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Posts Tagged ‘shibuya castle’

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 Shibuya mean?

In Japanese History on March 19, 2013 at 2:34 am

渋谷
Shibuya (Bitter Valley)

On the surface, this one is a total freaking mystery.

The 2 characters used today are 渋 shibu (this character has many nuances that range from “astringent” to “refined” to “distasteful” to “diarrhea”) and 谷 ya/tani (valley). Unlike Hibiya, which also uses the kanji 谷 ya (valley), Shibuya is an actual valley. It borders Daikanyama (Daikan Mountain). The name Shibuya is also a family name.

Shibuya Today

Shibuya Crossing at night. Shopping, eating, drinking and whoring. In that order.

The website for the Shibuya Ward Office lists 4 possible theories… of varying quality. I have to admit that when I read them I thought they were all hokey as hell. The first three seemed plausible, but the fourth sounded cheesy.

So, here are the prevailing theories (according to the Shibuya Ward Office):

In the past, there was a small hamlet here called 塩谷ノ里 Shioya no Sato (Salt Valley Hamlet) or 潮谷ノ里 Shioya no Sato (Salt Water Valley Hamlet). Over time, the pronunciation of 塩谷 Shioya became corrupted to Shibuya and the characters were changed to 渋谷 to reflect the change in pronunciation. The corroborating evidence for this theory is archaeological  It appears that at one time, there was an inlet from Tōkyō Bay that reached here. Evidence of salt water and a one-time presence of shellfish have been discovered.

In the past, there used to be a river that passed through the valley here. When the river dried up a rusty color(シブ色)remained and the river was called シブヤ川. (This sounded really far-fetched to me until I found the word 鉄渋 nakashibu “aquaeous rust.” In this context, a “Rusty Valley River” might sound plausible.)

In the past, there was a river called 渋谷川 Shibuya-gawa Shibuya River that passed through here. Now the river is dried up, but the name remains. (It sounds plausible, but hard to prove. What’s more, today there is a modern river here called the Shibuya River… so… what gives?).

In the Heian Period, a feudal lord stopped an attacker who broke into the Imperial Palace in Kyōto. In appreciation of his bravery, the surname Shibuya was bestowed up him and his family. The family had a residence in this area and the name stuck. (However, this area was literally East Bumfuck in the Heian Period, so why was there a noble family living in this crappy area?).

East Bumfuck

East Bumfuck

The final theory brings up an important point. Often place names in Japan are derived from important families in the area. There is a very common family name Shibuya. If any person with a name Shibuya lived here, the area could have been named after him. If that’s the case, the real question isn’t “Why is Shibuya called Shibuya?” but “Where does the family name Shibuya come from?

The name itself is strange, too. There are two readings, Shibutani and Shibuya. Apparently Shibutani is the older of the two and appears to have originated in the Kansai region (Kyōto, Ōsaka). However, the meaning and origin of the first character is still obscure (because it has a range of meanings).

Anyways, my personal pet theory was that Shibuya was named after a family, but the story about the some dude saving the emperor sounded really cheesy.

Shibuya Family Crest

Family crests for the 2 main branches of the Shibuya Clan.

But then I poked around a little more and discovered that in the 11th century, there was indeed a noble family by the name of Shibuya living here. The most famous dude in the family was a late Heian Period general named Kawasaki Motoie (whose name is actually connected with Kawasaki in Kanagawa Prefecture). Kawasaki Shigeie, son of Motoie, did indeed repel intruders from the Imperial Palace in Kyōto. And the family was indeed granted the name 渋谷 Shibuya.

This is not Shibuya Shigeie

There are no pictures of Shibuya Shigeie, but this is a typical samurai from the late Heian Era. You get the idea.

The Shibuya Clan built a castle in this area called – wait for it – 渋谷城 Shibuya-jō Shibuya Castle. The castle is gone today. But a shrine to the Japanese god of war that existed on the castle grounds is still there. And there is apparently a rock from the original castle that you can see today (wow!).

Here is a website about the castle and shrine (it’s Japanese only, but you can see pictures). Here’s another website about the shrine (English translation).

And here is a Google map of the castle ruins/shrines: http://tinyurl.com/shibuya-castle

The shrine is called 金王八幡宮 Kon’nō Hachimangū.

Kon'nou Hachiman Shrine

Kon’nou Hachiman Shrine

Under the protection of the Shibuya Clan, the hamlet of Shibuya 渋谷郷 Shibuya-gō grew a little bit, but it’s doubtful the castle survived the Sengoku Period (15th-17th centuries). By the mid-Edo Period, the hamlet had no castle and had been divided 3 areas: 上渋谷村 Kamishibuya Upper Shibuya, 中渋谷村 Nakashibuya Middle Shibuya,下渋谷村 Shimoshibuya Lower Shibuya.

Shibuya River

Here’s a view of the Shibuya River from the platform of Shibuya Station in 1921.

As stated before, In the Edo Period, Shibuya was East Bumfuck. Nothing of note happened until the Yamanote Line was built in the late 1800’s. Around that time it became famous as an entertainment district (eating, drinking, whoring, etc…). Shibuya was apparently so unimportant, in fact, that the Japanese Wikipedia page of Shibuya doesn’t even start until the 1930’s.

There was a parade ground where Yoyogi Park now stands. In 1910, the grounds were used for the test flight of the first Japanese powered aircraft.

Tokugawa Yoshitoshi

Tokugawa Yoshitoshi, first Japanese dude to fly a plane.

Oh, and in the 1920’s there was that whole thing with the dog.

Hachiko

Hachi-kō – woof woof!

In the 1950’s there was a gondola that went over the station front area. A freaking gondola!!!

that street in the background is Center Street

a freaking gondola!!!!

In the 80’s Shibuya started to become a fashion center. By the 90’s, Shibuya boasted a vibrant club scene and nightlife and gave rise to the ギャル gal fashion phenomenon (including its current incarnation).  When I first visited Japan in 2003, there were beer vending machines all over Shibuya. Unfortunately now there aren’t.

mmmmmm... japanese beer!

I miss the beer vending machines in Shibuya and Daikanyama.

Alright… so let’s re-cap. There are 4 major explanations of where the place name Shibuya came from. Only one of them makes sense, even if on the surface it’s an unbelievable story. Shibuya is named after the Shibuya Clan and Shibuya Ward is still home to the Kon’nō Hachimangū Shrine built on the former site of Shibuya Castle to prove it.

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