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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?

Tokugawa Yoshinobu

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on June 18, 2013 at 2:22 am

徳川慶喜
Tokugawa Yoshinobu
 (Auspiciously Awesome Virtuous River[†])
十五代将軍徳川慶喜公
15th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Yoshinobu
Yanaka Cemetery

Tokugawa Yoshinobu. The Last Shōgun

Tokugawa Yoshinobu.
A Real Shōgun.

It is with a very bittersweet feeling that I write this blog.

My interest in Japanese history was started by a desire to visit all the graves of the 15 Tokugawa shōguns. I’ve been in Japan for about 8 years and I’ve visited all the graves but the private ones at Kan’ei-ji. I thought writing this blog would be cathartic. I thought it would bring me full circle, but it hasn’t. Although I know much more now than I did a month or so ago when I started this series, I have even more questions now.

To make things worse, halfway through the series, the shōgunate imposed austerity measures which cut back on the building of new temple-like mausolea. This brought the series to a grinding halt in terms of new funerary content[i]. If you go back through the series you will see a noticeable development in burial types which culminated in Ienobu and Ietsugu’s magnificent mausolea at Zōjō-ji.

Sadly, little remains of the structures at Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji. This definitely makes me appreciate the beauty and majesty of Tōshō-gū and Taiyūin at Nikkō all the more. I hope you can appreciate them in a new light as well. And if you visit Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji here in Tōkyō, I hope you walk around all of the former temple precinct with smartphone in hand so you can check my pictures and maps. A few readers have said they’ve done this and… well… if you don’t think that’s exciting, then I don’t know why you’re reading my blog. lol

Yoshinobu loved photography. He also loved to ham it up in front of the camera. I'd love to see his "private stash" of photos, if you know what I mean....

Yoshinobu loved photography.
He also loved to ham it up in front of the camera.
Dude was a player, so I’d love to see his “private stash” of photos,
if you know what I mean….

So yeah… We’re at the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. The Meiji Era historians started a tradition which pictured him as a puppet of a failed regime. The man himself actually lived a full life outside of the public square. Yes, he was the last shōgun. Yes, he gave power (back?) to the emperor. Yes, he represented the losing side of this epoch. But, he wasn’t a pawn. He wasn’t a puppet. He wasn’t a loser.

It’s fun to speculate. What if Yoshinobu had been made shōgun instead of the 12 year old ass hat, Iemochi? How would things have gone down in the final days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate?

We’ll never know.

The last shōgun, handed the reins of government to the imperial court in November of 1867 at Nijō Castle in Kyōto. The dude was asked to take the worst job in the country and he did it. He totally rose to the occasion. In my estimation, Yoshinobu took the shit job, took the shame that came with it, wasn’t executed and lived the rest of his life in privacy and humility. He didn’t do interviews or write books. He never exerted himself into politics.

I don't know if this is when he was actually shogun, or if he was just cosplaying.

I don’t know if this is when he was actually shogun,
or if he was just cosplaying.

Yoshinobu was originally born into the Mito Tokugawa family, which held a particular view of Japanese history that was uniquely Emperor-centric. It held that the shōgun’s powers over the state (天下 tenka the realm – “heaven and earth”) had been granted by the Emperor and as such, the shōgun was an agent of the emperor. To oppose the emperor was treason. Yoshinobu tried to avoid directly confronting the imperial court (and the de facto imperial army – itself a revolutionary force).

In quiet submission to the emperor, Yoshinobu lived well into the Meiji Period. One of the sources I’ve looked at for this series was a Tōkyō guide book written in 1913 which mentioned that Yoshinobu was still alive and well in the ancestral lands of the Tokugawa, Shizuoka. Unfortunately for the authors for the authors of the book or for Yoshinobu himself, the former shōgun died in November of that same year[ii].

But keep in mind, Yoshinobu intentionally humbled himself in submission to the emperor. Any honors that were bestowed upon him and his family were quietly and humbly received[iii]. He lived out most of his life fucking elite bitches and pursuing his hobby of photography. His lawful wife was a court noblewoman named Mikako. And although Yoshinobu stayed out of politics, he was very close to the imperial court. The emperor gave his family rank in the peerage system and granted him his own branch family, separate from the shamed 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Shōgunal Tokugawa Family[ii.1], his new branch was the 徳川慶喜家 Tokugawa Yoshinobu-ke the Yoshinobu Branch of the Tokugawa Family.

Old man Yoshinobu.

Old man Yoshinobu.

Then he died.

What to do, what to do?

They could have enshrined him with the other shōguns at Zōjō-ji or Kan’ei-ji. But that might have been presumptuous. So in humility, he was buried in what is now Yanaka Cemetery, where many Tokugawa relatives were buried from the Edo Period until present – but it is quite a distance from the shōgunal funerary temples. He was buried in accordance to Shintō practice, which showed respect for the emperor who was a Shintō kami. It was also in keeping with his Mito upbringing which showed deference to the lead Shintō kami, ie; the emperor. Therefore, Yoshinobu doesn’t have a kaimyō or ingō. His “conversion” to Shintō from Buddhism may have been for show, but his funerary rites were carried out in the Shintō fashion. Of all the shōguns, Yoshinobu’s is the only grave of this type.

So now that we’ve seen the most elegant Buddhist and Shintō mixed graves, what does a pure “shintō grave” look like? Well, let’s look what the graves of the Meiji emperor, the Taishō emperor and the Shōwa emperor looked like.

The Meiji Emperor's grave

The Meiji Emperor’s grave

The Taisho Emperor's grave.

The Taisho Emperor’s grave.

The Showa Emperor's grave

The Showa Emperor’s grave

Now let’s take a look at Yoshinobu’s grave.

tokugawa_yoshinobu_bosho

Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s graveyard.
There are two burial mounds visible.
One is Yoshinobu, the other is his lawful wife.Tokugawa Mikako (née Ichijo Mikako).

Yoshinobu's burial mound.

Yoshinobu’s burial mound.

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[†] Since I’ve been “translating” the posthumous names of the shōguns, for consistency’s sake I had to give Yoshinobu’s name a shot. It just so happens that his name is particularly cool. 

[i] New Funerary Content is copyrighted, btw. It will also go on  a t-shirt.

[ii] Ironically on the day I got married

[ii.1] Remember, the shogun family line had ended, this is what brought about the succession crisis that resulted in Yoshinobu’s elevation to shōgun. As shōgun, he was also head of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family. As head of his own cadet branch of the family, he and his descendants would be free from any shame attached to the old regime. (But in reality, there was no stigma attached to the family whose glorious family temples were among the finest sites in the city of Edo and Tōkyō).

[iii] And to be sure, honors were conferred upon him. Under the stupid Meiji system of peerage, he was granted the highest level rank of duke.

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