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Posts Tagged ‘Ueno’

What does Taitō mean?

In Japanese History on June 28, 2017 at 5:41 pm

台東
Taitō (plateau east, more at the Elevated East)

town hall

Taitō City Hall

Today we’re looking at one of my favorite places in Tōkyō, 台東区 Taitō-ku Taitō Ward. It’s actually surprising I haven’t covered this area yet. Long time readers of the blog will be familiar with many place names located in this area. I’ve written about spots here since the earliest days of JapanThis! because… well, it’s just that cool.

Despite being jam packed with cool shit, Taitō is actually the smallest of the 23 Special Wards. In terms of the sheer density of historical remains, neighborhoods, and world class museums[i], it’s the only place in Tōkyō that gives 港区 Minato-ku Minato Ward a run for its money. And Minato is twice the size of Taitō!

oiran dokuchu

The Oiran Dokuchū was a daily form of advertising carried out in Yoshiwara, the official red light district of Edo. Once a year it’s recreated today in Taitō Ward. You can see a similar recreation every day at Nikkō Edo Wonderland.

It’s home to the former red light district, 吉原 Yoshiwara[ii]. It’s home to 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji, funerary temple of the Tokugawa Shōguns[iii]. It’s home to 上野公園 Ueno Kōen Ueno Park, one of the most epic, historically important urban green spaces in the world. Oh, and 上野駅 Ueno Eki Ueno Station is there –a critical hub station linking a variety of local train lines, but also connecting Tōkyō with the rest of Japan and the world via 新幹線 shinkansen high speed trains as well as by other long distance trains.

ueno station 1930s

Ueno Station in the 1930’s. Keen readers will notice the pre-WWII orthography, ie; it goes right to left).

I’m not going to give you much more of a sales pitch on Taitō Ward because we’ve been here so many times before, and rest assured we will return many times again. If you want to know more about the ward’s virtues, then enjoy the Further Reading links. That’s what they’re for.

Further Reading:

sensoji

Number 1 Destination for most tourists to in Tōkyō is Sensō-ji in Asakusa. It’s a great area, but for history nerds, it requires a little poking around to find the good stuff. Like much of Tōkyō, this area suffered terribly in the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake and the Firebombing during WWII.

So, Let’s Look at the Kanji


tai, dai

pedestal, platform


east

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Tōkyō’s Taitō was not an Edo Period name, nor a holdover from any earlier point in history. It was, in fact, a product of the Post War Occupation restructuring of the city’s administrative districts. In short, it was a new ward to be made of former 下谷区 Shitaya-ku Shitaya Ward and 浅草区 Asakusa-ku Asakusa Ward – neither of which exist today. This new ward needed a new name to not piss off the residents of either wards, both of which had existed since the Meiji Period and whose names were deeply tied to the Edo Period in terms of spatial anthropology and socio-cultural identity[iv].

hiroshige shitaya hirokoji.jpg

Shitaya Hirokoji by Utagawa Hiroshige depicts the wide boulevard leading up to the main gate of Kan’ei-ji, funerary temple of the Tokugawa shōguns. Notice the samurai at the center bottom who are wearing western trousers, a novelty only the most elite could afford at the time Hiroshige captured this scene.

The former Shitaya Ward, whose name means “bottom of the valley,” included 上野山 Ueno-yama the Ueno Plateau where the graves of the Tokugawa Shōguns were located. There’s no documentation to back this theory up, but it seems logical to assume that the Meiji Government did not want to emphasize the graves of the rulers they had overthrown in an illegal coup. Rather than creating a 上野区 Ueno-ku Ueno Ward – literally, field on the top of a hill[v] – they chose to emphasize the valley at the bottom of the plateau. Thus, they made a Shitaya Ward and included the ornate mausolea[vi] in Ueno as a kind of dis[vii]. This 下町 shitamachi low city image persists to this day, even though parts of Ueno were considered 山手 yamanote high city in the Edo Period.

Further Reading:

taito ward map

Map of Taitō Ward today

The Creation of Taitō Ward

Anyhoo, in 1947 Shitaya Ward and Asakusa Ward were officially combined to create Taitō Ward. Regardless of whether late 19th century concerns about neutralizing the place names of samurai and shōgunate lands were still an issue or not, the post-war government adopted a more conciliatory attitude that would unify the inhabitants of this historic and cherished part of Tōkyō.

However, the inhabitants of the former wards had separate agendas.

Advocates from Shitaya pushed for 上野区 Ueno-ku Ueno Ward. Advocates from Asakusa pushed for 東区 Higashi-ku East Ward[viii]. The Shitaya faction clearly wanted to shake off the “bottom of the valley” image of their former name while emphasizing the elite, yamanote implication of “field on the top of the hill” – a hill that everyone knew was important to the Tokugawa Shōguns. The Asakusa faction wanted to emphasize the eastern side of the proposed district – that is to say, the vibrant, shitamachi culture. The two factions were at an impasse, so the governor of Tōkyō stepped in and made a judgement call based on the recent approval of a project to build a new school in Shitaya. The school was to be called 台東小学校 Taitō Shōgakkō Taitō Elementary School.

Further Reading:

Seiichiro_Yasui

Yasui Sei’ichirō, the first governor of the newly created Tōkyō Metropolis.

 The Compromise

Obviously, nobody wanted to piss off the residents of either faction, and I think it’s safe to say that in the reconstruction years, the Tōkyō Government wanted to ensure both Shitaya residents and Asakusa residents could save face and come out of this as winners. Furthermore, the new proposed district really did feature both yamanote and shitamachi aspects. When the new ward name was announced, it was 台東区 Taitō-ku Taitō Ward. The committee announced that the decision was based on the same criteria used for the naming of the new elementary school.

康熙字典

The book that forever changed how Japanese was written and taught.

The naming of the elementary school and the subsequent ward weren’t trifling matters. They were very much part of the post-WWII zeitgeist in Japan. It was influenced by a Classical Chinese place name 台東 Táidōng which was found in the 康熙字典 Kāngxī Zìdiǎn Kangxi Dictionary – the Kōki Jiten, in Japanese. This reference book, compiled between 1710-1716, included more than 47,000 kanji, but more importantly, it laid out a simplified standard for writing them. It reduced the previously existing 540 radicals to a cool 214 standard radicals[ix]. Don’t get me wrong. The average Japanese person on the street didn’t give a shit about this 47,000 kanji dictionary from the 1700’s. However, the intellectuals involved in the sweeping post-WWII reforms of Japanese orthography[x] were very familiar with this work and they pushed for – and pushed through – the adoption of the 214 radical system proposed by the Kōki Jiten. Whether they know it or not, every Japanese teacher today is teaching kanji based on a version of this system and every student is learning from it.

cool story.jpg
So Why Taitō?

So, I know you’re saying something like, “Nice dictionary story, bruh. But why did they choose those kanji?” And to that, I can only say, “I’m glad you asked.”

台 tai is a character commonly associated with elevation – often geographic elevation, as in 台地 daichi  high ground or plateau. The Ueno Plateau which was the home to the shōgun’s tombs and present-day Ueno Park, while called 上野山 Ueno-yama by casual speakers of the time, was called 上野台地 Ueno Daichi by cartographers and smart people involved with urban planning. While creating a Ueno Ward might have annoyed the Occupation Forces by emphasizing the samurai past, using acknowledged the areas elite, yamanote status. 東 higashi/ east, on the other hand, was an easy concession to grant the Asakusa faction who were proud of their shitamachi culture that spread from the base of the Ueno Plateau to the west bank of the Sumida River.

The name Taitō gave both old wards the proverbial high ground. It was the “Elevated East.”

kan'ei-ji.jpg

Main temple complex of Kan’ei-ji as it looked before the Battle of Ueno in 1868.

Growing Pains

The name was officially promulgated as Taitō, but apparently old people often pronounced it Daitō until quite recently – you know, after they died. This wasn’t the first time there was confusion with kanji. When the city of Edo was renamed Tōkyō, many people thought it was supposed to be read Teikyō. Also, the mortuary temple of the second shōgun 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada, who died in 1632, is written 台徳院 but has no official reading[xi]. Speakers are free to use Daitoku-in or Taitoku-in. There’s no one alive from the early 1600’s to confirm which pronunciation is correct, but in the case of Taitō, it’s official and spelled out phonetically in many places, including the ward’s website.

Additionally, within the ward, there’s a postal address 台東区台東 Taitō-ku Taitō, Taitō, Taitō Ward. Some people might speculate that the ward derives its name from this area. However, this just ain’t so. This so-called “display address” was created in 1967 as the result of postal[xii] reforms that are standard throughout Japan today. But make no mistake about it. It’s derived from the name of the ward, not vice-versa.

taito station.jpg

Taito Station is one of the preeminent video arcades (game centers) in all of Japan.

Taito Corporation

Some readers may associate the name TAITO with video games and ゲームセンター gēmu sentā video game arcades that go by the same name. That’s because TAITO was a major influence on the early development of video gaming culture in Japan and around the world. They still loom large in the world of gaming as an arcade-experience.

space invaders 1996

Apparently, Space Invaders was still a thing in 1996. I didn’t know this. I was too busy raving.

In the 1970’s, the company, known in Japanese as 株式会社タイトー Kabushiki-gaisha Taitō Taitō Corporation, invented a little game known as スペースインベーダー Supēsu Inbēdā Space Invaders. This was one of the first games that crossed over from the arcades to the home console/computer markets to such a degree that Space Invaders is even known to young gamers today. It’s real breakout to the home console market roughly coincided with the release of the original Star Wars movie. The merging of futuristic technology and a renewed enthusiasm for sci-fi couldn’t have come at a better time.

kogan

Nerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd!

Jewish Taitō Time

In Japanese, Taitō (the company[xiii]) is always written without kanji as タイトー Taitō – a name that is simply phonetic and has no meaning. But the name of the company is way more interesting than its phonetic spelling, and it has nothing to do with Taitō Ward. Believe it or not.

The entrepreneur who built Taitō was a Russian Jew named Майкл Коган Michaell “Misha” Kogan[xiv]. I’ll let Wikipedia do a little more explaining about him:

He was born in Odessa, but his family moved to HarbinManchuria to escape the Russian Revolution of 1917, where he later met Colonel Yasue Norihiro, a member of the Japanese Army’s intelligence services and one of the architects of the Fugu Plan, an ill-fated plan to settle European Jewish refugees in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. He moved to Tokyo in 1939, where he spent most of the duration of the war studying at Waseda School of Economics. He moved to Tianjin in 1944 before returning to Japan in 1950, settling in Setagaya, Tokyo.

Michaell, Mikhail, Michael, Misha, or however you want to call the guy, was a brilliant dude. Naturally, he spoke Russian, but he also learned Chinese, Japanese, and English. He was a smart guy who was in all the wrong places at the wrong times in his childhood, and that provided him with a unique point of view and skill set that when he was in the right place at the right time, he grabbed the bull by the horns and rode that bitch straight to millionaire land. The craziest thing is Mikhail was born in the early 1900’s, but his company came to be centered on the tech industry. He started off importing Russian vodka, but soon expanded to jukeboxes and vending machines, symbols of Japanese post-war recovery. By the time he died, his company was pioneering video arcade culture. Just let that set in for a minute. He grew up as a refugee in the early 1900’s and died as a rich guy whose company made video games – arcades, in particular – mainstream. Taitō changed gaming and the promulgation of digital entertainment forever.

azabu space invader.jpg

One of many mysterious Space Invaders in Tōkyō’s Minato Ward.

Let’s Look at Some Other Kanji

猶太
Yudaya

Judea (Jewish)


The East

The first set of characters is read as Yudaya (which means “Israel”), but these are 当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic values rather than proper ideographs. If you combine the kanji, you can make 太東 Taitō which is essentially a Japanese abbreviation for a Chinese rendering of the 極東猶太人会社 Jídōng Yóutàirén Huìshè Jewish East Asia Company. To make things work in Japanese, the name was rendered as 極東の猶太人会社 Kyokutō no Yudayajin-gaisha, which seems to convey the same meaning as the Chinese original[xv].

OK, so long story short: 太東 Daitō/Taitō – which has nothing to do with Taitō Ward – was an abbreviation that meant “Jews in the East,” or something like that. While the pronunciation is more or less the same, the kanji are quite different: 太東 Taitō the company vs. 台東 Taitō the ward.

Taitō the company was more interested in branding itself as an international company than a Japanese company, so they used ローマ字 rōma-ji the Latin alphabet to render their name: TAITO. They back-translated the name into Japanese using 片仮名 katakana, a script traditionally associated with foreign words that also had a masculine nuance. Thus, the company didn’t use kanji for their name in Japan, they used katakana. They weren’t 太東 Taitō, they were タイトー Taitō. That said, the company tends to prefer the Latin alphabet in all caps: TAITO.

TAITO LOGO.pngAlright, so I hope you enjoyed that break down of the etymology of Taitō Ward as well as the unexpected tangent about the Taitō Corporation. Be sure to check out all the Further Reading links for articles related to this area of Tōkyō because I’ve been covering it for years. Also, if you’re ever in Tōkyō, I give a particularly nerdy and fun tour of the a major portion of the area.

If you like what I do, please consider supporting my blog on Patron. Also, all my social media accounts are listed below, so there are lots of ways that we can interact every day. I’m particularly active on Twitter, you know, if you’re into that sort of thing. Looking forward to hearing from you♪

 

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

Guided Tours

 

______________________________________
[i]
Or musea, as I like to say – using the Latin neuter plural, like datum/data.
[ii] Shut down by US Occupation Forces, though still home to a thriving sex industry – most of which is off limits to foreigners, unless you have connections, or speak great Japanese and are willing to pay inflated prices.
[iii] The other being 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in Minato-ku. Hence, the “rivalry” between the two wards in terms of historical importance. I used “quotes” because there isn’t any real rivalry except in my own head – and that boils down to a simple question: “where should I spend my time exploring Edo-Tōkyō history?” The answer is “both places.”
[iv] In other words, Shitaya and Asakusa had actually fallen under direct control of the shōgun in the Edo Period and the people who lived here were fiercely proud of that. They considered themselves bonā fide 江戸っ子 Edo-kko Edoites, as opposed to the clowns who lived out in places like 内藤新宿 Naitō Shinjuku. (Curious about that? Here’s my article about Shinjuku).
[v] Remember, hilltops are yamanote, lowlands and riverbanks are shitamachi.
[vi] At this time, the shōguns’ funerary temples were intact, but the main temple of Kan’ei-ji had been burnt down in the 上野戦争 Ueno Sensō Battle of Ueno in 1868, when Tokugawa samurai holed up at Kan’ei-ji to protect the last (and retired) shogun, 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu who had put himself under voluntary house arrest at the temple in submission to the Meiji Emperor.
[vii] If the theory is to be believed. However, Shitaya was a popular area during the Edo Period up to the pre-war era. Visiting Ueno – or living in Ueno – was for rich people. Perhaps, Shitaya was just more relatable. Then again, if it’s more relatable to the common person, it’s less associated with the samurai class. This theory seems reasonable to me.
[viii] This is similar to another ward created at the same time, 北区 Kita-ku North Ward. (And yes, I have an oooooold ass article here).
[ix] What the fuck is a radical?
[x] Orthography is “spelling.” It’s boring, but here’s a history of orthographic reforms in Japan.
[xi] It’s not a place name or postal code… Oh, and it was destroyed in the war.
[xii] ZIP code
[xiii] More about this later…
[xiv] ミハエルコーガン Mihael Kōgan in Japanese.
[xv] Full disclosure: I have never studied Chinese, and the Japanese is more like “Far East Jewish Company.”

Yamanote Line: Ueno & Okachimachi

In Japanese History on June 29, 2016 at 10:37 am

上野
Ueno

16991357795_70e9650c4a_o.jpg

Close up of the restored sukibei of Ueno Tōshō-gū. A sukibei is a kind of fence that goes around the main halls of a shrine built in the gongen-zukuri style.

Long time readers will know that we’ve just rolled into one of my favorite areas of Tōkyō.

Ueno is an access point to a myriad of fantastic spots connected to Japanese history. I’ve covered it numerous times before so I’m just gonna keep it brief this time. In short, the place name Ueno refers to the area immediately surrounding Ueno Station in the vocabulary of a typical Tōkyōite. However, prior to the arrival of trains, Ueno was – strictly speaking – the high ground above the station that is now 上野公園 Ueno Kōen Ueno Park. The lowlands below the park are very 下町 shitamachi low city and betray their commoner origins. The high ground was 山手 yamanote high city and wasn’t so much a “city” per se as much as it was religious center based around 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji Kan’ei Temple one of 2 funerary temples of the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Tokugawa Shōgun Family. The name 上野 Ueno itself means “high field” and is a reference to the 上野台地 Ueno Daichi Ueno Plateau.

ueno daibutsu

The Ueno Daibutsu (Big Buddha), sometimes called the Edo Daibutsu, before it was toppled by the 1923 Great Kantō Earfquake.

The plateau was also home to swaths of 武家屋敷 buke yashiki samurai residences and a handful of  大名屋敷 daimyō yashiki daimyō residences. This is in direct conflict with the area’s modern image of being 下町 shitamachi low city. And while it certainly has a feel of old, traditional Tōkyō, Ueno is located on the Yamanote Line for a reason[i]. Despite the station being located in the old lowland commoner district, the term traditionally referred to the elite high ground.Most of the confusion deals with a shift in the usage of the terms and the fact that the high ground here is still very traditional.

ueno park hanami

Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in Ueno is pretty much a mad house and it gets crazier and crazier every year. Pretty sure the shōgunate wouldn’t approve.

In Ueno today, you can find bits and pieces of the Tokugawa mortuary temple, Kan’ei-ji, the 書院 shoin room where the last shōgun, 徳川慶喜 Tokugawa Yoshinobu put himself under self-imposed house arrest as an act of submission and loyalty to the emperor, numerous temples and shrines, and the battleground of the 上野戦争 Ueno Sensō Battle of Ueno, in which a volunteer samurai militia loyal to the shōgunate fought the imperial rebels in a one day battle that resulted in the destruction by fire of the main hall of Kan’ei-ji and many of its other buildings. The bulk of Kan’ei-ji’s land holdings have become Ueno Park which is famous for 花見 hanami cherry blossom viewing and for years has been one of the crazier hanami spots – most likely because about 80% of the trees in the park are cherry blossoms. If you can look past the big crowds and drunk zombies stumbling around everywhere, the sheer number and density of 桜 sakura cherry blossoms is stunning.

Further Reading:

drought shinonazu pond.jpg

In 1960, there was a drought so bad that Shinobazu Pond, in the lowlands under the Ueno Plateau actually went dry. The pond had been famous for unagi and lotus. The lotus plants remain, but the drought killed off the unagi. These 3 boys may have killed them all. Look at those stone cold killers toss an unagi into the air to its certain death. Ueon and Okachimachi still have many unagi restaurants but the unagi isn’t local anymore.

御徒町
Okachimachi

I think my original article on Okachimachi pretty much sums up the origin of this place name. 徒 kachi were the very bottom rung on the ladder of 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the Tokugawa shōguns. Long story short, they were samurai but they essentially lived like commoners. That is to say, they lived in the lowlands in barracks similar to (and often adjacent to) the 長屋 nagaya row houses for poor commoners in the 下町 shitamachi low city. In Edo, they were the “white trash” of the samurai class – not through their own fault, though. Class was hereditary. Commoners afforded them the usual courtesy a samurai deserved, but the rest of the samurai class thought very little of them.

 

okachimachi 1955

Okachimachi in 1955. The elevated train tracks for the Yamanote line are still there, but the other buildings are long gone. I’m guessing that tree is gone too.

In the Edo Period, there was a small barracks town in this area. It was essentially home to many 御徒o-kachi the polite term for this class of hatamoto. Keep in mind, the commoners would never dare refer to them by their rank to their face (they were considered just barely samurai by their own class)[ii]. But to the commoners in the area, it looked good to have samurai in the neighborhood. Sure, these weren’t daimyō or high ranking shōgunate officials, but they were still samurai. I don’t know if this affected property values in the Edo Period, actually, I sort of doubt it did, but really I don’t know. That said, what would you be more proud of having across the street from your house; a bunch of cheap yukata makers and green grocers or some sword wielding samurai?

Hopefully now you can sort of imagine why the title of low ranking samurai would have held so much sway among their commoner neighbors after the abolition of the samurai class in 1868 (which would have meant the destruction of the barracks and those kachi had to fend for themselves in the real world). Still, it sounded cool to have had samurai in the neighborhood once the samurai were all but gone.

mizushōbai

2 girls eating a late night dinner in Ameyoko-chō in summer, 1955. It’s unclear if they’re hostesses, prostitutes, or both. Anyways, it’s a pretty hot shot lol.

Between Okachimachi and Ueno Station, there is an area called アメヤ横丁 Ameya Yoko-chō which has a somewhat obscure etymology, but by most accounts seems to be a reference to a post war black market area where American military surplus was sold off to Tōkyōites living in the burnt out capital. アメ屋 ame-ya is said to be short for アメリカ屋 Amerika-ya America shops. 横丁 yoko-chō means something like alley or side street/town. When visiting Ueno, I think it’s great to stop off here for a few drinks and 焼鳥 yakitori grilled chicken to soak in the shitamachi vibe, reflect on history, and chat with local salarymen who are generally drunk enough to engage foreigners in conversations. It’s a really cool part of town and if you take my guided tour of this part of Tōkyō, chances are we’ll end up here for drinks at the end of the day.

Recommended Reading:

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_____________________________
[i] There has been confusion over the years as to what the terms 山手 yamanote high city and 下町 shitamachi low city mean and to which parts of town the terms apply. The area from Tabata to Okachimachi is a leading factor in this confusion.
[ii] They were called 御侍様 o-samurai-sama sir samurai by commoners.

Ōedo Line: Ueno-Okachimachi & Shin-Okachimachi

In Japanese History on June 11, 2015 at 7:26 am

上野御徒町
Ueno-Okachimachi (Ueno-Okachimachi)

Okachimachi

Okachimachi

This is a combination of place names to create a new station name. It’s derived from 上野 Ueno[i] and Okachimachi[ii]. Exploring the Ueno area can literally take a whole day. Keep reading, I’m going to go into a little more detail.

Just follow this straight ahead and you'll Okachimachi. Soon thereafter you'll find Akihabara,

Just follow this straight ahead and you’ll Okachimachi. Soon thereafter you’ll find Akihabara,

新御徒町
Shin-Okachimachi (New Okachimachi)

御徒 o-kachi were among the lowest ranks of 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun. They were so low that they were even allowed to ride horses[iii]. They didn’t even have their own homes. They lived in barracks towns until they married up in rank or sold their samurai status to become merchants. Even though this area looks cheap, that’s a veneer it acquired in the Shōwa Period when the 下町 shitamachi low city area became a black market for domestic and foreign goods. Naw, who am I kidding, it was pretty much a dump of privileged-but-broke-ass samurai and has ever since lived on as a playground for the everyman.

Which is what makes it awesome!

Good old school vibe.

Good old school vibe.

I’ve never been to Ueno-Okachimachi Station or Shin-Okachimachi Station, but I’ve been to the Okachimachi area hundreds of times[iv]. I love it. It retains its Post War charm and is a good refuge for those seeking remnants of the dying shitamachi Edokko culture. At any rate, it’s a great part of town with a lot of vibe. I highly recommend taking a stroll through the area.

I also highly recommend you read my original article about Okachimachi[v].

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

___________________________
[i] My article about Ueno.
[ii] My article about Okachimachi.
[iii] This was an issue when Henry Heusken was riding horses around Edo. It’s thought that some country samurai who also couldn’t ride horses, saw him flaunting his extra-territoriality – but in fact this was probably just a cultural difference. In the west there weren’t laws saying you couldn’t ride a horse because of your social rank. If you could afford a horse, you could ride it. This didn’t jive with the Japanese mind of the time. You can read about his murder here.
[iv] A bit of literary exaggeration. But I’ve been coming to Ueno up to 5 times a year for the past 13 years. That’s about 60 times. So… yeah… not hundreds of times. lol.
[v] Of course, I have, bitches.

What does Tabata mean?

In Japanese History on April 29, 2014 at 4:25 pm

田端
Tabata (on the edge of the field)

In JR's ongoing effort to put department stores in every train station, Tabata Station looks like every other JR station.

In JR’s ongoing effort to put department stores in every train station, Tabata Station looks like every other JR station.

First Let’s Start with the Kanji, Shall We?

ta

rice paddy

hata

edge, boundary, beside, close to

This is a place name found all over Japan, with reading variations.

It’s also a family name found all over Japan… yes, also with reading variations[i].

And despite sounding really backwatery to our modern ears, many people with this family name can apparently claim descent from the 源氏 Minamoto-shi/Genji Minamoto clan. So, stuff that in your pipe and smoke it.

In the Edo Period, 田端村 Tabata Mura Tabata Village was located on a section of the elevated area that is geographically referred to as the 上野台地 Ueno Daichi the Ueno Plateau, but was to known at the time as 上野山 Uenoyama Ueno Mountain. The area was well known because one side was bordered by a cliff. Although, most people don’t notice it now, the west side of Tabata Station clearly shows the cliff – it’s just been woven into the fabric of the modern metropolis.

