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Posts Tagged ‘trains’

Yamanote Line Extravaganza (intro)

In Japan, Travel in Japan on April 23, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Yamanote-sen (the High City Line)


After my Ōedo Line Extravaganza back in June 2015, I got a few requests to do a Yamanote Line Extravaganza. One message was hilarious and too long to quote in its entireity here, but the author said (and I quote):

How could you do the Oedo Line before the Yamanote?
It’s an upstart and a poseur. It’s not even a real loop.

He ended the email with:

You are dead to me, sir. Dead.

I don’t get a ton of mail, but gems like that keep me going. If you’re that on board with my JapanThis! style, then by all means, send emails! Well, it’s actually better to leave a comment. I take back the email thing. Leave comments for the sake of my inboxes. But either way, let’s be friends! Also, bonus points for spelling poseur correctly.


Just kidding, I love you all!

Anyhoo, the reason I started with the 大江戸線 Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line is because I’d already covered a lot of the areas it services and because the name 大江戸 Ōedo literally means the Greater Edo Area and was a nice way to wrap up some articles I had written previously to that series.  Also, just including the word 江戸 Edo in the name was enough to make it first. Furthermore, I hadn’t re-written my looooong reference page about Yamanote vs. Shitamachi. I couldn’t very well write about the Yamanote Line without first exploring what those loaded terms meant, could I?

yamanote line.jpg

So What is the Yamanote Line?

The Yamanote Line has been described as Tōkyō’s most important train. It’s just a train line that runs in a circle around some prominent neighborhoods in Tōkyō. And just like the 大江戸線Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line, it runs in a loop around much of the old Edo city limits. However, unlike the Ōedo Line, it is in fact a true loop line that runs in an uninterrupted circle around the city center.

The word 山手 yamanote high city is the opposite of 下町 shitamachi low city. In the Edo Period, it referred to the secure high ground upon which the 大名 daimyō feudal lords and the 武家 buke samurai families lived. These days, residential addresses inside the Yamanote Line loop are seen as prestigious because they lie in the true center of Tōkyō. Owning or renting an apartment within the “Yamanote Line Loop” is generally expensive, but owning actual real estate[i] puts you into a unique segment of the city’s population. Sometimes you’ll see very old wooden houses within the loop that look run down and often decrepit. The owners may not have a lot of money and their houses may not look like much, but they’re the owners of a small plot of ancestral land that is literally worth a fortune. These families try to keep their land and live traditionally, passing on the plot to the next generation. Sometimes some son or daughter gets rich and knocks down the house and builds a modern domicile, but there are a few who resist and try to maintain this disappearing style of home – the idea being that if the head of the family falls into financial ruin, they could sell the ancestral plot for a huge sum of a money and recover the family’s inheritance.


The train line currently services 29 stations and in terms of passengers per day it puts most cities’ entire public transit systems to shame[ii]. A new, 30th station and business center will be added between 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station and 田町駅 Tamachi Eki Tamachi Station before the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics. This is the first route update to the Yamanote Line since 1971 and it will make use of an old trainyard and maintenance center that is being phased out by JR East, the company that operates the Yamanote Line. Incidentally, it will also give quick access to the 高輪大木戸 Takanawa Ōkido, one of the three original access points to the shōguns’ capital of 江戸 Edo.

The Original Route

The predecessor of the modern loop line was built in 1885 (Meiji 18) and started in 品川 Shinagawa (a seaside port area important for distribution, but relatively rural), then continued to 目黒 Meguro, then 渋谷 Shibuya, then 新宿 Shinjuku, then 目白 Mejiro, then 板橋 Itabashi, and terminated at 赤羽 Akabane (on the border of present day 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis and 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture, at the time a rural area near a river begging for industrial revolution pollution). This was the beginning of a new definition of 山手 yamanote high city. This was when the suburban and rural areas west of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle (then 東京城 Tōkyō-jō) came to be called “yamanote.” Of these stations, none qualified by Edo Period standards as yamanote. Sections of those towns were indeed home to a handful of daimyō, but for the most part they were the outermost suburbs of the shōgun’s capital.

The train line was eventually connected to form its present day loop in 1925 when Akabane was dropped from Yamanote Line service. Like most loop trains in major cities, the Yamanote Line had come to be one of the most efficient ways to get around the city. It united business centers, cultural centers, and the associated red light districts[iii] for maximum economic impact. Tourists tend to find themselves on the Yamanote all the time given the train’s access to major hub stations and hotel districts. Think of a major destination in Tōkyō, it’s probably on the Yamanote Line: 渋谷 Shibuya, 新宿 Shinjuku, 原宿 Harajuku, 代々木 Yoyogi, 上野 Ueno, 秋葉原 Akihabara, 東京駅 Tōkyō Eki Tōkyō Station, and 有楽町新橋 Yūraku-chō/Shinbashi. For residents of the city, almost every station is necessary throughout the year.

I hope you’re excited about this series, because I am. Keep reading and keep watching this spot because I have a special announcement coming up very soon!

Further reading:


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[i] In terms of housing, this generally means the plot of land has been passed down the family for generations.
[ii] Yes, you heard me. This single line does more business than most cities’ entire transit systems.
[iii] For, as long time readers know, drinking & whoring.

Ōedo Line: Tsukiji Shijō

In Japanese History on June 25, 2015 at 2:28 am

Tsukiji Shijō (Tsukiji Market)

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

So at the beginning of this series, I told you that the Ōedo Line is kinda loop line. It’s not a perfect non-stop loop like the Yamanote Line, though. It has definite starting and stopping points[i]. So far, we’ve made the journey from the outskirts of Edo in Shinjuku all the way to Edo Bay (Tōkyō Bay). For the last couple of stations we’ve been riding off the original coastline and this will be our last stop in Tōkyō Bay. At Tuskiji Shijō Station, we will be turning around and our next station will be on the coastline. Then we will be heading back towards Shinjuku. But the ride won’t stop there. No, we’re gonna head out of Edo – Voyager style[ii]. But don’t worry. We’re still in Edo for a while.

Click on the map to enlarge it.

Click on the map to enlarge it.

If you know anything about Tōkyō, you know probably know about the Tsukiji Fish Market[iii]. This is one of the stations that will take you the largest fish market in the world. You have to go early in the morning, though – like 5 or 6 AM early – if you want to see crazy fish auctions. Why anyone would wake up that early in the morning to look at a bunch of dead, stinky fish is beyond me, but the fish market is a perennial destination for tourists. Oh yeah, people who have to go there to buy fish for their restaurants also go there.

Tuskiji Fish Market was established in 1923, but the current structure was built in the 1930's. The old fish market had stood in Nihonbashi since the 1600's. It was one of the liveliest -- and apparently stinkiest -- places in the old city.

Tuskiji Fish Market was established in 1923, but the current structure was built in the 1930’s. The old fish market had stood in Nihonbashi since the 1600’s. It was one of the liveliest — and apparently stinkiest — places in the old city.

That said, if you walk through the sushi shops in the area at any time of day, you’ll be able to find a restaurants that offer some of the freshest sushi in Tōkyō. A bit of advice: choose a small shop, one with no English signs, and one with only counter service so you can talk to the guys making your sushi. Also, ask them what they recommend for the day. In my experience, they never fail to recommend the most delicious fish they have.

Say hello to Tsukiji Hongan-ji, one of the greatest affronts to the architectural tradition of Japanese Buddhism.

Say hello to Tsukiji Hongan-ji, one of the greatest affronts to the architectural tradition of Japanese Buddhism.

Also in Tsukiji, you can find one of the ugliest temples ever built. It’s pretty unusually so if you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth seeing and maybe taking a picture or two. In a previous article, I touched on the history of this temple – as I said in the last article, the history of this area is all linked and it’s better to know the entire history of the area to really have a good understanding of what you’re looking at. The links below will give you the full story.

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

[i] The Yamanote Line has official start/stop points, but that will only affect you if you fall asleep on the last train and find yourself being escorted off the train at one of them.
[ii] Givin’ a shout out to all my Star Trek fans.
[iii] And if you don’t know the Tsukiji Fish Market, you are fucked.

Ōedo Line Extravaganza (intro)

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on May 31, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Ōedo-sen (the Greater Edo Line)

Oedo Line Map

The 大江戸線 Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line’s full name is the 都営大江戸線 Toei Ōedo-sen Toei Ōedo Line. 都営 Toei means “operated by the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government.” Most official signage includes the full name. It’s one of the deepest subways in the world.


Tōkyō’s famous loop train, the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line circles the city limits of 江戸 Edo – more or less[i]. Likewise, the Ōedo Line forms an incomplete loop around the old city but also includes areas that were well outside the city limits of Edo, including Shinjuku[ii], Nakano[iii], and Nerima[iv]. One of the original names proposed for this train line was the 都庁線 Tochō-sen which roughly translates to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Line. The reason was because the train line starts at the 東京都庁舎 Tōkyō-to Chōsha Tōkyō Metropolitan Government Building in 西新宿 Nishi-Shinjuku West Shinjuku. But because the line was mostly within the confines of historical Edo but also hit some peripheral areas closely connected to the old city, the word 大江戸 Ōedo was thrown out as a suggestion. Ōedo means “the greater Edo area.” This term includes the proximity, cultural ties, and economic ties of the villages that sat on the outskirts of the city on the major highways[v]. 内藤新宿 Naitō-Shinjuku (the old name of Shinjuku) was located outside of the city limits but was home to a major highway, the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō Kōshū Highway, and a less famous highway, the 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō Ōme Highway. In the end, the name 大江戸線 Ōedo-sen “Great Edo Line” was chosen[vi]. The train opened for service in 平成12年12月12日 Heisei jūninen jūnigatsu jūninichi 12/12 of the 12th year of Heisei. To the Japanese, this date could be read as 12/12/12. The rest of the world reads it as 12/12/2000.


Before this writing, I was under the impression that the Ōedo Line was just a normal subway train. After all, it looks like, sounds like, and feels like all the other subways I’ve ridden in Tōkyō. But it turns out that that the Ōedo Line was Tōkyō’s first linear motor car. Previously, I’d thought “linear motor car” and “maglev train” were synonymous – in Japanese I always hear maglev trains described as linear motor cars. But apparently, they are not synonymous. While both use linear motor propulsion, the new SCMaglev being tested in 山梨県 Yamanashi-ken Yamanashi Prefecture has no wheels, but the Ōedo Line has wheels like a normal train. I’m not an engineer, so that’s about as far as I can talk about the whole “linear motor car” thing.

So, assuming that the Ōedo Line covers the Greater Edo Area, I thought it might be fun to hit every station on the line and see if we can take a tour of Edo-Tōkyō. I’ll try to give a really quick etymology of each station name or area name. After that, I’ll give a quick description of the area’s historical significance and sightseeing (if any). I haven’t done any research, as each station comes up, it should be a bit of an adventure for me too.

I’ve written the entire article. Every freaking station on the Ōedo Line. Not sure why I thought this was a good idea as a single article.

So I’ve decided that, as one article this is boring as fuck. Therefore, I’m going to chop this up into little pieces. Let’s enjoy the Ōedo Line station by station, day by day.


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[i] It doesn’t follow the exact borders, but it does hit many 山手 yamanote high city areas characterized by samurai residences and daimyō residences.
[ii] Here’s my article on Shinjuku.
[iii] Here’s my article on Nakano.
[iv] Here’s my article on Nerima.
[v] Read my article about the 5 Great Highways of Edo.
[vi] Some other names were bantered about, including the unwieldy都営地下鉄12号線 Toei Chikatetsu Jūnigō-sen Toei Subway Line #12 and東京環状線 Tōkyō Kanjō-sen Tōkyō Loop Line.

Tokyo Train Line Names

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on December 12, 2013 at 5:00 am

Tokyo Train Line Names

The Tokyo train system is probably the best in the world. This may not even be a complete map (or at least the JR Lines don't seem to be labeled indivdually....)

The Tokyo train system is probably the best in the world.
This may not even be a complete map (or at least the JR Lines don’t seem to be labeled indivdually….)

2012 is nearing its end and my work and private life are getting busier and busier. I apologize for the drop in the frequency of posts, but a brother’s gotta pay the bills. Also, it’s getting colder and Mrs. JapanThis! needs some warming up in bed. Heaters in Tōkyō don’t really cut it at night, if you know what I mean. But the fact of the matter is that I have no time for anything right now. So today I picked a topic that was kind of easy[i].

Most of the train lines in Tōkyō have names based on whatever major area they originated/terminated – or at least stopped at. For example, the Marunouchi Line’s most important stations were in the former Marunouchi (Daimyō Alley) and the Yamanote Line connected centers of the “new Yamanote.[ii]”  Some of the more ambitious, longer train lines have names that describe their start/stop points in general terms. This type of name usually reflects the tendency of the Japanese language to make new matches out of existing kanji.

Most of these names are self-evident to the Japanese, especially people who live and/or work in and around Tōkyō. But many of these names may be slightly mysterious to foreigners.

Let’s take a look at these train line names, shall we?

Oh sorry, you must be this tall to get on this ride:

sen line

That kanji is generally tacked on to every train line, so I’ll leave it out of the explanations below. No sense in beating a dead horse.

OK, let’s dig in!!!!


Nanboku Sen (North-South Line)

nan south
hoku north

This is one of the easiest names that I’m going to present today.
This train literally runs from the south to the north – it runs from
品川区 Shinagawa-ku Shinagawa Ward to 北区 Kita-ku Kita Ward (literally the “north ward”).

Shinagawa is so south it borders on Edo Bay. Kita is so north that it borders on Saitama Prefecture.

If you’re ever lost looking at a map of the vast train system in Tōkyō, you can use this line as an anchor.





Keihin-Tōhoku Sen (Tōkyō-Yokohama & East-North Line)

In central Tōkyō, this combined JR East line is best known by this name but it is, in fact, 2 separate train routes, with a main route running through T

The name is interesting because it’s made of two abbreviations:

hoku north

This name has a dual purpose: it could refer to a train that goes from the East to the North; it could refer to a train that goes from the Eastern (Capital) to the North; and it could refer to Tōhoku region in general. In this case, it’s a combination of the first two.

kei the capital
hin the coast

京浜 Keihin “Tōkyō and Yokohama” is a thing. This is a word that all Japanese people will understand. There is a long standing tradition of creating these kinds of words. Here are a few similar examples that all Japanese would instantly recognize:

日米 Nichibei Japan and America
日朝 Nicchō Japan and North Korea
日韓 Nikkan Japan and South Korea
日中 Nicchū Japan and China
薩長 Sacchō Satsuma and Chōshū
阪神 Hanshin Ōsaka and Kobe

The combined name represents the combined distance of the whole route. Basically this is a train that goes from Yokohama → Tōkyō then from Tōkyō (east) → Saitama (north). It doesn’t get much more descriptive than that. Thank you very much, JR East. We love you.

This one is heading to Sengaku-ji. Probably in honor of Keanu Reeves new abomination.

This one is heading to Sengaku-ji.
Probably in honor of Keanu Reeves new abomination.

Keikyū Dentetsu (Tōkyō to Narita Electrified Line)

First I want to say that the general word for train in Japanese is 電車 densha. This word literally means “electric vehicle.” But the actual dictionary word for train is 列車 ressha, literally “line/parade” + “vehicle.”  There are two words I think Meiji Era people would have recognized[iii]:  the first is 機関車 kikansha steam locomotive – this would have been a luxury train linking cities that already had or were developing intense trade routes. The second is 馬車鉄道 basha tetsudō horse powered street cars/trolleys, these linked local urban centers and served the function of the modern subways/trains. Most of Meiji Era Japan would have been familiar with the steam locomotives that brought goods in and out of their small towns, but in a massive urban center like Tōkyō (bolstered by the bustling international port of Yokohama[iv]) people became more and more dependent on horse drawn lines. As steam locomotives fell out of use and more and more train lines became electrified, the term densha became more common. Even today an エスエル SL steam locomotive would probably be referred to as a 電車 densha electric train by the average person, though technically 列車 ressha generic train or 汽車 kisha steam train would be more appropriate as there is no electrification.


We’ve established that 京浜 keihin is a quick way to say “Tōkyō and Yokohama.”

京浜急行電鉄株式会社 Keihin Kyūkō Dentetsu Kabushiki-gaisha Tōkyō-Yokohama Express Railroad (official company name) got shortened to 京浜急行 Keihin Kyūkō Tōkyō-Yokohama Express which in turn got shortened to 京急 Keikyū Tōkyō Express (literal meaning “Tōkyō Fast”). Not a fan of the train line, but I’m a big fan of the name!

For those who are interested, this line runs from Shinagawa to Miura Kaigan. The Black Ships have a connection to Shinagawa and Miura Anjin is inextricably linked to the Miura Coast near Yokohama.


Keisei Sen (T
ōkyō-Narita Line)

kei the capital
sei Narita (city made famous by its airport)

I hate the Keisei Line. Let it be known.

It’s mediocre at best when compared to other train lines. That said, it’s convenient and it’s not so crowded. It always runs on time… ok… I shouldn’t hate on this train. I just hate sitting on local trains when I have to go to the airport or come home from a long 14 hour trip…. Also the Keisei Line has this horribly creepy pedo-panda that stares at you. Begone pedo-panda!

Keisei pedo-panda

Keisei pedo-panda

But the name means “the line that links the Capital with Narita.” That’s an easily understood name.

I’d still rather take the Skyliner (which is also a Keisei line, by the way). It’s one of my favorite trains in Japan. Going to the airport on the cheap is one thing, but coming home should be done in luxury.


Tōzai Sen (East-West Line)

西 sai west

So obviously this train line connects the East and West.

But you may have noticed that the directions are placed in orders unnatural in native English. In English, we have a set pattern, North-South, East-West. I’m not sure if that’s true in all countries, but in America that’s how I memorized it. This train connects Funabashi in Chiba (East) with Nakano (West).

The Tobu-Tojo Line is pretty complicated. I don't use it.

The Tobu-Tojo Line is pretty complicated.
I don’t use it.

Sen (Eastern Musashi – Going to the Capital Line)

This name is pretty interesting, I think. It’s a combined train line so I’m going to discuss the merged areas that bear a merged name.

The first portion of the name is 東武 Tōbu. This would combines two kanji we see time and time again here at JapanThis!.

east (also implies Tōkyō)
bu, mu Musashi Province

The area originally served by this train line was in Eastern Musashi[v]. The original plan was to connect eastern Gunma Prefecture with Tōkyō. The traditional name of that area was 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province. The province had an abbreviated name 上州Jōshū.

Kōzuke (Gunma Prefecture)

As the names of the old provinces faded into oblivion in common memory and plans to connect Gunma Prefecture with Tōkyō by this train line were abandoned, the word Tōjō took on a new meaning.

east (implies Tōkyō)
up (ie; going to the capital)

The idea being that this train line brought rural and suburban areas into the capital.

This word 東上 tōjō is generally understood as “proceeding to the capital.” And by capital, I mean Tōkyō. Remember, for much of the pre-modern Era “the capital” was a somewhat ambiguous term. “Going to the capital” was generally described by a particular verb: 上京する jōkyō suru:

up (ie; going to the capital)
kyō the capital

Since the emperor moved to Edo-Tōkyō in 1868 the term 上京 jōkyō going to the capital has been generally understood as “going to Tōkyō.” Before Meiji Era, this term generally referred to wherever the emperor lived (Nara and then Kyōto). In the late Edo Period this term seems to have been applied to both Kyōto and Tōkyō, much to the chagrin of the foreign powers hoping to establish trade relations with Japan. The foreign embassies had a lot of problems figuring out what Japanese people meant when they referred to “the capital.” The real power was in Edo with the shōgun, but there was this pesky problem with the emperor back in Kyōto…

At any rate, while jōkyō ambiguously refers to going to a capital, tōjō ambiguously refers to going to the east (with an implicit understanding of Tōkyō). This has ensured that feelings aren’t hurt and that traditional east-west rivalries can be maintained. This makes for good baseball – trust me.


Fukutoshin Sen (Second City Line)

This one confused me for a while because I wasn’t sure how to render the name into English. There’s a famous comedy club in Chicago called Second City. I think that it’s good way to render this name.

都心 toshin heart of the city
fuku second, vice-, sub-,

都心 toshin means the heart of the city. 副 fuku is a prefix that’s added to words to mean second. Some other fuku words are 副社長 fuku-shachō vice-president, 副局長 fuku-kyokuchō vice-commander (this was Hijikata Toshizō’s title in the Shinsengumi), and 副将軍 fuku-shōgun vice-shōgun (this was Mito Kōmon’s title).

Well, if this name refers to some mysterious “second city,” that begs the question, “where the hell is the first city?” This is a great question because it brings up another Japanese word that has roughly the same meaning as fuku-toshin: 新都心 shin-toshin new city center. By the way, part of my difficulty with rendering these words into English is the fact that most dictionaries render them both as “sub-center.” Most of this confusion is based in the rampant urban sprawl from the area that was once Edo areas out into other portions of the Tōkyō Metropolitan Area and even into the boarding prefectures.

Here’s the real deal:

Ōtemachi & Marun
heart of the city
(located in the heart of Edo)
Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Ueno/Asakusa, Kinshich
ō, Kameido, Ōsaki
sub-centers (second cities)
(located in the outskirts of Edo)
Saitama City, Chiba Makuhari
sub-centers (new cities)
(located waaaaay out there)

Why does it have this name? Because it connects Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro and Wakō (Saitama) – all of which are sub-centers of Tōkyō. Tōkyō is a crowded-ass place. It needs sub-centers to alleviate the commuter traffic and overcrowding. This line was developed with these sub-centers in mind.


Saikyō Sen (Saitama-Tōkyō Line)

sai Saitama
kyō the capital (Tōkyō)

Easy enough to understand from the kanji alone. This train line connects Tōkyō and Saitama. It originates in Ōsaki (the outskirts of Edo) and terminates in Ōmiya (modern Saitama).


Sōbu Sen (Sōbu Line)

This is my favorite train line name because it’s the most historical… at least in terms of its historical linguistic charm. It’s made of two kanji that I hope long time readers of JapanThis! are all familiar with.

mu Musashi (ie; Edo-Tōkyō)

Wait a second? Why does 下総 Shimōsa mean 千葉 Chiba?

Well, Chiba Prefecture is a modern construct. The traditional name of the province was Shimōsa[viii].  While Chiba Prefecture maintains its traditional lameness with a vengeance, it actually carries on a lot of Edo Period legacies. The National Museum of Japanese History is there. The city of 佐原 Sawara is there. I’ve said before that Edo was like a Venice of the East and Sawara is said to be like a Little Edo.

And with that, I have a real THANK YOU that I have to say to everyone who reads my silly, nerdy blog.

You all freaking rule!


You rule.

(I won’t be able to write a new article until after New Year’s. Will you forgive me for that?)

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[i] Don’t worry! I’m stockpiling a massive list for 2014. Next year’s going to be so much better than this year.
[ii] I need to talk more about the fluid nature of the term “Yamanote” later. But for now, that’s enough.
[iii] And I could be wrong about this…
[iv] Remember, while Edo kept itself closed off to international traffic they relegated business to the nearby Yokohama. Yokohama might still just be a minor Japanese port city had the shōgunate not maintained its prohibition on maritime traffic in and out of Edo Bay.
[v] What was Musashi, you ask? There’s an app for that!
[vi] I took the liberty of investigating why  さいたま市  Saitama-shi Saitama City is written in hiragana, while 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture is written in kanji. Saitama City is actually a collection of cities that were united to create a new urban center (a new sub-center, if you will). At that time they wanted to distinguish the city from the prefecture visually. Also they thought it gave a softer, more inviting image. So it’s basically just a random decision.
[vii] This kanji doesn’t mean “Chiba.” The reality is in medieval Japan this area was known as 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province and there was also a 上総国 Kazusa no Kuni Kazusa Province. The latter being the upper territory and the former being the lower.
[viii] See my article on Ryōgoku for a little more insight into this issue.

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