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Posts Tagged ‘shinagawa’

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:

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

Let’s Look at Goten’yama

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

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

before 1853

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

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

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

dozo sagami

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

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

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

A room called the Midōshi no Ma inside Dozō Sagami

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

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

whale.jpg

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

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

IMG_5322.jpg

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

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

kujira zuka.jpg

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

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

Further Reading:

 

gotenyama hanami

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

oiran.jpg

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

Let’s Walk up the Hill to Goten’yama

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

IMG_5352

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

hiroshige gotenyama hanami-2.jpg

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

hiroshige shinagawa susaki

Shinagawa-shuku, Toriumi Bridge, and Susaki Benzaiten.

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

gotenyamashitadaiba2010-2

Defending the Bay from the Foreign Threat

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

daiba2013wk2.jpg

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

IMG_2072

Typical Edo Period stone walls along the coast.

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

cut away

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

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

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

misaki1

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

misaki2

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

The Death of Goten’yama

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

gotenyama train

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

Further Reading:

IMG_5335

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

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

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

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

sakura_report00

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

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

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

Yamanote Line: Shinagawa

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

品川
Shinagawa (river of products[i])

Station.jpg

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

shinagawa station inside

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

Etymology

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

Related Resources:

old station.jpg

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

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

Hiroshige02_shinagawa.jpg

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

gyorutu2.jpg

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

A Post Town

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

Related articles:

 

Shinagawa Today

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

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

Related articles:

nantsuttei

Shinatatsu

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

Related links:

shinagawa life

Shinagawa-shuku

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

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

Related articles:

IMG_4198.JPG

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

Takanawa Ōkido

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

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

Further reading:

shingawa shrine.jpg

Shinagawa Shrine

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

 

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

What does 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.

The Meguro River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on September 1, 2014 at 4:56 am

目黒川
Meguro-gawa (literally, “black eye river,” more at “the Meguro River”)[i]

 

The Meguro River.

The Meguro River.

Finally.

Finally… my 7 part series on the rivers of Edo-Tōkyō is finished. The task seemed a little daunting, but worthy of doing.

“A little daunting,” I thought!

It was soul draining to say the very least. I had to take long breaks during the research phases even in the writing phases just to keep my own sanity. Any of you also follow me on Twitter know I’ve been busy with other stuff as well.

But this entire experiment has been eye opening for me. What started this series was a curiosity about the rivers that breathed life into this sprawling metropolis. Anyone who’s ever seen any 浮世絵 ukiyo-e scenes of day to day life in the shōgun’s capital surely have noticed the abundance of river scenes. This is no mere coincidence. Readers of the blog should also know that I’m a big fan of Jin’nai Hidenobu’s phrase “the Venice of Asia” when referring to Edo.

In Japan’s post WWII years, as the economy grew, the rivers got more and more polluted and some of them smelled awful (the Meguro River was no exception). Major building projects began to take place in Tōkyō Bay and rivers that were used as drainage and open air sewers were paved over or diverted and drained completely. I don’t know if this is 100% accurate or not, but the first time I visited Shibuya in 2001 or 2002[ii], I noticed an odd smell and asked my friend about it. He said, “There are dirty rivers under Tōkyō. Sometimes their smell just comes up through the cracks.”

Sometimes their smell comes up through the cracks, indeed.

Cruising on the Meguro RIver.

Cruising on the Meguro River.

 

 

Are You Going to Talk About the Meguro River??  

Yes, of course. Sorry about the digression.

 

The start of the Meguro River is the confluence of the the Kitazawa River and Karasuyama River.

The start of the Meguro River is the confluence of the the Kitazawa River and Karasuyama River.

 

What is the Meguro River?

In reality, the Meguro River is a nothing more than a glorified storm drain today. Its official length is 7.82 km. It begins at the confluence of the 北沢川 Kitazawa-gawa Kitazawa River and the 烏山川 Karasuyama-gawa Karasuyama River. It passes through 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward[iii], 目黒区 Meguro-ku Meguro Ward[iv], and 新川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward[v] and empties into Tōkyō Bay at 天王洲 Ten’ōzu in Shinagawa.

 

The End of the Meguro River in Shinagawa. Hello, Tokyo Bay!

The End of the Meguro River in Shinagawa. Hello, Tokyo Bay! This structure is called the 目黒川水門 Meguro-gawa Suimon “Meguro River Floodgate.”

