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What does Hachiōji mean?

In Japanese History on October 8, 2015 at 7:37 pm

八王子
Hachiōji (8 Princes, more at “8-in-1 Godhead”)

Hachiōji Station

Hachiōji Station

Hachiōji  is made of 2 Japanese words:


hachi

8

王子
ōji

A prince; a child born of a 神 kami divine being; a kami split from another kami and re-enshrined at another location
Hiking up a mountain? Nice! Wait. Why is there a torii there?

Hiking up a mountain?
Nice!
Wait. Why is there a torii there?

This spring, I was lucky enough to take a hike[i] around the ruins of 八王子城 Hachiōji-jō Hachiōji Castle with my friend Eric from Jcastle.info – the premier purveyor of Japanese castle info in English on the internet™. The castle was built on a mountain (more about that later), but as we hiked towards the top of the mountain, near the 本丸 honmaru main encincture[ii], we arrived at a simple, wooden shrine. The building bore a single, modest placard that read 八王子神社 Hachiōji Jinja Hachiōji Shrine.

Faced with this shrine, I had to wonder which had come first. Was the shrine named after the place name or was the place name named after the shrine? These are legit questions to ask and both of them were questions I had never looked into before. After all, Hachiōji  – while part of the Tōkyō Metropolis – is well outside of the 23 wards and kinda off my radar. “So, does Hachiōji mean there were 8 princes here?” Eric asked.

Hachiōji Shrine

Hachiōji Shrine

Yeah, on the surface, the name reads as “8 princes.” But I said I doubted the name should be taken that literally[iii]. Earlier in the year, I had begun to research a place called 王子 Ōji[iv] in Tōkyō’s 北区 Kita-ku Kita Ward and found myself bogged down in more religious mumbo jumbo and mythology than actual history. To make matters worse, I had “lost” my article on Ōji. I couldn’t find it anywhere[v].  So I just speculated that the name had more to do with Shintō kami that had been divided from another location and installed in this shrine at the top of the mountain. Anyways, that’s what I had taken away from my preliminary research on Ōji. I probably gave a half-ass explanation followed by “to be honest, I don’t fucking know.”

one does not simply etymology

I hate this meme, by the way.

But It Is! This Shit is Really Frickin’ Complicated

First of all, when you introduce religion into the discussion, things naturally get complicated. When you start talking about syncretic religions, things get waaaaay more complicated. When you talk about religions that were once syncretic, then separated by rule of law – often arbitrarily – and then later allowed to merge again under the banner of the constitutional freedom of religion and a newly found fear of religion as a mechanism of control by a former regime, things get even more complicated.

Oh, I forgot to mention. Since Buddhism traveled from Northern India to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, to Thailand, as well as northwards through Afghanistan, the Himalayan Kingdoms, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, and finally to Japan – well, let’s just say that a lot got lost in an insane game of telephone.

Whoa. WTF Are You Talking About??

Long time readers should probably know what I’m talking about. However, if you’re new to JapanThis!, then I highly recommend my last article about Ōji.

It’s long. It’s rambling. But it does a lot of the heavy lifting you need to understand this place name.

Syncretic is an adjective derived from the noun syncretism. Syncretism is the reconciliation or union of opposing religious concepts. Japan has been historically and still is a polytheistic culture. Before the introduction of Buddhism, it was polytheistic in the classical sense. As a result, introducing 菩薩 bosatsu bodhisattvas (enlightened teachers) of the Buddhist tradition was not such a big problem. The buddhas, while not gods in the Western sense, were accepted as kami (divine spirits) in Japan. Today, even Christianity, a monotheistic religion, can find a reconciled position in polytheistic Japan[vi].

In 1868, the Meiji Government passed an edict called 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei Order to Separate Shintō and Buddhism. I’ve gone into this a lot and don’t want to get into again, so you can read more here. But in short, Shintō and Buddhism were seen to be a little too syncretic. Shintō had strong historical ties to the imperial family. Buddhism had a strong association with the samurai class and the shōgunate in particular. In efforts to rebrand itself, the new imperial government wanted to throw off those ancient Buddhist trappings and play up the divine right of the emperor as the legitimate ruler of Japan.

The thing that is really important to know is that before 1868 (ie; before all of our story today), Buddhism and Shintō syncretism was the norm. And in the early days of Japanese Buddhism, the foreign religion was actively incorporated into the native Shintō to give it legitimacy. But just for the record, there’s a lot of archaeological evidence dating back to the Jōmon Period that shows that Shintō has always been syncretic and probably integrated various foreign influences even before the earliest written record.

In this case, we're going to A LOT of context. I apologize in advance for how long and confusing this is. But trust me, at the end, it's gonna get good.

In this case, we’re going to need A LOT of context.
I apologize in advance for how long and confusing this is.
But trust me, at the end, it’s gonna get good.

OK, So What Does Hachiōji  Mean?

You’re asking the wrong question. The correct question is, “what does Hachiōji mean and why are there places called Hachiōji  all over Japan?”

八王子権現 Hachiōji  Gongen is the name of a kami that is the syncretic incarnation of 日吉山王権現 Hiyoshi Sannō Gongen (the Shintō aspect[vii]) and 牛頭天王 Gozu Tennō (the Buddhist aspect). Incarnation is a good word in English if you don’t take it literally[viii]. Gozu Tennō is usually attributed to the Indian god, Gavagrīva[ix]. The connection is obscure, but tradition says[x] worship of Gavagrīva is a possible origin of the 祇園祭 Gion Matsuri in Kyōto[xi] because Gozu Tennō was the deity invoked to prevent plagues and ward off crop failures due to insects, same as Gavagrīva. Gozu Tennō is often considered the Buddhist avatar of 須佐之男命 Susano’o no Mikoto[xii], god of storms at sea and summer.

I don't know why but gongen are usually depicted as angry pieces of shit who like stomping on stuff. Good for them.

I don’t know why but gongen are usually depicted as angry pieces of shit who like stomping on stuff.
Good for them.
This isn’t Hachiōji Gongen, btw.

8 Princes?

There are always 8 王子 ōji associated with Hachiōji Gongen, hence the name. At the beginning of the article, I listed 3 possible meanings of the word 王子 ōji. In Modern Japanese, the most common meaning is “royal prince.” But in this case, we have to turn to the more obscure meanings. Unfortunately, there are a few religious traditions that are at odds with each other. So, Hachiōji Shrine can refer to any shrine housing the first 8 child gods of Gozu Tennō and 頗梨采女 Hari Saijo[xiii].  It can also refer to any shrine housing the first 8 child gods of Susano’o no Mikoto and Hari Saijo. In most traditions, Gozu Tennō – a male – seems to have been merged with the female Hari Saijo. But depending on whom you ask, Hari Saijo is either the feminine aspect of Gozu Tennō or his wife[xiv].

A modern rendering of Hari Saijo

A modern rendering of Hari Saijo

Confused?

You’re not the only one. I’m literally pulling out my hair, shouting at the screen of the computer. But hang on. Things are about to get a whole lot weirder.

confusing

The Gion Connection

Anyone who has ever visited Kyōto knows 祇園 Gion. This area of the city is located at the entrance of 八坂神社 Yasaka Jinja Yasaka Shrine. It’s a lively area that preserves a lot of traditional aspects of the city’s culture. Yasaka Shrine is a huge religious complex and it hosts one Kyōto’s most famous 夏祭 natsu matsuri summer festivals. Since the Edo Period, the area has been famous for both the festival and as a 花街 kagai red light district[xv]. The most prized aspect of this area is without a doubt 芸子 geiko – the Kyōto word for what most of us know as 芸者 geisha.

21362065671_5ba9b87799_k

These are maiko (geisko in training).
Please click photo to see more photos by Rekishi no Tabi. Trust me, subscribe.

In Japanese Buddhism, Gozu Tennō is revered as the protector of 祇園精舎 Gion Shōja. This is the Japanese rendering of “Jetavana Monastery,” the place where 釈迦 Shaka Gautama Buddha[xvi] is said to have given his most influential lectures. By association with that spot, this kami is considered the patron saint of Buddhism – or at least the patron saint of Japanese Buddhism.

