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Posts Tagged ‘shinagawa’

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)

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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.

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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!

What does Tachiaigawa mean?

In Japanese History on January 18, 2019 at 2:52 pm

立会川
Tachiaigawa
(Tachiai River; more at water meets water)

untitled-1

Tachiaigawa in the Edo Period and today

It’s been about a year since I updated the site. A whole fucking year [i]. Long time readers will remember the time I got rivered and almost abandoned the project altogether. Well, I started an article one year ago that, on the surface, seemed so simple, but actually turned into a nightmare. So, I’ve decided to take smaller bites and get things up and running again. I also apologize for keeping everyone waiting and hope I didn’t have anyone worrying. Also, a note about footnotes. WordPress changed the backend editor, so there is a chance the footnote links may not work.

So without further ado, let’s talk about a place in Tōkyō that foreigners don’t often go. Actually, a lot of Tōkyōites have never heard of this area either. It lies on 東海道 Tōkaidō the Eastern Sea Route[ii], just past the former post towns of 北品川宿 Kita Shinagawa-shuku North Shinagawa Post Town and 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa-shuku South Shinagawa Post Town, between the former fishing village of  鮫洲 Samezu and 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds. Of course, I’m talking about 立会川 Tachiaigawa[iii]. In the Edo Period, travelers leaving the capital for Kyōto would have probably lodged in either Shinagawa Post Town or 川崎宿 Kawasaki-shuku Kawasaki Post Town[iv], but they definitely would have passed this rural seaside area, called 大井村 Ōi Mura Ōi Village at the time.

Further Reading:

suzugamori at night (1 of 1)

Suzugamori Execution Grounds at night. Ooooooh, spooooooky.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


tatsu, tachi
stand, rise, set up

au, ai
meet, join

kawa, -gawa
river

There are several creative theories that try to explain the origin of this place name, yet none of them are particularly convincing to me. I have my own pet theory which is not creative and seems super-obvious, but before we talk about the explanations people have put forward over the years, I want to talk about the geography of the area.

Until the late 1950’s, the coastline of  江戸湾東京湾 Edo-wanTōkyō-wan Edo/Tōkyō Bay was more or less the same. The neighborhood called Tachiaigawa was outside of the old city limits on the Tōkaidō Highway and lay directly on the beach at a place where a distributary of the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River called the Tachiai-gawa which flowed into Edo-Tōkyō Bay[v]. Until 1903, when 立会川駅 Tachiaigawa Eki Tachiaigawa Station opened, the area was not called Tachiaigawa. In fact, this is just a local term. In the Edo Period, this area was just considered 荏原国大井村 Ebara no Kuni Ōi Mura Ōi Village, Ebara Province[vi]. Even today, Tachiaigawa is not an official postal code. These days, this is 南大井一丁目 Minami Ōi Itchōme 1st block of South Ōi. The only thing you have to remember is that the Tachiai River has flown and continues to flow through this area. That’s key to its etymology.

samurai battle

Theory 1: There was a Samurai Battle here

This theory posits that the name derives from the combination 太刀 tachi long sword 会 ai meeting 川 kawa river (ie; the river where long swords met). And sure, since the 弥生時代 Yayoi Jidai Yayoi Period (let’s say from 300 BCE) until the Edo Period (1603), the history of Japan was dominated by warfare, but without a specific battle connected to this location, it’s really hard to say if this is just oral tradition or false etymology. If 太刀会 tachiai meeting of long swords is a prevalent place name in other places in eastern Japan or the rest of the country[vii], I might buy into this theory. However, what would seal the deal for me is if someone could point to a specific battle at this location[viii].

waterfall

Theory 2: There were Beautiful Waterfalls

It’s well a known fact that Edo Period castle towns didn’t have street names, so when people described their villages or neighborhoods to each other they used landmarks, hill names, and bridge names. It’s fair to say that either the bridges over the Tachiai River or the river itself could become an unofficial reference to the area.

The story goes that the original village lie on a calm section of the river between two waterfalls and was originally called 滝間 takima between the waterfalls, so locals began to refer to that stretch of the river as 滝間川 Takima-gawa the river between the falls which over time changed into Tachiai-gawa. I find this to be pretty unconvincing because in all my years running this site, I don’t remember a /ki/ becoming a //. Not that it isn’t possible[ix], I just can’t recall an example of that sound change in Japanese off the top of my head. Also, given the constant waterworks projects over the centuries, it would be hard to prove this.

buddha suzugamori (1 of 1)

Buddha statue at Suzugamori Execution Grounds. Recently, I’ve been going here late at night because I like creepy ghost shit. Awwwww yeah.

Theory 3: The Suzugamori Theory

I’ve written about 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds in the past[x] and in that article, I mentioned 涙橋 Namida-bashi the Bridge of Tears. For reasons of ritual cleanliness, executions were generally carried out beyond the city limits, so Suzugamori was a great place for that. People coming in and out of Edo would have seen the shōgunate’s ultimate authority, that over life and death. Also, it’s well known that 浜川橋 Hamagawa-bashi Hamagawa Bridge is generally known by locals as Namida-bashi. This was the last chance for condemned criminals to say their final farewells to their families[xi]. If this is the case, 立会 tachiai has a literal meaning of “standing and meeting.” Family and friends stood and watched their loved ones for the last time here.

namidabashi at night (1 of 1)

Namidabashi at night. Everyone’s coming home after a hard day of work at Suzugamori…

There is a corollary theory that pertains to the specifics of death sentences in the Edo Period. Condemned criminals would have been paraded through the streets as an example to all and then executed at one of the Three Great Execution Grounds of Edo. This related theory says that this river was where 御立会 o-tachiai government “involvement” happened. In short, shōgunate officials would arrive at Suzugamori to confirm the details of the condemned person’s case and observe (another meaning of the word o-tachiai) the execution. That means Tachiaigawa would mean “the place on the river where the shōgunate observed and confirmed executions.”

Because there are two theories presented, this seems to be a solid case for this etymology – on the surface. But guess who has two thumbs, writes JapanThis!, and thinks this is bullshit?

two thumbs

The Edo Period wasn’t that long ago. In fact, last year (2018) was the 150th anniversary of 大政奉還 Taisei Hōkan the shōgunate handing political authority over to the imperial court or 明治維新 Meiji Ishin the Meiji Coup (depending on which side you take). But think about it. Who the fuck would want to brag about living in a neighborhood famous for thousands of executions? To this very day, the former execution grounds of Suzugamori and Kozukappara are some of the least desirable places for real estate, with rent being cheap, and zero developers swooping in to build swanky high-rise apartments and shopping centers[xii]. In fact, the only reason people even live in areas like Tachiaigawa is because of necessity caused by urban sprawl in the post-war years. It’s the main reason the area still feels like the post-war years. Very little has changed since the 1960’s and 70’s! I doubt the execution thing would be a source of pride for the local fishermen and seaweed farmers who operated in this area from before the Edo Period until the 1950’s. Even the “Bridge of Tears” is a nickname. The official name is still “Seaside River Bridge” referring to the fact that it was literally a bridge crossing a river that emptied into the sea. Way more kosher than all that dark execution shit.

ryoma warehouse (1 of 1)

Because Tosa Domain had a huge residence here, you’ll find references to Sakamoto Ryōma and the Black Ships everywhere. For example, on this warehouse or whatever it is.

