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What does Chōfu mean? (Part Deux)

In Japanese History on April 9, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Chōfu no Tamagawa (a reference to cloth production and dyeing on the Tama River)

A beautiful young girl bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

A beautiful young girl bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

In reference to my article entitled Setagaya and its Freaky Horse Fetish, I was going to name this article The Tama River Basin and its Freaky Cloth Fetish, but as it turns out the fetish isn’t as freaky as Setagaya and its horse thing. Well, it might be, but we’re only going to talk about a few places today so I don’t want to get your hopes up.

Anyways, in my last article, What does Chōfu mean?, I talked about the 枕詞 makura kotoba “pillow word” 調布の玉川 Chōfu no Tamagawa. The image of beautiful girls with pure white skin bleaching cloth in the Tama River was firmly entrenched in the imagination of the people of 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama District – even though the area doesn’t seem to have actually supported any such industry on a large scale. Anyways, in the last article I mentioned that references to the pillow word or its imagery weren’t limited to 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City. Today I’d like to explain that a little more.

To be precise, we’re going to look at three place names today: 田園調布 Den’en Chōfu the garden city, 布田 Fuda the cloth fields, and 染地 Somechi the dyeing grounds.

OK, so let’s get down to bidness.

If you haven’t read What does Chōfu mean? yet, none of this will make any sense.
Please read that first, mkay?

A house with a yard? In Tokyo?  Yes, in Den'en Chōfu.

A house with a yard? In Tokyo?
Yes, in Den’en Chōfu.

Den’en Chōfu
(Garden Chōfu)

While Chōfu City is located outside of the 23 Special Wards, Den’en Chōfu is within the 23 Special Wards – in 大田区 Ōta-ku to be precise. And while it might not be the most convenient place in the city, it’s definitely one of the priciest and most prestigious residential areas in all of Tōkyō, at least by reputation[i].

For most of its history, this area was just typical farmland along the river basin of the Tama River. That is to say, the river basin was dotted with agricultural villages typical of the area and not much else. However, in Meiji 22 (1889), 4 villages were combined to make 調布村 Chōfu Mura Chōfu Village[ii].

Shibusawa Eiichi in 1866 and then in 1867.

Shibusawa Eiichi in 1866 and then in 1867.

In 1918[iii], the industrialist, financier, philanthropist, and so-called “father of Japanese capitalism,” 渋沢栄一 Shibusawa Eiichi[iv] purchased huge swaths of land in Chōfu Village and slated them for re-development. He envisioned an ideal English suburb based on the concept of the “Garden City[v],” an idea spread by the British urban planner, Ebenezer Howard[vi].

Eiichi grew up in the throes of the Bakumatsu which meant he also lived to see the sprawling daimyō residences of the old 山手 yamanote high city torn down and replaced with crowded merchant houses. It seems he pined for the urbane yet gardened elegance of Edo’s most elite areas and wanted to make that world available to anyone who could afford it. Of course, being a gentleman of the early Meiji Period, he looked to the west as a way of selling innovations to the new Japanese consumer.

Den'en Chōfu as it looks today. Note the semi-circular design which is decidedly un-Edo.

Den’en Chōfu as it looks today. Note the semi-circular design which is decidedly un-Edo.

“Garden City” was translated into Japanese as 田園都市 Den’en Toshi, literally a garden city – though it could also be translated as “a suburban town.” Either way you translate it, the name must have sounded revolutionary at the time. What’s more, the idea was totally different from traditional Japanese urban planning due to its heavy European influence. Eiichi called his vision 田園調布 Den’en Chōfu which means something like Garden Chōfu[vii].

Development of the area was slow at first because the location was far from the most active parts of Tōkyō and there just wasn’t demand for something so far from the city center. In 1923, a train station opened that connected the area with central Tōkyō. As the area was still known as 調布村 Chōfu Mura Chōfu Village, the station was named 調布駅 Chōfu Eki Chōfu Station. Once the station was open for business, the area was finally ready for its big moment, ie; developed and undeveloped lots went on sale that same year.

This hill is called 江戸見坂 (Edomi-zaka) "Edo Viewing Hill." I've seen plenty of places called Fujimi "Fuji Viewing," I think this is the first time I've seen "Edo Viewing." It must have a been a fantastic sight in the Edo Period.

This hill is called 江戸見坂 (Edomi-zaka) “Edo Viewing Hill.” I’ve seen plenty of places called Fujimi “Fuji Viewing,” I think this is the first time I’ve seen “Edo Viewing.” It must have a been a fantastic sight in the Edo Period.

