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What does Samezu mean?

In Japanese History on May 8, 2014 at 4:53 pm

鮫洲
Samezu
(Shark Sandbar)

That awkward moment when your train station kinda sucks... but you're historically mad important!

That awkward moment when your train station kinda sucks… but you’re historically mad important!

The other day, I took part in an epic history walk from 三田 Mita[i] to 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku Shinagawa Post Town[ii], the first inn town on the old 東海道 Tōkaidō Tōkai Highway[iii]. The town was the first and last stopping point for millions of travelers coming in and out of Edo-Tōkyō until the invention of trains and automobiles.

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

 

To be honest, train service didn’t kill off the old lodging town, but it shifted focus more toward the center of 東京市Tōkyō-shi the former Tōkyō City. The old post town, which was really just a long-ass stretch of road lined with inns, restaurants, teahouses[iv], temples & shrines, and stores catering to travelers of every rank, eventually transformed into a somewhat economically depressed shitamachi that many Tōkyōites rarely visit. Most of this economic downturn seems to be related to the modern development of Tōkyō Bay that stole the traditional economy of the area: fishing and seaweed harvesting. Modern 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station still marks the traditional entrance to Edo by sea. It’s a major hub station which hosts several 新幹線 shinkansen bullet train lines and the 京急線 Keikyūsen Keikyū Line that still connect Tōkyō to other parts of Japan and the world[v].

Shinagawa Station in the early Meiji Period. The tracks hug the coastline - vastly different from today.  This is tsunami fodder.  Seeing a picture like this makes me sad because we can't see the real Edo coastline today, but it makes it very clear why the coast was built up with landfills. It was all to protect the capital city. The farther removed the city was from the sea, the safer.  なるほど!

Shinagawa Station in the early Meiji Period. .
The tracks hug the coastline – vastly different from today.
This is tsunami fodder.
Seeing a picture like this makes me sad because we can’t see the real Edo coastline today, but it makes it very clear why the coast was built up with landfills. It was all to protect the capital city.
The farther removed the city was from the sea, the safer.
なるほど!

A view of Shinagawa Station today. Those skyscrapers are built on landfill. That was the bay in the Edo Period.

A view of Shinagawa Station today. Those skyscrapers are built on landfill. .
That was the bay in the Edo Period.

 

The original Tōkaidō followed the shoreline out of the shōgun’s capital. Nearby Takanawa was the maritime access point to Edo. All along the Shinagawa-shuku portion of the highway[vi], which terminated in Kyōto, you would have had access to some great seafood. You could stare out into the bay and see small fishing boats and maybe some of the shōgun’s ships as well as those of some of daimyō from far off domains bringing in supplies and gifts for the shogun. Today those views have all but disappeared. However, that said, the area is still bad ass for Japanese history lovers because it is literally[vii] littered with history.

 

Look at all this crap laying all over this place!  What lazy Meiji motherfucker just left this cannon (probably from Odaiba) here on the side of the street. What a jerk. Don't you know littering is bad for everyone??

Look at all this crap laying all over this place!
What lazy Meiji motherfucker just left this cannon (probably from Odaiba) here on the side of the street?
What a jerk. .
Don’t you know littering is bad for everyone??

 

Anyways, I want to give a shout out to my friend Rekishi no Tabi for pointing out this place name to me when we visited 鮫洲八幡神社 Samezu Hachiman Jinja Samezu Hachiman Shrine. Not only is it a very unique shrine, they had a small sign detailing the etymology of this place name. I guess you could say this one was just handed to me on a gold plate.

If you like pictures of Japan – especially traditional and historical Japan – please check out his Flickr photo stream. If you’re interested in pictures and news/current events about Japan, then you should follow him on Twitter.

 

First, let’s look at the kanji.


same

shark


zu

sandbank, sandbar

 

鮫洲 is just the popular local name for the area. There was never an official place, for example 鮫洲村 Samezu Mura Samezu Village or 鮫洲町 Samezu Machi Samezu Town. The name is only preserved in the name of a shrine, 鮫洲八幡神社 Samezu Hachiman Jinja Samezu Hachiman Shrine and whatever local businesses or spots have chosen to don the name Samezu. The actual official name of the area is 東大井Higashi Ōi East Ōi. Except for the shrine and a few local spots, the name might have fallen into disuse, except in 1904 a train station called 鮫洲駅 Samezu Eki Samezu Station was opened in the area[viii].

