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What does Hatsudai mean?

In Japanese History on April 14, 2020 at 9:23 pm

初台
Hatsudai (the first platform)

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Is it Back to Normal Yet?

Well, apparently things aren’t back to normal yet. The Wuhan Love™️ is still out there taking lives, eroding infrastructure, and killing jobs. We’ve just got a few more weeks to put up with this and if we all do our best, I’m pretty sure we’ll come out of this stronger. That said, I hope you’re all doing well, staying inside, socially distancing yourselves, and discovering ever weirder shit on Pornhub[i]. It looks like the worldwide death toll is over 120,000 people at the time of writing. The global death toll isn’t slowing down because some major first world countries have totally dropped the ball on this one, I’m looking at you Japan and the USA. Get your shit together, please.

Anyhoo, we’re heading back over to 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward because the further west you go in 東京都 Tōkyō-to the Tōkyō Metropolis, the easier the place names get. Or, at least, it’s easier for me to find “bite-sized” articles. So today, we’ll be looking at 初台 Hatsudai, which is a neighborhood that lies just off the side of 旧甲州街道 Kyū-Kōshū Kaidō the former Kōshū Highway[ii] at the border of 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward and Shibuya Ward[iii]. Its primarily a residential area, but it’s also home to the corporate headquarters of Casio[iv].

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First, Let’s Look at the Kanji


hatsu, haji-/hajime; sho

beginning, first


tai, –dai

tower; platform; plateau; stand

Even though I like to start each etymology with “let’s look at the kanji,” I’m going to be perfectly honest and tell you that in this case, knowing the kanji isn’t going to give us much insight into this place name.

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a reconstructed noroshi-dai

The Story

Tradition says this place name is a combination of two legends, one from the end of the Muromachi Period and the other from beginning of the Edo Period.

The first derivation says that in order to secure his re-fortification of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle, the warlord 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan built a series of eight 出城 dejiro satellite castles[v], including one in this area. Whether this was a full on 砦 toride fortress or just a 見張台 mihari-dai look-out tower, the main feature was its 狼煙台 noroshi-dai a specialized platform for sending smoke signals to the other defenses. One story says that this was originally called 八台 yatsudai fort #8, or hatsudai in the local dialect[vi].

The most trustworthy etymology comes from the beginning of the Edo Period (1600-1868). The second shōgun, 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada, donated a large fief in this area to his wet nurse, 初台 Hatsudai. This area was countryside until quite recently, so the presence of a member of the shōgun’s household living on a prominent hill brought a lot of prestige to the village[vii]. We’ve seen plenty of other examples for place names derived from the presence of elite residences.

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We have no portrait of Hatsudai no Tsubone, but here is Saigo no Tsubone. She was the mother of Hidetada and the primary concubine of Ieyasu.

Hatsudai no Tsubone

During the finally years of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period[viii], samurai warlord 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu needed someone to look after his eldest son, Hidetada[ix]. He moved his clan to Edo in 1590 and immediately began seeking a proper nanny to raise the twelve-year-old in his new castle. The keyword search for “cultured, devoted, and lactating” pointed directly at one noble woman – a woman whose actual name and lineage is a bit mysterious to us today, yet the Tokugawa court deemed her worthy of raising the next head of the clan, and most likely the next leader of the realm.

In 1591, the wife of a certain 土井昌勝 Doi Masakatsu was selected to raise the second Tokugawa family head, Hidetada. Sadly, we don’t know much about her as records merely preserve her as “the wife of Doi Masakatsu” or even more obliquely as “the wife of the younger brother of 土井利勝 Doi Toshikatsu.”[x] We don’t know who her parents were, nor when and where she was born and died. We do know, however, the Buddhist name she retired under in her old age[xi], and the name and title she held in the shōgun’s court: 初台局 Hatsudai no Tsubone Lady Hatsudai.

Long time readers will recognize the term 局 tsubone, a title given to the highest-ranking matrons of 大奥 Ōoku the shōgun’s harem[xii]. Years ago, we spoke about 春日局 Kasuga no Tsubone, the wet nurse of the third shōgun, 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu. Seeing how the two tsubone we have come across so far were both trusted with the lives of future shōguns, I think it’s pretty clear how loyal and respected these women were. The kanji 局 tusbone/kyoku literally means “bureau” or “department,” so think of them as the Vice-Presidents of Raising the Next Shōgun. All the other ladies in waiting were at their beck and call. Make no mistake about it. Women with the title tsubone ran shit in the innermost palace of Edo Castle.

