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Posts Tagged ‘Japanese Language’

What does Ushigome Tansu Machi mean?

In Japanese History on September 26, 2013 at 2:31 am

Ushigome Tansu Machi (Crowd of Cows Dresser Town)

Welcome to a part of Tokyo that in 8 years I have never been to. Need to rectify that situation somebody.

Welcome to a part of Tokyo that in 8 years I have never been to.
Need to rectify that situation some day.

Yesterday I talked about Ushigome.

When normal Japanese people think of the word 箪笥 tansu traditional dresser, they will think of this:

Tansu - a traditional Japanese chest of drawers (dresser).

Tansu – a traditional Japanese chest of drawers (dresser).

And indeed, that is what the word (kanji and all) means. But why would this end up in a place name?

Good question.

Well, it turns out that in this case, tansu doesn’t refer to furniture. It refers to weapons.

Wait. Whaaaa?

Well, it turns out that in the Edo Period the general term for the arms, armor, and ordnance of the shōgunate was 箪笥 tansu.

In 1713, this area was entrusted to a local magistracy and a 町 machi town was developed. The original name of the town was 牛込御箪笥町 Ushigome go-tansu machi. By the way, 御箪笥 go-tansu is the honorific term for 箪笥 tansu.

The title of the magistrate who oversaw the private arsenals of the shōgunate was 簞笥奉行 tansu bugyō[i]. His office managed the full sets of armor, bows and arrows, and lances of the shōgunate. The people who worked under this office weren’t only in charge of weapons, though. The broad office title of 御納戸役 o-nandoyaku store room service referred to the mid-level samurai[ii] who would fetch and file and take inventory and maintain the clothes, supplies and furniture of the shōgunal family. They might also do the day to day work of managing the transactions of the shōgunal coffers. When gifts had to be given to lords or (god forbid) foreign emissaries, these were the samurai clerks who made it happen. Whether the magistrate or the warehouses themselves were in this area isn’t really important. The name derives from the fact that dormitories, 武家屋敷長屋 buke yashiki nagaya long houses, and the homes of other officials associated with this type of work were based here. So while this name is confusing to us now, in the Edo Period it was a way of designating what work and what class of samurai were living in the area[iii]. A samurai clerk of this level would make a stipend of 100-200 koku[iv].

Typical samurai residences.

Typical samurai long houses of the type we might expect to see in Ushigome. As hatamoto, Notice the greenery in front of the houses to make the homes more private. As residents of the yamanote (the high city) I reckon this would have been the norm for hatamoto of this status. Some larger detached domiciles must have been located there too.
All in all, not a bad place to raise a family in the Edo Period.
(this picture isn’t from Tokyo, by the way… in Tokyo nothing like this exists anymore)

In Tōkyō, there are a few areas that still exist with this unique place name:

Azabu Tansu Machi
・ Shitaya Tansu Machi
・ Ushigome Tansu Machi
・ Yotsuya Tansu Machi

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[i] Edo period → modern Japanese .

[ii] Mostly hatamoto, but not always. I think in modern Japan, this would be the equivalent of a “normal” salaryman in middle or upper-middle management. It would have been a lot of “yes man” work and kowtowing, but it would afford you a very decent lifestyle.
The word 納戸 nando has a few meanings: back room, closet, storage room. Once we understand the meaning of the word nando the nuance of the word tansu starts become apparent.

[iv] Someone has calculated what they think is a conversion rate for koku, arriving at the conclusion that 1 koku = about $750. If that’s the case these samurai were at an income level of $75,000-$150,000 a year. Plenty of spare cash for gallivanting about[v] in Yoshiwara.
[v] Footnote of a footnote says: “gallivanting about” is a polite way to say “drinking and whoring.”

Why is Hibiya called Hibiya?

In Japanese History on March 18, 2013 at 5:31 am

Hibiya (no meaning)

Today’s place name is an interesting one.

The name 日比谷 Hibiya is 当て字 ateji. Ateji are words that use kanji characters for their phonetic properties instead of their ideographic properties. That is to say, the meaning of the character isn’t as important as the sounds. The meaning of the characters may be completely irrelevant or may have some forced meaning. For example, 珈琲 kōhī (coffee) is ateji. The first character refers to a kind of ancient hair pin. The second character refers to a string of pearls. The meaning of the characters is irrelevant and they are used to represent the sounds コー kō and ヒー hī (the latter is not even an sound native to the Japanese language).

As mentioned in the post about Chiyoda, before the Edo Period, Edo was just one of many small villages around what is now Tokyo Bay. Well before the Edo Period, the areas from Chiyoda (the Imperial Palace) to the sea were a mix of sea food production sites and agricultural areas. We can’t know for certain where it was, but one of the spots was on an inlet and was marked by 篊 hibi. Hibi are bunches of bamboo or brushwood used to grow and farm 海苔 nori (nori, a kind of seaweed).

what did hibiya look like before the edo period?

this is what the original hibiya (not today’s hibiya) looked like before the edo period. these are “hibi,” by the way.

The area was known for people and shops farming and selling nori (which was grown on hibi). Those people and shops would have been referred to as 篊屋 hibi-ya (hibi-people/hibi-shops). As the area grew (and the nori farmers presumably moved out), the place name came to be written 比々谷 Hibiya which has no meaning (ateji). The first character means “comparison” and represents the sound ひ hi. The second character just means “repeat the previous sound.” (the second “hi” become “bi” according to euphonic rules called 連濁). The final character is common in Japanese place names and means “valley.” This final character is also meaningless because there is no valley here. If anything, it’s part of the alluvial plain created by the waters in Tokyo Bay*.

Sometime in the Edo Period, 比々谷 came to be written as 日比谷 and that is the way it is still written today. The characters as they are now are “sun” “compare” and “valley, respectively.

If you go to Hibiya Park today, you’ll notice that there is a large pond near the Imperial Palace (Edo Castle). This pond was part of the system of moats around Edo Castle. The moat is gone today, but the pond is in its place. If you walk around the pond, you’ll notice a line of stone wall fortifications which match the castle area. This was one of the moat’s walls. Also, you’ll notice a photo spot called日比谷見附 Hibiya-Mitsuke (The Hibiya Approach). This was the path to the 日比谷御門 Hibiya Go-Mon, one of many gates into the castle. Btw, 見附 means “approach” or “walkway.” So Akasaka-Mitsuke meant “the Akasaka Approach.” More about that later.

The area that is the park today used to house 2 daimyōs’ upper residences; Saga domain and Chōshū domain.

hibiya-mitsuke moat

remains of the stone fortifications that lined the hibiya-mitsuke moat. some homeless dude is doing his laundry on the top of it.

remains hibiya-mitsuke moat

today a pond is built on the former hibiya-mitsuke moat. you can see carp in the water, and some freaky turtles & a stupid bird on the rocks.

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* I’m not too familiar with geological terminology, but I think alluvium is the right word here. If I’m wrong, let me know and I’ll update the text.

KAOMOJI – Japanese Smileys

In Japanese Slang on December 27, 2009 at 10:12 am

Today I’m showing a list of my favorite 顔文字 (kaomoji) – or japanese smileys.
In America we use really boring ones like : ) ; ) but the Japanese have really elaborate ones. And when you enter certain words, certain smileys will come up. Most Japanese cellphones have user customizable dictionaries, so if you want certain words to convert to certain smileys, you can program it that way. As an iPhone user, I don’t have a customizable dictionary. So the best I’ve been able to do is make lists in the Notes section and copy and paste them when I want to use them. It’s a real pain in the ass, actually. But I have 5 pages of my favorites, which I will just re-post here. (I’m heading out the door to eat yakiniku in a few minutes, so I needed something quick for today’s blog entry.)

(this page assumes your computer supports japanese characters)

顔文字 Kamoji is combined of two words
かお kao   “face”
文字 もじ moji  “letters, writing”

some of them are self-apparent, but i’ll include a few explanations…

this is samurai doing a formal bow on the floor 土下座, you can see his top knot between his two eyes (丁髷).
( -_-)凸
this is me giving you the finger.
taking a note of your stupidity

( ・ω・)ノ――――@゜クルクル
this is me playing with a yo-yo

this is a nerdy expression you can say when something great is about to happen.
i use it tongue in cheek.

キタ━━━ヽ(∀゜ )人(゜∀゜)人(゜∀゜)人(゜∀゜)人(゜∀゜)人(゜∀゜)人( ゜∀)ノ
━━━ !!!!!!!!
the same, just nerdier…

コネェ━━━━━━(゜A゜;)━━━━━━ !!!!!
this is the opposite.  something great isn’t going to happen.

( *´ー)(ー`*)ネェw
this is two people agreeing with each other.
in japanese, it says “NE” – which is a particle to confirm something.

YE━━━━━━ d(゜∀゜)b ━━━━━━S


ハッ! φ(゜o゜*) ヤッパリチガウ……〆(。_。*)

モ(゜∀゜)━ウ( ゜∀)━(  ゜)━(  )━(`  )━ダ(Д` )━メ(´Д`)━ポ(;´Д`)━━━!!!

JR━―━―━(゜∀゜)━―━―━― !!
riding on the JR trains………

┐(´ー`)┌ ワカンナイ!!!
shrugging your shoulders cuz you don’t know something…




ワーイ♪♪\(^ω^\)( /^ω^)/♪♪ワーイ
really happy!





scared and nervous







high five














writing stuff down







making the V sign for “peace” that japanese people always do in pictures…



゛☆⌒o(*^ー゜) オッケー♪
he’s saying OK!!!!

┐(´ー`)┌ ワカラン
shrugging shoulders, “i dunno”

shrugging shoulders, “i dunno”

ε( ´,_つ`)3

むしゃむしゃ( ´)Д(`)
chowing down on food






(´・ ∀・`)あはあは

this is a thought bubble, where it says せりふ you write what you’re thinking to yourself

right? right?

(`・∀・´) えっへん!
What’s the hell???

Σ(*’0′)*’0′)/ アレハナンダ!!
what the hell is that?

+゜:。£ονё゜:。(*´∇`)´∇`*) 。:゜£ονё+゜:。
lovey dovey

that looks freaking delicious!


ε3(σ_σ*) クシャクシャ (σーσ*)ノ⌒°□ ポイ

(/ _ ; )
slapping your hand on your forehead and crying…  oh no!




taking a note

shooting star


samurai doing a formal bow




(T . T)

( ? _ ? )


whistling or winking at you




♪( ´▽`)
listening to music


awwwww yeah!


legs spread (for sex)

explosive laughter





put a picture of the thing you are about to eat where the red line is.  it’s stuffing your face.

awwwwwwww yeah!
mαrky( -_-)凸

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