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What does Asukayama mean?

In Japanese History on March 21, 2017 at 4:28 pm

Asukayama (Mt. Asuka)

asukayama sakura

The 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing season is right around the corner, so I thought it was the perfect time to look into one Edo’s most important hanami spots. It’s not as famous these days, but 飛鳥山 Asukayama Mt. Asuka is still a major hanami spot – it just tends to be more for locals these days. However, in the Edo Period, well to do Edoites and inhabitants of 大江戸 Ōedo the Greater Edo Area came from far and wide to enjoy the 桜 sakura cherry blossoms on this hilltop.

Commoners also came, providing they had the time and wherewithal to make a day trip. You see, walking to Asukayama wasn’t easy – even for the rich. This small “mountain” was located outside of Edo in an area known as 武蔵国豊嶋郡王子村 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Ōji Mura Ōji Village, Toshima District, Musashi Province. Today this area isn’t part of 豊島区 Toshima-ku Toshima Ward, but rather a part of Tōkyō’s 北区 Kita-ku Kita Ward on the northernmost border of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis and 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture[i].

asukayama hanami

Just to give you an idea of the distance, it would take someone in modern clothes using modern roads about two hours to walk from 日本橋 Nihonbashi to Ōji. Walking in a kimono on dirt roads could have easily taken three hours or more. The route hanami-goers would have taken in the Edo Period, was the 日光街道 Nikkō Kaidō Nikkō Highway which connected Edo Castle with the elaborate funerary temples dedicated to the first and third shōguns, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu and 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu, in Nikkō[ii].

The village of Ōji wasn’t a 宿場町 shukuba machi post town, but by the middle of the Edo Period, it was fully prepared to accommodate as many hanami-goers as possible. Elegant teahouses in this rustic area catered to samurai and merchants, but there were also more modest accommodations available for wealthy farmers who might also have made the long journey out here. Presumably, drinking & whoring were rampant[iii].

ojiya meiji

Teahouse Oji-ya in the Meiji Period, located on the Otonashi River beneath Asukayama.

Let’s Compare Some Kanji



(no meaning, this is ateji; the kanji are just sounds)


flying bird (this also has no meaning and is ateji)

I provided two spelling variants because the first version is used in religious contexts, but the second is used in maps and local histories. Just as spoken language has dialectal differences, kanji use seems to have been localized as well – especially in the untamed eastern provinces. That said, we know there was a 山城 yamajiro hilltop fortress controlled by the 豊嶋氏 Toshima-shi Toshima clan[iv]. The fortification at the top of this ovoid plateau was called 飛鳥山城 Asukayama-jō Asukayama Castle. This is reflected the area’s larger administrative name until recently, which was the Toshima District.


You can clearly see the shape of the “mountain” and given the general flatness of the area, it’s easy to see why this would have made a good a to built a fortified structure.

The branch of the Toshima clan that moved to this eastern area, originated in modern 和歌山県 Wakayama-ken Wakayama Prefecture. The area we’re going to be referring to is located in the 紀伊半島 Kii Hantō Kii Peninsula[v]. This is the same area where you can find the 熊野古道 Kumano Kodō Kumano Pilgrimages, a series of ancient roads connecting various religious sites in the Kii Peninsula that date back to at least the 900’s. A specific shrine, associated with the Toshima clan was the 33rd station along the course called the 熊野曼荼羅 Kumano Mandara – this shrine was 阿須賀神社 Asuka Jinja Asuka Shrine.

asuka shrine

Asuka Shrine in Wakayama

Open their arrival in the 関東地方 Kantō Chiho Kantō Area, the Toshima used a process called 分霊 bunrei to split the 神 kami deity of Asuka Shrine in Wakayama and transport it to 王子神社 Ōji Jinja Ōji Shrine as the tutelary kami of their fort on the hill. Ōji Shrine was to serve as their tutelary kami[vi]. The difference between the kanji for “Asuka” are quite different, but there doesn’t seem to be any difference etymologically. Maybe the new variant was easier for locals to read – although to me, the original spelling is much clearer[vii].

