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What does Harajuku mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Travel in Japan on April 7, 2016 at 3:01 pm

原宿
Harajuku
(first post town, more at “rest spot on the plain”)

harajuku stupid

Let this image sink in for a minute.

I get emails about the blog. Not a shitload, but I get them from time to time. However, it’s rare that I get blindsided by an email.

That said, I love getting blindsided by emails, so let’s check this out.

I recently moved to Japan and I’m living in Yoyogi. I spend a lot of time in Harajuku. Because I’m studying Japanese now I’m interested in the kanji for Shinjuku and Harajuku. You’re article on Shinjuku was amazeballs and it got me thinking. But I can only find information on Yoyogi and Shinjuku. I searched your website and can’t find anything about Harajuku. Do you have a plan to write about Harajuku? Love the blog. Looking forward to your next article!

I was outraged! I must’ve written about Harajuku 100 thousand times at least.

Well, OK, not 100 thousand times, but I know I’ve written about Harajuku at least 100 times. And I set out to prove this reader wrong, goddammit.

wrong.jpg

But She was 100% Correct

I searched my own site like crazy, convinced that I’d covered the subject before. After all, it’s such a simple one; I knew I had to have written about it! But after a good 15 minutes of scavenging my own work for a single article about Harajuku, I realized that I’ve mentioned Harajuku and the surrounding areas many times, but I’ve actually never written about the etymology of Harajuku itself.

Dear reader, I stand corrected, and this glaring omission is going to be remedied today – right freaking now. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention[i].
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As for some related articles, you might want to check later:

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Japanese vs English google seach

Your image of Harajuku probably depends on your ethnicity, culture, and language. The image of the left was the first image that came up on a Google image search in Japanese. The image on the right is the first image that came up when I searched in English.

 

First Let’s Look at the Kanji


hara, gen

origin, source, beginning; field, plain

宿
shuku/juku, yado

inn, post town

At first glance the word 原宿 Harajuku looks like it means “first post town,” but its actual etymology is “post town on the plains.” You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

Like many place names in the Kantō area, we don’t get a lot of solid information about this place until the Kamakura Period[ii]. Prior to this period elite culture had flourished in Kyōto and western Japan under the imperial court. Kantō cities like Kamakura or (god forbid) Edo[iii], were nothing before the rise of samurai culture in the East under the 源氏 Genji Minamoto clan[iv]. With their rise in the East, came a rise in literacy in the East and much better record keeping.

harajuku station taisho period.jpg

Harajuku Station in the Taishō Period (1920’s), when it was brand spankin’ new.

What Little We Know

It’s said that the 鎌倉街道 Kamakura Kaidō Kamakura Highway going from 相模国 Sagami no Kuni Sagami Province[v] to 大州 Ōshū (roughly modern 岩手県 Iwate-ken Iwate Prefecture) had a post town in the area. But, if you’ve read my article about Shinjuku, don’t get any big ideas. This “town” wasn’t much more than a scattershot collection of farms just barely subsiding on their (luckily) fertile land. Until quite recently, this was the boondocks.

Specifically, it seems to have been a 宿駅 shukueki relay station[vi] for horses. The Kantō area was famous since time immemorial for horse rearing. The highlands near modern Harajuku seem to have been horse grazing areas in the 11th Century. The area was referred to as a 原 hara field/meadow, so 原宿 Harajuku literally meant “field inn.”

But I want to emphasize that it was basically just a horse relay station. This wasn’t a place to eat, sleep, take a bath, and get your dick wet. For the casual traveler in this area, you were lucky to find a little shelter from the elements and a clean dirt floor to sleep on. There wasn’t even a proper village here for most of its existence.

Minamoto_no_Yoshiie.jpg

Minamoto no Yoshiie was held up as the paragon of samurai values by Minamoto no Yoritomo, founder of the first shōgunate. The family’s reverence of his ideals and beliefs (true or not) came to permeate all of samurai culture. As a result, he’s one of those mysterious people who affected Japanese culture in a way that would have blown his mind if he could rise from the dead and read about himself on the internet today.

I mentioned the rise of the Minamoto clan in the east, and usually we talk about 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo the first Kamakura shōgun. But today we’ll talk about an earlier family member, 源義家 Minamoto no Yoshiie also known as Hachimantarō.[vii] During the 後三年合戦 Gosannen Kassen Gosannen War[viii] which was fought in the 1080’s, Yoshiie set up a camp in this area. Today this day in 神宮前2丁目 Jingūmae Ni-chōme 2nd block of Jingūmae there is a hill called 勢揃坂 Seizoroi-zaka which means “hill where troops are mustered.” The hill is also known as 源氏坂 Genji-zaka Genji Hill – Genji, of course meaning “the Minamoto clan” (but you already knew that).

genjizaka

The hill isn’t much to look at today, but if you do a Google image search in Japanese it’s mostly pictures of amazing looking food. I’m gonna follow up on this.

In the Edo Period, the high grounds were home to daimyō residences and high ranking samurai, while the sides of the hills went to low ranking samurai. The lowlands were fields for growing rice and other types of farming. Keep in mind, this area was on the outskirts of the shōgun’s capital. There really wasn’t much action out here at all.

Watermill_at_Onden.jpg

Farmers cleaning off rice in the area. Why is Mt. Fuji so prominent? Because there was NOTHING in this area in the Edo Period.

So What is Harajuku Today?

Today, Harajuku is kind of a cultural clusterfuck. 15-20 years ago, the bridge leading from 原宿駅 Harajuku Eki Harajuku Station to 代々木公園 Yoyogi Kōen Yoyogi Park (in front of  明治神宮 Meiji Jingū Meiji Shrine) was the spot that saw コスプレー kosuprē cosplay evolve from a hobby to a kind of freaky anime-based exhibitionism[ix]. Photographers, tourists, and foreign gamers/anime fans began descending upon the area to experience Japanese cosplay firsthand or even try to participate in the emerging cosplay culture. As cosplay became more mainstream and otaku culture changed, the Japanese レイヤーreiyā ‘layers (slang for cosplayers) disappeared from Harajuku and “the bridge” came to be populated by foreigners copying a 15 year old, outdated practice. The police cracked down on the crowds of foreign cosplayers, but sometimes you can still see a few foreigners hanging out posing for pictures.

Harajuku is also known as a kind of hair salon mecca. In addition to famous hair salons there are also many small boutique shops. The area was traditionally famous for its street fashion, but Gwen Stefani made the area stupid and to the best of my knowledge these days it’s mostly tourists (both international and from the Japanese countryside).

harajuku station today.jpg

Harajuku Station today. Hasn’t changed at much.

Architecturally speaking, Harajuku Station is interesting because the building dates back to 1901 and it looks like a typical station of the time. Unfortunately, at the time it was build this area was pretty undeveloped and the station can barely handle the amount of traffic it gets. It’s just wall to wall people on the weekends and national holidays. Another interesting aspect of the station is a separate pair of train tracks and platform for the 御召し列車 o-meshi ressha emperor’s private train[x]. The imperial family uses the tracks to visit Meiji Shrine at 御正月 o-shōgatsu the New Year holiday because it leads to a super-secret backdoor.

Harajuku-Kyutei-Platform (1).jpg

OK, it’s not so super-secret… But people like you and me can’t use it.

meiji jingū - damn son

Meiji Shrine is a large shrine, but its architecture is very restrained in contrast to the grand shrines/temples of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. That said the amount of land allotted to the shrine speaks volumes of how rural this area once was and how much money the Imperial Household Agency has.

Which brings me to Meiji Shrine. It’s a big shrine dedicated to the 明治天皇 Meiji Tennō Meiji Emperor of whom long term readers will know I’m not a particularly big fan. That said, the shrine is quite beautiful and definitely worth a visit. If you go on 文化の日 Bunka no Hi Culture Day, you can see an event called 流鏑馬 yabusame which is where people dress up like samurai and do mounted archery. It’s pretty fucking cool and I highly recommend it to everyone. Culture Day is on November 3rd which, incidentally, was originally the Meiji Emperor’s birfday.

yabusame doesn't mean broken shark

Yabusame doesn’t mean “broken shark” that would be 破鮫 and that’s just silly. No language needs a word for that.

Also in the area, though technically not in Harajuku, is 東郷神社 Tōgō Jinja Tōgō Shrine. The shrine is dedicated to 東郷 平八郎 Tōgō Heihachirō who was supposedly Japan’s most decorated naval officer. I don’t know a lot about the dude, but apparently his shrine was partially built as an “eff you” by the Imperial Navy to the Imperial Army. The army had erected a shrine to their hero, the general 乃木希典 Nogi Maresuke in Akasaka, so not to be outdone, the navy set up this shrine. It’s actually a really beautiful spot and it’s popular for weddings because of its photogenic traditional garden. I’ve never served in the military, but I know there are rivalries among the branches, I guess this one got us a scenic city retreat. Not bad.

togo shrine

A wedding at Tōgō Shrine

Alright. So in conclusion, I hope you’ve all enjoyed my take on Harajuku. A lot of people have a lot of opinions – both positive and negative, both reality and fantasy – but the history of the area and its etymology are pretty much straight forward.

As always, thanks for reading to the end and thanks for your support.

Next on the agenda, I’m finally getting around to my Yamanote Line series.If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check my Ōedo Line series. It’s gonna be hardcore, so I hope you’ll join me for what will literally be a wild ride!

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[i] I’d much rather update my blog than slice open my own belly, which is what samurai bloggers used to do when they were wrong.
[ii] We could roughly say the 12th century, but it’s easiest to think of this as the first shift of power away from Kyōto in the west to the Kantō region. Samurai strongmen ruled in the name of the western nobles in the east. The shift in power was a logical leap from stupid court politics to real martial control over fiefs.
[iii] What does Edo mean? What? You thought I didn’t have an article about Edo? lol
[iv] 源氏 Genji is essentially a nickname for 源氏 Minamoto-shi. The kanji is the same, it’s just more common to read it as Genji. It’s the same with the 平家 Hei-ke which is shorthand for 平家 Taira-ke. Again the kanji are the same and the meaning is the same: the Taira clan (well, technically “family,” but same thing).
[v] This area was located in central and western 神奈川県 Kanagawa Ken Kanagawa Prefecture. For the purposes of this article, it’s a reference to Kamakura – the capital of the Kamakura Shōguns.
[vi] If that word 駅 eki sounds familiar, it is. The modern word for train station is 駅 eki. The kanji was originally 驛 eki and the radical 馬 uma horse. Before trains it referred to relay station for changing horses, just as the modern term “post office” originated from places where messengers “posted” their horses.
[vii] Also known as 八幡太郎 Hachimantarō. 八幡 Hachiman is the god of war and ~太郎tarō is a suffix of a boy’s name. Hachiman was the tutelary 神 kami deity of the Minamoto clan. If you’ve ever been to Kamakura, you’ve probably visited the shrine 鶴岡八幡宮 Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū which was built by the first shōgun, Yoritomo. As a result of the Yoshiie and Yoritomo’s  devotion to this deity, it became the de factō tutelary spirit of all samurai.
[viii] This war is waaaaay beyond the scope of this article, but here’s the Wiki about it.
[ix] Now it’s a fulltime job for some people, at least that’s what my Twitter feed leads me to believe.
[x] Yes, the emperor has his own train.

What does Yoyogi mean?

In Japanese History on June 26, 2013 at 1:57 am

代々木
Yoyogi (Generations Old Tree or Trees)

Yoyogi Station.

Yoyogi Station.
Don’t hold me to this, but I think the present Yoyogi Station wasn’t actually part of Yoyogi Village.

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Once again, I want to throw out a million thanks to my readers. If none of you followed, commented, messaged or just generally showed up, I wouldn’t be able to continue. Y’all make this so much fun.

I was asked by a reader the other today to talk about Yoyogi. So I bumped it up in the pecking order. Hope this is a good one.

Hatsune Miku.

And for no particular reason, here’s Hatsune Miku.
random

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The name 代々木村 Yoyogi Mura Yoyogi Village is attested in the writings of the Sengoku Period. But it’s not clear where that name came from. There’s a good chance the name is much older than the Edo Period. But without other records, we can’t say.

In the Edo Period, the area called Yoyogi was what is now more or less the Meiji Jingū and Harajuku Station area.

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Let’s Look at the Kanji:

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代々daidai
alternate: yoyo
an adverb meaning “for generations, for ages”
ki
alternate: gi 

tree

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The simplest explanation seems to be the most believable to me. There were a lot of trees in the area for a long time – generations, if you will.

There are a few slight variations of this theory. The reason I put off doing this place name for so long[i] was because sorting thru all the details of etymologies that varied little except for a slightly different angle or a curious anecdote was too time consuming. Given the amount of time and effort I’ve put into JapanThis since that time, this topic seems much less daunting now[ii]. And in reality, it wasn’t difficult to research this one.

One theory states that 皀莢 saikachi honey locust trees were cultivated here[iii]. I like this theory best because it’s simple and plausible. It doesn’t try to hard.

This is a close up a honey locust tree.  You can see its bean pods. Legumes FTW... or something

This is a close up a honey locust tree.
You can see its bean pods.
Legumes FTW… or something

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Another theory states specifically that on the Ii family’s lower residence, which made up part of Meiji Jingū and some of the hill at the high point of Harajuku, was covered in  樅 momi Japanese fir trees. This story has some cool anecdotes attached to it, but reeks of folk etymology.

a Japanese fir tree, It looks very firry. Good for it.

a Japanese fir tree,
It looks very firry.
Good for it.

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It should be noted that today both types of trees exist in the area around Meiji Jingū, although after WWII, local trees from all over Japan were donated here during the rebuilding effort.
Also, the area that is now Meiji Jingū Gaien was the original site of the Ii clan’s palatial lower residence’s tea garden. To my knowledge, nothing remains of the site.

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If you go to Meiji Jingū, near the garden’s east gate, there is a tree with a sign that says 代々木の大樅 Yoyogi no Ōmomi The Great Japanese Fir of Yoyogi. The tree is no bigger or smaller than any of the other trees near it. But the story goes that once upon a time, there was a super tall Japanese fir tree that had stood here for generations. The current unimpressive tree is a replacement that stands on the site of the original Great Japanese Fir of Yoyogi Village.

This is where the sign says the big fir tree of Yoyogi was.

This is where the sign says the big fir tree of Yoyogi was.
Note: it’s not a fir tree….

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It was said that this 大樅 ōmomi great fir tree on the Ii family’s lower residence was so great, that mapmakers from the shōgunate would climb to the top of it to survey the city. Another anecdote states that the Ii family’s watchmen would keep an eye on the family’s upper residence which was located near the 桜田門 Sakuradamon Sakurada Gate[iv]. In fact, it was said that you could see all the way to Shiba and Edo Bay. Utagawa Hiroshige even painted a picture of the tree titled 代々木村ノ世々木 Yoyogi Mura no Yoyogi The Generations Old Tree of Yoyogi[v].

There was an imperial residence built on the site of the Ii family’s lower residence[vi]. The tree was preserved… or at least the location of the alleged tree. Eventually the land was incorporated into Meiji Jingū and, as I said, the old tree doesn’t exist anymore, but the new tree does and it has its own sign. So, good for it.

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[i] When I started looking into place names, it was one of the first I wanted to write about.

[iii] 代々木 daidai ki, (alternatively, yoyo ki) “generations of trees” was basically shorthand for 代々皀莢ヲ生産  daidai/yoyo saikachi no ki wo seisa “cultivating honey locust trees for generations.”

[iv] I’m sure I’ve alluded to the Sakuradamon Incident (which sounds like a euphemism, it should be called “the Assassination of Ii Naosuke at Sakuradamon”). Many people consider this the opening of the Bakumatsu.

[v] The Yoyogi of Yoyogi. See what he did there? In the second “yoyogi” he used a variant for 代々 daidai/yoyo generations 世々 yoyo. I can’t find this picture on the internet, so if someone can help me find it, I’d really appreciate that!

[vi] Remember, the lower residences were much more palace like and rustic than their urban upper residences near the castle. When the Meiji Era urban sprawl began in earnest, the Harajuku area became a prime target for rich people and the elite imperial family who wanted to build their own estates in the area.

Why is Omotesando called Omotesando?

In Japanese History on February 28, 2013 at 12:06 pm

表参道
Omotesandō (Main Approach to the Meiji Shrine)

Today, Omotesandō is one of Tokyo’s most fashionable and expensive neighborhoods. It’s famous for Japanese and international brand shops and world-renowned hair salons. Its location next to Harajuku, a fashion center for young people, serves a balancing act making Omotesandō a fashion playground for adults. But what the hell does Omotesandō mean?

A 参道 sandō is the general word for a road that leads up to a shrine.

Every shrine has a sandō, even if the word isn’t preserved in a place name. 表 omote means “front” or maybe better put into English as “main.” If you go north from Harajuku on the Chiyoda Line, you’ll find a station called 北参道 Kitasandō (North Approach to the Shrine). But I digress.

The area was a sparsely populated suburb in the Edo Period and Meiji Period. The shrine was finished in the mid-1920’s and the area began to attract business and residences.

omotesando nogi maresuke

this is nogi maresuke a general in the meiji period. he committed seppuku (hara kiri) when the emperor died so he could follow the emperor in death. that’s how crazy shit got in japan after the fucking meiji restoration. (btw – the only reason i put up his picture is because i couldn’t find any pictures of omotesando from the meiji or taisho eras.)

But wait a minute, you say.
The main street that leads up to the Meiji Shrine is called 青山通りAoyama dōri and not Omotesandō. WTF?

omotesando hills

omotesando hills, a big ass shopping mall in the middle of omotesando. (a mall?? in central tokyo?? go figure!!)

Why, yes it is called Aoyama dōri.

Aoyama dōri is not the Omotesandō. It has been and always will be (presumably, I mean) Aoyama-dōri. But beginning in 1920, a bus that traveled up Aoyama dōri to the 表参道 omote sandō began service. The name of the bus was the “Omotesandō Bus.” This is when the connection with the shrine’s omote sandō began. The station that is now Omotesandō Station was originally called 青山六丁目駅 Aoyama roku-chōme eki. Later it was renamed 神宮前駅 Jingū-mae eki. By the 1970’s the neighborhood had a personality of its own, distinct from Harajuku, Aoyama and – of course – the Meiji Shrine, so it was renamed 表参道駅 Omotesandō eki.

nihonshu is japanese sake

if you happen to be in omotesando, hit up the hasegawa saketen in omotesando hills. it’s a great place to do a quick sake tasting.

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