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What does Kiyosumi-Shirakawa mean?

In Japanese History on January 14, 2014 at 1:10 am

清澄白河
Kiyosumi-Shirakawa (no translation)

kiyosumi-shirakawa_eki

Those of you who are regular readers of JapanThis! will know that every New Year’s I do a different 七福神めぐり shichi fukujin meguri pilgrimage of the 7 gods of good luck. This year I did the Fukagawa course. I rarely go to this part of Tōkyō, so it gave me a unique chance to find some really unique place names to investigate.

The other day, I talked about 森下 Morishita “below the forest.” In that article, I said that Morishita was originally a merchant town at the bottom of a hill (shitamachi) and at the top of the hill was a daimyō residence (yamanote) with a large garden or at least a sizable grove of trees. The abandoned Edo Period daimyō palace was demolished and converted into a corporate pleasure garden by Iwasaki Yatarō, the founder and first successive president of Mitsubishi[i]. The park is called 清澄庭園 Kiyosumi Tei’en Kiyosumi Garden and its name is obviously linked to this place name.

Who doesn't love chilling out in a cool Japanese garden?

Who doesn’t love chilling out in a cool Japanese garden?

If you look closely at the name, it’s actually a combination of two words.

清澄
kiyosumi

pure + lucidity
“serene”

白河
shirakawa

white + river
“clean water”

The origin of the modern place name is literally just that. Two neighboring areas – Kiyosumi and Shirakawa – were smooshed together to make Kiyosumi-Shirakawa.

At first glance, this name has a few bizarre attributes

1 – 清澄 is an actual word when read in on’yomi (ie; the Chinese reading). That would be seichō. This is a literary word for “clear” or “serene.” Japanese place names rarely use Chinese readings, unless they are derived Buddhist temples. It’s not a rule, but generally speaking, place names are more likely to use the Japanese reading[ii]. Family names are the same, of course. (By the way, the actual Chinese reading of this word is qīngchéng.)

2 – 白河 is a Chinese place name too[iii]. But in “normal Japanese” the kanji kawa river is odd. Usually kawa river is used. But appears in a lot of family names and older place names.

Wow, is there a connection between Chinese History and this part of Edo?

No.
Not at all.

whaaaa?!

whaaaa?!

What’s going on here?

So for Japanese people and for students of Japanese, this place name raises a lot of questions. Are they borrowed from China? Are they ateji[iv]? Is it actually one word? What the fuck?

Well, as it turns out, these are both family names and everything I mentioned before this point has nothing to do with the place name in question. Toss out all that excess baggage and check out this weird shit.

At the beginning of the Edo Period, the high ground was held by a certain merchant family named 清住 Kiyosumi. A certain 清住弥兵衛 Kiyosumi Yahē (if I’m reading that correctly) is the landholder who is generally cited. He must have been a man of considerable means because it’s said that he financed the filling in and reclamation of the original marshland which effectively gave access to the high ground (where the garden is now located). The details about this family and personage are obscure, but if this tradition is true, these efforts to fill in the swamps would have made the lowlands not only livable, but suitable for business and its hilltop areas desirable for feudal lords serving sankai-kōtai duty. This area was located near rivers which made it good for transporting goods. So the area definitely prospered after the land reclamation and so the name of Kiyosumi Yahē apparently stuck.

The second name, Shirakawa, is much better documented. This is a direct reference to 松平定信 Matsudaira Sadanobu. He was the lord of 白河藩 Shirakawa Han Shirakawa Domain. As we all know, the Matsudaira clan was directly related to the Tokugawa shōgun family[v]. Shirakawa Domain was located in present day Fukushima Prefecture[vi]. He is arguably one of the most interesting statesmen of the Edo Period[vii].

He was enshrined at nearby 霊厳寺 Reigan-ji. Being the most famous person interred at the temple, the area enjoyed the nickname 白河さん Shirakawa-san which translates something like Mr. Shirakawa but is actually just a polite way to refer to a person from Shirakawa.

The grave of Sadanobu isn't much to look at today (notice the house in the background). It's hard to believe a place might be named after such a humble tomb, but believe me, in his day, the man was a force to be reckoned with - for better or for worse.

The grave of Sadanobu isn’t much to look at today (notice the house in the background).
It’s hard to believe a place might be named after such a humble tomb, but believe me, in his day, the man was a force to be reckoned with – for better or for worse.

