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Yamanote Line: Nishi-Nippori, Nippori, & Uguisudani

In Japanese History on June 14, 2016 at 4:05 am

西日暮里、日暮里、鶯谷
Nishi-Nippori, Nippori, Uguisudani

shitamachi yamanote line

Now we’re entering the most well known shitamachi (low city) area of Tōkyō.

So, yeah. It looks like we’re 10 articles deep into this series exploring Tōkyō via the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line and we’ve already covered 17 of the current 29 stations[i]. That’s pretty good. We’ve covered more than half the of loop in record time. We’re making much better time than my series on the 大江戸線 Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line[ii]. Today, let’s try to bang through 3 more neighborhoods and round that number up to 20 stations.

All right, buckle up and let’s do this!

Further Reading:

0000

Dōkan’yama – the hill and plains below are very much visible today.

西日暮里
Nishi-Nippori

Nishi-Nippori means West Nippori and it’s not a real place name. It’s just a train station name. Later I’ll talk about what Nippori means, but let’s talk about what the station gives you access to. First and foremost is an area called 道灌山 Dōkan’yama which literally means Dōkan Mountain. It’s allegedly the site of a 出城 dejiro satellite fort built by the warlord 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan to protect 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle[iii]. The plateau still gives a commanding view over the valleys below and it’s clear why this location was important from a military standpoint. Its steep slopes were naturally defensible and you had a view of the entire Kantō Plain, Edo Bay, and Mt. Fuji.

1990 nippori fujimizaka.jpg

Mt. Fuji as viewed from Dōkan’yama in 1990.

By the Edo Period, Dōkan’yama had become a popular 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing spot. Edoites could enjoy the same view of the Kantō Plain, Edo Bay, and Mt. Fuji – minus the fort and plus the cherry blossoms. Several 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints document the beauty of the area[iv].

I’ve Covered All of this Before:

ueno toshogu

This area has deep ties to the Tokugawa Shōgun Family.

日暮里
Nippori

OK, I promised to tell you what Nippori means, but I kinda lied. The name is actually a bit of a mystery. You can read my original article about the etymology here. The name is most likely 当て字 ateji kanji used for its phonetic values rather than meaning. This hints at a particular ancient or possibly prehistoric name[v]. The oldest writing was 新堀 which just means “new moat” or “new canal,” the present writing is 日暮里 which means “village where you can spend the whole day.” This latter spelling became codified in the early Meiji Period and was more or less a marketing ploy. People had been visiting the area as tourists for almost a hundred years, the locals wanted to keep ‘em coming. In the days when you had to walk everywhere, the journey from central Edo to Nippori was basically a day trip – the equivalent of a modern Tōkyōite’s trip to Kamakura today[vi].

kannonji yanaka.jpg

Kannon-ji a temple whose chief priest was related to 2 of the 47 rōnin. The rōnin may have stayed here while plotting their revenge or while feigning ascetic practices (or both). At any rate, the most interesting thing about the area are the traditional Edo Period stone and mortar walls.

The area called Nippori is usually considered 下町 shitamachi low city by most Tōkyōites. It’s urban but residential, gritty, and really traditional and old fashioned. However, this image of shitamachi is relatively recent. In fact, it’s a post WWII view of the area.

nippori 1963.jpg

Nippori Station in 1963. You can see the area is still suburban, but the plains below Dōkan’yama are giving way to the urbanization that would forever change the nature of this section of Tōkyō.

As I said earlier, Dōkan’yama is a hilly plateau where a samurai warlord lived. That’s the very definition of the 山手 yamanote high city. That said, for much of its existence, this area was country during the Edo Period. Some samurai families lived on the hills and plateaux in the area. Some daimyō and rich people had second houses out here as well in the Edo Period. But the first real growth in the area was fueled by the establishment of 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji Kan’ei Temple in 上野 Ueno with the express purpose of being a funerary temple of the Tokugawa Shōguns[vii]. After a series of fires and natural disasters during the rule of the 11th shōgun, 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari, many temples and shrines were moved from central Edo out here to the suburbs. They had less chance of falling prey to conflagrations, the so-called 江戸の華 Edo no Hana “flowers of Edo.”[viii]

kaneiji

Kan’ei-ji, one of the funerary temples of the Tokugawa Shōguns. Because of wars, very little remains of this once vibrant and important religious center.

