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What does Daita mean?

In Japanese History on July 5, 2013 at 4:42 am

Daita (ateji; no meaning)

Daita Station is a far cry from its humble agrarian roots...

Daita Station is a far cry from its humble agrarian roots…

OK, this place name is of such a ridiculous nature that all I can say is the accepted story is true. If not, then the name may be so old that the original meaning has been obscured forever since the adoption of writing.

This Name is Ateji.

Just a quick review of ateji:
Kanji is an ideographic writing system. That means that each character has a meaning. But as such, it’s poorly suited to transcribing foreign words or transcribing native words without adding nuance.

A good example of this is the word chocolate. This is the Nahatl word[i], xocolātl, which means “bitter water. The Spanish borrowed and transcribed the word in various forms until it became standardized as chocolate and was eventually borrowed by English (same spelling, but with a different pronunciation). The English pronunciation of the word was eventually adopted by the Japanese and while modern Japanese doesn’t use kanji for the word, several kanji variants existed; one of which is 猪口冷糖 choko reitō ”sake cup chilled sugar.”

This is an extreme example. But it clearly illustrates how kanji hides the meanings of words that exist in a world outside of kanji. Keep this in mind as we proceed.


It should go without saying, that before writing, people were speaking Japanese and naming places in their native language. When the ridiculously convoluted writing system of China was adopted, the Japanese superimposed it onto their own dialects. Suddenly Japanese place names that had their own meanings and histories were obscured by the meanings implicit in kanji. This means that really old place names are, by default, suspect.

Being in the literal middle of nowhere, we don’t see the place name 代田 Daita on maps until the closing years of the Sengoku Period. However, in 1569, when Hōjō Ujiyasu’s retainer 垪和又太郎 Haga Yasutarō[ii] was granted a fief here, the place name seems already to have existed.

Located on his fief was place (or facility) called 代田屯 Daita Tamura Daita Barracks or Daita Encampment[iii].

People are always interested in place names and the Japanese of the Sengoku Period and Edo Period were no different. They recorded an etymology that the locals told.

The giant doing his business....

The giant performing cunnilingus on a mountain…

Daidara Bocchi

There was a local legend that a giant named  だいだらぼっち Daidara Bocchi[iv] had lived in the area. There was a sink hole in the area (in the vicinity of present-day 守山小学校 Mamoriyama Shōgaku Mamoriyama Elementary School). The early villagers told a story that it was a footprint of the giant Daidara Bocchi. Over time, the footprint filled with rain water or became a natural spring and the area became a marshland. Over time, the name was shortened and the local dialect’s pronunciation changed and the name became  だいた Daita. The locals used the kanji 代田 to write the word[v].

At first I thought this was one of the stupidest etymologies ever and my gut instinct said to blow it off, except that supposedly there are places all over Japan with similar etymologies. And here’s where it gets interesting.




There are supposedly many references to Daidara Bocchi surviving in place names, especially in the mountains and wetlands. The sheer volume of these places names has led many scholars to speculate that Daidara Bocchi was an indigenous god associated with creation myths of Japan. He may have been an early Shintō god or he may be from an earlier culture. We only have conjecture at this point because by the time we get written records in Japan he was just a giant. But the story apparently spread all over 本州 Honshū the main island of Japan. As the name had dialectal variants, all of which pre-date the arrival of writing (ie; kanji), our knowledge of this mythological character is really obscure and most likely will remain so.

If you ever go to Shimo-Kitazawa, you can walk around the area and you’ll notice the hilly terrain. But because of the buildings, you can’t notice if there is a footprint shaped valley or not. But you can get a sense that the “elite” villagers on the high ground may have had a good story to explain a unique basin wetland area.

So, for the time being, let’s file this name under “obscure and intriguing.”

I had a good time, how about you?




[i] Aztec, for those of us who are not specialists in the languages of Mesoamerica.

[ii] Just a heads up, the name, 又太郎, can be read at Yasutarō or Matatarō. I have no idea which is correct in this guy’s case.

[iii] The tamura part is a mystery to me. It suggests an actual military base associated with the Hōjō clan, or ateji to avoid repeating the kanji – that is to say, tamura was not a military reference, but a farming one, ie; 田村 tamura rice paddy village. In the case of the latter, the word would have been rendered as 代田田村 – which just looks ridiculous.

[iv] Because there are so many dialectal variants of this name, there are a lot of options when rendering into English. Japanese folklorists tend to use this version of the name as a conventional standard. There is no standard in English. So writing the name as 2 words is an editorial call on my part. Some Japanese sources treat it as two words etymologically and that helps me render it into English in a reader-friendly way.

[v] If literally read, Daita means “generations/endless fields.” This etymology alone might seem sufficient, cf; Yoyogi and Chiyoda. Occam’s Razor would prefer this etymology.

The Difference Between Donkeys and Oxen

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2013 at 7:22 am

In yesterday’s blog, Why is Hanzomon called Hanzomon?, I posted this picture:


In the picture comments, I said something about “donkey people” as a joke. Someone pointed out that these are actually oxen.

I know.

It actually cracked me up that I got e-mails about this. Not so much that I wanted people to think I didn’t know the difference between a donkey and an ox as much as I was happy that people ere actually reading Japan This!

Rest assured, it was just a joke. I know the difference between donkeys and oxen. lol

Oh, and thanks for reading!

What does Hanzomon mean?

In Japanese History on February 16, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Hanzōmon (Hanzō Gate)

Today’s place name is from a request from a reader who’s working near Hanzōmon Station. Thanks for your request, Nate! Anyone else who interested in making a request about Tokyo place names, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be sure to get to it!

This one is pretty much straight forward.

It’s named after a famous samurai named 服部半(Hattori Hanzō).

hattori hanzo

will the real hattori hanzo please stand up?

The dude is semi-mythical and even in the Edo Period he was a bit of a legend.  He was portrayed as a crucial figure in the seemingly destined rise to power of Tokugawa Ieyasu (the first Tokugawa shōgun and the man who establish Tokugawa hegemony).

Legend says
He was from Mikawa – the same area the Tokugawa came from.
 He saved Ieyasu’s life by giving him safe passage through Iga Provice.
 He was a ninja.

ok… without going into much about ninjas… let’s just say… always take the ninja thing with a grain of salt.

Like I said, “Legend says…”

Anyhoo, regardless of what really happened, what we know for sure is that Hanzō died in 1596 and never saw the Tokugawa shōgunate established. His family was given prime real estate next to Edo Castle and they and their retainers served as guards for certain areas of the castle. His family was supposedly the hereditary masters of some elite ninjas from the Iga province who served the shōgun loyally… and of whom we never hear doing anything… ever.

Again, that ninja thing…

hanzomon gate edo period

donkey people coming in and out of edo castle… or are they just donkey people walking by….. or… are they fucking NINJAS?????

But, I can believe the Edo Castle security detail thing…

And with the proximity of the gate to the residence of the Hattori clan and their retainers, one can imagine those security detachments coming and going from the castle through that particular gate – all the while boasting of their clan’s connection to saving the life of the man who established Tokugawa hegemony. As samurai in the Edo Period became increasingly bureaucratic and needed some martial claim to fame for their family, you can easily see the legend of Hattori Hanzō getting played up… big time.

The dude has mad fans today, though.

hazomon gate from above!

these days, hanzomon is a massive business district. if you are lucky enough to work on a high floor, you might enjoy this view of the hanzomon gate. it’s pretty fantastic, wouldn’t you say?

Further Reading:

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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