The Edo Period maps I have only list the daimyō residences and temples here. There don’t seem to be any references to these names. So it seems like the townspeople had been preserving the local nicknames. When the daimyō had all been ejected from Edo and their residences confiscated or sold off to the highest bidders, new maps were made using western civil administration.

Originally, the area was to be called 清澄 Kiyosumi, but when it came to time for the official designation, the combined version 清澄白河 Kiyosumi Shirakawa won out.

This area is located in the former 深川村 Fukagawa Mura Fukagawa Village. Today Fukagawa is a postal code located within 江東区 Kōtō-ku Kōtō Ward. There area is famous for a few places:

富岡八幡宮
Tomioka-Hachiman-gū

One of the most famous shrines in Tōkyō.

Read a little bit about it here.

門仲
Mon’naka

Nickname of 門前仲町 Monzen-Nakachō.

Not so famous, but read a little bit about it here.

清澄庭園
Kiyosumi Tei’en

Again, these days, not so famous, but a Japanese garden worth your attention.

I talk about its history here!

霊厳寺
Reigan-ji

Definitely a major temple in the Edo Period, today it’s a shadow of its former self.

This article

深川江戸資料館
Fukagawa Edo Shiryōkan

The Fukagawa Edo Museum

Don’t wait for a blog entry. Just go check it out!


A Side Note

Oh, I almost forgot! Fans of 新撰組 Shinsengumi may recall that 沖田総司 Okita Sōji‘s family originated from Shirakawa Domain. Sōji was actually born in Shirakawa’s lower residence (being the son of an ashigaru (foot soldier) he presumably would have lived in a rowhouse on the property of this compound). This suburban diamyō palace was located in present day 西麻布 Nishi Azabu West Azabu. Sōji returned to Edo to convalesce from his tuberculosis, but ended up dying while still in Edo. It’s said that he was staying at the Shirakawa lower residence when he died. His grave is a short walk away at 専称寺 Senshō-ji Senshō Temple (located in present day 元麻布 Moto Azabu Old Azabu). This is even less related, but just for some perspective: walking from the Shirakawa lower palace to to Kondō Isami’s dōjō in Ichigaya would have taken about an hour to an hour and a half depending on your walking speed. Whether he made this commute regularly or had lodging near the Shieikan is unknown.

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[i] If you haven’t read that article, I highly recommend you read it now so you can get a bearing on the bigger picture of this area
[ii] Consider 浅草 Asakusa. The temple in Asakusa uses the Chinese reading, 浅草 Sensō, but the area uses the Japanese reading 浅草 Asakusa. The kanji are the same.
[iii] The true Chinese reading is “báihé.”
[iv] Using kanji in a purely phonetic way.
[v] Tokugawa Ieyasu was of the Matsudaira clan, but as his power base grew, he launched a new branch under a new name (Tokugawa).
[vi] Tread lightly here. Prior to 3/11, Fukushima Prefecture quietly basked in its status one of Japan’s bread baskets and was home to Aizu Domain which is still one of the darlings of those of us who love the Edo Period.
[vii] There are a number of reasons why Sadanobu was such an interesting – and at times, contradictory guy. But his biggest claim to fame was enacting the 寛政の改革 Kansei no Kaikaku the Kansei Reforms, a general name applied to years of reactionary laws attempting to slap bandages over the shōgunate’s perceived liberality – emphasis on the word “perceived.”

What does Morishita mean?

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History on January 11, 2014 at 2:16 am

森下
Morishita (Below the Forest)

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This “matoi” (纏) banner commemorates the 3rd fire brigade which located in Morishita in the Edo Period. Fukagawa was home to about 16 fire brigades composed of commoners.
(CLICK the photo to read about fire fighting in the Edo Period.)

Any fool with 2 weeks of Japanese under their belt can understand this place name. It means below () the forest ().

Well, a quick look around the area doesn’t seem very foresty. But let’s assume there was a forest here in the past. What was that forest???

Well, as it turns out, this was just one part of 深川村 Fukagawa Mura Fukagawa Village. In the beginning of the Edo Period, 下総国関宿藩 Shimōsa Sekiydo Han Sekiyado Domain, Shimōsa Province built their 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence here[i]. As the Edo Period progressed, more and more merchants moved into the area. In fact, because of the abundance of trees (a natural resource) and rivers (viable transportation routes), the area flourished and became famous for its lumber[ii]. The center of the merchant district was located directly outside of the walls of the daimyō palace, naturally on the lower ground (ie; shitamachi), and as such it was called 森ノ下 mori no shita below the forest. The forest, of course, referring to luxuriant wooded area held by the successive lords of Sekiyado Domain[iii].

Sekiyado Castle, the river/s that made it famous, and Mt. Fuji.  Awesome!

Sekiyado Castle, the river/s that made it famous, and Mt. Fuji.
Awesome!

After the Meiji Coup[iv], the property fell into the hands of one bakumatsu opportunist by the name of 岩崎弥太郎 Iwasaki Yatarō. We’ve met him before when we talked about Marunouchi. If you study post-Meiji Coup Japan, you’ll come across the subject of 財閥 zaibatsu which literally translates as “rich merchants blowing smoke up each other’s asses while knob-hopping the burgeoning military theocracy of an inferiority complex ridden proto-fascist state.” Or maybe not. I mean, it’s only two kanji.

Anyhoo, Iwasaki Yatarō, the founder of Mitsubishi purchased the property and re-purposed it as a beautifully sculptured 庭園 tei’en garden/park befitting a gentleman in the new Meiji mode. The property was used as a retreat for high ranking Mitsubishi employees and as a place to entertain guests and business partners. Although it was a private garden, it was used as an evacuation area and temporary housing in the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake[v]. Having been contaminated by the masses, the garden was donated to 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City[vi] in 1932. The park was renamed 清澄庭園 Kiyosumi Tei’en Kiyosumi Garden and still exists today. Since 1972 it’s been designated as a 名称 meishō a Place of Scenic Beauty[vii].

Former daimyo palace turned Zaibatsu playground turned municipal park: Kiyosumi Tei'en. You gotta love Japanese gardens!

Former daimyo palace turned Zaibatsu playground turned municipal park: Kiyosumi Tei’en.
You gotta love Japanese gardens!

I’ve spent most of my time talking about the area that is now Kiyosumi Garden, which as I said was the mori of 森下 Morishita. Now let’s talk a little bit about the shita.

As I mentioned, the area at the bottom of the hill (“below the forest”), was a merchant town in the Edo Period. Much of the area was destroyed in the Great Kantō Earthquake and again the area was destroyed during WWII. The area has been gentrified, but for much of its history since the earthquake and war, it was considered a ドヤ街 doya-gai. Doya-gai basically translates as “slum.” But remember, this is Japan and so when you think of a slum, it’s gonna be pretty different. Crime was never high and the area wasn’t just a bunch of dilapidated shacks, especially because the area has always been a mix of a residential area and business district (both small and large businesses. Crime was never a problem here either. Actually, the word doya-gai is pretty interesting. The first part ドヤ doya is 宿 yado backwards[viii]. 宿 yado/shuku refers to temporary lodgings. Since a major portion of the population was made of day laborers who didn’t have permanent residences, they could lodge cheaply in the inns and temporary housing of the area.

This picture is taken from the movie

This picture is taken from the movie “Ashita no Joe”
but you can get an idea of what kind of image the word “doya-gai” conjures up.

The area has undergone gentrification since those days and has turned into (what I consider) a very drab modern shitamachi. Almost nothing remains of its Edo Period heyday and there isn’t much left from the Meiji Era either. But it’s interesting to note that the legacy of post-disaster/war its past still persists in a few subtle ways: today there are many cheap “business hotels[ix]” and many offices for finding and dispatching manual laborers are built on the former sites of the former makeshift camps for day laborers (ie; the “slums”).

So there ya go. A simple place name like 森下 that any clown with 2 weeks of Japanese under their obi can figure out actually has a much richer history than you’d think. Shit, I thought this article would take 10 minutes to write. But this story has taken us to 土佐藩 Tosa Han Tosa Domain (home of Sakamoto Ryōma and Iwasaki Yatarō). It’s touched on the establishment of Mitsubishi and the zaibatsu phenomenon. It even took us to Chiba Prefecture where we got a little daimyō and castle and soy sauce action. For what is today a boring area with a seemingly boring name, I’m pretty impressed and excited. This kind of adventure is what keeps me absolutely fascinated by Tōkyō.

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[i] Sekiyado Domain was in what is now northwestern Chiba Prefecture. Noda City is the primary city today, but apparently the place Sekiyado still officially persists in some place names. A 関宿町 Sekiyado Machi Sekiyado City existed until 2003 when it was merged with Noda City and ceased to exist officially. The area is noted for having a peculiar accent. It is also home of the famous soy sauce company, Kikkoman. A version of 関宿城 Sekiyado-jō Sekiyado Castle was reconstructed in the 90’s and although I haven’t been there myself, the museum seems to get high praise from Japanese castle fans. Check out JCastle’s profile of here!
[ii] This is very similar to nearby Kiba; see my article on Shin-Kiba here.
[iii] mori can also refer to a grove, so while the area may or may not have been densely wooded, the name could just as well refer to an area less wooded than what the English word “forest” generally connotes.
[iv] Or as it’s usually referred to, the Meiji Restoration…
[v] See my article on how conflagrations and disasters shaped Edo-Tōkyō.
[vi] Of course, I’m referring to the former 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City which was part of the former 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō Prefecture because everyone knows that today there is no Tōkyō Prefecture or Tōkyō City, only 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis.
[vii] See this article about special designations in Japan.
[viii] Coincidentally, this is the same kanji for the “yado” of Sekiyado. Emphasis on the word “coincidentally.”
[ix] A “business hotel” is like a Japanese motel – cheap and simple.

Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin

In Japanese Holidays, Japanese Shrines & Temples on January 6, 2014 at 5:14 pm

深川七福神巡り
Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Meguri (Walking Tour of the Fukugawa 7 Gods of Good Luck)

The Fukagawa 7 Fukujin Course

The Fukagawa 7 Fukujin Course

I hope everyone had a safe and happy (and delicious) winter holiday. I’ve been out of the country and haven’t updated JapanThis! for a few weeks. Did you miss me?[i]

At the beginning of every new year, Mrs. JapanThis and I do a traditional walking tour of the 七福神 shichi fukujin the seven gods of good luck. There are shichi fukujin walks all over Japan. This kind of pilgrimage[ii] seems to have begun in the late Muromachi Period (1333-1573)[iii]. The practice was brought from Kansai to Kantō and grew in popularity during the Edo Period when most of the old temples and shrines associated with the 7 gods of good luck had become settled. Prior to the Edo Period, the exact set of deities wasn’t standardized. This lack of standardization has resulted in some shichi fukujin walks including an 8th deity of varying provenance. Occasionally, you’ll actually see a 八福神巡り hachi fukujin meguri walking tour of the 8 gods of good luck. But more often than not, these are a distinct set of 7 deities and when represented in a group, they should be immediately recognizable by any Japanese person[iv]. Anyways, as most of the shichi fukujin pilgrimages became settled in the Edo Period and the popularity of these walks during the new year holiday increased, it should be no surprise that most of these are found in the heart of Edo. There are more than 20 possible shichi fukujin walks in Tōkyō alone[v].

Tōkyōites walk a lot, but in the Edo Period, people walked everywhere and for much greater distances – even in the dead of winter. An average pilgrimage in Tōkyō will require anywhere from 2 to 3½ hours of walking. Every route is unique, but generally people do it from Jan. 1st to Jan. 6th[vi]. Each route is well-organized and you can buy 七福神色紙 shichi fukujin shikishi stamp board for about 1000 (roughly $10) and at each stop you can get a stamp for 100 or 200 (roughly $1 or $2). Temples and shrines that are not major destinations are usually closed except for special events, so the week or two after the new year is big business for them. That’s why the routes are well-marked with flags and there are maps available everywhere.

Shikishi are decorate pieces of cardboard used to collect signatures for special events. Here you can see the name of each shrine/temple in black and then a red ink stamp pressed over it confirming that you actually visited the temple/shrine. At the bottom, in gold, you can see the 7 gods of good luck riding on the the takarabune "treasure ship."  Awwwww yeah.

Shikishi are decorate pieces of cardboard used to collect signatures for special events.
Here you can see the name of each shrine/temple in black and then a red ink stamp pressed over it confirming that you actually visited the temple/shrine.
At the bottom, in gold, you can see the 7 gods of good luck riding on the the takarabune “treasure ship.”
Awwwww yeah.

