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What does Akihabara mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Japanese Subculture on November 12, 2014 at 3:26 am

秋葉原
Akihabara (“autumn leaf field,” but more at “field of Akiha”)

shinsengumi akihabara cosplay maid

I’m gonna get all this “moe” shit out of the way first, then get into the serious history.
That said… A Shinsengumi cosplay cafe… really?
Sounds like a place for a JapanThis meet up! lol

For a certain segment of the population, Akihabara is ground zero for the ultimate experience in Japan. This certain segment of the population is generally referred to by the term オタク otaku – geeks, nerds, in other words people with very specific interests. You won’t find many Japanese history nerds here, though.

In the case of Akihabara, one image is a manga and anime based wonderland inhabited by メイド meido maids, Tōkyō’s coolest gamers, and cutting edge IT specialists. The other image is an IT business district overrun by the biggest losers in Japan who can’t get girlfriends so they collect figures and become obsessed with 抱き枕 dakimakura cuddle pillows and フィギュア figures and are so socially retarded that they have to resort to going to メイド喫茶 meido kissa maid cafes where girls clean their earwax and trim their nails over a cup of tea at inflated prices. Oh, and single, middle aged salarymen who are obsessed with the idol group, AKB-48, who is based in the area.

The reality is somewhere-in-between and not-even-fucking-close.

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Old School Akihabara

Before it became the otaku paradise it is today, Nakano, Akihabara were the centers of Tokyo's porn industry (due to their proximity to Shinjuku and Ueno, respectively). Both areas have changed over the years, but blatant  exhibitionism in Akihabara (like in this photo) is rare - replaced by legit cosplay acts. In Nakano, there are still certain off-the-radar spots where you may still encounter some porno-filming shenanigans.

Before it became the otaku paradise it is today, Nakano/Akihabara were the centers of Tokyo’s porn industry (due to their proximity to Shinjuku and Ueno, respectively). Both areas have changed over the years, but blatant exhibitionism in Akihabara (like in this photo) is rare – replaced by legit cosplay acts. In Nakano, there are still certain off-the-radar spots where you may still encounter some porno-filming shenanigans. I rarely go to Akihabara, but I haven’t seen something like this in 10-11 years.

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A Little Backstory

When I first visited Japan 12 or 13 years ago, Akihabara was a very different place. My friend, Kai, first brought me there. We walked from Uguisudani to Akihabara. He wanted to show me Electric Town, but most of all he wanted to show me a massive, multiple-story porn shop – easily the largest porn shop I’ve ever seen in my life. We’re talking a Tower Records of sex. Needless to say, it was fucking awesome.[i]

Anyhoo, my friend pointed out to me that the town wasn’t just famous for electronics and porn, but it had a gritty, Shōwa Era feeling but it was slowly being cleaned up and taken over by massive commercial interests. He was absolutely correct. 13 years later, Akihabara is a completely different town. There are massive electronics retailers (the tiny specialist shops are still there, though) and skyscrapers and cutting edge IT companies in the area. Some specialist electronics shops have given way to specialist shops centered on オタク文化 otaku bunka otaku/nerd culture. 13 years ago it was still very specialized (for example, the porn shop had a whole floor dedicated to any genre you can imagine), but today there is a more unified theme. Tech, gaming, anime, and computers reign supreme[ii].

Sometimes I think it’s a saccharine technophile dreamland, but today let’s look at what this neighborhood was before it became 電気街 Denki-gai Electric Town and before it became the otaku mecca it is today.

People lived here in the Edo Period and after. Before there were maids and before there was ever electricity, people lived here.

So let’s see Akihabara before its recent transformations.

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Once you leave the station area, you enter the Showa Era mess that is Electric Town. This is where Akihabara can be a lot of fun.

Once you leave the station area, you enter the Showa Era mess that is Electric Town. This is where Akihabara can be a lot of fun. (and see, I promised the pictures would get more normal…)

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Let’s Look at the Kanji

This place name is made up of three kanji. None of which are particularly helpful in deducing the origin of this place name.


aki

autumn


ha

leaf


hara

field

Also, the location is difficult to nail down. In 台東区 Taitō-ku Taitō Ward there is an official postal address 秋葉原 Akihabara. But the area considered Akihabara by most people is the area immediately surrounding 秋葉原駅 Akihabara Eki Akihabara Station, whose official postal code is in 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward[iii]. The 電気街口 Denkigai-guchi Electric Town Exit of the station is located in Chiyoda Ward, but it spills over into Taitō Ward.

Aki - Autumn/Fall; Ha - Leaves; Hara - source/field

aki – autumn/fall
ha – leaves
hara – source/fieldEnd of Story!

The reality of the situation is that the The place name dates from the Meiji Period. In short, in the Meiji Period, the blocks that make up the immediate Akihabara Station area burned to the ground. The government decided not to rebuild, as this area had long been prone to fires. A small Shintō shrine called a 鎮火社 chinka-sha fire prevention shrine was built on the vacant lot. The 神 kami spirit enshrined there – or believed to be enshrined there – was 秋葉大権現 Akiha Daigongen[iv]. The sprawling vacant lot was referred to as a 原 hara “field.” Thus this was Akihabara – “Akiha’s Field.”

But there is so much more to this story.

Let’s take a trip back to the Edo Period.

Here is a Meiji Era map of the area after the surrounding areas had been built up. Business was still conducted along the main roads, it was only the inner area that wasn't rebuilt.  (I have a photo later)

Here is a Meiji Era map of the area after the surrounding areas had been built up. Business was still conducted along the main roads, it was only the inner area that wasn’t rebuilt.
(I have a photo later)

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The Edo Period

In the beginning of the Edo Period, a few 大名 daimyō feudal lords built their 藩邸 hantei daimyō residences near the area in order maintain a good relationship with the new shōgun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu. The area had access to water[v] and quick access to 江戸城 Edo-jō. However, the area was apparently prone to fires and by the time the policy of alternate attendance – 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai – was implemented, most daimyō had moved elsewhere. There were still a few samurai residences in the area, and in nearby 御徒町 Okachimachi[vi] you could find residences and barracks for low ranking 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the 将軍家 shōgun-ke shōgun family and nearby there were still a few daimyō mansions.

By the late Edo Period, the area was a small collection commoner residences and merchants. The term 町 machi/chō town was used because under the Tokugawa regime similar businesses tended to be grouped together, residences of families with similar incomes also tended to be grouped together, but most modern people would just think of these as blocks. But each block had its own name. 神田佐久間町 Kanda Sakuma-chō, is an example of name of one block that persists to this day. But in short, in the Edo Period this area was considered part of Kanda.

The white area shows the presumed extent of the damage of the fire.  The red stars mark the shogun's road from Edo Castle to Ueno.

The white area shows the presumed extent of the damage of the fire.
The red stars mark the shogun’s road from Edo Castle to Ueno.

An important road, the 下谷御成街道 Shitaya O-nari Kaidō ran through the area. As I mentioned in an earlier article, 御成 o-nari is a word that refers to the presence of the shōgun. An 御成御門 o-nari go-mon is the shōgun’s private gate. An 御成御街道 o-nari o-kaidō is the shōgun’s private road. The Shitaya O-nari Kaidō was the private road of the shōgun to travel back and forth from 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle to 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji Kan’ei Temple. The stretch of present-day 中央道 Chūō Dōri “Main Street” from 上野一丁目 Ueno Icchōme and 上野二丁目 Ueno Nichōme to the Kanda River follows the path of the Shitaya O-nari Kaidō.

The bridge over the shogun's road in 1937 (Showa 12). The city still retains its 2 story structure in the shitamachi. Notice the dome off in the distance? That's Holy Resurrection Cathedral. We'll talk about that later.

The bridge over the shogun’s road in 1937 (Showa 12). The city still retains its 2 story structure in the shitamachi.
Notice the dome off in the distance? That’s Holy Resurrection Cathedral. We’ll talk about that later.

Today, the 総武線 Sōbu-sen Sōbu Line passes through the area on elevated tracks. There is a non-descript bridge that spans Chūō Dōri. And even though the word o-nari became irrelevant after the collapse of the shōgunate, this bridge preserves the name of the O-nari Kaidō. To this day it is called the 御成街道架道橋 O-nari Kaidō Kadōkyō the O-nari Kaidō Overpass Bridge[vii], even though this particular O-nari Kaidō doesn’t exist anymore.

The bridge today. Not sure what the shogun would think of this...

The bridge today.
Not sure what the shogun would think of this…

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In the Meiji Period

The real history of Akihabara begins in the Meiji Period.

In 1869 (Meiji 2), there was a major fire in this part of Tōkyō[viii]. The area we’ve been discussing, which was roughly 17 blocks of Edo Period real estate was completely burnt to the ground. I can’t find numbers on the casualties, but 17 blocks of cramped residential apartments, each unit housing at least 2, possibly 3 generations of a family is an absolutely horrible tragedy. As mentioned earlier, the new Meiji Government decided not to rebuild and designated the area as a 火除地 hiyokechi firebreak. The idea is that if other areas burned, the fire would stop spreading once it hit the 野原 nohara field.

Here you can see the fire break. There is a huge clearing surrounded by buildings. The origin of Akihabara.

Here you can see the fire break. There is a huge clearing surrounded by buildings. The origin of Akihabara. (click to enlarge)

On the field (or near the field, I’m not clear which), a small type of shrine called a 鎮火社 chinka-sha was established to protect the area from further conflagrations. The name of this type of shrine literally translates as “extinguished fire shrine[ix].”

Details are fuzzy, but it seems that the local people incorrectly assumed that the main 神 kami deity of fire protection of the Edo Period had been enshrined here. But it seems like the chinka-sha was nothing more than an empty shack until 1870, when a kami was enshrined here – and it was kami the people assumed had been installed.

So who is the kami in question?

Akiha Daigongen is actually a Buddhist name. This kami's original Shinto name is Hinokagutsuchi-no-Okami. Try saying that 3 times fast.

Meet Akiha Daigongen. His name is Buddhist. His original Shinto name is Hinokagutsuchi-no-Okami.
Try saying that 3 times fast.

His name is 秋葉大権現 Akiha Daigongen, a beaked and winged Shintō-Buddhist syncretic deity who is crowned with an aura of fire. The kami was affectionately called 秋葉様 Akiha-sama or 秋葉さん Akiha-san Mr. Akiha[x] and this name could also be applied to a temple or shrine where he was enshrined.

Initially, I thought some Meiji hijinks were going down, possibly connected to the 1868 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzenrei Order Separating Kami and Buddhas. Part of the government’s efforts to separate Japan’s two fused religions was a specific order banning applying the Buddhist title 権現 Gongen or 大権現 Daigongen to Shintō kami. That would put Akiha Daigongen – as syncretic as they get – in direct violation of the law. But as I thought about it a little more; there were big changes going on in Tōkyō and across the country and realistically, only a year passed before Akiha Daigongen was enshrined into the chinka-sha and the name changed to 秋葉社 Akiha-sha Akiha Shrine. I think people were busy and it just to a long time to transport the priests and necessary implements from the main Akiha Shrine in Shizuoka to Tōkyō[xi].

Sorry autumn leaves have no connection to this place name...

Sorry autumn leaves have no connection to this place name…

So, What’s the Etymology?

The burned out area left as a fire break was officially called a 火除地 hiyokechi, literally “fire prevention land” but to the commoners of Edo – erm, I mean Tōkyō – it was just a 野原 nohara field. When you have roughly 17 blocks of burnt out land in the middle of an urban center, it’s a landmark – especially in a city like Edo-Tōkyō. Streets don’t have names, so giving directions is primarily down by landmarks.

As far as landmark names go, “that burned out field over there” leaves much to be desired. So the people latched on the Akiha Shrine, which is a much more pleasant name given the deadly reality of fires in Japanese cities at the time. Several names were in use before standardization.

秋葉之原 Akiha-no-hara
秋葉っ原 Akihabbara
秋葉ヶ原 Akiha-ga-hara, Akiba-ga-hara
あきばはら Akibahara
あきばっぱら Akibappara
秋葉原 Formal writing; pronunciation is ambiguous.But this is the spelling used to day.

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What’s Up With the AKIHA and AKIBA Thing?

The readings for 秋葉 are /akiha/ and /akiba/. Both are used throughout the country. The main Akiha Shrine in Shizuoka uses the /ha/ sound, but there are shrines that use /ba/. It seems that both /akibahaɽa/ and /akihabaɽa/ were used as readings of 秋葉原 and this is most like the source of the affectionate nickname アキバ Akiba used by otaku. And here I thought it was a diminutive slang term. Go history!
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torii_cute

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I want to visit Akiha Shrine

OK, good for you. You can.

You just can’t do it in Akihabara.

I don't want to break your otaku heart, but this shrine has very little going for it today...

I don’t want to break your otaku heart, but this shrine has very little going for it today…

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The chinka-sha was built in 1869. It was renamed the Akiha-sha in 1870 (Meiji 3), and in 1888 (Meiji 21) was moved to present day 台東区松ヶ谷 Taitō-ku Matsu-ga-ya Matsugaya, Taitō-ku and became 秋葉神社 Akiha Jinja Akiha Shrine.

You might be thinking, why the hell would you move a shrine to another place? Well, this happened all the time – Kichijō-ji and Yanaka, I’m looking at you! – but in this case, it happened because of the area’s next big step: a freight train station was to be built here. Due to its proximity to the Kanda River, the area was a major lumber town. Lumber distribution had traditionally made use of Edo’s vast river network prior to trains. Once the train network was in place, merchants could increase their reach.

In 1890 (Meiji 23) the train station was opened under the hiragana name あきはのはらえき Akiha no Hara Eki Akiha no Hara Station. Since 1870, various informal names had appeared on maps, but this was the first time the area had an official sign. The hiragana is a testament to the confusion caused by the kanji and the casualness of the name – it was just a burned out field by the river after all.

Since people don’t really use freight trains so much, over time the local people’s reference to the neighborhood was based on the formal kanji use, which was today’s 秋葉原. This kind of kanji is ambiguous as to pronunciation, but it seems fairly clear that the final 2 contenders were /akihabaɽa/ and /akibahaɽa/.

1960's Akihabara Station was all about distribution. High end electronic parts came in and out of here and gave birth to Electric Town.

1960’s Akihabara Station was all about distribution. High end electronic parts came in and out of here and gave birth to Electric Town.

However, until re-administration of the Tōkyō in 1964 there had never been an official place name using the kanji 秋葉原. In that year, two traditionally shitamachi towns in Taitō Ward named 松永町 Matsunaga-chō and 練塀町 Neribei-chō officially became 秋葉原 Akihabara. The names of those towns date back to the Edo Period. Again, it’s interesting to point out that the official Akihabara is in Taitō Ward, while the station and much of the original burned out field where the name began are in Chiyoda Ward.

So that is the end of the story of Akihabara. The evolution of the name isn’t preserved step by step, but we’ve got signs, maps, and finally an official government endorsement of a place name. In Tōkyō, this is place name gold.

Speaking of gold...  This is the main shrine in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Speaking of gold…
This is the main shrine in Shizuoka Prefecture.

But I Want To Talk About The Main Shrine in Shizuoka…

Will you humor me for a few more paragraphs? I’m comparing an Edo Period map with a modern map and I want to go on, but I think it’s more interesting if we return to Akihabara’s namesake for a moment.

The main shrine that houses Akiha Daigongen is located in 静岡県浜松市 Shizuoka-ken Hamatsu-shi Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture and called is called 秋葉山本宮秋葉神社 Akihasan Hongū Akiha Jinja Akiha Mountain Main Shrine Akiha Shrine[xii]. The name Hamatsu should ring a bell as this is where Tokugawa Ieyasu ruled from 1570-1586[xiii]. As such the shrine was well patronized by the Tokugawa. In December they celebrate the 火祭り Hi Matsuri Fire Festival. The shrine boasts a collection of 浮世絵 ukiyo-e paintings and a collection of swords donated by such notable Sengoku warlords as 武田信玄 Takeda Shingen, 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and 加藤清正 Katō Kiyomasa.

By the way, there are roughly 800 Akiha/Akiba Shrines scattered throughout Japan. There are more of these than there are Tōshō-gū.

The Akiha Fire Festival. Where Shinto priests play with fire inside wooden structures. Ummm... ok...

The Akiha Fire Festival.
Where Shinto priests play with fire inside wooden structures.
Ummm… ok…

What’s Left Today?

Finding bits of Edo in Tōkyō isn’t hard, but it takes a careful eye and you really have to know what you’re looking at and looking for. But given Akihabara’s reputation as the technology epicenter of Japan – possibly Asia – and that it was burnt to the ground in the early Meiji Period, you’d think there’d be little left of the Edo Period there. But you’d be wrong.

What could this possibly be?

What could this possibly be?

When they began construction on the 秋葉原UDXビル Akihabara UDX Building in 2006, the construction company discovered some suspicious stones. An archaeology team was called in who quickly realized this was an 石垣 ishigaki stone wall from the mid-Edo Period. Given the quality of the construction and location, they were able to determine this was the remains of a 武家屋敷 buke yashiki samurai residence. The stone work was painstakingly excavated and re-assembled and the design team scrambled to incorporate the walls into the design of the building. Today, the average person probably wouldn’t recognize them, but the traditional stonework and random stones here and there on the street level of this ultramodern sky rise date from the Edo Period. There is a small sign describing the wall.

I'm not even kidding. With minimal effort you can find a piece of Edo in Akihabara.  Bet you didn't see that coming!

I’m not even kidding. With minimal effort you can find a piece of Edo in Akihabara.
Bet you didn’t see that coming!

The monument displays a picture during the excavation

The monument displays a picture during the excavation

I Want to Finish By Revisiting a Photo

Take a look at the Akiha no Hara (Akiha's Field), then note the rebuilt buildings around it. Why are those buildings there?  To answer that question, look at streets. You can see street cars. The street cars were the predecessors of buses    and were active in this area. Business was good, and station front property was (and is) the hottest real estate.  That said, in the bottom left-hand corner note the traditional wooden Edo Period bridge....

Take a look at the Akiha no Hara (Akiha’s Field), then note the rebuilt buildings around it. Why are those buildings there?
To answer that question, look at streets. You can see street cars. The street cars were the predecessors of buses and were active in this area. Business was good, and station front property was (and is) the hottest real estate.
That said, in the bottom left-hand corner note the traditional wooden Edo Period bridge….

The panoramic photo was taken from the 東京復活大聖堂 Tōkyō Fukkatsu Taiseidō Holy Resurrection Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox cathedral built in the 1890’s[xiv]. I don’t know the details of this photo, but my guess it was taken shortly after construction was finished. So this is mostly likely the only photo of the area. It’s pretty amazing.

So, otaku people. Stuff that up your proverbial pipe and smoke it.

The Church of the Holy Resurrection - once the tallest building in the area, now it's obscured by skyscrapers.

The Church of the Holy Resurrection – once the tallest building in the area, now it’s obscured by skyscrapers.

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[i]
Cuz we all love sex. Awwwww yeah!
[ii] This is seen by the old school otaku of 中野 Nakano as the ultimate sell out. They will proudly tell you that true spirit of otaku culture is alive and well in Nakano and that Akihabara is a fucking clown show.
[iii] I have an article about that, by the way.
[iv] This chinka-sha seems to have been built informally and later enshrined, but it’s not clear.
[v] The 神田川 Kanda-gawa Kanda River was nearby.
[vi] I have an article about Okachimachi here, bitches.
[vii] I could go a lot deeper into the history of the bridges, but that would take me back down the river rabbit hole. I could go on about the history of Chūō Dōri, but that would also take me back down the river rabbit hole. No thank you. Not going there now. No way. I have river rabbit hole trauma.
[viii] The name of the city was changed from Edo to Tōkyō the year before.
[ix] Though, interestingly, if you pop the word into Chinese Google Translate, it comes up as “town fire company.” Not sure if that’s accurate, cuz Google Translate is usually a trainwreck.
[x] Mr. Akiha doesn’t really convey the nuance of the Japanese, but I can’t think of a better translation.
[xi] You’re off the hook on this one, Meiji government. But I’m watching you.
[xii] Yes, I know the name is redundant, but don’t blame me. I didn’t name the place.
[xiii] He then relocated to 駿府城 Sunpu-jō Sunpu Castle.
[xiv] The cathedral is more commonly referred to by its nickname, ニコライ堂 Nikorai-dō Nikolai’s Church. The name is a tip of the hat to the church’s founder, St. Nikolai of Japan.

The Kanda River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers, Travel in Japan on July 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm

神田川
Kanda-gawa (literally, “divine fields river,” but actually “river in Kanda”)[i]

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.  If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.  The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but it was built after the Great Kanto Earthquake which river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them.

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.
If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.

 

The name 神田 Kanda is one of the oldest place names in Edo-Tōkyō and believe it or not, 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River is not that old at all. Well, most of the river isn’t. Well, part of it might be.

Well, it’s complicated.

In short, after doing this research, I’ve realized I have to make a separate article about the area called 神田 Kanda – and by that, I mean just etymology. So I will write about that in the future – and I promise not to put it off too long. But let’s just deal with the river for the time being, mkay?

 

Let’s Look at the Kanji


kan

deities


ta, -da

rice paddies


kawa, -gawa

river

 

This river is manmade. So the etymology seems to be clear. At the beginning of the Edo Period, in the 神保町 Jinbō-chō area there was a small waterway that cut through a hilly are called 神田山 Kandayama Mt. Kanda. It’s said that since this area in general was called 神田 Kanda[ii] the original waterway was then called 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River.

If you only wanted to know the etymology of the river, you can stop reading here. From this point on it’s going to turn into a crazy – possibly boring – river mess. If you’re a JapanThis! masochist, then by all means, read on. You may actually enjoy this.

 

 

hajiribashi

A view of Hajiribashi when it was new. The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but in the 1920’s it was new and river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them (or without tall buildings in the background).

 

Where to Start??

Up until now, every river we have looked at was at some point a naturally occurring river. The Kanda River is quite different from those rivers. There was a time within recorded history that the Kanda River never existed. Though, a portion of it was once a natural tributary of a long vanished inlet of Edo Bay, it is, in fact, a man-made river. All though it may not be on the lips of every Tōkyōite, today the river is a well-recognized part of the well-manicured urban landscape of the modern city.

I actually first mentioned the Kanda River back in June, 2011 in an article about Yodobashi[iii], a small bridge that crosses the Kanda River at the border of 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward and 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward. So this is something of a little homecoming for me. I started this blog when I still lived in Nakano (lived there for about 6 years).

 

yodobashi

Yodobashi in the Taisho Era, before the Great Kanto Earfquake. The area is rustic and a in sharp contrast to the present area. Today it marks the border of Nakano and crazy-ass Shinjuku.

 

What is the Kanda River Today?

The modern river’s official designation is the channel of water that flows from 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Pond to 飯田橋 Iidabashi (literally, Iida Bridge) where it empties into the 外堀 sotobori outer moat of Edo Castle. But it’s at this junction where the river flows into a disparate network of waterways. So you could say, unofficially, that the Kanda River flows into the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River and the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge, essentially taking the water to the Tōkyō Bay.

 

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

 

Now Let’s Talk History

As mentioned in my article on the etymology of Edo, the original 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle or 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle was not built by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan as is often cited[iv]. In reality, a minor branch of 平家 Hei-ke the Taira clan[v] moved to the area at the end of the 11th century and built a fortified residence[vi] on a hill overlooking the sea. As was common practice for new branch families with new fiefs, they took the name of the village 江戸郷 Edo-gō as their own and they became the 平江戸氏 Taira Edo-shi Edo branch of the Taira clan[vii]. In the 12th century, the area prospered due to its proximity to the capital of the Minamoto shōguns in Kamakura. However, it seems the Edo clan didn’t do much to develop the area’s rivers[viii].

In those days, the now long gone 日比谷入江 Hibiya Irie Hibiya Inlet was a saltwater inlet used for 海苔 nori seaweed farming[ix]. There was a certain freshwater river known as 平川 Hirakawa “the wide river” which emptied into the inlet. This fresh water river originally made up part of the natural boundary between 武蔵国豊島郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province and 武蔵国江原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara Province, Musashi Province. This fresh water tributary seems to be where the story of the Kanda River begins.

 

Edo Hamlet

 

Fast Forward a Few Centuries

By the 15th century, Japan was balls deep in the bloody, sweaty mess that was the Sengoku Period[x] and Ōta Dōkan found himself re-fortifying the Edo family’s fort in Chiyoda using water from the coastline and other small rivers with the latest moat-building technology of his day. The new and improved “Edo Fort” he built for the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan brought new channels and waterways into the village. This manipulation of water provided tactical advantages to the new fort in that food and goods could come in and there were more escape routes. There were now logical, defensible waterways. Lucky side effect, certain areas of the village were less exposed than before and local merchants and fishermen had new distribution routes and… BOOM!  Ladies and gentleman, we have a budding 城下町 jōka machi castle town[xi].

Although all of Dōkan’s efforts were pioneering and crucial in the taming of the rivers and sea and urban planning of Edo-Tōkyō, one of the most important changes to Edo’s waterways was diverting the 平川 Hirakawa the ancient “wide river” eastward into what is today called the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River. This is critical to our story today. And the place where this new confluence occurred is actually marked by a bridge called the 神田橋 Kandabashi Kanda Bridge. The Hirakawa River doesn’t exist anymore, but a quick look at a map of Edo Castle will show you a 平川門 Hirakawa Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川濠 Hirakawa-bori Harakawa Moat[xii]; the former, the gate that stood guard on the moat[xiii]; the latter, a vestige of the old river itself. Today, 平川見附 Hirakawa Mitsuke the bridge and fortified gate installation on the moat is a popular sightseeing spot.

 

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate). They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate).
They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.
I used JCastle.info to generate this map. Click on the picture to find THE premiere website on Japanese Castles in English.

 

So, as I’ve said before – and will say again – Tokugawa Ieyasu moved into an Edo that was well fortified, strategically sound, and extremely defensible by sea and by land. Oh, and did I mention, there was a burgeoning village life, supported by fishermen, farmers, and artisans[xiv]. Between Ōta Dōkan’s time and the time Ieyasu entered Edo, a technological revolution had occurred in Japan. From Nobunaga’s rise to power on, Japanese castles began to take on the look of what we think of today when someone says “Japanese Castle.[xv]” The castles of the Tokugawa Period are based on these new advances in castle building technology and reflected the amount of luxury the ruling class could not just afford, but were expected to maintain to project their image of superiority.

 

hirakawa

 

 

OK, OK! Castles, Can We Please Get Back to the River?

Yes, of course. Sorry for getting distracted.

(But we’re probably coming back to castles)

The Tokugawa Shōgunate kept meticulous records of the changes they made to the area. The great waterworks projects were no exception. But I’m not going to get into every change they made. It’s so boring it’s unreal. So let’s just look at some of the major changes and what I think are the takeaways of what created the Kanda River.

Since I got distracted, let’s go back to the beginning.The beginning of the story is 1456-1457, when Ōta Dōkan began manipulating waterways to build moats for his pre-cursor to Edo Castle – though work on the moats most likely preceded construction of the fortress, so we might say 1455-1457. In 1486, Dōkan was assassinated and in 1524 the 江戸合戦 Edo Gassen Battle of Edo saw the rise of influence of the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi and the decline of the Ōta and Uesugi. This meant that the fortifications in 千代田 Chiyoda[xvi] (the area where the Sengoku forts where built and the fields around them) were abandoned and lay fallow for almost 70 years[xvii].

In 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu transferred his clan and top retainers to Edo and began modernizing the old Sengoku Period fortifications of the Edo and Ōta. He cautiously applied some of the latest castle building technology following the examples of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It’s said that the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate was one of the first construction project undertaken and this required crossing an existing moat – one affiliated with the later Kanda Aqueduct/Hirakawa.

The Ote-mon (main gate) at the time of the collapse of the shogunate.

The Ote-mon (main gate) after the Meiji Coup.

 

1603 is the watershed moment. Ieyasu is named 征夷大将軍 seii tai-shōgun shōgun and is the effective military ruler of Japan. From this point, the real history of the Kanda River begins. In 1604, Nihonbashi is built and the 5 Great Highways of Edo are defined. Strict entry & exit points by land and by river are laid out in order to preserve the new Tokugawa hegemony. Edo’s waterways are no longer “just Edo waterways;” they are tactical routes, trade routes, and a means of regulating nature for the protection of the commoners who lived along the rivers and were, essentially, part of the city’s infrastructure. In short, the rivers of Edo became a stabilizing mechanism for the shōgun’s capital.

 

Hirakawa Gate when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy).

The Ote-mon (main gate) when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy). Tokugawa Power! Activate! This is where the name Otemachi comes from.

 

From 1616 to 1620, during the reign of 2nd shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada, something really resembling a “Kanda River” in a modern sense came in to existence. This is when the 神田山 Kandayama “Kanda Mountain”[xviii] was cut through and the Kanda River and Nihonbashi River became 2 discrete waterways. Kanda and Ryōgoku began to take on unique personalities at this time.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate. Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate.
Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

 

In 1657, disaster struck on a colossal scale. The 明暦大家 Meireki Fire[xix] ripped through the city destroying well over half of the metropolis[xx]. Although city planning was essential from the beginning, the shōgunate hadn’t anticipated the rapid growth that accompanied their sankin-kōtai policy and just the economic stability brought on by… um, stability in general.

 

img_0

Edo Castle was a city within a city, When the main keep burned down, budgets and policies were reconsidered.

 

In part of the rebuilding efforts after the Meireki Fire, from 1659-1661 various waterways in Edo were widened and more open space along the rivers was added. Edo grew so rapidly after the arrival of the Tokugawa, that the city had become a firetrap[xxi].

 

sakurameguri22l

Ryogoku Bridge today

 

By some accounts, 60%-70% may have be burnt to the ground. Given the relative clean slate available to the shōgunate after this particular conflagration, certain rivers were designated as firebreaks and widened to keep fires localized[xxii]. It’s at this time that the Kanda River was dramatically widened – most notably, at the confluence of the Kanda River and Ryōgoku River, the 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge was built. Even today, the expanse of the river here is something to see, but in the Edo Period, with no buildings over 2 stories, it was clearly a sight to behold. Soon the area became famous for a dazzling annual fireworks display in the summer[xxiii]. Some of the most iconic 浮世絵 ukiyo-e “scenes of the transient world” come from this area. The 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum is located in this area… for obvious reasons.

 

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.  Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.
Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

 

As I mentioned before, the official headwaters are 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Lake, but the river has no officially designated end point but it’s fairly certain that it ultimately empties into Tōkyō Bay. Traditionally it ends at 飯田橋 Iidabashi. The reason there’s no official ending point is because the Kanda River empties into a few rivers and drainage channels along the way before it ultimately fizzles out into the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll probably be aware that the names and courses of these rivers have been changing over time and that some stretches of one river may have had multiple names depending on the area. So yeah… welcome back to the Confus-o-dome.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).  Gross.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).
Gross.

The Kanda River’s Legacy

The man-made Edo Era waterway that flowed from Inokashira Pond was called the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui. Longtime readers should know what a 上水 jōsui is. But just a refresher, a jōsui is a conduit of “imported” water. This water flowed from 三鷹 Mitaka[xxiv] to Edo Castle; it also supplied drinking water to the daimyō mansions that lined its course.

 

The creation of the Kanda River. (by the way, this is the worst info-graphic ever)

The creation of the Kanda River in Chiyoda from the Hibiya Inlet.

The Kanda Jōsui is considered the first real aqueduct system in Japan. Before I mentioned the technological revolution in castle construction, right? Well, the Sengoku Period began stabilizing and yes, castle building was a status thing. But the distribution of water and water management showed one of the greatest advances in urban planning and administration that Japan had seen in centuries. This is why shōgunate’s founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was such a bad ass. The dude could lead an army here or there, but he had ideas about civil administration and surrounded himself with people who could advise him on these things. Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were essentially one-trick-ponies who couldn’t really get out of the 戦国病気 Sengoku Byōki “Sengoku Rut.”[xxv] Ieyasu, also a product of that generation, realized that infrastructure reinforced military supremacy and brought economic stability[xxvi].

 

The Kanda Aqueduct

The Kanda Aqueduct

Admittedly, it’s not that exciting or cool, but the availability of clean drinking water and disposal of dirty water should never be underestimated in the study of any ancient or pre-modern city[xxvii].

The capital of the Tokugawa shōguns quickly became the biggest city in Japan and eventually the most populous city in the world. Clean water and sewerage undeniably played a part in this. But soon the Kanda Jōsui wasn’t enough. That said, it was the main source of drinking water for Edo Castle during the Edo Period.

Even if it was inadequate to supply the entire sprawling capital, Kanda Jōsui was such a successful project that it begot 6 more major waterworks in Edo, all of which benefited daimyō, samurai, and the commoner population. Of course, this technology spread throughout the realm, but for short while Edo boasted one of the most unique water infrastructures in Japan.

 

HSD10003

 

A Final Note

If you’re up for an interesting bike ride, a 2010 blog post at Metropolis suggests starting at the mouth of the river and riding upstream to Inokashira Pond. When the temperature starts to come down, I may give this a go myself. There are loads of spots, many covered in JapanThis!, along the course of the river, so it should be fascinating.

 

 

 

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[i] I know that’s not the kind of helpful explanation that will bring closure to any of the etymology fans out there.
[ii] As I said, I’m gonna revisit this topic again.
[iii] Any relation to ヨドバシカメラ Yodobashi Camera? Why, yes there is. Thank you for asking.
[iv] And calling Dōkan’s fortifications a “castle” is also a debatable point. I’ve come to prefer the term “well-moated fort.” I came up with that term all on my own… right now. Thank you very much.
[v] If you don’t know who the Taira clan is… wow. OK, here you go.
[vi] Also, as mentioned in my article on What does Edo mean?, the coastal area is littered with 古墳 kofun burial mounds and it’s clear from the archaeology that the area has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. It’s highly doubtful the Edo clan was the first strongmen to seize upon this highly defensible, coastal plateau – they are the noblest recorded family, though.
[vii] Even though other temples and villages in the area are mentioned as far back as the Heian Period, it’s seems like the name Edo itself doesn’t actually appear in any records until the Kamakura Period.
[viii] In fact the original Edo “Castle” was probably just a 出城 dejiro satellite fort, since the Edo clan seemed to have their main residence in 喜多見 Kitami in present 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward.
[ix] I have an article about Hibiya.
[x] And while this may sound like a gratuitous reference to sex on the rag, this is actually a legitimate, historical term. Ask any historian of Pre-Modern Japan. They’ll tell you. Just ask. Seriously.
[xi] Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I said “budding.” When we say “castle” and “castle town” today we are usually referring to a construct of the far more stable Azuchi-Momoyama Period (ie; essentially the end of the Sengoku Period).
[xii] On Edo Era maps these may be listed with honorifics as 平川御門 Hirakawa Go-Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川御堀 Hirakawa O-Hori Hirakawa Moat, respectively.
[xiii] Interestingly, some people think the radius and extent of Ōta Dōkan’s moats was the result of him not having a fucking clue what he was doing. His initial “improvements” lead to more flooding and so he continually modified his plans, diverting rivers away from the castle and the villages by extending them further and further out. Thus part of the sprawling nature of Edo Castle may have been due to stop-gap measures employed by Dōkan.
[xiv] Yes, I did.
[xv] This is as different as when we use the Latin words castrum to describe a Roman military camp/walled town and a castellum a walled fortification of Late Antiquity. The transformation is truly dramatic.
[xvi] You can see my article on Chiyoda here.
[xvii] The castle itself was pretty minor and was most likely not affected by the Late Hōjō efforts to refortify the Edo area from 1583 on.
[xviii] Kandayama was located in present day 駿河台 Surugadai.
[xix] “What’s the Meireki Fire?” you ask. There’s an article for that.
[xx] By some accounts, 70% of the city may have been destroyed.
[xxi] This didn’t change until the reconstruction of the city after WWII (or, some may argue that it didn’t change until the 1960’s and that the city just got lucky with no major conflagrations in the interim).
[xxii] In theory…
[xxiii] People today love fireworks. Just imagine what people with no video, no cameras, and no Perfume must have thought of these theatrical celebrations of summer.
[xxiv] Essentially, present-day Kichijōji.
[xxv] Again, my word. I just made it up now. And yes, I’m just baiting Sengoku lovers. Actually, I like Nobunaga, too.
[xxvi] And far more importantly, put his family in a seemingly endless position as hereditary top of the food chain. Hmmmmmmmmmm…
[xxvii] And you probably never think about where your water comes from or how it gets to your house and where it all goes afterwards, but it works, right? That’s why you can live there.

What does Yurakucho mean?

In Japanese History on October 2, 2013 at 11:51 pm

有楽町
Yūrakuchō (Town where you can have a good time)

Yurakucho Station. The elevated train has been a feature of the area for a long time.

Yurakucho Station.
The elevated train has been a feature of the area for a long time.

, u

is the default reading, it means “have” or “possess” or “exist.”

—————————————–

U usually has a Buddhist meaning of bhava, ie; “becoming.” The Buddhist meaning is the original meaning and you’ll see why later.

 

raku

 ease, comfort, leisure; music

chō, machi

 town
Even in the old days, the elevated train has been part of the scenery.

Even in the old days, the elevated train has been part of the scenery.

If you look at the kanji for Yūrakuchō, you might think this is a quarter of the city that is reserved for debauchery. It’s next to Ginza. It’s near Hibiya and Nihonbashi. It’s close enough to Shinbashi (which is debauched in its own right). It’s located in the southern end of Marunouchi[i]. Today the area doesn’t seem like much to the modern eye. It’s famous for business, shopping, and kind of plain in my opinion, but there are some interesting places to drink there. (Each of those links is to the Japan This! etymology of those places, hint hint wink wink.)

However, if you look at a map of Edo, you’ll notice this area is right next to 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. As I mentioned in my article on Marunouchi, it was within the outer moat of Edo Castle and one of the features of this place was a long road lined with the high walls and gates of the 上屋敷 kami yashiki upper residences[ii] of the most elite feudal lords.

Today Yurakucho is boring. It's Ginza's embarrassing  little sister.

Today Yurakucho is boring. It’s Ginza’s embarrassing little sister.
And that stupid elevated train is still there.

The Official Story

If you look just about anywhere, people will say that the area is named after one Oda Nagamasu, the younger brother of Oda Nobunaga.

織田長益 Oda Nagamasu was a daimyō who was in the service of 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He was a pupil of 千利休 Sen no Rikkyū – the proverbial Godfather of Funk[iii]. He assumed his DJ name 有楽斎 Yūrakusai or 有楽 Yūraku[iv]. The difference between the two names is the kanji 斎 sai which is closely related to Zen Buddhism. I’m not a specialist on Buddhism, but I think this refers to sharing a meal (or in this case, a drink) in a spiritual situation. As mentioned earlier, the kanji with the specialized reading u is also closely connected to Buddhism.

So according to the story that usually gets touted on NHK and Wikipedia[v] and what in-the-know Tōkyōites generally repeat is the area was named after Oda Nagamasu, AKA Yūraku.

Sounds legit, right?

Oda Nagamasu (Yuuraku) - the man himself.

Oda Nagamasu (Yuuraku) – the man himself.
Do you like his apron?

Lords had to have a residence (they generally had 3 in Edo)
So, where was the Oda family residence?

天童藩織田家上屋敷 Tendō Han Oda-ke kami yashiki the Upper Residence of the Tendō Domain Oda Family[vi] was located where the present day 三菱ビル Mitsubishi Biru Mitsubishi Building and 丸の内三丁目ビル Marunouchi San-chōme Building are located. Today this area is called Marunouchi, but it’s a bit of a walk from present day Yūrakuchō. So the remaining family of Oda Nobunaga definitely was living in the area… just not in the area that is called Yūrakuchō. And in Edo Period terms, there seems little reason to transfer the name from this part of Daimyō Alley[vii] to present day Yūrakuchō.

This is Marunouchi, not Yurakucho, but you can see the proximity to the inner moat.

This is Marunouchi, not Yurakucho, but you can see the proximity to the inner moat.

So I had to dig a little deeper.

It seems there are a few theories.

1 – Oda Yūraku had a residence here
Any Edo Era map I’ve looked at clearly delineates the 上屋敷 kami yashiki upper residence of the Tendō Oda family as a modest residence (by daimyō standards) located on a corner of Daimyō Alley. Present day Yūrakuchō was the location of extremely large palaces of various branches of the Matsudaira[viii]. Although Yūraku lived until 1621[ix], I can’t find any evidence that he actually maintained a residence in the area. After the winter and summer sieges of Ōsaka, when the Tokugawa and their newly established 幕府 bakufu shōgunate put down the last pocket of Toyotomi resistance, it seems that he lived a life outside of politics and in relative seclusion in Kyōto. He may have visited Edo, but again, there’s no evidence of this.

This is a view of "maru no uchi."  Daimyo Alley is street highlighted in red. The hot pink square is the Oda Residence.  Note that Yurakucho is quite far from here.

This is a view of “maru no uchi.”
Daimyo Alley is the street highlighted in red.
The hot pink square is the Oda Residence.
Note that Yurakucho is quite far from here.

2 – Yūraku ga Hara
Having retired from his daimyōship, Yūraku dedicated his life to practicing tea ceremony. This theory states that he maintained a modest residence in the area to perform tea ceremonies with the powerful daimyō in the area and with shōgun Ieyasu and shōgun Hidetada. This residence fell into ruins and became 有楽ヶ原 Yūraku ga Hara Yūraku’s Field[x]. The name Yūraku ga Hara first appears in records during the reign of the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu. Iemitsu’s reign was from 1623 to 1651. If Yūraku had a residence here, it would have been empty for 2 years at the time of Iemitsu’s ascension.

3 – Yūraku established many tea houses here
This theory states that being a passionate 茶人 chajin tea practitioner, he established many 数寄屋 sukiya tea houses[xi] in the area. This would be for the daimyō in the area to enjoy tea without leaving the confines of the outer enclosure of Edo-jō.  There was a bridge in the area with this name in the Edo Period. The moat was covered up in 1958 in preparation for the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics (dick move, Tōkyō). The area is still referred to as Sukiyabashi and Shin-sukiyabashi[xii]. Another theory along this line states that although Yūraku never left Kyōto, many tea houses built in accordance to his practice were located here (I assume by his followers, who were all daimyō anyway).

4 – There was one tea house here and Yūraku ga Hara was its ruins
This theory is a variation of Theory 2. There wasn’t a residence here, but a single tea house. Yūraku, or one of his descendants or followers, established a tea house here. A decent sukiya has an outer garden (with many plants and trees to block outside distractions) and an inner garden (much simpler and sparse to avoid distractions if the doors/windows inside the tea house are open). This would have required a substantial amount of space. The theory states that the tea house was near the bridge and after Yūraku died, it fell into ruins and the area was just a deserted lot – a deserted lot with a name.

5 – Ura ga Hara → Yūra ga Hara
The final theory is intriguing. It states that the name has absolutely nothing to do with Oda Nagamasu or tea or teahouses. The name is a remnant of the original geography of the land. This theory states that the Hibiya Inlet stopped here[xiii]. This theory operates off the premise that there was a 原 hara field near the 浦 ura inlet. That is, it was an 浦ヶ原 Ura ga Hara (a field near the inlet).

So those are the stories….

Sukiyabashi when there was still a river and a bridge.

Sukiyabashi when there was still a river and a bridge.

As I mentioned, the name Yūraku ga Hara appears in some records. This is roughly 25 years into Tokugawa rule, but like much at that time, names are not so official. I have to add to this, 50 years later Oda clan’s connection to the Tokugawa was just hereditary bullshit. True, they were located in Daimyō Alley, but in such a small compound, one can’t help but imagine the later shōgunate considered the contemporary descendants of the Oda family as irrelevant. Worthy of respect[xiv]. But irrelevant.

.

.

After the Edo Period

The small island that made up what was a prestigious compound of daimyō residences was annexed by the emperor and the daimyō had to return to their fiefs. In 1872 (Meiji 5), the name Yūrakuchō became official. This is after the Ginza Taika, a massive conflagration[xv] that burnt down much of Yūrakuchō, Ginza, and Marunouchi. This was an awesome opportunity for the new Meiji Government occupying the newly renamed Tōkyō Castle.

What was so awesome about it? In my opinion, nothing. But for those who overthrew the shōgunate, it was a chance to rebuild Tōkyō – not Edo – according to their own vision. After the fire, the land was cleared out and the Meiji Army used it as a place for military exercises[xvi]. Famously, in 1890 (i.e.; 20 years later), Iwasaki Yanosuke, the second successive president of the Mitsubishi Corporation and the 4th president of the Bank of Japan bought the former outer enclosure of Edo Castle and began development of the area as a business district. The Sukiyabashi area still retained the bridge and whether it was really connected with Oda Nagamasu or not probably didn’t matter. The bridge’s name seemed to refer to a tea house. The Oda clan had lived nearby. An Oda family member was a famous tea practitioner. It could be true or it could be early Meiji marketing.

Can we Know the Truth?

I’ve wanted to write about this one for a while now, but the “official story” is so ingrained in the history of Tōkyō and because of the location within the former grounds of Edo Castle and the connection to the establishment of the Tokugawa shōgunate and the demise of the Toyotomi compounded by all of the bravado of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, maybe we’ll never be able to get to the truth. The alleged link to tea culture and this place name and the well documented fervor with which the daimyō of the Sengoku Period and anyone with a little money in the Edo Period appreciated tea culture further obscures the origin of this place name. My personal opinion is this: as a skeptic, I can’t buy into any of these theories wholesale. But there are connections and common threads between all of them. I’m gonna err on the conservative side. Maybe a follower of Yūraku (or maybe Yūraku himself) had a sukiya (tea house) in the area. Then again, who knows? Maybe it’s a pre-Tokugawa reference to the Hibiya Inlet. That doesn’t seem unreasonable either.

Edo Castle - Sukiyabashi

Edo Castle – Sukiyabashi

So what’s up with the spelling of the name?

So is homie’s name Uraku or Yūraku? It’s hard to pinpoint but in Ōsaka his name is preserved in a town with the same name… but different pronunciation. In Ōsaka, it’s 有楽町 Uraku-machi. In Tōkyō it’s 有楽町 Yūraku-chō. I can’t find much consensus on this, but it seems that in his time, by his own reading of the kanji, Nagamasu’s assumed name was read as うらく Uraku. He lived out the rest of life in Kyōto where we may be able to assume a family tradition or local tradition preserved the pronunciation Uraku. In Edo or other parts of Japan that didn’t have a strong connection to the man – at least not in a direct sense – the kanji was more readily read as Yūraku[xvii].

Edo Castle - Sukiyabashi

Edo Castle – Sukiyabashi

Another Mystery

One final thing I’d like to mention. In the beginning, I deliberately mentioned that 有 u and 斎 sai have Buddhist connotations. If you see a picture of him, he has a shaved head and wears the clothes of Buddhist monk. But supposedly, while still a daimyō he converted to Christianity in 1588 and took the baptismal name ジョアン Joan, the Portuguese version of John. Many Japanese did this during this time. In 1590, Nagamasu assumed the named Uraku (or Urakusai) when he became a Buddhist monk. He retired from politics after the Siege of Ōsaka (1614-1615). Some people say he was a Christian. Some people say he was a Buddhist. Japanese religion is syncretic, so I’d venture to say he cherry-picked what he liked from both religions. As he is buried in a Buddhist temple in Kyōto and his approach to tea seems very Zen, I would venture to say he was more or less a Buddhist. He may have abandoned Christianity altogether. But again, this is a mystery and I’m just putting forth my own conjecture.

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[i] This was once part of the grounds of Edo Castle where the daimyō closest to Tokugawa Ieyasu held their residences for their 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai service (alternate attendance). Click here for more about sankin-kōtai.

[iii] Oooops, no… he’s the godfather of tea. But just to clarify, he didn’t bring tea to Japan. That happened hundreds of years earlier. He didn’t invent the tea ceremony either. But many people, from his own time until present day, consider his aesthetic approach to tea as the pinnacle of tea ceremony. Most of the modern “schools” of tea ceremony are derived from his followers, including Oda Nobumasu (Yūraku).

[iv] I’ll address the pronunciation in a while. But for those who want spoilers, the name can be read as both Uraku and Yūraku.  Also this wasn’t really his DJ name. They didn’t have DJ’s back then, silly. This assumed name is called号 gō, a kind of sobriquet.

[v] If you want a good laugh, the Wikipedia version is pretty ridiculous.

[vi] Why wasn’t the Oda family in control of Owari (Western Aichi Prefecture)? Because when Nobunaga died, that area was re-assigned. Eventually it became a Tokugawa holding.

[viii] The Tokugawa were actually a branch of the much older Matsudaira clan.

[ix] Tokugawa Ieyasu himself lived until 1616. Yūraku died at age 75, Ieyasu as at age 73. So these men were very much contemporaries. Keep that in mind as the story goes on…

[xi] Sukiya is a type of tea house. Read more about it here.

[xii] The movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi made this area famous when the shop became known outside of Japan as the best sushi shop in the world – an assertion that is met with mixed responses or blank stares when brought up with Tōkyōites.

[xiv] The system called 家元 iemoto was an officially recognized system that demanded patrilineal succession of family businesses or, in the case of the shōgunal famiy, direct rule over the 天下 tenka Japan.

[xv] More about conflagrations at you know where!

[xvi] No doubt a propaganda tool to discourage any pissed off ex-samurai from starting an insurgency.

[xvii] If I ever write “readily read” again, please shoot me.

What does Kichijoji mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on July 1, 2013 at 2:40 am

吉祥寺
Kichijōji  (Temple of the Lucky Omens)

You can take good pictures at Kichijoji, but you can't take good pictures of Kichijoji. These kind of streets go on and on and so does the awesomeness.  Trying to get lost in Kichijoji is how you play the game.

You can take good pictures at Kichijoji, but you can’t take good pictures of Kichijoji.
These kind of streets go on and on and so does the awesomeness.
Trying to get lost in Kichijoji is how you play the game.

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OK, my friends…

This is a bit of a weird one.

The place name of Kichijōji means “Temple of Auspicious Omens.”

It’s a temple’s name and yet….  there is no temple of that name here.

What could have possibly happened?

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Most people enter the park this way because this is one of the closest entrances to the station. The dark portion on the left are the trees of the park, so you walk from the elevated street level down into the park. It's a fantastic way to enter a park.

Most people enter the park this way because this is one of the closest entrances to the station.
The dark portion on the left are the trees of the park, so you walk from the elevated street level down into the park.
It’s a fantastic way to enter a park.
But topside, there are many shops serving all kinds of good food for you to eat before you go into the park and as you leave the park.

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The name of the temple supposedly dates back to 1458.

When the Sengoku Era warlord, Ōta Dōkan, came into Edo and began expanding Chiyoda Castle[i], he put a few temples and shrines on the premises. One of the temples he included was 吉祥寺 Kichijō-ji Temple of the Lucky Omens[ii]. He must have liked the kanji 吉 kichi/yoshi because he also included 日枝神社 Hie Jinja Hie Shrine which was actually a branch shrine of the Kyōto shrine called 日吉神社 Hiyoshi Jinja Hiyoshi Shrine which includes the same character. Hie Shrine still exists in Akasaka.

The story goes that when Ōta Dōkan was fortifying his estate and they were digging the moats, they pulled some water from a well near the 和田倉 Wadakura Mon Wadakura Gate. They found 金印 kin’in a gold stamper inscribed with the words 吉祥増上 kichijō zōjō. Kichijō means “auspicious” or “lucky omen” and so they chose the first word as the name of the temple. The second word, zōjō, is identical to the zōjō of Zōjō-ji, the Tokugawa funerary temple in Shiba. Not sure if there’s a connection, but it’s intriguing[iii]. Anyhoo, the original temple was built in 西之丸 Nishi no Maru the west enclosure of Edo Castle[iv].

When I said gold stamper, I meant something like this.

When I said gold stamper, I meant something like this.

Reversed for her pleasure.

This is what was supposedly written on the gold stamper.
Reversed for her pleasure.

In 1590, the 太閤 taikō, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, transferred Tokugawa Ieyasu to Edo Castle. In 1591, during his first expansion and rebuilding phase, Ieyasu for reasons that are not clear[v], moved Kichijō-ji temple near present day 水道橋  Suidōbashi (near Tōkyō Dome) in 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward.

As I’ve mentioned before, in old Japan, towns would spring up around temples. These towns were called 門前町 monzen-chō towns in front of the gate[vi]. So, near Suidōbashi a town called 吉祥寺門前町 Kichijōji Monzen-chō popped up. The town had a pretty sweet location near the river and main water supply of Edo.

A typical Monzencho.

A typical Monzencho.

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Then Some Shit Went Down

・In 1657, the Meireki Fire happened.
・Edo was burnt to shit.
・Kichijō-ji itself was burnt to shit.
・The town of Kichijōji Monzen-chō was burnt to shit.

The Meireki Conflagration lasted 3 days and literally incinerated about 70% of Edo. More than 100,000 lives were lost. It's easy to look at this as an historical event with dispassionate eyes. But this was such a large scale tragedy that it permanently change the face of Edo-Tokyo.

The Meireki Conflagration lasted 3 days and literally incinerated about 70% of Edo.
More than 100,000 lives were lost.
It’s easy to look at this as an historical event with dispassionate eyes.
But this was such a large scale tragedy that it permanently change the face of Edo-Tokyo.

 

Because of its sweet-ass location, the shōgunate wanted to repurpose the land for daimyō mansions. So they offered monetary incentives to the residents of Kichijōji Monzenchō to entice them to move to 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama County[vii]. Under the purview of some 浪士 rōshi masterless samurai, most of the community was moved to present day Kichijōji. They brought the name with them but they couldn’t bring the temple.

The shōgunate relocated the temple Kichijō-ji to nearby 本駒込 Hon-Komagome, also in modern Bunkyō Ward. The temple was rebuilt and it still stands today.

I'm not making this stuff up!!!

The main gate to Kichijo-ji in Bunkyo.
For those of you who don’t believe me, it’s clearly written right there on the stone pillar!

The modern temple isn't much to look at, but they're a pretty major land holder in Tokyo. That's prime real estate, my friend.

The modern temple isn’t much to look at, but they’re a pretty major land holder in Tokyo.
That’s prime real estate, my friend.

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These days, it’s not a well-known temple around Tōkyō. Most people have no idea that “the real Kichijōji” is here. But the local residents definitely know about it. And the temple cares for a decent sized cemetery, which includes the grave of Ninomiya Sontoku, an Edo Period “peasant economist” dude whom I’ve never heard of, but I’ve seen countless statues and representations of him all over the place. Never realized who he was until today. Wow. Ya learn something every day, huh?

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Little Edo Period boy with a backpack reading while walking = Ninomiya Sontoku. An ubiquitous image around Japan.

Little Edo Period boy with a backpack reading while walking = Ninomiya Sontoku.
An ubiquitous image around Japan.

Eventually, the little boy reading a book while walking died.

Eventually, the little boy reading a book while walking died.
This is his grave.

Of course, today when you say Kichijōji, everyone thinks of the vibrant city in Mitaka famous for reasonable shopping, a quasi-Bohemian lifestyle, and the fabulous 井ノ頭公園 Inokashira Park[viii]. But we know better now, don’t we? The real Kichijō-ji is in central Tōkyō and that famous Kichijōji is a freaking poseur. And now you’re armed with enough useless trivia about this subject to shock and bore Japanese people to pieces at parties[ix].

I haven’t been to Kichijōji in about 2 years. I used to live in Nakano and was so easy to get there that I often headed out that way just to relax and explore the town. Writing this has made me feel a little nostalgic for the area and all the time I spent there. May have to head out there again soon[x].

This turned up in a random Google search for Kichijoji. No complaints here.

This turned up in a random Google search for Kichijoji. 

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[i] Also known as Edo Castle, ie; the present Imperial Palace.

[ii] Henceforth, I shall refer to the town as Kichijōji and the temple as Kichijō-ji.

[iii] Maybe someone who knows more about Japanese Buddhism in the early modern era could help me out here. Yoroshiku ne!

[iv] If you’re a long time reader of Japan This, you’ll know what a maru is. If you’re new to here, you might want to see my article on Marunouchi. You might also want to check out the explanation at JCastle.info and his Edo Castle Project – which is totally bad ass. Japanese Castle Explorer also has a nice piece on Edo Castle.

[v] My guess is expanding the castle was a priority and he probably saw having temples and shrines on the castle grounds as security risks. The reigns of the first 3 shōguns weren’t the most stable of times.

[vi] Literally 門前 monzen in front of the gate  町 chō town. See my article on Monzen-Nakachō.

[vii] Pronounced /ˈist ˈbʌtfʌk / for you linguistics nerds.

[viii] And yes, some people think of the Studio Ghibili Museum which we’re not going to talk about. Sorry, Ghibili nerds.

[ix] Kind of like my party trick of listing all 15 Tokugawa shōguns in order. And my new party trick of listing their posthumous names in order after that for added effect.

[x] But definitely not to see the Ghibili Museum.

Tokugawa Funerary Temples

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

Welcome to my New Series!

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

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

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

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

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

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鬼門

ki-mon

demon-gate

northeastern direction, unlucky

Kan’ei-ji,
Ueno

裏鬼門

ura ki-mon

under demon-gate

southwestern direction, unlucky

Zōjō-ji,
Shiba

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

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

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

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

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

A few more things about funerary temples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where were the 15 Tokugawa Shōguns interred? 

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Shōgun

Okurigō

Mausoleum

Condition
of Mausoleum

Now where are the remains?

1

Tokugawa Ieyasu

東照大権現Tōshō
Dai-Gongen

法号安国院Hōgō Onkokuin

Tōshō-gū
[iv], Kunōzan

Tōshō-gū, Nikkō

Excellent Condition

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Excellent Condition

Tōshō-gū,
Nikkō

2

Tokugawa Hidetada

台徳院
Daitokuin

Daitokuin, Zōjō-ji

Destroyed,

imperial scroll gate has been restored

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji[v]

3

Tokugawa Iemitsu

大猷院
Taiyūin

Taiyūin ,
Nikkō

Excellent
Condition

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

4

Tokugawa Ietsuna

厳有院
Genyūin

Genyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

Destroyed,

only the imperial scroll gate remains

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji[vi]

5

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

常憲院
Eikyūin

Eikyūin, Kan’ei-ji

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

Eikyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

6

Tokugawa Ienobu

文昭院
Bunshōin

Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji

Destroyed

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

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

7

Tokugawa Ietsugu

有章院
Yūshōin

Zōjō-ji

Destroyed,

only the gate remains

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

8

Tokugawa Yoshimune

有徳院
Yūtokuin

Enshrined at Eikyūin as an austerity measure

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

9

Tokugawa Ieshige

惇信院
Junshin’in

Yūshōin,
Zōjō-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

10

Tokugawa Ieharu

浚明院
Shunmyōin

Genyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

11

Tokugawa
Ienari

文恭院
Bunkyouin

Genyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

12

Tokugawa Ieyoshi

慎徳院
Shintokuin

Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

13

Tokugawa Iesada

温恭院
Onkyōin

Eikyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

14

Tokugawa Iemochi

昭明院
Shōmyōin

Shōmyōin,
Zōjō-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

15

Tokugawa Yoshinobu

Buried according to State Shintō, no okurigō.

Yanaka
Cemetery

Excellent
Condition

no mausoleum
[vii]

Yanaka
Cemetary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off Limits.  No shogun graves for you, biaaaatch.

Off Limits.
No shogun graves for you, biaaaatch.

Tokugawa Ieyasu & Tōshō-gū

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does Monzen-nakacho mean?

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

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

Cherry blossoms along the river in Monzen-Nakachoad.

Cherry blossoms along the river in Monzen-Nakachoad.

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

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

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

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

Eitaiji

Eitaiji

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

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

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

Tomioka Hachimangu

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is Eitai-ji still on this Google Map?

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

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

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

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

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

Conflag Hag – How Fires Shaped the Face of Edo and Tokyo

In Japanese History on February 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm

(I thought of the title all by myself)

Conflag being my abbreviation for the word conflagration.

And how the hell do you say conflagration in Japanese?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
In Japanese the word is 大火 taika (big ass fire).
The word used for smaller fires is 火事 kaji (fire situation/trouble).
火 hi (fire) refers to fire in general.

The traditional architecture of Japan has always been wooden. Wooden houses, wooden temples and shrines, even wooden castles. When you have entire cities built of wood, you can imagine that even a little carelessness with a flame could have dire consequences. “Old Japan” had a fuckload of fires and Edo, being the biggest and most populated city, was no exception.

After each conflagration the city of Edo would have to be rebuilt. In the modern era, two major conflagrations have occurred in Tokyo. Each time the city was rebuilt. All the destruction and rebuilding is part of the reason modern Tokyo looks very little like “Old Japan.” If you visit Kyoto, you’ll notice how different it is from Tokyo.
That’s because Kyoto hasn’t experienced any major fires in the modern era.

Knock on wood.

fires in tokyo

chaos everywhere! note the fire brigade standing on the tops of the buildings. (meireki fire)

☆ The 3 Great Fires of Edo

Edo had many conflagrations, but there are three that are considered the big ones, the so-called 江戸三大大火 Edo san dai taika (the 3 Great Fires of Edo).

fire in tokyo edo

ummm…

1- 明暦ノ大火 Meireki no Taika (Meireki Conflag)
1657

If I’m not mistaken, this was the worst fire in Edo – and one of the worst disasters in Japanese history.
70% of the city was burnt to the ground.
Somewhere around 107,000 people were killed. Dogs and cats living together… you get the picture.

The city burned for 3 days because the flames were stoked by strong typhoon winds. The flames somehow “jumped the moat” of Edo Castle and burned a shitload of the outer buildings of the castle and all of the daimyo and high ranking samurai residences near the castle. Most Japanese castles have a large castle keep called a 天守閣 tenshukaku which would loom over the castle towns, but Edo Castle’s keep was destroyed in this fire. It was never rebuilt, but if you go to the Imperial Palace today, you can see the stone base of the tenshukaku.

the tenshukaku of edo castle as it looks today (tokyo imperial palace)

the tenshukaku of edo castle as it looks today (tokyo imperial palace)

2- 明和ノ大火 Meiwa no Taika (Meiwa Conflag)
1772

The names of these fires are derived from the 年号nengō, (Era Names). The Meiwa Era was, as eras go, pretty much a shit era. It began in 1764 and ended in 1772… a year so shitty in fact that the imperial court decided to change era names. But no dice. The next era was just as shitty.
Anyways, this fire pretty much sucked giant donkey balls. About 15,000 people perished. The cost of rebuilding Edo put a massive economic strain on the shōgunate.

meiwa fire

the meiwa fire

3- 文化ノ大火 Bunka no Taika (Bunka Conflag)
1806

I don’t know much about this fire, but from what I’ve read, it mostly just affected the elite of Edo. There are other fires not included in the Big Three list that had higher death tolls, but the elite wrote the history books, so… take that, stupid commoners.

fire in tokyo edo

ummm…

☆ That Crazy Bitch’s Fire
1683

There’s another very famous fire called 八百屋お七の火事 Yaoya O-shichi no Kaji (Yaoya O-Shichi’s Fire). This fire has been preserved in kabuki theater because of the tragic drama of the story, which goes a little something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a crazy bitch named O-shichi. During a major conflagration in 1682, she saw a good looking dude. She fell in love with him on the spot, as crazy bitches do. So a year later she got this fucking awesome idea that if she started another fire, she could meet him again. (Because just going to the place where he worked would be too commonsensical).

So she starts a fire – in Edo, which is still recovering from the last major fire.

Anyhoo, the bitch get caught and handed over to the local judge.
In the Edo Period, age 16 was considered an adult, under age 16, a minor.
As a minor, she would get a slap on the wrist and sent home to mommy and daddy.
As an adult, she would be burned at the stake.

The magistrate decided to give the girl a break — because obviously she was a fucking idiot and couldn’t even get a good fire going.
So he was all like, “You’re 15, right? Wink wink, nudge nudge.”
And she was all like, “Naw, I’m 16.”
He gave her another chance.
He was all like, “You are 15, right? Wink wink, nudge nudge.”
And she was all like, “Naw, I’m 16.”
And she was too fucking stupid to figure out what the judge was doing.

So he was all like, “Fuck it. Sometimes you just gotta burn a bitch.” And they burned her alive at the stake.

The official name of the major conflagration is 天和ノ大火 Ten’na no Taika, in keeping with the Era name and O-shichi’s fire was a separate incident, but since they happened in the same era, her fire is also called Ten’na no Taika. But here at Japan This!, we call it like it is: That crazy bitch’s fire.

crazy ass bitch

bitch you crazy!

☆ Conflagrations in the Modern City

After Edo was renamed Tokyo and Japan moved into the so-called “modern era,” there have been two major conflags in the big city.

The first disaster happened on September 1, 1923. The 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai (the Great Kantō Earthquake) rocked the region. The earthquake caused a lot of damage, as you can imagine. But the earthquake occurred at lunch time. People had fires in their homes for cooking and… well, fires and collapsing wooden buildings are a recipe for disaster. But as if that shit wasn’t sucky enough, a typhoon was rolling into Tokyo Bay at the same time and the strong winds created firestorms. Most of the Tokyo was leveled and burnt to the ground. About 105,385 people died, mostly in the fire. To make matters worse, there were some vigilante groups going around killing foreigners (in particular ethnic Koreans). Very nasty stuff, indeed.

On the bright side, Earthquake preparedness became a priority of the government. Since the 60’s September 1st has been Earthquake Preparedness Day. The city rebuilt, of course, encouraging non-wooden materials when possible.

So everything was fine and dandy until a little squabble known as WWII. The Americans firebombed the shit out of the city, destroying about 50% or more of the city and killing hundreds of thousands. The bombing again caused firestorms that ripped through the city. The number of deaths is usually quoted as 100,000 – but the number is debated by some historians who say this number is too low.
Anyways, a veritable fuckload of people died and the pictures aren’t pretty.

holy shit!

aerial view of one raid on tokyo

☆ After the Firebombing 

What sucks for me is that this was the final loss of “Edo.” In the post-war recovery, the city was heavily modernized across the board. The symbol of Edo, Edo Castle, was all but destroyed. If you go to the Imperial Palace today, you’ll see only a few remnants of what was the biggest and most luxurious castle in the country. The Imperial Family (read: “squatters”) never restored the castle to its former glory.

Very sad indeed.

fire is bad

fire is bad, mkay?

 

 

 

 

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