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What does Myogadani mean?

In Japanese History on March 10, 2014 at 7:25 am

Myōgadani (myōga valley)

Myoga growing on Myoga Hill in Myogadani.

Myoga growing on Myoga Hill in Myogadani.

I wanted this to be a short blog post, but it turned into another epic tale of… fuck… I don’t know what happened. Today, in addition to the etymology of this place, you’re getting two extra worthless bits of Japanese history trivia. One is about Japanese ginger. The other is about Japanese dialects[i].

No, wait, what am I talking about?! This is going to be one messy ride through history, botany, kanji, and linguistics. Edo Period government bureaucracy is going to come up, too[ii]. And as always there is a lot of additional information in the footnotes, so don’t skip those. They are clickable. And there are about 25 of them.

The Marunouchi Line at Myogadani Station.

The Marunouchi Line at Myogadani Station.

Alright, let’s get started, then.

There are basically 2 conflicting arguments backed up by so much controversial evidence that I have to apologize upfront: I’m sorry, I can’t give you any determination on this place name. There is a popular theory and there is a less popular theory.

Most Popular Theory: ginger
2nd Most Popular Theory: guns

Think that’s disparate?

We haven’t gotten started. It seems that various local groups have picked their preferred derivations and stood their ground by adamantly insisting the other derivation is just wrong. But from my point of view, there is no “smoking gun” evidence for either etymology. But we’ll learn lots of good stuff along the way. So let’s get down to business, shall we?


As written today the kanji are easy. They mean “myōga valley.”

茗荷 myōga





What is Myōga?

It’s a kind of ginger. And believe me, we’re gonna go into this ginger thing in a little bit. But from a literalist reading of the kanji, one would assume that this place was famous for many wild myōga plants or was actually a center of production for myōga. This is by and far the most popular theory. Some supporters of this theory point at 茗荷坂 Myōgazaka Myōga Hill next to the Myōgadani Station as the original site of the myōga farms, although there is absolutely no evidence to back this up. Oh, and in Japan, there are generally two types of ginger.

茗荷 myōga

Japanese ginger Zingiber mioga

生姜[iii] shōga

Regular ol’ ginger Zingiber officinale

Because we’re dealing with two types of ginger, I’m only going to use the words myōga and shōga for this article, because otherwise the word ginger is just going to be repeated ad nauseam.



Myōga 茗荷 myōga myoga (also known as Japanese ginger) is an indigenous woodland plant that grows wild in the hills and fields of Japan. Because it’s frequently used as a garnish, it’s also popular for people to grow at home in their gardens. Oh, and the best thing is that it’s thought to be an anticarcinogen. Yay! Because fuck cancer[iv].

Anyhoo, there’s an old wives’ tale 茗荷を食べると物忘れが酷く成る myōga wo taberu to monowasure ga hidoku naru “If you eat myōga, you’ll get really bad at remembering things.”[v] Of course, this isn’t true at all. Myōga is a really healthy plant to eat and – at least according to Wikipedia – studies have shown that the aroma of myōga and regular ginger actually help with concentration and memory recall.



What is Sh

Shōga生姜 shōga ginger came to Japan in the 2nd or 3rd century from China[vi]. It was cultivated a little in the Nara Period and was in wide use by the Edo Period. The same old wives’ tale exists about this form of ginger. Traditional Japanese cuisine is often very subtle. Myōga has a strong taste and so does shōga. It’s probably because of a general distrust of vivid flavors, that people say “if you eat shōga, you’ll get really bad at remembering things,” too. But have no fear. It’s safe.

There’s a popular story that the 11th and 12th shōguns, Ienari[vii] and Ieyoshi[viii] respectively, loved shōga. When one of the most powerful 老中rōjū senior councilor of the shōgunate named 水野忠邦 Mizuno Tadakuni Mizuno Tadakuni[ix] passed a sweeping set of sumptuary laws targeting extravagance known as the 天保之改革 Tempō no Kaikaku Tempō Reforms[x]. On the list of prohibitions was – you guessed it – shōga! And when shōgun Ieyoshi started to notice that shōga wasn’t being included in his dishes anymore, he enquired about it. He was soon told that the plant was banned. Ieyoshi flipped out and stripped him of his positions and domain and banished him to 山形藩 Yamagata Han Yamagata Domain – a very, very cold place in the winter.

OK, I said there was another theory. And believe me, this one is a doozie.

stupid map

The Name Has Nothing to Do With Ginger

There is another theory. This one says there was never any myōga growing in the area. Instead this theory claims the name derives from 冥加 myōga a Buddhist term that means divine protection[xi].

On the other side of the tracks from Myōgadani Station is an area called 小石川 Koishikawa. This area was a very elite area in the Edo Period because the Mito Tokugawa clan had a massive residence here[xii]. There were other daimyō residences and samurai residences located in the vicinity. The residence of the 簞笥奉行 tansu bugyō the magistrate of the shōgun’s arsenal was also nearby, as were the barracks his samurai staff[xiii].

The idea is that the samurai who lived in the barracks town of 御箪笥町 Go-Tansu Machi would make offerings at the 稲荷神社 Inari Jinja Inari Shrine at the top of Myōgadani Hill (where the station stands today) and pray for good luck in marksmanship[xiv]. The shrine was called 冥加稲荷神社 Myōga Inari Jinja Shrine of the Inari of Divine Protection. Since this area was the valley where Myōga Inari Shrine was, the locals called it 冥加谷 Myōgadani.

Here’s where it gets weird. This theory states that the Meiji government changed the kanji. After winning the Boshin War against the last Tokugawa supporters, they kicked out all of the samurai and daimyō from the area and began repurposing the land. They hated the association of the name with the Tokugawa Shōgunate and so they changed the kanji from 冥加谷 Myōgadani Valley of Divine Protection to the less “confrontational” 茗荷谷Myōgadani Valley of Japanese Ginger.

Take that bakufu!!

koishikawa ward

Former Koishikawa Ward.
Also pictured: Ushigome, Yotsuya, and Okubo.
Okuba was famous for its shooting range.

This story comes off strong. Definitely, it has the most historical background. It talks about what the neighborhood was like in the Edo Period and references other neighborhoods and incorporates the shōgunal administration. But there are a few problems with it[xv].

First of all, the only place called Myōga Inari that still exists and is located on the compounds of 吉祥寺 Kichijō-ji[xvi] in Bunkyō Ward. However, Kichijō-ji is a 30 minute walk from its namesake in Myōgadani[xvii], also in Bunkyō Ward – but still 30 freaking minutes away on foot. Also, the name of this Inari is 茗荷 myōga ginger not 冥加 myōga divine protection.

At Kichijō-ji, Myōga Inari is enshrined together with another kami named 聖徳稲荷 Seitoku Inari (Inari of Virtuous Virtue) a mysterious kami that nobody seems to know much about except there appears to be a connection between this kami and 大権現 Daigongen, which anyone who read my series on the funerary temples of the Tokugawa Shōguns would know is none other than Tokugawa Ieyasu himself.

The shrine seems to have no connection with samurai, and these days it’s most famous for people who come to pray against infectious diseases[xviii] – or perhaps quitting myōga (because it makes you forgetful, remember?), and oddly today, it’s biggest claim to fame is curing hemorrhoids[xix].

So in short, the Tansu Machi theory is at conflict with itself on a few points:
From Suidōbashi to Myōgadani is also a 30 minute walk.
From Ushigome Tansu to Myōgadani is also a 30 minute walk.
From Koishikawa Station to Myōgadani is a 30 minute walk.

In the Edo Period, this wouldn’t be a long distance to walk. And a name transfer wouldn’t be impossible, but it’s such a local name that it seems kind of  really. Furthermore, the existing shrine uses the kanji for myōga and not “divine protection.” And while the early Meiji Government did in fact change the writing of 大坂 Ōsaka to 大阪 Ōsaka[xx], 江戸 Edo to 東京 Tōkyō and changed a lot of other names when they abolished the Han System and establish the Prefecture System, I’m not so sure that they were just running around changing names of small, local areas out of spite.

There must be some mixing up of stories going on here. Or if this second theory is true, the name was applied to a larger area originally. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any records from the Edo Period and the name didn’t appear on maps until the Meiji Era.

I told you at the beginning this was going to be messy. 

Myoga Inari Shrine. Very tiny.

Myoga Inari Shrine.
Very tiny.

Let’s Talk a Bit About Japanese Dialects

The reading of the kanji (valley) in place names is distributed differently across Japan.


More common in the east


More common in the west

There is a linguistic divide that occurs somewhere in Gifu Prefecture. This is also evidenced by the fact that there is a major dialect divide that cuts through Shizuoka and Aichi – compare the Mikawa dialect with the Nagoya dialect. This is thought to be part of the same “gray zone” that is part of a major split in dialects, most famously dividing the Kantō dialects and the Kansai dialects[xxi].

Distribution of Japanese Dialects

Distribution of Japanese Dialects

So why is a Western Japanese Place Name Occuring in the Shōgun’s Capital in the East?

The reading たに tani appears in only two Tōkyō place names (as far as I know). According to some, this reading supposedly signals an Edo Period place name based on the assumption that a valley would have never been named something + tani because the word didn’t exist in the local dialect. Therefore, the assumption is that it would be either (a) an affected form (b) a place name given by people from western Japan.

Looking at the old maps of daimyō residences in the area, there are two 藩邸 hantei domain headquarters in the area from western Japan. The two domains are 加賀藩 Kaga Han Kaga Domain and郡山藩 Kōriyama Han Kōriyama Domain. Kōriyama Domain was located in modern 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture, and one can imagine the dialect having some prestige due to Nara being a former imperial capital. Kaga Domain was located in modern Ishikawa and Toyama Prefectures. Neither of these residences was particularly close to modern Myōgadani station, but they were within walking distance. Could samurai from western Japan have influenced the naming of this area? It’s possible, but it’s hard to prove. Bear in mind that Edo residences maintained by daimyō were basically embassies and naturally they brought their local goods and culture with them to the capital.

Could it have been an affected form? Perhaps the local Edoites saw some value in using a western form as it seemed exotic.

Could the influx of samurai from all over Japan that was making Edo a melting pot of Japanese culture have exposed native Edoites to readings of kanji they didn’t normally use? Certainly.

Could the reading, although not common in eastern Japan, still have been lurking like a latent gene, just bubbling up to the surface from time to time?[xxii] I don’t see why not. But it seems that the most likely case is that this name does not pre-date the institution of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance. It doesn’t help us determine which of the two etymologies I mentioned above are true. But it does illustrate a very important fact about the Edo Period.

While Edo wasn’t an international city, it was the closest Japan had to one at the time in the sense that every area of Japan was bringing goods and ideas into and out of the shōgun’s capital. People tend to think that the Tokugawa Shōgunate was just a top down machine pushing a new Edo Culture onto the rest of the 天下 tenka realm. But it really wasn’t like that at all. The other domains were importing culture into Edo as well. In the place name “Myōgadani,” we may be looking at a footprint of that exchange, crystallized and preserved forever as a place name. How frickin’ cool is that?

As mentioned earlier, myoga grows wild in Japan.

As mentioned earlier, myoga grows wild in Japan.

Final Words

If you’re still reading, all I have to say is “thank you!” I said from the outset that this was going to be a messy story, but bear with me just a little bit longer.

Until 1966, an area existed called 茗荷谷町 Myōgadani-machi Myōgadani Town. At that time the town was merged with 文京区小日向 Bunkyō-ku Kohinata Kohinata, Bunkyō Ward. As such, no official postal address exists for Myōgadani. Today, only the area around the 茗荷谷駅 Myōgadani Eki Myōgadani Station is referred to as Myōgadani. There is a big hill called 茗荷谷坂 Myōgadanizaka Myōgadani Hill which, besides the station name (built in 1955), is the only link to the past. A local organization has planted myōga in the area as a reminder of the past (and also to piss off the “divine protection” faction).

Myogadani Station in the 1960's-1970's.

Myogadani Station in the 1960’s-1970’s.

In nearby 深光寺 Jinkō-ji Jinkō Temple, the author of 南總里見八犬傳 Nansō Satomi Hakkenden the Tale of Eight Dogs 馬琴 Bakin Bakin is buried[xxiii]. Interestingly, there is a small stone lantern hidden on the side of the temple called the 切支丹灯籠 Kirishitan Tōrō the Christian Lantern. It uses the word Kirishitan which is a direct reference to the Christians of Pre-Modern Japan. I’m not sure if this monument has been commemorating them since the Edo Period or if it’s a recent thing. Judging from pictures, the statue doesn’t seem very old – but it could be a replacement.

Even more curious is that another nearby temple, 徳雲寺 Toku’un-ji, which seems to make most of its money off funerals, offers a キリスト教プラン Kiristo-kyō Puran Christian Plan. At first, I thought this was related to the hidden old Kirishitan monument at Jinkō-ji, but then I saw it came under the heading 無宗教キリスト教のプラン Mushūkyō/Kiristo-kyō Puran non-religious/Christian plan[xxiv].

Shit just got real, son.

Shit just got real, son.


I figured out the connection between the Myōgadani temples and Christianity.

Christianity is so rare here – like 1% of the population or something – that this immediately jumped out at me. One small Christian monument maybe raises an eyebrow, but two in the same area sets off my spidey sense. Well, it turns out that much of the area was the former 小石川牢獄 Koishikawa Rōgoku Koishikawa Prison, but is usually referred to as the 切支丹屋敷 Kirishitan Yashiki the Christian Mansion – which was anything but a mansion.

There were 3 major efforts in Japan to expel foreigners and annoying Christian missionaries. One, by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Two, by 2nd shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada. Three, by 3rd shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu (though Kirishitan occasionally pop up as late as the reign of 5th shōgun, Tokugawa Ietsuna).

The first shōgun, Ieyasu, was relatively lax about Christianity. He didn’t like it, but he tolerated it to ensure trade with countries that offered technological benefits to Japan. His son Hidetada was much more skeptical of the intentions of Catholic missionaries who saw Japan as fertile ground for conversion. By the time we get to the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu, the shōgunate was definitely out of the honeymoon phase and enacted an all out ban on Christianity. They rounded up many suspected Christians and sent many of them to the “Christian Mansion” for interrogation – and possibly (read ‘probably’) torture and execution. You can read more about this site and others here.

And on that happy note, thanks for reading and have a great day!





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[i] I’ll save the dialect info until the end.
[ii] As is par for the course.
[iii] Could also be written 生薑 or , but I’ve never seen this except in a dictionary.
[iv] Seriously, fuck cancer.
[v] It’s an old wives’ tale that apparently gets repeated ad nauseam in rakugo
[vi] Or possibly Korea.
[vii] Otherwise known as, “the party shōgun.”
[viii] The “I can’t deal with foreigner because I’m a pussy” shōgun.
[ix] You can read about the Tempō Reforms here. Needless to say, this is just a made up story. Tadakuni’s problems were waaaaaay bigger than an unlikely ban on shōga. The reforms pissed off the merchants and artisans and a fair portion of the samurai class, but when he started confiscating parts of the domains immediately surrounding Edo and Ōsaka, he pissed off a fair chunk of the daimyō class – who btw, were already paying through their teeth due to the economic strain of their sankin-kōtai duties. Tadakuni easily goes down in history as one of douchiest daimyō of the Edo Period.
[x] In an attempt to bolster the economy, he thought prohibiting people from buying luxury items would be a good idea. Here is the link to the Wikipedia page on “idiot.”
[xi] Don’t worry about the meaning of the kanji, which literally mean “increasing/adding darkness.” Like most religious terminology, Buddhist kanji is more or less gibberish.
[xii] Just a reminder, the Go-Sanke were the three families that could provide an heir to the shōgun family were Mito, Kii, and Owari).
[xiii] If none of this is ringing a bell, please refer to my article on the topic.
[xiv] But wait, you said Buddhist term, so why is there a Shintō shrine here? I’ve talk about this before, but you can catch up here.
[xv] The problems derive from the fact that the Edo Period locations in question and the modern place names don’t quite align.
[xvi] Kichijō-ji is a story unto itself – see here.
[xvii] Some people say the shrine stood where the station stands today. The kanji for the shrine is myōga (ginger) not “divine protection.” Also, why is it now preserved 30 minutes away? Kichijō-ji claims that the Myōga Inari has always been in their precinct. Here’s where we start to realize the areas are connected, but there’s no solid evidence for any of there explanations. Arrrrrrrrrrrgh!!!!
[xviii] By the way, praying doesn’t do anything. JapanThis does not endorse praying to cure diseases. We highly recommend you see a competent doctor.
[xix] I bet a cream works better for that.
[xx] The original writing contains the kanji 坂 saka hill, but if written sloppily looked like 大士反 which the new Meiji government interpreted as “great samurai uprising.” Clearly, they didn’t like this one.
[xxi] But it’s really much more complicated than that.
[xxii] If my gene analogy is off, sue me. I sucked at genetics in high school and willfully forgot everything.
[xxiii] His name is difficult, but most people call him Bakin these days. His real name was 滝沢興邦 Takizawa Okikuni, but wrote under the name 曲亭馬琴 Kyokutei Bakin. I don’t know anything about him, but my Japanese sources refer to him variably as Takizawa Bakin and Kyokutei Bakin. I think Bakin is just easier to use. If you want to know more about Japanese names prior to the Meiji Restoration, check out this article.
[xxiv] btw, 無宗教 mushūkyō means non-religious/secular as opposed to 無神論 mushinron atheism. Yours truly prefers mushinron.

What does Haneda mean?

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on January 24, 2014 at 3:23 am

Haneda Machi (Wing Field Town)

Haneda Anamori Inari Shrine in the late Meiji or Taisho Period.

Haneda Anamori Inari Shrine in the late Meiji or Taisho Period.

It may sound familiar. It may look familiar. But you will never find this city on a map of Japan.

That’s because this city doesn’t exist anymore. It was abolished in 1947 when 大森区 Ōmori-ku Ōmori Ward and 蒲田区 Kamata-ku Kamata Ward were merged into present day 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward. 3 humble postal codes are all that remain of this obscure Edo Period fishing village: 羽田 Haneda, 羽田旭町 Haneda Asahi-chō, and 羽田空港 Haneda Kūkō.

In 1818, a major shrine called 穴守稲荷神社 Anamori Inari Jinja Anamori Inari Shrine was built here. There were some other Inari shrines scattered throughout the area and since they came to a grand total of seven, someone got the idea of making a 七福稲荷巡りShichi Fukuinari Meguri Pilgrimage of the 7 Lucky Inari Shrines. At the beginning of the year, I spoke about how common courses for the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck are. Well, I know Inari became an extremely popular kami with the common people during the Edo Period, but this is the only 7 Lucky Inari course that I’ve ever heard of. (Of course, if there are more of these, I’d love to hear about it!)

Anyhoo, the area was just an obscure backwater until…


They built an airport here.

Haneda Airport.

Above, I mentioned 3 postal codes; the last one is the airport. And that area takes up the bulk of what was once 羽田町 Haneda Machi Haneda Town. That is to say, the town was more or less bulldozed over and everyone was relocated elsewhere[i].

If you want to read about the history of Haneda Airport – which is actually a pretty interesting story in and of itself[ii]I’ll direct you to the English Wikipedia page which seems pretty thorough in my humble estimation.


Map of the Haneda Shichi Fuku Inari

Map of the Haneda Shichi Fuku Inari.
Notice the river drawn vertically. That’s the Ebitori River.
Note the river drawn horizontally. That’s the Tama River.
Gonna talk about those again in a minute, mkay?

Ready! Set! Etymologize!

Now let’s talk about where this name came from, which, after all, is pretty much the only reason anyone comes here.

First, I’d like to give a little background. Today, Haneda is part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to the Tōkyō Metropolis. It was never part of Edo. Under the classical administrative system, this was 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province. The area was not a han domain, rather it fell under the direct control of the shōgunate[iii]. Until the 1950’s and 1960’s, the area had been, since time immemorial, a fishing village of little consequence.

Kantō place names start coming into the historical record in a sort of haphazard “abundance” for the first time in the Heian Period – but this particular area was in a dark age of sorts. There doesn’t seem to have been much activity here during the Kamakura Period – which is when we usually start getting solid information on place names in the Kantō area. The next big burst of information usually comes with the ascendancy of the Late Hōjō, but alas, this area gets skipped over (except for a passing reference which I’ll get to in a minute).

It’s not until the Tokugawa Period when we get any sort of reliable information on the area. Up to this point the area is more or less recognized as 羽田村 Haneda Mura Haneda Village. With the creation of 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō Prefecture in the late 1860’s came the arrival of modern census-taking, modern map making, and – thankfully – modern record keeping.

But before that time in this area, we’re probably looking at a place name that went through a number of changes. The phonemes themselves could have changed, the kanji representing the phonemes could have changed, and such willy-nilly kanji-use could have been replaced by other kanji later – also willy-nilly. So, yes, once again, take everything, and I mean, everything, with a grain of salt.


Japanese Flight Attendants at Haneda Airport in the 60's.

JAL Flight Attendants at Haneda Airport in the 60’s.

So, here we go!

Theory 1
“Haneda” is a reference to where the inlets of the Pacific Ocean met the Tamagawa River.
The idea was that はね met :

muddy splash
(water) brushing up against (against the shore)

Fields (ie; the land being splashed upon or brushed upon)

This actually seems to be one of the most popular theories. The first kanji is rarely used in Modern Japanese place names[iv]. The second kanji is plain rarely used. Let’s file this under “not so crazy, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

This torii marks the original location of Haneda Anamori Shrine (the shrine was removed to make room for the airport). You can see the Tama River in the background.

This torii marks the original location of Haneda Anamori Shrine (the shrine was removed to make room for the airport). You can see the Tama River in the background.

Theory 2

The area was famous for 半田 handa solder (heating up metals to melting point and fusing them). I couldn’t find many references to this business in the area, so who knows.

The story goes that in the old Kantō dialects, はんだ handa solder/pewter was pronounced はねだ haneda. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure the kanji 半田 are ateji[v]. So, if this etymology is true, it’s referencing a very ancient Japanese word and any kanji attached to it were added post hoc. Let’s file this under “adventures in ateji.”

I've got no pictures for this theory. But, hey, here's a picture of a cloud that looks like a dick.

I’ve got no pictures for this theory.
But, hey, here’s a picture of a cloud that looks like a dick.

Theory 3

OK, this is a kind of a stretch, because I probably can’t provide you with a visual for this, but, when viewed from the sea, the 海老取川 Ebigtori-gawa Ebitori River[vi] was split in two by the fields (). The fishermen said it had a shape that looked like a bird with its hane wings spread as if about to take flight. Let’s file this under “unlikely.”

Aerial shot of Haneda Airport. The bulk of the current airport is built on landfill that didn't exist during the Edo Period so there's no way to confirm this theory now.  I'm too lazy to pull out an old map because this theory sounds like BS. But from the air, you can see how various inlets split off into new rivers. I guess that could look like a bird's wings. Just not sure how you'd see it from a boat.

Aerial shot of Haneda Airport.
The bulk of the current airport is built on landfill that didn’t exist during the Edo Period so there’s no way to confirm this theory now.
I’m too lazy to pull out an old map because this theory sounds like BS.
But from the air, you can see how various inlets split off into new rivers.
I guess that could look like a bird’s wings. Just not sure how you’d see it from a boat.

Theory 4

This one is a total déjà vu, but it’s Totally Tōkyō®. First, let’s compare Akabane and Akabanebashi to this one. It’s said that the area was famous for its hani clay (for pottery, etc). In the local dialect, はに hani was pronounced はね hane. Completely plausible and consistent with other place name origins in the region. Let’s file this under “my preferred theory.”

"Haniwa" (the "hani" means "read clay") are ancient pottery or modern pottery done in the ancient style made of, yup, red clay.

“Haniwa” (the “hani” means “clay”) are ancient pottery or modern pottery done in the ancient style made of, yup, red clay.

Theory 5

The final one isn’t really a theory at all. It’s more of a half-assed observation.

This “theory” states that because fields () were so common in this part of Ebara-gun, many place names in the area included the kanji which means field.

OK, sure. But you can find place names and family names[vii] all over Japan with the kanji in them. And if we wanted to see if there was a particular trend for using that kanji here, we’d need to do some heavy statistical research that just sounds waaaaaaay too boring to me. Not to mention, this theory doesn’t say anything about the first part of the name. Let’s file this under, “not thought out very well.”

At ease, soldier.

The Mac Daddy himself.
“At ease, soldier.”
Haneda airport’s first real expansion effort was begun by the Supreme Allied Command during the American Occupation of Japan.

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[i] Of course, this didn’t all happen at once. The original airfield was a modest fraction of what it is today. The bulk of eviction and development was initiated by the Supreme Allied Command under General MacArthur. The Americans didn’t just evict a bunch of people, though. The area had been thoroughly devastated by firebombing and so most of the people were probably happy to get the hell out of the rubble and move to the new Haneda area which was fresh for development.

[ii] Although, its official story begins in 1931, it had become Japan’s major airport by 1938. But even just a quick look at the planes flying in and out and the size of the airfield bares testament to just how technologically unprepared for WWII Japan actually was. Wow.

[iii] If I’m not mistaken – and please correct me if I’m wrong – this was called 天領 ten’ryō and referred to lands that didn’t fall under the control of daimyō, but were nevertheless obviously part of the 天下 tenka the realm. So these lands traditionally fell under direct imperial control, but in the Edo Period they fell under control of the shōgun and his direct retainers. Basically they were worthless fiefs in the boonies. It seems like there were many ways to categorize these types of fiefs, so today a general term 幕府領 bakufu-ryō “shōgunal territory” is used.

[iv] A quick Google search only turned up 6 place names across Japan that use .

[v] The literal meaning is “half a field” which doesn’t mean shit when talking about blacksmithing.

[vi] Interestingly enough, this river’s name means the “the river where we pull up some delicious-ass shrimp.”

[vii] And apparently words (I’m looking at you, 半田 handa solder).

Tokyo Train Line Names

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on December 12, 2013 at 5:00 am

Tokyo Train Line Names

The Tokyo train system is probably the best in the world. This may not even be a complete map (or at least the JR Lines don't seem to be labeled indivdually....)

The Tokyo train system is probably the best in the world.
This may not even be a complete map (or at least the JR Lines don’t seem to be labeled indivdually….)

2012 is nearing its end and my work and private life are getting busier and busier. I apologize for the drop in the frequency of posts, but a brother’s gotta pay the bills. Also, it’s getting colder and Mrs. JapanThis! needs some warming up in bed. Heaters in Tōkyō don’t really cut it at night, if you know what I mean. But the fact of the matter is that I have no time for anything right now. So today I picked a topic that was kind of easy[i].

Most of the train lines in Tōkyō have names based on whatever major area they originated/terminated – or at least stopped at. For example, the Marunouchi Line’s most important stations were in the former Marunouchi (Daimyō Alley) and the Yamanote Line connected centers of the “new Yamanote.[ii]”  Some of the more ambitious, longer train lines have names that describe their start/stop points in general terms. This type of name usually reflects the tendency of the Japanese language to make new matches out of existing kanji.

Most of these names are self-evident to the Japanese, especially people who live and/or work in and around Tōkyō. But many of these names may be slightly mysterious to foreigners.

Let’s take a look at these train line names, shall we?

Oh sorry, you must be this tall to get on this ride:

sen line

That kanji is generally tacked on to every train line, so I’ll leave it out of the explanations below. No sense in beating a dead horse.

OK, let’s dig in!!!!


Nanboku Sen (North-South Line)

nan south
hoku north

This is one of the easiest names that I’m going to present today.
This train literally runs from the south to the north – it runs from
品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward to 北区 Kita-ku Kita Ward (literally the “north ward”).

Shinagawa is so south it borders on Edo Bay. Kita is so north that it borders on Saitama Prefecture.

If you’re ever lost looking at a map of the vast train system in Tōkyō, you can use this line as an anchor.





Keihin-Tōhoku Sen (Tōkyō-Yokohama & East-North Line)

In central Tōkyō, this combined JR East line is best known by this name but it is, in fact, 2 separate train routes, with a main route running through T

The name is interesting because it’s made of two abbreviations:

hoku north

This name has a dual purpose: it could refer to a train that goes from the East to the North; it could refer to a train that goes from the Eastern (Capital) to the North; and it could refer to Tōhoku region in general. In this case, it’s a combination of the first two.

kei the capital
hin the coast

京浜 Keihin “Tōkyō and Yokohama” is a thing. This is a word that all Japanese people will understand. There is a long standing tradition of creating these kinds of words. Here are a few similar examples that all Japanese would instantly recognize:

日米 Nichibei Japan and America
日朝 Nicchō Japan and North Korea
日韓 Nikkan Japan and South Korea
日中 Nicchū Japan and China
薩長 Sacchō Satsuma and Chōshū
阪神 Hanshin Ōsaka and Kobe

The combined name represents the combined distance of the whole route. Basically this is a train that goes from Yokohama → Tōkyō then from Tōkyō (east) → Saitama (north). It doesn’t get much more descriptive than that. Thank you very much, JR East. We love you.

This one is heading to Sengaku-ji. Probably in honor of Keanu Reeves new abomination.

This one is heading to Sengaku-ji.
Probably in honor of Keanu Reeves new abomination.

Keikyū Dentetsu (Tōkyō to Narita Electrified Line)

First I want to say that the general word for train in Japanese is 電車 densha. This word literally means “electric vehicle.” But the actual dictionary word for train is 列車 ressha, literally “line/parade” + “vehicle.”  There are two words I think Meiji Era people would have recognized[iii]:  the first is 機関車 kikansha steam locomotive – this would have been a luxury train linking cities that already had or were developing intense trade routes. The second is 馬車鉄道 basha tetsudō horse powered street cars/trolleys, these linked local urban centers and served the function of the modern subways/trains. Most of Meiji Era Japan would have been familiar with the steam locomotives that brought goods in and out of their small towns, but in a massive urban center like Tōkyō (bolstered by the bustling international port of Yokohama[iv]) people became more and more dependent on horse drawn lines. As steam locomotives fell out of use and more and more train lines became electrified, the term densha became more common. Even today an エスエル SL steam locomotive would probably be referred to as a 電車 densha electric train by the average person, though technically 列車 ressha generic train or 汽車 kisha steam train would be more appropriate as there is no electrification.


We’ve established that 京浜 keihin is a quick way to say “Tōkyō and Yokohama.”

京浜急行電鉄株式会社 Keihin Kyūkō Dentetsu Kabushiki-gaisha Tōkyō-Yokohama Express Railroad (official company name) got shortened to 京浜急行 Keihin Kyūkō Tōkyō-Yokohama Express which in turn got shortened to 京急 Keikyū Tōkyō Express (literal meaning “Tōkyō Fast”). Not a fan of the train line, but I’m a big fan of the name!

For those who are interested, this line runs from Shinagawa to Miura Kaigan. The Black Ships have a connection to Shinagawa and Miura Anjin is inextricably linked to the Miura Coast near Yokohama.


Keisei Sen (T
ōkyō-Narita Line)

kei the capital
sei Narita (city made famous by its airport)

I hate the Keisei Line. Let it be known.

It’s mediocre at best when compared to other train lines. That said, it’s convenient and it’s not so crowded. It always runs on time… ok… I shouldn’t hate on this train. I just hate sitting on local trains when I have to go to the airport or come home from a long 14 hour trip…. Also the Keisei Line has this horribly creepy pedo-panda that stares at you. Begone pedo-panda!

Keisei pedo-panda

Keisei pedo-panda

But the name means “the line that links the Capital with Narita.” That’s an easily understood name.

I’d still rather take the Skyliner (which is also a Keisei line, by the way). It’s one of my favorite trains in Japan. Going to the airport on the cheap is one thing, but coming home should be done in luxury.


Tōzai Sen (East-West Line)

西 sai west

So obviously this train line connects the East and West.

But you may have noticed that the directions are placed in orders unnatural in native English. In English, we have a set pattern, North-South, East-West. I’m not sure if that’s true in all countries, but in America that’s how I memorized it. This train connects Funabashi in Chiba (East) with Nakano (West).

The Tobu-Tojo Line is pretty complicated. I don't use it.

The Tobu-Tojo Line is pretty complicated.
I don’t use it.

Sen (Eastern Musashi – Going to the Capital Line)

This name is pretty interesting, I think. It’s a combined train line so I’m going to discuss the merged areas that bear a merged name.

The first portion of the name is 東武 Tōbu. This would combines two kanji we see time and time again here at JapanThis!.

east (also implies Tōkyō)
bu, mu Musashi Province

The area originally served by this train line was in Eastern Musashi[v]. The original plan was to connect eastern Gunma Prefecture with Tōkyō. The traditional name of that area was 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province. The province had an abbreviated name 上州Jōshū.

Kōzuke (Gunma Prefecture)

As the names of the old provinces faded into oblivion in common memory and plans to connect Gunma Prefecture with Tōkyō by this train line were abandoned, the word Tōjō took on a new meaning.

east (implies Tōkyō)
up (ie; going to the capital)

The idea being that this train line brought rural and suburban areas into the capital.

This word 東上 tōjō is generally understood as “proceeding to the capital.” And by capital, I mean Tōkyō. Remember, for much of the pre-modern Era “the capital” was a somewhat ambiguous term. “Going to the capital” was generally described by a particular verb: 上京する jōkyō suru:

up (ie; going to the capital)
kyō the capital

Since the emperor moved to Edo-Tōkyō in 1868 the term 上京 jōkyō going to the capital has been generally understood as “going to Tōkyō.” Before Meiji Era, this term generally referred to wherever the emperor lived (Nara and then Kyōto). In the late Edo Period this term seems to have been applied to both Kyōto and Tōkyō, much to the chagrin of the foreign powers hoping to establish trade relations with Japan. The foreign embassies had a lot of problems figuring out what Japanese people meant when they referred to “the capital.” The real power was in Edo with the shōgun, but there was this pesky problem with the emperor back in Kyōto…

At any rate, while jōkyō ambiguously refers to going to a capital, tōjō ambiguously refers to going to the east (with an implicit understanding of Tōkyō). This has ensured that feelings aren’t hurt and that traditional east-west rivalries can be maintained. This makes for good baseball – trust me.


Fukutoshin Sen (Second City Line)

This one confused me for a while because I wasn’t sure how to render the name into English. There’s a famous comedy club in Chicago called Second City. I think that it’s good way to render this name.

都心 toshin heart of the city
fuku second, vice-, sub-,

都心 toshin means the heart of the city. 副 fuku is a prefix that’s added to words to mean second. Some other fuku words are 副社長 fuku-shachō vice-president, 副局長 fuku-kyokuchō vice-commander (this was Hijikata Toshizō’s title in the Shinsengumi), and 副将軍 fuku-shōgun vice-shōgun (this was Mito Kōmon’s title).

Well, if this name refers to some mysterious “second city,” that begs the question, “where the hell is the first city?” This is a great question because it brings up another Japanese word that has roughly the same meaning as fuku-toshin: 新都心 shin-toshin new city center. By the way, part of my difficulty with rendering these words into English is the fact that most dictionaries render them both as “sub-center.” Most of this confusion is based in the rampant urban sprawl from the area that was once Edo areas out into other portions of the Tōkyō Metropolitan Area and even into the boarding prefectures.

Here’s the real deal:

Ōtemachi & Marun
heart of the city
(located in the heart of Edo)
Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Ueno/Asakusa, Kinshich
ō, Kameido, Ōsaki
sub-centers (second cities)
(located in the outskirts of Edo)
Saitama City, Chiba Makuhari
sub-centers (new cities)
(located waaaaay out there)

Why does it have this name? Because it connects Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro and Wakō (Saitama) – all of which are sub-centers of Tōkyō. Tōkyō is a crowded-ass place. It needs sub-centers to alleviate the commuter traffic and overcrowding. This line was developed with these sub-centers in mind.


Saikyō Sen (Saitama-Tōkyō Line)

sai Saitama
kyō the capital (Tōkyō)

Easy enough to understand from the kanji alone. This train line connects Tōkyō and Saitama. It originates in Ōsaki (the outskirts of Edo) and terminates in Ōmiya (modern Saitama).


Sōbu Sen (Sōbu Line)

This is my favorite train line name because it’s the most historical… at least in terms of its historical linguistic charm. It’s made of two kanji that I hope long time readers of JapanThis! are all familiar with.

mu Musashi (ie; Edo-Tōkyō)

Wait a second? Why does 下総 Shimōsa mean 千葉 Chiba?

Well, Chiba Prefecture is a modern construct. The traditional name of the province was Shimōsa[viii].  While Chiba Prefecture maintains its traditional lameness with a vengeance, it actually carries on a lot of Edo Period legacies. The National Museum of Japanese History is there. The city of 佐原 Sawara is there. I’ve said before that Edo was like a Venice of the East and Sawara is said to be like a Little Edo.

And with that, I have a real THANK YOU that I have to say to everyone who reads my silly, nerdy blog.

You all freaking rule!


You rule.

(I won’t be able to write a new article until after New Year’s. Will you forgive me for that?)