Further Reading:

Oji Shrine

Oji Shrine where the tutelary kami of the Toshima clan was enshrined to protect Asukayama.

A Strong Connection to Kii Domain


Anyhoo, so as I mentioned before, the Toshima clan originated in modern day Wakayama Prefecture. From ancient times until the end of the Edo Period, much of that area was called 紀伊国 Kii no Kuni Kii Province[viii], and in fact one of the most important Tokugawa fiefs was in Kii Province, 紀伊藩 Kii Han Kii Domain[ix]. The 紀伊徳川家 Kii Tokugawa-ke Kii Tokugawa Family were part of the 御三家 go-sanke the Three Great Families – branch families sired by Tokugawa Ieyasu that were expected to produce a shogun, should the main line fail to produce a capable male successor. The other two families were the 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari Tokugawa Family and the 水戸徳川家 Mito Tokugawa-ke Mito Tokugawa Family.


The Kii Peninsula in perspective

Neither family was called upon to produce an heir until a crisis arose in the early 1700’s. The seventh shogun, 徳川家宣 Tokugawa Ienobu, ruled for a mere three years (from 1709 – 1712). All his male offspring died young. The only one who could inherit the position of shōgun was three year old 徳川家継 Tokugawa Ietsugu. He was made shogun, but being a sickly child, he also tragically died at age six in 1716. He, too, had held the title of shōgun for a mere three years. Being a six year old child, it was unlikely that he would produce an heir, and well, as you can imagine, he didn’t[x].

nitenmon ietsugu

Very little remains of Ietsugu’s once guilded and ornate mausoleum after the war. The Nitenmon gate is in horrible condition today, but is currently being restored before the 2020 Olympics.

The crisis resulted in the shōgunate electing a male member of the Three Great Families deemed closest by blood and by loyalty – oh, and also age-appropriate. The man chosen for the job was of the Kii Tokugawa, and his name was 徳川吉宗 Tokugawa Yoshimune. Up to this point, he had been the daimyō of Kii Domain. After his election and adoption into the main 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family, he was to go down in history as one of the most distinct and memorable shōguns of all time[xi].


Tokugawa Yoshimune

Yoshimune inherited a shōgunate in chaos with hemorrhaging coffers. He spent money to build a beautiful mausoleum at 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in Shiba for his predecessor, Ietsugu, but then issued a series of sumptuary laws[xii]. One such law was that no more individual funerary temples would be built for future shōguns, himself included. From this period forward, shōgun’s would be enshrined in existing mausolea in Shiba and Ueno through a process called 合祀 gōshi mutual enshrinement.

Yoshimune Kyoho

Yoshimune going over the shōgunate’s finances.

In addition, Yoshimune passed some dumb laws about what clothes people of certain ranks could wear[xiii], he tried to revitalize the art of sword craftsmanship[xiv], and he encouraged merchants to form monopolies[xv] – all of which prove that samurai didn’t know dick about economic theory[xvi]. That said, he did help make the shōgunate financially solvent, so at least he got that part right.

asukayama ukiyo hanami.jpg

Partying hard at hanami was not a modern invention. Edo Period people were equally boisterous and rowdy.

Wait. Wait. Wait. I Thought This Was About Asukayama?


Yes, yes. It is about Asukayama. And here’s where it all finally comes full circle.

Despite all his austerity measures, Yoshimune also sought to sprinkle a little joy for the average person on the street in the way of what we would call “public works” today. At the time, Edo only had one famous spot for hanami, 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji one of the funerary temples of the shōguns[xvii]. Feeling an ancestral connection with his native Kii Province, he chose Asukayama in Ōji for a new project. He ordered that the long since demolished fortress of the Toshima clan be reclaimed for the people. Cherry blossom trees were planted at the top of the plateau and people could enjoy a spectacular view of both Edo, Edo Bay, and much farther off in the distance, Mt. Fuji[xviii].

Further Reading:

asukayama hanami pire

The National Park System


Fast forward to the Meiji Period and the overthrow of Tokugawa Shōgunate.

