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Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin

In Japanese Holidays, Japanese Shrines & Temples on January 6, 2014 at 5:14 pm

深川七福神巡り
Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Meguri (Walking Tour of the Fukugawa 7 Gods of Good Luck)

The Fukagawa 7 Fukujin Course

The Fukagawa 7 Fukujin Course

I hope everyone had a safe and happy (and delicious) winter holiday. I’ve been out of the country and haven’t updated JapanThis! for a few weeks. Did you miss me?[i]

At the beginning of every new year, Mrs. JapanThis and I do a traditional walking tour of the 七福神 shichi fukujin the seven gods of good luck. There are shichi fukujin walks all over Japan. This kind of pilgrimage[ii] seems to have begun in the late Muromachi Period (1333-1573)[iii]. The practice was brought from Kansai to Kantō and grew in popularity during the Edo Period when most of the old temples and shrines associated with the 7 gods of good luck had become settled. Prior to the Edo Period, the exact set of deities wasn’t standardized. This lack of standardization has resulted in some shichi fukujin walks including an 8th deity of varying provenance. Occasionally, you’ll actually see a 八福神巡り hachi fukujin meguri walking tour of the 8 gods of good luck. But more often than not, these are a distinct set of 7 deities and when represented in a group, they should be immediately recognizable by any Japanese person[iv]. Anyways, as most of the shichi fukujin pilgrimages became settled in the Edo Period and the popularity of these walks during the new year holiday increased, it should be no surprise that most of these are found in the heart of Edo. There are more than 20 possible shichi fukujin walks in Tōkyō alone[v].

Tōkyōites walk a lot, but in the Edo Period, people walked everywhere and for much greater distances – even in the dead of winter. An average pilgrimage in Tōkyō will require anywhere from 2 to 3½ hours of walking. Every route is unique, but generally people do it from Jan. 1st to Jan. 6th[vi]. Each route is well-organized and you can buy 七福神色紙 shichi fukujin shikishi stamp board for about 1000 (roughly $10) and at each stop you can get a stamp for 100 or 200 (roughly $1 or $2). Temples and shrines that are not major destinations are usually closed except for special events, so the week or two after the new year is big business for them. That’s why the routes are well-marked with flags and there are maps available everywhere.

Shikishi are decorate pieces of cardboard used to collect signatures for special events. Here you can see the name of each shrine/temple in black and then a red ink stamp pressed over it confirming that you actually visited the temple/shrine. At the bottom, in gold, you can see the 7 gods of good luck riding on the the takarabune "treasure ship."  Awwwww yeah.

Shikishi are decorate pieces of cardboard used to collect signatures for special events.
Here you can see the name of each shrine/temple in black and then a red ink stamp pressed over it confirming that you actually visited the temple/shrine.
At the bottom, in gold, you can see the 7 gods of good luck riding on the the takarabune “treasure ship.”
Awwwww yeah.

Today is the first day that most Japanese companies started work after the holiday, so there were two kinds of people we mostly encountered: salarymen and old people. As it was the first day back at work for most Japanese companies, people are still feeling pretty lazy and any excuse to get out of the office and walk around is welcome and so groups of co-workers tend to be permitted to visit a shrine near the office to pray for success in business. I doubt they’re allowed to do the whole shichi fukujin meguri, but visiting a shrine dedicated to a god of good luck makes much more sense than visiting a shrine for, say, 安産 anzan safe delivery of babies. There are lots of old people because… well, they don’t have to work and Japan is just crawling with old people anyways.

I’m not going to go into detail about each of the 7 gods because you can look them up in Wikipedia or here is a nice description of them. But I am going to list each of the 7 gods and the shrine or temple with which they are affiliated. Now, I say affiliated because many times these gods are not the main deity venerated at a certain temple or shrine – they may be part of a small shrine attached to another larger religious structure[vii]. As it so happens, except for 1 structure, most of the sites of the shichi fukujin in Fukagawa are very minor, simple buildings. They’re probably only open a few days a year to perform certain religious duties and the rest of the year, the family who owns the property is engaged in other work that has nothing to do with the temple/shrine[viii]. Keep in mind that this list is for Fukagawa only, the names of the temples and shrines of another course will be totally different.

Name

Domain

Shrine/Temple Name

Description

寿老人
Jurō-jin
longevity 深川神明宮
Fukagawa

Shinmei-gū
I always think of this guy as the bearded old man with a big head. This shrine participates in the famous Fukagawa Mizukake Festival.
大黒天
Daikokuten
amassing wealth, good harvest 円珠
Enju-in
Daikoku is one of the more famous of the shichi fukujin, but the temple in Fukagawa is TINY. Daikoku is enshrined in what is essentially a round Buddhist style shack.
恵比須神
Ebisu-jin
love & respect; bountiful food 富岡八幡宮
Tomioka

Hachiman-gū
This is one of the most important shrines in Edo-Tōkyō. I mentioned it here. However, the small shrine to Ebisu seems like an add-on. It’s located on the left, back-side of the main hall. Read more about the Tōkyō place name, Ebisu, here and here. Also, if I’m not mistaken, Ebisu is the only of the 7 gods of good luck who is of native Japanese origin.
布袋尊
Hotei-son
selflessness & generosity 深川稲荷神社
Fukagawa

Inari Jinja
This shrine is tiny. I think I’ve mentioned Inari before. Inari is generally an auspicious kami and shrines to this deity are all over Japan. It’s my understanding that the cult of Inari spread under the sankin-kōtai system because this kami was popular with daimyō. In the Edo Period, Inari became popular with the common people too.
毘沙門天
Bishamonten
risk taking; gambling 龍光院
Ryūkō-in
This is a tiny temple in a residential area that almost blends into the background. It looks just like any other modern building on the block.
弁財天
Benzaiten
being rich & famous; the glamorous life 冬木弁天堂
Fuyuki

Benten-dō
Another small shrine, but this one has an older, traditional feel. The name of the shrine is interesting. It literally means “Fuyuki’s place to venerate Benzaiten.” Fuyuki was the name of a family of lumber workers who supposedly lived here and had a small shrine to Benzaiten. Benzaiten is sometimes depicted as a slutty, music playing, and jealous bitch. It’s often said if couples visit her shrines together, she’ll get jealous and the couple will break up.
福禄寿
Fukurokuju
popularity, happiness & prosperity 心行寺
Shingyō-ji
This temple is doing its own Buddhist thing, but has a small “shack” dedicated to the veneration of Fukurokuju. It seems like they only open it for viewing a few times a year, including the new year holiday.

So, as I said earlier, Mrs. JapanThis and I have done many shichi fukujin walks. This year we decided to do the Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Meguri. Fukagawa is a very shitamachi area and even boasts a fantastic museum called 深川江戸資料館 Fukagawa Edo Shiryōkan Fukagawa Edo Museum which reconstructs a block of Edo Period Fukagawa and brings a little bit of Edo to life – highly recommended. Because the area was in the heart of Edo, it wasn’t surprising to find out that it’s one of the easiest shichi fukujin courses. It took us no more than 2 hours to walk the whole thing. They started us at Monzen Nakachō Station[ix] and marked the entire path with flags so that we didn’t need any maps or any GPS (even if we did get lost, there were groups of old people being led by cute tour guides waving flags – they’re easy enough to follow).

Monzen-Nakacho

“Mon’naka” Station.
Every time I visit an area I’ve written about it’s like seeing an old friend.
Hello, old friend!

Then we entered Tomioka Hachiman-gū. At the entrance was a massive stone lantern. Its size reminded me of the Monster Lantern in Ueno Park – but the Monster Lantern is much bigger. Still, it’s pretty cool to see a stone lantern of this size. We ventured around to the left hand side of the 本殿 honden main hall of Tomioka Hachiman-gū and found a small grove with 3 stalls housing 3 kami, the middlemost kami was Ebisu.

The giant stone lantern at the entrance to Tomioka Hachimangu.

The giant stone lantern at the entrance to Tomioka Hachimangu.

The main hall of Tomioka Hachimangu!

The main hall of Tomioka Hachimangu!
Notice the group of salarymen walking together.

The torii that leads to the shrine dedicated to Ebisu.

The torii that leads to the shrine dedicated to Ebisu.

The actual shrine to Ebisu is basically a wooden shed behind Tomioka Hachimangu.

The actual shrine to Ebisu is basically a wooden shed behind Tomioka Hachimangu.

The next stop on the Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Course is Fuyuki Benten-dō, home of Benzaiten, the only female kami (女神 megami) of the 7 gods of good luck. It’s a very small temple and today it was filled with old people standing around and looking very confused… until the tour guide told everyone to make a single file line and pay their respects. We got our stamp and got out of there as quickly as possible so as to beat all the old people to the next stops on our course.

IMG_3893

The shrine to Benzaiten is so small and the grounds so narrow that it is literally wedged between to small apartment buildings. If it weren’t for the flags announcing the 7 fukujin walk, you might not even notice it!

Next stop was Shingyō-ji where Fukurokuju-son is enshrined. The temple itself isn’t’t much to look at, but the interesting thing is the Buddhist style stall in which Fukurokuju is venerated, it’s a good example of syncretism in Japanese religion (ie; foreign religions like Buddhism naturally mixed with the native Shintōism).

Entrance to Shingyoji. Again, if you didn't know what you were looking for, you probably wouldn't even bat an eye at this temple.

Entrance to Shingyoji.
Again, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you probably wouldn’t even bat an eye at this temple.

This is the shrine to Fukurokuju.  The shape of this structure is distinctly Buddhist.

This is the shrine to Fukurokuju.
The shape of this structure is distinctly Buddhist.

Here's a statue of the little bugger himself.

Here’s a statue of the little bugger himself.

Along the way, we passed a famous 和菓子屋 wagashi-ya Japanese sweets shop called 伊勢屋 Isei-ya. We picked up some 大福 daifuku and went on our merry way.

Iseya has been in business since 1907 (Meiji 40) and has quite a good reputation in Tokyo for quality Japanese sweets.

Iseya has been in business since 1907 (Meiji 40) and has quite a good reputation in Tokyo for quality Japanese sweets.

Our 4th stop was Enju-in which houses and enshrinement of Daikokuten. As I mentioned before, most of the shichi fukujin are commonly recognized when seen together, but separately, it may be hard to remember who is who. Ebisu, Benzaiten, and Daikokuten are the most recognizable, I think. Daikokuten’s gig is granting wealth – not just wealth, but ever accumulating wealth. There is a famous chain of “pawn shops[x]” called Daikokuya. The one near my house specializes in high end wallets and bags (Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc…), I can’t help but think there is a connection. Anyhoo, the temple itself is non-descript and if it hadn’t been for the flags lining the path, I might have had a hard time finding the place.

A paper lantern with the name "Daikokuten" written on it.

A paper lantern with the name “Daikokuten” written on it.

IMG_3903

Again, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d probably never look twice at this temple.

During my winter vacation, I visited Arizona. Feeling a bit stir crazy one day, I took a 2 hour walk just to see what I could see – and I saw nothing. But walk for 10 minutes through the heart of Edo-Tōkyō and you’ll see lots of things! As we were moseying along, we stumbled across a solitary grave near an intersection. Turns out, this was the grave of Mamiya Rinzō. He was a map maker and a spy for the Tokugawa shōgunate. He made maps of northern Japan and the Kuril Isla— and wait, did you just say “spy?!

Yes, I did.

In 1826, the Dutch doctor and botanist, Phillip von Siebold was caught collecting maps of northern Japan (drawn by a member of the imperial court in Kyōto, no less). But the Tokugawa shōgunate was all about very limited access to the country[xi]. Furthermore, they insisted on keeping the imperial court out of the business of real politics and especially out of the limited international exchanges possible at the time. So this was quite a big deal to the government in Edo. Today, most of us look back at it and laugh but really this was some North Korea-style shit, right? Well, North Korea shit could get you killed but luckily for von Siebold, the shōgunate didn’t want to create an international riff, so they effectively deported him and that’s the end of story.

But who was the douchebag who told on von Siebold like a little bitch? Oh, it was Mamiya Rinzō from 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain[xii]. Make what you will of that.

Grave of Mamiya Rinzo.

Grave of Mamiya Rinzo – Tattletale extraordinaire.

IMG_3906

Plaque in front of Rinzo’s grave.


Then, we moved on to Ryūkō-in. This is where Bishamonten is revered. It’s another less than memorable temple.

Ryūkō-in - yet another non-descript temple.

Ryūkō-in – yet another non-descript temple.

A makeshift sign for the season that says "Bishamonten."

A makeshift sign for the season that says “Bishamonten.”

After that, we headed to Fukagawa Inari Shrine to see Hotei-son. This shine is literally crammed into a tiny corner of a residential intersection. I bet this is the most action this place gets all year.

It's hardly fair to even call this a shrine.

It’s hardly fair to even call this a shrine.

Finally we hit up Shinmei-gū which was larger than the last few places, but not so big. They had their o-mikoshi (portable shrine) on display with pictures indicating that they participate in the mizukake matsuri which is generally spearheaded by Tomioka Hachiman-gū[xiii].

Torii and entrance to Shinmeigū. The premises were quite large, but the architecture and space weren't much to look at.

Torii and entrance to Shinmeigū. The premises were quite large, but the architecture and space weren’t much to look at.

So, having done quite a few shichi fukujin walks, I was really looking forward to the Fukagawa walk because it’s so famous. But it was a bit of a letdown compared to the others. The highlights were definitely Tomioka Hachiman-gū (because of its size and importance to Edo-Tōkyō) and the grave of Mamiya Rinzō (which just pissed me off). But all in all, I got a lot of good exercise, quality time with Mrs. JapanThis, and best of all, I got a future place name to research. Check this shit out:

Bakuroyokoyama FTW!!!

Bakuroyokoyama FTW!!!

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[i] It’s a rhetorical question; I don’t need my inboxes flooded with “no” e-mails.

[ii] For lack of a better word.

[iii] This is the most liberal reckoning I can think of for this era. Various scholars will assign different dates for the beginning of the Muromachi Period depending on how they are trying to frame certain topics. I probably won’t even mention the Muromachi Period again in this article, so let’s leave it at that for now.

[iv] And I reckon most foreigners who have spent a few years in Japan would recognize them too.

[v] And according to Wikipedia, there are at least 10 more in the Kantō area.

[vi] Some routes are officially open as late as Jan. 15th.

[vii] Not unlike in Europe where a church may be dedicated to a certain saint, but the relics or bodies of various other saints and holy people may be also be located on the premises.

[viii] That is too say, they have a real 9-5 most of the time.

[ix] Again, if you’re interested in the etymology of the place name Monzen Nakachō, I recommend you read my article here.

[x] Again, for lack of a better word.

[xi] Some say it was 開国 sakoku a closed country, others say it was under 海禁 kaikin a policy of limited access by sea.

[xii] The same Mito Domain that produced Mito Gaku and the grand douche daimyō extraordinaire, Tokugawa Nariaki. Oh yes, Mito Han. JapanThis! loves to hate on Mito Han almost as much as Satsuma and Chōshū.

[xiii] More about this next summer…

What does Yoga mean?

In Japanese History on October 23, 2013 at 8:55 am


Yōga (Yoga)

cool subway entrance

Pretty cool amphitheater-esque subway entrance!

In Tōkyō’s Setagaya Ward there is an area and a train station called 用賀 Yōga. I don’t know what native Japanese speakers think of this name, but it doesn’t really look like a place to me. The first kanji means “task” or “use.” The second kanji means “congratulations.”

If the popular etymology is true, then this place has its origins in Sanskrit and not Japanesei.

However, I’m just gonna say this right now – I have some major gripes with the popular story. This name is obviously ateji, ie; kanji used for phonetic reasons. Because it is ateji, it marks this as a very ancient place name. That said, let’s keep an open mind and listen to the story in its entirety before we jump to any conclusions.

Does sitting like this count as yoga?

Does sitting like this count as yoga?

The common narrative goes a little something like this. From the Heian Period to the beginning of the Kamakura Period, a ヨガ道場 yoga dōjō yoga school operated here. The name 用賀村 Yōga Village ultimately derived from this yoga schoolii.

During the Sengoku Period, Yōga Village was a 門前町 monzenchō centered around 眞福寺 Shinpuku-ji, a temple for which I can find no further informationiii. In case you forgot, a monzenchō was a small town that developed around the mon front gate of a temple or shrineiv.

By the Edo Period, the village was an established 宿場 shukuba post town on the 大山街道 Ōyama Kaidōv. It was a small town, but it managed to flourish during the stability brought by the Tokugawa in the 1600’s.

But wait, there's more!

But wait, there’s more!

A Bizarre Plot Twist

Translating from the original Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese monks used the kanji 瑜伽 for yoga. The kanji can be read in Japanese as either yuga or yogavi.

In 1578, a temple was founded in the area. This temple was associated with the 真言宗 Shingon-shū True Word Buddhismvii. The temple, which still exists today, is called 真福寺 Shinpuku-ji. The temple’s honorary mountain name (sangō) is 瑜伽山 Yuga-zan which uses the classical characters for “yoga.viii

Japanese Yoga

This is the kinda yoga I could get into.
Titty yoga.

Some More Weirdness

That’s the official narrative. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll realize that there are more discrepancies; there was another temple in the area before the 1578 temple.

I don’t know if the original temple, 実相眞福Jissō-san Shinpuku-ji, was re-established as 瑜伽山真福寺 Yuga-zan Shinpuku-ji or if the new temple borrowed and modified the name of the old temple but… the mountain names definitely changed. And while the pronunciation of the temple name was the same, the first kanji changed.

実相瑜伽山 Jissō-sanYuga-zan True Image Mountain → Yoga Mountain
眞福真福寺 Shinpuku-jiShinpuku-ji True Fortune Temple → True Fortune Temple

shinpukuji-0

The main hall (honden) of the modern Shinpukuji.

We have a very messy story hereix. Let’s re-cap:

・In the old days there was a yoga school in Yōga and the town got a name.
・The yoga school was apparently dead and gone by the Kamakura Period.
・There’s always been a connection with Shingon Buddhism.
・The town grew up around a non-extant temple.
・That temple either declined and/or a new temple showed up and assumed the same name – and yet, a different name and included the Chinese characters for “yoga” in their name.

.

It’s possible, man.
All of this is totally possible.
But….
Maybe some of the inconsistencies are just byproducts of how the story has been preserved – one record remembers it this way, one temple tradition remembers it that way. But also remember how off the beaten path this place was until the Kamakura Period.

Statue of an Edo Period traveler commemorating the the Oyama Kaido.

Statue of an Edo Period traveler commemorating the the Oyama Kaido.

My opinion is that most of this is not trustworthy information. There are probably kernels of truth in there, but most of this too inconsistent to be taken seriously. By the time we have temple records (1578), the Edo Period is right around the corner. Record keeping in the area got better after 1600, but come on, hundreds of years of passing down stories had been going on. Successive religious institutions are great at keeping records, but religious institutions are also notorious for passing down myths and stories that sometimes seem plausible but never completely match up to the facts.

Finally, I’d like to say that there is also a real possibility that this name, clearly written in ateji, has nothing to do with Buddhism or yoga, but actually has a more ancient originx.

Let’s say the jury is out on this one.



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______________________________________________

i Let me clarify; Sanskrit – as filtered through Classical Chinese and later, Middle Japanese.

ii Yet no evidence of the school exists. Furthermore, the kanji is (not yo) in Modern Japanese. (But historical linguistics think there may have been up to 4 distinct sounds in Old Japanese that merged into the present /yo dichotomy. This may suggest an older origin, or it may evidence of a dialect, or both.)

iii The only other info I have is that its honorary mountain name was 実相Jissō-san. More about “mountain names” in a minute.

iv You can read more about this in my article on Monzen-nakachō.

v From my understanding, the Ōyama Kaidō was originally a pilgrimage route that ran from Mt. Ōyama (in Kanagawa Prefecture) and terminated near Akasaka in Edo.

vi In the Heian Period, the use of highfalutin kanji would have been the domain of highly educated monks and court elite. Ateji would have been par for the course in this rural coastal area of the Kantō. By the 1500’s, highfalutin kanji would par for the course.

vii Also called 真言秘密 Shingon Himitsu the True Word Secret. This is a type of esoteric Buddhism that I don’t know much about other than it sounds like utter horse shit. They have secret rites that teach the initiated how to summon demons, change the weather, and heal the sick by chanting or meditating or touching things. In other words, it makes claims about the nature of the universe and reality that are just as spurious as those of every other religion out there.

viii All Japanese temples have 3 names, 山号 sangō mountain name (a metaphorical mountain name), and 院号 ingō (cloister name – like a branch name), 寺号 jigō temple name (official temple name). The first two are honorary names that are generally not used in common parlance. The last name, the jigō, is the usual way to refer to a temple.

ix One which yoga schools and amateur place name websites cherry pick the fuck out of to no good end…

x I could be wrong. Or could I…?

10 Random Quickies – Japan This Lite

In Japan This Lite, Japanese History on August 20, 2013 at 12:57 am

大門  Daimon
国立競技場 Kokuritsu-Kyōgijō
新銀座 Shin-Ginza
東中野 Higashi-Nakano
江戸川 Edogawa
流山 Nagareyama
品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku
港区 Minato-ku
If there’s a 上野 is there a 下野? (Ueno, Shitano)
おめぇの母ちゃん Your mom

The Edo Castle room in which the 3rd Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu was born.  (supposedly)

The Edo Castle room in which the 3rd Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu was born.
(supposedly)

Alright, my super short O-bon vacation is over and it’s back to the grind (actually working a little more to make up for time lost). I’m gonna try to do my best to squeeze out another article in a timely manner.

Anyways, I spent one day in a 38°C (100.4°F) solar beat down in Kawagoe, the former administrative center of 川越藩 Kawagoe Han Kawagoe Domain[i]. Kawagoe was an important logistical hub for 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni and Edo. Since it was part of Musashi no Kuni, I thought I’d mention it. You can also find the only extant buildings of the former Edo Castle that can still be entered by common folk like you and I. Kawagoe is now part of Saitama Prefecture. These days, Saitama is to Tōkyō what New Jersey is to New York[ii].  Let’s just say, the prefecture will never live down Tamori’s nickname for the area, ダ埼玉 dasaitama (a mix of ダサい dasai “lame” + 埼玉 Saitama)[iii].  So let’s move on to more pleasant conversation[iv].

So I’ve got a few e-mail messages that ask about Tōkyō place names which are pretty easy to explain – and don’t really warrant their own posts.  Some referred to previous articles but weren’t directly addressed. So today’s Japan This Lite is brought to you by the support of generous question-asking readers like yourself!

Oh, and speaking of generous readers, if anyone is interested in donating, I’ve set up a donation page on Patreon. Feel free to throw a brother a couple of bucks[v].

OK, so without any further ado, here are 10 Quick Questions from readers about Tōkyō place names that I explain away in a few minutes[vi].



What Does Daimon Mean?

Oh, look! It's a big gate! I wonder what that thing is doing here?

Oh, look! It’s a big gate! I wonder what that thing is doing here?

大門 Daimon means “Big Gate.” The gate is specifically the gate that crosses the street at an intersection between the Daimon Station, the Minato Ward Office and Zōjō-ji[vii]. There is a bigger gate in front of Zōjō-ji, but that’s not the “big gate” referred to in the name. Before Zōjō-ji was built until today, the area has been known as 芝 Shiba (see my article here). The area in front of the gate was a 門前町 monzen-chō a town built in front of a temple gate (see my article here). Because there is an intersection right in front of the gate, the area became an obvious destination for trolleys, buses, and eventually subways.  The subway name here is 大門 Daimon, but the actually postal address is 芝大門 Shiba Daimon. The name reflects the area’s heritage as part of Shiba, as monzen-chō, and of course, as the place where the big gate still stands today.

What Does Kokuritsu-Kyōgijō Mean?

The National Olympic Stadium

The National Olympic Stadium

国立競技場 is made of two words. After you hear the translation, you will understand. Kokuritsu means “National.” Kyōgijō means stadium or athletic grounds. When the word 駅 eki station is dropped this compound word is usually translated as National Olympic Stadium. When you hear this word in Japan, most people will undoubtedly think of the 1964 Tōkyō Olympic Games.  The facility pre-dates the ’64 Summer Olympics and if Tōkyō manages to land the 2020 Summer Olympics, the site will supposedly be re-developed for the that purpose in the form of a ghastly silver drop of water… or something.

What Does Shin-Ginza Mean?


WTF?

Where is Shin-Ginza?

I guess it means “New Ginza” but I’ve never heard of this place. I googled it and found a reference to a law office with the words 新銀座 Shin-Ginza in the name, but it’s not a place name. At least not in Tōkyō.

What Does Higashi-Nakano Mean?

Higashi-Nakano Station

Higashi-Nakano Station

東中野 Higashi-Nakano means East Nakano. I covered Nakano a long time ago but since my blog currently only shows the last 50 articles, there are about 100 other articles obscured from view. If anyone wants to help out with this (I can’t do design-y HTML to save my life), I’d appreciate it! Anyways, since I made the gross mistake of not including Higashi-Nakano you should probably check out the Nakano article. You might want to follow that up with the article on Musashi no Kuni. Basically, Nakano means “Field in the Middle of the Musashi Plain.” The name itself is quite ancient, but the name Higashi-Nakano was a train station/bus station name that became a postal address. And by the way, I love Nakano!

What Does Edogawa Mean?

The Edo River was never renamed "Tokyo River."

The Edo River was never renamed “Tokyo River.”
Suck on that, Meiji Restoration.

This question came right after I posted pix of the Edogawa Fireworks Display. 江戸 Edo refers to the original name of the city. While Tōkyō is the modern name, the name Edo persists in certain place names or nomenclature, for example, a 2nd or 3rd generation Tōkyōite is called an 江戸っ子 Edokko child of Edo[viii]. Anyways, 江戸川 means, of course, Edo River. What exactly is the Edo River? Well, the answer depends on what period of history you’re talking about. The river has been manipulated many times since the Edo Period.  Wikipedia has a decent technical definition.

I should probably write a longer article on this subject because it is a little complicated – and honestly I don’t know much about it at all at the moment. But the basic meaning is Edo River. And that should do for now. If you look a few blog posts before this, you’ll see my video footage of the Edogawa Fireworks.

What Does Nagareyama Mean?

sorry

That’s not Tōkyō so… sorry, not gonna cover it, as tempting as it is.
But I will say that the kanji are poetic and I like this town’s name.

What Does Shinagawa-shuku Mean?

品川宿題

Shinagawa Shuku

This is the old name of Shinjuku as a post town on the old Tōkaidō highway connecting Edo to Kyōto. The name isn’t used today except when referring to art or the old status of the town. Well, actually, I shouldn’t say that… because the area is in the midst of an urban renewal effort that I’m proud to say I contributed a minute effort back in 2009 to my friend Taka’s guest house. The area has been trying to boost local tourism in the area and uses the name Shinagawa-shuku. They even set up a Shinagawa-shuku information center with maps and pictures and English speaking docents. This was in ’09, but I’m sure they’re still doing it. They even set up scannable QR codes on light posts so you can learn about the history of the area as you walk around. Good question!
Oh, and here’s my old article on Shinagawa from waaaaaaaaaay back in the day.

Why Does Minato Mean?

North side of Tokyo Bay taken from Odaiba facing the Tokyo Bayfront.

North side of Tokyo Bay taken from Odaiba facing the Tokyo Bayfront.

This is probably the easiest, 港 minato means “habor.” You will see the same kanji in 空港 kūkō airport (literally “sky harbor”). Although Minato Ward’s eastern edge ends at Tōkyō Bay, Edo’s bay was a very different shape; today’s bay has been built up with landfill.

I’ll probably write about this in more detail later. But with even a quick glance at a modern map of Tōkyō Bay and a little guesswork, most people can probably figure out a rough approximation of the original shape of the bay.

If There’s a Ueno in Tōkyō, is There a Shitano?

Random perverted kanji image.

Random perverted kanji image.

This question refers to the kanji 上野 Ueno (upper field) and 下野 Shitano (lower field). I don’t know if there is a Shitano in Tōkyō, but in 西東京 West Tōkyō, outside of the 23 Special Wards, there is a place called 下野 Shimotuske (lower field – an unrelated place name) which could be read as Shitano (but isn’t)[ix]. Interestingly enough, near this place is a large park that is an annex of the 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum. The annex is called the 江戸東京たてもの園 Edo-Tōkyō Tatemono-en Edo-Tōkyō Open Air Architectural Museum. I haven’t been here yet, but it sounds pretty freaking cool. They moved a bunch of old buildings here to preserve them from the wake of urban sprawl in Tōkyō and so you can enjoy a walk in the park and walk through these historic buildings as well. Great question!

OK.

I have to be perfectly honest with you. I didn’t have 10 e-mails. I had a few more, but they’re on a different to-do list.  So this post is actually just 9 short entries. But I’m always glad to hear your questions even if I can’t always get to them right away. The difficult ones get saved in a document that I check for ideas. So it really helps keep the blog exciting for me. So thanks!  And talk to you all next week!

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[ii] I alluded to some of this anti-Saitama bias in the closing of my article on Adachi.

[iii] And all other incarnations, ウル埼玉 Urusaitama (mixed with the word for “noisy” or “annoying”) and ク埼玉 Kusaitama (mixed with the word for “stinky,” et alia.

[iv] Because no one wants to talk about Saitama or New Jersey, at least not in polite company… lol.
Sorry, Saitama is an easy target. I’ll stop now.

[v] And as I have just set this up, please let me know if there are any problems using the service. It seems straight-forward, they simply provide the connection. And if you’re worried, your donation goes directly to me, they never touch it.

[vi] OK, I lied, there are actually only 9.

[vii] If you don’t know what Zōjō-ji is, you haven’t been reading Japan This long enough. So please read my 16 part expose on the Funerary Temples of the Tokugawa Shōguns.

[viii] The 2-3 generation rule depends on who you ask. And some long standing Tōkyō families may argue that certain areas of the Tōkyō Metropolis never qualify as Edokko. It’s a complex, but fascinating issue that I should probably write about more in my Yamanote VS Shitamachi page. But I’m lazy…

[ix] 下野 can also be read as Shimono, a common family name.

What does Nishiarai mean?

In Japanese History on July 17, 2013 at 2:04 am

西新井
Nishiarai (West New Well)

Main street leading to Nishi-Arai Daishi. In the Edo Period and earlier, this would have been a typical monzen-cho.

Main street leading to Nishi-Arai Daishi.
In the Edo Period and earlier, this would have been a typical monzen-cho.
Now it’s just shitamachi (the lower city).

I have no idea why this name is officially written in rōmaji as one word. It seems to me, one would write it Nishi Arai or at least as Nishi-Arai[i].

But no one ever consults with me.

Oh well.

Let’s jump way back to the Heian Period (of which I know very little) to talk a bit about the spread of Buddhism in Japan (of which I know even less). At that time there was this supermonk named 空海 Kūkai. All sorts of amazing shit is attributed to him, including the invention of 仮名 kana the Japanese syllabary. Of course, since he was a supermonk, we can believe this at face value. C’mon, religious people never make shit up, right?

Anyways, after homeboy died, he was referred to as 弘法大師 Kōbō Daishi Great Teacher Who Spreads Buddhism, which sounds generic in English, but it’s pretty specific in Japanese.

So he came to this area when it was in the middle of a massive epidemic and people were dying all over the place. Instead of helping the people, he did what religious people love to do. Nothing. So he commissioned a temple with a statue of an 11-faced Kan’non[ii] and he knelt down and prayed in front of the statue for 21 days.

11-faced Kan'non. Note all the spooky heads on her head.

11-faced Kan’non.
Note all the spooky heads on her head.
(yes, kan’non is female)

Luckily for him, by chance (or more likely because someone started digging), a well magically appeared and water started bubbling up and gushed forth and the people had drinking water. Even more magical was that fact that when the sick people drank Kūkai’s magic well water they were instantly cured (praise jeebus!) and they all lived happily ever after.

The magic well was located on the west side of the temple[iii], so it was called 西新井 Nishi-Arai West New Well. The temple took its name from the well. (Or so they say…)

Main prayer hall of Nishi-Arai Daishi

Main prayer hall of Nishi-Arai Daishi

The temple still stands today. In fact, it’s a very famous place in Tōkyō for 初詣 hatsumōde the first temple or shrine visit of the year, so it’s very crowded during the New Year holiday. The temple is called 西新井大師 Nishi-Arai Daishi Nishi-Arai Great Teacher. I’ve never been myself, but it seems to be a pretty cool place. They have ponds and gardens in the precincts and the surrounding 門前町 monzen-chō[iv] looks pretty interesting.

Main gate of the temple

Main gate of the temple

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[i] I prefer the hyphen, so for here on out, I’m using Nishi-Arai as the name.

[ii] Kan’non-sama is a Buddha. I see her explained as a goddess of mercy. But my understanding is that technically Buddhism doesn’t have gods per se, but examples of enlightened souls upon which to reflect. It’s a question of semantics in my opinion, but maybe “goddess” isn’t really the most accurate word.

[iii] Very convenient, since the temple could control the well.

[iv] C’mon, you guys remember what a monzen-chō is, right?

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