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Posts Tagged ‘tokaido’

What does Aomonoyokochō mean?

In Japanese History on September 25, 2019 at 2:05 pm

青物横丁
Aomonoyokochō
(green things alley; more at greengrocers’ street)

_dsf6005

Peas in a pod, veggies in a basket. Welcome to Aomoyoko-chō.

One of the things that make exploring Edo-Tōkyō so fun is that every neighborhood is unique. If you’re in the center of the old city, wherever you are is surely surrounded by a few blocks of something different[i]. A term that comes up time and time again is 横丁 yokochō. The modern image of a yokochō is usually a very narrow, dirty, old alley in the 下町 shitamachi low city, but by my understanding, Aomonoyokochō was neither narrow nor dirty – even in the Edo Period. However, if you don’t mind, before we discuss the neighborhood, I’d like to get everyone acquainted with some terminology and concepts.

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei™ is ready to drop some knowledge.

Three Famous Yokochō in Tōkyō

Places called Yokochō had been a consistent attribute of the city until the Bubble Economy when Tōkyō’s government and a handful of prolific developers began reshaping the urban landscape. These unique neighborhoods were not just the first to go, but I would argue they’re the most widespread loss the city suffered since the firebombing during World War II. The few remaining alleys are cherished by Tōkyōites as ever-disappearing respites and escapes to a nostalgic “Old Tōkyō.”[ii] A few just popped into my head as I’m writing.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Omoide Yokocho

思い出横丁 Omoide Yokochō Memory Lane[iii]. Located in 新宿 Shinjuku, this alley is famous for its intimate, postwar style 焼鳥屋 yakitori grilled chicken joints[iv].

nonbeiyokocho

Nonbei Yokocho

のんべい横丁 Nonbei Yokochō Drunkards’ Alley. Located in 渋谷 Shibuya, this alley is also famous for its intimate, postwar style スナック sunakku counter service restaurants run by older women who ruthlessly cater to locals[v].

ebisu yokocho

Ebisu Yokocho

恵比寿横丁 Ebisu Yokochō. Located in 恵比寿 Ebisu, near Shibuya. So-so in my opinion, but to be perfectly honest, I haven’t spent much time there.

I haven’t explored these areas on JapanThis! because they aren’t particularly historic. However, you can make a good case that they are the three most famous of Tōkyō’s remaining yokochō. Of course, there are others, but I’m not going to repeat them here because I’d prefer keeping them lowkey and off TripAdvisor.[vi]

Anyways, if you didn’t know what a typical yokochō was, now you do. That means we can get on to the good stuff.

Further Reading:

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yaoya

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Let’s Look at the Kanji

青物
aomono

literally, green things;
an archaic/dialect term for fruits and vegetables

横丁
yokochō

alley, side street;
town/neighborhood off the main thoroughfare

You may have never heard of 青物横丁 Aomonoyokochō[vii] or the name the street’s local chamber of commerce pushes, あおよこ AOYOKO[viii], because it’s only accessible by a single train line, the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line. For tourists, it’s not a particular noteworthy area. There’s a KFC, a MOS Burger, and a handful of chain 居酒屋 izakaya Japanese style pubs. There are two well-stocked convenience stores, but it’s pretty nondescript. That said, what makes 青物横丁 Aomonoyokochō Green Grocer Town[ix] special is its name and its place in the Edo Period infrastructure of Japan[x]. Also, for the sake of this article, I’m going to use two distinct spellings: Aomonoyokochō refers to the area in general, Aomono Yokochō refers to the side street that connects to the old Tōkaidō highway. It’s a nuanced difference, so you probably don’t need to worry much about it, but the different renderings are intentional on my part.

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Drawing of Aomonoyokocho in 1918 by Takeuchi Shigeo. You can see the greengrocers in action.

Bear in mind, this area exists in 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa-shuku South Shinagawa Post Town on 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō the old Tōkaidō, the main pre-modern highway that connected the imperial court in Kyō Kyōto and 江戸 Edo Edo (modern day Tōkyō). This was the largest post town in the country[xi]. For travelers coming in and out of Edo, there were a plethora of necessities: food, lodging, drinking and whoring, new shoes, and お土産 omiyage souvenirs. That said, Shinagawa-shuku was so large and so highly trafficked that various local economies popped up to support the neighborhood people who likewise supported the mass influx and outflux of regional lords and their samurai entourages[xii]. In short, this Aomono Yokochō was the beating heart of Shinagawa.

Further Reading:

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1200px-Hiroshige02_shinagawa

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Let’s Look at Some More Kanji

野菜
yasai

the standard word for vegetables[xiii]

八百屋
yaoya

greengrocer, vegetable stand

Shinagawa-shuku was most famous for its seafood, seaweed, and a range of low-class prostitutes to a number of high-end courtesans and geisha[xiv]. Aomono Yokochō, being off the old highway, didn’t cater much to travelers. It provided necessary foodstuffs to local restaurants, brothels, and local fisherman who were probably just plain sick of seafood and wanted some fucking vegetables for a change, dammit.

edo period green grocer.jpg

An Edo Period green grocer would stock less and be a far cry from today’s supermarkets. Why? There was no refrigeration so if you couldn’t sell it, you ate it or took a financial hit.

Edo Period streets didn’t have names[xv] and presumably this one didn’t either, but it was well-known that locals called this street Aomono Yokochō. In fact, I’ve got a map here that has the street clearly labeled as such. The place name still isn’t official, it’s just 南品川三丁目 Minami Shinagawa Sanchōme 3rd Block of Minami Shinagawa[xvi]. However, the area surrounding Aomono Yokochō is called Aomonoyokochō because in Meiji 37 (1904), 青物横町駅 Aomonoyokochō Eki Aomonoyokochō Station was established. Today, the character chō town has been simplified to chō town. It had originally been a cable car stop between Shinagawa and Yokohama because it was a convenient spot for travelers commuting between both cities to pick up fresh vegetables and fish. The train just made the area even more convenient until the advent of supermarkets in the Post-War Period.

Aomonoyokocho Edo Period

The road following the coast is the old Tokaido. Two other streets form a triangle. The top street is Aomono Yokocho. The entire triangle is the neighborhood of Aomonoyokocho. This is an Edo Period Map.

If you follow the old Tōkaidō from 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station, the only two yokochō that remain are Aomonoyokochō and 立会川横丁 Tachiaigawa Yokochō , but if you pay attention to other side streets, you’ll find a myriad of plaques commemorating long since vanished yokochō – each one dedicated to a particular industry or class. If you’re a nerd like me, you can revel in imagining these neighborhoods of yore, but to be honest, even the locals just walk past them without even blinking an eye.

edo period green grocer 2

Edo Period green grocer

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No More Kanji. I Promise!
Let’s Look at the Neighborhood

“Hey, Marky, if I were to just get off the train and walk around this neighborhood, what would I see?”

The answer to this question depends on your imagination and level History Nerdiness[xvii]. I don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting any place I discuss on Japan This!. That said, the pay-off here would be low unless you walked from either 日本橋 Nihonbashi to 旧川崎宿 Kyū-Kawasaki-shuku Kawasaki Post Town or some shorter interval therein[xviii]. Without context, it just looks like a pretty average street in a somewhat obscure part of Tōkyō. That notwithstanding, if you take a long, methodical stroll through the old Shinagawa Post Town, you’ll notice immediately how wide this street is and how busy it is. When the post town system was abolished and the trains started running, this area was already well-established as the distribution point for fresh foodstuffs along the highway and its various neighborhoods. And, history nerds, take heed. If we’re talking about Shinagawa Post Town proper, this was the busiest neighborhood[xix]. To this day, it’s busy, just in a different way.

Would you like to take a look at what cool shit you can see in the area? I bet you do, so let’s get into it.

hiranoya aomonoyokocho shinagawa sun drug

Sun Drug, former site of Hiranoya

Hirano-ya

So, there area was famous for supplying food so it’s not surprising that a family-owned business became local rock stars. The most prosperous greengrocer in the area was a family run business established in 1800 called 平野屋 Hirano-ya, literally Shop Hirano[xx]. It stood at the corner of the old Tōkaidō and Aomono Yokochō. They became the dominant purveyors of vegetables and fish in the area until they eventually made the switch to the supermarket business model under the name フードマーケット平野屋  Fūdo Māketto Hirano Food Market Hirano. This grocery store operated for nearly 220 years until it went out of business in May 2018[xxi]. But man, 220 years is a pretty epic run!

[UPDATE: At the 2019 Shinagawa-shuku Matsuri, I noticed paper lanterns with the name Hirano-ya written on them, so the family is probably still running a business under that name, maybe just not brick and mortar.]

tatami matsuoka shinagawa

Tatami Matsuoka

tatami matsuoka inside

When I asked if I could take photos of tatami construction, this guy said “sure!” and gave me a tatami trivet. So cool!

Tatami Matsuoka

Another interesting shop in the area is 畳松岡 Tatami Matsuoka, a traditional tatami “factory.” This business was established in 1779 which makes it even older than the defunct Hirano-ya. Better yet, they’re still doing business which is even older and still operating. To top it all off, they are still working in a Taishō Era building that uses the original signage which displays the original post-war right to left spelling, so it actually reads 岡松畳. As if this business wasn’t old school enough, that kind of sign just adds to the authenticity. That said, this stretch of the old Tōkaidō is home to quite a few traditional tatami factories.

tenmyokokuji shinagawa

Tenmyōkoku-ji

Around the corner is 天妙国寺 Tenmyōkoku-ji Tenmyōkoku Temple which was founded in the Kamakura Period (1285, to be precise). It retains most of its sprawling Edo Period lands, but history nerds may be interested in two particular graves.

ito ittosai kagehisa grave

Ito Ittosai’s grave is on the left

The first is that of 伊東 一刀斎 Itō Ittōsai[xxii], a semi-legendary samurai who may have lived between 1560–1653. He’s attributed as the founder of 一刀流ittō-ryū the one sword/one stroke school of sword fighting[xxiii], hence his adopted first name. Being a branding master, he secured his legacy as one of Japan’s greatest swordsman – second only to the equally annoying and boring 宮本武蔵 Miyamoto Mushashi[xxiv].

matsuri sashichi grave

According to temple staff, the bell is Sashichi’s grave (the sign on the left is his posthumous name).

The second grave is a bit more obscure. That’s the tomb of お祭佐七 O-matsuri Sashichi, an important figure in the world of kabuki in the Late Edo Period and Early Meiji Period.

Location of the teahouse Kamaya, now long gone…

Kamaya

The former site of 釜屋 Kamaya is clearly demarcated but there aren’t any material remains… remaining. This teahouse/inn came to be used by the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate as back up for government officials during the 幕末 Bakumatsu final years of the shōgunate. In North Shinagawa, there was 本陣 honjin the main inn for feudal lords and in South Shinagawa there was the 脇本陣 waki-honjin sub-honjin used for lower ranking officials[xxv]. However, due to the high amount of traffic in and out of Edo, Kamaya was granted official status as a government patronized inn. In 1867 and 1868[xxvi], 土方歳三 Hijikata Toshizō vice-commander of the 新選組 Shinsengumi[xxvii] stayed here. It’s well-known that he was a womanizer and passionate fan of ye good olde drinking and whoring, so the locals still tell stories of him visiting teahouses in order to be introduced to the best prostitutes in Shinagawa[xxviii]. Also, Tom Cruise is fine and all, but many Japanese people will call Hijikata Toshizō the real “last samurai.”

pet cemetery in shinagawa.jpg

If praying for pets is your thing, or you’re a Steven King or Ramones fan, check out the pet cemetery in Aomonoyokocho.

I’ve covered quite a few place names in Shinagawa recently, so I think this will be the last for a while. That said, Aomonoyokochō is an interesting neighborhood to visit if you live in Shinagawa. I don’t know if I’d travel all the way across town just to look around. That said, if you want to take a walking tour of the entire post town with someone who knows it inside and out, I can do that. And Aomonoyokochō is a great place to pick up some cans of beer for the next stretch of the walk. If パチンコ pachinko is your thing, there’s that, too. I’ll probably just have a beer outside and play PokémonGO, though. Smokey pachinko is too stinko for me lol. On that note, I hope you enjoyed the article and I’ll see you next time!

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō With Me Japan This Guided Tours
(It’s not for tourists, it’s for history nerds!)

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[i] At least, historically speaking.
[ii] Any way you want to take that term.
[iii] Or sometimes known as Piss Ally.
[iv] These days, it’s overrun by foreign tourists and many of the shops are no longer run by Japanese. The atmosphere is still good, but don’t be surprised if the owners and staff are Chinese or Korean. They still provide Japanese food, though. They’re smart and they know what foreigners who believe everything they see on TripAdvisor want. #FuckTripAdvisor.
[v] Also, thanks to TripAdvisor, attracting more foreign tourists and losing its cool.
[vi] TripAdvisor Ruins Everything. #FuckTripAdvisor
[vii] The street name was originally written as 青物横町 Aomonoyokochō. The new final character was simplified using a shorthand kanji that was easier to scan, but more notably was standard on maps in the capital since the early Edo Period.
[viii] I’ve seen this in print, but I’ve never heard locals use the word. They might, but I’ve never come across it. If you’re new to the Japanese language, many long words regularly get shortened. For example, あけましておめでとう akemashite omedetō happy nude year becomes あけおめ ake ome, while 今年もよろしく kotoshi mo yoroshiku happy nude year to you too becomes ことよろ koto yoro. These kinds of abbreviations sound cute, catchy, or funny and reflect a long-standing attribute of the language. At the time of writing, I just saw it written あをよこ a(w)oyoko which uses an outdated use of hiragana.
[ix] I’m being liberal with the translation here, but I think that’s a legit rendering. Also, locals hate the long name so they’ve abbreviated it to 青横 aoyoko. And good on them for doing so. Aomonoyokochō is a mouthful. Also, please note that the usual word these days for a greengrocer is 八百屋 yaoya.
[x] Which became the modern infrastructure of Tōkyō and the rest of Japan.
[xi] It was so large, in fact, that it was split into 北品川宿 and 南品川宿 and bled out for miles into the boonies. The Edo shōgunate considered Shinagawa as part of 荏原国 Ebara no Kuni Ebara Province. This area mostly fell under the administrative power of 大名 daimyō regional lords loyal to the Tokugawa Shōgunate and also to village headmen who… you know… oversaw villages.
[xii] Somewhere some dead traveling merchant or pilgrim is rolling in their urn screaming “but what about me?” And so, yeah. There were plenty of merchants and pilgrims traveling this road who were also staying overnight and drinking and whoring.
[xiii] ie; 青物 aomono = 野菜 yasai.
[xiv] Minus the prostitutes, dried versions of seafood and seaweed where prized souvenirs by people in the outer domains.
[xv] And for the most part Tōkyō streets don’t have names either.
[xvi] Minami means “south.”
[xvii] History Nerdiness by the way, is not a quantifiable term.
[xviii] Even at that, you’re not gonna see much….
[xix] Again, not for travelers, but for local businesses.
[xx] Hirano is the family name.
[xxi] It was replaced the same month by a chain pharmacy called サンドラッグ San Doraggu Sun Drug (which sounds more fun than it actually is lol).
[xxii] His real “first name” was 景久 Kagehisa.
[xxiii] Here’s the Wikipedia article on this style of swordsmanship.
[xxiv] Who is Miyamoto Musashi? Another branding expert who secured his legacy as a sort of archetypal samurai. Weebs love this guy.
[xxv] If the terms honjin and waki-honjin are new to you, check “further reading” sections at the beginning of this article.
[xxvi] The 1868 stay was after the defeat of shōgunate forces by the newly established imperial army at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. The Shinsengumi retreated to Edo (well, modern Chiba Prefecture, actually) in order to regroup and figure out the situation as the last shogun, 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu had voluntarily stepped down and transferred power to the imperial court in Kyōto. By this time, both 近藤勇 Kondō Isami commander of the Shinsengumi and Hijikata were 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shogun and should have been allowed to stay at the honjin or waki-honjin. Presumably, they were already booked by people who outranked them, or, in a problem that plagued both commanders for much of their adult lives, they were formerly 百姓 hyakushō farmers. Despite their samurai status and recently obtained honors, they were frequently discriminated against for having low family pedigree. That may explain why Hijikata didn’t stay in the honjin or waki-honjin. I’m not sure, though.
[xxvii] The Shinsengumi were an anti-terrorist police force that primarily operated in Kyōto on behalf of the Edo Shōgunate.
[xxviii] Whether there’s any truth to these stories, I can’t say. But they’re not implausible.

What does Shimbamba mean?

In Japanese History on February 6, 2019 at 6:29 am

新馬場
Shinbanba (new horse place)

IMG-0979

All right. You ready to do this? Cuz I’m ready to do this.

So, in my last article, we explored a little-known area on 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō the old Tōkaidō Highway which connected the shōgun’s capital in 江戸 Edo with the imperial capital in 京都 Kyōto. The road ran from 日本橋 Nihonbashi (literally, the “Bridge to Japan”) in the center of the city to Kyōto. To maintain the Tōkaidō and other similar highways, the shōgunate instituted an official network of 宿場町 shukuba machi post towns[i]. This ensured that travelers – particularly government and court officials – had a roof over their heads, somewhere to get a hot bath, and places to go drinking and whoring. In fact, places that killed three birds with one stone were not uncommon.

shimazaki-rō

A typical lodging in Shinagawa with sexual hijinx on the menu. This is the Shimazaki-rō. The photo was taken in 1929, but the lodging was established in the Edo Period and was apparently one of the most high end spots in Shinagawa, even providing delivery to the honjin and waki-honjin so government officials could remain anonymous. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk about what honjin and waki-honjin are in a bit…)

Access to well rested servants and horses were also an important aspect to this post town system. The first post town on the Tōkaidō was the main entrance and exit to the city of Edo. Not only was it the first post town on the most important highway in the country, it was the largest – so large, in fact, that it was divided into two separate towns: 北品川宿 Kita Shinagawa North Shinagawa and 南品川宿 Minami Shinagawa South Shinagawa[ii]. The official post towns were home to roughly 1600 buildings and had a population of about 7000 people[iii], numbers unheard of in other post towns. Because of traffic from the sea and fishing villages along the bay, the area was a bustling center of commercial activity and the lines between post town and local villages often blurred. I haven’t seen numbers for travelers coming and going, but it must have been massive. Even though this was outside of the city limits and quite country, for 芋侍 imo-zamurai country bumpkin samurai coming to the capital for the first time, it would have been a mind-blowing prelude to the cosmopolitan sensory overload of the shōgun’s capital.

tokaido map.jpg
Today, you can still walk the original route of the old Tōkaidō from Nihonbashi all the way to Kyōto (if you’re into that sorta thing), but one of the best stretches is in Shinagawa. Along the way, you’ll come across an area called 新馬場 Shinbanba[iv]. Long-time fans of JapanThis! may recognize this kanji and come to the same assumption that I did: the etymology of this place name is just like that of 高田馬場 Takada no Baba – both of with end with the characters for “horse” and “place.”

And we’d both be wrong AF.
So let’s dig in and find out where this place name came from.

Further Reading:

1200px-Hiroshige02_shinagawa.jpg

Shinagawa? Strap on and feel the G’s. Outside of the city of Edo, this was where it was at.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


shin
new

uma,
ba
horse

ba
place

IMG-6797

Jūban Baba – the horse riding grounds in Azabu-Jūban. It’s a very distinctive shape.

Assuming this 馬場 banba[vi] was the same as 馬場 baba – I mean, the kanji is the same FFS – I started checking maps for long, rectangular plots of land where you could do mounted archery. I didn’t find any because in the Edo Period, this was the boonies. I found lots of small villages, but the word 馬場 baba didn’t appear on early maps or more accurate later maps. Hmmmmm…

2017003-1500x675

Female yabusame??? Yes, please!!!!

What Gives?

Well, I mentioned before that Shinagawa post town was so large the shōgunate divided it into two administrative districts, North Shinagawa and South Shinagawa. The separation took place where the Tōkaidō crossed the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River at 品川橋 Shinagawabashi Shinagawa Bridge. Taking a closer look at old maps, I realized something interesting. In North Shinagawa, the stretch of the highway from present-day 八山橋入口 Yastuyamabashi Yatsuyama Bridge to 法善寺門前 Hōzen-ji Hōzen Temple has block after block labeled 北品川歩行新宿 Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku[vii]. So, what the hell does Kachi-Shinshuku mean?

IMG-6786

Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku

So, normally in Edo, when you see the word 馬場 baba/banba on a map, it refers to a place for mounted archery. However, in post towns, the term has a totally different meaning. Furthermore, on these old maps, Kachi-Shinshuku distinguished a special part of North Shinagawa, one that specialized in providing rested and refreshed coolies to rich travelers. I don’t know if coolie is a PC term or not today, but essentially these 歩行人足 kachi ninsoku were day laborers who operated between two post towns carrying luggage and 籠 kago palanquins[viii]. In short, Kachi-Shinshuku means something like “refueling station” because you could relieve exhausted day laborers and hire new ones. Shinshuku means “new post town” because this was a later development of Shinagawa post town; that is to say, the shōgunate wanted the rest of North and South Shinagawa to be for lodging and whatnot but keep all the stinky laborers in a single area.

fujieda.jpg

One of my fave ukiyo-e prints and I finally have a chance to talk about it. Tired horses and tired coolies have arrived at a post town (Fujieda, also on the Tōkaidō) ready to pass over the packages to a fresh team. Notice the one guy wiping sweat off his brow and the team manager discussing the job with a merchant. Also notice the presence of a samurai inspector.

Wait. What about the Horses?

Well, I said you should think of Kachi-Shinshuku as something like a “refueling station,” right? Let’s say you’ve got a pack animal with you on your trek from Kyōto, or you’re a 大名 daimyō feudal lord who’s sick of being boxed up in a palanquin and wants to ride a horse. To keep the other parts of the post town clean, you could swap out stinky horses in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku. Additionally, coolies who carry shit for a living are pretty much pack animals too, right? They were both the pickup trucks of the Edo Period.

While stinky coolies who carried shit for a living were eking out a sustainable existence in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku, apparently the biggest business in popular memory was the hiring and retiring of stinky-ass 伝馬 tenma/denma pack horses. Thus, the term banba doesn’t mean riding grounds, but the place where you can swap out horses. We can see a related place name in 小伝馬町 Kodenmachō, literally Small Denma Town[ix], which is located near the terminus of the old Tōkaidō at 日本橋 Nihonbashi the Bridge to Japan.

5-oj9PNrH

Day laborers, coolies, whatever you call them, their jobs were disappearing with the Meiji changes, the advent of the railroad, and just like your job is gonna be taken over by AI, they did their best and now we bicker over whether the word coolie is PC or not lol

Why do we Remember Horses and not Humans

I haven’t heard any satisfying answer, but I have a pet theory. After the 明治維新 Meiji Ishin Meiji Coup, Japan tried desperately to impress the western powers that they were on equal footing. They began building a train line to do what the old Tōkaidō once did – link Edo (now Tōkyō) with Kyōto – and they adopted new dress, a new style of government, and they abolished the caste system. There was no concept of PC and centuries of prejudice didn’t evaporate overnight, but I suspect with the end of the post town system in Meiji 5 (1872) and the absorption of Shinagawa into 東京県東京府 Tōkyō-ken Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō City, Tōkyō Prefecture, the pressure to not associate humans with pack animals became self-evident. While marginalized families most definitely continued to work as social minorities in the area, the new era brought new opportunities and the local consciousness chose to remember that the area between Yatsuyama and Hōzen-ji was famous for post horses. In fact, even with the advent of the steam locomotive and the abolition of shōgunate restrictions on who could and who couldn’t ride horses, there was an uptick in demand for horses. It seems like the locals referred to the area as 馬場 banba horse place to preserve its traditional image and erase its humiliating past.

got it, fuck face

Easy Peasy!!!

So Shinbanba means “new horse place.” Got it. I don’t have to read this crap anymore.

Not so fast, buddy. You probably should read this crap a little bit more.

sexxxy sensei - tachibana juria

Sexxxy Sensei thinks you should read this crap more, too. Don’t disappoint Sexxxy Sensei.

It Always Comes Back to Train Stations

In the early 1900’s, on the train tracks that are now the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line there were two stations called 北馬場駅 Kita-Banba Eki North Banba Station and 南馬場駅 Minami Banba Eki South Banba Station, references to where the two post towns in Shinagawa were split by the Meguro River. Today this is a pretty minor line as far as Tōkyō trains go, but it straight up serviced the boonies until the post-war period[x]. However, as we all know, Tōkyō (and Japan in general) experienced a huge economic boom that saw construction and real estate development enter unprecedented levels beginning in the late 1950’s. Massive infrastructure expansions happened in the 1970’s, and new, faster trains eliminated the need for stations that were built for rural areas that had now become urbanized. A new station was built between Kita-Banba and Minami-Banba and was named 新馬場 Shinbanba New Banba and opened in 1976[xi]. By this time, nothing remained of Shinagawa’s post town – even the original Edo Period coastline had been expanded by landfill and massive building projects. It’s fairly obvious in Japanese that New Banba doesn’t mean “place where you swap out horses,” and as the post town’s history faded from collective memory, Shinbanba was just another place name that few people thought about. And that’s the short story, long. Shinbanba isn’t even a real place name. It’s just a station name, only the locals refer to the area in general as Shinbanba. The existence of Kita-Banba and Minami-Banba are long forgotten as time moves farther and farther past Shinagawa’s heyday as Edo pre-eminent post town, the grand entrance to the shōgun’s capital.

Just like 立会川 Tachiaigawa[xii], a majority of Tōkyōites have probably never heard of it.

tachiaigawa at night (1 of 1)

This is Tachiaigawa, a pretty decent walk from Shinbanba, check out my previous article for more about this little known secret in Tōkyō.

What’s in Shinbanba?

For the average person, there might not be a lot. But if you’re a history nerd like me and you love Edo-Tōkyō, there’s a fuck ton to see here. Just make sure your history level is cranked up to 11 because you’ll spend the majority of your time looking where places used to be, because there are only scant traces of the Edo Period preserved – and even those are disappearing.

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One of many nori (seaweed) shops in the area

Traditional Japanese Food

OK, it’s Japan, so this isn’t a stretch, but being a post town on the bay, foods like 海苔 nori seaweed, 寿司 sushi sushi, and 天ぷら tenpura tempura were famous in the region. In many famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e woodblock prints of daily life, you can see seaweed farms in the shallow parts of the sea where crops could be easily harvested at low tide. Sushi in its most common form is what is called 江戸前寿司 Edomae-zushi sushi in the Edo-style or sushi from Edo Bay. Likewise, tempura as you know it today was once called 江戸前天ぷら Edomae-tenpura[xiii], also a reference to either the bay or the local style. For travelers who just wanted a light snack that they could carry with them for the journey, there were many 煎餅屋 senbei-ya rice cracker shops, and you’ll still find the old Tōkaidō dotted with these family owned storefronts.

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Remnant’s of Shinagawa’s once thriving fishing industry still remain

Temples and Shrines

In the famous words of Scientology founder and all-around charlatan wackjob, L. Ron Hubbard, “If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” In this case, just establish a temple or a shrine. With all the travelers coming and going in and out of Edo, this entire stretch of the old Tōkaidō is teeming with Buddhist and Shintō institutions, some are pretty cool and some are kinda meh. I’m just going off the top of my head, but I think there are something like 20-30 temples and shrines in the area. With all those Edo Period travelers, these places must have been making bank.

Besides the fact that there are two 七福神巡り shichi fukujin meguri pilgrimages of the seven gods of good luck, the must-see spiritual spots in the area are 品川神社 Shinagawa Jinja Shinagawa Shrine, 荏原神社 Ebara Jinja Ebara Shrine, and 東海寺 Tōkai-ji Tōkai Temple.

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Calligraphy by the third shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, preserved by Tōkai-ji. It says Tōshō-gū, posthumous name of his grandfather, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The first two are Shintō shrines that are part of seven gods of good luck pilgrimages, the latter is a Zen Buddhist temple established by 沢庵 Takuan, a priest who founded this major temple during the reign of the third shogun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu Tokugawa Iemitsu. Takuan hobnobbed with all manner of high-ranking samurai and is sometimes criticized for his advocacy of killing, a general no-no in Buddhism, but Zen and martial arts go hand in hand and if you want to sell your religion to the warrior class, you have to make it appealing to them – and that he did. Tōkai-ji preserved several of his calligraphic works and tea sets which are now on display in the 品川歴史館 Shinagawa Rekishikan Shinagawa History Museum.

Shinagawa Shrine was established to protect the local village in 1187. It houses the 神 kami gods of 天比理乃命 Amenohiritome no Mikoto — a somewhat mysterious god[xiv], 素戔嗚尊 Susano’o no Mikoto the god of seas and storms[xv], and 宇賀之売命 Toyoukebime a goddess of abundant food that predates the importation of wet rice agriculture[xvi]. The enshrinement of a harvest goddess and a god of the sea makes sense for this area which was rural and located on the bay. I think that makes sense at any time in human history.

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Shinagawa Shrine

Speaking of history, the shrine has an interesting history. Apparently, it was established as 品川大明神 Shinagawa Daimyōjin Shinagawa Shrine[xvii] by 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo, first shōgun of the 鎌倉幕府 Kamakura Bakufu Kamakura Shōgunate, when he enshrined Amenohiritome in 1187. In 1319, it’s said that a high-ranking retainer of 北条高時 Hōjō Takatoki, the last regent of the Kamakura Shōgunate, enshrined Toyoukebime — presumably, this was before Takatoki and his retainers committed 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide as Kamakura burned[xviii]. In 1478, Kantō warlord and all around bad muthafucka, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan enshrined Susano’o here[xix].

In 1600, a funny thing happened on the way to 関ヶ原 Sekigahara. A little-known local hero whom I may have mentioned here once or twice, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu, made a stop at Shinagawa Shrine to pray for victory in battle. Well, we all know how that turned out[xx]. Ieyasu had patronized the shrine since the 1590’s, but after his victory at Sekigahara, the shōgunate prioritized the institution and to this day you can see the family crest of his clan everywhere. Other Tokugawa shōguns, including 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu (#3) and 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari (#11, but he’s always #69 in our hearts), are known to have visited here[xxi].

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Dozō Sagami – the most infamous adult playground in Shinagawa

Dozō Sagami

For samurai of means and rich merchants coming and going from Edo, one of the most famous and glamorous spots was 土蔵相模 Dozō Sagami, officially known as 相模屋 Sagami-ya, a deluxe brothel. This inn featured high-end 芸者 geisha and talented 遊女 yūjo courtesans[xxii]. Long time readers, especially those who remember my piece on Shinjuku, will remember that Edo Period post towns were hot beds[xxiii] of drinking and whoring. That’s right, dear reader, Shinagawa wasn’t all about pack horses and coolies.

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Model of he main building of Dozō Sagami inside the Shinagawa History Museum

Perhaps the most historically important people who partied all night here were a team of racist, xenophobic, and backwards-thinking 水戸藩の志士 Mito Han no Shishi Terrorists from Mito Domain who checked in to do the last drinking and whoring of their lives. The next morning was March 24th, a day that changed Japanese history forever. These ass clowns attacked the entourage of 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke lord of 彦根藩 Hikone Han Hikone Domain and 大老 Tairō head of the 老中 Rōjū High Council, the lords posted at the highest level of the shōgunate. They succeeded in assassinating him, knowing full well that they would either die in the attack, be sentenced to 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide, or worse yet, be executed like stinky, filthy commoners. Yup, these racist, terrorist fucks killed the guy who made the decision to slowly begin opening up Japan in order to get new military technology so Japan wouldn’t collapse under foreign imperialism like other Asian countries had – learn the foreigners’ ways and then beat them at their own game. This assassination, known as the 桜田御門外之変 Sakurada Go-mon-gai no Hen Sakuradamon Incident sent the shōgunate into a downward spiral that left the fate of the country in a precarious place.

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The back of Dozō Sagami (also called Sagami-ya casually). From here, you had a view of Edo Bay, the garden, the well, and that dope kura. You’re all kura fans now, right? The view must have been stunning in its heyday.

In the midst of this chaos, some other famous guests stayed at Sagami-ya. They were 高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku an anti-foreigner terrorist with terrible hair and 伊藤博文 Itō Hirobumi a garden variety terrorist, unapologetic womanizer, and the future first prime minister of 大日本帝国 Dai-Nippon Teikoku the Empire of Japan. Apparently, they partied here after burning down the first British Embassy[xxiv] – which wasn’t too far from the area. A bold move to be sure, but when foreign powers displayed their military and technological superiority, these two 芋侍 imo-zamuri country bumpkin samurai from the rogue state of 長州藩 Chōshū Han Chōshū Domain suddenly became interested in foreign weaponry. Because of his famously dumb haircut, Takasugi Shinsaku didn’t live to see the shōgunate fall, but maybe Itō Hirobumi’s drinking and whoring saved his life. I dunno. Just throwing that out there.

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Sagami Hotel – the last days of a Shinagawa legend

Anyhoo, my understanding is that the Sagami-ya in some form or other lasted until 1972. The establishment fell on hard times due to American-influenced anti-prostitution laws enacted between 1946 and 1956. During its last days, it was known as the さがみホテル Sagami Hoteru Sagami Hotel and presumably there were no in-house prostitutes. But by the 1970’s, its garden and beautiful view of the bay had been destroyed by landfill, factory pollution, and the fact that the old Tōkaidō was meaningless in the modern world.

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A nostalgic remembrance of Hotel Sagami

The long standing 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line, the 京急線 Keikyū-sen Keikyū Line, the construction of 国道15号 Kokudō Jūgo-gō National Route 15[xxv] in 1952, and finally the 1964 completion of the 東海道新幹線 Tōkaidō Shinkansen Tōkaidō Shinkansen hammered the last nail in the coffin for Shinagawa’s old post town forever[xxvi]. The shinkansen route connected 新大阪駅 Shin-Ōsaka Eki New Ōsaka Station with 横浜 Yokohama[xxvii], totally neglecting Shinagawa. The loss of Sagami-ya represented the last gasp of Shinagawa as a lodging spot. Simply put, it had just become inconvenient.

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Dozō Sagami/Sagami-ya/Sagami Hotel is no longer with us. Oh, how the mighty hath fallen.

Rolled Over by Modernization

Shinagawa is a classic case of another place where Japan has paved over its own proud history. Tōkyō has done this in particularly egregious ways, IMO. The transition from the Edo Period to the pre-war period wasn’t that crazy, I think. It’s the post-war era that saw everything change. The 1964 Olympics also changed the city in huge ways[xxviii] and pretty much killed off the old city while also killing off Shinagawa’s fishing tradition and transforming the area into a land of warehouses and factories. From the 60’s-70’s, Japan was on a trajectory greater than the Japanese Empire could ever imagine. By the 1980’s… don’t even get me started. The US feared Japan like the US fears China and India now[xxix]. However, Shinagawa declined more and fell into a really horrible state.

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Whoa. Wait? How is that even legal?

In 2003, Tōkaidō Shinkansen service came to Shinagawa and this changed everything. Tōkyō now had multiple high-speed and “localish” train routes come to this sleepy town. This reinvigorated Shinagawa service breathed new life into an already vibrant manufacturing culture. 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward[xxx] began courting hotels, suggesting they set up shop in the old post town. Furthermore, they encourage the establishment of 民泊 minpaku residential lodgings in the area along the old Tōkaidō. In addition to setting up signage — albeit in Japanese only — and repaving the road to clearly convey its original width, they incentivized businesses old and new along the pre-modern highway. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it one of Tōkyō’s hot spots, the area around Shinbanba is definitely interesting for us history nerds.

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Did You Just SayHistory Nerds?

Of course, I did. And long-time readers know I don’t throw that term around lightly[xxxi]. Short term readers who have read this far are probably scratching their heads thinking “we haven’t gotten to the nerdy part yet? WTF??!!”

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You can’t see it now, but there’s a sign saying “two ‘miles’ from Nihonbashi” – “two ‘miles’ to Kawasaki.” If you don’t believe me, I dare you to go look for yourself and prove me wrong.

Holy Mile Markers, Batman

One cool spot that most people overlook is 二里塚 niri-zuka the two ri mound, a kinda mile marker. While pre-modern Japan had a whole gaggle of weights and measurements, a 里 ri was a unit of distance that — to the best of my knowledge – had no fixed distance[xxxii]. The niri-zuka indicates the spot that is two ri from Nihonbashi, the start of the Tōkaidō. The distance from Edo to Kyōto was 124 ri (the majority of miles markers are known (though few are labeled as such and fewer yet are preserved)[xxxiii]. Sadly, the marker near Shinbanba is not preserved and there’s simply a sign in Japanese at the entrance to 品海公園 Hinkai Kōen Hinkai Park[xxxiv]. In their heyday, these spots would have definitely stood out. At each marker, the shōgunate built and maintained a large man-made earthen mound on each side of the highway and planted a pine tree on each[xxxv]. While I’m sure these markers assured travelers that they were making progress and the next post town would be coming up soon, the real reason for these markers was to indicate rates for pack horses and coolies[xxxvi].

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What real mile markers used to look like. This one is in Wakayama Prefecture.

Shinagawa Daiba

Long time readers will remember my article on Odaiba. But to sum it up briefly, in 1853 Commodore Perry brought a fleet of gunboats into the “entrance” of  江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay near 浦賀 Uraga in present day 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture and demanded that Japan open for trade or he’d bombarded the city of Edo. Then he gave them a year to think about it, promising to return.

kurofunefig

Yo, b. That ship is black af.

As you can imagine, the shōgunate had a collective freak out at this breach of their strict isolationist policy. While they ultimately – and wisely – decided to open the country up to the Americans[xxxvii], they decided to build a system of cannon batteries to protect the city of Edo. These were all artificial islands, two of which still survive to this day.

One such battery was the 御殿山下台場 Goten’yamashita Daiba Battery at the bottom of Goten’yama. I’m not sure what the space was used for after the Edo Period[xxxviii], but I do know that with all the land reclamation that took place in the 1950’s, this plot of land was re-purposed for 品川区立台場小学校 Shinagawa Kuritsu Daiba Shōgakkō Shinagawa Ward Daiba Elementary School. And while I think it would have been cooler to have not fucked with the shape of the bay, I have to admit it sounds pretty bad ass to say you went to “Cannon Battery Elementary School.” Today, a lighthouse shaped monument sits at the front gate of the school to commemorate the historical value of the land.

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Map of the Shinagawa Honjin – stepped on by everyone who walks into the park. By the way, only old geezers and homeless people hang out in the park today. Just smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap sake.

Remains of the Shinagawa-shuku Honjin

So, with the big deal that I made about pack horses and coolies[xxxix], I don’t want to give the impression that Shinagawa was a dump. Every post town had accommodations for people from all walks of life. Without a doubt, the two most important lodgings were the 本陣 honjin main encampment and 脇本陣 waki-honjin secondary encampment. The honjin was reserved for 大名 daimyō feudal lords and 公家 kuge members of the imperial court in Kyōto. The “wacky” honjin was reserved for silly people like 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun and other high-ranking officials, and if it was available — for a price — super rich merchants could rent a room. In most post towns, the honjin and waki-honjin were located in the town center for strategic reasons. After all, these compounds were considered military installations.

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This picture wasn’t easy to find. It might be the only known photo of Shinagawa Honjin (in its days a hospital for the Tōkyō City Police). It looks pretty lush and definitely retains its Edo Period atmosphere.

After the Meiji Coup, the emperor and his entourage moved from Kyōto to Edo and then renamed the city 東京 Tōkyō Eastern Capital. The honjin being the swankiest accommodation in Shinagawa, obviously, this where they stayed. However, after the post station system was abolished in 1872 (Meiji 5), this luxurious building and its beautiful garden became the 警視庁品川病院 Keishichō Shinagawa Byōin Shinagawa Police Hospital. It must have been a gorgeous location at which to recuperate. In addition to its beautiful architecture, this area was still in the countryside and while it wasn’t located right on the beach, I assume you had a nice view of the bay from the second floor. What’s more, it seems the Edo Period building[xl] was used right up until 1938.

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You’re either experiencing déjà vu right now or you haven’t been paying attention to the pretty pictures. Either way is fine. I love you just the same.

By 1938, the building was deemed antiquated, decommissioned, and torn down. In its place, a small park was built on one section of the compound, an office building on the remaining land. In commemoration of the Meiji Emperor’s visit, the park was named 聖蹟公園 Seiseki Kōen Sacred Spot Park[xli]. The current incarnation of the park dates back to 1960 and the original office building is no longer with us, today its place is taken by a daycare center or kindergarten or some dumb shit for annoying little kids.

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One of the Coolest Shoe Stores in Tōkyō

Keeping in mind that Shinagawa was either the last town you’d pass on your way to Edo or the first town you’d pass on your way out, either way, you’d probably need new shoes. If you were leaving the capital, it would have been cheaper to buy them here than in the city center. If you were arriving in the capital, your shoes probably got pretty beat up. Plus, shoes for long distance walking and casual walking around town were different. Either way, you’d want to dress to impress. There were several shoe stores in Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinshuku, but today only 丸屋履物店 Maruya Hakimono-ten Maruyama Shoes remains. This traditional shop was established in 1865, three years before the collapse of the shōgunate, and has been run by six generations of expert craftsmen. The building is a classic two-story structure typical of the Edo Period. The first floor is a showroom and work area where the manager sits and literally makes shoes by hand on a tatami mat. They specialize in Japanese shoes, in particular 下駄 geta, 草履 zōri, and 雪駄 seta. That said, they also construct specialty shoes that I don’t know the name of, all I can say is they’re those big ass platform shoes worn by 花魁 oiran courtesans of the highest rank. You can buy ready to wear shoes or choose a base that you want and then pick your own strap design and style. It’s pretty awesome if you’re trying to put together your own 着物 kimono or 浴衣 yukata ensemble[xlii]. Even if you can’t make it to Shinagawa, you can order online or at the very least follow their twitter account lol

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Shinbanba Fun Facts

I think I mentioned that as part of the revival of the area in the early 2000’s, Shinagawa Ward clearly marked the width of the original Tōkaidō. Don’t think I would drop something casually like that without giving you guys more details.

According to an official decree of the third shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada in 1616, the Tōkaidō was formally classified as an 大海道 Ōkaidō a major sea route and the width of the street was required to be 六間 rokken six ken which is roughly 10.8 m (35 feet 6 inches). The original width of the road is clearly demarcated now, even though there’s no signage indicating this deliberate measure taken by the ward.  When the Tōkaidō Line was built which bypassed the old post town, the area was frozen in time. With the advent of cars, a much wider road for cars called the 第一京浜 Daiichi Keihin replaced the old highway because the pre-modern width was unsuitable for heavy traffic. That said, this stretch of road is extremely pedestrian-friendly to this day. There’s very little car traffic even during the day, and at night you’ll only see occasional foot and bike traffic.

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Wait. What?? We just rebuilt this city after the fucking Americans… fuck… it’s a giant rubber lizard. Japan is fucked!! Run away! Run away!!

Oh, and how could I leave this out? Yo, Godzilla made this place his bitch! 八つ山入口 Yatsuyama Iriguchi Yatsuyama Entrance is the entrance to Shinagawa coming from Edo[xliii]. Technically this spot, now marked by a bridge crossing the train tracks is closer to Kita Shinagawa Station than Shinbanba Station) is where Godzilla first entered Tōkyō via Tōkyō Bay. I haven’t seen these movies since I was a kid, but presumably the bay still had its original shape and the monster made a b-line for the city center via the Tōkaidō. In the Edo Period, the 5 Highways into the city were heavily guarded by the suburban palaces of various daimyō, but even with all the 1950’s military technology, the city could do nothing about a crazy, fire-breathing mutant dinosaur-thing with a penchant for knocking over the newly rebuilt capital of Japan[xliv].

With all that said, I’m assuming I’ve spent enough time in Shinagawa for a while. I’ve got a few ideas for upcoming articles, but if you have some locations you’re interested in (in Edo-Tōkyō), leave a comment down below and I’ll see what I can do. As always, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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

 


[i] Another term was 宿駅 shukueki, although this term emphasized the presence of places to swap out pack horses (something we’ll talk about later in the article). Interestingly, the second kanji 駅 eki is now used for train stations. This something that will make sense as you read the rest of the article.
[ii] Some people divided it into three post towns, though this wasn’t official. In the end, visit any other former post town in Japan is you’ll instantly realized how tiny they are and how seemingly endless Shinagawa was.
[iii] The official post town, South Shinagawa-shuku in particular, bled over into neighboring villages which adapted to handle overflow on heavy days.
[iv] Officially Romanized as Shimbamba, but homie don’t play that shit.
[v] In other spaces, like the 麻布馬場 Azabu Baba Azabu Horse Riding Grounds, there’s not a single trace of the old topography.
[vi] The pronunciation of banba seems to be a contraction of 馬の場 uma no ba.
[vii] An alternate reading, perhaps more standard is Kita-Shinagawa Kachi-Shinjuku. The -shuku/-juku distinction seems to be regional, but locals in Shinagawa have preserved the less common -shuku pronunciation. This indicates the variety of dialects in Edo, while emphasizing the fact that Shinagawa was not Edo. It was just country.
[viii] If you visit the preserved post towns on the Nakasendō in Nagano Prefecture, you can see 高札場 kōsatsuba regulating the fixed prices coolies could charge to carry shit from one town to the next.
[ix] And for all you perverts out there, it’s 伝馬 denma/tenma a horse for passing along, not 電マ denma a high-powered vibrator like the Hitachi Magic Wand – short for 電気マッサージ器 denki massāji-ki. Click this sentence if you want to read my article about Kodenma-chō.
[x] One could make a strong argument that it still services the straight up boonies today – the urban boonies.
[xi] Yes, that’s right. The term Shinbanba is just a little over 40 years old.
[xii] Covered in my previous article.
[xiii] Word on the street is Edo style tempura was a favorite food of the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and that it gave him stomach cancer and that killed him. I’m suspicious of this, but it’s the story everyone knows for some reason.
[xiv] Amenohiritome no Mikoto seems to be the ancestral kami of the 忌部氏斎部氏 Inbe-shi Inbe clan (they changed their spelling in the 800’s), a high-ranking family in the imperial court who tended to spiritual matters.
[xv] Susano’o was the brother of the sun goddess, 天照大神 Amaterasu-ōmikami – mythical progenitor of the imperial family.
[xvi] For most of very early Japanese history, Toyoukebime was the pre-eminent kami related to food abundance and food preservation. After rice became a staple food, 稲荷 Inari became the primary kami of rice and food, in time local iterations of Inari becoming tutelary kami or good luck kami to local 大名 daimyō samurai warlords. Due to the policy of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance, local lords built shrines to their local version of Inari and so modern day is one place where you can find Inari shrines everywhere. They were so ubiquitous – and I’ve mentioned this many times before – there was a proverb among Edoites: 伊勢屋、稲荷に、犬の糞 Iseya, Inari ni, inu no fun which essentially means “you can’t go anywhere in Edo without seeing shops named Iseya, Inari shrines, and dog shit.” Even though this was the so-called Pre-Modern Era, it sounds like a typical urban gripe. I’ve seen a few sources claiming that Toyoukebime is actually a precursor of Inari – Inari being an easier name to remember.
[xvii] In this case, daimyōjin is just shorthand for tutelary kami and saves people the trouble of remembering the deity’s confusing name.
[xviii] Not to state the obvious, but if they all killed themselves, said retainer wouldn’t have been able to carry out said enshrinement. Who the hell was Hōjō Takatoki?
[xix] Come on, Ōta Dōkan is our favorite here at JapanThis!
[xx] He won, stupid. If you don’t know the Battle of Sekigahara, feel free to check out Samurai Archives.
[xxi] I have to chuckle to myself when wondering if 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada (#2) visited Shinagawa Shrine. Because of the association with Ieyasu and the Battle of Sekigahara, he might have felt a bit weird since… you know, he showed up late to the battle — something Ieyasu never forgive him for.
[xxii] Read “prostitutes.”
[xxiii] See what I did there?
[xxiv] Construction wasn’t even complete yet. Did the construction workers get paid? Samurai Privilege anyone?
[xxv] This stretch of the road known as the 第一京浜 Dai-ichi Keihin Tōkyō-Yokohama Route 1.
[xxvi] Seemingly, at the time. Not actually forever…
[xxvii] This served the same purpose of the original Tōkaidō – connect Edo-Tōkyō with Kyōto. However, the civil engineers wisely set the end points at cities located outside of the urban centers of Tōkyō and Kyōto. This is something the Japanese government isn’t taking into consideration at all these days.
[xxviii] Probably for the worst (PS: I whispered that).
[xxix] Yeah, I see those rich Chinese girls’ Instagram pages. That’s the Japanese Bubble Years, there just wasn’t any social media. Also, when your go to other countries, keep your voices down ffs.
[xxx] They call themselves Shinagawa City, but they’re really Shinagawa Ward.
[xxxi] Well, alright. Sometimes I throw it around lightly.
[xxxii] My dictionary says it’s approximately 3.927km (2.44 miles), but emphasis on “approximately.”
[xxxiii] In case you were curious, the first marker is near 金杉橋 Kanasugibashi Kanasugi Bridge in 芝大門二丁目 Shiba Daimon Nichōme 2nd block of Shiba Daimon. The third marker is in 大森一丁目 Ōmori Itchōme 1st block of Ōmori. The fourth is in 東麓郷三丁目 Higashi Rokugō Sanchōme 3rd block of Higashi Rokugō. After that, you’ll be well outside of Tōkyō city limits.
[xxxiv] Literally “Seaside Park,” despite the fact that the coast is now miles away.
[xxxv] And yes, I also know that sometimes there was a cluster of pine trees. And yes, I know sometimes there were stone monuments clearly indicating the distance. It was the Edo Period. Uniformity wasn’t the shōgunate’s strong point.
[xxxvi] There’s that word again.
[xxxvii] Good call on their part.
[xxxviii] I think it might have been used for a lighthouse, but don’t quote me on that.
[xxxix] There’s that word again…
[xl] And presumably its garden.
[xli] Remember, this was the height of State Shintō and all that emperor worship bullshit.
[xlii] I assume I don’t have to explain what these are and the differences to you
[xliii] Or the last exit heading towards Edo, depending on your trajectory.
[xliv] And what’s up with that?!! They just rebuilt this bitch!

What does Tachiaigawa mean?

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

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

untitled-1

Tachiaigawa in the Edo Period and today

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

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

Further Reading:

suzugamori at night (1 of 1)

Suzugamori Execution Grounds at night. Ooooooh, spooooooky.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


tatsu, tachi
stand, rise, set up

au, ai
meet, join

kawa, -gawa
river

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

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

samurai battle

Theory 1: There was a Samurai Battle here

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

waterfall

Theory 2: There were Beautiful Waterfalls

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

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

buddha suzugamori (1 of 1)

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

Theory 3: The Suzugamori Theory

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

namidabashi at night (1 of 1)

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

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

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

two thumbs

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

ryoma warehouse (1 of 1)

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

Theory 4: Where Water Meets Water

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

To quote from my article on the Meguro River:

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

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

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

Further Reading:

hamakawa daiba (1 of 1).jpg

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

Sakamoto Ryōma

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

Further Reading:

ryoma tachiaigawa (1 of 1)

Ryōma voguing Bakumatsu style

tachiaigawa at night (1 of 1)

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

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

 


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

What does Omori mean?

In Japanese History on May 13, 2014 at 5:39 pm

大森
Ōmori
(great forest, big forest)

The Omori Kaigan Swimming Area (pre-war)

The Omori Kaigan Swimming Area (pre-war) It’s interesting how Tokyoites preferred a drop into the ocean from a man-made structure, rather than a natural beach. We have no natural beaches in Tokyo today.

So in my last article, I returned to 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward for the first time in maybe a year. Well, technically that’s not true. We got close when I talked about the 5 Great Roads of Edo and Suzugamori Execution Ground. But for the most part, we haven’t hung out in this part of town for a while.

It’s kind of shame, too.

“Why?” you ask.

Because, as I said the other day, the area is literally littered with history. I’ve walked this area countless times over the last 10 years and I haven’t even scratched the surface. While it’s not as well preserved as Kyōto, Shinagawa is one of those areas that – like Kyōto – you can come back to time and time again and always find something new. The main difference is that Kyōto gives up her past easily. Shinagawa plays hard to get. You really have to know what you’re looking for.

 

Hijikata Toshizo was here. So was everyone else and their uncle.  The Tokaido Highway was the main artery in and out of the city.

Hijikata Toshizo was here.
So was everyone else and their uncle.
The Tokaido Highway was the main artery in and out of the city.

 

Oh, for fuck’s sake! I just remembered Ōmori is in 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward not  品川区 Shinagawa Ward. Goddammit! Arrrrrrgh!!!!!!! Well, anyways, it’s part of the coastal area that was called 品川沖 Shinagawa-oki, an ambiguous term that in the Edo Period could refer to a coastline or the open sea or, well, just the sea.

OK, let me catch my breath and calm down for a second. In all fairness, I guess it doesn’t really matter because Shinagawa and Ōta border each other – and in the Edo Period, there would have been no distinction made between the two places. In fact, the closest station to the ruins of Suzugamori Execution Ground is called 大森海岸駅 Ōmori Kaigan Eki, literally Ōmori Coast Station but that area is still in Shinagawa Ward.

Anyhoo, this place was a coastal 田舎 inaka rural area and was well outside of central Edo. So let’s imagine what we might have found in the outskirts of Edo that existed around Edo Bay, shall we?

The Tokaido literally hugged the coast.

The Tokaido literally hugged the coast.
Oh, and 下に居ろ, muthafucka!

What comes to mind are things like… execution grounds, fishing villages, and trees. Lots and lots of trees. Which brings me to my next point. Japan is a 島国 shimaguni island country, but it’s not a tropical island. Japan is mountainous and heavily forested in her most beautiful areas. These forests often extended right up to the coastline, for the most part[i]. For much of the Edo Period, this area was still heavily wooded.

An Edo/Meiji Era tea house  on the Omori Coast. Don't mistake this for a place to do tea ceremony.

An Edo/Meiji Era tea house on the Omori Coast. Don’t mistake this for a place to do tea ceremony. Nope, it’s for drinking and whoring.

So Let’s Take a Look at the Kanji!


ō

big, great, large


mori

forest

So from this we can recognize that exactly the kind of natural, wooded area we would expect to find in the Edo Period was here. It was country. It was covered in trees. Normal. This is a literal place name – without a doubt: The “big-ass forest.”

I tend to err on the Japanese side these days.. Beards are dirty.  This dude's hair is fine, but's up with that beard? Go back to Afghanistan! lololol

What’s up with that filthy beard, Edward Morse?

 

There’s another interesting twist to this story, though.

Edward Morse, an American naturalist/zoologist[ii] who specialized in shellfish, came to Japan in 1877 and helped the first incarnation of 東京大学 Tōkyō Daigaku Tōkyō University establish a zoology department. Along the way, and perhaps by accident, he launched archaeology and anthropology in Japan when he discovered a 貝塚 kaizuka midden (a mound made of discarded shellfish) in Ōmori. This was Japan’s first archaeological dig and it was a major discovery in that it showed the Japanese that their origin wasn’t really recorded in books like the 日本書紀 Nihon Shoki[iii]. It showed that science could prove that Japan’s history actually went way farther back than anyone had ever imagined. The shells and pottery fragments dated from the Late Jōmon Period, about 2000-1000 BCE. The term Jōmon which all Japanese will recognize as a legitimate prehistoric era is actually a translation of Morse’s English description of the pottery samples he found. He noticed rope-like patterns and called them “cord marked” which was translated into Japanese as  縄文 “rope-design.”

It’s all in Japanese, but if you’re interested, here’s the website for the Ōmori Kaizuka Park.

Jomon pottery. Notice the rope patterns.

Jomon pottery.
Notice the rope patterns.

The entire excavation site is preserved as a park and a memorial to Morse and the team that launched Japanese archaeology. you can walk around the wall inside the excavation and look at the cut away wall and see rows of shells piled up.

The entire excavation site is preserved as a park and a memorial to Morse and the team that launched Japanese archaeology. you can walk around the wall inside the excavation and look at the cut away wall and see rows of shells piled up.

 

As I mentioned in my article on Samezu, this part of Edo Bay was renowned for its fish and 海苔 nori seaweed. This local specialty was generally referred to as 江戸前海苔 Edo-mae nori seaweed from Edo Bay, but each area had its unique brands. 品川海苔 Shinagawa Nori, 大森海苔 Ōmori Nori, and 芝町海苔 Shiba Machi Nori were some of the most sought after brands, the latter being the most prestigious[iv]. The development and modernization of Tōkyō Bay in the 50’s and 60’s more or less put an end to the fishing and nori cultivation that typified the area for centuries.

Drying sheets of nori in the sun in Omori.

Drying sheets of nori in the sun in Omori.

One unique aspect of Ōmori as opposed to other areas that were developed in the late Edo Period and “modern eras,[v]” is that the actually coastline is still preserved to a certain extent. The ruins of Suzugamori Execution Ground are located next to 大森海岸駅 Ōmori Kaigan Eki Ōmori Coast Station. A short walk from the station will bring you to small inlet which is basically where the shoreline began in the Edo Period[vi].

Screenshot-(4)

A small section of the Omori Coast is still preserved, believe it or not.

The Omori Nori Museum is still growing nori in the traditional way and offers classes in traditional nori cultivation and manufacturing!

The Omori Nori Museum is still growing nori in the traditional way and offers classes in traditional nori cultivation and manufacturing! BTW, those sticks are called HIBI and I talked about them in my article on Hibiya. (Get the link yourself, you lazy bitch, lol)

If anyone is interested in the Ōmori Nori Museum, here’s the website. It’s Japanese only.

 

 

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[i] If you want to see tropical Japan, you’ll have to go to Okinawa – which wasn’t officially a part of Japan until after the Meiji Coup in 1868.
[ii] Neither of these titles may be accurate. All of the disciplines he was involved with were sciences in their infancies – though arguably their most exciting days. All the disciplines he worked in were very much overlapping at the time, too. But any way you look at it, the guy is pretty much a huge bucket of win for Japan, archaeology, anthropology, and biology.
[iii] There are 2 ancient sources for Japan’s earliest history – mostly legendary stories. They are the 古事記 Kojiki Record of Ancient Matters and the older, more detailed 日本書紀 Nihon- shoki Chronicles of Japan.
[iv] Most likely due to the fact that it was located a fair distance away from the Tōkaidō – also this is where the grand funerary temple of the Tokugawa shoguns is located, Zōjō-ji. Ōmori and Shinagawa are on the Tōkaidō, so it was easy to pick up some nori as 御土産 o-miyage souvenirs to give your friends and family.
[v] Often the term “pre-modern” is applied to Japanese history before 1868 when the Meiji Coup took place. I actually find this term a bit distasteful as it seems to presume that “modernity” is defined by the advances of the western cultures. Scientifically, there’s no doubt, the western countries were more advanced, but there’s no need to kick another culture in the balls. To be sure, the Japanese were developing a rich cultural tapestry and were making advances of their own. I don’t know what other word to use, but “pre-modern” really rubs me the wrong way. Words like “feudal” and “medieval” often get thrown around and I find these unfulfilling as well. I guess this is why I use the generic phrase “Old Japan.”
[vi] I don’t know how much truth there is to this, but some people say that one form of execution at Suzugamori was to crucify prisoners upside down in the bay at low tide. The, they would wait for the tide to come in slowly. They would be drowned by the sea at high tide. This is just my musing… but is it easier to let a person drown tied upside-down to poles and go clean up the mess the next day, or is it easier to burn them, cut off their head or do some more expedient execution? It all sounds horrible to me. The life of outcastes (read, “the lucky bastards who had to do this work”) in the Old Japan sounds truly awful.

Suzugamori Execution Ground

In Edo Execution Ground Spectacular!, Japanese History on July 23, 2013 at 6:42 pm

鈴ヶ森死刑場
Suzugamori Shikeijō
Suzugamori Execution Ground

At first, the ruins of Suzugamori look like a nice park.

At first, the ruins of Suzugamori look like a nice park.

This is probably the most famous and most accessible 死刑所 shikeijo execution grounds in Tōkyō. It’s located on the old Tōkaidō highway, near 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku Shinagawa post town and is designated as one of the 100 Historic Spots of Shinagawa.

The area that is preserved today is allegedly the actual killing floor. As such there are many Buddhist monuments which have been erected to “soothe the lost souls” that inhabit the area. Today, two streets run along the preserved area and an elevated pedestrian crossing goes over the entrance, so most people don’t even notice the area. This may be by design, as execution grounds are seen as unclean places. I’ve heard the rent is cheap in this area because people are afraid of ghosts – never investigated this myself, but my gut instinct tells me that while this might have been true in the past, in the overcrowded Tōkyō of today, this area might be just as pricey as anywhere else in the area. And while the name Suzugamori instills fear in the hearts of those who know the gruesome history of the area, there is a park and elementary school which both bear the name Suzugamori. So it’s not quite as dark and taboo as I’d been told when I first came to Japan.

The area around Suzugamori in 1887. This is most likely the Tokkaido. Edo Bay/Tokyo Bay to the left, the remains of the execution ground would be to the right.

The area around Suzugamori in 1887.
This is most likely the Tokkaido.
Edo Bay/Tokyo Bay to the left, the remains of the execution ground would be to the right.

Executions at Suzugamori were directly overseen by a hereditary line of men called 弾左衛門 Danzaemon, which looks like an Edo Period given name, but to the best of my knowledge it was a translatable family name. The male heads of the Danzaemon family always started their given names with the kanji [i]. Danzaemon was the highest ranking 穢多 eta untouchable in Edo. He was a sort of lord the outcaste – that is to say, lord of the butchers, executioners, undertakers, and all those who dealt in the business of death.

Decapitated heads displayed as a deterrent.

Decapitated heads displayed as a deterrent.

Suzugamori was home to some of the wilder forms of execution; sawing in half, boiling, burning alive, and everyone’s favorite, crucifixion. There was a small detention facility there, but the area was more or less just for executions.

Decapitated heads displayed as a deterrent.

So executioner dudes hanging out with some heads.

Suzugamori’s Claim to Fame:

Yaoya O-shichi, the crazy bitch that tried to burn down Edo was supposedly burned at the stake here[ii]. A stone 台 dai post hole for 火刑 kakei burning at the stake is preserved at the site[iii]. The sign says this was the post hole that O-shichi was burned at. But nobody can really know. Apparently, because of its distance from the city and its location next to Edo Bay, Suzugamori was the main execution site used for burning at the stake. The body would be left exposed for about 3 days.

Burning at the stake.  Awwwwww yeah.

Burning at the stake.
Awwwwww yeah.

Post hole for burning at the stake. Fresh flowers are given throughout the year by the nearby temple staff and neighbors.

Post hole for burning at the stake.
Fresh flowers are given throughout the year by the nearby temple staff and neighbors.

Sign marking the post hole for burning at the stake.

Sign marking the post hole for burning at the stake.

A stone 台 dai post hole for crucifixion can also be seen here. When westerners think of crucifixion, they think of the stylized Christian symbol that comes down to us from Roman Catholicism. But even that isn’t an accurate representation of what Roman crucifixion was. Japanese crucifixion is a similar ordeal to the Roman style. While the Roman’s typically emphasized exposure to the elements and starvation as a mechanism of death, the Japanese tended to be a little more officious about the whole thing. They’d tie you to a few stakes and eventually a pair of dudes armed with halberds would come forth to stab the condemned 20-30 times and then dispatch them by cutting their throat. The body would be left exposed for about 3 days.

Post hole for crucifixions.

Post hole for crucifixions.

Sign marking the post hole for crucifixions.

Sign marking the post hole for crucifixions.

A real Japanese crucifixion. Straight up gangster shit.

A real Japanese crucifixion.
Straight up gangster shit.

There are stories that nearby Edo Bay were also used for executions. I’ve heard of upside down crucifixions that waited for the tide to come in and drown the poor bastards. But I can’t confirm if these were real or not. At any rate, this type of execution is associated with Suzugamori.

The Japanese equivalent of drawing and quartering...

The Japanese equivalent of drawing and quartering…

And lastly, there is still preserved a place called 泪橋 Namidabashi the Bridge of Tears. This bridge crosses the river that marked the natural, physical boundary of the Suzugamori Detention Center and Execution Grounds. It was the last place where the family could say goodbye to their loved one before they met their final moment. Edo Period executions were generally not public, though they were often witnessed by the offended party and the presiding magistrates. However, after the execution, heads and/or corpses were quite regularly put on display for at least three days. The remains would be disposed of according to Buddhist rites, or in some cases, the remains would just be left exposed to whatever stray dogs or crows lived in the area[iv]. Burnings and crucifixions tended to be down outside of the facilities for safety reasons and because it would just be a pain in the ass to move all that mess for displaying.

Namidabashi (the Bridge of Tears) as it looks today. The current incarnation of the bridge was built in the late Meiji Era.  The original bridge was (naturally) wooden.

Namidabashi (the Bridge of Tears) as it looks today.
The current incarnation of the bridge was built in the late Meiji Era.
The original bridge was (naturally) wooden.
The neighbors didn’t like the name Namidabashi and its association with Suzugamori, so today the bridge is officially known as Hamakawabashi.

Today, there are apartments and houses and schools and companies and highways and even a major aquarium near Suzugamori. If no one told you about its ghastly past, you might not even notice it. But a few hints still exist. No train station uses the word Suzugamori. The train station there now, which is quite close, is called 大森海岸 Ōmori Kaigan Ōmori Beach (it was a beach in the Edo Period, now it’s not). The train line that stops there is a pretty minor train line – at least in the sense that it doesn’t go through central Tōkyō. Shinagawa is as close as it gets. And lastly, only the local train stops there, most of the trains just pass it by. Coincidence? I think not.

The well of Suzugamori.  This is where decapitated heads were washed before being put on display. (The fence is there to keep people from falling in)

The well of Suzugamori.
This is where decapitated heads were washed before being put on display.
(The fence is there to keep people from falling in)

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[i] Here’s a list of their names.

[ii] I mentioned her in my article on fires in Edo-Tōkyō.

[iii] 火刑 kakei fire punishment is the formal word for this kind of execution. 焼き殺す yakikorosu burn and kill is a casual way to refer to it.

[iv] Again, keep in mind, these areas have been traditionally considered unclean (things are a little different now), but in the Edo Period, Suzugamori was really quite far from the urban center. Even walking from the Suzugamori ruins to Namidabashi is quite a hike. It gives you a feel for how isolated the area actually was.

Why is Konan called Konan?

In Japanese History on April 25, 2013 at 1:54 am

港南
Kōnan (South Harbor)

Shinagawa Konan Exit

Heading to the harbor!!!

A lot of people who come to Tōkyō stay in Shinagawa. It has central access to the city by train and fast access to the Shinkansen (high speed trains) to the rest of Japan and fast access to the airports which will take you around Japan, Asia, and the world. It is also home to numerous hotels and guest houses. The area is rich in history and yet bustling with lively eateries and global businesses.

Shinagawa Intershitty

Shinagawa Intercity: One of Tokyo’s Nouveau Yamanote in the old Shitamachi

Shinagawa, traditionally a下町 shitamachi low town area famous for manufacturing, has seen a massive revitalization since 2003, when the 港南 Kōnan South Harbor area was developed and some Shinkansen routes were diverted here.

Shinagawa Station has 2 main exits; the Takanawa Exit and the Kōnan Exit.  The Takanawa Exit leads to the old town. There are hotels and department stores in the immediate vicinity and you can walk to historical sites associated with the 赤穂浪士 Akō Rōshi the 47 Rōnin, the first 宿 shuku post station of the old Tōkaidō, and all of the treasures of Minato Ward. The Kōnan Exit leads to a massive business and residential district setup on the highlands in traditional 山手 yamanote high city style and a convenient and bustling commercial district for drinking (but not whoring) in the valley below.

escalator down to the South Harbor

escalator down to the South Harbor

What you won’t see is a harbor.

In the Edo Period, Shinagawa was on the sea. As we said before, the Tōkaidō was the Eastern Sea Route to Kyōto. And it was, indeed, on the sea. 土佐国 Tosa no kuni Tosa Province had a residence in the area (Tosa being a costal domain, it makes sense) meant that Sakamoto Ryōma spent time here and most likely saw the Black Ships from Shinagawa.

whale shinagawa

As you go through the gates you can remember that this was once a harbor. They have a whale tail gate. Not so many whales in Japan now, though. lol

So why is there no sea here??

Where’d this alleged harbor go?

Landfills, baby.

From the Meiji Period until quite recently, 江戸湾東京湾  Edo Bay became Tōkyō Bay and all of this landfill extended the coastal area way out into the sea in islands linked by channels or just straight up new land mass.*

By the way, if you wanna  see some pix that go from the Shinagawa Station area and down the old Tōkaidō road, you might wanna check out this page: Shinagawa walking guide.

 

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* PS, In earthquake prone Japan, I don’t recommend living on any of these landfill masses.

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