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What does Hirō mean?

In Japanese History on November 21, 2014 at 1:18 pm

広尾
Hirō (Wide Tail, Spacious Tail)

HIRO STATION

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The area called 広尾 Hirō[i] is the area surrounded by 渋谷区恵比寿 Shibuya-ku Ebisu Ebisu, Shibuya Ward and 南麻布 Minami Azabu, 西麻布 Nishi Azabu, and 南青山 Minami Aoyama – the 3 of which are in 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. The area presently called Hirō is officially located in Shibuya Ward – though historically, Hirō has been considered both part of Shibuya and Azabu.

Hirō is boasts some of the priciest real estate in Tōkyō and the area surrounding 広尾駅 Hirō Eki Hirō Station has an upscale, international vibe. I can’t say much more about the area from firsthand experience because I think I’ve only been there once… and that was a month or so ago when I took Mrs. JapanThis there for Mexican food.
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Let’s Look at the Kanji


hiro

wide, spacious


o

tail;  area where a mountain or hill fans out into a plain

Hirō is located in the lowlands under the 麻布台地 Azabu Daichi Azabu Plateau[ii] and so these kanji make sense. The hill fans out into a wide plain at the bottom of the plateau. But interestingly, this combination of kanji date from the Edo Period. There is an earlier and much more complicated writing 樋籠 Hirō that combines 訓読み kun’yomi Japanese reading and 音読み on’yomi Chinese reading.


hi

gutter, conduit


basket, palanquin, secluded, etc…

This writing could just be ateji. However, there is an area called 埼玉県春日部市樋籠 Saitama-ken Kasukabe-shi Hirō Hirō, Kasukabe City, Saitama Prefecture. That place name is said to derive from its use as an emergency flood plain that protected the villages by absorbing excess water. If this kanji use is the same, the original kanji could be a reference to the nearby 渋谷川 Shibuya-gawa Shibuya River. This area was unsettled until the Meiji Period and so it could be that it was left undeveloped for the same reason: to absorb excess flood water to protect the nearby villages.

At any rate, the area came to have various names such as 広野 Hiroya spacious field, 広野 Hirono spacious field, and by the nickname 土筆ヶ原 Tsukushi-ga-hara cattail field. The nickname definitely sounds like a reference to wetlands so there may be something to the idea that this area regularly flooded or was just wet enough to not be good for building villages in the area. By the coming of the Tokugawa, new flood control and river works came to be implemented on a large scale. One can only imagine that the area became more stable and soon you had daimyō building residences on the surrounding highlands. The sprawling lowlands were left as is.

tsukushi

cattails… yeah.

In the early Edo Period, there was a village here called 下渋谷村 Shimo-Shibuya Mura Lower Shibuya Village[iii] but in 1664 a merchant town was established called 下渋谷広尾町 Shimo-Shibuya Hirō-chō[iv]. The suffix 町 chō indicated that this was a merchant and artisan town. These merchant towns became the residential and commercial centers of Edo Period Hirō.

Then, during the reign of the 5th Shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the shōgunate undertook a series of land surveys collectively referred to as the 元禄検地 Gen’roku Kenchi Gen’roku Land Surveys[v]. The open, spacious field previously referred to as Tsukushi-ga-Hara or Hirono/Hiroya was still there. After the land surveys, the name of the field was standardized and we start seeing maps and art with the name 広尾原 which could be read as Hirō-no-Hara or Hirō-ga-Hara.

inu kubo - tokugawa tsunayoshi

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In the early 1800’s, the 江戸名所図会 Edo Meisho Zue Guidebook to the Famous Places of Edo, depicts a wide open field of ススキ susuki Japanese silver grass. You can get a real feeling for the rustic beauty of the area in the Edo Period. One of the images focuses on the area near 山下橋 Yamashita-bashi Yamashita Bridge. The bridge was also known as 水車橋 Suisha-bashi Water Wheel Bridge.

This name nickname is a reference to Hirō-chō’s most famous landmark, the 玉川水車 Tamagawa Suisha Tamagawa Water Wheel, more commonly called 広尾水車 Hirō Suisha Hirō Water wheel. The water wheel may have served several purposes, but my main understanding is that it was for flood control.

Hiroo-bashi and you can see the water wheel in the middle ground and the field in the distance.

Hiroo-bashi and you can see the water wheel in the middle ground and the field in the distance.

a colorized version of the aforementioned picture

a colorized version of the aforementioned picture

Hirō-no-Hara (or Tsukushi-ga-Hara) was a place where friends, families, and lovers would come to take a stroll in the beautiful greenery, gaze at the distant hills and mountains, and relax and enjoy picnics. Today that area corresponds to the area from 広尾5丁目 Hirō 5-chōme to 恵比寿2丁目 Ebisu Ebisu 2-chōme. If you note the picture below, I’ve highlighted the area. It’s essentially present day 広尾病院 Hirō Byō’in Hirō General Hospital and 慶應義塾幼稚舎 Keiō Gijuku Yōchisha Primary School.

The area had always been quite rustic and located just outside of the city limits of Edo, but in 1713, 広尾橋 Hirōbashi the Hirō Bridge was built over the 古川 Furukawa Furukawa River[vi]. This  added a convenient access point that allowed more traffic in and out of the area. As a result, the area was formalized under the jurisdiction of the 江戸町奉行 Edo machi-bugyō. A machi-bugyō was the senior administrative official of a large city[vii]. The term is often translated as “commissioner,” but in short, he was like a mayor, a police commissioner, a fire commissioner, a tax commissioner, and local chief justice. Regardless of what his job may or may not translate to in Modern English, the move meant that while this area had heretofore been a shōgunate holding, from 1713 on this was officially part of Edo – not some outlying suburb.

In 1870 (Meiji 3), 渋谷広尾町 Shibuya Hirō-chō was split into 3 towns: 渋谷広尾町 Shibuya Hirō-chō, Shibuya Kami-Hirō-chō, and 渋谷下広尾町 Shibuya Shimo-Hirō-chō[viii]. Since then the area has been further divided and re-administered many times. As such, even though the area called Hirō is actually in present day Shibuya Ward, 広尾神社 Hirō Jinja Hirō Shrine is in 港区南麻布 Minato-ku Minami Azabu Minami Azabu, Minato Ward.

The "wide field"

The “wide field”

A Few Famous Places in Hirō

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve only been to Hirō once – as far as I know. That said, I’ve been told by Rekishi no Tabi that Hirō is a goldmine of Edo Period coolness if you know where to look. Given its proximity to massive residences of some of the richest daimyō, I am sure this is true. So apologies if my list comes up short compared to his.

