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What does Yurakucho mean?

In Japanese History on October 2, 2013 at 11:51 pm

有楽町
Yūrakuchō (Town where you can have a good time)

Yurakucho Station. The elevated train has been a feature of the area for a long time.

Yurakucho Station.
The elevated train has been a feature of the area for a long time.

, u

is the default reading, it means “have” or “possess” or “exist.”

—————————————–

U usually has a Buddhist meaning of bhava, ie; “becoming.” The Buddhist meaning is the original meaning and you’ll see why later.

 

raku

 ease, comfort, leisure; music

chō, machi

 town
Even in the old days, the elevated train has been part of the scenery.

Even in the old days, the elevated train has been part of the scenery.

If you look at the kanji for Yūrakuchō, you might think this is a quarter of the city that is reserved for debauchery. It’s next to Ginza. It’s near Hibiya and Nihonbashi. It’s close enough to Shinbashi (which is debauched in its own right). It’s located in the southern end of Marunouchi[i]. Today the area doesn’t seem like much to the modern eye. It’s famous for business, shopping, and kind of plain in my opinion, but there are some interesting places to drink there. (Each of those links is to the Japan This! etymology of those places, hint hint wink wink.)

However, if you look at a map of Edo, you’ll notice this area is right next to 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. As I mentioned in my article on Marunouchi, it was within the outer moat of Edo Castle and one of the features of this place was a long road lined with the high walls and gates of the 上屋敷 kami yashiki upper residences[ii] of the most elite feudal lords.

Today Yurakucho is boring. It's Ginza's embarrassing  little sister.

Today Yurakucho is boring. It’s Ginza’s embarrassing little sister.
And that stupid elevated train is still there.

The Official Story

If you look just about anywhere, people will say that the area is named after one Oda Nagamasu, the younger brother of Oda Nobunaga.

織田長益 Oda Nagamasu was a daimyō who was in the service of 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He was a pupil of 千利休 Sen no Rikkyū – the proverbial Godfather of Funk[iii]. He assumed his DJ name 有楽斎 Yūrakusai or 有楽 Yūraku[iv]. The difference between the two names is the kanji 斎 sai which is closely related to Zen Buddhism. I’m not a specialist on Buddhism, but I think this refers to sharing a meal (or in this case, a drink) in a spiritual situation. As mentioned earlier, the kanji with the specialized reading u is also closely connected to Buddhism.

So according to the story that usually gets touted on NHK and Wikipedia[v] and what in-the-know Tōkyōites generally repeat is the area was named after Oda Nagamasu, AKA Yūraku.

Sounds legit, right?

Oda Nagamasu (Yuuraku) - the man himself.

Oda Nagamasu (Yuuraku) – the man himself.
Do you like his apron?

Lords had to have a residence (they generally had 3 in Edo)
So, where was the Oda family residence?

天童藩織田家上屋敷 Tendō Han Oda-ke kami yashiki the Upper Residence of the Tendō Domain Oda Family[vi] was located where the present day 三菱ビル Mitsubishi Biru Mitsubishi Building and 丸の内三丁目ビル Marunouchi San-chōme Building are located. Today this area is called Marunouchi, but it’s a bit of a walk from present day Yūrakuchō. So the remaining family of Oda Nobunaga definitely was living in the area… just not in the area that is called Yūrakuchō. And in Edo Period terms, there seems little reason to transfer the name from this part of Daimyō Alley[vii] to present day Yūrakuchō.

This is Marunouchi, not Yurakucho, but you can see the proximity to the inner moat.

This is Marunouchi, not Yurakucho, but you can see the proximity to the inner moat.

So I had to dig a little deeper.

It seems there are a few theories.

1 – Oda Yūraku had a residence here
Any Edo Era map I’ve looked at clearly delineates the 上屋敷 kami yashiki upper residence of the Tendō Oda family as a modest residence (by daimyō standards) located on a corner of Daimyō Alley. Present day Yūrakuchō was the location of extremely large palaces of various branches of the Matsudaira[viii]. Although Yūraku lived until 1621[ix], I can’t find any evidence that he actually maintained a residence in the area. After the winter and summer sieges of Ōsaka, when the Tokugawa and their newly established 幕府 bakufu shōgunate put down the last pocket of Toyotomi resistance, it seems that he lived a life outside of politics and in relative seclusion in Kyōto. He may have visited Edo, but again, there’s no evidence of this.

This is a view of "maru no uchi."  Daimyo Alley is street highlighted in red. The hot pink square is the Oda Residence.  Note that Yurakucho is quite far from here.

This is a view of “maru no uchi.”
Daimyo Alley is the street highlighted in red.
The hot pink square is the Oda Residence.
Note that Yurakucho is quite far from here.

2 – Yūraku ga Hara
Having retired from his daimyōship, Yūraku dedicated his life to practicing tea ceremony. This theory states that he maintained a modest residence in the area to perform tea ceremonies with the powerful daimyō in the area and with shōgun Ieyasu and shōgun Hidetada. This residence fell into ruins and became 有楽ヶ原 Yūraku ga Hara Yūraku’s Field[x]. The name Yūraku ga Hara first appears in records during the reign of the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu. Iemitsu’s reign was from 1623 to 1651. If Yūraku had a residence here, it would have been empty for 2 years at the time of Iemitsu’s ascension.

3 – Yūraku established many tea houses here
This theory states that being a passionate 茶人 chajin tea practitioner, he established many 数寄屋 sukiya tea houses[xi] in the area. This would be for the daimyō in the area to enjoy tea without leaving the confines of the outer enclosure of Edo-jō.  There was a bridge in the area with this name in the Edo Period. The moat was covered up in 1958 in preparation for the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics (dick move, Tōkyō). The area is still referred to as Sukiyabashi and Shin-sukiyabashi[xii]. Another theory along this line states that although Yūraku never left Kyōto, many tea houses built in accordance to his practice were located here (I assume by his followers, who were all daimyō anyway).

4 – There was one tea house here and Yūraku ga Hara was its ruins
This theory is a variation of Theory 2. There wasn’t a residence here, but a single tea house. Yūraku, or one of his descendants or followers, established a tea house here. A decent sukiya has an outer garden (with many plants and trees to block outside distractions) and an inner garden (much simpler and sparse to avoid distractions if the doors/windows inside the tea house are open). This would have required a substantial amount of space. The theory states that the tea house was near the bridge and after Yūraku died, it fell into ruins and the area was just a deserted lot – a deserted lot with a name.

5 – Ura ga Hara → Yūra ga Hara
The final theory is intriguing. It states that the name has absolutely nothing to do with Oda Nagamasu or tea or teahouses. The name is a remnant of the original geography of the land. This theory states that the Hibiya Inlet stopped here[xiii]. This theory operates off the premise that there was a 原 hara field near the 浦 ura inlet. That is, it was an 浦ヶ原 Ura ga Hara (a field near the inlet).

So those are the stories….

Sukiyabashi when there was still a river and a bridge.

Sukiyabashi when there was still a river and a bridge.

As I mentioned, the name Yūraku ga Hara appears in some records. This is roughly 25 years into Tokugawa rule, but like much at that time, names are not so official. I have to add to this, 50 years later Oda clan’s connection to the Tokugawa was just hereditary bullshit. True, they were located in Daimyō Alley, but in such a small compound, one can’t help but imagine the later shōgunate considered the contemporary descendants of the Oda family as irrelevant. Worthy of respect[xiv]. But irrelevant.

.

.

After the Edo Period

The small island that made up what was a prestigious compound of daimyō residences was annexed by the emperor and the daimyō had to return to their fiefs. In 1872 (Meiji 5), the name Yūrakuchō became official. This is after the Ginza Taika, a massive conflagration[xv] that burnt down much of Yūrakuchō, Ginza, and Marunouchi. This was an awesome opportunity for the new Meiji Government occupying the newly renamed Tōkyō Castle.

What was so awesome about it? In my opinion, nothing. But for those who overthrew the shōgunate, it was a chance to rebuild Tōkyō – not Edo – according to their own vision. After the fire, the land was cleared out and the Meiji Army used it as a place for military exercises[xvi]. Famously, in 1890 (i.e.; 20 years later), Iwasaki Yanosuke, the second successive president of the Mitsubishi Corporation and the 4th president of the Bank of Japan bought the former outer enclosure of Edo Castle and began development of the area as a business district. The Sukiyabashi area still retained the bridge and whether it was really connected with Oda Nagamasu or not probably didn’t matter. The bridge’s name seemed to refer to a tea house. The Oda clan had lived nearby. An Oda family member was a famous tea practitioner. It could be true or it could be early Meiji marketing.

Can we Know the Truth?

I’ve wanted to write about this one for a while now, but the “official story” is so ingrained in the history of Tōkyō and because of the location within the former grounds of Edo Castle and the connection to the establishment of the Tokugawa shōgunate and the demise of the Toyotomi compounded by all of the bravado of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, maybe we’ll never be able to get to the truth. The alleged link to tea culture and this place name and the well documented fervor with which the daimyō of the Sengoku Period and anyone with a little money in the Edo Period appreciated tea culture further obscures the origin of this place name. My personal opinion is this: as a skeptic, I can’t buy into any of these theories wholesale. But there are connections and common threads between all of them. I’m gonna err on the conservative side. Maybe a follower of Yūraku (or maybe Yūraku himself) had a sukiya (tea house) in the area. Then again, who knows? Maybe it’s a pre-Tokugawa reference to the Hibiya Inlet. That doesn’t seem unreasonable either.

Edo Castle - Sukiyabashi

Edo Castle – Sukiyabashi

So what’s up with the spelling of the name?

So is homie’s name Uraku or Yūraku? It’s hard to pinpoint but in Ōsaka his name is preserved in a town with the same name… but different pronunciation. In Ōsaka, it’s 有楽町 Uraku-machi. In Tōkyō it’s 有楽町 Yūraku-chō. I can’t find much consensus on this, but it seems that in his time, by his own reading of the kanji, Nagamasu’s assumed name was read as うらく Uraku. He lived out the rest of life in Kyōto where we may be able to assume a family tradition or local tradition preserved the pronunciation Uraku. In Edo or other parts of Japan that didn’t have a strong connection to the man – at least not in a direct sense – the kanji was more readily read as Yūraku[xvii].

Edo Castle - Sukiyabashi

Edo Castle – Sukiyabashi

Another Mystery

One final thing I’d like to mention. In the beginning, I deliberately mentioned that 有 u and 斎 sai have Buddhist connotations. If you see a picture of him, he has a shaved head and wears the clothes of Buddhist monk. But supposedly, while still a daimyō he converted to Christianity in 1588 and took the baptismal name ジョアン Joan, the Portuguese version of John. Many Japanese did this during this time. In 1590, Nagamasu assumed the named Uraku (or Urakusai) when he became a Buddhist monk. He retired from politics after the Siege of Ōsaka (1614-1615). Some people say he was a Christian. Some people say he was a Buddhist. Japanese religion is syncretic, so I’d venture to say he cherry-picked what he liked from both religions. As he is buried in a Buddhist temple in Kyōto and his approach to tea seems very Zen, I would venture to say he was more or less a Buddhist. He may have abandoned Christianity altogether. But again, this is a mystery and I’m just putting forth my own conjecture.

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[i] This was once part of the grounds of Edo Castle where the daimyō closest to Tokugawa Ieyasu held their residences for their 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai service (alternate attendance). Click here for more about sankin-kōtai.

[iii] Oooops, no… he’s the godfather of tea. But just to clarify, he didn’t bring tea to Japan. That happened hundreds of years earlier. He didn’t invent the tea ceremony either. But many people, from his own time until present day, consider his aesthetic approach to tea as the pinnacle of tea ceremony. Most of the modern “schools” of tea ceremony are derived from his followers, including Oda Nobumasu (Yūraku).

[iv] I’ll address the pronunciation in a while. But for those who want spoilers, the name can be read as both Uraku and Yūraku.  Also this wasn’t really his DJ name. They didn’t have DJ’s back then, silly. This assumed name is called号 gō, a kind of sobriquet.

[v] If you want a good laugh, the Wikipedia version is pretty ridiculous.

[vi] Why wasn’t the Oda family in control of Owari (Western Aichi Prefecture)? Because when Nobunaga died, that area was re-assigned. Eventually it became a Tokugawa holding.

[viii] The Tokugawa were actually a branch of the much older Matsudaira clan.

[ix] Tokugawa Ieyasu himself lived until 1616. Yūraku died at age 75, Ieyasu as at age 73. So these men were very much contemporaries. Keep that in mind as the story goes on…

[xi] Sukiya is a type of tea house. Read more about it here.

[xii] The movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi made this area famous when the shop became known outside of Japan as the best sushi shop in the world – an assertion that is met with mixed responses or blank stares when brought up with Tōkyōites.

[xiv] The system called 家元 iemoto was an officially recognized system that demanded patrilineal succession of family businesses or, in the case of the shōgunal famiy, direct rule over the 天下 tenka Japan.

[xv] More about conflagrations at you know where!

[xvi] No doubt a propaganda tool to discourage any pissed off ex-samurai from starting an insurgency.

[xvii] If I ever write “readily read” again, please shoot me.

What does Ushigome mean?

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

牛込
Ushigome (Crowd of Cows)

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

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

ushi

cow

komi[i]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asakusa Shrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does Edo mean?

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History on September 6, 2013 at 12:56 pm

江戸
Edo (literally “Inlet Door,” but more at “Estuary”)

Edo - the shogun's personal domain.

Edo – the shogun’s personal domain.

Today’s post is a monster!
There are a lot of footnotes trying to clarify things in the text.
Please check those.
There are good links and some additional info there.

