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Posts Tagged ‘tachiaigawa’

What does Tachiaigawa mean?

In Japanese History on January 18, 2019 at 2:52 pm

立会川
Tachiaigawa
(Tachiai River; more at water meets water)

untitled-1

Tachiaigawa in the Edo Period and today

It’s been about a year since I updated the site. A whole fucking year [i]. Long time readers will remember the time I got rivered and almost abandoned the project altogether. Well, I started an article one year ago that, on the surface, seemed so simple, but actually turned into a nightmare. So, I’ve decided to take smaller bites and get things up and running again. I also apologize for keeping everyone waiting and hope I didn’t have anyone worrying. Also, a note about footnotes. WordPress changed the backend editor, so there is a chance the footnote links may not work.

So without further ado, let’s talk about a place in Tōkyō that foreigners don’t often go. Actually, a lot of Tōkyōites have never heard of this area either. It lies on 東海道 Tōkaidō the Eastern Sea Route[ii], just past the former post towns of 北品川宿 Kita Shinagawa-shuku North Shinagawa Post Town and 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa-shuku South Shinagawa Post Town, between the former fishing village of  鮫洲 Samezu and 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds. Of course, I’m talking about 立会川 Tachiaigawa[iii]. In the Edo Period, travelers leaving the capital for Kyōto would have probably lodged in either Shinagawa Post Town or 川崎宿 Kawasaki-shuku Kawasaki Post Town[iv], but they definitely would have passed this rural seaside area, called 大井村 Ōi Mura Ōi Village at the time.

Further Reading:

suzugamori at night (1 of 1)

Suzugamori Execution Grounds at night. Ooooooh, spooooooky.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


tatsu, tachi
stand, rise, set up

au, ai
meet, join

kawa, -gawa
river

There are several creative theories that try to explain the origin of this place name, yet none of them are particularly convincing to me. I have my own pet theory which is not creative and seems super-obvious, but before we talk about the explanations people have put forward over the years, I want to talk about the geography of the area.

Until the late 1950’s, the coastline of  江戸湾東京湾 Edo-wanTōkyō-wan Edo/Tōkyō Bay was more or less the same. The neighborhood called Tachiaigawa was outside of the old city limits on the Tōkaidō Highway and lay directly on the beach at a place where a distributary of the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River called the Tachiai-gawa which flowed into Edo-Tōkyō Bay[v]. Until 1903, when 立会川駅 Tachiaigawa Eki Tachiaigawa Station opened, the area was not called Tachiaigawa. In fact, this is just a local term. In the Edo Period, this area was just considered 荏原国大井村 Ebara no Kuni Ōi Mura Ōi Village, Ebara Province[vi]. Even today, Tachiaigawa is not an official postal code. These days, this is 南大井一丁目 Minami Ōi Itchōme 1st block of South Ōi. The only thing you have to remember is that the Tachiai River has flown and continues to flow through this area. That’s key to its etymology.

samurai battle

Theory 1: There was a Samurai Battle here

This theory posits that the name derives from the combination 太刀 tachi long sword 会 ai meeting 川 kawa river (ie; the river where long swords met). And sure, since the 弥生時代 Yayoi Jidai Yayoi Period (let’s say from 300 BCE) until the Edo Period (1603), the history of Japan was dominated by warfare, but without a specific battle connected to this location, it’s really hard to say if this is just oral tradition or false etymology. If 太刀会 tachiai meeting of long swords is a prevalent place name in other places in eastern Japan or the rest of the country[vii], I might buy into this theory. However, what would seal the deal for me is if someone could point to a specific battle at this location[viii].

waterfall

Theory 2: There were Beautiful Waterfalls

It’s well a known fact that Edo Period castle towns didn’t have street names, so when people described their villages or neighborhoods to each other they used landmarks, hill names, and bridge names. It’s fair to say that either the bridges over the Tachiai River or the river itself could become an unofficial reference to the area.

The story goes that the original village lie on a calm section of the river between two waterfalls and was originally called 滝間 takima between the waterfalls, so locals began to refer to that stretch of the river as 滝間川 Takima-gawa the river between the falls which over time changed into Tachiai-gawa. I find this to be pretty unconvincing because in all my years running this site, I don’t remember a /ki/ becoming a //. Not that it isn’t possible[ix], I just can’t recall an example of that sound change in Japanese off the top of my head. Also, given the constant waterworks projects over the centuries, it would be hard to prove this.

buddha suzugamori (1 of 1)

Buddha statue at Suzugamori Execution Grounds. Recently, I’ve been going here late at night because I like creepy ghost shit. Awwwww yeah.

Theory 3: The Suzugamori Theory

I’ve written about 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Grounds in the past[x] and in that article, I mentioned 涙橋 Namida-bashi the Bridge of Tears. For reasons of ritual cleanliness, executions were generally carried out beyond the city limits, so Suzugamori was a great place for that. People coming in and out of Edo would have seen the shōgunate’s ultimate authority, that over life and death. Also, it’s well known that 浜川橋 Hamagawa-bashi Hamagawa Bridge is generally known by locals as Namida-bashi. This was the last chance for condemned criminals to say their final farewells to their families[xi]. If this is the case, 立会 tachiai has a literal meaning of “standing and meeting.” Family and friends stood and watched their loved ones for the last time here.

namidabashi at night (1 of 1)

Namidabashi at night. Everyone’s coming home after a hard day of work at Suzugamori…

There is a corollary theory that pertains to the specifics of death sentences in the Edo Period. Condemned criminals would have been paraded through the streets as an example to all and then executed at one of the Three Great Execution Grounds of Edo. This related theory says that this river was where 御立会 o-tachiai government “involvement” happened. In short, shōgunate officials would arrive at Suzugamori to confirm the details of the condemned person’s case and observe (another meaning of the word o-tachiai) the execution. That means Tachiaigawa would mean “the place on the river where the shōgunate observed and confirmed executions.”

Because there are two theories presented, this seems to be a solid case for this etymology – on the surface. But guess who has two thumbs, writes JapanThis!, and thinks this is bullshit?

two thumbs

The Edo Period wasn’t that long ago. In fact, last year (2018) was the 150th anniversary of 大政奉還 Taisei Hōkan the shōgunate handing political authority over to the imperial court or 明治維新 Meiji Ishin the Meiji Coup (depending on which side you take). But think about it. Who the fuck would want to brag about living in a neighborhood famous for thousands of executions? To this very day, the former execution grounds of Suzugamori and Kozukappara are some of the least desirable places for real estate, with rent being cheap, and zero developers swooping in to build swanky high-rise apartments and shopping centers[xii]. In fact, the only reason people even live in areas like Tachiaigawa is because of necessity caused by urban sprawl in the post-war years. It’s the main reason the area still feels like the post-war years. Very little has changed since the 1960’s and 70’s! I doubt the execution thing would be a source of pride for the local fishermen and seaweed farmers who operated in this area from before the Edo Period until the 1950’s. Even the “Bridge of Tears” is a nickname. The official name is still “Seaside River Bridge” referring to the fact that it was literally a bridge crossing a river that emptied into the sea. Way more kosher than all that dark execution shit.

ryoma warehouse (1 of 1)

Because Tosa Domain had a huge residence here, you’ll find references to Sakamoto Ryōma and the Black Ships everywhere. For example, on this warehouse or whatever it is.

Theory 4: Where Water Meets Water

In doing this research, I remembered that time I got rivered. There were a few times I came across the kanji stand and meet. We see this in place names like 立川 Tachikawa Tachikawa and words like 合流 gōryū confluence. Without ever reviewing my previous research, it just seemed natural that a place where a river flowed into the sea would be called Tachiai-gawa. Why invoke all this stuff about samurai battles and executions?

To quote from my article on the Meguro River:

The Shinagawa clan was a branch of the main 大井氏 Ōi-shi Ōi clan. In order to irrigate their fief, the Ōi clan dabbled in a little river manipulation. Somewhere near the place called 立会川 Tachiaigawa (the modern kanji mean something like “the place where rivers stand together/come together”), the Ōi separated a section of the river 断ち合い川 tachiai kawa rivers that cut off from each other.  This happened in the Kamakura Period. One of the branches passed by 瀧泉寺 Ryūsen-ji Ryūsen Temple in Shimo-Meguro (see my article on Meguro).

I can’t find any maps from the Kamakura Period for this area[xiii], but Edo Period maps are readily available both online and in my private collection. Although it’s underground today, you can still trace a split in the river near Tachiaigawa Station that once flowed into the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki suburban palace of 土佐藩 Tosa Han Tosa Domain. I’m assuming this is a remnant of the Kamakura Period waterworks. And when I say you can trace the path, I mean you can literally walk the path of the river today. Like right now. I dare you to do it, you lazy fuck.

All of those other fantastic theories are great stories, but if I were a betting man, I’d venture to say the etymology of Tachiaigawa is a mix of “rivers that split off from each other” and “where the river meets the sea.” In a bayside region full of rivers, Occam’s Razor comes down hard in favor of this theory. It’s clean and simple, looks like other derivations we’ve seen before, yet doesn’t require unattested battles, unconfirmed waterfalls and irregular diachronic sound changes, or a bizarre glorification of public executions for 250 some odd years and the shōgunate’s protocol in such matters. It’s just where water meets water. Pretty sure that’s it.

Further Reading:

hamakawa daiba (1 of 1).jpg

Cannon commemorating the Hamakawa Battery. Yup, that’s right. There’s a big ol’ cannon in the middle of a playground for children. Sounds more American than Japanese…

Sakamoto Ryōma

If you get off the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line at Tachiaigawa Station, you’ll find yourself in a very 下町 shitamachi low city neighborhood with a distinct post-war looking 商店街 shōtengai shopping street replete with local bars, yaki-tori joints, and a big old statue of 坂本龍馬 Sakamoto Ryōma. I’m not gonna explain who he was, you can read about him here. But across the street from the station is a school and residential area that sit on the suburban palace of his native domain, 土佐藩 Tosa-han Tosa Domain – modern 高知県 Kōchi-ken Kōchi Prefecture. He most definitely spent some time walking on the Tōkaidō while serving guard duty at the nearby by 浜川砲台 Hamagawa Hōdai Fort Hamagawa in his twenties[xiv]. In Tachiaigawa, you can find a cheap knock off of a famous statue in Kōchi, which itself is a cheap knock off of the iconic photograph of Ryōma himself taken at the 上野撮影局 Ueno Satsueikyoku Ueno Photography Studio in Nagasaki some time in 1867[xv]. At any rate, nearby is a placard depicting the four 黒船 Kurofune Black Ships commanded by Commodore Perry that arrived in Edo Bay in 1853: the Susquehanna, Mississippi, Saratoga, and Plymouth[xvi].

Further Reading:

ryoma tachiaigawa (1 of 1)

Ryōma voguing Bakumatsu style

tachiaigawa at night (1 of 1)

After a day of walking the old Tōkaidō, I love grabbing dinner Shōwa-style in Tachiaigawa.

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō With Me Japan This Guided Tours
(And yes, I’ll take you through Shinagawa post town and to Tachiaigawa, or even the execution grounds. It’s not for tourists, it’s for history nerds!)

 


[i] Or, a hole fucking year, if you’re on #TeamIenari.
[ii] One of the 5 Great Highways. The 東海道 Tōkaidō Eastern Sea Route and 中仙道  Nakasendō Mountain Pass Route connected the shōgun’s capital of 江戸 Edo Edo (modern day Tōkyō) with the imperial capital 京 Kyō (modern day Kyōto).
[iii] Of course I am lol
[iv] I’ve actually walked from 日本橋 Nihonbashi, the easternmost starting point on the Tōkaidō (the name literally means “the bridge to Japan”), to the modern city of Kawasaki. Without visiting too many temples and shrines and walking at a brisk pace, I made the journey in a day. I think most Edo Period people would easily spend a full day and night in Shinagawa before beginning the tedious walk to Kawasaki. Shinagawa offered delicious seafood, plenty of drinking and whoring, and a non-stop variety of amazing views of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. Some ghoulishly curious types probably checked out the execution grounds, cuz, yeah. Humans.
[v] At various points in history and depending on the stretch of river in question, this may have been referred to as the Shinagawa River.
[vi] It was directly controlled by the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate, but it wasn’t part of Edo proper. The term 国 kuni province was basically a traditional term – as it is today – to refer to old Heian Period territories. Today, it’s nostalgic, but in the Edo Period, province names were retained for their “classical appeal” and used in court titles.
[vii] It’s not.
[viii] I can’t find anything that satisfies these criteria.
[ix] This exact sound change is quite well known and regular in Latin languages – Italian and French in particular. Latin centum /kentum/ became Italian cento /tʃento/ (one hundred) and Latin cattus /cattus/ became French chat /ʃat/ (cat).
[x] Here’s my article on Suzugamori.
[xi] If their families even bothered to show up.
[xii] The exception being 小伝馬町 Kodenmachō, which is near 日本橋 Nihonbashi whose thriving business district overshadows the grim atmosphere of the neighborhoods around Suzugamori and Kozukappara. Kozukappara was so awful that the place name doesn’t exist outside of historical landmarks. Suzugamori’s name is still attached to a park and an elementary school.
[xiii] There might not be any, but maybe I’ll visit the 品川歴史館 Shinagawa Rekishikan Shinagawa History Museum again to see if they can help.
[xiv] This is a 30-40 minute walk today. I suspect in the Edo Period it would have taken about an hour.
[xv] If I remember correctly, the statue used to stand in front of a convenience store or something as a kinda gimmick. But since the renewal of the old Tōkaidō beginning in 2008 or so, they’ve played up Ryōma’s association with the area much more and put the (I’m assuming) plastic statue on a large concrete pedestal and put him in a park next to the train station.
[xvi] Not that these ships ever actually made it to Edo. They did their business in Uraga Bay which is actually miles from Edo-Tōkyō.

The Meguro River

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

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

 

The Meguro River.

The Meguro River.

Finally.

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

“A little daunting,” I thought!

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

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

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

Sometimes their smell comes up through the cracks, indeed.

Cruising on the Meguro RIver.

Cruising on the Meguro River.

 

 

Are You Going to Talk About the Meguro River??  

Yes, of course. Sorry about the digression.

 

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

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

 

What is the Meguro River?

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

 

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

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

 

The Meguro River Midori Michi

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Are the Meguro River and Shinagawa River the Same Thing?

Short answer, yes.

View of Ebara Shrine from Shinagawa Bridge.

View of Ebara Shrine from Shinagawa Bridge.

 

But I Think the Long Answer is More Interesting.

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

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

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

Family crest of the Minamoto, the shogunal family.

Family crest of the Minamoto, the shogunal family.

 

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

 

The Ōi Clan – River Makers

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

The Shinagawa clan was branch of the main 大井氏 Ōi-shi Ōi clan[viii]. In order to irrigate their fief, the Ōi clan dabbled in a little river manipulation. Somewhere near the place called 立会川 Tachiaigawa (the modern kanji mean something like “the place where rivers stand together/come together”), the Ōi separated a section of the river 断ち合い川 tachiai kawa rivers that cut off from each other[ix].  This happened in the Kamakura Period. One of the branches passed by 瀧泉寺 Ryūsen-ji Ryūsen Temple in Shimo-Meguro (see my article on Meguro).

 

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

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

 

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

 

The Meguro Clan – They Didn’t Do Shit

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

 

meguro clan residence

 

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

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

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

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

 

Which Brings me to my Final Point

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

 

Pilgrimage map.

Pilgrimage map.

 

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

 

Two cherry blossoms means two dead bodies. Awwwwww yeah.

Two cherry blossoms means two dead bodies. Awwwwww yeah.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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__________________________________________________

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

What does Samezu mean?

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

鮫洲
Samezu
(Shark Sandbar)

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

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

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

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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First, let’s look at the kanji.


same

shark


zu

sandbank, sandbar

 

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

 

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

 

samezu low tide

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

OK. Let’s Talk Etymology, Bitches.

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

 

I have gross doubts about these theories..

I have gross doubts about these theories..

 

① A Wooden Buddha Statue Did It Theory

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

 

Kaianji today

Kaianji today

 

② It’s An Old Dialect Word Theory

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

science_it_works_bitches_performance_dry_tshirt

Hooray for linguistics!

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

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

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

R00118481A1A1A1A

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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