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What does Uchisaiwaichō mean?

In Japanese History on March 21, 2015 at 6:01 pm

内幸町
Uchisaiwai-chō (Inner Happy Town)

The postal code "Uchisaiwai-chō" is highlighted in red. The green area is Hibiya Park.

The postal code “Uchisaiwai-chō” is highlighted in red. The green area is Hibiya Park.



内幸町 Uchisaiwai-chō is a backwards L-shaped postal code in 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward that borders on 中央区 Chūō-ku Chūō Ward and 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. If you walk from 日比谷公園 Hibiya Kōen Hibiya Park to 新橋一丁目 Shinbashi Itchōme and 新橋二丁目 Shinbashi Ni-chōme you will pass through Uchisaiwai-chō, which is a relatively non-descript business district to be perfectly honest. That said, if you continue on this route, you will eventually hit 御成門駅 Onarimon Eki Onarimon Station (remember that – it’s gonna come up later). These days, the area’s main claim to fame is its unwieldy name in ローマ字 rōma-ji the Roman alphabet and the 帝国ホテル Teikoku Hoteru Imperial Hotel.

Cherry blossoms blooming in front of the moat with the original Imperial Hotel in the background (circa 1890).

Cherry blossoms blooming in front of the moat with the original Imperial Hotel in the background (circa 1890).

Relation to Edo Castle

The history of this area is directly related to the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate because the modern land is located on plots of land that were within the castle enceinte. But let’s explore this a little more. The history of the castle and the moats goes much farther back.

To modern Tōkyōites[i], place names like 虎ノ門 Tora no Mon, 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri, and 赤坂見附 Akasaka Mitsuke may seem a little cryptic. In an age where cars, taxis, buses, and trains make getting around Tōkyō a breeze, the so-called Imperial Palace is an isolated area surrounded by a quaint moat. But in reality, 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle was the largest castle in the world. It was a city in and of itself and it lay at the heart of one of largest cities in the world – if not the largest city in the world[ii]. The moats you can see today are the oldest and innermost moats. Outside of those moats, a population of 大名 daimyō feudal lords lived in palatial residences. A secondary outer moat system protected the residences of those lords. All of that area was considered part of the castle.

Why am I saying this? Because so many names are related to the castle and the system of bridges and gates along the moats. Uchi-saiwai-chō is one of those stories. So let’s take a look!

Sotobori dōri - literally, outer moat road - is a modern road built over the former outer moat.

Sotobori dōri – literally, outer moat road – is a modern road built over the former outer moat.

First, Let’s Go Back to the 12th Century

In the 12th century, the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan used the inlets and rivers of 千代田 Chiyoda[iii] as a natural defense when they built their fortified residence here. Later, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan used the same hills and rivers for his fortress[iv]. Dōkan utilized the unruly network of rivers and inlets by creating a system of moats.

This is Edo circa 1600. Sorry that I haven't translated the text, but basically you can see the sea coming in right up to the castle. By the end of the Edo Period, the castle was about an hour walk on solid, developed land from the bay area.

This is Edo circa 1600. Sorry that I haven’t translated the text, but basically you can see the sea coming in right up to the castle. By the end of the Edo Period, the castle was about an hour walk on solid, developed land from the bay area.

During the Edo Period

It’s generally assumed that the area called Uchisaiwai-chō was reclaimed upon the arrival of 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 1590’s. I suspect some groundwork had already been laid by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan in the 1400’s, but whatever. By the Edo Period the area was solid ground.

If you go to the ruins of Edo Castle today, you’ll see the moat system is still intact. These moats are 内堀 uchibori inner moats. The castle was much more spread out in its heyday. There was another ring called 外堀 sotobori the outer moat. By the 1960’s this was pretty much all filled in and doesn’t exist today.

The area between the inner moat and outer moat was built up in the Edo Period with 大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō mansions. Daimyō, often translated as feudal lords[v], were required by the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate to perform yearly service to the shōgun called 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance[vi].

Long story short, these lords were required to maintain about 3 residences in the shōgun’s capital as well as their own domain. I like to think of these Edo-based residences as embassies. The compounds closest to the Edo Castle were for conducting direct affairs with the shōgunate and remote governance of their respective domains. These were usually the smallest of the 3 estates the daimyō maintained – but make no mistake about it; these were huge compounds on the most valuable real estate in Edo and subsequently Tōkyō.

I've marked the modern postal code of Uchisaiwai-chō in red. I've marked Hibiya Park in green. In the Edo Period these were all daimyō mansions. This is also all solid land, so the Hibiya Inlet no longer exists.

I’ve marked the modern postal code of Uchisaiwai-chō in red. I’ve marked Hibiya Park in green. In the Edo Period these were all daimyō mansions. This is also all solid land, so the Hibiya Inlet no longer exists.

At that time the area consisted of several large city blocks which housed the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residences and 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residences of various daimyō. I mentioned earlier that modern day Uchisaiwai-chō is a backwards L-shaped neighborhood. Well, in the Edo Period, the same area also could have been viewed as a backwards L-shaped area that included 2 discrete city blocks of 3 daimyō residences each and a single fire break[vii]. The estates of the daimyō on the vertical line of the backwards L remain essentially intact today. The horizontal line of the backwards L was broken up and has been redeveloped over the years. Interestingly, the former estates were the smaller compounds, while the latter were the larger.

Domain
Type of Residence

English

Clan Current Plot of Land
白河藩
Shirakawa Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Shirakawa Domain

upper residence

阿部
Abe
帝国ホテル
Teikoku Hoteru
The Imperial Hotel
薩摩藩
Satsuma Han
上屋敷[viii]
kami-yashiki
Satsuma Domain
upper residence
島津
Shimazu
みずほ銀行旧本店
Mizuho Ginkō Kyū-Honten
Former Mizuho Bank HQ
佐賀藩
Saga Han
中屋敷
naka-yashiki
Saga Domain
middle residence
鍋島
Nabeshima
国立印刷局虎ノ門病院[ix]
Kokuritsu Insatsukyoku
National Printing Bureau
Toranomon Hospital
Toranomon Byōin
郡山藩
Kōriyama Han上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Kōriyama Domain

upper residence

柳沢[x]
Yanagizawa
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
飫肥藩
Obi Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Obi Domain

upper residence

伊東
Itō
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
津和野藩
Tsuwano Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Tsuwano Domain

upper residence

亀井
Kamei
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
The Kuro Mon (black gate) of Satsuma's residence. This picture was taken in the early 1940's before the fire bombing of the city.

The Kuro Mon (black gate) of Satsuma’s residence. This picture was taken in the early 1940’s before the fire bombing of the city.

A close up of the Kuro Mon gate. This gate served as the entrance to the Rokumeikan. Gonna talk about that later.

A close up of the Kuro Mon gate. This gate served as the entrance to the Rokumeikan. Gonna talk about that later.

Gates of Edo Castle

So, as I mentioned earlier, these daimyō residences were located between the inner moat system and the outer moat. What I didn’t mention is that the mansions we’re talking about were located directly on the inside of the outer moat. Of course, this meant they were protected. But this also meant they were only accessible by bridges the crossed the moat and gates that protected the castle[xi]. Gates and other checkpoints were important landmarks and special economies developed around these places. As a result, many places derive from the names of the gates of Edo Castle. And here is where our etymology story starts to bud.

So Let’s Look at the Gates in the Area

Gate Name
Alternate Gate Name
English Names Modern Location
櫻田御門
櫻田見附門
Sakurada Go-mon
Sakurada Mitsuke Mon
桜田門駅
Sakuradamon StationThe entire gate system (mitsuke) is intact.
日比谷御門
日比谷見附門
Hibiya Go-mon
Hibiya Mitsuke Mon
日比谷公園
Hibiya Park
The stone walls are intact.
山下御門
山下橋見附門
Yamashita Go-mon
Yamashita Mitsuke Mon
No remains
幸橋御門
幸橋見附門
Saiwaibashi Go-mon
Saiwaibashi Mitsuke Mon
No remains
芝口御門
芝口見附門
Shibaguchi Go-mon[xii]
Shibaguchi Mitsuke Mon
銀座8丁目
Ginza 8-chōme
A few stones survive and there is a plaque.
虎之御門
虎之見附門
Tora no Go-mon
Tora no Mitsuke Mon
虎ノ門駅
Toranomon Station
Much of the stone walls survive.
Yamashita Mon at the end of the Edo Period. The moat seems to be a closed of space with still water and lotus plants abound.

Yamashita Mon at the end of the Edo Period. The moat seems to be a closed of space with still water and lotus plants abound.

Nothing remains of Yamashita Mon today. This is where the gate once stood.

Nothing remains of Yamashita Mon today. This is where the gate once stood.

Saiwaibashi Mon in the Edo Period.

Saiwaibashi Mon in the Edo Period.

Where Saiwaibashi Gate used to be.

Where Saiwaibashi Gate used to be.

Saiwaibashi Mon was colloquially referred to as 御成御門 O-nari Go-mon. 御成 o-nari is an obsolete Japanese word that refers to the presence of the shōgun[xiii]. This was the gate the 将軍家 shōgun-ke shōgun family and its entourage used to make pilgrimages to the family funerary temple at 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in 芝 Shiba[xiv]. Movements of the shōgun, or daimyō for that matter, were highly ritualized – as such, people took notice. It’s almost as if at any given moment a parade of samurai might cross your path.

A formal procession at Edo Castle.

A formal procession at Edo Castle.

