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What does Kanda mean?

In #rivered, Japanese History, Travel in Japan on August 23, 2017 at 5:54 am

神田
Kanda (holy rice paddies, Batman!)

IMG_5689.jpg
What does Kanda mean?
(Short Version)

神田 Kanda means something like “holy rice field” or “field of the gods.” You can find places all over Japan that use the same characters (with various pronunciations) that derive from this meaning. In short, these place names are references to special agricultural spaces which originally produced food for shrines connected to the imperial court during the Nara Period. These holy fields were technically tax exempt as they usually had to only send the first harvest to the court. The rest was profit. The court then used the produce as currency to fund the maintenance of the shrines they deemed most important. In the case of Edo-Tōkyō, this place name is generally associated with a religious complex called 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine[i].

There are three 神 kami deities[ii] enshrined at Kanda Myōjin. All three are earthly kami[iii], though the first two enshrinements are gods included in the earliest recorded creation and foundation myths. The third and final enshrinement was so beloved by locals in Kantō (Eastern Japan) that he subsumed the popularity of the original kami until the Meiji Coup in 1868[iv].

大国主命
Ōkuninushi no Mikoto

An earthly kami who handed over control of the world to the heavenly kami who were ancestors of the imperial family and the original court. He was blended with a Buddhist kami, Daitokuten.

大己貴命
Ōnamuchi no Mikoto

This kami, who may or may not be the same as Ōkuninushi, was involved in the transfer of earthly lands to the control of the imperial family.

平将門
Taira no Masakado no Mikoto

A Kantō-based samurai who revolted against the imperial family in the 900’s. His attempt to secede failed, but the locals saw him as a hero defending the east’s cultural difference from the west[v]. After the Meiji Coup, he was de-enshrined, only to be re-enshrined after WWII[vi].

 

IMG_5688

Ōkuninushi, Ōnamuchi, Daikokuten – many names, basically the same kami.

What does Kanda mean?
(Hardcore Version)

Today we’re looking at a place name that I’ve wanted to write about since 2013. At that time, my pieces were more short form blog posts. Obviously, things have gotten more long form and “article-like” since then, yet every time I went back to visit the subject of Kanda, it just seemed too convoluted. I couldn’t figure out a way to present the material in a coherent way. Long time readers will remember when I “got riverred” doing a series on seven great waterways of Edo[vii]. I didn’t want that to happen again.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit that as far as place names go, Kanda seems as superficially straightforward as they come. However, the truth is complex as fuck. It requires a solid knowledge of geography – not just of Edo-Tōkyō, but all of Japan. It also requires a strong understanding of Japanese mythology[viii], religion[ix], and the economic system of the Nara Period[x].

I tried to keep things concise, but after 11 pages of text, it became clear that I should divide the topic into two parts. Even after that, the article got longer and longer. Long time readers will know what you’re in store for. New readers, welcome aboard. Help us batten down the hatches. Every article on JapanThis! sails through rough waters.

Anyhoo, let’s get back to the topic at hand (and be prepared for lots of tables).

kanda map
Where is Kanda?

First of all, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with this: in Tōkyō today there is no official place name Kanda. After WWII, in 1947 the former 神田区 Kanda-ku Kanda Ward and 麹町区 Kōjimachi-ku Kōjimachi Ward were combined to make modern 千代田区 Chiyoda-ku Chiyoda Ward. Now, don’t think Kanda just disappeared off the map completely. A few postal addresses actually still exist. For example, 外神田 Soto-Kanda is where 秋葉原駅 Akihabara Eki Akihabara Station is located, and 神田錦町 Kanda Nishiki-chō Kanda Nishiki Town is still part of 日本橋 Nihonbashi.

But in short, the area from modern 大手町 Ōtemachi to 駿河台 Surugadai (originally 神田山 Kanda-yama Mt. Kanda)[xi] was called 神田 Kanda in general. This changed over the centuries, but for our purposes today, this is good enough. That was Kanda and you can see it originally referred to a large and relatively vague area[xii].

kanda myojin mountain side

Apparently, the view from Kanda Shrine used to be pretty good and this stairway used to be hella effed up. I’m not sure what part of the shrine this depicts, but I guess it’s from the opposite point of view of Hokusai’s painting posted above.

This is a very informal rule of thumb, but if I look at a modern map, I tend to think of Kanda as the area stretching from Kanda Station to Akihabara Station to Ochanomizu Station. However, prior to the Edo Period, the area from 大手町 Ōtemachi[xiii] to Kanda Station could be considered Kanda. What changed was the building of the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui Kanda Aqueduct. With that, the name Kanda moved farther away from the castle along the waterway into the generic area of Tōkyō that we call Kanda today.

Further Reading:

 

IMG_5667.jpg

Main gate of Kanda Shrine. Impressive.

So, what the hell does Kanda mean?

Well, I already told you at the beginning of this article. Are you saying that isn’t enough? Are you saying you want more? Are you a glutton for this shit?

Of course, you are.
You wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t.

So, let’s roll up our sleeves, cuz we’re about to get knee deep in all kinds of muck and mire. This is a messy swamp of history, mythology, and linguistics. You ready to hold your nose and get down and dirty?

If that’s a yes, then let’s do this.

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First, Let’s Look at some Kanji


kami, shin/-jin

deity (kami)


ta/da, den

planted field (usually rice)


myō

bright, enlightened; fucking obvious


miya, –

divine descendant of a heavenly kami; relative of the imperial family; imperial prince/princess


na, mei

name; well known; apparent/obvious

And, Here are 2 Words Ya Best Know, Son.

神田
kanda, shinden

literally, “god field”

御田[xiv]
mita, o-den

literally, “honorable field” – nuance is more at “field owned by a ruler”[xv] or “field owned by a god”

IMG_5669.jpg

Now, Let’s Look at a Brief History of the Shrine

OK, so… I know this is gonna be a little annoying, but bear with me a bit more on the timeline. We need some historical framework before we can go any farther. Also, it will be good to have all of these charts to refer back some time… you know, when you need to refer back them for some reason…

703
Nara Period

An ancient court clan from 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province establishes a shrine in 武蔵国豊嶋郡芝崎村 Musashi no Kuni Shibazaki Mura Shibazaki Village, Mushashi Province. The shrine is called 神田ノ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine and by orders of the imperial court in 平城京 Heijō-kyō[xvi], it is responsible for providing rice to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine.

939
Heian Period

Taira no Masakado, a belligerent Kantō-based samurai (east), takes over hostile fiefs on his borders. When the imperial court (west) demands submission, he says “fuck no!” and goes rogue. Samurai armies loyal to the imperial court in Kyōto (west), are ordered to suppress his rebellion.

940
Heian Period

Masakado is killed in battle. His in-house biographers portray him as a hero of the Kantō region and Eastern Japan[xvii]. According to legend, Masakado’s head flies back to the East and rests at Shibazaki Village where a burial mound is made for him near Kanda no Miya.

1185
Kamakura Period
(end of Heian Period)

源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo is appointed 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun shogun[xviii] and becomes the first samurai government to rule Japan (thus achieving what Masakado couldn’t). He rules safely (but briefly[xix]) from his capital in Kamakura (also in Kantō). The system of court control over shrines and their fields is disrupted.

1309
End of Kamakura Period

Masakado is enshrined at Kanda no Miya as a kind of local hero, he soon becomes the de factō principal kami[xx]. It’s around this time Shibazaki Village is renamed Kanda Village.

1590
Sengoku Period

徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu formally takes control of Edo Castle.

1603
Edo Period

Tokugawa Ieyasu is granted the title 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun shōgun. When 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle is expanded in 1603, Kanda no Miya is moved to the 神田台 Kanda-dai Kanda Plateau in order to make room for the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon the grand entrance of the castle and a new neighborhood of samurai and high-ranking merchants and artisans in 大手町 Ōtemachi, literally “main gate town.” Because of mysterious deaths and superstitions surrounding Masakado’s burial mound, his enshrinement at Kanda no Miya is considered adequate for the protection of Edo, but the burial mound is left in sitū so as not to disturb his spirit, in hopes that he will protect the castle and the samurai who come and go through the main gate, including the shōgun himself. Also, 江戸神社 Edo Jinja Edo Shrine, which was located on the castle grounds since the time of 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan, is moved to the shrine precincts[xxi].

1616
Edo Period

The shrine is moved to its current location when the Tokugawa Shōgunate reorganized parts of the city. Although it seems very urban today, until the post-WWII period, this area was wooded and considered very 山手 yamanote high city. During the Edo Period the shrine came to be called Kanda Myōjin. The new name reflected the Buddhist philosophy of the samurai class and distanced itself from the ancient imperial court traditions.

1690
Edo Period

The 5th shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, relocated a Confucian school next to Kanda Shrine called 湯島聖堂 Yushima Seidō Yushima Hall of Wise Men[xxii]. The shrine and temple were closely connected until 1868 when the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei Separation of Kami and Buddhas Edict was decreed. However, Yushima Seidō still has an entrance called 明神門 Myōjin Mon Kanda Shrine Gate where people could easily come and go between the temple and shrine.

1868
Meiji Period

Taira no Masakado was de-enshrined because he was seen as a rebel against the authority of the imperial family and he offended the sensitivities of the delicate snowflake known as the Meiji Emperor who had just moved into Edo Castle – newly renamed 東京城 Tōkyō-jō Tōkyō Castle.

1984
Shōwa Period

 

Because of his local popularity and the constitutional guarantee of separation of religion and government in Article 20 of the Constitution of Japan, Masakado was re-enshrined. This move was made roughly 30 years after end of WWII, presumably because the political climate was such that the anti-imperial connection was more or less lost on the general public and the concept of a divine emperor had been lying in the trash bin of history for three decades.
kanda myojin yushima seido hokusai

In the left background, you can see Yushima Seidō and its stone walls (still extant), in the right foreground, Kanda Myōjin. Thanks, Hokusai-dono.

The Five Great Etymologies

OK, so there are 5 basic theories about the origin of the place name Kanda. All of them, except for two, are related to the shrine, Kanda Myōjin – or Kanda no Miya (as it was also known). I’m going to list the theories, and then I’m going to break them all down.

jomon-period-inlets

Map of Edo-Tokyo in the paleolithic era. No wonder rivers are so crucial to the development of the city.

1. The Kami no To Theory

This theory states that Kanda is a contraction of 神田 Kamida, which itself is a corruption of 神ノ戸 kami no to. The idea is based on a possible etymology of 江戸 Edo which postulates that the city got its name from 江ノ戸 e no to “door to the estuary,” a reference to the hamlet’s location on the bay[xxiii]. Proponents of this theory point at the city of 神戸 Kōbe, claiming that it derives from 神ノ戸 kami no he “door to the kami” (contracted as Kanbe or Kōbe) due the presence of 生田神社 Ikuta Jinja Ikuta Shrine[xxiv] near the bay. The original location of Kanda no Miya was very near the bay before it was moved in the Edo Period. In fact, the former place name of this area was 芝崎 Shibazaki which literally means grassy cape, a clear indication that it was on the water.

While I find the similarities between Kōbe and Edo intriguing, I’m not sure if I’m onboard with kami no to breaking down to Kanda. It’s not unimaginable[xxv], but I think there are more convincing etymologies.

ise shrin

Ise Grand Shrine

2. The Kamida Theory

This is the most straight forward hypothesis. It states the name literally derives from 神ノ田 kami no tanbo sacred rice field or rice field of the kami. As I mentioned earlier, at the time Kanda no Miya was founded, shrines were expected to send 初穂 hatsuho the first harvest[xxvi] as an offering to a major shrine associated with the imperial court. In this case, the first harvest went to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine. These fields were in an area that sits roughly between the original location of Kanda no Miya and the modern location of Kanda Shrine[xxvii]. As a phrase, 神ノ田 would be read “kami no tanbo,” but as a place name it would be written 神田kamida,” which then could easily be contracted to Kanda. There are hundreds of place names throughout Japan written with the same kanji, and while their readings may differ, the etymology is generally the same. A change from /kamida/ to /kaɴda/ is quite plausible and, surprisingly, preserves the same number of mōræ of the original[xxviii].

Michinoomi_no_Mikoto-2.jpg

Michi no Omi no Mikoto, a male version of the Empress Jingū, is one of the three great war gods of Japan. The Ōtomo clan, very closely tied to the ancient imperial court, claimed descent from this particular kami.

