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Posts Tagged ‘heusken’

What does Okachimachi mean?

In Japanese History on June 19, 2013 at 2:42 am

御徒町
O-kachimachi (Kachi Town)

okachimachi-station

In former castle towns all over Japan you can find areas with similar names.

So what exactly is a kachi?

Well, a 徒 kachi [i] is one of the lowest ranking samurai of the Edo Period. They were not permitted to ride horses[ii]. Until the 1800’s, they were not allowed to wear clothes with a family crest as their families were not considered successive clans[iii]. Some people draw a parallel between this rank of samurai and low level salarymen and low level management of Tōkyō – the analogy being in the type of housing and accessible neighborhoods according to their salary.  This isn’t a good analogy, in my opinion, in that the samurai ranks were highly regulated by the Tokugawa Bakufu and a modern worker can marry “out of his station” or just move to the suburbs and get a bigger place.

from the "incident in front of the sakuradomon" movie.

from the “incident in front of the sakuradomon” movie.

the work of a low level samurai is never done.

the work of a low level samurai is never done.
look how tired this dude is….

In more recent times this kanji has become associated with gangs and the yakuza, so, except for the station name in Tōkyō, the name “o-kachimachi” doesn’t exist in the official list of postal codes.

Even though these kachi were direct retainers of the shōgun, they were a kind of non-commissioned officer. They were expected to live in barracks[iv].  In many cases they wouldn’t be granted permission to live with their wives and children[v]. In times of war, they were forbidden from marching in the vanguard. In times of peace, they were basically the white trash of Japan. They were supposedly privileged, but in reality, they were just commoners. The commoners had to show deference to them, but the rest of the samurai elite probably shat on them.

okachimachi

This isn’t Tokyo’s Okachimachi, but another town’s Okachimachi.
Even the big merchant quarters were more lively than this.
The Meiji Era and WWII blew a new breath of life into Okachimachi.

Anyhoo, I’ve touched on this a bit in my ongoing[vi] piece on yamanote vs. shitamachi in Edo-Tōkyō. But areas of the castle town of Edo were sectioned off for people of certain ranks. This area was a border between the high town (yamanote) of Ueno and the low town (shitamachi). Today, the whole area from O-kachimachi to Ueno is considered the low town today.

This isn't O-kachimachi, but the layout it similar.

This isn’t O-kachimachi, but the layout it similar.

O-kachimachi is roughly located between Ueno Station and Akihabara. These were the outskirts of Edo at the time. It was a bad location when you had to walk everywhere. If you pay attention to the layout of the streets in O-kachimachi, at first you’ll notice what looks like an easily navigable grid layout, but you’ll soon find it has seemingly random streets crossing at various points creating sub-neighborhoods within the neighborhood. This is typical of Japanese castle towns and typical of Edo-Tōkyō in particular. So it’s still a fantastic area to walk around.

The long blocks echo the existence of the Edo Period barracks (nagaya). And today the area has a markedly shitamachi culture that has persisted since the mid-Meiji Era. Nothing exists of its military past, but the shitamachi atmosphere hangs heavy, as does the merchant vibe that has reigned here since the Restoration was underway. The samurai who stuck around mostly became merchants themselves after the warrior class was abolished.

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[i] Also written 徒士, and referred to in the common language as 御徒さん o-kachi-san, though the more polite 御侍さん o-samurai-san would probably have been used to their face.

[ii] I mentioned briefly referred to the Edo Period view of people on horseback in my article about Heusken.

[iii] This changed in 1862 (Tokugawa Iemochi), who made their status as Tokugawa retainers successive.

[iv] In Edo, these were less barracks, and essentially the same as the ubiquitous 長屋 nagaya. So it was a step up from a fully military setting. Still, you were living in a gated off dormitory kinda building with a bunch of other dudes. After a while, I’m sure it got old.

[v] In which cases, they could visit on their days off and they would be expected to send money wife and children who would reside with the parents.

[vi] Read: “unfininished.”

Two Famous Murders in My Neighborhood (part 1)

In Japanese History on April 2, 2013 at 1:00 am

I’ve stayed/lived/whatevered in 3 places in Tokyo. When I first came here I lived in Uguisudani for about 3 months. It’s a pretty historical place and taking walks around Taitō-ku sparked my interested in Japan History. Then I lived in Nakano for about 6 years. It’s not a very historical place, but it has its own charms and I really liked it there. Now I live in Mita, which is an area steeped in history, some of it going back as far as the Taika Era (or so we are told).

Anyhoo, I’m really happy in Mita for the time being because the area was important in the Edo Period and was also the scene of a lot of action during my favorite period in Japanese History, the Bakumatsu.

Anyways, right behind my house there is a river called the 古川 Furukawa “the Old River.” In fact, as I look out the window right now, I can see it flowing all the way down a hill where it disappears under 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi. If there weren’t tall buildings blocking the way, I could probably watch it go past Shiba and the Tokugawa funerary temple of Zōjōji.

I live between two bridges. One is called 一ノ橋 Ichi no Hashi (“the first bridge”) and the next is called 中ノ橋 Naka no Hashi (“the middle bridge”). Both bridges were sites of murders of two well-known names of the Bakumatsu: 清川八郎 Kiyokawa Hachirō and ヒュースケン Hendrick Conrad Joannes Heusken (better known as Henry Heusken in the anglosphere).

Henry Heusken

A Japanese depiction of Heusken. He loved riding on horseback, an act reserved for high ranking samurai — this pissed off low ranking, racist samurai.

Going in chronological date of their murders, we’ll start with Henry Heusken

First of all, if you’ve seen the 2004 NHK Taiga Drama 「新撰組!」 (Shinsengumi), you will know this scene well. If you haven’t watched that drama… well, you should watch it. It’s awesome! If you remember the scene when a young Kondō Isami and Hijikata Toshizō hear about a group of anti-foreigner samurai planning to assassinate a foreign translator and Isami sits down and talks with the guy about how much he loves Japan and Japanese women, that would be the event we’re talking about now. Except that scene was fiction and Kondō Isami probably never met Henry Heusken. (I actually doubt Kondō Isami ever met a foreigner ever).

But I digress… (who me??)

From

From “Shinsengumi!” – Heusken meets Kondo Isami and Hijikata Toshizo and Nakakura Shinpachi. (This never happened in real life).

Back to Henry Heusken. Who was he?

Henry Heusken was born in Holland. His family immigrated to the US in the 1850’s (maybe he was in his 20’s then?). Because he could speak both English and Dutch he got the gig of a lifetime in 1856: He went to Japan as personal secretary and interpreter to Townsend Harris on America’s first embassy to Japan in (公使館 kōshikan “legation” as compared to 大使館 taishikan “embassy”). Apparently he could speak French and German well enough for those days and he picked up Japanese quickly.

Zenpukuji - Home of the American Legation.

Zenpukuji – Home of the American Legation.

He was apparently a pretty ballsy guy and felt confident in his ability to speak Japanese or other languages to get by in most situations.  He was bangin’ a few Japanese bitches around town like Charisma Man and actually knocked on one up.  It also seems like he was a fairly high profile foreigner in Edo (at a time when there weren’t many foreigners at all — and most foreigners stayed in their secure diplomatic enclaves). Townsend Harris had apparently told him not to come back after dark because anti-foreign attacks were becoming increasingly common at the time.

A view from Akabanebashi. If you look closely at the middle right side you can see a wooden bridge. That's Nakanohashi. Heusken was killed on the right side of the river... I'm not sure why Beato took this picture from here, but whatevs...

A view from Akabanebashi. If you look closely at the middle right side you can see a wooden bridge. That’s Nakanohashi. Heusken was killed on the right side of the river… I’m not sure why Beato took this picture from here, but whatevs…

Anyways, the American legation was staying at 善福寺 Zenpukuji (“Zenpuku Temple”) in Azabu-Jūban. As Heusken came home late one night, he approached the guardhouse near Naka no Hashi (the bridge). A bunch of dirty rōnin jumped out from an alley on the side of the guard house and attacked him. Accounts vary but he may have lain in the street for close to an hour before he was carried back to Zenpukuji. The attackers aimed for his heart but most of his wounds were in his belly. Apparently he was spilling guts everywhere and it was really gross.

At Zenpukuji he was visited by a doctor and some high ranking Japanese officials. A photographer was there, too, who snapped a picture of him right after he died. Ironically, this may be the only photo of the dude (at least I’ve never seen another photo of him).

Heusken's corpse.

Heusken’s corpse.

Heusken's common law wife (in Japan she was considered his common law wife, out of Japan she was just his bitch...)

Heusken’s common law wife (but notice she’s wearing 振袖)

Heusken's wife, o-Tsuyu, with their child.

Heusken’s wife, o-Tsuyu, with their child.

He is buried in 光林寺 Kōrinji in 南麻布 Minami Azabu (South Azabu), a 20-30 walk from Azabu-Jūban Station.

His assassins were never captured, but a certain Kiyokawa Hachirō was implicated in the attack at the time. Even today most people point the finger at him.

(continued in part 2)

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