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What does Yurakucho mean?

In Japanese History on October 2, 2013 at 11:51 pm

有楽町
Yūrakuchō (Town where you can have a good time)

Yurakucho Station. The elevated train has been a feature of the area for a long time.

Yurakucho Station.
The elevated train has been a feature of the area for a long time.

, u

is the default reading, it means “have” or “possess” or “exist.”

—————————————–

U usually has a Buddhist meaning of bhava, ie; “becoming.” The Buddhist meaning is the original meaning and you’ll see why later.

 

raku

 ease, comfort, leisure; music

chō, machi

 town
Even in the old days, the elevated train has been part of the scenery.

Even in the old days, the elevated train has been part of the scenery.

If you look at the kanji for Yūrakuchō, you might think this is a quarter of the city that is reserved for debauchery. It’s next to Ginza. It’s near Hibiya and Nihonbashi. It’s close enough to Shinbashi (which is debauched in its own right). It’s located in the southern end of Marunouchi[i]. Today the area doesn’t seem like much to the modern eye. It’s famous for business, shopping, and kind of plain in my opinion, but there are some interesting places to drink there. (Each of those links is to the Japan This! etymology of those places, hint hint wink wink.)

However, if you look at a map of Edo, you’ll notice this area is right next to 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. As I mentioned in my article on Marunouchi, it was within the outer moat of Edo Castle and one of the features of this place was a long road lined with the high walls and gates of the 上屋敷 kami yashiki upper residences[ii] of the most elite feudal lords.

Today Yurakucho is boring. It's Ginza's embarrassing  little sister.

Today Yurakucho is boring. It’s Ginza’s embarrassing little sister.
And that stupid elevated train is still there.

The Official Story

If you look just about anywhere, people will say that the area is named after one Oda Nagamasu, the younger brother of Oda Nobunaga.

織田長益 Oda Nagamasu was a daimyō who was in the service of 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He was a pupil of 千利休 Sen no Rikkyū – the proverbial Godfather of Funk[iii]. He assumed his DJ name 有楽斎 Yūrakusai or 有楽 Yūraku[iv]. The difference between the two names is the kanji 斎 sai which is closely related to Zen Buddhism. I’m not a specialist on Buddhism, but I think this refers to sharing a meal (or in this case, a drink) in a spiritual situation. As mentioned earlier, the kanji with the specialized reading u is also closely connected to Buddhism.

So according to the story that usually gets touted on NHK and Wikipedia[v] and what in-the-know Tōkyōites generally repeat is the area was named after Oda Nagamasu, AKA Yūraku.

Sounds legit, right?

Oda Nagamasu (Yuuraku) - the man himself.

Oda Nagamasu (Yuuraku) – the man himself.
Do you like his apron?

Lords had to have a residence (they generally had 3 in Edo)
So, where was the Oda family residence?

天童藩織田家上屋敷 Tendō Han Oda-ke kami yashiki the Upper Residence of the Tendō Domain Oda Family[vi] was located where the present day 三菱ビル Mitsubishi Biru Mitsubishi Building and 丸の内三丁目ビル Marunouchi San-chōme Building are located. Today this area is called Marunouchi, but it’s a bit of a walk from present day Yūrakuchō. So the remaining family of Oda Nobunaga definitely was living in the area… just not in the area that is called Yūrakuchō. And in Edo Period terms, there seems little reason to transfer the name from this part of Daimyō Alley[vii] to present day Yūrakuchō.

This is Marunouchi, not Yurakucho, but you can see the proximity to the inner moat.

This is Marunouchi, not Yurakucho, but you can see the proximity to the inner moat.

So I had to dig a little deeper.

It seems there are a few theories.

1 – Oda Yūraku had a residence here
Any Edo Era map I’ve looked at clearly delineates the 上屋敷 kami yashiki upper residence of the Tendō Oda family as a modest residence (by daimyō standards) located on a corner of Daimyō Alley. Present day Yūrakuchō was the location of extremely large palaces of various branches of the Matsudaira[viii]. Although Yūraku lived until 1621[ix], I can’t find any evidence that he actually maintained a residence in the area. After the winter and summer sieges of Ōsaka, when the Tokugawa and their newly established 幕府 bakufu shōgunate put down the last pocket of Toyotomi resistance, it seems that he lived a life outside of politics and in relative seclusion in Kyōto. He may have visited Edo, but again, there’s no evidence of this.

This is a view of "maru no uchi."  Daimyo Alley is street highlighted in red. The hot pink square is the Oda Residence.  Note that Yurakucho is quite far from here.

This is a view of “maru no uchi.”
Daimyo Alley is the street highlighted in red.
The hot pink square is the Oda Residence.
Note that Yurakucho is quite far from here.

2 – Yūraku ga Hara
Having retired from his daimyōship, Yūraku dedicated his life to practicing tea ceremony. This theory states that he maintained a modest residence in the area to perform tea ceremonies with the powerful daimyō in the area and with shōgun Ieyasu and shōgun Hidetada. This residence fell into ruins and became 有楽ヶ原 Yūraku ga Hara Yūraku’s Field[x]. The name Yūraku ga Hara first appears in records during the reign of the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu. Iemitsu’s reign was from 1623 to 1651. If Yūraku had a residence here, it would have been empty for 2 years at the time of Iemitsu’s ascension.

3 – Yūraku established many tea houses here
This theory states that being a passionate 茶人 chajin tea practitioner, he established many 数寄屋 sukiya tea houses[xi] in the area. This would be for the daimyō in the area to enjoy tea without leaving the confines of the outer enclosure of Edo-jō.  There was a bridge in the area with this name in the Edo Period. The moat was covered up in 1958 in preparation for the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics (dick move, Tōkyō). The area is still referred to as Sukiyabashi and Shin-sukiyabashi[xii]. Another theory along this line states that although Yūraku never left Kyōto, many tea houses built in accordance to his practice were located here (I assume by his followers, who were all daimyō anyway).

4 – There was one tea house here and Yūraku ga Hara was its ruins
This theory is a variation of Theory 2. There wasn’t a residence here, but a single tea house. Yūraku, or one of his descendants or followers, established a tea house here. A decent sukiya has an outer garden (with many plants and trees to block outside distractions) and an inner garden (much simpler and sparse to avoid distractions if the doors/windows inside the tea house are open). This would have required a substantial amount of space. The theory states that the tea house was near the bridge and after Yūraku died, it fell into ruins and the area was just a deserted lot – a deserted lot with a name.

5 – Ura ga Hara → Yūra ga Hara
The final theory is intriguing. It states that the name has absolutely nothing to do with Oda Nagamasu or tea or teahouses. The name is a remnant of the original geography of the land. This theory states that the Hibiya Inlet stopped here[xiii]. This theory operates off the premise that there was a 原 hara field near the 浦 ura inlet. That is, it was an 浦ヶ原 Ura ga Hara (a field near the inlet).

So those are the stories….

Sukiyabashi when there was still a river and a bridge.

Sukiyabashi when there was still a river and a bridge.

As I mentioned, the name Yūraku ga Hara appears in some records. This is roughly 25 years into Tokugawa rule, but like much at that time, names are not so official. I have to add to this, 50 years later Oda clan’s connection to the Tokugawa was just hereditary bullshit. True, they were located in Daimyō Alley, but in such a small compound, one can’t help but imagine the later shōgunate considered the contemporary descendants of the Oda family as irrelevant. Worthy of respect[xiv]. But irrelevant.

.

.

After the Edo Period

The small island that made up what was a prestigious compound of daimyō residences was annexed by the emperor and the daimyō had to return to their fiefs. In 1872 (Meiji 5), the name Yūrakuchō became official. This is after the Ginza Taika, a massive conflagration[xv] that burnt down much of Yūrakuchō, Ginza, and Marunouchi. This was an awesome opportunity for the new Meiji Government occupying the newly renamed Tōkyō Castle.

What was so awesome about it? In my opinion, nothing. But for those who overthrew the shōgunate, it was a chance to rebuild Tōkyō – not Edo – according to their own vision. After the fire, the land was cleared out and the Meiji Army used it as a place for military exercises[xvi]. Famously, in 1890 (i.e.; 20 years later), Iwasaki Yanosuke, the second successive president of the Mitsubishi Corporation and the 4th president of the Bank of Japan bought the former outer enclosure of Edo Castle and began development of the area as a business district. The Sukiyabashi area still retained the bridge and whether it was really connected with Oda Nagamasu or not probably didn’t matter. The bridge’s name seemed to refer to a tea house. The Oda clan had lived nearby. An Oda family member was a famous tea practitioner. It could be true or it could be early Meiji marketing.

Can we Know the Truth?

I’ve wanted to write about this one for a while now, but the “official story” is so ingrained in the history of Tōkyō and because of the location within the former grounds of Edo Castle and the connection to the establishment of the Tokugawa shōgunate and the demise of the Toyotomi compounded by all of the bravado of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, maybe we’ll never be able to get to the truth. The alleged link to tea culture and this place name and the well documented fervor with which the daimyō of the Sengoku Period and anyone with a little money in the Edo Period appreciated tea culture further obscures the origin of this place name. My personal opinion is this: as a skeptic, I can’t buy into any of these theories wholesale. But there are connections and common threads between all of them. I’m gonna err on the conservative side. Maybe a follower of Yūraku (or maybe Yūraku himself) had a sukiya (tea house) in the area. Then again, who knows? Maybe it’s a pre-Tokugawa reference to the Hibiya Inlet. That doesn’t seem unreasonable either.

Edo Castle - Sukiyabashi

Edo Castle – Sukiyabashi

So what’s up with the spelling of the name?

So is homie’s name Uraku or Yūraku? It’s hard to pinpoint but in Ōsaka his name is preserved in a town with the same name… but different pronunciation. In Ōsaka, it’s 有楽町 Uraku-machi. In Tōkyō it’s 有楽町 Yūraku-chō. I can’t find much consensus on this, but it seems that in his time, by his own reading of the kanji, Nagamasu’s assumed name was read as うらく Uraku. He lived out the rest of life in Kyōto where we may be able to assume a family tradition or local tradition preserved the pronunciation Uraku. In Edo or other parts of Japan that didn’t have a strong connection to the man – at least not in a direct sense – the kanji was more readily read as Yūraku[xvii].

Edo Castle - Sukiyabashi

Edo Castle – Sukiyabashi

Another Mystery

One final thing I’d like to mention. In the beginning, I deliberately mentioned that 有 u and 斎 sai have Buddhist connotations. If you see a picture of him, he has a shaved head and wears the clothes of Buddhist monk. But supposedly, while still a daimyō he converted to Christianity in 1588 and took the baptismal name ジョアン Joan, the Portuguese version of John. Many Japanese did this during this time. In 1590, Nagamasu assumed the named Uraku (or Urakusai) when he became a Buddhist monk. He retired from politics after the Siege of Ōsaka (1614-1615). Some people say he was a Christian. Some people say he was a Buddhist. Japanese religion is syncretic, so I’d venture to say he cherry-picked what he liked from both religions. As he is buried in a Buddhist temple in Kyōto and his approach to tea seems very Zen, I would venture to say he was more or less a Buddhist. He may have abandoned Christianity altogether. But again, this is a mystery and I’m just putting forth my own conjecture.

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[i] This was once part of the grounds of Edo Castle where the daimyō closest to Tokugawa Ieyasu held their residences for their 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai service (alternate attendance). Click here for more about sankin-kōtai.

[iii] Oooops, no… he’s the godfather of tea. But just to clarify, he didn’t bring tea to Japan. That happened hundreds of years earlier. He didn’t invent the tea ceremony either. But many people, from his own time until present day, consider his aesthetic approach to tea as the pinnacle of tea ceremony. Most of the modern “schools” of tea ceremony are derived from his followers, including Oda Nobumasu (Yūraku).

[iv] I’ll address the pronunciation in a while. But for those who want spoilers, the name can be read as both Uraku and Yūraku.  Also this wasn’t really his DJ name. They didn’t have DJ’s back then, silly. This assumed name is called号 gō, a kind of sobriquet.

[v] If you want a good laugh, the Wikipedia version is pretty ridiculous.

[vi] Why wasn’t the Oda family in control of Owari (Western Aichi Prefecture)? Because when Nobunaga died, that area was re-assigned. Eventually it became a Tokugawa holding.

[viii] The Tokugawa were actually a branch of the much older Matsudaira clan.

[ix] Tokugawa Ieyasu himself lived until 1616. Yūraku died at age 75, Ieyasu as at age 73. So these men were very much contemporaries. Keep that in mind as the story goes on…

[xi] Sukiya is a type of tea house. Read more about it here.

[xii] The movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi made this area famous when the shop became known outside of Japan as the best sushi shop in the world – an assertion that is met with mixed responses or blank stares when brought up with Tōkyōites.

[xiv] The system called 家元 iemoto was an officially recognized system that demanded patrilineal succession of family businesses or, in the case of the shōgunal famiy, direct rule over the 天下 tenka Japan.

[xv] More about conflagrations at you know where!

[xvi] No doubt a propaganda tool to discourage any pissed off ex-samurai from starting an insurgency.

[xvii] If I ever write “readily read” again, please shoot me.

What does Shirokane mean?

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History on September 17, 2013 at 6:54 pm

白金
Shirokane (Silver Coins)

Something unique in the big city!

Something unique in the big city!

Shirokane appears in a few place names

Shirokane

Shirokanedai

Shirokane-Takanawa

Shiba-Shirokane (now defunct)


So the story goes that in the 14th century, a powerful clan migrated here and took the area under their direct control and began the development and cultivation of the area. According to the legend, the family was called 柳下氏  Yanagishita  or Yagishita or Yanashita the Yanagishita clan[i]. The story goes so far as to allege the head of the clan was a certain 柳下上総之介 Yanagishita Kazusanosuke[ii] who was so rich that he was called the 白金長者 shirokane chōja the silver coin millionaire[iii]. Bear in mind that there is very little corroborating evidence to support this story.

The name Shirokane first appeared in 1559, when the so-called Late Hōjō clan granted a place called 白金村  Shirokane Mura Shirokane Village to the great grandson of Ōta Dōkan. But the story I just told you doesn’t appear until the late Edo Period.

If you don't know what you're looking for, this is what passes for castle ruins of this era.

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, this is what passes for castle ruins of this era.

According to the experts, of which I ain’t one, judging from the topography there clearly was a pre-Azuchi-Momoyama fortress in the area[iv], which at least indicates that some powerful lord lived in the area before the coming of the Tokugawa. The ruins, which are just embankments and plateaux today, can be seen in Shirokanedai at the 国立自然教育園 Shizen Kyōikuen National Park for the Study of Nature. You can see their busted ass English website here. I haven’t been to this place myself, but it seems that the hills and ridgeways are the remains of the original earthen fortifications. This Japanese website goes into some detail on the topic.

Again, I’m not an expert on castles, but in the Kamakura Period, this area fell under the domain of the clans such as the Edo and the Shibuya. One of these clans may or may not have had fortresses in the area – and it’s possible that they could have – and the timing is right. Apart from the anecdotal story from the late Edo Period, the Yanagishita clan is otherwise unknown in the area.

so this is the kind of fortification we're talking about...

so this is the kind of fortification we’re talking about…

Complicating the issue, later, after the coming of the Tokugawa and the establishment of 参勤交代  sankin-kōtai the alternate attendance system, this area became home to many palatial residences of 大名 daimyō lords. In 1627, the 讃岐高松藩松平家 Sanuki no Kuni Takamatsu-han no Matsudaira-ke the Matsudaira Family of theTakamatsu Domain in Sanuki Province, a branch family of the Tokugawa, established a 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence here. As mentioned in my article on sankin-kōtai, of a lord’s 3 usual residences, the lower residence was usually the grandest and would have included beautiful gardens and ponds.

Matsudaira Yoritoshi, last lord of the Takamatsu Matsudaira Family. (ie; the dude who had to surrendur his bad ass mansion in Edo to the Meiji Government)

Matsudaira Yoritoshi, last lord of the Takamatsu Matsudaira Family.
(ie; the dude who had to surrendur his bad ass mansion in Edo to the Meiji Government)

In the Meiji Era[v], the imperial government set about its wholesale erasing samurai history and appropriated the sprawling palace of the Matsudaira and repurposed the land as an arsenal for the Imperial Navy. In 1893, the arsenal was transferred to the Imperial Army. In 1917, the wooded area was granted to the Imperial Forestry Bureau. In 1949, the area was finally open to the public as 国立自然教育園 Kokuritsu Shizen Kyōikuen the National Park for the Study of Nature.

OK, so this is the traditional narrative and, as mentioned, etymologically speaking it’s open to a lot of criticism. That said, the presence of fortifications there are very real.

However, another intriguing theory exists. This theory proposes that the name actually derives from a Classical Japanese phrase 城ヶ根 shiro ka ne/shiro ga ne/jō ga ne which would mean something along the lines of “the castle’s embankments” or “castle foundations.”  According to this etymology, the presence of a former lord’s castle ruins from time immemorial came to be written in more auspicious kanji, ie; 白金 shirogane/shirokane “silver” or “silver coins.” In the Edo Period, a folk etymology came to be circulated which created this Shirokane Chōja Silver Coin Millionaire character and story.

This new theory simply re-spins the traditional narrative but it doesn’t seem so cheesy. It also falls into a pattern that we’ve seen with Kantō place names that pre-date the Edo Period.  It doesn’t have widespread acceptance, but there are other place names around Japan that use the word 根 ne (literally root/source, specialized geographic meaning “ridge, embankment” in relation to a fortification). Actually, we’ve already seen a  根 ne conjecture in the etymology of Nerima.

Which is correct? I don’t know and we’ll probably never know. But that’s the thing with history, isn’t it? As much as we want a clear picture of what really happened, we’re always reaching.

Another kind of interesting thing about this place name is that it does mean “silver” or “silver coins” and to this day the area is located in the richest ward of Tokyo.

Oh, one last loose end to wrap up! So at the beginning of the article, I mentioned some other place names. The etymology of 芝 Shiba can be found here. The etymology of 高輪 Takanawa can be found here. 台 dai, on the other hand, needs a little explainin’.

The kanji is a reference to a 台地 daichi plateau. As mentioned earlier, the area was clearly fortified no less than 500 years ago. The area was probably a naturally high area, but it was intentionally built up too. Anyways, while one common meaning of the kanji in a place name is “high ground,” it’s not always a reference to elevation in the modern geological sense (think sea level); it was a much more relative term. But in this case, it is most certainly a reference to the foundations of the old fortifications.


[i] The name itself is interesting, it means “under the willows,” but it has 3 possible readings. I’m not sure which the correct reading for this particular clan is as I’ve seen both Yanagishita and Yagishita in reference to this clan. Yanagishita seems to roll off the tongue a little easier, so I’m going with that one.

[ii] The traditional story also asserts that homeboy was a minor official in the service of the 南朝 Nanchō, the Southern Court. Readers unfamiliar with the establishment of the Muromachi shōgunate should know that in the 14th century, there was a succession dispute in the Imperial Family which led to the establishment of a second Imperial Court. Long story short, the Northern Court won and the current imperial line claims descent from this branch and considers the Southern Court a bunch of poseurs. Read more about the Northern and Southern Courts here.

[iii] Silver coins or silver itself, usually 銀 gin in modern Japanese, were apparently called 白金 shirokane at the time. Technically speaking, both methods of writing can be read as either gin or shirokane. There is an additional reading hakkin which means platinum.

[iv] If you remember from my article on What does Edo mean?, when you think “Japanese Castle,” you are most likely thinking of structures that were first developed around the time of Oda Nobunaga and reached their peak of development in the Edo Period. But the word 城 shiro is applied to both structures.

[v] In 1871 no less. This is so soon after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, that it seems like a deliberate dig at the Tokugawa to me.

What does Senju mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on July 18, 2013 at 7:01 pm

千住
Senju (1000 Homes, but the actual meaning is lost)

Kita-Senju Station

Kita-Senju Station

Most people in Tōkyō have been to (or at least heard of) 北千住 Kita-Senju North Senju. Few people have heard of its depressing counterpart, 南千住 Minami-Senju South Senju. If you read about life during the Edo Period, especially sankin-kōtai, you’ll come across the name 千住 Senju (usually without a “north” or “south” attached to it).

“1000 Homes” makes this place sound like a bustling suburb of Edo (I’m sure it was a great place to raise a family lol). But the fact of the matter is that this place name is officially a mystery. Let’s look at the 3 prevailing theories about this place name, shall we?

Kita-Senju yankee.

Kita-Senju yankee.

THEORY #1

The 千葉氏 Chiba-shi Chiba clan lived here during the Sengoku Period[i]. This theory would have us believe that the place name is a play on words. The family name Chiba is made of two kanji, 千 chi/sen 1000 and 葉 ha leaves. The word for “lives in” is 住む sumu. With the implicit understanding that the kanji 千 sen represented the Chiba clan and 住 shu represented living, the resulting combination 千住 Senju would mean 千葉氏が住んだ所 Chiba-shi ga sunda tokoro “the place where the Chiba clan lived.” This etymology is not just boring; it’s insulting to the intelligence[ii].

The Chiba clan family crest

The Chiba clan family crest

THEORY #2

Another theory is the 8th Ashikaga shōgun, Yoshimasa[iii], kept a mistress whose hometown was a small village in the area. Her name was 千寿 Senju. The area adopted her name to raise its prestige[iv]. Long time readers of JapanThis can probably guess what I think of this theory, so let’s move on.

Since the place name for Senju first appears in the historical record in 1279 with the ateji 千寿, these Muromachi and Sengoku Era names are most likely fake, but there are schools and other places in the area that still use the kanji 千寿. This probably has little to do with Yoshimasa’s prostitute lover, though, and more to do with the auspiciousness of the kanji. 千 sen means 1000 and 寿 su/kotobuki means “congratulations!” or “long life!” Thus, 千乃寿 sen no kotobuki means “congratulations 1000 times!”[v] Since this is the earliest way of writing the word and it is obviously ateji, it leads me to believe that this represents a much older place name which has unfortunately been lost to history.

Another NO GO. This theory isn't very likely...

Another NO GO.
This theory isn’t very likely…

THEORY #3

The next theory? OK.  A statue of 千手観音 Senju Kan’non 1000 armed Kan’non, was pulled out of the 荒川 Arakawa Arakawa (River)[vi]. Thus the area was known as 千手 Senju 1000 Arms, which just sounds creepy. Over time, the place name came to be written as 千住 Senju 1000 Homes, which sounds like a nice place to raise to a family. Believe it or not, this is the most accepted etymology.

1000 armed Kan'non.

1000 armed Kan’non.

I say “poppycock” to the random 1000 armed statue floating down the river; however the statue was housed at the nearby temple, 勝専寺 Shōsen-ji Shōsen-ji, so it’s possible there might be some connection. But given the antiquity of the place name, I would venture to say that it’s actually the other way around. The old name Senju was the reason for making a senju statue. Japanese temples and shrines capitalize on this kind of play on words all the time; I don’t see why Shōsen-ji would have been any different.

So my guess is that each of these are folk etymologies and that the real place name pre-dates all of them. The original ateji is nice, though. It’s very auspicious. But remember, ateji doesn’t have meaning, so we may never know the true origins of the name.

The shitamachi feeling of Kita-Senju.

The shitamachi feeling of Kita-Senju.

A Few Bits of Trivia About Senju:

The old Edo shitamachi dialect is preserved by some local people in the area. They don’t call the area Senju, but Senji.

The most important town in the area was 千住宿 Senju-shuku Senju Post Town, which was the first 宿場 shukuba post town on the 日光御成街道 Nikkō Onari Kaidō[vii]. Because the 水戸街道 Mito Kaidō and 奥州街 Ōshū Kaidō also branched off from here, it was one of the busiest post towns of the Greater Edo Area.

To supervise the development and maintenance of the Nikkō Kaidō, Tokugawa Hidetada constructed a small 御殿 goten shōgunal lodging at Shōsen-ji[viii]. Hidetada, Iemitsu, and Ietsuna are all recorded as having stayed here. I imagine other shōguns stayed here, too. After all, the Nikkō Kaidō was an Onari Kaidō, that is to say, it was reserved for the private use of the shōgun and his retinue[ix].

