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What does Kitami mean?

In Japanese History on February 2, 2015 at 9:49 am

喜多見
Kitami (seeing abundant joy)

In 2012, Kitami Station was voted Best Place to Park a Bicycle.

In 2012, Kitami Station was voted Best Place to Park a Bicycle.

We’ve been exploring the Setagaya and Meguro wards recently. This area includes a place called 喜多見 Kitami. Long time readers of the blog may recall this name from when I wrote about the origin of the name of Japan’s greatest city, 江戸 Edo. Spoiler alert: there isn’t much known about the place name itself, but the backstory speaks volumes about what sort of city Edo was before the Edo Period. It also speaks volumes about a culture that was transitioning from the Sengoku Period to something completely new. Also, for my readers who are interested in samurai and samurai battles, we’ve got plenty of ‘em this time.

As always, I’ve included extra information in the footnotes and links to older articles on JapanThis! as well as other outside sources – there are actually 27 fucking footnotes to this article. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, but if you’re not sure who some of the people or events are that I refer to, I suggest you look them up on Samurai Archives – the rock stars of Japanese history on the internet™.

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Wait. What?  No! Wrong Kitami.....

Wait. What?
Oh, wrong Kitami…..

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OK, Let’s Get the Kanji Out of the Way


ki

happiness, pleasure, rejoicing


ta

many, much, often


mi

seeing, hopes, chances

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At first glance, this place name seems to mean “seeing much happiness.” It’s clear that the meaning is auspicious and – in my opinion – it’s obvious that the kanji are intentional[i]. To be sure, this place existed well before it was written down[ii], however, from the very beginning it seems to have been 当て字 ateji – kanji used for phonetic reasons[iii]. As such, this place name is a construct of the Kamakura Period and the Azuchi-Momoyama Period.

Anyways, I have no etymology to give you so I’m sorry for that. But I’ll give you a quick overview: During the Kamakura Period, we see the place name for the first time – in 1247, to be precise. The writing was finally standardized in the 1500’s, but from the 13th century to the 16th century the name seems to have been written several different ways.

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木田見
Kitami

tree, field, see

北見
Kitami

north, see

木多見
Kitami

tree, abundance, see

喜多見[iv]
Kitami

rejoice, abundance, see

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Get ready to talk about samurai.  Shit is 'bout to get real, son.

Get ready to talk about samurai.
Shit’s about to get real, son.

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OK, So Let’s Talk About The Area!

As I said before, people have been living in the area since time immemorial and the origin of the place name is a mystery. However, at the end of the 12th century, samurai of the 秩父氏 Chichibu-shi Chichibu clan began to move into this area[v]. They had been granted 7 fiefs in the area including 江戸郷 Edo-gō Edo Hamlet and 木田見郷 Kitami-gō Kitami Hamlet by the first Kamakura shōgun, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo, in return for helping him fight the 平氏 Hei-shi Taira clan[vi].

Longtime readers will know some of this story from my article on Edo. 秩父重継 Chichibu Shigetsugu took up residence in Edo and changed his name to 江戸重継 Edo Shigetsugu, thus establishing the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan. He gave the Kitami fief to his son 江戸重長 Edo Shigenaga who fancied calling himself 木田見重長 Kitami Shigenaga. Shigenaga established a 菩提寺 bodai-ji family funerary temple called 慶元寺 Keigen-ji Keigen Temple which still maintains the graves of the Edo clan[vii].

Graves of the Edo Clan. This temple is HIGH on my places to visit list this year.

Graves of the Edo Clan.
This temple is HIGH on my places to visit list this year.

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The Chichibu clan had been longtime rivals of the 熊谷氏 Kumagaya-shi clan[viii] and it seems they continued fighting over control of the area well into the 1400’s when the Kitami-Edo finally established lasting control over the area. I’m not completely clear on the timeline or circumstances but sometime in the 1400’s the Kitami became retainers of the 吉良氏 Kira-shi Kira clan[ix]. I’m guessing it had something to do with bad ass samurai warlord 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan descending upon the area and then thoroughly skullfucking it into submission.

Monsieur Dōkan, as he is known in French, attacked the Edo clan’s fortress in 千代田 Chiyoda in 1457. 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, as it’s known in Japanese, fell and the head of the family, 江戸重康 Edo Shigeyasu surrendered to Monsieur Dōkan. Shigeyasu’s life was spared and he moved his family in with his relatives in Kitami.

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The more I do this blog,, the more I love Ōta Dōkan. He's like a Sengoku version of Captain Japan (Yamato Takeru).

The more I do this blog,, the more I love Ōta Dōkan.
He’s like a Sengoku version of Captain Japan (Yamato Takeru).

