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Posts Tagged ‘dasai’

Yamanote Line: Takadanobaba, Meijiro, & Ikebukuro

In Japanese History on May 24, 2016 at 3:10 am

高田馬場
Takada no Baba

untitled

Grave of Chā no Tsubone, concubine of Tokugawa Ieyasu, often referred to as Lady Takada.

Takada no Baba, or “Takadanobaba” as JR East likes to write it, was a quiet village called 戸塚村 Totsuka Mura Totsuka Village in the Edo Period. While this area was rustic (or suburban at best) at that time, today it’s a buzzing party town that caters to the students of 早稲田大学 Waseda Daigaku Waseda University[i]. As soon as you exit the station, you’ll find a sea of 居酒屋 izakaya Japanese style pubs and restaurants. But just a heads up about drinking in Takada no Baba: These are university students – most of them are lightweights under pressure to overdrink by their peers and 先輩 senpai upper-classmates. They can be loud. They can be obnoxious. They can be oblivious to everything because… they’re lightweights. They stumble around like zombies on the weekend. They pass out on the floors of restaurants. They walk zig-zag and side-puke on the street. They’re basically Japanese salarymen in training. It ain’t pretty.

waseda party school.jpg

Takadanobaba (or just Baba, as locals call it) in a nutshell.

The name Takada no Baba means “Horse Grounds of Takada Domain.” In the Edo Period, a 馬場 baba horse grounds was a spot, usually a long rectangular shaped spot, for practicing horsemanship and mounted martial arts. While mounted attacks with swords on bound bales of hay was one sort of training, the most interesting practice was a martial art called 流鏑馬 yabusame. This is mounted archery and it looks fucking bad ass. If you are in Japan and have a chance to watch yabusame, I highly recommend it.

As I mentioned earlier, the area was called Totsuka and that was the original name for the station, but it was rejected in favor of the more noble sounding Takada no Baba. Takada no Baba conjured up an image of the area’s connection with the daimyō and samurai class in general – a decidedly 山手 yamanote high city connotation. However, the location of the old horse grounds is not in the immediate station area. The city blocks preserve the shape of the horse grounds and can be found in 戸塚一丁目 Tostuska Icchōme 1st block of Totsuka near 甘泉園公園 Kansen’en Kōen Kansen’en Park, which was part of the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence of the 清水家 Shimizu-ke Shimizu Clan of Satsuma Domain.

TAKADA NO BABA no BABA.jpg

If you compare the Edo Period maps with a modern map, you can see that the the shape of the horse grounds ⑦ is completely intact. I dare say the Shimizu compound (located to the right of the baba) is still intact. This is what I looooooove about Tōkyō!!! Edo is still here when you know what you’re looking at.

Long time readers may be scratching their heads. Why was Satsuma Domain’s lower residence located next to a horse ground named after Takada Domain (which was located in present day Niigata)? It’s purely coincidence. According to legend, the horse grounds were established in 1636 by the 3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu to honor 茶阿局 Chā no Tsubone, the mother of 1st shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu’s 6th son. She either loved the area for relaxing in nature or she was a fan of mounted archery (probably the latter). When her and Ieyasu’s son became the daimyō of Takada Domain, she came to be addressed as 高田殿 Takada-dono Lady Takada[ii]. If this theory is correct, and it seems to make sense, the real meaning of the name Takada no Baba is something like the Chā no Tsubone (ie; Lady Takada) Memorial Horse Grounds.

Additional Reading:

rich assholes in tokyo.jpg

While most of Tokyo lives in economy class, the 1% live in Mejiro

目白
Mejiro

MEJIRO TEMPLE

Mejiro means “white eyes” as is commonly thought to be a reference to a Buddhist statue housed at 金乗院 Konjō-in, a nearby temple. The statue has white eyes, but this most definitely a reflection of the place name, not the origin of the place name. In my original article, I went into the etymology pretty thoroughly and so I only have a few things to say about the area today.

Honestly, I haven’t spent any time in Mejiro. In fact, if I ever went there, I really don’t remember. It’s an upscale, residential neighborhood and my image of the area is that if you don’t live there, there’s not much reason to go there. The station only has a single exit – a rare attribute for a train on the Yamanote Line.

aso taro can't read kanji.jpg

Think kanji is difficult? So does this guy… and he became Prime Minister!

The area is home to 学習院大学 Gakushūin Daigaku Gakushuin University, arguably the snobbiest university in Japan. Members of the imperial family, descendants of the former Tokugawa shōgun family, and 宮崎駿 Miyazaki Hayao grace their illustrious list of graduates. Then again, certified nutjobs like 三島由紀夫 Mishima Yukio, 麻生太郎 Asō Tarō, and 小野洋子 Ono Yōko also went here. Pedigree and wealth is the name of the game here. The lower residence of the Owari Tokugawa[iii] was located in this area has been converted into a planned community that takes advantage of the traditional aspects of the old 山手 yamanote high city. There’s a lot of greenery and privacy. Land ownership is encouraged[iv] over renting/buying high rise apartments in order to protect property values and give the residents a sense of security, tranquility, and – let’s face it – isolation.

Mejiro seems like the sorta place I’d like to walk through the streets just getting drunk and rowdy, yelling at people, doing coke, smoking cigarettes, pissing on buildings, and humping trees and cars just to make people feel uncomfortable[v]. Punk’s not dead.

Additional Reading:

ikiebukuro piss.png

Dude passed out shoes off in the foreground. Pay no attention to the old guy pissing on his own luggage in the background. This is Ikebukuro.

池袋
Ikebukuro

Today, we’ll finish with Ikebukuro.

God, where do I start? First keep in mind that the word 山手 yamanote means high city and used to refer to elite, high ground where samurai and feudal lords lived. But the meaning eventually came to mean areas west of the outer moat of the Imperial Palace (former Edo Castle). This shift in meaning pretty much rendered the terms yamanote and 下町 shitamachi low city (commoner districts) meaningless in many cases. On the surface, Ikebukuro seems to be living proof of this. But yeah, Ikebukuro has always been a lowland area, both geographically and metaphorically.

IWGP

Scene from an old drama called Ikebukuro West Gate Park.

Ikebukuro is essentially the Armpit of Tōkyō. A lot of people say Minami Senju is the Armpit, but at least Minami Senju has some deep history. Ikebukuro is crowded, smells awful, and excels at sucking. The area was countryside until the 1950’s and for history nerds, there’s no reason to visit this place that I can think of. The name Ikebukuro literally means “pond bag” but is actually a reference to the land between 2 bodies of water. This area was essentially a marsh or wetland and the original village built in the area was called 池袋村 Ikebukuro Mura Ikebukuro Village – the village between 2 lakes (probably used for rice farming).

埼玉 池袋 ださい

Stay classy, Ikebukuro.

Being a wetlands area, for a long time I thought that the only reason Ikebukuro was on the Yamanote Line was because it connects 新宿 Shinjuku and 大塚 Ōtsuka, which were both home to 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki palatial “lower residences” of daimyō. But upon closer inspection, it seems there was a concentration of 武家屋敷 buke yashiki samurai residences in the area. Even though it was rural and marshy, the presence of samurai families in a location west of Edo Castle qualify parts of Ikebukuro as yamanote in both the Edo Period and modern day definitions. But strictly speaking this area was not part of the shōgun’s capital. This would have been 武蔵国豊嶋郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province and it was pretty much rural until recently.

districts of Musashi Province

Districts of Musashi Province. Toshima District is the gray one on the northwestern most portion of Edo-Tōkyō Bay.

As I mentioned in the introductory article of this series, the Yamanote Line evolved out of an original train line connecting Shinagawa and Akabane (on the border of Tōkyō Metropolis and Saitama Prefecture).

In the 1950’s, to avoid overcrowding in central Tōkyō, the so-called 都心 toshin city center, development began in several 副都心 fuku-toshin sub-centers. Ikebukuro was one of these and later, so was 大宮 Ōmiya in Saitama. 2 trains provide direct access from Ōmiya to Ikebukuro which means it’s really easy for rural Saitama-folk to get access to the capital. Since the Bubble Years, Ikebukuro has come to be associated with Saitama. That is to say, Tōkyōites generally don’t have a good impression of Ikebukuro. The reason is simple: Saitama is to Tōkyō what New Jersey is to New York.

sunshine titty ikebukuro

Sunshine City is a multi-building shopping/entertainment complex built on the remains of Sugamo Prison (where WWII war criminals were kept). To my knowledge, nothing of the prison remains.

Sunshine City is the area’s main claim to fame. It’s a large shopping development that is one of the most architecturally bland structures in Tōkyō. It features, I dunno, a half-assed aquarium, a half-assed planetarium, and a half-assed museum of Ancient Asian History[vi]. There’s an observation deck where, on a clear day, you can take a picture of the boring, dirty, and smelly shopping area called Ikebukuro. Amazing, huh?

To Read About the Place’s Boring Etymology:

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[i] Waseda is a fairly prestigious school in Japan, but gained the image of a party school when it was rocked by a scandal in the early 2000’s. A student club was organizing huge parties executing coordinated rapes and gang rapes female attendees. Luckily, some of the organizers and participants were arrested and jailed, but who knows how many people got off free or how many other victims there are that have never come forward? It’s pretty fucking disgusting.
[ii] This is a reflection of a linguistic taboo in Pre-Modern Japan about referring directly to a person by name. This taboo is still evidenced in modern Japanese culture by a tendency to avoid words like “you” when referring to people you’re not close with. Names are OK with honorific suffixes like ~さん -san or ~さま -sama, but sometimes even the polite あなた anata you is avoided. Calling her Chā or even Chā no Tsubone (which is a title) would have been presumptuous.
[iii] Does Nagoya Castle ring a bell?
[iv] A very costly option in Tōkyō.
[v] For the record, while I do enjoy a drink now and then, I absolutely HATE smoking and I don’t do coke. In fact, I rarely even drink Coca-Cola, lololol. I prefer tea, thank you very much.
[vi] OK, full disclosure. I’ve never seen the aquarium, planetarium, or museum, but they sound a little lame. If you’ve been, let me know your impressions in the comments section.

The Tone River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on June 8, 2014 at 1:19 pm

利根川
The Tonegawa (useful root river, but actual meaning isn’t known)

The Tone River flowing past Sekiyado Castle in Chiba Prefecture. Notice Mt. Fuji in the background.

The Tone River flowing past Sekiyado Castle in Chiba Prefecture.
Notice Mt. Fuji in the background.

I’ve often heard that the 利根川 Tonegawa Tone River is the longest river in Japan. Actually, it’s not. The 信濃川 Shinanogawa Shinano River[i] is the longest, but the Tonegawa has the largest watershed. That is to say, we’re not referring to a single river, but the entire network of rivers and tributaries that veer off from the source like the veins of a leaf. And like a leaf, there is an ending point for the veins. These are the natural boundaries that stop the river, where the river loses energy and “dies,” or where it empties out into the sea. On a map, you can actually pinpoint these boundaries and chart the watershed, which is the entire water system from start(s) to finish(es).

Example of a watershed. Hopefully the leaf analogy makes sense now.

Example of a watershed. Hopefully the leaf analogy makes sense now.

 

By strict definition, the river begins on the 大水上山 Ōminakami Yama Ōminakami Mountains (literally, “Great Headwaters Mountains[ii]”) in Gunma Prefecture and empties out into the Pacific Ocean at 銚子 Chōshi in Chiba Prefecture. That said, the entire watershed is littered with towns and waterworks which reference the river, despite being off the official government designated course. The Arakawa and Edogawa are often cited unofficially as exit points of the river. You can clearly see on one of the maps on my Sumidagawa article that in the earliest days of the Edo Period, the main river flowing through Edo was, in fact, the Tonegawa.

The history of the river is really long and complicated and I don’t want to get bogged down in as much craziness as I did last time with the Sumidagawa. Plus, since most of the Tonegawa is not in Tōkyō, it’s beyond the scope of this blog. Just know that from the earliest records, the Tonegawa had a reputation for periodic horrible flooding and changing course over the years. As such, it was sort of the bad boy of Japanese rivers and was considered untamable. But that didn’t stop people from trying to tame it. Through all of recorded history, there are references to various building projects at various points along the river attempting to calm the raging river.

The headwaters of the Tonegawa in Gunma Prefecture.

The headwaters of the Tonegawa.

The Tone River emptying into the sea.

The Tone River emptying into the sea in Chiba Prefecture.

As mentioned earlier, today the river empties into the Pacific Ocean in present day Chiba. But in the Edo Period the river did not empty out there. In those days it bifurcated into 2 rivers flowing south and east in 怒藩 Oshi Han Oshi Domain in present day Gyōda, Saitama[iii] at a place which is still known today at 会之川 Ai no Kawa, literally, the meeting of the rivers[iv]. The bifurcation doesn’t exist anymore but today the remains of one river is a southeast flowing waterway today called 大落古利根川 Ōtoshi Furu-tonegawa literally the Old Tonegawa Big Drainage Channel. Though not connected today, this “Old Tonegawa[v]” eventually met at a confluence north of Edo where the Arakawa and Irumagawa, and all 3 rivers flowed happily ever after into Edo Bay in a complex alluvial patchwork.

That is until Tokugawa Ieyasu began delegating urban planning and development tasks to various daimyō as part of their sankin-kōtai service. As I mentioned in my last article, one of the daimyō tapped for carrying out river work, was one 松平忠吉 Matsudaira Tadayoshi[vi]. This dude was actually the 4th son of Ieyasu and the lord of 忍藩 Oshi Han Oshi Domain which is now present Gyōda, Saitama[vii].

Reconstruction of Oshi Castle in Gyoda. It's actually rebuilt in the wrong location. The castle's honmaru (main keep) is now an elementary school. But many areas of this sleepy, farming town retain place names referencing the castle.

Reconstruction of Oshi Castle in Gyoda. It’s actually rebuilt in the wrong location. The castle’s honmaru (main keep) is now an elementary school. But many areas of this sleepy, farming town retain place names referencing the castle.

 

As it turns out, the lord of Tatebayashi at the time[viii], one 秋元 長朝 Akimoto Nagatomo also worked on these flood control projects. 伊奈 忠次 Ina Tadatsugu lord of 小室藩 Komura Han Komura Domain (present day 北足立郡 Kita Adachi-gun North Adachi District, Saitama) was also asked to help out. The lord of  総社藩 Sōja Han Sōja Domain located in present day 前橋 Maebashi in Gun’ma Prefecture was also called upon to implement development of the river path.

Initially, I didn’t know why Matsudaira Tadayoshi was asked to work on this particular project (and the Sumidagawa), but if I had to guess it would be because the lords of Oshi Domain were already trying to temper and control the Tonegawa in their own domain at Ai no Kawa. But seeing the daimyō from Sōja, Tatebayashi, Oshi, and Komura in that order got me thinking. Perhaps it was because they all lived in territories through which the river flowed. As such, they already had experience dealing with this river, or by the thinking of the time, they “owned” responsibility of the Tonegawa – ie; since the major confluence that ran to Edo Bay started in and ran through their respective territories so it was their mess to clean up. That’s just my speculation, but that’s definitely something to think about[ix].

 

The Tone River as it flows throw Maebashi (present day Gunma Prefecture).

The Tone River as it flows throw Maebashi (present day Gunma Prefecture).

 

A Quick Note About the Establishment of Edo as a Capital City
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What differentiates Ieyasu from the other 武将 bushō warlords before him – and indeed about the other shōgunates before him – is that more than being a general, he had a vision of governance and urban planning[x]. He also had enough kids to ensure proper dynastic succession[xi]. His plans were executed so much better than those of the Kamakura or Ashikaga shōgunates. In my humble opinion, the success of the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate doesn’t lie in the fact that Ieyasu became shōgun. It all lays in the fact that Ieyasu set up a tactical administration of the realm that brought everyone into compliance with his system and that his subordinate daimyō actually obeyed his edicts.

Wikipedia actually lists 4 reasons Ieyasu and the shōgunate put such a high priority on taming the Tonegawa. It’s actually an interesting list:

1 – Protect Edo Castle and the administrative centers of government from floods. Also, protect the administrative centers of the domains that existed along the river[xii].

2 – Promote the development of new rice paddies and fields and protect them from flooding. Remember “rice” = “money” in the Edo Period economy. Also a stable economy and a stable farming class meant peace.

3 – Ieyasu, a military general, knew the tactical importance of a good highway system on land and a predictable, traversable network of rivers. Beyond military use, investing in a solid infrastructure that united the domains and brought goods, services, and resources in and out of the capital city was seen as a high priority.

4 – The last one is interesting if you love the Sengoku Period and/or Edo Castle. Apparently, the 伊達氏 Date-shi/Idate-shi Date clan who controlled 仙台藩 Sendai Han Sendai Domain were still perceived as a potential enemy[xiii]. The shōgunate decided to cut off a portion of the Tonegawa to build the 外堀 sotobori outter moat of Edo Castle as an outer perimeter defense in case the Date decided to attack. They didn’t. But the result was a functional, secondary outer moat around the castle and the Tonegawa was diverted east towards present day Chiba.

 

Map of rivers in the 16th century. The Tone River clearly flows down into Edo Bay.

Map of rivers in the 16th century. The Tone River clearly flows down into Edo Bay.

 

Building a castle town in an alluvial plain, Ieyasu and his advisers had a myriad of concerns about the rivers. First of all, while his castle was probably immune from serious flooding, his vassals also had to be put into the 山手 yamanote on the tops of hills. Commoners (my shorthand for non-samurai) were in the 下町 shitamachi low ground that constantly flooded – unarguably the worst place to live, because more often than not it meant you lived in a flood plain or potential tsumani zone.

While all rivers were prone to flood, since the Heian Period we have records of the Tonegawa flooding violently. It also looks like the river naturally changed direction many times throughout history. As I mentioned earlier, due to its volatile nature, the people who lived along it were constantly trying to tame the river by whatever means they had at their disposal. The shōgun’s capital, in addition to averaging 1 major conflagration every 6-8 years, was also prone to flooding. Fires in a wooden city are pretty hard to prevent, but controlling rivers is apparently a little easier[xiv].

I could detail each and every change to the river from the Edo Period until recent years, but that would just get boring after a while. Although, in the Edo Period, the river emptied out into Edo Bay where the present day 江戸川 Edogawa Edo River flows into Tōkyō Bay, the end result is that the river was diverted east – and in much the same way as the Sumidagawa was created out of nothing, the Tonegawa was sent out of Edo. It now flows into a former tributary that takes the river into former 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province which is more or less modern Chiba Prefecture[xv].

 

In 1910, a typhoon caused most of Tokyo's rivers to flood including the Sumida and Kanda Rivers. Pretty much all of the shitamachi areas were  flooded for 3-10 days (depending on sea level elevation).  I'm told this picture is Asakusa. This kind of flooding rarely occurs in Tokyo since the 1960's,

In 1910, a typhoon caused most of Tokyo’s rivers to flood including the Sumida and Kanda Rivers. Pretty much all of the shitamachi areas were flooded for 3-10 days (depending on sea level elevation).
I’m told this picture is Asakusa.
This kind of flooding rarely occurs in Tokyo since the 1960’s,

Why doesn't Tokyo flood anymore? This is why. There are massive underground drainage tanks (like this) that fill up with flood water and then pump it out to the sea.

Why doesn’t Tokyo flood anymore? This is why. There are massive underground drainage tanks (like this) that fill up with flood water and then pump it out to the sea.

 

Hey, Marky. You Haven’t Said Anything About Etymology Yet…

Oh, sorry. You’re right. And after all, that’s why we’re all here, isn’t it? Well, the river name is quite old. You’ve already heard me mention the Heian Period, but of course, the river has been here much, much longer. As you can imagine, there are multiple conjectures about where the name comes from. Also, let’s be aware that the old sections of the Tonegawa have the nickname 坂東太郎 Bandō Tarō (Bandō is a pre-modern alternate for Kantō; Tarō is a name or suffix for a the eldest son, in this case it means “the oldest son of Japanese rivers” or is just a sign of affection or endearment).

 

Let’s look at the kanji, shall we?


to

useful


ne

root

 

This kanji use is ateji, that is to say, the kanji are not used for their ideographic meaning, but rather for their phonetic qualities. The first kanji, is rarely read as /to/ in Modern Japanese. The second kanji occurs in many ancient place names. The combination of kanji would normally be read as 利根 rikon which is an obscure term that means “cleverness” or “innate intelligence.”

 

Despite its wild and unruly reputation, some stretches of the Tone River seem quite beautiful.

Despite its wild and unruly reputation, some stretches of the Tone River seem quite beautiful.

 

The Ainu Did It.
.
Of course they did. And there’s no way to prove them wrong (lol). Well, there isn’t, but of course I’m being a little facetious here. Anyhoo, this theory assumes the word is derived from アイヌ語 Ainugo the Ainu language. The word in question is トンナイ ton’nai which in the Kantō dialects could easily be reduced to トンネェ ton’nēトネェ tonēトネ tone. In the Ainu language, ton’nai means “giant valley” and is said to refer to either the Tonegawa river basin or some valley that it flows through. Unfortunately for us, we don’t know what valley that is, so let’s chuck this one up to way out there speculation and impossible to confirm.

Another theory states that it comes from another old Ainu word トンナイ ton’nai which meant a swampy, lakey, wide river, which the Tonegawa most definitely was. As I mentioned before, it’s the largest watershed in Japan and it changed course often. The land received great benefits from river in the form of lakes and swamps, all of which could be used for farming or fishing or, you know, whatever you use lakes for. I dunno, maybe fucking ducks.

The Musashi Waterway in Gyoda, Saitama leads the Tone River towards its confluence with the Arakawa (itself part of the Tone Watershed).

The Musashi Waterway in Gyoda, Saitama leads the Tone River towards its confluence with the Arakawa (itself part of the Tone Watershed).

The Mountain Did It.
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As I mentioned earlier, the Tonegawa headwaters are at the top of 大水上山 Ōminakami Yama Ōminakami Mountains in 群馬県 Gun’ma Ken Gun’ma Prefecture. This theory states that on the mountain there were many 尖った利き峰 togatta kikimine which translates as something like “dominated by sharp/pointy peaks” or “useful pointy peaks.[xvi]” The idea here is that regardless of kanji the words 尖った togatta sharp and 利 kiki/ri useful were combined. This combination produces a hypothetical form 尖利 toto/tori “sharp + useful” as an abbreviation for the concept that the mountains were either dominated by sharp peaks or useful peaks. From this idea came a later word 利根 tone which literally means the “root/source of usefulness/benefit.”

I don’t think this an impossible etymology, but it is particularly convoluted and requires a lot of back story. Long time readers will know that I’m a big fan of Occam’s Razor and because of that I’m a little skeptical of this theory.

 

togatta

The Ominakami Mountains, source of the Tone River. I guess they do look kinda sharp and pointy.

 

Some Gods Did It.

This is a really weird theory because it asserts that the river is named after either 等禰直 Tone no Aitai or 椎根津彦 Tone Tsuhiko, two terrestrial 神 kami deities with associations to water shrines that are briefly alluded to in the 日本書紀 Nihon Shoki The Chronicles of Japan and 古事記 Kojiki Record of Ancient Matters, two ancient books telling the Japanese creation myths and legendary foundation stories. I don’t know much more about them.

Tone Tsuhiko. Kind of a boring kami.

Tone Tsuhiko. Kind of a boring kami.

The Man’yōshū Did It.
.
It’s said that the 大水上山 Ōminakami Yama Ōminakami Mountains had the nickname 刀嶺岳, 刀根岳 Tonetake Sword Peak Mountains or Sword Root Mountains, respectively. The nickname was applied to the river and eventually replaced with other kanji because is usually read as // not /to/. Supporters of this theory point out that the earliest reference to the river in the 万葉集 Man’yōshū the Anthology of 10,000 Leaves (8th century) and it was written in ateji as 刀禰 Tone.

As I’ve said time and time again, with really ancient place names written in ateji, there is almost no way of ever recovering the original meaning. The name could predate the spread of the Yamato people, as the Ainu theory suggests, but it could also be much older than that, it is a major watershed so it would have been hard to miss by anyone living near it.
I’m sad to say I can’t point at any of these theories and say “I like this one.” They’re all a little out there and I think the kanji in every case are just afterthoughts. The end.

 

 

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[i] The Shinano flows from Nagano to Niigata.
[ii] For those who don’t know “headwater” means the source of a river.
[iii] “Wait, why are you talking about Saitama?” You may be asking. It ties into Edo, you’ll see.
[iv] Even to this day name applies to where all sorts of vestiges of the Tone Watershed and drainage ditches and irrigation ditches and any kind of waterworks you can imagine keep this rural, farming community supplied with water.
[v] “Old” is a modern label, in its day it was all just part of the Tonegawa, baby.
[vi] Remember, Tokugawa Ieyasu assumed the name Tokugawa. His original family name was Matsudaira. Without going into specifics, the two are more or less equal in meaning.
[vii] Neighboring 館林藩 Tatebayashi Han Tatebayashi Domain, present day Tatebayashi, Gun’ma Prefecture, was also a Tokugawa holding. As mentioned in my article on Hakusan, the 5th shōgun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi was originally lord of this domain. Although this area is the straight up boonies today with some of the worst weather in the entire country, it is a very fertile agricultural area. Both domains were directly plugged into – by blood – to the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family. I have family in both towns, and I can assure you that this is a source of pride to some of the local people.
[viii] The Ina clan only held Tatebayashi Domain for a generation or two. Soon a branch of the Matsudaira took it over, but they were eventually superseded by the Tokugawa.
[ix] Or students/scholars, if you’re looking for a thesis topic, there ya go. You’re welcome.
[x] That said, he also had the somewhat stable luxury of being in a position where Nobunaga and Hideyoshi never could have been.
[xi] Something like 11 sons, if I remember correctly. He had a bunch of daughters too, but in the Edo Period women didn’t really count.
[xii] This may be why daimyō considered loyal to the Tokugawa seem to be placed along the river. Hmmmmm.
[xiii] Yes, that Date clan.
[xiv] Don’t get me wrong, Edo flooded frequently. Tōkyō also flooded frequently. These days if floods occur, there are a number of secondary and tertiary contingency plans, including vast underground receptacles that excess water can drain in to. You can actually take free tours of these drainage systems.
[xv] The Tone River now flows past 関宿城 Sekiyado-jō Sekiyado Castle in Chiba. I briefly mentioned the castle in my article on Morishita.
[xvi] I’ve shown this phrase to a few native Japanese speakers and they couldn’t make any sense out of it. It’s nonsense in Modern Japanese. But it is possible to read + as /to ne/) if you want to stretch your imagination.

What does Adachi mean?

In Japanese History on July 16, 2013 at 12:29 am

足立
Adachi (Standing Legs)

Map of the Tokyo Metropolis. Adachi Ward is highlighted in red.

Map of the Tokyo Metropolis.
Adachi Ward is highlighted in red.

We had a 3-day weekend here in Japan, yesterday was 海の日 Umi no Hi Sea Day which celebrates the, um, sea which surrounds Japan and from time to time wreaks great havoc and tragedy upon this fair group of islands. I spent all of my spare time with Mrs. JapanThis and so I had no time for researching and writing. But I’m back and ready to jump into an area of  Tōkyō I don’t think I’ve covered yet. I hope this is a good segue from my last place name post.

Adachi is a very ancient name that most likely pre-dates the 大化ノ改新 Taika no Kaishin Taika Reforms of the mid-600’s. I mentioned the Taika Reforms a few times, but I think the most I’ve ever talked about it was in my article on Mita, which also linked to the Wiki page on the subject. Be sure to read that article. You’ll see how much JapanThis has changed.

Anyhoo, one of the major outcomes of the Taika Reforms was the creation of the system of 国 kuni provinces, including our beloved 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province. In my article on Musashi, I talked about districts within Musashi Province. If you were paying attention, I mentioned 足立郡 Adachi-gun. So this name is on the books from some of the earliest eras of Japan’s historical record[i].

The Japanese apparently sucked at using kanji in this era – or more likely, hadn’t figured out how to adapt it to their own language yet – so they wrote things in ateji. This type of early ateji is called 万葉仮名 man’yōgana. The earliest form of Adachi that we have was written out phonetically as 阿太知 Adachi Adachi. Later the word becomes standardized as 足立 Adachi Adachi. Since the name began its life in such antiquity, it’s impossible to tell what the real meaning is[ii]. But that hasn’t stopped people from speculating since the old days to the present days. So let’s take a look at some of the theories and try to evaluate them.

Adachi Ward is pretty much all Tokyo shitamachi. In the Edo Period, this area fell well outside of the city of Edo, it was a sleepy suburb of the bustling capital.

Adachi Ward is pretty much all Tokyo shitamachi.
In the Edo Period, this area fell well outside of the city of Edo, it was a sleepy suburb of the bustling capital.

The most reasonable etymology I’ve come across is this one. As wetlands were common in this area[iii], there was a plot of land or area where many reeds were growing (ie; 葦が立つ ashi ga tatsu reeds are standing). Thus the name would have originally been 葦立 Ashidachi, but over time the pronunciation changed to Adachi[iv]. During the Taika Reforms, when the imperial court in Nara was taking inventory of the provinces they claimed dominion over, they had to render many backwater areas into kanji. Hearing the name Adachi, they chose to transcribe the name as 足立 Adachi.

The other theory I heard, is one of those ridiculous mythological stories that until I heard the story of Daita, I would have dismissed outright as sheer stupidity. I’ll probably dismiss this one outright as well, but before that, let’s at least take a look at it.

Captain Japan

Captain Japan

The story goes that this is place where 日本武尊 Yamato Takeru no Mikoto (or as I like to call him, Captain Japan) stood up and took his first steps. Either that, or this is the place where Yamato Takeru recovered from an illness or an injury[v].

The same story is told of another dude. This time, instead of Captain Japan, the story revolves around 坂上田村麻呂 Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (or as I like to call him, the guy whose name I can’t be arsed to remember). The general idea behind these legends is that Yamato Takeru or Sakanoue no Tamuramaro’s 足が立った ashi ga tatta “(their) legs stood up.” Ridiculous folk etymology, if you ask me.

Just for those who care, Yamato Takeru was a legendary transvestite prince and son of the legendary 12th emperor. There is no reason to believe he or his father ever really existed, especially in light of his ridiculous name, which literally means Japan Warrior[vi]. Sakanoue no Tamuramaro was most likely a real dude. They say he was the 2nd person to ever receive the title shōgun. According to legend, he received this appointment for subjugating the indigenous peoples of the Tōhōku area and forcing them up into Ezo (modern Hokkaidō) for Japanese lebensraum on 本州 Honshū the main island.

Both of these etymologies are lacking in my opinion, the real meaning of the word most likely obscured by ateji in the 600’s. That said, taking the etymology of a modern Japanese place name (in the Kantō area, no less) all the way back to the 600’s is a pretty impressive feat. Of all the place names we’ve covered so far on JapanThis, only a handful fall into this category.

As a result of the Taika Reforms, 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province was created. 安達郡 Adachi-gun Adachi District was created with the province. The name has been preserved in the modern 足立区 Adachi-ku Adachi Ward in the northern Tōkyō Metropolis.

This is a map of Musashi Province.

This is a map of Musashi Province.
The highlighted area is the Adachi District.
The bright red area is modern Adachi Ward.

One last thing, among snobbier Tōkyōites, Adachi Ward has a somewhat less than desirable image as a bastion of ヤンキー yankī yankee culture. Yankees are Japan’s version of white trash. I’ve heard it put to me once this way, “Yankees are the Jersey Shore of Japan. Like a bunch of people from Ōsaka and Saitama moved to Tōkyō and interbred.”

Ouch! Even if you’ve never been to Japan, there should be enough colorful cultural commentary in there to keep you thinking for days.

Tokyo's Jersey Shore?

Adachi Yankee Family.
Tokyo’s Jersey Shore?

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[i] And by historical, I mean written history.

[ii] When the imperial court chose to transcribe names with kanji, they generally ignored the original meanings and just applied the kanji as one character per syllable (ateji).
Although there is no meaning to ateji, if you must know what the characters mean, here’s the breakdown:
阿 a nook/shadow 太 ta fat 知 chi wisdom.
足 a foot/leg 立 tachi standing

[iii] What?! Another “wetlands” etymology in Kantō? I’m shocked.

[iv] Keep in mind these names most likely pre-date the use of kanji among the masses in the area (which was essentially the boonies of a “country” which was essentially the boonies).

[v] We first came across Captain Japan in my article about Kasumigaseki.

[vi] Hence, the “Captain Japan” translation.

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