北千住 Kita-Senju (literally, North Senju) is well known throughout Tōkyō as a shitamachi (low city) area that preserves some of the so-called Edo-kko culture[x]. It’s lesser well-known counterpart, Minami-Senju (literally, South Senju) is virtually unknown. Those who do know it, have a very bad impression of the town… for reasons I’ll get into next week.

 

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[i] Yes, this is the same Chiba clan whose name now adorns present day Chiba Prefecture in all its, um, glory.
[ii] Although, I had my balls handed to me by the etymology of Daita. So I guess I should keep an open mind.
[iii] Yes, that Ashikaga Yoshimasa. The Ashikaga shōgunate sucked balls from the beginning, but this clown is the guy under whose watch the Ōnin War broke out – that is to say, it was on his watch that Japan descended into the proverbial clusterfuck that we call the 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai the Warring States Period.
[iv] As if the some chick that the 8th shōgun of the lamest shōgunate was banging was prestigious…
[v] Sushi lovers out there will recognize this kanji as the first character of the ateji 寿司 sushi sushi.
[vi] As 1000 armed statues just float down rivers and get caught in fishermen’s nets all the time.
[vii] By now you should all know what shukuba were, but feel free to check my articles on Nihonbashi, Itabashi, and Shinjuku for a quick refresher.
[viii] Goten is often translated as “palace,” but in this case, I think “lodging” is better. Basically, when the shōgun and his entourage rested here, this is where they stayed the night – it wasn’t like a second home or anything. And as making a pilgrimage to the shrines at Nikkō was a spiritual perfunctory task and the procession was a purely martial affair, this sort of goten would have befitted a shōgun but was probably quite spartan.
[ix] I go into detail about the meaning of 御成 o-nari “the presence of the shōgun” in my article on Yūshōin, the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ietsugu.
[x] 江戸っ子Edo-kko child of Edo is what you call a 3rd generation Tōkyōite. The stereotype is a plain speaking local of the shitamachi area. This stereotype has more to do with the post-Tokugawa merchant middle class class than it does with Edo’s samurai past.

What does Kichijoji mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on July 1, 2013 at 2:40 am

吉祥寺
Kichijōji  (Temple of the Lucky Omens)

You can take good pictures at Kichijoji, but you can't take good pictures of Kichijoji. These kind of streets go on and on and so does the awesomeness.  Trying to get lost in Kichijoji is how you play the game.

You can take good pictures at Kichijoji, but you can’t take good pictures of Kichijoji.
These kind of streets go on and on and so does the awesomeness.
Trying to get lost in Kichijoji is how you play the game.

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OK, my friends…

This is a bit of a weird one.

The place name of Kichijōji means “Temple of Auspicious Omens.”

It’s a temple’s name and yet….  there is no temple of that name here.

What could have possibly happened?

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Most people enter the park this way because this is one of the closest entrances to the station. The dark portion on the left are the trees of the park, so you walk from the elevated street level down into the park. It's a fantastic way to enter a park.

Most people enter the park this way because this is one of the closest entrances to the station.
The dark portion on the left are the trees of the park, so you walk from the elevated street level down into the park.
It’s a fantastic way to enter a park.
But topside, there are many shops serving all kinds of good food for you to eat before you go into the park and as you leave the park.

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The name of the temple supposedly dates back to 1458.

When the Sengoku Era warlord, Ōta Dōkan, came into Edo and began expanding Chiyoda Castle[i], he put a few temples and shrines on the premises. One of the temples he included was 吉祥寺 Kichijō-ji Temple of the Lucky Omens[ii]. He must have liked the kanji 吉 kichi/yoshi because he also included 日枝神社 Hie Jinja Hie Shrine which was actually a branch shrine of the Kyōto shrine called 日吉神社 Hiyoshi Jinja Hiyoshi Shrine which includes the same character. Hie Shrine still exists in Akasaka.

The story goes that when Ōta Dōkan was fortifying his estate and they were digging the moats, they pulled some water from a well near the 和田倉 Wadakura Mon Wadakura Gate. They found 金印 kin’in a gold stamper inscribed with the words 吉祥増上 kichijō zōjō. Kichijō means “auspicious” or “lucky omen” and so they chose the first word as the name of the temple. The second word, zōjō, is identical to the zōjō of Zōjō-ji, the Tokugawa funerary temple in Shiba. Not sure if there’s a connection, but it’s intriguing[iii]. Anyhoo, the original temple was built in 西之丸 Nishi no Maru the west enclosure of Edo Castle[iv].

When I said gold stamper, I meant something like this.

When I said gold stamper, I meant something like this.

Reversed for her pleasure.

This is what was supposedly written on the gold stamper.
Reversed for her pleasure.

In 1590, the 太閤 taikō, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, transferred Tokugawa Ieyasu to Edo Castle. In 1591, during his first expansion and rebuilding phase, Ieyasu for reasons that are not clear[v], moved Kichijō-ji temple near present day 水道橋  Suidōbashi (near Tōkyō Dome) in 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward.

As I’ve mentioned before, in old Japan, towns would spring up around temples. These towns were called 門前町 monzen-chō towns in front of the gate[vi]. So, near Suidōbashi a town called 吉祥寺門前町 Kichijōji Monzen-chō popped up. The town had a pretty sweet location near the river and main water supply of Edo.

A typical Monzencho.

A typical Monzencho.

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Then Some Shit Went Down

・In 1657, the Meireki Fire happened.
・Edo was burnt to shit.
・Kichijō-ji itself was burnt to shit.
・The town of Kichijōji Monzen-chō was burnt to shit.

The Meireki Conflagration lasted 3 days and literally incinerated about 70% of Edo. More than 100,000 lives were lost. It's easy to look at this as an historical event with dispassionate eyes. But this was such a large scale tragedy that it permanently change the face of Edo-Tokyo.

The Meireki Conflagration lasted 3 days and literally incinerated about 70% of Edo.
More than 100,000 lives were lost.
It’s easy to look at this as an historical event with dispassionate eyes.
But this was such a large scale tragedy that it permanently change the face of Edo-Tokyo.

 

Because of its sweet-ass location, the shōgunate wanted to repurpose the land for daimyō mansions. So they offered monetary incentives to the residents of Kichijōji Monzenchō to entice them to move to 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama County[vii]. Under the purview of some 浪士 rōshi masterless samurai, most of the community was moved to present day Kichijōji. They brought the name with them but they couldn’t bring the temple.

The shōgunate relocated the temple Kichijō-ji to nearby 本駒込 Hon-Komagome, also in modern Bunkyō Ward. The temple was rebuilt and it still stands today.

I'm not making this stuff up!!!

The main gate to Kichijo-ji in Bunkyo.
For those of you who don’t believe me, it’s clearly written right there on the stone pillar!

The modern temple isn't much to look at, but they're a pretty major land holder in Tokyo. That's prime real estate, my friend.

The modern temple isn’t much to look at, but they’re a pretty major land holder in Tokyo.
That’s prime real estate, my friend.

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These days, it’s not a well-known temple around Tōkyō. Most people have no idea that “the real Kichijōji” is here. But the local residents definitely know about it. And the temple cares for a decent sized cemetery, which includes the grave of Ninomiya Sontoku, an Edo Period “peasant economist” dude whom I’ve never heard of, but I’ve seen countless statues and representations of him all over the place. Never realized who he was until today. Wow. Ya learn something every day, huh?

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Little Edo Period boy with a backpack reading while walking = Ninomiya Sontoku. An ubiquitous image around Japan.

Little Edo Period boy with a backpack reading while walking = Ninomiya Sontoku.
An ubiquitous image around Japan.

Eventually, the little boy reading a book while walking died.

Eventually, the little boy reading a book while walking died.
This is his grave.

Of course, today when you say Kichijōji, everyone thinks of the vibrant city in Mitaka famous for reasonable shopping, a quasi-Bohemian lifestyle, and the fabulous 井ノ頭公園 Inokashira Park[viii]. But we know better now, don’t we? The real Kichijō-ji is in central Tōkyō and that famous Kichijōji is a freaking poseur. And now you’re armed with enough useless trivia about this subject to shock and bore Japanese people to pieces at parties[ix].

I haven’t been to Kichijōji in about 2 years. I used to live in Nakano and was so easy to get there that I often headed out that way just to relax and explore the town. Writing this has made me feel a little nostalgic for the area and all the time I spent there. May have to head out there again soon[x].

This turned up in a random Google search for Kichijoji. No complaints here.

This turned up in a random Google search for Kichijoji. 

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[i] Also known as Edo Castle, ie; the present Imperial Palace.

[ii] Henceforth, I shall refer to the town as Kichijōji and the temple as Kichijō-ji.

[iii] Maybe someone who knows more about Japanese Buddhism in the early modern era could help me out here. Yoroshiku ne!

[iv] If you’re a long time reader of Japan This, you’ll know what a maru is. If you’re new to here, you might want to see my article on Marunouchi. You might also want to check out the explanation at JCastle.info and his Edo Castle Project – which is totally bad ass. Japanese Castle Explorer also has a nice piece on Edo Castle.

[v] My guess is expanding the castle was a priority and he probably saw having temples and shrines on the castle grounds as security risks. The reigns of the first 3 shōguns weren’t the most stable of times.

[vi] Literally 門前 monzen in front of the gate  町 chō town. See my article on Monzen-Nakachō.

[vii] Pronounced /ˈist ˈbʌtfʌk / for you linguistics nerds.

[viii] And yes, some people think of the Studio Ghibili Museum which we’re not going to talk about. Sorry, Ghibili nerds.

[ix] Kind of like my party trick of listing all 15 Tokugawa shōguns in order. And my new party trick of listing their posthumous names in order after that for added effect.

[x] But definitely not to see the Ghibili Museum.

What does Yoyogi mean?

In Japanese History on June 26, 2013 at 1:57 am

代々木
Yoyogi (Generations Old Tree or Trees)

Yoyogi Station.

Yoyogi Station.
Don’t hold me to this, but I think the present Yoyogi Station wasn’t actually part of Yoyogi Village.

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Once again, I want to throw out a million thanks to my readers. If none of you followed, commented, messaged or just generally showed up, I wouldn’t be able to continue. Y’all make this so much fun.

I was asked by a reader the other today to talk about Yoyogi. So I bumped it up in the pecking order. Hope this is a good one.

Hatsune Miku.

And for no particular reason, here’s Hatsune Miku.
random

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The name 代々木村 Yoyogi Mura Yoyogi Village is attested in the writings of the Sengoku Period. But it’s not clear where that name came from. There’s a good chance the name is much older than the Edo Period. But without other records, we can’t say.

In the Edo Period, the area called Yoyogi was what is now more or less the Meiji Jingū and Harajuku Station area.

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Let’s Look at the Kanji:

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代々daidai
alternate: yoyo
an adverb meaning “for generations, for ages”
ki
alternate: gi 

tree

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The simplest explanation seems to be the most believable to me. There were a lot of trees in the area for a long time – generations, if you will.

There are a few slight variations of this theory. The reason I put off doing this place name for so long[i] was because sorting thru all the details of etymologies that varied little except for a slightly different angle or a curious anecdote was too time consuming. Given the amount of time and effort I’ve put into JapanThis since that time, this topic seems much less daunting now[ii]. And in reality, it wasn’t difficult to research this one.

One theory states that 皀莢 saikachi honey locust trees were cultivated here[iii]. I like this theory best because it’s simple and plausible. It doesn’t try to hard.

This is a close up a honey locust tree.  You can see its bean pods. Legumes FTW... or something

This is a close up a honey locust tree.
You can see its bean pods.
Legumes FTW… or something

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Another theory states specifically that on the Ii family’s lower residence, which made up part of Meiji Jingū and some of the hill at the high point of Harajuku, was covered in  樅 momi Japanese fir trees. This story has some cool anecdotes attached to it, but reeks of folk etymology.

a Japanese fir tree, It looks very firry. Good for it.

a Japanese fir tree,
It looks very firry.
Good for it.

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It should be noted that today both types of trees exist in the area around Meiji Jingū, although after WWII, local trees from all over Japan were donated here during the rebuilding effort.
Also, the area that is now Meiji Jingū Gaien was the original site of the Ii clan’s palatial lower residence’s tea garden. To my knowledge, nothing remains of the site.

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If you go to Meiji Jingū, near the garden’s east gate, there is a tree with a sign that says 代々木の大樅 Yoyogi no Ōmomi The Great Japanese Fir of Yoyogi. The tree is no bigger or smaller than any of the other trees near it. But the story goes that once upon a time, there was a super tall Japanese fir tree that had stood here for generations. The current unimpressive tree is a replacement that stands on the site of the original Great Japanese Fir of Yoyogi Village.

This is where the sign says the big fir tree of Yoyogi was.

This is where the sign says the big fir tree of Yoyogi was.
Note: it’s not a fir tree….

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It was said that this 大樅 ōmomi great fir tree on the Ii family’s lower residence was so great, that mapmakers from the shōgunate would climb to the top of it to survey the city. Another anecdote states that the Ii family’s watchmen would keep an eye on the family’s upper residence which was located near the 桜田門 Sakuradamon Sakurada Gate[iv]. In fact, it was said that you could see all the way to Shiba and Edo Bay. Utagawa Hiroshige even painted a picture of the tree titled 代々木村ノ世々木 Yoyogi Mura no Yoyogi The Generations Old Tree of Yoyogi[v].

There was an imperial residence built on the site of the Ii family’s lower residence[vi]. The tree was preserved… or at least the location of the alleged tree. Eventually the land was incorporated into Meiji Jingū and, as I said, the old tree doesn’t exist anymore, but the new tree does and it has its own sign. So, good for it.

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[i] When I started looking into place names, it was one of the first I wanted to write about.

[iii] 代々木 daidai ki, (alternatively, yoyo ki) “generations of trees” was basically shorthand for 代々皀莢ヲ生産  daidai/yoyo saikachi no ki wo seisa “cultivating honey locust trees for generations.”

[iv] I’m sure I’ve alluded to the Sakuradamon Incident (which sounds like a euphemism, it should be called “the Assassination of Ii Naosuke at Sakuradamon”). Many people consider this the opening of the Bakumatsu.

[v] The Yoyogi of Yoyogi. See what he did there? In the second “yoyogi” he used a variant for 代々 daidai/yoyo generations 世々 yoyo. I can’t find this picture on the internet, so if someone can help me find it, I’d really appreciate that!

[vi] Remember, the lower residences were much more palace like and rustic than their urban upper residences near the castle. When the Meiji Era urban sprawl began in earnest, the Harajuku area became a prime target for rich people and the elite imperial family who wanted to build their own estates in the area.

Shomyoin

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on June 17, 2013 at 5:05 am

昭明院
Shōmyōin
 (Divine Prince of Shining Wisdom)
十四代将軍徳川家茂公
14th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Iemochi
Zōjō-ji

Tokugawa_Iemochofficial

I’ve been making jokes about all of the shōguns just because I like to have a good time with history. It’s hilarious to look back in time with a certain smarminess and condescension only granted by hindsight and the ridiculous technological supremacy of our age[i].

However, no one in Japan, least of not the shōgunate, thought these were hilarious times. There was not just the crisis of these “foreign menaces” demanding that Japan open up. There were insidious forces within Japan herself sensing blood and ready to go in for the kill to establish a new shōgunate. Most unexpectedly, the imperial court in Kyōto was starting to flex its muscles and trying to reassert its ancient power. Hell, those people didn’t even do anything. They just wrote poetry and blew smoke up each other’s overly cultured Kyōtoite asses. Blackened teeth, son. Where’d you think that fashion came from? Think about it.

Anyhoo, in the midst of this crisis, the 13th shōgun – inept, incapable, and quite possibly mentally retarded[ii] – Tokugawa Iesada died. I don’t blame the guy for dying, but the people who allowed someone that Ieyasu himself would have drowned in a river sealed the shōgunate’s fate.  As you can imagine, Iesada died without an heir… and every student of history knows that succession crises rarely end peacefully.

Did someone say "failed asian state?"

Did someone say “failed Asian state?”

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Of course, the obvious choice for the next shōgun in this time of great crisis was a 12 year old boy named Yoshitomo.

A 12 fucking year old boy.

They married him to the emperor’s daughter in an attempt to unify the shōgunate and the imperial court because marrying a young boy from the shōgun’s family to one of the emperor’s daughters[iii] was the best way to quell the civil unrest of the time. The idea being that the imperial court and the shōgunate could rise up against the foreign menace under the banner of a 12 year old general.

Yeah… that’s the ticket!

So little Yoshitomo became shōgun at age 12 and donned the name Iemochi.

He died less than 10 years later. In his term as shōgun, a lot happened. The teenage Iemochi led a ridiculous military offensive against Chōshū domain at the request of the imperial court which resulted in a few executions and nothing more. The shōgunate and the bakuhan[iv] system had become so dysfunctional that 4 years into his reign the sankin-kōtai system was suspended (a de facto abolishment). The suspension of this system didn’t stop daimyō from coming to and from Edo to meet with shōgunate officials, but with our “smarmy hindsight” we can look back at this and say – without a doubt – shit was broken beyond repair.

But Wait!
Isn’t This Series About the Graves of the Shōguns?

Sorry for wasting 700 words on what shits Iesada and Iemochi were. Their utter inappropriateness on the government stage is just so frustrating to me. After the 8th shōgun, Yoshimune, we just got clowns and puppets[v]. Also, this is my favorite era of Japanese history so I tend to get long winded. Forgive me, please, because I don’t want to commit seppuku.

hara kiri

mea culpa. mea maxima culpa.

Primogeniture 

Primogeniture - not the best way to select a leader in a crisis.

Primogeniture – not the best way to select a leader in a crisis.

The other frustrating thing is that there was a perfectly qualified adult candidate for shōgun[vi].

Who?

Oh, I’m glad you asked. None other than the absolutely capable, exceptionally well-educated, creative yet patient, brought up in conditions that noble Spartans might appreciate – a veritable second Ieyasu; the one and only, Tokugawa Yoshinobu.

BUT NO.
They made a 12 year old kid shōgun and they made him marry the kid daughter of the emperor[vii]. He died from eating too much white rice[viii]. And that’s history, folks.

They buried him in a 2-story pagoda style urn at Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji.

Oh, but get this. His stupid wife from the imperial family, Princess Kazunomiya, died of the same rich people disease[ix].

If you want to see either of their worthless graves, the Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery still seems to be open at Zōjō-ji.

Princess Kazunomiya.

Princess Kazunomiya.

A Final Note

Princess Kazunomiya died in the 10th year of the Meiji Era. The Shōgunate had fallen, but the Tokugawa Funerary Temples were still closely tied to the Tokugawa family. The family hadn’t been bankrupted yet[x]. The story goes that Kazunomiya wanted to be buried at Zōjō-ji with her husband. Take this request with a grain of salt. A woman of her day was chattel. She was a chess piece in a failed political game. As such, her choices were probably (1) get a shit grave back in Kyōto, or (2) get a grave fitting of the wife of a shōgun in Edo (now called Tōkyō). I don’t blame her. If you come to Japan to look at graves, you probably can’t see any of the emperors during the Edo Period. You probably wouldn’t want to either. The shōgunate had the monopoly on bad ass graves. Kazunomiya chose well[xi]. Her grave is still preserved at Zōjō-ji today.

Princess Kazunomiya and Shogun Iesada's 2-story pagoda style urns as they are today at Zojo-ji.

Princess Kazunomiya and Shogun Iesada’s 2-story pagoda style urns as they are today at Zojo-ji.

Princess Kazunomiya's Urn  at Zojo-ji.

Princess Kazunomiya’s Urn at Zojo-ji.

I feel like I’ve babbled a lot and run way off course on these last few entries about the Tokugawa Funerary Temples, but that’s OK. It was a time where everything was running off in all sorts of directions.

Tomorrow, the shōgunate will end. And the last shōgun’s grave will be something to really talk about.
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[i] Don’t worry, I’m humble. I know that in a mere 50-100 years my generation (the last to grow up before the internet) is going to look like a bunch of australopithecines using sharpened bones and antlers digging holes to dump stillborn babies in – not so much out of respect as a need to keep predators from smelling the cadaver and hunting our asses down for dinner.

[ii] No matter what his actual condition, at least he looks competent in his portrait. Take another look at Iemochi. WTF, right?

[iii] Who, quite frankly, sounds like a complete bitch.

[iv] Westerners tend to describe Japanese system as “feudal,” but I prefer the term “bakuhan.” It describes the relationship between the shōgunate bakufu and the domains han).

[v] And not to hate on a kid, but maybe we could say that Yoshimune’s predecessor, the 6 fucking year old Ietsugu, was the beginning of the end. Once you start installing kids as heads of state, you know things are probably going to go downhill.

[vi] Actually, there were two.

[vii] Who, did I mention, sounds like a complete bitch.

[viii] 18th century Asian nobility problems

[ix] 18th century Asian nobility problems

[x] And the major branches never were to be completely bankrupted. Most were offered new aristocratic ranks in the Meiji government.

[xi] Also there’s good reason to believe that in her widowhood, she was banging Katsu Kaishū, a hatamoto of the Tokugawa. I don’t slut shame her for this. I love Katsu Kaishū and whatever makes a person happy is good enough for me. But the imperial court of the time definitely would have looked down on her for anything she did after marrying into the shōgunal family. So whether she was a bitch or not, I feel kinda sad for her. But not too much… fuck aristocrats.

Why is Sendai Horigawa called Sendai Horigawa?

In Japanese History on May 16, 2013 at 1:04 am

仙台堀川
Sendai Horigawa (Sendai Canal)

Hydrophilia, baby!!!

Sendai Horigawa Park

One of the most fascinating things about Tōkyō is finding little hints of the great city of Edo still lingering. Sometimes it might be a building. It might be just a plaque. It might just be the layout of the street or the type of shops prevalent in the area. Sometimes, it might just be a place name.

Tonight while randomly looking around a map of 江東区 Kōtō-ku Kōtō Ward, I saw this place name. Given the location, I had a sneaking suspicion about the origin of the name and I decided to research it to see if I was right.

As mentioned before, Sendai Domain had their upper residence in present day Shiodome. If you went north up the coast of Edo Bay, you’d come to Kiba, and just above that to the location of Sendai Domain’s warehouses. This is where goods would be imported from the domain and, naturally, goods purchased in Edo would be sent back. Food stuffs for the domain serving sankin-kōtai duty were also stored here until they were needed.

This isn't Sendai's warehouse, but this is more or less what the area would have looked like in the Edo Period.

This isn’t Sendai’s warehouse, but this is more or less what the area would have looked like in the Edo Period.

Around the time of the 3rd shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, a canal was dug here to increase water routes from the bay area. Sendai, being an extremely large domain, would have had an especially large warehouse facility here right on the canal. Since the Edo Period, many of the old waterways have been filled in or re-routed. Sendai Canal was no different and eventually the area around it was converted into a so-called hydrophilic park.* That is to say, it’s a big ass park with a lot of lakes and streams. I’ve never been there before – actually I’d never even heard of it before – but a Google image search pulled up pictures of a pretty nice looking park and one picture of the emperor.
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* The Japanese word is 親水公園 shinsui kōen. While hydrophilic is usually a chemistry term, the Japanese word means something like “close to water” or “water-friendly” and refers to parks on rivers or lakes that make an effort to focus on the natural beauty of water.

Why is Marunouchi called Marunouchi?

In Japanese History on May 6, 2013 at 1:03 am

丸ノ内
Marunouchi  (Inside the Circle; more at “Inside the Moat”)

CGI Tokyo Station

CGI Tokyo Station with smoke coming out of a turret.

The derivation of today’s place name is pretty famous, even among foreigners. It’s so famous that even the English version of Wikipedia got it right.

The area was part of the old Hibiya Inlet which fell under the influence of Chiyoda Castle (Edo Castle) and merged into the castle and Yamanote district.

丸 maru (literally circle) was used to refer to 城内 jōnai (inner) castle grounds*  Buildings inside the moat (usually ring shaped) had names like 本丸 honmaru (main citadel), 二ノ丸 ninomaru (secondary citadel), 三ノ丸 sannomaru (tertiary citadel), etc**.  The shōgun (or lord) lived in the honmaru (first citadel) as it was surrounded by all the other maru. By this system of naming, it’s easy to see how 丸ノ内 Marunouchi (inside the circle) could refer to buildings inside the moat (scil; the circle).

Marunouchi - like all of Tokyo, looks nothing like its former self.

I’ve highlighted the “Daimyo Alley,” but in reality, you can see that a lot of other nobles’ residences fall within the “Marunouchi” area. What’s a “Daimyo Alley?” Keep reading!

Over the years Marunouchi has been written a few ways,
the last two being preferred these days:

丸内
丸之内
丸ノ内
丸の内

丸ノ内 Marunouchi was colloquially referred to as 大名小路 daimyō kōji daimyō alley***. It was located on the castle grounds, between the outer moat and inner moat on a small man-made island with its own system of gates and mitsuke’s that made it more or less indistinguishable from the castle proper.

Today, nothing remains of the castle in the area so it’s hard to imagine that this was part of the outermost ring of Japan’s largest castle. However, in the Edo Period, the area was extremely important to the shōgunate. At one point there were 24 daimyō residences here. A list of noble names makes up its residences: Ii, Honda, Sakai, Sakakibara, and Hitotsubashi & Matsudaira**** – to name a few. The daimyō who lived here were mostly hereditary vassals of the Tokugawa shōgun family. That is to say, they were the elite of the elite and the closest to the shōgun. That’s why it was so important that they have palaces within the castle walls.

Daimyo Alley → Marunouchi

The red street is the actual “alley.” From the border of Yurakucho to Tokyo Station to the border of Otemachi is generally considered Marunouchi today, but as you can see other areas were also “inside the moat.”

In the Meiji Era (here we go again), the daimyō were all kicked out and daimyō lands were all confiscated by the new Imperial government.  It seems that the daimyō residences were all knocked down and the area became a training ground for the Imperial Army. A lot of the land was eventually purchased by the forerunner of the Mitsubishi Group and still remains their real estate (can anyone say good business deal?).

Daimyo Alley → Mitsubishigahara → Marunouchi

Mitsubishigahara circa 1902. Not sure what that white building is. Maybe it’s Kochi domain’s upper residence being used as an impromptu office for the Tokyo Governor. Just speculating.

This unsigned oil painting is assumed to also be from 1902. The building in the background is an unknown western style mansion. Until development began in earnest most buildings here were wood, so this is mysterious house is... well, a mystery.

This unsigned oil painting is assumed to also be from 1902. The building in the background is an unknown western style mansion. Until development began in earnest most buildings here were wood, so this is mysterious house is… well, a mystery.

Since the area was just grass and roads and barracks, when Mitsubishi knocked down the few remaining the structures the area was basically a field. In fact from 1890 to about 1910 only the Tōkyō Municipal Government Building and a few Mitsubishi buildings stood in 三菱ヶ原 Mitsubishigahara Mitsubishi Fields. Mitsubishi used the area to build up a central business district and the completion of Tōkyō Station in 1914 definitely sped up that process.

2 rare photos of the original Meiji Era municipal office of Tokyo based in the upper residence of Kochi in Marunouchi's

2 rare photos of the original Meiji Era municipal office of Tokyo based in the upper residence of Kochi in Marunouchi’s “Daimyo Alley.”

Much of the outer moat was filled in after WWII during the massive building efforts that eventually propelled Japan into its legendary “bubble economy.” In fact, if you look back at my articles on Nihonbashi, Kyōbashi, Hatchōbori, Akasaka and Akasaka-mitsuke, you’ll see that most of those areas are all on solid ground now with no moats or canals in sight. The ability to walk (without crossing a bridge from Marunouchi to Yaesu and then to Edomachi (Nihonbashi) would have been shocking to a resident of Edo (read those other links to figure out why)

A view of

A view of “Maruonuchi” from Wadakura Gate. A little bit of Edo still exists…

Today the old Daimyō Alley includes:
Tōkyō Station (about 12 residences stood here)
Hitotsubashi Junction
Ōtemachi (about 10 residences stood here)
Hibiya Station (but not Hibiya Park; about 4 residences)
Yūrakuchō (about 8 residences)
The Kubizuka of Taira no Masakado (one of the most haunted spots in Tōkyō;
daimyō families whose residences maintained the kubizuka were the Doi and Sakai)
The Imperial Palace Park (Kōkyo Gaien) (formerly 9 major residences occupied this space;
it could be argued that this was part of the castle and not daimyō alley)

Bad Ass.

a view of Marunouchi from the Imperial Palace.

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* 丸 maru can also be referred to as or 曲輪, both read as kuruwa.
**Another set of synonyms to 本丸 and the like existed: ―ノ郭, 一ノ曲輪 ichinokuruwa (first citadel), 二ノ郭, 二ノ曲輪 ninokuruwa (second citadel), etc.
*** The area called “Daimyō Alley” took its name from main north/south running street. You can see it on the map. The nickname came to refer the area in general. That said, this was the only long, straight street. Most streets around the castle were intentionally maze-like.
**** Matsudaira, as you may already know, was the Tokugawa family before Ieyasu took the Tokugawa name. For reasons I don’t want to get into now, if you see the kanji (taira/daira) in an old Japanese name, you can assume it’s a noble name. Hitotsubashi is also a collateral family of the Tokugawa.  Fans of the Sengoku era will know why I listed the other 4 names.

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PS: for all info about Japanese castles, please check out: Jcastle.info.
PPS: for all info about samurai, please check out: Samurai-Archives.
PPPS: for a fucking awesome collection of pictures of Tokyo Station, please check out: Japan Web Magazine.

What does Kasumigaseki mean?

In Japanese History on May 2, 2013 at 1:26 am

霞ヶ関
Kasumigaseki (Fog Gate)

It's name is a mystery-tery-tery-tery-tery-tery....

Kasumigaseki was the traditional administrative center of and borders the Imperial Palace (Edo Castle) and is near the National Diet of Japan.

The word is made of 2 kanji:*
霞 kasumi fog, mist, haze
関 seki barrier (gate)

There are competing theories about this place name.

1) It was the place where the land that separates clouds and fog from the solid land.

2) It was a place where you could look down and view the clouds or mist.

3) There was a 関所 sekisho highway-checkpoint here on a road that allegedly became the 奥州街道 Ōshū Kaidō Ōshū Highway. There is a reference to a 霞ノ関 kasumi no seki in the 1360’s in the region.

4) It was the boundary that separated the Yamato  people from the “Eastern Barbarians” in the “Eastern Country” by the mythological 12th emperor 日本武尊 Yamato Takeru. Thus implying that on the other side of the 関 seki border, there was 雲霞 unka clouds & haze, barbarianism, (barbarian) swarms.

This a reconstructed "seki" check point....

This a reconstructed “seki” check point….

There is another 霞ヶ関 Kasumigaseki in Kawagoe, Saitama. The place names may be related, but we can’t say definitely. In my personal opinion, all four sound a little fishy.

1) All land is separated from clouds – why would you need a name a special place for that?

2) Kasumigeki isn’t so elevated that you could look down on clouds or fog; and even if you could, it would still be foggy there too so you couldn’t see anything.

3) The presence of a military checkpoint on the road is not unimaginable, but it doesn’t really explain the kanji  fog.

4) The Yamato Takeru thing is the most difficult to prove or disprove since we’re dealing with a mythological Emperor. But by the time the place name got written down on maps that we still have today, there would be no way to confirm or disprove the claim. And even at that, it still sounds made up to me. Come on, the dude’s name was 日本武尊, we might as well translate it as “Captain Japan.”

Well, as long as we’re just throwing out random theories, I’m gonna throw some of mine out there. Anyone can play this game!

The kanji appears in some other words, 霞草 kasumi sō (baby’s breath, a flower), 霞石 kasumi ishi (nepheline, a mineral), 霞桜 kasumi sakura (Korean hill cherry, a tree). Any of these plants or stones might have been in the area. Also, if the name predates the Edo Period, there is always the possibility of it being a local name which may have origins in the local dialects (which disappeared during the Edo Period or even later by the creation of 標準語 Hyōjungo Standard Japanese in the Meiji Era). Sadly, I fear we may never know the true origin of this place name.

This is Kasumi Sakura - Korean Hill Cherry. It looks pretty foggy/hazy to me. This could totally be the origin of this place. (See what I did there? That's called folk etymology)

This is Kasumi Sakura – Korean Hill Cherry. It looks pretty foggy/hazy to me. This could totally be the origin of this place. (See what I did there? That’s called folk etymology)

In the early Meiji Era, the Fukuoka Domain’s estate was confiscated and re-purposed as the new government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Imperial family also used some of the land for a palace.

Upper Residence of the Daimyo of Fukuoka, the Kuroda Family.

This is the entrance to Fukuoka-han’s Upper Residence in Kasumigaseki. The Daimyo’s family name was Kuroda. SInce the Edo Period, the lot has been used as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The detached palace at Kasumigaseki. I don't know the details about this building, but it seems to have been short lived. Definitely didn't survive WWII.

The detached palace at Kasumigaseki. I don’t know the details about this building.

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* The middle character , read “ga” is shorthand for a classical Japanese genitive particle. An alternate particle can be rendered as and (no) and in modern Japanese by , (no).

Go-kaidō – The 5 Highways of Old Japan

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on April 23, 2013 at 12:41 am

五街道
Go-kaidō (the Five Great Roads)

Tokugawa Roads, awwwwww yeah!

This is a beautiful example of a classic Edo Era Japanese road (taken in the early Meiji Period).

Today we’re talking about the long roads that united Japan in the Edo Period. They still unite Japan today, actually.

First let’s get the etymology out of the way.

五 go is five. 街道 kaidō is usually translated as “highway,” but you could call it a road, a major artery or whatever. The word itself is made up of two characters; 街 kai/gai has multiple readings and meanings, but usually refers to a road or city/area. 道 dō literally means “road” or “way.” A 街道 kaidō sounds much more important than the 道 dō/michi or 通り dōri, both of which mean “street” in the local sense. This is illustrated by the Japanese idiom 街道を歩む kaidō wo ayumu  “to move up the ranks” – the literal meaning is taking the highroad instead of some crappy side street.

There were many “great roads” in old Japan. The 5 we’re talking about today terminated/started in Edo. So the predominance of these routes is a legacy of the Edo Period. If you look at earlier eras in Japanese History, you’ll find other highways of importance, most of which led to Kyōto/Nara.

Another great example of a well maintained Tokugawa Era road in the early Meiji Period.

Another great example of a well maintained Edo Era road in the early Meiji Period.

The 5 Great Roads are as follows:

Tōkaidō
Nakasendō
Kōshū-kaidō
Ōshū-kaidō
Nikkō-kaidō

The great highways of Japan were a little different from the first great highways of Europe built by the Romans.  But there are some similarities. The shōgunate mandated a fixed width of about 11m (36 feet) for the 5 Great Roads. (The size of Roman roads was strictly regulated for military purposes ranging from 3m to 15m depending on conditions). The 5 major routes of Japan were at the very least covered by 3cm of gravel and sand and local villages were required to maintain the road to ensure no pot holes landed a samurai in the mud. Important sections of the roads and dangerous sections of the roads were paved with large stones – similar to Roman roads. A final nicety was added. The roads were intentionally flanked by tall trees which ensured cool, natural protection from the scorching summer sun.

Nakasendo Highway in Edo Period

Here’s a paved section of the Nikko highway as it looked in the Meiji Period. Note the large stones on the main portion and smaller stones on the sides. Also, note the large trees planted along the road. (I’ve never seen those hammocky-looking things before, not sure what’s up wit’ dat)

Today some roads, like the Tōkaidō which united Edo and Kyōto, are major train routes. Originally there were (and still are) local trains, but now there are 新幹線 shinkansen high speed trains connecting Tōkyō and Ōsaka/Kyōto. But in the old days people walked on these routes – some high ranking samurai went on horse, of course. And some history/hiking nerds get in their mind these days to walk the original roads. For example, you can, literally walk from Nihonbashi to Kyōto. You can’t do it in a day (the train takes about 2.5 hours), but sure, you can walk it. And a lot of people still do. Some people walk just sections of the old roads, some crazy fucks actually walk the whole thing non-stop.

The Tokugawa insisted that post towns were established along the roads. In Japanese, these are called 宿 shuku. They were basically rest towns where you could eat, sleep, and – if you were lucky – go drinking & whoring.

A portion of the Nakasendo Highway as it looks today.

A portion of the Nakasendo Highway as it looks today.

Why Were These Roads So Important?

Here’s the weird things to us westerners; the Roman roads and subsequent European roads were pretty much open to anyone. Edo Period Japanese roads were open to local people. No problem. But crossing domain borders and walking across the country was strictly regulated. There were post stations with domainal or shōgunal representatives who would ask the Edo Period equivalent of “Your papers, please?

The reason for this can be summarized by a certain axiom 入鉄砲出女 iriteppō deonna. 入鉄砲 iriteppō means “bringing in guns.” 出女 deonna means “fleeing women.” The general idea was don’t import weapons, especially gunny weapons, into the domains via these official roads and for fuck’s sake, don’t let your womens get out. If the bitches get out, all hell will break loose.

We’ve seen this time and time again.  Ungrateful deonna. Go back to whence you come!*

A typical Japanese road in the Meiji Period. It's not really in very good condition. Grass is starting to grow and it's getting rutted from rickshaw traffic.

A typical Japanese road in the Meiji Period. It’s not really in very good condition. Grass is starting to grow and it’s getting rutted from rickshaw traffic.

But I digress.

Since the point of my series on Tōkyō places names is talking about place names, let’s go back to the etymology and then wrap things up.

東海道 Tōkaidō東海 tōkai means eastern sea.  Add 道 dō and the whole thing means “the eastern sea route.” It connected Edo and Kyōto by a coastal route that still exists today by high speed train. This route is still walked by people who like… walking. Its Tōkyō post stations (shuku) are Nihonbashi and Shinagawa. The old Shinagawa Tōkaidō route is a famous place in Tōkyō and home to something like 30 festivals year round. I go there often. You should too.

中山道 Nakasendō – literally means “the central mountain route.” It connected Edo and Kyōto through an alternate route. Its Tōkyō stations were Nihonbashi and Itabashi, where Kondō Isami was executed and his grave still exists. (Also, don’t confuse the word 中山道  Nakasendō with 中出し nakadashi in polite company).

甲州街道 Kōshū-kaidō甲州 refers to the capital of 甲斐国 Kai no kuni. My apartment is built on the remains of the upper residence of this province. Imagine that this is the road that connects Tōkyō to Mt. Fuji.  In Tōkyō, it passed through such towns as Nihonbashi, Shinjuku, Suginami, and Chōfu (birthplace of Kondō Isami).

奥州街道 Ōshū-kaidō – Basically, this connected Edo with the Tōhoku region (Ōshū is an area in Iwate, if I’m not mistaken). Its Tōkyō stations are Nihonbashi and Senju-shuku. Today there are neighborhoods called 北千住 Kita Senju North Senju and 南千住 Minami Senju South Senju. Minami Senju hosted one of the shōgunate’s 3 main execution grounds (another story in and of itself). This area also was post station for the Nikkō highway.

日光街道 Nikkō-kaidō – This was a direct route from Edo to Nikkō, the final resting spot of Ieyasu and Iemitsu (the first and third shōguns). Just as serving the shōgun in Edo was a duty expected of daimyō, service at Ieyasu’s funerary temple was also expected. There are local 東照宮 Tōshō-gū “Temples of the Eastern Prince” (ie; Ieyasu) all over the place, including several in Edo itself. This was designed to reduce the cost of an official visit to the main temple.  Its stations within modern Tōkyō are Nihonbashi and Senju.

A map of the Go-kaido.

A map of the Go-kaido. Sorry, Japanese only.

 

 

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* By the way, 入鉄砲出女 t-shirts coming soon!
UPDATE: t-shirts are here!!!!

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