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[i] Don’t worry! I’m stockpiling a massive list for 2014. Next year’s going to be so much better than this year.
[ii] I need to talk more about the fluid nature of the term “Yamanote” later. But for now, that’s enough.
[iii] And I could be wrong about this…
[iv] Remember, while Edo kept itself closed off to international traffic they relegated business to the nearby Yokohama. Yokohama might still just be a minor Japanese port city had the shōgunate not maintained its prohibition on maritime traffic in and out of Edo Bay.
[v] What was Musashi, you ask? There’s an app for that!
[vi] I took the liberty of investigating why  さいたま市  Saitama-shi Saitama City is written in hiragana, while 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture is written in kanji. Saitama City is actually a collection of cities that were united to create a new urban center (a new sub-center, if you will). At that time they wanted to distinguish the city from the prefecture visually. Also they thought it gave a softer, more inviting image. So it’s basically just a random decision.
[vii] This kanji doesn’t mean “Chiba.” The reality is in medieval Japan this area was known as 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province and there was also a 上総国 Kazusa no Kuni Kazusa Province. The latter being the upper territory and the former being the lower.
[viii] See my article on Ryōgoku for a little more insight into this issue.

What does Toranomon mean?

In Japanese History on November 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Toranomon (Tiger Gate)



Toranomon is an area in Tōkyō that is known to have been named after one of the gates of Edo Castle. The gate and the moat and bridge system that made up the area no longer exist. But the name persists officially and any Tōkyōite should be familiar with where the area is.

There are various ways to write the name.

虎門 tora no mon classical “Chinese” writing
虎之御門 tora no go-mon high style writing common on Edo Period maps
(where space allowed)
虎之門 tora no mon casual writing during Edo Period,
affected classical style until the Shōwa Period
虎ノ門 tora no mon Meiji to Shōwa style, used officially by the train and bus companies; the most common writing
虎の門 tora no mon casual style before the advent of predicative text which usually suggests the spelling used by train and bus companies.
no! tora no mon the style I use to annoy people


There are roughly 8 distinct theories that I’ve found – all of varying degrees of dubiety.

It’s based on 四神思想 shijin sōō, a Chinese precept that stated that the 4 seasons and 4 compass directions were controlled by 4 distinct deities. Those gods were:

玄武 genbu the black tortoise, guardian of the north
朱雀 suzaku the vermilion sparrow, guardian of the south
青龍 seiryū/seiryō the blue dragon, guardian of the east
白虎 byakko the white tiger, guardian of the west

Pre-modern Japanese cities, or at least castles and religious buildings, were often laid out according to Chinese principals of 風水 sui feng shui and other similar mythologies. This theory states that the tora tiger is a reference to the White Tiger.

This surprised me because Toranomon is actually the southernmost gate of Edo Castle. So I did a little more research and I found out that the White Tiger and Blue are considered polar opposites in feng shui. Among other things, the Blue Dragon represents the left-hand side, which the White Tiger represents the right-hand side.

This also seems strange because if say north is the top and south is the bottom and the southernmost portion of the castle is the “front,” Toranomon is still south (not west) and just a tad to the left. In fact, if we continue this assumption, there is handful of other gates on the “right side” of the castle – including the actual front gate, 大手門 Ōtemon[i].

But that’s a freaking stretch. Another twist on this theory states that the gate was facing the right. But again, I doubt it was the only gate facing “the right.” And in architectural terms, left and right are relative terms. Only north, south, east, and west are consistent.

So this theory is baffling to me. I’m not sure how it works. If anyone has a clue what’s going on here, let me know. I’d love to know.

Clearly this person has never seen a tiger before.....

Clearly this person has never seen a tiger before…..

The explanation of the 4 gods isn’t all wasted because the second theory maintains that the gate was decorated with a white tiger, clearly a reference to the White Tiger of Chinese mythology. But again, my skeptic radar is flashing again. Is it “clearly a reference” to the White Tiger? I’m not an art history specialist, but tigers (of any color) are common in formal Japanese paintings of the day. The White Tiger of Chinese mythology has certain distinguishing features, but even at that… where is this decorated gate? We have no picture or painting of it. Also, I don’t think wooden castle gates were generally decorated – at least not like temples and funerary gates.  The Bakumatsu/Meiji Era photo I have of the gate doesn’t look very flashy. It’s pretty basic.

The original gate didn’t survive the Meiji Era, so unless there are some fantastic photos of this gate with a tiger on it, I’m not completely sold on this theory either.

The only tiger remaining in the area is this little fellow. And I think this person hasn't seen many real tigers either...

The only tiger remaining in the area is this little fellow.
And I think this person hasn’t seen many real tigers either…

On first coming across this explanation in Japanese, I was totally confused. The translation was “It’s related to tigers, of which it’s said that even if it goes a thousand ri it will return a thousand ri.”[ii]


Well, it turns out this is an old proverb.
In Japanese, it’s 千里ゆくとも無事にて千里を帰る senri yuku to mo buji nite senri wo kaeru. It’s something that was said of tigers (not indigenous to Japan) a little like people in the Anglosphere might say “an elephant never forgets” (even if elephants are not indigenous to their area).

There are 2 interpretations of this proverb:
1) A tiger is an agile and strong animal that hunts with purpose. Even if it travels a long distance on the hunt, it has the determination to walk the same distance back.
2) A tiger is an agile and strong animal that hunts with purpose. But after hunting so far away, it will always return to its young with the fruits of its labor.

This is an interesting theory, but I don’t see how it bears any connection to this particular gate. Maybe if I knew what the original purpose of this gate was, it might help. But this is a pretty random story, in my humble fucking opinion.

A variation on the previous theory is this one (and it’s not much better):
Right before Ōta Dōkan marched off to battle, he stopped here and quoted the proverb 
千里行くとも千里帰るは虎 senri iku tomo senri kaeru ha tora “Tigers, baby. They go the distance and come the fuck back like a boss.”

This is all well and good, but my understanding is that Ōta Dōkan’s fortress was located north of this area near the 大手門 Ōtemon main gate. I don’t see much reason to think he’d be using a gate that was so far from his residence (or that any gate at all existed here at the time). Again, I’m not a castle expert, so if anyone can shed light on this, let me know.

Real white tigers...

Real white tigers…

This was the location of a massive cage that held a tiger given to the shōgunate by emissaries from Korea. The Tokugawa viewed the Korean embassies as paying tribute to the shōgunate (or at least wanted to project it as a tribute).

Well, there were 12 Korean missions to Edo during the Tokugawa Period. The problem with this theory is simple. I can’t find any example of a tiger being imported to the capital. There were diplomatic missions from Korea at the time.

I mentioned in my article on Shinbashi that the area used to be called 芝口 Shibaguchi and that there was a 芝口御門 Shibaguchi Go-Mon Shibaguchi Gate. That gate was built in anticipation of the 1720[iii]. In 1734, the area was ravaged by a fire and never rebuilt[iv]. The Shibaguchi Gate ruins are a short walk from Toranomon. There could be a possible connection.

But a real tiger would have been a real attention-getter in the capital city of Edo – especially if it was located in front of the gate of the outer moat where the townspeople could see it. There doesn’t seem to be any record of this, at least not that I’ve seen.

The only thing I can think of is this: if the tiger died soon, the shōgunate would suffer some embarrassment so they’d try to write this one out of the history books. But if it were “written out of history,” I don’t think it would have persisted as a place name.

Another theory I saw that was related to Korea, which also has nothing to back it up, suggests that Korean emissaries brought a statue of a tiger that was installed in the area. Again, there is an association with Korea missions in this general area, but where’s the statue? Not a single picture or painting remains.

This is taken from an Edo Era map of the area. On the right side you can clearly see the Toranomon gate and mitsuke. Next to that is the office of the Naito clan, their upper residence is located to the left.

This is taken from an Edo Era map of the area.
On the right side you can clearly see the Toranomon gate and mitsuke.
Next to that is the office of the Naito clan, their upper residence is located to the left.

The last theory I’ve found is this… There were many 虎の尾 Tora no O tiger’s tail (a kind of flowering plant) growing in the area on the grounds of the residence of the Naitō family[v] who lived inside the gate. I checked some Edo Period maps and the Naitō clan possessed two major properties just within the gate, one of which was their Upper Residence, but they had building for government affairs right next to the gate. But sadly, again, I don’t know how to confirm this botanically-based etymology. The geography matches up, but there’s no way to confirm the presence of these plants.

The second variation is that on the Naitō property there was a particularly spectacular  sakura cherry blossom tree that had the shape of a lion’s tail.

Tora no o is a kind of sakura (cherry blossom) but it's also a kind of flowering plant....

Tora no o is a kind of sakura (cherry blossom) but it’s also a kind of flowering plant….

The etymologies say it was  cherry blossoms that grew in the area, but this unique plant has the same name.

The etymologies say it was cherry blossoms that grew in the area, but this unique plant has the same name.

The gate was demolished/knocked down in 1873 (Meiji 6) but the name continued to be used for the area, in particular the main intersection (many Tōkyō neighborhoods derive their place names from old local landmarks that persist in intersection names that became train station and bus stops in the Meiji and Taishō Eras).

In 1949 the area got the official name 虎ノ門町 toranomon-chō. In 1977, it received an official postal code under the name 虎ノ門 Toranomon.

