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What does Sendagi mean?

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on April 14, 2014 at 8:28 am

千駄木
Sendagi (a lot of trees)

sendagi_station

Sendagi is a mixed residential and shopping area between Nezu and Yanaka[i]. Today the area is distinctly shitamachi[ii]. However, if you go there you’ll notice slopes which are clear indicators that in the Edo Period the area was mixed with the elites living on the yamanote (high city) and the merchants and other people living on in the shitamachi (low city) while low ranking samurai naturally lived on the hillsides according to rank.

The area of Tōkyō extending from Ueno Station[iii] out to Nippori Station[iv] is one of the most popular destinations for lovers of Edo-Tōkyō to take walks. There are many different routes one could take through this area, but one common route is walking the 谷根千 Yanesen, an abbreviation based on the collective areas of  谷中 Yanaka, 根津 Nezu, and 千駄木 Sendagi. The area is dotted with temples, shrines, shops dating as far back as the Edo Period, and is literally so steeped in history that it would probably take a book to do it justice[v]. Also, there are a lot of references to past articles, so be sure to check the footnotes (remember, they’re clickable).

Given the cultural richness of the area, I will just point you here, and move on to the timeline of Sendagi and then get into the place name itself. If that’s alright with you…

Edo Period gate to the residence of the Komagome Village headman.

Edo Period gate to the residence of the Komagome Village headman.

The area was formerly part of 駒込村 Komagome Mura Komagome Village and in fact today is still officially part of Komagome[vi]. The name Komagome isn’t attested until the Sengoku Period. One the other hand, 千駄木 Sendagi isn’t attested until the early Edo Period when it appears as a label in a map. The label reads 上野東漸院持ち駒込千駄木御林 Ueno Tōzen’in mochi Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi the Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi which is controlled by Ueno Tōzen Temple. Another early Edo Period map includes the label 上野寒松院持ち駒込千駄木御林 Ueno Kanshō’in mochi Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi the Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi which is controlled by Ueno Kanshō Temple. An 御林 o-hayashi was a hilltop wooded area owned by the shōgunate, but control of the area was granted to a lord or temple[vii]. Which temple was actually in control of Komagome Sendagi O-hayashi at what time isn’t clear to me, but it’s not really important for us today[viii].

O-hayashi Inari Shrine in Sendagi is one of the legacies of the old forest.

O-hayashi Inari Shrine in Sendagi is one of the legacies of the old forest.

About 1656, the former hilltop forest came to be the site of a daimyō residence of the lords of 豊後国府内藩 Bungo no Kuni Funai Han Funai Domain, Bungo Province (present day Oita Prefecture in Kyūshū). The family was the 大給松平家 Ōgyū Matsudaira, a samurai family from 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province, Tokugawa Ieyasu’s homeland. As Edo depended on the shōgunate and the shōgun himself was from Mikawa, having a Mikawa family bearing the name Matsudaira bolstered the area’s prestige[ix]. The hill became a yamanote town comprised of high ranking samurai residences. It seems that because the Ōgyū residence was first the prestigious palace built on the hilltop, the area came to be to be known as 大給坂 Ōgyūzaka Ōgyū Hill. If you go to the top of Ōgyūzaka there is a crappy little park with a huge gingko tree called the 大銀杏 Ōichō[x]. They say this tree stood inside the original Ōgyū property.

Yup. That's a big tree, alright.  OK, let's move on.

Yup. That’s a big tree, alright.
OK, let’s move on.

Nearby is another hill called 道灌山 Dōkanyama. It’s said that at the end of the Muromachi Period, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan had a branch castle here which he built for tactical support of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle[xi]. I only jumped way back in time to mention this because… well, you’ll see.

Dokanyama is the large slope next to Nishi-Nippori Station. I've seen this hill hundreds of times, but I never knew it was called Dokanyama until today. Cool!

Dokanyama is the large slope next to Nishi-Nippori Station.
I’ve seen this hill hundreds of times, but I never knew it was called Dokanyama until today.
Cool!

 

OK, so now let’s look at the kanji.

 


sen
1000

da
a pack horse;
a load carried by a pack horse

gi
tree

 

WTF?! This fucking kanji again?

WTF?!
This fucking kanji again?

The other day, we looked at 千駄ヶ谷 Sendagaya and we learned that 千駄 senda was another word for 沢山 takusan a lot. If we want to take the kanji as they are written today, which is by all means the easiest way to do things, we can deduce that the name 千駄木 Sendagi means “a lot of trees.” From what we know, the place name is first written down[xii] in the early Edo Period. From what we know, the area was a hilltop forest at that time. One could make a very strong case that this is the origin of the name Sendagi.

 

But it’s Never That Easy, Is It?

So there are some other theories of varying quality – or a few variations with some anecdotal stories added to lend credence to the general narrative[xiii]. OK, so where to begin?

 

Sexxxy firewood. Awwwwww yeah!

Sexxxy firewood.
Awwwwww yeah!

 

The 1000 Da Theory

In the late Muromachi Period and opening years of the Edo Period, the forest here was used for lumber or for firewood. You could easily get 千駄 sen da 1000 da each day. (If you don’t know what 1000 da are, you should read the last article). This is basically adding information to the above theory.

 

Chinaberry is a flowering tree. There are many planted around Edo Castle. In the background you can see (I think) Shimizu Mon.

Chinaberry is a flowering tree. There are many planted around Edo Castle.
In the background you can see (I think) Shimizu Mon.

The Ōta Dōkan Did It Theory

During the construction of Edo Castle (or perhaps his aforementioned branch castle), Ōta Dōkan used the area for lumber. After cutting down so many trees, he re-forested the area by planting 栴檀 sendan Chinaberry trees here. In the old Edo accent, sendan ki became sendagi. The Ōta Dōkan thing could be true or not. Who knows? The Chinaberry tree thing? It’s possible. Still, we’re looking at a bunch of trees any way you look at it.

 

20121218160224a11

 

It’s a Reference to a Traditional Japanese Prayer For Rain

The last theory is interesting. The godfather of Japanese folklore and linguistics, 柳田國男 Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962), actually spoke about this place name. The reason his story bears repeating is because he insisted that prior to the Meiji Restoration, the common narrative of Japanese history was the story of the elite classes only. The day to day toils and reality of the commoners was just omitted. He was also fascinated by the variety of Japanese dialects and began laying the groundwork for modern Japanese dialectology.

Anyhoo, his theory says that in the Edo Period, and indeed, in his youth, at the beginning of summer as the rains got scarcer, the farmers would bring 1000 da of reeds or wood to the nearest body of water and burn them as an 雨乞い amagoi prayer for rain. In the common parlance, this activity was called 千駄焚き senda-taki burning 1000 da. While he was making some of the first modern dialect maps of Japan, he noticed that in many parts of the country the phrase senda-taki was contracted to sendaki. He speculated that this might be the origin of both Sendagi (sendaki – burning 1000 da of wood) and Sendagaya (senda kaya – buring 1000 da of reeds).

His speculation is interesting because he’s a guy who was born with the first 10 years of the Meiji Era, watched Japan modernize, go all crazy theocratic and fascistic, be occupied by a foreign power for the first time ever, modernize again, and host the Olympics. He also lived through the greatest and fastest advances in linguistics and the scientific method.

Kunio himself. Or as I like to call him, "kun'ni."

Kunio himself.
Or as I like to call him, “kun’ni.”

 

So Which Theory Is Correct?

With all this talk of Yanagita Kunio, it’s gotten me thinking about my choice in terminology up to this point on JapanThis!. Linguistics is a science and as such when talking within the framework of science, terminology is important. I’ve been using the word “theory” for some time in the vernacular sense. But “theory” actually means a kind of testable model – something that is so predictable that we can say it’s a fact – for example; the Theory of Gravity or the Theory of Evolution. These things we know are true. The correct term for dealing with much of what I write about on this blog is “speculation.” Unless we have an actual historical document saying “so-and-so named this place such-and-such because of this-and-that” were are dealing with speculation[xiv].

but_i_digress

 

As usual, we saw some interesting speculations today. Without extraordinary evidence, I tend to err on the side of simplicity. For me, I like the literal reading of the kanji. There were a lot of trees in the area. I think the rest of the stories are embellishments, folk etymologies, or downright wishful thinking and coincidence.

Then again, what do I know? I’m just some dude with an internet connection.

 

 

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[i] See my article on Yanaka.
D’oh! I’ve never written about Yanaka before. Weird. Well, anyways, if you scroll down a little bit, on the right hand side there is a list of the 50 most recent articles. Above the list is a search field. If you type “yanaka,” a ton of articles will come up. (If you click word “yanaka” above, it will bring up the same list of articles. Can everyone say, “let me google that for you?”)

[ii] In the modern sense of the word.

[iii] See my super old article on Ueno. Or not, because I just looked at it and it sucks. It’s from when I started covering place names. Night and day difference.

[iv] See my super old article on Nippori. One of the early ones that got researched well.

[v] Here’s an English article I came across about the Yanesen.

[vi] See my article on Komagome here.

[vii] The emphasis on hilltop is most likely because the low city was developed for commerce and commoners and wouldn’t have had many trees, whereas the hilltops were kept lush and green.

[viii] More interesting is that both temples still exist. Tōzen’in was established in 1649 and is affiliated with Kan’ei-ji, the Tokugawa Funerary Temple. You can find Tōzen’in in Uguisudani. Kanshō’in, established in 1627, is also in Uguisudani and is also affiliated with Kan’ei-ji. In fact, later they became of a sub-temple of 上野東照宮 Ueno Tōshō-gū. See my article on Uguisudani here. Don’t worry that the temples are located in Uguisudani and not Komagome – although it’s walking distance, both temples have actually been relocated a few times.

[ix] Keep in mind, Tokugawa Ieyasu’s real family name was Matsudaira.

[x] Literally, big ass gingko tree.

[xi] However, there is an alternate theory which claims the name Dōkanyama is actually derived from a powerful noble who had a fortified residence here in the Kamakura Period. His name was 関道閑 Seki Dōkan.

[xii] A first attestation doesn’t necessarily mean the name was created at that time. It only means it was the first time anyone bothered writing it down. So, in theory, a name in Kantō could be hundreds of years old before anyone made a record of it that we still have.

[xiii] It’s not always the case, but when you get anecdotal stories, your BS Detector should start blinking; often times these stories reek of folk etymology.

[xiv] Even in that case, the document would have to be proven authentic and written by the person who named the place.

What does Sendagaya mean?

In Japanese History on April 9, 2014 at 5:47 am

千駄ヶ谷
Sendagaya (1000 “da” valley)

Quite possibly the most useless map of Sendagaya ever.

Quite possibly the most useless map of Sendagaya ever.

Sendagaya is the area surrounded by Shinjuku, Yoyogi, Harajuku, and Akasaka. In my experience, 千駄ヶ谷駅 Sendagaya Eki Sendagaya Station is famous, but unless you live or work there, I think the area is overlooked. Much of what people may consider to be Harajuku or Yoyogi is actually Sendagaya[i]. Anyways, I’ll talk about what Sendagaya is today at the end of the article.

.

OK, Let’s Look at the Kanji!


sen

1000


da

a pack horse, a load (carried by a horse)


ga

the genitive particle in Old Japanese, similar to の no in modern Japanese.


ya

valley

Seems pretty random, right? .

.

駄 Da

The key to this place name are the Old Japanese words 一駄壱駄 ichida 1 da or 二駄弐駄 nida 2 da. These are units of measurement that describe how much stuff you can put on a horse’s back. I don’t know the specifics, but it’s probably something like a size and weight measurement. So you could say “This horse is carrying 3 da.” 千駄 senda 1000 da, of course, would be a crazy number and as such, the local people used the word senda to mean 沢山 takusan a lot of.

So the idea is that this area was 千駄の谷 senda no ya “the valley with a 1000 da.” This begs the question, a 1000 da of what? Well, it’s said that when Ōta Dōkan came to the area to inspect his new holdings, the valley was primarily used for rice cultivation so the name meant “the valley where a lot of rice is grown.”

The word 千駄 appears in another Tōkyō place name, 千駄木 Sendagi. I haven’t researched this place name but I’ll take a guess that it means “a lot of trees.” But that’s topic for another day.

This is a 駄馬 daba, a pack horse. I don't know how many da the horse is carrying, but you get the idea...

This is a 駄馬 daba, a pack horse. I don’t know how many da the horse is carrying, but you get the idea…

 But Wait, There’s More!

One theory states that the 渋谷川 Shibuya-gawa Shibuya River ran through this valley and there were so many 萓 gi day-lilies growing along the bank of the river, that in a single day you could carry out 1000 da of them. This etymology is suspect because of the reference to day-lilies which isn’t preserved in the name.

In 1644, we have a shōgunate record that spells the place name 千駄萱村 Sendagaya Mura Sendagaya Village. This name means 1000 da and 萱 kaya is a kind of reed. This theory states that long ago, along the bank of the Shibuya River, a lot of reeds were growing. It seems that the current writing dates from 1688.

Lastly, another theory states that the writing was 千駄茅 senda kaya a 1000 da of kaya, a kind of hay. (We’ve seen this kanji before in my article on Kayabachō.) While the exact origin of this place name isn’t known, the common theme seems to be the use of the word 千駄 senda 1000 da. Take your pick of which one you like the best.

While yes, today Sendagaya is real area in Tokyo, many people don't know where it actually is because the area is only serviced by a single train line. That said, it's proximity to other well traveled stations makes it an attractive residential district. It's quiet, yet has access quick walking access to major areas.

While yes, today Sendagaya is real area in Tokyo, many people don’t know where it actually is because the area is only serviced by a single train line. That said, it’s proximity to other well traveled stations makes it an attractive residential district. It’s quiet, yet has access quick walking access to major areas.

A Little Bit About the Area

In the Edo Period, the area was just countryside. Some daimyō had residences out this way. The 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari branch of the Tokuagawa Family had maintained a 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence in Sendagaya for a long time. In 1877 or 1878, 篤姫 Atsu-hime Princess Atsu[ii], wife of the 13th shōgun,  徳川家定 Tokugawa Iesada[iii], moved to this residence until she lost her battle with Parkinson’s Disease in 1883. Atsu-hime was originally born in Kagoshima and helped negotiate the bloodless eviction of the Tokugawa from Edo Castle. Her counterpart was none other than the Kagoshima-born general 西郷隆盛 Saigō Takamori[iv].

The Owari Tokugawa maintained their residence here for some time. Today the palace’s lands have been transformed into 戸山公園 Toyama Kōen Toyama Park, but believe it or not, one of the Edo Period buildings of this residence still survives.

In 1957, the 書院 shoin study of the residence was moved to 總持寺 Sōji-ji Sōji Temple in 横浜市鶴見区 Yokohama-shi Tsurumi-ku Tsurumi Ward, Yokohama, not far from Tōkyō. The former study is now the reception hall of the temple. So if you want to see a beautiful daimyō study from a daimyō compound, you can.

The entrance to the study of the Owari Tokugawa's sprawling residence.

The entrance to the study of the Owari Tokugawa’s sprawling residence. Pretty freakin’ dope, huh?

Later, the area around the former Tokugawa residence was used by the Imperial Army as a training ground. Later, under the American Occupation, the US military used the confiscated training ground. Probably due to all the soldiers being there, the area became famous for love hotels and the sex industry. The red light district was shut down in the buildup to the 1960 Tōkyō Summer Olympics and today the area is mostly known as the home to many fashion and design related businesses. I think this is due to its proximity to Harajuku and Shibuya, both of which are fashion epicenters. .

Toyama Park

Toyama Park

There is another Bakumatsu personage associated with the area. One account of of the untimely death of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi commander, 沖田総司 Okita Sōji took place here. There are conflicting accounts of this due to the confusion generated by the abdication of the last shōgun 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Also, Sōji’s brothers-in-arms were scattered at the time. All of the accounts of his death come to us years later.

A sento (public bath) near Jingumae Stadium.

A sento (public bath) near Jingumae Stadium.

鳩森八幡神社 Hatomori Hachiman-gū Hatomori Hachiman Shrine is a famous shrine in the area. I’ve talked about what a Hachiman shrine is before, so I’m not going to get into that today. However, this particular shrine is special in that it has a 富士塚 Fuji-zuka Fuji Mound. In the Edo Period, travel was tightly controlled by the shōgunate and non-samurai would have had a difficult time getting travel permission to leave their 藩 han domains. Many people wanted to make a pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji, so a trend was to bring rocks from Mt. Fuji to Edo and build a huge mockup of the volcano at a shrine and the local people could make the journey up the hill to honor the 富士浅間 Fuji Sengen, the kami of Mt. Fuji. There are still a few of these remaining today in Tōkyō – I’ve been to about 3 of them, I think.

The Fuji-zuka

The Fuji-zuka

The NTT DoCoMo building which looks like the Empire State Building is also in Sendagaya. If you’ve ever been shopping at the Southern Terrace of Shinjuku Station or enjoyed a stroll through 新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The NTT DoCoMo Building. Sometimes a purely derivative and truly bizarre choice in architecture can work.

The NTT DoCoMo Building.
Sometimes a purely derivative and truly bizarre choice in architecture can work.

Oh, any expat resident of Tōkyō will tell you that Mexican food is hard to come by. While not in Sendagaya proper, there are two very famous Mexican places in nearby Yoyogi and Shibuya – both walkable from Sendagaya. One is a super famous date-spot known as Fonda de la Madrugada located in 北参道 Kita-sandō. It’s expensive, but they have a mariachi band that come to the tables and take requests (unfortunately, the only Spanish song most Japanese people know is the Gypsy Kings’ cover of Volare, so expect to hear it a few times throughout the course of your dinner)[v]. The other one is the more casual and less expensive, El Torito, located in the Southern Terrace of Shinjuku Station. OK, that’s about all I’ve got on Sendagaya.

 

 

 

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[i] Or maybe that’s just me.
[ii] She’s also called 天璋院 Tenshō-in because this is the name she took after the death of Iesada. It’s a Buddhist name, and I think it’s more like a title. I was told that after the Meiji Restoration she would have been called 篤子 Atsuko, since the title 姫 hime (usually rendered as “princess”) was banned by the new government.
[iii] Yes, the same Tokugawa Iesada who is generally depicted as a complete moron. You can read about his grave here.
[iv]  A guy I don’t have a lot of respect for.
[v] Of course, I’m speaking very broadly here. I’ve personally met Japanese people who know loads of Spanish music – waaaaaay more than I do – but just the average person doesn’t know much.

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