 

The Meguro River Midori Michi

The confluence of the Kitazawa and Karasuyama Rivers is located in Karasuyama (in Setagaya). The rivers are actually underground, so you won’t see much there, though there is a monument. The emergent Meguro River is also underground.  A little water is diverted to ground level and manifests as a small, decorative creek. This area is called the 目黒川緑道 Meguro-gawa Midori Michi Meguro River Green Path. The man-made stream and its accompanying vegetation attract a variety of wildlife whose populations and health are closely monitored to maintain a healthy “green space.” A short distance away, at 大橋 Ōhashi, literally “the big bridge,” where 国道 246号 Kokudō 246-gō National Highway #246 passes, the underground river and the creek are re-united at the mouth of the visible portion of the river.

 

Water breathes life into the city. It's so important to have green spaces like the Midori Michi.

Water breathes life into the city. It’s so important to have green spaces like the Midori Michi.

 

Much of the modern course of the Meguro River is supposedly the old Shinagawa River. However, there hasn’t been a river called “Shinagawa” for hundreds of years. In casual conversations, I’ve heard a lot of confused explanations for the existence of the place name “Shinagawa” despite the lack of a river bearing the same name[vi]. The most repeated stories usually reference a 川 kawa river used to bring 品 shina/hin products in and out of the bay. Whether that derivation is true or false is a discussion for another article.

 

Are the Meguro River and Shinagawa River the Same Thing?

Short answer, yes.

View of Ebara Shrine from Shinagawa Bridge.

View of Ebara Shrine from Shinagawa Bridge.

 

But I Think the Long Answer is More Interesting.

It’s not much of a long answer and more of a series of tangents. Wanna go there?

If you’re a long time reader, you probably already know the story of Meguro and the story of Mejiro, so you know that folk etymology is most likely involved. But I’m gonna take a short detour to talk about Shinagawa a little bit.

I’ll preface this digression with 2 facts: modern day Shinagawa is spread across both 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward and 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward, modern Meguro lies in 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward. However in the Pre-Modern Era, both villages lay in 武蔵国江原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province.

Family crest of the Minamoto, the shogunal family.

Family crest of the Minamoto, the shogunal family.

 

In 1184, Minamoto no Yoritomo sent an edict exempting his distant clansmen in the Ebara District from imposing superfluous taxes – other than annual land/rice taxes – on the peasants of the area[vii]. These relatives were the 品川氏 Shinagawa-shi Shinagawa clan. Apparently, this is the oldest document referencing Shinagawa. But as we’ve seen time and time again here at JapanThis!, when a new branch family was established, they would take a new family name based on the fief that they controlled. In the case of Shinagawa, this shows the place name Shinagawa clearly predates this remote noble family.

 

The Ōi Clan – River Makers

Anyone familiar with the Shinagawa area will know 大井町 Ōimachi. If your place name radar just went off, you’re probably right. I haven’t covered Ōimachi yet, but believe me, it will happen.

The Shinagawa clan was branch of the main 大井氏 Ōi-shi Ōi clan[viii]. 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[ix].  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).

 

Once the Shinagawa and Meguro River, today it's the Tachiaigawa River. This bridge is Namidabashi in Shinagawa. It was the final "bye bye" place for families and the soon to be executed.

Once the Shinagawa and Meguro River, today it’s the Tachiaigawa River. This bridge is Namidabashi in Shinagawa. It was the final “bye bye” place for families and the soon to be executed.

 

Interestingly, the Ōi were a branch of the 源氏 Genji Minamoto clan (and as such, so were the Shinagawa). The Shinagawa and Ōi retainers made up an auxiliary force of samurai called 随兵 zuihyō or zuibyō[x]. In the Kamakura and to a certain degree in the Muromachi Periods, these were low ranking, sometimes mounted, warriors who were called in for important jobs such as making the shōgun’s procession longer when he didn’t have enough people; making high ranking shōgunate officials’ processions look longer, you know, when they didn’t have enough people; and protecting 神輿 mikoshi portable Shintō shrines when they were transported from a main shrine to a newly established branch shrine… in a procession, of course.

 

The Meguro Clan – They Didn’t Do Shit

In neighboring 江原郡目黒郷 Ebara-gun Meguro-gō Meguro Hamlet, Ebara District, another noble family supplying 随兵 zuihyō to the Kamakura shōgunate had also taken the name of the local area and were known as the 目黒氏 Meguro-shi Meguro clan. Supposedly their residence was the site of the present day Meguro Junior High School. No extant remains are visible today.

 

meguro clan residence

 

But back to the river. As we’ve seen throughout this series, before the so-called Modern Era, there was no standardized, official naming system as we have today. River names were generalizations and local areas had local names for their little slice of the river. Hence the river was called the Shinagawa River in Shinagawa and the Meguro River in Meguro.