In 1873 (Meiji 6), Japan created its first public parks, and naturally these were in 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City, literally the new “Eastern Capital”[xix]. The government chose five famous hanami spots to be the first “official” parks; they were 上野公園 Ueno Kōen Ueno Park and 芝公園 Shiba Kōen Shiba Park[xx], both Tokugawa funerary temples, also included were 浅草公園 Asakusa Kōen Asakusa Park[xxi] and 深川公園 Sumida Kōen Sumida Park and, of course, 飛鳥山公園 Asusakayama Kōen Asukayama Park.

1893 Paper Mill

A couple enjoying hanami on Asukayama in 1893. You can see a paper mill down below next to the Otonashi River. The paper thing will come back later.

In 1879 (Meiji 12), an emergent real estate mogul named 渋沢栄一 Shibusawa Ei’ichi bought part of Asukayama and built a house there. Ei’ichi is of particular interest, because unlike other real estate developers of his day, he wasn’t interested in the daimyō holdings of Edo proper. He focused on constructing playgrounds for the rich and fabulous in the suburbs well outside of the dusty and crowded alleys of Edo-Tōkyō). This mode of thought was derived from the British garden city movement.



Shibusawa Ei’ichi

Ei’ichi realized that the value of the 山手 yamanote high city lands that were being sold off piecemeal by the new government. So, while the government sought to regain funds it lost by essentially buying out the samurai class during the abolition process, newly made businessmen like his peer, Mitsubishi’s 岩崎弥太郎 I wasaki Yatarō, had more than enough cash to make huge land purchases of this scale. Ei’ichi focused on cheaper suburban lands to make residential developments. Yatarō focused on properties within the former shōgunal capital turned imperial capital.

From 1901 Ei’ichi began sharing this property with his son as a second home[xxii], and after his death in 1931, the house passed on to his son who continued living there.

Oji teahouse garden

A garden on the Otonashi River beneath Asukayama.

Most of the Shibusawa estate was destroyed during the Firebombing of Tōkyō in 1945 by US forces. Luckily, many of the old cherry blossoms survived and as a result, in the postwar years, the whole hill once again became open to the public.

Eventually, the city built a tiny monorail in 2009 to take people up and down the “mountain.” You can walk up the hill in five minutes, or stand in line for ten minutes to take the monorail. Officially, I think it’s for people with disabilities, but most people take it expecting a nice view[xxiii].

Further Reading:

asukayama train

There are two antique trains preserved on Asukayama.

3 Museums of Asukayama


The park is also home to three museums:

Asukayama Hakubutsu-kan

Asukayama Museum
This museum explores the mountain’s history as far back as the Jōmon Period.

Shibusawa Shiryō-kan

Shibusawa Ei’chi Foundation Museum
A museum about the life and work of Sibusawa Ei’ichi, in particular his recovery efforts after the Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923.

Kami no Hakubutsu-kan

Paper Museum
A four story museum related to this product that we use every day.

I haven’t been to any of these museums, so I can’t say much about them, but I imagine drunken hanami revelers stumbling around the paper museum aimlessly or passed out on the floor of the Shibusawa Museum would be quite a funny sight.


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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?


