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Posts Tagged ‘haihan-chiken’

What does Chōfu mean? (Part One)

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

Chōfu (mood cloth)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I right?


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

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

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

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

Administrative Reforms in the Asuka and Nara Periods

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

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

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

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

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

A corvette, as opposed to a corvee.

A corvette, as opposed to a corvee.

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

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

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

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

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


Good luck with that, buddy.

Is Everyone Defined By Taxes?

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

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


The Plot Thickens

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


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

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

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

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

Is it all Bullshit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Man’yōshū

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

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

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


Tamagawa ni
sarasu tezukuri
sarasara ni
nanzo kono ko no

koko da kanashiki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A young girl bleaching cloth in the Tamagawa

A young girl bleaching cloth in the Tamagawa

So Why Is the Area Called Chōfu?

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

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

tama river bleach bitch

Edo Period Poetry in Motion

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

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

Bleaching cloth in a van down by the river.

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


But Wait. Did You Say “Pillow Word?”

Yes, I did.

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

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

What the Fuck is a Pillow Word?

Good question!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chōfu is Actually a Pretty Cool Place

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

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

Statue of Kondō Isami at Ryūgen-ji.

Statue of Kondō Isami at Ryūgen-ji.

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

Map of Jindai-ji.

Map of the Jindai-ji temple complex

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

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

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

What does Musashi mean?

In Japanese History on July 10, 2013 at 4:36 am

Musashi (etymology uncertain)

Musashi-Kosugi Station in East Bumfuck, otherwise known as Kanagawa. One of many stations that bare the name "Musashi."

Musashi-Kosugi Station in East Bumfuck, otherwise known as Kanagawa.
One of many stations that bare the name “Musashi.”

OK, this was a post that I’ve been putting off forever because it seemed quite daunting – and I’m both super busy at the moment and inherently lazy. But a reader on the JapanThis Facebook Page requested it and… I have a hard time turning down a request. So, I’m going to try my best to do this and do it right, while still being a little lazy. Let’s see if I can pull it off.

There are place names all over 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis that include the words 武蔵 Musashi or 武蔵野 Musashino. I’ve alluded to this many times over the last 6 months, so regular readers should have a little idea of what is coming next.

There's a common thread among places which include the word Musashi. They tend to be boring places in the suburbs and country...

There’s a common thread among places which include the word Musashi.
They tend to be boring places in the suburbs and country…

1871 was a major year for the nascent Meiji government and for Japanese geography and place names. That year, the imperial court issued an edict called 廃藩置県 haihan-chiken[i] Abolishment of Han (domains) & Establishment of Ken (prefectures). I’m not an expert in this area and I have no formal training as a Japanese historian[ii], so take what I’m going to say with that in mind[iii]. Until this decree, the usual civil administrative unit of the Edo Period was the 藩 han usually translated as domain (or feudal domain[iv]). The domain would be a hereditary fief granted or allowed by the shōgun in Edo to a 大名 daimyō, a lord[v]. The domains of the Edo Period were theoretically in flux. Domains could be confiscated or abolished by the shōgun at any time – usually for some grave offense by the daimyō in charge. You can think of domains as autonomous “states” which were properties of the daimyō. The daimyō swore allegiance to the shōgun.  And although they were “free” to exercise discretion in their domains, they spent half of their time in forced service to shōgun and their wives and children were de facto “hostages” of the shōgun, a holdover from the 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai Warring States Clusterfuck.

The provinces of Japan.

The provinces of Japan.
Musashi is #10.

Another archaism that held over into the Edo Period, at least in theory, were the traditional territories called 国 kuni often translated as provinces, but usually used in Modern Japanese as country. The domains of the Tokugawa Period existed within these traditional regions.

Miyamoto Musashi, drunk and stoned. I know the questions will come. What's the connection between Miyamoto Musashi and Musashi Province. I beg someone else to answer the question for me....  because it's not a good story. lol

Miyamoto Musashi, drunk and stoned.I know the questions will come.
What’s the connection between Miyamoto Musashi and Musashi Province?
None.So suck it. 

Provinces were created during in the 7th century by an imperial decree called 国郡里制 Koku-Gun-Ri Sei the Province-District-Village Edict which established a norm for civil administration united under the imperial court in Nara, if I’m not mistaken. The Koku-Gun-Ri system created large provinces, sub-divided into districts, which were further sub-divided into territories[vi]. The system was never abolished, but it basically fell apart during the Muromachi Period as samurai culture ascended to supremacy under the leadership of 武将 bushō daimyō warlords who were fighting each other in a land grabbing free for all – essentially undermining the boundaries of the kuni.

I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in the traditional area of Musashi Province, the 郡 gun districts survived into the Edo Period. In the Meiji Period, while 国 kuni provinces and 藩 han were eliminated by the Abolition Act, many 郡 gun districts continued to exist up until WWII.

Districts of Musashi Province:

足立郡 Adachi-gun Adachi District
秩父郡 Chichibu-gun Chichibu District
荏原郡 Ebara-gun Ebara District
入間郡 Iruma-gun Iruma District
加美郡 Kami-gun Kami District
葛飾郡 Katsushika-gun Katsushika District
児玉郡 Kodama-gun Kodama District
高麗郡 Koma-gun Koma District
久良岐郡 Kuraki-gun Kuraki District
榛沢郡 Hanzawa-gun Hanzawa District
幡羅郡 Hara-gun Hara District
比企郡 Hiki-gun Hiki District
那珂郡 Naka-gun Naka District

Niikura District
男衾郡 Obusuma-gun Obusuma District
大里郡 Ōzato-gun Ōzato District
埼玉郡 Saitama-gun Saitama District
橘樹郡 Tachibana-gun Tachibana District

Tama District
豊嶋郡 Toshima-gun Toshima District
都筑郡 Tsuzuki-gun Tsuzuki District
横見郡 Yokomi-gun Yokomi District

Long time readers of JapanThis will recognize some of those names, especially Toshima and Ebara. Anyone who’s spent a little time in the Tōkyō Area will recognize loads of other names as well, for example; Adachi, Chichibu, Kodama, Katsushika, Saitama, and Tama.

Sorry for the Japanese, but this is the best I could find on short notice.  If I can't find a better map, I'll modify this one with English labels later when I have a little more time.

Sorry for the Japanese, but this is the best I could find on short notice.
If I can’t find a better map, I’ll modify this one with English labels later when I have a little more time.

Domains 藩 han  that were located in Musashi Province:

深谷藩 Fukaya Han
岡部藩 Okabe Han
本庄藩 Honjō Han
八幡山藩 Hachiman Han
東方藩 Higashigata Han
忍藩 Oshi Han
Kisai Han
Kisaichi Han
松山藩 Matsuyama Han
伯太藩 Hakata Han
Kakezuka Han
Takasaka Han
久喜藩 Kuki Han
石戸藩 Ishito Han
武蔵小室藩 Musashi Komuro Han
原市藩 Haraichi Han
岩槻藩 Iwatsuki Han


Musashi Ichinomiya Han


Kawagoe Han


Hatogaya Han


Kitami Han


Mutsūra Han
Bushū Kanazawa Han


Akanuma Han
Akamatsu Han

This map is a placeholder.   I need a map of the domains inside Musashi Province. If anyone has access to such a map (book, website, etc) or has the drive to make one themselves, I'd totally appreciate it.   I'll swap the new image for this one (which is basically a repeat of the image directly above it).

This map is a placeholder.
I need a map of the domains inside Musashi Province. If anyone has access to such a map (book, website, etc) or has the drive to make one themselves, I’d totally appreciate it.
I’ll swap the new image for this one (which is basically a repeat of the image directly above it).

OK, so a quick re-cap.

Old Japan was divided by the imperial court into large province called 国 kuni. Kuni were subdivided into districts called 郡 gun. In the Sengoku Period many 国 kuni provinces became obsolete, but the names continued traditionally. Generally, the 郡 gun districts remained intact. In the Edo Period, it seems to be case by case. So again, the province names continued to exist traditionally if not officially and territories were very much intact.

So why have I taken you on this insanely boring walk through Japanese civil administrative units from the 7th century to the 17th century?

Because the area was so large and famous, it’s important to understand how people before the Meiji Period thought of this area geographically. Also, the district names (and sometimes the domain names) are still relevant today[vii].


Anyways, there’s more to the story.

So, let’s go back to the name of the imperial decree of 1871, it abolished domains and created prefectures[viii]. Go back a little further to 1868, the emperor took the Tokugawa Shōgun Family’s main holding, Edo, and renamed it Tōkyō. Things were more or less in a state of flux as the court and the government, which was slowly taking shape, figured out what the hell they were doing.

To my understanding, from 1869 to 1943, 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City embodied the former city of Edo plus many suburban and urban holdings. Tōkyō Prefecture absorbed a much larger area that included the city of Tōkyō and mixed an agrarian and metropolitan area into a new civil unit.

There’s much more to the story than this, but this is all we need for now.

OK, this map is totally inadequate. But I'm trying to illustrate where modern Tokyo Metropolis stands as compared to the traditional Musashi Province.   This may be totally wrong. So if you can make a better one, I'd appreciate it. Also this map doesn't north enough in Saitama to so the other holdings.  Now that I'm looking at it, the highlighted area doesn't go far enough west.  Dammit, Jim. I'm a doctor not a map maker.

OK, this map is totally inadequate. But I’m trying to illustrate where modern Tokyo Metropolis stands as compared to the traditional Musashi Province.
This may be totally wrong. So if you can make a better one, I’d appreciate it. Also this map doesn’t north enough in Saitama to so the other holdings.
Now that I’m looking at it, the highlighted area doesn’t go far enough west.
Dammit, Jim. I’m a doctor not a map maker.

Wasn’t this article about the meaning of Musashi?

Why, yes. Yes, it was.

武蔵 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province
Bushū Warrior State[ix]

These are alternate names for more or less the same area. The kanji used today are slightly simplified variants. The original way to write it was 武藏國 Musashi no Kuni, which give me a headache if I look at it too long.

The province was spread over areas of present day Tōkyō, Kanagawa, Saitama, although the bulk of is still within Tōkyō. Most places that include the name Musashi were outside of the Edo or direct control of the shōgun, so they could claim a little prestige by adding Musashi to their name. This became a big thing with the implementation of train systems, when differentiating station names became necessary.

Any place name in Tōkyō, Saitama, or Kanagawa is more or less is a reference to Musashi province.  Even today, many of these places are not just suburban areas, but areas considered really country by Tōkyōites in the 23 Special Wards. But this is their heritage. They are preserving an ancient name that wasn’t a political reality since the 15th century. Nice, right?

The Musashi Plain

The Musashi Plain

Other related place names are:

武蔵野 Musashino Musashi Plain
むさし Musashino Musashi Plain
(variant spelling)
武蔵台 Musashidai Musashi Plateau
武蔵野台 Musashinodai Musashi Plain Plateau
福岡武蔵 Fukuoka-Musashino Auspicious Knolls
Musashi Plain[x]
大井武蔵 Ōi-Musashino Great Well
Musashi Plain[xi]

So What Does Musashi Mean?

There are many competing theories, none of which is considered a prevailing theory. Most of the theories seem so shaky that they’re not worth getting into here. It is interesting to note that the earliest recorded instances of the name in the 7th century are written with different kanji:  无耶志国 Muzashi no Kuni Muzashi Province.

Other variants were:

无射志 Muzashi
牟射志 Munzashi
牟佐志 Munzashi
無邪 Muzashi

The problem with all of these variants is that they are all ateji – which means they don’t tell jack shit about the origin of the word or meaning. Because it was always written with ateji as far back as the historical record goes, it has prompted some linguists to speculate that it was a non-Japanese word. They’ve pointed an Ainu word, ムンザシ munzashi, which means a grass covered plain. The similarity is uncanny. But I don’t know much about the Ainu, where they lived, their language, or… well, anything. So, I can’t say if this is better than the other weird theories I heard[xii].

When Tokyoites hear place names with "Musashi" in the name, this is what they think of....

When Tokyoites hear place names with “Musashi” in the name, this is what they think of….

OK. So there it is. Nobody knows what the fuck Musashi really means and it has taken me roughly 2000 words to say so. But that said, we’ve been able to take a good look at the size and administrative reality of Musashi Province and I hope that this post will be a good point of reference for past posts and future posts. And since a lot of my readers are new to Japanese history, hopefully I was able to unweave the rainbow a little bit in terms of how Japan, or at least the Japan surrounding Edo-Tōkyō was administered in the old days.

And like I said in the beginning of this post, I’m not an expert on civil administration in the Edo Period – the era I know the best so there may be some mistakes in here. If anyone sees any glaring ones, let me know. Also, if I wasn’t clear about anything, feel free post your questions. I’m hoping this is a nice launching point for more place names and hopefully more discussion on bad ass Tōkyō history.

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[i] Not to be confused with the 廃藩痴漢 haihan chikan abolition of domains & public groping.

[ii] Never even had a single class in Japanese history.

[iii] And if you can shed some light on this, your knowledge would be greatly appreciated.

[iv] This isn’t an accepted term among scholars of Japanese history, but the terminology is out there for generalists and n00bs and since I’m trying to keep this blog accessible to everyone, I sometimes use it myself.

[v] Often translated with the Eurocentric term, feudal lord – again not used by serious scholars of Japanese history, but often tossed around by generalists because it is easily understood by westerners.

[vi] As time went on and the population in urban center ballooned, further sub-divisions were created. One that is confusing for me is the the existence of 2 ri;  里 ri village and 領 ri territory/county.

[vii] I didn’t even get into the 領 ri territories/counties (too many of them), but these territories account for most of the extant place names in the former Musashi Province.

[viii] Where this word comes from is also interesting, but let’s leave that for another day.

[ix] The kanji 武 bu “warrior” is the same kanji for 武士道 bushidō way of the samurai. Anyways, I doubt any of my readers don’t know that. But ぶ bu and む mu are similar sounds and there are diachronic variations across Japanese dialects, which means that the kanji can be read as bu or mu. A common family name is 武藤 Mutō which also uses the softer, mu sound. Other common examples are 寂しい samishii or sabishii and 寒い samui or sabui.

[x] In Saitama, not Tōkyō.

[xi] In Saitama, not Tōkyō.

[xii] If you are interested in what some real Japanese linguists have to say on the matter (and you can read technical linguistics documents in Japanese), then knock yourself out. But it’s pretty dry.

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