto. Slowly stability came and from the Edo Period on, Kyōto regained its former glory, albeit in a new Edo Period form.

So after the destruction of Kyōto, the city repurposed old lands, including the Flower Palace and the area around the former 室町小路 Muromachi Kōji Muromachi Alley became the location of the warehouses of some very prosperous and famous merchants. In the early modern period, it became famous for kimono shops. Some of these shops still exist today, so the street seems well worth the visit[vi].

Muromachi Alley in the early Showa Period

Muromachi Alley in the early Showa Period

OK, so Edo’s warehouse district borrowed Kyōto’s warehouse district’s name.

This should be the end of the story, shouldn’t it?

But it isn’t.

The town in Edo (and Tōkyō) was named after a merchant warehouse area of Kyōto.
But where did the original Kyōto name come from?

Well remember how I mentioned that in the Edo Period 室 muro was a reference to warehouses? Well, this was actually a folk etymology. In reality, 室 muro had absolutely nothing to do with warehouse originally.

は?!

は?!

The Final Plot Twist

It turns out there was a family of imperial court nobles called the 室町家 Muromachi-ke Muromachi Family. The Muromachi family claims descent from the Fujiwara family… and I’ll leave that up to you Kyōto lovers to figure out. The Muromachi clan built the original Muromachi-dono on the alley that came to be known as Muromachi Alley and later Muromachi Street. The Ashikaga Shōguns appropriated the residence and expanded it to make the Hana no Go-sho. So while we say that the Muromachi Period is named after the residence of the shōguns, that name actually referred to a totally unrelated family of aristocrats. How d’you like dem apples?

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[i] If you want to know why I have 3 dates for the ending of the Muromachi Period, then you need to read up on the Ashigaka Shōgunate, the Muromachi Period, the Sengoku Period, and the Azuchi Momoyama Period. That stuff is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay outside the focus of this article. But suffice it to say, making a cutoff date for the Muromachi Period can be a bit subjective depending on what angle your examining things from.

[ii] Which, as you can imagine, was probably not a warehouse district…

[iii] However, the first Ashikaga shōgun, Takauji, is buried at Tōji’in in Kyōto, so I’m assuming he had a residence in Kyōto to keep an eye on the fucking Emperors (yes, plural… it’s a long story), despite being a native of present day Tochigi.

[iv] Yes, he’s the same Ashikaga Yoshimitsu who built Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, in Kyōto.

[v] Yoshimitsu used the word for “imperial palace” and not the word for “just another lord’s palace.” Also Yoshimitsu was pretty gay for his day, which was totally acceptable for nobles of the military class at the time. The building was demolished after the overthrow of the last Ashikaga shōgun, but it is said to have been decorated in a cute floral theme in accordance to Yoshimitsu’s liking and there were lovely flower gardens all over the palace precincts. Everyone likes flowers – Yoshimitsu really liked flowers.

[vi] I’ve never been there myself, though… Next time, right?

Why is Shiba called Shiba?

In Japanese History on May 23, 2013 at 12:37 am


Shiba (grass/lawn)

Shiba. There's stil some lush greenery as well as some gaijin lushes.

Shiba. There’s still some lush greenery as well as some gaijin lushes.

The first theory I came across was one that said that the grass in this part of the Musashi Plain was particularly lush. A quick search for old art depicting any areas of the vast Musashi Plain will yield pictures of tall grasses.  Search for plants of the Musashi Plain and all that you’ll see are lush grasses. I don’t see how an area next to the sea would be particularly more luxurious than any other area.

The second theory is that the 斯波氏 Shiba clan had a residence in the area. During the Ashikaga shōgunate, the Shiba were one the families that could hold the position of 管領 kanrei deputy shōgun (literally controller). While the family line came to an end in the mid 1500’s, it’s not impossible to imagine that some member of the Shiba family had a residence here. However, there doesn’t seem to be any collaborating evidence for this theory.

Shiba this, bitch!

These are shiba (柴) at high tide in Omori Kaigan. They’ve been placed in the inlet to harvest seaweed, a centuries old technique… apparently still used.