Hari Saijo’s association with Jetavana and Gozu Tennō makes this story even more complicated because it’s not clear if she is a Buddhist, Shintō, or purely syncretic construct. It’s not even clear if she was a female aspect of Gozu Tennō or his wife.

han solo

Yasaka Shrine’s Ancient Connection with Hachiōji

But as I said before, Jetavana is written as 祇園 Gion in Japanese. In 656, 祇園社 Gion-sha Gion Shrine (Jetavana Shrine) was established in Kyōto. The shrine was also known as 祇園神社 Gion Jinja Gion Shrine. Among the kami enshrined there was Susano’o no Mikoto, the brother of Amaterasu Ōmikami[xvii]. Until the Meiji Coup in 1868, the shrine served the syncretic deities of Gozu Tennō/Susano’o no Mikoto /Hari Saijo. This kami kluster™ was believed to protect not only Kyōto but all of Japan from plagues and pestilence. But after the Meiji Government issued the decree to separate kami and buddhas, Gion Shrine found itself in a difficult position.

Jetavana

Jetavana

To make itself right with the law and strip away its obvious Buddhist trappings, the shrine was renamed, 八坂神社 Yasaka Jinja Yasaka Shrine, which literally means Shrine of the 8 Hills. This was a shrewd move by the priests who recognized that Kyōto is a hilly city and number 8 is an important reference to 8 child gods of Gozu Tennō or Susano’o no Mikoto. Surely to the believers, there was no difference. This was just an act of compliance to an imperial decree.

Adopting the kanji 八 ha/ya 8 strikes me a classic Kyōto “eff you.” Kyōto revels in its ancient traditions and prides itself in its esoteric culture. The priests of Gion Shrine (now Yasaka Shrine) probably knew nothing of Hachiōji Shrine in Kantō, but the renaming of the shrine reflected their astute understanding of what kami they were worshiping.

Kyōto's Yasaka Shrine in the early Meiji Period.

Kyōto’s Yasaka Shrine in the early Meiji Period.

You Gave about 1500 Years of Backstory. Can You Talk About Hachiōji in Tōkyō?
That’s Why I’m Reading Your Blog, Asshole.

Yes, of course.

but…

yo dawg

NOW FOR THE STORY OF WHY HACHIŌJI IS CALLED HACHIŌJI

In 913, a Buddhist priest from Kyōto named 妙行 Myōkō came to this area and climbed to the peak of 深沢山 Fukazawa-yama Mt. Fukazawa. He sat for a few days at the peak of the mountain meditating and reflecting… or whatever it is that Buddhist priests do at the tops of mountains. On his last day, at night time, strong winds began to blow. There was loud thunder and ominous lightning. During the course of the night, he was visited by many different kinds of 妖怪 yōkai strange apparitions. He wasn’t afraid of them and persisted in his meditation… or whatever it is the Buddhists priests do alone late at night on the tops of mountains. The yōkai disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. Later, a giant snake approached him, but he tapped the snake on the head with his walking stick and the serpent also disappeared. When dawn arrived, a 神 kami god flanked by 8 boys. He announced that he was Myōkō’s guardian deity. Naturally, Myōkō  was curious about who this deity was. When Myōkō asked his name, the kami said, “I am 八王子 Hachi Ōji the 8 Princes who accompany 牛頭天王 Gozu Tennō. We are eight in one.”

hachioji gongen

of course you are

Myōkō was moved by this vision and founded 8 shrines dedicated to this kami on 8 different mountain peaks[xviii]. He also founded a temple called 牛頭山神護寺 Gozu-san Shingo-ji at the base of Mt. Fukazawa. As far as I could find, there are not 8 shrines preserved today[xix]. Legend says that the Hachiōji Shrine that I visited with Eric from Jcastle marks the location where Myōkō had his visions. So that site is most definitely preserved. The temple, Shingo-ji, still exists, but under a different name and in a slightly different location. More about that later.

Because of the mountain’s association with Hachiōji Shrine, locals began to affectionately refer to the mountain as 八王子山 Hachiōji-yama Mt. Hachiōji rather than Mt. Fukazawa. The area has always been quite rural and was even more so until recent years, so having such an ancient syncretic shrine was quite prestigious. Remember, it was established in the 900’s and was indirectly related to one of Kyōto’s most famous religious complexes, Gion Shrine (Yasaka Shrine).

The place name, 八王子村Hachiōji Mura Hachiōji Village, is first recorded in 1569 in a letter written by北条氏康 Hōjō Ujiyasu[xx]. Ujiyasu was a fierce samurai warlord who was at constant warfare expanding his family’s holdings in the 関東 Kantō area. Despite being at constant warfare, he was apparently also conducting constant cadastral surveys. As a result, a lot of Kantō place names were either first recorded or formalized in his time.

giphy

Hachiōji Castle – A Dark Claim to Fame

In the 1580’s, 北条氏照 Hōjō Ujiteru, second son of Hōjō Ujiyasu, chose Mt. Fukazawa to build a mountain top castle. The castle was named after the village and was thus known as 八王子城 Hachiōji-jō Hachiōji Castle. Ujiteru and his family became patrons of Shingo-ji and used it as a 菩提寺 bodai-ji funerary temple. The castle and temple could have both had illustrious histories. However, the Hōjō clan collectively refused to bow down to 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Since 1585, Hideyoshi had been the imperial regent in Kyōto – essentially the most powerful man in Japan. The Hōjō clan stubbornly stood their ground and they would pay a terrible price.

Hachiōji Castle was really defendable.

Hachiōji Castle was really defendable.

On June 23rd, 1590, 前田利家 Maeda Toshiie and 上杉景勝 Uesugi Kagekatsu under orders from Toyotomi Hideyoshi attacked the castle. The lord of the castle, Ujiteru, was in 小田原 Odawara helping his older brother, 北条氏政 Hōjō Ujimasa, fight off Hideyoshi’s siege of  小田原城 Odawara-jō Odawara Castle. Most of his fighting men were with him in Odawara and so Hachiōji Castle was manned by a skeleton crew – mostly women, children, servants, but also some samurai retainers[xxi] entrusted with protecting the castle. The castle fell in a matter of hours and the battle is generally described as an all-out slaughter.

A quiet waterfall and creek a short distance from the residence of Ujiteru and his family was chosen by his wife for the defenders’ final act. The women killed the children by throwing them over the waterfall, and then committed suicide themselves. Samurai also assisted in the “mercy killings” and then committed 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment. The creek was said to have run red with blood for 3 days and 3 nights. The bloody water flowed into the rice paddies located downstream. The farmers were appalled to find that their rice has been stained red when they harvested the next crop.

The spot where the family and retainers are to have killed themselves.

The spot where the family and retainers are to have killed themselves.

A few weeks later, on July 7, 1590, Odawara Castle fell to Hideyoshi. Kantō was no longer independent and Hideyoshi’s control over the realm was more or less complete. After the fall of Odawara, both Hōjō Ujiteru and his older brother Hōjō Ujimasa were ordered to commit seppuku. Hōjō control ended in the Kantō region[xxii].


After The Fall of Hachiōji Castle

The main structures of Hachiōji castles were burned in the attack and after 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu was given control of the 8 Kantō Provinces, he didn’t regard the site strategically important. As such, the castle was never rebuilt and just fell into ruin. It was soon reclaimed by the forests of the mountain.

17202090028_69939a42d2_k

The Hōjō funerary temple, Shingo-ji, was now tainted by the bloodbath that saw the destruction of its largest benefactor. It chose to re-invent itself as 宗関寺 Sōkan-ji a year after the fall of the castle[xxiii]. Sōkan-ji is still home to the graves of Hōjō Ujiteru’s family, though they are in abject dereliction today. Over the years, the locals began to call Mt. Fukazawa 城山 Shiroyama “Old Castle Mountain.[xxiv]

Ujiteru's grave

Ujiteru’s grave

The Haunted Mountain

Old people who live in the immediate vicinity of Shiroyama claim it’s haunted by the ghosts of the Hōjō and their retainers. As far back as the Edo Period, people said that when mist covered the mountain, you could hear the din of a samurai battle, the sound of the burning 御主殿 go-shuden lord’s residence, the neighing of warhorses, and – most disturbingly – the wailing of noblewomen as they slit their children’s throats and threw their lifeless bodies into the river.

A few families with a long history in the immediate area (元八王子 Moto Hachiōji Old Hachiōji) have a tradition of serving 赤飯 akameshi[xxv] rice with red beans on the anniversary of the attack. The color of the red beans bleeds out and stains the white rice – a reminder of the slaughter that took place on “Old Castle Mountain” staining the rice of their ancestors.

Hachiōji Unearthed

During WWII, the mountain was heavily deforested. However, in the post-war years, the mountain was reforested with ヒノキ hi no ki Japanese Cypress trees, a particularly tall tree[xxvi]. The main reason that I mention this is because when I visited the castle ruins with Eric of Jcastle, I commented on how rich the vegetation was and how tall the trees were. Of course, felled trees could be used to build wooden fortifications, but it really looked like a lot of work for people with 1590’s technology to hack through a forest to construct a castle. Considering how far apart some of the military installations and residential installations were spaced, it just seemed overwhelming.

Well, I’m not a castle expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it got me thinking. I wonder if the mountain’s vegetation was different prior to 1945? Would that have even made any difference?

This image offers a deforested vision of the castle.

This image offers a deforested vision of the castle.

From 1951, excavation and restoration of the castle began in earnest. While most of the wooden structures were lost to the sands of time, many 石垣 ishigaki stone walls were located. In the 80’s and 90’s, a few interesting attributes of the castle emerged. The first was that most of the stone walls were simple reinforcements of the hillside paths to prevent erosion. However, the go-shuden (residence of Hōjō Ujiteru himself) featured impressive walls with a more esthetic purpose, very in line with Azuchi-Momoyama castle construction of the time. These walls seemed to project the lord’s authority and his sophistication. In the early 90’s shards of pottery from Venice and China were found on the site of the lord’s residence. All of this physical evidence led some scholars to believe that Ujiteru’s 1580 audition with Oda Nobunaga may have influenced the design of the residential area of the castle and… maybe, just maybe… he acquired these exotic goods from Nobunaga himself[xxvii]. Furthermore, some scholars have pointed at the discrepancy in stone wall construction as evidence that the castle may not have been finished at the time of the attack.

17203397829_bb0b40eaed_z (1)

Hachiōji Castle Reborn

In 1973, a tradition was started by some local history nerds who took particular pride in the castle. With the cooperation of Sōkan-ji, they decided to perform a Buddhist memorial service on June 23rd at the 御主殿之滝 go-shuden no taki palace waterfall to appease the spirits of those who died in the battle. The service took place at the 六字の名号塔 Mutsu-ji no Myōgō-tō 6 Kanji Tower[xxviii] erected in 1817. One commentator I read said that he thinks this memorial tradition should be considered the rebirth in the interest in Hachiōji  Castle as the site has only grown in popularity, culminating with its inclusion in the 日本百名城 Nihon Hyaku Meijō 100 Famous Castles of Japan in 2006. I don’t know if they still do it now. But when I visited the castle, there were offerings at the Mutsu-ji no Myōgō-tō left by castle fans or maybe Sōkan-ji.

Today, the castle is mostly a hiking spot. But it has a small museum that takes the site quite seriously. They have a volunteer staff that is enthusiastic and outgoing. The reconstructed stone walls and roads around Ujiteru’s residence is pretty amazing, I have to say. But as far as archaeological sites from this period in Japanese History go, I’m 100% impressed. I actually want to go back when the leaves start changing colors.

Wanna read more about Hachiōji Castle?

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[i] If you want to go hiking in Japan, this is really a fantastic spot – even if you don’t care about Japanese History.
[ii] As a person used to castles built after the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (ie; state of the art at the beginning of the Edo Period), I was surprised to see how small the honmaru was. It was essentially the last refuge for the lord should the very worst befall the castle. And while Hachiōji Castle was, in fact, built during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, its design was much more like the fortress type “castles” of the Sengoku Period than the impressive and luxurious castles ushered in by the stability afforded by the “relative peace” of 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga and 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Those later castles – while clearly military installments – were much more palace-like than fort-like. The scale and design is more beautiful and expresses the wealth, might, and military authority of the residing lord. At Hachiōji Castle, the honmaru seems like the place to make your last stand or commit suicide.
[iii] 王子 ōji, while it does mean “imperial prince,” has another meaning of a kami that has been split for enshrinement in another shrine. The process of 分霊 bunrei dividing spirits is the way clan members could bring their ancestral tutelary kami with them as they expanded their territories. The policy of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance brought tutelary kami of all the daimyō families to Edo. Because of this, it’s not unusual to find satellite shrines of major from all over Japan in Tōkyō.
[iv] Please, please, read my article on Ōji first.
[v] This is why you shouldn’t write your blog under the influence of alcohol. Ugh!
[vi] That said, it’s famously unpopular in Japan because of its own lack of toleration for the traditional kami (deities) of Japan. Religion – what a goof.
[vii] This kami is closely connected to the Shintō aspect of 日枝山 Hiezan Mt. Hie in Kyōto. This mountain’s kami and Buddhist temple, 延暦寺 Enryaku-ji, are famous for the 僧兵 sōhei warrior monks that pissed off Oda Nobunaga to such a point that he allegedly surrounded the mountain and ordered his armies to march up the mountain and kill everything that moved until they reached the top. Then they burned the temple to the ground. My article on Tameike-Sannō touches on this.
[viii] The meaning of the Latin word incarnārī to be made into flesh was a Christian neologism used to explain away Jesus’ physical, human aspect – despite being a god. I’m pretty sure buddhas and kami don’t physically become flesh and blood. But I think “incarnation” is more readily understood that “avatar” which sounds like a picture on your Twitter account or that stupid movie about the blue space cats.
[ix] I say “usually” because as Buddhism spread from India to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Afghanistan, the Himalayan kingdoms, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, and eventually Japan, it had evolved. Some teachings were lost and some new teachings were acquired. With each new kingdom came new languages and new translations and new iterations of the tradition. Japan, the latest to get on board with Buddhism, had inherited most of its tradition from Korean and China. Gozu Tennō is associated with Gavagrīva by tradition, but the connection is tenuous at best.
[x] This article looks at the relationship of this syncretic kami with Gion.
[xi] More about this in a bit.
[xii] Long time readers hopefully remember Susano’o no Mikoto as the brother of the sun goddess 天照皇大神 Amaterasu Ōmikami, the mythical mother of the imperial family. I directly mentioned this kami in my article on Ushima. I didn’t mention specifically, but he’s associated with this shrine and also this shrine and bridge.
[xiii] A kami that may or may not also be derived from a Hindu god.
[xiv] And this is exactly why I hate religion. The shit is just retarded.
[xv] This word can also be read as hanamachi. I’m not going to get into which is correct because it’s a bit of a mess too…
[xvi] Also known as Shakyamuni or Siddhārtha Gautama. He was the founder of the Buddhist religion.
[xvii] The sun goddess. The imperial family claimed descent from her line.
[xviii] See what he did there?
[xix] Also, a shrine doesn’t necessarily have to mean a formal wooden structure. In theory, it could simply be a simple monument. My sources don’t go into details.
[xx] Not familiar with the name? Samurai Archives has an excellent article on Hōjō Ujiyasu. And just for the record this is the so-called 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi Late Hōjō Clan.
[xxi] None of whose names are relevant to our story.
[xxii] Interestingly, the family line was not abolished. Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu recognized the intelligence of Ujiyasu’s 4th son, 北条氏規 Hōjō Ujinori and his branch of the family were the lords of 河内国狭山藩 Kawachi no Kuni Sayama Han Sayama Domain, Kawachi Province, a minor domain near Ōsaka.
[xxiii] The Sōkan-ji was rebuilt in its present location in 1892 (Meiji 25), not so far away from the location of the original Shingo-ji.
[xxiv] Literally, it’s just “Castle Mountain,” but I added the “Old” to convey the folksy feeling of the Japanese.
[xxv] In the local dialect, 赤飯 is read aka manma.
[xxvi] And one this is allergenic to many people.
[xxvii] As far as influencing castle design, I don’t know how much influence visiting Nobunaga would have actually had. Rich and powerful people always flaunt their wealth and authority and with the “relative stability” of the Azuchi Momoyama Period, there was a definite trend toward flashier residences. As for where Ujiteru acquired the foreign items, without a document saying he got them from Nobunaga, I think this is just a flight of fancy.
[xxviii] The 6 kanji are: 南無阿弥陀仏 Namu Amida Butsu “I believe in Amida.” The Buddhist equivalent of “lord have mercy on me.”

Setagaya and its Freaky Horse Fetish

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples on January 19, 2015 at 2:34 am

What’s Up with Setagaya and Horses?
No, seriously? What’s up wit dat?

.

Horse girl

So while I was researching my last article on 三軒茶屋 Sangen-jaya, I came across a few interesting place names that I’d never heard of – granted I rarely go to 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward[i] — but nonetheless I was obviously intrigued.

I saw a lot of references to horses on the map. “I’ll do all the horse names!” I thought. “Surely they’re all related,” I thought. “I can hit all these place names in one article,” I thought. Then the stories started getting longer and longer. “Did I get myself into another River Article Debacle?” I wondered. I really may have, so I’ve decided to go with the local legends over the hardcore etymology this time just to spare everyone the headache and hopefully to get some good folklore out this.

As I said, the one unifying factor is that all of these place names are horse-related. So let’s take a look at what names we will cover today.

Name

Meaning

Current Status

馬引沢
Umahikizawa

horse pulling ravine

This place name survives in abbreviated forms
駒繋
Komatsunagi

horse hitching

This place name survives as Komatsunagi Shrine and as an elementary school name

駒留
Komadome

horse stopping

The name survives as Komadome Hachiman Shrine

駒沢
Komazawa

horse ravine

Survives as a postal code and a university name, etc…

葦毛塚
Ashige-zuka

gray haired horse burial mound

The name survives as a landmark

So just let that sink in a little bit before we continue. Take a few seconds to imagine what you think the etymologies might be. Do you think there is any connection? Do you think it’s all a coincidence? If you’re a long time reader and you remember other horse and animal related etymologies, do you think there will be any similarities to those?

These horses are decked out in the latest spring line up from Prada.

These horses are decked out in the latest spring line up from Prada.

,

OK, Let’s Get Started

I mentioned in the last article, that present day Sangen-jaya is comprised of several former villages. Two of those villages were parts of the 3 areas of a Kamakura Period region called 馬引沢 Umahikizawa.

上馬引沢村
Kami-Umahikizawa Mura

Upper Umahikizawa Village

中馬引沢村
Naka-Umahikizawa Mura

Middle Umahikizawa Village

下馬引沢村
Shimo- Umahikizawa Mura

Lower Umahikizawa Village

This is a similar pattern that we see with the classification of daimyō residences in Edo.

上屋敷
kami-yashiki

upper residence

中屋敷
naka-yashiki

middle residence

下屋敷
shimo-yashiki

lower residence

With daimyō residences the designation of upper, middle, and lower seems to refer to their importance in relation to the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The upper residence would be nearer to Edo Castle and is where most of the administrative affairs would be carried out. The lower residence was more like a villa. I give a little more detail in my article on sankin-kōtai.

With place names, things are a little different – these are references to the areas of a village’s location on a river. 上 kami (up) refers an upstream location, 中 naka (middle) refers to a midstream location, 下 shimo (down) refers to a downstream location. In this case, what river might we be speaking of? It’s a river that was called the 蛇崩川 Jakuzure-gawa Jakuzure River. This is a wild name, in my opinion. The kanji mean something like “snake death river.” I dunno. But my guess is the kanji aren’t important to this story, and maybe I’ll tackle them later – but if you’ve got an image of a dangerous river, then great. Let’s take it from there.

Great strategist and general -- but worst horse rider EVER.

Minamoto no Yoritomo. Great strategist and general — but worst horse rider EVER.

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What does Umahikizawa mean?

Legend states that in 1189, 源頼朝 Minamoto no Yoritomo[ii] traveled back and forth on his favorite horse through this area on his military expedition from his capital in 鎌倉 Kamakura to 大州平泉 Ōshū Hiraizumi[iii]. The purpose of the expedition was to destroy 藤原泰衡 Fujiwara no Yasuhira and put an end to the Northern Fujiwara Clan once and for all[iv]. As he approached a deep stream with an extremely fast current[v], his horse became unsure of its footing and hesitated. Yoritomo, who was plagued by a lifelong battle with bad luck in horses[vi], pressed the horse to cross the ravine. The horse tried to proceed but the ground gave out from underneath it and the horse fell into the stream, either breaking its legs or suffering some other fatal injury, despite Yoritomo’s efforts to save his beloved horse. Heartbroken and teary-eyed, the general ordered his men to pull (引く hiku) the horse (馬 uma) out of the ravine (沢 sawa) and bury it on the other side. A variation of this legend states that after the tragic death of his favorite horse, Yoritomo ordered his men to lead (引いて渡る hiite wataru) their horses (馬 uma) across the ravine (沢 sawa) lest they lose their war horses as well. And so the place came to be known as 馬引沢 Umahikizawa horse pulling river.

This is a "sawa" and I bet you wouldn't want to ride a horse across it...

This is a “sawa” and I bet you wouldn’t want to ride a horse across it…

How Does This Place Name Survive?

As the village grew, it came to have 3 distinct quarters. One was upstream, one was midstream, and one was downstream. I showed you these place name earlier. 上馬引沢 Kami-Umahikizawa survives today in abbreviated form as 上馬 Kamiuma “up horse.” 下馬引沢 Shimo-Umahikizawa survives as 下馬 Shimouma “down horse.” These are both official postal addresses, but to the best of my knowledge, 中馬引沢 Naka-Umahikizawa hasn’t survived. But an interesting tidbit, in nearby 多摩市 Tama-shi Tama City, there is an area called 馬引沢 Umahikizawa, but it’s completely unrelated.

This also counts as umahiki (leading a horse).

This also counts as umahiki (leading a horse).

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What Does Ashige-zuka Mean?

A mere 4 minute walk from Shimouma, there is an oval shaped, earthen mound in the middle of the street called 葦毛塚 Ashige-zuka. This is a compound word composed of two elements: 葦毛 ashige a gray haired horse and 塚 tsuka a mound. Legend claims that this is the spot where Minamoto no Yoritomo’s horse was buried. We’ve talked about burial mounds quite a few times at JapanThis!, but I think this is the first time we’ve had one allegedly built for a horse.

I wasn't kidding. It's literally in the middle of the road!

I wasn’t kidding. It’s literally in the middle of the road!

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What does Komatsunagi mean?

If you take an 8 minute walk back to Shimouma and you’ll find a place called 駒繋神社 Komatsunagi Jinja Komatsunagi Shrine. Let’s continue our story there.

As I mentioned before, Minamoto no Yoritomo was cursed with all manner of bad horse luck. Being a typical superstitious 12th century samurai, he took the death of his favorite horse before an important battle[vii] as a terrible omen. After the burial mound was finished, a mysterious woman appeared. She told the general about the local 氏神 ujigami tutelary deity named 子之神 Nenokami[viii]. According to the woman, Nenokami wielded great power in the area and had the ability to exorcise any evil influence from the accident. She led him to a nearby humble, unnamed shrine[ix] dedicated to Nenokami and then disappeared. Yoritomo prayed to the kami and then continued his march north to Ōshū Hiraizumi.

Yoritomo and his stupid hat.

Yoritomo and his stupid hat.

At Ōshū, Yoritomo’s army crushed the Fujiwara army, thus annihilating his last major obstacle to power. This particular battle paved the way for him to become shōgun[x]. Marching back to Kamakura victorious, he stopped by the Nenokami shrine to give thanks. After all, being a superstitious 12th century samurai, that’s just what you do. Before approaching the shrine, he tied (繋ぐ tsunagu) his horse (駒 koma) to a pine tree (松 matsu)[xi]. He then threw some cash at the local people to build a proper shrine to Nenokami. After that, he proceeded to his capital in Kamakura.

Komatsunagi Shrine as it looks today.

Komatsunagi Shrine as it looks today.

The tree where he tied his horse came to be known as the 駒繋之松 Komatsunagi no Matsu Horse Hitching Pine and the new improved shrine came to be called Komatsunagi Shrine. If you visit the shrine today, they have a tree that they claim is the 3rd generation of the tree Yoritomo tied his horse to[xii]. Sadly, they never say what happened to the mysterious, disappearing woman.

I want some plot resolution, dammit.

The shrine claims that this is the original pine tree that Yoritomo used.

The shrine claims that this is the original pine tree that Yoritomo used.

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What does Komadome mean?

Let’s take a 25 minute walk back to Sangen-jaya[xiii]the article that started all of this – and a 250 year or so jump into the future. Now we’re in the throes of the Sengoku Period – way before the rise of 3 Great Unifiers[xiv]. Edo has been in what you could call a “dark age” ever since the transfer of power from Kamakura back to Kyōto[xv]. Local militarized noble families rise and fall here and there. And among these local nobles, warlords have begun making land grabs and power grabs. Many of these clans come and go, too. One of the ascending powers in Kantō at this time were the 後北条 Go-Hōjō the Late Hōjō[xvi].

So our story is of a somewhat obscure noble who was in the service of the Hōjō, a certain 吉良頼康 Kira Yoriyasu. Much about him is unknown[xvii], but we do know that he served both the 2nd and 3rd successive Hōjō lords, 北条氏綱 Hōjō Ujitsuna and 北条氏康 Hōjō Ujiyasu[xviii]. So while he wasn’t a major player, he was playing with some big time ballers. You can think of him as Jay-Z’s longtime friend who gets invited to parties, but isn’t allowed on the red carpet.

This picture was long said to be Kira Yoriyasu, but recent research suggests that it's actually Takeda Shingen.

This picture was long said to be Kira Yoriyasu, but recent research suggests that it’s actually Takeda Shingen.

If you recall from my article on the etymology of Edo, from the Heian Period to the Kamakura Period this area was controlled by the 江戸氏 Edo-shi Edo clan太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan took over the Edo clan’s fort in 1457[xix]. Dōkan was a retainer of the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan[xx] and so after his assassination in 1486, the Uesugi assumed direct control of the castle[xxi]. However the castle was of little importance to their clan and so it seems to have been lightly defended – if defended at all. And so, when the Hōjō came into the region, Edo Castle[xxii] fell easily in 1524[xxiii] and one of the generals who followed the Hōjō into Edo was our new friend, Kira Yoriyasu.

The Kira clan had controlled various fiefs in the area since 1366, and Yoriyasu was given control of Setagaya Village sometime around the attack on Edo Castle. He ruled from 世田ヶ谷城 Setagaya-jō Setagaya Castle[xxiv]. Yoriyasu’s appointment didn’t last long because the Uesugi eventually struck back and burned the castle to the ground in 1530 and Yoriyasu was transferred elsewhere[xxv]. However, in his time as the lord of Setagaya, he managed to leave behind a bit of a local legend.

The fringed orchid is often associated with Setagaya Ward because of a version of Yoriyasu's legend. Unfortunately, we're not going to go into that part of the story today.

The fringed orchid is often associated with Setagaya Ward because of a version of Yoriyasu’s legend. Unfortunately, we’re not going to go into that part of the story today.

The legend states that in the women’s quarters of Setagaya Castle, there was a lot of jealous infighting between his 正室 seishitsu legal wife and his 12 側室 sokushitsu concubines[xxvi]. On the day of birth of Yoriyasu’s first son something went terribly wrong.

As was normal for the day, the lord of the estate was out doing his do (hunting, by some accounts) when suddenly his wife went into labor alone[xxvii] – also normal for the day. Tragically, however, the boy was stillborn – meaning the Kira family line could have ended there. To avoid bad luck, the boy was enshrined at nearby 駒留八幡神社 Komadome Hachiman Jinja Komadome Hachiman Shrine. Because of this, the enshrined kami is sometimes referred to as 若宮八幡 Waka-no-miya Hachiman Young Prince Hachiman which could be interpreted as “little warrior.” At any rate, the rumor mill went into full swing that the boy had actually been smothered to death by a jealous concubine[xxviii].

The enshrinement of the stillborn son seems to have benefitted the family, as they continued to hold extensive lands until the 1590’s and the clan continued until the 元禄時代 Genroku Jidai Genroku Period, which coincided with the reign of 徳川綱吉 Tokugawa Tsunayoshi[xxix]. In the beginning of the Edo Period, the Kira clan was given 旗本 hatamoto status, ie; they became direct retainers of the shōgun family – not bad at all, but they weren’t a daimyō family as is sometimes thought. One of Yoriyasu’s descendant’s was 吉良上野介 Kira Kōzuke-no-suke[xxx] – the guy usually portrayed as the bad guy in the story of the 47 Rōnin[xxxi]. The family was disgraced and more or less dropped out of history at that point.

Oh ffs, not these clowns again???!

Oh ffs, not these clowns again???!

That’s A Neat Story, But WTF Does It Have To Do With Komadome?

Oh sorry, right. I sorta went off on a tangent there, didn’t I? Actually, the etymology of this shrine doesn’t really have much of a story behind it. It involves a certain samurai courtier of the Kamakura Shōgunate named 北条左近太郎 Hōjō Sakotarō[xxxii]. In 1308, he became a priest and wanted to establish a temple to 八幡 Hachiman the Japanese god of war[xxxiii]. This particular kami was favored by Minamoto no Yoritomo and his shōgunate and so shrines to Hachiman were very popular at this time. According to legend, Hachiman came to Sakotarō in a dream and said, “Dude, listen to your favorite horse and it will totally tell you where to enshrine me.” So he rode east from Kamakura until his exhausted horse (駒 koma) stopped (留まった tomatta) near Setagaya Village and refused to go any further. He totally realized that this was totally the spot. He immediately dismounted his unsurprisingly fatigued horse and decided to build a shrine at that spot and so the shrine is now called 駒留八幡神社 Komadome Hachiman Jinja Komadome Hachiman Shrine – the Hachiman Shrine where the horse totally stopped.

Komadome Shrine as it looks today.

Komadome Shrine as it looks today.

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What does Komazawa mean?

This is the most boring place name ever – not unlike 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward[xxxiv]. 駒沢 Komazawa is an amalgamation of the surrounding places with 駒 koma horse and 沢 sawa ravine that was created in 1889 (Meiji 22) with the formation of Meguro Ward. There is another nearby but non-equine place name, 野沢 Nozawa, which features the kanji 沢 sawa. Easiest place name ever.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this article.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this article.c

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Are These Etymologies True?

Your guess is as good as mine, but these all date back to the Kamakura Period and Sengoku Period which is when we first start getting reliable information from the Kantō area. This is also a time when previously existing place names get written down for the first time and transcribed into kanji. Maybe these events transpired. Maybe they didn’t. But what we can say for sure is that in this area, local legends popped up and many of them were affiliated with horses and the rising prestige of the samurai class in Kantō. In these place names we can see the areas surrounding Edo begin to blossom.

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[i] Aaaaaaaaaaaaand, once again, longtime readers know that I’ve already written about Setagaya here.
[ii] Please tell me you know who Minamoto no Yoritomo is. I’m assuming you do. But if not, check out this fine article about him at Samurai Archives.
[iii] An area in present day 岩手県 Iwate-ken Iwate Prefecture.
[iv] Fans of 源義経 Minamoto no Yoshitsune, will recognize this name. He’s the son of 藤原秀衡 Fujiwara no Hidehira who helped hide Yoshitsune when Yoritomo was trying to kill him. The Fujiwara betrayed Yoshitsune – as Fujiwara do – and it was Yasuhira who attacked Yoshitsune forcing him to kill his wife and daughter and then commit seppuku. The less dramatic version of his demise is that Yoshitsune may have just straight up been overwhelmed and was just cut down in battle by Fujiwara forces. The details of his death are disputed – and in my opinion, irrelevant.
And for those of you scratching your heads at all these names, check out this article at Samurai Archives.
[v] Presumably the Jakuzure River, or an earlier incarnation thereof.
[vi] Shōgun Yoritomo died in 1199 when he was thrown off his horse lol.
[vii] A “baddle,” if you will. (sorry, bad joke)
[viii] This kanji looks like the kanji for “child” but is actually the Chinese Zodiac sign of the rat (or mouse, whichever you prefer). That’s why the reading is ネ ne and not コ ko. Another reading is Nenogami.
[ix] Since this was a local deity in the countryside, we can assume there were tiny, almost impromptu shrines of this scattered all over the area.
[x] Another detail that seems to be in dispute: some claim Yoritomo was made shōgun by the emperor, others claim he just took the title for himself.
[xi] Obviously, this is a different horse than the one that died before the battle because… well, ghost horses hadn’t been invented yet.
[xii] There is some evidence for local worship of Nenokami. If you walk 40 minutes into nearby 目黒区 Meguro-ku Meguro Ward, there is minor shrine called 高木神社 Takagi Jinja Takagi Shrine which also houses Nenokami. In fact, the area surround Takagi Shrine was more or less “officially” called 子ノ神 Ne no Kami up until 1889 (Meiji 22). The name was abolished with the creation of Meguro Ward in 1932. I’ve also found a shrine in 川崎市 Kawasaki-shi Kawasaki City that enshrines Nenokami.
[xiii] And Kamiuma.
[xiv] 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga, 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and of course 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu. If you don’t know who these people are, get the fuck off my blog.
[xv] And Kamakura’s power doesn’t seem to have been very long lasting anyways.
[xvi] Why were they called “late?” Let me google that for you, bitch.
[xvii] For example, we don’t know when or where he was born. We know his legal wife was the daughter of Hōjō Ujitsuna but we don’t know his name. We know he had legitimate male heirs, but he adopted a son and made him head of the Kira Family… but we don’t know why. These early years of the Sengoku Period are very messy.
[xviii] Actually Kira Yoriyasu’s original name was 吉良頼貞 Kira Yorisada. He received the kanji 康 yasu from Hōjō Ujiyasu.
[xix] The Tokugawa Shōgunate considered the massive fortification and new moat system the birth of Edo Castle.
[xx] This particular branch of the Uesugi were the 扇谷上杉家 Ōgigayatsu Uesugi, if you’re into that sort of thing.
[xxi] Technically speaking, the castle was Uesugi property and Dōkan was merely supervising it for them.
[xxii] Also called 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle back in those days.
[xxiii] Please read more about the Late Hōjō here at Samurai Archives.
[xxiv] Let’s use the term “castle” loosely here and think of it more as a fortified noble residence on a hill. The estate (or castle) didn’t survive the fall of the Hōjō and the coming of the Tokugawa. And if you’re in Tōkyō now and saying to yourself, “Whaaaaaa?? There’s a Japanese castle in Setagaya?” then by all means, go and  read this page about it at Jcastle.info – your one stop shop for all your Japanese castle needs.
[xxv] Even if he held the “castle” for 5 years, I’m guessing that’s a pretty good run at that time.
[xxvi] The name 常盤 Tokiwa is often cited as both wife and concubine but the historical record is ambiguous. Also, there are several variations of this story. If you’d like to read more about it, I actually tracked down a guy who translated 3 variations into English here.
[xxvii] ie; not really alone, but not with Yoriyasu. She would have been in the women’s quarters of the fort – most definitely surrounded by the other women. The “joy of birth” wasn’t something often enjoyed together in feudal Japan.
[xxviii] Or by some accounts, a concubine bore the child and the jealous wife murdered it.
[xxix] The 5th Tokugawa shōgun.
[xxx] Kōsuke-no-suke is actually his court title; his real name was 吉良義央 Kira Yoshihisa.
[xxxi] Longtime readers know my opinion of this story.
[xxxii] I’m not sure about the reading of his given name. Also this dude is a “real Hōjō,” not a “Late Hōjō” of the Sengoku Period who adopted the name.
[xxxiii] Calling him “the Japanese god of war” is a bit of simplification, but you can read more about Hachiman here.
[xxxiv] Which, of course, you know I’ve already written about here.

The Kanda River

In Japanese History, Tokyo Rivers, Travel in Japan on July 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm

神田川
Kanda-gawa (literally, “divine fields river,” but actually “river in Kanda”)[i]

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.  If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.  The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but it was built after the Great Kanto Earthquake which river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them.

Hajiribashi, a concrete arched bridge crossing the Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station.
If you eliminate the train station and modern buildings, this a typical Edo Period river setting.

 

The name 神田 Kanda is one of the oldest place names in Edo-Tōkyō and believe it or not, 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River is not that old at all. Well, most of the river isn’t. Well, part of it might be.

Well, it’s complicated.

In short, after doing this research, I’ve realized I have to make a separate article about the area called 神田 Kanda – and by that, I mean just etymology. So I will write about that in the future – and I promise not to put it off too long. But let’s just deal with the river for the time being, mkay?

 

Let’s Look at the Kanji


kan

deities


ta, -da

rice paddies


kawa, -gawa

river

 

This river is manmade. So the etymology seems to be clear. At the beginning of the Edo Period, in the 神保町 Jinbō-chō area there was a small waterway that cut through a hilly are called 神田山 Kandayama Mt. Kanda. It’s said that since this area in general was called 神田 Kanda[ii] the original waterway was then called 神田川 Kanda-gawa the Kanda River.

If you only wanted to know the etymology of the river, you can stop reading here. From this point on it’s going to turn into a crazy – possibly boring – river mess. If you’re a JapanThis! masochist, then by all means, read on. You may actually enjoy this.

 

 

hajiribashi

A view of Hajiribashi when it was new. The bridge itself is not much to look at now, but in the 1920’s it was new and river travel was still common. Such bridges were designed to be viewed from below by boats passing underneath them (or without tall buildings in the background).

 

Where to Start??

Up until now, every river we have looked at was at some point a naturally occurring river. The Kanda River is quite different from those rivers. There was a time within recorded history that the Kanda River never existed. Though, a portion of it was once a natural tributary of a long vanished inlet of Edo Bay, it is, in fact, a man-made river. All though it may not be on the lips of every Tōkyōite, today the river is a well-recognized part of the well-manicured urban landscape of the modern city.

I actually first mentioned the Kanda River back in June, 2011 in an article about Yodobashi[iii], a small bridge that crosses the Kanda River at the border of 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward and 新宿区 Shinjuku-ku Shinjuku Ward. So this is something of a little homecoming for me. I started this blog when I still lived in Nakano (lived there for about 6 years).

 

yodobashi

Yodobashi in the Taisho Era, before the Great Kanto Earfquake. The area is rustic and a in sharp contrast to the present area. Today it marks the border of Nakano and crazy-ass Shinjuku.

 

What is the Kanda River Today?

The modern river’s official designation is the channel of water that flows from 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Pond to 飯田橋 Iidabashi (literally, Iida Bridge) where it empties into the 外堀 sotobori outer moat of Edo Castle. But it’s at this junction where the river flows into a disparate network of waterways. So you could say, unofficially, that the Kanda River flows into the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River and the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge, essentially taking the water to the Tōkyō Bay.

 

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

Wellspring of the present-day Kanda River at Inokashira Park.

 

Now Let’s Talk History

As mentioned in my article on the etymology of Edo, the original 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle or 千代田城 Chiyoda-jō Chiyoda Castle was not built by 太田道灌 Ōta Dōkan as is often cited[iv]. In reality, a minor branch of 平家 Hei-ke the Taira clan[v] moved to the area at the end of the 11th century and built a fortified residence[vi] on a hill overlooking the sea. As was common practice for new branch families with new fiefs, they took the name of the village 江戸郷 Edo-gō as their own and they became the 平江戸氏 Taira Edo-shi Edo branch of the Taira clan[vii]. In the 12th century, the area prospered due to its proximity to the capital of the Minamoto shōguns in Kamakura. However, it seems the Edo clan didn’t do much to develop the area’s rivers[viii].

In those days, the now long gone 日比谷入江 Hibiya Irie Hibiya Inlet was a saltwater inlet used for 海苔 nori seaweed farming[ix]. There was a certain freshwater river known as 平川 Hirakawa “the wide river” which emptied into the inlet. This fresh water river originally made up part of the natural boundary between 武蔵国豊島郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province and 武蔵国江原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara Province, Musashi Province. This fresh water tributary seems to be where the story of the Kanda River begins.

 

Edo Hamlet

 

Fast Forward a Few Centuries

By the 15th century, Japan was balls deep in the bloody, sweaty mess that was the Sengoku Period[x] and Ōta Dōkan found himself re-fortifying the Edo family’s fort in Chiyoda using water from the coastline and other small rivers with the latest moat-building technology of his day. The new and improved “Edo Fort” he built for the 上杉氏 Uesugi-shi Uesugi clan brought new channels and waterways into the village. This manipulation of water provided tactical advantages to the new fort in that food and goods could come in and there were more escape routes. There were now logical, defensible waterways. Lucky side effect, certain areas of the village were less exposed than before and local merchants and fishermen had new distribution routes and… BOOM!  Ladies and gentleman, we have a budding 城下町 jōka machi castle town[xi].

Although all of Dōkan’s efforts were pioneering and crucial in the taming of the rivers and sea and urban planning of Edo-Tōkyō, one of the most important changes to Edo’s waterways was diverting the 平川 Hirakawa the ancient “wide river” eastward into what is today called the 日本橋川 Nihonbashi-gawa Nihonbashi River. This is critical to our story today. And the place where this new confluence occurred is actually marked by a bridge called the 神田橋 Kandabashi Kanda Bridge. The Hirakawa River doesn’t exist anymore, but a quick look at a map of Edo Castle will show you a 平川門 Hirakawa Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川濠 Hirakawa-bori Harakawa Moat[xii]; the former, the gate that stood guard on the moat[xiii]; the latter, a vestige of the old river itself. Today, 平川見附 Hirakawa Mitsuke the bridge and fortified gate installation on the moat is a popular sightseeing spot.

 

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate). They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.

Part of Edo Castle today. At the top, notice Hirakawa Gate and at the bottom right, notice the Ote Mon (main gate).
They are on the same moat. That is the former Hirakawa.
I used JCastle.info to generate this map. Click on the picture to find THE premiere website on Japanese Castles in English.

 

So, as I’ve said before – and will say again – Tokugawa Ieyasu moved into an Edo that was well fortified, strategically sound, and extremely defensible by sea and by land. Oh, and did I mention, there was a burgeoning village life, supported by fishermen, farmers, and artisans[xiv]. Between Ōta Dōkan’s time and the time Ieyasu entered Edo, a technological revolution had occurred in Japan. From Nobunaga’s rise to power on, Japanese castles began to take on the look of what we think of today when someone says “Japanese Castle.[xv]” The castles of the Tokugawa Period are based on these new advances in castle building technology and reflected the amount of luxury the ruling class could not just afford, but were expected to maintain to project their image of superiority.

 

hirakawa

 

 

OK, OK! Castles, Can We Please Get Back to the River?

Yes, of course. Sorry for getting distracted.

(But we’re probably coming back to castles)

The Tokugawa Shōgunate kept meticulous records of the changes they made to the area. The great waterworks projects were no exception. But I’m not going to get into every change they made. It’s so boring it’s unreal. So let’s just look at some of the major changes and what I think are the takeaways of what created the Kanda River.

Since I got distracted, let’s go back to the beginning.The beginning of the story is 1456-1457, when Ōta Dōkan began manipulating waterways to build moats for his pre-cursor to Edo Castle – though work on the moats most likely preceded construction of the fortress, so we might say 1455-1457. In 1486, Dōkan was assassinated and in 1524 the 江戸合戦 Edo Gassen Battle of Edo saw the rise of influence of the 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi and the decline of the Ōta and Uesugi. This meant that the fortifications in 千代田 Chiyoda[xvi] (the area where the Sengoku forts where built and the fields around them) were abandoned and lay fallow for almost 70 years[xvii].

In 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu transferred his clan and top retainers to Edo and began modernizing the old Sengoku Period fortifications of the Edo and Ōta. He cautiously applied some of the latest castle building technology following the examples of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It’s said that the 大手御門 Ōte Go-mon Main Gate was one of the first construction project undertaken and this required crossing an existing moat – one affiliated with the later Kanda Aqueduct/Hirakawa.

The Ote-mon (main gate) at the time of the collapse of the shogunate.

The Ote-mon (main gate) after the Meiji Coup.

 

1603 is the watershed moment. Ieyasu is named 征夷大将軍 seii tai-shōgun shōgun and is the effective military ruler of Japan. From this point, the real history of the Kanda River begins. In 1604, Nihonbashi is built and the 5 Great Highways of Edo are defined. Strict entry & exit points by land and by river are laid out in order to preserve the new Tokugawa hegemony. Edo’s waterways are no longer “just Edo waterways;” they are tactical routes, trade routes, and a means of regulating nature for the protection of the commoners who lived along the rivers and were, essentially, part of the city’s infrastructure. In short, the rivers of Edo became a stabilizing mechanism for the shōgun’s capital.

 

Hirakawa Gate when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy).

The Ote-mon (main gate) when Edo Castle still had a tenshukaku (that tower thingy). Tokugawa Power! Activate! This is where the name Otemachi comes from.

 

From 1616 to 1620, during the reign of 2nd shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada, something really resembling a “Kanda River” in a modern sense came in to existence. This is when the 神田山 Kandayama “Kanda Mountain”[xviii] was cut through and the Kanda River and Nihonbashi River became 2 discrete waterways. Kanda and Ryōgoku began to take on unique personalities at this time.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate. Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

Colorized photo of the Hirakawa Gate.
Check out how bad ass the castle was. Truly something to behold.

 

In 1657, disaster struck on a colossal scale. The 明暦大家 Meireki Fire[xix] ripped through the city destroying well over half of the metropolis[xx]. Although city planning was essential from the beginning, the shōgunate hadn’t anticipated the rapid growth that accompanied their sankin-kōtai policy and just the economic stability brought on by… um, stability in general.

 

img_0

Edo Castle was a city within a city, When the main keep burned down, budgets and policies were reconsidered.

 

In part of the rebuilding efforts after the Meireki Fire, from 1659-1661 various waterways in Edo were widened and more open space along the rivers was added. Edo grew so rapidly after the arrival of the Tokugawa, that the city had become a firetrap[xxi].

 

sakurameguri22l

Ryogoku Bridge today

 

By some accounts, 60%-70% may have be burnt to the ground. Given the relative clean slate available to the shōgunate after this particular conflagration, certain rivers were designated as firebreaks and widened to keep fires localized[xxii]. It’s at this time that the Kanda River was dramatically widened – most notably, at the confluence of the Kanda River and Ryōgoku River, the 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge was built. Even today, the expanse of the river here is something to see, but in the Edo Period, with no buildings over 2 stories, it was clearly a sight to behold. Soon the area became famous for a dazzling annual fireworks display in the summer[xxiii]. Some of the most iconic 浮世絵 ukiyo-e “scenes of the transient world” come from this area. The 江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tōkyō Hakubutsukan Edo-Tōkyō Museum is located in this area… for obvious reasons.

 

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.  Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

From its spring in Inokashira Park, the Kanda river begins its exit from the well.
Ganbare, Kanda-chan!

