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What does Koishikawa mean?

In Japanese History on March 19, 2014 at 8:15 am

小石川
Koishikawa (pebble river)

Tokyo Dome

Tokyo Dome

Koishikawa is a small area located within 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward. If you’ve ever been to 東京ドームTōkyō Dōmu Tōkyō Dome for a Giants game or a concert, you’ve been to Koishikawa.

First, let’s talk about the kanji of this name. They’re really quite simple, actually.


ko

small


ishi

stone


kawa

river

The area first comes on to the radar in the Muromachi Period. It was a somewhat undefined area within 武蔵国豊島郡小石河村 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Koishikawa Mura Koishikawa Village, Toshima District, Musashi Province and it was originally written as  小石河 Koishikawa. The old kanji have exactly the same meaning as the modern kanji. The reason the area pops up in the annals is because a new temple was founded here in 1415. That temple’s name is 伝通院[i]  Denzū-in Denzū Temple. It might have just been another boring ol’ temple in the area, except they were the landholders of an extremely large area. The name is generally said to derive from a river that passed by the front gate of the temple. The river had many pebbles in it and so it was calle小石河 Koishi Kawa Koishi River (Pebble River)[ii].

At the beginning of the Edo Period, this area was quite rural and characterized by small farms and 町家 machiya those traditional wooden Japanese houses with a business on the first floor and home on the 2nd floor. That is to say, it was primarily 下町 shitamachi low city. However, by the middle of the Edo Period, most of the agricultural lands had become populated by satellite temples, 武家屋敷 buke yashiki samurai residences, and 大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō residences.

One of the gates of the middle residence of Mito Domain. (Destroyed by firebombing in WWII)

One of the gates of the middle residence of Mito Domain.
(Destroyed by firebombing in WWII)

When the 御茶之水堀割 O-cha no Mizu Horiwari Ochanomizu Waterway was built at the beginning of the Edo Period, it connected the Koishi River and Sumida River – all of this was part of the larger 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui Kanda Waterworks. Today there is no Koishi River, but the portion of the Kanda River that was made from the old river is known.

Once we get into the Edo Period, the area completely transformed. To understand the area, we have to understand the nature of this transformation. There were two major factors responsible for this monumental change. Firstly, Denzū-in’s relationship with the shōgunate changed and secondly, the policy of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance[iii] was formalized. These changes placed some of the shōgunate’s most prominent allies into the area and enhanced the area’s association with political influence and religio-cultural prestige[iv].

Denzu-in

Denzu-in

How did Religion Change the Area?

As I mentioned before, Denzū-in was founded in 1415. Originally, it was a massive temple complex, but today its former landholdings are spread out all over the area. When the temple precinct was completely intact, it was the said to be the 3rd 徳川将軍家菩提寺 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke no Bodai-ji family temple of the shōgun family[v].  In the original configuration, 茶阿局 Chā no Tsubone, the main wife of Tokugawa Ieyasu was interred in one of the satellite temples[vi]. However, since the temple lands were split up in the Meiji Period, the grave of his mother, 於大方 O-dai no Kata[vii], has been Denzū-in’s major claim to fame. But the former precinct’s cemeteries still exist and you can find the children, grandchildren, and some concubines of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family buried in this area. Most of these people, of course, are people you’ve never heard of – rich, privileged Edo Period nobles who lived in the confines of the castle but had little or no impact on history[viii].

Cha no Tsubone's grave.

Cha no Tsubone’s grave.

O-dai no Kata's grave.

O-dai no Kata’s grave.

 

Why Were There so Many Elite Graves in the Area?

Originally characterized by agriculture, the area soon found itself home to high ranking samurai officials (think middle to upper management ) and some of the largest 藩邸 hantei domain headquarters (think senior management, embassies, and heads of state). The Tokugawa Shōgun Family’s patronage of the local temples as cemeteries also increased the prestige of the area.

In 1629, an expansive garden was built on the land granted to the 水戸徳川家 Mito Tokugawa-ke the Mito branch of the Tokugawa Family. The project was completed under the auspices of 徳川光圀 Tokugawa Mitsukuni, popularly known as 水戸黄門 Mito Kōmon[ix] the Yellow Gate of Mito – vice-shōgun and second hereditary lord of 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain[x].  The garden was built in the middle of Mito Domain’s sprawling 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence[xi]. This private garden was built for the enjoyment of the lords of Mito and was absolutely not open to the common riff-raff of Edo. It was typical of Japanese elite of the Edo Period to build and maintain these sorts of gardens for relaxation (remember, they had no TV, internet, or AKB). It’s one of a small handful of Edo Period gardens still remaining in Tōkyō. The fact that this park more or less survived the fires of Edo, the Meiji Government confiscations, the Great Kantō Earthquake, the Firebombing of Tōkyō , and urban sprawl is a miracle of history.

You can see how large the Mito estate was and the garden directly in the center.

You can see how large the Mito estate was and the garden directly in the center.

Mito’s neighbor was 加賀藩  Kaga Han Kaga Domain, whose middle residence was even more massive. (Much of Tōkyō University’s Hongō Campus sits on the former site of this palatial residence). I’m gonna come back to Kaga Domain and Mito Domain’s park in a minute[xii]. (And don’t forget about the footnotes, we’ve just passed the 12th one!!)

But yeah, the Mito Tokugawa[xiii] were one of the biggest landholders in Edo. Their middle residence comprised most of what is generally called Koishikawa today – including all of Tōkyō Dome. In comparing Edo Period maps and modern maps, it seems like the entire garden isn’t preserved, but for the most part it’s still intact[xiv].

The seimon (main gate) of Mito's middle residence.

The seimon (main gate) of Mito’s middle residence.

A Little More About the Area

Of course, the area is most famous for Tōkyō Dome.

Next to Tōkyō Dome is 東京ドームシティアトラクションズ Tōkyō Dōmu Atorakushonzu Tōkyō Dome City Attractions which is generally referred to by people over 30 as 後楽園遊園地 Kōrakuen Yūenchi Kōrakuen Amusement Park, the site’s name until 2003. Sadly, the area’s third claim to fame is actually its namesake, 小石河後楽園 Koishikawa Kōrakuen, the park built by Tokugawa Mitsukuni. It’s sad to think how few people living in Tōkyō even know about the park! I’m not even kidding when I say that I’ve probably met more people who’ve never heard of Kōrakuen than people who know it. Or maybe I’m socializing in the wrong circles…

Also located in the area (near Myōgadani Station) is 小石川植物園 Koishikawa Shokubutsuen Koshikawa Botanical Garden. This land was home to one of the shōgunate’s 御薬園 go-yakuen medicinal herb gardens.

Another famous building on the premises was the 小石川養生所 Koishikawa Yōjōsho the Koishikawa Recuperation Facility. It was established in the middle of the Edo Period[xv] by the 8th shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, as a state-funded free medical facility for those who couldn’t afford medical attention. I’m not clear on the details, but I envision a mix between a free clinic and an all-out hospital. The Meiji Government confiscated the lands and gave them to the newly established 東京大学 Tōkyō Daigaku Tōkyō University and the university has maintained the lands ever since. I haven’t been there myself, but it sounds like a pretty awesome garden, actually.

Model of the Recuperation Facility (with roof cut away).

Model of the Recuperation Facility (with roof cut away).

Oh, we’re at the Meiji Period now?

Yeah, we’re at the Meiji Period.  The donation of the herb farm and Recuperation Facility to Tōkyō University was in 1877. About 10 years later, the government figured out a new civil administration system and in 1889 小石川区 Koishikawa-ku Koishikawa Ward was created.

In the Shōwa Period – 1947, to be precise – Koishikawa Ward was abolished and present day Bunkyō Ward was established. Today the name survives as five 丁目 chōme blocks within Bunkyō Ward – some of which, but not all of which, exist where the former Mito palace stood. Modern Koishikawa does not correspond to the old Mito holdings.

