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Posts Tagged ‘tama river’

What does Ōme mean?

In Japanese History on February 22, 2016 at 5:58 pm

青梅
Ōme (literally “green plum,” but more at “unripe plum”)

ome station

Ōme calls itself the Shōwa Town. The station looks intentionally old to evoke nostalgic feelings.

Ōme is an incorporated “city”[i] named after an ancient village in the area formerly known as 青梅村 Ōme Mura Ōme Village. This is the northernmost and easternmost part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis. Usually when you think of Tōkyō, you think of a sprawling urban center with skyscrapers and packed trains. Ōme is mountains, forests, and rivers; one of the most beautiful parts of Tōkyō. It’s so rural that the train stations in the area are often unmanned and the train doors require you to push a button to open them because… um, people just don’t get off the train here much. The local people tend to use cars for everything.

In our last article about Shinjuku, we learned how the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway forked at Shinjuku and branched off into a new road called the 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō Ōme Highway. Before 1603, the village of Ōme wasn’t really famous for anything. At that time a post town called 青梅宿 Ōme-shuku Ōme Inn Town was established and the post town and the highway got some recognition.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about:

tama river ome.jpg

Ōme is famous for its foliage in every season, but autumn is one its most beautiful in my opinion.

But first, Let’s Look at the Kanji!

 


ao

blue, green[iii]


ume

a fruit translated as Japanese apricot; but in the late winter, the flowers are translated as plum blossoms or just ume

青梅
aoume

an unripe Japanese apricot; literally green ume

Sadly, there’s no clear etymology. The place is clearly quite ancient. The primary etymology is said to be a product of the Heian Period (794 – 1185). That said, the name could easily be older. But if the name does indeed derive from something like ao ume, a shift from /aou/ to /aoː/ or /au/ and then to // is not inconceivable[iv].

At any rate, the prevalent theory has an interesting story behind it so let’s go with that.

Amagasecho

Note the Tama River. Note Amagase-chō. Note Kongō-ji.

A Samurai Did It

A high ranking samurai named Taira no Masakado visited the area that is present day 青梅市天ヶ瀬町 Amagase-chō Ōme-shi Ōme City, Amagase Town. The name Amagase means “heavenly shoal” or “heavenly rapids” and is a reference to a shallow section of the 多摩川 Tama-gawa Tama River. Struck by the beauty of the area, he decided to pray to 仏 Hotoke Buddha. He took the ume branch he was using as a horse whip and planted it into the ground. Then he said to the ume branch 我願成就あらば栄ふべししからずば枯れよかし waga negai jōju ara ba sakayu be shi, shikarazu ba, kare yo ka shi if my prayer is heard, grow tall; if it isn’t heard, then wither and die, bitch.

masakado statue

Well, if the legend is to be believed, the ume branch took root and grew into a splendid tree. It even bore fruit at the end of summer. However, the fruit did not ripen. Instead it remained green (aoume). Furthermore, the fruit was said to not fall off the tree. Because of this, the tree came to be called 将門誓いの梅 Masakado Chikai no Ume or just 誓いの梅 Chikai no Ume. The name literally means “Oath Ume,” but I think we can translate this as “Masakado’s Prayer Ume.”

ume branch.png

an ume branch

At any rate, since the branch took root, Masakado took this as a sign that his prayer was heard by Buddha. As an act of gratitude, Masakado paid for the establishment of a temple called 金剛寺Kongō-ji Kongō Temple at the location of this little miracle. The temple claims that this tree is the origin of the place name, Ōme, and so it literally means “unripe ume.” In fact, today the tree is a protected monument of the Tōkyō Metropolis[v] and, although it’s looking a bit rough around the edges these days, the Masakado’s Prayer Ume still blooms to this day at the entrance of Kongō-ji.

chikai no ume.jpg

Masakado Chikai no Ume

What did Masakado Pray for?

No one knows. Like most of his life, this story is questionable at best. In fact, for a guy whose life is mostly legendary in a very non-specific way, it’s strange that this story actually goes into so much detail – including the words he said. Aw, who am I kidding? It’s not strange at all because at the same time, the story still remains pretty fricking vague.

Whether he actually visited this location, made a prayer here, planted an ume, or did any of this stuff is unknowable. From an etymological standpoint, I think it’s fair to say that this story is entertaining at most, suspicious at worst. From a linguistic standpoint, well… the sound changes are plausible, but… c’mon!

edo masakado.JPG

an Edo Period representation of Taira no Masakado

Who the Hell is Taira no Masakado?

Taira no Masakado was a Heian Period samurai[vi] who lived in the first half of the 900’s. This is important to keep in mind because at JapanThis!, we usually talk about Edo Period samurai (1600-1868). He was a 5th generation descendant of 桓武天皇 Kanmu Tennō Emperor Kanmu (737–806), the supposed 50th emperor of Japan[vii]. His particular branch of the Taira clan governed parts of the 関東地方 Kantō Chihō Kantō Area called 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni[viii] which bordered 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 常陸国 Hitachi no Kuni Hitachi Province.

In 935, Masakado ran into some trouble with samurai from Hitachi, and by trouble I mean he was attacked for some reason unknown to us. While he never backed down from a battle, including retributive attacks, he genuinely seems to have tried to go through the proper channels to resolve things diplomatically with the local magistrates in Kantō and with the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court in Kyōto. From here, the story gets… um, let’s say… imaginative.

According to legend, he incurred the wrath of the imperial court because in 939, Masakado staged an insurrection of sorts. Allegedly, he declared himself the 新王 shin’ō new emperor and wanted the eastern provinces to be autonomous[ix]. He was eventually defeated in Shimōsa in 940 and killed in battle. His head was brought back to Kyōto to be displayed all Game of Thrones style.

masakado head

Masakado’s head on display in Kyōto

His severed head, wanting to be independent and escape the oppression of the oppressive imperial court, began gnashing its teeth and groaning. After a few days of scaring Kyōtoites who came to gawk at him, his head took flight and flew back to his native Kantō. And of course it flew back. What did you think the head would do – walk back?!

Anyhoo, the head landed on a hill near Edo Bay where the local people buried it in a mound called a 首塚 kubizuka head mound, a kind of grave to be venerated. They began to revere it as a symbol of Kantō pride and independence. Soon Masakado came to be seen as a take-no-shit-from-anyone samurai who was even willing to stick it to the imperial court if push came to shove.

tsuka.jpg

a “tsuka” can refer to any man made hill, but it’s usually used for graves.

His 神 kami spirit was eventually enshrined at 神田神社 Kanda Jinja Kanda Shrine[x] in 江戸 Edo[xi]. When the first shōgun, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu began the refortification of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, he had the shrine relocated because he was supposedly afraid of having such a powerful, anti-government spirit sitting right next to his castle[xii]. According to legend, there were a series of deadly accidents or dark omens during the dismantling of the shrine, so they decided to leave the grave undisturbed. The kubizuka of Taira no Masakado still sits in its original location in Tōkyō’s Ōtemachi district. It’s said that every time Masakado’s grave fell into disrepair, something bad would happen – a fire here, an earfquake there, an outbreak of cholera, or what have you. As a result, the shōgunate regularly maintained the site to avoid offending the easily angered samurai ghost head.

kanda shrine.jpg

Kanda Shrine in the bakumatsu with a little photoshop fuckery in the upper lefthand corner.

In the Meiji Era, the imperial government had Taira no Masakado’s kami de-enshrined from Kanda Shrine because the idea of a samurai insurrection inspired by this legendary, anti-government pro-Kantō war hero seemed like a bad idea[xiii]. After all, the emperor had just sorta waltzed into Edo, taken over the shōgun’s castle, changed the name of the city to Tōkyō, and his new government was doing all sorts of crazy shit like abolishing the samurai class and – shudder the thought – westernizing.

As far as I know, the Meiji Government didn’t mess with Masakado’s kubizuka. However, after the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake[xiv], the Ministry of Finance planned to move the grave in order to build a new office[xv]. But 14 ministry officials and executives of the construction company involved died in close succession, and so the project was aborted because it was obvious that they were pissing off Masakado’s spirit. The Ministry of Finance went so far as to erect a brand new inscribed, commemorative stone to placate him in 1926. And if you think it’s weird for a government agency to believe in ghosts, remember: this was pre-1945. Everyone – the government included – were taught and believed wholeheartedly that the emperor was a living god.

So after WWII, the superstitions must have gone away, right?

masakazou

Masakado ain’t finished being angry, bitch.

During the American Occupation, the military wanted to set up some offices so they could be near 皇居 Kōkyo the Imperial Palace (former Edo Castle) to keep tabs on the emperor. Ōtemachi seemed as a good a place as any and so they planned to knock over the kubizuka. However, a bulldozer tipped over and killed the driver. There are a few other stories related to deaths and injuries of workers while trying to remove the grave. The US Army didn’t see the importance of the site, but the local Japanese workers soon refused to disturb the site anymore out of fear. Eventually the project was abandoned. Also, after the war, Masakado’s kami was re-installed at Kanda Shrine as a gesture to Tōkyōites who both loved and feared him. Maybe the Americans also wanted to appease the hot headed ghost of Taira no Masakado[xvi].

When I first came to Japan in 2005, I was told by a local that Taira no Masado was the only samurai with a bank account – specifically a bank account at Tōkyō-Mitsubishi UFJ. I thought this was a pretty remarkable story but didn’t think much of it until now.

Surprisingly, this turns out to be partially true! For many years, one of the offices directly next to the kubizuka was UFJ Bank. In 2006, Tōkyō-Mitsubishi and UFJ merged becoming the largest bank in Japan. I don’t have an exact date, but it seems that a group of senior executives at UFJ bank did, in fact, set up a special fund to be used for yearly offerings to Kanda Shrine[xvii]. When the banks merged, the fund – of course – stayed intact. In accordance with 風水 fū sui feng shui[xviii], UFJ had a longstanding tradition of banning desks from facing away from the shrine. How strictly this policy continues to be enforced – if at all – is unknown to me. But that said, I used to work in an office across from 山王日枝神社 San’nō Hie Jinja San’nō Hie Shrine and all desks on all floors were to face the shrine… without exception. So, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Need some further reading?

masakado kubizuka today

The alleged original kubizuka. Notice the frogs. In Japanese “frog” (kaeru) is a homophone with “return” (kaeru). People make these offerings for various personal reasons, but all of them are inspired by Masakado’s miraculous return from Kyōto to his ancestral lands in Kantō.

Hopefully it’s clear that the legend of Taira no Masakado has taken on a life of its own. At this point, the legend is waaaaaay more interesting than the few historical details that we have. Hell, the ones that we do have are pretty mundane and boring. I’ll take a flying ghost head with a bank account any day.

But what do historians take away from Masakado’s story? In short, his military agitation against the so-called “sedate culture” of the Heian court can be seen as a symptom of growing pains among the provincial samurai governors and local strongmen. Martial disturbances like this among the samurai would only increase. While the imperial court had their poetry, games, and elegant rituals, there were warlords in the countryside accumulating wealth and influence… and yeah, warlords tend to have armies. Sometimes they came into conflict with each other and they increasingly didn’t care what the poetry writing goofballs holed up in Kyōto thought about it. This attitude would eventually give rise to the first 幕府 bakufu shōgunate in Kamakura[xix] in 1192. In turn, that would give rise to samurai rule. Masakado wasn’t the first legendary samurai[xx], but his story is interesting if you think of it as a foreshadowing of what is to come. The story is made even better by how he ties into not just Japanese history, but the story of both Edo and Tōkyō.

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[i] Its technical designation is 市 shi city, but the area is really pure countryside.
[ii] Footnote test!
[iii] I don’t want to go into a diachronic linguistic discussion about the Japanese distinction between – and apparent lack thereof – blue and green. If you want to know more, Wiki has a brief but sketchy introduction to the topic.
[iv] /au/ to /o/ is well attested in Italian, actually; cf. causacosa. This sound change was recorded as far back as Cicero (106 BCE-43), well before it became a manifest feature of Proto Italian in the 900’s.
[v] This doesn’t lend any credence to the story, it just means that the metropolitan government put up a sign and you might face a stiffer fine if you pee on this tree than if you just peed on a random tree at the temple. I guess.
[vi] The best date we have for him is the year of his death, 940. He inherited his father’s fief in 935 and his uprising took place in 939. His supposed visit and/or founding of Kongō-ji took place in the 承平時代 Jōhei/Sōhei Jidai Jōhei/Shōhei Period which was from 931 to 938 – the most logical assumption being sometime between 935 and 939.
[vii] 平成天皇 Heisei Ten’nō Emperor Akihito, the current emperor, is allegedly the 125th. By the way, the Japanese don’t call him “Heisei Emperor” or “Akihito,” both would be extremely rude – Heisei being the name he assumes upon death. They refer to him as the 今上天皇 Kinjō Ten’nō reigning emperor or just 天皇 Ten’nō emperor.
[viii] Shimōsa was essentially modern Chiba Prefecture and a bit of modern Ibaraki Prefecture. In the Edo Period, as a traditional but administratively unrecognized name, a small part of the ancient province was included in the Tokugawa shōgun’s capital – the area to the east of the 大川 Ōkawa Big River, the traditional name of the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River. By the way, I have an article about the Sumida River.
[ix] Trying to establish himself as a new emperor seems out of character, so let’s file that under “probably legend.”
[x] Today the shrine is called 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin which is also translated as Kanda Shrine.
[xi] The shrine dates back to the 700’s, so Masakado was added later.
[xii] I doubt Ieyasu gave a shit about Taira no Masakado. In reality, he probably just moved the shrine because it sat too close to where he wanted to build the castle’s 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate. The land was also going to be used for daimyō residences. Furthermore, Ieyasu requested the shrine host a yearly festival for the people commemorating his victory at the 関ヶ原合戦 Sekigahara Gassen Battle of Sekigahara which basically led to his elevation to the position of shōgun.
[xiii] In reality, the actual reason for Masakado’s de-enshrinement is a little more complicated. Sure, the samurai insurrection thing was probably part of it, but the samurai class was strongly associated with Buddhism. Until the Meiji Period decree separating Buddhism and Shintō, Japanese religion was a syncretic mix of Buddhism and Shintō (with a dash of Taoism). Removing an enshrined samurai made Kanda Shrine a purer Shintō institution. Also, Kanda Shrine was one of the most important shrines in central Edo. To promote State Shintō with the Emperor as the supreme 神 kami deity, the imperial government established the 東京十社 Tōkyō Jissha Pilgrimage of the Ten Major Shrines of Tōkyō. There was no way to omit Kanda Shrine from the list, so as a result, the controversial, insurrectionist Taira no Masakado had to go. Interestingly, the kanji for the city of Ōsaka were changed at this time. The original kanji were 大坂 which if written sloppily could look like 大士反 “large samurai opposition” (but the meaning was “big hill”). The kanji were changed to 大阪 which was also meant “big hill” but lacked any reference to 士 shi warriors.
[xiv] Which was actually Taishō 12 – almost the end of the Taishō Period.
[xv] Ōtemachi is synonymous banks and finance companies. It’s kinda like Japan’s version of Wall Street.
[xvi] This also might have been a bit of an eff you to the idea of imperial rule. Masakado was seen as anti-imperial court, and the US occupation was clearly anti-imperial. Oh yeah, and… pun intended!
[xvii] Companies visiting and patronizing shrines and temples is completely normal in Japan.
[xviii] Feng shui is Chinese geomancy. It’s pretty much BS.
[xix] Notably in Kamakura which is also in Kantō. This trend of eastern samurai pulling power away from the west doesn’t stop and culminates with the establishment of the 3rd and final shōgunate in Edo by the Tokugawa. Even the Meiji Emperor’s supporters had to concede in 1868 that the real power was in the east, in Edo-Tōkyō.
[xx] Ummmmm… there probably wasn’t even a “first legendary samurai.”

The Tama River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on August 6, 2014 at 5:20 pm

多摩川
Tama-gawa (“super scratchy river,” more at unknown)

A typical river crossing in the Edo Period

A typical river crossing in the Edo Period

Hello and welcome back to the clusterfuck of river-related bullshit that JapanThis! has recently become. For my own sanity, the river posts require time off. Also, my day job has become busier recently. To make matters more complicated, I just took a trip to Kyōto and had to edit the photos and I’m in the middle of reading Romulus Hillsborough’s latest book, which I will be reviewing shortly. Needless to say, I’m fucking busy right now. But anyways, we’ve got another river to check off the list 7 rivers that I promised[i].

So, please forgive my lateness and please bear with me. I thought this one would be one of the easy ones. Clearly, I was totally mistaken. But I found a way to rejuvenate my love for writing the blog again.

Let’s get it on, my brother/sister. It’s time to go deeeeeeeeeeep.

 

OK, so let’s get down and dirty. 

 shinsengumi teams

Tama’s Image in my Mind

When I hear the name “Tama,” I think of the phrase 多摩の誇り Tama no Hokori the Pride of Tama which was used repeatedly in the 2004 NHK 大河ドラマ Taiga Dorama Taiga Drama, 新撰組!  Shinsengumi![ii] The upper echelons of the group were natives of 武蔵国多摩郡 Musashi no Kuni Tama-gun Tama District, Musashi Province. The Shinsengumi’s 局長 kyokuchō commander, 近藤勇 Kondō  Isami was originally from present day 調布 Chōfu which is located in the Tōkyō Metropolis today[iii]. The 副局長 fuku-kyokuchō vice-commander, 土方歳三 Hijikata Toshizō[iv] was from present day 日野 Hino which is located near present day 立川 Tachikawa. In my article on Musashi, I mentioned that the name “Musashi” has a very country image these days. In the Edo Period, this image was even stronger because the area was so outside the city limits of the shōgun’s capital. It’s important to understand that Edo and Tōkyō are not – and never have been – mutually interchangeable terms, especially in regards to territory. Anyways, as a region, Tama conjurors up an image of Chōfu and Hino, and as such, to me that means “Shinsengumi.”

This is a little creepy idol worship, but… the Shinsengumi got the short end of the stick by the Meiji Coup.

The other thing that comes to mind is BBQ.

As an American, I assume you can barbecue anywhere – usually your own backyard. But in Japan’s crowded cities, towns, and villages, you can’t just put a BBQ pit in your backyard and have a party. Because of that, rivers are the de factō place to grill food and hang with your friends. The Tama River runs through the border of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis and 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture. As you can imagine, the metropolis starts to melt away into countryside here. So it’s along this river that Tōkyōites and neighboring denizens have found common ground for barbecuing and all the debauchery ensues. All kinds of parties go down along the river. I’ve been to a range of events for the whole family to events that would even make Tokugawa Ienari blush[v].

The river isn't really the focus of the BBQ...

The river isn’t really the focus of the BBQ…

But the reality is, the 多摩地方 Tama chihō Tama region is essentially the bulk of 西東京 Nishi-Tōkyō Western Tōkyō, ie; the area outside of the 23 Wards. It’s countryside[vi], but it’s not complete flyover territory. 青梅 Ōme is famous for its mountains and autumn colors. 八王子 Hachiōji is famous for a Late Hōjō clan castle that was built to last for generations only to be burnt to the ground by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590 in one of his last moves to unify the country under his rule as regent of the emperor. Oh, and 吉祥寺 Kichijōji is in the Tama region. Kichijōji is one of the most desirable places to live in Tōkyō, despite not being in the 23 Wards[vii].

West Tokyo. That's right. This is Tokyo.

West Tokyo.
That’s right. This is Tokyo.

Tama River Trivia

Despite the association with the Shinsengumi, who were eventually 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the Edo Shōgunate, the river never flowed through Edo. Even today, the river doesn’t flow through central Tōkyō, though it does mark a boundary between Tōkyō Metropolis and Kanagawa Prefecture.

The Tama River course.

The Tama River course.

At first site, the river looks quite shallow and unimpressive, though much of the river’s course is accompanied by tall, ugly, concrete levees. But, don’t let the river’s shallowness fool you! The river actually floods often; those ugly levees have saved countless lives and provided safe and secure areas for barbecues.

stone levees....

stone levees….

Because it never ran through a major urban center or capital, the river’s course hasn’t changed dramatically over the years.  Archaeology seems to show that people lived along the river since Paleolithic times. There are many 古墳  kofun burial mounds located along the river. The river may have played a role in spreading the culture of 邪馬台国 Yamatai Koku the Yamato State and burial mound culture.

This doesn't look like much, but it's a kofun (burial mound) in Tamagawa burial mound park.

This doesn’t look like much, but it’s a kofun (burial mound) in Tamagawa burial mound park.

Some people claim there are piranha in the Tama River. There were reports of 4 piranha pulled out of the in river in 2010. The English language media dubbed the river the “Tamazon.” While alien fauna are popping up in rivers all over the world, I find it hard to believe that piranha are flourishing in the Tama River. But who knows… maybe you next BBQ by the river may include an uninvited meat-eater.

Google "piranha attack victim" at your own risk.

Google “piranha attack victim” at your own risk.

The Legal Definition of the River

Today the river is defined as the stretch of flowing water from 笠取山 Kasadori Yama Mt. Kasadori to 東京湾 Tōkyō Wan Tōkyō Bay at 羽田 Haneda[viii]. Mt Kasadori, by the way, lies at the border of 甲州市 Kōshū-shi Kōshū City (former 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni Kai Province and modern 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture) and 秩父市 Chichibu-shi Chichibu City (former 秩父国 Chichibu no Kuni Chichibu Province and modern 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Dasaitama Prefecture).

From Mt. Kasadori, it flows eastward to the hilly and rural part of Western Tokyo. At Hamura, an otherwise unremarkable backwater of rural Tōkyō, is the source of the 玉川上水 Tamagawa Jōsui Tama River Aqueduct – which we will talk about in a minute.

zentai

Etymology, Part One (Kanji)

I hate to say this, but this is gonna be messy. Time and time again, we’ve seen 当て字 ateji, that is to say, easily understood kanji that have no meaning, but can be easily read. The kanji used for the Tama River are ateji… or possibly not. It’s a really convoluted story and I’m not exactly how to present the facts in the best way.

First let me say, we don’t know – and probably can’t know – the exact origin of the name of this river. Throughout the regions where the river flows there are a few place names that seem to be related – nothing that really ties everything together etymologically speaking, but you’ll see. From time immemorial, the name タマ Tama has been used in the area, but different areas used different kanji. In the Pre-Modern Era, people weren’t such sticklers for standards – as we’ve seen time and time here at JapanThis!, and as such it wasn’t until the Meiji Era that we started seeing efforts to standardizing the Japanese Language. Even in the Post-War years, which saw sweeping reforms to 標準語  Hyōjungo Standard Japanese, allowances have always been made for regional cultural differences and traditions – or sometimes a train station just needs to differentiate itself from another train station. Shit happens.

Since the name goes back to some of the earliest extant documents of Japan, there is reason to suspect that the name predates literacy in Japan. If that’s the case, the name could not even be Japonic in origin. But just like all the etymologies I’m gonna throw out there, it’s all speculation.

Ferry service across the Tama River

Ferry service across the Tama River

Kanji Chaos!

So let’s look at all that kanji, then, shall we? Keep in mind, this list is by no means exhaustive, but these are words said to be related to the river and/or region.

Kanji/Rōma-ji Meaning[ix]
多摩川
Tamagawa
many, multi-;
chafe, polish, scrape;
river
玉川
Tamagawa
jewel, ball, pebble;river
玉川上水
Tamagawa Jōsui
jewel, ball, pebble;river;
aqueduct
多磨霊園
Tama Reien
many, multi-;
polish, brush, improve;
cemetery
ふたこたまがわ
Futako-Tamagawa
usually written without kanji, but the meaning is 二子玉川 “Twin Tamagawa Villages”
奥多磨
Okutama
interior, deep;
many, multi-;polish, brush, improve
奥多摩
Okutama
interior, deep;many, multi-;chafe, polish, scrape
三多摩
Santama
3;
many, multi-;chafe, polish, scrape
埼玉
Saitama
cape, promontory;
jewel, ball
DASAITAMA ださいたま

Recently, I’ve been told that hating on Saitama by calling it “Dasaitama” has become unclassy…
or has it?

Trends in the Spelling

Although none of this was standardized until recent years, there are some trends in the spelling that take us back to the first documentation of the river in written Japanese. None of this really helps out with the true derivation, but it does give us a fantastic lesson in how kanji was used and how it really muddles up efforts to study diachronic changes in Japanese.

In the Nara Period, there is a vague reference to the river, though we do know if this is upstream or downstream. The reference occurs in the 万葉集 Man’yōsha The Compilation of a 1000 Leaves, and the spelling is 多麻河 Tama-gawa. This book was written at a time when kanji use in Japanese hadn’t been standardized, so the kanji are more or less phonetic – though not 100% so.  The literal meaning of the kanji are “much,” “hemp,” and “river.” We’ll come back to this later.

In the Heian Period, we find a few references to the midsection of the river as 武蔵国石瀬河 Musashi no Kuni Iwasegawa Iwase River of Musashi Province. The literal meaning of the kanji are “pebble/jewel,” “shallow,” and “river. We’ll come back to this later.

From the Kamakura Period, when we finally get more consistent documents from Eastern Japan, until the Edo Period, the upper portion of the river seems to have been known as the 丹波川 Tabagawa. The kanji literally mean “red,” “waves,” and “river.”[x] Pretty sure we’re coming back to this later, too.

In the Edo Period, the spelling 玉川 Tama-gawa “pebble river” seems to have become a standard in many documents; areas surrounding the river in particular came to be spelled this way. A few variations that I mentioned earlier persisted, but for whatever reason, a trend towards this new spelling – admittedly easier to read – had begun. The old kanji 多摩 Tama didn’t fade into oblivion, but two contenders for the correct writing became dominant in the Edo Period. A third spelling, 多磨 tama would exist until the 1920’s, when it got a cemetery and train station named after it – and it persists today. The reason for this was to honor the name of 多磨村 Tama Mura Tama Village, the original village in that area.

This sign shows both spellings 多摩川 and 玉川 side by side.

This sign shows both spellings 多摩川 and 玉川 side by side.

Etymology, Part Two (Folklore)

There are a few theories floating around… None of them are very satisfying.

➊ As I mentioned, at one point, the upper portion of the river was called 丹波川 Taba-gawa; this is ateji used to represent タバガワ出 Taba-gawa no de. This name literally means “outflowing of the Taba River” and referred to a 手離れる出 which looks like te hanareru de in modern Standard Japanese, but in the ancient local dialect was ta banareru de. The meaning is that the river that separates from 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni Kai Province (modern Yamanashi Prefecture) at this place[xi]. The name was either corrupted or underwent a natural sound change from Taba-gawa to Tama-gawa[xii]. There is a village near the headwaters called 山梨県丹波山村 Yamanashi-ken Tabayama Mura, Tabayama Village, Yamanashi Prefecture which preserves the first 2 kanji. In that area, the river is locally called 丹波川 with 2 variant readings: Taba-gawa and Tanba-gawa.

I don’t know enough about Old Japanese or the dialects of the region, so let’s take this one with a grain of salt, but preservation of these ancient kanji is impressive.

The Tabagawa (ie; Tamagawa) in Tabayama Village.

The Tabagawa (ie; Tamagawa) in Tabayama Village.

 多摩 tama is ateji for /霊 tama (soul, spirit). This is a reference to the ancient kami 大国魂命 Ōkuni Tama no Mikoto[xiii]. This kami was the deification of the very province itself, in this case 甲斐国 Kai no Kuni or whatever territory the area was known as prior to the Taika Reforms (some argue that it may have been called 魂国 Tama no Kuni Tama Province). By this thinking, the river was sacred to or controlled by Ōkuni Tama no Mikoto, or was a physical manifestation of the kami itself. As this was either Ōkuni Tama no Mikoto’s river or Tama Province’s river it was called 魂川 Tamagawa (the kami’s river), the kanji was changed to 多摩川  Tamagawa because the ateji were presumably easier to read phonetically.

This is interesting. The only part of it that jumps out at me is that 魂川 isn’t difficult to read. In fact, I can’t think of another way to read the name in Modern Japanese. While the name is clearly of the Yamatai culture, this could also be syncretism at work, merging a pre-Yamatai deity or state with a Yamatai one.

Ōkuni Shrine in Fuchū in the Tama Region. Ōkuni Tama no Mikoto isn't enshrined here per se, but this is most definitely a Kuni Tama, a Shintō tutelary deity of a Province.

Ōkuni Shrine in Fuchū in the Tama Region. Ōkuni Tama no Mikoto isn’t enshrined here per se, but this is most definitely a Kuni Tama, a Shintō tutelary deity of a Province.

➌ The name comes from the ateji  多麻 tama which means “an abundance of hemp.” The idea is that a buttload of hemp naturally grew along the banks of the river and came to be farmed by the local people. Supporters of this theory point at 麻布 Azabu, 麻生 Asaoku, 調布 Chōfu, and 砧 Kinuta as place names that may have similar origins.

Nearby Chōfu, Asaoku, and Kinuta absolutely give a level of plausibility to this particular theory. Azabu may have a similar origin, but has no connection to the Tama River.

Whatever the origin of the name, in 712, the name was first recorded as 多麻 “abundance of hemp,” but over time came to be 多摩 “a lot of chafing.” Hemp was a common material for making clothes. But “a lot of chafing” is just bad. So it’s no wonder why the shōgunate preferred 玉川 “pebble river” over a “hurtful river.” But just as the shōgunate didn’t survive the Meiji Coup of 1868, their terminology scattered like their retainers and so we’re left with an etymological mess.

Japanese hemp.

Japanese hemp.

 Oh, I forgot to mention this one. It’s often repeated that he name is derived from the 玉川兄弟  Tama Kyōdai the Tamagawa brothers, 玉川庄右衛門  Tamagawa Shōemon and 玉川清右衛門 Tamagawa Seiemon. This fraternal team managed the excavation of the 玉川上水 Tamagawa Jōsui Tamagawa Aqueduct in 1653. Early in the Edo Period, the shōgunate realized that the main aqueduct, the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui was insufficient for the city, whose size and population had skyrocketed due to the policy of sankin-kōtai.

This etymology is demonstrably false.

Originally, the brothers were farmers who lived along the river. They took the job and finished in roughly 18 months. For the efficiency and diligence in building a superior aqueduct to the existing Kanda Aqueduct, the shōgunate rewarded them with hereditary management of the aqueduct, samurai status, and a family name, 玉川 Tamagawa. As mentioned before, this was the preferred spelling of the shōgunate. But more importantly, this was a great gift that could be passed down through the family forever.However, that was not to be. The Tamagawa surname was abolished when it was discovered that the 3rd generation head of the family – for his own financial gain – was pimping out Tamagawa Aqueduct water to the locals. Not only was he stealing from the shōgun, he proved himself to be an ingrate to the very system that had raised his family’s fortunes from peasant to samurai.

What a dick.

Not to understand what the Tamagawa Brothers accomplished, here's the entire stretch of the aqueduct. Click to enlarge.

Not to understand what the Tamagawa Brothers accomplished, here’s the entire stretch of the aqueduct.
Click to enlarge.

The Tamagawa Brothers, (It's just a statue, not the real guys...)

The Tamagawa Brothers,
(It’s just a statue, not the real guys…)

Today How Are the Kanji Used?

The kanji 玉川 Tamagawa (the Edo Period kanji preferred by the shōgunate) is now generally applied to place names associated with the river basin, while the older 多摩川 Tamagawa refers to the river itself and the 多摩川水系 Tamagawa Suikei Tamagawa river system, ie; actual waterways that diverge from the river itself, man-made or otherwise. That said, it seems this usage is not entirely uniform. For example, 多摩市 Tama-shi Tama City uses the name of the river.

The famous hanami spot, 多磨霊園 Tama Reien Tama Cemetery, uses a variant for /ma/, but it’s clearly based on the pre-Edo Period version. The reason for this difference is based solely local tradition. By the way, if you’re a fan of the psychopathic, right wing author, 三島由紀夫 Mishima Yukio, after he committed 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment in 1970, he was interred at Tama Cemetery. If you want to take a selfie with a douchebag’s grave, you can do it here.

Tama Cemetery.

Tama Cemetery. Mishima would love the pink.

二子玉川 Futako-Tamagawa (often misread as Futago-Tamagawa) is not an official place name. It’s just a train station name, but as is often the case in Tōkyō, areas tend to be referred to by their station names.  Many stations and business names in the “Futako-Tamagawa area” bear the name 玉川, but the name 玉川 rarely appears as a postal address. 二子村 Futako Mura Futako Village was a village located on the Kanagawa side of the river in present day 川崎市 Kawasaki-shi Kawasaki City. On the present day Tōkyō-side of the river in present day Setagaya-ku, was 玉川村 Tamagawa Mura Tamagawa Village. This part of the river was part of an important ferry that took passengers back and forth between Tamagawa Village and Futako Village which was called the 二子之渡し Futako no Watashi, meaning something like “the twin village crossing.”[xv]

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[i] Note to self: never promise more than 3 articles on a subject you know nothing about yet.
[ii] If you don’t know who the Shinsengumi were… I’m not sure why you’re reading my blog. But that said, you can find a quick description here at Samurai Archives.
[iii] Though his family’s dōjō was located in Edo in the 柳町 Yanagi-chō neighborhood. I have an article about that are here.
[iv] The Hijikata family still owns property in the area, promotes Shinsengumi-related tourism, and still teaches 天然理心流 ten’nen rishin’ryū – the style of sword play taught at the Kondō dōjō.
[v] The Great Grilled Tama River Orgy of 2012 is a post for another day.
[vi] Here’s what Wikipedia says about former Tama District.
[vii] I’ve talked about Kichijōji many times before. Check out some of my articles here.
[viii] See my article about Haneda here.
[ix] I use the term “meaning” in the loosest of possible senses.
[x] We’ve seen references to “red rivers” many times before, but this one comes to mind first.
[xi] 手離れる出 ta banareru de seems pretty cryptic to me, but it seems to mean “the outflowing [where the river] lets hands go.” In Modern Japanese 手離れ tebanare means a child who doesn’t always need to hold mommy’s hand (it can also mean “completing a project”).
[xii] We’ve seen this sound change many times here at JapanThis!. The examples I like to give are modern Japanese variants さむい samui vs さぶい sabui (cold) and さみしい samishii vs さびしい sabishii (lonely).
[xiii] This kami’s name means something like the “His Majesty, Spirit of the Great Country.”
[xv] Today, the Tōkyō-side of the river, in Setagaya, there is a postal code 玉川. The Kanagawa-side does not have any postal codes with this name that I know of but buildings and businesses absolutely use it. That said, Kanagawa isn’t Tōkyō so I’m not covering it for this blog.

The Rivers of Edo-Tokyo

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on May 25, 2014 at 3:39 pm

江戸東京の大河川
Edo-Tōkyō no Taikasen (Rivers of Edo-Tōkyō)

Paleolithic inlets and outlets during the Jomon Period. This is essentially Edo and its suburbs.  Understanding the topography of Tokyo is critical to understanding the history of Edo and her earlier, less famous history.

Paleolithic inlets and outlets during the Jomon Period.
This is essentially Edo and its suburbs.
Understanding the topography of Tokyo is critical to understanding the history of Edo and her earlier, less famous history.
By the way, click to enlarge.

We’ve Reached a Milestone!

This is the 200th article of JapanThis! I never thought I’d make it this far. I feel like the blog is actually “a thing” now – like it’s finally official or something. Stylistically and content-wise it’s evolved and between Twitter, Facebook, and the blog itself there are about 1,260 subscribers. Not bad considering the topics are super nerdy and I’m really just sort of fumbling my way through this.

So I’m celebrating!

How?

With a short series on the etymology of 7 famous rivers in Edo-Tōkyō. This is the inaugural post. The first river will be covered in the next article. I don’t know if rivers are as interesting as the Tokugawa Funerary Temples or 3 Execution Grounds of Edo, which I did series on before, so bear with me. Hopefully this will be a fun ride through the city. I’ll definitely try my best.

Of course this isn't Edo or Tokyo, but this does give you a close version of what many of the small rivers or channels of Edo may have looked liked.

Of course this isn’t Edo or Tokyo, but this does give you a close version of what many of the small rivers or channels of Edo may have looked liked.

Have you Ever Said “Thank You” to a River?

It sounds like something someone on acid might do. It also sounds like something someone who is really thankful that the river is there might do. Well, I did exactly that a month or two ago.

When I started writing about Tōkyō place names, I bought a few books to brush up on the general history of the city and the layout of the Edo as compared to modern Tōkyō. One book that drastically changed the way I view the city – and we’re talking red pill/blue pill shit here, people – was 東京の空間人類学 Tōkyō no Kūkan Jinruigaku Tōkyō: A Spatial Anthropology by 陣内秀信 Jin’nai Hidenobu. He often talks about how the rivers of Edo-Tōkyō united the city, fed the city, clothed the city, moved the city, and grew the city. Soon I realized some of these rivers actually breathed life into the city. Tōkyō wouldn’t be what it is today if it hadn’t been for the rivers and the bay. So after a day of intentionally getting lost in Tōkyō with a friend on eチャリ īchari electric powered bicycles, I found myself on the middle of 吾妻橋 Azumabashi Azuma Bridge looking out as the 隅田川 Sumidagawa flowed out towards the bay. I imagined wooden barges transporting goods up and down the river. I saw small ferries carrying men to Yoshiwara for a night or two of indulgence. There were pleasure boats with rich merchants and samurai just enjoying the river on cruises with their friends and in the company of beautiful, young women. I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe and respect for the river and what it represented and what its presence contributed to the life of the city. Instinctively I just blurted out, “thank you.”[i]

Azumabashi If you've been to Asakusa, you've probably crossed or at least seen this bridge.

Azumabashi If you’ve been to Asakusa, you’ve probably crossed or at least seen this bridge.

So, anyways, I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis is a river town, nestled between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. I’ve played in rivers[ii], camped in rivers, and fished on rivers. I’ve also seen the rivers flood and cause serious destruction. Since I was an elementary school kid, I’ve had a respect for the river and its strength and ferocity. I’ve also been familiar with how rivers connected people. I saw commercial barges on the Mississippi, steamboat cruises, casino boats, and hotel boats. Warehouses and factories were on the rivers. The centerpiece of downtown St. Louis is a riverside park with a monument commemorating the fact the city was once the only point at which you could cross the deep and dangerous Mississippi with her impassable currents. But once bridges were built over this bridge, St. Louis became the gateway to the west and a whole new epoch of American history began.

We call it the

We call it the “Muddy Mississippi” for a reason. It’s not polluted, that’s the natural state of the river.
This is when the river flooded (which happens a lot).

But to be honest, even having grown up around rivers and known about rivers and how important they are, it really didn’t dawn on me how important they in understanding the development of other cities. But the more I research Tōkyō place names, the more I keep seeing how rivers impacted local areas in Edo-Tōkyō. I’ve said this many times, and admittedly this is borrowed from Jin’nai Hidenobu, but you can think of Edo as the Venice of the East. Sure, it was a wooden city and sometimes a dusty city, but the “highways” within the shōgun’s capital were mainly waterways.

The natural rivers were one side of this story. But there were many manmade canals and moats and even aqueducts that weaved throughout the city affecting all aspects of life in Edo – including the shape of the city. If you love 浮世絵 ukiyo-e[iii], you may have noticed that I sometimes have ukiyo-e pictures on the blog showing how an area looked in the Edo Period. You may have also noticed that rivers and bridges are a major theme in much those works. That’s not an accident or coincidence. It was the financial/commercial lifeline to the area – its raison d’être – and often times a place where the locals could go to relax, have a stroll, and enjoy the beauty and majesty of the river.

So, I’ve chosen seven rivers to look at over the next seven posts. If your favorite river isn’t here, sorry. I don’t deal with low-grade, crap rivers[iv]. Learn to like a better river. And if you one of your favorite rivers is listed here, be sure to make a donation via the links below. We river-folk hafta stick together.

On a final note, I may get some flack for my final river as it wasn’t nearly as important as the other rivers I chose. But it’s an important river today, so give me a little slack, mkay?

The 7 Rivers I Will be Covering
(drumroll, please)

隅田川
Sumidagawa
Sumida River
利根川
Tonegawa
Tone River
荒川
Arakawa
Arakawa River
神田川
Kandagawa
Kanda River
多摩川
Tamagawa
Tama River
江戸川
Edogawa
Edo River
目黒川
Megurogawa
Meguro River

By the way, I’m not an expert on rivers so I don’t know how this is going to play out. I’ve been consistent on the etymology theme on this blog, so expect etymology to be the focus. I hope to expand on that a little bit, but since I’ve decided to choose a subject that I don’t know much about but I want to learn about, there may be some mayhem. If you see mistakes, let me know in the comments section and I will revise the main text. And of course, questions are always appreciated. Also, if you know any river stories about these rivers and want to share, I think that would be really cool! The first article will be out in about a week. See you then!

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[i] And immediately afterwards felt like an idiot….
[ii] Not the Mississippi or Missouri, they’re way to fast and dangerous to swim in. But there are rivers all over the state that people use for pleasure.
[iii] A genre of Edo period art sometimes translated as “scenes from the floating world” or “pictures of the fleeting world.” The term “floating” had a nuance of “fleeting,” “coming and going,” or “momentary.” Don’t confuse it with rivers and floating, because there’s no connection.
[iv] Just kidding. But actually, there were a lot of other rivers I wanted to cover – including rivers that are no more – but I thought it best to limit the scope. If people think this is a cool topic, I’ll come back to it.

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