marky star

Posts Tagged ‘shogun’

What does Anjin-cho mean?

In Japanese History on June 20, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Anjin-chō (Anjin Town)


One of the last remnants of one of Tokyo’s most special places.
The kanji leaves something to be desired, tho…….

In Tōkyō’s Chūō Ward, there is a small alley called 安針通り Anjin Dōri. Until 1932, this neighborhood was called 安針町 Anjin-chō Anjin Town. Some of you probably know exactly where this is going, for those of you who don’t, let’s get started.


In Early Modern Japanese there was a word 按針 anjin, literally “searching needle,” which referred to the process of using a compass. At the time, this was the main way in which ships were navigated and so, by extension, the word was applied not just to ship navigation, but also to ship navigators[i].

If anyone has ever seen the 1980’s American mini-series, Shogun, then they already know this Japanese word. The main character is referred to as Anjin-san and he is an English navigator stranded in Japan who has been pressed into service of the first shōgun, Lord Toranaga. This mini-series was a dramatization of James Clavell’s novel, Shogun, which is based on the life of one William Adams. He was an Englishman, stranded in Japan who was pressed into the service of the first shōgun, Lord Tokugawa.

Am I repeating myself?

John Blackthorne. The English guy who only knows 4-5 Japanese words and only uses them through the whole series.

John Blackthorne.
The English guy who only knows 4-5 Japanese words.

Anyways, he’s so famous in the English speaking world and there are excellent sources available online about him (see the bottom of the page for links).

Sometime after 1610, the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, granted William Adam’s samurai status and made him a 旗本 hatamoto direct retainer of the shōgun family. He granted him a fief in an area called 逸見 Hemi which is located in present day 横須賀 Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture. The area is located in the 三浦半島 Miura Hantō Miura Peninsula. Ieyasu, being a pretty clever guy, thought of a Japanese name for William. 三浦安針 Miura Anjin Anjin of Miura.

But wait, didn’t you say, anjin meant navigator? Yes. But “navigator” isn’t a fucking name in English, is it? Well, it isn’t in Japanese either. Ieyasu changed the kanji from 按針 to 安針. The first kanji changed from “search” (which is never used in names) to “safe/safety” (which is used in names). The official place name changed in the 1930’s, which was before a major reformation of spelling happened. The word 按針 is a title and the word  安針 is a name. As you can see from the street sign at the beginning of this article, the title is used for the street. But any Google search shows that the kanji Ieyasu bestowed upon him was and is still preferred.

OK, so Miura Anjin (aka William Adams) is a white dude samurai receiving a 250 koku a year stipend (an income equivalent to a local magistrate; he supported a village with some 70 or so servants, his Japanese wife and 2 kids, and still managed to send money back to his former family in England). His main residence was at the fief in Kanagawa.

John Blackthorne's, errrrr, Wlliam Adams', errrrr, Miura Anjin's grave.....

John Blackthorne’s, errrrr, Wlliam Adams’, errrrr, Miura Anjin’s grave…..

So why is there a place in Tōkyō named after him?

Well, in those days, there were no cars. So walking from Yokosuka to Edo Castle took a long time[ii]. Before he became a samurai and all, Ieyasu had granted him some property near Nihonbashi. It’s near the castle so he could visit easily (and so the shōgunate could keep an eye on him, no doubt). Also it wasn’t in the daimyō neighborhoods, but the merchant neighborhood as he was originally seen as a sort of tradesperson[iii]. So Anjin kept the house in Edo for when he visited the city.

Because he was a unique dude, and according to the stories we have, he was not only gracious to his Japanese neighbors and servants, but he made every effort to Japanize himself and get along with the Japanese on Japanese terms. This won him great respect from the shōgun and the people around him, while it apparently irritated some of the other foreigners he dealt with who, like the foreigner trash in Roppongi today, refuse to learn about Japan.

So, after he died the area where his estate in Edo came to be known as 安針町 Anjin-chō Anjin Town. In his own lifetime, Anjin (William) saw the slow but steady restriction of maritime travel and trade into and out of Japan. He himself may have been a major factor in the expulsion of the Portuguese and Spanish and the later suspicion of Christianity in general[iv].

Anjin died in Kyūshū, but in Japanese style, he is enshrined in various places. The main grave is considered the one in Yokosuka near the 安針塚駅 Anjinzuka Eki Anjin Burial Mound Station. The story goes he wanted to be buried with a view of Edo as he helped to protect the city with the deified Tokugawa Ieyasu[v]. 浄土寺 Jōdo-ji temple in Yokosuka administers the grave and claims to hold items associated with his family and the grave. They also claim that in the early Edo Era, residents of Anjin-chō donated money and materials for the grave and its upkeep.

This is Anjin Dori

This is Anjin Dori

The site of his Edo residence is commemorated in the place formerly known as Anjin-chō. If you’d like to see it, there is a stone tablet which was set up in 1951. Take the A1 exit of Mitsukoshi-mae Station. It claims this was the site of his home.

Anjin-cho... possibly Anjin Street....

Anjin-cho… possibly Anjin Street….


Almost the same shot, but with some samurai dude haning out next to the pothole..

Almost the same shot,
but with some samurai dude haning out next to the pothole..

William Adam’s (Miura Anjin)’s commemorative plaque today:

click it to read the details. It's in Japanese and English.

Click it to read the details. It’s in Japanese and English.
Note the title is used instead of the name.



Learn About William Adams Here….

Miura Anjin on Samurai Archives:

A Quick Write Up on William Adams:

William Adam’s Grave in Yokosuka:

William Adams on Wikipedia:

John Blackthorne and the Shogun Mini-Series:


Wanna Support My Blog?
Click Here to Donate
Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods


[i] This word is often translated as pilot in its older meaning of a ship’s navigator, which I just find confusing since pilots fly planes these days. Navigation, literally “driving a ship” in Latin, is a much more apt term.

[ii] Hell, taking the local train from Edo Castle to Yokosuka can take up to 2 hours in bad conditions.

[iii] If you don’t know his story, please read the links provided. I’m not going to rehash his entire story.

[iv] All good things, if you ask me.

[v] I don’t buy this story for a minute, but it does play into Japanese sensibilities and myths of the time, so it’s pretty interesting.

What does Akabane mean?

In Japanese History on June 20, 2013 at 6:44 am

Akabane (Red Wings; but more at Red Clay)


Akabane Station.
It’s next to Saitama, so it’s sort of your last chance to be cool and say you live in Tokyo.
It’s also so close to Saitama that it’s kinda uncool by association.
It’s like you’re trying to get your pre-Saitama on.
Preparing to graduate to Saitama[1].

Today’s place name etymology is a pretty interesting one because we will get a sneak peak at the extinct pre-Edo Period dialect of the area. Akabane sits in the northern part of Kita Ward. It’s basically next to Kawakuchi, Saitama. So it’s on the literal outskirts of Tōkyō. Mind you, you won’t see any difference leaving Tōkyō and entering Saitama due to the thorough urban sprawl.

Historically speaking, 赤羽村 Akabane Mura Akabane Village wasn’t a particularly important place, but in the Kamakura Period a highway called 岩槻街道 Iwatsuki Kaidō was built. The road is better known by its Edo Era name, 日光御成街道 Nikkō O-nari Kaidō. As mentioned in my article on Tokugawa Ietsugu’s Mausoleum, 御成 o-nari refers to the presence of the shōgun. As such, this was a private highway for the shōgun family to use when visiting 日光東照宮 Nikkō Tōshō-gū. It was a shortcut that connected the 中仙道 Nakasendō to the 日光街道 Nikkō Kaidō. The road passed through Akabane and there was a rest station 宿場 shukuba at the next town, 岩淵宿 Iwabuchi Shuku Iwabuchi Post Station. That town was pretty important and well known.  Akabane was just another small village in the country.

A Map of the Iwatsuki Kaido as it passes through Akabane and Iwabuchi.

A Map of the Iwatsuki Kaido as it passes through Akabane and Iwabuchi.


OK. So now we have a little historical context for the city. Where does the name come from?

Well, if we strip away the kanji, we can find the origin of the name:

あか aka means red.
はね hane is the old local dialect word for 埴 hani, clay.

Why would anyone look at the dirt? When you considered that Japanese folk craft pottery could use this clay to make red pottery items, it becomes clear why "Red Clay" was a good place name originally. Remember, this place name pre-dates the Edo Period and gets its first mention in the Kamakura Period. This place name is OLD.

Why would anyone look at the dirt?
When you considered that Japanese folk craft pottery could use this clay to make red pottery items,
it becomes clear why “Red Clay” was a good place name originally.
Remember, this place name pre-dates the Edo Period and gets its first mention in the Kamakura Period.
This place name is OLD.

The 荒川 Arakawa River apparently deposited a lot of red colored volcanic ash from Mt. Fuji here. The buildup of this material produced a red slimy, claylike soil that was particular to the area. If an area eroded, the red clay would become exposed. Thus the area was called 赤埴 Akabani Red Clay. But in the local accent the name was pronounced Akabane. Later, as literacy rates improved in the area, the second kanji was changed to actually match the pronunciation. So 羽 hane wings was added, thus obscuring the origins of the place name as 赤羽 Akabane Red Wings[2].

For another sneak peak at the old dialect, we can look at the name of the highway that passed through here. It was called the 岩槻街道 Iwatsuki Kaidō. But place name 岩槻 Iwatsuki was originally written as 岩付 Iwatsuke. Diachronic Japanese linguists and dialectologists use evidence like this to track the development and differentiation of vowel quantities – in particular /e/ and /i/ which traditionally show great instability. So now you know.

Apparently, 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi (Red Wing Bridge) in Shiba (Minato Ward) has the same derivation. Archaeological findings in the postwar years confirmed the existence of medieval kilns and earthenware factories.


Wanna Support My Blog?
Click Here to Donate
Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods


[1] But the most famous pre-Saitama of all is Ikebukuro.

[2] A family name and a place name Akahani still persists elsewhere in Japan and the kanji is consistent with the original writing of the of the name. The writing of Akahani instead of Akabani reflects a conservative pronunciation before the 連濁 rendaku sound changes of the Tōkyō area became the national standard.


In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on June 13, 2013 at 4:59 am

Shintokuin  (Divine Prince of Humility & Virtue)
12th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Ieyoshi

Tokugaa Ieyoshi

He looks like a clown in this picture,
but archaeological research in the 1950’s
confirmed that the dude had a massive forehead.

The 12th shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyoshi, was another one of those boring late Edo Period shōguns. Dude had the pedigree. Dude had the name. Dude had 15 concubines. He would have gone down in history as a dude born at the right time and right place, though totally unworthy of holding the reins of government. He was shōgun from 1837 to 1853. From 1837 to July, 1853 his reign can be described as business as usual. But by the end of that fateful month, he would be dead.

Through no doing of his own, an event happened that threatened to plunge Japan into chaos for centuries or perhaps result in Japan’s subjugation by the same foreign influences that turned “Asia’s Rome[i]” upside down and brought her to her knees.

On July 8th, 1853 an American naval fleet led by Commodore Matthew Perry rolled in to Uraga Bay and demanded that Japan “open up” to trade.

How the Japanese media perceived the "Black Ship Threat"

How the Japanese media perceived the “Black Ship Threat”

Ieyoshi was 60 at the time, ie; he was a fucking living fossil[ii]. And summer in Kantō is hot and ridiculously humid. It’s said that he collapsed from the heat and died.

The Americans returned in spring of the next year (1854) to sign a “treaty” and set up a delegation on foreign soil (predecessor to the American Embassy). But Townsend Harris, first American Ambassador to Japan (1856-1861) who witnessed first-hand the unprecedented xenophobia and violence that marked the beginning of the bakumatsu had supposedly heard rumors that the geriatric shōgun had been cut to death or poisoned by factions within Edo Castle that felt he was unprepared to deal with the “problem of the foreigners.”

Both stories are plausible, the first being a cover up of the latter. The latter being a possible conspiracy theory that sounded all too real during Harris’ stay in Edo. Nobody knows which one is true. My gut instinct goes with the heat stroke theory because old people die all the time in Japan when it gets too hot – but I could totally be wrong.

What the Black Ships really were....

What the Black Ships really were….

Anyways, the summer of the last year of Ieyoshi’s reign marks the beginning of the bakumatsu. To me it’s the most interesting era of Japanese history. Although no one knew it at the time, it marked the beginning of the end of the Tokugawa shōgunate. If the bakufu had wanted to build new mortuary temples again or not, we don’t know. If they didn’t have money in the coffers at this point, there’d never have enough later. And in 10 years, it wouldn’t matter[iii].

When he died he enshrined gōshi style at 文昭院 Bunshōin in Zōjō-ji. Hopefully you remember that Bunshōin was Tokugawa Ienobu’s mausoleum. Except for the metal gate leading to Ienobu’s funerary urn, nothing is left of the site after WWII.

2-story pagoda shaped urn of Tokugawa Ieyoshi

2-story pagoda shaped urn of Tokugawa Ieyoshi




[i] I’m refering to China, btw. See what I did there? That’s called Eurocentrism.

[ii] For the time, I mean. lol

[iii] Hindsight? Yes.

Nijubashi – Tokyo’s Most Famous Bridge

In Japanese History on May 13, 2013 at 12:40 am

Nijūbashi (Double Bridge)

Is this bridge really called Nijubashi or the Stone Bridge? Hmmmm... let's find out!

Is this bridge really called Nijubashi or the Stone Bridge? Hmmmm… let’s find out!

The bridge above is the main bridge to the Imperial Palace. It appears on guidebooks and postcards and is arguably the most famous bridge in Japan – even a symbol of Japan. Most people, including the Japanese, call it Nijūbashi. But this is sort of a case of mistaken identity.

First let’s look at the kanji:






Nijūbashi is actually a nickname. The correct name of the bridge is 正門石橋 seimon ishibashi main entrance stone bridge.

Folk Etymology 1
There are actually two main bridges to the Imperial Palace. The 正門石橋 seimon ishibashi main entrance stone bridge and the 正門鉄橋 seimon tetsubashi the main entrance iron bridge. When you stand in front of the stone bridge you can see the iron bridge behind it and it looks like there are two bridges.

Double Bridges - Tokyo Imperial Palace

Seems legit.

Folk Etymology 2
When reflected in the moat, an illusion of two stone bridges occurs, hence a “double bridge.” Some old people actually refer to the bridge as メガネ橋 meganebashi the “glasses” bridge because… well, it looks like a pair of glasses.

Double Bridge or Glasses Bridge - Tokyo Imperial Palace

I see what you did there…

Those two stories are cute, but they’re not actually correct. Here’s the real deal:

Edo Castle also had two bridges here, but the names were different. The stone bridge was a wooden bridge called 西之丸大手橋 nishi no maru ōtebashi “front bridge to the western compound” and the iron bridge was also a wooden bridge called 西之丸下乗橋 nishi no maru kejōbashi “dismount bridge to the western compound.”*

Nijubashi was actually the nickname of the kejōbashi (now the iron bridge), not the ōtebashi (now the stone bridge). The bridge was built in 1614 by the shōgun, Tokugawa Hidetada. The bridge had a secondary wooden support mechanism built underneath which made it a 2 level construction. Because of these two levels, it looked like there were two bridges. The nickname 二重橋 nijūbashi/futaebashi came to be used as it was quite a distinctive bridge.

The Original Nijubashi - Edo Castle

A hard to see photo of the original “double bridge.”

Here's a digital version of the same view of the old kejobashi.

Here’s a digital version of the same view of the old kejobashi.

When the imperial court moved into the castle in 1868 but the bridges remained. After the confiscation and destruction of the daimyō residences in Daimyō Alley and elsewhere, the old bridge and gate system was re-evaluated. The two bridges were chosen as the main entrances to Tokyo Castle (the Imperial Palace). The kejōbashi was torn down and replaced with an iron bridge in 1888. It was rebuilt again in 1964 to match the 新宮殿 Shin Kyūden the New Palace, which is the collection of shitty 60’s-looking buildings that litter the palace grounds.

The iron bridge as it looks today (the true

The iron bridge as it looks today (the true “nijubashi”)

The 大手橋 ōtebashi was also torn down and replaced with the famous stone bridge in 1887. Because of its modern style, it quickly became a very high profile bridge – especially with the demolition of Daimyō Alley and the encroachment of commoners to the inner moats (in the Edo Period most commoners probably wouldn’t have been able to get too close).

Side view of the original otebashi bridge (now the stone bridge). My guess is the photographer was standing on the kejobashi... maybe...

Side view of the original otebashi bridge (now the stone bridge). My guess is the photographer was standing on the kejobashi… maybe…

Main Bridge to Edo Castle

Front view of the original ōtebashi  taken by a lopsided person. (present day stone bridge).

In the Meiji Period, since the old kejōbashi formerly known as Nijūbashi no longer looked like a double bridge, the new main bridge became associated with the name. All the strange folk etymologies started popping up then too. And even though the bridge is not formally referred to as Nijūbashi, the Chiyoda Line subway station in the area (built in the 1970’s) is called 二重橋前駅 Nijūbashimae Eki Nijūbashi Front Station. Today the area around the station and bridge is colloquially referred to as Nijūbashi or Nijūbashimae.

Imperial Palace Bridge Satellite

In case you were wondering where the bridges go… The left one is the stone bridge, the right one is the iron bridge. (Interestingly, if you look up 二重橋 on google maps/google earth, the iron bridge is – correctly – labelled as Nijubashi).

Wanna Support My Blog?

Click Here to Donate
Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods

* I’m not sure if I’ve translated the term correctly because I don’t really understand the purpose of this particular bridge. 下乗 kejō means “dismount” as in “get off of a horse.”
Also, if you’re curious about what “maru” means, please have a look on my post about Marunōchi and Daimyō Alley.

What does Marunouchi mean?

In Japanese History on May 6, 2013 at 1:03 am

Marunouchi  (Inside the Circle; more at “Inside the Moat”)

CGI Tokyo Station

CGI Tokyo Station with smoke coming out of a turret.

The derivation of today’s place name is pretty famous, even among foreigners. It’s so famous that even the English version of Wikipedia got it right.

The area was part of the old Hibiya Inlet which fell under the influence of Chiyoda Castle (Edo Castle) and merged into the castle and Yamanote district.

丸 maru (literally circle) was used to refer to 城内 jōnai (inner) castle grounds*  Buildings inside the moat (usually ring shaped) had names like 本丸 honmaru (main citadel), 二ノ丸 ninomaru (secondary citadel), 三ノ丸 sannomaru (tertiary citadel), etc**.  The shōgun (or lord) lived in the honmaru (first citadel) as it was surrounded by all the other maru. By this system of naming, it’s easy to see how 丸ノ内 Marunouchi (inside the circle) could refer to buildings inside the moat (scil; the circle).

Marunouchi - like all of Tokyo, looks nothing like its former self.

I’ve highlighted the “Daimyo Alley,” but in reality, you can see that a lot of other nobles’ residences fall within the “Marunouchi” area. What’s a “Daimyo Alley?” Keep reading!

Over the years Marunouchi has been written a few ways,
the last two being preferred these days:


丸ノ内 Marunouchi was colloquially referred to as 大名小路 daimyō kōji daimyō alley***. It was located on the castle grounds, between the outer moat and inner moat on a small man-made island with its own system of gates and mitsuke’s that made it more or less indistinguishable from the castle proper.

Today, nothing remains of the castle in the area so it’s hard to imagine that this was part of the outermost ring of Japan’s largest castle. However, in the Edo Period, the area was extremely important to the shōgunate. At one point there were 24 daimyō residences here. A list of noble names makes up its residences: Ii, Honda, Sakai, Sakakibara, and Hitotsubashi & Matsudaira**** – to name a few. The daimyō who lived here were mostly hereditary vassals of the Tokugawa shōgun family. That is to say, they were the elite of the elite and the closest to the shōgun. That’s why it was so important that they have palaces within the castle walls.

Daimyo Alley → Marunouchi

The red street is the actual “alley.” From the border of Yurakucho to Tokyo Station to the border of Otemachi is generally considered Marunouchi today, but as you can see other areas were also “inside the moat.”

In the Meiji Era (here we go again), the daimyō were all kicked out and daimyō lands were all confiscated by the new Imperial government.  It seems that the daimyō residences were all knocked down and the area became a training ground for the Imperial Army. A lot of the land was eventually purchased by the forerunner of the Mitsubishi Group and still remains their real estate (can anyone say good business deal?).

Daimyo Alley → Mitsubishigahara → Marunouchi

Mitsubishigahara circa 1902. Not sure what that white building is. Maybe it’s Kochi domain’s upper residence being used as an impromptu office for the Tokyo Governor. Just speculating.

This unsigned oil painting is assumed to also be from 1902. The building in the background is an unknown western style mansion. Until development began in earnest most buildings here were wood, so this is mysterious house is... well, a mystery.

This unsigned oil painting is assumed to also be from 1902. The building in the background is an unknown western style mansion. Until development began in earnest most buildings here were wood, so this is mysterious house is… well, a mystery.

Since the area was just grass and roads and barracks, when Mitsubishi knocked down the few remaining the structures the area was basically a field. In fact from 1890 to about 1910 only the Tōkyō Municipal Government Building and a few Mitsubishi buildings stood in 三菱ヶ原 Mitsubishigahara Mitsubishi Fields. Mitsubishi used the area to build up a central business district and the completion of Tōkyō Station in 1914 definitely sped up that process.

2 rare photos of the original Meiji Era municipal office of Tokyo based in the upper residence of Kochi in Marunouchi's

2 rare photos of the original Meiji Era municipal office of Tokyo based in the upper residence of Kochi in Marunouchi’s “Daimyo Alley.”

Much of the outer moat was filled in after WWII during the massive building efforts that eventually propelled Japan into its legendary “bubble economy.” In fact, if you look back at my articles on Nihonbashi, Kyōbashi, Hatchōbori, Akasaka and Akasaka-mitsuke, you’ll see that most of those areas are all on solid ground now with no moats or canals in sight. The ability to walk (without crossing a bridge from Marunouchi to Yaesu and then to Edomachi (Nihonbashi) would have been shocking to a resident of Edo (read those other links to figure out why)

A view of

A view of “Maruonuchi” from Wadakura Gate. A little bit of Edo still exists…

Today the old Daimyō Alley includes:
Tōkyō Station (about 12 residences stood here)
Hitotsubashi Junction
Ōtemachi (about 10 residences stood here)
Hibiya Station (but not Hibiya Park; about 4 residences)
Yūrakuchō (about 8 residences)
The Kubizuka of Taira no Masakado (one of the most haunted spots in Tōkyō;
daimyō families whose residences maintained the kubizuka were the Doi and Sakai)
The Imperial Palace Park (Kōkyo Gaien) (formerly 9 major residences occupied this space;
it could be argued that this was part of the castle and not daimyō alley)

Bad Ass.

a view of Marunouchi from the Imperial Palace.

Please Support My Blog
It Don’t Write Itself™
⇨ Click Here to Donate via Patreon ⇦
BTC: 1HsKqFBVbyKTwMF3rzCprdw7aYv13fbi2A
(I’ve begun making exclusive videos for patrons)

丸 maru can also be referred to as or 曲輪, both read as kuruwa.
Another set of synonyms to 本丸 and the like existed: ―ノ郭, 一ノ曲輪 ichinokuruwa (first citadel), 二ノ郭, 二ノ曲輪 ninokuruwa (second citadel), etc.
 The area called “Daimyō Alley” took its name from main north/south running street. You can see it on the map. The nickname came to refer the area in general. That said, this was the only long, straight street. Most streets around the castle were intentionally maze-like.
**** Matsudaira, as you may already know, was the Tokugawa family before Ieyasu took the Tokugawa name. For reasons I don’t want to get into now, if you see the kanji (taira/daira) in an old Japanese name, you can assume it’s a noble name. Hitotsubashi is also a collateral family of the Tokugawa.  Fans of the Sengoku era will know why I listed the other 4 names.

PS: for all info about Japanese castles, please check out:
PPS: for all info about samurai, please check out: Samurai-Archives.
PPPS: for a fucking awesome collection of pictures of Tokyo Station, please check out: Japan Web Magazine.

What does Akasaka-Mitsuke mean?

In Japanese History on May 1, 2013 at 1:45 am

Akasaka-mitsuke (Approach to Akasaka Gate)

Akasaka-mitsuke approaching Akasaka-mitsuke Go-mon (Akasaka-mitsuke Gate) as it looked at the end of the Edo Period.

Akasaka-mitsuke approaching Akasaka-mitsuke Go-mon (Akasaka-mitsuke Gate) as it looked at the end of the Edo Period.

Just a little update on yesterday’s post.

If you come out of Akasaka-mitsuke station, you’ll find yourself on a major road called 外堀道り Sotobori Dōri Outer Moat Street. This street’s name comes from — you guessed it — the outer moat of Edo Castle.

So anyhoo, we usually translate 見附 mitsuke as “approach,” as in the approach to a castle. From a military perspective, a mitsuke was a defensive installation. The roads approaching the gates of the castle were defended by 見張り番所 Mihari bansho look out guardhouses. Architecturally speaking, most Japanese buildings – be they shrines or castles, businesses or homes – traditionally place importance on a space that leads you from the street into the building or space proper (ie; an approach). In the case of Edo Castle, these spaces required a clear field of vision from the 番所 bansho guardhouse. In pictures of such approaches, you will see a lack of trees, no buildings and a moat and a bridge. The mitsuke provided the guards a clear view of approaching guests (or enemies), and provided the guest with an imposing view of the might of the shōgun’s castle.  The gate provided the name of the mitsuke or the area provided a name for the gate and mitsuke. The place name Akasaka was applied to the mitsuke and the 御門 go-mon gate.

What does Akasaka-mitsuke mean?

Very little remains of the original Edo Castle, but this so-called 100 Man Bansho, is still extant. It’s an example of a REALLY BIG bansho – supposedly it could be manned by 100 samurai.

三十六見附 Sanjū-roku Mitsuke The 36 Mitsuke of Edo Castle.

There weren’t actually 36 mitsuke, this was just an expression. Some of the mitsuke have given place names to Tokyo and can still be seen to today (at least the ruins can).*

Shibaguchi-mitsuke (taken down before the end of the Edo Period)**
(if you know any other mitsuke names, hit me up, I’ll add them to this list).

If you’re in Akasaka-mitsuke and you’re interested, be sure to check out 山王日枝神社 Sannō Hie Jinja Hie Shrine. The tutelary deity of Edo Castle is enshrined there. Say “kon’nichiwa” to it for me.

And as always, if you have any questions about Japanese Castles, please visit because this guy knows a lot more about Japanese castles than I do.

Going down Akasaka hill towards Akasaka-Mitsuke. The building on the left is an entrance to the Imperial Residence, but now it's the Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ.

Going down Akasaka hill towards Akasaka-Mitsuke. The building on the left is an entrance to the Imperial Residence, but now it’s the Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ.***

A view from Akasaka Mitsuke coming down from Akasaka hill.

A view from Akasaka Mitsuke coming down from Akasaka hill.***


Wanna Support My Blog?
Click Here to Donate
Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods


* According to my sources, there were at most 27 gates to Edo Castle. I’m fairly certain that the presence of a gate does not guarantee the presence of a mitsuke or mihari bansho. An important interection might warrant an installation. But I could be wrong.
** Shibaguchi-Mitsuke and Shibaguchi Gate are linked to Shibaguchi Bridge, an alternate name for the original Shinbashi (new bridge).
*** These amazing postcards are taken from Old Tokyo.

Why is Akasaka called Akasaka?

In Japanese History on April 30, 2013 at 1:59 am

Akasaka (Red Hill)

Today Akasaka just looks like any other business district in Tokyo. It's not much to look at from the street.

Today Akasaka just looks like any other business district in Tokyo. It’s not much to look at from the street.

Akasaka is business and commercial district located between Aoyama and Roppongi and Edo Castle. Due to its elevation and proximity to the castle (ie; right next to it), it was the site of many residences of those daimyō who were the closest to the Tokugawa shōgun, including other branches of the Tokugawa clan. Today it is just one train station away from the 国会議事堂 Kokkai-gijidō National Diet Building. The area has long been a meeting ground of the rich and powerful, and even today it is one of the few areas where you can still find geisha in Tōkyō. The crown prince’s residence is in Akasaka, as is one of the former imperial villas (now a guesthouse for visiting heads of state).

The word is made of 2 kanji:
赤 aka red
坂 saka hill, slope

Akasaka Geihinkan - the State Guest House.

Akasaka Geihinkan – the State Guest House.

There are two explanations. A third explanation is just a combination of these two.

The first explanation is that the slope had ruddy clay that gave it a distinctive look. The second explanation is that the hill was formerly referred to as Akanesaka or Akaneyama (written赤根山 Akaneyama or 赤根坂 Akanesaka or 茜坂 Akanesaka). 茜 akane  Japanese madder or 赤根 akane Japanese madder (literally “red root”), is a plant used to make a brilliant red dye (from its root). Supposedly the area was famous for this plant and it was easily collected there before the arrival of the Tokugawa. Over time, the pronunciation became slurred and Akanesaka turned to Akasaka. The 赤根坂 Akanesaka variant could easily be reduced to 赤坂 Akasaka. The third theory is a mixture of those. It points out that the roots of the Japanese madder, being used for making red dye, naturally turned the dirt and clay of the slope red. Therefor the hill was known for a plant already associated with red and a hill that had reddish dirt.

Akane, Japanese madder. Could the root of this plant be the source of the name? Maybe we'll never know.

Akane, Japanese madder. Could the root of this plant be the source of the name? Maybe we’ll never know.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I believe any of these theories, but the third theory does a good job of tying up the first two. Since the area doesn’t have any Japanese madder growing anymore – and I haven’t seen any red clay there – let’s just say the jury is out on this one until we get more evidence.

By the way, check tomorrow’s post because I’ll be expanding on Akasaka by talking a little bit about Akasaka-mitsuke.

Why is Nihonbashi called Nihonbashi?

In Japanese History on April 22, 2013 at 12:49 am

Nihonbashi (Japan Bridge, more at “The Bridge to Japan”)

A Classic View of Edo... from Nihonbashi.

A Classic View of Edo… from Nihonbashi.

This one is going to be a bit of a monumental task. Not because the etymology of the place is name is difficult, but because the area is so steeped in history is will be forever linked to Edo and Tokyo.

Is there a bridge called Nihonbashi?

This is Nihonbashi today. (That street is the bridge, that “thing” that looks like a bridge is the highway that crosses over the bridge. Looks like shit, right? More about that later…)

I wrote a long ass blog about Nihonbashi. Loooong. After I wrote, found pictures and had everything ready to publish I realized I had made a horrific mistake. I had confused Edobashi and Nihonbashi. I found pictures and paintings which included two bridges, Nihonbashi and Edobashi. And yet somewhere I remembered learning that In the Edo Period the bridge was called Edobashi and in the Meiji Period it was called Nihonbashi. I consulted old maps and new maps, both of which had the places marked as distinct locations – albeit in the same vicinity. I found Edo Period paintings using the term Nihonbashi.

I even consulted the English Wikipedia entry, which said:

The Nihonbashi bridge first became famous during the 17th century, when it was the eastern terminus of the Nakasendō and the Tōkaidō, roads which ran between Edo and Kyoto. During this time, it was known as Edobashi, or “Edo Bridge.” 

I had so much conflicting information that I killed the entry on Nihonbashi and just put it on the back burner.

Since that time, I’ve read up a little more. Looked at more pictures and maps and I’ve come to the conclusion that what I was told (and what is written in Wikipedia) is wrong.

Edobashi in the late Edo Period. Note the white warehouses that line the river. This is a typical view of the area. The river was used for transporting goods and so the warehouses were very important.

Edobashi in the late Edo Period. Note the white warehouses that line the river. This is a typical view of the area. The river was used for transporting goods and so the warehouses were very important.

Edobashi and Nihonbashi are two totally different bridges, crossing the same river, running parallel. The Nihonbashi area was the starting point of the 五街道 Go-kaidō the 5 Great Highways connecting Edo and the provinces. If you crossed the bridge, proceeded towards Kyōbashi, you were following the Tōkaidō to Kyōto and Ōsaka (today this street is 中央通 Chūō Dōri Center Street/Main Street. If you walked a little east on the river, you’d come to second bridge, Edobashi. If you crossed Edobashi, you’d follow a road along a channel to another bridge called 白魚橋 Shiraōbashi “Whitefish Bridge” (today the river is gone and, if my understanding is correct, that road was incorporated into 昭和通 Shōwa Dōri Shōwa Street, which was built as part of the revitalization of Tōkyō after the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923).

Obviously, the history of the two bridges is closely linked, but they have always been two separate bridges connecting 2 separate roads.

Anyways, I’m not a scholar of Japanese History. This is just my hobby that I use to waste my valuable free time. But that said, I don’t want to waste yours and I don’t want to spread misinformation.

What's up with the 3 ghosts in the boat????

What’s up with the 3 ghosts in the boat????

A Little Background

1590 – Toyotomi Hideoyoshi sends Tokugawa Ieyasu’s ass to Edo. He wants to uproot him from his base in Mikawa and use him to fight the Hōjō in Kantō. Essentially this keeps Ieyasu out of Hideyoshi’s hair and far enough away from Kyōto and Ōsaka to make any problems (or so he thinks). Ieyasu begins rehabilitation of Chiyoda Castle (soon to be Edo Castle) and Edo begins to prosper under the auspices of the Tokugawa.

1600 – Battle of Sekigahara. Ieyasu wins. Except for a few pockets of resistance in Ōsaka, Ieyasu is the de facto ruler of Japan.

1603 – Ieyasu is granted the title 征夷大将軍 sei’i taishōgun (shōgun) by the Emperor. As the master of Edo and the master of all Japan, Ieyasu continues building up the city of Edo, but now with a renewed vigor to make the city a worthy capital – one that rivals Kyōto, but also expresses his vision of a final and lasting Tokugawa hegemony. It is in the year that Nihonbashi is built.

A beautiful panoramic triptych of Edo, focusing on Edobashi.  (big time anachronism going on here, btw. this is supposed to be the shogun minamoto yoritomo's procession)

A beautiful panoramic triptych of Edo, focusing on Nihonbashi.
(big time anachronism going on here, btw. this is supposed to be the shogun minamoto yoritomo’s procession)

So What Does the Name Mean?

Any foreigner who visits Japan learns a few basic Japanese words right off the bat. The first word is usually 日本 Nihon Japan. If you stick around long enough, you’ll figure out that 橋 hashi is bridge. There ya have it. Nihonbashi means “Japan Bridge.”

But as I briefly mentioned above, the bridge was seen as the starting point for the major roads into and out of Edo. From the beginning the Tōkaidō road linked the city directly with Ōsaka (and therefore with Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s court and the nearby imperial court in Kyōto). When the bridge was built in 1603, it literally connected Edo, a small castle town, to the rest of Japan. As Edo flourished, especially with the presence of daimyō coming and going for alternate attendance duty in Edo, the bridge became a symbol of Edo’s power as a capital that unified Japan.

What does Nihonbashi mean in Japanese?

This was the “zero kilometer” marker for the 5 roads placed there by the Meiji Government. It has since been moved as a memorial thingy so you can take pictures of it without getting run over by a car.

Enter Edomachi

The area between Kyōbashi and Nihonbashi was a little island surrounded by channels to bring goods in and out. It was a commercial district, not an elite area. This area was called 江戸町 Edomachi – the town of Edo. Today this area makes up parts of Kyobashi, Edobashi, Nihonbashi and Yaesu. Because most of the channels are gone, it directly borders Marunouchi and Hachobori.

I suppose this name, Edomachi, set it apart from the samurai part of town surrounding the castle. I’m just speculating here, but the area was typified by living in close quarters with many merchant families packed into cramped spaces, so it’s being surrounded by water might have been an effort to contain fires. If the merchant area burnt down it was OK, losing the elite samurai class would have sucked balls — in the eyes of the shōgunate.

Ieyasu’s first concerns were in building up his castle and its fortifications. His second concern was surrounding the castle with the residences of his vassals, the damiyō built “modest” residences spiraling out from the castle as a secondary fortification. But the castle and the daimyō had needs, which sent business from all classes and walks of life to Edomachi.  In the beginning, Edomachi was as safely removed from the castle area and conveniently located on the major route into and out of the city. As Edo spread and became a metropolis, things changed.  but for all of the Edo Period Edomachi was the commercial heart of Edo and therefore the commercial heart of Japan.


Nihonbashi Edobashi Edomachi

Nihonbashi in the Meiji Era. Note the white warehouse can still be seen along the river. The bridge’s white stone is new and clean. Nice.

So What Happened After Edo Became Tōkyō?

1911 – A new stone bridge, in the European Style, is built across the river. It still stands today.

1923-1928 – In efforts to rebuild Tōkyō after the Great Kantō Earthquake, the canals on the east and west sides of Edomachi were filled in, thus blending the old commercial center with the surrounding areas.

1963 – In preparation for the Tōkyō Olympics, they built a freaking highway over the river. This highway killed the classical view of Mt. Fuji and made the area pretty ugly.

Present – Nihonbashi is famous as a financial and business center. The Tōkyō Stock Exchange is there, as are many large companies and banks. Some of the shitamachi flavor persists even to this day if you spend enough time walking around the area. You can find small izakaya and restaurants that have a decidedly 江戸っ子 Edokko style.

What does Tameike-Sannō mean?

In Japanese History on April 17, 2013 at 2:10 am

Tameike-Sannō (Reservoir-Sannō)

What does Tameike-Sanno mean?

Sign inside Tameike-Sanno Station

溜池山王 TameikeーSannō.
The hyphen is important. It’s not Sannō Reservoir. It’s Reservoir-Sannō. “Why?” you ask. I’ll tell you. But we need to look into a little history. Some of which will take us all the way to Kyōto. Are you ready?

Let’s Start With The Complicated One

Sannō is a reference to 山王日枝神社Sannō Hie Jinja Sannō Hie Shrine in nearby Akasaka-Mitsuke (hyphen ranking: not so important).

The term 山王 is made of the kanji mountain and ruler. The meaning is something like “the mountain that protects the ruler.” The shrine is on a big hill. Edo Castle (the Imperial Palace) is nearby. In fact, the street is called 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri “Outer Moat Street.” Seems to make sense.

What does Sanno-Hie Jinja mean?

One of 2 giants torii marking the entrances to Hie Shrine. (Yes, that is an escalator on the right hand side!)

Sorry, you’re just scratching the surface.

Sannō Hie Jinja (commonly just called Hie Jinja) was affiliated with 日吉神社 Hiyoshi Jinja Hiyoshi Shrine, at the bottom of 比叡山 Hiezan Mt. Hie in Kyōto.  According to the rules of 風水 fūsui feng shui used in urban planning in old Japan, Kyōto was built with Mt. Hie to its northeast side (the so-called 鬼門 kimon unlucky direction). Many temples and shrines are on Mt. Hie to protect the emperor’s palace (and therefore the city itself) from evil influences. One of several names used for Hie Shrine is Hiyoshi Shrine. Apparently the phoneme “HIE” can be rendered in to kanji as 比叡, 日吉, or 日枝.

There are many “branch shrines” called 日吉神社 Hiyoshi Jinja Hiyoshi Shrine all over Japan. The one in Akasaka was just another local branch. In many cases, wherever one of these affiliate shrines was built, the surrounding area took on the name 山王 Sannō.

Sounds good, right?  Sannō Hie Shrine was built on this big ass hill to protect the shōgun and now the emperor. The area took the name Sannō. Got it.*

Mt. Hie, Enraku Temple, Hiyoshi Shrine

Mt. Hie in Kyoto. (Not sure why the text is pointing to the only mountain in the picture… hmmm….)

So How About Tameike? What’s That Mean?

溜池, sometimes written ため池*tameike means “reservoir” and is made of 2 kanji “collect” and “lake.” The other day I wrote about Suidōbashi and briefly mentioned the main waterways of Edo, right? Well, maybe you can guess where this is going.

In the Edo Period, the 赤坂溜池 Akasaka Tameike Akasaka Reservoir was a massive lake that was used to collect and distribute water throughout this yamanote (elite) area. Today the reservoir is gone, completely covered with offices and such. Hard to believe that one of the main lifelines of the city is totally unnecessary now.

But that said, the area retained the name 溜池 Tameike in the form of 赤坂溜池町 Akasaka Tameike-chō the Akasaka Reservoir Neighborhood until 1967 when Japan implemented its current ZIP Code system.


What does Akasaka Tameike mean?

In the modern map (which is drawn to scale), you can see that there is only a depression where the Akasaka Tameike (reservoir) once stood. In the Edo Period map (not drawn to perfect scale), you can see the reservoir where the modern depression is). Today the only water that remains is the moat on the NW side (left) of Akasaka Mitsuke (“mitsuke” being the Japanese word for an approach to a castle gate).

So Why Is The Hyphen So Goddamn Important?

Well, in 1997 a new station was built to connect the Ginza Line and the Namboku Line. Tōkyō Metro had to work with 2 wards in the digging and building and – presumably – funding of said station. Those two wards would be 千代田区 Chiyoda Ward and 港区 Minato Ward. These are very rich, very prestigious, very well-funded and as such very proud wards. Apparently the local politicians wanted their respective wards’ names represented in the new station name. Bus stops already existed with the names 山王 Sannō and 溜池() Tameike(-chō), but since the Tameike bus stop was closer, Tōkyō Metro had a working-title of Tameike Station. 溜池町 Tameike neighborhood was on the border of the Minato Ward, Sannō was on the border of Chiyoda Ward. What to do? What to do?

So they just combined the two names, TAMEIKE SANNŌ, and all the shitty politicians were apparently happy.



Wait a minute! You mentioned, Mt. Hie. Haven’t I heard of that before?
No, you haven’t. ***

Please Support My Blog
It Don’t Write Itself™
⇨ Click Here to Donate via Patreon ⇦
BTC: 1HsKqFBVbyKTwMF3rzCprdw7aYv13fbi2A
(I’ve begun making exclusive videos for patrons)


* Actually, we can’t confirm whether or not the shrine was originally built at this location. The tradition says that Ōta Dōkan built the shrine to protect his castle. Since the 神 kami enshrined here is the protector of Edo Castle it was also seen as a protector of the whole city, so the shrine was moved outside of the castle so the people of Edo could worship there. It was destroyed a few times by fires and rebuilt, but for most of its life it’s been located here on this hill and the area has been referred to as Sannō and the former locations are not called Sannō.
Oh, also it’s not on the 鬼門 (northeast evil side) of the castle. It’s on the 裏鬼門 (southwest just as evil side). But we don’t know where the original location was, so fuck it.

** And sometimes irritatingly written 溜め池.

*** OK, yes you have. Sorry I lied about that…
I just didn’t really want to get into this.

Fuck it. 比延山 Mt. Hie is the same Mt. Hie that is famous to all lovers of Japanese History, especially the 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai Warring States Era. At the top of this mountain was a famous temple precinct called 延暦寺 Enryaku-ji Enryaku Temple (its name itself deserves a post, but not now). The mountain has primarily been associated with this temple because of its prestige among the samurai class. The temple was home to a large group of 僧兵 Sōheiwarrior monks” who stood in the way of Oda Nobunaga’s rise to power. So in 1571 he surrounded the mountain, and in a move that would have made General Sherman proud, he ordered his men to march up the mountain and kill anything that moved. The warrior monks were effectively dealt with and their slaughter was one of Nobunaga’s biggest steps to bring all of Japan under his rule.

Enryaku-ji’s history, indeed the history of Mt. Hie in general, goes back before the Heian Period. But, luckily for me, the history of Edo/Tōkyō does not**** so I can stop writing now?

**** Goddammit! Can I stop writing now? Please? OK, yes, the history of Edo/Tōkyō goes back to before the Heian Period, but I don’t know shit about it. So I’m done. Is that alright with you?

Thanks. Good night! 💟♥💟♡❤💟

%d bloggers like this: