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Posts Tagged ‘minato-ku’

What does Shiogama mean?

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

塩釜
Shiogama (salt kettle)

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

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

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

IMGK4691s

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

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

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

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

The Backstory

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

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

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

The Real Story Starts Here

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

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

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

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

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

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in the Meiji Period.

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in 1901 (Meiji 34).

Shrine Decline

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

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

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

The Shrine Today

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

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

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

dirty shrine

The Kabuki Konnektion

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

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

2009042213521975d

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

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

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

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

Why is Roppongi called Roppongi

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on February 12, 2014 at 1:42 am

六本木
Roppongi (the 6 trees)

Mori Tower and the spider sculpture at Roppongi Hills

Mori Tower and the spider sculpture at Roppongi Hills

Just a quick heads up, this was written in Open Office, which is one of the shittiest pieces of software ever. It’s free, so I don’t expect much, but every time I use this program, the text formatting is all funky. So please forgive all the weird font changes and font size changes. It wasn’t written that way.
Word Press and Open Office don’t play well together.

ropponig croossing

I actually wrote about this topic once beforei.

On February 10th of last year, I was still trying to figure out how to breathe life back into a stagnant blog. I was determined to commit to it and was keeping up with my idea of “if I don’t have a big topic to write about, I’ll cover one Tōkyō place name a week.” In the beginning there was minimal research put in because I just covered a few topics that I was familiar with. Now one year later, JapanThis has transformed into something beautiful – something I’m fiercely proud of.

So Roppongi wasn’t the first place name I covered, but it was one of the really early ones. The reason I chose it was because it was relatively easy. Looking back at this 2 paragraph monstrosity, I feel a deep and dark shame. It’s nowhere near the level of quality I demand of myself now. It’s embarrassing and makes me want to vomit out of my ass and/or commit seppuku.

But today I’m going to set the record straight.

Today, Roppongi is a party town. For years it’s been popular with foreigners due to its proximity to so many foreign embassies. Because of this proximity, the area is relatively English-friendly which makes it a destination for foreigners visiting Japan and the seedy businesses that often cater to (or try to take advantage of) foreigners.

Roppongi has a bad reputation among Tōkyōites and among foreigners who try learn the so-called “Japanese Way.” I’m not really into Roppongi. But I’ve learned to not hate on it so much over the years and as it turns out, the area has a very interesting history if you leave the so-called Roppongi Crossing area, which is pretty much one of the most irritating places in the world.

Alright, so let’s get into this…

b0061717_0321615

So, Roppongi. What does it mean?


If we look at the kanji:

六本
roppon

6 tall, cylindrical things


ki

trees
(generally, tall and cylindrical)

There are a few opinions about this etymology. As any seasoned reader of JapanThis knows, the kanji can’t always be trusted to accurately reflect ancient place names. I mentioned as an aside in my article on Why was Edo called Edo? That this area, now called Minato-ku had been inhabited by humans for a very long time. From the get go, I want to say that there is a chance that this is name that may or may not be Japanese. It may or may not have anything to do with the kanji we have have today. To be blunt, there is no way of knowing.

The one thing we do know for sure is that the first recorded reference to “Roppongi” came in 1828 (late Edo Period) in a correspondence with the shōgunate. However, we don’t know exactly what area was being referred to. In fact, Roppongi didn’t appear on a map until 1878 with the creation of 麻布区 Azabu-ku Azabu Wardii.

the top 2 photos are of Edo Period Azabu Juban (the area that is now considered the "shoten-gai." The botom two pitctures are of Roppongi Crossing.

the top 2 photos are of Edo Period Azabu Juban (the area that is now considered the “shoten-gai.” The bottom two pictures are of Roppongi Crossing.

 

THEORY 1
Literal: There were 6 tall trees used as landmarks

Roppongi is one of the highest plateaux in Tōkyō. This theory says that waaaaaaaay back – most likely some time between the Kamakura Period and Sengoku Period – there was a place here called 六方庵 Roppō-an Hermitage of the 6 Directions. In the garden of this residence, there were 6 tall trees.

The kanji iori/an is puzzling. It usually refers to a rustic home or tea house. However, in the Heian Period it could refer to a military encampment, headquarters, barracks, or even a fortress. More about this later.

Anyhoo, because of it’s elevation and high visibility, the 6 tall trees were landmarks. People disagree about whether these were matsu pine trees or keyaki zelkova trees. This theory refers to a time so long ago that we can’t know whether it’s true or not. The presence of keyaki trees is intriguing, though, because today there is a street called 欅坂 Keyakizaka between Azabu and Roppongi.

If you dropped the word iori/an hermitage, and added the kanji ki trees, in the local dialect it became Roppon-gi. A variation of this etymology is that it comes from 六方の木 Roppō no ki which got reduced to Roppo’ n’ gi. More about this later.

Obviously, we don’t know if this place actually existed, but linguistically speaking, it’s plausible. These kind of sound changes are observable in Modern Japanese. Anyone with exposure to day-to-day Japanese of our era will certainly have seen and heard this kind of vernaculariii.

6 trees

THEORY 2
Literal: It’s derived from a family name

This is actually two theories, but they’re based on the premise that that there was a noble family called 六方 Roppō that lived here before the Edo Periodiv.
1) In the local dialect,
六方家 Roppō-ke the Roppō Family was pronounced Roppo-ngi.
2) The area was considered
六方気 Roppō-ki Roppō-ish or Roppō style, which in the local dialect was pronounced Roppo-ngi.

The interesting thing about this theory is that it also refers to Roppō and reinforces the Roppō-an theoryv. Whether it was a rustic hermitage or noble’s fortress, the high ground would be very suitable.

Linguistically, the sound changes are absolutely plausible.

There just isn’t any other evidence besides these etymology stories. No deeds of the Edo Roppō family. No tales of legendary tea ceremonies at Roppō Hermitage. No references to this place at all. And to top it all off, Roppō isn’t a family name today (as far as I can tell)vi.

when i hear the word "庵,”  I imagine this kind of building.

when i hear the word “庵,” I imagine this kind of building.



THEORY 3
Figurative: A legendary 6 man sep
puku party went down here

During the 源平合戦 Genpei Gassen Genpei Warvii, the Genji forces pursued 6 Taira samurai and fought until 5 died here. A single Taira samurai managed to escape and rather than being cut down, slit his own belly to resist capture or execution. He died under a solitary pine tree. They group was remembered by the local people as “the 6 pines trees.” A variation of this story says that they all committed seppuku.

This isn’t a very likely etymology because, of course, there are no suriving shrines, graves, or much of anything to back up this theory. What’s more, there is another twist on this story that says these samurai were actually deserters, and traditionally Japanese people don’t take kindly to stories of deserters.

Either way you look at it, deserters or heros, this is a cool story because any story that ends in seppuku is – by definition – cool. But there’s not a single piece of evidence to back up.

There is such a thing as "seppuku fetish." And yes, is sexualized.

There is such a thing as “seppuku fetish.”And yes, it goes something like this… 

Theory 4
Creative: It’s a reference to 6 daimyō who lived here during the Edo Period

In English, this theory is usually stated as: “In the Edo Period, there were 6 major daimyō residences located here and so the area was named Roppongi.” But this is a great over-simplification, as you will soon see. There were MANY daimyō living in this area. Many city blocks of present Minato Ward still conform to the shape of the vast estates that once stood here. The crux of this theory is not that there were just 6 daimyō here, but that there were 6 daimyō who had family names that referenced trees in their family namesviii.

Let’s take a look at the daimyō who are generally cited:

 

上杉
Uesugi
米沢藩
Yonezawa Han

above the cedar trees The Minsitry of Foreign Affairs and Azabu Post Office sit on the former upper and middle residences of Yonezawa Domain.

朽木
Kutsuki
朽木藩
Kustuki Han

decaying trees I can’t find the location of their Edo residences (one source says the upper residence was in Akasaka), but the family used Sengaku-ji as their funerary temple.

青木
Aoki
新見藩
Niimi Han

green trees I can’t find their Edo residences, but the funerary temple of the Aoki clan of Niimi Domain is located at Zuishō-ji in Shirokane-dai.

