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Posts Tagged ‘Shinbashi’

Yamanote Line: Yūraku-chō & Shinbashi

In Japanese History on January 12, 2017 at 1:14 pm

有楽町
Yūraku-chō (literally, “leisure town” but more at “Oda Nobumasu’s town”)
新橋
Shinbashi (literally, “new bridge”)

yurakucho

Yūraku-chō Station shot from within the former castle grounds.

Yūraku-chō

 

The area called Yūraku-chō lies in an area that used be a fortified island between the inner and outer moats of Edo Castle. In fact, the elevated train tracks supported by red brick foundations are built on the reclaimed outer moat of Edo Castle. The palaces of the daimyō most closely aligned with the Tokugawa shōguns were located here and to this day, you can still walk on a road from 数寄屋橋 Sukiyabashi[i] (literally, “tea-house bridge”) to Tōkyō Station on a road that was nicknamed[ii] 大名小路 daimyō koji daimyō alley.

This neighborhood was home to the 南町奉行 minami machi bugyō-sho office of the southern bugyō, a kind of magistrate/governor[iii]. Actually, if you go to the area today, you can see a few remains of the bugyō office. There are some stone walls[iv], plumbing[v], and a cistern[vi] preserved in the basement of the イトシア ITOCiA shopping center[vii].

old-shit

The average Tōkyōite doesn’t realize they’re sitting on an Edo Period plumbing system. One more reason to learn as much about Edo before you visit Tōkyō. Jussayin’.

My Ōsaka readers[viii] may be scratching their heads saying 有楽町 is pronounced Uraku-machi while my Edo peeps are probably saying “Ōsaka people are ridiculous; everyone knows it’s Yūraku-chō.” Both areas are written with the same kanji, and both are attributed to the same individual, a certain 織田信益 Oda Nobumasu, brother of 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga[ix]. Oral tradition maintains that the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, granted him a plot of land for his residence near Sukiyabashi Gate on the banks of the outer moat[x].

Nobumasu became a tea master and used the name 有楽 or 有楽斎 which are Uraku and Uraku-sai respectively[xi]. In the Kansai area – Kyōto and Ōsaka – it retains the Uraku reading. In Kantō, which was admittedly not as cultured as Kyōto at the time, the same characters were read as Yūraku. Which reading is correct? It seems difficult to say because while people in Edo used one reading, and people in Ōsaka used another, Nobumasu himself was native to Owari Province which used a dialect altogether different from those two. However, the reading Yūraku is more prevalent in the modern language, probably because Standard Japanese is essentially the Tōkyō Dialect. However, Uraku is most likely what Nobumasu would have expected to be referred to as.

guardo-shita

Modern Yūraku-chō is partly reasonable shopping district[xii] and partly ガード下 gādo shita drinking town under the tracks of the Yamanote Line and shinkansen. There are great casual dining and drinking establishments in the area with a lingering tinge of post-war Shōwa Period grit. The area is a comfortable middle ground between the sophisticated shopping district of 銀座 Ginza and the salaryman wasteland of 新橋 Shinbashi[xiii].

Further Reading:

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Some wasted corporate shill in Shinbashi. Love it or hate it. Shit gets real real quick in Shinbashi.

Shinbashi

 

The next station on the Yamanote Line is 新橋 Shinbashi, which literally means “new bridge.” Since I wrote my original article on Shinbashi, I’ve come across more information on the so-called “new bridge” which made what I first said unclear. But without getting into the nitty-gritty, the bridge which appeared on Edo Period maps as シン橋 Shinbashi[xiv] seems to have been an auxiliary bridge or a kind of service entrance to the castle. It wasn’t defended with a 御門 go-mon gate or 見附 mitsuke fortified approach. The area was fortified in the early 1700’s and renamed 芝口御門 Shibaguchi Go-mon Shibaguchi Gate, but the area was lost to a fire about 10 years later and never rebuilt.

After the Meiji Coup, the first station of the first train line in Japan, the Tōkaidō Main Line was built in the bordering area that’s called 汐留 Shiodome today. The station was named 新橋駅 Shinbashi Eki Shinbashi Station. The present day Shinbashi Station area was actually known as 烏森 Karasumori the Crow Forest in the Edo Period and is located a good 5 or 10 minute walk from where the original station sat[xv].

15194635287_26c2204a63_o.jpg

Karasumori Shrine

Shinbashi is a Shōwa Era shitamachi gem in Tōkyō that takes some getting used to. I’ve heard many times from other expats about how much they hate the place. To them it represents old, drunk salarymen drenched in spilt sake and shōchū who reek of cigarette and kitchen smoke stumbling through the streets and pissing down unlit basement stairways before they rudely push their way onto the crowded last train home.

18898562071_531c233f80_o.jpg

Original Shinbashi Station (reconstructed)

Not unsurprisingly, some of the rawest drinking spots in Tōkyō are located here. Like all Shōwa Period towns, it’s far more social than most of the big city. And believe it or not, it’s considered one of the best ナンパスポット nanpa supotto pick up spots for middle aged office workers of both sexes[xvi]. Some of the ママさん mama-san proprietresses of small スナック sunakku local dive bars are known to match-make solo drinkers for the night in hopes of bringing a pair of lonely hearts together… if only for the moment[xvii].

The present-day Shinbashi area was home to the 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence[xviii] of the Date clan from 仙台藩 Sendai Han Sendai Domain, where the wives and children of Date Masamune’s descendants lived.

Additional Reading:

 

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[i] Where that sushi restaurant from Jirō Dreams of Sushi is located.
[ii] And still bears the informal name.
[iii] There were actually two machi bugyō in Edo. The minami machi bugyō was located in Yūraku-chō, while the kita machi bugyō, the northern bugyō, was located in Yaesu, near present-day Tōkyō Station.
[iv] Complete with 刻印 kokuin symbols denoting the provenance of the stone work.
[v] Repurposed as benches for shoppers.
[vi] That’s another term for a well.
[vii] Don’t ask me about the capitalization, I didn’t name the place.
[viii] Do I even have any?
[ix] The first (and craziest) of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan.
[x] That said, the area wasn’t officially referred to as Yūraku-chō until the Meiji Period when the area was disconnected from the castle and redeveloped as civilian.
[xi] The Edo Period equivalent of a DJ name.
[xii] A refreshing alternative to neighboring Ginza, which has long been considered the standard bearer of high fashion and designer brands in Asia.
[xiii] It also melts into Hibiya and Marunouchi. The more I think about it, Yūraku-chō is like a chameleon.
[xiv] The katakana seems to have been used to clarify the reading – the kanji 新橋 could also be read Arabashi.
[xv] Needless to say, by the “original station” I’m referring to the former Shibaguchi area, which is considered the Shiodome area today.
[xvi] Yup, this is an actual thing.
[xvii] And presumably continued patronage to their bars…
[xviii] Not sure what a “middle residence” is? Have no fear, here’s my primer on the Tokugawa shōgunate’s policy of alternate attendance.

What does Shiogama mean?

In Japanese History on August 5, 2015 at 4:28 am

塩釜
Shiogama (salt kettle)

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

Shiogama Shrine looks more like ruins than an active shrine.

Today’s place name isn’t an official place name, it’s part of a park name, 塩釜公園 Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park. The park actually takes its name from a shrine.

When I first saw this shrine, which is in such a state of disrepair that I actually thought it was a ruin, I never thought there would be much of a story behind it. The shrine precincts are in shambles, yet it’s designated as an official park of 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. But among the scattered ruins of this park, you can see a lot of Edo Period stonework. It has modern signage that designates it as a park, but it doesn’t look like a park that anyone would go out of their way to see[i]. I stumbled across it quite by accident when I decided to walk down a street I’d never taken before.

IMGK4691s

Anyways, turns out this decrepit little shrine has a pretty amazing backstory. The shrine’s name is derived from 鹽竈神社Shiogama Jinja Shiogama Shrine in 塩竈市 Shiogama-shi Shiogama City in 宮城県 Miyagi-ken Miyagi Prefecture. Miyagi Prefecture’s capital is 仙台市 Sendai-shi Sendai City.

But wait, “those kanji look different,” you must be saying. The first one is incredibly complex and uses kanji from before the post-WWII writing reforms. The second one updated the first character, but kept the obsolete 2nd character. A 3rd writing is used in Tōkyō, 塩釜 Shiogama, which uses 2 simplified, modern characters. But don’t worry; they’re all the same name as you’ll soon see.

There's a lot of this just scattered all over the place.

There’s a lot of this just scattered all over the place.

The Backstory

Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi enters the historical record in the 9th century and came to be associated with the 平泉藤原氏 Hiraizumi Fujiwara-shi Fujiwara clan of Hiraizumi[ii]. In the Edo Period, the 伊達家 Date-ke Date family became the shrine’s main patrons. In 1600, the warlord 伊達政宗 Date Masmune[iii] had been awarded a large and profitable seaside fief that would come to be called 仙台藩 Sendai Han Sendai Domain.

The 4th and 5th lords of Sendai Domain, 伊達綱村 Date Tsunamura and 伊達吉村 Date Yoshimura, repaired and expanded the shrine from 1695-1704. It became a major shrine in the area at this time and was closely connected to lords of Date and the domain’s ruling class. Most of the institution’s present greatness dates from this 9 year development project.