So there you have it. 8 theories on the origins of this place name and unfortunately I have no way of confirming a single one of them. The name of the gate seem firmly in place since the expansion of Edo Castle under the Tokugawa, but the all of the above etymologies are clearly suspect. However, I hope I might be allowed to be so bold as to throw this idea out there:  is it possible that there is no story behind this name at all. They might have just chosen the name because the gate needed a name and since tigers are bad ass they chose to give the gate a bad ass name? I mean this was a samurai government after all. Samurai loved bad ass things like tigers and dragons and shit. Just my two cents.

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[i] I haven’t covered Otemachi yet, but I have covered Marunouchi.

[ii] 千里 senri 1000 ri = about 2,440 miles, but was generally used to mean “a long distance” without any specific numerical meaning attached to it.

[iii] 1719? I have conflicting dates for this mission.

[v] I mentioned the Naitō in my article on Shinjuku. They were originally from 岡崎 Okazaki but later were the lords of of 高遠藩 Takatō Han Takatō Domain (located in modern Nagano). Their lower residence in Shinjuku became 新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen Shinjuku Gyoen National Park.

UPDATE: This is a different branch of the Naitō clan. These were the lords of 延岡藩 Nobeoka Han Nobeoka Domain (in present day Miyazaki Prefecture (Kyūshū).

What does Ogikubo mean?

In Japanese History on October 21, 2013 at 3:43 am

Ogikubo (Silvergrass Basin)

Ogikubo's abandoned residential complex. Tokyo's mini-Detroit was demolished earlier this year.

Ogikubo’s abandoned residential complex. Tokyo’s mini-Detroit was demolished earlier this year.

The western terminus of the 猿ノ内線 Marunouchi-sen Marunouchi Line is a station called 荻窪 Ogikubo. Many Tōkyōites know this station as a hub station that will take them to Kichijōji. The entire area is official called Ogikubo and there are similarly named postal codes and train stations in the immediate vicinity.

First let’s look at the kanji:

ogi silvergrass
kubo basin

In 708[i], a 修行僧 shūgyōsō ascetic monk[ii] was carrying a statue of 観音 Kan’non the goddess of mercy on his back[iii] and happened to pass through the area. Mysteriously, the statue grew heavier and heavier until the monk couldn’t carry it anymore. He thought this image of Kan’non was linked to this area by fate and so he built a humble shelter in the area. To make a thatched roof, he harvested 荻 ogi silvergrass and used it to top off his tiny abode in which he enshrined the goddess. Ogi, as you may or may not have guessed, is a grass indigenous to parts of Asia – including Japan.

The small hut was called 荻堂 Ogidō.

Some funky monk-y babies

Some funky monk-y babies

This is a play on words. A grass hut is 草堂 sōdō, but 堂 dō also is used in Buddhist words to refer to sacred buildings. So Ogidō means something like “Silvergrass Temple[iv]” – or at the very least, “a place of contemplation that is made of silvergrass.”

Another theory says that the area was a small 窪地 kubochi basin covered in ogi (silvergrass). This derivation says the word is simply 荻 ogi (silvergrass) + 窪 kubo (basin). Silvergrass tends to grow in wetlands or near rivers; a basin would do the trick.


Real Japanese Ogi!!!!!


But Let’s Look at What’s Going on Here

The 善福寺川 Zenpukuji-gawa Zenpuku Temple River runs through the area which does, indeed, create a basin and this area may very well have been carpeted in silvergrass at one time.

Although the history isn’t well recorded, it is sometimes said that the largest landholder in this rural area had once been Zenpuku-ji[v]. The temple isn’t well attested except in place names; for example, 善福寺公園 Zenpukuji Kōen Zenpukuji Park and 善福寺川 Zenpukuji-gawa Zenpukuji River. Over the years the temple had waned in influence until it was insignificant. After it was destroyed by fire in the Edo Period it was never rebuilt. But the place names still remain. However, if there is a connection to Zenpuku-ji, it would be hard to prove since the temple no longer exists.

Zenpukuji Park

Zenpukuji Park

But let’s go back to the story of the monk carrying the statue of Kan’non. That story has been preserved by a small temple that still exists in the area, 光明院 Kōmyōin. The temple claims to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Ogikubo and that they are directly descended from the original thatched hut. Coincidentally, Kōmyōin happens to be located on the high ground above the Zenpukuji River basin. The primary object of worship is a 千手観音 Senju Kan’non thousand armed goddess of mercy. The temple claims that the area was named after the thatched hut.

One take on the 1000 armed Kan'non.

One take on the 1000 armed Kan’non.


Buddhist temples with statues of Kan’non are a dime a dozen, but if we combine the two derivations, it isn’t too big a stretch to assume that an ogidō (silvergrass temple) existed in or near an ogikubo (silvergrass basin). Which temple was truly associated with the area is etymologically irrelevant then[vi]. In this case, the only remaining question would be “Which came first, the place name or the temple name?”

My money is on the place name[vii].

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[i] I love how these monk or Buddha statue stories like to get detailed with precise years and stuff.

[ii] This is often translated as a “monk in training.” Both translations seem to be correct to my Buddhism-ignorant eyes. My understanding is that Buddhist monks in training had to live according to very austere rule and minimalistic living, often in temporary isolation; often begging – later they could forego the hard lifestyle. But some monks chose to live their whole lives in this way. I’m not sure which meaning is implied in this case.

[iii] Religious stories love little details; for example, “on his back,” and of all the Buddhas out there this one just happened to be Kan’non.

[iv] I also found references to 荻寺 Ogidera, literally Ogi Temple.

[v] Fans of the Bakumatsu may clamor and say that there is a Zenpuku-ji clear across town, near the bay. There are claims that the temple that once stood in Suginami Ward was related to the temple in Minato Ward. One theory in particular states that the area stretching from Edo Bay to modern Suginami Ward were once holdings of the same temple that were broken up during the violence of later ages. Others say these names are totally coincidental. “Hey, JapanThis!, which story do you believe?” And to that I will say this: “I don’t fucking know.”

[vi] While etymologically irrelevant, from an historical perspective it would be nice to know the truth.

[vii] Oh, the first station to bear the name Ogikubo was opened in 1891 (Meiji 24) and was located roughly in the middle of the now defunct 甲武鉄道 Kōbu Tetsudō Kōbu Railroad. The reason a station was put here in 荻窪村 Ogikubo Mura Ogikubo Village was that the town was located on the 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō Ōme Highway. This road was a supply road which originated in 内藤新宿 Naitō-Shinjuku and terminated in 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain (modern Yamanashi Prefecture).

10 Ways to Learn Japanese History

In Japanese History on October 8, 2013 at 5:17 pm

What is a good book about Japanese History?


I get a lot of private messages about the blog, and in the last month or two I’ve gotten a few that were asking more or less the same thing. Here’s one reader’s e-mail:[i]

I’m a JET living in Saitama and working in Tokyo. Sometimes I get lost reading your blogs because I don’t know the basics of Japanese history. Your Japanese Eras page is great, but sometimes I see other era names come up that I don’t recognize. I want to educate myself on Japanese History as a whole but I don’t know where to begin so can you recommend some books or websites for me to come to grips with Japan’s long history? I haven’t really studied Japanese either so I’m looking for English books.

This is a great question. And to everyone else who asked similar questions and I told to wait[ii], I’m going to answer all of your questions today.

When I started this blog, I wanted to explain Japan to foreigners in basic terms. If you go back and look at the earliest blogs, they were pretty simple and assumed the reader didn’t know anything. But as the focus has become more and more specialized, I’ve found it harder and harder to be general and beginner-friendly. I think I’ve gone past the point of no return on that one. But for those of you who are trying to keep up, this page will arm you with all the goodies you need to come up to speed in some ways.

japan a cultural history (book)

Japan: A Short Cultural History
George Bailey Samson

I picked this book up about 12 years ago while killing time at Penn Station in NYC. I had never read anything about Japan or Japanese history at the time. It was a cheap paperback that I could read on the train while commuting. I read it once during some summer commutes in NYC. A few years later, after learning a little more about Japan history and having visited Japan twice, I re-read it. It was even better the second time[iii]. I don’t have the book here with me in Japan, but I have fond memories of this book.

It was written in the 1930’s and I had no idea at the time that it was a classic survey of Japanese history; I was just looking for some light reading. So this is great, broad overview of the history of Japan. Because of its age, modern academics may level some criticism at this book, but for the beginner, it’s accessible, clear, and is a great launch pad into other areas of Japanese history and culture. I recommend you start here.

the life of tokugawa ieyasu (book)

The Life of Tokugawa Ieyasu
A.L. Sadler

This is another book I just picked up randomly. By this time, I could shop on the internet easily and I found a used copy and was delighted to find the locations of the Tokugawa shōguns’ graves in one of the indexes. No matter what long term fans of Japanese history think of this book, it pointed me in the right direction towards my goal of surveying all the Tokugawa shōguns’ graves; a goal I still haven’t attained (10 years later).

This book was first published in the 1930’s, so while scholars of today may have some bones to pick with it, it is a classic. Understanding Tokugawa Ieyasu is one of the keys to understanding the Edo Period, but the man himself barely lived in the Edo Period. He was very much a product of the late Sengoku Period and as such the door that he helped close very much affected the door he helped open. People who love Japanese history tend to get burned out on Ieyasu over time, so it’s best to learn as much as much about the dude as you can in the beginning. This book is a great place to start.

edo the city that become tokyo (book)

Edo, the City that Became Tokyo: An Illustrated History
Akira Naito

I’m recommending this book without having actually read it cover to cover. I don’t even own it. But I have seen it from time to time and what I saw looked like Coffee Table Book PLUS. And the PLUS would be “plus awesome.” It’s not a survey of Japanese history, but it is a survey of Edo-Tōkyō history, and as such, it’s relevant to JapanThis!.

