marky star

Posts Tagged ‘edo-tokyo museum’

Ōedo Line: Ryōgoku

In Japanese History on June 16, 2015 at 6:00 am

Ryōgoku (both provinces)

Ryōgoku Bridge

Ryōgoku Bridge

The name dates from the early Edo Period, when a bridge called 大橋 Ōhashi the Great Bridge was built over 大川 Ōkawa the Great River (today called the Ryōgoku Bridge and the Sumida River, respectively). On west side of the river was 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province. On the east side of the river was 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province. The idea being that this part of Edo included the lands of 2 ancient provinces.

This massive walking spaceship is actually the Edo-Tōkyō Museum

This massive walking spaceship is actually the Edo-Tōkyō Museum

Ryōgoku is a must see for anyone who reads JapanThis!. For starters, it is home to one of the greatest museums in the world, the 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum which describes the history of the city from its humble roots to modern times in an exhaustive permanent exhibit and world class special exhibits that change seasonally. If you come to Tōkyō, you must see this museum. Here’s their website.

And I’m not kidding. If you read this blog, you must go to that museum. You’ll love it.
I wouldn’t lie about this.

Next to the Edo-Tōkyō Museum, is the 両国国技館 Ryōgoku Kokugi-kan Ryōgoku Sumō Hall. 3 of the 6 national sumō tournaments take place here. Because of this, the association with Ryōgoku and sumō is deep and you can find many restaurants in the area that specialize in ちゃんこ鍋 chanko nabe a kind of hot pot dish[i] that sumō wrestlers eat the shit out of all year round to fatten up. The dish is said to have been invented in Ryōgoku.

Kira's house. No, not the Kira from Death Note.

Kira’s house.
No, not the Kira from Death Note.

Fans of the 赤穂浪士 Akō Rōshi  47 Rōnin may want to visit a small park called 本所松坂町公園 Honjo Matsuzaka-chō Kōen Honjo Matsuzaka-chō Park. The park is located on the former estate of a 旗本 hatamoto direct retainer of the shōgun named 吉良上野介 Kira Kōzuke no Suke. Kira is one of the all-time villains of Japanese literature. He’s painted as the bad guy in the story of the 47 Rōnin – however, in reality he was just an average government worker just trying to schlep his way through life when a bunch of hillbilly thug samurai broke into his house while he was sleeping and cut off his head.

Obviously, there’s more to the story, and you can read about it here. But the story is one of the best known in Japan due to its yearly rehashing every New Year’s (Kira’s murder took place in December, so it’s kind of a winter themed story). At any rate, the park has an 稲荷神社 Inari Jinja Inari Shrine said to be from Kira’s residence. There’s also a corner of a wall and gate said to be a remnant of that mansion. I’m not sure if this wall is authentic or not because the historical record says that after his murder, the estate was seized by the shōgunate; commoner residences were then built on the site. It’s possible that some sections of his residence were incorporated into the new structures, but what I do know is that Ryōgoku suffered badly in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake and this particular area wasn’t really revitalized until the 1930’s when the locals wanted to preserve the site of Kira’s house as a commemorative park. Also, I’m pretty sure that this area was again devastated in the firebombing during WWII. That said, it’s a pretty amazing place to see. You can also get a sense of the size of a property owned by a 旗本 hatamoto direct retainer of the Tokugawa in central Edo – the park is pretty close to the same size as the original estate.


And finally, in the Edo Period, this area was famous for the 両国花火 Ryōgoku Hanabi Taikai Ryōgoku Fireworks Display which marked the beginning of the boating season[ii]. The festival began in the 1730’s, and the pyrotechnics were handled by 2 shops[iii] that set up in upstream and downstream locations. The shops were called 鍵屋 Kagi-ya and 玉屋 Tama-ya and they competed for applause by trying to outdo each other. The audience would cheer Kagiyaaaa!! when the Kagi-ya team impressed them and they would cheer Tamayaaaa!! when the Tama-ya team impressed them. The Ryōgoku fireworks lost their steam by the end of the Edo Period because a stray rocket landed in the city and started a huge fire. In the 1970’s the tradition was re-launched under the name 隅田川花火大会 Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai Sumida River Fireworks Display.

