marky star

Posts Tagged ‘okubo’

What does Ōkubo mean?

In Japanese History on March 9, 2017 at 3:03 am

大久保
Ōkubo (“great long term protector,” more at “really low valley”)

station

Ōkubo Station. I’m having a flashback to a bad hookup from years ago…

In our recent trip around the stations of the Yamanote Line, we found ourselves at a certain station called 新大久保 Shin-Ōkubo, literally New Okubo. In that article, I decided to get into some racial/political musings, rather than focus on history. My rational was simple. I wanted to dedicate a whole article on this place name and the area’s history outside of the context of the train system. I also knew that it wasn’t going to be a short and sweet project.

This story is messy, though. I’m gonna do my best to present it in an organized fashion, but it’s probably gonna jump around a little bit. There are multiple narratives that intersect. And let’s be honest. Neither history nor linguistics are actually narratives. We just like to wrap them up in pretty packages and sell them as such because it’s just easier that way.

yotsuya

The Yotsuya Checkpoint

To start things off, I want to be clear that this area wasn’t Edo. West of Edo Castle was all suburbs. The first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, strategically relocated many of his 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers out here. He gave some of them extraordinarily large fiefs for their rank[i] and charged them with the defense of the roads coming into his capital. Very much a Sengoku Period general, he rightly assumed that attacks from the sea in the east would be unlikely, but a land based attack from the west could prove a threat[ii]. One of the main entrances to the city was the 四谷大木戸 Yotsuya Ōkido Yotsuya Checkpoint on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway which was in this area. This area, by the way, was known not as Edo, but as 武蔵国豊多摩郡 Musashi no Kuni Toyotama-gun Toyotama District, Musashi Province in those days[iii].

四谷大木戸跡碑.jpg

All thar remains of the Yotsuya Ōkido is… well, nothing remains of the Yotsuya Ōkido, but there is this stupid monument.

First, Let’s Look at the Kanji


ō, dai/tai

big, great


hisashii, ku/kyū

a long time


tamotsu, ho/

protect

This place name, while seemingly auspicious on the surface, is generally believed to have quite humble roots[iv]. You see, a river called the 蟹川 Kanigawa[v] used to flow through the area between Kabukichō 1-2 chōme 1st & 2nd blocks of Kabukichō and Shinjuku 6-7 chōme 6th & 7th blocks of Shinjuku[vi]. By their very nature, rivers tend to be in geographic depressions, which made this area good for farming, but prone to flooding[vii]. This part of Toyotama seems to have been no different. At the area dividing Nishi-Ōkubo West Ōkubo and Higashi-Ōkubo East Ōkubo, there was a particularly noticeable drop in elevation, an 大きな窪地 ōki na kubochi[viii], if you will. If the story is to be believed, the locals called it an 大窪地 ōkubochi which was eventually reduced to ōkubo.

tokyo-tower-5-colors

Shiki no Michi in Shinjuku

Do you know 四季の道 Shiki no Michi 4 Seasons Trail? That’s the tree-lined foot path that winds from 靖国通り Yasukuni Dōri to ゴールデン街 Gōruden Gai Golden-gai, one of the last remaining Shōwa Era shanty towns in Tōkyō. That tranquil part of Shinjuku is actually a short stretch of the old Kanigawa river course. So, next time you go to Golden-gai, impress your friends by dropping a little knowledge bomb on their asses[ix].

That Spelling, Tho.

Any of you living in Japan will have probably been thinking something this whole time: Ōkubo is a common Japanese family name, and furthermore this hypothetical 大窪 Ōkubo looks nothing like the name 大久保 Ōkubo.

And you would be correct, my friends. They’re nothing alike. What we’re most likely looking at here is another case of 当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic reasons, not meaning[x]. If the etymology given is true, that 2-kanji combination essentially means “mini-valley” or “crappy place at the bottoms of the hill that floods a lot.” It’s a terrible name for a place. On the hand, 大久保 Ōkubo “longtime protector” has a pretty good ring to it.

okubo clan family crest

Ōkubo clan coat of arms.

The name – common today – 大久保家 Ōkubo-ke Ōkubo Family is a distinctly samurai name of rather high pedigree[xi]. They were a branch of the 宇都宮氏 Utsunomiya-shi Utsunomiya Clan which could trace their lineage back to the 900’s. The founders of this new branch were among the most loyal retainers of 松平弘忠 Matsudaira Hirotada. In case you don’t recognize that name, he was the father of the first Edo shogun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu.

odawara castle okubo clan.jpg

Reconstructed Odawara Castle 2.0. Odawara Castle 1.0, controlled by the Late Hōjō clan was destroyed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s forces in 1590, which led to Tokugawa Ieyasu receiving most of Kantō as his fief. The castle is worth a visit if you’re on you’re way to Hakone.

Later, the Ōkubo clan served Ieyasu well. In fact, the second family head, a certain 大久保忠世 Ōkubo Tadayo, served in nearly all Ieyasu’s military campaigns and even commanded his corps of bodyguards. After Ieyasu had secured the title of shogun, he elevated Tadayo to daimyō status gave him 小田原藩 Odawara-han Odawara Domain[xii]. This meant the Odawara clan controlled the 箱根関所 Hakone Sekisho Hakone Check Point as well as 箱根山 Hakone Yama Mt. Hakone, a region famous in Japanese mythology and renowned for its natural hot springs, beautiful lakes and coastal areas.

Odawara, Mt. Hakone, and the Ōkubo clan have nothing to do with this suburb of Edo.

