marky star

Posts Tagged ‘suginami’

What does Asagaya mean?

In Japanese History on January 13, 2015 at 7:35 am

阿佐谷
Asagaya (“valley of the obscure assistant,” but more at “the shallow valley”)

Asagaya's famous shopping street.

Asagaya’s famous shopping street.

OK, so I’m back from my New Year’s vacation and I hope everyone is doing just fine. If you read JapanThis! over the holiday, you probably know I took a survey to get some opinions about the blog. One of my major issues of concern was the length of the articles. The results of the survey were totally ambiguous. It was an exact 3 way split between “too long” and “just fine” and “no response.” I’m taking that as permission to carry on as is, but I’ll just be a little more mindful of the length of articles. But not much. Some useful feedback was a few article suggestions. And I think I’d like start with a few reader suggestions[i].

A quick note about reader suggestions.  Quite a few suggestions were about topics that I’ve already covered. JapanThis! is actually a very searchable site, but you have to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the search field[ii]. I’m going to look into making the search field more visible, but in the meantime, you can find it on the bottom right hand side of the page, right above the list of most recent articles. And in a worst case scenario, Google’s got your back, often times “Japan This (insert place name)” will bring up my blog.

The search feature is pretty good in Word Press. You should use it!

The search feature is pretty good in Word Press. You should use it!

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the first place name of the year.

spoiler_alert_300_w2

Spoiler Alert!

This place name is 当て字 ateji, ie; kanji used for their phonetic value and not meaning[iii]. The first and second kanji are dead giveaways. and its friendly counterpart   are often just generic kanji for the /a/ sound. Sadly, is the equally generic and meaningless way to write the /sa/ sound. So the only kanji with any literal meaning is the last one, 谷 ya/tani which means “valley.” That said, the use of ateji betrays the antiquity of this place name. In the countryside, far from the ancient capitals of Kyōto or Kamakura, literacy was low and the easiest way to write place names with ateji. Be it a native Japanese place name or a pre-existing place name from a previous people, ateji was just the easiest way to write things.

Let’s Break Down the Kanji


a

nook, cranny


sa

help, assistant


ga

genitive particle in Old Japanese
(equivalent to modern の no)


ya

valley

This place name is officially written 阿佐谷 Asagaya but the train station name is written as 阿佐ヶ谷 Asagaya. The train station name is actually easier to read than the official name, so in many kanji conversion systems[iv] the latter comes up first and as such it seems to be the more prevalent way of writing this place name in casual situations. The latter was also the most traditional way of writing this place name until 1965 when 杉並区 Suginami-ku Suginami Ward standardized it as 阿佐谷 Asagaya. I’m assuming they just thought it looked more formal and literary[v].

Remains of the Momozono River.

Remains of the Momozono River.

.

If The Other Kanji Mean Nothing, Why “Valley?”

A river called the 桃園川 Momozono-gawa used to flow between present day 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward and 杉並区 Suginami-ku Suginami Ward. Today this river is underground[vi]. However, as is the nature of rivers, they usually exist in the lowlands and valleys. The Momozono River was no different. The area where the river used to be was a shallow valley and that’s exactly what this ateji name is believed to derive from.  In modern Japanese 浅  asa means “slight” or “shallow.”[vii] The idea being that the area along this river was an 浅の谷 asa no ya a shallow valley [viii]. Long time readers will recognize the / no/ga substitution from such familiar places names as 関ヶ原 Seki-ga-hara.  The ateji were added after the fact, and whoomp there it is.

But just to shed a little light on the antiquity of the name. The place name must already have been established by the 14th century because that’s when the name first shows up in the records. In the 1300’s, a noble family was granted control of the area and assumed the name of their fief, thus becoming the 阿佐ヶ谷氏 Asagaya-shi Asagaya Clan. Whether the ateji were decided at this time or earlier is anyone’s guess.

The Momozono River circa 1950.

The Momozono River circa 1950. Today it’s a sewer.