[i] So, it’s way on the outskirts of Tōkyō, so you can imagine just how far away this was from the shōgun’s capital.
[ii] Modern Nikkō City, Tochigi Prefecture.
[iii] “Presumably” – I use the word with a 99% probability.
[iv] Descendants of the 平豊嶋氏 Taira Toshima-shi Taira Toshima clan, one of the strongest warrior families of imperial descent sent from the west to police and monitor the east of Japan.
[v] Remember this name: Kii.
[vi] The name Ōji literally means “child of a kami” and is something I discussed in probably way to much detail in my articles on Hachiōji and Ōji.
[vii] The “flying bird” configuration is identical to the that of the ancient capital of 飛鳥 Asuka which is enshrined in the epoch name 飛鳥時代 Asuka Jidai Asuka Period.
[viii] Often abbreviated as 紀州 Kishū with no change in meaning.
[ix] Also referred to as 和歌山藩 Wakayama-han Wakayama Domain, again with no change in meaning.
[x] And who knows if he was even expected, too. But girls were married off early, so who’s to say young Ietsugu wasn’t expected to get busy in the Ōoku for the sake of the family? (But for the record, I highly doubt it.)
[xi] If I were to compile a list of the great shōguns out of all fifteen, it generally goes like this: Ieyasu, Hidetada, Iemitsu, Tsunayoshi, Yoshimune, Ienari, and Yoshinobu. I include Ienari because ruled the longest and brought #StrongDickGame to the office.
[xii] He relaxed many of the restrictive sankin-kōtai laws to regain the loyalty of the daimyō who surely felt the policy of alternate attendance was oppressive. By his new decree, they wouldn’t be called on to build and support priests for new Tokugawa mausolea, only maintenance of the existing structures.
[xiii] Seems random.
[xiv] There were no wars, so seems pointless.
[xv] Monopolies? Really? Yes. And this sort of thinking is what led to the rise of the 財閥 zaibatsu the industrial and financial business conglomerates who dominated the economy and aspects of the government of 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku the Empire of Japan from 1868-1945.
[xvi] In their defense, even modern economists don’t know dick about economics. Also in their defense, economic theory is an outgrowth of the so-called western “Enlightment,” which spans roughly 1715-1887 – a time Japan was closed to most western nations. Interestingly, upon Yoshimune’s ascendency to the office of shogun in 1716, he relaxed the ban on foreign books. This gave birth to a movement among Japan’s more intellectually minded samurai in the so-called 蘭学 rangaku Dutch Studies – one of the few imported subjects. This led to ambitious samurai scrambling to learn Dutch in order to read and translate military texts from Holland. This also meant that in the final days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, many of the samurai involved in the Meiji Coup had been exposed to, at the very least, not purely Japanocentric ideologies.
[xvii] Located on 上野台 Uenodai the Ueno Plateau, present Ueno Park – still one of the greatest hanami spots in all of Japan.
[xviii] In an era with no skyscrapers – nay, no buildings over two stories – any view from the top of a tall hill was spectacular. This is something that’s hard to imagine today in modern Tōkyō.
[xix] As opposed to 京 Kyō Kyōto the capital (in the west).
[xx] Shiba Park’s cherry blossoms were largely destroyed in the Firebombing of Tōkyō by the US in World War II. That said, a hearty strain of plum blossoms survived. They are ugly yet robust – typical plum blossoms. But they hearken back to origins of hanami in ancient China. They’re a symbol of the influence of Classical Chinese culture over wide swaths of Asia, and Japan in particular.
[xxi] Destroyed in WWII.
[xxii] The main estate was in 三田 Mita.
[xxiii] There isn’t one lol

What does Chōfu mean? (Part Deux)

In Japanese History on April 9, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Chōfu no Tamagawa (a reference to cloth production and dyeing on the Tama River)

A beautiful young girl bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

A beautiful young girl bleaching cloth in the Tama River.

In reference to my article entitled Setagaya and its Freaky Horse Fetish, I was going to name this article The Tama River Basin and its Freaky Cloth Fetish, but as it turns out the fetish isn’t as freaky as Setagaya and its horse thing. Well, it might be, but we’re only going to talk about a few places today so I don’t want to get your hopes up.

Anyways, in my last article, What does Chōfu mean?, I talked about the 枕詞 makura kotoba “pillow word” 調布の玉川 Chōfu no Tamagawa. The image of beautiful girls with pure white skin bleaching cloth in the Tama River was firmly entrenched in the imagination of the people of 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama District – even though the area doesn’t seem to have actually supported any such industry on a large scale. Anyways, in the last article I mentioned that references to the pillow word or its imagery weren’t limited to 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City. Today I’d like to explain that a little more.

To be precise, we’re going to look at three place names today: 田園調布 Den’en Chōfu the garden city, 布田 Fuda the cloth fields, and 染地 Somechi the dyeing grounds.

