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Posts Tagged ‘takanawa’

What does Kōnan mean?

In Japanese History on January 13, 2016 at 7:08 pm

港南
Kōnan (Southport)

konan exit 1

So… this was an easy topic to investigate because it’s such a new place name. It dates from the 1960’s so it’s well recorded. If you want a long etymology, you won’t get one. But if you want an accurate one, I can definitely give you that.

Let’s Talk About Shinagawa Station First

If you go to 品川駅 Shingawa Eki Shinagawa Station today, you’ll encounter a massive train station that is totally unique in Tōkyō. It’s huge and has access to much of Tōkyō and Japan, but it only has 2 exits[i]. It’s one of the oldest train stations in Japan, having opened in 1872 (Meiji 5). It’s also the 9th busiest train station in the world and it hovers around the 6th busiest position for JR East, which leads me to believe it’s probably also the 6th busiest station in Tōkyō, too.

高輪口
Takanawa-guchi

Takanawa Exit

港南口
Kōnan-guchi

Kōnan Exit

The Takanawa Exit is the oldest exit/entrance which faced former 高輪村 Takanawa Mura Takanawa Village located near the old 東海道 Tōkaidō Tōkaidō Highway[ii] which connected Edo to Kyōto. It was pure countryside in the Edo Period and became a suburb from Meiji to WWII. The train tracks of the modern 山手線 Yamanote Sen Yamanote Line and 京浜東北線 Keihin-Tōhoku Sen Keihin-Tōhoku Line originally hugged the coast of Edo Bay.

Kōnan didn’t exist at all until much later because… well, it was the sea lol.

Wanna Read More?

Let’s Look at the Kanji


minato,

port, harbor


minami, nan/na

south

The name officially dates from 1965, when the modern postal code system was created[iii]. The area, which lies on landfill built up during the prelude to the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics and has remained under development ever since, was named after the fact that it is located in the southern portion of 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward. As you see above, 港 minato means “port” or “harbor.” Therefore the ward’s name is literally “the harbor ward” and this area, in turn, was named “the south part of the harbor ward.”

I have heard a folk etymology that the name derives from 江南 Kōnan southern inlet/southern bay. This isn’t an unreasonable derivation. This could have been a local reference to the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River flowing into Edo Bay. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone supporting this theory, so I think this is a false etymology.

The name didn’t just pop out of nowhere, though. The Tōkyō Metropolitan Government and Minato Ward had been working hand in hand in the development of this area. In fact, the official postal address was predated by 2 earlier entities that included the word Kōnan in their names and thus foreshadowed the official postal code.

konan middle school

Kōnan Junior High. The trees mark the area as yamanote (high city) by some definitions.

The first was 港南中学校 Kōnan Chūgakkō Kōnan Junior High School[iv] – built in 1963. The second was the 都営港南団地 Toei Kōnan Danchi Toei Kōnan Public Housing Project which spanned the late early 1960’s to the 1980’s (the beginning of the Bubble Economy)[v]. 都営toei means operated by the Tōkyō Metropolitan government. 団地 danchi is literally apartment building but is often translated as “public housing project.” To an American like me, “public housing project” sounds like “the projects.” That is, public housing for super low income families. The image is more or less “the ghetto.” But in 1950’s-1960’s Tōkyō, this referred to low rent suburban city-owned apartment buildings that encouraged urban sprawl as a way to combat the population explosion in the center of the old city.

danchi shinagawa.jpg

History of the Area

In the Edo Period (1600-1868[vi]), there was nothing here but water – literally. Beginning in the Meiji Period the land was built out into Tōkyō Bay a little bit to accommodate Shinagawa Station and manufacturing interests. The bulk of this growth took place in the Post War years. Space was needed for mundane things like train yards and storage areas for container cars when the station was still used for commercial traffic as well as passenger traffic. Most of the shipping activity was stopped in 1980. More landfill was built up further and further out into the bay until 1994 after the economic bubble burst. Unused station-related structures in the Kōnan area were slowly demolished and removed leaving vast tracts of unused land.

big konan

We’re lucky to have this picture. Behind the photographer was a wastleland of landfills and factories and distribution companies. This shot, if my interpretation is correct, is viewing Tokyo proper in the 1960’s.

When I first moved to Japan[vii], I worked in Kōnan. This was 2005. A co-worker who had been living and working in the area for about 6-8 years told me about the tremendous changes he had seen in the area. He mentioned a slaughter house in the area – still active at the time[viii] – was one of the outstanding characteristics of his neighborhood. He also told me that everything I saw in Kōnan was new. The entire area and the current iteration of Shinagawa Station itself were products of huge development projects that finished about 2 years before we began working together. Today, I can confirm that’s true.

intercity

InterCity

In 2003, 品川インターシティ Shinagawa Intāshitī Shinagawa InterCity and many of the luxury sky rise apartments and office spaces were completed. InterCity is a massive business, residential, hotel, and restaurant development begun in 1984 (in 2005, it was home to certain engineering departments of Sony)[ix]. The sprawling complex is built on the ruins of a demolished switchyard and shipping container area and gives direct access to Shinagawa Station.

800px-Shinagawa_station_tokyo_japan_1984_aerial-2

InterCity’s development was based on this space.

Kōnan Exit isn’t the only Claim to Fame

Most expats living in Tōkyō know Kōnan as the home to a particularly special kind of hell – the 入国管理局 Nyūkoku Kanrikyoku Immigration Bureau of Japan, located in 港南五丁目 Kōnan go-chōme 5th block of Kōnan. Other than extremely long wait times[x], I’ve never had much of a problem with Immigration as others. But from what I’ve heard, the experience varies depending on your nationality. It can be a nerve wracking experience for some. After all, your chance of getting a visa or being told to get the fuck out of the country hangs in the balance. Yeah, the long lines suck (this can be avoided by going early on a Monday morning and avoiding Friday like the plague – also it doesn’t hurt to have a good history book or some nice podcasts), but probably the single most annoying thing is… other foreigners. Hygiene varies from country to country so there are some stinky muthafuckerz up in there. Crying babies with mothers who scold them in irritating languages you never want to hear abound. Rambunctious kids get bored out of their minds so they just run around the place like shaved monkeys on crack. At least there’s a little comic relief from the Japanese immigration lawyers greasing the wheels on behalf of hostesses and prostitutes from Russia and the Philippines as they hand over essential yakuza paperwork for getting entertainer visas for their clients.

immigration7

Most people are so irritated that they don’t know they have a great view of Tokyo Bay. You should check it out!