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

Cherry blossoms at Shiogama Shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

The Real Story Starts Here

In 1695, Date Tsunamura had the 神 kami deity of Shiogama Shrine divided[iv] and brought to Edo to be enshrined on the premises of Sendai’s massive 上屋敷 kamiyashiki upper residence which was located at present day 汐留シオサイト Shiodome Shio Saito Shiodome Shio Site[v]. The shrine stood on the private upper residence of Sendai for just over 160 years.

Then, in 1856, the shrine was relocated to the 中屋敷 nakayashiki middle residence in the 芝口 Shibaguchi area of Edo[vi]. This is the current location of the shrine today. It has stood at its present location for just under 160 years.

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

Layout of the upper residence of Sendai Domain.

Just to put the relocation in perspective. 1856 was 3 years after Commodore Matthew C. Perry barged into 浦賀湾 Uraga Wan Uraga Bay demanding the Tokugawa Shōgunate open up the country for trade. It was 2 years after his return with diplomats insisting the shōgunate sign treaties. It was 12 years before the Meiji Coup succeeded in ousting the Tokugawa and establishing the Empire of Japan.

After the Meiji Coup, the daimyō were sent back to their domains. It’s in these early Meiji years that Shiogama Shrine became popular with the common people. Previously, they probably didn’t have much access to it because it sat on a daimyō’s private property[vii]. The 神 kami deity housed in the shrine is associated with 安産 anzan safe childbirth[viii]. Once the public had access to such a “powerful” kami formerly horded by the ancestors of Sengoku rock star, Date Masamune, the popularity of the shrine skyrocketed.

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in the Meiji Period.

Shiogama Shrine in Shinbashi in 1901 (Meiji 34).

Shrine Decline

They say the shrine was completely leveled in the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. One of the positive outcomes of the earthquake was the immediate creation of evacuation areas. As a former daimyō residence, the surrounding area was presumably flat and open[ix]. Shiogama Shrine was designated as disaster evacuation spot. I’m not clear if the entire estate was made an evacuation area or just the shrine area, but by late 1923, the City of Tōkyō created 町立盬竃公園 Chōritsu Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park of East Tōkyō City.

In the 1940’s, the Tōkyō Bay area suffered horrific aerial attacks by the Americans. The so-called 東京大空襲 Tōkyō Daikūshū Firebombing of Tōkyō[x] brought the city of rivers and wood to her knees. Historical and religious intuitions that had once had deep pockets were forced out of necessity to sell their real estate holdings[xi]. It seems that this was the death knell of this particular shrine. Its 9th century origins and connection to the Sengoku warlord Date Masamune weren’t enough completely restore this once thriving shrine.

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

Most of the shrine looks like this today.

The Shrine Today

In 1971, the small block containing the shrine and the park became 区立塩釜公園 Kuritsu Shiogama Kōen Shiogama Park controlled by Minato Ward. The kanji were officially changed in accordance with the kanji reforms of the post war era (remember the buggy kanji issue I mentioned before?).

The shrine is still active, but Tōkyōites don’t know about. It’s minor as fuck. Also, as I mentioned before, it’s in such a state of disrepair that no one would visit it unless they were interested in really obscure shit… which yours truly happens to be interested in. Obsessively so. lol.

But the shrine is shambles. The park area is tiny and includes nice seats and signage explaining the history of the area. But the shrine itself, which occupies a larger area, is a mess. I’m just going out on a limb and guessing the shrine gets a tax break and the family running it can get by, but Minato Ward is maintaining the smaller park area.

dirty shrine

The Kabuki Konnektion

Earlier I mentioned the 4th lord of Sendai, Date Tsunamura, brought the kami of Shiogama to Edo. He has been immortalized in the world of 歌舞伎 kabuki in a play called 伽羅先代萩 Meiboku Sendai Hagi. It’s the story of the 伊達騒動 Date Sōdō Date Disturbance which was a succession dispute that lasted from 1660 to 1671.

The 3rd lord of Sendai, 伊達綱宗 Date Tsunamune was a big fan drinking and whoring[xii] who spent all his time and money in the Yoshiwara. He was deposed by a faction of uptight clansmen for his negligence and dissolute ways[xiii].

2009042213521975d

Long story short, the 2 year old Date Yoshimura was made lord of Sendai and 10 years of infighting within the clan began. The shōgunate was finally asked to step in and resolve the issue before things got out of control. Well, in 1671, things did get out of control – swords were dawn, one samurai was killed, and one retainer’s family was abolished and his family executed. Ultimately, the young Tsunamura’s right to rule was reaffirmed by the shōgunate.

Because the shōgunate censored stories about the scandals of elite samurai, the story had to be “disguised” when put into kabuki form. The stage version was set in the Muromachi Period and given an esoteric title. The name, Meiboku Sendai Hagi, is made of 3 words evocative of the events. 伽羅 meiboku (normally read kyara) is a kind of wood used to make clogs. It’s said that Tsunamune wore clogs made of this material when going to the Yoshiwara. 先代 sendai means predecessor, as in the former head of a daimyō family. So Meiboku Sendai means the “former ruler who wore wooden clogs.” Sendai also sounds like Sendai Domain – I see what you did there. The last word, 萩 hagi Japanese clover, is a flowering plant that is famous in Sendai.

In short, the play presents Tsunamura as a just ruler replacing a Tsunamune, a corrupt ruler. I don’t know a lot about kabuki, but it seems there are many variations of this particular story. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

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______________________________
[i] Unless you’re a Japanese history nerd, of course.
[ii] Who were the Fujiwara?
[iii] Who was Date Masamune?
[iv] The dividing of kami is done through a process called 分霊 bunrei which literally means “sharing a spirit.”
[v] Present day 東新橋一丁目 Higashi-Shinbashi 1-chōme 1st Block of East Shinbashi.
[vi] Present day 西新橋三丁目 Nishi-Shinbashi 3-chōme 3rd Block of West Shinbashi. The area was also called 愛宕下 Atagoshita at the time. The name Shibaguchi persists in shop names and in the parlance of locals, it is not an official place name today. The area near 愛宕神社 Atago Jinja Atago Shrine does preserve the name Atago officially.
[vii] Some daimyō made their tutelary shrines accessible to locals, I’m not sure to what extent – if any – the general populace had access to before Sendai’s middle residence had been vacated.
[viii] This term is broad and includes protection for the baby during gestation and birth, protection for the mother during pregnancy and labor, and protection against birth defects or being “sickly.”
[ix] Today it is most definitely flat, but crowded with small post-WWII shops, homes, and businesses. There is a large park and school on the former daimyō residence as well.
[x] Literally “the Great Air-Raid.”
[xi] Even the richest and most beautiful funerary temples of the Tokugawa shōguns had to finally sell off their properties and consolidate whatever holdings they could hold dear.
[xii] And let’s be honest, who isn’t?
[xiii] A bunch of effin’ killjoys, if you ask me.

Ōedo Line: Shiodome

In Japanese History on June 29, 2015 at 2:54 am

汐留
Shiodome (wave break)

The landfills that created calm pools near the residences of the daimyo families and later the shogun family fueled the fires for future destruction of the classical beauty of Edo Bay.

The landfills that created calm pools near the residences of the daimyo families and later the shogun family fueled the fires for future destruction of the classical beauty of Edo Bay.

The true origin of this place name is a bit complex. But the kanji refer to a spot that broke the waves hitting Edo Bay. While the name may pre-date the Edo Period, it’s generally assumed that this is a reference to man-made structures that broke the encroachment of the sea against the seaside palaces of the daimyō and the Tokugawa themselves.

In the Edo Period, the area was home to sprawling seaside mansions of the Tōhoku-based lords of Sendai Domain (descendents of Date Masamune[i]) and Aizu Domain (sponsors of the Shinsengumi[ii]). The Date clan had been loyal to the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, before he was made shōgun. The Matsudaira clan of Aizu were related to the Tokugawa shōgun family by blood and marriage. If you look at the massive size of the city blocks in the area, you’re looking at vestiges of the daimyō palaces and samurai mansions that once stood in the area.

“Heat Island Tokyo”
Cutting off the seabreeze or global warming (or both?).
At any rate, Shiodome bears the brunt of this discussion usually.

The area is resplendent in so many contradictory ways. A crazy wall of skyscrapers block cool air from Tōkyō Bay, but at the same time offers customers, residents, and workers an insanely beautiful view of the bay. In this area, you can find the remains of 浜御殿 Hama Goten the Seaside Palace of the Tokugawa shōguns. Today the palace is called 浜離宮庭園 Hama Rikyū Tei’en Hama Detached Palace Park and features some magnificent stone walls, gorgeous gardens, duck/goose hunting grounds, and a beautiful teahouse in the middle of a lake in which you can relax with a hot cup of maccha and eat Japanese sweets on tatami mats. It’s considered one of the best preserved daimyō gardens in Tōkyō.

Hama Rikkyu Garden as viewed from the wall buildings in Shiodome. It looks small here, but it goes on for acres.  That was the Tokugawa seaside palace.  You MUST go.

Hama Rikkyu Garden as viewed from the wall buildings in Shiodome.
It looks small here, but it goes on for acres.
That was the Tokugawa seaside palace.
You MUST go.

A short distance from Hama Rikyū is 芝離宮 Shiba Rikyū Tei’en Shiba Detached Palace. The garden has a long history going back to the Sengoku Period[iii], but it’s an easy shoe in for top 5 traditional gardens in Tōkyō. It’s noticeably smaller than Hama Rikyū, but absolutely worth the visit, especially if you don’t have time for Hama Rikyū. That said, if you like Japanese gardens like your truly does, you could easily spend half a day at both, before you move on to your next activity.