A few days ago was, if my math is correct, the 145th anniversary of day Edo was renamed Tōkyō. This happened on September 3rd, 1868 by an imperial decree called 江戸を称して東京と為すの詔書 Edo wo shōshite Tōkyō to nasu shōsho Imperial Edict Renaming Edo Tōkyō. The document was written in the ancient and pretentious language of the imperial court which is above my Japanese level so I’m not going to translate it for you. But we all know what happened. Edo ceased to exist and Tōkyō was born.

I tried to find a picture of the actual document, but I couldn’t. But if you do want to see the section of the text that laid out the command in all its highfalutin imperial court language glory, here it is:

朕今萬機ヲ親裁シ億兆ヲ綏撫ス江戸ハ東國第一ノ大鎭四方輻湊ノ地宜シク親臨以テ其政ヲ視ルヘシ因テ自今江戸ヲ稱シテ東京トセン是朕ノ海内一家東西同視スル所以ナリ衆庶此意ヲ體セヨ

UPDATE: I found a translation of this line at no-sword.jp. Here’s the translation:

But enough about Tōkyō.

Today’s topic is Edo.

Every guidebook and general book on Japanese history says something like:

“Before the coming of the Tokugawa, Edo was a sleepy fishing village.”

“Though it was once an insignificant village in the marshy wetlands, Tokugawa Ieyasu transformed Edo into a glorious capital befitting of the shōguns.”

And while those sorts of statements hold varying degrees of truth, just blowing off everything before the  arrival of Tokugawa Ieyasu, raises more questions because why the hell would Ieyasu just pick some crappy fishing village in a marsh and say “Build me a castle from which I can rule Japan!” Ieyasu wasn’t that impulsive and he definitely wasn’t stupid. He was made an offer by Hideyoshi and he took it. He deliberately chose Edo which means the area was strategically important and not a shithole fishing village in East Bumfuck.

One other thing we often hear is:

“A feudal warlord named Ōta Dōkan came into the small fishing village of Edo and built his castle there.”

Again, this seems strategically silly and as you will see, it’s simply not true[i]. Sure, fishing was a big deal in the area – it was for all of Edo’s existence, but things are more nuanced than that.

How do you say East Bumfuck in Japanese?

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

PART 1 – SHORT ANSWER
for people with short attention spans

In the 12th century, an influential branch of the Taira clan moved their base from present day Saitama to 江戸郷 Edo-gō Edo Hamlet in 豊島郡 Toshima-gun Toshima District in 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni  Musashi Province[ii].  Following standard practice of the time, if a powerful lord wanted to distinguish his line as a new clan, he would take the name of his territory as a surname. Thus this new clan was 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo Clan. Edo’s place name seems to have been quite literal. It meant “estuary.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

PART 2 – LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG ANSWER
for people with too much time on their hands

First, a disclaimer. I’m not a scholar. A lot of this backstory is not well documented.
There may be some omissions or timeline mistakes in here because my eyes glaze over at Japanese genealogy, etc.If you know something that I don’t or see a mistake, let me know, and I’ll fix it.

OK, so let’s go waaaaaaaaaay back before the Tokugawa.

The Kantō Plain appears to have first been populated in the Late Jōmon Period sometime after 3100 BC. This is well before rice culture found its way to Japan[iii]. It’s fair to say these people were hunter gatherers and don’t really figure into the history of Edo-Tōkyō as an urban space. But still, their presence here gives us some perspective of how long humans have lived here.

Happy little Jomon people having a picnic or something.

Happy little Jomon people having a picnic or something.

The Kofun Period 

Fast forward more than 2000 years and…

During the Kofun Period (200-500 AD), the influence of the Yamato State[iv] finally reached the Kantō area. It seems that around the 300’s, Kantō became a vassal state of the Yamato Court. It’s from this period forward that we can see the arrival of the people who are to become what we will later see as Japanese, physically and culturally. They were a literate people who had ideas of governance, philosophy and technology that they learned[v] from the Korean peninsula and China. The spread of Shintō accompanies the Yamato influence. BTW – Kofun are burial mounds typical of this culture. There are kofun scattered throughout the Kantō area – more than 200 exist in the Tōkyō Metropolis. The so-called 丸山古墳 Maruyama Kofun “Round Mountain” Kofun is in 芝公園 Shiba Kōen Shiba Park next to where Tokugawa Hidetada’s funerary temple was built in the early 1600’s[vi].

Here you can see the size and keyhole shape of the Maruyama Kofun.

Here you can see the size and keyhole shape of the Maruyama Kofun.

Maruyama Kofun is the largest in the area, so it must have been built for someone powerful. The kofun sits an easy walk from Edo Bay and is next to the 古川 Furukawa “the Old River,” one of many rivers and inlets in the area (at the time and, to a certain extent, today).

The hilly area surrounding it could provide high areas for residences and villages. Strategically speaking, these hills were ideal for defense because, duh, it’s better to be at the top of the hill in a ground war than at the bottom. Also, the high ground protected villages from tsunamis and flooding. The proximity to the bay was great for fishing and growing seaweed and the inlets and rivers were convenient for sending heavy supplies and foodstuffs in and out of the area. The bay also provided a natural defense as Japanese ship construction technology sucked ass at this time. The wetland areas were perfect for growing rice. In short, the area was defensible and sustainable. Whoever is buried in the Maruyama Kofun noticed this potential and most definitely exploited it to his and his subjects’ benefit.

From Maruyama Kofun, move a few clicks north on a map of Edo and you will see where Edo Castle stood[vii]. The same conditions existed here[viii] and it’s from here that our story really begins.

The kofun just looks like a big hill. Keep in mind, we don't know who was in here, but at least we can get an idea of the culture that lived in the surrounding areas along the bay.

The kofun just looks like a big hill.
Keep in mind, we don’t know who was in here, but at least we can get an idea of the culture that lived in the surrounding areas along the bay.

The Rise of Samurai in Kantō

Let’s move up to present day Saitama in the area called 秩父郡 Chichibu-gun Chichibu District near 大宮 Ōmiya Ōmiya, not far from the present day Tōkyō-Saitama boarder. At the end of the Heian Period in the 12th century, a noble clan descended from the 平氏 Hei-shi Taira Clan was in control of the area.  The original, major samurai houses descended from imperial branch families like the Taira.

The Taira Clan (called Hei-shi in Japanese) used a stylized butterfly crest called the 蝶紋 chō mon. Most branch families adapted the butterfly into new designs for themselves.

The Taira Clan (called Hei-shi in Japanese) used a stylized butterfly crest called the 蝶紋 chō mon.
Most branch families adapted the butterfly into new designs for themselves.

The family name Taira essentially means you descend from the imperial family of the Heian Period, but you are not 公家 kuge a court family, so your official status is that of a subject of the emperor. But as a samurai family with imperial blood, you – theoretically –have more power and rank than the average samurai.

By the way, this era marks the true rise of the samurai culture. Lords (daimyō) tended to take the names of their fiefs as family names to establish new branch families[ix].  So, although these families were of Taira blood, this branch took the name of their fief and became known as the Chichibu Clan. It seems that bearing the name of your territory was an expression of your dominance. (Remember that! It’s going to come up again later.)

So, for reasons unclear (to me at least), someone from this Taira samurai family in Chichibu moved south to establish a new clan. The most likely candidate is the guy generally considered the first head of the Edo Clan, Chichibu Shigetsugu.

Chichibu Shigetsugu moved south and fortified a small hill in 千代田 Chiyoda “Eternal Fields”[x]. He probably chose this area because this is where Tōkyō Bay had a major inlet that became the Sumida River. It had a strong current for bringing in goods. Being on the coast, it was immune from attacks by sea on one side and with so much seafood production and rice production in the area it was a sustainable area. The same natural features that made area appealing to the people of the Kofun Period, also made it appealing this 12th century samurai.

The area into which Chichibu Shigetsugu moved was supposedly known as 江戸郷 Edo-gō the hamlet of Edo[xi]. Following the tradition of his day, when he became lord of the area, he assumed the name 江戸 Edo and became Edo Shigetsugu. His descendants would also bear this name.

It’s thought that his fortified residence was built on what is now the current 本丸 honmaru main keep and 二ノ丸 ninomaru secondary enclosure of the Imperial Palace (areas still delineated clearly today).

TIP 1: Check JCastle.info to learn what the heck honmaru and ninomaru are!

This is where it gets weirder. Despite being a minor offshoot of the Taira clan, the second successive lord, Edo Shigenaga, was asked by Minamoto Yoritomo[xii] to help fight against the Taira. Lord Shigenaga switched sides (probably to save his ass) and in about 1180, after the war, he was rewarded with 7 additional fiefs in the surrounding area. I’m not sure about this, but although Edo Hamlet was still one of his holdings, it seems he made his main residence and seat of government at Kitami[xiii]. This consolidated the Edo clan’s influence over a wide area.

Edo Shigenaga continued fortification of the military residence in Chiyoda. Because of the clan’s connection to the Minamoto shōguns[xiv], the Edo family’s influence increased and Chiyoda Castle[xv] increasingly came to be referred to as Edo Castle, though the dual naming would persist[xvi].

Edo Castle at its height is highlighted. The tiny green circle is where the Edo residence is thought to have soon. By the this awesome interative map is from JCastle.info. Click the map to go directly the page I took this from.

Edo Castle at its height is highlighted.
The tiny green circle is where the Edo residence is thought to have soon.
By the this awesome interative map is from JCastle.info
Click the map to go directly the page I took this from.

Edo from the Kamakura Period to the Muromachi Period

The area was still minor, but it’s clear from archaeological evidence and administrative records that the area began its first baby steps towards urbanization at this time. It was a minor military hub and because of the nearby 隅田川 Sumidagawa Sumida River and Edo Bay, logistically speaking, transportation of goods was most likely increasing.

We can only imagine that during the Kamakura Period, the villages and hamlets the fell under the protection of the Edo Clan would have grown and prospered a little. Occasionally the area shows up in records of the Kamakura Shōgunate. The Muromachi Period, however, is pretty much silent on the area. Kamakura was not so far away from Toshima and Musashi provinces and so would be up to date on things. The Muromachi Shōgunate was far off in Kyōto and probably too busy to care what a bunch of country samurai in the east were doing. But by 1467, we start to see the country descend into chaos as the shōgunate loses control of the country.

Sengoku Period
i.e.;  ザ・クラスターファック時代

The Sengoku Era saw the rise in castle towns centered around the castles of 大名 daimyō lords who were constantly at war with their positions always changing. So we see great development in castle building and military strategy, but not so much in city building or administration. In the final years of the Sengoku Period castle building reached the stage of what we usually think of when we imagine a stereotypical Japanese castle. In the early years, castle building was a little different. Think dirt-walled, wood-fenced, thatched roofed barn-like firetraps.

1457, at the beginning of the Sengoku Era, a Musashi warlord named Ōta Dōkan attacked Edo Shigeyasu. Shigeyasu surrendered to Dōkan (a vassal of the Uesugi). His life was spared and he was allowed to continue living at the Edo clan’s Kitami residence. (Remember that because it’s going to come up again).

Pretty sure Dokan couldn't get any girls in Tokyo if he walked around in pants like that.

Pretty sure Dokan couldn’t get any girls in Tokyo if he walked around in pants like that.

Dōkan and Uesugi recognized the strategic benefits of the Edo Clan’s residence near the bay (and probably its nice view of Mt. Fuji on one side and the ocean on the other side and decided to build (or develop) the structure for Uesugi Sadamasa. The new structures were built in the same area that the original Edo Clan residence had been. As stated before, this is the area that became the honmaru and ninomaru of the Tokugawa Edo Castle (today this area is the Imperial Palace East Garden). The building may not have been terribly large, but he installed a large and complex system of moats and it began to look more like an early Sengoku Era castle.

Edo Castle at its height is highlighted. The tiny green circle is where the Edo residence is thought to have soon. By the this awesome interative map is from JCastle.info. Click the map to go directly the page I took this from.

Same map as before.
Edo Castle is highlighted in yellow.
Ota Dokan’s thatched roof fortress is highlighted in green.
By the this awesome interative map is from JCastle.info.
Click the map to go directly the page I took this from.

Also, as mentioned before, in the Sengoku Era we see the rise of 城下町 jōka machi castle towns. As the castles got bigger, they needed to rely on goods from the local people. As fighting got worse, the people needed to be closer to the castles for protection. After all, it was dangerous out there. Also, the lords wanted rings of meandering streets around the castles for 2 reasons; one, it’s difficult to siege a castle when you have to go through a city first and two, human shields. That said, this early in the Sengoku Period, I don’t think we were seeing a lot of that. But, it’s clear that this process had begun before the arrival of the Tokugawa. Dōkan also diverted a waterway that became the Nihonbashi River, one of the outstanding traits of city during the Edo Period.

Before I said, Ōta Dōkan didn’t really build Edo Castle. But now you know the reality. By diverting water supplies and laying out a defensive system of moats, he unwittingly began the urbanization process. This new fortress was the catalyst that made the area not just a lord’s residence with a few villages scattered around here and there. It made it a defensible, sustainable, strategic area with a growing population that would look mighty attractive to one Tokugawa Ieyasu about a hundred years later (at least on paper).

Ieyasu obviously new about Ota Dokan's "castle," but you can just imagine him seeing the150 year old ruins for the first time and being like "shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit."

Ieyasu obviously new about Ota Dokan’s “castle,” but you can just imagine him seeing the 150 year old ruins for the first time and being disappointed.

In 1477, Ōta Dōkan attacked Toshima Yasutsune. He took Nerima Castle, Shakujii Castle and the clan’s administrative center, Hiratsuka Castle. Then he literally annihilated the Toshima clan. Bye bye.

In the general narrative of the Sengoku Period, Ōta Dōkan is a kind of minor guy. But history isn’t a narrative. The actions he took, some barbaric, some wise, don’t play into the unification of Japan. But in the history of Edo-Tōkyō, he looms large.

It’s safe to say that he was definitely a product of his violent age.  And in 1486, he met a violent end typical of that age when he was murdered by the Uesugi Clan for a perceived betrayal.

His control of the fortress (can we really say “castle” yet?) in Chiyoda was a little over 20 years.

Now, as for what happened next, I’m not exactly certain. I’ve usually read that the castle remained abandoned from 1486-1590, but it seems that in 1525, Hōjō Ujitsuna took possession of the region and the castle. However, I don’t know if he actually lived there or did anything with it. If I had to speculate, I’d say that in the constant state of war of the Sengoku Period, rehabilitating a hundred year old castle would have been a risky and expensive operation.
If anyone knows, I’d appreciate the info!

End of the Sengoku Period

At any rate, fast forward 100 years later to 1590. Toyotomi Hideyoshi stamped the shit out of the last independent clan remaining on his quest for unification; this last remaining pocket of resistance was the Hōjō who were based in Odawara, thus ending about 80 years Hōjō influence in the area. As everyone who studies Japanese history knows, one of the generals helping Hideyoshi in this final act of unification was Tokugawa Ieyasu.

toyomi_era_osaka_honmaru

Honmaru of Osaka Castle in Hideyoshi’s time.
One of Hideyoshi’s many amazing accomplishments was building Osaka Castle.
It was said to be undefeatable – until Ieyasu defeated it. (lol).
Since the time of Nobunaga, castle building techniques had changed dramatically.
Having gotten used to this as the future of castle building,
imagine Ieyasu’s reaction to seeing Ota Dokan’s castle ruins.
(btw – this is just a model. lol.)

Of course, we also all know that Ieyasu despised Hideyoshi and, well, Hideyoshi pretty much didn’t trust Ieyasu either, especially after Ieyasu fought – but lost – against Hideyoshi in 1584. So after the defeat of the Hōjō/Odawara, Hideyoshi devised a unique plan to pacify and distance himself from Ieyasu. At the time, Ieyasu controlled 5 provinces, Mikawa[xvii], Tōtōmi, Suruga, Shinano, and Kai[xviii] which had fast access to Kyōto. Hideyoshi offered to buy out Ieyasu of his five provinces by giving him the so-called 関八州 Kanhasshū the 8 Kantō Provinces. The Kanhasshū included Musashi, Sagami, Kazusa, Shimōsa, Awa, Kōzuke, Shimotsuke, and Hitachi[xix] — quite literally the whole Kantō region.

Ieyasu's new territory. Edo Bay is totally protected.

Ieyasu’s new territory.
Edo Bay is totally protected.

Ieyasu took the deal and could have chosen any place within his sprawling new dominion for his main seat of government. But he chose Edo.

Sure, he chose fixer-upper. But he chose one with a well-fortified castle that had room for expansion (and Ieyasu now had the money for it). He had waterways in and out of the city. He had a view of Mt. Fuji (a territory that had once been his). He had a view of the ocean, which not only was beautiful – it was a kind of super moat. The area was fertile and partly urbanized.

It’s said that when Ieyasu came to survey the city he planned to make the base of his 8 provinces, the castle that Ōta Dōkan had built consisted of around 100 buildings with thatched roofs surrounded by wide moats and earthen walls. Although it didn’t look like much upon his arrival, the moat system alone was enough to know he’d chosen well.

At the height of Tokugawa power, the castle is said to have been the biggest in the world and the city was likely the most populous.

Who REALLY built Edo Castle?

Ieyasu ordered his castle built in the new style.
There were 4 stages of construction throughout the Edo Period.
Look at that and then tell me who REALLY built Edo Castle.

So, um… What Happened to the Edo Clan?

Oh, I almost forgot.

Now that we’ve come to the Tokugawa Period, which is generally referred to as the Edo Period, I have to back track to something I said earlier about a certain Edo Shigeyasu.

Shigeyasu surrendered the Edo residence to Ōta Dōkan in 1457 in the early Sengoku Period. Keep in mind that ancient samurai families often took their branch names from the lands that they controlled.

Ieyasu arrived in 1590 and began establishing his new capita at Edo. He was still in the service of Hideyoshi at the time[xx], but as the lord of the Kanhasshū he had to establish rapport with his new retainers (lords in their own right). Likewise, his new retainers had to swear allegiance to him.

There was one major problem… with the name!

The Edo clan still had a residence in Kitami, which is present day Setagawa Ward. In light of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s dominance over the area, it would be presumptuous (and confusing) for a clan to retain the name of the capital city when a new daimyō, appointed by the unifier of Japan, controlled that city. So in 1593, taking an oath of submission and fealty to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the last Edo Clan daimyō gave up the name Edo and assumed the name, Kitami, which was where their primary holdings were.

In 1600, Ieyasu was victorious at the Battle of Sekigahara and became the de facto leader of a more-or-less unified Japan. In 1603, the emperor granted him the title of 征夷大将軍 seii taishōgun great barbarian subduing general.

Replica of the armor that Ieyasu wore at the battle of Sekigahara.  Pretty freaking Darth Vadery of him.

Replica of the armor that Ieyasu wore at the battle of Sekigahara.
Pretty freaking Darth Vadery of him.

The Edo Clan’s Final Disgrace…

In 1693, the direct family line, no longer Edo but Kitami, was extinguished after the banishment of Kitami Shigeyasu to Ise when his grandson murdered somebody or something. The once powerful country samurai family, descended from Taira blood in the 1100’s, who had held such influence over the area and had long born the name of the area, just fizzled out into oblivion[xxi].

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Bye bye, Edo Clan.

Bye bye, Edo Clan.

But Wait, There’s More!

Now, if this were any other blog, that would be the end of the story. But long time readers of JapanThis! will surely be wondering why so many other ancient place name etymologies are so difficult and Edo was so easy. Is it really just “estuary???”

Well, not everyone agrees. It seems there are multiple theories on the origin of the name “Edo.”

 Theory 1 – It’s literal.
 Theory 2 – It derives from the Ainu word エト eto which means “cape” or “peninsula.” This theory claims that the name refers to the original shape of the Hibiya inlet around the beginning of the Heian Period[xxii].
 Theory 3 – It derives from 井戸 ido well. エ e and イ i confusion in the Kantō dialects is something that we’ve come across many times in Tōkyō place names. So it’s possible that an ancient spring (or hot spring) existed here at one time. References to wells in place names are common in Japan. This is because people would naturally build new villages near fresh water supplies. No wells that would be a candidate have been found, though.

 

There are a few other theories too ridiculous to bother with here. According to the Kadokawa Dictionary of Japanese Place Names, the literal meaning (estuary = edo) is the most likely derivation and the Ainu word (eto = cape, small peninsula) is the second most likely. I tend to agree.

So there you have it. More background on Edo before the coming of the Tokugawa than you ever wanted to know. Definitely more than you needed to know. Now you can bore your friends to tears at the next party with all of this pointless trivia.

I should probably print this whole article on a t-shirt, dammit.

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[i] It’s also incorrect to apply the term “feudal” to Japan.

[iii] Wet rice cultivation and bronze and iron technologies were imported sometime around 900 BC and eventually spread across the islands.

[iv] The Yamato Court were the predecessors of or origins of the current imperial line, depending who you ask. Their capital was based in Asuka (in current Nara Prefecture).

[v] Learned or brought, depending on who you ask.

[vii] Don’t use a map of Tōkyō because the shape of the bay is radically different today.

[viii] And it’s not unreasonable to assume that the ruler buried in Maruyama Kofun exerted influence over the Chiyoda area as well.

[ix] A reverse pattern sometimes occurs when an area derives its name from the ruling family, but this is not the case with Edo.

[xi] The name 江戸 Edo means “river/bay door.” This describes the inflow of water from Edo Bay into the rivers that gave the coastal regions life. Also, people always say Edo was a small fishing village. If I’m not mistaken, at the time a 郷 sato/ was bigger than a 村 mura village. So, technically speaking, at this point Edo wasn’t a small fishing village.

[xii] The guy who established the Minamoto Shōgunate (ie; Kamakura Shōgunate).

[xiii] In present day Setagaya Ward.

[xiv] The Minamoto Shōgunate is more commonly referred to as the Kamakura Shōgunate.

[xv] I’m not sure if we can call it a “castle” at this point. I imagine it was a large fortified residence, not unlike Shakujii Castle (see the CG reconstruction to get an idea).

[xvi] Even today, if you google Chiyoda Castle, Edo Castle will come up in the search results. Also, technically speaking any castle they held could theoretically be referred to as Edo Castle since this was also their Clan name.

[xvii] Mikawa was Ieyasu’s home province.

[xviii] If you’re good with your Japanese geography… this territory was roughly present day Nagano, Aichi, Shizuoka, and Yamanashi (think Mt. Fuji). It was a fair chunk of territory, but with so many allies at Ieyasu’s command so close to the capital, it apparently was too close for Hideyoshi who wanted a buffer around his court in Kyōto.

[xix] Again if you’re good with your Japanese geography… This is roughly Tōkyō, Saitama, Kanagawa, Chiba, Ibaraki, a part of Gunma and Tochigi.

[xx] In fact, he would be serving him in Kyūshū for a few years, while Hideyoshi embarked on a retarded plan to invade China via Korea.

[xxi] They didn’t fizzle out into oblivion completely. There is a 喜多見駅  Kitami eki Kitami Station in present day Setagaya.

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