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The Edo River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on August 16, 2014 at 4:25 pm

江戸川
Edo River (“River that flows to Edo”)

Fireworks on the Edo River in Edogawa Ward.

Fireworks on the Edo River in Edogawa Ward.

 

Hello all! Here in Tōkyō, 御盆休み O-bon Yasumi the O-bon Vacation is in full effect. I only get 4 days off. Most people get about 5 days off, but I’ve talked to plenty of people who get nothing at all, so I’m not going to complain. 3 days will be spent sleeping late like the 怠け者 namakemono lazy good-for-nothing that I am. I’ll have to wake up super early one day to do 茶道 sadō tea ceremony in former 館林藩 Tatebayashi-han Tatebayashi Domain[i]. The area is just a rural backwater now, but if the weather isn’t too bad and I have enough time, I hope to snap a few pictures for my Flickr account. Be sure to check my Twitter account for the updates. I’m not sure how things will go, but the Tone River and Arakawa River flow through the area, so maybe I’ll be able to get some pix!

Speaking of rivers, this series is finally winding down. I started with the big rivers. Those rivers have incredibly complicated pasts and were hell to research and write about. I seriously considered just quitting mid-series to move on to something more fun, but I pushed on. I knew that if I could cover the major rivers, the rest of the series would be easy. I’m happy to say the last too posts will be the easiest. They’re also the shortest, hence the fast turn-around on the article you’re reading right now.

But the other River Articles were so long…

Indeed they were. But the other rivers were major water systems that were constantly modified over the centuries. Their names were ancient, possibly pre-dating the Yamato State – possibly older, there’s no know way to in some cases. Today’s river is essentially a product of the Edo Period. We know where the name comes from without a shadow of doubt.

 

This is a map of modern Edogawa Ward. Notice the Edo River clearly marking the boundary of Tokyo Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture. You may want to refer back to this map throughout the article (it also ties into other parts of the series). Click to enlarge.

This is a map of modern Edogawa Ward. Notice the Edo River clearly marking the boundary of Tokyo Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture. You may want to refer back to this map throughout the article (it also ties into other parts of the series).
Click to enlarge.

 

Etymology

江戸
Edo

the city of Edo


kawa

river (suffix)

ie; “the river that goes to Edo”

That’s it.

Edo – once a fishing hamlet, then former village turned sprawling metropolis – was the shōgun’s capital when the river got this name. It was a densely populated, affluent city that required goods and services from all over Japan. Certain perishable goods produced in the surrounding areas was in particular demand. A little more about that later, but in short, the Edo River was a river bringing goods from a variety of places. Most notably, goods came from 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province, the bulk of which lie in modern 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture. In fact, those goods came from the part of Chiba that lies directly on the border of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis.

 

Cherry blossoms on the Edo River in the early Meiji Period.

Cherry blossoms on the Edo River in the early Meiji Period.

 

But Wait! What does the “Edo” part of the Edo River mean?

I’m glad you asked because I covered the etymology of Edo in a post last year. The article starts with the short version, then gives a more detailed explanation. So depending on how much time you have, feel free to read about Why was Edo called Edo? here.

OK… So WTF is the Edo River?

OK, this is important.

The modern, legal definition of the Edo River is the river that branches off from the 利根川 Tone-gawa Tone River[ii]. This bifurcation occurs at present day 野田市 Noda-shi Noda City in Chiba. The river empties into Tōkyō Bay at 市川市 Ichikawa-shi Ichikawa City, also in Chiba Prefecture. A portion of the river marks the border of the Tōkyō Metropolis, Chiba Prefecture, and Saitama Prefecture.

 

This shows the entire area covered by the Edo River and the modern portion of the Tone River that relates to it. The Edo River diverts from the Tone River at Noda and flows south to Ichikawa. At Ichikawa, it bifurcates in the Old Edo River that goes to Tokyo Bay at Urayasu. A secondary drainage canal take the river to Tokyo Bay in Ichikawa.

This shows the entire area covered by the Edo River and the modern portion of the Tone River that relates to it. The Edo River diverts from the Tone River at Noda and flows south to Ichikawa. At Ichikawa, it bifurcates in the Old Edo River that goes to Tokyo Bay at Urayasu. A secondary drainage canal take the river to Tokyo Bay in Ichikawa.

 

What about the History of the River?

The river that became the Edo River was originally a part of the lower course of the 利根川 Tone-gawa Tone River – a very different river from the Tone River of today. The specific branch of the Tone River Basin was called the 渡良瀬川 Watarase-gawa Watarase River. It separated from the Tone River, then flowed south to the middle of former 葛飾郡 Katsushika-gun Katsushika District[iii] and then emptied into 江戸湾 Edo Wan Edo Bay. The downstream portion of the Watarase was locally named the 太日河, which can be read as either Ōi-gawa Ōi River or Futoi-gawa Futui River. This is the stretch of river that would ultimately become the Edo River. Since time immemorial and indeed until the Taishō Era, certain stretches of riverbank were famous for the cultivation of 蓮根 renkon lotus root, a valuable food source.

The Edo Period

In 1641, the 利根川東遷事業 Tone-gawa Tōsenjigyō began. This was the building project that began diverting the river eastward towards the shōgun’s capital. At this time, a channel was built to divert water from the Tone River to the present day upstream portion of the Edo River.  Part of the downstream area was also modified. Since the shōgunate had essentially created a new river, this new waterway needed a name. It’s about this time that the name 江戸川 Edo-gawa Edo River came to be used – the name meaning something like “the river that goes to Edo.”

The Tone River was again diverted in 1654 as an anti-flooding measure. The Edo River now connected the north and east Kantō Regions to the capital at Edo, specifically to transport large amounts of cargo from Shimōsa Domain and other cities along the Pacific coast.

Many villages and towns among the river prospered in the Edo Period. Some of those cities continue to prosper today. Once the redirection efforts of the Tone River were established, merchants would travel up the Tone River from the outlet at modern-day 銚子市 Chōshi-shi Chōshi City (former Shimōsa Province). The area was famous for 枝豆 edamame soy beans and 醤油 shōyu soy sauce. We’ll talk about this again in a bit…

Cherry blossoms at sunset or sunrise along the Edo River in the Meiji Period.

Cherry blossoms at sunset or sunrise along the Edo River in the Meiji Period.

 

The Edo River Created Lasting Commerce

The Edo River pretty much put the town of 流山 Nagareyama on the map[iv]. In the Edo Period the town was, like much of rural Japan, steeped in a rice production economy. The Edo River gave the original village a direct link to the shōgun’s capital. One quirk of the village was that they produced 味醂 mirin rice vinegar[v]. To this day, Nagareyama is still famous for mirin production. For hundreds of years 流山之味醂 Nagareyama no Mirin Nagareyama Rice Vinegar has been a staple of Kantō cuisine.

An exhibit on mirin production in the Nagareyama Municipal Museum. Notice the uniform of the guidepost character. It's Shinsengumi uniform. While mirin may be the economic claim to fame of the city, most people only know it for its BRIEF connection with the Shinsengumi.

An exhibit on mirin production in the Nagareyama Municipal Museum. Notice the uniform of the guidepost character. It’s Shinsengumi uniform. While mirin may be the economic claim to fame of the city, most people only know it for its BRIEF connection with the Shinsengumi.

Nagareyama is also famous as the last official base camp of the 新撰組 Shinengumi at the beginning of the 戊辰戦争 Boshin Sensō Boshin War, the final war between the collapsing Tokugawa Shōgunate and the rising Meiji Army. The commander of the Shinsengumi, 近藤勇 Kondō Isami, was arrested here, marched to and imprisoned at 板橋宿 Itabashi-juku Itabashi Post Town. He was subsequently tried and executed there on false charges of having assassinated (or ordered the assassination of) 坂本竜馬 Sakamoto Ryōma.

On a more tasteful note, 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province was generally was famous for soy sauce. In addition to mirin, the other main product transported to Edo was 野田之醤油  Noda no shōyu Noda Soy Sauce.

Do you know this logo?

Do you know this logo?

 

The Edo River won the Soy Sauce Wars

All countries have regional differences – granted, in stable countries, these are getting smaller and smaller. And in Japan, there are also regional variations of soy sauce. Soy sauce is one of the traditional 5 ingredients of Japan[vi], so it’s not a surprising thing. But worldwide, the most recognized variety is the strong taste of the Kantō area. This is due to the global commercial success of 亀甲萬 Kikkōman, a name synonymous with soy sauce and Japanese cuisine.

The Kikkōman Corporation is based in Noda City, at the head of the Edo River. The company was an amalgamation of about 8 soy sauce producing families in 1603 in a post-Sengoku Period version of a corporate merger. A member of one of the original families, 茂木友三郎 Mogi Yūzaburō, still sits on the board of directors. He is largely credited with popularizing soy sauce in the US by encouraging chefs to create non-Japanese or “internationally-minded” dishes that use soy sauce. Today Kikkōman is holds the largest market share in the US and Japan and is the main employer in Noda.

Do you recognize the logo now?

Do you recognize the logo now?

If you live outside of Japan, you’ve probably only seen the name written “Kikkoman.” If you live in Japan, you’ve probably only seen the name written in katakana as キッコウマン. But pretty much anywhere in the world you may have noticed a single, stylized kanji: 萬 man (myriad, thousands, lucky) inside a circle. This is an interesting character. It’s the ancient variant of a high frequency modern kanji man 10,000. Supposedly, it’s rarely used except in some legal documents. These days, many Japanese may admit they can’t read this character these days.

The kanji I used above, 亀甲萬 Kikkōman are not used officially by the modern corporation; they officially use the katakana or rōma-ji spelling. This is probably because the name isn’t instantly legible to your average native Japanese speaker, so it makes for poor brand recognition. Also, it doesn’t really say anything about the company or its products. Of the original kanji, all that survived was this curious 萬 man – and it survived as a logo, not a word.

Yuzaburo Mogi earned his M.B.A. at Columbia University and is said to be totally down with US business practices.

Yuzaburo Mogi earned his M.B.A. at Columbia University and is said to be totally down with US business practices.

The name of the company, whose early success was intrinsically tied to its location on the Edo River, ultimately derives from a reference to a shrine that had great influence in Shimōsa Province, roughly modern Chiba Prefecture. 亀甲山 Kikkō-zan is the “mountain name” of 香取神宮 Katori Jingū Katori Grand Shrine (all temples have 3 names, one of those names is a 山号 sangō mountain name)[vii]. There is also a mountain in Chiba called 亀甲山 Kamegase-yama (same kanji). They dropped the 山 yama/san kanji and added 萬 man myriad/10,000 to 亀甲 kikkō as a suffix and established the name as a trademark. The shrine apparently wielded great influence in the region, and you can find Katori Shrines of various sizes throughout the area (and indeed, throughout the country).

Katori Grand Shrine in Chiba. This is the main shrine, but it has many branch shrines throughout the area.

Katori Grand Shrine in Chiba. This is the main shrine, but it has many branch shrines throughout the area. I haven’t been there myself yet, but from a map I looked, the shrine precinct is quite expansive.

Not to keep harping on the Katori Shrine thing, but this map shows the location of Katori Grand Shrine and several other major branches. All of the red dots are minor Katori Shrines.  Please note the relationship between the Tone River and Edo River and the cities of Choshi, Noda, Nagareyama, Ichikawa, and most importantly, Edo.

Not to keep harping on the Katori Shrine thing, but this map shows the location of Katori Grand Shrine and several other major branches. All of the red dots are minor Katori Shrines.
Please note the relationship between the Tone River and Edo River and the cities of Choshi, Noda, Nagareyama, Ichikawa, and most importantly, Edo.
Click to enlarge.

 

In the Modern Era

Fast forward to 1932. A new administrative district, 江戸川区 Edogawa-ku Edogawa Ward, was created out of seven areas: 小松川町 Komatsugawa Machi, 瑞江町 Mizue Machi, 小岩町 Koiwa Machi, 松江村 Matsue Mura, 葛西村 Kasai Mura, 篠崎村 Shinozaki Mura, 鹿本村 Shikamoto Mura[viii]. The Edo River marked the boarder of Tōkyō Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture, and so the name of the ward (which also lies on that border) derives from the river, of course[ix]. Keep in mind no part of Edogawa Ward was located within the city named Edo.

The Edo River with cherry blossoms in full bloom (late Meiji Era). Check out the driver of the boat with no passengers, but he's still straight stuntin' like a playa.

The Edo River with cherry blossoms in full bloom (late Meiji Era). Check out the driver of the boat with no passengers, but he’s still straight stuntin’ like a playa.

 

In 1979, a plan was hatched to open a Disneyland in Japan. A little known landfill in Chiba Prefecture called 浦安 Urayasu that lie adjacent to a diverted branch of the Edo River was chosen. This branch is now known as the 旧江戸川 Kyū-Edogawa Old Edo River. The theme park and many of its nearby hotels opened in 1983. Today, Tōkyō Disneyland is the most profitable Disney theme park in the world. The site is built on landfill, and while much of the 新浦安 Shin-Urayasu (new Urayasu) residential area suffered serious damage in the March 11th, 2011 東日本大震災 Higashi Nihon Daishinsai Great East Japan Earthquake, Disneyland was located on the apparently more stable Urayasu. As such, it suffered minimal damage, closing for only a week or two to make cosmetic repairs.

disneyland

Damage typical of Shin-Urayasu. While this may not have been as horrific as what happened in Tohoku, it was most definitely devastating financially to the inhabitants and the local economy.

Damage typical of Shin-Urayasu. While this may not have been as horrific as what happened in Tohoku, it was most definitely devastating financially to the inhabitants and the local economy.

 

Let's change the topic!!!

Let’s change the topic!!!

Edogawa Ward’s biggest claim to fame is the 江戸川花火大会 Edogawa Hanabi Taikai Edogawa Fireworks Display. The display takes place along the Edo River and the levees are used as first-come/first serve seating. The event was established in 1976 and next year (2015) will be the event’s 40th iteration. I’m rather fond of this particular fireworks display. And now that I know that next year will be a special, I’m considering making a small JapanThis! meet up where we can all nerd out on Japanese history and enjoy fireworks on the Edo River together. If you’re interested, leave a comment so I know that I’m not the only one who thinks this might be fun.

 

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 ______________________________________________
[i] Tatebayashi Domain got a brief mention in my article on the Tone River.
[ii] Wanna know about the Tone River? I’ve got an article about that!
[iii] I’ve written about the etymology of Katsushika here.
[iv] Actually, it put 下総国葛飾郡加村 Shimōsa no Kuni Katsushika-gun Ka Mura Ka Village, Katsushika District, Shimōsa Province on the map, as that was the name of the area in the Edo Period. In 1889, the Meiji Government put 流山町 Nagareyama Machi Nagareyama City on the map.
[v] Why is this product so important? The basics of traditional home cooking in Japan boil down to 5 seasonings: soy sauce, sake, mirinvinegar, and sugar.
[vi] As mentioned earlier, the 5 basic seasonings of Japanese cuisine are: soy sauce, sake, mirinvinegar, and sugar.
[vii] Keen observers will have noticed that this is a shrine, and yet it has a mountain name of a temple. That shows that the institution pre-dates the 神仏分離 Shinbutsu Bunri Separation of Shintō and Buddhism in 1868. And indeed, the Katori Shrines of Shimōsa Province are quite ancient. It also shows that the name of the company pre-dates the separation of Buddhism and Shintō, but both of these are part of the historical record, even though many people casually forget the Buddhist/Shintō syncretism of the Pre-Modern Period. I hope you all caught that.
[viii] There are 2 types areas that were incorporated, 町 machi town/city and 村 mura village.
[ix] Place name conventions make this obvious. Even if we didn’t have the paperwork for the creation of the ward (which we do), if it wasn’t named for the river, it would be Edo-ku not Edogawa-ku.

What does Morishita mean?

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History on January 11, 2014 at 2:16 am

森下
Morishita (Below the Forest)

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This “matoi” (纏) banner commemorates the 3rd fire brigade which located in Morishita in the Edo Period. Fukagawa was home to about 16 fire brigades composed of commoners.
(CLICK the photo to read about fire fighting in the Edo Period.)

Any fool with 2 weeks of Japanese under their belt can understand this place name. It means below () the forest ().

Well, a quick look around the area doesn’t seem very foresty. But let’s assume there was a forest here in the past. What was that forest???

Well, as it turns out, this was just one part of 深川村 Fukagawa Mura Fukagawa Village. In the beginning of the Edo Period, 下総国関宿藩 Shimōsa Sekiydo Han Sekiyado Domain, Shimōsa Province built their 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence here[i]. As the Edo Period progressed, more and more merchants moved into the area. In fact, because of the abundance of trees (a natural resource) and rivers (viable transportation routes), the area flourished and became famous for its lumber[ii]. The center of the merchant district was located directly outside of the walls of the daimyō palace, naturally on the lower ground (ie; shitamachi), and as such it was called 森ノ下 mori no shita below the forest. The forest, of course, referring to luxuriant wooded area held by the successive lords of Sekiyado Domain[iii].

Sekiyado Castle, the river/s that made it famous, and Mt. Fuji.  Awesome!

Sekiyado Castle, the river/s that made it famous, and Mt. Fuji.
Awesome!

After the Meiji Coup[iv], the property fell into the hands of one bakumatsu opportunist by the name of 岩崎弥太郎 Iwasaki Yatarō. We’ve met him before when we talked about Marunouchi. If you study post-Meiji Coup Japan, you’ll come across the subject of 財閥 zaibatsu which literally translates as “rich merchants blowing smoke up each other’s asses while knob-hopping the burgeoning military theocracy of an inferiority complex ridden proto-fascist state.” Or maybe not. I mean, it’s only two kanji.

Anyhoo, Iwasaki Yatarō, the founder of Mitsubishi purchased the property and re-purposed it as a beautifully sculptured 庭園 tei’en garden/park befitting a gentleman in the new Meiji mode. The property was used as a retreat for high ranking Mitsubishi employees and as a place to entertain guests and business partners. Although it was a private garden, it was used as an evacuation area and temporary housing in the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake[v]. Having been contaminated by the masses, the garden was donated to 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City[vi] in 1932. The park was renamed 清澄庭園 Kiyosumi Tei’en Kiyosumi Garden and still exists today. Since 1972 it’s been designated as a 名称 meishō a Place of Scenic Beauty[vii].

Former daimyo palace turned Zaibatsu playground turned municipal park: Kiyosumi Tei'en. You gotta love Japanese gardens!

Former daimyo palace turned Zaibatsu playground turned municipal park: Kiyosumi Tei’en.
You gotta love Japanese gardens!

I’ve spent most of my time talking about the area that is now Kiyosumi Garden, which as I said was the mori of 森下 Morishita. Now let’s talk a little bit about the shita.

As I mentioned, the area at the bottom of the hill (“below the forest”), was a merchant town in the Edo Period. Much of the area was destroyed in the Great Kantō Earthquake and again the area was destroyed during WWII. The area has been gentrified, but for much of its history since the earthquake and war, it was considered a ドヤ街 doya-gai. Doya-gai basically translates as “slum.” But remember, this is Japan and so when you think of a slum, it’s gonna be pretty different. Crime was never high and the area wasn’t just a bunch of dilapidated shacks, especially because the area has always been a mix of a residential area and business district (both small and large businesses. Crime was never a problem here either. Actually, the word doya-gai is pretty interesting. The first part ドヤ doya is 宿 yado backwards[viii]. 宿 yado/shuku refers to temporary lodgings. Since a major portion of the population was made of day laborers who didn’t have permanent residences, they could lodge cheaply in the inns and temporary housing of the area.

This picture is taken from the movie

This picture is taken from the movie “Ashita no Joe”
but you can get an idea of what kind of image the word “doya-gai” conjures up.

The area has undergone gentrification since those days and has turned into (what I consider) a very drab modern shitamachi. Almost nothing remains of its Edo Period heyday and there isn’t much left from the Meiji Era either. But it’s interesting to note that the legacy of post-disaster/war its past still persists in a few subtle ways: today there are many cheap “business hotels[ix]” and many offices for finding and dispatching manual laborers are built on the former sites of the former makeshift camps for day laborers (ie; the “slums”).

So there ya go. A simple place name like 森下 that any clown with 2 weeks of Japanese under their obi can figure out actually has a much richer history than you’d think. Shit, I thought this article would take 10 minutes to write. But this story has taken us to 土佐藩 Tosa Han Tosa Domain (home of Sakamoto Ryōma and Iwasaki Yatarō). It’s touched on the establishment of Mitsubishi and the zaibatsu phenomenon. It even took us to Chiba Prefecture where we got a little daimyō and castle and soy sauce action. For what is today a boring area with a seemingly boring name, I’m pretty impressed and excited. This kind of adventure is what keeps me absolutely fascinated by Tōkyō.

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[i] Sekiyado Domain was in what is now northwestern Chiba Prefecture. Noda City is the primary city today, but apparently the place Sekiyado still officially persists in some place names. A 関宿町 Sekiyado Machi Sekiyado City existed until 2003 when it was merged with Noda City and ceased to exist officially. The area is noted for having a peculiar accent. It is also home of the famous soy sauce company, Kikkoman. A version of 関宿城 Sekiyado-jō Sekiyado Castle was reconstructed in the 90’s and although I haven’t been there myself, the museum seems to get high praise from Japanese castle fans. Check out JCastle’s profile of here!
[ii] This is very similar to nearby Kiba; see my article on Shin-Kiba here.
[iii] mori can also refer to a grove, so while the area may or may not have been densely wooded, the name could just as well refer to an area less wooded than what the English word “forest” generally connotes.
[iv] Or as it’s usually referred to, the Meiji Restoration…
[v] See my article on how conflagrations and disasters shaped Edo-Tōkyō.
[vi] Of course, I’m referring to the former 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City which was part of the former 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō Prefecture because everyone knows that today there is no Tōkyō Prefecture or Tōkyō City, only 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis.
[vii] See this article about special designations in Japan.
[viii] Coincidentally, this is the same kanji for the “yado” of Sekiyado. Emphasis on the word “coincidentally.”
[ix] A “business hotel” is like a Japanese motel – cheap and simple.

What does Katsushika mean?

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

葛飾
Katsushika (Adorned with Kuzu)

What does Katsushika mean?

This is kuzu, sometimes incorrectly spelled kudzu.

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

This is a very ancient name.

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

Shimosa Province

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


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

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

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

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

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

Here is a lowland area overtaken by kuzu.

Here is a lowland area overtaken by kuzu.

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

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

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

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

[v] The Chinese reading of the kanji.

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

What does Musashi mean?

In Japanese History on July 10, 2013 at 4:36 am

武蔵
Musashi (etymology uncertain)

Musashi-Kosugi Station in East Bumfuck, otherwise known as Kanagawa. One of many stations that bare the name "Musashi."

Musashi-Kosugi Station in East Bumfuck, otherwise known as Kanagawa.
One of many stations that bare the name “Musashi.”

OK, this was a post that I’ve been putting off forever because it seemed quite daunting – and I’m both super busy at the moment and inherently lazy. But a reader on the JapanThis Facebook Page requested it and… I have a hard time turning down a request. So, I’m going to try my best to do this and do it right, while still being a little lazy. Let’s see if I can pull it off.

There are place names all over 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis that include the words 武蔵 Musashi or 武蔵野 Musashino. I’ve alluded to this many times over the last 6 months, so regular readers should have a little idea of what is coming next.

There's a common thread among places which include the word Musashi. They tend to be boring places in the suburbs and country...

There’s a common thread among places which include the word Musashi.
They tend to be boring places in the suburbs and country…

1871 was a major year for the nascent Meiji government and for Japanese geography and place names. That year, the imperial court issued an edict called 廃藩置県 haihan-chiken[i] Abolishment of Han (domains) & Establishment of Ken (prefectures). I’m not an expert in this area and I have no formal training as a Japanese historian[ii], so take what I’m going to say with that in mind[iii]. Until this decree, the usual civil administrative unit of the Edo Period was the 藩 han usually translated as domain (or feudal domain[iv]). The domain would be a hereditary fief granted or allowed by the shōgun in Edo to a 大名 daimyō, a lord[v]. The domains of the Edo Period were theoretically in flux. Domains could be confiscated or abolished by the shōgun at any time – usually for some grave offense by the daimyō in charge. You can think of domains as autonomous “states” which were properties of the daimyō. The daimyō swore allegiance to the shōgun.  And although they were “free” to exercise discretion in their domains, they spent half of their time in forced service to shōgun and their wives and children were de facto “hostages” of the shōgun, a holdover from the 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai Warring States Clusterfuck.

The provinces of Japan.

The provinces of Japan.
Musashi is #10.

Another archaism that held over into the Edo Period, at least in theory, were the traditional territories called 国 kuni often translated as provinces, but usually used in Modern Japanese as country. The domains of the Tokugawa Period existed within these traditional regions.

Miyamoto Musashi, drunk and stoned. I know the questions will come. What's the connection between Miyamoto Musashi and Musashi Province. I beg someone else to answer the question for me....  because it's not a good story. lol

Miyamoto Musashi, drunk and stoned.I know the questions will come.
What’s the connection between Miyamoto Musashi and Musashi Province?
None.So suck it. 

Provinces were created during in the 7th century by an imperial decree called 国郡里制 Koku-Gun-Ri Sei the Province-District-Village Edict which established a norm for civil administration united under the imperial court in Nara, if I’m not mistaken. The Koku-Gun-Ri system created large provinces, sub-divided into districts, which were further sub-divided into territories[vi]. The system was never abolished, but it basically fell apart during the Muromachi Period as samurai culture ascended to supremacy under the leadership of 武将 bushō daimyō warlords who were fighting each other in a land grabbing free for all – essentially undermining the boundaries of the kuni.

I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in the traditional area of Musashi Province, the 郡 gun districts survived into the Edo Period. In the Meiji Period, while 国 kuni provinces and 藩 han were eliminated by the Abolition Act, many 郡 gun districts continued to exist up until WWII.

Districts of Musashi Province:

足立郡 Adachi-gun Adachi District
秩父郡 Chichibu-gun Chichibu District
荏原郡 Ebara-gun Ebara District
入間郡 Iruma-gun Iruma District
加美郡 Kami-gun Kami District
葛飾郡 Katsushika-gun Katsushika District
児玉郡 Kodama-gun Kodama District
高麗郡 Koma-gun Koma District
久良岐郡 Kuraki-gun Kuraki District
榛沢郡 Hanzawa-gun Hanzawa District
幡羅郡 Hara-gun Hara District
比企郡 Hiki-gun Hiki District
那珂郡 Naka-gun Naka District
新座郡
新倉郡
新羅郡

Niikura-gun
Niikura District
男衾郡 Obusuma-gun Obusuma District
大里郡 Ōzato-gun Ōzato District
埼玉郡 Saitama-gun Saitama District
橘樹郡 Tachibana-gun Tachibana District
多摩郡
多麻郡
多磨郡

Tama-gun
Tama District
豊嶋郡 Toshima-gun Toshima District
都筑郡 Tsuzuki-gun Tsuzuki District
横見郡 Yokomi-gun Yokomi District

Long time readers of JapanThis will recognize some of those names, especially Toshima and Ebara. Anyone who’s spent a little time in the Tōkyō Area will recognize loads of other names as well, for example; Adachi, Chichibu, Kodama, Katsushika, Saitama, and Tama.

Sorry for the Japanese, but this is the best I could find on short notice.  If I can't find a better map, I'll modify this one with English labels later when I have a little more time.

Sorry for the Japanese, but this is the best I could find on short notice.
If I can’t find a better map, I’ll modify this one with English labels later when I have a little more time.

Domains 藩 han  that were located in Musashi Province:

深谷藩 Fukaya Han
岡部藩 Okabe Han
本庄藩 Honjō Han
八幡山藩 Hachiman Han
東方藩 Higashigata Han
忍藩 Oshi Han
騎西藩
私市
Kisai Han
Kisaichi Han
松山藩 Matsuyama Han
伯太藩 Hakata Han
掛塚藩
高坂藩
Kakezuka Han
Takasaka Han
久喜藩 Kuki Han
石戸藩 Ishito Han
武蔵小室藩 Musashi Komuro Han
原市藩 Haraichi Han
岩槻藩 Iwatsuki Han

武蔵一宮藩

Musashi Ichinomiya Han

川越藩

Kawagoe Han

鳩ヶ谷藩

Hatogaya Han

喜多見藩

Kitami Han

六浦藩
武州金沢

Mutsūra Han
Bushū Kanazawa Han

赤沼藩
赤松

Akanuma Han
Akamatsu Han

This map is a placeholder.   I need a map of the domains inside Musashi Province. If anyone has access to such a map (book, website, etc) or has the drive to make one themselves, I'd totally appreciate it.   I'll swap the new image for this one (which is basically a repeat of the image directly above it).

This map is a placeholder.
I need a map of the domains inside Musashi Province. If anyone has access to such a map (book, website, etc) or has the drive to make one themselves, I’d totally appreciate it.
I’ll swap the new image for this one (which is basically a repeat of the image directly above it).

OK, so a quick re-cap.

Old Japan was divided by the imperial court into large province called 国 kuni. Kuni were subdivided into districts called 郡 gun. In the Sengoku Period many 国 kuni provinces became obsolete, but the names continued traditionally. Generally, the 郡 gun districts remained intact. In the Edo Period, it seems to be case by case. So again, the province names continued to exist traditionally if not officially and territories were very much intact.

So why have I taken you on this insanely boring walk through Japanese civil administrative units from the 7th century to the 17th century?

Because the area was so large and famous, it’s important to understand how people before the Meiji Period thought of this area geographically. Also, the district names (and sometimes the domain names) are still relevant today[vii].

Sorry.

Anyways, there’s more to the story.

So, let’s go back to the name of the imperial decree of 1871, it abolished domains and created prefectures[viii]. Go back a little further to 1868, the emperor took the Tokugawa Shōgun Family’s main holding, Edo, and renamed it Tōkyō. Things were more or less in a state of flux as the court and the government, which was slowly taking shape, figured out what the hell they were doing.

To my understanding, from 1869 to 1943, 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City embodied the former city of Edo plus many suburban and urban holdings. Tōkyō Prefecture absorbed a much larger area that included the city of Tōkyō and mixed an agrarian and metropolitan area into a new civil unit.

There’s much more to the story than this, but this is all we need for now.

OK, this map is totally inadequate. But I'm trying to illustrate where modern Tokyo Metropolis stands as compared to the traditional Musashi Province.   This may be totally wrong. So if you can make a better one, I'd appreciate it. Also this map doesn't north enough in Saitama to so the other holdings.  Now that I'm looking at it, the highlighted area doesn't go far enough west.  Dammit, Jim. I'm a doctor not a map maker.

OK, this map is totally inadequate. But I’m trying to illustrate where modern Tokyo Metropolis stands as compared to the traditional Musashi Province.
This may be totally wrong. So if you can make a better one, I’d appreciate it. Also this map doesn’t north enough in Saitama to so the other holdings.
Now that I’m looking at it, the highlighted area doesn’t go far enough west.
Dammit, Jim. I’m a doctor not a map maker.

Wasn’t this article about the meaning of Musashi?

Why, yes. Yes, it was.

武蔵 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province
Bushū Warrior State[ix]

These are alternate names for more or less the same area. The kanji used today are slightly simplified variants. The original way to write it was 武藏國 Musashi no Kuni, which give me a headache if I look at it too long.

The province was spread over areas of present day Tōkyō, Kanagawa, Saitama, although the bulk of is still within Tōkyō. Most places that include the name Musashi were outside of the Edo or direct control of the shōgun, so they could claim a little prestige by adding Musashi to their name. This became a big thing with the implementation of train systems, when differentiating station names became necessary.

Any place name in Tōkyō, Saitama, or Kanagawa is more or less is a reference to Musashi province.  Even today, many of these places are not just suburban areas, but areas considered really country by Tōkyōites in the 23 Special Wards. But this is their heritage. They are preserving an ancient name that wasn’t a political reality since the 15th century. Nice, right?

The Musashi Plain

The Musashi Plain

Other related place names are:

武蔵野 Musashino Musashi Plain
むさし Musashino Musashi Plain
(variant spelling)
武蔵台 Musashidai Musashi Plateau
武蔵野台 Musashinodai Musashi Plain Plateau
福岡武蔵 Fukuoka-Musashino Auspicious Knolls
Musashi Plain[x]
大井武蔵 Ōi-Musashino Great Well
Musashi Plain[xi]


So What Does Musashi Mean?

There are many competing theories, none of which is considered a prevailing theory. Most of the theories seem so shaky that they’re not worth getting into here. It is interesting to note that the earliest recorded instances of the name in the 7th century are written with different kanji:  无耶志国 Muzashi no Kuni Muzashi Province.

Other variants were:

无射志 Muzashi
牟射志 Munzashi
牟佐志 Munzashi
無邪 Muzashi

The problem with all of these variants is that they are all ateji – which means they don’t tell jack shit about the origin of the word or meaning. Because it was always written with ateji as far back as the historical record goes, it has prompted some linguists to speculate that it was a non-Japanese word. They’ve pointed an Ainu word, ムンザシ munzashi, which means a grass covered plain. The similarity is uncanny. But I don’t know much about the Ainu, where they lived, their language, or… well, anything. So, I can’t say if this is better than the other weird theories I heard[xii].

When Tokyoites hear place names with "Musashi" in the name, this is what they think of....

When Tokyoites hear place names with “Musashi” in the name, this is what they think of….

OK. So there it is. Nobody knows what the fuck Musashi really means and it has taken me roughly 2000 words to say so. But that said, we’ve been able to take a good look at the size and administrative reality of Musashi Province and I hope that this post will be a good point of reference for past posts and future posts. And since a lot of my readers are new to Japanese history, hopefully I was able to unweave the rainbow a little bit in terms of how Japan, or at least the Japan surrounding Edo-Tōkyō was administered in the old days.

And like I said in the beginning of this post, I’m not an expert on civil administration in the Edo Period – the era I know the best so there may be some mistakes in here. If anyone sees any glaring ones, let me know. Also, if I wasn’t clear about anything, feel free post your questions. I’m hoping this is a nice launching point for more place names and hopefully more discussion on bad ass Tōkyō history.

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[i] Not to be confused with the 廃藩痴漢 haihan chikan abolition of domains & public groping.

[ii] Never even had a single class in Japanese history.

[iii] And if you can shed some light on this, your knowledge would be greatly appreciated.

[iv] This isn’t an accepted term among scholars of Japanese history, but the terminology is out there for generalists and n00bs and since I’m trying to keep this blog accessible to everyone, I sometimes use it myself.

[v] Often translated with the Eurocentric term, feudal lord – again not used by serious scholars of Japanese history, but often tossed around by generalists because it is easily understood by westerners.

[vi] As time went on and the population in urban center ballooned, further sub-divisions were created. One that is confusing for me is the the existence of 2 ri;  里 ri village and 領 ri territory/county.

[vii] I didn’t even get into the 領 ri territories/counties (too many of them), but these territories account for most of the extant place names in the former Musashi Province.

[viii] Where this word comes from is also interesting, but let’s leave that for another day.

[ix] The kanji 武 bu “warrior” is the same kanji for 武士道 bushidō way of the samurai. Anyways, I doubt any of my readers don’t know that. But ぶ bu and む mu are similar sounds and there are diachronic variations across Japanese dialects, which means that the kanji can be read as bu or mu. A common family name is 武藤 Mutō which also uses the softer, mu sound. Other common examples are 寂しい samishii or sabishii and 寒い samui or sabui.

[x] In Saitama, not Tōkyō.

[xi] In Saitama, not Tōkyō.

[xii] If you are interested in what some real Japanese linguists have to say on the matter (and you can read technical linguistics documents in Japanese), then knock yourself out. But it’s pretty dry.

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