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What does Miyakezaka mean?

In Japanese History on April 6, 2020 at 7:22 am

三宅坂
Miyake-zaka (three house hill; more at “Miyake Slope”)

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A bar at Narita International Airport, empty due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Welcome to COVID-19, Bitches

Well, well, well. What do we have here? It seems we’re in the middle of a global freaking pandemic and people are locked up at home just drinking themselves to death[i] watching Netflix and bitching about the government on Facefook. Many writers, musicians, and dorky j-vloggers are taking advantage of the self-isolation requirements by churning out as much content as possible because… hey, who knows when you’ll have this much time off work again? Hopefully, most of you are getting in some quality reading time.

I’d like to take advantage of this opportunity, but my computer, my notes, and books are in Japan and, sadly, I am in the US until this whole thing dies down and I can actually get back to Tōkyō. All I have with me is an iPad, which is hardly conducive to my usual workflow. However, rather than doing my typical deep dives into Edo-Tōkyō places, I’ve chosen a few topics that I can write brief articles about over the coming weeks. Once this is all beyond us and we’re laughing with our friends about “Oh, remember that time when Wuhan Love™️ crashed the global economy and put us all out of work and 70,000[ii] people died? Wow, wasn’t that some shit?” Have no fear, if things come up that require deep dives, I think we can probably spin off some peripheral topics when this all dies down, or maybe in smaller, more concise article in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I apologize for the brevity of these bite sized articles, but I’ll try to keep them educational and entertaining.

道玄坂

Miyakezaka as it looks today. (Spoilers: it’s a hill!)

Miyakezaka

Miyakezaka is a hill in 東京都千代田区 Tōkyō-to Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis near 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle[iii]. It essentially runs from 永田町 Nagatachō[iv] to 国立劇場 Kokuritsu Gekijō the National Theater, which means this is some pretty prime real estate. It’s a short walk to one of the castle’s more infamous gates, which will get to in a bit.

I should mention here that in the Edo Period, Miyakezaka was lined with two distinct types of trees and so it had two additional nicknames which we won’t get into today[v]. Those were: 皀坂 Saikachizaka Gleditsia Hill[vi] and 柏之木坂 Kashinokizaka Kashi Tree Hill[vii].

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Saikachi tree pod 🧐

Let’s Look at the Kanji


san; mi

three


taku; yake

house/houses


saka, –zaka; han

hill, slope

This is essentially a compound word made by combining a family name 三宅 Miyake Miyake[viii] and the topography word 坂 saka hill.

As I mentioned before, this slope is located next to the castle. In fact, it’s right next to the 内堀 uchibori inner moat which separated the shōgun’s citadel from the palaces of his most loyal retainers, the 譜代大名 fudai daimyō, the hereditary lords whose ancestors had supported the 徳川家 Tokugawa-ke Tokugawa clan during the 関ヶ原の戦い Sekigahara no Tatakai Battle of Sekigahara in 1600[ix]. At the very top of the hill was a modest palace: 田原三宅家上屋敷 Tawara Miyake-ke kami-yashiki the upper residence of the Tawara Miyake clan.

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The Miyake clan upper residence is in the center of the map (you can see Miyakezaka Syo Park written inside the compound).

The Miyake Clan?

Yeah, yeah. I’d never heard of them either. And seems that as far as nobility goes, they’re pretty damn forgettable. They were based in 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province, modern 愛知県 Aichi-ken Aichi Prefecture. Allegedly, the clan traces their origins to the imperial court of the 1400’s, but they really didn’t come into their own until the 16th century. They had a long running – and often violent – rivalry with their neighbors, 松平家 Matsudaira-ke the Matsudaira clan. And for those of you who have forgotten, in 1568, a certain 松平元康 Matsudaira Motoyasu established his own family line and changed his name to 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Yes. That Ieyasu.

Anyhoo, the rivalry between the Miyake and Matsudaira came to end in 1558 when 三宅政貞 Miyake Masasada and his son 三宅康貞 Miyake Yasumasa became retainers of Tokugawa Ieyasu. In fact, the 康 yasu[x] is Yasumasa’s name was given to him by Ieyasu when the boy came of age. He served his lord well as a general and fought with the Tokugawa in two very important battles. One, 姉川の戦い Anegawa no Tatakai the Battle of Anegawa[xi] in 1570, and two, 長篠の戦い Nagashino no Tatakai the Battle of Nagashino in 1575. While loyal retainers of the Tokugawa, it does not seem like they participated in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. When Ieyasu gave up his former holdings and set up his power base in Edo, his Mikawa retainers and generals came with him, this would include the Miyake. This is just conjecture, bought perhaps Ieyasu wanted loyal men to protect his new capital during the Sekigahara campaign, you know… just in case.