Map of modern Koishikawa. You can see the Botanical Garden above it. At the very bottom, you can see the Korakuen and Tokyo Dome, just on the other side of the border.

Map of modern Koishikawa.
You can see the Botanical Garden above it.
At the very bottom, you can see the Korakuen and Tokyo Dome, just on the other side of the border.

So what’s the Etymology?

小石川
koishi kawa

pebble river

小石川
ko-Ishikawa

little Ishikawa

As I mentioned before, the most popular etymology is that as most of the area was originally under the control of 伝通院[xvi] Denzū-in, the area got its name from the river that ran past the front of the temple. That river supposedly had many 小石 koishi pebbles in it. So it was called 小石川 Koishikawa the Small Pebble River.

A second theory exists. That theory derives the name from 加賀国石川郡 Kaga no Kuni Ishikawa-gun Ishikawa District, Kaga Province. Yes, that would be home of 加賀藩 Kaga Han Kaga Domain who had their enormous middle residence right next door to Mito’s residence. When they built their 藩邸 hantei domain headquarters here, they had to transfer the clan’s tutelary kami, 白山権現 Hakusan Gongen here. According to this theory, the area was 小石川 Ko-Ishikawa Little Ishikawa. This isn’t too far-fetched, as the sheer size of this residence would have required a fairly large staff. So there would have been large community of people from Ishikawa living, working, and being out and about in the area. If this theory is true[xvii], nearby 白山駅 Hakusan Eki Hakusan Station has a similar origin – which will be addressed in the next article.

However, since we know the name of the river pre-dates the Edo Period, I think that this place name is a mixture of both. Kaga Domain’s residence being put here was probably just a coincidence – unless it was a sort of オヤジギャグ oyaji gag played out in real life by the shōgunate[xviii] – and the locals made a connection between samurai from Ishikawa and the river name.

The walls surrounding Korakuen are new, but they give you an idea of what how a daimyo residence would have looked from the street level.

The walls surrounding Korakuen are new, but they give you an idea of what how a daimyo residence would have looked from the street level.

                                   

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[i] Also written 傳通院.
[ii] This is the most popular theory.
[iii]A quick primer on what Alternate Attendance means is here.
[iv] By the way, religio-cultural isn’t a word. I just made that up.
[v] The most famous being Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji. See my articles here.
[vi] Chā no Tsubone’s grave is located at nearby 宗慶寺 Sōkei-ji. The temple is located here.
[vii] Her name is written a variety of ways: 於大方, お大の方, 於大, , . The word Kata is more of a title than an actual name – although she may have been called O-dai casually by her family. I also came across an alternative writing, 御大方 O-daihō, so go figure….
[viii] If any university student is looking for a graduation thesis to write in English, an interactive Tokugawa family tree that matches with graves, birthplaces, and residences would be a much appreciated resource for anyone interested in Japanese history and you’d be remembered forever. Just sayin’.
[ix] And often punned as 水戸肛門 the Sphincter of Mito.
[x] But to yours truly, he will forever be known as the douchebag who established 水戸学 Mito Gaku Mito Learning – a philosophy which viewed a divine emperor as the  ruler of Japan. It viewed the first Ashikaga shōgun, 足利尊氏 Ashikaga Takauji as an imperial rebel who unlawfully usurped control of Japan. Under this mode of thought, Tokugawa Ieyasu and his descendants, while legitimately being conferred the title of shōgun by the emperor, were actually subservient to the emperor and his court in Kyōto. The shōgunate paid lip service to this arrangement, but in reality they were in complete control and the emperor and his silly court were subservient to Edo. At the end of the Edo Period, this philosophy, which was quite unique to Mito, was used by rebel factions as a basis for overthrowing the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, was actually a member of the Mito branch of the Tokugawa family. Had the Mito Gaku philosophy ended with the Edo Period, it would have only mattered during the Bakumatsu. But as the idea of an Emperor-centric Japan spread to legitimize the new Meiji State, the emperor’s divinity was emphasized, and Japan began going down a theocratic path bound for a head-to-head collision with WWII. Fuck Mito Gaku. And fuck Mito Kōmon.
[xi] What’s a “middle residence?” Please read my article here.
[xii] Kaga Domain was the fief of the 前田家 Maeda-ke the Maeda family. Their Sengoku Period superstar was 前田利家 Maeda Toshiie, one of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s arch-rivals. But while we’re talking about gardens, one of the most amazing gardens in Japan is 兼六園 Kenrokuen near 金沢城 Kanazawa-jō Kanazawa Kastle. The Kaga Maeda and Mito Tokugawa seemed to have competed a little in garden building. Oh, also, Kaga Domain was fairly small, but it was one of the richest.
[xiii] Hey!!! Who the fuck were the Mito Tokugawa??? They were the Tokugawa living in present day Ibaraki.
[xiv] If you can read Japanese, this guy has some map comparisons that activate when you rollover the images.
[xv]It was established in 1722 as part of the 享保の改革 Kyōhō Kaikaku Kyōhō Reforms, to be exact.
[xvi] Also written 傳通院.
[xvii] And we’re gonna talk about this more in the next article.
[xviii] Which I don’t think it was. But who knows…

What does Takaramachi mean?

In Japanese History on February 14, 2014 at 8:04 am

宝町
Takaramachi (treasure town)

takarabako_treasure

First a quick note.

There are 2 places in Tōkyō with the same kanji: One is Takarachō in the Chūō Ward; the other is Takaramachi in Katsushika Ward. Today, I’m talking about the one in Katsushika.

The history of this place name is actually a mystery but it is usually explained by a legend. The interesting thing is that this place name may be based on the ultimate oyaji gag. Oyaji gag refers plays on words and puns[i].

The Japanese generally look down on puns and will soon dismiss them as oyaji gags, but truth be told Japanese history is rife with these sort of things and so is Japanese advertising and… well… I think most people secretly like them, but are just afraid to admit it.

Map of Takaramachi

Map of Takaramachi

Let’s start with the present day kanji for this place.


takara

treasure


machi

town

For my readers who don’t read Japanese, let me refresh an important concept in Japanese writing:

音読み
on’yomi

Chinese readings of kanji

訓読み
kun’yomi

Japanese readings of kanji

Of course, this is a simplified explanation, but for our purposes today, that’s all you need to know.

One more concept that is important is tsuka mounds. There are mounds all over Japan. Mounds in Japan are often associated with graves. This goes waaaaay back in history to the 3rd century 古墳 kofun burial mounds[ii]. I mentioned typical Shintō burials in my article on Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s grave. I said that they’re associated with graves because just because a mound was built doesn’t mean there necessarily must be a body inside. Some mounds were purely symbolic. An interesting thing is that even in the Edo Period the graves of elite were often elevated – or in the case of the Tokugawa, always built on the highest ground. On the other hand, a tsuka can just refer to a small hill. As “just a hill” it may be valued for its high ground or it may be imbued with some symbolic meaning. It might just be a land mark.

This doesn't even encompass all of the meaning of "tsuka," but it should give you a general idea.

This doesn’t even encompass all of the meaning of “tsuka,” but it should give you a general idea.

OK, now that you know the basics, let’s get this party started.

This area was once controlled by the Kasai family, an offshoot of the Edo clan and vassals of the Toshima clan[iii]. On (or near) the premises of西光寺 Saikō-ji Saikō Temple there was a 塚 tsuka mound dedicated to one of the heads of the clan named 葛西清親 Kasai Kiyochika. His title was 伯耆守 Hōki no Kami Lord of Hōki Province, which is located in modern 鳥取県 Tottori-ken Tottori Prefecture[iv]. We don’t know much about Kiyochika Lord of Hōki as records are scant, but his name graced the mound which came to be known as 伯耆塚 Hōki-zuka Hōki Mound[v].

In 1227, a rock star monk from Kyōto allegedly visited Saikō-ji. The name of said rock star monk is 親鸞 Shin’ran and at the time his sect of Japanese Buddhists had prohibitions against sexual relations and using animals for food. In fact, taking part in these kinds of activities could actually get you killed. But Shin’ran wasn’t about to give in to the man. He was all about barbecuing and fucking and he didn’t give a fuck what you thought[vi]. I’m usually not down with holy rollers, but I’d throw back a few bottles of sake with this guy.

Fuck with my meat and ho's and you gunna get fucked back, son. Simple as that.

Fuck with my meat and ho’s and you gunna get fucked back, son. Simple as that.

So the legend goes, as Shin’ran was hanging out at Saikō-ji – perhaps lodging – he hung his vestments on a tree[vii]. And as the area was nicknamed 伯耆塚 Hōkizuka, he looked around to see if anyone was watching and slyly said, “Hey man, this is 法喜塚 Hōkizuka! Get it? Get it? 法喜塚 Hōkizuka!!!” The surrounding people cringed and slowly backed away and disappeared into their huts and never spoke to him again.

OK, it probably didn’t go down exactly like that, but according to legend, Shin’ran called the place 法喜塚 Hōkizuka. So what’s the difference in the kanji? Well, at first glance, 法喜塚 looks like Buddhist religious gibberish; like a temple name. Auspicious or “holy” kanji are juxtaposed to create a new word – an alien non-Japanese word that leads to the mystery of the religion[viii].

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Today Saikoji is... well.. apparently, a little diminished in stature...

Today Saikoji is… well.. apparently, a little diminished in stature…

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In its actual recorded history – outside of the etymology legend – the area was written with a few kanji variations. The writing was standardized in the Edo Period[ix].

法喜塚
Hōkizuka

religious gibberish

宝樹塚
Hōkizuka

secular gibberish

宝木塚
Hōkizuka

simplified secular gibberish

So, if all of this is true, the name Takaramachi is one big oyaji gag that snowballed out of control. Let’s go back to the kanji so we can see exactly what Shin’ran did and how the name changed later.

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the alleged oyaji gag

伯耆
Hōki

name of a province and Kasai Kiyochika’s title

法衣
hōki

the vestments of a Buddhist monk


dharma/principals/rule (and a reference to the vestments)


treasure


ki

joy, happiness, delight, religious ecstasy

later generations added these


ki

tree (perhaps a reference to the tree he hung his vestments on)


ki

tree (perhaps a reference to the tree he hung his vestments on)

So by the end of the Edo Period, the name was standardized as 宝木塚村 Hōkizuka Mura Hōkizuka Village (the kanji being “treasure” + “tree” + “hill”). 法 hō sounds like law or religion or method and is a quite serious word. 宝 hō treasure, on the other hand, is auspicious and, c’mon, who doesn’t like treasure? This name survived the reforms of the Meiji Era until 1932 when part of Hōkizuka Village became 宝木塚町 Hōkizuka Machi Hōkizuka Town. In 1961, when Tōkyō introduced the current postal code system[x], the 木 ki tree kanji was dropped and the area was renamed 宝町 Takaramachi.

optimus-prime

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If we jump back in time to 1955, we will find the founding of a vinyl and plastics manufacturer called タカラ Takara.  This company would later become famous as a toy company and would eventually unleash the Transformers upon the world. The reason I mention this, is that the company, which was established in Hōkizuka Machi, used the Japanese reading of the kanji 宝 hō (Chinese) takara (Japanese) treasure. As I mentioned earlier, there are usually at least two possible readings for a kanji, the ancient Chinese and the Japanese. The company choosing this native Japanese reflects a trend whereby local people were abbreviating the odd reading which was a mix of Chinese and Japanese readings and creating a new nickname that was purely Japanese. While this nickname may be much older, it definitely is understandable that in the nationalism of the years leading up to WWII, we would see a preference for a native Japanese reading of the kanji. Also, Japanese place names rarely have Chinese readings, unless they are named after Buddhist temples or are some kind of anomaly. Mixed readings are frowned upon in Modern Japanese because they’re unpredictable.