Asagaya – Literary Center

After the 関東大震災 the Great Kantō Earfquake of 1923, many artists fled[ix] from the crowded 下町 shitamachi low city to Asagaya because rent and land was cheap and there area was still connected to the center of town. The 山手 yamanote high city also lost its fair share of artists to the Asagaya area. Many were unrecognized writers in their own day – though most of them are widely respected today – they congregated in the area. From the post 1923 Earfquake Era to the Post WWII Era, Asagaya became a haven for broke ass artists[x].

A bunch of famous Japanese writers having a party in Asagaya... not writing.

A bunch of famous Japanese writers having a party in Asagaya… not writing.

Some big names from the day are such unmemorables as[xi]: 井伏鱒二 Ibuse Masuji, 与謝野鉄寛 Yosano Tekkan, 太宰治 Dazai Osamu, 青柳瑞穂 Aoyagi Mizuho, 三好達治 Miyoshi Tatsuji, 火野葦平 Hino Ashihei, and 徳川夢声 Tokugawa Musei. Asagaya was the scene in which these artists incubated.

Asagaya Tanabata Festival

Asagaya Tanabata Festival

Today, Asagaya is pretty much a down to earth part of Tōkyō Metropolis that makes its closest access to the city center via Shinjuku Station. Its most charming points are the amount of greenery it still affords residents and its annual 七夕祭り Tanabata Matsuri Tanabata Festival held in July. I’ve been to the Tanabata Festival twice and while it’s crowded as hell, it’s pretty damn fun if you go with your friends.

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

 
___________________________________
[i] Feel free to participate in my survey here, can’t promise I’ll read it soon, but I’m keeping it open… forever. So, I can promise that I’ll check it sometime.
[ii] And while the web view site has a great search feature, the mobile version of the site has a horrible search feature.
[iii] Here’s wiki’s article about ateji.
[iv] This meaning when you use a computer, cellphone, or smartphone.
[v] And we’ll talk about “literary” in a little bit.
[vi] Some of the path of the river remains as a walkway and fans of the Nakano-based porn giant, Soft on Demand, may recognize the Momozono-gawa walkway from many a Japanese porn movie. #TeamIenari
[vii] It has many more meanings, see my article on Asakusa.
[viii] Don’t click that link. I’m serious. Don’t do it.
[ix] Or in most cases, were forced to re-located because their homes were destroyed and rebuilding costs were too high in the center of the city.
[x] Something I can relate to all too closely.
[xi] Just a quick warning, I don’t read fiction anymore. So maybe these writers are actually good. I honestly have no idea. I just hate reading fiction these days – I’d rather watch it.

The Kanda River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers, Travel in Japan on July 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm

神田川
Kanda-gawa (literally, “divine fields river,” but actually “river in Kanda”)[i]

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.  If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.  The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but it was built after the Great Kanto Earthquake which river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them.

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.
If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.

 

The name 神田 Kanda is one of the oldest place names in Edo-Tōkyō and believe it or not, 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River is not that old at all. Well, most of the river isn’t. Well, part of it might be.

Well, it’s complicated.

In short, after doing this research, I’ve realized I have to make a separate article about the area called 神田 Kanda – and by that, I mean just etymology. So I will write about that in the future – and I promise not to put it off too long. But let’s just deal with the river for the time being, mkay?

 

Let’s Look at the Kanji


kan

deities


ta, -da

rice paddies


kawa, -gawa

river

 

This river is manmade. So the etymology seems to be clear. At the beginning of the Edo Period, in the 神保町 Jinbō-chō area there was a small waterway that cut through a hilly are called 神田山 Kandayama Mt. Kanda. It’s said that since this area in general was called 神田 Kanda[ii] the original waterway was then called 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River.

If you only wanted to know the etymology of the river, you can stop reading here. From this point on it’s going to turn into a crazy – possibly boring – river mess. If you’re a JapanThis! masochist, then by all means, read on. You may actually enjoy this.

 

 

hajiribashi

A view of Hajiribashi when it was new. The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but in the 1920’s it was new and river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them (or without tall buildings in the background).

 

Where to Start??

Up until now, every river we have looked at was at some point a naturally occurring river. The Kanda River is quite different from those rivers. There was a time within recorded history that the Kanda River never existed. Though, a portion of it was once a natural tributary of a long vanished inlet of Edo Bay, it is, in fact, a man-made river. All though it may not be on the lips of every Tōkyōite, today the river is a well-recognized part of the well-manicured urban landscape of the modern city.

I actually first mentioned the Kanda River back in June, 2011 in an article about Yodobashi[iii], a small bridge that crosses the Kanda River at the border of 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward and 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward. So this is something of a little homecoming for me. I started this blog when I still lived in Nakano (lived there for about 6 years).

 

yodobashi

Yodobashi in the Taisho Era, before the Great Kanto Earfquake. The area is rustic and a in sharp contrast to the present area. Today it marks the border of Nakano and crazy-ass Shinjuku.

 

What is the Kanda River Today?

The modern river’s official designation is the channel of water that flows from 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Pond to 飯田橋 Iidabashi (literally, Iida Bridge) where it empties into the 外堀 sotobori outer moat of Edo Castle. But it’s at this junction where the river flows into a disparate network of waterways. So you could say, unofficially, that the Kanda River flows into the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River and the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge, essentially taking the water to the Tōkyō Bay.

 

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

 

Now Let’s Talk History

As mentioned in my article on the etymology of Edo, the original 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle or 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle was not built by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan as is often cited[iv]. In reality, a minor branch of 平家 Hei-ke the Taira clan[v] moved to the area at the end of the 11th century and built a fortified residence[vi] on a hill overlooking the sea. As was common practice for new branch families with new fiefs, they took the name of the village 江戸郷 Edo-gō as their own and they became the 平江戸氏 Taira Edo-shi Edo branch of the Taira clan[vii]. In the 12th century, the area prospered due to its proximity to the capital of the Minamoto shōguns in Kamakura. However, it seems the Edo clan didn’t do much to develop the area’s rivers[viii].

In those days, the now long gone 日比谷入江 Hibiya Irie Hibiya Inlet was a saltwater inlet used for 海苔 nori seaweed farming[ix]. There was a certain freshwater river known as 平川 Hirakawa “the wide river” which emptied into the inlet. This fresh water river originally made up part of the natural boundary between 武蔵国豊島郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province and 武蔵国江原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara Province, Musashi Province. This fresh water tributary seems to be where the story of the Kanda River begins.

 

Edo Hamlet

 

Fast Forward a Few Centuries

By the 15th century, Japan was balls deep in the bloody, sweaty mess that was the Sengoku Period[x] and Ōta Dōkan found himself re-fortifying the Edo family’s fort in Chiyoda using water from the coastline and other small rivers with the latest moat-building technology of his day. The new and improved “Edo Fort” he built for the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan brought new channels and waterways into the village. This manipulation of water provided tactical advantages to the new fort in that food and goods could come in and there were more escape routes. There were now logical, defensible waterways. Lucky side effect, certain areas of the village were less exposed than before and local merchants and fishermen had new distribution routes and… BOOM!  Ladies and gentleman, we have a budding 城下町 jōka machi castle town[xi].

Although all of Dōkan’s efforts were pioneering and crucial in the taming of the rivers and sea and urban planning of Edo-Tōkyō, one of the most important changes to Edo’s waterways was diverting the 平川 Hirakawa the ancient “wide river” eastward into what is today called the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River. This is critical to our story today. And the place where this new confluence occurred is actually marked by a bridge called the 神田橋 Kandabashi Kanda Bridge. The Hirakawa River doesn’t exist anymore, but a quick look at a map of Edo Castle will show you a 平川門 Hirakawa Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川濠 Hirakawa-bori Harakawa Moat[xii]; the former, the gate that stood guard on the moat[xiii]; the latter, a vestige of the old river itself. Today, 平川見附 Hirakawa Mitsuke the bridge and fortified gate installation on the moat is a popular sightseeing spot.

 

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate). They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate).
They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.
I used JCastle.info to generate this map. Click on the picture to find THE premiere website on Japanese Castles in English.

 

So, as I’ve said before – and will say again – Tokugawa Ieyasu moved into an Edo that was well fortified, strategically sound, and extremely defensible by sea and by land. Oh, and did I mention, there was a burgeoning village life, supported by fishermen, farmers, and artisans[xiv]. Between Ōta Dōkan’s time and the time Ieyasu entered Edo, a technological revolution had occurred in Japan. From Nobunaga’s rise to power on, Japanese castles began to take on the look of what we think of today when someone says “Japanese Castle.[xv]” The castles of the Tokugawa Period are based on these new advances in castle building technology and reflected the amount of luxury the ruling class could not just afford, but were expected to maintain to project their image of superiority.

 

hirakawa

 

 

OK, OK! Castles, Can We Please Get Back to the River?

Yes, of course. Sorry for getting distracted.

(But we’re probably coming back to castles)

The Tokugawa Shōgunate kept meticulous records of the changes they made to the area. The great waterworks projects were no exception. But I’m not going to get into every change they made. It’s so boring it’s unreal. So let’s just look at some of the major changes and what I think are the takeaways of what created the Kanda River.

Since I got distracted, let’s go back to the beginning.The beginning of the story is 1456-1457, when Ōta Dōkan began manipulating waterways to build moats for his pre-cursor to Edo Castle – though work on the moats most likely preceded construction of the fortress, so we might say 1455-1457. In 1486, Dōkan was assassinated and in 1524 the 江戸合戦 Edo Gassen Battle of Edo saw the rise of influence of the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi and the decline of the Ōta and Uesugi. This meant that the fortifications in 千代田 Chiyoda[xvi] (the area where the Sengoku forts where built and the fields around them) were abandoned and lay fallow for almost 70 years[xvii].

In 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu transferred his clan and top retainers to Edo and began modernizing the old Sengoku Period fortifications of the Edo and Ōta. He cautiously applied some of the latest castle building technology following the examples of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It’s said that the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate was one of the first construction project undertaken and this required crossing an existing moat – one affiliated with the later Kanda Aqueduct/Hirakawa.

The Ote-mon (main gate) at the time of the collapse of the shogunate.

The Ote-mon (main gate) after the Meiji Coup.

 

1603 is the watershed moment. Ieyasu is named 征夷大将軍 seii tai-shōgun shōgun and is the effective military ruler of Japan. From this point, the real history of the Kanda River begins. In 1604, Nihonbashi is built and the 5 Great Highways of Edo are defined. Strict entry & exit points by land and by river are laid out in order to preserve the new Tokugawa hegemony. Edo’s waterways are no longer “just Edo waterways;” they are tactical routes, trade routes, and a means of regulating nature for the protection of the commoners who lived along the rivers and were, essentially, part of the city’s infrastructure. In short, the rivers of Edo became a stabilizing mechanism for the shōgun’s capital.

 

Hirakawa Gate when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy).

The Ote-mon (main gate) when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy). Tokugawa Power! Activate! This is where the name Otemachi comes from.

 

From 1616 to 1620, during the reign of 2nd shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada, something really resembling a “Kanda River” in a modern sense came in to existence. This is when the 神田山 Kandayama “Kanda Mountain”[xviii] was cut through and the Kanda River and Nihonbashi River became 2 discrete waterways. Kanda and Ryōgoku began to take on unique personalities at this time.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate. Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate.
Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

 

In 1657, disaster struck on a colossal scale. The 明暦大家 Meireki Fire[xix] ripped through the city destroying well over half of the metropolis[xx]. Although city planning was essential from the beginning, the shōgunate hadn’t anticipated the rapid growth that accompanied their sankin-kōtai policy and just the economic stability brought on by… um, stability in general.

 

img_0

Edo Castle was a city within a city, When the main keep burned down, budgets and policies were reconsidered.

 

In part of the rebuilding efforts after the Meireki Fire, from 1659-1661 various waterways in Edo were widened and more open space along the rivers was added. Edo grew so rapidly after the arrival of the Tokugawa, that the city had become a firetrap[xxi].

 

sakurameguri22l

Ryogoku Bridge today

 

By some accounts, 60%-70% may have be burnt to the ground. Given the relative clean slate available to the shōgunate after this particular conflagration, certain rivers were designated as firebreaks and widened to keep fires localized[xxii]. It’s at this time that the Kanda River was dramatically widened – most notably, at the confluence of the Kanda River and Ryōgoku River, the 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge was built. Even today, the expanse of the river here is something to see, but in the Edo Period, with no buildings over 2 stories, it was clearly a sight to behold. Soon the area became famous for a dazzling annual fireworks display in the summer[xxiii]. Some of the most iconic 浮世絵 ukiyo-e “scenes of the transient world” come from this area. The 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum is located in this area… for obvious reasons.

 

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.  Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.
Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

 

As I mentioned before, the official headwaters are 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Lake, but the river has no officially designated end point but it’s fairly certain that it ultimately empties into Tōkyō Bay. Traditionally it ends at 飯田橋 Iidabashi. The reason there’s no official ending point is because the Kanda River empties into a few rivers and drainage channels along the way before it ultimately fizzles out into the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll probably be aware that the names and courses of these rivers have been changing over time and that some stretches of one river may have had multiple names depending on the area. So yeah… welcome back to the Confus-o-dome.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).  Gross.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).
Gross.

The Kanda River’s Legacy

The man-made Edo Era waterway that flowed from Inokashira Pond was called the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui. Longtime readers should know what a 上水 jōsui is. But just a refresher, a jōsui is a conduit of “imported” water. This water flowed from 三鷹 Mitaka[xxiv] to Edo Castle; it also supplied drinking water to the daimyō mansions that lined its course.

 

The creation of the Kanda River. (by the way, this is the worst info-graphic ever)

The creation of the Kanda River in Chiyoda from the Hibiya Inlet.

The Kanda Jōsui is considered the first real aqueduct system in Japan. Before I mentioned the technological revolution in castle construction, right? Well, the Sengoku Period began stabilizing and yes, castle building was a status thing. But the distribution of water and water management showed one of the greatest advances in urban planning and administration that Japan had seen in centuries. This is why shōgunate’s founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was such a bad ass. The dude could lead an army here or there, but he had ideas about civil administration and surrounded himself with people who could advise him on these things. Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were essentially one-trick-ponies who couldn’t really get out of the 戦国病気 Sengoku Byōki “Sengoku Rut.”[xxv] Ieyasu, also a product of that generation, realized that infrastructure reinforced military supremacy and brought economic stability[xxvi].

 

The Kanda Aqueduct

The Kanda Aqueduct

Admittedly, it’s not that exciting or cool, but the availability of clean drinking water and disposal of dirty water should never be underestimated in the study of any ancient or pre-modern city[xxvii].

The capital of the Tokugawa shōguns quickly became the biggest city in Japan and eventually the most populous city in the world. Clean water and sewerage undeniably played a part in this. But soon the Kanda Jōsui wasn’t enough. That said, it was the main source of drinking water for Edo Castle during the Edo Period.

Even if it was inadequate to supply the entire sprawling capital, Kanda Jōsui was such a successful project that it begot 6 more major waterworks in Edo, all of which benefited daimyō, samurai, and the commoner population. Of course, this technology spread throughout the realm, but for short while Edo boasted one of the most unique water infrastructures in Japan.

 

HSD10003

 

A Final Note

If you’re up for an interesting bike ride, a 2010 blog post at Metropolis suggests starting at the mouth of the river and riding upstream to Inokashira Pond. When the temperature starts to come down, I may give this a go myself. There are loads of spots, many covered in JapanThis!, along the course of the river, so it should be fascinating.

 

 

 

If you like JapanThis, please donate. 
Seriously, it helps. 

