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The Edo River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on August 16, 2014 at 4:25 pm

江戸川
Edo River (“River that flows to Edo”)

Fireworks on the Edo River in Edogawa Ward.

Fireworks on the Edo River in Edogawa Ward.

 

Hello all! Here in Tōkyō, 御盆休み O-bon Yasumi the O-bon Vacation is in full effect. I only get 4 days off. Most people get about 5 days off, but I’ve talked to plenty of people who get nothing at all, so I’m not going to complain. 3 days will be spent sleeping late like the 怠け者 namakemono lazy good-for-nothing that I am. I’ll have to wake up super early one day to do 茶道 sadō tea ceremony in former 館林藩 Tatebayashi-han Tatebayashi Domain[i]. The area is just a rural backwater now, but if the weather isn’t too bad and I have enough time, I hope to snap a few pictures for my Flickr account. Be sure to check my Twitter account for the updates. I’m not sure how things will go, but the Tone River and Arakawa River flow through the area, so maybe I’ll be able to get some pix!

Speaking of rivers, this series is finally winding down. I started with the big rivers. Those rivers have incredibly complicated pasts and were hell to research and write about. I seriously considered just quitting mid-series to move on to something more fun, but I pushed on. I knew that if I could cover the major rivers, the rest of the series would be easy. I’m happy to say the last too posts will be the easiest. They’re also the shortest, hence the fast turn-around on the article you’re reading right now.

But the other River Articles were so long…

Indeed they were. But the other rivers were major water systems that were constantly modified over the centuries. Their names were ancient, possibly pre-dating the Yamato State – possibly older, there’s no know way to in some cases. Today’s river is essentially a product of the Edo Period. We know where the name comes from without a shadow of doubt.

 

This is a map of modern Edogawa Ward. Notice the Edo River clearly marking the boundary of Tokyo Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture. You may want to refer back to this map throughout the article (it also ties into other parts of the series). Click to enlarge.

This is a map of modern Edogawa Ward. Notice the Edo River clearly marking the boundary of Tokyo Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture. You may want to refer back to this map throughout the article (it also ties into other parts of the series).
Click to enlarge.

 

Etymology

江戸
Edo

the city of Edo


kawa

river (suffix)

ie; “the river that goes to Edo”

That’s it.

Edo – once a fishing hamlet, then former village turned sprawling metropolis – was the shōgun’s capital when the river got this name. It was a densely populated, affluent city that required goods and services from all over Japan. Certain perishable goods produced in the surrounding areas was in particular demand. A little more about that later, but in short, the Edo River was a river bringing goods from a variety of places. Most notably, goods came from 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province, the bulk of which lie in modern 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture. In fact, those goods came from the part of Chiba that lies directly on the border of 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis.

 

Cherry blossoms on the Edo River in the early Meiji Period.

Cherry blossoms on the Edo River in the early Meiji Period.

 

But Wait! What does the “Edo” part of the Edo River mean?

I’m glad you asked because I covered the etymology of Edo in a post last year. The article starts with the short version, then gives a more detailed explanation. So depending on how much time you have, feel free to read about Why was Edo called Edo? here.

OK… So WTF is the Edo River?

OK, this is important.

The modern, legal definition of the Edo River is the river that branches off from the 利根川 Tone-gawa Tone River[ii]. This bifurcation occurs at present day 野田市 Noda-shi Noda City in Chiba. The river empties into Tōkyō Bay at 市川市 Ichikawa-shi Ichikawa City, also in Chiba Prefecture. A portion of the river marks the border of the Tōkyō Metropolis, Chiba Prefecture, and Saitama Prefecture.

 

This shows the entire area covered by the Edo River and the modern portion of the Tone River that relates to it. The Edo River diverts from the Tone River at Noda and flows south to Ichikawa. At Ichikawa, it bifurcates in the Old Edo River that goes to Tokyo Bay at Urayasu. A secondary drainage canal take the river to Tokyo Bay in Ichikawa.

This shows the entire area covered by the Edo River and the modern portion of the Tone River that relates to it. The Edo River diverts from the Tone River at Noda and flows south to Ichikawa. At Ichikawa, it bifurcates in the Old Edo River that goes to Tokyo Bay at Urayasu. A secondary drainage canal take the river to Tokyo Bay in Ichikawa.

 

What about the History of the River?

The river that became the Edo River was originally a part of the lower course of the 利根川 Tone-gawa Tone River – a very different river from the Tone River of today. The specific branch of the Tone River Basin was called the 渡良瀬川 Watarase-gawa Watarase River. It separated from the Tone River, then flowed south to the middle of former 葛飾郡 Katsushika-gun Katsushika District[iii] and then emptied into 江戸湾 Edo Wan Edo Bay. The downstream portion of the Watarase was locally named the 太日河, which can be read as either Ōi-gawa Ōi River or Futoi-gawa Futui River. This is the stretch of river that would ultimately become the Edo River. Since time immemorial and indeed until the Taishō Era, certain stretches of riverbank were famous for the cultivation of 蓮根 renkon lotus root, a valuable food source.

The Edo Period

In 1641, the 利根川東遷事業 Tone-gawa Tōsenjigyō began. This was the building project that began diverting the river eastward towards the shōgun’s capital. At this time, a channel was built to divert water from the Tone River to the present day upstream portion of the Edo River.  Part of the downstream area was also modified. Since the shōgunate had essentially created a new river, this new waterway needed a name. It’s about this time that the name 江戸川 Edo-gawa Edo River came to be used – the name meaning something like “the river that goes to Edo.”

The Tone River was again diverted in 1654 as an anti-flooding measure. The Edo River now connected the north and east Kantō Regions to the capital at Edo, specifically to transport large amounts of cargo from Shimōsa Domain and other cities along the Pacific coast.

Many villages and towns among the river prospered in the Edo Period. Some of those cities continue to prosper today. Once the redirection efforts of the Tone River were established, merchants would travel up the Tone River from the outlet at modern-day 銚子市 Chōshi-shi Chōshi City (former Shimōsa Province). The area was famous for 枝豆 edamame soy beans and 醤油 shōyu soy sauce. We’ll talk about this again in a bit…

Cherry blossoms at sunset or sunrise along the Edo River in the Meiji Period.

Cherry blossoms at sunset or sunrise along the Edo River in the Meiji Period.

 

The Edo River Created Lasting Commerce

The Edo River pretty much put the town of 流山 Nagareyama on the map[iv]. In the Edo Period the town was, like much of rural Japan, steeped in a rice production economy. The Edo River gave the original village a direct link to the shōgun’s capital. One quirk of the village was that they produced 味醂 mirin rice vinegar[v]. To this day, Nagareyama is still famous for mirin production. For hundreds of years 流山之味醂 Nagareyama no Mirin Nagareyama Rice Vinegar has been a staple of Kantō cuisine.

An exhibit on mirin production in the Nagareyama Municipal Museum. Notice the uniform of the guidepost character. It's Shinsengumi uniform. While mirin may be the economic claim to fame of the city, most people only know it for its BRIEF connection with the Shinsengumi.

An exhibit on mirin production in the Nagareyama Municipal Museum. Notice the uniform of the guidepost character. It’s Shinsengumi uniform. While mirin may be the economic claim to fame of the city, most people only know it for its BRIEF connection with the Shinsengumi.

Nagareyama is also famous as the last official base camp of the 新撰組 Shinengumi at the beginning of the 戊辰戦争 Boshin Sensō Boshin War, the final war between the collapsing Tokugawa Shōgunate and the rising Meiji Army. The commander of the Shinsengumi, 近藤勇 Kondō Isami, was arrested here, marched to and imprisoned at 板橋宿 Itabashi-juku Itabashi Post Town. He was subsequently tried and executed there on false charges of having assassinated (or ordered the assassination of) 坂本竜馬 Sakamoto Ryōma.

On a more tasteful note, 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province was generally was famous for soy sauce. In addition to mirin, the other main product transported to Edo was 野田之醤油  Noda no shōyu Noda Soy Sauce.

Do you know this logo?

Do you know this logo?

 

The Edo River won the Soy Sauce Wars

All countries have regional differences – granted, in stable countries, these are getting smaller and smaller. And in Japan, there are also regional variations of soy sauce. Soy sauce is one of the traditional 5 ingredients of Japan[vi], so it’s not a surprising thing. But worldwide, the most recognized variety is the strong taste of the Kantō area. This is due to the global commercial success of 亀甲萬 Kikkōman, a name synonymous with soy sauce and Japanese cuisine.

The Kikkōman Corporation is based in Noda City, at the head of the Edo River. The company was an amalgamation of about 8 soy sauce producing families in 1603 in a post-Sengoku Period version of a corporate merger. A member of one of the original families, 茂木友三郎 Mogi Yūzaburō, still sits on the board of directors. He is largely credited with popularizing soy sauce in the US by encouraging chefs to create non-Japanese or “internationally-minded” dishes that use soy sauce. Today Kikkōman is holds the largest market share in the US and Japan and is the main employer in Noda.

Do you recognize the logo now?

Do you recognize the logo now?

If you live outside of Japan, you’ve probably only seen the name written “Kikkoman.” If you live in Japan, you’ve probably only seen the name written in katakana as キッコウマン. But pretty much anywhere in the world you may have noticed a single, stylized kanji: 萬 man (myriad, thousands, lucky) inside a circle. This is an interesting character. It’s the ancient variant of a high frequency modern kanji man 10,000. Supposedly, it’s rarely used except in some legal documents. These days, many Japanese may admit they can’t read this character these days.

The kanji I used above, 亀甲萬 Kikkōman are not used officially by the modern corporation; they officially use the katakana or rōma-ji spelling. This is probably because the name isn’t instantly legible to your average native Japanese speaker, so it makes for poor brand recognition. Also, it doesn’t really say anything about the company or its products. Of the original kanji, all that survived was this curious 萬 man – and it survived as a logo, not a word.

Yuzaburo Mogi earned his M.B.A. at Columbia University and is said to be totally down with US business practices.

Yuzaburo Mogi earned his M.B.A. at Columbia University and is said to be totally down with US business practices.

The name of the company, whose early success was intrinsically tied to its location on the Edo River, ultimately derives from a reference to a shrine that had great influence in Shimōsa Province, roughly modern Chiba Prefecture. 亀甲山 Kikkō-zan is the “mountain name” of 香取神宮 Katori Jingū Katori Grand Shrine (all temples have 3 names, one of those names is a 山号 sangō mountain name)[vii]. There is also a mountain in Chiba called 亀甲山 Kamegase-yama (same kanji). They dropped the 山 yama/san kanji and added 萬 man myriad/10,000 to 亀甲 kikkō as a suffix and established the name as a trademark. The shrine apparently wielded great influence in the region, and you can find Katori Shrines of various sizes throughout the area (and indeed, throughout the country).

Katori Grand Shrine in Chiba. This is the main shrine, but it has many branch shrines throughout the area.

Katori Grand Shrine in Chiba. This is the main shrine, but it has many branch shrines throughout the area. I haven’t been there myself yet, but from a map I looked, the shrine precinct is quite expansive.

Not to keep harping on the Katori Shrine thing, but this map shows the location of Katori Grand Shrine and several other major branches. All of the red dots are minor Katori Shrines.  Please note the relationship between the Tone River and Edo River and the cities of Choshi, Noda, Nagareyama, Ichikawa, and most importantly, Edo.

Not to keep harping on the Katori Shrine thing, but this map shows the location of Katori Grand Shrine and several other major branches. All of the red dots are minor Katori Shrines.
Please note the relationship between the Tone River and Edo River and the cities of Choshi, Noda, Nagareyama, Ichikawa, and most importantly, Edo.
Click to enlarge.

 

In the Modern Era

Fast forward to 1932. A new administrative district, 江戸川区 Edogawa-ku Edogawa Ward, was created out of seven areas: 小松川町 Komatsugawa Machi, 瑞江町 Mizue Machi, 小岩町 Koiwa Machi, 松江村 Matsue Mura, 葛西村 Kasai Mura, 篠崎村 Shinozaki Mura, 鹿本村 Shikamoto Mura[viii]. The Edo River marked the boarder of Tōkyō Metropolis and Chiba Prefecture, and so the name of the ward (which also lies on that border) derives from the river, of course[ix]. Keep in mind no part of Edogawa Ward was located within the city named Edo.

The Edo River with cherry blossoms in full bloom (late Meiji Era). Check out the driver of the boat with no passengers, but he's still straight stuntin' like a playa.

The Edo River with cherry blossoms in full bloom (late Meiji Era). Check out the driver of the boat with no passengers, but he’s still straight stuntin’ like a playa.

 

In 1979, a plan was hatched to open a Disneyland in Japan. A little known landfill in Chiba Prefecture called 浦安 Urayasu that lie adjacent to a diverted branch of the Edo River was chosen. This branch is now known as the 旧江戸川 Kyū-Edogawa Old Edo River. The theme park and many of its nearby hotels opened in 1983. Today, Tōkyō Disneyland is the most profitable Disney theme park in the world. The site is built on landfill, and while much of the 新浦安 Shin-Urayasu (new Urayasu) residential area suffered serious damage in the March 11th, 2011 東日本大震災 Higashi Nihon Daishinsai Great East Japan Earthquake, Disneyland was located on the apparently more stable Urayasu. As such, it suffered minimal damage, closing for only a week or two to make cosmetic repairs.

disneyland

Damage typical of Shin-Urayasu. While this may not have been as horrific as what happened in Tohoku, it was most definitely devastating financially to the inhabitants and the local economy.

Damage typical of Shin-Urayasu. While this may not have been as horrific as what happened in Tohoku, it was most definitely devastating financially to the inhabitants and the local economy.

 

Let's change the topic!!!

Let’s change the topic!!!

Edogawa Ward’s biggest claim to fame is the 江戸川花火大会 Edogawa Hanabi Taikai Edogawa Fireworks Display. The display takes place along the Edo River and the levees are used as first-come/first serve seating. The event was established in 1976 and next year (2015) will be the event’s 40th iteration. I’m rather fond of this particular fireworks display. And now that I know that next year will be a special, I’m considering making a small JapanThis! meet up where we can all nerd out on Japanese history and enjoy fireworks on the Edo River together. If you’re interested, leave a comment so I know that I’m not the only one who thinks this might be fun.

 

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 ______________________________________________
[i] Tatebayashi Domain got a brief mention in my article on the Tone River.
[ii] Wanna know about the Tone River? I’ve got an article about that!
[iii] I’ve written about the etymology of Katsushika here.
[iv] Actually, it put 下総国葛飾郡加村 Shimōsa no Kuni Katsushika-gun Ka Mura Ka Village, Katsushika District, Shimōsa Province on the map, as that was the name of the area in the Edo Period. In 1889, the Meiji Government put 流山町 Nagareyama Machi Nagareyama City on the map.
[v] Why is this product so important? The basics of traditional home cooking in Japan boil down to 5 seasonings: soy sauce, sake, mirinvinegar, and sugar.
[vi] As mentioned earlier, the 5 basic seasonings of Japanese cuisine are: soy sauce, sake, mirinvinegar, and sugar.
[vii] Keen observers will have noticed that this is a shrine, and yet it has a mountain name of a temple. That shows that the institution pre-dates the 神仏分離 Shinbutsu Bunri Separation of Shintō and Buddhism in 1868. And indeed, the Katori Shrines of Shimōsa Province are quite ancient. It also shows that the name of the company pre-dates the separation of Buddhism and Shintō, but both of these are part of the historical record, even though many people casually forget the Buddhist/Shintō syncretism of the Pre-Modern Period. I hope you all caught that.
[viii] There are 2 types areas that were incorporated, 町 machi town/city and 村 mura village.
[ix] Place name conventions make this obvious. Even if we didn’t have the paperwork for the creation of the ward (which we do), if it wasn’t named for the river, it would be Edo-ku not Edogawa-ku.

The Arakawa River

In #rivered, Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on June 26, 2014 at 5:53 am

荒川
Arakawa (raging river)

This is the headwaters of the Arakawa in Saitama Prefecture. The water is crystal clear.

This is the headwaters of the Arakawa in Saitama Prefecture. The water is crystal clear.

Welcome to my 3rd installment of my 8 part series on the Rivers of Edo-Tōkyō[i]. My second article, which was about the 隅田川 Sumidagawa Sumida River, literally tore me a new hole. It broke me. I thought rivers would be an easy topic, but they’re not. Researching this article broke my brain again. And my apologies for publishing so late. I had to step away and come back with a fresh perspective.

That said, every article I write enhances my view of the Edo-Tōkyō continuum more and more. I’m only 3 rivers deep into this series and I feel like I’m slowly starting to wrap my head around things. I probably shouldn’t have started with the 3 most incestuously confusing rivers in Kantō. But there’s no looking back, is there? Yes, I’m an idiot. (But this shouldn’t be news to any of you, my dear readers)

Just like “Sumida” became 隅田川 Sumidagawa Sumida River and 墨田区 Sumida-ku Sumida Ward, there is an 荒川 Arakawa Arakawa River and an 荒川区 Arakawa-ku Arakawa Ward[ii]. I touched on this briefly in my article on the Sumida River. And I promise to talk about this later. There are going to be a few big surprises as we go on, but before that let’s do the etymology.

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By the time you get to the border of Saitama and Tokyo in the city of Kawaguchi, the river is filled with garbage and  derelict boats. Some people actually fish here.

By the time you get to the border of Saitama and Tokyo in the city of Kawaguchi, the river is filled with garbage and derelict boats. Some people actually fish here.

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The Name of both the River and the Ward are the Same.

So let’s look at the kanji first so we know we have a base point from which to start.


ara

wild, rough, rude; devastating


kawa

river

.

Unlike most etymologies we’ve encountered at JapanThis!, there actually seems to be some sort of consensus about this river’s name. I’ve looked all over and I can’t find an alternate or older way of writing the name of the river. The name of the river seems to have been written 荒川 Arakawa since the Heian Period.

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Senju no Ohashi (the great bridge of Senju) in the Edo Period.  Remember this name, we're coming back to Senju in a bit.

Senju no Ohashi (the great bridge of Senju) in the Edo Period.
Remember this name, we’re coming back to Senju in a bit.

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Etymology of the River

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荒ぶる川
araburu kawa

unruly, wild, malevolent river

荒れる川
arareru kawa

stormy, short-tempered river

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This river was part of the Tone River watershed. As mentioned in my previous article, the Tone had a reputation for being uncontrollable and wild. Not only did the river periodically flood, these floods often changed the course of the river. As such, the Arakawa was a dangerous and scary river. There’s a pretty strong case to be made that the kanji are literal in this case.

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Changes made to the river courses in the Pre-Modern Eras.  Some of the reference points I've added in English refer back to the last 2 articles.

Changes made to the river courses in the Pre-Modern Eras.
Some of the reference points I’ve added in English refer back to the last 2 articles.

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Why do we say Arakawa River and Arakawa Ward and not Ara River and Ara Ward?

You just asked the $100k question, son! If you didn’t care about why Sumida Ward and Sumida River use different kanji, if you can’t read or speak Japanese, or you fucking hate grammar with every fiber of your body, you might want to skip to the next section. If you’re a Japanese grammar nerd, then stick around because you might dig this.

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OK, so one of these is not like the other one. Sesame Street style, see if you can spot the difference.

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Japanese

Romanization English

隅田川

Sumidagawa the Sumida River

利根川

Tonegawa the Tone River

富士山

Fuji-san Mt. Fuji

江戸町

Edo Machi the city of Edo

荒川

Arakawa the Arakawa River

.

Can you spot the difference?

.Except for Arakawa, all of those examples follow this pattern:

Japanese Romanization

河川名

river name + river suffix

山名

mountain name + mountain suffix

町名

city name + city suffix

荒川

prefix + suffix (ie; inseparable)

So the typical pattern is “name + river/mountain/lake suffix.” However, ara by itself is not a word. Ara by itself is not a name. In fact, in this case, it’s a prefix. Therefore ara can’t be spilt from kawa and kawa can’t be split from ara. (This leads some people to say that “Arakawa” was originally a nickname or just a normal word in itself meaning “a raging river” – indeed there are Arakawa rivers all over the country).

Furthermore, the convention for signposts and naming will split the words from river/lake/mountain. So Tonegawa can easily be split into Tone and kawa – which is then rendered into English as “the Tone River.” If we split ara from kawa we get a non-word (a freestanding prefix) plus the word for river[iii]. I can’t think of an equivalent name in English, but imagine trying to convince someone that Opportunity should be split into two separate words Op and Portunity. It’s just weird, man.

But keep in mind, as Japanese has no spacing between words and this is just a convention (not a law) for romanization of Japanese words, there are occasional exceptions[iv]. Also, the Japan River Society, while having no real ability to affect laws, has strong opinions on the matter (Japanese only).

Totally random fact, but I've been told that fishing in the clean sections of the Arakawa is spectacular.

Totally random fact, but I’ve been told that fishing in the clean sections of the Arakawa is spectacular.

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Etymology of the Ward

☆ Short Answer:
Name of the ward is derived from the 荒川 Arakawa Arakawa River. The ward was officially created in 1932 and named after the river.

☆ Long Answer:
You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?
OK, this is pretty complicated, especially because I haven’t described the course of the river or its history yet. So you’re going to get some spoilers. But that’s fine because this is history and there aren’t really spoilers – just shit you don’t know yet.

The name of the ward comes from the Arakawa River flowing through the northeastern part of Arakawa Ward. But – surprise! – the river flowing through the northeastern part of the Arakawa Ward, is called the Sumida River.

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The Imabuchi Flood Gate. There are actually two of them now. Take a good look at these gates and think about what they do. Then continue reading.

The Imabuchi Flood Gate. There are actually two of them now. The red one is the original. The big blue one is the new one.
Take a good look at these gates and think about what they do. Then continue reading.

Say What?!

From 1924-1930 a project was undertaken to create a man-made river to drain excess water from the Arakawa River and dump it into the 江戸川 Edogawa Edo River which would then expediently flushes it all out to sea. This feat of civil engineering is sometimes credited with keeping Tōkyō relatively flood-free since 1916 (fingers crossed!)[v].

This construction of this man-made canal meant the Arakawa was split into 2 discrete waterways:

 The so-called 荒川放水路 Arakawa Hōsuiro Arakawa Drainage Canal began at 岩淵水門 Iwabuchi Suimon Iwabuchi Floodgate in 北区 Kita-ku Kita Ward and then meandered through 足立区 Adachi-ku Adachi Ward, 葛飾区 Katsushika-ku Katsushika Ward, 墨田区 Sumida-ku Sumida Ward, 江戸川区 Edogawa-ku Edogawa Ward, and 江東区 Kōtō-ku Kōtō Ward.

 The other waterway, the Arakawa went from the Iwabuchi Floodgate in Kita Ward to create the borders of Adachi Ward and Arakawa Ward, then marked the borders of Arakawa Ward and Sumida Ward, then to mark the borders of Sumida Ward and 台東区Taitō-ku Taitō Ward, then Sumida Ward and 中央区 Chūō-ku Chūō Ward, then to mark the borders of Chūō Ward and Kōtō Ward where it dumped out into Tōkyō Bay.

This aerial shot shows the old red floodgate (up top), the new blue floodgate (center). It also shows clearly where the Sumida Rivers begins (old Arakawa) and the new course of the Arakawa (old drainage canal).

This aerial shot shows the old red floodgate (up top), the new blue floodgate (center). It also shows clearly where the Sumida Rivers begins (old Arakawa) and the new course of the Arakawa (old drainage canal).

In 1965, the Arakawa Drainage Canal was formally designated as the official path of the Arakawa River. This meant the stretch of the Arakawa from Iwabuchi Floodgate to Tōkyō Bay was designated as the 隅田川 Sumidagawa Sumida River, which you can read about here. That stretch of river had had the unofficial nickname of Sumida River since the Edo Period and since it delineated many borders of Sumida Ward, the changing the name seemed obvious.

But because of this new, formal re-designation of the Arakawa’s “main path,” it meant that the border of the 墨田区 Sumida-ku Sumida Ward and 荒川区 Arakawa-ku Arakawa Ward was no longer the Arakawa River, it was the Sumida River.

Yes, that’s right, folks. The Arakawa River does not flow through (or even touch) Arakawa Ward – at least not officially[vi].

The old Iwabuchi Floodgate is affectionately called Akasuimon "Red Floodgate." It is not longer used and some crazy river people like to go there for sightseeing.

The old Iwabuchi Floodgate is affectionately called Akasuimon “Red Floodgate.” It is not longer used and some crazy river people like to go there for sightseeing.

Arakawa Ward’s Dark Secrets

Prior to and during the Edo Period the area was made of rural, agricultural communities in 豊島郡 Toshima-gun Toshima District (this was never part of Edo). The area was only associated with peasant farmers until 1651, the first year of 4th shōgun Tokugawa Ietsuna’s rule. In this year, the shōgunate built 小塚原死刑場 Kozukappara Shikeijō Kozukappara Execution Ground in the village of Minami Senjū. Around this time, the area of Minami Senjū came to have a heavy association with the 穢多 eta outcastes (literally “abundances of filth”)[vii] in the Edo Period. These were people at the bottom of the social class structure who did “unclean work” such as execution, clean up and disposal of dead bodies, leather work, butchery, etc. Minami Senjū’s reputation as a village of “unclean” people and a place of death and torture has tarnished the area for centuries[viii]. Also, it didn’t help that it was one of the most mismanaged execution grounds of the shōgunate.

Every time a construction project is launched or the rail companies try to expand, the remains of executed humans are excavated. The bones are rarely found attached to anything, indicating animals tore the corpses apart and scattered the bones. Heads tend to be founded together, clearly indicating execution.

Every time a construction project is launched or the rail companies try to expand, the remains of executed humans are excavated. The bones are rarely found attached to anything, indicating animals tore the corpses apart and scattered the bones. Heads tend to be founded together, clearly indicating execution.

Present day Arakawa Ward is also home to 浄閑寺 Jōkan-ji Jōkan Temple, often called 投込寺 Nagekomi-dera the “dumping temple.” I mentioned this briefly in my article on Yoshiwara, but this was where most licensed prostitutes were interred. The name seems to imply that dead prostitutes were just impiously dumped at the temple gates at all hours of the day throughout the Edo Period, but this is probably not the case. In 1855, there was a major earthquake which burned down much of Yoshiwara[ix]. As a result, the corpses of the girls were wrapped in sheets – or whatever facilitated easy transport – and they were dumped in a massive heap in front of the temple. At any rate, the sight of the pile of bodies of young girls (mostly 12-20 years old) made an impact on the local people and the nickname stuck. At any rate, thinking of girls sold off by their families to be sexual slaves and then dumped at a crappy temple in the countryside because no one else would take them is pretty fucking depressing.

You can see funerary urns packed on top of one another in the repository for dead prostitutes. These aren't just Edo Period 'tutes, but also girls who died en masse during the Great Kanto Earthquake and the Tokyo Firebombing in WWII.  It's estimated that more than 25,000 Yoshiwara girls are interred here.

You can see funerary urns packed on top of one another in the repository for dead prostitutes. These aren’t just Edo Period ‘tutes, but also girls who died en masse during the Great Kanto Earthquake and the Tokyo Firebombing in WWII.
It’s estimated that more than 25,000 Yoshiwara girls are interred here.

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In 1868, 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō Prefecture was established and this area the Toshima District was included in the newly created Tōkyō. In 1932, the area called Arakawa Ward was formally incorporated into 東京市 Tōkyō-shi Tōkyō City[x]. Even by the 1930’s, the area’s image hadn’t improved.

The reason for this is that with the Meiji Coup came industrialization. The industrial revolution in Europe and the US was a filthy and polluted affair. Japan was no different. In Meiji Japan, many factories were built along the Arakawa River (present day Sumida River). This area was chosen for a number of reasons. First, the river allowed for the transport of raw material into the factories and distribution of finished products. Garbage and waste of the factory could be dumped into the river. Factories were dirty and produced unnatural smells and smoke and waste, so it was better to put these outside of the city center. As a result, other businesses and factories associated with “unclean” work were relocated to the area along the present day Sumida River. Of course, the people working these jobs were none other than the recently “liberated” and “integrated” 部落民 burakumin, the new polite word for the outcastes and their descendants. Burakumin villages lined the Arakawa river system. And what about good ol’ Minami Senjū? (Nowhere near the Arakawa River, by the way.) Well, the execution ground was shut down early on by the Meiji Government, but the area still bore a massive stigma. Its inhabitants continued doing “unclean” work that was forbidden in the city center, ie; leatherwork, slaughtering animals, butchery, and disposing of corpses.

Old burakumin slum on the river. If the river flooded, guess who got fucked over first?  Yup. These people.

Old burakumin slum on the river. If the river flooded, guess who got fucked over first?
Yup. These people.

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To the surprise of most Tōkyōites, some traditionally burakumin areas in Tōkyō still exist. There seems to be some controversy as to whether these areas are populated by the descendants of actual burakumin. Privacy laws and anti-discrimination laws have wiped identifiable burakumin village names from maps and postal addresses. Even the infamous 山谷 San’ya area, whose name persists in the minds of locals, does not exist as a modern place name.  Many of these areas are still economically depressed. Many of these areas can be found in Arakawa and 足立区 Adachi-ku Adachi Ward and Taitō Ward. I’ve been in some of these areas and you can tell something is off (a lack of signs identifying the area and a “silence” on your GPS is one sign that you’re there).

River areas, while vital, were always lower class in Pre-Modern Japan. Sumida, Arakawa, and Adachi bore the brunt of that burden until a nostalgia kicked in after the 60's when people pined for traditional Japan. There's still an emotional tug of war between super modern Japan and traditional Japan.

River areas, while vital, were always lower class in Pre-Modern Japan. Sumida, Arakawa, and Adachi bore the brunt of that burden until a nostalgia kicked in after the 60’s when people pined for traditional Japan. There’s still an emotional tug of war between super modern Japan and traditional Japan.

If someone really wants to know precisely where an Edo Period burakumin village used to be located, it’s not hard to find that information. However, villages after the Edo Period are harder to pinpoint due to the sensitivity of the issue. And the reality of the situation is that in most parts of Japan, there isn’t any discrimination towards them. In fact, there’s almost no way of finding out who is a descendant of this class; it’s also not important to most people these days anyway. Also most of the old villages have just melted into the metropolis of Tōkyō since the 1960’s. As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of doubt if the descendants of the burakumin populate these areas anymore. The only thing that is certain is that many of those traditional areas are still economically depressed.

Most Tōkyōites are generally repulsed by discrimination against the burakumin and may be shocked to hear the “they even exist anymore” (in many ways, this is an Ōsaka problem, not a Tōkyō problem). So don’t get the idea that there is rampant hatred and oppression of these people. There isn’t. It’s just part of the history of this area. Some of it from the Edo Period, most of it from the Meiji Period – but it’s part of a dark legacy that happens to be encapsulated within the confines of modern Arakawa Ward and has kept the ward less well off than some its counterparts in the Tōkyō Metropolis. Also, don’t think that things aren’t changing. There’s a lot of gentrification going on in Tōkyō’s shitamachi and blue collar districts. Families who want to live in a タワーマンション tawā manshon skyrise apartment but want to save money can find reasonably priced, spacious, modern apartments in the heart of a shitamachi neighborhood. That’s a combination of yamanote living in the heart of a traditional Shōwa Era neighborhood. It’s like having the best of both worlds and paying half the price for it.

Savvy real estate developers have seized upon the love for the water and the beautiful view that post Bubble developers didn't give a shit about. They've re-imagined Tokyo as a low city with semi-high-rise apartments. The open space and "low city" feeling creates a modern Tokyo lifestyle deep in the heart of the Edo's last dying gasps for air.

Savvy real estate developers have seized upon the love for the water and the beautiful view that post Bubble developers didn’t give a shit about. They’ve re-imagined Tokyo as a low city with semi-high-rise apartments. The open space and “low city” feeling creates a modern Tokyo lifestyle deep in the heart of the Edo’s last dying gasps for air.

But I Digress…

Back to the river. The Arakawa River originates on 甲武信ヶ岳 Kobushigadake Mount Kobushi which is in the Saitama Prefecture side of the border of Saitama, Nagano, and Yamanashi. That region is called Chichibu which is a reference to 秩父国 Chichibu no Kuni Chichibu Province which existed from the Taika Reforms until 1868[xi]. As mentioned before, at Iwabuchi Suimon, the river splits in two. The old river become the Sumida River, the more recent river path become the Arakawa. From there, the river merges with the Edo River and empties into Tōkyō Bay.

Let's go back to the headwaters of the Arakawa. It's a beautiful, clean source of water.

Let’s go back to the headwaters of the Arakawa. It’s a beautiful, clean source of water.

Taming Of the Raging River

At the beginning of the Edo Period the river followed the course that is now called the 元荒川 Moto-Arakawa Old Arakawa in Saitama. This river isn’t connected to the modern river today, but the Old Arakawa still flows from 行田 Gyōda to 越谷 Koshigaya where it merges with the 中川 Nakagawa. Today the river is essentially a drainage ditch. This stretch of what was once a might river lies with the boundaries of former 忍藩 Oshi Han Oshi Domain, a name that we’ve seen in the last two articles.

Again, as mentioned in previous articles, typhoons and torrential rains caused the Tone and Arakawa rivers to flood seasonally with disturbing regularity which would devastate Edo’s shitamachi areas. So, in the early 1600’s the shōgunate began massive river projects in order to protect the shōgun’s capital from flooding as well as the administrative centers along the Tonegawa Watershed. Major work on the river continued until the late 1960’s. The overall effect was that the Tone River ceased flowing south into Edo and was gradually diverted east toward Chiba over the centuries. This eventually created the two current river paths of the Sumida River and the (modern) Arakawa.

With all the manipulation of the waterway and the levees and the space between the river and the communities lining the river, one might think the Japanese have tamed the Arakawa River. This may not be the case, though. Even though the last devastating flood was in 1916, officials in Tōkyō are worried that the metropolis still isn’t prepared enough if the Arakawa (or any other river, or even the bay itself flooded). The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana and Hurricane Sandy on New York as well as the tsunami in Tōhōku raised more than a few eyebrows in Tōkyō and there has been a renewed interest in buttressing anti-flooding measures in the interest of saving lives and safeguarding existing infrastructures. If you’re interested in reading more about this renewed interest in taming Tōkyō’s rivers, here’s article from 2008 that talks about some worst case scenarios and here’s another article from 2013 that describes the progress made and what still needs to be done to keep Tōkyō safe.

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______________________________________

[i] Wanna start from the beginning? You can catch up by reading my first post.
[ii] There are 荒川 all over the country. Wikipedia actually has a disambiguation page (Japanese only).
[iii] Yes, there is an adjective 荒い arai but an adjective doesn’t make a place name in Japanese, it has to be something connected to the word. For example, 新宿 New Post Town isn’t written as Shin Juku or even Shin-juku, but Shinjuku. The two elements are inseparable.
[iv] The opposite also happens when many Japanese romanize the end of a phrase like おいしそうだよ oishisō da yo as oishisō dayo because many people consider da yo to be a cluster (one word, if you will), though a prescriptive grammarian would insist that they be separated as da is a copula and yo is an emphatic particle. I tend to take the prescriptive approach when I Romanize Japanese because I’m a jerk like that.
[v] That’s because the impetus to build the Arakawa Drainage Canal was the last major flood in, you guessed it, 1916.
[vi] Just to remind you… Arakawa Ward was created in 1932, reaffirmed in 1945, and it became a 特別区 tokubetsu-ku Special Ward 1947. All of this happened while the Arakawa River marked the border of Sumida Ward and Arakawa Ward.
[vii] By the way, this term “eta” is highly offensive in modern day Japan. For most people, in particular those who know they are descendants of this class, the carries the weight of the worst racial slurs you can imagine. The term seems to be used quite freely outside of Japan when talking about this group of people prior to the Meiji Coup in 1868. But don’t use it in Japan. Instead, you should use “burakumin.”
[viii] Even if most people don’t know about this today.
[ix] Remember, Yoshiwara was surrounded by a moat and there were essentially only two ways in and out. As a result, the Yoshiwara was a death trap in the case of fires. The prostitutes were indentured servants and were forbidden to leave without special permission. Clients and tea house owners could leave, but for the working girls, crossing the threshold without permission could have meant torture or “accidental” death. Of course, staying within the confines of the pleasure quarters during a fire could have meant “torture” or accidental death as well. Catch-22. Whatcha gonna do?
[x] Longtime readers will be familiar with this. Tōkyō Prefecture contained a much larger area than Edo proper. One of those areas, an “expanded Edo” – if you will – was Tōkyō City. The prefecture and city were abolished in 1943 and the whole are became 東京都Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis. The former Tōkyō City roughly corresponds to the modern 23 Special Wards.
[xi] Chichibu’s major connection to Edo-Tōkyō is actually its contribution of a cadet family of the 平家 Heike the Taira clan. Learn more about this in my article on Why is Edo called Edo?

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 Katsushika mean?

In Japanese History on November 4, 2013 at 2:50 am

葛飾
Katsushika (Adorned with Kuzu)

What does Katsushika mean?

This is kuzu, sometimes incorrectly spelled kudzu.

kuzu Japanese Arrowroot,
a reed-like grass that grows in wetlands
shika decoration, ornament, embellishment

This is a very ancient name.

The former 下総国葛飾郡 Shimōsa no kuni Katsushika-gun Katsushika District, Shimōsa Province consisted of areas that are today Tōkyō, Chiba, Ibaraki, and Saitama. This wide area comprised the modern areas of: to the north, Katsushika District, Saitama Prefecture; to the west, Sumida Ward and the eastern half of Kōtō Ward, Tōkyō Metropolis; to the east, Koga City, Ibaraki Prefecture; and to the south, Edogawa Ward, Tōkyō and Urayasu City, Chiba Prefecture.

Shimosa Province

This is Shimosa Province. The area marked #1 was the Katsushika District.


The name is attested in the 万葉集 Man’yōshū so we know this is an ancient name[i]. The probability of it not being Japanese in origin is high. As mentioned in previous articles, the kanji used in pre-Edo Period Tōkyō place names should always be taken with a grain of salt[ii].

There are various theories, but none of them are certain.

1 – Katsushika’s かつ katsu comes from an older word カテ kate or ト kato which meant cliff, hill, or knoll. しか comes from an older スカ which meant “sandbar.” The general idea being that this name referred to the lowlands on the right bank and the elevated ridge on the left bank of the 利根川 Tonegawa Tone River (present day 江戸川 Edogawa Edo River[iii]).

2 – The name was given to the area by the “people of the south sea”[iv]. According to this theory, in whatever dialect or language these people spoke it referred to a hunting ground.

3 – The kanji is literal. katsu is an on’yomi[v] and nanori[vi] of kuzu arrowroot. shika is the nanori of kazaru to decorate. Arrowroot is a kind of vine that grows near rivers. It’s an invasive plant that quickly spreads and takes over an area. It is used to make some kinds of jellies for Japanese sweets. If this etymology is accepted, the meaning is then literally “a field or area decorated (overgrown with) Japanese Arrowroot.”

Here is a lowland area overtaken by kuzu.

Here is a lowland area overtaken by kuzu.

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[i] The Man’yōshū is an ancient text written in a kind of ateji. Here is an article on the text. Here is an article on ateji.

[ii] The kanji used in the Man’yōshū – which are all ateji – are 勝鹿 win + deer and 勝牡鹿 win + male deer and 可豆思賀 nice + bean + think + auspicious. These kanji are meaningless and don’t give any indication of etymology.

[iii] This river was famous for changing course after major floods and tsunamis until the area was wealthy enough to implement proper urban planning. The present Edogawa flows through the ancient course, emptying into Edo Bay (Tōkyō Bay).

[iv] 南洋系の民族 nan’yō-kei no minzoku people from the south sea is a mysterious term that may refer to other immigrant groups coming from the south, or may be a direct reference to the spread of Yamato culture, or may refer to older Yayoi or even Ainu people who just moved into the area at some point. I find this explanation ridiculously unclear – it’s obviously over my head.

[v] The Chinese reading of the kanji.

[vi] A set of common readings of a kanji used in names.

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