It’s interesting to note that Edo Period maps and illustrations don’t use the word 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River to describe the river that passes by Ryūsen-ji. The river in Shimo-Meguro is called the こりとり川 Koritori-gawa. The word こりとり koritori comes from syncretic Buddhism and Shintō. In kanji, it’s written 垢離取り kori tori. This refers to the act of ritually purifying oneself in water before visiting a temple or shrine[xi]. The kanji for kori literally mean 垢を離す aka wo hanasu getting rid of filth[xii].

Before there was the Ice Bucket Challenge there was "kori."

Before there was the Ice Bucket Challenge there was “kori.”

 

Which Brings me to my Final Point

Why where people jumping in the river to get rid of spiritual impurities? If you noticed, earlier I dropped a reference to Ryūsen-ji. This is a temple in 下目黒 Shimo-Meguro Lower Meguro. There are many claims that the name of this area comes from this temple. In the Edo Period this temple was one of a cluster of temples called 江戸五色不動 Edo Goshiki Fudō the 5-Colored Immovable Buddhas of Edo. However, most linguistic evidence indicates that the name is quite ancient and has nothing to do with the temple. That said, if you’re interested, I think I wrote an article about this somewhere…

 

Pilgrimage map.

Pilgrimage map.

 

Coincidentally, people jumped into the river during the firebombing during WWII. The river was said to be littered with corpses for weeks. There’s an ancient superstition that says cherry blossom trees require human blood to grow and that underneath every cherry blossom is a grave. The events of WWII and this superstition are sometimes invoked by old people who have lived in Meguro since the war days. They say the cherry blossoms are so beautiful because they’re fed by all of those who died in the river during the firebombing. It’s a kind of ghoulish thought, but I can guarantee you, plants and trees can grow just fine without human blood.

 

Two cherry blossoms means two dead bodies. Awwwwww yeah.

Two cherry blossoms means two dead bodies. Awwwwww yeah.

 

But as I said earlier, the Meguro River is basically a drainage ditch. But there are many 桜 sakura cherry blossoms planted along its route in Naka-Meguro. As a result the area has become popular for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing. Food stands are set up and cafes and restaurants that line the river do a lot of business catering to the crowds admiring the pink and white leaves. Normally, living next to a drainage ditch doesn’t give you bragging rights but Naka-Meguro has become one of the most desirable areas in Tōkyō. But this wasn’t all the case. The area was one of the least desirable areas until the late 1980’s. The river was seriously polluted until a major clean up and attempt to revitalize the area was begun. The cherry blossoms were planted at that time.

 

Today the Meguro River is one of the most popular spots for hanami.

Today the Meguro River is one of the most popular spots for hanami.

 

Alright. So that’s it. No more river articles. Woo-hoo!

 

 

 

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[i] See my article What does Meguro mean?
[ii] I don’t remember and don’t have my old passport to confirm.
[iii] Here’s my article on Setagaya.
[iv] Here’s my article on Meguro.
[v] Here’s my article on Shinagawa.
[vi] I wrote article about Shinagawa and Takanawa, but it’s so old that I don’t want to include a link. Embarrassing. I promise to revisited the topic again some time.
[vii] The surviving document is the 品河三郎清実に品川郷の公事免除 Shinagawa Saburō to Kiyzane/Kiyomi ni Shinagawa-gō Kōji Menjo Exemption from Official Service for Shinagawa Saburō and Shinagawa Kiyomi of Shinagawa Hamlet. (The name 清実 has many possible readings, so I’m not sure which is correct. I provided 2 possibilities and have chosen Kiyomi from here on out).
[viii] Anyone familiar with the Shinagawa area will know 大井町 Ōimachi. If your place name radar just went off, you’re probably right. I haven’t covered Ōimachi yet, but believe me, it’s in the works.
[ix] I’m not sure if this was one branch irrigation ditch or a many….
[x] A kind of rear guard.
[xi] The act of visiting a temple or shrine is called 詣で mōde or 参り mairi.
[xii] Buddhist monks would read this as ku wo hanasu getting rid of ku. Ku is filth that causes suffering. Here’s what wiki says about it.

What does Omori mean?

In Japanese History on May 13, 2014 at 5:39 pm

大森
Ōmori
(great forest, big forest)

The Omori Kaigan Swimming Area (pre-war)

The Omori Kaigan Swimming Area (pre-war) It’s interesting how Tokyoites preferred a drop into the ocean from a man-made structure, rather than a natural beach. We have no natural beaches in Tokyo today.