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

 

 

 


[i] I know that’s not the kind of helpful explanation that will bring closure to any of the etymology fans out there.
[ii] As I said, I’m gonna revisit this topic again.
[iii] Any relation to ヨドバシカメラ Yodobashi Camera? Why, yes there is. Thank you for asking.
[iv] And calling Dōkan’s fortifications a “castle” is also a debatable point. I’ve come to prefer the term “well-moated fort.” I came up with that term all on my own… right now. Thank you very much.
[v] If you don’t know who the Taira clan is… wow. OK, here you go.
[vi] Also, as mentioned in my article on What does Edo mean?, the coastal area is littered with 古墳 kofun burial mounds and it’s clear from the archaeology that the area has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. It’s highly doubtful the Edo clan was the first strongmen to seize upon this highly defensible, coastal plateau – they are the noblest recorded family, though.
[vii] Even though other temples and villages in the area are mentioned as far back as the Heian Period, it’s seems like the name Edo itself doesn’t actually appear in any records until the Kamakura Period.
[viii] In fact the original Edo “Castle” was probably just a 出城 dejiro satellite fort, since the Edo clan seemed to have their main residence in 喜多見 Kitami in present 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward.
[ix] I have an article about Hibiya.
[x] And while this may sound like a gratuitous reference to sex on the rag, this is actually a legitimate, historical term. Ask any historian of Pre-Modern Japan. They’ll tell you. Just ask. Seriously.
[xi] Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I said “budding.” When we say “castle” and “castle town” today we are usually referring to a construct of the far more stable Azuchi-Momoyama Period (ie; essentially the end of the Sengoku Period).
[xii] On Edo Era maps these may be listed with honorifics as 平川御門 Hirakawa Go-Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川御堀 Hirakawa O-Hori Hirakawa Moat, respectively.
[xiii] Interestingly, some people think the radius and extent of Ōta Dōkan’s moats was the result of him not having a fucking clue what he was doing. His initial “improvements” lead to more flooding and so he continually modified his plans, diverting rivers away from the castle and the villages by extending them further and further out. Thus part of the sprawling nature of Edo Castle may have been due to stop-gap measures employed by Dōkan.
[xiv] Yes, I did.
[xv] This is as different as when we use the Latin words castrum to describe a Roman military camp/walled town and a castellum a walled fortification of Late Antiquity. The transformation is truly dramatic.
[xvi] You can see my article on Chiyoda here.
[xvii] The castle itself was pretty minor and was most likely not affected by the Late Hōjō efforts to refortify the Edo area from 1583 on.
[xviii] Kandayama was located in present day 駿河台 Surugadai.
[xix] “What’s the Meireki Fire?” you ask. There’s an article for that.
[xx] By some accounts, 70% of the city may have been destroyed.
[xxi] This didn’t change until the reconstruction of the city after WWII (or, some may argue that it didn’t change until the 1960’s and that the city just got lucky with no major conflagrations in the interim).
[xxii] In theory…
[xxiii] People today love fireworks. Just imagine what people with no video, no cameras, and no Perfume must have thought of these theatrical celebrations of summer.
[xxiv] Essentially, present-day Kichijōji.
[xxv] Again, my word. I just made it up now. And yes, I’m just baiting Sengoku lovers. Actually, I like Nobunaga, too.
[xxvi] And far more importantly, put his family in a seemingly endless position as hereditary top of the food chain. Hmmmmmmmmmm…
[xxvii] And you probably never think about where your water comes from or how it gets to your house and where it all goes afterwards, but it works, right? That’s why you can live there.

What does Ogikubo mean?

In Japanese History on October 21, 2013 at 3:43 am

荻窪
Ogikubo (Silvergrass Basin)

Ogikubo's abandoned residential complex. Tokyo's mini-Detroit was demolished earlier this year.

Ogikubo’s abandoned residential complex. Tokyo’s mini-Detroit was demolished earlier this year.

The western terminus of the 猿ノ内線 Marunouchi-sen Marunouchi Line is a station called 荻窪 Ogikubo. Many Tōkyōites know this station as a hub station that will take them to Kichijōji. The entire area is official called Ogikubo and there are similarly named postal codes and train stations in the immediate vicinity.