Today is the first day that most Japanese companies started work after the holiday, so there were two kinds of people we mostly encountered: salarymen and old people. As it was the first day back at work for most Japanese companies, people are still feeling pretty lazy and any excuse to get out of the office and walk around is welcome and so groups of co-workers tend to be permitted to visit a shrine near the office to pray for success in business. I doubt they’re allowed to do the whole shichi fukujin meguri, but visiting a shrine dedicated to a god of good luck makes much more sense than visiting a shrine for, say, 安産 anzan safe delivery of babies. There are lots of old people because… well, they don’t have to work and Japan is just crawling with old people anyways.

I’m not going to go into detail about each of the 7 gods because you can look them up in Wikipedia or here is a nice description of them. But I am going to list each of the 7 gods and the shrine or temple with which they are affiliated. Now, I say affiliated because many times these gods are not the main deity venerated at a certain temple or shrine – they may be part of a small shrine attached to another larger religious structure[vii]. As it so happens, except for 1 structure, most of the sites of the shichi fukujin in Fukagawa are very minor, simple buildings. They’re probably only open a few days a year to perform certain religious duties and the rest of the year, the family who owns the property is engaged in other work that has nothing to do with the temple/shrine[viii]. Keep in mind that this list is for Fukagawa only, the names of the temples and shrines of another course will be totally different.

Name

Domain

Shrine/Temple Name

Description

寿老人
Jurō-jin
longevity 深川神明宮
Fukagawa

Shinmei-gū
I always think of this guy as the bearded old man with a big head. This shrine participates in the famous Fukagawa Mizukake Festival.
大黒天
Daikokuten
amassing wealth, good harvest 円珠
Enju-in
Daikoku is one of the more famous of the shichi fukujin, but the temple in Fukagawa is TINY. Daikoku is enshrined in what is essentially a round Buddhist style shack.
恵比須神
Ebisu-jin
love & respect; bountiful food 富岡八幡宮
Tomioka

Hachiman-gū
This is one of the most important shrines in Edo-Tōkyō. I mentioned it here. However, the small shrine to Ebisu seems like an add-on. It’s located on the left, back-side of the main hall. Read more about the Tōkyō place name, Ebisu, here and here. Also, if I’m not mistaken, Ebisu is the only of the 7 gods of good luck who is of native Japanese origin.
布袋尊
Hotei-son
selflessness & generosity 深川稲荷神社
Fukagawa

Inari Jinja
This shrine is tiny. I think I’ve mentioned Inari before. Inari is generally an auspicious kami and shrines to this deity are all over Japan. It’s my understanding that the cult of Inari spread under the sankin-kōtai system because this kami was popular with daimyō. In the Edo Period, Inari became popular with the common people too.
毘沙門天
Bishamonten
risk taking; gambling 龍光院
Ryūkō-in
This is a tiny temple in a residential area that almost blends into the background. It looks just like any other modern building on the block.
弁財天
Benzaiten
being rich & famous; the glamorous life 冬木弁天堂
Fuyuki

Benten-dō
Another small shrine, but this one has an older, traditional feel. The name of the shrine is interesting. It literally means “Fuyuki’s place to venerate Benzaiten.” Fuyuki was the name of a family of lumber workers who supposedly lived here and had a small shrine to Benzaiten. Benzaiten is sometimes depicted as a slutty, music playing, and jealous bitch. It’s often said if couples visit her shrines together, she’ll get jealous and the couple will break up.
福禄寿
Fukurokuju
popularity, happiness & prosperity 心行寺
Shingyō-ji
This temple is doing its own Buddhist thing, but has a small “shack” dedicated to the veneration of Fukurokuju. It seems like they only open it for viewing a few times a year, including the new year holiday.

So, as I said earlier, Mrs. JapanThis and I have done many shichi fukujin walks. This year we decided to do the Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Meguri. Fukagawa is a very shitamachi area and even boasts a fantastic museum called 深川江戸資料館 Fukagawa Edo Shiryōkan Fukagawa Edo Museum which reconstructs a block of Edo Period Fukagawa and brings a little bit of Edo to life – highly recommended. Because the area was in the heart of Edo, it wasn’t surprising to find out that it’s one of the easiest shichi fukujin courses. It took us no more than 2 hours to walk the whole thing. They started us at Monzen Nakachō Station[ix] and marked the entire path with flags so that we didn’t need any maps or any GPS (even if we did get lost, there were groups of old people being led by cute tour guides waving flags – they’re easy enough to follow).

