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The Edo River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on August 16, 2014 at 4:25 pm

江戸川
Edo River (“River that flows to Edo”)

Fireworks on the Edo River in Edogawa Ward.

Fireworks on the Edo River in Edogawa Ward.

 

Hello all! Here in Tōkyō, 御盆休み O-bon Yasumi the O-bon Vacation is in full effect. I only get 4 days off. Most people get about 5 days off, but I’ve talked to plenty of people who get nothing at all, so I’m not going to complain. 3 days will be spent sleeping late like the 怠け者 namakemono lazy good-for-nothing that I am. I’ll have to wake up super early one day to do 茶道 sadō tea ceremony in former 館林藩 Tatebayashi-han Tatebayashi Domain[i]. The area is just a rural backwater now, but if the weather isn’t too bad and I have enough time, I hope to snap a few pictures for my Flickr account. Be sure to check my Twitter account for the updates. I’m not sure how things will go, but the Tone River and Arakawa River flow through the area, so maybe I’ll be able to get some pix!

Speaking of rivers, this series is finally winding down. I started with the big rivers. Those rivers have incredibly complicated pasts and were hell to research and write about. I seriously considered just quitting mid-series to move on to something more fun, but I pushed on. I knew that if I could cover the major rivers, the rest of the series would be easy. I’m happy to say the last too posts will be the easiest. They’re also the shortest, hence the fast turn-around on the article you’re reading right now.

But the other River Articles were so long…

Indeed they were. But the other rivers were major water systems that were constantly modified over the centuries. Their names were ancient, possibly pre-dating the Yamato State – possibly older, there’s no know way to in some cases. Today’s river is essentially a product of the Edo Period. We know where the name comes from without a shadow of doubt.

 

This is a map of modern Edogawa Ward. Notice the Edo River clearly marking the boundary of Tokyo Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture. You may want to refer back to this map throughout the article (it also ties into other parts of the series). Click to enlarge.

This is a map of modern Edogawa Ward. Notice the Edo River clearly marking the boundary of Tokyo Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture. You may want to refer back to this map throughout the article (it also ties into other parts of the series).
Click to enlarge.

 

Etymology

江戸
Edo

the city of Edo


kawa

river (suffix)

ie; “the river that goes to Edo”

That’s it.

Edo – once a fishing hamlet, then former village turned sprawling metropolis – was the shōgun’s capital when the river got this name. It was a densely populated, affluent city that required goods and services from all over Japan. Certain perishable goods produced in the surrounding areas was in particular demand. A little more about that later, but in short, the Edo River was a river bringing goods from a variety of places. Most notably, goods came from 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province, the bulk of which lie in modern 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture. In fact, those goods came from the part of Chiba that lies directly on the border of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis.

 

Cherry blossoms on the Edo River in the early Meiji Period.

Cherry blossoms on the Edo River in the early Meiji Period.

 

But Wait! What does the “Edo” part of the Edo River mean?

I’m glad you asked because I covered the etymology of Edo in a post last year. The article starts with the short version, then gives a more detailed explanation. So depending on how much time you have, feel free to read about Why was Edo called Edo? here.

OK… So WTF is the Edo River?

OK, this is important.

The modern, legal definition of the Edo River is the river that branches off from the 利根川 Tone-gawa Tone River[ii]. This bifurcation occurs at present day 野田市 Noda-shi Noda City in Chiba. The river empties into Tōkyō Bay at 市川市 Ichikawa-shi Ichikawa City, also in Chiba Prefecture. A portion of the river marks the border of the Tōkyō Metropolis, Chiba Prefecture, and Saitama Prefecture.

 

This shows the entire area covered by the Edo River and the modern portion of the Tone River that relates to it. The Edo River diverts from the Tone River at Noda and flows south to Ichikawa. At Ichikawa, it bifurcates in the Old Edo River that goes to Tokyo Bay at Urayasu. A secondary drainage canal take the river to Tokyo Bay in Ichikawa.

This shows the entire area covered by the Edo River and the modern portion of the Tone River that relates to it. The Edo River diverts from the Tone River at Noda and flows south to Ichikawa. At Ichikawa, it bifurcates in the Old Edo River that goes to Tokyo Bay at Urayasu. A secondary drainage canal take the river to Tokyo Bay in Ichikawa.

 

What about the History of the River?

The river that became the Edo River was originally a part of the lower course of the 利根川 Tone-gawa Tone River – a very different river from the Tone River of today. The specific branch of the Tone River Basin was called the 渡良瀬川 Watarase-gawa Watarase River. It separated from the Tone River, then flowed south to the middle of former 葛飾郡 Katsushika-gun Katsushika District[iii] and then emptied into 江戸湾 Edo Wan Edo Bay. The downstream portion of the Watarase was locally named the 太日河, which can be read as either Ōi-gawa Ōi River or Futoi-gawa Futui River. This is the stretch of river that would ultimately become the Edo River. Since time immemorial and indeed until the Taishō Era, certain stretches of riverbank were famous for the cultivation of 蓮根 renkon lotus root, a valuable food source.

The Edo Period

In 1641, the 利根川東遷事業 Tone-gawa Tōsenjigyō began. This was the building project that began diverting the river eastward towards the shōgun’s capital. At this time, a channel was built to divert water from the Tone River to the present day upstream portion of the Edo River.  Part of the downstream area was also modified. Since the shōgunate had essentially created a new river, this new waterway needed a name. It’s about this time that the name 江戸川 Edo-gawa Edo River came to be used – the name meaning something like “the river that goes to Edo.”

The Tone River was again diverted in 1654 as an anti-flooding measure. The Edo River now connected the north and east Kantō Regions to the capital at Edo, specifically to transport large amounts of cargo from Shimōsa Domain and other cities along the Pacific coast.

Many villages and towns among the river prospered in the Edo Period. Some of those cities continue to prosper today. Once the redirection efforts of the Tone River were established, merchants would travel up the Tone River from the outlet at modern-day 銚子市 Chōshi-shi Chōshi City (former Shimōsa Province). The area was famous for 枝豆 edamame soy beans and 醤油 shōyu soy sauce. We’ll talk about this again in a bit…

Cherry blossoms at sunset or sunrise along the Edo River in the Meiji Period.

Cherry blossoms at sunset or sunrise along the Edo River in the Meiji Period.

 

The Edo River Created Lasting Commerce

The Edo River pretty much put the town of 流山 Nagareyama on the map[iv]. In the Edo Period the town was, like much of rural Japan, steeped in a rice production economy. The Edo River gave the original village a direct link to the shōgun’s capital. One quirk of the village was that they produced 味醂 mirin rice vinegar[v]. To this day, Nagareyama is still famous for mirin production. For hundreds of years 流山之味醂 Nagareyama no Mirin Nagareyama Rice Vinegar has been a staple of Kantō cuisine.

An exhibit on mirin production in the Nagareyama Municipal Museum. Notice the uniform of the guidepost character. It's Shinsengumi uniform. While mirin may be the economic claim to fame of the city, most people only know it for its BRIEF connection with the Shinsengumi.

