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What does Shiogama mean?

In Japanese History on August 5, 2015 at 4:28 am

Shiogama (salt kettle)

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

Today’s place name isn’t an official place name, it’s part of a park name, 塩釜公園 Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park. The park actually takes its name from a shrine.

When I first saw this shrine, which is in such a state of disrepair that I actually thought it was a ruin, I never thought there would be much of a story behind it. The shrine precincts are in shambles, yet it’s designated as an official park of 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. But among the scattered ruins of this park, you can see a lot of Edo Period stonework. It has modern signage that designates it as a park, but it doesn’t look like a park that anyone would go out of their way to see[i]. I stumbled across it quite by accident when I decided to walk down a street I’d never taken before.


Anyways, turns out this decrepit little shrine has a pretty amazing backstory. The shrine’s name is derived from 鹽竈神社Shiogama Jinja Shiogama Shrine in 塩竈市 Shiogama-shi Shiogama City in 宮城県 Miyagi-ken Miyagi Prefecture. Miyagi Prefecture’s capital is 仙台市 Sendai-shi Sendai City.

But wait, “those kanji look different,” you must be saying. The first one is incredibly complex and uses kanji from before the post-WWII writing reforms. The second one updated the first character, but kept the obsolete 2nd character. A 3rd writing is used in Tōkyō, 塩釜 Shiogama, which uses 2 simplified, modern characters. But don’t worry; they’re all the same name as you’ll soon see.

There's a lot of this just scattered all over the place.

There’s a lot of this just scattered all over the place.

The Backstory

Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi enters the historical record in the 9th century and came to be associated with the 平泉藤原氏 Hiraizumi Fujiwara-shi Fujiwara clan of Hiraizumi[ii]. In the Edo Period, the 伊達家 Date-ke Date family became the shrine’s main patrons. In 1600, the warlord 伊達政宗 Date Masmune[iii] had been awarded a large and profitable seaside fief that would come to be called 仙台藩 Sendai Han Sendai Domain.

The 4th and 5th lords of Sendai Domain, 伊達綱村 Date Tsunamura and 伊達吉村 Date Yoshimura, repaired and expanded the shrine from 1695-1704. It became a major shrine in the area at this time and was closely connected to lords of Date and the domain’s ruling class. Most of the institution’s present greatness dates from this 9 year development project.

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

The Real Story Starts Here

In 1695, Date Tsunamura had the 神 kami deity of Shiogama Shrine divided[iv] and brought to Edo to be enshrined on the premises of Sendai’s massive 上屋敷 kamiyashiki upper residence which was located at present day 汐留シオサイト Shiodome Shio Saito Shiodome Shio Site[v]. The shrine stood on the private upper residence of Sendai for just over 160 years.

Then, in 1856, the shrine was relocated to the 中屋敷 nakayashiki middle residence in the 芝口 Shibaguchi area of Edo[vi]. This is the current location of the shrine today. It has stood at its present location for just under 160 years.

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

Just to put the relocation in perspective. 1856 was 3 years after Commodore Matthew C. Perry barged into 浦賀湾 Uraga Wan Uraga Bay demanding the Tokugawa Shōgunate open up the country for trade. It was 2 years after his return with diplomats insisting the shōgunate sign treaties. It was 12 years before the Meiji Coup succeeded in ousting the Tokugawa and establishing the Empire of Japan.

After the Meiji Coup, the daimyō were sent back to their domains. It’s in these early Meiji years that Shiogama Shrine became popular with the common people. Previously, they probably didn’t have much access to it because it sat on a daimyō’s private property[vii]. The 神 kami deity housed in the shrine is associated with 安産 anzan safe childbirth[viii]. Once the public had access to such a “powerful” kami formerly horded by the ancestors of Sengoku rock star, Date Masamune, the popularity of the shrine skyrocketed.

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in the Meiji Period.

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in 1901 (Meiji 34).

Shrine Decline

They say the shrine was completely leveled in the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. One of the positive outcomes of the earthquake was the immediate creation of evacuation areas. As a former daimyō residence, the surrounding area was presumably flat and open[ix]. Shiogama Shrine was designated as disaster evacuation spot. I’m not clear if the entire estate was made an evacuation area or just the shrine area, but by late 1923, the City of Tōkyō created 町立盬竃公園 Chōritsu Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park of East Tōkyō City.

In the 1940’s, the Tōkyō Bay area suffered horrific aerial attacks by the Americans. The so-called 東京大空襲 Tōkyō Daikūshū Firebombing of Tōkyō[x] brought the city of rivers and wood to her knees. Historical and religious intuitions that had once had deep pockets were forced out of necessity to sell their real estate holdings[xi]. It seems that this was the death knell of this particular shrine. Its 9th century origins and connection to the Sengoku warlord Date Masamune weren’t enough completely restore this once thriving shrine.

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

The Shrine Today

In 1971, the small block containing the shrine and the park became 区立塩釜公園 Kuritsu Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park controlled by Minato Ward. The kanji were officially changed in accordance with the kanji reforms of the post war era (remember the buggy kanji issue I mentioned before?).

The shrine is still active, but Tōkyōites don’t know about. It’s minor as fuck. Also, as I mentioned before, it’s in such a state of disrepair that no one would visit it unless they were interested in really obscure shit… which yours truly happens to be interested in. Obsessively so. lol.

But the shrine is shambles. The park area is tiny and includes nice seats and signage explaining the history of the area. But the shrine itself, which occupies a larger area, is a mess. I’m just going out on a limb and guessing the shrine gets a tax break and the family running it can get by, but Minato Ward is maintaining the smaller park area.

dirty shrine

The Kabuki Konnektion

Earlier I mentioned the 4th lord of Sendai, Date Tsunamura, brought the kami of Shiogama to Edo. He has been immortalized in the world of 歌舞伎 kabuki in a play called 伽羅先代萩 Meiboku Sendai Hagi. It’s the story of the 伊達騒動 Date Sōdō Date Disturbance which was a succession dispute that lasted from 1660 to 1671.

The 3rd lord of Sendai, 伊達綱宗 Date Tsunamune was a big fan drinking and whoring[xii] who spent all his time and money in the Yoshiwara. He was deposed by a faction of uptight clansmen for his negligence and dissolute ways[xiii].


Long story short, the 2 year old Date Yoshimura was made lord of Sendai and 10 years of infighting within the clan began. The shōgunate was finally asked to step in and resolve the issue before things got out of control. Well, in 1671, things did get out of control – swords were dawn, one samurai was killed, and one retainer’s family was abolished and his family executed. Ultimately, the young Tsunamura’s right to rule was reaffirmed by the shōgunate.

Because the shōgunate censored stories about the scandals of elite samurai, the story had to be “disguised” when put into kabuki form. The stage version was set in the Muromachi Period and given an esoteric title. The name, Meiboku Sendai Hagi, is made of 3 words evocative of the events. 伽羅 meiboku (normally read kyara) is a kind of wood used to make clogs. It’s said that Tsunamune wore clogs made of this material when going to the Yoshiwara. 先代 sendai means predecessor, as in the former head of a daimyō family. So Meiboku Sendai means the “former ruler who wore wooden clogs.” Sendai also sounds like Sendai Domain – I see what you did there. The last word, 萩 hagi Japanese clover, is a flowering plant that is famous in Sendai.

In short, the play presents Tsunamura as a just ruler replacing a Tsunamune, a corrupt ruler. I don’t know a lot about kabuki, but it seems there are many variations of this particular story. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

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[i] Unless you’re a Japanese history nerd, of course.
[ii] Who were the Fujiwara?
[iii] Who was Date Masamune?
[iv] The dividing of kami is done through a process called 分霊 bunrei which literally means “sharing a spirit.”
[v] Present day 東新橋一丁目 Higashi-Shinbashi 1-chōme 1st Block of East Shinbashi.
[vi] Present day 西新橋三丁目 Nishi-Shinbashi 3-chōme 3rd Block of West Shinbashi. The area was also called 愛宕下 Atagoshita at the time. The name Shibaguchi persists in shop names and in the parlance of locals, it is not an official place name today. The area near 愛宕神社 Atago Jinja Atago Shrine does preserve the name Atago officially.
[vii] Some daimyō made their tutelary shrines accessible to locals, I’m not sure to what extent – if any – the general populace had access to before Sendai’s middle residence had been vacated.
[viii] This term is broad and includes protection for the baby during gestation and birth, protection for the mother during pregnancy and labor, and protection against birth defects or being “sickly.”
[ix] Today it is most definitely flat, but crowded with small post-WWII shops, homes, and businesses. There is a large park and school on the former daimyō residence as well.
[x] Literally “the Great Air-Raid.”
[xi] Even the richest and most beautiful funerary temples of the Tokugawa shōguns had to finally sell off their properties and consolidate whatever holdings they could hold dear.
[xii] And let’s be honest, who isn’t?
[xiii] A bunch of effin’ killjoys, if you ask me.

Ōedo Line: Shiodome

In Japanese History on June 29, 2015 at 2:54 am

Shiodome (wave break)

The landfills that created calm pools near the residences of the daimyo families and later the shogun family fueled the fires for future destruction of the classical beauty of Edo Bay.

The landfills that created calm pools near the residences of the daimyo families and later the shogun family fueled the fires for future destruction of the classical beauty of Edo Bay.

The true origin of this place name is a bit complex. But the kanji refer to a spot that broke the waves hitting Edo Bay. While the name may pre-date the Edo Period, it’s generally assumed that this is a reference to man-made structures that broke the encroachment of the sea against the seaside palaces of the daimyō and the Tokugawa themselves.

In the Edo Period, the area was home to sprawling seaside mansions of the Tōhoku-based lords of Sendai Domain (descendents of Date Masamune[i]) and Aizu Domain (sponsors of the Shinsengumi[ii]). The Date clan had been loyal to the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, before he was made shōgun. The Matsudaira clan of Aizu were related to the Tokugawa shōgun family by blood and marriage. If you look at the massive size of the city blocks in the area, you’re looking at vestiges of the daimyō palaces and samurai mansions that once stood in the area.

“Heat Island Tokyo”
Cutting off the seabreeze or global warming (or both?).
At any rate, Shiodome bears the brunt of this discussion usually.

The area is resplendent in so many contradictory ways. A crazy wall of skyscrapers block cool air from Tōkyō Bay, but at the same time offers customers, residents, and workers an insanely beautiful view of the bay. In this area, you can find the remains of 浜御殿 Hama Goten the Seaside Palace of the Tokugawa shōguns. Today the palace is called 浜離宮庭園 Hama Rikyū Tei’en Hama Detached Palace Park and features some magnificent stone walls, gorgeous gardens, duck/goose hunting grounds, and a beautiful teahouse in the middle of a lake in which you can relax with a hot cup of maccha and eat Japanese sweets on tatami mats. It’s considered one of the best preserved daimyō gardens in Tōkyō.

Hama Rikkyu Garden as viewed from the wall buildings in Shiodome. It looks small here, but it goes on for acres.  That was the Tokugawa seaside palace.  You MUST go.

Hama Rikkyu Garden as viewed from the wall buildings in Shiodome.
It looks small here, but it goes on for acres.
That was the Tokugawa seaside palace.
You MUST go.

A short distance from Hama Rikyū is 芝離宮 Shiba Rikyū Tei’en Shiba Detached Palace. The garden has a long history going back to the Sengoku Period[iii], but it’s an easy shoe in for top 5 traditional gardens in Tōkyō. It’s noticeably smaller than Hama Rikyū, but absolutely worth the visit, especially if you don’t have time for Hama Rikyū. That said, if you like Japanese gardens like your truly does, you could easily spend half a day at both, before you move on to your next activity.

The original (rebuilt) Shibashi Station. Click the photo for more of my original photos)

The original (rebuilt) Shibashi Station.
Click the photo for more of my original photos)

Near all of this is an often overlooked spot, the rebuilt Shinbashi Depot. This was the original location the starting point of the main 東海道線 Tōkaidō-sen Tōkaidō Line, the first train to follow the Tōkaidō Highway and unite Tōkyō with Kyōto & Ōsaka. Japan and trains have a long and colorful history, but this is pretty much where it started. If you like trains or are interested in how the Meiji Period began building up modern infrastructure, the museum inside the station building is a must see. You could walk from here to modern Shinbashi Station (formerly Karasumori Station) and find a Shōwa Era party town. The name Shinbashi means “New Bridge” and the remains of the original are a short walk from here as well.

Kachidoki Bridge crossing the mouth of the Sumida River. (Click the picture to read more about this photo.)

Kachidoki Bridge crossing the mouth of the Sumida River.
(Click the picture to read more about this photo.)

You’ll have to walk to Hamamatsu-chō Station if you want to go, but from there you have a straight shot to 竹芝桟橋 Takeshiba Sankyō Takeshiba Pier. Here you have a view of Kachidoki Bridge and the mouth of the Sumida River as well as a great deal of Tōkyō Port, including Tsukishima, none of which existed in the Edo Period. Boats come and go, but you’ll probably see more helicopters than anything. If you have a good zoom lens and want to take pictures of all kinds of Japanese helicopters, you’ll love this pier. If I have time to kill, I like to get a simple bentō lunch and chill on the pier and bask in the awe of the importance the bay played in the history of Edo-Tōkyō.

If you visit this spot, you also have access to:

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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

[i] Date Masamune is one of the most famous daimyō of the closing days of the Sengoku Period.
[ii] The Shinsengumi were an elite samurai peace keeping troop during the final days of the Tokugawa shōgunate.
[iii] It was a former 後北条 Go-Hōjō Late Hōjō seaside fort. The ruins of the Hōjō Era tea house are still preserved.
[iv] Do so at your own peril.

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