Did You Just Say 1923??

Long time readers should have had a collective freak out when I said “1923.”

This was the year of the horrific 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake, which saw much of the urban center of Edo-Tōkyō burnt to the ground and more than 100,000 people killed. Just like me, you’re probably wondering, “How the hell did this project survive an earfquake of that magnitude?”

Many of more of you are probably also wondering why I always say “earfquake[viii].”

How the Hell indeed?

For some reason, the area – perhaps due to modern building techniques, wide spacious lots as opposed to central Tōkyō old castle town-style cramped quarters , lack of development, or maybe just some good luck – was relatively unaffected by the cataclysmic, epoch-defining earfquake. Many rich Edoites who survived the earfquake with their finances in tact said “Eff that noise” to the burnt out shambles of Tōkyō and headed out of the city to the newly accessible suburbs.

The area had gotten such an injection of cash and activity by 1926 that the train station changed its name to 田園調布駅 Den’en Chōfu Eki Den’en Chōfu Station. Shibusawa Eiichi’s dream was starting to be realized, even if he hadn’t expected a massive earfquake. Today it’s an official postal code in Tōkyō’s Ōta Ward.

Den'en Chōfu Station

Den’en Chōfu Station

I’ve been there once or twice, and I’m sure it’s an awesome place to raise a family if you have a lot of money. It also seems to be popular with a certain class of ex-pats who have been transferred to Tōkyō and demand suburban comforts similar to their home countries (for example, the houses and yards are much larger than most of those found in Tōkyō[ix]). But that said, it’s not a particularly interesting area – as most suburbs aren’t – and historically speaking, there’s not much reason to go here.


Fuda Station in 1987.

Fuda Station in 1987.

Fuda (cloth field)

Inside Chōfu City there are many place names and an actual postal code that bear the name 布田 Fuda. The kanji mean “cloth field” and seem to fall in line with the story we heard about Chōfu’s etymology. Except nobody grows cloth in a field. In fact, if you know someone who can grow cloth, let me know. That sounds amazing!

Interestingly, this weird pairing of kanji partially supports the standard Chōfu etymology and its connection to the 租庸調 soyōchō system (corvee system) because the name may be pretty ancient[x]. According to the 倭名類聚抄 Wamyō Ruijushō, a kind of Heian Period encyclopedia[xi], there was an area in the Tamagawa District an area called 爾布多 Nifuda whose name was shortened to 布多 Fuda. Later 多 ta/da came to be written as田 ta/da. In the 新編武蔵風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fudokikō Newly Edited Treatise on the Manners and Customs of Musashi Province (1826), the name is said to have originally been written as 府田 Fuda or 捕陀 Fuda. Muromachi Period documents of 深大寺 Jindai-ji Jindai Temple record the place name as 布田郷 Fuda-gō[xii] Fuda Hamlet.

A rare photo of Chōfu Station in 1914. Modern Chōfu Station exists on to the shopping street/sandō leading to Fudatenjin Shrine (mentioned in the previous article). The spelling of Fuda for the shrine is 布多 - "cloth abounds."

A rare photo of Chōfu Station in 1914. Modern Chōfu Station exists on to the shopping street/sandō leading to Fudatenjin Shrine (mentioned in the previous article). The spelling of Fuda for the shrine is 布多 – “cloth abounds” – this spelling is consistent with the Heian Period source.

All of this is quite suspicious. The use of the kanji 多 ta/da is often 当て字 ateji kanji used for its sound and not meaning. It was so commonly used for phonetic reasons that hiragana and katakana /ta/ are actually derived from it. /ta/ or /da/ is also often used as ateji. In my mind, all of this begs the question: is every /ɸu/ along the Tama River related to a hidden word and all of these kanji are hiding the original place name. I mean, could we be looking at ancient place names that use /ta/ and /fu/ in the area and many of these places rendering the names with /ɸu/ /ɸu/ and /da/ /da/ as ateji? Could these names pre-date the Heian Period language/s spoken in the area? If any of these are the case, the name of 調布 Chōfu and all of its associated place names along the Tama River may have much more mysterious origins[xiii].

That was all just speculation on my part because I haven’t come across anyone else asking the same questions. I’m also just some dude with an internet connection and a goofy hobby, so may I haven’t dug deep enough.

The green area is Somechi. Notice its proximity to the Tama River.

The green area is Somechi. Notice its proximity to the Tama River.

Somechi (place where cloth is dyed)

Believe it or not, this place name didn’t exist officially until 1965. Prior to that, it was just an area located inside 国領宿 Kokuryō-chō Kokuryō Town, one of the civil administrative units of 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City. However, the name most definitely existed in the Edo Period. The name 染地 Somechi literally means “place where things are dyed.”

In the grand tradition that the area was supposedly famous for beautiful women bleaching cloth in the Tama River, this area seems to have been credited with dying cloth. The aforementioned Shinpen Musashi Fudokikō (1826) is where this claim is backed up in writing. That said, keep in mind, other than these etymologies which seem to be connected to the pillow word, Chōfu no Tamagawa, there is no evidence that the area was ever anything more than an agricultural backwater with no actual cloth production (bleached or dyed) anywhere in the area.

But the mystery gets deeper. You should know that in nearby 府中市 Fuchū-shi Fuchū City[xiv], there is place called 染屋 Someya which literally means “shop where things are dyed.” This place is located in a region called 白糸台 Shiraito-dai “white thread plateau.” Doubtless, these names are connected to the pillow word and the image it propagated throughout the region.

Feel like this is going nowhere? So do I....

Feel like this is going nowhere?
So do I….

So What Do You Make of All This?

To be honest, it’s hard to say. I’m pretty skeptical that there was widespread textile production in the area because I can’t find any record that anyone takes seriously. Of course, it’s possible that at some time some village was famous for this somewhere on the river – after all, it’s a long ass river. It actually spans 3 prefectures today. But it’s just the Tama District that is dotted with place names related to this and there’s no evidence that the entire region was known for cloth production. I’m also seeing some trends in phonemes. I’m looking at you, /ɸu/ and /da/. Looking at the kanji 布 fu cloth, 糸 ito thread, 染 some dye, 白 shira white,  府 fu government, 調 chō tax on cloth, and one we haven’t looked at yet, 領 ryō territory[xv], you can start to see some patterns emerge: there are phonetic patterns and meaning patterns. From the meaning patterns, it seems we’re essentially talking about textiles and government. This seems to support the claim that Chōfu means a place that paid its “taxes” in “cloth.” But I’m also skeptical of ateji and kanji in general when it comes to ancient place names.

So, in the next article, we’re going to take a look at a few other place names in the area that relate to this topic. I hope to wrap things up but be forewarned: I’m pretty sure there will be no closure with this series.


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[i] I’ve actually never looked at prices there, so I’m just going by reputation.
[ii] This is a separate and distinct Chōfu Village from the one we talked about in the last article. To the best of my knowledge these were not coordinated efforts.
[iii] This was Taishō 7. On this blog, I’ve decided on a convention of only using Japanese years during the Meiji Period (as a countdown away from the Edo Period). But I’ll use Japanese years when relevant to the conversation at any point in time. Taishō 7 is so close to the Meiji Era that I figured I should at least footnote that shit.
[iv] I don’t know much about Eiichi Shibusawa, but here’s the Wiki about him.
[v] I don’t know much about the concept of a “Garden City,” but here’s the Wiki about it.
[vi] I don’t know much about Ebenezer Howard, but here’s the Wiki about him. It seems that Shibusawa and other developers misconstrued Howard’s ideas. But that’s not really important. The influence was there.
[vii] Suburban Chōfu is probably an equally valid translation.
[viii] And I respond with my own question, “Why hell shouldn’t I write earfquake?”
[ix] There are comparable and sometimes larger in some other areas, but that’s a story for another day.
[x] That said, I don’t necessarily believe this “corvee taxes” etymology.
[xi] I don’t know a lot about this text, but it has come up from time to time over the years while researching place names. The Japanese title seems to be commonly used among English speaking scholars, so I don’t have a good translation of the title, but it essentially means “The Japanese Names for Things Categorized and Annotated.” You can read the Wiki article about it here.
[xii] Probably more correctly rendered as Fuda no gō.
[xiii] And I suspect this to be the case, actually.
[xiv] Notice the /ɸu/ sound again and the same kanji as 布田 Fuda.
[xv] A term that came into use with the implementation of the 律令制 ritsuryō-sei ritsuryō system which I discussed in the previous article. Note that the 令 ryō of ritsuryō-sei makes up part of the character 領 ryō.

What does Chōfu mean? (Part One)

In Japanese History on March 30, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Chōfu (mood cloth)

The banner says "Kondō Isami's Home Town, Chōfu."

The banner says “Kondō Isami’s Home Town, Chōfu.”

Just a heads up.
This article rambles a little. It’s actually 2 articles merged together. Basically, I had the general etymology, but I found more info later and tried to insert it as is into the middle of the original article. Then I tried to smooth things out, but the end result was a little sloppy and there is some repeating. Sorry about that.
All in all, it should make sense, though.

A banner for Tōkyō's soccer team, F.C.Tokyo. It bears the Shinsengumi motto 誠 makoto (sincerity) and reads "Kondō Isami's Hometown, Chōfu."

A banner for Tōkyō’s soccer team, F.C.Tokyo. It bears the Shinsengumi motto 誠 makoto (sincerity) and reads “Kondō Isami’s Hometown, Chōfu.”

The first story I heard about the etymology of Chōfu was this: 調布 Chōfu was a town that paid its taxes 調 chō with 布fu/nuno cloth. It seemed legit enough and I didn’t know much about the area or taxation in old Japan so this was good enough for me at the time.

However, this isn’t good enough anymore. After all, this is freaking JapanThis!. We have a certain level of skepticism to maintain around here.

Am I right?


Well as it turns out, the city of Chōfu didn’t exist until the Meiji Era. That said, the city cites one of the oldest and most loved poetry collections of Japanese poetry as the source of its namesake. That anthology is none other than the 万葉集 Man’yōshū Collection of 10,000 Leaves which was compiled in the 700’s[i]. One poem that refers to the beautiful young women of the area is cited as the source of the name.

The fact of the matter is that the etymology of “paying taxes with cloth” seems to be a conflation of an ancient taxation system and a little bit of poetry. Let’s dig in, shall we?

Tenjin Street is a shopping street that lines the sandō (approach) to Fuda Tenjin Shrine. The street is lined with characters from the anime "Gegege no Kitarō."

Tenjin Street is a shopping street that lines the sandō (approach) to Fuda Tenjin Shrine. The street is lined with characters from the anime “Gegege no Kitarō.”

Administrative Reforms in the Asuka and Nara Periods

In the late 飛鳥時代 Asuka Jidai Asuka Period[ii], starting with the 大化の改新 Taika no Kaishin Taika Reforms[iii] in 645, the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court began enacting sweeping administrative reforms based on a Chinese model. One of the results of this was the establishment of the 律令制 ritsuryō-sei ritsuryō system. This resulted in the civil administrative units of 国 kuni provinces, 郡 gun districts, 郷 gō hamlets, and 里 ri/sato neighborhoods. There were many other changes regarding taxation, ranking, governance, and criminal justice[iv].

Reconstruction of a farmer's home in the Asuka Period.

Reconstruction of a farmer’s home in the Asuka Period.

I mentioned the establishment of civil administrative units, but some of this should look familiar to long time readers[v]. The recognition of traditional nomenclature like 国 kuni province and 郡 gun district persisted throughout the Edo Period. Districts can still be found throughout Japan. Place names all around Japan often retain references to old provincial names, district names, and more local divisions (hamlets, villages, or neighborhoods).

The etymology of 調布 Chōfu coming from taxes is dependent on a particular outcome of the ritsuryō system, a concept called 租庸調 soyōchō. Most dictionaries define this term as “corvee” which looks a little bit like Corvette but is totally different because taxes are boring as hell and Corvettes are cool.

A corvette, as opposed to a corvee.

A corvette, as opposed to a corvee.

Talking about modern taxation is boring as hell so trust me; I don’t want to get deep into the taxation practices of the Nara Period so here is the simplest explanation I can think of. Soyōchō didn’t require people to pay money; rather you were required to pay in goods and services. For example, if you were a fisherman, a certain percentage of fish of a certain quality might be expected from you. Essentially, you had to do a certain amount of work for free for the good of your local lord, who was presumably a representative of the imperial court. I’m assuming certain types of goods would have made their way all the way to the imperial court in 奈良 Nara or 平安京 Heian-kyō[vi].

The system is much more nuanced than my explanation, but this isn’t a medieval tax blog. It’s about place names for crying FFS.

The word soyōchō actually represents the 3 types of payments: rice, labor, and silk/cloth.

The word soyōchō actually represents the 3 types of payments: rice, labor, and silk/cloth.

Anyhoo, if you were paying attention to the kanji, you probably noticed the final character of soyōchō was 調 chō. This is the same chō in Chōfu. Under the soyōchō system there were two particular taxes put on textile workers. The two main categories were: 調絹 chōkinu paying with silk and 調布 chōfu paying with cloth. Please note that the latter has the same kanji as the present day place name. OK, seems legit.


Good luck with that, buddy.

Is Everyone Defined By Taxes?

But something bugs me about this etymology. Who would have been proud of how their ancestors paid taxes? Especially if you were a farmer?

I think no one would. And herein lays the biggest problem with this this etymology.


The Plot Thickens

Nobody likes to pay taxes. I reckon people of this day and age know more about how their tax dollars are spent more than Askuka/Nara period peasants did. I don’t know which group might hate tax more, but I can’t imagine that giving away your profits to rich lords of varying ability would be a source of pride…


Unless your village was famous for some trade and everyone had pride that they were the best. Everyone knew that your cloth was the finest in the area. People came from far and wide to procure your fine cloth. Your cloth was so fine that it captivated the imaginations of the imperial court in Kyōto. It was so fine, that the area was defined (get it?) by that industry.

Oh nuno, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind. Oh nuno! Oh nuno!

Oh nuno! You’re so fine. You’re so fine you blow my mind. Oh nuno! Oh nuno!
(JapanThis! being the wonderous place it is means that this is a clickable link)

The problem is that there seem to be no records of this area being famous for textile production. Adding to the mystery is that the kanji 布 fu/nuno is rampant in the place names along the 玉川 Tamagawa Tama River. Surely at least one of these places was famous for cloth production?

Is it all Bullshit?

It could actually all be bullshit. But maybe not complete bullshit. More like some of that folk etymology bullshit that comes up from time to time.

Until quite recently, the area was quite rural. Today it’s a suburban area. However, until the post-war period, the area was primarily agricultural.

Present day 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City is located outside of the 23 Special Wards (it’s still part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis). But when you read accounts of 近藤勇 Kondō Isami and 土方歳三 Hijikata Toshizō of 新撰組 Shinsengumi[vii], it’s often said that they were men of 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama District. Isami’s hometown was the village of 武蔵国多摩郡上石原村 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Kami-Ishihara Mura Upper Ishihara Village, Tama District, Musashi Province. Today this particular location is part of Chōfu City. Whether Isami would have considered the area Chōfu[viii], I can’t say for sure but he must have been familiar with the term, for reasons I’ll explain later. But until the Meiji Period, Kondō Isami’s hometown was not Chōfu. It was Kami-Ishihara.

But both Isami and Toshizō would have identified themselves as men of the Tama District[ix].

This picture is purported to be the Kondō residence in Chōfu.

This picture is purported to be the Kondō residence in Chōfu. Even though this is clearly a samurai residence, it’s very rustic.

The Man’yōshū

OK. No cloth makers. Lots of farmers. Place names referring to cloth all over the river basin. So what’s going on then?

So earlier, I mentioned that the 万葉集 Man’yōshū Collection of 10,000 Leaves makes a reference to the beautiful young women who lived along the 玉川 Tamagawa Tama River. The Man’yōshū is one of the oldest collections of Japanese poetry. It’s a collection of poetry from various parts of Japan written in various dialects using a version of Japanese writing that was very much in its infancy. For people interested in place names, it’s both a boon and a bane. It often seems to be helpful and wildly confusing at the same time.

和歌 waka were a style of poem[x] that we first find evidence of in the Man’yōshū. It’s in this collection of poems that we find a particular 東歌 Tōka a kind of waka from ancient Kantō. Let’s look at the waka in question, shall we?


Tamagawa ni
sarasu tezukuri
sarasara ni
nanzo kono ko no

koko da kanashiki

Like the cloth
they bleach until its
silky and white,
I wonder why these girls
are so freaking cute

This old poem painted a picture of bleached cloth that was white and tender, just like the beautiful young girls who lived along the Tama River. It doesn’t say anything about a textile industry, but it does evoke a pretty image and it does point out the Tama River. Keep in mind that in the 600’s or whenever this was written, the Tama River was spider-like network of rivers. Whatever section of the river the author refers to as “the Tama River” is completely lost to us[xi], though it is presumably somewhere in Tama District.

But the keyword in the text is: tezukuri (or tatsukuri/tazukuri). The popular translation is cloth. Keep this in mind as we move forward with this crazy conflation.

A new image arises: beautiful young women bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

A new image arises: beautiful young women bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

Was a Town on the Tama River Famous for Cloth or Textiles?

Unfortunately, I don’t know. My sources say it was famous for farming and nothing more. And surely the Tama River provided ample water for irrigating rice paddies right up to the modern era. The beautiful poem in the Man’yōshū would tie in well with the old taxation system theory if we could locate a famous textile village. But if this industry existed in the area, outside of the Man’yōshū we don’t have much literary evidence or physical evidence. What’s more, the Man’yōshū is really vague[xii] and the Kantō region of the 600’s is mysterious place to us today.

A young girl bleaching cloth in the Tamagawa

A young girl bleaching cloth in the Tamagawa

So Why Is the Area Called Chōfu?

The word てづくり tezukuri (or たつくりたづくり tatsukuri/tazukuri) is used in the poem. Today, this is usually written 手作り tezukuri handmade/homemade but the term could be used for any kinds of goods. After all, in those days, there were no machines, so everything that wasn’t natural was handmade, right?

The fact is that the product in question is vague. The verb さらす sarasu means “to expose something” but has another meaning of “to bleach something.” Subsequent generations seem to have taken sarasu tezukuri as “bleaching cloth,” but I wonder if there might have been another meaning (perhaps dialectal?). I’m not qualified to say either way, but seems like a fair question to ask. But one thing is certain.  A famous image arose of beautiful, young maidens with fair skin, happily bleaching soft cloth in the clean, life giving waters of the Tamagawa River. This image was to persist right up to the Meiji Period.

tama river bleach bitch

Edo Period Poetry in Motion

In a 1000 years, a lot can change – especially if you have shoddy records. Because of the poem from the Man’yōshū, the local people – who were most definitely farmers in the Edo Period – had a certain sense of pride. FFS, 6th century nobles supposedly used to talk about how great their hometown was. Anyone who lived along the Tama River could take pride in their good produce/products and beautiful people. Who wouldn’t be proud of that?

But what actually seems to have happened is that a literary phrase, 調布の玉川 Tezukuri no Tamagawa, had entered the poetic language of the day. The interesting thing is the kanji 調布 which should normally be read as Chōfu had the irregular reading of Tatsukuri/Tezukuri. The phrase Tezukuri no Tamagawa had become a 枕詞 makura kotoba a so-called “pillow word.” This way of writing Tezukuri which reflected “paying taxes with cloth” would then be a special reading of the kanji[xiii]. I’m assuming that for reasons of poetic meter Tezukuri no Tamagawa (9 syllables) was alternatively read as Chōfu no Tamagawa (8 syllables) – Chōfu being preferred to Tezukuri because it was easier to read and because tezukuri is just so goddamn vague.

Bleaching cloth in a van down by the river.

Bleaching cloth in a van down by the river.
Wait! Don’t put the baby in the bleach bucket!!
And wait! Is that baby smoking a pipe? What the hell is wrong with you?


But Wait. Did You Say “Pillow Word?”

Yes, I did.

I'm exhausted from all this work. Let's take a break and smoke this joint I got from Kichiemon.

I’m exhausted from all this work. Let’s take a break and smoke this joint I got from Kichiemon, the village headman’s son. He always gets the best shit.

What the Fuck is a Pillow Word?

Good question!

I don’t read classical Japanese poetry[xiv], so I could be butchering this explanation. But it’s my understanding that waka[xv] used “pillow words” to allude to established literary imagery or to instantly conjure up a traditional sentiment. Many of the references referred to poems in the Man’yōshū, but I don’t think they were restricted to that text alone.

Today, if a rapper (or anyone, for that matter) says “got my mind on my money,” clued in listeners will instantly have an image in their head because they know the reference. Wikipedia says that “Japanese poets use makura kotoba to refer to earlier poems and show their knowledge of poetry and the imperial poetry collections.” So I think that supports my explanation[xvi]. Fingers crossed.

Anyhoo, the local people knew the poem quite well. By the Edo Period, artists who painted the Tama area would have known the expression or would have been told by the local villagers. Edo Era locals clearly interpreted tezukuri and tazukuri (handmade) as nuno (cloth). This is when the ancient “cloth tax” story came back into play.

The idea of a 武蔵国調布 Musashi no Kuni Chōfu Chōfu, Musashi Province had entered the imagination. With it came the image of beautiful young girls of the area. This is a concept with a long history in Japan, the local 美女 bijo beautiful women. Some areas are famous for beautiful women[xvii] more than others. Artists from Edo who often wouldn’t bother to make the trip to the Tama District had an image in their head of beautiful, young girls with pure white skin happily bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

I may be reading this picture all wrong, but the woman in the foreground strikes me as a prostitute. The towns along the Tama River were post towns. If I'm right, is this a clue?

A beautiful woman holding a white cloth in Chōfu. You can see the river in the bottom lefthand corner. At first I thought the woman might have been a prostitute because of the flashy clothes, but it was pointed out to me that she has a walking stick and a hat for traveling. Maybe she’s just a traveler and not a local woman.

Meiji Villagers Name a New Town and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next…

Somehow the local legends and the poem from the Man’yōshū had merged so perfectly that something amazing happened in the Meiji Period.



After the 廃藩置県 haihan-chiken abolition of the domains and creation of prefectures in 1871 (Meiji 4), a whole lot of rural areas were overlooked in the grand changes of the Meiji government. That is to say, day to day life didn’t change very much[xviii]. But new, Western style civil administration was applied to the countryside as well as the cities. This meant that previously autonomous 村 mura villages were combined to create to create 町 machi towns. Now, for the first time, independent villages were asked to re-consider their place in this new system. Sometimes the largest village name was used for the new combination, but other times, completely new names were chose.

So it seems that when forced to look at themselves as a group and not as independent villages, the local people took pride in the pillow word that united them all, 調布の玉川 chōfu no Tamagawa[xix]. Actually a number of villages along the Tama River basin used some variant of the chōfu name and to the best of my knowledge, these efforts weren’t coordinated. It was just ingrained into the spirit of the people who lived along the river.

It all just disintegrated into river monkeys. The people of Tama District just goofed off in the river. How quaint.  This is why Kondo Isami and Hijikata Toshizo, despite having skills, were dismissed outright by higher ranking Edoites. The curse of the country samurai.

It all just disintegrated into river monkeys. The people of Tama District just goofing off in the river. How quaint. This is why Kondo Isami and Hijikata Toshizo, despite having skills, were often looked down upon by their social superiors. The curse of the country samurai.

The first time we see Chōfu on a map is in 1889 (Meiji 22) when a new place name was created; 北多摩郡調布町 Kita Tama-gun Chōfu Machi Chōfu Town, North Tama District. The town deliberately chose to reference the pillow word. The new town incorporated the former villages of 布田小島分村 Fuda-Kojima Wakemura[xx] Divided Village of Fuda-Kojima, 上石原村 Kami^Ishihara Mura Upper Ishihara Village and 下石原村 Shimo-Ishihara Mura Lower Ishihara Village, 上布田村 Kami-Fuda Mura Upper Fuda Village and 下布田村 Shimo-Fuda Mura Lower Fuda Village, 国領宿 Kokuryō-juku Kokuryō Post Town, 上ヶ給村 Agekyū Mura Agekyū Village, and 飛田給村 Tobitakyū Mura Tobitakyū Village.

Chofu Station used to have elevated platforms, now it's a subway.

Chofu Station used to have elevated platforms, now it’s a subway.

Chōfu is Actually a Pretty Cool Place

Chōfu is located outside of the 23 Special Wards of Tōkyō. That can mean BOOOOOORING to many people. Even if you take a train from 新宿駅 Shinjuku Eki Shinjuku Station[xxi], you need to take an express train to get to Chōfu in a reasonable amount of time. It’s out there. Many people who live in the center of Tōkyō probably wouldn’t see much use in going there. It’s the suburbs. Outside of the station area, you need a car – or at least a bike.

That said, I think Chōfu is a pretty cool place. If I’m not mistaken, many of its charms are accessible on foot, most of them by bus, and all of them by bicycle[xxii]. Modern 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City is essentially a collection of Edo Period 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway. There are some Edo Period structures extant here and there along the old postal road, most notably the 赤門 akamon, a temple gate that has survived since 1649. There’s also a 七福神巡り shichi fukujin meguri 7 gods of good luck pilgrimage if you’re a walker[xxiii].

Statue of Kondō Isami at Ryūgen-ji.

Statue of Kondō Isami at Ryūgen-ji.

As I mentioned earlier, Kondō Isami was born and raised here[xxiv]. The home where the Kondō residence once stood is no longer there, but there is a plaque and a picture of a house purported to be his 実家 jikka parents’ home. At nearby 龍源寺 Ryūgen-ji Ryūgen Temple is one of Kondō Isami’s many graves[xxv]. There’s another shrine, 上石原若宮八幡神社  Kami-Ishihara Wakanomiya Hachiman-gū, where Kondō Isami allegedly went to pray for victory of the 甲陽鎮撫隊 Kōyoū Chinbutai – essentially a new name given to the Shinsengumi[xxvi].  A short walk from the station will bring you to 布多天神社 Fudatenjin-ja known by locals as simply Fudatenjin. One of the shrine’s little known secrets – even to locals and Shinsengumi enthusiasts – is that on the precincts there is a large stone monument erected by Isami’s father, 近藤周助 Kondō Shūsuke. The shrine is famous for its 梅 ume plum blossoms in the late winter.

Map of Jindai-ji.

Map of the Jindai-ji temple complex

I’m sure there are more charms than these[xxvii], but the real show stopper in Chōfu is a sprawling temple complex called深大寺 Jindai-ji Jindai Temple[xxviii]. I’m sure it’s beautiful any time of the year, but the time I went was in the autumn – just as the leaves were changing – and it was pretty amazing. I felt like I had stepped back in time. It was years ago when I went, but the beauty of the atmosphere and nature made a big impression on me. It’s said to be the second oldest temple in 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis. The area is famous for soba, so it’s a good place to relax and have something to eat. The distance of this place from Chōfu Station is why I think that if you want to “do Chōfu,” you should probably rent some e-チャリ ii-chari electric bicycles to hit all of the spots. And believe me, I haven’t mentioned all the spots in this area.

OK, we’ve wandered way outside of the 23 Wards but we’re still in Tōkyō Metropolis. I think long time readers can guess what the next few articles will be about. Feel free to take a stab at it in the comments section below.

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That’s the Nara Period to you and me.
[ii] Wanna know about the Asuka Period, here ya go!
[iii] What the hell are the Taika Reforms?
[iv] Much of the system was superseded by new innovations in the 10th century (Heian Period), but some of these administrative units stayed in place until the Meiji Period.
[v] When you talk about place names, you have to talk about civil administrative crap all the time.
[vi] Modern day 京都 Kyōto.
[vii] What’s the hell is the Shinsengumi, you ask? This is the Shinesengumi.
[viii] Today Chōfu City bills itself as 近藤勇のふるさと Kondō Isami no Furusato Kondō Isami’s Hometown.
[ix] Hijikata’s hometown, by the way, was in nearby 武蔵国多摩郡日野 村 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Hino Mura Hino Village, Tama District, Musashi Province.
[x] Waka come in all shapes and sized, so I’m not going into detail. I don’t want to discuss waka any more than I want to discuss taxes. lol. But here’s the Wikipedia article. Knock yourself out.
[xi] Wanna learn more about the Tama River?
[xii] Japanese poetry tends to be pretty fucking vague.
[xiii] And fair enough. Kanji are fairly flexible in how you want to use them in Japanese.
[xiv] I rarely read any poetry anymore, for that matter.
[xv] Read more about waka here.
[xvi] If I’m wrong, say something in the comments.
[xvii] Some areas are famous for handsome men too.
[xviii] In much of rural Japan, daily life didn’t change much until WWII.
[xix] Long time readers who actually read my unbearable river series should know well that in the Edo Period the ancient kanji 多磨 Tama were used for the geographical area and the kanji 玉川 Tamagawa were used for the river and aqueducts.
[xx] I’m rendering 分村 as wakemura. It’s an obsolete word meaning “separated village” – this I’m sure of – but I’m not sure of the reading. It could be bunson (doesn’t look like a place name, though) or wamura or bunmura. I can’t find any information except on Weblio. So, until I hear otherwise, I’m sticking with that reading. But if anyone can confirm or correct this, I’d really appreciate it.
[xxi] You can get to anywhere in the world from Shinjuku Station…
[xxii] I recommend an electric bike because… dude, they’re freaking amazing.
[xxiii] The course is here.
[xxiv] Just for clarification, his 道場 dōjō, the 試衛館 Shieikan was located in 市ヶ谷 Ichigaya, near Shinjuku. I think I wrote an article about Ichigaya, but I don’t remember… Oh well.
[xxv] The temple is technically in 三鷹 Mitaka, not Chōfu. #BorderProblemz.
Also, I’m not joking when I say Kondō Isami has many graves. I wonder if someone has compiled a list of all of them. This might be a good start. #CmonInternetDontFailMeNow
[xxvi] Read more about the Kōyoū Chinbutai here. If memory serves me well, the new name was given by 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū. The 2004 Taiga Drama, 新撰組! Shinsengumi! made the re-naming of the group look terribly insulting and implied that Katsu Kaishū was just trying to get rid of them by either breaking their morale or getting them killed. That’s just a TV show, but it’s an intriguing theory.
[xxvii] Microsoft has an office here, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
[xxviii] For the record, Jindai-ji is technically in Mitaka, not Chōfu.

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