3. The Kanda Clan Theory

This theory is related to the last one, but it gets a little more political. While the foundation of Kanda no Miya dates back to historical times, it dates back to a time when eastern Japan was a fucking backwater and records are scant to say the least. While we don’t know exactly who established the shrine, a little knowledge of Nara Period court bureaucracy may shine a bit of light on the issue.

A few high-ranking clans in the imperial court were given the title 神田宿禰 kanda no sukune lords of the fields of the kami[xxix]. Many branch families and descendants from clans that held this hereditary title eventually came to use the characters 神田 as a surname, adopting a range of regional variations, including Kanda. One of the most ancient and elite families to bear the title kanda no sukune was the 大伴氏 Ōtomo-shi Ōtomo clan from 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province[xxx]. If you remember from the beginning of the article, the original kami enshrined at Kanda no Miya were two earthly gods from Izumo who play major roles in the earliest written histories of Japan.

I’ll talk more about this clan later.

masakado

Taira no Masakado was one bad muthafucka. Sadly, his life ended without his head. Happily, his story lives on… and is pretty much all about his head.

4. The Taira no Masakado Did it Theory

Again, if you’ll refer to the list of kami enshrined here and the historical timeline, you’ll recall that in 940, a samurai by the name of Taira no Masakado was killed in battle during his uprising against the imperial court. Scholars debate the motivation for Masakado’s so-called “revolt,” but one thing is certain: the people of the Kantō Area, and the area near Edo in particular, latched on to him as a kind of folk hero. He stood up against a western court that they thought lorded power over them. According to legend, Masakado’s decapitated head was reanimated and fled the imperial court of Kyōto to return to his beloved Kantō. His spirit was then enshrined as Masakado no Taira no Mikoto. This theory states that the name Kanda is a corruption of 躯 karada corpse[xxxi]. A change from /kaɾada/ to /kaɴda/ is quite plausible and, surprisingly, preserves the same number of mōræ of the original[xxxii].

fashion_pct_img

Kofun Period Fashion™

5. The Fuck It, Nobody Knows Theory

This sort of theory, like all ancient place names is a last resort when all other etymologies fail. This is the diachronic linguistics version of the God of the Gaps. In short, if we can’t prove anything with historical records and can’t come up with satisfactory hypotheses, there’s a chance that the name may be hiding in proto-history. That is to say, Kanda may be a vestige of pre-literate Japan. People superimposed kanji on locally existing place names that may reflect an unrecorded Jōmon (Emishi/Ainu) place name or an unrecorded Yayoi/Kofun period dialect. In such cases, the kanji is considered 当て字 ateji, or characters used for phonetic values rather than meaning.

show me what you got-2
So, What do I Think?

Today we have such a complicated mess, I hope you can understand why I’ve hesitated to tackle this subject for so many years. I started this article but it rapidly got out of control.

First of all, I think the first theory which relates the etymology of Kōbe and Edo to Kanda is a bit of a stretch. If anything, it illustrates a fascinating link between the naming of Kōbe[xxxiii] and Edo[xxxiv], but it doesn’t do shit to explain Kanda, in my opinion. It’s an interesting pattern, and we see many place names (and subsequent family names) in the 東北地方 Tōhoku Chihō Tōhoku Region that are clearly derived from this model[xxxv]. However, applying it to Kanda doesn’t make any sense.

Secondly, the “Fuck It, Nobody Knows” theory is one that we can’t really prove one way or the other[xxxvi]. If we had some Ainu words suggested, then maybe we could make some kind of conjecture, but I couldn’t find any ideas tossed out there. Furthermore, we have a pretty nice linguistic sandbox to play in if we combine the remaining theories.

IMG_5671

The Sandbox

So…, we know the original name of the shrine was Kanda no Miya. This name is somewhat ambiguous. It can mean “Imperial Shrine of Kanda” or “Imperial Shrine of the Holy Fields.” I think these are absolutely related. Imperial Shrine of Kanda (by that, I mean the Kanda clan) seems to be a reference to a branch of the Ōtomo clan, while Imperial Shrine of the Holy Fields seems to be a reference to the fields required by law for the Kanda to maintain on behalf of the court to maintain Ise Grand Shrine. We also know that the Ōtomo (and therefore the Kanda) came from Izumo Province. In my mind, it can’t be a coincidence that the kami who were originally enshrined were Ōkuninushi and Ōnamuchi – the most important deities from Izumo.

I think we’re looking at a cut and dry example of the Nara Period system of establishing shrines dedicated to the imperial cult in the outlands and I think the name of the shrine clearly reflects that. I think the presence of the “holy fields” isn’t just related to that, it reinforces that imperial connection. However, after the gradual breakdown of imperial power in the East, the Kantō Area started to feel a little more autonomous.

This autonomy was writ large on the pages of history when Taira no Masakado essentially said “fuck you” to the imperial court and went to war[xxxvii].

Sure, he lost.

Sure, he was killed.

Sure, his decapitated head was put on display.

But like they say in Game of Thrones, “the North remembers.” Well, in this case, the East remembered, and they enshrined him at Kanda no Miya in the 1300’s. It’s also around this time that the area formerly called 芝崎村 Shibazaki Mura Shibazaki Village was renamed 神田村 Kanda Mura Kanda Village.

Do I think the /kaɾada/ (body) → /kaɴda/ etymology was the main reason? No. But I do think the timing of the name change from Shibazaki to Kanda and the strength of Masakado’s fame and spectral power worked its way into local lore and folk etymology. I can’t give a “hard no” to this theory, but I think it’s very much a part of the history of this area and its cultural tapestry.

hiroshige kanda myojin

One of Utagawa Hiroshige’s takes on Kanda Shrine in the Edo Period. This time, he chose to focus on a tree.

The End… or is it?

For most people, that’s about as much as you need to know about the origins of Kanda. In fact, that’s probably more than anyone needs to know. If you stop reading now, you’re probably doing yourself a favor. But for those of you with a masochistic streak, I’d like to explore a few tangents so we can tie up a few loose knots before I wrap this bitch up.

I’ll do that in part two of this article, which is pretty much complete as you’re reading this. I just need to find some pictures, proofread, and double check my facts. Anyhoo, expect me to post that in a day or two.

As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to leave comments and questions down below, and if you’d like to support JapanThis! on social media or throw me a dollar or two, all the details are directly below this sentence.

 

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[i] The original name was 神田ノ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine.
[ii] Deity and god are just rough translations. To learn more about what a kami is, check out this article on Wikipedia. If you already have a good understanding of how kami differ from the English words “god/goddess,” “deity,” and “spirit,” then you might want to do a little further reading.
[iii] I’m not going to get into the intricacies of Shintō cosmology, but in short, kami are generally divided into two groups: 天津神 ama tsu kami heavenly kami and 国津神 kuni tsu kami earthly kami. At the end of the 神世 Kami no Yo Age of the Gods, the heavenly deities descended to earth with a mandate from the sun goddess 天照大神 Amaterasu Ōmikami to rule over the lands of the earthly gods and all of humans that inhabited those lands, thereby establishing the Yamato clan – the imperial family.
[iv] This is something we’re gonna talk about in part two.
[v] A rivalry still very much alive in Japan today, particularly in Japanese Professional Baseball, with the Tōkyō Giants and Hanshin Tigers being the fiercest rivalry.
[vi] As I said, more about that later.
[vii] Years ago, I did a series on Edo’s rivers, which you can read here. I didn’t really understand the scope of what I was getting into and I got to a point where I literally almost quit JapanThis! completely – or at least I was ready to quit the series.
[viii] Because of a recent project, I’m getting more and more familiar with Japanese mythology.
[ix] I think I have this down to a certain degree, but I’m def not an expert.
[x] I’m gradually getting better acquainted with ancient and classical Japanese culture, but since Edo-Tōkyō is my favorite period, all of my recent studies on these three topics (mythology, religion, and ancient/classical Japan) are all strictly for improving the quality of JapanThis!.
[xi] Roughly 千代田区神田駿河台一丁目と二丁目 Chiyoda-ku Kanda-Surugadai Icchōme to Nichōme 1st and 2nd blocks of Kanda-Surugadai, Chiyoda Ward.
[xii] Long time readers will know that before the Meiji Coup in 1868, place names were quite generic. machi/-chō tended to be fixed but only referred to blocks (neighborhoods organized by social class and rank). But areas like 上野 Ueno, 麻布 Azabu, 芝 Shiba, 品川 Shinagawa, etc., were slightly ambiguous.
[xiii] Ōtemachi refers to the neighborhood of rich merchants and high ranking samurai bureaucrats that sat in front of the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon main entrance of Edo Castle.
[xiv] Don’t worry, you don’t need this word for this etymology, but if you go back to my old article about Mita, it might be helpful, since this article sheds light on the old one.
[xv] Usually the imperial court.
[xvi] Modern day 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture.
[xvii] Game of Thrones fans could think of him as Rob Stark. And rather than “the North remembers,” this is “the East remembers.” Masakado became the archetype of eastern samurai, Kantō samurai in particular, overcoming the overbearing and failing imperial court in the west.
[xviii] Who is Minamoto no Yoritomo? Glad you asked!
[xix] Dude had bad luck with horses, and that bad luck finally caught up with him. The whole article is interesting, but if you’re interested Yoritomo and horses, check out the section on Ashige-zuka and the associated footnotes.
[xx] I say de factō because the locals saw Masakado as the most powerful kami of Kanda no Miya, even though he was officially 3rd in rank.
[xxi] Who is Ōta Dōkan? Maybe you should read What does Toshima mean? You might also want to learn a little about Edo Castle, by reading What does Edo mean? Oh, I almost forgot. The kami enshrined at Edo Shrine (established in 武蔵国豊嶋郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province in 702) is 建速須佐之男命 Takehaya Susano’o no Mikoto, usually shortened to Susano’o – the kami of seas and storms (and brother of the sun goddess, 天照大御神 Amaterasu Ōmikami).
[xxii] While not popular today, this is one of the few spots where you can really feel the 山手 yamanote high city atmosphere of the Edo Period. Of course, Kanda Shrine was high city, but it was always open to the public. It also banks on its popularity with the masses. Yushima Seidō shuns the masses, maintaining its Edo Period elite status as a center of Confucian and Buddhist learning. The amount of greenery on the site is testimony enough to its desire to left to its own devices – a very Edo Period mentality. Not sure about low city vs. high city? Check out my article about Yamanote vs Shitamachi.
[xxiii] There were many inlets from the bay that pushed far inland. The Kanda River once flowed out into the bay before the Tokugawa Shōgunate re-routed it into something closer to its modern course.
[xxiv] There are three major ancient shrines in Kōbe, not all of them near the bay. But apparently the area where Ikuta Shrine is located was home to a handful of other shrines as well.
[xxv] One idea being that as the land was reclaimed for agriculture and the sea retreated, the kanji 戸 to door was replaced with 田 ta/da field. But, I’m not going to lie, I think this is a stretch.
[xxvi] Usually rice, but sometimes wheat.
[xxvii] The place is called 神田美土代町 Kanda Mitoshiro-chō today, and I’m thinking about covering that place name next time.
[xxviii] WTF is a mōra? Glad you asked!
[xxix] This translation is mine. I might also render it as “lords of the kanda,” or “overseers of the kanda.”
[xxx] In modern 島根県 Shimane-ken Shimane Prefecture.
[xxxi] This word usually appears as and 身体/ kaɾada and usually just means “body.” The kanji listed above is specifically for dead bodies and has a ghostly or spectral connotation.
[xxxii] WTF is a mōra? Glad you asked!
[xxxiii] In the west of Japan…
[xxxiv] In the east of Japan…
[xxxv] The primary examples are family names like Kanbe (rather than Kōbe), and 一戸 Ichinohe, 二戸 Ninohe, and 三戸 Sannohe – Tōhoku place/family names that literally mean “first door,” “second door,” third door,” and so on…
[xxxvi] If you take this position, you have to deal with some evidence that might not be so clear at first. One, the name Kanda no Miya doesn’t appear in records until the Heian Period. Two, the Ōtomo clan’s peak was in the 5th century. By the 700’s when Kanda no Miya was established they were in steady decline. In fact, they disappear from the historical record in about 940. It’s not hard to understand why branch families would have seen using new names as wise political moves.
[xxxvii] In short, once the imperial court had consolidated power, it adopted and promulgated a Chinese socio-political framework. It held for a while, but as Japanese culture and society was different from that of China, it slowly broke down. During this breakdown, power vacuums came to be filled by samurai. This trend continued until the samurai class took power in the Kamakura Period.

What does Ōji mean?

In Japanese History on October 4, 2015 at 4:32 pm

王子
Ōji (imperial prince, but more at “a kami divided from another kami”)

16919450696_95b2f6c5c1_k

Otonashi Park in Ōji is one of Tōkyō’s secret cherry blossom viewing spots. Nearby Asukayama is even more beautiful and also a little bit off the beaten path.

Hello all! Sorry for the gap since my last article. I got bogged down with work and this article and its follow up.

Here’s the honest truth. I started re-searching and writing this article in January. It turned out to be such a colossal mess that I just made a bunch of notes taken from Japanese texts and left them as they were. I ignored the article after that.
Totally abandoned it.


But during 花見 hanami the cherry blossom season, I revisited it. As the weather got better, I found myself with a confusing list of quotes in Japanese and English and nary a timeline to speak of. So I abandoned the topic again. But then lost my research notes. Couldn’t find them anywhere.

But something amazing happened at the middle of October.

I was able to recover my notes.

The notes rambled and were pretty much all over the place. But most of the research was intact. And so, submitted for your approval, here is an article started some 6-7 months ago and finally finished now.
If it’s unpolished and rambling, I apologize, but I just wanted to get it over with. 

Ōji – A Princely Namesake… or Something Like That…

To modern eyes, this place name means “prince.” In a very general sense, it could be understood as a son of a king or emperor. In this case, it most likely isn’t a reference to a literal prince. The name of the area seems to be derived from 王子神社 Ōji Jinja Ōji Shrine. If you visit today, the shrine doesn’t look so ancient. It was lost during WWII and rebuilt in 1959 and again in 1982 with some of that sweet, sweet Bubble Economy money. But don’t let the modern veneer fool you. There’s good evidence that this shrine dates from at least the Kamakura Period. Some even suggests its history goes farther back than that.

oji shrine

Where is Ōji?

Ōji is in present day 北区 Kita-ku Kita Ward[i]. Today the area has a shitamachi image, though this area was the straight up boonies in the Edo Period. The area surrounding the shrine was actually a favorite 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing spot of the upper echelons of the Tokugawa shōgunate[ii]. These days, the area boasts 紙の博物館 Kami no Hakubutsukan the Paper Museum, 狐の行列 Kitsune no Gyōretsu the Fox Parade every New Year’s Eve, and a station catering to 都電荒川線 Toden Arakawa-sen the Toden Arakawa Line, Tōkyō’s last remaining street car. Interestingly, the area is also home to a certain ラッコズニューヨークスタイルピザ Rakkozu Nyū Yōku Sutairu Piza Rocco’s New York Style Pizza. Having lived in New York for 3 years, I definitely developed a taste for a proper New York slice. In Tōkyō, this is as close as you’re going to get. The shop has a nice New York vibe with red & white checkered tablecloths and the essential shakers: oregano, parmesan cheese, and crushed red pepper. It’s not the most convenient location for me, but I’ll make the trek if I have a hankering[iii]

roccos

Click the pic for Rocco’s website

NYC TOPPINGS

New York style pizza toppings

So, anyways, that’s the short answer to the question “What does Ōji mean?” and I threw in some reasons that I think you might want to visit the area. The short answer ends here. If you wanna get deep into what Ōji means, find yourself a nice chair and let’s get into it proper[iv]

kumano

A Long Time Ago in a Province Far, Far Away

One of the most ancient temple and shrine complexes in Japan is a cluster of 3 major mountaintop sites called 熊野三山 Kumano Sanzan in modern Wakayama Prefecture which is in western Japan. You could translate the name as the 3 Muthafuckin’ Mountains of Kumano, but most people don’t – they usually just call them the Kumano Sanzan and are done with it[v]. That means the 3 Mountains of Kumano. Between the 3 religious complexes, something like 12 神 kami Shintō deities called 熊野権現 Kumano Gongen[vi] are enshrined. Since the Heian Period, the 3 mountains have been the focus of a major pilgrimage which is still popular today. It’s my understanding that today the entire pilgrimage course – mountains and manmade structures alike – is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The shrines themselves seem to be quite ancient. The history of these shrines clearly predates their appearance in the historical record and as such is probably affiliated with the rise of the imperial cult and the Yamato State. The shrines are mentioned in the 日本書紀 Nihon Shoki, which is Japan’s second oldest written history (finished in 720 or 750). I’m assuming the capital was in Nara at this time, but there was some reshuffling of things from 740-745ish that I can’t say with certainty. But the Nara Period is generally thought of as the time from 710 to 794. I’ll get back to this aspect at the end of the article.

kumano1

Why Are We Going Back This Far in History? And Will Talk About Ōji, Tōkyō Again?

Great questions and I’m glad you asked! As for your second question, yes, we’ll be getting back to that later. As for your first question, well… while the Tōkyō place name, Ōji, has little to do with the daily concerns of the modern Tōkyōite, all of this backstory is critical to understanding few aspects of religion in Japan.

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So, Back to the… Backstory[vii]

You see, in the 500’s, Buddhism first showed up in Japan. The native Shintō priests, of course, weren’t having any of this foreign Buddhist bullcrap. After all, they had a lucrative monopoly on the traditional spirituality of the people. Nonetheless, various factions within the imperial court at Nara either embraced it or rejected it. But ultimately, the imperial court got on board with the whole idea of Buddhism (see my article on Taishi-dō) and in the end everyone seemed to agree that there wasn’t much of a conflict with the native Shintō religion.

One way of reconciling the native Shintō beliefs with Buddhism was the creation of 権現 gongen. When a Buddhist temple was established, it had to appeal to the Shintō believers of the area. They understood their own traditions but the Buddhist stuff was foreign and strange in those early days of Buddhism in Japan. The quick fix was this: if a foreign or native Japanese 菩薩 bodhisattva (a person who has reached Buddhist enlightenment) wants to communicate with Japanese people, he/she would take the shape of a Shintō 神 kami. In short, use the local language to communicate with the local people. Buddhists could endear themselves to the skeptics by saying, yes, this is a Buddhist object of veneration/reflection, but it is appearing as a native Japanese avatar that can operate on a Shintō platform. A 権現 gongen, while Buddhist in nature, was flexible and thus could be experienced through a Shintō filter and was subject to Shintō rituals – in our case, ritual division and re-enshrinement.

Gongen are often depicted as half-nekkid, pissed off, sword wielding demons. In this picture, not Kumano Gongen, he appears to be wielding a karaoke microphone.

Gongen are often depicted as half-nekkid, pissed off, sword wielding demons. In this picture, not Kumano Gongen, he appears to be wielding a karaoke microphone.

Why Didn’t They See a Conflict?

Because syncretism.

Most western countries have a cultural heritage derived from the 3 batshit crazy Abrahamic religions, the so-called Big 3 Monotheisms – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam[viii]. These religions, by definition, just hate other religions because if you only have 1 god you can’t accept or tolerate another one. That is, when you think there can only be one god, everyone else is just flat out wrong. End of story. If you’re polytheistic (ie; you believe more than one god exists), another god is no big stretch of the imagination and doesn’t threaten your world view. Polytheistic societies like Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt were able to mix and match their native religions with foreign religions easily. This is called syncretism. You could also call it, “just getting along” (as far as religious ideologies are concerned)[ix]. Japan was/is pretty much the same way. Once people got over the initial fear of something strange and foreign, they found ways to incorporate the 2 systems, as they obviously weren’t mutually exclusive. This is syncretism

kumo shrine

And just in case you’re wondering, the Japanese word for syncretism is 習合 shūgō “learning joined.”[x] This word is derived from the 四字熟語 yoji jukugo 4 kanji word 神仏習合 shinbutsu shūgō which means “syncretism of bodhisattvas and Japanese kami.”

Your average person on the street in the Edo Period wouldn’t have even thought about the blending of Buddhism and Shintō – they were so perfectly intertwined. The native Shintō and foreign Buddhism blended well in Japan for centuries until the Meiji Government tried to separate the two in order to establish a proper Shintō-based cult based on the Imperial Family. Shrines would act as organs of the Imperial State[xi]. They succeeded in promulgating what came to be called “State Shintō”[xii] and suppressed certain Buddhist sects. Much to the chagrin of the so-called “Modern Statesmen” of the Meiji Coup who hailed from Satsuma and Chōshū, they never quite separated the two completely. After WWII, separating Shintō and Buddhism was illegal – in fact any connection between government and religious institutions became unconstitutional – so don’t be surprised to find syncretic shrine complexes still exist throughout the country. Even more so, don’t be surprised to find bizarre, modern cultish hybrids from time to time.

Nikkō Tōshō-gū. Dedicated to the great gongen of the deified Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Nikkō Tōshō-gū. Dedicated to the great gongen of the deified Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Dividing Up Deities

OK, I’ve explained syncretism and finished my anti-monotheistic rant. So, let’s talk a little bit about the mechanics of Shintō and Japanese Buddhism, shall we? In the past at JapanThis!, we’ve talked about shrines called 東照宮 Tōshō-gū dedicated to the deified 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu[xiii]. There are something like 130 shrines dedicated to 東照宮大権現 Tōshō-gū Daigongen throughout the country. The name, by the way means something like “The Great Gongen Prince of the East.” You might think that this is a lot. Were they hacking up Ieyasu’s corpse and sending bits and pieces to various domains all over the country?

Kunōzan, the birthplace of the cult of Tōshō-gū.

Kunōzan, the birthplace of the cult of Tōshō-gū.

Of course not. Ieyasu’s corpse is most likely very much intact and rests at either 日光東照宮 Nikkō Tōshō-gū or 久能山東照宮 Kunōzan Tōshō-gū[xiv]. But just as Buddhism venerates objects associated with a particular bodhisattva (person who has achieved pure enlightenment) and allows for those objects and images to be copied or even modified for each culture, Shintō allows for kami to be divided. Again for people in western cultures, it’s hard to imagine this. Without a physical body or some holy event having occurred on a spot, how is there anything to venerate?

Interestingly, Shintō has a mechanism that operates on a level similar to biological cell division. A kami can divide and a new kami is thus born. Just as a Buddhist statue or similar object of veneration can be copied or recreated infinitely, a Shintō kami can be divided infinitely.

Tokugawa Ieyasu - Tōshō-gū Daigongen (the Great Gongen Eastern Prince).

Tokugawa Ieyasu – Tōshō-gū Daigongen (the Great Gongen Eastern Prince).

130 Tōshō Daigongen?

We’re Not Even Getting Started.

I mentioned Tōshō-gū. Ieyasu was deified as 大正大権現 Tōshō Daigongen the Great Deity Who Guards the East. There were about 500 shrines dedicated to Ieyasu in the Edo Period. This means that the kami named Tōshō Daigongen was divided at least 500 times. And for those who have a short memory, a 権現 gongen is a 菩薩 bosatsu bodhisattva (buddha) who manifests him/herself  to the Japanese in the form of a 神 kami[xv]. But other kami were divided far more times than this. I’ll put it this way, Tokugawa Ieyasu died in 1616 and so he was relatively late to the game. But he’s a perfect example of a syncretic deity – a “gongen” for the Edo Period, if you will. He was buried in a perfectly normal syncretic tradition for a person of his stature. He was both a buddha and a kami.

分霊

Bunrei – separating a kami

How Widespread Was Dividing Kami and Gongen?

As a Tōkyō resident, one of my favorite kami is 稲荷神 Inari-gami. This is kami visually characterized by foxes. In Edo, this kami was associated with the daimyō class and the samurai class. In the outskirts of the city, he was associated with farmers. But as far out as you go in 本州 Honshū the main island of Japan, Inari was originally a tutelary kami of the 大名家 daimyō-ke daimyō families during the Sengoku Period. Since the daimyō families were expected to take care of their farmers, the farmers also latched on to this kami. Veneration of Inari exploded during the Edo Period.

It exploded to such a point that the number of Inari shrines in Japan is literally impossible to count[xvi]. One great example is 伏見稲荷大社 Fushimi Inari Taisha Fushimi Grand Inari Shrine in Kyōto – truly one of the world’s greatest treasures. But you can find dollhouse sized Inari shrines and shrines on temple precincts that seen like after thoughts. My point? Inari has been popular for ages and divided again and again.

Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine

Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine

The 2nd place holder is 八幡 Hachiman, the god of war who is the tutelary kami of 武家 buke samurai families. Veneration of Hachiman was spread by 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo. The most famous shrine is 鶴岡八幡宮 Tsurugaoka Hachimangū in 鎌倉 Kamakura. But this shrine wasn’t the first shrine dedicated to Hachiman. There are an estimated 44,000 Hachiman shrines in Japan.