The original (rebuilt) Shibashi Station. Click the photo for more of my original photos)

The original (rebuilt) Shibashi Station.
Click the photo for more of my original photos)

Near all of this is an often overlooked spot, the rebuilt Shinbashi Depot. This was the original location the starting point of the main 東海道線 Tōkaidō-sen Tōkaidō Line, the first train to follow the Tōkaidō Highway and unite Tōkyō with Kyōto & Ōsaka. Japan and trains have a long and colorful history, but this is pretty much where it started. If you like trains or are interested in how the Meiji Period began building up modern infrastructure, the museum inside the station building is a must see. You could walk from here to modern Shinbashi Station (formerly Karasumori Station) and find a Shōwa Era party town. The name Shinbashi means “New Bridge” and the remains of the original are a short walk from here as well.

Kachidoki Bridge crossing the mouth of the Sumida River. (Click the picture to read more about this photo.)

Kachidoki Bridge crossing the mouth of the Sumida River.
(Click the picture to read more about this photo.)

You’ll have to walk to Hamamatsu-chō Station if you want to go, but from there you have a straight shot to 竹芝桟橋 Takeshiba Sankyō Takeshiba Pier. Here you have a view of Kachidoki Bridge and the mouth of the Sumida River as well as a great deal of Tōkyō Port, including Tsukishima, none of which existed in the Edo Period. Boats come and go, but you’ll probably see more helicopters than anything. If you have a good zoom lens and want to take pictures of all kinds of Japanese helicopters, you’ll love this pier. If I have time to kill, I like to get a simple bentō lunch and chill on the pier and bask in the awe of the importance the bay played in the history of Edo-Tōkyō.

If you visit this spot, you also have access to:

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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

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[i] Date Masamune is one of the most famous daimyō of the closing days of the Sengoku Period.
[ii] The Shinsengumi were an elite samurai peace keeping troop during the final days of the Tokugawa shōgunate.
[iii] It was a former 後北条 Go-Hōjō Late Hōjō seaside fort. The ruins of the Hōjō Era tea house are still preserved.
[iv] Do so at your own peril.

What does Uchisaiwaichō mean?

In Japanese History on March 21, 2015 at 6:01 pm

内幸町
Uchisaiwai-chō (Inner Happy Town)

The postal code "Uchisaiwai-chō" is highlighted in red. The green area is Hibiya Park.

The postal code “Uchisaiwai-chō” is highlighted in red. The green area is Hibiya Park.



内幸町 Uchisaiwai-chō is a backwards L-shaped postal code in 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward that borders on 中央区 Chūō-ku Chūō Ward and 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. If you walk from 日比谷公園 Hibiya Kōen Hibiya Park to 新橋一丁目 Shinbashi Itchōme and 新橋二丁目 Shinbashi Ni-chōme you will pass through Uchisaiwai-chō, which is a relatively non-descript business district to be perfectly honest. That said, if you continue on this route, you will eventually hit 御成門駅 Onarimon Eki Onarimon Station (remember that – it’s gonna come up later). These days, the area’s main claim to fame is its unwieldy name in ローマ字 rōma-ji the Roman alphabet and the 帝国ホテル Teikoku Hoteru Imperial Hotel.

Cherry blossoms blooming in front of the moat with the original Imperial Hotel in the background (circa 1890).

Cherry blossoms blooming in front of the moat with the original Imperial Hotel in the background (circa 1890).

Relation to Edo Castle

The history of this area is directly related to the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate because the modern land is located on plots of land that were within the castle enceinte. But let’s explore this a little more. The history of the castle and the moats goes much farther back.

To modern Tōkyōites[i], place names like 虎ノ門 Tora no Mon, 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri, and 赤坂見附 Akasaka Mitsuke may seem a little cryptic. In an age where cars, taxis, buses, and trains make getting around Tōkyō a breeze, the so-called Imperial Palace is an isolated area surrounded by a quaint moat. But in reality, 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle was the largest castle in the world. It was a city in and of itself and it lay at the heart of one of largest cities in the world – if not the largest city in the world[ii]. The moats you can see today are the oldest and innermost moats. Outside of those moats, a population of 大名 daimyō feudal lords lived in palatial residences. A secondary outer moat system protected the residences of those lords. All of that area was considered part of the castle.

Why am I saying this? Because so many names are related to the castle and the system of bridges and gates along the moats. Uchi-saiwai-chō is one of those stories. So let’s take a look!

Sotobori dōri - literally, outer moat road - is a modern road built over the former outer moat.

Sotobori dōri – literally, outer moat road – is a modern road built over the former outer moat.

First, Let’s Go Back to the 12th Century

In the 12th century, the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan used the inlets and rivers of 千代田 Chiyoda[iii] as a natural defense when they built their fortified residence here. Later, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan used the same hills and rivers for his fortress[iv]. Dōkan utilized the unruly network of rivers and inlets by creating a system of moats.

This is Edo circa 1600. Sorry that I haven't translated the text, but basically you can see the sea coming in right up to the castle. By the end of the Edo Period, the castle was about an hour walk on solid, developed land from the bay area.

This is Edo circa 1600. Sorry that I haven’t translated the text, but basically you can see the sea coming in right up to the castle. By the end of the Edo Period, the castle was about an hour walk on solid, developed land from the bay area.

During the Edo Period

It’s generally assumed that the area called Uchisaiwai-chō was reclaimed upon the arrival of 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 1590’s. I suspect some groundwork had already been laid by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan in the 1400’s, but whatever. By the Edo Period the area was solid ground.

If you go to the ruins of Edo Castle today, you’ll see the moat system is still intact. These moats are 内堀 uchibori inner moats. The castle was much more spread out in its heyday. There was another ring called 外堀 sotobori the outer moat. By the 1960’s this was pretty much all filled in and doesn’t exist today.

The area between the inner moat and outer moat was built up in the Edo Period with 大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō mansions. Daimyō, often translated as feudal lords[v], were required by the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate to perform yearly service to the shōgun called 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance[vi].

Long story short, these lords were required to maintain about 3 residences in the shōgun’s capital as well as their own domain. I like to think of these Edo-based residences as embassies. The compounds closest to the Edo Castle were for conducting direct affairs with the shōgunate and remote governance of their respective domains. These were usually the smallest of the 3 estates the daimyō maintained – but make no mistake about it; these were huge compounds on the most valuable real estate in Edo and subsequently Tōkyō.

I've marked the modern postal code of Uchisaiwai-chō in red. I've marked Hibiya Park in green. In the Edo Period these were all daimyō mansions. This is also all solid land, so the Hibiya Inlet no longer exists.

I’ve marked the modern postal code of Uchisaiwai-chō in red. I’ve marked Hibiya Park in green. In the Edo Period these were all daimyō mansions. This is also all solid land, so the Hibiya Inlet no longer exists.

At that time the area consisted of several large city blocks which housed the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residences and 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residences of various daimyō. I mentioned earlier that modern day Uchisaiwai-chō is a backwards L-shaped neighborhood. Well, in the Edo Period, the same area also could have been viewed as a backwards L-shaped area that included 2 discrete city blocks of 3 daimyō residences each and a single fire break[vii]. The estates of the daimyō on the vertical line of the backwards L remain essentially intact today. The horizontal line of the backwards L was broken up and has been redeveloped over the years. Interestingly, the former estates were the smaller compounds, while the latter were the larger.

Domain
Type of Residence

English

Clan Current Plot of Land
白河藩
Shirakawa Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Shirakawa Domain

upper residence

阿部
Abe
帝国ホテル
Teikoku Hoteru
The Imperial Hotel
薩摩藩
Satsuma Han
上屋敷[viii]
kami-yashiki
Satsuma Domain
upper residence
島津
Shimazu
みずほ銀行旧本店
Mizuho Ginkō Kyū-Honten
Former Mizuho Bank HQ
佐賀藩
Saga Han
中屋敷
naka-yashiki
Saga Domain
middle residence
鍋島
Nabeshima
国立印刷局虎ノ門病院[ix]
Kokuritsu Insatsukyoku
National Printing Bureau
Toranomon Hospital
Toranomon Byōin
郡山藩
Kōriyama Han上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Kōriyama Domain

upper residence

柳沢[x]
Yanagizawa
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
飫肥藩
Obi Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Obi Domain

upper residence

伊東
Itō
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
津和野藩
Tsuwano Han
上屋敷
kami-yashiki

Tsuwano Domain

upper residence

亀井
Kamei
Broken up, redistributed, and redeveloped.
The Kuro Mon (black gate) of Satsuma's residence. This picture was taken in the early 1940's before the fire bombing of the city.

The Kuro Mon (black gate) of Satsuma’s residence. This picture was taken in the early 1940’s before the fire bombing of the city.

A close up of the Kuro Mon gate. This gate served as the entrance to the Rokumeikan. Gonna talk about that later.

A close up of the Kuro Mon gate. This gate served as the entrance to the Rokumeikan. Gonna talk about that later.

Gates of Edo Castle

So, as I mentioned earlier, these daimyō residences were located between the inner moat system and the outer moat. What I didn’t mention is that the mansions we’re talking about were located directly on the inside of the outer moat. Of course, this meant they were protected. But this also meant they were only accessible by bridges the crossed the moat and gates that protected the castle[xi]. Gates and other checkpoints were important landmarks and special economies developed around these places. As a result, many places derive from the names of the gates of Edo Castle. And here is where our etymology story starts to bud.

So Let’s Look at the Gates in the Area

Gate Name
Alternate Gate Name
English Names Modern Location
櫻田御門
櫻田見附門
Sakurada Go-mon
Sakurada Mitsuke Mon
桜田門駅
Sakuradamon StationThe entire gate system (mitsuke) is intact.
日比谷御門
日比谷見附門
Hibiya Go-mon
Hibiya Mitsuke Mon
日比谷公園
Hibiya Park
The stone walls are intact.
山下御門
山下橋見附門
Yamashita Go-mon
Yamashita Mitsuke Mon
No remains
幸橋御門
幸橋見附門
Saiwaibashi Go-mon
Saiwaibashi Mitsuke Mon
No remains
芝口御門
芝口見附門
Shibaguchi Go-mon[xii]
Shibaguchi Mitsuke Mon
銀座8丁目
Ginza 8-chōme
A few stones survive and there is a plaque.
虎之御門
虎之見附門
Tora no Go-mon
Tora no Mitsuke Mon
虎ノ門駅
Toranomon Station
Much of the stone walls survive.
Yamashita Mon at the end of the Edo Period. The moat seems to be a closed of space with still water and lotus plants abound.

Yamashita Mon at the end of the Edo Period. The moat seems to be a closed of space with still water and lotus plants abound.

Nothing remains of Yamashita Mon today. This is where the gate once stood.

Nothing remains of Yamashita Mon today. This is where the gate once stood.

Saiwaibashi Mon in the Edo Period.

Saiwaibashi Mon in the Edo Period.

Where Saiwaibashi Gate used to be.

Where Saiwaibashi Gate used to be.

Saiwaibashi Mon was colloquially referred to as 御成御門 O-nari Go-mon. 御成 o-nari is an obsolete Japanese word that refers to the presence of the shōgun[xiii]. This was the gate the 将軍家 shōgun-ke shōgun family and its entourage used to make pilgrimages to the family funerary temple at 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in 芝 Shiba[xiv]. Movements of the shōgun, or daimyō for that matter, were highly ritualized – as such, people took notice. It’s almost as if at any given moment a parade of samurai might cross your path.

A formal procession at Edo Castle.

A formal procession at Edo Castle.

At the beginning of the article I mentioned a walking course that leads directly to 御成門駅 Onarimon Eki Onarimon Station. That was because, the streets within castle itself led directly to Saiwaibashi Gate which in turn fed directly into a boulevard that led directly to the shōgun’s private gate to the Zōjō-ji funerary complex. In the case of Sawaibashi Mon, the “Onari Gate” name didn’t persist (most likely because all of the trappings of the shōgunate were erased in the Meiji Era), but at Zōjō-ji the nickname “Onari Gate” stuck because the sprawling temple of the shōguns’ remained intact until WWII. Sawaibashi Gate doesn’t exist today, but Zōjō-ji’s Onari Gate is completely intact today and there is even a subway station that bears its name.

The shōgun's private entrance to Zōjō-ji.

The shōgun’s private entrance to Zōjō-ji.

After the Edo Period

As I said before, the present day Uchisaiwai-chō is a reversed L-shaped area, but in the Edo Period, it was 2 discrete blocks. In 1872 (Meiji 5), the daimyō residences of Shirakawa, Satsuma, and Saga were torn down and combined to make 内山下町 Uchiyamashita-chō. The name literally means “the town inside Yamashita” – a reference to Yamashita Mon.  The residences of Kōriyama, Obi, and Tsuwano were torn down and combined to make 内幸町 Uchisaiwai-chō. This name literally means “the town inside Saiwai” – a reference to Saiwaibashi Mon. In 1968, the modern postal code system was established and Uchiyamashita-chō and Uchisaiwai-chō were combined under the name Uchisaiwai-chō.

So there it is. Hibiya Park in green and Uchsaiwai-chō (backwards L).

So there it is. Hibiya Park in green and Uchsaiwai-chō is in red (backwards L).

The modern layout, the park is in green and the areas we've been talking about in red.

The modern layout, the park is in green and the areas we’ve been talking about in red.

The lot formerly belonging to Satsuma was destined for a brief flowering of greatness. The area was home to the 鹿鳴館 Rokumeikan, an early Meiji Era hall built in 1881 to entertain foreign dignitaries. The building is sort of synonymous with Japan’s frantic desire to be taken seriously by foreign powers. They were keen to show how culturally sophisticated and worldly they were[xv]. The idea was that the Meiji elite could show off how well they could do western things like speak foreign languages, wear the latest western fashions, dance the waltz, play the piano, and have group sex with foreigners (allegedly). Even 芸者 geisha would show up in the latest western fashions! For a brief period, the Rokumeikan was a symbol of modernity and all the changes brought about by the Meiji Coup of 1868.

A symbol of the Meiji Era's inferiority complex, the Rokumeikan.

A symbol of the Meiji Era’s inferiority complex, the Rokumeikan.

The building is so inextricably linked to the image of the Early Meiji Period that there is even a term 鹿鳴館時代 Rokumeikan Jidai the Rokumeikan Era. However, in reality, westerners seemed to be laughing at the Japanese pretending to not be Japanese and the average run of the mill Edoite (who wouldn’t have had access to such elite gala events) would have been baffled by what went on in the hall and its gardens. In fact, there seems to have been some public backlash to all the western extravagance and the sex scandals happening at the taxpayer’s expense. The so-called Rokumeikan Era[xvi] didn’t even last 10 years. It seems to have run out of steam by the mid 1880’s. In terms of popular destinations for foreigners, the Rokumeikan was soon replaced by the far more conventional 帝国ホテル Teikoku Hoteru Imperial Hotel which was originally built in 1890[xvii].

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_________________
[i]
Expats in particular…
[ii] At the time.
[iii] What does Chiyoda mean?
[iv] In the Edo Period, this ancient fortification served as the 本丸 hon maru main citadel (the residence of the shōgun and his family – the most secure enceinte of the castle) and the 二之丸 ni no maru secondary citadel (theoretically, the residence of the shōgun’s adult offspring). If you walk the grounds of Edo Castle (officially known by the BS title of 皇居 kōkyo the Imperial Palace), the terms hon maru and ni no maru are still used on signs, so they’re easy to find.
[v] A contestable term at best, but an easy convention.
[vi] What’s sankin-kōtai?
[vii] Technically speaking, the enclosure from 櫻田御門 Sukurada Go-mon Sakuradamon to 虎之御門 Tora no Go-mon Toranomon was home to 7 discrete blocks of about 28 daimyō residences. The area was accessible by 5 見附 mitsuke “approaches” – Sakurada Mon, Hibiya Mon, Yamashita Mon, Saiwaibashi Mon, and Tora no Mon. More abou that in a minute.
[viii] Some sources say 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence. To be honest, my sources have conflicting info on a few of these, which makes me think (1) daimyō were moved around after fires, (2) daimyō were moved around after changes in rank, (3) daimyō residences were re-designated as upper/middle/lower when necessary, and/or (4) the upper/middle/lower thing wasn’t officially codified nomenclature. Anyhoo, take the designation as upper/middle/lower in this article with a grain of salt.
[ix] It seems Saga Domain’s residence was moved from the Yamashita Mon area to the Tora no Mon area at some point.
[x] Many of you might recognize this name from 柳沢吉保 Yanagizawa Yoshiyasu, sometimes referred to by his honorary title 松平時之助 Matsudaira Tokinosuke. He was the lover of the 5th shōgun, 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. He was originally daimyō of 川越藩 Kawagoe Han Kawagoe Domain, but shōgun Tsunayoshi elevated him to lord of the prestigious (and traditionally Tokugawa controlled) territory of 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain. Yoshiyasu’s descendants were the lords of 郡山藩 Kōriyama Han Kōriyama Domain in modern day 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture. Yoshiyasu was apparently a spiteful little bitch who destroyed the meteoric career of 喜多見重政 Kitami Shigemasa. You can read the story here.
[xi] Remember, if you’re inside the moat, you’re inside the castle – even if it’s the outer enceinte.
[xii] This gate burnt down in 1734 and was subsequently dismantled. Interestingly, Shibaguchi Mon was built where an undefended bridge formerly stood called 新橋 atarashii hashi the new bridge. Once the defensive structure, Shibaguchi Mon, was torn down, a new undefended bridge was set up and reverted to the former name, 新橋, but with the pronunciation Shinbashi. Today, you can find shops in 銀座8丁目 Ginza Hatchōme that use the name Shibaguchi.
[xiii] It was used for other nobles, too.
[xiv] See my article on Shiba here.
[xv] They were hoping to renegotiate the so-called unequal treaties signed by the Tokugawa Shōgunate.
[xvi] If you want to know more about the Rokumeikan, here’s the Wikipedia article.
[xvii] The Imperial Hotel is something of an institution in Tōkyō. Its own history is linked to the ups and downs of Tōkyō itself, but I think it’s outside of the scope of this article. If you want to learn more about the Imperial Hotel, here’s the Wikipedia page.

Why is Roppongi called Roppongi

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on February 12, 2014 at 1:42 am

六本木
Roppongi (the 6 trees)

Mori Tower and the spider sculpture at Roppongi Hills

Mori Tower and the spider sculpture at Roppongi Hills

Just a quick heads up, this was written in Open Office, which is one of the shittiest pieces of software ever. It’s free, so I don’t expect much, but every time I use this program, the text formatting is all funky. So please forgive all the weird font changes and font size changes. It wasn’t written that way.
Word Press and Open Office don’t play well together.

ropponig croossing

I actually wrote about this topic once beforei.