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Hatsudai in the Edo Period. Just farmland. Notice the wide yellow road roughly following the Tamagawa Aqueduct, that’s the Kōshū Kaido.

Hatsudai – Mystery Woman

While we don’t know much about Hatsudai’s personal life, we do know a bit about the family she married into. The 土井家 Doi-ke Doi clan had been active in 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province[xiii] and it seems like they were a typical Kantō samurai family of the late Sengoku Period. I mentioned that Hatsudai is sometimes described as the “wife of the younger brother of Doi Toshikatsu,” which is interesting for two reasons: one, it means the younger brother, Masakatsu, wasn’t as distinguished as his older brother; and two, it could mean Ieyasu held Toshikatsu in higher esteem than the younger brother.

You see, Toshikatsu was adopted into the clan by Ieyasu’s councilor, 土井利昌 Doi Toshimasa. He is believed to have been the son of 水野信元 Mizuno Nobumoto, an uncle of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Others claim he was an illegitimate son of Ieyasu himself, entrusted to the Doi clan where he could keep an eye on his growth from a safe distance. Ultimately, Toshikatsu proved to be a worthy ally of the Tokugawa. Not only did he and his younger brother serve as advisors, they led their armies in support of 大坂の陣 Ōsaka no Jin the summer and winter sieges of 大阪城 Ōsaka-jō Ōsaka Castle in 1614 and 1615. Toshikatsu was about six or seven years older than Hidetada, and Masakatsu was probably about four or five years older. Hidetada apparently had great trust in Masakatsu (they were roughly the same age) and he retained both brothers as personal advisors during his nearly 20 years as shōgun and his nine years as 大御所 ōgosho retired shōgun. After Hidetada’s death, the Doi brothers slipped into obscurity.

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Hatsudai today. The Keio Line now follows the Tamagawa Aqueduct.

How long Hatsudai remained in the direct service of the Tokugawa is unclear, but at some point, she retired and became a Buddhist priest – choosing a new name, 安養院 An’yō-in. The shōgun Hidetada granted her a luxurious, hilltop retirement estate in the country. It was a quiet little spot surrounded by rice paddies in Yoyogi Village, conveniently located near the Kōshū Highway. The fief was valued at 二百石 ni hyaku koku 200 koku[xiv], which would be a pretty sweet income to retire on. Also, there was supposed to be enough money for Hatsudai to establish a funerary temple in the area, but it’s unclear what happened next.

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Grave of Hatsudai

Final Resting Place?

In present-day 渋谷区代々木三丁目 Shibuya-ku Yoyogi san-chōme 3rd block of Yoyogi, Shibuya Ward, there’s a small temple called 正春寺 Shōshun-ji Shōshun Temple. It appears that for whatever reason, Hatsudai no Tsubone didn’t establish a temple in her own name. Her daughter, known to history as 梅園局 Umezono no Tsubone[xv], was the original wet nurse in charge of the future third shōgun, Iemtisu. I’m not sure why[xvi], but Umezono no Tsubone was soon replaced by Kasuga no Tsubone — probably the only tsubone most people have ever heard of. What we do know is that in retirement[xvii], she changed her name to the more priestly sounding 正春院 Shōshun-in, hence the name of the temple.

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Hatsudai’s Buddhist name, An’yo-in

If you walk around the cemetery and look really hard, you can find a grave dedicated to a certain 土井次郎左衛門昌勝 Doi Jirōzaemon Masakatsu. We can quickly identify this as Hatsudai’s husband’s tomb[xviii]. If we take a look at a small column of text to the side, we can clearly see the phrase: 土井次郎左衛門昌勝室 Doi Jirōzaemon Masakatsu no shitsu[xix]. This inscription indicates that the 夫婦 fūfu married couple can be honored here together for eternity, and just in case people forgot about poor old Hatsudai, only her Buddhist name (An’yō-in) and her relation to Masakatsu are listed on the grave. The priests of Shōshun-ji say that fires, earthquakes, and the Firebombing of Tōkyō destroyed most temple records, but oral tradition tells that the temple was established by Umezono no Tsubone (Shōshun-in), although maybe her mother Hatsudai no Tsubone (An’yō-in) established something smaller in the area that was absorbed by the current institution. Legend says that in the Edo Period, many local people made pilgrimages here to leave offerings for the wet nurse of the second shōgun, and prayed for their sons to be virtuous and decisive clan leaders. However, the temple cannot confirm whether the actual remains of Doi Masakatsu or — more importantly — those of Hatsudai are interred under that gravestone in their cemetery.

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Hatsudai Awa O-dori 

So, despite Ōta Dōkan having an outpost here, Hatsudai is probably named after Hatsudai no Tsubone’s retirement estate on the hill. The fact that a temple in walking distance has a connection to our woman of mystery bolsters this theory. More importantly, if “name a tsubone other than Kasuga no Tsubone” ever comes up in a drinking game, you’ve got this one covered, bruh. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

On that note, stay safe. Stay home. Leave a comment here or on the Facebook Group and and the Facebook Community. And I’ll see you soon!

Further Reading:

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[i] Yo, I’m discovering so many fetishes that once this social distancing bullshit is finished, I’m planning on fucking my way to an early grave. Riddled with STD’s doesn’t sound like a bad way to go when a version of the flu is gutting the world economy and killing people left and right. It really puts the impermanence of life under the microscope, if you know what I mean #TeamIenari
[ii] This stretch is known locally as 甲州道中 Kōshū Dōchū the Kōshū Promenade – sounds so pleasant.
[iii] Whether you’re in Shibuya or Shinjuku, I think it’s fair to call this area 代々木 Yoyogi as just a general term.
[iv] So, if you’re into that sort of thing…
[v] Also described as 砦 toride a fort. Also, who was the fuck was Ōta Dōkan?
[vi] I only found one person citing this “platform #8” etymology, so I don’t have a lot of faith in it. I think the 台 dai kanji reinforces a sense of historical continuity from the name 初台 Hatsudai, but the name is probably from the Edo Period, not Ōta Dōkan’s time. Any relationship between the two stories is probably just a coincidence.
[vii] Present day Hatsudai lies on the south side of the Kōshū Kaidō. This used to be 代々木村 Yoyogi Mura Yoyogi Village. The north side of the Kōshū Kaidō (not present day Hatsudai) was 幡ヶ谷村 Hatagaya Mura Hatagaya Village the (present day Hatagaya).
[viii] The last years of the Sengoku Period (Warring States Period), which saw the rise of the so-called Three Great Unifiers.
[ix] Actually, now Hidetada was the eldest. Ieyasu’s true first-born son was 信康 Nobuyasu who committed 切腹 seppuku ritual suicide at age 20 in 1579.
[x] Toshikatsu was a general closely aligned with the Tokugawa.
[xi] We’ll get to her Buddhist name in due time. But just remember, that noble women were expected to become monks when their husbands retired or died. Often they would found a temple which took their priestly name.
[xii] The Ōoku wasn’t officially created until the time of Kasuga no Tsubone, but the women’s quarters (the innermost palace in Edo Castle) was already a de facto division of castle life in its own right since day one.
[xiii] Present day 千葉県 Chiba-ken Chiba Prefecture.
[xiv] One koku = enough rice to feed an adult male for one year.
[xv] Actually, I’m not sure how to read her name. I’m 90% sure it’s Umezono (a Japanese reading, more suitable for a name) or Umeon (another rarer, Japanese variant). It could also be Baien (a Chinese reading, but this seems more literary or topographical).
[xvi] Perhaps Umezono no Tsubone died young, while her mother was still alive?
[xvii] Unless, of course, she died prematurely and received the name Shōshun-in posthumously…?
[xviii] For everyone who’s smoking too much herb or drinking too much booze during the Wuhan Love™️ Pandemic and you already forgot, Hatsudai was married to Doi Masakatsu. All that Jirōzaemon nonsense is just some dumb Edo Period name-game bullshit. Don’t sweat it.
[xix] 室 shitsu literally means “room.” This was a term applied to the wives of the most elite warriors. A general way to think of this is 正室 seishitsu main room (ie; lawful wife) and 側室 sokushitsu side room (ie; formal concubine).

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