OK, so there are an unknowable number of Inari shrines, some 44,000 Hachiman shrines, about 130 remaining Tōshō-gū shrines, and roughly 3000 shrines dedicated Kumano Gongen. and 13 shrines dedicated to various kami in Hawaii, Colorado, and Washington. I’m assuming those were brought from Japan[xvii].

Tsurugaoka Hachimangū at Kamakura. Many say the cult of Hachimangū was the main cult of the post-Minamoto samurai families.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangū at Kamakura. Many say the cult of Hachimangū was the main cult of the post-Minamoto samurai families.

OK, Time to Bring the Story Back to Edo-Tōkyō

The Toshima were granted control of 豊島郡 Toshima-gun Toshima District in the 1000’s, which included this area. It’s not clear when the Kumano Gongen was installed in the area because there are two contradictory stories about how the place name Ōji came about.

oji

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Theory 1: The Shrine Dates From Well Before the Kamakura Period

Some claim that Ōji Shrine existed in some form or another before the Kamakura Period.

A popular story says that pre-shōgun Yoritomo passed through Toshima District near Edo[xviii] on his way to fight the 奥州藤原 Ōshū Fujiwara in Tōhoku[xix] in 1189. Praying for good luck, Yoritomo presented a full set of armor to 若一王子社 Nyakuichi Ōji-sha Nyakuichi Ōji Shrine – later Ōji Shrine Ōji Jinja Ōji Shrine.

Conspicuously, Ōji Shrine possesses no armor from Minamoto no Yoritomo.

Conspicuously, Ōji Shrine possesses no armor from Minamoto no Yoritomo.

The earliest textual evidence seems to come from an obscure reference in a war chronicle thought to have been written between the 南北朝時 Nanbokuchō Jidai Nanbokuchō Period[xx] (1334-1392) and the very early 室町時代 Muromachi Jidai Muromachi Period (1337-1573)[xxi]. This war chronicle is called the 義経記 Gikeiki[xxii] and it sings the praises of 源義経 Minamoto no Yoshitsune[xxiii], brother of Yoritomo.

A passing reference is made to Yoshitsune crossing the 王子板橋 Ōji Itabashi Ōji Plank Bridge. Was there an epic battle here? Did Yoshitsune give a rousing speech here? Probably not. The reason the “plank bridge” is probably even mentioned at all is that the area was such a backwater at the time that elegant plank bridges were few and far between. You could see them in Kyōto and maybe in Yoritomo’s capital at Kamakura, but never in the nasty, rural marshlands of the Toshima. People would take a boat across a river or just stay on their side of the river.  Interestingly, this plank bridge is most likely the same bridge related to the etymology of nearby 板橋 Itabashi[xxiv], which literally means “plank bridge.

Yoritomo vs Yoshitsune

Yoritomo vs Yoshitsune

Theory 2: The Shrine Dates From the Kamakura Period

There’s a contradictory claim about the age of the Ōji Shrine in an Edo Period text called the 新編武蔵風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fūdokikō Lands and Customs of Musashi Province (New Edition)[xxv].  This text claims, quite clearly, that in 1322, the Toshima Clan had the 熊野若一王子 Kumano Nyakuichi Ōji brought from 熊野新宮 Kumano Shingū New Main Kumano Shrine of Kumanoto Toshima District.

New Grand Shrine

New Grand Shrine

Nyakuichi Ōji is the name given to kami that are separated from 浜王子Hama Ōji. Hama Ōji itself was split from the 熊野権現 Kumano Gongen at the 熊野本宮 Kumano Hongū Kumano Main Shrine. So it’s a split of a split.

SH3E0110

SH3E0110

The 新宮 shingū “new main temple,” itself a branch temple of the 本宮 hongū “officially designated main temple,” is cited in the 日本書紀 Nihon Shoki Japan Chronicles[xxvi] and so is believed to have existed before 大化の改新 Taika no Kaishin the Taika Reforms of 645. The Nihon Shoki refers to the title 熊野国造 Kumano no Kuni Miyatsuko – a provincial governor of the Yamato court controlling the area[xxvii]. The argument for the shrine’s antiquity is that 熊野国 Kumano no Kuni Kumano Province was a pre-Taika Reforms province, 造 miyatsuko is a pre-Taika Reforms title, and the Nihon Shoki was finished about 75 years later in 720 after Kumano Province had been abolished[xxviii]. Most of the provinces we encounter at JapanThis! are post-Taika Reforms – Kumano was abolished. The provinces remained relatively unchanged until the abolition of domains and provinces in the early Meiji Period. Of course, in the Edo Period, 藩 han domains were more important than provinces (which were archaic territories with no practical civil administration).

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[i] Literally, the North Ward. And yes. I have an article about that.
[ii] 飛鳥山 Asuka-yama Mt. Asuka is still a popular spot for hanami today. It’s located a short distance from Ōji Station. The park is not very well known, so it doesn’t attract huge crowds. I highly recommend it.
[iii] On the topic of pizza, there is another shop also big among the expats in Tōkyō that specializes in Chicago style pizza called DevilCraft. The shop has been successful enough to open 2 shops, one in Kanda and one in Hamamatsu-chō. But I fucking can’t stand Chicago style pizza. It’s not pizza. It’s pizza flavored quiche – and it needs to get over itself. That said, DevilCraft brews their own beer and I respect that. Beer is good.
[-iv] Read that with a British accent – or else it’s just ungrammatical.
[v] Believe it or not, Japanese doesn’t have a word for “muthafuckin’.”
[vi] What’s a “gongen?” Have patience, my flower. All in due time.
[vii] Unfortunately, not a porno – though it may sound like one.
[viii] And just to be fair, yours truly thinks all religions are batshit crazy. I tend to show a little more respect to the peaceful ones and a great amount of disdain to the overbearing or violent ones. #AntiTheism
[ix] Yes, this is a simplification, but I think it’s more or less the case. Before a funerary memorial service, I was talking with the officiating Buddhist priest about the history of the graveyard at the temple. He said that while religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam reject Japanese spirituality altogether, the Japanese tradition can make room for aspects of those religions and even adopt aspects of them while ignoring other aspects. I believe his conclusion was “the Japanese have the potential for a richer spiritual tapestry.” I both agree and disagree with that statement, but it was the first time I heard a Buddhist priest say it in a cemetery. So, there’s that.
[x] Pssst! Hey dude, you still haven’t told us what a fucking “gongen” is yet. FFS, will you settle down, I’m getting to it now! I told you this was going to be a convoluted story.
[xi] Though, to be honest, this was nothing new. The Tokugawa and other shōgunates and the imperial family itself were always harnessing the power of both shrines and temples.
[xii] “State Shintō” is a term invented by the Americans during the post-WWII occupation. There was no “separation of church & state” in the Meiji Constitution, but in many ways Shintō was just seen as Japanese tradition. Some argue the term “State Shintō” isn’t accurate or fair. But c’mon, let’s be real here. What the winners of the Meiji Coup set in motion, got waaaaaaaaaaay out of control. And while I’ll grant they didn’t create “State Shintō,” by the 1930’s and 1940’s they definitely had something that looked like, smelled liked, and quacked like “State Shintō.”
[xiii] You can find my article about Tōshō-gū here.
[xiv] Interestingly, both shrines bicker over who has the body. Simply opening up the 宝塔 hōtō 2 story urns would solve the question once and for all, but neither shrine wants to allow that – probably because neither wants to be the one who was wrong.
[xv] This is one way that Buddhism tried to one up the native Shintō religion. Shintō was originally of shamanic roots, but Buddhism offered a kind of salvation (or second chance) through reincarnation or transcendence. Shintō seems to have been more daily and superstitious. Both were as ridiculous as any modern religion, though.
[xvi] Tiny shrines are littered all over the country, especially in agricultural areas or in the confines of castles and the detached residences of daimyō. In Edo, there was a idiom used by Edoites to describe common place sights and occurrences: 火事喧嘩伊勢屋稲荷に犬の糞 kaji kenka, Iseya Inari ni, inu no kuso which essentially means “fires and fights, shops named Iseya and Inari shrines are scattered like dog shit in the streets.” I can vouch for this one. If I walk 15 minutes in any direction from my home, I’ll stumble across 2 or more Inari Shrines. In some places you’ll find shrines so small they look like Edo Period doll houses.
[xvii] But I don’t know for sure.
[xviii] Long time readers will know that I’ve talked about the Toshima extensively throughout the blog. This isn’t a focused list, but this link will bring up any article in which I referenced the Toshima.
[xix] His victory in this battle paved his way for receiving the title shōgun.
[xx] Read about the Nanbokuchō Period here.
[xxi] The dates I gave for the Muromachi Period are one of many reckonings. Samurai Archives has a brief summary of the Muromachi Period here, they also have a pretty handy timeline of the Muromachi Period here.
[xxii] The name Gikeiki is sometimes misread as Yoshitsune-ki. The title means “Yoshitsune’s Story.”
[xxiii] Yoshitsune is the archetypal tragic samurai character in Japanese culture. He’s not important to our story today, but he is interesting. You can read about him here.
[xxiv] Long time readers will recognize this as the spot where 近藤勇 Kondō Isami of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi was executed in the 1860’s. Read my article here.
[xxv] The translation is mine. Not sure if this book has a standard English title. The book was compiled from 1804 to 1829.
[xxvi] Japan’s second oldest book.
[xxvii] From what I can tell, the hereditary title Kuni no Miyatsuko was not as much a governmental official as a person who oversaw regional Shintō matters. But I don’t know about it in detail.
[xxviii] Interestingly, the title wasn’t abolished and was still passed down among the same families until the mid 1300’s. It had fallen out of use by the end of the Nanboku-chō Period.

What does Ushima mean?

In Japanese History on August 31, 2015 at 6:20 am

牛島
Ushima (cow/ox island)

e7899be5b68be7a59ee7a4be02

Today’s article is a bit of whimsy. I want to investigate some really obscure and unknown aspects of Japanese religion that tangentially hit on the history of Edo-Tōkyō. In my article on 向島 Mukōjima, I mentioned that one of the theories is that there were a collection of islands (or more likely sandbars in a flood plain) dotting the east bank of the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River. According to this story, these were collectively called mukōjima “the islands on the other side of the river” by the people of the west bank who lived in 浅草 Asakusa. Today I want to talk about the name 牛島 Ushima Cow Island[i]. It’s not preserved as an official place name today, but there is shrine in Mukōjima that bears the name. It’s a quite ancient name – possibly as ancient as Asakusa[ii].

Eat more chikin, bitches

Eat mor chikin, bitches

As I’ve said many times before, the west bank of the 大川 Ōkawa the Great River (as this stretch of the river was known as in the Edo Period) had been fairly developed since the Heian Period. It got a major boost with the rise of the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura Shōgunate in the 1200’s and was one of the few shining centers of art and commerce in the Edo area in those early days. The area really rose to prominence with the establishment of the 江戸幕府 Edo Bakufu Edo Shōgunate in the early 1600’s by the 徳川家 Tokugawa-ke Tokugawa family.

As I said earlier, today there isn’t any area officially called Ushima, but prior to the Meiji Period, there was an area of present day 墨田区本所 Sumida-ku Honjo Honjo, Sumida Ward that was referred to by that name. The east bank of the river was essentially grassland, even during most of the Edo Period this side of the river was relatively rustic[iii]. During the Asuka Period and Nara Period[iv], the grounds on the flood plains of the eastern bank of the Sumida River were used for grazing cattle. Thus the area came to be called 牛島 Ushijima Cow Island – a name that was eventually contracted to Ushima[v].

A stone lantern at Ushima Shrine circa 1868.

A stone lantern at Ushima Shrine circa 1868.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

Asakusa is the Rockstar of the Area, but…

Meanwhile, on the west bank of the Sumida River, in 628 or 645[vi] (the Asuka Period) Sensō-ji was founded in Asakusa Village. Sensō-ji was a key temple in the area and it was pivotal in the spreading of Buddhism in the Kantō area. In the 850’s (Heian Period), a famous itinerant monk who had recently studied Buddhism in China visited Sensō-ji to view the secret image of Buddha that was alleged fished out of a stretch of the river and is the alleged raison d’être of the great temple. That monk was a certain 慈覚大師 Jikaku Daishi[vii] and he is about to play the biggest part of the Ushima story.

Jikaku Daishi

Jikaku Daishi

The story goes that Jikaku Daishi, who had been studying Buddhism in China, was ejected from the country during the Great Buddhism Purge of 845 and forced to return to Japan. Upon his return he visited various centers of Buddhism in the country to share his knowledge and engage in philosophical discussions with other monks. While visiting a hermitage called 一草庵 Issōan, Jikaku Daishi took a walk and happened upon an old man. The old man told him that he should build a shrine to protect the local people on the east bank of the Sumida River. The old man then revealed that he was an incarnation of the Shintō 神 kami deity named 須佐之男命 Susano’o no Mikoto.

Susano’o no Mikoto

Susano’o no Mikoto

Wait. Whaaaa?!!

You may be scratching your head now. Buddhism builds temples to reflect upon enlightened souls… or something like that. Shintō builds shrines to house 神 kami deities[viii]… or something like that. At the very least, these are just 2 distinct belief systems!

Long time readers should be well aware that Japanese religions – and polytheistic religions in general – tend to be syncretic. This means they are open to blending, mixing and matching, and picking and choosing. Roman religion was like this prior to Christianity and is probably the best example I can think of in terms of western syncretism. In short, while for some people Buddhism and Shintō may have been diametrically opposed to one another in many ways; for the most part both can accommodate each other. Indeed, until a Meiji Era imperial decree separating Buddhism and Shintō[ix], the two faiths were essentially in bed together. Other faiths like 庚申 Kōshin[x] flourished in conjunction with Buddhism and Shintō. It was all one spiritual tapestry. A Buddhist founding a Shintō shrine was nothing out of the ordinary.

2 diagrams of typical Kōshin statues

2 diagrams of typical Kōshin statues. The Kōshin faith is neither Shintō nor Buddhist, but rather Taoist.

But Back To Ushima

Jikaku Daishi set about founding a shrine on the east bank of the Sumida River in the Ushima area. The name of the original shrine was 牛御前社 Ushi Gozen-sha[xi]. It was built sometime between 859 and 879[xii]. Keep in mind, this all went down in the 800’s. If the Tokugawa Shōgunate hadn’t been established in the 1600’s, Sensō-ji may have remained the temple with the largest influence in the area until today.

The wishes of the old man that Jikaku Daishi encountered were that the shrine would protect the people on the east bank of the Sumida River. The shrine would become home to the 本所総鎮守 Honjo sō-chinju the tutelary kami of the entire Honjo area. The west bankers had their Sensō-ji but the people on the east bank needed a tutelary kami[xiii], too. The Sumida River even had its own deity[xiv]. So the people who lived in the eastern flood plain needed equal protection from the powerful river god.

Ushi Gozen-sha on the banks of the Sumida River in the Edo Period.

Ushi Gozen-sha on the banks of the Sumida River in the Edo Period.

The Gods of Ushi Gozen-sha

Ushi Gozen-sha didn’t only enshrine one deity. It enshrined 3 specific kami to protect the people of Honjo (present Mukōjima). Let’s take a quick look at these 3 kami.

須佐之男命
Susano’o no Mikoto

a major kami associated with rough seas and summer storms (typhoons)[xv]

天之穂日命
Ame no Hohi no Mikoto[xvi]

a minor kami with close ties to Susano’o no Mikoto[xvii]

貞辰親王命
Sadatoki Shin’ō no Mikoto

my understanding is that this is the kami of an imperial prince whose death coincided with the construction of the shrine[xviii]

At the beginning of the Edo Period, the 3rd shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu began to patronize the shrine as the Tokugawa family came down to their beautiful palace where the river met the bay. In its time, it must have been a gorgeous villa with a spectacular view of the sea.

Iemitsu called for a secondary shrine to be created. That shrine was called 若宮牛嶋神社 Wakamiya Ushima Jinja Wakamiya Ushima Shrine[xix]. It is a 20 minute walk from Ushima Shrine to Wakamiya Ushima Shrine. During the shrines’ festival on 9/15, the kami is carried in a 神輿 mikoshi portable shrine from Ushima Shrine in Mukōjima to Wakamiya Ushima Shrine in Honjo.

This is roughly the route from Ushima Shrine to Wakamiya Ushima Shrine.

This is roughly the route from Ushima Shrine to Wakamiya Ushima Shrine.

Sadly, both shrines were completely destroyed in the 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923. For some reason, the main shrine was relocated and rebuilt a little bit south at its present location[xx]. In the Meiji Period, the rank of the shrine was officially demoted by the government to the status of 郷社 gōsha village shrine[xxi]. Like many shrines and temples that didn’t fully recover after the earfquake and/or WWII, Ushijima Shrine is clearly a shadow of its former glory. But it’s not as dismal as, say, Shiogama Shrine, and its summer festival still draws substantial crowds.

This monument marks the former location of the shrine.

This monument marks the former location of the shrine.

As for the place name, Ushima has all but vanished from Tōkyō’s civil administration and postal code system. Mukōjima and Honjo have superseded officially. But today the shrine sits in the shade enjoying its quiet solitude. It eschews the modern writing, 牛島 Ushima, for the pre-Modern writing, 牛嶋 Ushima. While the city has moved on and Sensō-ji has grown in fame and Tōkyō Skytree has become yet another symbol of a city replete with symbols, Ushima Shrine proudly holds on to its former glory as the protector of the people on the east bank of the Sumida River.If you’re interested further reading, I have related articles:

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[i] Could be “ox” island, too. The Japanese is ambiguous.
[ii] The name 浅草 Asakusa is without a doubt much older than 浅草寺 Sensō-ji Sensō Temple (literally, Asakusa Temple). See my article on Asakusa.
[iii] This is why the 隅田川御殿 Sumida-gawa Goten Sumida River Palace was built by the shōguns here – they had plenty of space for private villa.
[iv] And presumably later, too.
[v] Because syllables are hard.
[vi] Depending on what you consider the foundational act. See my article on Asakusa.
[vii] He is best known in Japan by his 諡号 shigō (okurigō) posthumous name, Jikaku Daishi. His name as a monk was 円仁 Ennin.  He was born into the 壬生氏 Mibu-shi Mibu clan of 下野国 Shimozuke no Kuni Shimozuke Province which is modern day 栃木県 Tochigi-ken Tochigi Prefecture. Jikaku Daishi means Great Teacher of Merciful Enlightenment (satori).
[viii] Kami isn’t a word that translates easily into English. The English language has spent most of its life with a Judeo-Christian backdrop, ie; Abrahamic monotheism. If you want to understand more about the concept of kami, here is a good place to start.
[ix] Read more about the policy here.
[x] This is a totally unrelated article, but I talk about the Kōshin faith in my article on Gohongi.
[xi] Another reading is Ushi Gozen-ja. The name means something like “revered shrine in front of the cows.” Unfortunately, I can’t find any information on the etymology of the original shrine name, but the area’s name of Ushima seems to have had much more influence than the name of the shrine.
[xii] The few surviving documents only list the 年号 nengō era name 貞観年間 Jōgan nenkan (859-879). I rarely use nengō on this site, but here’s Wiki’s explanation of them.
[xiii] Tutelary deity/tutelary kami means a deity who looks out for your best interests and protects you.
[xiv] See my article on Suijin.
[xv] Here’s the Wiki on him.
[xvi] Sometimes rendered as Ama no Hohi no Mikoto.
[xvii] Check out the story here.
[xviii] In Japanese they say 胡麻刷り goma suri brown nosing. In this case, the shōgunate was placating the increasingly irrelevant 朝廷 chōtei imperial court in Kyōto.
[xix] 若宮 wakamiya mean “young prince” and often indicates an auxiliary shrine.
[xx] If you walk a bit north, there is a commemorative sign that marks the original location of the shrine.
[xxi] That means, it wasn’t the tutelary kami of the Honjo area – presumably because it was absorbed into the Mukōjima area.

What does Suitengumae mean?

In Japanese History on April 27, 2014 at 5:18 pm

水天宮前
Suitengūmae
(in front of water heaven, more at “in front of Suiten-gū”)

shrine honden

 

This is a reader request, but I think I can answer it quickly – or at least I’ll try.

Firstly, I have to say this. There is no place called Suitengūmae in Tōkyō. This is the name of a Tōkyō Metro train station. The surrounding area may be referred to as Suitengūmae by the locals, but it’s not a postal address. Such is the life of a city dominated by such an expansive and exacting train system.

I’ve never used the train station before, but I have been to the area before. Officially, the area is known as 日本橋蛎殻町 Nihonbashi Kakigara-chō[i]. I don’t think most Tōkyōites know this postal code unless they live or work in the area. However, pretty much everyone will know the origin of this place name… err, I mean, this station name.

 

Subway stations... hehehehe.

Subway stations… hehehehe.

The name is derived from the famous 水天宮 Suiten-gū Suiten Shrine. Saying you visited this shrine is synonymous with saying “I’m pregnant.[ii]” The attraction to this is that 天御中主神 Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is enshrined here. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe she/he is the hermaphroditic creator of the universe in Shintō cosmology[iii]. Anyways, by some Shintō thought, this kami is said to be the first kami. So, the idea of creation is strong, thus the connection to creating babies. There are other kami enshrined here, of course, but the main visitors are expectant mothers and their families who are coming to pray for safe delivery and healthy babies.

Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is one of the most mysterious and elusive kami.

Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is one of the most mysterious and elusive kami.

Looking at the architecture, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a famous picture of the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of  福岡藩 Fukuoka Han Fukuoka Domain which was located in Kasumigaseki. In the picture, the mansion is built on a slope, with a large stone stairway leading up to it. Suiten-gū is built the same way.

Fukuoka Domain's upper residence in Kasumigaseki is considered a masterpiece of Edo Period administrative building style.

Fukuoka Domain’s upper residence in Kasumigaseki is considered a masterpiece of Edo Period administrative building style.

I know this is a coincidence, but imagine my surprise when I learned that this shrine was once located on the grounds of the upper residence of 久留米藩 Kurume Han Kurume Domain in 三田 Mita. Kurume is located in present day Fukuoka Prefecture[iv]. After the Meiji Coup, the Arima Family, lords of Kurume, moved to this area and rebuilt the shrine here. But the connection to Fukuoka goes deeper. 久留米水天宮 Kurume Suiten-gū located in Kurume City is the main shrine of Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami. His/her cult spread from this region and flourished during the Edo Period under the trend towards 国学 kokugaku native learning[v]. According to the Japanese Wikipedia page, there are about 25 Suiten-gū located throughout Japan, 4 of which are located in the Tōkyō Metropolis.

 

Pretty sure it's coincidence, but the architectural relation is uncanny.

Pretty sure it’s coincidence, but the architectural relation is uncanny.

 

On a slightly related note, a visit to Suiten-gū to pray for your safe delivery can always come after a visit to 東京大神宮 Tōkyō Daijingū Tōkyō Grand Shrine. This shrine was built in 1880 as part of the newly established Meiji government’s propaganda campaign to distract people from all things Tokugawa, including temples and shrines[vi]. Anyways, the shrine is known today as the place where single women go in droves to pray for a boyfriend or husband[vii]. Rurōsha has a nice blog entry about Tōkyō Grand Shrine. Check it out.

Oh, I almost forgot. Suiten-gū is part of the 人形町町七福神巡り Ningyō-chō Shichi Fukujin Meguri the Ningyō-chō Pilgrimage of the 7 Gods of Good Luck. As I’ve mentioned before, 7 Fukujin pilgrimages are popular during the New Year’s holiday. Most of the temples and shrines on this pilgrimage are minor, but when you get to Suiten-gū, you’ll find yourself at one of the busiest shrines in the area.

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[i] A name we may have to come back to… in the future.
[ii] I’m not even kidding here. Uploading a picture of the shrine with only the caption “Suiten-gū” onto social media is a common and modest way for Japanese girls to break the news to their friends.
[iii] Again, don’t quote me, but I think some argue that she is an idea imported from China by the 邪馬台国 Yamatai Koku, Japanized, and then spread throughout Japan by the Yamato people. Fukuoka is one of the areas assumed to have been the origin of the Yamato culture (we’ll come back to this in a moment). But if you want to know more about this kami, please read here.
[iv] In the Edo Period, these were autonomous domains ruled by separate families. Today’s Fukuoka Prefecture is a large, modern administrative unit and doesn’t correspond to the former Fukuoka Domain. Case in point, Kurume is now a city located in Fukuoka Prefecture.
[v] Without going into a too much detail, this was a nativist approach to scholarship promoted by people such as 本居宣長 Motoori Norinaga as an alternative to 漢学 kangaku Chinese learning. In the newly established Pax Tokugawa with its restriction on sea travel and trade saw a renewed interested in turning inward and parsing out the “nativist” Japanese narratives from the Chinese classics. The Chinese classics didn’t fall by the wayside, but new passion for Japan’s own contributions to its own culture came to be seen as valuable and was pursued with vigor.
[vi] I think I’ve touched on this a few times. But my most recent allusion to it was in the part about the 10 Shrines of Tōkyō in my article on Hakusan.
[vii] I’ve also been told that it’s one of the best places in Tōkyō to pick up desperate, broken women if you’re into picking up random, lonely chicks at shrines. Hey, this is apparently a thing.

What does Haneda mean?

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on January 24, 2014 at 3:23 am

羽田町
Haneda Machi (Wing Field Town)

Haneda Anamori Inari Shrine in the late Meiji or Taisho Period.

Haneda Anamori Inari Shrine in the late Meiji or Taisho Period.

It may sound familiar. It may look familiar. But you will never find this city on a map of Japan.

That’s because this city doesn’t exist anymore. It was abolished in 1947 when 大森区 Ōmori-ku Ōmori Ward and 蒲田区 Kamata-ku Kamata Ward were merged into present day 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward. 3 humble postal codes are all that remain of this obscure Edo Period fishing village: 羽田 Haneda, 羽田旭町 Haneda Asahi-chō, and 羽田空港 Haneda Kūkō.

In 1818, a major shrine called 穴守稲荷神社 Anamori Inari Jinja Anamori Inari Shrine was built here. There were some other Inari shrines scattered throughout the area and since they came to a grand total of seven, someone got the idea of making a 七福稲荷巡りShichi Fukuinari Meguri Pilgrimage of the 7 Lucky Inari Shrines. At the beginning of the year, I spoke about how common courses for the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck are. Well, I know Inari became an extremely popular kami with the common people during the Edo Period, but this is the only 7 Lucky Inari course that I’ve ever heard of. (Of course, if there are more of these, I’d love to hear about it!)

Anyhoo, the area was just an obscure backwater until…

drumroll

They built an airport here.

Haneda Airport.

Above, I mentioned 3 postal codes; the last one is the airport. And that area takes up the bulk of what was once 羽田町 Haneda Machi Haneda Town. That is to say, the town was more or less bulldozed over and everyone was relocated elsewhere[i].

If you want to read about the history of Haneda Airport – which is actually a pretty interesting story in and of itself[ii]I’ll direct you to the English Wikipedia page which seems pretty thorough in my humble estimation.

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Map of the Haneda Shichi Fuku Inari

Map of the Haneda Shichi Fuku Inari.
Notice the river drawn vertically. That’s the Ebitori River.
Note the river drawn horizontally. That’s the Tama River.
Gonna talk about those again in a minute, mkay?

Ready! Set! Etymologize!

Now let’s talk about where this name came from, which, after all, is pretty much the only reason anyone comes here.

First, I’d like to give a little background. Today, Haneda is part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to the Tōkyō Metropolis. It was never part of Edo. Under the classical administrative system, this was 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province. The area was not a han domain, rather it fell under the direct control of the shōgunate[iii]. Until the 1950’s and 1960’s, the area had been, since time immemorial, a fishing village of little consequence.

Kantō place names start coming into the historical record in a sort of haphazard “abundance” for the first time in the Heian Period – but this particular area was in a dark age of sorts. There doesn’t seem to have been much activity here during the Kamakura Period – which is when we usually start getting solid information on place names in the Kantō area. The next big burst of information usually comes with the ascendancy of the Late Hōjō, but alas, this area gets skipped over (except for a passing reference which I’ll get to in a minute).

It’s not until the Tokugawa Period when we get any sort of reliable information on the area. Up to this point the area is more or less recognized as 羽田村 Haneda Mura Haneda Village. With the creation of 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō Prefecture in the late 1860’s came the arrival of modern census-taking, modern map making, and – thankfully – modern record keeping.

But before that time in this area, we’re probably looking at a place name that went through a number of changes. The phonemes themselves could have changed, the kanji representing the phonemes could have changed, and such willy-nilly kanji-use could have been replaced by other kanji later – also willy-nilly. So, yes, once again, take everything, and I mean, everything, with a grain of salt.


hane
feather

da
field
Japanese Flight Attendants at Haneda Airport in the 60's.

JAL Flight Attendants at Haneda Airport in the 60’s.

So, here we go!

Theory 1
“Haneda” is a reference to where the inlets of the Pacific Ocean met the Tamagawa River.
The idea was that はね met :

跳ね
hane
muddy splash
撥ね
hane
(water) brushing up against (against the shore)

ta/da
Fields (ie; the land being splashed upon or brushed upon)

This actually seems to be one of the most popular theories. The first kanji is rarely used in Modern Japanese place names[iv]. The second kanji is plain rarely used. Let’s file this under “not so crazy, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

This torii marks the original location of Haneda Anamori Shrine (the shrine was removed to make room for the airport). You can see the Tama River in the background.

This torii marks the original location of Haneda Anamori Shrine (the shrine was removed to make room for the airport). You can see the Tama River in the background.

Theory 2

The area was famous for 半田 handa solder (heating up metals to melting point and fusing them). I couldn’t find many references to this business in the area, so who knows.

The story goes that in the old Kantō dialects, はんだ handa solder/pewter was pronounced はねだ haneda. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure the kanji 半田 are ateji[v]. So, if this etymology is true, it’s referencing a very ancient Japanese word and any kanji attached to it were added post hoc. Let’s file this under “adventures in ateji.”

I've got no pictures for this theory. But, hey, here's a picture of a cloud that looks like a dick.

I’ve got no pictures for this theory.
But, hey, here’s a picture of a cloud that looks like a dick.

Theory 3

OK, this is a kind of a stretch, because I probably can’t provide you with a visual for this, but, when viewed from the sea, the 海老取川 Ebigtori-gawa Ebitori River[vi] was split in two by the fields (). The fishermen said it had a shape that looked like a bird with its hane wings spread as if about to take flight. Let’s file this under “unlikely.”

Aerial shot of Haneda Airport. The bulk of the current airport is built on landfill that didn't exist during the Edo Period so there's no way to confirm this theory now.  I'm too lazy to pull out an old map because this theory sounds like BS. But from the air, you can see how various inlets split off into new rivers. I guess that could look like a bird's wings. Just not sure how you'd see it from a boat.

Aerial shot of Haneda Airport.
The bulk of the current airport is built on landfill that didn’t exist during the Edo Period so there’s no way to confirm this theory now.
I’m too lazy to pull out an old map because this theory sounds like BS.
But from the air, you can see how various inlets split off into new rivers.
I guess that could look like a bird’s wings. Just not sure how you’d see it from a boat.

Theory 4

This one is a total déjà vu, but it’s Totally Tōkyō®. First, let’s compare Akabane and Akabanebashi to this one. It’s said that the area was famous for its hani clay (for pottery, etc). In the local dialect, はに hani was pronounced はね hane. Completely plausible and consistent with other place name origins in the region. Let’s file this under “my preferred theory.”

"Haniwa" (the "hani" means "read clay") are ancient pottery or modern pottery done in the ancient style made of, yup, red clay.

“Haniwa” (the “hani” means “clay”) are ancient pottery or modern pottery done in the ancient style made of, yup, red clay.

Theory 5

The final one isn’t really a theory at all. It’s more of a half-assed observation.

This “theory” states that because fields () were so common in this part of Ebara-gun, many place names in the area included the kanji which means field.

OK, sure. But you can find place names and family names[vii] all over Japan with the kanji in them. And if we wanted to see if there was a particular trend for using that kanji here, we’d need to do some heavy statistical research that just sounds waaaaaaay too boring to me. Not to mention, this theory doesn’t say anything about the first part of the name. Let’s file this under, “not thought out very well.”

At ease, soldier.

The Mac Daddy himself.
“At ease, soldier.”
Haneda airport’s first real expansion effort was begun by the Supreme Allied Command during the American Occupation of Japan.

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[i] Of course, this didn’t all happen at once. The original airfield was a modest fraction of what it is today. The bulk of eviction and development was initiated by the Supreme Allied Command under General MacArthur. The Americans didn’t just evict a bunch of people, though. The area had been thoroughly devastated by firebombing and so most of the people were probably happy to get the hell out of the rubble and move to the new Haneda area which was fresh for development.

[ii] Although, its official story begins in 1931, it had become Japan’s major airport by 1938. But even just a quick look at the planes flying in and out and the size of the airfield bares testament to just how technologically unprepared for WWII Japan actually was. Wow.

[iii] If I’m not mistaken – and please correct me if I’m wrong – this was called 天領 ten’ryō and referred to lands that didn’t fall under the control of daimyō, but were nevertheless obviously part of the 天下 tenka the realm. So these lands traditionally fell under direct imperial control, but in the Edo Period they fell under control of the shōgun and his direct retainers. Basically they were worthless fiefs in the boonies. It seems like there were many ways to categorize these types of fiefs, so today a general term 幕府領 bakufu-ryō “shōgunal territory” is used.

[iv] A quick Google search only turned up 6 place names across Japan that use .

[v] The literal meaning is “half a field” which doesn’t mean shit when talking about blacksmithing.

[vi] Interestingly enough, this river’s name means the “the river where we pull up some delicious-ass shrimp.”

[vii] And apparently words (I’m looking at you, 半田 handa solder).

Edo Execution Ground Spectacular!!!

In Edo Execution Ground Spectacular!, Japanese History on July 22, 2013 at 6:59 am

江戸の大三死刑所
The Three Great Execution Grounds of Edo

Burning at the stake. Capital punishment for arsonists.

Burning at the stake.
Capital punishment for arsonists.

The first time I visited Tōkyō, I heard about a place where the rent was cheap because it used to be an execution ground. The locals called it a 心霊スポット shinrei supotto haunted place. It was a place so haunted that people still brought new flowers ever day to appease the angry spirits. This place was 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds.

As soon as I heard this, I wanted to visit! Later I read a book by Romulus Hillsborough that briefly touched on the subject. Since that time, I’ve been fascinated with the 3 great execution grounds of Edo.

At the time, about 8 years ago, there was nothing on the internet about these places, especially in English. Since that time, a lot more has come to be written about these facilities – some for better and some for worse. There have also been some new developments in some of the areas – particularly in the field of archaeology.

Witnesses observing a crucifixion. Note the two guys with halberds, they are delivering the coup de grace by simultaneously slitting the condemned's throat.

Witnesses observing a crucifixion.
Note the two guys with halberds, they are delivering the coup de grace by simultaneously slitting the condemned’s throat.

Japanese Name

English Name

Status

  鈴ヶ森

Suzugamori

The killing floor is extant. The area is well maintained by the nearby temple and neighbors. Well and some post holes are extant.

 小塚

  Kozukappara

Cemetery is extant. The symbolic Buddha statue collapsed in the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. One of the executioner’s swords is owned by the nearby temple.

伝馬町

 Denma-chō

The killing floor is commemorated on the grounds of a temple, some foundations and sewage pipes still exist.

What can we say about these places?

Well, first of all, they were on the outskirts of town. Suzugamori was in Shinagawa – waaaay outside of the center of the city and basically on the bay. Kozukappara was in Minami-Senju, while outside of the city, it was near one of the access points to the city. Denma-chō was the closest to the center of Edo, its legal standing within the old city is debatable.

In accordance to Shintō practice, to keep the city of Edo “ritually pure,” “unclean activities” such as butchery, leatherworking, and executions had to be done outside of the city limits. Prisons and execution grounds were laid out according to the principles of 風水 fū-sui feng-shui having entrances and exits[i] placed in auspicious directions to keep the dark activities within from “leaking out” and “defiling” the city.

Each of these areas was located near a major artery. Suzugamori was near the Tōkaidō. Kozukappara was near the Nikkō Kaidō, Ōshū Kaidō and Mito Kaidō. Kodenma-chō was near Nihonbashi, which was the hub of Japan. This sent a strong and clear message to those coming in and out of the shōgun’s capital that the shōgunate held the power of life/death. As you entered the shōgun’s city and as you left it, you would be reminded of his absolute power.

Heads were generally put on display along main street that passed by the execution grounds. "don't do it again!"

Heads were generally put on display
along main street that passed by the execution grounds.
“Don’t do it again!”

And lastly, the point most Japanese don’t want to bring up is that because pre-modern Japan had a caste system, these areas have been and still are associated with the 穢多 etauntouchables[ii].” These were families who fell outside of the samurai-famer-artisan-merchant class system. They could only work as butchers, executioners, leather workers, and disposers of corpses, etc… These 3 areas bore a heavy stigma because of their association with prisoners, killings, and the eta class. Rent in these areas is said to be cheap. Schools in these areas are said to be bad. People who live here are said to be cursed.

Well, at least in the old days. Tōkyō doesn’t really have a problem with this anymore – I’ve heard that issues with “untouchable” families continue to persist in Ōsaka and some other parts of Japan. In Tōkyō, half of the population is from somewhere else. People can’t be arsed to worry about your ancestry unless you have a bad as name like Tokugawa or Matsudaira. So I think most of the “stigma” of these areas is exaggerated today. However, when you visit these places, Kozukappara, in particular, you’ll notice that there’s something off about these places. They’re not vibrant places. They’re not affluent places. They’re places that you’d probably need a good reason to even go to. Some are downright inconvenient.

Executions were carried out by untouchables. The lead executioner was an untouchable given samurai status and certain legal rights by the shōgunate. The position and the family name were hereditary. The most famous executioner was the hereditary 様斬 tameshigiri sword tester of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family, whose first and second name was hereditary[iii].

Execution by cutting the condemned's abdomen, separating top and bottom. (I feel bad for whoever has to clean up after this...)

Execution by cutting the condemned’s abdomen, separating top and bottom.
(I feel bad for whoever has to clean up after this…)

A vast array of techniques existed for dispatching criminals. But the main technique was beheading. In special cases for samurai of distinction, 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment was allowed. Torture was commonplace. Corpses and heads were generally put on display outside of the facilities as a reminder to passersby that you don’t fuck with the shōgun. Conditions within the facilities seem to have been pretty bad. Disease was rampant and inmates often killed other inmates for petty transgressions such as snoring too loudly or receiving too many gifts from a wife or family. Generally speaking, there was no shaving or bathing. Public latrines were filthy breeding grounds for bacteria and stink. You get the picture. Unpleasantness all around – some of which may still linger today.

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I’m going to say right now, this isn’t going to be pretty. I refrained from putting anything too graphic in this first article. But in the next three articles some pictures will be more grotesque than I have included before. If you’re squeamish about cadavers, dismembered heads and whatnot, you might want to wait until the series is over. That said, I’m not going to go crazy with death and gore pictures. I don’t like it either. But for illustrating certain points, it may be necessary. So I just want to give everyone a heads up. OK?

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Anyhoo, the next 3 installments of JapanThis will be my Edo Execution Ground Spectacular. Get ready to strap it on and feel the G’s, baby.

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EDIT: Here’s a cool link that Rekishi no Tabi shared with me. It’s an online version of The Pictorial Book on the Penal Affairs of the Tokugawa Government, a Meiji Era document. I think it will compliment this series nicely.

EDIT: http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/beato_people/fb2_essay01.html
Loads of bad ass-ness from MIT.

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[i] The “exit” of the execution ground being the place where the corpses were taken out for disposal or exposure.

[ii] The word eta is extremely taboo now. The “preferred” term is burakumin. But burakumin is seen as more of a problem of western Japan, not the modern eastern capital. But that said, even today in international, cosmopolitan Tōkyō, there are some remnants of this legacy of discrimination. It’s really pretty fucked up. Check out the article on Wikipedia if you want to know more about this shitty discrimination.

[iii] ie; each generation’s male head of the household had the same name.

Tokugawa Funerary Temples

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on May 27, 2013 at 12:33 am

Welcome to my New Series!

(update: sorry about the footnotes. when you click nothing happens. but if you scroll to the bottom of the article you can manually find the footnotes.)

The Tokugawa family crest - one of the most easily identifiable logos in the country.

The Tokugawa family crest – one of the most easily identifiable logos in the country.

There are two Tokugawa funerary temple complexes in Edo/Tōkyō and a third extra-ordinary[i] funerary temple complex in Nikkō. The clan had many branches and relatives and so there are others, but for this series’ purpose, we’re talking about the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa shōgun-ke, the male heads of the Tokugawa line established by the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

In the early Edo Period, two temple construction projects were started by the shōgunate which built major temple precincts in the north-east corner of Edo (Kan’ei-ji) and south-west corner of Edo (Zōjō-ji). The locations were determined by 風水 fū sui feng shui and conformed to standards of urban planning of the time. Feng shui says these directions are inauspicious and so temples are often built facing these directions to keep the bad influences from coming in. Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji served the duel purposes of protecting Edo Castle and thereby protecting the city of Edo. By enshrining the shōguns here, the Tokugawa could be thought to have been waging a spiritual battle against evil to protect the citizens of Edo even in death. All of the shōguns except for Ieyasu and Iemitsu are interred in these two precincts.

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鬼門

ki-mon

demon-gate

northeastern direction, unlucky

Kan’ei-ji,
Ueno

裏鬼門

ura ki-mon

under demon-gate

southwestern direction, unlucky

Zōjō-ji,
Shiba

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In Japanese, this kind of temple is called 菩提寺 bodai-ji (family temple, literally Bodhi temple). Bodhi is a Buddhist term for “awakening” – the idea being that upon death, a person awakens to “enlightenment.”

Very little remains of Kan'ei-ji which became Ueno Park .

The main temple of Kan’eiji.
All of these buildings were destroyed in the Battle of Ueno (1868).
Later the area was turned into Ueno Park.

Shiba Daimon - The Great Gate of Shiba. The gate is still standing. But if you want to match the shots from the Edo Era, you'll probably get hit by a car.

Shiba Daimon – The Great Gate of Shiba.
The gate is still standing.
But if you want to match the shots from the Edo Era, you’ll probably get hit by a car.

A few more things about funerary temples

Each shōgun was given an 諡号 okurigō a Buddhist posthumous name. I don’t know a lot about Buddhism, but it seems like there are two kinds of Buddhist posthumous names, 戒名 kaimyō and 諡号 okurigō. The Emperor bestowed a name upon each shōgun upon his death. A kaimyō is pretty long[ii]. The okurigō is shorter. In the Tokugawa cases – as it ends in 院 in temple – this name could also double as a temple name. Each Tokugawa mausoleum was effectively a sub-temple of the main 菩提寺 bodai-ji family temple in which precinct it was built. The main gate to each mausoleum is called 勅額門 chokugaku mon imperial scroll gate. These gates would feature a plaque (chokugaku) supposedly hand written by the emperor (then embellished by artisans) which announced the name of the funerary temple.

Just to add to the confusion, there’s another classification of these posthumous names; 院号 ingō an ‘-in’ name[iii].

The Ueno Daibutsu. Usually when people think of "Big Buddhas," they think of Nara and Kamakura. Well, Edo had one, too. The head fell off in the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923). The face is still on display in Ueno Park. Most Tokyoites have never heard of it.

The Ueno Daibutsu. Usually when people think of “Big Buddhas,” they think of Nara and Kamakura. Well, Edo had one, too. The head fell off in the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923). The face is still on display in Ueno Park. Most Tokyoites have never heard of it.

Each Tokugawa mausoleum was an architectural gem compared to other graves of the time. These bodai-ji were sites of pilgrimages and veneration by commoner and daimyō alike. The mausolea of Ieyasu and Iemitsu in Nikkō were artistic wonders of their day as well as centers for Buddhist teaching.

For me, the most frustrating this about finding Tokugawa graves is that most of these structures in Edo/Tōkyō were wiped off the face of the earth during the firebombing of Tōkyō during WWII. Most of the blame lands on the Americans, but not all of it. The Japanese themselves destroyed much of Kan’ei-ji in the 上野戦争 Ueno Sensō the Battle of Ueno (literally the Ueno War), when the last pockets of hatamoto resistance made a stand against the new Meiji Army. Unfortunately for us, the samurai chose this symbolic Tokugawa stronghold as the place to make their last stand which ultimately resulted most of the temple complex being burnt to the ground. Most of the Tokugawa graves were spared, only to be destroyed in WWII.

The Kuromon - "Black Gate" of Kan'ei-ji. Imperial forces routed the shogitai (holed up in the temple precincts). The imperial army entered the area through this gate with fast breech-loading rifles and cannon. The shogitai were armed with swords and traditional weapons. This gate and the other structures that survived the Battle of Ueno are riddled with bullet holes that you can still see today -- even in this photograph!

The Kuromon – “Black Gate” of Kan’ei-ji. Imperial forces routed the shogitai (holed up in the temple precincts). The imperial army entered the area through this gate with fast breech-loading rifles and cannon. The shogitai were armed with swords and traditional weapons. This gate and the other structures that survived the Battle of Ueno are riddled with bullet holes that you can still see today — even in this photograph!

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Where were the 15 Tokugawa Shōguns interred? 

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Shōgun

Okurigō

Mausoleum

Condition
of Mausoleum

Now where are the remains?

1

Tokugawa Ieyasu

東照大権現Tōshō
Dai-Gongen

法号安国院Hōgō Onkokuin

Tōshō-gū
[iv], Kunōzan

Tōshō-gū, Nikkō

Excellent Condition

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Excellent Condition

Tōshō-gū,
Nikkō

2

Tokugawa Hidetada

台徳院
Daitokuin

Daitokuin, Zōjō-ji

Destroyed,

imperial scroll gate has been restored

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji[v]

3

Tokugawa Iemitsu

大猷院
Taiyūin

Taiyūin ,
Nikkō

Excellent
Condition

Taiyūin,
Nikkō
(now a sub-temple of Rin’nō-ji)

4

Tokugawa Ietsuna

厳有院
Genyūin

Genyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

Destroyed,

only the imperial scroll gate remains

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji[vi]

5

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

常憲院
Eikyūin

Eikyūin, Kan’ei-ji

Partially preserved
(usually closed to the public, but the scroll gate is usually accessible)

Eikyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

6

Tokugawa Ienobu

文昭院
Bunshōin

Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji

Destroyed

the 中門 nakamon gate remains and marks the entrance to the Tokugawa Cemetery

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

7

Tokugawa Ietsugu

有章院
Yūshōin

Zōjō-ji

Destroyed,

only the gate remains

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

8

Tokugawa Yoshimune

有徳院
Yūtokuin

Enshrined at Eikyūin as an austerity measure

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

9

Tokugawa Ieshige

惇信院
Junshin’in

Yūshōin,
Zōjō-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

10

Tokugawa Ieharu

浚明院
Shunmyōin

Genyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

11

Tokugawa
Ienari

文恭院
Bunkyouin

Genyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

12

Tokugawa Ieyoshi

慎徳院
Shintokuin

Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

13

Tokugawa Iesada

温恭院
Onkyōin

Eikyūin,
Kan’ei-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Kan’ei-ji

14

Tokugawa Iemochi

昭明院
Shōmyōin

Shōmyōin,
Zōjō-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,
Zōjō-ji

15

Tokugawa Yoshinobu

Buried according to State Shintō, no okurigō.

Yanaka
Cemetery

Excellent
Condition

no mausoleum
[vii]

Yanaka
Cemetary

UPDATE: If click the links in the “Where are they located today” column, it will take you my article on their original mausolea and the condition thereof.

Zojoji's main temple as it looks today.  At dusk. Bad ass.

Zojoji’s main temple as it looks today.
At dusk.
Bad ass.

There’s a lot more to say about these places.

But first I want to explain a few points about my chart. When I first came to Japan, the Tokugawa Cemetery in Zōjō-ji was off limits except for during the cherry blossom season. In 2011, NHK ran a Taiga Drama series called based on the life of Tokugawa Hidetada’s wife (a daughter of Oda Nobunaga). Since 2011, Zōjō-ji has kept the Tokugawa Cemetery open.

Kan’ei-ji has been a bit douchey about not letting visitors in. In 2008, NHK ran a drama called Atsu-hime based on the life of the wife of Tokugawa Iesada. She was buried next to Iesada in Eikyōin. The temple didn’t open the Tokugawa graveyard to the public, but instead opted to put a plaque in front of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s imperial scroll gate that said she was buried inside. I’ve heard that once a year, the area is open to the public, but I have never had a chance to go inside myself.

Off Limits.  No shogun graves for you, biaaaatch.

Off Limits.
No shogun graves for you, biaaaatch.

Tokugawa Ieyasu & Tōshō-gū

An entire book could probably be written on this subject (and I’m sure there has been in Japanese), but I’m trying to be as concise as I can. That said, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Iemitsu’s graves are in the extra-ordinary locations. I want to talk about why these two guys are separate from the rest of the family.

Ieyasu died in retirement while keeping an eye on Hidetada, the second shogun[viii]. In his lifetime, the third shōgun, Iemitsu came into adulthood. At first, Ieyasu was interred at Kunōzan near his retirement castle in Sunpu. On the one year anniversary of Ieyasu’s death, Hidetada transported his remains to a new mortuary at Nikkō. The third generation shōgun, Iemitsu, who idolized Ieyasu, expanded the Nikkō site. The 4th shōgun, Ietsuna, expanded the site one more time to include enshrine Iemitsu next to his grandfather.

Along with sankin-kōtai, daimyō were expected to contribute financially to the construction of Ieyasu’s shrine, called 東照宮 Tōshō-gū (something like “Illustrious Eastern Prince”). The shōgunate conducted mandatory processions to the shrine via the Nikkō Highway. Since these processions could be quite taxing on the smaller domains, various Tōshō-gū were established to save travel costs. For example, both funerary temples in Edo had (and still have) Tōshō-gū. In Ueno Park, you can find Ueno Tōshō-gū and in Shiba Park, you can find Shiba Tōshō-gū. I’ve even seen portable Tōshō-gū in Hino! Basically, Tōshō-gū are located throughout the country[ix].

The first shrine I fell in love with. The beginning of my love affair with Japanese history. Ueno Toshogu. It's in terrible shape today, but I reckon that's what it looked like for most of the late Edo Period.

The first shrine I fell in love with.
The beginning of my love affair with Japanese history.
Ueno Toshogu. 

Since there were 15 Tokugawa shōguns, I will be writing 15 separate descriptions of each mausoleum.  Even though most of these sites have been destroyed, I think visiting them is still well worth the time. When I first became interested in Japanese History, I wished there had been some easy resource to answer all my questions about these places in English. Now 10 years later, there still ain’t shit written on the subject. So I’m just gonna go ahead and do it myself. I hope you enjoy this 16 part series. Yoroshiku o-negai shimasu.

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One depressing indicator of how bad things are at Kan'ei-ji... Most of the stone lanterns and other stone debris that survived isn't kept at Kan'ei-ji. It's all stored in Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture. WTF&SMH.

One depressing indicator of how bad things are at Kan’ei-ji…
Most of the stone lanterns and other stone debris from Tokugawa Ieharu’s grave that survived isn’t kept at Kan’ei-ji. It’s all stored in Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture. WTF&SMH.

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[i] Extra-ordinary is not the same as extraordinary. For the record, extraordinary means “remarkable, great, noteworthy.” Extra-ordinary is a religious term and means “a deviation from the normal system, an exception to the rule.“

[ii] Kaimyō are long. Ieyasu’s kaimyō was 東照大権現安国院殿徳蓮社崇譽道和大居士 (with an alternate 安国院殿徳蓮社崇誉道和大居士 (I’m not going to attempt to transcribe those, sorry). His okurigō is 東照大権現, his mausoleum is 東照宮.

[iii] More about ingō later, but I think you’ll see the distinction is quite clear by the end of this article.

[iv] The other shōguns have ingō, names ending in in. Ieyasu’s shrines end in . This character implies that the person enshrined is a member of the imperial family. It can also mean just “shrine” but a connection to the imperial family might still be implied by the average person. However, Ieyasu did have an ingō. It is listed in the chart: Hōgō Onkokuin.

[v] The mausolea in Shiba were destroyed, but the metal and stone graves that housed the physical remains were consolidated into one area at Zōjō-ji, now called 徳川将軍家墓所 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Bōsho Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery. For many years this area was not open to the general public, but after the Taiga Drama it has remained open. There’s a permanent-looking ticket box now, so I think they plan to keep it open for a while.

[vi] I’m under the impression that the metal and stone 2-story pagoda style graves that housed the physical remains in Ueno were moved and consolidated in the former grounds of Tsunayoshi’s grave for convenience’s sake. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm this because this cemetery is generally not open to the public. But the area is now called 徳川将軍家墓所 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Bōsho Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery.

[vii] Yoshinobu, the last shōgun, lived his life in a kind of voluntary exile from public life after abdicating from the position of shōgun. He is buried with his wife in a Shintō grave typical of that era in Yanaka cemetery. There are other Tokugawas relatives interred at Yanaka, but for whatever reason, Yoshinobu was not included among the other shōguns. I’m still researching to find out why, but one source I found suggested that because he was from Mito, which was famous for its loyalty to the Emperor mixed with the rise of State Shintō, he opted for a Shintō style interment.

[viii] It’s said that Ieyasu was disappointed with Hidetada. Hidetada supposedly married for love (a sign of weakness in Ieyasu’s eyes) and he arrived late to the Battle of Sekigahara (utterly unacceptable). But because of Hidetada’s age, Ieyasu was forced to keep him around to establish a stable dynasty. The next youngest son would have become a puppet.

[ix] Wikipedia claims that there were 500 Tōshō-gū in the Edo Period and that there are about 130 now. I’ll buy that for a dollar.

What does Monzen-nakacho mean?

In Japanese History on May 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm

門前仲町
Monzen Nakachō (semi-nonsensical, but something like “town in front of a temple/shrine”)

Cherry blossoms along the river in Monzen-Nakachoad.

Cherry blossoms along the river in Monzen-Nakachoad.

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This is a very special post because…
THIS IS MY 100th POST ON JAPAN THIS!

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Today’s Tōkyō place name is a request from my lovely wife. Since she tolerates, and sometimes even encourages, my history geekiness… I couldn’t say no.

In the Edo Period (1624 to be specific), a temple named 永代寺 Eitai-ji was established in the area. Shops and commoner residences formed around the temple, as was normal at the time. Such a town is called a 門前町 monzenchō, literally “town at the gate front,” referring to the gates that mark the entrances of temples. The area was referred to as 永代寺門前仲町 Eitai-ji Monzen-nakachō. There is no documented reason as to why the character  is inserted into the name seemingly at random. However, the general consensus seems to be that it meant something like 門前町之中心 monzenchō no chūshin “the center of the monzenchō.”

You’d think the story ends here, but you’d be wrong.

Eitaiji

Eitaiji

In 1627, a shrine dedicated to the Shintō god of war, 八幡 Hachiman, was built here. This was the tutelary deity of the Minamoto clan and of samurai in general*. The shrine fell under the management of Eitai-ji. In Japan’s syncretic religious tradition, Shintō and Buddhism were often mixed, so there was actually nothing weird about a temple controlling a shrine – and vice versa. The name of this shrine was 富岡八幡宮 Tomioka Hachimangū.

Beginning in the 1680’s, fund raising sumō events began to be held here and so it is considered the birthplace of sumō. Certain sumō ceremonies are still traditionally performed here today.

You’d think the story ends here, but you’d still be wrong.

Tomioka Hachimangu

Tomioka Hachimangu – the shrine’s matsuri is one of the most famous in Tokyo.

When governmental power was handed to the emperor, a decree called 神仏分離令 Shinbutsu Bunrirei the Shinto & Buddhism Separation Ordinance was issued. The emperor’s claim to legitimacy had always been based on Shintōism. Whereas, somewhere down the line Buddhism had become inextricably connected to the warrior class. In reality, the two religious systems had amalgamated, but the imperial court sought to purify Shintō, which claimed the emperor as the literal Son of Heaven. The aftershocks of the edict were far reaching, but for our story, luckily, they are simple.

Simply put, the Meiji government was cool with Shintō shrines and not so cool with Buddhist temples. As a result, they abolished Eitai-ji thereby releasing Tomioka Hachimangū from its oversight. The temple was torn down and the town’s name changed from 永代寺門前仲町 Eitai-ji Monzen-nakachō to 富岡八幡宮門前仲町 Tomioka Monzen-nakachō.

In the change from Edo to Tōkyō, Tomioka Hachimangū had lost its sumō patronage of shōgunate, but the Meiji government found it useful to promote it as a Shintō sport and so the sport became even more closely related to Japan than it had ever been before. The shrine’s importance continues to this day.

The shrine was destroyed in the firebombing of WWII. In 1967 a subway station for the Tōzai Line was built in the area. The name 門前仲町 Monzen-nakachō was chosen for brevity and because of a general trend towards secularization since the end of State Shintō.  In 1969, the town’s name was also officially shortened to Monzen-nakachō.

You’d think the story ends here, but you’d still be wrong… again.

Why is Eitai-ji still on this Google Map?

Eitai-ji was a sprawling temple which included most of the land from Fukagawa Fudōson to Fukagawa Park to Tomioka Hachimangū. Then it got shut down. So….. why is it still on this Google Map?

So whatever happened to Eitai-ji, the temple that originally gave birth to the area?

Well, about 30 years after it was shut down (1896 to be exact), a sub-temple called 吉祥院 Kichijō’in that had been allowed to continue assumed the name of its previous benefactor and became the Eitai-ji that now exists in the area. The 2nd picture above (the temple), is the modern Eitai-ji.

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* One of the first shrines that visitors to Kamakura visit is usually 鶴岡八幡宮 Tsuru-ga-oka Hachimangū. As Tokugawa Ieyasu, somehow creatively, claimed descent from the Minamoto and as Hachiman was an important kami for samurai, the shōgunate showed favor towards the Hachiman shrines in general, including the one we’re discussing today.

BTW, Hachiman is not actually “the god of war” in the sense that Mars was the Roman god of war. He is actually the deified (“kami-fied,” if I may use the term) Emperor Ōjin who is also revered by Buddhists as an enlightened soul. If you remember waaaaaaaay back when I wrote about the origin of the name Shibuya, I mentioned a tutelary shrine in Shibuya Castle. That shrine was also a Hachimangū. If you’re interested, you might wanna click that link and check it out again.

What does Shakujii mean?

In Japanese History on May 9, 2013 at 12:46 am

石神井
Shakujii (Spirit-Stone Well)

Shakujii Park

Shakujii Park

Today’s place name is another reader request. The kanji are pretty interesting and the history of the area ties into a theme that will come up often later. I wanted to hold off on opening this can of worms, but it’s a reader request. I can’t say no.

The word is made of three kanji:

石 ishi stone
神 kami god/spirit
井 i well

In Shintō, there are an infinite number of 神 kami (some people translate as “gods” some as “spirits”). You can find kami in lakes and trees and forests and waterfalls. Some kami – apparently – love stones.  石神 ishigami spirit stones are curiously shaped stones that people said were homes of (or just related items of) particular kami.

Back in the day some villagers were digging a hole to make a well. While they were digging they found an interesting looking stone rod in the ground. Since no one had ever seen a rod shaped rock before, they decided it might be a good idea to start worshiping it. Cuz, you know… it’s a weird shaped stone.

Anyhoo, they named the well 石神井戸 Shakujin’i Spirit-Stone Well.

But, wait, you say, “shakujin” doesn’t sound anything like “ishigami.” Ishigami is the native Japanese reading of the kanji (kun’yomi), shakujin is the Classical Chinese reading (on’yomi). And how about that missing “n” sound? Well, the final /-n/ sound is weaker than our English /n/ – in fact, in some ways it’s closer to a vowel than a consonant, so it’s easily dropped in situations where it’s difficult to pronounce. There are also cases where the sound is missing in dialectal variations of some words.

I don’t know if the ishigami is still there or not, but it was enshrined at 石神井神社 Shakujii Jinja Shakujii Shrine located in 石神井公園 Shakujii Kōen Shakujii Park in Nerima Ward. If you go there, maybe you can ask where the stone is. In the park there is a lake called 三宝寺池 Sanpō-dera Ike Sanpō Temple Lake. The local people of the area believed that the Shakuji Well eventually became that lake.

Shakujii Castle, Nerima

You call that a castle??!

Another interesting fact is that the Toshima clan had a castle here. The Park grounds are actually the remains of 石神井城 Shakujii-jō Shakujii Castle. None of the castle structures exist, but some of the defensive walls and moats can still be seen. The castle was abandoned in 1477, after Ōta Dōkan defeated the shit out of Toshima Yasutsune and the Toshima clan fell. Remember this clan name because we’re going to talk about this family again tomorrow.

Oh, I almost forgot. Just to put things into chronological perspective. The name of the area was first recorded in the Heian Period. This means that the story of the ishigami and building of the well and the shrine was probably a well-established legend in the area. So this place name is old. The etymology seems legit and we’re lucky to have such an old pre-Edo Period place name with such a well preserved history. The Toshima Clan who ruled much of the area that is now Tōkyō and Chiba managed their holdings from Hiratsuka Castle in the Kita Ward, but main castle of the clan was Shakujii Castle. As a clan, they were active from the Kamakura Period until the Muromachi Period when Ōta Dōkan smote them like little bitches. Place names all over Tōkyō derive from the clan and their retainers. Even the name Edo derives from a vassal of the Toshima… but more about that later.

Oh, and one more thing.

This dude has a photo blog of the Shakujii Castle ruins and some models and maps.
This other dude has some CGI reconstructions of Shakujii Castle on his blog.

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