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Posts Tagged ‘tokyo castle’

What does Iidabashi mean?

In Japanese History on July 2, 2013 at 2:00 am

Iidabashi (Iida Bridge)

Iidabashi Station

Iidabashi Station

When you first start learning kanji, you start noticing characters everywhere. In writing, they always have a context, so it’s possible to figure out what’s going on. In place names, often the characters seem totally random. And even when something should be painfully obvious, it often isn’t. The name Iidabashi stumped me for a long time. The average Japanese could probably make a decent guess at this one and would be pretty much correct.

Iidabashi Station

Iidabashi Station

Let’s look at the kanji:

The first kanji, , is an important character. It has multiple readings. The most notable are meshi (meal, food), manma (food) and han (cooked rice). The second kanji, ta rice field, also has multiple readings, but ta is the most common. The third kanji, 橋 hashi bridge, is well known to readers of JapanThis because Edo was a city of waterways and bridges and there’s a place name with hashi in it every 100 meters, it seems.

The last two characters are pretty standard. But “WTF does Cooked Rice Rice Field Bridge mean?” I kept asking myself. I imagined there were a lot of restaurants in this area in the Edo Period. And a lot of rice fields. And, of course, a bridge. But it didn’t make any sense.

Well, understanding how to read the first kanji is the key to the puzzle. If it’s in a personal or family name, it can be read as ii. For the longest time, I wasn’t putting two and two together. The combination of 飯 and was actually a family name, Iida.

Having met countless people with the family named Iida, I feel like an idiot for not picking up on the obvious.


The outer moat of Edo Castle

The outer moat of Edo Castle

OK, so here’s the story.

As mentioned repeatedly throughout JapanThis, in 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu entered the city of Edo under the orders of the imperial regent, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Upon entering the city, he wanted to inspect the surrounding areas of his new domain. He recruited an elite local resident to show him around each of the areas he was inspecting. The person who served as his guide for the present day Iidabashi area was a certain samurai named 飯田喜兵衛 Iida Kihei. Ieyasu apparently to a liking to the little bugger and appointed him as village headman and then said that the area should be called 飯田町 Iidamachi Iida Town. For most of the Edo Period, town names were in a state of flux as “official names” don’t seem to have been a priority of the shōgunate[i]. But it seems like this name stuck for a while. Sometime before 1711, an official name was given to a big-ass hill in the area, 九段坂 Kudanzaka Kudan Hill (more about this name in the next blog). But the name of the town persisted until it was officially registered as a town under the new administrative structure of the Meiji Government in 1872.

In 1881, a bridge was built across the 外堀 sotobori outer moat of Tōkyō Castle[ii] to the north side of Iidamachi. The bridge was named 飯田橋 Iidabashi Iida Bridge.

A steam locomotive at Iidamachi Station circa 1900.

A steam locomotive at Iidamachi Station circa 1900.

In 1895, 飯田町駅 Iidamachi Eki Iidamachi Station was built. In the 1930’s, traffic to west Tōkyō was redirected to Shinjuku Station and eventually Iidamachi Station closed to commuter traffic. But prior to that, in 1928, there was another station built near the bridge and the major intersection there. Due to its proximity to the bridge, the station was called 飯田橋駅 Iidabashi Station. Iidamachi Station continued to be use, but more and more as a freight station. Since commuter traffic shifted to Iidabashi Station, the area came to be more and more referred to as Iidabashi instead of Iidamachi.

People coming and going at Iidamachi Station in the Meiji Period.

People coming and going at Iidamachi Station in the Meiji Period.

In 1966, when the Japanese postal address system was revamped, the area’s place name was officially changed to Iidabashi. Today there is no place called Iidamachi, but there is a marker for the site of the former Iidamachi Station.

Good for it.

Kobu Railroad Iidamachi Station Marker

Kobu Railroad Iidamachi Station Marker

[i] In an era when people changed their names regularly, this isn’t very surprising. But place names tended to stick longer.

[ii] After the city’s name was changed from Edo to Tōkyō, the castle’s name naturally changed too.

What does Chiyoda mean?

In Japanese History on February 23, 2013 at 3:30 am

Chiyoda (Eternity Fields)

The area that comprised the grounds of Edo Castle is roughly that of modern 千代田区 Chiyoda Ward. The name of the area predates the Edo Period. In fact, the original name of Edo Castle was Chiyoda Castle since it was built in the Chiyoda area of the small fishing village, Edo.

The kanji 千代 (sendai or chiyo) means something like “1000 generations.” The kanji tanbo (rice paddy) can also refer to 田園 den’en (something like cultivated fields or fertile district). The name is very auspicious and conveys an idea of “Fields that can feed people for eternity.”

In 1547, Ōta Dōkan chose the Chiyoda area to fortify and build what would eventually become Edo Castle. The dude was killed in 1486 and the castle fell into disuse.

Ota Dokan, founder of Chiyoda Castle

Ota Dokan, the dude who made a crappy fishing village called Edo into a castle town. (And no, he’s not taking a crap.)

In 1590, the imperial regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi transferred Tokugawa Ieyasu and his clan to Edo. Ieyasu renovated the derelict castle and built it up. After Ieyasu was made shōgun in 1600, the castle soon became the largest and most important castle in Japan. By this time Edo wasn’t a backwater village, but a thriving city of which Chiyoda was just one small part. So the name Edo Castle superseded the original name.

Edo Castle, formely Chiyoda Caslte

The grounds of Edo Castle at its height.

Since the Edo Period, the area has typified the word 山手 Yamanote (uptown). This was the home of the shōgun, the feudal lords attending the shōgun, and nobles of all manner. Today it is the home of the Imperial Palace, power banks and trading companies, and glamorous shops and expensive restaurants. It is also home to the Diet, the national government of all Japan.

The End.

Chiyoda Ward

Present Day Chiyoda Ward.

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