La Jolla Mexican restaurant in Hiro.

La Jolla Mexican restaurant in Hiro.

The First Mexican Restaurant in Tōkyō

A throw’s stone away from Hirō Station is a small Mexican restaurant called La Jolla. Mexican food is still a bit scarce in Tōkyō. If you’re an American used to a variety of home-style dishes and high end Mexican food readily available in your hometown, you’ll find yourself going without for a long time in Tōkyō. I’ve met foreigners who have standing offers to blow anyone who can get them a decent tamale and some pico de gallo that actually has flavor.

This shop opened in 1987 and claims to be the first Mexican restaurant in the metropolis. The shop came highly recommended by a few people and was actually what brought me to Hirō in the first place. It wasn’t bad and if you’re in the area and have a craving for enchiladas or something, it might cure your hankering for a spankering of la cocina mexicana. I’m still looking for the perfect plate of tacos al pastor and… yeah, I’d probably blow you for a decent tamale[ix].

Kuroda Nagamasa's grave or something...

Kuroda Nagamasa’s grave or something…

The Grave of Kuroda Nagamasa at Shō’un-ji

黒田長政 Kuroda Nagamasa was a famous general during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period and early Edo Period. He was originally a retainer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and despite having to lead his troops into Korea on Hideyoshi’s ridiculous mission to invade China, Nagamasa and his samurai held off the Koreans and protected the Japanese forces as they retreated from the Korean Peninsula. It was a shit job, but he was paid well for it. Oh, and if his family name sounds familiar, that’s because he was the son of his even more famous father, Kuroda Kanbei, who was the subject of a recent NHK Taiga Drama.

Later, Nagamasa served directly under 2nd shōgun, Tokugawa Hidetada, in the Winter and Summer Sieges of Ōsaka Castle in 1614 and 1615 respectively. The Kuroda Clan were the lords of 福岡藩 Fukuoka Han Fukuoka Domain until 1871 when a certain douchebag named Price Arisugawa Taruhito was installed as a Provincial Governor. But more about that later.

Anyhoo, Nagamasa’s grave is located at 祥雲寺 Shō’un-ji Shō’un Temple. The temple is located on the 広尾商店街 Hirō Shōtengai Hirō Shopping Street near Hirō Station. In the Edo Period, the temple served as a 菩提寺 bodaiji family temple of the Kuroda family. The Kuroda clan had close connections to the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family and began intermarrying early in the Edo Period. A newly formed branch called the 松平黒田家 Matsudaira Kuroda-ke Matsudaira Kuroda Family was established that had direct bloodlines to the shōgun family. As a result, various shōguns or emissaries of the shōgun family came to this temple for お墓参り o-haka mairi visiting and maintaining graves and observing Buddhist memorial services.

Autumn foliage at the former estate of the Morioka Domain.

Autumn foliage at the former estate of the Morioka Domain.

The Remains of the Nanbu Estate

OK, things might get a little messy now…
Near Hirō Station there is a large park with lush greenery. This park actually lies in Minami Azabu and not Hirō, but that’s neither here nor there. In English, the park called Arisugawa Park – more about that later.

In the Edo Period, this plot of land was the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence[x] of the 南部氏 Nanbu-shi Nanbu Clan.  They were the lords of 盛岡藩 Morioka Han Morioka Domain and based out of 盛岡城 Morioka-jō Morioka Castle in present day Aomori. These days, most people think of Morioka as a city and Nanbu as a region and a dialect – especially people from Aomori. That’s because during the Edo Period the 2 cadet branches were formed that held 支藩 shihan satellite domains[xi]:

Domain Name

Year Established

Kokudaka[xii]

盛岡藩
Morioka Han

1601

130,000

八戸藩
Hachinohe Han

1664

10,000

七戸藩
Shichinohe Han

1680

20,000

Since all three domains were controlled by the same family, it was and is easier to refer to the area collectively as 南部藩 Nanbu Han Nanbu Domain. The Nanbu were loyal to the Tokugawa to the bitter end and fought against the Meiji Coup even after the shōgunate fell. As a result, the Nanbu clan was punished by the newly formed Meiji Government[xiii]. In a moment, we’ll see how this affected their lower residence near Hirō.

But in fiction, Morioka/Nanbu Domain plays a major role in the movies 壬生義士伝 Mibugishiden When the Last Sword is Drawn and たそがれ清兵衛 Tasogare Seibei Twilight Samurai. The Japanese seem to love the idea of a bunch of country bumpkin samurai fighting to the death for a lost cause. The problem is that having been defeated and humiliated by the winners of the Meiji Coup, the Nanbu Clan and their retainers switched sides and went 100% pro-Imperial Theocracy. I’m not even joking when I say that these “fierce Tokugawa loyalists” drank the Meiji Kool Aid so fast it hurts. Case in point: Some prominent 20th century figures in Pre-WWII and Post-WWII descended from high ranking Nanbu retainers. The most infamous were convicted war criminals 板垣征四郎 Itagaki Seishirō and 東條英機 Tōjō Hideki. In our own time, the Nanbu family has gone so far off the deep end that the 45th generational head of the family was the Chief Priest of 靖国神社 Yasukuni Jinja Yasukuni Shrine from 2004-2006.

Anways, the shape of modern day Arisugawa Park is more or less the same as the lower residence of the Nanbu Clan. I haven’t been to this park yet, so I don’t know if anything of their palace remains, but I highly doubt it.

If you haven't seen "When the Last Sword is Drawn," close your browser and go rent it now.

If you haven’t seen “When the Last Sword is Drawn,” close your browser and go rent it now.

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Arisugawa Park

Today, the former lower estate of the Nanbu Clan is a beautiful park. The full name of the park is 有栖川宮記念公園 Arisugawa-no-miya Kinen Kōen Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park – commonly abbreviated as Arisugawa Park. As I mentioned earlier Arisugawa was a dude… a dude whom longtime readers will know I don’t hold in very high regard.

park

Who was Arisugawa?

I recently wrote a little about him in my 15 page review of Romulus Hillsborough’s book, Samurai Revolution. Feel free to download the review (it’s a PDF), but I’m going to give you more Arisugawa Taruhito than you can shake a stick at now.

His full name was 有栖川宮熾仁親王 Arisugawa-no-miya Taruhito-Shinnō. The name can be abbreviated as Prince Arisugawa Taruhito. The family name is technically Arisugawa but the suffix miya is attached. This suffix indicates that the person is a member of the imperial family. His given name was Taruhito. And the suffix shinnō indicates that he was an imperial prince[xiv].

Despite being a courtier, Taruhito seems to have been a fairly intelligent and capable guy. However, personality-wise, he was a total douche bag. He was a close advisor of 孝明天皇 Kōmei Tennō the Emperor Kōmei. The emperor was fiercely xenophobic and anti-foreigner, though he believed the shōgunate was the only apparatus capable of running the country. Later, he was a close confidant of 明治天皇 Meiji Tennō the Meiji Emperor, whose court was made up of anti-shōgunate radicals from Satsuma and Chōshū.

Prince Arisugawa cosplaying as a white imperialist dickhead

Prince Arisugawa cosplaying as a white imperialist dickhead

In 1861, he was betrothed to 和宮親子内親王, Kazu-no-miya Chikako-Naishinnō – daughter of Emperor Ninkō[xv]. She is usually referred to as just Kazunomiya or sometimes Princess Kazu[xvi]. The title naishinnō means imperial princess and is similar to the aforementioned title, shinnō. The engagement was broken off so that she could be married to the 14th shōgun, 徳川家茂 Tokugawa Iemochi. The intention was to build a stronger bond between the imperial court in Kyōto and the shōgunate in Edo[xvii].

In the end, Taruhito ended up being married to a daughter of the batshit crazy daimyō of Mito Domain[xviii], Tokugawa Nariaki. Nariaki, despite being a close relative of the shōgun family who shared a name with the shōgun family, and owed all of his wealth, status, and privilege to the shōgun family was essentially a pro-imperial, xenophobic nutball who was considered a loose cannon by everyone around him.

Kazu-no-miya

Kazu-no-miya. I’d hit it.

Do You Have a Point?

So I’m going on and on about this dude’s background and bombarding you with footnotes. I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with all of this (if you haven’t already quit reading). But rest assured – I have a point. I’m trying to paint a picture of Taruhito’s environment. He was surrounded the most negative and radical elements and philosophies of the Bakumatsu for his whole adult life.

This is why it should come as no surprise that after Prince Arisugawa was given nominal control of the newly named “Imperial Army,” he set out to make a name for himself as the imperial courtier who restored the martial dignity of the imperial family that had been dead for… oh, I don’t know, about 600 years. What better way to restore that dignity than bitch slapping the Tokugawa? Yes, the Tokugawa who had protected the imperial court and more or less suppressed war for about 250 years? Oh, and I said he was given “nominal control” over the anti-shōgunate army, right? For all intents and purposes, the psychologically unstable, pro-imperial, anti-shōgunate Satsuma native, Saigō Takamori was really calling all the shots.

I can see where this is going...

I can see where this is going…

Arisugawa’s Demands

Before the pro-imperial forces had reached Edo, Arisugawa proved himself to be a total dick. First, he asked for Edo Castle to be surrendered. He wanted every Tokugawa warship (they had some of the most state of the art western warships). He wanted all weapons, arsenals, and munitions of any sort handed over.

But then his demands got ridiculous. The first of his insane requests was that Tokugawa Yoshinobu turn himself over to the so-called imperial army to await 天誅 tenchū divine punishment or heaven’s revenge. In the context of pro-imperialism, this term implies that you are at the mercy of the emperor (or his cronies) as a living god incarnate. In the context of the Bakumatsu, this was a word that pro-imperial, anti-shōgunate terrorists used to justify their acts of violence. Supposedly, many of them would shout this word at their victims before assassinating them. The word was short hand for a certain, unquestionable death sentence. Yoshinobu would have known that because he was brother of Arisugawa’s wife and they shared a father. Yes, the batshit crazy Tokugawa Nariaki.

Come on. Look at this face. You don't want to behead me. What would the ladies do? Tokugawa Yoshinobu

Come on.
Look at this face. You don’t want to behead me.
What would the ladies do?
Tokugawa Yoshinobu

But wait, there’s more.

Arisugawa didn’t stop at demanding his brother-in-law’s head. He demanded that all 旗本 hatamoto be put under house arrest. Hatamoto were the direct retainers of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family. There were ranks within the grouping of hatamoto and I’m not sure which definition Arisugawa was referring to, but we can say that depending on how strictly or loosely he was using the term, the number of hatamoto could have been somewhere between 5000- 17,000 samurai.

Imagine your city had a population of 1,000,000 people. Now, imagine 5,000-17,000 public officials serving various administrative roles where suddenly, randomly confined to their homes and weren’t allowed to work. Now, imagine what would happen to the infrastructure and day to day operations of the government. The imperial army had a war strategy, but they had no plan in place for governing the country. Clowns.

taruhito

Arisugawa… remember this face.

But wait, It Gets Better

Demanding his brother-in-law submit to execution was harsh. After all, the former shōgun was the protector of his relative and ex-fiancée, Kazunomiya[xix] and the other imperial women and court women in the 大奥 Ōoku women’s quarter of Edo Castle[xx]. Killing the shōgun would also turn not just the city of Edo against you, it could have caused fence-sitting Tokugawa branch families to turn against you as well. It could have turned Edo into a guerrilla warfare battleground that resulted in the utter destruction of the city. But all of this wasn’t enough.

In Arisugawa’s imagination, he would march his army into a pristine Edo with no shōgun. Magically, the city would have no hatamoto doing any jobs because they were under house arrest. And again, magically, the government would be fully operational and the commoners and merchants would welcome the Meiji Army as liberators. But Arisugawa had one final way to ingratiate himself with the people of Edo. He demanded that 100 shōgunate official be beheaded.

Beheading would have been the ultimate insult to a member of a samurai family. 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide would have at least allowed the offending member of the family to ritually atone for his transgressions in an effort to take ownership of his actions and release the family from any responsibility. I don’t know if he had a list of names or if he just wanted 100 random samurai officials, but FFS, I have no idea what he thought beheading all those people would accomplish. But all of these insane demands basically secured Arisugawa’s reputation as a total asshole.

Beheading 17 people looks like this. Imagine 100.

Beheading 17 people looks like this. Imagine 100.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū worked out a deal with 西郷隆盛 Saigō Takamori and negotiated a peaceful and bloodless surrender of Edo Castle. Later, the Nanbu clan joined an alliance of northern domains and rebelled against the imperial government. The coalition was called the 奥羽越列藩同盟 Ō-U-Etsu Reppan Dōmei[xxi] also known as 北部同盟 Hokubu Dōmei the Northern Alliance. The coalition soon fell apart and all the clans were punished by the Meiji Government. The Nanbu clan’s estate in Hirō was confiscated and supposedly Saigō Takamori took it over as a temporary residence.

Saigo Takamori and Katsu Kaishu negotiating a reasonable surrender of Edo Castle in Mita (modern day Tamachi Station area)

Saigo Takamori and Katsu Kaishu negotiating a reasonable surrender of Edo Castle in Mita
(modern day Tamachi Station area)

Prince Arisugawa had expressed a desire to buy the property and retire there, but it seems he never had the chance. He got malaria or some shit while staying Kansai[xxii] and died in 1895 during the first Sino-Japanese War. In 1896 the Arisugawa-no-miya family formally acquired the property and 有栖川宮威仁親王 Arisugawa-no-miya Takehito-Shinnō Prince Arisugawa Takehito moved in. Takehito died in 1913 without an heir, thus ending the Arisugawa-no-miya line. His best friend had been adopted into the family but wasn’t allowed to continue the family name, so he established a new cadet family under the name 高松宮宣仁親王 Takamatsu-no-miya Nobuhito-Shinnō Prince Takamatsu Nobuhito.

Prince Takamatsu looking  fabulous in his imp-wear.

Prince Takamatsu looking fabulous in his imp-wear.

Nobuhito seems to have been a pretty cool dude. Although he served in the imperial army in various capacities, his diaries expressed his objections to Japan’s actions in Manchuria and he opposed military action against China and the US. In November 1941 he told his older brother, Hirohito[xxiii], that Japan couldn’t defeat America and would possibly face defeat in “about 2 years.” Hirohito, who was too busy playing war god while squatting in Edo Castle[xxiv], started to ignore Nobuhito and the two became estranged. He and the empress actually pressed the cabinet and the emperor to remove Tōjō Hideki from his role as Prime Minister.

At any rate, before the war Nobuhito had taken an interest in the role of nature as a tool for educating children. In 1934, upon the anniversary of the death of Arisugawa Taruhito, he donated the land to Tōkyō City as a park for children to play sports and enjoy nature. That is when Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park was born. In 1975, the Tokyo metropolitan authority transferred the administration of the park to Minato Ward.

And now I realize how truly bizarre it is that I spent the bulk of this article talking about this park which isn’t even in Hirō. The end.

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[i] Also written Hiroo.
[ii] If you walk from Azabu past Arisugawa Park, you’ll notice that you are descending the Azabu Plateau and the Hirō Station area is lowlands.
[iii] I’ve mentioned this before 下 shimo lower was a prefix that designated a village that sat downstream, whereas 上 kami upper was a prefix that designated a village that sat upstream. The village in between would have been prefixed with 中 naka which means middle.
[iv] The merchant town quickly expanded and soon there were: Shimo-Hirō-chō, Naka-Hirō-chō, and Kami-Hirō-chō.
[v] Gen’roku is 年号 nengo a Japanese era name that occurred during Tsunayoshi’s reign. The Gen’roku Era is roughly 1688-1704, however these surveys took place here and there from 1680-1697.
[vi] The name for this stretch of the Shibuya River.
[vii] Edo actually had 2 machi-bugyō – and for a short time 3!
[viii] The 上 kami, 中 naka, and 下 shimo place names have long since disappeared from the official post codes. I’m not sure if bus stops bear these designations anymore either, but I couldn’t find anything via Google, so I’m assuming those labels are now defunct.
[ix] Somebody should start a Mexican Food in Tōkyō Blog!
[x] What’s a lower residence? Please read a quick primer on sankin-kōtai.
[xi] Literally, branch domains.
[xii] Kokudaka is the system for determining land value for taxation purposes in Edo period. One 石 koku was more or less the amount of rice it took to feed one person for a year. The system was used to value the incomes of daimyō and homes and fields of landowners. Read more about it here at Samurai Archives.
[xiii] In 1871, the Nanbu were divested of prefectural control and some dickhead named Arisugawa was given control. More about this later.
[xiv] The 世襲親王家 seshū shinnōke were the 4 cadet branches of the Imperial Family that could provide a successor to the Chrysanthemum Throne via adoption. 親王 shinnō is usually translated as “imperial prince” (but the literal meaning is more like “close blood relative of the emperor”). Basically, this was the imperial version of the Tokugawa 御三家 go-sanke, the three cadet families who could provide a successor to the shōgunate.
[xv] The emperor before Kōmei.
[xvi] If her name is modernized it would be Kazunomiya Chikako or Kazu Chikako.
[xvii] This effort was called 公武合体 kōbu gattai, Union of Court and Camp. The Japanese term for shōgunate, 幕府 bakufu, originally referred to the shōgun’s camp on the battleground. The reason for this particular princess to marry the shōgun was because Kazunomiya had been raised to the rank of naishinnō. If I’m not mistaken, this particular rank meant she could provide a successor to the imperial throne. If this was the case, then had she and Iemochi given birth to a boy, there would have been a very possibility that an emperor born of mixed imperial and Tokugawa blood could have ascended the throne instead of the Meiji Emperor. Japanese history would have taken a very, very different course…
[xviii] Who happened to also be the father of the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu.
[xix] Who loyally supported the Tokugawa after her marriage, it must be noted.
[xx] The wives of the shōguns had long been chosen from the imperial court.
[xxi] You can read more about the Northern Alliance here.
[xxii] As one does.
[xxiii] That’s 昭和天皇 Shōwa Tennō Shōwa Emperor to you and me.
[xxiv] 東京城 Tōkyō-jō Tōkyō Castle.

What does Keyakizaka mean?

In Japanese History on February 1, 2014 at 4:53 pm

欅坂
Keyakizaka (Zelkova Hill)

1024-768

Today’s place name etymology is another easy one. The first kanji is 欅 keyaki and means zelkova tree. The second kanji is 坂 saka hill. The kanji for keyaki is pretty rare in Modern Japanese, so this name is almost always written as ケヤキ坂 keyakizaka so people can actually read it. The Roppongi area has a long standing connection with zelkova trees. In fact, some people cite 6 giant zelkova trees as the etymology of the place name Roppongi[i].

But basically, the Azabu and Roppongi areas were a short walk from 江戸湾 Edo Wan Edo Bay but and the terrain was marked by lush wooded high ground (which became yamanote) and not-too-wet lowlands (which became shitamachi). The lush high ground was perfect for daimyō residences and lowlands were suitable for the merchant towns that catered to the elite domain “embassies.” Interestingly, the area is home to a number of embassies – many occupying former daimyō properties.

Anyhoo, I’m getting side tracked. I can’t say whether this name has survived from the Edo Period or not, but this 400 meter or uphill promenade is definitely befitting of the area’s Edo Period elite history. The street is wide and lined with trees and flower beds. The flowers are changed seasonally. The zelkova trees are richly illuminated – much more so now than the first time I visited in 2003. The street runs through a part of the Roppongi Hills “urban center” connecting the formerly shitamachi Azabu-Jūban shopping street with the 5-star Grand Hyatt Tokyo at the top of the hill. If you view off the road into the Roppongi Hills complex you will come upon the so-called Mohri Garden.

A quick word about this garden’s name. Roppongi Hills was developed by a dude named Mori Minoru. This garden is named after the Mori Clan who ruled 長州藩 Chōshū han Chōshū Domain. The developer’s name is 森 Mori and the daimyō’s name is 毛利 Mōri (spelled Mohri in the official Roppongi Hills jargon). So don’t confuse the two. But all I wanted to point out is that the developers claim that the garden is a partial holdover from the original daimyō garden. Take that with a grain of salt. It’s definitely a nice garden, if not a busy garden, and it’s definitely in the Japanese style. But I’m not willing to vouch to say any of it is actually a remnant of the Edo Period.

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[i] 六本木 Roppongi literally, “6 Trees.” Another version of the story says they were pine trees and not zelkovas. I don’t buy into that theory at all because there is a much more compelling derivation.
BTW – I just looked up my original article on Roppongi and was shocked at how short and uninformative it was. So I’m adding Roppongi to my “do over” list and will give a detailed explanation about the ‘Pong. 

What does Yoyogi mean?

In Japanese History on June 26, 2013 at 1:57 am

代々木
Yoyogi (Generations Old Tree or Trees)

Yoyogi Station.

Yoyogi Station.
Don’t hold me to this, but I think the present Yoyogi Station wasn’t actually part of Yoyogi Village.

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Once again, I want to throw out a million thanks to my readers. If none of you followed, commented, messaged or just generally showed up, I wouldn’t be able to continue. Y’all make this so much fun.

I was asked by a reader the other today to talk about Yoyogi. So I bumped it up in the pecking order. Hope this is a good one.

Hatsune Miku.

And for no particular reason, here’s Hatsune Miku.
random

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The name 代々木村 Yoyogi Mura Yoyogi Village is attested in the writings of the Sengoku Period. But it’s not clear where that name came from. There’s a good chance the name is much older than the Edo Period. But without other records, we can’t say.

In the Edo Period, the area called Yoyogi was what is now more or less the Meiji Jingū and Harajuku Station area.

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Let’s Look at the Kanji:

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代々daidai
alternate: yoyo
an adverb meaning “for generations, for ages”
ki
alternate: gi 

tree

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The simplest explanation seems to be the most believable to me. There were a lot of trees in the area for a long time – generations, if you will.

There are a few slight variations of this theory. The reason I put off doing this place name for so long[i] was because sorting thru all the details of etymologies that varied little except for a slightly different angle or a curious anecdote was too time consuming. Given the amount of time and effort I’ve put into JapanThis since that time, this topic seems much less daunting now[ii]. And in reality, it wasn’t difficult to research this one.

One theory states that 皀莢 saikachi honey locust trees were cultivated here[iii]. I like this theory best because it’s simple and plausible. It doesn’t try to hard.

This is a close up a honey locust tree.  You can see its bean pods. Legumes FTW... or something

This is a close up a honey locust tree.
You can see its bean pods.
Legumes FTW… or something

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Another theory states specifically that on the Ii family’s lower residence, which made up part of Meiji Jingū and some of the hill at the high point of Harajuku, was covered in  樅 momi Japanese fir trees. This story has some cool anecdotes attached to it, but reeks of folk etymology.

a Japanese fir tree, It looks very firry. Good for it.

a Japanese fir tree,
It looks very firry.
Good for it.

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It should be noted that today both types of trees exist in the area around Meiji Jingū, although after WWII, local trees from all over Japan were donated here during the rebuilding effort.
Also, the area that is now Meiji Jingū Gaien was the original site of the Ii clan’s palatial lower residence’s tea garden. To my knowledge, nothing remains of the site.

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If you go to Meiji Jingū, near the garden’s east gate, there is a tree with a sign that says 代々木の大樅 Yoyogi no Ōmomi The Great Japanese Fir of Yoyogi. The tree is no bigger or smaller than any of the other trees near it. But the story goes that once upon a time, there was a super tall Japanese fir tree that had stood here for generations. The current unimpressive tree is a replacement that stands on the site of the original Great Japanese Fir of Yoyogi Village.

This is where the sign says the big fir tree of Yoyogi was.

This is where the sign says the big fir tree of Yoyogi was.
Note: it’s not a fir tree….

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It was said that this 大樅 ōmomi great fir tree on the Ii family’s lower residence was so great, that mapmakers from the shōgunate would climb to the top of it to survey the city. Another anecdote states that the Ii family’s watchmen would keep an eye on the family’s upper residence which was located near the 桜田門 Sakuradamon Sakurada Gate[iv]. In fact, it was said that you could see all the way to Shiba and Edo Bay. Utagawa Hiroshige even painted a picture of the tree titled 代々木村ノ世々木 Yoyogi Mura no Yoyogi The Generations Old Tree of Yoyogi[v].

There was an imperial residence built on the site of the Ii family’s lower residence[vi]. The tree was preserved… or at least the location of the alleged tree. Eventually the land was incorporated into Meiji Jingū and, as I said, the old tree doesn’t exist anymore, but the new tree does and it has its own sign. So, good for it.

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[i] When I started looking into place names, it was one of the first I wanted to write about.

[iii] 代々木 daidai ki, (alternatively, yoyo ki) “generations of trees” was basically shorthand for 代々皀莢ヲ生産  daidai/yoyo saikachi no ki wo seisa “cultivating honey locust trees for generations.”

[iv] I’m sure I’ve alluded to the Sakuradamon Incident (which sounds like a euphemism, it should be called “the Assassination of Ii Naosuke at Sakuradamon”). Many people consider this the opening of the Bakumatsu.

[v] The Yoyogi of Yoyogi. See what he did there? In the second “yoyogi” he used a variant for 代々 daidai/yoyo generations 世々 yoyo. I can’t find this picture on the internet, so if someone can help me find it, I’d really appreciate that!

[vi] Remember, the lower residences were much more palace like and rustic than their urban upper residences near the castle. When the Meiji Era urban sprawl began in earnest, the Harajuku area became a prime target for rich people and the elite imperial family who wanted to build their own estates in the area.

Why is Sendai Horigawa called Sendai Horigawa?

In Japanese History on May 16, 2013 at 1:04 am

仙台堀川
Sendai Horigawa (Sendai Canal)

Hydrophilia, baby!!!

Sendai Horigawa Park

One of the most fascinating things about Tōkyō is finding little hints of the great city of Edo still lingering. Sometimes it might be a building. It might be just a plaque. It might just be the layout of the street or the type of shops prevalent in the area. Sometimes, it might just be a place name.

Tonight while randomly looking around a map of 江東区 Kōtō-ku Kōtō Ward, I saw this place name. Given the location, I had a sneaking suspicion about the origin of the name and I decided to research it to see if I was right.

As mentioned before, Sendai Domain had their upper residence in present day Shiodome. If you went north up the coast of Edo Bay, you’d come to Kiba, and just above that to the location of Sendai Domain’s warehouses. This is where goods would be imported from the domain and, naturally, goods purchased in Edo would be sent back. Food stuffs for the domain serving sankin-kōtai duty were also stored here until they were needed.

This isn't Sendai's warehouse, but this is more or less what the area would have looked like in the Edo Period.

This isn’t Sendai’s warehouse, but this is more or less what the area would have looked like in the Edo Period.

Around the time of the 3rd shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, a canal was dug here to increase water routes from the bay area. Sendai, being an extremely large domain, would have had an especially large warehouse facility here right on the canal. Since the Edo Period, many of the old waterways have been filled in or re-routed. Sendai Canal was no different and eventually the area around it was converted into a so-called hydrophilic park.* That is to say, it’s a big ass park with a lot of lakes and streams. I’ve never been there before – actually I’d never even heard of it before – but a Google image search pulled up pictures of a pretty nice looking park and one picture of the emperor.
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* The Japanese word is 親水公園 shinsui kōen. While hydrophilic is usually a chemistry term, the Japanese word means something like “close to water” or “water-friendly” and refers to parks on rivers or lakes that make an effort to focus on the natural beauty of water.

Nijubashi – Tokyo’s Most Famous Bridge

In Japanese History on May 13, 2013 at 12:40 am

二重橋
Nijūbashi (Double Bridge)

Is this bridge really called Nijubashi or the Stone Bridge? Hmmmm... let's find out!

Is this bridge really called Nijubashi or the Stone Bridge? Hmmmm… let’s find out!

The bridge above is the main bridge to the Imperial Palace. It appears on guidebooks and postcards and is arguably the most famous bridge in Japan – even a symbol of Japan. Most people, including the Japanese, call it Nijūbashi. But this is sort of a case of mistaken identity.

First let’s look at the kanji:

 

二重
nijū

double


hashi

bridge


Nijūbashi is actually a nickname. The correct name of the bridge is 正門石橋 seimon ishibashi main entrance stone bridge.

Folk Etymology 1
There are actually two main bridges to the Imperial Palace. The 正門石橋 seimon ishibashi main entrance stone bridge and the 正門鉄橋 seimon tetsubashi the main entrance iron bridge. When you stand in front of the stone bridge you can see the iron bridge behind it and it looks like there are two bridges.

Double Bridges - Tokyo Imperial Palace

Seems legit.

Folk Etymology 2
When reflected in the moat, an illusion of two stone bridges occurs, hence a “double bridge.” Some old people actually refer to the bridge as メガネ橋 meganebashi the “glasses” bridge because… well, it looks like a pair of glasses.

Double Bridge or Glasses Bridge - Tokyo Imperial Palace

I see what you did there…

Those two stories are cute, but they’re not actually correct. Here’s the real deal:

Edo Castle also had two bridges here, but the names were different. The stone bridge was a wooden bridge called 西之丸大手橋 nishi no maru ōtebashi “front bridge to the western compound” and the iron bridge was also a wooden bridge called 西之丸下乗橋 nishi no maru kejōbashi “dismount bridge to the western compound.”*

Nijubashi was actually the nickname of the kejōbashi (now the iron bridge), not the ōtebashi (now the stone bridge). The bridge was built in 1614 by the shōgun, Tokugawa Hidetada. The bridge had a secondary wooden support mechanism built underneath which made it a 2 level construction. Because of these two levels, it looked like there were two bridges. The nickname 二重橋 nijūbashi/futaebashi came to be used as it was quite a distinctive bridge.

The Original Nijubashi - Edo Castle

A hard to see photo of the original “double bridge.”

Here's a digital version of the same view of the old kejobashi.

Here’s a digital version of the same view of the old kejobashi.

When the imperial court moved into the castle in 1868 but the bridges remained. After the confiscation and destruction of the daimyō residences in Daimyō Alley and elsewhere, the old bridge and gate system was re-evaluated. The two bridges were chosen as the main entrances to Tokyo Castle (the Imperial Palace). The kejōbashi was torn down and replaced with an iron bridge in 1888. It was rebuilt again in 1964 to match the 新宮殿 Shin Kyūden the New Palace, which is the collection of shitty 60’s-looking buildings that litter the palace grounds.

The iron bridge as it looks today (the true

The iron bridge as it looks today (the true “nijubashi”)

The 大手橋 ōtebashi was also torn down and replaced with the famous stone bridge in 1887. Because of its modern style, it quickly became a very high profile bridge – especially with the demolition of Daimyō Alley and the encroachment of commoners to the inner moats (in the Edo Period most commoners probably wouldn’t have been able to get too close).

Side view of the original otebashi bridge (now the stone bridge). My guess is the photographer was standing on the kejobashi... maybe...

Side view of the original otebashi bridge (now the stone bridge). My guess is the photographer was standing on the kejobashi… maybe…

Main Bridge to Edo Castle

Front view of the original ōtebashi  taken by a lopsided person. (present day stone bridge).

In the Meiji Period, since the old kejōbashi formerly known as Nijūbashi no longer looked like a double bridge, the new main bridge became associated with the name. All the strange folk etymologies started popping up then too. And even though the bridge is not formally referred to as Nijūbashi, the Chiyoda Line subway station in the area (built in the 1970’s) is called 二重橋前駅 Nijūbashimae Eki Nijūbashi Front Station. Today the area around the station and bridge is colloquially referred to as Nijūbashi or Nijūbashimae.

Imperial Palace Bridge Satellite

In case you were wondering where the bridges go… The left one is the stone bridge, the right one is the iron bridge. (Interestingly, if you look up 二重橋 on google maps/google earth, the iron bridge is – correctly – labelled as Nijubashi).

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* I’m not sure if I’ve translated the term correctly because I don’t really understand the purpose of this particular bridge. 下乗 kejō means “dismount” as in “get off of a horse.”
Also, if you’re curious about what “maru” means, please have a look on my post about Marunōchi and Daimyō Alley.

4 More Bad Ass Books on Japanese History

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Travel in Japan on May 8, 2013 at 12:44 am

I decided to update my list of Bad Ass Japanese History Books. If you wanna see my last list, it is here.