The cliff of former Tabata Village.

The cliff of former Tabata Village.

It’s said that meaning of the name is 田ノ端 ta no hata on the edge of a rice paddy. Historical records and maps from the early Edo Period are vague at best, but the area would have been quite rural at the time. The presence of 田畑 tahata rice paddies and fields is more or less a given. Speaking of tahata, a second etymology says that via rendaku, tahata became tabata. So there, you just got 2 for the price of 1.

Tabata sits on a ridge – a cliff, if you will – on the edge of the Ueno Plateau. The agricultural lands here were eventually surrendered to the Tokugawa Shōgunate in the name of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance[ii], for the purpose of building daimyō residences and samurai residences. Without clear historical records, the “edge” could have referred to rice paddies on the plateau itself, or could refer to the cliff – a proverbial “edge” clearly delineating the yamanote and shitamachi, thus indicating the farming was being done in the valley.

one the left, you can see the Hongo Plateau, on the right, the Ueno Plateau. Where you see 田端駅 is Tabata Station.

one the left, you can see the Hongo Plateau, on the right, the Ueno Plateau.
Where you see 田端駅 is Tabata Station.

A second, more intriguing theory maintains that the place name is most likely far more ancient than the kanji reveal. We’ve seen this in really old names. This theory maintains that the oldest place names are all based on the terrain. In an age where most people were illiterate and there were very few – or no – maps, short and descriptive places were the easiest way to find your way around. In my experience writing Japan This!, I’ve definitely noticed this pattern. As areas became more literate, kanji were added post hoc. However, using kanji for their phonetic values distorts forever the original meaning of the word, especially if it’s a name that predates the importation of kanji to Japan or if the place name dates from the languages of the aboriginal peoples of Japan (ie; before the spread of the Yamato people).

This alternate theory uses some archaeological findings to back it up. The area has been inhabited since the Jōmon Period[iii] but the real activity picked up around the Yayoi Period[iv]. During the early to mid Jōmon Period (7,000-4,000 years ago), this area was coastline, and the high areas were inhabited by villagers, communities highly reliant on the sea and not farming. The sea began receding during the Yayoi Period and we find evidence of all kinds of coastal fishing activity, but no farming. Because the only people who farm next to the ocean are idiots[v].

Again, if this is an ancient name – not a medieval[vi] name – the kanji does not matter. Kanji have sounds (readings) but no kanji is divorced from meaning. It always has a meaning. Going by this theory, the archaeological evidence has led a small group of people to maintain that the name comes from a very ancient place name that originally meant “the top of the plateau.” One of the more interesting speculations[vii] was that the name is evidenced by 束旗 tabahatatabata a bundle of flags, because the high ground is where you can build your fort (and of course put up your flags, which can be seen from everywhere).

A residential alley in the shitamachi area near Tabata.

A residential alley in the shitamachi area near Tabata.

So Which Theory Do I Like?

I think the 2nd theory is more or less crap. Trying to relate a place name to the Paleolithic Period or the Jōmon Period is just absurd. Even the Yayoi thing is stretch. If we had a record from the Nara or Heian Period, I’d start to loosen up my skepticism. But we don’t. This name doesn’t even seem to appear in Kamakura Period records, which is when the Kantō area really starts showing up in the historical record. No matter what activity happened here 2000 years ago, I’m willing to bet that has absolutely no connection with what was happening here by the time the Edo clan was established or Ōta Dōkan came around. I don’t know if Japanese clans were raising flags on the high ground around their forts or not before the Sengoku Period, but flags all over the place is an image I associate with the rise of the warrior culture, and in particular with the Sengoku Period[viii].

If we start messing around with ateji again, it becomes a game of unsolvable multiple choice. I’m going to use Occam’s Razor and say that “a village next to a rice paddy” is the most realistic etymology. The fact that this place name occurs all over Japan backs up this rationale as well. After all, why did people make rice paddies? Well, it was to feed villages! Even the “rice paddies and fields” makes more sense than referencing the Yayoi Period.

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[i] There are approximately 23,900 people with the surname 田端 in Japan today. As a place name or surname the variations are: Tabata, Tahashi, Tahata, Tabashi, Tabana, and Tabuchi – in order from most common to least common. As a family name, I think we can say this is fairly rare in Japan.
[ii] See my quick overview here.
[iii] I’m not going into the Jōmon thing because it’s soooo far beyond the scope of Edo-Tōkyō. That said, it bears repeating that the Jōmon people were racially distinct from the Yayoi people. The Jōmon may have been more Caucasian looking. It’s with the Yayoi people where we start getting people whose bones, at least, start looking Japanese.
[iv] Let’s say from 400 BC to 200 AD just to be conservative. But this is where we start seeing people who are racially “Japanese.”
[v] Unless you’re farming seaweed, but that’s completely different from maintaining fields and rice paddies. But try to grow some vegetables in salt water and see what happens.
[vi] This is a term I hate using, but I can’t think of a better one.
[vii] And there are a lot more!
[viii] This is just the image in my head; I honestly don’t know shit about flags and banners in Japanese history.

What does Sendagi mean?

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on April 14, 2014 at 8:28 am

千駄木
Sendagi (a lot of trees)

sendagi_station

Sendagi is a mixed residential and shopping area between Nezu and Yanaka[i]. Today the area is distinctly shitamachi[ii]. However, if you go there you’ll notice slopes which are clear indicators that in the Edo Period the area was mixed with the elites living on the yamanote (high city) and the merchants and other people living on in the shitamachi (low city) while low ranking samurai naturally lived on the hillsides according to rank.

The area of Tōkyō extending from Ueno Station[iii] out to Nippori Station[iv] is one of the most popular destinations for lovers of Edo-Tōkyō to take walks. There are many different routes one could take through this area, but one common route is walking the 谷根千 Yanesen, an abbreviation based on the collective areas of  谷中 Yanaka, 根津 Nezu, and 千駄木 Sendagi. The area is dotted with temples, shrines, shops dating as far back as the Edo Period, and is literally so steeped in history that it would probably take a book to do it justice[v]. Also, there are a lot of references to past articles, so be sure to check the footnotes (remember, they’re clickable).

Given the cultural richness of the area, I will just point you here, and move on to the timeline of Sendagi and then get into the place name itself. If that’s alright with you…

Edo Period gate to the residence of the Komagome Village headman.

Edo Period gate to the residence of the Komagome Village headman.

The area was formerly part of 駒込村 Komagome Mura Komagome Village and in fact today is still officially part of Komagome[vi]. The name Komagome isn’t attested until the Sengoku Period. One the other hand, 千駄木 Sendagi isn’t attested until the early Edo Period when it appears as a label in a map. The label reads 上野東漸院持ち駒込千駄木御林 Ueno Tōzen’in mochi Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi the Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi which is controlled by Ueno Tōzen Temple. Another early Edo Period map includes the label 上野寒松院持ち駒込千駄木御林 Ueno Kanshō’in mochi Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi the Komagome Sendagi o-hayashi which is controlled by Ueno Kanshō Temple. An 御林 o-hayashi was a hilltop wooded area owned by the shōgunate, but control of the area was granted to a lord or temple[vii]. Which temple was actually in control of Komagome Sendagi O-hayashi at what time isn’t clear to me, but it’s not really important for us today[viii].

O-hayashi Inari Shrine in Sendagi is one of the legacies of the old forest.

O-hayashi Inari Shrine in Sendagi is one of the legacies of the old forest.

About 1656, the former hilltop forest came to be the site of a daimyō residence of the lords of 豊後国府内藩 Bungo no Kuni Funai Han Funai Domain, Bungo Province (present day Oita Prefecture in Kyūshū). The family was the 大給松平家 Ōgyū Matsudaira, a samurai family from 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province, Tokugawa Ieyasu’s homeland. As Edo depended on the shōgunate and the shōgun himself was from Mikawa, having a Mikawa family bearing the name Matsudaira bolstered the area’s prestige[ix]. The hill became a yamanote town comprised of high ranking samurai residences. It seems that because the Ōgyū residence was first the prestigious palace built on the hilltop, the area came to be to be known as 大給坂 Ōgyūzaka Ōgyū Hill. If you go to the top of Ōgyūzaka there is a crappy little park with a huge gingko tree called the 大銀杏 Ōichō[x]. They say this tree stood inside the original Ōgyū property.

Yup. That's a big tree, alright.  OK, let's move on.

Yup. That’s a big tree, alright.
OK, let’s move on.

Nearby is another hill called 道灌山 Dōkanyama. It’s said that at the end of the Muromachi Period, 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan had a branch castle here which he built for tactical support of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle[xi]. I only jumped way back in time to mention this because… well, you’ll see.

Dokanyama is the large slope next to Nishi-Nippori Station. I've seen this hill hundreds of times, but I never knew it was called Dokanyama until today. Cool!

Dokanyama is the large slope next to Nishi-Nippori Station.
I’ve seen this hill hundreds of times, but I never knew it was called Dokanyama until today.
Cool!

 

OK, so now let’s look at the kanji.

 


sen
1000

da
a pack horse;
a load carried by a pack horse

gi
tree

 

WTF?! This fucking kanji again?

WTF?!
This fucking kanji again?

The other day, we looked at 千駄ヶ谷 Sendagaya and we learned that 千駄 senda was another word for 沢山 takusan a lot. If we want to take the kanji as they are written today, which is by all means the easiest way to do things, we can deduce that the name 千駄木 Sendagi means “a lot of trees.” From what we know, the place name is first written down[xii] in the early Edo Period. From what we know, the area was a hilltop forest at that time. One could make a very strong case that this is the origin of the name Sendagi.

 

But it’s Never That Easy, Is It?

So there are some other theories of varying quality – or a few variations with some anecdotal stories added to lend credence to the general narrative[xiii]. OK, so where to begin?

 

Sexxxy firewood. Awwwwww yeah!

Sexxxy firewood.
Awwwwww yeah!

 

The 1000 Da Theory

In the late Muromachi Period and opening years of the Edo Period, the forest here was used for lumber or for firewood. You could easily get 千駄 sen da 1000 da each day. (If you don’t know what 1000 da are, you should read the last article). This is basically adding information to the above theory.

 

Chinaberry is a flowering tree. There are many planted around Edo Castle. In the background you can see (I think) Shimizu Mon.

Chinaberry is a flowering tree. There are many planted around Edo Castle.
In the background you can see (I think) Shimizu Mon.

The Ōta Dōkan Did It Theory

During the construction of Edo Castle (or perhaps his aforementioned branch castle), Ōta Dōkan used the area for lumber. After cutting down so many trees, he re-forested the area by planting 栴檀 sendan Chinaberry trees here. In the old Edo accent, sendan ki became sendagi. The Ōta Dōkan thing could be true or not. Who knows? The Chinaberry tree thing? It’s possible. Still, we’re looking at a bunch of trees any way you look at it.

 

20121218160224a11

 

It’s a Reference to a Traditional Japanese Prayer For Rain

The last theory is interesting. The godfather of Japanese folklore and linguistics, 柳田國男 Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962), actually spoke about this place name. The reason his story bears repeating is because he insisted that prior to the Meiji Restoration, the common narrative of Japanese history was the story of the elite classes only. The day to day toils and reality of the commoners was just omitted. He was also fascinated by the variety of Japanese dialects and began laying the groundwork for modern Japanese dialectology.

Anyhoo, his theory says that in the Edo Period, and indeed, in his youth, at the beginning of summer as the rains got scarcer, the farmers would bring 1000 da of reeds or wood to the nearest body of water and burn them as an 雨乞い amagoi prayer for rain. In the common parlance, this activity was called 千駄焚き senda-taki burning 1000 da. While he was making some of the first modern dialect maps of Japan, he noticed that in many parts of the country the phrase senda-taki was contracted to sendaki. He speculated that this might be the origin of both Sendagi (sendaki – burning 1000 da of wood) and Sendagaya (senda kaya – buring 1000 da of reeds).

His speculation is interesting because he’s a guy who was born with the first 10 years of the Meiji Era, watched Japan modernize, go all crazy theocratic and fascistic, be occupied by a foreign power for the first time ever, modernize again, and host the Olympics. He also lived through the greatest and fastest advances in linguistics and the scientific method.

Kunio himself. Or as I like to call him, "kun'ni."

Kunio himself.
Or as I like to call him, “kun’ni.”

 

So Which Theory Is Correct?

With all this talk of Yanagita Kunio, it’s gotten me thinking about my choice in terminology up to this point on JapanThis!. Linguistics is a science and as such when talking within the framework of science, terminology is important. I’ve been using the word “theory” for some time in the vernacular sense. But “theory” actually means a kind of testable model – something that is so predictable that we can say it’s a fact – for example; the Theory of Gravity or the Theory of Evolution. These things we know are true. The correct term for dealing with much of what I write about on this blog is “speculation.” Unless we have an actual historical document saying “so-and-so named this place such-and-such because of this-and-that” were are dealing with speculation[xiv].

but_i_digress

 

As usual, we saw some interesting speculations today. Without extraordinary evidence, I tend to err on the side of simplicity. For me, I like the literal reading of the kanji. There were a lot of trees in the area. I think the rest of the stories are embellishments, folk etymologies, or downright wishful thinking and coincidence.

Then again, what do I know? I’m just some dude with an internet connection.

 

 

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[i] See my article on Yanaka.
D’oh! I’ve never written about Yanaka before. Weird. Well, anyways, if you scroll down a little bit, on the right hand side there is a list of the 50 most recent articles. Above the list is a search field. If you type “yanaka,” a ton of articles will come up. (If you click word “yanaka” above, it will bring up the same list of articles. Can everyone say, “let me google that for you?”)

[ii] In the modern sense of the word.

[iii] See my super old article on Ueno. Or not, because I just looked at it and it sucks. It’s from when I started covering place names. Night and day difference.

[iv] See my super old article on Nippori. One of the early ones that got researched well.

[v] Here’s an English article I came across about the Yanesen.

[vi] See my article on Komagome here.

[vii] The emphasis on hilltop is most likely because the low city was developed for commerce and commoners and wouldn’t have had many trees, whereas the hilltops were kept lush and green.

[viii] More interesting is that both temples still exist. Tōzen’in was established in 1649 and is affiliated with Kan’ei-ji, the Tokugawa Funerary Temple. You can find Tōzen’in in Uguisudani. Kanshō’in, established in 1627, is also in Uguisudani and is also affiliated with Kan’ei-ji. In fact, later they became of a sub-temple of 上野東照宮 Ueno Tōshō-gū. See my article on Uguisudani here. Don’t worry that the temples are located in Uguisudani and not Komagome – although it’s walking distance, both temples have actually been relocated a few times.

[ix] Keep in mind, Tokugawa Ieyasu’s real family name was Matsudaira.

[x] Literally, big ass gingko tree.

[xi] However, there is an alternate theory which claims the name Dōkanyama is actually derived from a powerful noble who had a fortified residence here in the Kamakura Period. His name was 関道閑 Seki Dōkan.

[xii] A first attestation doesn’t necessarily mean the name was created at that time. It only means it was the first time anyone bothered writing it down. So, in theory, a name in Kantō could be hundreds of years old before anyone made a record of it that we still have.

[xiii] It’s not always the case, but when you get anecdotal stories, your BS Detector should start blinking; often times these stories reek of folk etymology.

[xiv] Even in that case, the document would have to be proven authentic and written by the person who named the place.

10 Random Quickies – Japan This Lite

In Japan This Lite, Japanese History on August 20, 2013 at 12:57 am

大門  Daimon
国立競技場 Kokuritsu-Kyōgijō
新銀座 Shin-Ginza
東中野 Higashi-Nakano
江戸川 Edogawa
流山 Nagareyama
品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku
港区 Minato-ku
If there’s a 上野 is there a 下野? (Ueno, Shitano)
おめぇの母ちゃん Your mom

The Edo Castle room in which the 3rd Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu was born.  (supposedly)

The Edo Castle room in which the 3rd Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu was born.
(supposedly)

Alright, my super short O-bon vacation is over and it’s back to the grind (actually working a little more to make up for time lost). I’m gonna try to do my best to squeeze out another article in a timely manner.

Anyways, I spent one day in a 38°C (100.4°F) solar beat down in Kawagoe, the former administrative center of 川越藩 Kawagoe Han Kawagoe Domain[i]. Kawagoe was an important logistical hub for 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni and Edo. Since it was part of Musashi no Kuni, I thought I’d mention it. You can also find the only extant buildings of the former Edo Castle that can still be entered by common folk like you and I. Kawagoe is now part of Saitama Prefecture. These days, Saitama is to Tōkyō what New Jersey is to New York[ii].  Let’s just say, the prefecture will never live down Tamori’s nickname for the area, ダ埼玉 dasaitama (a mix of ダサい dasai “lame” + 埼玉 Saitama)[iii].  So let’s move on to more pleasant conversation[iv].

So I’ve got a few e-mail messages that ask about Tōkyō place names which are pretty easy to explain – and don’t really warrant their own posts.  Some referred to previous articles but weren’t directly addressed. So today’s Japan This Lite is brought to you by the support of generous question-asking readers like yourself!

Oh, and speaking of generous readers, if anyone is interested in donating, I’ve set up a donation page on Patreon. Feel free to throw a brother a couple of bucks[v].

OK, so without any further ado, here are 10 Quick Questions from readers about Tōkyō place names that I explain away in a few minutes[vi].



What Does Daimon Mean?

Oh, look! It's a big gate! I wonder what that thing is doing here?

Oh, look! It’s a big gate! I wonder what that thing is doing here?

大門 Daimon means “Big Gate.” The gate is specifically the gate that crosses the street at an intersection between the Daimon Station, the Minato Ward Office and Zōjō-ji[vii]. There is a bigger gate in front of Zōjō-ji, but that’s not the “big gate” referred to in the name. Before Zōjō-ji was built until today, the area has been known as 芝 Shiba (see my article here). The area in front of the gate was a 門前町 monzen-chō a town built in front of a temple gate (see my article here). Because there is an intersection right in front of the gate, the area became an obvious destination for trolleys, buses, and eventually subways.  The subway name here is 大門 Daimon, but the actually postal address is 芝大門 Shiba Daimon. The name reflects the area’s heritage as part of Shiba, as monzen-chō, and of course, as the place where the big gate still stands today.

What Does Kokuritsu-Kyōgijō Mean?

The National Olympic Stadium

The National Olympic Stadium

国立競技場 is made of two words. After you hear the translation, you will understand. Kokuritsu means “National.” Kyōgijō means stadium or athletic grounds. When the word 駅 eki station is dropped this compound word is usually translated as National Olympic Stadium. When you hear this word in Japan, most people will undoubtedly think of the 1964 Tōkyō Olympic Games.  The facility pre-dates the ’64 Summer Olympics and if Tōkyō manages to land the 2020 Summer Olympics, the site will supposedly be re-developed for the that purpose in the form of a ghastly silver drop of water… or something.

What Does Shin-Ginza Mean?


WTF?

Where is Shin-Ginza?

I guess it means “New Ginza” but I’ve never heard of this place. I googled it and found a reference to a law office with the words 新銀座 Shin-Ginza in the name, but it’s not a place name. At least not in Tōkyō.

What Does Higashi-Nakano Mean?

Higashi-Nakano Station

Higashi-Nakano Station

東中野 Higashi-Nakano means East Nakano. I covered Nakano a long time ago but since my blog currently only shows the last 50 articles, there are about 100 other articles obscured from view. If anyone wants to help out with this (I can’t do design-y HTML to save my life), I’d appreciate it! Anyways, since I made the gross mistake of not including Higashi-Nakano you should probably check out the Nakano article. You might want to follow that up with the article on Musashi no Kuni. Basically, Nakano means “Field in the Middle of the Musashi Plain.” The name itself is quite ancient, but the name Higashi-Nakano was a train station/bus station name that became a postal address. And by the way, I love Nakano!

What Does Edogawa Mean?

The Edo River was never renamed "Tokyo River."

The Edo River was never renamed “Tokyo River.”
Suck on that, Meiji Restoration.

This question came right after I posted pix of the Edogawa Fireworks Display. 江戸 Edo refers to the original name of the city. While Tōkyō is the modern name, the name Edo persists in certain place names or nomenclature, for example, a 2nd or 3rd generation Tōkyōite is called an 江戸っ子 Edokko child of Edo[viii]. Anyways, 江戸川 means, of course, Edo River. What exactly is the Edo River? Well, the answer depends on what period of history you’re talking about. The river has been manipulated many times since the Edo Period.  Wikipedia has a decent technical definition.

I should probably write a longer article on this subject because it is a little complicated – and honestly I don’t know much about it at all at the moment. But the basic meaning is Edo River. And that should do for now. If you look a few blog posts before this, you’ll see my video footage of the Edogawa Fireworks.

What Does Nagareyama Mean?

sorry

That’s not Tōkyō so… sorry, not gonna cover it, as tempting as it is.
But I will say that the kanji are poetic and I like this town’s name.

What Does Shinagawa-shuku Mean?

品川宿題

Shinagawa Shuku

This is the old name of Shinjuku as a post town on the old Tōkaidō highway connecting Edo to Kyōto. The name isn’t used today except when referring to art or the old status of the town. Well, actually, I shouldn’t say that… because the area is in the midst of an urban renewal effort that I’m proud to say I contributed a minute effort back in 2009 to my friend Taka’s guest house. The area has been trying to boost local tourism in the area and uses the name Shinagawa-shuku. They even set up a Shinagawa-shuku information center with maps and pictures and English speaking docents. This was in ’09, but I’m sure they’re still doing it. They even set up scannable QR codes on light posts so you can learn about the history of the area as you walk around. Good question!
Oh, and here’s my old article on Shinagawa from waaaaaaaaaay back in the day.

Why Does Minato Mean?

North side of Tokyo Bay taken from Odaiba facing the Tokyo Bayfront.

North side of Tokyo Bay taken from Odaiba facing the Tokyo Bayfront.

This is probably the easiest, 港 minato means “habor.” You will see the same kanji in 空港 kūkō airport (literally “sky harbor”). Although Minato Ward’s eastern edge ends at Tōkyō Bay, Edo’s bay was a very different shape; today’s bay has been built up with landfill.

I’ll probably write about this in more detail later. But with even a quick glance at a modern map of Tōkyō Bay and a little guesswork, most people can probably figure out a rough approximation of the original shape of the bay.

If There’s a Ueno in Tōkyō, is There a Shitano?

Random perverted kanji image.

Random perverted kanji image.

This question refers to the kanji 上野 Ueno (upper field) and 下野 Shitano (lower field). I don’t know if there is a Shitano in Tōkyō, but in 西東京 West Tōkyō, outside of the 23 Special Wards, there is a place called 下野 Shimotuske (lower field – an unrelated place name) which could be read as Shitano (but isn’t)[ix]. Interestingly enough, near this place is a large park that is an annex of the 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum. The annex is called the 江戸東京たてもの園 Edo-Tōkyō Tatemono-en Edo-Tōkyō Open Air Architectural Museum. I haven’t been here yet, but it sounds pretty freaking cool. They moved a bunch of old buildings here to preserve them from the wake of urban sprawl in Tōkyō and so you can enjoy a walk in the park and walk through these historic buildings as well. Great question!

OK.

I have to be perfectly honest with you. I didn’t have 10 e-mails. I had a few more, but they’re on a different to-do list.  So this post is actually just 9 short entries. But I’m always glad to hear your questions even if I can’t always get to them right away. The difficult ones get saved in a document that I check for ideas. So it really helps keep the blog exciting for me. So thanks!  And talk to you all next week!

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[ii] I alluded to some of this anti-Saitama bias in the closing of my article on Adachi.

[iii] And all other incarnations, ウル埼玉 Urusaitama (mixed with the word for “noisy” or “annoying”) and ク埼玉 Kusaitama (mixed with the word for “stinky,” et alia.

[iv] Because no one wants to talk about Saitama or New Jersey, at least not in polite company… lol.
Sorry, Saitama is an easy target. I’ll stop now.

[v] And as I have just set this up, please let me know if there are any problems using the service. It seems straight-forward, they simply provide the connection. And if you’re worried, your donation goes directly to me, they never touch it.

[vi] OK, I lied, there are actually only 9.

[vii] If you don’t know what Zōjō-ji is, you haven’t been reading Japan This long enough. So please read my 16 part expose on the Funerary Temples of the Tokugawa Shōguns.

[viii] The 2-3 generation rule depends on who you ask. And some long standing Tōkyō families may argue that certain areas of the Tōkyō Metropolis never qualify as Edokko. It’s a complex, but fascinating issue that I should probably write about more in my Yamanote VS Shitamachi page. But I’m lazy…

[ix] 下野 can also be read as Shimono, a common family name.

What does Okachimachi mean?

In Japanese History on June 19, 2013 at 2:42 am

御徒町
O-kachimachi (Kachi Town)

okachimachi-station

In former castle towns all over Japan you can find areas with similar names.

So what exactly is a kachi?

Well, a 徒 kachi [i] is one of the lowest ranking samurai of the Edo Period. They were not permitted to ride horses[ii]. Until the 1800’s, they were not allowed to wear clothes with a family crest as their families were not considered successive clans[iii]. Some people draw a parallel between this rank of samurai and low level salarymen and low level management of Tōkyō – the analogy being in the type of housing and accessible neighborhoods according to their salary.  This isn’t a good analogy, in my opinion, in that the samurai ranks were highly regulated by the Tokugawa Bakufu and a modern worker can marry “out of his station” or just move to the suburbs and get a bigger place.

from the "incident in front of the sakuradomon" movie.

from the “incident in front of the sakuradomon” movie.

the work of a low level samurai is never done.

the work of a low level samurai is never done.
look how tired this dude is….

In more recent times this kanji has become associated with gangs and the yakuza, so, except for the station name in Tōkyō, the name “o-kachimachi” doesn’t exist in the official list of postal codes.

Even though these kachi were direct retainers of the shōgun, they were a kind of non-commissioned officer. They were expected to live in barracks[iv].  In many cases they wouldn’t be granted permission to live with their wives and children[v]. In times of war, they were forbidden from marching in the vanguard. In times of peace, they were basically the white trash of Japan. They were supposedly privileged, but in reality, they were just commoners. The commoners had to show deference to them, but the rest of the samurai elite probably shat on them.

okachimachi

This isn’t Tokyo’s Okachimachi, but another town’s Okachimachi.
Even the big merchant quarters were more lively than this.
The Meiji Era and WWII blew a new breath of life into Okachimachi.

Anyhoo, I’ve touched on this a bit in my ongoing[vi] piece on yamanote vs. shitamachi in Edo-Tōkyō. But areas of the castle town of Edo were sectioned off for people of certain ranks. This area was a border between the high town (yamanote) of Ueno and the low town (shitamachi). Today, the whole area from O-kachimachi to Ueno is considered the low town today.

This isn't O-kachimachi, but the layout it similar.

This isn’t O-kachimachi, but the layout it similar.

O-kachimachi is roughly located between Ueno Station and Akihabara. These were the outskirts of Edo at the time. It was a bad location when you had to walk everywhere. If you pay attention to the layout of the streets in O-kachimachi, at first you’ll notice what looks like an easily navigable grid layout, but you’ll soon find it has seemingly random streets crossing at various points creating sub-neighborhoods within the neighborhood. This is typical of Japanese castle towns and typical of Edo-Tōkyō in particular. So it’s still a fantastic area to walk around.

The long blocks echo the existence of the Edo Period barracks (nagaya). And today the area has a markedly shitamachi culture that has persisted since the mid-Meiji Era. Nothing exists of its military past, but the shitamachi atmosphere hangs heavy, as does the merchant vibe that has reigned here since the Restoration was underway. The samurai who stuck around mostly became merchants themselves after the warrior class was abolished.

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[i] Also written 徒士, and referred to in the common language as 御徒さん o-kachi-san, though the more polite 御侍さん o-samurai-san would probably have been used to their face.

[ii] I mentioned briefly referred to the Edo Period view of people on horseback in my article about Heusken.

[iii] This changed in 1862 (Tokugawa Iemochi), who made their status as Tokugawa retainers successive.

[iv] In Edo, these were less barracks, and essentially the same as the ubiquitous 長屋 nagaya. So it was a step up from a fully military setting. Still, you were living in a gated off dormitory kinda building with a bunch of other dudes. After a while, I’m sure it got old.

[v] In which cases, they could visit on their days off and they would be expected to send money wife and children who would reside with the parents.

[vi] Read: “unfininished.”

Tokugawa Yoshinobu

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on June 18, 2013 at 2:22 am

徳川慶喜
Tokugawa Yoshinobu
 (Auspiciously Awesome Virtuous River[†])
十五代将軍徳川慶喜公
15th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Yoshinobu
Yanaka Cemetery

Tokugawa Yoshinobu. The Last Shōgun

Tokugawa Yoshinobu.
A Real Shōgun.

It is with a very bittersweet feeling that I write this blog.

My interest in Japanese history was started by a desire to visit all the graves of the 15 Tokugawa shōguns. I’ve been in Japan for about 8 years and I’ve visited all the graves but the private ones at Kan’ei-ji. I thought writing this blog would be cathartic. I thought it would bring me full circle, but it hasn’t. Although I know much more now than I did a month or so ago when I started this series, I have even more questions now.

To make things worse, halfway through the series, the shōgunate imposed austerity measures which cut back on the building of new temple-like mausolea. This brought the series to a grinding halt in terms of new funerary content[i]. If you go back through the series you will see a noticeable development in burial types which culminated in Ienobu and Ietsugu’s magnificent mausolea at Zōjō-ji.

Sadly, little remains of the structures at Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji. This definitely makes me appreciate the beauty and majesty of Tōshō-gū and Taiyūin at Nikkō all the more. I hope you can appreciate them in a new light as well. And if you visit Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji here in Tōkyō, I hope you walk around all of the former temple precinct with smartphone in hand so you can check my pictures and maps. A few readers have said they’ve done this and… well… if you don’t think that’s exciting, then I don’t know why you’re reading my blog. lol

Yoshinobu loved photography. He also loved to ham it up in front of the camera. I'd love to see his "private stash" of photos, if you know what I mean....

Yoshinobu loved photography.
He also loved to ham it up in front of the camera.
Dude was a player, so I’d love to see his “private stash” of photos,
if you know what I mean….

So yeah… We’re at the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. The Meiji Era historians started a tradition which pictured him as a puppet of a failed regime. The man himself actually lived a full life outside of the public square. Yes, he was the last shōgun. Yes, he gave power (back?) to the emperor. Yes, he represented the losing side of this epoch. But, he wasn’t a pawn. He wasn’t a puppet. He wasn’t a loser.

It’s fun to speculate. What if Yoshinobu had been made shōgun instead of the 12 year old ass hat, Iemochi? How would things have gone down in the final days of the Tokugawa Shōgunate?

We’ll never know.

The last shōgun, handed the reins of government to the imperial court in November of 1867 at Nijō Castle in Kyōto. The dude was asked to take the worst job in the country and he did it. He totally rose to the occasion. In my estimation, Yoshinobu took the shit job, took the shame that came with it, wasn’t executed and lived the rest of his life in privacy and humility. He didn’t do interviews or write books. He never exerted himself into politics.

I don't know if this is when he was actually shogun, or if he was just cosplaying.

I don’t know if this is when he was actually shogun,
or if he was just cosplaying.

Yoshinobu was originally born into the Mito Tokugawa family, which held a particular view of Japanese history that was uniquely Emperor-centric. It held that the shōgun’s powers over the state (天下 tenka the realm – “heaven and earth”) had been granted by the Emperor and as such, the shōgun was an agent of the emperor. To oppose the emperor was treason. Yoshinobu tried to avoid directly confronting the imperial court (and the de facto imperial army – itself a revolutionary force).

In quiet submission to the emperor, Yoshinobu lived well into the Meiji Period. One of the sources I’ve looked at for this series was a Tōkyō guide book written in 1913 which mentioned that Yoshinobu was still alive and well in the ancestral lands of the Tokugawa, Shizuoka. Unfortunately for the authors for the authors of the book or for Yoshinobu himself, the former shōgun died in November of that same year[ii].

But keep in mind, Yoshinobu intentionally humbled himself in submission to the emperor. Any honors that were bestowed upon him and his family were quietly and humbly received[iii]. He lived out most of his life fucking elite bitches and pursuing his hobby of photography. His lawful wife was a court noblewoman named Mikako. And although Yoshinobu stayed out of politics, he was very close to the imperial court. The emperor gave his family rank in the peerage system and granted him his own branch family, separate from the shamed 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Shōgunal Tokugawa Family[ii.1], his new branch was the 徳川慶喜家 Tokugawa Yoshinobu-ke the Yoshinobu Branch of the Tokugawa Family.

Old man Yoshinobu.

Old man Yoshinobu.

Then he died.

What to do, what to do?

They could have enshrined him with the other shōguns at Zōjō-ji or Kan’ei-ji. But that might have been presumptuous. So in humility, he was buried in what is now Yanaka Cemetery, where many Tokugawa relatives were buried from the Edo Period until present – but it is quite a distance from the shōgunal funerary temples. He was buried in accordance to Shintō practice, which showed respect for the emperor who was a Shintō kami. It was also in keeping with his Mito upbringing which showed deference to the lead Shintō kami, ie; the emperor. Therefore, Yoshinobu doesn’t have a kaimyō or ingō. His “conversion” to Shintō from Buddhism may have been for show, but his funerary rites were carried out in the Shintō fashion. Of all the shōguns, Yoshinobu’s is the only grave of this type.

So now that we’ve seen the most elegant Buddhist and Shintō mixed graves, what does a pure “shintō grave” look like? Well, let’s look what the graves of the Meiji emperor, the Taishō emperor and the Shōwa emperor looked like.

The Meiji Emperor's grave

The Meiji Emperor’s grave

The Taisho Emperor's grave.

The Taisho Emperor’s grave.

The Showa Emperor's grave

The Showa Emperor’s grave

Now let’s take a look at Yoshinobu’s grave.

tokugawa_yoshinobu_bosho

Tokugawa Yoshinobu’s graveyard.
There are two burial mounds visible.
One is Yoshinobu, the other is his lawful wife.Tokugawa Mikako (née Ichijo Mikako).

Yoshinobu's burial mound.

Yoshinobu’s burial mound.

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[†] Since I’ve been “translating” the posthumous names of the shōguns, for consistency’s sake I had to give Yoshinobu’s name a shot. It just so happens that his name is particularly cool. 

[i] New Funerary Content is copyrighted, btw. It will also go on  a t-shirt.

[ii] Ironically on the day I got married

[ii.1] Remember, the shogun family line had ended, this is what brought about the succession crisis that resulted in Yoshinobu’s elevation to shōgun. As shōgun, he was also head of the Tokugawa Shōgun Family. As head of his own cadet branch of the family, he and his descendants would be free from any shame attached to the old regime. (But in reality, there was no stigma attached to the family whose glorious family temples were among the finest sites in the city of Edo and Tōkyō).

[iii] And to be sure, honors were conferred upon him. Under the stupid Meiji system of peerage, he was granted the highest level rank of duke.

Bunkyoin

In Japanese History, Japanese Sex, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on June 12, 2013 at 1:21 am

文恭
Bunkyō-in
 (Divine Prince of Respectful Embellishment)
十一代将軍徳川家斉公
11th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Ienari
Kan’ei-ji

Where da ladies at?

Where da ladies at?

After a bunch of super boring shōguns, we’ve finally come to someone worth talking about: Tokugawa Ienari, the party shōgun. Awwwwwwww yeah!

Ienari was the longest reigning shōgun.
Was irresponsible, but people liked him.
Saved many temples & shrines by moving them to Nippori
He was da man for something like 50 years.
Dude was a straight pimp.

"My eyes aren't so good, ladies. Why don't you come a little closer?"

“My eyes aren’t so good, ladies. Why don’t you come a little closer?”

.

Look at this chart comparing Ienari’s life with mine:

  Ienari Me
legal wife
正室
seishitsu

(literally main bedroom)
1 1
concubines
側室
sokushitsu

(literally side rooms)
16-27 official concubines
(but there were nearly 1000 women living in the 大奥 ō-oku harem at that time; his number fluctuates because of deaths/illnesses/etc)
0
children 56
26ish boys
27ish girls
0
diseases said to have been
“riddled with syphilis”
yet lived to a ripe old 68
(pretty good
for those days)
allergic to ragweed and house dust
partying liked to drink every night with beautiful women
(emphasis on the plural)and he was said to have never had a sexless night
i’d like that too,
but reality is a little different…
nickname 俗物将軍
zokubutsu-shōgun
“da vulgar shōgun”

オットセイ将軍
ottosei-shōgun
“da Viagra shōgun” [i]

マーキースター 
marky star
spending blew so much cash on bitches and bling that the inheritance money of the direct shōgunal line never recovered until after the bakumatsu what inheritance?
CONCLUSION: A straight up pimp.
Pretty much not a pimp…

_________________________

"It's good to be the shogun."

If you could, you would.
“It’s good to be the shogun.”

_________________________

There are a bunch of things he did that I don’t want to compare with my life. For example, as a kid he liked to have pet chickens and crabs. He also liked to step on them and crush them to death. He also loved butter and dairy products.

Yuck. I hate butter and dairy.

___________________________

Should I bring my drums?

Entertain the shogun? OK.
Should I bring my drums?
Not necessary?
OK.
I see.
On my way…

___________________________

Anyways, after a long life and a long reign that I’m sure he enjoyed every freaking minute of, he was finally enshrined together with his father, Ieharu, at Gen’yūin, the funerary temple of the second shōgun, Ietsuna. Some people might say his posthumous name is inappropriate or ridiculous. But 文 bun means “style” and 恭 kyō means “respect.” Dude, Ienari was a straight up playa. You gotta respect that style[ii].

_____________________________

Stone lanterns from Genyuin. This is the most gravey picture in this article.

Stone lanterns from Genyuin.
This is the most gravey picture in this article.

_____________________________

For the same reasons I’ve been complaining about for days now, I have no pictures of his grave or Gen’yūin mortuary complex. The best I can offer is my original article on Gen’yūin, Tokugawa Ietsuna’s place of enshrinement.

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[i] Ottosei is a kind of seal. Common belief at the time was that if you cut off a seal dick and dry it, then make it into a powder and drink it, you’ll get “man power.”
[ii] Liberal translation, I know. It’s a joke, sue me.

Shunmyoin

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on June 11, 2013 at 1:32 am

浚明院
Shunmyōin
 (Divine Prince of Virtue & Riches)
十代将軍徳川家治公
10th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Ieharu
Kan’ei-ji

Tokugawa Ieharu, not the craziest shogun, not the coolest shogun. Just a shogun who was really into his hobbies.

Tokugawa Ieharu.
Meh.

Don’t forget I have an overview of Tokugawa funerary temples. This series is meant to be read in order, so if you’re confused about terminology, please go back and start at the beginning. A lot of new terminology has come up as burial practices change. Also we’ve covered a lot of posthumous names by now, so the chart at the beginning could be really helpful.

 _________________________

The 10th shōgun, Tokugawa Ieharu, was enshrined together[i] in 厳有院 Gen’yūin, the mausoleum of the 4th shōgun, Ietsuna, at Kan’ei-ji. As with all of the graves at Kan’ei-ji, they have been combined into one spot behind the imperial scroll gate of 常憲院 Eikyūin, which is now called the 徳川将軍家墓所 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Bosho The Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery and it is, as mentioned many times, pretty much inaccessible. Even if you can get private or group access to the site, photography is not permitted past the entrance[ii].

Entrance to the Tokugawa Family Shogun Graves at Kaneiji

You can’t come in.
And if you do actually get a chance to come in, NO PICTURES!
Because… NO PICTURES.
Got it???!

As is typical with gōshi type enshrinements, the newly deified Shunmyōin[iii], was interred in an 御霊屋 o-tamaya with a 宝塔 hōtō, 2-story pagoda shaped funerary urn[iv]. Because Kan’ei-ji hides the shōgun graves from the public like a bunch of twats, I can’t even show you a picture of the grave itself.

Kan’ei-ji really pisses me off.

Tokugawa Shogun Family Graveyard Ueno

One o-tamaya in the cemetery behind Gen’yuin.
Not sure whose.
Could be Ietsuna, Ieharu, or Ienari.

 _________________________

I don’t know much about Ieharu, but I’ve heard he was quite intelligent. Not so interested in governing, but intelligent. Kind of a “meh” shōgun. But he was into chess and more importantly he was into the arts and literature. He was also curious about foreigners.

His eldest son, 徳川家基 Tokugawa Iemoto was being groomed to be his successor, but died before he could be installed. Because of this, Iemoto is called 幻の第11代将軍 maboroshi no dai jūichidai shōgunthe phantom 11th shōgun.” Quite a bummer, dude had the name for it and everything. Anyhoo, Iemoto died before his father and was enshrined gōshi-style next door at Eikyūin.

This is the best I could get for Tokugawa Iemoto's grave's photo.  Thanks, Kan'ei^ji.

This is the best I could get for Tokugawa Iemoto’s grave’s photo.
Thanks, Kan’ei-ji.

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[i] What’s the word for this? C’mon, we’ve seen it 3 or 4 times already; 合祀 gōshi.

[ii] The ban on photography is so silly since you can enter and take pictures of the graveyards at Nikkō and Zōjō-ji. Twats.

[iii] Despite the Yiddish sounding kaimyō, Ieharu was 100% Japanese.

[iv] I keep writing funerary urn throughout this series, but I’m wondering if this is redundant. Is there any other kind of urn?

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