片桐
Katagiri
竜田藩
Tatsuta Han

off-kilter pauwlonia tree Allegedly, this family’s lower residence was located on Toriizaka. This is hard for me to confirm because, well, I’ll get into it later.

高木
Takagi
丹南藩

Tan’nan Han

tall tree(s) The middle residence for a Tan’nan Domain was located in Azabu Kōgaibashi.

一柳
Hitotsuyanagi
(Ichiyanagi)
小野藩
Ono Han
小松藩

Komatsu Han

a single weeping willow The family funerary temple was Zōjō-ji! If I’m not mistaken, their cemetary is now located across from Tōkyō tower where Kondō Isami’s father is buried. The upper residence was once located in west Shinbashi. (There were two daimyō families located in this area with same name; I don’t know anything else about them).

This is the most popular theory by a long shot. Even Wikipedia likes it.

But it has a few problems. No Edo Period maps listed anything as Roppongi. This isn’t unusual, as time and time again we say common nicknames get applied to areas in the administrative re-shuffling that happened in the Meiji Era. But it also means, we don’t really know where the area originally referred to was nor do we know its size. Besides, if I had a penny for every Japanese family name with a reference to a tree in it, I’d be able to buy your mom – several times over.

But looking at the table above, you can see these daimyō mansions were in Shinbashi, Akasaka, Azabu, and Shirokane. This is all in present day Minato Ward – which doesn’t mean anything when trying to pinpoint a specific place. But it does mean something when you are walking somewhere, as people did before cars and trains. There is a certain centrality about the location of these daimyō.

But today Roppongi is a specific area and postal address. None of these daimyō had mansions in the area we would consider Roppongi today. In all fairness, the Takagi and Katagiri were literally right on the border, though. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the exact locations of some residences isn’t completely known – and in some cases, the daimyō family moved (or were re-shuffled).

That said, the location of funerary temples of some of the lesser daimyō in the vicinity does lend a bit of credence to the story. The other interesting thing is that some of the “mystery residences” are those of the Aoki, the Kutsuki, the Takagi, and the Katagiri. The first three just barely met the minimum kokudaka for daimyō status. If their domains’ value slipped below 10,000 koku, they could have had their domains confiscated. In 1650, Katagiri Tametsugu was demoted to hatamoto status for 無嗣断絶 mushi danzetsu the crime of dying without an appointed heirix. Tatsuta Domain was confiscated, subsequently abolished, and the family was reshuffled. Dying without an heir was considered an act of such abject stupidity by the shōgunate, that it always required immediate action. I would tend to agree. In a “feudal” society, if you don’t have a designated successor, you probably shouldn’t be governing anything. But then again, the boy was only 15.

Anyhoo, this seems to be the strongest theory simply because it’s the only with any evidence. It’s not air tight by any stretch of the imagination; much of its appeal coming from the fact that most people don’t know (or care) exactly where daimyō Edo residences were. True or not, in my opinion, this is the most interesting theory.

The residence at the top is the Uesugi mansion. This picture is great because it gives you an idea of how massive these estates were. They really were the Edo Period equivalents of embassies.

The residence at the top is the Uesugi mansion.
This picture is great because it gives you an idea of how massive these estates were.
They really were the Edo Period equivalents of embassies.
And yes, this is their upper residence. and as such it’s located at Edo Castle.

THEORY 5
Figurative: 6 hitching poles…


There’s another theory about 6 poles (by extension, places) where you could tie up your horse. This is mostly a reference to (by Edo Period standards) nearby
Nihonbashi and not this area. Perhaps the idea being, samurai traveling long distances, could swap out a horse there, and then proceed to their 藩邸 hantei domain residence (essentially an embassay) on a horse that didn’t look worn out.

So, yup! Someone thought hitching poles near Nihonbashi would make a great place name over in Roppongi. The one thing I can say in defense of this theory is that, as I said before, until the name Roppongi was made official in the early Meiji Era under a western administrative system we have no idea where the name Roppongi referred to.

In conclusion, we have no idea where the name comes from. If you love historical linguistics or dialects, you might favor theories 1 & 2. If you’re a big fan of the Edo-Tōkyō, you probably like theory 4. Admittedly, they are appealing. The others have some charm, but ostensibly lack credibility.