Monzen-Nakacho

“Mon’naka” Station.
Every time I visit an area I’ve written about it’s like seeing an old friend.
Hello, old friend!

Then we entered Tomioka Hachiman-gū. At the entrance was a massive stone lantern. Its size reminded me of the Monster Lantern in Ueno Park – but the Monster Lantern is much bigger. Still, it’s pretty cool to see a stone lantern of this size. We ventured around to the left hand side of the 本殿 honden main hall of Tomioka Hachiman-gū and found a small grove with 3 stalls housing 3 kami, the middlemost kami was Ebisu.

The giant stone lantern at the entrance to Tomioka Hachimangu.

The giant stone lantern at the entrance to Tomioka Hachimangu.

The main hall of Tomioka Hachimangu!

The main hall of Tomioka Hachimangu!
Notice the group of salarymen walking together.

The torii that leads to the shrine dedicated to Ebisu.

The torii that leads to the shrine dedicated to Ebisu.

The actual shrine to Ebisu is basically a wooden shed behind Tomioka Hachimangu.

The actual shrine to Ebisu is basically a wooden shed behind Tomioka Hachimangu.

The next stop on the Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Course is Fuyuki Benten-dō, home of Benzaiten, the only female kami (女神 megami) of the 7 gods of good luck. It’s a very small temple and today it was filled with old people standing around and looking very confused… until the tour guide told everyone to make a single file line and pay their respects. We got our stamp and got out of there as quickly as possible so as to beat all the old people to the next stops on our course.

IMG_3893

The shrine to Benzaiten is so small and the grounds so narrow that it is literally wedged between to small apartment buildings. If it weren’t for the flags announcing the 7 fukujin walk, you might not even notice it!

Next stop was Shingyō-ji where Fukurokuju-son is enshrined. The temple itself isn’t’t much to look at, but the interesting thing is the Buddhist style stall in which Fukurokuju is venerated, it’s a good example of syncretism in Japanese religion (ie; foreign religions like Buddhism naturally mixed with the native Shintōism).

Entrance to Shingyoji. Again, if you didn't know what you were looking for, you probably wouldn't even bat an eye at this temple.

Entrance to Shingyoji.
Again, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you probably wouldn’t even bat an eye at this temple.

This is the shrine to Fukurokuju.  The shape of this structure is distinctly Buddhist.

This is the shrine to Fukurokuju.
The shape of this structure is distinctly Buddhist.

Here's a statue of the little bugger himself.

Here’s a statue of the little bugger himself.

Along the way, we passed a famous 和菓子屋 wagashi-ya Japanese sweets shop called 伊勢屋 Isei-ya. We picked up some 大福 daifuku and went on our merry way.

Iseya has been in business since 1907 (Meiji 40) and has quite a good reputation in Tokyo for quality Japanese sweets.

Iseya has been in business since 1907 (Meiji 40) and has quite a good reputation in Tokyo for quality Japanese sweets.

Our 4th stop was Enju-in which houses and enshrinement of Daikokuten. As I mentioned before, most of the shichi fukujin are commonly recognized when seen together, but separately, it may be hard to remember who is who. Ebisu, Benzaiten, and Daikokuten are the most recognizable, I think. Daikokuten’s gig is granting wealth – not just wealth, but ever accumulating wealth. There is a famous chain of “pawn shops[x]” called Daikokuya. The one near my house specializes in high end wallets and bags (Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc…), I can’t help but think there is a connection. Anyhoo, the temple itself is non-descript and if it hadn’t been for the flags lining the path, I might have had a hard time finding the place.

A paper lantern with the name "Daikokuten" written on it.

A paper lantern with the name “Daikokuten” written on it.

IMG_3903

Again, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d probably never look twice at this temple.

During my winter vacation, I visited Arizona. Feeling a bit stir crazy one day, I took a 2 hour walk just to see what I could see – and I saw nothing. But walk for 10 minutes through the heart of Edo-Tōkyō and you’ll see lots of things! As we were moseying along, we stumbled across a solitary grave near an intersection. Turns out, this was the grave of Mamiya Rinzō. He was a map maker and a spy for the Tokugawa shōgunate. He made maps of northern Japan and the Kuril Isla— and wait, did you just say “spy?!

Yes, I did.

In 1826, the Dutch doctor and botanist, Phillip von Siebold was caught collecting maps of northern Japan (drawn by a member of the imperial court in Kyōto, no less). But the Tokugawa shōgunate was all about very limited access to the country[xi]. Furthermore, they insisted on keeping the imperial court out of the business of real politics and especially out of the limited international exchanges possible at the time. So this was quite a big deal to the government in Edo. Today, most of us look back at it and laugh but really this was some North Korea-style shit, right? Well, North Korea shit could get you killed but luckily for von Siebold, the shōgunate didn’t want to create an international riff, so they effectively deported him and that’s the end of story.

But who was the douchebag who told on von Siebold like a little bitch? Oh, it was Mamiya Rinzō from 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain[xii]. Make what you will of that.

Grave of Mamiya Rinzo.

Grave of Mamiya Rinzo – Tattletale extraordinaire.

IMG_3906

Plaque in front of Rinzo’s grave.


Then, we moved on to Ryūkō-in. This is where Bishamonten is revered. It’s another less than memorable temple.

Ryūkō-in - yet another non-descript temple.

Ryūkō-in – yet another non-descript temple.

A makeshift sign for the season that says "Bishamonten."

A makeshift sign for the season that says “Bishamonten.”

After that, we headed to Fukagawa Inari Shrine to see Hotei-son. This shine is literally crammed into a tiny corner of a residential intersection. I bet this is the most action this place gets all year.

It's hardly fair to even call this a shrine.

It’s hardly fair to even call this a shrine.

Finally we hit up Shinmei-gū which was larger than the last few places, but not so big. They had their o-mikoshi (portable shrine) on display with pictures indicating that they participate in the mizukake matsuri which is generally spearheaded by Tomioka Hachiman-gū[xiii].

Torii and entrance to Shinmeigū. The premises were quite large, but the architecture and space weren't much to look at.

Torii and entrance to Shinmeigū. The premises were quite large, but the architecture and space weren’t much to look at.

So, having done quite a few shichi fukujin walks, I was really looking forward to the Fukagawa walk because it’s so famous. But it was a bit of a letdown compared to the others. The highlights were definitely Tomioka Hachiman-gū (because of its size and importance to Edo-Tōkyō) and the grave of Mamiya Rinzō (which just pissed me off). But all in all, I got a lot of good exercise, quality time with Mrs. JapanThis, and best of all, I got a future place name to research. Check this shit out:

Bakuroyokoyama FTW!!!

Bakuroyokoyama FTW!!!

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[i] It’s a rhetorical question; I don’t need my inboxes flooded with “no” e-mails.

[ii] For lack of a better word.

[iii] This is the most liberal reckoning I can think of for this era. Various scholars will assign different dates for the beginning of the Muromachi Period depending on how they are trying to frame certain topics. I probably won’t even mention the Muromachi Period again in this article, so let’s leave it at that for now.

[iv] And I reckon most foreigners who have spent a few years in Japan would recognize them too.

[v] And according to Wikipedia, there are at least 10 more in the Kantō area.

[vi] Some routes are officially open as late as Jan. 15th.

[vii] Not unlike in Europe where a church may be dedicated to a certain saint, but the relics or bodies of various other saints and holy people may be also be located on the premises.

[viii] That is too say, they have a real 9-5 most of the time.

[ix] Again, if you’re interested in the etymology of the place name Monzen Nakachō, I recommend you read my article here.

[x] Again, for lack of a better word.

[xi] Some say it was 開国 sakoku a closed country, others say it was under 海禁 kaikin a policy of limited access by sea.

[xii] The same Mito Domain that produced Mito Gaku and the grand douche daimyō extraordinaire, Tokugawa Nariaki. Oh yes, Mito Han. JapanThis! loves to hate on Mito Han almost as much as Satsuma and Chōshū.

[xiii] More about this next summer…

What does Monzen-nakacho mean?

In Japanese History on May 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm

門前仲町
Monzen Nakachō (semi-nonsensical, but something like “town in front of a temple/shrine”)

Cherry blossoms along the river in Monzen-Nakachoad.

Cherry blossoms along the river in Monzen-Nakachoad.

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This is a very special post because…
THIS IS MY 100th POST ON JAPAN THIS!

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Today’s Tōkyō place name is a request from my lovely wife. Since she tolerates, and sometimes even encourages, my history geekiness… I couldn’t say no.

In the Edo Period (1624 to be specific), a temple named 永代寺 Eitai-ji was established in the area. Shops and commoner residences formed around the temple, as was normal at the time. Such a town is called a 門前町 monzenchō, literally “town at the gate front,” referring to the gates that mark the entrances of temples. The area was referred to as 永代寺門前仲町 Eitai-ji Monzen-nakachō. There is no documented reason as to why the character  is inserted into the name seemingly at random. However, the general consensus seems to be that it meant something like 門前町之中心 monzenchō no chūshin “the center of the monzenchō.”

You’d think the story ends here, but you’d be wrong.

Eitaiji

Eitaiji

In 1627, a shrine dedicated to the Shintō god of war, 八幡 Hachiman, was built here. This was the tutelary deity of the Minamoto clan and of samurai in general*. The shrine fell under the management of Eitai-ji. In Japan’s syncretic religious tradition, Shintō and Buddhism were often mixed, so there was actually nothing weird about a temple controlling a shrine – and vice versa. The name of this shrine was 富岡八幡宮 Tomioka Hachimangū.

Beginning in the 1680’s, fund raising sumō events began to be held here and so it is considered the birthplace of sumō. Certain sumō ceremonies are still traditionally performed here today.

You’d think the story ends here, but you’d still be wrong.

Tomioka Hachimangu

Tomioka Hachimangu – the shrine’s matsuri is one of the most famous in Tokyo.

When governmental power was handed to the emperor, a decree called 神仏分離令 Shinbutsu Bunrirei the Shinto & Buddhism Separation Ordinance was issued. The emperor’s claim to legitimacy had always been based on Shintōism. Whereas, somewhere down the line Buddhism had become inextricably connected to the warrior class. In reality, the two religious systems had amalgamated, but the imperial court sought to purify Shintō, which claimed the emperor as the literal Son of Heaven. The aftershocks of the edict were far reaching, but for our story, luckily, they are simple.

Simply put, the Meiji government was cool with Shintō shrines and not so cool with Buddhist temples. As a result, they abolished Eitai-ji thereby releasing Tomioka Hachimangū from its oversight. The temple was torn down and the town’s name changed from 永代寺門前仲町 Eitai-ji Monzen-nakachō to 富岡八幡宮門前仲町 Tomioka Monzen-nakachō.

In the change from Edo to Tōkyō, Tomioka Hachimangū had lost its sumō patronage of shōgunate, but the Meiji government found it useful to promote it as a Shintō sport and so the sport became even more closely related to Japan than it had ever been before. The shrine’s importance continues to this day.

The shrine was destroyed in the firebombing of WWII. In 1967 a subway station for the Tōzai Line was built in the area. The name 門前仲町 Monzen-nakachō was chosen for brevity and because of a general trend towards secularization since the end of State Shintō.  In 1969, the town’s name was also officially shortened to Monzen-nakachō.

You’d think the story ends here, but you’d still be wrong… again.

Why is Eitai-ji still on this Google Map?

Eitai-ji was a sprawling temple which included most of the land from Fukagawa Fudōson to Fukagawa Park to Tomioka Hachimangū. Then it got shut down. So….. why is it still on this Google Map?

So whatever happened to Eitai-ji, the temple that originally gave birth to the area?

Well, about 30 years after it was shut down (1896 to be exact), a sub-temple called 吉祥院 Kichijō’in that had been allowed to continue assumed the name of its previous benefactor and became the Eitai-ji that now exists in the area. The 2nd picture above (the temple), is the modern Eitai-ji.

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* One of the first shrines that visitors to Kamakura visit is usually 鶴岡八幡宮 Tsuru-ga-oka Hachimangū. As Tokugawa Ieyasu, somehow creatively, claimed descent from the Minamoto and as Hachiman was an important kami for samurai, the shōgunate showed favor towards the Hachiman shrines in general, including the one we’re discussing today.

BTW, Hachiman is not actually “the god of war” in the sense that Mars was the Roman god of war. He is actually the deified (“kami-fied,” if I may use the term) Emperor Ōjin who is also revered by Buddhists as an enlightened soul. If you remember waaaaaaaay back when I wrote about the origin of the name Shibuya, I mentioned a tutelary shrine in Shibuya Castle. That shrine was also a Hachimangū. If you’re interested, you might wanna click that link and check it out again.

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