Theory 4: Where Water Meets Water

In doing this research, I remembered that time I got rivered. There were a few times I came across the kanji stand and meet. We see this in place names like 立川 Tachikawa Tachikawa and words like 合流 gōryū confluence. Without ever reviewing my previous research, it just seemed natural that a place where a river flowed into the sea would be called Tachiai-gawa. Why invoke all this stuff about samurai battles and executions?

To quote from my article on the Meguro River:

The Shinagawa clan was a branch of the main 大井氏 Ōi-shi Ōi clan. In order to irrigate their fief, the Ōi clan dabbled in a little river manipulation. Somewhere near the place called 立会川 Tachiaigawa (the modern kanji mean something like “the place where rivers stand together/come together”), the Ōi separated a section of the river 断ち合い川 tachiai kawa rivers that cut off from each other.  This happened in the Kamakura Period. One of the branches passed by 瀧泉寺 Ryūsen-ji Ryūsen Temple in Shimo-Meguro (see my article on Meguro).

I can’t find any maps from the Kamakura Period for this area[xiii], but Edo Period maps are readily available both online and in my private collection. Although it’s underground today, you can still trace a split in the river near Tachiaigawa Station that once flowed into the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki suburban palace of 土佐藩 Tosa Han Tosa Domain. I’m assuming this is a remnant of the Kamakura Period waterworks. And when I say you can trace the path, I mean you can literally walk the path of the river today. Like right now. I dare you to do it, you lazy fuck.

All of those other fantastic theories are great stories, but if I were a betting man, I’d venture to say the etymology of Tachiaigawa is a mix of “rivers that split off from each other” and “where the river meets the sea.” In a bayside region full of rivers, Occam’s Razor comes down hard in favor of this theory. It’s clean and simple, looks like other derivations we’ve seen before, yet doesn’t require unattested battles, unconfirmed waterfalls and irregular diachronic sound changes, or a bizarre glorification of public executions for 250 some odd years and the shōgunate’s protocol in such matters. It’s just where water meets water. Pretty sure that’s it.

Further Reading:

hamakawa daiba (1 of 1).jpg

Cannon commemorating the Hamakawa Battery. Yup, that’s right. There’s a big ol’ cannon in the middle of a playground for children. Sounds more American than Japanese…

Sakamoto Ryōma

If you get off the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line at Tachiaigawa Station, you’ll find yourself in a very 下町 shitamachi low city neighborhood with a distinct post-war looking 商店街 shōtengai shopping street replete with local bars, yaki-tori joints, and a big old statue of 坂本龍馬 Sakamoto Ryōma. I’m not gonna explain who he was, you can read about him here. But across the street from the station is a school and residential area that sit on the suburban palace of his native domain, 土佐藩 Tosa-han Tosa Domain – modern 高知県 Kōchi-ken Kōchi Prefecture. He most definitely spent some time walking on the Tōkaidō while serving guard duty at the nearby by 浜川砲台 Hamagawa Hōdai Fort Hamagawa in his twenties[xiv]. In Tachiaigawa, you can find a cheap knock off of a famous statue in Kōchi, which itself is a cheap knock off of the iconic photograph of Ryōma himself taken at the 上野撮影局 Ueno Satsueikyoku Ueno Photography Studio in Nagasaki some time in 1867[xv]. At any rate, nearby is a placard depicting the four 黒船 Kurofune Black Ships commanded by Commodore Perry that arrived in Edo Bay in 1853: the Susquehanna, Mississippi, Saratoga, and Plymouth[xvi].

Further Reading:

ryoma tachiaigawa (1 of 1)

Ryōma voguing Bakumatsu style

tachiaigawa at night (1 of 1)

After a day of walking the old Tōkaidō, I love grabbing dinner Shōwa-style in Tachiaigawa.

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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] Or, a hole fucking year, if you’re on #TeamIenari.
[ii] One of the 5 Great Highways. The 東海道 Tōkaidō Eastern Sea Route and 中仙道  Nakasendō Mountain Pass Route connected the shōgun’s capital of 江戸 Edo Edo (modern day Tōkyō) with the imperial capital 京 Kyō (modern day Kyōto).
[iii] Of course I am lol
[iv] I’ve actually walked from 日本橋 Nihonbashi, the easternmost starting point on the Tōkaidō (the name literally means “the bridge to Japan”), to the modern city of Kawasaki. Without visiting too many temples and shrines and walking at a brisk pace, I made the journey in a day. I think most Edo Period people would easily spend a full day and night in Shinagawa before beginning the tedious walk to Kawasaki. Shinagawa offered delicious seafood, plenty of drinking and whoring, and a non-stop variety of amazing views of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. Some ghoulishly curious types probably checked out the execution grounds, cuz, yeah. Humans.
[v] At various points in history and depending on the stretch of river in question, this may have been referred to as the Shinagawa River.
[vi] It was directly controlled by the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate, but it wasn’t part of Edo proper. The term 国 kuni province was basically a traditional term – as it is today – to refer to old Heian Period territories. Today, it’s nostalgic, but in the Edo Period, province names were retained for their “classical appeal” and used in court titles.
[vii] It’s not.
[viii] I can’t find anything that satisfies these criteria.
[ix] This exact sound change is quite well known and regular in Latin languages – Italian and French in particular. Latin centum /kentum/ became Italian cento /tʃento/ (one hundred) and Latin cattus /cattus/ became French chat /ʃat/ (cat).
[x] Here’s my article on Suzugamori.
[xi] If their families even bothered to show up.
[xii] The exception being 小伝馬町 Kodenmachō, which is near 日本橋 Nihonbashi whose thriving business district overshadows the grim atmosphere of the neighborhoods around Suzugamori and Kozukappara. Kozukappara was so awful that the place name doesn’t exist outside of historical landmarks. Suzugamori’s name is still attached to a park and an elementary school.
[xiii] There might not be any, but maybe I’ll visit the 品川歴史館 Shinagawa Rekishikan Shinagawa History Museum again to see if they can help.
[xiv] This is a 30-40 minute walk today. I suspect in the Edo Period it would have taken about an hour.
[xv] If I remember correctly, the statue used to stand in front of a convenience store or something as a kinda gimmick. But since the renewal of the old Tōkaidō beginning in 2008 or so, they’ve played up Ryōma’s association with the area much more and put the (I’m assuming) plastic statue on a large concrete pedestal and put him in a park next to the train station.
[xvi] Not that these ships ever actually made it to Edo. They did their business in Uraga Bay which is actually miles from Edo-Tōkyō.

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].

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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:

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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 Gotenyama mean?

In Japanese History on February 4, 2016 at 7:15 am

御殿山
Goten’yama (palace mountain)

map

Usually I start off saying “let’s look at the kanji,” but this time I want to look at the actual words we’re going to have to deal with today.

御殿
goten

The meaning is literally “honorable lord” and once referred to any place the lord of castle lived within the castle confines. In the Edo Period, it took on some different meanings. It could be used for any facility the shōgun frequented. In Japanese castle design, the term refers to the residence of the lord of a castle or the main hall where he would receive guests.


yama

hill, mountain


shiro, –

castle; the original meaning was a defensive structure – in Japanese history this usually meant fort/fortified residence until the very late Sengoku Period.

 

According to the 新編武風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō[i] Newly Edited Description of Musashi Province[ii], before entering 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan built a hilltop fort on this section of the 高輪台地  Takanawa Daichi Takanawa Plateau between 1457- 1460. This was going to be his main residence, but after seeing a vision in a dream, Dōkan decided to take Edo Castle as his main residence. He gave the fort in this area, called 御殿山城 Goten’yama-jō Goten’yama Castle (palace mountain castle), to local strong man 宇田川長清 Utagawa Nagakiyo[iii]. The castle overlooked 浅草湊 Asakusa Minato Asakusa Harbor and 品川湊 Shinagawa Minato Shinagawa Harbor, so it was a pretty important defensive location.

takanawa daichi.jpg

The Takanawa Plateau

Something Doesn’t Add Up

For a long time, that’s what people have believed and it seems legit on the surface – that is, until you start digging a little deeper. When people of Ōta Dōkan’s day said 城 shiro, they just meant a fortified residence or fort, not the kind of Japanese castle that usually comes to mind. The Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō was written in Edo in the early 1800’s and when those people said shiro they were referring to the castles of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period that their cities were still based around. A warlord in Kantō of the Sengoku Period couldn’t afford to have a standalone 御殿 goten palace. His house inside the fortress walls might have been called a goten, but that was just a single building. The shiro would be what the people referred to, not the goten. That would be like calling a place where a school was located “the principal’s office.”

A Kantō warlord would also have had a few 出城 dejiro outposts[iv] that he would assign to trusted retainers at strategic locations. Ōta Dōkan was a text book case of this approach to defense. The truth is, Ōta Dōkan may have very well had a fort here – and at the very least, the presence of the Utagawa clan in the area is definitely documented. But the name 御殿山城 Goten’yama-jō Palace Mountain Castle is really suspicious. It seems the compilers of the Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō either got their history or etymology wrong[v]. It turns out, this place name is mostly likely far more recent. In fact, the most logical explanation is that it dates back to the Edo Period.

yamashiro

A large hilltop castle

So What Really Happened?

After the first shōgun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, set up his court in Edo, he used these former Utagawa lands for hunting[vi]. In the mid 1620’s, the 3rd shōgun 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu built a 休憩舎 kyūkeisha rest station for the shōgun when he came to the hill for 鷹狩 takagari falconry and other hunting activities. Usually rest stations were temporary affairs that could range from tents to large wooden shelters. This one seems to have been large enough to accommodate the shōgun and his retinue. Any such shelter or lodging was called a 御殿 goten in the parlance of the day. A space was also built for entertaining 重臣 jūshin senior retainers at 茶会 chakai tea ceremony events[vii]. In the 1660’s[viii], the shōgunate took on the massive beautification project of transplanting hundreds of 桜の木 sakura no ki cherry blossom trees to the area.

Oh, and what was the name of this playground of the shōguns? Well, it was called the 品川御殿 Shinagawa Goten Shinagawa Palace. The goten sat on the top of the hill and this seems to be the true etymology of the place name 御殿山 goten’yama goten hill.

Another theory exists – one that I don’t think is true, though. This one states that whether the shōguns hunted or hosted tea parties in the area is irrelevant because many 社殿 shaden Shintō shrines and 偉い人 erai hito men of high birth lived in the area. The 殿 den of shaden is the same as the 殿ten of goten. This would fall in line with the concept of 山手 yamanote high city and 下町 shitamachi low city. Unfortunately, the only actually evidence we have is the clear Edo Period evidence that says that the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family definitely had goten in this area. Thus, it seems pretty clear to me that the Shinagawa Goten is the source of this place name.

But, get this. The life span of the Shinagawa Goten on Goten’yama was only about 50 years. This is probably why the compilers of the Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō didn’t get the story right. The place hadn’t existed for 100 years when they wrote their shitty book[ix].

diorama.jpg

Who doesn’t love a good diorama?

Only 50 Years?

The area seems to have been visited often enough in the mid-1600’s for the shōgunate to decorate it with cherry blossoms. Daimyō and other high ranking officials were often entertained here. However, in 1702, the buildings were destroyed by a conflagration that tore through the area. This marks a dead zone in the timeline of the area.

The 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, died in 1709. The 6th shōgun, 徳川家宣 Tokugawa Ienobu, died after 3 years in office and he was succeeded by 7th shōgun, 徳川家継 Tokugawa Ietsugu, who then died at the age of 6 in 1716 – effectively ending the direct bloodline of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Rebuilding a stupid rest station for hunting was the least of the shōgunate’s concerns. Re-asserting Tokugawa leadership took up most of the shōgunate’s time. As you can imagine, the Shinagawa Goten was low priority and ultimately abandoned.

gotenyama girls

Hanami on Goten’yama.

A Place of Supreme Beauty

The shōgunate may not have had the time, energy, interest, or budget to maintain the Shinagawa Goten, but the cherry blossoms that they planted continued to thrive. Since the space wasn’t a private facility of the shōgun any more, the hill soon became one of the most popular locations in Edo for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing. The area was located outside of the shōgun’s capital, so it made a good day trip for those who could be granted access to Shinagawa in the spring.

hokusai hanami.jpg

A hilltop view of Edo Bay and Mount Fuji under a surreal white and pink canopy of cherry blossoms? How much more awesome could you ask for?

The cherry blossoms are said to have been in the hundreds. In fact, an account from 1824 claims that there were about 600 sakura trees on Goten’yama. To put this in perspective, 上野公園 Ueno Kōen Ueno Park is said to have about 1,200 sakura and 飛鳥山公園 Asukayama Asuka Hill Park is said to have 650. Both parks have a very different feel today, but the amount of cherry blossom trees is a good comparison – the experience on Asukayama being a little closer to the Edo Period experience than the craziness of Ueno Park.

Goten’yama was one of the defining beautiful areas of Edo and was often featured in 浮世絵 ukiyo-e wood block prints of daily life in Edo. Sadly, it came to a tragic and devastating end in the Bakumatsu. Long time readers will remember that in 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry dropped anchor in Edo Bay and demanded shōgunate open the country. He said he’d be back in a year to accept the shōgunate’s submission or bomb the shit out of Edo. He dropped the mic and took his fleet of 黒船 kurofune black ships back to the US.

kurofune

Kurofune – the Bakumatsu boogyman

The End of Edo’s Most Beautiful Hanami Spot

Totally freaking out, the shōgunate came up with a plan to build 11 manmade islands[x] across the harbor called the 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries. Each battery would house a garrison of samurai and feature the best cannon technology they could get their hands on at the time[xi]. The problem with manmade islands is that you need to move dirt from the dry ground and put it into the sea.

Now, let’s see. Where did the shōgunate have unused land nearby? Oh yeah! That big hill with all the cherry blossoms is just sitting there taking up space. Why don’t we use that?

daiba_4

Let there be landfill!

