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Posts Tagged ‘omori’

Shinagawa Station – Then and Now

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on October 11, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I haven’t updated in a while, so please accept my apologies. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment but there is an article in the works. That said, an idea came to me while on the shitter thinking about Edo Bay vs. Tōkyō Bay (as one does). So I thought I’d share a bunch of cool pictures of Shinagawa.

Sorry for the poor quality, I took the picture from a book. Left side is Edo Period. Right side is today.

Sorry for the poor quality, I took the picture from a book.
Left side is Edo Period. Right side is today.

In the Edo Period, the Shinagawa/Takanawa area was a collection of bustling seaside villages, but compared to castle town of Edo, it was quite rural. It was the literal edge of Edo. The Tōkaidō, a highway connecting the shogun’s capital in Edo with emperor’s capital in Kyōto, began in Nihonbashi and the first post town (rest town) was Shinagawa. The men leaving the capital could a decent meal, take care of any drinking and whoring they needed to get out of their system, and hob nob with samurai from various domains (which was arguably illegal). The men coming into the capital could get a decent meal, get their garments cleaned or pick up something new, take care of any drinking and whoring they needed to get out of their system, and any other final arrangements before entering the shōgun’s capital[i]. Shinagawa’s growth was a byproduct of sankin-kōtai, the Edo Period system of “alternate attendance.”

Arguably the most famous image of Shinagawa ever. If you walk the old Tokaido today, you can walk this same road but there is no water anywhere in sight today.

Arguably the most famous image of Shinagawa ever. If you walk the old Tokaido today, you can walk this same road but there is no water anywhere in sight today.

In the Meiji Era, the Tōkaidō was the obvious route for a new railroad. Connecting Edo→Tōkyō with Ōsaka and Kyōto was necessary and preserved the life of many villages by pulling them into the fold of Meiji Japan’s “modernization” efforts. The modern bay area was built up bit by bit since the Meiji Era, but the bulk of construction took place in the post WWII years. By the time of the Tōkyō Olympics in 1964 shit was out of control. Today, Edo’s shoreline is long gone. A few place names preserve its memory— a river channel here and there survive along the old coastline. But for better or worse, Tōkyō Bay is completely different animal than the former Edo Bay.

The former shoreline roughly follows the modern day JR tracks, ie; the Yamanote Line.

Early Meiji ukiyo-e of Shinagawa Station. I think this picture isn't accurate, but it shows a man-made wave breaker that you can see on the Edo Period map.

Early Meiji ukiyo-e of Shinagawa Station. I think this picture isn’t accurate, but it shows a man-made wave breaker that you can see on the Edo Period map.

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

This was Tokyo's beach at one time.  All I think is... tsunami disaster waiting to happen. So glad that never happened.

This was Tokyo’s beach at one time.
All I think is… tsunami disaster waiting to happen. So glad that never happened. Also notice the stone walls. Love Edo Period stone wall work!

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Shinagawa Station. On the sea. Note the breakwater out there. I wish this photo was in color.

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Steam locomotive pulling into Shinagawa Station. The coastline is beautiful. But those boats on the water. I’m way more intrigued by them!

Shinagawa Station in the late 19th century, with the Tokyo Bay shore visible immediately next to the station

This is a different scan of one of the photos from above. It’s amazing how much of a normal beach Edo Bay was. Today, most of Tokyo Bay is deep.

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Maybe your last view of Edo Bay before it REALLY becomes Tokyo Bay.

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Shinagawa today. The right side of the train tracks is the former bay

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[i] By the way, a walk from Nihonbashi to Shinagawa is not a day’s walk. Today you can make the walk in less than 2 hours – but that’s with paved roads. If you were moving in a large group, the pace of walking was formalized; you were a kind of regularly occurring parade, especially near the major villages and cities. My guess is the rate that the palanquin bearers could comfortable carry their passenger determined the pace. I’m guessing that at a leisurely pace from Nihonbashi to Shinagawa in old style shoes, on old style roads, it could easily take double that time… maybe triple. And surely, you’d be hungry.

A Visit to the Omori Kaizuka

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on May 17, 2014 at 6:24 am

大森貝塚
Ōmori Kaizuka Omori Shell Mound

The other day I wrote about Ōmori and I mentioned that there was a paleolithic trash dump there that was the first archaeological dig in Japan. I had a little free time so I decided to check it out and take some pictures for the site. Actually, it was a lot less interesting than I thought it would be, but I don’t want the pictures to go to waste. Hopefully, there’s some interesting stuff in here for you.

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Near Omori Station there is a monument commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the discovery and excavation of the shell mound.

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Plaque describing Edward Morse’s contribution to Japanese archaeology and anthropology.

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Today, the site of the shell mound is a quiet park.

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After passing through the gate you walk up a hill (it was a “mound” after all).

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For some reason there was an English sign. This is the only English at the site.

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A panoramic shot of the excavation site. (Click to enlarge).
The structure in the background seems to be a reinforcement of the side of the shell mound. If you walk around it, you can actually go up to the top and get a feel for how tall the mound actually is. I’ll explain the water in the middle later.

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A statue of Edward Morse looking at some Jomon pottery.

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An old plaque commemorating the site. Note the Japanese is written left to right as it was before the American Occupation.

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Morse first noticed the mound when he passed by it on his way to Yokohama. Today the Keihin-Tohoku Line tracks are right next to the mound – the train line name means “Tokyo-Yokohama.”

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Then a train passed by.

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Omori means “Great Forest” and the area is still wooded today.

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View from the top of the mound. Notice the train passing by below.

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The reinforcing wall serves as a rest area. There are chairs and the walls are decorated with shells.

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Every so often mist comes up from the ground in the center of the chill out area.

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Very interesting!

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Across from Omori Station I stumbled across a shrine called Sanno Hie Shrine. Check out my article on Tameike-Sanno for a little background on another shrine with the same name. This gave me a great idea for an article.

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A view of some stone lanterns and the washbasin for ritual purification and the main building.

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There were two smaller shrines to the left of the main hall.

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And there they are.

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Komainu

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My Ii Naosuke t-shirt always gets lots of strange looks.

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This is a massive ginkgo tree that 3rd shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu planted in 1641 at Shiba Toshogu.

What does Omori mean?

In Japanese History on May 13, 2014 at 5:39 pm

大森
Ōmori
(great forest, big forest)

The Omori Kaigan Swimming Area (pre-war)

The Omori Kaigan Swimming Area (pre-war) It’s interesting how Tokyoites preferred a drop into the ocean from a man-made structure, rather than a natural beach. We have no natural beaches in Tokyo today.

So in my last article, I returned to 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward for the first time in maybe a year. Well, technically that’s not true. We got close when I talked about the 5 Great Roads of Edo and Suzugamori Execution Ground. But for the most part, we haven’t hung out in this part of town for a while.

It’s kind of shame, too.

“Why?” you ask.

Because, as I said the other day, the area is literally littered with history. I’ve walked this area countless times over the last 10 years and I haven’t even scratched the surface. While it’s not as well preserved as Kyōto, Shinagawa is one of those areas that – like Kyōto – you can come back to time and time again and always find something new. The main difference is that Kyōto gives up her past easily. Shinagawa plays hard to get. You really have to know what you’re looking for.

 

Hijikata Toshizo was here. So was everyone else and their uncle.  The Tokaido Highway was the main artery in and out of the city.

Hijikata Toshizo was here.
So was everyone else and their uncle.
The Tokaido Highway was the main artery in and out of the city.

 

Oh, for fuck’s sake! I just remembered Ōmori is in 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward not  品川区 Shinagawa Ward. Goddammit! Arrrrrrgh!!!!!!! Well, anyways, it’s part of the coastal area that was called 品川沖 Shinagawa-oki, an ambiguous term that in the Edo Period could refer to a coastline or the open sea or, well, just the sea.

OK, let me catch my breath and calm down for a second. In all fairness, I guess it doesn’t really matter because Shinagawa and Ōta border each other – and in the Edo Period, there would have been no distinction made between the two places. In fact, the closest station to the ruins of Suzugamori Execution Ground is called 大森海岸駅 Ōmori Kaigan Eki, literally Ōmori Coast Station but that area is still in Shinagawa Ward.

Anyhoo, this place was a coastal 田舎 inaka rural area and was well outside of central Edo. So let’s imagine what we might have found in the outskirts of Edo that existed around Edo Bay, shall we?

The Tokaido literally hugged the coast.

The Tokaido literally hugged the coast.
Oh, and 下に居ろ, muthafucka!

What comes to mind are things like… execution grounds, fishing villages, and trees. Lots and lots of trees. Which brings me to my next point. Japan is a 島国 shimaguni island country, but it’s not a tropical island. Japan is mountainous and heavily forested in her most beautiful areas. These forests often extended right up to the coastline, for the most part[i]. For much of the Edo Period, this area was still heavily wooded.

An Edo/Meiji Era tea house  on the Omori Coast. Don't mistake this for a place to do tea ceremony.

An Edo/Meiji Era tea house on the Omori Coast. Don’t mistake this for a place to do tea ceremony. Nope, it’s for drinking and whoring.

So Let’s Take a Look at the Kanji!


ō

big, great, large


mori

forest

So from this we can recognize that exactly the kind of natural, wooded area we would expect to find in the Edo Period was here. It was country. It was covered in trees. Normal. This is a literal place name – without a doubt: The “big-ass forest.”

I tend to err on the Japanese side these days.. Beards are dirty.  This dude's hair is fine, but's up with that beard? Go back to Afghanistan! lololol

What’s up with that filthy beard, Edward Morse?

 

There’s another interesting twist to this story, though.

Edward Morse, an American naturalist/zoologist[ii] who specialized in shellfish, came to Japan in 1877 and helped the first incarnation of 東京大学 Tōkyō Daigaku Tōkyō University establish a zoology department. Along the way, and perhaps by accident, he launched archaeology and anthropology in Japan when he discovered a 貝塚 kaizuka midden (a mound made of discarded shellfish) in Ōmori. This was Japan’s first archaeological dig and it was a major discovery in that it showed the Japanese that their origin wasn’t really recorded in books like the 日本書紀 Nihon Shoki[iii]. It showed that science could prove that Japan’s history actually went way farther back than anyone had ever imagined. The shells and pottery fragments dated from the Late Jōmon Period, about 2000-1000 BCE. The term Jōmon which all Japanese will recognize as a legitimate prehistoric era is actually a translation of Morse’s English description of the pottery samples he found. He noticed rope-like patterns and called them “cord marked” which was translated into Japanese as  縄文 “rope-design.”

It’s all in Japanese, but if you’re interested, here’s the website for the Ōmori Kaizuka Park.

Jomon pottery. Notice the rope patterns.

Jomon pottery.
Notice the rope patterns.

The entire excavation site is preserved as a park and a memorial to Morse and the team that launched Japanese archaeology. you can walk around the wall inside the excavation and look at the cut away wall and see rows of shells piled up.

The entire excavation site is preserved as a park and a memorial to Morse and the team that launched Japanese archaeology. you can walk around the wall inside the excavation and look at the cut away wall and see rows of shells piled up.

 

As I mentioned in my article on Samezu, this part of Edo Bay was renowned for its fish and 海苔 nori seaweed. This local specialty was generally referred to as 江戸前海苔 Edo-mae nori seaweed from Edo Bay, but each area had its unique brands. 品川海苔 Shinagawa Nori, 大森海苔 Ōmori Nori, and 芝町海苔 Shiba Machi Nori were some of the most sought after brands, the latter being the most prestigious[iv]. The development and modernization of Tōkyō Bay in the 50’s and 60’s more or less put an end to the fishing and nori cultivation that typified the area for centuries.

Drying sheets of nori in the sun in Omori.

Drying sheets of nori in the sun in Omori.

One unique aspect of Ōmori as opposed to other areas that were developed in the late Edo Period and “modern eras,[v]” is that the actually coastline is still preserved to a certain extent. The ruins of Suzugamori Execution Ground are located next to 大森海岸駅 Ōmori Kaigan Eki Ōmori Coast Station. A short walk from the station will bring you to small inlet which is basically where the shoreline began in the Edo Period[vi].

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A small section of the Omori Coast is still preserved, believe it or not.

The Omori Nori Museum is still growing nori in the traditional way and offers classes in traditional nori cultivation and manufacturing!

The Omori Nori Museum is still growing nori in the traditional way and offers classes in traditional nori cultivation and manufacturing! BTW, those sticks are called HIBI and I talked about them in my article on Hibiya. (Get the link yourself, you lazy bitch, lol)

If anyone is interested in the Ōmori Nori Museum, here’s the website. It’s Japanese only.

 

 

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[i] If you want to see tropical Japan, you’ll have to go to Okinawa – which wasn’t officially a part of Japan until after the Meiji Coup in 1868.
[ii] Neither of these titles may be accurate. All of the disciplines he was involved with were sciences in their infancies – though arguably their most exciting days. All the disciplines he worked in were very much overlapping at the time, too. But any way you look at it, the guy is pretty much a huge bucket of win for Japan, archaeology, anthropology, and biology.
[iii] There are 2 ancient sources for Japan’s earliest history – mostly legendary stories. They are the 古事記 Kojiki Record of Ancient Matters and the older, more detailed 日本書紀 Nihon- shoki Chronicles of Japan.
[iv] Most likely due to the fact that it was located a fair distance away from the Tōkaidō – also this is where the grand funerary temple of the Tokugawa shoguns is located, Zōjō-ji. Ōmori and Shinagawa are on the Tōkaidō, so it was easy to pick up some nori as 御土産 o-miyage souvenirs to give your friends and family.
[v] Often the term “pre-modern” is applied to Japanese history before 1868 when the Meiji Coup took place. I actually find this term a bit distasteful as it seems to presume that “modernity” is defined by the advances of the western cultures. Scientifically, there’s no doubt, the western countries were more advanced, but there’s no need to kick another culture in the balls. To be sure, the Japanese were developing a rich cultural tapestry and were making advances of their own. I don’t know what other word to use, but “pre-modern” really rubs me the wrong way. Words like “feudal” and “medieval” often get thrown around and I find these unfulfilling as well. I guess this is why I use the generic phrase “Old Japan.”
[vi] I don’t know how much truth there is to this, but some people say that one form of execution at Suzugamori was to crucify prisoners upside down in the bay at low tide. The, they would wait for the tide to come in slowly. They would be drowned by the sea at high tide. This is just my musing… but is it easier to let a person drown tied upside-down to poles and go clean up the mess the next day, or is it easier to burn them, cut off their head or do some more expedient execution? It all sounds horrible to me. The life of outcastes (read, “the lucky bastards who had to do this work”) in the Old Japan sounds truly awful.

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.

Why is Ōta called Ōta?

In Japanese History on March 20, 2013 at 2:45 am

大田
Ōta
(Big Field, Big Rice Paddy)

Today’s post was another reader suggestion. Keep them coming!

The reader is living in Ōta-ku and asked if Ōta Ward has anything to do with Ōta Dōkan, the guy who built Edo Castle before the Tokugawa moved in.

It’s a good guess, but if you take a look at the kanji, you’ll notice they are actually different.

大田 (big rice field; a place name)
太田 (fat/magnificent rice field; a surname)

So, unfortunately there is no connection to Ōta Dōkan, even though he probably held power over this region.

So here’s the real deal.

The fact of the matter is that before WWII, there were two wards in this area: 大森区 Ōmori-ku (Ōmori Ward – which means “Big Forest”) and 蒲田区 Kamata-ku (Kamata Ward – which means “Cattail Field”). In 1947, the 35 wards of Tōkyō were restructured as the 23 Special Wards of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. Ōmori and Kamata were merged into a single ward. The from Ōmori and the from Kamata were combine to make a new name: 大田. I see what you did there!

the grave of katsu kaishu and his wife

Katsu Kaishu, hero of the Bakumatsu and early Meiji Period is buried in Ōta.

 

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