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What does Hakusan mean?

In Japanese History on March 23, 2014 at 4:56 am

白山
Hakusan (white mountain)

Hakusan Shrine, Bunkyo Ward.

Hakusan Shrine, Bunkyo Ward.

Today we’re going to wrap up our little journey around 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward which has taken us to Myōgadani, Koishikawa, and finally Hakusan. For fans of Bunkyō Ward, don’t worry, we’ll be coming back in the future as there’s a lot to talk about in this area. And if for some reason, you absolutely cannot wait, I have old articles on Suidōbashi and Kichijōji (yes, Kichijōji is related, believe it or not).

Anyways, today’s place name is brought you by the Shintō term 勧請 kanjō. Kanjō refers to the ceremonial transfer or sharing of a 神 kami deity from one shrine to another shrine. We will get deeper into religion in a little bit; but for this story, the specifics of the kanjō[i] aren’t necessary. And to be honest, that’s about all I know about the subject.

The origin of this place name is fairly obvious because it has been recorded independently in two parts of the country at the same time. The name is said to come from 白山神社 Hakusan Jinja Hakusan Shrine which is still located in the area. Unlike the former daimyō residences that used to dominate the area which didn’t survive, this particular shrine enjoyed the patronage of both the Tokugawa and Meiji governments and turned out to be a true survivor.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


haku

White


san

Mountain
Shirayama-hime Shrine in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Shirayama-hime Shrine in Ishikawa Prefecture.

In 948 (middle of the Heian Period), the tutelary kami of 白山比咩神社 Shirayama-hime Jinja Shirayama-hime Shrine was split and transferred to this area. Shirayama Shrine is a major shrine in 加賀国 Kaga no Kuni, present day 石川県 Ishikawa-ken Ishikawa Prefecture. Note that Shirayama is the 訓読み kun’yomi Japanese reading and Hakusan is the 音読み on’yomi Chinese reading of 白山.

Hakusan Shrine was originally located in 武蔵国豊島郡本郷元町 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Hongō Motomachi  Hongō Old Town, Toshima District, Musashi Province (which is now in nearby 本郷一丁目 Hongō Icchōme). In about 1620, Tokugawa Hidetada moved the temple onto the premises of 御薬園 go-yakuen the shōgunate’s garden for healing herbs (the area that is now part of the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens).  After the Meireki Fire in 1655, the lord of 館林藩 Tatebayashi Han Tatebayashi Domain ordered that the shrine be rebuilt at its present location in order to use the space for his new residence[ii]. It’s evident that from quite early in the Edo Period Hakusan Shrine came to be patronized by the Tokugawa Shōgun Family[iii].

Hakusan Shrine in the Edo Period.

Hakusan Shrine in the Edo Period.

10 Shrines of Tōkyō

In the Meiji Era, Hakusan Shrine was one of the 東京十社 Tōkyō Jissha the 10 Shrines of the Eastern Capital.

In many previous articles, I’ve said that Japanese religion is syncretic. This means it was very similar to the polytheistic religions of the classical western world, for example Rome or Greece. While monotheistic religions make no exception for other religions, polytheistic religions – by nature – at least entertain the possibility that other religions might be on to something. Originally Shintō and Buddhism butted heads a bit, but over time they borrowed from each other and incorporated certain elements of each other.

The two religions were incestuously intertwined by the Edo Period. When the Meiji Coup of 1868 took place, the government favored Shintō because: Shintō held all the original Japanese creation myths; it was native Japanese[iv]; Buddhism found particular favor among the samurai class; and most importantly, Shintō included justification of imperial rule by divine descent from Japanese kami of the sun, 天照大御神 Amaterasu-ōmikami Amaterasu.

In 1868, one of the earliest edicts issued by the Imperial Court was the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzenrei Kami/Buddha Separation Edict. The court wanted none of this touchy-feely Shintō kami and Buddhist Buddhas living together in peace and harmony. What’s more, sprawling syncretic temple complexes like Zōjō-ji and the recently burned Kan’ei-ji were not just massive 菩提寺 bodaiji family temples of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family, they were also tourist destinations[v].

The Meiji Government was not having this at all. So they decided to create a diversion. In order to make this new emperor worship thing cool, they established the 東京十社 Tōkyō Jissha the 10 Shrines of the Eastern Capital[vi] in order to get people to go on a new Imperial Court sanctioned pilgrimage.

By the way, all of this hot and sweaty emperor-loving, getting back to Shintō roots, and overall xenophobia led to years of deadly vigilante attacks against Buddhists, coerced conversions, and outright destruction of centuries old temples. Yay religion!

At any rate, the Hakusan Shrine is still with us today and is still fairly major shrine. Every year during the rainy season, hundreds of people make the pilgrimage to Hakusan Shrine for its 紫陽花祭 Ajisai Matsuri Hydrangea Festival. The plants bloom every year and the precincts are covered with vivid purples, blues, whites, and pinks.

IMG_0787

Connection with Kaga Domain’s Estate?

As mentioned in my article on Koishikawa, in the Edo Period, the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of 加賀藩 Kaga Han Kaga Domain was located in the area. The primary deity enshrined at Hakusan originated in Kaga no Kuni. In the other article I speculated that this was probably just a coincidence. But I looked into it a little more and while I didn’t find a definitive answer, what I know now gives a little better idea of the actual connection between the shrine and the Kaga estate.

Well, actually, the 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence was also nearby. The middle residence was where the family of the lord lived. While an upper residence was an administrative center or embassy, the middle residence was exactly that – a residence. Any sort of religious acts of devotion to the domain’s tutelary kami would have been carried out by members of the daimyō family in a private sense, not necessarily as public, domain activities.

From what I can tell, the location of the upper residence near this shrine was probably a coincidence – or a petition for a location near the shrine could have been submitted to the shōgunate by the lord of Kaga[vii]. It seems that 2nd shōgun, Tokugawa Hidetada, moved the shrine to the go-yakuen location as a favor to Kaga Domain so it would be closer to their middle residence. When the shōgunate moved the shrine after the Meireki fire, they moved the shrine even closer to Kaga’s middle estate.

Here you can see the locations of Hakusan Shrine move closer Kaga's middle estate. The white dot at the bottom of the page is Tokyo Dome and you can see Koishikawa Korakuen to the immediate left of the Dome.

Here you can see the locations of Hakusan Shrine move closer Kaga’s middle estate.
The white dot at the bottom of the page is Tokyo Dome and you can see Koishikawa Korakuen to the immediate left of the Dome.
* click the photo to enlarge *

So there was an actual connection between Hakusan and Kaga Domain, but it most definitely pre-dates the Edo Period. The story of Koishikawa meaning Little Ishikawa is most likely a folk etymology that came about after the creation of Ishikawa Prefecture in 1871. While, yes, there would have been many samurai from Kaga running around the area during the Edo Period, the name  石川 Ishikawa usually referred to a 郡 gun a district within Kaga Domain. I’m not sure if local Edoites would have been familiar with (or even cared about) the administrative districts of an area so far away. The Meiji Era reforms saw newspapers, maps, and cheaper books increase access to information. They also literally put Ishikawa Prefecture on the map.

The 御守殿門 Go-Shuden Mon also called 御住居表御門 Go-Shukyo Omote Go-Mon but popularly referred to as 赤門 Aka Mon the Red Gate is a symbol of Tokyo University. In fact, the nickname of the university is Aka Mon. This was the front gate of of Kaga's upper residence. It's the only structure that survived an 1855 earthquake that burned down the palace.  The heart of Tokyo University's Hongo Campus is built on the ruins of this sprawling palace.

The 御守殿門 Go-Shuden Mon also called 御住居表御門 Go-Shukyo Omote Go-Mon but popularly referred to as 赤門 Aka Mon the Red Gate is a symbol of Tokyo University. In fact, the nickname of the university is Aka Mon.
This was the front gate of of Kaga’s upper residence. It’s the only structure that survived an 1855 earthquake that burned down the palace.
The heart of Tokyo University’s Hongo Campus is built on the ruins of this sprawling palace.

In the Edo Period, as you can imagine, the area wasn’t as densely populated as today, and it was distinctly yamanote. Administratively, Hakusan was a small portion of 武蔵国豊島郡小石川村 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Koishikawa Mura Koishikawa Village, Toshima District, Musashi Province. In 1878, the Meiji Government split the area between the now defunct  小石川区  Koishikawa-ku Koishikawa Ward and 本郷区 Hongō-ku Hongō Ward. In 1947, with the creation of the 23特別区 23 Special Wards, the split areas were re-merged in the new 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward. In 1967, with the creation of the modern postal code system, the area called Hakusan came to consist of just 5 blocks.

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[i] English teachers in Japan who teach children, you can relax. This is 勧請 kanjō, not 浣腸 kanchō. You can safely unclench your asses now.

[ii] Wait a minute! I’ve been to Tatebayashi. It’s a middle of nowhere backwater. In the shōgun’s capital, who the hell did this country bumpkin think he was to start telling religious institutions in Edo what to do? Oh, I’m glad you asked. He was none other than the 4th living son of the 3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu, the future Dog Shōgun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. Tsunayoshi had been put in charge of a fief well outside of Edo because he was smart and crafty and Iemitsu apparently felt that he would try to murder and usurp power from his older brother, future 4th shōgun, Ietsuna. In hindsight, however, it appears Tsunayoshi truly respected and looked up to his brother. Tsunayoshi built Ietsuna’s lavish funerary temple in Kan’ei-ji, Gen’yūin, and ordered that his own funerary temple be built next door. To this day, the two brothers rest in adjacent lots in the cemetery at Kan’ei-ji.

[iii] Because pre-shōgun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, had a residence in what is today Hakusan 3-chōme, until 1967, the area was still officially called  白山御殿町 Hakusan Goten Machi Hakusan Palace Town. Older residents of the area still use the name. Apparently, there are plaques commemorating the same scattered throughout the area.

[iv] Pretty sure everyone knows that Buddhism was imported.

[v] Much as Nikkō still is today.

[vi] This grouping doesn’t exist anymore so I couldn’t find an English article on it, but here’s the list of the 10 Shrines in Japanese.

[vii] The lords of Kaga were the 前田 Maeda, who weren’t on the best of terms with the Tokugawa during the Sengoku Period.

What does Koishikawa mean?

In Japanese History on March 19, 2014 at 8:15 am

小石川
Koishikawa (pebble river)

Tokyo Dome

Tokyo Dome

Koishikawa is a small area located within 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward. If you’ve ever been to 東京ドームTōkyō Dōmu Tōkyō Dome for a Giants game or a concert, you’ve been to Koishikawa.

First, let’s talk about the kanji of this name. They’re really quite simple, actually.


ko

small


ishi

stone


kawa

river

The area first comes on to the radar in the Muromachi Period. It was a somewhat undefined area within 武蔵国豊島郡小石河村 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Koishikawa Mura Koishikawa Village, Toshima District, Musashi Province and it was originally written as  小石河 Koishikawa. The old kanji have exactly the same meaning as the modern kanji. The reason the area pops up in the annals is because a new temple was founded here in 1415. That temple’s name is 伝通院[i]  Denzū-in Denzū Temple. It might have just been another boring ol’ temple in the area, except they were the landholders of an extremely large area. The name is generally said to derive from a river that passed by the front gate of the temple. The river had many pebbles in it and so it was calle小石河 Koishi Kawa Koishi River (Pebble River)[ii].

At the beginning of the Edo Period, this area was quite rural and characterized by small farms and 町家 machiya those traditional wooden Japanese houses with a business on the first floor and home on the 2nd floor. That is to say, it was primarily 下町 shitamachi low city. However, by the middle of the Edo Period, most of the agricultural lands had become populated by satellite temples, 武家屋敷 buke yashiki samurai residences, and 大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō residences.

One of the gates of the middle residence of Mito Domain. (Destroyed by firebombing in WWII)

One of the gates of the middle residence of Mito Domain.
(Destroyed by firebombing in WWII)

When the 御茶之水堀割 O-cha no Mizu Horiwari Ochanomizu Waterway was built at the beginning of the Edo Period, it connected the Koishi River and Sumida River – all of this was part of the larger 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui Kanda Waterworks. Today there is no Koishi River, but the portion of the Kanda River that was made from the old river is known.

Once we get into the Edo Period, the area completely transformed. To understand the area, we have to understand the nature of this transformation. There were two major factors responsible for this monumental change. Firstly, Denzū-in’s relationship with the shōgunate changed and secondly, the policy of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance[iii] was formalized. These changes placed some of the shōgunate’s most prominent allies into the area and enhanced the area’s association with political influence and religio-cultural prestige[iv].

Denzu-in

Denzu-in

How did Religion Change the Area?

As I mentioned before, Denzū-in was founded in 1415. Originally, it was a massive temple complex, but today its former landholdings are spread out all over the area. When the temple precinct was completely intact, it was the said to be the 3rd 徳川将軍家菩提寺 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke no Bodai-ji family temple of the shōgun family[v].  In the original configuration, 茶阿局 Chā no Tsubone, the main wife of Tokugawa Ieyasu was interred in one of the satellite temples[vi]. However, since the temple lands were split up in the Meiji Period, the grave of his mother, 於大方 O-dai no Kata[vii], has been Denzū-in’s major claim to fame. But the former precinct’s cemeteries still exist and you can find the children, grandchildren, and some concubines of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family buried in this area. Most of these people, of course, are people you’ve never heard of – rich, privileged Edo Period nobles who lived in the confines of the castle but had little or no impact on history[viii].

Cha no Tsubone's grave.

Cha no Tsubone’s grave.

O-dai no Kata's grave.

O-dai no Kata’s grave.

 

Why Were There so Many Elite Graves in the Area?

Originally characterized by agriculture, the area soon found itself home to high ranking samurai officials (think middle to upper management ) and some of the largest 藩邸 hantei domain headquarters (think senior management, embassies, and heads of state). The Tokugawa Shōgun Family’s patronage of the local temples as cemeteries also increased the prestige of the area.

In 1629, an expansive garden was built on the land granted to the 水戸徳川家 Mito Tokugawa-ke the Mito branch of the Tokugawa Family. The project was completed under the auspices of 徳川光圀 Tokugawa Mitsukuni, popularly known as 水戸黄門 Mito Kōmon[ix] the Yellow Gate of Mito – vice-shōgun and second hereditary lord of 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain[x].  The garden was built in the middle of Mito Domain’s sprawling 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence[xi]. This private garden was built for the enjoyment of the lords of Mito and was absolutely not open to the common riff-raff of Edo. It was typical of Japanese elite of the Edo Period to build and maintain these sorts of gardens for relaxation (remember, they had no TV, internet, or AKB). It’s one of a small handful of Edo Period gardens still remaining in Tōkyō. The fact that this park more or less survived the fires of Edo, the Meiji Government confiscations, the Great Kantō Earthquake, the Firebombing of Tōkyō , and urban sprawl is a miracle of history.

You can see how large the Mito estate was and the garden directly in the center.

You can see how large the Mito estate was and the garden directly in the center.

Mito’s neighbor was 加賀藩  Kaga Han Kaga Domain, whose middle residence was even more massive. (Much of Tōkyō University’s Hongō Campus sits on the former site of this palatial residence). I’m gonna come back to Kaga Domain and Mito Domain’s park in a minute[xii]. (And don’t forget about the footnotes, we’ve just passed the 12th one!!)

But yeah, the Mito Tokugawa[xiii] were one of the biggest landholders in Edo. Their middle residence comprised most of what is generally called Koishikawa today – including all of Tōkyō Dome. In comparing Edo Period maps and modern maps, it seems like the entire garden isn’t preserved, but for the most part it’s still intact[xiv].

The seimon (main gate) of Mito's middle residence.

The seimon (main gate) of Mito’s middle residence.

A Little More About the Area

Of course, the area is most famous for Tōkyō Dome.

Next to Tōkyō Dome is 東京ドームシティアトラクションズ Tōkyō Dōmu Atorakushonzu Tōkyō Dome City Attractions which is generally referred to by people over 30 as 後楽園遊園地 Kōrakuen Yūenchi Kōrakuen Amusement Park, the site’s name until 2003. Sadly, the area’s third claim to fame is actually its namesake, 小石河後楽園 Koishikawa Kōrakuen, the park built by Tokugawa Mitsukuni. It’s sad to think how few people living in Tōkyō even know about the park! I’m not even kidding when I say that I’ve probably met more people who’ve never heard of Kōrakuen than people who know it. Or maybe I’m socializing in the wrong circles…

Also located in the area (near Myōgadani Station) is 小石川植物園 Koishikawa Shokubutsuen Koshikawa Botanical Garden. This land was home to one of the shōgunate’s 御薬園 go-yakuen medicinal herb gardens.

Another famous building on the premises was the 小石川養生所 Koishikawa Yōjōsho the Koishikawa Recuperation Facility. It was established in the middle of the Edo Period[xv] by the 8th shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, as a state-funded free medical facility for those who couldn’t afford medical attention. I’m not clear on the details, but I envision a mix between a free clinic and an all-out hospital. The Meiji Government confiscated the lands and gave them to the newly established 東京大学 Tōkyō Daigaku Tōkyō University and the university has maintained the lands ever since. I haven’t been there myself, but it sounds like a pretty awesome garden, actually.

Model of the Recuperation Facility (with roof cut away).

Model of the Recuperation Facility (with roof cut away).

Oh, we’re at the Meiji Period now?

Yeah, we’re at the Meiji Period.  The donation of the herb farm and Recuperation Facility to Tōkyō University was in 1877. About 10 years later, the government figured out a new civil administration system and in 1889 小石川区 Koishikawa-ku Koishikawa Ward was created.

In the Shōwa Period – 1947, to be precise – Koishikawa Ward was abolished and present day Bunkyō Ward was established. Today the name survives as five 丁目 chōme blocks within Bunkyō Ward – some of which, but not all of which, exist where the former Mito palace stood. Modern Koishikawa does not correspond to the old Mito holdings.

Map of modern Koishikawa. You can see the Botanical Garden above it. At the very bottom, you can see the Korakuen and Tokyo Dome, just on the other side of the border.

Map of modern Koishikawa.
You can see the Botanical Garden above it.
At the very bottom, you can see the Korakuen and Tokyo Dome, just on the other side of the border.

So what’s the Etymology?

小石川
koishi kawa

pebble river

小石川
ko-Ishikawa

little Ishikawa

As I mentioned before, the most popular etymology is that as most of the area was originally under the control of 伝通院[xvi] Denzū-in, the area got its name from the river that ran past the front of the temple. That river supposedly had many 小石 koishi pebbles in it. So it was called 小石川 Koishikawa the Small Pebble River.

A second theory exists. That theory derives the name from 加賀国石川郡 Kaga no Kuni Ishikawa-gun Ishikawa District, Kaga Province. Yes, that would be home of 加賀藩 Kaga Han Kaga Domain who had their enormous middle residence right next door to Mito’s residence. When they built their 藩邸 hantei domain headquarters here, they had to transfer the clan’s tutelary kami, 白山権現 Hakusan Gongen here. According to this theory, the area was 小石川 Ko-Ishikawa Little Ishikawa. This isn’t too far-fetched, as the sheer size of this residence would have required a fairly large staff. So there would have been large community of people from Ishikawa living, working, and being out and about in the area. If this theory is true[xvii], nearby 白山駅 Hakusan Eki Hakusan Station has a similar origin – which will be addressed in the next article.