An exhibit on mirin production in the Nagareyama Municipal Museum. Notice the uniform of the guidepost character. It’s Shinsengumi uniform. While mirin may be the economic claim to fame of the city, most people only know it for its BRIEF connection with the Shinsengumi.

Nagareyama is also famous as the last official base camp of the 新撰組 Shinengumi at the beginning of the 戊辰戦争 Boshin Sensō Boshin War, the final war between the collapsing Tokugawa Shōgunate and the rising Meiji Army. The commander of the Shinsengumi, 近藤勇 Kondō Isami, was arrested here, marched to and imprisoned at 板橋宿 Itabashi-juku Itabashi Post Town. He was subsequently tried and executed there on false charges of having assassinated (or ordered the assassination of) 坂本竜馬 Sakamoto Ryōma.

On a more tasteful note, 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province was generally was famous for soy sauce. In addition to mirin, the other main product transported to Edo was 野田之醤油  Noda no shōyu Noda Soy Sauce.

Do you know this logo?

Do you know this logo?

 

The Edo River won the Soy Sauce Wars

All countries have regional differences – granted, in stable countries, these are getting smaller and smaller. And in Japan, there are also regional variations of soy sauce. Soy sauce is one of the traditional 5 ingredients of Japan[vi], so it’s not a surprising thing. But worldwide, the most recognized variety is the strong taste of the Kantō area. This is due to the global commercial success of 亀甲萬 Kikkōman, a name synonymous with soy sauce and Japanese cuisine.

The Kikkōman Corporation is based in Noda City, at the head of the Edo River. The company was an amalgamation of about 8 soy sauce producing families in 1603 in a post-Sengoku Period version of a corporate merger. A member of one of the original families, 茂木友三郎 Mogi Yūzaburō, still sits on the board of directors. He is largely credited with popularizing soy sauce in the US by encouraging chefs to create non-Japanese or “internationally-minded” dishes that use soy sauce. Today Kikkōman is holds the largest market share in the US and Japan and is the main employer in Noda.

Do you recognize the logo now?

Do you recognize the logo now?

If you live outside of Japan, you’ve probably only seen the name written “Kikkoman.” If you live in Japan, you’ve probably only seen the name written in katakana as キッコウマン. But pretty much anywhere in the world you may have noticed a single, stylized kanji: 萬 man (myriad, thousands, lucky) inside a circle. This is an interesting character. It’s the ancient variant of a high frequency modern kanji man 10,000. Supposedly, it’s rarely used except in some legal documents. These days, many Japanese may admit they can’t read this character these days.

The kanji I used above, 亀甲萬 Kikkōman are not used officially by the modern corporation; they officially use the katakana or rōma-ji spelling. This is probably because the name isn’t instantly legible to your average native Japanese speaker, so it makes for poor brand recognition. Also, it doesn’t really say anything about the company or its products. Of the original kanji, all that survived was this curious 萬 man – and it survived as a logo, not a word.

Yuzaburo Mogi earned his M.B.A. at Columbia University and is said to be totally down with US business practices.

Yuzaburo Mogi earned his M.B.A. at Columbia University and is said to be totally down with US business practices.

The name of the company, whose early success was intrinsically tied to its location on the Edo River, ultimately derives from a reference to a shrine that had great influence in Shimōsa Province, roughly modern Chiba Prefecture. 亀甲山 Kikkō-zan is the “mountain name” of 香取神宮 Katori Jingū Katori Grand Shrine (all temples have 3 names, one of those names is a 山号 sangō mountain name)[vii]. There is also a mountain in Chiba called 亀甲山 Kamegase-yama (same kanji). They dropped the 山 yama/san kanji and added 萬 man myriad/10,000 to 亀甲 kikkō as a suffix and established the name as a trademark. The shrine apparently wielded great influence in the region, and you can find Katori Shrines of various sizes throughout the area (and indeed, throughout the country).

Katori Grand Shrine in Chiba. This is the main shrine, but it has many branch shrines throughout the area.

Katori Grand Shrine in Chiba. This is the main shrine, but it has many branch shrines throughout the area. I haven’t been there myself yet, but from a map I looked, the shrine precinct is quite expansive.

Not to keep harping on the Katori Shrine thing, but this map shows the location of Katori Grand Shrine and several other major branches. All of the red dots are minor Katori Shrines.  Please note the relationship between the Tone River and Edo River and the cities of Choshi, Noda, Nagareyama, Ichikawa, and most importantly, Edo.

Not to keep harping on the Katori Shrine thing, but this map shows the location of Katori Grand Shrine and several other major branches. All of the red dots are minor Katori Shrines.
Please note the relationship between the Tone River and Edo River and the cities of Choshi, Noda, Nagareyama, Ichikawa, and most importantly, Edo.
Click to enlarge.

 

In the Modern Era

Fast forward to 1932. A new administrative district, 江戸川区 Edogawa-ku Edogawa Ward, was created out of seven areas: 小松川町 Komatsugawa Machi, 瑞江町 Mizue Machi, 小岩町 Koiwa Machi, 松江村 Matsue Mura, 葛西村 Kasai Mura, 篠崎村 Shinozaki Mura, 鹿本村 Shikamoto Mura[viii]. The Edo River marked the boarder of Tōkyō Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture, and so the name of the ward (which also lies on that border) derives from the river, of course[ix]. Keep in mind no part of Edogawa Ward was located within the city named Edo.

The Edo River with cherry blossoms in full bloom (late Meiji Era). Check out the driver of the boat with no passengers, but he's still straight stuntin' like a playa.

The Edo River with cherry blossoms in full bloom (late Meiji Era). Check out the driver of the boat with no passengers, but he’s still straight stuntin’ like a playa.

 

In 1979, a plan was hatched to open a Disneyland in Japan. A little known landfill in Chiba Prefecture called 浦安 Urayasu that lie adjacent to a diverted branch of the Edo River was chosen. This branch is now known as the 旧江戸川 Kyū-Edogawa Old Edo River. The theme park and many of its nearby hotels opened in 1983. Today, Tōkyō Disneyland is the most profitable Disney theme park in the world. The site is built on landfill, and while much of the 新浦安 Shin-Urayasu (new Urayasu) residential area suffered serious damage in the March 11th, 2011 東日本大震災 Higashi Nihon Daishinsai Great East Japan Earthquake, Disneyland was located on the apparently more stable Urayasu. As such, it suffered minimal damage, closing for only a week or two to make cosmetic repairs.

disneyland

Damage typical of Shin-Urayasu. While this may not have been as horrific as what happened in Tohoku, it was most definitely devastating financially to the inhabitants and the local economy.

Damage typical of Shin-Urayasu. While this may not have been as horrific as what happened in Tohoku, it was most definitely devastating financially to the inhabitants and the local economy.

 

Let's change the topic!!!

Let’s change the topic!!!

Edogawa Ward’s biggest claim to fame is the 江戸川花火大会 Edogawa Hanabi Taikai Edogawa Fireworks Display. The display takes place along the Edo River and the levees are used as first-come/first serve seating. The event was established in 1976 and next year (2015) will be the event’s 40th iteration. I’m rather fond of this particular fireworks display. And now that I know that next year will be a special, I’m considering making a small JapanThis! meet up where we can all nerd out on Japanese history and enjoy fireworks on the Edo River together. If you’re interested, leave a comment so I know that I’m not the only one who thinks this might be fun.

