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Posts Tagged ‘halloween’

What does Meoto-bashi mean?

In Japanese History on October 26, 2019 at 3:20 pm

夫婦橋
Meoto-bashi (“lovers’ bridge,” more at “wedded couple’s bridge”)

meotobashi.jpg
I often get asked, “Marky, how do you find new place names?” Believe it or not, it’s just random. However, I’d say 80% of the time, I’m just riding a bus or train, and something jumps out and I wonder “why is this place called what it’s called?” That other 20% comes from just looking at random places on maps and wondering the same thing, “why is this place called what it’s called?” In today’s case, something really strange happened.

I’m an avid Pokemon GO player. As a result, the app discovers weird place names all the time. I was on the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line coming back to 東京 Tōkyō from 韓国 Kankoku Korea and I had the app open. En route, it found 夫婦橋 Meoto-bashi which I read as Fūfu-bashi. There must be a good story here, I thought.

musume

We’ll talk more about this grave later…

Let’s look at the Kanji


fu, , bu; otto, oto; sore
husband; man


fu; yome

wife, bride; woman


hashi, -bashi; kyō

bridge

夫婦 fūfu is the standard word for a married couple. Sometimes, you might be invited to a party with the phrase ご夫婦で来てください go-fūfu de kite kudasai please come with your spouse. Another common expression is 夫婦生活 fūfu seikatsu married life and 夫婦墓 fūfubaka[i] husband and wife shared grave[ii]. That last term can also be read as meotobaka. While meoto is a proper reading of the kanji, fūfu is far and away the more common pronunciation. In the case of this bridge, the correct reading is Meoto-bashi. That said, the meaning is exactly the same: married couple’s bridge.

open marriage
Where is Meoto-bashi?

That’s a good question, because I’d never heard of this bridge. But, as I said before, Pokemon GO found the location for me and I was just sitting on the train. A quick internet search sorted things out nicely. I soon learned that Meoto-bashi is located in 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward and spans the 平作川 Hirasaku-gawa Hirasaku River[iii] — essentially a three-minute walk from 京急蒲田駅 Keikyū Kamata Eki Keikyū Kamata Station. Nearby the bridge is 夫婦橋親水公園 Meoto-bashi Shinsui Kōen Meotobashi Riverside Park[iv]. Anyhoo, the bridge and the park are a 15-minute train ride from 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station.

Further Reading

sunamura-san

Grave of Sunamura Shinzaemon

Construction of Meoto-bashi

According to records, the first bridge to span the Hirasaku River in this area was built in 1667 by a local farmer named 砂村新左衛門 Sunamura Shinzaemon. When people hear the term farmer, they might think of some kind of country bumpkin peasant, but make no mistake about it, Shinzaemon was a very wealthy landholder and extremely well educated. Despite being a farmer according the class system of the day, it’s probably better to think of him as a pre-modern civil engineer[v].

edo period bridge

Typical, old Japanese bridge minus the mud surface.

The point of creating the bridge wasn’t only to get people from Point A to Point B, but also to create a 水門 suimon floodgate to prevent back current from 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay flowing against the river and flooding the riverside villages. An unexpected side effect of the floodgate was a buildup of silt that created a sand bar upon which another bridge was eventually built. Having two bridges so close together in what was literally the boonies was extremely rare and the people came to think of them as a pair, a married couple, if you will. The bridges seem very rustic when compared to the flashy wooden bridges of Edo that we all know and love from 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints of daily life in the Edo Period. In fact, an 1825 description of Meoto-bashi describes it as a rough, log bridge covered in dirt and mud[vi].

The current concrete bridge was built in 1954, and other than a major update in 1988, it remains unchanged.

meato bridge.jpg

Two Bridges.

A Married Couple. End of Story?

Nope. Not a chance.

Prior to Shinzaemon’s bridge/floodgate, apparently there had been bridges here before. We don’t have specific dates about their construction (remember, this was the boonies), but it’s fair to say there were bridges crossing the Hirasaku River in this area as far back as the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura Shōgunate – roughly 800 years ago, which is when Eastern Japan really began to take off. Because of the counter currents from the bay during typhoons and tropical storms[vii], these ancient bridges were often destroyed and washed away by nature’s temper tantrums.