On February 10th of last year, I was still trying to figure out how to breathe life back into a stagnant blog. I was determined to commit to it and was keeping up with my idea of “if I don’t have a big topic to write about, I’ll cover one Tōkyō place name a week.” In the beginning there was minimal research put in because I just covered a few topics that I was familiar with. Now one year later, JapanThis has transformed into something beautiful – something I’m fiercely proud of.

So Roppongi wasn’t the first place name I covered, but it was one of the really early ones. The reason I chose it was because it was relatively easy. Looking back at this 2 paragraph monstrosity, I feel a deep and dark shame. It’s nowhere near the level of quality I demand of myself now. It’s embarrassing and makes me want to vomit out of my ass and/or commit seppuku.

But today I’m going to set the record straight.

Today, Roppongi is a party town. For years it’s been popular with foreigners due to its proximity to so many foreign embassies. Because of this proximity, the area is relatively English-friendly which makes it a destination for foreigners visiting Japan and the seedy businesses that often cater to (or try to take advantage of) foreigners.

Roppongi has a bad reputation among Tōkyōites and among foreigners who try learn the so-called “Japanese Way.” I’m not really into Roppongi. But I’ve learned to not hate on it so much over the years and as it turns out, the area has a very interesting history if you leave the so-called Roppongi Crossing area, which is pretty much one of the most irritating places in the world.

Alright, so let’s get into this…

b0061717_0321615

So, Roppongi. What does it mean?


If we look at the kanji:

六本
roppon

6 tall, cylindrical things


ki

trees
(generally, tall and cylindrical)

There are a few opinions about this etymology. As any seasoned reader of JapanThis knows, the kanji can’t always be trusted to accurately reflect ancient place names. I mentioned as an aside in my article on Why was Edo called Edo? That this area, now called Minato-ku had been inhabited by humans for a very long time. From the get go, I want to say that there is a chance that this is name that may or may not be Japanese. It may or may not have anything to do with the kanji we have have today. To be blunt, there is no way of knowing.

The one thing we do know for sure is that the first recorded reference to “Roppongi” came in 1828 (late Edo Period) in a correspondence with the shōgunate. However, we don’t know exactly what area was being referred to. In fact, Roppongi didn’t appear on a map until 1878 with the creation of 麻布区 Azabu-ku Azabu Wardii.

the top 2 photos are of Edo Period Azabu Juban (the area that is now considered the "shoten-gai." The botom two pitctures are of Roppongi Crossing.

the top 2 photos are of Edo Period Azabu Juban (the area that is now considered the “shoten-gai.” The bottom two pictures are of Roppongi Crossing.

 

THEORY 1
Literal: There were 6 tall trees used as landmarks

Roppongi is one of the highest plateaux in Tōkyō. This theory says that waaaaaaaay back – most likely some time between the Kamakura Period and Sengoku Period – there was a place here called 六方庵 Roppō-an Hermitage of the 6 Directions. In the garden of this residence, there were 6 tall trees.

The kanji iori/an is puzzling. It usually refers to a rustic home or tea house. However, in the Heian Period it could refer to a military encampment, headquarters, barracks, or even a fortress. More about this later.

Anyhoo, because of it’s elevation and high visibility, the 6 tall trees were landmarks. People disagree about whether these were matsu pine trees or keyaki zelkova trees. This theory refers to a time so long ago that we can’t know whether it’s true or not. The presence of keyaki trees is intriguing, though, because today there is a street called 欅坂 Keyakizaka between Azabu and Roppongi.

If you dropped the word iori/an hermitage, and added the kanji ki trees, in the local dialect it became Roppon-gi. A variation of this etymology is that it comes from 六方の木 Roppō no ki which got reduced to Roppo’ n’ gi. More about this later.

Obviously, we don’t know if this place actually existed, but linguistically speaking, it’s plausible. These kind of sound changes are observable in Modern Japanese. Anyone with exposure to day-to-day Japanese of our era will certainly have seen and heard this kind of vernaculariii.

6 trees

THEORY 2
Literal: It’s derived from a family name

This is actually two theories, but they’re based on the premise that that there was a noble family called 六方 Roppō that lived here before the Edo Periodiv.
1) In the local dialect,
六方家 Roppō-ke the Roppō Family was pronounced Roppo-ngi.
2) The area was considered
六方気 Roppō-ki Roppō-ish or Roppō style, which in the local dialect was pronounced Roppo-ngi.

The interesting thing about this theory is that it also refers to Roppō and reinforces the Roppō-an theoryv. Whether it was a rustic hermitage or noble’s fortress, the high ground would be very suitable.

Linguistically, the sound changes are absolutely plausible.

There just isn’t any other evidence besides these etymology stories. No deeds of the Edo Roppō family. No tales of legendary tea ceremonies at Roppō Hermitage. No references to this place at all. And to top it all off, Roppō isn’t a family name today (as far as I can tell)vi.

when i hear the word "庵,”  I imagine this kind of building.

when i hear the word “庵,” I imagine this kind of building.



THEORY 3
Figurative: A legendary 6 man sep
puku party went down here

During the 源平合戦 Genpei Gassen Genpei Warvii, the Genji forces pursued 6 Taira samurai and fought until 5 died here. A single Taira samurai managed to escape and rather than being cut down, slit his own belly to resist capture or execution. He died under a solitary pine tree. They group was remembered by the local people as “the 6 pines trees.” A variation of this story says that they all committed seppuku.

This isn’t a very likely etymology because, of course, there are no suriving shrines, graves, or much of anything to back up this theory. What’s more, there is another twist on this story that says these samurai were actually deserters, and traditionally Japanese people don’t take kindly to stories of deserters.

Either way you look at it, deserters or heros, this is a cool story because any story that ends in seppuku is – by definition – cool. But there’s not a single piece of evidence to back up.

There is such a thing as "seppuku fetish." And yes, is sexualized.

There is such a thing as “seppuku fetish.”And yes, it goes something like this… 

Theory 4
Creative: It’s a reference to 6 daimyō who lived here during the Edo Period

In English, this theory is usually stated as: “In the Edo Period, there were 6 major daimyō residences located here and so the area was named Roppongi.” But this is a great over-simplification, as you will soon see. There were MANY daimyō living in this area. Many city blocks of present Minato Ward still conform to the shape of the vast estates that once stood here. The crux of this theory is not that there were just 6 daimyō here, but that there were 6 daimyō who had family names that referenced trees in their family namesviii.

Let’s take a look at the daimyō who are generally cited:

 

上杉
Uesugi
米沢藩
Yonezawa Han

above the cedar trees The Minsitry of Foreign Affairs and Azabu Post Office sit on the former upper and middle residences of Yonezawa Domain.

朽木
Kutsuki
朽木藩
Kustuki Han

decaying trees I can’t find the location of their Edo residences (one source says the upper residence was in Akasaka), but the family used Sengaku-ji as their funerary temple.

青木
Aoki
新見藩
Niimi Han

green trees I can’t find their Edo residences, but the funerary temple of the Aoki clan of Niimi Domain is located at Zuishō-ji in Shirokane-dai.

片桐
Katagiri
竜田藩
Tatsuta Han

off-kilter pauwlonia tree Allegedly, this family’s lower residence was located on Toriizaka. This is hard for me to confirm because, well, I’ll get into it later.

高木
Takagi
丹南藩

Tan’nan Han

tall tree(s) The middle residence for a Tan’nan Domain was located in Azabu Kōgaibashi.

一柳
Hitotsuyanagi
(Ichiyanagi)
小野藩
Ono Han
小松藩

Komatsu Han

a single weeping willow The family funerary temple was Zōjō-ji! If I’m not mistaken, their cemetary is now located across from Tōkyō tower where Kondō Isami’s father is buried. The upper residence was once located in west Shinbashi. (There were two daimyō families located in this area with same name; I don’t know anything else about them).

This is the most popular theory by a long shot. Even Wikipedia likes it.

But it has a few problems. No Edo Period maps listed anything as Roppongi. This isn’t unusual, as time and time again we say common nicknames get applied to areas in the administrative re-shuffling that happened in the Meiji Era. But it also means, we don’t really know where the area originally referred to was nor do we know its size. Besides, if I had a penny for every Japanese family name with a reference to a tree in it, I’d be able to buy your mom – several times over.

But looking at the table above, you can see these daimyō mansions were in Shinbashi, Akasaka, Azabu, and Shirokane. This is all in present day Minato Ward – which doesn’t mean anything when trying to pinpoint a specific place. But it does mean something when you are walking somewhere, as people did before cars and trains. There is a certain centrality about the location of these daimyō.

But today Roppongi is a specific area and postal address. None of these daimyō had mansions in the area we would consider Roppongi today. In all fairness, the Takagi and Katagiri were literally right on the border, though. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the exact locations of some residences isn’t completely known – and in some cases, the daimyō family moved (or were re-shuffled).

That said, the location of funerary temples of some of the lesser daimyō in the vicinity does lend a bit of credence to the story. The other interesting thing is that some of the “mystery residences” are those of the Aoki, the Kutsuki, the Takagi, and the Katagiri. The first three just barely met the minimum kokudaka for daimyō status. If their domains’ value slipped below 10,000 koku, they could have had their domains confiscated. In 1650, Katagiri Tametsugu was demoted to hatamoto status for 無嗣断絶 mushi danzetsu the crime of dying without an appointed heirix. Tatsuta Domain was confiscated, subsequently abolished, and the family was reshuffled. Dying without an heir was considered an act of such abject stupidity by the shōgunate, that it always required immediate action. I would tend to agree. In a “feudal” society, if you don’t have a designated successor, you probably shouldn’t be governing anything. But then again, the boy was only 15.

