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What does Nerima mean?

In Japanese History on May 10, 2013 at 12:34 am

練馬
Nerima (original meaning unclear)

The grave of Toshima Yasutsune. He was utterly defeated by Ota Dokan and instead of doing seppuku he tried to escape. (Another legend says he threw himself in the lake. What a wuss.)

The grave of Toshima Yasutsune in Shakujii Park. He was utterly defeated by Ota Dokan and instead of doing seppuku he tried to escape. (Another legend says he threw himself in the lake. Either way, dude was a wuss.)

Today’s place name is another request. It was on my TO DO list but I sorta put it off because… well, let’s just say “can of worms.”

The history of Tōkyō generally starts with the Edo Period. But it wasn’t like this city just popped into existence in 1600. Before Tokugawa Ieyasu, there was Ōta Dōkan. Before him there was the 豊島氏 Toshima-shi Toshima Clan* and (spoiler alert) the Edo Clan. In terms of written records and political relevance, this area’s history actually begins in the Kamakura Period and only accelerates from there.

Toshima family crest

Toshima family crest

The necessary background is this:

The Toshima clan controlled large areas of 武蔵国 Musashi no kuni Musashi Province. Most of their dominion fell within the present Tōkyō/Chiba area. The 郡 gun district was called 豊島郡 Toshima-gun. Their seat of governance was in at 平塚城 Hiratsuka-jō (also known as 豊島城 Toshima-jō), but the family was firmly established in their residential estate in Shakujii Castle and had another fortification at Nerima Castle).** Today in Kita Ward, there is still a shrine called 平塚神社 Hiratsuka Jinja Hiratsuka Shrine. So the Toshima influence was strongest in the north region of Tōkyō. Place names that will definitely come up later will be Itabashi and Edo. The only reason I mention this is because these names will come up again later, for sure.

But OK, back to the subject at hand…

What does Nerima mean?

At first glance the kanji are confusing.

練 neri training, kneading
 (u)ma horse

First, let’s look at the etymologies that make use of the 練り neri “training” and ma “horse” theories

★ One of the oldest stories, documented from the Kamakura Period says that sometime between 700 and 800, there was a road connecting 武蔵国 Mushashi no Kuni Musashi Provice and 下総国 Shimōsa no kuni Shimōsa Province. On that road the Toshima clan had a 宿駅 shukueki a horse relay station. The name of the relay town was 乗沼 Norinuma, “ride-swamp”. This etymology claims that because the area was a wetland it had many lakes and, well, you could refresh your horses there, too. The local accent changed “Norinuma” to “Nerima” and eventually the kanji was changed to ateji.

a horse relay station

a horse relay station

★ Another theory says vassals of the Toshima family were training horses here. This is the most believable story, though it isn’t attested as early as the previous theory. So the name “training horses” is literal.
Compare this to Takadanobaba.

horse training place

horse training place

★ Another literal theory says some dude was stealing horses and keeping them here and then training them for resale. This kind of etymology, while entertaining, is unlikely IMO. But who knows…

dumb theory

Now let’s look at the clay theories

★ Another theory uses an alternate meaning of the kanji 練 neri. The kanji can also mean “knead” as in “knead bread” or “knead clay.” Supposedly there was an abundance of great clay for pottery making and the place was famous for kneading clay. This etymology says the name was originally 練場 Neriba Kneading Place. There are many examples of diachronic changes and dialect variants where ば ba becomes ま ma (and vice-versa). So linguistically speaking, it’s not impossible. On the site of the former Nerima Village (present day 貫井 Nukui), archaeologists discovered a type of kiln which was rare in the Edo-Tōkyō area.

kiln excavation

kiln excavation (this isn’t the one from Nukui, I couldn’t find a picture of that one)

★ Another clay theory claims that the dirt and clay in the area was sticky as if it had been kneaded professionally. Thus the area was called 練場 Neriba, just as in the theory I just mentioned. Over time the pronunciation changed from Neriba to Nerima. The clay hypotheses are intriguing.

wet clay! yummy!

wet clay. yay!

