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Posts Tagged ‘tokugawa’

Ōedo Line: Shiodome

In Japanese History on June 29, 2015 at 2:54 am

汐留
Shiodome (wave break)

The landfills that created calm pools near the residences of the daimyo families and later the shogun family fueled the fires for future destruction of the classical beauty of Edo Bay.

The landfills that created calm pools near the residences of the daimyo families and later the shogun family fueled the fires for future destruction of the classical beauty of Edo Bay.

The true origin of this place name is a bit complex. But the kanji refer to a spot that broke the waves hitting Edo Bay. While the name may pre-date the Edo Period, it’s generally assumed that this is a reference to man-made structures that broke the encroachment of the sea against the seaside palaces of the daimyō and the Tokugawa themselves.

In the Edo Period, the area was home to sprawling seaside mansions of the Tōhoku-based lords of Sendai Domain (descendents of Date Masamune[i]) and Aizu Domain (sponsors of the Shinsengumi[ii]). The Date clan had been loyal to the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, before he was made shōgun. The Matsudaira clan of Aizu were related to the Tokugawa shōgun family by blood and marriage. If you look at the massive size of the city blocks in the area, you’re looking at vestiges of the daimyō palaces and samurai mansions that once stood in the area.

“Heat Island Tokyo”
Cutting off the seabreeze or global warming (or both?).
At any rate, Shiodome bears the brunt of this discussion usually.

The area is resplendent in so many contradictory ways. A crazy wall of skyscrapers block cool air from Tōkyō Bay, but at the same time offers customers, residents, and workers an insanely beautiful view of the bay. In this area, you can find the remains of 浜御殿 Hama Goten the Seaside Palace of the Tokugawa shōguns. Today the palace is called 浜離宮庭園 Hama Rikyū Tei’en Hama Detached Palace Park and features some magnificent stone walls, gorgeous gardens, duck/goose hunting grounds, and a beautiful teahouse in the middle of a lake in which you can relax with a hot cup of maccha and eat Japanese sweets on tatami mats. It’s considered one of the best preserved daimyō gardens in Tōkyō.

Hama Rikkyu Garden as viewed from the wall buildings in Shiodome. It looks small here, but it goes on for acres.  That was the Tokugawa seaside palace.  You MUST go.

Hama Rikkyu Garden as viewed from the wall buildings in Shiodome.
It looks small here, but it goes on for acres.
That was the Tokugawa seaside palace.
You MUST go.

A short distance from Hama Rikyū is 芝離宮 Shiba Rikyū Tei’en Shiba Detached Palace. The garden has a long history going back to the Sengoku Period[iii], but it’s an easy shoe in for top 5 traditional gardens in Tōkyō. It’s noticeably smaller than Hama Rikyū, but absolutely worth the visit, especially if you don’t have time for Hama Rikyū. That said, if you like Japanese gardens like your truly does, you could easily spend half a day at both, before you move on to your next activity.

The original (rebuilt) Shibashi Station. Click the photo for more of my original photos)

The original (rebuilt) Shibashi Station.
Click the photo for more of my original photos)

Near all of this is an often overlooked spot, the rebuilt Shinbashi Depot. This was the original location the starting point of the main 東海道線 Tōkaidō-sen Tōkaidō Line, the first train to follow the Tōkaidō Highway and unite Tōkyō with Kyōto & Ōsaka. Japan and trains have a long and colorful history, but this is pretty much where it started. If you like trains or are interested in how the Meiji Period began building up modern infrastructure, the museum inside the station building is a must see. You could walk from here to modern Shinbashi Station (formerly Karasumori Station) and find a Shōwa Era party town. The name Shinbashi means “New Bridge” and the remains of the original are a short walk from here as well.

Kachidoki Bridge crossing the mouth of the Sumida River. (Click the picture to read more about this photo.)

Kachidoki Bridge crossing the mouth of the Sumida River.
(Click the picture to read more about this photo.)

You’ll have to walk to Hamamatsu-chō Station if you want to go, but from there you have a straight shot to 竹芝桟橋 Takeshiba Sankyō Takeshiba Pier. Here you have a view of Kachidoki Bridge and the mouth of the Sumida River as well as a great deal of Tōkyō Port, including Tsukishima, none of which existed in the Edo Period. Boats come and go, but you’ll probably see more helicopters than anything. If you have a good zoom lens and want to take pictures of all kinds of Japanese helicopters, you’ll love this pier. If I have time to kill, I like to get a simple bentō lunch and chill on the pier and bask in the awe of the importance the bay played in the history of Edo-Tōkyō.

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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

_________________________________
[i] Date Masamune is one of the most famous daimyō of the closing days of the Sengoku Period.
[ii] The Shinsengumi were an elite samurai peace keeping troop during the final days of the Tokugawa shōgunate.
[iii] It was a former 後北条 Go-Hōjō Late Hōjō seaside fort. The ruins of the Hōjō Era tea house are still preserved.
[iv] Do so at your own peril.

The Kanda River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers, Travel in Japan on July 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm

神田川
Kanda-gawa (literally, “divine fields river,” but actually “river in Kanda”)[i]

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.  If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.  The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but it was built after the Great Kanto Earthquake which river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them.

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.
If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.

 

The name 神田 Kanda is one of the oldest place names in Edo-Tōkyō and believe it or not, 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River is not that old at all. Well, most of the river isn’t. Well, part of it might be.

Well, it’s complicated.

In short, after doing this research, I’ve realized I have to make a separate article about the area called 神田 Kanda – and by that, I mean just etymology. So I will write about that in the future – and I promise not to put it off too long. But let’s just deal with the river for the time being, mkay?

 

Let’s Look at the Kanji


kan

deities


ta, -da

rice paddies


kawa, -gawa

river

 

This river is manmade. So the etymology seems to be clear. At the beginning of the Edo Period, in the 神保町 Jinbō-chō area there was a small waterway that cut through a hilly are called 神田山 Kandayama Mt. Kanda. It’s said that since this area in general was called 神田 Kanda[ii] the original waterway was then called 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River.

If you only wanted to know the etymology of the river, you can stop reading here. From this point on it’s going to turn into a crazy – possibly boring – river mess. If you’re a JapanThis! masochist, then by all means, read on. You may actually enjoy this.

 

 

hajiribashi

A view of Hajiribashi when it was new. The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but in the 1920’s it was new and river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them (or without tall buildings in the background).

 

Where to Start??

Up until now, every river we have looked at was at some point a naturally occurring river. The Kanda River is quite different from those rivers. There was a time within recorded history that the Kanda River never existed. Though, a portion of it was once a natural tributary of a long vanished inlet of Edo Bay, it is, in fact, a man-made river. All though it may not be on the lips of every Tōkyōite, today the river is a well-recognized part of the well-manicured urban landscape of the modern city.

I actually first mentioned the Kanda River back in June, 2011 in an article about Yodobashi[iii], a small bridge that crosses the Kanda River at the border of 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward and 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward. So this is something of a little homecoming for me. I started this blog when I still lived in Nakano (lived there for about 6 years).

 

yodobashi

Yodobashi in the Taisho Era, before the Great Kanto Earfquake. The area is rustic and a in sharp contrast to the present area. Today it marks the border of Nakano and crazy-ass Shinjuku.

 

What is the Kanda River Today?

The modern river’s official designation is the channel of water that flows from 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Pond to 飯田橋 Iidabashi (literally, Iida Bridge) where it empties into the 外堀 sotobori outer moat of Edo Castle. But it’s at this junction where the river flows into a disparate network of waterways. So you could say, unofficially, that the Kanda River flows into the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River and the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge, essentially taking the water to the Tōkyō Bay.

 

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

 

Now Let’s Talk History

As mentioned in my article on the etymology of Edo, the original 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle or 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle was not built by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan as is often cited[iv]. In reality, a minor branch of 平家 Hei-ke the Taira clan[v] moved to the area at the end of the 11th century and built a fortified residence[vi] on a hill overlooking the sea. As was common practice for new branch families with new fiefs, they took the name of the village 江戸郷 Edo-gō as their own and they became the 平江戸氏 Taira Edo-shi Edo branch of the Taira clan[vii]. In the 12th century, the area prospered due to its proximity to the capital of the Minamoto shōguns in Kamakura. However, it seems the Edo clan didn’t do much to develop the area’s rivers[viii].

In those days, the now long gone 日比谷入江 Hibiya Irie Hibiya Inlet was a saltwater inlet used for 海苔 nori seaweed farming[ix]. There was a certain freshwater river known as 平川 Hirakawa “the wide river” which emptied into the inlet. This fresh water river originally made up part of the natural boundary between 武蔵国豊島郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province and 武蔵国江原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara Province, Musashi Province. This fresh water tributary seems to be where the story of the Kanda River begins.

 

Edo Hamlet

 

Fast Forward a Few Centuries

By the 15th century, Japan was balls deep in the bloody, sweaty mess that was the Sengoku Period[x] and Ōta Dōkan found himself re-fortifying the Edo family’s fort in Chiyoda using water from the coastline and other small rivers with the latest moat-building technology of his day. The new and improved “Edo Fort” he built for the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan brought new channels and waterways into the village. This manipulation of water provided tactical advantages to the new fort in that food and goods could come in and there were more escape routes. There were now logical, defensible waterways. Lucky side effect, certain areas of the village were less exposed than before and local merchants and fishermen had new distribution routes and… BOOM!  Ladies and gentleman, we have a budding 城下町 jōka machi castle town[xi].

Although all of Dōkan’s efforts were pioneering and crucial in the taming of the rivers and sea and urban planning of Edo-Tōkyō, one of the most important changes to Edo’s waterways was diverting the 平川 Hirakawa the ancient “wide river” eastward into what is today called the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River. This is critical to our story today. And the place where this new confluence occurred is actually marked by a bridge called the 神田橋 Kandabashi Kanda Bridge. The Hirakawa River doesn’t exist anymore, but a quick look at a map of Edo Castle will show you a 平川門 Hirakawa Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川濠 Hirakawa-bori Harakawa Moat[xii]; the former, the gate that stood guard on the moat[xiii]; the latter, a vestige of the old river itself. Today, 平川見附 Hirakawa Mitsuke the bridge and fortified gate installation on the moat is a popular sightseeing spot.

 

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate). They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate).
They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.
I used JCastle.info to generate this map. Click on the picture to find THE premiere website on Japanese Castles in English.

 

So, as I’ve said before – and will say again – Tokugawa Ieyasu moved into an Edo that was well fortified, strategically sound, and extremely defensible by sea and by land. Oh, and did I mention, there was a burgeoning village life, supported by fishermen, farmers, and artisans[xiv]. Between Ōta Dōkan’s time and the time Ieyasu entered Edo, a technological revolution had occurred in Japan. From Nobunaga’s rise to power on, Japanese castles began to take on the look of what we think of today when someone says “Japanese Castle.[xv]” The castles of the Tokugawa Period are based on these new advances in castle building technology and reflected the amount of luxury the ruling class could not just afford, but were expected to maintain to project their image of superiority.

 

hirakawa

 

 

OK, OK! Castles, Can We Please Get Back to the River?

Yes, of course. Sorry for getting distracted.

(But we’re probably coming back to castles)

The Tokugawa Shōgunate kept meticulous records of the changes they made to the area. The great waterworks projects were no exception. But I’m not going to get into every change they made. It’s so boring it’s unreal. So let’s just look at some of the major changes and what I think are the takeaways of what created the Kanda River.

Since I got distracted, let’s go back to the beginning.The beginning of the story is 1456-1457, when Ōta Dōkan began manipulating waterways to build moats for his pre-cursor to Edo Castle – though work on the moats most likely preceded construction of the fortress, so we might say 1455-1457. In 1486, Dōkan was assassinated and in 1524 the 江戸合戦 Edo Gassen Battle of Edo saw the rise of influence of the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi and the decline of the Ōta and Uesugi. This meant that the fortifications in 千代田 Chiyoda[xvi] (the area where the Sengoku forts where built and the fields around them) were abandoned and lay fallow for almost 70 years[xvii].

In 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu transferred his clan and top retainers to Edo and began modernizing the old Sengoku Period fortifications of the Edo and Ōta. He cautiously applied some of the latest castle building technology following the examples of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It’s said that the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate was one of the first construction project undertaken and this required crossing an existing moat – one affiliated with the later Kanda Aqueduct/Hirakawa.

The Ote-mon (main gate) at the time of the collapse of the shogunate.

The Ote-mon (main gate) after the Meiji Coup.

 

1603 is the watershed moment. Ieyasu is named 征夷大将軍 seii tai-shōgun shōgun and is the effective military ruler of Japan. From this point, the real history of the Kanda River begins. In 1604, Nihonbashi is built and the 5 Great Highways of Edo are defined. Strict entry & exit points by land and by river are laid out in order to preserve the new Tokugawa hegemony. Edo’s waterways are no longer “just Edo waterways;” they are tactical routes, trade routes, and a means of regulating nature for the protection of the commoners who lived along the rivers and were, essentially, part of the city’s infrastructure. In short, the rivers of Edo became a stabilizing mechanism for the shōgun’s capital.

 

Hirakawa Gate when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy).

The Ote-mon (main gate) when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy). Tokugawa Power! Activate! This is where the name Otemachi comes from.

 

From 1616 to 1620, during the reign of 2nd shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada, something really resembling a “Kanda River” in a modern sense came in to existence. This is when the 神田山 Kandayama “Kanda Mountain”[xviii] was cut through and the Kanda River and Nihonbashi River became 2 discrete waterways. Kanda and Ryōgoku began to take on unique personalities at this time.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate. Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate.
Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

 

In 1657, disaster struck on a colossal scale. The 明暦大家 Meireki Fire[xix] ripped through the city destroying well over half of the metropolis[xx]. Although city planning was essential from the beginning, the shōgunate hadn’t anticipated the rapid growth that accompanied their sankin-kōtai policy and just the economic stability brought on by… um, stability in general.

 

img_0

Edo Castle was a city within a city, When the main keep burned down, budgets and policies were reconsidered.

 

In part of the rebuilding efforts after the Meireki Fire, from 1659-1661 various waterways in Edo were widened and more open space along the rivers was added. Edo grew so rapidly after the arrival of the Tokugawa, that the city had become a firetrap[xxi].

 

sakurameguri22l

Ryogoku Bridge today

 

By some accounts, 60%-70% may have be burnt to the ground. Given the relative clean slate available to the shōgunate after this particular conflagration, certain rivers were designated as firebreaks and widened to keep fires localized[xxii]. It’s at this time that the Kanda River was dramatically widened – most notably, at the confluence of the Kanda River and Ryōgoku River, the 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge was built. Even today, the expanse of the river here is something to see, but in the Edo Period, with no buildings over 2 stories, it was clearly a sight to behold. Soon the area became famous for a dazzling annual fireworks display in the summer[xxiii]. Some of the most iconic 浮世絵 ukiyo-e “scenes of the transient world” come from this area. The 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum is located in this area… for obvious reasons.

 

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.  Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.
Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

 

As I mentioned before, the official headwaters are 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Lake, but the river has no officially designated end point but it’s fairly certain that it ultimately empties into Tōkyō Bay. Traditionally it ends at 飯田橋 Iidabashi. The reason there’s no official ending point is because the Kanda River empties into a few rivers and drainage channels along the way before it ultimately fizzles out into the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll probably be aware that the names and courses of these rivers have been changing over time and that some stretches of one river may have had multiple names depending on the area. So yeah… welcome back to the Confus-o-dome.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).  Gross.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).
Gross.

The Kanda River’s Legacy

The man-made Edo Era waterway that flowed from Inokashira Pond was called the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui. Longtime readers should know what a 上水 jōsui is. But just a refresher, a jōsui is a conduit of “imported” water. This water flowed from 三鷹 Mitaka[xxiv] to Edo Castle; it also supplied drinking water to the daimyō mansions that lined its course.

 

The creation of the Kanda River. (by the way, this is the worst info-graphic ever)

The creation of the Kanda River in Chiyoda from the Hibiya Inlet.

The Kanda Jōsui is considered the first real aqueduct system in Japan. Before I mentioned the technological revolution in castle construction, right? Well, the Sengoku Period began stabilizing and yes, castle building was a status thing. But the distribution of water and water management showed one of the greatest advances in urban planning and administration that Japan had seen in centuries. This is why shōgunate’s founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was such a bad ass. The dude could lead an army here or there, but he had ideas about civil administration and surrounded himself with people who could advise him on these things. Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were essentially one-trick-ponies who couldn’t really get out of the 戦国病気 Sengoku Byōki “Sengoku Rut.”[xxv] Ieyasu, also a product of that generation, realized that infrastructure reinforced military supremacy and brought economic stability[xxvi].

 

The Kanda Aqueduct

The Kanda Aqueduct

Admittedly, it’s not that exciting or cool, but the availability of clean drinking water and disposal of dirty water should never be underestimated in the study of any ancient or pre-modern city[xxvii].

The capital of the Tokugawa shōguns quickly became the biggest city in Japan and eventually the most populous city in the world. Clean water and sewerage undeniably played a part in this. But soon the Kanda Jōsui wasn’t enough. That said, it was the main source of drinking water for Edo Castle during the Edo Period.

Even if it was inadequate to supply the entire sprawling capital, Kanda Jōsui was such a successful project that it begot 6 more major waterworks in Edo, all of which benefited daimyō, samurai, and the commoner population. Of course, this technology spread throughout the realm, but for short while Edo boasted one of the most unique water infrastructures in Japan.

 

HSD10003

 

A Final Note

If you’re up for an interesting bike ride, a 2010 blog post at Metropolis suggests starting at the mouth of the river and riding upstream to Inokashira Pond. When the temperature starts to come down, I may give this a go myself. There are loads of spots, many covered in JapanThis!, along the course of the river, so it should be fascinating.

 

 

 

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[i] I know that’s not the kind of helpful explanation that will bring closure to any of the etymology fans out there.
[ii] As I said, I’m gonna revisit this topic again.
[iii] Any relation to ヨドバシカメラ Yodobashi Camera? Why, yes there is. Thank you for asking.
[iv] And calling Dōkan’s fortifications a “castle” is also a debatable point. I’ve come to prefer the term “well-moated fort.” I came up with that term all on my own… right now. Thank you very much.
[v] If you don’t know who the Taira clan is… wow. OK, here you go.
[vi] Also, as mentioned in my article on What does Edo mean?, the coastal area is littered with 古墳 kofun burial mounds and it’s clear from the archaeology that the area has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. It’s highly doubtful the Edo clan was the first strongmen to seize upon this highly defensible, coastal plateau – they are the noblest recorded family, though.
[vii] Even though other temples and villages in the area are mentioned as far back as the Heian Period, it’s seems like the name Edo itself doesn’t actually appear in any records until the Kamakura Period.
[viii] In fact the original Edo “Castle” was probably just a 出城 dejiro satellite fort, since the Edo clan seemed to have their main residence in 喜多見 Kitami in present 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward.
[ix] I have an article about Hibiya.
[x] And while this may sound like a gratuitous reference to sex on the rag, this is actually a legitimate, historical term. Ask any historian of Pre-Modern Japan. They’ll tell you. Just ask. Seriously.
[xi] Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I said “budding.” When we say “castle” and “castle town” today we are usually referring to a construct of the far more stable Azuchi-Momoyama Period (ie; essentially the end of the Sengoku Period).
[xii] On Edo Era maps these may be listed with honorifics as 平川御門 Hirakawa Go-Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川御堀 Hirakawa O-Hori Hirakawa Moat, respectively.
[xiii] Interestingly, some people think the radius and extent of Ōta Dōkan’s moats was the result of him not having a fucking clue what he was doing. His initial “improvements” lead to more flooding and so he continually modified his plans, diverting rivers away from the castle and the villages by extending them further and further out. Thus part of the sprawling nature of Edo Castle may have been due to stop-gap measures employed by Dōkan.
[xiv] Yes, I did.
[xv] This is as different as when we use the Latin words castrum to describe a Roman military camp/walled town and a castellum a walled fortification of Late Antiquity. The transformation is truly dramatic.
[xvi] You can see my article on Chiyoda here.
[xvii] The castle itself was pretty minor and was most likely not affected by the Late Hōjō efforts to refortify the Edo area from 1583 on.
[xviii] Kandayama was located in present day 駿河台 Surugadai.
[xix] “What’s the Meireki Fire?” you ask. There’s an article for that.
[xx] By some accounts, 70% of the city may have been destroyed.
[xxi] This didn’t change until the reconstruction of the city after WWII (or, some may argue that it didn’t change until the 1960’s and that the city just got lucky with no major conflagrations in the interim).
[xxii] In theory…
[xxiii] People today love fireworks. Just imagine what people with no video, no cameras, and no Perfume must have thought of these theatrical celebrations of summer.
[xxiv] Essentially, present-day Kichijōji.
[xxv] Again, my word. I just made it up now. And yes, I’m just baiting Sengoku lovers. Actually, I like Nobunaga, too.
[xxvi] And far more importantly, put his family in a seemingly endless position as hereditary top of the food chain. Hmmmmmmmmmm…
[xxvii] And you probably never think about where your water comes from or how it gets to your house and where it all goes afterwards, but it works, right? That’s why you can live there.

The Tone River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on June 8, 2014 at 1:19 pm

利根川
The Tonegawa (useful root river, but actual meaning isn’t known)

The Tone River flowing past Sekiyado Castle in Chiba Prefecture. Notice Mt. Fuji in the background.

The Tone River flowing past Sekiyado Castle in Chiba Prefecture.
Notice Mt. Fuji in the background.

I’ve often heard that the 利根川 Tonegawa Tone River is the longest river in Japan. Actually, it’s not. The 信濃川 Shinanogawa Shinano River[i] is the longest, but the Tonegawa has the largest watershed. That is to say, we’re not referring to a single river, but the entire network of rivers and tributaries that veer off from the source like the veins of a leaf. And like a leaf, there is an ending point for the veins. These are the natural boundaries that stop the river, where the river loses energy and “dies,” or where it empties out into the sea. On a map, you can actually pinpoint these boundaries and chart the watershed, which is the entire water system from start(s) to finish(es).

Example of a watershed. Hopefully the leaf analogy makes sense now.

Example of a watershed. Hopefully the leaf analogy makes sense now.

 

By strict definition, the river begins on the 大水上山 Ōminakami Yama Ōminakami Mountains (literally, “Great Headwaters Mountains[ii]”) in Gunma Prefecture and empties out into the Pacific Ocean at 銚子 Chōshi in Chiba Prefecture. That said, the entire watershed is littered with towns and waterworks which reference the river, despite being off the official government designated course. The Arakawa and Edogawa are often cited unofficially as exit points of the river. You can clearly see on one of the maps on my Sumidagawa article that in the earliest days of the Edo Period, the main river flowing through Edo was, in fact, the Tonegawa.

The history of the river is really long and complicated and I don’t want to get bogged down in as much craziness as I did last time with the Sumidagawa. Plus, since most of the Tonegawa is not in Tōkyō, it’s beyond the scope of this blog. Just know that from the earliest records, the Tonegawa had a reputation for periodic horrible flooding and changing course over the years. As such, it was sort of the bad boy of Japanese rivers and was considered untamable. But that didn’t stop people from trying to tame it. Through all of recorded history, there are references to various building projects at various points along the river attempting to calm the raging river.

The headwaters of the Tonegawa in Gunma Prefecture.

The headwaters of the Tonegawa.

The Tone River emptying into the sea.

The Tone River emptying into the sea in Chiba Prefecture.

As mentioned earlier, today the river empties into the Pacific Ocean in present day Chiba. But in the Edo Period the river did not empty out there. In those days it bifurcated into 2 rivers flowing south and east in 怒藩 Oshi Han Oshi Domain in present day Gyōda, Saitama[iii] at a place which is still known today at 会之川 Ai no Kawa, literally, the meeting of the rivers[iv]. The bifurcation doesn’t exist anymore but today the remains of one river is a southeast flowing waterway today called 大落古利根川 Ōtoshi Furu-tonegawa literally the Old Tonegawa Big Drainage Channel. Though not connected today, this “Old Tonegawa[v]” eventually met at a confluence north of Edo where the Arakawa and Irumagawa, and all 3 rivers flowed happily ever after into Edo Bay in a complex alluvial patchwork.

That is until Tokugawa Ieyasu began delegating urban planning and development tasks to various daimyō as part of their sankin-kōtai service. As I mentioned in my last article, one of the daimyō tapped for carrying out river work, was one 松平忠吉 Matsudaira Tadayoshi[vi]. This dude was actually the 4th son of Ieyasu and the lord of 忍藩 Oshi Han Oshi Domain which is now present Gyōda, Saitama[vii].

Reconstruction of Oshi Castle in Gyoda. It's actually rebuilt in the wrong location. The castle's honmaru (main keep) is now an elementary school. But many areas of this sleepy, farming town retain place names referencing the castle.

Reconstruction of Oshi Castle in Gyoda. It’s actually rebuilt in the wrong location. The castle’s honmaru (main keep) is now an elementary school. But many areas of this sleepy, farming town retain place names referencing the castle.

 

As it turns out, the lord of Tatebayashi at the time[viii], one 秋元 長朝 Akimoto Nagatomo also worked on these flood control projects. 伊奈 忠次 Ina Tadatsugu lord of 小室藩 Komura Han Komura Domain (present day 北足立郡 Kita Adachi-gun North Adachi District, Saitama) was also asked to help out. The lord of  総社藩 Sōja Han Sōja Domain located in present day 前橋 Maebashi in Gun’ma Prefecture was also called upon to implement development of the river path.

Initially, I didn’t know why Matsudaira Tadayoshi was asked to work on this particular project (and the Sumidagawa), but if I had to guess it would be because the lords of Oshi Domain were already trying to temper and control the Tonegawa in their own domain at Ai no Kawa. But seeing the daimyō from Sōja, Tatebayashi, Oshi, and Komura in that order got me thinking. Perhaps it was because they all lived in territories through which the river flowed. As such, they already had experience dealing with this river, or by the thinking of the time, they “owned” responsibility of the Tonegawa – ie; since the major confluence that ran to Edo Bay started in and ran through their respective territories so it was their mess to clean up. That’s just my speculation, but that’s definitely something to think about[ix].

 

The Tone River as it flows throw Maebashi (present day Gunma Prefecture).

The Tone River as it flows throw Maebashi (present day Gunma Prefecture).

 

A Quick Note About the Establishment of Edo as a Capital City
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What differentiates Ieyasu from the other 武将 bushō warlords before him – and indeed about the other shōgunates before him – is that more than being a general, he had a vision of governance and urban planning[x]. He also had enough kids to ensure proper dynastic succession[xi]. His plans were executed so much better than those of the Kamakura or Ashikaga shōgunates. In my humble opinion, the success of the 徳川幕府 Tokugawa Bakufu Tokugawa Shōgunate doesn’t lie in the fact that Ieyasu became shōgun. It all lays in the fact that Ieyasu set up a tactical administration of the realm that brought everyone into compliance with his system and that his subordinate daimyō actually obeyed his edicts.

Wikipedia actually lists 4 reasons Ieyasu and the shōgunate put such a high priority on taming the Tonegawa. It’s actually an interesting list:

1 – Protect Edo Castle and the administrative centers of government from floods. Also, protect the administrative centers of the domains that existed along the river[xii].

2 – Promote the development of new rice paddies and fields and protect them from flooding. Remember “rice” = “money” in the Edo Period economy. Also a stable economy and a stable farming class meant peace.

3 – Ieyasu, a military general, knew the tactical importance of a good highway system on land and a predictable, traversable network of rivers. Beyond military use, investing in a solid infrastructure that united the domains and brought goods, services, and resources in and out of the capital city was seen as a high priority.

4 – The last one is interesting if you love the Sengoku Period and/or Edo Castle. Apparently, the 伊達氏 Date-shi/Idate-shi Date clan who controlled 仙台藩 Sendai Han Sendai Domain were still perceived as a potential enemy[xiii]. The shōgunate decided to cut off a portion of the Tonegawa to build the 外堀 sotobori outter moat of Edo Castle as an outer perimeter defense in case the Date decided to attack. They didn’t. But the result was a functional, secondary outer moat around the castle and the Tonegawa was diverted east towards present day Chiba.

 

Map of rivers in the 16th century. The Tone River clearly flows down into Edo Bay.

Map of rivers in the 16th century. The Tone River clearly flows down into Edo Bay.

 

Building a castle town in an alluvial plain, Ieyasu and his advisers had a myriad of concerns about the rivers. First of all, while his castle was probably immune from serious flooding, his vassals also had to be put into the 山手 yamanote on the tops of hills. Commoners (my shorthand for non-samurai) were in the 下町 shitamachi low ground that constantly flooded – unarguably the worst place to live, because more often than not it meant you lived in a flood plain or potential tsumani zone.

While all rivers were prone to flood, since the Heian Period we have records of the Tonegawa flooding violently. It also looks like the river naturally changed direction many times throughout history. As I mentioned earlier, due to its volatile nature, the people who lived along it were constantly trying to tame the river by whatever means they had at their disposal. The shōgun’s capital, in addition to averaging 1 major conflagration every 6-8 years, was also prone to flooding. Fires in a wooden city are pretty hard to prevent, but controlling rivers is apparently a little easier[xiv].

I could detail each and every change to the river from the Edo Period until recent years, but that would just get boring after a while. Although, in the Edo Period, the river emptied out into Edo Bay where the present day 江戸川 Edogawa Edo River flows into Tōkyō Bay, the end result is that the river was diverted east – and in much the same way as the Sumidagawa was created out of nothing, the Tonegawa was sent out of Edo. It now flows into a former tributary that takes the river into former 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province which is more or less modern Chiba Prefecture[xv].

 

In 1910, a typhoon caused most of Tokyo's rivers to flood including the Sumida and Kanda Rivers. Pretty much all of the shitamachi areas were  flooded for 3-10 days (depending on sea level elevation).  I'm told this picture is Asakusa. This kind of flooding rarely occurs in Tokyo since the 1960's,

In 1910, a typhoon caused most of Tokyo’s rivers to flood including the Sumida and Kanda Rivers. Pretty much all of the shitamachi areas were flooded for 3-10 days (depending on sea level elevation).
I’m told this picture is Asakusa.
This kind of flooding rarely occurs in Tokyo since the 1960’s,

Why doesn't Tokyo flood anymore? This is why. There are massive underground drainage tanks (like this) that fill up with flood water and then pump it out to the sea.

Why doesn’t Tokyo flood anymore? This is why. There are massive underground drainage tanks (like this) that fill up with flood water and then pump it out to the sea.

 

Hey, Marky. You Haven’t Said Anything About Etymology Yet…

Oh, sorry. You’re right. And after all, that’s why we’re all here, isn’t it? Well, the river name is quite old. You’ve already heard me mention the Heian Period, but of course, the river has been here much, much longer. As you can imagine, there are multiple conjectures about where the name comes from. Also, let’s be aware that the old sections of the Tonegawa have the nickname 坂東太郎 Bandō Tarō (Bandō is a pre-modern alternate for Kantō; Tarō is a name or suffix for a the eldest son, in this case it means “the oldest son of Japanese rivers” or is just a sign of affection or endearment).

 

Let’s look at the kanji, shall we?


to

useful


ne

root

 

This kanji use is ateji, that is to say, the kanji are not used for their ideographic meaning, but rather for their phonetic qualities. The first kanji, is rarely read as /to/ in Modern Japanese. The second kanji occurs in many ancient place names. The combination of kanji would normally be read as 利根 rikon which is an obscure term that means “cleverness” or “innate intelligence.”

 

Despite its wild and unruly reputation, some stretches of the Tone River seem quite beautiful.

Despite its wild and unruly reputation, some stretches of the Tone River seem quite beautiful.

 

The Ainu Did It.
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Of course they did. And there’s no way to prove them wrong (lol). Well, there isn’t, but of course I’m being a little facetious here. Anyhoo, this theory assumes the word is derived from アイヌ語 Ainugo the Ainu language. The word in question is トンナイ ton’nai which in the Kantō dialects could easily be reduced to トンネェ ton’nēトネェ tonēトネ tone. In the Ainu language, ton’nai means “giant valley” and is said to refer to either the Tonegawa river basin or some valley that it flows through. Unfortunately for us, we don’t know what valley that is, so let’s chuck this one up to way out there speculation and impossible to confirm.

Another theory states that it comes from another old Ainu word トンナイ ton’nai which meant a swampy, lakey, wide river, which the Tonegawa most definitely was. As I mentioned before, it’s the largest watershed in Japan and it changed course often. The land received great benefits from river in the form of lakes and swamps, all of which could be used for farming or fishing or, you know, whatever you use lakes for. I dunno, maybe fucking ducks.

The Musashi Waterway in Gyoda, Saitama leads the Tone River towards its confluence with the Arakawa (itself part of the Tone Watershed).

The Musashi Waterway in Gyoda, Saitama leads the Tone River towards its confluence with the Arakawa (itself part of the Tone Watershed).

The Mountain Did It.
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As I mentioned earlier, the Tonegawa headwaters are at the top of 大水上山 Ōminakami Yama Ōminakami Mountains in 群馬県 Gun’ma Ken Gun’ma Prefecture. This theory states that on the mountain there were many 尖った利き峰 togatta kikimine which translates as something like “dominated by sharp/pointy peaks” or “useful pointy peaks.[xvi]” The idea here is that regardless of kanji the words 尖った togatta sharp and 利 kiki/ri useful were combined. This combination produces a hypothetical form 尖利 toto/tori “sharp + useful” as an abbreviation for the concept that the mountains were either dominated by sharp peaks or useful peaks. From this idea came a later word 利根 tone which literally means the “root/source of usefulness/benefit.”

I don’t think this an impossible etymology, but it is particularly convoluted and requires a lot of back story. Long time readers will know that I’m a big fan of Occam’s Razor and because of that I’m a little skeptical of this theory.

 

togatta

The Ominakami Mountains, source of the Tone River. I guess they do look kinda sharp and pointy.

 

Some Gods Did It.

This is a really weird theory because it asserts that the river is named after either 等禰直 Tone no Aitai or 椎根津彦 Tone Tsuhiko, two terrestrial 神 kami deities with associations to water shrines that are briefly alluded to in the 日本書紀 Nihon Shoki The Chronicles of Japan and 古事記 Kojiki Record of Ancient Matters, two ancient books telling the Japanese creation myths and legendary foundation stories. I don’t know much more about them.

Tone Tsuhiko. Kind of a boring kami.

Tone Tsuhiko. Kind of a boring kami.

The Man’yōshū Did It.
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It’s said that the 大水上山 Ōminakami Yama Ōminakami Mountains had the nickname 刀嶺岳, 刀根岳 Tonetake Sword Peak Mountains or Sword Root Mountains, respectively. The nickname was applied to the river and eventually replaced with other kanji because is usually read as // not /to/. Supporters of this theory point out that the earliest reference to the river in the 万葉集 Man’yōshū the Anthology of 10,000 Leaves (8th century) and it was written in ateji as 刀禰 Tone.

As I’ve said time and time again, with really ancient place names written in ateji, there is almost no way of ever recovering the original meaning. The name could predate the spread of the Yamato people, as the Ainu theory suggests, but it could also be much older than that, it is a major watershed so it would have been hard to miss by anyone living near it.
I’m sad to say I can’t point at any of these theories and say “I like this one.” They’re all a little out there and I think the kanji in every case are just afterthoughts. The end.

 

 

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[i] The Shinano flows from Nagano to Niigata.
[ii] For those who don’t know “headwater” means the source of a river.
[iii] “Wait, why are you talking about Saitama?” You may be asking. It ties into Edo, you’ll see.
[iv] Even to this day name applies to where all sorts of vestiges of the Tone Watershed and drainage ditches and irrigation ditches and any kind of waterworks you can imagine keep this rural, farming community supplied with water.
[v] “Old” is a modern label, in its day it was all just part of the Tonegawa, baby.
[vi] Remember, Tokugawa Ieyasu assumed the name Tokugawa. His original family name was Matsudaira. Without going into specifics, the two are more or less equal in meaning.
[vii] Neighboring 館林藩 Tatebayashi Han Tatebayashi Domain, present day Tatebayashi, Gun’ma Prefecture, was also a Tokugawa holding. As mentioned in my article on Hakusan, the 5th shōgun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi was originally lord of this domain. Although this area is the straight up boonies today with some of the worst weather in the entire country, it is a very fertile agricultural area. Both domains were directly plugged into – by blood – to the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family. I have family in both towns, and I can assure you that this is a source of pride to some of the local people.
[viii] The Ina clan only held Tatebayashi Domain for a generation or two. Soon a branch of the Matsudaira took it over, but they were eventually superseded by the Tokugawa.
[ix] Or students/scholars, if you’re looking for a thesis topic, there ya go. You’re welcome.
[x] That said, he also had the somewhat stable luxury of being in a position where Nobunaga and Hideyoshi never could have been.
[xi] Something like 11 sons, if I remember correctly. He had a bunch of daughters too, but in the Edo Period women didn’t really count.
[xii] This may be why daimyō considered loyal to the Tokugawa seem to be placed along the river. Hmmmmm.
[xiii] Yes, that Date clan.
[xiv] Don’t get me wrong, Edo flooded frequently. Tōkyō also flooded frequently. These days if floods occur, there are a number of secondary and tertiary contingency plans, including vast underground receptacles that excess water can drain in to. You can actually take free tours of these drainage systems.
[xv] The Tone River now flows past 関宿城 Sekiyado-jō Sekiyado Castle in Chiba. I briefly mentioned the castle in my article on Morishita.
[xvi] I’ve shown this phrase to a few native Japanese speakers and they couldn’t make any sense out of it. It’s nonsense in Modern Japanese. But it is possible to read + as /to ne/) if you want to stretch your imagination.

What does Sendagaya mean?

In Japanese History on April 9, 2014 at 5:47 am

千駄ヶ谷
Sendagaya (1000 “da” valley)

Quite possibly the most useless map of Sendagaya ever.

Quite possibly the most useless map of Sendagaya ever.

Sendagaya is the area surrounded by Shinjuku, Yoyogi, Harajuku, and Akasaka. In my experience, 千駄ヶ谷駅 Sendagaya Eki Sendagaya Station is famous, but unless you live or work there, I think the area is overlooked. Much of what people may consider to be Harajuku or Yoyogi is actually Sendagaya[i]. Anyways, I’ll talk about what Sendagaya is today at the end of the article.

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OK, Let’s Look at the Kanji!


sen

1000


da

a pack horse, a load (carried by a horse)


ga

the genitive particle in Old Japanese, similar to の no in modern Japanese.


ya

valley

Seems pretty random, right? .

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駄 Da

The key to this place name are the Old Japanese words 一駄壱駄 ichida 1 da or 二駄弐駄 nida 2 da. These are units of measurement that describe how much stuff you can put on a horse’s back. I don’t know the specifics, but it’s probably something like a size and weight measurement. So you could say “This horse is carrying 3 da.” 千駄 senda 1000 da, of course, would be a crazy number and as such, the local people used the word senda to mean 沢山 takusan a lot of.

So the idea is that this area was 千駄の谷 senda no ya “the valley with a 1000 da.” This begs the question, a 1000 da of what? Well, it’s said that when Ōta Dōkan came to the area to inspect his new holdings, the valley was primarily used for rice cultivation so the name meant “the valley where a lot of rice is grown.”

The word 千駄 appears in another Tōkyō place name, 千駄木 Sendagi. I haven’t researched this place name but I’ll take a guess that it means “a lot of trees.” But that’s topic for another day.

This is a 駄馬 daba, a pack horse. I don't know how many da the horse is carrying, but you get the idea...

This is a 駄馬 daba, a pack horse. I don’t know how many da the horse is carrying, but you get the idea…

 But Wait, There’s More!

One theory states that the 渋谷川 Shibuya-gawa Shibuya River ran through this valley and there were so many 萓 gi day-lilies growing along the bank of the river, that in a single day you could carry out 1000 da of them. This etymology is suspect because of the reference to day-lilies which isn’t preserved in the name.

In 1644, we have a shōgunate record that spells the place name 千駄萱村 Sendagaya Mura Sendagaya Village. This name means 1000 da and 萱 kaya is a kind of reed. This theory states that long ago, along the bank of the Shibuya River, a lot of reeds were growing. It seems that the current writing dates from 1688.

Lastly, another theory states that the writing was 千駄茅 senda kaya a 1000 da of kaya, a kind of hay. (We’ve seen this kanji before in my article on Kayabachō.) While the exact origin of this place name isn’t known, the common theme seems to be the use of the word 千駄 senda 1000 da. Take your pick of which one you like the best.

While yes, today Sendagaya is real area in Tokyo, many people don't know where it actually is because the area is only serviced by a single train line. That said, it's proximity to other well traveled stations makes it an attractive residential district. It's quiet, yet has access quick walking access to major areas.

While yes, today Sendagaya is real area in Tokyo, many people don’t know where it actually is because the area is only serviced by a single train line. That said, it’s proximity to other well traveled stations makes it an attractive residential district. It’s quiet, yet has access quick walking access to major areas.

A Little Bit About the Area

In the Edo Period, the area was just countryside. Some daimyō had residences out this way. The 尾張徳川家 Owari Tokugawa-ke Owari branch of the Tokuagawa Family had maintained a 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence in Sendagaya for a long time. In 1877 or 1878, 篤姫 Atsu-hime Princess Atsu[ii], wife of the 13th shōgun,  徳川家定 Tokugawa Iesada[iii], moved to this residence until she lost her battle with Parkinson’s Disease in 1883. Atsu-hime was originally born in Kagoshima and helped negotiate the bloodless eviction of the Tokugawa from Edo Castle. Her counterpart was none other than the Kagoshima-born general 西郷隆盛 Saigō Takamori[iv].

The Owari Tokugawa maintained their residence here for some time. Today the palace’s lands have been transformed into 戸山公園 Toyama Kōen Toyama Park, but believe it or not, one of the Edo Period buildings of this residence still survives.

In 1957, the 書院 shoin study of the residence was moved to 總持寺 Sōji-ji Sōji Temple in 横浜市鶴見区 Yokohama-shi Tsurumi-ku Tsurumi Ward, Yokohama, not far from Tōkyō. The former study is now the reception hall of the temple. So if you want to see a beautiful daimyō study from a daimyō compound, you can.

The entrance to the study of the Owari Tokugawa's sprawling residence.

The entrance to the study of the Owari Tokugawa’s sprawling residence. Pretty freakin’ dope, huh?

Later, the area around the former Tokugawa residence was used by the Imperial Army as a training ground. Later, under the American Occupation, the US military used the confiscated training ground. Probably due to all the soldiers being there, the area became famous for love hotels and the sex industry. The red light district was shut down in the buildup to the 1960 Tōkyō Summer Olympics and today the area is mostly known as the home to many fashion and design related businesses. I think this is due to its proximity to Harajuku and Shibuya, both of which are fashion epicenters. .

Toyama Park

Toyama Park

There is another Bakumatsu personage associated with the area. One account of of the untimely death of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi commander, 沖田総司 Okita Sōji took place here. There are conflicting accounts of this due to the confusion generated by the abdication of the last shōgun 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Also, Sōji’s brothers-in-arms were scattered at the time. All of the accounts of his death come to us years later.

A sento (public bath) near Jingumae Stadium.

A sento (public bath) near Jingumae Stadium.

鳩森八幡神社 Hatomori Hachiman-gū Hatomori Hachiman Shrine is a famous shrine in the area. I’ve talked about what a Hachiman shrine is before, so I’m not going to get into that today. However, this particular shrine is special in that it has a 富士塚 Fuji-zuka Fuji Mound. In the Edo Period, travel was tightly controlled by the shōgunate and non-samurai would have had a difficult time getting travel permission to leave their 藩 han domains. Many people wanted to make a pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji, so a trend was to bring rocks from Mt. Fuji to Edo and build a huge mockup of the volcano at a shrine and the local people could make the journey up the hill to honor the 富士浅間 Fuji Sengen, the kami of Mt. Fuji. There are still a few of these remaining today in Tōkyō – I’ve been to about 3 of them, I think.

The Fuji-zuka

The Fuji-zuka

The NTT DoCoMo building which looks like the Empire State Building is also in Sendagaya. If you’ve ever been shopping at the Southern Terrace of Shinjuku Station or enjoyed a stroll through 新宿御苑 Shinjuku Gyoen Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The NTT DoCoMo Building. Sometimes a purely derivative and truly bizarre choice in architecture can work.

The NTT DoCoMo Building.
Sometimes a purely derivative and truly bizarre choice in architecture can work.

Oh, any expat resident of Tōkyō will tell you that Mexican food is hard to come by. While not in Sendagaya proper, there are two very famous Mexican places in nearby Yoyogi and Shibuya – both walkable from Sendagaya. One is a super famous date-spot known as Fonda de la Madrugada located in 北参道 Kita-sandō. It’s expensive, but they have a mariachi band that come to the tables and take requests (unfortunately, the only Spanish song most Japanese people know is the Gypsy Kings’ cover of Volare, so expect to hear it a few times throughout the course of your dinner)[v]. The other one is the more casual and less expensive, El Torito, located in the Southern Terrace of Shinjuku Station. OK, that’s about all I’ve got on Sendagaya.

 

 

 

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 _____________________________
[i] Or maybe that’s just me.
[ii] She’s also called 天璋院 Tenshō-in because this is the name she took after the death of Iesada. It’s a Buddhist name, and I think it’s more like a title. I was told that after the Meiji Restoration she would have been called 篤子 Atsuko, since the title 姫 hime (usually rendered as “princess”) was banned by the new government.
[iii] Yes, the same Tokugawa Iesada who is generally depicted as a complete moron. You can read about his grave here.
[iv]  A guy I don’t have a lot of respect for.
[v] Of course, I’m speaking very broadly here. I’ve personally met Japanese people who know loads of Spanish music – waaaaaay more than I do – but just the average person doesn’t know much.

What does Hakusan mean?

In Japanese History on March 23, 2014 at 4:56 am

白山
Hakusan (white mountain)

Hakusan Shrine, Bunkyo Ward.

Hakusan Shrine, Bunkyo Ward.

Today we’re going to wrap up our little journey around 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward which has taken us to Myōgadani, Koishikawa, and finally Hakusan. For fans of Bunkyō Ward, don’t worry, we’ll be coming back in the future as there’s a lot to talk about in this area. And if for some reason, you absolutely cannot wait, I have old articles on Suidōbashi and Kichijōji (yes, Kichijōji is related, believe it or not).

Anyways, today’s place name is brought you by the Shintō term 勧請 kanjō. Kanjō refers to the ceremonial transfer or sharing of a 神 kami deity from one shrine to another shrine. We will get deeper into religion in a little bit; but for this story, the specifics of the kanjō[i] aren’t necessary. And to be honest, that’s about all I know about the subject.

The origin of this place name is fairly obvious because it has been recorded independently in two parts of the country at the same time. The name is said to come from 白山神社 Hakusan Jinja Hakusan Shrine which is still located in the area. Unlike the former daimyō residences that used to dominate the area which didn’t survive, this particular shrine enjoyed the patronage of both the Tokugawa and Meiji governments and turned out to be a true survivor.

Let’s Look at the Kanji


haku

White


san

Mountain
Shirayama-hime Shrine in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Shirayama-hime Shrine in Ishikawa Prefecture.

In 948 (middle of the Heian Period), the tutelary kami of 白山比咩神社 Shirayama-hime Jinja Shirayama-hime Shrine was split and transferred to this area. Shirayama Shrine is a major shrine in 加賀国 Kaga no Kuni, present day 石川県 Ishikawa-ken Ishikawa Prefecture. Note that Shirayama is the 訓読み kun’yomi Japanese reading and Hakusan is the 音読み on’yomi Chinese reading of 白山.

Hakusan Shrine was originally located in 武蔵国豊島郡本郷元町 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Hongō Motomachi  Hongō Old Town, Toshima District, Musashi Province (which is now in nearby 本郷一丁目 Hongō Icchōme). In about 1620, Tokugawa Hidetada moved the temple onto the premises of 御薬園 go-yakuen the shōgunate’s garden for healing herbs (the area that is now part of the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens).  After the Meireki Fire in 1655, the lord of 館林藩 Tatebayashi Han Tatebayashi Domain ordered that the shrine be rebuilt at its present location in order to use the space for his new residence[ii]. It’s evident that from quite early in the Edo Period Hakusan Shrine came to be patronized by the Tokugawa Shōgun Family[iii].

Hakusan Shrine in the Edo Period.

Hakusan Shrine in the Edo Period.

10 Shrines of Tōkyō

In the Meiji Era, Hakusan Shrine was one of the 東京十社 Tōkyō Jissha the 10 Shrines of the Eastern Capital.

In many previous articles, I’ve said that Japanese religion is syncretic. This means it was very similar to the polytheistic religions of the classical western world, for example Rome or Greece. While monotheistic religions make no exception for other religions, polytheistic religions – by nature – at least entertain the possibility that other religions might be on to something. Originally Shintō and Buddhism butted heads a bit, but over time they borrowed from each other and incorporated certain elements of each other.

The two religions were incestuously intertwined by the Edo Period. When the Meiji Coup of 1868 took place, the government favored Shintō because: Shintō held all the original Japanese creation myths; it was native Japanese[iv]; Buddhism found particular favor among the samurai class; and most importantly, Shintō included justification of imperial rule by divine descent from Japanese kami of the sun, 天照大御神 Amaterasu-ōmikami Amaterasu.

In 1868, one of the earliest edicts issued by the Imperial Court was the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzenrei Kami/Buddha Separation Edict. The court wanted none of this touchy-feely Shintō kami and Buddhist Buddhas living together in peace and harmony. What’s more, sprawling syncretic temple complexes like Zōjō-ji and the recently burned Kan’ei-ji were not just massive 菩提寺 bodaiji family temples of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family, they were also tourist destinations[v].

The Meiji Government was not having this at all. So they decided to create a diversion. In order to make this new emperor worship thing cool, they established the 東京十社 Tōkyō Jissha the 10 Shrines of the Eastern Capital[vi] in order to get people to go on a new Imperial Court sanctioned pilgrimage.

By the way, all of this hot and sweaty emperor-loving, getting back to Shintō roots, and overall xenophobia led to years of deadly vigilante attacks against Buddhists, coerced conversions, and outright destruction of centuries old temples. Yay religion!

At any rate, the Hakusan Shrine is still with us today and is still fairly major shrine. Every year during the rainy season, hundreds of people make the pilgrimage to Hakusan Shrine for its 紫陽花祭 Ajisai Matsuri Hydrangea Festival. The plants bloom every year and the precincts are covered with vivid purples, blues, whites, and pinks.

IMG_0787

Connection with Kaga Domain’s Estate?

As mentioned in my article on Koishikawa, in the Edo Period, the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of 加賀藩 Kaga Han Kaga Domain was located in the area. The primary deity enshrined at Hakusan originated in Kaga no Kuni. In the other article I speculated that this was probably just a coincidence. But I looked into it a little more and while I didn’t find a definitive answer, what I know now gives a little better idea of the actual connection between the shrine and the Kaga estate.

Well, actually, the 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence was also nearby. The middle residence was where the family of the lord lived. While an upper residence was an administrative center or embassy, the middle residence was exactly that – a residence. Any sort of religious acts of devotion to the domain’s tutelary kami would have been carried out by members of the daimyō family in a private sense, not necessarily as public, domain activities.

From what I can tell, the location of the upper residence near this shrine was probably a coincidence – or a petition for a location near the shrine could have been submitted to the shōgunate by the lord of Kaga[vii]. It seems that 2nd shōgun, Tokugawa Hidetada, moved the shrine to the go-yakuen location as a favor to Kaga Domain so it would be closer to their middle residence. When the shōgunate moved the shrine after the Meireki fire, they moved the shrine even closer to Kaga’s middle estate.

Here you can see the locations of Hakusan Shrine move closer Kaga's middle estate. The white dot at the bottom of the page is Tokyo Dome and you can see Koishikawa Korakuen to the immediate left of the Dome.

Here you can see the locations of Hakusan Shrine move closer Kaga’s middle estate.
The white dot at the bottom of the page is Tokyo Dome and you can see Koishikawa Korakuen to the immediate left of the Dome.
* click the photo to enlarge *

So there was an actual connection between Hakusan and Kaga Domain, but it most definitely pre-dates the Edo Period. The story of Koishikawa meaning Little Ishikawa is most likely a folk etymology that came about after the creation of Ishikawa Prefecture in 1871. While, yes, there would have been many samurai from Kaga running around the area during the Edo Period, the name  石川 Ishikawa usually referred to a 郡 gun a district within Kaga Domain. I’m not sure if local Edoites would have been familiar with (or even cared about) the administrative districts of an area so far away. The Meiji Era reforms saw newspapers, maps, and cheaper books increase access to information. They also literally put Ishikawa Prefecture on the map.

The 御守殿門 Go-Shuden Mon also called 御住居表御門 Go-Shukyo Omote Go-Mon but popularly referred to as 赤門 Aka Mon the Red Gate is a symbol of Tokyo University. In fact, the nickname of the university is Aka Mon. This was the front gate of of Kaga's upper residence. It's the only structure that survived an 1855 earthquake that burned down the palace.  The heart of Tokyo University's Hongo Campus is built on the ruins of this sprawling palace.

The 御守殿門 Go-Shuden Mon also called 御住居表御門 Go-Shukyo Omote Go-Mon but popularly referred to as 赤門 Aka Mon the Red Gate is a symbol of Tokyo University. In fact, the nickname of the university is Aka Mon.
This was the front gate of of Kaga’s upper residence. It’s the only structure that survived an 1855 earthquake that burned down the palace.
The heart of Tokyo University’s Hongo Campus is built on the ruins of this sprawling palace.

In the Edo Period, as you can imagine, the area wasn’t as densely populated as today, and it was distinctly yamanote. Administratively, Hakusan was a small portion of 武蔵国豊島郡小石川村 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Koishikawa Mura Koishikawa Village, Toshima District, Musashi Province. In 1878, the Meiji Government split the area between the now defunct  小石川区  Koishikawa-ku Koishikawa Ward and 本郷区 Hongō-ku Hongō Ward. In 1947, with the creation of the 23特別区 23 Special Wards, the split areas were re-merged in the new 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward. In 1967, with the creation of the modern postal code system, the area called Hakusan came to consist of just 5 blocks.

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[i] English teachers in Japan who teach children, you can relax. This is 勧請 kanjō, not 浣腸 kanchō. You can safely unclench your asses now.

[ii] Wait a minute! I’ve been to Tatebayashi. It’s a middle of nowhere backwater. In the shōgun’s capital, who the hell did this country bumpkin think he was to start telling religious institutions in Edo what to do? Oh, I’m glad you asked. He was none other than the 4th living son of the 3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu, the future Dog Shōgun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. Tsunayoshi had been put in charge of a fief well outside of Edo because he was smart and crafty and Iemitsu apparently felt that he would try to murder and usurp power from his older brother, future 4th shōgun, Ietsuna. In hindsight, however, it appears Tsunayoshi truly respected and looked up to his brother. Tsunayoshi built Ietsuna’s lavish funerary temple in Kan’ei-ji, Gen’yūin, and ordered that his own funerary temple be built next door. To this day, the two brothers rest in adjacent lots in the cemetery at Kan’ei-ji.

[iii] Because pre-shōgun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, had a residence in what is today Hakusan 3-chōme, until 1967, the area was still officially called  白山御殿町 Hakusan Goten Machi Hakusan Palace Town. Older residents of the area still use the name. Apparently, there are plaques commemorating the same scattered throughout the area.

[iv] Pretty sure everyone knows that Buddhism was imported.

[v] Much as Nikkō still is today.

[vi] This grouping doesn’t exist anymore so I couldn’t find an English article on it, but here’s the list of the 10 Shrines in Japanese.

[vii] The lords of Kaga were the 前田 Maeda, who weren’t on the best of terms with the Tokugawa during the Sengoku Period.

What does Koishikawa mean?

In Japanese History on March 19, 2014 at 8:15 am

小石川
Koishikawa (pebble river)

Tokyo Dome

Tokyo Dome

Koishikawa is a small area located within 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward. If you’ve ever been to 東京ドームTōkyō Dōmu Tōkyō Dome for a Giants game or a concert, you’ve been to Koishikawa.

First, let’s talk about the kanji of this name. They’re really quite simple, actually.


ko

small


ishi

stone


kawa

river

The area first comes on to the radar in the Muromachi Period. It was a somewhat undefined area within 武蔵国豊島郡小石河村 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Koishikawa Mura Koishikawa Village, Toshima District, Musashi Province and it was originally written as  小石河 Koishikawa. The old kanji have exactly the same meaning as the modern kanji. The reason the area pops up in the annals is because a new temple was founded here in 1415. That temple’s name is 伝通院[i]  Denzū-in Denzū Temple. It might have just been another boring ol’ temple in the area, except they were the landholders of an extremely large area. The name is generally said to derive from a river that passed by the front gate of the temple. The river had many pebbles in it and so it was calle小石河 Koishi Kawa Koishi River (Pebble River)[ii].

At the beginning of the Edo Period, this area was quite rural and characterized by small farms and 町家 machiya those traditional wooden Japanese houses with a business on the first floor and home on the 2nd floor. That is to say, it was primarily 下町 shitamachi low city. However, by the middle of the Edo Period, most of the agricultural lands had become populated by satellite temples, 武家屋敷 buke yashiki samurai residences, and 大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō residences.

One of the gates of the middle residence of Mito Domain. (Destroyed by firebombing in WWII)

One of the gates of the middle residence of Mito Domain.
(Destroyed by firebombing in WWII)

When the 御茶之水堀割 O-cha no Mizu Horiwari Ochanomizu Waterway was built at the beginning of the Edo Period, it connected the Koishi River and Sumida River – all of this was part of the larger 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui Kanda Waterworks. Today there is no Koishi River, but the portion of the Kanda River that was made from the old river is known.

Once we get into the Edo Period, the area completely transformed. To understand the area, we have to understand the nature of this transformation. There were two major factors responsible for this monumental change. Firstly, Denzū-in’s relationship with the shōgunate changed and secondly, the policy of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance[iii] was formalized. These changes placed some of the shōgunate’s most prominent allies into the area and enhanced the area’s association with political influence and religio-cultural prestige[iv].

Denzu-in

Denzu-in

How did Religion Change the Area?

As I mentioned before, Denzū-in was founded in 1415. Originally, it was a massive temple complex, but today its former landholdings are spread out all over the area. When the temple precinct was completely intact, it was the said to be the 3rd 徳川将軍家菩提寺 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke no Bodai-ji family temple of the shōgun family[v].  In the original configuration, 茶阿局 Chā no Tsubone, the main wife of Tokugawa Ieyasu was interred in one of the satellite temples[vi]. However, since the temple lands were split up in the Meiji Period, the grave of his mother, 於大方 O-dai no Kata[vii], has been Denzū-in’s major claim to fame. But the former precinct’s cemeteries still exist and you can find the children, grandchildren, and some concubines of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family buried in this area. Most of these people, of course, are people you’ve never heard of – rich, privileged Edo Period nobles who lived in the confines of the castle but had little or no impact on history[viii].

Cha no Tsubone's grave.

Cha no Tsubone’s grave.

O-dai no Kata's grave.

O-dai no Kata’s grave.

 

Why Were There so Many Elite Graves in the Area?

Originally characterized by agriculture, the area soon found itself home to high ranking samurai officials (think middle to upper management ) and some of the largest 藩邸 hantei domain headquarters (think senior management, embassies, and heads of state). The Tokugawa Shōgun Family’s patronage of the local temples as cemeteries also increased the prestige of the area.

In 1629, an expansive garden was built on the land granted to the 水戸徳川家 Mito Tokugawa-ke the Mito branch of the Tokugawa Family. The project was completed under the auspices of 徳川光圀 Tokugawa Mitsukuni, popularly known as 水戸黄門 Mito Kōmon[ix] the Yellow Gate of Mito – vice-shōgun and second hereditary lord of 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain[x].  The garden was built in the middle of Mito Domain’s sprawling 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence[xi]. This private garden was built for the enjoyment of the lords of Mito and was absolutely not open to the common riff-raff of Edo. It was typical of Japanese elite of the Edo Period to build and maintain these sorts of gardens for relaxation (remember, they had no TV, internet, or AKB). It’s one of a small handful of Edo Period gardens still remaining in Tōkyō. The fact that this park more or less survived the fires of Edo, the Meiji Government confiscations, the Great Kantō Earthquake, the Firebombing of Tōkyō , and urban sprawl is a miracle of history.

You can see how large the Mito estate was and the garden directly in the center.

You can see how large the Mito estate was and the garden directly in the center.

Mito’s neighbor was 加賀藩  Kaga Han Kaga Domain, whose middle residence was even more massive. (Much of Tōkyō University’s Hongō Campus sits on the former site of this palatial residence). I’m gonna come back to Kaga Domain and Mito Domain’s park in a minute[xii]. (And don’t forget about the footnotes, we’ve just passed the 12th one!!)

But yeah, the Mito Tokugawa[xiii] were one of the biggest landholders in Edo. Their middle residence comprised most of what is generally called Koishikawa today – including all of Tōkyō Dome. In comparing Edo Period maps and modern maps, it seems like the entire garden isn’t preserved, but for the most part it’s still intact[xiv].

The seimon (main gate) of Mito's middle residence.

The seimon (main gate) of Mito’s middle residence.

A Little More About the Area

Of course, the area is most famous for Tōkyō Dome.

Next to Tōkyō Dome is 東京ドームシティアトラクションズ Tōkyō Dōmu Atorakushonzu Tōkyō Dome City Attractions which is generally referred to by people over 30 as 後楽園遊園地 Kōrakuen Yūenchi Kōrakuen Amusement Park, the site’s name until 2003. Sadly, the area’s third claim to fame is actually its namesake, 小石河後楽園 Koishikawa Kōrakuen, the park built by Tokugawa Mitsukuni. It’s sad to think how few people living in Tōkyō even know about the park! I’m not even kidding when I say that I’ve probably met more people who’ve never heard of Kōrakuen than people who know it. Or maybe I’m socializing in the wrong circles…

Also located in the area (near Myōgadani Station) is 小石川植物園 Koishikawa Shokubutsuen Koshikawa Botanical Garden. This land was home to one of the shōgunate’s 御薬園 go-yakuen medicinal herb gardens.

Another famous building on the premises was the 小石川養生所 Koishikawa Yōjōsho the Koishikawa Recuperation Facility. It was established in the middle of the Edo Period[xv] by the 8th shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshimune, as a state-funded free medical facility for those who couldn’t afford medical attention. I’m not clear on the details, but I envision a mix between a free clinic and an all-out hospital. The Meiji Government confiscated the lands and gave them to the newly established 東京大学 Tōkyō Daigaku Tōkyō University and the university has maintained the lands ever since. I haven’t been there myself, but it sounds like a pretty awesome garden, actually.

Model of the Recuperation Facility (with roof cut away).

Model of the Recuperation Facility (with roof cut away).

Oh, we’re at the Meiji Period now?

Yeah, we’re at the Meiji Period.  The donation of the herb farm and Recuperation Facility to Tōkyō University was in 1877. About 10 years later, the government figured out a new civil administration system and in 1889 小石川区 Koishikawa-ku Koishikawa Ward was created.

In the Shōwa Period – 1947, to be precise – Koishikawa Ward was abolished and present day Bunkyō Ward was established. Today the name survives as five 丁目 chōme blocks within Bunkyō Ward – some of which, but not all of which, exist where the former Mito palace stood. Modern Koishikawa does not correspond to the old Mito holdings.

Map of modern Koishikawa. You can see the Botanical Garden above it. At the very bottom, you can see the Korakuen and Tokyo Dome, just on the other side of the border.

Map of modern Koishikawa.
You can see the Botanical Garden above it.
At the very bottom, you can see the Korakuen and Tokyo Dome, just on the other side of the border.

So what’s the Etymology?

小石川
koishi kawa

pebble river

小石川
ko-Ishikawa

little Ishikawa

As I mentioned before, the most popular etymology is that as most of the area was originally under the control of 伝通院[xvi] Denzū-in, the area got its name from the river that ran past the front of the temple. That river supposedly had many 小石 koishi pebbles in it. So it was called 小石川 Koishikawa the Small Pebble River.

A second theory exists. That theory derives the name from 加賀国石川郡 Kaga no Kuni Ishikawa-gun Ishikawa District, Kaga Province. Yes, that would be home of 加賀藩 Kaga Han Kaga Domain who had their enormous middle residence right next door to Mito’s residence. When they built their 藩邸 hantei domain headquarters here, they had to transfer the clan’s tutelary kami, 白山権現 Hakusan Gongen here. According to this theory, the area was 小石川 Ko-Ishikawa Little Ishikawa. This isn’t too far-fetched, as the sheer size of this residence would have required a fairly large staff. So there would have been large community of people from Ishikawa living, working, and being out and about in the area. If this theory is true[xvii], nearby 白山駅 Hakusan Eki Hakusan Station has a similar origin – which will be addressed in the next article.

However, since we know the name of the river pre-dates the Edo Period, I think that this place name is a mixture of both. Kaga Domain’s residence being put here was probably just a coincidence – unless it was a sort of オヤジギャグ oyaji gag played out in real life by the shōgunate[xviii] – and the locals made a connection between samurai from Ishikawa and the river name.

The walls surrounding Korakuen are new, but they give you an idea of what how a daimyo residence would have looked from the street level.

The walls surrounding Korakuen are new, but they give you an idea of what how a daimyo residence would have looked from the street level.

                                   

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[i] Also written 傳通院.
[ii] This is the most popular theory.
[iii]A quick primer on what Alternate Attendance means is here.
[iv] By the way, religio-cultural isn’t a word. I just made that up.
[v] The most famous being Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji. See my articles here.
[vi] Chā no Tsubone’s grave is located at nearby 宗慶寺 Sōkei-ji. The temple is located here.
[vii] Her name is written a variety of ways: 於大方, お大の方, 於大, , . The word Kata is more of a title than an actual name – although she may have been called O-dai casually by her family. I also came across an alternative writing, 御大方 O-daihō, so go figure….
[viii] If any university student is looking for a graduation thesis to write in English, an interactive Tokugawa family tree that matches with graves, birthplaces, and residences would be a much appreciated resource for anyone interested in Japanese history and you’d be remembered forever. Just sayin’.
[ix] And often punned as 水戸肛門 the Sphincter of Mito.
[x] But to yours truly, he will forever be known as the douchebag who established 水戸学 Mito Gaku Mito Learning – a philosophy which viewed a divine emperor as the  ruler of Japan. It viewed the first Ashikaga shōgun, 足利尊氏 Ashikaga Takauji as an imperial rebel who unlawfully usurped control of Japan. Under this mode of thought, Tokugawa Ieyasu and his descendants, while legitimately being conferred the title of shōgun by the emperor, were actually subservient to the emperor and his court in Kyōto. The shōgunate paid lip service to this arrangement, but in reality they were in complete control and the emperor and his silly court were subservient to Edo. At the end of the Edo Period, this philosophy, which was quite unique to Mito, was used by rebel factions as a basis for overthrowing the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, was actually a member of the Mito branch of the Tokugawa family. Had the Mito Gaku philosophy ended with the Edo Period, it would have only mattered during the Bakumatsu. But as the idea of an Emperor-centric Japan spread to legitimize the new Meiji State, the emperor’s divinity was emphasized, and Japan began going down a theocratic path bound for a head-to-head collision with WWII. Fuck Mito Gaku. And fuck Mito Kōmon.
[xi] What’s a “middle residence?” Please read my article here.
[xii] Kaga Domain was the fief of the 前田家 Maeda-ke the Maeda family. Their Sengoku Period superstar was 前田利家 Maeda Toshiie, one of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s arch-rivals. But while we’re talking about gardens, one of the most amazing gardens in Japan is 兼六園 Kenrokuen near 金沢城 Kanazawa-jō Kanazawa Kastle. The Kaga Maeda and Mito Tokugawa seemed to have competed a little in garden building. Oh, also, Kaga Domain was fairly small, but it was one of the richest.
[xiii] Hey!!! Who the fuck were the Mito Tokugawa??? They were the Tokugawa living in present day Ibaraki.
[xiv] If you can read Japanese, this guy has some map comparisons that activate when you rollover the images.
[xv]It was established in 1722 as part of the 享保の改革 Kyōhō Kaikaku Kyōhō Reforms, to be exact.
[xvi] Also written 傳通院.
[xvii] And we’re gonna talk about this more in the next article.
[xviii] Which I don’t think it was. But who knows…

What does Ohanajaya mean?

In Japanese History on February 27, 2014 at 4:59 am

お花茶屋
Ohanajaya (Tea Shop O-Hana)

map of ohanajaya

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Today’s topic isn’t very complicated, so let’s get right down to business. It’s essentially made of 2 words.

 

お花
O-hana

O-hana
A girl’s name, this is the precursor of the Shōwa era modern Japanese name, 花子 Hanako, literally “Flower Child/Flower Girl.”

茶屋
chaya

A teahouse
A place where you could get some relaxation and most likely do a little drinking and whoring. Yes, you could also get a cup of tea.

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“But wait,” you say, “that spells O-hana Chaya.”

Well, under a normal (and somewhat irregular) linguistic process known as 連濁 rendaku sequential voicing[i], the mora ちゃ cha /tɕa / changes to じゃ ja /dʑa/ and voilà! You have O-hana Jaya[ii].

Today, the area called Ohanajaya refers to three 丁目 chōme “blocks” located within 葛飾区 Katsushika Ward. There is a small train station called お花茶屋駅 Ohanajaya Eki Ohanajaya Station that services the 形成本線 Keisei Honsen Keisei Main Line. The station has two exits. The south exit is 宝町 Takaramachi[iii] and the north exit is お花茶屋 Ohanajaya[iv]. Ironically, Ohanajaya Station is actually located in Takaramachi.
Go figure.

Ohanajaya Station

Ohanajaya Station

 

In the Edo Period this was the straight up boonies – literally, the outskirts of Edo. The area was located on the 曳舟川 Hikifunegawa Hikifune River which was also known as the 葛西用水 Kasai Yōsui the Kasai Waterway or Kasai Kanal[v] which flowed from present day Katsushika Ward to present day Sumida Ward. In fact, its terminus in Sumida is where present day Hikufune is located[vi]. In the early years of the Edo Period, it was a 上水 jōsui a drinking water supply; however it soon was demoted to a common waterway for small boats. Apparently it was a quite scenic spot, as it is depicted in many surviving works of art.

The river was filled in during the preparations for the Tōkyō Olympics in 1964 and subsequent development has completely obscured the river’s original path.

The Hikifune River.

The Hikifune River.

So… About the Etymology

From the name, we can tell that it was clearly named after a teahouse. There’s no reason to doubt the kanji in this case because it seems to be a very straight forward Edo Period name. There is a bit of a problem in that there are multiple explanations for the name, all of which are closely related, but with one simple problem: Most of these explanations invoke a shōgun. So take all of this with a grain of salt.

Why would a shōgun be invoked here? Well, the fact that the Tokugawa family came to this area for falconry is well known[vii]. But the frequency with which these stories come up (always involving a “cool shōgun,” it just seems like they were just moseying around Edo pointing at things and renaming them at will. Sure, they had that power. Do I think they spent their time that way? Not really.

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I just re-named that rock over there. And that teahouse. I saw a small fish I liked and I renamed that.  A shogun's work is never done.

I just re-named this rock.
And that teahouse over there.
I saw a small fish I liked and I renamed that too!
A shogun’s work is never done.

The “Yoshimune Did It” Theory

It is said that the 8th shōgun, wise and good Tokugawa Yoshimune[viii], often came here for falconry. On one occasion, he had a severe stomach ache. For some reason, there were no nobles living in the area and his entourage brought him to a local teahouse[ix] and he was nursed back to health by the daughter of the proprietor. Her name was O-hana. And in celebration of his recovery, he ordered the area be named O-Hana Chaya.

Variations

Yoshimune came out for falconry. He had a stomach ache. He was nursed back to health by O-hana. He performed tea ceremony with her and gave her a 茶釜 chagama tea kettle. The shop became famous for this visit and they displayed the chagama in the shop[x]. Because this was O-hana’s tea kettle the shop became known as O-hana Chaya.

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Whoa!

Whoa!

The “Yoshimune Had Nothing to Do with It” Theory

The oldest, the most frequented, or the only teahouse in the area was named O-hana. Shops all over the world have all kinds of names and Edo Period Japan was no different. In fact, using a person’s given name for a teahouse was quite common. Anyhoo, this theory suggests that this shop was the most famous, most frequented, or (possibly) oldest teahouse in the area. It being such a rustic place there’s no reason to doubt that the area was famous for a certain shop. We’ve seen this before.

This is my theory because it seems the most plausible.  Of course, there is no remaining shop. But this is simple and clean and just plain common sense.

Also, given the manners of the day, I don’t think there was much obligation on the part of a shōgun to do tea ceremony with commoners. While there is an image of Yoshimune loving the common people, I just don’t imagine the real guy hanging out with a bunch of dirty townspeople in the countryside drinking tea. Yes, it would happen in 暴れん坊将軍 Abarenbō Shōgun, but that was a TV show for senile people.

.

"You go, girl!"

“You go, girl!”

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[i] What the hell does sequential voicing mean? In short, it’s a sound change and that’s good enough for most people. If you really want to more, check out the Wikipedia article.

[ii] Wait, what the hell’s a mora? Mora (plural: morae) is a Latin word that is used to describe syllables. It’s not exactly the same as a syllable in English. Unless you’re going deep into Japanese Linguistics (or linguistics in general), that’s all you need to know. However, if you really want to know more (and you probably don’t), here’s the Wikipedia article.

[v] It looks cooler with the K.

[vi] And if you think this is an upcoming topic, you’d be right. And you’ve probably been reading this blog too long. Nerd!

[viii] Wise Yoshimune, as Rekishi no Tabi jcalls him. Wise, indeed, but apparently not wise enough to waste a fuck ton of money on the opulent tomb of 6 year old Tokugawa Ietsugu who literally did nothing as shōgun.

[ix] The term chaya (teahouse) is a little ambiguous, but this very well could have been a house of “ill repute.” The legend says nothing of the place other than “teahouse.”

[x] This undoubtedly caused all the towns people who saw it to say すごーい!sugoi! great!

What does Yotsuya mean?

In Japanese History on November 29, 2013 at 6:00 am

四ッ谷
Yotsuya (“4 Valleys,” but more at “nobody fucking knows…”)

Yotsuya Station in the future.... "A train in every moat" - Tokugawa Ieyasu

Yotsuya Station in the future….
“A train in every moat” – Tokugawa Ieyasu

When I first started writing about Tokyo place names, I wanted to tackle Yotsuya right away. I assumed it would be an easy target. Three or four paragraphs and… done!

It’s an interesting area even if just viewed from the windows of the 丸ノ内線 Marunouchi Sen Marunouchi Line as you wait at the station. Just peering out the window of the train, you’ll immediate notice that the subway has magically stopped in a valley. The train didn’t emerge from the depths of the earth. The lay of the land dropped down below the subway level. If I’m not mistaken, when you see the tennis courts and the steep incline of the hill, what you’re looking at isn’t just a natural valley, this was once the outer moat of Edo Castle.

I'm in a moat!

I’m in a moat!

Anyways, when I first started this blog, my articles were much shorter and – looking back – not as well researched as they are now. But back then, a topic like Yotsuya, which goes into dialects and may be related to other place names, turned out to be extremely daunting. Just considering this topic at that time was biting off more than I could chew. I wanted to write an article in 1 or 2 hours.

Now, even though it takes a lot more time to cover a topic, I’m not afraid to come to dead ends[i] or take the extra time to do my research right and make my explanations clear. And while I might lose readers going further in depth, I’d rather offer quality over quantity. I’m also a lot more confident in my ability to cover these topics.  And so, at JapanThis! it’s balls to the walls Tōkyō Place Names. No turning back, son.

Balls to the walls, son.

Balls to the walls, son.

Most people seem to think the name Yotsuya is old. Old as in it pre-dates the Edo Period. But one thing that is consistent in most of the etymologies is the first kanji, 四 yottsu four. Much of the mystery of this place name seems to come from the final character. That said, the “number 4” character is also suspect. So let’s be skeptical, shall we?

Oh yeah, I’ve also identified 2 categories for most of these theories: the “4 things group” and the “valley group.” These are just categories I’ve invented for organizing this article so they don’t reflect any legitimate linguistic groupings, but I think they’re good for our purposes here.

“Four Things Group”

四つ yottsu no ya four houses were here[ii]
四つ yottsu no ya four shops were here[iii]
四つ yottsu no ya four valleys were here

“Valley Group”

On this blog, I keep harping on yamanote and shitamachi and how fluid the terms have been through history. But the basic meaning derives from the Sengoku Era practice of putting the samurai families on the (literal) defensive high ground. I feel like a broken record always babbling on and on about hills and valleys. I blame Jin’nai Hidenobu for this. But I think he’s absolutely correct: if you want to understand Edo-Tōkyō, you have to pay attention to the hills, valleys, rivers, and plateaux[iv]. I can’t unsee the world his book, Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology, turned me on to.

So let’s look at two words that will come often in the future, both of which we should keep in mind today.

台地 daichi plateau, elevated area
谷地 yachi lowlands, basin

 。

etymology_header

 。

OK, so let’s talk some etymology, yo.

Theory 1

Yotsuya means 四つの家 yottsu no ya four houses. Of course, the kanji can mean house and family or family business. Presumably this pre-dates the Edo Period, so you can imagine 4 bad ass noble families chilling in their fortifications on 4 hills in the area. It seems like pure conjecture to me, but this is not an unreasonable etymology.

Theory 2

Yotsuya means 四つの屋 yottsu no ya four shops. This is a reference to four teahouses located on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō (the road to 甲府 Kōfu – present day Shizuoka). The names of the teahouses have been preserved.

梅屋 ume-ya
保久屋 boku-ya
茶屋 cha-ya
布屋 nuno-ya

These 4 teahouses were not all in operation at the same time until the Gen’na Era (1615-1624)[v] which places the origin of the name at the beginning of the Edo Period. This is at odds with the other theories which claim a place called “Yotsuya” existed before the coming of the Tokugawa. Again, not an unreasonable etymology but more recent than many other explanations.

Theory 3

There were originally 4 valleys with 4 hamlets each. The explanation is easier with a visual.

English meaning Japanese meaning Pre-modern spelling Extant names Rōma-ji
first valley 一の谷 *一谷 市ヶ谷 ichigaya
second valley 二の谷 *二谷
third valley 三の谷 *三谷
fourth valley 四の谷 四谷 四ッ谷 yotsuya

The words with * in front of them are hypothetical. That is to say, there is no documented case of those words. For the explanation about Ichigaya, see my last article. I don’t really buy into this theory for a few reasons. One, the etymology of Ichigaya is suspect. Two, there’s no trace of the other place names anywhere. And three, Yotsuya lacks the genitive particle which seems to be present in Ichigaya. If these names were a set, you’d think they’d be preserved as a set. Now, in defensive of this theory, if these names were especially ancient and written without any genitive particles and 2 of the names fell into disuse, the mental connection between the 2 remaining names could have been lost due to writing system. For example, Tōkyōites read 山手 as Yama no te, but no is not written. People from outside Tōkyō might read it as Yamate. Both readings are technically correct depending on where you live. So while I’m not a big fan of this etymology, I can at least imagine some conditions under which it could be true.

So now let’s look at some more of what I call the “Valley Group.”

.

Theory 4

As mentioned before 台地 daichi means plateaux and 谷地 yachi means lowlands. The idea is that the original place name was 谷地谷 Yachiya Lowland Valley. The name was corrupted and became Yotsuya and the kanji were subsequently changed to better reflect the pronunciation. The kanji for the number 4 was chosen to make 四谷 Yotsuya Forth Valley match nearby 一ヶ谷 Ichigaya First Valley. It makes a nice pattern and it could be true. But we don’t have place name Yachiya documented, nor do we have strong evidence that Ichigaya’s original first kanji was the number 1. So again, pure conjecture.

Theory 5

This is a variant of theory 4. The difference is this says the name does derive from 谷地谷 Yachiya (which has ridiculous looking kanji and is redundant), but from 萢谷 Yachiya.  萢 yachi means wetlands/bog. The name was corrupted and became Yotsuya and the kanji were subsequently changed to better reflect the pronunciation. Apparently, in Ibaraki there are two places called Yotsuya. Both are said to have come from this word. Today those places written 四ツ谷 and 余津谷. Because one place has the same spelling with the number 4, this leads me to think there might be no connection with other numbers. The number thing might just be totally made up or a coincidence at best.

Theory 6

Yotsuya originally represented a larger area that consisted of four valleys.

千日谷 Sen’nichidani
茗荷谷 Myōgadani
千駄ヶ谷 Sendagaya
大上谷  (狼谷) Ōkamidani

This theory postulates that the meaning of the word is not “the 4th valley,” but “the 4 valleys.”

The red pin is Edo Castle. The green pin is Yotsuya Station. The northernmost pin is Myogadani Station. The easternmost pin is Yoyogi-Uehara Station (Okamidani)

The red pin is Edo Castle.
The green pin is Yotsuya Station.
The northernmost pin is Myogadani Station.
The easternmost pin is Yoyogi-Uehara Station (Okamidani)

As you can see I the picture, Sen’nichidani and Sendagaya are really close to Yotsuya – just a short walk, really. But Myōgadani is about an hour’s walk from Yotsuya. Ōkamidani (present day Yoyogi Uehara) is not just over an hour’s walk away, it was totally outside of Edo at its height. If the name predates the Edo Period, I don’t know why that valley or Myōgadani would have been included in this “4 valleys” area. People of the Edo Period themselves who commented on this derivation also seemed to have taken it with a grain of salt.

Grave of Hattori Hanzo - ninja extraordinaire.

Grave of Hattori Hanzo – ninja extraordinaire.

To be honest, I’ve never done anything other than change trains at Yotsuya Station, but the area is pretty famous for a number of things. History lovers may want to check out 西念寺 Sainen-ji Sainen Temple and the remains of 四谷見附 Yotsuya Mitsuke. This temple is most famous for the grave of  服部半蔵 AKA Hattori Hanzō, the trusted vassal of Tokugawa Ieyasu and namesake of Edo Castle’s 半蔵門 Hanzō Mon Hanzō Gate (and subsequently the Hanzōmon Line subway). You can read more about him here. A little known fact is that there is a tower on the temple grounds honoring Ieyasu’s first born son, Nobuyasu. I don’t know much about the dude, but Nobuyasu was married to one of Oda Nobunaga’s daughters and was accused of plotting against Nobunaga. Nobunaga wasn’t having that shit and to confirm Ieyasu’s loyalty, told Ieyasu to order his son to commit seppuku. Nobuyasu seems to have been kinda cunty, but still, no father wants to order their son to slit his own belly and die. Nevertheless, Ieyasu made the command like a Sengoku badass. The thing that’s interesting about this to me is that (1) the first born son was the most important child to a family in those days so this had to be hard (2) Ieyasu seems to have held a grudge against his 2nd son, the second shōgun, Hidetada, for a number of reasons. I can’t help but wonder if this was one of them.

Yotsuya Gate during the Edo Period.

Yotsuya Gate during the Edo Period.

Very little remains of the 四谷御門 Yotsuya Go-mon Yotsuya Gate and 四谷見附 Yotsuya Mitsuke. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about what I’m looking at when I visit Japanese castles. But recently, I took a walk around the remains of Edo Castle with Eric from Jcastle.info and I’ve started looking at castles in a whole new light. I’m pretty into mitsuke now and Edo Castle had 36. Gotta catch ‘em all!

Yotsuya Gate Ruins

Yotsuya Gate Ruins

And lastly, I’d be an asshole if I didn’t bring up the legendary 四谷怪談 Yotsuya Kaidan The Ghost Story of Yotsuya. As you know, telling scary stories has been a national past time in Japan since time immemorial. This is one of the most famous ghost stories in Japan because it was originally immortalized as a kabuki play, but has been retold time and time again in various genres. Here’s Wikipedia’s article on the story.

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[i] And we will – once again – come to a dead end today.

[ii] “Houses” in the historical sense of families. Think Game of Thrones or any histories that you’ve read. The House of Caesar, the House of Charlemagne, the House of Tokugawa, the House of Kardashian.

[iii] More about this later, of course. But the previous “four families” could also be taken as “four shops” in that in the Edo Period (and indeed before then) because professions were inherited so in some ways 家 ya family and 屋 ya shop were interchangeable. Just look at the kanji for the fast food chain Yoshinoya 吉野家 Yoshino-ya which uses the kanji for family and not shop. (It’s generally assumed that this is not a family name but a reference to the hometown of the founder of the company). Either way, this illustrates a certain amount of flexibility with the kanji and meaning.

[iv] His book Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology is a fantastic look at the lay of the land and its impact on the growth of the Edo-Tōkyō. I can’t recommend it enough.

[v] The Genna Era is considered by some to be the “Golden Age” of the Edo Period. I’m not sure if I agree with that assessment, but that’s just personal taste, now isn’t it? Anyhoo, this is probably the most exciting part of the Edo Period because we see the succession of the first three Tokugawa shōguns, the most dramatic expansions of Edo Castle, the rise of Edo as the premier city in the realm, and gradual closing off of Japan. This era really sets the tone as a “Tokugawa Era.”

What does Asakusa mean?

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on November 13, 2013 at 3:06 am

浅草
Asakusa (Low Grass)

Senso-ji at night

Senso-ji at night

I was going to keep this one short, but since Asakusa is one of those spots that comes up not just as one of the top tourist attractions of Tōkyō but all of Japan[i], I figured I’d spend a little extra time on this one and do it right the first time. So today we’ll look at an overall history of Asakusa and then take a quick look at the etymology of the name.

As far as I know, this place name only occurs in Edo-Tōkyō. The areas that preserve this place name today are:

浅草 Asakusa Asakusa
浅草橋 Asakusabashi Asakusa Bridge
西浅草 Nishi-Asakusa West Asakusa
元浅草 Moto-Asakusa Old Asakusa

However, it should be noted that an 浅草区 Asakusa-ku Asakusa Ward existed from 1878-1947. At that time, the places called Asakusa increased. After 1947, the number of Asakusa place names decreased dramatically until what is today considered is Asakusa is defined by little more than a train station here or there and a few vestigial postal addresses. But some 江戸っ子 Edokko 3rd generation Tōkyōites might consider some nearby neighborhoods as Asakusa, when technically they are not.

Senso-ji is crowded all year long.

Senso-ji is crowded all year long.

The Asakusa Station area is teeming with tourists from all over the world. I first visited Asakusa in 2002 and I loved the shitamachi flavor, but I really didn’t have any sort of appreciation for what I was seeing. But the more I learn about the Edo and the Meiji Periods, the more I feel I can really sink my teeth into the area. But to be honest, except for the temple precinct, most of the charm of the area is its lingering Shōwa Era past.  And that’s all fine and good. Just know what you’re looking at.

Most Tōkyōites would put Asakusa in their top 3 places to visit in Tōkyō[ii].

The nakamise - a row of roughly 89 small shops selling everything from chopsticks, to dolls, to

The nakamise – a row of roughly 89 small shops selling everything from chopsticks, to dolls, to “ichiban” t-shirts, to yukata and kimono, to beer.
This shot is great because you can see the Kaminari Mon, the first gate, and the nakamise. Then at the end of the nakamise you can see the massive Hozomon Gate (also called Niomon) which was built in 942 by Taira no Kinmasa. Beyond that is the main hall (honden or Kan’non-do) which was built under the auspices of Tokugawa Iemitsu. The honden was destroyed in the firebombing of Tokyo. The current structure was rebuilt in the 1950’s.

The Story So Far…

The beginnings are purely mythical. In 628, some brothers were fishing in the 宮戸側川 Miyato-gawa Miyato River[iii] and – surprise, surprise – they caught a statue of 観音 Kan’non the goddess of mercy in their fishing nets[iv]. The brothers enshrined the statue in their home and kept it for private worship. It’s interesting to note, that this year, 628, just happened to be the same year as the death of 推古天皇 Suiko Tennō Empress Suiko, whose reign had seen great encouragement of Buddhism. This time in general is seen as a tipping point for the broader acceptance of Buddhism in Japan.

In 645, having been shared with the local villagers from time to time, the statue was made into a  hibutsu, image of Buddha hidden from the public. Then a proper temple was established.

Both dates, 628 and 645, are considered the founding of Asakusa-dera or Sensō-ji (we don’t know which pronunciation was prevalent at the time[v]). Also both dates would still earn it the title of the oldest temple in Edo-Tōkyō. It seems that by 942, the first 雷門 kaminari mon thunder gate[vi] had been established, although in a different location.

From here on out we will see a dichotomy between Asakusa (the area) and Sensō-ji (the temple).

Remember, all of this is preserved in the legends and records of the temple itself. There doesn’t seem to be any corroborating evidence elsewhere. In fact, the area isn’t recorded by non-temple sources until around 1266. At that time it is mentioned in a Kamakura Period text called the 吾妻鏡 Azuma Kagami Mirror of the West.

The Kaminari mon is where most people enter the temple precinct. It's located next to Asakusa Station and is one of the most famous landmark's in all of Japan.

The Kaminari mon is where most people enter the temple precinct. It’s located next to Asakusa Station and is one of the most famous landmark’s in all of Japan.

The common understanding is that the temple was founded on a small plateau on the west bank of the Sumida River. A 門前町 monzenchō[vii]  formed around the temple precinct and continued growing from that time. Because of the town’s location on the Sumida River, which was good for trading, the town not only prospered, but attracted the best craftsmen of the region. Temple records indicate thriving trade between the Kamakura area and this region.

Legend has it that when 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo Minamoto Yoritomo chose Kamakura as his capital (thus establishing the first of the 3 great shōgunates), he couldn’t find sufficiently skilled craftsmen in the area. On one occasion, he camped along the Sumida River near Asakusa. He visited the temple, as one does, and was so impressed with the builders that he hired them to come to Kamakura to build 鶴岡八幡宮 Tsuru-ga-oka Hachiman-gū which is still one of Kamakura’s grandest shrines[viii]. It’s said that trade between Asakusa and Kamakura was so intense that by the time the shōgunate collapsed, many of Kamakura’s merchants and artisans had relocated to Asakusa[ix].

Minamoto no Yoritomo visiting Senso-ji in the 1180.

Minamoto no Yoritomo visiting Senso-ji in the 1180.

Temple and shrine building wasn’t a big deal in the Sengoku Period, but carpentry and building skills were definitely in demand. It’s not hard to imagine some of the craftsmen of Asakusa being hired to help the Toshima, the Hōjō, the Edo Clan, or even crazy ol’ Ōta Dōkan in their building efforts[x].

Prior to the Edo Period, Asakusa was just a prosperous temple town on the river. But with the coming of the Tokugawa, everything changed. Urban sprawl from nearby by Chiyoda/Edo soon brought the area under the influence of the shōgun’s capital at such an early stage that Edo Period people and modern Tōkyōites generally just considered the area to have been part of Edo since time immemorial – even though for most of its existence, Asakusa was a separate town from the hamlet of Edo.

This

This “shinkyo” or sacred bridge is all that remains of Asakusa Tosho-gu.

The temple came under a particularly special patronage by the shōgun family because the head priest of Zōjō-ji had claimed that Asakusa Kan’non was the strongest deity in the Kantō area and that she had served Minamoto Yoritomo well[xi]. Tokugawa Ieyasu believed this deity helped him achieve total victory at the Battle of Sekigahara and as such it received great honors from the shōgunal family. While the temple was endowed by Edo’s most elite, its main mission was catering to the common people – a brilliant PR move on both Ieyasu and the temple’s parts[xii]. The temple has always been important to the commoners of Edo-Tōkyō.

In 1657, after the Meireki Fire[xiii] burned Edo down to the fucking ground, the licensed pleasure quarters called Yoshiwara was relocated from Nihonbashi to the area north of Asakusa because this was just a northern suburb at the time. Remember, we’re only 57 years into the Edo Period, son. Anyways, this transformed the area from just a pilgrimage spot to a proper tourist destination. And not just any old tourist destination; a tourist destination with a happy ending – if you know what I mean.

As lively as the area had become, its fame was only getting greater. In the 1840’s, after some crack downs on unlicensed kabuki theaters[xiv], the three prominent licensed kabuki theaters were forced to relocated to the Asakusa area. The area’s reputation as a center of nightlife was already secured, but adding popular theater to the area guaranteed this legacy for several more generations[xv].

By the way, if you’re curious about kabuki, Samurai Archives has a 2 part podcast crash course that you can listen to here.

Kabuki

Kabuki

In the Meiji Era, kabuki received imperial patronage and the underground kabuki theaters were as legit as the formerly licensed ones. Soon cinemas opened up in the area which showcased a foreign art form that the Japanese immediately became infatuated with. The area was now a bigger destination than ever; home to one of Tōkyō’s grandest temples and a vibrant theater district. Nearby Yoshiwara was still going off like crazy. Until WWII, Asakusa and Yoshiwara defined nightlife Japanese style.

It should be noted that in the Meiji Period, the temple lands were made into a park, naturally called 浅草公園 Asakusa Kōen Asakusa Park. The area was not unlike modern 上野公園 Ueno Kōen Ueno Park. The centerpiece of the park was Sensō-ji, but the real attractions were the theaters, cinemas, izakaya, and pleasure quarter overflow.

Postcard depicting Asakusa Park before the Great Kanto Earthquake. The tower in the back was Japan's first skyscraper, the Ryōunkaku.

Postcard depicting Asakusa Park before the Great Kanto Earthquake. The tower in the back was Japan’s first skyscraper, the Ryōunkaku.

Yoshiwara

Yoshiwara

Then WWII happened.

I’m sad to say that most of Sensō-ji and the Asakusa area were destroyed in the firebombing of March 1945. In a pattern similar to the other major temples of Edo-Tōkyō – Kan’ei-ji, Zōjō-ji – Sensō-ji found itself one of the biggest landholders but without a single yen to rebuild. They basically had no choice but to sell off their lands to get the money to rebuild the temple. The look of Asakusa changed dramatically. Today, the area retains nothing of its Asakusa Park halcyon days and even less of its Edo Period look.

During the Occupation, places like Yoshiwara came under the puritanical eye of the Americans at GHQ. The Yoshiwara was mostly burnt to the ground and so under General MacArthur’s orders it was not to be rebuilt. Plans were made for the moats to be filled in and the area was to be normalized into the reconstructed Tōkyō. While Asakusa and Yoshiwara were not the same place, keep in mind that their histories were intertwined since the Edo Period.

I mentioned this briefly in my series on the graves of the Tokugawa shōguns, so I should mention it here again because very few people know about this. If you turn towards the east of the 本殿 honden the main temple of Sensō-ji (ie; if you’re facing the honden, turn right and walk toward the bay), you’ll walk out of the east entrance which is called 二天文 Niten Mon[xvi].

The Niten mon was recently restored to glorious condition and it's now illuminated at night. The two statues were brought in from Kan'ei-ji.

The Niten mon was recently restored to glorious condition and it’s now illuminated at night. The two statues were brought in from Kan’ei-ji.

This gate didn’t survive the firebombing, but when it was rebuilt, Kan’ei-ji and the Tokugawa family made a special donation. Gen’yūin, Tokugawa Ietsuna’s mausoleum in Ueno[xvii], was also destroyed in the firebombing. Apparently, the gate itself was destroyed beyond repair, but the statues inside survived. The statues were moved here to Sensō-ji to remind the people of Tōkyō that the spirits of the Tokugawa shōguns were still protecting them.

So That’s The Story
What’s the Etymology?

Sorry, that’s the only reason come here anyways, lol.

OK, let’s get down to the biz nasty.

The etymology of Asakusa has been researched by people since the Kamakura Period[xviii] and people have been coming across the same roadblock every time.

浅草寺 Asakusa-dera

浅草寺 Sensō-ji
浅草寺 Sensō-ji

浅草寺 Asakusa-dera

Same Kanji, Different Readings

Asakusa-dera is the native Japanese reading. This reading is plainer than the Chinese reading, Sensō-ji. As most of the major Buddhist teachings came to Japan via China, the Chinese reading would be more prestigious – more in touch with this new foreign and exotic religion.

There are no written records to support this but common sense would lead one to the conclusion that the name Asakusa is the older name – it most likely predates the temple. Once a proper temple was built and Chinese learning was imported, the temple assumed the local name but used the Chinese reading. So 浅草 asa kusa became 浅草 sen sō in the Chinese reading.  The village continued to use its native Japanese name. Today the area is still called Asakusa, even though the temple is called Sensō-ji.

Aerial shot of Senso-ji before WWII. Note the 5-story pagoda is to the right of the main hall. Today it stands on the left side.

Aerial shot of Senso-ji before WWII. Note the 5-story pagoda is to the right of the main hall. Today it stands on the left side.

Look at the Kanji

This is the least reliable way to look at ancient place names, including Asakusa. However, in this case, I think we can trust these kanji because a temple would require reading and writing of its priests. The temple’s history pre-dates any attempted at standardization of kanji, but what they present is fairly solid.

asa ain’t nuthin’ goin’ on
kusa grass

OK, so what do the kanji tell us?

There are many theories, but the most popular one is this:

浅草 asa kusa shameful/bald grass

The idea being, the Musashi Plain was famous for its untamed and tall grasses[xix]. This area had no grass. Long time readers of Japan This! will know that the grasses of the Musashi Plain were famous and appear time and time again in etymologies. Another interpretation is that the grasses were short, not tall as in other untamed areas.
Some other etymologies have been suggested.

麻草 asa kusa hemp grass[xx]
藜草 akazakusa goosefoot or lamb’s quarter


These are references to other types of vegetation in the area

After the firebombing in March 1945.
This isn’t Senso-ji. It’s Higashi Hongan-ji, located in the former Asakusa Ward.
But you can see how utterly complete the destruction was.
The wooden city was burned to the ground and thousands of lives were lost.

Two other etymologies are circulating.

Ainu

アツアクサ atsu akusa cross over the sea

Asakusa isn’t really next to the sea today. Edo Bay (Tōkyō Bay) is located a bit south of the area). But it’s located on the west bank of the Sumida River, one of the largest inlets that lined the area in ancient times. While it’s hard to consider it “crossing the sea” today, maybe 1500 years ago it was more like crossing the sea. While we can use imagination and give it a little head nod, we can never know if this is true.

Tibetan

アーシャクシャ aashakusha place where a Buddhist holy man lived

Not to be an asshole, but c’mon… this is the most contrived etymology EVER.

But as I said, the first theory, the literal one (low grass) is the predominant theory. The Ainu language theory carries a certain amount of weight, but can’t really be proven. I think we can dismiss the others.

So that’s Asakusa, bitches.

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[i] Asakusa as a tourist destination goes back all the way to the Edo Period when the area truly began to flourish under the patronage of the Tokugawa shōgun family.
[ii] I wouldn’t put it on my Top 5 list, though it would make my Top 10. Asakusa doesn’t really make sense unless you understand Edo-Tōkyō history well. So Tōkyōites hold it up as something awesome, but I feel it’s a massive let down for outsiders. But I suppose it depends what you’re looking for…
[iii] Today this is the  隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River.
[iv] Where have we heard this before? (too many times to count by now…)
[v] But we have a good idea. More about this later!
[vi] Or lightning gate. The kanji are the same.
[vii] Please don’t make me explain what monzenchō were again…
[viii] The name nicely translates to “Great Shrine to Hachiman on the Hill of Cranes.” Hachiman was the war god.
[ix] Presumably the Sumida River made for better trading/business.
[x] Purely conjecture on my part.
[xi] Ieyasu used a contrived genealogy to link his family to the Minamoto clan as a familial claim to the rank of shōgun.
[xii] There used to be a Tōshō-gū on the premises but it was destroyed in WWII.
[xiii] Read more about fires in Edo here.
[xiv] The Tokugawa shōgunate always had a bug up its butt about sexual impropriety. The glorified martial virtues of the Sengoku Period were often in conflict with the arts and the “looser living” of the non-martial classes. In short, they felt that artists and actors and commoners made for a “loose morals ticking time bomb.”
[xv] As I’ve often gone on about 山手 yamanote high city and 下町 shitamachi low city, the lower classes and upper classes of Tokugawa society weren’t often legally allowed to mix – although they did. Asakusa was quite unique in the fact that they received patronage from the shōgunate but were always allowed to keep their humble mission of serving the common people intact. It might be said that Asakusa is where samurai and commoner were equal. Some of this might also be due to the proximity of Yoshiwara in which, in theory at least, all customers were to be treated as equals.
[xvi] Here’s a quick explanation of what Niten means.
[xvii] Tokugawa Ietsuna was the 4th Tokugawa shōgun, my article on his mausoleum is here.
[xviii] Well, at least that’s the first time we see it recorded.
[xix] The word is 草深い kusabukai verdant grass, literally deep grass.
[xx] The Japanese varieties seem to never have been cultivated for their psychoactive qualities, so these were plant cultivated firstly for building and cloth making and occasionally for medicine making in the form of 漢方 kanpō fake herbal medicine from China.

What does Ushigome mean?

In Japan, Japanese Castles, Travel in Japan on September 24, 2013 at 6:08 pm

牛込
Ushigome (Crowd of Cows)

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon. Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon.
Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.
But nary a cow in sight… lol

ushi

cow

komi[i]

swarming, huddling, amassed, crowded,
“in bulk”

According to Japanese Wikipedia[ii], in 701, in accordance to the Taihō Code, a livestock ranch was established in this area. In fact, two were established which were sometimes referred to as 牛牧 gyūmaki a cow ranch and 馬牧 umamaki a horse ranch. These two locations came to be referred to as 牛込 Ushigome and 駒込 Komagome.

The fact that there was a cattle/dairy ranch here in the Asuka Period is a known fact (it’s documented). The horse ranch is a different story. In all of my research about Komagome, I didn’t find a single mention of this. When you look up Ushigome, many articles tend to mention Komagome, and I think that because of the strength of the evidence in support of the Ushigome being a literal etymology, the writers try to associate Komagome with it. But this would be a false etymology. Their logic: two places have similar names, they must be related, right?[iii]

Well, anyways, it’s possible that there is a connection between the two (one of the theories about Komagome is that it was a place where horses were herded into a confined space). There just isn’t any record of this being so. When we don’t have the evidence we should always take that theory with a grain of salt.

But with Ushigome, rest assured, this is most likely the case.

Cattle ranches aren't really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can't really imagine what one would have looked like. However, I found this 1950's aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950's and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this....

Cattle ranches aren’t really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can’t really imagine what one would have looked like.
However, I found this 1950’s aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950’s and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this….

In an edict during the reign of 文武天皇 Monmu Tennō Emperor Monmu (701-704) a place variously referred to as 神崎牛牧 Kanzaki no Gyūmaki Kanzaki Cattle Ranch and 乳牛院 Gyūnyūin “The Milk Institute” was established in the area in the vicinity of 元赤城神社 Moto-Akasaka Jinja Old Akasaka Shrine[iv].

Asakusa Shrine

Today Old Asakusa Shrine is just an afterthought to this building.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's busiest and craziest areas, Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s busiest and craziest areas, present day Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

A branch of the 大胡氏 Ōgo-shi Ōgo clan from 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province had been living in the Ushigome area since the 1300’s and, if I’m not mistaken, originally held dominion over the area from present day Shinjuku to Ushigome.

In 1553 a member of said clan switched allegiance from the Uesugi to the Hōjō and in return was granted dominion over the area stretching from present day Ushigome to Hibiya (ie; Edo Bay)[v]. The lord built a castle (fortified residence) somewhere in that area and took the place name to establish his own branch of the family and thus the Ushigome clan was born, 牛込氏 Ushigome-shi. The area is elevated so it would have been defensible. It also had a view of Edo Bay and so they could keep an eye on who was coming in and out of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay[vi].

In 1590, the Hōjō were defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Tokugawa Ieyasu was famously granted the 関八州 Kanhasshū the 8 Kantō Provinces, which included Edo. Ieyasu evicted the residents of the castle and confiscated the property.

It’s not clear where the castle was located, but there is a tradition at 光照寺 Kōshō-ji Kōshō Temple that says the temple was built on the site of 牛込城 Ushigome Castle. I’ve never looked for myself, but it seems like there are no ruins that confirm this story[vii]. There is a nice sign, though.

Being a large plateau, in the Edo Period, this area was clearly 山手 yamanote the high city and was populated by massive daimyō residences and the homes of high ranking 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun.

Fans of Edo Castle or just any history-minded resident of Tōkyō will recognize the name 牛込橋 Ushigomebashi Ushigome Bridge. This bridge led from Kagurazaka to Edo Castle. If you crossed the bridge you would arrive at  牛込見附 Ushigome-mitsuke Ushigome Approach[viii] and there you would see the 牛込御門 Ushigome go-mon Ushigome Gate. The bridge spanned 牛込濠 Ushigomebori Ushigome Moat. Today the moat is dammed up under the bridge and the Chūō Line runs under it. On one side you can see the moat, on the other side – if I remember correctly – are just trees, a small skyscraper, and a train station; another fine example of Japan bulldozing over and building over its past. That said, there’s plenty to see and do in the area if you feel like having a history walk in the area.

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke. The area under the bridge is already partially dammed up.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It's a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you're trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It’s a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you’re trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

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[i] For an explanation of this sound change from /komi/ to /gome/, please see my article on Komagome.
[ii] By the way, I didn’t get all my info from Wikipedia. Duh!
I just quoted it to show you how commonplace this Komagome/Ushigome thing is.
[iii] Wrong.
[iv] I’m pretty sure the name Akasaka Shrine and the name of Akasaka are a coincidence… but I may need to look further into this (because OMG my original article says nothing about this). The Ōgo clan was originally based at a mountain in present day Gunma Prefecture called 赤城山 Akagi-san Red Castle Mountain, when they came to this area, they established a shrine called Akasaka Shrine (Red Hill). The original shrine is in Waseda, Shinjuku. Originally in 牛込台 Ushigomedai Ushigome Plateau, it was moved twice – once in 1460 by Ōta Dōkan and again in 1555 by the Ōgo themselves. The shrine still exists in Shinjuku.
[v] Their holdings included 桜田 Sakurada (yes, the same Sakurada of 桜田門 Sakuradamon fame), 赤坂 Akasaka, and 日比谷 Hibiya. Anyone familiar with Edo Castle will immediately recognize their names and their connection to the castle.
[vi] The presence of another lord so close to where the Edo Clan and Ōta Dōkan had their fortified residences adds more to my assertion that Edo wasn’t just “an obscure fishing village” when the Tokugawa arrived.
[vii] UPDATE: There may be some evidence. If you’re interested, check out this blog! (Japanese only)
[viii] Essentially a look out and security check point leading into the castle grounds. For more on what a mitsuke is, check my article on Akasaka-mitsuke.

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