But if you know them all, you can really see the hidden beauty of Edo-Tōkyō. Hopefully you can see why I’m so passionate about this city’s history. This is something I would never have said about Roppongi a few years ago. Foreigners who become “lifers” in Tōkyō generally shun Roppongi because Roppongi is for the newbies. Roppongi is for the idiots, Roppongi is for rich foreigners who can’t speak Japanese, Roppongi is where every sort of shadiness goes down. But for those of us who love Japanese History, especially Edo-Tōkyō, there is sooooooooooo much good shit in the surrounding area. Unfortunately for us, most of the best parts of Tōkyō are hidden. You really have to know where to look.

Check out Tokyo Bay in the distance!

Check out Tokyo Bay in the distance!

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i OMG, OMG, OMG, don’t get me started on how bad this blog started out.
ii Pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but Azabu Ward no longer exists.
iii Some well known examples are 本当 hontō true reduced to honto and no is regularly reduced to /n/. And /g/ is often pronounced with a /n/ sound before it; すごい sugoiすんごい sungoi.
iv Allegedly.
v I haven’t come across this etymology, but one wonders if a mix of the Roppōan and Roppō family is possible. If there were 6 trees located on the property of the Roppō family, you could get a pun based on 六方の木 Roppō no ki (Roppo’ n’ gi) the Roppō’s trees and 六本木 Roppongi 6 trees. Call me crazy, but that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
vi A Google search just pulls up restaurants and geometry references (roppō literally means hexagon).
vii What exactly was the Genpei War? In short, it was a war between the Minamoto and Taira. More details here!
viii If you’re wondering what the hell a daimyō is and why there residences are CRUCIAL to understanding the history of Tōkyō, please read my short summary of sankin-kōtai here.
ix The family continued and committed mushi danzetsu a couple more times. After been so heavily punished by the shōgunate, you’d think the family would have set up some policy. I guess they weren’t the brightest bunch.

What does Shirokane mean?

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History on September 17, 2013 at 6:54 pm

白金
Shirokane (Silver Coins)

Something unique in the big city!

Something unique in the big city!

Shirokane appears in a few place names

Shirokane

Shirokanedai

Shirokane-Takanawa

Shiba-Shirokane (now defunct)


So the story goes that in the 14th century, a powerful clan migrated here and took the area under their direct control and began the development and cultivation of the area. According to the legend, the family was called 柳下氏  Yanagishita  or Yagishita or Yanashita the Yanagishita clan[i]. The story goes so far as to allege the head of the clan was a certain 柳下上総之介 Yanagishita Kazusanosuke[ii] who was so rich that he was called the 白金長者 shirokane chōja the silver coin millionaire[iii]. Bear in mind that there is very little corroborating evidence to support this story.

The name Shirokane first appeared in 1559, when the so-called Late Hōjō clan granted a place called 白金村  Shirokane Mura Shirokane Village to the great grandson of Ōta Dōkan. But the story I just told you doesn’t appear until the late Edo Period.

If you don't know what you're looking for, this is what passes for castle ruins of this era.

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, this is what passes for castle ruins of this era.

According to the experts, of which I ain’t one, judging from the topography there clearly was a pre-Azuchi-Momoyama fortress in the area[iv], which at least indicates that some powerful lord lived in the area before the coming of the Tokugawa. The ruins, which are just embankments and plateaux today, can be seen in Shirokanedai at the 国立自然教育園 Shizen Kyōikuen National Park for the Study of Nature. You can see their busted ass English website here. I haven’t been to this place myself, but it seems that the hills and ridgeways are the remains of the original earthen fortifications. This Japanese website goes into some detail on the topic.

Again, I’m not an expert on castles, but in the Kamakura Period, this area fell under the domain of the clans such as the Edo and the Shibuya. One of these clans may or may not have had fortresses in the area – and it’s possible that they could have – and the timing is right. Apart from the anecdotal story from the late Edo Period, the Yanagishita clan is otherwise unknown in the area.

so this is the kind of fortification we're talking about...

so this is the kind of fortification we’re talking about…

Complicating the issue, later, after the coming of the Tokugawa and the establishment of 参勤交代  sankin-kōtai the alternate attendance system, this area became home to many palatial residences of 大名 daimyō lords. In 1627, the 讃岐高松藩松平家 Sanuki no Kuni Takamatsu-han no Matsudaira-ke the Matsudaira Family of theTakamatsu Domain in Sanuki Province, a branch family of the Tokugawa, established a 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence here. As mentioned in my article on sankin-kōtai, of a lord’s 3 usual residences, the lower residence was usually the grandest and would have included beautiful gardens and ponds.

Matsudaira Yoritoshi, last lord of the Takamatsu Matsudaira Family. (ie; the dude who had to surrendur his bad ass mansion in Edo to the Meiji Government)

Matsudaira Yoritoshi, last lord of the Takamatsu Matsudaira Family.
(ie; the dude who had to surrendur his bad ass mansion in Edo to the Meiji Government)

In the Meiji Era[v], the imperial government set about its wholesale erasing samurai history and appropriated the sprawling palace of the Matsudaira and repurposed the land as an arsenal for the Imperial Navy. In 1893, the arsenal was transferred to the Imperial Army. In 1917, the wooded area was granted to the Imperial Forestry Bureau. In 1949, the area was finally open to the public as 国立自然教育園 Kokuritsu Shizen Kyōikuen the National Park for the Study of Nature.

OK, so this is the traditional narrative and, as mentioned, etymologically speaking it’s open to a lot of criticism. That said, the presence of fortifications there are very real.

However, another intriguing theory exists. This theory proposes that the name actually derives from a Classical Japanese phrase 城ヶ根 shiro ka ne/shiro ga ne/jō ga ne which would mean something along the lines of “the castle’s embankments” or “castle foundations.”  According to this etymology, the presence of a former lord’s castle ruins from time immemorial came to be written in more auspicious kanji, ie; 白金 shirogane/shirokane “silver” or “silver coins.” In the Edo Period, a folk etymology came to be circulated which created this Shirokane Chōja Silver Coin Millionaire character and story.

This new theory simply re-spins the traditional narrative but it doesn’t seem so cheesy. It also falls into a pattern that we’ve seen with Kantō place names that pre-date the Edo Period.  It doesn’t have widespread acceptance, but there are other place names around Japan that use the word 根 ne (literally root/source, specialized geographic meaning “ridge, embankment” in relation to a fortification). Actually, we’ve already seen a  根 ne conjecture in the etymology of Nerima.

Which is correct? I don’t know and we’ll probably never know. But that’s the thing with history, isn’t it? As much as we want a clear picture of what really happened, we’re always reaching.

Another kind of interesting thing about this place name is that it does mean “silver” or “silver coins” and to this day the area is located in the richest ward of Tokyo.

Oh, one last loose end to wrap up! So at the beginning of the article, I mentioned some other place names. The etymology of 芝 Shiba can be found here. The etymology of 高輪 Takanawa can be found here. 台 dai, on the other hand, needs a little explainin’.

The kanji is a reference to a 台地 daichi plateau. As mentioned earlier, the area was clearly fortified no less than 500 years ago. The area was probably a naturally high area, but it was intentionally built up too. Anyways, while one common meaning of the kanji in a place name is “high ground,” it’s not always a reference to elevation in the modern geological sense (think sea level); it was a much more relative term. But in this case, it is most certainly a reference to the foundations of the old fortifications.


[i] The name itself is interesting, it means “under the willows,” but it has 3 possible readings. I’m not sure which the correct reading for this particular clan is as I’ve seen both Yanagishita and Yagishita in reference to this clan. Yanagishita seems to roll off the tongue a little easier, so I’m going with that one.

[ii] The traditional story also asserts that homeboy was a minor official in the service of the 南朝 Nanchō, the Southern Court. Readers unfamiliar with the establishment of the Muromachi shōgunate should know that in the 14th century, there was a succession dispute in the Imperial Family which led to the establishment of a second Imperial Court. Long story short, the Northern Court won and the current imperial line claims descent from this branch and considers the Southern Court a bunch of poseurs. Read more about the Northern and Southern Courts here.