Or Do They?

No, they don’t. Well, not much.

mt hakone

Mt. Hakone

So, I started out telling you about what a dump the area was before the Edo Period. Then we talked about how some random daimyō family who spelled their name the same way the modern place name is spelled. I even added that they were fiercely loyal to the Tokugawa shōgunate. What I didn’t say was that the Ōkubo clan didn’t live anywhere near this area. In fact, to my knowledge there’s no direct connection between this area and the Ōkubo of Odawara. There are, however, some striking coincidences.

Further Reading:

nobunaga's armor

Warlord Oda Nobunaga’s real armor.

Ieyasu’s Bodyguards

With all of that in mind, let’s look at the story of the shōgun’s body guards. And unfortunately to do that, we’re gonna hafta look at some other events in history[xiii]. I’m assuming you know who 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga was, but if you don’t, please read about him here.

So, here we are, starting off at the most dramatic moments of the Sengoku Period. In 1582, the first of the three great unifiers of Japan, warlord Oda Nobunaga was surprise attacked by one of his one generals, a certain 明智光秀 Akechi Mitsuhide[xiv]. Nobunaga, like no general before him, was poised to consolidate the 天下 tenka realm[xv], or we can just say “the country.” Nobunaga seemed to have the whole country in his grasp… and then suddenly, he didn’t.

honno-ji.jpg

The attack at Honno-ji was apparently carried about by a bunch of dudes with shitty mustaches.

In a single act of treachery, Mitsuhide successfully attacked and killed[xvi] Nobunaga at 本能寺 Honnō-ji in 京都 Kyōto. In the ensuing chaos, Nobunaga’s closest generals dispersed to figure out what the fuck was going on. To this day, historians still speculate about Mitsuhide’s motivation.

Despite being victims of Nobunaga’s military power grabs, a small faction of samurai from 伊賀国 Iga no Kuni Iga Province and 甲賀郡 Kōka-gun Kōka District came to the aid of one of Nobubaga’s wiliest generals. When shit went down, these samurai from Iga and Kōka helped escort Tokugawa Ieyasu’s army from 堺 Sakai[xvii] back to their base in 岡崎Okazaki[xviii]. They used their local connections to lead the warlord to safety, quickly and quietly.

Further Reading:

Tokugawa_Ieyasu2.JPG

Ieyasu Becomes Shōgun

The Iga samurai served Ieyasu in several other military actions leading up to 1590, when the sitting imperial regent, or 関白 kanpaku, Hideyoshi granted Ieyasu rights to the 関八州 Kanhasshū 8 Kantō Provinces, which included a certain fortified village known as 江戸 Edo.
In autumn of that same year, Ieyasu transferred his most trusted retainers from his ancestral lands in 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province to Musashi Province and the surrounding areas. When he entered 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, he had a huge task ahead of him. Namely, to modernize the outdated castle – which was more of a fort than a castle. He also needed to make it reflect his status as one of the most powerful daimyō in Japan who controlled 8 massive eastern provinces. But for our story, he also brought the clans from Iga and Kōka[xix] to Edo.

These two groups are closely tied into the narrative of 忍者 ninja and 忍術 ninjutsu, the art of stealth[xx], but we’re not getting into the whole ninja thing today. Anyhoo, once they arrived in Edo, they were assigned to very specific jobs. First, they served as a security detail[xxi] of the burgeoning castle town. Certain members were made security guards within the 本丸 honmaru innermost citadel of the castle, including many of the gates lining the inner moats of the castle, the so called 丸之内 maru no uchi[xxii].

daimyo alley

Daimyo Alley is a street that still exists (unofficially) in Tōkyō’s Marunouchi district. This street runs from Sukiyabashi to Tōkyō Station. In the Edo Period, it went a bit farther than the Wadakura Gate to the Ōte Gate.

In those early years, these groups served as police forces within Edo Castle, which was – and I can’t say this enough – a city within a city. Some even served as guards to the innermost section of the honmaru, the 大奥 Ō-oku the women’s quarter[xxiii]. To my understanding, part of their job seems to have been internal espionage, searching for treasonous rumors and plots circulating among the 外様大名 tozama daimyo, the so-called “outer lords,”[xxiv] who were forced to stay in Edo as hostages of the shōgun under the earliest incarnation of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai or the policy of alternate attendance[xxv].

Iemitu.jpg

3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu had strong jaw muscles – all the better for you know what…

In 1642, the 3rd shogun 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu made sankin-kōtai a policy for all daimyo, including the 譜代大名 fudai daimyō, the “inner lords” who were considered the most loyal to the Tokugawa. At this same time, the Kōka samurai and Iga samurai were reorganized into special units called the 甲賀百人鉄砲隊 Kōka Hyakunin Teppō-tai[xxvi] and the 伊賀百人鉄砲隊 Iga Hyakunin Teppō-tai, the Kōka 100 Member Musket Corps and Iga 100 Member Musket Corps, respectively. In addition, there were 2 other squadrons, the 根来百人鉄砲隊 Negoro Hyakunin Teppō-tai Negoro 100 Member Musket Corps and the 二十五騎百人鉄砲隊 Nijūgoki Hyakunin Teppō-tai Nijūgoki 100 Member Musket Corps. In common parlance, all groups were referred to by the abbreviated term 百人組 Hyakunin-gumi 100 Men Corps.

