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What does Ōme mean?

In Japanese History on February 22, 2016 at 5:58 pm

青梅
Ōme (literally “green plum,” but more at “unripe plum”)

ome station

Ōme calls itself the Shōwa Town. The station looks intentionally old to evoke nostalgic feelings.

Ōme is an incorporated “city”[i] named after an ancient village in the area formerly known as 青梅村 Ōme Mura Ōme Village. This is the northernmost and easternmost part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis. Usually when you think of Tōkyō, you think of a sprawling urban center with skyscrapers and packed trains. Ōme is mountains, forests, and rivers; one of the most beautiful parts of Tōkyō. It’s so rural that the train stations in the area are often unmanned and the train doors require you to push a button to open them because… um, people just don’t get off the train here much. The local people tend to use cars for everything.

In our last article about Shinjuku, we learned how the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway forked at Shinjuku and branched off into a new road called the 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō Ōme Highway. Before 1603, the village of Ōme wasn’t really famous for anything. At that time a post town called 青梅宿 Ōme-shuku Ōme Inn Town was established and the post town and the highway got some recognition.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about:

tama river ome.jpg

Ōme is famous for its foliage in every season, but autumn is one its most beautiful in my opinion.

But first, Let’s Look at the Kanji!

 


ao

blue, green[iii]


ume

a fruit translated as Japanese apricot; but in the late winter, the flowers are translated as plum blossoms or just ume

青梅
aoume

an unripe Japanese apricot; literally green ume

Sadly, there’s no clear etymology. The place is clearly quite ancient. The primary etymology is said to be a product of the Heian Period (794 – 1185). That said, the name could easily be older. But if the name does indeed derive from something like ao ume, a shift from /aou/ to /aoː/ or /au/ and then to // is not inconceivable[iv].

At any rate, the prevalent theory has an interesting story behind it so let’s go with that.

Amagasecho

Note the Tama River. Note Amagase-chō. Note Kongō-ji.

A Samurai Did It

A high ranking samurai named Taira no Masakado visited the area that is present day 青梅市天ヶ瀬町 Amagase-chō Ōme-shi Ōme City, Amagase Town. The name Amagase means “heavenly shoal” or “heavenly rapids” and is a reference to a shallow section of the 多摩川 Tama-gawa Tama River. Struck by the beauty of the area, he decided to pray to 仏 Hotoke Buddha. He took the ume branch he was using as a horse whip and planted it into the ground. Then he said to the ume branch 我願成就あらば栄ふべししからずば枯れよかし waga negai jōju ara ba sakayu be shi, shikarazu ba, kare yo ka shi if my prayer is heard, grow tall; if it isn’t heard, then wither and die, bitch.

masakado statue

Well, if the legend is to be believed, the ume branch took root and grew into a splendid tree. It even bore fruit at the end of summer. However, the fruit did not ripen. Instead it remained green (aoume). Furthermore, the fruit was said to not fall off the tree. Because of this, the tree came to be called 将門誓いの梅 Masakado Chikai no Ume or just 誓いの梅 Chikai no Ume. The name literally means “Oath Ume,” but I think we can translate this as “Masakado’s Prayer Ume.”

ume branch.png

an ume branch

At any rate, since the branch took root, Masakado took this as a sign that his prayer was heard by Buddha. As an act of gratitude, Masakado paid for the establishment of a temple called 金剛寺Kongō-ji Kongō Temple at the location of this little miracle. The temple claims that this tree is the origin of the place name, Ōme, and so it literally means “unripe ume.” In fact, today the tree is a protected monument of the Tōkyō Metropolis[v] and, although it’s looking a bit rough around the edges these days, the Masakado’s Prayer Ume still blooms to this day at the entrance of Kongō-ji.

chikai no ume.jpg

Masakado Chikai no Ume

What did Masakado Pray for?

No one knows. Like most of his life, this story is questionable at best. In fact, for a guy whose life is mostly legendary in a very non-specific way, it’s strange that this story actually goes into so much detail – including the words he said. Aw, who am I kidding? It’s not strange at all because at the same time, the story still remains pretty fricking vague.

Whether he actually visited this location, made a prayer here, planted an ume, or did any of this stuff is unknowable. From an etymological standpoint, I think it’s fair to say that this story is entertaining at most, suspicious at worst. From a linguistic standpoint, well… the sound changes are plausible, but… c’mon!

edo masakado.JPG

an Edo Period representation of Taira no Masakado

Who the Hell is Taira no Masakado?

Taira no Masakado was a Heian Period samurai[vi] who lived in the first half of the 900’s. This is important to keep in mind because at JapanThis!, we usually talk about Edo Period samurai (1600-1868). He was a 5th generation descendant of 桓武天皇 Kanmu Tennō Emperor Kanmu (737–806), the supposed 50th emperor of Japan[vii]. His particular branch of the Taira clan governed parts of the 関東地方 Kantō Chihō Kantō Area called 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni[viii] which bordered 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 常陸国 Hitachi no Kuni Hitachi Province.

In 935, Masakado ran into some trouble with samurai from Hitachi, and by trouble I mean he was attacked for some reason unknown to us. While he never backed down from a battle, including retributive attacks, he genuinely seems to have tried to go through the proper channels to resolve things diplomatically with the local magistrates in Kantō and with the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court in Kyōto. From here, the story gets… um, let’s say… imaginative.

According to legend, he incurred the wrath of the imperial court because in 939, Masakado staged an insurrection of sorts. Allegedly, he declared himself the 新王 shin’ō new emperor and wanted the eastern provinces to be autonomous[ix]. He was eventually defeated in Shimōsa in 940 and killed in battle. His head was brought back to Kyōto to be displayed all Game of Thrones style.

masakado head

Masakado’s head on display in Kyōto

His severed head, wanting to be independent and escape the oppression of the oppressive imperial court, began gnashing its teeth and groaning. After a few days of scaring Kyōtoites who came to gawk at him, his head took flight and flew back to his native Kantō. And of course it flew back. What did you think the head would do – walk back?!

Anyhoo, the head landed on a hill near Edo Bay where the local people buried it in a mound called a 首塚 kubizuka head mound, a kind of grave to be venerated. They began to revere it as a symbol of Kantō pride and independence. Soon Masakado came to be seen as a take-no-shit-from-anyone samurai who was even willing to stick it to the imperial court if push came to shove.

tsuka.jpg

a “tsuka” can refer to any man made hill, but it’s usually used for graves.

His 神 kami spirit was eventually enshrined at 神田神社 Kanda Jinja Kanda Shrine[x] in 江戸 Edo[xi]. When the first shōgun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu began the refortification of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, he had the shrine relocated because he was supposedly afraid of having such a powerful, anti-government spirit sitting right next to his castle[xii]. According to legend, there were a series of deadly accidents or dark omens during the dismantling of the shrine, so they decided to leave the grave undisturbed. The kubizuka of Taira no Masakado still sits in its original location in Tōkyō’s Ōtemachi district. It’s said that every time Masakado’s grave fell into disrepair, something bad would happen – a fire here, an earfquake there, an outbreak of cholera, or what have you. As a result, the shōgunate regularly maintained the site to avoid offending the easily angered samurai ghost head.

kanda shrine.jpg

Kanda Shrine in the bakumatsu with a little photoshop fuckery in the upper lefthand corner.

In the Meiji Era, the imperial government had Taira no Masakado’s kami de-enshrined from Kanda Shrine because the idea of a samurai insurrection inspired by this legendary, anti-government pro-Kantō war hero seemed like a bad idea[xiii]. After all, the emperor had just sorta waltzed into Edo, taken over the shōgun’s castle, changed the name of the city to Tōkyō, and his new government was doing all sorts of crazy shit like abolishing the samurai class and – shudder the thought – westernizing.

As far as I know, the Meiji Government didn’t mess with Masakado’s kubizuka. However, after the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake[xiv], the Ministry of Finance planned to move the grave in order to build a new office[xv]. But 14 ministry officials and executives of the construction company involved died in close succession, and so the project was aborted because it was obvious that they were pissing off Masakado’s spirit. The Ministry of Finance went so far as to erect a brand new inscribed, commemorative stone to placate him in 1926. And if you think it’s weird for a government agency to believe in ghosts, remember: this was pre-1945. Everyone – the government included – were taught and believed wholeheartedly that the emperor was a living god.

So after WWII, the superstitions must have gone away, right?

masakazou

Masakado ain’t finished being angry, bitch.

During the American Occupation, the military wanted to set up some offices so they could be near 皇居 Kōkyo the Imperial Palace (former Edo Castle) to keep tabs on the emperor. Ōtemachi seemed as a good a place as any and so they planned to knock over the kubizuka. However, a bulldozer tipped over and killed the driver. There are a few other stories related to deaths and injuries of workers while trying to remove the grave. The US Army didn’t see the importance of the site, but the local Japanese workers soon refused to disturb the site anymore out of fear. Eventually the project was abandoned. Also, after the war, Masakado’s kami was re-installed at Kanda Shrine as a gesture to Tōkyōites who both loved and feared him. Maybe the Americans also wanted to appease the hot headed ghost of Taira no Masakado[xvi].

When I first came to Japan in 2005, I was told by a local that Taira no Masado was the only samurai with a bank account – specifically a bank account at Tōkyō-Mitsubishi UFJ. I thought this was a pretty remarkable story but didn’t think much of it until now.

Surprisingly, this turns out to be partially true! For many years, one of the offices directly next to the kubizuka was UFJ Bank. In 2006, Tōkyō-Mitsubishi and UFJ merged becoming the largest bank in Japan. I don’t have an exact date, but it seems that a group of senior executives at UFJ bank did, in fact, set up a special fund to be used for yearly offerings to Kanda Shrine[xvii]. When the banks merged, the fund – of course – stayed intact. In accordance with 風水 fū sui feng shui[xviii], UFJ had a longstanding tradition of banning desks from facing away from the shrine. How strictly this policy continues to be enforced – if at all – is unknown to me. But that said, I used to work in an office across from 山王日枝神社 San’nō Hie Jinja San’nō Hie Shrine and all desks on all floors were to face the shrine… without exception. So, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Need some further reading?

masakado kubizuka today

The alleged original kubizuka. Notice the frogs. In Japanese “frog” (kaeru) is a homophone with “return” (kaeru). People make these offerings for various personal reasons, but all of them are inspired by Masakado’s miraculous return from Kyōto to his ancestral lands in Kantō.

Hopefully it’s clear that the legend of Taira no Masakado has taken on a life of its own. At this point, the legend is waaaaaay more interesting than the few historical details that we have. Hell, the ones that we do have are pretty mundane and boring. I’ll take a flying ghost head with a bank account any day.

But what do historians take away from Masakado’s story? In short, his military agitation against the so-called “sedate culture” of the Heian court can be seen as a symptom of growing pains among the provincial samurai governors and local strongmen. Martial disturbances like this among the samurai would only increase. While the imperial court had their poetry, games, and elegant rituals, there were warlords in the countryside accumulating wealth and influence… and yeah, warlords tend to have armies. Sometimes they came into conflict with each other and they increasingly didn’t care what the poetry writing goofballs holed up in Kyōto thought about it. This attitude would eventually give rise to the first 幕府 bakufu shōgunate in Kamakura[xix] in 1192. In turn, that would give rise to samurai rule. Masakado wasn’t the first legendary samurai[xx], but his story is interesting if you think of it as a foreshadowing of what is to come. The story is made even better by how he ties into not just Japanese history, but the story of both Edo and Tōkyō.

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[i] Its technical designation is 市 shi city, but the area is really pure countryside.
[ii] Footnote test!
[iii] I don’t want to go into a diachronic linguistic discussion about the Japanese distinction between – and apparent lack thereof – blue and green. If you want to know more, Wiki has a brief but sketchy introduction to the topic.
[iv] /au/ to /o/ is well attested in Italian, actually; cf. causacosa. This sound change was recorded as far back as Cicero (106 BCE-43), well before it became a manifest feature of Proto Italian in the 900’s.
[v] This doesn’t lend any credence to the story, it just means that the metropolitan government put up a sign and you might face a stiffer fine if you pee on this tree than if you just peed on a random tree at the temple. I guess.
[vi] The best date we have for him is the year of his death, 940. He inherited his father’s fief in 935 and his uprising took place in 939. His supposed visit and/or founding of Kongō-ji took place in the 承平時代 Jōhei/Sōhei Jidai Jōhei/Shōhei Period which was from 931 to 938 – the most logical assumption being sometime between 935 and 939.
[vii] 平成天皇 Heisei Ten’nō Emperor Akihito, the current emperor, is allegedly the 125th. By the way, the Japanese don’t call him “Heisei Emperor” or “Akihito,” both would be extremely rude – Heisei being the name he assumes upon death. They refer to him as the 今上天皇 Kinjō Ten’nō reigning emperor or just 天皇 Ten’nō emperor.
[viii] Shimōsa was essentially modern Chiba Prefecture and a bit of modern Ibaraki Prefecture. In the Edo Period, as a traditional but administratively unrecognized name, a small part of the ancient province was included in the Tokugawa shōgun’s capital – the area to the east of the 大川 Ōkawa Big River, the traditional name of the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River. By the way, I have an article about the Sumida River.
[ix] Trying to establish himself as a new emperor seems out of character, so let’s file that under “probably legend.”
[x] Today the shrine is called 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin which is also translated as Kanda Shrine.
[xi] The shrine dates back to the 700’s, so Masakado was added later.
[xii] I doubt Ieyasu gave a shit about Taira no Masakado. In reality, he probably just moved the shrine because it sat too close to where he wanted to build the castle’s 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate. The land was also going to be used for daimyō residences. Furthermore, Ieyasu requested the shrine host a yearly festival for the people commemorating his victory at the 関ヶ原合戦 Sekigahara Gassen Battle of Sekigahara which basically led to his elevation to the position of shōgun.
[xiii] In reality, the actual reason for Masakado’s de-enshrinement is a little more complicated. Sure, the samurai insurrection thing was probably part of it, but the samurai class was strongly associated with Buddhism. Until the Meiji Period decree separating Buddhism and Shintō, Japanese religion was a syncretic mix of Buddhism and Shintō (with a dash of Taoism). Removing an enshrined samurai made Kanda Shrine a purer Shintō institution. Also, Kanda Shrine was one of the most important shrines in central Edo. To promote State Shintō with the Emperor as the supreme 神 kami deity, the imperial government established the 東京十社 Tōkyō Jissha Pilgrimage of the Ten Major Shrines of Tōkyō. There was no way to omit Kanda Shrine from the list, so as a result, the controversial, insurrectionist Taira no Masakado had to go. Interestingly, the kanji for the city of Ōsaka were changed at this time. The original kanji were 大坂 which if written sloppily could look like 大士反 “large samurai opposition” (but the meaning was “big hill”). The kanji were changed to 大阪 which was also meant “big hill” but lacked any reference to 士 shi warriors.
[xiv] Which was actually Taishō 12 – almost the end of the Taishō Period.
[xv] Ōtemachi is synonymous banks and finance companies. It’s kinda like Japan’s version of Wall Street.
[xvi] This also might have been a bit of an eff you to the idea of imperial rule. Masakado was seen as anti-imperial court, and the US occupation was clearly anti-imperial. Oh yeah, and… pun intended!
[xvii] Companies visiting and patronizing shrines and temples is completely normal in Japan.
[xviii] Feng shui is Chinese geomancy. It’s pretty much BS.
[xix] Notably in Kamakura which is also in Kantō. This trend of eastern samurai pulling power away from the west doesn’t stop and culminates with the establishment of the 3rd and final shōgunate in Edo by the Tokugawa. Even the Meiji Emperor’s supporters had to concede in 1868 that the real power was in the east, in Edo-Tōkyō.
[xx] Ummmmm… there probably wasn’t even a “first legendary samurai.”

What does Yoga mean?

In Japanese History on October 23, 2013 at 8:55 am


Yōga (Yoga)

cool subway entrance

Pretty cool amphitheater-esque subway entrance!

In Tōkyō’s Setagaya Ward there is an area and a train station called 用賀 Yōga. I don’t know what native Japanese speakers think of this name, but it doesn’t really look like a place to me. The first kanji means “task” or “use.” The second kanji means “congratulations.”

If the popular etymology is true, then this place has its origins in Sanskrit and not Japanesei.

However, I’m just gonna say this right now – I have some major gripes with the popular story. This name is obviously ateji, ie; kanji used for phonetic reasons. Because it is ateji, it marks this as a very ancient place name. That said, let’s keep an open mind and listen to the story in its entirety before we jump to any conclusions.

Does sitting like this count as yoga?

Does sitting like this count as yoga?

The common narrative goes a little something like this. From the Heian Period to the beginning of the Kamakura Period, a ヨガ道場 yoga dōjō yoga school operated here. The name 用賀村 Yōga Village ultimately derived from this yoga schoolii.

During the Sengoku Period, Yōga Village was a 門前町 monzenchō centered around 眞福寺 Shinpuku-ji, a temple for which I can find no further informationiii. In case you forgot, a monzenchō was a small town that developed around the mon front gate of a temple or shrineiv.

By the Edo Period, the village was an established 宿場 shukuba post town on the 大山街道 Ōyama Kaidōv. It was a small town, but it managed to flourish during the stability brought by the Tokugawa in the 1600’s.

But wait, there's more!

But wait, there’s more!

A Bizarre Plot Twist

Translating from the original Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese monks used the kanji 瑜伽 for yoga. The kanji can be read in Japanese as either yuga or yogavi.

In 1578, a temple was founded in the area. This temple was associated with the 真言宗 Shingon-shū True Word Buddhismvii. The temple, which still exists today, is called 真福寺 Shinpuku-ji. The temple’s honorary mountain name (sangō) is 瑜伽山 Yuga-zan which uses the classical characters for “yoga.viii

Japanese Yoga

This is the kinda yoga I could get into.
Titty yoga.

Some More Weirdness

That’s the official narrative. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll realize that there are more discrepancies; there was another temple in the area before the 1578 temple.

I don’t know if the original temple, 実相眞福Jissō-san Shinpuku-ji, was re-established as 瑜伽山真福寺 Yuga-zan Shinpuku-ji or if the new temple borrowed and modified the name of the old temple but… the mountain names definitely changed. And while the pronunciation of the temple name was the same, the first kanji changed.

実相瑜伽山 Jissō-sanYuga-zan True Image Mountain → Yoga Mountain
眞福真福寺 Shinpuku-jiShinpuku-ji True Fortune Temple → True Fortune Temple

shinpukuji-0

The main hall (honden) of the modern Shinpukuji.

We have a very messy story hereix. Let’s re-cap:

・In the old days there was a yoga school in Yōga and the town got a name.
・The yoga school was apparently dead and gone by the Kamakura Period.
・There’s always been a connection with Shingon Buddhism.
・The town grew up around a non-extant temple.
・That temple either declined and/or a new temple showed up and assumed the same name – and yet, a different name and included the Chinese characters for “yoga” in their name.

.

It’s possible, man.
All of this is totally possible.
But….
Maybe some of the inconsistencies are just byproducts of how the story has been preserved – one record remembers it this way, one temple tradition remembers it that way. But also remember how off the beaten path this place was until the Kamakura Period.

Statue of an Edo Period traveler commemorating the the Oyama Kaido.

Statue of an Edo Period traveler commemorating the the Oyama Kaido.

My opinion is that most of this is not trustworthy information. There are probably kernels of truth in there, but most of this too inconsistent to be taken seriously. By the time we have temple records (1578), the Edo Period is right around the corner. Record keeping in the area got better after 1600, but come on, hundreds of years of passing down stories had been going on. Successive religious institutions are great at keeping records, but religious institutions are also notorious for passing down myths and stories that sometimes seem plausible but never completely match up to the facts.

Finally, I’d like to say that there is also a real possibility that this name, clearly written in ateji, has nothing to do with Buddhism or yoga, but actually has a more ancient originx.

Let’s say the jury is out on this one.



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i Let me clarify; Sanskrit – as filtered through Classical Chinese and later, Middle Japanese.

ii Yet no evidence of the school exists. Furthermore, the kanji is (not yo) in Modern Japanese. (But historical linguistics think there may have been up to 4 distinct sounds in Old Japanese that merged into the present /yo dichotomy. This may suggest an older origin, or it may evidence of a dialect, or both.)

iii The only other info I have is that its honorary mountain name was 実相Jissō-san. More about “mountain names” in a minute.

iv You can read more about this in my article on Monzen-nakachō.

v From my understanding, the Ōyama Kaidō was originally a pilgrimage route that ran from Mt. Ōyama (in Kanagawa Prefecture) and terminated near Akasaka in Edo.

vi In the Heian Period, the use of highfalutin kanji would have been the domain of highly educated monks and court elite. Ateji would have been par for the course in this rural coastal area of the Kantō. By the 1500’s, highfalutin kanji would par for the course.

vii Also called 真言秘密 Shingon Himitsu the True Word Secret. This is a type of esoteric Buddhism that I don’t know much about other than it sounds like utter horse shit. They have secret rites that teach the initiated how to summon demons, change the weather, and heal the sick by chanting or meditating or touching things. In other words, it makes claims about the nature of the universe and reality that are just as spurious as those of every other religion out there.

viii All Japanese temples have 3 names, 山号 sangō mountain name (a metaphorical mountain name), and 院号 ingō (cloister name – like a branch name), 寺号 jigō temple name (official temple name). The first two are honorary names that are generally not used in common parlance. The last name, the jigō, is the usual way to refer to a temple.

ix One which yoga schools and amateur place name websites cherry pick the fuck out of to no good end…

x I could be wrong. Or could I…?

What does Ushigome mean?

In Japan, Japanese Castles, Travel in Japan on September 24, 2013 at 6:08 pm

牛込
Ushigome (Crowd of Cows)

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon. Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon.
Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.
But nary a cow in sight… lol

ushi

cow

komi[i]

swarming, huddling, amassed, crowded,
“in bulk”

According to Japanese Wikipedia[ii], in 701, in accordance to the Taihō Code, a livestock ranch was established in this area. In fact, two were established which were sometimes referred to as 牛牧 gyūmaki a cow ranch and 馬牧 umamaki a horse ranch. These two locations came to be referred to as 牛込 Ushigome and 駒込 Komagome.

The fact that there was a cattle/dairy ranch here in the Asuka Period is a known fact (it’s documented). The horse ranch is a different story. In all of my research about Komagome, I didn’t find a single mention of this. When you look up Ushigome, many articles tend to mention Komagome, and I think that because of the strength of the evidence in support of the Ushigome being a literal etymology, the writers try to associate Komagome with it. But this would be a false etymology. Their logic: two places have similar names, they must be related, right?[iii]

Well, anyways, it’s possible that there is a connection between the two (one of the theories about Komagome is that it was a place where horses were herded into a confined space). There just isn’t any record of this being so. When we don’t have the evidence we should always take that theory with a grain of salt.

But with Ushigome, rest assured, this is most likely the case.

Cattle ranches aren't really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can't really imagine what one would have looked like. However, I found this 1950's aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950's and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this....

Cattle ranches aren’t really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can’t really imagine what one would have looked like.
However, I found this 1950’s aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950’s and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this….

In an edict during the reign of 文武天皇 Monmu Tennō Emperor Monmu (701-704) a place variously referred to as 神崎牛牧 Kanzaki no Gyūmaki Kanzaki Cattle Ranch and 乳牛院 Gyūnyūin “The Milk Institute” was established in the area in the vicinity of 元赤城神社 Moto-Akasaka Jinja Old Akasaka Shrine[iv].

Asakusa Shrine

Today Old Asakusa Shrine is just an afterthought to this building.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's busiest and craziest areas, Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s busiest and craziest areas, present day Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

A branch of the 大胡氏 Ōgo-shi Ōgo clan from 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province had been living in the Ushigome area since the 1300’s and, if I’m not mistaken, originally held dominion over the area from present day Shinjuku to Ushigome.

In 1553 a member of said clan switched allegiance from the Uesugi to the Hōjō and in return was granted dominion over the area stretching from present day Ushigome to Hibiya (ie; Edo Bay)[v]. The lord built a castle (fortified residence) somewhere in that area and took the place name to establish his own branch of the family and thus the Ushigome clan was born, 牛込氏 Ushigome-shi. The area is elevated so it would have been defensible. It also had a view of Edo Bay and so they could keep an eye on who was coming in and out of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay[vi].

In 1590, the Hōjō were defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Tokugawa Ieyasu was famously granted the 関八州 Kanhasshū the 8 Kantō Provinces, which included Edo. Ieyasu evicted the residents of the castle and confiscated the property.

It’s not clear where the castle was located, but there is a tradition at 光照寺 Kōshō-ji Kōshō Temple that says the temple was built on the site of 牛込城 Ushigome Castle. I’ve never looked for myself, but it seems like there are no ruins that confirm this story[vii]. There is a nice sign, though.

Being a large plateau, in the Edo Period, this area was clearly 山手 yamanote the high city and was populated by massive daimyō residences and the homes of high ranking 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun.

Fans of Edo Castle or just any history-minded resident of Tōkyō will recognize the name 牛込橋 Ushigomebashi Ushigome Bridge. This bridge led from Kagurazaka to Edo Castle. If you crossed the bridge you would arrive at  牛込見附 Ushigome-mitsuke Ushigome Approach[viii] and there you would see the 牛込御門 Ushigome go-mon Ushigome Gate. The bridge spanned 牛込濠 Ushigomebori Ushigome Moat. Today the moat is dammed up under the bridge and the Chūō Line runs under it. On one side you can see the moat, on the other side – if I remember correctly – are just trees, a small skyscraper, and a train station; another fine example of Japan bulldozing over and building over its past. That said, there’s plenty to see and do in the area if you feel like having a history walk in the area.

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke. The area under the bridge is already partially dammed up.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It's a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you're trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It’s a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you’re trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

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[i] For an explanation of this sound change from /komi/ to /gome/, please see my article on Komagome.
[ii] By the way, I didn’t get all my info from Wikipedia. Duh!
I just quoted it to show you how commonplace this Komagome/Ushigome thing is.
[iii] Wrong.
[iv] I’m pretty sure the name Akasaka Shrine and the name of Akasaka are a coincidence… but I may need to look further into this (because OMG my original article says nothing about this). The Ōgo clan was originally based at a mountain in present day Gunma Prefecture called 赤城山 Akagi-san Red Castle Mountain, when they came to this area, they established a shrine called Akasaka Shrine (Red Hill). The original shrine is in Waseda, Shinjuku. Originally in 牛込台 Ushigomedai Ushigome Plateau, it was moved twice – once in 1460 by Ōta Dōkan and again in 1555 by the Ōgo themselves. The shrine still exists in Shinjuku.
[v] Their holdings included 桜田 Sakurada (yes, the same Sakurada of 桜田門 Sakuradamon fame), 赤坂 Akasaka, and 日比谷 Hibiya. Anyone familiar with Edo Castle will immediately recognize their names and their connection to the castle.
[vi] The presence of another lord so close to where the Edo Clan and Ōta Dōkan had their fortified residences adds more to my assertion that Edo wasn’t just “an obscure fishing village” when the Tokugawa arrived.
[vii] UPDATE: There may be some evidence. If you’re interested, check out this blog! (Japanese only)
[viii] Essentially a look out and security check point leading into the castle grounds. For more on what a mitsuke is, check my article on Akasaka-mitsuke.

What does Nishiarai mean?

In Japanese History on July 17, 2013 at 2:04 am

西新井
Nishiarai (West New Well)

Main street leading to Nishi-Arai Daishi. In the Edo Period and earlier, this would have been a typical monzen-cho.

Main street leading to Nishi-Arai Daishi.
In the Edo Period and earlier, this would have been a typical monzen-cho.
Now it’s just shitamachi (the lower city).

I have no idea why this name is officially written in rōmaji as one word. It seems to me, one would write it Nishi Arai or at least as Nishi-Arai[i].

But no one ever consults with me.

Oh well.

Let’s jump way back to the Heian Period (of which I know very little) to talk a bit about the spread of Buddhism in Japan (of which I know even less). At that time there was this supermonk named 空海 Kūkai. All sorts of amazing shit is attributed to him, including the invention of 仮名 kana the Japanese syllabary. Of course, since he was a supermonk, we can believe this at face value. C’mon, religious people never make shit up, right?

Anyways, after homeboy died, he was referred to as 弘法大師 Kōbō Daishi Great Teacher Who Spreads Buddhism, which sounds generic in English, but it’s pretty specific in Japanese.

So he came to this area when it was in the middle of a massive epidemic and people were dying all over the place. Instead of helping the people, he did what religious people love to do. Nothing. So he commissioned a temple with a statue of an 11-faced Kan’non[ii] and he knelt down and prayed in front of the statue for 21 days.

11-faced Kan'non. Note all the spooky heads on her head.

11-faced Kan’non.
Note all the spooky heads on her head.
(yes, kan’non is female)

Luckily for him, by chance (or more likely because someone started digging), a well magically appeared and water started bubbling up and gushed forth and the people had drinking water. Even more magical was that fact that when the sick people drank Kūkai’s magic well water they were instantly cured (praise jeebus!) and they all lived happily ever after.

The magic well was located on the west side of the temple[iii], so it was called 西新井 Nishi-Arai West New Well. The temple took its name from the well. (Or so they say…)

Main prayer hall of Nishi-Arai Daishi

Main prayer hall of Nishi-Arai Daishi

The temple still stands today. In fact, it’s a very famous place in Tōkyō for 初詣 hatsumōde the first temple or shrine visit of the year, so it’s very crowded during the New Year holiday. The temple is called 西新井大師 Nishi-Arai Daishi Nishi-Arai Great Teacher. I’ve never been myself, but it seems to be a pretty cool place. They have ponds and gardens in the precincts and the surrounding 門前町 monzen-chō[iv] looks pretty interesting.

Main gate of the temple

Main gate of the temple

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[i] I prefer the hyphen, so for here on out, I’m using Nishi-Arai as the name.

[ii] Kan’non-sama is a Buddha. I see her explained as a goddess of mercy. But my understanding is that technically Buddhism doesn’t have gods per se, but examples of enlightened souls upon which to reflect. It’s a question of semantics in my opinion, but maybe “goddess” isn’t really the most accurate word.

[iii] Very convenient, since the temple could control the well.

[iv] C’mon, you guys remember what a monzen-chō is, right?

What does Shakujii mean?

In Japanese History on May 9, 2013 at 12:46 am

石神井
Shakujii (Spirit-Stone Well)

Shakujii Park

Shakujii Park

Today’s place name is another reader request. The kanji are pretty interesting and the history of the area ties into a theme that will come up often later. I wanted to hold off on opening this can of worms, but it’s a reader request. I can’t say no.

The word is made of three kanji:

石 ishi stone
神 kami god/spirit
井 i well

In Shintō, there are an infinite number of 神 kami (some people translate as “gods” some as “spirits”). You can find kami in lakes and trees and forests and waterfalls. Some kami – apparently – love stones.  石神 ishigami spirit stones are curiously shaped stones that people said were homes of (or just related items of) particular kami.

Back in the day some villagers were digging a hole to make a well. While they were digging they found an interesting looking stone rod in the ground. Since no one had ever seen a rod shaped rock before, they decided it might be a good idea to start worshiping it. Cuz, you know… it’s a weird shaped stone.

Anyhoo, they named the well 石神井戸 Shakujin’i Spirit-Stone Well.

But, wait, you say, “shakujin” doesn’t sound anything like “ishigami.” Ishigami is the native Japanese reading of the kanji (kun’yomi), shakujin is the Classical Chinese reading (on’yomi). And how about that missing “n” sound? Well, the final /-n/ sound is weaker than our English /n/ – in fact, in some ways it’s closer to a vowel than a consonant, so it’s easily dropped in situations where it’s difficult to pronounce. There are also cases where the sound is missing in dialectal variations of some words.

I don’t know if the ishigami is still there or not, but it was enshrined at 石神井神社 Shakujii Jinja Shakujii Shrine located in 石神井公園 Shakujii Kōen Shakujii Park in Nerima Ward. If you go there, maybe you can ask where the stone is. In the park there is a lake called 三宝寺池 Sanpō-dera Ike Sanpō Temple Lake. The local people of the area believed that the Shakuji Well eventually became that lake.

Shakujii Castle, Nerima

You call that a castle??!

Another interesting fact is that the Toshima clan had a castle here. The Park grounds are actually the remains of 石神井城 Shakujii-jō Shakujii Castle. None of the castle structures exist, but some of the defensive walls and moats can still be seen. The castle was abandoned in 1477, after Ōta Dōkan defeated the shit out of Toshima Yasutsune and the Toshima clan fell. Remember this clan name because we’re going to talk about this family again tomorrow.

Oh, I almost forgot. Just to put things into chronological perspective. The name of the area was first recorded in the Heian Period. This means that the story of the ishigami and building of the well and the shrine was probably a well-established legend in the area. So this place name is old. The etymology seems legit and we’re lucky to have such an old pre-Edo Period place name with such a well preserved history. The Toshima Clan who ruled much of the area that is now Tōkyō and Chiba managed their holdings from Hiratsuka Castle in the Kita Ward, but main castle of the clan was Shakujii Castle. As a clan, they were active from the Kamakura Period until the Muromachi Period when Ōta Dōkan smote them like little bitches. Place names all over Tōkyō derive from the clan and their retainers. Even the name Edo derives from a vassal of the Toshima… but more about that later.

Oh, and one more thing.

This dude has a photo blog of the Shakujii Castle ruins and some models and maps.
This other dude has some CGI reconstructions of Shakujii Castle on his blog.

Lady GAGAku

In Japanese Music on December 28, 2009 at 9:56 am

Gagaku is the name of a type of Japanese music that was developed in the Imperial Court during the Heian Period (794-1185). This music features classical wind, wood and string instruments originally imported from China and Korea.  Even if you don’t know much about East Asian music traditions, I think you’ll agree this one is recognizably Japanese. Since we’re getting close to o-shōgatsu (Japanese New Year), I’m getting in the mood for traditional music. So today I’m going to post 3 YouTube links to some very famous gagaku compositions.

But first, lets look at the kanji!

雅楽

ががく
gagaku

The word “gagaku” is composed of 2 characters:



ga

grace, elegance


がく
gaku

music
(literally “at ease/relaxed,” but in compound words means “music”)

Now, for the videos!

ETENRAKU 越天楽
This is probably the most famous gagaku composition. All Japanese people can recognize it immediately. It’s often played at weddings or Buddhist temples during the New Year season.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx1uw4n575M

MANZAIRAKU (万歳楽)
Another well-known gagaku composition. I don’t know if there’s a connection or not, but the first 2 kanji of this title can also be read as BANZAI.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLPG5n-lSF4

SENSH ÛRAKU (千秋楽)
I’m not an expert in gagaku or anything, but the name of this song is interesting. The 3 kanji mean 1000, autumn, and music. So it can mean the Thousand Autumns Song. Sensh
ū as a word by itself means “1000 years” and the full word Senshūraku by itself can mean “closing ceremony” – and in particular, the last day of a sumō tournament. Anyways, enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKvt7r2EigQ


awwwwwwww yeah!
mαrky( -_-)凸

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