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Posts Tagged ‘ryogoku’

Ōedo Line: Ryōgoku

In Japanese History on June 16, 2015 at 6:00 am

両国
Ryōgoku (both provinces)

Ryōgoku Bridge

Ryōgoku Bridge

The name dates from the early Edo Period, when a bridge called 大橋 Ōhashi the Great Bridge was built over 大川 Ōkawa the Great River (today called the Ryōgoku Bridge and the Sumida River, respectively). On west side of the river was 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province. On the east side of the river was 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province. The idea being that this part of Edo included the lands of 2 ancient provinces.

This massive walking spaceship is actually the Edo-Tōkyō Museum

This massive walking spaceship is actually the Edo-Tōkyō Museum

Ryōgoku is a must see for anyone who reads JapanThis!. For starters, it is home to one of the greatest museums in the world, the 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum which describes the history of the city from its humble roots to modern times in an exhaustive permanent exhibit and world class special exhibits that change seasonally. If you come to Tōkyō, you must see this museum. Here’s their website.

And I’m not kidding. If you read this blog, you must go to that museum. You’ll love it.
I wouldn’t lie about this.

Next to the Edo-Tōkyō Museum, is the 両国国技館 Ryōgoku Kokugi-kan Ryōgoku Sumō Hall. 3 of the 6 national sumō tournaments take place here. Because of this, the association with Ryōgoku and sumō is deep and you can find many restaurants in the area that specialize in ちゃんこ鍋 chanko nabe a kind of hot pot dish[i] that sumō wrestlers eat the shit out of all year round to fatten up. The dish is said to have been invented in Ryōgoku.

Kira's house. No, not the Kira from Death Note.

Kira’s house.
No, not the Kira from Death Note.

Fans of the 赤穂浪士 Akō Rōshi  47 Rōnin may want to visit a small park called 本所松坂町公園 Honjo Matsuzaka-chō Kōen Honjo Matsuzaka-chō Park. The park is located on the former estate of a 旗本 hatamoto direct retainer of the shōgun named 吉良上野介 Kira Kōzuke no Suke. Kira is one of the all-time villains of Japanese literature. He’s painted as the bad guy in the story of the 47 Rōnin – however, in reality he was just an average government worker just trying to schlep his way through life when a bunch of hillbilly thug samurai broke into his house while he was sleeping and cut off his head.

Obviously, there’s more to the story, and you can read about it here. But the story is one of the best known in Japan due to its yearly rehashing every New Year’s (Kira’s murder took place in December, so it’s kind of a winter themed story). At any rate, the park has an 稲荷神社 Inari Jinja Inari Shrine said to be from Kira’s residence. There’s also a corner of a wall and gate said to be a remnant of that mansion. I’m not sure if this wall is authentic or not because the historical record says that after his murder, the estate was seized by the shōgunate; commoner residences were then built on the site. It’s possible that some sections of his residence were incorporated into the new structures, but what I do know is that Ryōgoku suffered badly in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake and this particular area wasn’t really revitalized until the 1930’s when the locals wanted to preserve the site of Kira’s house as a commemorative park. Also, I’m pretty sure that this area was again devastated in the firebombing during WWII. That said, it’s a pretty amazing place to see. You can also get a sense of the size of a property owned by a 旗本 hatamoto direct retainer of the Tokugawa in central Edo – the park is pretty close to the same size as the original estate.

ryogokubashi1

And finally, in the Edo Period, this area was famous for the 両国花火 Ryōgoku Hanabi Taikai Ryōgoku Fireworks Display which marked the beginning of the boating season[ii]. The festival began in the 1730’s, and the pyrotechnics were handled by 2 shops[iii] that set up in upstream and downstream locations. The shops were called 鍵屋 Kagi-ya and 玉屋 Tama-ya and they competed for applause by trying to outdo each other. The audience would cheer Kagiyaaaa!! when the Kagi-ya team impressed them and they would cheer Tamayaaaa!! when the Tama-ya team impressed them. The Ryōgoku fireworks lost their steam by the end of the Edo Period because a stray rocket landed in the city and started a huge fire. In the 1970’s the tradition was re-launched under the name 隅田川花火大会 Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai Sumida River Fireworks Display.

Fireworks over Ryōgoku Bridge

Fireworks over Ryōgoku Bridge

Interestingly, to this day 江戸っ子 Edokko 2nd/3rd generation or more Tōkyōites[iv], still call out “kagiyaaa!” and “tamayaaaaa!” at firework displays. The exclamation, “tamayaaa!” is far more prevalent than “kagiyaaaa!” and the reason is actually tied to the history of fireworks in the area. Even though the Tama-ya shop was an offshoot of the Kagi-ya shop, over the course of the Edo Period festivals, the Tama-ya displays became much more popular and innovative. Families passed on these words as exclamations and the most popular one, “tamayaaa!” became the most prevalent. All of this said, Tōkyō is a city populated by people from other places, so most people don’t know the origin of the words. If you use these, you’ll be using 2 of the few remaining words of 江戸弁 Edo-ben, the near extinct Edo Dialect[v].

The 47 Rōnin crossing Ryōgoku Bridge to attack Kira.

The 47 Rōnin crossing Ryōgoku Bridge to attack Kira.

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

______________________
[i] Here’s a description of chanko nabe.
[ii] In the Edo Period, the festival was also called 両国川開 Ryōgoku Kawabiraki Ryōgoku River Opening because it marked the beginning of the season for boating on the river.
[iii] Interestingly, they were both founded by a master firework maker from Ryōgoku named 篠原弥兵衛 Sasabara Yahei. Yahei’s original shop was called 鍵屋 Kagi-ya (literally, key shop). One of his sons went on to found another shop called 玉屋 Tama-ya (literally, ball shop because he was said have massive cajones).
[iv] By one of many varying definitions.
[v] The term “Edo Dialect” is actually a misnomer. Standard Japanese is often called the “Tōkyō Dialect” and that’s closer to the truth, but even in the Edo Period, the area used a mishmash of local dialects from various villages. This was compounded by the fact that there were samurai from every part of Japan stationed in Edo. People of different classes also spoke differently.

The Kanda River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers, Travel in Japan on July 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm

神田川
Kanda-gawa (literally, “divine fields river,” but actually “river in Kanda”)[i]

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.  If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.  The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but it was built after the Great Kanto Earthquake which river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them.

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.
If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.

 

The name 神田 Kanda is one of the oldest place names in Edo-Tōkyō and believe it or not, 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River is not that old at all. Well, most of the river isn’t. Well, part of it might be.

Well, it’s complicated.

In short, after doing this research, I’ve realized I have to make a separate article about the area called 神田 Kanda – and by that, I mean just etymology. So I will write about that in the future – and I promise not to put it off too long. But let’s just deal with the river for the time being, mkay?

 

Let’s Look at the Kanji


kan

deities


ta, -da

rice paddies


kawa, -gawa

river

 

This river is manmade. So the etymology seems to be clear. At the beginning of the Edo Period, in the 神保町 Jinbō-chō area there was a small waterway that cut through a hilly are called 神田山 Kandayama Mt. Kanda. It’s said that since this area in general was called 神田 Kanda[ii] the original waterway was then called 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River.

If you only wanted to know the etymology of the river, you can stop reading here. From this point on it’s going to turn into a crazy – possibly boring – river mess. If you’re a JapanThis! masochist, then by all means, read on. You may actually enjoy this.

 

 

hajiribashi

A view of Hajiribashi when it was new. The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but in the 1920’s it was new and river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them (or without tall buildings in the background).

 

Where to Start??

Up until now, every river we have looked at was at some point a naturally occurring river. The Kanda River is quite different from those rivers. There was a time within recorded history that the Kanda River never existed. Though, a portion of it was once a natural tributary of a long vanished inlet of Edo Bay, it is, in fact, a man-made river. All though it may not be on the lips of every Tōkyōite, today the river is a well-recognized part of the well-manicured urban landscape of the modern city.

I actually first mentioned the Kanda River back in June, 2011 in an article about Yodobashi[iii], a small bridge that crosses the Kanda River at the border of 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward and 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward. So this is something of a little homecoming for me. I started this blog when I still lived in Nakano (lived there for about 6 years).

 

yodobashi

Yodobashi in the Taisho Era, before the Great Kanto Earfquake. The area is rustic and a in sharp contrast to the present area. Today it marks the border of Nakano and crazy-ass Shinjuku.

 

What is the Kanda River Today?

The modern river’s official designation is the channel of water that flows from 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Pond to 飯田橋 Iidabashi (literally, Iida Bridge) where it empties into the 外堀 sotobori outer moat of Edo Castle. But it’s at this junction where the river flows into a disparate network of waterways. So you could say, unofficially, that the Kanda River flows into the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River and the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge, essentially taking the water to the Tōkyō Bay.

 

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

 

Now Let’s Talk History

As mentioned in my article on the etymology of Edo, the original 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle or 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle was not built by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan as is often cited[iv]. In reality, a minor branch of 平家 Hei-ke the Taira clan[v] moved to the area at the end of the 11th century and built a fortified residence[vi] on a hill overlooking the sea. As was common practice for new branch families with new fiefs, they took the name of the village 江戸郷 Edo-gō as their own and they became the 平江戸氏 Taira Edo-shi Edo branch of the Taira clan[vii]. In the 12th century, the area prospered due to its proximity to the capital of the Minamoto shōguns in Kamakura. However, it seems the Edo clan didn’t do much to develop the area’s rivers[viii].

In those days, the now long gone 日比谷入江 Hibiya Irie Hibiya Inlet was a saltwater inlet used for 海苔 nori seaweed farming[ix]. There was a certain freshwater river known as 平川 Hirakawa “the wide river” which emptied into the inlet. This fresh water river originally made up part of the natural boundary between 武蔵国豊島郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province and 武蔵国江原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara Province, Musashi Province. This fresh water tributary seems to be where the story of the Kanda River begins.

 

Edo Hamlet

 

Fast Forward a Few Centuries

By the 15th century, Japan was balls deep in the bloody, sweaty mess that was the Sengoku Period[x] and Ōta Dōkan found himself re-fortifying the Edo family’s fort in Chiyoda using water from the coastline and other small rivers with the latest moat-building technology of his day. The new and improved “Edo Fort” he built for the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan brought new channels and waterways into the village. This manipulation of water provided tactical advantages to the new fort in that food and goods could come in and there were more escape routes. There were now logical, defensible waterways. Lucky side effect, certain areas of the village were less exposed than before and local merchants and fishermen had new distribution routes and… BOOM!  Ladies and gentleman, we have a budding 城下町 jōka machi castle town[xi].

Although all of Dōkan’s efforts were pioneering and crucial in the taming of the rivers and sea and urban planning of Edo-Tōkyō, one of the most important changes to Edo’s waterways was diverting the 平川 Hirakawa the ancient “wide river” eastward into what is today called the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River. This is critical to our story today. And the place where this new confluence occurred is actually marked by a bridge called the 神田橋 Kandabashi Kanda Bridge. The Hirakawa River doesn’t exist anymore, but a quick look at a map of Edo Castle will show you a 平川門 Hirakawa Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川濠 Hirakawa-bori Harakawa Moat[xii]; the former, the gate that stood guard on the moat[xiii]; the latter, a vestige of the old river itself. Today, 平川見附 Hirakawa Mitsuke the bridge and fortified gate installation on the moat is a popular sightseeing spot.

 

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate). They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate).
They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.
I used JCastle.info to generate this map. Click on the picture to find THE premiere website on Japanese Castles in English.

 

So, as I’ve said before – and will say again – Tokugawa Ieyasu moved into an Edo that was well fortified, strategically sound, and extremely defensible by sea and by land. Oh, and did I mention, there was a burgeoning village life, supported by fishermen, farmers, and artisans[xiv]. Between Ōta Dōkan’s time and the time Ieyasu entered Edo, a technological revolution had occurred in Japan. From Nobunaga’s rise to power on, Japanese castles began to take on the look of what we think of today when someone says “Japanese Castle.[xv]” The castles of the Tokugawa Period are based on these new advances in castle building technology and reflected the amount of luxury the ruling class could not just afford, but were expected to maintain to project their image of superiority.

 

hirakawa

 

 

OK, OK! Castles, Can We Please Get Back to the River?

Yes, of course. Sorry for getting distracted.

(But we’re probably coming back to castles)

The Tokugawa Shōgunate kept meticulous records of the changes they made to the area. The great waterworks projects were no exception. But I’m not going to get into every change they made. It’s so boring it’s unreal. So let’s just look at some of the major changes and what I think are the takeaways of what created the Kanda River.

Since I got distracted, let’s go back to the beginning.The beginning of the story is 1456-1457, when Ōta Dōkan began manipulating waterways to build moats for his pre-cursor to Edo Castle – though work on the moats most likely preceded construction of the fortress, so we might say 1455-1457. In 1486, Dōkan was assassinated and in 1524 the 江戸合戦 Edo Gassen Battle of Edo saw the rise of influence of the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi and the decline of the Ōta and Uesugi. This meant that the fortifications in 千代田 Chiyoda[xvi] (the area where the Sengoku forts where built and the fields around them) were abandoned and lay fallow for almost 70 years[xvii].

In 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu transferred his clan and top retainers to Edo and began modernizing the old Sengoku Period fortifications of the Edo and Ōta. He cautiously applied some of the latest castle building technology following the examples of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It’s said that the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate was one of the first construction project undertaken and this required crossing an existing moat – one affiliated with the later Kanda Aqueduct/Hirakawa.

The Ote-mon (main gate) at the time of the collapse of the shogunate.

The Ote-mon (main gate) after the Meiji Coup.

 

1603 is the watershed moment. Ieyasu is named 征夷大将軍 seii tai-shōgun shōgun and is the effective military ruler of Japan. From this point, the real history of the Kanda River begins. In 1604, Nihonbashi is built and the 5 Great Highways of Edo are defined. Strict entry & exit points by land and by river are laid out in order to preserve the new Tokugawa hegemony. Edo’s waterways are no longer “just Edo waterways;” they are tactical routes, trade routes, and a means of regulating nature for the protection of the commoners who lived along the rivers and were, essentially, part of the city’s infrastructure. In short, the rivers of Edo became a stabilizing mechanism for the shōgun’s capital.

 

Hirakawa Gate when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy).

The Ote-mon (main gate) when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy). Tokugawa Power! Activate! This is where the name Otemachi comes from.

 

From 1616 to 1620, during the reign of 2nd shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada, something really resembling a “Kanda River” in a modern sense came in to existence. This is when the 神田山 Kandayama “Kanda Mountain”[xviii] was cut through and the Kanda River and Nihonbashi River became 2 discrete waterways. Kanda and Ryōgoku began to take on unique personalities at this time.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate. Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate.
Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

 

In 1657, disaster struck on a colossal scale. The 明暦大家 Meireki Fire[xix] ripped through the city destroying well over half of the metropolis[xx]. Although city planning was essential from the beginning, the shōgunate hadn’t anticipated the rapid growth that accompanied their sankin-kōtai policy and just the economic stability brought on by… um, stability in general.

 

img_0

Edo Castle was a city within a city, When the main keep burned down, budgets and policies were reconsidered.

 

In part of the rebuilding efforts after the Meireki Fire, from 1659-1661 various waterways in Edo were widened and more open space along the rivers was added. Edo grew so rapidly after the arrival of the Tokugawa, that the city had become a firetrap[xxi].

 

sakurameguri22l

Ryogoku Bridge today

 

By some accounts, 60%-70% may have be burnt to the ground. Given the relative clean slate available to the shōgunate after this particular conflagration, certain rivers were designated as firebreaks and widened to keep fires localized[xxii]. It’s at this time that the Kanda River was dramatically widened – most notably, at the confluence of the Kanda River and Ryōgoku River, the 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge was built. Even today, the expanse of the river here is something to see, but in the Edo Period, with no buildings over 2 stories, it was clearly a sight to behold. Soon the area became famous for a dazzling annual fireworks display in the summer[xxiii]. Some of the most iconic 浮世絵 ukiyo-e “scenes of the transient world” come from this area. The 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum is located in this area… for obvious reasons.

 

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.  Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.
Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

 

As I mentioned before, the official headwaters are 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Lake, but the river has no officially designated end point but it’s fairly certain that it ultimately empties into Tōkyō Bay. Traditionally it ends at 飯田橋 Iidabashi. The reason there’s no official ending point is because the Kanda River empties into a few rivers and drainage channels along the way before it ultimately fizzles out into the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll probably be aware that the names and courses of these rivers have been changing over time and that some stretches of one river may have had multiple names depending on the area. So yeah… welcome back to the Confus-o-dome.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).  Gross.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).
Gross.

The Kanda River’s Legacy

The man-made Edo Era waterway that flowed from Inokashira Pond was called the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui. Longtime readers should know what a 上水 jōsui is. But just a refresher, a jōsui is a conduit of “imported” water. This water flowed from 三鷹 Mitaka[xxiv] to Edo Castle; it also supplied drinking water to the daimyō mansions that lined its course.

 

The creation of the Kanda River. (by the way, this is the worst info-graphic ever)

The creation of the Kanda River in Chiyoda from the Hibiya Inlet.

The Kanda Jōsui is considered the first real aqueduct system in Japan. Before I mentioned the technological revolution in castle construction, right? Well, the Sengoku Period began stabilizing and yes, castle building was a status thing. But the distribution of water and water management showed one of the greatest advances in urban planning and administration that Japan had seen in centuries. This is why shōgunate’s founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was such a bad ass. The dude could lead an army here or there, but he had ideas about civil administration and surrounded himself with people who could advise him on these things. Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were essentially one-trick-ponies who couldn’t really get out of the 戦国病気 Sengoku Byōki “Sengoku Rut.”[xxv] Ieyasu, also a product of that generation, realized that infrastructure reinforced military supremacy and brought economic stability[xxvi].

 

The Kanda Aqueduct

The Kanda Aqueduct

Admittedly, it’s not that exciting or cool, but the availability of clean drinking water and disposal of dirty water should never be underestimated in the study of any ancient or pre-modern city[xxvii].

The capital of the Tokugawa shōguns quickly became the biggest city in Japan and eventually the most populous city in the world. Clean water and sewerage undeniably played a part in this. But soon the Kanda Jōsui wasn’t enough. That said, it was the main source of drinking water for Edo Castle during the Edo Period.

Even if it was inadequate to supply the entire sprawling capital, Kanda Jōsui was such a successful project that it begot 6 more major waterworks in Edo, all of which benefited daimyō, samurai, and the commoner population. Of course, this technology spread throughout the realm, but for short while Edo boasted one of the most unique water infrastructures in Japan.

 

HSD10003

 

A Final Note

If you’re up for an interesting bike ride, a 2010 blog post at Metropolis suggests starting at the mouth of the river and riding upstream to Inokashira Pond. When the temperature starts to come down, I may give this a go myself. There are loads of spots, many covered in JapanThis!, along the course of the river, so it should be fascinating.

 

 

 

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[i] I know that’s not the kind of helpful explanation that will bring closure to any of the etymology fans out there.
[ii] As I said, I’m gonna revisit this topic again.
[iii] Any relation to ヨドバシカメラ Yodobashi Camera? Why, yes there is. Thank you for asking.
[iv] And calling Dōkan’s fortifications a “castle” is also a debatable point. I’ve come to prefer the term “well-moated fort.” I came up with that term all on my own… right now. Thank you very much.
[v] If you don’t know who the Taira clan is… wow. OK, here you go.
[vi] Also, as mentioned in my article on What does Edo mean?, the coastal area is littered with 古墳 kofun burial mounds and it’s clear from the archaeology that the area has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. It’s highly doubtful the Edo clan was the first strongmen to seize upon this highly defensible, coastal plateau – they are the noblest recorded family, though.
[vii] Even though other temples and villages in the area are mentioned as far back as the Heian Period, it’s seems like the name Edo itself doesn’t actually appear in any records until the Kamakura Period.
[viii] In fact the original Edo “Castle” was probably just a 出城 dejiro satellite fort, since the Edo clan seemed to have their main residence in 喜多見 Kitami in present 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward.
[ix] I have an article about Hibiya.
[x] And while this may sound like a gratuitous reference to sex on the rag, this is actually a legitimate, historical term. Ask any historian of Pre-Modern Japan. They’ll tell you. Just ask. Seriously.
[xi] Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I said “budding.” When we say “castle” and “castle town” today we are usually referring to a construct of the far more stable Azuchi-Momoyama Period (ie; essentially the end of the Sengoku Period).
[xii] On Edo Era maps these may be listed with honorifics as 平川御門 Hirakawa Go-Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川御堀 Hirakawa O-Hori Hirakawa Moat, respectively.
[xiii] Interestingly, some people think the radius and extent of Ōta Dōkan’s moats was the result of him not having a fucking clue what he was doing. His initial “improvements” lead to more flooding and so he continually modified his plans, diverting rivers away from the castle and the villages by extending them further and further out. Thus part of the sprawling nature of Edo Castle may have been due to stop-gap measures employed by Dōkan.
[xiv] Yes, I did.
[xv] This is as different as when we use the Latin words castrum to describe a Roman military camp/walled town and a castellum a walled fortification of Late Antiquity. The transformation is truly dramatic.
[xvi] You can see my article on Chiyoda here.
[xvii] The castle itself was pretty minor and was most likely not affected by the Late Hōjō efforts to refortify the Edo area from 1583 on.
[xviii] Kandayama was located in present day 駿河台 Surugadai.
[xix] “What’s the Meireki Fire?” you ask. There’s an article for that.
[xx] By some accounts, 70% of the city may have been destroyed.
[xxi] This didn’t change until the reconstruction of the city after WWII (or, some may argue that it didn’t change until the 1960’s and that the city just got lucky with no major conflagrations in the interim).
[xxii] In theory…
[xxiii] People today love fireworks. Just imagine what people with no video, no cameras, and no Perfume must have thought of these theatrical celebrations of summer.
[xxiv] Essentially, present-day Kichijōji.
[xxv] Again, my word. I just made it up now. And yes, I’m just baiting Sengoku lovers. Actually, I like Nobunaga, too.
[xxvi] And far more importantly, put his family in a seemingly endless position as hereditary top of the food chain. Hmmmmmmmmmm…
[xxvii] And you probably never think about where your water comes from or how it gets to your house and where it all goes afterwards, but it works, right? That’s why you can live there.

The Sumida River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on May 31, 2014 at 5:35 am

隅田川
Sumidagawa (literally, “corner river,” but actually no known meaning)

First a quick note.
WordPress isn’t handling footnotes correctly anymore.
Not sure why, so the footnote links are not working.
You’ll have to manually scroll to the end of the article to read them. Sorry about that.

隅田川 墨田区

Senso-ji temple complex at Asakusa, a stone’s throw from the Sumida River, is one of the most famous places in all of Japan.

 

I’ve been told by Japanese people that “Japan is a country of water.” The idea being that there’s literally water everywhere and given the abundance of 温泉 onsen hot springs and rivers and… well, it’s a freaking island surrounded by water, I can’t argue with them. But herein lays the problem with this series[i]. When you have lots of water and people are living near it, the people usually have to bend the coasts and river banks to protect the villages, towns, and cities. They may dig a little deeper to make a new hot spring. They’ll merge rivers to make it easier to distribute goods. At JapanThis!, we’ve talked about reclaimed land a little bit in Edo, and we’ve seen massive landfill projects since the Meiji Period. But I underestimated how much work was being done controlling rivers as far back as the Kamakura Period[ii]. Since I’m only talking about Tōkyō place names, I haven’t even scratched the surface on this topic.

●  Linguistic stuff? Yeah, I got that covered, maybe.

●  Cultural and social stuff? Pretty sure that’s OK.

●  Historical events? That’s the easiest part.

●  The manipulation of a river over centuries of human habitation with ever increasing technological know-how?

No. I have to admit, I’m in way over my head. I hope I don’t drown.

 

墨田 隅田

Rivers dumping into Edo Bay. This really is “the land of water.” Surrounded by water but just pouring our rivers into the bay. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

 

In the Edo Period the Sumidagawa Didn’t Exist

At least not officially….

Until the Shōwa Period, it’s best to think of the 隅田河 Sumidagawa Sumida River as a work in progress. The river has been so modified by humans since the Heian Period (possibly earlier, but there would be no records of this). The river has also had many names. Different areas along the river referred to it by different names. In the early Edo Period, the whole area was essentially an alluvium into the bay. Over the years islands were connected and the geography was transformed slowly. From the 1920’s-1960’s a major transformation occurred. An Edo Period person wouldn’t recognize much of the river by the 1940’s and probably nothing by the 1970’s.

In short, the history of this river is a hot mess.

But the formal name of the river, at least according to the shōgunate was the 荒川 Arakawa Ara River. But you’re going to see the story gets a whole lot more confusing and incestuous. My head is hurting from trying to figure out what is what.

The Edo Period records are a mess. It seems the shogunate wasn’t so concerned with what this tributary or that was named on an official level. Again, I might be wrong here – I’m just some dude with an internet connection – but it seems like local communities in each village or township could have their own names for any landmark and people were pretty much cool with multiple names. Edoites affectionately referred to it as the 大川 Ōkawa the Big River, a name still used by older people for the area where the river empties out into Tōkyō Bay.

 

Elite women having a picnic at Gotenyama, enjoying a view of the bay and the rivers flowing out to it.

Elite women having a picnic at Gotenyama, enjoying a view of the bay and the rivers flowing out to it.
(Not the Sumida River, but shows how much Edoites loved the bay and the rivers).
It’s the floating world. Let things float. ffs.

 

In its efforts to bring the country in line with western map making and census taking (and just to have useful and modern records), the Meiji Government initiated a series of surveys and eventually issued a decree in 1896 which declared that this river was officially the Arakawa. However, the decree noted that certain sections were locally referred to as 大川 Ōkawa the Big River and 隅田川 Sumidagawa Sumida River and 宮戸川 Sumidagawa Sumida River and 浅草川 Asakusagawa Asakusa River. In short, Sumidagawa was just a nickname for a section of the Arakawa[i]. Today, it’s used to describe a section of river from the border of 墨田区 Sumida-ku Sumida Ward and 荒川区 Arakawa-ku Arakawa Ward to 東京湾 Tōkyō-wan Tōkyō Bay.

 

住田 隅田 隅田

In the early Edo Period the area was an uncontrolled alluvium. If I’m not mistaken, the area marked Suijin is where the Edo Period unofficial “Sumida River” began. It’s right there in the middle and was home to a shrine dedicated to water god/river god. So in many ways, this river intersection is where the spiritual heart of this river was born.

And now the modern river. Notice that Suijin is in the middle and the rivers are much more well defined. They clearly have tamed the rivers over the years.

And now the modern river. Notice that Suijin is in the middle and the rivers are much more well defined. They clearly have tamed the rivers over the years.

 

I will assume your head is spinning now (I know mine is). But if I may, I should throw out a quick one point lesson in Japanese for my readers who don’t know Japanese. In Japanese, river names end with the kanji [iv]. Think of it as a suffix. Depending on the final sound of the name of the river, it may be pronounced as /kawa/ or /gawa/[v]. I’m going to try to be consistent, but the romanization of these river names is traditionally inconsistent. So, just know that if you see –gawa or –kawa attached to the end of the word, it means I’m talking about the river. So for example, Sumidagawa = the Sumida River, Arakawa = the Ara River (though no one actually says that to the best of my knowledge).

 

Going out into the bay and then to the great unknown.

Going out into the bay and then to the great unknown.
I love the red reflection on the sea. Not sure what it’s all about but it’s beautiful.

 

What Is The Sumida River?

Originally this river was the downstream portion of the 入間川 Iruma-gawa, a river originating in present day Saitama that drained into Edo Bay. When provinces were created in the Nara Period, the Iruma-gawa formed the boundary Musashi and Shimōsa.

The area was known as Sumida (written in a variety of ways, as I will show you throughout the article), though technically the river was still the Irumagawa. However, as far back as 835, there are references to the river as 住田河 and 宮戸河, both read as Sumidagawa – the latter sometimes as Miyatogawa).

At the end of the Heian Period, a post town was established called 住田宿 Sumida Juku. The area flourished. See my article on Asakusa. Goods and skilled labors traveled between this area and Kamakura. There is a record showing that Yoritomo Minamoto stationed many troops at Sumida Juku at one point.

Before the Edo Period, and I’m going out on a limb here and guess it was Ōta Dōkan who did this, the 浅草川 Asakusa River and a river that preserved the writing 宮戸河 Sumida/Miyato were merged with this section of the river.

 

Tokugawa Ieyasu. See that wall painting? That's a link between pre-Edo art and next era funerary Edo art.

Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu – Sengoku Period bad ass and – for all intents and purposes – the winner. Dude was really fat.
And ffs shave that 5 o’clock shadow before posing for an official portrait!!!

 

In 1594, Tokugawa Ieyasu, daimyō of the 関八州 Kanhasshū 8 Kantō Provinces[vi], asked his relative and retainer 松平忠吉 Matsudaira Tadayoshi lord of 忍藩 Oshi-han Oshi Domain[vii] to undertake a flood prevention projects on several rivers. One particular project merged the 入間川 Irumagawa Iruma River and the 荒川 Arakawa Ara River and created a few other tributaries to other rivers and channels[viii].

Throughout the 1600’s the course of many rivers, including this one were tweaked and refined. The work in the early Edo Period transformed this section of the Irumagawa into part of the Arakawa. As this section of the river came to be closed off from its original source and was more and more associated with the centrally located Sumida area[ix], it soon came to be referred to commonly as the 隅田川 Sumidagawa Sumida River. The division in popular naming is evidenced by the existence of present day 墨田区 Sumida-ku Sumida Ward and 荒川区 Arakawa-ku Arakawa Ward which reflect how people viewed the sections of the river by the late Edo Period.

Furthermore, in the Edo Period, the area from 吾妻橋 Azumabashi Azuma Bridge to the bay was referred to as the 大川 Ōkawa the Big River. In that area there are a few buildings and areas that have maintained the name Ōgawa and supposedly rakugo performers use the name to build up Edokko street cred, though I’m sure it’s not without an explanation, unless the audience is super plugged into the neighborhoods there.

To make matters more confusing, some sections of the river became tributaries or canals and are now separate with different names. Some that still exist today are 大横川 Ōyokogawa, 横十間川 Yoko-Jikkengawa, and 北十間川 Kita-Jikkengawa. Some channels are now underground and some have become sewers and drainage ditches.

 

A tributary that became a river over hundreds of years.

A tributary that became a river over hundreds of years.

 

But Where Did The Name Come From?

Alright, let’s get down to the etymology.

 


sumi

corner


ta, da

field


kawa, gawa

river

 

Let’s get this out of the way in the beginning. This name is 当て字 ateji. That is to say, the meaning of the kanji actually have… no meaning. They are used because they can be read this way.

As I mentioned before, this place name is quite ancient. However, no one ever thought to talk about the etymology until the end of the Edo Period. A text called the 新編武蔵風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fudoki-Kō, often just called the Musashi Fudoki A Description of the Musashi Region which was written in the early 1800’s says that the word “sumi” comes from アイヌ語 Ainu-go the Ainu Language and it means “to wash away” (ie; into the bay), “to nearly drown” (ie; the current is so fast you can’t swim or pass it), or “rough waters” (and they are rough!). Always take Edo Period etymologies with a grain of salt when they start talking about the Ainu languages[x].

Interestingly, the book also presents an alternate theory. This theory hearkens back to older records. It states that in 葛飾郡 Katsushika-gun Katsushika District, there was a village called 墨田村 Sumida Mura Sumida Village. The authors seem to think this is the better theory. It should be noted that the kanji for the river and the kanji for this village are different.

From the Heian Period to the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, many variant spellings pop up. One interesting spelling is 須田川 most likely read as Sudagawa in Modern Japanese, but could have been read as Subedagawa or in the old Edo dialect as Sumidagawa. I’ve talked about dialect variances in the past, and so /b/↔/m/ and /e/↔/i/ switches shouldn’t be new to you[xi].

Just to drive home the point how irrelevant the kanji are to this river’s name, let me show you a list of spellings and variations used over the centuries. Mind you, the first three spellings in the list are found in the 万葉集 Man’yōshū Collection of 10,000 leaves, one of the most ancient compilations of Japanese poetry from the late 700’s. Kanji use was totally different at that time, so this is the main indication that we cannot use kanji to determine the origin of this place name.

 

墨田墨多角太

Sumida, Sumita

角田

Sumida

隅川

Sumigawa

墨陀河

Sumidagawa

墨之洲

Sumi no zu

墨之水

Sumi no sui

住田河

Sumidagawa

住田川

Sumidagawa

両国川

Ryōgokugawa

Again, since this river was technically the Arakawa, the name was never super important. It was a popular name used locally. We can see that it’s quite ancient by its appearance in some of the most ancient Japanese texts. We can also see that people viewed the river in various lights, as the last name on the list, Ryōgokugawa, is a reference to the boundary between 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province. That is most definitely a local name.

 

This is a map of the so-called Arakawa Water System. If you click it to zoom in, you'll see it stretches out Northern Saitama (almost to Gunma Prefecture) and the tiny section where it dumps into Tokyo Bay clearly lists the Sumida River as part of the network.

This is a map of the so-called Arakawa Water System. If you click it to zoom in, you’ll see it stretches out Northern Saitama (almost to Gunma Prefecture) and the tiny section where it dumps into Tokyo Bay clearly lists the Sumida River as part of the network.

 

Another Mystery!

Sumida River and Sumida Ward Use Different Kanji

Perhaps you’ve noticed in this article or just in your daily life that the kanji for the ward and the river are different.

Why is the river written as 隅田川 and the ward as 墨田区? I’m happy to say I can bring closure to this issue. There was no standardization of the Japanese language during the Edo Period. People in the individual domains spoke their local dialects. When lords and their attendant samurai came to Edo for sankin-kōtai duty, they had to adjust to the local dialect in Edo. As you can imagine, they didn’t encounter just the local dialect, but dialects from all over Japan as every domain was represented in shōgun’s capital. The Meiji Government initiated language reforms that created a 標準語 hyōjungo a standard language[xii].

During the American Occupation, further standardization efforts were made. The Japanese writing system itself was completely overhauled. Prior to these reforms, people wrote from top to bottom, right to left. A spelling system that was a legacy of Classical Japanese was still in use, including syllabary characters that represented sounds not present in modern language. After these spelling reforms, left to right writing style became a kind of norm (it’s the norm, but books and temples still use more conservative styles).

But the most important change was a designation of the so-called 常用漢字 jōyō kanji daily use kanji. Given that there are thousands upon thousands of kanji with a myriad of variations, the government saw a benefit in restricting the kanji used in newspapers and for official government use. The restricting and standardization of kanji use began in the 1920’s and saw its most sweeping changes during the Occupation when the number of daily use kanji was restricted to 1850 characters. In 1981, they increased the number to 1945 characters, but 2010 saw a second increase to 2136 characters. Yikes!

 

As I mentioned before, in the pre-modern eras, the name Sumida pretty much started at the Suijin area. Here's an Edo Period depiction of the area.

As I mentioned before, in the pre-modern eras, the name Sumida pretty much started at the Suijin area. Here’s an Edo Period depiction of the area.

 

Anyways, after the war, was eliminated from the official list of daily use kanji. The name 隅田川 Sumidagawa was irrelevant because it wasn’t an “official” place name, so no official documents or signs were affected. But some conservative publishing institutions, especially newspapers, were at a loss as to what kanji to use and what kanji not to use when using the popular name “Sumidagawa.” Using the new system was progressive; using old kanji meant that new readers couldn’t read their publication[xiii]. So, newspapers continued to use the old kanji because it was so well known that changing it would confuse readers more than going with the new system. This actually happened with a lot of place names.

Two years later, 墨田区 Sumida-ku Sumida Ward was officially created in 1947. In support of the language reforms, it proudly boasted the new spelling – shunning the old kanji. As you can imagine, occupied[xiv] Japan wanted to put the past behind them and push on into a new era[xv]. But remember, this is the first time the name “Sumida” was being used officially.

But of all kanji, why did they choose (which means “ink”) instead of any other kanji?

Well, there is an easy answer to that. In short, the kanji is far rarer and more obscure than and as such is harder to read. While any long term resident of Edo-Tōkyō may recognize the word 隅田川 Sumidagawa, the rest of the country probably wouldn’t. is instantly readable by anyone with a junior high education[xvi]. But all of that said, why does the modern river use the old kanji? Well, even though the kanji became a daily use kanji once again in 1980, the river’s name was referred to in official post war documents and signs as すみだ川 avoiding the kanji altogether, or with the new kanji. But local people and private interests continued to use the old spelling. As daily use kanji are an official recommendation to educators a publishers, but are not imposed on the private sector, anyone can use any damn kanji they want and it doesn’t really matter. In short, the writing of the river’s name persists out of tradition and affection, while the ward’s spelling is exists out of a bureaucracy that was promoting a new wave of change in post-war Japan.