Imperial Palace

The Hyakunin Bansho

The 4 squadrons of 100 men each took turns manning the 百人番所 Hyakunin Bansho, a modest checkpoint located between 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Ōtemon (the main gate) and the honmaru where the shōgun lived[xxvii]. Out of all the castle structures lost to fires, earthquakes, and war, it’s curious that this building survived. Furthermore, one can imagine that by the middle of great peace of the Edo Period, there was really no need for ninja of the sort that we see in video games or the occasional movie. I imagine the Hyakunin-gumi groups manning the Hyakunin Bansho to be like… well, have you ever gone onto a military base? There’s some dude in uniform, fully armed and trained who will check your ID and determine whether you’re a legit person to let on to the premises. That’s basically what happened at the Hyakunin Bansho. They were hereditary security guards.

zozyoji231 (1)

Former grandeur of the Tokugawa funerary temple Zōjō-ji in Shiba, near Tōkyō Tower.

Furthermore, whenever the shōgun and his entourage visited the family funerary temples of 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji and 増上寺 Zōjō-ji, it was the Hyakunin-gumi who guarded the entrances and exits of the temple complexes.

These four groups were garrisoned in present day Omotesandō, Aoyama, Harajuku, and Shinjuku. But it’s the squadron based in Shinjuku that is relevant to our narrative. This group was the Iga Hyakunin-gumi and they were based in Ōkubo. In fact, present day 新大久保駅 Shin-Ōkubo Eki Shin-Ōkubo Station is in 新宿区百人町一丁目 Shinjuku-ku Hyakunin-chō Icchōme 1st block of Hyakunin Town, Shinjuku Ward. It was in this area that the 100 Member Musket Corps lived their day to day lives.

Further Reading:

13402250_1054023804684587_824049163_n

The post town of Naitō Shinjuku

The Plot Thickens…

OK, I hate to do this, but let’s go back to 1590, when Ieyasu entered Edo with his retainers from Mikawa. As I mentioned before, he brought non-Mikawa samurai with him as well – the Kōka and Iga warriors being the case in point.

Ieyasu didn’t garrison these specialized groups willy-nilly. He, like his son and grandson, were extremely cautious and aware of the military strategies of the Sengoku Period. They left nothing to chance when it came to defense of their capital, having learned so much from the stupid mistakes of the losers of the Warring States Era.

The gunnery corps came to Edo when Ieyasu entered the city in 1590 and they were led by a certain 内藤清成 Naitō Kiyonari and 青山忠成 Aoyama Tadanari. They served as Ieyasu’s vanguard and also oversaw the manufacture of ammunition. He stationed the squad in 四谷 Yotsuya, the westernmost perimeter of Edo Castle, and ordered the construction of the residence of the 組頭 kumigashira commander of the Hyakunin-gumi in Ōkubo.

Longtime readers should recognize the name Naitō from the story of Shinjuku. The Naitō clan, originally mere retainers of the shogun, though later raised to daimyo status, were placed here – in the boonies – for a very strategic reason. Should Edo Castle be attacked and face imminent capitulation to an enemy, the Hyakunin-gumi were to escort the shōgun out of Edo Castle’s west-facing 半蔵御門 Hanzō Go-mon Hanzō Gate[xxviii] along the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway to 甲府城 Kōfu-jō Kōfu Castle in present day 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture. So, yeah. These guys were elite security guards in the heart of Edo Castle who lived out in the sticks, and they were entrusted with one of the single most important jobs an Edo Period samurai could have: protecting the shōgun in the event he needed to escape from his capital.

kofu castle

CG version of Kōfu Castle’s inner citadels superimposed over the modern city. It was way more rustic in those days.

They served the shōgunate until 1862, when the Hyakunin-gumi were decommissioned. Presumably this was the result of the government running out of money as it was collapsing. That said, certain members were still kept as a security detail. They just didn’t need all 400 of them anymore. Their weaponry was out of date and the traditional defense tactics were quickly becoming obsolete in light of all the new western technology. The last official act of the remaining Hyakunin-gumi was after the last shōgun 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu formally transferred power to the imperial court. At that time, he sent a group of them to Shizuoka to secure the route to what would eventually become his retirement estate.

Further Reading:

kabukicho

Kabukichō today…

Then and Now

If you said Ōkubo in the Edo Period, you were referring to a huge suburb that was composed of present day Kabukichō 2-chōme, Shinjuku 6-7-chōme, Ōkubo 1-2-3-chōme, Hyakunin-chō 1-2-3-chōme, Yochō Machi, and Nishi-Shinjuku 7-chōme. That’s a huge area. The Naitō clan, as mentioned earlier, were given a residence out here. Furthermore, the 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari Tokugawa Family had a property out here called the 戸山山荘 Toyama Sansō Toyama Hillside Retreat which was part of an elaborate garden they constructed.

hakoneyama.jpg

The peak of Shinjuku’s Mt. Hakone as it looks today

The garden featured a man made mountain commonly referred to as 箱根山 Hakone Yama Mt. Hakone because they fancied it a representation of the real Mt. Hakone… which, as also mentioned earlier, was just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Odawara, the fief of the Ōkubo. If you go to present day 戸山公園 Toyama Kōen Toyama Park, you’re standing on the ruins of the Owari Tokugawa’s 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence. If you go to the highest hill in the park, you’re standing on this so-called Mt. Hakone.

I can’t confirm this, but by at least one account I read that this is actually the highest hill in the 23 Wards of Tōkyō[xxix]. True or not, if anyone had the money to build a crazy artificial Mt. Hakone in the outskirts of Edo, it would’ve been the Owari Tokugawa[xxx].

yabusame

Located near the park is a shrine called 穴八幡宮 Ana Hachiman-gū. In the Edo Period, this was called 高田八幡宮 Takada Hachiman-gū. Long time readers of the blog should recognize the name Takada from 高田馬場 Takada no Baba the Takada Horse Grounds, which were located an easy walking distance from this area. Every October, the shrine puts on a 流鏑馬 yabusame horseback mounted archery festival in the park, where competitors dress in full samurai armor and race past a target at full speed and try to hit it. This was a totally unnecessary skill in the Edo Period, just as it is today, but dude… it looks so fucking bad ass. I highly recommend you check it out if you can.

Oh, and Toyama Park is famous among locals for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing and not famous among non-locals, which means it’s not so crowded. Apparently, it’s also a good spot for PokemonGO. Go figure.

Further Reading:

IMG_4527.jpg

Hmmmmm…

So this has been a lot to take in, right?

kanigawa river shinjuku

If you ever thought Golden-gai seemed like a dirty alley without a train, well, here’s your moment of zen.

I could have stuck to the “dumpy valley gets an upgrade via ateji that makes it sound not just noble, but like a retainer of the shogun” narrative. But, that’s not what I do, and the story is really much more nuanced – or at least has become more confused over the centuries. But I’ll put it this way: one would think that the Samurai Museum in the heart of Shinjuku’s red light district was out of place. But considering all this… it actually makes a lot of sense.

IMG_5094

Kaichū Inari Shrine

Strong Ties to Kaichū Inari

As mentioned before, all four 100 Men Squadrons were gunners by default. As such, they were expected to be expert shots.

The Hyakunin-gumi developed a close attachment to a certain shrine near their barracks. One night, an avatar of the god 稲荷大明神 Inari Daimyōjin appeared at the bedside of one of the samurai and gave him special talisman. The next day, while shooting at the archery range[xxxi], he hit every target perfectly. When the other samurai of his barracks saw this, they decided to have a shooting competition and passed the talisman around. Everyone one hit every single target without fail.

last samurai bullshit

Many people believe samurai rejected guns until Tom Cruise introduced them to the country in “The Last Samurai.”

It’s a Freakin’ a Miracle! 

The surrounding villagers heard the story of the Hyakunin-gumi becoming experts at archery and gunnery overnight, and naturally wanted to get in on the action. Who doesn’t want to be a winner? They came to pray to Inari at the shrine and in time came to call the 神 kami diety 皆中之稲荷 Kaichū no Inari which can also be read as Mina Ataru no Inari Hitting all the Targets Inari or Everyone’s Bulls Eye Inari. For non-samurai, and for modern people, this shrine became associated with gambling. Unironically, there’s a large pachinko parlor right around the corner. I’m sure that’s good for the shrine business of selling お守り o-mamori talismans[xxxii].

omamori

Hyakunin-gumi talisman from Kaichū Inari Shrine

In patronage to Kaichū Inari Shrine, the Iga Hyakunin-gumi often gave gifts to the priests, mainly firearms. The shrine, which was much larger back then, amassed a sizeable and valuable collection of expensive weapons over the course of the Edo Period. Unfortunately, all of the shrine complex except for the main structure was destroyed in the Firebombing of Tōkyō by American forces in WWII. Their priceless collection of muskets donated by the Hyakunin-gumi and many documents and other items related to the squad went up in flames.

tsutsuji.jpg

Azaleas. You probably didn’t see this coming…

Azaleas

As if there aren’t enough layers to this story, I’m gonna hafta talk about flowers. When the Naitō clan and the Hyakunin-gumi were transferred out to these suburbs at the beginning of the Edo Period, there were wild 躑躅 tsutsuji azaleas growing everywhere. While many of the gunnery corps were living in barracks, a good deal had proper residences and cultivated azaleas in their private gardens[xxxiii]. Public spaces where azaleas grew were also well known by the end of the Edo Period, and the streets were lined with these colorful flowers. In fact, a few years after 大久保駅 Ōkubo Eki Ōkubo Station opened in 1895 – 1899 (Meiji 32), to be precise – the emperor visited the area to enjoy the azaleas. Doing what emperors do, he wrote a poem:

まがねしく
maganeshiku
道のひらけて
michi no hirakete
つつじ見に
tsutsuji mi ni
ゆく人おほし
yuku hito ohoshi
大久保の里
Ōkubo no sato

Ōkubo Village
where so many people go
to see tsutsuji
developing into
iron roads to the future

I’m not even going to pretend to have translated that poem well[xxxiv]. But the emperor was referring to Japan’s modernization, which he was the figurehead of – rather than the shogun. So, there’s a propaganda aspect to this poem[xxxv], but it’s overall positive and I think it has a sort of conciliatory tone – one that reflects the new imperial governments acceptance of poor and middle class samurai back into fold.

His poem talks about the blooming azaleas, a clear reference to the country opening up to the world and starting a new national venture. As the emperor, this kind of message was crucial to the common people who had no say in the politics of the day, those people who were just being dragged along for the ride. He also uses the word 開ける hirakeru which literally means “to be opened up” or “improve,” but has a secondary meaning of “to become civilized” or “become enlightened.”

Ōkubo was the boonies, but now it was becoming a major section of the new capital. The azalea business was booming because now people could sell them[xxxvi]. Metal was part of the path to the future, it was also the tool and trade of the samurai living in the area. They gave up their iron guns which gave them power to a new world order where iron train tracks connected the country as it had never been before. It put Japan in the same company as western countries that had blossoming economies based on railroads.

You have to admit, the emperor was pretty slick in his wording.

mural

Mural of the Hyakunin-gumi near Shin-Ōkubo Station.

So Where’s This Awesome Shooting Range Today?

By now you’ve probably assumed the shooting range doesn’t exist anymore, as the story usually goes in Tōkyō. And, sadly, you would be correct. It’s long gone.

But actually, not as long gone as you might think.

If you’ve been reading this long, convoluted story up to this point, then you remember that there were horse riding and archery grounds in the area that’s now called Takada no Baba. A short distance from there, near present day Toyama Park[xxxvii], there used to be wide open fields called the 戸山ヶ原 Toyama ga Hara Toyama Fields. This is where the Takada Horse Grounds were, and it’s also where the Hyakunin-gumi had their shooting range.

aerial.jpg

This aerial shot gives you an idea of the size of the shooting range.

After the Meiji Coup, the plot of land was appropriated by the Imperial Army to be used as a… wait for it… shooting range. New recruits to the army also practiced marching here. Because marching. Yay 🙄

Under the new regime, the 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Great Empire of Japan, the space was expanded under the general term of the 戸山ヶ原陸軍射撃場 Toyamagahara Rikugun Shageki-ba Toyamagahara Shooting Range. Another name for the same facility was the 大久保小銃射撃場 Ōkubo shōjūshageki-ba Ōkubo Shooting Range[xxxviii].

shooting tunnels

Shooting tunnels in Toyamagahara

By the WWII era, the site was characterized by its very unique architectural design – namely, the 射撃隧道 shageki zuidō shooting tunnels. These were long, semicircular, hangar-esque tunnels designed for practicing marksmanship. I’m not sure why the tunnel shape were necessary… perhaps someone with a military background could explain. I’m guessing, if you’re doing target practice, maybe it’s best to do it without the sun in your eyes, and if you shoot inside a tunnel, the noise doesn’t disturb the neighbors, but I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure. Any insight is appreciated.

Anyhoo, these tunnels were a part of the local landscape for years. Obviously, they were abandoned during the American Occupation, as the Imperial Army was abolished in that time. But the site didn’t just disappear overnight in 1945. In fact, the site stood there for about 20 more years, and the derelict shooting tunnels showed up as a location in the 1961 film, 夕陽に赤い俺の顔 Yūhi ni Akai Ore no Kao Killers on Parade.

The shooting range remained intact until 1967, when the derelict site – essentially a 廃墟 haikyo ghost town – was torn down in order to build the new main campus for 早稲田大学 Waseda Daigaku Waseda University. The school wasn’t new, it was actually established in 1882. But the new campus re-invigorated the university in the post war era, and it helped expand the growth in this old suburb of Edo.

waseda.jpg

Waseda cheerleaders

In Conclusion

So, we had a place name that just referred to what was essentially a flood plain. Whether that’s true or not, at some point people started writing it with a noble family’s name. Is there any connection between the Ōkubo clan and this Ōkubo? I don’t think so, but maybe some of the samurai stationed in this area, including the Owari Tokugawa clan might have preferred writing it a certain way.

All of that said… we can’t know. And what makes this story so interesting is all of the great stories surround the area. This is why the history of Edo-Tōkyō is so great. Even if we can’t pinpoint the etymological source of a place name, sometimes we can just bask in the area’s rich history.

3961928087_355c4bf95f_o

Historical re-enactment of the Hyakunin-gumi. Photo by friend Rekishi no Tabi. Check him out on Flickr for more cool pix of Japanese history and culture.

 

Help Support JapanThis!

Follow JapanThis! on Twitter
JapanThis! on Facefook
JapanThis! on Flickr
JapanThis! on Instagram
Support Support Every Article on Patreon
Donate via Paypal (msg via Facebook)
Donate with BitCoin (msg via Facebook)
Explore Edo-Tōkyō Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

 

 