 

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[i] Tatebayashi Domain got a brief mention in my article on the Tone River.
[ii] Wanna know about the Tone River? I’ve got an article about that!
[iii] I’ve written about the etymology of Katsushika here.
[iv] Actually, it put 下総国葛飾郡加村 Shimōsa no Kuni Katsushika-gun Ka Mura Ka Village, Katsushika District, Shimōsa Province on the map, as that was the name of the area in the Edo Period. In 1889, the Meiji Government put 流山町 Nagareyama Machi Nagareyama City on the map.
[v] Why is this product so important? The basics of traditional home cooking in Japan boil down to 5 seasonings: soy sauce, sake, mirinvinegar, and sugar.
[vi] As mentioned earlier, the 5 basic seasonings of Japanese cuisine are: soy sauce, sake, mirinvinegar, and sugar.
[vii] Keen observers will have noticed that this is a shrine, and yet it has a mountain name of a temple. That shows that the institution pre-dates the 神仏分離 Shinbutsu Bunri Separation of Shintō and Buddhism in 1868. And indeed, the Katori Shrines of Shimōsa Province are quite ancient. It also shows that the name of the company pre-dates the separation of Buddhism and Shintō, but both of these are part of the historical record, even though many people casually forget the Buddhist/Shintō syncretism of the Pre-Modern Period. I hope you all caught that.
[viii] There are 2 types areas that were incorporated, 町 machi town/city and 村 mura village.
[ix] Place name conventions make this obvious. Even if we didn’t have the paperwork for the creation of the ward (which we do), if it wasn’t named for the river, it would be Edo-ku not Edogawa-ku.

What does Kameari mean?

In Japanese History, Japanese Sex on April 7, 2014 at 10:00 am

亀有
Kameari (we’ve got turtles, yo!) l_01 It’s been a few weeks since my last update and so I sincerely apologize for the delay, but I have a good excuse. My 7 or 8 year old PC, ピノコちゃん Pinoko-chan Pinoko, finally died. Loads of data, including several works-in-progress went missing. I had to buy a new computer and my new machine is Windows 8. It’s a total departure from previous incarnations of Windows, so not only am I setting up a new computer, I’m actually learning how to deal with the new OS[i]. So anyways, so much has happened since my last update. If you only read the blog, I just want to make sure that you know you can get different updates from me via Facebook and via Twitter. I treat Facebook like the Japan This Plus. I treat Twitter like Japan This On Crack. Either way, you can customize how much you want to deal with me based on those criteria. If you can’t get enough of me, then by all means subscribe to all. If prefer me in small doses, then just keep doing what you’re doing. Also, leave comments whenever you want to! I really love those.

Kameari Station

Kameari Station

OK, so let’s get into today’s Tōkyō place name. Today we’re talking about 亀有 Kameari in 葛飾区 Katsushika-ku Katsushika Ward. It’s an interesting place name because it’s easy to speculate about the etymology because of the kanji. .


kame

turtle


ari

existence, possession

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Judging by the kanji, one would think this is a place where there were many turtles. But you’d be wrong. First of all, it’s 亀有 kameari not 亀居 kamei. Anyone who’s studied even a little basic Japanese knows that the language makes a distinction between the existence of things that move 居る iru be and things that don’t move ある aru be so this rules out turtles being in the area. Aru can be used for possession, though. So if you guessed “having turtles” people wouldn’t fault you and you might be in line with what people generally think when confronted with the name. However, it seems that this is not actually the case. There’s a bit of mystery here.

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cute turtles    .

What We Do Know?

The place was originally written 亀無 Kamenashi “turtle” “without/not having” and 亀梨 Kamenashi “turtle” “Japanese pear.”
The name was mysteriously changed in 1644 to 亀有 Kameari turtle having.

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The first theory that I came across, seems plausible. The story goes that there were no turtles here (or even if there were, they weren’t the source of the name). The name is actually a reference to the shape of the terrain. This is something we see time and time again in place names (valleys, mountains, plateaux, hills, slopes, etc.). We don’t just see this in Japanese place names, but all over the world[ii].

Anyhoo, this theory suggests that at the confluence of the 古隅田川 Ko-Sumida-gawa Old Sumida River[iii] and the 葛西川 Kasai-gawa Kasai River there was a mound – built up over time by the accumulation of detritus from the rivers. The shape and the colors of the foliage on the hill made it look like a turtle’s shell. This theory purports that the origin of the name was 亀を成し kame wo nashi making a turtle/turning into a turtle. By scribal error (or a later adjustment) 亀成 became 亀無 Kamenashi having no turtles – perhaps it was easier to read. Reality check. Just for the record, 亀成 Kamenashi “making a turtle” isn’t an attested form.

.nukui1

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The deus ex machina for this legend is that the local villagers thought the spelling was inauspicious. Well, everyone knows that having a bunch of turtles is so much better than not having any turtles at all. Nobody wants to look like a bunch of losers with no turtles. Rather, they were the people who had turtles. Lots and lots of turtles. All of the turtles because… who the fuck knows? So they asked the shōgnate to change the name from 亀無 Kamenashi (no turtles) to 亀有 Kameari (we got fuckloads of turtles up in this biatch).

This sounded fishy, so I had to go digging around a little more. My first stop was 亀有香取神社 Kameari Katori Jinja Kameari Katori Shrine[iv]. They claim that the name first appeared in the Kamakura Period.

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temlr-gurls[7

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This was easy to verify, as the words 亀梨 and 亀無 Kamenashi are first mentioned in 2 documents. The area is referred to as 下総国葛西御厨亀無村 Shimōsa no Kuni Kasai Mikuri Kamenashi Mura Kamenashi Village, Kasai Mikuri, Shimōsa Province in 1398 in the 下総国葛西御厨注文  Shimōsa no Kuni Kasai Mikuri Chūmon Shimōsa Province’s Kasai Mikuri Annotation[v], a document of the Kamakura Shōgnate. It was mentioned again in 1559 in the 小田原衆所領役帳 Odawara Shū-Shoryō Yakuchō Register of the Territories and Peoples of Odawara, a document of the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi Late Hōjō Clan who controlled this area until Toyotomi Hideyoshi annihilated them in 1590/91[vi].

The next time the place is mentioned is in 1644 during the reign of the 3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu on a map drafted by the Tokugawa Shōgnate called 正保改定図 Shōho Kattei Zu Map of the Shōho Reforms. This map inexplicably has the area formerly referred to as 亀無 Kamenashi “no turtles” labeled as 亀有 Kameari “we’ve got turtles, yo.”

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kuniyoshi014_thumb2

OK, also I’ve been burying the lead about this whole turtle thing. Why were Japanese people so concerned about turtles? I can’t say if they really were or not, any more than I can say the average Roman was really concerned about Vesta or the average Christian is concerned about Little Baby Jesus, but what I can say is that the reference would have been universally recognized across Japan.  Within the syncretic Shintō world view, a turtle was a symbol of 長寿 chōju longevity[vii]. It was an auspicious creature and the kanji was equally auspicious. This is at the heart of why people say the “no turtles” name was changed to “yes, turtles!”[viii]

 20090525184125a72

Why Are You Talking About Maps and Documents That I’ll Never Bother Looking At?

Basically, so you don’t have to. And, also because the name change is very strange, IMO. As I mentioned earlier, we have a clear change in 1644 from 無 nashi having none to 有 ari having some. But there appears to be no official account of this change[ix]. That said all the sources I’ve checked seem to repeat the story that the local villagers petitioned the shōgnate for this change or that the shōgnate itself saw 無 nashi as in auspicious and opted for something more positive. From this point on, the area is consistently referred to as 亀有 Kameari and not 亀無 Kamenashi. In the late Edo Period, Kameari Shrine began decorating the shrine precinct with turtles. Many shrines are guarded by a pair of 狛犬 koma inu guardian dogs, but Kameari Shrine is protected by 狛亀 koma-kame guardian turtles. The earliest extant set of guardian turtles dates from about 1860 – literally the closing years of the Tokugawa Shōgnate.

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Koma kame

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Alternate Theories

So, is the story above true? Long time readers’ bullshit detectors should be going off by now, but 4 things are definitely true in regards to the historical record.

    The kanji 亀 kame turtle has always been present
    In the Edo Period, a seemingly clear phonetic change in the kanji occurred
③    In the Edo Period, Kameari Katori Shrine began promoting “having turtles” with statuary
    Your mom

There are some other theories out there that… well… should at least be looked at. The biggest mystery for most people is the kanji change in 1644 under the Tokugawa Shōgnate. In short, if I may repeat myself, the standard theory claims that the change is based on the fact that Kamenashi was an inauspicious name because 長寿の亀がない chōju no kame ga nai there is/are no avatar of long life. Turtles were seen to be symbols of long life.  From the 1300’s-1600’s no one gave a crap about changing name phonetically, despite this being such an inauspicious name. The closest thing to a name change is the writing 亀梨 Kamenashi turtle pear, which doesn’t make much sense, but is clearly not talking about a lack of something.

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mito_komon

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The Mito Kōmon Did It Theory

Mito Kōmon visited the area and changed the name because if you don’t have turtles of long life, you suck. So more turtles of long life for everyone! Everyone loves Mito Kōmon, right?[x] This theory is based on the fact that the lords of Mito and their entourage would pass through the area to do falconry in Kasai. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m tired of stories of shōguns and famous daimyō passing through areas and just renaming shit willy nilly[xi].

ainu_bnr.

The Ainu (or Somebody Else) Did It Theory

OK, and here’s the least popular theory, but for me it might be the most likely. The area was known since time immemorial as カメナシ Kamenashi and the kanji were originally ateji[xii]. If this theory is correct, it would suggest that the all of the kanji are useless in determining this place name. It may also allude to a non-Yamato people living in the area. It also throws us into absolute conjecture mode – which means we’ve exhausted our discussion of the etymology of this place name.

box_hashutujo

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Who Gives a fuck about Kameari?

A lot of people, actually. I don’t read manga or watch anime[xiii], but the average Japanese person probably knows about this area because of manga and anime.

But it’s the setting for こちら葛飾区亀有公園前派出所 Kochira, Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen-mae Hashutsujo This is the Local Police Station in Front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward.[xiv]. This manga has been running for more than 30 years[xv].  Statistically, I think it’s the 4th best-selling manga of all time, but don’t quote me on that. It’s affectionately referred to as  こち亀 Kochi-Kame (you can quote me on that) and statues of major characters from the story can be found on the streets near the station.

The area used to be known as the site of the factories of the Japanese pharmaceutical company 三共 Sankyō[xvi] and the famous Japanese electronics company日立 Hitachi, the people who bring much joy to women all over the world due to misuse[xvii] of their best-selling Hitachi Magic Wand. Today, the area is a shitamachi shopping district surrounded by a quiet residential area. Today the name survives as a station name, 亀有駅 Kameari Eki Kameari Station and as 2 postal addresses, 亀有 Kameari Kameari (5 blocks) and 西亀有 Nishi Kameari Kameari West (4 blocks).

The Hitachi Magic Wand

The Hitachi Magic Wand

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[i] I’m not even shitting you when I say I had to google how to shutdown my computer.
[ii] Not to say humans are fucking unoriginal at naming places, but there are common themes around the world. [iii] The river’s course is different today.
[iv] Shrines and temples tend to pass down great stories and for the same reason they keep awesome collections of maps and documents.
[v] To be honest, I don’t know how to translate this text’s name because 注文 chūmon usually means “order” as in “order at a restaurant,” but it has a secondary meaning of “explanatory text.” Sorry, I don’t know more about it.
[vi] Famously, this power vacuum was filled by Tokugawa Ieyasu – ever the hero of any story told from a Tōkyōite’s perspective.
[vii] ie; long life, yo.
[viii] Coming back to this later. So keep this in mind, OK?
[ix] Even if we accept the pre-Edo Period kanji of ~成 nashi making, ~梨 nashi pear, and 無 nashi nothing at face value, at least the pronunciations are the same. The 1644 change is truly remarkable.
[x] I don’t. I hate him, and in a small way blame the theocratic oligarchy of post-Meiji Japan on him.
[xi] Please bear in mind I own copyrights for the “Captain Japan Did It Theory,” the “Mito Kōmon Did It Theory,” the “Tokugawa Iemitsu Did It Theory,” and the “Tokugawa Yoshimune Did It Theory.”
[xii] Phonetic use of kanji.
[xiii] This isn’t entirely true. I read some manga and watch some anime.
[xiv] I don’t know if that’s a good translation of the title. If there’s an official translation, please let me know.
[xv] Apparently, it’s also an anime series and has been re-done as movies, tv series, and it’s even been reimagined in live action as a tv show and on stage!
[xvi] Today the company is known as 第一三共 Daiichi-Sankyō.
[xvii] Or Miss Use, as I like to say.

What does Takaramachi mean?

In Japanese History on February 14, 2014 at 8:04 am

宝町
Takaramachi (treasure town)

takarabako_treasure

First a quick note.

There are 2 places in Tōkyō with the same kanji: One is Takarachō in the Chūō Ward; the other is Takaramachi in Katsushika Ward. Today, I’m talking about the one in Katsushika.

The history of this place name is actually a mystery but it is usually explained by a legend. The interesting thing is that this place name may be based on the ultimate oyaji gag. Oyaji gag refers plays on words and puns[i].

The Japanese generally look down on puns and will soon dismiss them as oyaji gags, but truth be told Japanese history is rife with these sort of things and so is Japanese advertising and… well… I think most people secretly like them, but are just afraid to admit it.

Map of Takaramachi

Map of Takaramachi

Let’s start with the present day kanji for this place.


takara

treasure


machi

town

For my readers who don’t read Japanese, let me refresh an important concept in Japanese writing:

音読み
on’yomi

Chinese readings of kanji

訓読み
kun’yomi

Japanese readings of kanji

Of course, this is a simplified explanation, but for our purposes today, that’s all you need to know.

One more concept that is important is tsuka mounds. There are mounds all over Japan. Mounds in Japan are often associated with graves. This goes waaaaay back in history to the 3rd century 古墳 kofun burial mounds[ii]. I mentioned typical Shintō burials in my article on Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s grave. I said that they’re associated with graves because just because a mound was built doesn’t mean there necessarily must be a body inside. Some mounds were purely symbolic. An interesting thing is that even in the Edo Period the graves of elite were often elevated – or in the case of the Tokugawa, always built on the highest ground. On the other hand, a tsuka can just refer to a small hill. As “just a hill” it may be valued for its high ground or it may be imbued with some symbolic meaning. It might just be a land mark.

This doesn't even encompass all of the meaning of "tsuka," but it should give you a general idea.

This doesn’t even encompass all of the meaning of “tsuka,” but it should give you a general idea.

OK, now that you know the basics, let’s get this party started.

This area was once controlled by the Kasai family, an offshoot of the Edo clan and vassals of the Toshima clan[iii]. On (or near) the premises of西光寺 Saikō-ji Saikō Temple there was a 塚 tsuka mound dedicated to one of the heads of the clan named 葛西清親 Kasai Kiyochika. His title was 伯耆守 Hōki no Kami Lord of Hōki Province, which is located in modern 鳥取県 Tottori-ken Tottori Prefecture[iv]. We don’t know much about Kiyochika Lord of Hōki as records are scant, but his name graced the mound which came to be known as 伯耆塚 Hōki-zuka Hōki Mound[v].

In 1227, a rock star monk from Kyōto allegedly visited Saikō-ji. The name of said rock star monk is 親鸞 Shin’ran and at the time his sect of Japanese Buddhists had prohibitions against sexual relations and using animals for food. In fact, taking part in these kinds of activities could actually get you killed. But Shin’ran wasn’t about to give in to the man. He was all about barbecuing and fucking and he didn’t give a fuck what you thought[vi]. I’m usually not down with holy rollers, but I’d throw back a few bottles of sake with this guy.

Fuck with my meat and ho's and you gunna get fucked back, son. Simple as that.

Fuck with my meat and ho’s and you gunna get fucked back, son. Simple as that.

So the legend goes, as Shin’ran was hanging out at Saikō-ji – perhaps lodging – he hung his vestments on a tree[vii]. And as the area was nicknamed 伯耆塚 Hōkizuka, he looked around to see if anyone was watching and slyly said, “Hey man, this is 法喜塚 Hōkizuka! Get it? Get it? 法喜塚 Hōkizuka!!!” The surrounding people cringed and slowly backed away and disappeared into their huts and never spoke to him again.

OK, it probably didn’t go down exactly like that, but according to legend, Shin’ran called the place 法喜塚 Hōkizuka. So what’s the difference in the kanji? Well, at first glance, 法喜塚 looks like Buddhist religious gibberish; like a temple name. Auspicious or “holy” kanji are juxtaposed to create a new word – an alien non-Japanese word that leads to the mystery of the religion[viii].

.

Today Saikoji is... well.. apparently, a little diminished in stature...

Today Saikoji is… well.. apparently, a little diminished in stature…

.

In its actual recorded history – outside of the etymology legend – the area was written with a few kanji variations. The writing was standardized in the Edo Period[ix].

法喜塚
Hōkizuka

religious gibberish

宝樹塚
Hōkizuka

secular gibberish

宝木塚
Hōkizuka

simplified secular gibberish

So, if all of this is true, the name Takaramachi is one big oyaji gag that snowballed out of control. Let’s go back to the kanji so we can see exactly what Shin’ran did and how the name changed later.

.

the alleged oyaji gag

伯耆
Hōki

name of a province and Kasai Kiyochika’s title

法衣
hōki

the vestments of a Buddhist monk


dharma/principals/rule (and a reference to the vestments)


treasure


ki

joy, happiness, delight, religious ecstasy

later generations added these


ki

tree (perhaps a reference to the tree he hung his vestments on)


ki

tree (perhaps a reference to the tree he hung his vestments on)

So by the end of the Edo Period, the name was standardized as 宝木塚村 Hōkizuka Mura Hōkizuka Village (the kanji being “treasure” + “tree” + “hill”). 法 hō sounds like law or religion or method and is a quite serious word. 宝 hō treasure, on the other hand, is auspicious and, c’mon, who doesn’t like treasure? This name survived the reforms of the Meiji Era until 1932 when part of Hōkizuka Village became 宝木塚町 Hōkizuka Machi Hōkizuka Town. In 1961, when Tōkyō introduced the current postal code system[x], the 木 ki tree kanji was dropped and the area was renamed 宝町 Takaramachi.

optimus-prime

.

If we jump back in time to 1955, we will find the founding of a vinyl and plastics manufacturer called タカラ Takara.  This company would later become famous as a toy company and would eventually unleash the Transformers upon the world. The reason I mention this, is that the company, which was established in Hōkizuka Machi, used the Japanese reading of the kanji 宝 hō (Chinese) takara (Japanese) treasure. As I mentioned earlier, there are usually at least two possible readings for a kanji, the ancient Chinese and the Japanese. The company choosing this native Japanese reflects a trend whereby local people were abbreviating the odd reading which was a mix of Chinese and Japanese readings and creating a new nickname that was purely Japanese. While this nickname may be much older, it definitely is understandable that in the nationalism of the years leading up to WWII, we would see a preference for a native Japanese reading of the kanji. Also, Japanese place names rarely have Chinese readings, unless they are named after Buddhist temples or are some kind of anomaly. Mixed readings are frowned upon in Modern Japanese because they’re unpredictable.

.

This legend is great. It makes a good narrative, but it also raises a few questions. If we assume the Shin’ran legend is true, then why did 法 hō dharma change to 宝 hō treasure? Well, as I mentioned before, maybe treasure seems softer than dharma/regulation. Maybe.

Also, why did 喜 ki happiness change to boring 木 ki trees? Again I can’t say for sure, but it might have something to do with a trend to nativize the kanji readings. is ki in the Chinese reading, but usually yoshi in the Japanese reading. It’s also a kanji that rarely shows up in place names. 木 ki tree, on the other shows up all the time.

And back to the 宝 hōtakara thing. By the Edo Period, there was a lot of communication between domains and a trend towards standardization of language had begun organically. There are places called 宝町 all over Japan (two still exist in Tōkyō alone), so there must have been an overall trend to shift towards the native Japanese readings of the kanji.

Another issue is with the first part of the story. As I mentioned before, 塚 tsuka mounds are associated with graves. They don’t have to be graves. But there’s a link there. They can also just be hills. If it’s a reference to a grave, it’s not Kasai Kiyochika’s. The first reference to him is 1228 and he died around 1270. But Saikō-ji was established in 1225, before he was even born. Shin’ran’s alleged oyaji gag took place in 1227, two years after the temple was founded and quite a while before Kiyochika died. But again, a mound isn’t necessarily a funerary mound, and in this case it could just refer to an elevation on Kasai lands or residence, but there seems to be a strong connection to Kiyochika in particular.

possible tsuka

Before I finish, I have to say that there is a very real chance that all of this is bullshit. The name could have changed over centuries as kanji competency improved in the Kantō area. The one thing that makes me lean towards this theory is that the Chinese reading VS the Japanese reading and the fact that it’s associated with a temple. Buddhism was a foreign religion. It had everything to gain by using foreign words and foreign uses of kanji to exert its prestige and influence and elite image. Whether Shin’ran – who for all I know lived and died in Kyōto – had anything to do with this name or not is almost irrelevant[xi]. It illustrates the influence of Buddhism in this particular village and the unstable nature of kanji use before the Edo Period.

All in all, this has been one hell of a ride for me. Go Takaramachi!

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[i] Literally translates as “old man joke” or “dad joke.”

[ii] The so-called Kofun Period saw the rise of Shintō and the Yamato state.

[iii] For a little refresher on the Edo Clan, please read here. For a little refresher on the Toshima, please read here. The Kasai were pretty minor, but they came up in this article.

[iv] It’s just a title; surely he didn’t exert any influence over an area on the other side of the country.

[v] The temple, Saikō-ji, still exists and claims to be on the grounds of a former Kasai family residence. The graves of some Kasai lords are preserved. Unfortunately, I don’t know if the Hōkizuka remains on its property – or if anyone knows where it is today.

[vi] Do you think I’m kidding? Read a little more about Shin’ran here.

[vii] According to one source, Saikō-ji still preserves a pine tree at the spot where this allegedly happened.

[viii] The Catholic Church has been notorious for coming up with neologisms since the 2nd century, and I’m willing to bet every other religion has too. If there’s no mystery or exotic terminology, people won’t look to the religious leaders for help in understanding them. It’s a common tactic that goes across cultures.

[ix] The final change was in the modern era, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

[x] Like an American Zip Code.

[xi] However, if Shin’ran really DID come to Kasai, it adds more evidence to my assertion that Edo wasn’t the “backwater fishing village” that the standard narrative says it was. Of course, in the 1200’s, Kasai wasn’t Edo, it was just a small fief in 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province . But from this time on, you can see the area start to bubble up until it was ripe for the picking by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 1590’s.

What does Morishita mean?

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History on January 11, 2014 at 2:16 am

森下
Morishita (Below the Forest)

a691eff3

This “matoi” (纏) banner commemorates the 3rd fire brigade which located in Morishita in the Edo Period. Fukagawa was home to about 16 fire brigades composed of commoners.
(CLICK the photo to read about fire fighting in the Edo Period.)

Any fool with 2 weeks of Japanese under their belt can understand this place name. It means below () the forest ().

Well, a quick look around the area doesn’t seem very foresty. But let’s assume there was a forest here in the past. What was that forest???

Well, as it turns out, this was just one part of 深川村 Fukagawa Mura Fukagawa Village. In the beginning of the Edo Period, 下総国関宿藩 Shimōsa Sekiydo Han Sekiyado Domain, Shimōsa Province built their 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence here[i]. As the Edo Period progressed, more and more merchants moved into the area. In fact, because of the abundance of trees (a natural resource) and rivers (viable transportation routes), the area flourished and became famous for its lumber[ii]. The center of the merchant district was located directly outside of the walls of the daimyō palace, naturally on the lower ground (ie; shitamachi), and as such it was called 森ノ下 mori no shita below the forest. The forest, of course, referring to luxuriant wooded area held by the successive lords of Sekiyado Domain[iii].

Sekiyado Castle, the river/s that made it famous, and Mt. Fuji.  Awesome!

Sekiyado Castle, the river/s that made it famous, and Mt. Fuji.
Awesome!

After the Meiji Coup[iv], the property fell into the hands of one bakumatsu opportunist by the name of 岩崎弥太郎 Iwasaki Yatarō. We’ve met him before when we talked about Marunouchi. If you study post-Meiji Coup Japan, you’ll come across the subject of 財閥 zaibatsu which literally translates as “rich merchants blowing smoke up each other’s asses while knob-hopping the burgeoning military theocracy of an inferiority complex ridden proto-fascist state.” Or maybe not. I mean, it’s only two kanji.

Anyhoo, Iwasaki Yatarō, the founder of Mitsubishi purchased the property and re-purposed it as a beautifully sculptured 庭園 tei’en garden/park befitting a gentleman in the new Meiji mode. The property was used as a retreat for high ranking Mitsubishi employees and as a place to entertain guests and business partners. Although it was a private garden, it was used as an evacuation area and temporary housing in the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake[v]. Having been contaminated by the masses, the garden was donated to 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City[vi] in 1932. The park was renamed 清澄庭園 Kiyosumi Tei’en Kiyosumi Garden and still exists today. Since 1972 it’s been designated as a 名称 meishō a Place of Scenic Beauty[vii].

Former daimyo palace turned Zaibatsu playground turned municipal park: Kiyosumi Tei'en. You gotta love Japanese gardens!

Former daimyo palace turned Zaibatsu playground turned municipal park: Kiyosumi Tei’en.
You gotta love Japanese gardens!

I’ve spent most of my time talking about the area that is now Kiyosumi Garden, which as I said was the mori of 森下 Morishita. Now let’s talk a little bit about the shita.

As I mentioned, the area at the bottom of the hill (“below the forest”), was a merchant town in the Edo Period. Much of the area was destroyed in the Great Kantō Earthquake and again the area was destroyed during WWII. The area has been gentrified, but for much of its history since the earthquake and war, it was considered a ドヤ街 doya-gai. Doya-gai basically translates as “slum.” But remember, this is Japan and so when you think of a slum, it’s gonna be pretty different. Crime was never high and the area wasn’t just a bunch of dilapidated shacks, especially because the area has always been a mix of a residential area and business district (both small and large businesses. Crime was never a problem here either. Actually, the word doya-gai is pretty interesting. The first part ドヤ doya is 宿 yado backwards[viii]. 宿 yado/shuku refers to temporary lodgings. Since a major portion of the population was made of day laborers who didn’t have permanent residences, they could lodge cheaply in the inns and temporary housing of the area.

This picture is taken from the movie

This picture is taken from the movie “Ashita no Joe”
but you can get an idea of what kind of image the word “doya-gai” conjures up.

The area has undergone gentrification since those days and has turned into (what I consider) a very drab modern shitamachi. Almost nothing remains of its Edo Period heyday and there isn’t much left from the Meiji Era either. But it’s interesting to note that the legacy of post-disaster/war its past still persists in a few subtle ways: today there are many cheap “business hotels[ix]” and many offices for finding and dispatching manual laborers are built on the former sites of the former makeshift camps for day laborers (ie; the “slums”).

So there ya go. A simple place name like 森下 that any clown with 2 weeks of Japanese under their obi can figure out actually has a much richer history than you’d think. Shit, I thought this article would take 10 minutes to write. But this story has taken us to 土佐藩 Tosa Han Tosa Domain (home of Sakamoto Ryōma and Iwasaki Yatarō). It’s touched on the establishment of Mitsubishi and the zaibatsu phenomenon. It even took us to Chiba Prefecture where we got a little daimyō and castle and soy sauce action. For what is today a boring area with a seemingly boring name, I’m pretty impressed and excited. This kind of adventure is what keeps me absolutely fascinated by Tōkyō.

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[i] Sekiyado Domain was in what is now northwestern Chiba Prefecture. Noda City is the primary city today, but apparently the place Sekiyado still officially persists in some place names. A 関宿町 Sekiyado Machi Sekiyado City existed until 2003 when it was merged with Noda City and ceased to exist officially. The area is noted for having a peculiar accent. It is also home of the famous soy sauce company, Kikkoman. A version of 関宿城 Sekiyado-jō Sekiyado Castle was reconstructed in the 90’s and although I haven’t been there myself, the museum seems to get high praise from Japanese castle fans. Check out JCastle’s profile of here!
[ii] This is very similar to nearby Kiba; see my article on Shin-Kiba here.
[iii] mori can also refer to a grove, so while the area may or may not have been densely wooded, the name could just as well refer to an area less wooded than what the English word “forest” generally connotes.
[iv] Or as it’s usually referred to, the Meiji Restoration…
[v] See my article on how conflagrations and disasters shaped Edo-Tōkyō.
[vi] Of course, I’m referring to the former 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City which was part of the former 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō Prefecture because everyone knows that today there is no Tōkyō Prefecture or Tōkyō City, only 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis.
[vii] See this article about special designations in Japan.
[viii] Coincidentally, this is the same kanji for the “yado” of Sekiyado. Emphasis on the word “coincidentally.”
[ix] A “business hotel” is like a Japanese motel – cheap and simple.

What does Katsushika mean?

In Japanese History on November 4, 2013 at 2:50 am

葛飾
Katsushika (Adorned with Kuzu)

What does Katsushika mean?

This is kuzu, sometimes incorrectly spelled kudzu.

kuzu Japanese Arrowroot,
a reed-like grass that grows in wetlands
shika decoration, ornament, embellishment

This is a very ancient name.

The former 下総国葛飾郡 Shimōsa no kuni Katsushika-gun Katsushika District, Shimōsa Province consisted of areas that are today Tōkyō, Chiba, Ibaraki, and Saitama. This wide area comprised the modern areas of: to the north, Katsushika District, Saitama Prefecture; to the west, Sumida Ward and the eastern half of Kōtō Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis; to the east, Koga City, Ibaraki Prefecture; and to the south, Edogawa Ward, Tōkyō and Urayasu City, Chiba Prefecture.

Shimosa Province

This is Shimosa Province. The area marked #1 was the Katsushika District.


The name is attested in the 万葉集 Man’yōshū so we know this is an ancient name[i]. The probability of it not being Japanese in origin is high. As mentioned in previous articles, the kanji used in pre-Edo Period Tōkyō place names should always be taken with a grain of salt[ii].

There are various theories, but none of them are certain.

1 – Katsushika’s かつ katsu comes from an older word カテ kate or ト kato which meant cliff, hill, or knoll. しか comes from an older スカ which meant “sandbar.” The general idea being that this name referred to the lowlands on the right bank and the elevated ridge on the left bank of the 利根川 Tonegawa Tone River (present day 江戸川 Edogawa Edo River[iii]).

2 – The name was given to the area by the “people of the south sea”[iv]. According to this theory, in whatever dialect or language these people spoke it referred to a hunting ground.

3 – The kanji is literal. katsu is an on’yomi[v] and nanori[vi] of kuzu arrowroot. shika is the nanori of kazaru to decorate. Arrowroot is a kind of vine that grows near rivers. It’s an invasive plant that quickly spreads and takes over an area. It is used to make some kinds of jellies for Japanese sweets. If this etymology is accepted, the meaning is then literally “a field or area decorated (overgrown with) Japanese Arrowroot.”

Here is a lowland area overtaken by kuzu.

Here is a lowland area overtaken by kuzu.

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[i] The Man’yōshū is an ancient text written in a kind of ateji. Here is an article on the text. Here is an article on ateji.

[ii] The kanji used in the Man’yōshū – which are all ateji – are 勝鹿 win + deer and 勝牡鹿 win + male deer and 可豆思賀 nice + bean + think + auspicious. These kanji are meaningless and don’t give any indication of etymology.

[iii] This river was famous for changing course after major floods and tsunamis until the area was wealthy enough to implement proper urban planning. The present Edogawa flows through the ancient course, emptying into Edo Bay (Tōkyō Bay).

[iv] 南洋系の民族 nan’yō-kei no minzoku people from the south sea is a mysterious term that may refer to other immigrant groups coming from the south, or may be a direct reference to the spread of Yamato culture, or may refer to older Yayoi or even Ainu people who just moved into the area at some point. I find this explanation ridiculously unclear – it’s obviously over my head.

[v] The Chinese reading of the kanji.

[vi] A set of common readings of a kanji used in names.

What does Senju mean?

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

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

Kita-Senju Station

Kita-Senju Station

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

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

Kita-Senju yankee.

Kita-Senju yankee.

THEORY #1

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

The Chiba clan family crest

The Chiba clan family crest

THEORY #2

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

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

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

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

THEORY #3

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

1000 armed Kan'non.

1000 armed Kan’non.

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

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

The shitamachi feeling of Kita-Senju.

The shitamachi feeling of Kita-Senju.

A Few Bits of Trivia About Senju:

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

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

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

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

 

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

What does Ryogoku mean?

In Japanese History on June 25, 2013 at 3:30 am

両国
Ryōgoku (Both Provinces)

Fireworks from Ryogoku Bridge and the Sumida River.

Fireworks from Ryogoku Bridge and the Sumida River.

Love sumō?

Love the 47 Rōnin?

Love chanko nabe?

Love Japanese History?

Love Japanese girls with glasses?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then Ryōgoku is the place for you!

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Ryogoku Sumo Hall - It's What's For Dinner

Ryogoku Sumo Hall

Ryōgoku is home to the 両国国技館 Ryōgoku Kokugikan Ryōgoku Sumo Hall. Order yourself a little 日本酒 nihonshu sake and enjoy watching fat men hugging and then throwing each other out of a circle.

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The gate to that little bitch Kira Kozunosuke's residence.

The gate to that little bitch Kira Kozunosuke’s residence.

If you’re into the 赤穂浪士 Akō Rōshi the 47 Rōnin, the bitch that they stalked and hunted down and killed like a fucking sick dog had a residence here. Some of the walls and gate of that residence are preserved and are a stone’s throw from the Edo-Tōkyō Museum.

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Chanko Nabe. The Meal of Champions.

Chanko Nabe.
The Meal of Champions.

お相撲さんo-sumō-san sumō wrestlers have traditionally eaten ちゃんこ鍋  chanko nabe[i] in order to fatten up. Ironically, it’s super healthy. There are tons of chanko nabe restaurants in Ryōgoku because there are many 相撲部屋  sumōbeya sumō training schools located there.

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All Your Bass Are Belong to Us

Japanese History Has Landed

If you love Japanese history, you can find the 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum in Ryōgoku. It’s easily one of the best museums in all of Japan and a must-see tourist destination for anyone who wants to visit Tōkyō[ii]. Also, it looks like a giant space craft which just adds to its badassness[iii]. Also, they have volunteer English guides who will give you a tour for free!![iv]

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けいおん!