They carved out, hauled off, and dumped into the bay the north side of the mountain. The area corresponds to modern 北品川3丁目3番 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme no san-ban section 3 of the 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa, 北品川3丁目4番 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme no yon-ban section 4 of the 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa, and the eastern portion of 北品川4丁目7番 Kita-Shinagawa yon-chōme no nana-ban section 7 of the 4th block of Kita-Shinagawa. They effectively cut out a substantial portion of the Takanawa Plateau and reduced it to nothing.

takasugi shinsuck

Chōshū terrorist Takasugi Shinsuck. He was a jerk.

In 1861, the shōgunate had a plan to set up the 英国公使館  Eikoku Kōshikan British Legation[xii] in the razed Goten’yama area. Normally, they would have ordered a temple to accommodate these early embassies, but for some reason, a brand new facility was built from scratch for the British Empire[xiii].

In 1862, as the complex was nearing completion, some anti-foreign terrorists from 長州藩Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain including the hotheaded 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku[xiv] and future first prime minister of the 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Empire of Japan 伊藤博文 Itō Hirobumi[xv] attacked the site and burned it to the ground. The site is commemorated in the modern 権現山公園 Gongen’yama Kōen Gongen’yama Park in 北品川3丁目 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa[xvi].

english legation memorial

Memorial of the English Legation at Gongen’yama Park

I’m sure some of the cherry blossoms were still there and still bloomed from the 1850’s to 1868, but the national crisis of the Bakumatsu seems to have distracted attention from the Goten’yama area. Between the landfill projects and the ultimately fruitless construction of the British Legation – and let’s not forget, this was the absolute outskirts of the city at the time – Goten’yama sorta fell off the map. But the final nail in the coffin was when the construction of the 東海道鉄道  Tōkaidō Tetsudō Tōkaidō Main Line began. The train tracks cut through present day 北品川3丁目 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa and 北品川4丁目 Kita-Shinagawa yon-chōme 4th block of Kita-Shinagawa. The destruction of Goten’yama and the construction of the Tōkaidō Main Line forever changed the topography and image of the area.

sony village.jpg

Former HQ of Sony

Recent History

In 1947, ソニー Sonī Sony moved their headquarters to Goten’yama. There was a collection of Sony buildings in the area and the strong association with the electronics giant landed the area the nickname ソニー村 Sonī  Mura Sony Village. Around 2006, the company relocated to their new HQ in nearby 港南 Kōnan, next to 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station.

Today, Goten’yama is not an official postal code, but Shinagawa locals refer to the area from Kita-Shinagawa 3-chōme to Kita-Shinagawa 4-chōme as “Goten’yama.” This is roughly the area that the shōgunate mined to build the Shinagawa Batteries. Interestingly, the Shinagawa Palace is believed to have been located in 北品川5丁目 Kita-Shinagawa go-chōme 5th block of Kita-Shinagawa which is the site of an apartment complex called 御殿山パークハウス Goten’yama Pāku Hausu Goten’yama Park House. This shows that the place name Goten’yama still spans a wide area, despite having no official identity within the postal code system. Local place names and traditions are the only thing preserving it.

Some related articles:

 

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[i] I’ll talk about this book a little more later.
[ii] The translation is mine. I don’t know if there’s a standard English translation of the title. I don’t even think the book has ever been translated into English.
[iii] If the name 宇田川 Utagawa looks familiar, that’s because the family name is preserved in place names all over the city. The most famous is 渋谷区宇田川町 Shibuya-ku Udagawa-chō Udagawachō, Shibuya Ward. I may have to look into the pronunciation of this place name in a future article. That said, both Utagawa and Udagawa are legit variant readings.
[iv] Literally, forts to flee to or outside forts.
[v] Or possibly both.
[vi] Or former Ōta Dōkan lands, since technically Dōkan gave them to the Utagawa.
[vii] Although the location isn’t known for sure, most people assume the Shinagawa Goten was located in present day 北品川3丁目5番 Kita-Shinagawa san-chōme go-ban section 6 of the 3rd block of Kita-Shinagawa. The postal code 御殿山 Goten’yama does not exist today.
[viii] By some standards, this was the peak of the ascendency of the Tokugawa Shōgunate – the reigns of Ietsuna and Tsunayoshi.
[ix] OK, that wasn’t fair. The Shinpen Musashi Fūdoki-kō is a pretty awesome text and we’re lucky to have it.
[x] 7 batteries were begun, but only 6 were actually completed. See my article here.
[xi] This technology was questionable at best compared to the cutting edge technology of the western powers.
[xii] A 公使館 kōshikan legation was the forerunner to the modern 大使館 taishikan embassy. They are essentially the same thing. According to Wikipedia, “A legation was the term used in diplomacy to denote a diplomatic representative office lower than an embassy. The distinction between a legation and embassy was dropped following World War II. All diplomatic representative offices are now designated as embassies or high commissions.
[xiii] Lucky them!
[xiv] Samurai Archives on Takasugi Shinsaku – or as I like to call him, Takasugi Shinsuck. The dude seems like a total wanker. His haircut was retarded, too. Just do a Google image search.
[xv] Samurai Archives on Itō Hirobumi.
[xvi] In Japanese, this act of terror is called the 英国公使館焼き討ち事件 Eikoku Kōshikan Yakiuchi Jiken Burning of the British Legation Incident. Japanese Wikipedia gives a single paragraph to the incident. No other language on Wikipedia even mentions the incident. This speaks volumes about how petty and childish Takasugi Shinsaku and the other Chōshū terrorists were in the early years of the Bakumatsu.

Irugi Shrine

In Japanese History on January 23, 2016 at 4:34 am

居木神社
Irugi Jinja (Irugi Shrine)

DSC02831edit

So the other day, I wrote about 大崎 Ōsaki and I mentioned a shrine called Irugi Shrine. It’s not too far from my home, so I decided to check it out and take some pictures. Before I went, I looked into the history of the shrine a little. Visually, it’s a little unimpressive when nothing’s going on and it’s 5°C with strong winds, but it’s a pretty interesting place historically-speaking.

Just some quick notes about the spelling. Some of the English signs on the shrine precinct use the spelling Iruki. While this pronunciation is technically possible, all of my Japanese sources say Irugi. In the Edo Period, the village was famous for a kind of pumpkin called 居留木橋南瓜 Irugibashi kabocha Irugibashi Pumpkin[i]. This is 当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic qualities, not meaning. The extra character was inserted for legibility. The local people knew how to read the name of their village, but other people might have been confused as to the pronunciation. Also, before the post WWII spelling reforms, the first kanji 居 iru was not thought of as いる iru but as ゐるwiru/yiru – all 3 pronounced the same, as /iɺɯ̥/.

 

1bdc37277f26dbef86c5a22dba62bafb.jpg

Most nondescript bridge EVER.

Details about the foundation of this shrine are unclear, but it most likely predates the Edo Period. That said, in the early Edo Period, there seems to have been a bridge crossing the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River at the location of current 居木橋 Irugibashi Irugi Bridge. Apparently, the shrine was vulnerable to storms and floods damage due to its proximity to the river and so the villagers of 居木橋村 Irugibashi Mura Irugibashi Village re-located the shrine and its associated temple, 観音寺 Kannon-ji to the top of a hill, where it now stands. The entire village was actually moved to the high ground, which is why the bridge that was the namesake of the village and shrine is actually located quite far from this spot.

The area was famous for 雉子 kiji green pheasants so originally, the shrine was called 雉子ノ宮 Kiji no Miya Green Pheasant Shrine but in 1872 (Meiji 5), the shrine was renamed Irugi Shrine[ii]. The current structure dates from 1978. In 1889 (Meiji 22), the 5 villages in the area were combined to make 大崎村 Ōsaki Mura Ōsaki Village. This is when the place name 居木 Irugi disappeared[iii].

DSC02859

This kind of long approach to a shrine is called an 表弾道 Omote Sandō. Pretty sure I have an article about that. Yeah.

As I said, the shrine was built on a plateau. The shrine has 3 approaches that I could find. These are called 参道 sandō which means “road to visit a shrine.” The main approach is a long street that runs directly up the hill to main entrance. The left side of the steep stairway is flanked by a man made stone mountain made of lava called 富士塚 Fujizuka Fuji Hill. Fujizuka are artificial “Mini Mt. Fujis” and can be found all throughout Tōkyō (you can see here). Climbing Mt. Fuji has long been considered a kind of spiritual pilgrimage. Those who can’t make the journey to the volcano itself can climb a Fujizuka and earn the same spiritual points. Irugi Shrine’s Fujizuka was built in 1933. At the time of construction, a startling discovery was made. This section of the hill was actually a 貝塚 kaizuka shell mound that dated back to the 縄文時代 Jōmon Jidai Jōmon Period. No proper excavation was carried out, however, until 1968[iv]. Archaeologists determined that the site actually dated all the way back to the early Jōmon Period (4,000–2500 BCE)[v].

jomon housing edit.jpg

Jōmon peeps keepin’ it real all thatch hut stylee

What’s a Shell Mound?

In 1877 (Meiji 10), Edward S. Morse famously spotted a shell mound – also called a midden – while riding a train from 東京 Tōkyō to 横浜 Yokohama[vi]. His work was so groundbreaking in Japan that he is considered the Father of Japanese Archaeology. A shell mound is essentially an ancient trash dump that consists of mostly shells, but also bones, pottery, and other human refuse. Morse called the pottery he discovered “cord marked pottery” because of the way it was decorated. The Japanese word 縄文 Jōmon is a literal translation of his description of his term. Today, the top of the Fujizuka features a traditional 灯篭 tōrō Japanese stone lamp made out of excavated earth and shells.

The site is designated as one of the 100 Scenic Spots of Shinagawa, a sort of Japanese History Nerd Pilgrimage that may take you more than a day or two to visit every spot (it’s easy to get distracted along the way because the area is so rich in history). I’ve explored the area extensively and I still haven’t seen all 100 spots. In fact, this was my first time to visit this spot.

DSC02864edit

A stone lantern made from shells

Despite being a local shrine, it’s quite active. I visited it on a Friday afternoon around 1 PM and while the shrine itself wasn’t doing anything, there were quite a few people coming and going. The shrine office, which sells お守り o-mamori talismans and other paraphernalia, was open for business[vii]. The shrine performs the usual set of Shintō purification rituals, but its main business is doing traditional, Shintō weddings. The local people and local businesses regularly visit the shrine on special holidays. It’s particularly busy during the first 2 weeks of January when local the employees of local companies come for 初詣 hatsumōde the first shrine visit of the new year.

Further Reading

 

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[i] An interesting note about the Japanese word for pumpkin: The word カボチャ kabocha derives from the Portuguese word for Cambodia which the Japanese of the 1500’s heard as カンボジャ Kanboja. With the ban on Christianity and expulsion of the Portuguese the word was corrupted to its present form.
[ii] If you walk 10-15 minutes to 五反田 Gotanda, you can find a shrine called 雉子神社 Kiji Jinja Kiji Shrine which preserves the reference to green pheasants. By the way, I have an article about Gotanda.
[iii] 居留木橋カボチャ Irugibashi Kabocha Irugibashi Pumpkin was still a 名物 meibutsu famous food until the end of the Meiji Period. The kanji 南瓜 is actually Chinese, not Japanese.
[iv] The shrine was destroyed in the Firebombing of Tōkyō in March, 1945. It wasn’t fully rebuilt until 1978, after the excavation was completed and enough funds were raised to properly resurrected the shrine to its former glory.
[v] Read more about the Jōmon Period here.
[vi] See my article on the 大森貝塚 Ōmori Kaizuka where he made his important discovery.
[vii] I had some questions about the history of the shrine and the area, but sadly, the staff couldn’t tell me anything that I couldn’t find online.

What does Ōsaki mean?

In Japanese History on January 21, 2016 at 7:11 am

大崎
Ōsaki (the great cape)

osaki station sign

Let’s Look at the Kanji


ō, dai/tai

big


saki, misaki[i]

a cape, a land mass that juts out into the ocean

I picked this place name because it looked easy. I mean, it seems straightforward enough. It’s located in modern 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward which everyone knows is near the bay. A big cape seems like a totally plausible thing to find in the area.

On top of that, the name first appeared on maps in the early Edo Period. It’s not a super ancient name. Dude, what more could you want? Easiest. Etymology. Ever.

gang

In a nutshell… Daphne.

If it weren’t for those Meddling Edoites

It seems to make sense until you look at Edo Period maps. Ōsaki is near Shinagawa, but it’s quite inland and, well, no. It didn’t jut out into the sea. Turns out this might be a super ancient place name after all.

Also, it seems that local tradition in the Edo Period combined with incomplete records show that the people of the area believed something totally different. By the way, in those days the area was called 武蔵国江原郡居木橋村 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Irugibashi Mura Irugibashi Village, Ebara District, Musashi Province. They seem to have claimed the name 大崎 Ōsaki “Big Cape” was a corruption of 尾崎 Osaki[ii]– a place in 武蔵国秩父郡 Musashi no Kuni Chichibu-gun Chichibu District, Musashi Province. The idea being that at one time this area was indeed jutting out into the sea and was an extension of the 秩父山 Chichibu Yama Chichibu Mountains.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Osaki Shrine – namesake of the area formerly known as Osaki. Something’s not right here.

But wait, you say! Chichibu is in northwest Saitama or some shit[iii]. How could there be a connection so far away? I’m not 100% sure, but even though Tōkyō is a hilly city it’s located in what is called the 関東平野 Kantō Heiya Kantō Plain, ie; it’s relatively flat compared to the surrounding areas. There is a stretch of mountains that forms a natural boundary that spans Chichibu all the way to Tōkyō Bay. Ōsaki doesn’t seem a likely place to include in that path today, given its distance from the sea. However, it may have been at one point. So, more about that later.

Kanto_plain.png

The Kantō Plain. The Chichibu Mountains lay to the west. The star marks Ōsaki. The lone peak in the southwest is Mt. Fuji (no relation to this article).

Another Chichibu Connection

At the end of the 12th century, samurai of the 秩父氏 Chichibu-shi Chichibu clan began to move into this area. The 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura Shōgunate granted them 7 fiefs in the area, including 江戸郷 Edo-gō Edo Hamlet. As long time readers know, they established a fortified residence in an area called 千代田 Chiyoda and donned the name of the area thus becoming the 江戸氏 Edo-shi. Famously, their residence in Chiyoda came to be called 江戸城 Edo-jō.

I’m not sure how much control they exerted in this area – if any – but there is a particularly ancient shine in their ancestral lands in Chichibu called 尾崎神社 Osaki Jinja Osaki Shrine. Also located in their ancestral lands is an area called 千代田 Chiyoda[iv]. With the arrival of the Chichibu clan (locally renamed the Edo clan), coincidence or not, there may have been a reason for the average person on the street to associate the two areas. Or so the story goes.

Further Reading:

So, Now for the Mysterious (but tenuous) Shrine Connection

The main shrine in Ōsaki is 居木神社 Irugi Jinja Irugi Shrine. The shrine I mentioned before is 尾崎神社 Osaki Jinja Osaki Shrine. I cross checked all of this against a 3rd shrine called 秩父神社 Chichibu Jinja Chichibu Shrine.

wedding irugi shrine

Irugi Shrine[v]

It’s located in Ōsaki. Basically, there’s no founding date for the shrine. By its own accounts, it’s just sorta been there forever. Fair enough. It appears to have been established to honor a local tutelary deity and over the course of a thousand years, 2 other 神 kami Shintō spirits have been co-enshrined there. The shrine lies on a plateau that has been inhabited without interruption since Neolithic times.

osaki shrine shit

Osaki Shrine in Saitama. FFS these people can’t even hold a camera straight. Ugh!

Osaki Shrine

It’s located in Saitama. Today the shrine lies just outside the border of the modern 秩父地方 Chichibu Chihō Chichibu Area, but I think the area was under the Chichibu clan’s control in the Kamakura Period.

chichibu shrine

You need a car to get to Chichibu Shrine, but it’s a really beautiful place.

Chichibu Shrine

It’s located in the Chichibu Mountains, Saitama. This was an important shrine for the 秩父平氏 Chichibu Hei-shi Chichibu branch of the Taira clan[vi]. 4 kami are enshrined here. 2 kami bear the name “Chichibu” using the current spelling 秩父 Chichibu and the ancient spelling of 知知夫 Chichibu.

Since the connection between the Osaki in Chichibu and Ōsaki seemed weak, I thought I’d check connections between the Chichibu clan and Edo. When nothing came up, I checked the shrines. Sadly, I found nothing. The kami enshrined in each location are completely unrelated to the best of my knowledge[vii].

0saki station

Ōsaki Station circa 1955.

OK, So Shall We Look at the History?

Present day 大崎2丁目 Ōsaki Ni-chōme  2nd block of Ōsaki and 大崎3丁目 Osaki San-chōme 3rd block of Ōsaki lie on a plateau that traditionally overlooked the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River. Today the view of the river is generally obscured by 大崎駅 Ōsaki Eki Ōsaki Station.

Capture

Most of the  Meguro River is underground today.

In the early 縄文時代 Jōmon Jidai Jōmon Period[viii] (give dates), the waters of the bay encroached quite deep into what are inland areas today. It’s a well-established fact that Jōmon people inhabited this plateau. As a high ground location, it was extremely defensible and probably safe from flooding. Its close access to sea and the rivers pouring to the bay gave it ample access to seafood. The Jōmon people were hunter-gatherers. They didn’t really have agriculture, so access to good fishing areas was critical for them.

jomon-period-inlets

Earlier, I mentioned Irugi Shrine is in Ōsaki 3-chōme. The shrine has luckily preserved evidence of the Jōmon culture that thrived in the area. On the precincts, there is a 貝塚 kaizuka shell mound. To modern eyes, the defining characteristic of these people is their pottery – a lot of pottery has been excavated here. Human bones and other evidence of a human presence is consistent from the early Jōmon Period right up to the present.

The Neolithic culture of the Jōmon people didn’t vanish overnight with the spread of rice culture and the rise of the Yamato State. But, its antiquity and its religious significance are surely the traditional raison d’être for Irugi Shrine’s existence. The importance of the area may very well be an echo of its Jōmon past.

In the 室町時代 Muromachi Jidai Muromachi Period, traffic from 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama District to 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku Shinagawa Post Town increased. Because of this, the 居木橋 Irugibashi Irugi Bridge was built across the Meguro River[ix]. As a result, villages began popping up near the bridge to accommodate merchants, fishermen, craftsmen, farmers, and the occasional military or imperial envoys that may have needed to pass through this god forsaken territory.

Further Reading:

osaki

Ōsaki – Common Family Name

You will find places all over Japan called 大崎 Ōsaki. It’s very common. But you will also meet people with this name. Invariably, this family name is derived from a local place name. In the Kantō area – Tōkyō excluded[x] – this name is often traceable back to 下総国香取郡大崎 Shimōsa no Kuni Katori-gun Ōsaki Osaki, Katori District, Shimōsa Province in modern 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture. The family has ancient origins in the 清和源氏 Seiwa Genji (Seiwa Minamoto). The clan originally descends from 清和天皇 Seiwa Tennō Emperor Seiwa (850–878) who was the 56th emperor. This particular bloodline is ultimately the root of thousands of samurai families, but the Seiwa Genji (let’s just say Minamoto from now on), was the line that gave us 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo who established the first 幕府 bakufu shōgunate in 鎌倉 Kamakura in 1192. A later descendant, a certain 足利尊氏 Ashikaga Takauji, established the second shōgunate in 1636 – also establishing a precedent that only those who could claim descent from the Seiwa Minamoto could be granted the title of  征夷大将軍 seii tai-shōgun great general who expels the barbarians[xi]. It’s a messy story, but in short, the Ōsaki family of Ōsaki, Shimōsa Province claims to be descendants of this particularly noble bloodline. Next time you meet a person named Ōsaki from Chiba Prefecture, ask them. They probably don’t have a clue lol.

But all of that said, the family name is not related to the Tōkyō place name, Ōsaki.

Further Reading:

アパート_大崎_品川区西品川3丁目4-7_1K

Ōsaki still has some old school areas. These are mostly leftovers from the 70’s-80’s.

Wait! Wait! So What Does Ōsaki Mean??

The kanji mean “big cape,” like I said at the beginning of the article. Where does it come from? The jury is out on that one. No one has a solid etymology – least of whom is me! Enjoy the tenuous connections I’ve given you and accept the fact that some place names may forever be mysterious. I’ll see you in the next article!