 

Edo Period people loved the rivers and bridges of the city. While this isn't a pleasure boat, people of means enjoyed riding under the bridges.

Edo Period people loved the rivers and bridges of the city. While this isn’t a pleasure boat, people of means enjoyed riding under the bridges of the Sumida.

Some modern people enjoy that sort of thing.

Some modern people enjoy that sort of thing, too.

 

Taking boats down the Sumidagawa is actually quite popular among weird people… I’m looking at you, dear reader.

I haven’t done it myself yet, but as a pretty weird person, I’m dying to do it. Since this river flowed through the center of Edo, it was one of the most important rivers then and still is now. The Edo Era bridges were more or less landmarks. Today, some people like to walk or ride bicycles along the river to see all of the bridges.

If you’re interested in such a journey, here is a description of the course of the river with a list of bridges which I just straight up stole from Wikipedia. You can’t cross all of them today, but you’ll definitely get a unique view of the modern city and some glimpses of Edo.

 

Key

○ = Allows Pedestrians (most bridges allow for pedestrians)
× = No Pedestrians (usually for trains, cars, or utilities)

= Only Pedestrians (only one bridge)

  Bridge Name                                                            Wards
Divergence from the Arakawa
Confluence with the Shingashigawa.
Shin-Kamiyabashi Kita, Adachi
Shindenbashi Kita, Adachi
Shin-Toyo Hashi Kita, Adachi
Toshimabashi Kita, Adachi
× Central Circular Route
(a national highway)
Kita, Adachi
Confluence with the Shakuji’igawa[xvii]
Odaihashi Arakawa, Adachi
Ogubashi Arakawa, Adachi
× Nippori-Toneri Liner Sumidagawa Bridge Arakawa, Adachi
Otakebashi Arakawa, Adachi
× Jōsui Senjū Suikanbashi[xviii]
(an aqueduct demolished 2013)
Arakawa, Adachi
× Keisei Main Line Sumidagawa Bridge[xix] Arakawa, Adachi
× TEPCO Sōdenbashi[xx] Arakawa, Adachi
× Senjū Suikanbashi Arakawa, Adachi
Senjū Ōhashi Arakawa, Adachi
× Jōban Line Sumidagawa Bridge Arakawa, Adachi
× Tsukuba Express Sumidagawa Bridge Arakawa, Adachi
× Hibiya Line Sumidagawa Bridge Arakawa, Adachi
Senjū-Oiri Ōhashi Arakawa, Adachi
Confluence with the Old Awasegawa
Suijin Ōhashi[xxi] Arakawa, Sumida
Shirahigebashi[xxii] Taitō, Sumida
Sakurabashi Taitō, Sumida
Kototoibashi Taitō, Sumida
× Tōbu Hanakawado Railroad Bridge[xxiii] Taitō, Sumida
Confluence with the Kita-Jikkengawa
Azumabashi
(one of the most famous bridges in Japan!)
Taitō, Sumida
Komagatabashi Taitō, Sumida
Umayabashi Taitō, Sumida
Kuramaebashi[xxiv] Taitō, Sumida
× Kuramae Senyōbashi
(power lines and waterworks)
Taitō, Sumida
× Sōbu Main Line Sumidagawa Bridge[xxv] Taitō, Sumida
Confluence with the Kanda River
Ryōgokubashi Chūō, Sumida
Confluence with the Tatekawa
× Ryōgoku Ōhashi Chūō, Sumida
Shin-Ōhashi Chūō, Kōtō
Confluence with the Ogigawa
Kiyosubashi[xxvi] Chūō, Kōtō
Confluence with the Sendai Horigawa[xxvii]
Sumidagawa Ōhashi Chūō, Kōtō
Confluence with the Nihonbashi “River”
Eitaibashi[xxviii] Chūō, Kōtō
Confluence with the Ōyokogawa
Aioibashi Chūō, Kōtō
Chūō Ōhashi Chūō, Chūō
Confluence with the Kamejima-gawa
Branches off to the Tsukudagawa tributary[xxix]
Tsukuda Ōhashi Chūō, Chūō
Confluence with the Tsukishima-gawa[xxx]
Kachidokibashi Chūō, Chūō
Branches off to the Shin-Tsukishima-gawa
Empties out into Tōkyō Bay

And that concludes my rambling, confusing, and insanely long tour of the etymology of Sumida… Strangely, I feel no closure with this article. I also sense more confusion coming in the next few articles because all of the rivers I’ve chose for this series have been seriously manipulated over the centuries. This is going to be a bumpy ride. I’m thinking of adding a recap at the end of the series to bring everything together. Not sure if it’s necessary yet, though. Let’s see.

But in closing,  I’d like to share two links with you from another blogger who goes by the name Rurōsha who wrote a 2 affectionate articles about the Sumida River. She goes into a Suijin Shrine (now Sumidagawa Shrine) and its unfortunate demise and separation from the river. The first article is here and the second article is here. I’ve referred to her blog a number of times because she really seems to have a passion for Tōkyō’s shitamachi style and history – she also probably knows way more about the Sumida River than I do. Interestingly, the first kanji in the word Rurōsha is 流 ru which means “river current” or “flow.” Check her out!

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[i] And I was afraid of this before I started it.
[ii] I’m gonna refer to Japanese Eras a lot, so if you need a refresher, please check out my cheat sheet here.
[iv] Without getting into more detail, the kanji 河 kawa/gawa also means river. But it’s an older form.
[v] To my knowledge, this is an unpredictable sound change. But for what it’s worth, it’s called 連濁 rendaku and you can read about it here.
[vi] At this time he was not shōgun.
[vii] Present day Gyōda, Saitama.
[viii] No specifics from me cuz…….. this way over my head.
[ix] Gonna talk about this more, trust me.
[x] I myself have never studied a word of Ainu, so I’m going to withhold any opinion on this. I just can’t verify or deny it.
[xi] If this is new to you, I’d recommend going back to the beginning of this blog and just re-reading everything. If you don’t have the time, this might push you in the right direction.
[xii] This arose out of a general “re-unification” policy as much as necessity. Most of the upper samurai and daimyō from the domains could handle the Japanese spoken in Edo (itself a mishmash of the local Edo Dialect, the Mikawa Dialect, and in the upper echelons, the Kyōto Dialect). But with the creation of a standing, national army headed by former samurai from Satsuma and Chōshū and staffed by men of every former class from every region of Japan who may have never heard another dialect in their lives came together. The need for a standard, national language was imperative.
[xiii] Furthermore, the reason the daily use kanji list was restricted in the first place was because literacy wasn’t high in the rural areas and there were simply too many possible readings that even city dwellers required 振り仮名 furigana syllabic subtitles for difficult kanji.
[xiv] Or liberated, depending on how you want to look at it…
[xv] Something they’d been trying to do ever since the Black Ships arrived in the 1850’s.
[xvi] There are some claims that people were harvesting materials from the river to make ink (), but I can’t verify them. I think these may be folk etymologies.
[xvii] I wrote about the place name Shakujii waaaaaaay back in the day.
[xviii] 水管橋 suikanbashi means water supply bridge. It’s easy and cheaper to pump fresh drinking water over a bridge than it is to dig deep under deep rivers – or to dam up the river to build an underwater pipeline. Tōkyō has so many waterways, that water supply bridges (essentially a pipe, sometimes with a pedestrian or some other bridge attached to it) are a very common thing due to their cost effectiveness.
[xix] Wanna know what Keisei means? Check this shit out, son.
[xx] Yes, that TEPCO, 東京電力 Tōkyō Den’ryoku Tōkyō Electric, the same clowns who are still mishandling the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. Anyways, this bridge is just a bunch of power lines.
[xxi] Coming back to this place name sometime in the future.
[xxii] You can bet your left testicle I’ll be covering this place name. Too good to pass up.
[xxiii] More about the Tōbu Line here.
[xxiv] There’s an article for that!
[xxv] Yup. Yet again I’m referring you to my train line article. I should revisit the topic… hmmmmm…
[xxvi] Sound familiar? I talked about this area before in a double dipper!
[xxvii] I’m starting to sound like a broken record… I talked about Sendai Horigawa before!
[xxviii] This area is referenced in my article on Mon’naka.
[xxix] I haven’t covered 佃 Tsukada yet, so there’s actually a lot to talk about this area… in the future.
[xxx] If you’ve been to Tōkyō, you probably know the Tsukishima Fish Market. This area also has an interesting history, but now is not the time to get into it.

What does Ryogoku mean?

In Japanese History on June 25, 2013 at 3:30 am

両国
Ryōgoku (Both Provinces)

Fireworks from Ryogoku Bridge and the Sumida River.

Fireworks from Ryogoku Bridge and the Sumida River.

Love sumō?

Love the 47 Rōnin?

Love chanko nabe?

Love Japanese History?

Love Japanese girls with glasses?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then Ryōgoku is the place for you!

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Ryogoku Sumo Hall - It's What's For Dinner

Ryogoku Sumo Hall

Ryōgoku is home to the 両国国技館 Ryōgoku Kokugikan Ryōgoku Sumo Hall. Order yourself a little 日本酒 nihonshu sake and enjoy watching fat men hugging and then throwing each other out of a circle.

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The gate to that little bitch Kira Kozunosuke's residence.

The gate to that little bitch Kira Kozunosuke’s residence.

If you’re into the 赤穂浪士 Akō Rōshi the 47 Rōnin, the bitch that they stalked and hunted down and killed like a fucking sick dog had a residence here. Some of the walls and gate of that residence are preserved and are a stone’s throw from the Edo-Tōkyō Museum.

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Chanko Nabe. The Meal of Champions.

Chanko Nabe.
The Meal of Champions.

お相撲さんo-sumō-san sumō wrestlers have traditionally eaten ちゃんこ鍋  chanko nabe[i] in order to fatten up. Ironically, it’s super healthy. There are tons of chanko nabe restaurants in Ryōgoku because there are many 相撲部屋  sumōbeya sumō training schools located there.

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All Your Bass Are Belong to Us

Japanese History Has Landed

If you love Japanese history, you can find the 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum in Ryōgoku. It’s easily one of the best museums in all of Japan and a must-see tourist destination for anyone who wants to visit Tōkyō[ii]. Also, it looks like a giant space craft which just adds to its badassness[iii]. Also, they have volunteer English guides who will give you a tour for free!![iv]

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けいおん!

Japanese Girls with Glasses
けいおん!

And finally, if you love Japanese girls who wear glasses, Ryōgoku is the place for you. Because Ryōgoku is in Japan, and there are a lot of Japanese people there. Statistically speaking, about half of them are female. And statistically speaking, about half of those females are wearing glasses!!![v]

How much better can it get???

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but-wait.....


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Let’s talk about the etymology of Ryōgoku. After all, that’s my shtick, baby.

In the past I’ve talked about 藩 han domains and 国 kuni provinces. Well, in the old days, as they say, there were two 国 kuni provinces divided by the 隅田川  Sumidagawa Sumida River. Those provinces were 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province. The Tokugawa Shōguns’ direct authority ruled over the city of Edo, and the greater Edo area sprawled across these two provinces. In 1659, The shōgunate built a bridge spanning the Sumida River and, voilà!, linked the 2 provinces. Hence the area is called Ryōgoku, or the place where both provinces met in Edo. Oh, how the shōgunate was magical like that!

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More Sumida River Fireworks at Ryogoku

More Sumida River Fireworks at Ryogoku

So, anyways, if you visit Tōkyō, you have to come to this place. The museum alone is worth your time. I’m a long term resident of Tōkyō and I regularly return to this museum for the special exhibits. If you go there, or have gone there, I’d like to hear about your experience!!! There’s a comments section just for that!

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[i] Not to be confused with チンコ鍋 which is something entirely different.

[ii] Pro Tip #1: Read my blog before you go. Bring my blog with you as you go.

[iii] Pro Tip #2: Don’t eat at the restaurants in the museum.

[iv] Pro Tip #3: I’ve never used a free English guide, but if you can read Japanese, they have a study room with access to thousands of maps and documents about the history of Edo-Tōkyō. It’s free to use and I can’t recommend it enough.

[v] DISCLAIMER: I have no idea about the statistics of glasses wearers in Japan.

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