Japanese Girls with Glasses
けいおん!

And finally, if you love Japanese girls who wear glasses, Ryōgoku is the place for you. Because Ryōgoku is in Japan, and there are a lot of Japanese people there. Statistically speaking, about half of them are female. And statistically speaking, about half of those females are wearing glasses!!![v]

How much better can it get???

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but-wait.....


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Let’s talk about the etymology of Ryōgoku. After all, that’s my shtick, baby.

In the past I’ve talked about 藩 han domains and 国 kuni provinces. Well, in the old days, as they say, there were two 国 kuni provinces divided by the 隅田川  Sumidagawa Sumida River. Those provinces were 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province. The Tokugawa Shōguns’ direct authority ruled over the city of Edo, and the greater Edo area sprawled across these two provinces. In 1659, The shōgunate built a bridge spanning the Sumida River and, voilà!, linked the 2 provinces. Hence the area is called Ryōgoku, or the place where both provinces met in Edo. Oh, how the shōgunate was magical like that!

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More Sumida River Fireworks at Ryogoku

More Sumida River Fireworks at Ryogoku

So, anyways, if you visit Tōkyō, you have to come to this place. The museum alone is worth your time. I’m a long term resident of Tōkyō and I regularly return to this museum for the special exhibits. If you go there, or have gone there, I’d like to hear about your experience!!! There’s a comments section just for that!

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[i] Not to be confused with チンコ鍋 which is something entirely different.

[ii] Pro Tip #1: Read my blog before you go. Bring my blog with you as you go.

[iii] Pro Tip #2: Don’t eat at the restaurants in the museum.

[iv] Pro Tip #3: I’ve never used a free English guide, but if you can read Japanese, they have a study room with access to thousands of maps and documents about the history of Edo-Tōkyō. It’s free to use and I can’t recommend it enough.

[v] DISCLAIMER: I have no idea about the statistics of glasses wearers in Japan.

What does Nerima mean?

In Japanese History on May 10, 2013 at 12:34 am

練馬
Nerima (original meaning unclear)

The grave of Toshima Yasutsune. He was utterly defeated by Ota Dokan and instead of doing seppuku he tried to escape. (Another legend says he threw himself in the lake. What a wuss.)

The grave of Toshima Yasutsune in Shakujii Park. He was utterly defeated by Ota Dokan and instead of doing seppuku he tried to escape. (Another legend says he threw himself in the lake. Either way, dude was a wuss.)

Today’s place name is another request. It was on my TO DO list but I sorta put it off because… well, let’s just say “can of worms.”

The history of Tōkyō generally starts with the Edo Period. But it wasn’t like this city just popped into existence in 1600. Before Tokugawa Ieyasu, there was Ōta Dōkan. Before him there was the 豊島氏 Toshima-shi Toshima Clan* and (spoiler alert) the Edo Clan. In terms of written records and political relevance, this area’s history actually begins in the Kamakura Period and only accelerates from there.

Toshima family crest

Toshima family crest

The necessary background is this:

The Toshima clan controlled large areas of 武蔵国 Musashi no kuni Musashi Province. Most of their dominion fell within the present Tōkyō/Chiba area. The 郡 gun district was called 豊島郡 Toshima-gun. Their seat of governance was in at 平塚城 Hiratsuka-jō (also known as 豊島城 Toshima-jō), but the family was firmly established in their residential estate in Shakujii Castle and had another fortification at Nerima Castle).** Today in Kita Ward, there is still a shrine called 平塚神社 Hiratsuka Jinja Hiratsuka Shrine. So the Toshima influence was strongest in the north region of Tōkyō. Place names that will definitely come up later will be Itabashi and Edo. The only reason I mention this is because these names will come up again later, for sure.

But OK, back to the subject at hand…

What does Nerima mean?

At first glance the kanji are confusing.

練 neri training, kneading
 (u)ma horse

First, let’s look at the etymologies that make use of the 練り neri “training” and ma “horse” theories

★ One of the oldest stories, documented from the Kamakura Period says that sometime between 700 and 800, there was a road connecting 武蔵国 Mushashi no Kuni Musashi Provice and 下総国 Shimōsa no kuni Shimōsa Province. On that road the Toshima clan had a 宿駅 shukueki a horse relay station. The name of the relay town was 乗沼 Norinuma, “ride-swamp”. This etymology claims that because the area was a wetland it had many lakes and, well, you could refresh your horses there, too. The local accent changed “Norinuma” to “Nerima” and eventually the kanji was changed to ateji.

a horse relay station

a horse relay station

★ Another theory says vassals of the Toshima family were training horses here. This is the most believable story, though it isn’t attested as early as the previous theory. So the name “training horses” is literal.
Compare this to Takadanobaba.

horse training place

horse training place

★ Another literal theory says some dude was stealing horses and keeping them here and then training them for resale. This kind of etymology, while entertaining, is unlikely IMO. But who knows…

dumb theory

Now let’s look at the clay theories

★ Another theory uses an alternate meaning of the kanji 練 neri. The kanji can also mean “knead” as in “knead bread” or “knead clay.” Supposedly there was an abundance of great clay for pottery making and the place was famous for kneading clay. This etymology says the name was originally 練場 Neriba Kneading Place. There are many examples of diachronic changes and dialect variants where ば ba becomes ま ma (and vice-versa). So linguistically speaking, it’s not impossible. On the site of the former Nerima Village (present day 貫井 Nukui), archaeologists discovered a type of kiln which was rare in the Edo-Tōkyō area.

kiln excavation

kiln excavation (this isn’t the one from Nukui, I couldn’t find a picture of that one)

★ Another clay theory claims that the dirt and clay in the area was sticky as if it had been kneaded professionally. Thus the area was called 練場 Neriba, just as in the theory I just mentioned. Over time the pronunciation changed from Neriba to Nerima. The clay hypotheses are intriguing.

wet clay! yummy!

wet clay. yay!

★ I’ve saved the weirdest theory for last. The Shakujii Basin lowlands were an expanse of lakes and swamps and so if you looked at water filled rice-paddies they looked really deep, as in “deep to the roots.” 根 ne root + 沼 numa swamp, marsh = 根の沼 Ne no numa root deep swamp, which changed to 根沼 Nenuma root swamp. Eventually Nenuma changed to Nerima and the kanji was changed to ateji (just like Hibiya).

BTW – The place name 丹根沼 Tannenuma exists in Hokkaidō.

I have no idea what a 根の沼 looks like so this will have to do.

I have no idea what a 根の沼 looks like so this will have to do (丹根沼、北海道)

So it looks like the jury is out on this one. And while every theory, except the last one, has an argument based on kanji, the possibility of the name being just ateji is very possible. It’s particularly possible with old names that pre-date the Edo Period. At any point in history ateji could have been used – and changed later again to support other folk etymologies. So this one will just be a mystery.

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* Toshima can be written 豊島 or 豊嶋.
** Toshima Amusement Park (called としまえん Toshima-en in Japanese) is built on the castle ruins of Nerima-jō.

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