First let’s look at the kanji:

ogi silvergrass
kubo basin

In 708[i], a 修行僧 shūgyōsō ascetic monk[ii] was carrying a statue of 観音 Kan’non the goddess of mercy on his back[iii] and happened to pass through the area. Mysteriously, the statue grew heavier and heavier until the monk couldn’t carry it anymore. He thought this image of Kan’non was linked to this area by fate and so he built a humble shelter in the area. To make a thatched roof, he harvested 荻 ogi silvergrass and used it to top off his tiny abode in which he enshrined the goddess. Ogi, as you may or may not have guessed, is a grass indigenous to parts of Asia – including Japan.

The small hut was called 荻堂 Ogidō.

Some funky monk-y babies

Some funky monk-y babies

This is a play on words. A grass hut is 草堂 sōdō, but 堂 dō also is used in Buddhist words to refer to sacred buildings. So Ogidō means something like “Silvergrass Temple[iv]” – or at the very least, “a place of contemplation that is made of silvergrass.”

Another theory says that the area was a small 窪地 kubochi basin covered in ogi (silvergrass). This derivation says the word is simply 荻 ogi (silvergrass) + 窪 kubo (basin). Silvergrass tends to grow in wetlands or near rivers; a basin would do the trick.

silvergrass

Real Japanese Ogi!!!!!

.

But Let’s Look at What’s Going on Here

The 善福寺川 Zenpukuji-gawa Zenpuku Temple River runs through the area which does, indeed, create a basin and this area may very well have been carpeted in silvergrass at one time.

Although the history isn’t well recorded, it is sometimes said that the largest landholder in this rural area had once been Zenpuku-ji[v]. The temple isn’t well attested except in place names; for example, 善福寺公園 Zenpukuji Kōen Zenpukuji Park and 善福寺川 Zenpukuji-gawa Zenpukuji River. Over the years the temple had waned in influence until it was insignificant. After it was destroyed by fire in the Edo Period it was never rebuilt. But the place names still remain. However, if there is a connection to Zenpuku-ji, it would be hard to prove since the temple no longer exists.

Zenpukuji Park

Zenpukuji Park

But let’s go back to the story of the monk carrying the statue of Kan’non. That story has been preserved by a small temple that still exists in the area, 光明院 Kōmyōin. The temple claims to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Ogikubo and that they are directly descended from the original thatched hut. Coincidentally, Kōmyōin happens to be located on the high ground above the Zenpukuji River basin. The primary object of worship is a 千手観音 Senju Kan’non thousand armed goddess of mercy. The temple claims that the area was named after the thatched hut.

One take on the 1000 armed Kan'non.

One take on the 1000 armed Kan’non.

.

Buddhist temples with statues of Kan’non are a dime a dozen, but if we combine the two derivations, it isn’t too big a stretch to assume that an ogidō (silvergrass temple) existed in or near an ogikubo (silvergrass basin). Which temple was truly associated with the area is etymologically irrelevant then[vi]. In this case, the only remaining question would be “Which came first, the place name or the temple name?”

My money is on the place name[vii].

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


[i] I love how these monk or Buddha statue stories like to get detailed with precise years and stuff.

[ii] This is often translated as a “monk in training.” Both translations seem to be correct to my Buddhism-ignorant eyes. My understanding is that Buddhist monks in training had to live according to very austere rule and minimalistic living, often in temporary isolation; often begging – later they could forego the hard lifestyle. But some monks chose to live their whole lives in this way. I’m not sure which meaning is implied in this case.

[iii] Religious stories love little details; for example, “on his back,” and of all the Buddhas out there this one just happened to be Kan’non.

[iv] I also found references to 荻寺 Ogidera, literally Ogi Temple.

[v] Fans of the Bakumatsu may clamor and say that there is a Zenpuku-ji clear across town, near the bay. There are claims that the temple that once stood in Suginami Ward was related to the temple in Minato Ward. One theory in particular states that the area stretching from Edo Bay to modern Suginami Ward were once holdings of the same temple that were broken up during the violence of later ages. Others say these names are totally coincidental. “Hey, JapanThis!, which story do you believe?” And to that I will say this: “I don’t fucking know.”

[vi] While etymologically irrelevant, from an historical perspective it would be nice to know the truth.

[vii] Oh, the first station to bear the name Ogikubo was opened in 1891 (Meiji 24) and was located roughly in the middle of the now defunct 甲武鉄道 Kōbu Tetsudō Kōbu Railroad. The reason a station was put here in 荻窪村 Ogikubo Mura Ogikubo Village was that the town was located on the 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō Ōme Highway. This road was a supply road which originated in 内藤新宿 Naitō-Shinjuku and terminated in 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain (modern Yamanashi Prefecture).

Why is Kōenji called Kōenji?

In Japanese History on April 12, 2013 at 1:45 am

高円寺
Kōenji  (High Circle Temple)

Koenji

Koenji

Kōenji is funky town in Suginami Ward next to Nakano. Like Nakano, it’s got everything. It’s residential and convenient, but you have plenty of places for shopping and eating and drinking and whoring.

The name seems pretty straight forward. Any place name that ends with (ji/tera) is named after a temple. Lots of those, as you can imagine. And yes, Kōenji is named after a temple.

The west part of Tōkyō – Takadanobaba, Nakano, Kōenji, Mitaka, Kichijōji, etc. – was pretty fucking rural in the Edo Period. It was a good place for bored samurai to practice various 武術 bujutsu martial arts. This particular area was well known for falconry which was what Japanese nobility did for fun because they didn’t have video games yet and life was pretty boring. Some of the Tokugawa shōguns and daimyō doing alternative attendance service came out here for falconry.

Tokugawa Ieyasu and a falcon.

Tokugawa Ieyasu and a falcon.

Wait! What the Fuck is Falconry?

In Japanese, it’s called 鷹狩 taka-gari (falcon hunting). It’s a kind of “game” by which you hunt birds or other animals with a trained bird of prey. Since getting trained birds of prey was expensive, it was a “game” that was pretty much restricted to the nobility. It sounds fucking boring as hell to me, but all the rich daimyō loved this shit.

Wait, if they loved it so much, why do you never see it much in samurai movies these days?  Because… well, it was probably boring as hell. What do you expect? These people didn’t have smartphones, purikura, bukkake, and bit torrents yet. Making a bad ass bird go catch another bird for you might be cool if you’ve never seen the internet.

koenji

The temple

Anyways, back to Kōenji.

In the mid-1550’s there was a temple established on a hill in the area. The name of the temple was (and still is) 宿鳳山高円寺 Shukuhōzan Kōenji*, but most people just call it Kōenji.  The story goes that Tokugawa Iemitsu (the 3rd Tokugawa shōgun) stopped by this temple often whilst getting his falconry on in the area. In fact, the planting of a few trees on the premises are attributed to him (a topic for another time).

It’s said that originally, the area had the name 小沢 Ozawa “little creek,” but after the shōgun became a patron of the temple, the temple’s prestige rose and the area naturally took on the name of the temple.

Koenji Awa Odori

Koenji Awa Odori

On last note, Kōenji is famous for a summer festival that features a kind of dances called 阿波踊りAwa Odori. This traditional dance comes from Tokushima (formerly 阿波国 Awa no Kuni). I have a certain friend who might slit my throat – with good justification – if I didn’t mention that this dance is not Kōenji’s local dance. It’s just a way for Tōkyō people to enjoy this traditional dance. Anyways, real 阿波踊り Awa Odori comes from Tokushima and if you meet a person from Tokushima and you say that, you may earn a friend for life. Awa Odori is beautiful and the music is cool and the costumes are beautiful. If you can’t see itin Tokushima, try it in Kōenji.

*鳳山 is an interesting word itself. 鳳 ōtori refers to a kind of mythological bird of prey that can turn into a fish. It’s not a phoenix, but if you think of it as a phoenix, it makes sense. This area was famous for bad ass birds.

%d bloggers like this: