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What does Kanda mean?

In #rivered, Japanese History, Travel in Japan on August 23, 2017 at 5:54 am

神田
Kanda (holy rice paddies, Batman!)

IMG_5689.jpg
What does Kanda mean?
(Short Version)

神田 Kanda means something like “holy rice field” or “field of the gods.” You can find places all over Japan that use the same characters (with various pronunciations) that derive from this meaning. In short, these place names are references to special agricultural spaces which originally produced food for shrines connected to the imperial court during the Nara Period. These holy fields were technically tax exempt as they usually had to only send the first harvest to the court. The rest was profit. The court then used the produce as currency to fund the maintenance of the shrines they deemed most important. In the case of Edo-Tōkyō, this place name is generally associated with a religious complex called 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine[i].

There are three 神 kami deities[ii] enshrined at Kanda Myōjin. All three are earthly kami[iii], though the first two enshrinements are gods included in the earliest recorded creation and foundation myths. The third and final enshrinement was so beloved by locals in Kantō (Eastern Japan) that he subsumed the popularity of the original kami until the Meiji Coup in 1868[iv].

大国主命
Ōkuninushi no Mikoto

An earthly kami who handed over control of the world to the heavenly kami who were ancestors of the imperial family and the original court. He was blended with a Buddhist kami, Daitokuten.

大己貴命
Ōnamuchi no Mikoto

This kami, who may or may not be the same as Ōkuninushi, was involved in the transfer of earthly lands to the control of the imperial family.

平将門
Taira no Masakado no Mikoto

A Kantō-based samurai who revolted against the imperial family in the 900’s. His attempt to secede failed, but the locals saw him as a hero defending the east’s cultural difference from the west[v]. After the Meiji Coup, he was de-enshrined, only to be re-enshrined after WWII[vi].

 

IMG_5688

Ōkuninushi, Ōnamuchi, Daikokuten – many names, basically the same kami.

What does Kanda mean?
(Hardcore Version)

Today we’re looking at a place name that I’ve wanted to write about since 2013. At that time, my pieces were more short form blog posts. Obviously, things have gotten more long form and “article-like” since then, yet every time I went back to visit the subject of Kanda, it just seemed too convoluted. I couldn’t figure out a way to present the material in a coherent way. Long time readers will remember when I “got riverred” doing a series on seven great waterways of Edo[vii]. I didn’t want that to happen again.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit that as far as place names go, Kanda seems as superficially straightforward as they come. However, the truth is complex as fuck. It requires a solid knowledge of geography – not just of Edo-Tōkyō, but all of Japan. It also requires a strong understanding of Japanese mythology[viii], religion[ix], and the economic system of the Nara Period[x].

I tried to keep things concise, but after 11 pages of text, it became clear that I should divide the topic into two parts. Even after that, the article got longer and longer. Long time readers will know what you’re in store for. New readers, welcome aboard. Help us batten down the hatches. Every article on JapanThis! sails through rough waters.

Anyhoo, let’s get back to the topic at hand (and be prepared for lots of tables).

kanda map
Where is Kanda?

First of all, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with this: in Tōkyō today there is no official place name Kanda. After WWII, in 1947 the former 神田区 Kanda-ku Kanda Ward and 麹町区 Kōjimachi-ku Kōjimachi Ward were combined to make modern 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward. Now, don’t think Kanda just disappeared off the map completely. A few postal addresses actually still exist. For example, 外神田 Soto-Kanda is where 秋葉原駅 Akihabara Eki Akihabara Station is located, and 神田錦町 Kanda Nishiki-chō Kanda Nishiki Town is still part of 日本橋 Nihonbashi.

But in short, the area from modern 大手町 Ōtemachi to 駿河台 Surugadai (originally 神田山 Kanda-yama Mt. Kanda)[xi] was called 神田 Kanda in general. This changed over the centuries, but for our purposes today, this is good enough. That was Kanda and you can see it originally referred to a large and relatively vague area[xii].

kanda myojin mountain side

Apparently, the view from Kanda Shrine used to be pretty good and this stairway used to be hella effed up. I’m not sure what part of the shrine this depicts, but I guess it’s from the opposite point of view of Hokusai’s painting posted above.

This is a very informal rule of thumb, but if I look at a modern map, I tend to think of Kanda as the area stretching from Kanda Station to Akihabara Station to Ochanomizu Station. However, prior to the Edo Period, the area from 大手町 Ōtemachi[xiii] to Kanda Station could be considered Kanda. What changed was the building of the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui Kanda Aqueduct. With that, the name Kanda moved farther away from the castle along the waterway into the generic area of Tōkyō that we call Kanda today.

Further Reading:

 

IMG_5667.jpg

Main gate of Kanda Shrine. Impressive.

So, what the hell does Kanda mean?

Well, I already told you at the beginning of this article. Are you saying that isn’t enough? Are you saying you want more? Are you a glutton for this shit?

Of course, you are.
You wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t.

So, let’s roll up our sleeves, cuz we’re about to get knee deep in all kinds of muck and mire. This is a messy swamp of history, mythology, and linguistics. You ready to hold your nose and get down and dirty?

If that’s a yes, then let’s do this.

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First, Let’s Look at some Kanji


kami, shin/-jin

deity (kami)


ta/da, den

planted field (usually rice)


myō

bright, enlightened; fucking obvious


miya, –

divine descendant of a heavenly kami; relative of the imperial family; imperial prince/princess


na, mei

name; well known; apparent/obvious

And, Here are 2 Words Ya Best Know, Son.

神田
kanda, shinden

literally, “god field”

御田[xiv]
mita, o-den

literally, “honorable field” – nuance is more at “field owned by a ruler”[xv] or “field owned by a god”

IMG_5669.jpg

Now, Let’s Look at a Brief History of the Shrine

OK, so… I know this is gonna be a little annoying, but bear with me a bit more on the timeline. We need some historical framework before we can go any farther. Also, it will be good to have all of these charts to refer back some time… you know, when you need to refer back them for some reason…

703
Nara Period

An ancient court clan from 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province establishes a shrine in 武蔵国豊嶋郡芝崎村 Musashi no Kuni Shibazaki Mura Shibazaki Village, Mushashi Province. The shrine is called 神田ノ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine and by orders of the imperial court in 平城京 Heijō-kyō[xvi], it is responsible for providing rice to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine.

939
Heian Period

Taira no Masakado, a belligerent Kantō-based samurai (east), takes over hostile fiefs on his borders. When the imperial court (west) demands submission, he says “fuck no!” and goes rogue. Samurai armies loyal to the imperial court in Kyōto (west), are ordered to suppress his rebellion.

940
Heian Period

Masakado is killed in battle. His in-house biographers portray him as a hero of the Kantō region and Eastern Japan[xvii]. According to legend, Masakado’s head flies back to the East and rests at Shibazaki Village where a burial mound is made for him near Kanda no Miya.

1185
Kamakura Period
(end of Heian Period)

源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo is appointed 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun shogun[xviii] and becomes the first samurai government to rule Japan (thus achieving what Masakado couldn’t). He rules safely (but briefly[xix]) from his capital in Kamakura (also in Kantō). The system of court control over shrines and their fields is disrupted.

1309
End of Kamakura Period

Masakado is enshrined at Kanda no Miya as a kind of local hero, he soon becomes the de factō principal kami[xx]. It’s around this time Shibazaki Village is renamed Kanda Village.

1590
Sengoku Period

徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu formally takes control of Edo Castle.

1603
Edo Period

Tokugawa Ieyasu is granted the title 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun shōgun. When 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle is expanded in 1603, Kanda no Miya is moved to the 神田台 Kanda-dai Kanda Plateau in order to make room for the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon the grand entrance of the castle and a new neighborhood of samurai and high-ranking merchants and artisans in 大手町 Ōtemachi, literally “main gate town.” Because of mysterious deaths and superstitions surrounding Masakado’s burial mound, his enshrinement at Kanda no Miya is considered adequate for the protection of Edo, but the burial mound is left in sitū so as not to disturb his spirit, in hopes that he will protect the castle and the samurai who come and go through the main gate, including the shōgun himself. Also, 江戸神社 Edo Jinja Edo Shrine, which was located on the castle grounds since the time of 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan, is moved to the shrine precincts[xxi].

1616
Edo Period

The shrine is moved to its current location when the Tokugawa Shōgunate reorganized parts of the city. Although it seems very urban today, until the post-WWII period, this area was wooded and considered very 山手 yamanote high city. During the Edo Period the shrine came to be called Kanda Myōjin. The new name reflected the Buddhist philosophy of the samurai class and distanced itself from the ancient imperial court traditions.

1690
Edo Period

The 5th shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, relocated a Confucian school next to Kanda Shrine called 湯島聖堂 Yushima Seidō Yushima Hall of Wise Men[xxii]. The shrine and temple were closely connected until 1868 when the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei Separation of Kami and Buddhas Edict was decreed. However, Yushima Seidō still has an entrance called 明神門 Myōjin Mon Kanda Shrine Gate where people could easily come and go between the temple and shrine.

1868
Meiji Period

Taira no Masakado was de-enshrined because he was seen as a rebel against the authority of the imperial family and he offended the sensitivities of the delicate snowflake known as the Meiji Emperor who had just moved into Edo Castle – newly renamed 東京城 Tōkyō-jō Tōkyō Castle.

1984
Shōwa Period

 

Because of his local popularity and the constitutional guarantee of separation of religion and government in Article 20 of the Constitution of Japan, Masakado was re-enshrined. This move was made roughly 30 years after end of WWII, presumably because the political climate was such that the anti-imperial connection was more or less lost on the general public and the concept of a divine emperor had been lying in the trash bin of history for three decades.
kanda myojin yushima seido hokusai

In the left background, you can see Yushima Seidō and its stone walls (still extant), in the right foreground, Kanda Myōjin. Thanks, Hokusai-dono.

The Five Great Etymologies

OK, so there are 5 basic theories about the origin of the place name Kanda. All of them, except for two, are related to the shrine, Kanda Myōjin – or Kanda no Miya (as it was also known). I’m going to list the theories, and then I’m going to break them all down.

jomon-period-inlets

Map of Edo-Tokyo in the paleolithic era. No wonder rivers are so crucial to the development of the city.

1. The Kami no To Theory

This theory states that Kanda is a contraction of 神田 Kamida, which itself is a corruption of 神ノ戸 kami no to. The idea is based on a possible etymology of 江戸 Edo which postulates that the city got its name from 江ノ戸 e no to “door to the estuary,” a reference to the hamlet’s location on the bay[xxiii]. Proponents of this theory point at the city of 神戸 Kōbe, claiming that it derives from 神ノ戸 kami no he “door to the kami” (contracted as Kanbe or Kōbe) due the presence of 生田神社 Ikuta Jinja Ikuta Shrine[xxiv] near the bay. The original location of Kanda no Miya was very near the bay before it was moved in the Edo Period. In fact, the former place name of this area was 芝崎 Shibazaki which literally means grassy cape, a clear indication that it was on the water.

While I find the similarities between Kōbe and Edo intriguing, I’m not sure if I’m onboard with kami no to breaking down to Kanda. It’s not unimaginable[xxv], but I think there are more convincing etymologies.

ise shrin

Ise Grand Shrine

2. The Kamida Theory

This is the most straight forward hypothesis. It states the name literally derives from 神ノ田 kami no tanbo sacred rice field or rice field of the kami. As I mentioned earlier, at the time Kanda no Miya was founded, shrines were expected to send 初穂 hatsuho the first harvest[xxvi] as an offering to a major shrine associated with the imperial court. In this case, the first harvest went to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine. These fields were in an area that sits roughly between the original location of Kanda no Miya and the modern location of Kanda Shrine[xxvii]. As a phrase, 神ノ田 would be read “kami no tanbo,” but as a place name it would be written 神田kamida,” which then could easily be contracted to Kanda. There are hundreds of place names throughout Japan written with the same kanji, and while their readings may differ, the etymology is generally the same. A change from /kamida/ to /kaɴda/ is quite plausible and, surprisingly, preserves the same number of mōræ of the original[xxviii].

Michinoomi_no_Mikoto-2.jpg

Michi no Omi no Mikoto, a male version of the Empress Jingū, is one of the three great war gods of Japan. The Ōtomo clan, very closely tied to the ancient imperial court, claimed descent from this particular kami.

3. The Kanda Clan Theory

This theory is related to the last one, but it gets a little more political. While the foundation of Kanda no Miya dates back to historical times, it dates back to a time when eastern Japan was a fucking backwater and records are scant to say the least. While we don’t know exactly who established the shrine, a little knowledge of Nara Period court bureaucracy may shine a bit of light on the issue.

A few high-ranking clans in the imperial court were given the title 神田宿禰 kanda no sukune lords of the fields of the kami[xxix]. Many branch families and descendants from clans that held this hereditary title eventually came to use the characters 神田 as a surname, adopting a range of regional variations, including Kanda. One of the most ancient and elite families to bear the title kanda no sukune was the 大伴氏 Ōtomo-shi Ōtomo clan from 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province[xxx]. If you remember from the beginning of the article, the original kami enshrined at Kanda no Miya were two earthly gods from Izumo who play major roles in the earliest written histories of Japan.

I’ll talk more about this clan later.

masakado

Taira no Masakado was one bad muthafucka. Sadly, his life ended without his head. Happily, his story lives on… and is pretty much all about his head.

4. The Taira no Masakado Did it Theory

Again, if you’ll refer to the list of kami enshrined here and the historical timeline, you’ll recall that in 940, a samurai by the name of Taira no Masakado was killed in battle during his uprising against the imperial court. Scholars debate the motivation for Masakado’s so-called “revolt,” but one thing is certain: the people of the Kantō Area, and the area near Edo in particular, latched on to him as a kind of folk hero. He stood up against a western court that they thought lorded power over them. According to legend, Masakado’s decapitated head was reanimated and fled the imperial court of Kyōto to return to his beloved Kantō. His spirit was then enshrined as Masakado no Taira no Mikoto. This theory states that the name Kanda is a corruption of 躯 karada corpse[xxxi]. A change from /kaɾada/ to /kaɴda/ is quite plausible and, surprisingly, preserves the same number of mōræ of the original[xxxii].

fashion_pct_img

Kofun Period Fashion™

5. The Fuck It, Nobody Knows Theory

This sort of theory, like all ancient place names is a last resort when all other etymologies fail. This is the diachronic linguistics version of the God of the Gaps. In short, if we can’t prove anything with historical records and can’t come up with satisfactory hypotheses, there’s a chance that the name may be hiding in proto-history. That is to say, Kanda may be a vestige of pre-literate Japan. People superimposed kanji on locally existing place names that may reflect an unrecorded Jōmon (Emishi/Ainu) place name or an unrecorded Yayoi/Kofun period dialect. In such cases, the kanji is considered 当て字 ateji, or characters used for phonetic values rather than meaning.

show me what you got-2
So, What do I Think?

Today we have such a complicated mess, I hope you can understand why I’ve hesitated to tackle this subject for so many years. I started this article but it rapidly got out of control.

First of all, I think the first theory which relates the etymology of Kōbe and Edo to Kanda is a bit of a stretch. If anything, it illustrates a fascinating link between the naming of Kōbe[xxxiii] and Edo[xxxiv], but it doesn’t do shit to explain Kanda, in my opinion. It’s an interesting pattern, and we see many place names (and subsequent family names) in the 東北地方 Tōhoku Chihō Tōhoku Region that are clearly derived from this model[xxxv]. However, applying it to Kanda doesn’t make any sense.

Secondly, the “Fuck It, Nobody Knows” theory is one that we can’t really prove one way or the other[xxxvi]. If we had some Ainu words suggested, then maybe we could make some kind of conjecture, but I couldn’t find any ideas tossed out there. Furthermore, we have a pretty nice linguistic sandbox to play in if we combine the remaining theories.

IMG_5671

The Sandbox

So…, we know the original name of the shrine was Kanda no Miya. This name is somewhat ambiguous. It can mean “Imperial Shrine of Kanda” or “Imperial Shrine of the Holy Fields.” I think these are absolutely related. Imperial Shrine of Kanda (by that, I mean the Kanda clan) seems to be a reference to a branch of the Ōtomo clan, while Imperial Shrine of the Holy Fields seems to be a reference to the fields required by law for the Kanda to maintain on behalf of the court to maintain Ise Grand Shrine. We also know that the Ōtomo (and therefore the Kanda) came from Izumo Province. In my mind, it can’t be a coincidence that the kami who were originally enshrined were Ōkuninushi and Ōnamuchi – the most important deities from Izumo.

I think we’re looking at a cut and dry example of the Nara Period system of establishing shrines dedicated to the imperial cult in the outlands and I think the name of the shrine clearly reflects that. I think the presence of the “holy fields” isn’t just related to that, it reinforces that imperial connection. However, after the gradual breakdown of imperial power in the East, the Kantō Area started to feel a little more autonomous.

This autonomy was writ large on the pages of history when Taira no Masakado essentially said “fuck you” to the imperial court and went to war[xxxvii].

Sure, he lost.

Sure, he was killed.

Sure, his decapitated head was put on display.

But like they say in Game of Thrones, “the North remembers.” Well, in this case, the East remembered, and they enshrined him at Kanda no Miya in the 1300’s. It’s also around this time that the area formerly called 芝崎村 Shibazaki Mura Shibazaki Village was renamed 神田村 Kanda Mura Kanda Village.

Do I think the /kaɾada/ (body) → /kaɴda/ etymology was the main reason? No. But I do think the timing of the name change from Shibazaki to Kanda and the strength of Masakado’s fame and spectral power worked its way into local lore and folk etymology. I can’t give a “hard no” to this theory, but I think it’s very much a part of the history of this area and its cultural tapestry.

hiroshige kanda myojin

One of Utagawa Hiroshige’s takes on Kanda Shrine in the Edo Period. This time, he chose to focus on a tree.

The End… or is it?

For most people, that’s about as much as you need to know about the origins of Kanda. In fact, that’s probably more than anyone needs to know. If you stop reading now, you’re probably doing yourself a favor. But for those of you with a masochistic streak, I’d like to explore a few tangents so we can tie up a few loose knots before I wrap this bitch up.

I’ll do that in part two of this article, which is pretty much complete as you’re reading this. I just need to find some pictures, proofread, and double check my facts. Anyhoo, expect me to post that in a day or two.

As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to leave comments and questions down below, and if you’d like to support JapanThis! on social media or throw me a dollar or two, all the details are directly below this sentence.

 

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[i] The original name was 神田ノ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine.
[ii] Deity and god are just rough translations. To learn more about what a kami is, check out this article on Wikipedia. If you already have a good understanding of how kami differ from the English words “god/goddess,” “deity,” and “spirit,” then you might want to do a little further reading.
[iii] I’m not going to get into the intricacies of Shintō cosmology, but in short, kami are generally divided into two groups: 天津神 ama tsu kami heavenly kami and 国津神 kuni tsu kami earthly kami. At the end of the 神世 Kami no Yo Age of the Gods, the heavenly deities descended to earth with a mandate from the sun goddess 天照大神 Amaterasu Ōmikami to rule over the lands of the earthly gods and all of humans that inhabited those lands, thereby establishing the Yamato clan – the imperial family.
[iv] This is something we’re gonna talk about in part two.
[v] A rivalry still very much alive in Japan today, particularly in Japanese Professional Baseball, with the Tōkyō Giants and Hanshin Tigers being the fiercest rivalry.
[vi] As I said, more about that later.
[vii] Years ago, I did a series on Edo’s rivers, which you can read here. I didn’t really understand the scope of what I was getting into and I got to a point where I literally almost quit JapanThis! completely – or at least I was ready to quit the series.
[viii] Because of a recent project, I’m getting more and more familiar with Japanese mythology.
[ix] I think I have this down to a certain degree, but I’m def not an expert.
[x] I’m gradually getting better acquainted with ancient and classical Japanese culture, but since Edo-Tōkyō is my favorite period, all of my recent studies on these three topics (mythology, religion, and ancient/classical Japan) are all strictly for improving the quality of JapanThis!.
[xi] Roughly 千代田区神田駿河台一丁目と二丁目 Chiyoda-ku Kanda-Surugadai Icchōme to Nichōme 1st and 2nd blocks of Kanda-Surugadai, Chiyoda Ward.
[xii] Long time readers will know that before the Meiji Coup in 1868, place names were quite generic. machi/-chō tended to be fixed but only referred to blocks (neighborhoods organized by social class and rank). But areas like 上野 Ueno, 麻布 Azabu, 芝 Shiba, 品川 Shinagawa, etc., were slightly ambiguous.
[xiii] Ōtemachi refers to the neighborhood of rich merchants and high ranking samurai bureaucrats that sat in front of the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon main entrance of Edo Castle.
[xiv] Don’t worry, you don’t need this word for this etymology, but if you go back to my old article about Mita, it might be helpful, since this article sheds light on the old one.
[xv] Usually the imperial court.
[xvi] Modern day 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture.
[xvii] Game of Thrones fans could think of him as Rob Stark. And rather than “the North remembers,” this is “the East remembers.” Masakado became the archetype of eastern samurai, Kantō samurai in particular, overcoming the overbearing and failing imperial court in the west.
[xviii] Who is Minamoto no Yoritomo? Glad you asked!
[xix] Dude had bad luck with horses, and that bad luck finally caught up with him. The whole article is interesting, but if you’re interested Yoritomo and horses, check out the section on Ashige-zuka and the associated footnotes.
[xx] I say de factō because the locals saw Masakado as the most powerful kami of Kanda no Miya, even though he was officially 3rd in rank.
[xxi] Who is Ōta Dōkan? Maybe you should read What does Toshima mean? You might also want to learn a little about Edo Castle, by reading What does Edo mean? Oh, I almost forgot. The kami enshrined at Edo Shrine (established in 武蔵国豊嶋郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province in 702) is 建速須佐之男命 Takehaya Susano’o no Mikoto, usually shortened to Susano’o – the kami of seas and storms (and brother of the sun goddess, 天照大御神 Amaterasu Ōmikami).
[xxii] While not popular today, this is one of the few spots where you can really feel the 山手 yamanote high city atmosphere of the Edo Period. Of course, Kanda Shrine was high city, but it was always open to the public. It also banks on its popularity with the masses. Yushima Seidō shuns the masses, maintaining its Edo Period elite status as a center of Confucian and Buddhist learning. The amount of greenery on the site is testimony enough to its desire to left to its own devices – a very Edo Period mentality. Not sure about low city vs. high city? Check out my article about Yamanote vs Shitamachi.
[xxiii] There were many inlets from the bay that pushed far inland. The Kanda River once flowed out into the bay before the Tokugawa Shōgunate re-routed it into something closer to its modern course.
[xxiv] There are three major ancient shrines in Kōbe, not all of them near the bay. But apparently the area where Ikuta Shrine is located was home to a handful of other shrines as well.
[xxv] One idea being that as the land was reclaimed for agriculture and the sea retreated, the kanji 戸 to door was replaced with 田 ta/da field. But, I’m not going to lie, I think this is a stretch.
[xxvi] Usually rice, but sometimes wheat.
[xxvii] The place is called 神田美土代町 Kanda Mitoshiro-chō today, and I’m thinking about covering that place name next time.
[xxviii] WTF is a mōra? Glad you asked!
[xxix] This translation is mine. I might also render it as “lords of the kanda,” or “overseers of the kanda.”
[xxx] In modern 島根県 Shimane-ken Shimane Prefecture.
[xxxi] This word usually appears as and 身体/ kaɾada and usually just means “body.” The kanji listed above is specifically for dead bodies and has a ghostly or spectral connotation.
[xxxii] WTF is a mōra? Glad you asked!
[xxxiii] In the west of Japan…
[xxxiv] In the east of Japan…
[xxxv] The primary examples are family names like Kanbe (rather than Kōbe), and 一戸 Ichinohe, 二戸 Ninohe, and 三戸 Sannohe – Tōhoku place/family names that literally mean “first door,” “second door,” third door,” and so on…
[xxxvi] If you take this position, you have to deal with some evidence that might not be so clear at first. One, the name Kanda no Miya doesn’t appear in records until the Heian Period. Two, the Ōtomo clan’s peak was in the 5th century. By the 700’s when Kanda no Miya was established they were in steady decline. In fact, they disappear from the historical record in about 940. It’s not hard to understand why branch families would have seen using new names as wise political moves.
[xxxvii] In short, once the imperial court had consolidated power, it adopted and promulgated a Chinese socio-political framework. It held for a while, but as Japanese culture and society was different from that of China, it slowly broke down. During this breakdown, power vacuums came to be filled by samurai. This trend continued until the samurai class took power in the Kamakura Period.

What does Ushima mean?

In Japanese History on August 31, 2015 at 6:20 am

牛島
Ushima (cow/ox island)

e7899be5b68be7a59ee7a4be02

Today’s article is a bit of whimsy. I want to investigate some really obscure and unknown aspects of Japanese religion that tangentially hit on the history of Edo-Tōkyō. In my article on 向島 Mukōjima, I mentioned that one of the theories is that there were a collection of islands (or more likely sandbars in a flood plain) dotting the east bank of the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River. According to this story, these were collectively called mukōjima “the islands on the other side of the river” by the people of the west bank who lived in 浅草 Asakusa. Today I want to talk about the name 牛島 Ushima Cow Island[i]. It’s not preserved as an official place name today, but there is shrine in Mukōjima that bears the name. It’s a quite ancient name – possibly as ancient as Asakusa[ii].

Eat more chikin, bitches

Eat mor chikin, bitches

As I’ve said many times before, the west bank of the 大川 Ōkawa the Great River (as this stretch of the river was known as in the Edo Period) had been fairly developed since the Heian Period. It got a major boost with the rise of the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura Shōgunate in the 1200’s and was one of the few shining centers of art and commerce in the Edo area in those early days. The area really rose to prominence with the establishment of the 江戸幕府 Edo Bakufu Edo Shōgunate in the early 1600’s by the 徳川家 Tokugawa-ke Tokugawa family.

As I said earlier, today there isn’t any area officially called Ushima, but prior to the Meiji Period, there was an area of present day 墨田区本所 Sumida-ku Honjo Honjo, Sumida Ward that was referred to by that name. The east bank of the river was essentially grassland, even during most of the Edo Period this side of the river was relatively rustic[iii]. During the Asuka Period and Nara Period[iv], the grounds on the flood plains of the eastern bank of the Sumida River were used for grazing cattle. Thus the area came to be called 牛島 Ushijima Cow Island – a name that was eventually contracted to Ushima[v].

A stone lantern at Ushima Shrine circa 1868.

A stone lantern at Ushima Shrine circa 1868.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

Asakusa is the Rockstar of the Area, but…

Meanwhile, on the west bank of the Sumida River, in 628 or 645[vi] (the Asuka Period) Sensō-ji was founded in Asakusa Village. Sensō-ji was a key temple in the area and it was pivotal in the spreading of Buddhism in the Kantō area. In the 850’s (Heian Period), a famous itinerant monk who had recently studied Buddhism in China visited Sensō-ji to view the secret image of Buddha that was alleged fished out of a stretch of the river and is the alleged raison d’être of the great temple. That monk was a certain 慈覚大師 Jikaku Daishi[vii] and he is about to play the biggest part of the Ushima story.

Jikaku Daishi

Jikaku Daishi

The story goes that Jikaku Daishi, who had been studying Buddhism in China, was ejected from the country during the Great Buddhism Purge of 845 and forced to return to Japan. Upon his return he visited various centers of Buddhism in the country to share his knowledge and engage in philosophical discussions with other monks. While visiting a hermitage called 一草庵 Issōan, Jikaku Daishi took a walk and happened upon an old man. The old man told him that he should build a shrine to protect the local people on the east bank of the Sumida River. The old man then revealed that he was an incarnation of the Shintō 神 kami deity named 須佐之男命 Susano’o no Mikoto.

Susano’o no Mikoto

Susano’o no Mikoto

Wait. Whaaaa?!!

You may be scratching your head now. Buddhism builds temples to reflect upon enlightened souls… or something like that. Shintō builds shrines to house 神 kami deities[viii]… or something like that. At the very least, these are just 2 distinct belief systems!

Long time readers should be well aware that Japanese religions – and polytheistic religions in general – tend to be syncretic. This means they are open to blending, mixing and matching, and picking and choosing. Roman religion was like this prior to Christianity and is probably the best example I can think of in terms of western syncretism. In short, while for some people Buddhism and Shintō may have been diametrically opposed to one another in many ways; for the most part both can accommodate each other. Indeed, until a Meiji Era imperial decree separating Buddhism and Shintō[ix], the two faiths were essentially in bed together. Other faiths like 庚申 Kōshin[x] flourished in conjunction with Buddhism and Shintō. It was all one spiritual tapestry. A Buddhist founding a Shintō shrine was nothing out of the ordinary.

2 diagrams of typical Kōshin statues

2 diagrams of typical Kōshin statues. The Kōshin faith is neither Shintō nor Buddhist, but rather Taoist.

But Back To Ushima

Jikaku Daishi set about founding a shrine on the east bank of the Sumida River in the Ushima area. The name of the original shrine was 牛御前社 Ushi Gozen-sha[xi]. It was built sometime between 859 and 879[xii]. Keep in mind, this all went down in the 800’s. If the Tokugawa Shōgunate hadn’t been established in the 1600’s, Sensō-ji may have remained the temple with the largest influence in the area until today.

The wishes of the old man that Jikaku Daishi encountered were that the shrine would protect the people on the east bank of the Sumida River. The shrine would become home to the 本所総鎮守 Honjo sō-chinju the tutelary kami of the entire Honjo area. The west bankers had their Sensō-ji but the people on the east bank needed a tutelary kami[xiii], too. The Sumida River even had its own deity[xiv]. So the people who lived in the eastern flood plain needed equal protection from the powerful river god.

Ushi Gozen-sha on the banks of the Sumida River in the Edo Period.

Ushi Gozen-sha on the banks of the Sumida River in the Edo Period.

The Gods of Ushi Gozen-sha

Ushi Gozen-sha didn’t only enshrine one deity. It enshrined 3 specific kami to protect the people of Honjo (present Mukōjima). Let’s take a quick look at these 3 kami.

須佐之男命
Susano’o no Mikoto

a major kami associated with rough seas and summer storms (typhoons)[xv]

天之穂日命
Ame no Hohi no Mikoto[xvi]

a minor kami with close ties to Susano’o no Mikoto[xvii]

貞辰親王命
Sadatoki Shin’ō no Mikoto

my understanding is that this is the kami of an imperial prince whose death coincided with the construction of the shrine[xviii]

At the beginning of the Edo Period, the 3rd shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu began to patronize the shrine as the Tokugawa family came down to their beautiful palace where the river met the bay. In its time, it must have been a gorgeous villa with a spectacular view of the sea.

Iemitsu called for a secondary shrine to be created. That shrine was called 若宮牛嶋神社 Wakamiya Ushima Jinja Wakamiya Ushima Shrine[xix]. It is a 20 minute walk from Ushima Shrine to Wakamiya Ushima Shrine. During the shrines’ festival on 9/15, the kami is carried in a 神輿 mikoshi portable shrine from Ushima Shrine in Mukōjima to Wakamiya Ushima Shrine in Honjo.

This is roughly the route from Ushima Shrine to Wakamiya Ushima Shrine.

This is roughly the route from Ushima Shrine to Wakamiya Ushima Shrine.

Sadly, both shrines were completely destroyed in the 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923. For some reason, the main shrine was relocated and rebuilt a little bit south at its present location[xx]. In the Meiji Period, the rank of the shrine was officially demoted by the government to the status of 郷社 gōsha village shrine[xxi]. Like many shrines and temples that didn’t fully recover after the earfquake and/or WWII, Ushijima Shrine is clearly a shadow of its former glory. But it’s not as dismal as, say, Shiogama Shrine, and its summer festival still draws substantial crowds.

This monument marks the former location of the shrine.

This monument marks the former location of the shrine.

As for the place name, Ushima has all but vanished from Tōkyō’s civil administration and postal code system. Mukōjima and Honjo have superseded officially. But today the shrine sits in the shade enjoying its quiet solitude. It eschews the modern writing, 牛島 Ushima, for the pre-Modern writing, 牛嶋 Ushima. While the city has moved on and Sensō-ji has grown in fame and Tōkyō Skytree has become yet another symbol of a city replete with symbols, Ushima Shrine proudly holds on to its former glory as the protector of the people on the east bank of the Sumida River.If you’re interested further reading, I have related articles:

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[i] Could be “ox” island, too. The Japanese is ambiguous.
[ii] The name 浅草 Asakusa is without a doubt much older than 浅草寺 Sensō-ji Sensō Temple (literally, Asakusa Temple). See my article on Asakusa.
[iii] This is why the 隅田川御殿 Sumida-gawa Goten Sumida River Palace was built by the shōguns here – they had plenty of space for private villa.
[iv] And presumably later, too.
[v] Because syllables are hard.
[vi] Depending on what you consider the foundational act. See my article on Asakusa.
[vii] He is best known in Japan by his 諡号 shigō (okurigō) posthumous name, Jikaku Daishi. His name as a monk was 円仁 Ennin.  He was born into the 壬生氏 Mibu-shi Mibu clan of 下野国 Shimozuke no Kuni Shimozuke Province which is modern day 栃木県 Tochigi-ken Tochigi Prefecture. Jikaku Daishi means Great Teacher of Merciful Enlightenment (satori).
[viii] Kami isn’t a word that translates easily into English. The English language has spent most of its life with a Judeo-Christian backdrop, ie; Abrahamic monotheism. If you want to understand more about the concept of kami, here is a good place to start.
[ix] Read more about the policy here.
[x] This is a totally unrelated article, but I talk about the Kōshin faith in my article on Gohongi.
[xi] Another reading is Ushi Gozen-ja. The name means something like “revered shrine in front of the cows.” Unfortunately, I can’t find any information on the etymology of the original shrine name, but the area’s name of Ushima seems to have had much more influence than the name of the shrine.
[xii] The few surviving documents only list the 年号 nengō era name 貞観年間 Jōgan nenkan (859-879). I rarely use nengō on this site, but here’s Wiki’s explanation of them.
[xiii] Tutelary deity/tutelary kami means a deity who looks out for your best interests and protects you.
[xiv] See my article on Suijin.
[xv] Here’s the Wiki on him.
[xvi] Sometimes rendered as Ama no Hohi no Mikoto.
[xvii] Check out the story here.
[xviii] In Japanese they say 胡麻刷り goma suri brown nosing. In this case, the shōgunate was placating the increasingly irrelevant 朝廷 chōtei imperial court in Kyōto.
[xix] 若宮 wakamiya mean “young prince” and often indicates an auxiliary shrine.
[xx] If you walk a bit north, there is a commemorative sign that marks the original location of the shrine.
[xxi] That means, it wasn’t the tutelary kami of the Honjo area – presumably because it was absorbed into the Mukōjima area.

What does Takaramachi mean?

In Japanese History on February 14, 2014 at 8:04 am

宝町
Takaramachi (treasure town)

takarabako_treasure

First a quick note.

There are 2 places in Tōkyō with the same kanji: One is Takarachō in the Chūō Ward; the other is Takaramachi in Katsushika Ward. Today, I’m talking about the one in Katsushika.

The history of this place name is actually a mystery but it is usually explained by a legend. The interesting thing is that this place name may be based on the ultimate oyaji gag. Oyaji gag refers plays on words and puns[i].

The Japanese generally look down on puns and will soon dismiss them as oyaji gags, but truth be told Japanese history is rife with these sort of things and so is Japanese advertising and… well… I think most people secretly like them, but are just afraid to admit it.

Map of Takaramachi

Map of Takaramachi

Let’s start with the present day kanji for this place.


takara

treasure


machi

town

For my readers who don’t read Japanese, let me refresh an important concept in Japanese writing:

音読み
on’yomi

Chinese readings of kanji

訓読み
kun’yomi

Japanese readings of kanji

Of course, this is a simplified explanation, but for our purposes today, that’s all you need to know.

One more concept that is important is tsuka mounds. There are mounds all over Japan. Mounds in Japan are often associated with graves. This goes waaaaay back in history to the 3rd century 古墳 kofun burial mounds[ii]. I mentioned typical Shintō burials in my article on Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s grave. I said that they’re associated with graves because just because a mound was built doesn’t mean there necessarily must be a body inside. Some mounds were purely symbolic. An interesting thing is that even in the Edo Period the graves of elite were often elevated – or in the case of the Tokugawa, always built on the highest ground. On the other hand, a tsuka can just refer to a small hill. As “just a hill” it may be valued for its high ground or it may be imbued with some symbolic meaning. It might just be a land mark.

This doesn't even encompass all of the meaning of "tsuka," but it should give you a general idea.

This doesn’t even encompass all of the meaning of “tsuka,” but it should give you a general idea.

OK, now that you know the basics, let’s get this party started.

This area was once controlled by the Kasai family, an offshoot of the Edo clan and vassals of the Toshima clan[iii]. On (or near) the premises of西光寺 Saikō-ji Saikō Temple there was a 塚 tsuka mound dedicated to one of the heads of the clan named 葛西清親 Kasai Kiyochika. His title was 伯耆守 Hōki no Kami Lord of Hōki Province, which is located in modern 鳥取県 Tottori-ken Tottori Prefecture[iv]. We don’t know much about Kiyochika Lord of Hōki as records are scant, but his name graced the mound which came to be known as 伯耆塚 Hōki-zuka Hōki Mound[v].

In 1227, a rock star monk from Kyōto allegedly visited Saikō-ji. The name of said rock star monk is 親鸞 Shin’ran and at the time his sect of Japanese Buddhists had prohibitions against sexual relations and using animals for food. In fact, taking part in these kinds of activities could actually get you killed. But Shin’ran wasn’t about to give in to the man. He was all about barbecuing and fucking and he didn’t give a fuck what you thought[vi]. I’m usually not down with holy rollers, but I’d throw back a few bottles of sake with this guy.

Fuck with my meat and ho's and you gunna get fucked back, son. Simple as that.

Fuck with my meat and ho’s and you gunna get fucked back, son. Simple as that.

So the legend goes, as Shin’ran was hanging out at Saikō-ji – perhaps lodging – he hung his vestments on a tree[vii]. And as the area was nicknamed 伯耆塚 Hōkizuka, he looked around to see if anyone was watching and slyly said, “Hey man, this is 法喜塚 Hōkizuka! Get it? Get it? 法喜塚 Hōkizuka!!!” The surrounding people cringed and slowly backed away and disappeared into their huts and never spoke to him again.

OK, it probably didn’t go down exactly like that, but according to legend, Shin’ran called the place 法喜塚 Hōkizuka. So what’s the difference in the kanji? Well, at first glance, 法喜塚 looks like Buddhist religious gibberish; like a temple name. Auspicious or “holy” kanji are juxtaposed to create a new word – an alien non-Japanese word that leads to the mystery of the religion[viii].