 

In the Edo Period, the area was known as the 大井御林猟師町 Ōi o-hayashi ryōshimachi Ōi o-hayashi fishing villages. The area that is now called Samezu today was home to two villages, 品川浦 Shinagawaura Shinagawa Inlet and 御林浦 Ohayashiura Ohayashi Inlet. You may remember what 御林 o-hayashi are, but if you need a reminder, I discussed them in this article, but long story short, o-hayashi were forests that fell under the direct control of the shōgunate. Most of the resources from this area – be they timber or seafood – were generally for the consumption of the shōgun family in Edo Castle. The area may not have been beautiful but it had shōgunal prestige. It was honored in one of Utagawa Hiroshige’s prints, which depicted the seaweed farms lining the coast.

 

samezu low tide

Samezu Inlet in her natural state at low tide. This picture was taken during an inspection of the area before initiating the landfill process. The area was basically unchanged since the Edo Period.

Samezu Inlet in her natural state at low tide. This picture was taken during an inspection of the area before initiating the landfill process. The area was basically unchanged since the Edo Period.

 

What I love about these pictures is that they show the gentleness of Edo Bay during low tide. The fishing village is literally on the beach. Because the modern coastline is much farther out and the water is deeper, I don’t think we get scenes like this anymore (low tide stinks, by the way) because of the intricate system of inlets and channels that line the coast. I’ve never lived near an inlet next to the bay, so if anyone knows their behavior, I’d love to hear about it.

Check out more amazing pictures of Samezu before the landfill work was done. The area is totally different today.

 

Utagawa Hiroshige thought enough of Samezu to paint it.  Notice the "hibi" (seaweed fields). I talked about these in my article on Hibiya and a few other times. Anyways, seaweed is a staple of the Japanese diet and the inlets and shores of Edo Bay were renowned for this delicacy.

Utagawa Hiroshige thought enough of Samezu to paint it.
Notice the “hibi” (seaweed fields). I talked about these in my article on Hibiya and a few other times.
Anyways, seaweed is a staple of the Japanese diet and the inlets and shores of Edo Bay were renowned for this delicacy.

 

Supposedly, traditional Edo style fishing and seaweed harvesting continued in the area right up until the 1960’s. In the early 1950’s, Tōkyō government officials and other corporate interests began planning a redevelopment of Tōkyō Bay. I don’t think this was a spiteful act, but probably more common sense. Japan was exporting a lot at that time, particularly to their rich trade partner, the USA. As Japan rose from the ashes of WWII to become the dominant economic power in Asia, old Edo-style ports were just not cutting it, they were downright embarrassing. Modern ships could fish farther out at sea and return faster with new technology. When the 1964 Olympics came around, perhaps Tōkyō could boast a safe, modern bay that had never been seen in Asia before….

And so from 1962-1969, the Tōkyō government began buying out and relocating fishermen from the area in order to fill in the bay and reclaim the area. By 1969, the process was more or less complete and much of the shape of Tōkyō Bay today dates from that decade. So by this time, Samezu was officially cut off from the sea. Its proximity to the bay isn’t far, and there are a few controlled inlets that survive. But the Tōkaidō that bordered the sea no longer borders the sea in the former shōgun’s capital.

 

Here you can see the Edo Period Shingawa and the modern Tokyo transformation.

Here you can see the Edo Period Shingawa and the modern Tokyo transformation.

 

OK. Let’s Talk Etymology, Bitches.

Someone once told me, “I come here for the etymology. I stay for the history.” And in that fine tradition, I’m ‘bout to get down and dirty with the general narratives associated with the place name Samezu. There are two stories that generally go around. The one thing going against both of these stories is the fact that Samezu has never been an official place name. The name seems to have come down to us as a name used by locals, but never by any official government body.

 

I have gross doubts about these theories..

I have gross doubts about these theories..

 

① A Wooden Buddha Statue Did It Theory

In the Kamakura Period, an 大鮫 ōsame huge, freaking shark died in the bay near Shinagawa. A fisherman found the shark and brought it to a sandbar along the Shinagawa Inlet. When he cut open the belly of the beast, he found a wooden statue of 聖観音 Shō-kan’non a Buddha usually called Avalokiteśvara. The statue came to be known as  鮫洲観音 Samezu Kan’non Shark Sandbank Kan’non. The statue became the principal object of veneration at 海晏寺Kaian-ji Kainan Temple located in nearby 御殿山 Goten’yama[ix]. The temple claims to have been built specifically to house the statue at the request of 北条時頼 Hōjō Tokiyori, the 5th regent of the overly complicated Kamakura Shōgunate[x].

 

Kaianji today

Kaianji today

 

② It’s An Old Dialect Word Theory

In the old Edo Dialect, /i/ and /e/ are often confused. As such, a dialectal variant of /samezu/ would be /samizu/. According to this theory, 砂水 samizu is a dialect word that refers to a phenomenon when the tide goes out and fresh water comes up from the sand as it dried out[xi]. This is probably the strongest theory.

science_it_works_bitches_performance_dry_tshirt

Hooray for linguistics!

The wooden Buddha statue theory is, shockingly, the theory upheld by Kaian-ji at the expense of the 2nd theory. However, a commemorative plaque is located on the site of 鮫洲八幡神社 Samezu Hachiman Jinja Samezu Hachiman Shrine which lists both theories and talks about the area’s rich history and its link to the sea. The local fishermen who lived in the area depended on the sea for their livelihoods. The sea was a great source of food, but also a dangerous force to live and work with. It’s interesting that there Samezu Hachiman Shrine and 天祖諏訪神社 Tenso-Suwa Jinja Tenso-Suwa Shrine in nearby 立会川 Tachiaigawa feature large pools populated by auspicious animals like turtles and carp. Enshrined at these pools are water 神 kami deities, underlining the profound connection to the waters of Tōkyō Bay held by the local people since time immemorial.

Samezu Hachiman Shrine  features this filthy pond and a "Mount Fuji" in the middle. The pond is populated with cute little turtles. Unfortunately today, this area is a dingy smoking area for... I'm not sure who... but there were ash trays next to every bench encircling the pond. Still, the presence of the water - rare at shrines in Edo-Tokyo - is a tribute to the dependence on the sea by the local villagers.

Samezu Hachiman Shrine features this filthy pond and a “Mount Fuji” in the middle. The pond is populated with cute little turtles. Unfortunately today, this area is a dingy smoking area for… I’m not sure who… but there were ash trays next to every bench encircling the pond.
Still, the presence of the water – rare at shrines in Edo-Tokyo – is a tribute to the dependence on the sea by the local villagers.

R00118481A1A1A1A

In neighboring Tachiaigawa, you can find Tenso-Suwa Shrine which is also dedicated to water kami and has a beautiful wooded and landscaped pond populated by carp. It’s well worth the visit.

 

As I finish this article, I just want to say how moved I always am when I reflect upon the Sumida River and Edo-Tōkyō Bay. These are the forces that breathed life into the coastal villages that dotted the bay. And while the shape of the bay made the area almost impervious to attack by sea in the beginning, the network of inlets and rivers imparted by the sea allowed the area to prosper. And by the time of the Tokugawa right down to present day, the bay and the rivers and channels and moats are part of the life and fabric of the greatest city in the world.

Some people may ask — and indeed have asked — why I’m making such a big deal out of this relatively unknown part of Tōkyō. Because this area typifies that transition from Edo to Tōkyō. This area was lucky to have survived more or less intact until the 1960’s. From the first Tōkyō Olympics to the Bubble Era unprecedented modernization occurred. Also, this is a great launch pad for a few more areas in 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward that I’ve neglected up until now. I hope you’ll look forward to them with me!

 

 

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[i] In the early days of the blog, I covered the etymology of Mita.
[ii] Waaaay back in the day I discussed the etymology of Shinagawa.
[iii] Longtime readers should know about this topic, however, last year I wrote about the 5 Great Highways of Edo.
[iv] For those of you who don’t know, drinking and whoring is – and always shall be – a searchable term on JapanThis.
[v] If you’re interested in these modern connections, please see my article on Tōkyō Train names and on Haneda Airport.
[vi] Historically speaking, “Shinagawa” refers to an entire 区 ku ward today. In the early Meiji Period, there was a 品川県 Shinagawa-ken Shinagawa Prefecture (1869-1871). The 宿場 shukuba post town was one of the biggest in Japan because it was leading in and out of the capital. But keep in mind that the farther you stray from Shinagawa Station, the farther you are going into what was the boonies in the Edo Period. Even lively Shinagawa-Takanawa weren’t technically Edo. They were a kind of suburb… of sorts. In 1871, the 藩 han domains were formally abolished and the short-lived Shinagawa Prefecture was brought into the fold of newly created Tōkyō Prefecture (though it was not part of Tōkyō City).
[vii] And I don’t mean figuratively.
[viii] The current station building dates from 1991.
[ix] Yes, this is the same Goten’yama that was razed and dumped into Edo Bay to build up batteries to protect the shōgun’s capital from the Black Ships. See my article on Odaiba.
[x] Complicated in that you had 将軍 shōgun shoguns and 執権 shikken regents and 尼将軍 ama-shōgun Hōjō Masako.
[xi] This theory is sometimes explained as the word 清水 shimizu fresh water being corrupted to samezu, but /shi/ doesn’t easily transform into /sa/ in Japanese.

What does Sendagaya mean?

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

千駄ヶ谷
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!


sen

1000


da

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


ga

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


ya

valley

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.

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 Ichigaya mean?

In Japanese History on November 19, 2013 at 6:17 am

市ヶ谷
Ichigaya (Market Valley)

Ichigaya Station

Ichigaya Station

This place name has 3 variations.

市谷 ichi ga ya
市ヶ谷 ichi ga ya
市ケ ichi ga ya

Most Tōkyōites probably associated Ichigaya with train stations that bear the name “Ichigaya,” but in reality there are many places named Ichigaya. I think this is a pretty complete list:

市谷加賀町 ichigaya-chō
市谷甲良町 ichigaya kōra-chō
市谷砂土原町 ichigaya sadohara-chō
市谷左内町 ichigaya sanai-chō
市谷鷹匠町 ichigaya takajō-machi
市谷田町 ichigaya tamachi
市谷台町 ichigaya daimachi
市谷長延寺町 ichigaya nagano-chō
市谷八幡町 ichigaya hachimangū-chō
市谷船河原町 ichigaya funagawara-machi
市谷本村町 ichigaya honmura-chō
市谷薬王寺町 ichigaya yakuōj-machi
市谷柳町 ichigaya yanagi-chō
市谷山伏町 ichigaya yamabushi-chō


Don’t be surprised if we come back to those place names
[i]. There’s gold in them hills.

One of the stranger things in Tokyo is this urban fishing spot in Ichigaya.

One of the stranger things in Tokyo is this urban fishing spot in Ichigaya.

OK, so I’ve wanted to write about this place for a long time, but it is connected to a few other place names which have made it difficult to cover until now. In my non-professional opinion, this seems like a very ancient place name. I’m just gonna through this out there now and say my gut instinct tells me none of the etymologies we’ll see today are correct and we’ll never know the true etymology.

First let’s look at the kanji .

ichi

market

ga

genitive particle

ya, tani

valley

In my opinion, all of these kanji are suspect. You’ll see why soon.

So, let’s look at the circulating theories.

 There was a dude named 市谷孫四郎 Ichigaya Magojirō attested in a Kamakura Period document who controlled an area near Edo. Other than this name, nothing else is known about the guy. A cursory glance of his name isn’t very impressive. He doesn’t seem to be descended from any imperial branch families and he doesn’t have a samurai-sounding clan name. If such a guy really existed, he may have been an elite lord who adopted the local place name as a family name, but… that just raises more questions. The jury is out on this one.

 Two theories exist which say the first character is deceptive. I’ve said again and again that kanji are not reliable for ancient Tōkyō place names. Here’s a good demonstration of why. This theory states that the original name was 一ヶ谷 ichi ga ya the first valley. Nearby we can find 四ッ谷 yotsu ya the fourth valley. The problem with this theory is where are the ニヶ谷 2nd valley and 三ヶ谷 3rd valley???

 It’s almost the same theory, but…. because of the prominence of daimyō residences here, the area had a reputation as an elite residential area well into the Meiji Era. According to this theory, 一ヶ谷 “first valley” was the preeminent (ie; first) 山手 yamanote valley[ii].  This one is also weird because why this area is the first, but Marunouchi isn’t? Also valleys tend to be 下町 shitamachi low city. So this one is just weird…

 This place name is another story unto itself, but as for the general story of Ichigaya, Kameoka Hachiman-gū is important. As mentioned many times before, Hachiman is the Shintō god who protects warriors (ie; samurai). This shrine located in Ichigaya claims that after its establishment in the late 1470’s a market (or many markets) sprung up around the shrine. They say that in the old Edo Dialect 市買 ichi kai “market buying” became ichi gai and in turn as a place name 屋 shop or  valley got attached to the area.

The shrine claims to possess Ota Dokan's  gunbai uchiwa.  A gunbai uchiwa is the (non-folding) fan used by Sengoku Period generals to give signals to troops. It's also said the Ota Dokan established this shrine - that's why it's dedicated to Hachiman, the Japanese god of bad asses.

The shrine claims to possess Ota Dokan’s gunbai uchiwa.
A gunbai uchiwa is the (non-folding) fan used by Sengoku Period generals to give signals to troops.
It’s also said the Ota Dokan established this shrine – that’s why it’s dedicated to Hachiman, the Japanese god of bad asses.

On a side note, for the train freaks out there, JR and Tokyo Metro use the writing 市ケ, while Tōei uses 市ヶ (ie; JR and Tokyo Metro use a large and Tōei used a small ). The official place names as used in postal codes and regular correspondence by Tōkyōtes drop the /all together and just write the name as 市谷.

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[i] Long time readers will know that I will come back.
[ii] Of course Yamanote means “the high city” and refers to the Edo Period distribution of land in Edo. The elite lived on the hills and the commoners lived in the lowlands. Here’s my ongoing series about my impressions of Yamanote and Shitamachi (although I haven’t updated it in ages).

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.

What does Aoyama mean?

In Japanese History on April 26, 2013 at 1:19 am

A

青山
Aoyama (Blue Mountain, Green Mountain)

Aerial view of Aoyama Cemetery

Aerial view of Aoyama Cemetery

Today, Aoyama is one of Tōkyō’s most fashionable and expensive neighborhoods. It borders Harajuku and Shibuya and is famous for shopping, high end dining and has a remarkable amount of green space – sorely lacking in other areas of the city.

The word is made of two characters:
ao blue or green (depending on who you ask)
yama mountain
Aoyama is a family name.

Aoyama Coat of Arms

The Gujo Aoyama mondokoro (coat of arms)

In the Edo Period, 郡上藩 Gujō-han Gujō Domain (located in 美濃国 Mino no kuni Mino Province; modern day 岐阜県 Gifu-ken Gifu Prefecture) was administered by the Gujō branch of the Aoyama clan. The castle and seat of the domainal government was at 八幡城 Hachiman-jō Hachiman Castle, so sometimes the domain is referred to as Hachiman-han. Since the clan originated in Mikawa, the family had a special relationship with the Tokugawa. At one point, during the Sengoku Era, they were responsible for the education of Tokugawa Hidetada who would later become the second shōgun.

Gujo-Hachiman Castle Today (it's a reconstruction from 1933), but the town and castle look well worth a visit.

Gujo-Hachiman Castle Today (it’s a reconstruction from 1933), but the town and castle look well worth a visit.

They had a sprawling palatial residence (下屋敷 shimoyashiki) in the outskirts of Edo. When daimyō residences were confiscated by the Meiji government for re-purposing, the land of the Aoyama residence was converted into present day Aoyama cemetery. It’s a massive urban cemetery. If you walk around it, you can get a feel for how large the estate once was. Even though the family was only worth 48,000 koku, this sub-residence was one of the biggest in all of Edo. None of the domain’s buildings exist today, but the Aoyama family temple, 梅窓院 Baisōin Baisō Temple, can still be found in Minami Aoyama.

Supposedly, the building on the right is one of the Aoyama residences.

Supposedly, the building on the right is one of the Aoyama residences.

 

 

 

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