 

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[i] There are some other readings of this kanji but saki/zaki are the most common.
[ii] This place name is cryptic – I assume it’s  当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic reasons. The kanji 尾 o literally means “tail” or “slope at the bottom of a mountain.” 崎 saki, of course, means “cape.” But this area is landlocked. Anyways, it’s not in Tōkyō so it’s outside of the scope of this blog.
[iii] It’s Saitama, so no one really knows where it is. Saitama probably doesn’t even know where it is!
[iv] Don’t get too excited about this, it could very well be a coincidence. But it does make me want to check to see if there is a connection. I hadn’t seen this before. If there is a connection, I’ll have to re-write my article on Chiyoda. (Fingers crossed there’s no connection lol!)
[v] In the interest of keeping this article concise, I decided against describing the shrine in detail. However, the place sounds pretty interesting, so I may go down there on Friday to take some pictures and check it out first hand. If it turns out to be really interesting, I’ll dedicate a short article to it. If it turns out to be boring, I’ll just upload the pix to JapanThis on Flickr and tweet the link. If you don’t follow me on Flickr, you should. I tend to add a lot of historical backstory to a lot of the photos.
[vi] Or Chichibu Taira-shi. The reading isn’t important. The meaning is the same.
[vii] This is a tricky thing, though. It seems like there are different levels of affiliation/enshrinement. I’m not an expert on Shintō by any stretch of the imagination, so if anyone could help me dig deeper to see if there’s a connection, I’d really appreciate it.
[viii] I guess you could call this period Neolithic. Some people would say it’s Paleolithic.
[ix] The bridge took its name from the shrine.
[x] More than half the people you meet in Tōkyō are not originally from Tōkyō – even if they’ve lived here several generations.
[xi] A general consensus among historians says that 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga and 豊富秀吉Toyotomi Hideyoshi never sought the title of shōgun for precisely this reason. They couldn’t claim descent from the Seiwa Genji clan. 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the 江戸幕府 Edo Bakufu Edo Shōgunate, on the other hand is generally believed to have falsified his genealogy to claim descent from this bloodline in order to secure his appointment as shōgun.

What does Kōnan mean?

In Japanese History on January 13, 2016 at 7:08 pm

港南
Kōnan (Southport)

konan exit 1

So… this was an easy topic to investigate because it’s such a new place name. It dates from the 1960’s so it’s well recorded. If you want a long etymology, you won’t get one. But if you want an accurate one, I can definitely give you that.

Let’s Talk About Shinagawa Station First

If you go to 品川駅 Shingawa Eki Shinagawa Station today, you’ll encounter a massive train station that is totally unique in Tōkyō. It’s huge and has access to much of Tōkyō and Japan, but it only has 2 exits[i]. It’s one of the oldest train stations in Japan, having opened in 1872 (Meiji 5). It’s also the 9th busiest train station in the world and it hovers around the 6th busiest position for JR East, which leads me to believe it’s probably also the 6th busiest station in Tōkyō, too.

高輪口
Takanawa-guchi

Takanawa Exit

港南口
Kōnan-guchi

Kōnan Exit

The Takanawa Exit is the oldest exit/entrance which faced former 高輪村 Takanawa Mura Takanawa Village located near the old 東海道 Tōkaidō Tōkaidō Highway[ii] which connected Edo to Kyōto. It was pure countryside in the Edo Period and became a suburb from Meiji to WWII. The train tracks of the modern 山手線 Yamanote Sen Yamanote Line and 京浜東北線 Keihin-Tōhoku Sen Keihin-Tōhoku Line originally hugged the coast of Edo Bay.

Kōnan didn’t exist at all until much later because… well, it was the sea lol.

Wanna Read More?

Let’s Look at the Kanji


minato,

port, harbor


minami, nan/na

south

The name officially dates from 1965, when the modern postal code system was created[iii]. The area, which lies on landfill built up during the prelude to the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics and has remained under development ever since, was named after the fact that it is located in the southern portion of 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. As you see above, 港 minato means “port” or “harbor.” Therefore the ward’s name is literally “the harbor ward” and this area, in turn, was named “the south part of the harbor ward.”

I have heard a folk etymology that the name derives from 江南 Kōnan southern inlet/southern bay. This isn’t an unreasonable derivation. This could have been a local reference to the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River flowing into Edo Bay. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone supporting this theory, so I think this is a false etymology.

The name didn’t just pop out of nowhere, though. The Tōkyō Metropolitan Government and Minato Ward had been working hand in hand in the development of this area. In fact, the official postal address was predated by 2 earlier entities that included the word Kōnan in their names and thus foreshadowed the official postal code.

konan middle school

Kōnan Junior High. The trees mark the area as yamanote (high city) by some definitions.

The first was 港南中学校 Kōnan Chūgakkō Kōnan Junior High School[iv] – built in 1963. The second was the 都営港南団地 Toei Kōnan Danchi Toei Kōnan Public Housing Project which spanned the late early 1960’s to the 1980’s (the beginning of the Bubble Economy)[v]. 都営toei means operated by the Tōkyō Metropolitan government. 団地 danchi is literally apartment building but is often translated as “public housing project.” To an American like me, “public housing project” sounds like “the projects.” That is, public housing for super low income families. The image is more or less “the ghetto.” But in 1950’s-1960’s Tōkyō, this referred to low rent suburban city-owned apartment buildings that encouraged urban sprawl as a way to combat the population explosion in the center of the old city.

danchi shinagawa.jpg

History of the Area

In the Edo Period (1600-1868[vi]), there was nothing here but water – literally. Beginning in the Meiji Period the land was built out into Tōkyō Bay a little bit to accommodate Shinagawa Station and manufacturing interests. The bulk of this growth took place in the Post War years. Space was needed for mundane things like train yards and storage areas for container cars when the station was still used for commercial traffic as well as passenger traffic. Most of the shipping activity was stopped in 1980. More landfill was built up further and further out into the bay until 1994 after the economic bubble burst. Unused station-related structures in the Kōnan area were slowly demolished and removed leaving vast tracts of unused land.

big konan

We’re lucky to have this picture. Behind the photographer was a wastleland of landfills and factories and distribution companies. This shot, if my interpretation is correct, is viewing Tokyo proper in the 1960’s.

When I first moved to Japan[vii], I worked in Kōnan. This was 2005. A co-worker who had been living and working in the area for about 6-8 years told me about the tremendous changes he had seen in the area. He mentioned a slaughter house in the area – still active at the time[viii] – was one of the outstanding characteristics of his neighborhood. He also told me that everything I saw in Kōnan was new. The entire area and the current iteration of Shinagawa Station itself were products of huge development projects that finished about 2 years before we began working together. Today, I can confirm that’s true.

intercity

InterCity

In 2003, 品川インターシティ Shinagawa Intāshitī Shinagawa InterCity and many of the luxury sky rise apartments and office spaces were completed. InterCity is a massive business, residential, hotel, and restaurant development begun in 1984 (in 2005, it was home to certain engineering departments of Sony)[ix]. The sprawling complex is built on the ruins of a demolished switchyard and shipping container area and gives direct access to Shinagawa Station.

800px-Shinagawa_station_tokyo_japan_1984_aerial-2

InterCity’s development was based on this space.

Kōnan Exit isn’t the only Claim to Fame

Most expats living in Tōkyō know Kōnan as the home to a particularly special kind of hell – the 入国管理局 Nyūkoku Kanrikyoku Immigration Bureau of Japan, located in 港南五丁目 Kōnan go-chōme 5th block of Kōnan. Other than extremely long wait times[x], I’ve never had much of a problem with Immigration as others. But from what I’ve heard, the experience varies depending on your nationality. It can be a nerve wracking experience for some. After all, your chance of getting a visa or being told to get the fuck out of the country hangs in the balance. Yeah, the long lines suck (this can be avoided by going early on a Monday morning and avoiding Friday like the plague – also it doesn’t hurt to have a good history book or some nice podcasts), but probably the single most annoying thing is… other foreigners. Hygiene varies from country to country so there are some stinky muthafuckerz up in there. Crying babies with mothers who scold them in irritating languages you never want to hear abound. Rambunctious kids get bored out of their minds so they just run around the place like shaved monkeys on crack. At least there’s a little comic relief from the Japanese immigration lawyers greasing the wheels on behalf of hostesses and prostitutes from Russia and the Philippines as they hand over essential yakuza paperwork for getting entertainer visas for their clients.

immigration7

Most people are so irritated that they don’t know they have a great view of Tokyo Bay. You should check it out!

A Restaurant History Nerds Might Dig

土風炉 Tofuro is a chain of 居酒屋 izakaya Japanese style restaurant/pubs. They serve typical izakaya fare – sushi, sashimi, soba, tofu, edamame, grilled fish, and so on. Izakaya are great places to relax and eat and drink socially for extended periods of time.

tofuro mwh

Although my preference is for small, privately owned izakaya, this particular branch of Tofuro is pretty unique. It has a spacious décor designed to look like one of Edo’s 下町 shitamachi commoner towns[xi], complete with bridges, rivers, and warehouses. The lighting and background audio runs a cycle from dawn to morning to afternoon to dusk to evening to night. At dawn, roosters crow. In the afternoon, you can hear the sounds of a lively merchant city. As soon as the “sun” sets, a mock 花火大会 hanabi taikai fireworks display takes place in the sky (ie; ceiling). At midnight, the frogs and crickets are occasionally interrupted by periodic calls to put out any fires while you sleep. For a place you just go to eat and drink, it’s pretty full on.

tofuro

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[i] OK, this isn’t completely true. Shinagawa Station is actually a combination of 2 stations – a massive JR East station which includes 新幹線 shinkansen access and a shitty ass 京急 Keikyū station. The JR station has 2 exits. The janky ass Keikyū station has one exit – at least as far as I know.
[ii] Literally, the “eastern sea route.”
[iii] In Japanese, the current postal address system is called 住居表示 jūkyo hyōji displayed addresses. I usually refer to this as the postal code/post code – there is no standard translation of the term that I know of.
[iv] Or, Kōnan Middle School. Where I grew up we had junior highs, other places had middle schools. Same difference – lots of awkward kids with pimples.
[v] A quick note, I couldn’t find exact dates for the beginning and the end of the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government’s involvement in this particular development project, but these rough dates should be good enough in a general sense. There are still government owned apartments in the area, so in a sense, the city has never abandoned the project – it’s only development that has stopped. The area is located on the 山手線 Yamanote Sen Yamanote Line and 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station is a major hub station, so private developers have had a field day in the area since the 1990’s.
[vi] Roughly.
[vii] Not visited, mind you – moved.
[viii] I don’t know about now. But I bet it’s still there.
[ix] I’m not sure if they’re still there because about this same time, Sony began building a new headquarters building in Kōnan (it was formerly in nearby 大崎 Ōsaki), so I’m guessing they consolidated a few things in their own building at that time. But… I’m not sure.
[x] I sat there for 3½ hours once.
[xi] I usually translate this as “low city,” but gonna keep things interesting because of my last article about Yamanote vs Shitamachi.

Shinagawa Station – Then and Now

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on October 11, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I haven’t updated in a while, so please accept my apologies. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment but there is an article in the works. That said, an idea came to me while on the shitter thinking about Edo Bay vs. Tōkyō Bay (as one does). So I thought I’d share a bunch of cool pictures of Shinagawa.

Sorry for the poor quality, I took the picture from a book. Left side is Edo Period. Right side is today.

Sorry for the poor quality, I took the picture from a book.
Left side is Edo Period. Right side is today.

In the Edo Period, the Shinagawa/Takanawa area was a collection of bustling seaside villages, but compared to castle town of Edo, it was quite rural. It was the literal edge of Edo. The Tōkaidō, a highway connecting the shogun’s capital in Edo with emperor’s capital in Kyōto, began in Nihonbashi and the first post town (rest town) was Shinagawa. The men leaving the capital could a decent meal, take care of any drinking and whoring they needed to get out of their system, and hob nob with samurai from various domains (which was arguably illegal). The men coming into the capital could get a decent meal, get their garments cleaned or pick up something new, take care of any drinking and whoring they needed to get out of their system, and any other final arrangements before entering the shōgun’s capital[i]. Shinagawa’s growth was a byproduct of sankin-kōtai, the Edo Period system of “alternate attendance.”

Arguably the most famous image of Shinagawa ever. If you walk the old Tokaido today, you can walk this same road but there is no water anywhere in sight today.

Arguably the most famous image of Shinagawa ever. If you walk the old Tokaido today, you can walk this same road but there is no water anywhere in sight today.

In the Meiji Era, the Tōkaidō was the obvious route for a new railroad. Connecting Edo→Tōkyō with Ōsaka and Kyōto was necessary and preserved the life of many villages by pulling them into the fold of Meiji Japan’s “modernization” efforts. The modern bay area was built up bit by bit since the Meiji Era, but the bulk of construction took place in the post WWII years. By the time of the Tōkyō Olympics in 1964 shit was out of control. Today, Edo’s shoreline is long gone. A few place names preserve its memory— a river channel here and there survive along the old coastline. But for better or worse, Tōkyō Bay is completely different animal than the former Edo Bay.

The former shoreline roughly follows the modern day JR tracks, ie; the Yamanote Line.

Early Meiji ukiyo-e of Shinagawa Station. I think this picture isn't accurate, but it shows a man-made wave breaker that you can see on the Edo Period map.

Early Meiji ukiyo-e of Shinagawa Station. I think this picture isn’t accurate, but it shows a man-made wave breaker that you can see on the Edo Period map.

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

This was Tokyo's beach at one time.  All I think is... tsunami disaster waiting to happen. So glad that never happened.

This was Tokyo’s beach at one time.
All I think is… tsunami disaster waiting to happen. So glad that never happened. Also notice the stone walls. Love Edo Period stone wall work!

b0190242_17214265

Shinagawa Station. On the sea. Note the breakwater out there. I wish this photo was in color.

img_0

Steam locomotive pulling into Shinagawa Station. The coastline is beautiful. But those boats on the water. I’m way more intrigued by them!

Shinagawa Station in the late 19th century, with the Tokyo Bay shore visible immediately next to the station

This is a different scan of one of the photos from above. It’s amazing how much of a normal beach Edo Bay was. Today, most of Tokyo Bay is deep.

Shinagawa_Station_circa_1897

Maybe your last view of Edo Bay before it REALLY becomes Tokyo Bay.

Sh

Shinagawa today. The right side of the train tracks is the former bay

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[i] By the way, a walk from Nihonbashi to Shinagawa is not a day’s walk. Today you can make the walk in less than 2 hours – but that’s with paved roads. If you were moving in a large group, the pace of walking was formalized; you were a kind of regularly occurring parade, especially near the major villages and cities. My guess is the rate that the palanquin bearers could comfortable carry their passenger determined the pace. I’m guessing that at a leisurely pace from Nihonbashi to Shinagawa in old style shoes, on old style roads, it could easily take double that time… maybe triple. And surely, you’d be hungry.

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