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What does Ōme mean?

In Japanese History on February 22, 2016 at 5:58 pm

青梅
Ōme (literally “green plum,” but more at “unripe plum”)

ome station

Ōme calls itself the Shōwa Town. The station looks intentionally old to evoke nostalgic feelings.

Ōme is an incorporated “city”[i] named after an ancient village in the area formerly known as 青梅村 Ōme Mura Ōme Village. This is the northernmost and easternmost part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis. Usually when you think of Tōkyō, you think of a sprawling urban center with skyscrapers and packed trains. Ōme is mountains, forests, and rivers; one of the most beautiful parts of Tōkyō. It’s so rural that the train stations in the area are often unmanned and the train doors require you to push a button to open them because… um, people just don’t get off the train here much. The local people tend to use cars for everything.

In our last article about Shinjuku, we learned how the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway forked at Shinjuku and branched off into a new road called the 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō Ōme Highway. Before 1603, the village of Ōme wasn’t really famous for anything. At that time a post town called 青梅宿 Ōme-shuku Ōme Inn Town was established and the post town and the highway got some recognition.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about:

tama river ome.jpg

Ōme is famous for its foliage in every season, but autumn is one its most beautiful in my opinion.

But first, Let’s Look at the Kanji!

 


ao

blue, green[iii]


ume

a fruit translated as Japanese apricot; but in the late winter, the flowers are translated as plum blossoms or just ume

青梅
aoume

an unripe Japanese apricot; literally green ume

Sadly, there’s no clear etymology. The place is clearly quite ancient. The primary etymology is said to be a product of the Heian Period (794 – 1185). That said, the name could easily be older. But if the name does indeed derive from something like ao ume, a shift from /aou/ to /aoː/ or /au/ and then to // is not inconceivable[iv].

At any rate, the prevalent theory has an interesting story behind it so let’s go with that.

Amagasecho

Note the Tama River. Note Amagase-chō. Note Kongō-ji.

A Samurai Did It

A high ranking samurai named Taira no Masakado visited the area that is present day 青梅市天ヶ瀬町 Amagase-chō Ōme-shi Ōme City, Amagase Town. The name Amagase means “heavenly shoal” or “heavenly rapids” and is a reference to a shallow section of the 多摩川 Tama-gawa Tama River. Struck by the beauty of the area, he decided to pray to 仏 Hotoke Buddha. He took the ume branch he was using as a horse whip and planted it into the ground. Then he said to the ume branch 我願成就あらば栄ふべししからずば枯れよかし waga negai jōju ara ba sakayu be shi, shikarazu ba, kare yo ka shi if my prayer is heard, grow tall; if it isn’t heard, then wither and die, bitch.

masakado statue

Well, if the legend is to be believed, the ume branch took root and grew into a splendid tree. It even bore fruit at the end of summer. However, the fruit did not ripen. Instead it remained green (aoume). Furthermore, the fruit was said to not fall off the tree. Because of this, the tree came to be called 将門誓いの梅 Masakado Chikai no Ume or just 誓いの梅 Chikai no Ume. The name literally means “Oath Ume,” but I think we can translate this as “Masakado’s Prayer Ume.”

ume branch.png

an ume branch

At any rate, since the branch took root, Masakado took this as a sign that his prayer was heard by Buddha. As an act of gratitude, Masakado paid for the establishment of a temple called 金剛寺Kongō-ji Kongō Temple at the location of this little miracle. The temple claims that this tree is the origin of the place name, Ōme, and so it literally means “unripe ume.” In fact, today the tree is a protected monument of the Tōkyō Metropolis[v] and, although it’s looking a bit rough around the edges these days, the Masakado’s Prayer Ume still blooms to this day at the entrance of Kongō-ji.

chikai no ume.jpg

Masakado Chikai no Ume

What did Masakado Pray for?

No one knows. Like most of his life, this story is questionable at best. In fact, for a guy whose life is mostly legendary in a very non-specific way, it’s strange that this story actually goes into so much detail – including the words he said. Aw, who am I kidding? It’s not strange at all because at the same time, the story still remains pretty fricking vague.

Whether he actually visited this location, made a prayer here, planted an ume, or did any of this stuff is unknowable. From an etymological standpoint, I think it’s fair to say that this story is entertaining at most, suspicious at worst. From a linguistic standpoint, well… the sound changes are plausible, but… c’mon!

edo masakado.JPG

an Edo Period representation of Taira no Masakado

Who the Hell is Taira no Masakado?

Taira no Masakado was a Heian Period samurai[vi] who lived in the first half of the 900’s. This is important to keep in mind because at JapanThis!, we usually talk about Edo Period samurai (1600-1868). He was a 5th generation descendant of 桓武天皇 Kanmu Tennō Emperor Kanmu (737–806), the supposed 50th emperor of Japan[vii]. His particular branch of the Taira clan governed parts of the 関東地方 Kantō Chihō Kantō Area called 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni[viii] which bordered 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 常陸国 Hitachi no Kuni Hitachi Province.

In 935, Masakado ran into some trouble with samurai from Hitachi, and by trouble I mean he was attacked for some reason unknown to us. While he never backed down from a battle, including retributive attacks, he genuinely seems to have tried to go through the proper channels to resolve things diplomatically with the local magistrates in Kantō and with the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court in Kyōto. From here, the story gets… um, let’s say… imaginative.

According to legend, he incurred the wrath of the imperial court because in 939, Masakado staged an insurrection of sorts. Allegedly, he declared himself the 新王 shin’ō new emperor and wanted the eastern provinces to be autonomous[ix]. He was eventually defeated in Shimōsa in 940 and killed in battle. His head was brought back to Kyōto to be displayed all Game of Thrones style.

masakado head

Masakado’s head on display in Kyōto

His severed head, wanting to be independent and escape the oppression of the oppressive imperial court, began gnashing its teeth and groaning. After a few days of scaring Kyōtoites who came to gawk at him, his head took flight and flew back to his native Kantō. And of course it flew back. What did you think the head would do – walk back?!

Anyhoo, the head landed on a hill near Edo Bay where the local people buried it in a mound called a 首塚 kubizuka head mound, a kind of grave to be venerated. They began to revere it as a symbol of Kantō pride and independence. Soon Masakado came to be seen as a take-no-shit-from-anyone samurai who was even willing to stick it to the imperial court if push came to shove.

tsuka.jpg

a “tsuka” can refer to any man made hill, but it’s usually used for graves.

His 神 kami spirit was eventually enshrined at 神田神社 Kanda Jinja Kanda Shrine[x] in 江戸 Edo[xi]. When the first shōgun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu began the refortification of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, he had the shrine relocated because he was supposedly afraid of having such a powerful, anti-government spirit sitting right next to his castle[xii]. According to legend, there were a series of deadly accidents or dark omens during the dismantling of the shrine, so they decided to leave the grave undisturbed. The kubizuka of Taira no Masakado still sits in its original location in Tōkyō’s Ōtemachi district. It’s said that every time Masakado’s grave fell into disrepair, something bad would happen – a fire here, an earfquake there, an outbreak of cholera, or what have you. As a result, the shōgunate regularly maintained the site to avoid offending the easily angered samurai ghost head.

kanda shrine.jpg

Kanda Shrine in the bakumatsu with a little photoshop fuckery in the upper lefthand corner.

In the Meiji Era, the imperial government had Taira no Masakado’s kami de-enshrined from Kanda Shrine because the idea of a samurai insurrection inspired by this legendary, anti-government pro-Kantō war hero seemed like a bad idea[xiii]. After all, the emperor had just sorta waltzed into Edo, taken over the shōgun’s castle, changed the name of the city to Tōkyō, and his new government was doing all sorts of crazy shit like abolishing the samurai class and – shudder the thought – westernizing.

As far as I know, the Meiji Government didn’t mess with Masakado’s kubizuka. However, after the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake[xiv], the Ministry of Finance planned to move the grave in order to build a new office[xv]. But 14 ministry officials and executives of the construction company involved died in close succession, and so the project was aborted because it was obvious that they were pissing off Masakado’s spirit. The Ministry of Finance went so far as to erect a brand new inscribed, commemorative stone to placate him in 1926. And if you think it’s weird for a government agency to believe in ghosts, remember: this was pre-1945. Everyone – the government included – were taught and believed wholeheartedly that the emperor was a living god.

So after WWII, the superstitions must have gone away, right?

masakazou

Masakado ain’t finished being angry, bitch.

During the American Occupation, the military wanted to set up some offices so they could be near 皇居 Kōkyo the Imperial Palace (former Edo Castle) to keep tabs on the emperor. Ōtemachi seemed as a good a place as any and so they planned to knock over the kubizuka. However, a bulldozer tipped over and killed the driver. There are a few other stories related to deaths and injuries of workers while trying to remove the grave. The US Army didn’t see the importance of the site, but the local Japanese workers soon refused to disturb the site anymore out of fear. Eventually the project was abandoned. Also, after the war, Masakado’s kami was re-installed at Kanda Shrine as a gesture to Tōkyōites who both loved and feared him. Maybe the Americans also wanted to appease the hot headed ghost of Taira no Masakado[xvi].

When I first came to Japan in 2005, I was told by a local that Taira no Masado was the only samurai with a bank account – specifically a bank account at Tōkyō-Mitsubishi UFJ. I thought this was a pretty remarkable story but didn’t think much of it until now.

Surprisingly, this turns out to be partially true! For many years, one of the offices directly next to the kubizuka was UFJ Bank. In 2006, Tōkyō-Mitsubishi and UFJ merged becoming the largest bank in Japan. I don’t have an exact date, but it seems that a group of senior executives at UFJ bank did, in fact, set up a special fund to be used for yearly offerings to Kanda Shrine[xvii]. When the banks merged, the fund – of course – stayed intact. In accordance with 風水 fū sui feng shui[xviii], UFJ had a longstanding tradition of banning desks from facing away from the shrine. How strictly this policy continues to be enforced – if at all – is unknown to me. But that said, I used to work in an office across from 山王日枝神社 San’nō Hie Jinja San’nō Hie Shrine and all desks on all floors were to face the shrine… without exception. So, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Need some further reading?

masakado kubizuka today

The alleged original kubizuka. Notice the frogs. In Japanese “frog” (kaeru) is a homophone with “return” (kaeru). People make these offerings for various personal reasons, but all of them are inspired by Masakado’s miraculous return from Kyōto to his ancestral lands in Kantō.

Hopefully it’s clear that the legend of Taira no Masakado has taken on a life of its own. At this point, the legend is waaaaaay more interesting than the few historical details that we have. Hell, the ones that we do have are pretty mundane and boring. I’ll take a flying ghost head with a bank account any day.

But what do historians take away from Masakado’s story? In short, his military agitation against the so-called “sedate culture” of the Heian court can be seen as a symptom of growing pains among the provincial samurai governors and local strongmen. Martial disturbances like this among the samurai would only increase. While the imperial court had their poetry, games, and elegant rituals, there were warlords in the countryside accumulating wealth and influence… and yeah, warlords tend to have armies. Sometimes they came into conflict with each other and they increasingly didn’t care what the poetry writing goofballs holed up in Kyōto thought about it. This attitude would eventually give rise to the first 幕府 bakufu shōgunate in Kamakura[xix] in 1192. In turn, that would give rise to samurai rule. Masakado wasn’t the first legendary samurai[xx], but his story is interesting if you think of it as a foreshadowing of what is to come. The story is made even better by how he ties into not just Japanese history, but the story of both Edo and Tōkyō.

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[i] Its technical designation is 市 shi city, but the area is really pure countryside.
[ii] Footnote test!
[iii] I don’t want to go into a diachronic linguistic discussion about the Japanese distinction between – and apparent lack thereof – blue and green. If you want to know more, Wiki has a brief but sketchy introduction to the topic.
[iv] /au/ to /o/ is well attested in Italian, actually; cf. causacosa. This sound change was recorded as far back as Cicero (106 BCE-43), well before it became a manifest feature of Proto Italian in the 900’s.
[v] This doesn’t lend any credence to the story, it just means that the metropolitan government put up a sign and you might face a stiffer fine if you pee on this tree than if you just peed on a random tree at the temple. I guess.
[vi] The best date we have for him is the year of his death, 940. He inherited his father’s fief in 935 and his uprising took place in 939. His supposed visit and/or founding of Kongō-ji took place in the 承平時代 Jōhei/Sōhei Jidai Jōhei/Shōhei Period which was from 931 to 938 – the most logical assumption being sometime between 935 and 939.
[vii] 平成天皇 Heisei Ten’nō Emperor Akihito, the current emperor, is allegedly the 125th. By the way, the Japanese don’t call him “Heisei Emperor” or “Akihito,” both would be extremely rude – Heisei being the name he assumes upon death. They refer to him as the 今上天皇 Kinjō Ten’nō reigning emperor or just 天皇 Ten’nō emperor.
[viii] Shimōsa was essentially modern Chiba Prefecture and a bit of modern Ibaraki Prefecture. In the Edo Period, as a traditional but administratively unrecognized name, a small part of the ancient province was included in the Tokugawa shōgun’s capital – the area to the east of the 大川 Ōkawa Big River, the traditional name of the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River. By the way, I have an article about the Sumida River.
[ix] Trying to establish himself as a new emperor seems out of character, so let’s file that under “probably legend.”
[x] Today the shrine is called 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin which is also translated as Kanda Shrine.
[xi] The shrine dates back to the 700’s, so Masakado was added later.
[xii] I doubt Ieyasu gave a shit about Taira no Masakado. In reality, he probably just moved the shrine because it sat too close to where he wanted to build the castle’s 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate. The land was also going to be used for daimyō residences. Furthermore, Ieyasu requested the shrine host a yearly festival for the people commemorating his victory at the 関ヶ原合戦 Sekigahara Gassen Battle of Sekigahara which basically led to his elevation to the position of shōgun.
[xiii] In reality, the actual reason for Masakado’s de-enshrinement is a little more complicated. Sure, the samurai insurrection thing was probably part of it, but the samurai class was strongly associated with Buddhism. Until the Meiji Period decree separating Buddhism and Shintō, Japanese religion was a syncretic mix of Buddhism and Shintō (with a dash of Taoism). Removing an enshrined samurai made Kanda Shrine a purer Shintō institution. Also, Kanda Shrine was one of the most important shrines in central Edo. To promote State Shintō with the Emperor as the supreme 神 kami deity, the imperial government established the 東京十社 Tōkyō Jissha Pilgrimage of the Ten Major Shrines of Tōkyō. There was no way to omit Kanda Shrine from the list, so as a result, the controversial, insurrectionist Taira no Masakado had to go. Interestingly, the kanji for the city of Ōsaka were changed at this time. The original kanji were 大坂 which if written sloppily could look like 大士反 “large samurai opposition” (but the meaning was “big hill”). The kanji were changed to 大阪 which was also meant “big hill” but lacked any reference to 士 shi warriors.
[xiv] Which was actually Taishō 12 – almost the end of the Taishō Period.
[xv] Ōtemachi is synonymous banks and finance companies. It’s kinda like Japan’s version of Wall Street.
[xvi] This also might have been a bit of an eff you to the idea of imperial rule. Masakado was seen as anti-imperial court, and the US occupation was clearly anti-imperial. Oh yeah, and… pun intended!
[xvii] Companies visiting and patronizing shrines and temples is completely normal in Japan.
[xviii] Feng shui is Chinese geomancy. It’s pretty much BS.
[xix] Notably in Kamakura which is also in Kantō. This trend of eastern samurai pulling power away from the west doesn’t stop and culminates with the establishment of the 3rd and final shōgunate in Edo by the Tokugawa. Even the Meiji Emperor’s supporters had to concede in 1868 that the real power was in the east, in Edo-Tōkyō.
[xx] Ummmmm… there probably wasn’t even a “first legendary samurai.”