So in my last article, I returned to 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward for the first time in maybe a year. Well, technically that’s not true. We got close when I talked about the 5 Great Roads of Edo and Suzugamori Execution Ground. But for the most part, we haven’t hung out in this part of town for a while.

It’s kind of shame, too.

“Why?” you ask.

Because, as I said the other day, the area is literally littered with history. I’ve walked this area countless times over the last 10 years and I haven’t even scratched the surface. While it’s not as well preserved as Kyōto, Shinagawa is one of those areas that – like Kyōto – you can come back to time and time again and always find something new. The main difference is that Kyōto gives up her past easily. Shinagawa plays hard to get. You really have to know what you’re looking for.

 

Hijikata Toshizo was here. So was everyone else and their uncle.  The Tokaido Highway was the main artery in and out of the city.

Hijikata Toshizo was here.
So was everyone else and their uncle.
The Tokaido Highway was the main artery in and out of the city.

 

Oh, for fuck’s sake! I just remembered Ōmori is in 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward not  品川区 Shinagawa Ward. Goddammit! Arrrrrrgh!!!!!!! Well, anyways, it’s part of the coastal area that was called 品川沖 Shinagawa-oki, an ambiguous term that in the Edo Period could refer to a coastline or the open sea or, well, just the sea.

OK, let me catch my breath and calm down for a second. In all fairness, I guess it doesn’t really matter because Shinagawa and Ōta border each other – and in the Edo Period, there would have been no distinction made between the two places. In fact, the closest station to the ruins of Suzugamori Execution Ground is called 大森海岸駅 Ōmori Kaigan Eki, literally Ōmori Coast Station but that area is still in Shinagawa Ward.

Anyhoo, this place was a coastal 田舎 inaka rural area and was well outside of central Edo. So let’s imagine what we might have found in the outskirts of Edo that existed around Edo Bay, shall we?

The Tokaido literally hugged the coast.

The Tokaido literally hugged the coast.
Oh, and 下に居ろ, muthafucka!

What comes to mind are things like… execution grounds, fishing villages, and trees. Lots and lots of trees. Which brings me to my next point. Japan is a 島国 shimaguni island country, but it’s not a tropical island. Japan is mountainous and heavily forested in her most beautiful areas. These forests often extended right up to the coastline, for the most part[i]. For much of the Edo Period, this area was still heavily wooded.

An Edo/Meiji Era tea house  on the Omori Coast. Don't mistake this for a place to do tea ceremony.

An Edo/Meiji Era tea house on the Omori Coast. Don’t mistake this for a place to do tea ceremony. Nope, it’s for drinking and whoring.

So Let’s Take a Look at the Kanji!


ō

big, great, large


mori

forest

So from this we can recognize that exactly the kind of natural, wooded area we would expect to find in the Edo Period was here. It was country. It was covered in trees. Normal. This is a literal place name – without a doubt: The “big-ass forest.”

I tend to err on the Japanese side these days.. Beards are dirty.  This dude's hair is fine, but's up with that beard? Go back to Afghanistan! lololol

What’s up with that filthy beard, Edward Morse?

 

There’s another interesting twist to this story, though.

Edward Morse, an American naturalist/zoologist[ii] who specialized in shellfish, came to Japan in 1877 and helped the first incarnation of 東京大学 Tōkyō Daigaku Tōkyō University establish a zoology department. Along the way, and perhaps by accident, he launched archaeology and anthropology in Japan when he discovered a 貝塚 kaizuka midden (a mound made of discarded shellfish) in Ōmori. This was Japan’s first archaeological dig and it was a major discovery in that it showed the Japanese that their origin wasn’t really recorded in books like the 日本書紀 Nihon Shoki[iii]. It showed that science could prove that Japan’s history actually went way farther back than anyone had ever imagined. The shells and pottery fragments dated from the Late Jōmon Period, about 2000-1000 BCE. The term Jōmon which all Japanese will recognize as a legitimate prehistoric era is actually a translation of Morse’s English description of the pottery samples he found. He noticed rope-like patterns and called them “cord marked” which was translated into Japanese as  縄文 “rope-design.”

It’s all in Japanese, but if you’re interested, here’s the website for the Ōmori Kaizuka Park.

Jomon pottery. Notice the rope patterns.

Jomon pottery.
Notice the rope patterns.

The entire excavation site is preserved as a park and a memorial to Morse and the team that launched Japanese archaeology. you can walk around the wall inside the excavation and look at the cut away wall and see rows of shells piled up.

