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Posts Tagged ‘shinagawa-shuku’

What does Aomonoyokochō mean?

In Japanese History on September 25, 2019 at 2:05 pm

青物横丁
Aomonoyokochō
(green things alley; more at greengrocers’ street)

_dsf6005

Peas in a pod, veggies in a basket. Welcome to Aomoyoko-chō.

One of the things that make exploring Edo-Tōkyō so fun is that every neighborhood is unique. If you’re in the center of the old city, wherever you are is surely surrounded by a few blocks of something different[i]. A term that comes up time and time again is 横丁 yokochō. The modern image of a yokochō is usually a very narrow, dirty, old alley in the 下町 shitamachi low city, but by my understanding, Aomonoyokochō was neither narrow nor dirty – even in the Edo Period. However, if you don’t mind, before we discuss the neighborhood, I’d like to get everyone acquainted with some terminology and concepts.

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei™ is ready to drop some knowledge.

Three Famous Yokochō in Tōkyō

Places called Yokochō had been a consistent attribute of the city until the Bubble Economy when Tōkyō’s government and a handful of prolific developers began reshaping the urban landscape. These unique neighborhoods were not just the first to go, but I would argue they’re the most widespread loss the city suffered since the firebombing during World War II. The few remaining alleys are cherished by Tōkyōites as ever-disappearing respites and escapes to a nostalgic “Old Tōkyō.”[ii] A few just popped into my head as I’m writing.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Omoide Yokocho

思い出横丁 Omoide Yokochō Memory Lane[iii]. Located in 新宿 Shinjuku, this alley is famous for its intimate, postwar style 焼鳥屋 yakitori grilled chicken joints[iv].

nonbeiyokocho

Nonbei Yokocho

のんべい横丁 Nonbei Yokochō Drunkards’ Alley. Located in 渋谷 Shibuya, this alley is also famous for its intimate, postwar style スナック sunakku counter service restaurants run by older women who ruthlessly cater to locals[v].

ebisu yokocho

Ebisu Yokocho

恵比寿横丁 Ebisu Yokochō. Located in 恵比寿 Ebisu, near Shibuya. So-so in my opinion, but to be perfectly honest, I haven’t spent much time there.

I haven’t explored these areas on JapanThis! because they aren’t particularly historic. However, you can make a good case that they are the three most famous of Tōkyō’s remaining yokochō. Of course, there are others, but I’m not going to repeat them here because I’d prefer keeping them lowkey and off TripAdvisor.[vi]

Anyways, if you didn’t know what a typical yokochō was, now you do. That means we can get on to the good stuff.

Further Reading:

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yaoya

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Let’s Look at the Kanji

青物
aomono

literally, green things;
an archaic/dialect term for fruits and vegetables

横丁
yokochō

alley, side street;
town/neighborhood off the main thoroughfare

You may have never heard of 青物横丁 Aomonoyokochō[vii] or the name the street’s local chamber of commerce pushes, あおよこ AOYOKO[viii], because it’s only accessible by a single train line, the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line. For tourists, it’s not a particular noteworthy area. There’s a KFC, a MOS Burger, and a handful of chain 居酒屋 izakaya Japanese style pubs. There are two well-stocked convenience stores, but it’s pretty nondescript. That said, what makes 青物横丁 Aomonoyokochō Green Grocer Town[ix] special is its name and its place in the Edo Period infrastructure of Japan[x]. Also, for the sake of this article, I’m going to use two distinct spellings: Aomonoyokochō refers to the area in general, Aomono Yokochō refers to the side street that connects to the old Tōkaidō highway. It’s a nuanced difference, so you probably don’t need to worry much about it, but the different renderings are intentional on my part.

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Drawing of Aomonoyokocho in 1918 by Takeuchi Shigeo. You can see the greengrocers in action.

Bear in mind, this area exists in 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa-shuku South Shinagawa Post Town on 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō the old Tōkaidō, the main pre-modern highway that connected the imperial court in Kyō Kyōto and 江戸 Edo Edo (modern day Tōkyō). This was the largest post town in the country[xi]. For travelers coming in and out of Edo, there were a plethora of necessities: food, lodging, drinking and whoring, new shoes, and お土産 omiyage souvenirs. That said, Shinagawa-shuku was so large and so highly trafficked that various local economies popped up to support the neighborhood people who likewise supported the mass influx and outflux of regional lords and their samurai entourages[xii]. In short, this Aomono Yokochō was the beating heart of Shinagawa.

Further Reading:

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1200px-Hiroshige02_shinagawa

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Let’s Look at Some More Kanji

野菜
yasai

the standard word for vegetables[xiii]

八百屋
yaoya

greengrocer, vegetable stand

Shinagawa-shuku was most famous for its seafood, seaweed, and a range of low-class prostitutes to a number of high-end courtesans and geisha[xiv]. Aomono Yokochō, being off the old highway, didn’t cater much to travelers. It provided necessary foodstuffs to local restaurants, brothels, and local fisherman who were probably just plain sick of seafood and wanted some fucking vegetables for a change, dammit.

edo period green grocer.jpg

An Edo Period green grocer would stock less and be a far cry from today’s supermarkets. Why? There was no refrigeration so if you couldn’t sell it, you ate it or took a financial hit.

Edo Period streets didn’t have names[xv] and presumably this one didn’t either, but it was well-known that locals called this street Aomono Yokochō. In fact, I’ve got a map here that has the street clearly labeled as such. The place name still isn’t official, it’s just 南品川三丁目 Minami Shinagawa Sanchōme 3rd Block of Minami Shinagawa[xvi]. However, the area surrounding Aomono Yokochō is called Aomonoyokochō because in Meiji 37 (1904), 青物横町駅 Aomonoyokochō Eki Aomonoyokochō Station was established. Today, the character chō town has been simplified to chō town. It had originally been a cable car stop between Shinagawa and Yokohama because it was a convenient spot for travelers commuting between both cities to pick up fresh vegetables and fish. The train just made the area even more convenient until the advent of supermarkets in the Post-War Period.

Aomonoyokocho Edo Period

The road following the coast is the old Tokaido. Two other streets form a triangle. The top street is Aomono Yokocho. The entire triangle is the neighborhood of Aomonoyokocho. This is an Edo Period Map.

If you follow the old Tōkaidō from 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station, the only two yokochō that remain are Aomonoyokochō and 立会川横丁 Tachiaigawa Yokochō , but if you pay attention to other side streets, you’ll find a myriad of plaques commemorating long since vanished yokochō – each one dedicated to a particular industry or class. If you’re a nerd like me, you can revel in imagining these neighborhoods of yore, but to be honest, even the locals just walk past them without even blinking an eye.

edo period green grocer 2

Edo Period green grocer

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No More Kanji. I Promise!
Let’s Look at the Neighborhood

“Hey, Marky, if I were to just get off the train and walk around this neighborhood, what would I see?”

The answer to this question depends on your imagination and level History Nerdiness[xvii]. I don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting any place I discuss on Japan This!. That said, the pay-off here would be low unless you walked from either 日本橋 Nihonbashi to 旧川崎宿 Kyū-Kawasaki-shuku Kawasaki Post Town or some shorter interval therein[xviii]. Without context, it just looks like a pretty average street in a somewhat obscure part of Tōkyō. That notwithstanding, if you take a long, methodical stroll through the old Shinagawa Post Town, you’ll notice immediately how wide this street is and how busy it is. When the post town system was abolished and the trains started running, this area was already well-established as the distribution point for fresh foodstuffs along the highway and its various neighborhoods. And, history nerds, take heed. If we’re talking about Shinagawa Post Town proper, this was the busiest neighborhood[xix]. To this day, it’s busy, just in a different way.

Would you like to take a look at what cool shit you can see in the area? I bet you do, so let’s get into it.

hiranoya aomonoyokocho shinagawa sun drug

Sun Drug, former site of Hiranoya

Hirano-ya

So, there area was famous for supplying food so it’s not surprising that a family-owned business became local rock stars. The most prosperous greengrocer in the area was a family run business established in 1800 called 平野屋 Hirano-ya, literally Shop Hirano[xx]. It stood at the corner of the old Tōkaidō and Aomono Yokochō. They became the dominant purveyors of vegetables and fish in the area until they eventually made the switch to the supermarket business model under the name フードマーケット平野屋  Fūdo Māketto Hirano Food Market Hirano. This grocery store operated for nearly 220 years until it went out of business in May 2018[xxi]. But man, 220 years is a pretty epic run!

[UPDATE: At the 2019 Shinagawa-shuku Matsuri, I noticed paper lanterns with the name Hirano-ya written on them, so the family is probably still running a business under that name, maybe just not brick and mortar.]

tatami matsuoka shinagawa

Tatami Matsuoka

tatami matsuoka inside

When I asked if I could take photos of tatami construction, this guy said “sure!” and gave me a tatami trivet. So cool!

Tatami Matsuoka

Another interesting shop in the area is 畳松岡 Tatami Matsuoka, a traditional tatami “factory.” This business was established in 1779 which makes it even older than the defunct Hirano-ya. Better yet, they’re still doing business which is even older and still operating. To top it all off, they are still working in a Taishō Era building that uses the original signage which displays the original post-war right to left spelling, so it actually reads 岡松畳. As if this business wasn’t old school enough, that kind of sign just adds to the authenticity. That said, this stretch of the old Tōkaidō is home to quite a few traditional tatami factories.

tenmyokokuji shinagawa

Tenmyōkoku-ji

Around the corner is 天妙国寺 Tenmyōkoku-ji Tenmyōkoku Temple which was founded in the Kamakura Period (1285, to be precise). It retains most of its sprawling Edo Period lands, but history nerds may be interested in two particular graves.

ito ittosai kagehisa grave

Ito Ittosai’s grave is on the left

The first is that of 伊東 一刀斎 Itō Ittōsai[xxii], a semi-legendary samurai who may have lived between 1560–1653. He’s attributed as the founder of 一刀流ittō-ryū the one sword/one stroke school of sword fighting[xxiii], hence his adopted first name. Being a branding master, he secured his legacy as one of Japan’s greatest swordsman – second only to the equally annoying and boring 宮本武蔵 Miyamoto Mushashi[xxiv].

matsuri sashichi grave

According to temple staff, the bell is Sashichi’s grave (the sign on the left is his posthumous name).

The second grave is a bit more obscure. That’s the tomb of お祭佐七 O-matsuri Sashichi, an important figure in the world of kabuki in the Late Edo Period and Early Meiji Period.

Location of the teahouse Kamaya, now long gone…

Kamaya

The former site of 釜屋 Kamaya is clearly demarcated but there aren’t any material remains… remaining. This teahouse/inn came to be used by the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate as back up for government officials during the 幕末 Bakumatsu final years of the shōgunate. In North Shinagawa, there was 本陣 honjin the main inn for feudal lords and in South Shinagawa there was the 脇本陣 waki-honjin sub-honjin used for lower ranking officials[xxv]. However, due to the high amount of traffic in and out of Edo, Kamaya was granted official status as a government patronized inn. In 1867 and 1868[xxvi], 土方歳三 Hijikata Toshizō vice-commander of the 新選組 Shinsengumi[xxvii] stayed here. It’s well-known that he was a womanizer and passionate fan of ye good olde drinking and whoring, so the locals still tell stories of him visiting teahouses in order to be introduced to the best prostitutes in Shinagawa[xxviii]. Also, Tom Cruise is fine and all, but many Japanese people will call Hijikata Toshizō the real “last samurai.”

pet cemetery in shinagawa.jpg

If praying for pets is your thing, or you’re a Steven King or Ramones fan, check out the pet cemetery in Aomonoyokocho.

I’ve covered quite a few place names in Shinagawa recently, so I think this will be the last for a while. That said, Aomonoyokochō is an interesting neighborhood to visit if you live in Shinagawa. I don’t know if I’d travel all the way across town just to look around. That said, if you want to take a walking tour of the entire post town with someone who knows it inside and out, I can do that. And Aomonoyokochō is a great place to pick up some cans of beer for the next stretch of the walk. If パチンコ pachinko is your thing, there’s that, too. I’ll probably just have a beer outside and play PokémonGO, though. Smokey pachinko is too stinko for me lol. On that note, I hope you enjoyed the article and I’ll see you next time!

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō With Me Japan This Guided Tours
(It’s not for tourists, it’s for history nerds!)

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[i] At least, historically speaking.
[ii] Any way you want to take that term.
[iii] Or sometimes known as Piss Ally.
[iv] These days, it’s overrun by foreign tourists and many of the shops are no longer run by Japanese. The atmosphere is still good, but don’t be surprised if the owners and staff are Chinese or Korean. They still provide Japanese food, though. They’re smart and they know what foreigners who believe everything they see on TripAdvisor want. #FuckTripAdvisor.
[v] Also, thanks to TripAdvisor, attracting more foreign tourists and losing its cool.
[vi] TripAdvisor Ruins Everything. #FuckTripAdvisor
[vii] The street name was originally written as 青物横町 Aomonoyokochō. The new final character was simplified using a shorthand kanji that was easier to scan, but more notably was standard on maps in the capital since the early Edo Period.
[viii] I’ve seen this in print, but I’ve never heard locals use the word. They might, but I’ve never come across it. If you’re new to the Japanese language, many long words regularly get shortened. For example, あけましておめでとう akemashite omedetō happy nude year becomes あけおめ ake ome, while 今年もよろしく kotoshi mo yoroshiku happy nude year to you too becomes ことよろ koto yoro. These kinds of abbreviations sound cute, catchy, or funny and reflect a long-standing attribute of the language. At the time of writing, I just saw it written あをよこ a(w)oyoko which uses an outdated use of hiragana.
[ix] I’m being liberal with the translation here, but I think that’s a legit rendering. Also, locals hate the long name so they’ve abbreviated it to 青横 aoyoko. And good on them for doing so. Aomonoyokochō is a mouthful. Also, please note that the usual word these days for a greengrocer is 八百屋 yaoya.
[x] Which became the modern infrastructure of Tōkyō and the rest of Japan.
[xi] It was so large, in fact, that it was split into 北品川宿 and 南品川宿 and bled out for miles into the boonies. The Edo shōgunate considered Shinagawa as part of 荏原国 Ebara no Kuni Ebara Province. This area mostly fell under the administrative power of 大名 daimyō regional lords loyal to the Tokugawa Shōgunate and also to village headmen who… you know… oversaw villages.
[xii] Somewhere some dead traveling merchant or pilgrim is rolling in their urn screaming “but what about me?” And so, yeah. There were plenty of merchants and pilgrims traveling this road who were also staying overnight and drinking and whoring.
[xiii] ie; 青物 aomono = 野菜 yasai.
[xiv] Minus the prostitutes, dried versions of seafood and seaweed where prized souvenirs by people in the outer domains.
[xv] And for the most part Tōkyō streets don’t have names either.
[xvi] Minami means “south.”
[xvii] History Nerdiness by the way, is not a quantifiable term.
[xviii] Even at that, you’re not gonna see much….
[xix] Again, not for travelers, but for local businesses.
[xx] Hirano is the family name.
[xxi] It was replaced the same month by a chain pharmacy called サンドラッグ San Doraggu Sun Drug (which sounds more fun than it actually is lol).
[xxii] His real “first name” was 景久 Kagehisa.
[xxiii] Here’s the Wikipedia article on this style of swordsmanship.
[xxiv] Who is Miyamoto Musashi? Another branding expert who secured his legacy as a sort of archetypal samurai. Weebs love this guy.
[xxv] If the terms honjin and waki-honjin are new to you, check “further reading” sections at the beginning of this article.
[xxvi] The 1868 stay was after the defeat of shōgunate forces by the newly established imperial army at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. The Shinsengumi retreated to Edo (well, modern Chiba Prefecture, actually) in order to regroup and figure out the situation as the last shogun, 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu had voluntarily stepped down and transferred power to the imperial court in Kyōto. By this time, both 近藤勇 Kondō Isami commander of the Shinsengumi and Hijikata were 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shogun and should have been allowed to stay at the honjin or waki-honjin. Presumably, they were already booked by people who outranked them, or, in a problem that plagued both commanders for much of their adult lives, they were formerly 百姓 hyakushō farmers. Despite their samurai status and recently obtained honors, they were frequently discriminated against for having low family pedigree. That may explain why Hijikata didn’t stay in the honjin or waki-honjin. I’m not sure, though.
[xxvii] The Shinsengumi were an anti-terrorist police force that primarily operated in Kyōto on behalf of the Edo Shōgunate.
[xxviii] Whether there’s any truth to these stories, I can’t say. But they’re not implausible.

What does Shimbamba mean?

In Japanese History on February 6, 2019 at 6:29 am

新馬場
Shinbanba (new horse place)

IMG-0979

All right. You ready to do this? Cuz I’m ready to do this.

So, in my last article, we explored a little-known area on 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō the old Tōkaidō Highway which connected the shōgun’s capital in 江戸 Edo with the imperial capital in 京都 Kyōto. The road ran from 日本橋 Nihonbashi (literally, the “Bridge to Japan”) in the center of the city to Kyōto. To maintain the Tōkaidō and other similar highways, the shōgunate instituted an official network of 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns[i]. This ensured that travelers – particularly government and court officials – had a roof over their heads, somewhere to get a hot bath, and places to go drinking and whoring. In fact, places that killed three birds with one stone were not uncommon.

shimazaki-rō

A typical lodging in Shinagawa with sexual hijinx on the menu. This is the Shimazaki-rō. The photo was taken in 1929, but the lodging was established in the Edo Period and was apparently one of the most high end spots in Shinagawa, even providing delivery to the honjin and waki-honjin so government officials could remain anonymous. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk about what honjin and waki-honjin are in a bit…)

Access to well rested servants and horses were also an important aspect to this post town system. The first post town on the Tōkaidō was the main entrance and exit to the city of Edo. Not only was it the first post town on the most important highway in the country, it was the largest – so large, in fact, that it was divided into two separate towns: 北品川宿 Kita Shinagawa North Shinagawa and 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa South Shinagawa[ii]. The official post towns were home to roughly 1600 buildings and had a population of about 7000 people[iii], numbers unheard of in other post towns. Because of traffic from the sea and fishing villages along the bay, the area was a bustling center of commercial activity and the lines between post town and local villages often blurred. I haven’t seen numbers for travelers coming and going, but it must have been massive. Even though this was outside of the city limits and quite country, for 芋侍 imo-zamurai country bumpkin samurai coming to the capital for the first time, it would have been a mind-blowing prelude to the cosmopolitan sensory overload of the shōgun’s capital.

tokaido map.jpg
Today, you can still walk the original route of the old Tōkaidō from Nihonbashi all the way to Kyōto (if you’re into that sorta thing), but one of the best stretches is in Shinagawa. Along the way, you’ll come across an area called 新馬場 Shinbanba[iv]. Long-time fans of JapanThis! may recognize this kanji and come to the same assumption that I did: the etymology of this place name is just like that of 高田馬場 Takada no Baba – both of with end with the characters for “horse” and “place.”

And we’d both be wrong AF.
So let’s dig in and find out where this place name came from.

Further Reading:

1200px-Hiroshige02_shinagawa.jpg

Shinagawa? Strap on and feel the G’s. Outside of the city of Edo, this was where it was at.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


shin
new

uma,
ba
horse

ba
place

IMG-6797

Jūban Baba – the horse riding grounds in Azabu-Jūban. It’s a very distinctive shape.

Assuming this 馬場 banba[vi] was the same as 馬場 baba – I mean, the kanji is the same FFS – I started checking maps for long, rectangular plots of land where you could do mounted archery. I didn’t find any because in the Edo Period, this was the boonies. I found lots of small villages, but the word 馬場 baba didn’t appear on early maps or more accurate later maps. Hmmmmm…

2017003-1500x675

Female yabusame??? Yes, please!!!!

What Gives?

Well, I mentioned before that Shinagawa post town was so large the shōgunate divided it into two administrative districts, North Shinagawa and South Shinagawa. The separation took place where the Tōkaidō crossed the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River at 品川橋 Shinagawabashi Shinagawa Bridge. Taking a closer look at old maps, I realized something interesting. In North Shinagawa, the stretch of the highway from present-day 八山橋入口 Yastuyamabashi Yatsuyama Bridge to 法善寺門前 Hōzen-ji Hōzen Temple has block after block labeled 北品川歩行新宿 Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku[vii]. So, what the hell does Kachi-Shinshuku mean?

IMG-6786

Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku

So, normally in Edo, when you see the word 馬場 baba/banba on a map, it refers to a place for mounted archery. However, in post towns, the term has a totally different meaning. Furthermore, on these old maps, Kachi-Shinshuku distinguished a special part of North Shinagawa, one that specialized in providing rested and refreshed coolies to rich travelers. I don’t know if coolie is a PC term or not today, but essentially these 歩行人足 kachi ninsoku were day laborers who operated between two post towns carrying luggage and 籠 kago palanquins[viii]. In short, Kachi-Shinshuku means something like “refueling station” because you could relieve exhausted day laborers and hire new ones. Shinshuku means “new post town” because this was a later development of Shinagawa post town; that is to say, the shōgunate wanted the rest of North and South Shinagawa to be for lodging and whatnot but keep all the stinky laborers in a single area.

fujieda.jpg

One of my fave ukiyo-e prints and I finally have a chance to talk about it. Tired horses and tired coolies have arrived at a post town (Fujieda, also on the Tōkaidō) ready to pass over the packages to a fresh team. Notice the one guy wiping sweat off his brow and the team manager discussing the job with a merchant. Also notice the presence of a samurai inspector.

Wait. What about the Horses?

Well, I said you should think of Kachi-Shinshuku as something like a “refueling station,” right? Let’s say you’ve got a pack animal with you on your trek from Kyōto, or you’re a 大名 daimyō feudal lord who’s sick of being boxed up in a palanquin and wants to ride a horse. To keep the other parts of the post town clean, you could swap out stinky horses in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku. Additionally, coolies who carry shit for a living are pretty much pack animals too, right? They were both the pickup trucks of the Edo Period.

While stinky coolies who carried shit for a living were eking out a sustainable existence in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku, apparently the biggest business in popular memory was the hiring and retiring of stinky-ass 伝馬 tenma/denma pack horses. Thus, the term banba doesn’t mean riding grounds, but the place where you can swap out horses. We can see a related place name in 小伝馬町 Kodenmachō, literally Small Denma Town[ix], which is located near the terminus of the old Tōkaidō at 日本橋 Nihonbashi the Bridge to Japan.

5-oj9PNrH

Day laborers, coolies, whatever you call them, their jobs were disappearing with the Meiji changes, the advent of the railroad, and just like your job is gonna be taken over by AI, they did their best and now we bicker over whether the word coolie is PC or not lol

Why do we Remember Horses and not Humans

I haven’t heard any satisfying answer, but I have a pet theory. After the 明治維新 Meiji Ishin Meiji Coup, Japan tried desperately to impress the western powers that they were on equal footing. They began building a train line to do what the old Tōkaidō once did – link Edo (now Tōkyō) with Kyōto – and they adopted new dress, a new style of government, and they abolished the caste system. There was no concept of PC and centuries of prejudice didn’t evaporate overnight, but I suspect with the end of the post town system in Meiji 5 (1872) and the absorption of Shinagawa into 東京県東京府 Tōkyō-ken Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō City, Tōkyō Prefecture, the pressure to not associate humans with pack animals became self-evident. While marginalized families most definitely continued to work as social minorities in the area, the new era brought new opportunities and the local consciousness chose to remember that the area between Yatsuyama and Hōzen-ji was famous for post horses. In fact, even with the advent of the steam locomotive and the abolition of shōgunate restrictions on who could and who couldn’t ride horses, there was an uptick in demand for horses. It seems like the locals referred to the area as 馬場 banba horse place to preserve its traditional image and erase its humiliating past.

got it, fuck face

Easy Peasy!!!

So Shinbanba means “new horse place.” Got it. I don’t have to read this crap anymore.

Not so fast, buddy. You probably should read this crap a little bit more.

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei thinks you should read this crap more, too. Don’t disappoint Sexxxy Sensei.

It Always Comes Back to Train Stations

In the early 1900’s, on the train tracks that are now the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line there were two stations called 北馬場駅 Kita-Banba Eki North Banba Station and 南馬場駅 Minami Banba Eki South Banba Station, references to where the two post towns in Shinagawa were split by the Meguro River. Today this is a pretty minor line as far as Tōkyō trains go, but it straight up serviced the boonies until the post-war period[x]. However, as we all know, Tōkyō (and Japan in general) experienced a huge economic boom that saw construction and real estate development enter unprecedented levels beginning in the late 1950’s. Massive infrastructure expansions happened in the 1970’s, and new, faster trains eliminated the need for stations that were built for rural areas that had now become urbanized. A new station was built between Kita-Banba and Minami-Banba and was named 新馬場 Shinbanba New Banba and opened in 1976[xi]. By this time, nothing remained of Shinagawa’s post town – even the original Edo Period coastline had been expanded by landfill and massive building projects. It’s fairly obvious in Japanese that New Banba doesn’t mean “place where you swap out horses,” and as the post town’s history faded from collective memory, Shinbanba was just another place name that few people thought about. And that’s the short story, long. Shinbanba isn’t even a real place name. It’s just a station name, only the locals refer to the area in general as Shinbanba. The existence of Kita-Banba and Minami-Banba are long forgotten as time moves farther and farther past Shinagawa’s heyday as Edo pre-eminent post town, the grand entrance to the shōgun’s capital.

Just like 立会川 Tachiaigawa[xii], a majority of Tōkyōites have probably never heard of it.

tachiaigawa at night (1 of 1)

This is Tachiaigawa, a pretty decent walk from Shinbanba, check out my previous article for more about this little known secret in Tōkyō.

What’s in Shinbanba?

For the average person, there might not be a lot. But if you’re a history nerd like me and you love Edo-Tōkyō, there’s a fuck ton to see here. Just make sure your history level is cranked up to 11 because you’ll spend the majority of your time looking where places used to be, because there are only scant traces of the Edo Period preserved – and even those are disappearing.

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One of many nori (seaweed) shops in the area

Traditional Japanese Food

OK, it’s Japan, so this isn’t a stretch, but being a post town on the bay, foods like 海苔 nori seaweed, 寿司 sushi sushi, and 天ぷら tenpura tempura were famous in the region. In many famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints of daily life, you can see seaweed farms in the shallow parts of the sea where crops could be easily harvested at low tide. Sushi in its most common form is what is called 江戸前寿司 Edomae-zushi sushi in the Edo-style or sushi from Edo Bay. Likewise, tempura as you know it today was once called 江戸前天ぷら Edomae-tenpura[xiii], also a reference to either the bay or the local style. For travelers who just wanted a light snack that they could carry with them for the journey, there were many 煎餅屋 senbei-ya rice cracker shops, and you’ll still find the old Tōkaidō dotted with these family owned storefronts.

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Remnant’s of Shinagawa’s once thriving fishing industry still remain

Temples and Shrines

In the famous words of Scientology founder and all-around charlatan wackjob, L. Ron Hubbard, “If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” In this case, just establish a temple or a shrine. With all the travelers coming and going in and out of Edo, this entire stretch of the old Tōkaidō is teeming with Buddhist and Shintō institutions, some are pretty cool and some are kinda meh. I’m just going off the top of my head, but I think there are something like 20-30 temples and shrines in the area. With all those Edo Period travelers, these places must have been making bank.

Besides the fact that there are two 七福神巡り shichi fukujin meguri pilgrimages of the seven gods of good luck, the must-see spiritual spots in the area are 品川神社 Shinagawa Jinja Shinagawa Shrine, 荏原神社 Ebara Jinja Ebara Shrine, and 東海寺 Tōkai-ji Tōkai Temple.

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Calligraphy by the third shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, preserved by Tōkai-ji. It says Tōshō-gū, posthumous name of his grandfather, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The first two are Shintō shrines that are part of seven gods of good luck pilgrimages, the latter is a Zen Buddhist temple established by 沢庵 Takuan, a priest who founded this major temple during the reign of the third shogun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu Tokugawa Iemitsu. Takuan hobnobbed with all manner of high-ranking samurai and is sometimes criticized for his advocacy of killing, a general no-no in Buddhism, but Zen and martial arts go hand in hand and if you want to sell your religion to the warrior class, you have to make it appealing to them – and that he did. Tōkai-ji preserved several of his calligraphic works and tea sets which are now on display in the 品川歴史館 Shinagawa Rekishikan Shinagawa History Museum.

Shinagawa Shrine was established to protect the local village in 1187. It houses the 神 kami gods of 天比理乃命 Amenohiritome no Mikoto — a somewhat mysterious god[xiv], 素戔嗚尊 Susano’o no Mikoto the god of seas and storms[xv], and 宇賀之売命 Toyoukebime a goddess of abundant food that predates the importation of wet rice agriculture[xvi]. The enshrinement of a harvest goddess and a god of the sea makes sense for this area which was rural and located on the bay. I think that makes sense at any time in human history.

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Shinagawa Shrine

Speaking of history, the shrine has an interesting history. Apparently, it was established as 品川大明神 Shinagawa Daimyōjin Shinagawa Shrine[xvii] by 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo, first shōgun of the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura Shōgunate, when he enshrined Amenohiritome in 1187. In 1319, it’s said that a high-ranking retainer of 北条高時 Hōjō Takatoki, the last regent of the Kamakura Shōgunate, enshrined Toyoukebime — presumably, this was before Takatoki and his retainers committed 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide as Kamakura burned[xviii]. In 1478, Kantō warlord and all around bad muthafucka, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan enshrined Susano’o here[xix].

In 1600, a funny thing happened on the way to 関ヶ原 Sekigahara. A little-known local hero whom I may have mentioned here once or twice, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, made a stop at Shinagawa Shrine to pray for victory in battle. Well, we all know how that turned out[xx]. Ieyasu had patronized the shrine since the 1590’s, but after his victory at Sekigahara, the shōgunate prioritized the institution and to this day you can see the family crest of his clan everywhere. Other Tokugawa shōguns, including 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu (#3) and 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari (#11, but he’s always #69 in our hearts), are known to have visited here[xxi].

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Dozō Sagami – the most infamous adult playground in Shinagawa

Dozō Sagami

For samurai of means and rich merchants coming and going from Edo, one of the most famous and glamorous spots was 土蔵相模 Dozō Sagami, officially known as 相模屋 Sagami-ya, a deluxe brothel. This inn featured high-end 芸者 geisha and talented 遊女 yūjo courtesans[xxii]. Long time readers, especially those who remember my piece on Shinjuku, will remember that Edo Period post towns were hot beds[xxiii] of drinking and whoring. That’s right, dear reader, Shinagawa wasn’t all about pack horses and coolies.

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Model of he main building of Dozō Sagami inside the Shinagawa History Museum

Perhaps the most historically important people who partied all night here were a team of racist, xenophobic, and backwards-thinking 水戸藩の志士 Mito Han no Shishi Terrorists from Mito Domain who checked in to do the last drinking and whoring of their lives. The next morning was March 24th, a day that changed Japanese history forever. These ass clowns attacked the entourage of 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke lord of 彦根藩 Hikone Han Hikone Domain and 大老 Tairō head of the 老中 Rōjū High Council, the lords posted at the highest level of the shōgunate. They succeeded in assassinating him, knowing full well that they would either die in the attack, be sentenced to 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide, or worse yet, be executed like stinky, filthy commoners. Yup, these racist, terrorist fucks killed the guy who made the decision to slowly begin opening up Japan in order to get new military technology so Japan wouldn’t collapse under foreign imperialism like other Asian countries had – learn the foreigners’ ways and then beat them at their own game. This assassination, known as the 桜田御門外之変 Sakurada Go-mon-gai no Hen Sakuradamon Incident sent the shōgunate into a downward spiral that left the fate of the country in a precarious place.

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The back of Dozō Sagami (also called Sagami-ya casually). From here, you had a view of Edo Bay, the garden, the well, and that dope kura. You’re all kura fans now, right? The view must have been stunning in its heyday.

In the midst of this chaos, some other famous guests stayed at Sagami-ya. They were 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku an anti-foreigner terrorist with terrible hair and 伊藤博文 Itō Hirobumi a garden variety terrorist, unapologetic womanizer, and the future first prime minister of 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku the Empire of Japan. Apparently, they partied here after burning down the first British Embassy[xxiv] – which wasn’t too far from the area. A bold move to be sure, but when foreign powers displayed their military and technological superiority, these two 芋侍 imo-zamuri country bumpkin samurai from the rogue state of 長州藩 Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain suddenly became interested in foreign weaponry. Because of his famously dumb haircut, Takasugi Shinsaku didn’t live to see the shōgunate fall, but maybe Itō Hirobumi’s drinking and whoring saved his life. I dunno. Just throwing that out there.

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Sagami Hotel – the last days of a Shinagawa legend

Anyhoo, my understanding is that the Sagami-ya in some form or other lasted until 1972. The establishment fell on hard times due to American-influenced anti-prostitution laws enacted between 1946 and 1956. During its last days, it was known as the さがみホテル Sagami Hoteru Sagami Hotel and presumably there were no in-house prostitutes. But by the 1970’s, its garden and beautiful view of the bay had been destroyed by landfill, factory pollution, and the fact that the old Tōkaidō was meaningless in the modern world.

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A nostalgic remembrance of Hotel Sagami

The long standing 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line, the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line, the construction of 国道15号 Kokudō Jūgo-gō National Route 15[xxv] in 1952, and finally the 1964 completion of the 東海道新幹線 Tōkaidō Shinkansen Tōkaidō Shinkansen hammered the last nail in the coffin for Shinagawa’s old post town forever[xxvi]. The shinkansen route connected 新大阪駅 Shin-Ōsaka Eki New Ōsaka Station with 横浜 Yokohama[xxvii], totally neglecting Shinagawa. The loss of Sagami-ya represented the last gasp of Shinagawa as a lodging spot. Simply put, it had just become inconvenient.

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Dozō Sagami/Sagami-ya/Sagami Hotel is no longer with us. Oh, how the mighty hath fallen.

Rolled Over by Modernization

Shinagawa is a classic case of another place where Japan has paved over its own proud history. Tōkyō has done this in particularly egregious ways, IMO. The transition from the Edo Period to the pre-war period wasn’t that crazy, I think. It’s the post-war era that saw everything change. The 1964 Olympics also changed the city in huge ways[xxviii] and pretty much killed off the old city while also killing off Shinagawa’s fishing tradition and transforming the area into a land of warehouses and factories. From the 60’s-70’s, Japan was on a trajectory greater than the Japanese Empire could ever imagine. By the 1980’s… don’t even get me started. The US feared Japan like the US fears China and India now[xxix]. However, Shinagawa declined more and fell into a really horrible state.

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Whoa. Wait? How is that even legal?

In 2003, Tōkaidō Shinkansen service came to Shinagawa and this changed everything. Tōkyō now had multiple high-speed and “localish” train routes come to this sleepy town. This reinvigorated Shinagawa service breathed new life into an already vibrant manufacturing culture. 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward[xxx] began courting hotels, suggesting they set up shop in the old post town. Furthermore, they encourage the establishment of 民泊 minpaku residential lodgings in the area along the old Tōkaidō. In addition to setting up signage — albeit in Japanese only — and repaving the road to clearly convey its original width, they incentivized businesses old and new along the pre-modern highway. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it one of Tōkyō’s hot spots, the area around Shinbanba is definitely interesting for us history nerds.

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Did You Just SayHistory Nerds?

Of course, I did. And long-time readers know I don’t throw that term around lightly[xxxi]. Short term readers who have read this far are probably scratching their heads thinking “we haven’t gotten to the nerdy part yet? WTF??!!”

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You can’t see it now, but there’s a sign saying “two ‘miles’ from Nihonbashi” – “two ‘miles’ to Kawasaki.” If you don’t believe me, I dare you to go look for yourself and prove me wrong.

Holy Mile Markers, Batman

One cool spot that most people overlook is 二里塚 niri-zuka the two ri mound, a kinda mile marker. While pre-modern Japan had a whole gaggle of weights and measurements, a 里 ri was a unit of distance that — to the best of my knowledge – had no fixed distance[xxxii]. The niri-zuka indicates the spot that is two ri from Nihonbashi, the start of the Tōkaidō. The distance from Edo to Kyōto was 124 ri (the majority of miles markers are known (though few are labeled as such and fewer yet are preserved)[xxxiii]. Sadly, the marker near Shinbanba is not preserved and there’s simply a sign in Japanese at the entrance to 品海公園 Hinkai Kōen Hinkai Park[xxxiv]. In their heyday, these spots would have definitely stood out. At each marker, the shōgunate built and maintained a large man-made earthen mound on each side of the highway and planted a pine tree on each[xxxv]. While I’m sure these markers assured travelers that they were making progress and the next post town would be coming up soon, the real reason for these markers was to indicate rates for pack horses and coolies[xxxvi].

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What real mile markers used to look like. This one is in Wakayama Prefecture.

Shinagawa Daiba

Long time readers will remember my article on Odaiba. But to sum it up briefly, in 1853 Commodore Perry brought a fleet of gunboats into the “entrance” of  江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay near 浦賀 Uraga in present day 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture and demanded that Japan open for trade or he’d bombarded the city of Edo. Then he gave them a year to think about it, promising to return.

kurofunefig

Yo, b. That ship is black af.

As you can imagine, the shōgunate had a collective freak out at this breach of their strict isolationist policy. While they ultimately – and wisely – decided to open the country up to the Americans[xxxvii], they decided to build a system of cannon batteries to protect the city of Edo. These were all artificial islands, two of which still survive to this day.

One such battery was the 御殿山下台場 Goten’yamashita Daiba Battery at the bottom of Goten’yama. I’m not sure what the space was used for after the Edo Period[xxxviii], but I do know that with all the land reclamation that took place in the 1950’s, this plot of land was re-purposed for 品川区立台場小学校 Shinagawa Kuritsu Daiba Shōgakkō Shinagawa Ward Daiba Elementary School. And while I think it would have been cooler to have not fucked with the shape of the bay, I have to admit it sounds pretty bad ass to say you went to “Cannon Battery Elementary School.” Today, a lighthouse shaped monument sits at the front gate of the school to commemorate the historical value of the land.

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Map of the Shinagawa Honjin – stepped on by everyone who walks into the park. By the way, only old geezers and homeless people hang out in the park today. Just smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap sake.

Remains of the Shinagawa-shuku Honjin

So, with the big deal that I made about pack horses and coolies[xxxix], I don’t want to give the impression that Shinagawa was a dump. Every post town had accommodations for people from all walks of life. Without a doubt, the two most important lodgings were the 本陣 honjin main encampment and 脇本陣 waki-honjin secondary encampment. The honjin was reserved for 大名 daimyō feudal lords and 公家 kuge members of the imperial court in Kyōto. The “wacky” honjin was reserved for silly people like 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun and other high-ranking officials, and if it was available — for a price — super rich merchants could rent a room. In most post towns, the honjin and waki-honjin were located in the town center for strategic reasons. After all, these compounds were considered military installations.

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This picture wasn’t easy to find. It might be the only known photo of Shinagawa Honjin (in its days a hospital for the Tōkyō City Police). It looks pretty lush and definitely retains its Edo Period atmosphere.

After the Meiji Coup, the emperor and his entourage moved from Kyōto to Edo and then renamed the city 東京 Tōkyō Eastern Capital. The honjin being the swankiest accommodation in Shinagawa, obviously, this where they stayed. However, after the post station system was abolished in 1872 (Meiji 5), this luxurious building and its beautiful garden became the 警視庁品川病院 Keishichō Shinagawa Byōin Shinagawa Police Hospital. It must have been a gorgeous location at which to recuperate. In addition to its beautiful architecture, this area was still in the countryside and while it wasn’t located right on the beach, I assume you had a nice view of the bay from the second floor. What’s more, it seems the Edo Period building[xl] was used right up until 1938.

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You’re either experiencing déjà vu right now or you haven’t been paying attention to the pretty pictures. Either way is fine. I love you just the same.

By 1938, the building was deemed antiquated, decommissioned, and torn down. In its place, a small park was built on one section of the compound, an office building on the remaining land. In commemoration of the Meiji Emperor’s visit, the park was named 聖蹟公園 Seiseki Kōen Sacred Spot Park[xli]. The current incarnation of the park dates back to 1960 and the original office building is no longer with us, today its place is taken by a daycare center or kindergarten or some dumb shit for annoying little kids.

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One of the Coolest Shoe Stores in Tōkyō

Keeping in mind that Shinagawa was either the last town you’d pass on your way to Edo or the first town you’d pass on your way out, either way, you’d probably need new shoes. If you were leaving the capital, it would have been cheaper to buy them here than in the city center. If you were arriving in the capital, your shoes probably got pretty beat up. Plus, shoes for long distance walking and casual walking around town were different. Either way, you’d want to dress to impress. There were several shoe stores in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku, but today only 丸屋履物店 Maruya Hakimono-ten Maruyama Shoes remains. This traditional shop was established in 1865, three years before the collapse of the shōgunate, and has been run by six generations of expert craftsmen. The building is a classic two-story structure typical of the Edo Period. The first floor is a showroom and work area where the manager sits and literally makes shoes by hand on a tatami mat. They specialize in Japanese shoes, in particular 下駄 geta, 草履 zōri, and 雪駄 seta. That said, they also construct specialty shoes that I don’t know the name of, all I can say is they’re those big ass platform shoes worn by 花魁 oiran courtesans of the highest rank. You can buy ready to wear shoes or choose a base that you want and then pick your own strap design and style. It’s pretty awesome if you’re trying to put together your own 着物 kimono or 浴衣 yukata ensemble[xlii]. Even if you can’t make it to Shinagawa, you can order online or at the very least follow their twitter account lol

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Shinbanba Fun Facts

I think I mentioned that as part of the revival of the area in the early 2000’s, Shinagawa Ward clearly marked the width of the original Tōkaidō. Don’t think I would drop something casually like that without giving you guys more details.

According to an official decree of the third shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada in 1616, the Tōkaidō was formally classified as an 大海道 Ōkaidō a major sea route and the width of the street was required to be 六間 rokken six ken which is roughly 10.8 m (35 feet 6 inches). The original width of the road is clearly demarcated now, even though there’s no signage indicating this deliberate measure taken by the ward.  When the Tōkaidō Line was built which bypassed the old post town, the area was frozen in time. With the advent of cars, a much wider road for cars called the 第一京浜 Daiichi Keihin replaced the old highway because the pre-modern width was unsuitable for heavy traffic. That said, this stretch of road is extremely pedestrian-friendly to this day. There’s very little car traffic even during the day, and at night you’ll only see occasional foot and bike traffic.

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Wait. What?? We just rebuilt this city after the fucking Americans… fuck… it’s a giant rubber lizard. Japan is fucked!! Run away! Run away!!

Oh, and how could I leave this out? Yo, Godzilla made this place his bitch! 八つ山入口 Yatsuyama Iriguchi Yatsuyama Entrance is the entrance to Shinagawa coming from Edo[xliii]. Technically this spot, now marked by a bridge crossing the train tracks is closer to Kita Shinagawa Station than Shinbanba Station) is where Godzilla first entered Tōkyō via Tōkyō Bay. I haven’t seen these movies since I was a kid, but presumably the bay still had its original shape and the monster made a b-line for the city center via the Tōkaidō. In the Edo Period, the 5 Highways into the city were heavily guarded by the suburban palaces of various daimyō, but even with all the 1950’s military technology, the city could do nothing about a crazy, fire-breathing mutant dinosaur-thing with a penchant for knocking over the newly rebuilt capital of Japan[xliv].

With all that said, I’m assuming I’ve spent enough time in Shinagawa for a while. I’ve got a few ideas for upcoming articles, but if you have some locations you’re interested in (in Edo-Tōkyō), leave a comment down below and I’ll see what I can do. As always, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō With Me Japan This Guided Tours
(And yes, I’ll take you through Shinagawa post town and to Tachiaigawa, or even the execution grounds. It’s not for tourists, it’s for history nerds!)

 


[i] Another term was 宿駅 shukueki, although this term emphasized the presence of places to swap out pack horses (something we’ll talk about later in the article). Interestingly, the second kanji 駅 eki is now used for train stations. This something that will make sense as you read the rest of the article.
[ii] Some people divided it into three post towns, though this wasn’t official. In the end, visit any other former post town in Japan is you’ll instantly realized how tiny they are and how seemingly endless Shinagawa was.
[iii] The official post town, South Shinagawa-shuku in particular, bled over into neighboring villages which adapted to handle overflow on heavy days.
[iv] Officially Romanized as Shimbamba, but homie don’t play that shit.
[v] In other spaces, like the 麻布馬場 Azabu Baba Azabu Horse Riding Grounds, there’s not a single trace of the old topography.
[vi] The pronunciation of banba seems to be a contraction of 馬の場 uma no ba.
[vii] An alternate reading, perhaps more standard is Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinjuku. The -shuku/-juku distinction seems to be regional, but locals in Shinagawa have preserved the less common -shuku pronunciation. This indicates the variety of dialects in Edo, while emphasizing the fact that Shinagawa was not Edo. It was just country.
[viii] If you visit the preserved post towns on the Nakasendō in Nagano Prefecture, you can see 高札場 kōsatsuba regulating the fixed prices coolies could charge to carry shit from one town to the next.
[ix] And for all you perverts out there, it’s 伝馬 denma/tenma a horse for passing along, not 電マ denma a high-powered vibrator like the Hitachi Magic Wand – short for 電気マッサージ器 denki massāji-ki. Click this sentence if you want to read my article about Kodenma-chō.
[x] One could make a strong argument that it still services the straight up boonies today – the urban boonies.
[xi] Yes, that’s right. The term Shinbanba is just a little over 40 years old.
[xii] Covered in my previous article.
[xiii] Word on the street is Edo style tempura was a favorite food of the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and that it gave him stomach cancer and that killed him. I’m suspicious of this, but it’s the story everyone knows for some reason.
[xiv] Amenohiritome no Mikoto seems to be the ancestral kami of the 忌部氏斎部氏 Inbe-shi Inbe clan (they changed their spelling in the 800’s), a high-ranking family in the imperial court who tended to spiritual matters.
[xv] Susano’o was the brother of the sun goddess, 天照大神 Amaterasu-ōmikami – mythical progenitor of the imperial family.
[xvi] For most of very early Japanese history, Toyoukebime was the pre-eminent kami related to food abundance and food preservation. After rice became a staple food, 稲荷 Inari became the primary kami of rice and food, in time local iterations of Inari becoming tutelary kami or good luck kami to local 大名 daimyō samurai warlords. Due to the policy of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance, local lords built shrines to their local version of Inari and so modern day is one place where you can find Inari shrines everywhere. They were so ubiquitous – and I’ve mentioned this many times before – there was a proverb among Edoites: 伊勢屋、稲荷に、犬の糞 Iseya, Inari ni, inu no fun which essentially means “you can’t go anywhere in Edo without seeing shops named Iseya, Inari shrines, and dog shit.” Even though this was the so-called Pre-Modern Era, it sounds like a typical urban gripe. I’ve seen a few sources claiming that Toyoukebime is actually a precursor of Inari – Inari being an easier name to remember.
[xvii] In this case, daimyōjin is just shorthand for tutelary kami and saves people the trouble of remembering the deity’s confusing name.
[xviii] Not to state the obvious, but if they all killed themselves, said retainer wouldn’t have been able to carry out said enshrinement. Who the hell was Hōjō Takatoki?
[xix] Come on, Ōta Dōkan is our favorite here at JapanThis!
[xx] He won, stupid. If you don’t know the Battle of Sekigahara, feel free to check out Samurai Archives.
[xxi] I have to chuckle to myself when wondering if 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada (#2) visited Shinagawa Shrine. Because of the association with Ieyasu and the Battle of Sekigahara, he might have felt a bit weird since… you know, he showed up late to the battle — something Ieyasu never forgive him for.
[xxii] Read “prostitutes.”
[xxiii] See what I did there?
[xxiv] Construction wasn’t even complete yet. Did the construction workers get paid? Samurai Privilege anyone?
[xxv] This stretch of the road known as the 第一京浜 Dai-ichi Keihin Tōkyō-Yokohama Route 1.
[xxvi] Seemingly, at the time. Not actually forever…
[xxvii] This served the same purpose of the original Tōkaidō – connect Edo-Tōkyō with Kyōto. However, the civil engineers wisely set the end points at cities located outside of the urban centers of Tōkyō and Kyōto. This is something the Japanese government isn’t taking into consideration at all these days.
[xxviii] Probably for the worst (PS: I whispered that).
[xxix] Yeah, I see those rich Chinese girls’ Instagram pages. That’s the Japanese Bubble Years, there just wasn’t any social media. Also, when your go to other countries, keep your voices down ffs.
[xxx] They call themselves Shinagawa City, but they’re really Shinagawa Ward.
[xxxi] Well, alright. Sometimes I throw it around lightly.
[xxxii] My dictionary says it’s approximately 3.927km (2.44 miles), but emphasis on “approximately.”
[xxxiii] In case you were curious, the first marker is near 金杉橋 Kanasugibashi Kanasugi Bridge in 芝大門二丁目 Shiba Daimon Nichōme 2nd block of Shiba Daimon. The third marker is in 大森一丁目 Ōmori Itchōme 1st block of Ōmori. The fourth is in 東麓郷三丁目 Higashi Rokugō Sanchōme 3rd block of Higashi Rokugō. After that, you’ll be well outside of Tōkyō city limits.
[xxxiv] Literally “Seaside Park,” despite the fact that the coast is now miles away.
[xxxv] And yes, I also know that sometimes there was a cluster of pine trees. And yes, I know sometimes there were stone monuments clearly indicating the distance. It was the Edo Period. Uniformity wasn’t the shōgunate’s strong point.
[xxxvi] There’s that word again.
[xxxvii] Good call on their part.
[xxxviii] I think it might have been used for a lighthouse, but don’t quote me on that.
[xxxix] There’s that word again…
[xl] And presumably its garden.
[xli] Remember, this was the height of State Shintō and all that emperor worship bullshit.
[xlii] I assume I don’t have to explain what these are and the differences to you
[xliii] Or the last exit heading towards Edo, depending on your trajectory.
[xliv] And what’s up with that?!! They just rebuilt this bitch!

Where is Goten’yama today?

In Japanese History on March 29, 2017 at 5:55 am

御殿山
Goten’yama
(palace hill)

Hiroshige-Famous_Places_In_The_Eastern_Capital-Twilight_Cherries_At_Gotenyama-01-05-21-2007-8594-x2000

Today, we’re breaking from the usual etymology and location breakdown because I’ve already covered this area. I’m sticking to the recent theme of cherry blossoms, but I’d like to try something a little different. Bear with me. But I think you’re all going to like this. There’s an accompanying video at the bottom in which I’ll walk you around all these places.

御殿山 Goten’yama was one of the most popular 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing spots in 江戸 Edo. It was a bluff in 品川 Shinagawa that sat on the coast of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. It was outside of the city limits of the shōgun’s capital, located in 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni, Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province near the 二里塚 niri-zuka, a milestone indicating this area was roughly 4.88 miles (7.854 km) from 日本橋 Nihonbashi on the 東海道 Tōkaidō, the highway connecting the shōgunal capital of Edo with the imperial capital of 京都 Kyōto. It was one of the most celebrated spots for hanami, and might still be today, had the shōgunate not destroyed the mountain in 1853 to dump the dirt into the bay for the urgent construction of the 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries.

sakura

I’ve written about Goten’yama, the Shinagawa Daiba, and to a certain degree Shinagawa. But, I decided to expand on the topic a little bit. I thought it might be nice to compare the area then and now because it’s changed so much – and I’m not just talking about them literally tearing down the mountain. If we transported an Edoite to our time, they’d recognize the layout of the streets, but would be shocked by the destruction of the coastline by landfill and development. They might also find it funny what bits and pieces still exist today and how they’ve been incorporated into our modern lives.

Long time readers should be familiar with most of these topics, but for noobs or anyone wanting to brush up, it’s highly recommended you check out these past articles:

IMG_5336

Fishing boats in Shinagawa. Actually, you can charter these and they’ll take you fishing in Tōkyō Bay.

Let’s Look at Goten’yama

Hopefully the video walk-through of Goten’yama and its immediate environs will give you an idea of what the place looks like and feels like on the street level. It’s one thing to look at a flat 2D map, it’s another to actually explore the space first hand – everything feels different. Hopefully the video will give you a better sense of this small, but important section of 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku Shinagawa Post Town, nicknamed 江戸の玄関 Edo no Genkan Edo’s Doorstep[i].

And so, I present you with a map of Shinagawa and Goten’yama in the late Edo Period, but before the government made any major changes to the area in the 幕末 Bakumatsu last days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate (1853-1868).

before 1853

Familiarize yourself with a few of these place names and the geography. We’re about to go deep.

Fishermen, Travelers, Merchants, Sightseers, Oiran, and Samurai

Being a safe location on a bay with calm waters rich with seafood and so busy with land based travelers coming and going every day, Shinagawa turned into a town focused on customer service. Travelers needed lodging and places to eat. They needed places to bathe and purchase goods. Fresh fish and a view of the greatest seaside view an Edo Period person could possibly see were more than enough to make Shinagawa an attractive place to spend not only one, but two days. One of the main attractions was prostitution, big business in any post town[ii]. The difference was, Shinagawa offered access to Goten’yama which gave you access to a commanding, aerial view of the bay. During the day, you could see fishing boats on the water, in the evening, you could see pleasure boats – and just imagine the hijinks that went down on those private voyages[iii].

dozo sagami

Dozō Sagami, a kura-zukuri (fireproof warehouse style) high end brothel in Shinagawa-shuku which featured first class courtesans – including oiran, the highest ranking girls to play with.

Many of the 茶屋 chaya teahouses (read: brothels) here became quite famous. One place in particular, the 土蔵相模 Dozō Sagami, remained in operation up until the ban on prostitution by the American Occupation. After that, it operated as a hotel well into the 1950’s. Dozō Sagami had a reputation as a quite high class brothel and was popular among the samurai class. Many anti-shōgunate terrorists frequented this teahouse during the Bakumatsu. The most infamous of these anti-government agitators was a group 17 samurai from 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain and one from 薩摩藩 Satsuma Han Satsuma Domain who held an all-day party here eating, drinking, and banging “tea girls” as if it was their last day on earth.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

A room called the Midōshi no Ma inside Dozō Sagami

And, indeed, it was their last day on earth. The next day, resolved to achieve their goal or die trying, they ambushed the shōgunal regent 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke as he and his entourage left his 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence to attend a meeting next door in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. This brazen assassination of the highest ranking shōgunate official in broad daylight was the first of many instances of terrorism that would plague the shōgunate as well as foreign diplomats and merchants in what would become the end of the Pax Tokugawa.

Shinagawa-shuku wasn’t just blessed by the calm waters of Edo Bay, the old post town was protected by a promontory, originally a sandbar created by the estuary of the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River that flowed into the bay. That finger-shaped jetty protected the mainland from the occasional irregular high tide or, presumably, tsunami[iv]. Whether it actually prevented catastrophes or not, I don’t know. However, this natural land mass was built up by the shōgunate and came to be known as 洲崎 Susaki which literally means “sandbar promontory,” and it was a permanent fixture of Shinagawa-shuku and you can clearly see it in many famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e wood block prints. Families of certain fishermen here produced 御菜肴 o-saisakana snacks made from seafood and veggies that were presented to Edo Castle in exchange for their piscatory monopoly in the area.

whale.jpg

Not in Shinagawa, but this scene of a beached whale in a harbor gives you a good idea of how impressive the scene we’re about to talk about must have been to the average person on the street. The view from up on a hill is strikingly similar to how the view would have been from Goten’yama.

In 1798, during the reign of 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari[v], a whale washed ashore onto this promontory. This seems to have been a pretty unusual occurrence[vi], and it attracted a lot of local attention. In an age without TV, the word on the street finally made it to Edo Castle itself. Everyone one wanted to come see this huge sea creature that died on the banks of Susaki. It was such a big deal that the shōgun himself even came down to see what was up with this big ass dead fish on his doorstep[vii]. To this day, Shinagawa uses whales in various places as a decorative theme.

IMG_5322.jpg

Kagata Shrine (former Susaki Benten/Benzaiten) on the old Susaki promontory – the cherry blossoms buds are ready to bloom.

A notable feature of the promontory was 洲崎弁天 Susaki Benten a temple dedicated to 弁才天 Benzaiten, the only female deity in the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck. After the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei Edict Separating Shintō and Buddhism in 1868, the temple chose to retain its Shintō attributes and came to be known as 利田神社 Kagata Jinja Kagata Shrine, the name it retains to this day[viii].

kujira zuka.jpg

Kujira-zuka, the memorial stone of the beached whale.

On the grounds of the shrine, you can find a monument called the 鯨塚 Kujira-zuka Whale Mound. This was a grave built in memory of the beached whale that died on Susaki. It’s an interesting hold over of premodern syncretic religion in Japan. While Shintō tends to distance itself from the spiritual defilement of death, Buddhism embraces it as part of the cycle of life[ix]. However, Shintō is strongly tied to locations with unique spiritual attributes. Susaki Benzaiten was not constrained by any distinction between the religions (they were blended) and so it could justifiably perform funerary rites for the whale and honor it as a 神 kami Shintō deity local to the area all in one fell swoop[x].

Further Reading:

 

gotenyama hanami

This ukiyo-e is amazing because it is composed at the top of Goten’yama, but you can clearly see the commoner post town of Shinagawa-shuku below. The people on the mountain top are clearly elites. Oh, and look to the right side, you can see the Susaki promontory. You can also see that hanami habits haven’t changed much. People threw down towels so they didn’t have to sit on the ground, something very true in Japan today.

oiran.jpg

Oiran such as this provided upscale sexxxy time at the Dozō Sagami.

Let’s Walk up the Hill to Goten’yama

Sure, people were coming and going through Shinagawa all the time. Some were leaving the capital, some were coming to the capital. They came by land and they came by road. As I mentioned earlier, some were already in town and just came for drinking and whoring because… who doesn’t enjoy banging courtesans on the balcony of a traditional Japanese room with a decanter of sake in one hand while the sun sets over the bay with all those fishing boats out there on the water and no one’s the wiser[xi]?

IMG_5352

But it wasn’t all dead whales and prostitutes. The real highlight of the year, was the cherry blossom season. Goten’yama was THE hanami spot par excellence for the discerning Edoite[xii]. This small mountain was located a hop, skip, and a jump away from the shoreline and was covered in cherry blossoms. The commoners who lived in the shitty towns below could make a quick trek up to the top of the mountain in minutes. The rich samurai and daimyō who lived at the top could do the same. And if their timing was right, travelers coming and going could spend an hour or so enjoying the view under the cherry trees[xiii]. The ease of coming here on foot in a kimono from the heart of the city[xiv] can’t be understated[xv].

hiroshige gotenyama hanami-2.jpg

The top of the hill on the bayside was open to the public like a modern park. Going slightly further inland, it was home to massive estates owned by the daimyō and smaller estates owned by samurai closely affiliated with the Tokugawa Shōgunate. To this day, you can still see a huge difference between Shinagawa the post town and Shinagawa in modern Goten’yama.

hiroshige shinagawa susaki

Shinagawa-shuku, Toriumi Bridge, and Susaki Benzaiten.

Anyhoo, hanami-goers often broke up their celebrations under the floating pink petals to venture down the hill to visit the plethora of shops in Shinagawa to eat or buy goods to bring back up to the top of the mountain[xvi]. Couples often descended the mountain to cross 鳥海橋 Toriumibashi Toriumi Bridge to visit Susaki Benten (Kagata Shrine), in flagrant disregard of the unwritten taboo against couples visiting shrines dedicated to Benzaiten[xvii].

gotenyamashitadaiba2010-2

Defending the Bay from the Foreign Threat

So, as we all know, in 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Edo Bay with his so-called Black Ships. He told the shōgunate to open the country or be opened by force. He then left, promising to come back in one year to seal the deal. The second he had left the bay, the government freaked out. One faction, led by the regent Ii Naosuke recognized the Americans’ superior military technology and wisely opted to open the country to foreigners in order to purchase modern weaponry and bring the country to equal footing with the westerners[xviii]. In the meantime, they decided, it was in the shōgunate’s best interest to build a string of 11 batteries across the bay to take out any warship that might attempt to invade Edo by sea.

daiba2013wk2.jpg

Only 7 batteries were built in the end, the so-called 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries. Most of the landfill used to create these manmade islands had to come from somewhere. The shōgunate identified two large, uninhabited sources of dirt on the coast: Goten’yama and Yatsuyama[xix]. Goten’yama famously suffered the worst of the devastation. The government began quarrying the famous hanami spot tirelessly over the ensuing months[xx] .

IMG_2072

Typical Edo Period stone walls along the coast.

The Tokugawa Shōgunate planned to build 11 cannon batteries across the bay, but given they had only 12 months and limited resources to scramble and execute this plan – and let’s not forget, Perry actually returned a bit earlier than promised – they were only able to constructed seven manmade islands in the bay. The term Shinagawa Batteries usually refers to this entire project, but the common understanding is that it means the seven forts that were actually constructed and fortified. An eighth coastal battery which was an extension of the Susaki Promontory is generally not included in the mix. We’ll look at this unsung daiba in a minute.

cut away

This ukiyo-e by Hiroshige clearly shows the devastation of the quarrying. The ground below is flat, and now there are cliffs of bare rock. There are still a few cherry blossoms up top, though.

The areas most heavily quarried were 北品川3丁目 Kita Shinagawa Sanchōme 3rd Block of North Shinagawa and 北品川4丁目 Kita Shinagawa Yonchōme 4th Block of North Shinagawa[xxi]. The 3rd block was completely gutted – so much so that a flat-as-flat-can-be parking lot shows up in Google Maps as the remains of the mining operation. The 4th block was well-gutted, but stood at the top of the road from which they brought dirt down to the bay – a road that is today called 御殿山通 Goten’yama Dōri Goten’yama Street.

At the bottom of Goten’yama, a place called quite literally 御殿山下 Goten’yama-shita the bottom of Goten’yama, the shōgunate built an 8th coastal battery. The name, unexpectedly, was 御殿山下台場 Goten’yama-shita Daiba Battery at the Bottom of Goten’yama. Presumably, this took minimal work to construct, since they were just dragging down wheelbarrows of dirt from Goten’yama to the Susaki Promontory and dumping it into the bay. They built a pretty bad ass fort for themselves there, and to this day you can still actually walk the shape of the original landfill. Spoilers – it’s an elementary school today.

misaki1

After the construction of the Goten’yama-shita Daiba on the coast of the Susaki promontory. The red line is the Tōkaidō.

misaki2

Today, you can still kinda see the shape of the Daiba, but the bay has been completely filled in except for a few channels and inlets. The red line, again, is the Old Tōkaidō.

The Death of Goten’yama

Despite its easternmost section completely demolished, and a huge section of the neighboring western section quarried beyond repair, Goten’yama could have recovered as a prime hanami spot in Edo-Tōkyō. It really could have. After all, except for the harbor and post town, the area was still quite rustic in those days.

gotenyama train

However, in 1872, the government decided to replace the old Tōkaidō with a new train line[xxii]. The new train line roughly followed the path of the old highway, and required gutting huge areas of land for train tracks. The dividing line for the 3rd and 4th blocks of Kita Shinagawa was created by the train tracks that pass through the area. Since the shōgunate had done all the heavy lifting by quarrying Goten’yama in the 1850’s, this seemed like the easiest place to lay tracks connecting 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station with 川崎駅 Kawasaki Eki Kawasaki Station. To this day, the difference in elevation between the bottom of Goten’yama on one side of the tracks and the top on the other is striking. Also, you can get a feel for the differences between the 山手 yamanote high city and 下町 shitamachi low city. Down below, all the lots are tiny, cramped, and located directly on the noisy, old Tōkaidō – and they’re mostly shops. Up top, the lots are spacious, walled off, and quiet – and mostly residential.

Further Reading:

IMG_5335

Houses on what was a later extension of the Susaki Promontory.

Obscure Today, but Shinagawa is a Key Understanding Edo-Tōkyō

Shinagawa is waaaaay more than just the Goten’yama area. We could talk about this whole stretch of the old Tōkaidō for hours. In the video, I said I could spend all day here just exploring – and that’s really true. I could spend a lifetime exploring the area. And I do. I spend an inordinate amount of time in Shinagawa and the surrounding areas because… the stories to be discovered and retold never end. Ueno is the same way. All of Edo Period history converges on these areas.

So, there’s the video. I explored the whole area and I hope you this article gave you a better context for what I was talking about when I’ve written about Shinagawa, Goten’yama, and the old Tōkaidō highway.

sakura_report00

As usual, I have no way to conclude this article. We’ve looked at a huge swath of history and geography. So, go back and look at the pictures and maps. There’s no narrative this time. Look at what Edo was and what Edo became and then what Tōkyō did with that.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

[i] Translating Edo no Genkan is tough. In English, maybe “the Entrance to Edo” is the most natural and easily understood. But that would 江戸の入口 Edo no Iriguchi. Everything has an iriguchi (entrance) – buses, highways, bathrooms, etc. A genkan is literally “the entrance to a Japanese home where you take off your shoes, put away your umbrellas, and then literally step up into the owner’s private living area which is raised up above the filthy ground level.” When you arrived in Shinagawa, you weren’t in the shōgun’s capital yet. You were on the periphery, but you were about to enter the greatest city in the realm – which was, quite literally, the property of the shogun. Travelers into Edo, would have thrown out old shoes and bought new ones in Shinagawa, hoping to make a good impression in the cultural epicenter of Japan (outgoing travelers also would have bought shoes here for their long treks as well). Getting a hot bath in Shinagawa was another way of preparing yourself before “stepping up into the shōgun’s home.” Even though, you may still have a few miles to go, the more presentable you were, the better.
[ii] In fact, Shinagawa was so synonymous with prostitution, that Edoites had a nickname for it. Shinagawa was the みなみ minami south, while they reserved the きた kita north for the upscale licensed pleasure quarters, 吉原 Yoshiwara. Keep in mind, in this era, it was not just normal for a man of rank or means to have concubines, it was expected. Furthermore, frequenting teahouses and being a patron of 舞子 maiko geisha apprentices and 芸者 geisha social performance artists was just a normal “guys’ night out.”
[iii] Hint: drinking & whoring
[iv] To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a tsunami in Edo/Tōkyō Bay – I’ve heard this is attributed to the shape and size of the bay.
[v] Here’s my article on Ienari’s grave.
[vi] To my understanding, whales are pretty intelligent and tend to avoid bays where they are easy targets because of their size. They do much better in the oceans which, before modern naval technology, were off limits to humans. Beached whales are generally wounded, sick, or already dead, which means the current brought them to the coast. Nevertheless, this seems to have been a unique case in Edo.
[vii] Yes, I know whales aren’t fish (Edo Period didn’t know that), so for them, this was like seeing a sea monster prostate itself before the shōgunate. Quite politely, I might add. The whale didn’t die in Edo, it beached itself well outside of the city, with no spiritual defilement of the Tokugawa government.
[viii] Interestingly, the name has nothing to do with Shintō. This area of Susaki was known as 猟師町 Ryōshi Machi Ryōshi Town, a fishing village at the time. The village headmen of Ryōshi Machi used an ancestral name 利田吉左衛門 Kagata Kichizaemon which was passed down through the generations. While Susaki Benzaiten was the official name of the shrine (and the name that appears in texts and maps), it seems like the locals referred to it as Kagata Shrine – a hint that the village headmen doubled as priests of the shrine.
[ix] As such, Buddhism in Japan essentially runs a funerary racket.
[x] Someday I’m gonna have to tackle syncretic religion in Japan, but that’s a huge undertaking… and kinda boring to me.
[xi] Sorry, if that was oddly specific, but c’mon. You know everybody was doing it, right?
[xii] Or any samurai serving time in the city on sankin-kōtai duty – who generally seem to have been in awe of the metropolis and all it had to offer compared to their shitty backwater domains.
[xiii] I say an hour or so because travelers were generally expected to keep a certain pace as they traversed certain highways. Who knows? Maybe some people spent all day and did the Edo Period equivalent of “calling in sick.”
[xiv] Nihonbashi.
[xv] OK, somebody could understate it… but that would be a mistake lol. The walk from Nihonbashi, the center of Edo, to Shinagawa was probably the most well maintained section of road in the entire country.
[xvi] I’m sure a few went down to get their dicks sucked under the pretense of getting food for everyone, as one does.
[xvii] As mentioned earlier, Benzaiten is the only female deity among the 7 Gods of Good Luck. It’s said that she gets jealous when male-female couples approach her enshrinement and will curse the couple to break up. I think same sex couples are fine because apparently Benzaiten is straight according to this logic lol. Actually, today, this aspect of Benzaiten is relatively unknown by most people. However, the tradition persists in 井の頭公園 Inokashira Kōen Inokashira Park in 吉祥寺 Kichijōji. They say that couples who visit shrine there will break up. The story of the curse has actually become separated from the shrine in most accounts which say any couple who rents a boat to go out on the water will break up.
[xviii] Another faction, such as those samurai from Mito and Satsuma who assassinated Ii Naosuke, stupidly doubled down on the status quō, insisting that Japan stay closed and reject anything and everything foreign to the point of standing on the beach shaking their samurai swords at steamships hurling cannon balls at them, if need be.
[xix] The kanji for Yatsuyama is 八ッ山 and can be found in the modern place names of 八ッ山橋 Yatsuyamabashi Yatsuyama Bridge and 八ッ山通り Yatsuyama Dōri Yatsuyama Street, the road that now covers the inlet that once lay between Shinagawa and the Susaki Promontory.
[xx] Job creation!
[xxi] I have misidentified both areas as Goten’yama 3-chōme and Goten’yama 4-chōme in my video. I apologize for that and totally own up to it.
[xxii] This would become the 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line and eventually even the 東海道新幹線 Tōkaidō Shinkansen, the high speed train connecting Tōkyō with Kyōto.

Yamanote Line: Shinagawa

In Japanese History on April 25, 2016 at 5:29 am

品川
Shinagawa (river of products[i])

Station.jpg

One feature of the Yamanote Line is the presence of regularly occurring hub stations. These stations feed into other train and bus networks and handle an extremely high volume of commuter traffic. Shinagawa Station connects 5 trains lines and 1 新幹線 shinkansen high speed line[ii]. The reason the station is an important hub, is actually historic and goes back to the area’s importance as a coastal distribution center and one of the main access points to Edo for travelers coming from western Japan.

shinagawa station inside

品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station is the first station on maps issued by JR East Japan for the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line. In 1885 (Meiji 18), when the train was a simple route from former 江戸湾 Edo-wan[iii] Edo Bay to the northernmost suburbs of 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō City, this was the logical start of a south-north train route, for both commercial traffic and commuter traffic. The final destination was 赤羽駅 Akabane Eki Akabane Station on the border of southern 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture. It was also the logical starting point of train traffic from the previously shōgunal/now imperial capital to 横浜 Yokohama (a port city) and 京都 Kyōto the former imperial capital[iv]. Shinagawa was the perfect hub by sea and by land. By the 1950’s when Japan debuted its groundbreaking high speed rail system, the shinkansen, the area’s importance as a hub town since feudal times, made it the obvious choice for high speed train service and early plans to incorporate Shinagawa into the projected shinkansen network began early.

Etymology

Popular etymology says that the name refers to an ancient location where 品 shina goods were delivered from the bay via a 川 kawa river (ie; the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River). This etymology is somewhat suspect, as an older written form 品ヶ輪 Shinagawa is attested in the 1200’s. The older writing isn’t so different, though. It basically implies tying up boats and unloading goods.

Related Resources:

old station.jpg

Until the 1950’s, Shinagawa was located on the shore of Edo-Tōkyō Bay. The modern Yamanote Line and 京浜東北線 Keihin-Tōhoku-sen Keihin-Tōhoku Line tracks literally mark the old coastline. The area east of the tracks is called 港南 Kōnan the South Bay but is all landfill and There’s even an abattoir that still exists in the area – testament to how far outside of the city center this area once was.

In fact, if you walk out of Shinagawa Station’s old exit, the Takanawa Exit, you’ll find the terrain hilly. If you walk out of the Kōnan Exit, you’ll find the terrain flat. That’s because the Kōnan area is the old beach and ocean floor. Shinagawa in the Edo Period was perched up on highlands that bordered 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. A simple walk through the area today shows you how much of the elevation differed and still differs to this day.

Hiroshige02_shinagawa.jpg

Pre-Modern Japanese people didn’t go to the beach to suntan and play in the surf. Well, at least the samurai class didn’t[v]. But in towns like Shinagawa, which would have been a day’s walk for most Edoites, landlubbers could get access to the freshest 江戸前寿司 Edomae zushi Edo Style Sushi[vi]. The shore wasn’t lined with beach goers, it was lined with 茶屋 chaya tea houses that offered spacious, open rooms with a view of the bay and the pleasure boats that jetted off here and there. It offered a view of the open sky and before the sunset, views of mountains in other provinces that were inaccessible to most people. At night, special rooms designed for 月見 tsukimi moon viewing allowed guests and geisha to gaze at the moon and stars in the sky and their shimmering reflections in the still waters of the bay. Its reputation for seafood, seaweed, and 飯盛女 meshimori onna prostitutes who worked in the teahouses on the bay was almost unparalleled on the Tōkaidō[vii].

gyorutu2.jpg

Shinagawa-shuku. Note the 2 stone mounds in the foreground with grass on top. We’re going to talk about those later. But note how the road is lined with shops and inns. Also note the bay and the hills in the background.

A Post Town

Shinagawa was located on the 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō Old Tōkaidō Highway linking Edo[viii] with Kyōto[ix]. Travelers from the west could enter the city via this route and after a hard day’s walk, they could take a load off their feet, get a decent meal – most likely local seafood – and watch the moon set over the bay. Drinking & whoring, ever an option in Edo, were no exception here. But as the name and location implies, it was a major fishing area with close ties to the sea. It was ingress to the city for locals. Keep in mind, in the Edo Period, only shōgunate approved daimyō were allowed to come in and out of Edo Bay.

Related articles:

 

Shinagawa Today

If you’re a history nerd, you could easily spend a day walking 旧品川宿 Kyū-Shinagawa-shuku Old Shinagawa Post Town, you could do a 七福神巡り Shichi Fukujin Meguri a pilgrimage of the 7 gods of good luck (popular during the New Year holiday), or continue the walk from beyond the former post town along the Old Tōkaidō quite a distance.

In the Edo Period, the area along the highway itself was lined with inns, teahouses, and local businesses catering to travelers, but as you got farther from the post town you’d come to the farthest outskirts of Edo, where the execution grounds were located. Mixing killing with the local populace was not just spiritually unclean, it was hygienically unclean – a concept the Japanese seemed to have been aware of to a certain degree since the days of old[x]. But if that’s your thing, the killing floor of the local execution ground is located in the area. I like visiting the area because, yeah, that’s my thing.

Related articles:

nantsuttei

Shinatatsu

Originally, billed as a “rāmen stadium” that was home to 6 or 7 rāmen joints, the space was later expanded to include a “donburi stadium.” 丼ぶり donburi refers to a large bowl of rice with a variety of different toppings. I’ve eaten at quite a few of the rāmen shops there, most are pretty average. Good, but nothing that stands out like なんつッ亭 Nantsuttei which is an exceptional shop that specializes in 豚骨 tonkotsu rāmen[xi]. The owner got his start in 九州 Kyūshū, famous for tonkotsu rāmen while learning the art in 熊本 Kumamoto. The broth is particularly heavy, so I don’t recommend it on hot summer days, but Nantsuttei’s unique point is the use of マー油 māyu a special blend of garlic that is overcooked in 胡麻油 goma abura sesame oil until it turns black. While tonkotsu rāmen is usually milky in color, this broth turns a heavy black color and has a deep, robust flavor that is completely unique among rāmen styles. The shop has won many awards and is not only the most famous rāmen shop in Shinatatsu, it’s one of the most famous shops in all of Japan.

Related links:

shinagawa life

Shinagawa-shuku

The name 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku literally means Shinagawa Post Town. The 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō old Tōkaidō Highway that connected the imperial capital of 京都 Kyōto with the shōgun’s capital of 江戸 Edo ran through this area. The Tōkaidō was arguably the most important highway in the country at the time and reports by the few foreigners who saw it at the time marveled at how busy it was compared to European roads. A post town in the Edo Period consisted of inns, baths, shrines, temples, and other businesses that catered to travelers that lined both sides of the highway in the officially designated post town[xii].

Strictly speaking, Shinagawa-shuku referred to the stretch of the old Tōkaidō that ran from present day Shinagawa Station to… well, it depends who’s talking, I suppose. Strictly speaking, the inn town existed in the area near 北品川駅 Kita-Shinagawa Eki Kita-Shinagawa Station, but as this was one of the busiest post towns of the Edo Period, the town came to span quite a long stretch of the highway – quite far outside of the officially designated area. It petered off about the time you reached the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River and 江原神社 Ebara Jinja Ebara Shrine, but if you explore the area, you should probably keep walking as far as 大森海岸 Ōmori Kaigan the Ōmori Coast where 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Ground was located. Exploring this area can take you anywhere from half a day to a whole day depending on how deep you want to go. Shinagawa-shuku and the old Tōkaidō’s clearly 下町 shitamachi low city atmosphere is a huge contrast from the ultramodern hustle and bustle of the Shinagawa Station area. Shinagawa-shuku was home to more than 90 旅籠屋 hatago-ya inns, 1 本陣 honjin, and 2 脇本陣 waki-honjin. Honjin were special accommodations for daimyō and high ranking shōgunate officials. Waki-honjin were for lower ranking shōgunate officials.

Related articles:

IMG_4198.JPG

Remember the stone mounds with grass growing on them? Those were the remains of the Takanawa Ōkido.

Takanawa Ōkido

To be fair, this site is located between the largest gap between stations on the Yamanote Line. It’s pretty much the middle point between 田町駅 Tamachi Eki Tamachi Station and Shinagawa Station. Until the new station is built between these stations, it’s a bit of a hike if you’re interested in seeing it.

