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Posts Tagged ‘tsukuda’

Ōedo Line: Kachidoki

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on June 23, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Kachidoki (victory war cry)

Kachidoki Bridge crossing the mouth of the Sumida River. (Click the picture to read more about this photo.)

Kachidoki Bridge crossing the mouth of the Sumida River.
(Click the picture to read more about this photo.)

Nearby Tsukishima was home to the Naval Academy of the Japanese Empire. A memorial was built – and still stands today – near an old ferry crossing. The memorial was dedicated to the Japanese victory at the Siege of Port Arthur, which was probably the most dramatic battle of the Russo-Japanese War (February 1904 – September 1905). Later a bridge replaced the ferry crossing and was called 勝鬨橋 Kachidoki-bashi Kachidoki Bridge. The area’s name is derived from the “war cry monument” and the subsequent bridge still bears that name.

You can see the monument when the ferry service was. The area is a mix of modern high rise apartments and gritty, wooden 下町 shitamachi (low city) homes. One famous high rise is Kachidoki View Tower which offers 2 viewing platforms for residents (including a party room) and boasts a view of Tōkyō Bay, Tōkyō Tower, and Tōkyō Skytree. You also have access to Tsukuda Island. Tsukuda is where the story of all of the massive man made islands in Tōkyō Bay begins. The area still retains a lot of its Edo appeal and is worth the trip for history geeks and photographers.

tsukudajima1Unless you want to go on an epic walking tour of the Tsukishima area, this station might not be high on your to-do-list. If you’re a real JapanThis! nerd, this might actually be a great place to start your walk through history. Just be sure to have GPS, you’ll be doing a lot of walking. The area is primarily residential today (it didn’t even exist in the Edo Period). But access to the monument that is the area’s namesake is limited to this station. Even if you make the trek all the way out to the end of the island, 晴海 Harumi “clear seas,” your view of the bay will still be obstructed by so much reclaimed land and development. If you want to see the open bay, your best bet is to take a bus or taxi to 若洲海浜公園 Wakasu Kaihin Kōen Wakasu Seaside Park. It’s probably the farthest place you can go in Tōkyō Bay without trespassing on shipyards and the places where they ship out Tōkyō’s garbage to some magical place that no one knows about.

Choose your battles wisely.

The history of this area is a bit complex, so if you want to know more about it, I recommend you check my earlier, much more detailed articles:

Wakasu Park is probably furthest accessible point of Tokyo Bay.

Wakasu Park is probably furthest accessible point of Tokyo Bay.

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

What is the Tsukishima Area?

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Travel in Japan on December 9, 2014 at 2:19 am

Tsukishima Chiiki
(Moon Island Area)

Tsukishima Matsuri

Tsukishima Matsuri

First of all, happy holidays to you! I hope you’re all able to stay warm during this winter season.
My last article on the Edo Period fishing island of Tsukudajima, raised the unavoidable problem of what to do about all the landfill that extended the island substantially southwest along the coast of the bay. I could have broken up each neighborhood into small articles, but that would have taken a long time. Separately, they might not be as interesting to read. So I decided to combine all of them as an early クリトリスプレゼント Kuritorisu purezento Christmas present to you all. It’s also a present to myself so I can relax during the coming 御正月 O-shōgatsu New Year Holiday. This year I’ve burnt the candle at both ends and it’s finally caught up with me. I can’t wait to relax.

Today we have a lot of ground to cover so let’s get right into it, shall we? Today we’re going on a whirlwind tour from Tsukiji to Tsukuda to Tsukishima to Kachidoki to Toyomi-chō ending in Harumi looking towards the future.

Today's course!

Today’s course!


Tsukiji (landfill, literally “fabricated land”)


man-made, fabricated



The word “tsukiji” means fabricated land. Modern Japanese uses a different word for landfill today, 埋立地 umetatechi which means something like “built up land.”

The name means landfill because, that’s exactly what it was. After the 明暦大火 Meireki Taika Meireki Conflagration[i] in 1657, the first landfill efforts were conducted in this area. The shōgunate began extending the area from 鉄砲洲 Teppōzu Rifle Sandbar[ii] southward. At the time, Teppōzu was where the mainland was closest to 佃嶋 Tsukudajima Tsukuda Island. The new expansion was simply called 築地 Tsukiji “fabricated land.”

Teppozu in the Edo Period. They say the name of the landfill is because it looks like a matchlock rifle. I think it looks more like a katana cuz a curved rifle sounds dangerous.  Anyways, the gray areas are commoner towns, the large white areas are daimyo, the small white areas are samurai residences. That's Tsukuda Island to the right. The tiny red areas in Teppozu are land owned by the Teppozu Shrine.

Teppozu in the late Edo Period. They say the name of the landfill is because it looks like a matchlock rifle. I think it looks more like a katana cuz a curved rifle sounds dangerous.
Anyways, the gray areas are commoner towns, the large white areas are daimyo, the small white areas are samurai residences.
That’s Tsukuda Island to the right. The tiny red areas in Teppozu are land owned by the Teppozu Shrine.

An interesting side note about the name Teppōzu. It survives only in the name of a shrine. In 1624, 鉄砲洲稲荷神社 Teppōzu Inari Jinja Teppōzu Inari Shrine was built in the area. The shrine is famous for a wacky winter festival which culminates in 寒中水浴 kanchū suiyoku ritual purification by taking a group bath in freezing water (that link is video of this year’s event, btw). The shrine was moved to 八丁堀 Hatchōbori in 1868.

Look, ma! It's a bunch of people freezing in a pool of ice cold water in the middle of December!!

Look, ma! It’s a bunch of people freezing in a pool of ice cold water in the middle of December!!

Anyways, after the fire in 1657, the 浅草御坊 Asakusa Gobō (a residence for priests of 浅草本願寺 Asakusa Hongan-ji Asakusa Hongan Temple) was rebuilt on part of the reclaimed land. Later, a temple and cemetery were built next to gobō that served the needs of the inhabitants of the area. A local town and economy sprung  around the temple, called a 門前町 monzen-chō in Japanese[iii], and the area began to flourish. Eventually some 武家屋敷 buke yashiki samurai residences and 大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō residences were built in the area as well.

The temple that was built here was named 築地本願寺 Tsukiji Hongan-ji Tsukiji Hongan Temple (a branch temple of the and because of its unique architecture is a local landmark. It was a traditional Japanese temple until it was destroyed in the 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. The present concrete structure is a weird mix of Western Neo-Classicism, Southeast Asian Buddhism, and fascist architecture that looks like a basilica/cathedral mated with a temple and shat out a concrete baby. That said, it’s a unique building and it’s pretty hard to miss.

Not sure if fascist government buildings. Or 1930's train station.

Not sure if fascist government building…or 1930’s train station.

Tsukiji Hongan-ji was built by 伊東忠太 Itō Chūta and was completed in 1934. I don’t know much about Chūta who designed this monstrosity, but he seems to have been the darling of the Japanese Empire. His designs, in my humble opinion, are just clownish. He took the soul out of traditional architecture in an attempt to westernize it. But that’s just my opinion and I can’t deny that his influence was huge. In the Post WWII era, you’ll find many buildings built by his students and architects influenced by him, including so-called traditional buildings. But just to give you an idea of some of his other work: he designed the 遊就館Yūshūkan the biased, pro-imperial museum at 靖国神社 Yasukuni Jinja Yasukuni Shrine. The building boasts a style that would look great on the dead Kim Jong-il or Joseph Stalin.

Oh, and he designed this:

He did this in Kyoto. Kyoto!! I rest my case.

He did this in Kyoto.
Kyoto!!I rest my case.

I’m sorry. My bitching is almost finished. I have one more thing to complain about this temple. You see, it has another claim to fame. The funerary ceremony[iv] of “rock[v]” musician, Hide[vi], was held at Tsukiji Hongan-ji[vii]. Many people with bad taste in music consider him the Curt Cobain of Japan. After he killed himself in 1998, his bad fashion sense and inability to do rock, metal, or industrial music properly launched an entire fashion and music movement in Japan[viii]. The movement came to be called ヴィジュアル系 vijuaru-kei visual style – usually called V系 V-kei today. As far as the bands go, they’re ridiculous looking post-gal style clown shows.

Spend a little more time rocking out and making music with integrity and a little less time doing your hair for a good purikura session.  I mean, if you want people to take you seriously... Clowns.