A local legend persists among the old timers in the area. According to them, after a particularly brutal storm that ruined the bridge and devastated the villages along the Hirasaku River, the village headman called an assembly. In order to appease whatever kami deity was allowing these horrible things to happen to the people, it was decided that a sacrifice must be made. The most beautiful, unmarried girl of the village was chosen by the people. She was dressed in white garments[viii] and marched down to the riverbank where they had begun construction of a new bridge. The young girl was placed into the hole where the first pillar was to be inserted. Her family and the villagers said their farewells – presumably much crying ensued. And then they lowered the pillar into the slot, believing her sacrifice would preserve the safety and prosperity of the village and the bridge which was vital to their survival. This practice is called 人柱 hitobashira. It literally means “human pillar.”

emma ai

Whoa. Human Sacrifice?! Was That Really a Thing???!

Without archaeological evidence to back up certain famous claims of hitobashira, it’s hard to say definitively. However, records going back as far as the 700’s, including 日本書紀 Nihon Shoki The Chronicles of Japan, claim this sort of human sacrifice existed in 神道 Shintō the native religion. From time to time, you’ll hear ghost stories in Japan that say things like “underneath every beautiful cherry blossom tree lies a dead body” – often a samurai who fell in battle or committed 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide or a fair maiden who was sacrificed for the good of the village. In 地獄少女 Jigoku Shōjo Hell Girl, the only anime you need to watch[ix], the main character 閻魔愛 Enma Ai is condemned to her role of, um, condemning other people to “hell” after being selected by local villagers to be hitobashira to protect the village. Many Japanese castles have stories about retainers or local beauties being buried alive for the protection of the lord’s keep and therefore, the domain’s security. I sincerely hope these are just spooky stories, but there are a lot of them in the folklore and mythology in Japan, so I wipe a little tear from my eye while I say, this practice most definitely happened in some form or another.

hitobashira grave

Edo Period grave erected to commemorate the life of the young girl sacrificed for the sake of the village.

Happy Halloween

On that note, get your costumes ready. Go be spooky and sexxxy! Also, if you’re trying to get laid, you might want to leave this dark story out of your repertoire. That said, I have a few other Halloween-related articles you might like to share with a friend[x].

Further Reading

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[i] This word can get giggles because it also sounds like 夫婦馬鹿 fūfu, baka couples are stupid.
[ii] As uncomfortable as this may be for some, 夫婦ぶっかけ fūfu bukkake refers to couples who, um, get the bukkake treatment together or engage in cockhold bukkake play. Just trying to be thorough here, folks. This is research.
[iii] I’d never heard of this river before, but for those curious, it flows from 横須賀 Yokosuka in 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture to 東京湾 Tōkyō-wan Tōkyō Bay.
[iv] The official English name of the park is “riverside park.” However, the word 親水 shinsui parent water is sometimes translated as “hydrophilic” which means “water loving.” I don’t think there’s an equivalent English word, but the nuance is something like “next to the water” or “intimate with the water” and can be found in other Tōkyō parks that are located on rivers or sometimes have fountains powered by the nearby river.
[v] Also, just for reference, this part of Tōkyō was not part of Edo. It was just rice paddies and forests as far as the eye could see in 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province.
[vi] I’m going out on a limb an guessing that the dirt and mud was to make pulling carts across the bridge smoother, as logs would have been bumpy and could probably damage axels and goods.
[vii] And the lack of technological know how to combat back currents.
[viii] In Japan, white is a symbol of death. Corpses are dressed in white at funerals and samurai who performed 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment wore white.
[ix] My opinion. I don’t watch other anime.
[x] PS: Any English article you read on these topics was done after I did the research, so please don’t support those lazy “journalists.” You heard it hear first, my friends.

Dōryō-dō – the Haunted Temple of Hachiōji

In Japanese History on October 15, 2015 at 5:47 am

道了堂
Dōryō-dō (Dōryō Temple)

Dōryō-dō. Just a note about pix. Due to Japanese privacy laws, the public doesn't have access to a lot of pictures related to this story so I had to get creative. Anyways, hope you still enjoy.

Dōryō-dō.
Just a note about pix. Due to Japanese privacy laws, the public doesn’t have access to a lot of pictures related to this story so I had to get creative. Anyways, hope you still enjoy.

I’ve never shied away from the darker side of the history of Edo-Tōkyō. I’ve always been forthright in my lack of a belief in the supernatural. But I have to admit, dark stories about ghosts and things that go “bump” in the night fascinate me. Today we’re going to stay in 八王子 Hachiōji and talk about ghosts. And why not? Halloween is right around the corner!

Wanna read my article on Hachiōji?

Road leading to Hachiōji village during the bakumatsu.

Road leading to Hachiōji village during the bakumatsu.

An Inauspicious Name

Hachiōji is home to the remains of a demolished temple that Japanese ghost hunters can’t get enough of. It’s called 道了堂 Dōryō-dō. The name means “Temple of the kami named Dōryō,” but it can also be read as “End of the Road Temple.” It was located on a well-traveled highway in the Edo Period, so “end of the road” could have been Edo branding for “stop and eat something or lodge here.” But since 1983, it’s conveyed the nuance that “this is the last place you will be alive.”

Let’s Look at the Kanji

道了
dōryō

end of the road


temple
The so-called

The so-called “Silk Road” in its present state.

Shall We Look at the Timeline of the Temple?

This haunted spot is located on an Edo Period highway that was colloquially called  絹之道 Kinu no Michi the Silk Road.  The route connected 八王子 Hachiōji with 横浜 Yokohama. In the late Edo Period it became a very active trade route.

Dōryō-dō isn’t a very ancient temple. Surprisingly, it was established in 1874 (Meiji 7)[i], when a wealthy merchant named 大塚吾郎吉 Ōtsuka Gorōkichi wanted to split and transfer the syncretic 神 kami deity named 道了尊 Dōryō-son[ii] from another temple in Hachiōji called 永泉寺 Eisen-ji[iii]. The kami was installed into a new sub-temple in the merchant town of 八王子鑓水村 Hachiōji Yarimizu Mura Yarimizu Village, Hachiōji. That temple was named 道了堂 Dōryō-dō and it prospered as a relay point on the so-called Silk Road. In 1890 (Meiji 23), 2 groups of stone lanterns were set up at the top of the stairs. This was to be the last major addition to the temple. The temple flourished briefly and then nosedived due to economic changes.

Yarimizu during the bakumatsu.

Yarimizu during the bakumatsu. I assume this picture was taken from the Kōshū Kaidō or the “Silk Road,” but I’m not sure.

Decline of the Silk Road and Dōryō-dō

In 1908 (Meiji 41), the 横浜鉄道 Yokohama Tetsudō Yokohama Railway (today the JR 横浜線 JR Yokohama-sen JR Yokohama Line) opened and connected Hachiōji and Yokohama by faster, western technology. The railroad essentially killed off foot traffic along the Silk Road. Temples and shrines were often built on main roads because travelers and pilgrims would stop by and patronize the religious institutions. This provided a constant source of income[iv], but the rise of the railroads meant that shrines and temples located far from stations saw a sharp decrease in revenue. Relatively unknown temples like Dōryō-dō suffered in particular. People just didn’t know about them.

The once popular temple faded into obscurity. It experienced 3 事件 jiken “incidents” that ghost hunters say resulted in its demise – 1963, 1973, and 1983[v]. We’ll talk about those in a second, but for now the ruins rest in modern 大塚山公園 Ōtsuka-yama Kōen Ōtsukayama Park. For most people, the park is famous for its large population of 兎 usagi cute widdle bunny wabbits. But for those of more macabre interests, the park has a much more sinister claim to fame.

doryodo hachioji

They Say You Can Hear Women Crying in the Park

Maybe it’s because of the legacy of 八王子城 Hachiōji-jō Hachiōji Castle which dates back to the 1590’s, but Hachiōji is apparently ground zero for aficionados of so-called 心霊スポット shinrei supotto haunted places in Tōkyō. Maybe the tradition started there. Who knows. But believe it or not, the ruins of Hachiōji Castle are not the epicenter of “Haunted Hachiōji.” That great honor goes to Dōryō-dō.

I couldn't find any pix of Dōryō-dō and then I found this gem. I was sad when I realized it's a Dōryō-dō in Gunma Prefecture, not Hachiōji.

I couldn’t find any pix of Dōryō-dō and then I found this gem. I was sad when I realized it’s a Dōryō-dō in Gunma Prefecture, not Hachiōji.

In 1963[vi], an 82 year old woman who was in charge of maintaining the premises was approached by a robber. The woman resisted the criminal and was killed as a result. The temple’s meager savings were stolen and the old woman’s body lay where it fell. Almost from the beginning, rumors began to spread among the locals that if you listened closely, you could hear the ghost of the old woman sobbing in the forest. Some say she was crying because she didn’t want to die. Others say she was sobbing because she failed to protect the temple’s money – the temple would only last another 13 years, the structure itself exactly 20.

old lady

Exactly 10 years later, in 1973, a 4th year female university student had an unfortunate affair with the wrong professor at 立教大学 Rikkyō Daigaku Saint Paul’s University. The professor’s name was 大場啓仁 Ōba Hiroshi. He was a 38 year old professor of 19th century British & American Literature, married with 2 small children[vii] – completely normal by most accounts. He apparently stuttered, but was in good shape and had a cool, brooding look about him that girls who study literature loved.

Their relationship appears to have been genuine, however at the time Saint Paul’s University had a strict policy against sexual relations between teaching staff and students. When word of the relationship got to the university administration, an inquest was begun – one that could have resulted in very strong disciplinary action.

Rikkyō Daigaku (St. Paul's University)

Rikkyō Daigaku (St. Paul’s University)

This was all very complicated. When the 24 year old undergrad[viii] confided in private to Hiroshi that she was pregnant, he wasn’t sure what to do. She began to beg him to divorce his wife so she could marry her instead. Hiroshi’s wife, who was also employed at St. Paul’s, started to get suspicious that he was banging a student and soon became despondent. She started to act out rashly and even attempted suicide in an order to force her husband to break off the relationship. The suicide attempt got his attention and he apparently wanted to reconcile with his wife, yet he continued to stay in contact with the girl[ix].

All of this stress, combined with a medical condition[x], took a toll on the poor girl who temporarily moved back in with her parents in 静岡県甲府市 Shizuoka-ken Kōfu-shi Kōfu City, Shizuoka Prefecture. She returned to Tōkyō for scheduled medical treatment at 慶応大学病院 Keiō Daigaku Byōin Keiō University Hospital. She met some Tōkyō family and friends, stayed in contact with her family in Shizuoka, and then suddenly – no one heard from her again[xi].

ghost

On 7/20/1973, Hiroshi met her at 新宿駅 Shinjuku Eki Shinjuku Station to take her to his country home in Yarimizu, Hachiōji. His plan seems to have been “remove the girl from the equation and everything goes back to normal[xii].” After they arrived at the house, he strangled the poor girl to death. Then, he took her lifeless body up the obscure wooded path near the precincts of Dōryō-dō, dug a very shallow grave, dumped the body, kicked a little dirt and some leaves over it and headed back to central Tōkyō to meet a colleague.

Once he was back in Tōkyō, he met his colleague. But like a dipshit he hinted at the fact that he had murdered the 24 year old. He was vague, but when he asked his friend to tell everyone that they’d been together all day, she knew he was looking for an alibi for something. Ōba began asking other people to swear they’d been together the other day[xiii]. His interactions with other people became increasingly suspicious. He supposedly returned to Yarimizu once more to make sure the body was hidden well and covered it up a little more.

This is the Headless Jizō. People gave it a new head. It's said to curse anyone who touches it and anyone who drives to the site in a white car. People move the head and body around the temple ruins so it's rarely in the correct place... or in one piece.

This is the Headless Jizō. People gave it a new head. It’s said to curse anyone who touches it and anyone who drives to the site in a white car. People move the head and body around the temple ruins so it’s rarely in the correct place… or in one piece.

On 9/6, some fishermen in Shizuoka discovered the corpses of 4 bodies. These turned out to be the bodies of the Ōba family: Hiroshi, his wife, and their 2 small children. The police assumed he either coerced them to jump off a cliff together into the sea in an act of 一家心中 ikka shinjū familial suicide or he threw them off one by one and then jumped himself[xiv]. It’s hard to say what went down that day since there were no survivors. But the mother was known to be despondent and Hiroshi had obviously crossed the line. Many suspect that he realized he hadn’t thought through the killing of his undergrad lover very well and knew his colleagues would betray him sooner or later. After all, the co-ed was still missing. No one – except for Hiroshi (and possibly his wife in the end) – knew for a fact that she was dead at this point. Nonetheless, there was a police investigation and he had exposed himself to trusted colleagues. The familial suicide very well may have been agreed upon by both Hiroshi and his wife as a way to avoid the reality of dealing with his big fuck up. After all, if he were arrested, the family would have been disgraced and his wife and children could have been left destitute.

suicide cliff

Here! I’m Here!!

However, the crime wasn’t solved yet. The girl was still missing. No one knew if she was dead or alive.

Ōba Hiroshi and his family’s bodies had been found, but the 24 year old undergrad was still missing. The police had leads from his colleagues because he had hinted to his transgression. They focused on Yarimizu, Hachiōji but were beginning to give up hope. The area is very rural today, but at the time it was much more so. However, about 7 months later, a woman’s partially mummified body was discovered near Dōryō-dō. One month later, it was determined that this was the body of the missing student from St. Paul’s. After her corpse was discovered, newspapers reported that local people had heard a young woman’s voice call out from the woods ここですよ、ここにいます koko desu yo, koko ni imasu “Here! I’m here!” Her remains were begging to be found[xv].

,

hand2

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One final note about numbers. The ghost hunter types like to bring these up, so I might as well mention them. They say you can still hear voices in the area because there might be another body there. The first 事件 jiken incident was in 1963. The second incident was in 1973. The temple closed in 1983. The Japanese word for death is 死 shi which sounds like 四 shi 4. There might have been a fourth incident that is still crying out to be discovered at Dōryō-dō, begging to find peace.

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[i] The temple was actually completed in 1875 (Meiji 8).
[ii] That was the Buddhist name. The Shintō name was Dōryō no Mikoto.
[iii] Established in the 1570’s under the rule of the 後北条 Late Hōjō.
[iv] Let’s face it; this was probably Gorōkichi’s actual motive for establishing the temple in the first place.
[v] Ghost hunters are full of shit and… well, the first 2 dates make sense, but the 3rd date wasn’t a criminal anniversary like the others are. Anyways, I’ll get to all these points and more in due time.
[vi] 20 years before the temple’s demise.
[vii] Ages 4 and 6.
[viii] Because of Japanese privacy laws, none of the names of Ōba’s victims or the people affiliated with his crimes are open to the public. So I will refer to his lover by terms like “undergrad.” In the Japanese media, she is referred to as K子さん K-ko-san.
[ix] Again, it seems they did have a genuine connection. Words like “polyamory” didn’t exist in either English or Japanese until quite recently. Which is sad. Now there are constructs for understanding these kinds of feelings. That said, a traditional Japanese woman of the day was not very independent and – even like some traditional women of today – was willing to take male promiscuity for granted.
[x] Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
[xi] Her family knew she was in contact with Hiroshi which made police suspicious.
[xii] This is called “19th century literary thinking.” Dude was an expert in it – not equations.
[xiii] Idiotically, he had set up alibis in different cities with different people so not a single alibi checked out.
[xiv] It’s somewhat implausible that he threw them over the cliff one by one and then killed himself. The victims would have fled or fought him. The family suicide is the most probable scenario. This speaks volumes of the culture at the time. Hiroshi, his wife, and his lover were all from rural Shizuoka, if I’m not mistaken. They were very traditional people.
[xv] Newspapers were reporting that ghosts were real. Ugh.

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