Another theory is that in the early days, when there were many shallow inlets cutting in to what is now central Tōkyō (and this part of town was literally part of the bay, the area was characterized by brushwood used to grow and harvest 海苔 nori seaweed. The general word for brushwood is 柴 shiba*. As far back as the Sengoku Period, we know there to have been a 柴村 Shiba Mura Shiba Village in the area. In the early Edo Period, 柴町 Shiba Machi Shiba Town is attested. The name change reflects an area whose population had grown substantially. In the early Edo Period we start to see an alternate writing as 芝町 Shiba Machi. Over the course of the Edo Period, this new variation becomes the standard and the old variant dies out. Products developed in the area develop a widespread reputation as “Shiba Machi” products – like a brand name.

A view of Zojoji, one of the two Tokugawa shogun funerary temples in Edo. Notice the long sando.   (You don remember what a sando was, don't you??)*****

A view of Zojoji, one of the two Tokugawa shogun funerary temples in Edo. Notice the long sando.
(You do remember what a sando was, don’t you??)****

I couldn’t find anything to explain the change in the kanji or the demand for goods produced in the area, but I have a theory. The shōgunate built a funerary temple complex called Zōjōji in Shiba. As a result, many daimyō residences were also built in the area. I’m willing to bet that the urbanization of the bay front area and controlling the water that flowed in and out of the bay curtailed land/water use in the area. This would have produced more dry land where lush fields of grass might grow instead of mushy wetlands**. The gentrification that came with the arrival of nobles and one of the shōgun family’s main temples would have given the area a lot of prestige. This is all conjecture, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable that lush grass became more of the stereotypical image of the area than swampy inlets filled with half-naked villagers checking their crappy brushwood nets for seaweed. It’s also not unreasonable to assume that as the area had grown in prestige a nice kanji like (lawn, grass) was preferable to which looks like something you’d use for kindling in a fire.

Some of that the lush-ass Musashino grass. Too bad you can't smoke that shit.

Some of that the lush-ass Musashino grass. Too bad you can’t smoke that shit.

Personally, I don’t find any of these satisfying etymologies, but the last one has a lot more to play with. The practice of using 柴 shiba brushwood to harvest nori is apparently still done in a few existing inlets (see picture).

But there is a chronology problem. In 1486, there is a reference to an area called 芝ノ浦 Shiba no ura “under Shiba.” This place name uses the “grass/lawn” kanji and not the “brushwood” kanji. The area is noted for salt production and shipping***.

In present day Tōkyō, the south of Shiba is called 芝浦 Shibaura (literally, “under Shiba”). This indicates that the grass/lawn kanji variant may have been in use prior to the Edo Period. It might also suggest that – coincidentally – there were two areas phonetically referred to as しば shiba but – possibly – unrelated to each other etymologically. If this were the case, the alternation of the kanji in the early Edo Period could reflect a confusion or ambiguity about the area that was finally resolved through standardization by the mid-Edo Era – perhaps through a process similar to what I hypothesized above…

…or perhaps not.

Shiba Shrimp - Delicious Japanese Food

Mmmmmmm. Shiba Ebi.

So, who the fuck knows? Once again, the origins of another pre-Edo Period place name prove to be elusive. But this time I won’t leave you totally empty handed. As I mentioned before, items produced in Shiba were famous throughout the land in the Edo Period. One of the products was a particularly delicious variety of shrimp that were abundant in the area and brought into port in Shiba/Shibaura. Originally 芝海老 Shiba Ebi Shiba Shrimp was the local name for this species in the area. The species wasn’t specific to this corner of Edo Bay, but the name spread and became the standard appellation for this type of crustacean everywhere in Japan. So while I can’t give you a clear etymology of Shiba, the origins of the name Shiba Shrimp is something we know 100%.

The ironic thing is that these days the water is so polluted that there are very few of them in Tōkyō Bay. Now, most Shiba Shrimp in Japan come from Niigata and Taiwan.
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* Compare this to the origin of Hibiya, which is most likely derived from a different method of growing and harvesting nori. (On a somewhat unrelated note, this brushwood kanji is the same character used for 柴犬 shibaken, the famous breed of Japanese dogs.)
** Check out my article on Two Famous Murders to see a picture of nearby Mita/Azabu where you can clearly see “lush grass” growing.
*** Compare this to the origin of Shiodome, which has a salt production theory associated with it.
**** You already forgot what a sandō was?? FFS, have a look at the origin of Omotesandō.

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