[i] It was the boonies, so land was cheap, I guess.
[ii] It didn’t. But the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 which resulted in Ieyasu’s elevation to shogun can be seen as a battle between east and west. Ironically, it was agitators from the southwest of Japan – descendants of the western losers – who marched to Edo in 1868 to finish off the Tokugawa hegemony.
[iii] Toyotama District referred to parts of modern day 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward, 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward, 杉並区 Suginami-ku Suginami Ward, 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward.
[iv] But, as with many of our etymologies, is shrouded in mystery.
[v] Literally “crab river.” I couldn’t find any etymology info on the river.
[vi] You know 四季の道 Shiki no Michi the 4 Seasons Road, the windy tree-lined footpath that leads to ゴールデン街 Gōruden Gai Golden-gai? That’s part of the old Kanigawa course. The river was covered up so it could be used for cable car service, when that was discontinued, this area became a park. You can still walk the course of the river as its preserved as windy road running through Shinjuku.
[vii] This meant when Ieyasu & Co. arrived in Edo, garrisoning high ranking samurai in this area was problematic. This probably accounts for the granting of such large fiefs to non-daimyō in the area. The large land grants were incentives. A famous case is the Naitō clan.
[viii] Literally, a “big geographic depression.”
[ix] If you wanna take it to the next level, you can tell them this. Later, the river was covered up so it could be used for tram service. However, when that was discontinued, this area became a park.
[x] What is ateji? For those of you late to the party, here ya go!
[xi] To my understanding, it’s the 150th most common name with at least 138,000 people currently using it. Sure, it’s no 佐藤 Satō, 鈴木 Suzuki, 高橋 Takahashi, 田中 Tanaka, or 伊藤 Itō, but it’s still common. And yes, those are the top 5 Japanese surnames in descending order.
[xii] Ōkubo Tadayo’s father, 大久保忠員 Ōkubo Tadakazu, was given the castle by Ieyasu.
[xiii] And there’s a lot of “ninja” bullshit in this story and I’m going to try to not get bogged down in the whole ninja thing. #ihateninjas
[xiv] For right or wrong reasons, a name that rings in Japanese ears almost the same way Benedict Arnold does for Americans.
[xv] 天下 tenka – I use this term as a way to describe the potential unification of the samurai families and the families of the imperial court.
[xvi] Whether Mitsuhide’s army actually killed Nobunaga is unknown. Legend has it that Nobunaga killed himself and had the building he was staying in torched to prevent the taking of his head – taking of heads was a traditional samurai practice. Whether he was killed, killed himself, or was trapped in a burning building and died will never be known.
[xvii] Near 大阪 Ōsaka.
[xviii] In modern 愛知県 Aichi-ken Aichi Prefecture.
[xix] Who were not from his home province of Mikawa. Iga is in modern day 三重県 Mie-ken Mie Prefecture and Kōka is in present day 滋賀県 Shiga-ken Shiga Prefecture.
[xx] To my best understanding, ninja were just spies who happened to hold samurai rank. But because #iHateNinjas, it’s not so important to our narrative.
[xxi] Like a police force.
[xxii] Today, Marunouchi and Otemachi are the main remnants of these palace areas, and the outer moats don’t exist anymore.
[xxiii] Usually translated here and there as “the shōgun’s harem,” but this is a bit of an overstatement.
[xxiv] The daimyō who opposed Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara and were forced to pledge fealty to him after his victory.
[xxv] You can read more about sankin-kōtai here.
[xxvi] Often rendered as Kōga Hyakunin-gumi when referring to ninja stuff for some reason.
[xxvii] Today, this is part of the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace.
[xxviii] 服部半蔵 Hattori Hanzō, an Iga native himself, was ordered to build a residence outside of this western gate. He handpicked the original iteration of the Iga Hyakunin-gumi.
[xxix] Like I said, I can’t confirm, but I’d love to see a good elevation map of Tōkyō to prove/disprove this remarkable claim.
[xxx] They were part of the 御三家 Go-sanke, the 3 Great Families who could provide a shōgunal heir by adoption, should the main Tokugawa line fail to produce a first-born son. Despite being – or perhaps, in spite of being of being – the richest of the 3 Great Families, the Owari Tokugawa were never tapped to produce an acceptable candidate for shōgun when the 御本家 go-honke main branch died out. Which happened twice. Anyways, suffice it to say, they had mad fuck you money and carried that tradition straight from the Edo Period right down to today.
[xxxi] The accounts are unclear as to whether he was practicing archery or riflery. My gut instinct says archery. I think the riflery allusions come from the Bakumatsu Period and Meiji Period.
[xxxii] Or is it talismen? (笑)
[xxxiii] Whether they were actually doing the gardening themselves is unclear. While they could have done gardening on their own property as a hobby is a possibility, I imagine most had servants/employees who did the dirty work. This was clearly just the Edo Period version of suburban Americans taking pride in their lawns.
[xxxiv] It’s not a literal translation by any stretch of the imagination. I was more concerned with conveying the meaning, the simplicity, and the 5-7-5-7-7 meter.
[xxxv] And I don’t blame him for it, actually. The rebels from Satsuma Domain, Chōshū Domain, and other treacherous domains forced the Meiji Emperor into the position of being a kind of logo or mascot for the new government. That said, dude was good at dragging archaic poetic forms into the new age. I gained a new respect for the Meiji Emperor after reading this poem. It has a depth I didn’t expect.
[xxxvi] Samurai weren’t technically allowed to sell things commercially under the shōgunate.
[xxxvii] The Mt. Hakone place…
[xxxviii] There are various combinations of these words, but all of them describe the same place.

Yamanote Line: Shin-Ōkubo

In Japanese History on May 12, 2016 at 5:52 pm

新大久保
Shin-Ōkubo

koiu eki na no da.jpg

こういう駅なんだなw

Welcome back to my series exploring Tōkyō’s famous Yamanote Line. So far we’ve visited 9 stations. That means we have 20 more stations to go![i]

Due to the nature of JapanThis!, one of the benefits of doing a series on loop train lines that go around the old city is that chances are I’ve already written about most of these places. I can give a few details here, point out an old article if you want more details, and move on to the next topic.

However, I’m sad to say that I haven’t yet covered 大久保 Ōkubo or its more famous cousin 新大久保 Shin-Ōkubo. It’s been put on the “to do list” for 2016, so I’ll give it an in depth exposé worthy of the area later. We’ll get into all the history then. I promise. But for today, we’re just going scratch the surface of the area immediately surrounding 新大久保駅 Shin-Ōkubo Eki, literally “New Ōkubo Station.”

Like other Japanese place names such as 中野 Nakano and 新中野 Shin-Nakano or 大阪 Ōsaka and 新大阪 Shin-Ōsaka, this 新~ shin- means “new” and is generally affixed to the names of bus stops and train stations to differentiate it from the original station. Yes, there is an Ōkubo Station that opened in 1895 (Meiji 28), but Shin-Ōkubo Station opened in 1914 (Taishō 3), ergo “New Ōkubo Station.”

There’s no history in this article. History geeks will have to wait until the official Shin-Ōkubo article comes out. Well, that’s not totally true, but…. you’ll see what I mean if you read to the end. I also think some people are going to get pissed off about some things I’m going to say.

korea town tokyo.jpg

You’ve spent some time learning Japanese and suddenly you’re presented with Hangul (Korean script) and you can’t read a word of it. No worries.

If I Get Off the Train at Ōkubo Station, What Can I Expect?

You can expect Korea Town.

k pop goods.jpg

Korea Town?

Did I stutter? Yes, Korea Town. There are quite a few areas in Tōkyō that could be considered Korea Towns, but the largest, most famous, and most deeply entrenched Korea Town is without a doubt Shin-Ōkubo.

jk relations.jpg

But I Thought Korea and Japan Hated Each Other…

I dunno, maybe their governments and some nationalistic fucksticks do, but open-minded and internationally-minded people in both countries generally feel a cultural bond[ii].  In fact, Korean food is extremely popular in Japan and Japanese food is extremely popular in Korea. But, while there are plenty of excellent Korean restaurants in Tōkyō, ground zero for all things Korean is Shin-Ōkubo[iii].

 

korean plastic surgery - possibly racist

Korea is famous for its widespread cultural acceptance (and some argue encouragement) of plastic surgery.

Where’d All These Korean Folks Come From?

When the Japanese Empire occupied 朝鮮 Chōsen Joseon (what is now modern South Korea and North Korea[iv]), many Koreans emigrated by force or by choice to Japan. However, after Tōkyō’s destruction by American firebombing raids at the end of WWII, many ethnic Korean families chose to stay and helped rebuild this section of Tōkyō and planted firm roots in the area. The result was a peculiarly Korean neighborhood that maintained a strong ethnic identity and generally manifested as a cluster of Korean restaurants, Korean speaking Japanese residents, Korean schools[v], and an access point to Korean media in the form of music, TV, and film.

kusanagi_kaiken

裸になって、何が悪い? It’s a timeless question…

When I first came to Japan in 2003, this was kind of a quiet area famous for Korean food – 삼겹살 samgyeopsal Korean BBQ, in particular[vi]. A few years later, there was a boom in Korean soft culture. Korean dramas, movies, and eventually pop music got huge in Japan. Restaurants got television spots and then Shin-Ōkubo became the place to go. For a time, it seemed like every other week, 草彅剛 Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, arguably one the most irritating members of the irritating boy band, SMAP, was on TV visiting restaurants in Shin-Ōkubo and giving his opinions about them. His Korean is apparently impeccable – he’s even interviewed a South Korean president – and every restaurant he gave a thumbs up to became an instant hot spot. The once sleepy Korea Town became one of the hottest spots for Tōkyōites who wanted to get as close as they could to Korea while they saved up to buy airplane tickets for the 2 hour flight to go to Real Korea. Restaurants that once had people on the street trying to drag in customers, now had 1-2 hour waiting lists and no reservation policies[vii]. The average Japanese person on the street, especially the average middle aged woman, was in love with Korea. Never mind what the asshole politicians were saying, the average person was enamored with Korea. Korean language schools were booming. Korean models, idols, and even history became a big thing here.

육개장

육개장 (Yukgaejang) is one of the most delicious soups in the world. High 5, Korea!

 

Trends are trends. Bubbles are bubbles. And politics, nationalism, and buffoonery run rampant all over this fine planet of ours. Korea was all the rage in Japan. That is until it wasn’t.

More precisely, until conservative agitators in Korea started playing the victim card and pointed at a contested territory – more like a quickly eroding cluster of rocks in the ocean, actually – bringing up an old claim that these “islands” were Korean and Japan was trying to hold on to its empire by claiming these “islands.”[viii] And I can’t blame Korea only. As soon as Korea started bitching, the conservatives in Japan’s government also started bitching.

abe shinzo 魚顔.jpg

魚顔 (sakana-gao) “fish face” is a apparently a requirement for Japanese parliament. That and having  a war criminal grandfather.

I’m keeping this territory dispute minimal because it’s super fucking boring. However, these grumblings happened around the same time China was grumbling about another cluster of contested rocks in the ocean[ix]. Both of these issues came up a lot in the mainstream Japanese news and the whole China/Korea/Japan bickering about shit that happened before most people born in Asia ever lived reached fever pitch. China sucks at exporting soft culture because, well, it’s China and it’s better at forging and plagiarizing than innovation. Korea, on the other hand, has a total cottage industry – learned from Japan – centered on pop culture, music, and visual media. In short, Japanese people aren’t interested in Chinese soft culture, but they couldn’t get enough Korean soft culture. This meant that when the territorial disputes flared up again, many people in Japan felt betrayed by Korea or became disinvested in Korean pop culture. Up to this point, many people had looked the other way while anti-Japanese conservatives from Korea were pushing to change the name of the Sea of Japan to the East Sea[x]. But that’s just one example.

liancourt.jpg

The Liancourt Rocks, as you can see, are just a cluster of stupid rocks.

