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What does Shinjuku mean?

In Japanese History on February 10, 2016 at 3:22 am

新宿
Shinjuku
(new post town)

koshu kaido naito-shinjuku

Shinjuku Dōri – this is where it all began.

Today’s article is long overdue. I originally wrote about Shinjuku in February 2013. The blog has matured a lot since then and I think there’s a lot more to say about the history of the area. The etymology is straightforward and was correct in the original article, but I just wanted to go into more detail. After all, Shinjuku isn’t just one of the busiest and most important places in Tōkyō; it’s arguably one of the busiest and most important places in the world. Also, just like Roppongi and Shibuya, Shinjuku has its fair share of both lovers and haters[i].

By the way, there are tons of footnotes[ii] in this article. As always, I suggest you use them. This is a pretty messy story.

My Previous Articles on Shinjuku:

shinjuku crazy

Shinjuku – skyscrapers, densely packed shopping and residential areas. Some are pristine, some are filthy (by Japanese standards, which is clean by many other standards lol).

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji

The kanji are fairly straightforward and longtime readers will probably want to skip to the next section, but for those of you aren’t so familiar with the kanji, here they are.


shin

new

宿
yado; shuku/juku

inn; suffix attached to a place name to indicate that it’s a post town

A note about pronunciation. In the 下町言葉 shitamachi kotoba low city dialect, the pronunciation Shinjiku and Shinshiku are sometimes heard. This usually isn’t done in daily conversation anymore, but is a feature of 落語 rakugo traditional story telling[iii]. I don’t know if it’s a true dialectal variant or an affectation. Also, in other parts of the country the kanji 新宿 can also be read as: Shinshuku, Niijuku, Arajuku, and Arayado. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

five highways.png

The so-called Gokaidō, or 5 Highways.

Famously, there were 5 highways leading to and from Edo[iv].  Of those five 街道 kaidō highways, one was the 甲州街道 Kōshu Kaidō which led from 日本橋 Nihonbashi in central Edo to 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain[v] in modern 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture, an important Tokugawa holding. Long time readers will know that before trains and cars, people walked everywhere. If you lived in Edo and wanted to go to any place in Japan, you just had to walk there. Depending on where you wanted to go, this could take weeks. Along the way, you had to sleep somewhere. As a result, a series of 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns were created to accommodate travelers[vi]. 宿 shuku, as you know means “inn” and 場 ba means “place” and 町 machi means “town.” These towns provided food, lodging, and ample opportunities for drinking and whoring.

At the beginning of the Edo Period, the original first rest town on the Kōshū Kaidō was in 高井戸宿 Takaido-shuku Takaido Post Town located in modern 杉並区Suginami-ku Suginami Ward. On a modern paved road, this walk could take you about 3 ½ hours. On an Edo Period road using Edo Period walking shoes, it would have taken a little longer. In addition to that, if you were a daimyō, you would be expected to proceed at a respectable pace and make a spectacle of your entourage which would make the same journey take even longer. Keep in mind that 3-4 hour calculation is assuming you actually started counting at Nihonbashi. If you came from some other area, there’s no telling how long it could take to get to Takaido-shuku.

Some Related Articles:

 

naito family crest upside down

The family crest of the Naitō family is a hanging wisteria. But in Shinjuku, the family crest is depicted upside down. It’s a mystery.

The Rise of Naitō-Shinjuku

In 1590, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu granted the 内藤家 Naitō-ke Naitō clan[vii] a massive fief outside of Edo to monitor traffic on the Kōshū Kaidō and the 鎌倉街道 Kamakura Kaidō. Later, this fief would become the Naitō clan’s 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki suburban residence[viii]. The land given to the Naitō clan was eventually deemed excessive compared to the 石高 kokudaka rice value[ix] of 高遠藩 Takatō Han Takatō Domain. So a certain section of the land was confiscated by the shōgunate and repurposed as a post town. The town came to be called 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku Naitō New Post Town.

the end

The End

Wait. What? Who the fuck are the Naitō?
And Takatō Domain? Dude, You Got Way Ahead of Yourself…

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry! I just wanted to give a quick overview. Bear with me (or bare with me, if you wanna), and I’ll explain everything. I promise.

The name Naitō will be attached to the place name Shinjuku for most of its existence, so let’s look into this family just a little bit.

Born in 1555 in 三河国岡崎 Mikawa no Kuni Okazaki Okazaki, Mikawa Province, a certain 内藤清成 Naitō Kiyonari was an important retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu[x]. In 1560, as a result of the 桶狭間之戦い Okehazama no Tatakai Battle of Okehazama, Tokugawa Ieyasu regained control of his family’s ancestral stronghold at 岡崎城 Okazaki-jō Okazaki Castle. This alliance with 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga was the beginning of Ieyasu’s rise to power and influence. This worked out nicely for all the Mikawa samurai. In 1580, Naitō Kiyonari was made the mentor of Ieyasu’s 3rd son (and future 2nd shōgun), 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada. At the time, he was 25 and Hidetada was just 2.

In 1590, Ieyasu gave up control of the ancestral Tokugawa lands in Mikawa Province and assumed control of the 関東八州 Kantō Hasshū 8 Kantō Provinces. This relocation meant a massive elite transfer. That is, all of Ieyasu’s Mikawa samurai moved to Edo. In the same year, he requested that Naitō Kiyonari also come to Edo to continue attending Hidetada in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. He granted him a large swath of land that provided tactical support to the villages surrounding the intersection of the Kōshū Kaidō and Kamakura Kaidō. The new fief spanned from 四谷 Yotsuya to 代々木 Yoyogi[xi]. At the time, this area was country. It was essentially the undeveloped areas west of the outer moat of Edo Castle. Since it existed outside of the original castle town and was developed by daimyō and 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the Tokugawa, it can be considered 山手 yamanote[xii] the high city.

Oh, and speaking of hatamoto and daimyō and all that. When Naitō Kiyonari came to Edo with Ieyasu, he came as a hatamoto. The clan’s luck changed for the better in 1691. At that time, the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi elevated the Naitō clan’s rank. In 1698, the shōgunate made 内藤清枚 Naitō Kiyokazu daimyō of Takatō Domain in present day 長野県 Nagano-ken Nagano Prefecture.

mail.png

You’ve got mail… from the shōgun.

Bureaucracy. It’s a Bitch.

By this time, Edo had been the Tokugawa capital for about 100 years. Although Ieyasu had granted Kiyokazu’s ancestor, Kiyonari, a vast swath of land, the rules about daimyō and rank had become stricter. Edo was expanding out into the country as well. This wasn’t the Sengoku Period anymore.

I mentioned it earlier, but with their newly earned daimyō status, the Naitō clan were under closer scrutiny by the 老中 rōjū shōgun’s chief advisors. The value of their new fief in Takatō wasn’t high enough to warrant such a large landholding in Kantō. It was bigger than or as big as most of the holdings of the richest daimyō – families that had been daimyō for a much longer time and who commanded huge domains. The shōgunate confiscated a section of the Naitō estate to make things seem fair. The area they were most interested in was the land where the Kōshū Kaidō and the 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō Ōme Highway intersected. This seemed like a good place to establish a shukuba machi (post town). The local villages had already been servicing the Naitō clan’s residence for almost 100 years. A local economy was present on both highways. Making an official post town in the area could take some of the onus off of Takaido and 伝馬町 Denma-chō[xiii] and build up a stronger suburban economy.

Even though the Naitō clan took a hit in terms of landholdings, the newly created shukuba, Naitō-Shinjuku, was destined to be a success – a wet, sticky, hot mess of a success.

Some related reading:

shukuba

Stereotypical image of a post town.

So, What was Naitō-Shinjuku?

Well, before the name Naitō Shinjuku got thrown around, the small town that popped up to service the palatial estate of the Naitō was called Naitō Machi literally “Naitō Town.”[xiv] This was the commoner district outside of the Naitō compound. So, a strong case could be made that the original name of Shinjuku was actually Naitō Machi. The addition of the word Shinjuku definitely came later.

harbinger of things to come

The green areas are the post town. The yellow areas are shrines, temples, and roads. The weird blue line is the Tama Jōsui (Tama Aqueduct). You’ll probably want to come back to this map later.

As I mentioned before, the original fief given to Kiyonari was later reduced when the family was given daimyō status and the area became a shimo-yashiki. But make no mistake about it; the plot of land held by the Naitō was still expansive. Modern 新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen Shinjuku Imperial Park is more or less the former Naitō estate.

tamagawa-en.JPG

This section of the Naitō residence was said to be open to the public.

The Naitō knew what a fantastic rural palace they had. They built several spacious gardens with manmade hills, ponds, and all manner of flowers and trees. The family was apparently very generous to the local people and opened up the玉川園 Tamagawa-en Tamagawa Garden to the general public each season[xv]. Tamagawa-en is easily counted among some of the most famous attractions of the Edo[xvi]. Even to this day, some of the cherry blossoms trees in Shinjuku Gyoen are said to be about 400 years old[xvii].

Related reading:

hiroshige ever the jokester

Utagawa Hiroshige – ever the jokester. What do you think this painting is about?

But it wasn’t all ice cream, daimyō gardens, and puppy dogs. Day to day life in the area was pretty mundane most of the time. From the Edo Period until the American Occupation, Shinjuku was notorious for drinking and whoring – and by that, I mean the unlicensed sort[xviii]. Since local unlicensed sex industries were a taboo topic, the Naitō Machi area was perhaps best known a relay station. This meant the shōgunate kept horse stables here for messengers who had to relay important messages quickly. The presence of a lot of horses meant this area was famously covered in 馬糞 bafun horse manure – or less politely maguzo horse shit. It’s said that on hot days, pedestrians and horses kicked up dust clouds of dirt and dry shit and the air was yellow and foul.

The neighborhood of 新宿区四谷4丁目 Shinjuku-ku Yotsuya yon-chōme 4th block of Yotsuya, Shinjuku Ward was called 四谷大木戸 Yotsuya Ōkido. This is because from 1616 to 1792 a special 関所 sekisho check point stood here. An ōkido – literally “large wooden door” – was the name given to the border stations that protected the routes in and out of the shōgun’s capital. Edo had 3 main ōkido:

name

highway

板橋大木戸
Itabashi Ōkido

中山道
Nakasendō

高輪大木戸
Takanawa Ōkido

東海道
Tōkaidō

四谷大木戸
Yotsuya Ōkido

甲州街道
Kōshū Kaidō

Travelers coming in and out of Edo would show their paperwork, and if approved they’d be admitted into the city. But apparently by the 1790’s, the shōgunate didn’t see the need for such precautions anymore.

okido

The entrance to Naitō Shinjuku was the Yotsuya Ōkido. The entrance was never this fortified, though. This looks like the center of a castle town, but this drawing was done in the the Late Edo Period when ōkido basically didn’t exist anymore.

Let’s Take a Stroll through Naitō-Shinjuku

Travelers coming in would pass the ōkido and continue on the Kōshū Kaidō through the post town. The area covered present day 新宿一丁目 Shinjuku Icchōme 1st block of Shinjuku, 二丁目 Ni-chōme 2nd block, and 三丁目 San-chōme 3rd block. Today, that stretch of road is called 新宿通り Shinjuku Dōri Shinjuku Street. The street was lined with all kinds of shops and inns and would have been like any other shukuba machi. The town ended when you arrived at a fork in the road in an area called 淀橋 Yodobashi[xix]. This fork was the beginning of the Ōmekaidō[xx].

naito shinjuku diorama.jpg

Everybody loves dioramas!

The post town gained quite a reputation in its first 20 years. There were 52 inns in addition to other businesses. Supposedly, nearly every business in Naitō-Shinjuku offered prostitutes as an additional service. It was so bad that the 奉行所 bugyōsho magistrate’s office was regularly hounded by the proprietors of shops in 吉原 Yoshiwara[xxi] who complained that they couldn’t compete with pricing and availability[xxii]. They insisted that the shōgunate either ban prostitution in Naitō-Shinjuku or at the very least regulate the shit out of it. After a fire devastated the area, the shōgunate mulled the costs of rebuilding. Compounded by complaints from rich proprietors in Yoshiwara, the post town was shut down in 1718.

More reading:

Shinjuku Dori.JPG

You may want to refer to the map I posted earlier. This is the modern route from the Yotsuya Ōkido to the split from the Kōshū Kaidō to the Ōmekaidō.

The Shut Down of Naitō-Shinjuku

However, the party didn’t stop – it just slowed down… but it slowed down a lot.

In the same year, the 8th shōgun, 徳川吉宗 Tokugawa Yoshimune, enacted a series of sumptuary laws called the 享保の改革の最 Kyōhō no Kaikaku Kyōhō Reforms. One of his reforms was aimed at restricting unlicensed prostitution and stated that 旅籠屋一軒につき飯盛女は2人まで hatago-ya ikken ni tsuki meshimori onna futari made inns for travelers may have no more than 2 meshimori onna per shop. Meshimori onna is the Japanese word for girls who served meals and provided sexual favors in post towns. That meant a town like Naitō-Shinjuku could now be regulated so the town was back in business almost as quickly as it had been shut down.

Edo Period Street Walkers.jpg

We’re not a post town anymore. Now we’re just a 岡場所 (okabasho), a local red light district.

The problem was that without its post town status people were passing through and staying at the original first official post town, Takaito. The village headman of Naitō Machi appealed to the shōgunate saying that most of the townspeople had lost their livelihoods. He also argued that other post towns, Takaito in particular, couldn’t handle all the traffic and re-opening Naitō-Shinjuku as a post town would ease the burden. Various appeals were made between 1723 and 1737 – more than 30 years. But every time the shōgunate rejected the petitions. They were effectively drawn off the maps. Naitō-Shinjuku was only known to the local commoner population and the Takatō samurai population who needed to indulge in a nice cup of tea, a bath, and some sex with a local Kantō girl. But this wasn’t enough. The town was suffering.

Finally, in 1772, about 50 years after the post town was closed by the shōgunate, they granted shukuba status to the area again[xxiii].

naito shinjuku in 1919

Naitō Shinjuku in 1919

The Icing on the Cake

Recently, the shōgunate had more or less given up on regulating the number of meshimori onna at inns. They began looking the other way when other shops began employing them too. They even went so far as to make special exceptions for certain villages, certain post towns, and even certain individual businesses. In short, Naitō-Shinjuku was back in full swing.

mesimorionna.jpg

Woo-hoo! Let’s get this party started. More sexxxy food time for everyone. Awwwwwwww yeah.

Shinjuku Swells Up & Gets Bigger and Bigger

Even after the obsolescence of post towns – these were often replaced by train stations – the area’s reputation as a red light district never diminished. To this day, Shinjuku’s lively 歌舞伎町 Kabukichō district is synonymous with the sex industry.

Again, given the sheer number of people, department stores, apartments, and skyscrapers that define Shinjuku today, it’s hard to believe it was never anything but a massive city center. But the area was still pretty underdeveloped until after the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. The real development began after a series of fires in 1925. The site was chosen as a 副都心 Fuku-toshin. Toshin means “city center.” Fuku-toshin literally means “vice city center,” but maybe “urban subcenter” is a better translation? I dunno. “Vice city center” sounds kinda bad ass. Anyways, that was when Shinjuku really began to get its proverbial girth.

Naito Machi.JPG

Modern Naito Machi includes both the former post town and former daimyō residence.

So What Happened to the Name Naitō-Shinjuku?

The creation of Shinjuku Ward is very complicated and boring but here’s the short version. In the 1920’s, Naitō-Shinjuku was combined with some other towns to form 淀橋区 Yodobashi-ku Yodobashi Ward. In 1947, when Shinjuku Ward was created Naitō Machi still existed – indeed, that postal address still exists today. And while Naitō-Shinjuku was the first Shinjuku, it wasn’t the only Shinjuku. There were 西新宿 Nishi-Shinjuku West Shinjuku and 東新宿 Higashi Shinjuku East Shinjuku and… well, you get the picture. Thus when reshuffling administrative units of Tōkyō in 1947, it just made sense to call the whole area “Shinjuku.” This was the common name for the district anyways; Naitō-Shinjuku was just one part of that area.

And while we haven’t lost Naitō Machi as a postal address, we have actually lost Naito-Shinjuku. But the debauchery of Naitō-Shinjuku lives on in Kabukichō and other parts of Shinjuku Ward. I can’t help but feel that the culture of Shinjuku is deeply rooted in its licentious post town days. Don’t forget things were so out of control the fucking Yoshiwara tried to shut them down!

So the next time you visit a prostitute in the area, just remember that you’re actually connecting with a profound, grand, unbroken historical erotic tradition passed down directly from the culture of the Edo Period.

Oh yeah, and the park’s not too bad.

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[i] I count myself among both groups. Yes, I’m a lover and a hater.
[ii] Footnote test. lol.
[iii] Here’s the Wikipedia article on rakugo.
[iv] There were more than 5, by the way. But the traditional “big 5” started at Nihonbashi. Here’s my article on them.
[v] For the record, in the Edo Period, 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain was a Tokugawa shōgunate controlled fief located in 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni Kai Province. Fans of the Sengoku Period will recognize Kai Province and Kōfu (which both share the kanji 甲 kai/) as the territory of the Sengoku warlord 武田信玄 Takeda Shingen.
[vi] This system wasn’t a product of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. It popped up naturally as villagers took advantage of inter-provincial/inter-domain traffic. The Tokugawa shōgunate definitely insisted on regulating it.
[vii] Later the clan would be promoted to daimyō rank. They controlled 高遠藩 Takatō Han Takatō Domain in modern 長野県伊那 Nagano-ken Ina-shi Ina City, Nagano Prefecture
[viii] More about that later. At this time, the Naitō family were just retainers of Ieyasu. Ieyasu was just a daimyō, one of the 5 most powerful daimyō in Japan, but he still had a 10 year uphill struggle to become shōgun.
[ix] Here’s a good explanation of kokudaka from Samurai Archives.
[x] Who went by the name 松平元康 Matsudaira Motoyasu in those days.
[xi] According to legend, Ieyasu told Naitō Kiyonari that he would give him a fief based on how far his horse could ride. This ended up being Yotsuya in the east, Yoyogi in the west, Sendagaya in the south, and Ōkubo in the north. Take the story with a grain of salt.
[xii] I know this has been beaten to death here, but if you don’t know what yamanote and shitamachi mean, please read this article.
[xiii] Denma-chō was home to one of Edo’s 3 Great Execution Grounds.
[xiv] This is what happens when commoners suck up to nobles.
[xv] As a 武家 buke military family, of course they didn’t allow full access to the entire residence and all the gardens, but still, that’s pretty cool.
[xvi] This area is now present day 玉藻池 Tamamo Ike Tamamo Lake in Shinjuku Gyoen
[xvii] I don’t know how you confirm this without cutting the tree down, but what the hell do I know?
[xviii] This means, no government regulation free-range prostitution. You’ll see what I mean soon enough.
[xix] If the name Yodobashi sounds familiar to you (ie; like a huge electronics retailer), you’re not going crazy. The shop’s name derives from this location. I have an article about that somewhere.
[xx] Today, parts of this road still exist, including the famous “rape tunnel.” It’s preserved as the 旧青梅街道 Kyū-Ōmekaidō Old Ōmekaidō. The current road that bears the name Ōmekaidō has been moved a little. If you look at the walls in the tunnel, they have the whole length of the Ōmekaidō mapped out and each post town is labeled!
[xxi] Yoshiwara was the main licensed prostitution district of Edo.
[xxii] Yoshiwara was extremely expensive. The whole process was highly ritualized in the classier establishments. You’d go one night to have tea with a proprietor and if you were lucky, you’d be introduced to a girl for some more tea. Then you’d have to come back and court her more until she finally said, “yes.” Of course, there were lower class places that sped up the process. But in a Naitō-Shinjuku it was like “do you want a girl after your tea?” or “thanks for ordering a plate of soba, would you like a blow job after that?”
[xxiii] By 1808 the town had made a full economic recovery as it’s recorded that they had 50 inns and 80 tea houses.

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

 。

etymology_header

 。

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.”

Why is Shinjuku called Shinjuku?

In Japanese History on February 16, 2013 at 6:09 am

新宿
Shinjuku (New Shuku → New Post Town)

The word 宿 shuku (宿場 shuku-ba “rest town”) was used in the Edo Period to refer to post towns on the highway system connecting various feudal domains. When a certain daimyō built his lower residence in the area, a new post town was created on the Kōshū Kaidō post road and named “new post town.”

koshu kaido

Map of the shukuba on the Koshukaido.
The road stretched from Edo to present day Nagano.

The daimyō family who lived here was called 内藤 (Naitō), so the name of the town became NaitōShinjuku (New Shuku Naito). The name Naito-Shinjuku persisted until the 1920’s.

As a post town, there would have been many places to drink and get laid. Modern Shinjuku isn’t much different… except that the Tokyo Municipal Government is also based there. Awwwww yeah.

Shinjuku or Sinjuku?

Shinjuku at night

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