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Posts Tagged ‘o-shichi’

Ōedo Line: Hongō San-chōme

In Japanese History on June 10, 2015 at 3:48 am

本郷三丁目
Hongō San-chōme (3rd block of Hongō)

The famous Akamon (red gate) of Kaga Domain which is now the entrance of Tokyo University

The famous Akamon (red gate) of Kaga Domain which is now the entrance of Tokyo University

Hongō literally means “the main hamlet/village.” Because it is extremely hilly, it was allocated for residences of samurai of various ranks. Theoretically speaking, the location of your house on the hills indicated your rank and the type of house you could have. Naturally, low ranking samurai were at the bottom of the hills and the highest ranking samurai were at the tops of the hills. Today the area is famous for education and medicine. Tōkyō University, Juntendō University, and Tōyō Gakuen University are all located in the area.

It was Pre-Modern Japan. Sometimes, you gotta burn a bitch. Alive.

It was Pre-Modern Japan.
Sometimes you gotta burn a bitch.
Alive.

In the lowlands, in one of the commoner districts of Koishikawa is the place where 八百屋お七 Yayoya O-shichi lived. Loooooong time readers will recognize her as the 16 year old crazy bitch who set tried to burn down a temple in 1683 to get the attention of the monk who had saved her from a fire a year or so earlier. The fire was soon put out and she was apparently caught red handed, but this was arson and had to be dealt with by the 奉行 bugyō magistrate. In the end, the teenage girl was burnt at the stake the same year at Suzugamori Execution Ground near Shinagawa. The story is one of the greatest tragedies of the Edo Period – most of it based on highly fictionalized bunraku[i] and kabuki[ii] adaptations. But at its core, the story is based on some facts. The precise location of her home, the name of the temple she burnt and even the name of the boy she was infatuated with aren’t known for certain[iii]. But shōgunate records apparently confirm the date of her arrest and the location and manner of her execution. The location of her grave is also somewhat contested, but the traditional site of her grave is the temple 円乗寺 Enjō-ji, also written 園乗寺 Enjō-ji, which is a 20 minute walk from Hongō Sanchōme Station. It’s a straight shot on a single street, so it’s probably worth the walk if you’re in the area.

And why should you be in the area? There are plenty of temples and shrines and the area has more hills than other local tourist sites – so you can get a feel for the prime real estate of the Edo Period. Although there are no samurai residences left, you can get the feel for how uniquely 山手 yamanote high city the area was[iv]. You can also get some great photos here because most people don’t come here to take pictures.

But, this station also gives you access to the 東京都水道歴史館 Tōkyō-to Suidō Rekishikan Tōkyō Waterworks Historical Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of water, aqueducts, sewerage, reservoirs, and water treatment in Edo-Tōkyō. At first, you might say, that sounds boring. But trust me, it’s surprisingly eye opening and is easily one of my favorite museums in the city. When I visited, they had English pamphlets, but most of the exhibits were in Japanese only. I’m sure that will change in the build up to the 2020 Olympics. The museum’s website is here.

Tokyo Waterworks Museum.  Don't make me say it again.

Tokyo Waterworks Museum.
Don’t make me say it again.

Wanna read my original article about fires in Edo? (to read O-shichi’s story)
Wanna read my article about Suzugamori Execution Ground? (She gets mentioned)

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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

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[i] Creepy puppet shows that Edoites loved the shit out of.
[ii] Highly ritualized theater of Pre-Modern Japan – also a little creepy, visually-speaking.
[iii] Some versions of the story are more well-known than others, tho.
[iv] I had a great discussion with Jcastle about how you can’t really understand old Japanese castles and samurai homes without walking the terrain yourself. Even if there is nothing left to look at, the lay of the land, the hills, the plateaux are all things the samurai were concerned with during the Sengoku Period. These physical characteristics of the land gave rise to the varying castle types and the subsequent 城下町 jōka machi castle towns. In the Edo Period, things changed, but the earliest samurai districts were built with this Sengoku philosophy in mind.

Suzugamori Execution Ground

In Edo Execution Ground Spectacular!, Japanese History on July 23, 2013 at 6:42 pm

鈴ヶ森死刑場
Suzugamori Shikeijō
Suzugamori Execution Ground

At first, the ruins of Suzugamori look like a nice park.

At first, the ruins of Suzugamori look like a nice park.

This is probably the most famous and most accessible 死刑所 shikeijo execution grounds in Tōkyō. It’s located on the old Tōkaidō highway, near 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku Shinagawa post town and is designated as one of the 100 Historic Spots of Shinagawa.

The area that is preserved today is allegedly the actual killing floor. As such there are many Buddhist monuments which have been erected to “soothe the lost souls” that inhabit the area. Today, two streets run along the preserved area and an elevated pedestrian crossing goes over the entrance, so most people don’t even notice the area. This may be by design, as execution grounds are seen as unclean places. I’ve heard the rent is cheap in this area because people are afraid of ghosts – never investigated this myself, but my gut instinct tells me that while this might have been true in the past, in the overcrowded Tōkyō of today, this area might be just as pricey as anywhere else in the area. And while the name Suzugamori instills fear in the hearts of those who know the gruesome history of the area, there is a park and elementary school which both bear the name Suzugamori. So it’s not quite as dark and taboo as I’d been told when I first came to Japan.

The area around Suzugamori in 1887. This is most likely the Tokkaido. Edo Bay/Tokyo Bay to the left, the remains of the execution ground would be to the right.

The area around Suzugamori in 1887.
This is most likely the Tokkaido.
Edo Bay/Tokyo Bay to the left, the remains of the execution ground would be to the right.

Executions at Suzugamori were directly overseen by a hereditary line of men called 弾左衛門 Danzaemon, which looks like an Edo Period given name, but to the best of my knowledge it was a translatable family name. The male heads of the Danzaemon family always started their given names with the kanji [i]. Danzaemon was the highest ranking 穢多 eta untouchable in Edo. He was a sort of lord the outcaste – that is to say, lord of the butchers, executioners, undertakers, and all those who dealt in the business of death.

Decapitated heads displayed as a deterrent.

Decapitated heads displayed as a deterrent.

Suzugamori was home to some of the wilder forms of execution; sawing in half, boiling, burning alive, and everyone’s favorite, crucifixion. There was a small detention facility there, but the area was more or less just for executions.

Decapitated heads displayed as a deterrent.

So executioner dudes hanging out with some heads.

Suzugamori’s Claim to Fame:

Yaoya O-shichi, the crazy bitch that tried to burn down Edo was supposedly burned at the stake here[ii]. A stone 台 dai post hole for 火刑 kakei burning at the stake is preserved at the site[iii]. The sign says this was the post hole that O-shichi was burned at. But nobody can really know. Apparently, because of its distance from the city and its location next to Edo Bay, Suzugamori was the main execution site used for burning at the stake. The body would be left exposed for about 3 days.

Burning at the stake.  Awwwwww yeah.

Burning at the stake.
Awwwwww yeah.

Post hole for burning at the stake. Fresh flowers are given throughout the year by the nearby temple staff and neighbors.

Post hole for burning at the stake.
Fresh flowers are given throughout the year by the nearby temple staff and neighbors.

Sign marking the post hole for burning at the stake.

Sign marking the post hole for burning at the stake.

A stone 台 dai post hole for crucifixion can also be seen here. When westerners think of crucifixion, they think of the stylized Christian symbol that comes down to us from Roman Catholicism. But even that isn’t an accurate representation of what Roman crucifixion was. Japanese crucifixion is a similar ordeal to the Roman style. While the Roman’s typically emphasized exposure to the elements and starvation as a mechanism of death, the Japanese tended to be a little more officious about the whole thing. They’d tie you to a few stakes and eventually a pair of dudes armed with halberds would come forth to stab the condemned 20-30 times and then dispatch them by cutting their throat. The body would be left exposed for about 3 days.

Post hole for crucifixions.

Post hole for crucifixions.

Sign marking the post hole for crucifixions.

Sign marking the post hole for crucifixions.

A real Japanese crucifixion. Straight up gangster shit.

A real Japanese crucifixion.
Straight up gangster shit.

There are stories that nearby Edo Bay were also used for executions. I’ve heard of upside down crucifixions that waited for the tide to come in and drown the poor bastards. But I can’t confirm if these were real or not. At any rate, this type of execution is associated with Suzugamori.

The Japanese equivalent of drawing and quartering...

The Japanese equivalent of drawing and quartering…

And lastly, there is still preserved a place called 泪橋 Namidabashi the Bridge of Tears. This bridge crosses the river that marked the natural, physical boundary of the Suzugamori Detention Center and Execution Grounds. It was the last place where the family could say goodbye to their loved one before they met their final moment. Edo Period executions were generally not public, though they were often witnessed by the offended party and the presiding magistrates. However, after the execution, heads and/or corpses were quite regularly put on display for at least three days. The remains would be disposed of according to Buddhist rites, or in some cases, the remains would just be left exposed to whatever stray dogs or crows lived in the area[iv]. Burnings and crucifixions tended to be down outside of the facilities for safety reasons and because it would just be a pain in the ass to move all that mess for displaying.

Namidabashi (the Bridge of Tears) as it looks today. The current incarnation of the bridge was built in the late Meiji Era.  The original bridge was (naturally) wooden.

Namidabashi (the Bridge of Tears) as it looks today.
The current incarnation of the bridge was built in the late Meiji Era.
The original bridge was (naturally) wooden.
The neighbors didn’t like the name Namidabashi and its association with Suzugamori, so today the bridge is officially known as Hamakawabashi.

Today, there are apartments and houses and schools and companies and highways and even a major aquarium near Suzugamori. If no one told you about its ghastly past, you might not even notice it. But a few hints still exist. No train station uses the word Suzugamori. The train station there now, which is quite close, is called 大森海岸 Ōmori Kaigan Ōmori Beach (it was a beach in the Edo Period, now it’s not). The train line that stops there is a pretty minor train line – at least in the sense that it doesn’t go through central Tōkyō. Shinagawa is as close as it gets. And lastly, only the local train stops there, most of the trains just pass it by. Coincidence? I think not.

The well of Suzugamori.  This is where decapitated heads were washed before being put on display. (The fence is there to keep people from falling in)

The well of Suzugamori.
This is where decapitated heads were washed before being put on display.
(The fence is there to keep people from falling in)

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[i] Here’s a list of their names.

[ii] I mentioned her in my article on fires in Edo-Tōkyō.

[iii] 火刑 kakei fire punishment is the formal word for this kind of execution. 焼き殺す yakikorosu burn and kill is a casual way to refer to it.

[iv] Again, keep in mind, these areas have been traditionally considered unclean (things are a little different now), but in the Edo Period, Suzugamori was really quite far from the urban center. Even walking from the Suzugamori ruins to Namidabashi is quite a hike. It gives you a feel for how isolated the area actually was.

Conflag Hag – How Fires Shaped the Face of Edo and Tokyo

In Japanese History on February 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm

(I thought of the title all by myself)

Conflag being my abbreviation for the word conflagration.

And how the hell do you say conflagration in Japanese?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
In Japanese the word is 大火 taika (big ass fire).
The word used for smaller fires is 火事 kaji (fire situation/trouble).
火 hi (fire) refers to fire in general.

The traditional architecture of Japan has always been wooden. Wooden houses, wooden temples and shrines, even wooden castles. When you have entire cities built of wood, you can imagine that even a little carelessness with a flame could have dire consequences. “Old Japan” had a fuckload of fires and Edo, being the biggest and most populated city, was no exception.

After each conflagration the city of Edo would have to be rebuilt. In the modern era, two major conflagrations have occurred in Tokyo. Each time the city was rebuilt. All the destruction and rebuilding is part of the reason modern Tokyo looks very little like “Old Japan.” If you visit Kyoto, you’ll notice how different it is from Tokyo.
That’s because Kyoto hasn’t experienced any major fires in the modern era.

Knock on wood.

fires in tokyo

chaos everywhere! note the fire brigade standing on the tops of the buildings. (meireki fire)

☆ The 3 Great Fires of Edo

Edo had many conflagrations, but there are three that are considered the big ones, the so-called 江戸三大大火 Edo san dai taika (the 3 Great Fires of Edo).

fire in tokyo edo

ummm…

1- 明暦ノ大火 Meireki no Taika (Meireki Conflag)
1657

If I’m not mistaken, this was the worst fire in Edo – and one of the worst disasters in Japanese history.
70% of the city was burnt to the ground.
Somewhere around 107,000 people were killed. Dogs and cats living together… you get the picture.

The city burned for 3 days because the flames were stoked by strong typhoon winds. The flames somehow “jumped the moat” of Edo Castle and burned a shitload of the outer buildings of the castle and all of the daimyo and high ranking samurai residences near the castle. Most Japanese castles have a large castle keep called a 天守閣 tenshukaku which would loom over the castle towns, but Edo Castle’s keep was destroyed in this fire. It was never rebuilt, but if you go to the Imperial Palace today, you can see the stone base of the tenshukaku.

the tenshukaku of edo castle as it looks today (tokyo imperial palace)

the tenshukaku of edo castle as it looks today (tokyo imperial palace)

2- 明和ノ大火 Meiwa no Taika (Meiwa Conflag)
1772

The names of these fires are derived from the 年号nengō, (Era Names). The Meiwa Era was, as eras go, pretty much a shit era. It began in 1764 and ended in 1772… a year so shitty in fact that the imperial court decided to change era names. But no dice. The next era was just as shitty.
Anyways, this fire pretty much sucked giant donkey balls. About 15,000 people perished. The cost of rebuilding Edo put a massive economic strain on the shōgunate.

meiwa fire

the meiwa fire

3- 文化ノ大火 Bunka no Taika (Bunka Conflag)
1806

I don’t know much about this fire, but from what I’ve read, it mostly just affected the elite of Edo. There are other fires not included in the Big Three list that had higher death tolls, but the elite wrote the history books, so… take that, stupid commoners.

fire in tokyo edo

ummm…

☆ That Crazy Bitch’s Fire
1683

There’s another very famous fire called 八百屋お七の火事 Yaoya O-shichi no Kaji (Yaoya O-Shichi’s Fire). This fire has been preserved in kabuki theater because of the tragic drama of the story, which goes a little something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a crazy bitch named O-shichi. During a major conflagration in 1682, she saw a good looking dude. She fell in love with him on the spot, as crazy bitches do. So a year later she got this fucking awesome idea that if she started another fire, she could meet him again. (Because just going to the place where he worked would be too commonsensical).

So she starts a fire – in Edo, which is still recovering from the last major fire.

Anyhoo, the bitch get caught and handed over to the local judge.
In the Edo Period, age 16 was considered an adult, under age 16, a minor.
As a minor, she would get a slap on the wrist and sent home to mommy and daddy.
As an adult, she would be burned at the stake.

The magistrate decided to give the girl a break — because obviously she was a fucking idiot and couldn’t even get a good fire going.
So he was all like, “You’re 15, right? Wink wink, nudge nudge.”
And she was all like, “Naw, I’m 16.”
He gave her another chance.
He was all like, “You are 15, right? Wink wink, nudge nudge.”
And she was all like, “Naw, I’m 16.”
And she was too fucking stupid to figure out what the judge was doing.

So he was all like, “Fuck it. Sometimes you just gotta burn a bitch.” And they burned her alive at the stake.

The official name of the major conflagration is 天和ノ大火 Ten’na no Taika, in keeping with the Era name and O-shichi’s fire was a separate incident, but since they happened in the same era, her fire is also called Ten’na no Taika. But here at Japan This!, we call it like it is: That crazy bitch’s fire.

crazy ass bitch

bitch you crazy!

☆ Conflagrations in the Modern City

After Edo was renamed Tokyo and Japan moved into the so-called “modern era,” there have been two major conflags in the big city.

The first disaster happened on September 1, 1923. The 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai (the Great Kantō Earthquake) rocked the region. The earthquake caused a lot of damage, as you can imagine. But the earthquake occurred at lunch time. People had fires in their homes for cooking and… well, fires and collapsing wooden buildings are a recipe for disaster. But as if that shit wasn’t sucky enough, a typhoon was rolling into Tokyo Bay at the same time and the strong winds created firestorms. Most of the Tokyo was leveled and burnt to the ground. About 105,385 people died, mostly in the fire. To make matters worse, there were some vigilante groups going around killing foreigners (in particular ethnic Koreans). Very nasty stuff, indeed.

On the bright side, Earthquake preparedness became a priority of the government. Since the 60’s September 1st has been Earthquake Preparedness Day. The city rebuilt, of course, encouraging non-wooden materials when possible.

So everything was fine and dandy until a little squabble known as WWII. The Americans firebombed the shit out of the city, destroying about 50% or more of the city and killing hundreds of thousands. The bombing again caused firestorms that ripped through the city. The number of deaths is usually quoted as 100,000 – but the number is debated by some historians who say this number is too low.
Anyways, a veritable fuckload of people died and the pictures aren’t pretty.

holy shit!

aerial view of one raid on tokyo

☆ After the Firebombing 

What sucks for me is that this was the final loss of “Edo.” In the post-war recovery, the city was heavily modernized across the board. The symbol of Edo, Edo Castle, was all but destroyed. If you go to the Imperial Palace today, you’ll see only a few remnants of what was the biggest and most luxurious castle in the country. The Imperial Family (read: “squatters”) never restored the castle to its former glory.

Very sad indeed.

fire is bad

fire is bad, mkay?

 

 

 

 

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