★ I’ve saved the weirdest theory for last. The Shakujii Basin lowlands were an expanse of lakes and swamps and so if you looked at water filled rice-paddies they looked really deep, as in “deep to the roots.” 根 ne root + 沼 numa swamp, marsh = 根の沼 Ne no numa root deep swamp, which changed to 根沼 Nenuma root swamp. Eventually Nenuma changed to Nerima and the kanji was changed to ateji (just like Hibiya).

BTW – The place name 丹根沼 Tannenuma exists in Hokkaidō.

I have no idea what a 根の沼 looks like so this will have to do.

I have no idea what a 根の沼 looks like so this will have to do (丹根沼、北海道)

So it looks like the jury is out on this one. And while every theory, except the last one, has an argument based on kanji, the possibility of the name being just ateji is very possible. It’s particularly possible with old names that pre-date the Edo Period. At any point in history ateji could have been used – and changed later again to support other folk etymologies. So this one will just be a mystery.

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* Toshima can be written 豊島 or 豊嶋.
** Toshima Amusement Park (called としまえん Toshima-en in Japanese) is built on the castle ruins of Nerima-jō.

What does Tameike-Sannō mean?

In Japanese History on April 17, 2013 at 2:10 am

溜池山王
Tameike-Sannō (Reservoir-Sannō)

What does Tameike-Sanno mean?

Sign inside Tameike-Sanno Station

溜池山王 TameikeーSannō.
The hyphen is important. It’s not Sannō Reservoir. It’s Reservoir-Sannō. “Why?” you ask. I’ll tell you. But we need to look into a little history. Some of which will take us all the way to Kyōto. Are you ready?

Let’s Start With The Complicated One

Sannō is a reference to 山王日枝神社Sannō Hie Jinja Sannō Hie Shrine in nearby Akasaka-Mitsuke (hyphen ranking: not so important).

The term 山王 is made of the kanji mountain and ruler. The meaning is something like “the mountain that protects the ruler.” The shrine is on a big hill. Edo Castle (the Imperial Palace) is nearby. In fact, the street is called 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri “Outer Moat Street.” Seems to make sense.

What does Sanno-Hie Jinja mean?

One of 2 giants torii marking the entrances to Hie Shrine. (Yes, that is an escalator on the right hand side!)

Sorry, you’re just scratching the surface.

Sannō Hie Jinja (commonly just called Hie Jinja) was affiliated with 日吉神社 Hiyoshi Jinja Hiyoshi Shrine, at the bottom of 比叡山 Hiezan Mt. Hie in Kyōto.  According to the rules of 風水 fūsui feng shui used in urban planning in old Japan, Kyōto was built with Mt. Hie to its northeast side (the so-called 鬼門 kimon unlucky direction). Many temples and shrines are on Mt. Hie to protect the emperor’s palace (and therefore the city itself) from evil influences. One of several names used for Hie Shrine is Hiyoshi Shrine. Apparently the phoneme “HIE” can be rendered in to kanji as 比叡, 日吉, or 日枝.

There are many “branch shrines” called 日吉神社 Hiyoshi Jinja Hiyoshi Shrine all over Japan. The one in Akasaka was just another local branch. In many cases, wherever one of these affiliate shrines was built, the surrounding area took on the name 山王 Sannō.

Sounds good, right?  Sannō Hie Shrine was built on this big ass hill to protect the shōgun and now the emperor. The area took the name Sannō. Got it.*

Mt. Hie, Enraku Temple, Hiyoshi Shrine

Mt. Hie in Kyoto. (Not sure why the text is pointing to the only mountain in the picture… hmmm….)

So How About Tameike? What’s That Mean?

溜池, sometimes written ため池*tameike means “reservoir” and is made of 2 kanji “collect” and “lake.” The other day I wrote about Suidōbashi and briefly mentioned the main waterways of Edo, right? Well, maybe you can guess where this is going.

