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Posts Tagged ‘generic place name’

Why is Ikejiri called Ikejiri?

In Japanese History on April 24, 2013 at 12:57 am

Ikejiri (Lake Ass… or Lake Mouth…)


Ikejiri-Ohashi Station in Setagaya (Den’en-Chofu Line)

These posts have been getting longer and longer. Not sure which is better; short, concise posts or the long involved ones? I reckon somewhere in the middle is best. But please tell me, dear reader, what length is ideal for you.

Well, today is a busy day for me, so I’m going to try to keep this as short as possible.

In Tōkyō’s Setagaya Ward, there is an area called 池尻 Ikejiri (Lake Ass). The first kanji is 池 ike lake. This is the same character we saw in Ikebukuro. The second character, 尻 shiri, means “ass” or “butt.” So obviously this town’s name means LAKE ASS.

Lake Ass Tokyo Setagaya!

ass, ass, baby!

Not exactly.

In Japanese, there is a word 川尻 kawajiri which means the “mouth of a river.” So in this case, we are looking at another generic place name. In this case, 池尻 means the “mouth of a lake.” In the early Edo Period, there was a nearby village called 池沢 Ikezawa “lake stream.” Although we don’t have good maps of the area, it’s probably safe to assume that the lake in these lowlands fed into a stream.  It seems the lake and stream have dried up, but the name stuck.

It should be noted, this is a common family name as well. But because this area is located in a 低地 teichi depression/lowlands, it is reasonable to assume that the name doesn’t derive from a family name, but the terrain.*



* But it is true, that Japanese family names often derive from village/area names.

Why is Hatchōbori called Hatchōbori

In Japanese History on April 18, 2013 at 1:58 am

Hacchōbori/Hatchōbori (872.72m Moat)
(two ways to write it in the Roman alphabet, I prefer the former, Hacchōbori, but the later, Hatchōbori, is more common in the Romanization rules used in Tōkyō street signs and train signs, etc.)

Where am i?

Hey look! It’s a sign that says “Hacchobori!”

I had a seriously busy weekend, but I’m trying my best to keep updating this blog Monday through Friday, saving all my free time for research. Next month, I’ll be changing projects, so my weekends will become tight. Not sure what will happen. I think I’ll still have time for updates, but please bear with me if the posts get shorter. I won’t compromise the integrity of my research into these topics, but I might choose easier place names when I have no time.

As always, I want to hear your questions and am happy to take your requests. The more of those the better, actually. I love your questions because they take me out of my own head and let me see what my readers are interested in. So please, keep ‘em coming.

Today we’re talking about 八丁堀 Hatchōbori, the Eight-chō Canal.

What does Hatchobori mean?

That doesn’t look like 873 meters.

This is another generic place name; like Gotanda, like Ueno, like Nakano.

The place name was originally written as 八町堀. The name was made of 3 kanji: 八 hachi, 町 chō a unit of measurement (1=109.09m), and 堀 hori  (channel or moat). The station and the area is near Edo Castle, so it’s obvious that this was a reference to the castle. It’s not a defensive moat, it’s a canal. In the Edo Period the best way to transport goods within a city was often by a small boat on a canal. This canal happened to be about half a mile long. Good for it.

What does Hacchobori mean?

I’ve always wanted to take a boat tour of Tokyo. One of these days…

Why did the middle kanji become ?

The second character is just a simplified variant of the first. Both forms are used in modern Japanese.

Most of the channel was filled in during the 50’s and 60’s, but some of it remains and still has a few boats in it.

There was an old TV show set in the Edo Period called 八丁堀ノ七人 Hatchobori no Shichinin The Hatchōbori Seven. I’ve never seen the show (and hadn’t even heard of it until now), but supposedly it ran for 3 years. The show featured seven “detectives” who lived in Hatchōbori. I don’t know if there’s any truth to “police” living in this area or not. But it looks like those weird samurai TV that are made for old people.

What does ___ mean in Japanese?

The area that is now called Hatchobori is in dark red.

What does Nakano mean?

In Japanese History on April 10, 2013 at 4:58 am

Nakano (Middle Field)

Nakano Broadway. Geek Heaven.

Nakano Broadway. Geek Heaven. (and believe you me, that old lady is one hell of a geek.)

I hate to be a disappointer but this one is exactly what it seems.

It’s the middle field.

The area that is now called 中野 Nakano (the middle fields) was named such intentionally, because it was, literally, the middle of the 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni  Musashi Province. Having lived in Nakano for 6 years, I had hoped there would be an interesting story. Unfortunately, it’s just a generic name.

A really general map of Musashi Provice. It's not really helpful, sorry. I know.

A really shitty map of Musashi Provice. It’s not really helpful, sorry. I know.

The area I lived in was called 新中野 Shin-Nakano (New Nakano) which isn’t any more creative than [old] Nakano.

There is 中野坂上 Nakano Sakaue (Nakano Hill Top) which is… you guessed it! on the top of a hill.

There’s 中野坂下 Nakano Sakashita (Nakano Bottom of the Hill).

There’s 中野新橋 Nakano Shinbashi (Nakano New Bridge) which has a nice little bridge going over the Kanda River.

There’s also 中野富士見町 Nakano Fujimi-chō, which is a little more interesting. There are many place names with 富士見 Fujimi. Fujimi just means “seeing/watching Mt. Fuji” and refers to areas that had a nice view of the famous volcano.  So 中野富士見町 just means “Nakano-Where-You-Could-See-Mt.-Fuji-Neighborhood.” These days, you can’t really see it, though I suspect if you live in a tall enough building, you might be able to on a clear day.

I love Nakano, too!

I love Nakano, too!

Nakano, according to the people there, is the original home of Japanese otaku culture. They tend to view Akihabara as a place for young otaku or just poseurs in general and Nakano as the mature otaku area. There are many maid bars (not cafes, bars) scattered around the ward, but most are concentrated in the Nakano shopping area near Nakano Station and Nakano Broadway. It’s a pretty cool area, in my opinion, and it’s more underground than Akihabara — which is just sort of an annoying place TBH.

The people who live and love the Nakano life jokingly refer to themselves as 中野リアン Nakanorians.

Nakano Maids are better than shitty Akihabara Maids.

Living in Nakano made a maid lover out of me… sort of.

Oh… how could I forget?
My old neighborhood, Shin-Nakano, is home to Soft on Demand (lovingly referred to as SOD) which is one of Japan’s largest AV (pornography) companies. Locations around Nakano pop up in movies frequently and you can often see actresses and coming and going between the station and office or just dining and shopping around the area. Awwwwwwwwww yeah.

Outside of the headquarters of Soft On Demand. Keep up the good work, guys. We're counting on you!

Outside of the headquarters of Soft On Demand. Keep up the good work, guys. We’re counting on you!

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What does Ikebukuro mean?

In Japanese History on March 29, 2013 at 2:48 am

(literally Pond Bag, but closer to Damp Wetlands)

Ikebukuro - Saitama's Playground

Ikebukuro Station

Today’s Tokyo place name is one of my least favorite places in Tokyo.

It’s dirty.
It’s crowded.
It’s crimey and yakuza-y.
And it’s infested by riff raff from Saitama. (no offense to people from Saitama…)

Yes, that’s right. It’s Ike-fuckin’-bukuro.
The one and only.

At first glance, it’s a strange place name. It’s made of two kanji that literally mean “pond” and “bag.” The strange “pond bag” name has been documented since at least the Sengoku Period (15th-17th centuries). The area to the northwest of Ikebukuro Station was referred to as 池袋村 Ikebukuro Mura (Ikebukuro Village).

Well, let’s take a look at what the English Wikipedia page says:

The kanji for Ikebukuro literally means pond bag. Outside the west exit of Ikebukuro station near an entrance to the Fukutoshin Line is a small plaque explaining three origins of the name Ikebukuro. The first is that in the northeastern part of the village there was a lake shaped like someone holding a bag. The second is that there was once a large number of lakes in the area of various sizes (thus implying a bag full of lakes). The third is that long ago a turtle came out of the lake carrying a bag on its back.

Now, I don’t want to hate on Wikipedia, but… seriously… fuck Wikipedia. (no offense to Wikipedia…)

I looked around for this alleged plaque and guess what…

plaque? what plaque?

Where the fuck is this alleged plaque?

There’s no plaque proclaiming these ridiculous derivations. Especially the stupid one about the turtle crawling out of a lake with a bag on its back. That totally smacks of bullshit folk etymology. (no offense to turtles…)

Anyways, here’s the real plaque:

Eff you Wikipedia!

Not a damn word about turtles or a “bag shaped” lake. In your face, Wikipedia!

OK, so now that we know Wikipedia can’t be trusted for shit, here’s the real deal.

Originally, this area was a damp, low lying wetland habitat (低湿地 teishicchi in Japanese) with a lot of spring water. Naturally, there were many lakes and ponds in the region, hence the ike (pond).

The fukuro (bag) part is interesting. If you check a good dictionary, has an extended meaning as “a plot of land surrounded by water.” In particular it can be used to refer the land where rivers or lakes meet – such as happens in wetlands. I asked a few Japanese people around me if they had ever heard of this meaning and no one seemed to know it. That said, one person said that she’d heard of another place – besides Ikebukuro – that had the kanji in it. So in my [admittedly limited] experience, this use of the kanji is for place names and not everyday discourse. The word fukuro changes to bukuro when combined with according to a phonological rule called 連濁 rendaku. The word fukuro/bukuro is reinforced by the onomatopoeic word ぶくぶく buku buku, the sound of water bubbling up, as from a spring.

So while it literally translates as “Pond Bag,” the real meaning is more like “Wetlands.”

I hate the Ikefukuro

Lamest meeting place in all of Tokyo. If you wait here, you just get in the way of the other people from Saitama who are walking around the station.

What’s up with the freakin’ owl?

Spend 24 hours in Japan, and you’ll realized that everything must have a character. That includes towns and schools and even snacks. If you don’t have a character to promote your whatever, you’re not cool. So, as we said before, the word for bag is fukuro. The word for owl is fukurō (fukuro being a variant pronunciation). Some genius at town hall came up with the idea of making Ikebukuro’s mascot the “Ikefukuro.” So all over Ikebukuro you will see these stupid looking owls everywhere. The original Ikefukuro is located at the station’s East Exit and is used as a landmark. People from Saitama use the statue as a meeting so they don’t get lost in the big city. (again, no offense to people from Saitama…)

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Why is Ueno called Ueno?

In Japanese History on February 11, 2013 at 8:01 am

Ueno (Upper Field)

Many place names in Japan are named after the location of old fields. Ueno (upper field), Shimono (lower field), and Nakano (middle field) are some common ones.

Of course, the most famous Ueno is in Tokyo. It’s sometimes called 上野の山 (Ueno Mountain/Hill) and I suspect this elevation (20 meters above sea level) is the source of the name.


Edo people enjoying hanami at Kiyomizu Kan’nondō, one of my favorite spots today.

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