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Kitami Katsushige – The Bad Ass Samurai You’ve Never Heard Of

We don’t really hear much about the clan or the area until 1590, when a certain 江戸勝忠 Edo Katsutada, a retainer of the Kira, who were in turn retainers of the 後北条 Go-Hōjō Late Hōjō[x] is mentioned fighting on the Hōjō side against 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Fans of the Sengoku Period know that the Hōjō obstinately refused to submit to Hideyoshi’s efforts to unify the country under his control to a stupidly tragic end. Not complying with Hideyoshi resulted in the complete eradication of the Hōjō.

So… yeah, that didn’t work out so well for Katsutada.

Edo Katsutada's funerary picture. But don't worry. He's not dead yet.

Edo Katsutada’s funerary picture.
But don’t worry. He’s not dead yet.

But luckily for him, this was the Sengoku Period and samurai always had a fancy trick up their sleeves called “changing sides to save your ass.” Edo Katsutada played his hands right, submitted to Hideyoshi, and in 1591 found himself in the Tōhoku region of Japan. He went there to help Hideyoshi put down the so-called 九戸政実の乱 Kunohe Masazane no Ran Kunohe Masazane’s Insurrection. Masazane was a retainer of the 南部氏 Nanbu-shi Nanbu clan in 盛岡 Morioka (modern day 青森県 Aomori-ken Aomori Prefecture)[xi] and like the defeated Hōjō he just wasn’t ready to submit to a dirty, monkey-faced, millet grubbing farmer like Hideyoshi[xii]. And also just like the Hōjō, Masazane and his cute little rebellion were beaten into cruel submission like little baby dolphins at Taiji.

This defeat paved the way for Hideyoshi’s ultimate hegemony over the country.

That, that dude looks like a monkey!  That, that dude looks like a monkey!

That, that dude looks like a monkey!
That, that dude looks like a monkey!

With the Hōjō gone, Hideyoshi granted 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu control of the 関八州 Kanhasshū 8 Kantō Provinces. Ieyasu became the supreme power in Kantō and took control of Edo Castle in 1593. At this time he did a survey of his new territory and required oaths of fealty from all the local warlords. Edo Katsutada was one of the local lords forced to submit. Ieyasu was now the lord of Edo Castle and he couldn’t allow some local yokel to bare the name of his castle, so he abolished the Edo clan and required them to only use the Kitami name. Accordingly, 江戸勝忠 Edo Katsutada became 喜多見勝忠 Kitami Katsutada. He later changed his name to 喜多見勝重 Kitami Katsushige, adopting the family kanji 重 shige.

In 1600, Edo Katsutada (Kitami Katsushige) supported Ieyasu at the 関ヶ原の戦い Sekigahara no Tatakai Battle of Sekigahara. In 1603, Ieyasu was made shōgun and Edo Katsutada (Kitami Katsushige) was now officially a 旗本 hatamoto direct retainer of the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family – not a bad rank to hold in those days. Katsutada (Katsushige) accompanied shōgunate forces in either (or both) the 1614 (winter) Siege of Ōsaka and/or the 1615 (summer) Siege of Ōsaka. Both campaigns secured Ieyasu’s legendary status in the eyes of his new subjects in Kantō and throughout the country. For someone you’ve probably never heard of, Edo Katsutada had a pretty epic military career at the end of the Sengoku Period.

Ōsaka Castle. No easy task to take it down.  Today the castle is a shadow of its Sengoku Glory - a shadow with an elevator.

Ōsaka Castle.
No easy task to take it down.
Today the castle is a shadow of its Sengoku Glory – a shadow with an elevator.

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The Rise & Fall of Kitami Shigemasa

The family carried on as powerful hatamoto until 1680, when they had an amazing stroke of good luck. In that year, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi assumed headship of the Tokugawa family and became the 5th shōgun. Tsunayoshi “took a liking”[xiii] to 喜多見重政 Kitami Shigemasa, the head of the Kitami family. Almost immediately we see him bestowed with gifts and honors by the shōgun. By the next year, 1681, Shigemasa’s court rank and stipend were raised substantially. In 1683, his rank and stipend were raised again, putting him at the same court level as 譜代大名 fudai daimyō[xiv]. His position was raised yet again in 1685.

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi preferred the company of men.  Not an inherently bad thing. Just a little tricky for keeping up that dynasty thing

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi preferred the company of men.
Not an inherently bad thing. Just a little tricky for keeping up that dynasty thing

Kitami Shigemasa must have sucked a mean dick because in 1686, Tsunayoshi elevated him to daimyō status and elevated his fief to 藩 han domain status. The Kitami residence was officially elevated to 陣屋 jin’ya status – which means from the government’s perspective it was a castle[xv]. It served as the center of government for the new domain and would have been an appropriate venue for entertaining the shōgun or other daimyō[xvi]. In return for this honor, Shigemasa supported Tsunayoshi’s first wacky 生類憐みの令 Shōrui Awaremi no Rei Compassion for Living Things Decree[xvii] in 1687. The law protected stray dogs. In order to support the edict, Shigemasa built a huge kennel to protect stray dogs in his newly created domain[xviii].

Shigemasa’s meteoric rise didn’t sit well with all. He was considered 寵臣 chōshin a favored retainer – a term that could be interpreted sexually. Jealous shōgunate officials, one 柳沢吉保 Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu in particular, argued that he disrespected the shōgun’s intentions or just wasn’t up to the task of being a daimyō[xix].

So when some monkey business went down in 1689, shōgunate officials used the opportunity to take Shigemasa out. At the residence of his cousin (or grandson, it isn’t clear), 喜多見重治 Kitami Shigeharu and his sister’s husband 朝岡直国 Asaoka Naokuni got into an argument that led to a sword fight. In the end, Shigeharu killed Naokuni. The details of the fight aren’t preserved, but Shigeharu was evidently deemed to be in the wrong and was beheaded[xx]. Shigemasa, already on the rocks with the shōgunate, got kaiekied (改易された kaieki sareta[xxi]), ie; he was stripped of his rank and titles and placed under house arrest as a hostage of 松平定重 Matsudaira Sadashige, lord of 伊勢国桑名藩 Ise no Kuni Kuwana Han Kuwana Domain, Ise Province (modern Mie Prefecture). Shigemasa, apparently went crazy and then died in 1693.

The family temple at Keigen-ji.

The family temple at Keigen-ji.

A second theory states that the sword fight incident – regardless of whether it really happened or not – had nothing to do with Shigemasa’s dismissal and house arrest. According to this story, once the first Compassion for Living Things Edict had been put into effect, Shigemasa realized it was actually a pretty stupid law. Basically, it was now against the law to kill dogs. Because of this stray dogs were out roaming the streets everywhere. More edicts were promulgated protecting other animals and things were bound to get out of hand[xxii]. To make matters worse, Tsunayoshi had found a new plaything, the aforementioned Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu[xxiii], daimyō of 川越藩 Kawagoe Han Kawagoe Domain. Apparently, he was a spiteful little bitch and turned the shōgun and the senior councilors against the johnny-come-lately, Shigemasa. So if you ever thought the women in the movie 大奥 Ōoku! were back-stabby, well, welcome to men’s version of that[xxiv].

Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu - brilliant daimyō or petty little bitch. You be the judge.

Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu – brilliant daimyō or petty little bitch?
You be the judge.

In short, the jealous Yoshiyasu stole the shōgun’s heart, stole Shigemasa’s position[xxv], turned the shōgun against him, turned the entire shōgunate against him, stripped him of all rank, confiscated his property, and essentially ran him out of town to die disgraced in a faraway land. If this account is true, it’s no wonder Shigemasa went insane while in exile. It also makes Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu look like a total cunt.

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The grave of Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu (Matsudaira Tokinosuke).  Located in Kōfu.

The grave of Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu (Matsudaira Tokinosuke).
Located in Kōfu.

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After The Edo Period

Kitami, like other parts of Setagaya, remained rural until quite recently. After the 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923, the area experienced a population explosion as people relocated away from the devastated urban center. In 1926, 成城学園 Seijō Gakuen was split from 成城学校 Seijō Gakkō in 牛込 Ushigome[xxvi] and moved to Kitami. Part of the former Kitami area now bears the name Seijō. Interestingly, in 1927, the 小田原急行鉄道株式会社 Odawara Kyūkō Tetsudō Kabushiki-gaisha[xxvii] opened train service to the area which reminds me of the connection between the Kitami-Edo clan and the Late Hōjō of Odawara. The presence of the station guaranteed growth in the area as it was now connected with central Tōkyō… and everyone lived happily ever after.

Except for that one guy.

There’s always one.

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[i] This reeks of 当て字 ateji, ie; the kanji were added or modified later for phonetic reasons and don’t reflect any etymological history. They were easy to read and looked pleasant. That’s it.
[ii] Archaeologists know the area has been inhabited since the Final Jōmon Period (about 1000 BCE). This means the place name could be fairly ancient – perhaps dating from as far back as the first century CE.
[iii] There’s a possibility that the name goes way farther back in time, but no one seems to have taken a stab at it.
[iv] The temple called 北院 Kita-in, literally the North Temple, in Kawagoe was renamed 喜多院 Kita-in Temple of Abundant Joy by the 3rd shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu. These are the same kanji. Remember that city name, Kawagoe. We might come back to that.
[v] The clan originally held lands in modern 駄埼玉県 Dasaitama-ken Saitama Prefecture.
[vi] Ironically, the Chichibu clan was actually descended from the Taira.
[vii] The temple seems to have originally been located on 紅葉山 Momiji-yama Momiji Hill on the grounds of Edo Castle, but was relocated here in 1451. The temple was originally established in 1186.
[viii] This is hilarious to Tōkyōites who hate Saitama, because today Chichibu and Kumagaya are about the lamest places in the country.
[ix] Yes, the same Kira clan whose descendant would play a role in the story of the 47 Rōnin. See my article on Setagaya.
[x] The Late Hōjō had become the primary power in Kantō and ruled from 小田原城 Odawara-jō Odawara Castle.
[xi] His family name 九戸 Kunohe literally means the “9th Door.” This unique name and its unique reading are… um… unique to Aomori. If you meet an 一戸さん Ichinohe-san or 七戸さん Shichinohe-san, you can rest assured, they have roots in Aomori. You can read about the castle that Katsutada attacked here at Jcastle.
[xii] All rights reserved, Samurai Archives.
[xiii] In a very #TeamIenari sort of way, Tsunayoshi seems to have “taken a liking” to a great number of samurai, elevating the status of all sorts of, ehem, “qualified men.”
[xiv] Fudai daimyō were the daimyō families that had sided with Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara. These daimyō families were among the most prestigious in terms of rank.
[xv] Supposedly, this was the only jin’ya located within the present 23 Wards.
[xvi] A hatamoto’s residence, no matter how grand it may have been, would not have been appropriate. I guess this means Shigemasa and the Tsunayoshi could have sleepovers now.
[xvii] This is the decree that earned the shōgun the laughable nickname, 犬公方 Inu Kubō “Dog Shōgun” because he especially wanted to protect dogs.
[xviii] The other kennels were in 大久保 Ōkubō and 四ツ谷 Yotsuya, and the main kennel was in 中野 Nakano. I have an article about Nakano here.
[xix] A job that, let’s be honest, wasn’t too difficult anyways.
[xx] Remember, beheading was reserved for criminals or samurai who had committed an act so egregious that 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment was disallowed.
[xxi] 改易 kaieki is the Japanese word for “sudden dismissal and deprivation of position, privileges, and properties.”
[xxii] And indeed, things did get out of hand.
[xxiii] Yoshiyasu’s 吉 yoshi was given to him by Tsunayoshi. The shōgun later promoted him to daimyō of 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain in the former lands of 武田信玄 Takeda Shingen. He also granted him a courtly name that essentially made him an honorary Tokugawa, 松平時之助 Matsudaira Tokinosuke. Yoshiyasu was given land in 駒込 Komagome to build a new 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence. He built an elaborate garden there called 六義園 Rikugien. The garden still exists today in Tōkyō.
[xxiv] This doesn’t show the back-stabby stuff, but this is the movie I’m referring to.
[xxv] His position in the shōgunate was 御側御用人 o-soba go-yōnin, which is usually translated as “lord chamberlain” and called 御側 o-soba for short. The o-soba was the shōgun’s closest advisor and it was his job to report the shōgun’s commands to the 老中 rōjū senior councilors. In the case of Shigemasa and Yoshiyasu, the o-soba also served as the royal penis cleaner.
[xxvi] I have some articles about Ushigome.
[xxvii] This train line was the forerunner of the present 小田急電鉄株式会社 Odakyū Dentetsu Kabushiki-gaisha Odakyu Electric Railway Co., Ltd.

Setagaya and its Freaky Horse Fetish

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on January 19, 2015 at 2:34 am

What’s Up with Setagaya and Horses?
No, seriously? What’s up wit dat?

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Horse girl

So while I was researching my last article on 三軒茶屋 Sangen-jaya, I came across a few interesting place names that I’d never heard of – granted I rarely go to 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward[i] — but nonetheless I was obviously intrigued.

I saw a lot of references to horses on the map. “I’ll do all the horse names!” I thought. “Surely they’re all related,” I thought. “I can hit all these place names in one article,” I thought. Then the stories started getting longer and longer. “Did I get myself into another River Article Debacle?” I wondered. I really may have, so I’ve decided to go with the local legends over the hardcore etymology this time just to spare everyone the headache and hopefully to get some good folklore out this.

As I said, the one unifying factor is that all of these place names are horse-related. So let’s take a look at what names we will cover today.

Name

Meaning

Current Status

馬引沢
Umahikizawa

horse pulling ravine

This place name survives in abbreviated forms
駒繋
Komatsunagi

horse hitching

This place name survives as Komatsunagi Shrine and as an elementary school name

駒留
Komadome

horse stopping

The name survives as Komadome Hachiman Shrine

駒沢
Komazawa

horse ravine

Survives as a postal code and a university name, etc…

葦毛塚
Ashige-zuka

gray haired horse burial mound

The name survives as a landmark

So just let that sink in a little bit before we continue. Take a few seconds to imagine what you think the etymologies might be. Do you think there is any connection? Do you think it’s all a coincidence? If you’re a long time reader and you remember other horse and animal related etymologies, do you think there will be any similarities to those?

These horses are decked out in the latest spring line up from Prada.

These horses are decked out in the latest spring line up from Prada.

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OK, Let’s Get Started

I mentioned in the last article, that present day Sangen-jaya is comprised of several former villages. Two of those villages were parts of the 3 areas of a Kamakura Period region called 馬引沢 Umahikizawa.

上馬引沢村
Kami-Umahikizawa Mura

Upper Umahikizawa Village

中馬引沢村
Naka-Umahikizawa Mura

Middle Umahikizawa Village

下馬引沢村
Shimo- Umahikizawa Mura

Lower Umahikizawa Village

This is a similar pattern that we see with the classification of daimyō residences in Edo.

上屋敷
kami-yashiki

upper residence

中屋敷
naka-yashiki

middle residence

下屋敷
shimo-yashiki

lower residence

With daimyō residences the designation of upper, middle, and lower seems to refer to their importance in relation to the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The upper residence would be nearer to Edo Castle and is where most of the administrative affairs would be carried out. The lower residence was more like a villa. I give a little more detail in my article on sankin-kōtai.

With place names, things are a little different – these are references to the areas of a village’s location on a river. 上 kami (up) refers an upstream location, 中 naka (middle) refers to a midstream location, 下 shimo (down) refers to a downstream location. In this case, what river might we be speaking of? It’s a river that was called the 蛇崩川 Jakuzure-gawa Jakuzure River. This is a wild name, in my opinion. The kanji mean something like “snake death river.” I dunno. But my guess is the kanji aren’t important to this story, and maybe I’ll tackle them later – but if you’ve got an image of a dangerous river, then great. Let’s take it from there.

Great strategist and general -- but worst horse rider EVER.

Minamoto no Yoritomo. Great strategist and general — but worst horse rider EVER.

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What does Umahikizawa mean?

Legend states that in 1189, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo[ii] traveled back and forth on his favorite horse through this area on his military expedition from his capital in 鎌倉 Kamakura to 大州平泉 Ōshū Hiraizumi[iii]. The purpose of the expedition was to destroy 藤原泰衡 Fujiwara no Yasuhira and put an end to the Northern Fujiwara Clan once and for all[iv]. As he approached a deep stream with an extremely fast current[v], his horse became unsure of its footing and hesitated. Yoritomo, who was plagued by a lifelong battle with bad luck in horses[vi], pressed the horse to cross the ravine. The horse tried to proceed but the ground gave out from underneath it and the horse fell into the stream, either breaking its legs or suffering some other fatal injury, despite Yoritomo’s efforts to save his beloved horse. Heartbroken and teary-eyed, the general ordered his men to pull (引く hiku) the horse (馬 uma) out of the ravine (沢 sawa) and bury it on the other side. A variation of this legend states that after the tragic death of his favorite horse, Yoritomo ordered his men to lead (引いて渡る hiite wataru) their horses (馬 uma) across the ravine (沢 sawa) lest they lose their war horses as well. And so the place came to be known as 馬引沢 Umahikizawa horse pulling river.

This is a "sawa" and I bet you wouldn't want to ride a horse across it...

This is a “sawa” and I bet you wouldn’t want to ride a horse across it…

How Does This Place Name Survive?

As the village grew, it came to have 3 distinct quarters. One was upstream, one was midstream, and one was downstream. I showed you these place name earlier. 上馬引沢 Kami-Umahikizawa survives today in abbreviated form as 上馬 Kamiuma “up horse.” 下馬引沢 Shimo-Umahikizawa survives as 下馬 Shimouma “down horse.” These are both official postal addresses, but to the best of my knowledge, 中馬引沢 Naka-Umahikizawa hasn’t survived. But an interesting tidbit, in nearby 多摩市 Tama-shi Tama City, there is an area called 馬引沢 Umahikizawa, but it’s completely unrelated.

This also counts as umahiki (leading a horse).

This also counts as umahiki (leading a horse).

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What Does Ashige-zuka Mean?

A mere 4 minute walk from Shimouma, there is an oval shaped, earthen mound in the middle of the street called 葦毛塚 Ashige-zuka. This is a compound word composed of two elements: 葦毛 ashige a gray haired horse and 塚 tsuka a mound. Legend claims that this is the spot where Minamoto no Yoritomo’s horse was buried. We’ve talked about burial mounds quite a few times at JapanThis!, but I think this is the first time we’ve had one allegedly built for a horse.

I wasn't kidding. It's literally in the middle of the road!

I wasn’t kidding. It’s literally in the middle of the road!

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What does Komatsunagi mean?

If you take an 8 minute walk back to Shimouma and you’ll find a place called 駒繋神社 Komatsunagi Jinja Komatsunagi Shrine. Let’s continue our story there.

As I mentioned before, Minamoto no Yoritomo was cursed with all manner of bad horse luck. Being a typical superstitious 12th century samurai, he took the death of his favorite horse before an important battle[vii] as a terrible omen. After the burial mound was finished, a mysterious woman appeared. She told the general about the local 氏神 ujigami tutelary deity named 子之神 Nenokami[viii]. According to the woman, Nenokami wielded great power in the area and had the ability to exorcise any evil influence from the accident. She led him to a nearby humble, unnamed shrine[ix] dedicated to Nenokami and then disappeared. Yoritomo prayed to the kami and then continued his march north to Ōshū Hiraizumi.

Yoritomo and his stupid hat.

Yoritomo and his stupid hat.

At Ōshū, Yoritomo’s army crushed the Fujiwara army, thus annihilating his last major obstacle to power. This particular battle paved the way for him to become shōgun[x]. Marching back to Kamakura victorious, he stopped by the Nenokami shrine to give thanks. After all, being a superstitious 12th century samurai, that’s just what you do. Before approaching the shrine, he tied (繋ぐ tsunagu) his horse (駒 koma) to a pine tree (松 matsu)[xi]. He then threw some cash at the local people to build a proper shrine to Nenokami. After that, he proceeded to his capital in Kamakura.

Komatsunagi Shrine as it looks today.

Komatsunagi Shrine as it looks today.

The tree where he tied his horse came to be known as the 駒繋之松 Komatsunagi no Matsu Horse Hitching Pine and the new improved shrine came to be called Komatsunagi Shrine. If you visit the shrine today, they have a tree that they claim is the 3rd generation of the tree Yoritomo tied his horse to[xii]. Sadly, they never say what happened to the mysterious, disappearing woman.

I want some plot resolution, dammit.

The shrine claims that this is the original pine tree that Yoritomo used.

The shrine claims that this is the original pine tree that Yoritomo used.

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What does Komadome mean?

Let’s take a 25 minute walk back to Sangen-jaya[xiii]the article that started all of this – and a 250 year or so jump into the future. Now we’re in the throes of the Sengoku Period – way before the rise of 3 Great Unifiers[xiv]. Edo has been in what you could call a “dark age” ever since the transfer of power from Kamakura back to Kyōto[xv]. Local militarized noble families rise and fall here and there. And among these local nobles, warlords have begun making land grabs and power grabs. Many of these clans come and go, too. One of the ascending powers in Kantō at this time were the 後北条 Go-Hōjō the Late Hōjō[xvi].

So our story is of a somewhat obscure noble who was in the service of the Hōjō, a certain 吉良頼康 Kira Yoriyasu. Much about him is unknown[xvii], but we do know that he served both the 2nd and 3rd successive Hōjō lords, 北条氏綱 Hōjō Ujitsuna and 北条氏康 Hōjō Ujiyasu[xviii]. So while he wasn’t a major player, he was playing with some big time ballers. You can think of him as Jay-Z’s longtime friend who gets invited to parties, but isn’t allowed on the red carpet.

This picture was long said to be Kira Yoriyasu, but recent research suggests that it's actually Takeda Shingen.

This picture was long said to be Kira Yoriyasu, but recent research suggests that it’s actually Takeda Shingen.

If you recall from my article on the etymology of Edo, from the Heian Period to the Kamakura Period this area was controlled by the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan took over the Edo clan’s fort in 1457[xix]. Dōkan was a retainer of the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan[xx] and so after his assassination in 1486, the Uesugi assumed direct control of the castle[xxi]. However the castle was of little importance to their clan and so it seems to have been lightly defended – if defended at all. And so, when the Hōjō came into the region, Edo Castle[xxii] fell easily in 1524[xxiii] and one of the generals who followed the Hōjō into Edo was our new friend, Kira Yoriyasu.

The Kira clan had controlled various fiefs in the area since 1366, and Yoriyasu was given control of Setagaya Village sometime around the attack on Edo Castle. He ruled from 世田ヶ谷城 Setagaya-jō Setagaya Castle[xxiv]. Yoriyasu’s appointment didn’t last long because the Uesugi eventually struck back and burned the castle to the ground in 1530 and Yoriyasu was transferred elsewhere[xxv]. However, in his time as the lord of Setagaya, he managed to leave behind a bit of a local legend.

The fringed orchid is often associated with Setagaya Ward because of a version of Yoriyasu's legend. Unfortunately, we're not going to go into that part of the story today.

The fringed orchid is often associated with Setagaya Ward because of a version of Yoriyasu’s legend. Unfortunately, we’re not going to go into that part of the story today.

The legend states that in the women’s quarters of Setagaya Castle, there was a lot of jealous infighting between his 正室 seishitsu legal wife and his 12 側室 sokushitsu concubines[xxvi]. On the day of birth of Yoriyasu’s first son something went terribly wrong.

As was normal for the day, the lord of the estate was out doing his do (hunting, by some accounts) when suddenly his wife went into labor alone[xxvii] – also normal for the day. Tragically, however, the boy was stillborn – meaning the Kira family line could have ended there. To avoid bad luck, the boy was enshrined at nearby 駒留八幡神社 Komadome Hachiman Jinja Komadome Hachiman Shrine. Because of this, the enshrined kami is sometimes referred to as 若宮八幡 Waka-no-miya Hachiman Young Prince Hachiman which could be interpreted as “little warrior.” At any rate, the rumor mill went into full swing that the boy had actually been smothered to death by a jealous concubine[xxviii].

The enshrinement of the stillborn son seems to have benefitted the family, as they continued to hold extensive lands until the 1590’s and the clan continued until the 元禄時代 Genroku Jidai Genroku Period, which coincided with the reign of 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi[xxix]. In the beginning of the Edo Period, the Kira clan was given 旗本 hatamoto status, ie; they became direct retainers of the shōgun family – not bad at all, but they weren’t a daimyō family as is sometimes thought. One of Yoriyasu’s descendant’s was 吉良上野介 Kira Kōzuke-no-suke[xxx] – the guy usually portrayed as the bad guy in the story of the 47 Rōnin[xxxi]. The family was disgraced and more or less dropped out of history at that point.

Oh ffs, not these clowns again???!

Oh ffs, not these clowns again???!

That’s A Neat Story, But WTF Does It Have To Do With Komadome?

Oh sorry, right. I sorta went off on a tangent there, didn’t I? Actually, the etymology of this shrine doesn’t really have much of a story behind it. It involves a certain samurai courtier of the Kamakura Shōgunate named 北条左近太郎 Hōjō Sakotarō[xxxii]. In 1308, he became a priest and wanted to establish a temple to 八幡 Hachiman the Japanese god of war[xxxiii]. This particular kami was favored by Minamoto no Yoritomo and his shōgunate and so shrines to Hachiman were very popular at this time. According to legend, Hachiman came to Sakotarō in a dream and said, “Dude, listen to your favorite horse and it will totally tell you where to enshrine me.” So he rode east from Kamakura until his exhausted horse (駒 koma) stopped (留まった tomatta) near Setagaya Village and refused to go any further. He totally realized that this was totally the spot. He immediately dismounted his unsurprisingly fatigued horse and decided to build a shrine at that spot and so the shrine is now called 駒留八幡神社 Komadome Hachiman Jinja Komadome Hachiman Shrine – the Hachiman Shrine where the horse totally stopped.

Komadome Shrine as it looks today.

Komadome Shrine as it looks today.

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What does Komazawa mean?

This is the most boring place name ever – not unlike 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward[xxxiv]. 駒沢 Komazawa is an amalgamation of the surrounding places with 駒 koma horse and 沢 sawa ravine that was created in 1889 (Meiji 22) with the formation of Meguro Ward. There is another nearby but non-equine place name, 野沢 Nozawa, which features the kanji 沢 sawa. Easiest place name ever.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this article.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this article.c

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Are These Etymologies True?

Your guess is as good as mine, but these all date back to the Kamakura Period and Sengoku Period which is when we first start getting reliable information from the Kantō area. This is also a time when previously existing place names get written down for the first time and transcribed into kanji. Maybe these events transpired. Maybe they didn’t. But what we can say for sure is that in this area, local legends popped up and many of them were affiliated with horses and the rising prestige of the samurai class in Kantō. In these place names we can see the areas surrounding Edo begin to blossom.

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[i] Aaaaaaaaaaaaand, once again, longtime readers know that I’ve already written about Setagaya here.
[ii] Please tell me you know who Minamoto no Yoritomo is. I’m assuming you do. But if not, check out this fine article about him at Samurai Archives.
[iii] An area in present day 岩手県 Iwate-ken Iwate Prefecture.
[iv] Fans of 源義経 Minamoto no Yoshitsune, will recognize this name. He’s the son of 藤原秀衡 Fujiwara no Hidehira who helped hide Yoshitsune when Yoritomo was trying to kill him. The Fujiwara betrayed Yoshitsune – as Fujiwara do – and it was Yasuhira who attacked Yoshitsune forcing him to kill his wife and daughter and then commit seppuku. The less dramatic version of his demise is that Yoshitsune may have just straight up been overwhelmed and was just cut down in battle by Fujiwara forces. The details of his death are disputed – and in my opinion, irrelevant.
And for those of you scratching your heads at all these names, check out this article at Samurai Archives.
[v] Presumably the Jakuzure River, or an earlier incarnation thereof.
[vi] Shōgun Yoritomo died in 1199 when he was thrown off his horse lol.
[vii] A “baddle,” if you will. (sorry, bad joke)
[viii] This kanji looks like the kanji for “child” but is actually the Chinese Zodiac sign of the rat (or mouse, whichever you prefer). That’s why the reading is ネ ne and not コ ko. Another reading is Nenogami.
[ix] Since this was a local deity in the countryside, we can assume there were tiny, almost impromptu shrines of this scattered all over the area.
[x] Another detail that seems to be in dispute: some claim Yoritomo was made shōgun by the emperor, others claim he just took the title for himself.
[xi] Obviously, this is a different horse than the one that died before the battle because… well, ghost horses hadn’t been invented yet.
[xii] There is some evidence for local worship of Nenokami. If you walk 40 minutes into nearby 目黒区 Meguro-ku Meguro Ward, there is minor shrine called 高木神社 Takagi Jinja Takagi Shrine which also houses Nenokami. In fact, the area surround Takagi Shrine was more or less “officially” called 子ノ神 Ne no Kami up until 1889 (Meiji 22). The name was abolished with the creation of Meguro Ward in 1932. I’ve also found a shrine in 川崎市 Kawasaki-shi Kawasaki City that enshrines Nenokami.
[xiii] And Kamiuma.
[xiv] 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga, 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and of course 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu. If you don’t know who these people are, get the fuck off my blog.
[xv] And Kamakura’s power doesn’t seem to have been very long lasting anyways.
[xvi] Why were they called “late?” Let me google that for you, bitch.
[xvii] For example, we don’t know when or where he was born. We know his legal wife was the daughter of Hōjō Ujitsuna but we don’t know his name. We know he had legitimate male heirs, but he adopted a son and made him head of the Kira Family… but we don’t know why. These early years of the Sengoku Period are very messy.
[xviii] Actually Kira Yoriyasu’s original name was 吉良頼貞 Kira Yorisada. He received the kanji 康 yasu from Hōjō Ujiyasu.
[xix] The Tokugawa Shōgunate considered the massive fortification and new moat system the birth of Edo Castle.
[xx] This particular branch of the Uesugi were the 扇谷上杉家 Ōgigayatsu Uesugi, if you’re into that sort of thing.
[xxi] Technically speaking, the castle was Uesugi property and Dōkan was merely supervising it for them.
[xxii] Also called 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle back in those days.
[xxiii] Please read more about the Late Hōjō here at Samurai Archives.
[xxiv] Let’s use the term “castle” loosely here and think of it more as a fortified noble residence on a hill. The estate (or castle) didn’t survive the fall of the Hōjō and the coming of the Tokugawa. And if you’re in Tōkyō now and saying to yourself, “Whaaaaaa?? There’s a Japanese castle in Setagaya?” then by all means, go and  read this page about it at Jcastle.info – your one stop shop for all your Japanese castle needs.
[xxv] Even if he held the “castle” for 5 years, I’m guessing that’s a pretty good run at that time.
[xxvi] The name 常盤 Tokiwa is often cited as both wife and concubine but the historical record is ambiguous. Also, there are several variations of this story. If you’d like to read more about it, I actually tracked down a guy who translated 3 variations into English here.
[xxvii] ie; not really alone, but not with Yoriyasu. She would have been in the women’s quarters of the fort – most definitely surrounded by the other women. The “joy of birth” wasn’t something often enjoyed together in feudal Japan.
[xxviii] Or by some accounts, a concubine bore the child and the jealous wife murdered it.
[xxix] The 5th Tokugawa shōgun.
[xxx] Kōsuke-no-suke is actually his court title; his real name was 吉良義央 Kira Yoshihisa.
[xxxi] Longtime readers know my opinion of this story.
[xxxii] I’m not sure about the reading of his given name. Also this dude is a “real Hōjō,” not a “Late Hōjō” of the Sengoku Period who adopted the name.
[xxxiii] Calling him “the Japanese god of war” is a bit of simplification, but you can read more about Hachiman here.
[xxxiv] Which, of course, you know I’ve already written about here.

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