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Posts Tagged ‘imperial palace’

Nijubashi – Tokyo’s Most Famous Bridge

In Japanese History on May 13, 2013 at 12:40 am

二重橋
Nijūbashi (Double Bridge)

Is this bridge really called Nijubashi or the Stone Bridge? Hmmmm... let's find out!

Is this bridge really called Nijubashi or the Stone Bridge? Hmmmm… let’s find out!

The bridge above is the main bridge to the Imperial Palace. It appears on guidebooks and postcards and is arguably the most famous bridge in Japan – even a symbol of Japan. Most people, including the Japanese, call it Nijūbashi. But this is sort of a case of mistaken identity.

First let’s look at the kanji:

 

二重
nijū

double


hashi

bridge


Nijūbashi is actually a nickname. The correct name of the bridge is 正門石橋 seimon ishibashi main entrance stone bridge.

Folk Etymology 1
There are actually two main bridges to the Imperial Palace. The 正門石橋 seimon ishibashi main entrance stone bridge and the 正門鉄橋 seimon tetsubashi the main entrance iron bridge. When you stand in front of the stone bridge you can see the iron bridge behind it and it looks like there are two bridges.

Double Bridges - Tokyo Imperial Palace

Seems legit.

Folk Etymology 2
When reflected in the moat, an illusion of two stone bridges occurs, hence a “double bridge.” Some old people actually refer to the bridge as メガネ橋 meganebashi the “glasses” bridge because… well, it looks like a pair of glasses.

Double Bridge or Glasses Bridge - Tokyo Imperial Palace

I see what you did there…

Those two stories are cute, but they’re not actually correct. Here’s the real deal:

Edo Castle also had two bridges here, but the names were different. The stone bridge was a wooden bridge called 西之丸大手橋 nishi no maru ōtebashi “front bridge to the western compound” and the iron bridge was also a wooden bridge called 西之丸下乗橋 nishi no maru kejōbashi “dismount bridge to the western compound.”*

Nijubashi was actually the nickname of the kejōbashi (now the iron bridge), not the ōtebashi (now the stone bridge). The bridge was built in 1614 by the shōgun, Tokugawa Hidetada. The bridge had a secondary wooden support mechanism built underneath which made it a 2 level construction. Because of these two levels, it looked like there were two bridges. The nickname 二重橋 nijūbashi/futaebashi came to be used as it was quite a distinctive bridge.

The Original Nijubashi - Edo Castle

A hard to see photo of the original “double bridge.”

Here's a digital version of the same view of the old kejobashi.

Here’s a digital version of the same view of the old kejobashi.

When the imperial court moved into the castle in 1868 but the bridges remained. After the confiscation and destruction of the daimyō residences in Daimyō Alley and elsewhere, the old bridge and gate system was re-evaluated. The two bridges were chosen as the main entrances to Tokyo Castle (the Imperial Palace). The kejōbashi was torn down and replaced with an iron bridge in 1888. It was rebuilt again in 1964 to match the 新宮殿 Shin Kyūden the New Palace, which is the collection of shitty 60’s-looking buildings that litter the palace grounds.

The iron bridge as it looks today (the true

The iron bridge as it looks today (the true “nijubashi”)

The 大手橋 ōtebashi was also torn down and replaced with the famous stone bridge in 1887. Because of its modern style, it quickly became a very high profile bridge – especially with the demolition of Daimyō Alley and the encroachment of commoners to the inner moats (in the Edo Period most commoners probably wouldn’t have been able to get too close).

Side view of the original otebashi bridge (now the stone bridge). My guess is the photographer was standing on the kejobashi... maybe...

Side view of the original otebashi bridge (now the stone bridge). My guess is the photographer was standing on the kejobashi… maybe…

Main Bridge to Edo Castle

Front view of the original ōtebashi  taken by a lopsided person. (present day stone bridge).

In the Meiji Period, since the old kejōbashi formerly known as Nijūbashi no longer looked like a double bridge, the new main bridge became associated with the name. All the strange folk etymologies started popping up then too. And even though the bridge is not formally referred to as Nijūbashi, the Chiyoda Line subway station in the area (built in the 1970’s) is called 二重橋前駅 Nijūbashimae Eki Nijūbashi Front Station. Today the area around the station and bridge is colloquially referred to as Nijūbashi or Nijūbashimae.

Imperial Palace Bridge Satellite

In case you were wondering where the bridges go… The left one is the stone bridge, the right one is the iron bridge. (Interestingly, if you look up 二重橋 on google maps/google earth, the iron bridge is – correctly – labelled as Nijubashi).

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* I’m not sure if I’ve translated the term correctly because I don’t really understand the purpose of this particular bridge. 下乗 kejō means “dismount” as in “get off of a horse.”
Also, if you’re curious about what “maru” means, please have a look on my post about Marunōchi and Daimyō Alley.

What does Akasaka-Mitsuke mean?

In Japanese History on May 1, 2013 at 1:45 am

赤坂見附
Akasaka-mitsuke (Approach to Akasaka Gate)

Akasaka-mitsuke approaching Akasaka-mitsuke Go-mon (Akasaka-mitsuke Gate) as it looked at the end of the Edo Period.

Akasaka-mitsuke approaching Akasaka-mitsuke Go-mon (Akasaka-mitsuke Gate) as it looked at the end of the Edo Period.

Just a little update on yesterday’s post.

If you come out of Akasaka-mitsuke station, you’ll find yourself on a major road called 外堀道り Sotobori Dōri Outer Moat Street. This street’s name comes from — you guessed it — the outer moat of Edo Castle.

So anyhoo, we usually translate 見附 mitsuke as “approach,” as in the approach to a castle. From a military perspective, a mitsuke was a defensive installation. The roads approaching the gates of the castle were defended by 見張り番所 Mihari bansho look out guardhouses. Architecturally speaking, most Japanese buildings – be they shrines or castles, businesses or homes – traditionally place importance on a space that leads you from the street into the building or space proper (ie; an approach). In the case of Edo Castle, these spaces required a clear field of vision from the 番所 bansho guardhouse. In pictures of such approaches, you will see a lack of trees, no buildings and a moat and a bridge. The mitsuke provided the guards a clear view of approaching guests (or enemies), and provided the guest with an imposing view of the might of the shōgun’s castle.  The gate provided the name of the mitsuke or the area provided a name for the gate and mitsuke. The place name Akasaka was applied to the mitsuke and the 御門 go-mon gate.

What does Akasaka-mitsuke mean?

Very little remains of the original Edo Castle, but this so-called 100 Man Bansho, is still extant. It’s an example of a REALLY BIG bansho – supposedly it could be manned by 100 samurai.

三十六見附 Sanjū-roku Mitsuke The 36 Mitsuke of Edo Castle.

There weren’t actually 36 mitsuke, this was just an expression. Some of the mitsuke have given place names to Tokyo and can still be seen to today (at least the ruins can).*

Akasaka-mitsuke
Yotsuya-mitsuke
Hibiya-mitsuke
Ushigome-mitsuke
Ichigaya-mitsuke
Shibaguchi-mitsuke (taken down before the end of the Edo Period)**
(if you know any other mitsuke names, hit me up, I’ll add them to this list).

If you’re in Akasaka-mitsuke and you’re interested, be sure to check out 山王日枝神社 Sannō Hie Jinja Hie Shrine. The tutelary deity of Edo Castle is enshrined there. Say “kon’nichiwa” to it for me.

And as always, if you have any questions about Japanese Castles, please visit JCastle.net because this guy knows a lot more about Japanese castles than I do.

Going down Akasaka hill towards Akasaka-Mitsuke. The building on the left is an entrance to the Imperial Residence, but now it's the Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ.

Going down Akasaka hill towards Akasaka-Mitsuke. The building on the left is an entrance to the Imperial Residence, but now it’s the Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ.***

A view from Akasaka Mitsuke coming down from Akasaka hill.

A view from Akasaka Mitsuke coming down from Akasaka hill.***

 

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* According to my sources, there were at most 27 gates to Edo Castle. I’m fairly certain that the presence of a gate does not guarantee the presence of a mitsuke or mihari bansho. An important interection might warrant an installation. But I could be wrong.
** Shibaguchi-Mitsuke and Shibaguchi Gate are linked to Shibaguchi Bridge, an alternate name for the original Shinbashi (new bridge).
*** These amazing postcards are taken from Old Tokyo.

What does Chiyoda mean?

In Japanese History on February 23, 2013 at 3:30 am

千代田
Chiyoda (Eternity Fields)

The area that comprised the grounds of Edo Castle is roughly that of modern 千代田区 Chiyoda Ward. The name of the area predates the Edo Period. In fact, the original name of Edo Castle was Chiyoda Castle since it was built in the Chiyoda area of the small fishing village, Edo.

The kanji 千代 (sendai or chiyo) means something like “1000 generations.” The kanji tanbo (rice paddy) can also refer to 田園 den’en (something like cultivated fields or fertile district). The name is very auspicious and conveys an idea of “Fields that can feed people for eternity.”

In 1547, Ōta Dōkan chose the Chiyoda area to fortify and build what would eventually become Edo Castle. The dude was killed in 1486 and the castle fell into disuse.

Ota Dokan, founder of Chiyoda Castle

Ota Dokan, the dude who made a crappy fishing village called Edo into a castle town. (And no, he’s not taking a crap.)

In 1590, the imperial regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi transferred Tokugawa Ieyasu and his clan to Edo. Ieyasu renovated the derelict castle and built it up. After Ieyasu was made shōgun in 1600, the castle soon became the largest and most important castle in Japan. By this time Edo wasn’t a backwater village, but a thriving city of which Chiyoda was just one small part. So the name Edo Castle superseded the original name.

Edo Castle, formely Chiyoda Caslte

The grounds of Edo Castle at its height.

Since the Edo Period, the area has typified the word 山手 Yamanote (uptown). This was the home of the shōgun, the feudal lords attending the shōgun, and nobles of all manner. Today it is the home of the Imperial Palace, power banks and trading companies, and glamorous shops and expensive restaurants. It is also home to the Diet, the national government of all Japan.

The End.

Chiyoda Ward

Present Day Chiyoda Ward.

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