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What does Setagaya mean?

In Japanese History on July 8, 2013 at 6:47 pm

世田谷
Setagaya (Valley of the Eternal Rice Paddy)

All of Setagaya looks like this.  Every last bit of it. And they have flying monkeys too...

All of Setagaya looks like this.
Every last bit of it.
And they have flying monkeys too…

This place name is ancient. So take all of this with a grain of salt. But the generally accepted theory is as follows.

瀬戸 seto usually means a strait, as in the Strait of Gibraltar[i], but in Old Japanese, it could also be applied to 谷地 yachi a narrow marsh in a valley. In the old dialect of the area, it’s said that word seto was pronounced seta and written 瀬田 seta. Old Japanese had two possessive particles. Modern Japanese uses の no, but Old Japanese also used が ga. It survives in place names all over the country, the most famous being 関ヶ原 Sekigahara[ii], which literally means “the checkpoint gatehouse’s prairie/field.” Thus 瀬田ヶ谷 seta ga ya meant something like 瀬田の谷地 seta no yachi “the narrow marsh in the valley’s narrow marsh in the valley,” which I would have said was a totally ridiculous name, if they had asked me. But they didn’t.

Eventually, the first kanji was swapped out with 世 se “generation, world” because it’s an auspicious character. 世田 sounds like rice paddies that are bountiful forever, hence my translation of “Valley of the Eternal Rice Paddy.” Also, is a standard ateji character. It was so common in phonetic renderings that the shorthand form of became katakana セ se.

The first attestation of the name is in 1376 as 世田谷郷 Setagaya-gō Setagaya Hamlet. By the Edo Period, the town was listed as 世田谷村 Setagaya Mura Setagaya Village and this name lasted until the Meiji Era. In the Edo Period it was not part of the city of Edo, but of 荏原郡 Ebara-gun Ebara District of 武蔵国 Musashi no kuni Musashi Province[iii]. In 1871, when the 廃藩置県 haihan-chiken[iv] the abolition of domain and establishment of prefectures was enacted, the eastern section of what is now Setagaya Ward was absorbed into 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City within 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō Prefecture. In 1936, the boundaries of present day Setagaya Ward were pretty much fixed. It became a special ward of the newly created Tōkyō Metropolis in 1946 and lived happily ever after.

Maneki Neko

Maneki Neko

Oh wait, I forgot something kinda cool.

So that cat is called 招キ猫 maneki neko, it’s kind of a good look charm for businesses in Japan. 招く maneku means to invite or beckon and 猫 neko means cat[v]. There are a few origin stories for this good luck charm. One involves Setagaya Ward.

The story goes that once upon a time, there was an impoverished temple called 豪徳寺 Gōtoku-ji. Even though the head priest of the temple had barely enough food for himself, he took in a white stray cat and cared for him. Nice guy.

The temple isn't impoverished anymore.  They have a huge market share of the crappy cat statue market in Tokyo.

The temple isn’t impoverished anymore.
They have captured a huge share of the crappy cat statue market in Tokyo.

According to the legend, the daimyō of Hikone Domain, Ii Naotaka[vi], a contemporary of Tokugawa Ieyasu and Hidetada, was passing through Setagaya Village with his entourage as a storm was coming up. As Naotaka’s group passed by the temple, the daimyō noticed the white cat beckoning them to enter the temple precinct. As it was totally about to rain, he and his group commandeered the temple for shelter. It started raining and maybe some lightning struck somewhere and, you know, some legend shit happened. I dunno, maybe it was a crazy storm.

Naotaka was thankful for being able to take shelter at the temple. As a result he requested to make the temple the Ii clan’s 菩提寺 bodai-ji funerary temple in Edo and the family made endowments to the temple and basically just made it rain[vii] on them throughout the Edo Period. As a result the family of the priest attributed the family/temple’s good luck to the white cat[viii]. And they found another awesome way to make money. They  started selling little white cats and telling people that if you buy this little white cat, a hereditary daimyō  might pass by your place and start throwing money at you for 2 and a half centuries. Well, anything’s possible, right?

The Grave of Ii Naosuke, one of the best dudes the late shogunate produced who had a really bad day on March 24, 1860.

The Grave of Ii Naosuke, one of the best dudes the late shogunate produced who had a really bad day on March 24, 1860.

Anyhoo, whatever you think of this story, the Ii clan was definitely a major patron of the club, err, I mean temple. The place is definitely in Setagaya Ward. The temple plays up the maneki neko story and the characters is known far and wide. Even in the ancestral Ii lands based around Hikone Castle, they use a cat character called Hikonyan, a reference to the maneki neko legend.


[i] I don’t know why I gave this example. After all, there are perfectly good Japanese examples.

[ii] As in the Battle of Sekigahara which secured Tokugawa Ieyasu’s position of dominance over Japan. This set the stage for him being granted the title 征夷大将軍 sei-i taishōgun, commander-in-chief of the expeditionary forces against the eastern barbarians, as they say.

[iii] See my article on Shimo-Kitazawa for another passing reference.

[iv] Not to be confused with the 廃藩痴漢 haihan chikan the public groping abolition of domains.

[v] It’s also slang for a “submissive” male homosexual.

[vi] I don’t want to get side tracked, but he is the illustrious ancestor of the no-less illustrious Ii Naosuke who was the regent of the clown shōgun, Tokugawa Iesada.

[vii] Make it rain. If you haven’t experienced this, then (a) you’re not a stripper or (b) you’re not rich or (c) you haven’t lived your life vicariously through rich people and strippers like me.

[viii] Because religious people love to thank imaginary shit instead of the people who actually help them.

What does Yoyogi mean?

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

代々木
Yoyogi (Generations Old Tree or Trees)

Yoyogi Station.

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

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

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

Hatsune Miku.

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

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

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

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Let’s Look at the Kanji:

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

tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onkyoin

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on June 14, 2013 at 4:49 am

温恭院
Onkyōin
 (Divine Prince of Warm Respect)
十三代将軍徳川家定公
13th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Iesada
Kan’ei-ji

Tokugawa Iesada. He was the wrong guy for the job at the most critical time.

Tokugawa Iesada. He was the wrong guy for the job at the most critical time. These days, his wife is more famous than he was.

I have a little confession to make. I’ve been treating the 院号 ingō “-in names” as translatable words, but in fact, they aren’t. Just like if your name is Peter, it would be impossible to translate the meaning into another language. There might be a history of the name in your family or you might be named after another person or someone might know the Biblical allusion of the word. Someone might even know that the root of the word is the Greek word for “stone.”

Names are complicated things. Posthumous names are basically foreign names to the Japanese. They look like magical words and religious words. They have a recognizable form (ie; the kanji are familiar). If you understand the kanji, you can get a feeling from the ideography, but that’s about it.

In each installment of this series, I’ve been translating these in the headings of each article. Some translate well. Some don’t. But remember, no Japanese ever looked at those names as a sentence or phrase. But there may be a meaning. Your grandfather was John, so you’re a John, too. Your mom loves tacos, so you’re Jesus. Your parents thought Death Note was the coolest story ever, so now you’re forever known as Light.

The difference is here: Your parents chose a name before you were born. When they chose the name, they didn’t know shit about the you that’s reading this blog. But the imperial courtiers or Buddhist monks who chose the posthumous names of shōguns usually chose these names based on the characteristics of their rule[i].

Then we get to Iesada. Like many of the final shōguns, he fell into the historically unenviable position of being an out of touch, spoiled aristocrat in the midst of a cultural revolution he couldn’t possibly recognize. And so we get this bizarre funerary name. One can’t help wonder if it was a joke or an honest to Buddha posthumous name. I get the feeling, the imperial court who granted the name were taking the piss. Iesada welcomed the foreigners into the country as if he/Japan were a hot bath.

Or who knows? Maybe they were being sincere and thought Iesada welcomed Buddist enlightenment into his heart warmly…

Commodore Perry asked a lot of the Japan.

Commodore Perry asked a lot of the Japan.
But from the foreign point of view it wasn’t so much.
A decent port for trade helps everyone, right?

Either way, the imperial court in Kyoto was now headed by the Emperor Kōmei, who was rabidly xenophobic and was basically begging the shōgun to expel the foreigners from Japan. After all, that’s the job of the shōgun – at least etymologically speaking[ii].

Doesn’t matter anyways… Iesada was only shōgun for 5 years. He died at the age of 34 without an heir. His shōgunate had been overseen by the fully capable and somewhat forward thinking Ii Naosuke who understood well that Japan had fallen behind other countries technologically and couldn’t exist in a vacuum. Naosuke was a brilliant man who oversaw Iesada’s reign until he was famously attacked and murdered in front of Edo Castle in 1860[iii].

Wait a minute!

You just said Iesada was 34 when he died.

Why was there a regent when we have a shōgun in his early 30’s?

check out the confidence of this guy. He's all like, bitch, i AM the shogun! -- my man, Ii Naosuke

Check out the confidence of this guy. He’s all like, bitch, i AM the shogun!
— my man, Ii Naosuke

There are loads of book you can read about the succession disputes of the late shōgunate, but in Iesada’s case it all comes down to the fact that despite being the worst candidate for shōgun, he was made shōgun[iv].  He was most likely mentally retarded or so incapable of doing the job[v] that another daimyō[vi] had to step in steer the ship in the right direction.

His last wife was an arranged marriage to Princess Atsu.

Apparently she was his mental superior many times over and she lived well into the Meiji Era raising the 16th head of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family. There’s an NHK Taiga Drama about her, called Atsu-hime.

13737579919122526b9e96e09ef3cc9e8b0c1f37.97.2.9.2

Iesada's Grave at Kan'ei-ji. Hist wife, Atsu-hime's grave is more popular! (But you'll probably never see either....

Iesada’s Grave at Kan’ei-ji. Hist wife, Atsu-hime’s grave is more popular! (But you’ll probably never see either….)

a worthless picture of a worthless shogun...

a worthless picture of a worthless shogun…

Years apart, they were both interred 合祀 gōshistyle at 常憲院  Eikyūin, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s funerary complex. Iesada died in 1858. Atsu-hime dies in 1883. Iesada didn’t have a clue what the fuck was going on. Atsu-hime witnessed, the fall of the shōgunate, the Boshin War, the surrender of Edo Castle to the Emperor, Edo changing to Tōkyō, and that weird e-mail your mom drunk texted last night.

If you want to read about Eikyūin, please read here.

 

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[i] In an autocratic society, take that with a grain few spoonfuls of salt.

[ii] 将軍 shōgun shōgun is short for 征夷大将軍 sei-i tai-shōgun, lead general against the foreign barbarians. It was a title that was hard to take seriously when the invading forces were technologically superior, more international and in many ways considered the shōgunate mediaeval and, quite frankly “barbaric.” Up until now, it had been good to be the shōgun. Now it sucked to be the shōgun.

[iii] The other day, I said the beginning of the Bakumatsu was the arrival of the Black Ships in 1853. Other historians say it began with the assassination of Ii Naosuke. The assumption is that had Naosuke not been murdered and had Tokugawa Yoshinobu been selected as the next shōgun, Japan would have been strong enough to deal with the foreign issue on Edo’s terms with the support of the domains.

[iv] Cadet branches of the Tokugawa were vying for power….

[v] Imagine if a Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann or a George Bush had been elected office… oh, wait a minute….

[vi] ie; Ii Naosuke.

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