It’s debatable, but I’d argue that the tipping point came when a certain South Korean soccer player named 박종우 Park Jong-woo got cocky during the 2012 Olympics and made a political statement violating Olympic rules by holding up a banner that basically said “The Liancourt Islands are Korean.” Park’s actions didn’t cause the Korea Town Boom to come crashing down, but it happened at a time when the political climate among Japan, Korea, and China were spiraling down, down, down. The Korean soft culture bubble had probably already burst, but this soccer player’s irresponsible behavior on a truly international stage and in direct conflict with the Olympics’ message of global peace and fair competition wasn’t lost on Japanese consumers. Consumers voted with their wallets.

korea nationalism soccer stupid.jpg

Meaningless rocks in the ocean. I’m all about that! (I also lost my shirt)

At the peak of the boom, K-Pop idols were releasing Korean and Japanese language editions. Korean performers weren’t just touring Japan regularly; they were participating in K-Pop festivals that brought all of the top Korean groups together in elaborate showcases. These days, only a handful of groups produce Japanese language editions – there isn’t any demand for them anymore. Korean TV dramas, originally fodder for lonely Japanese housewives and spinsters but later the preferred genre for females of all ages, have once again become a niche style associated with lonely women in their 30’s-40’s.

Thanks For All the Racism, But What Does This Have To Do With Shin-Ōkubo?!

Right, so let’s reframe everything I’ve told you because I don’t want people to finish reading this article and think, “Goddammit, Asia is fucking racist as fuck[xi].” I also don’t want you to think that Japan and Korea (and China, for that matter) are sworn enemies with fickle and petty feelings about each other[xii]. Governments are to blame. Media is to blame. And yeah, some individuals are to blame. The thing that I want to point out is that, Japan fully embraced Korean pop culture to such an extent that Korean record labels and production companies were customizing and localizing everything with Japan as a priority. Some K-Pop idol groups like 2NE1, were being promoted by Korean media as the next big global music phenomenon. Korea was huuuuuuuge for a few years, not only in Japan – but Japan was a portal from which K soft culture spilled over to the west like a metaphorical retweet. And in those years, getting into a good restaurant in Shin-Ōkubo on a weekend was a struggle.

I like some K-Pop, but I can get that stuff online. I also love Korean food, but that’s something I can’t download. When the bubble burst, Korea Town became accessible again. Shin-Ōkubo started to become cool again – old school cool. I wouldn’t have recommended this neighborhood 5 years ago, but I think it’s safe for me to say it’s worth checking out again these days.

 

Please Support My Blog

Follow me on Twitter
Follow me on Facebook
Follow me on Flickr

If you’re gonna be in Japan, let’s take a history tour together!
JapanThis! – Tours for History Nerds

Most Importantly:
You can donate and become a patron to support every new article
⇨ Click Here to Donate via Patreon ⇦
(this is the preferred method)

Paypal fans can contact me here

Bitcoin enthusiasts can also donate:
Ƀ: 1HsKqFBVbyKTwMF3rzCprdw7aYv13fbi2A

 

_______________________
[i] Actually, by 2020, there will be 30 stations. I’ll create a place marker article so we can discuss that when it happens.
[ii] Any animosity between the 2 countries tends to do with history as Japan took Korea and made it part of the 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Empire of Japan. Easy to see why Korea may have some animosity.
[iii] But here’s a little secret for those of you who actually read the footnotes. The Embassy of South Korea is located in Minami Azabu and there is a small Korean supermarket and restaurant there that is famous for being authentic to the point of being boring to Koreans because it’s so authentic. Haven’t tried myself, but I’ve seen it and, yeah, it looks legit.
[iv] In Japanese, North Korea is called 北朝鮮 Kita Chōsen North Joseon using the old name, while South Korea is called 韓国 Kankoku, these reflect the names each modern country uses for itself.  Neither country thinks of itself as “North Korea” or “South Korea” – rather they are just the real Korea and the other is a poseur. North Korea uses the old name (which Japan also uses), 조선 Chosŏn (Chōsen in Japanese, Romanized as Joseon). South Korea uses 한국 Hanguk (Kankoku in Japanese, Romanized the same way).
[v] Including some with North Korean leanings.
[vi] Samgyeopsal is essentially 焼肉 yaki niku grilled meat, but Korean style. There’s some debate about whether samgyeopsal and yaki niku are the same thing. Personally, I don’t care. They’re both yummy and the Japanese version is clearly influenced by the Korean style, but it’s definitely not dependent on it.
[vii] Unless you booked a month or more in advance!
[viii] These useless, crappy sea rocks are called the Liancourt Rocks in English, 竹島 Takeshima Bamboo Islands in Japanese, and 독도 Dokdo Isolated Islands in Korean. In case I haven’t be clear enough, let me reiterate these are just a bunch of stupid rocks.
[ix] These being another cluster of stupid rocks claimed by not only Japan and China, but also Taiwan. Taiwan itself being claimed by China while claiming itself as independent.  The islands are called the 尖閣諸島 Senkaku Shotō Senkaku Islands in Japanese, 钓鱼岛及其附属岛屿 Diàoyúdǎo jí qí fùshǔ dǎoyǔ in China, and 釣魚台列嶼 Diàoyútái liè yǔ in Taiwan. They have an English name, the Pinnacle Islands, but most English maps label them with the Japanese name, the Senkaku Islands.
[x] Essentially, a move to theoretically emasculate Japan in Asia. The logic is that Japan is an island east of the Asian continent and not part of Asia. Admittedly, some conservative Japanese don’t consider Japan part of Asia (and those people tend to use “Asia” as a derogative term). But let’s be honest, Korean Konservatives just wants to re-define the water between Korea and Japan as the East Sea to emphasize East of Asia = East of Korea and China and 100% not Japan.
[xi] Sure, there are some racists in Asia. There are racists everywhere, unfortunately. Asia isn’t unique in this sense.
[xii] This argument could be made lol. But I think it’s too simple.

%d bloggers like this: