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Posts Tagged ‘warehouse’

What does Kuramae mean?

In Japanese History on January 30, 2014 at 5:01 am

蔵前
Kuramae (In Front of the Warehouse)

The only picture of the warehouse I could find.

The only picture of the warehouse I could find.

This is an easy one. Just like the common Japanese word 駅前 ekimae in front of the station, 蔵前 kuramae means in front of the warehouse. “What warehouse” you ask? Why the 浅草御蔵 Asakusa O-kura. An 御蔵 o-kura was shōgunate controlled rice warehouse. This warehouse held 扶持米 fuchimai that came from shōgunate lands[i]. Fuchimai was the rice used to pay the stipends of shōgun’s vassals. The magistrate who over saw the collection, accounting, and distribution of the rice lived here and worked here, as did his officers.

A rice dealer district sprung up on the west side of the warehouse. Since rice was essentially a kind of currency, the area also became famous for money lenders. The proximity to the licensed kabuki theaters and Yoshiwara meant the area tended to be pretty lively with people coming and going. Basically, this was the Edo Period equivalent of going to the ATM on payday and then going out with the guys for a long night of drinking and whoring[ii].

An interesting side note about the rice brokers of Edo, called 札差屋さん fudasashi-ya san in Japanese, is that many of them became filthy, stinking rich as money lenders and “tax accountants” for the samurai class. They would make loans to anyone, but their most cherished clients were daimyō and insolvent samurai families who were becoming increasingly impoverished due to the stagnant Edo Period economy. As a result, these merchants – who for all practical purposes were bankers – enjoyed luxurious lifestyles. They were the taste-makers of the late Edo Period, being able to afford the latest fashions, the newest art, the hottest literature and theater, and of course, the finer pleasures of Yoshiwara. Although not of elite samurai rank, surely they were the envy of the non-elite classes.

In the Meiji Era, the warehouse fell under control of the new government only to be destroyed in the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923. Today nothing remains of the warehouse, but there is a plaque. Although the area was popularly referred to as Kuramae, or more politely O-kuramae, the official place name actually dates from 1934.

So is Kuramae a literal reference to the area directly in front of the warehouse? Probably not. It’s basically a reference to the town of rice brokers, the offices and residences of the magistracy that oversaw the granaries, and the day to day business affiliated with the rice. All of those people and all of that business were “in front of the warehouse.”

The plaque stands on the site of the old warehouse.

The plaque stands on the site of the old warehouse.

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[i] 天領 Tenryō, as I mentioned in my article on Haneda, were lands that didn’t belong to any daimyō and as such fell under control of the shōgunate or 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun family.
[ii] As one does.

Why is Sendai Horigawa called Sendai Horigawa?

In Japanese History on May 16, 2013 at 1:04 am

仙台堀川
Sendai Horigawa (Sendai Canal)

Hydrophilia, baby!!!

Sendai Horigawa Park

One of the most fascinating things about Tōkyō is finding little hints of the great city of Edo still lingering. Sometimes it might be a building. It might be just a plaque. It might just be the layout of the street or the type of shops prevalent in the area. Sometimes, it might just be a place name.

Tonight while randomly looking around a map of 江東区 Kōtō-ku Kōtō Ward, I saw this place name. Given the location, I had a sneaking suspicion about the origin of the name and I decided to research it to see if I was right.

As mentioned before, Sendai Domain had their upper residence in present day Shiodome. If you went north up the coast of Edo Bay, you’d come to Kiba, and just above that to the location of Sendai Domain’s warehouses. This is where goods would be imported from the domain and, naturally, goods purchased in Edo would be sent back. Food stuffs for the domain serving sankin-kōtai duty were also stored here until they were needed.

This isn't Sendai's warehouse, but this is more or less what the area would have looked like in the Edo Period.

This isn’t Sendai’s warehouse, but this is more or less what the area would have looked like in the Edo Period.

Around the time of the 3rd shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, a canal was dug here to increase water routes from the bay area. Sendai, being an extremely large domain, would have had an especially large warehouse facility here right on the canal. Since the Edo Period, many of the old waterways have been filled in or re-routed. Sendai Canal was no different and eventually the area around it was converted into a so-called hydrophilic park.* That is to say, it’s a big ass park with a lot of lakes and streams. I’ve never been there before – actually I’d never even heard of it before – but a Google image search pulled up pictures of a pretty nice looking park and one picture of the emperor.
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* The Japanese word is 親水公園 shinsui kōen. While hydrophilic is usually a chemistry term, the Japanese word means something like “close to water” or “water-friendly” and refers to parks on rivers or lakes that make an effort to focus on the natural beauty of water.

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