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Yamanote Line: Hamamatsu-chō & Tamachi

In Japanese History on February 12, 2017 at 5:11 am

Hamamatsu-chō (beachside pine tree town)
Tamachi (rice paddy town)



So, we’re finally at the end of this series which has spanned the middle of 2016 to the beginning of 2017. I’m hoping that finishing this series will bring some closure to me and to all my longtime and future readers[i]. It’s been a wild year for me, so once again I apologize for the delay in getting this article out there for you.

Anyways… with all that said and done. Let’s get into to what is, for the time being[ii], our final two stops on the Yamanote Line. Hamamatsu-chō Station is located on Edo Bay[iii] in Minato Ward[iv]. Because both loop lines, the Yamanote Line[v] and the Ōedo Line[vi], stop here, this is the perfect location for us to really get off the train, step on to the platform, and scratch our heads.


Not one of Tōkyō’s more beautiful stations…

The bulks of both the Yamanote and the Ōedo lines are on solid ground, but in comparison to modern day Tōkyō, Edo was built up from a small portion of the bay towards Edo Castle, outward from which it radiated into suburbs and then in countryside. Hamamatsu-chō can be thought of as a convenient seaside suburb of Edo. In fact, not only did many daimyō have beachfront property here, the shōguns themselves had a massive villa replete with extravagant gardens, saltwater moats[vii], and duck hunting grounds. The estate was known as the 浜御殿 Hama Goten Seaside Palace, but today is called the 旧浜離宮庭園 Kyū-Hama Rikyū Tei-en Former Hama Detached Palace Garden[viii]. A short distance away[ix], is a former suburban daimyō residence that is known today as 旧芝離宮庭園 Kyū-Shiba Rikyū Tei-en[x] Former Shiba Detached Palace Gardens. While they are a mere shadow of their Edo Period glory, both plots of land are parks that bring together a mix of classic Japanese gardens and the ultra-modern skyline of Tōkyō.


Hama Goten in the Edo Period. Notice the castle-like fortifications.

The active word in the transformation of both palaces into public parks is 離宮 rikyū which is usually translated as “detached residence” and is a reference any residence of the imperial family that isn’t 皇居 Kōkyo, the remains of Edo Castle, where they are currently squatting. While Shiba Rikyū is a bit more modern, Hama Rikyū actually retains a decent amount of the Edo Period Garden despite all the later development.

And while much of the gardens and duck hunting areas remain intact, sadly none of the Edo Period structures are left except for some of the old stone work. Worse yet is that the magnificent view of Edo Bay has all but perished – replaced by manmade islands that are home to warehouses and industrial harbors. The once beautiful bayside views of pleasure boats cruising on the calm waters from lively teahouses[xi] under the bright hanging moon which were famed in ukiyo-e, poetry, and place names are long gone. If I seem like, I’m getting depressed and unfocused while still waxing poetic about this area that’s because… well, that’s how I am. I love this area today. It’s fucking awesome. However, I really get hung up on how over developed the area has become. I guess I’m just in a real love-hate relationship with the area[xii].


Hama Rikyu as it looks today.

One final note: Shiodome Station, where the original Shinbashi Station was located is just a few blocks away[xiii]. If you’re in the area, you should definitely check it out[xiv]. You’re also even closer to the Ōedo Line’s Daimon Station which gives you access to Zōjō-ji’s Great Gate and the destroyed mausolea of the Tokugawa shōguns[xv] and Tōkyō Tower.

Further Reading:


Tamachi Station with no people in it. Weird.


Two commissioned pieces of artwork at Tamachi Station get overlooked everyday by droves of salarymen, salarywomen, and hung over students who schlep through this station like herds of cattle during the morning rush hour. But that artwork, a stone monument and a mosaic that’s easy to miss, are testimony to how important this area was to the End of the Tokugawa Shōgunate and the beginning of the Japanese Empire.


Statue commemorating the site where Katsu and Saigō met.

What these two monuments commemorate is a famous meeting by Katsu Kaishū and Saigō Takamori. The gist of the meeting was this: Saigō intended to lay siege to the shōgun’s castle and behead the shōgun. Katsu knew Saigō was just crazy enough to try to burn the city of a million inhabitants – not just the largest city in the Japan, but arguably the largest city in the world. Saigō’s path was through war, Katsu’s was through negotiation.

The two met in a seaside teahouse here in Tamachi near the suburban palace of Satsuma Domain[xvi] and worked out a peaceful transfer of power. The newly formed imperial army wouldn’t have to fight the shōgun’s army or kill a million people by fire. The shōgun and his loyal retainers would leave the city peacefully[xvii]. The emperor was then free to enter the castle. Katsu Kaishū had negotiated a deal rarely seen in history.


A few years before the negotiation that saved a million lives, this area also saw the birth of a school for foreign learning. This institution would become Japan’s first western style university, today called 慶応大学 Keiō Daigaku Keiō University, which is now part of Japan’s Ivy League. Tamachi station will lead you directly to the campus, still boasting some Meiji Period architecture and a history deeply entwined in the tumultuous years surrounding the Bakumatsu.

One thing most people don’t think about is why did Saigō Takamori and Katsu Kashū have their meeting here. While all of this area is Tōkyō today, in their time this was actually the border of the shōgun’s capital of Edo and 荏原郡 Ebara-gun Ebara District on the Tōkaidō Highway. If the imperial army coming from the south was going to invade Edo, they’d pretty much have to come this way.

takanawa ōkido.jpg

Takanawa Ōkido – entrance to Edo

If you do a bit of walking from Tamachi Station towards Shinagawa Station, among rows of office buildings and old temples you can find a small trace of the actual city limits. All that remains is a small stone wall overgrown with grass and weeds. Apparently, it looked much this way at the time of Saigō and Katsu’s negotiation as the three traditional entrances in and out of Edo were de-fortified about 100 years before due to a stable peace[xix].


The Ōkido back then

Today, Tamachi is a great place to go drinking. There are lots of izakaya and small privately owned restaurants that cater to middle aged salarymen working in the headquarters of manufacturing companies as well as students aspiring to be corporate drones. There’s an interesting, and uniquely Japanese, intersection of young and old, modern and historical here.

And on that note, I think this is a good place to finally wrap up this series on the Yamanote Line. I think I’ve made a good case that it’s more than just an ruthless drinking game and I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.

Further Reading:

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

[i] I wanna get back to place names, dammit!
[ii] A new station will supposedly be added before the 2020 Olympics. As it’s already 2017 and no construction that I know of has taken place, this now remains to be seen.
[iii] Or “Tōkyō Bay” to you noobs.
[iv] Literally “Harbor Ward.”
[v] A true “loop line.” More here.
[vi] Not quite a true “loop line.” More here.
[vii] Other than being ostentatious, this was presumably of inconsequential defensive worth. I mean, salt water may kill a freshwater fish, but a mammal with a sword doesn’t give a shit about salt water.
[viii] Originally, the 浜御殿 Hama Goten seaside palace of the Tokugawa shōguns.
[ix] Actually, closer to Hamamatsu-chō Station than the shōguns’ villa is.
[x] Originally, the residence of the Ōkubo clan and then the Kishū Tokugawa clan. After the Meiji Coup, the Arisugawa branch of the imperial family took over.
[xi] Pronounced “drinking & whoring.”
[xii] Definitely more on the “love” side, though.
[xiii] Which gives you access to the modern Shinbashi Station.
[xiv] Most Tōkyōites don’t know it exists.
[xv] Truth be told… between Shinbashi and Akabanebashi, you’ll find an area dotted with shrines, temples, and graveyards which once were overseen by the powerful priests of Zōjō-ji – all of whom reported directly to the Tokugawa shōguns.
[xvi] Today it’s the headquarters of NEC.
[xvii] Most did, but a small contingent of loyalists holed up at Kan’ei-ji, present day Ueno Park, in anticipation of a final showdown.
[xviii] All the country samurai who had been required to live in Edo were sent back to their native domains.
[xix] And a fairly rigorous system of checkpoints on the highways far away from Edo, and strategic placement of loyal daimyō surrounding the shōgun’s capital.

What does Yūrei-zaka mean?

In Japanese History on October 22, 2015 at 6:11 am

Yūrei-zaka (Ghost Hill)

If you spend any amount of time in Tōkyō, you will notice that it’s a hilly city. The Japanese themselves often refer to the country as 島国 shimaguni an island country (implying isolation from the rest of the world) but also as 山国 yamaguni a country of mountains (implying, well, um, it has a lot of hills and mountains).

Tōkyō’s 港区 Minto-ku Minato Ward has both the budget and ballz to commemorate famous hills that had names in the Edo Period. At the bottom and top of many hills, you can find 4-sided wooden poles announcing the hills’ names and brief explanations behind the names. In Tōkyō, references to locations such as 鳥居坂下 Toriizakashita the bottom of Torii Hill or 中野坂上 Nakano-sakaue the top of Nakano Hill are commonplace. These references may be crystallized in train station or bus top names, postal code designations, or just in the day-to-day parlance of the people in the neighborhood. For me, the most beautiful thing about this is that Japanese streets traditionally don’t have names. This reflects the Pre-WWII necessity for giving directions or identifying with your neighborhood by means of landmarks[i].

Yūrei - a Japanese ghost

Yūrei – a Japanese ghost

Ghost Hill

There are 幽霊坂 Yūrei-zaka “ghost hills” all over Japan – and at least 8 in modern day Tōkyō – and all of them have different etymologies. However, today I want to focus on Edo-Tōkyō’s most famous “Ghost Hill.” It’s located in 港区三田四丁目 Minato-ku Mita 4-chōme, the 4th block of Mita’s Minato Ward. It’s probably most famous because it lays on some of the former shōgunate’s most important lands. Many of the nearby estates were occupied by 大名 daimyō feudal lords performing service to the shōgun. Much of the area was heavily wooded which made it dark in the daytime and even darker at night. In the Edo Period the name was written as 幽霊坂 Yūrei-zaka literally “ghost hill” or ゆうれい坂 Yūrei-zaka which was not literally “ghost hill[ii].”

It’s said that in 1635, when the 3rd shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu carried out a massive expansion of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, a number of temples and shrines were moved from castle’s periphery to make way for daimyō residences and military installations. A handful of these were relocated along a new hillside road (or by some accounts a minor road dating back to the Kamakura Period) near Edo Bay in the 三田 Mita area. In the early Edo Period, the place was said to be quite rustic and had lush vegetation and many tall trees. Unless the moon was particularly bright that night, the road more or less couldn’t be traversed at night – and even bright nights were risky because thieves and 妖怪 yōkai supernatural beings were said to haunt the woods waiting for unsuspecting passersby. The wealthy, including samurai, could only pass through with lantern bearers to light the way.

This is a famous photo of the lower residence of Shimabara Domain on nearby Tsuna-zaka (Tsuna Hill). It's not Yūrei-zaka, but it gives you an idea of how wooded the area was at that time. Even a street like this would have been scary at night.

This is a famous photo of the lower residence of Shimabara Domain on nearby Tsuna-zaka (Tsuna Hill). It’s not Yūrei-zaka, but it gives you an idea of how wooded the area was at that time. Even a street like this would have been scary at night.

Moving Lanterns Cast Moving Shadows, Don’t They?

Temples and shrines generally held large swaths of land and much of it was wooded with old trees. Yūrei-zaka was said to be so desolate and dark that even in the afternoon ghosts would show themselves. Others say that because in the early days, there were only temples and shrines and no bustling commoner districts with shops and restaurants, the area was particularly 寂しい sabishii lonely/desolate. Passing through there, especially at night, was a scary thing. Whether you saw a ghost there or not, it seemed like the sort of place you would most likely see a ghost.

yureizaka ghost

Another Etymology

In the Meiji Period, a certain 森有礼 Mori Arinori is said to have had a residence here. His given name 有礼 Arinori is the 名乗り nanori name reading his kanji. But according to this theory, the local Edoites read the name as  有礼Yūrei the 音読み onyomi Chinese reading for names. The story goes that the locals felt the original writing was inauspicious and unenlightened. It reflected Edo Period superstitions. For the locals, Arinori was an example of the new enlightenment. In the Meiji Government, he served as the first 文部大臣 Monbu Daijin Minister of Education. Forget the “ghost street,” let’s have an “enlightenment street!”

mori arinori

Never Heard of the Guy

Arinori is an interesting character. Longtime readers will remember that there was an elite transfer from 薩摩藩 Satsuma Han Satsuma Domain and 長州藩 Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain to the newly renamed 東京 Tōkyō Eastern Capital after the Meiji Coup. The 江戸っ子 Edokko Edoites – now forced to be called 東京人 Tōkyō no hito or Tōkyō-jin Tōkyōites – resented the “uncouth” outsiders from the south[iii]. The jagoffs from Satsuma were particularly despised by the people of the capital[iv].

Despite local prejudices and perhaps in line with the revolutionary and modern cultural shift begun during the Bakumatsu and amped up during the early Meiji Era, the Edoites (now Tōkyōites) found that not all of their new ruling class from the south consisted of assholes hell bent on taking over the city for personal gain. Some truly enlightened people were determined to drag Japan kicking and screaming into “modernity.” Some of them just so happened to be from Satsuma. Mori Arinori is one of those people and the locals seemed to like the guy.


So who was this Mori Arinori guy and why should we know him?

Well, he was born in Satsuma in 1847 to the 森家 Mori-ke Mori Clan. This meant he was 6 years old at the time of Commodore Perry’s arrival and he was 21 years old when the shōgunate actually fell in the 1868 Meiji Coup. In 1865, he went to University College London to study western mathematics, physics, and naval surveying. He became enamored with western thought – in particular, that of the British Empire and the “Anglosphere[v].”

After the collapse of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, he served as the first Japanese ambassador to the United States (1871-1873). At that time, he became fascinated with the American education system and came back to Japan with an intention to reform education. Oh, and he had big plans.

He returned as an Americanophile. He advocated for freedom of religion – in particular secularism and humanism in education. The 1870’s was the peak of discussion about women’s rights in the US. Arinori naturally pushed for women’s rights in Japan, but ironically never advocated their right to vote[vi]. Most surprisingly, he recognized English as not only a lingua franca (international language), but as the language of the future. In his education reforms, he pushed for Japan to abandon the Japanese language in order to compete on a global scale. No joke. He and a large number of supporters wanted to replace the Japanese language with the English language.

These were some of the most radical ideas interjected into the Japanese socio-political conversations of the time. But perhaps he had “gone too native” during his time abroad. His time in England and America affected his sense of spirituality and he became a Christian. His western secularist, humanist, proto-feminist, and monotheistic Christian values were sending out mixed messages to the Japanese statesmen of his day. And the average Japanese person of the day was still used to the so-called “closed country policy.” They’d never studied a foreign language or seen a map of the world. Outside of Edo or the major port cities, they’d mostly likely never even seen a non-Japanese person. FFS, Christianity was more or less verboten since the time of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (late 1500’s).

Arinori made friends and enemies on both the left and the right, but unfortunately his progressive views ultimately got him killed. On the same day the 大日本帝國憲法 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kenpō Meiji Constitution was promulgated, he was assassinated. The killer’s rationale was that he rudely entered 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine[vii] without taking off his shoes and used other western mannerisms[viii].

ghost cemetery

Mori Arinori is an unfortunate example of how the Meiji Coup of 1868 didn’t usher in a new age of peace overnight. People on both sides of the revolution fought for change and “modernization,” but a spirit of terrorism that arose during the Bakumatsu was bound to plague Japan for at least another 100 years[ix]. Even after Japan’s defeat in WWII, humiliating occupation, and haphazard reconstruction, the country was plagued with internal political strife – much of which can be traced back to the great cultural upheaval of the Bakumatsu and the disproportionate advances in the urban centers and the decades’ long lag in the suburban and rural areas.

Anyways, Arinori was pushing for reforms that some intellectuals were ready for but the average person of the street, farmer, ex-samurai, merchant, or ex-outcast couldn’t even begin to wrap their heads around. And on the day the Meiji Constitution was proclaimed in 1889 (Meiji 22), he was murdered.


Yūrei-zaka Today

Edo Period forests had taken a toll in the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake and like much of the bay area; this neighborhood took a beating in the firebombing of Tōkyō by American forces in 1945. Today it looks nothing like its Edo Era self. But many of the temples that characterized the area during the time of the Shōgunate are still there.

I don’t know if this is an exhaustive list, some temples seem to have moved over the years. Today, most of these temples are pretty minor. But, in those days, 2 of them were pretty major (I’m looking at you 實相寺 Jissō-ji and 正泉寺 Shōsen-ji).


Fairly minor temple, but is home to the grave of 荻生徂徠 Ogyū Sorai who some consider the most influential Confucian scholar of the Edo Period. I don’t know much about Confucianism, so here’s a link to an article about him. Knock yourself out.


A minor temple, barely famous for its 白粉地蔵 oshiroi jizō white faced jizō[x].


保科正之 Hoshina Masayuki[xi] chose this temple to be a 菩提寺 bodai-ji funerary temple of his family in Edo[xii]. Masayuki was the 3rd son of 2nd shōgun 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada by a concubine. Long story short, he was given control of 会津藩 Aizu Han Aizu Domain with a stipend of 230,000 石 koku.  As a senior member of the 老中 rōjū council of elders at Edo Castle, he was appointed regent of his nephew, the 4th shōgun, 徳川家綱 Tokugawa Ietsuna.  To legitimize his position, the shōgunate granted him a new family name 松平 Matsudaira and so he is often referred to as 松平正之 Matsudaira Masayuki. (Update: I spoke with a member of the family maintaining this temple, she said the grave is Masayuki’s wife’s grave and that Masayuki’s grave is in Aizu.)


A super-minor temple.


Yet another super-minor temple.


Minor, minor, minor…


Shōsen-ji was established sometime in the first 5 years of the 1650’s near 赤坂溜池 Akasaka Tameike the Akasaka Reservoir[xiii], but later transferred to 三田 Mita[xiv].  The Mita location served as the first フランス公使館 Furansu Kōshikan French Embassy. It also provided housing to the Swiss representative. British citizen and very well-connected interpreter, Ernest Satow also stayed here for a while. In 1911 (Meiji 44), the temple was transferred to its current location in 目黒 Meguro[xv].


Totally minor.

Other Yūrei-zaka in Edo-Tōkyō

At the beginning of the article, I mentioned that there were Yūrei-zaka all over Japan. Compiling a comprehensive list would take forever, but luckily Japanese Wikipedia has a list of the 8 major ones in Tōkyō. That said, there were at least 14 Yūrei-zaka in Edo. The 坂学会 Saka Gakkai Society of Hill Nerds[xvi] lists all of hills in Edo on their website. The site is pretty freaking amazing, but it’s Japanese only.


(some have links to previous articles)










Kanda-Suruga-dai (near Akihabara)


Fujimi-chō (Chiyoda Ward)





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[i] A tradition that is very much alive in Tōkyō. “When you see x, turn right. Go straight until you see y. At y there is a 3 way intersection. When you see shop z, take that street one block. I’ll meet you there.” This is how directions are given in Tōkyō.
[ii] Well, let’s be honest. This means “ghost hill,” but this ambiguous spelling would lead to a later folk etymology.
[iii] It seems to me the Edokko (native Edoites) always regarded outsiders – even those on sankin-kōtai duty – with a bit of disdain. This is not unlike modern Kyōto, where geisha districts view outsiders with distrust and have a system of vetting prospective customers. That style isn’t a Kyōto thing. It’s an old Japan thing. Kyōto is famous for this because it’s one of places where the tradition carries on traditionally.
[iv] Again, they were outsiders since the Battle of Sekigahara, so the prejudice against Satsuma was probably ingrained in the culture of Edo. They were one of many embodiments of 田舎侍 inaka-zamurai country samurai – elites who didn’t understand the manners of Edo or Kyōto. Whether this is true or not, the Satsuma men had a reputation in the early Meiji Period for still practicing 衆道 shūdō a somewhat ritualized form of man-on-man sex among samurai – something that had fallen in disfavor since the coming of the foreigners and was actually made illegal in 1872 (Meiji 5).
[v] The English-speaking world.
[vi] Dick!!
[vii] Ise Grand Shrine claims to house the 神 kami deity of mother of the imperial family and therefore all of Japan. It is without a doubt one of the most important Shintō institutions in Japan. The shrine’s traditional establishment is 4 BCE (about 2000 years ago) making this one of the most important shrines in all of Japanese history – especially in regards to the imperial family. Yet right wing politicians insist on going to 靖国神社 Yasukuni Jinja Yasukuni Shrine with the express purpose of pissing of Korean and China. Yasukuni was established in 1869 (Meiji 2) to honor the war dead of the illegal coup Satsuma and Chōshū waged against the shōgunate. The Meiji Coup established the 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku Empire of Japan and Yasuki Shrine became the government’s repository for the veneration of 神 kami of those who died in service of the newly established Meiji State (and by extension, imperial Japan in general).
[viii] Just for the record, the “official story” is generally believed to be a bunch of horse shit. What got him killed was his radical political view and his attempt to change the education system.
[ix] I’m looking at you, 三島由紀夫 Mishima Yukio.
[x] What is a jizō? Read here.
[xi] Read more about him in this article at Samurai Archives.
[xii] Masayuki himself is buried in 福島 Fukushima, once part of Aizu Domain. My understanding is that the graves at Shōsen-ji are those of the concubines, unmarried daughters, and sons who died before coming of age. The daimyō and most important members of the Aizu Matsudaira who died in Edo were interred at 広徳寺 Kōtoku-ji in present day 練馬区 Nerima-ku Nerima Ward. I haven’t visited, but I was just checking out some pictures and the cemetery looks spectacular. By the way, I have an article on Nerima.
[xiii] Guess what, I have an article about Tameike. It’s old, but the information is good.
[xiv] I have an article about Mita. It’s also old, but the information is good.
[xv] Surprise, surprise! I have an article about Meguro.
[xvi] My translation.

What does Tamachi mean?

In Japanese History on May 19, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Tamachi (field town, rice paddy town)

Tamachi Station in the rain

Tamachi Station in the rain

Let’s Get the Kanji Out of the Way First

ta, da, den
field, rice paddy

machi, chō
town, neighborhood

Present day 田町 Tamachi is a stop on the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line snuggled between 品川 Shinagawa and 浜松町 Hamamatsu-chō[i]. It’s also home of 慶応大学 Keiō Daigaku Keiō University established by 福沢諭吉 Fukuzawa Yukichi whose countenance graces the ¥10,000 note[ii]. It’s also home to one of the best burger shops in Tōkyō, Munch’s Burger Shack[iii].

Fukuzawa Yukichi, an educator and innovator in Japan.

Fukuzawa Yukichi, an educator and innovator in Japan.

Today there is no official area called Tamachi. In its most limited sense, the name Tamachi refers to the area directly surrounding 田町駅 Tamachi Eki Tamachi Station (which is technically located in 芝 Shiba). In its broadest sense, it is used to refer to a vague area in Shiba and the edge of 三田 Mita). There was an area known as 芝田町 Shiba-Tamachi until 1947 when the 23 wards were restructured.

Today you can take a stroll down Keio Naka-dori Shoten-gai. It's a bunch of izakaya and drinking/eating places that retain some of the Edo aesthetic.

Today you can take a stroll down Keio Naka-dori Shoten-gai. It’s a bunch of izakaya and drinking/eating places that retain a tiny bit of the Edo aesthetic.

Theory #1
Tamachi – Field Town

The most commonly given etymology is that the area was more or less plots of land used by farmers (it’s unclear whether vegetables or rice). With the development of Edo Bay by the Tokugawa Shōgunate, a merchant town was established in the area and given the rustic name 田町 Tamachi, literally “town in the fields.” This explanation is bolstered by the fact that the name Tamachi first appears in the Edo Period and that the town was located near the sea and the 東海道 Tōkaidō Tōkai Highway, both factors that would have necessitated and encouraged the growth of new merchant towns as the shōgun’s capital grew.

For the non-samurai, non-merchant population of Old Japan, this was your reality. No wonder Hideyoshi locked the classes down. He more than anyone knew that if you wanted to end the

For the non-samurai, non-merchant population of Old Japan, this was your reality.
No wonder Hideyoshi locked the classes down. He more than anyone knew that if you wanted to end the “warring states” period, you HAD to tie people to this work.

Theory #2
Mita Machi – Honorable/Divine Rice Paddy Town

Another theory ties into the origin of the place name Mita, which is right next to former Shiba-Tamchi. This theory points at evidence that there was a special set of rice paddies here that were under direct control of the Emperor (in the late Heian Period) and later, the Kamakura Shōgunate. This kind of rice paddy was called a 御田 mita “honorable rice paddy.” A related theory states that the type of rice paddy here was actually a 神田 mita[iv] “divine rice paddy.” This rice would be sent as offerings to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture and nearby 御田八幡宮 Mita Hachiman-gū Mita Hachiman Shrine[v]. Whichever it was, an honorable rice paddy or divine rice paddy, it appears the name Mita is quite ancient and we do find 御田 Mita honorable rice paddy in the historical record and in the name of the shrine[vi].

rice tamachi

Rice paddies don’t change over the ages.

At any rate, at some point in history, the town 御田町 Mita Machi came to be written with the more easily recognized kanji 三田町 Mita Machi. The area near present day Tamachi Station preserved the old writing but people were mistakenly reading the name as 御田町 O-tamachi honorable field town and eventually just dropped what they perceived as an honorific 御 o (because usually town names don’t get honorific prefixes) and the place name was reduced to 田町 Tamachi, literally “field town.”

Furthermore, in the Edo Period, there were many 藩邸 hantei daimyō residences in the area and so you would have had samurai from all over Japan speaking their own dialects and having some idiosyncratic rules about kanji use. As a new pair of Edo dialects came to emerge under Tokugawa rule, it’s not unreasonable to imagine 御田町 Mita Machi being read as O-tamachi, especially when compared to nearby 三田町 Mita Machi which is relatively unambiguous in this part of Japan[vii].

Living in the suburbs of Edo was nice. Rustic, but nice. Repeat to yourself, the Yamanote was forested like most of Japan was.

Living in the suburbs of Edo was nice. Rustic, but nice. Repeat to yourself, the Yamanote was forested like most of Japan was.

I’m gonna say right now that there’s not much of a chance of knowing the etymology for sure, but a mixture of those two stories is my pet theory. But wait, there’s something pretty hilarious that’s gonna happen.

One of the greatest idiots of the Meiji Coup: Saigo Takamori. Typical imo zamurai of the time.

One of the greatest idiots of the Meiji Coup: Saigo Takamori.

Theory #3
Edoites Were Making Fun of People From Satsuma

OK, this is going to require a little cultural background.

My favorite theory (but I don’t believe it for a minute) is based on the fact that one of the first daimyō residences built here was that of 薩摩藩 Satsuma-han Satsuma Domain. One of Satsuma’s 名物 meibutsu famous things was (and still is) the 薩摩芋 Satsuma Imo Satsuma potato, also known as sweet potato. The classic Edo Period put down for a country bumpkin was 芋 imo potato[viii]. The refined Edo samurai wouldn’t think twice about referring to country samurai as 芋侍 imo zamurai filthy, dirt grubbing potato samurai – an epithet that resonates with the same sort of disdain and contempt with which Tokugawa Ieyasu viewed former dirt grubbing farmer, Toyotomi Hideyoshi [ix]. It’s classism at its best[x].

Shimazu Yoshihiro, lord of Satsuma at the Battle of Sekigahara and the Osaka Campaigns when the Tokugawa eradicated the last real military resistance to their hegemony.

Shimazu Yoshihiro, lord of Satsuma at the Battle of Sekigahara when the Tokugawa eradicated the last real military resistance to their hegemony.
Spoiler Alert!
(He drops the ball).

The lords of Satsuma, the 島津氏 Shimazu-shi Shimazu clan, were 外様大名 tozama daimyō outer lords during the Edo Period because… well, they were on the losing side of the Battle of Sekigahara, when Tokugawa Ieyasu more or less won control of the majority of Japan. But the Shimazu clan was descended from the progenitor of the first of the three great shōgunates, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo, founder of the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura shōgunate. They had pedigree, so Ieyasu didn’t make them relinquish their territory. As a result, they had control of trade routes and received tribute from the Ryūkyū Islands (modern Okinawa). They also had a vast, productive territory that often acted like an independent state. And while the 1st Tokugawa shōgun, Ieyasu, was lenient to them despite fucking up big time at the Battle of Sekigahara, the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu, who worshiped Ieyasu, dealt with them quite coldly. One gets the impression that far off Satsuma held a grudge for being left on the outside.

3rd shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu.

3rd shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu.
“Shimazu? Y’all was a bunch of treacherous bitches. Eat a bag of dicks!”
That’s a literal quote, by the way.

But back to this Edo Period put down thing. In short, they were from the farthest limits of Japan[xi], they were famous a simple, dirty tuber that grows in the dirt[xii]. This theory says that the local Edoites and Edo samurai mocked Satsuma by calling the area 田町 Tamachi field town. They were a domain subjugated by local hero Tokugawa Ieyasu, they were from the country and they were no better than filthy, stinky, sweaty, dirt eating farmers.

This is a colorful story and was no doubt made up by imaginative Edoites. But in my honest opinion, this is utterly ridiculous. As much as I hate Satsuma’s role in the 幕末 bakumatsu end of the shōgunate, and as much as I hate the role of Satsuma’s elite in the oligarchy that sent Japan on a collision course with WWII, I don’t think the shōgunate would have tolerated anyone mocking a clan as rich, powerful, and connected as the Shimazu unless the family had been shamed and abolished by Ieyasu – which they weren’t. They had strong negotiating power and as such had a unique relationship with the Tokugawa Shōgunate. They even married into the Tokugawa Shōgun Family in the final days of the Edo Period[xiii].

Anyways, as much as I would love this to be true, the Shimazu were not the laughing stock of the Edo Period that this theory makes them out to be. And now you know how to mock people from the countryside in Japan. Just add 芋 imo before any noun[xiv].

Tamachi Today

One of Tamachi's crowning jewel's is the NEC world headquarters. I used to work in this building. The top of the building is narrow, buts the base is built on a sprawling lot. I'll get back to that in a minute.

One of Tamachi’s crowning jewel’s is the NEC world headquarters. I used to work in this building. The top of the building is narrow, but the base is built on a sprawling lot.
I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Quite a few daimyō had residences in the area, but the most famous was 薩摩藩 Satsuma-han who had their massive 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence here. It was a sprawling suburban palace on the outskirts of Edo. Unfortunately, nothing remains of it today, but the entire lot is now the world headquarters of NEC[xv]. A few other major manufacturing companies are in the area: Mitsubishi Motors and Morinaga (a sweets company).

Tamachi Station has this super-70's dasai 3D mural (mosaic?) that no one notices. But if you look closely it's Saigo Takamori and Katstu Kaishu drinking sake together in a traditional meeting. There is also a

Tamachi Station has this super-70’s dasai 3D mural (mosaic?) that no one notices. But if you look closely it’s Saigo Takamori and Katstu Kaishu drinking sake together in a traditional meeting. There is also a “kurofune” (black ship) flying out to space.
It’s brutally ugly. And the only thing that is really interesting about it is the fact that they used Saigo Nanshu as a name instead of Saigo Takamori.
This was the name he used when writing Chinese poetry.

In closing, I’d like to say that Tamachi’s role in Japanese history is mostly defined by a meeting (or series of meetings) between 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū, a hatamoto of the Tokugawa, and 西郷隆盛 Saigō Takamori, an imo zamurai from Satsuma. One of the highest ranking women in Edo Castle was 篤姫 Atsu-hime Princess Atsu who was of the Satsuma Shimazu clan and was married to Tokugawa Iesada, the 13th shōgun (I alluded to this earlier). Katsu Kaishū, as a direct retainer of the Tokugawa was dependent on them for his income. During the collapse of the Tokugawa regime, he was a genius at working within the system to change the system. He knew Tokugawa hegemony had to end and helped various groups work to that end.

I love Katsu Kaishu!

Undoubtedly (IMHO) the biggest bad ass and biggest hero of the Bakumatsu, Katsu Kaishu. After Ii Naosuke was assassinated, he was the only Japanese guy who could communicate reality to imo zamurai.

However, he never sold out the Tokugawa. When the newly formed Meiji Army marched on Edo it was led by that imo-zamurai, Saigō Takamori. He threatened to march on the city (which would probably have burned the city) or burn Edo Castle (which in turn would probably have burned the city). Katsu Kaishū negotiated a peaceful surrender of the Edo Castle – I’ve heard Atsu had a hand in this, too. The Tokugawa left the castle and 1,000,000 lives were spared a horrific holocaust at the hands of Satsuma and Chōshū. This meant Edo lived to see another day… albeit with a new name, Tōkyō.

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[i] Although, a new station is being built between Shinagawa and Tamachi, so this dynamic will change in the future.
[ii] And was one of the first Japanese dignitaries to travel abroad at the end of the Edo Period.
[iii] If you go, always remember that Japanese “rare” means “still twitching,” “medium” is “rare,” “well-done” is “medium,” and “very well done” is probably still a little pink. While some chefs have mastered the art of the hamburger, most of them fail on the cooking front because who the fuck eats a rare hamburger?? Welcome to sushi-land. The Japanese love that shit.
[iv] 神田 has multiple readings, shinden and kanda being the most common. The latter being a topic I will discuss at some point in the near future. Wink wink. That said, the reading of and as /mi/ is quite ancient and really sounds like it’s associated with the imperial courts at Heian Kyō or Nara. I feel like there’s a close connection to Shintō in that reading. But that’s just my impression.
[v] The shrine is not in its original location, though it is near Tamachi Station even today. The shrine still uses the original spelling 御田 and not the modern 三田. The shrine was founded in 709.
[vi] There’s nothing saying both weren’t true – or that the similarities are related, ie; it’s a kind of Heian Period or Kamakura Period kanji joke.
[vii] It was a long time ago, so I don’t know if it’s any good or not, but I tried to tackle this problem last year in my article on Mita. (edit: Just had a look and the article is pretty short, but wouldn’t be a waste of your time).
[viii] This pejorative use of 芋 imo potato is still around, actually.
[ix] While Ieyasu never called Hideyoshi a hick (they grew up in roughly the same part of Japan), he detested Hideyoshi because of his low birth (he was a dirty, dirt grubbing farmer) and the high rank he had achieved (he united Japan under his control, made all the daimyō pledge allegiance to him, and became the regent of the emperor). Ieyasu didn’t like that shit one bit. Just as the shōgunate vilified Hideyoshi in the histories, the tozama daimyō (outer lords) were branded as “outer” for all of the Edo Period. Add to that the fact that city people always look down on the dirty, uneducated, uncouth, and unsophisticated people from outside of the city. Edoites were no different. The elite samurai of Edo definitely viewed themselves as the cultural and moral superiors of those country samurai.
[x] Worst?
[xi] Literally, the southernmost region of Kyūshū and – at the time – the southernmost region of Japan.
[xii] Satsuma imo was not well known in Kantō before the Edo Period. The system of alternate attendance brought goods from all over Japan to Edo. That said, Satsuma imo was popular with women, not men. It was thought to be good for beautiful skin.
[xiii] More about this in a minute.
[xiv] JapanThis does not endorse mocking or discriminating against people on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status.
[xv] To the best of my knowledge NEC has no connection to Satsuma.

What does Mita mean?

In Japanese History on March 31, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Mita (3 Fields)

Mita is home of Tokyo Tower and some of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Tokyo.

Mita is home of Tokyo Tower and some of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Tokyo.

It’s another busy day, so I chose 三田 Mita (3 Fields) because I thought it would be easy.
Turns out, this one isn’t as cut and dry as I’d thought.

And it’s kinda complicated….

According to the 10th century book, 和名類聚抄 Wamyō Ruiju-shō (Japanese Names for Things), there was a place here written 御田 Mita. (It’s referred to as 御田郷 Mita-gō, the 郷 gō just means “hamlet” or “small village”). That place name was originally written 屯田 Mita and fell under direct control of the Emperor and his court before the Taika Reform (645). 屯田 was specifically used for production of rice for the Imperial Court in Kyōto.

The Taika Reform enacted sweeping land reforms and it makes sense that place names might change as the use of land changed. For a little while, the area was then used as a 神田 shinden (a rice field affiliated with a shrine), with the rice and/or its proceeds going to 伊勢神宮 Ise Jingū Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. The kanji 神田 can also be read as mita.

The movie

The movie “Always” takes place in Mita in the 1960’s.

By the middle of the Edo Period, the area was coming to be increasingly written as 三田, which you have to admit is a helluva lot simpler than the older ways. The reason is most likely that 御田 can be read as oden, onta, onda, and mita, while 神田 can be read as shinden, kamita, kanada, kada, kanda, kōda, and mita三田 also has variant readings, but is usually read as mita.*

And here I thought I was gonna get off easy, like Gotanda. I didn’t plan on reading up on the Taika Reforms!

Tsunazaka (Tsuna Hill) in the Edo Period. (the building on the right is the lower residence of Hizen Shimabara Domain)

Tsunazaka (Tsuna Hill) in the Edo Period.

Tsunazaka (Tsuna Hill) in the Now Period.

Tsunazaka (Tsuna Hill) in the Now Period.

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*Some variant readings include: sanda, sata and mitsuda. There’s a Sanda in Hyōgo Prefecture.

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