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Today Saikoji is... well.. apparently, a little diminished in stature...

Today Saikoji is… well.. apparently, a little diminished in stature…

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In its actual recorded history – outside of the etymology legend – the area was written with a few kanji variations. The writing was standardized in the Edo Period[ix].

法喜塚
Hōkizuka

religious gibberish

宝樹塚
Hōkizuka

secular gibberish

宝木塚
Hōkizuka

simplified secular gibberish

So, if all of this is true, the name Takaramachi is one big oyaji gag that snowballed out of control. Let’s go back to the kanji so we can see exactly what Shin’ran did and how the name changed later.

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the alleged oyaji gag

伯耆
Hōki

name of a province and Kasai Kiyochika’s title

法衣
hōki

the vestments of a Buddhist monk


dharma/principals/rule (and a reference to the vestments)


treasure


ki

joy, happiness, delight, religious ecstasy

later generations added these


ki

tree (perhaps a reference to the tree he hung his vestments on)


ki

tree (perhaps a reference to the tree he hung his vestments on)

So by the end of the Edo Period, the name was standardized as 宝木塚村 Hōkizuka Mura Hōkizuka Village (the kanji being “treasure” + “tree” + “hill”). 法 hō sounds like law or religion or method and is a quite serious word. 宝 hō treasure, on the other hand, is auspicious and, c’mon, who doesn’t like treasure? This name survived the reforms of the Meiji Era until 1932 when part of Hōkizuka Village became 宝木塚町 Hōkizuka Machi Hōkizuka Town. In 1961, when Tōkyō introduced the current postal code system[x], the 木 ki tree kanji was dropped and the area was renamed 宝町 Takaramachi.

optimus-prime

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If we jump back in time to 1955, we will find the founding of a vinyl and plastics manufacturer called タカラ Takara.  This company would later become famous as a toy company and would eventually unleash the Transformers upon the world. The reason I mention this, is that the company, which was established in Hōkizuka Machi, used the Japanese reading of the kanji 宝 hō (Chinese) takara (Japanese) treasure. As I mentioned earlier, there are usually at least two possible readings for a kanji, the ancient Chinese and the Japanese. The company choosing this native Japanese reflects a trend whereby local people were abbreviating the odd reading which was a mix of Chinese and Japanese readings and creating a new nickname that was purely Japanese. While this nickname may be much older, it definitely is understandable that in the nationalism of the years leading up to WWII, we would see a preference for a native Japanese reading of the kanji. Also, Japanese place names rarely have Chinese readings, unless they are named after Buddhist temples or are some kind of anomaly. Mixed readings are frowned upon in Modern Japanese because they’re unpredictable.

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This legend is great. It makes a good narrative, but it also raises a few questions. If we assume the Shin’ran legend is true, then why did 法 hō dharma change to 宝 hō treasure? Well, as I mentioned before, maybe treasure seems softer than dharma/regulation. Maybe.

Also, why did 喜 ki happiness change to boring 木 ki trees? Again I can’t say for sure, but it might have something to do with a trend to nativize the kanji readings. is ki in the Chinese reading, but usually yoshi in the Japanese reading. It’s also a kanji that rarely shows up in place names. 木 ki tree, on the other shows up all the time.

And back to the 宝 hōtakara thing. By the Edo Period, there was a lot of communication between domains and a trend towards standardization of language had begun organically. There are places called 宝町 all over Japan (two still exist in Tōkyō alone), so there must have been an overall trend to shift towards the native Japanese readings of the kanji.

Another issue is with the first part of the story. As I mentioned before, 塚 tsuka mounds are associated with graves. They don’t have to be graves. But there’s a link there. They can also just be hills. If it’s a reference to a grave, it’s not Kasai Kiyochika’s. The first reference to him is 1228 and he died around 1270. But Saikō-ji was established in 1225, before he was even born. Shin’ran’s alleged oyaji gag took place in 1227, two years after the temple was founded and quite a while before Kiyochika died. But again, a mound isn’t necessarily a funerary mound, and in this case it could just refer to an elevation on Kasai lands or residence, but there seems to be a strong connection to Kiyochika in particular.

possible tsuka

Before I finish, I have to say that there is a very real chance that all of this is bullshit. The name could have changed over centuries as kanji competency improved in the Kantō area. The one thing that makes me lean towards this theory is that the Chinese reading VS the Japanese reading and the fact that it’s associated with a temple. Buddhism was a foreign religion. It had everything to gain by using foreign words and foreign uses of kanji to exert its prestige and influence and elite image. Whether Shin’ran – who for all I know lived and died in Kyōto – had anything to do with this name or not is almost irrelevant[xi]. It illustrates the influence of Buddhism in this particular village and the unstable nature of kanji use before the Edo Period.

All in all, this has been one hell of a ride for me. Go Takaramachi!

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[i] Literally translates as “old man joke” or “dad joke.”

[ii] The so-called Kofun Period saw the rise of Shintō and the Yamato state.

[iii] For a little refresher on the Edo Clan, please read here. For a little refresher on the Toshima, please read here. The Kasai were pretty minor, but they came up in this article.

[iv] It’s just a title; surely he didn’t exert any influence over an area on the other side of the country.

[v] The temple, Saikō-ji, still exists and claims to be on the grounds of a former Kasai family residence. The graves of some Kasai lords are preserved. Unfortunately, I don’t know if the Hōkizuka remains on its property – or if anyone knows where it is today.

[vi] Do you think I’m kidding? Read a little more about Shin’ran here.

[vii] According to one source, Saikō-ji still preserves a pine tree at the spot where this allegedly happened.

[viii] The Catholic Church has been notorious for coming up with neologisms since the 2nd century, and I’m willing to bet every other religion has too. If there’s no mystery or exotic terminology, people won’t look to the religious leaders for help in understanding them. It’s a common tactic that goes across cultures.

[ix] The final change was in the modern era, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

[x] Like an American Zip Code.

[xi] However, if Shin’ran really DID come to Kasai, it adds more evidence to my assertion that Edo wasn’t the “backwater fishing village” that the standard narrative says it was. Of course, in the 1200’s, Kasai wasn’t Edo, it was just a small fief in 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province . But from this time on, you can see the area start to bubble up until it was ripe for the picking by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 1590’s.

What does Yoga mean?

In Japanese History on October 23, 2013 at 8:55 am


Yōga (Yoga)

cool subway entrance

Pretty cool amphitheater-esque subway entrance!

In Tōkyō’s Setagaya Ward there is an area and a train station called 用賀 Yōga. I don’t know what native Japanese speakers think of this name, but it doesn’t really look like a place to me. The first kanji means “task” or “use.” The second kanji means “congratulations.”

If the popular etymology is true, then this place has its origins in Sanskrit and not Japanesei.

However, I’m just gonna say this right now – I have some major gripes with the popular story. This name is obviously ateji, ie; kanji used for phonetic reasons. Because it is ateji, it marks this as a very ancient place name. That said, let’s keep an open mind and listen to the story in its entirety before we jump to any conclusions.

Does sitting like this count as yoga?

Does sitting like this count as yoga?

The common narrative goes a little something like this. From the Heian Period to the beginning of the Kamakura Period, a ヨガ道場 yoga dōjō yoga school operated here. The name 用賀村 Yōga Village ultimately derived from this yoga schoolii.

During the Sengoku Period, Yōga Village was a 門前町 monzenchō centered around 眞福寺 Shinpuku-ji, a temple for which I can find no further informationiii. In case you forgot, a monzenchō was a small town that developed around the mon front gate of a temple or shrineiv.

By the Edo Period, the village was an established 宿場 shukuba post town on the 大山街道 Ōyama Kaidōv. It was a small town, but it managed to flourish during the stability brought by the Tokugawa in the 1600’s.

But wait, there's more!

But wait, there’s more!

A Bizarre Plot Twist

Translating from the original Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese monks used the kanji 瑜伽 for yoga. The kanji can be read in Japanese as either yuga or yogavi.

In 1578, a temple was founded in the area. This temple was associated with the 真言宗 Shingon-shū True Word Buddhismvii. The temple, which still exists today, is called 真福寺 Shinpuku-ji. The temple’s honorary mountain name (sangō) is 瑜伽山 Yuga-zan which uses the classical characters for “yoga.viii

Japanese Yoga

This is the kinda yoga I could get into.
Titty yoga.

Some More Weirdness

That’s the official narrative. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll realize that there are more discrepancies; there was another temple in the area before the 1578 temple.

I don’t know if the original temple, 実相眞福Jissō-san Shinpuku-ji, was re-established as 瑜伽山真福寺 Yuga-zan Shinpuku-ji or if the new temple borrowed and modified the name of the old temple but… the mountain names definitely changed. And while the pronunciation of the temple name was the same, the first kanji changed.

実相瑜伽山 Jissō-sanYuga-zan True Image Mountain → Yoga Mountain
眞福真福寺 Shinpuku-jiShinpuku-ji True Fortune Temple → True Fortune Temple

shinpukuji-0

The main hall (honden) of the modern Shinpukuji.

We have a very messy story hereix. Let’s re-cap:

・In the old days there was a yoga school in Yōga and the town got a name.
・The yoga school was apparently dead and gone by the Kamakura Period.
・There’s always been a connection with Shingon Buddhism.
・The town grew up around a non-extant temple.
・That temple either declined and/or a new temple showed up and assumed the same name – and yet, a different name and included the Chinese characters for “yoga” in their name.

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It’s possible, man.
All of this is totally possible.
But….
Maybe some of the inconsistencies are just byproducts of how the story has been preserved – one record remembers it this way, one temple tradition remembers it that way. But also remember how off the beaten path this place was until the Kamakura Period.

Statue of an Edo Period traveler commemorating the the Oyama Kaido.

Statue of an Edo Period traveler commemorating the the Oyama Kaido.

My opinion is that most of this is not trustworthy information. There are probably kernels of truth in there, but most of this too inconsistent to be taken seriously. By the time we have temple records (1578), the Edo Period is right around the corner. Record keeping in the area got better after 1600, but come on, hundreds of years of passing down stories had been going on. Successive religious institutions are great at keeping records, but religious institutions are also notorious for passing down myths and stories that sometimes seem plausible but never completely match up to the facts.

Finally, I’d like to say that there is also a real possibility that this name, clearly written in ateji, has nothing to do with Buddhism or yoga, but actually has a more ancient originx.

Let’s say the jury is out on this one.



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i Let me clarify; Sanskrit – as filtered through Classical Chinese and later, Middle Japanese.

ii Yet no evidence of the school exists. Furthermore, the kanji is (not yo) in Modern Japanese. (But historical linguistics think there may have been up to 4 distinct sounds in Old Japanese that merged into the present /yo dichotomy. This may suggest an older origin, or it may evidence of a dialect, or both.)

iii The only other info I have is that its honorary mountain name was 実相Jissō-san. More about “mountain names” in a minute.

iv You can read more about this in my article on Monzen-nakachō.

v From my understanding, the Ōyama Kaidō was originally a pilgrimage route that ran from Mt. Ōyama (in Kanagawa Prefecture) and terminated near Akasaka in Edo.

vi In the Heian Period, the use of highfalutin kanji would have been the domain of highly educated monks and court elite. Ateji would have been par for the course in this rural coastal area of the Kantō. By the 1500’s, highfalutin kanji would par for the course.

vii Also called 真言秘密 Shingon Himitsu the True Word Secret. This is a type of esoteric Buddhism that I don’t know much about other than it sounds like utter horse shit. They have secret rites that teach the initiated how to summon demons, change the weather, and heal the sick by chanting or meditating or touching things. In other words, it makes claims about the nature of the universe and reality that are just as spurious as those of every other religion out there.

viii All Japanese temples have 3 names, 山号 sangō mountain name (a metaphorical mountain name), and 院号 ingō (cloister name – like a branch name), 寺号 jigō temple name (official temple name). The first two are honorary names that are generally not used in common parlance. The last name, the jigō, is the usual way to refer to a temple.

ix One which yoga schools and amateur place name websites cherry pick the fuck out of to no good end…

x I could be wrong. Or could I…?

What does Ogikubo mean?

In Japanese History on October 21, 2013 at 3:43 am

荻窪
Ogikubo (Silvergrass Basin)

Ogikubo's abandoned residential complex. Tokyo's mini-Detroit was demolished earlier this year.

Ogikubo’s abandoned residential complex. Tokyo’s mini-Detroit was demolished earlier this year.

The western terminus of the 猿ノ内線 Marunouchi-sen Marunouchi Line is a station called 荻窪 Ogikubo. Many Tōkyōites know this station as a hub station that will take them to Kichijōji. The entire area is official called Ogikubo and there are similarly named postal codes and train stations in the immediate vicinity.

First let’s look at the kanji:

ogi silvergrass
kubo basin

In 708[i], a 修行僧 shūgyōsō ascetic monk[ii] was carrying a statue of 観音 Kan’non the goddess of mercy on his back[iii] and happened to pass through the area. Mysteriously, the statue grew heavier and heavier until the monk couldn’t carry it anymore. He thought this image of Kan’non was linked to this area by fate and so he built a humble shelter in the area. To make a thatched roof, he harvested 荻 ogi silvergrass and used it to top off his tiny abode in which he enshrined the goddess. Ogi, as you may or may not have guessed, is a grass indigenous to parts of Asia – including Japan.

The small hut was called 荻堂 Ogidō.

Some funky monk-y babies

Some funky monk-y babies

This is a play on words. A grass hut is 草堂 sōdō, but 堂 dō also is used in Buddhist words to refer to sacred buildings. So Ogidō means something like “Silvergrass Temple[iv]” – or at the very least, “a place of contemplation that is made of silvergrass.”

Another theory says that the area was a small 窪地 kubochi basin covered in ogi (silvergrass). This derivation says the word is simply 荻 ogi (silvergrass) + 窪 kubo (basin). Silvergrass tends to grow in wetlands or near rivers; a basin would do the trick.

silvergrass

Real Japanese Ogi!!!!!

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But Let’s Look at What’s Going on Here

The 善福寺川 Zenpukuji-gawa Zenpuku Temple River runs through the area which does, indeed, create a basin and this area may very well have been carpeted in silvergrass at one time.

Although the history isn’t well recorded, it is sometimes said that the largest landholder in this rural area had once been Zenpuku-ji[v]. The temple isn’t well attested except in place names; for example, 善福寺公園 Zenpukuji Kōen Zenpukuji Park and 善福寺川 Zenpukuji-gawa Zenpukuji River. Over the years the temple had waned in influence until it was insignificant. After it was destroyed by fire in the Edo Period it was never rebuilt. But the place names still remain. However, if there is a connection to Zenpuku-ji, it would be hard to prove since the temple no longer exists.

Zenpukuji Park

Zenpukuji Park

But let’s go back to the story of the monk carrying the statue of Kan’non. That story has been preserved by a small temple that still exists in the area, 光明院 Kōmyōin. The temple claims to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Ogikubo and that they are directly descended from the original thatched hut. Coincidentally, Kōmyōin happens to be located on the high ground above the Zenpukuji River basin. The primary object of worship is a 千手観音 Senju Kan’non thousand armed goddess of mercy. The temple claims that the area was named after the thatched hut.

One take on the 1000 armed Kan'non.

One take on the 1000 armed Kan’non.

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Buddhist temples with statues of Kan’non are a dime a dozen, but if we combine the two derivations, it isn’t too big a stretch to assume that an ogidō (silvergrass temple) existed in or near an ogikubo (silvergrass basin). Which temple was truly associated with the area is etymologically irrelevant then[vi]. In this case, the only remaining question would be “Which came first, the place name or the temple name?”

My money is on the place name[vii].

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[i] I love how these monk or Buddha statue stories like to get detailed with precise years and stuff.

[ii] This is often translated as a “monk in training.” Both translations seem to be correct to my Buddhism-ignorant eyes. My understanding is that Buddhist monks in training had to live according to very austere rule and minimalistic living, often in temporary isolation; often begging – later they could forego the hard lifestyle. But some monks chose to live their whole lives in this way. I’m not sure which meaning is implied in this case.

[iii] Religious stories love little details; for example, “on his back,” and of all the Buddhas out there this one just happened to be Kan’non.

[iv] I also found references to 荻寺 Ogidera, literally Ogi Temple.

[v] Fans of the Bakumatsu may clamor and say that there is a Zenpuku-ji clear across town, near the bay. There are claims that the temple that once stood in Suginami Ward was related to the temple in Minato Ward. One theory in particular states that the area stretching from Edo Bay to modern Suginami Ward were once holdings of the same temple that were broken up during the violence of later ages. Others say these names are totally coincidental. “Hey, JapanThis!, which story do you believe?” And to that I will say this: “I don’t fucking know.”

[vi] While etymologically irrelevant, from an historical perspective it would be nice to know the truth.

[vii] Oh, the first station to bear the name Ogikubo was opened in 1891 (Meiji 24) and was located roughly in the middle of the now defunct 甲武鉄道 Kōbu Tetsudō Kōbu Railroad. The reason a station was put here in 荻窪村 Ogikubo Mura Ogikubo Village was that the town was located on the 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō Ōme Highway. This road was a supply road which originated in 内藤新宿 Naitō-Shinjuku and terminated in 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain (modern Yamanashi Prefecture).

What does Nishiarai mean?

In Japanese History on July 17, 2013 at 2:04 am

西新井
Nishiarai (West New Well)

Main street leading to Nishi-Arai Daishi. In the Edo Period and earlier, this would have been a typical monzen-cho.

Main street leading to Nishi-Arai Daishi.
In the Edo Period and earlier, this would have been a typical monzen-cho.
Now it’s just shitamachi (the lower city).

I have no idea why this name is officially written in rōmaji as one word. It seems to me, one would write it Nishi Arai or at least as Nishi-Arai[i].

But no one ever consults with me.

Oh well.

Let’s jump way back to the Heian Period (of which I know very little) to talk a bit about the spread of Buddhism in Japan (of which I know even less). At that time there was this supermonk named 空海 Kūkai. All sorts of amazing shit is attributed to him, including the invention of 仮名 kana the Japanese syllabary. Of course, since he was a supermonk, we can believe this at face value. C’mon, religious people never make shit up, right?

Anyways, after homeboy died, he was referred to as 弘法大師 Kōbō Daishi Great Teacher Who Spreads Buddhism, which sounds generic in English, but it’s pretty specific in Japanese.

So he came to this area when it was in the middle of a massive epidemic and people were dying all over the place. Instead of helping the people, he did what religious people love to do. Nothing. So he commissioned a temple with a statue of an 11-faced Kan’non[ii] and he knelt down and prayed in front of the statue for 21 days.

11-faced Kan'non. Note all the spooky heads on her head.

11-faced Kan’non.
Note all the spooky heads on her head.
(yes, kan’non is female)

Luckily for him, by chance (or more likely because someone started digging), a well magically appeared and water started bubbling up and gushed forth and the people had drinking water. Even more magical was that fact that when the sick people drank Kūkai’s magic well water they were instantly cured (praise jeebus!) and they all lived happily ever after.

The magic well was located on the west side of the temple[iii], so it was called 西新井 Nishi-Arai West New Well. The temple took its name from the well. (Or so they say…)

Main prayer hall of Nishi-Arai Daishi

Main prayer hall of Nishi-Arai Daishi

The temple still stands today. In fact, it’s a very famous place in Tōkyō for 初詣 hatsumōde the first temple or shrine visit of the year, so it’s very crowded during the New Year holiday. The temple is called 西新井大師 Nishi-Arai Daishi Nishi-Arai Great Teacher. I’ve never been myself, but it seems to be a pretty cool place. They have ponds and gardens in the precincts and the surrounding 門前町 monzen-chō[iv] looks pretty interesting.

Main gate of the temple

Main gate of the temple

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[i] I prefer the hyphen, so for here on out, I’m using Nishi-Arai as the name.

[ii] Kan’non-sama is a Buddha. I see her explained as a goddess of mercy. But my understanding is that technically Buddhism doesn’t have gods per se, but examples of enlightened souls upon which to reflect. It’s a question of semantics in my opinion, but maybe “goddess” isn’t really the most accurate word.

[iii] Very convenient, since the temple could control the well.

[iv] C’mon, you guys remember what a monzen-chō is, right?

Tokugawa Funerary Temples

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on May 27, 2013 at 12:33 am

Welcome to my New Series!

(update: sorry about the footnotes. when you click nothing happens. but if you scroll to the bottom of the article you can manually find the footnotes.)

The Tokugawa family crest - one of the most easily identifiable logos in the country.

The Tokugawa family crest – one of the most easily identifiable logos in the country.

There are two Tokugawa funerary temple complexes in Edo/Tōkyō and a third extra-ordinary[i] funerary temple complex in Nikkō. The clan had many branches and relatives and so there are others, but for this series’ purpose, we’re talking about the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa shōgun-ke, the male heads of the Tokugawa line established by the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

In the early Edo Period, two temple construction projects were started by the shōgunate which built major temple precincts in the north-east corner of Edo (Kan’ei-ji) and south-west corner of Edo (Zōjō-ji). The locations were determined by 風水 fū sui feng shui and conformed to standards of urban planning of the time. Feng shui says these directions are inauspicious and so temples are often built facing these directions to keep the bad influences from coming in. Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji served the duel purposes of protecting Edo Castle and thereby protecting the city of Edo. By enshrining the shōguns here, the Tokugawa could be thought to have been waging a spiritual battle against evil to protect the citizens of Edo even in death. All of the shōguns except for Ieyasu and Iemitsu are interred in these two precincts.

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鬼門

ki-mon

demon-gate

northeastern direction, unlucky

Kan’ei-ji,
Ueno

裏鬼門

ura ki-mon

under demon-gate

southwestern direction, unlucky

Zōjō-ji,
Shiba

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In Japanese, this kind of temple is called 菩提寺 bodai-ji (family temple, literally Bodhi temple). Bodhi is a Buddhist term for “awakening” – the idea being that upon death, a person awakens to “enlightenment.”

Very little remains of Kan'ei-ji which became Ueno Park .

The main temple of Kan’eiji.
All of these buildings were destroyed in the Battle of Ueno (1868).
Later the area was turned into Ueno Park.

Shiba Daimon - The Great Gate of Shiba. The gate is still standing. But if you want to match the shots from the Edo Era, you'll probably get hit by a car.

Shiba Daimon – The Great Gate of Shiba.
The gate is still standing.
But if you want to match the shots from the Edo Era, you’ll probably get hit by a car.

A few more things about funerary temples

Each shōgun was given an 諡号 okurigō a Buddhist posthumous name. I don’t know a lot about Buddhism, but it seems like there are two kinds of Buddhist posthumous names, 戒名 kaimyō and 諡号 okurigō. The Emperor bestowed a name upon each shōgun upon his death. A kaimyō is pretty long[ii]. The okurigō is shorter. In the Tokugawa cases – as it ends in 院 in temple – this name could also double as a temple name. Each Tokugawa mausoleum was effectively a sub-temple of the main 菩提寺 bodai-ji family temple in which precinct it was built. The main gate to each mausoleum is called 勅額門 chokugaku mon imperial scroll gate. These gates would feature a plaque (chokugaku) supposedly hand written by the emperor (then embellished by artisans) which announced the name of the funerary temple.

Just to add to the confusion, there’s another classification of these posthumous names; 院号 ingō an ‘-in’ name[iii].

The Ueno Daibutsu. Usually when people think of "Big Buddhas," they think of Nara and Kamakura. Well, Edo had one, too. The head fell off in the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923). The face is still on display in Ueno Park. Most Tokyoites have never heard of it.

The Ueno Daibutsu. Usually when people think of “Big Buddhas,” they think of Nara and Kamakura. Well, Edo had one, too. The head fell off in the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923). The face is still on display in Ueno Park. Most Tokyoites have never heard of it.

Each Tokugawa mausoleum was an architectural gem compared to other graves of the time. These bodai-ji were sites of pilgrimages and veneration by commoner and daimyō alike. The mausolea of Ieyasu and Iemitsu in Nikkō were artistic wonders of their day as well as centers for Buddhist teaching.

For me, the most frustrating this about finding Tokugawa graves is that most of these structures in Edo/Tōkyō were wiped off the face of the earth during the firebombing of Tōkyō during WWII. Most of the blame lands on the Americans, but not all of it. The Japanese themselves destroyed much of Kan’ei-ji in the 上野戦争 Ueno Sensō the Battle of Ueno (literally the Ueno War), when the last pockets of hatamoto resistance made a stand against the new Meiji Army. Unfortunately for us, the samurai chose this symbolic Tokugawa stronghold as the place to make their last stand which ultimately resulted most of the temple complex being burnt to the ground. Most of the Tokugawa graves were spared, only to be destroyed in WWII.

The Kuromon - "Black Gate" of Kan'ei-ji. Imperial forces routed the shogitai (holed up in the temple precincts). The imperial army entered the area through this gate with fast breech-loading rifles and cannon. The shogitai were armed with swords and traditional weapons. This gate and the other structures that survived the Battle of Ueno are riddled with bullet holes that you can still see today -- even in this photograph!

The Kuromon – “Black Gate” of Kan’ei-ji. Imperial forces routed the shogitai (holed up in the temple precincts). The imperial army entered the area through this gate with fast breech-loading rifles and cannon. The shogitai were armed with swords and traditional weapons. This gate and the other structures that survived the Battle of Ueno are riddled with bullet holes that you can still see today — even in this photograph!

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Where were the 15 Tokugawa Shōguns interred? 

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Shōgun

Okurigō

Mausoleum

Condition
of Mausoleum

Now where are the remains?

1

Tokugawa Ieyasu

東照大権現Tōshō
Dai-Gongen

法号安国院Hōgō Onkokuin

Tōshō-gū
[iv], Kunōzan

Tōshō-gū, Nikkō

Excellent Condition

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Excellent Condition

Tōshō-gū,
Nikkō

2

Tokugawa Hidetada

台徳院
Daitokuin

Daitokuin, Zōjō-ji

Destroyed,

imperial scroll gate has been restored

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji[v]

3

Tokugawa Iemitsu

大猷院
Taiyūin

Taiyūin ,
Nikkō

Excellent
Condition

Taiyūin,
Nikkō
(now a sub-temple of Rin’nō-ji)

4

Tokugawa Ietsuna

厳有院
Genyūin

Genyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

Destroyed,

only the imperial scroll gate remains

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji[vi]

5

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

常憲院
Eikyūin

Eikyūin, Kan’ei-ji

Partially preserved
(usually closed to the public, but the scroll gate is usually accessible)

Eikyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

6

Tokugawa Ienobu

文昭院
Bunshōin

Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji

Destroyed

the 中門 nakamon gate remains and marks the entrance to the Tokugawa Cemetery

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

7

Tokugawa Ietsugu

有章院
Yūshōin

Zōjō-ji

Destroyed,

only the gate remains

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

8

Tokugawa Yoshimune

有徳院
Yūtokuin

Enshrined at Eikyūin as an austerity measure

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

9

Tokugawa Ieshige

惇信院
Junshin’in

Yūshōin,
Zōjō-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

10

Tokugawa Ieharu

浚明院
Shunmyōin

Genyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

11

Tokugawa
Ienari

文恭院
Bunkyouin

Genyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

12

Tokugawa Ieyoshi

慎徳院
Shintokuin

Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

13

Tokugawa Iesada

温恭院
Onkyōin

Eikyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

14

Tokugawa Iemochi

昭明院
Shōmyōin

Shōmyōin,
Zōjō-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

15

Tokugawa Yoshinobu

Buried according to State Shintō, no okurigō.

Yanaka
Cemetery

Excellent
Condition

no mausoleum
[vii]

Yanaka
Cemetary

UPDATE: If click the links in the “Where are they located today” column, it will take you my article on their original mausolea and the condition thereof.

Zojoji's main temple as it looks today.  At dusk. Bad ass.

Zojoji’s main temple as it looks today.
At dusk.
Bad ass.

There’s a lot more to say about these places.

But first I want to explain a few points about my chart. When I first came to Japan, the Tokugawa Cemetery in Zōjō-ji was off limits except for during the cherry blossom season. In 2011, NHK ran a Taiga Drama series called based on the life of Tokugawa Hidetada’s wife (a daughter of Oda Nobunaga). Since 2011, Zōjō-ji has kept the Tokugawa Cemetery open.

Kan’ei-ji has been a bit douchey about not letting visitors in. In 2008, NHK ran a drama called Atsu-hime based on the life of the wife of Tokugawa Iesada. She was buried next to Iesada in Eikyōin. The temple didn’t open the Tokugawa graveyard to the public, but instead opted to put a plaque in front of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s imperial scroll gate that said she was buried inside. I’ve heard that once a year, the area is open to the public, but I have never had a chance to go inside myself.

Off Limits.  No shogun graves for you, biaaaatch.

Off Limits.
No shogun graves for you, biaaaatch.

Tokugawa Ieyasu & Tōshō-gū

An entire book could probably be written on this subject (and I’m sure there has been in Japanese), but I’m trying to be as concise as I can. That said, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Iemitsu’s graves are in the extra-ordinary locations. I want to talk about why these two guys are separate from the rest of the family.

Ieyasu died in retirement while keeping an eye on Hidetada, the second shogun[viii]. In his lifetime, the third shōgun, Iemitsu came into adulthood. At first, Ieyasu was interred at Kunōzan near his retirement castle in Sunpu. On the one year anniversary of Ieyasu’s death, Hidetada transported his remains to a new mortuary at Nikkō. The third generation shōgun, Iemitsu, who idolized Ieyasu, expanded the Nikkō site. The 4th shōgun, Ietsuna, expanded the site one more time to include enshrine Iemitsu next to his grandfather.

Along with sankin-kōtai, daimyō were expected to contribute financially to the construction of Ieyasu’s shrine, called 東照宮 Tōshō-gū (something like “Illustrious Eastern Prince”). The shōgunate conducted mandatory processions to the shrine via the Nikkō Highway. Since these processions could be quite taxing on the smaller domains, various Tōshō-gū were established to save travel costs. For example, both funerary temples in Edo had (and still have) Tōshō-gū. In Ueno Park, you can find Ueno Tōshō-gū and in Shiba Park, you can find Shiba Tōshō-gū. I’ve even seen portable Tōshō-gū in Hino! Basically, Tōshō-gū are located throughout the country[ix].

The first shrine I fell in love with. The beginning of my love affair with Japanese history. Ueno Toshogu. It's in terrible shape today, but I reckon that's what it looked like for most of the late Edo Period.

The first shrine I fell in love with.
The beginning of my love affair with Japanese history.
Ueno Toshogu. 

Since there were 15 Tokugawa shōguns, I will be writing 15 separate descriptions of each mausoleum.  Even though most of these sites have been destroyed, I think visiting them is still well worth the time. When I first became interested in Japanese History, I wished there had been some easy resource to answer all my questions about these places in English. Now 10 years later, there still ain’t shit written on the subject. So I’m just gonna go ahead and do it myself. I hope you enjoy this 16 part series. Yoroshiku o-negai shimasu.

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One depressing indicator of how bad things are at Kan'ei-ji... Most of the stone lanterns and other stone debris that survived isn't kept at Kan'ei-ji. It's all stored in Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture. WTF&SMH.

One depressing indicator of how bad things are at Kan’ei-ji…
Most of the stone lanterns and other stone debris from Tokugawa Ieharu’s grave that survived isn’t kept at Kan’ei-ji. It’s all stored in Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture. WTF&SMH.

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[i] Extra-ordinary is not the same as extraordinary. For the record, extraordinary means “remarkable, great, noteworthy.” Extra-ordinary is a religious term and means “a deviation from the normal system, an exception to the rule.“

[ii] Kaimyō are long. Ieyasu’s kaimyō was 東照大権現安国院殿徳蓮社崇譽道和大居士 (with an alternate 安国院殿徳蓮社崇誉道和大居士 (I’m not going to attempt to transcribe those, sorry). His okurigō is 東照大権現, his mausoleum is 東照宮.

[iii] More about ingō later, but I think you’ll see the distinction is quite clear by the end of this article.

[iv] The other shōguns have ingō, names ending in in. Ieyasu’s shrines end in . This character implies that the person enshrined is a member of the imperial family. It can also mean just “shrine” but a connection to the imperial family might still be implied by the average person. However, Ieyasu did have an ingō. It is listed in the chart: Hōgō Onkokuin.

[v] The mausolea in Shiba were destroyed, but the metal and stone graves that housed the physical remains were consolidated into one area at Zōjō-ji, now called 徳川将軍家墓所 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Bōsho Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery. For many years this area was not open to the general public, but after the Taiga Drama it has remained open. There’s a permanent-looking ticket box now, so I think they plan to keep it open for a while.

[vi] I’m under the impression that the metal and stone 2-story pagoda style graves that housed the physical remains in Ueno were moved and consolidated in the former grounds of Tsunayoshi’s grave for convenience’s sake. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm this because this cemetery is generally not open to the public. But the area is now called 徳川将軍家墓所 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Bōsho Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery.

[vii] Yoshinobu, the last shōgun, lived his life in a kind of voluntary exile from public life after abdicating from the position of shōgun. He is buried with his wife in a Shintō grave typical of that era in Yanaka cemetery. There are other Tokugawas relatives interred at Yanaka, but for whatever reason, Yoshinobu was not included among the other shōguns. I’m still researching to find out why, but one source I found suggested that because he was from Mito, which was famous for its loyalty to the Emperor mixed with the rise of State Shintō, he opted for a Shintō style interment.

[viii] It’s said that Ieyasu was disappointed with Hidetada. Hidetada supposedly married for love (a sign of weakness in Ieyasu’s eyes) and he arrived late to the Battle of Sekigahara (utterly unacceptable). But because of Hidetada’s age, Ieyasu was forced to keep him around to establish a stable dynasty. The next youngest son would have become a puppet.

[ix] Wikipedia claims that there were 500 Tōshō-gū in the Edo Period and that there are about 130 now. I’ll buy that for a dollar.

What does Monzen-nakacho mean?

In Japanese History on May 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm

門前仲町
Monzen Nakachō (semi-nonsensical, but something like “town in front of a temple/shrine”)

Cherry blossoms along the river in Monzen-Nakachoad.

Cherry blossoms along the river in Monzen-Nakachoad.

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This is a very special post because…
THIS IS MY 100th POST ON JAPAN THIS!

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Today’s Tōkyō place name is a request from my lovely wife. Since she tolerates, and sometimes even encourages, my history geekiness… I couldn’t say no.

In the Edo Period (1624 to be specific), a temple named 永代寺 Eitai-ji was established in the area. Shops and commoner residences formed around the temple, as was normal at the time. Such a town is called a 門前町 monzenchō, literally “town at the gate front,” referring to the gates that mark the entrances of temples. The area was referred to as 永代寺門前仲町 Eitai-ji Monzen-nakachō. There is no documented reason as to why the character  is inserted into the name seemingly at random. However, the general consensus seems to be that it meant something like 門前町之中心 monzenchō no chūshin “the center of the monzenchō.”

You’d think the story ends here, but you’d be wrong.

Eitaiji

Eitaiji

In 1627, a shrine dedicated to the Shintō god of war, 八幡 Hachiman, was built here. This was the tutelary deity of the Minamoto clan and of samurai in general*. The shrine fell under the management of Eitai-ji. In Japan’s syncretic religious tradition, Shintō and Buddhism were often mixed, so there was actually nothing weird about a temple controlling a shrine – and vice versa. The name of this shrine was 富岡八幡宮 Tomioka Hachimangū.

Beginning in the 1680’s, fund raising sumō events began to be held here and so it is considered the birthplace of sumō. Certain sumō ceremonies are still traditionally performed here today.

You’d think the story ends here, but you’d still be wrong.

Tomioka Hachimangu

Tomioka Hachimangu – the shrine’s matsuri is one of the most famous in Tokyo.

When governmental power was handed to the emperor, a decree called 神仏分離令 Shinbutsu Bunrirei the Shinto & Buddhism Separation Ordinance was issued. The emperor’s claim to legitimacy had always been based on Shintōism. Whereas, somewhere down the line Buddhism had become inextricably connected to the warrior class. In reality, the two religious systems had amalgamated, but the imperial court sought to purify Shintō, which claimed the emperor as the literal Son of Heaven. The aftershocks of the edict were far reaching, but for our story, luckily, they are simple.

Simply put, the Meiji government was cool with Shintō shrines and not so cool with Buddhist temples. As a result, they abolished Eitai-ji thereby releasing Tomioka Hachimangū from its oversight. The temple was torn down and the town’s name changed from 永代寺門前仲町 Eitai-ji Monzen-nakachō to 富岡八幡宮門前仲町 Tomioka Monzen-nakachō.

In the change from Edo to Tōkyō, Tomioka Hachimangū had lost its sumō patronage of shōgunate, but the Meiji government found it useful to promote it as a Shintō sport and so the sport became even more closely related to Japan than it had ever been before. The shrine’s importance continues to this day.

The shrine was destroyed in the firebombing of WWII. In 1967 a subway station for the Tōzai Line was built in the area. The name 門前仲町 Monzen-nakachō was chosen for brevity and because of a general trend towards secularization since the end of State Shintō.  In 1969, the town’s name was also officially shortened to Monzen-nakachō.

You’d think the story ends here, but you’d still be wrong… again.

Why is Eitai-ji still on this Google Map?

Eitai-ji was a sprawling temple which included most of the land from Fukagawa Fudōson to Fukagawa Park to Tomioka Hachimangū. Then it got shut down. So….. why is it still on this Google Map?

So whatever happened to Eitai-ji, the temple that originally gave birth to the area?

Well, about 30 years after it was shut down (1896 to be exact), a sub-temple called 吉祥院 Kichijō’in that had been allowed to continue assumed the name of its previous benefactor and became the Eitai-ji that now exists in the area. The 2nd picture above (the temple), is the modern Eitai-ji.

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* One of the first shrines that visitors to Kamakura visit is usually 鶴岡八幡宮 Tsuru-ga-oka Hachimangū. As Tokugawa Ieyasu, somehow creatively, claimed descent from the Minamoto and as Hachiman was an important kami for samurai, the shōgunate showed favor towards the Hachiman shrines in general, including the one we’re discussing today.

BTW, Hachiman is not actually “the god of war” in the sense that Mars was the Roman god of war. He is actually the deified (“kami-fied,” if I may use the term) Emperor Ōjin who is also revered by Buddhists as an enlightened soul. If you remember waaaaaaaay back when I wrote about the origin of the name Shibuya, I mentioned a tutelary shrine in Shibuya Castle. That shrine was also a Hachimangū. If you’re interested, you might wanna click that link and check it out again.

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