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.

Why is Marunouchi called Marunouchi?

In Japanese History on May 6, 2013 at 1:03 am

丸ノ内
Marunouchi  (Inside the Circle; more at “Inside the Moat”)

CGI Tokyo Station

CGI Tokyo Station with smoke coming out of a turret.

The derivation of today’s place name is pretty famous, even among foreigners. It’s so famous that even the English version of Wikipedia got it right.

The area was part of the old Hibiya Inlet which fell under the influence of Chiyoda Castle (Edo Castle) and merged into the castle and Yamanote district.

丸 maru (literally circle) was used to refer to 城内 jōnai (inner) castle grounds*  Buildings inside the moat (usually ring shaped) had names like 本丸 honmaru (main citadel), 二ノ丸 ninomaru (secondary citadel), 三ノ丸 sannomaru (tertiary citadel), etc**.  The shōgun (or lord) lived in the honmaru (first citadel) as it was surrounded by all the other maru. By this system of naming, it’s easy to see how 丸ノ内 Marunouchi (inside the circle) could refer to buildings inside the moat (scil; the circle).

Marunouchi - like all of Tokyo, looks nothing like its former self.

I’ve highlighted the “Daimyo Alley,” but in reality, you can see that a lot of other nobles’ residences fall within the “Marunouchi” area. What’s a “Daimyo Alley?” Keep reading!

Over the years Marunouchi has been written a few ways,
the last two being preferred these days:

丸内
丸之内
丸ノ内
丸の内

丸ノ内 Marunouchi was colloquially referred to as 大名小路 daimyō kōji daimyō alley***. It was located on the castle grounds, between the outer moat and inner moat on a small man-made island with its own system of gates and mitsuke’s that made it more or less indistinguishable from the castle proper.

Today, nothing remains of the castle in the area so it’s hard to imagine that this was part of the outermost ring of Japan’s largest castle. However, in the Edo Period, the area was extremely important to the shōgunate. At one point there were 24 daimyō residences here. A list of noble names makes up its residences: Ii, Honda, Sakai, Sakakibara, and Hitotsubashi & Matsudaira**** – to name a few. The daimyō who lived here were mostly hereditary vassals of the Tokugawa shōgun family. That is to say, they were the elite of the elite and the closest to the shōgun. That’s why it was so important that they have palaces within the castle walls.

Daimyo Alley → Marunouchi

The red street is the actual “alley.” From the border of Yurakucho to Tokyo Station to the border of Otemachi is generally considered Marunouchi today, but as you can see other areas were also “inside the moat.”

In the Meiji Era (here we go again), the daimyō were all kicked out and daimyō lands were all confiscated by the new Imperial government.  It seems that the daimyō residences were all knocked down and the area became a training ground for the Imperial Army. A lot of the land was eventually purchased by the forerunner of the Mitsubishi Group and still remains their real estate (can anyone say good business deal?).

Daimyo Alley → Mitsubishigahara → Marunouchi

Mitsubishigahara circa 1902. Not sure what that white building is. Maybe it’s Kochi domain’s upper residence being used as an impromptu office for the Tokyo Governor. Just speculating.

This unsigned oil painting is assumed to also be from 1902. The building in the background is an unknown western style mansion. Until development began in earnest most buildings here were wood, so this is mysterious house is... well, a mystery.

This unsigned oil painting is assumed to also be from 1902. The building in the background is an unknown western style mansion. Until development began in earnest most buildings here were wood, so this is mysterious house is… well, a mystery.

Since the area was just grass and roads and barracks, when Mitsubishi knocked down the few remaining the structures the area was basically a field. In fact from 1890 to about 1910 only the Tōkyō Municipal Government Building and a few Mitsubishi buildings stood in 三菱ヶ原 Mitsubishigahara Mitsubishi Fields. Mitsubishi used the area to build up a central business district and the completion of Tōkyō Station in 1914 definitely sped up that process.

2 rare photos of the original Meiji Era municipal office of Tokyo based in the upper residence of Kochi in Marunouchi's

2 rare photos of the original Meiji Era municipal office of Tokyo based in the upper residence of Kochi in Marunouchi’s “Daimyo Alley.”

Much of the outer moat was filled in after WWII during the massive building efforts that eventually propelled Japan into its legendary “bubble economy.” In fact, if you look back at my articles on Nihonbashi, Kyōbashi, Hatchōbori, Akasaka and Akasaka-mitsuke, you’ll see that most of those areas are all on solid ground now with no moats or canals in sight. The ability to walk (without crossing a bridge from Marunouchi to Yaesu and then to Edomachi (Nihonbashi) would have been shocking to a resident of Edo (read those other links to figure out why)

A view of

A view of “Maruonuchi” from Wadakura Gate. A little bit of Edo still exists…

Today the old Daimyō Alley includes:
Tōkyō Station (about 12 residences stood here)
Hitotsubashi Junction
Ōtemachi (about 10 residences stood here)
Hibiya Station (but not Hibiya Park; about 4 residences)
Yūrakuchō (about 8 residences)
The Kubizuka of Taira no Masakado (one of the most haunted spots in Tōkyō;
daimyō families whose residences maintained the kubizuka were the Doi and Sakai)
The Imperial Palace Park (Kōkyo Gaien) (formerly 9 major residences occupied this space;
it could be argued that this was part of the castle and not daimyō alley)

Bad Ass.

a view of Marunouchi from the Imperial Palace.

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* 丸 maru can also be referred to as or 曲輪, both read as kuruwa.
**Another set of synonyms to 本丸 and the like existed: ―ノ郭, 一ノ曲輪 ichinokuruwa (first citadel), 二ノ郭, 二ノ曲輪 ninokuruwa (second citadel), etc.
*** The area called “Daimyō Alley” took its name from main north/south running street. You can see it on the map. The nickname came to refer the area in general. That said, this was the only long, straight street. Most streets around the castle were intentionally maze-like.
**** Matsudaira, as you may already know, was the Tokugawa family before Ieyasu took the Tokugawa name. For reasons I don’t want to get into now, if you see the kanji (taira/daira) in an old Japanese name, you can assume it’s a noble name. Hitotsubashi is also a collateral family of the Tokugawa.  Fans of the Sengoku era will know why I listed the other 4 names.

_______________________
PS: for all info about Japanese castles, please check out: Jcastle.info.
PPS: for all info about samurai, please check out: Samurai-Archives.
PPPS: for a fucking awesome collection of pictures of Tokyo Station, please check out: Japan Web Magazine.

Why is Kyōbashi called Kyōbashi?

In Japanese History on April 19, 2013 at 1:04 am

京橋
Kyōbashi (Capital Bridge)

What does Kyobashi mean?

The area surrounding Kyobashi Station is in yellow. Note the other major areas, Ginza, Hatchobori, Nihonbashi, and Takaracho. Also note Tokyo Station.

OK, I still haven’t written about the 五街道 Go-kaidō the 5 Highways or Nihonbashi yet, so bear with me.
Oh… I haven’t written about the capital of Japan yet, so bear with me.
Dammit! I haven’t written about 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai (mandatory service to the shōgun) yet! I’m sorry.
Please, please, please, bear with me.

WHEN SORRY ISN'T ENOUGH

I promise to write the rest of the entrees that are necessary soon. After I commit seppuku.

In the Edo Period, there were 5 main roads that connected the domains with the capital in Edo. When Ieyasu began developing Edo as his new capital, he had to connect the city to the rest of Japan. At first, the most important city to connect with Edo was Kyōto because the 朝廷 chōtei Imperial Court was there.

Long story short, the road that connected Tōkyō and Kyōto was called the Tōkaidō. The Tōkaidō began at Nihonbashi (The Bridge to Japan). You’d start in the commercial district and then cross a bridge and head out of the city. As more roads were built to facilitate 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance duty and other travel needs they all had their starting point/termination at Nihonbashi. Edo, being a castle town, was arranged in small neighborhoods and deliberately without a grid (for protection). In the early days of the shōganate, getting out of the city might prove difficult or at least a waste of time if you got lost. So once you crossed Nihonbashi, you passed through 江戸町 Edo no machi, a merchant district, headed south on a road towards 京橋 Kyōbashi.  Once you passed this bridge, you knew you were pointed in the right direction.

Kyobashi in the Edo Period. Sometimes I can't believe that such a beautiful view is what Tokyo is today. The shogun's capital was without a doubt, one of the finest cities in the world.

Kyobashi in the Edo Period. Sometimes I can’t believe that such a beautiful view is what Tokyo is today. The shogun’s capital was without a doubt, one of the finest cities in the world.

Wait a minute. You said 京橋 means “Capital Bridge.”
So why is this bridge taking us out of the capital???

京都 Kyōto means “The Capital, biaaatch.” And in the old days the city was generally just referred to as 京 Kyō “the capital.” In reality, the capital was officially wherever the emperor lived – an argument can still be made for this denomination even today.

Of course, in the Edo Period, the shōgun lived in Tōkyō. It was the de facto capital and by the middle of the Edo Period there was hardly any pretense in calling Kyōto the capital. But that was the name of the city. So Kyōbashi actually had two nuances. If you were leaving, it was the bridge to imperial capital and if you were coming, it was the bridge to the shōganal capital (scil; Edo).

The original Kyōbashi spanned the 京橋川 Kyōbashigawa Kyōbashi River. To the west was Edo Castle, in particular the so-called 大名小路 daimyō kōji daimyō alley (present day Marunouchi). To the east was Takarachō and Hatchōbori.

Kyobashi in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Total destruction, but the bridge survived and served the city well.

Kyobashi in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Total destruction, but the bridge survived and served the city well.

This picture is also after the Great Kanto Earthquake. The destruction doesn't seem as bad as the former picture. It was taken in the same year as the disaster, but since things seem a little more back to normal, I'm going to guess that this is later that year -- or straight up mislabeled -- but definitely the city seems on its way to recovery.

This picture is also after the Great Kanto Earthquake. The destruction doesn’t seem as bad as the former picture. It was taken in the same year as the disaster, but since things seem a little more back to normal, I’m going to guess that this is later that year — or straight up mislabeled — but definitely the city seems on its way to recovery.

Today, if you walk down from the starting point of the Tōkaidō in Nihonbashi to Kyōbashi station and walk all the way to the expressway, you’ve followed – more or less – the old Tōkaidō road.

In the 1870’s, a stone bridge was built. In 1922, a second wider bridge was built. It withstood the Great Kantō Earthquake like a champ and stayed there until a decade or so after WWII. In 1959 the river was filled in and the bridge disappeared. If you go to the location of the former bridge, you can view the course of the river roughly by following the 東京高速道路 Tōkyō Kōsoku Dōro Tōkyō Expressway from the Marunouchi Exit to the Kyōbashi Exit – easily done on foot. The original bridge stood in 京橋3丁目 Kyōbashi sanchōme near Kyōbashi Station.

One of the original bridge markers from the 1875 Meiji Period bridge remains as a memorial.

One of the original bridge markers from the 1875 Meiji Period bridge remains as a memorial.

A single bridge marker from the Taisho Era bridge remains. The Taisho Era bridge survived the Great Kanto Earthquake and WWII. It's final demise came with the filling in of the river in the 1950's.

A single bridge marker from the Taisho Era bridge remains. The Taisho Era bridge survived the Great Kanto Earthquake and WWII. It’s final demise came with the filling in of the river in the 1950’s. That’s a bad ass stone bridge. Bad Ass!!!

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