Spend a little more time rocking out and making music with integrity and a little less time doing your hair for a good purikura session.
I mean, if you want people to take you seriously…

Back to the History – Foreigner Zones

Sorry, got off track there but I had to get off my chest while researching this.

So, way back in 1869 (Meiji 2), foreigners still weren’t a common site in Japan and given the animosity towards and even violence against foreigners since the 1850’s that had been commonplace[ix], the major ports of Japan often had special “foreigner towns” set up where non-Japanese could live peacefully without having to deal with any BS from the locals[x]. And so in 1869 (Meiji 2), a 居留地 kyoryūchi foreign settlement[xi] was established in Teppōzu. The area had foreign schools, churches, and buildings associated with the newly born international spirit of trade. The American School in Japan was established in the foreign settlement in 1902 (Meiji 35).

tsukiji foreign settlement

The Tsukiji Settlement in 1894 (Meiji 27). You can clearly see the traditional 2 story buildings of the Edo Period in the surrounding areas. I imagine this sort of unique neighborhood with its unique architecture and strange inhabitants must have been a mind blowing experience for Meiji Era residents of Tokyo.

Also, I don’t want to paint the Japanese as being completely racist here. These settlements were born out of a necessity of the Bakumatsu. Radical samurai were indeed trying to assassinate any foreigners they deemed as a threat – they were straight up terrorists. The Japanese had a highly complex hierarchy that was unfamiliar to the newly come foreign embassies. The foreign nations had negotiated for exemption from things like kowtowing to daimyō processions and beheadings and such because… well, they couldn’t wrap their heads around it[xii]. The shōgunate assigned samurai bodyguards to protect the foreigners and established “foreigner zones” to keep them safe. In the new “Meiji Chill Out™[xiii]” foreign settlements, many established before the coup, were areas where commerce and official business could be conducted in a kind of creole and mash up of styles that was conducive to everyone. The Christian westerners could get their Jesus on in peace and educate their kids in their parents’ languages. They didn’t have to learn Japanese to survive. A foreigner could sit in a chair and not the floor. A Japanese person could wear foreign fashion and not take any shit for it. Fair enough [xiv].

Was Meiji Fashion the birth of cosplay?

Was Meiji Fashion the birth of cosplay? That’s not a rhetorical question.

With the establishment of an imperial navy, the area became an education center for naval officers. Beginning in 1888 (Meiji 21), present day 築地 Tsukiji was the home to the 海軍経理学校 Kaigun Keiri Gakkō the Naval Administration School of the Japanese Empire. The school operated on that property until the end of WWII. The founder of the Japanese Navy and one of the real visionaries of the late Edo Period, 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū, even served as a professor in the area[xv].

Navy Training. No boat style. Awwwwww yeah!

Navy Training.
No boat style.
Awwwwww yeah!

The area began a kind of transformation after the 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake in 1923. Most of the old Edo Period buildings were burnt to the ground, but the area didn’t modernize overnight. Of course, the Naval Academy was rebuilt as soon as possible. But Edo’s fish market, which had also been burnt to the ground, needed to be rebuilt. The Nihonbashi market was no longer as convenient as it had once been, so it was decided to relocate the fish market to Tsukiji. The construction of a “modern” market facility opened in 1935. The modern Tsukiji Market has been a work in progress ever since. There is a great debate about moving it now, much to the dismay of the locals. So far the market remains in its place and if you want some ridiculously delicious 江戸前寿司 Edomae-zushi Edo-style sushi, then get your ass there.

Edomae Sushi

Edomae Sushi


Tsukuda (cultivated field)

A view of Tsukuda Island from the north. The wooded area is Ishikawa Island. The unwooded, developed area is the commoner town.

A view of Tsukuda Island from the north. The wooded area is Ishikawa Island. The unwooded, developed area is the commoner town.

So, the other day I wrote about this location. Directly across from Teppōzu was a fishing island called 佃島 Tsukudajima Tsukuda Island. Located on this island, was the official fishing concession of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The original article is long and really is the background for this article. I highly suggest you read it.

The island was expanded southwards by landfill. Whether the shōgunate or whoever was in charge of the building project knew or cared where the name “Tsukudajima” came from isn’t really important. By this time, a folk etymology had come about where people thought that Tuskudajima’s “tsuku” was related to 築地 Tsukiji’s tsuki build, fabricate and the daily word 作る tsukuru make, build. So the new landfill’s name was bound to be affected by this collision of roots. Which brings us to our nest place name…

Tsukuda at night

Tsukuda at night


Tsukishima (moon island)







In the Edo Period, there were no televisions or movies or love hotels with jacuzzis and 25 channels of porn. One possible option for date night was heading down to 月之岬[xvi] Tsuki no Misaki Cape Moon to watch the moon rise over the bay. Restaurants, tea houses, and other types of businesses lined the bay in 三田 Mita that offered rooms with a view of the bay for this very purpose[xvii]. 月見 tsukimi moon viewing is a famous past time of “Old Japan” and so I don’t feel much need to go into it any deeper. Even to us, the moon is a pretty spectacular thing to behold. Unfortunately, the coastline of Edo Bay was immediately built up by the new Imperial Government after the Meiji Coup. As a result, the area called Tsuki no Misaki was built over and faded into oblivion.

There are many places called Tsuki no Misaki around the coastlines of Japan. If I'm not mistaken, this is one from the outskirts of Edo in Shinagawa.  But this is what a party room would look like on Edo Bay.

There are many places called Tsuki no Misaki around the coastlines of Japan.
If I’m not mistaken, this is one from the outskirts of Edo in Shinagawa.
But this is what a party room would look like on Edo Bay.

A new landfill build up was begun in 1887 (Meiji 20) and completed in 1892 (Meiji 25). This extended Tsukuda Island southwards significantly. As I’ve shown, 築地 Tsukiji was a place name that existed on the mainland from the Edo Period. 佃 Tsukuda was also a place name. And there was ample reason to mix up the “tsuki” of Tsukiji and the “tsuku” of Tsukuda and the “tsuki” Tsuki no Misaki.

In 1892, the 東京市参事会 Tōkyō-shi Sanjikai Tōkyō City Council gave the new landfill the name 月島 Tuskishima “Moon Island” and although we don’t have the exact reason written down, it seems fair to say the name is a mash up of 月の岬 Tsuki no Misaki (Moon Cape) and 佃島 Tsukudajima (Tuskuda Island) and Tsukishima (Landfill Island→Moon Island), obviously opting for the kanji 月tsuki moon over the kanji 築 tsuki landfill for esthetic reasons.

For most of its history, Tsukishima has been decidedly 下町 shitamachi low city. But in the last 15-20 years the area has seen an influx of タワーマンション tawā manshon sky rise apartments. Some long time and some short term residents of Tsukishima and Tsukiji have been fighting hard to prevent over development of the area. Tsukishima is famous as the もんじゃの街 monja no machi monja town. Monja-yaki is a local Tōkyō delicacy… that was once described to me as “something that looks like barf on an iron grill, but taste really yummy.” That was not encouraging to hear, but since monja-yaki and okonomi-yaki are usually considered a kind of Wonder Twins of Japanese shitamachi cuisine, I have to say that to my palate, monja is way more flavorful. In Tsukishima, you can go to the もんじゃストリート monja storīto monja street and find monja-yaki of every type, from the most simple Shōwa style to the most cutting edge styles. If you ever come to Tōkyō, a visit to Tsukishima and a little dabbling in the world of monja-yaki is a must. I’ve heard there are about 70 monja shops in the area.

Monja Street.

Monja Street.

If we move a little farther south on the new land fill, things become a little complicated. We start seeing names like 晴海 Harumi and 勝ちどき Kachidoki.



Kachdoki (a victory cry)

Hey, look, more crap theologico-fascist style from the 30's.

Hey, look, more crap theologico-fascist style from the 30’s. I wonder if Ito Chuta built this?


win, victory


war cry

As soon as they had time to think about city planning, the Meiji Government had plans to connect present day 築地 Tsukiji with 佃島 Tsukudajima (Tsukuda), home of the area’s most powerful fishing concession in Edo Bay[xviii]. But government money was tight and fishermen have boats, so fuck it. The fishermen could just take a boat over and deliver fish the way they had for hundreds of years. Tuskuda’s location was ridiculously good and the rivers of Edo-Tōkyō were sufficient.