OK, so let’s get down to bidness.

If you haven’t read What does Chōfu mean? yet, none of this will make any sense.
Please read that first, mkay?

A house with a yard? In Tokyo?  Yes, in Den'en Chōfu.

A house with a yard? In Tokyo?
Yes, in Den’en Chōfu.

Den’en Chōfu
(Garden Chōfu)

While Chōfu City is located outside of the 23 Special Wards, Den’en Chōfu is within the 23 Special Wards – in 大田区 Ōta-ku to be precise. And while it might not be the most convenient place in the city, it’s definitely one of the priciest and most prestigious residential areas in all of Tōkyō, at least by reputation[i].

For most of its history, this area was just typical farmland along the river basin of the Tama River. That is to say, the river basin was dotted with agricultural villages typical of the area and not much else. However, in Meiji 22 (1889), 4 villages were combined to make 調布村 Chōfu Mura Chōfu Village[ii].

Shibusawa Eiichi in 1866 and then in 1867.

Shibusawa Eiichi in 1866 and then in 1867.

In 1918[iii], the industrialist, financier, philanthropist, and so-called “father of Japanese capitalism,” 渋沢栄一 Shibusawa Eiichi[iv] purchased huge swaths of land in Chōfu Village and slated them for re-development. He envisioned an ideal English suburb based on the concept of the “Garden City[v],” an idea spread by the British urban planner, Ebenezer Howard[vi].

Eiichi grew up in the throes of the Bakumatsu which meant he also lived to see the sprawling daimyō residences of the old 山手 yamanote high city torn down and replaced with crowded merchant houses. It seems he pined for the urbane yet gardened elegance of Edo’s most elite areas and wanted to make that world available to anyone who could afford it. Of course, being a gentleman of the early Meiji Period, he looked to the west as a way of selling innovations to the new Japanese consumer.

Den'en Chōfu as it looks today. Note the semi-circular design which is decidedly un-Edo.

Den’en Chōfu as it looks today. Note the semi-circular design which is decidedly un-Edo.

“Garden City” was translated into Japanese as 田園都市 Den’en Toshi, literally a garden city – though it could also be translated as “a suburban town.” Either way you translate it, the name must have sounded revolutionary at the time. What’s more, the idea was totally different from traditional Japanese urban planning due to its heavy European influence. Eiichi called his vision 田園調布 Den’en Chōfu which means something like Garden Chōfu[vii].

Development of the area was slow at first because the location was far from the most active parts of Tōkyō and there just wasn’t demand for something so far from the city center. In 1923, a train station opened that connected the area with central Tōkyō. As the area was still known as 調布村 Chōfu Mura Chōfu Village, the station was named 調布駅 Chōfu Eki Chōfu Station. Once the station was open for business, the area was finally ready for its big moment, ie; developed and undeveloped lots went on sale that same year.

This hill is called 江戸見坂 (Edomi-zaka) "Edo Viewing Hill." I've seen plenty of places called Fujimi "Fuji Viewing," I think this is the first time I've seen "Edo Viewing." It must have a been a fantastic sight in the Edo Period.

This hill is called 江戸見坂 (Edomi-zaka) “Edo Viewing Hill.” I’ve seen plenty of places called Fujimi “Fuji Viewing,” I think this is the first time I’ve seen “Edo Viewing.” It must have a been a fantastic sight in the Edo Period.

Did You Just Say 1923??

Long time readers should have had a collective freak out when I said “1923.”

This was the year of the horrific 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake, which saw much of the urban center of Edo-Tōkyō burnt to the ground and more than 100,000 people killed. Just like me, you’re probably wondering, “How the hell did this project survive an earfquake of that magnitude?”

Many of more of you are probably also wondering why I always say “earfquake[viii].”

How the Hell indeed?

For some reason, the area – perhaps due to modern building techniques, wide spacious lots as opposed to central Tōkyō old castle town-style cramped quarters , lack of development, or maybe just some good luck – was relatively unaffected by the cataclysmic, epoch-defining earfquake. Many rich Edoites who survived the earfquake with their finances in tact said “Eff that noise” to the burnt out shambles of Tōkyō and headed out of the city to the newly accessible suburbs.

The area had gotten such an injection of cash and activity by 1926 that the train station changed its name to 田園調布駅 Den’en Chōfu Eki Den’en Chōfu Station. Shibusawa Eiichi’s dream was starting to be realized, even if he hadn’t expected a massive earfquake. Today it’s an official postal code in Tōkyō’s Ōta Ward.

Den'en Chōfu Station

Den’en Chōfu Station

I’ve been there once or twice, and I’m sure it’s an awesome place to raise a family if you have a lot of money. It also seems to be popular with a certain class of ex-pats who have been transferred to Tōkyō and demand suburban comforts similar to their home countries (for example, the houses and yards are much larger than most of those found in Tōkyō[ix]). But that said, it’s not a particularly interesting area – as most suburbs aren’t – and historically speaking, there’s not much reason to go here.


Fuda Station in 1987.

Fuda Station in 1987.

Fuda (cloth field)

Inside Chōfu City there are many place names and an actual postal code that bear the name 布田 Fuda. The kanji mean “cloth field” and seem to fall in line with the story we heard about Chōfu’s etymology. Except nobody grows cloth in a field. In fact, if you know someone who can grow cloth, let me know. That sounds amazing!

Interestingly, this weird pairing of kanji partially supports the standard Chōfu etymology and its connection to the 租庸調 soyōchō system (corvee system) because the name may be pretty ancient[x]. According to the 倭名類聚抄 Wamyō Ruijushō, a kind of Heian Period encyclopedia[xi], there was an area in the Tamagawa District an area called 爾布多 Nifuda whose name was shortened to 布多 Fuda. Later 多 ta/da came to be written as田 ta/da. In the 新編武蔵風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fudokikō Newly Edited Treatise on the Manners and Customs of Musashi Province (1826), the name is said to have originally been written as 府田 Fuda or 捕陀 Fuda. Muromachi Period documents of 深大寺 Jindai-ji Jindai Temple record the place name as 布田郷 Fuda-gō[xii] Fuda Hamlet.

A rare photo of Chōfu Station in 1914. Modern Chōfu Station exists on to the shopping street/sandō leading to Fudatenjin Shrine (mentioned in the previous article). The spelling of Fuda for the shrine is 布多 - "cloth abounds."

A rare photo of Chōfu Station in 1914. Modern Chōfu Station exists on to the shopping street/sandō leading to Fudatenjin Shrine (mentioned in the previous article). The spelling of Fuda for the shrine is 布多 – “cloth abounds” – this spelling is consistent with the Heian Period source.

All of this is quite suspicious. The use of the kanji 多 ta/da is often 当て字 ateji kanji used for its sound and not meaning. It was so commonly used for phonetic reasons that hiragana and katakana /ta/ are actually derived from it. /ta/ or /da/ is also often used as ateji. In my mind, all of this begs the question: is every /ɸu/ along the Tama River related to a hidden word and all of these kanji are hiding the original place name. I mean, could we be looking at ancient place names that use /ta/ and /fu/ in the area and many of these places rendering the names with /ɸu/ /ɸu/ and /da/ /da/ as ateji? Could these names pre-date the Heian Period language/s spoken in the area? If any of these are the case, the name of 調布 Chōfu and all of its associated place names along the Tama River may have much more mysterious origins[xiii].

That was all just speculation on my part because I haven’t come across anyone else asking the same questions. I’m also just some dude with an internet connection and a goofy hobby, so may I haven’t dug deep enough.

The green area is Somechi. Notice its proximity to the Tama River.

The green area is Somechi. Notice its proximity to the Tama River.

Somechi (place where cloth is dyed)

Believe it or not, this place name didn’t exist officially until 1965. Prior to that, it was just an area located inside 国領宿 Kokuryō-chō Kokuryō Town, one of the civil administrative units of 調布市 Chōfu-shi Chōfu City. However, the name most definitely existed in the Edo Period. The name 染地 Somechi literally means “place where things are dyed.”

In the grand tradition that the area was supposedly famous for beautiful women bleaching cloth in the Tama River, this area seems to have been credited with dying cloth. The aforementioned Shinpen Musashi Fudokikō (1826) is where this claim is backed up in writing. That said, keep in mind, other than these etymologies which seem to be connected to the pillow word, Chōfu no Tamagawa, there is no evidence that the area was ever anything more than an agricultural backwater with no actual cloth production (bleached or dyed) anywhere in the area.

But the mystery gets deeper. You should know that in nearby 府中市 Fuchū-shi Fuchū City[xiv], there is place called 染屋 Someya which literally means “shop where things are dyed.” This place is located in a region called 白糸台 Shiraito-dai “white thread plateau.” Doubtless, these names are connected to the pillow word and the image it propagated throughout the region.

Feel like this is going nowhere? So do I....

Feel like this is going nowhere?
So do I….

So What Do You Make of All This?

To be honest, it’s hard to say. I’m pretty skeptical that there was widespread textile production in the area because I can’t find any record that anyone takes seriously. Of course, it’s possible that at some time some village was famous for this somewhere on the river – after all, it’s a long ass river. It actually spans 3 prefectures today. But it’s just the Tama District that is dotted with place names related to this and there’s no evidence that the entire region was known for cloth production. I’m also seeing some trends in phonemes. I’m looking at you, /ɸu/ and /da/. Looking at the kanji 布 fu cloth, 糸 ito thread, 染 some dye, 白 shira white,  府 fu government, 調 chō tax on cloth, and one we haven’t looked at yet, 領 ryō territory[xv], you can start to see some patterns emerge: there are phonetic patterns and meaning patterns. From the meaning patterns, it seems we’re essentially talking about textiles and government. This seems to support the claim that Chōfu means a place that paid its “taxes” in “cloth.” But I’m also skeptical of ateji and kanji in general when it comes to ancient place names.

So, in the next article, we’re going to take a look at a few other place names in the area that relate to this topic. I hope to wrap things up but be forewarned: I’m pretty sure there will be no closure with this series.


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[i] I’ve actually never looked at prices there, so I’m just going by reputation.
[ii] This is a separate and distinct Chōfu Village from the one we talked about in the last article. To the best of my knowledge these were not coordinated efforts.
[iii] This was Taishō 7. On this blog, I’ve decided on a convention of only using Japanese years during the Meiji Period (as a countdown away from the Edo Period). But I’ll use Japanese years when relevant to the conversation at any point in time. Taishō 7 is so close to the Meiji Era that I figured I should at least footnote that shit.
[iv] I don’t know much about Eiichi Shibusawa, but here’s the Wiki about him.
[v] I don’t know much about the concept of a “Garden City,” but here’s the Wiki about it.
[vi] I don’t know much about Ebenezer Howard, but here’s the Wiki about him. It seems that Shibusawa and other developers misconstrued Howard’s ideas. But that’s not really important. The influence was there.
[vii] Suburban Chōfu is probably an equally valid translation.
[viii] And I respond with my own question, “Why hell shouldn’t I write earfquake?”
[ix] There are comparable and sometimes larger in some other areas, but that’s a story for another day.
[x] That said, I don’t necessarily believe this “corvee taxes” etymology.
[xi] I don’t know a lot about this text, but it has come up from time to time over the years while researching place names. The Japanese title seems to be commonly used among English speaking scholars, so I don’t have a good translation of the title, but it essentially means “The Japanese Names for Things Categorized and Annotated.” You can read the Wiki article about it here.
[xii] Probably more correctly rendered as Fuda no gō.
[xiii] And I suspect this to be the case, actually.
[xiv] Notice the /ɸu/ sound again and the same kanji as 布田 Fuda.
[xv] A term that came into use with the implementation of the 律令制 ritsuryō-sei ritsuryō system which I discussed in the previous article. Note that the 令 ryō of ritsuryō-sei makes up part of the character 領 ryō.

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