Anyhoo, this seems to be the strongest theory simply because it’s the only with any evidence. It’s not air tight by any stretch of the imagination; much of its appeal coming from the fact that most people don’t know (or care) exactly where daimyō Edo residences were. True or not, in my opinion, this is the most interesting theory.

The residence at the top is the Uesugi mansion. This picture is great because it gives you an idea of how massive these estates were. They really were the Edo Period equivalents of embassies.

The residence at the top is the Uesugi mansion.
This picture is great because it gives you an idea of how massive these estates were.
They really were the Edo Period equivalents of embassies.
And yes, this is their upper residence. and as such it’s located at Edo Castle.

THEORY 5
Figurative: 6 hitching poles…


There’s another theory about 6 poles (by extension, places) where you could tie up your horse. This is mostly a reference to (by Edo Period standards) nearby
Nihonbashi and not this area. Perhaps the idea being, samurai traveling long distances, could swap out a horse there, and then proceed to their 藩邸 hantei domain residence (essentially an embassay) on a horse that didn’t look worn out.

So, yup! Someone thought hitching poles near Nihonbashi would make a great place name over in Roppongi. The one thing I can say in defense of this theory is that, as I said before, until the name Roppongi was made official in the early Meiji Era under a western administrative system we have no idea where the name Roppongi referred to.

In conclusion, we have no idea where the name comes from. If you love historical linguistics or dialects, you might favor theories 1 & 2. If you’re a big fan of the Edo-Tōkyō, you probably like theory 4. Admittedly, they are appealing. The others have some charm, but ostensibly lack credibility.

But if you know them all, you can really see the hidden beauty of Edo-Tōkyō. Hopefully you can see why I’m so passionate about this city’s history. This is something I would never have said about Roppongi a few years ago. Foreigners who become “lifers” in Tōkyō generally shun Roppongi because Roppongi is for the newbies. Roppongi is for the idiots, Roppongi is for rich foreigners who can’t speak Japanese, Roppongi is where every sort of shadiness goes down. But for those of us who love Japanese History, especially Edo-Tōkyō, there is sooooooooooo much good shit in the surrounding area. Unfortunately for us, most of the best parts of Tōkyō are hidden. You really have to know where to look.

Check out Tokyo Bay in the distance!

Check out Tokyo Bay in the distance!

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i OMG, OMG, OMG, don’t get me started on how bad this blog started out.
ii Pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but Azabu Ward no longer exists.
iii Some well known examples are 本当 hontō true reduced to honto and no is regularly reduced to /n/. And /g/ is often pronounced with a /n/ sound before it; すごい sugoiすんごい sungoi.
iv Allegedly.
v I haven’t come across this etymology, but one wonders if a mix of the Roppōan and Roppō family is possible. If there were 6 trees located on the property of the Roppō family, you could get a pun based on 六方の木 Roppō no ki (Roppo’ n’ gi) the Roppō’s trees and 六本木 Roppongi 6 trees. Call me crazy, but that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
vi A Google search just pulls up restaurants and geometry references (roppō literally means hexagon).
vii What exactly was the Genpei War? In short, it was a war between the Minamoto and Taira. More details here!
viii If you’re wondering what the hell a daimyō is and why there residences are CRUCIAL to understanding the history of Tōkyō, please read my short summary of sankin-kōtai here.
ix The family continued and committed mushi danzetsu a couple more times. After been so heavily punished by the shōgunate, you’d think the family would have set up some policy. I guess they weren’t the brightest bunch.

What does Yurakucho mean?

In Japanese History on October 2, 2013 at 11:51 pm

有楽町
Yūrakuchō (Town where you can have a good time)

Yurakucho Station. The elevated train has been a feature of the area for a long time.

Yurakucho Station.
The elevated train has been a feature of the area for a long time.

, u

is the default reading, it means “have” or “possess” or “exist.”

—————————————–

U usually has a Buddhist meaning of bhava, ie; “becoming.” The Buddhist meaning is the original meaning and you’ll see why later.

 

raku

 ease, comfort, leisure; music

chō, machi

 town
Even in the old days, the elevated train has been part of the scenery.

Even in the old days, the elevated train has been part of the scenery.

If you look at the kanji for Yūrakuchō, you might think this is a quarter of the city that is reserved for debauchery. It’s next to Ginza. It’s near Hibiya and Nihonbashi. It’s close enough to Shinbashi (which is debauched in its own right). It’s located in the southern end of Marunouchi[i]. Today the area doesn’t seem like much to the modern eye. It’s famous for business, shopping, and kind of plain in my opinion, but there are some interesting places to drink there. (Each of those links is to the Japan This! etymology of those places, hint hint wink wink.)

However, if you look at a map of Edo, you’ll notice this area is right next to 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. As I mentioned in my article on Marunouchi, it was within the outer moat of Edo Castle and one of the features of this place was a long road lined with the high walls and gates of the 上屋敷 kami yashiki upper residences[ii] of the most elite feudal lords.

Today Yurakucho is boring. It's Ginza's embarrassing  little sister.

Today Yurakucho is boring. It’s Ginza’s embarrassing little sister.
And that stupid elevated train is still there.

The Official Story

If you look just about anywhere, people will say that the area is named after one Oda Nagamasu, the younger brother of Oda Nobunaga.

織田長益 Oda Nagamasu was a daimyō who was in the service of 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He was a pupil of 千利休 Sen no Rikkyū – the proverbial Godfather of Funk[iii]. He assumed his DJ name 有楽斎 Yūrakusai or 有楽 Yūraku[iv]. The difference between the two names is the kanji 斎 sai which is closely related to Zen Buddhism. I’m not a specialist on Buddhism, but I think this refers to sharing a meal (or in this case, a drink) in a spiritual situation. As mentioned earlier, the kanji with the specialized reading u is also closely connected to Buddhism.

So according to the story that usually gets touted on NHK and Wikipedia[v] and what in-the-know Tōkyōites generally repeat is the area was named after Oda Nagamasu, AKA Yūraku.

Sounds legit, right?

Oda Nagamasu (Yuuraku) - the man himself.

Oda Nagamasu (Yuuraku) – the man himself.
Do you like his apron?

Lords had to have a residence (they generally had 3 in Edo)
So, where was the Oda family residence?

天童藩織田家上屋敷 Tendō Han Oda-ke kami yashiki the Upper Residence of the Tendō Domain Oda Family[vi] was located where the present day 三菱ビル Mitsubishi Biru Mitsubishi Building and 丸の内三丁目ビル Marunouchi San-chōme Building are located. Today this area is called Marunouchi, but it’s a bit of a walk from present day Yūrakuchō. So the remaining family of Oda Nobunaga definitely was living in the area… just not in the area that is called Yūrakuchō. And in Edo Period terms, there seems little reason to transfer the name from this part of Daimyō Alley[vii] to present day Yūrakuchō.

This is Marunouchi, not Yurakucho, but you can see the proximity to the inner moat.

This is Marunouchi, not Yurakucho, but you can see the proximity to the inner moat.

So I had to dig a little deeper.

It seems there are a few theories.

1 – Oda Yūraku had a residence here
Any Edo Era map I’ve looked at clearly delineates the 上屋敷 kami yashiki upper residence of the Tendō Oda family as a modest residence (by daimyō standards) located on a corner of Daimyō Alley. Present day Yūrakuchō was the location of extremely large palaces of various branches of the Matsudaira[viii]. Although Yūraku lived until 1621[ix], I can’t find any evidence that he actually maintained a residence in the area. After the winter and summer sieges of Ōsaka, when the Tokugawa and their newly established 幕府 bakufu shōgunate put down the last pocket of Toyotomi resistance, it seems that he lived a life outside of politics and in relative seclusion in Kyōto. He may have visited Edo, but again, there’s no evidence of this.

This is a view of "maru no uchi."  Daimyo Alley is street highlighted in red. The hot pink square is the Oda Residence.  Note that Yurakucho is quite far from here.

This is a view of “maru no uchi.”
Daimyo Alley is the street highlighted in red.
The hot pink square is the Oda Residence.
Note that Yurakucho is quite far from here.

2 – Yūraku ga Hara
Having retired from his daimyōship, Yūraku dedicated his life to practicing tea ceremony. This theory states that he maintained a modest residence in the area to perform tea ceremonies with the powerful daimyō in the area and with shōgun Ieyasu and shōgun Hidetada. This residence fell into ruins and became 有楽ヶ原 Yūraku ga Hara Yūraku’s Field[x]. The name Yūraku ga Hara first appears in records during the reign of the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu. Iemitsu’s reign was from 1623 to 1651. If Yūraku had a residence here, it would have been empty for 2 years at the time of Iemitsu’s ascension.

3 – Yūraku established many tea houses here
This theory states that being a passionate 茶人 chajin tea practitioner, he established many 数寄屋 sukiya tea houses[xi] in the area. This would be for the daimyō in the area to enjoy tea without leaving the confines of the outer enclosure of Edo-jō.  There was a bridge in the area with this name in the Edo Period. The moat was covered up in 1958 in preparation for the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics (dick move, Tōkyō). The area is still referred to as Sukiyabashi and Shin-sukiyabashi[xii]. Another theory along this line states that although Yūraku never left Kyōto, many tea houses built in accordance to his practice were located here (I assume by his followers, who were all daimyō anyway).

4 – There was one tea house here and Yūraku ga Hara was its ruins
This theory is a variation of Theory 2. There wasn’t a residence here, but a single tea house. Yūraku, or one of his descendants or followers, established a tea house here. A decent sukiya has an outer garden (with many plants and trees to block outside distractions) and an inner garden (much simpler and sparse to avoid distractions if the doors/windows inside the tea house are open). This would have required a substantial amount of space. The theory states that the tea house was near the bridge and after Yūraku died, it fell into ruins and the area was just a deserted lot – a deserted lot with a name.

5 – Ura ga Hara → Yūra ga Hara
The final theory is intriguing. It states that the name has absolutely nothing to do with Oda Nagamasu or tea or teahouses. The name is a remnant of the original geography of the land. This theory states that the Hibiya Inlet stopped here[xiii]. This theory operates off the premise that there was a 原 hara field near the 浦 ura inlet. That is, it was an 浦ヶ原 Ura ga Hara (a field near the inlet).

So those are the stories….

Sukiyabashi when there was still a river and a bridge.

Sukiyabashi when there was still a river and a bridge.

As I mentioned, the name Yūraku ga Hara appears in some records. This is roughly 25 years into Tokugawa rule, but like much at that time, names are not so official. I have to add to this, 50 years later Oda clan’s connection to the Tokugawa was just hereditary bullshit. True, they were located in Daimyō Alley, but in such a small compound, one can’t help but imagine the later shōgunate considered the contemporary descendants of the Oda family as irrelevant. Worthy of respect[xiv]. But irrelevant.

.

.

After the Edo Period

The small island that made up what was a prestigious compound of daimyō residences was annexed by the emperor and the daimyō had to return to their fiefs. In 1872 (Meiji 5), the name Yūrakuchō became official. This is after the Ginza Taika, a massive conflagration[xv] that burnt down much of Yūrakuchō, Ginza, and Marunouchi. This was an awesome opportunity for the new Meiji Government occupying the newly renamed Tōkyō Castle.

What was so awesome about it? In my opinion, nothing. But for those who overthrew the shōgunate, it was a chance to rebuild Tōkyō – not Edo – according to their own vision. After the fire, the land was cleared out and the Meiji Army used it as a place for military exercises[xvi]. Famously, in 1890 (i.e.; 20 years later), Iwasaki Yanosuke, the second successive president of the Mitsubishi Corporation and the 4th president of the Bank of Japan bought the former outer enclosure of Edo Castle and began development of the area as a business district. The Sukiyabashi area still retained the bridge and whether it was really connected with Oda Nagamasu or not probably didn’t matter. The bridge’s name seemed to refer to a tea house. The Oda clan had lived nearby. An Oda family member was a famous tea practitioner. It could be true or it could be early Meiji marketing.

Can we Know the Truth?

I’ve wanted to write about this one for a while now, but the “official story” is so ingrained in the history of Tōkyō and because of the location within the former grounds of Edo Castle and the connection to the establishment of the Tokugawa shōgunate and the demise of the Toyotomi compounded by all of the bravado of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, maybe we’ll never be able to get to the truth. The alleged link to tea culture and this place name and the well documented fervor with which the daimyō of the Sengoku Period and anyone with a little money in the Edo Period appreciated tea culture further obscures the origin of this place name. My personal opinion is this: as a skeptic, I can’t buy into any of these theories wholesale. But there are connections and common threads between all of them. I’m gonna err on the conservative side. Maybe a follower of Yūraku (or maybe Yūraku himself) had a sukiya (tea house) in the area. Then again, who knows? Maybe it’s a pre-Tokugawa reference to the Hibiya Inlet. That doesn’t seem unreasonable either.

Edo Castle - Sukiyabashi

Edo Castle – Sukiyabashi

So what’s up with the spelling of the name?

So is homie’s name Uraku or Yūraku? It’s hard to pinpoint but in Ōsaka his name is preserved in a town with the same name… but different pronunciation. In Ōsaka, it’s 有楽町 Uraku-machi. In Tōkyō it’s 有楽町 Yūraku-chō. I can’t find much consensus on this, but it seems that in his time, by his own reading of the kanji, Nagamasu’s assumed name was read as うらく Uraku. He lived out the rest of life in Kyōto where we may be able to assume a family tradition or local tradition preserved the pronunciation Uraku. In Edo or other parts of Japan that didn’t have a strong connection to the man – at least not in a direct sense – the kanji was more readily read as Yūraku[xvii].

Edo Castle - Sukiyabashi

Edo Castle – Sukiyabashi

Another Mystery

One final thing I’d like to mention. In the beginning, I deliberately mentioned that 有 u and 斎 sai have Buddhist connotations. If you see a picture of him, he has a shaved head and wears the clothes of Buddhist monk. But supposedly, while still a daimyō he converted to Christianity in 1588 and took the baptismal name ジョアン Joan, the Portuguese version of John. Many Japanese did this during this time. In 1590, Nagamasu assumed the named Uraku (or Urakusai) when he became a Buddhist monk. He retired from politics after the Siege of Ōsaka (1614-1615). Some people say he was a Christian. Some people say he was a Buddhist. Japanese religion is syncretic, so I’d venture to say he cherry-picked what he liked from both religions. As he is buried in a Buddhist temple in Kyōto and his approach to tea seems very Zen, I would venture to say he was more or less a Buddhist. He may have abandoned Christianity altogether. But again, this is a mystery and I’m just putting forth my own conjecture.

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[i] This was once part of the grounds of Edo Castle where the daimyō closest to Tokugawa Ieyasu held their residences for their 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai service (alternate attendance). Click here for more about sankin-kōtai.

[iii] Oooops, no… he’s the godfather of tea. But just to clarify, he didn’t bring tea to Japan. That happened hundreds of years earlier. He didn’t invent the tea ceremony either. But many people, from his own time until present day, consider his aesthetic approach to tea as the pinnacle of tea ceremony. Most of the modern “schools” of tea ceremony are derived from his followers, including Oda Nobumasu (Yūraku).

[iv] I’ll address the pronunciation in a while. But for those who want spoilers, the name can be read as both Uraku and Yūraku.  Also this wasn’t really his DJ name. They didn’t have DJ’s back then, silly. This assumed name is called号 gō, a kind of sobriquet.

[v] If you want a good laugh, the Wikipedia version is pretty ridiculous.

[vi] Why wasn’t the Oda family in control of Owari (Western Aichi Prefecture)? Because when Nobunaga died, that area was re-assigned. Eventually it became a Tokugawa holding.

[viii] The Tokugawa were actually a branch of the much older Matsudaira clan.

[ix] Tokugawa Ieyasu himself lived until 1616. Yūraku died at age 75, Ieyasu as at age 73. So these men were very much contemporaries. Keep that in mind as the story goes on…

[xi] Sukiya is a type of tea house. Read more about it here.

[xii] The movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi made this area famous when the shop became known outside of Japan as the best sushi shop in the world – an assertion that is met with mixed responses or blank stares when brought up with Tōkyōites.

[xiv] The system called 家元 iemoto was an officially recognized system that demanded patrilineal succession of family businesses or, in the case of the shōgunal famiy, direct rule over the 天下 tenka Japan.

[xv] More about conflagrations at you know where!

[xvi] No doubt a propaganda tool to discourage any pissed off ex-samurai from starting an insurgency.

[xvii] If I ever write “readily read” again, please shoot me.

Why is Shiodome called Shiodome?

In Japanese History on May 7, 2013 at 1:48 am

汐留
Shiodome (Tide Block)

View of the Tokugawa seaside villa in Shiodome - the gardens can still be visited today. YAY!

View of the Tokugawa seaside villa in Shiodome – the gardens can still be visited today. YAY!

The sad part about this story is that I thought this would be an easy place name to cover. I hoped to research and write it in an under 2 hours. It turns out that it’s pretty fucking complicated.

“Why does everything have to be so bloody complicated?!”

Let’s start with the kanji:
汐 shio tide*
留 tome stop*

Two quick notes.

One, it’s possible that this place name predates the arrival of the Tokugawa. Names that predate the Tokugawa are problematic for a number of reasons, the chief of which is that before the Edo Period records are spotty at best.

Two, Shiodome is not a postal address in Tōkyō – even though it was an official place name (associated with Azabu and Shiba) from 1868 until the 1960’s. Nowadays the area’s most official claims to fame are Shiodome Station and Shiodome Shio Site. But if someone says they live or work in Shiodome, they’re probably referring to Hamamatsuchō, Daimon, or Shinbashi, which have official postal addresses. Today the Shiodome area refers to the area from modern Shiodome station to the bay (In the Edo Period, it was the Bay, in modern Tōkyō, landfill stretches out all the way to Odaiba).

An aerial view of part of the Shiodome

An aerial view of part of the Shiodome Excavations. This excavation was very important to understanding the infrastructure of Edo and, in particular, the amenities of daimyo residences.


There are a couple of theories about this name.

1 – In the Edo Period it was believed that in prior to the coming of the Tokugawa, there was a 塩問屋 shio toiya or shio tonya (a sea salt production and wholesale area) in this area. The area had inlets from the bay which support this theory (but no archaeological evidence does). A sound change from “tonya” and “toiya” to “tome “ seems unlikely, but I don’t know shit about Japanese diachronic linguistics, so let’s leave that “undetermined.”

2 – At the same time that the Hibiya inlet started drying up, major areas of Edo bay dried up. The area became more developed and the area became a natural barrier between the sea and solid land — literally “stopping/blocking the tide.” After the arrival of the Tokugawa, there were were vacation homes of some very important Tokugawa vassals from Tōhoku; Sendai domain, Aizu domain and Nanbu Domain. The Shōgun family also had a detached palace here whose gardens are still intact.

These are the remains of the Tokugawa seaside villa. In the Edo Period, there would have been almost nothing between Edo Bay and the villa. All of the buildings in the distance are built on landfill.

These are the remains of the Tokugawa seaside villa. In the Edo Period, there would have been almost nothing between Edo Bay and the villa. All of the buildings in the distance are built on landfill.


My opinion?

Who the fuck knows. The salt processing area could just be folk etymology, but future archaeological evidence could change that. The barrier between land and see isn’t far-fetched either. It’s supported by common sense and without more documentary evidence we can only take it at face value. But Shiodome, which wasn’t a very well-known place name got a second chance at life when the former Shinbashi Depot was renamed Shiodome Station in the Taishō Era. So it could be argued that the place name’s origin is irrelevant since the modern designation is a product the early 1900’s. There was a chance of the place name disappearing into oblivion in the late 80’s, but recent economic revival efforts since the early 90’s have brought the name into notoriety – and some might say the name notorious.

___________________________________

What is Shiodome?

No matter what the origin of the name, the modern area looks pretty cool.

___________________________________

An Era-by-Era Guide to Shiodome

Before the Edo Period (before 1600):
Unclear. The tidal area may have been used for salt extraction and sales, but this is unconfirmed.

Edo Period (1600-1868):
In terms of developing Edo, Tokugawa Ieyasu went balls out. Daimyō were ordered to finance and move into the area as part of Ieyasu’s plan to surround his castle with his subordinate lords. Shinbashi (Shiodome), Nihonbashi, Hamachō and much of present Minato-ku fell under this influence.

The gardens of the Hama detached palace are still preserved as part of this elite palace area.
Many Tōhoku daimyō built lower residences here. Sendai (descendents of Date Masamune) and Aizu (whose family intermarried with the Tokugawa and remained loyal until the bitter end) had massive residences in the area. The Morioka clan (Nambu domain)’s residence was purchased by an Imperial prince and the garden still exists today, Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park. The Tokugawa family (centered in the Hamachō area) also possessed a seaside estate here, the garden of which is still intact, Hamarikyu Garden (mentioned earlier). There were a few samurai residences also built in the area.

Meiji Period (1868-1912):
The government confiscated the daimyō holdings. In 1872 新橋停車場 Shinbashi Depot was built as Japan’s first major hub station (starting point of the Tōkaidō Line). For most of the Meiji era, the area is known as Shinbashi and is associated with trains.

Taishō Period (1912-1926):
1914 – The station moves to Karasumori (which is renamed to Shinbashi) and the old station is renamed Shiodome Station. The area is increasingly referred to as Shiodome colloquially since Shinbashi is now next to Ginza in former Karasumori.
The old station continues life as a freight station and the area becomes a shipping and warehouse town.

Shōwa Period (1926-1989):
In the 1960’s more highways are built and freight train routes fall into disuse.
In 1987 Shiodome station closes. This could have been the final death knell for Shiodome, but….

Heisei Period (1989-any day now…)
In the 90’s (from Shōwa 60 to Heisei 7) The site of the former freight junction was gutted, excavated and re-developed into a new urban space called Shio Site. One of the interesting things about this activity was that the original Shinbashi Depot was reconstructed as a sightseeing spot. The area was a boon to archaeologists and helped expand much of what was known about Edo Period engineering and daimyō residences. As part of the urban development, skyscrapers were built to encourage big companies to relocate to this new “urban oasis” by the sea. The Tōkyō monorail also stops by the new and improved Shiodome Station. Many Tōkyōites will claim that the Shio Site is effectively a “wall of skyscrapers” that blocks the natural sea breeze from Tōkyō Bay. This “wall” is often blamed for Tōkyō’s excessively humid “heat island.” People even ironically lament the name, saying that we should be getting sea breezes from Tōkyō Bay, but that Shiodome is literally “blocking the sea” from Tōkyō.

What does Shiodome mean?

Before Shio Shite, after Shio Shite. (There’s more Shio Shite now).

.

.

.

___________________________
* both of these kanji are poetic, other variants are 潮 shio (which also has a sexual meaning), and 止 tome (a more mundane rendering).

Why is Ginza called Ginza?

In Japanese History on May 3, 2013 at 1:09 am

銀座
Ginza (Silver Guild, more at Silver Mint)

After a fire destroyed the area in 1872, the Meiji government used the opportunity to make Ginza the epitome of modernization. It feels like a western city, not a castle town.

After a fire destroyed the area in 1872, the Meiji government used the opportunity to make Ginza the epitome of modernization. It feels like a western city, not a castle town.

I’m happy to take requests, if you have a Tōkyō place name that you’re curious about. Recently I was asked about Ginza.

I’m going to give a brief explanation of the etymology and then refer you to Ginza’s official English website which has a fantastic page on the history of area.

Ginza is made of two characters:
gin silver
za literally “seat,” or in this case it refers to something like a guild or association

In Nihonbashi, there was another guild, 金座 kinza gold guild.

Basically this was the area where the shōgunate minted silver coins.

If you want to know more about the history of the area, please check out Ginza’s official website. They have a fantastic article about the history of the area here.

Ginza - were east met west in a typically Meiji way. I love this print. Just amazing!

Ginza – were east met west in a typically Meiji way. I love this print. Just amazing!

 

 

 

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Why is Shinbashi called Shinbashi?

In Japanese History on March 26, 2013 at 8:38 am

新橋
Shinbashi (New Bridge)

Shinbashi Station, Tokyo

Present Day Shinbashi Station

Today, I’m a little busy so I chose an easy place name.

Or so I thought. As usual, the history of even the simplest place name turns out to be rich in history. FML

View of Shinbashi Station from across the Shiba River (the river has long since been filled in and there is now a high that goes over where it used to be).

View of Shinbashi Depot from across the Shiba River in the very early Meiji Period (the river has long since been filled in and there is now a high that goes over where it used to be).

Anyhoo, the name is straight forward. It’s the new bridge, as opposed to the old bridge – presumably any older bridge in the area. Also known as the 芝口橋 Shibaguchibashi (Shibaguchi Bridge), the “New Bridge” was first erected across the 汐留川 Shiodomegawa Shiodome River in 1604. This would place Shinbashi among the earliest of major urban projects in the development of Edo as the capital city of the Tokugawa (and within the lifetimes of the first 2 Tokugawa shoguns).*

Shibaguchi_Shinbashi_Depot

A view from Shibaguchi looking towards Toranomon. This ukiyo-e is from the early Meiji Period, note the very un-Edo-like telegraph poles.

In the Edo period, the name Shinbashi was applied to the whole area right up to the border of Tsukiji, which is quite north of what is now called Shinbashi. The area was covered with daimyô residences all the way from 丸之内 Marunouchi (Edo Castle grounds) and 京橋 Kyōbashi right up to present Shiba Park. (This area was called 大名小路 Daimyō Kōji Daimyō Alley, an area I will come back in a future post).

In the Meiji Period, 新橋停車場 Shinbashi Teishajō Shinbashi Depot was built on the site of the former upper residence of 仙台藩 Sendai-han Sendai Domain (present day Shiodome). The area on the south side of Shinbashi Depot, formerly called 芝口 Shibaguchi, came to be referred to as Shinbashi.

Shinbashi Depot from across the river...

Shinbashi Station (formerly Karasumori Station) from across the river. If I’m not mistaken, this river is also no longer there.

Shinbashi Depot was the starting point of the main Tokaidō Line until 1914. If you visit Shiodome today, you can see a reconstruction of the original station. If you walk a little ways towards Ginza, you can find the remains of the Meiji Era bridge (essentially, an old lamp post). Unfortunately, in typical Tokyo style, the river has been filled in and is overshadowed by a massive freeway which totally kills the natural beauty of the river and contributes to noise pollution. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

The modern reconstruction of Shinbashi Depot in present day Shiodome.

The modern reconstruction of Shinbashi Depot in present day Shiodome.

remains of original shinbashi bridge

This lamp post is all that remains of the Meiji Era bridge. (The original Edo Period bridge was wood, silly…) Note the shadows cast by the crappy highway that now looms overhead.

Present Shinbashi Station is located in “Present” Shinbashi. The station opened in 1909 under the name 烏森駅 Karasumori Eki (Crow Forest Station). When Shibashi Depot was closed and demolished, Karasumori Station was renamed Shinbashi Station (1914). Actually, there is still an exit called Karasumori. In the post war era, Shinbashi was a bumpin’ Tokyo hot spot. There were lots of places to go eating, drinking and whoring and today the Karasumori keeps up the tradition as a “salaryman pleasure quarters” where you can see drunk office workers eating, drinking and whoring all night long in dingy Showa Era dives.

It appears that in the 1970’s when Shinkansen service began, old parts of the station were removed because they were in the way. The simple, streamlined station of today looks very little like the classic Meiji Era building that survived the Great Kantō Earthquake and the firebombing of WWII.

Shinbashi Station before and after the Great Kanto Earfquake (1923).

Shinbashi Station before and after the Great Kanto Earfquake (1923).

If you want to see some pictures of Shinbashi Depot and Shibaguchi, check these out!!

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*FYI, the 3rd Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, was born in 1604.

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