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What does Kiyosumi-Shirakawa mean?

In Japanese History on January 14, 2014 at 1:10 am

清澄白河
Kiyosumi-Shirakawa (no translation)

kiyosumi-shirakawa_eki

Those of you who are regular readers of JapanThis! will know that every New Year’s I do a different 七福神めぐり shichi fukujin meguri pilgrimage of the 7 gods of good luck. This year I did the Fukagawa course. I rarely go to this part of Tōkyō, so it gave me a unique chance to find some really unique place names to investigate.

The other day, I talked about 森下 Morishita “below the forest.” In that article, I said that Morishita was originally a merchant town at the bottom of a hill (shitamachi) and at the top of the hill was a daimyō residence (yamanote) with a large garden or at least a sizable grove of trees. The abandoned Edo Period daimyō palace was demolished and converted into a corporate pleasure garden by Iwasaki Yatarō, the founder and first successive president of Mitsubishi[i]. The park is called 清澄庭園 Kiyosumi Tei’en Kiyosumi Garden and its name is obviously linked to this place name.

Who doesn't love chilling out in a cool Japanese garden?

Who doesn’t love chilling out in a cool Japanese garden?

If you look closely at the name, it’s actually a combination of two words.

清澄
kiyosumi

pure + lucidity
“serene”

白河
shirakawa

white + river
“clean water”

The origin of the modern place name is literally just that. Two neighboring areas – Kiyosumi and Shirakawa – were smooshed together to make Kiyosumi-Shirakawa.

At first glance, this name has a few bizarre attributes

1 – 清澄 is an actual word when read in on’yomi (ie; the Chinese reading). That would be seichō. This is a literary word for “clear” or “serene.” Japanese place names rarely use Chinese readings, unless they are derived Buddhist temples. It’s not a rule, but generally speaking, place names are more likely to use the Japanese reading[ii]. Family names are the same, of course. (By the way, the actual Chinese reading of this word is qīngchéng.)

2 – 白河 is a Chinese place name too[iii]. But in “normal Japanese” the kanji kawa river is odd. Usually kawa river is used. But appears in a lot of family names and older place names.

Wow, is there a connection between Chinese History and this part of Edo?

No.
Not at all.

whaaaa?!

whaaaa?!

What’s going on here?

So for Japanese people and for students of Japanese, this place name raises a lot of questions. Are they borrowed from China? Are they ateji[iv]? Is it actually one word? What the fuck?

Well, as it turns out, these are both family names and everything I mentioned before this point has nothing to do with the place name in question. Toss out all that excess baggage and check out this weird shit.

At the beginning of the Edo Period, the high ground was held by a certain merchant family named 清住 Kiyosumi. A certain 清住弥兵衛 Kiyosumi Yahē (if I’m reading that correctly) is the landholder who is generally cited. He must have been a man of considerable means because it’s said that he financed the filling in and reclamation of the original marshland which effectively gave access to the high ground (where the garden is now located). The details about this family and personage are obscure, but if this tradition is true, these efforts to fill in the swamps would have made the lowlands not only livable, but suitable for business and its hilltop areas desirable for feudal lords serving sankai-kōtai duty. This area was located near rivers which made it good for transporting goods. So the area definitely prospered after the land reclamation and so the name of Kiyosumi Yahē apparently stuck.

The second name, Shirakawa, is much better documented. This is a direct reference to 松平定信 Matsudaira Sadanobu. He was the lord of 白河藩 Shirakawa Han Shirakawa Domain. As we all know, the Matsudaira clan was directly related to the Tokugawa shōgun family[v]. Shirakawa Domain was located in present day Fukushima Prefecture[vi]. He is arguably one of the most interesting statesmen of the Edo Period[vii].

He was enshrined at nearby 霊厳寺 Reigan-ji. Being the most famous person interred at the temple, the area enjoyed the nickname 白河さん Shirakawa-san which translates something like Mr. Shirakawa but is actually just a polite way to refer to a person from Shirakawa.

The grave of Sadanobu isn't much to look at today (notice the house in the background). It's hard to believe a place might be named after such a humble tomb, but believe me, in his day, the man was a force to be reckoned with - for better or for worse.

The grave of Sadanobu isn’t much to look at today (notice the house in the background).
It’s hard to believe a place might be named after such a humble tomb, but believe me, in his day, the man was a force to be reckoned with – for better or for worse.

The Edo Period maps I have only list the daimyō residences and temples here. There don’t seem to be any references to these names. So it seems like the townspeople had been preserving the local nicknames. When the daimyō had all been ejected from Edo and their residences confiscated or sold off to the highest bidders, new maps were made using western civil administration.

Originally, the area was to be called 清澄 Kiyosumi, but when it came to time for the official designation, the combined version 清澄白河 Kiyosumi Shirakawa won out.

This area is located in the former 深川村 Fukagawa Mura Fukagawa Village. Today Fukagawa is a postal code located within 江東区 Kōtō-ku Kōtō Ward. There area is famous for a few places:

富岡八幡宮
Tomioka-Hachiman-gū

One of the most famous shrines in Tōkyō.

Read a little bit about it here.

門仲
Mon’naka

Nickname of 門前仲町 Monzen-Nakachō.

Not so famous, but read a little bit about it here.

清澄庭園
Kiyosumi Tei’en

Again, these days, not so famous, but a Japanese garden worth your attention.

I talk about its history here!

霊厳寺
Reigan-ji

Definitely a major temple in the Edo Period, today it’s a shadow of its former self.

This article

深川江戸資料館
Fukagawa Edo Shiryōkan

The Fukagawa Edo Museum

Don’t wait for a blog entry. Just go check it out!


A Side Note

Oh, I almost forgot! Fans of 新撰組 Shinsengumi may recall that 沖田総司 Okita Sōji‘s family originated from Shirakawa Domain. Sōji was actually born in Shirakawa’s lower residence (being the son of an ashigaru (foot soldier) he presumably would have lived in a rowhouse on the property of this compound). This suburban diamyō palace was located in present day 西麻布 Nishi Azabu West Azabu. Sōji returned to Edo to convalesce from his tuberculosis, but ended up dying while still in Edo. It’s said that he was staying at the Shirakawa lower residence when he died. His grave is a short walk away at 専称寺 Senshō-ji Senshō Temple (located in present day 元麻布 Moto Azabu Old Azabu). This is even less related, but just for some perspective: walking from the Shirakawa lower palace to to Kondō Isami’s dōjō in Ichigaya would have taken about an hour to an hour and a half depending on your walking speed. Whether he made this commute regularly or had lodging near the Shieikan is unknown.

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[i] If you haven’t read that article, I highly recommend you read it now so you can get a bearing on the bigger picture of this area
[ii] Consider 浅草 Asakusa. The temple in Asakusa uses the Chinese reading, 浅草 Sensō, but the area uses the Japanese reading 浅草 Asakusa. The kanji are the same.
[iii] The true Chinese reading is “báihé.”
[iv] Using kanji in a purely phonetic way.
[v] Tokugawa Ieyasu was of the Matsudaira clan, but as his power base grew, he launched a new branch under a new name (Tokugawa).
[vi] Tread lightly here. Prior to 3/11, Fukushima Prefecture quietly basked in its status one of Japan’s bread baskets and was home to Aizu Domain which is still one of the darlings of those of us who love the Edo Period.
[vii] There are a number of reasons why Sadanobu was such an interesting – and at times, contradictory guy. But his biggest claim to fame was enacting the 寛政の改革 Kansei no Kaikaku the Kansei Reforms, a general name applied to years of reactionary laws attempting to slap bandages over the shōgunate’s perceived liberality – emphasis on the word “perceived.”

What does Ichigaya mean?

In Japanese History on November 19, 2013 at 6:17 am

市ヶ谷
Ichigaya (Market Valley)

Ichigaya Station

Ichigaya Station

This place name has 3 variations.

市谷 ichi ga ya
市ヶ谷 ichi ga ya
市ケ ichi ga ya

Most Tōkyōites probably associated Ichigaya with train stations that bear the name “Ichigaya,” but in reality there are many places named Ichigaya. I think this is a pretty complete list:

市谷加賀町 ichigaya-chō
市谷甲良町 ichigaya kōra-chō
市谷砂土原町 ichigaya sadohara-chō
市谷左内町 ichigaya sanai-chō
市谷鷹匠町 ichigaya takajō-machi
市谷田町 ichigaya tamachi
市谷台町 ichigaya daimachi
市谷長延寺町 ichigaya nagano-chō
市谷八幡町 ichigaya hachimangū-chō
市谷船河原町 ichigaya funagawara-machi
市谷本村町 ichigaya honmura-chō
市谷薬王寺町 ichigaya yakuōj-machi
市谷柳町 ichigaya yanagi-chō
市谷山伏町 ichigaya yamabushi-chō


Don’t be surprised if we come back to those place names
[i]. There’s gold in them hills.

One of the stranger things in Tokyo is this urban fishing spot in Ichigaya.

One of the stranger things in Tokyo is this urban fishing spot in Ichigaya.

OK, so I’ve wanted to write about this place for a long time, but it is connected to a few other place names which have made it difficult to cover until now. In my non-professional opinion, this seems like a very ancient place name. I’m just gonna through this out there now and say my gut instinct tells me none of the etymologies we’ll see today are correct and we’ll never know the true etymology.

First let’s look at the kanji .

ichi

market

ga

genitive particle

ya, tani

valley

In my opinion, all of these kanji are suspect. You’ll see why soon.

So, let’s look at the circulating theories.

 There was a dude named 市谷孫四郎 Ichigaya Magojirō attested in a Kamakura Period document who controlled an area near Edo. Other than this name, nothing else is known about the guy. A cursory glance of his name isn’t very impressive. He doesn’t seem to be descended from any imperial branch families and he doesn’t have a samurai-sounding clan name. If such a guy really existed, he may have been an elite lord who adopted the local place name as a family name, but… that just raises more questions. The jury is out on this one.

 Two theories exist which say the first character is deceptive. I’ve said again and again that kanji are not reliable for ancient Tōkyō place names. Here’s a good demonstration of why. This theory states that the original name was 一ヶ谷 ichi ga ya the first valley. Nearby we can find 四ッ谷 yotsu ya the fourth valley. The problem with this theory is where are the ニヶ谷 2nd valley and 三ヶ谷 3rd valley???

 It’s almost the same theory, but…. because of the prominence of daimyō residences here, the area had a reputation as an elite residential area well into the Meiji Era. According to this theory, 一ヶ谷 “first valley” was the preeminent (ie; first) 山手 yamanote valley[ii].  This one is also weird because why this area is the first, but Marunouchi isn’t? Also valleys tend to be 下町 shitamachi low city. So this one is just weird…

 This place name is another story unto itself, but as for the general story of Ichigaya, Kameoka Hachiman-gū is important. As mentioned many times before, Hachiman is the Shintō god who protects warriors (ie; samurai). This shrine located in Ichigaya claims that after its establishment in the late 1470’s a market (or many markets) sprung up around the shrine. They say that in the old Edo Dialect 市買 ichi kai “market buying” became ichi gai and in turn as a place name 屋 shop or  valley got attached to the area.

The shrine claims to possess Ota Dokan's  gunbai uchiwa.  A gunbai uchiwa is the (non-folding) fan used by Sengoku Period generals to give signals to troops. It's also said the Ota Dokan established this shrine - that's why it's dedicated to Hachiman, the Japanese god of bad asses.

The shrine claims to possess Ota Dokan’s gunbai uchiwa.
A gunbai uchiwa is the (non-folding) fan used by Sengoku Period generals to give signals to troops.
It’s also said the Ota Dokan established this shrine – that’s why it’s dedicated to Hachiman, the Japanese god of bad asses.

On a side note, for the train freaks out there, JR and Tokyo Metro use the writing 市ケ, while Tōei uses 市ヶ (ie; JR and Tokyo Metro use a large and Tōei used a small ). The official place names as used in postal codes and regular correspondence by Tōkyōtes drop the /all together and just write the name as 市谷.

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[i] Long time readers will know that I will come back.
[ii] Of course Yamanote means “the high city” and refers to the Edo Period distribution of land in Edo. The elite lived on the hills and the commoners lived in the lowlands. Here’s my ongoing series about my impressions of Yamanote and Shitamachi (although I haven’t updated it in ages).

What does Ushigome-Yanagicho mean?

In Japan, Japanese History on September 27, 2013 at 6:28 am

牛込柳
Ushigome-Yanagichō (Crowd of Cows Willow Tree Town)

Some of Yanagicho's shitamachi vibe (low town)  still exists.

Some of Yanagicho’s shitamachi vibe (low town) still exists.

Will someone please stop the Ushigome insanity??? I wanna get off. I’m starting to feel dizzy.

牛込 ushigome a crowd of cows
柳町 yanagi-chō willow tree town

Every explanation seems to be “there used to be a bunch of willow trees here.”

Well… duh… yeah… that’s what the name means. Willow Tree Town all night long, baby.

Willow trees. Yanagi.

Willow trees.
Perhaps Yanagicho once looked like this in the greener, more river-y Edo Period.
(btw – this is not Yanagicho)

So, there are places called 柳町 yanagi machi or yanagi-chō all over Japan[i] because there are lots of willow trees in Japan. But generally, we can associate willow trees with riversides and low water-rich environs. This area fits that profile. So at one time, there may have been an abundance of willow trees.

This particular place name is a merging of a few elements.

Before the reshuffling of special wards in Tōkyō, the name of the town was 市谷柳町 Ichigaya Yanagichō[ii]. After the reshuffling[iii], parts of Ushigome Ward and Ichigaya Ward were merged into the newly created Shinjuku Ward. When a station was built here the station name became Ushigome Yanagi-chō.

Ushigome-yanagicho is just another train station. You might not even notice it.

Ushigome-yanagicho is just another train station. You might not even notice it.

A Little Bit About the Area

After the 明暦大火 Meireki Taika the Great Meireki Fire, many victims were relocated to this area. This area is located in the 下町 shitamachi the low town. In the Edo Period it was an area for commoners and merchants. It was also famous for candle shops. Woo-hoo.

While we have said that Ushigome is a traditionally 山手 yamanote high city area, there was a 下町 shitamachi low city element too. Yanagichō was that element.

Because it was shitamachi, the main intersection is located in a deep depression. By the 1970’s people started noticing that exhaust fumes from cars was supposedly getting trapped here. Residents were turning up with symptoms of lead poisoning and there was a brief media scare about a lead poisoning problem. The government banned trucks over a certain size and took a few other measures to reduce traffic in order to remedy the problem. Supposedly the area is cleaned up now. (I hope TEPCO wasn’t involved in this project or it’s probably worse…)

Yanagicho intersection in the 1970's.

Yanagicho intersection in the 1970’s.

Yanagicho intersection these days.

Yanagicho intersection these days.

The Shinsengumi Connection

A train geek stamp for the Oedo Line's Ushigome-Yanagichou Station.Note Kondo Isami on the left and the Shieikan marker in the middle.

A train geek stamp for the Oedo Line’s Ushigome-Yanagichou Station.
Note Kondo Isami on the left and the Shieikan marker in the middle.

But the area’s real claim to fame, in terms of Edo-Tōkyō History, is that Yanagichō is where 試衛館 the Shieikan was located. Bakumatsu and seppuku lovers alike will recognize this name as the dōjō of 近藤勇 Kondō Isami, leader of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi[iv] – some of the biggest bad asses of the final days of the Tokugawa shōgunate.

Today the dōjō is gone; it disappeared from the historical record[v] in 1867. This is no doubt due to the shame the Meiji Government tried to cast on the samurai who supported the shōgunate – in particular, the Shinsengumi – and especially Kondō Isami, who was essentially rounded up and tried in a kangaroo court of imperial loyalists to be disgraced and put down like a sick dog.

Bastards.

Recently some have suggested that the location where the historical marker is today may not be in the correct location.

Marker of the place where the Shieikan once stood.

Marker of the place where the Shieikan once stood.

If you go past the marker and down the hill, there is a small shrine.

If you go past the marker and down the hill, there is a small shrine.

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[i] If you don’t believe me, here’s a small list.
[ii] Let it be noted, I haven’t covered Ichigaya yet.
[iii] In short, old Ushigome Ward + old Ichigaya Yanagi Town → Ushigome-Yanagi Town.
[iv] The Shinsengumi were an elite force of swordsmen who were in charge of taking down any anti-shōgunate terrorists in Kyōto. They had an extraordinary will to power and an unsurpassed propensity to kill according to a certain book on the topic that just repeats those phrases until the reader wants to slit their own belly just to make it stop.
[v] At least the records that I have access to.

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