However, in 1905 (Meiji 38), a ferry crossing was established that connected Tsukiji with Tsukishima. Boats would taxi people and goods from the mainland to Tsukuda/Tsukishima. Who was using this particular crossing? Well, presumably the 海軍経理学校 Kaigun Keiri Gakkō Naval Administration School in Tsukiji and what were they doing at Tsukishima… let’s just say they were getting fresh seafood.

The sign commemorates the ferry crossing.

The sign commemorates the ferry crossing.

However, after the 日露戦争 Nichiro Sensō Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), the Naval Administration School set up an 碑 ishibumi  memorial to commemorate the 旅順陥落 Ryojun Kanraku Fall of Port Arthur. The name was the 勝鬨ノ碑 Kachidoki no Ishibumi Victory Cry Monument. The location was the landing of the ferry crossing and as such the ferry crossing was called the 勝鬨渡し Kachidoki Watashi Kachidoki Crossing.

In 1915, the sail boats or oar-driven boats came to be replaced by steamships, which could carry much more cargo to and from Tsukiji and Tsukuda/Tsukishima. Tōkyō’s population was exploding and as such the traffic from Ishikawajima, Tsukuda, Harumi, etc., was so heavy both ways, a bridge was built.

In 1933 (Shōwa 8), Tōkyō finally got around to building that bridge they’d been putting off for so long. Construction was finished in 1940 (Shōwa 15)[xix]. This being the peak of Japanese nationalism, I’m sad to say, that the “Victory Cry Monument” seemed as good a namesake as any for the bridge. And voilà! We have a 勝鬨橋 Kachidoki-bashi Kachidoki Bridge. The bridge was built as a draw bridge to accommodate large military steam ships passage. To the best of my knowledge, the bridge doesn’t open these days.

C'mon, kiss!! Do it!! You know you want to!

C’mon, kiss!!
Do it!! You know you want to!

Incidentally, today the name isn’t written 勝鬨 kachidoki, but 勝どき kachidoki. The reason is that after WWII, major reforms in Japanese spelling were made and the kanji 鬨 toki was removed from the list of 当用漢字 tōyō kanji general use kanji so there was no choice but to write it in hiragana.

Let’s move down to the next section of landfill, shall we?

From the air, Kachidoki look a lot like Edo, except with skyscrapers.

From the air, Kachidoki look a lot like Edo, except with skyscrapers.


Toyomi (abundant sea)

Where slipping into shipping companies happen territory...

We’re slipping into shipping companies happen territory…

Toyomi is the southernmost and smallest section of the original manmade island. It lay directly across from the former 浜御殿 Hama Goten Seaside Palace, a villa of the Tokugawa[xx]. The view from this villa would have been a magnificent view of Edo Bay – possibly good for viewing a moon or two. The park is absolutely beautiful, but the view of the bay is blocked by landfill and skyscrapers.

That said, in 1963 a new landfill expansion was completed and the name was decided by the residents via questionnaire. The name is a mix of the following kanji:


abundant, rich, bountiful, excellent


sea, ocean, waters



The meaning of 豊海町 Toyomi-chō is essentially “bountiful sea town” and looks quite charming on paper.

The first kanji is particularly auspicious. For one thing, the character appears in the name of 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second of Japan’s so-called 3 Great Unifiers. It also appears in the Tōkyō place name 豊島 Toshima, which I wrote about in 2013. The area owes a lot to the bountiful waters of Tōkyō Bay. For all of its history it’s been a wharf for fishing boats and a home to a whole gaggle of refrigerated seafood warehouses.



Harumi (clear seas)

Oh look! You can see Tokyo Tower from here!

Oh look! You can see Tokyo Tower from here!

The last area we’re going to look at is a second landfill island built to the east of the other places we talked about.

First, let’s look at the kanji.




sea, ocean

晴海 Harumi is a perpendicular, man-made island that lies directly east of Tsukishima, Kachidoki, and Toyomi. Building out the land fill began from Tsukuda in the middle of the Meiji Period and was finally completed in 1929.

In 1939, the residents of the island voted to divide the area into six 丁目 six chōme blocks and named it 晴海町 Harumi-chō Harumi Town. The idea being that they lived on the bay and they always hoped for 晴れ海 hare umi tranquil waters. Recently built landfill was merged with the older area and the number of chōme was reduced to 5. The suffix 町 chō town was also eliminated. The future of Harumi should be interesting. The 選手村 Senshu Mura Olympic Village for the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics is planned to be built in Harumi 5-chōme.



So In Conclusion…

Happy Holidays to all of you! As always, I would just be talking into an insane vacuum if it weren’t for you. Every like, re-tweet, share, and comment means a lot to me because I know there are some other people who really love Japanese history and really love Tokyo out there. Much love to each and every one of you! Stay warm and I’ll see you in 2015!


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[i] I wrote an article about fires waaaaaaay back in 2013. You can read it here.
[ii] This is a topic for another day, but my understanding is this area had nothing to do with rifles and was a reference to the long narrow alleyways. Could be wrong, but it’s not important for this article.
[iii] I have an article discussing monzen-chō here.
[iv] A kind of Buddhist wake.
[v] And I use the term “rock” loosely…
[vi] His name isn’t pronounced /haɪd/ like English “hide and seek,” but /çide/ following the Japanese pronunciation. His real given name was 秀人 Hideto. He was the guitarist or some shit for a crap band called X-Japan.
[vii] His actual grave is in Kanagawa. Apparently, it is routinely “vandalized” by fans.
[viii] Emphasis on fashion, not art.
[x] And I’m sure that most Japanese didn’t want to deal with them either. After all, their arrival had caused, like, almost 2 decade of chaos, the collapse of the government, and a cultural revolution. You know. That kind of thing.
[xi] This word is the same word used in Modern Japanese for “Indian reservation.” So this could be seen as a “foreigner reservation.” Sometimes another word was used 居留区 kyoryūku “foreigner zone.” In PC Japanese, the word is usually prefixed with 外国人居留地 gaikokujin kyoryūchi foreigner’s settlement using a polite word for foreigners.
[xii] This didn’t always work out as planned, though.
[xiii] My term for the new Japanese openness to foreign cultures. Feel free to use it, but be sure to write it as The Meiji Chill Out™. The ™ is crucial.
[xiv] Not unlike the modern scenario where rich foreigners staff embassies in free housing and live in nice neighborhoods and don’t learn the language, culture, or bother integrating at all. Ooops, did I say that outloud?
[xv] I wrote a book review about Katsu Kaishū! (ps: I’m starting to doubt this claim because he would have been 80 years old about this. Maybe he worked at a different location at an earlier time… I don’t care enough to look it up.
[xvi] Also written 月の見崎 Tsuki no Misaki.
[xvii] Alright, it wasn’t just for date night. Entertaining of officials and merchants and other types of social functions could be carried out here.
[xviii] OK, I guess we can call it Tōkyō Bay now…
[xix] Which seems like an awfully long time to build a bridge.
[xx] Today it’s generally referred to as 浜離宮庭園 Hama Rikkyū Teien Hama Detached Palace Garden, and was property of the Imperial Family until it was gifted to the city as a public park.

What does Tsukuda mean?

In Japanese History on November 30, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Tsukuda (a cultivated rice field)

Edo's river town origins mixed with her ultra-modern skyscraper imagine. Tsukuda a sight to behold.

Edo’s river town origins mixed with her ultra-modern skyscraper imagine. Tsukuda a sight to behold.

佃 Tsukuda is an area in 中央区 Chūō-ku Chūō Ward. These days it’s not very famous. There are no train stations bearing its name. Unless you’re a Japanese History nerd or live in the area, there’s probably no reason to ever go there. But this small, out of the way area was one of the most famous spots of Edo and has bestowed a lasting legacy upon Japanese cuisine. Tsukuda has humble commoner roots as well as a connection to not only the samurai class, but to the very shōgunate itself.

On the surface, the kanji itself is not very helpful in figuring out where this place name came from. But actually, the origin is very simple and we’ll get to that in a minute. For the time being, I can tell you that the kanji 佃 tsukuda refers to a “cultivated rice field.” However this area was never used for rice production.




Tokugawa Ieyasu Had Some Fishing Buddies… in Ōsaka?

In 1590, 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu entered Edo and began his urban planning efforts. He needed to ensure a solid infrastructure for his new home, 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle. Supplies, water, and food needed a way into the castle. Edo was located on a pretty bad ass bay and had a strong tradition in fishings so securing fresh fish and other seafood for the castle was an absolute priority.


This is a great picture of Edo Castle. But see that big tower in the back? That amazing tower was built in 1607 but burnt in 1657. For most of the Edo Period, there was no tower in Edo. The shogunate knew the city was secure.

This is a great picture of Edo Castle.
But see that big tower in the back? That amazing tower was built in 1607 but burnt in 1657. For most of the Edo Period, there was no tower in Edo. The shogunate knew the city was secure.


The Connection is Unclear but…

In 摂津国西成郡佃村 Settsu no Kuni Nishi Narigōri Tsukuda Mura Tsukuda Village, Nishi Narigōri, Settsu Province[i] there lived a certain fisherman by the name of 森孫右衛門 Mori Magoemon who was quite famous for his fishing techniques. Ieyasu invited him to be one of the main purveyors of fish and seafood to Edo Castle. He gave Magoemon some land in the 日本橋 Nihonbashi area and granted him control of an unnamed sandbar at the mouth of the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River[ii]. The sandbar ideal for keeping boats that could go out into 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay for fishing, and yet have fast access to the rivers and channels of the city.



Modern Tsukuda carries on much of its Edo Period tradition beautifully. Even though the design of this restaurant is from the Showa Era, it would be immediately recognizable to any person from the Edo Period just by the architecture.


The Ōsaka Fishermen Take Control of the Island

Mori Magoemon accepted the offer and came to Edo with 32 other fishermen. They found the “sandbar” to be of a fairly substantial size were able to build a few permanent buildings and docks and could use it as a base for their business. They made a deal with the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate to send their first catches and biggest catches to Edo Castle and the rest could be sold at a profit. At the beginning of the Edo Period it was a risk (Ieyasu wasn’t shōgun yet, just a very powerful daimyō[iii]) but it turned out to be a pretty sweet deal. As the city expanded and the Tokugawa power grew, these fishermen from Ōsaka found themselves running one of the largest seafood concessions in the new metropolis. Magoemon’s son[iv], 森九左衛門 Mori Kūzaemon[v], established a wholesale fish market in Nihonbashi[vi]. That private fish market was the origin of the 日本橋魚市場 Nihonbashi Uo’ichiba Nihonbashi Fish Market[vii], Edo’s most famous fish market.

The “sandbar,” which was actually more of an island at the mouth of the Sumida River, came to be referred to by the fishermen from 佃村 Tsukuda Mura Tsukuda Village as 佃嶋 Tsukuda-jima Tsukuda Island after the place of their birth[viii]. However, maps at the time label the area 森嶋 Morishima (or Mori-jima) and 鎧嶋 Yoroi-jima[ix], but this was all soon to change.


For most of the Edo Period, the island looked like this (after the shogunate subsidized expansion in 1645).  Note the red area. That is Sumiyoshi Shrine, a branch of shrine of an Osaka-based shrine.

For most of the Edo Period, the island looked like this (after the shogunate subsidized expansion in 1645).
Note the red area. That is Sumiyoshi Shrine, a branch of shrine of an Osaka-based shrine.


The Island Becomes Home to Commoners and Samurai  

In 1645, 3rd shōgun 徳川家光 Tokugawa Iemitsu granted the fishing concession rights to expand the sandbar with landfill. The shōgunate subsidized the project and extended the island’s north bank substantially creating a massive island in the Sumida River delta. Shōgun Iemitsu gave[x] the north bank of the island to a certain 石川八左衛門 Ishikawa Hachizaemon. Because of this, the north bank of the island came to be known as 石川嶋 Ishikawa-jima Ishikawa Island.

By this time, the island was famous first and foremost for providing seafood to the shōgun at Edo Castle and secondly for providing fresh fish to the citizens of central Edo. This location served both the commoners and samurai. The walk from Tsukuda to 大名小路 daimyō koji daimyō alley[xi] would have been 30-40 minutes tops on foot. That meant the most elite lords who served the Tokugawa could get a fresh fish in less than an hour. If the delivery was sent by boat, maybe we can halve that to about 15 minutes. Tsukuda was a force to be reckoned with. It was prime bayside property. It had access to Edo’s major river delta. It was enfranchised by the shōgunate. It was also producing a new, local product that would put the name Tsukuda in the history books. That product was called 佃煮 Tsukuda-ni. But let’s talk about that later…


Tokugawa Ienari looking quite dapper and not-so-riddled by syphilis.

Tokugawa Ienari looking quite dapper and not-so-riddled by syphilis.


For most of the Edo Period, Tsukudajima and Ishikawajima were marked as separate on maps (presumably because the south bank was for lowly fishermen and the north bank was a samurai’s fief). However, in 1817, a monumental land survey of shōgunate holdings and later the entire realm was undertaken. The Party Shōgun, 徳川家斉 Tokugawa Ienari[xii], commissioned a map made by “western standards[xiii].” The map in question is known as 江戸実測図 Edo Jissokuzu A Realistic Map of Edo[xiv].  At this time, the area began appearing on maps as 佃島 Tsukudajima with no regard to the north/south differences[xv].


Inō Tadataka - the first "modern" map maker of Japan.

Inō Tadataka – the first “modern” map maker of Japan.


Modern Tsukuda 1-chōme and the northern part of Tsukuda 2-chōme make up the former Tsukuda-jima and Ishikawa-jima. Now the island is supplemented by reclaimed land that includes 月島 Tsukishima, 勝鬨 Kachidoki, and 晴海 Harumi. The collective area is generally referred to as 月島地域 Tsukishima Chiiki the Tsukishima Area or just Tsukishima, though technically speaking 中央区佃 Chūō-ku Tsukuda Tsukuda, Chūō Ward is a real postal code.


If you compare the blocks, and bridges, you can still make out much of the late Edo Period layout of the island despite all of the expansion. The river's path has also been modified since the Edo Period. The easiest way to get your sense of size and direction is to use Sumiyoshi Shrine as an anchor.

If you compare the blocks, and bridges, you can still make out much of the late Edo Period layout of the island despite all of the expansion. The river’s path has also been modified since the Edo Period.
The easiest way to get your sense of size and direction is to use Sumiyoshi Shrine as an anchor.


Why Did Ishikawajima Disappear?

It didn’t really.

And if you look at the map above this paragraph, you’ll see it didn’t. Scroll up a little higher to review the Edo Period map.


Today there are no official references to the Ishikawa family except for a park called 石川島公園 Ishikawajima Kōen Ishikawa Park and 石川島記念病院 Ishikawajima Kinen Byōin Ishikawajima Memorial Hospital. Interestingly enough, in the bakumatsu, the land called Ishikawajima was bought by 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain to be used as a shipyard – presumably to follow through with their psychopathic 尊王攘夷 sonnō jōi[xvi] philosophy. This happened in 1853. After the Meiji Coup, the shipyard was privatized in 1876 (Meiji 9) and became 石川島造船所 Ishikawajima Zōsensho Ishikawajima Shipyard[xvii]. Until the shutdown of the shipyard in 1979, much of the traditional atmosphere of Tsukudajima was preserved.

Ishikawajima Shipyard in the Meiji Era

Ishikawajima Shipyard in the Meiji Era


After the shutdown of Ishikawajima Shipyard, the old facilities were cleared out and real estate developers descended upon the area with a vengeance. They began throwing up massive タワーマンション tawā manshon sky rise apartment buildings. This forever changed the look of this traditional area via 都心回帰 toshin kaiki – renewing antiquated or depressed areas as modern residential areas desirable to families. Toshin kaiki is essentially the Japanese version of gentrification. As a result, the area is mix of modern sky rise apartments towering over traditional 1 and 2-story wooden residences. You can still get a feel of the Edo Period – or at least the pre-bubble Shōwa Period – but it’s fast disappearing. The Tōkyō Metropolitan Government has deemed the traditional wooden buildings and their tiny traditional alleys a fire hazard. In order to protect the city from a conflagration in the event of a major earthquake, in 2012 they enacted a 10-year plan to rid the city of old wooden buildings. The traditional legacy of Tsukudajima will surely disappear sooner rather than later.


A "panoramic" shot of Tsukuda 1-chōme in 1989.

A “panoramic” shot of Tsukuda 1-chōme in 1989.


About The Name

I’ve been throwing around the names Tsukudajima and Ishikawajima. Some local residents still refer to the area as Tsukudajima, but in 1967, 佃島 Tsukudajima and 石川島 Ishikawajima were merged into an official postal code as 佃 Tsukuda. Interestingly, while the former Ishikawajima has been expanded greatly and is more or less unrecognizable when compared to its Edo Period predecessor, Tsukuda still retains much of the original street plan. Even the shape strongly resembles the shape of the island in the late Edo Period.

Tsukuda 1-chōme in January, 1988.

Tsukuda 1-chōme in January, 1988.

Tsukudajima Transcends Geography in Favor of Your Mouth


simmering, boiling

Tsukudani, in its most generic sense, is a vegetable or seafood simmered in soy sauce and sugar, dried, and then served as a topping on rice or eaten as a side dish. There is probably an infinite variety of tsukudani available all across Japan. Today it is as ubiquitous as 御新香 o-shinko Japanese-style pickled veggies – second only to… I dunno… rice? This type of dish is so widespread and so entrenched in the pantheon of modern Japanese cuisine that few people even give a thought to where it began. Well, of course, it originated on Tsukudajima in Edo.


Kelp tsukudani. The modern versions use sugar to make the taste mild.  While Edo Period food would be a bit bland to the modern international palate, tsukudani was considered quite flavorful. This was a hallmark of the Edo flavor of Kanto in comparison to the light flavors of Kyoto.

Kelp tsukudani.
The modern versions use sugar to make the taste mild.
While Edo Period food would be a bit bland to the modern international palate, tsukudani was considered quite flavorful. This was a hallmark of the Edo flavor of Kanto in comparison to the light flavors of Kyoto.


The Origin of Tsukudani

When the fishermen of Tsudajima had bad weather or bad fishing conditions, they wouldn’t have food for themselves or their families. Also, when they were on the boats fishing, they needed a kind of preserved food that was small and light and that they could take with them. For these times, the wives used cooking techniques called 煮付ける nitsukeru hard simmer and 煮切る nikiru reduce by simmering[xviii]. They would hard simmer very small fish, minnows, and shellfish in salt and soy sauce and boil it down until no liquid remained. The end result was a preserved food that could be stored for a rainy day or brought out to sea by the fishermen.

As Edo’s population exploded and prospered, it wasn’t long before the process was used for making a side dish or topping for rice, rather than a staple for starving fishermen[xix]. The simple and delicious seasoning combined with the unique, gelatinous texture was an instant hit with the 江戸っ子 Edokko Edoites. Tsukudani quickly became popular in the areas surrounding Tsukudajima and soon became one of many 江戸之名物 Edo no Meibutsu Special Dishes of Edo. Also, because it was a stable, preserved food, samurai serving sankin-kōtai service in Edo would bring it back to their domains as 御土産 o-miyage souvenirs for friends and family. As such, tsukudani – which was not difficult to replicate – spread throughout the samurai families of the various domains and many local variations began to develop among the households of the elite.

Edo-mae tsukudani made from seaweed. It's rice time, baby!!!

Edo-mae tsukudani made from seaweed.
It’s rice time, baby!!!

The Imperial Army placed huge orders for tsukudani in 1877 (Meiji 10) during the 西南戦争 Seinan Sensō the Satsuma Rebellion. It’s said that the dish endowed the emperor’s soldiers with such superhuman strength that Saigō Takamori actually never had a fighting chance[xx]. Again, in 1894 (Meiji 27), tsukudani played an important role in the Imperial Army’s strategy during the 日清戦争Nisshin Sensō the First Sino-Japanese War[xxi]. After the wards, the soldiers came back to their hometowns with a taste for the real deal, the so-called 江戸前佃煮 Edomae tsukudani Edo Style Tsukudani. It’s after these two wars that the dish really took off with the common people. By the middle of the Meiji Period it had become a standard household side dish.

Note the gelatinous texture... that is the result of the cooking process.

Note the gelatinous texture… that is the result of the cooking process.

With advent of modern packing, refrigeration, and other technological advances, tsukudani is an ubiquitous food throughout Japan. You can make it from pretty much anything given it is tiny enough or julienned small enough for the cooking process. The most popular form across the country is without a doubt 昆布佃煮 konbu tsukudani kelp tsukudani. The modern versions are often coated with sesame oil and sesame seeds for a richer flavor.

Shio-konbu (salted kelp), Tokyo's new twist on Tsukudani.

Shio-konbu (salted kelp), Tokyo’s new twist on Tsukudani.

Although it’s technically not tsukudani, one of my favorite toppings for cabbage is a tsukudani-inspired condiment called 塩昆布 shio konbu salty kelp. It’s not made through the simmering and boiling down process, but rather dried and cured with salt. The end result is similar to tsukudani but with a much more intense flavor that is aligned with the globalizing Japanese palate.

As I mentioned earlier, the dish was originated in a fishing community. It diversified to a point where marine vegetation came to be included. To this day, the most common forms of tsukudani are seafood and plant and fungus based. But there are always a few people who have to take a good idea and fuck it up for everyone. The word tsukudani has a dark side. Ask a person from the extreme country or far mountain villages[xxii] what tsukudani means and they may tell you that it’s something like 蝗佃煮 inago tsukudani. This dish is basically cooked locusts[xxiii]. Another rustic variation is ざざ虫佃煮 zaza mushi tsukudani. Zaza mushi refers to a variety of semi-aquatic insects in Nagano[xxiv]. Silk worms and bee larvæ[xxv] are also fair game for this type of insect tsukudani.

And there it is... tsukudani's logical conclusion....

And there it is… tsukudani’s logical conclusion….

I’m a picky eater, but believe it or not, yours truly has actually eaten 蝗佃煮 inago tsukudani (locusts). The taste was actually good. But I have to be honest. I had to eat them with my eyes closed, because seeing segmented legs and robot-like antennæ is a major gross out.

Well… whatever. You only live once and sometimes having certain cultural experiences is worth stepping outside of your comfort zone. No regrets and all that shit.

Awwwwwwww yeah.

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[i] This is present day 大阪府大阪市西淀川区佃村 Ōsaka-fu Ōsaka-shi Nishi Yodogawa-ku Tsukuda Mura, Tsukuda Village, Nishi Yodogawa Ward, Ōsaka City, Ōsaka Prefecture.
[ii] Read more about the Sumida River here!
[iii] A daimyō who controlled the so-called 関八州 Kanhasshū 8 Kantō Provinces (Musashi, Sagami, Kazusa, Shimōsa, Awa, Kōzuke, Shimotsuke, and Hitachi) – most of the Kantō region.
[iv] By some accounts his first son, by other accounts his second son.
[v] Another possible reading is Kyūzaemon – both being equally ridiculous sounding names.
[vi] I have an article about Nihonbashi here.
[vii] Many other fishermen set up markets in the Nihonbashi area. Eventually these were consolidated to become the 日本橋魚河岸 Nihonbashi Uogashi Nihonbashi Riverside Fish Market. This was the largest fish market in Edo (and possibly the world). It was also the predecessor of Tōkyō’s world famous 築地市場 Tsukiji Shijō Tsukiji Market – but that’s a story for another day.
[viii] Remember, they came from Tsukuda Village in Settsu Province (present day Ōsaka).
[ix] The name 森嶋 Morishima derives from the family name 森 Mori who controlled the fishing concession on the island. The name 鎧嶋 Yoroijima (literally “armor island”) is a bit mysterious.
[x] I was going to use the verb “enfeof” but then I thought my own neologism “infief” would be better. Then I realized if modern spell checks don’t recognize either of those words, then neither will you, dear reader.
[xi] Modern day Hibiya, Yūraku-chō, Tōkyō Station, and Marunouchi.
[xii] #TeamIenari for life, y’all!
[xiii] And by “western,” we mean “Dutch.”
[xiv] This monumental survey and map-making project was conducted by 伊能忠敬 Inō Tadataka (merchant/surveyor) – he has his own stamp. He’s that important to Japanese history. He is known for completing the first map of Japan created using modern surveying techniques.
[xv] Interestingly, this is the same year Tokugawa Ienari deported Titia Bergsma. Titia sounds like “titty ya” but I assure you Ienari had no idea – if he had, he probably wouldn’t have deported her.
[xvi] I’m assuming anyone reading this is familiar with the basics, but just in case, sonnō jōi used by anti-foreign radicals. The word means “revere the emperor – expel the barbarians.”
[xvii] The company still exists, though. It’s called IHI Corporation in English. The Japanese name is 石川島播磨重工業株式会社 Ishikawajima-Harima Jūkōgyō Kabushiki Gaisha Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries. It’s a pretty major company. In 1995, the company merged with another company with a Bakumatsu connection, but since I think “business” is a boring ass topic, you can read more here, if you like.
[xviii] The entire process can also be described by a single Japanese word: 煮詰める nitsumeru the general word for “boiling down.”
[xix] Edo and fishing go hand in hand well into time immemorial. But after the establishment of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, the city prospered like no other city in Japan. Being a fisherman in a city of a million hungry people meant you probably weren’t going to go hungry.
[xx] OK, that’s actually not true.
[xxi] OK, that’s actually not true either, but it is true that as they had in the Satsuma Rebellion, the Imperial Army again relied heavily on tsukudani for troop rations.
[xxii] Niigata and Nagano, I’m looking at you.
[xxiii] 蝗 inago (also written in katakana as イナゴ or less commonly as 稲子) is sometimes translated as rice grasshopper. There are a variety of species in Japan and I assume they all taste more or less the same and that if you’re out in the rice paddies gathering up bugs to eat, you’re probably not terribly concerned with what species you’re getting so… let’s just go with “locust” as this is pretty much gonna cover everything.
[xxiv] Again, if you’re out there, you know, getting bugs for food. You’re probably not going to be too bothered by which species you get. This is also a reminder that every time you eat a lobster or crab or shrimp, you’re essentially eating an insect’s cousin.
[xxv] Bee larvæ, known as 蜂の子 hachi no ko “baby bees” in Japanese, is a subject worthy of discussion all on its own because there seem to be a variety of ways to make dishes from them.

The Sumida River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers on May 31, 2014 at 5:35 am

Sumidagawa (literally, “corner river,” but actually no known meaning)

First a quick note.
WordPress isn’t handling footnotes correctly anymore.
Not sure why, so the footnote links are not working.
You’ll have to manually scroll to the end of the article to read them. Sorry about that.

隅田川 墨田区

Senso-ji temple complex at Asakusa, a stone’s throw from the Sumida River, is one of the most famous places in all of Japan.


I’ve been told by Japanese people that “Japan is a country of water.” The idea being that there’s literally water everywhere and given the abundance of 温泉 onsen hot springs and rivers and… well, it’s a freaking island surrounded by water, I can’t argue with them. But herein lays the problem with this series[i]. When you have lots of water and people are living near it, the people usually have to bend the coasts and river banks to protect the villages, towns, and cities. They may dig a little deeper to make a new hot spring. They’ll merge rivers to make it easier to distribute goods. At JapanThis!, we’ve talked about reclaimed land a little bit in Edo, and we’ve seen massive landfill projects since the Meiji Period. But I underestimated how much work was being done controlling rivers as far back as the Kamakura Period[ii]. Since I’m only talking about Tōkyō place names, I haven’t even scratched the surface on this topic.

●  Linguistic stuff? Yeah, I got that covered, maybe.

●  Cultural and social stuff? Pretty sure that’s OK.

●  Historical events? That’s the easiest part.

●  The manipulation of a river over centuries of human habitation with ever increasing technological know-how?

No. I have to admit, I’m in way over my head. I hope I don’t drown.


墨田 隅田

Rivers dumping into Edo Bay. This really is “the land of water.” Surrounded by water but just pouring our rivers into the bay. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?


In the Edo Period the Sumidagawa Didn’t Exist

At least not officially….

Until the Shōwa Period, it’s best to think of the 隅田河 Sumidagawa Sumida River as a work in progress. The river has been so modified by humans since the Heian Period (possibly earlier, but there would be no records of this). The river has also had many names. Different areas along the river referred to it by different names. In the early Edo Period, the whole area was essentially an alluvium into the bay. Over the years islands were connected and the geography was transformed slowly. From the 1920’s-1960’s a major transformation occurred. An Edo Period person wouldn’t recognize much of the river by the 1940’s and probably nothing by the 1970’s.

In short, the history of this river is a hot mess.

But the formal name of the river, at least according to the shōgunate was the 荒川 Arakawa Ara River. But you’re going to see the story gets a whole lot more confusing and incestuous. My head is hurting from trying to figure out what is what.

The Edo Period records are a mess. It seems the shogunate wasn’t so concerned with what this tributary or that was named on an official level. Again, I might be wrong here – I’m just some dude with an internet connection – but it seems like local communities in each village or township could have their own names for any landmark and people were pretty much cool with multiple names. Edoites affectionately referred to it as the 大川 Ōkawa the Big River, a name still used by older people for the area where the river empties out into Tōkyō Bay.


Elite women having a picnic at Gotenyama, enjoying a view of the bay and the rivers flowing out to it.

Elite women having a picnic at Gotenyama, enjoying a view of the bay and the rivers flowing out to it.
(Not the Sumida River, but shows how much Edoites loved the bay and the rivers).
It’s the floating world. Let things float. ffs.


In its efforts to bring the country in line with western map making and census taking (and just to have useful and modern records), the Meiji Government initiated a series of surveys and eventually issued a decree in 1896 which declared that this river was officially the Arakawa. However, the decree noted that certain sections were locally referred to as 大川 Ōkawa the Big River and 隅田川 Sumidagawa Sumida River and 宮戸川 Sumidagawa Sumida River and 浅草川 Asakusagawa Asakusa River. In short, Sumidagawa was just a nickname for a section of the Arakawa[i]. Today, it’s used to describe a section of river from the border of 墨田区 Sumida-ku Sumida Ward and 荒川区 Arakawa-ku Arakawa Ward to 東京湾 Tōkyō-wan Tōkyō Bay.


住田 隅田 隅田

In the early Edo Period the area was an uncontrolled alluvium. If I’m not mistaken, the area marked Suijin is where the Edo Period unofficial “Sumida River” began. It’s right there in the middle and was home to a shrine dedicated to water god/river god. So in many ways, this river intersection is where the spiritual heart of this river was born.

And now the modern river. Notice that Suijin is in the middle and the rivers are much more well defined. They clearly have tamed the rivers over the years.

And now the modern river. Notice that Suijin is in the middle and the rivers are much more well defined. They clearly have tamed the rivers over the years.


I will assume your head is spinning now (I know mine is). But if I may, I should throw out a quick one point lesson in Japanese for my readers who don’t know Japanese. In Japanese, river names end with the kanji [iv]. Think of it as a suffix. Depending on the final sound of the name of the river, it may be pronounced as /kawa/ or /gawa/[v]. I’m going to try to be consistent, but the romanization of these river names is traditionally inconsistent. So, just know that if you see –gawa or –kawa attached to the end of the word, it means I’m talking about the river. So for example, Sumidagawa = the Sumida River, Arakawa = the Ara River (though no one actually says that to the best of my knowledge).


Going out into the bay and then to the great unknown.

Going out into the bay and then to the great unknown.
I love the red reflection on the sea. Not sure what it’s all about but it’s beautiful.


What Is The Sumida River?

Originally this river was the downstream portion of the 入間川 Iruma-gawa, a river originating in present day Saitama that drained into Edo Bay. When provinces were created in the Nara Period, the Iruma-gawa formed the boundary Musashi and Shimōsa.

The area was known as Sumida (written in a variety of ways, as I will show you throughout the article), though technically the river was still the Irumagawa. However, as far back as 835, there are references to the river as 住田河 and 宮戸河, both read as Sumidagawa – the latter sometimes as Miyatogawa).

At the end of the Heian Period, a post town was established called 住田宿 Sumida Juku. The area flourished. See my article on Asakusa. Goods and skilled labors traveled between this area and Kamakura. There is a record showing that Yoritomo Minamoto stationed many troops at Sumida Juku at one point.

Before the Edo Period, and I’m going out on a limb here and guess it was Ōta Dōkan who did this, the 浅草川 Asakusa River and a river that preserved the writing 宮戸河 Sumida/Miyato were merged with this section of the river.


Tokugawa Ieyasu. See that wall painting? That's a link between pre-Edo art and next era funerary Edo art.

Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu – Sengoku Period bad ass and – for all intents and purposes – the winner. Dude was really fat.
And ffs shave that 5 o’clock shadow before posing for an official portrait!!!


In 1594, Tokugawa Ieyasu, daimyō of the 関八州 Kanhasshū 8 Kantō Provinces[vi], asked his relative and retainer 松平忠吉 Matsudaira Tadayoshi lord of 忍藩 Oshi-han Oshi Domain[vii] to undertake a flood prevention projects on several rivers. One particular project merged the 入間川 Irumagawa Iruma River and the 荒川 Arakawa Ara River and created a few other tributaries to other rivers and channels[viii].

Throughout the 1600’s the course of many rivers, including this one were tweaked and refined. The work in the early Edo Period transformed this section of the Irumagawa into part of the Arakawa. As this section of the river came to be closed off from its original source and was more and more associated with the centrally located Sumida area[ix], it soon came to be referred to commonly as the 隅田川 Sumidagawa Sumida River. The division in popular naming is evidenced by the existence of present day 墨田区 Sumida-ku Sumida Ward and 荒川区 Arakawa-ku Arakawa Ward which reflect how people viewed the sections of the river by the late Edo Period.

Furthermore, in the Edo Period, the area from 吾妻橋 Azumabashi Azuma Bridge to the bay was referred to as the 大川 Ōkawa the Big River. In that area there are a few buildings and areas that have maintained the name Ōgawa and supposedly rakugo performers use the name to build up Edokko street cred, though I’m sure it’s not without an explanation, unless the audience is super plugged into the neighborhoods there.

To make matters more confusing, some sections of the river became tributaries or canals and are now separate with different names. Some that still exist today are 大横川 Ōyokogawa, 横十間川 Yoko-Jikkengawa, and 北十間川 Kita-Jikkengawa. Some channels are now underground and some have become sewers and drainage ditches.


A tributary that became a river over hundreds of years.

A tributary that became a river over hundreds of years.


But Where Did The Name Come From?

Alright, let’s get down to the etymology.




ta, da


kawa, gawa



Let’s get this out of the way in the beginning. This name is 当て字 ateji. That is to say, the meaning of the kanji actually have… no meaning. They are used because they can be read this way.

As I mentioned before, this place name is quite ancient. However, no one ever thought to talk about the etymology until the end of the Edo Period. A text called the 新編武蔵風土記稿 Shinpen Musashi Fudoki-Kō, often just called the Musashi Fudoki A Description of the Musashi Region which was written in the early 1800’s says that the word “sumi” comes from アイヌ語 Ainu-go the Ainu Language and it means “to wash away” (ie; into the bay), “to nearly drown” (ie; the current is so fast you can’t swim or pass it), or “rough waters” (and they are rough!). Always take Edo Period etymologies with a grain of salt when they start talking about the Ainu languages[x].

Interestingly, the book also presents an alternate theory. This theory hearkens back to older records. It states that in 葛飾郡 Katsushika-gun Katsushika District, there was a village called 墨田村 Sumida Mura Sumida Village. The authors seem to think this is the better theory. It should be noted that the kanji for the river and the kanji for this village are different.

From the Heian Period to the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, many variant spellings pop up. One interesting spelling is 須田川 most likely read as Sudagawa in Modern Japanese, but could have been read as Subedagawa or in the old Edo dialect as Sumidagawa. I’ve talked about dialect variances in the past, and so /b/↔/m/ and /e/↔/i/ switches shouldn’t be new to you[xi].

Just to drive home the point how irrelevant the kanji are to this river’s name, let me show you a list of spellings and variations used over the centuries. Mind you, the first three spellings in the list are found in the 万葉集 Man’yōshū Collection of 10,000 leaves, one of the most ancient compilations of Japanese poetry from the late 700’s. Kanji use was totally different at that time, so this is the main indication that we cannot use kanji to determine the origin of this place name.



Sumida, Sumita








Sumi no zu


Sumi no sui







Again, since this river was technically the Arakawa, the name was never super important. It was a popular name used locally. We can see that it’s quite ancient by its appearance in some of the most ancient Japanese texts. We can also see that people viewed the river in various lights, as the last name on the list, Ryōgokugawa, is a reference to the boundary between 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province. That is most definitely a local name.


This is a map of the so-called Arakawa Water System. If you click it to zoom in, you'll see it stretches out Northern Saitama (almost to Gunma Prefecture) and the tiny section where it dumps into Tokyo Bay clearly lists the Sumida River as part of the network.

This is a map of the so-called Arakawa Water System. If you click it to zoom in, you’ll see it stretches out Northern Saitama (almost to Gunma Prefecture) and the tiny section where it dumps into Tokyo Bay clearly lists the Sumida River as part of the network.


Another Mystery!

Sumida River and Sumida Ward Use Different Kanji

Perhaps you’ve noticed in this article or just in your daily life that the kanji for the ward and the river are different.

Why is the river written as 隅田川 and the ward as 墨田区? I’m happy to say I can bring closure to this issue. There was no standardization of the Japanese language during the Edo Period. People in the individual domains spoke their local dialects. When lords and their attendant samurai came to Edo for sankin-kōtai duty, they had to adjust to the local dialect in Edo. As you can imagine, they didn’t encounter just the local dialect, but dialects from all over Japan as every domain was represented in shōgun’s capital. The Meiji Government initiated language reforms that created a 標準語 hyōjungo a standard language[xii].

During the American Occupation, further standardization efforts were made. The Japanese writing system itself was completely overhauled. Prior to these reforms, people wrote from top to bottom, right to left. A spelling system that was a legacy of Classical Japanese was still in use, including syllabary characters that represented sounds not present in modern language. After these spelling reforms, left to right writing style became a kind of norm (it’s the norm, but books and temples still use more conservative styles).

But the most important change was a designation of the so-called 常用漢字 jōyō kanji daily use kanji. Given that there are thousands upon thousands of kanji with a myriad of variations, the government saw a benefit in restricting the kanji used in newspapers and for official government use. The restricting and standardization of kanji use began in the 1920’s and saw its most sweeping changes during the Occupation when the number of daily use kanji was restricted to 1850 characters. In 1981, they increased the number to 1945 characters, but 2010 saw a second increase to 2136 characters. Yikes!


As I mentioned before, in the pre-modern eras, the name Sumida pretty much started at the Suijin area. Here's an Edo Period depiction of the area.

As I mentioned before, in the pre-modern eras, the name Sumida pretty much started at the Suijin area. Here’s an Edo Period depiction of the area.


Anyways, after the war, was eliminated from the official list of daily use kanji. The name 隅田川 Sumidagawa was irrelevant because it wasn’t an “official” place name, so no official documents or signs were affected. But some conservative publishing institutions, especially newspapers, were at a loss as to what kanji to use and what kanji not to use when using the popular name “Sumidagawa.” Using the new system was progressive; using old kanji meant that new readers couldn’t read their publication[xiii]. So, newspapers continued to use the old kanji because it was so well known that changing it would confuse readers more than going with the new system. This actually happened with a lot of place names.

Two years later, 墨田区 Sumida-ku Sumida Ward was officially created in 1947. In support of the language reforms, it proudly boasted the new spelling – shunning the old kanji. As you can imagine, occupied[xiv] Japan wanted to put the past behind them and push on into a new era[xv]. But remember, this is the first time the name “Sumida” was being used officially.

But of all kanji, why did they choose (which means “ink”) instead of any other kanji?

Well, there is an easy answer to that. In short, the kanji is far rarer and more obscure than and as such is harder to read. While any long term resident of Edo-Tōkyō may recognize the word 隅田川 Sumidagawa, the rest of the country probably wouldn’t. is instantly readable by anyone with a junior high education[xvi]. But all of that said, why does the modern river use the old kanji? Well, even though the kanji became a daily use kanji once again in 1980, the river’s name was referred to in official post war documents and signs as すみだ川 avoiding the kanji altogether, or with the new kanji. But local people and private interests continued to use the old spelling. As daily use kanji are an official recommendation to educators a publishers, but are not imposed on the private sector, anyone can use any damn kanji they want and it doesn’t really matter. In short, the writing of the river’s name persists out of tradition and affection, while the ward’s spelling is exists out of a bureaucracy that was promoting a new wave of change in post-war Japan.


Edo Period people loved the rivers and bridges of the city. While this isn't a pleasure boat, people of means enjoyed riding under the bridges.

Edo Period people loved the rivers and bridges of the city. While this isn’t a pleasure boat, people of means enjoyed riding under the bridges of the Sumida.

Some modern people enjoy that sort of thing.

Some modern people enjoy that sort of thing, too.


Taking boats down the Sumidagawa is actually quite popular among weird people… I’m looking at you, dear reader.

I haven’t done it myself yet, but as a pretty weird person, I’m dying to do it. Since this river flowed through the center of Edo, it was one of the most important rivers then and still is now. The Edo Era bridges were more or less landmarks. Today, some people like to walk or ride bicycles along the river to see all of the bridges.

If you’re interested in such a journey, here is a description of the course of the river with a list of bridges which I just straight up stole from Wikipedia. You can’t cross all of them today, but you’ll definitely get a unique view of the modern city and some glimpses of Edo.



○ = Allows Pedestrians (most bridges allow for pedestrians)
× = No Pedestrians (usually for trains, cars, or utilities)

= Only Pedestrians (only one bridge)

  Bridge Name                                                            Wards
Divergence from the Arakawa
Confluence with the Shingashigawa.
Shin-Kamiyabashi Kita, Adachi
Shindenbashi Kita, Adachi
Shin-Toyo Hashi Kita, Adachi
Toshimabashi Kita, Adachi
× Central Circular Route
(a national highway)
Kita, Adachi
Confluence with the Shakuji’igawa[xvii]
Odaihashi Arakawa, Adachi
Ogubashi Arakawa, Adachi
× Nippori-Toneri Liner Sumidagawa Bridge Arakawa, Adachi
Otakebashi Arakawa, Adachi
× Jōsui Senjū Suikanbashi[xviii]
(an aqueduct demolished 2013)
Arakawa, Adachi
× Keisei Main Line Sumidagawa Bridge[xix] Arakawa, Adachi
× TEPCO Sōdenbashi[xx] Arakawa, Adachi
× Senjū Suikanbashi Arakawa, Adachi
Senjū Ōhashi Arakawa, Adachi
× Jōban Line Sumidagawa Bridge Arakawa, Adachi
× Tsukuba Express Sumidagawa Bridge Arakawa, Adachi
× Hibiya Line Sumidagawa Bridge Arakawa, Adachi
Senjū-Oiri Ōhashi Arakawa, Adachi
Confluence with the Old Awasegawa
Suijin Ōhashi[xxi] Arakawa, Sumida
Shirahigebashi[xxii] Taitō, Sumida
Sakurabashi Taitō, Sumida
Kototoibashi Taitō, Sumida
× Tōbu Hanakawado Railroad Bridge[xxiii] Taitō, Sumida
Confluence with the Kita-Jikkengawa
(one of the most famous bridges in Japan!)
Taitō, Sumida
Komagatabashi Taitō, Sumida
Umayabashi Taitō, Sumida
Kuramaebashi[xxiv] Taitō, Sumida
× Kuramae Senyōbashi
(power lines and waterworks)
Taitō, Sumida
× Sōbu Main Line Sumidagawa Bridge[xxv] Taitō, Sumida
Confluence with the Kanda River
Ryōgokubashi Chūō, Sumida
Confluence with the Tatekawa
× Ryōgoku Ōhashi Chūō, Sumida
Shin-Ōhashi Chūō, Kōtō
Confluence with the Ogigawa
Kiyosubashi[xxvi] Chūō, Kōtō
Confluence with the Sendai Horigawa[xxvii]
Sumidagawa Ōhashi Chūō, Kōtō
Confluence with the Nihonbashi “River”
Eitaibashi[xxviii] Chūō, Kōtō
Confluence with the Ōyokogawa
Aioibashi Chūō, Kōtō
Chūō Ōhashi Chūō, Chūō
Confluence with the Kamejima-gawa
Branches off to the Tsukudagawa tributary[xxix]
Tsukuda Ōhashi Chūō, Chūō
Confluence with the Tsukishima-gawa[xxx]
Kachidokibashi Chūō, Chūō
Branches off to the Shin-Tsukishima-gawa
Empties out into Tōkyō Bay

And that concludes my rambling, confusing, and insanely long tour of the etymology of Sumida… Strangely, I feel no closure with this article. I also sense more confusion coming in the next few articles because all of the rivers I’ve chose for this series have been seriously manipulated over the centuries. This is going to be a bumpy ride. I’m thinking of adding a recap at the end of the series to bring everything together. Not sure if it’s necessary yet, though. Let’s see.

But in closing,  I’d like to share two links with you from another blogger who goes by the name Rurōsha who wrote a 2 affectionate articles about the Sumida River. She goes into a Suijin Shrine (now Sumidagawa Shrine) and its unfortunate demise and separation from the river. The first article is here and the second article is here. I’ve referred to her blog a number of times because she really seems to have a passion for Tōkyō’s shitamachi style and history – she also probably knows way more about the Sumida River than I do. Interestingly, the first kanji in the word Rurōsha is 流 ru which means “river current” or “flow.” Check her out!


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[i] And I was afraid of this before I started it.
[ii] I’m gonna refer to Japanese Eras a lot, so if you need a refresher, please check out my cheat sheet here.
[iv] Without getting into more detail, the kanji 河 kawa/gawa also means river. But it’s an older form.
[v] To my knowledge, this is an unpredictable sound change. But for what it’s worth, it’s called 連濁 rendaku and you can read about it here.
[vi] At this time he was not shōgun.
[vii] Present day Gyōda, Saitama.
[viii] No specifics from me cuz…….. this way over my head.
[ix] Gonna talk about this more, trust me.
[x] I myself have never studied a word of Ainu, so I’m going to withhold any opinion on this. I just can’t verify or deny it.
[xi] If this is new to you, I’d recommend going back to the beginning of this blog and just re-reading everything. If you don’t have the time, this might push you in the right direction.
[xii] This arose out of a general “re-unification” policy as much as necessity. Most of the upper samurai and daimyō from the domains could handle the Japanese spoken in Edo (itself a mishmash of the local Edo Dialect, the Mikawa Dialect, and in the upper echelons, the Kyōto Dialect). But with the creation of a standing, national army headed by former samurai from Satsuma and Chōshū and staffed by men of every former class from every region of Japan who may have never heard another dialect in their lives came together. The need for a standard, national language was imperative.
[xiii] Furthermore, the reason the daily use kanji list was restricted in the first place was because literacy wasn’t high in the rural areas and there were simply too many possible readings that even city dwellers required 振り仮名 furigana syllabic subtitles for difficult kanji.
[xiv] Or liberated, depending on how you want to look at it…
[xv] Something they’d been trying to do ever since the Black Ships arrived in the 1850’s.
[xvi] There are some claims that people were harvesting materials from the river to make ink (), but I can’t verify them. I think these may be folk etymologies.
[xvii] I wrote about the place name Shakujii waaaaaaay back in the day.
[xviii] 水管橋 suikanbashi means water supply bridge. It’s easy and cheaper to pump fresh drinking water over a bridge than it is to dig deep under deep rivers – or to dam up the river to build an underwater pipeline. Tōkyō has so many waterways, that water supply bridges (essentially a pipe, sometimes with a pedestrian or some other bridge attached to it) are a very common thing due to their cost effectiveness.
[xix] Wanna know what Keisei means? Check this shit out, son.
[xx] Yes, that TEPCO, 東京電力 Tōkyō Den’ryoku Tōkyō Electric, the same clowns who are still mishandling the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. Anyways, this bridge is just a bunch of power lines.
[xxi] Coming back to this place name sometime in the future.
[xxii] You can bet your left testicle I’ll be covering this place name. Too good to pass up.
[xxiii] More about the Tōbu Line here.
[xxiv] There’s an article for that!
[xxv] Yup. Yet again I’m referring you to my train line article. I should revisit the topic… hmmmmm…
[xxvi] Sound familiar? I talked about this area before in a double dipper!
[xxvii] I’m starting to sound like a broken record… I talked about Sendai Horigawa before!
[xxviii] This area is referenced in my article on Mon’naka.
[xxix] I haven’t covered 佃 Tsukada yet, so there’s actually a lot to talk about this area… in the future.
[xxx] If you’ve been to Tōkyō, you probably know the Tsukishima Fish Market. This area also has an interesting history, but now is not the time to get into it.

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