In the Edo Period, Tamachi was home to the suburban palaces of many 大名 daimyō feudal lords. It had direct access to the shōgun’s court at 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle by a number of routes. Shinagawa, on the other hand, was located directly on the sea and was an inn town and port town. Shinagawa was much more rural and home to many commoner districts, especially those areas associated with seafood and distribution. Nevertheless, most of the traffic in and out of the shōgun’s capital came via the Tōkaidō. In the early days of the shōgunate, 3 official check points were established to monitor travelers. These check points were called 大木戸 ōkido, literally “big wooden doors.” If you wanted to enter Edo via the Tōkaidō, you had to show your traveling papers at the 高輪大木戸 Takanawa Ōkido Takanawa Check Point. If you wanted to leave via the Tōkaidō, you had to do the same. As the so-called Pax Tokugawa Tokugawa Peace of the Edo Period came to be accepted as a day to day fact of life, security at the 3 main ōkido of Edo became lax and they were eventually abandoned. They were, however, not torn down as they could be reused if need be at a later date and served as useful landmarks to travelers and locals. The stone base of the Takanawa Ōkido remains partially intact[xiii]. It’s not much to look at today, but its presence in art from the Edo Period and Meiji Period attest to its importance as a local landmark. It also puts into perspective something that I’m always mindful of: Edo was the world’s most populous city at one time, but it’s just a tiny corner of the modern 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis today.

Further reading:

shingawa shrine.jpg

Shinagawa Shrine

Our next station is a little less famous, but no less interesting. I hope you’ll stick around for the next article. There are currently 29 Yamanote Line stations and we’re just getting started. Let’s do the whole loop together. 1 down and 28 to go!

 

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_________________
[i] Take this meaning with a grain of salt. I want to return to this topic, but in my original 2013 article, I looked at some of the possible origins. I will revisit both place names in detail later.
[ii] Sometimes translated as “bullet train,” but I hate that word. Just call it “shinkansen” and understand what it is.
[iii] At that time 東京湾 Tōkyō-wan Tōkyō Bay.
[iv] Keep in mind, Shinagawa Station serviced western Japan as a commercial route, not passenger route. Passenger traffic from Meiji Era Tōkyō to western Japan began at 新橋 Shinbashi (located in present day 汐留 Shiodome). Service was later moved to 烏森 Karasumori (present day Shinbashi). It’s complicated, but that article is coming soon. So don’t worry too much about it now.
[v] And any class who imitated them.
[vi] By the way, Edomae (Edo Style) means the usual sushi you eat today, minus those fucked up California rolls you eat in America. You can call that sushi if you want to, but it’s not Edomae. Also, today, Edo/Tōkyō Bay is the last place you’d want a fish from today. But I just want to emphasize, Edomae refers to the style of sushi created in Edo that has become the standard for Japanese sushi nationwide.
[vii] Many of these prostitutes had been sold into sexual slavery by indigent farmers in the surrounding countryside.
[viii] Under the control of the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate.
[ix] Under the control of the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court.
[x] To a certain extent. They still had no germ theory.
[xi] Tonkotsu literally means “pork bone” and refers to the rich, milky スープ sūpu broth made by cooking the hell out of pork bones and pork fat. Tonkotsu rāmen is often called 博多ラーメン Hakata rāmen because it was supposedly developed in Hakata, an area of 福岡 Fukuoka in Kyūshū.
[xii] Yes, post towns were officially designated by the shōgunate or local lords, although unofficial post town also existed out of convenience and necessary, mostly to deal with overflow.
[xiii] And largely ignored by the business people who walk past it every day going to lunch or coming to and from work.

What does Samezu mean?

In Japanese History on May 8, 2014 at 4:53 pm

鮫洲
Samezu
(Shark Sandbar)

That awkward moment when your train station kinda sucks... but you're historically mad important!

That awkward moment when your train station kinda sucks… but you’re historically mad important!

The other day, I took part in an epic history walk from 三田 Mita[i] to 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku Shinagawa Post Town[ii], the first inn town on the old 東海道 Tōkaidō Tōkai Highway[iii]. The town was the first and last stopping point for millions of travelers coming in and out of Edo-Tōkyō until the invention of trains and automobiles.

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

 

To be honest, train service didn’t kill off the old lodging town, but it shifted focus more toward the center of 東京市Tōkyō-shi the former Tōkyō City. The old post town, which was really just a long-ass stretch of road lined with inns, restaurants, teahouses[iv], temples & shrines, and stores catering to travelers of every rank, eventually transformed into a somewhat economically depressed shitamachi that many Tōkyōites rarely visit. Most of this economic downturn seems to be related to the modern development of Tōkyō Bay that stole the traditional economy of the area: fishing and seaweed harvesting. Modern 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station still marks the traditional entrance to Edo by sea. It’s a major hub station which hosts several 新幹線 shinkansen bullet train lines and the 京急線 Keikyūsen Keikyū Line that still connect Tōkyō to other parts of Japan and the world[v].

Shinagawa Station in the early Meiji Period. The tracks hug the coastline - vastly different from today.  This is tsunami fodder.  Seeing a picture like this makes me sad because we can't see the real Edo coastline today, but it makes it very clear why the coast was built up with landfills. It was all to protect the capital city. The farther removed the city was from the sea, the safer.  なるほど!

Shinagawa Station in the early Meiji Period. .
The tracks hug the coastline – vastly different from today.
This is tsunami fodder.
Seeing a picture like this makes me sad because we can’t see the real Edo coastline today, but it makes it very clear why the coast was built up with landfills. It was all to protect the capital city.
The farther removed the city was from the sea, the safer.
なるほど!

A view of Shinagawa Station today. Those skyscrapers are built on landfill. That was the bay in the Edo Period.

A view of Shinagawa Station today. Those skyscrapers are built on landfill. .
That was the bay in the Edo Period.

 

The original Tōkaidō followed the shoreline out of the shōgun’s capital. Nearby Takanawa was the maritime access point to Edo. All along the Shinagawa-shuku portion of the highway[vi], which terminated in Kyōto, you would have had access to some great seafood. You could stare out into the bay and see small fishing boats and maybe some of the shōgun’s ships as well as those of some of daimyō from far off domains bringing in supplies and gifts for the shogun. Today those views have all but disappeared. However, that said, the area is still bad ass for Japanese history lovers because it is literally[vii] littered with history.

 

Look at all this crap laying all over this place!  What lazy Meiji motherfucker just left this cannon (probably from Odaiba) here on the side of the street. What a jerk. Don't you know littering is bad for everyone??

Look at all this crap laying all over this place!
What lazy Meiji motherfucker just left this cannon (probably from Odaiba) here on the side of the street?
What a jerk. .
Don’t you know littering is bad for everyone??

 

Anyways, I want to give a shout out to my friend Rekishi no Tabi for pointing out this place name to me when we visited 鮫洲八幡神社 Samezu Hachiman Jinja Samezu Hachiman Shrine. Not only is it a very unique shrine, they had a small sign detailing the etymology of this place name. I guess you could say this one was just handed to me on a gold plate.

If you like pictures of Japan – especially traditional and historical Japan – please check out his Flickr photo stream. If you’re interested in pictures and news/current events about Japan, then you should follow him on Twitter.

 

First, let’s look at the kanji.


same

shark


zu

sandbank, sandbar

 

鮫洲 is just the popular local name for the area. There was never an official place, for example 鮫洲村 Samezu Mura Samezu Village or 鮫洲町 Samezu Machi Samezu Town. The name is only preserved in the name of a shrine, 鮫洲八幡神社 Samezu Hachiman Jinja Samezu Hachiman Shrine and whatever local businesses or spots have chosen to don the name Samezu. The actual official name of the area is 東大井Higashi Ōi East Ōi. Except for the shrine and a few local spots, the name might have fallen into disuse, except in 1904 a train station called 鮫洲駅 Samezu Eki Samezu Station was opened in the area[viii].

 

In the Edo Period, the area was known as the 大井御林猟師町 Ōi o-hayashi ryōshimachi Ōi o-hayashi fishing villages. The area that is now called Samezu today was home to two villages, 品川浦 Shinagawaura Shinagawa Inlet and 御林浦 Ohayashiura Ohayashi Inlet. You may remember what 御林 o-hayashi are, but if you need a reminder, I discussed them in this article, but long story short, o-hayashi were forests that fell under the direct control of the shōgunate. Most of the resources from this area – be they timber or seafood – were generally for the consumption of the shōgun family in Edo Castle. The area may not have been beautiful but it had shōgunal prestige. It was honored in one of Utagawa Hiroshige’s prints, which depicted the seaweed farms lining the coast.

 

samezu low tide

Samezu Inlet in her natural state at low tide. This picture was taken during an inspection of the area before initiating the landfill process. The area was basically unchanged since the Edo Period.

Samezu Inlet in her natural state at low tide. This picture was taken during an inspection of the area before initiating the landfill process. The area was basically unchanged since the Edo Period.

 

What I love about these pictures is that they show the gentleness of Edo Bay during low tide. The fishing village is literally on the beach. Because the modern coastline is much farther out and the water is deeper, I don’t think we get scenes like this anymore (low tide stinks, by the way) because of the intricate system of inlets and channels that line the coast. I’ve never lived near an inlet next to the bay, so if anyone knows their behavior, I’d love to hear about it.

Check out more amazing pictures of Samezu before the landfill work was done. The area is totally different today.

 

Utagawa Hiroshige thought enough of Samezu to paint it.  Notice the "hibi" (seaweed fields). I talked about these in my article on Hibiya and a few other times. Anyways, seaweed is a staple of the Japanese diet and the inlets and shores of Edo Bay were renowned for this delicacy.

Utagawa Hiroshige thought enough of Samezu to paint it.
Notice the “hibi” (seaweed fields). I talked about these in my article on Hibiya and a few other times.
Anyways, seaweed is a staple of the Japanese diet and the inlets and shores of Edo Bay were renowned for this delicacy.

 

Supposedly, traditional Edo style fishing and seaweed harvesting continued in the area right up until the 1960’s. In the early 1950’s, Tōkyō government officials and other corporate interests began planning a redevelopment of Tōkyō Bay. I don’t think this was a spiteful act, but probably more common sense. Japan was exporting a lot at that time, particularly to their rich trade partner, the USA. As Japan rose from the ashes of WWII to become the dominant economic power in Asia, old Edo-style ports were just not cutting it, they were downright embarrassing. Modern ships could fish farther out at sea and return faster with new technology. When the 1964 Olympics came around, perhaps Tōkyō could boast a safe, modern bay that had never been seen in Asia before….

And so from 1962-1969, the Tōkyō government began buying out and relocating fishermen from the area in order to fill in the bay and reclaim the area. By 1969, the process was more or less complete and much of the shape of Tōkyō Bay today dates from that decade. So by this time, Samezu was officially cut off from the sea. Its proximity to the bay isn’t far, and there are a few controlled inlets that survive. But the Tōkaidō that bordered the sea no longer borders the sea in the former shōgun’s capital.

 

Here you can see the Edo Period Shingawa and the modern Tokyo transformation.

Here you can see the Edo Period Shingawa and the modern Tokyo transformation.

 

OK. Let’s Talk Etymology, Bitches.

Someone once told me, “I come here for the etymology. I stay for the history.” And in that fine tradition, I’m ‘bout to get down and dirty with the general narratives associated with the place name Samezu. There are two stories that generally go around. The one thing going against both of these stories is the fact that Samezu has never been an official place name. The name seems to have come down to us as a name used by locals, but never by any official government body.

 

I have gross doubts about these theories..

I have gross doubts about these theories..

 

① A Wooden Buddha Statue Did It Theory

In the Kamakura Period, an 大鮫 ōsame huge, freaking shark died in the bay near Shinagawa. A fisherman found the shark and brought it to a sandbar along the Shinagawa Inlet. When he cut open the belly of the beast, he found a wooden statue of 聖観音 Shō-kan’non a Buddha usually called Avalokiteśvara. The statue came to be known as  鮫洲観音 Samezu Kan’non Shark Sandbank Kan’non. The statue became the principal object of veneration at 海晏寺Kaian-ji Kainan Temple located in nearby 御殿山 Goten’yama[ix]. The temple claims to have been built specifically to house the statue at the request of 北条時頼 Hōjō Tokiyori, the 5th regent of the overly complicated Kamakura Shōgunate[x].

 

Kaianji today

Kaianji today

 

② It’s An Old Dialect Word Theory

In the old Edo Dialect, /i/ and /e/ are often confused. As such, a dialectal variant of /samezu/ would be /samizu/. According to this theory, 砂水 samizu is a dialect word that refers to a phenomenon when the tide goes out and fresh water comes up from the sand as it dried out[xi]. This is probably the strongest theory.

science_it_works_bitches_performance_dry_tshirt

Hooray for linguistics!

The wooden Buddha statue theory is, shockingly, the theory upheld by Kaian-ji at the expense of the 2nd theory. However, a commemorative plaque is located on the site of 鮫洲八幡神社 Samezu Hachiman Jinja Samezu Hachiman Shrine which lists both theories and talks about the area’s rich history and its link to the sea. The local fishermen who lived in the area depended on the sea for their livelihoods. The sea was a great source of food, but also a dangerous force to live and work with. It’s interesting that there Samezu Hachiman Shrine and 天祖諏訪神社 Tenso-Suwa Jinja Tenso-Suwa Shrine in nearby 立会川 Tachiaigawa feature large pools populated by auspicious animals like turtles and carp. Enshrined at these pools are water 神 kami deities, underlining the profound connection to the waters of Tōkyō Bay held by the local people since time immemorial.

Samezu Hachiman Shrine  features this filthy pond and a "Mount Fuji" in the middle. The pond is populated with cute little turtles. Unfortunately today, this area is a dingy smoking area for... I'm not sure who... but there were ash trays next to every bench encircling the pond. Still, the presence of the water - rare at shrines in Edo-Tokyo - is a tribute to the dependence on the sea by the local villagers.

Samezu Hachiman Shrine features this filthy pond and a “Mount Fuji” in the middle. The pond is populated with cute little turtles. Unfortunately today, this area is a dingy smoking area for… I’m not sure who… but there were ash trays next to every bench encircling the pond.
Still, the presence of the water – rare at shrines in Edo-Tokyo – is a tribute to the dependence on the sea by the local villagers.

R00118481A1A1A1A

In neighboring Tachiaigawa, you can find Tenso-Suwa Shrine which is also dedicated to water kami and has a beautiful wooded and landscaped pond populated by carp. It’s well worth the visit.

 

As I finish this article, I just want to say how moved I always am when I reflect upon the Sumida River and Edo-Tōkyō Bay. These are the forces that breathed life into the coastal villages that dotted the bay. And while the shape of the bay made the area almost impervious to attack by sea in the beginning, the network of inlets and rivers imparted by the sea allowed the area to prosper. And by the time of the Tokugawa right down to present day, the bay and the rivers and channels and moats are part of the life and fabric of the greatest city in the world.

Some people may ask — and indeed have asked — why I’m making such a big deal out of this relatively unknown part of Tōkyō. Because this area typifies that transition from Edo to Tōkyō. This area was lucky to have survived more or less intact until the 1960’s. From the first Tōkyō Olympics to the Bubble Era unprecedented modernization occurred. Also, this is a great launch pad for a few more areas in 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward that I’ve neglected up until now. I hope you’ll look forward to them with me!

 

 

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[i] In the early days of the blog, I covered the etymology of Mita.
[ii] Waaaay back in the day I discussed the etymology of Shinagawa.
[iii] Longtime readers should know about this topic, however, last year I wrote about the 5 Great Highways of Edo.
[iv] For those of you who don’t know, drinking and whoring is – and always shall be – a searchable term on JapanThis.
[v] If you’re interested in these modern connections, please see my article on Tōkyō Train names and on Haneda Airport.
[vi] Historically speaking, “Shinagawa” refers to an entire 区 ku ward today. In the early Meiji Period, there was a 品川県 Shinagawa-ken Shinagawa Prefecture (1869-1871). The 宿場 shukuba post town was one of the biggest in Japan because it was leading in and out of the capital. But keep in mind that the farther you stray from Shinagawa Station, the farther you are going into what was the boonies in the Edo Period. Even lively Shinagawa-Takanawa weren’t technically Edo. They were a kind of suburb… of sorts. In 1871, the 藩 han domains were formally abolished and the short-lived Shinagawa Prefecture was brought into the fold of newly created Tōkyō Prefecture (though it was not part of Tōkyō City).
[vii] And I don’t mean figuratively.
[viii] The current station building dates from 1991.
[ix] Yes, this is the same Goten’yama that was razed and dumped into Edo Bay to build up batteries to protect the shōgun’s capital from the Black Ships. See my article on Odaiba.
[x] Complicated in that you had 将軍 shōgun shoguns and 執権 shikken regents and 尼将軍 ama-shōgun Hōjō Masako.
[xi] This theory is sometimes explained as the word 清水 shimizu fresh water being corrupted to samezu, but /shi/ doesn’t easily transform into /sa/ in Japanese.

10 Random Quickies – Japan This Lite

In Japan This Lite, Japanese History on August 20, 2013 at 12:57 am

大門  Daimon
国立競技場 Kokuritsu-Kyōgijō
新銀座 Shin-Ginza
東中野 Higashi-Nakano
江戸川 Edogawa
流山 Nagareyama
品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku
港区 Minato-ku
If there’s a 上野 is there a 下野? (Ueno, Shitano)
おめぇの母ちゃん Your mom

The Edo Castle room in which the 3rd Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu was born.  (supposedly)

The Edo Castle room in which the 3rd Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu was born.
(supposedly)

Alright, my super short O-bon vacation is over and it’s back to the grind (actually working a little more to make up for time lost). I’m gonna try to do my best to squeeze out another article in a timely manner.

Anyways, I spent one day in a 38°C (100.4°F) solar beat down in Kawagoe, the former administrative center of 川越藩 Kawagoe Han Kawagoe Domain[i]. Kawagoe was an important logistical hub for 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni and Edo. Since it was part of Musashi no Kuni, I thought I’d mention it. You can also find the only extant buildings of the former Edo Castle that can still be entered by common folk like you and I. Kawagoe is now part of Saitama Prefecture. These days, Saitama is to Tōkyō what New Jersey is to New York[ii].  Let’s just say, the prefecture will never live down Tamori’s nickname for the area, ダ埼玉 dasaitama (a mix of ダサい dasai “lame” + 埼玉 Saitama)[iii].  So let’s move on to more pleasant conversation[iv].

So I’ve got a few e-mail messages that ask about Tōkyō place names which are pretty easy to explain – and don’t really warrant their own posts.  Some referred to previous articles but weren’t directly addressed. So today’s Japan This Lite is brought to you by the support of generous question-asking readers like yourself!

Oh, and speaking of generous readers, if anyone is interested in donating, I’ve set up a donation page on Patreon. Feel free to throw a brother a couple of bucks[v].

OK, so without any further ado, here are 10 Quick Questions from readers about Tōkyō place names that I explain away in a few minutes[vi].



What Does Daimon Mean?

Oh, look! It's a big gate! I wonder what that thing is doing here?

Oh, look! It’s a big gate! I wonder what that thing is doing here?

大門 Daimon means “Big Gate.” The gate is specifically the gate that crosses the street at an intersection between the Daimon Station, the Minato Ward Office and Zōjō-ji[vii]. There is a bigger gate in front of Zōjō-ji, but that’s not the “big gate” referred to in the name. Before Zōjō-ji was built until today, the area has been known as 芝 Shiba (see my article here). The area in front of the gate was a 門前町 monzen-chō a town built in front of a temple gate (see my article here). Because there is an intersection right in front of the gate, the area became an obvious destination for trolleys, buses, and eventually subways.  The subway name here is 大門 Daimon, but the actually postal address is 芝大門 Shiba Daimon. The name reflects the area’s heritage as part of Shiba, as monzen-chō, and of course, as the place where the big gate still stands today.

What Does Kokuritsu-Kyōgijō Mean?

The National Olympic Stadium

The National Olympic Stadium

国立競技場 is made of two words. After you hear the translation, you will understand. Kokuritsu means “National.” Kyōgijō means stadium or athletic grounds. When the word 駅 eki station is dropped this compound word is usually translated as National Olympic Stadium. When you hear this word in Japan, most people will undoubtedly think of the 1964 Tōkyō Olympic Games.  The facility pre-dates the ’64 Summer Olympics and if Tōkyō manages to land the 2020 Summer Olympics, the site will supposedly be re-developed for the that purpose in the form of a ghastly silver drop of water… or something.

What Does Shin-Ginza Mean?


WTF?

Where is Shin-Ginza?

I guess it means “New Ginza” but I’ve never heard of this place. I googled it and found a reference to a law office with the words 新銀座 Shin-Ginza in the name, but it’s not a place name. At least not in Tōkyō.

What Does Higashi-Nakano Mean?

Higashi-Nakano Station

Higashi-Nakano Station

東中野 Higashi-Nakano means East Nakano. I covered Nakano a long time ago but since my blog currently only shows the last 50 articles, there are about 100 other articles obscured from view. If anyone wants to help out with this (I can’t do design-y HTML to save my life), I’d appreciate it! Anyways, since I made the gross mistake of not including Higashi-Nakano you should probably check out the Nakano article. You might want to follow that up with the article on Musashi no Kuni. Basically, Nakano means “Field in the Middle of the Musashi Plain.” The name itself is quite ancient, but the name Higashi-Nakano was a train station/bus station name that became a postal address. And by the way, I love Nakano!

What Does Edogawa Mean?

The Edo River was never renamed "Tokyo River."

The Edo River was never renamed “Tokyo River.”
Suck on that, Meiji Restoration.

This question came right after I posted pix of the Edogawa Fireworks Display. 江戸 Edo refers to the original name of the city. While Tōkyō is the modern name, the name Edo persists in certain place names or nomenclature, for example, a 2nd or 3rd generation Tōkyōite is called an 江戸っ子 Edokko child of Edo[viii]. Anyways, 江戸川 means, of course, Edo River. What exactly is the Edo River? Well, the answer depends on what period of history you’re talking about. The river has been manipulated many times since the Edo Period.  Wikipedia has a decent technical definition.

I should probably write a longer article on this subject because it is a little complicated – and honestly I don’t know much about it at all at the moment. But the basic meaning is Edo River. And that should do for now. If you look a few blog posts before this, you’ll see my video footage of the Edogawa Fireworks.

What Does Nagareyama Mean?

sorry

That’s not Tōkyō so… sorry, not gonna cover it, as tempting as it is.
But I will say that the kanji are poetic and I like this town’s name.

What Does Shinagawa-shuku Mean?

品川宿題

Shinagawa Shuku

This is the old name of Shinjuku as a post town on the old Tōkaidō highway connecting Edo to Kyōto. The name isn’t used today except when referring to art or the old status of the town. Well, actually, I shouldn’t say that… because the area is in the midst of an urban renewal effort that I’m proud to say I contributed a minute effort back in 2009 to my friend Taka’s guest house. The area has been trying to boost local tourism in the area and uses the name Shinagawa-shuku. They even set up a Shinagawa-shuku information center with maps and pictures and English speaking docents. This was in ’09, but I’m sure they’re still doing it. They even set up scannable QR codes on light posts so you can learn about the history of the area as you walk around. Good question!
Oh, and here’s my old article on Shinagawa from waaaaaaaaaay back in the day.

Why Does Minato Mean?

North side of Tokyo Bay taken from Odaiba facing the Tokyo Bayfront.

North side of Tokyo Bay taken from Odaiba facing the Tokyo Bayfront.

This is probably the easiest, 港 minato means “habor.” You will see the same kanji in 空港 kūkō airport (literally “sky harbor”). Although Minato Ward’s eastern edge ends at Tōkyō Bay, Edo’s bay was a very different shape; today’s bay has been built up with landfill.

I’ll probably write about this in more detail later. But with even a quick glance at a modern map of Tōkyō Bay and a little guesswork, most people can probably figure out a rough approximation of the original shape of the bay.

If There’s a Ueno in Tōkyō, is There a Shitano?

Random perverted kanji image.

Random perverted kanji image.

This question refers to the kanji 上野 Ueno (upper field) and 下野 Shitano (lower field). I don’t know if there is a Shitano in Tōkyō, but in 西東京 West Tōkyō, outside of the 23 Special Wards, there is a place called 下野 Shimotuske (lower field – an unrelated place name) which could be read as Shitano (but isn’t)[ix]. Interestingly enough, near this place is a large park that is an annex of the 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum. The annex is called the 江戸東京たてもの園 Edo-Tōkyō Tatemono-en Edo-Tōkyō Open Air Architectural Museum. I haven’t been here yet, but it sounds pretty freaking cool. They moved a bunch of old buildings here to preserve them from the wake of urban sprawl in Tōkyō and so you can enjoy a walk in the park and walk through these historic buildings as well. Great question!

OK.

I have to be perfectly honest with you. I didn’t have 10 e-mails. I had a few more, but they’re on a different to-do list.  So this post is actually just 9 short entries. But I’m always glad to hear your questions even if I can’t always get to them right away. The difficult ones get saved in a document that I check for ideas. So it really helps keep the blog exciting for me. So thanks!  And talk to you all next week!

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[ii] I alluded to some of this anti-Saitama bias in the closing of my article on Adachi.

[iii] And all other incarnations, ウル埼玉 Urusaitama (mixed with the word for “noisy” or “annoying”) and ク埼玉 Kusaitama (mixed with the word for “stinky,” et alia.

[iv] Because no one wants to talk about Saitama or New Jersey, at least not in polite company… lol.
Sorry, Saitama is an easy target. I’ll stop now.

[v] And as I have just set this up, please let me know if there are any problems using the service. It seems straight-forward, they simply provide the connection. And if you’re worried, your donation goes directly to me, they never touch it.

[vi] OK, I lied, there are actually only 9.

[vii] If you don’t know what Zōjō-ji is, you haven’t been reading Japan This long enough. So please read my 16 part expose on the Funerary Temples of the Tokugawa Shōguns.

[viii] The 2-3 generation rule depends on who you ask. And some long standing Tōkyō families may argue that certain areas of the Tōkyō Metropolis never qualify as Edokko. It’s a complex, but fascinating issue that I should probably write about more in my Yamanote VS Shitamachi page. But I’m lazy…

[ix] 下野 can also be read as Shimono, a common family name.

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