Three of these books have been sitting on my shelf. But one I just got a month or so ago.
2 are out of print (but used copies seem available on Amazon). All 4 are in Japanese only, but the second book is a photo book, so anyone can enjoy it.

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江戸京散歩
Edo-Tōkyō Sanpo
Edo-Tōkyō Walks

江戸東京散歩 - Walk Around Edo Tokyo

Notice my gold Tokugawa bookmark?

Similar to 江戸散歩東京散歩 which I mentioned last time, this book features historical maps of Edo on the page and modern maps of Tōkyō on the right. The old maps have more detail and there is much more of Tōkyō covered than in the other book. It doesn’t include restaurant or shop information, so it’s really designed for history enthusiasts rather than casual sightseeing.  There is a general map of the whole city of Edo and also a page dedicated to 大名小路 daimyō kōji daimyō alley (modern Marunouchi).  There’s also a dedicated map of Edo Castle (always a handy thing to have). There’s a brief write up about the major bridges and hills of Edo. Each modern map has a history walk path laid out, but in the back there are 12 “select” routes. The maps and indexes have become indispensable for doing my place name series. Because it has more maps, I’ve been using it a little more than 江戸散歩東京散歩 – which is still a very fine book.

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甦る幕末
Yomigaeru Bakumatsu
The Bakumatsu Brought Back to Life

甦る幕末 Bakumatsu Photos

This book is one of my prized possessions. It was published in 1986 and I believe it is out of print. It is collection of 800 photographs of Japan during the final years of the Tokugawa Shōgunate (the photos are from the University of Leiden’s collection). There really isn’t much text, just one line descriptions of the pictures, so even if you can’t read Japanese you’ll still be mesmerized by the scenes and the people. Many of the pictures represent sites of important events of the bakumatsu, as well as casual shots of temples and shrines. The last section is of photos of people active during the bakumatsu, everyone from the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, to lowly samurai body guards and servants of foreigners living and working in Japan at that time. I never get tired of this book. I can’t recommend it enough if you’re a bakumatsu person!!

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幕末戊辰西南戦争
Bakumatsu Boshin Seinan Sensō – Ketteiban

Bakumatsu: the Boshin War and the Satsuma Rebellion – Definitive Edition

幕末だぜ! It's the muthafuckin' bakumatsu, baby!

I love these illustrated Japanese history books. They’re always full of maps and detailed descriptions of events and have lots of photographs and explanations of how things went down. This book is awesome! For example, there’s an illustration and description of a Shinsengumi procession – basically a super flashy version of a daimyō procession. There are detailed descriptions of the western firearms and uniforms used in the Boshin War and the Satsuma Rebellion (the Seinan War). The boats also get serious treatment – which is fascinating. The battlefields and strategies also get decent coverage – even though that’s way over my head, I know many samurai enthusiasts love that shit. The assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma and the Ikedaya Incident also get multiple pages with loads of diagrams and illustrations. Basically everything about the final death throes of the bakufu and the last resistance of samurai who refused to go out like little bitches is in here. Fun book!!

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日本100名城 公式ガイドブック
Nihon 100 Meijō Kōshiki Gaidobukku
Official Guide to the 100 Famous Castles of Japan

日本100名城公式ガイドブック

OK, I love a Japanese castle as much as the next guy, but there are some SERIOUS castle otaku out there. There are loads of books and websites (in Japanese and English) about Japanese castles. I’m not a castle geek, but I do think Japanese castles are totally fucking bad ass. When I bought this book in 2007, I’d only been in Japan 2 years (maybe less) and just bought it for the pictures (my Japanese sucked). The book is a Guide to the “100 Fine Castles of Japan,” a list designed by the Japan Castle Foundation to promote tourism and education about castles. I didn’t know it at the time but the list had just been compiled the year before and this book was literally a portable guide to walk you through the ABC’s of Japanese castles. It’s got loads of pictures and a スタンプ帳 stanpu-chō stamp book so you can collect a stamp from each castle to prove that you’ve been there (but if you tell me you have, I’ll believe you. I don’t need to see a stamp. I like to trust people).  Although there are a lot of pictures and illustrations in this book, there’s a lot of text in Japanese. Seems like somebody should translate this book into English if they really wanted to boost tourism and education related to Japanese castles. (Update! I just checked and this book has been updated and is still in print. It’s even for sale directly from the Japan Castle Foundation website.)

If you want to see my past list, you can find it here.

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Why is Shiodome called Shiodome?

In Japanese History on May 7, 2013 at 1:48 am

汐留
Shiodome (Tide Block)

View of the Tokugawa seaside villa in Shiodome - the gardens can still be visited today. YAY!

View of the Tokugawa seaside villa in Shiodome – the gardens can still be visited today. YAY!

The sad part about this story is that I thought this would be an easy place name to cover. I hoped to research and write it in an under 2 hours. It turns out that it’s pretty fucking complicated.

“Why does everything have to be so bloody complicated?!”

Let’s start with the kanji:
汐 shio tide*
留 tome stop*

Two quick notes.

One, it’s possible that this place name predates the arrival of the Tokugawa. Names that predate the Tokugawa are problematic for a number of reasons, the chief of which is that before the Edo Period records are spotty at best.

Two, Shiodome is not a postal address in Tōkyō – even though it was an official place name (associated with Azabu and Shiba) from 1868 until the 1960’s. Nowadays the area’s most official claims to fame are Shiodome Station and Shiodome Shio Site. But if someone says they live or work in Shiodome, they’re probably referring to Hamamatsuchō, Daimon, or Shinbashi, which have official postal addresses. Today the Shiodome area refers to the area from modern Shiodome station to the bay (In the Edo Period, it was the Bay, in modern Tōkyō, landfill stretches out all the way to Odaiba).

An aerial view of part of the Shiodome

An aerial view of part of the Shiodome Excavations. This excavation was very important to understanding the infrastructure of Edo and, in particular, the amenities of daimyo residences.


There are a couple of theories about this name.

1 – In the Edo Period it was believed that in prior to the coming of the Tokugawa, there was a 塩問屋 shio toiya or shio tonya (a sea salt production and wholesale area) in this area. The area had inlets from the bay which support this theory (but no archaeological evidence does). A sound change from “tonya” and “toiya” to “tome “ seems unlikely, but I don’t know shit about Japanese diachronic linguistics, so let’s leave that “undetermined.”

2 – At the same time that the Hibiya inlet started drying up, major areas of Edo bay dried up. The area became more developed and the area became a natural barrier between the sea and solid land — literally “stopping/blocking the tide.” After the arrival of the Tokugawa, there were were vacation homes of some very important Tokugawa vassals from Tōhoku; Sendai domain, Aizu domain and Nanbu Domain. The Shōgun family also had a detached palace here whose gardens are still intact.

