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What does Shiogama mean?

In Japanese History on August 5, 2015 at 4:28 am

塩釜
Shiogama (salt kettle)

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

Today’s place name isn’t an official place name, it’s part of a park name, 塩釜公園 Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park. The park actually takes its name from a shrine.

When I first saw this shrine, which is in such a state of disrepair that I actually thought it was a ruin, I never thought there would be much of a story behind it. The shrine precincts are in shambles, yet it’s designated as an official park of 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. But among the scattered ruins of this park, you can see a lot of Edo Period stonework. It has modern signage that designates it as a park, but it doesn’t look like a park that anyone would go out of their way to see[i]. I stumbled across it quite by accident when I decided to walk down a street I’d never taken before.

IMGK4691s

Anyways, turns out this decrepit little shrine has a pretty amazing backstory. The shrine’s name is derived from 鹽竈神社Shiogama Jinja Shiogama Shrine in 塩竈市 Shiogama-shi Shiogama City in 宮城県 Miyagi-ken Miyagi Prefecture. Miyagi Prefecture’s capital is 仙台市 Sendai-shi Sendai City.

But wait, “those kanji look different,” you must be saying. The first one is incredibly complex and uses kanji from before the post-WWII writing reforms. The second one updated the first character, but kept the obsolete 2nd character. A 3rd writing is used in Tōkyō, 塩釜 Shiogama, which uses 2 simplified, modern characters. But don’t worry; they’re all the same name as you’ll soon see.

There's a lot of this just scattered all over the place.

There’s a lot of this just scattered all over the place.

The Backstory

Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi enters the historical record in the 9th century and came to be associated with the 平泉藤原氏 Hiraizumi Fujiwara-shi Fujiwara clan of Hiraizumi[ii]. In the Edo Period, the 伊達家 Date-ke Date family became the shrine’s main patrons. In 1600, the warlord 伊達政宗 Date Masmune[iii] had been awarded a large and profitable seaside fief that would come to be called 仙台藩 Sendai Han Sendai Domain.

The 4th and 5th lords of Sendai Domain, 伊達綱村 Date Tsunamura and 伊達吉村 Date Yoshimura, repaired and expanded the shrine from 1695-1704. It became a major shrine in the area at this time and was closely connected to lords of Date and the domain’s ruling class. Most of the institution’s present greatness dates from this 9 year development project.

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

The Real Story Starts Here

In 1695, Date Tsunamura had the 神 kami deity of Shiogama Shrine divided[iv] and brought to Edo to be enshrined on the premises of Sendai’s massive 上屋敷 kamiyashiki upper residence which was located at present day 汐留シオサイト Shiodome Shio Saito Shiodome Shio Site[v]. The shrine stood on the private upper residence of Sendai for just over 160 years.

Then, in 1856, the shrine was relocated to the 中屋敷 nakayashiki middle residence in the 芝口 Shibaguchi area of Edo[vi]. This is the current location of the shrine today. It has stood at its present location for just under 160 years.

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

Just to put the relocation in perspective. 1856 was 3 years after Commodore Matthew C. Perry barged into 浦賀湾 Uraga Wan Uraga Bay demanding the Tokugawa Shōgunate open up the country for trade. It was 2 years after his return with diplomats insisting the shōgunate sign treaties. It was 12 years before the Meiji Coup succeeded in ousting the Tokugawa and establishing the Empire of Japan.

After the Meiji Coup, the daimyō were sent back to their domains. It’s in these early Meiji years that Shiogama Shrine became popular with the common people. Previously, they probably didn’t have much access to it because it sat on a daimyō’s private property[vii]. The 神 kami deity housed in the shrine is associated with 安産 anzan safe childbirth[viii]. Once the public had access to such a “powerful” kami formerly horded by the ancestors of Sengoku rock star, Date Masamune, the popularity of the shrine skyrocketed.

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in the Meiji Period.

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in 1901 (Meiji 34).

Shrine Decline

They say the shrine was completely leveled in the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. One of the positive outcomes of the earthquake was the immediate creation of evacuation areas. As a former daimyō residence, the surrounding area was presumably flat and open[ix]. Shiogama Shrine was designated as disaster evacuation spot. I’m not clear if the entire estate was made an evacuation area or just the shrine area, but by late 1923, the City of Tōkyō created 町立盬竃公園 Chōritsu Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park of East Tōkyō City.

In the 1940’s, the Tōkyō Bay area suffered horrific aerial attacks by the Americans. The so-called 東京大空襲 Tōkyō Daikūshū Firebombing of Tōkyō[x] brought the city of rivers and wood to her knees. Historical and religious intuitions that had once had deep pockets were forced out of necessity to sell their real estate holdings[xi]. It seems that this was the death knell of this particular shrine. Its 9th century origins and connection to the Sengoku warlord Date Masamune weren’t enough completely restore this once thriving shrine.

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

The Shrine Today

In 1971, the small block containing the shrine and the park became 区立塩釜公園 Kuritsu Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park controlled by Minato Ward. The kanji were officially changed in accordance with the kanji reforms of the post war era (remember the buggy kanji issue I mentioned before?).

The shrine is still active, but Tōkyōites don’t know about. It’s minor as fuck. Also, as I mentioned before, it’s in such a state of disrepair that no one would visit it unless they were interested in really obscure shit… which yours truly happens to be interested in. Obsessively so. lol.

But the shrine is shambles. The park area is tiny and includes nice seats and signage explaining the history of the area. But the shrine itself, which occupies a larger area, is a mess. I’m just going out on a limb and guessing the shrine gets a tax break and the family running it can get by, but Minato Ward is maintaining the smaller park area.

dirty shrine

The Kabuki Konnektion

Earlier I mentioned the 4th lord of Sendai, Date Tsunamura, brought the kami of Shiogama to Edo. He has been immortalized in the world of 歌舞伎 kabuki in a play called 伽羅先代萩 Meiboku Sendai Hagi. It’s the story of the 伊達騒動 Date Sōdō Date Disturbance which was a succession dispute that lasted from 1660 to 1671.

The 3rd lord of Sendai, 伊達綱宗 Date Tsunamune was a big fan drinking and whoring[xii] who spent all his time and money in the Yoshiwara. He was deposed by a faction of uptight clansmen for his negligence and dissolute ways[xiii].

2009042213521975d

Long story short, the 2 year old Date Yoshimura was made lord of Sendai and 10 years of infighting within the clan began. The shōgunate was finally asked to step in and resolve the issue before things got out of control. Well, in 1671, things did get out of control – swords were dawn, one samurai was killed, and one retainer’s family was abolished and his family executed. Ultimately, the young Tsunamura’s right to rule was reaffirmed by the shōgunate.

Because the shōgunate censored stories about the scandals of elite samurai, the story had to be “disguised” when put into kabuki form. The stage version was set in the Muromachi Period and given an esoteric title. The name, Meiboku Sendai Hagi, is made of 3 words evocative of the events. 伽羅 meiboku (normally read kyara) is a kind of wood used to make clogs. It’s said that Tsunamune wore clogs made of this material when going to the Yoshiwara. 先代 sendai means predecessor, as in the former head of a daimyō family. So Meiboku Sendai means the “former ruler who wore wooden clogs.” Sendai also sounds like Sendai Domain – I see what you did there. The last word, 萩 hagi Japanese clover, is a flowering plant that is famous in Sendai.

In short, the play presents Tsunamura as a just ruler replacing a Tsunamune, a corrupt ruler. I don’t know a lot about kabuki, but it seems there are many variations of this particular story. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