[iii] Silver coins or silver itself, usually 銀 gin in modern Japanese, were apparently called 白金 shirokane at the time. Technically speaking, both methods of writing can be read as either gin or shirokane. There is an additional reading hakkin which means platinum.

[iv] If you remember from my article on What does Edo mean?, when you think “Japanese Castle,” you are most likely thinking of structures that were first developed around the time of Oda Nobunaga and reached their peak of development in the Edo Period. But the word 城 shiro is applied to both structures.

[v] In 1871 no less. This is so soon after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, that it seems like a deliberate dig at the Tokugawa to me.

Why is Hibiya called Hibiya?

In Japanese History on March 18, 2013 at 5:31 am

日比谷
Hibiya (no meaning)

Today’s place name is an interesting one.

The name 日比谷 Hibiya is 当て字 ateji. Ateji are words that use kanji characters for their phonetic properties instead of their ideographic properties. That is to say, the meaning of the character isn’t as important as the sounds. The meaning of the characters may be completely irrelevant or may have some forced meaning. For example, 珈琲 kōhī (coffee) is ateji. The first character refers to a kind of ancient hair pin. The second character refers to a string of pearls. The meaning of the characters is irrelevant and they are used to represent the sounds コー kō and ヒー hī (the latter is not even an sound native to the Japanese language).

As mentioned in the post about Chiyoda, before the Edo Period, Edo was just one of many small villages around what is now Tokyo Bay. Well before the Edo Period, the areas from Chiyoda (the Imperial Palace) to the sea were a mix of sea food production sites and agricultural areas. We can’t know for certain where it was, but one of the spots was on an inlet and was marked by 篊 hibi. Hibi are bunches of bamboo or brushwood used to grow and farm 海苔 nori (nori, a kind of seaweed).

what did hibiya look like before the edo period?

this is what the original hibiya (not today’s hibiya) looked like before the edo period. these are “hibi,” by the way.

The area was known for people and shops farming and selling nori (which was grown on hibi). Those people and shops would have been referred to as 篊屋 hibi-ya (hibi-people/hibi-shops). As the area grew (and the nori farmers presumably moved out), the place name came to be written 比々谷 Hibiya which has no meaning (ateji). The first character means “comparison” and represents the sound ひ hi. The second character just means “repeat the previous sound.” (the second “hi” become “bi” according to euphonic rules called 連濁). The final character is common in Japanese place names and means “valley.” This final character is also meaningless because there is no valley here. If anything, it’s part of the alluvial plain created by the waters in Tokyo Bay*.

Sometime in the Edo Period, 比々谷 came to be written as 日比谷 and that is the way it is still written today. The characters as they are now are “sun” “compare” and “valley, respectively.

If you go to Hibiya Park today, you’ll notice that there is a large pond near the Imperial Palace (Edo Castle). This pond was part of the system of moats around Edo Castle. The moat is gone today, but the pond is in its place. If you walk around the pond, you’ll notice a line of stone wall fortifications which match the castle area. This was one of the moat’s walls. Also, you’ll notice a photo spot called日比谷見附 Hibiya-Mitsuke (The Hibiya Approach). This was the path to the 日比谷御門 Hibiya Go-Mon, one of many gates into the castle. Btw, 見附 means “approach” or “walkway.” So Akasaka-Mitsuke meant “the Akasaka Approach.” More about that later.

The area that is the park today used to house 2 daimyōs’ upper residences; Saga domain and Chōshū domain.

hibiya-mitsuke moat

remains of the stone fortifications that lined the hibiya-mitsuke moat. some homeless dude is doing his laundry on the top of it.

remains hibiya-mitsuke moat

today a pond is built on the former hibiya-mitsuke moat. you can see carp in the water, and some freaky turtles & a stupid bird on the rocks.

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* I’m not too familiar with geological terminology, but I think alluvium is the right word here. If I’m wrong, let me know and I’ll update the text.

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.

Why are Shinagawa and Takanawa called Shinagawa and Takanawa?

In Japanese History on February 28, 2013 at 3:03 am

品川
Shinagawa (Product River)
Takanawa (Tall Dock)

Here’s a 2 for 1:

OK, here’s the story that I was told by a docent at the Edo-Tokyo Museum while pointing to a floor map of Edo with the kanji written that supported his argument. There were two place names, side by side, one was 高輪 Takanawa, the other was 品輪 Shinagawa. The kanji refers tying up ships on a dock. (Edo Bay came right up to about where the Yamanote Line tracks are at Shinagawa Station and even today, Shinagawa Station has 2 exits, the 港南 Kōnan ”South Port” and 高輪 Takanawa “High Dock”).  Anyways, he said the name 品輪 referred to where goods were loaded and unloaded from the bay and 高輪 referred to where goods would be stored on high ground to protect from tsunamis or thieves. Sounded reasonable.

takanawa today

takanawa today

But now I just read something that referred to a similar etymology. Some people claim that 高輪 sounds like the expensive or high quality and 品ヶ輪 refers to the refined (品の良い). But then he says this isn’t very credible since the modern writing 品川 has been in use since the 1200’s.

So what’s up, Mr. Docent at the Edo-Tokyo Museum? Did you lie? And if so, why the hell was the suspect kanji written on your floor map? Is this a conspiracy??

shinagawa station today

shinagawa station today

Not entirely, it seems that in the Kamakura Period 高縄原 Takanawabara “Source of the High Rope” was the way the place name for 高輪 Takanawa was originally written. The 高縄 taka nawa refers to the 高縄手道 Takanawa-tedō, a major street which started in this area. The street was on high ground and appeared clearly on maps so that it seems as if a rope was pulled taut across the highest and safest areas to travel. This name truly did change from 高縄 to 高輪, most likely as a result of the docks gaining importance over the road.

But Takanawa has always only referred to a small area, be it village, neighborhood or town. Shinagawa on the other hand has always referred to a much greater area. In fact, in the Meiji Era, there was a Shinagawa Prefecture!

The most likely explanation about Shinagawa is the simplest one. The Meguro river entered Edo and flowed downstream through Shinagawa (and of course, Takanawa), and the entire area thrived because of the “products” and the “river” – the “product river,” if you will.

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Why is Azabu Juban called Azabu Juban?

In Japanese History on February 17, 2013 at 1:21 pm

麻布十番  
Azabu-Juban (Hemp Cloth #10)

This is a weird one.

The kanji can also be read as Mafu or Asanuno. The first kanji means “hemp, cannabis sativa.” One would guess the area was famous for hemp production, but to the best of my knowledge the area was famous for its horse market in the Edo Period. The area was home to the largest horse market in Japan. The Azabu area is divided into Moto-Azabu (Old Azabu), Nishi-Azabu (West Azabu), Higashi-Azabu (East) and Azabu Juban (Azabu #10), etc.

azabu juban japanese history tourism travel tokyo

tokyo tower from azabu juban

The legend goes that the 10th construction team of a number of teams working on bridges and sewage were stationed there. The name of their banner 十番 (#10) stuck.

In the Edo Period the Sendai domain had a residence that stretched from the present Korean Embassy to Ni no Hashi. The Jūban Onari Shrine has been here since the 700’s.

The first American Embassy was located at Zenpukuji.
Kiyokawa Hachiro was killed at Ichi-no-hashi.
Henry Heusken was killed at Naka-no-hashi.
Stay away from those “hashi” (bridges).

henry heusken japanese history bakumatsu edo tokyo tourism travel

pissing on henry heusken’s grave… there was no public restroom around…. i swear!

Learn about Mita, which is right next to Azabu-Juban.

Why is Roppongi called Roppongi?

In Japanese History on February 10, 2013 at 2:58 pm

六本木
Roppongi (6 Trees)

Legend has it that the area was the location of the lower residences of 6 daimyō. A daimyō is a feudal lord. They were required to serve the shōgun in Edo and represent their domains in the capital. Most of them about 3 residences in Edo, an upper residence next to Edo Castle (now the Imperial Palace), a middle residence a little farther out, and a lower residence in the suburbs of Edo.

There’s another story that there were 6 pine trees here, but that just sounds stupid…or boring at best.

Image

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