These are the remains of the Tokugawa seaside villa. In the Edo Period, there would have been almost nothing between Edo Bay and the villa. All of the buildings in the distance are built on landfill.

These are the remains of the Tokugawa seaside villa. In the Edo Period, there would have been almost nothing between Edo Bay and the villa. All of the buildings in the distance are built on landfill.


My opinion?

Who the fuck knows. The salt processing area could just be folk etymology, but future archaeological evidence could change that. The barrier between land and see isn’t far-fetched either. It’s supported by common sense and without more documentary evidence we can only take it at face value. But Shiodome, which wasn’t a very well-known place name got a second chance at life when the former Shinbashi Depot was renamed Shiodome Station in the Taishō Era. So it could be argued that the place name’s origin is irrelevant since the modern designation is a product the early 1900’s. There was a chance of the place name disappearing into oblivion in the late 80’s, but recent economic revival efforts since the early 90’s have brought the name into notoriety – and some might say the name notorious.

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What is Shiodome?

No matter what the origin of the name, the modern area looks pretty cool.

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An Era-by-Era Guide to Shiodome

Before the Edo Period (before 1600):
Unclear. The tidal area may have been used for salt extraction and sales, but this is unconfirmed.

Edo Period (1600-1868):
In terms of developing Edo, Tokugawa Ieyasu went balls out. Daimyō were ordered to finance and move into the area as part of Ieyasu’s plan to surround his castle with his subordinate lords. Shinbashi (Shiodome), Nihonbashi, Hamachō and much of present Minato-ku fell under this influence.

The gardens of the Hama detached palace are still preserved as part of this elite palace area.
Many Tōhoku daimyō built lower residences here. Sendai (descendents of Date Masamune) and Aizu (whose family intermarried with the Tokugawa and remained loyal until the bitter end) had massive residences in the area. The Morioka clan (Nambu domain)’s residence was purchased by an Imperial prince and the garden still exists today, Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park. The Tokugawa family (centered in the Hamachō area) also possessed a seaside estate here, the garden of which is still intact, Hamarikyu Garden (mentioned earlier). There were a few samurai residences also built in the area.

Meiji Period (1868-1912):
The government confiscated the daimyō holdings. In 1872 新橋停車場 Shinbashi Depot was built as Japan’s first major hub station (starting point of the Tōkaidō Line). For most of the Meiji era, the area is known as Shinbashi and is associated with trains.

Taishō Period (1912-1926):
1914 – The station moves to Karasumori (which is renamed to Shinbashi) and the old station is renamed Shiodome Station. The area is increasingly referred to as Shiodome colloquially since Shinbashi is now next to Ginza in former Karasumori.
The old station continues life as a freight station and the area becomes a shipping and warehouse town.

Shōwa Period (1926-1989):
In the 1960’s more highways are built and freight train routes fall into disuse.
In 1987 Shiodome station closes. This could have been the final death knell for Shiodome, but….

Heisei Period (1989-any day now…)
In the 90’s (from Shōwa 60 to Heisei 7) The site of the former freight junction was gutted, excavated and re-developed into a new urban space called Shio Site. One of the interesting things about this activity was that the original Shinbashi Depot was reconstructed as a sightseeing spot. The area was a boon to archaeologists and helped expand much of what was known about Edo Period engineering and daimyō residences. As part of the urban development, skyscrapers were built to encourage big companies to relocate to this new “urban oasis” by the sea. The Tōkyō monorail also stops by the new and improved Shiodome Station. Many Tōkyōites will claim that the Shio Site is effectively a “wall of skyscrapers” that blocks the natural sea breeze from Tōkyō Bay. This “wall” is often blamed for Tōkyō’s excessively humid “heat island.” People even ironically lament the name, saying that we should be getting sea breezes from Tōkyō Bay, but that Shiodome is literally “blocking the sea” from Tōkyō.

What does Shiodome mean?

Before Shio Shite, after Shio Shite. (There’s more Shio Shite now).

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* both of these kanji are poetic, other variants are 潮 shio (which also has a sexual meaning), and 止 tome (a more mundane rendering).

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.

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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 Akasaka called Akasaka?

In Japanese History on April 30, 2013 at 1:59 am

赤坂
Akasaka (Red Hill)

Today Akasaka just looks like any other business district in Tokyo. It's not much to look at from the street.

Today Akasaka just looks like any other business district in Tokyo. It’s not much to look at from the street.

Akasaka is business and commercial district located between Aoyama and Roppongi and Edo Castle. Due to its elevation and proximity to the castle (ie; right next to it), it was the site of many residences of those daimyō who were the closest to the Tokugawa shōgun, including other branches of the Tokugawa clan. Today it is just one train station away from the 国会議事堂 Kokkai-gijidō National Diet Building. The area has long been a meeting ground of the rich and powerful, and even today it is one of the few areas where you can still find geisha in Tōkyō. The crown prince’s residence is in Akasaka, as is one of the former imperial villas (now a guesthouse for visiting heads of state).

The word is made of 2 kanji:
赤 aka red
坂 saka hill, slope

Akasaka Geihinkan - the State Guest House.

Akasaka Geihinkan – the State Guest House.

There are two explanations. A third explanation is just a combination of these two.

The first explanation is that the slope had ruddy clay that gave it a distinctive look. The second explanation is that the hill was formerly referred to as Akanesaka or Akaneyama (written赤根山 Akaneyama or 赤根坂 Akanesaka or 茜坂 Akanesaka). 茜 akane  Japanese madder or 赤根 akane Japanese madder (literally “red root”), is a plant used to make a brilliant red dye (from its root). Supposedly the area was famous for this plant and it was easily collected there before the arrival of the Tokugawa. Over time, the pronunciation became slurred and Akanesaka turned to Akasaka. The 赤根坂 Akanesaka variant could easily be reduced to 赤坂 Akasaka. The third theory is a mixture of those. It points out that the roots of the Japanese madder, being used for making red dye, naturally turned the dirt and clay of the slope red. Therefor the hill was known for a plant already associated with red and a hill that had reddish dirt.

Akane, Japanese madder. Could the root of this plant be the source of the name? Maybe we'll never know.

Akane, Japanese madder. Could the root of this plant be the source of the name? Maybe we’ll never know.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I believe any of these theories, but the third theory does a good job of tying up the first two. Since the area doesn’t have any Japanese madder growing anymore – and I haven’t seen any red clay there – let’s just say the jury is out on this one until we get more evidence.

By the way, check tomorrow’s post because I’ll be expanding on Akasaka by talking a little bit about Akasaka-mitsuke.

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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