However, since we know the name of the river pre-dates the Edo Period, I think that this place name is a mixture of both. Kaga Domain’s residence being put here was probably just a coincidence – unless it was a sort of オヤジギャグ oyaji gag played out in real life by the shōgunate[xviii] – and the locals made a connection between samurai from Ishikawa and the river name.

The walls surrounding Korakuen are new, but they give you an idea of what how a daimyo residence would have looked from the street level.

The walls surrounding Korakuen are new, but they give you an idea of what how a daimyo residence would have looked from the street level.

                                   

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[i] Also written 傳通院.
[ii] This is the most popular theory.
[iii]A quick primer on what Alternate Attendance means is here.
[iv] By the way, religio-cultural isn’t a word. I just made that up.
[v] The most famous being Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji. See my articles here.
[vi] Chā no Tsubone’s grave is located at nearby 宗慶寺 Sōkei-ji. The temple is located here.
[vii] Her name is written a variety of ways: 於大方, お大の方, 於大, , . The word Kata is more of a title than an actual name – although she may have been called O-dai casually by her family. I also came across an alternative writing, 御大方 O-daihō, so go figure….
[viii] If any university student is looking for a graduation thesis to write in English, an interactive Tokugawa family tree that matches with graves, birthplaces, and residences would be a much appreciated resource for anyone interested in Japanese history and you’d be remembered forever. Just sayin’.
[ix] And often punned as 水戸肛門 the Sphincter of Mito.
[x] But to yours truly, he will forever be known as the douchebag who established 水戸学 Mito Gaku Mito Learning – a philosophy which viewed a divine emperor as the  ruler of Japan. It viewed the first Ashikaga shōgun, 足利尊氏 Ashikaga Takauji as an imperial rebel who unlawfully usurped control of Japan. Under this mode of thought, Tokugawa Ieyasu and his descendants, while legitimately being conferred the title of shōgun by the emperor, were actually subservient to the emperor and his court in Kyōto. The shōgunate paid lip service to this arrangement, but in reality they were in complete control and the emperor and his silly court were subservient to Edo. At the end of the Edo Period, this philosophy, which was quite unique to Mito, was used by rebel factions as a basis for overthrowing the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, was actually a member of the Mito branch of the Tokugawa family. Had the Mito Gaku philosophy ended with the Edo Period, it would have only mattered during the Bakumatsu. But as the idea of an Emperor-centric Japan spread to legitimize the new Meiji State, the emperor’s divinity was emphasized, and Japan began going down a theocratic path bound for a head-to-head collision with WWII. Fuck Mito Gaku. And fuck Mito Kōmon.
[xi] What’s a “middle residence?” Please read my article here.
[xii] Kaga Domain was the fief of the 前田家 Maeda-ke the Maeda family. Their Sengoku Period superstar was 前田利家 Maeda Toshiie, one of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s arch-rivals. But while we’re talking about gardens, one of the most amazing gardens in Japan is 兼六園 Kenrokuen near 金沢城 Kanazawa-jō Kanazawa Kastle. The Kaga Maeda and Mito Tokugawa seemed to have competed a little in garden building. Oh, also, Kaga Domain was fairly small, but it was one of the richest.
[xiii] Hey!!! Who the fuck were the Mito Tokugawa??? They were the Tokugawa living in present day Ibaraki.
[xiv] If you can read Japanese, this guy has some map comparisons that activate when you rollover the images.
[xv]It was established in 1722 as part of the 享保の改革 Kyōhō Kaikaku Kyōhō Reforms, to be exact.
[xvi] Also written 傳通院.
[xvii] And we’re gonna talk about this more in the next article.
[xviii] Which I don’t think it was. But who knows…

What does Myogadani mean?

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

茗荷谷
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?

map

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

茗荷 myōga

myōga

tani

valley

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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.

Myoga

Myoga

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.

Shoga

Shoga


What is Sh
ōga?

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.



ya

More common in the east


たに
tani

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.

UPDATE:

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.
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