Nippori Station gives you direct access to 谷中霊園 Yanaka Rei’en Yanaka Cemetery. This is the largest necropolis in Tōkyō and is home to pre-Edo Period graves right up to present day. Although the cemetery is generally considered a single entity, it’s actually 2 separate cemeteries. On the Nippori side, it is a state maintained cemetery formerly owned by 天王寺 Ten’ō-ji Ten’ō Temple, on the Ueno side, it’s a privately owned graveyard overseen by Kan’ei-ji. The two sprawling cemeteries eventually blended into one[ix]. The differences between the properties aren’t marked, but are instantly visible if you have a keen eye for detail in Japanese cemeteries. You’ll see almost every type of Japanese grave from so many eras here. It might seem morbid, but actually, it’s one of the most peaceful and interesting places in Tōkyō. It’s fitted with playgrounds and picnic areas and has so many famous graves that it’s one of the main destinations for Japanese history lovers. It’s also my most requested tour – go figure!

Wanna Know More?

jizo

Taking the Yamanote Line this direction, we fall into increasingly religious lands culminating in the graves of the shōguns. But once we descend from the Ueno Plateau we will immediately find ourselves in a very different place.

鶯谷
Uguisudani

Uguisudani is a place name that means “nightingale valley” and evokes a bucolic image of the time when this was once a favorite destination of Edoites who wanted to enjoy the calls of birds. In fact, Uguisudani Station plays recordings of nightingales on the train platform. Although the name has long been preserved by locals, there isn’t an official postal code designated Uguisudani. There area is actually called 根岸 Negishi and Uguisudani is just the station name. The enjoyment of the natural and mellifluous songs of birds in a simpler time before TV and the constant barrage of 24/7 media is a poetic and beautiful image.

1917 uguisudani station

Uguisudani was so remote that it isn’t until 1917 that we get a photo of the are. You see the station (as in the modern town) on the low ground. The hill behind the station is the Ueno Plateau. Station was built in 1912, by the way.

The legend goes that a certain potter and ceramic artist from Kyōto named 尾形乾山 Ogata Kenzan visited the chief priests of nearby 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji the Tokugawa Funerary Temple in the area[x]. Having heard from the priests that the nightingales of Edo sang in an uncouth accent or dialect, he brought nightingales from Kyōto that could “sing proper” and released them in the area. He hoped the birds would flourish and that their songs would bring peace of mind to the priests of Kan’ei-ji and the spirits of the departed shōguns that rested on the top of the Ueno Plateau.

uguisu

This is an uguisu (I’ve translated it as “nightingale” but it’s also translated as “Japanese bush warbler.” No matter what you call it, it’s a song bird and is considered a harbinger of spring. Uguisu are often mentioned in haiku or shown in art to depict the beginning of spring. Here one is shown resting among plum blossoms, another signal that spring is right around the corner. The two go hand in hand.

The 2 stories we have are part of the standard narrative and there’s not much we can say about how accurate they are, but they definitely seem to corroborate each other. Another etymology – much less well known – is also in circulation. Uguisudani is located in a strikingly noticeable valley beneath the Ueno Plateau where the shōguns were buried and where many samurai and daimyō lived. Many artists who preferred the Edo Period equivalent of the Bohemian life kept second homes in the 下町 shitamachi commoner district of present day Uguisudani[xi]. Because this was the periphery of the city and far from home, the low city catered to the more carnal desires of its moneyed inhabitants. If this theory is to be believed, there are 2 explanations being floated around. One, the reference to the beautiful song of the nightingale actually derives from the 喘ぎ声 aegigoe cries of pleasure of prostitutes heard throughout the neighborhood. Or two, the story of Kenzan bringing nightingales who could “sing proper” was a case of relocating prostitutes fluent in the Kyōto dialect and manners to the area to service the priests of Kan’ei-ji who just weren’t down with the unsophisticated Kantō girls of the Early Edo Period.

uguisudani sex industry.jpg

Say “Uguisudani” to any Tōkyōite and they’ll probably think this. But the truth is, the area has a very rich cultural history. PS: This isn’t an indorsement or anything of this business, it’s just a random Google search, ok?

I like the first explanation. People came here for bird watching. And indeed, people did come to this area for day trips to visit temples and shrines and to do 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing. The bird watching thing makes sense. On the other hand, if you exit Uguisudani Station today, you are in the heart of a very notorious love hotel district replete with a vibrant and sometimes over the top sex industry. For a town that wasn’t a post town, it’s quite remarkable how much of a sex industry exists here.

No matter which etymology you believe[xii], the elevation and difference between the high city and low city is obvious. A walk through the maze that is Uguisudani speaks volumes about its low city heritage, but also its long standing reliance on the sex industry, and until recently the yakuza[xiii].

I love Uguisudani. It’s one of the last bastions of shitamachi culture. Sure, it’s clinging to the post-WWII Shōwa culture, but even that represents Edo’s commoner culture in so many ways. I try to come here as often as I can.

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[i] A third major hub station is planned and expected to be in preparation before the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics.
[ii] The term 大江戸 Ōedo means “the greater Edo area” and refers to the shōgun’s capital as well as the surrounding areas that absorbed its unique culture. Here’s my series on the Ōedo Line.
[iii] In Dōkan’s time, I wouldn’t use the term “castle.” It was basically a robust, fortified residence. The image of a typical Japanese castle didn’t come to Edo Castle until the arrival of the Tokugawa in about 1600.
[iv] I’m a huuuuuuuuge love of ukiyo-e, so please check out this book.
[v] Prehistoric just means before a reliable written history existed.
[vi] From Nihonbashi to Nippori would have taken an Edoite about 2-3 hours. Today it would be about 15 minutes by train. From Edo to Kamakura would have been a 2 day walk at bare minimum. However, today you could probably make the walk in 10 hours, but by train it’s roughly 45 minutes.
[vii] Its counterpart was 増上寺 Zōjō-ji Zōjō Temple in Shiba. Here’s my article on Shiba. (It’s old)
[viii] This might seem strange but fights among couples and neighborhood fires were called “Flowers of Edo.” Lovers’ quarrels were seen as unsightly and everyone ignored them so as to not get involved and then the couple would make up and “bloom again.” Likewise, the constant fires of the low city were seen as embarrassing but they saw quick rebuilding and investment in destroyed neighborhoods which also saw the areas “bloom again.”
[ix] After WWII, much of the land of the land surrounding the old Tokugawa mausolea was sold off as family burial plots to average citizens.
[x] At that time, roughly the Genroku Period, the chief priests of Kan’ei-ji were a branch of the imperial family in Kyōto. It’s implied that Kenzan’s visit to the area was due to his connections with the imperial court.
[xi] This practice was uncommon if you had the means. It was a way to escape the family and keep what we would call a “private studio” today. Likeminded artists, writers, and merchants would also be in the area and this was good for networking.
[xii] I’m not sure I’m convinced by any, to be honest.
[xiii] There used to be Taiwanese and Chinese prostitutes who were street walkers – totally illegal in Japan, but it was overlooked. In the build up to the 2020 Olympics, they’ve disappeared. There also used to be yakuza all over the place on the street corners and in the shops, but recently I haven’t seen them so… some of the really interesting vibrancy of Uguisudani may be temporarily fading.

What does Dokanyama mean?

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Travel in Japan on April 16, 2014 at 1:03 am

道灌山
Dōkan’yama (Dōkan’s mountain)

A scene as familiar as today Edoites on Dokanyama having a picnic while enjoying the sunset over Mt. Fuji.

A scene as familiar as today
Edoites on Dokanyama having a picnic while enjoying the sunset over Mt. Fuji.

Hello and welcome back.

Today, I’m just making a quick follow up to the last few articles because, well, I wanted to address an item of interest to Japanese language learners and another item concerning Edo-Tōkyō history.

First, we saw the 2 place names 千駄ヶ谷 Sendagaya and 千駄木 Sendagi[i]. I’ve already gone into the backstory of these words, but I want to just briefly touch on the kanji 駄 da.

I mentioned that this was a unit of measure & weight for a pack horse. At the end of the Edo Period it appears to have been somewhat standardized to roughly 135 kilograms[ii], depending on the horse’s condition.

Well, this kanji isn’t just some obscure vestige of old Japan lingering in place names, it’s a kanji used every day. I’d like to quickly take you through a short list of high frequency words that use this kanji.

Let’s Go!

駄目
ダメ
dame
no, useless, not good, no way
(usually not written in kanji)
無駄
muda
useless, pointless
下駄
geta
an old Japanese shoe used for walking through dirt streets
駄菓子
dagashi
Japanese sweets for the commoners, not for the rich; cheap Japanese snacks

So, I blew off this kanji in my last few posts as just a reference to pack horses. But we still have use for these kinds of kanji today, despite the lack of pack horses[iii].

