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Posts Tagged ‘hiroshige’

Book Review – Hiroshige: 100 Famous Views of Edo

In Japan Book Reviews on February 26, 2016 at 6:57 am

Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
Edited by Melanie Trede & Lorenz Bichler

go_hiroshige_ju_gb_3d_64901_1503121809_id_908846.png

I have to confess something. I’m going into this review with a serious bias. I want to be honest about that. On the other hand, a book review is someone’s opinion about a book so… I guess it’s not really my job to be unbiased, is it?

As everyone who reads JapanThis! knows, I love Edo. I love the good parts of it. I’m fascinated by the bad parts of it. However, most of all, I’m in love with the mystery of it – very little of the shōgun’s capital actually still remains. Long gone is the shōgunate’s prohibition against buildings over 2 stories high[i]. Long gone are the palatial mansions of the daimyō. Long gone is the sprawling castle of the shōguns. Long gone are the samurai, the geisha, the merchants, the row houses, the canals, the rivers, and the moats. Modern Tōkyō is an urban jungle that grew out of the world’s preeminent, pre-industrial metropolis. And in many ways, they really are 2 different cities.

It can be said that Edo died 3 deaths: once in the Meiji Period when the city got a slight western makeover, again in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake which brought the city to her knees, and finally in the 1945 firebombing raids[ii]. I’ve always said, there’s a little Edo alive in Tōkyō, you just have to know where to look for it – though usually you have to look really hard.

One of the greatest records we have of Edo is a collection of 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints of daily life (literally “pictures of the floating world[iii]”) by歌川広重Utagawa Hiroshige called the 名所江戸百景 Meisho Edo Hyakkei 100 Famous Views of Edo[iv]. While literary and historical texts definitely give us a lot of information about the city, ukiyo-e prints speak volumes about the neighborhoods of the city and communicate profound details about how the average Edoite viewed the city that they lived in. Hiroshige used the popular ukiyo-e style to document the capital and its vibrancy, its place in nature, and its relationship with humanity. Almost all of the views of Edo he depicted no longer exist. Sure, the geographical locations are still there. But the 景色 keshiki scenery is gone.

In my articles on JapanThis!, I do my best to bring the city of Edo back to life. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to track down a photo of an area. Sometimes I get super lucky because there’s a beautiful print by Utagawa Hiroshige.

One final note about Hiroshige and his perspective on the city: he lived from 1797-1858. This makes him a contemporary of 葛飾北斎 Katsushika Hokusai[v] (1760ish-1849). ペリー君 Perī-kun[vi] Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived in Japan in July 1853 and demanded the Tokugawa Shōgunate open up the country. To the best of my knowledge – I’m no expert – this didn’t influence Hiroshige’s art. But it puts his life into an interesting perspective if you look at the timeline of Japanese History. He died 10 years before the 明治維新 Meiji Ishin Meiji Coup that saw the fall of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. As a result, Hiroshige is considered one last great masters of the pure ukiyo-e tradition of the Edo Period[vii]. The style didn’t die overnight, but it changed and evolved. The prints of Hiroshige had a particularly unexpected impact on European artists who, despite not understanding what they were looking at, were struck by the beauty of his art and Japanese art[viii] in general. It should be noted that Vincent van Gogh[ix] even copied some of Hiroshige’s originals before he decided that Impressionism[x] is where all the cool kids hung out[xi]. He sucked at it, but he did manage to broaden his own artistic “vocabulary” and turn on other people in Europe to some aspects of the visual esthetic of the Edo Period.

Quick Review

 

What I expected

What I got

Overall Impression

A beautiful compilation of one of the most important collections of ukiyo-e dedicated entirely to the city of Edo. A beautiful compilation of one of the most important collections of ukiyo-e dedicated entirely to the city of Edo with extremely well written descriptions of each print and a fabulous introduction to the artist and the series.

Type of Book

An art history book An art history book that is itself a lovingly crafted work of art.

Readability

Didn’t even give it a thought. I just wanted the pictures. Extremely readable. The only problem is I keep getting distracted by the gorgeous prints.

Bias

It’s an art book, not sure if bias was an issue other than I hoped the editors were fans of Hiroshige. It’s an art book and turns out the editors are fans of Hiroshige who are totally biased towards Hiroshige. Just as it should be.

Audience

Fans of traditional Japanese art, particularly those fascinated by the Edo Period and ukiyo-e. Fans of art. This book is really accessible. Even if you don’t know anything about the Edo Period, this book is simply delightful to peruse. It’s not just for history nerds. Anyone can fall in love with this book.

Stars

★★★★★

This book gets a solid 5 stars from me.

When I set up my somewhat standardized book review system, I told everyone that I’d never give a book a 5 star rating out of principal. There’s no perfect book. But when I made this system I was thinking about academic history books, not art books. I set a standard that doesn’t really deal with this kind of book.

The prints are reproduced beautifully. This isn’t a book you read and then throw on the bookshelf. This is a book you come back to every day[xii]. This is a book that you leave on the coffee table forever. This is a book that you will literally drool over certain pages taking in Hiroshige’s unconventional use of perspective, his unique guile in painting aspects of the yamanote that got him past the shōgunate censors, and his – I believe – profound affection for his hometown.

This book is wrapped in a wooden cover that protects the contents. It’s sturdy and heavy. The binding itself commands a sense of respect for the contents. The entire viewing experience is very Japanese. You will instinctively find yourself revering the physicality of the book and this enhances the viewing experience.

The book begins with a few chapters about Hiroshige, ukiyo-e, the nature of the genre, and a little bit of history. All of this is accompanied by details of various prints. The text is good and solid and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but the authors/editors chose to focus on the visual element and let Hiroshige’s prints speak for themselves. As a result, you may find yourself distracted from the text and drawn to the pictures. And I think that’s OK. This is an art book, not a history book. The text, which is rock solid in my opinion, is there to answer your questions about the subject – should you have questions. This edition clearly focuses on the eye candy. The authors stay back in the shadows and only speak when you want them to.

This is an art book through and through. I love it. I cherish it. It’s big enough to hug.

If you’re interested, here’s an unboxing video made by some dude on the internet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jjj9l9S2KuE

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[i] Not counting the watch towers, etc…
[ii] Which also brought the city to her knees, but this time it wasn’t an act of nature.
[iii] “The floating world” just means “transient moments” or “passing moments.” Today we have photography which can literally capture a moment in time that will never repeat, previous to photography if you wanted a “snapshot” of life, you had to paint it. Ukiyo-e was often about that “snapshot,” capturing a “fleeting moment.”
[iv] Ironically, the series proved so popular that Hiroshige actually made 119 prints, but 119 Famous Views of Edo doesn’t roll off the tongue, I suppose.
[v] Yes, that Hokusai – the guy who did the boring painting of a big ass wave in Kanagawa and also invented tentacle porn.
[vi] Yes, that is the official Japanese rendering of his name. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
[vii] Sure, people continued making ukiyo-e prints in the Meiji Period. It wasn’t like New Year’s Day 1868, everything changed completely lol. But many Japanese art historians, especially those who specialize in ukiyo-e think there is a drastic drop in quality after Hiroshige’s death. That said, I’ve seen some great Meiji Era prints. The style changed, that’s all. Also, ukiyo-e has continued to influence Japanese artists to this very day when they want to emphasize a connection to their “Japaneseness.”
[viii] Or in the parlance of their time, “Oriental Art” – a term that has for some reason has gained a racist connotation for the past 15-20 years or so. I don’t use that term, but never really understood how it got the excess baggage. At any rate, the term Oriental is passé. I guess it was seen as lacking nuance between various Asian cultures – very much the way Van Gogh lacked any nuance in pretty much all of his crap art.
[ix] Who was pretty much a hack anyways, let’s be honest.
[x] Impression lolololol.
[xi] Impressionism… god, if there’s any other overrated genre, I’d like to know. Oh yeah. There is. 80’s hair metal!
[xii] Well, you come back to it every day if you’re obsessed with Edo and write a blog about the history of city. Or if you’re an art nerd. Or if you’re both.

What does Suijin Ōhashi mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on January 2, 2015 at 1:00 am

水神大橋 
Suijin Ōhashi (water god big bridge, more at “Great Suijin Bridge”)

Suijin Ohashi. Not one of Tokyo's more famous bridges.

Suijin Ohashi.
Not one of Tokyo’s more famous bridges.

This bridge was named after a ferry crossing, that was in turn named after a shrine, 水神社 Suijinsha or 水神宮 Suijingū Suijin Shrine. The shrine was located at the confluence of the 荒川 Arakawa Arakawa River[i] and the 利根川 Tone-gawa Tone River[ii] and was located directly on the riverbank. After this confluence, the merged river was called the 墨田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River[iii]. The origins of the shrine are lost to time, but one legend[iv] holds that in 1180 Minamoto no Yoritomo put his army to camp in this area and paid his respects to the shrine. Yoritomo is said to have felt the presence of the 神 kami spirit that lived in the river and threw some cash at the humble shrine so it could get a facelift[v].

Suijin Shrine it's former glory. Note the torii on the riverbank. That was one possible landing point for the Suijin Ferry.

Suijin Shrine its former glory. Note the torii on the riverbank. That was one possible landing point for the Suijin Ferry.

The kami was popularly referred to as 水神様 Suijin-sama or 水神さん Suijin-san (literally “water spirit”). Over the years, the shrine itself went by various names: 浮島神社 Ukijima Jinja[vi] and 浮島宮 Ukijimagū Ukijima shrine or 水神社 Suijinsha and 水神宮 Suijingū Suijin Shrine[vii]. The shrine was famous among the people who worked on the river. It was also popular with the girls who worked at the tea houses that served the horny boatmen[viii].

At the bottom right you can see Suijin no Mori (Suijin Grove) and if you look carefully you can see Suijin Shrine (labeled Sumidagawa Jinja here). The river is flowing by and in the distance you can see Mt. Tsukuba. Also notice the yaezakura (double cherry blossoms).

At the bottom right you can see Suijin no Mori (Suijin Grove) and if you look carefully you can see Suijin Shrine (labeled Sumidagawa Jinja here). The river is flowing by and in the distance you can see Mt. Tsukuba. Also notice the yaezakura (double cherry blossoms).

The shrine was so popular with the locals and that the whole area came to be referred to as just 水神Suijin. One of the oldest ferry crossings on the Sumida River was built here and was called 水神渡し Suijin Watashi Suijin Crossing[ix]. In the Edo Period, the area along the river and near the shrine was famous with locals for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing. The Suijin Crossing allowed Edoites great access to the area. The ferry crossing was active until the bridge was built and put the traditional ferrymen out of work…… wait for it……….… in 19-fucking-88!!

Yes, that’s right, kids. Taking a ferry across the river was an alternative to using the bridge until the late 80’s.

A typical river ferryboat.

A typical river ferryboat.

The last ferry crossing still in use on the Sumida River is used to transport employees of Nippon Kayaku (Japan Pharmaceuticals).

The last ferry crossing still in use on the Sumida River is used to transport employees of Nippon Kayaku (Japan Pharmaceuticals).

The bridge was built in 2 stages. Initially, a pedestrian bridge was built in 1988 as an evacuation route in the event of a fire or natural disaster[x]. As the areas on both sides of the bridge developed, it became clear that a pedestrian-only bridge spanning a wide river wasn’t really good use of a bridge (ie; nobody was really using it). So they expanded the bridge and added 2 car lanes to allow traffic to flow both directions in 1996.

See the elevated highway in the background? We're going to talk about that in a minute.

See the elevated highway in the background?
We’re going to talk about that in a minute.

Today the shrine is near the river, but not on the river.
So what gives?

In the Edo Period, the Tone River was diverted eastward to the Pacific Ocean and so for much of the Pre-Modern and Modern Eras, there was no confluence here. However the Sumida River (or what is now called the Sumida River) has always been here. But that’s not the only thing that changed, in 1872 (Meiji 4) the name of the shrine was changed to 隅田川神社 Sumida-gawa Jinja Sumidagawa Shrine[xi].

Sumidagawa Shrine today.

Sumidagawa Shrine today.

But until recently, the shrine was still located on the river. When the unsightly elevated highway that is 国道6号 Kokudō Roku-gō National Highway 6 was built in the 1960’s, the shrine was moved about 150 meters to the east, partly to protect the shrine from being so close to the river and mostly to make way for the highway. This highway expansion, like all of the other elevated highways in Tōkyō, became an instant eyesore and destroyed the scenery of this once historic area. This area was once so famous for its view of the river, of cherry blossoms, and of far off 筑波山 Tsukuba-san Mt. Tsukuba that even 歌川広重 Utagawa Hiroshige painted it. Judging from its former fame and from the splendid representation by Hiroshige, it’s kind of a tragedy we lost this one. All we have now is a fairly obscure – and fairly ugly – bridge and the shrine that started it all is an afterthought of a bygone era living under a filthy, noisy highway.

Supposedly this is the torii that once stood on the riverbank (from the B/W photo above)

Supposedly this is the torii that once stood on the riverbank (from the B/W photo above)

Just a quick note, if I may. Part of what inspired me to right this article is an old post by blogger, Rurōsha, who is a lover of the Sumida River and of Tōkyō’s 下町 shitamachi low city. If you love Tōkyō’s rivers and shitamachi, you may like her blog. She gives a little more info about the shrine and her impressions of it.

Also, I visited the site the other day and took these pictures.

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__________________________
[i] Here’s my article on the Arakawa.
[ii] Here’s my article on the Tone.
[iii] Yes, the kanji is “wrong” intentionally. More about that in my article on the Sumida River here.
[iv] Another, much more ridiculous legend, says the shrine was established by 日本武尊 Yamato Takeru no Mikoto Yamato Takeru, ie; Captain Japan. Long time readers should be able to guess my feelings on this theory.
[v] Keep in mind, this is a local tradition preserved by the shrine. There are no documents that verify Yoritomo’s visit.
[vi] Ukijima (or Ukishima) means something like “floating island.”
[vii] There are shrines called Suijinsha and Suijingū all over Japan.
[viii] Is it just me? Or does “Horny Boatmen” sound like a great band name? Somebody get on that stat!
[ix] There are traditions that say 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo and later 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan had built bridges here but these fell into disrepair, once again giving rise to a ferryboat system. I can’t say if this was true or not.
[x] I’m assuming this was in reaction to a string of destructive earthquakes in Japan in the 70’s and 80’s. They were nothing as bad as the 1995 Kōbe Earthquake or cataclysmic 2011 Tōhoku Earfquake, but still there was a lot of damage done and a lot of people died.
[xi] Judging from the Hiroshige print, I’m guessing Sumidagawa Shrine had become a popular name for the shrine by the late Edo Period..

What does Samezu mean?

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

鮫洲
Samezu
(Shark Sandbar)

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

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

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

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

First, let’s look at the kanji.


same

shark


zu

sandbank, sandbar

 

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

 

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

 

samezu low tide

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

OK. Let’s Talk Etymology, Bitches.

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

 

I have gross doubts about these theories..

I have gross doubts about these theories..

 

① A Wooden Buddha Statue Did It Theory

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

 

Kaianji today

Kaianji today

 

② It’s An Old Dialect Word Theory

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

science_it_works_bitches_performance_dry_tshirt

Hooray for linguistics!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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