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This legend is great. It makes a good narrative, but it also raises a few questions. If we assume the Shin’ran legend is true, then why did 法 hō dharma change to 宝 hō treasure? Well, as I mentioned before, maybe treasure seems softer than dharma/regulation. Maybe.

Also, why did 喜 ki happiness change to boring 木 ki trees? Again I can’t say for sure, but it might have something to do with a trend to nativize the kanji readings. is ki in the Chinese reading, but usually yoshi in the Japanese reading. It’s also a kanji that rarely shows up in place names. 木 ki tree, on the other shows up all the time.

And back to the 宝 hōtakara thing. By the Edo Period, there was a lot of communication between domains and a trend towards standardization of language had begun organically. There are places called 宝町 all over Japan (two still exist in Tōkyō alone), so there must have been an overall trend to shift towards the native Japanese readings of the kanji.

Another issue is with the first part of the story. As I mentioned before, 塚 tsuka mounds are associated with graves. They don’t have to be graves. But there’s a link there. They can also just be hills. If it’s a reference to a grave, it’s not Kasai Kiyochika’s. The first reference to him is 1228 and he died around 1270. But Saikō-ji was established in 1225, before he was even born. Shin’ran’s alleged oyaji gag took place in 1227, two years after the temple was founded and quite a while before Kiyochika died. But again, a mound isn’t necessarily a funerary mound, and in this case it could just refer to an elevation on Kasai lands or residence, but there seems to be a strong connection to Kiyochika in particular.

possible tsuka

Before I finish, I have to say that there is a very real chance that all of this is bullshit. The name could have changed over centuries as kanji competency improved in the Kantō area. The one thing that makes me lean towards this theory is that the Chinese reading VS the Japanese reading and the fact that it’s associated with a temple. Buddhism was a foreign religion. It had everything to gain by using foreign words and foreign uses of kanji to exert its prestige and influence and elite image. Whether Shin’ran – who for all I know lived and died in Kyōto – had anything to do with this name or not is almost irrelevant[xi]. It illustrates the influence of Buddhism in this particular village and the unstable nature of kanji use before the Edo Period.

All in all, this has been one hell of a ride for me. Go Takaramachi!

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[i] Literally translates as “old man joke” or “dad joke.”

[ii] The so-called Kofun Period saw the rise of Shintō and the Yamato state.

[iii] For a little refresher on the Edo Clan, please read here. For a little refresher on the Toshima, please read here. The Kasai were pretty minor, but they came up in this article.

[iv] It’s just a title; surely he didn’t exert any influence over an area on the other side of the country.

[v] The temple, Saikō-ji, still exists and claims to be on the grounds of a former Kasai family residence. The graves of some Kasai lords are preserved. Unfortunately, I don’t know if the Hōkizuka remains on its property – or if anyone knows where it is today.

[vi] Do you think I’m kidding? Read a little more about Shin’ran here.

[vii] According to one source, Saikō-ji still preserves a pine tree at the spot where this allegedly happened.

[viii] The Catholic Church has been notorious for coming up with neologisms since the 2nd century, and I’m willing to bet every other religion has too. If there’s no mystery or exotic terminology, people won’t look to the religious leaders for help in understanding them. It’s a common tactic that goes across cultures.

[ix] The final change was in the modern era, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

[x] Like an American Zip Code.

[xi] However, if Shin’ran really DID come to Kasai, it adds more evidence to my assertion that Edo wasn’t the “backwater fishing village” that the standard narrative says it was. Of course, in the 1200’s, Kasai wasn’t Edo, it was just a small fief in 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province . But from this time on, you can see the area start to bubble up until it was ripe for the picking by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 1590’s.

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