Fireworks over Ryōgoku Bridge

Fireworks over Ryōgoku Bridge

Interestingly, to this day 江戸っ子 Edokko 2nd/3rd generation or more Tōkyōites[iv], still call out “kagiyaaa!” and “tamayaaaaa!” at firework displays. The exclamation, “tamayaaa!” is far more prevalent than “kagiyaaaa!” and the reason is actually tied to the history of fireworks in the area. Even though the Tama-ya shop was an offshoot of the Kagi-ya shop, over the course of the Edo Period festivals, the Tama-ya displays became much more popular and innovative. Families passed on these words as exclamations and the most popular one, “tamayaaa!” became the most prevalent. All of this said, Tōkyō is a city populated by people from other places, so most people don’t know the origin of the words. If you use these, you’ll be using 2 of the few remaining words of 江戸弁 Edo-ben, the near extinct Edo Dialect[v].

The 47 Rōnin crossing Ryōgoku Bridge to attack Kira.

The 47 Rōnin crossing Ryōgoku Bridge to attack Kira.

Please Support My Blog
It Don’t Write Itself™
 Click Here to Donate 
(I’ve begun making exclusive videos for patrons)
⇨ Bitcoin: 18xSJyYwRRP8bJccHiG7KxWgPKZdd5HKk2 


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

[i] Here’s a description of chanko nabe.
[ii] In the Edo Period, the festival was also called 両国川開 Ryōgoku Kawabiraki Ryōgoku River Opening because it marked the beginning of the season for boating on the river.
[iii] Interestingly, they were both founded by a master firework maker from Ryōgoku named 篠原弥兵衛 Sasabara Yahei. Yahei’s original shop was called 鍵屋 Kagi-ya (literally, key shop). One of his sons went on to found another shop called 玉屋 Tama-ya (literally, ball shop because he was said have massive cajones).
[iv] By one of many varying definitions.
[v] The term “Edo Dialect” is actually a misnomer. Standard Japanese is often called the “Tōkyō Dialect” and that’s closer to the truth, but even in the Edo Period, the area used a mishmash of local dialects from various villages. This was compounded by the fact that there were samurai from every part of Japan stationed in Edo. People of different classes also spoke differently.

Ask Me Anything

In Japanese History on March 12, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Nandemo kiite
(Ask Me Anything)


I totally rivered[i] myself on an article. Not only was the scope of the article getting out of control, I must have accidentally deleted a portion of it. I was just frustrated and wanted to get an article out as soon as possible. So I decided to open up the floor to questions for a Reddit-style #AMA. Well, OK, it’s not reddit-style as it didn’t happen in real time. But you get the point.

If you have a question you’d like to ask for a future AMA, feel free to add in the comments section. When there’s enough demand, I’ll do this again.


Why Don’t Other Countries Use Washlettes?

Dude, this is a good question and it’s a question I’ve actually thought about myself!

For the readers who aren’t familiar, a great deal of Japanese toilets – especially in the home – are outfitted with heated toilet seats, adjustable warm water bidets, and adjustable warm water asshole cleaners. Some models have a self-cleaning function (for the water jets, not the whole toilet), a deodorizer mechanism, and even sensors that engage an auto-flush mechanism as soon as you move away from the toilet. Once you’ve become accustomed to this type of toilet, any other 1st world countries’ toilets seem barbaric.

So if these “robo-toilets” are so great, why doesn’t everyone use them? I wondered this myself for years until I was back in the US, taking a dump. I looked around the bathroom and realized that the difference most likely lays in the fact that Japanese bathrooms are laid out very different from western bathrooms. The Japanese consider the bath/shower one space, for cleaning and relaxing. The toilet is a completely separate room; it’s dirty and shouldn’t be in the same room that you relax in after a hard day’s work.

What I noticed in the western bathroom is that not only are the bath/shower and toilet combined, the toilet in American bathrooms is often right next to the bath/shower. This means that there is no safe place for an electrical outlet because… hello, risk of electrocution. You have to plug in a Washlette. Even in American bath/showers that have the toilet isolated, there isn’t much of a tradition of needing electrical outlets where the toilet is – and indeed it could get pretty unsightly stringing out cords or extension cords.

In short, bathing culture, shitting culture, and where cultures think we should have electrical outlets installed is different. That’s my thoughts on why the Washlette hasn’t caught on outside of Japan.


Any Idea Where Your Interest in Etymology Came From?

I think I’ve mentioned this here and there, but maybe not directly on the blog. In short, I’ve always been curious about “why things are the way they are now if they weren’t that way before.” This is probably a bad answer. So, let’s go back to my junior high and high school days.

In junior high, my parents encouraged me to learn a foreign language. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t a pre-requisite until high school, but for some reason my parents thought it would be good for me to start in junior high. I was pretty opposed to the idea. Learning a foreign language seemed like the most boring thing I could ever do.

I eventually relented and took Latin[ii]. Prior to studying Latin, I sucked at English – grammar, in particular. Studying Latin changed my entire perspective on the world. My grammar also got really good. As you may know, something like 80% of Modern English vocabulary is derived from Latin – much of it via French. Once I started to see the connection between Latin and English, I got really curious about why there was such a connection. 2 books in particular really sparked a flame: The Story of Latin and the Romance Languages by Mario Pei and The Story of English by Robert McCrum and Robert MacNeil[iii]. I still recommend these books to anyone who is looking for a way to get into the subject. They’re both written in pretty accessible language, though admittedly, the Mario Pei book assumes you have some familiarity with a Romance Language or two.

Later, in university, I did a short stint studying abroad in Italy. It was here that I realized that having a solid base in Latin and understanding many of the rules governing sound changes in Vulgar Latin[iv] gave me VIP access to most of the local dialects that I came into contact with. And while I can’t say I understood every non-standard Italian word or phrase that I came across (I definitely couldn’t), I could definitely understand the linguistic processes at work.


So, years later when I moved to Japan, I found myself staring at train station names and quickly looking up the kanji. I saw names like 渋谷 Shibuya “astringent valley,” 新宿 Shinjuku “new lodging,[v]谷中 Yanaka “middle of the valley” and I was curious about the stories behind these. At first, I took them at face value but as I began to investigate more – for the purpose of this blog, that is – I realized that more often than not we can’t take the kanji at face value. As I’ve written more and more, I’ve also realized that I can use my geeky curiosity about etymology as an excuse to explore the history of the city as well.

So, I think my interest is really based on a fascination with change and the dynamics of recorded history. Edo-Tōkyō has evolved and changed over the years and so has the Japanese language and culture.

japanese history

What Got You Interested in Japanese History?

Short answer. After I came to Japan, I wanted to understand Japanese culture more deeply and I wanted to have a shared background with the people around me.

Long answer. When I first visited Japan in 2002-2003, I was staying in 鶯谷 Uguisudani and almost every day, I’d take a walk around the area that I now know is the 上野台地 Ueno Daichi Ueno Plateau. I stumbled across what is left of 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji, one the 2 Tokugawa funerary temples in Edo-Tōkyō[vi]. I found the 勅額門 chokugaku mon imperial scroll gates of Tokugawa Ietsuna and Tsunayoshi (4th and 5th shōguns, respectively). I later found the grave of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, a stone’s throw away in Yanaka. When I asked my Japanese friends about who these shōguns were, I couldn’t get any good answers. One friend said, “I think Tokugawa Iemitsu was gay.” Well, whatever. Lots of people are gay, but only 15 people were Tokugawa shōguns. I needed answers and I wasn’t getting jack shit.

So before I’d go to bed each night, I’d log on to the public computer at the hotel I was staying at and google as much as I could on the shōguns. As a random sort of game, I made it my goal to visit all 15 shōguns’ graves before I returned to America. In the end, on that trip I only visited 5[vii]. I knew nothing about Japanese history so I felt like I was a detective uncovering a great mystery. Every layer I peeled away made the next layer so much more tantalizing.

Before I knew it, I was obsessed with this old culture and its ways. Soon I found myself strung out on the most hardcore strains of J-History. I was blowing history professors in Shinjuku 2-chōme for a fix of Bakumatsu here, a Nobunaga story there. Then I hit rock bottom – I tried to write a series of articles about the rivers of Edo-Tōkyō.

Miniature diorama of Nihonbashi at the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

Miniature diorama of Nihonbashi at the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

You Often Use The Phrase Edo-Tōkyō…

That’s not a question.

But anyhoo, yes. I often use the term “Edo-Tōkyō.” Other than the 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum, I don’t see the word in English much. However, the term 江戸東京 Edo-Tōkyō is something I come across from time to time in Japanese. Since Edo eventually became Tōkyō, this is a convenient Japanese word to describe the city as a continuum. Clearly Edo is not the same as modern Tōkyō, but they don’t exist independent of each other. Since a lot of my blog deals with the history of Edo and Tōkyō, I decided long ago to use the concept of Edo-Tōkyō as a term and an approach to dealing with the life of the city.


How Long Have You Been in Edo?

Hahahaha. Nice reference to this.

My 10 year anniversary was in January of this year.

Where has the time gone? I still remember my first night in my first apartment on my 2nd day as a resident like it was yesterday[viii].

Women of the Ōoku in Edo Castle

Women of the Ōoku in Edo Castle

What Exactly Are The “Shōgunal Duties” Performed Within The Friendly Confines of The Ōoku?

Well, I know this is my boy, Rekishi no Tabi, just messing with me, but OK. Sure. Let’s talk about what went down in the Ōoku.

First of all, Ōoku means “the great interior” and refers to a physical location in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. In theory, it was the most isolated interior section of the castle compound. This is where the women lived. Many people translate the term as “the shōgun’s harem.” Rekishi no Tabi and I love to joke around about this too. In popular culture, the Ōoku was and is often imagined as the shōgun’s garden of earthly delights. In reality, this was just the women’s quarters of the shōgun’s court. The women held official posts within a hierarchy, with the shōgun’s 御台所 midaidokoro legal wife at the top[ix]. In a culture steeped in ritual, one did not simply strut into the Ōoku and fuck until one’s dick fell off.

The Ōoku existed because Japanese culture at this time was strictly patrilineal. This meant any family with a name needed sons to carry on the family line. Women had value in the culture in so far as they could provide heirs to the male head of the family. Love happened. Marriages happened. But males were expected to keep the family going and you need women for that. Once you’re talking about imperial succession, daimyō succession, or most importantly shōgunal succession, combined with high infant mortality rates, taking concubines isn’t such a crazy idea. It’s basically a non-egalitarian form of polyamory[x]. You have a primary partner that you’re expected to respect and take care of, but the man is expected to get a little on the side for the benefit of the family line. Women of elites weren’t extended this privilege in the Edo Period – though many of them most certainly did. Even in modern times Japanese culture is fairly monogamish[xi].

But of course, everyone wants to hear about the sex – myself included – so let me take this chance to teach you some sexxxy Ōoku vocabulary. Regardless of rank within the hierarchy, women could be divided into 2 clear categories: 御手付 o-tetsuki “those touched by the shōgun” and 御清 o-kiyo “the pure ones.” The number of o-tetsuki skyrocketed during the reign of the 11th shōgun and my personal hero, Tokugawa Ienari[xii], the Party Shōgun.


When a Japanese Person is Named Sakura (for example), How Can One Tell If It’s a Male or a Female?

About the given name “Sakura…” As far as I know, this is only a female name. There are a variety of ways to write it in kanji: 桜 Sakura (cherry blossom), 愛咲 Sakura (love blooms), さくら Sakura (cute way to write “cherry blossom”). There is also a family name 佐久良 Sakura (has nothing to do with cherry blossoms).

The easiest way to identify a female name is if it’s written in hiragana only. In this case, it would be さくら Sakura. If you were to meet a man with the name “Sakura,” the name would be written with kanji that look “masculine.” However, I’m not sure what that would look like, though. In general, cherry blossoms and most flowers are considered delicate and feminine so I doubt you will find many men named “Sakura.”

On a side note, katakana is considered more masculine than hiragana, so theoretically you could name a son サクラ Sakura, but to my eyes, this looks like a manga character or a young girl who works in the sex industry. I’m not sure how to wrap up this answer tidily, but I’d say men’s names generally don’t include kanji for flowers and fruit.

UPDATE: That said I found the name 秋桜 Sakura as a boy’s name on the website DQNネーム Fucked Up Names. All of the comments on that name expressed shock at both the name and the way of writing it. The kanji mean “autumn cherry blossom” with the first kanji being completely silent. I showed it to a few native speakers and they were just confused by it. 2 people were surprised it was even a name. They thought it was a species of tree. Everyone thought it was weird to give a boy this name at all.

It’s like naming an American boy Jennifer. You could do it, but everyone of our generation will think of it as a girl’s name.

Hope that answered your question…

caste system t-shirt

Where Do Doctors Fit Into the 4-Tier Class System?

Great question!

I haven’t researched this, but I think I can take a good stab at it. If someone else knows more, I’d love to hear it.

Much to do is made of the 士農工商 shinōkōshō system – it means “samurai, farmers, artisans, merchants” and from top to bottom it lays out a social hierarchy with samurai at the top and merchants at the bottom. To understand Edo Period society, you have to know this rigid system. But there are 2 more things you need to know. First, these castes were essentially inherited ranks and secondly, they weren’t always linked to your profession. There were also professions and/or families that existed outside of the system. Also, contrary to popular belief, social mobility was a possibility in certain situations. Adoption of males into families that lacked male heirs was one way, but samurai status could also be bought or sold in some domains.

As for doctors… just think about today. It costs a lot of money to become a doctor because you need access to the latest research and you need to get certain qualifications. An Edo Period doctor didn’t need certificates (as far as I know[xiii]), but he needed access to the best Chinese, Japanese, and Dutch medical knowledge available. This means an Edo Period doctor needed to be rich enough or hold enough rank to get access to certain texts. While it’s possible that some merchant families could buy this kind of education for their sons, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that only samurai families and imperial court families could do this. Of those samurai families, 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun would be likely candidates. The 朝廷 chōtei imperial court and the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate had their own special doctors. I’m assuming the government of each 藩 han domain also had their own network of doctors.

A similar question came up on Twitter a while back about Buddhist monks. Where did they fit into the system? The monks/priests of Shintō and Buddhism could theoretically come from any rank. So someone might have been elite, but for some reason or another they decided to became a Buddhist priest. An elite would then become an elite in the religious order. Their elite status didn’t just disappear. The wives of the Tokugawa shōguns were required to become monks upon the death of the shōgun.

In short, the so-called “4 classes of the Edo Period” weren’t as strict as they could have been[xiv]. But, doctors and monks would have been afforded respect worthy of the class they were born into[xv] and do to the amount education required to become a doctor or a monk, these positions would have been filled by men (and sometimes women) who had a lot of money. By default this means the samurai and court nobles, but certainly could have included merchants and rich farmers.


Can I Get A Geisha In This Day And Age? How Much Does It Cost?

Yes, you can. But enjoying geisha entertainment today is going to cost you so much more than it would have in the Edo Period. The age of a geisha today will be somewhat older than the age of an Edo Period geisha. You’ll also probably have to be introduced by an acquaintance before you’re allowed to attend a geisha’s performance.

Also your phrasing “Can I get a geisha” is a little bit disturbing to me. But I’ll talk about that later.

I, for one, have never enjoyed a proper geisha performance. It is way out of my price range and even if I wanted to get into that scene, I don’t have the right connections. And believe me it takes connections, time, and money to get access to that world today. As such I can’t quote you clear prices, but I once spoke to ex-Kyōtoite who is a manager of a 料亭 ryōtei traditional restaurant in Tōkyō that features geisha. She told me that a night of entertainment starts at about 50,000円-60,000円 ($500-$600 USD) and can go anywhere upwards of that.

In short, it’s not cheap.

Onsen geisha

Onsen geisha

I will say that there is something called 温泉芸者 onsen geisha (“hot spring geisha”). This is a term that has evolved over time, just as the terms 芸子 geiko and 芸者 geisha have also evolved over time. Geisha isn’t a consistent term historically and it also varied from location to location. Onsen geisha may be a cheap alternative to high ranking geisha. But you have know what you’re getting into.

Today the general understanding to the average Japanese person is that a geisha is a performer – a kind of artist or entertainer. Some even say that she’s the precursor of the modern アイドル aidoru idol.

The persistent western image of the geisha as a sex worker is most definitely a misunderstanding of geisha’s job. It’s also born out of the changing culture from the Bakumatsu up to the WWII era. Geisha weren’t prostitutes by default. They were performers, entertainers. But they were human so sometimes sexual relationships happened. Sex with customers wasn’t a requirement of the job in most cases. But even geisha fall in love.

In Yoshiwara and in the Meiji, Taishō, and Shōwa onsen towns, the “onsen geisha” became a profitable job for a woman of traditional musical talents and conversation. She would have been looked down upon by her colleagues in Kyōto and Tōkyō, but the services wouldn’t have been much different[xvi]. The difference in Meiji Era Tōkyō is that the geisha of Yoshiwara were in direct competition with prostitutes. I think there was a strong social pressure for geisha at any time in history to exchange sex for money, though they didn’t have to.

The Bubble Economy saw a new generation of liberated Japanese women in Tōkyō, but women in small towns, especially rural onsen towns, were left behind economically. By the time the Bubble burst, domestic tourism to onsen towns (as opposed to overseas tourism) increased. Demand for traditional entertainment waned and the onsen geisha rose in popularity as curious sexual fetish. As a result the onsen geisha is now just a nostalgic version of what in Tōkyō is usually thought of as デリヘル deri heru delivery health (outcall prostitution). In the case of onsen geisha, they show up at your hotel room at the hot spring dressed as geisha. But these girls are not geisha. It’s just cosplay.

All of this said, there are still some onsen geisha who aren’t prostitutes and will come and perform and party with you at a hot spring.

onsen geisha now

Can I Get a Woot Woot?

Yes, you can.

Woot woot!


Me & My Girlfriend Are Coming to Tokyo This Summer For Our Honeymoon. I Fancy Myself a Bit of a History Buff, So Where Do You Recommend For the Ultimate Edo Experience?

First of all, congratulations!

Second of all, I hate this question because I don’t want to fuck up your honeymoon. lol
I don’t know what you guys like and what you’d like to see.

Ummmm… OK, so if you read my blog, then I assume you like history and traditional stuff.

I’d recommend these things:

  • Edo-Tokyo Museum
  • Ueno Park
  • Yanaka Ginza
  • Yanaka Cemetery
  • Edo Castle
  • Tōkyō Water Works Museum
  • Kōrakuen
  • Rikugien
  • Hama Rikyū Teien
  • Shiba Rikyū Teien
  • Zōjō-ji
  • Tōkyō Tower
  • Kappabashi
  • A bicycle ride along the Sumida River
  • Ride a yakatbune (party boat in Tōkyō Bay)
  • A walk from Ueno Station through Ameyoko-chō and Okachimachi to Akihabara
  • Or look through the blog for individual places you’d like to see!

Also keep in mind, there’s no “Ultimate Edo Experience.” Very little of Edo remains so you have to really go out of your way to look for it. Sometimes you have to be satisfied with a mere memorial plaque or an old stone wall. Anyways, I think I made a pretty decent list for you.

Fingers crossed!

Kuramaebashi (Kuramae Bridge)

Kuramaebashi (Kuramae Bridge)

Of All the Place Names You’ve Researched, Which Investigation Produced the Results That Excited or Surprised You the Most? What Do You Consider Your Favorite “Find?”

This is a really hard question to answer.

Recently, all the “horse” places in Setagaya blew my mind… simply because it was all a coincidence that came from a reader request. Even when I tried to quit the area, another horse related place name came up. But that’s what makes writing this blog so fun for me. I like to think I’m teaching my readers about Edo-Tōkyō but the truth is that I’m learning with you… so I hope we’re fellow travelers on this journey through history.

The crazy river series I did, despite the burn out I inflicted upon myself, is something I look back at with a certain amount of pride. The rivers come in contact with so many interesting areas and related local histories. Akihabara was interesting for me because I had no idea it was such a recent invention.

Kuramae is another favorite of mine because it changed my fundamental approach to the blog. I’m actually pretty sure that’s when all the articles started getting longer. When I wrote that article, I realized that I didn’t have to focus on etymology[xvii], but I could use etymology as a launch pad to look at the bigger picture. I think that was when I started to go into the cultural history of the area.

I feel like I’m not actually answering your question and for that I apologize. The truth is, as far as linguistics and etymology go… nothing’s shocking to me anymore. My favorite “find,” as you put it, is that people actually read the blog. Of that small group of people who follow me, a few people ask questions and suggest articles. Some even donate a dollar here and there. That’s the biggest surprise for me – far bigger than any place name.

Please Support My Blog
It Doesn’t Write Itself
 Click Here to Donate 
 Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods 


[i] Here at JapanThis! we like to use the verb “to river oneself” to describe scope creep.
[ii] My friends took German, Spanish, and French. And everyone said the teachers were strict or mean. No one took Latin, so it seemed like the safest bet.
[iii] The book was originally a companion edition to a PBS mini-series on the history of the English language.
[iv] Not what you think it means…
[v] “Where’s the old one?” I wondered…
[vi] Here is my article on the graves of the Tokugawa Shōguns.
[vii] Ieyasu (1st), Iemitsu (3rd), Ietsuna (4th), Tsunayoshi (5th), Yoshinobu (15th). There was so little information on the web at that time, that I couldn’t even figure out where the other shōguns were interred. Though I’ve been to all the sites, there are 6 graves that I haven’t actually seen with my own eyes. And by graves, I don’t mean the gate ruins. The actual graves at Kan’ei-ji are off limits to the public and photography is banned. I haven’t given up hope, though.
[viii] Mainly because I was woken up by my first earthquake.
[ix] This is an oversimplification on my part, to say the least. Also, the shōgun’s wife had an abbreviated title, 御台様 midai-sama.
[x] Another ‘modern’ concept might be “open marriage.” Though, by ‘modern’ standards, this would be a very unfair example of an open marriage.
[xi] A certain “don’t ask, don’t tell” ethos is fairly prevalent.
[xii] Ienari didn’t limit his sexual explorations to the “friendly confines” of the Ōoku. There is some corroborating evidence that he regularly summoned geisha and girls from highest end shops in 吉原 Yoshiwara to Edo Castle. I trust you know Yoshiwara. It was Edo’s licensed pleasure quarter and it spanned several city blocks. You can think of it as a sexual amusement park with kimonos.
[xiii] So I could be very wrong about the no need for certification thing…
[xiv] It was a pretty stupid system anyways and that’s why it wasn’t so literal.
[xv] This horizontal mobility still exists in some traditional Japanese companies. While American companies seek specialists, traditional Japanese companies seek to develop generalists. This is an echo of the old Japanese patriarchal system.
[xvi] I’m assuming Kyōto would have been different. Kyōto has remained somewhat crystallized since the Edo Period.
[xvii] The etymology of Kuramae is actually quite simple and well documented.

What does Ryogoku mean?

In Japanese History on June 25, 2013 at 3:30 am

Ryōgoku (Both Provinces)

Fireworks from Ryogoku Bridge and the Sumida River.

Fireworks from Ryogoku Bridge and the Sumida River.

Love sumō?

Love the 47 Rōnin?

Love chanko nabe?

Love Japanese History?

Love Japanese girls with glasses?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then Ryōgoku is the place for you!



Ryogoku Sumo Hall - It's What's For Dinner

Ryogoku Sumo Hall

Ryōgoku is home to the 両国国技館 Ryōgoku Kokugikan Ryōgoku Sumo Hall. Order yourself a little 日本酒 nihonshu sake and enjoy watching fat men hugging and then throwing each other out of a circle.



The gate to that little bitch Kira Kozunosuke's residence.

The gate to that little bitch Kira Kozunosuke’s residence.

If you’re into the 赤穂浪士 Akō Rōshi the 47 Rōnin, the bitch that they stalked and hunted down and killed like a fucking sick dog had a residence here. Some of the walls and gate of that residence are preserved and are a stone’s throw from the Edo-Tōkyō Museum.



Chanko Nabe. The Meal of Champions.

Chanko Nabe.
The Meal of Champions.

お相撲さんo-sumō-san sumō wrestlers have traditionally eaten ちゃんこ鍋  chanko nabe[i] in order to fatten up. Ironically, it’s super healthy. There are tons of chanko nabe restaurants in Ryōgoku because there are many 相撲部屋  sumōbeya sumō training schools located there.



All Your Bass Are Belong to Us

Japanese History Has Landed

If you love Japanese history, you can find the 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum in Ryōgoku. It’s easily one of the best museums in all of Japan and a must-see tourist destination for anyone who wants to visit Tōkyō[ii]. Also, it looks like a giant space craft which just adds to its badassness[iii]. Also, they have volunteer English guides who will give you a tour for free!![iv]




Japanese Girls with Glasses

And finally, if you love Japanese girls who wear glasses, Ryōgoku is the place for you. Because Ryōgoku is in Japan, and there are a lot of Japanese people there. Statistically speaking, about half of them are female. And statistically speaking, about half of those females are wearing glasses!!![v]

How much better can it get???





Let’s talk about the etymology of Ryōgoku. After all, that’s my shtick, baby.

In the past I’ve talked about 藩 han domains and 国 kuni provinces. Well, in the old days, as they say, there were two 国 kuni provinces divided by the 隅田川  Sumidagawa Sumida River. Those provinces were 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province. The Tokugawa Shōguns’ direct authority ruled over the city of Edo, and the greater Edo area sprawled across these two provinces. In 1659, The shōgunate built a bridge spanning the Sumida River and, voilà!, linked the 2 provinces. Hence the area is called Ryōgoku, or the place where both provinces met in Edo. Oh, how the shōgunate was magical like that!


More Sumida River Fireworks at Ryogoku

More Sumida River Fireworks at Ryogoku

So, anyways, if you visit Tōkyō, you have to come to this place. The museum alone is worth your time. I’m a long term resident of Tōkyō and I regularly return to this museum for the special exhibits. If you go there, or have gone there, I’d like to hear about your experience!!! There’s a comments section just for that!




[i] Not to be confused with チンコ鍋 which is something entirely different.

[ii] Pro Tip #1: Read my blog before you go. Bring my blog with you as you go.

[iii] Pro Tip #2: Don’t eat at the restaurants in the museum.

[iv] Pro Tip #3: I’ve never used a free English guide, but if you can read Japanese, they have a study room with access to thousands of maps and documents about the history of Edo-Tōkyō. It’s free to use and I can’t recommend it enough.

[v] DISCLAIMER: I have no idea about the statistics of glasses wearers in Japan.

Why are Shinagawa and Takanawa called Shinagawa and Takanawa?

In Japanese History on February 28, 2013 at 3:03 am

Shinagawa (Product River)
Takanawa (Tall Dock)

Here’s a 2 for 1:

OK, here’s the story that I was told by a docent at the Edo-Tokyo Museum while pointing to a floor map of Edo with the kanji written that supported his argument. There were two place names, side by side, one was 高輪 Takanawa, the other was 品輪 Shinagawa. The kanji refers tying up ships on a dock. (Edo Bay came right up to about where the Yamanote Line tracks are at Shinagawa Station and even today, Shinagawa Station has 2 exits, the 港南 Kōnan ”South Port” and 高輪 Takanawa “High Dock”).  Anyways, he said the name 品輪 referred to where goods were loaded and unloaded from the bay and 高輪 referred to where goods would be stored on high ground to protect from tsunamis or thieves. Sounded reasonable.

takanawa today

takanawa today

But now I just read something that referred to a similar etymology. Some people claim that 高輪 sounds like the expensive or high quality and 品ヶ輪 refers to the refined (品の良い). But then he says this isn’t very credible since the modern writing 品川 has been in use since the 1200’s.

So what’s up, Mr. Docent at the Edo-Tokyo Museum? Did you lie? And if so, why the hell was the suspect kanji written on your floor map? Is this a conspiracy??

shinagawa station today

shinagawa station today

Not entirely, it seems that in the Kamakura Period 高縄原 Takanawabara “Source of the High Rope” was the way the place name for 高輪 Takanawa was originally written. The 高縄 taka nawa refers to the 高縄手道 Takanawa-tedō, a major street which started in this area. The street was on high ground and appeared clearly on maps so that it seems as if a rope was pulled taut across the highest and safest areas to travel. This name truly did change from 高縄 to 高輪, most likely as a result of the docks gaining importance over the road.

But Takanawa has always only referred to a small area, be it village, neighborhood or town. Shinagawa on the other hand has always referred to a much greater area. In fact, in the Meiji Era, there was a Shinagawa Prefecture!

The most likely explanation about Shinagawa is the simplest one. The Meguro river entered Edo and flowed downstream through Shinagawa (and of course, Takanawa), and the entire area thrived because of the “products” and the “river” – the “product river,” if you will.

Wanna Support My Blog?
Click Here to Donate
Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods

%d bloggers like this: