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What does Ushigome mean?

In Japan, Japanese Castles, Travel in Japan on September 24, 2013 at 6:08 pm

牛込
Ushigome (Crowd of Cows)

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon. Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon.
Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.
But nary a cow in sight… lol

ushi

cow

komi[i]

swarming, huddling, amassed, crowded,
“in bulk”

According to Japanese Wikipedia[ii], in 701, in accordance to the Taihō Code, a livestock ranch was established in this area. In fact, two were established which were sometimes referred to as 牛牧 gyūmaki a cow ranch and 馬牧 umamaki a horse ranch. These two locations came to be referred to as 牛込 Ushigome and 駒込 Komagome.

The fact that there was a cattle/dairy ranch here in the Asuka Period is a known fact (it’s documented). The horse ranch is a different story. In all of my research about Komagome, I didn’t find a single mention of this. When you look up Ushigome, many articles tend to mention Komagome, and I think that because of the strength of the evidence in support of the Ushigome being a literal etymology, the writers try to associate Komagome with it. But this would be a false etymology. Their logic: two places have similar names, they must be related, right?[iii]

Well, anyways, it’s possible that there is a connection between the two (one of the theories about Komagome is that it was a place where horses were herded into a confined space). There just isn’t any record of this being so. When we don’t have the evidence we should always take that theory with a grain of salt.

But with Ushigome, rest assured, this is most likely the case.

Cattle ranches aren't really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can't really imagine what one would have looked like. However, I found this 1950's aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950's and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this....

Cattle ranches aren’t really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can’t really imagine what one would have looked like.
However, I found this 1950’s aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950’s and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this….

In an edict during the reign of 文武天皇 Monmu Tennō Emperor Monmu (701-704) a place variously referred to as 神崎牛牧 Kanzaki no Gyūmaki Kanzaki Cattle Ranch and 乳牛院 Gyūnyūin “The Milk Institute” was established in the area in the vicinity of 元赤城神社 Moto-Akasaka Jinja Old Akasaka Shrine[iv].

Asakusa Shrine

Today Old Asakusa Shrine is just an afterthought to this building.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's busiest and craziest areas, Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s busiest and craziest areas, present day Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

A branch of the 大胡氏 Ōgo-shi Ōgo clan from 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province had been living in the Ushigome area since the 1300’s and, if I’m not mistaken, originally held dominion over the area from present day Shinjuku to Ushigome.

In 1553 a member of said clan switched allegiance from the Uesugi to the Hōjō and in return was granted dominion over the area stretching from present day Ushigome to Hibiya (ie; Edo Bay)[v]. The lord built a castle (fortified residence) somewhere in that area and took the place name to establish his own branch of the family and thus the Ushigome clan was born, 牛込氏 Ushigome-shi. The area is elevated so it would have been defensible. It also had a view of Edo Bay and so they could keep an eye on who was coming in and out of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay[vi].

In 1590, the Hōjō were defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Tokugawa Ieyasu was famously granted the 関八州 Kanhasshū the 8 Kantō Provinces, which included Edo. Ieyasu evicted the residents of the castle and confiscated the property.

It’s not clear where the castle was located, but there is a tradition at 光照寺 Kōshō-ji Kōshō Temple that says the temple was built on the site of 牛込城 Ushigome Castle. I’ve never looked for myself, but it seems like there are no ruins that confirm this story[vii]. There is a nice sign, though.

Being a large plateau, in the Edo Period, this area was clearly 山手 yamanote the high city and was populated by massive daimyō residences and the homes of high ranking 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun.

Fans of Edo Castle or just any history-minded resident of Tōkyō will recognize the name 牛込橋 Ushigomebashi Ushigome Bridge. This bridge led from Kagurazaka to Edo Castle. If you crossed the bridge you would arrive at  牛込見附 Ushigome-mitsuke Ushigome Approach[viii] and there you would see the 牛込御門 Ushigome go-mon Ushigome Gate. The bridge spanned 牛込濠 Ushigomebori Ushigome Moat. Today the moat is dammed up under the bridge and the Chūō Line runs under it. On one side you can see the moat, on the other side – if I remember correctly – are just trees, a small skyscraper, and a train station; another fine example of Japan bulldozing over and building over its past. That said, there’s plenty to see and do in the area if you feel like having a history walk in the area.

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke. The area under the bridge is already partially dammed up.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It's a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you're trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It’s a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you’re trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

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[i] For an explanation of this sound change from /komi/ to /gome/, please see my article on Komagome.
[ii] By the way, I didn’t get all my info from Wikipedia. Duh!
I just quoted it to show you how commonplace this Komagome/Ushigome thing is.
[iii] Wrong.
[iv] I’m pretty sure the name Akasaka Shrine and the name of Akasaka are a coincidence… but I may need to look further into this (because OMG my original article says nothing about this). The Ōgo clan was originally based at a mountain in present day Gunma Prefecture called 赤城山 Akagi-san Red Castle Mountain, when they came to this area, they established a shrine called Akasaka Shrine (Red Hill). The original shrine is in Waseda, Shinjuku. Originally in 牛込台 Ushigomedai Ushigome Plateau, it was moved twice – once in 1460 by Ōta Dōkan and again in 1555 by the Ōgo themselves. The shrine still exists in Shinjuku.
[v] Their holdings included 桜田 Sakurada (yes, the same Sakurada of 桜田門 Sakuradamon fame), 赤坂 Akasaka, and 日比谷 Hibiya. Anyone familiar with Edo Castle will immediately recognize their names and their connection to the castle.
[vi] The presence of another lord so close to where the Edo Clan and Ōta Dōkan had their fortified residences adds more to my assertion that Edo wasn’t just “an obscure fishing village” when the Tokugawa arrived.
[vii] UPDATE: There may be some evidence. If you’re interested, check out this blog! (Japanese only)
[viii] Essentially a look out and security check point leading into the castle grounds. For more on what a mitsuke is, check my article on Akasaka-mitsuke.

What does Akasaka-Mitsuke mean?

In Japanese History on May 1, 2013 at 1:45 am

赤坂見附
Akasaka-mitsuke (Approach to Akasaka Gate)

Akasaka-mitsuke approaching Akasaka-mitsuke Go-mon (Akasaka-mitsuke Gate) as it looked at the end of the Edo Period.

Akasaka-mitsuke approaching Akasaka-mitsuke Go-mon (Akasaka-mitsuke Gate) as it looked at the end of the Edo Period.

Just a little update on yesterday’s post.

If you come out of Akasaka-mitsuke station, you’ll find yourself on a major road called 外堀道り Sotobori Dōri Outer Moat Street. This street’s name comes from — you guessed it — the outer moat of Edo Castle.

So anyhoo, we usually translate 見附 mitsuke as “approach,” as in the approach to a castle. From a military perspective, a mitsuke was a defensive installation. The roads approaching the gates of the castle were defended by 見張り番所 Mihari bansho look out guardhouses. Architecturally speaking, most Japanese buildings – be they shrines or castles, businesses or homes – traditionally place importance on a space that leads you from the street into the building or space proper (ie; an approach). In the case of Edo Castle, these spaces required a clear field of vision from the 番所 bansho guardhouse. In pictures of such approaches, you will see a lack of trees, no buildings and a moat and a bridge. The mitsuke provided the guards a clear view of approaching guests (or enemies), and provided the guest with an imposing view of the might of the shōgun’s castle.  The gate provided the name of the mitsuke or the area provided a name for the gate and mitsuke. The place name Akasaka was applied to the mitsuke and the 御門 go-mon gate.

What does Akasaka-mitsuke mean?

Very little remains of the original Edo Castle, but this so-called 100 Man Bansho, is still extant. It’s an example of a REALLY BIG bansho – supposedly it could be manned by 100 samurai.

三十六見附 Sanjū-roku Mitsuke The 36 Mitsuke of Edo Castle.

There weren’t actually 36 mitsuke, this was just an expression. Some of the mitsuke have given place names to Tokyo and can still be seen to today (at least the ruins can).*

Akasaka-mitsuke
Yotsuya-mitsuke
Hibiya-mitsuke
Ushigome-mitsuke
Ichigaya-mitsuke
Shibaguchi-mitsuke (taken down before the end of the Edo Period)**
(if you know any other mitsuke names, hit me up, I’ll add them to this list).

If you’re in Akasaka-mitsuke and you’re interested, be sure to check out 山王日枝神社 Sannō Hie Jinja Hie Shrine. The tutelary deity of Edo Castle is enshrined there. Say “kon’nichiwa” to it for me.

And as always, if you have any questions about Japanese Castles, please visit JCastle.net because this guy knows a lot more about Japanese castles than I do.

Going down Akasaka hill towards Akasaka-Mitsuke. The building on the left is an entrance to the Imperial Residence, but now it's the Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ.

Going down Akasaka hill towards Akasaka-Mitsuke. The building on the left is an entrance to the Imperial Residence, but now it’s the Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ.***

A view from Akasaka Mitsuke coming down from Akasaka hill.

A view from Akasaka Mitsuke coming down from Akasaka hill.***

 

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* According to my sources, there were at most 27 gates to Edo Castle. I’m fairly certain that the presence of a gate does not guarantee the presence of a mitsuke or mihari bansho. An important interection might warrant an installation. But I could be wrong.
** Shibaguchi-Mitsuke and Shibaguchi Gate are linked to Shibaguchi Bridge, an alternate name for the original Shinbashi (new bridge).
*** These amazing postcards are taken from Old Tokyo.

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