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Posts Tagged ‘hongo’

Ōedo Line: Hongō San-chōme

In Japanese History on June 10, 2015 at 3:48 am

Hongō San-chōme (3rd block of Hongō)

The famous Akamon (red gate) of Kaga Domain which is now the entrance of Tokyo University

The famous Akamon (red gate) of Kaga Domain which is now the entrance of Tokyo University

Hongō literally means “the main hamlet/village.” Because it is extremely hilly, it was allocated for residences of samurai of various ranks. Theoretically speaking, the location of your house on the hills indicated your rank and the type of house you could have. Naturally, low ranking samurai were at the bottom of the hills and the highest ranking samurai were at the tops of the hills. Today the area is famous for education and medicine. Tōkyō University, Juntendō University, and Tōyō Gakuen University are all located in the area.

It was Pre-Modern Japan. Sometimes, you gotta burn a bitch. Alive.

It was Pre-Modern Japan.
Sometimes you gotta burn a bitch.

In the lowlands, in one of the commoner districts of Koishikawa is the place where 八百屋お七 Yayoya O-shichi lived. Loooooong time readers will recognize her as the 16 year old crazy bitch who set tried to burn down a temple in 1683 to get the attention of the monk who had saved her from a fire a year or so earlier. The fire was soon put out and she was apparently caught red handed, but this was arson and had to be dealt with by the 奉行 bugyō magistrate. In the end, the teenage girl was burnt at the stake the same year at Suzugamori Execution Ground near Shinagawa. The story is one of the greatest tragedies of the Edo Period – most of it based on highly fictionalized bunraku[i] and kabuki[ii] adaptations. But at its core, the story is based on some facts. The precise location of her home, the name of the temple she burnt and even the name of the boy she was infatuated with aren’t known for certain[iii]. But shōgunate records apparently confirm the date of her arrest and the location and manner of her execution. The location of her grave is also somewhat contested, but the traditional site of her grave is the temple 円乗寺 Enjō-ji, also written 園乗寺 Enjō-ji, which is a 20 minute walk from Hongō Sanchōme Station. It’s a straight shot on a single street, so it’s probably worth the walk if you’re in the area.

And why should you be in the area? There are plenty of temples and shrines and the area has more hills than other local tourist sites – so you can get a feel for the prime real estate of the Edo Period. Although there are no samurai residences left, you can get the feel for how uniquely 山手 yamanote high city the area was[iv]. You can also get some great photos here because most people don’t come here to take pictures.

But, this station also gives you access to the 東京都水道歴史館 Tōkyō-to Suidō Rekishikan Tōkyō Waterworks Historical Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of water, aqueducts, sewerage, reservoirs, and water treatment in Edo-Tōkyō. At first, you might say, that sounds boring. But trust me, it’s surprisingly eye opening and is easily one of my favorite museums in the city. When I visited, they had English pamphlets, but most of the exhibits were in Japanese only. I’m sure that will change in the build up to the 2020 Olympics. The museum’s website is here.

Tokyo Waterworks Museum.  Don't make me say it again.

Tokyo Waterworks Museum.
Don’t make me say it again.

Wanna read my original article about fires in Edo? (to read O-shichi’s story)
Wanna read my article about Suzugamori Execution Ground? (She gets mentioned)


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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

[i] Creepy puppet shows that Edoites loved the shit out of.
[ii] Highly ritualized theater of Pre-Modern Japan – also a little creepy, visually-speaking.
[iii] Some versions of the story are more well-known than others, tho.
[iv] I had a great discussion with Jcastle about how you can’t really understand old Japanese castles and samurai homes without walking the terrain yourself. Even if there is nothing left to look at, the lay of the land, the hills, the plateaux are all things the samurai were concerned with during the Sengoku Period. These physical characteristics of the land gave rise to the varying castle types and the subsequent 城下町 jōka machi castle towns. In the Edo Period, things changed, but the earliest samurai districts were built with this Sengoku philosophy in mind.

What does Hakusan mean?

In Japanese History on March 23, 2014 at 4:56 am

Hakusan (white mountain)

Hakusan Shrine, Bunkyo Ward.

Hakusan Shrine, Bunkyo Ward.

Today we’re going to wrap up our little journey around 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward which has taken us to Myōgadani, Koishikawa, and finally Hakusan. For fans of Bunkyō Ward, don’t worry, we’ll be coming back in the future as there’s a lot to talk about in this area. And if for some reason, you absolutely cannot wait, I have old articles on Suidōbashi and Kichijōji (yes, Kichijōji is related, believe it or not).

Anyways, today’s place name is brought you by the Shintō term 勧請 kanjō. Kanjō refers to the ceremonial transfer or sharing of a 神 kami deity from one shrine to another shrine. We will get deeper into religion in a little bit; but for this story, the specifics of the kanjō[i] aren’t necessary. And to be honest, that’s about all I know about the subject.

The origin of this place name is fairly obvious because it has been recorded independently in two parts of the country at the same time. The name is said to come from 白山神社 Hakusan Jinja Hakusan Shrine which is still located in the area. Unlike the former daimyō residences that used to dominate the area which didn’t survive, this particular shrine enjoyed the patronage of both the Tokugawa and Meiji governments and turned out to be a true survivor.

Let’s Look at the Kanji




Shirayama-hime Shrine in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Shirayama-hime Shrine in Ishikawa Prefecture.

In 948 (middle of the Heian Period), the tutelary kami of 白山比咩神社 Shirayama-hime Jinja Shirayama-hime Shrine was split and transferred to this area. Shirayama Shrine is a major shrine in 加賀国 Kaga no Kuni, present day 石川県 Ishikawa-ken Ishikawa Prefecture. Note that Shirayama is the 訓読み kun’yomi Japanese reading and Hakusan is the 音読み on’yomi Chinese reading of 白山.

Hakusan Shrine was originally located in 武蔵国豊島郡本郷元町 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Hongō Motomachi  Hongō Old Town, Toshima District, Musashi Province (which is now in nearby 本郷一丁目 Hongō Icchōme). In about 1620, Tokugawa Hidetada moved the temple onto the premises of 御薬園 go-yakuen the shōgunate’s garden for healing herbs (the area that is now part of the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens).  After the Meireki Fire in 1655, the lord of 館林藩 Tatebayashi Han Tatebayashi Domain ordered that the shrine be rebuilt at its present location in order to use the space for his new residence[ii]. It’s evident that from quite early in the Edo Period Hakusan Shrine came to be patronized by the Tokugawa Shōgun Family[iii].

Hakusan Shrine in the Edo Period.

Hakusan Shrine in the Edo Period.

10 Shrines of Tōkyō

In the Meiji Era, Hakusan Shrine was one of the 東京十社 Tōkyō Jissha the 10 Shrines of the Eastern Capital.

In many previous articles, I’ve said that Japanese religion is syncretic. This means it was very similar to the polytheistic religions of the classical western world, for example Rome or Greece. While monotheistic religions make no exception for other religions, polytheistic religions – by nature – at least entertain the possibility that other religions might be on to something. Originally Shintō and Buddhism butted heads a bit, but over time they borrowed from each other and incorporated certain elements of each other.

The two religions were incestuously intertwined by the Edo Period. When the Meiji Coup of 1868 took place, the government favored Shintō because: Shintō held all the original Japanese creation myths; it was native Japanese[iv]; Buddhism found particular favor among the samurai class; and most importantly, Shintō included justification of imperial rule by divine descent from Japanese kami of the sun, 天照大御神 Amaterasu-ōmikami Amaterasu.

In 1868, one of the earliest edicts issued by the Imperial Court was the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzenrei Kami/Buddha Separation Edict. The court wanted none of this touchy-feely Shintō kami and Buddhist Buddhas living together in peace and harmony. What’s more, sprawling syncretic temple complexes like Zōjō-ji and the recently burned Kan’ei-ji were not just massive 菩提寺 bodaiji family temples of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family, they were also tourist destinations[v].

The Meiji Government was not having this at all. So they decided to create a diversion. In order to make this new emperor worship thing cool, they established the 東京十社 Tōkyō Jissha the 10 Shrines of the Eastern Capital[vi] in order to get people to go on a new Imperial Court sanctioned pilgrimage.

By the way, all of this hot and sweaty emperor-loving, getting back to Shintō roots, and overall xenophobia led to years of deadly vigilante attacks against Buddhists, coerced conversions, and outright destruction of centuries old temples. Yay religion!

At any rate, the Hakusan Shrine is still with us today and is still fairly major shrine. Every year during the rainy season, hundreds of people make the pilgrimage to Hakusan Shrine for its 紫陽花祭 Ajisai Matsuri Hydrangea Festival. The plants bloom every year and the precincts are covered with vivid purples, blues, whites, and pinks.


Connection with Kaga Domain’s Estate?

As mentioned in my article on Koishikawa, in the Edo Period, the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of 加賀藩 Kaga Han Kaga Domain was located in the area. The primary deity enshrined at Hakusan originated in Kaga no Kuni. In the other article I speculated that this was probably just a coincidence. But I looked into it a little more and while I didn’t find a definitive answer, what I know now gives a little better idea of the actual connection between the shrine and the Kaga estate.

Well, actually, the 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence was also nearby. The middle residence was where the family of the lord lived. While an upper residence was an administrative center or embassy, the middle residence was exactly that – a residence. Any sort of religious acts of devotion to the domain’s tutelary kami would have been carried out by members of the daimyō family in a private sense, not necessarily as public, domain activities.

From what I can tell, the location of the upper residence near this shrine was probably a coincidence – or a petition for a location near the shrine could have been submitted to the shōgunate by the lord of Kaga[vii]. It seems that 2nd shōgun, Tokugawa Hidetada, moved the shrine to the go-yakuen location as a favor to Kaga Domain so it would be closer to their middle residence. When the shōgunate moved the shrine after the Meireki fire, they moved the shrine even closer to Kaga’s middle estate.

Here you can see the locations of Hakusan Shrine move closer Kaga's middle estate. The white dot at the bottom of the page is Tokyo Dome and you can see Koishikawa Korakuen to the immediate left of the Dome.

Here you can see the locations of Hakusan Shrine move closer Kaga’s middle estate.
The white dot at the bottom of the page is Tokyo Dome and you can see Koishikawa Korakuen to the immediate left of the Dome.
* click the photo to enlarge *

So there was an actual connection between Hakusan and Kaga Domain, but it most definitely pre-dates the Edo Period. The story of Koishikawa meaning Little Ishikawa is most likely a folk etymology that came about after the creation of Ishikawa Prefecture in 1871. While, yes, there would have been many samurai from Kaga running around the area during the Edo Period, the name  石川 Ishikawa usually referred to a 郡 gun a district within Kaga Domain. I’m not sure if local Edoites would have been familiar with (or even cared about) the administrative districts of an area so far away. The Meiji Era reforms saw newspapers, maps, and cheaper books increase access to information. They also literally put Ishikawa Prefecture on the map.

The 御守殿門 Go-Shuden Mon also called 御住居表御門 Go-Shukyo Omote Go-Mon but popularly referred to as 赤門 Aka Mon the Red Gate is a symbol of Tokyo University. In fact, the nickname of the university is Aka Mon. This was the front gate of of Kaga's upper residence. It's the only structure that survived an 1855 earthquake that burned down the palace.  The heart of Tokyo University's Hongo Campus is built on the ruins of this sprawling palace.

The 御守殿門 Go-Shuden Mon also called 御住居表御門 Go-Shukyo Omote Go-Mon but popularly referred to as 赤門 Aka Mon the Red Gate is a symbol of Tokyo University. In fact, the nickname of the university is Aka Mon.
This was the front gate of of Kaga’s upper residence. It’s the only structure that survived an 1855 earthquake that burned down the palace.
The heart of Tokyo University’s Hongo Campus is built on the ruins of this sprawling palace.

In the Edo Period, as you can imagine, the area wasn’t as densely populated as today, and it was distinctly yamanote. Administratively, Hakusan was a small portion of 武蔵国豊島郡小石川村 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Koishikawa Mura Koishikawa Village, Toshima District, Musashi Province. In 1878, the Meiji Government split the area between the now defunct  小石川区  Koishikawa-ku Koishikawa Ward and 本郷区 Hongō-ku Hongō Ward. In 1947, with the creation of the 23特別区 23 Special Wards, the split areas were re-merged in the new 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward. In 1967, with the creation of the modern postal code system, the area called Hakusan came to consist of just 5 blocks.



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[i] English teachers in Japan who teach children, you can relax. This is 勧請 kanjō, not 浣腸 kanchō. You can safely unclench your asses now.

[ii] Wait a minute! I’ve been to Tatebayashi. It’s a middle of nowhere backwater. In the shōgun’s capital, who the hell did this country bumpkin think he was to start telling religious institutions in Edo what to do? Oh, I’m glad you asked. He was none other than the 4th living son of the 3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu, the future Dog Shōgun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. Tsunayoshi had been put in charge of a fief well outside of Edo because he was smart and crafty and Iemitsu apparently felt that he would try to murder and usurp power from his older brother, future 4th shōgun, Ietsuna. In hindsight, however, it appears Tsunayoshi truly respected and looked up to his brother. Tsunayoshi built Ietsuna’s lavish funerary temple in Kan’ei-ji, Gen’yūin, and ordered that his own funerary temple be built next door. To this day, the two brothers rest in adjacent lots in the cemetery at Kan’ei-ji.

[iii] Because pre-shōgun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, had a residence in what is today Hakusan 3-chōme, until 1967, the area was still officially called  白山御殿町 Hakusan Goten Machi Hakusan Palace Town. Older residents of the area still use the name. Apparently, there are plaques commemorating the same scattered throughout the area.

[iv] Pretty sure everyone knows that Buddhism was imported.

[v] Much as Nikkō still is today.

[vi] This grouping doesn’t exist anymore so I couldn’t find an English article on it, but here’s the list of the 10 Shrines in Japanese.

[vii] The lords of Kaga were the 前田 Maeda, who weren’t on the best of terms with the Tokugawa during the Sengoku Period.

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