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The History of Hanami

In Japanese History on April 4, 2017 at 8:01 am

hanami (cherry blossom viewing, but literally “looking at flowers”)


I was recently asked to write an article about the history of 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing, which I was happy to look into. Although I had a broad understanding of this uniquely Japanese tradition – and one of my favorite aspects about living in Japan – I’d never really researched the subject in depth. Needless to say, going all JapanThis! on a non-history website or publication isn’t always appropriate[i], but I was super excited when they agreed to publish the stripped down, 650-word version while allowing me to publish the extended 12” remix here for you guys.

So, without further ado, here’s the history of hanami.

china plum blossom

Chinese courtiers enjoying plum blossoms and crappy plum wine. Sorry, I can’t drink plum wine. It’s so nasty.

The Classical Origins of Hanami

If we take the word literally, hanami just means “looking at flowers.” It’s a Japanese word that falls into a broad category of “looking at things” words – two other famous examples might be 月見 tsukimi moon viewing and 富士見 fujimi Mt. Fuji viewing[ii].

In a world without TV or movies, bored humans have always found ways to entertain themselves. And, as is the case in most cultures, while the poor were toiling in the fields, the rich built lush private gardens. In the West, this happened in the Roman Empire. In the East, this happened in Ancient China. The Chinese were particularly enamored with the fragrant plum blossoms – an equally beautiful flower, but much heartier and less vibrant than 桜 sakura cherry blossoms.

gokusui en

Gokusui no En was a typical Heian Period poetry even linked to seasonal changes practiced by the Northern Fujiwara clan. This one is recreated once a year in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture. It wasn’t a sakura-centric event but definitely influenced by China and was focused on seasonal events like hanami in the literal sense of “looking at flowers.”

When the imperial court was based in Nara in the 700’s, local aristocrats would read Chinese poems celebrating the transient beauty of plum blossoms. In their gardens, each flower’s location became a new venue for poetry writing events or places to engage in other artistic endeavors, such as calligraphy, flower arrangement, and painting. The most common flowers were wisteria[iii], plum blossoms, peach blossoms, and ultimately cherry blossoms which were treasured for their brief yet brilliant bloom. By the Heian Period, the term hanami had become synonymous with cherry blossom viewing specifically, and not just flower viewing in general.


Toyotomi Hideyoshi at one of his final hanami events in Kyōto before his death.

The Heian Period, as I’m sure you’re aware, essentially ended with the rise of the samurai class. Eventually, in the 1500’s, a warlord named 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified the country. He sought to legitimize the samurai – not just as warriors, but as protectors of aristocratic cultural practices. It’s here that we first find paintings of high ranking samurai, called 大名 daimyō, enjoying hanami – placing themselves on par with the imperial court. Hideyoshi encouraged the warriors to engage in other arts such as poetry, tea ceremony, and flower arrangement.


Hanami in the Premodern Era

Hideyoshi failed to establish a lasting dynasty, but his ideas of promoting cultural practices of the court among the samurai was a success. When Japan’s most stable warrior government was formally established in Edo in 1603 by 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, hanami was an inherent aspect of the elite culture in peace time. But the Tokugawa Shōgunate took things a step further. They began planting cherry blossoms in Ueno, where you could visit the magnificent mausoleums of the shōguns. This vast religious center was open to the public and would become Ueno Park in modern times. Daimyō from other parts of Japan brought the concept of public cherry blossom viewing spaces from Edo back to their respective domains.

shogun harem hanami chiyoda castle edo castle tokugawa

Ladies of the shōgun’s harem enjoying hanami on the expansive grounds of Edo Castle, once the largest castle in the world – a city within a city.

This brought hanami to the commoners. Kabuki and entertainment in the pleasure quarters were looked down upon by the shōgunate as morally questionable, but enjoying cherry blossoms was good clean fun and people of any rank could enjoy it if they had access to the trees. Of course, some of the best groves where behind the high walls of the palaces of the feudal lords in Edo and of shōgun’s castle in particular, but temples, shrines, and common spaces were open to all.

gotenyama hanami.jpg

One of my favorite ukiyo-e of all time, two groups of women doing hanami on Goten’yama. You can see Shinagawa below, the calm waters of Edo Bay below, and the ever present boats on premodern Japan’s busiest harbor. Looking out at the bay must have seemed like looking at the end of the world – and by that I mean the Pacific Ocean and modern Chiba Prefecture.

Furthermore, large scale planting of sakura in Edo in places like 御殿山 Goten’yama[iv], 飛鳥山 Asukayama[v], 道灌山 Dōkan’yama[vi], and other famous spots provided public spaces where anyone could enjoy the beautiful pink blossoms. Even Yoshiwara, the moated and sequestered red light district had streets lined with cherry blossoms. The tradition of 夜桜 yo-zakura, or nighttime sakura viewing, is generally thought to have origins in Yoshiwara and similar Edo Period red light districts because businesses stayed open late and used lanterns to maximum effect to make their shops seems more attractive at night, especially during the short cherry blossom season. While usually men frequented the pleasure quarters, wives and daughters often came to enjoy the illuminated trees and try to catch a glimpse of the courtesans in their flashy kimono. Anyone who has enjoyed yo-zakura knows there’s a dramatic difference between daytime hanami and nighttime hanami.

yoshiwara night hanami

Nighttime hanami in Yoshiwara. You can see the lanterns illuminating the trees. Also, notice the guy covering his head. Men of prominent positions in the community, while allowed to – and often expected to – have concubines, were discouraged by the shōgunate from going to red light districts like the Yoshiwara. They often covered their heads to avoid recognition. But, of course, they went. Because oiran!!! Who wouldn’t?!!💛

With the great Tokugawa Peace came re-branding. The samurai, traditionally warriors, now found themselves with no wars to fight – essentially functioning as bureaucrats. In order to legitimize their function in society, they were expected to be living examples of Japanese morality and behavior for all of society beneath them to admire and emulate. A proverb arose: 花は桜木、人は武士 hana wa sakuragi, hito wa bushi as for flowers, there are sakura – as for men, there are samurai. On the surface, this simply means the greatest of flowers are cherry blossoms and the greatest of men are samurai. But there’s another meaning; it’s a reference to the warrior tradition and the expectation of samurai to commit 切腹 seppuku hara kiri/ritual disembowelment for failing to live honorably. A samurai’s life may seem noble and poetic – a thing of beauty, if you will – but at any moment he may be cut down in battle or asked to give his life. Therefore, the life of a samurai was likened to the sakura. He is beautiful, but fleeting. Likewise, a strong storm or sudden frost might ruin all the cherry blossoms, ending the season early. The link between samurai and sakura persists to this day, and commonly comes up in historical movies and TV dramas.


Seppuku Fun™

After the Meiji Coup in 1868, the new government embarked on a decade’s long modernization initiative. One of the biggest changes to Japanese society was the abolition of the caste system, including the samurai. There were some in the new government who lobbied – unsuccessfully, luckily – for the removal of sakura from places associated with the Tokugawa and the samurai, such as Ueno and Edo Castle because of the strong connection between the samurai and cherry blossoms. In the end, cooler heads prevailed and as the concept of public parks was introduced, hanami was rebranded as a pan-Japanese tradition that dated back to the heyday of the imperial family during the Heian Period. In fact, to many westerners who learned about Japan through postcards and movements like Japonisme and Orientalism, Japan was often reduced to imagery of Mt. Fuji, geisha, and cherry blossoms.

Further Reading:

ueno daibutsu.jpg

The Great Buddha of Edo. It was destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake and had been a minor spot in Ueno Park until quite recently. Now it’s famous with Asian tourists, even though most Tōkyōites don’t even know it exists.

Modern Hanami

In the 1880’s and early 1900’s, newspapers began announcing famous spots for hanami and recommending the best times to go. The blooming of sakura coincided with the newly established school year, and companies latched on to this cycle to welcome in new hires and reinforce the commitment of existing workers’ dedication to the organization. In this way, the sakura became a symbol of birth and rebirth, rather than the fleeting existence of the samurai.

shinjuku gyoen.gif

As horticulture and the art of garden construction incorporated new scientific discoveries, public parks and botanical gardens soon learned that they could extend the hanami season by planting two to three varieties in the same park. Why only have two weeks of hanami when you can have three or four?

yoshino sakura.jpg

Having a picnic and drinking sake while looking at cherry blossoms is a tradition that goes back to the Heian Period.  Until recently, you could usually only carry a bottle or two with you, so the parties were shorter. Since the 70’s and 80’s, there have been convenience stores on every corner in major cities. This has made it possible for hanami parties to run from 6 AM to 11 PM because you can just refuel at 7-11 whenever you run out of booze. Furthermore, hanami goers in parks these days can even order delivery pizza, sushi, or whatever they need. In the age of instant gratification, an old proverb came to be associated with hanami: 花より団子 hana yori dango – literally, sweets over flowers. The implication is that some people don’t come to enjoy the sakura as much as for the wild partying.

FullSizeRender (1)

Japanese companies often send the youngest or lowest ranking people on their teams or in their departments to go stake out prime hanami spots in busy locations at the crack of dawn. Inevitably, they begin partying, often from 6 AM until the main group arrives. I came across this poor fellow at noon and it seems like… well… I guess hazing is a thing in his company.

Crazy Parties and Secret Spots

If you go to some of the larger parks in Tōkyō, like Ueno, Yoyogi, Inokashira, Meguro, etc., you’ll find a very party-like atmosphere. Ueno Park, in my experience, tends to be the craziest. People used to bring portable karaoke machine – a practice that has long since been banned – but still it’s the rowdiest and booziest. However, Yoyogi Park definitely gives it a run its money. In fact, I’ve seen DJ’s spinning house and techno in that park. Inokashira Park in Kichijōji is still all about the party, but has a much more hippied-out vibe. The Meguro River isn’t as crazy as those three, but it’s pretty noisy because it’s so congested and the sound of generator powering the food stalls forces people to raise their speaking volume just to communicate with one another.

anaba sakura.jpg

All of this is great fun. I love it for sure, but sometimes you just don’t want to deal with all the craziness. As such, a lot of people seek out the best kept secrets, or 穴場 anaba in Japanese (usually shared by word of mouth). This could be anything from a very local shrine to an obscure park. These places tend to have a great hanami experience without the crowds and often don’t have all the drunks shouting and laughing with each other or passing out on wherever on the ground. And while not a secret spot, some places like Shinjuku Gyoen have specific rules banning alcohol – though, that doesn’t actually stop people from bringing it in, but the people who do tend to be low key about it.

So, Edo’s big 5 hanami spots were Goten’yama, Ueno, the banks of the Sumida River, Asukayama, and Koganei. What are your favorite spots in modern Tōkyō? And do you know any cool secret spots?

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?



[i] There’s a little mantra you’ve probably heard: know your audience.
[ii] Both of these words made their way into architectural terminology of the Edo Period. For example, Edo Castle and Kawagoe Castle both had 富士見櫓 Fujimi Yagura Fujimi Turrets and many places in Tōkyō still bear the place name Fujimi since you could see Mt. Fuji from there, for example 中野富士見町 Nakano-Fujimichō. Tsukimi appears everything from teahouses to castles, most notably Matsumoto Castle’s 富士見櫓 Fujimi Yagura Fujimi Turret.
[iii] Wisteria, or 藤 fuji, were closely linked to the 藤原氏 Fujiwara-shi Fujiwara clan, a powerful family of the imperial court that was the ancestor of a number of powerful samurai clans which preserved the kanji for wisteria when establishing new branch families with new names
[iv] This was one of the preeminent hanami spots in the Edo Period, but sadly shōgunate destroyed the area to build defensive islands to protect Edo from the threat of a sea based invasion by western powers in the 1850’s.
[v] This is still a popular hanami spot located a short distance from Ōji Station.
[vi] There are famous ukiyo-e of this spot, but today it’s a shadow of its former glory.

Book Review – Hiroshige: 100 Famous Views of Edo

In Japan Book Reviews on February 26, 2016 at 6:57 am

Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
Edited by Melanie Trede & Lorenz Bichler


I have to confess something. I’m going into this review with a serious bias. I want to be honest about that. On the other hand, a book review is someone’s opinion about a book so… I guess it’s not really my job to be unbiased, is it?

As everyone who reads JapanThis! knows, I love Edo. I love the good parts of it. I’m fascinated by the bad parts of it. However, most of all, I’m in love with the mystery of it – very little of the shōgun’s capital actually still remains. Long gone is the shōgunate’s prohibition against buildings over 2 stories high[i]. Long gone are the palatial mansions of the daimyō. Long gone is the sprawling castle of the shōguns. Long gone are the samurai, the geisha, the merchants, the row houses, the canals, the rivers, and the moats. Modern Tōkyō is an urban jungle that grew out of the world’s preeminent, pre-industrial metropolis. And in many ways, they really are 2 different cities.

It can be said that Edo died 3 deaths: once in the Meiji Period when the city got a slight western makeover, again in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake which brought the city to her knees, and finally in the 1945 firebombing raids[ii]. I’ve always said, there’s a little Edo alive in Tōkyō, you just have to know where to look for it – though usually you have to look really hard.

One of the greatest records we have of Edo is a collection of 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints of daily life (literally “pictures of the floating world[iii]”) by歌川広重Utagawa Hiroshige called the 名所江戸百景 Meisho Edo Hyakkei 100 Famous Views of Edo[iv]. While literary and historical texts definitely give us a lot of information about the city, ukiyo-e prints speak volumes about the neighborhoods of the city and communicate profound details about how the average Edoite viewed the city that they lived in. Hiroshige used the popular ukiyo-e style to document the capital and its vibrancy, its place in nature, and its relationship with humanity. Almost all of the views of Edo he depicted no longer exist. Sure, the geographical locations are still there. But the 景色 keshiki scenery is gone.

In my articles on JapanThis!, I do my best to bring the city of Edo back to life. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to track down a photo of an area. Sometimes I get super lucky because there’s a beautiful print by Utagawa Hiroshige.

One final note about Hiroshige and his perspective on the city: he lived from 1797-1858. This makes him a contemporary of 葛飾北斎 Katsushika Hokusai[v] (1760ish-1849). ペリー君 Perī-kun[vi] Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived in Japan in July 1853 and demanded the Tokugawa Shōgunate open up the country. To the best of my knowledge – I’m no expert – this didn’t influence Hiroshige’s art. But it puts his life into an interesting perspective if you look at the timeline of Japanese History. He died 10 years before the 明治維新 Meiji Ishin Meiji Coup that saw the fall of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. As a result, Hiroshige is considered one last great masters of the pure ukiyo-e tradition of the Edo Period[vii]. The style didn’t die overnight, but it changed and evolved. The prints of Hiroshige had a particularly unexpected impact on European artists who, despite not understanding what they were looking at, were struck by the beauty of his art and Japanese art[viii] in general. It should be noted that Vincent van Gogh[ix] even copied some of Hiroshige’s originals before he decided that Impressionism[x] is where all the cool kids hung out[xi]. He sucked at it, but he did manage to broaden his own artistic “vocabulary” and turn on other people in Europe to some aspects of the visual esthetic of the Edo Period.

Quick Review


What I expected

What I got

Overall Impression

A beautiful compilation of one of the most important collections of ukiyo-e dedicated entirely to the city of Edo. A beautiful compilation of one of the most important collections of ukiyo-e dedicated entirely to the city of Edo with extremely well written descriptions of each print and a fabulous introduction to the artist and the series.

Type of Book

An art history book An art history book that is itself a lovingly crafted work of art.


Didn’t even give it a thought. I just wanted the pictures. Extremely readable. The only problem is I keep getting distracted by the gorgeous prints.


It’s an art book, not sure if bias was an issue other than I hoped the editors were fans of Hiroshige. It’s an art book and turns out the editors are fans of Hiroshige who are totally biased towards Hiroshige. Just as it should be.


Fans of traditional Japanese art, particularly those fascinated by the Edo Period and ukiyo-e. Fans of art. This book is really accessible. Even if you don’t know anything about the Edo Period, this book is simply delightful to peruse. It’s not just for history nerds. Anyone can fall in love with this book.



This book gets a solid 5 stars from me.

When I set up my somewhat standardized book review system, I told everyone that I’d never give a book a 5 star rating out of principal. There’s no perfect book. But when I made this system I was thinking about academic history books, not art books. I set a standard that doesn’t really deal with this kind of book.

The prints are reproduced beautifully. This isn’t a book you read and then throw on the bookshelf. This is a book you come back to every day[xii]. This is a book that you leave on the coffee table forever. This is a book that you will literally drool over certain pages taking in Hiroshige’s unconventional use of perspective, his unique guile in painting aspects of the yamanote that got him past the shōgunate censors, and his – I believe – profound affection for his hometown.

This book is wrapped in a wooden cover that protects the contents. It’s sturdy and heavy. The binding itself commands a sense of respect for the contents. The entire viewing experience is very Japanese. You will instinctively find yourself revering the physicality of the book and this enhances the viewing experience.

The book begins with a few chapters about Hiroshige, ukiyo-e, the nature of the genre, and a little bit of history. All of this is accompanied by details of various prints. The text is good and solid and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but the authors/editors chose to focus on the visual element and let Hiroshige’s prints speak for themselves. As a result, you may find yourself distracted from the text and drawn to the pictures. And I think that’s OK. This is an art book, not a history book. The text, which is rock solid in my opinion, is there to answer your questions about the subject – should you have questions. This edition clearly focuses on the eye candy. The authors stay back in the shadows and only speak when you want them to.

This is an art book through and through. I love it. I cherish it. It’s big enough to hug.

If you’re interested, here’s an unboxing video made by some dude on the internet:

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[i] Not counting the watch towers, etc…
[ii] Which also brought the city to her knees, but this time it wasn’t an act of nature.
[iii] “The floating world” just means “transient moments” or “passing moments.” Today we have photography which can literally capture a moment in time that will never repeat, previous to photography if you wanted a “snapshot” of life, you had to paint it. Ukiyo-e was often about that “snapshot,” capturing a “fleeting moment.”
[iv] Ironically, the series proved so popular that Hiroshige actually made 119 prints, but 119 Famous Views of Edo doesn’t roll off the tongue, I suppose.
[v] Yes, that Hokusai – the guy who did the boring painting of a big ass wave in Kanagawa and also invented tentacle porn.
[vi] Yes, that is the official Japanese rendering of his name. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
[vii] Sure, people continued making ukiyo-e prints in the Meiji Period. It wasn’t like New Year’s Day 1868, everything changed completely lol. But many Japanese art historians, especially those who specialize in ukiyo-e think there is a drastic drop in quality after Hiroshige’s death. That said, I’ve seen some great Meiji Era prints. The style changed, that’s all. Also, ukiyo-e has continued to influence Japanese artists to this very day when they want to emphasize a connection to their “Japaneseness.”
[viii] Or in the parlance of their time, “Oriental Art” – a term that has for some reason has gained a racist connotation for the past 15-20 years or so. I don’t use that term, but never really understood how it got the excess baggage. At any rate, the term Oriental is passé. I guess it was seen as lacking nuance between various Asian cultures – very much the way Van Gogh lacked any nuance in pretty much all of his crap art.
[ix] Who was pretty much a hack anyways, let’s be honest.
[x] Impression lolololol.
[xi] Impressionism… god, if there’s any other overrated genre, I’d like to know. Oh yeah. There is. 80’s hair metal!
[xii] Well, you come back to it every day if you’re obsessed with Edo and write a blog about the history of city. Or if you’re an art nerd. Or if you’re both.

Book Review – Tokyo: From Edo to Showa

In Japan Book Reviews on January 9, 2015 at 8:37 am

From Edo to Shōwa (1867-1989)[i]
Edward Seidensticker

Click the link to order this book

Click the link to order this book

So a quick word about this book before I begin. This is actually a compilation of 2 works. It’s more than 600 pages in its entirety. The first volume was a book called Low City, High City published in 1983. The second volume was published in 1990 and was called Tōkyō Rising. Even though this is a compilation, the author’s intention is very clear. He argues that post-Tokugawa Edo grew into a new modernized city of sorts from 1868-1923. He further posits that after the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, the city began a second blossoming and became the sprawling metropolis that it is today. I can’t argue with him on these points. No one can. General consensus laments the end of Edo by:

The introduction of foreign architecture into the city
in what were literally the final days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate

The importance put on the importation of foreign architecture and customs during the Meiji Period

Destruction by fires & earthquakes
and the subsequent rebuilding leading up to the Great Kantō Earthquake

The almost total devastation of the city in the Great Kantō Earthquake
and the tendency to reject traditional architecture afterwards

The adoption of radically Western urban planning
and an almost obstinate refusal to look backwards after the Firebombing of 1945[ii]

Anyways, I’d like to open this review with a lovely quote from the forward by Paul Waley. “There can be few cities in the world that live, pulsate, and breathe through their geography as Tokyo does, few cities with a history that shifts through the creases of space as does that of Tokyo.” This line struck a chord in my heart because everywhere I walk in this city of hills, plateaux, plains, valleys, rivers, and constant change I can’t help but feel that even when you can’t see Edo right in front of you, there are shadows and whispers of the shōgun’s capital all around me. You just need to know where to look for them.

The subtitle of the book is “The Emergence of the Greatest City in the World.”  Right out of the gate, we know that this is a book written by a lover of Tōkyō for other lovers of Tōkyō. Anyone who’s even taken at glimpse at my blog knows that I proudly include myself in the list of Tōkyō Lovers. Let’s get it on, baby. Awwwwwwwwww yeah!


Quick Review[iii]

What I Expected What I Got
Overall Impression I expected a light, narrative history of Tōkyō on the change from the Edo Period (including the establishment of the city) to the Shōwa Period (I had no idea whether this meant ending at the beginning of Shōwa or ending of Shōwa). I definitely expected a “timeline-based” narrative. 2 books: one covering the post script of the Edo Period, then covering Meiji to the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake; the other covering the recovery from the earthquake to the building of TDL[iv]. Well over 630 pages of prosaic descriptions, many from the personal recollections of famous writers who lived and loved the city.
Type of Book A well-researched but lightly-written academic history of the city, backed up by nice photos. A history – clearly well-researched – but it’s unique angle is it cites personal recollections of literary greats who lived in the city during its transitions[v].
Readability A light descriptive narrative style, accessible to anyone who wants to understand the evolution of Edo into Tōkyō. Written in a prosaic “Great Books” style. It’s never dry and the author clearly loves Tōkyō. But at times the “classical prose style” is horribly distracting from the content[vi]. The organization of the book is awkward and so the author tends to repeat himself but I think this may be helpful to newbies.
Bias Wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had high hopes. Politically, completely unbiased[vii].
Audience Anyone with a passing interest of any city, be it Cairo, Rome, London, Tōkyō, or Santa’s Village.
Light reading.
IMO, this book requires in depth and active understanding of and familiarity with both Edo and modern Tōkyō. If I wasn’t writing this blog, I might only really understand 30-40% of it.

It’s written in a light style, but I think it presupposes a very high familiarity with the city.





Edward  Seidensticker was a guy who looooooved Tōkyō. 2 pages into this book and you understand that he loved the city profoundly[ix]. He’s best known as a translator of Japanese literature, in particular, Japanese classics[x]. As a translator, he had the opportunity to meet many of the authors he translated. He became close with quite a few of them. Be they friends or acquaintances, Edward had many opportunities to talk with many Japanese writers who lived during the biggest changes of the city. They often talked about their impressions of the city over the years. Of course he talks about the evolution of the city from Edo to Tōkyō historically, but he often refers to quotes from and memories of the authors he translated and befriended over the years.


Bad Points

Here’s a quote from Wikipedia: Seidensticker has been sometimes described as “the best translator of Japanese that has ever lived”[xi]. But I’ve catalogued a list of ridiculous translations that he used throughout the book (link below), most of which he never quoted the original Japanese which left me at times unable to do further research because the source material is only in Japanese and all we have is his useless “prosaic English translations.” Daily terms that a person would have used in the 80s’s and 90’s are also rendered into obscure literary terms, rather than plain English. This isn’t the sign of a good translator. It’s the sign of an old man who’s clearly out of touch with his native language[xii], or more accurately, Seidensticker presumes his reader is a lover of Western Classics with a little hankering for a spankering of Japan. This book is pre-Internet so that cultural divide is bound to be expected. Unfortunately, it severely dates the prose of this book.  In this, Seidensticker proves himself to be a stepping stone towards multiculturalism and to a modern person with internet and daily and hourly access to various cultures, he fails in a grand way. Maybe he was born 30 years too late[xiii].

I have a free download on my Patreon page that describes some of Seidenlicker’s most egregious translation failures in part one of this book. You can download it for free here.


Good Points

In English, there is very little literature available about the year by year changes of Edo to Tōkyō. This book pretty much is the only one that everyone can access easily. Seidensticker obviously has a passion for the city. He lived in Tōkyō on and off for about 50 years. His passion shines through in this book.

While reading this, I asked myself “How would I write a history of Edo-Tōkyō?” It’s such a gargantuan task. One approach would be to methodically go through the evolution of the city in a timeline. That would be a convenient reference book. However, that would miss all the nuances of what makes Tōkyō so special – all the unique nooks and crannies. Each neighborhood has its own stories to tell. My blog uses the etymology of place names as an excuse to explore a certain area of the city. Seidensticker’s methodology isn’t so different. Instead of place names, he chooses to explore some of the original 15 wards of Tōkyō City. Furthermore, he compares and contrasts the 下町 shitamachi low city and 山手 yamanote high city. To my delight, he covers how the lines blurred (and at times swapped completely) over the years.

When he quotes writers’ memories of the old city, there is often a bitter sweet tone. People often pine for the past. Seidensticker’s choice of quotes isn’t a mere pulling at the heartstrings. He deliberately chooses descriptive quotes that bring Tōkyō’s various neighborhoods to life. Regardless of what I think of some of his prosaical proclivities, he does a fantastic job of bringing the old city to life.

In a weird way this book is a like a veritable “Who’s Who of JapanThis!.” No joke. On almost every page, I was like, “Yo! I wrote about that, too!” In some places I’ve given more information. In other places, Seidensticker filled in some gaps that I was wondering about.

This is what my version looks like. I feel like a university student again! lol

This is what my version looks like. I feel like a university student again! lol



This is a freaking great book and I highly recommend it. However, the person who will get the most out of it is someone intimately familiar with Tōkyō’s geography and history. If you don’t have a good understanding of Tōkyō’s geography, you should probably invest in a few maps of early Edo, late Edo, Meiji Period Tōkyō, Taishō Period Tōkyō, and Shōwa Period Tōkyō and keep them on hand at all times. But seriously, if you are passionate about the history of “the world’s greatest city,” this book is something you must have in your personal collection. I’ll be referring back to my copy for almost every future article.


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[i] I love the subtitle: The Emergence of the World’s Greatest City.
[ii] Granted these are all architectural and urban planning aspects, but this book digs deep into the loss of cultural traditions. In particular, the loss of geisha in Tōkyō and the loss of the 遊郭 yūkaku (the so-called “pleasure districts”). But this refusal goes deeper. “Officially speaking” (a vague phrase, at best), a lot of Japan hasn’t wanted to look back at post-Earthquake Tōkyō because the next big step on the history ladder is WWII. The author doesn’t argue this, but I think this is symptomatic of the same refusal of going back to Meiji and Taishō architecture – all the same longing for Edo while just wanting to put everything behind.
[iii] More about my book review system here. Keep in mind, this “system” is still under development.
[iv] Tōkyō Disneyland. The book claims to end at 1989, the last year of the Shōwa Period. The theme park opened in 1983, but to my memory TDL is the latest date mentioned in the book.
[v] It may rely on some writers a little too heavily, but it also makes ample use of diaries/letters of foreign dignitaries, guests to the city, and (importantly, I think) early travel guides.
[vi] It’s replete with out of date phraseology and vocabulary that is downright clownish in this decade. Believe me. I’m coming back to this later.
[vii] Some of his sources were artists who famously suffered from serious depression. I think the author fairly reports their impressions of the city, but the reader should take some of these melancholy recollections with a grain of salt.
[viii] About my “star system,” 4/5 is probably as good as it will get. I’m reserving 5/5 for something really mind-blowing. I dunno… a picture book of Hijikata Toshizō’s girlfriends or something. Every book, every movie, every song has some room for criticism. Also, I have no half-stars because they don’t display correctly across platforms.
[ix] In fact, he lived in Tōkyō until his death in 2007.
[x] Not necessarily Classical Japanese works, but classics of Japanese literature – think Meiji, Taishō, and Shōwa periods. But that said, his translation of the Tale of Genji is considered one of the greatest English translations. I have no interest in that book so… whatever.
[xi] Not to be totally out of context, the rest of the sentence was: “and yet, he admitted that sometimes translation is a nearly impossible task.”
[xii] In Japanese, he would be called a クソジジイ kuso jijii fucking old man (or as he might have rendered it “a cantankerous old codger”). Tell me whose translation is closer to the point?
[xiii] And maybe my use of the word “grand” makes me guilty of the same “crime.” Because who the fuck uses the word “grand” anymore? lol

Book Review – Samurai Revolution

In Japan Book Reviews, Japanese History on November 4, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Samurai Revolution
Romulus Hillsborough




Before we go back to some place names, I’ve been asked to review a book. The book is called Samurai Revolution[i] and is written by Romulus Hillsborough. I’ve read most of Romulus’ books in the past[ii], which are all of an easily digestible size. Except for his book on Sakamoto Ryōma, you could read most of them before bed over the course of 2-3 nights. So when I got my copy of Samurai Revolution, I was shocked. I actually had no idea that this book is – to date – his magnum opus clocking in at 593 pages, but if you count the appendix, glossary, index, bibliography and other resources it actually has nearly 610 pages of text. Needless to say, it’s taken me a long time to read the book, so apologies for the being late with this article.



My New Way to Review Books

In the past, I’ve recommended Japanese history books. Those books haven’t been anywhere near 600 pages.  I tossed them out there as books accessible to a broad range of readers. Except for one book[iii], to date I don’t think I’ve recommended any scholarly or overly demanding books.  But over the years, JapanThis! has evolved and changed and so… here were are. I’m going to try a new type of article where I review (not recommend) a book about Japan or Japanese History. So bear with me as I figure this out how I want to do this. The 593 page load was really time-consuming, so this first in-depth review might be a mess. If that’s the case, I apologize in advance, and that is no fault of the book of itself.

That said, I’ve created this new system for reviewing books as opposed to recommending. I’ve laid out my system here. The link will always be at the top of the page in web view (as opposed to mobile view).


Quick Review

  What I expected What I got
Overall Impression A breezy stroll through Katsu Kaishū’s version of the Bakumatsu[iv] supported by accounts of the major players of the Meiji Coup. In English, this is the best diachronic breakdown of the Bakumatsu I’ve read[v]. It’s accessible. There is unprecedented access to quotes and translations of Japanese source material that has never been available (or easily accessible) in English.
Type of Book A collection of anecdotes from Katsu Kaishū’s memoirs, most likely in chronological order. A comprehensive narrative of the Bakumatsu with citations. While Katsu Kaishū’s memoirs, interviews, and biographies take center stage, they are by no means the whole of the book.
Readability I expected a good narrative. Say what you will about him, but Hillsborough is a good storyteller. Quite readable, actually! Hillsborough can tell a story. Even in such a confusing time, the man has an eye for detail and has come into his own as a writer, in my opinion.
Bias I expected the Tokugawa to be the bad guys, Katsu Kaishū and Sakamoto Ryōma to be the only people who understand anything, and Satsuma, Chōshū, and Tosa to be the superstars of the greatest thing in the world, the Meiji Coup. The book is fairly free of bias. From time to time there is some pro-Meiji rhetoric and a venture or two into historical fictionland, but in the grand scheme of things, it ain’t bad at all. (that’s OK, my stupid blog is all about pro-shōgunate rhetoric, lol).
Audience Fans of the Bakumatsu looking for Katsu Kaishū’s point of view (generally not available in English), Sakamoto Ryōma lovers, and Saigō Takamori lovers. Hard to say. The book presents a lot of general information as if the reader has no idea about these events and concepts, yet plows forward in a style which is nearly academic. I’m not sure who this book was written for… perhaps for people who have dissed his books in the past.




Overall Review

In short, I’m pleased with this book. I would recommend this to every reader of JapanThis! who is interested in the Bakumatsu. I never get tired of going over the events of this period, but this book presents a lot of information that hasn’t been available in English (or hasn’t been easily accessible in English). As such, Hillsborough has put together something special. He can tell a story. He went to great primary and secondary sources. I’m assuming this book is aimed at intermediate lovers of the Bakumatsu, but the language is often confused between beginners and advanced[vii].
As the main focal point of this book, Romulus has chosen Katsu Kaishū. Fans of Japanese history are lucky to have Kaishū as source. Not only was he a major player during the transition from the so-called Pre-Modern Era to the Modern Era, he survived a social, economic, political, and cultural revolution and was on intimate terms with key players on both sides. Many involved were killed along the way.

He was born into a poor hatamoto[viii] family whose reputation was besmirched by his own father, Katsu Kokichi. Katsu Kaishū’s first exposure to the reality of his liege lords was when he was allowed to play in the inner sanctum of Edo Castle during the reign of the 11th shōgun, Tokugawa Ienari[ix]. He had a good head on his shoulders and when his inept, but hilarious father retired from family headship, Kaishū continued to apply himself diligently to get a post in the shōgunate. He applied himself much more than the previous 2 heads of the family but obviously learned how to be a bit of a rebel from them. But he eventually found himself at the center of the greatest cultural shift Japan had ever seen up to that point. He built up Japan’s first modern navy. He negotiated the surrender of Edo Castle (sparing the country’s most populous and beautiful city unnecessary destruction). He lived well into the Meiji Period with a wife, some children, and a culturally appropriate network of side pussy suitable to a man of his rank[x].



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[i] Subtitle: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen through the Eyes of Shōgun’s Last Samurai. I presume this title is intentionally vague. Most Japanese nouns don’t differentiate between singular and plural. Many foreign loanwords in English retain the source language’s grammar. As such we could be talking about one samurai (in this case, Katsu Kaishū) or many samurai (all the other samurai who crop up in the book). At any rate, this is a savvy subtitle and it’s part of what piqued my curiosity in the book in the first place.
[ii] Possibly all of them, I just don’t have a list in front of me.
[iii] Tour of Duty: Samurai, Military Service in Edo, and the Culture of Early Modern Japan by Dr. Constantine Vaporis, which even as an academic text is accessible and enjoyable by anyone interested in the police of alternate attendance. Most people don’t want to go that deep, but if you really want to understand the evolution of Edo-Tōkyō and you really want to understand how this policy helped unify and boosted local economies while creating a truly national economy – all of which is alive and well today to a certain degree – this book is something you need. Clearly not for everyone, but I’m a big fan.
[iv] By the way, I’m a big fan of Katsu Kaishū, he was my gateway to the Bakumatsu. The dynamism of some people of this era, and the stubbornness of others, all united by the patriotism, often tainted by selfishness, is probably typical of every regime change we’ve seen. Except that Japan was literally dragged kicking and screaming into a so-called Modern Era that they didn’t choose. From the get go, few people recognized this as quickly as Katsu Kaishū.
[v] To be honest, in book form, this may be the only diachronic account of the Bakumatsu that I’ve read. I know there are other “definitive” books on the subject but I don’t think I’ve ever read them, to be honest.
[vi] About my “star system,” 4/5 is probably as good as it will get. I’m reserving 5/5 for something really mind-blowing. I dunno…, a picture book of Hijikata Toshizō’s girlfriends or something. Every book, every movie, every song has some room for criticism. Also, I have no half-stars because they don’t display correctly across platforms.
[vii] I’m guessing this is a by-product of the writing process. A lot of research has been put into this; different eras seem to have been written about at different times.
[viii] Hatamoto were direct retainers of the shōgun family in Edo. This doesn’t mean hatamoto were particularly rich because the status was inherited, but it did mean they had social rank. In theory, they might even be permitted to attend an audience with the shōgun.
[ix] #TeamIenari
[x] This is a holdover from the Edo Period. Many social changes occurred, but c’mon, it’s hard to give up your fuck buddies. Would you give up yours? And no, “side pussy” isn’t the official term. The official term is 側室 sokushitsu literally, “side room.” Until very recently, marriage in Japan was not a monogamous affair. While the concept of a bastard child existed in Europe and America, in Japan the need to sustain the direct male line demanded that you get as many sons as necessary to ensure smooth succession of the family leadership. It wasn’t cheating; it was a way to avoid familial extinction.

The Kanda River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers, Travel in Japan on July 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Kanda-gawa (literally, “divine fields river,” but actually “river in Kanda”)[i]

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.  If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.  The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but it was built after the Great Kanto Earthquake which river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them.

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.
If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.


The name 神田 Kanda is one of the oldest place names in Edo-Tōkyō and believe it or not, 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River is not that old at all. Well, most of the river isn’t. Well, part of it might be.

Well, it’s complicated.

In short, after doing this research, I’ve realized I have to make a separate article about the area called 神田 Kanda – and by that, I mean just etymology. So I will write about that in the future – and I promise not to put it off too long. But let’s just deal with the river for the time being, mkay?


Let’s Look at the Kanji



ta, -da

rice paddies

kawa, -gawa



This river is manmade. So the etymology seems to be clear. At the beginning of the Edo Period, in the 神保町 Jinbō-chō area there was a small waterway that cut through a hilly are called 神田山 Kandayama Mt. Kanda. It’s said that since this area in general was called 神田 Kanda[ii] the original waterway was then called 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River.

If you only wanted to know the etymology of the river, you can stop reading here. From this point on it’s going to turn into a crazy – possibly boring – river mess. If you’re a JapanThis! masochist, then by all means, read on. You may actually enjoy this.




A view of Hajiribashi when it was new. The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but in the 1920’s it was new and river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them (or without tall buildings in the background).


Where to Start??

Up until now, every river we have looked at was at some point a naturally occurring river. The Kanda River is quite different from those rivers. There was a time within recorded history that the Kanda River never existed. Though, a portion of it was once a natural tributary of a long vanished inlet of Edo Bay, it is, in fact, a man-made river. All though it may not be on the lips of every Tōkyōite, today the river is a well-recognized part of the well-manicured urban landscape of the modern city.

I actually first mentioned the Kanda River back in June, 2011 in an article about Yodobashi[iii], a small bridge that crosses the Kanda River at the border of 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward and 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward. So this is something of a little homecoming for me. I started this blog when I still lived in Nakano (lived there for about 6 years).



Yodobashi in the Taisho Era, before the Great Kanto Earfquake. The area is rustic and a in sharp contrast to the present area. Today it marks the border of Nakano and crazy-ass Shinjuku.


What is the Kanda River Today?

The modern river’s official designation is the channel of water that flows from 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Pond to 飯田橋 Iidabashi (literally, Iida Bridge) where it empties into the 外堀 sotobori outer moat of Edo Castle. But it’s at this junction where the river flows into a disparate network of waterways. So you could say, unofficially, that the Kanda River flows into the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River and the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge, essentially taking the water to the Tōkyō Bay.


Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.


Now Let’s Talk History

As mentioned in my article on the etymology of Edo, the original 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle or 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle was not built by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan as is often cited[iv]. In reality, a minor branch of 平家 Hei-ke the Taira clan[v] moved to the area at the end of the 11th century and built a fortified residence[vi] on a hill overlooking the sea. As was common practice for new branch families with new fiefs, they took the name of the village 江戸郷 Edo-gō as their own and they became the 平江戸氏 Taira Edo-shi Edo branch of the Taira clan[vii]. In the 12th century, the area prospered due to its proximity to the capital of the Minamoto shōguns in Kamakura. However, it seems the Edo clan didn’t do much to develop the area’s rivers[viii].

In those days, the now long gone 日比谷入江 Hibiya Irie Hibiya Inlet was a saltwater inlet used for 海苔 nori seaweed farming[ix]. There was a certain freshwater river known as 平川 Hirakawa “the wide river” which emptied into the inlet. This fresh water river originally made up part of the natural boundary between 武蔵国豊島郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province and 武蔵国江原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara Province, Musashi Province. This fresh water tributary seems to be where the story of the Kanda River begins.


Edo Hamlet


Fast Forward a Few Centuries

By the 15th century, Japan was balls deep in the bloody, sweaty mess that was the Sengoku Period[x] and Ōta Dōkan found himself re-fortifying the Edo family’s fort in Chiyoda using water from the coastline and other small rivers with the latest moat-building technology of his day. The new and improved “Edo Fort” he built for the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan brought new channels and waterways into the village. This manipulation of water provided tactical advantages to the new fort in that food and goods could come in and there were more escape routes. There were now logical, defensible waterways. Lucky side effect, certain areas of the village were less exposed than before and local merchants and fishermen had new distribution routes and… BOOM!  Ladies and gentleman, we have a budding 城下町 jōka machi castle town[xi].

Although all of Dōkan’s efforts were pioneering and crucial in the taming of the rivers and sea and urban planning of Edo-Tōkyō, one of the most important changes to Edo’s waterways was diverting the 平川 Hirakawa the ancient “wide river” eastward into what is today called the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River. This is critical to our story today. And the place where this new confluence occurred is actually marked by a bridge called the 神田橋 Kandabashi Kanda Bridge. The Hirakawa River doesn’t exist anymore, but a quick look at a map of Edo Castle will show you a 平川門 Hirakawa Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川濠 Hirakawa-bori Harakawa Moat[xii]; the former, the gate that stood guard on the moat[xiii]; the latter, a vestige of the old river itself. Today, 平川見附 Hirakawa Mitsuke the bridge and fortified gate installation on the moat is a popular sightseeing spot.


Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate). They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate).
They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.
I used to generate this map. Click on the picture to find THE premiere website on Japanese Castles in English.


So, as I’ve said before – and will say again – Tokugawa Ieyasu moved into an Edo that was well fortified, strategically sound, and extremely defensible by sea and by land. Oh, and did I mention, there was a burgeoning village life, supported by fishermen, farmers, and artisans[xiv]. Between Ōta Dōkan’s time and the time Ieyasu entered Edo, a technological revolution had occurred in Japan. From Nobunaga’s rise to power on, Japanese castles began to take on the look of what we think of today when someone says “Japanese Castle.[xv]” The castles of the Tokugawa Period are based on these new advances in castle building technology and reflected the amount of luxury the ruling class could not just afford, but were expected to maintain to project their image of superiority.





OK, OK! Castles, Can We Please Get Back to the River?

Yes, of course. Sorry for getting distracted.

(But we’re probably coming back to castles)

The Tokugawa Shōgunate kept meticulous records of the changes they made to the area. The great waterworks projects were no exception. But I’m not going to get into every change they made. It’s so boring it’s unreal. So let’s just look at some of the major changes and what I think are the takeaways of what created the Kanda River.

Since I got distracted, let’s go back to the beginning.The beginning of the story is 1456-1457, when Ōta Dōkan began manipulating waterways to build moats for his pre-cursor to Edo Castle – though work on the moats most likely preceded construction of the fortress, so we might say 1455-1457. In 1486, Dōkan was assassinated and in 1524 the 江戸合戦 Edo Gassen Battle of Edo saw the rise of influence of the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi and the decline of the Ōta and Uesugi. This meant that the fortifications in 千代田 Chiyoda[xvi] (the area where the Sengoku forts where built and the fields around them) were abandoned and lay fallow for almost 70 years[xvii].

In 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu transferred his clan and top retainers to Edo and began modernizing the old Sengoku Period fortifications of the Edo and Ōta. He cautiously applied some of the latest castle building technology following the examples of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It’s said that the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate was one of the first construction project undertaken and this required crossing an existing moat – one affiliated with the later Kanda Aqueduct/Hirakawa.

The Ote-mon (main gate) at the time of the collapse of the shogunate.

The Ote-mon (main gate) after the Meiji Coup.


1603 is the watershed moment. Ieyasu is named 征夷大将軍 seii tai-shōgun shōgun and is the effective military ruler of Japan. From this point, the real history of the Kanda River begins. In 1604, Nihonbashi is built and the 5 Great Highways of Edo are defined. Strict entry & exit points by land and by river are laid out in order to preserve the new Tokugawa hegemony. Edo’s waterways are no longer “just Edo waterways;” they are tactical routes, trade routes, and a means of regulating nature for the protection of the commoners who lived along the rivers and were, essentially, part of the city’s infrastructure. In short, the rivers of Edo became a stabilizing mechanism for the shōgun’s capital.


Hirakawa Gate when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy).

The Ote-mon (main gate) when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy). Tokugawa Power! Activate! This is where the name Otemachi comes from.


From 1616 to 1620, during the reign of 2nd shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada, something really resembling a “Kanda River” in a modern sense came in to existence. This is when the 神田山 Kandayama “Kanda Mountain”[xviii] was cut through and the Kanda River and Nihonbashi River became 2 discrete waterways. Kanda and Ryōgoku began to take on unique personalities at this time.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate. Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate.
Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.


In 1657, disaster struck on a colossal scale. The 明暦大家 Meireki Fire[xix] ripped through the city destroying well over half of the metropolis[xx]. Although city planning was essential from the beginning, the shōgunate hadn’t anticipated the rapid growth that accompanied their sankin-kōtai policy and just the economic stability brought on by… um, stability in general.



Edo Castle was a city within a city, When the main keep burned down, budgets and policies were reconsidered.


In part of the rebuilding efforts after the Meireki Fire, from 1659-1661 various waterways in Edo were widened and more open space along the rivers was added. Edo grew so rapidly after the arrival of the Tokugawa, that the city had become a firetrap[xxi].



Ryogoku Bridge today


By some accounts, 60%-70% may have be burnt to the ground. Given the relative clean slate available to the shōgunate after this particular conflagration, certain rivers were designated as firebreaks and widened to keep fires localized[xxii]. It’s at this time that the Kanda River was dramatically widened – most notably, at the confluence of the Kanda River and Ryōgoku River, the 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge was built. Even today, the expanse of the river here is something to see, but in the Edo Period, with no buildings over 2 stories, it was clearly a sight to behold. Soon the area became famous for a dazzling annual fireworks display in the summer[xxiii]. Some of the most iconic 浮世絵 ukiyo-e “scenes of the transient world” come from this area. The 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum is located in this area… for obvious reasons.


From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.  Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.
Ganbare, Kanda-chan!


As I mentioned before, the official headwaters are 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Lake, but the river has no officially designated end point but it’s fairly certain that it ultimately empties into Tōkyō Bay. Traditionally it ends at 飯田橋 Iidabashi. The reason there’s no official ending point is because the Kanda River empties into a few rivers and drainage channels along the way before it ultimately fizzles out into the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll probably be aware that the names and courses of these rivers have been changing over time and that some stretches of one river may have had multiple names depending on the area. So yeah… welcome back to the Confus-o-dome.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).  Gross.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).

The Kanda River’s Legacy

The man-made Edo Era waterway that flowed from Inokashira Pond was called the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui. Longtime readers should know what a 上水 jōsui is. But just a refresher, a jōsui is a conduit of “imported” water. This water flowed from 三鷹 Mitaka[xxiv] to Edo Castle; it also supplied drinking water to the daimyō mansions that lined its course.


The creation of the Kanda River. (by the way, this is the worst info-graphic ever)

The creation of the Kanda River in Chiyoda from the Hibiya Inlet.

The Kanda Jōsui is considered the first real aqueduct system in Japan. Before I mentioned the technological revolution in castle construction, right? Well, the Sengoku Period began stabilizing and yes, castle building was a status thing. But the distribution of water and water management showed one of the greatest advances in urban planning and administration that Japan had seen in centuries. This is why shōgunate’s founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was such a bad ass. The dude could lead an army here or there, but he had ideas about civil administration and surrounded himself with people who could advise him on these things. Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were essentially one-trick-ponies who couldn’t really get out of the 戦国病気 Sengoku Byōki “Sengoku Rut.”[xxv] Ieyasu, also a product of that generation, realized that infrastructure reinforced military supremacy and brought economic stability[xxvi].


The Kanda Aqueduct

The Kanda Aqueduct

Admittedly, it’s not that exciting or cool, but the availability of clean drinking water and disposal of dirty water should never be underestimated in the study of any ancient or pre-modern city[xxvii].

The capital of the Tokugawa shōguns quickly became the biggest city in Japan and eventually the most populous city in the world. Clean water and sewerage undeniably played a part in this. But soon the Kanda Jōsui wasn’t enough. That said, it was the main source of drinking water for Edo Castle during the Edo Period.

Even if it was inadequate to supply the entire sprawling capital, Kanda Jōsui was such a successful project that it begot 6 more major waterworks in Edo, all of which benefited daimyō, samurai, and the commoner population. Of course, this technology spread throughout the realm, but for short while Edo boasted one of the most unique water infrastructures in Japan.




A Final Note

If you’re up for an interesting bike ride, a 2010 blog post at Metropolis suggests starting at the mouth of the river and riding upstream to Inokashira Pond. When the temperature starts to come down, I may give this a go myself. There are loads of spots, many covered in JapanThis!, along the course of the river, so it should be fascinating.




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[i] I know that’s not the kind of helpful explanation that will bring closure to any of the etymology fans out there.
[ii] As I said, I’m gonna revisit this topic again.
[iii] Any relation to ヨドバシカメラ Yodobashi Camera? Why, yes there is. Thank you for asking.
[iv] And calling Dōkan’s fortifications a “castle” is also a debatable point. I’ve come to prefer the term “well-moated fort.” I came up with that term all on my own… right now. Thank you very much.
[v] If you don’t know who the Taira clan is… wow. OK, here you go.
[vi] Also, as mentioned in my article on What does Edo mean?, the coastal area is littered with 古墳 kofun burial mounds and it’s clear from the archaeology that the area has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. It’s highly doubtful the Edo clan was the first strongmen to seize upon this highly defensible, coastal plateau – they are the noblest recorded family, though.
[vii] Even though other temples and villages in the area are mentioned as far back as the Heian Period, it’s seems like the name Edo itself doesn’t actually appear in any records until the Kamakura Period.
[viii] In fact the original Edo “Castle” was probably just a 出城 dejiro satellite fort, since the Edo clan seemed to have their main residence in 喜多見 Kitami in present 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward.
[ix] I have an article about Hibiya.
[x] And while this may sound like a gratuitous reference to sex on the rag, this is actually a legitimate, historical term. Ask any historian of Pre-Modern Japan. They’ll tell you. Just ask. Seriously.
[xi] Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I said “budding.” When we say “castle” and “castle town” today we are usually referring to a construct of the far more stable Azuchi-Momoyama Period (ie; essentially the end of the Sengoku Period).
[xii] On Edo Era maps these may be listed with honorifics as 平川御門 Hirakawa Go-Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川御堀 Hirakawa O-Hori Hirakawa Moat, respectively.
[xiii] Interestingly, some people think the radius and extent of Ōta Dōkan’s moats was the result of him not having a fucking clue what he was doing. His initial “improvements” lead to more flooding and so he continually modified his plans, diverting rivers away from the castle and the villages by extending them further and further out. Thus part of the sprawling nature of Edo Castle may have been due to stop-gap measures employed by Dōkan.
[xiv] Yes, I did.
[xv] This is as different as when we use the Latin words castrum to describe a Roman military camp/walled town and a castellum a walled fortification of Late Antiquity. The transformation is truly dramatic.
[xvi] You can see my article on Chiyoda here.
[xvii] The castle itself was pretty minor and was most likely not affected by the Late Hōjō efforts to refortify the Edo area from 1583 on.
[xviii] Kandayama was located in present day 駿河台 Surugadai.
[xix] “What’s the Meireki Fire?” you ask. There’s an article for that.
[xx] By some accounts, 70% of the city may have been destroyed.
[xxi] This didn’t change until the reconstruction of the city after WWII (or, some may argue that it didn’t change until the 1960’s and that the city just got lucky with no major conflagrations in the interim).
[xxii] In theory…
[xxiii] People today love fireworks. Just imagine what people with no video, no cameras, and no Perfume must have thought of these theatrical celebrations of summer.
[xxiv] Essentially, present-day Kichijōji.
[xxv] Again, my word. I just made it up now. And yes, I’m just baiting Sengoku lovers. Actually, I like Nobunaga, too.
[xxvi] And far more importantly, put his family in a seemingly endless position as hereditary top of the food chain. Hmmmmmmmmmm…
[xxvii] And you probably never think about where your water comes from or how it gets to your house and where it all goes afterwards, but it works, right? That’s why you can live there.

You Know You’ve Been in Edo Too Long…

In Japanese History on May 16, 2014 at 11:43 am

You Know You’ve Been in Edo Too Long…
Twitter, what??



About 10 years ago, when I first came to Japan, I stumbled across an article on the internet called “You Know You’ve Been in Japan Too Long When…” It was basically a bunch of expats who – for better or worse – lived in Japan and had Japanized to some degree or another[i]. The list outlined all of the ways these foreigners had adopted certain (or many) aspects of traditional Japanese life.

I don’t know if this was a list compiled by a single person or by a forum or BBS. But only having been in Japan for a few months, I was intrigued by the concept. Of course, loads of other foreigners were going through similar experiences as me. Westerners tend to see themselves as not FOB, but come on, let’s be real: if you came here from another country, you were – and still are FOB[ii].

10 years ago, there wasn’t a strong online community of foreigners in Japan, but there definitely was something. Since then I’ve seen countless versions of “You Know You’ve Been in Tōkyō Too Long When…” posts.

A quick Google search brings up the following:

b4b1c411 Since I’ve started making more and more contacts with people who love Japanese History, and who, in fact, are passionate about the Edo-Tōkyō, I started wondering, “Hey, what if we tried this meme in the Edo Period?” I threw the question out to Twitter and this is what came back! This is a pretty nerdy exercise in Edo Geekdom. But for the n00bs, I’m gonna explain the more arcane posts, OK? Bear with me! The “You know you’ve been in Edo too long” thing can go on forever!!

You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you ask for extra scratchy rope on your 下駄 because #BoysDontCry
下駄 geta are wooden “flip flops” that look like this. If you’re not used to wearing them, the hemp rope will chafe the shit out of the space between your big toe and second toe until it bleeds. Boys Don’t Cry is just a random reference to The Cure.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when they let you bring a sword (or at least a knife) into Yoshiwara.
Weapons were not allowed in the Yoshiwara.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you start finding small pox scar patterns on people attractive and even sensual.
As in other cities and communities throughout the world before science gave us vaccinations/inoculations, Small Pox outbreaks were common in the Edo Period. The Japanese even had a 神 kami deity whom they blamed for spreading the deadly disease.
@RekishinoTabi @SubBeck you know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you consider Asakusa people country bumpkins.
Asakusa was town on the outskirts of Edo from the beginning. It wasn’t until the creation of Tōkyō City that these people were also considered 江戸っ子 Edokko, children of Edo – a term still used for a person who is at least a 2nd or 3rd generation Tōkyōite.
You know you’ve been in #Edo 2 long when Ienari’s syphilis & Iemochi’s beriberi are the punchlines to 50% of your jokes w/ the American legation.
Tokugawa Ienari, the party shogun, was riddled with syphilis. Tokugawa Iemochi, the died in Ōsaka shogun, died of beriberi – the 19th century version of “first world problems” for rich Asians. The American Legation refers to the original diplomatic envoys that came to Japan to establish and maintain relations with Japan. They were moved around, but were most famously confined to 善福寺 Zenpuku-ji in present day 元麻布 Moto-Azabu.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you see nothing wrong with using face whitening makeup made from bird sh*t.
Just read the next one.
@RekishinoTabi Or even better, face masks with it:
Thanks to @MetropolisTokyo who saved the day with the above URL that explains everything.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you start to believe there’s a giant underground catfish wriggling about, causing earthquakes.
In Old Japan, there was an old wives’ tale that earthquakes were caused by giant catfish under the ocean and in the rivers.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when the people in Namamugi Village recognize you. … And you actually know where Namamugi is.
Namamugi was an insignificant village on the Tōkaidō that was the scene of the Namamugi Incident, which was not insignificant at all. Today it’s pretty much an unknown suburb of Yokohama. However, there is a Kirin Beer Factory there.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you’re like “what is this 6 year old future music?”
Fuck you, I was taking a walk along Tōkyō Bay listening to Perfume. lol. Anyways, this album came out about 6 years ago and was their first full-length, non-compilation[iii] album.
@RekishinoTabi You know you’ve been in Edo too long when you know more prostitutes in Nagekomi-dera than in Yoshiwara.
This is a really dark joke.投込寺Nagegomi-dera means “temple for throw aways” or “dumping temple.” It was originally a local pejorative nickname for one of the most depressing places I’ve ever been – 浄閑寺 Jōkan-ji[iv]. This is the temple where some 25,000 girls from the Yoshiwara were dumped after they died because they had no family and the teahouses that they were indentured to couldn’t afford properly burying STD havin’, always gettin’ pregnant, no money makin’ liabilities. If you ever need a good cry, stop by Jōkan-ji, home of the only people who cared enough about all those girls to memorialize them. (Please see the footnotes about this).
@JapanThis @RichardMedh @RekishinoTabi You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you meet foreigners on Twitter who don’t live in 築地居留地.
This is a reference to the Tsukiji Foreign Settlement, but I translate it as the Tsukiji Foreigner Reservation because as an American I can instantly understand the legal connotation[v].
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when the name changes to Tokyo.
Touché, pussycat!
@RichardMedh @RekishinoTabi You know you’ve been in #Edo too long if you’re still there in 1871 when 東京府 was created and 藩 were abolished.
In 1868, Edo Castle was handed over to the Imperial Family, there was a massive gray area that lingered. Did the Emperor control all of Edo or just the castle? Well, the imperial court assumed they owned everything and they named the somewhat ambiguous Edo to Tōkyō. None of this was really clear until 1871 when a clear definition of re-administration was implemented – at the same time, all feudal lords were stripped of their holdings and the first incarnation of the modern state of Japan was born.
@RichardMedh: @RekishinoTabi You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you find yourself enjoying a good fire and fight.
The Edo Period was a martial society… I don’t understand this particular reference, though. My first guess is it’s a reference to a book or drama.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you walk from Kanda to Akanebashi and your feet don’t even hurt.
I figure this walk is from 1 hour to 1.5 hours, could be shorter if you walk as fast as I do. Most people drive, or in Japan, take the train. An Edo Period person could probably outwalk most modern people…[vi]
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long if you spend more than 2 minutes in front of a mirror messing about with your mage.
A 髷 mage is a top knot (hair style). In modern day Japan, girls might put their hair up in a ball called お団子 o-dango. But in Old Japan, 髷 mage means men’s or women’s hairstyles that look like this. Truth be told, in the Edo Period, maintenance of this hairstyle would have been taken care of by a woman (wife or otherwise in the case of man; a subservient female to an elite woman).
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long if instructions on how to wear a cod piece can be found in a rangaku book.
This is a weird Sengoku joke mixed with a weird joke about a weird habit of European 15th century aristocracy wearing a bra-like piece of clothing to enhance the size of your cock[vii]. This is a codpiece. Rangaku is “Dutch Learning.” When Japan was a “closed country,” there was still a slow trickle of information from Holland.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long if you drink 6 flasks of sake while partying but hardly feel buzzed (sake was usually cut to 3.5% alc)
In the era of turning everything up to 11, I’m sure we could out drink any Edo Era pussy. I would have liked to challenged Tokugawa Ienari to filth-a-thon, though.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long if you stay up partying all night every 60 days so the 3 worms inside you can’t tell your sins to 青面金剛
I’ll admit it. I have no idea what this one means! Sounds like a Buddhist thing to me, but I don’t know…
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you wonder if these hakama make your butt look big…
Hakama are a type of formal “pants” worn in Old Japan. The type worn by samurai looked like this.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you’re drinking with the shōgun and he hands you a #Tenga Egg and calls you 上様.
上様 ue-sama is how you addressed the shōgun. A Tenga Egg is this.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you hear 天誅! and think to yourself だよね!!!!
天誅 tenchū divine retribution is what 尊王攘夷 son’nō jōi revere the emperor/expel the foreigners supporters would shout when they assassinated samurai who supported opening the country or even interacted with foreigners.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when they fast track you through 関 on every 街道.
A 関 seki was a checkpoint on the highway. A 街道 kaidō was a highway.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you can’t tolerate translations of the word
A 神 kami is a Shintō deity. It’s often translated as “god,” but it’s very different from the Judeo-Christian word “god” which carries a lot of cultural/historical baggage. Granted, 神 doesn’t come baggage free either.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you find yourself drunk in 大名小路 on a horse and everyone wants to talk to you.
大名小路 Daimyō Kōji Daimyō Alley was the nickname of a long street in modern Marunouchi, an area technically within the confines of Edo Castle. The street was lined by mansions of the daimyō who had the closest historical connection to the Tokugawa Shōgun Family.Pretty sure this is a reference to a certain translator and man-about-town.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when a procession from Dejima or Ryūkyū is a breath of fresh air compared to all these asshole daimyo
I’m getting really tired of explaining these tweets… Dejima is where the few foreigners who could conduct trade with Japan were forced to live. Occasionally, they had to make trips to Edo to meet with the shōgunate. The Ryūkyū Kingdom is modern Okinawa, but at the time was an independent state that paid tribute to Satsuma Domain. Occasionally, they too had to make trips to Edo. It wasn’t every day that an Edoite got to see such exotic people.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when 従六位上 upper junior sixth rank still confuses you, but you know you best bow deep or else!!!!!
There was a super confusing court rank system.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you know the correct gesture while saying「失敬」
How can I even explain this?失敬 shikkei is the samurai way of saying すみません sumimasen “I’m sorry.” The hand gesture was raising the left hand as if in prayer in front of your face. The correct way would have been both hands, but the manly way was just one.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you 土下座 while talking on the phone… … or texting.
It’s a famous thing that Japanese people bow when talking on the phone just as they would bow during a regular conversation. A土下座 dogeza is the most formal bow of all. It’s done on the floor with the head down to the ground. It’s rare today, but it would have been normal in the Edo Period when speaking to a person of significantly higher rank.
@RekishinoTabi You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you know where to buy fundoshi that chafe the least… for a good price.
Fundoshi are traditional Japanese underwear that feature a fat, towl-like g-string.
@SublightMonster @RekishinoTabi You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you get annoyed having to walk 25 meters to the NEXT conbini
Conbini are convenience stores. They are everywhere. There is one 1 minute from my house. There are 8 within an 10 minute radius. Hence the word “convenient.”
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you can shamelessly rut with your spouse while the kids are “sleeping” right next to you.
Rut… lol. Anyways, traditional Japanese nagaya had a single room for sleeping in which the entire family slept together.
You know you’ve been in #Naniwa too long when you know the spot price of rice at this exact moment.
Naniwa was the ancient name of Ōsaka. Whereas Edo was the samurai epicenter of the country, Ōsaka had a merchant culture which was used to paying close attention to prices. Rice was more or less the standard for currency in the Edo Period. To this day, Tōkyōites will mock Ōsakans as “the sort of people” who will ask for a discount at any store – something the samurai culture of eastern Japan found extremely shameful (and still find shameful).
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when #Naniwa means Ōsaka is shit.
Just rude. Since the Edo Period (and especially after the Meiji Coup), there has been a rivalry between Ōsaka and Edo-Tōkyō. The source of this contention comes from the fact that Old Japan always had dē factō rulers. One day, I’ll more about this.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when polishing your sword is a double entendre.
Samurai polished their swords. Just look at the picture and you’ll get it. Work safe, btw…
You know you’ve been in Edo too long when you no longer mind staring down at your mud splattered tabi while bowing when a daimyo passes by.
Daimyō processions keep coming up, don’t they? Anywhoo… when a lord passed by you, you had to stop what you were doing and get down on the ground (dogeza) and wait until the entire retinue passed by. After all, you were a piece of shit and they were a daimyo. Tabi are traditional Japanese socks. (I have a feeling if you could see your tabi, you’d be killed.)
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long if you’re a samurai dandy & you’ve got more gold on your tsuba than Spain’s central bank reserves.
A tsuba is a decorative guard at the top of a sword hilt. I don’t know the English word for it. They were decorated and if removed from the sword….
@RekishinoTabi you know you’ve been in #Edo too long when tsuba is a double entendre.
If removed from the sword, they looked like vaginas.
@RekishinoTabi you know you’ve been in #Edo too long when a certain mon on a certain pillbox is scarier than an earthquake.
This is a reference to the old TV show 水戸黄門 Mito Kōmon where the vice-shōgun displays his 印籠 in’rō, a lacquered pillbox or purse that bears the crest of the Tokugawa family and everyone does dogeza (bowing on the ground).
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when the sight of a woman’s nape sends you into a ravenous, erotic frenzy.
Clothing in the Edo Period covered the entire body. Even to this day, the sight of a kimono wearing woman’s nape is a fetish. Yours truly is even a victim of this.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when a women asks to see your “hanzo,” you leave the katana sheathed but start loosening your fundoshi.
I don’t know where to begin.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when all the nagaya in the low city don’t all look the same… and you know which ones house the hotties.
Nagaya are the traditional row houses of Old Japan.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when spending the afternoon watching executions in Minami Senjū just ain’t what it used to be.
One of Edo’s 3 famous execution grounds was in Minami Senjū. The area still bears some stigma today (but is gaining notoriety among backpackers, artists, and foreigners who are slowly changing the image of the place).
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when your #iPhone autocorrects “hijinks” to “Hijikata.”
If I have to explain this one, stop reading my blog.
You know you’ve been in #Edo too long when you know the kanji 袴, 褌, 裃 and your Japanese wife doesn’t.
Since it’s a kanji joke, I’ll let you look those up yourself.
You know you’ve been in Edo too long when you always add the words “late, great” before the name Arashi Rikan.
This is a kabuki reference. That much I know. But I’ve never seen kabuki and so I can’t say much about this. That said, if anyone wants to go see kabuki with me, let me know. I’m dying to go!
You know you’ve lived in #Edo too long when you’re on a first name basis with most of the 飯盛女 working in Kita Senju.
飯盛女 meshi mori on’na (literally food+fuck girls) were girls who worked at teahouses in 宿場 shukuba post towns in the Edo Period. They were waitresses and conversationalists who were also available for sex. Kita Senjū was one of the first and last places into Edo.

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Japanize – (vt, vi) to become Japanese, to adopt Japanese styles, mannerisms, and/or culture.
[ii] Fresh off the boat. You’re a first generation immigrant or temporary expat.
[iii] Non-compilation but Japanese music industry style, because every Japanese album is comprised of previously released material plus some new stuff. Don’t get me started on the Japanese music industry, I could rant for hours!
[iv] I briefly alluded to this about a year ago in a really shit blog entry about Yoshiwara. I plan to re-write this blog entry, I was still figuring out what my blog was at that time. In the meantime, I recommend you check out this excellent explanation and photo essay on Jōkan-ji.
[v] In the shōgunate’s defense, they weren’t being racist as much as they were actually trying to protect the foreigners from racist attacks from hostile samurai who didn’t agree with the shōgunate’s view that opening the country was a good idea. If all the foreigners were safe and accounted for in restricted areas, no one could kill a diplomat. Killing a diplomat meant advanced foreign military technology would rain down upon Edo. The shōgunate were playing their cards VERY CAREFULLY.
[vi] That said, I’d put myself up against any of them. I can easily walk around Tōkyō for 6 hours (maybe that’s my max).
[vii] I doubt this was ever used in Japan. It’s use in Europe even seems to be limited to aristocracy.

Questions from Readers

In Japan on February 21, 2014 at 8:32 am
Wanna know who this is? So did other readers. Today I'll tell you!

Wanna know who this dude is?
So did other readers.
Today I’ll tell you!

I don’t get a lot of e-mails, but I’ve gotten a few over the past few months asking about my personal opinions or musings on certain topics. I don’t think Japan This! is really the place for my personal opinions on things like the “Do you think Korea has a good argument for renaming the Sea of Japan “the East Sea?” That said, I’m a human being and of course I have opinions on such topics.

So I wrote a 5 page article answering reader questions about my personal opinions on a few topics related to Japan and Tokyo. I included a little hate mail, too. (Believe it or not, I do get hate mail from time to time.)

I’ve posted the article on my Patreon page. For those who don’t know, Patreon is a crowd sourcing network that let’s you support artists, bloggers, and other creative people. Basically, if you like all this free content and you want to make a donation to support the blog, it’s a safe and trustworthy way to do so.

Some topics that get discussed are:

What does “Japan This” mean?
The Senkaku Islands.
Eating dolphins.
Hate mail. (My favorite part!)
 Much, much more…

The article is here:

Begging for donations or charging for content makes me feel like shit, so even if you don’t donate, I’ve decided to include a free post here. I really appreciate everyone who reads Japan This! If no one read this, I wouldn’t do it.

Well, that’s not true. It’s a labor of love. I’d still do it. But it just wouldn’t be as much fun. So thank you to each and every one of my readers (even the ones who send me hate mail). I have lots of love for you. And don’t worry, this blog is always going to be free!

OK, so as for today’s post, I just went to the Regional Immigration Office (every expat’s favorite place in the world), and I had to change trains at Daimon Station. I love this station because inside they have a few old pictures up on the wall. I decided to make a video of one huge photograph they have on display. This panoramic photograph shows a view from Tokyo Station/Marunouchi to Tōkyō Castle (Edo Castle) to Yurakucho/Hibiya Park and Shiodome (which at the time was called Shinbashi). Tameike Sannō was still an 池 ike lake. Sotobori Road was still a moat. You can see the Shiba area is still more or less Zōjō-ji’s massive, wooded precincts and that the bay is lacking the sprawling man-made islands that protect central Tōkyō from the sea. It’s really a spectacular photo.

What does Toranomon mean?

In Japanese History on November 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Toranomon (Tiger Gate)



Toranomon is an area in Tōkyō that is known to have been named after one of the gates of Edo Castle. The gate and the moat and bridge system that made up the area no longer exist. But the name persists officially and any Tōkyōite should be familiar with where the area is.

There are various ways to write the name.

虎門 tora no mon classical “Chinese” writing
虎之御門 tora no go-mon high style writing common on Edo Period maps
(where space allowed)
虎之門 tora no mon casual writing during Edo Period,
affected classical style until the Shōwa Period
虎ノ門 tora no mon Meiji to Shōwa style, used officially by the train and bus companies; the most common writing
虎の門 tora no mon casual style before the advent of predicative text which usually suggests the spelling used by train and bus companies.
no! tora no mon the style I use to annoy people


There are roughly 8 distinct theories that I’ve found – all of varying degrees of dubiety.

It’s based on 四神思想 shijin sōō, a Chinese precept that stated that the 4 seasons and 4 compass directions were controlled by 4 distinct deities. Those gods were:

玄武 genbu the black tortoise, guardian of the north
朱雀 suzaku the vermilion sparrow, guardian of the south
青龍 seiryū/seiryō the blue dragon, guardian of the east
白虎 byakko the white tiger, guardian of the west

Pre-modern Japanese cities, or at least castles and religious buildings, were often laid out according to Chinese principals of 風水 sui feng shui and other similar mythologies. This theory states that the tora tiger is a reference to the White Tiger.

This surprised me because Toranomon is actually the southernmost gate of Edo Castle. So I did a little more research and I found out that the White Tiger and Blue are considered polar opposites in feng shui. Among other things, the Blue Dragon represents the left-hand side, which the White Tiger represents the right-hand side.

This also seems strange because if say north is the top and south is the bottom and the southernmost portion of the castle is the “front,” Toranomon is still south (not west) and just a tad to the left. In fact, if we continue this assumption, there is handful of other gates on the “right side” of the castle – including the actual front gate, 大手門 Ōtemon[i].

But that’s a freaking stretch. Another twist on this theory states that the gate was facing the right. But again, I doubt it was the only gate facing “the right.” And in architectural terms, left and right are relative terms. Only north, south, east, and west are consistent.

So this theory is baffling to me. I’m not sure how it works. If anyone has a clue what’s going on here, let me know. I’d love to know.

Clearly this person has never seen a tiger before.....

Clearly this person has never seen a tiger before…..

The explanation of the 4 gods isn’t all wasted because the second theory maintains that the gate was decorated with a white tiger, clearly a reference to the White Tiger of Chinese mythology. But again, my skeptic radar is flashing again. Is it “clearly a reference” to the White Tiger? I’m not an art history specialist, but tigers (of any color) are common in formal Japanese paintings of the day. The White Tiger of Chinese mythology has certain distinguishing features, but even at that… where is this decorated gate? We have no picture or painting of it. Also, I don’t think wooden castle gates were generally decorated – at least not like temples and funerary gates.  The Bakumatsu/Meiji Era photo I have of the gate doesn’t look very flashy. It’s pretty basic.

The original gate didn’t survive the Meiji Era, so unless there are some fantastic photos of this gate with a tiger on it, I’m not completely sold on this theory either.

The only tiger remaining in the area is this little fellow. And I think this person hasn't seen many real tigers either...

The only tiger remaining in the area is this little fellow.
And I think this person hasn’t seen many real tigers either…

On first coming across this explanation in Japanese, I was totally confused. The translation was “It’s related to tigers, of which it’s said that even if it goes a thousand ri it will return a thousand ri.”[ii]


Well, it turns out this is an old proverb.
In Japanese, it’s 千里ゆくとも無事にて千里を帰る senri yuku to mo buji nite senri wo kaeru. It’s something that was said of tigers (not indigenous to Japan) a little like people in the Anglosphere might say “an elephant never forgets” (even if elephants are not indigenous to their area).

There are 2 interpretations of this proverb:
1) A tiger is an agile and strong animal that hunts with purpose. Even if it travels a long distance on the hunt, it has the determination to walk the same distance back.
2) A tiger is an agile and strong animal that hunts with purpose. But after hunting so far away, it will always return to its young with the fruits of its labor.

This is an interesting theory, but I don’t see how it bears any connection to this particular gate. Maybe if I knew what the original purpose of this gate was, it might help. But this is a pretty random story, in my humble fucking opinion.

A variation on the previous theory is this one (and it’s not much better):
Right before Ōta Dōkan marched off to battle, he stopped here and quoted the proverb 
千里行くとも千里帰るは虎 senri iku tomo senri kaeru ha tora “Tigers, baby. They go the distance and come the fuck back like a boss.”

This is all well and good, but my understanding is that Ōta Dōkan’s fortress was located north of this area near the 大手門 Ōtemon main gate. I don’t see much reason to think he’d be using a gate that was so far from his residence (or that any gate at all existed here at the time). Again, I’m not a castle expert, so if anyone can shed light on this, let me know.

Real white tigers...

Real white tigers…

This was the location of a massive cage that held a tiger given to the shōgunate by emissaries from Korea. The Tokugawa viewed the Korean embassies as paying tribute to the shōgunate (or at least wanted to project it as a tribute).

Well, there were 12 Korean missions to Edo during the Tokugawa Period. The problem with this theory is simple. I can’t find any example of a tiger being imported to the capital. There were diplomatic missions from Korea at the time.

I mentioned in my article on Shinbashi that the area used to be called 芝口 Shibaguchi and that there was a 芝口御門 Shibaguchi Go-Mon Shibaguchi Gate. That gate was built in anticipation of the 1720[iii]. In 1734, the area was ravaged by a fire and never rebuilt[iv]. The Shibaguchi Gate ruins are a short walk from Toranomon. There could be a possible connection.

But a real tiger would have been a real attention-getter in the capital city of Edo – especially if it was located in front of the gate of the outer moat where the townspeople could see it. There doesn’t seem to be any record of this, at least not that I’ve seen.

The only thing I can think of is this: if the tiger died soon, the shōgunate would suffer some embarrassment so they’d try to write this one out of the history books. But if it were “written out of history,” I don’t think it would have persisted as a place name.

Another theory I saw that was related to Korea, which also has nothing to back it up, suggests that Korean emissaries brought a statue of a tiger that was installed in the area. Again, there is an association with Korea missions in this general area, but where’s the statue? Not a single picture or painting remains.

This is taken from an Edo Era map of the area. On the right side you can clearly see the Toranomon gate and mitsuke. Next to that is the office of the Naito clan, their upper residence is located to the left.

This is taken from an Edo Era map of the area.
On the right side you can clearly see the Toranomon gate and mitsuke.
Next to that is the office of the Naito clan, their upper residence is located to the left.

The last theory I’ve found is this… There were many 虎の尾 Tora no O tiger’s tail (a kind of flowering plant) growing in the area on the grounds of the residence of the Naitō family[v] who lived inside the gate. I checked some Edo Period maps and the Naitō clan possessed two major properties just within the gate, one of which was their Upper Residence, but they had building for government affairs right next to the gate. But sadly, again, I don’t know how to confirm this botanically-based etymology. The geography matches up, but there’s no way to confirm the presence of these plants.

The second variation is that on the Naitō property there was a particularly spectacular  sakura cherry blossom tree that had the shape of a lion’s tail.

Tora no o is a kind of sakura (cherry blossom) but it's also a kind of flowering plant....

Tora no o is a kind of sakura (cherry blossom) but it’s also a kind of flowering plant….

The etymologies say it was  cherry blossoms that grew in the area, but this unique plant has the same name.

The etymologies say it was cherry blossoms that grew in the area, but this unique plant has the same name.

The gate was demolished/knocked down in 1873 (Meiji 6) but the name continued to be used for the area, in particular the main intersection (many Tōkyō neighborhoods derive their place names from old local landmarks that persist in intersection names that became train station and bus stops in the Meiji and Taishō Eras).

In 1949 the area got the official name 虎ノ門町 toranomon-chō. In 1977, it received an official postal code under the name 虎ノ門 Toranomon.

So there you have it. 8 theories on the origins of this place name and unfortunately I have no way of confirming a single one of them. The name of the gate seem firmly in place since the expansion of Edo Castle under the Tokugawa, but the all of the above etymologies are clearly suspect. However, I hope I might be allowed to be so bold as to throw this idea out there:  is it possible that there is no story behind this name at all. They might have just chosen the name because the gate needed a name and since tigers are bad ass they chose to give the gate a bad ass name? I mean this was a samurai government after all. Samurai loved bad ass things like tigers and dragons and shit. Just my two cents.

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[i] I haven’t covered Otemachi yet, but I have covered Marunouchi.

[ii] 千里 senri 1000 ri = about 2,440 miles, but was generally used to mean “a long distance” without any specific numerical meaning attached to it.

[iii] 1719? I have conflicting dates for this mission.

[v] I mentioned the Naitō in my article on Shinjuku. They were originally from 岡崎 Okazaki but later were the lords of of 高遠藩 Takatō Han Takatō Domain (located in modern Nagano). Their lower residence in Shinjuku became 新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen Shinjuku Gyoen National Park.

UPDATE: This is a different branch of the Naitō clan. These were the lords of 延岡藩 Nobeoka Han Nobeoka Domain (in present day Miyazaki Prefecture (Kyūshū).

What does Katsushika mean?

In Japanese History on November 4, 2013 at 2:50 am

Katsushika (Adorned with Kuzu)

What does Katsushika mean?

This is kuzu, sometimes incorrectly spelled kudzu.

kuzu Japanese Arrowroot,
a reed-like grass that grows in wetlands
shika decoration, ornament, embellishment

This is a very ancient name.

The former 下総国葛飾郡 Shimōsa no kuni Katsushika-gun Katsushika District, Shimōsa Province consisted of areas that are today Tōkyō, Chiba, Ibaraki, and Saitama. This wide area comprised the modern areas of: to the north, Katsushika District, Saitama Prefecture; to the west, Sumida Ward and the eastern half of Kōtō Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis; to the east, Koga City, Ibaraki Prefecture; and to the south, Edogawa Ward, Tōkyō and Urayasu City, Chiba Prefecture.

Shimosa Province

This is Shimosa Province. The area marked #1 was the Katsushika District.

The name is attested in the 万葉集 Man’yōshū so we know this is an ancient name[i]. The probability of it not being Japanese in origin is high. As mentioned in previous articles, the kanji used in pre-Edo Period Tōkyō place names should always be taken with a grain of salt[ii].

There are various theories, but none of them are certain.

1 – Katsushika’s かつ katsu comes from an older word カテ kate or ト kato which meant cliff, hill, or knoll. しか comes from an older スカ which meant “sandbar.” The general idea being that this name referred to the lowlands on the right bank and the elevated ridge on the left bank of the 利根川 Tonegawa Tone River (present day 江戸川 Edogawa Edo River[iii]).

2 – The name was given to the area by the “people of the south sea”[iv]. According to this theory, in whatever dialect or language these people spoke it referred to a hunting ground.

3 – The kanji is literal. katsu is an on’yomi[v] and nanori[vi] of kuzu arrowroot. shika is the nanori of kazaru to decorate. Arrowroot is a kind of vine that grows near rivers. It’s an invasive plant that quickly spreads and takes over an area. It is used to make some kinds of jellies for Japanese sweets. If this etymology is accepted, the meaning is then literally “a field or area decorated (overgrown with) Japanese Arrowroot.”

Here is a lowland area overtaken by kuzu.

Here is a lowland area overtaken by kuzu.

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[i] The Man’yōshū is an ancient text written in a kind of ateji. Here is an article on the text. Here is an article on ateji.

[ii] The kanji used in the Man’yōshū – which are all ateji – are 勝鹿 win + deer and 勝牡鹿 win + male deer and 可豆思賀 nice + bean + think + auspicious. These kanji are meaningless and don’t give any indication of etymology.

[iii] This river was famous for changing course after major floods and tsunamis until the area was wealthy enough to implement proper urban planning. The present Edogawa flows through the ancient course, emptying into Edo Bay (Tōkyō Bay).

[iv] 南洋系の民族 nan’yō-kei no minzoku people from the south sea is a mysterious term that may refer to other immigrant groups coming from the south, or may be a direct reference to the spread of Yamato culture, or may refer to older Yayoi or even Ainu people who just moved into the area at some point. I find this explanation ridiculously unclear – it’s obviously over my head.

[v] The Chinese reading of the kanji.

[vi] A set of common readings of a kanji used in names.

What does Yurakucho mean?

In Japanese History on October 2, 2013 at 11:51 pm

Yūrakuchō (Town where you can have a good time)

Yurakucho Station. The elevated train has been a feature of the area for a long time.

Yurakucho Station.
The elevated train has been a feature of the area for a long time.

, u

is the default reading, it means “have” or “possess” or “exist.”


U usually has a Buddhist meaning of bhava, ie; “becoming.” The Buddhist meaning is the original meaning and you’ll see why later.



 ease, comfort, leisure; music

chō, machi

Even in the old days, the elevated train has been part of the scenery.

Even in the old days, the elevated train has been part of the scenery.

If you look at the kanji for Yūrakuchō, you might think this is a quarter of the city that is reserved for debauchery. It’s next to Ginza. It’s near Hibiya and Nihonbashi. It’s close enough to Shinbashi (which is debauched in its own right). It’s located in the southern end of Marunouchi[i]. Today the area doesn’t seem like much to the modern eye. It’s famous for business, shopping, and kind of plain in my opinion, but there are some interesting places to drink there. (Each of those links is to the Japan This! etymology of those places, hint hint wink wink.)

However, if you look at a map of Edo, you’ll notice this area is right next to 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. As I mentioned in my article on Marunouchi, it was within the outer moat of Edo Castle and one of the features of this place was a long road lined with the high walls and gates of the 上屋敷 kami yashiki upper residences[ii] of the most elite feudal lords.

Today Yurakucho is boring. It's Ginza's embarrassing  little sister.

Today Yurakucho is boring. It’s Ginza’s embarrassing little sister.
And that stupid elevated train is still there.

The Official Story

If you look just about anywhere, people will say that the area is named after one Oda Nagamasu, the younger brother of Oda Nobunaga.

織田長益 Oda Nagamasu was a daimyō who was in the service of 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He was a pupil of 千利休 Sen no Rikkyū – the proverbial Godfather of Funk[iii]. He assumed his DJ name 有楽斎 Yūrakusai or 有楽 Yūraku[iv]. The difference between the two names is the kanji 斎 sai which is closely related to Zen Buddhism. I’m not a specialist on Buddhism, but I think this refers to sharing a meal (or in this case, a drink) in a spiritual situation. As mentioned earlier, the kanji with the specialized reading u is also closely connected to Buddhism.

So according to the story that usually gets touted on NHK and Wikipedia[v] and what in-the-know Tōkyōites generally repeat is the area was named after Oda Nagamasu, AKA Yūraku.

Sounds legit, right?

Oda Nagamasu (Yuuraku) - the man himself.

Oda Nagamasu (Yuuraku) – the man himself.
Do you like his apron?

Lords had to have a residence (they generally had 3 in Edo)
So, where was the Oda family residence?

天童藩織田家上屋敷 Tendō Han Oda-ke kami yashiki the Upper Residence of the Tendō Domain Oda Family[vi] was located where the present day 三菱ビル Mitsubishi Biru Mitsubishi Building and 丸の内三丁目ビル Marunouchi San-chōme Building are located. Today this area is called Marunouchi, but it’s a bit of a walk from present day Yūrakuchō. So the remaining family of Oda Nobunaga definitely was living in the area… just not in the area that is called Yūrakuchō. And in Edo Period terms, there seems little reason to transfer the name from this part of Daimyō Alley[vii] to present day Yūrakuchō.

This is Marunouchi, not Yurakucho, but you can see the proximity to the inner moat.

This is Marunouchi, not Yurakucho, but you can see the proximity to the inner moat.

So I had to dig a little deeper.

It seems there are a few theories.

1 – Oda Yūraku had a residence here
Any Edo Era map I’ve looked at clearly delineates the 上屋敷 kami yashiki upper residence of the Tendō Oda family as a modest residence (by daimyō standards) located on a corner of Daimyō Alley. Present day Yūrakuchō was the location of extremely large palaces of various branches of the Matsudaira[viii]. Although Yūraku lived until 1621[ix], I can’t find any evidence that he actually maintained a residence in the area. After the winter and summer sieges of Ōsaka, when the Tokugawa and their newly established 幕府 bakufu shōgunate put down the last pocket of Toyotomi resistance, it seems that he lived a life outside of politics and in relative seclusion in Kyōto. He may have visited Edo, but again, there’s no evidence of this.

This is a view of "maru no uchi."  Daimyo Alley is street highlighted in red. The hot pink square is the Oda Residence.  Note that Yurakucho is quite far from here.

This is a view of “maru no uchi.”
Daimyo Alley is the street highlighted in red.
The hot pink square is the Oda Residence.
Note that Yurakucho is quite far from here.

2 – Yūraku ga Hara
Having retired from his daimyōship, Yūraku dedicated his life to practicing tea ceremony. This theory states that he maintained a modest residence in the area to perform tea ceremonies with the powerful daimyō in the area and with shōgun Ieyasu and shōgun Hidetada. This residence fell into ruins and became 有楽ヶ原 Yūraku ga Hara Yūraku’s Field[x]. The name Yūraku ga Hara first appears in records during the reign of the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu. Iemitsu’s reign was from 1623 to 1651. If Yūraku had a residence here, it would have been empty for 2 years at the time of Iemitsu’s ascension.

3 – Yūraku established many tea houses here
This theory states that being a passionate 茶人 chajin tea practitioner, he established many 数寄屋 sukiya tea houses[xi] in the area. This would be for the daimyō in the area to enjoy tea without leaving the confines of the outer enclosure of Edo-jō.  There was a bridge in the area with this name in the Edo Period. The moat was covered up in 1958 in preparation for the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics (dick move, Tōkyō). The area is still referred to as Sukiyabashi and Shin-sukiyabashi[xii]. Another theory along this line states that although Yūraku never left Kyōto, many tea houses built in accordance to his practice were located here (I assume by his followers, who were all daimyō anyway).

4 – There was one tea house here and Yūraku ga Hara was its ruins
This theory is a variation of Theory 2. There wasn’t a residence here, but a single tea house. Yūraku, or one of his descendants or followers, established a tea house here. A decent sukiya has an outer garden (with many plants and trees to block outside distractions) and an inner garden (much simpler and sparse to avoid distractions if the doors/windows inside the tea house are open). This would have required a substantial amount of space. The theory states that the tea house was near the bridge and after Yūraku died, it fell into ruins and the area was just a deserted lot – a deserted lot with a name.

5 – Ura ga Hara → Yūra ga Hara
The final theory is intriguing. It states that the name has absolutely nothing to do with Oda Nagamasu or tea or teahouses. The name is a remnant of the original geography of the land. This theory states that the Hibiya Inlet stopped here[xiii]. This theory operates off the premise that there was a 原 hara field near the 浦 ura inlet. That is, it was an 浦ヶ原 Ura ga Hara (a field near the inlet).

So those are the stories….

Sukiyabashi when there was still a river and a bridge.

Sukiyabashi when there was still a river and a bridge.

As I mentioned, the name Yūraku ga Hara appears in some records. This is roughly 25 years into Tokugawa rule, but like much at that time, names are not so official. I have to add to this, 50 years later Oda clan’s connection to the Tokugawa was just hereditary bullshit. True, they were located in Daimyō Alley, but in such a small compound, one can’t help but imagine the later shōgunate considered the contemporary descendants of the Oda family as irrelevant. Worthy of respect[xiv]. But irrelevant.



After the Edo Period

The small island that made up what was a prestigious compound of daimyō residences was annexed by the emperor and the daimyō had to return to their fiefs. In 1872 (Meiji 5), the name Yūrakuchō became official. This is after the Ginza Taika, a massive conflagration[xv] that burnt down much of Yūrakuchō, Ginza, and Marunouchi. This was an awesome opportunity for the new Meiji Government occupying the newly renamed Tōkyō Castle.

What was so awesome about it? In my opinion, nothing. But for those who overthrew the shōgunate, it was a chance to rebuild Tōkyō – not Edo – according to their own vision. After the fire, the land was cleared out and the Meiji Army used it as a place for military exercises[xvi]. Famously, in 1890 (i.e.; 20 years later), Iwasaki Yanosuke, the second successive president of the Mitsubishi Corporation and the 4th president of the Bank of Japan bought the former outer enclosure of Edo Castle and began development of the area as a business district. The Sukiyabashi area still retained the bridge and whether it was really connected with Oda Nagamasu or not probably didn’t matter. The bridge’s name seemed to refer to a tea house. The Oda clan had lived nearby. An Oda family member was a famous tea practitioner. It could be true or it could be early Meiji marketing.

Can we Know the Truth?

I’ve wanted to write about this one for a while now, but the “official story” is so ingrained in the history of Tōkyō and because of the location within the former grounds of Edo Castle and the connection to the establishment of the Tokugawa shōgunate and the demise of the Toyotomi compounded by all of the bravado of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, maybe we’ll never be able to get to the truth. The alleged link to tea culture and this place name and the well documented fervor with which the daimyō of the Sengoku Period and anyone with a little money in the Edo Period appreciated tea culture further obscures the origin of this place name. My personal opinion is this: as a skeptic, I can’t buy into any of these theories wholesale. But there are connections and common threads between all of them. I’m gonna err on the conservative side. Maybe a follower of Yūraku (or maybe Yūraku himself) had a sukiya (tea house) in the area. Then again, who knows? Maybe it’s a pre-Tokugawa reference to the Hibiya Inlet. That doesn’t seem unreasonable either.

Edo Castle - Sukiyabashi

Edo Castle – Sukiyabashi

So what’s up with the spelling of the name?

So is homie’s name Uraku or Yūraku? It’s hard to pinpoint but in Ōsaka his name is preserved in a town with the same name… but different pronunciation. In Ōsaka, it’s 有楽町 Uraku-machi. In Tōkyō it’s 有楽町 Yūraku-chō. I can’t find much consensus on this, but it seems that in his time, by his own reading of the kanji, Nagamasu’s assumed name was read as うらく Uraku. He lived out the rest of life in Kyōto where we may be able to assume a family tradition or local tradition preserved the pronunciation Uraku. In Edo or other parts of Japan that didn’t have a strong connection to the man – at least not in a direct sense – the kanji was more readily read as Yūraku[xvii].

Edo Castle - Sukiyabashi

Edo Castle – Sukiyabashi

Another Mystery

One final thing I’d like to mention. In the beginning, I deliberately mentioned that 有 u and 斎 sai have Buddhist connotations. If you see a picture of him, he has a shaved head and wears the clothes of Buddhist monk. But supposedly, while still a daimyō he converted to Christianity in 1588 and took the baptismal name ジョアン Joan, the Portuguese version of John. Many Japanese did this during this time. In 1590, Nagamasu assumed the named Uraku (or Urakusai) when he became a Buddhist monk. He retired from politics after the Siege of Ōsaka (1614-1615). Some people say he was a Christian. Some people say he was a Buddhist. Japanese religion is syncretic, so I’d venture to say he cherry-picked what he liked from both religions. As he is buried in a Buddhist temple in Kyōto and his approach to tea seems very Zen, I would venture to say he was more or less a Buddhist. He may have abandoned Christianity altogether. But again, this is a mystery and I’m just putting forth my own conjecture.

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[i] This was once part of the grounds of Edo Castle where the daimyō closest to Tokugawa Ieyasu held their residences for their 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai service (alternate attendance). Click here for more about sankin-kōtai.

[iii] Oooops, no… he’s the godfather of tea. But just to clarify, he didn’t bring tea to Japan. That happened hundreds of years earlier. He didn’t invent the tea ceremony either. But many people, from his own time until present day, consider his aesthetic approach to tea as the pinnacle of tea ceremony. Most of the modern “schools” of tea ceremony are derived from his followers, including Oda Nobumasu (Yūraku).

[iv] I’ll address the pronunciation in a while. But for those who want spoilers, the name can be read as both Uraku and Yūraku.  Also this wasn’t really his DJ name. They didn’t have DJ’s back then, silly. This assumed name is called号 gō, a kind of sobriquet.

[v] If you want a good laugh, the Wikipedia version is pretty ridiculous.

[vi] Why wasn’t the Oda family in control of Owari (Western Aichi Prefecture)? Because when Nobunaga died, that area was re-assigned. Eventually it became a Tokugawa holding.

[viii] The Tokugawa were actually a branch of the much older Matsudaira clan.

[ix] Tokugawa Ieyasu himself lived until 1616. Yūraku died at age 75, Ieyasu as at age 73. So these men were very much contemporaries. Keep that in mind as the story goes on…

[xi] Sukiya is a type of tea house. Read more about it here.

[xii] The movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi made this area famous when the shop became known outside of Japan as the best sushi shop in the world – an assertion that is met with mixed responses or blank stares when brought up with Tōkyōites.

[xiv] The system called 家元 iemoto was an officially recognized system that demanded patrilineal succession of family businesses or, in the case of the shōgunal famiy, direct rule over the 天下 tenka Japan.

[xv] More about conflagrations at you know where!

[xvi] No doubt a propaganda tool to discourage any pissed off ex-samurai from starting an insurgency.

[xvii] If I ever write “readily read” again, please shoot me.

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