A Restaurant History Nerds Might Dig

土風炉 Tofuro is a chain of 居酒屋 izakaya Japanese style restaurant/pubs. They serve typical izakaya fare – sushi, sashimi, soba, tofu, edamame, grilled fish, and so on. Izakaya are great places to relax and eat and drink socially for extended periods of time.

tofuro mwh

Although my preference is for small, privately owned izakaya, this particular branch of Tofuro is pretty unique. It has a spacious décor designed to look like one of Edo’s 下町 shitamachi commoner towns[xi], complete with bridges, rivers, and warehouses. The lighting and background audio runs a cycle from dawn to morning to afternoon to dusk to evening to night. At dawn, roosters crow. In the afternoon, you can hear the sounds of a lively merchant city. As soon as the “sun” sets, a mock 花火大会 hanabi taikai fireworks display takes place in the sky (ie; ceiling). At midnight, the frogs and crickets are occasionally interrupted by periodic calls to put out any fires while you sleep. For a place you just go to eat and drink, it’s pretty full on.

tofuro

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[i] OK, this isn’t completely true. Shinagawa Station is actually a combination of 2 stations – a massive JR East station which includes 新幹線 shinkansen access and a shitty ass 京急 Keikyū station. The JR station has 2 exits. The janky ass Keikyū station has one exit – at least as far as I know.
[ii] Literally, the “eastern sea route.”
[iii] In Japanese, the current postal address system is called 住居表示 jūkyo hyōji displayed addresses. I usually refer to this as the postal code/post code – there is no standard translation of the term that I know of.
[iv] Or, Kōnan Middle School. Where I grew up we had junior highs, other places had middle schools. Same difference – lots of awkward kids with pimples.
[v] A quick note, I couldn’t find exact dates for the beginning and the end of the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government’s involvement in this particular development project, but these rough dates should be good enough in a general sense. There are still government owned apartments in the area, so in a sense, the city has never abandoned the project – it’s only development that has stopped. The area is located on the 山手線 Yamanote Sen Yamanote Line and 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station is a major hub station, so private developers have had a field day in the area since the 1990’s.
[vi] Roughly.
[vii] Not visited, mind you – moved.
[viii] I don’t know about now. But I bet it’s still there.
[ix] I’m not sure if they’re still there because about this same time, Sony began building a new headquarters building in Kōnan (it was formerly in nearby 大崎 Ōsaki), so I’m guessing they consolidated a few things in their own building at that time. But… I’m not sure.
[x] I sat there for 3½ hours once.
[xi] I usually translate this as “low city,” but gonna keep things interesting because of my last article about Yamanote vs Shitamachi.

What does Fuda no Tsuji mean?

In Japanese History on May 5, 2015 at 2:42 pm

札の辻
Fuda no Tsuji (bulletin board crossroads)

Spoiler Alert: This is the commemorative plaque set up by Minato Ward.

Spoiler Alert: This is the commemorative plaque set up by Minato Ward.

I often walk around sections of Tōkyō that Edoites would have recognized as 日比谷 Hibiya[i], 新橋 Shinbashi[ii], 芝 Shiba[iii], 三田 Mita[iv], 高輪 Takanawa[v], and 品川 Shinagawa[vi]. The boundaries and names of these areas have been a little fluid over the centuries, but those are the sweeping Edo Period names of these large districts. Today, things are a bit more specific. When walking from present day 日比谷公園 Hibiya Kōen Hibiya Park towards present day 芝公園 Shiba Kōen Shiba Park, I always pass an overhanging sign for drivers that points in the direction of a place called 札の辻 Fuda no Tsuji. I always thought to myself, “I should look into that someday.” And guess what? My lazy ass has never done it. So having seen the sign a thousand times, I finally decided to look into it.

I soon found out that this isn’t actually an official Tōkyō place name anymore. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, it’s never been an “official” place name. It was a nickname the area has held on to for dear life since the 1700’s when it was inadvertently stolen[vii].

Today, there is a small plaque (shown above) explaining the history of the area – and when I say small, I mean it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the darkness of this place, nor does it do justice to how important the area actually was to the first 100 some odd years of Edo under the Tokugawa.

This is a depiction of Fuda no Tsuji in Nagoya. The place name is common throughout Japan. Even though this is Nagoya, I hope that when you finish this article, you'll be able to spot the similarities and differences between the Edo-Tokyo location and the Nagoya location.

This is a depiction of Fuda no Tsuji in Nagoya. The place name is common throughout Japan.
Even though this is Nagoya, I hope that when you finish this article, you’ll be able to spot the similarities and differences between the Edo-Tokyo location and the Nagoya location.

First Let’s Look at the Kanji

This place name is simple. It’s made of 2 kanji:


fuda, satsu

a notice, a posted bulletin


tsuji

a street corner, a crossroads, an intersection
A traditional Japan sign (fuda).

A traditional Japan sign (fuda).

The second kanji is really interesting to me because it’s 国字 kokuji, a kanji created in Japan. That is to say, it wasn’t imported from China. I’m 100% sure the Chinese had intersections for thousands of years, but for some reason the Japanese saw fit to create this unique character. It’s not a rare character at all either. It’s so common in Japan that it’s used in a lot of family names and place names throughout the country.

A random photo of a Taisho Period intersection. Modern Japanese cities are generally huddled together close knit towns and so intersections have always been very important. This photo includes a "police box" which emphasizes the importance and centrality of this particular location.

A random photo of a Taisho Period intersection. Modern Japanese cities are generally huddled together close knit towns and so intersections have always been very important. This photo includes a “police box” which emphasizes the importance and centrality of this particular location.

The first character is also extremely high frequency. Its provenance isn’t as important as its association with this place name. The consensus seems to be that it was shorthand for two concepts.

高札
kōsatsu

a bulletin board, official signage (a general term)

制札
seisatsu

official posted regulations and prohibitions of a daimyō or the shōgunate (a specific term)

People don’t learn the rules by osmosis, and they certainly didn’t have the internet, so yeah, you put a sign in a high trafficked area and hoped people would read it and share with their friends. In Edo, these spots were called 御高札場 o-kōsatsuba bulletin board areas, but modern Japanese just call them 高札場 kōsatsuba[viii]. There were at least thirty-five official shōgunate-controlled o-kōsatsuba in Edo. 6 were designated as 大高札場 daikōsatsuba[ix] major bulletin board sites. The major bulletin boards were placed on the main routes into the city. Of course, local towns and villages within Edo-Tōkyō had their own bulletin boards, so it’s impossible to guess how many notice boards existed at any one time in the city until quite recently.

The word 高札 is usually rendered as kōsatsu, which is the 音読み on’yomi Chinese reading. In 訓読み kun’yomi, the Japanese reading, the word can be rendered as takafuda. In the city of Edo, a minor bulletin would be a fuda. But a major bulletin (ie; one issued by the shōgunate) would have been a takafuda – literally a “high announcement.” And yes, these so-called takafuda/kōsatsu were actually larger and posted higher than other announcements.

But to sum it up, Fuda no Tsuji means “the message board intersection.” There are other places throughout Japan with the same name (or some variation thereof). But in short, etymologically speaking, this is about as fucking banal as it gets.

Luckily, there’s much more to this story than the name and believe me, we’re going to get into all of it.

You can see the name Fuda no Tsuji on this overpass.

You can see the name Fuda no Tsuji on this overpass.

But First!

What Does an Edo Period Bulletin Board Look Like?

That is an excellent question!  If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve definitely seen the modern version. But if you’ve been to an 温泉町 onsen machi hot spring town or 宿場町 shukuba machi an old post town that eke their existences out of maintaining a traditional “Old Japan” atmosphere, you’ve probably seen the most traditional version. To be sure, you’ll absolutely see them in the Tōkyō Metropolis. In fact, one of the best preserved examples of one is in 府中 Fuchū[x] located in western Tōkyō.

An old kosatsuba (I believe this one is from Nagano on the Nakasendo highway, but don't quote me on that).

An old kosatsuba (I believe this one is from Nagano on the Nakasendo highway, but don’t quote me on that).

One of the major kosatsuba of Edo, was this one located in Nihonbashi. Note that it's propped up on stone base. This must have sucked for people with bad eyesight - remember no glasses back then.

One of the major kosatsuba of Edo, was this one located in Nihonbashi. Note that it’s propped up on stone base.
This must have sucked for people with bad eyesight – remember no glasses back then.

This is the Edo Period kosatsuba preserved in Fuchu. It's pretty impressive. Obviously there are no active announcements on it.

This is the Edo Period kosatsuba preserved in Fuchu. It’s pretty impressive. Obviously there are no active announcements on it.

So Let’s Take a Look at the History

But just a quick warning: In this article we’re going to breeze through the reign of the 2nd and 3rd of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan, the establishment of the Tokugawa Shōgunate and the first 6 shōguns. The details of these rulers aren’t very important to the story of Fuda no Tsuji, but the more you know about Japanese history, the more you will appreciate having them in the background[xi]. For my J-History padawans, skipping the names and dates of the rulers is fair game.

The reason I bring this up is that we’re going to have to look at the persecution and subsequent annihilation of Christianity in Japan. It’s tangential to our story, but so are the people who played a major role in it. We’re going to burn the Christians in a few paragraphs, so those of you with short attention spans may want to stick around.

names & dates

Some Names to Remember

織田信長
Oda Nobunaga
1534-1582

A daimyō warlord, often called the first of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan.

豊臣秀吉
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
1536ish-1598

A daimyō warlord who rose from commoner status to imperial regent. Although he is often considered the 2nd of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan, he pretty much unified Japan. He was an awesome general, but kind of a shit ruler.

徳川家康
Tokugawa Ieyasu
1543-1616

A daimyō warlord who was the 3rd Great Unifier of Japan and by that I mean, he actually unified the realm and established a dynasty and a peace that lasted more than 250 years. He was granted the rank of shōgun.

徳川秀忠
Tokugawa Hidetada
1579-1632

The 2nd shōgun and first stage of creating a Tokugawa hegemony. He initiated building projects that enhanced Tokugawa power and started a trend of ignoring foreign relations.

徳川家光
Tokugawa Iemitsu
1604-1651

The 3rd shōgun. He was the first shōgun who wasn’t a Sengoku Period warlord. He continued isolationist policies and focused on enhancing Tokugawa power.

徳川家綱
Tokugawa Ietsuna
1641-1680

The 4th shōgun. He could be considered the first real Edo Period shōgun. He focused on internal issues and rejected foreign notions.

徳川綱吉
Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
1646-1709

The 5th shōgun. Too complex to get into now, but his reign was marked by many cultural events.

徳川家宣
Tokugawa Ienobu
1662-1712

The 6th shōgun. Nobody gives a shit about this guy today, but I’m sure he thought he was pretty important at the time.
Pop Quiz!!! I'll give a cupcake to whomever can tell me which shogun this is.

Pop Quiz!!!
I’ll give a cupcake to whomever can tell me which shogun this is.

A Very Different Sight than Today

Visually speaking, the area isn’t much to look at today. But before WWII, this area sat on the coast of Edo Bay[xii]. A traditional highway called the 東海道 Tōkaidō[xiii] “the eastern coastal route” followed the coastline of Edo Bay. This highway had connected 関東 Kantō with the imperial court in 京都 Kyōto since at least the Heian Period. By the time 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu became lord of the 8 Kantō Provinces and established his capital in Edo in the 1590’s, the Tōkaidō was already the main access point to the city. At the beginning of the Edo Period, you would have seen a wide highway of dirt and stone and small clusters of tea houses and other merchant buildings that lined the road. The view of the bay must have been stunning. On a clear day, you probably could have seen 常陸国 Hitachi no Kuni Hitachi Province[xiv] on the far end of the bay. The area was famous for 月見 tsukimi moon viewing. Rich commoners and samurai alike would come to the tea houses that dotted the coast to indulge in a little drinking and whoring and watch the moon move across the sky while reflected in the calm waters of the bay.

The famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku that I've posted hundreds of times.  Yeah, so... it's near Fuda no Tsuji.

The famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku that I’ve posted hundreds of times.
Yeah, so… it’s near Fuda no Tsuji.

Fuda no Tsuji was a fork in the road for the Tōkaidō highway. If you were coming to Edo you were traveling eastward. On the left side of the road was an unnamed street that entered a commoners’ town and led to 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi (near present day Tōkyō Tower). Today that street is called 三田通り Mita Dōri Mita Street. The Tōkaidō itself continued eastward until it terminated at 日本橋 Nihonbashi, the terminus of the 五街道 Go Kaidō 5 Great Highways of Edo[xv]. Because this fork in the road was a major access point to the shōgun’s capital, the area was chosen as a major bulletin board site. Any unique rules of the capital, new proclamations, announcements, and coupons for TGI Fridays were posted here[xvi].

Here you can see the Tokaido (eastern coastal road) and its intersection with the road this is called Mita Dori today.

Here you can see the Tokaido (eastern coastal road) and its intersection with the road this is called Mita Dori today.

On a modern map, the only real difference is the fact that the land has been built out so far that the shape of the bay is very different. The intersection is the same, though.

On a modern map, the only real difference is the fact that the land has been built out so far that the shape of the bay is very different. The intersection is the same, though.

Disturbances of the Peace and those Pesky Christians

If you know anything about Japanese history and Christianity, you probably know that this isn’t going to end for somebody and there’s a 99% chance that the somebody is a Christian. There’s also a good chance that there will be an ol’ fashioned burning at the stake. Yee haw.

Since the 1590’s, Tokugawa Ieyasu ruled the Kantō provinces from his new capital of Edo[xvii]. In 1603, Ieyasu was granted the title 征夷大将軍 Sei’i Tai-Shōgun Great General Who Conquers the Barbarians by 後陽成天皇 Go-Yōzei Tennō Emperor Go-Yōzei[xviii] and was basically the supreme power in Japan. Once he felt he had settled in and had gotten his house in order, he retired in 1605. This allowed his son 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada to become the second shōgun which assured a smooth dynastic transition of power. Ieyasu assumed the title 大御所 ōgosho (essentially, “retired guy who sits off stage but is very much still pulling the strings”). Things were more or less peaceful, but there were still factions holding out here and there, particularly among the relatives and supporters of the deceased 豊臣秀吉Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Ōsaka and the foreign Christian population and the Japanese Christian population. About 7-8 years into shōgun Hidetada’s reign, things started to come to a head.

The Ōsaka discussion is another topic unto itself, but needless to say, in the winter of 1614 to the summer of 1615, the retired shōgun Ieyasu and reigning shōgun Hidetada laid siege to 大阪城 Ōsaka-jō Ōsaka Castle. Also in 1614, Ieyasu promulgated an edict that echoed Hideyoshi’s 1587 expulsion of Christians from Japan. Ieyasu wanted to secure his 天下 tenka realm under his family’s control and these 2 groups were causing the most trouble. The Hideyoshi supporters were actually the least of his concern because that could be solved by a clear political and military action. The Christians could have proven more difficult, but after overstaying their welcome and somewhat utilitarian convenience by 27 years, the Christians were just a foreign infection that needed to be stamped out before they spread more.

Daimyō loyal to the Tokugawa began expelling and executing Christians. Forced de-conversions of the Japanese elite became commonplace. Foreigners who weren’t granted express permission to be in the country were expelled or sent to special foreign trade settlements. Japan was quickly becoming a so-called “closed country[xix].”

This is a 踏み絵 (fumi-e). The anti-Christian movement wanted Christians to step on and grind into the ground Christian imagery to prove they weren't Christians.

This is a 踏み絵 (fumi-e). The anti-Christian movement wanted Christians to step on and grind into the ground Christian imagery to prove they weren’t Christians.

Keep Out!

In 1616, retired shōgun Ieyasu died and reigning shōgun Hidetada ordered the installation of an 御高札場 o-kōsatsuba bulletin board area at the aforementioned intersection of the Tōkaidō road and the unnamed street in 芝 Shiba that led towards 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi[xx] – that is to say, the place where you were getting within walking distance of Edo Castle. The shōgunate felt that any travelers – be they merchants or daimyō – needed to know the local manners before they entered the city. In short, if you diverged from the Tōkaidō here, you were entering the shōgun’s domain and you best act proper, son. You are now entering Edo.

It’s about this time that the local people began referring to the area as the 札之辻 Fuda no Tsuji “bulletin board intersection.” It was definitely a landmark on a highly trafficked road. The local residents were clearly proud of the fact that this intersection was officially endorsed as an entrance to the city.

In this awesome picture of Tokiwabashi (bridge) and Tokiwabashi Go-Mon (gate), you can see the large kosatsuba. This was also one of the 6 main kosatsuba of Edo.

In this awesome picture of Tokiwabashi (bridge) and Tokiwabashi Go-Mon (gate), you can see the large kosatsuba. This was also one of the 6 main kosatsuba of Edo.

Time to Burn Some Christians[xxi]

The shōgunate was slowly realizing that one of the main precepts of Christianity was proselytization. That meant they felt there was a real possibility of a “Christian conquest” – or at the very least an effort to destabilize the new Tokugawa peace. Furthermore, the Catholics in the country were loyal to a mysterious distant king called “the pope” whose influence was strong in many European countries. What if this pope guy started meddling in the affairs of the Tokugawa shōgunate?

The second shōgun, Hidetada, was not about to let his family’s newly acquired status go to waste, and so he put into motion processes that would ultimately extinguish Christianity in Japan. But essentially he was just reinforcing the earlier anti-Christian edicts of Hideyoshi and Ieyasu.

In 1622, 55 Christians in Nagasaki who had refused to renounce their religion were punished. Some were beheaded, but the most obstinate offenders were burned alive. The Christian problem in Edo continued to build because the persecution laws weren’t enforced in a uniform way. Foreigners and their foreign religions were still somewhat tolerated[xxii]. But in the same year, Hidetada stepped down as shōgun, and elevated his son 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu to the rank of shōgun. As 大御所 ōgosho (retired shōgun), Hidetada watched over the 19 year old shōgun, as did the 老中 rōjū senior council.

In 1623, an order to burn 50 Christians at the stake was issued in Iemitsu’s name[xxiii]. Since executions meant to send a message, Fuda no Tsuji – the proverbial genkan[xxiv] of Edo – was chosen as the spot. As you can imagine, anyone coming into the shōgun’s capital (and anyone leaving it) via the Tōkaidō would have seen this spot. Just as with the notice boards and signage, it was the perfect location to send a message to people via public execution and display.

In 1632, the retired 2nd shōgun Hidetada died and was interred in a magnificent mausoleum in Shiba. But the illegal Christian population continued to cause problems here and there. Things reached a tipping point in the winter of 1637, when 3rd shōgun Iemitsu decided to lay a massive samurai smack down on the city of 島原 Shimabara in southwestern Japan[xxv]. The local Christians and even the local daimyō paid with their lives. For all intents and purposes, this was the end of Christianity in Pre-Modern Japan[xxvi].

Christins about to get burnt alive. Ouch.

Christins about to get burnt alive. Ouch.

Moving Things Away From the Shōgun’s Castle

In 1651, the shōgunate created a new execution ground at 鈴ヶ森 Suzugamori[xxvii] on the coast of Edo Bay in品川 Shinagawa.  The city had been growing rapidly, and the city’s “spiritual purity” was seen to be at risk. Moving the executions from Fuda no Tsuji to Suzugamori was a move to keep the shōgun’s capital “untainted.”

60 years later, in 1710, the 6th shōgun 徳川家宣 Tokugawa Ienobu moved the message board to the actual border of the capital on the Tōkaidō. The new location was about 700 meters from Fuda no Tsuji in 高輪 Takanawa. The new entrance to Edo was called the 高輪大木戸 Takanawa Ōkido. The name literally means “the great wooden door of Takanawa.”

When you entered a town, there was usually a 町木戸 machikido town gate guarded by at least 2 木戸番 kidoban guards – usually old men who lived on the premises of the gate. Originally, the Takanawa Ōkido functioned like one of these city gates. It was similar to a 関所 sekisho highway check point where shōgunate or domain officials checked your travel documents. The differences is machikido were located throughout the city. The gates of these machikido would close at about 10 PM and re-open at daybreak. Edo wasn’t in a complete lockdown after 10 PM, though. If you had good reason to pass through a machikido, you’d summon the 番太郎様 bantarō-sama, a friendly nickname for the guards, ask them to open the gate for you, and they’d let you pass. The guards would then strike a pair of 拍子木 hyōshigi wooden clappers to alert the guards of the next gate that a traveler was coming.

Unlike the standard wooden machikido, this grand ōkido was a wooden gate supported by 石垣 ishigaki stone walls. Whether it was due to earthquake, fire, both, or just plain decommissioned, the wooden structure ceased to be used. Artwork from 1800 shows the stone walls in place but any kind of wooden structure isn’t depicted. Artwork 1868, depicting the imperial army clearly shows the stone walls and kōsatsu (bulletins, signage), although there is a wooden pole next to the wall[xxviii]. So despite starting life as a grand doorway to Edo, the Takanawa Ōkido was essentially a glorified o-kōsatsuba bulletin board with 2 disembodied stone walls on either side of the street.

The simplest version of a machikido looked like this one at the Fukagawa Shitamachi Museum.

The simplest version of a machikido looked like this one at the Fukagawa Shitamachi Museum.

This is a more elaborate and imposing gate in Tatebayashi. It served as a checkpoint between the commoner section of town and the samurai section of town that surrounded Tatebayashi Castle.

This is a more elaborate and imposing gate in Tatebayashi. It served as a checkpoint between the commoner section of town and the samurai section of town that surrounded Tatebayashi Castle.
(If you want to see more photos of this structure, click the photo to my Tatebayashi album on Flickr.)

The Takanawa Okido in the early 1800's. This picture clearly shows the stone walls. I haven't been able to find a single picture with a gate.  Note that the tops are overgrown with grass. This is typical of stone fortifications after the wooden structures were removed. This is sight that would become commonplace when the outer gates of Edo Castle were torn down in the Meiji Period. The stone bases often stayed in place and grass sprung up on the earth inside the walls.

The Takanawa Okido in the early 1800’s. This picture clearly shows the stone walls. I haven’t been able to find a single picture with a gate.
Note that the tops are overgrown with grass. This is typical of stone fortifications after the wooden structures were removed. This is sight that would become commonplace when the outer gates of Edo Castle were torn down in the Meiji Period. The stone bases often stayed in place and grass sprung up on the earth inside the walls.
Also note that there is no kostasuba.

The Takanawa Okido in the 1830's. This picture clearly shows the stone walls. I haven't been able to find a single picture with a gate. Note that the top is overgrown with grass. This is typical of stone fortification after the wooden structures were removed. This is sight that would become commonplace when the outer gates of Edo Castle were torn down in the Meiji Period. The stone bases often stayed in place and grass sprung up on the earth inside the walls.

The Takanawa Okido in the 1830’s. You can see some free standing sign posts; I’m assuming those associated with the kosatsuba, but I don’t know.

This is the Takanawa Okido in 1868, after the Meiji Coup. You can see troops of the imperial army marching out of the city through the Okido. Interestingly, there is a tall wooden post on the inside of the stone wall. I'm not sure if this was a temporary structure, a late 1800's thing, or just part of the artist's imagination.

This is the Takanawa Okido in 1868, after the Meiji Coup. You can see troops of the imperial army marching out of the city through the Okido. Interestingly, there is a tall wooden post on the inside of the stone wall. I’m not sure if this was a temporary structure, a late 1800’s thing, or just part of the artist’s imagination.

Nice Story. But You’re Talking About Takanawa, not Fuda no Tsuji…

Yes, you’re right, but I wanted to give you the whole story. I also wanted to go back to something I mentioned at the beginning of the article: this isn’t an official place name today and to the best of my knowledge it was never an official place name.

When the kōsatsuba (bulletin board) was moved from the intersection in Shiba to a non-intersection in Takanawa, something new began appearing in maps. Prior to this change, the area was referred to as just 芝 Shiba or 芝口 Shibaguchi[xxix], but after the relocation, the area began to appear on maps as 旧札之辻 Kyū-Fuda no Tsuji Former Bulletin Place or even just 札之辻 Fuda no Tsuji Bulletin Place. What I think we may be able to imply from this is that the literary Chinese words[xxx] that would describe the site, o-kōsatsuba “honorable bulletin board site,” hadn’t been used by the local townspeople – who were commoners. They were using the every day 江戸っ子 Edo-kko Edoite parlance “takafuda.” If this is the case, then 札の辻 fuda no tsuji “bulletin crossroad” is just a lower register of the language used by the average Tarō on the street.

A map showing the intersection in 1868.

A map showing the intersection in 1868.
Interestingly, this map refers to the area in a variant of the popular place name Dōbō-chō which means “monk town.”

So What’s Left Of This Area?

After the notice boards were moved to Takanawa, the execution site of Christians in 1624 and 1639 was replaced with a Buddhist temple called 智福寺 Chifuku-ji[xxxi]. The temple had a grand residence for the monks, all of whom were closely associated with the shōgunate. In nearby 三田三丁目 Mita San-chōme is an area called 同朋町 Dōbō-chō, literally “buddy town.” 同朋 dōhō/dōbō refers to monks who are pursuing the same spiritual pursuits. (This is also a common place name around Japan). I’m not sure about their intentions, but one can imagine the shōgunate wanted to purify the area where they had executed numerous Christians so close to the castle – thus creating a “Buddhist monk town.” The temple doesn’t exist today, but on the site there is a monument honoring those killed. However, just like Fuda no Tsuji, Dōbō-chō isn’t an official postal address. But also just like Fuda no Tsuji, it’s used by the locals and appears on signs and maps.

A shinkansen rolling under Fuda no Tsuji Bridge.

A shinkansen rolling under Fuda no Tsuji Bridge.

Today, much of these stories aren’t known except by people who actually live in the area and bothered reading the signs. However, the area is apparently well known among 新幹線オタク shinkansen otaku shinkansen geeks because there is a curve in the tracks and they think they can get dynamic photos of the trains coming around the bend. But to be honest, I think it’s a brutally ugly area to take photos. There’s just a gaggle of tracks and wires and very little greenery. 11 sets of tracks cross through this area, so the city built a bridge called 札の辻橋 Fuda no Tsuji Hashi Fuda no Tsuji Bridge. The bridge is where the train geeks go with their cameras to get full view of trains coming around the corner. In addition to the shinkansen, the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line, 東海道線 Tōkaidō-sen Tōkaidō Line, and 京浜東北線 Keihin-Tōhoku-sen Keihin-Tōhoku Line pass through this spot.

Kamezuka Park, long thought to be a kofun (pre-historic tumulus), turned out just to be a kids park.

Kamezuka Park, long thought to be a kofun (pre-historic tumulus), turned out just to be a kids park.

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Also in the area is a certain 亀塚公苑 Kamezuka Kōen Kamezuka Park. Located on a large hill, the area was home to the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence of the lords of 沼田藩 Numata Han Numata Domain in 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province (more or less modern day 群馬県 Gunma Ken Gunma Prefecture). After the Meiji Coup, the residence was given to the 華頂宮 Kachō-no-miya Kachō imperial princes, a collateral imperial family established during the Bakumatsu. A single wall of that post-Edo Period mansion still exists today in the park. The Kachō princes typically underperformed and actually went extinct at one point, requiring another imperial relative to assume the name to keep it going. Until the end of WWII, the family was called 華頂宮 Kachō-no-miya indicating their imperial lineage. However, after the war, all imperial branches – except for the direct imperial line – were dissolved and theoretically reduced to commoner status. If I’m not mistaken, the last surviving Kachō died in 1970.

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Some of the surviving walls of the Kacho family's estate.

Some of the surviving walls of the Kacho family’s estate.

That Imperial Family Shit Was So Unnecessary

Sorry, they were in the neighborhood, but, yeah, I went off on a tangent – but think of it as added value. But, you’re right. It’s time to wind down and bring this article to a finish. So, yeah. Fuda no Tsuji. Sign posts. Gates. Highways. Edo Bay.

In short, Fuda no Tsuji was a place were a major sign post was located at one of the entrances to Edo in Shiba (Mita). The location served as an execution ground on an occasion or two. The execution ground was moved to Shinagawa. The bulletin boards were moved to Takanawa where a major check point was built that didn’t last long. The reference to the old sign stuck. Fuda no Tsuji. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

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[i] I have an article about Hibiya here.
[ii] I have an article about Shinbashi here.
[iii] I have an article about Shiba here.
[iv] I have an article about Mita here.
[v] I have an article about Takanawa here.
[vi] My article about Shinagawa is the same as my Takanawa article.
[vii] Long story. Hence the long blog.
[viii] Compare Odaiba which derives from 御台場 o-daiba, originally from 台場 daiba . I have an article about Odaiba here.
[ix] To be honest, I’m not exactly sure about the reading of this word, it could also have been ōtakafudaba. I’ll address the discrepancy a little bit later. But regardless, the meaning is the same.
[x] My 2 part series on Chōfu was supposed to be a 3 part series which would have included Fuchū, but I wanted to take a break from cute young girls bleaching cloth in the river to move on to a few other topics. I will cover Fuchū eventually. Don’t worry.
[xi] If we discussed some small event in early American history, you’d want to know who was president at the time….
[xii] Obviously, Tōkyō Bay today.
[xiii] I have an article about the main highways of the Edo Period.
[xiv] Modern day 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture. By the way this “Hitachi” has nothing to do with the famous company that has given the world the Hitachi Magic Wand – widely regarded as the most intense vibrator on earth. That company’s kanji are 日立 Hitachi and mean “rising sun.”
[xv] I have an excellent article about the 5 Great Highways of Edo that I know you’d love to read!
[xvi] Apparently, TGI Fridays was huuuuuuge in Edo.
[xvii] He was originally from 三河国岡崎 Mikawa no Kuni Okazaki Okazaki, Mikawa Province (present day 愛知県岡崎市 Aichi-ken Okazaki-shi Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture).
[xviii] The 後 go means “later” and is the equivalent to when European monarchs/popes with the same name are referred to by II, III, IV, etc. The Japanese don’t count the iteration; they just indicate that this is later usage of the same name. Long time readers will recognize this prefix from the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi Late Hōjō clan who modeled their clan name off the 北条氏 Hōjō-shi Hōjō clan. At Samurai Archives, you can read about the Hōjō and the Late Hōjō. Oh, sorry, if you’re interested in the emperor himself (which you’re probably not because no one ever is), you can read more about him here.
[xix] A lot of people bicker about the use of the terms 鎖国 sakoku closed country and 海禁 kaikin maritime restrictions to describe Tokugawa foreign policy, but I actually like both terms. Clearly at this point, there are some maritime restrictions, but soon things will get very North Korea-esque (closed country, anyone?). That said, for the average Joe on the street, Japan would become a closed country. For the reality of certain conduits of trade, Japan was just a severely restricted country. As much as I love Japan now, the closest modern analogy is North Korea.
[xx] I have an article about Akabanebashi here. It also comes up in my articles on Huesken, Kiyokawa, and, Kiyokawa’s grave.
[xxi] After all, that’s probably why you’re still reading anyways, you sick fucks.
[xxii] And until you’re told to kill someone for believing some different religion, I imagine the average Japanese person didn’t really want to hate or kill these people. The feudal lords and the Tokugawa Shōgunate itself were benefiting from information, technology, and trade imported by westerners.
[xxiii] I can totally see an impulsive 19 year old burning people at the stake and Iemitsu could be the guy who did it. But it could have been Hidetada or the senior council who pushed him to do it. It’s fair to say we don’t know who actually pushed for this action the most.
[xxiv] This is my term. A 玄関 genkan is the entrance of a Japanese house. When entering a Japanese home, there is a small area at ground level for taking off your shoes and stashing your umbrellas. Then you enter the home by stepping up on to the elevated floor of the house.
[xxv] It’s usually painted as a religious smack down, but actually, the causes of the Shimabara Rebellion go beyond religious issues. But for the flow of this article, I’m staying with the religious narrative for the sake of being concise.
[xxvi] Christianity re-emerged in the Bakumatsu but even today only small segment of the population will admit to believing it. Christians make up about 1% of the population, and most of them are in Tōkyō. While modern Japan isn’t officially anti-Christian, the country is more or less secular and crucified zombie god myths don’t go over so well here.
[xxvii] Check out my article on Suzugamori here.
[xxviii] This may just be symbolic or the artist may have misremembered the scene.
[xxix] As I also alluded to at the beginning of this article, the place names of Mita, Shiba, and Hibiya are very fluid. They warrant another article in and of themselves. So for this article let’s not worry about borders and what not.
[xxx] But to be honest only the “kōsatsu” part is the Chinese reading. The honorific “o-” and the suffix “ba” are both the Japanese readings.
[xxxi] I’m fuzzy on the details. The temple may have existed previously to attend graves and funerary rites of the executed, but I don’t know.

Shinagawa Station – Then and Now

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on October 11, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I haven’t updated in a while, so please accept my apologies. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment but there is an article in the works. That said, an idea came to me while on the shitter thinking about Edo Bay vs. Tōkyō Bay (as one does). So I thought I’d share a bunch of cool pictures of Shinagawa.

Sorry for the poor quality, I took the picture from a book. Left side is Edo Period. Right side is today.

Sorry for the poor quality, I took the picture from a book.
Left side is Edo Period. Right side is today.

In the Edo Period, the Shinagawa/Takanawa area was a collection of bustling seaside villages, but compared to castle town of Edo, it was quite rural. It was the literal edge of Edo. The Tōkaidō, a highway connecting the shogun’s capital in Edo with emperor’s capital in Kyōto, began in Nihonbashi and the first post town (rest town) was Shinagawa. The men leaving the capital could a decent meal, take care of any drinking and whoring they needed to get out of their system, and hob nob with samurai from various domains (which was arguably illegal). The men coming into the capital could get a decent meal, get their garments cleaned or pick up something new, take care of any drinking and whoring they needed to get out of their system, and any other final arrangements before entering the shōgun’s capital[i]. Shinagawa’s growth was a byproduct of sankin-kōtai, the Edo Period system of “alternate attendance.”

Arguably the most famous image of Shinagawa ever. If you walk the old Tokaido today, you can walk this same road but there is no water anywhere in sight today.

Arguably the most famous image of Shinagawa ever. If you walk the old Tokaido today, you can walk this same road but there is no water anywhere in sight today.

In the Meiji Era, the Tōkaidō was the obvious route for a new railroad. Connecting Edo→Tōkyō with Ōsaka and Kyōto was necessary and preserved the life of many villages by pulling them into the fold of Meiji Japan’s “modernization” efforts. The modern bay area was built up bit by bit since the Meiji Era, but the bulk of construction took place in the post WWII years. By the time of the Tōkyō Olympics in 1964 shit was out of control. Today, Edo’s shoreline is long gone. A few place names preserve its memory— a river channel here and there survive along the old coastline. But for better or worse, Tōkyō Bay is completely different animal than the former Edo Bay.

The former shoreline roughly follows the modern day JR tracks, ie; the Yamanote Line.

Early Meiji ukiyo-e of Shinagawa Station. I think this picture isn't accurate, but it shows a man-made wave breaker that you can see on the Edo Period map.

Early Meiji ukiyo-e of Shinagawa Station. I think this picture isn’t accurate, but it shows a man-made wave breaker that you can see on the Edo Period map.

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

This was Tokyo's beach at one time.  All I think is... tsunami disaster waiting to happen. So glad that never happened.

This was Tokyo’s beach at one time.
All I think is… tsunami disaster waiting to happen. So glad that never happened. Also notice the stone walls. Love Edo Period stone wall work!

b0190242_17214265

Shinagawa Station. On the sea. Note the breakwater out there. I wish this photo was in color.

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Steam locomotive pulling into Shinagawa Station. The coastline is beautiful. But those boats on the water. I’m way more intrigued by them!

Shinagawa Station in the late 19th century, with the Tokyo Bay shore visible immediately next to the station

This is a different scan of one of the photos from above. It’s amazing how much of a normal beach Edo Bay was. Today, most of Tokyo Bay is deep.

Shinagawa_Station_circa_1897

Maybe your last view of Edo Bay before it REALLY becomes Tokyo Bay.

Sh

Shinagawa today. The right side of the train tracks is the former bay

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[i] By the way, a walk from Nihonbashi to Shinagawa is not a day’s walk. Today you can make the walk in less than 2 hours – but that’s with paved roads. If you were moving in a large group, the pace of walking was formalized; you were a kind of regularly occurring parade, especially near the major villages and cities. My guess is the rate that the palanquin bearers could comfortable carry their passenger determined the pace. I’m guessing that at a leisurely pace from Nihonbashi to Shinagawa in old style shoes, on old style roads, it could easily take double that time… maybe triple. And surely, you’d be hungry.

What does Shirokane mean?

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History on September 17, 2013 at 6:54 pm

白金
Shirokane (Silver Coins)

Something unique in the big city!

Something unique in the big city!

Shirokane appears in a few place names

Shirokane

Shirokanedai

Shirokane-Takanawa

Shiba-Shirokane (now defunct)


So the story goes that in the 14th century, a powerful clan migrated here and took the area under their direct control and began the development and cultivation of the area. According to the legend, the family was called 柳下氏  Yanagishita  or Yagishita or Yanashita the Yanagishita clan[i]. The story goes so far as to allege the head of the clan was a certain 柳下上総之介 Yanagishita Kazusanosuke[ii] who was so rich that he was called the 白金長者 shirokane chōja the silver coin millionaire[iii]. Bear in mind that there is very little corroborating evidence to support this story.

The name Shirokane first appeared in 1559, when the so-called Late Hōjō clan granted a place called 白金村  Shirokane Mura Shirokane Village to the great grandson of Ōta Dōkan. But the story I just told you doesn’t appear until the late Edo Period.

If you don't know what you're looking for, this is what passes for castle ruins of this era.

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, this is what passes for castle ruins of this era.

According to the experts, of which I ain’t one, judging from the topography there clearly was a pre-Azuchi-Momoyama fortress in the area[iv], which at least indicates that some powerful lord lived in the area before the coming of the Tokugawa. The ruins, which are just embankments and plateaux today, can be seen in Shirokanedai at the 国立自然教育園 Shizen Kyōikuen National Park for the Study of Nature. You can see their busted ass English website here. I haven’t been to this place myself, but it seems that the hills and ridgeways are the remains of the original earthen fortifications. This Japanese website goes into some detail on the topic.

Again, I’m not an expert on castles, but in the Kamakura Period, this area fell under the domain of the clans such as the Edo and the Shibuya. One of these clans may or may not have had fortresses in the area – and it’s possible that they could have – and the timing is right. Apart from the anecdotal story from the late Edo Period, the Yanagishita clan is otherwise unknown in the area.

so this is the kind of fortification we're talking about...

so this is the kind of fortification we’re talking about…

Complicating the issue, later, after the coming of the Tokugawa and the establishment of 参勤交代  sankin-kōtai the alternate attendance system, this area became home to many palatial residences of 大名 daimyō lords. In 1627, the 讃岐高松藩松平家 Sanuki no Kuni Takamatsu-han no Matsudaira-ke the Matsudaira Family of theTakamatsu Domain in Sanuki Province, a branch family of the Tokugawa, established a 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence here. As mentioned in my article on sankin-kōtai, of a lord’s 3 usual residences, the lower residence was usually the grandest and would have included beautiful gardens and ponds.

Matsudaira Yoritoshi, last lord of the Takamatsu Matsudaira Family. (ie; the dude who had to surrendur his bad ass mansion in Edo to the Meiji Government)

Matsudaira Yoritoshi, last lord of the Takamatsu Matsudaira Family.
(ie; the dude who had to surrendur his bad ass mansion in Edo to the Meiji Government)

In the Meiji Era[v], the imperial government set about its wholesale erasing samurai history and appropriated the sprawling palace of the Matsudaira and repurposed the land as an arsenal for the Imperial Navy. In 1893, the arsenal was transferred to the Imperial Army. In 1917, the wooded area was granted to the Imperial Forestry Bureau. In 1949, the area was finally open to the public as 国立自然教育園 Kokuritsu Shizen Kyōikuen the National Park for the Study of Nature.

OK, so this is the traditional narrative and, as mentioned, etymologically speaking it’s open to a lot of criticism. That said, the presence of fortifications there are very real.

However, another intriguing theory exists. This theory proposes that the name actually derives from a Classical Japanese phrase 城ヶ根 shiro ka ne/shiro ga ne/jō ga ne which would mean something along the lines of “the castle’s embankments” or “castle foundations.”  According to this etymology, the presence of a former lord’s castle ruins from time immemorial came to be written in more auspicious kanji, ie; 白金 shirogane/shirokane “silver” or “silver coins.” In the Edo Period, a folk etymology came to be circulated which created this Shirokane Chōja Silver Coin Millionaire character and story.

This new theory simply re-spins the traditional narrative but it doesn’t seem so cheesy. It also falls into a pattern that we’ve seen with Kantō place names that pre-date the Edo Period.  It doesn’t have widespread acceptance, but there are other place names around Japan that use the word 根 ne (literally root/source, specialized geographic meaning “ridge, embankment” in relation to a fortification). Actually, we’ve already seen a  根 ne conjecture in the etymology of Nerima.

Which is correct? I don’t know and we’ll probably never know. But that’s the thing with history, isn’t it? As much as we want a clear picture of what really happened, we’re always reaching.

Another kind of interesting thing about this place name is that it does mean “silver” or “silver coins” and to this day the area is located in the richest ward of Tokyo.

Oh, one last loose end to wrap up! So at the beginning of the article, I mentioned some other place names. The etymology of 芝 Shiba can be found here. The etymology of 高輪 Takanawa can be found here. 台 dai, on the other hand, needs a little explainin’.

The kanji is a reference to a 台地 daichi plateau. As mentioned earlier, the area was clearly fortified no less than 500 years ago. The area was probably a naturally high area, but it was intentionally built up too. Anyways, while one common meaning of the kanji in a place name is “high ground,” it’s not always a reference to elevation in the modern geological sense (think sea level); it was a much more relative term. But in this case, it is most certainly a reference to the foundations of the old fortifications.


[i] The name itself is interesting, it means “under the willows,” but it has 3 possible readings. I’m not sure which the correct reading for this particular clan is as I’ve seen both Yanagishita and Yagishita in reference to this clan. Yanagishita seems to roll off the tongue a little easier, so I’m going with that one.

[ii] The traditional story also asserts that homeboy was a minor official in the service of the 南朝 Nanchō, the Southern Court. Readers unfamiliar with the establishment of the Muromachi shōgunate should know that in the 14th century, there was a succession dispute in the Imperial Family which led to the establishment of a second Imperial Court. Long story short, the Northern Court won and the current imperial line claims descent from this branch and considers the Southern Court a bunch of poseurs. Read more about the Northern and Southern Courts here.

[iii] Silver coins or silver itself, usually 銀 gin in modern Japanese, were apparently called 白金 shirokane at the time. Technically speaking, both methods of writing can be read as either gin or shirokane. There is an additional reading hakkin which means platinum.

[iv] If you remember from my article on What does Edo mean?, when you think “Japanese Castle,” you are most likely thinking of structures that were first developed around the time of Oda Nobunaga and reached their peak of development in the Edo Period. But the word 城 shiro is applied to both structures.

[v] In 1871 no less. This is so soon after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, that it seems like a deliberate dig at the Tokugawa to me.

Why are Shinagawa and Takanawa called Shinagawa and Takanawa?

In Japanese History on February 28, 2013 at 3:03 am

品川
Shinagawa (Product River)
Takanawa (Tall Dock)

Here’s a 2 for 1:

OK, here’s the story that I was told by a docent at the Edo-Tokyo Museum while pointing to a floor map of Edo with the kanji written that supported his argument. There were two place names, side by side, one was 高輪 Takanawa, the other was 品輪 Shinagawa. The kanji refers tying up ships on a dock. (Edo Bay came right up to about where the Yamanote Line tracks are at Shinagawa Station and even today, Shinagawa Station has 2 exits, the 港南 Kōnan ”South Port” and 高輪 Takanawa “High Dock”).  Anyways, he said the name 品輪 referred to where goods were loaded and unloaded from the bay and 高輪 referred to where goods would be stored on high ground to protect from tsunamis or thieves. Sounded reasonable.

takanawa today

takanawa today

But now I just read something that referred to a similar etymology. Some people claim that 高輪 sounds like the expensive or high quality and 品ヶ輪 refers to the refined (品の良い). But then he says this isn’t very credible since the modern writing 品川 has been in use since the 1200’s.

So what’s up, Mr. Docent at the Edo-Tokyo Museum? Did you lie? And if so, why the hell was the suspect kanji written on your floor map? Is this a conspiracy??

shinagawa station today

shinagawa station today

Not entirely, it seems that in the Kamakura Period 高縄原 Takanawabara “Source of the High Rope” was the way the place name for 高輪 Takanawa was originally written. The 高縄 taka nawa refers to the 高縄手道 Takanawa-tedō, a major street which started in this area. The street was on high ground and appeared clearly on maps so that it seems as if a rope was pulled taut across the highest and safest areas to travel. This name truly did change from 高縄 to 高輪, most likely as a result of the docks gaining importance over the road.

But Takanawa has always only referred to a small area, be it village, neighborhood or town. Shinagawa on the other hand has always referred to a much greater area. In fact, in the Meiji Era, there was a Shinagawa Prefecture!

The most likely explanation about Shinagawa is the simplest one. The Meguro river entered Edo and flowed downstream through Shinagawa (and of course, Takanawa), and the entire area thrived because of the “products” and the “river” – the “product river,” if you will.

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