 

 Now, Let’s Talk About Dōkan’yama

 

Enjoying the view from Dokanyama

Enjoying the view from Dokanyama

 

OK, so our main theme is the hill next to Nishi-Nippori Station. When I visited Japan the first time, I stayed in 鶯谷 Uguisudani, which is a few minutes’ walk from Dōkan’yama. I passed and even climbed this hill many times while exploring 谷中霊園 Yanaka Rei’en Yanaka Cemetery in search of the tombs of the Tokugawa family. Just exploring, without maps, without knowing shit about Japanese history or language, and not really understanding the layout of the area was exciting and mysterious and it’s in this area that my passion for Japanese history was forged. Every time I come back to this area I feel a sense of nostalgia. So, the other day when I discovered that the hill had a name and that it was possibly related to a major player in the story of Edo-Tōkyō I was just giddy with excitement. This whole area truly is the gift that just keeps giving.

Now, please keep in mind, we’re just talking about a freaking hill[iv].

nerd_alert

 

The other day, I wrote that there were 2 theories about this place name. The more I’ve researched it, the more I’m convinced there is only one theory, but they are united by the bizarre coincidence that 2 people with the same name lived here at different points in history.

The area seems to have been inhabited since the 縄文時代 Jōmon Jidai Jōmon Period[v]. Part of the hill is said to have been a 古墳 kofun a kind of burial mound associated with the early Yamato State. Other parts seem to be 貝塚 kaizuka an ancient trash dump for shells. I don’t know much about archaeology, but it seems the relation between these two eras is so far removed that we need more research to prove anything.

The earliest records show that this area was written as 新堀 “the new moat.” Though, we can’t be sure about the pronunciation[vi], the internet seems to think it has been called pronounced /’nip̚pori/ since time immemorial[vii]. The elevated area from Nishi-Nippori Station to Yanaka Ginza was the area formerly called 道灌山 Dōkan’yama. Today the term is usually only applied to the area next to Nishi-Nippori Station (if applied at all). In the Edo Period this area was well outside of the hustle and bustle of Edo and as such it was a popular spot for day trips[viii].

 

Castles before the Muromachi Period were more like forts. The elegant, impressive structure that we usually associate with Japanese castles didn't come until the Sengoku Period came to a close. Oda Nobunaga, I'm looking at you.

Castles before the Muromachi Period were more like forts.
The elegant, impressive structure that we usually associate with Japanese castles didn’t come until the Sengoku Period came to a close.
Oda Nobunaga, I’m looking at you.

The story goes that in the Kamakura Period, the hill was the site of the residence of a powerful noble named 関道閑 Seki Dōkan. Dōkan was a member of the 秩父平氏 Chichibu Taira-shi Chichibu branch of the Taira clan[ix]. Longtime readers will recall that the Edo clan was also from Chichibu. He was married to the daughter of 江戸重継 Edo Shigetsugu, the first person we know of to build a fortification on the site of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle[x].

Fast forward a couple hundred years or so and in the late Muromachi Period, Sengoku Period fucker-up-of-shit and general-purveyor-of-Kantō-area-bad-assry, the inimitable 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan chose the site for one of his 出城 dejiro branch castles to provide tactical support to his main residence in what is today the 本丸 honmaru of Edo Castle[xi].

Ota Dokan's Edo Castle was probably something like this. Given the similarity of the terrain and the era, it's safe to assume the branch castle was very much the same. #SengokuKanto

Ota Dokan’s Edo Castle was probably something like this.
Given the similarity of the terrain and the era, it’s safe to assume the branch castle was very much the same.

Same picture but in color. If this picture of Dokan's Edo Fortress is to be trusted, the shape of the plateau seems to have been built up with earthen walls. If this is the case, the archaeologists who have found trash dumps for shells and think there may have been a kofun here may be on to something.  Dokan may have ordered the hilltops merged and shaped into a form fitting of a secondary fortress.

Same picture but in color.
If this picture of Dokan’s Edo fortress is to be trusted, the shape of the plateau has been built up with earthen walls.
The flat surface on the top is reminiscent of the shape of Dokanyama.

 

Located on the hill is 諏訪神社 Suwan Jinja Suwan Shrine which is said to house the tutelary deity that protected Ōta Dōkan’s branch castle[xii]. The shrine is located at the highest point of the hill. In Ōta Dōkan’s time, this area is where the 見張台 miharidai lookout tower was located. It’s said that from this miharidai, you could see all the way to 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province (present day Chiba Prefecture). And while the castle was in ruins by time the Tokugawa arrived on the scene, the area was still called Miharidai in the Edo Period and was famous for getting a relaxing view of Mt. Fuji. We actually have quite a few pictures depicting Edoites relaxing in the area.

 

That tower looking look out thingy. Yeah, that's a miharidai.

That tower looking look out thingy.
Yeah, that’s a miharidai.

Today nobody comes to Dokanyama for the view. But you can get an appreciation of the sharp elevation.

Today nobody comes to Dokanyama for the view.
But you can get an appreciation of the sharp elevation. (this photo is from the shrine precincts of Suwan Shrine)

 

Viewing Mt. Fuji from Dokanyama in the Edo Period.

Viewing Mt. Fuji from Dokanyama while the cherry blossoms are blooming in the Edo Period. Notice the village of thatched huts below the hill. This is a clear Yamanote/Shitamachi distinction.

 

Suwan Shrine is located on the former Miharidai area. The shrine is now in an Edo Period style. In the time of Ota Dokan, it would have been a small afterthought.

Suwan Shrine is located on the former Miharidai area.
The shrine is now in an Edo Period style.
In the time of Ota Dokan, it would have been a small afterthought.

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[i] Just go back to the last 2 articles. You might also want to search the site of “yanaka” if you’re interested in this area. There are quite a few independent articles, so if you want to get the big picture, I recommend reading everything.
[ii] About 298 lbs.
[iii] Except for your mom, who is a real trooper, btw.
[iv] One soon learns that nothing in Tōkyō is “just something.” Just like Rome, you can’t a few meters without tripping over some crazy piece of history you’ve never heard of.
[v] Admittedly, an era that I rarely talk about, but I’m thinking about digging deeper into. It’s a loooong time ago. Here’s more info if you’re interested.
[vi] See my article on Nippori.
[vii] I reserve the right to withhold my opinion on this one. It’s pretty complicated.
[viii] Edo people walked everywhere, so this would have been a reasonable day trip. Today, you can access this area by train and from within the 32 Special Wards, it’s pretty much a 20 minute train ride from anywhere.
[ix] Chichibu is the same area in Saitama Prefecture that the Edo Clan (also members of the Taira clan) originated. For more about the Edo clan, please see my article on Edo.
[x] Recent readers, spoiler alert. Edo Castle wasn’t built first by Ōta Dōkan, even that’s what your Tōkyō guidebook says.
[xi] Commonly known by idiots as 皇居 kōkyo the Imperial Palace. There, I said it.
[xii] It should be noted that Suwan Shrines are common throughout the country.

What does Sendagi mean?

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on April 14, 2014 at 8:28 am

千駄木
Sendagi (a lot of trees)

sendagi_station

Sendagi is a mixed residential and shopping area between Nezu and Yanaka[i]. Today the area is distinctly shitamachi[ii]. However, if you go there you’ll notice slopes which are clear indicators that in the Edo Period the area was mixed with the elites living on the yamanote (high city) and the merchants and other people living on in the shitamachi (low city) while low ranking samurai naturally lived on the hillsides according to rank.

The area of Tōkyō extending from Ueno Station[iii] out to Nippori Station[iv] is one of the most popular destinations for lovers of Edo-Tōkyō to take walks. There are many different routes one could take through this area, but one common route is walking the 谷根千 Yanesen, an abbreviation based on the collective areas of  谷中 Yanaka, 根津 Nezu, and 千駄木 Sendagi. The area is dotted with temples, shrines, shops dating as far back as the Edo Period, and is literally so steeped in history that it would probably take a book to do it justice[v]. Also, there are a lot of references to past articles, so be sure to check the footnotes (remember, they’re clickable).

Given the cultural richness of the area, I will just point you here, and move on to the timeline of Sendagi and then get into the place name itself. If that’s alright with you…

Edo Period gate to the residence of the Komagome Village headman.

Edo Period gate to the residence of the Komagome Village headman.

The area was formerly part of 駒込村 Komagome Mura Komagome Village and in fact today is still officially part of Komagome[vi]. The name Komagome isn’t attested until the Sengoku Period. One the other hand, 千駄木 Sendagi isn’t attested until the early Edo Period when it appears as a label in a map. The label reads 上野東漸院持ち駒込千駄木御林 Ueno Tōzen’in mochi Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi the Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi which is controlled by Ueno Tōzen Temple. Another early Edo Period map includes the label 上野寒松院持ち駒込千駄木御林 Ueno Kanshō’in mochi Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi the Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi which is controlled by Ueno Kanshō Temple. An 御林 o-hayashi was a hilltop wooded area owned by the shōgunate, but control of the area was granted to a lord or temple[vii]. Which temple was actually in control of Komagome Sendagi O-hayashi at what time isn’t clear to me, but it’s not really important for us today[viii].

O-hayashi Inari Shrine in Sendagi is one of the legacies of the old forest.

O-hayashi Inari Shrine in Sendagi is one of the legacies of the old forest.

About 1656, the former hilltop forest came to be the site of a daimyō residence of the lords of 豊後国府内藩 Bungo no Kuni Funai Han Funai Domain, Bungo Province (present day Oita Prefecture in Kyūshū). The family was the 大給松平家 Ōgyū Matsudaira, a samurai family from 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province, Tokugawa Ieyasu’s homeland. As Edo depended on the shōgunate and the shōgun himself was from Mikawa, having a Mikawa family bearing the name Matsudaira bolstered the area’s prestige[ix]. The hill became a yamanote town comprised of high ranking samurai residences. It seems that because the Ōgyū residence was first the prestigious palace built on the hilltop, the area came to be to be known as 大給坂 Ōgyūzaka Ōgyū Hill. If you go to the top of Ōgyūzaka there is a crappy little park with a huge gingko tree called the 大銀杏 Ōichō[x]. They say this tree stood inside the original Ōgyū property.

Yup. That's a big tree, alright.  OK, let's move on.

Yup. That’s a big tree, alright.
OK, let’s move on.

Nearby is another hill called 道灌山 Dōkanyama. It’s said that at the end of the Muromachi Period, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan had a branch castle here which he built for tactical support of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle[xi]. I only jumped way back in time to mention this because… well, you’ll see.

Dokanyama is the large slope next to Nishi-Nippori Station. I've seen this hill hundreds of times, but I never knew it was called Dokanyama until today. Cool!

Dokanyama is the large slope next to Nishi-Nippori Station.
I’ve seen this hill hundreds of times, but I never knew it was called Dokanyama until today.
Cool!

 

OK, so now let’s look at the kanji.

 


sen
1000

da
a pack horse;
a load carried by a pack horse

gi
tree

 

WTF?! This fucking kanji again?

WTF?!
This fucking kanji again?

The other day, we looked at 千駄ヶ谷 Sendagaya and we learned that 千駄 senda was another word for 沢山 takusan a lot. If we want to take the kanji as they are written today, which is by all means the easiest way to do things, we can deduce that the name 千駄木 Sendagi means “a lot of trees.” From what we know, the place name is first written down[xii] in the early Edo Period. From what we know, the area was a hilltop forest at that time. One could make a very strong case that this is the origin of the name Sendagi.

 

But it’s Never That Easy, Is It?

So there are some other theories of varying quality – or a few variations with some anecdotal stories added to lend credence to the general narrative[xiii]. OK, so where to begin?

 

Sexxxy firewood. Awwwwww yeah!

Sexxxy firewood.
Awwwwww yeah!

 

The 1000 Da Theory

In the late Muromachi Period and opening years of the Edo Period, the forest here was used for lumber or for firewood. You could easily get 千駄 sen da 1000 da each day. (If you don’t know what 1000 da are, you should read the last article). This is basically adding information to the above theory.

 

Chinaberry is a flowering tree. There are many planted around Edo Castle. In the background you can see (I think) Shimizu Mon.

Chinaberry is a flowering tree. There are many planted around Edo Castle.
In the background you can see (I think) Shimizu Mon.

The Ōta Dōkan Did It Theory

During the construction of Edo Castle (or perhaps his aforementioned branch castle), Ōta Dōkan used the area for lumber. After cutting down so many trees, he re-forested the area by planting 栴檀 sendan Chinaberry trees here. In the old Edo accent, sendan ki became sendagi. The Ōta Dōkan thing could be true or not. Who knows? The Chinaberry tree thing? It’s possible. Still, we’re looking at a bunch of trees any way you look at it.

 

20121218160224a11

 

It’s a Reference to a Traditional Japanese Prayer For Rain

The last theory is interesting. The godfather of Japanese folklore and linguistics, 柳田國男 Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962), actually spoke about this place name. The reason his story bears repeating is because he insisted that prior to the Meiji Restoration, the common narrative of Japanese history was the story of the elite classes only. The day to day toils and reality of the commoners was just omitted. He was also fascinated by the variety of Japanese dialects and began laying the groundwork for modern Japanese dialectology.

Anyhoo, his theory says that in the Edo Period, and indeed, in his youth, at the beginning of summer as the rains got scarcer, the farmers would bring 1000 da of reeds or wood to the nearest body of water and burn them as an 雨乞い amagoi prayer for rain. In the common parlance, this activity was called 千駄焚き senda-taki burning 1000 da. While he was making some of the first modern dialect maps of Japan, he noticed that in many parts of the country the phrase senda-taki was contracted to sendaki. He speculated that this might be the origin of both Sendagi (sendaki – burning 1000 da of wood) and Sendagaya (senda kaya – buring 1000 da of reeds).

His speculation is interesting because he’s a guy who was born with the first 10 years of the Meiji Era, watched Japan modernize, go all crazy theocratic and fascistic, be occupied by a foreign power for the first time ever, modernize again, and host the Olympics. He also lived through the greatest and fastest advances in linguistics and the scientific method.

Kunio himself. Or as I like to call him, "kun'ni."

Kunio himself.
Or as I like to call him, “kun’ni.”

 

So Which Theory Is Correct?

With all this talk of Yanagita Kunio, it’s gotten me thinking about my choice in terminology up to this point on JapanThis!. Linguistics is a science and as such when talking within the framework of science, terminology is important. I’ve been using the word “theory” for some time in the vernacular sense. But “theory” actually means a kind of testable model – something that is so predictable that we can say it’s a fact – for example; the Theory of Gravity or the Theory of Evolution. These things we know are true. The correct term for dealing with much of what I write about on this blog is “speculation.” Unless we have an actual historical document saying “so-and-so named this place such-and-such because of this-and-that” were are dealing with speculation[xiv].

but_i_digress

 

As usual, we saw some interesting speculations today. Without extraordinary evidence, I tend to err on the side of simplicity. For me, I like the literal reading of the kanji. There were a lot of trees in the area. I think the rest of the stories are embellishments, folk etymologies, or downright wishful thinking and coincidence.

Then again, what do I know? I’m just some dude with an internet connection.

 

 

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[i] See my article on Yanaka.
D’oh! I’ve never written about Yanaka before. Weird. Well, anyways, if you scroll down a little bit, on the right hand side there is a list of the 50 most recent articles. Above the list is a search field. If you type “yanaka,” a ton of articles will come up. (If you click word “yanaka” above, it will bring up the same list of articles. Can everyone say, “let me google that for you?”)

[ii] In the modern sense of the word.

[iii] See my super old article on Ueno. Or not, because I just looked at it and it sucks. It’s from when I started covering place names. Night and day difference.

[iv] See my super old article on Nippori. One of the early ones that got researched well.

[v] Here’s an English article I came across about the Yanesen.

[vi] See my article on Komagome here.

[vii] The emphasis on hilltop is most likely because the low city was developed for commerce and commoners and wouldn’t have had many trees, whereas the hilltops were kept lush and green.

[viii] More interesting is that both temples still exist. Tōzen’in was established in 1649 and is affiliated with Kan’ei-ji, the Tokugawa Funerary Temple. You can find Tōzen’in in Uguisudani. Kanshō’in, established in 1627, is also in Uguisudani and is also affiliated with Kan’ei-ji. In fact, later they became of a sub-temple of 上野東照宮 Ueno Tōshō-gū. See my article on Uguisudani here. Don’t worry that the temples are located in Uguisudani and not Komagome – although it’s walking distance, both temples have actually been relocated a few times.

[ix] Keep in mind, Tokugawa Ieyasu’s real family name was Matsudaira.

[x] Literally, big ass gingko tree.

[xi] However, there is an alternate theory which claims the name Dōkanyama is actually derived from a powerful noble who had a fortified residence here in the Kamakura Period. His name was 関道閑 Seki Dōkan.

[xii] A first attestation doesn’t necessarily mean the name was created at that time. It only means it was the first time anyone bothered writing it down. So, in theory, a name in Kantō could be hundreds of years old before anyone made a record of it that we still have.

[xiii] It’s not always the case, but when you get anecdotal stories, your BS Detector should start blinking; often times these stories reek of folk etymology.

[xiv] Even in that case, the document would have to be proven authentic and written by the person who named the place.

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.

Why is Nippori called Nippori?

In Japanese History on April 8, 2013 at 12:21 am

日暮里
Nippori (The City You Could Spend A Day At And Never Be Bored)

Nippori is Tokyo is Japanese History is Marky Star

Everyone takes this shot of Nippori Station while changing trains to go to the airport…

One of the cool things about place names is that you can do a lot of guessing. A name like Ikebukuro (literally “lake” + “bag”) can give you lots of things to conjecture about while riding the train or walking around the city (or in my case, while washing my hair in the shower or tossing and turning trying to sleep at night). For me, this guessing is what inspires me to get out there and research all these place names. Today’s Tōkyō place name is no exception.

So, here’s a little insight into my mind. I looked at the name 日暮里 and took the kanji apart one by one. 日 ni (sun, day), 暮 bo (livelihood, spending time), 里 ri (village/hamlet, hometown/origin). Seems random, right? So, I thought, “A-ha! Sunny Living Village!” Sure, it sounds like an old folks home, but… who knows? I’m not a native Japanese speaker anyways.

the origin of nippori's is deep in tokyo's history

seems legit!

I figured this couldn’t be right. So I dug a little deeper.

日暮 can be read as 2 compound words, higurashi, which means “daily work, daily routine” or higure, which means “sunset” or “twilight.” The last character refers to a kind of place, so we can leave that kanji alone for now. It’s those first 2 characters we have to worry about. Are they separate? Are they a compound?

Well, the story gets more complicated here. (don’t they all?)

It turns out that the area had a different name originally. It was written as 新堀 niihori/niibori/nibbori/nippori literally “new moat”* but more like “new town” or “new village.” We don’t know exactly how the kanji were read**, but you can see that “nippori” is one possibility. Even if the reading was originally something closer to “niihori,” it could have easily become “nippori” over time.

This particular way of writing the name is attested in the Muromachi Period, otherwise known as the Lame as Hell Shōgunate (14th-15th century).

good stuff, right?

good stuff, right?

Although, Nippori was on the outskirts of town, in the Edo Period, the area became more developed and many temples and shrines opened there. One of the two Tokugawa funerary temples, Kan’eiji was nearby, which also added to prestige and brought sightseers and pilgrims. In the 18th century, the 11th Tokugawa shōgun, Ienari, ordered many major temples and shrines be re-located to the Yanaka/Nippori area to protect them from any potential conflagrations. Ienari’s reign saw a shitload of horrific disasters throughout the land, so I guess he was trying to hedge his bets. So basically, by the end of Edo Period, this area was bumpin’. It was still bumpin’ in the Meiji Period. It was bumpin’ up to WWII and – I would argue – it’s still bumpin’ now. This whole area is teeming with history and museums and restaurants and you could probably spend months just exploring Nippori, Yanaka, Uguisudani and Ueno and never get bored.

Tokugawa Ienari - the Party Shogun   (and remarkably, the longest reigning shogun... can i getta woo woo?)

Tokugawa Ienari – the Party Shogun
(and remarkably, the longest reigning shogun… can i getta woo woo?)

Which brings us to the next evolution of the name.

In the Edo Period, the area was famous for flowers, gardens, temples, shrines, restaurants and cherry blossoms. Since it was on the outskirts of town, in an era without cars and trains, you’d have to make a whole day out of any excursion to the area (even today, you’d have to make a whole day out of visiting the area if you want to even see a fraction of what’s there).

At that time, the area started showing up on maps and guides as either 新堀村 Nippori Mura (Nippori Village) or 日暮里村 Nippori Mura (Nippori Village). Obviously it was no longer a new village, in fact, it was the 日暮ノ里 higurashi no sato (the nippo no ri, if you will — the “spend a day village”). The idea being that you can spend a whole day there and never be bored.

All I have to say to that is, “hear, hear!”

photo

As I said, in the Edo Period the kanji for Nippori wasn’t fixed. In 1887 (Meiji 10) the name was officially recorded and propagated as 日暮里 and the old characters 新堀 were lost to collective memory.

How’s that for a place name history? Pretty freaking awesome, if you ask me!

 

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* While we usually think of 堀 hori referring to moats, it can also just refer to a canal. The verb 掘る horu actually just means “dig/dig up.” In old Japanese place names it can also refers to settlements or villages because they may have been fortified by moats or may have held some prestige due to the presence of a canal.

** Shinbori is another possible variant. In fact, a bridge near my home is called 新堀橋 shinboribashi “new moat bridge.”

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