The entire excavation site is preserved as a park and a memorial to Morse and the team that launched Japanese archaeology. you can walk around the wall inside the excavation and look at the cut away wall and see rows of shells piled up.

 

As I mentioned in my article on Samezu, this part of Edo Bay was renowned for its fish and 海苔 nori seaweed. This local specialty was generally referred to as 江戸前海苔 Edo-mae nori seaweed from Edo Bay, but each area had its unique brands. 品川海苔 Shinagawa Nori, 大森海苔 Ōmori Nori, and 芝町海苔 Shiba Machi Nori were some of the most sought after brands, the latter being the most prestigious[iv]. The development and modernization of Tōkyō Bay in the 50’s and 60’s more or less put an end to the fishing and nori cultivation that typified the area for centuries.

Drying sheets of nori in the sun in Omori.

Drying sheets of nori in the sun in Omori.

One unique aspect of Ōmori as opposed to other areas that were developed in the late Edo Period and “modern eras,[v]” is that the actually coastline is still preserved to a certain extent. The ruins of Suzugamori Execution Ground are located next to 大森海岸駅 Ōmori Kaigan Eki Ōmori Coast Station. A short walk from the station will bring you to small inlet which is basically where the shoreline began in the Edo Period[vi].

Screenshot-(4)

A small section of the Omori Coast is still preserved, believe it or not.

The Omori Nori Museum is still growing nori in the traditional way and offers classes in traditional nori cultivation and manufacturing!

The Omori Nori Museum is still growing nori in the traditional way and offers classes in traditional nori cultivation and manufacturing! BTW, those sticks are called HIBI and I talked about them in my article on Hibiya. (Get the link yourself, you lazy bitch, lol)

If anyone is interested in the Ōmori Nori Museum, here’s the website. It’s Japanese only.

 

 

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[i] If you want to see tropical Japan, you’ll have to go to Okinawa – which wasn’t officially a part of Japan until after the Meiji Coup in 1868.
[ii] Neither of these titles may be accurate. All of the disciplines he was involved with were sciences in their infancies – though arguably their most exciting days. All the disciplines he worked in were very much overlapping at the time, too. But any way you look at it, the guy is pretty much a huge bucket of win for Japan, archaeology, anthropology, and biology.
[iii] There are 2 ancient sources for Japan’s earliest history – mostly legendary stories. They are the 古事記 Kojiki Record of Ancient Matters and the older, more detailed 日本書紀 Nihon- shoki Chronicles of Japan.
[iv] Most likely due to the fact that it was located a fair distance away from the Tōkaidō – also this is where the grand funerary temple of the Tokugawa shoguns is located, Zōjō-ji. Ōmori and Shinagawa are on the Tōkaidō, so it was easy to pick up some nori as 御土産 o-miyage souvenirs to give your friends and family.
[v] Often the term “pre-modern” is applied to Japanese history before 1868 when the Meiji Coup took place. I actually find this term a bit distasteful as it seems to presume that “modernity” is defined by the advances of the western cultures. Scientifically, there’s no doubt, the western countries were more advanced, but there’s no need to kick another culture in the balls. To be sure, the Japanese were developing a rich cultural tapestry and were making advances of their own. I don’t know what other word to use, but “pre-modern” really rubs me the wrong way. Words like “feudal” and “medieval” often get thrown around and I find these unfulfilling as well. I guess this is why I use the generic phrase “Old Japan.”
[vi] I don’t know how much truth there is to this, but some people say that one form of execution at Suzugamori was to crucify prisoners upside down in the bay at low tide. The, they would wait for the tide to come in slowly. They would be drowned by the sea at high tide. This is just my musing… but is it easier to let a person drown tied upside-down to poles and go clean up the mess the next day, or is it easier to burn them, cut off their head or do some more expedient execution? It all sounds horrible to me. The life of outcastes (read, “the lucky bastards who had to do this work”) in the Old Japan sounds truly awful.

What does Samezu mean?

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

鮫洲
Samezu
(Shark Sandbar)

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

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

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

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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First, let’s look at the kanji.


same

shark


zu

sandbank, sandbar

 

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

 

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

 

samezu low tide

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

OK. Let’s Talk Etymology, Bitches.

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

 

I have gross doubts about these theories..

I have gross doubts about these theories..

 

① A Wooden Buddha Statue Did It Theory

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

 

Kaianji today

Kaianji today

 

② It’s An Old Dialect Word Theory

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

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Hooray for linguistics!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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