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[i] Unless you’re a Japanese history nerd, of course.
[ii] Who were the Fujiwara?
[iii] Who was Date Masamune?
[iv] The dividing of kami is done through a process called 分霊 bunrei which literally means “sharing a spirit.”
[v] Present day 東新橋一丁目 Higashi-Shinbashi 1-chōme 1st Block of East Shinbashi.
[vi] Present day 西新橋三丁目 Nishi-Shinbashi 3-chōme 3rd Block of West Shinbashi. The area was also called 愛宕下 Atagoshita at the time. The name Shibaguchi persists in shop names and in the parlance of locals, it is not an official place name today. The area near 愛宕神社 Atago Jinja Atago Shrine does preserve the name Atago officially.
[vii] Some daimyō made their tutelary shrines accessible to locals, I’m not sure to what extent – if any – the general populace had access to before Sendai’s middle residence had been vacated.
[viii] This term is broad and includes protection for the baby during gestation and birth, protection for the mother during pregnancy and labor, and protection against birth defects or being “sickly.”
[ix] Today it is most definitely flat, but crowded with small post-WWII shops, homes, and businesses. There is a large park and school on the former daimyō residence as well.
[x] Literally “the Great Air-Raid.”
[xi] Even the richest and most beautiful funerary temples of the Tokugawa shōguns had to finally sell off their properties and consolidate whatever holdings they could hold dear.
[xii] And let’s be honest, who isn’t?
[xiii] A bunch of effin’ killjoys, if you ask me.

Ōedo Line: Hongō San-chōme

In Japanese History on June 10, 2015 at 3:48 am

本郷三丁目
Hongō San-chōme (3rd block of Hongō)

The famous Akamon (red gate) of Kaga Domain which is now the entrance of Tokyo University

The famous Akamon (red gate) of Kaga Domain which is now the entrance of Tokyo University

Hongō literally means “the main hamlet/village.” Because it is extremely hilly, it was allocated for residences of samurai of various ranks. Theoretically speaking, the location of your house on the hills indicated your rank and the type of house you could have. Naturally, low ranking samurai were at the bottom of the hills and the highest ranking samurai were at the tops of the hills. Today the area is famous for education and medicine. Tōkyō University, Juntendō University, and Tōyō Gakuen University are all located in the area.

It was Pre-Modern Japan. Sometimes, you gotta burn a bitch. Alive.

It was Pre-Modern Japan.
Sometimes you gotta burn a bitch.
Alive.

In the lowlands, in one of the commoner districts of Koishikawa is the place where 八百屋お七 Yayoya O-shichi lived. Loooooong time readers will recognize her as the 16 year old crazy bitch who set tried to burn down a temple in 1683 to get the attention of the monk who had saved her from a fire a year or so earlier. The fire was soon put out and she was apparently caught red handed, but this was arson and had to be dealt with by the 奉行 bugyō magistrate. In the end, the teenage girl was burnt at the stake the same year at Suzugamori Execution Ground near Shinagawa. The story is one of the greatest tragedies of the Edo Period – most of it based on highly fictionalized bunraku[i] and kabuki[ii] adaptations. But at its core, the story is based on some facts. The precise location of her home, the name of the temple she burnt and even the name of the boy she was infatuated with aren’t known for certain[iii]. But shōgunate records apparently confirm the date of her arrest and the location and manner of her execution. The location of her grave is also somewhat contested, but the traditional site of her grave is the temple 円乗寺 Enjō-ji, also written 園乗寺 Enjō-ji, which is a 20 minute walk from Hongō Sanchōme Station. It’s a straight shot on a single street, so it’s probably worth the walk if you’re in the area.

And why should you be in the area? There are plenty of temples and shrines and the area has more hills than other local tourist sites – so you can get a feel for the prime real estate of the Edo Period. Although there are no samurai residences left, you can get the feel for how uniquely 山手 yamanote high city the area was[iv]. You can also get some great photos here because most people don’t come here to take pictures.

But, this station also gives you access to the 東京都水道歴史館 Tōkyō-to Suidō Rekishikan Tōkyō Waterworks Historical Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of water, aqueducts, sewerage, reservoirs, and water treatment in Edo-Tōkyō. At first, you might say, that sounds boring. But trust me, it’s surprisingly eye opening and is easily one of my favorite museums in the city. When I visited, they had English pamphlets, but most of the exhibits were in Japanese only. I’m sure that will change in the build up to the 2020 Olympics. The museum’s website is here.

Tokyo Waterworks Museum.  Don't make me say it again.

Tokyo Waterworks Museum.
Don’t make me say it again.

Wanna read my original article about fires in Edo? (to read O-shichi’s story)
Wanna read my article about Suzugamori Execution Ground? (She gets mentioned)

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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

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[i] Creepy puppet shows that Edoites loved the shit out of.
[ii] Highly ritualized theater of Pre-Modern Japan – also a little creepy, visually-speaking.
[iii] Some versions of the story are more well-known than others, tho.
[iv] I had a great discussion with Jcastle about how you can’t really understand old Japanese castles and samurai homes without walking the terrain yourself. Even if there is nothing left to look at, the lay of the land, the hills, the plateaux are all things the samurai were concerned with during the Sengoku Period. These physical characteristics of the land gave rise to the varying castle types and the subsequent 城下町 jōka machi castle towns. In the Edo Period, things changed, but the earliest samurai districts were built with this Sengoku philosophy in mind.

What does Yotsuya mean?

In Japanese History on November 29, 2013 at 6:00 am

四ッ谷
Yotsuya (“4 Valleys,” but more at “nobody fucking knows…”)

Yotsuya Station in the future.... "A train in every moat" - Tokugawa Ieyasu

Yotsuya Station in the future….
“A train in every moat” – Tokugawa Ieyasu

When I first started writing about Tokyo place names, I wanted to tackle Yotsuya right away. I assumed it would be an easy target. Three or four paragraphs and… done!

It’s an interesting area even if just viewed from the windows of the 丸ノ内線 Marunouchi Sen Marunouchi Line as you wait at the station. Just peering out the window of the train, you’ll immediate notice that the subway has magically stopped in a valley. The train didn’t emerge from the depths of the earth. The lay of the land dropped down below the subway level. If I’m not mistaken, when you see the tennis courts and the steep incline of the hill, what you’re looking at isn’t just a natural valley, this was once the outer moat of Edo Castle.

I'm in a moat!

I’m in a moat!

Anyways, when I first started this blog, my articles were much shorter and – looking back – not as well researched as they are now. But back then, a topic like Yotsuya, which goes into dialects and may be related to other place names, turned out to be extremely daunting. Just considering this topic at that time was biting off more than I could chew. I wanted to write an article in 1 or 2 hours.

Now, even though it takes a lot more time to cover a topic, I’m not afraid to come to dead ends[i] or take the extra time to do my research right and make my explanations clear. And while I might lose readers going further in depth, I’d rather offer quality over quantity. I’m also a lot more confident in my ability to cover these topics.  And so, at JapanThis! it’s balls to the walls Tōkyō Place Names. No turning back, son.

Balls to the walls, son.

Balls to the walls, son.

Most people seem to think the name Yotsuya is old. Old as in it pre-dates the Edo Period. But one thing that is consistent in most of the etymologies is the first kanji, 四 yottsu four. Much of the mystery of this place name seems to come from the final character. That said, the “number 4” character is also suspect. So let’s be skeptical, shall we?

Oh yeah, I’ve also identified 2 categories for most of these theories: the “4 things group” and the “valley group.” These are just categories I’ve invented for organizing this article so they don’t reflect any legitimate linguistic groupings, but I think they’re good for our purposes here.

“Four Things Group”

四つ yottsu no ya four houses were here[ii]
四つ yottsu no ya four shops were here[iii]
四つ yottsu no ya four valleys were here

“Valley Group”

On this blog, I keep harping on yamanote and shitamachi and how fluid the terms have been through history. But the basic meaning derives from the Sengoku Era practice of putting the samurai families on the (literal) defensive high ground. I feel like a broken record always babbling on and on about hills and valleys. I blame Jin’nai Hidenobu for this. But I think he’s absolutely correct: if you want to understand Edo-Tōkyō, you have to pay attention to the hills, valleys, rivers, and plateaux[iv]. I can’t unsee the world his book, Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology, turned me on to.

So let’s look at two words that will come often in the future, both of which we should keep in mind today.

台地 daichi plateau, elevated area
谷地 yachi lowlands, basin

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etymology_header

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OK, so let’s talk some etymology, yo.

Theory 1

Yotsuya means 四つの家 yottsu no ya four houses. Of course, the kanji can mean house and family or family business. Presumably this pre-dates the Edo Period, so you can imagine 4 bad ass noble families chilling in their fortifications on 4 hills in the area. It seems like pure conjecture to me, but this is not an unreasonable etymology.

Theory 2

Yotsuya means 四つの屋 yottsu no ya four shops. This is a reference to four teahouses located on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō (the road to 甲府 Kōfu – present day Shizuoka). The names of the teahouses have been preserved.

梅屋 ume-ya
保久屋 boku-ya
茶屋 cha-ya
布屋 nuno-ya

These 4 teahouses were not all in operation at the same time until the Gen’na Era (1615-1624)[v] which places the origin of the name at the beginning of the Edo Period. This is at odds with the other theories which claim a place called “Yotsuya” existed before the coming of the Tokugawa. Again, not an unreasonable etymology but more recent than many other explanations.

Theory 3

There were originally 4 valleys with 4 hamlets each. The explanation is easier with a visual.

English meaning Japanese meaning Pre-modern spelling Extant names Rōma-ji
first valley 一の谷 *一谷 市ヶ谷 ichigaya
second valley 二の谷 *二谷
third valley 三の谷 *三谷
fourth valley 四の谷 四谷 四ッ谷 yotsuya

The words with * in front of them are hypothetical. That is to say, there is no documented case of those words. For the explanation about Ichigaya, see my last article. I don’t really buy into this theory for a few reasons. One, the etymology of Ichigaya is suspect. Two, there’s no trace of the other place names anywhere. And three, Yotsuya lacks the genitive particle which seems to be present in Ichigaya. If these names were a set, you’d think they’d be preserved as a set. Now, in defensive of this theory, if these names were especially ancient and written without any genitive particles and 2 of the names fell into disuse, the mental connection between the 2 remaining names could have been lost due to writing system. For example, Tōkyōites read 山手 as Yama no te, but no is not written. People from outside Tōkyō might read it as Yamate. Both readings are technically correct depending on where you live. So while I’m not a big fan of this etymology, I can at least imagine some conditions under which it could be true.

So now let’s look at some more of what I call the “Valley Group.”

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Theory 4

As mentioned before 台地 daichi means plateaux and 谷地 yachi means lowlands. The idea is that the original place name was 谷地谷 Yachiya Lowland Valley. The name was corrupted and became Yotsuya and the kanji were subsequently changed to better reflect the pronunciation. The kanji for the number 4 was chosen to make 四谷 Yotsuya Forth Valley match nearby 一ヶ谷 Ichigaya First Valley. It makes a nice pattern and it could be true. But we don’t have place name Yachiya documented, nor do we have strong evidence that Ichigaya’s original first kanji was the number 1. So again, pure conjecture.

Theory 5

This is a variant of theory 4. The difference is this says the name does derive from 谷地谷 Yachiya (which has ridiculous looking kanji and is redundant), but from 萢谷 Yachiya.  萢 yachi means wetlands/bog. The name was corrupted and became Yotsuya and the kanji were subsequently changed to better reflect the pronunciation. Apparently, in Ibaraki there are two places called Yotsuya. Both are said to have come from this word. Today those places written 四ツ谷 and 余津谷. Because one place has the same spelling with the number 4, this leads me to think there might be no connection with other numbers. The number thing might just be totally made up or a coincidence at best.

Theory 6

Yotsuya originally represented a larger area that consisted of four valleys.

千日谷 Sen’nichidani
茗荷谷 Myōgadani
千駄ヶ谷 Sendagaya
大上谷  (狼谷) Ōkamidani

This theory postulates that the meaning of the word is not “the 4th valley,” but “the 4 valleys.”

The red pin is Edo Castle. The green pin is Yotsuya Station. The northernmost pin is Myogadani Station. The easternmost pin is Yoyogi-Uehara Station (Okamidani)

The red pin is Edo Castle.
The green pin is Yotsuya Station.
The northernmost pin is Myogadani Station.
The easternmost pin is Yoyogi-Uehara Station (Okamidani)

As you can see I the picture, Sen’nichidani and Sendagaya are really close to Yotsuya – just a short walk, really. But Myōgadani is about an hour’s walk from Yotsuya. Ōkamidani (present day Yoyogi Uehara) is not just over an hour’s walk away, it was totally outside of Edo at its height. If the name predates the Edo Period, I don’t know why that valley or Myōgadani would have been included in this “4 valleys” area. People of the Edo Period themselves who commented on this derivation also seemed to have taken it with a grain of salt.

Grave of Hattori Hanzo - ninja extraordinaire.

Grave of Hattori Hanzo – ninja extraordinaire.

To be honest, I’ve never done anything other than change trains at Yotsuya Station, but the area is pretty famous for a number of things. History lovers may want to check out 西念寺 Sainen-ji Sainen Temple and the remains of 四谷見附 Yotsuya Mitsuke. This temple is most famous for the grave of  服部半蔵 AKA Hattori Hanzō, the trusted vassal of Tokugawa Ieyasu and namesake of Edo Castle’s 半蔵門 Hanzō Mon Hanzō Gate (and subsequently the Hanzōmon Line subway). You can read more about him here. A little known fact is that there is a tower on the temple grounds honoring Ieyasu’s first born son, Nobuyasu. I don’t know much about the dude, but Nobuyasu was married to one of Oda Nobunaga’s daughters and was accused of plotting against Nobunaga. Nobunaga wasn’t having that shit and to confirm Ieyasu’s loyalty, told Ieyasu to order his son to commit seppuku. Nobuyasu seems to have been kinda cunty, but still, no father wants to order their son to slit his own belly and die. Nevertheless, Ieyasu made the command like a Sengoku badass. The thing that’s interesting about this to me is that (1) the first born son was the most important child to a family in those days so this had to be hard (2) Ieyasu seems to have held a grudge against his 2nd son, the second shōgun, Hidetada, for a number of reasons. I can’t help but wonder if this was one of them.

Yotsuya Gate during the Edo Period.

Yotsuya Gate during the Edo Period.

Very little remains of the 四谷御門 Yotsuya Go-mon Yotsuya Gate and 四谷見附 Yotsuya Mitsuke. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about what I’m looking at when I visit Japanese castles. But recently, I took a walk around the remains of Edo Castle with Eric from Jcastle.info and I’ve started looking at castles in a whole new light. I’m pretty into mitsuke now and Edo Castle had 36. Gotta catch ‘em all!

Yotsuya Gate Ruins

Yotsuya Gate Ruins

And lastly, I’d be an asshole if I didn’t bring up the legendary 四谷怪談 Yotsuya Kaidan The Ghost Story of Yotsuya. As you know, telling scary stories has been a national past time in Japan since time immemorial. This is one of the most famous ghost stories in Japan because it was originally immortalized as a kabuki play, but has been retold time and time again in various genres. Here’s Wikipedia’s article on the story.

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[i] And we will – once again – come to a dead end today.

[ii] “Houses” in the historical sense of families. Think Game of Thrones or any histories that you’ve read. The House of Caesar, the House of Charlemagne, the House of Tokugawa, the House of Kardashian.

[iii] More about this later, of course. But the previous “four families” could also be taken as “four shops” in that in the Edo Period (and indeed before then) because professions were inherited so in some ways 家 ya family and 屋 ya shop were interchangeable. Just look at the kanji for the fast food chain Yoshinoya 吉野家 Yoshino-ya which uses the kanji for family and not shop. (It’s generally assumed that this is not a family name but a reference to the hometown of the founder of the company). Either way, this illustrates a certain amount of flexibility with the kanji and meaning.

[iv] His book Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology is a fantastic look at the lay of the land and its impact on the growth of the Edo-Tōkyō. I can’t recommend it enough.

[v] The Genna Era is considered by some to be the “Golden Age” of the Edo Period. I’m not sure if I agree with that assessment, but that’s just personal taste, now isn’t it? Anyhoo, this is probably the most exciting part of the Edo Period because we see the succession of the first three Tokugawa shōguns, the most dramatic expansions of Edo Castle, the rise of Edo as the premier city in the realm, and gradual closing off of Japan. This era really sets the tone as a “Tokugawa Era.”

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