In the Edo Period, the 赤坂溜池 Akasaka Tameike Akasaka Reservoir was a massive lake that was used to collect and distribute water throughout this yamanote (elite) area. Today the reservoir is gone, completely covered with offices and such. Hard to believe that one of the main lifelines of the city is totally unnecessary now.

But that said, the area retained the name 溜池 Tameike in the form of 赤坂溜池町 Akasaka Tameike-chō the Akasaka Reservoir Neighborhood until 1967 when Japan implemented its current ZIP Code system.

map2

What does Akasaka Tameike mean?

In the modern map (which is drawn to scale), you can see that there is only a depression where the Akasaka Tameike (reservoir) once stood. In the Edo Period map (not drawn to perfect scale), you can see the reservoir where the modern depression is). Today the only water that remains is the moat on the NW side (left) of Akasaka Mitsuke (“mitsuke” being the Japanese word for an approach to a castle gate).

So Why Is The Hyphen So Goddamn Important?

Well, in 1997 a new station was built to connect the Ginza Line and the Namboku Line. Tōkyō Metro had to work with 2 wards in the digging and building and – presumably – funding of said station. Those two wards would be 千代田区 Chiyoda Ward and 港区 Minato Ward. These are very rich, very prestigious, very well-funded and as such very proud wards. Apparently the local politicians wanted their respective wards’ names represented in the new station name. Bus stops already existed with the names 山王 Sannō and 溜池() Tameike(-chō), but since the Tameike bus stop was closer, Tōkyō Metro had a working-title of Tameike Station. 溜池町 Tameike neighborhood was on the border of the Minato Ward, Sannō was on the border of Chiyoda Ward. What to do? What to do?

So they just combined the two names, TAMEIKE SANNŌ, and all the shitty politicians were apparently happy.
.

.

THE END.

Wait a minute! You mentioned, Mt. Hie. Haven’t I heard of that before?
No, you haven’t. ***

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* Actually, we can’t confirm whether or not the shrine was originally built at this location. The tradition says that Ōta Dōkan built the shrine to protect his castle. Since the 神 kami enshrined here is the protector of Edo Castle it was also seen as a protector of the whole city, so the shrine was moved outside of the castle so the people of Edo could worship there. It was destroyed a few times by fires and rebuilt, but for most of its life it’s been located here on this hill and the area has been referred to as Sannō and the former locations are not called Sannō.
Oh, also it’s not on the 鬼門 (northeast evil side) of the castle. It’s on the 裏鬼門 (southwest just as evil side). But we don’t know where the original location was, so fuck it.

** And sometimes irritatingly written 溜め池.

*** OK, yes you have. Sorry I lied about that…
I just didn’t really want to get into this.

Fuck it. 比延山 Mt. Hie is the same Mt. Hie that is famous to all lovers of Japanese History, especially the 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai Warring States Era. At the top of this mountain was a famous temple precinct called 延暦寺 Enryaku-ji Enryaku Temple (its name itself deserves a post, but not now). The mountain has primarily been associated with this temple because of its prestige among the samurai class. The temple was home to a large group of 僧兵 Sōheiwarrior monks” who stood in the way of Oda Nobunaga’s rise to power. So in 1571 he surrounded the mountain, and in a move that would have made General Sherman proud, he ordered his men to march up the mountain and kill anything that moved. The warrior monks were effectively dealt with and their slaughter was one of Nobunaga’s biggest steps to bring all of Japan under his rule.

Enryaku-ji’s history, indeed the history of Mt. Hie in general, goes back before the Heian Period. But, luckily for me, the history of Edo/Tōkyō does not**** so I can stop writing now?

**** Goddammit! Can I stop writing now? Please? OK, yes, the history of Edo/Tōkyō goes back to before the Heian Period, but I don’t know shit about it. So I’m done. Is that alright with you?

Thanks. Good night! 💟♥💟♡❤💟

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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