marky star

Posts Tagged ‘tokyo bay’

Where is Goten’yama today?

In Japanese History on March 29, 2017 at 5:55 am

御殿山
Goten’yama
(palace hill)

Hiroshige-Famous_Places_In_The_Eastern_Capital-Twilight_Cherries_At_Gotenyama-01-05-21-2007-8594-x2000

Today, we’re breaking from the usual etymology and location breakdown because I’ve already covered this area. I’m sticking to the recent theme of cherry blossoms, but I’d like to try something a little different. Bear with me. But I think you’re all going to like this. There’s an accompanying video at the bottom in which I’ll walk you around all these places.

御殿山 Goten’yama was one of the most popular 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing spots in 江戸 Edo. It was a bluff in 品川 Shinagawa that sat on the coast of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. It was outside of the city limits of the shōgun’s capital, located in 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni, Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province near the 二里塚 niri-zuka, a milestone indicating this area was roughly 4.88 miles (7.854 km) from 日本橋 Nihonbashi on the 東海道 Tōkaidō, the highway connecting the shōgunal capital of Edo with the imperial capital of 京都 Kyōto. It was one of the most celebrated spots for hanami, and might still be today, had the shōgunate not destroyed the mountain in 1853 to dump the dirt into the bay for the urgent construction of the 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries.

sakura

I’ve written about Goten’yama, the Shinagawa Daiba, and to a certain degree Shinagawa. But, I decided to expand on the topic a little bit. I thought it might be nice to compare the area then and now because it’s changed so much – and I’m not just talking about them literally tearing down the mountain. If we transported an Edoite to our time, they’d recognize the layout of the streets, but would be shocked by the destruction of the coastline by landfill and development. They might also find it funny what bits and pieces still exist today and how they’ve been incorporated into our modern lives.

Long time readers should be familiar with most of these topics, but for noobs or anyone wanting to brush up, it’s highly recommended you check out these past articles:

IMG_5336

Fishing boats in Shinagawa. Actually, you can charter these and they’ll take you fishing in Tōkyō Bay.

Let’s Look at Goten’yama

Hopefully the video walk-through of Goten’yama and its immediate environs will give you an idea of what the place looks like and feels like on the street level. It’s one thing to look at a flat 2D map, it’s another to actually explore the space first hand – everything feels different. Hopefully the video will give you a better sense of this small, but important section of 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku Shinagawa Post Town, nicknamed 江戸の玄関 Edo no Genkan Edo’s Doorstep[i].

And so, I present you with a map of Shinagawa and Goten’yama in the late Edo Period, but before the government made any major changes to the area in the 幕末 Bakumatsu last days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate (1853-1868).

before 1853

Familiarize yourself with a few of these place names and the geography. We’re about to go deep.

Fishermen, Travelers, Merchants, Sightseers, Oiran, and Samurai

Being a safe location on a bay with calm waters rich with seafood and so busy with land based travelers coming and going every day, Shinagawa turned into a town focused on customer service. Travelers needed lodging and places to eat. They needed places to bathe and purchase goods. Fresh fish and a view of the greatest seaside view an Edo Period person could possibly see were more than enough to make Shinagawa an attractive place to spend not only one, but two days. One of the main attractions was prostitution, big business in any post town[ii]. The difference was, Shinagawa offered access to Goten’yama which gave you access to a commanding, aerial view of the bay. During the day, you could see fishing boats on the water, in the evening, you could see pleasure boats – and just imagine the hijinks that went down on those private voyages[iii].

dozo sagami

Dozō Sagami, a kura-zukuri (fireproof warehouse style) high end brothel in Shinagawa-shuku which featured first class courtesans – including oiran, the highest ranking girls to play with.

Many of the 茶屋 chaya teahouses (read: brothels) here became quite famous. One place in particular, the 土蔵相模 Dozō Sagami, remained in operation up until the ban on prostitution by the American Occupation. After that, it operated as a hotel well into the 1950’s. Dozō Sagami had a reputation as a quite high class brothel and was popular among the samurai class. Many anti-shōgunate terrorists frequented this teahouse during the Bakumatsu. The most infamous of these anti-government agitators was a group 17 samurai from 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain and one from 薩摩藩 Satsuma Han Satsuma Domain who held an all-day party here eating, drinking, and banging “tea girls” as if it was their last day on earth.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

A room called the Midōshi no Ma inside Dozō Sagami

And, indeed, it was their last day on earth. The next day, resolved to achieve their goal or die trying, they ambushed the shōgunal regent 井伊直弼 Ii Naosuke as he and his entourage left his 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence to attend a meeting next door in 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. This brazen assassination of the highest ranking shōgunate official in broad daylight was the first of many instances of terrorism that would plague the shōgunate as well as foreign diplomats and merchants in what would become the end of the Pax Tokugawa.

Shinagawa-shuku wasn’t just blessed by the calm waters of Edo Bay, the old post town was protected by a promontory, originally a sandbar created by the estuary of the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River that flowed into the bay. That finger-shaped jetty protected the mainland from the occasional irregular high tide or, presumably, tsunami[iv]. Whether it actually prevented catastrophes or not, I don’t know. However, this natural land mass was built up by the shōgunate and came to be known as 洲崎 Susaki which literally means “sandbar promontory,” and it was a permanent fixture of Shinagawa-shuku and you can clearly see it in many famous 浮世絵 ukiyo-e wood block prints. Families of certain fishermen here produced 御菜肴 o-saisakana snacks made from seafood and veggies that were presented to Edo Castle in exchange for their piscatory monopoly in the area.

whale.jpg

Not in Shinagawa, but this scene of a beached whale in a harbor gives you a good idea of how impressive the scene we’re about to talk about must have been to the average person on the street. The view from up on a hill is strikingly similar to how the view would have been from Goten’yama.

In 1798, during the reign of 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari[v], a whale washed ashore onto this promontory. This seems to have been a pretty unusual occurrence[vi], and it attracted a lot of local attention. In an age without TV, the word on the street finally made it to Edo Castle itself. Everyone one wanted to come see this huge sea creature that died on the banks of Susaki. It was such a big deal that the shōgun himself even came down to see what was up with this big ass dead fish on his doorstep[vii]. To this day, Shinagawa uses whales in various places as a decorative theme.

IMG_5322.jpg

Kagata Shrine (former Susaki Benten/Benzaiten) on the old Susaki promontory – the cherry blossoms buds are ready to bloom.

A notable feature of the promontory was 洲崎弁天 Susaki Benten a temple dedicated to 弁才天 Benzaiten, the only female deity in the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck. After the 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei Edict Separating Shintō and Buddhism in 1868, the temple chose to retain its Shintō attributes and came to be known as 利田神社 Kagata Jinja Kagata Shrine, the name it retains to this day[viii].

kujira zuka.jpg

Kujira-zuka, the memorial stone of the beached whale.

On the grounds of the shrine, you can find a monument called the 鯨塚 Kujira-zuka Whale Mound. This was a grave built in memory of the beached whale that died on Susaki. It’s an interesting hold over of premodern syncretic religion in Japan. While Shintō tends to distance itself from the spiritual defilement of death, Buddhism embraces it as part of the cycle of life[ix]. However, Shintō is strongly tied to locations with unique spiritual attributes. Susaki Benzaiten was not constrained by any distinction between the religions (they were blended) and so it could justifiably perform funerary rites for the whale and honor it as a 神 kami Shintō deity local to the area all in one fell swoop[x].

Further Reading:

 

gotenyama hanami

This ukiyo-e is amazing because it is composed at the top of Goten’yama, but you can clearly see the commoner post town of Shinagawa-shuku below. The people on the mountain top are clearly elites. Oh, and look to the right side, you can see the Susaki promontory. You can also see that hanami habits haven’t changed much. People threw down towels so they didn’t have to sit on the ground, something very true in Japan today.

oiran.jpg

Oiran such as this provided upscale sexxxy time at the Dozō Sagami.

Let’s Walk up the Hill to Goten’yama

Sure, people were coming and going through Shinagawa all the time. Some were leaving the capital, some were coming to the capital. They came by land and they came by road. As I mentioned earlier, some were already in town and just came for drinking and whoring because… who doesn’t enjoy banging courtesans on the balcony of a traditional Japanese room with a decanter of sake in one hand while the sun sets over the bay with all those fishing boats out there on the water and no one’s the wiser[xi]?

IMG_5352

But it wasn’t all dead whales and prostitutes. The real highlight of the year, was the cherry blossom season. Goten’yama was THE hanami spot par excellence for the discerning Edoite[xii]. This small mountain was located a hop, skip, and a jump away from the shoreline and was covered in cherry blossoms. The commoners who lived in the shitty towns below could make a quick trek up to the top of the mountain in minutes. The rich samurai and daimyō who lived at the top could do the same. And if their timing was right, travelers coming and going could spend an hour or so enjoying the view under the cherry trees[xiii]. The ease of coming here on foot in a kimono from the heart of the city[xiv] can’t be understated[xv].

hiroshige gotenyama hanami-2.jpg

The top of the hill on the bayside was open to the public like a modern park. Going slightly further inland, it was home to massive estates owned by the daimyō and smaller estates owned by samurai closely affiliated with the Tokugawa Shōgunate. To this day, you can still see a huge difference between Shinagawa the post town and Shinagawa in modern Goten’yama.

hiroshige shinagawa susaki

Shinagawa-shuku, Toriumi Bridge, and Susaki Benzaiten.

Anyhoo, hanami-goers often broke up their celebrations under the floating pink petals to venture down the hill to visit the plethora of shops in Shinagawa to eat or buy goods to bring back up to the top of the mountain[xvi]. Couples often descended the mountain to cross 鳥海橋 Toriumibashi Toriumi Bridge to visit Susaki Benten (Kagata Shrine), in flagrant disregard of the unwritten taboo against couples visiting shrines dedicated to Benzaiten[xvii].

gotenyamashitadaiba2010-2

Defending the Bay from the Foreign Threat

So, as we all know, in 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Edo Bay with his so-called Black Ships. He told the shōgunate to open the country or be opened by force. He then left, promising to come back in one year to seal the deal. The second he had left the bay, the government freaked out. One faction, led by the regent Ii Naosuke recognized the Americans’ superior military technology and wisely opted to open the country to foreigners in order to purchase modern weaponry and bring the country to equal footing with the westerners[xviii]. In the meantime, they decided, it was in the shōgunate’s best interest to build a string of 11 batteries across the bay to take out any warship that might attempt to invade Edo by sea.

daiba2013wk2.jpg

Only 7 batteries were built in the end, the so-called 品川台場 Shinagawa Daiba Shinagawa Batteries. Most of the landfill used to create these manmade islands had to come from somewhere. The shōgunate identified two large, uninhabited sources of dirt on the coast: Goten’yama and Yatsuyama[xix]. Goten’yama famously suffered the worst of the devastation. The government began quarrying the famous hanami spot tirelessly over the ensuing months[xx] .

IMG_2072

Typical Edo Period stone walls along the coast.

The Tokugawa Shōgunate planned to build 11 cannon batteries across the bay, but given they had only 12 months and limited resources to scramble and execute this plan – and let’s not forget, Perry actually returned a bit earlier than promised – they were only able to constructed seven manmade islands in the bay. The term Shinagawa Batteries usually refers to this entire project, but the common understanding is that it means the seven forts that were actually constructed and fortified. An eighth coastal battery which was an extension of the Susaki Promontory is generally not included in the mix. We’ll look at this unsung daiba in a minute.

cut away

This ukiyo-e by Hiroshige clearly shows the devastation of the quarrying. The ground below is flat, and now there are cliffs of bare rock. There are still a few cherry blossoms up top, though.

The areas most heavily quarried were 北品川3丁目 Kita Shinagawa Sanchōme 3rd Block of North Shinagawa and 北品川4丁目 Kita Shinagawa Yonchōme 4th Block of North Shinagawa[xxi]. The 3rd block was completely gutted – so much so that a flat-as-flat-can-be parking lot shows up in Google Maps as the remains of the mining operation. The 4th block was well-gutted, but stood at the top of the road from which they brought dirt down to the bay – a road that is today called 御殿山通 Goten’yama Dōri Goten’yama Street.

At the bottom of Goten’yama, a place called quite literally 御殿山下 Goten’yama-shita the bottom of Goten’yama, the shōgunate built an 8th coastal battery. The name, unexpectedly, was 御殿山下台場 Goten’yama-shita Daiba Battery at the Bottom of Goten’yama. Presumably, this took minimal work to construct, since they were just dragging down wheelbarrows of dirt from Goten’yama to the Susaki Promontory and dumping it into the bay. They built a pretty bad ass fort for themselves there, and to this day you can still actually walk the shape of the original landfill. Spoilers – it’s an elementary school today.

misaki1

After the construction of the Goten’yama-shita Daiba on the coast of the Susaki promontory. The red line is the Tōkaidō.

misaki2

Today, you can still kinda see the shape of the Daiba, but the bay has been completely filled in except for a few channels and inlets. The red line, again, is the Old Tōkaidō.

The Death of Goten’yama

Despite its easternmost section completely demolished, and a huge section of the neighboring western section quarried beyond repair, Goten’yama could have recovered as a prime hanami spot in Edo-Tōkyō. It really could have. After all, except for the harbor and post town, the area was still quite rustic in those days.

gotenyama train

However, in 1872, the government decided to replace the old Tōkaidō with a new train line[xxii]. The new train line roughly followed the path of the old highway, and required gutting huge areas of land for train tracks. The dividing line for the 3rd and 4th blocks of Kita Shinagawa was created by the train tracks that pass through the area. Since the shōgunate had done all the heavy lifting by quarrying Goten’yama in the 1850’s, this seemed like the easiest place to lay tracks connecting 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station with 川崎駅 Kawasaki Eki Kawasaki Station. To this day, the difference in elevation between the bottom of Goten’yama on one side of the tracks and the top on the other is striking. Also, you can get a feel for the differences between the 山手 yamanote high city and 下町 shitamachi low city. Down below, all the lots are tiny, cramped, and located directly on the noisy, old Tōkaidō – and they’re mostly shops. Up top, the lots are spacious, walled off, and quiet – and mostly residential.

Further Reading:

IMG_5335

Houses on what was a later extension of the Susaki Promontory.

Obscure Today, but Shinagawa is a Key Understanding Edo-Tōkyō

Shinagawa is waaaaay more than just the Goten’yama area. We could talk about this whole stretch of the old Tōkaidō for hours. In the video, I said I could spend all day here just exploring – and that’s really true. I could spend a lifetime exploring the area. And I do. I spend an inordinate amount of time in Shinagawa and the surrounding areas because… the stories to be discovered and retold never end. Ueno is the same way. All of Edo Period history converges on these areas.

So, there’s the video. I explored the whole area and I hope you this article gave you a better context for what I was talking about when I’ve written about Shinagawa, Goten’yama, and the old Tōkaidō highway.

sakura_report00

As usual, I have no way to conclude this article. We’ve looked at a huge swath of history and geography. So, go back and look at the pictures and maps. There’s no narrative this time. Look at what Edo was and what Edo became and then what Tōkyō did with that.

Help Support JapanThis!

Follow JapanThis! on Twitter
JapanThis! on Facefook
JapanThis! on Flickr
JapanThis! on Instagram
Support Support Every Article on Patreon
Donate via Paypal (msg via Facebook)
Donate with BitCoin (msg via Facebook)
Explore Edo-Tōkyō Do You Even History Geek, Bro?

[i] Translating Edo no Genkan is tough. In English, maybe “the Entrance to Edo” is the most natural and easily understood. But that would 江戸の入口 Edo no Iriguchi. Everything has an iriguchi (entrance) – buses, highways, bathrooms, etc. A genkan is literally “the entrance to a Japanese home where you take off your shoes, put away your umbrellas, and then literally step up into the owner’s private living area which is raised up above the filthy ground level.” When you arrived in Shinagawa, you weren’t in the shōgun’s capital yet. You were on the periphery, but you were about to enter the greatest city in the realm – which was, quite literally, the property of the shogun. Travelers into Edo, would have thrown out old shoes and bought new ones in Shinagawa, hoping to make a good impression in the cultural epicenter of Japan (outgoing travelers also would have bought shoes here for their long treks as well). Getting a hot bath in Shinagawa was another way of preparing yourself before “stepping up into the shōgun’s home.” Even though, you may still have a few miles to go, the more presentable you were, the better.
[ii] In fact, Shinagawa was so synonymous with prostitution, that Edoites had a nickname for it. Shinagawa was the みなみ minami south, while they reserved the きた kita north for the upscale licensed pleasure quarters, 吉原 Yoshiwara. Keep in mind, in this era, it was not just normal for a man of rank or means to have concubines, it was expected. Furthermore, frequenting teahouses and being a patron of 舞子 maiko geisha apprentices and 芸者 geisha social performance artists was just a normal “guys’ night out.”
[iii] Hint: drinking & whoring
[iv] To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a tsunami in Edo/Tōkyō Bay – I’ve heard this is attributed to the shape and size of the bay.
[v] Here’s my article on Ienari’s grave.
[vi] To my understanding, whales are pretty intelligent and tend to avoid bays where they are easy targets because of their size. They do much better in the oceans which, before modern naval technology, were off limits to humans. Beached whales are generally wounded, sick, or already dead, which means the current brought them to the coast. Nevertheless, this seems to have been a unique case in Edo.
[vii] Yes, I know whales aren’t fish (Edo Period didn’t know that), so for them, this was like seeing a sea monster prostate itself before the shōgunate. Quite politely, I might add. The whale didn’t die in Edo, it beached itself well outside of the city, with no spiritual defilement of the Tokugawa government.
[viii] Interestingly, the name has nothing to do with Shintō. This area of Susaki was known as 猟師町 Ryōshi Machi Ryōshi Town, a fishing village at the time. The village headmen of Ryōshi Machi used an ancestral name 利田吉左衛門 Kagata Kichizaemon which was passed down through the generations. While Susaki Benzaiten was the official name of the shrine (and the name that appears in texts and maps), it seems like the locals referred to it as Kagata Shrine – a hint that the village headmen doubled as priests of the shrine.
[ix] As such, Buddhism in Japan essentially runs a funerary racket.
[x] Someday I’m gonna have to tackle syncretic religion in Japan, but that’s a huge undertaking… and kinda boring to me.
[xi] Sorry, if that was oddly specific, but c’mon. You know everybody was doing it, right?
[xii] Or any samurai serving time in the city on sankin-kōtai duty – who generally seem to have been in awe of the metropolis and all it had to offer compared to their shitty backwater domains.
[xiii] I say an hour or so because travelers were generally expected to keep a certain pace as they traversed certain highways. Who knows? Maybe some people spent all day and did the Edo Period equivalent of “calling in sick.”
[xiv] Nihonbashi.
[xv] OK, somebody could understate it… but that would be a mistake lol. The walk from Nihonbashi, the center of Edo, to Shinagawa was probably the most well maintained section of road in the entire country.
[xvi] I’m sure a few went down to get their dicks sucked under the pretense of getting food for everyone, as one does.
[xvii] As mentioned earlier, Benzaiten is the only female deity among the 7 Gods of Good Luck. It’s said that she gets jealous when male-female couples approach her enshrinement and will curse the couple to break up. I think same sex couples are fine because apparently Benzaiten is straight according to this logic lol. Actually, today, this aspect of Benzaiten is relatively unknown by most people. However, the tradition persists in 井の頭公園 Inokashira Kōen Inokashira Park in 吉祥寺 Kichijōji. They say that couples who visit shrine there will break up. The story of the curse has actually become separated from the shrine in most accounts which say any couple who rents a boat to go out on the water will break up.
[xviii] Another faction, such as those samurai from Mito and Satsuma who assassinated Ii Naosuke, stupidly doubled down on the status quō, insisting that Japan stay closed and reject anything and everything foreign to the point of standing on the beach shaking their samurai swords at steamships hurling cannon balls at them, if need be.
[xix] The kanji for Yatsuyama is 八ッ山 and can be found in the modern place names of 八ッ山橋 Yatsuyamabashi Yatsuyama Bridge and 八ッ山通り Yatsuyama Dōri Yatsuyama Street, the road that now covers the inlet that once lay between Shinagawa and the Susaki Promontory.
[xx] Job creation!
[xxi] I have misidentified both areas as Goten’yama 3-chōme and Goten’yama 4-chōme in my video. I apologize for that and totally own up to it.
[xxii] This would become the 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line and eventually even the 東海道新幹線 Tōkaidō Shinkansen, the high speed train connecting Tōkyō with Kyōto.

What does Kōnan mean?

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

港南
Kōnan (Southport)

konan exit 1

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

Let’s Talk About Shinagawa Station First

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

高輪口
Takanawa-guchi

Takanawa Exit

港南口
Kōnan-guchi

Kōnan Exit

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

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

Wanna Read More?

Let’s Look at the Kanji


minato,

port, harbor


minami, nan/na

south

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

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

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

konan middle school

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

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

danchi shinagawa.jpg

History of the Area

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

big konan

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

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

intercity

InterCity

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

800px-Shinagawa_station_tokyo_japan_1984_aerial-2

InterCity’s development was based on this space.

Kōnan Exit isn’t the only Claim to Fame

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

immigration7

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

A Restaurant History Nerds Might Dig

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

tofuro mwh

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

tofuro

Please Support My Blog
It Don’t Write Itself™
⇨ Click Here to Donate via Patreon ⇦
BTC: 1HsKqFBVbyKTwMF3rzCprdw7aYv13fbi2A
(I’ve begun making exclusive videos for patrons)

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

Shinagawa Station – Then and Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

Fishing next to the tracks of Shinagawa Station.

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

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

b0190242_17214265

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

img_0

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

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

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

Shinagawa_Station_circa_1897

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

Sh

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

 Wanna Support My Blog?
Click Here to Donate
Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods

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

What does Samezu mean?

In Japanese History on May 8, 2014 at 4:53 pm

鮫洲
Samezu
(Shark Sandbar)

That awkward moment when your train station kinda sucks... but you're historically mad important!

That awkward moment when your train station kinda sucks… but you’re historically mad important!

The other day, I took part in an epic history walk from 三田 Mita[i] to 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku Shinagawa Post Town[ii], the first inn town on the old 東海道 Tōkaidō Tōkai Highway[iii]. The town was the first and last stopping point for millions of travelers coming in and out of Edo-Tōkyō until the invention of trains and automobiles.

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

Unquestionably the most famous picture of Shinagawa-shuku.

 

To be honest, train service didn’t kill off the old lodging town, but it shifted focus more toward the center of 東京市Tōkyō-shi the former Tōkyō City. The old post town, which was really just a long-ass stretch of road lined with inns, restaurants, teahouses[iv], temples & shrines, and stores catering to travelers of every rank, eventually transformed into a somewhat economically depressed shitamachi that many Tōkyōites rarely visit. Most of this economic downturn seems to be related to the modern development of Tōkyō Bay that stole the traditional economy of the area: fishing and seaweed harvesting. Modern 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station still marks the traditional entrance to Edo by sea. It’s a major hub station which hosts several 新幹線 shinkansen bullet train lines and the 京急線 Keikyūsen Keikyū Line that still connect Tōkyō to other parts of Japan and the world[v].

Shinagawa Station in the early Meiji Period. The tracks hug the coastline - vastly different from today.  This is tsunami fodder.  Seeing a picture like this makes me sad because we can't see the real Edo coastline today, but it makes it very clear why the coast was built up with landfills. It was all to protect the capital city. The farther removed the city was from the sea, the safer.  なるほど!

Shinagawa Station in the early Meiji Period. .
The tracks hug the coastline – vastly different from today.
This is tsunami fodder.
Seeing a picture like this makes me sad because we can’t see the real Edo coastline today, but it makes it very clear why the coast was built up with landfills. It was all to protect the capital city.
The farther removed the city was from the sea, the safer.
なるほど!

A view of Shinagawa Station today. Those skyscrapers are built on landfill. That was the bay in the Edo Period.

A view of Shinagawa Station today. Those skyscrapers are built on landfill. .
That was the bay in the Edo Period.

 

The original Tōkaidō followed the shoreline out of the shōgun’s capital. Nearby Takanawa was the maritime access point to Edo. All along the Shinagawa-shuku portion of the highway[vi], which terminated in Kyōto, you would have had access to some great seafood. You could stare out into the bay and see small fishing boats and maybe some of the shōgun’s ships as well as those of some of daimyō from far off domains bringing in supplies and gifts for the shogun. Today those views have all but disappeared. However, that said, the area is still bad ass for Japanese history lovers because it is literally[vii] littered with history.

 

Look at all this crap laying all over this place!  What lazy Meiji motherfucker just left this cannon (probably from Odaiba) here on the side of the street. What a jerk. Don't you know littering is bad for everyone??

Look at all this crap laying all over this place!
What lazy Meiji motherfucker just left this cannon (probably from Odaiba) here on the side of the street?
What a jerk. .
Don’t you know littering is bad for everyone??

 

Anyways, I want to give a shout out to my friend Rekishi no Tabi for pointing out this place name to me when we visited 鮫洲八幡神社 Samezu Hachiman Jinja Samezu Hachiman Shrine. Not only is it a very unique shrine, they had a small sign detailing the etymology of this place name. I guess you could say this one was just handed to me on a gold plate.

If you like pictures of Japan – especially traditional and historical Japan – please check out his Flickr photo stream. If you’re interested in pictures and news/current events about Japan, then you should follow him on Twitter.

 

First, let’s look at the kanji.


same

shark


zu

sandbank, sandbar

 

鮫洲 is just the popular local name for the area. There was never an official place, for example 鮫洲村 Samezu Mura Samezu Village or 鮫洲町 Samezu Machi Samezu Town. The name is only preserved in the name of a shrine, 鮫洲八幡神社 Samezu Hachiman Jinja Samezu Hachiman Shrine and whatever local businesses or spots have chosen to don the name Samezu. The actual official name of the area is 東大井Higashi Ōi East Ōi. Except for the shrine and a few local spots, the name might have fallen into disuse, except in 1904 a train station called 鮫洲駅 Samezu Eki Samezu Station was opened in the area[viii].

 

In the Edo Period, the area was known as the 大井御林猟師町 Ōi o-hayashi ryōshimachi Ōi o-hayashi fishing villages. The area that is now called Samezu today was home to two villages, 品川浦 Shinagawaura Shinagawa Inlet and 御林浦 Ohayashiura Ohayashi Inlet. You may remember what 御林 o-hayashi are, but if you need a reminder, I discussed them in this article, but long story short, o-hayashi were forests that fell under the direct control of the shōgunate. Most of the resources from this area – be they timber or seafood – were generally for the consumption of the shōgun family in Edo Castle. The area may not have been beautiful but it had shōgunal prestige. It was honored in one of Utagawa Hiroshige’s prints, which depicted the seaweed farms lining the coast.

 

samezu low tide

Samezu Inlet in her natural state at low tide. This picture was taken during an inspection of the area before initiating the landfill process. The area was basically unchanged since the Edo Period.

Samezu Inlet in her natural state at low tide. This picture was taken during an inspection of the area before initiating the landfill process. The area was basically unchanged since the Edo Period.

 

What I love about these pictures is that they show the gentleness of Edo Bay during low tide. The fishing village is literally on the beach. Because the modern coastline is much farther out and the water is deeper, I don’t think we get scenes like this anymore (low tide stinks, by the way) because of the intricate system of inlets and channels that line the coast. I’ve never lived near an inlet next to the bay, so if anyone knows their behavior, I’d love to hear about it.

Check out more amazing pictures of Samezu before the landfill work was done. The area is totally different today.

 

Utagawa Hiroshige thought enough of Samezu to paint it.  Notice the "hibi" (seaweed fields). I talked about these in my article on Hibiya and a few other times. Anyways, seaweed is a staple of the Japanese diet and the inlets and shores of Edo Bay were renowned for this delicacy.

Utagawa Hiroshige thought enough of Samezu to paint it.
Notice the “hibi” (seaweed fields). I talked about these in my article on Hibiya and a few other times.
Anyways, seaweed is a staple of the Japanese diet and the inlets and shores of Edo Bay were renowned for this delicacy.

 

Supposedly, traditional Edo style fishing and seaweed harvesting continued in the area right up until the 1960’s. In the early 1950’s, Tōkyō government officials and other corporate interests began planning a redevelopment of Tōkyō Bay. I don’t think this was a spiteful act, but probably more common sense. Japan was exporting a lot at that time, particularly to their rich trade partner, the USA. As Japan rose from the ashes of WWII to become the dominant economic power in Asia, old Edo-style ports were just not cutting it, they were downright embarrassing. Modern ships could fish farther out at sea and return faster with new technology. When the 1964 Olympics came around, perhaps Tōkyō could boast a safe, modern bay that had never been seen in Asia before….

And so from 1962-1969, the Tōkyō government began buying out and relocating fishermen from the area in order to fill in the bay and reclaim the area. By 1969, the process was more or less complete and much of the shape of Tōkyō Bay today dates from that decade. So by this time, Samezu was officially cut off from the sea. Its proximity to the bay isn’t far, and there are a few controlled inlets that survive. But the Tōkaidō that bordered the sea no longer borders the sea in the former shōgun’s capital.

 

Here you can see the Edo Period Shingawa and the modern Tokyo transformation.

Here you can see the Edo Period Shingawa and the modern Tokyo transformation.

 

OK. Let’s Talk Etymology, Bitches.

Someone once told me, “I come here for the etymology. I stay for the history.” And in that fine tradition, I’m ‘bout to get down and dirty with the general narratives associated with the place name Samezu. There are two stories that generally go around. The one thing going against both of these stories is the fact that Samezu has never been an official place name. The name seems to have come down to us as a name used by locals, but never by any official government body.

 

I have gross doubts about these theories..

I have gross doubts about these theories..

 

① A Wooden Buddha Statue Did It Theory

In the Kamakura Period, an 大鮫 ōsame huge, freaking shark died in the bay near Shinagawa. A fisherman found the shark and brought it to a sandbar along the Shinagawa Inlet. When he cut open the belly of the beast, he found a wooden statue of 聖観音 Shō-kan’non a Buddha usually called Avalokiteśvara. The statue came to be known as  鮫洲観音 Samezu Kan’non Shark Sandbank Kan’non. The statue became the principal object of veneration at 海晏寺Kaian-ji Kainan Temple located in nearby 御殿山 Goten’yama[ix]. The temple claims to have been built specifically to house the statue at the request of 北条時頼 Hōjō Tokiyori, the 5th regent of the overly complicated Kamakura Shōgunate[x].

 

Kaianji today

Kaianji today

 

② It’s An Old Dialect Word Theory

In the old Edo Dialect, /i/ and /e/ are often confused. As such, a dialectal variant of /samezu/ would be /samizu/. According to this theory, 砂水 samizu is a dialect word that refers to a phenomenon when the tide goes out and fresh water comes up from the sand as it dried out[xi]. This is probably the strongest theory.

science_it_works_bitches_performance_dry_tshirt

Hooray for linguistics!

The wooden Buddha statue theory is, shockingly, the theory upheld by Kaian-ji at the expense of the 2nd theory. However, a commemorative plaque is located on the site of 鮫洲八幡神社 Samezu Hachiman Jinja Samezu Hachiman Shrine which lists both theories and talks about the area’s rich history and its link to the sea. The local fishermen who lived in the area depended on the sea for their livelihoods. The sea was a great source of food, but also a dangerous force to live and work with. It’s interesting that there Samezu Hachiman Shrine and 天祖諏訪神社 Tenso-Suwa Jinja Tenso-Suwa Shrine in nearby 立会川 Tachiaigawa feature large pools populated by auspicious animals like turtles and carp. Enshrined at these pools are water 神 kami deities, underlining the profound connection to the waters of Tōkyō Bay held by the local people since time immemorial.

Samezu Hachiman Shrine  features this filthy pond and a "Mount Fuji" in the middle. The pond is populated with cute little turtles. Unfortunately today, this area is a dingy smoking area for... I'm not sure who... but there were ash trays next to every bench encircling the pond. Still, the presence of the water - rare at shrines in Edo-Tokyo - is a tribute to the dependence on the sea by the local villagers.

Samezu Hachiman Shrine features this filthy pond and a “Mount Fuji” in the middle. The pond is populated with cute little turtles. Unfortunately today, this area is a dingy smoking area for… I’m not sure who… but there were ash trays next to every bench encircling the pond.
Still, the presence of the water – rare at shrines in Edo-Tokyo – is a tribute to the dependence on the sea by the local villagers.

R00118481A1A1A1A

In neighboring Tachiaigawa, you can find Tenso-Suwa Shrine which is also dedicated to water kami and has a beautiful wooded and landscaped pond populated by carp. It’s well worth the visit.

 

As I finish this article, I just want to say how moved I always am when I reflect upon the Sumida River and Edo-Tōkyō Bay. These are the forces that breathed life into the coastal villages that dotted the bay. And while the shape of the bay made the area almost impervious to attack by sea in the beginning, the network of inlets and rivers imparted by the sea allowed the area to prosper. And by the time of the Tokugawa right down to present day, the bay and the rivers and channels and moats are part of the life and fabric of the greatest city in the world.

Some people may ask — and indeed have asked — why I’m making such a big deal out of this relatively unknown part of Tōkyō. Because this area typifies that transition from Edo to Tōkyō. This area was lucky to have survived more or less intact until the 1960’s. From the first Tōkyō Olympics to the Bubble Era unprecedented modernization occurred. Also, this is a great launch pad for a few more areas in 品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward that I’ve neglected up until now. I hope you’ll look forward to them with me!

 

 

If you like JapanThisplease donate.
Click Here to Donate
Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods

 

 


[i] In the early days of the blog, I covered the etymology of Mita.
[ii] Waaaay back in the day I discussed the etymology of Shinagawa.
[iii] Longtime readers should know about this topic, however, last year I wrote about the 5 Great Highways of Edo.
[iv] For those of you who don’t know, drinking and whoring is – and always shall be – a searchable term on JapanThis.
[v] If you’re interested in these modern connections, please see my article on Tōkyō Train names and on Haneda Airport.
[vi] Historically speaking, “Shinagawa” refers to an entire 区 ku ward today. In the early Meiji Period, there was a 品川県 Shinagawa-ken Shinagawa Prefecture (1869-1871). The 宿場 shukuba post town was one of the biggest in Japan because it was leading in and out of the capital. But keep in mind that the farther you stray from Shinagawa Station, the farther you are going into what was the boonies in the Edo Period. Even lively Shinagawa-Takanawa weren’t technically Edo. They were a kind of suburb… of sorts. In 1871, the 藩 han domains were formally abolished and the short-lived Shinagawa Prefecture was brought into the fold of newly created Tōkyō Prefecture (though it was not part of Tōkyō City).
[vii] And I don’t mean figuratively.
[viii] The current station building dates from 1991.
[ix] Yes, this is the same Goten’yama that was razed and dumped into Edo Bay to build up batteries to protect the shōgun’s capital from the Black Ships. See my article on Odaiba.
[x] Complicated in that you had 将軍 shōgun shoguns and 執権 shikken regents and 尼将軍 ama-shōgun Hōjō Masako.
[xi] This theory is sometimes explained as the word 清水 shimizu fresh water being corrupted to samezu, but /shi/ doesn’t easily transform into /sa/ in Japanese.

Questions from Readers

In Japan on February 21, 2014 at 8:32 am
Wanna know who this is? So did other readers. Today I'll tell you!

Wanna know who this dude is?
So did other readers.
Today I’ll tell you!

I don’t get a lot of e-mails, but I’ve gotten a few over the past few months asking about my personal opinions or musings on certain topics. I don’t think Japan This! is really the place for my personal opinions on things like the “Do you think Korea has a good argument for renaming the Sea of Japan “the East Sea?” That said, I’m a human being and of course I have opinions on such topics.

So I wrote a 5 page article answering reader questions about my personal opinions on a few topics related to Japan and Tokyo. I included a little hate mail, too. (Believe it or not, I do get hate mail from time to time.)

I’ve posted the article on my Patreon page. For those who don’t know, Patreon is a crowd sourcing network that let’s you support artists, bloggers, and other creative people. Basically, if you like all this free content and you want to make a donation to support the blog, it’s a safe and trustworthy way to do so.

Some topics that get discussed are:

What does “Japan This” mean?
The Senkaku Islands.
Eating dolphins.
Hate mail. (My favorite part!)
 Much, much more…

The article is here:

http://www.patreon.com/creation?hid=240821

Begging for donations or charging for content makes me feel like shit, so even if you don’t donate, I’ve decided to include a free post here. I really appreciate everyone who reads Japan This! If no one read this, I wouldn’t do it.

Well, that’s not true. It’s a labor of love. I’d still do it. But it just wouldn’t be as much fun. So thank you to each and every one of my readers (even the ones who send me hate mail). I have lots of love for you. And don’t worry, this blog is always going to be free!

OK, so as for today’s post, I just went to the Regional Immigration Office (every expat’s favorite place in the world), and I had to change trains at Daimon Station. I love this station because inside they have a few old pictures up on the wall. I decided to make a video of one huge photograph they have on display. This panoramic photograph shows a view from Tokyo Station/Marunouchi to Tōkyō Castle (Edo Castle) to Yurakucho/Hibiya Park and Shiodome (which at the time was called Shinbashi). Tameike Sannō was still an 池 ike lake. Sotobori Road was still a moat. You can see the Shiba area is still more or less Zōjō-ji’s massive, wooded precincts and that the bay is lacking the sprawling man-made islands that protect central Tōkyō from the sea. It’s really a spectacular photo.

What does Keyakizaka mean?

In Japanese History on February 1, 2014 at 4:53 pm

欅坂
Keyakizaka (Zelkova Hill)

1024-768

Today’s place name etymology is another easy one. The first kanji is 欅 keyaki and means zelkova tree. The second kanji is 坂 saka hill. The kanji for keyaki is pretty rare in Modern Japanese, so this name is almost always written as ケヤキ坂 keyakizaka so people can actually read it. The Roppongi area has a long standing connection with zelkova trees. In fact, some people cite 6 giant zelkova trees as the etymology of the place name Roppongi[i].

But basically, the Azabu and Roppongi areas were a short walk from 江戸湾 Edo Wan Edo Bay but and the terrain was marked by lush wooded high ground (which became yamanote) and not-too-wet lowlands (which became shitamachi). The lush high ground was perfect for daimyō residences and lowlands were suitable for the merchant towns that catered to the elite domain “embassies.” Interestingly, the area is home to a number of embassies – many occupying former daimyō properties.

Anyhoo, I’m getting side tracked. I can’t say whether this name has survived from the Edo Period or not, but this 400 meter or uphill promenade is definitely befitting of the area’s Edo Period elite history. The street is wide and lined with trees and flower beds. The flowers are changed seasonally. The zelkova trees are richly illuminated – much more so now than the first time I visited in 2003. The street runs through a part of the Roppongi Hills “urban center” connecting the formerly shitamachi Azabu-Jūban shopping street with the 5-star Grand Hyatt Tokyo at the top of the hill. If you view off the road into the Roppongi Hills complex you will come upon the so-called Mohri Garden.

A quick word about this garden’s name. Roppongi Hills was developed by a dude named Mori Minoru. This garden is named after the Mori Clan who ruled 長州藩 Chōshū han Chōshū Domain. The developer’s name is 森 Mori and the daimyō’s name is 毛利 Mōri (spelled Mohri in the official Roppongi Hills jargon). So don’t confuse the two. But all I wanted to point out is that the developers claim that the garden is a partial holdover from the original daimyō garden. Take that with a grain of salt. It’s definitely a nice garden, if not a busy garden, and it’s definitely in the Japanese style. But I’m not willing to vouch to say any of it is actually a remnant of the Edo Period.

Please Support My Blog
Click Here to Donate
Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods


[i] 六本木 Roppongi literally, “6 Trees.” Another version of the story says they were pine trees and not zelkovas. I don’t buy into that theory at all because there is a much more compelling derivation.
BTW – I just looked up my original article on Roppongi and was shocked at how short and uninformative it was. So I’m adding Roppongi to my “do over” list and will give a detailed explanation about the ‘Pong. 

Suzugamori Execution Ground

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

鈴ヶ森死刑場
Suzugamori Shikeijō
Suzugamori Execution Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decapitated heads displayed as a deterrent.

Decapitated heads displayed as a deterrent.

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

Decapitated heads displayed as a deterrent.

So executioner dudes hanging out with some heads.

Suzugamori’s Claim to Fame:

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

Burning at the stake.  Awwwwww yeah.

Burning at the stake.
Awwwwww yeah.

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

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

Sign marking the post hole for burning at the stake.

Sign marking the post hole for burning at the stake.

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

Post hole for crucifixions.

Post hole for crucifixions.

Sign marking the post hole for crucifixions.

Sign marking the post hole for crucifixions.

A real Japanese crucifixion. Straight up gangster shit.

A real Japanese crucifixion.
Straight up gangster shit.

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

The Japanese equivalent of drawing and quartering...

The Japanese equivalent of drawing and quartering…

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

.

.


[i] Here’s a list of their names.

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

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

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

Why is Kiba called Kiba?

In Japanese History on May 14, 2013 at 12:35 am

木場
Kiba (Wood Place)

Hanami at Kiba Park

Hanami at Kiba Park

Just a quickie today!

If you have any familiarity with traditional Japanese buildings, you’ll know they were made of wood. The great cities of old Japan were all wooden fire hazards waiting to happen. As such, wood was always in demand. But to stockpile lumber you need a lot of space, so special areas called 貯木場 chobokujō lumber yards were set aside to fill the lumber needs of cities.

Another problem with wood is that it’s big and heavy. You can’t just carry a bunch of huge pillars across town. The best way to do it was by boat. So most old Japanese chobokujō were located near the sea and rivers (ideally both).

In the early days of the Edo Period, the shōgunate designated present day Kiba as a lumber stockyard. It was near the mouth of the Sumida River and located right on Edo Bay. This made it a perfect location outside of the city for storing and distributing wood.

A Hiroshige print of Fukagawa-Kiba

A Hiroshige print of Fukagawa-Kiba in the winter. Nice picture, but I feel sorry for the dudes working on the water in the snow. (Enjoy this beautiful picture because from here on out there are only pictures of logs. Literally!)

A quick word about chobokujō and kiba.

貯木場 chobokujō literally means “supply wood” + “place” (Chinese reading)
木場 kiba literally means “tree place” is the same word minus the first character and uses the Japanese reading of the kanji (usually more desirable for place names)

The Edo Period lumberyard was located in the present day 木場公園 Kiba Kōen Kiba Park. The area was usually referred to as 深川木場 Fukagawa Kiba. After the Meiji Restoration, the government began a process of extending the coast with landfill. From this period, the lumberyard ceased to be directly on the sea. The introduction of trains changed the distribution method of lumber and so the sea/river location became less important. The area remained a lumberyard until 1969, when it was moved to 新木場 Shin-kiba (New Kiba). The old Kiba was then turned into a park. Ironically, part of the reason for the relocation was that Shin-Kiba is on the sea, as Japan had become increasingly reliant on imported wood from overseas. But the location also had better land routes available too. The area hasn’t had much residential encroachments so it’s a weird part of Tōkyō. A famous club called Ageha is located near Shin-kiba Station.

One final thing, because all old Japanese cities needed lumber yards, identical place names and related places names are numerous throughout the country.

Fukagaw-Kiba in the Edo and Meiji Periods. Yup. It's pretty much just a freakin' lumberyard.

Fukagaw-Kiba in the Edo and Meiji Periods. Yup. It’s pretty much just a freakin’ lumberyard.

That last 2 are Show. The top one is maybe Taisho, I'm not sure because it's just a freaking lumberyard.

That last 2 are Showa. The top one is maybe Taisho, I’m not sure because it’s just a freaking lumberyard. Wood looks the same in every era.

 

Why is Konan called Konan?

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

港南
Kōnan (South Harbor)

Shinagawa Konan Exit

Heading to the harbor!!!

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

Shinagawa Intershitty

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

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

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

escalator down to the South Harbor

escalator down to the South Harbor

What you won’t see is a harbor.

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

whale shinagawa

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

So why is there no sea here??

Where’d this alleged harbor go?

Landfills, baby.

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

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

 

.

If you like JapanThisplease donate.
Click Here to Donate
Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods

.

 

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

.

Why are Shinagawa and Takanawa called Shinagawa and Takanawa?

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

品川
Shinagawa (Product River)
Takanawa (Tall Dock)

Here’s a 2 for 1:

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

takanawa today

takanawa today

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

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

shinagawa station today

shinagawa station today

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

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

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

Wanna Support My Blog?
Click Here to Donate
Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods

%d bloggers like this: