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Posts Tagged ‘etymology’

What does Kioi-chō mean?

In Japanese History on March 23, 2016 at 7:16 am

(Kii Owari Ii Town)

I wasn’t planning on doing this place name because… well, I’ll be honest. I’d never heard of it before. But after my last article on 永田町 Nagata-chō, my friend Rekishi no Tabi[i] got on my case about my treatment of Katō Kiyomasa. In the end, I’m pretty sure we share the same opinions of the dude – or at least of the Tokugawa Shōgunate’s view of him and his family, but our conversation led to an addendum to the article. Then he brought this place name to my attention. It’s inextricably linked to the story of Nagata-chō.

It’s also related to James Bond.

Didn’t see that coming? Neither did I.

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji


Abbreviation of 紀伊

Kishū Tokugawa-ke
Tokugawa of Kishū Domain[ii]


Abbreviation of 尾張

Owari Tokugawa-ke
Tokugawa of Owari Domain[iii]


Abbreviation of 井伊

Ii clan of Hikone Domain[iv]


If you read your footnotes like a good girl or boy, you should know that the Kii and Owari branches of the Tokugawa family were 2 of the 3 most elite cadastral branches of the family. These bloodlines derived from the male children of Tokugawa Ieyasu who were not in line for succession of the office of shōgun. The Ii family, while not directly related to the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family, always enjoyed a special connection to the shōgunate and the shōgunate – one that culminated in the appointment of the 16th lord of Hikone Domain, 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke, as 大老 tairō shōgunal regent.

Related Articles:

So… What’s the Connection?

The name of the area that’s called Kioi-chō today seems to be derived from an Edo Period nickname that blended these 3 names into one. You see, in those days the 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residences of Kii, Owari, and the Ii were located in the area. The hill that led up to these palatial estates came to be called 紀尾井坂 Kioi-zaka Ki-O-I Hill.


Why the Hell did they Name the Hill?

The explanation is 2-fold, maybe even 3-fold depending on your familiarity with Japan. If you’ve never been to Japan, you’re probably used to streets having names. They’re probably usually laid on in a grid pattern, too. In Tōkyō, street names and grid patterns are the exception, not the rule.

Japanese castle towns – and Edo-Tōkyō in particular – spiral out from the center of the town (ie; the castle). A daimyō would be given a huge estate here, minor shōgunate officials would be assigned there, townspeople would be put in another place, but each 町 chō town was more or less segregated from the other towns. They were also built as needed. From a modern urban planning perspective, this is a nightmare of the highest order. But before you criticize, just know that Rome – arguably the most influential western city of the ancient world developed in a somewhat similar way.

Anyhoo, because of its abundance of alleys and lack of symmetry, naming streets was sort of unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. The local people used landmarks and geographical features to develop a vocabulary of their own to talk about their neighborhoods[v]. The result of this, there is a plethora of geographically-based places names and, yeah, hills get named too. This has given rise to an obscure type of nerd in Japan: the hill nerd. They read about, visit, photograph, and blog about hills in Japan. Their influence is so strong that Tōkyō’s 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward actually posts signs on all of its major hills that explain the etymology of the name in one or two sentences.

new otani

James Bond in Kioi-chō at the New Otani Hotel… errr, I mean at Osato Chemical & Engineering Co., LTD., a front group for SPECTRE.

It’s James Bond, Bitch. James Bond!

The area is typically 山手 yamanote high city. As such it’s hilly and has a lot of trees and greenery. Many old daimyō residences have been turned into huge office spaces and luxury hotels. Kioi-chō is no different. The area has always been an exclusive residential area, but also an exclusive area for hotels, in particular for minor heads of state and politically connected CEO’s. Because of the area’s proximity to the 国会議事堂 Kokkai Gijidō National Diet and the former residences of the imperial princes in 赤坂 Akasaka and the emperor himself at 旧江戸城 kyū-Edo-jō former Edo Castle, it’s often associated with 議員宿舎 Gi’in Shukusha apartments for the members of the National Diet. If you’re an elected representative from, say, Okinawa, you need a residence in Tōkyō to do your job. Of course, you can buy your own place in Tōkyō or just crash at the place you bought for your mistress, but most likely you’re going to stay at the government subsidized shukusha – especially when your family comes to visit you in the big city because, you know, mistresses.


Oh, look! There’s that hill we’ve heard so much about.

I haven’t seen the movie for ages, so I don’t know if they allude to any of this, but this governmental connection to what the Cold War west would have called the intelligentsia was most likely behind the decision to shoot a certain car chase scene in Kioi-chō in the 1967 James Bond movie 007は二度死ぬ Daburu Ō Sebun Wa Nido Shinu You Only Live Twice. Japan had been a pariah in both the east and west after WWII, and the 1964 Olympics did a lot to showcase a kinder, gentler Japan – a more modern Japan. You Only Live Twice really capitalized on exoticizing Japan – the book does much more than the movie – but it presented Japan as a Cold War ally to the west at a time that China, Korea, and Vietnam were pretty much the de factō enemy communist kids who didn’t play fair in the sandbox.


This is Helga Brandt, Mr. Osato’s secretary. She reprimand’s James Bond for smoking, telling him that “Mr. Osato believes in a healthy chest.” No shit. That’s an actual line from this scene. (Later, she’s eaten by piranhas.)

James Bond under the alias Mr. Fisher visits Osato Industries and after the initial meeting receives a death sentence from the company’s CEO. From there, the most geographically ridiculous car chase scene ever ensues. It goes from god-knows-where to Kioi-chō/Akasaka/Nagata-chō to the Japanese countryside and then back to the Bay Area where you can see Tōkyō Tower.

But if all of that wasn’t mind blowing; get this! The screenplay was written by Roald fucking Dahl. Does that name sound familiar? That’s the guy who wrote Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.


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[i] Not only is Rekishi no Tabi a dude who knows his shit about Japanese History, he’s an amazing photographer who produces some of the most awe inspiring photography of Japan. Sometimes I take a nice picture here and there, but he’s the real “Photography Yoda” of Japanese History. I highly recommend that you follow his work on Flickr.
[ii] The Kii Tokugawa were one of the 御三家 go-san-ke 3 Honorable Families – branches of the main Tokugawa line that could provide a male heir to be accepted into the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family in the case the main line couldn’t produce a successor itself. The go-san-ke  were the Mito Tokugawa, the Owari Tokugawa, and the Kii Tokugawa.
[iii] The Owari Tokugawa were one of the 御三家 go-san-ke 3 Honorable Families – branches of the main Tokugawa line that could provide a male heir to be accepted into the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family in the case the main line couldn’t produce a successor itself. The go-san-ke  were the Mito Tokugawa, the Owari Tokugawa, and the Kii Tokugawa.
[iv] The Ii were longtime allies of the Tokugawa in Western Japan since the Sengoku Period.
[v] This is still very much a feature of giving directions or talking about places in Tōkyō today. “Go straight 2 blocks on 1st street, turn right. Walk 3 blocks on Pine Avenue, turn left on 5th Street, and the post office is on your right” just doesn’t work. Usually what you’ll hear is something more along the lines of “Go straight. When you see the train station, turn right. Go straight and when you see bakery, turn left. The post office will be on your right hand side. It’s across from the bookstore.”

What does Shinjuku mean?

In Japanese History on February 10, 2016 at 3:22 am

(new post town)

koshu kaido naito-shinjuku

Shinjuku Dōri – this is where it all began.

Today’s article is long overdue. I originally wrote about Shinjuku in February 2013. The blog has matured a lot since then and I think there’s a lot more to say about the history of the area. The etymology is straightforward and was correct in the original article, but I just wanted to go into more detail. After all, Shinjuku isn’t just one of the busiest and most important places in Tōkyō; it’s arguably one of the busiest and most important places in the world. Also, just like Roppongi and Shibuya, Shinjuku has its fair share of both lovers and haters[i].

By the way, there are tons of footnotes[ii] in this article. As always, I suggest you use them. This is a pretty messy story.

My Previous Articles on Shinjuku:

shinjuku crazy

Shinjuku – skyscrapers, densely packed shopping and residential areas. Some are pristine, some are filthy (by Japanese standards, which is clean by many other standards lol).

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji

The kanji are fairly straightforward and longtime readers will probably want to skip to the next section, but for those of you aren’t so familiar with the kanji, here they are.



yado; shuku/juku

inn; suffix attached to a place name to indicate that it’s a post town

A note about pronunciation. In the 下町言葉 shitamachi kotoba low city dialect, the pronunciation Shinjiku and Shinshiku are sometimes heard. This usually isn’t done in daily conversation anymore, but is a feature of 落語 rakugo traditional story telling[iii]. I don’t know if it’s a true dialectal variant or an affectation. Also, in other parts of the country the kanji 新宿 can also be read as: Shinshuku, Niijuku, Arajuku, and Arayado. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

five highways.png

The so-called Gokaidō, or 5 Highways.

Famously, there were 5 highways leading to and from Edo[iv].  Of those five 街道 kaidō highways, one was the 甲州街道 Kōshu Kaidō which led from 日本橋 Nihonbashi in central Edo to 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain[v] in modern 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture, an important Tokugawa holding. Long time readers will know that before trains and cars, people walked everywhere. If you lived in Edo and wanted to go to any place in Japan, you just had to walk there. Depending on where you wanted to go, this could take weeks. Along the way, you had to sleep somewhere. As a result, a series of 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns were created to accommodate travelers[vi]. 宿 shuku, as you know means “inn” and 場 ba means “place” and 町 machi means “town.” These towns provided food, lodging, and ample opportunities for drinking and whoring.

At the beginning of the Edo Period, the original first rest town on the Kōshū Kaidō was in 高井戸宿 Takaido-shuku Takaido Post Town located in modern 杉並区Suginami-ku Suginami Ward. On a modern paved road, this walk could take you about 3 ½ hours. On an Edo Period road using Edo Period walking shoes, it would have taken a little longer. In addition to that, if you were a daimyō, you would be expected to proceed at a respectable pace and make a spectacle of your entourage which would make the same journey take even longer. Keep in mind that 3-4 hour calculation is assuming you actually started counting at Nihonbashi. If you came from some other area, there’s no telling how long it could take to get to Takaido-shuku.

Some Related Articles:


naito family crest upside down

The family crest of the Naitō family is a hanging wisteria. But in Shinjuku, the family crest is depicted upside down. It’s a mystery.

The Rise of Naitō-Shinjuku

In 1590, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu granted the 内藤家 Naitō-ke Naitō clan[vii] a massive fief outside of Edo to monitor traffic on the Kōshū Kaidō and the 鎌倉街道 Kamakura Kaidō. Later, this fief would become the Naitō clan’s 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki suburban residence[viii]. The land given to the Naitō clan was eventually deemed excessive compared to the 石高 kokudaka rice value[ix] of 高遠藩 Takatō Han Takatō Domain. So a certain section of the land was confiscated by the shōgunate and repurposed as a post town. The town came to be called 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku Naitō New Post Town.

the end

The End

Wait. What? Who the fuck are the Naitō?
And Takatō Domain? Dude, You Got Way Ahead of Yourself…

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry! I just wanted to give a quick overview. Bear with me (or bare with me, if you wanna), and I’ll explain everything. I promise.

The name Naitō will be attached to the place name Shinjuku for most of its existence, so let’s look into this family just a little bit.

Born in 1555 in 三河国岡崎 Mikawa no Kuni Okazaki Okazaki, Mikawa Province, a certain 内藤清成 Naitō Kiyonari was an important retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu[x]. In 1560, as a result of the 桶狭間之戦い Okehazama no Tatakai Battle of Okehazama, Tokugawa Ieyasu regained control of his family’s ancestral stronghold at 岡崎城 Okazaki-jō Okazaki Castle. This alliance with 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga was the beginning of Ieyasu’s rise to power and influence. This worked out nicely for all the Mikawa samurai. In 1580, Naitō Kiyonari was made the mentor of Ieyasu’s 3rd son (and future 2nd shōgun), 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada. At the time, he was 25 and Hidetada was just 2.

In 1590, Ieyasu gave up control of the ancestral Tokugawa lands in Mikawa Province and assumed control of the 関東八州 Kantō Hasshū 8 Kantō Provinces. This relocation meant a massive elite transfer. That is, all of Ieyasu’s Mikawa samurai moved to Edo. In the same year, he requested that Naitō Kiyonari also come to Edo to continue attending Hidetada in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. He granted him a large swath of land that provided tactical support to the villages surrounding the intersection of the Kōshū Kaidō and Kamakura Kaidō. The new fief spanned from 四谷 Yotsuya to 代々木 Yoyogi[xi]. At the time, this area was country. It was essentially the undeveloped areas west of the outer moat of Edo Castle. Since it existed outside of the original castle town and was developed by daimyō and 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the Tokugawa, it can be considered 山手 yamanote[xii] the high city.

Oh, and speaking of hatamoto and daimyō and all that. When Naitō Kiyonari came to Edo with Ieyasu, he came as a hatamoto. The clan’s luck changed for the better in 1691. At that time, the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi elevated the Naitō clan’s rank. In 1698, the shōgunate made 内藤清枚 Naitō Kiyokazu daimyō of Takatō Domain in present day 長野県 Nagano-ken Nagano Prefecture.


You’ve got mail… from the shōgun.

Bureaucracy. It’s a Bitch.

By this time, Edo had been the Tokugawa capital for about 100 years. Although Ieyasu had granted Kiyokazu’s ancestor, Kiyonari, a vast swath of land, the rules about daimyō and rank had become stricter. Edo was expanding out into the country as well. This wasn’t the Sengoku Period anymore.

I mentioned it earlier, but with their newly earned daimyō status, the Naitō clan were under closer scrutiny by the 老中 rōjū shōgun’s chief advisors. The value of their new fief in Takatō wasn’t high enough to warrant such a large landholding in Kantō. It was bigger than or as big as most of the holdings of the richest daimyō – families that had been daimyō for a much longer time and who commanded huge domains. The shōgunate confiscated a section of the Naitō estate to make things seem fair. The area they were most interested in was the land where the Kōshū Kaidō and the 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō Ōme Highway intersected. This seemed like a good place to establish a shukuba machi (post town). The local villages had already been servicing the Naitō clan’s residence for almost 100 years. A local economy was present on both highways. Making an official post town in the area could take some of the onus off of Takaido and 伝馬町 Denma-chō[xiii] and build up a stronger suburban economy.

Even though the Naitō clan took a hit in terms of landholdings, the newly created shukuba, Naitō-Shinjuku, was destined to be a success – a wet, sticky, hot mess of a success.

Some related reading:


Stereotypical image of a post town.

So, What was Naitō-Shinjuku?

Well, before the name Naitō Shinjuku got thrown around, the small town that popped up to service the palatial estate of the Naitō was called Naitō Machi literally “Naitō Town.”[xiv] This was the commoner district outside of the Naitō compound. So, a strong case could be made that the original name of Shinjuku was actually Naitō Machi. The addition of the word Shinjuku definitely came later.

harbinger of things to come

The green areas are the post town. The yellow areas are shrines, temples, and roads. The weird blue line is the Tama Jōsui (Tama Aqueduct). You’ll probably want to come back to this map later.

As I mentioned before, the original fief given to Kiyonari was later reduced when the family was given daimyō status and the area became a shimo-yashiki. But make no mistake about it; the plot of land held by the Naitō was still expansive. Modern 新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen Shinjuku Imperial Park is more or less the former Naitō estate.


This section of the Naitō residence was said to be open to the public.

The Naitō knew what a fantastic rural palace they had. They built several spacious gardens with manmade hills, ponds, and all manner of flowers and trees. The family was apparently very generous to the local people and opened up the玉川園 Tamagawa-en Tamagawa Garden to the general public each season[xv]. Tamagawa-en is easily counted among some of the most famous attractions of the Edo[xvi]. Even to this day, some of the cherry blossoms trees in Shinjuku Gyoen are said to be about 400 years old[xvii].

Related reading:

hiroshige ever the jokester

Utagawa Hiroshige – ever the jokester. What do you think this painting is about?

But it wasn’t all ice cream, daimyō gardens, and puppy dogs. Day to day life in the area was pretty mundane most of the time. From the Edo Period until the American Occupation, Shinjuku was notorious for drinking and whoring – and by that, I mean the unlicensed sort[xviii]. Since local unlicensed sex industries were a taboo topic, the Naitō Machi area was perhaps best known a relay station. This meant the shōgunate kept horse stables here for messengers who had to relay important messages quickly. The presence of a lot of horses meant this area was famously covered in 馬糞 bafun horse manure – or less politely maguzo horse shit. It’s said that on hot days, pedestrians and horses kicked up dust clouds of dirt and dry shit and the air was yellow and foul.

The neighborhood of 新宿区四谷4丁目 Shinjuku-ku Yotsuya yon-chōme 4th block of Yotsuya, Shinjuku Ward was called 四谷大木戸 Yotsuya Ōkido. This is because from 1616 to 1792 a special 関所 sekisho check point stood here. An ōkido – literally “large wooden door” – was the name given to the border stations that protected the routes in and out of the shōgun’s capital. Edo had 3 main ōkido:



Itabashi Ōkido


Takanawa Ōkido


Yotsuya Ōkido

Kōshū Kaidō

Travelers coming in and out of Edo would show their paperwork, and if approved they’d be admitted into the city. But apparently by the 1790’s, the shōgunate didn’t see the need for such precautions anymore.


The entrance to Naitō Shinjuku was the Yotsuya Ōkido. The entrance was never this fortified, though. This looks like the center of a castle town, but this drawing was done in the the Late Edo Period when ōkido basically didn’t exist anymore.

Let’s Take a Stroll through Naitō-Shinjuku

Travelers coming in would pass the ōkido and continue on the Kōshū Kaidō through the post town. The area covered present day 新宿一丁目 Shinjuku Icchōme 1st block of Shinjuku, 二丁目 Ni-chōme 2nd block, and 三丁目 San-chōme 3rd block. Today, that stretch of road is called 新宿通り Shinjuku Dōri Shinjuku Street. The street was lined with all kinds of shops and inns and would have been like any other shukuba machi. The town ended when you arrived at a fork in the road in an area called 淀橋 Yodobashi[xix]. This fork was the beginning of the Ōmekaidō[xx].

naito shinjuku diorama.jpg

Everybody loves dioramas!

The post town gained quite a reputation in its first 20 years. There were 52 inns in addition to other businesses. Supposedly, nearly every business in Naitō-Shinjuku offered prostitutes as an additional service. It was so bad that the 奉行所 bugyōsho magistrate’s office was regularly hounded by the proprietors of shops in 吉原 Yoshiwara[xxi] who complained that they couldn’t compete with pricing and availability[xxii]. They insisted that the shōgunate either ban prostitution in Naitō-Shinjuku or at the very least regulate the shit out of it. After a fire devastated the area, the shōgunate mulled the costs of rebuilding. Compounded by complaints from rich proprietors in Yoshiwara, the post town was shut down in 1718.

More reading:

Shinjuku Dori.JPG

You may want to refer to the map I posted earlier. This is the modern route from the Yotsuya Ōkido to the split from the Kōshū Kaidō to the Ōmekaidō.

The Shut Down of Naitō-Shinjuku

However, the party didn’t stop – it just slowed down… but it slowed down a lot.

In the same year, the 8th shōgun, 徳川吉宗 Tokugawa Yoshimune, enacted a series of sumptuary laws called the 享保の改革の最 Kyōhō no Kaikaku Kyōhō Reforms. One of his reforms was aimed at restricting unlicensed prostitution and stated that 旅籠屋一軒につき飯盛女は2人まで hatago-ya ikken ni tsuki meshimori onna futari made inns for travelers may have no more than 2 meshimori onna per shop. Meshimori onna is the Japanese word for girls who served meals and provided sexual favors in post towns. That meant a town like Naitō-Shinjuku could now be regulated so the town was back in business almost as quickly as it had been shut down.

Edo Period Street Walkers.jpg

We’re not a post town anymore. Now we’re just a 岡場所 (okabasho), a local red light district.

The problem was that without its post town status people were passing through and staying at the original first official post town, Takaito. The village headman of Naitō Machi appealed to the shōgunate saying that most of the townspeople had lost their livelihoods. He also argued that other post towns, Takaito in particular, couldn’t handle all the traffic and re-opening Naitō-Shinjuku as a post town would ease the burden. Various appeals were made between 1723 and 1737 – more than 30 years. But every time the shōgunate rejected the petitions. They were effectively drawn off the maps. Naitō-Shinjuku was only known to the local commoner population and the Takatō samurai population who needed to indulge in a nice cup of tea, a bath, and some sex with a local Kantō girl. But this wasn’t enough. The town was suffering.

Finally, in 1772, about 50 years after the post town was closed by the shōgunate, they granted shukuba status to the area again[xxiii].

naito shinjuku in 1919

Naitō Shinjuku in 1919

The Icing on the Cake

Recently, the shōgunate had more or less given up on regulating the number of meshimori onna at inns. They began looking the other way when other shops began employing them too. They even went so far as to make special exceptions for certain villages, certain post towns, and even certain individual businesses. In short, Naitō-Shinjuku was back in full swing.


Woo-hoo! Let’s get this party started. More sexxxy food time for everyone. Awwwwwwww yeah.

Shinjuku Swells Up & Gets Bigger and Bigger

Even after the obsolescence of post towns – these were often replaced by train stations – the area’s reputation as a red light district never diminished. To this day, Shinjuku’s lively 歌舞伎町 Kabukichō district is synonymous with the sex industry.

Again, given the sheer number of people, department stores, apartments, and skyscrapers that define Shinjuku today, it’s hard to believe it was never anything but a massive city center. But the area was still pretty underdeveloped until after the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. The real development began after a series of fires in 1925. The site was chosen as a 副都心 Fuku-toshin. Toshin means “city center.” Fuku-toshin literally means “vice city center,” but maybe “urban subcenter” is a better translation? I dunno. “Vice city center” sounds kinda bad ass. Anyways, that was when Shinjuku really began to get its proverbial girth.

Naito Machi.JPG

Modern Naito Machi includes both the former post town and former daimyō residence.

So What Happened to the Name Naitō-Shinjuku?

The creation of Shinjuku Ward is very complicated and boring but here’s the short version. In the 1920’s, Naitō-Shinjuku was combined with some other towns to form 淀橋区 Yodobashi-ku Yodobashi Ward. In 1947, when Shinjuku Ward was created Naitō Machi still existed – indeed, that postal address still exists today. And while Naitō-Shinjuku was the first Shinjuku, it wasn’t the only Shinjuku. There were 西新宿 Nishi-Shinjuku West Shinjuku and 東新宿 Higashi Shinjuku East Shinjuku and… well, you get the picture. Thus when reshuffling administrative units of Tōkyō in 1947, it just made sense to call the whole area “Shinjuku.” This was the common name for the district anyways; Naitō-Shinjuku was just one part of that area.

And while we haven’t lost Naitō Machi as a postal address, we have actually lost Naito-Shinjuku. But the debauchery of Naitō-Shinjuku lives on in Kabukichō and other parts of Shinjuku Ward. I can’t help but feel that the culture of Shinjuku is deeply rooted in its licentious post town days. Don’t forget things were so out of control the fucking Yoshiwara tried to shut them down!

So the next time you visit a prostitute in the area, just remember that you’re actually connecting with a profound, grand, unbroken historical erotic tradition passed down directly from the culture of the Edo Period.

Oh yeah, and the park’s not too bad.

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[i] I count myself among both groups. Yes, I’m a lover and a hater.
[ii] Footnote test. lol.
[iii] Here’s the Wikipedia article on rakugo.
[iv] There were more than 5, by the way. But the traditional “big 5” started at Nihonbashi. Here’s my article on them.
[v] For the record, in the Edo Period, 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain was a Tokugawa shōgunate controlled fief located in 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni Kai Province. Fans of the Sengoku Period will recognize Kai Province and Kōfu (which both share the kanji 甲 kai/) as the territory of the Sengoku warlord 武田信玄 Takeda Shingen.
[vi] This system wasn’t a product of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. It popped up naturally as villagers took advantage of inter-provincial/inter-domain traffic. The Tokugawa shōgunate definitely insisted on regulating it.
[vii] Later the clan would be promoted to daimyō rank. They controlled 高遠藩 Takatō Han Takatō Domain in modern 長野県伊那 Nagano-ken Ina-shi Ina City, Nagano Prefecture
[viii] More about that later. At this time, the Naitō family were just retainers of Ieyasu. Ieyasu was just a daimyō, one of the 5 most powerful daimyō in Japan, but he still had a 10 year uphill struggle to become shōgun.
[ix] Here’s a good explanation of kokudaka from Samurai Archives.
[x] Who went by the name 松平元康 Matsudaira Motoyasu in those days.
[xi] According to legend, Ieyasu told Naitō Kiyonari that he would give him a fief based on how far his horse could ride. This ended up being Yotsuya in the east, Yoyogi in the west, Sendagaya in the south, and Ōkubo in the north. Take the story with a grain of salt.
[xii] I know this has been beaten to death here, but if you don’t know what yamanote and shitamachi mean, please read this article.
[xiii] Denma-chō was home to one of Edo’s 3 Great Execution Grounds.
[xiv] This is what happens when commoners suck up to nobles.
[xv] As a 武家 buke military family, of course they didn’t allow full access to the entire residence and all the gardens, but still, that’s pretty cool.
[xvi] This area is now present day 玉藻池 Tamamo Ike Tamamo Lake in Shinjuku Gyoen
[xvii] I don’t know how you confirm this without cutting the tree down, but what the hell do I know?
[xviii] This means, no government regulation free-range prostitution. You’ll see what I mean soon enough.
[xix] If the name Yodobashi sounds familiar to you (ie; like a huge electronics retailer), you’re not going crazy. The shop’s name derives from this location. I have an article about that somewhere.
[xx] Today, parts of this road still exist, including the famous “rape tunnel.” It’s preserved as the 旧青梅街道 Kyū-Ōmekaidō Old Ōmekaidō. The current road that bears the name Ōmekaidō has been moved a little. If you look at the walls in the tunnel, they have the whole length of the Ōmekaidō mapped out and each post town is labeled!
[xxi] Yoshiwara was the main licensed prostitution district of Edo.
[xxii] Yoshiwara was extremely expensive. The whole process was highly ritualized in the classier establishments. You’d go one night to have tea with a proprietor and if you were lucky, you’d be introduced to a girl for some more tea. Then you’d have to come back and court her more until she finally said, “yes.” Of course, there were lower class places that sped up the process. But in a Naitō-Shinjuku it was like “do you want a girl after your tea?” or “thanks for ordering a plate of soba, would you like a blow job after that?”
[xxiii] By 1808 the town had made a full economic recovery as it’s recorded that they had 50 inns and 80 tea houses.

What does Chōfu mean? (Part Deux)

In Japanese History on April 9, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Chōfu no Tamagawa (a reference to cloth production and dyeing on the Tama River)

A beautiful young girl bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

A beautiful young girl bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

In reference to my article entitled Setagaya and its Freaky Horse Fetish, I was going to name this article The Tama River Basin and its Freaky Cloth Fetish, but as it turns out the fetish isn’t as freaky as Setagaya and its horse thing. Well, it might be, but we’re only going to talk about a few places today so I don’t want to get your hopes up.

Anyways, in my last article, What does Chōfu mean?, I talked about the 枕詞 makura kotoba “pillow word” 調布の玉川 Chōfu no Tamagawa. The image of beautiful girls with pure white skin bleaching cloth in the Tama River was firmly entrenched in the imagination of the people of 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama District – even though the area doesn’t seem to have actually supported any such industry on a large scale. Anyways, in the last article I mentioned that references to the pillow word or its imagery weren’t limited to 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City. Today I’d like to explain that a little more.

To be precise, we’re going to look at three place names today: 田園調布 Den’en Chōfu the garden city, 布田 Fuda the cloth fields, and 染地 Somechi the dyeing grounds.

OK, so let’s get down to bidness.

If you haven’t read What does Chōfu mean? yet, none of this will make any sense.
Please read that first, mkay?

A house with a yard? In Tokyo?  Yes, in Den'en Chōfu.

A house with a yard? In Tokyo?
Yes, in Den’en Chōfu.

Den’en Chōfu
(Garden Chōfu)

While Chōfu City is located outside of the 23 Special Wards, Den’en Chōfu is within the 23 Special Wards – in 大田区 Ōta-ku to be precise. And while it might not be the most convenient place in the city, it’s definitely one of the priciest and most prestigious residential areas in all of Tōkyō, at least by reputation[i].

For most of its history, this area was just typical farmland along the river basin of the Tama River. That is to say, the river basin was dotted with agricultural villages typical of the area and not much else. However, in Meiji 22 (1889), 4 villages were combined to make 調布村 Chōfu Mura Chōfu Village[ii].

Shibusawa Eiichi in 1866 and then in 1867.

Shibusawa Eiichi in 1866 and then in 1867.

In 1918[iii], the industrialist, financier, philanthropist, and so-called “father of Japanese capitalism,” 渋沢栄一 Shibusawa Eiichi[iv] purchased huge swaths of land in Chōfu Village and slated them for re-development. He envisioned an ideal English suburb based on the concept of the “Garden City[v],” an idea spread by the British urban planner, Ebenezer Howard[vi].

Eiichi grew up in the throes of the Bakumatsu which meant he also lived to see the sprawling daimyō residences of the old 山手 yamanote high city torn down and replaced with crowded merchant houses. It seems he pined for the urbane yet gardened elegance of Edo’s most elite areas and wanted to make that world available to anyone who could afford it. Of course, being a gentleman of the early Meiji Period, he looked to the west as a way of selling innovations to the new Japanese consumer.

Den'en Chōfu as it looks today. Note the semi-circular design which is decidedly un-Edo.

Den’en Chōfu as it looks today. Note the semi-circular design which is decidedly un-Edo.

“Garden City” was translated into Japanese as 田園都市 Den’en Toshi, literally a garden city – though it could also be translated as “a suburban town.” Either way you translate it, the name must have sounded revolutionary at the time. What’s more, the idea was totally different from traditional Japanese urban planning due to its heavy European influence. Eiichi called his vision 田園調布 Den’en Chōfu which means something like Garden Chōfu[vii].

Development of the area was slow at first because the location was far from the most active parts of Tōkyō and there just wasn’t demand for something so far from the city center. In 1923, a train station opened that connected the area with central Tōkyō. As the area was still known as 調布村 Chōfu Mura Chōfu Village, the station was named 調布駅 Chōfu Eki Chōfu Station. Once the station was open for business, the area was finally ready for its big moment, ie; developed and undeveloped lots went on sale that same year.

This hill is called 江戸見坂 (Edomi-zaka) "Edo Viewing Hill." I've seen plenty of places called Fujimi "Fuji Viewing," I think this is the first time I've seen "Edo Viewing." It must have a been a fantastic sight in the Edo Period.

This hill is called 江戸見坂 (Edomi-zaka) “Edo Viewing Hill.” I’ve seen plenty of places called Fujimi “Fuji Viewing,” I think this is the first time I’ve seen “Edo Viewing.” It must have a been a fantastic sight in the Edo Period.

Did You Just Say 1923??

Long time readers should have had a collective freak out when I said “1923.”

This was the year of the horrific 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake, which saw much of the urban center of Edo-Tōkyō burnt to the ground and more than 100,000 people killed. Just like me, you’re probably wondering, “How the hell did this project survive an earfquake of that magnitude?”

Many of more of you are probably also wondering why I always say “earfquake[viii].”

How the Hell indeed?

For some reason, the area – perhaps due to modern building techniques, wide spacious lots as opposed to central Tōkyō old castle town-style cramped quarters , lack of development, or maybe just some good luck – was relatively unaffected by the cataclysmic, epoch-defining earfquake. Many rich Edoites who survived the earfquake with their finances in tact said “Eff that noise” to the burnt out shambles of Tōkyō and headed out of the city to the newly accessible suburbs.

The area had gotten such an injection of cash and activity by 1926 that the train station changed its name to 田園調布駅 Den’en Chōfu Eki Den’en Chōfu Station. Shibusawa Eiichi’s dream was starting to be realized, even if he hadn’t expected a massive earfquake. Today it’s an official postal code in Tōkyō’s Ōta Ward.

Den'en Chōfu Station

Den’en Chōfu Station

I’ve been there once or twice, and I’m sure it’s an awesome place to raise a family if you have a lot of money. It also seems to be popular with a certain class of ex-pats who have been transferred to Tōkyō and demand suburban comforts similar to their home countries (for example, the houses and yards are much larger than most of those found in Tōkyō[ix]). But that said, it’s not a particularly interesting area – as most suburbs aren’t – and historically speaking, there’s not much reason to go here.


Fuda Station in 1987.

Fuda Station in 1987.

Fuda (cloth field)

Inside Chōfu City there are many place names and an actual postal code that bear the name 布田 Fuda. The kanji mean “cloth field” and seem to fall in line with the story we heard about Chōfu’s etymology. Except nobody grows cloth in a field. In fact, if you know someone who can grow cloth, let me know. That sounds amazing!

Interestingly, this weird pairing of kanji partially supports the standard Chōfu etymology and its connection to the 租庸調 soyōchō system (corvee system) because the name may be pretty ancient[x]. According to the 倭名類聚抄 Wamyō Ruijushō, a kind of Heian Period encyclopedia[xi], there was an area in the Tamagawa District an area called 爾布多 Nifuda whose name was shortened to 布多 Fuda. Later 多 ta/da came to be written as田 ta/da. In the 新編武蔵風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fudokikō Newly Edited Treatise on the Manners and Customs of Musashi Province (1826), the name is said to have originally been written as 府田 Fuda or 捕陀 Fuda. Muromachi Period documents of 深大寺 Jindai-ji Jindai Temple record the place name as 布田郷 Fuda-gō[xii] Fuda Hamlet.

A rare photo of Chōfu Station in 1914. Modern Chōfu Station exists on to the shopping street/sandō leading to Fudatenjin Shrine (mentioned in the previous article). The spelling of Fuda for the shrine is 布多 - "cloth abounds."

A rare photo of Chōfu Station in 1914. Modern Chōfu Station exists on to the shopping street/sandō leading to Fudatenjin Shrine (mentioned in the previous article). The spelling of Fuda for the shrine is 布多 – “cloth abounds” – this spelling is consistent with the Heian Period source.

All of this is quite suspicious. The use of the kanji 多 ta/da is often 当て字 ateji kanji used for its sound and not meaning. It was so commonly used for phonetic reasons that hiragana and katakana /ta/ are actually derived from it. /ta/ or /da/ is also often used as ateji. In my mind, all of this begs the question: is every /ɸu/ along the Tama River related to a hidden word and all of these kanji are hiding the original place name. I mean, could we be looking at ancient place names that use /ta/ and /fu/ in the area and many of these places rendering the names with /ɸu/ /ɸu/ and /da/ /da/ as ateji? Could these names pre-date the Heian Period language/s spoken in the area? If any of these are the case, the name of 調布 Chōfu and all of its associated place names along the Tama River may have much more mysterious origins[xiii].

That was all just speculation on my part because I haven’t come across anyone else asking the same questions. I’m also just some dude with an internet connection and a goofy hobby, so may I haven’t dug deep enough.

The green area is Somechi. Notice its proximity to the Tama River.

The green area is Somechi. Notice its proximity to the Tama River.

Somechi (place where cloth is dyed)

Believe it or not, this place name didn’t exist officially until 1965. Prior to that, it was just an area located inside 国領宿 Kokuryō-chō Kokuryō Town, one of the civil administrative units of 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City. However, the name most definitely existed in the Edo Period. The name 染地 Somechi literally means “place where things are dyed.”

In the grand tradition that the area was supposedly famous for beautiful women bleaching cloth in the Tama River, this area seems to have been credited with dying cloth. The aforementioned Shinpen Musashi Fudokikō (1826) is where this claim is backed up in writing. That said, keep in mind, other than these etymologies which seem to be connected to the pillow word, Chōfu no Tamagawa, there is no evidence that the area was ever anything more than an agricultural backwater with no actual cloth production (bleached or dyed) anywhere in the area.

But the mystery gets deeper. You should know that in nearby 府中市 Fuchū-shi Fuchū City[xiv], there is place called 染屋 Someya which literally means “shop where things are dyed.” This place is located in a region called 白糸台 Shiraito-dai “white thread plateau.” Doubtless, these names are connected to the pillow word and the image it propagated throughout the region.

Feel like this is going nowhere? So do I....

Feel like this is going nowhere?
So do I….

So What Do You Make of All This?

To be honest, it’s hard to say. I’m pretty skeptical that there was widespread textile production in the area because I can’t find any record that anyone takes seriously. Of course, it’s possible that at some time some village was famous for this somewhere on the river – after all, it’s a long ass river. It actually spans 3 prefectures today. But it’s just the Tama District that is dotted with place names related to this and there’s no evidence that the entire region was known for cloth production. I’m also seeing some trends in phonemes. I’m looking at you, /ɸu/ and /da/. Looking at the kanji 布 fu cloth, 糸 ito thread, 染 some dye, 白 shira white,  府 fu government, 調 chō tax on cloth, and one we haven’t looked at yet, 領 ryō territory[xv], you can start to see some patterns emerge: there are phonetic patterns and meaning patterns. From the meaning patterns, it seems we’re essentially talking about textiles and government. This seems to support the claim that Chōfu means a place that paid its “taxes” in “cloth.” But I’m also skeptical of ateji and kanji in general when it comes to ancient place names.

So, in the next article, we’re going to take a look at a few other place names in the area that relate to this topic. I hope to wrap things up but be forewarned: I’m pretty sure there will be no closure with this series.


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[i] I’ve actually never looked at prices there, so I’m just going by reputation.
[ii] This is a separate and distinct Chōfu Village from the one we talked about in the last article. To the best of my knowledge these were not coordinated efforts.
[iii] This was Taishō 7. On this blog, I’ve decided on a convention of only using Japanese years during the Meiji Period (as a countdown away from the Edo Period). But I’ll use Japanese years when relevant to the conversation at any point in time. Taishō 7 is so close to the Meiji Era that I figured I should at least footnote that shit.
[iv] I don’t know much about Eiichi Shibusawa, but here’s the Wiki about him.
[v] I don’t know much about the concept of a “Garden City,” but here’s the Wiki about it.
[vi] I don’t know much about Ebenezer Howard, but here’s the Wiki about him. It seems that Shibusawa and other developers misconstrued Howard’s ideas. But that’s not really important. The influence was there.
[vii] Suburban Chōfu is probably an equally valid translation.
[viii] And I respond with my own question, “Why hell shouldn’t I write earfquake?”
[ix] There are comparable and sometimes larger in some other areas, but that’s a story for another day.
[x] That said, I don’t necessarily believe this “corvee taxes” etymology.
[xi] I don’t know a lot about this text, but it has come up from time to time over the years while researching place names. The Japanese title seems to be commonly used among English speaking scholars, so I don’t have a good translation of the title, but it essentially means “The Japanese Names for Things Categorized and Annotated.” You can read the Wiki article about it here.
[xii] Probably more correctly rendered as Fuda no gō.
[xiii] And I suspect this to be the case, actually.
[xiv] Notice the /ɸu/ sound again and the same kanji as 布田 Fuda.
[xv] A term that came into use with the implementation of the 律令制 ritsuryō-sei ritsuryō system which I discussed in the previous article. Note that the 令 ryō of ritsuryō-sei makes up part of the character 領 ryō.

What does Chōfu mean? (Part One)

In Japanese History on March 30, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Chōfu (mood cloth)

The banner says "Kondō Isami's Home Town, Chōfu."

The banner says “Kondō Isami’s Home Town, Chōfu.”

Just a heads up.
This article rambles a little. It’s actually 2 articles merged together. Basically, I had the general etymology, but I found more info later and tried to insert it as is into the middle of the original article. Then I tried to smooth things out, but the end result was a little sloppy and there is some repeating. Sorry about that.
All in all, it should make sense, though.

A banner for Tōkyō's soccer team, F.C.Tokyo. It bears the Shinsengumi motto 誠 makoto (sincerity) and reads "Kondō Isami's Hometown, Chōfu."

A banner for Tōkyō’s soccer team, F.C.Tokyo. It bears the Shinsengumi motto 誠 makoto (sincerity) and reads “Kondō Isami’s Hometown, Chōfu.”

The first story I heard about the etymology of Chōfu was this: 調布 Chōfu was a town that paid its taxes 調 chō with 布fu/nuno cloth. It seemed legit enough and I didn’t know much about the area or taxation in old Japan so this was good enough for me at the time.

However, this isn’t good enough anymore. After all, this is freaking JapanThis!. We have a certain level of skepticism to maintain around here.

Am I right?


Well as it turns out, the city of Chōfu didn’t exist until the Meiji Era. That said, the city cites one of the oldest and most loved poetry collections of Japanese poetry as the source of its namesake. That anthology is none other than the 万葉集 Man’yōshū Collection of 10,000 Leaves which was compiled in the 700’s[i]. One poem that refers to the beautiful young women of the area is cited as the source of the name.

The fact of the matter is that the etymology of “paying taxes with cloth” seems to be a conflation of an ancient taxation system and a little bit of poetry. Let’s dig in, shall we?

Tenjin Street is a shopping street that lines the sandō (approach) to Fuda Tenjin Shrine. The street is lined with characters from the anime "Gegege no Kitarō."

Tenjin Street is a shopping street that lines the sandō (approach) to Fuda Tenjin Shrine. The street is lined with characters from the anime “Gegege no Kitarō.”

Administrative Reforms in the Asuka and Nara Periods

In the late 飛鳥時代 Asuka Jidai Asuka Period[ii], starting with the 大化の改新 Taika no Kaishin Taika Reforms[iii] in 645, the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court began enacting sweeping administrative reforms based on a Chinese model. One of the results of this was the establishment of the 律令制 ritsuryō-sei ritsuryō system. This resulted in the civil administrative units of 国 kuni provinces, 郡 gun districts, 郷 gō hamlets, and 里 ri/sato neighborhoods. There were many other changes regarding taxation, ranking, governance, and criminal justice[iv].

Reconstruction of a farmer's home in the Asuka Period.

Reconstruction of a farmer’s home in the Asuka Period.

I mentioned the establishment of civil administrative units, but some of this should look familiar to long time readers[v]. The recognition of traditional nomenclature like 国 kuni province and 郡 gun district persisted throughout the Edo Period. Districts can still be found throughout Japan. Place names all around Japan often retain references to old provincial names, district names, and more local divisions (hamlets, villages, or neighborhoods).

The etymology of 調布 Chōfu coming from taxes is dependent on a particular outcome of the ritsuryō system, a concept called 租庸調 soyōchō. Most dictionaries define this term as “corvee” which looks a little bit like Corvette but is totally different because taxes are boring as hell and Corvettes are cool.

A corvette, as opposed to a corvee.

A corvette, as opposed to a corvee.

Talking about modern taxation is boring as hell so trust me; I don’t want to get deep into the taxation practices of the Nara Period so here is the simplest explanation I can think of. Soyōchō didn’t require people to pay money; rather you were required to pay in goods and services. For example, if you were a fisherman, a certain percentage of fish of a certain quality might be expected from you. Essentially, you had to do a certain amount of work for free for the good of your local lord, who was presumably a representative of the imperial court. I’m assuming certain types of goods would have made their way all the way to the imperial court in 奈良 Nara or 平安京 Heian-kyō[vi].

The system is much more nuanced than my explanation, but this isn’t a medieval tax blog. It’s about place names for crying FFS.

The word soyōchō actually represents the 3 types of payments: rice, labor, and silk/cloth.

The word soyōchō actually represents the 3 types of payments: rice, labor, and silk/cloth.

Anyhoo, if you were paying attention to the kanji, you probably noticed the final character of soyōchō was 調 chō. This is the same chō in Chōfu. Under the soyōchō system there were two particular taxes put on textile workers. The two main categories were: 調絹 chōkinu paying with silk and 調布 chōfu paying with cloth. Please note that the latter has the same kanji as the present day place name. OK, seems legit.


Good luck with that, buddy.

Is Everyone Defined By Taxes?

But something bugs me about this etymology. Who would have been proud of how their ancestors paid taxes? Especially if you were a farmer?

I think no one would. And herein lays the biggest problem with this this etymology.


The Plot Thickens

Nobody likes to pay taxes. I reckon people of this day and age know more about how their tax dollars are spent more than Askuka/Nara period peasants did. I don’t know which group might hate tax more, but I can’t imagine that giving away your profits to rich lords of varying ability would be a source of pride…


Unless your village was famous for some trade and everyone had pride that they were the best. Everyone knew that your cloth was the finest in the area. People came from far and wide to procure your fine cloth. Your cloth was so fine that it captivated the imaginations of the imperial court in Kyōto. It was so fine, that the area was defined (get it?) by that industry.

Oh nuno, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind. Oh nuno! Oh nuno!

Oh nuno! You’re so fine. You’re so fine you blow my mind. Oh nuno! Oh nuno!
(JapanThis! being the wonderous place it is means that this is a clickable link)

The problem is that there seem to be no records of this area being famous for textile production. Adding to the mystery is that the kanji 布 fu/nuno is rampant in the place names along the 玉川 Tamagawa Tama River. Surely at least one of these places was famous for cloth production?

Is it all Bullshit?

It could actually all be bullshit. But maybe not complete bullshit. More like some of that folk etymology bullshit that comes up from time to time.

Until quite recently, the area was quite rural. Today it’s a suburban area. However, until the post-war period, the area was primarily agricultural.

Present day 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City is located outside of the 23 Special Wards (it’s still part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis). But when you read accounts of 近藤勇 Kondō Isami and 土方歳三 Hijikata Toshizō of 新撰組 Shinsengumi[vii], it’s often said that they were men of 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama District. Isami’s hometown was the village of 武蔵国多摩郡上石原村 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Kami-Ishihara Mura Upper Ishihara Village, Tama District, Musashi Province. Today this particular location is part of Chōfu City. Whether Isami would have considered the area Chōfu[viii], I can’t say for sure but he must have been familiar with the term, for reasons I’ll explain later. But until the Meiji Period, Kondō Isami’s hometown was not Chōfu. It was Kami-Ishihara.

But both Isami and Toshizō would have identified themselves as men of the Tama District[ix].

This picture is purported to be the Kondō residence in Chōfu.

This picture is purported to be the Kondō residence in Chōfu. Even though this is clearly a samurai residence, it’s very rustic.

The Man’yōshū

OK. No cloth makers. Lots of farmers. Place names referring to cloth all over the river basin. So what’s going on then?

So earlier, I mentioned that the 万葉集 Man’yōshū Collection of 10,000 Leaves makes a reference to the beautiful young women who lived along the 玉川 Tamagawa Tama River. The Man’yōshū is one of the oldest collections of Japanese poetry. It’s a collection of poetry from various parts of Japan written in various dialects using a version of Japanese writing that was very much in its infancy. For people interested in place names, it’s both a boon and a bane. It often seems to be helpful and wildly confusing at the same time.

和歌 waka were a style of poem[x] that we first find evidence of in the Man’yōshū. It’s in this collection of poems that we find a particular 東歌 Tōka a kind of waka from ancient Kantō. Let’s look at the waka in question, shall we?


Tamagawa ni
sarasu tezukuri
sarasara ni
nanzo kono ko no

koko da kanashiki

Like the cloth
they bleach until its
silky and white,
I wonder why these girls
are so freaking cute

This old poem painted a picture of bleached cloth that was white and tender, just like the beautiful young girls who lived along the Tama River. It doesn’t say anything about a textile industry, but it does evoke a pretty image and it does point out the Tama River. Keep in mind that in the 600’s or whenever this was written, the Tama River was spider-like network of rivers. Whatever section of the river the author refers to as “the Tama River” is completely lost to us[xi], though it is presumably somewhere in Tama District.

But the keyword in the text is: tezukuri (or tatsukuri/tazukuri). The popular translation is cloth. Keep this in mind as we move forward with this crazy conflation.

A new image arises: beautiful young women bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

A new image arises: beautiful young women bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

Was a Town on the Tama River Famous for Cloth or Textiles?

Unfortunately, I don’t know. My sources say it was famous for farming and nothing more. And surely the Tama River provided ample water for irrigating rice paddies right up to the modern era. The beautiful poem in the Man’yōshū would tie in well with the old taxation system theory if we could locate a famous textile village. But if this industry existed in the area, outside of the Man’yōshū we don’t have much literary evidence or physical evidence. What’s more, the Man’yōshū is really vague[xii] and the Kantō region of the 600’s is mysterious place to us today.

A young girl bleaching cloth in the Tamagawa

A young girl bleaching cloth in the Tamagawa

So Why Is the Area Called Chōfu?

The word てづくり tezukuri (or たつくりたづくり tatsukuri/tazukuri) is used in the poem. Today, this is usually written 手作り tezukuri handmade/homemade but the term could be used for any kinds of goods. After all, in those days, there were no machines, so everything that wasn’t natural was handmade, right?

The fact is that the product in question is vague. The verb さらす sarasu means “to expose something” but has another meaning of “to bleach something.” Subsequent generations seem to have taken sarasu tezukuri as “bleaching cloth,” but I wonder if there might have been another meaning (perhaps dialectal?). I’m not qualified to say either way, but seems like a fair question to ask. But one thing is certain.  A famous image arose of beautiful, young maidens with fair skin, happily bleaching soft cloth in the clean, life giving waters of the Tamagawa River. This image was to persist right up to the Meiji Period.

tama river bleach bitch

Edo Period Poetry in Motion

In a 1000 years, a lot can change – especially if you have shoddy records. Because of the poem from the Man’yōshū, the local people – who were most definitely farmers in the Edo Period – had a certain sense of pride. FFS, 6th century nobles supposedly used to talk about how great their hometown was. Anyone who lived along the Tama River could take pride in their good produce/products and beautiful people. Who wouldn’t be proud of that?

But what actually seems to have happened is that a literary phrase, 調布の玉川 Tezukuri no Tamagawa, had entered the poetic language of the day. The interesting thing is the kanji 調布 which should normally be read as Chōfu had the irregular reading of Tatsukuri/Tezukuri. The phrase Tezukuri no Tamagawa had become a 枕詞 makura kotoba a so-called “pillow word.” This way of writing Tezukuri which reflected “paying taxes with cloth” would then be a special reading of the kanji[xiii]. I’m assuming that for reasons of poetic meter Tezukuri no Tamagawa (9 syllables) was alternatively read as Chōfu no Tamagawa (8 syllables) – Chōfu being preferred to Tezukuri because it was easier to read and because tezukuri is just so goddamn vague.

Bleaching cloth in a van down by the river.

Bleaching cloth in a van down by the river.
Wait! Don’t put the baby in the bleach bucket!!
And wait! Is that baby smoking a pipe? What the hell is wrong with you?


But Wait. Did You Say “Pillow Word?”

Yes, I did.

I'm exhausted from all this work. Let's take a break and smoke this joint I got from Kichiemon.

I’m exhausted from all this work. Let’s take a break and smoke this joint I got from Kichiemon, the village headman’s son. He always gets the best shit.

What the Fuck is a Pillow Word?

Good question!

I don’t read classical Japanese poetry[xiv], so I could be butchering this explanation. But it’s my understanding that waka[xv] used “pillow words” to allude to established literary imagery or to instantly conjure up a traditional sentiment. Many of the references referred to poems in the Man’yōshū, but I don’t think they were restricted to that text alone.

Today, if a rapper (or anyone, for that matter) says “got my mind on my money,” clued in listeners will instantly have an image in their head because they know the reference. Wikipedia says that “Japanese poets use makura kotoba to refer to earlier poems and show their knowledge of poetry and the imperial poetry collections.” So I think that supports my explanation[xvi]. Fingers crossed.

Anyhoo, the local people knew the poem quite well. By the Edo Period, artists who painted the Tama area would have known the expression or would have been told by the local villagers. Edo Era locals clearly interpreted tezukuri and tazukuri (handmade) as nuno (cloth). This is when the ancient “cloth tax” story came back into play.

The idea of a 武蔵国調布 Musashi no Kuni Chōfu Chōfu, Musashi Province had entered the imagination. With it came the image of beautiful young girls of the area. This is a concept with a long history in Japan, the local 美女 bijo beautiful women. Some areas are famous for beautiful women[xvii] more than others. Artists from Edo who often wouldn’t bother to make the trip to the Tama District had an image in their head of beautiful, young girls with pure white skin happily bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

I may be reading this picture all wrong, but the woman in the foreground strikes me as a prostitute. The towns along the Tama River were post towns. If I'm right, is this a clue?

A beautiful woman holding a white cloth in Chōfu. You can see the river in the bottom lefthand corner. At first I thought the woman might have been a prostitute because of the flashy clothes, but it was pointed out to me that she has a walking stick and a hat for traveling. Maybe she’s just a traveler and not a local woman.

Meiji Villagers Name a New Town and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next…

Somehow the local legends and the poem from the Man’yōshū had merged so perfectly that something amazing happened in the Meiji Period.



After the 廃藩置県 haihan-chiken abolition of the domains and creation of prefectures in 1871 (Meiji 4), a whole lot of rural areas were overlooked in the grand changes of the Meiji government. That is to say, day to day life didn’t change very much[xviii]. But new, Western style civil administration was applied to the countryside as well as the cities. This meant that previously autonomous 村 mura villages were combined to create to create 町 machi towns. Now, for the first time, independent villages were asked to re-consider their place in this new system. Sometimes the largest village name was used for the new combination, but other times, completely new names were chose.

So it seems that when forced to look at themselves as a group and not as independent villages, the local people took pride in the pillow word that united them all, 調布の玉川 chōfu no Tamagawa[xix]. Actually a number of villages along the Tama River basin used some variant of the chōfu name and to the best of my knowledge, these efforts weren’t coordinated. It was just ingrained into the spirit of the people who lived along the river.

It all just disintegrated into river monkeys. The people of Tama District just goofed off in the river. How quaint.  This is why Kondo Isami and Hijikata Toshizo, despite having skills, were dismissed outright by higher ranking Edoites. The curse of the country samurai.

It all just disintegrated into river monkeys. The people of Tama District just goofing off in the river. How quaint. This is why Kondo Isami and Hijikata Toshizo, despite having skills, were often looked down upon by their social superiors. The curse of the country samurai.

The first time we see Chōfu on a map is in 1889 (Meiji 22) when a new place name was created; 北多摩郡調布町 Kita Tama-gun Chōfu Machi Chōfu Town, North Tama District. The town deliberately chose to reference the pillow word. The new town incorporated the former villages of 布田小島分村 Fuda-Kojima Wakemura[xx] Divided Village of Fuda-Kojima, 上石原村 Kami^Ishihara Mura Upper Ishihara Village and 下石原村 Shimo-Ishihara Mura Lower Ishihara Village, 上布田村 Kami-Fuda Mura Upper Fuda Village and 下布田村 Shimo-Fuda Mura Lower Fuda Village, 国領宿 Kokuryō-juku Kokuryō Post Town, 上ヶ給村 Agekyū Mura Agekyū Village, and 飛田給村 Tobitakyū Mura Tobitakyū Village.

Chofu Station used to have elevated platforms, now it's a subway.

Chofu Station used to have elevated platforms, now it’s a subway.

Chōfu is Actually a Pretty Cool Place

Chōfu is located outside of the 23 Special Wards of Tōkyō. That can mean BOOOOOORING to many people. Even if you take a train from 新宿駅 Shinjuku Eki Shinjuku Station[xxi], you need to take an express train to get to Chōfu in a reasonable amount of time. It’s out there. Many people who live in the center of Tōkyō probably wouldn’t see much use in going there. It’s the suburbs. Outside of the station area, you need a car – or at least a bike.

That said, I think Chōfu is a pretty cool place. If I’m not mistaken, many of its charms are accessible on foot, most of them by bus, and all of them by bicycle[xxii]. Modern 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City is essentially a collection of Edo Period 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway. There are some Edo Period structures extant here and there along the old postal road, most notably the 赤門 akamon, a temple gate that has survived since 1649. There’s also a 七福神巡り shichi fukujin meguri 7 gods of good luck pilgrimage if you’re a walker[xxiii].

Statue of Kondō Isami at Ryūgen-ji.

Statue of Kondō Isami at Ryūgen-ji.

As I mentioned earlier, Kondō Isami was born and raised here[xxiv]. The home where the Kondō residence once stood is no longer there, but there is a plaque and a picture of a house purported to be his 実家 jikka parents’ home. At nearby 龍源寺 Ryūgen-ji Ryūgen Temple is one of Kondō Isami’s many graves[xxv]. There’s another shrine, 上石原若宮八幡神社  Kami-Ishihara Wakanomiya Hachiman-gū, where Kondō Isami allegedly went to pray for victory of the 甲陽鎮撫隊 Kōyoū Chinbutai – essentially a new name given to the Shinsengumi[xxvi].  A short walk from the station will bring you to 布多天神社 Fudatenjin-ja known by locals as simply Fudatenjin. One of the shrine’s little known secrets – even to locals and Shinsengumi enthusiasts – is that on the precincts there is a large stone monument erected by Isami’s father, 近藤周助 Kondō Shūsuke. The shrine is famous for its 梅 ume plum blossoms in the late winter.

Map of Jindai-ji.

Map of the Jindai-ji temple complex

I’m sure there are more charms than these[xxvii], but the real show stopper in Chōfu is a sprawling temple complex called深大寺 Jindai-ji Jindai Temple[xxviii]. I’m sure it’s beautiful any time of the year, but the time I went was in the autumn – just as the leaves were changing – and it was pretty amazing. I felt like I had stepped back in time. It was years ago when I went, but the beauty of the atmosphere and nature made a big impression on me. It’s said to be the second oldest temple in 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis. The area is famous for soba, so it’s a good place to relax and have something to eat. The distance of this place from Chōfu Station is why I think that if you want to “do Chōfu,” you should probably rent some e-チャリ ii-chari electric bicycles to hit all of the spots. And believe me, I haven’t mentioned all the spots in this area.

OK, we’ve wandered way outside of the 23 Wards but we’re still in Tōkyō Metropolis. I think long time readers can guess what the next few articles will be about. Feel free to take a stab at it in the comments section below.

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That’s the Nara Period to you and me.
[ii] Wanna know about the Asuka Period, here ya go!
[iii] What the hell are the Taika Reforms?
[iv] Much of the system was superseded by new innovations in the 10th century (Heian Period), but some of these administrative units stayed in place until the Meiji Period.
[v] When you talk about place names, you have to talk about civil administrative crap all the time.
[vi] Modern day 京都 Kyōto.
[vii] What’s the hell is the Shinsengumi, you ask? This is the Shinesengumi.
[viii] Today Chōfu City bills itself as 近藤勇のふるさと Kondō Isami no Furusato Kondō Isami’s Hometown.
[ix] Hijikata’s hometown, by the way, was in nearby 武蔵国多摩郡日野 村 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Hino Mura Hino Village, Tama District, Musashi Province.
[x] Waka come in all shapes and sized, so I’m not going into detail. I don’t want to discuss waka any more than I want to discuss taxes. lol. But here’s the Wikipedia article. Knock yourself out.
[xi] Wanna learn more about the Tama River?
[xii] Japanese poetry tends to be pretty fucking vague.
[xiii] And fair enough. Kanji are fairly flexible in how you want to use them in Japanese.
[xiv] I rarely read any poetry anymore, for that matter.
[xv] Read more about waka here.
[xvi] If I’m wrong, say something in the comments.
[xvii] Some areas are famous for handsome men too.
[xviii] In much of rural Japan, daily life didn’t change much until WWII.
[xix] Long time readers who actually read my unbearable river series should know well that in the Edo Period the ancient kanji 多磨 Tama were used for the geographical area and the kanji 玉川 Tamagawa were used for the river and aqueducts.
[xx] I’m rendering 分村 as wakemura. It’s an obsolete word meaning “separated village” – this I’m sure of – but I’m not sure of the reading. It could be bunson (doesn’t look like a place name, though) or wamura or bunmura. I can’t find any information except on Weblio. So, until I hear otherwise, I’m sticking with that reading. But if anyone can confirm or correct this, I’d really appreciate it.
[xxi] You can get to anywhere in the world from Shinjuku Station…
[xxii] I recommend an electric bike because… dude, they’re freaking amazing.
[xxiii] The course is here.
[xxiv] Just for clarification, his 道場 dōjō, the 試衛館 Shieikan was located in 市ヶ谷 Ichigaya, near Shinjuku. I think I wrote an article about Ichigaya, but I don’t remember… Oh well.
[xxv] The temple is technically in 三鷹 Mitaka, not Chōfu. #BorderProblemz.
Also, I’m not joking when I say Kondō Isami has many graves. I wonder if someone has compiled a list of all of them. This might be a good start. #CmonInternetDontFailMeNow
[xxvi] Read more about the Kōyoū Chinbutai here. If memory serves me well, the new name was given by 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū. The 2004 Taiga Drama, 新撰組! Shinsengumi! made the re-naming of the group look terribly insulting and implied that Katsu Kaishū was just trying to get rid of them by either breaking their morale or getting them killed. That’s just a TV show, but it’s an intriguing theory.
[xxvii] Microsoft has an office here, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
[xxviii] For the record, Jindai-ji is technically in Mitaka, not Chōfu.

The Edo River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on August 16, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Edo River (“River that flows to Edo”)

Fireworks on the Edo River in Edogawa Ward.

Fireworks on the Edo River in Edogawa Ward.


Hello all! Here in Tōkyō, 御盆休み O-bon Yasumi the O-bon Vacation is in full effect. I only get 4 days off. Most people get about 5 days off, but I’ve talked to plenty of people who get nothing at all, so I’m not going to complain. 3 days will be spent sleeping late like the 怠け者 namakemono lazy good-for-nothing that I am. I’ll have to wake up super early one day to do 茶道 sadō tea ceremony in former 館林藩 Tatebayashi-han Tatebayashi Domain[i]. The area is just a rural backwater now, but if the weather isn’t too bad and I have enough time, I hope to snap a few pictures for my Flickr account. Be sure to check my Twitter account for the updates. I’m not sure how things will go, but the Tone River and Arakawa River flow through the area, so maybe I’ll be able to get some pix!

Speaking of rivers, this series is finally winding down. I started with the big rivers. Those rivers have incredibly complicated pasts and were hell to research and write about. I seriously considered just quitting mid-series to move on to something more fun, but I pushed on. I knew that if I could cover the major rivers, the rest of the series would be easy. I’m happy to say the last too posts will be the easiest. They’re also the shortest, hence the fast turn-around on the article you’re reading right now.

But the other River Articles were so long…

Indeed they were. But the other rivers were major water systems that were constantly modified over the centuries. Their names were ancient, possibly pre-dating the Yamato State – possibly older, there’s no know way to in some cases. Today’s river is essentially a product of the Edo Period. We know where the name comes from without a shadow of doubt.


This is a map of modern Edogawa Ward. Notice the Edo River clearly marking the boundary of Tokyo Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture. You may want to refer back to this map throughout the article (it also ties into other parts of the series). Click to enlarge.

This is a map of modern Edogawa Ward. Notice the Edo River clearly marking the boundary of Tokyo Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture. You may want to refer back to this map throughout the article (it also ties into other parts of the series).
Click to enlarge.




the city of Edo


river (suffix)

ie; “the river that goes to Edo”

That’s it.

Edo – once a fishing hamlet, then former village turned sprawling metropolis – was the shōgun’s capital when the river got this name. It was a densely populated, affluent city that required goods and services from all over Japan. Certain perishable goods produced in the surrounding areas was in particular demand. A little more about that later, but in short, the Edo River was a river bringing goods from a variety of places. Most notably, goods came from 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province, the bulk of which lie in modern 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture. In fact, those goods came from the part of Chiba that lies directly on the border of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis.


Cherry blossoms on the Edo River in the early Meiji Period.

Cherry blossoms on the Edo River in the early Meiji Period.


But Wait! What does the “Edo” part of the Edo River mean?

I’m glad you asked because I covered the etymology of Edo in a post last year. The article starts with the short version, then gives a more detailed explanation. So depending on how much time you have, feel free to read about Why was Edo called Edo? here.

OK… So WTF is the Edo River?

OK, this is important.

The modern, legal definition of the Edo River is the river that branches off from the 利根川 Tone-gawa Tone River[ii]. This bifurcation occurs at present day 野田市 Noda-shi Noda City in Chiba. The river empties into Tōkyō Bay at 市川市 Ichikawa-shi Ichikawa City, also in Chiba Prefecture. A portion of the river marks the border of the Tōkyō Metropolis, Chiba Prefecture, and Saitama Prefecture.


This shows the entire area covered by the Edo River and the modern portion of the Tone River that relates to it. The Edo River diverts from the Tone River at Noda and flows south to Ichikawa. At Ichikawa, it bifurcates in the Old Edo River that goes to Tokyo Bay at Urayasu. A secondary drainage canal take the river to Tokyo Bay in Ichikawa.

This shows the entire area covered by the Edo River and the modern portion of the Tone River that relates to it. The Edo River diverts from the Tone River at Noda and flows south to Ichikawa. At Ichikawa, it bifurcates in the Old Edo River that goes to Tokyo Bay at Urayasu. A secondary drainage canal take the river to Tokyo Bay in Ichikawa.


What about the History of the River?

The river that became the Edo River was originally a part of the lower course of the 利根川 Tone-gawa Tone River – a very different river from the Tone River of today. The specific branch of the Tone River Basin was called the 渡良瀬川 Watarase-gawa Watarase River. It separated from the Tone River, then flowed south to the middle of former 葛飾郡 Katsushika-gun Katsushika District[iii] and then emptied into 江戸湾 Edo Wan Edo Bay. The downstream portion of the Watarase was locally named the 太日河, which can be read as either Ōi-gawa Ōi River or Futoi-gawa Futui River. This is the stretch of river that would ultimately become the Edo River. Since time immemorial and indeed until the Taishō Era, certain stretches of riverbank were famous for the cultivation of 蓮根 renkon lotus root, a valuable food source.

The Edo Period

In 1641, the 利根川東遷事業 Tone-gawa Tōsenjigyō began. This was the building project that began diverting the river eastward towards the shōgun’s capital. At this time, a channel was built to divert water from the Tone River to the present day upstream portion of the Edo River.  Part of the downstream area was also modified. Since the shōgunate had essentially created a new river, this new waterway needed a name. It’s about this time that the name 江戸川 Edo-gawa Edo River came to be used – the name meaning something like “the river that goes to Edo.”

The Tone River was again diverted in 1654 as an anti-flooding measure. The Edo River now connected the north and east Kantō Regions to the capital at Edo, specifically to transport large amounts of cargo from Shimōsa Domain and other cities along the Pacific coast.

Many villages and towns among the river prospered in the Edo Period. Some of those cities continue to prosper today. Once the redirection efforts of the Tone River were established, merchants would travel up the Tone River from the outlet at modern-day 銚子市 Chōshi-shi Chōshi City (former Shimōsa Province). The area was famous for 枝豆 edamame soy beans and 醤油 shōyu soy sauce. We’ll talk about this again in a bit…

Cherry blossoms at sunset or sunrise along the Edo River in the Meiji Period.

Cherry blossoms at sunset or sunrise along the Edo River in the Meiji Period.


The Edo River Created Lasting Commerce

The Edo River pretty much put the town of 流山 Nagareyama on the map[iv]. In the Edo Period the town was, like much of rural Japan, steeped in a rice production economy. The Edo River gave the original village a direct link to the shōgun’s capital. One quirk of the village was that they produced 味醂 mirin rice vinegar[v]. To this day, Nagareyama is still famous for mirin production. For hundreds of years 流山之味醂 Nagareyama no Mirin Nagareyama Rice Vinegar has been a staple of Kantō cuisine.

An exhibit on mirin production in the Nagareyama Municipal Museum. Notice the uniform of the guidepost character. It's Shinsengumi uniform. While mirin may be the economic claim to fame of the city, most people only know it for its BRIEF connection with the Shinsengumi.

An exhibit on mirin production in the Nagareyama Municipal Museum. Notice the uniform of the guidepost character. It’s Shinsengumi uniform. While mirin may be the economic claim to fame of the city, most people only know it for its BRIEF connection with the Shinsengumi.

Nagareyama is also famous as the last official base camp of the 新撰組 Shinengumi at the beginning of the 戊辰戦争 Boshin Sensō Boshin War, the final war between the collapsing Tokugawa Shōgunate and the rising Meiji Army. The commander of the Shinsengumi, 近藤勇 Kondō Isami, was arrested here, marched to and imprisoned at 板橋宿 Itabashi-juku Itabashi Post Town. He was subsequently tried and executed there on false charges of having assassinated (or ordered the assassination of) 坂本竜馬 Sakamoto Ryōma.

On a more tasteful note, 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province was generally was famous for soy sauce. In addition to mirin, the other main product transported to Edo was 野田之醤油  Noda no shōyu Noda Soy Sauce.

Do you know this logo?

Do you know this logo?


The Edo River won the Soy Sauce Wars

All countries have regional differences – granted, in stable countries, these are getting smaller and smaller. And in Japan, there are also regional variations of soy sauce. Soy sauce is one of the traditional 5 ingredients of Japan[vi], so it’s not a surprising thing. But worldwide, the most recognized variety is the strong taste of the Kantō area. This is due to the global commercial success of 亀甲萬 Kikkōman, a name synonymous with soy sauce and Japanese cuisine.

The Kikkōman Corporation is based in Noda City, at the head of the Edo River. The company was an amalgamation of about 8 soy sauce producing families in 1603 in a post-Sengoku Period version of a corporate merger. A member of one of the original families, 茂木友三郎 Mogi Yūzaburō, still sits on the board of directors. He is largely credited with popularizing soy sauce in the US by encouraging chefs to create non-Japanese or “internationally-minded” dishes that use soy sauce. Today Kikkōman is holds the largest market share in the US and Japan and is the main employer in Noda.

Do you recognize the logo now?

Do you recognize the logo now?

If you live outside of Japan, you’ve probably only seen the name written “Kikkoman.” If you live in Japan, you’ve probably only seen the name written in katakana as キッコウマン. But pretty much anywhere in the world you may have noticed a single, stylized kanji: 萬 man (myriad, thousands, lucky) inside a circle. This is an interesting character. It’s the ancient variant of a high frequency modern kanji man 10,000. Supposedly, it’s rarely used except in some legal documents. These days, many Japanese may admit they can’t read this character these days.

The kanji I used above, 亀甲萬 Kikkōman are not used officially by the modern corporation; they officially use the katakana or rōma-ji spelling. This is probably because the name isn’t instantly legible to your average native Japanese speaker, so it makes for poor brand recognition. Also, it doesn’t really say anything about the company or its products. Of the original kanji, all that survived was this curious 萬 man – and it survived as a logo, not a word.

Yuzaburo Mogi earned his M.B.A. at Columbia University and is said to be totally down with US business practices.

Yuzaburo Mogi earned his M.B.A. at Columbia University and is said to be totally down with US business practices.

The name of the company, whose early success was intrinsically tied to its location on the Edo River, ultimately derives from a reference to a shrine that had great influence in Shimōsa Province, roughly modern Chiba Prefecture. 亀甲山 Kikkō-zan is the “mountain name” of 香取神宮 Katori Jingū Katori Grand Shrine (all temples have 3 names, one of those names is a 山号 sangō mountain name)[vii]. There is also a mountain in Chiba called 亀甲山 Kamegase-yama (same kanji). They dropped the 山 yama/san kanji and added 萬 man myriad/10,000 to 亀甲 kikkō as a suffix and established the name as a trademark. The shrine apparently wielded great influence in the region, and you can find Katori Shrines of various sizes throughout the area (and indeed, throughout the country).

Katori Grand Shrine in Chiba. This is the main shrine, but it has many branch shrines throughout the area.

Katori Grand Shrine in Chiba. This is the main shrine, but it has many branch shrines throughout the area. I haven’t been there myself yet, but from a map I looked, the shrine precinct is quite expansive.

Not to keep harping on the Katori Shrine thing, but this map shows the location of Katori Grand Shrine and several other major branches. All of the red dots are minor Katori Shrines.  Please note the relationship between the Tone River and Edo River and the cities of Choshi, Noda, Nagareyama, Ichikawa, and most importantly, Edo.

Not to keep harping on the Katori Shrine thing, but this map shows the location of Katori Grand Shrine and several other major branches. All of the red dots are minor Katori Shrines.
Please note the relationship between the Tone River and Edo River and the cities of Choshi, Noda, Nagareyama, Ichikawa, and most importantly, Edo.
Click to enlarge.


In the Modern Era

Fast forward to 1932. A new administrative district, 江戸川区 Edogawa-ku Edogawa Ward, was created out of seven areas: 小松川町 Komatsugawa Machi, 瑞江町 Mizue Machi, 小岩町 Koiwa Machi, 松江村 Matsue Mura, 葛西村 Kasai Mura, 篠崎村 Shinozaki Mura, 鹿本村 Shikamoto Mura[viii]. The Edo River marked the boarder of Tōkyō Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture, and so the name of the ward (which also lies on that border) derives from the river, of course[ix]. Keep in mind no part of Edogawa Ward was located within the city named Edo.

The Edo River with cherry blossoms in full bloom (late Meiji Era). Check out the driver of the boat with no passengers, but he's still straight stuntin' like a playa.

The Edo River with cherry blossoms in full bloom (late Meiji Era). Check out the driver of the boat with no passengers, but he’s still straight stuntin’ like a playa.


In 1979, a plan was hatched to open a Disneyland in Japan. A little known landfill in Chiba Prefecture called 浦安 Urayasu that lie adjacent to a diverted branch of the Edo River was chosen. This branch is now known as the 旧江戸川 Kyū-Edogawa Old Edo River. The theme park and many of its nearby hotels opened in 1983. Today, Tōkyō Disneyland is the most profitable Disney theme park in the world. The site is built on landfill, and while much of the 新浦安 Shin-Urayasu (new Urayasu) residential area suffered serious damage in the March 11th, 2011 東日本大震災 Higashi Nihon Daishinsai Great East Japan Earthquake, Disneyland was located on the apparently more stable Urayasu. As such, it suffered minimal damage, closing for only a week or two to make cosmetic repairs.


Damage typical of Shin-Urayasu. While this may not have been as horrific as what happened in Tohoku, it was most definitely devastating financially to the inhabitants and the local economy.

Damage typical of Shin-Urayasu. While this may not have been as horrific as what happened in Tohoku, it was most definitely devastating financially to the inhabitants and the local economy.


Let's change the topic!!!

Let’s change the topic!!!

Edogawa Ward’s biggest claim to fame is the 江戸川花火大会 Edogawa Hanabi Taikai Edogawa Fireworks Display. The display takes place along the Edo River and the levees are used as first-come/first serve seating. The event was established in 1976 and next year (2015) will be the event’s 40th iteration. I’m rather fond of this particular fireworks display. And now that I know that next year will be a special, I’m considering making a small JapanThis! meet up where we can all nerd out on Japanese history and enjoy fireworks on the Edo River together. If you’re interested, leave a comment so I know that I’m not the only one who thinks this might be fun.


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[i] Tatebayashi Domain got a brief mention in my article on the Tone River.
[ii] Wanna know about the Tone River? I’ve got an article about that!
[iii] I’ve written about the etymology of Katsushika here.
[iv] Actually, it put 下総国葛飾郡加村 Shimōsa no Kuni Katsushika-gun Ka Mura Ka Village, Katsushika District, Shimōsa Province on the map, as that was the name of the area in the Edo Period. In 1889, the Meiji Government put 流山町 Nagareyama Machi Nagareyama City on the map.
[v] Why is this product so important? The basics of traditional home cooking in Japan boil down to 5 seasonings: soy sauce, sake, mirinvinegar, and sugar.
[vi] As mentioned earlier, the 5 basic seasonings of Japanese cuisine are: soy sauce, sake, mirinvinegar, and sugar.
[vii] Keen observers will have noticed that this is a shrine, and yet it has a mountain name of a temple. That shows that the institution pre-dates the 神仏分離 Shinbutsu Bunri Separation of Shintō and Buddhism in 1868. And indeed, the Katori Shrines of Shimōsa Province are quite ancient. It also shows that the name of the company pre-dates the separation of Buddhism and Shintō, but both of these are part of the historical record, even though many people casually forget the Buddhist/Shintō syncretism of the Pre-Modern Period. I hope you all caught that.
[viii] There are 2 types areas that were incorporated, 町 machi town/city and 村 mura village.
[ix] Place name conventions make this obvious. Even if we didn’t have the paperwork for the creation of the ward (which we do), if it wasn’t named for the river, it would be Edo-ku not Edogawa-ku.

The Tama River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on August 6, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Tama-gawa (“super scratchy river,” more at unknown)

A typical river crossing in the Edo Period

A typical river crossing in the Edo Period

Hello and welcome back to the clusterfuck of river-related bullshit that JapanThis! has recently become. For my own sanity, the river posts require time off. Also, my day job has become busier recently. To make matters more complicated, I just took a trip to Kyōto and had to edit the photos and I’m in the middle of reading Romulus Hillsborough’s latest book, which I will be reviewing shortly. Needless to say, I’m fucking busy right now. But anyways, we’ve got another river to check off the list 7 rivers that I promised[i].

So, please forgive my lateness and please bear with me. I thought this one would be one of the easy ones. Clearly, I was totally mistaken. But I found a way to rejuvenate my love for writing the blog again.

Let’s get it on, my brother/sister. It’s time to go deeeeeeeeeeep.


OK, so let’s get down and dirty. 

 shinsengumi teams

Tama’s Image in my Mind

When I hear the name “Tama,” I think of the phrase 多摩の誇り Tama no Hokori the Pride of Tama which was used repeatedly in the 2004 NHK 大河ドラマ Taiga Dorama Taiga Drama, 新撰組!  Shinsengumi![ii] The upper echelons of the group were natives of 武蔵国多摩郡 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Tama District, Musashi Province. The Shinsengumi’s 局長 kyokuchō commander, 近藤勇 Kondō  Isami was originally from present day 調布 Chōfu which is located in the Tōkyō Metropolis today[iii]. The 副局長 fuku-kyokuchō vice-commander, 土方歳三 Hijikata Toshizō[iv] was from present day 日野 Hino which is located near present day 立川 Tachikawa. In my article on Musashi, I mentioned that the name “Musashi” has a very country image these days. In the Edo Period, this image was even stronger because the area was so outside the city limits of the shōgun’s capital. It’s important to understand that Edo and Tōkyō are not – and never have been – mutually interchangeable terms, especially in regards to territory. Anyways, as a region, Tama conjurors up an image of Chōfu and Hino, and as such, to me that means “Shinsengumi.”

This is a little creepy idol worship, but… the Shinsengumi got the short end of the stick by the Meiji Coup.

The other thing that comes to mind is BBQ.

As an American, I assume you can barbecue anywhere – usually your own backyard. But in Japan’s crowded cities, towns, and villages, you can’t just put a BBQ pit in your backyard and have a party. Because of that, rivers are the de factō place to grill food and hang with your friends. The Tama River runs through the border of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis and 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture. As you can imagine, the metropolis starts to melt away into countryside here. So it’s along this river that Tōkyōites and neighboring denizens have found common ground for barbecuing and all the debauchery ensues. All kinds of parties go down along the river. I’ve been to a range of events for the whole family to events that would even make Tokugawa Ienari blush[v].

The river isn't really the focus of the BBQ...

The river isn’t really the focus of the BBQ…

But the reality is, the 多摩地方 Tama chihō Tama region is essentially the bulk of 西東京 Nishi-Tōkyō Western Tōkyō, ie; the area outside of the 23 Wards. It’s countryside[vi], but it’s not complete flyover territory. 青梅 Ōme is famous for its mountains and autumn colors. 八王子 Hachiōji is famous for a Late Hōjō clan castle that was built to last for generations only to be burnt to the ground by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590 in one of his last moves to unify the country under his rule as regent of the emperor. Oh, and 吉祥寺 Kichijōji is in the Tama region. Kichijōji is one of the most desirable places to live in Tōkyō, despite not being in the 23 Wards[vii].

West Tokyo. That's right. This is Tokyo.

West Tokyo.
That’s right. This is Tokyo.

Tama River Trivia

Despite the association with the Shinsengumi, who were eventually 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the Edo Shōgunate, the river never flowed through Edo. Even today, the river doesn’t flow through central Tōkyō, though it does mark a boundary between Tōkyō Metropolis and Kanagawa Prefecture.

The Tama River course.

The Tama River course.

At first site, the river looks quite shallow and unimpressive, though much of the river’s course is accompanied by tall, ugly, concrete levees. But, don’t let the river’s shallowness fool you! The river actually floods often; those ugly levees have saved countless lives and provided safe and secure areas for barbecues.

stone levees....

stone levees….

Because it never ran through a major urban center or capital, the river’s course hasn’t changed dramatically over the years.  Archaeology seems to show that people lived along the river since Paleolithic times. There are many 古墳  kofun burial mounds located along the river. The river may have played a role in spreading the culture of 邪馬台国 Yamatai Koku the Yamato State and burial mound culture.

This doesn't look like much, but it's a kofun (burial mound) in Tamagawa burial mound park.

This doesn’t look like much, but it’s a kofun (burial mound) in Tamagawa burial mound park.

Some people claim there are piranha in the Tama River. There were reports of 4 piranha pulled out of the in river in 2010. The English language media dubbed the river the “Tamazon.” While alien fauna are popping up in rivers all over the world, I find it hard to believe that piranha are flourishing in the Tama River. But who knows… maybe you next BBQ by the river may include an uninvited meat-eater.

Google "piranha attack victim" at your own risk.

Google “piranha attack victim” at your own risk.

The Legal Definition of the River

Today the river is defined as the stretch of flowing water from 笠取山 Kasadori Yama Mt. Kasadori to 東京湾 Tōkyō Wan Tōkyō Bay at 羽田 Haneda[viii]. Mt Kasadori, by the way, lies at the border of 甲州市 Kōshū-shi Kōshū City (former 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni Kai Province and modern 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture) and 秩父市 Chichibu-shi Chichibu City (former 秩父国 Chichibu no Kuni Chichibu Province and modern 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Dasaitama Prefecture).

From Mt. Kasadori, it flows eastward to the hilly and rural part of Western Tokyo. At Hamura, an otherwise unremarkable backwater of rural Tōkyō, is the source of the 玉川上水 Tamagawa Jōsui Tama River Aqueduct – which we will talk about in a minute.


Etymology, Part One (Kanji)

I hate to say this, but this is gonna be messy. Time and time again, we’ve seen 当て字 ateji, that is to say, easily understood kanji that have no meaning, but can be easily read. The kanji used for the Tama River are ateji… or possibly not. It’s a really convoluted story and I’m not exactly how to present the facts in the best way.

First let me say, we don’t know – and probably can’t know – the exact origin of the name of this river. Throughout the regions where the river flows there are a few place names that seem to be related – nothing that really ties everything together etymologically speaking, but you’ll see. From time immemorial, the name タマ Tama has been used in the area, but different areas used different kanji. In the Pre-Modern Era, people weren’t such sticklers for standards – as we’ve seen time and time here at JapanThis!, and as such it wasn’t until the Meiji Era that we started seeing efforts to standardizing the Japanese Language. Even in the Post-War years, which saw sweeping reforms to 標準語  Hyōjungo Standard Japanese, allowances have always been made for regional cultural differences and traditions – or sometimes a train station just needs to differentiate itself from another train station. Shit happens.

Since the name goes back to some of the earliest extant documents of Japan, there is reason to suspect that the name predates literacy in Japan. If that’s the case, the name could not even be Japonic in origin. But just like all the etymologies I’m gonna throw out there, it’s all speculation.

Ferry service across the Tama River

Ferry service across the Tama River

Kanji Chaos!

So let’s look at all that kanji, then, shall we? Keep in mind, this list is by no means exhaustive, but these are words said to be related to the river and/or region.

Kanji/Rōma-ji Meaning[ix]
many, multi-;
chafe, polish, scrape;
jewel, ball, pebble;river
Tamagawa Jōsui
jewel, ball, pebble;river;
Tama Reien
many, multi-;
polish, brush, improve;
usually written without kanji, but the meaning is 二子玉川 “Twin Tamagawa Villages”
interior, deep;
many, multi-;polish, brush, improve
interior, deep;many, multi-;chafe, polish, scrape
many, multi-;chafe, polish, scrape
cape, promontory;
jewel, ball

Recently, I’ve been told that hating on Saitama by calling it “Dasaitama” has become unclassy…
or has it?

Trends in the Spelling

Although none of this was standardized until recent years, there are some trends in the spelling that take us back to the first documentation of the river in written Japanese. None of this really helps out with the true derivation, but it does give us a fantastic lesson in how kanji was used and how it really muddles up efforts to study diachronic changes in Japanese.

In the Nara Period, there is a vague reference to the river, though we do know if this is upstream or downstream. The reference occurs in the 万葉集 Man’yōsha The Compilation of a 1000 Leaves, and the spelling is 多麻河 Tama-gawa. This book was written at a time when kanji use in Japanese hadn’t been standardized, so the kanji are more or less phonetic – though not 100% so.  The literal meaning of the kanji are “much,” “hemp,” and “river.” We’ll come back to this later.

In the Heian Period, we find a few references to the midsection of the river as 武蔵国石瀬河 Musashi no Kuni Iwasegawa Iwase River of Musashi Province. The literal meaning of the kanji are “pebble/jewel,” “shallow,” and “river. We’ll come back to this later.

From the Kamakura Period, when we finally get more consistent documents from Eastern Japan, until the Edo Period, the upper portion of the river seems to have been known as the 丹波川 Tabagawa. The kanji literally mean “red,” “waves,” and “river.”[x] Pretty sure we’re coming back to this later, too.

In the Edo Period, the spelling 玉川 Tama-gawa “pebble river” seems to have become a standard in many documents; areas surrounding the river in particular came to be spelled this way. A few variations that I mentioned earlier persisted, but for whatever reason, a trend towards this new spelling – admittedly easier to read – had begun. The old kanji 多摩 Tama didn’t fade into oblivion, but two contenders for the correct writing became dominant in the Edo Period. A third spelling, 多磨 tama would exist until the 1920’s, when it got a cemetery and train station named after it – and it persists today. The reason for this was to honor the name of 多磨村 Tama Mura Tama Village, the original village in that area.

This sign shows both spellings 多摩川 and 玉川 side by side.

This sign shows both spellings 多摩川 and 玉川 side by side.

Etymology, Part Two (Folklore)

There are a few theories floating around… None of them are very satisfying.

➊ As I mentioned, at one point, the upper portion of the river was called 丹波川 Taba-gawa; this is ateji used to represent タバガワ出 Taba-gawa no de. This name literally means “outflowing of the Taba River” and referred to a 手離れる出 which looks like te hanareru de in modern Standard Japanese, but in the ancient local dialect was ta banareru de. The meaning is that the river that separates from 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni Kai Province (modern Yamanashi Prefecture) at this place[xi]. The name was either corrupted or underwent a natural sound change from Taba-gawa to Tama-gawa[xii]. There is a village near the headwaters called 山梨県丹波山村 Yamanashi-ken Tabayama Mura, Tabayama Village, Yamanashi Prefecture which preserves the first 2 kanji. In that area, the river is locally called 丹波川 with 2 variant readings: Taba-gawa and Tanba-gawa.

I don’t know enough about Old Japanese or the dialects of the region, so let’s take this one with a grain of salt, but preservation of these ancient kanji is impressive.

The Tabagawa (ie; Tamagawa) in Tabayama Village.

The Tabagawa (ie; Tamagawa) in Tabayama Village.

 多摩 tama is ateji for /霊 tama (soul, spirit). This is a reference to the ancient kami 大国魂命 Ōkuni Tama no Mikoto[xiii]. This kami was the deification of the very province itself, in this case 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni or whatever territory the area was known as prior to the Taika Reforms (some argue that it may have been called 魂国 Tama no Kuni Tama Province). By this thinking, the river was sacred to or controlled by Ōkuni Tama no Mikoto, or was a physical manifestation of the kami itself. As this was either Ōkuni Tama no Mikoto’s river or Tama Province’s river it was called 魂川 Tamagawa (the kami’s river), the kanji was changed to 多摩川  Tamagawa because the ateji were presumably easier to read phonetically.

This is interesting. The only part of it that jumps out at me is that 魂川 isn’t difficult to read. In fact, I can’t think of another way to read the name in Modern Japanese. While the name is clearly of the Yamatai culture, this could also be syncretism at work, merging a pre-Yamatai deity or state with a Yamatai one.

Ōkuni Shrine in Fuchū in the Tama Region. Ōkuni Tama no Mikoto isn't enshrined here per se, but this is most definitely a Kuni Tama, a Shintō tutelary deity of a Province.

Ōkuni Shrine in Fuchū in the Tama Region. Ōkuni Tama no Mikoto isn’t enshrined here per se, but this is most definitely a Kuni Tama, a Shintō tutelary deity of a Province.

➌ The name comes from the ateji  多麻 tama which means “an abundance of hemp.” The idea is that a buttload of hemp naturally grew along the banks of the river and came to be farmed by the local people. Supporters of this theory point at 麻布 Azabu, 麻生 Asaoku, 調布 Chōfu, and 砧 Kinuta as place names that may have similar origins.

Nearby Chōfu, Asaoku, and Kinuta absolutely give a level of plausibility to this particular theory. Azabu may have a similar origin, but has no connection to the Tama River.

Whatever the origin of the name, in 712, the name was first recorded as 多麻 “abundance of hemp,” but over time came to be 多摩 “a lot of chafing.” Hemp was a common material for making clothes. But “a lot of chafing” is just bad. So it’s no wonder why the shōgunate preferred 玉川 “pebble river” over a “hurtful river.” But just as the shōgunate didn’t survive the Meiji Coup of 1868, their terminology scattered like their retainers and so we’re left with an etymological mess.

Japanese hemp.

Japanese hemp.

 Oh, I forgot to mention this one. It’s often repeated that he name is derived from the 玉川兄弟  Tama Kyōdai the Tamagawa brothers, 玉川庄右衛門  Tamagawa Shōemon and 玉川清右衛門 Tamagawa Seiemon. This fraternal team managed the excavation of the 玉川上水 Tamagawa Jōsui Tamagawa Aqueduct in 1653. Early in the Edo Period, the shōgunate realized that the main aqueduct, the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui was insufficient for the city, whose size and population had skyrocketed due to the policy of sankin-kōtai.

This etymology is demonstrably false.

Originally, the brothers were farmers who lived along the river. They took the job and finished in roughly 18 months. For the efficiency and diligence in building a superior aqueduct to the existing Kanda Aqueduct, the shōgunate rewarded them with hereditary management of the aqueduct, samurai status, and a family name, 玉川 Tamagawa. As mentioned before, this was the preferred spelling of the shōgunate. But more importantly, this was a great gift that could be passed down through the family forever.However, that was not to be. The Tamagawa surname was abolished when it was discovered that the 3rd generation head of the family – for his own financial gain – was pimping out Tamagawa Aqueduct water to the locals. Not only was he stealing from the shōgun, he proved himself to be an ingrate to the very system that had raised his family’s fortunes from peasant to samurai.

What a dick.

Not to understand what the Tamagawa Brothers accomplished, here's the entire stretch of the aqueduct. Click to enlarge.

Not to understand what the Tamagawa Brothers accomplished, here’s the entire stretch of the aqueduct.
Click to enlarge.

The Tamagawa Brothers, (It's just a statue, not the real guys...)

The Tamagawa Brothers,
(It’s just a statue, not the real guys…)

Today How Are the Kanji Used?

The kanji 玉川 Tamagawa (the Edo Period kanji preferred by the shōgunate) is now generally applied to place names associated with the river basin, while the older 多摩川 Tamagawa refers to the river itself and the 多摩川水系 Tamagawa Suikei Tamagawa river system, ie; actual waterways that diverge from the river itself, man-made or otherwise. That said, it seems this usage is not entirely uniform. For example, 多摩市 Tama-shi Tama City uses the name of the river.

The famous hanami spot, 多磨霊園 Tama Reien Tama Cemetery, uses a variant for /ma/, but it’s clearly based on the pre-Edo Period version. The reason for this difference is based solely local tradition. By the way, if you’re a fan of the psychopathic, right wing author, 三島由紀夫 Mishima Yukio, after he committed 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment in 1970, he was interred at Tama Cemetery. If you want to take a selfie with a douchebag’s grave, you can do it here.

Tama Cemetery.

Tama Cemetery. Mishima would love the pink.

二子玉川 Futako-Tamagawa (often misread as Futago-Tamagawa) is not an official place name. It’s just a train station name, but as is often the case in Tōkyō, areas tend to be referred to by their station names.  Many stations and business names in the “Futako-Tamagawa area” bear the name 玉川, but the name 玉川 rarely appears as a postal address. 二子村 Futako Mura Futako Village was a village located on the Kanagawa side of the river in present day 川崎市 Kawasaki-shi Kawasaki City. On the present day Tōkyō-side of the river in present day Setagaya-ku, was 玉川村 Tamagawa Mura Tamagawa Village. This part of the river was part of an important ferry that took passengers back and forth between Tamagawa Village and Futako Village which was called the 二子之渡し Futako no Watashi, meaning something like “the twin village crossing.”[xv]

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[i] Note to self: never promise more than 3 articles on a subject you know nothing about yet.
[ii] If you don’t know who the Shinsengumi were… I’m not sure why you’re reading my blog. But that said, you can find a quick description here at Samurai Archives.
[iii] Though his family’s dōjō was located in Edo in the 柳町 Yanagi-chō neighborhood. I have an article about that are here.
[iv] The Hijikata family still owns property in the area, promotes Shinsengumi-related tourism, and still teaches 天然理心流 ten’nen rishin’ryū – the style of sword play taught at the Kondō dōjō.
[v] The Great Grilled Tama River Orgy of 2012 is a post for another day.
[vi] Here’s what Wikipedia says about former Tama District.
[vii] I’ve talked about Kichijōji many times before. Check out some of my articles here.
[viii] See my article about Haneda here.
[ix] I use the term “meaning” in the loosest of possible senses.
[x] We’ve seen references to “red rivers” many times before, but this one comes to mind first.
[xi] 手離れる出 ta banareru de seems pretty cryptic to me, but it seems to mean “the outflowing [where the river] lets hands go.” In Modern Japanese 手離れ tebanare means a child who doesn’t always need to hold mommy’s hand (it can also mean “completing a project”).
[xii] We’ve seen this sound change many times here at JapanThis!. The examples I like to give are modern Japanese variants さむい samui vs さぶい sabui (cold) and さみしい samishii vs さびしい sabishii (lonely).
[xiii] This kami’s name means something like the “His Majesty, Spirit of the Great Country.”
[xv] Today, the Tōkyō-side of the river, in Setagaya, there is a postal code 玉川. The Kanagawa-side does not have any postal codes with this name that I know of but buildings and businesses absolutely use it. That said, Kanagawa isn’t Tōkyō so I’m not covering it for this blog.

What does Tabata mean?

In Japanese History on April 29, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Tabata (on the edge of the field)

In JR's ongoing effort to put department stores in every train station, Tabata Station looks like every other JR station.

In JR’s ongoing effort to put department stores in every train station, Tabata Station looks like every other JR station.

First Let’s Start with the Kanji, Shall We?


rice paddy


edge, boundary, beside, close to

This is a place name found all over Japan, with reading variations.

It’s also a family name found all over Japan… yes, also with reading variations[i].

And despite sounding really backwatery to our modern ears, many people with this family name can apparently claim descent from the 源氏 Minamoto-shi/Genji Minamoto clan. So, stuff that in your pipe and smoke it.

In the Edo Period, 田端村 Tabata Mura Tabata Village was located on a section of the elevated area that is geographically referred to as the 上野台地 Ueno Daichi the Ueno Plateau, but was to known at the time as 上野山 Uenoyama Ueno Mountain. The area was well known because one side was bordered by a cliff. Although, most people don’t notice it now, the west side of Tabata Station clearly shows the cliff – it’s just been woven into the fabric of the modern metropolis.

The cliff of former Tabata Village.

The cliff of former Tabata Village.

It’s said that meaning of the name is 田ノ端 ta no hata on the edge of a rice paddy. Historical records and maps from the early Edo Period are vague at best, but the area would have been quite rural at the time. The presence of 田畑 tahata rice paddies and fields is more or less a given. Speaking of tahata, a second etymology says that via rendaku, tahata became tabata. So there, you just got 2 for the price of 1.

Tabata sits on a ridge – a cliff, if you will – on the edge of the Ueno Plateau. The agricultural lands here were eventually surrendered to the Tokugawa Shōgunate in the name of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance[ii], for the purpose of building daimyō residences and samurai residences. Without clear historical records, the “edge” could have referred to rice paddies on the plateau itself, or could refer to the cliff – a proverbial “edge” clearly delineating the yamanote and shitamachi, thus indicating the farming was being done in the valley.

one the left, you can see the Hongo Plateau, on the right, the Ueno Plateau. Where you see 田端駅 is Tabata Station.

one the left, you can see the Hongo Plateau, on the right, the Ueno Plateau.
Where you see 田端駅 is Tabata Station.

A second, more intriguing theory maintains that the place name is most likely far more ancient than the kanji reveal. We’ve seen this in really old names. This theory maintains that the oldest place names are all based on the terrain. In an age where most people were illiterate and there were very few – or no – maps, short and descriptive places were the easiest way to find your way around. In my experience writing Japan This!, I’ve definitely noticed this pattern. As areas became more literate, kanji were added post hoc. However, using kanji for their phonetic values distorts forever the original meaning of the word, especially if it’s a name that predates the importation of kanji to Japan or if the place name dates from the languages of the aboriginal peoples of Japan (ie; before the spread of the Yamato people).

This alternate theory uses some archaeological findings to back it up. The area has been inhabited since the Jōmon Period[iii] but the real activity picked up around the Yayoi Period[iv]. During the early to mid Jōmon Period (7,000-4,000 years ago), this area was coastline, and the high areas were inhabited by villagers, communities highly reliant on the sea and not farming. The sea began receding during the Yayoi Period and we find evidence of all kinds of coastal fishing activity, but no farming. Because the only people who farm next to the ocean are idiots[v].

Again, if this is an ancient name – not a medieval[vi] name – the kanji does not matter. Kanji have sounds (readings) but no kanji is divorced from meaning. It always has a meaning. Going by this theory, the archaeological evidence has led a small group of people to maintain that the name comes from a very ancient place name that originally meant “the top of the plateau.” One of the more interesting speculations[vii] was that the name is evidenced by 束旗 tabahatatabata a bundle of flags, because the high ground is where you can build your fort (and of course put up your flags, which can be seen from everywhere).

A residential alley in the shitamachi area near Tabata.

A residential alley in the shitamachi area near Tabata.

So Which Theory Do I Like?

I think the 2nd theory is more or less crap. Trying to relate a place name to the Paleolithic Period or the Jōmon Period is just absurd. Even the Yayoi thing is stretch. If we had a record from the Nara or Heian Period, I’d start to loosen up my skepticism. But we don’t. This name doesn’t even seem to appear in Kamakura Period records, which is when the Kantō area really starts showing up in the historical record. No matter what activity happened here 2000 years ago, I’m willing to bet that has absolutely no connection with what was happening here by the time the Edo clan was established or Ōta Dōkan came around. I don’t know if Japanese clans were raising flags on the high ground around their forts or not before the Sengoku Period, but flags all over the place is an image I associate with the rise of the warrior culture, and in particular with the Sengoku Period[viii].

If we start messing around with ateji again, it becomes a game of unsolvable multiple choice. I’m going to use Occam’s Razor and say that “a village next to a rice paddy” is the most realistic etymology. The fact that this place name occurs all over Japan backs up this rationale as well. After all, why did people make rice paddies? Well, it was to feed villages! Even the “rice paddies and fields” makes more sense than referencing the Yayoi Period.

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[i] There are approximately 23,900 people with the surname 田端 in Japan today. As a place name or surname the variations are: Tabata, Tahashi, Tahata, Tabashi, Tabana, and Tabuchi – in order from most common to least common. As a family name, I think we can say this is fairly rare in Japan.
[ii] See my quick overview here.
[iii] I’m not going into the Jōmon thing because it’s soooo far beyond the scope of Edo-Tōkyō. That said, it bears repeating that the Jōmon people were racially distinct from the Yayoi people. The Jōmon may have been more Caucasian looking. It’s with the Yayoi people where we start getting people whose bones, at least, start looking Japanese.
[iv] Let’s say from 400 BC to 200 AD just to be conservative. But this is where we start seeing people who are racially “Japanese.”
[v] Unless you’re farming seaweed, but that’s completely different from maintaining fields and rice paddies. But try to grow some vegetables in salt water and see what happens.
[vi] This is a term I hate using, but I can’t think of a better one.
[vii] And there are a lot more!
[viii] This is just the image in my head; I honestly don’t know shit about flags and banners in Japanese history.

What does Suitengumae mean?

In Japanese History on April 27, 2014 at 5:18 pm

(in front of water heaven, more at “in front of Suiten-gū”)

shrine honden


This is a reader request, but I think I can answer it quickly – or at least I’ll try.

Firstly, I have to say this. There is no place called Suitengūmae in Tōkyō. This is the name of a Tōkyō Metro train station. The surrounding area may be referred to as Suitengūmae by the locals, but it’s not a postal address. Such is the life of a city dominated by such an expansive and exacting train system.

I’ve never used the train station before, but I have been to the area before. Officially, the area is known as 日本橋蛎殻町 Nihonbashi Kakigara-chō[i]. I don’t think most Tōkyōites know this postal code unless they live or work in the area. However, pretty much everyone will know the origin of this place name… err, I mean, this station name.


Subway stations... hehehehe.

Subway stations… hehehehe.

The name is derived from the famous 水天宮 Suiten-gū Suiten Shrine. Saying you visited this shrine is synonymous with saying “I’m pregnant.[ii]” The attraction to this is that 天御中主神 Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is enshrined here. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe she/he is the hermaphroditic creator of the universe in Shintō cosmology[iii]. Anyways, by some Shintō thought, this kami is said to be the first kami. So, the idea of creation is strong, thus the connection to creating babies. There are other kami enshrined here, of course, but the main visitors are expectant mothers and their families who are coming to pray for safe delivery and healthy babies.

Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is one of the most mysterious and elusive kami.

Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is one of the most mysterious and elusive kami.

Looking at the architecture, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a famous picture of the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of  福岡藩 Fukuoka Han Fukuoka Domain which was located in Kasumigaseki. In the picture, the mansion is built on a slope, with a large stone stairway leading up to it. Suiten-gū is built the same way.

Fukuoka Domain's upper residence in Kasumigaseki is considered a masterpiece of Edo Period administrative building style.

Fukuoka Domain’s upper residence in Kasumigaseki is considered a masterpiece of Edo Period administrative building style.

I know this is a coincidence, but imagine my surprise when I learned that this shrine was once located on the grounds of the upper residence of 久留米藩 Kurume Han Kurume Domain in 三田 Mita. Kurume is located in present day Fukuoka Prefecture[iv]. After the Meiji Coup, the Arima Family, lords of Kurume, moved to this area and rebuilt the shrine here. But the connection to Fukuoka goes deeper. 久留米水天宮 Kurume Suiten-gū located in Kurume City is the main shrine of Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami. His/her cult spread from this region and flourished during the Edo Period under the trend towards 国学 kokugaku native learning[v]. According to the Japanese Wikipedia page, there are about 25 Suiten-gū located throughout Japan, 4 of which are located in the Tōkyō Metropolis.


Pretty sure it's coincidence, but the architectural relation is uncanny.

Pretty sure it’s coincidence, but the architectural relation is uncanny.


On a slightly related note, a visit to Suiten-gū to pray for your safe delivery can always come after a visit to 東京大神宮 Tōkyō Daijingū Tōkyō Grand Shrine. This shrine was built in 1880 as part of the newly established Meiji government’s propaganda campaign to distract people from all things Tokugawa, including temples and shrines[vi]. Anyways, the shrine is known today as the place where single women go in droves to pray for a boyfriend or husband[vii]. Rurōsha has a nice blog entry about Tōkyō Grand Shrine. Check it out.

Oh, I almost forgot. Suiten-gū is part of the 人形町町七福神巡り Ningyō-chō Shichi Fukujin Meguri the Ningyō-chō Pilgrimage of the 7 Gods of Good Luck. As I’ve mentioned before, 7 Fukujin pilgrimages are popular during the New Year’s holiday. Most of the temples and shrines on this pilgrimage are minor, but when you get to Suiten-gū, you’ll find yourself at one of the busiest shrines in the area.


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[i] A name we may have to come back to… in the future.
[ii] I’m not even kidding here. Uploading a picture of the shrine with only the caption “Suiten-gū” onto social media is a common and modest way for Japanese girls to break the news to their friends.
[iii] Again, don’t quote me, but I think some argue that she is an idea imported from China by the 邪馬台国 Yamatai Koku, Japanized, and then spread throughout Japan by the Yamato people. Fukuoka is one of the areas assumed to have been the origin of the Yamato culture (we’ll come back to this in a moment). But if you want to know more about this kami, please read here.
[iv] In the Edo Period, these were autonomous domains ruled by separate families. Today’s Fukuoka Prefecture is a large, modern administrative unit and doesn’t correspond to the former Fukuoka Domain. Case in point, Kurume is now a city located in Fukuoka Prefecture.
[v] Without going into a too much detail, this was a nativist approach to scholarship promoted by people such as 本居宣長 Motoori Norinaga as an alternative to 漢学 kangaku Chinese learning. In the newly established Pax Tokugawa with its restriction on sea travel and trade saw a renewed interested in turning inward and parsing out the “nativist” Japanese narratives from the Chinese classics. The Chinese classics didn’t fall by the wayside, but new passion for Japan’s own contributions to its own culture came to be seen as valuable and was pursued with vigor.
[vi] I think I’ve touched on this a few times. But my most recent allusion to it was in the part about the 10 Shrines of Tōkyō in my article on Hakusan.
[vii] I’ve also been told that it’s one of the best places in Tōkyō to pick up desperate, broken women if you’re into picking up random, lonely chicks at shrines. Hey, this is apparently a thing.

What does Hamamatsu-cho mean?

In Japanese History on April 23, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Hamamatsu-chō (seaside pine town, more at Hamamatsu town)

View towards Shiba-Daimon from Hamamatsu-cho.

View towards Shiba-Daimon from Hamamatsu-cho. The hills in the far background are Shiba and Zojo-ji.


There’s not a lot to go on with this place name. A lot of it adds up, but a lot of it doesn’t. As such, we’ll probably have to do a little more filling in the gaps than I like to do. But anyways, let’s see where this takes us.

On the record, here’s what we’ve got.

At the beginning of the Edo Period, the 増上寺代官 Zōjō-ji daikan magistrate of Zōjō-ji[i] 奥住久右衛門 Ozumi Kyūemon[ii] lived here. Because of that, the area was called affectionately called 久右衛門町 Kyūemon-chō Kyūemon Town.

However, in 1696 there was an official name change attributed to the assignment of a certain 権兵衛 Gonbei as successor to the magistracy. The area was renamed 浜松町 Hamamatsu-chō Hamamatsu Town because Gonbei happened to be from 遠江国浜松藩 Tōtōmi no Kuni Hamamatsu-han Hamamatsu Domain, Tōtōmi Province.

If you walk up the street from the above photo, you'll end up at what is called Shiba Daimon today. This street led directly to the Tokugawa Funerary Temple, Zojo-ji. The gate is called Daimon "the Big Gate" and once you crossed it, you entered the outskirts of the temple precinct.

If you walk up the street from the above photo, you’ll end up at what is called Shiba Daimon today. This street led directly to the Tokugawa Funerary Temple, Zojo-ji. The gate is called Daimon “the Big Gate” and once you crossed it, you entered the outskirts of the temple precinct.

Or so they say…

That is the “official story” endorsed by 東京都港区 Tōkyō-to Minato-ku Minato Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis.

There are a few red flags here. And there are some quick fixes for those. Let’s look at them, and I’ll let you decide on your own what you think is actually going on here.

The original village headman, Kyūemon, had a family name. This meant he would have been a descendant of the imperial court or a samurai. Judging by his given name and his location, one can easily assume he was a samurai. Only noble families were granted inheritable surnames (officially, at least).

At first glance, this Gonbei guy from Hamamatsu Domain had no family name… at least not on record. This is extremely suspicious on some levels. One would think the village headman should be a person of some distinction. So, where’s the family name?

On top of all that, because it was such a common name among commoners after the Meiji Coup, sometimes “Gonbei” can be used to refer to any idiot from the country. And to make matters even worse, “Gonbei” can also be used to refer to a person whose name we don’t know at all[iii]. All of these would normally be red flags for me. But poor Gonbei might have some circumstantial evidence (supported by some speculation) working in his favor.


I have no picture of Gonbei so instead I give you a woman washing her drying her pussy in an alcove.

I have no picture of Gonbei so instead I give you a woman drying her pussy in an alcove.


After the defeat of the Late Hōjō in 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu took a deal which Toyotomi Hideyoshi thought would resign Ieyasu to a backwater[iv]. But Ieyasu modernized the castle town that Ōta Dōkan, um, in his own day started on a path towards urbanization[v]. All of this risky modernization was justified when Ieyasu’s forces won the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. In 1603, he was granted the title of  征夷大将軍 sei’i tai-shōgun official-fucker-up-of-the-barbarians.

When Ieyasu moved his clan to Edo, one would think that only his chief retainers came with him. But merchants and artisans viewed as critical were encouraged to come and jump start the building of his new capital. Merchants from his former holdings came to Edo in droves after 1603. Japanese history books often talk about Mikawa samurai and the influence they had in Edo as they came from the same province Ieyasu was born in, 三河国岡崎藩 Mikawa no Kuni Okazaki-han Okazaki Domain, Mikawa Province. However, during his rise to power, Ieyasu was lord of 岡崎城 Okazaki-jō Okazaki Castle, then 駿府城 Sunpu-jō Sunpu Castle, and finally 浜松城 Hamamatsu-jō Hamamatsu Castle[vi].

Super digital Hamamatsu Castle with cherry blossoms.

Super creepy digital Hamamatsu Castle with cherry blossoms.


Given the amount of artist and merchant relocation from Ieyasu’s previous holdings to Edo, it’s not unreasonable to assume some guy named Gonbei from Hamamatsu ended up in this area. If he were clever and resourceful enough, could he become a 名主 nanushi village headman?

Well, it turns out there’s a possible explanation for this. It seems that the Tokugawa Shōgunate gave a fair degree of autonomy to each village and that the villages could actually elect their headmen. If we assume that Gonbei was elected, we might also be able to assume that Kyūemon had been appointed in the beginning to ensure the shōgunate’s master plan was being implemented correctly. After he died or retired, the village would be left to their own devices and the “democratic” system of self-governance would take effect.

Gonbei, clearly a commoner, may have borne the epithet 浜松権兵衛 Hamamatsu Gonbei to distinguish himself from other Gonbeis in the village (it was a high frequency name, after all).

Is this etymology a hard, historical fact? No, it isn’t. With a little background and a little guess work can we make it work? Clearly so. And as skeptical as I was when I first heard the theory, I have to say this one can be wrapped up fairly tidily. But even if it weren’t true, we still gain a little insight into the building up of Edo, and – I don’t know about you, but – I didn’t know the villages were given that kind of autonomy.

勉強になりました benkyō ni narimashita I learned some shit.

Hamamatsu-cho Station in 1909, 1941, and 1996.

Hamamatsu-cho Station in 1909, 1941, and 1996.


The area was (is) located on Edo (Tōkyō) Bay. The kanji 浜 hama means seaside[vii]. 松 matsu means pine trees. A literal reading of the kanji would lead one to believe there were pine trees by the sea. I thought for sure I’d come across this theory, but I haven’t found anything yet[viii].

Next to Hamamatsu-chō Station, you’ll find a stunning daimyō garden called 旧芝離宮庭園 Kyū-Shiba Rikyū Teien Former Shiba Detached Palace. This is an interesting spot because it was originally the site of a senior councilor of the shōgun, 大久保忠朝 Ōkubo Tadatomo. He brought some stone gateposts from the former fortress of a retainer of the 後北条 Go-Hōjō the Late Hōjō[ix], and used them as the foundation of a 茶室 chashitsu teahouse. The teahouse is gone, but the stone posts remain on a hill on the site. If you erase the skyscrapers and put yourself into the dawn of the Edo Period, you can totally imagine enjoying tea in a small house, then exiting the building to enjoy a view of the ocean.


The foundations of the teahouse built from the gateposts of Matsuda Norihide’s fortress. Edo Period recycling at it’s best… I suppose. Looks a little cramped.


The Edo Period buildings have not lasted — for a number of reasons, least of which is the legacy of its name 離宮 rikyū which is term applied to secondary homes of the imperial family. It was an imperial “detached palace” until the end of WWII. As luck would have it, the imperial family didn’t fuck with the garden too much and as such we have 1 of 2 preserved daimyō gardens in Tōkyō. (Keep in mind there were hundreds of gardens spread across Edo.)


Perfect place to end the article. A true blend of Edo-Tokyo.

Perfect place to end the article.
A true blend of Edo-Tokyo.




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[i] I didn’t know that temples had magistrates, which raises more questions about pre-Tokugawa and early Tokugawa organizations of civil administration. Grad students, there are a few theses in there.
Also, remember, Zōjō-ji became the first Tokugawa Funerary temple in Edo when the 2nd shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada asked that he and his wife be interred there. The connection between this area and the Tokugawa is profoundly felt, even today.
[ii] This family name can also be read Okuzumi or Okusumi. I don’t know which is correct for this dude.
[iii] By the way, both of these are modern uses of the name, not pre-modern.
[iv] Edo Bay is a ridiculously defensible bay. Ieyasu probably couldn’t have gotten luckier in this deal – albeit he had to refashion his castle in the grand new style ushered in by Oda Nobunaga.
[v] Long time readers will know well my position on the myth that Edo was just “an obscure fishing village.” If you don’t know, read my article on What does Edo mean?
[vi] Located in 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province, 駿河国 Suruga no Kuni Suruga Province, and 遠江国 Tōtōmi no Kuni Tōtōmi Province, respectively.
[vii] This is the same hama in Yokohama, also on the sea.
[viii] In Tokugawa Ienobu’s time, many pine trees were planted in the Tokugawa Seaside Palace here, which adds further confusion. That palace, also very nearby was, coincidentally, called 浜御殿 Hama Goten the Seaside Palace and today is called 旧浜離宮 Kyū-Hama Rikyū the Former Hama Detached Palace. This “hama” is actually a reference to the seaside and supposedly has no connection to the name Hamamatsu-chō.
[ix] Based in Odawara, they were the rulers of much of Kantō prior to Ieyasu.

What does Sendagaya mean?

In Japanese History on April 9, 2014 at 5:47 am

Sendagaya (1000 “da” valley)

Quite possibly the most useless map of Sendagaya ever.

Quite possibly the most useless map of Sendagaya ever.

Sendagaya is the area surrounded by Shinjuku, Yoyogi, Harajuku, and Akasaka. In my experience, 千駄ヶ谷駅 Sendagaya Eki Sendagaya Station is famous, but unless you live or work there, I think the area is overlooked. Much of what people may consider to be Harajuku or Yoyogi is actually Sendagaya[i]. Anyways, I’ll talk about what Sendagaya is today at the end of the article.


OK, Let’s Look at the Kanji!




a pack horse, a load (carried by a horse)


the genitive particle in Old Japanese, similar to の no in modern Japanese.



Seems pretty random, right? .


駄 Da

The key to this place name are the Old Japanese words 一駄壱駄 ichida 1 da or 二駄弐駄 nida 2 da. These are units of measurement that describe how much stuff you can put on a horse’s back. I don’t know the specifics, but it’s probably something like a size and weight measurement. So you could say “This horse is carrying 3 da.” 千駄 senda 1000 da, of course, would be a crazy number and as such, the local people used the word senda to mean 沢山 takusan a lot of.

So the idea is that this area was 千駄の谷 senda no ya “the valley with a 1000 da.” This begs the question, a 1000 da of what? Well, it’s said that when Ōta Dōkan came to the area to inspect his new holdings, the valley was primarily used for rice cultivation so the name meant “the valley where a lot of rice is grown.”

The word 千駄 appears in another Tōkyō place name, 千駄木 Sendagi. I haven’t researched this place name but I’ll take a guess that it means “a lot of trees.” But that’s topic for another day.

This is a 駄馬 daba, a pack horse. I don't know how many da the horse is carrying, but you get the idea...

This is a 駄馬 daba, a pack horse. I don’t know how many da the horse is carrying, but you get the idea…

 But Wait, There’s More!

One theory states that the 渋谷川 Shibuya-gawa Shibuya River ran through this valley and there were so many 萓 gi day-lilies growing along the bank of the river, that in a single day you could carry out 1000 da of them. This etymology is suspect because of the reference to day-lilies which isn’t preserved in the name.

In 1644, we have a shōgunate record that spells the place name 千駄萱村 Sendagaya Mura Sendagaya Village. This name means 1000 da and 萱 kaya is a kind of reed. This theory states that long ago, along the bank of the Shibuya River, a lot of reeds were growing. It seems that the current writing dates from 1688.

Lastly, another theory states that the writing was 千駄茅 senda kaya a 1000 da of kaya, a kind of hay. (We’ve seen this kanji before in my article on Kayabachō.) While the exact origin of this place name isn’t known, the common theme seems to be the use of the word 千駄 senda 1000 da. Take your pick of which one you like the best.

While yes, today Sendagaya is real area in Tokyo, many people don't know where it actually is because the area is only serviced by a single train line. That said, it's proximity to other well traveled stations makes it an attractive residential district. It's quiet, yet has access quick walking access to major areas.

While yes, today Sendagaya is real area in Tokyo, many people don’t know where it actually is because the area is only serviced by a single train line. That said, it’s proximity to other well traveled stations makes it an attractive residential district. It’s quiet, yet has access quick walking access to major areas.

A Little Bit About the Area

In the Edo Period, the area was just countryside. Some daimyō had residences out this way. The 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari branch of the Tokuagawa Family had maintained a 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence in Sendagaya for a long time. In 1877 or 1878, 篤姫 Atsu-hime Princess Atsu[ii], wife of the 13th shōgun,  徳川家定 Tokugawa Iesada[iii], moved to this residence until she lost her battle with Parkinson’s Disease in 1883. Atsu-hime was originally born in Kagoshima and helped negotiate the bloodless eviction of the Tokugawa from Edo Castle. Her counterpart was none other than the Kagoshima-born general 西郷隆盛 Saigō Takamori[iv].

The Owari Tokugawa maintained their residence here for some time. Today the palace’s lands have been transformed into 戸山公園 Toyama Kōen Toyama Park, but believe it or not, one of the Edo Period buildings of this residence still survives.

In 1957, the 書院 shoin study of the residence was moved to 總持寺 Sōji-ji Sōji Temple in 横浜市鶴見区 Yokohama-shi Tsurumi-ku Tsurumi Ward, Yokohama, not far from Tōkyō. The former study is now the reception hall of the temple. So if you want to see a beautiful daimyō study from a daimyō compound, you can.

The entrance to the study of the Owari Tokugawa's sprawling residence.

The entrance to the study of the Owari Tokugawa’s sprawling residence. Pretty freakin’ dope, huh?

Later, the area around the former Tokugawa residence was used by the Imperial Army as a training ground. Later, under the American Occupation, the US military used the confiscated training ground. Probably due to all the soldiers being there, the area became famous for love hotels and the sex industry. The red light district was shut down in the buildup to the 1960 Tōkyō Summer Olympics and today the area is mostly known as the home to many fashion and design related businesses. I think this is due to its proximity to Harajuku and Shibuya, both of which are fashion epicenters. .

Toyama Park

Toyama Park

There is another Bakumatsu personage associated with the area. One account of of the untimely death of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi commander, 沖田総司 Okita Sōji took place here. There are conflicting accounts of this due to the confusion generated by the abdication of the last shōgun 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Also, Sōji’s brothers-in-arms were scattered at the time. All of the accounts of his death come to us years later.

A sento (public bath) near Jingumae Stadium.

A sento (public bath) near Jingumae Stadium.

鳩森八幡神社 Hatomori Hachiman-gū Hatomori Hachiman Shrine is a famous shrine in the area. I’ve talked about what a Hachiman shrine is before, so I’m not going to get into that today. However, this particular shrine is special in that it has a 富士塚 Fuji-zuka Fuji Mound. In the Edo Period, travel was tightly controlled by the shōgunate and non-samurai would have had a difficult time getting travel permission to leave their 藩 han domains. Many people wanted to make a pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji, so a trend was to bring rocks from Mt. Fuji to Edo and build a huge mockup of the volcano at a shrine and the local people could make the journey up the hill to honor the 富士浅間 Fuji Sengen, the kami of Mt. Fuji. There are still a few of these remaining today in Tōkyō – I’ve been to about 3 of them, I think.

The Fuji-zuka

The Fuji-zuka

The NTT DoCoMo building which looks like the Empire State Building is also in Sendagaya. If you’ve ever been shopping at the Southern Terrace of Shinjuku Station or enjoyed a stroll through 新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The NTT DoCoMo Building. Sometimes a purely derivative and truly bizarre choice in architecture can work.

The NTT DoCoMo Building.
Sometimes a purely derivative and truly bizarre choice in architecture can work.

Oh, any expat resident of Tōkyō will tell you that Mexican food is hard to come by. While not in Sendagaya proper, there are two very famous Mexican places in nearby Yoyogi and Shibuya – both walkable from Sendagaya. One is a super famous date-spot known as Fonda de la Madrugada located in 北参道 Kita-sandō. It’s expensive, but they have a mariachi band that come to the tables and take requests (unfortunately, the only Spanish song most Japanese people know is the Gypsy Kings’ cover of Volare, so expect to hear it a few times throughout the course of your dinner)[v]. The other one is the more casual and less expensive, El Torito, located in the Southern Terrace of Shinjuku Station. OK, that’s about all I’ve got on Sendagaya.




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[i] Or maybe that’s just me.
[ii] She’s also called 天璋院 Tenshō-in because this is the name she took after the death of Iesada. It’s a Buddhist name, and I think it’s more like a title. I was told that after the Meiji Restoration she would have been called 篤子 Atsuko, since the title 姫 hime (usually rendered as “princess”) was banned by the new government.
[iii] Yes, the same Tokugawa Iesada who is generally depicted as a complete moron. You can read about his grave here.
[iv]  A guy I don’t have a lot of respect for.
[v] Of course, I’m speaking very broadly here. I’ve personally met Japanese people who know loads of Spanish music – waaaaaay more than I do – but just the average person doesn’t know much.

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