I like pictures and maps and drawings to accompany historical writings (something most historians suck balls at doing – the pictures are always a lazy afterthought). That’s one of the reasons I try to include so many picture here. If you want pictures to enhance your history reading, you’re probably gonna dig this book.

the tea ceremony (book)

The Tea Ceremony
Sen’o Tanaka & Sendo Tanaka

My grandmother-in-law gave me this book. She’s a tea master to some elite families and I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying tea with her, but I haven’t undergone any training yet. That said, this book has helped me understand tea culture in Japan a lot. It especially helped me with my recent article on Yūrakuchō. It’s also helping me bond with my grandmother-in-law, which is fascinating.

This book really emphasizes the history and architectural and design elements of tea ceremony as a Japanese cultural phenomenon. It won’t really teach you how to do tea ceremony. But, of course, that’s the point. It’s an aesthetic. You’ll have to learn the art from an accomplished tea master. But this book will definitely prime you for the world you’re stepping into.

musui's story (book)

Musui’s Story
Katsu Kokichi

OK, I’m not even exaggerating when I say that this may be one of the best books in the world. Hands down. A middle class hatamoto (direct retainer of the shōgun) writes a book to his son about how to grow up and be a good samurai – a noble example of leading by example, which was the samurai’s role in the Edo Period – but in teaching said lesson he just tells crazy stories bragging about what a fuck up he was. Imagine a book written by your craziest friend that was just a bunch of “This one time, I was sooooo wasted that…” stories. Imagine those stories being in the late Edo Period – all with the premise of “Son, one day you’ll grow up and be a man. And I want you to learn from my mistakes. But, OMG, this other time, I went drinking and whoring in Yoshiwara and…”

Needless to say, Kokichi’s son grew up to be the legendary Katsu Kaishū who saved the Tokugawa, saved the city of Edo from destruction, saved Edo Castle, and assisted in a reasonably bloodless transition of power from shōgunate to imperial court.

The awesome thing about this book is it will shatter any romanticized ideals you may have about samurai. It humanizes them by showing you what daily life was like for middle class samurai families at the time right before Commodore Perry came and Japan fell into chaos. This is, quite literally, the calm before the storm. It’s fascinating and you won’t be able to put it down.


You wanna podcast? We gotta podcast!

You’d think there’d be a lot of podcasts about Japanese history, but there aren’t. But there are a few very unique and very awesome people who have pioneered the Japanese History podcast world. There are thousands of books on Japanese History but in this day and age some people don’t want to read or just don’t have the time. In that case, get your podcast on. I’m also going to talk about a few other online resources.


a short history of japan (podcast)

A Short History of Japan
Cameron Foster

First, I’d like to introduce A Short History of Japan which made for an awesome and fun survey of Japanese history from the obscure mythological beginnings of the Yamato Court up to an abrupt ending at the beginning of the Edo Period. I know that I’m not the only one who has been kept hanging since the podcast stopped.

This podcast is great for the beginner because the host, Cameron, doesn’t assume any previous knowledge of Japan or Japanese History. Nevertheless, he goes into detail on a number of issues[iv] that were awesome for me because if this were a book, my eyes would have glazed over. But in this format, it’s fantastic.


Samurai Archives

I’ve been referring to these guys for solid information on Japanese History since the first time I got interested in Japanese history. I kiss their collective asses regularly on JapanThis! – as anyone who actually clicks the embedded links I painstakingly add to every articles knows.

Originally a website featuring a wiki, original articles, reference materials, interviews and one of the nerdiest community forums I’ve ever seen, in recent years they started podcasting. Episodes 10-24 are a panel discussion-style survey of Japanese history from pre-historic times up to the unification of the realm under Toyotomi Hideyoshi[v]. This is an excellent place to start your path into Japanese History. The best thing is that these guys cite their sources, so if you find something you like, they’ll tell you where to get more material[vi].

If you’re looking for an awesome podcast that is still going, then this is the one for you. Since that initial survey they did, the podcast has covered a broad range of topics – often with a skeptical and un-romanticized view of old Japan[vii]. Many, but not all, episodes require a certain familiarity with the chronology and major events. But just by listening, you’ll start to get a feel for the world you’re stepping into. They have a decidedly academic but off the cuff approach. They’re undeniably the rock stars of Japanese History on the internet. I can’t recommend them enough.

japan world

Japan World
Chris Glenn

Recently, I’ve really been digging this guy’s site. Although it’s a bilingual site, for beginners, it’s probably a bit intimidating because the content is mostly Japanese. But if you’re interested in Japanese History, consider subbing to this RSS feed and think of that as a chance to improve your Japanese reading skills while still getting some quality interviews and articles in English, too.

This website is one to watch. I don’t think there’s been a website like this for Japan History yet. It’s run by one Chris Glenn who has a host of media credits and is involved in many efforts to spread Japanese culture far and wide.

wiki - history of japan



If you haven’t looked here yet, then maybe you should. In terms of a general chronology, Wikipedia isn’t half bad[viii]. All of the resources I mentioned above have much more interesting angles, but if you just need a quick crash course, then this is good.

Crash Course

Speaking of crash courses - here’s how Japanese history is generally viewed from a western, narrative view. The mispronunciations “eedo,” “bukoofoo,” and “tiyotomi hiday yoshi” plus the bizarre claim that the emperor abolished the bukoofoo and restored imperial power to himself make this well worth the watch[ix].

UPDATE: I knew the Samson and Sadler books would catch me some flak. These are both books I bought blindly years ago (and have fond memories of). They were some of the first books I ever bought on Japanese History… about 10 years ago, if my memory serves me well. I included disclaimers along the lines of “some modern academics may have problems with these books.” Well, sure enough, some did.

One of said academics who teaches a survey course of Japanese History is Mindy Landek. She has a great blog and a Twitter feed that I highly recommend.  Her substitutions were these:

These books could be replacements for the Samson book that I recommended.

As for a biography of Ieyasu, yes, I know Sadler’s 1930’s book must be outdated, but I haven’t read any more recent book on the topic. So if anyone else wants to recommend a bio of Ieyasu for beginners, please leave it in the comments below to share with us all.

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[i] They wouldn’t let me use their name, so I didn’t. If you send private messages, please let me know your preference, too.

[ii] Or I didn’t reply to (just because I’m busy, nothing personal, ok?)

[iii] Because I had more context.

[iv] The spread of Buddhism and the arrival of guns and gun powder come to mind.

[v] With a brief mention of Tokugawa Ieyasu at the end; the implied joke being that there were no real samurai in the Edo Period… an idea no doubt put forward by the inimitable Nate Ledbetter.

[vi] Something I should start doing… but can you imagine the amount of footnotes I have then?

[vii] While it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, there is a serious military perspective as well. One member, Nate, is a career military dude who brings the martial reality of the Sengoku Period through rational and skeptical analysis – something that is generally overlooked in Japanese History.

[viii] I wouldn’t trust them on specializations, including etymology.

[ix] If I were recommending a fun survey course of world history for high school kids, I would recommend this series because it’s fast paced, witty, and makes history look cool

Top 10 Japanese Songs of Summer 2

In Japan, Japanese Music on August 1, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Japanese Top 10 Songs of Summer (part 2)

Here I am. Rock me like a Hurricane.

Part 2

いちぬけ Ichinuke

Today we start off where we left off yesterday – with 地獄少女 Jigoku Shōjo Hell Girl. This song’s title means “one pull.” Although this phrase is dangerously close to the Japanese phrase for “to rub one out[i]”, it actually refers to the Hell Girl offering one pull of a string to take all of your sorrows away[ii]. It’s dark and sultry and… quite frankly, sexy. It’s also spooky as hell which makes it perfect for お盆 o-bon. So I think this is the best song to start off my next half of the list of top 10 summer songs for Japan.



金魚花火 Kingyo Hanabi

This is a song by Ōtsuka Ai, the title of which translates as Gold Fish Fireworks. Kingyo fireworks are actually a real thing. They a cluster of explosions that after being launched from boats, appear to “swim around” over the water. The water reflects the lights and the smoke is saturated with light.

Kingyo Hanabi ie; Goldfish Fireworks

Kingyo Hanabi
ie; Goldfish Fireworks

Anyone who has spent a summer in Japan, knows that all summer long, not only are there festivals, but there are also great firework displays all over the country. There are at least 12 major firework displays in the Tōkyō Metropolitan area worthy of the capital city. Some of these, for example the Sumidagawa Fireworks date back to the Edo Period. Needless to say, Japan takes its fireworks seriously. And fireworks tie into the Japanese love of 儚い hakanai the fleeting moment.


ジョイ  JOY

This song is by YUKI, if you don’t know her… I’ll just say that you should and that her pedigree comes from a group called Judy and Mary. Anyhoo, Judy and Mary are ancient history and to be honest YUKI could have gone that way, but as pop artists go in Japan, she holds a certain classic position as just being YUKI. For better or for worse.
This song was a single during my days as a resident of Japan. I arrived in January of 2005 just when the track was released and even though it was a winter release; the song was so big that it rode a wave of popularity well into the spring. The lyrics are great, I think, and it takes me back to my first year in Japan and because it’s so positive, I think it works as a perfect summer song. If you hear this song at the beach, everyone gets really super genki.

By the way, this is one of the most memorable videos of all J-Pop’s history. Probably everyone between 20 and 40 knows it… and if they don’t, you don’t want to know them.



リルラ リルハ  RiRuRa RiRuHa
This came out in March of 2005, my first year in Japan. The song was everywhere because it was used as in a Vodafone commercial – a company that doesn’t exist anymore in Japan[iii]. It was a massive hit and the song was in heavy rotation well into the spring and early summer. So again, I have great memories of this tune and because it’s so positive, I tend to associate it with summer barbecues by the river and drunken revelries on the beach.

The actual video isn’t available on YouTube[iv], but you can see it if you try this song at karaoke.
For the time being, here’s a live version of it.




This song has absolutely nothing to do with summer. It just rocks any time of the year. It’s by the only original “idol” act – an act which recently has been repeatedly imitated or outright ripped off in Japan and throughout Asia. I fucking love them and think their producer, Nakata Yasutaka, is a freaking genius with a capital “G.” Anyways, I couldn’t make a list of Japanese pop music without including Perfume. That would be sacrilege[v].


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[i] ie; male masturbation

[ii] By condemning another person to 地獄 jigoku hell for eternity.

[iii] Softbank bought them out.

[iv] Fuck you very much, traditional bullshit Japanese record companies. You suck because you haven’t left 1990. (Don’t get me started on the Japanese music business… a brother’s got opinions.)

[v] And we all know, Yours Truly would never commit sacrilege.

Top 10 Japanese Songs of Summer 1

In Japan, Japanese Music on August 1, 2013 at 2:03 am

Japanese Top 10 Songs of Summer (part 1)

Are you ready for summer Japanese-style?

Are you ready for summer Japanese-style?

This list is divided into 2 parts. The first part is a little more traditional, or at least songs that you’ll associate with summer because they only are heard in the summer or because they are about the summer. The second half is made of songs I think sounds awesome when chilling at the beach or a barbecue.


阿波よしこの Awa Yoshikono

This is the song the accompanies the most famous of the 盆踊り Bon Odori dances. The dance and this incarnation of the song originated in 徳島県 Tokushima-ken Tokushima Prefecture, the former 阿波国 Awa no Kuni Awa Province. Without a doubt, this song and its accompanying dance and costumes are the prevailing image of お盆祭り o-Bon Matsuri O-bon Festivals on 本州 Honshū, the main island of Japan. Summer in Japan is wicked hot and if you’re gonna spend all day outside sweating and eating and drinking, you might as well have this hypnotic music and dance and costumes to make the event more festive.

This video is of a stage performance of the dance. I chose this one because it was the clearest audio recording I could find with dancers who were pretty good. This performance is a little more stylized then what you would see at a festival, but you’ll get the idea.



The second video of an actual performance in Tokushima where you can see how the dance is done at a festival. It’s basically a parade. Throughout the main island, at local matsuri that have adopted the dance, it’s not uncommon for the dancers to invite partiers to join in the parade. I don’t think they do that in Tokushima… but I’ve never been so…



エイサー踊り Eisā Odori

First one thing; Eisā is the name of dance and not the song. I don’t know the name of the song.
This is a style of music and dance associated with Bon Odori that is from 沖縄 Okinawa. It’s freaking bad ass. Dudes with big ass banners lead two opposing “armies” of synchronized male drummers followed by cute girls in Okinawan yukata who “battle” each other. I’m not an expert but I think the “battle” is determined by which team can keep their rhythm better than the other team. If I team is getting confused by the other team’s conductor and tempo, they’ll back off to “re-group” and then “attack” again. I may be totally off on this – I’ve never even been to Okinawa – but it seems like that’s what’s going on.

When I first lived in Tōkyō, I lived in a small corner of 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward called 鍋横町 Nabeyoko-chō. They have an awesome small but local matsuri that I attended every year that I lived there and even now, I head back for this great neighborhood festival. Naturally, they have Awa Odori, but for whatever reason, they always feature Okinawa Eisā Odori too. So this style of Bon Odori has a special place in my heart as a great sound of summer in Japan.

From Nabeyoko-chō Matsuri 1:

If you see me or Mrs. JapanThis in either of this video, I wouldn’t be surprised.



夏祭り  Natsu Matsuri

OK, this is a pop song from 2000 by a girl band called Whiteberry[i]. The band is pure J-Pop, but there are some punk[ii] undertones, and somehow the managed to release a summer anthem that shows no sign of disappearing. The lyrics capture a quintessential summer romance that any person who’s lived in Japan should be able to recognize. It’s a celebration of young love, fireworks and, yes… the yearly summer festivals that everyone looks forward to – and everyone never forgets.



島人ぬ宝 Shimanchu nu Takara

This is a classic pop song by an Okinawan band called BEGIN. They mixed rock[iii] with traditional Okinawan elements… something that if I just read without listening would tell me, never listen to this. But I first heard this song in the winter at karaoke and suddenly found myself enchanted by the love of Okinawa that these guys had. The title is actually in the Okinawan Dialect[iv] and means “The Island People’s Treasure.” If you study Japanese, you may be interested to know that the ぬ nu in the title corresponds to the Standard Japanese の no. There, now you know as much Okinawan as I do.



あいぞめ Aizome

This is a song from a classic Japanese animation called 地獄少女 Jigoku Shōjo Hell Girl sung by the Japanese voice actress Nōtō Mamiko – who also voices the lead character. This is a weird one, but please, hear me out. O-bon is the season when the Japanese believe ancestral spirits return to their homelands to meet their families. Calling it a “Festival of the Dead” is a bit dramatic, but in the Edo Period, when family members could enjoy time off and be reunited in their ancestral homes with loved ones, they undertook the tasks of cleaning up the family graves and performing Buddhist ceremonies for the dead. As such, they were thinking about dead people a lot. The result was on hot nights, some clans would light 100 candles as the sun was setting and would supposedly tell 100 ghost stories. At the end of each story, a candle would be extinguished. By the time it was dark and you were just down to one last candle, you’d been talking about ghosts all night. When the last candle was put out, it was said a ghost would appear[v]. A lot of the imagery in Jigoku Shōjo centers around o-bon and similar creepy traditions, so I think this song fits in well with the O-Bon and Japanese summer tradition.




Part two is coming tomorrow.
Honk if you ready!

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[i] Not to be confused with Whitesnake.

[ii] I use “punk” in the very loosest of meanings… ie; a J-Pop meaning.

[iii] I use “rock” in the very loosest of meanings… ie; a J-Pop meaning.

[iv] I use “dialect” in the very loosest of meanings… ie; Okinawan is a separate language from Japanese, even if most Japanese don’t admit it.

[v] Life before TV… am I right? am I right?
Anyways, this kind of ghost story telling party was called 百物語怪談会 hyaku monogatari kaidankai 100 ghost stories party.

Samurai Archives Podcast (part 1)

In Japan, Japanese History on July 7, 2013 at 5:51 pm

So……… yeah. Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter may have seen my giddy posts about doing a podcast with some of the guys from Samurai Archives. I finally got to do it and although I was super nervous to talk with them, it actually was the most normal and natural thing ever. Three dudes geeking out on Japanese History.

It was awesome.

In the music business, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most inspiring people ever. Now, JapanThis has taken me into a totally other world, in which I am honored to be talking about history with a group of people who have been bringing Japanese History into the English speaking world since before I knew single kana.

Anyways, our conversation was recorded on their podcast and we talked so long, that there is actually a part two that I think will be released next week or the week after that. At any rate, of course, I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s the link to the show:

(I recommend subscribing because… well, if you read my blog, you’ll love the Samurai Archives Podcast even more. Most of the additional reading links I give for background information on JapanThis come from their site.)


Finally, I’ve been working hard on this blog, but I’m covering really nerdy subjects. So, getting fans hasn’t been easy. However, there are a few leaders out there, like Samurai Archives, who have been movers and shakers in the dissemination of vital information about Japanese History to the common folks. Some of them are mentioned in my Links section at the bottom of every article (I hope you check).

But for you lazy bastards who don’t check, don’t worry your pretty heads.  Here’s a list of bookmarkable resources on Japan History that are always updated and always fun.

Samurai Archives
The originators… If you don’t subscribe, you’re pretty out of the loop…..
Samurai Archives is a kind of industry standard on the internet.

Japan World
He’s doing some really exciting stuff generally in Japanese AND English so… yeah, it’s high quality.
twitter: @JapanWorld_info

Rekishi no Tabi
Dude dares to use Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s portrait as his avatar… and runs a wicked flicker and twitter feed… also a Samurai Archives contributor.
photo stream:

Art Historian who has opened up my mind to Okinawan and Ryūkyū art and history. He’s also helped me understand formal Edo Period art in general.

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Free Wifi for Travelers in Japan

In Japan, Japanese iPhone, Travel in Japan on April 22, 2013 at 6:03 am

I learned this tip from Zooming Japan, so much appreciation to her for sharing. I want to share with my readers too.

Free WIFI Hotspots in Tokyo and Free WIFI Hotspots in Japan for Tourists & Travelers.


So you’re planning a trip to Japan. You have a smartphone or PC and you’re worried about only having wifi in your hotel room. Flets will give you access to their hotspots around Tokyo (and some other cities). It might not be perfect, but it’s better than nothing. And it’s FREE!

You can use it for 14 days.

Here’s how to get it:


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