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Posts Tagged ‘nihonbashi’

The Kanda River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers, Travel in Japan on July 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm

神田川
Kanda-gawa (literally, “divine fields river,” but actually “river in Kanda”)[i]

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.  If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.  The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but it was built after the Great Kanto Earthquake which river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them.

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.
If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.

 

The name 神田 Kanda is one of the oldest place names in Edo-Tōkyō and believe it or not, 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River is not that old at all. Well, most of the river isn’t. Well, part of it might be.

Well, it’s complicated.

In short, after doing this research, I’ve realized I have to make a separate article about the area called 神田 Kanda – and by that, I mean just etymology. So I will write about that in the future – and I promise not to put it off too long. But let’s just deal with the river for the time being, mkay?

 

Let’s Look at the Kanji


kan

deities


ta, -da

rice paddies


kawa, -gawa

river

 

This river is manmade. So the etymology seems to be clear. At the beginning of the Edo Period, in the 神保町 Jinbō-chō area there was a small waterway that cut through a hilly are called 神田山 Kandayama Mt. Kanda. It’s said that since this area in general was called 神田 Kanda[ii] the original waterway was then called 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River.

If you only wanted to know the etymology of the river, you can stop reading here. From this point on it’s going to turn into a crazy – possibly boring – river mess. If you’re a JapanThis! masochist, then by all means, read on. You may actually enjoy this.

 

 

hajiribashi

A view of Hajiribashi when it was new. The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but in the 1920’s it was new and river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them (or without tall buildings in the background).

 

Where to Start??

Up until now, every river we have looked at was at some point a naturally occurring river. The Kanda River is quite different from those rivers. There was a time within recorded history that the Kanda River never existed. Though, a portion of it was once a natural tributary of a long vanished inlet of Edo Bay, it is, in fact, a man-made river. All though it may not be on the lips of every Tōkyōite, today the river is a well-recognized part of the well-manicured urban landscape of the modern city.

I actually first mentioned the Kanda River back in June, 2011 in an article about Yodobashi[iii], a small bridge that crosses the Kanda River at the border of 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward and 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward. So this is something of a little homecoming for me. I started this blog when I still lived in Nakano (lived there for about 6 years).

 

yodobashi

Yodobashi in the Taisho Era, before the Great Kanto Earfquake. The area is rustic and a in sharp contrast to the present area. Today it marks the border of Nakano and crazy-ass Shinjuku.

 

What is the Kanda River Today?

The modern river’s official designation is the channel of water that flows from 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Pond to 飯田橋 Iidabashi (literally, Iida Bridge) where it empties into the 外堀 sotobori outer moat of Edo Castle. But it’s at this junction where the river flows into a disparate network of waterways. So you could say, unofficially, that the Kanda River flows into the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River and the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge, essentially taking the water to the Tōkyō Bay.

 

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

 

Now Let’s Talk History

As mentioned in my article on the etymology of Edo, the original 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle or 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle was not built by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan as is often cited[iv]. In reality, a minor branch of 平家 Hei-ke the Taira clan[v] moved to the area at the end of the 11th century and built a fortified residence[vi] on a hill overlooking the sea. As was common practice for new branch families with new fiefs, they took the name of the village 江戸郷 Edo-gō as their own and they became the 平江戸氏 Taira Edo-shi Edo branch of the Taira clan[vii]. In the 12th century, the area prospered due to its proximity to the capital of the Minamoto shōguns in Kamakura. However, it seems the Edo clan didn’t do much to develop the area’s rivers[viii].

In those days, the now long gone 日比谷入江 Hibiya Irie Hibiya Inlet was a saltwater inlet used for 海苔 nori seaweed farming[ix]. There was a certain freshwater river known as 平川 Hirakawa “the wide river” which emptied into the inlet. This fresh water river originally made up part of the natural boundary between 武蔵国豊島郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province and 武蔵国江原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara Province, Musashi Province. This fresh water tributary seems to be where the story of the Kanda River begins.

 

Edo Hamlet

 

Fast Forward a Few Centuries

By the 15th century, Japan was balls deep in the bloody, sweaty mess that was the Sengoku Period[x] and Ōta Dōkan found himself re-fortifying the Edo family’s fort in Chiyoda using water from the coastline and other small rivers with the latest moat-building technology of his day. The new and improved “Edo Fort” he built for the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan brought new channels and waterways into the village. This manipulation of water provided tactical advantages to the new fort in that food and goods could come in and there were more escape routes. There were now logical, defensible waterways. Lucky side effect, certain areas of the village were less exposed than before and local merchants and fishermen had new distribution routes and… BOOM!  Ladies and gentleman, we have a budding 城下町 jōka machi castle town[xi].

Although all of Dōkan’s efforts were pioneering and crucial in the taming of the rivers and sea and urban planning of Edo-Tōkyō, one of the most important changes to Edo’s waterways was diverting the 平川 Hirakawa the ancient “wide river” eastward into what is today called the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River. This is critical to our story today. And the place where this new confluence occurred is actually marked by a bridge called the 神田橋 Kandabashi Kanda Bridge. The Hirakawa River doesn’t exist anymore, but a quick look at a map of Edo Castle will show you a 平川門 Hirakawa Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川濠 Hirakawa-bori Harakawa Moat[xii]; the former, the gate that stood guard on the moat[xiii]; the latter, a vestige of the old river itself. Today, 平川見附 Hirakawa Mitsuke the bridge and fortified gate installation on the moat is a popular sightseeing spot.

 

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate). They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate).
They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.
I used JCastle.info to generate this map. Click on the picture to find THE premiere website on Japanese Castles in English.

 

So, as I’ve said before – and will say again – Tokugawa Ieyasu moved into an Edo that was well fortified, strategically sound, and extremely defensible by sea and by land. Oh, and did I mention, there was a burgeoning village life, supported by fishermen, farmers, and artisans[xiv]. Between Ōta Dōkan’s time and the time Ieyasu entered Edo, a technological revolution had occurred in Japan. From Nobunaga’s rise to power on, Japanese castles began to take on the look of what we think of today when someone says “Japanese Castle.[xv]” The castles of the Tokugawa Period are based on these new advances in castle building technology and reflected the amount of luxury the ruling class could not just afford, but were expected to maintain to project their image of superiority.

 

hirakawa

 

 

OK, OK! Castles, Can We Please Get Back to the River?

Yes, of course. Sorry for getting distracted.

(But we’re probably coming back to castles)

The Tokugawa Shōgunate kept meticulous records of the changes they made to the area. The great waterworks projects were no exception. But I’m not going to get into every change they made. It’s so boring it’s unreal. So let’s just look at some of the major changes and what I think are the takeaways of what created the Kanda River.

Since I got distracted, let’s go back to the beginning.The beginning of the story is 1456-1457, when Ōta Dōkan began manipulating waterways to build moats for his pre-cursor to Edo Castle – though work on the moats most likely preceded construction of the fortress, so we might say 1455-1457. In 1486, Dōkan was assassinated and in 1524 the 江戸合戦 Edo Gassen Battle of Edo saw the rise of influence of the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi and the decline of the Ōta and Uesugi. This meant that the fortifications in 千代田 Chiyoda[xvi] (the area where the Sengoku forts where built and the fields around them) were abandoned and lay fallow for almost 70 years[xvii].

In 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu transferred his clan and top retainers to Edo and began modernizing the old Sengoku Period fortifications of the Edo and Ōta. He cautiously applied some of the latest castle building technology following the examples of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It’s said that the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate was one of the first construction project undertaken and this required crossing an existing moat – one affiliated with the later Kanda Aqueduct/Hirakawa.

The Ote-mon (main gate) at the time of the collapse of the shogunate.

The Ote-mon (main gate) after the Meiji Coup.

 

1603 is the watershed moment. Ieyasu is named 征夷大将軍 seii tai-shōgun shōgun and is the effective military ruler of Japan. From this point, the real history of the Kanda River begins. In 1604, Nihonbashi is built and the 5 Great Highways of Edo are defined. Strict entry & exit points by land and by river are laid out in order to preserve the new Tokugawa hegemony. Edo’s waterways are no longer “just Edo waterways;” they are tactical routes, trade routes, and a means of regulating nature for the protection of the commoners who lived along the rivers and were, essentially, part of the city’s infrastructure. In short, the rivers of Edo became a stabilizing mechanism for the shōgun’s capital.

 

Hirakawa Gate when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy).

The Ote-mon (main gate) when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy). Tokugawa Power! Activate! This is where the name Otemachi comes from.

 

From 1616 to 1620, during the reign of 2nd shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada, something really resembling a “Kanda River” in a modern sense came in to existence. This is when the 神田山 Kandayama “Kanda Mountain”[xviii] was cut through and the Kanda River and Nihonbashi River became 2 discrete waterways. Kanda and Ryōgoku began to take on unique personalities at this time.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate. Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate.
Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

 

In 1657, disaster struck on a colossal scale. The 明暦大家 Meireki Fire[xix] ripped through the city destroying well over half of the metropolis[xx]. Although city planning was essential from the beginning, the shōgunate hadn’t anticipated the rapid growth that accompanied their sankin-kōtai policy and just the economic stability brought on by… um, stability in general.

 

img_0

Edo Castle was a city within a city, When the main keep burned down, budgets and policies were reconsidered.

 

In part of the rebuilding efforts after the Meireki Fire, from 1659-1661 various waterways in Edo were widened and more open space along the rivers was added. Edo grew so rapidly after the arrival of the Tokugawa, that the city had become a firetrap[xxi].

 

sakurameguri22l

Ryogoku Bridge today

 

By some accounts, 60%-70% may have be burnt to the ground. Given the relative clean slate available to the shōgunate after this particular conflagration, certain rivers were designated as firebreaks and widened to keep fires localized[xxii]. It’s at this time that the Kanda River was dramatically widened – most notably, at the confluence of the Kanda River and Ryōgoku River, the 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge was built. Even today, the expanse of the river here is something to see, but in the Edo Period, with no buildings over 2 stories, it was clearly a sight to behold. Soon the area became famous for a dazzling annual fireworks display in the summer[xxiii]. Some of the most iconic 浮世絵 ukiyo-e “scenes of the transient world” come from this area. The 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum is located in this area… for obvious reasons.

 

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.  Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.
Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

 

As I mentioned before, the official headwaters are 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Lake, but the river has no officially designated end point but it’s fairly certain that it ultimately empties into Tōkyō Bay. Traditionally it ends at 飯田橋 Iidabashi. The reason there’s no official ending point is because the Kanda River empties into a few rivers and drainage channels along the way before it ultimately fizzles out into the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll probably be aware that the names and courses of these rivers have been changing over time and that some stretches of one river may have had multiple names depending on the area. So yeah… welcome back to the Confus-o-dome.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).  Gross.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).
Gross.

The Kanda River’s Legacy

The man-made Edo Era waterway that flowed from Inokashira Pond was called the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui. Longtime readers should know what a 上水 jōsui is. But just a refresher, a jōsui is a conduit of “imported” water. This water flowed from 三鷹 Mitaka[xxiv] to Edo Castle; it also supplied drinking water to the daimyō mansions that lined its course.

 

The creation of the Kanda River. (by the way, this is the worst info-graphic ever)

The creation of the Kanda River in Chiyoda from the Hibiya Inlet.

The Kanda Jōsui is considered the first real aqueduct system in Japan. Before I mentioned the technological revolution in castle construction, right? Well, the Sengoku Period began stabilizing and yes, castle building was a status thing. But the distribution of water and water management showed one of the greatest advances in urban planning and administration that Japan had seen in centuries. This is why shōgunate’s founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was such a bad ass. The dude could lead an army here or there, but he had ideas about civil administration and surrounded himself with people who could advise him on these things. Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were essentially one-trick-ponies who couldn’t really get out of the 戦国病気 Sengoku Byōki “Sengoku Rut.”[xxv] Ieyasu, also a product of that generation, realized that infrastructure reinforced military supremacy and brought economic stability[xxvi].

 

The Kanda Aqueduct

The Kanda Aqueduct

Admittedly, it’s not that exciting or cool, but the availability of clean drinking water and disposal of dirty water should never be underestimated in the study of any ancient or pre-modern city[xxvii].

The capital of the Tokugawa shōguns quickly became the biggest city in Japan and eventually the most populous city in the world. Clean water and sewerage undeniably played a part in this. But soon the Kanda Jōsui wasn’t enough. That said, it was the main source of drinking water for Edo Castle during the Edo Period.

Even if it was inadequate to supply the entire sprawling capital, Kanda Jōsui was such a successful project that it begot 6 more major waterworks in Edo, all of which benefited daimyō, samurai, and the commoner population. Of course, this technology spread throughout the realm, but for short while Edo boasted one of the most unique water infrastructures in Japan.

 

HSD10003

 

A Final Note

If you’re up for an interesting bike ride, a 2010 blog post at Metropolis suggests starting at the mouth of the river and riding upstream to Inokashira Pond. When the temperature starts to come down, I may give this a go myself. There are loads of spots, many covered in JapanThis!, along the course of the river, so it should be fascinating.

 

 

 

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[i] I know that’s not the kind of helpful explanation that will bring closure to any of the etymology fans out there.
[ii] As I said, I’m gonna revisit this topic again.
[iii] Any relation to ヨドバシカメラ Yodobashi Camera? Why, yes there is. Thank you for asking.
[iv] And calling Dōkan’s fortifications a “castle” is also a debatable point. I’ve come to prefer the term “well-moated fort.” I came up with that term all on my own… right now. Thank you very much.
[v] If you don’t know who the Taira clan is… wow. OK, here you go.
[vi] Also, as mentioned in my article on What does Edo mean?, the coastal area is littered with 古墳 kofun burial mounds and it’s clear from the archaeology that the area has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. It’s highly doubtful the Edo clan was the first strongmen to seize upon this highly defensible, coastal plateau – they are the noblest recorded family, though.
[vii] Even though other temples and villages in the area are mentioned as far back as the Heian Period, it’s seems like the name Edo itself doesn’t actually appear in any records until the Kamakura Period.
[viii] In fact the original Edo “Castle” was probably just a 出城 dejiro satellite fort, since the Edo clan seemed to have their main residence in 喜多見 Kitami in present 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward.
[ix] I have an article about Hibiya.
[x] And while this may sound like a gratuitous reference to sex on the rag, this is actually a legitimate, historical term. Ask any historian of Pre-Modern Japan. They’ll tell you. Just ask. Seriously.
[xi] Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I said “budding.” When we say “castle” and “castle town” today we are usually referring to a construct of the far more stable Azuchi-Momoyama Period (ie; essentially the end of the Sengoku Period).
[xii] On Edo Era maps these may be listed with honorifics as 平川御門 Hirakawa Go-Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川御堀 Hirakawa O-Hori Hirakawa Moat, respectively.
[xiii] Interestingly, some people think the radius and extent of Ōta Dōkan’s moats was the result of him not having a fucking clue what he was doing. His initial “improvements” lead to more flooding and so he continually modified his plans, diverting rivers away from the castle and the villages by extending them further and further out. Thus part of the sprawling nature of Edo Castle may have been due to stop-gap measures employed by Dōkan.
[xiv] Yes, I did.
[xv] This is as different as when we use the Latin words castrum to describe a Roman military camp/walled town and a castellum a walled fortification of Late Antiquity. The transformation is truly dramatic.
[xvi] You can see my article on Chiyoda here.
[xvii] The castle itself was pretty minor and was most likely not affected by the Late Hōjō efforts to refortify the Edo area from 1583 on.
[xviii] Kandayama was located in present day 駿河台 Surugadai.
[xix] “What’s the Meireki Fire?” you ask. There’s an article for that.
[xx] By some accounts, 70% of the city may have been destroyed.
[xxi] This didn’t change until the reconstruction of the city after WWII (or, some may argue that it didn’t change until the 1960’s and that the city just got lucky with no major conflagrations in the interim).
[xxii] In theory…
[xxiii] People today love fireworks. Just imagine what people with no video, no cameras, and no Perfume must have thought of these theatrical celebrations of summer.
[xxiv] Essentially, present-day Kichijōji.
[xxv] Again, my word. I just made it up now. And yes, I’m just baiting Sengoku lovers. Actually, I like Nobunaga, too.
[xxvi] And far more importantly, put his family in a seemingly endless position as hereditary top of the food chain. Hmmmmmmmmmm…
[xxvii] And you probably never think about where your water comes from or how it gets to your house and where it all goes afterwards, but it works, right? That’s why you can live there.

What does Suitengumae mean?

In Japanese History on April 27, 2014 at 5:18 pm

水天宮前
Suitengūmae
(in front of water heaven, more at “in front of Suiten-gū”)

shrine honden

 

This is a reader request, but I think I can answer it quickly – or at least I’ll try.

Firstly, I have to say this. There is no place called Suitengūmae in Tōkyō. This is the name of a Tōkyō Metro train station. The surrounding area may be referred to as Suitengūmae by the locals, but it’s not a postal address. Such is the life of a city dominated by such an expansive and exacting train system.

I’ve never used the train station before, but I have been to the area before. Officially, the area is known as 日本橋蛎殻町 Nihonbashi Kakigara-chō[i]. I don’t think most Tōkyōites know this postal code unless they live or work in the area. However, pretty much everyone will know the origin of this place name… err, I mean, this station name.

 

Subway stations... hehehehe.

Subway stations… hehehehe.

The name is derived from the famous 水天宮 Suiten-gū Suiten Shrine. Saying you visited this shrine is synonymous with saying “I’m pregnant.[ii]” The attraction to this is that 天御中主神 Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is enshrined here. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe she/he is the hermaphroditic creator of the universe in Shintō cosmology[iii]. Anyways, by some Shintō thought, this kami is said to be the first kami. So, the idea of creation is strong, thus the connection to creating babies. There are other kami enshrined here, of course, but the main visitors are expectant mothers and their families who are coming to pray for safe delivery and healthy babies.

Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is one of the most mysterious and elusive kami.

Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is one of the most mysterious and elusive kami.

Looking at the architecture, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a famous picture of the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of  福岡藩 Fukuoka Han Fukuoka Domain which was located in Kasumigaseki. In the picture, the mansion is built on a slope, with a large stone stairway leading up to it. Suiten-gū is built the same way.

Fukuoka Domain's upper residence in Kasumigaseki is considered a masterpiece of Edo Period administrative building style.

Fukuoka Domain’s upper residence in Kasumigaseki is considered a masterpiece of Edo Period administrative building style.

I know this is a coincidence, but imagine my surprise when I learned that this shrine was once located on the grounds of the upper residence of 久留米藩 Kurume Han Kurume Domain in 三田 Mita. Kurume is located in present day Fukuoka Prefecture[iv]. After the Meiji Coup, the Arima Family, lords of Kurume, moved to this area and rebuilt the shrine here. But the connection to Fukuoka goes deeper. 久留米水天宮 Kurume Suiten-gū located in Kurume City is the main shrine of Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami. His/her cult spread from this region and flourished during the Edo Period under the trend towards 国学 kokugaku native learning[v]. According to the Japanese Wikipedia page, there are about 25 Suiten-gū located throughout Japan, 4 of which are located in the Tōkyō Metropolis.

 

Pretty sure it's coincidence, but the architectural relation is uncanny.

Pretty sure it’s coincidence, but the architectural relation is uncanny.

 

On a slightly related note, a visit to Suiten-gū to pray for your safe delivery can always come after a visit to 東京大神宮 Tōkyō Daijingū Tōkyō Grand Shrine. This shrine was built in 1880 as part of the newly established Meiji government’s propaganda campaign to distract people from all things Tokugawa, including temples and shrines[vi]. Anyways, the shrine is known today as the place where single women go in droves to pray for a boyfriend or husband[vii]. Rurōsha has a nice blog entry about Tōkyō Grand Shrine. Check it out.

Oh, I almost forgot. Suiten-gū is part of the 人形町町七福神巡り Ningyō-chō Shichi Fukujin Meguri the Ningyō-chō Pilgrimage of the 7 Gods of Good Luck. As I’ve mentioned before, 7 Fukujin pilgrimages are popular during the New Year’s holiday. Most of the temples and shrines on this pilgrimage are minor, but when you get to Suiten-gū, you’ll find yourself at one of the busiest shrines in the area.

.

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[i] A name we may have to come back to… in the future.
[ii] I’m not even kidding here. Uploading a picture of the shrine with only the caption “Suiten-gū” onto social media is a common and modest way for Japanese girls to break the news to their friends.
[iii] Again, don’t quote me, but I think some argue that she is an idea imported from China by the 邪馬台国 Yamatai Koku, Japanized, and then spread throughout Japan by the Yamato people. Fukuoka is one of the areas assumed to have been the origin of the Yamato culture (we’ll come back to this in a moment). But if you want to know more about this kami, please read here.
[iv] In the Edo Period, these were autonomous domains ruled by separate families. Today’s Fukuoka Prefecture is a large, modern administrative unit and doesn’t correspond to the former Fukuoka Domain. Case in point, Kurume is now a city located in Fukuoka Prefecture.
[v] Without going into a too much detail, this was a nativist approach to scholarship promoted by people such as 本居宣長 Motoori Norinaga as an alternative to 漢学 kangaku Chinese learning. In the newly established Pax Tokugawa with its restriction on sea travel and trade saw a renewed interested in turning inward and parsing out the “nativist” Japanese narratives from the Chinese classics. The Chinese classics didn’t fall by the wayside, but new passion for Japan’s own contributions to its own culture came to be seen as valuable and was pursued with vigor.
[vi] I think I’ve touched on this a few times. But my most recent allusion to it was in the part about the 10 Shrines of Tōkyō in my article on Hakusan.
[vii] I’ve also been told that it’s one of the best places in Tōkyō to pick up desperate, broken women if you’re into picking up random, lonely chicks at shrines. Hey, this is apparently a thing.

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…

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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 Bakuro-Yokoyama-cho mean?

In Japanese History on January 23, 2014 at 6:32 am

馬喰横山
Bakuroyokoyama (horse dealers – side of the mountain)

The sign that started it all.

The sign that started it all.

When I saw this place name on a subway sign, I thought I’d unearthed the holy grail of bizarre Tōkyō place names. Just look how long it is!! A cursory glance at the kanji had me guessing that it was probably two words combined, but without the research I really had no idea.

Well, it turns out that Tōkyō Metro Tōkyō Metropolitan Bureau of Transport (Toei) has fucked up their rōmaji big-time on this one. The name should be hyphenated. The correct rōmaji transliteration is: Bakuro-Yokoyama.

C'mon, Toei, you can do better than that!

C’mon, Toei, you can do better than that!

Why the hyphen? Well, this area is a merger of two established communities: 馬喰町 Bakuro-chō Bakuro Town and 横山町Yokoyama-chō Yokoyama Town.  So today’s article is a two-for.

The area falls within the administrative district formerly known as 日本橋区 Nihonbashi-ku Nihonbashi Ward, although today it’s in the special ward called 中央区 Chūō-ku Chūō Ward. Even though Nihonbashi Ward doesn’t exist anymore, the postal addresses 日本橋馬喰町 Nihonbashi Bakurō-chō and 日本橋横山町 Nihonbashi Yokoyama-chō still exist. 

Former Nihonbashi Ward and Kyōbashi Ward were combined to make the modern Chūō Ward. Shinbashi Station, btw, is located in modern Minato Ward.

Nihonbashi Ward in 1935

Nihonbashi Ward in 1935

Nihonbashi, that sounds familiar…

As we all know from my article on the Go-Kaidōin the Edo Period Nihonbashi marked the beginning of 5 highways connecting the shōgunal capital with the rest of Japan[i]These two Edo shitamachi towns were located close to Nihonbashi, so they are forever tied to the merchant town of Nihonbashi.

The place names actually seem to pre-date the Edo Period, though it’s hard to say exactly how long. The prefix 日本橋 Nihonbashi came to be added later, as the Nihonbashi area became more well-known, and I dare say, iconic. With their inclusion in the 日本橋区 Nihonbashi-ku administrative district, the area became officially linked with the name Nihonbashi.

Bakuro-chō

There seem to be two theories, both related to horses.

馬喰 bakuro or bakurō referred to the business of and the people who engaged in the buying and selling of horses. Many horse related businesses, including what we might call equestrian veterinarians today, lived in the area. (I can’t imagine Edo Period veterinary medicine was much different from western veterinary medicine of the time, which means they were probably just putting down sick horses most of the time). Anyhoo, the idea here is that the area catered to shōgunate officials carrying time-sensitive information. All of their horse-related needs could be met here[ii].

The second theory states two merchants who dealt in 博労 bakurō horse/cattle trading held lands here in the late 1500’s. Two names are actually cited in this etymology; 高木源兵衛 Takagi Genbei and 富田半七 Tomita Hanshichi[iii]. This theory links the two words 博労 bakurō with 馬喰 bakurō. My dictionaries say these are kanji variants of the same name. But the kanji are quite different, the latter being a uniquely Japanese word (ie; not imported from China). But who knows.

In short, both theories are tied to horse-related business and the proximity to the roads in and out of pre-Tokugawa and Tokugawa Era Edo seem to match. Neither theory can be confirmed 100%, but I don’t see much reason to dismiss them. The Great Meireki Fire of 1657 saw much of this area destroyed[iv]. Some areas near Nihonbashi, including Yoshiwara were transplanted to the outskirts of the shōgun’s capital. I can easily see keeping horses or cattle so close to Edo Castle and the heart of the city as not just unsightly, but also unhealthy and a waste of prime real estate as the sankin-kōtai system became more entrenched in the development of Edo and the culture that was flourishing.

Check out that hyphenless, spaceless run on place name! This is postal area designated at Nihonbashi Bakuro-cho.

Check out that hyphenless, spaceless run on place name!
This is postal area designated at Nihonbashi Bakuro-cho.

Yokoyama-chō

横山Yokoyama means “side of the mountain” or “mountainside.” Whenever I see a place name with the kanji for mountain (), I immediately wonder “where’s the mountain?” But this area is pretty shitamachi (low city) and so there aren’t so many big hills. There is definitely nothing worthy of being called a mountain. So I had to dig a little deeper.

The 小田原衆所領役帳 Odawara Shūshoryō Yakuchō, a description of territorial holdings of the Late Hōjō clan, mentions fief held by a branch of the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan called 横山 Yokoyama[v]. Apparently that passing reference is all we have. It doesn’t mention the location of the fief so we can’t be 100% sure, but given the lack of mountains in the area, I’d say a pretty strong case could be made that this area derives its name from the Yokoyama branch of the Edo clan[vi].

I’m happy to say that despite not having all of the details, these are pretty plausible etymologies.

Phew!!!

Map of the Nihonbashi Yokoyama-cho area.  Notice it's right next to Nihonbashi Bakuro-cho.  You can also see the area is surrounded by Asakusa-bashi, Akihabara and Kodenma-cho.

Map of the Nihonbashi Yokoyama-cho area.
Notice it’s right next to Nihonbashi Bakuro-cho.
You can also see the area is surrounded by Asakusa-bashi, Akihabara and Kodenma-cho.

How about today???

Today Bakuro-Yokoyama is known as a shitamachi wholesale district[vii]. In the early Edo Period, the area had about 20 shops. By the end of the Edo Period, there were nearly 150 shops being passed down by successive families[viii]. That number must have been bigger considering unlicensed shops and whatnot. The Great Kantō Earthquake and World War II saw the area knocked down and built up again.

It’s kind of weird but if you’re interested, check out this video.

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[i] There it is again! I resurrected the word “shōgunal!” Still wondering if this is an actual word, though…
[ii] The name is attested pretty early in the Edo Period, which stands to reason since the so-called “first mile marker” at Nihonbashi wasn’t really a Tokugawa invention. Routes in and out of Edo had existed for some time. One can easily imagine an area to take care of incoming and outgoing horses popping up here organically.
[iii] I can’t find a good reading for this name. I’ve seen Hanshichi, Hanbichi, Hashichi, Hahichi, Habichi. Some of those look Edo dialect style, but I’m going with Hanshichi because it is a fairly standard, modern reading of that name. (The 3 I thought looked like the might be the Edo Dialect are in bold – but this is purely conjecture on my part.  I’m not a scholar.)
[iv] Conservative estimates say that 50-60% of the city was burnt to the ground. Others have suggested much more was destroyed. Either way, since the Edo Period this particular area hasn’t been known for horses.
[v] Oh, did you just say “Edo clan?” Yes, I did. Read more about the Edo Clan in my article on Why was Edo called Edo?
[vi] Just to give you a little perspective. You can walk from the oldest portion of Edo Castle to Nihonbashi Yokoyama-chō in under 30 minutes. The distance from the Edo clan’s residence in Kitami to Nihonbashi Yokoyama-chō can be walked in under 20.
[vii] Not sure why I said “is known as” because it “actually is.” lol
[viii] I’ve been tossing around this term “successive _____” for some time now on the blog, and I may have to come back to it later in detail. But basically this refers to the 家元 iemoto system. Someone establishes a business or dynasty and it will be passed down through successive generations of the family.

Denma-cho Prison

In Edo Execution Ground Spectacular!, Japanese History on July 22, 2013 at 10:56 pm

伝馬町牢屋敷
Denma-chō Rōyashiki
Denma-chō Prison

Denma-cho Prison & Execution Ground

Denma-cho Prison & Execution Ground

Alternatively written 傳馬町牢屋敷 Denma-chō (old style), and often referred to as  小伝馬町 Kodenma-chō after the local train station name, Denma-chō Prison and Execution Ground was located near Nihonbashi in the outskirts of old Edo. It’s estimated that during its 200 year history somewhere between 100,000 – 200,000 people were executed here. The facility was in use from 1613 – 1875 and it was the largest of the prisons in Edo. The famous samurai doctor, Takano Chōei, was sentenced to 5 years in the commoner’s section here for criticizing the Tokugawa shōgunate in a paper he wrote. Chōshū Domain’s Yoshida Shōin, teacher and all around twat extraordinaire, was sentenced here and eventually executed by beheading[i]. While Denma-chō Prison had a section for commoners, it primarily housed high ranking officials (retainers of daimyo, direct retainers of the shōgun, physicians, and other criminals of samurai status). As far as Edo’s prisons and execution grounds went, this was the nice one. It also housed female inmates in an area called the 揚屋 agariya[ii]. Because of the amount of high ranking inmates, it was said that your level of hell depended on how much money you had. I don’t know if that means the judges and guards were taking bribes or not. But certainly, in the Edo Period, your social status might have afforded you slightly better accommodations and treatment.

Prisoners arriving at the gate of Denma-cho Prison

Prisoners arriving at the gate of Denma-cho Prison

Gate of Jisshi Park

Gate of Jisshi Park

But don’t think the samurai and female prisoners had it too good here. The buildings were windowless so there was no ventilation during the hot and humid summers. There was no sunlight. Food was given twice a day (thrice a day for women), usually just brown rice and miso soup. The public latrine was located within the prison grounds, and with about 500 prisoners at a time, it apparently stank to high hell. The close quarters meant that disease was rampant, and the physicians who were called to the site hated visiting the place so they did half-ass checkups on the inmates. As a result, it was common for inmates to dying of disease – even those who weren’t condemned to death. Executions were performed in full view of the inmates and carcasses were exposed for days at the perimeter, which meant the smell of rotting human flesh was constant. Torture was a regular policy for certain types of prisoners. Little effort was made to conduct such activities in private, so screams of pain were just a normal part of the background noise.

Incarceration at Denma-cho prison

Incarceration at Denma-cho prison

Dai-Anraku Temple is built on the killing floor to appease the spirits of executed

Dai-Anraku Temple is built on the killing floor to appease the spirits of executed

This stone is supposedly from the prison's well.  The well would have been used for drinking water, but also for the gruesome task of washing decapitated heads before display.

This stone is supposedly from the prison’s well.
The well would have been used for drinking water, but also for the gruesome task of washing decapitated heads before display.

The main executioner was the shōgun’s hereditary 様斬 tameshigiri sword tester 山田浅右衛門 Yamada Asaemon. As such, new swords were tested on corpses and living targets – naturally in plain sight of the inmates. The main form of execution at Denma-chō was beheading, but crucifixions and some other creative methods were employed from time to time. A large bronze bell was rung whenever an execution took place to mark the occasion with a little Buddhist solemnity and – I can’t help but feel – a little festivity. Everybody likes bells, right?

The bell. It was located outside of the prison in the Edo Period, but it was moved here when Daianraku-ji was built on the premises.

The bell.
It was located outside of the prison in the Edo Period,
but it was moved here when Daianraku-ji was established on the premises in 1882.

The facility was shut down by the Meiji Government in 1871 – they had continued to use it for 8 years, mind you – in an effort to appear “modern” as they sought to renegotiate the so-called “unequal treaties” that the shōgunate had agreed to. Beheadings, crucifixion and other “barbaric” methods of dispatching condemned criminals were also abolished. In 1875, Ichigaya Prison replaced Denma-chō and a new era of the Japanese penile system began[iii].

I don't know if this Buddha stood here in the Edo Period, but if it did, it would have witnessed over 100,000 executions.

I don’t know if this Buddha stood here in the Edo Period, but if it did, it would have witnessed over 100,000 executions.

More remains of the execution ground.

More remains of the execution ground.

Little remains of the site today, but the few bits and pieces that are still extant can be seen at  大安楽寺 Daianraku-ji Daianraku Temple and 十思公園  Jisshi Kōen Jisshi Park. The actual site encompassed those locations as well  十思小学校  Jisshi Shōgakkō Jisshi Elementary School. Recent archaeological findings revealed a little about the layout of the facility, but actually shed more light on Edo Period sewage and plumbing. The well and much of the piping were still intact after all these years. Sexy!

A little shrine to Benzaiten, one of the 7 gods of good luck.

A little shrine to Benzaiten, one of the 7 gods of good luck.

Benzaiten likes water.

Benzaiten likes water.

The bell that sounded each execution still remains and some stone foundations and memorials can be seen. A stone memorial states that Daianraku-ji is actually the site of the killing floor. The temple was built to care for the spirits of those who were executed or who died here and as such, it’s not the most popular temple in Tōkyō. The name of the temple means Great Comfort and Ease. I guess it’s the Buddhist version of requiescat in pace[iv].

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Enjoy some of the left over pictures that didn’t fit into the article:

img_334850_13795921_2

Edo Period piping discovered during excavation of the area.

IMG_1023

At the entrance of the park, there’s a small pond beside the Yoshida Shoin monument.

A drinking fountain and a foundation to something that is no longer there.  Probably not Edo Era, but I took a picture anyways.

A drinking fountain and a foundation to something that is no longer there.
Probably not Edo Era, but I took a picture anyways.

Excavations of the foundations

Excavations of the foundations

When you exit Kodenma-cho Station, this stone monument tells you what the area used to be.

When you exit Kodenma-cho Station, this stone monument tells you what the area used to be.

I can't read this. Can you?

I can’t read this. Can you?

The so-called "Demise of Yoshida Shoin" monument.

The so-called “Demise of Yoshida Shoin” monument.

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[i] I’m not a fan of Yoshida Shōin or the ideas he espoused, but his shrine, 松陰神社 Shōin Jinja, in Tōkyō’s Setagaya Ward supposedly has a 維新祭 Ishin Matsuri Restoration Festival that sounds kind of interesting. By the way, Shōin wasn’t executed at Denma-chō. He was killed at Kozukappara in Minami Senju.

[ii] For those in the know, agariya was also an Edo Period word for a brothel, but I don’t think the women were being pimped out at Denma-chō. Male and female inmates were segregated – I think that’s all is meant by this word.

[iii] Ooops, I mean penal. Penal system. Sorry.

[iv] Latin for “rest in peace” – R.I.P.

Edo Execution Ground Spectacular!!!

In Edo Execution Ground Spectacular!, Japanese History on July 22, 2013 at 6:59 am

江戸の大三死刑所
The Three Great Execution Grounds of Edo

Burning at the stake. Capital punishment for arsonists.

Burning at the stake.
Capital punishment for arsonists.

The first time I visited Tōkyō, I heard about a place where the rent was cheap because it used to be an execution ground. The locals called it a 心霊スポット shinrei supotto haunted place. It was a place so haunted that people still brought new flowers ever day to appease the angry spirits. This place was 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds.

As soon as I heard this, I wanted to visit! Later I read a book by Romulus Hillsborough that briefly touched on the subject. Since that time, I’ve been fascinated with the 3 great execution grounds of Edo.

At the time, about 8 years ago, there was nothing on the internet about these places, especially in English. Since that time, a lot more has come to be written about these facilities – some for better and some for worse. There have also been some new developments in some of the areas – particularly in the field of archaeology.

Witnesses observing a crucifixion. Note the two guys with halberds, they are delivering the coup de grace by simultaneously slitting the condemned's throat.

Witnesses observing a crucifixion.
Note the two guys with halberds, they are delivering the coup de grace by simultaneously slitting the condemned’s throat.

Japanese Name

English Name

Status

  鈴ヶ森

Suzugamori

The killing floor is extant. The area is well maintained by the nearby temple and neighbors. Well and some post holes are extant.

 小塚

  Kozukappara

Cemetery is extant. The symbolic Buddha statue collapsed in the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. One of the executioner’s swords is owned by the nearby temple.

伝馬町

 Denma-chō

The killing floor is commemorated on the grounds of a temple, some foundations and sewage pipes still exist.

What can we say about these places?

Well, first of all, they were on the outskirts of town. Suzugamori was in Shinagawa – waaaay outside of the center of the city and basically on the bay. Kozukappara was in Minami-Senju, while outside of the city, it was near one of the access points to the city. Denma-chō was the closest to the center of Edo, its legal standing within the old city is debatable.

In accordance to Shintō practice, to keep the city of Edo “ritually pure,” “unclean activities” such as butchery, leatherworking, and executions had to be done outside of the city limits. Prisons and execution grounds were laid out according to the principles of 風水 fū-sui feng-shui having entrances and exits[i] placed in auspicious directions to keep the dark activities within from “leaking out” and “defiling” the city.

Each of these areas was located near a major artery. Suzugamori was near the Tōkaidō. Kozukappara was near the Nikkō Kaidō, Ōshū Kaidō and Mito Kaidō. Kodenma-chō was near Nihonbashi, which was the hub of Japan. This sent a strong and clear message to those coming in and out of the shōgun’s capital that the shōgunate held the power of life/death. As you entered the shōgun’s city and as you left it, you would be reminded of his absolute power.

Heads were generally put on display along main street that passed by the execution grounds. "don't do it again!"

Heads were generally put on display
along main street that passed by the execution grounds.
“Don’t do it again!”

And lastly, the point most Japanese don’t want to bring up is that because pre-modern Japan had a caste system, these areas have been and still are associated with the 穢多 etauntouchables[ii].” These were families who fell outside of the samurai-famer-artisan-merchant class system. They could only work as butchers, executioners, leather workers, and disposers of corpses, etc… These 3 areas bore a heavy stigma because of their association with prisoners, killings, and the eta class. Rent in these areas is said to be cheap. Schools in these areas are said to be bad. People who live here are said to be cursed.

Well, at least in the old days. Tōkyō doesn’t really have a problem with this anymore – I’ve heard that issues with “untouchable” families continue to persist in Ōsaka and some other parts of Japan. In Tōkyō, half of the population is from somewhere else. People can’t be arsed to worry about your ancestry unless you have a bad as name like Tokugawa or Matsudaira. So I think most of the “stigma” of these areas is exaggerated today. However, when you visit these places, Kozukappara, in particular, you’ll notice that there’s something off about these places. They’re not vibrant places. They’re not affluent places. They’re places that you’d probably need a good reason to even go to. Some are downright inconvenient.

Executions were carried out by untouchables. The lead executioner was an untouchable given samurai status and certain legal rights by the shōgunate. The position and the family name were hereditary. The most famous executioner was the hereditary 様斬 tameshigiri sword tester of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family, whose first and second name was hereditary[iii].

Execution by cutting the condemned's abdomen, separating top and bottom. (I feel bad for whoever has to clean up after this...)

Execution by cutting the condemned’s abdomen, separating top and bottom.
(I feel bad for whoever has to clean up after this…)

A vast array of techniques existed for dispatching criminals. But the main technique was beheading. In special cases for samurai of distinction, 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment was allowed. Torture was commonplace. Corpses and heads were generally put on display outside of the facilities as a reminder to passersby that you don’t fuck with the shōgun. Conditions within the facilities seem to have been pretty bad. Disease was rampant and inmates often killed other inmates for petty transgressions such as snoring too loudly or receiving too many gifts from a wife or family. Generally speaking, there was no shaving or bathing. Public latrines were filthy breeding grounds for bacteria and stink. You get the picture. Unpleasantness all around – some of which may still linger today.

.
I’m going to say right now, this isn’t going to be pretty. I refrained from putting anything too graphic in this first article. But in the next three articles some pictures will be more grotesque than I have included before. If you’re squeamish about cadavers, dismembered heads and whatnot, you might want to wait until the series is over. That said, I’m not going to go crazy with death and gore pictures. I don’t like it either. But for illustrating certain points, it may be necessary. So I just want to give everyone a heads up. OK?

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Anyhoo, the next 3 installments of JapanThis will be my Edo Execution Ground Spectacular. Get ready to strap it on and feel the G’s, baby.

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EDIT: Here’s a cool link that Rekishi no Tabi shared with me. It’s an online version of The Pictorial Book on the Penal Affairs of the Tokugawa Government, a Meiji Era document. I think it will compliment this series nicely.

EDIT: http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/beato_people/fb2_essay01.html
Loads of bad ass-ness from MIT.

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[i] The “exit” of the execution ground being the place where the corpses were taken out for disposal or exposure.

[ii] The word eta is extremely taboo now. The “preferred” term is burakumin. But burakumin is seen as more of a problem of western Japan, not the modern eastern capital. But that said, even today in international, cosmopolitan Tōkyō, there are some remnants of this legacy of discrimination. It’s really pretty fucked up. Check out the article on Wikipedia if you want to know more about this shitty discrimination.

[iii] ie; each generation’s male head of the household had the same name.

What does Senju mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on July 18, 2013 at 7:01 pm

千住
Senju (1000 Homes, but the actual meaning is lost)

Kita-Senju Station

Kita-Senju Station

Most people in Tōkyō have been to (or at least heard of) 北千住 Kita-Senju North Senju. Few people have heard of its depressing counterpart, 南千住 Minami-Senju South Senju. If you read about life during the Edo Period, especially sankin-kōtai, you’ll come across the name 千住 Senju (usually without a “north” or “south” attached to it).

“1000 Homes” makes this place sound like a bustling suburb of Edo (I’m sure it was a great place to raise a family lol). But the fact of the matter is that this place name is officially a mystery. Let’s look at the 3 prevailing theories about this place name, shall we?

Kita-Senju yankee.

Kita-Senju yankee.

THEORY #1

The 千葉氏 Chiba-shi Chiba clan lived here during the Sengoku Period[i]. This theory would have us believe that the place name is a play on words. The family name Chiba is made of two kanji, 千 chi/sen 1000 and 葉 ha leaves. The word for “lives in” is 住む sumu. With the implicit understanding that the kanji 千 sen represented the Chiba clan and 住 shu represented living, the resulting combination 千住 Senju would mean 千葉氏が住んだ所 Chiba-shi ga sunda tokoro “the place where the Chiba clan lived.” This etymology is not just boring; it’s insulting to the intelligence[ii].

The Chiba clan family crest

The Chiba clan family crest

THEORY #2

Another theory is the 8th Ashikaga shōgun, Yoshimasa[iii], kept a mistress whose hometown was a small village in the area. Her name was 千寿 Senju. The area adopted her name to raise its prestige[iv]. Long time readers of JapanThis can probably guess what I think of this theory, so let’s move on.

Since the place name for Senju first appears in the historical record in 1279 with the ateji 千寿, these Muromachi and Sengoku Era names are most likely fake, but there are schools and other places in the area that still use the kanji 千寿. This probably has little to do with Yoshimasa’s prostitute lover, though, and more to do with the auspiciousness of the kanji. 千 sen means 1000 and 寿 su/kotobuki means “congratulations!” or “long life!” Thus, 千乃寿 sen no kotobuki means “congratulations 1000 times!”[v] Since this is the earliest way of writing the word and it is obviously ateji, it leads me to believe that this represents a much older place name which has unfortunately been lost to history.

Another NO GO. This theory isn't very likely...

Another NO GO.
This theory isn’t very likely…

THEORY #3

The next theory? OK.  A statue of 千手観音 Senju Kan’non 1000 armed Kan’non, was pulled out of the 荒川 Arakawa Arakawa (River)[vi]. Thus the area was known as 千手 Senju 1000 Arms, which just sounds creepy. Over time, the place name came to be written as 千住 Senju 1000 Homes, which sounds like a nice place to raise to a family. Believe it or not, this is the most accepted etymology.

1000 armed Kan'non.

1000 armed Kan’non.

I say “poppycock” to the random 1000 armed statue floating down the river; however the statue was housed at the nearby temple, 勝専寺 Shōsen-ji Shōsen-ji, so it’s possible there might be some connection. But given the antiquity of the place name, I would venture to say that it’s actually the other way around. The old name Senju was the reason for making a senju statue. Japanese temples and shrines capitalize on this kind of play on words all the time; I don’t see why Shōsen-ji would have been any different.

So my guess is that each of these are folk etymologies and that the real place name pre-dates all of them. The original ateji is nice, though. It’s very auspicious. But remember, ateji doesn’t have meaning, so we may never know the true origins of the name.

The shitamachi feeling of Kita-Senju.

The shitamachi feeling of Kita-Senju.

A Few Bits of Trivia About Senju:

The old Edo shitamachi dialect is preserved by some local people in the area. They don’t call the area Senju, but Senji.

The most important town in the area was 千住宿 Senju-shuku Senju Post Town, which was the first 宿場 shukuba post town on the 日光御成街道 Nikkō Onari Kaidō[vii]. Because the 水戸街道 Mito Kaidō and 奥州街 Ōshū Kaidō also branched off from here, it was one of the busiest post towns of the Greater Edo Area.

To supervise the development and maintenance of the Nikkō Kaidō, Tokugawa Hidetada constructed a small 御殿 goten shōgunal lodging at Shōsen-ji[viii]. Hidetada, Iemitsu, and Ietsuna are all recorded as having stayed here. I imagine other shōguns stayed here, too. After all, the Nikkō Kaidō was an Onari Kaidō, that is to say, it was reserved for the private use of the shōgun and his retinue[ix].

北千住 Kita-Senju (literally, North Senju) is well known throughout Tōkyō as a shitamachi (low city) area that preserves some of the so-called Edo-kko culture[x]. It’s lesser well-known counterpart, Minami-Senju (literally, South Senju) is virtually unknown. Those who do know it, have a very bad impression of the town… for reasons I’ll get into next week.

 

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[i] Yes, this is the same Chiba clan whose name now adorns present day Chiba Prefecture in all its, um, glory.
[ii] Although, I had my balls handed to me by the etymology of Daita. So I guess I should keep an open mind.
[iii] Yes, that Ashikaga Yoshimasa. The Ashikaga shōgunate sucked balls from the beginning, but this clown is the guy under whose watch the Ōnin War broke out – that is to say, it was on his watch that Japan descended into the proverbial clusterfuck that we call the 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai the Warring States Period.
[iv] As if the some chick that the 8th shōgun of the lamest shōgunate was banging was prestigious…
[v] Sushi lovers out there will recognize this kanji as the first character of the ateji 寿司 sushi sushi.
[vi] As 1000 armed statues just float down rivers and get caught in fishermen’s nets all the time.
[vii] By now you should all know what shukuba were, but feel free to check my articles on Nihonbashi, Itabashi, and Shinjuku for a quick refresher.
[viii] Goten is often translated as “palace,” but in this case, I think “lodging” is better. Basically, when the shōgun and his entourage rested here, this is where they stayed the night – it wasn’t like a second home or anything. And as making a pilgrimage to the shrines at Nikkō was a spiritual perfunctory task and the procession was a purely martial affair, this sort of goten would have befitted a shōgun but was probably quite spartan.
[ix] I go into detail about the meaning of 御成 o-nari “the presence of the shōgun” in my article on Yūshōin, the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ietsugu.
[x] 江戸っ子Edo-kko child of Edo is what you call a 3rd generation Tōkyōite. The stereotype is a plain speaking local of the shitamachi area. This stereotype has more to do with the post-Tokugawa merchant middle class class than it does with Edo’s samurai past.

What does Muromachi mean?

In Japanese History on June 24, 2013 at 3:14 am

室町
Muromachi (Muromachi)

On the left, Nihonbashi Honkoku-cho. In the Middle, Nihonbashi Muromachi. On the right, Nihonbashi Honcho. The black lines are the original Edo Period blocks. The red lines are the modern blocks that exist today.

On the left, Nihonbashi Honkoku-cho.
In the middle, Nihonbashi Muromachi.
On the right, Nihonbashi Honcho.
The black lines are the original Edo Period blocks.
The red lines are the modern blocks that exist today.

The other day I wrote about Anjin-chō and Anjin Dōri. The street and former town are located in an area of Nihonbashi called Muromachi. I’ve always wondered about the name, and now after 8 years of living in Japan I finally got off my lazy ass and investigated it. But this story is great and full of plot twists.

Short Answer:  The name of Tōkyō’s Muromachi is copied from Kyōto’s Muromachi.

Not sure where this was, but this is probably what Muromachi looked like in the Edo Period... minus the telegraph poles.

Not sure where this was, but this is probably what Muromachi looked like in the Edo Period…
minus the telegraph poles.

The people of Edo saw similarities to the area in Kyōto as it was in the Edo Period. Kyōto Muromachi was a merchant district with many 土蔵 dozō earthen warehouses and the Edo Muromachi was also the home to many 土蔵 dozō – as it was located in the Nihonbashi area. The first kanji 室 muro means room, but can also refer to cellars or greenhouses or warehouses, such as dozō, that are designed to keep the stock cool or at a reasonable temperature. Apparently this was an apt comparison for the people of Edo.

CG dozo warehouse

CG dozo warehouse

Here's a modern dozo warehouse in the country.

Here’s a modern dozo warehouse in the country.

And here’s a disclaimer, I’ve only been to Kyōto twice so I really don’t know as much about the city as I’d like to. If anyone else knows more about this stuff that me, then feel free to chime in. The rest of this article is probably a train wreck…

Anyhoo, we are talking about the Muromachi of Kyōto in the Edo Period, which I’m guessing was a very different place than it had been before the Sengoku Period.

What makes me think that?

Well, the period from 1337 – 1465/1467/1573 is called the Muromachi Period[i]. In 1573, the last Ashikaga shōgun was forced to leave Kyōto by none other than His Noble Badassness, Lord Oda Nobunaga. Just as the Tokugawa Shōgunate is also called the Edo Shōgunate because of its location, the Ashikaga Shōgunate is also called the Muromachi Shōgunate because of its location[ii].

Ashikaga Takauji, founder of the Lame Bakufu... Errr, I mean, the Ashikaga Bakufu.

Ashikaga Takauji, founder of the Lame Bakufu…
Errr, I mean, the Ashikaga Bakufu.

So what’s the dilly, yo?

I have no idea where the first two Ashikaga shōguns held their court[iii], but the third shōgun, Yoshimitsu[iv], built a lavish palace on an old Heian Period street known as 室町小路 Muromachi Kōji Muromachi Alley. The residence was officially known as 室町殿 Muromachi-dono Muromachi Palace, but because of its legendary beauty it was colloquially known as the 花之御所 Hana no Go-sho the Palace of Flowers[v]. The location was ideal because it was a sprawling tract of land and it was very close to the real 御所 Go-sho Imperial Palace, or in reality close to one of the “temporary imperial residences” granted to the emperor by other court nobles or, at times, the shōgunate. The 花之御所 Hana no Go-sho Flower Palace aka the 室町殿 Muromachi-dono Muromachi Palace was the cultural, political, and military center of Japan for over 200 years.

Hana No Gosho aka Muromachi-Dono

The Hana no Gosho.
Seat of the Ashikaga Shogunate.
(Is it just me or does it look a little bit like Nijo Castle?)

Wait, what??? This place sounds so elegant and beautiful.
Why is this place famous for merchants and warehouse?

In its day, Muromachi was the center of Japan. From what I’ve read it seems like it was the most elite area of the most elite city. Unlike the Tokugawa Shōgunate, the Ashikaga Shōgunate was on pretty shaky ground from the beginning. Somehow they managed to last almost as long as the Tokugawa, but economic and political stresses rose to the surface and in 1467 war erupted. An 11 year war called the 応仁の乱 Ōnin no Ran Ōnin War broke out. Within the first year of fighting, the north half of Kyōto had been burnt to the ground. 11 years into the war the city was fucked beyond belief. When the Portuguese arrived in Japan 1543 looking to trade and convert the country, they were shocked to learn that the emperor of the country was living in a capital city more or less in ruins. Even more bizarre to them, the emperor was living in conditions they described as a shack or hut.

Even though we don’t tend associate lasting stability with Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it is from Nobunaga’s time that we see rebuilding in earnest in Kyōto. Slowly stability came and from the Edo Period on, Kyōto regained its former glory, albeit in a new Edo Period form.

So after the destruction of Kyōto, the city repurposed old lands, including the Flower Palace and the area around the former 室町小路 Muromachi Kōji Muromachi Alley became the location of the warehouses of some very prosperous and famous merchants. In the early modern period, it became famous for kimono shops. Some of these shops still exist today, so the street seems well worth the visit[vi].

Muromachi Alley in the early Showa Period

Muromachi Alley in the early Showa Period

OK, so Edo’s warehouse district borrowed Kyōto’s warehouse district’s name.

This should be the end of the story, shouldn’t it?

But it isn’t.

The town in Edo (and Tōkyō) was named after a merchant warehouse area of Kyōto.
But where did the original Kyōto name come from?

Well remember how I mentioned that in the Edo Period 室 muro was a reference to warehouses? Well, this was actually a folk etymology. In reality, 室 muro had absolutely nothing to do with warehouse originally.

は?!

は?!

The Final Plot Twist

It turns out there was a family of imperial court nobles called the 室町家 Muromachi-ke Muromachi Family. The Muromachi family claims descent from the Fujiwara family… and I’ll leave that up to you Kyōto lovers to figure out. The Muromachi clan built the original Muromachi-dono on the alley that came to be known as Muromachi Alley and later Muromachi Street. The Ashikaga Shōguns appropriated the residence and expanded it to make the Hana no Go-sho. So while we say that the Muromachi Period is named after the residence of the shōguns, that name actually referred to a totally unrelated family of aristocrats. How d’you like dem apples?

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[i] If you want to know why I have 3 dates for the ending of the Muromachi Period, then you need to read up on the Ashigaka Shōgunate, the Muromachi Period, the Sengoku Period, and the Azuchi Momoyama Period. That stuff is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay outside the focus of this article. But suffice it to say, making a cutoff date for the Muromachi Period can be a bit subjective depending on what angle your examining things from.

[ii] Which, as you can imagine, was probably not a warehouse district…

[iii] However, the first Ashikaga shōgun, Takauji, is buried at Tōji’in in Kyōto, so I’m assuming he had a residence in Kyōto to keep an eye on the fucking Emperors (yes, plural… it’s a long story), despite being a native of present day Tochigi.

[iv] Yes, he’s the same Ashikaga Yoshimitsu who built Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, in Kyōto.

[v] Yoshimitsu used the word for “imperial palace” and not the word for “just another lord’s palace.” Also Yoshimitsu was pretty gay for his day, which was totally acceptable for nobles of the military class at the time. The building was demolished after the overthrow of the last Ashikaga shōgun, but it is said to have been decorated in a cute floral theme in accordance to Yoshimitsu’s liking and there were lovely flower gardens all over the palace precincts. Everyone likes flowers – Yoshimitsu really liked flowers.

[vi] I’ve never been there myself, though… Next time, right?

What does Anjin-cho mean?

In Japanese History on June 20, 2013 at 9:36 pm

安針町
Anjin-chō (Anjin Town)

12

One of the last remnants of one of Tokyo’s most special places.
The kanji leaves something to be desired, tho…….

In Tōkyō’s Chūō Ward, there is a small alley called 安針通り Anjin Dōri. Until 1932, this neighborhood was called 安針町 Anjin-chō Anjin Town. Some of you probably know exactly where this is going, for those of you who don’t, let’s get started.

Capture

In Early Modern Japanese there was a word 按針 anjin, literally “searching needle,” which referred to the process of using a compass. At the time, this was the main way in which ships were navigated and so, by extension, the word was applied not just to ship navigation, but also to ship navigators[i].

If anyone has ever seen the 1980’s American mini-series, Shogun, then they already know this Japanese word. The main character is referred to as Anjin-san and he is an English navigator stranded in Japan who has been pressed into service of the first shōgun, Lord Toranaga. This mini-series was a dramatization of James Clavell’s novel, Shogun, which is based on the life of one William Adams. He was an Englishman, stranded in Japan who was pressed into the service of the first shōgun, Lord Tokugawa.

Am I repeating myself?

John Blackthorne. The English guy who only knows 4-5 Japanese words and only uses them through the whole series.

John Blackthorne.
The English guy who only knows 4-5 Japanese words.

Anyways, he’s so famous in the English speaking world and there are excellent sources available online about him (see the bottom of the page for links).

Sometime after 1610, the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, granted William Adam’s samurai status and made him a 旗本 hatamoto direct retainer of the shōgun family. He granted him a fief in an area called 逸見 Hemi which is located in present day 横須賀 Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture. The area is located in the 三浦半島 Miura Hantō Miura Peninsula. Ieyasu, being a pretty clever guy, thought of a Japanese name for William. 三浦安針 Miura Anjin Anjin of Miura.

But wait, didn’t you say, anjin meant navigator? Yes. But “navigator” isn’t a fucking name in English, is it? Well, it isn’t in Japanese either. Ieyasu changed the kanji from 按針 to 安針. The first kanji changed from “search” (which is never used in names) to “safe/safety” (which is used in names). The official place name changed in the 1930’s, which was before a major reformation of spelling happened. The word 按針 is a title and the word  安針 is a name. As you can see from the street sign at the beginning of this article, the title is used for the street. But any Google search shows that the kanji Ieyasu bestowed upon him was and is still preferred.

OK, so Miura Anjin (aka William Adams) is a white dude samurai receiving a 250 koku a year stipend (an income equivalent to a local magistrate; he supported a village with some 70 or so servants, his Japanese wife and 2 kids, and still managed to send money back to his former family in England). His main residence was at the fief in Kanagawa.

John Blackthorne's, errrrr, Wlliam Adams', errrrr, Miura Anjin's grave.....

John Blackthorne’s, errrrr, Wlliam Adams’, errrrr, Miura Anjin’s grave…..

So why is there a place in Tōkyō named after him?

Well, in those days, there were no cars. So walking from Yokosuka to Edo Castle took a long time[ii]. Before he became a samurai and all, Ieyasu had granted him some property near Nihonbashi. It’s near the castle so he could visit easily (and so the shōgunate could keep an eye on him, no doubt). Also it wasn’t in the daimyō neighborhoods, but the merchant neighborhood as he was originally seen as a sort of tradesperson[iii]. So Anjin kept the house in Edo for when he visited the city.

Because he was a unique dude, and according to the stories we have, he was not only gracious to his Japanese neighbors and servants, but he made every effort to Japanize himself and get along with the Japanese on Japanese terms. This won him great respect from the shōgun and the people around him, while it apparently irritated some of the other foreigners he dealt with who, like the foreigner trash in Roppongi today, refuse to learn about Japan.

So, after he died the area where his estate in Edo came to be known as 安針町 Anjin-chō Anjin Town. In his own lifetime, Anjin (William) saw the slow but steady restriction of maritime travel and trade into and out of Japan. He himself may have been a major factor in the expulsion of the Portuguese and Spanish and the later suspicion of Christianity in general[iv].

Anjin died in Kyūshū, but in Japanese style, he is enshrined in various places. The main grave is considered the one in Yokosuka near the 安針塚駅 Anjinzuka Eki Anjin Burial Mound Station. The story goes he wanted to be buried with a view of Edo as he helped to protect the city with the deified Tokugawa Ieyasu[v]. 浄土寺 Jōdo-ji temple in Yokosuka administers the grave and claims to hold items associated with his family and the grave. They also claim that in the early Edo Era, residents of Anjin-chō donated money and materials for the grave and its upkeep.

This is Anjin Dori

This is Anjin Dori

The site of his Edo residence is commemorated in the place formerly known as Anjin-chō. If you’d like to see it, there is a stone tablet which was set up in 1951. Take the A1 exit of Mitsukoshi-mae Station. It claims this was the site of his home.

Anjin-cho... possibly Anjin Street....

Anjin-cho… possibly Anjin Street….

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Almost the same shot, but with some samurai dude haning out next to the pothole..

Almost the same shot,
but with some samurai dude haning out next to the pothole..

William Adam’s (Miura Anjin)’s commemorative plaque today:

click it to read the details. It's in Japanese and English.

Click it to read the details. It’s in Japanese and English.
Note the title is used instead of the name.

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Learn About William Adams Here….

Miura Anjin on Samurai Archives:
http://wiki.samurai-archives.com/index.php?title=William_Adams

A Quick Write Up on William Adams:
http://www.oldphotosjapan.com/en/photos/760/anjincho-in-nihonbashi#.UcBnj-emieY

William Adam’s Grave in Yokosuka:
http://www.mustlovejapan.com/subject/miura_anjin_grave/

William Adams on Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Adams_(sailor)

John Blackthorne and the Shogun Mini-Series:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sh%C5%8Dgun_(TV_miniseries)

 

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[i] This word is often translated as pilot in its older meaning of a ship’s navigator, which I just find confusing since pilots fly planes these days. Navigation, literally “driving a ship” in Latin, is a much more apt term.

[ii] Hell, taking the local train from Edo Castle to Yokosuka can take up to 2 hours in bad conditions.

[iii] If you don’t know his story, please read the links provided. I’m not going to rehash his entire story.

[iv] All good things, if you ask me.

[v] I don’t buy this story for a minute, but it does play into Japanese sensibilities and myths of the time, so it’s pretty interesting.

Why is Ginza called Ginza?

In Japanese History on May 3, 2013 at 1:09 am

銀座
Ginza (Silver Guild, more at Silver Mint)

After a fire destroyed the area in 1872, the Meiji government used the opportunity to make Ginza the epitome of modernization. It feels like a western city, not a castle town.

After a fire destroyed the area in 1872, the Meiji government used the opportunity to make Ginza the epitome of modernization. It feels like a western city, not a castle town.

I’m happy to take requests, if you have a Tōkyō place name that you’re curious about. Recently I was asked about Ginza.

I’m going to give a brief explanation of the etymology and then refer you to Ginza’s official English website which has a fantastic page on the history of area.

Ginza is made of two characters:
gin silver
za literally “seat,” or in this case it refers to something like a guild or association

In Nihonbashi, there was another guild, 金座 kinza gold guild.

Basically this was the area where the shōgunate minted silver coins.

If you want to know more about the history of the area, please check out Ginza’s official website. They have a fantastic article about the history of the area here.

Ginza - were east met west in a typically Meiji way. I love this print. Just amazing!

Ginza – were east met west in a typically Meiji way. I love this print. Just amazing!

 

 

 

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