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Tawara Castle in Aichi Prefecture, castle of the Miyake clan

At any rate, in 1603, Ieyasu received the title 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun (ie: shōgun) and began dividing up his 天下 tenka realm into 藩 han domains. He allocated 挙母藩 Koromo Han Koromo Domain in modern 愛知県豊田市 Aichi-ken Toyota-shi Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture to the Miyake, which was valued at 一万石 ichiman koku 10,000 koku[xii] and appointed Yasusada as the first hereditary daimyō of that fief under Tokugawa hegemony.

The family must have played its cards right, because in 1615, they were given a promotion – I assume this means they provided some service during 大坂夏の陣 Ōsaka Natsu no Jin the Siege of Ōsaka (summer campaign)[xiii]. I say this because they were promoted and given control over the prosperous fief of 亀山藩 Kameyama Han Kameyama Domain in 伊勢国 Ise no Kuni Ise Province, which is located in modern 三重県亀山市 Mie-ken Kameyama-shi Kameyama City, Mie Prefecture. This domain was valued at 二万石 niman koku 20,000 koku – double their previous worth!

However, fifty years later. Bruh. Somebody dropped the ball big time. The family was demoted in rank and sent to 三河国田原藩 Mikawa no Kuni Tawara Han Tawara Domain, Mikawa Province in present day 愛知県田原市 Aichi-ken Tawara-shi Tawara City, Aichi Prefecture[xiv]. This field was only valued at a measly 一万二千石 ichiman nisen koku 12,000 koku. It’s 2000 koku better than where they started, but, c’mon dawg[xv]. From 1644 until 1873 (Meiji 3), the Miyake would hold on tight to these lands in their ancestral Mikawa for the rest of the Edo Period.

933FE984-BB31-49AE-8731-065722A8C147

The modest Miyake residence, the sprawling Ii palace, and the Sakurada Gate

The End of an Era

As for their palace on the top of Miyakezaka, it was located next to one of the most prestigious mansions on the grounds of Edo Castle – 彦根井伊家上屋敷 Hikone Ii-ke kami-yashiki the upper residence of the Ii clan of Hikone Domain. This clan had served Tokugawa Ieyasu well in the Battle of Sekigahara and ever since had been among the most elite and loyal fudai daimyō families. In the final days of the shōgunate, the shōgunal regent, 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke, wisely ordered the country to slowly open and trade with the technologically advanced western powers in order to procure weapons and military strategies to protect the country from being overrun and bled dry by imperialism like all the rest of Asia. Some samurai disagreed with this policy and turned to terrorism in order to get their way. On March 24, 1860, they assassinated Ii Naosuke as he proceeded from his palace to the castle. Because he was killed in front of the 桜田御門 Sakurada Go-mon Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle, this event was called 桜田門外の変 Sakuradamon-gai no Hen the Sakuradamon Incident. The gate still stands today, not too far from Miyakezaka.

55A23E51-2EF5-40E7-BD99-2899656ECE23

How the Miyake estate looks today. Compare it to the Edo Period map under “Let’s Look at the Kanji.” You can see the Miyakezaka Syo Park label.

When the domain system was abolished, all the lords were sent back to their lands and the majority of palaces were demolished. The palaces of the Miyake and Ii clans were torn down and the Meiji government used these spaces as the new home of 大日本帝国陸軍 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun the Imperial Japanese Army until 1941. At this time, they were considered too close to the castle, so operations were moved out to 市ヶ谷 Ichigaya.

Today there is a park called 三宅小公園 Miyake Shōkōen Miyake Small Park and 三宅坂交差点 Miyakezaka Kōsaten Miyakezaka Junction[xvi] that some of you fancy car-drivin’ types might like[xvii]. But for the most part, the hill is just a memory in the minds of local history nerds.

60134194-6780-4EDC-BCED-E00A4090A984

Miyakezaka Small Park commemorated the birthplace of bakumatsu era painter Watanabe Kazan who liked western art and committed seppuku in Tawara.

Epilogue

Well, I think I succeeded in crafting a bite-sized article for the first time in years. At this pace, I think I can bang out a few more until all this craziness dies down. Definitely could’ve gone way deeper, but here we are, huh? Anyways, I know this pandemic thing is cramping people’s lifestyles, costing people their incomes and jobs, and generally causing a real sense of unease and fear[xviii]. Oh, and it’s killing people. Let’s not forget that. Stay home. Call loved ones. Wash your hands. Stay six feet apart. Don’t smoke all your weed in one week. And most of all, be safe.

I’ll see you soon.