At the beginning of the article I mentioned a walking course that leads directly to 御成門駅 Onarimon Eki Onarimon Station. That was because, the streets within castle itself led directly to Saiwaibashi Gate which in turn fed directly into a boulevard that led directly to the shōgun’s private gate to the Zōjō-ji funerary complex. In the case of Sawaibashi Mon, the “Onari Gate” name didn’t persist (most likely because all of the trappings of the shōgunate were erased in the Meiji Era), but at Zōjō-ji the nickname “Onari Gate” stuck because the sprawling temple of the shōguns’ remained intact until WWII. Sawaibashi Gate doesn’t exist today, but Zōjō-ji’s Onari Gate is completely intact today and there is even a subway station that bears its name.

The shōgun's private entrance to Zōjō-ji.

The shōgun’s private entrance to Zōjō-ji.

After the Edo Period

As I said before, the present day Uchisaiwai-chō is a reversed L-shaped area, but in the Edo Period, it was 2 discrete blocks. In 1872 (Meiji 5), the daimyō residences of Shirakawa, Satsuma, and Saga were torn down and combined to make 内山下町 Uchiyamashita-chō. The name literally means “the town inside Yamashita” – a reference to Yamashita Mon.  The residences of Kōriyama, Obi, and Tsuwano were torn down and combined to make 内幸町 Uchisaiwai-chō. This name literally means “the town inside Saiwai” – a reference to Saiwaibashi Mon. In 1968, the modern postal code system was established and Uchiyamashita-chō and Uchisaiwai-chō were combined under the name Uchisaiwai-chō.

So there it is. Hibiya Park in green and Uchsaiwai-chō (backwards L).

So there it is. Hibiya Park in green and Uchsaiwai-chō is in red (backwards L).

The modern layout, the park is in green and the areas we've been talking about in red.

The modern layout, the park is in green and the areas we’ve been talking about in red.

The lot formerly belonging to Satsuma was destined for a brief flowering of greatness. The area was home to the 鹿鳴館 Rokumeikan, an early Meiji Era hall built in 1881 to entertain foreign dignitaries. The building is sort of synonymous with Japan’s frantic desire to be taken seriously by foreign powers. They were keen to show how culturally sophisticated and worldly they were[xv]. The idea was that the Meiji elite could show off how well they could do western things like speak foreign languages, wear the latest western fashions, dance the waltz, play the piano, and have group sex with foreigners (allegedly). Even 芸者 geisha would show up in the latest western fashions! For a brief period, the Rokumeikan was a symbol of modernity and all the changes brought about by the Meiji Coup of 1868.

A symbol of the Meiji Era's inferiority complex, the Rokumeikan.

A symbol of the Meiji Era’s inferiority complex, the Rokumeikan.

The building is so inextricably linked to the image of the Early Meiji Period that there is even a term 鹿鳴館時代 Rokumeikan Jidai the Rokumeikan Era. However, in reality, westerners seemed to be laughing at the Japanese pretending to not be Japanese and the average run of the mill Edoite (who wouldn’t have had access to such elite gala events) would have been baffled by what went on in the hall and its gardens. In fact, there seems to have been some public backlash to all the western extravagance and the sex scandals happening at the taxpayer’s expense. The so-called Rokumeikan Era[xvi] didn’t even last 10 years. It seems to have run out of steam by the mid 1880’s. In terms of popular destinations for foreigners, the Rokumeikan was soon replaced by the far more conventional 帝国ホテル Teikoku Hoteru Imperial Hotel which was originally built in 1890[xvii].

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[i]
Expats in particular…
[ii] At the time.
[iii] What does Chiyoda mean?
[iv] In the Edo Period, this ancient fortification served as the 本丸 hon maru main citadel (the residence of the shōgun and his family – the most secure enceinte of the castle) and the 二之丸 ni no maru secondary citadel (theoretically, the residence of the shōgun’s adult offspring). If you walk the grounds of Edo Castle (officially known by the BS title of 皇居 kōkyo the Imperial Palace), the terms hon maru and ni no maru are still used on signs, so they’re easy to find.
[v] A contestable term at best, but an easy convention.
[vi] What’s sankin-kōtai?
[vii] Technically speaking, the enclosure from 櫻田御門 Sukurada Go-mon Sakuradamon to 虎之御門 Tora no Go-mon Toranomon was home to 7 discrete blocks of about 28 daimyō residences. The area was accessible by 5 見附 mitsuke “approaches” – Sakurada Mon, Hibiya Mon, Yamashita Mon, Saiwaibashi Mon, and Tora no Mon. More abou that in a minute.
[viii] Some sources say 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence. To be honest, my sources have conflicting info on a few of these, which makes me think (1) daimyō were moved around after fires, (2) daimyō were moved around after changes in rank, (3) daimyō residences were re-designated as upper/middle/lower when necessary, and/or (4) the upper/middle/lower thing wasn’t officially codified nomenclature. Anyhoo, take the designation as upper/middle/lower in this article with a grain of salt.
[ix] It seems Saga Domain’s residence was moved from the Yamashita Mon area to the Tora no Mon area at some point.
[x] Many of you might recognize this name from 柳沢吉保 Yanagizawa Yoshiyasu, sometimes referred to by his honorary title 松平時之助 Matsudaira Tokinosuke. He was the lover of the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. He was originally daimyō of 川越藩 Kawagoe Han Kawagoe Domain, but shōgun Tsunayoshi elevated him to lord of the prestigious (and traditionally Tokugawa controlled) territory of 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain. Yoshiyasu’s descendants were the lords of 郡山藩 Kōriyama Han Kōriyama Domain in modern day 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture. Yoshiyasu was apparently a spiteful little bitch who destroyed the meteoric career of 喜多見重政 Kitami Shigemasa. You can read the story here.
[xi] Remember, if you’re inside the moat, you’re inside the castle – even if it’s the outer enceinte.
[xii] This gate burnt down in 1734 and was subsequently dismantled. Interestingly, Shibaguchi Mon was built where an undefended bridge formerly stood called 新橋 atarashii hashi the new bridge. Once the defensive structure, Shibaguchi Mon, was torn down, a new undefended bridge was set up and reverted to the former name, 新橋, but with the pronunciation Shinbashi. Today, you can find shops in 銀座8丁目 Ginza Hatchōme that use the name Shibaguchi.
[xiii] It was used for other nobles, too.
[xiv] See my article on Shiba here.
[xv] They were hoping to renegotiate the so-called unequal treaties signed by the Tokugawa Shōgunate.
[xvi] If you want to know more about the Rokumeikan, here’s the Wikipedia article.
[xvii] The Imperial Hotel is something of an institution in Tōkyō. Its own history is linked to the ups and downs of Tōkyō itself, but I think it’s outside of the scope of this article. If you want to learn more about the Imperial Hotel, here’s the Wikipedia page.

Book Review – Samurai Revolution

In Japan Book Reviews, Japanese History on November 4, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Samurai Revolution
Romulus Hillsborough

 

samurai-revolution-book

 

Before we go back to some place names, I’ve been asked to review a book. The book is called Samurai Revolution[i] and is written by Romulus Hillsborough. I’ve read most of Romulus’ books in the past[ii], which are all of an easily digestible size. Except for his book on Sakamoto Ryōma, you could read most of them before bed over the course of 2-3 nights. So when I got my copy of Samurai Revolution, I was shocked. I actually had no idea that this book is – to date – his magnum opus clocking in at 593 pages, but if you count the appendix, glossary, index, bibliography and other resources it actually has nearly 610 pages of text. Needless to say, it’s taken me a long time to read the book, so apologies for the being late with this article.

 

 

My New Way to Review Books

In the past, I’ve recommended Japanese history books. Those books haven’t been anywhere near 600 pages.  I tossed them out there as books accessible to a broad range of readers. Except for one book[iii], to date I don’t think I’ve recommended any scholarly or overly demanding books.  But over the years, JapanThis! has evolved and changed and so… here were are. I’m going to try a new type of article where I review (not recommend) a book about Japan or Japanese History. So bear with me as I figure this out how I want to do this. The 593 page load was really time-consuming, so this first in-depth review might be a mess. If that’s the case, I apologize in advance, and that is no fault of the book of itself.

That said, I’ve created this new system for reviewing books as opposed to recommending. I’ve laid out my system here. The link will always be at the top of the page in web view (as opposed to mobile view).

 

.
Quick Review

  What I expected What I got
Overall Impression A breezy stroll through Katsu Kaishū’s version of the Bakumatsu[iv] supported by accounts of the major players of the Meiji Coup. In English, this is the best diachronic breakdown of the Bakumatsu I’ve read[v]. It’s accessible. There is unprecedented access to quotes and translations of Japanese source material that has never been available (or easily accessible) in English.
Type of Book A collection of anecdotes from Katsu Kaishū’s memoirs, most likely in chronological order. A comprehensive narrative of the Bakumatsu with citations. While Katsu Kaishū’s memoirs, interviews, and biographies take center stage, they are by no means the whole of the book.
Readability I expected a good narrative. Say what you will about him, but Hillsborough is a good storyteller. Quite readable, actually! Hillsborough can tell a story. Even in such a confusing time, the man has an eye for detail and has come into his own as a writer, in my opinion.
Bias I expected the Tokugawa to be the bad guys, Katsu Kaishū and Sakamoto Ryōma to be the only people who understand anything, and Satsuma, Chōshū, and Tosa to be the superstars of the greatest thing in the world, the Meiji Coup. The book is fairly free of bias. From time to time there is some pro-Meiji rhetoric and a venture or two into historical fictionland, but in the grand scheme of things, it ain’t bad at all. (that’s OK, my stupid blog is all about pro-shōgunate rhetoric, lol).
Audience Fans of the Bakumatsu looking for Katsu Kaishū’s point of view (generally not available in English), Sakamoto Ryōma lovers, and Saigō Takamori lovers. Hard to say. The book presents a lot of general information as if the reader has no idea about these events and concepts, yet plows forward in a style which is nearly academic. I’m not sure who this book was written for… perhaps for people who have dissed his books in the past.
Stars[vi]

★★★★☆

 

 

Overall Review

In short, I’m pleased with this book. I would recommend this to every reader of JapanThis! who is interested in the Bakumatsu. I never get tired of going over the events of this period, but this book presents a lot of information that hasn’t been available in English (or hasn’t been easily accessible in English). As such, Hillsborough has put together something special. He can tell a story. He went to great primary and secondary sources. I’m assuming this book is aimed at intermediate lovers of the Bakumatsu, but the language is often confused between beginners and advanced[vii].
As the main focal point of this book, Romulus has chosen Katsu Kaishū. Fans of Japanese history are lucky to have Kaishū as source. Not only was he a major player during the transition from the so-called Pre-Modern Era to the Modern Era, he survived a social, economic, political, and cultural revolution and was on intimate terms with key players on both sides. Many involved were killed along the way.

He was born into a poor hatamoto[viii] family whose reputation was besmirched by his own father, Katsu Kokichi. Katsu Kaishū’s first exposure to the reality of his liege lords was when he was allowed to play in the inner sanctum of Edo Castle during the reign of the 11th shōgun, Tokugawa Ienari[ix]. He had a good head on his shoulders and when his inept, but hilarious father retired from family headship, Kaishū continued to apply himself diligently to get a post in the shōgunate. He applied himself much more than the previous 2 heads of the family but obviously learned how to be a bit of a rebel from them. But he eventually found himself at the center of the greatest cultural shift Japan had ever seen up to that point. He built up Japan’s first modern navy. He negotiated the surrender of Edo Castle (sparing the country’s most populous and beautiful city unnecessary destruction). He lived well into the Meiji Period with a wife, some children, and a culturally appropriate network of side pussy suitable to a man of his rank[x].

 

 

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[i] Subtitle: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen through the Eyes of Shōgun’s Last Samurai. I presume this title is intentionally vague. Most Japanese nouns don’t differentiate between singular and plural. Many foreign loanwords in English retain the source language’s grammar. As such we could be talking about one samurai (in this case, Katsu Kaishū) or many samurai (all the other samurai who crop up in the book). At any rate, this is a savvy subtitle and it’s part of what piqued my curiosity in the book in the first place.
[ii] Possibly all of them, I just don’t have a list in front of me.
[iii] Tour of Duty: Samurai, Military Service in Edo, and the Culture of Early Modern Japan by Dr. Constantine Vaporis, which even as an academic text is accessible and enjoyable by anyone interested in the police of alternate attendance. Most people don’t want to go that deep, but if you really want to understand the evolution of Edo-Tōkyō and you really want to understand how this policy helped unify and boosted local economies while creating a truly national economy – all of which is alive and well today to a certain degree – this book is something you need. Clearly not for everyone, but I’m a big fan.
[iv] By the way, I’m a big fan of Katsu Kaishū, he was my gateway to the Bakumatsu. The dynamism of some people of this era, and the stubbornness of others, all united by the patriotism, often tainted by selfishness, is probably typical of every regime change we’ve seen. Except that Japan was literally dragged kicking and screaming into a so-called Modern Era that they didn’t choose. From the get go, few people recognized this as quickly as Katsu Kaishū.
[v] To be honest, in book form, this may be the only diachronic account of the Bakumatsu that I’ve read. I know there are other “definitive” books on the subject but I don’t think I’ve ever read them, to be honest.
[vi] About my “star system,” 4/5 is probably as good as it will get. I’m reserving 5/5 for something really mind-blowing. I dunno…, a picture book of Hijikata Toshizō’s girlfriends or something. Every book, every movie, every song has some room for criticism. Also, I have no half-stars because they don’t display correctly across platforms.
[vii] I’m guessing this is a by-product of the writing process. A lot of research has been put into this; different eras seem to have been written about at different times.
[viii] Hatamoto were direct retainers of the shōgun family in Edo. This doesn’t mean hatamoto were particularly rich because the status was inherited, but it did mean they had social rank. In theory, they might even be permitted to attend an audience with the shōgun.
[ix] #TeamIenari
[x] This is a holdover from the Edo Period. Many social changes occurred, but c’mon, it’s hard to give up your fuck buddies. Would you give up yours? And no, “side pussy” isn’t the official term. The official term is 側室 sokushitsu literally, “side room.” Until very recently, marriage in Japan was not a monogamous affair. While the concept of a bastard child existed in Europe and America, in Japan the need to sustain the direct male line demanded that you get as many sons as necessary to ensure smooth succession of the family leadership. It wasn’t cheating; it was a way to avoid familial extinction.

What does Tamachi mean?

In Japanese History on May 19, 2014 at 5:22 pm

田町
Tamachi (field town, rice paddy town)

Tamachi Station in the rain

Tamachi Station in the rain

Let’s Get the Kanji Out of the Way First


ta, da, den
field, rice paddy

machi, chō
town, neighborhood

Present day 田町 Tamachi is a stop on the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line snuggled between 品川 Shinagawa and 浜松町 Hamamatsu-chō[i]. It’s also home of 慶応大学 Keiō Daigaku Keiō University established by 福沢諭吉 Fukuzawa Yukichi whose countenance graces the ¥10,000 note[ii]. It’s also home to one of the best burger shops in Tōkyō, Munch’s Burger Shack[iii].

Fukuzawa Yukichi, an educator and innovator in Japan.

Fukuzawa Yukichi, an educator and innovator in Japan.

Today there is no official area called Tamachi. In its most limited sense, the name Tamachi refers to the area directly surrounding 田町駅 Tamachi Eki Tamachi Station (which is technically located in 芝 Shiba). In its broadest sense, it is used to refer to a vague area in Shiba and the edge of 三田 Mita). There was an area known as 芝田町 Shiba-Tamachi until 1947 when the 23 wards were restructured.

Today you can take a stroll down Keio Naka-dori Shoten-gai. It's a bunch of izakaya and drinking/eating places that retain some of the Edo aesthetic.

Today you can take a stroll down Keio Naka-dori Shoten-gai. It’s a bunch of izakaya and drinking/eating places that retain a tiny bit of the Edo aesthetic.

Theory #1
Tamachi – Field Town

The most commonly given etymology is that the area was more or less plots of land used by farmers (it’s unclear whether vegetables or rice). With the development of Edo Bay by the Tokugawa Shōgunate, a merchant town was established in the area and given the rustic name 田町 Tamachi, literally “town in the fields.” This explanation is bolstered by the fact that the name Tamachi first appears in the Edo Period and that the town was located near the sea and the 東海道 Tōkaidō Tōkai Highway, both factors that would have necessitated and encouraged the growth of new merchant towns as the shōgun’s capital grew.

For the non-samurai, non-merchant population of Old Japan, this was your reality. No wonder Hideyoshi locked the classes down. He more than anyone knew that if you wanted to end the

For the non-samurai, non-merchant population of Old Japan, this was your reality.
No wonder Hideyoshi locked the classes down. He more than anyone knew that if you wanted to end the “warring states” period, you HAD to tie people to this work.

Theory #2
Mita Machi – Honorable/Divine Rice Paddy Town

Another theory ties into the origin of the place name Mita, which is right next to former Shiba-Tamchi. This theory points at evidence that there was a special set of rice paddies here that were under direct control of the Emperor (in the late Heian Period) and later, the Kamakura Shōgunate. This kind of rice paddy was called a 御田 mita “honorable rice paddy.” A related theory states that the type of rice paddy here was actually a 神田 mita[iv] “divine rice paddy.” This rice would be sent as offerings to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture and nearby 御田八幡宮 Mita Hachiman-gū Mita Hachiman Shrine[v]. Whichever it was, an honorable rice paddy or divine rice paddy, it appears the name Mita is quite ancient and we do find 御田 Mita honorable rice paddy in the historical record and in the name of the shrine[vi].

rice tamachi

Rice paddies don’t change over the ages.

At any rate, at some point in history, the town 御田町 Mita Machi came to be written with the more easily recognized kanji 三田町 Mita Machi. The area near present day Tamachi Station preserved the old writing but people were mistakenly reading the name as 御田町 O-tamachi honorable field town and eventually just dropped what they perceived as an honorific 御 o (because usually town names don’t get honorific prefixes) and the place name was reduced to 田町 Tamachi, literally “field town.”

Furthermore, in the Edo Period, there were many 藩邸 hantei daimyō residences in the area and so you would have had samurai from all over Japan speaking their own dialects and having some idiosyncratic rules about kanji use. As a new pair of Edo dialects came to emerge under Tokugawa rule, it’s not unreasonable to imagine 御田町 Mita Machi being read as O-tamachi, especially when compared to nearby 三田町 Mita Machi which is relatively unambiguous in this part of Japan[vii].

Living in the suburbs of Edo was nice. Rustic, but nice. Repeat to yourself, the Yamanote was forested like most of Japan was.

Living in the suburbs of Edo was nice. Rustic, but nice. Repeat to yourself, the Yamanote was forested like most of Japan was.

I’m gonna say right now that there’s not much of a chance of knowing the etymology for sure, but a mixture of those two stories is my pet theory. But wait, there’s something pretty hilarious that’s gonna happen.

One of the greatest idiots of the Meiji Coup: Saigo Takamori. Typical imo zamurai of the time.

One of the greatest idiots of the Meiji Coup: Saigo Takamori.

Theory #3
Edoites Were Making Fun of People From Satsuma

OK, this is going to require a little cultural background.

My favorite theory (but I don’t believe it for a minute) is based on the fact that one of the first daimyō residences built here was that of 薩摩藩 Satsuma-han Satsuma Domain. One of Satsuma’s 名物 meibutsu famous things was (and still is) the 薩摩芋 Satsuma Imo Satsuma potato, also known as sweet potato. The classic Edo Period put down for a country bumpkin was 芋 imo potato[viii]. The refined Edo samurai wouldn’t think twice about referring to country samurai as 芋侍 imo zamurai filthy, dirt grubbing potato samurai – an epithet that resonates with the same sort of disdain and contempt with which Tokugawa Ieyasu viewed former dirt grubbing farmer, Toyotomi Hideyoshi [ix]. It’s classism at its best[x].

Shimazu Yoshihiro, lord of Satsuma at the Battle of Sekigahara and the Osaka Campaigns when the Tokugawa eradicated the last real military resistance to their hegemony.

Shimazu Yoshihiro, lord of Satsuma at the Battle of Sekigahara when the Tokugawa eradicated the last real military resistance to their hegemony.
Spoiler Alert!
(He drops the ball).

The lords of Satsuma, the 島津氏 Shimazu-shi Shimazu clan, were 外様大名 tozama daimyō outer lords during the Edo Period because… well, they were on the losing side of the Battle of Sekigahara, when Tokugawa Ieyasu more or less won control of the majority of Japan. But the Shimazu clan was descended from the progenitor of the first of the three great shōgunates, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo, founder of the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura shōgunate. They had pedigree, so Ieyasu didn’t make them relinquish their territory. As a result, they had control of trade routes and received tribute from the Ryūkyū Islands (modern Okinawa). They also had a vast, productive territory that often acted like an independent state. And while the 1st Tokugawa shōgun, Ieyasu, was lenient to them despite fucking up big time at the Battle of Sekigahara, the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu, who worshiped Ieyasu, dealt with them quite coldly. One gets the impression that far off Satsuma held a grudge for being left on the outside.

3rd shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu.

3rd shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu.
“Shimazu? Y’all was a bunch of treacherous bitches. Eat a bag of dicks!”
That’s a literal quote, by the way.

But back to this Edo Period put down thing. In short, they were from the farthest limits of Japan[xi], they were famous a simple, dirty tuber that grows in the dirt[xii]. This theory says that the local Edoites and Edo samurai mocked Satsuma by calling the area 田町 Tamachi field town. They were a domain subjugated by local hero Tokugawa Ieyasu, they were from the country and they were no better than filthy, stinky, sweaty, dirt eating farmers.

This is a colorful story and was no doubt made up by imaginative Edoites. But in my honest opinion, this is utterly ridiculous. As much as I hate Satsuma’s role in the 幕末 bakumatsu end of the shōgunate, and as much as I hate the role of Satsuma’s elite in the oligarchy that sent Japan on a collision course with WWII, I don’t think the shōgunate would have tolerated anyone mocking a clan as rich, powerful, and connected as the Shimazu unless the family had been shamed and abolished by Ieyasu – which they weren’t. They had strong negotiating power and as such had a unique relationship with the Tokugawa Shōgunate. They even married into the Tokugawa Shōgun Family in the final days of the Edo Period[xiii].

Anyways, as much as I would love this to be true, the Shimazu were not the laughing stock of the Edo Period that this theory makes them out to be. And now you know how to mock people from the countryside in Japan. Just add 芋 imo before any noun[xiv].

Tamachi Today

One of Tamachi's crowning jewel's is the NEC world headquarters. I used to work in this building. The top of the building is narrow, buts the base is built on a sprawling lot. I'll get back to that in a minute.

One of Tamachi’s crowning jewel’s is the NEC world headquarters. I used to work in this building. The top of the building is narrow, but the base is built on a sprawling lot.
I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Quite a few daimyō had residences in the area, but the most famous was 薩摩藩 Satsuma-han who had their massive 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence here. It was a sprawling suburban palace on the outskirts of Edo. Unfortunately, nothing remains of it today, but the entire lot is now the world headquarters of NEC[xv]. A few other major manufacturing companies are in the area: Mitsubishi Motors and Morinaga (a sweets company).

Tamachi Station has this super-70's dasai 3D mural (mosaic?) that no one notices. But if you look closely it's Saigo Takamori and Katstu Kaishu drinking sake together in a traditional meeting. There is also a

Tamachi Station has this super-70’s dasai 3D mural (mosaic?) that no one notices. But if you look closely it’s Saigo Takamori and Katstu Kaishu drinking sake together in a traditional meeting. There is also a “kurofune” (black ship) flying out to space.
It’s brutally ugly. And the only thing that is really interesting about it is the fact that they used Saigo Nanshu as a name instead of Saigo Takamori.
This was the name he used when writing Chinese poetry.

In closing, I’d like to say that Tamachi’s role in Japanese history is mostly defined by a meeting (or series of meetings) between 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū, a hatamoto of the Tokugawa, and 西郷隆盛 Saigō Takamori, an imo zamurai from Satsuma. One of the highest ranking women in Edo Castle was 篤姫 Atsu-hime Princess Atsu who was of the Satsuma Shimazu clan and was married to Tokugawa Iesada, the 13th shōgun (I alluded to this earlier). Katsu Kaishū, as a direct retainer of the Tokugawa was dependent on them for his income. During the collapse of the Tokugawa regime, he was a genius at working within the system to change the system. He knew Tokugawa hegemony had to end and helped various groups work to that end.

I love Katsu Kaishu!

Undoubtedly (IMHO) the biggest bad ass and biggest hero of the Bakumatsu, Katsu Kaishu. After Ii Naosuke was assassinated, he was the only Japanese guy who could communicate reality to imo zamurai.

However, he never sold out the Tokugawa. When the newly formed Meiji Army marched on Edo it was led by that imo-zamurai, Saigō Takamori. He threatened to march on the city (which would probably have burned the city) or burn Edo Castle (which in turn would probably have burned the city). Katsu Kaishū negotiated a peaceful surrender of the Edo Castle – I’ve heard Atsu had a hand in this, too. The Tokugawa left the castle and 1,000,000 lives were spared a horrific holocaust at the hands of Satsuma and Chōshū. This meant Edo lived to see another day… albeit with a new name, Tōkyō.

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[i] Although, a new station is being built between Shinagawa and Tamachi, so this dynamic will change in the future.
[ii] And was one of the first Japanese dignitaries to travel abroad at the end of the Edo Period.
[iii] If you go, always remember that Japanese “rare” means “still twitching,” “medium” is “rare,” “well-done” is “medium,” and “very well done” is probably still a little pink. While some chefs have mastered the art of the hamburger, most of them fail on the cooking front because who the fuck eats a rare hamburger?? Welcome to sushi-land. The Japanese love that shit.
[iv] 神田 has multiple readings, shinden and kanda being the most common. The latter being a topic I will discuss at some point in the near future. Wink wink. That said, the reading of and as /mi/ is quite ancient and really sounds like it’s associated with the imperial courts at Heian Kyō or Nara. I feel like there’s a close connection to Shintō in that reading. But that’s just my impression.
[v] The shrine is not in its original location, though it is near Tamachi Station even today. The shrine still uses the original spelling 御田 and not the modern 三田. The shrine was founded in 709.
[vi] There’s nothing saying both weren’t true – or that the similarities are related, ie; it’s a kind of Heian Period or Kamakura Period kanji joke.
[vii] It was a long time ago, so I don’t know if it’s any good or not, but I tried to tackle this problem last year in my article on Mita. (edit: Just had a look and the article is pretty short, but wouldn’t be a waste of your time).
[viii] This pejorative use of 芋 imo potato is still around, actually.
[ix] While Ieyasu never called Hideyoshi a hick (they grew up in roughly the same part of Japan), he detested Hideyoshi because of his low birth (he was a dirty, dirt grubbing farmer) and the high rank he had achieved (he united Japan under his control, made all the daimyō pledge allegiance to him, and became the regent of the emperor). Ieyasu didn’t like that shit one bit. Just as the shōgunate vilified Hideyoshi in the histories, the tozama daimyō (outer lords) were branded as “outer” for all of the Edo Period. Add to that the fact that city people always look down on the dirty, uneducated, uncouth, and unsophisticated people from outside of the city. Edoites were no different. The elite samurai of Edo definitely viewed themselves as the cultural and moral superiors of those country samurai.
[x] Worst?
[xi] Literally, the southernmost region of Kyūshū and – at the time – the southernmost region of Japan.
[xii] Satsuma imo was not well known in Kantō before the Edo Period. The system of alternate attendance brought goods from all over Japan to Edo. That said, Satsuma imo was popular with women, not men. It was thought to be good for beautiful skin.
[xiii] More about this in a minute.
[xiv] JapanThis does not endorse mocking or discriminating against people on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status.
[xv] To the best of my knowledge NEC has no connection to Satsuma.

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