 

As I mentioned before, the official headwaters are 井之頭池 Inokashira Ike Inokashira Lake, but the river has no officially designated end point but it’s fairly certain that it ultimately empties into Tōkyō Bay. Traditionally it ends at 飯田橋 Iidabashi. The reason there’s no official ending point is because the Kanda River empties into a few rivers and drainage channels along the way before it ultimately fizzles out into the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River at 両国橋 Ryōgokubashi Ryōgoku Bridge. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll probably be aware that the names and courses of these rivers have been changing over time and that some stretches of one river may have had multiple names depending on the area. So yeah… welcome back to the Confus-o-dome.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).  Gross.

Thanks to the Showa Era, this is the Iidamachi Bridge (Iidabashi).
Gross.

The Kanda River’s Legacy

The man-made Edo Era waterway that flowed from Inokashira Pond was called the 神田上水 Kanda Jōsui. Longtime readers should know what a 上水 jōsui is. But just a refresher, a jōsui is a conduit of “imported” water. This water flowed from 三鷹 Mitaka[xxiv] to Edo Castle; it also supplied drinking water to the daimyō mansions that lined its course.

 

The creation of the Kanda River. (by the way, this is the worst info-graphic ever)

The creation of the Kanda River in Chiyoda from the Hibiya Inlet.

The Kanda Jōsui is considered the first real aqueduct system in Japan. Before I mentioned the technological revolution in castle construction, right? Well, the Sengoku Period began stabilizing and yes, castle building was a status thing. But the distribution of water and water management showed one of the greatest advances in urban planning and administration that Japan had seen in centuries. This is why shōgunate’s founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was such a bad ass. The dude could lead an army here or there, but he had ideas about civil administration and surrounded himself with people who could advise him on these things. Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were essentially one-trick-ponies who couldn’t really get out of the 戦国病気 Sengoku Byōki “Sengoku Rut.”[xxv] Ieyasu, also a product of that generation, realized that infrastructure reinforced military supremacy and brought economic stability[xxvi].

 

The Kanda Aqueduct

The Kanda Aqueduct

Admittedly, it’s not that exciting or cool, but the availability of clean drinking water and disposal of dirty water should never be underestimated in the study of any ancient or pre-modern city[xxvii].

The capital of the Tokugawa shōguns quickly became the biggest city in Japan and eventually the most populous city in the world. Clean water and sewerage undeniably played a part in this. But soon the Kanda Jōsui wasn’t enough. That said, it was the main source of drinking water for Edo Castle during the Edo Period.

Even if it was inadequate to supply the entire sprawling capital, Kanda Jōsui was such a successful project that it begot 6 more major waterworks in Edo, all of which benefited daimyō, samurai, and the commoner population. Of course, this technology spread throughout the realm, but for short while Edo boasted one of the most unique water infrastructures in Japan.

 

HSD10003

 

A Final Note

If you’re up for an interesting bike ride, a 2010 blog post at Metropolis suggests starting at the mouth of the river and riding upstream to Inokashira Pond. When the temperature starts to come down, I may give this a go myself. There are loads of spots, many covered in JapanThis!, along the course of the river, so it should be fascinating.

 

 

 

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[i] I know that’s not the kind of helpful explanation that will bring closure to any of the etymology fans out there.
[ii] As I said, I’m gonna revisit this topic again.
[iii] Any relation to ヨドバシカメラ Yodobashi Camera? Why, yes there is. Thank you for asking.
[iv] And calling Dōkan’s fortifications a “castle” is also a debatable point. I’ve come to prefer the term “well-moated fort.” I came up with that term all on my own… right now. Thank you very much.
[v] If you don’t know who the Taira clan is… wow. OK, here you go.
[vi] Also, as mentioned in my article on What does Edo mean?, the coastal area is littered with 古墳 kofun burial mounds and it’s clear from the archaeology that the area has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. It’s highly doubtful the Edo clan was the first strongmen to seize upon this highly defensible, coastal plateau – they are the noblest recorded family, though.
[vii] Even though other temples and villages in the area are mentioned as far back as the Heian Period, it’s seems like the name Edo itself doesn’t actually appear in any records until the Kamakura Period.
[viii] In fact the original Edo “Castle” was probably just a 出城 dejiro satellite fort, since the Edo clan seemed to have their main residence in 喜多見 Kitami in present 世田谷区 Setagaya-ku Setagaya Ward.
[ix] I have an article about Hibiya.
[x] And while this may sound like a gratuitous reference to sex on the rag, this is actually a legitimate, historical term. Ask any historian of Pre-Modern Japan. They’ll tell you. Just ask. Seriously.
[xi] Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I said “budding.” When we say “castle” and “castle town” today we are usually referring to a construct of the far more stable Azuchi-Momoyama Period (ie; essentially the end of the Sengoku Period).
[xii] On Edo Era maps these may be listed with honorifics as 平川御門 Hirakawa Go-Mon Hirakawa Gate and 平川御堀 Hirakawa O-Hori Hirakawa Moat, respectively.
[xiii] Interestingly, some people think the radius and extent of Ōta Dōkan’s moats was the result of him not having a fucking clue what he was doing. His initial “improvements” lead to more flooding and so he continually modified his plans, diverting rivers away from the castle and the villages by extending them further and further out. Thus part of the sprawling nature of Edo Castle may have been due to stop-gap measures employed by Dōkan.
[xiv] Yes, I did.
[xv] This is as different as when we use the Latin words castrum to describe a Roman military camp/walled town and a castellum a walled fortification of Late Antiquity. The transformation is truly dramatic.
[xvi] You can see my article on Chiyoda here.
[xvii] The castle itself was pretty minor and was most likely not affected by the Late Hōjō efforts to refortify the Edo area from 1583 on.
[xviii] Kandayama was located in present day 駿河台 Surugadai.
[xix] “What’s the Meireki Fire?” you ask. There’s an article for that.
[xx] By some accounts, 70% of the city may have been destroyed.
[xxi] This didn’t change until the reconstruction of the city after WWII (or, some may argue that it didn’t change until the 1960’s and that the city just got lucky with no major conflagrations in the interim).
[xxii] In theory…
[xxiii] People today love fireworks. Just imagine what people with no video, no cameras, and no Perfume must have thought of these theatrical celebrations of summer.
[xxiv] Essentially, present-day Kichijōji.
[xxv] Again, my word. I just made it up now. And yes, I’m just baiting Sengoku lovers. Actually, I like Nobunaga, too.
[xxvi] And far more importantly, put his family in a seemingly endless position as hereditary top of the food chain. Hmmmmmmmmmm…
[xxvii] And you probably never think about where your water comes from or how it gets to your house and where it all goes afterwards, but it works, right? That’s why you can live there.

What does Ushigome mean?

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

牛込
Ushigome (Crowd of Cows)

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

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

ushi

cow

komi[i]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asakusa Shrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does Edo mean?

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

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

Edo - the shogun's personal domain.

Edo – the shogun’s personal domain.

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

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

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

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

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

But enough about Tōkyō.

Today’s topic is Edo.

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

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

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

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

One other thing we often hear is:

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

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

How do you say East Bumfuck in Japanese?

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

PART 1 – SHORT ANSWER
for people with short attention spans

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

Happy little Jomon people having a picnic or something.

Happy little Jomon people having a picnic or something.

The Kofun Period 

Fast forward more than 2000 years and…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise of Samurai in Kantō

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edo from the Kamakura Period to the Muromachi Period

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

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

Sengoku Period
i.e.;  ザ・クラスターファック時代

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of the Sengoku Period

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

toyomi_era_osaka_honmaru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who REALLY built Edo Castle?

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

So, um… What Happened to the Edo Clan?

Oh, I almost forgot.

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

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

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

There was one major problem… with the name!

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

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

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

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

The Edo Clan’s Final Disgrace…

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

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Bye bye, Edo Clan.

Bye bye, Edo Clan.

But Wait, There’s More!

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xiii] In present day Setagaya Ward.

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

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

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

[xvii] Mikawa was Ieyasu’s home province.

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

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

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

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

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