Further Reading:

 

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[i] Because I know most of you blew through your cocaine stash the first week of lockdown.
[ii] The number as of the time this article was being written. Frighteningly, this will definitely go up by the time the next article is published.
[iii] The current 皇居 Kōkyo Imperial Palace (but we don’t use that word around here).
[iv] Home of 国会議事堂 Kokkai Gijidō the National Diet, ie: Parliament.
[v] In 岡山県 Okyama-ken Okayama Prefecture, this family name is usually spelled with 御 go-/o-/mi– honorable/divine instead of 三 san/mi– three, ie: 御宅 Miyake. This spelling variance occurs with many ancient names (family names, temple/shrine names, place names, etc).
[vi] This is the battle from which the first shōgun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, emerged as the dē factō ruler of Japan.
[vii] Because it’s boooooooooring.
[viii] Gleditsia is also known as Japanese honey locust, if that means anything to you.
[ix] Kashi refers to a family of trees called Fagaceæ which is common in the Kantō area, if that means anything to you.
[x] The kanji means “peaceful.”
[xi] Or, the Battle of the Ane River.
[xii] One koku is considered enough rice to feed an adult male for a year.
[xiii] However, a quick search through the interwebs doesn’t show the name Miyake on any list of generals at the siege. If you know something I don’t, please let me know!
[xiv] Nobody knows where the fuck this place is. JK, actually, nobody wants to know where it is.
[xv] I couldn’t find anything to explain why the clan was demoted and moved, but this happened during the reign of the third shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu, which sets off all sorts of alarms in my head. Iemitsu was notorious for making 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers and low ranking daimyō his lovers and fast tracking them to really prestigious ranks, then when he got bored with his boy toys, he demoted them and humiliated them. What a bitch.
[xvi] This marks the junction of National Route 20 and National Route 246.
[xvii] Why the fuck would you drive in Tōkyō??
[xviii] And let’s be honest, a lot of boredom.

Why is Hibiya called Hibiya?

In Japanese History on March 18, 2013 at 5:31 am

日比谷
Hibiya (no meaning)

Today’s place name is an interesting one.

The name 日比谷 Hibiya is 当て字 ateji. Ateji are words that use kanji characters for their phonetic properties instead of their ideographic properties. That is to say, the meaning of the character isn’t as important as the sounds. The meaning of the characters may be completely irrelevant or may have some forced meaning. For example, 珈琲 kōhī (coffee) is ateji. The first character refers to a kind of ancient hair pin. The second character refers to a string of pearls. The meaning of the characters is irrelevant and they are used to represent the sounds コー kō and ヒー hī (the latter is not even an sound native to the Japanese language).

As mentioned in the post about Chiyoda, before the Edo Period, Edo was just one of many small villages around what is now Tokyo Bay. Well before the Edo Period, the areas from Chiyoda (the Imperial Palace) to the sea were a mix of sea food production sites and agricultural areas. We can’t know for certain where it was, but one of the spots was on an inlet and was marked by 篊 hibi. Hibi are bunches of bamboo or brushwood used to grow and farm 海苔 nori (nori, a kind of seaweed).

what did hibiya look like before the edo period?

this is what the original hibiya (not today’s hibiya) looked like before the edo period. these are “hibi,” by the way.

The area was known for people and shops farming and selling nori (which was grown on hibi). Those people and shops would have been referred to as 篊屋 hibi-ya (hibi-people/hibi-shops). As the area grew (and the nori farmers presumably moved out), the place name came to be written 比々谷 Hibiya which has no meaning (ateji). The first character means “comparison” and represents the sound ひ hi. The second character just means “repeat the previous sound.” (the second “hi” become “bi” according to euphonic rules called 連濁). The final character is common in Japanese place names and means “valley.” This final character is also meaningless because there is no valley here. If anything, it’s part of the alluvial plain created by the waters in Tokyo Bay*.

Sometime in the Edo Period, 比々谷 came to be written as 日比谷 and that is the way it is still written today. The characters as they are now are “sun” “compare” and “valley, respectively.

If you go to Hibiya Park today, you’ll notice that there is a large pond near the Imperial Palace (Edo Castle). This pond was part of the system of moats around Edo Castle. The moat is gone today, but the pond is in its place. If you walk around the pond, you’ll notice a line of stone wall fortifications which match the castle area. This was one of the moat’s walls. Also, you’ll notice a photo spot called日比谷見附 Hibiya-Mitsuke (The Hibiya Approach). This was the path to the 日比谷御門 Hibiya Go-Mon, one of many gates into the castle. Btw, 見附 means “approach” or “walkway.” So Akasaka-Mitsuke meant “the Akasaka Approach.” More about that later.

The area that is the park today used to house 2 daimyōs’ upper residences; Saga domain and Chōshū domain.

hibiya-mitsuke moat

remains of the stone fortifications that lined the hibiya-mitsuke moat. some homeless dude is doing his laundry on the top of it.

remains hibiya-mitsuke moat

today a pond is built on the former hibiya-mitsuke moat. you can see carp in the water, and some freaky turtles & a stupid bird on the rocks.

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* I’m not too familiar with geological terminology, but I think alluvium is the right word here. If I’m wrong, let me know and I’ll update the text.

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