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Yamanote Line: Yūraku-chō & Shinbashi

In Japanese History on January 12, 2017 at 1:14 pm

有楽町
Yūraku-chō (literally, “leisure town” but more at “Oda Nobumasu’s town”)
新橋
Shinbashi (literally, “new bridge”)

yurakucho

Yūraku-chō Station shot from within the former castle grounds.

Yūraku-chō

 

The area called Yūraku-chō lies in an area that used be a fortified island between the inner and outer moats of Edo Castle. In fact, the elevated train tracks supported by red brick foundations are built on the reclaimed outer moat of Edo Castle. The palaces of the daimyō most closely aligned with the Tokugawa shōguns were located here and to this day, you can still walk on a road from 数寄屋橋 Sukiyabashi[i] (literally, “tea-house bridge”) to Tōkyō Station on a road that was nicknamed[ii] 大名小路 daimyō koji daimyō alley.

This neighborhood was home to the 南町奉行 minami machi bugyō-sho office of the southern bugyō, a kind of magistrate/governor[iii]. Actually, if you go to the area today, you can see a few remains of the bugyō office. There are some stone walls[iv], plumbing[v], and a cistern[vi] preserved in the basement of the イトシア ITOCiA shopping center[vii].

old-shit

The average Tōkyōite doesn’t realize they’re sitting on an Edo Period plumbing system. One more reason to learn as much about Edo before you visit Tōkyō. Jussayin’.

My Ōsaka readers[viii] may be scratching their heads saying 有楽町 is pronounced Uraku-machi while my Edo peeps are probably saying “Ōsaka people are ridiculous; everyone knows it’s Yūraku-chō.” Both areas are written with the same kanji, and both are attributed to the same individual, a certain 織田信益 Oda Nobumasu, brother of 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga[ix]. Oral tradition maintains that the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, granted him a plot of land for his residence near Sukiyabashi Gate on the banks of the outer moat[x].

Nobumasu became a tea master and used the name 有楽 or 有楽斎 which are Uraku and Uraku-sai respectively[xi]. In the Kansai area – Kyōto and Ōsaka – it retains the Uraku reading. In Kantō, which was admittedly not as cultured as Kyōto at the time, the same characters were read as Yūraku. Which reading is correct? It seems difficult to say because while people in Edo used one reading, and people in Ōsaka used another, Nobumasu himself was native to Owari Province which used a dialect altogether different from those two. However, the reading Yūraku is more prevalent in the modern language, probably because Standard Japanese is essentially the Tōkyō Dialect. However, Uraku is most likely what Nobumasu would have expected to be referred to as.

guardo-shita

Modern Yūraku-chō is partly reasonable shopping district[xii] and partly ガード下 gādo shita drinking town under the tracks of the Yamanote Line and shinkansen. There are great casual dining and drinking establishments in the area with a lingering tinge of post-war Shōwa Period grit. The area is a comfortable middle ground between the sophisticated shopping district of 銀座 Ginza and the salaryman wasteland of 新橋 Shinbashi[xiii].

Further Reading:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some wasted corporate shill in Shinbashi. Love it or hate it. Shit gets real real quick in Shinbashi.

Shinbashi

 

The next station on the Yamanote Line is 新橋 Shinbashi, which literally means “new bridge.” Since I wrote my original article on Shinbashi, I’ve come across more information on the so-called “new bridge” which made what I first said unclear. But without getting into the nitty-gritty, the bridge which appeared on Edo Period maps as シン橋 Shinbashi[xiv] seems to have been an auxiliary bridge or a kind of service entrance to the castle. It wasn’t defended with a 御門 go-mon gate or 見附 mitsuke fortified approach. The area was fortified in the early 1700’s and renamed 芝口御門 Shibaguchi Go-mon Shibaguchi Gate, but the area was lost to a fire about 10 years later and never rebuilt.

After the Meiji Coup, the first station of the first train line in Japan, the Tōkaidō Main Line was built in the bordering area that’s called 汐留 Shiodome today. The station was named 新橋駅 Shinbashi Eki Shinbashi Station. The present day Shinbashi Station area was actually known as 烏森 Karasumori the Crow Forest in the Edo Period and is located a good 5 or 10 minute walk from where the original station sat[xv].

15194635287_26c2204a63_o.jpg

Karasumori Shrine

Shinbashi is a Shōwa Era shitamachi gem in Tōkyō that takes some getting used to. I’ve heard many times from other expats about how much they hate the place. To them it represents old, drunk salarymen drenched in spilt sake and shōchū who reek of cigarette and kitchen smoke stumbling through the streets and pissing down unlit basement stairways before they rudely push their way onto the crowded last train home.

18898562071_531c233f80_o.jpg

Original Shinbashi Station (reconstructed)

Not unsurprisingly, some of the rawest drinking spots in Tōkyō are located here. Like all Shōwa Period towns, it’s far more social than most of the big city. And believe it or not, it’s considered one of the best ナンパスポット nanpa supotto pick up spots for middle aged office workers of both sexes[xvi]. Some of the ママさん mama-san proprietresses of small スナック sunakku local dive bars are known to match-make solo drinkers for the night in hopes of bringing a pair of lonely hearts together… if only for the moment[xvii].

The present-day Shinbashi area was home to the 中屋敷 naka-yashiki middle residence[xviii] of the Date clan from 仙台藩 Sendai Han Sendai Domain, where the wives and children of Date Masamune’s descendants lived.

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[i] Where that sushi restaurant from Jirō Dreams of Sushi is located.
[ii] And still bears the informal name.
[iii] There were actually two machi bugyō in Edo. The minami machi bugyō was located in Yūraku-chō, while the kita machi bugyō, the northern bugyō, was located in Yaesu, near present-day Tōkyō Station.
[iv] Complete with 刻印 kokuin symbols denoting the provenance of the stone work.
[v] Repurposed as benches for shoppers.
[vi] That’s another term for a well.
[vii] Don’t ask me about the capitalization, I didn’t name the place.
[viii] Do I even have any?
[ix] The first (and craziest) of the 3 Great Unifiers of Japan.
[x] That said, the area wasn’t officially referred to as Yūraku-chō until the Meiji Period when the area was disconnected from the castle and redeveloped as civilian.
[xi] The Edo Period equivalent of a DJ name.
[xii] A refreshing alternative to neighboring Ginza, which has long been considered the standard bearer of high fashion and designer brands in Asia.
[xiii] It also melts into Hibiya and Marunouchi. The more I think about it, Yūraku-chō is like a chameleon.
[xiv] The katakana seems to have been used to clarify the reading – the kanji 新橋 could also be read Arabashi.
[xv] Needless to say, by the “original station” I’m referring to the former Shibaguchi area, which is considered the Shiodome area today.
[xvi] Yup, this is an actual thing.
[xvii] And presumably continued patronage to their bars…
[xviii] Not sure what a “middle residence” is? Have no fear, here’s my primer on the Tokugawa shōgunate’s policy of alternate attendance.

Yamanote Line: Tōkyō

In Japanese History on August 3, 2016 at 5:08 am

東京
Tōkyō

tokyo station taisho

Tōkyō Station shortly after its completion

I so just wanna say, we’ve all been there and done that because that would just be easier that repeating myself again and again… After all, my long time readers have all been there and done that. In fact, if anyone knows anything about Japanese history, it’s the fact that the Tōkyō used to be called Edo and the name was changed after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. But if there’s any lesson I’ve learned from Kevin Smith[i] and from the resurrection of the Star Wars franchise[ii], it’s this: When you’re constantly writing about the same topic, you have to be remember that even though you have long time readers, it’s always someone’s first time to learn some of these things. If someone finds this blog post 2 years from now, it could still be their first time to learn anything about the subject.

And that’s where my job gets a bit tricky[iii]. I have to keep things interesting for everyone – longtime readers and first time readers. Hoping to keep everyone happy, especially the longtime readers who probably already know most of this story.

Well, anyways, enough of that. Today, we’re going to cover the Tōkyō Station area.

TOKYO STATION 100 YEARS

Tōkyō Station during its 100 year anniversary jubilee.

Tōkyō Station Area?

Yes. Tōkyō Station is a place, but I don’t think of it as just a station. It’s also the name of the city in general, a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked. This “area” is smack dab in the center of Edo-Tōkyō and it’s kind of one of the oldest developed parts of the city. And while it’s definitely a major hub station, the area itself represents so much more.

The station faces a wide open boulevard that has an Edo Period nickname, 大名小路 Daimyō Koji Daimyō Alley. This thoroughfare bisected an island located between the inner moat and outer moat of Edo Castle[iv]. On this fortified island sat the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residences of some of the feudal lords with the closest connections to the Tokugawa shōguns who lived within the inner moat. The area was 丸之内 maru no uchi inside the citadel[v]. It wasn’t just elite because of all of the daimyō living here with direct access to the shōgun that made this neighborhood unique; it was also its location. The north side of Daimyō Alley was located near the 大手見附御門 Ōte-mitsuke Go-mon Main Gate of the western citadel[vi], essentially the main entrance to the shōgun’s castle[vii].

Directly accessible from Tōkyō Station or accessible on foot if you care to walk 10-15 minutes are a plethora of famous spots:

  • Marunouchi – a financial and banking district; it was formerly a daimyō neighborhood and includes Daimyō Alley (you can walk Daimyō Alley from Yūraku-chō to Taira no Masakado’s Kubizuka).
  • Ōtemachi – a business/financial district; the name refers to the Ōtemon (main gate) of Edo Castle.
  • Sukiyabashi – a shopping district/salaryman nightlife district between Ginza and Marunouchi; tradition says it refers to a tea ceremony instructor of the upper echelons of the daimyō class[viii].
  • Masakado Kubizuka – a haunted tomb dedicated to the head of Taira no Masakado, a symbol of eastern independence from the imperial court in Kyōto.
  • Anjin Street – the last remaining direct reference in Tōkyō to the English samurai William Adams (三浦按針 Miura Anjin in Japanese). He was a close advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu, though to increasingly lesser degrees to the 2nd and 3rd shōguns who were increasingly distrustful of foreign influences on their hegemony.
  • Yaesu – a reference to William Adam’s associate who was given samurai status but was soon forbidden access to the shōgun because he was apparently a drunk twat of the highest order.
  • Daimyō Koji – Daimyō Alley is actually still referenced on some modern maps, but it’s not an official street name.
tokyo construction

Tōkyō Station under construction

Of all the Stations in Tōkyō, Why is this one called Tōkyō?

In 1914 (Taishō 3), this was the largest and most monumental train station in the East. Architecturally, it was more European than American, but in comparison to both modes of thinking, it wasn’t just hub station for Tōkyō, it was a hub station for the new imperial state. It was designed to ensure that Tōkyō was the capital of Asia and had the infrastructure to prove it. In a move the shōgunate would have never tolerated, the station was built on the then fallow yamanote lands confiscated years ago by the imperial government (that were later purchased by the Mitsubishi Corporation) – land that once stood at the front door of Edo Castle[ix].

Long time readers may remember some of the earliest major stations in Tōkyō. The stations that stick out in my mind are Shinbashi, Shinagawa, and Ueno. These stations had all been built in the very early years of the Meiji Period and any of them could have been expanded to become the main station for the city. They were getting a lot of traffic for sure. The problem was that construction would have interrupted traffic for years. Not including the delays cause by the Russo-Japanese War, the actual construction took about 6 years. It was better to leave the other stations alone and build a grand new hub in the former daimyō lands that connected the 東海道本線 Tōkaidō Honsen Tōkaidō Main Line with the north-south running 東北線 Tōhoku-sen Tōhoku Line[x] while giving direct access areas of the former Edo Castle that were slowly being opened up to the public, sold off to real estate developers, or repurposed by governmental agencies of the Japanese Empire. In short, the station was central[xi], it linked important existing lines, and showcased the city as capital equal to the capitals of Europe and the United States[xii]. That’s a station worthy of the name “Tōkyō Station.”

The station took a bit of a hit in the 1923 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake, but it suffered serious damage in the firebombing at the end of WWII. The original building was 3 stories, but 3rd floors of the north and south wings weren’t rebuilt. Although it was repaired and train service was greatly expanded between 1945 and 2000, the station remained a shadow of its former glory until the Bubble Economy. The station was slated for demolition, but an effort to preserve the station as an historical landmark saved the brick monstrosity it had become. From that time on, more and more people became interested in the revitalization of the station and the Marunouchi area in general. Recently, the 3rd floors of the north and south wings have been rebuilt and the temporary triangle shaped rooftops were replaced with domes in accordance with the original design.

View of Tokyo Station in 2000, before renovation work

Tōkyō Station in 2000, before the most recent renovations. Note the north and south wings are only 2 stories. Both wings and the central atrium have cheesy angular roofs rather than elegant domes.

 

When I first visited Japan, some 15 years ago or so, the station looked like ass. However, today it is actually quite impressive. There are a lot of skyscrapers towering over it that detract from its original Taishō Period glory – and the fact that at the time of writing, the main approach to the station is undergoing redevelopment, doesn’t help – but if you spend a little time checking out the exterior of the building, you can clearly see the new bricks and the old bricks. When I see the restored Tōkyō Station, I’m struck by the amazing history of the area. Standing in this area – former holdings of feudal lords, a few minutes’ walk from Edo Castle – a flood of thoughts come to me. I think of Ōta Dōkan. I think of the Tokugawa Shōguns. I think of the Meiji Restoration. I think of the quirky Taishō Era that ended amid recovery from the Great Kantō Earfquake. I think of the rise of ups and downs and subsequent ups of the Shōwa Period. This area, while it looks like a central business district built around a huge garden where the emperor lives, is actually one of the most profound historical areas in Japan. Sadly, most of it doesn’t exist anymore, but Tōkyō Station is most definitely there linking the past with the present.

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[i] Writer, filmmaker, podcaster, professional geek, and a bit of an inspiration to me: Kevin Smith.
[ii] Star Wars: the Force Awakens was Mrs. JapanThis!’s first exposure to the Star Wars universe. I tried to get her to watch the originals but she wasn’t down with it at all. The Force Awakens changed everything.
[iii] That’s metaphorical. This isn’t my job. I write this for free and cross my fingers that one or two of you might decide to donate a dollar or two each month. Fingers crossed!
[iv] The outer moat was filled in after WWII and is now a major thoroughfare called 外堀通り Sotobori Dōri Outer Moat Street, despite not a drop of water in sight.
[v] 丸 maru, which literally means “circle” but in military use means “enclosure” or “encincture,” referred to a variety of fortified enclosures within the walls or moats of a Japanese castle – ie; a “citadel.” In the Edo Period, the 本丸 honmaru main enclosure usually referred to encincture that protected the living quarters of the shōgun or a daimyō (though technically speaking, this was the most secure and final defensive position, so it could also refer to a position a warlord could retreat to and try to hold out or commit seppuku before being overtaken).
[vi] That name is the formal Edo Period parlance; today the gate is just called 大手門 Ōtemon the main gate.
[vii] For you nerdy nerds, Daimyō Alley now stretches from 数寄屋橋 Sukiyabashi (the legendary home of Oda Nobunaga’s younger brother who was a tea ceremony instructor to daimyō; and 数寄屋 sukiya means a kind of tea room) to the 将門塚 Masakado-zuka burial mound of Taira no Masakado’s Head – something I talked about in this unrelated article.
[viii] A 数寄屋 sukiya is tea house for practicing tea ceremony.
[ix] Or as the imperial court liked to call it 東京城 Tōkyō-jō or Teikyō-jō Tōkyō Castle. But until the end of the war, it was usually called the 宮城 Kyūjō Imperial Castle. During the American Occupation, this title was eliminated because the first kanji has religious implications, especially to Shintō and the divine ancestors of the emperor. So it was decided that 皇居 the place where the emperor lives, was best.
[x] This train line wasn’t called the Tōhoku Line until the early 1900’s. Previous to that, these sections of track were part of a network built and operated by 日本鉄道 Nippon Tetsudō Nippon Railways.
[xi] The original proposed name was actually the 中央停車場 Chūō Teishajō Central Depot. The name 東京駅 Tōkyō Eki Tōkyō Station was chosen 2 weeks before the opening of the new station.
[xii] And superior to the capitals of Asia which were just a mess in their opinion – or they’d like you to think so.

Yamanote Line: Takadanobaba, Meijiro, & Ikebukuro

In Japanese History on May 24, 2016 at 3:10 am

高田馬場
Takada no Baba

untitled

Grave of Chā no Tsubone, concubine of Tokugawa Ieyasu, often referred to as Lady Takada.

Takada no Baba, or “Takadanobaba” as JR East likes to write it, was a quiet village called 戸塚村 Totsuka Mura Totsuka Village in the Edo Period. While this area was rustic (or suburban at best) at that time, today it’s a buzzing party town that caters to the students of 早稲田大学 Waseda Daigaku Waseda University[i]. As soon as you exit the station, you’ll find a sea of 居酒屋 izakaya Japanese style pubs and restaurants. But just a heads up about drinking in Takada no Baba: These are university students – most of them are lightweights under pressure to overdrink by their peers and 先輩 senpai upper-classmates. They can be loud. They can be obnoxious. They can be oblivious to everything because… they’re lightweights. They stumble around like zombies on the weekend. They pass out on the floors of restaurants. They walk zig-zag and side-puke on the street. They’re basically Japanese salarymen in training. It ain’t pretty.

waseda party school.jpg

Takadanobaba (or just Baba, as locals call it) in a nutshell.

The name Takada no Baba means “Horse Grounds of Takada Domain.” In the Edo Period, a 馬場 baba horse grounds was a spot, usually a long rectangular shaped spot, for practicing horsemanship and mounted martial arts. While mounted attacks with swords on bound bales of hay was one sort of training, the most interesting practice was a martial art called 流鏑馬 yabusame. This is mounted archery and it looks fucking bad ass. If you are in Japan and have a chance to watch yabusame, I highly recommend it.

As I mentioned earlier, the area was called Totsuka and that was the original name for the station, but it was rejected in favor of the more noble sounding Takada no Baba. Takada no Baba conjured up an image of the area’s connection with the daimyō and samurai class in general – a decidedly 山手 yamanote high city connotation. However, the location of the old horse grounds is not in the immediate station area. The city blocks preserve the shape of the horse grounds and can be found in 戸塚一丁目 Tostuska Icchōme 1st block of Totsuka near 甘泉園公園 Kansen’en Kōen Kansen’en Park, which was part of the 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence of the 清水家 Shimizu-ke Shimizu Clan of Satsuma Domain.

TAKADA NO BABA no BABA.jpg

If you compare the Edo Period maps with a modern map, you can see that the the shape of the horse grounds ⑦ is completely intact. I dare say the Shimizu compound (located to the right of the baba) is still intact. This is what I looooooove about Tōkyō!!! Edo is still here when you know what you’re looking at.

Long time readers may be scratching their heads. Why was Satsuma Domain’s lower residence located next to a horse ground named after Takada Domain (which was located in present day Niigata)? It’s purely coincidence. According to legend, the horse grounds were established in 1636 by the 3rd shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu to honor 茶阿局 Chā no Tsubone, the mother of 1st shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu’s 6th son. She either loved the area for relaxing in nature or she was a fan of mounted archery (probably the latter). When her and Ieyasu’s son became the daimyō of Takada Domain, she came to be addressed as 高田殿 Takada-dono Lady Takada[ii]. If this theory is correct, and it seems to make sense, the real meaning of the name Takada no Baba is something like the Chā no Tsubone (ie; Lady Takada) Memorial Horse Grounds.

Additional Reading:

rich assholes in tokyo.jpg

While most of Tokyo lives in economy class, the 1% live in Mejiro

目白
Mejiro

MEJIRO TEMPLE

Mejiro means “white eyes” as is commonly thought to be a reference to a Buddhist statue housed at 金乗院 Konjō-in, a nearby temple. The statue has white eyes, but this most definitely a reflection of the place name, not the origin of the place name. In my original article, I went into the etymology pretty thoroughly and so I only have a few things to say about the area today.

Honestly, I haven’t spent any time in Mejiro. In fact, if I ever went there, I really don’t remember. It’s an upscale, residential neighborhood and my image of the area is that if you don’t live there, there’s not much reason to go there. The station only has a single exit – a rare attribute for a train on the Yamanote Line.

aso taro can't read kanji.jpg

Think kanji is difficult? So does this guy… and he became Prime Minister!

The area is home to 学習院大学 Gakushūin Daigaku Gakushuin University, arguably the snobbiest university in Japan. Members of the imperial family, descendants of the former Tokugawa shōgun family, and 宮崎駿 Miyazaki Hayao grace their illustrious list of graduates. Then again, certified nutjobs like 三島由紀夫 Mishima Yukio, 麻生太郎 Asō Tarō, and 小野洋子 Ono Yōko also went here. Pedigree and wealth is the name of the game here. The lower residence of the Owari Tokugawa[iii] was located in this area has been converted into a planned community that takes advantage of the traditional aspects of the old 山手 yamanote high city. There’s a lot of greenery and privacy. Land ownership is encouraged[iv] over renting/buying high rise apartments in order to protect property values and give the residents a sense of security, tranquility, and – let’s face it – isolation.

Mejiro seems like the sorta place I’d like to walk through the streets just getting drunk and rowdy, yelling at people, doing coke, smoking cigarettes, pissing on buildings, and humping trees and cars just to make people feel uncomfortable[v]. Punk’s not dead.

Additional Reading:

ikiebukuro piss.png

Dude passed out shoes off in the foreground. Pay no attention to the old guy pissing on his own luggage in the background. This is Ikebukuro.

池袋
Ikebukuro

Today, we’ll finish with Ikebukuro.

God, where do I start? First keep in mind that the word 山手 yamanote means high city and used to refer to elite, high ground where samurai and feudal lords lived. But the meaning eventually came to mean areas west of the outer moat of the Imperial Palace (former Edo Castle). This shift in meaning pretty much rendered the terms yamanote and 下町 shitamachi low city (commoner districts) meaningless in many cases. On the surface, Ikebukuro seems to be living proof of this. But yeah, Ikebukuro has always been a lowland area, both geographically and metaphorically.

IWGP

Scene from an old drama called Ikebukuro West Gate Park.

Ikebukuro is essentially the Armpit of Tōkyō. A lot of people say Minami Senju is the Armpit, but at least Minami Senju has some deep history. Ikebukuro is crowded, smells awful, and excels at sucking. The area was countryside until the 1950’s and for history nerds, there’s no reason to visit this place that I can think of. The name Ikebukuro literally means “pond bag” but is actually a reference to the land between 2 bodies of water. This area was essentially a marsh or wetland and the original village built in the area was called 池袋村 Ikebukuro Mura Ikebukuro Village – the village between 2 lakes (probably used for rice farming).

埼玉 池袋 ださい

Stay classy, Ikebukuro.

Being a wetlands area, for a long time I thought that the only reason Ikebukuro was on the Yamanote Line was because it connects 新宿 Shinjuku and 大塚 Ōtsuka, which were both home to 下屋敷 shimo-yashiki palatial “lower residences” of daimyō. But upon closer inspection, it seems there was a concentration of 武家屋敷 buke yashiki samurai residences in the area. Even though it was rural and marshy, the presence of samurai families in a location west of Edo Castle qualify parts of Ikebukuro as yamanote in both the Edo Period and modern day definitions. But strictly speaking this area was not part of the shōgun’s capital. This would have been 武蔵国豊嶋郡 Musashi no Kuni Toshima-gun Toshima District, Musashi Province and it was pretty much rural until recently.

districts of Musashi Province

Districts of Musashi Province. Toshima District is the gray one on the northwestern most portion of Edo-Tōkyō Bay.

As I mentioned in the introductory article of this series, the Yamanote Line evolved out of an original train line connecting Shinagawa and Akabane (on the border of Tōkyō Metropolis and Saitama Prefecture).

In the 1950’s, to avoid overcrowding in central Tōkyō, the so-called 都心 toshin city center, development began in several 副都心 fuku-toshin sub-centers. Ikebukuro was one of these and later, so was 大宮 Ōmiya in Saitama. 2 trains provide direct access from Ōmiya to Ikebukuro which means it’s really easy for rural Saitama-folk to get access to the capital. Since the Bubble Years, Ikebukuro has come to be associated with Saitama. That is to say, Tōkyōites generally don’t have a good impression of Ikebukuro. The reason is simple: Saitama is to Tōkyō what New Jersey is to New York.

sunshine titty ikebukuro

Sunshine City is a multi-building shopping/entertainment complex built on the remains of Sugamo Prison (where WWII war criminals were kept). To my knowledge, nothing of the prison remains.

Sunshine City is the area’s main claim to fame. It’s a large shopping development that is one of the most architecturally bland structures in Tōkyō. It features, I dunno, a half-assed aquarium, a half-assed planetarium, and a half-assed museum of Ancient Asian History[vi]. There’s an observation deck where, on a clear day, you can take a picture of the boring, dirty, and smelly shopping area called Ikebukuro. Amazing, huh?

To Read About the Place’s Boring Etymology:

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[i] Waseda is a fairly prestigious school in Japan, but gained the image of a party school when it was rocked by a scandal in the early 2000’s. A student club was organizing huge parties executing coordinated rapes and gang rapes female attendees. Luckily, some of the organizers and participants were arrested and jailed, but who knows how many people got off free or how many other victims there are that have never come forward? It’s pretty fucking disgusting.
[ii] This is a reflection of a linguistic taboo in Pre-Modern Japan about referring directly to a person by name. This taboo is still evidenced in modern Japanese culture by a tendency to avoid words like “you” when referring to people you’re not close with. Names are OK with honorific suffixes like ~さん -san or ~さま -sama, but sometimes even the polite あなた anata you is avoided. Calling her Chā or even Chā no Tsubone (which is a title) would have been presumptuous.
[iii] Does Nagoya Castle ring a bell?
[iv] A very costly option in Tōkyō.
[v] For the record, while I do enjoy a drink now and then, I absolutely HATE smoking and I don’t do coke. In fact, I rarely even drink Coca-Cola, lololol. I prefer tea, thank you very much.
[vi] OK, full disclosure. I’ve never seen the aquarium, planetarium, or museum, but they sound a little lame. If you’ve been, let me know your impressions in the comments section.

Yamanote Line: Shibuya

In Japanese History on May 9, 2016 at 5:56 am

渋谷
Shibuya

shibuya river

The Shibuya River. It smells as good as it looks.

I don’t really have a lot to say about Shibuya because… you should just experience Shibuya on your own terms if you’re interested in it[i]. But if you ask a native New Yorker what they think of Times Square, you’ll probably get a similar response from a native Tōkyōite about Shibuya. Not exactly the same, but close in many ways.

shibuya crossing

Just by coincidence, between today’s article and my last article about exploring Tōkyō via the Yamanote Line, a discussion was raised on the Twitter account @BeingTokyo[ii] about the most overrated and underrated places in Tōkyō. Shibuya seemed to come up as the most overrated.

And while now I kind of agree with that as an 11 year resident of the greatest city in the world, I’m not ready to flush the area down the toilet and be done with it.

However, before we get into my opinions about Shibuya, I just have to say that when I first visited Tōkyō, Shibuya was one of my favorite 3 places here[iii]. But as the foundation of JapanThis! is built on history and linguistics, if that’s your thing, dear reader, there’s not much tangible history going on in the area. Shibuya’s charms and whatever the opposite of “charms” is lie in other areas – which we will explore as we get off the Yamanote Line at Shibuya Station and prepare to take a look at this infamous neighborhood.

Oh, and before we get too deep, I’d like say that Shibuya has the same problem Meguro had in the previous article. That is, there’s a 渋谷駅 Shibuya Eki Shibuya Station (our topic today) and a much larger 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku Shibuya Ward. I’m gonna try to confine most of this article to the Shibuya Station area.

Aaaaand… Cuz We’ve Been There and Done That:

shibuya night

Intense!

Yes, the first time you experience the 渋谷交差点 Shibuya Kōsaten Shibuya Crossing[iv] will be intense. It’s probably the busiest intersection in the world! Shibuya Station is certainly up there as one of the busiest train stations in the world, so this is to be expected.

A walk across the street from the ハチ公出口 Hachikō Deguchi Hachikō Exit to センター街 Sentā-gai Center Street is par for the course the first time you visit Japan. Everyone does it and you should too. Go ahead, take pictures and videos to blow your friends’ minds (but keep in mind, Tōkyōites and longtime expats will look at you like you’re an FOB newbie buffoon, but it’s OK, you definitely will impress your friends and family). Knock yourself out. Just try not to get in the way of the other people getting in your way.

Oh yeah, and the mall called Shibuya 109? It’s pretty iconic.  When Shibuya was ruled by ギャル gyaru gals[v], this place was the epicenter of a kind of subculture generally described by Japanese girls as めっちゃやばい meccha yabai totally off the hook.

Today, it could be argued that Shibuya has lost some of its fashion mojo. As the once outlandish style of the gyaru has slowly seeped into the mainstream in diluted form over the years, the area is different. Extreme gyaru have come to be seen as ヤンキー yankī rebellious country girls who were late getting onboard – the Japanese equivalent of having a mullet after 1986 or so. It should be noted that gyaru style is still a very popular image in Japanese porn and the Japanese sex industry. I don’t know if this is nationwide or just a Tōkyō thing. It could just be a Kabukichō esthetic that refuses to die. Sorry, I try to keep up with these things, but as a married dude I just don’t know.

st_bladerunner_f.jpg

Blade Runner

Now, don’t get me wrong. Shibuya hasn’t become obscure or anything and maybe I’ve just gotten old and outgrown the area, but I used to love it!

I remember the first time I exited Shibuya Station. It was night and Shibuya Crossing was a complete and total sensory overload. I felt like I’d stepped into Blade Runner or something. Not only were the big screens and sounds intense, the sheer crowdedness and raw energy of the area was exciting beyond belief. Thinking I was the only person to ever have the idea, I took pictures of the crowds crossing the intersection and emailed them back to my family in the States. This was 2003 or something – before smartphones, but Japanese flip phones were still years ahead of the average phone and… dammit, I was visiting the future!

Screen-Shot-2015-07-27-at-10.24.45-AM.png

Not only Blade Runner, but the shitty Star Wars prequels also borrowed from Shibuya’s iconic look.

Since I’d come to Japan to perform[vi], I met the promoters and organizers who brought me over and they were all so cool and friendly and I loved the clubs and record stores they took me to. Oh, and the fashion! At that time there were still コギャル kogyaru and 顔黒ギャル ganguro[vii]. They had dark tans, blonde hair, and the shortest mini-skirts ever. Even the 山姥 yamanba gyaru[viii] ran the gamut from trashy to glam. I was younger and even though I’d seen pictures of these Japanese girls with crazy fashion, everything about Japan was new to me at that time and actually seeing the real deal was intense. So yeah, Shibuya was fucking awesome!

kogyaru

Ganguro kogyaru. Ganguro means “black face” and is a reference to the tan skin. Kogyaru means “high school gyaru.” Gyaru is a Japanization of “gal” (girl).

Today, and again, this could just be me being an old fart, it’s just crowded. The fashion isn’t as bold and crazy as it used to be. There are foreigners all over the place taking the obligatory shots/videos of the Shibuya Crossing area – the same shot I thought I was original about but wasn’t; except now, half of that sea of people are carrying selfie sticks and smartphones. It’s just… crowded. Listen to me… I really am an old fart, aren’t I?

If you’re interested in the dimming vibrancy of Harajuku and Shibuya:

shibuya station hachiko exiy.jpg

Shibuya Station’s Hachikō Exit

What Can You Do in Shibuya Today?

You can change trains.

And after your obligatory first visit, this is by far your best bet. Suffer the shit station that Shibuya Station has become[x] and get on other trains. That’s the best the station is good for. The sad thing is that even as a hub station, Shibuya Station is kinda crap. It’s not as crap as Shinjuku Station, but… yeah… it’s super crowded and super chaotic and has just gotten worse over the years.

module

Me, playing at Module (another club in Shibuya) years ago. The t-shirt is from a night my friends did at another Shibuya club.

Clubbing

Unless you’re in the fashion industry or the music industry, Shibuya is basically just for shopping, honestly. Shopping and eating. However, there are a few famous clubs there – some are really good and some are really cheesy[xi]. For example, Womb is one of the longest running dance music institutions in Tōkyō. Like any club, you have to check the schedule to see who’s spinning, but its status as a major club in the city intersected with a special time in Tōkyō clubbing history. It’s generally considered part of the Trifecta of Tōkyō that actually played underground music and featured international talent on the regular: Maniac Love, Yellow, and Womb. I’m basically 9 years out of the loop, but back in the day Shibuya was the center of House Music in Japan and Womb is pretty much all that remains of that era without including smaller operations.

nakatayasutaka.jpg

Nakata Yasutaka, producer extraordinaire

A Musical Tangent

Shibuya was such an epicenter of music that in the 1990’s and lasting well into the early 2000’s, a very vaguely defined, broad genre[xii] of music called 渋谷系 Shibuya-kei Shibuya Style flourished. It was influenced by… god, I dunno, J-Pop, disco, Chicago House, and lounge music. A certain Pizzicato 5 and Capsule emerged from this scene. Capsule was the personal project of an up and coming producer named 中田ヤスタカ Nakata Yasutaka whose sound became increasingly electronic and techno-influenced. While Capsule is his still his main project in name, he’s most famous for developing such acts as Perfume, Meg, Kyari Pamyu Pamyu, and the melody they play when the shinkansen arrives at 金沢駅 Kanazawa Eki Kanazawa Station, which is his hometown.

Famous Things in Shibuya

shibuya crowded.png

The Crowds

Shibuya Station has about 2.4 million passengers a day, making it one of the busiest stations in the world. Most of my readers live in cities with train service that that never comes close to that. Hell, most of my readers live in cities without train service.

hachiko.JPG

The Dog

The story of ハチ公 Hachikō is pretty well known outside of Japan now. If you want to know the dog’s story, you can read it here. For the etymology/linguistics nerds who read JapanThis!, let me break down his name. The dog, often called 忠犬ハチ公 Chūken Hachikō Loyal Hachikō in Japanese, wasn’t named Hachikō. His name was ハチ Hachi which just means 8 and is presumably a reference to his number in the litter in which he was born. ~ is an obsolete honorific suffix. It’s similar to ~さんsan or ~sama but was reserved for the most elite male members of society. When you visit shrines like 東照宮 Tōshō-gū which is dedicated to the first Edo Shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, you may see his name written as 徳川家康公 Tokugawa Ieyasu-kō which is something like Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu. With the abolition of the samurai cast, certain linguistic trappings of the feudal period disappeared from common parlance. –Ko came to be used in a joking and friendly manner with pets. Just as a good friend who never uses honorifics with you (because you’re close), may jokingly apply –san or –sama to your name, people do this with pets today. I have a friend with a cat named Momiji. She sometimes affectionately refers to Momiji as Momiji-san or Momiji-sama. In this same way, Hachi was affectionately referred to as Hachi-kō. I guess that’s something like Lord Hachi or His Lordship Sir Hachi of the Vale[xiii].

nonbei yokocho

Shopping

Because Shibuya blew up during the Bubble Economy, it’s basically a shopping and party district. It’s a place to spend money and have a good time. Restaurants, department stores, newly developed malls, and masses of annoying people are par for the course.

However, famous among Tōkyōites, のんべい横丁 Nonbei Yokochō Drunkard Side Street, is one of the few remaining areas in central Tōkyō that preserves the feeling of the Shōwa Period. This atmosphere is a direct descendent of the commoner districts of the Edo Period. This website has some great photos. Most of the shops seat something like 5-10 people max and some have menus you can’t choose from. The best whale bacon I ever had was at a shop I visited here in 2003. Just amazing.You should not miss it.

technique.jpg

Technique

Technique is one of Tōkyō’s – no, scratch that[xiv] – one of Japan’s greatest record stores. If you love house or techno, this store caters to all your vinyl needs. The selection of vinyl is fastidiously curated and frequented by many of Tōkyō’s most active underground DJ’s. If you buy something there, tell them Marky Star of OMNI A.M. sent you. It might bring a smile to their faces[xv].

shibuya 108

Shibuya 109 is so iconic that it commonly appears in manga and anime. In the opening credits of the 2nd season of 地獄少女 (Jigoku Shōjo – Hell Girl), it appeared under a slightly modified name as 108.

Shibuya 109

Although the big sign says SHIBUYA 109 it’s really just called ichi maru kyū which means 109.

This was ground zero for gyaru culture back in the day. It’s still popular with fashionable high school and university girls. Because the original gyaru were kind of rebels, they were also sexually rebellious.  As such, the Shibuya Crossing used to be (and may still be) a famous spot for ナンパ nanpa hitting on girls. I say “it may still be,” but I think online options have made “street nanpa” a thing of the past. Some people I’ve spoken with have told me that the only girls who get picked up on the street these days are 田舎者 inakamono hicks who moved to Tōkyō.

Is the street in front of Shibuya 109 the best place to find a random hook up? I don’t know. I have no idea. I know it used to have that reputation[xvi], but I think these days, the whole “nanpa” thing has been shifting away from “street nanpa” to “online nanpa.” That said, if you head up 道玄坂 Dōgenzaka Dōgen Hill you’ll come to an area with a thriving sex industry and most notably the collection of love hotels infamously known in English as “Love Hotel Hill.”

fukubukuro trade

During the first sale of the new year, Japanese stores clear out last year’s merchandise in randomized grab bags called 福袋 (fukubukuro – lucky bags). After the fukubukuro event at 109 (akin to a non-violent version of Black Friday), the girls all stand in the street exchanging sizes and colors all morning long.

hikarie.jpg

In the vast ocean of shopping malls that is Tokyo, what’s one more?

Shibuya Hikarie

So, look, I’ve been done with Shibuya for years. I just don’t want to go there. I don’t give a fuck about it because it used to be exciting but now it’s as boring as Ikebukuro, which is a total shithole. But in 2012 a massive retail development was completed called Shibuya Hikarie. Like Shibuya 109, it’s essentially a mall in a somewhat unique shape. I’ve never been there, but the managing company’s website actually uses the word synergy – and they were serious.

Shibuya Hikarie is essentially a mall in denial. It markets itself as some lifestyle changing force in the universe, but it is, in fact a mall, just like any other mall – and probably less unique than Tōkyō’s more expansive retail developments in Roppongi. And they actually used the word “synergy” seriously lol.

thumper.jpg

Dear whomever created this meme at (ehem) memegasms.com, It’s “then” not “than.” English. Do you speak it?

And before everyone craps on me for crapping on Shibuya, I will say that I have had a lot of memorable, life changing experiences in Shibuya. While most of them were during my first visit to Japan which compelled me to move to Tōkyō in the first place, one night in particular comes to mind. The first time I met Mrs. JapanThis face to face was in Shibuya to eat 焼肉 yaki niku. I have tons of other great memories of crazy parties and stories I could never repeat here[xvii] and they all happened in Shibuya. But as you’ve probably noticed, there hasn’t been a lot of history up in this bitch yet.

flatulent historian.jpg

Don’t Worry. Shibuya is not Culturally Vapid

Off the top of my head, there are two cool cultural things you can do in Shibuya.

bunkamura.jpg

Bunkamura

The building called 文化村 Bunkamura literally means “culture village” and is essentially a museum/arts center.

They put on art shows of varying quality. My image is that it’s focused on the performing arts, but admittedly, I’ve only been once or twice. From time to time they do have decent exhibitions, so check the website first. Also, there was a time when none of this was available in English, but it looks like their website is totally English-friendly now.

shaden.jpg

Konnō Hachiman Shrine and the Ruins of Shibuya Castle

Don’t get your history nerd hopes up too high. 金王八幡宮 Konnō Hachiman-gū Konnō Hachiman Shrine is really all you can see here. Well, that and the elevation of the terrain.

This shrine once sat on the grounds of 渋谷城 Shibuya-jō Shibuya Castle. Don’t imagine a beautiful white castle like Himeji Castle[xviii]. Imagine a sprawling fort on a plateau protecting the residence of a local strongman. In this case, the warlords in question were the Shibuya clan[xix] who made the hill their home in the Heian Period.

Nothing of the Shibuya “Castle” remains except for this shrine dedicated to 八幡 Hachiman, the Japanese god of war. This god was the 守護神 shūgoshin tutelary kami (tutelary spirit) of the Minamoto clan which rose to power and established the first 幕府 bakufu shōgunate in Kamakura in 1192. The Shibuya supported the Minamoto in their rise to power, so this shrine may be a tip of the hat to their benefactors in Kamakura. The site was destroyed in 1524, but there’s a single stone on the shrine grounds that the priests claim is a remnant of the original fortifications of Shibuya “Castle.” I’m not sure how anyone could prove or disprove this claim, but for what it’s worth, yeah, there’s a rock.

shibuya castle.jpg

Shibuya “Castle” in all its glory. And yes, it may very well be made of mashed potatoes or Play-doh.

Oh, and one piece of trivia for you. Until massive redevelopment in the 50’s, Center Street was a small river called the 宇田川 Udagawa Udagawa River, hence that area is still called 宇田川町 Udagawa-chō Udagawa Town today.

In conclusion, visit Shibuya Crossing. Experience Hachikō Exit once. Walk down Center Street once. Go to Shibuya 109 once. Absorb it. Do it at day time or do it at night time. Then get the fuck out of there.

This is the same advice I’d give you about Roppongi or Shinjuku.

My original article on Shibuya:

 

 

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[i] Long time readers know that “I don’t have a lot to say about x” is code for “this is going to be a long article.”
[ii] What is @BeingTokyo? It’s a rocur account on Twitter. What the hell does rocur mean? I had to ask too, so don’t feel bad. RoCur is an abbreviation of “rotating curation” or “rotating curator.” Basically, the account is owned (“curated”) by a rotating (or ever-changing) line up of hosts. In the case of @BeingTokyo, the curators change every week. The account ranges from super-hysterical, to really interesting & insightful, to insipid, to occasionally irritating to the point of wanting to smash your phone. In short, it spans the whole perspective of foreigners and foreign-friendly English-capable Japanese living in Tōkyō.
[iii] First favorites were Uguisudani and Ueno.
[iv] Usually referred to as 渋谷スクランブル Shibuya Sukuranburu Shibuya Scramble.
[v] A fashion movement from the late 80’s to early 2000’s that still exist in the mainstream as standard fashion, but in the sex industry still exists as an イメージ imēji “image fantasy.”
[vi] Longtime readers know what this means. If you just found the blog, the reason for the crazy name Marky Star is because I was a DJ and producer (mostly producer, I’ll be honest) of dance music. Don’t believe me?
[vii] There were many types of gyaru. Here’s a list of types of gyaru.
[viii] “What’s a yamanba gyaru?” you ask… Yes, this was a real thing.
[ix] Most of what she says is true in regards to everyday girls in Tōkyō. However, many people in Tōkyō are from the countryside, especially young people. There is still a large contingent of girls in 歌舞伎町 Kabukichō working in the 水商売 mizu shōbai “entertainment industry” and in 風俗 fūzoku the sex industry who maintain some of these looks. If you move out of Tōkyō to towns with thriving sex industries, for example 横浜 Yokohama, 沼津 Numazu, or 大宮 Ōmiya, you’ll find the classic ヤンキーJK yankī  JK “bad high school girls” are very much still alive and well in real life and in “fantasy image.” To the best of my knowledge, most of these girls are university aged girls (not necessarily students) who roleplay this look to appeal to mid-career salarymen who always had a fantasy of getting with an exotic “bad girl” – something they never had the chance to do while young or couldn’t do outside of the privacy of the sex industry.
[x] There are other shit stations in Tōkyō. I’m looking at you, Shinjuku Station.
[xi] Which is a topic for another time. As a former DJ, I have strong opinions on the matter that probably don’t interest the average reader of JapanThis!.
[xii] And I use the term “genre” very loosely, it was more of a scene than a style.
[xiii] OK, I made up that reference to the Vale. Game of Thrones season 6 just started, so sue me. Interestingly, in Japanese, superiors are not required to use honorifics to their juniors. However, when they get angry, superiors often resort to using honorifics to their subordinates. The psychological effect is that junior is placed in an awkward and humiliating position where their superior implies that some shame has befallen them as a result of the junior’s mistakes. It’s for this same reason that feudal honorific terms like 貴様 kisama your nobleness and お前 o-mae honorable sir (both roundabout ways of saying “you”) have become potentially insulting ways to say “you” in Modern Japanese. O-mae requires a very close relationship, whereas kisama is pretty much a good way to start a fight. In the same way, the suffix – is used in racist epithets. For example, アメ公 ame-kō means “fucking American.” Not that words like this are thrown around much these days, mind you.
[xiv] See what I did there?
[xv] Or they may scratch their heads thinking, “haven’t heard that name in a loooooong time.”
[xvi] And I have heard some stories from my friends and exes lol. Legendary shit.
[xvii] At least not without some serious blowback lol.
[xviii] Himeji Castle and other Japanese castles that you usually think of are products of the final years of the Sengoku Period called the Azuchi-Momoyama Period. This is the transition from a century of civil wars and power grabs by samurai to the 250ish years of peace of the Edo Period. Because of its relative stability, samurai strongmen could build gorgeous defensive structures with solid military functionality and display their power, wealth, and authority. That’s the era when the samurai became a social and political class and were able to (literally) lord their power over all of Japanese society. Learn more about Japanese Eras here.
[xix] Many people attribute the name Shibuya to this clan. I wrote about that in my article about the area in 2013 and asserted that this was the most likely etymology. Since then, I’ve come to have a more nuanced understanding of the history of this place name. My original article does a crappy job of explaining what happened, so I’m planning to revisit the article and give it a makeover sometime this year.

Yamanote Line: Ōsaki & Gotanda

In Japanese History on April 28, 2016 at 4:53 am

大崎
Ōsaki

00411.JPG

It was pointed out to me on Twitter that I unintentionally left you with a cliffhanger. We started this “Explore the Yamanote Line” in Shinagawa and I didn’t say where we were going next.

While the Yamanote Line consists of 2 true loops, one going one way and one going the opposite, for this series I’m going to follow the “official” JR East path which begins in 品川 Shinagawa and heads to 大崎 Ōsaki. So, yeah, that’s where we’re going.

post war osaki station.jpg

Ōsaki Station in the post war years. Here’s a pro tip when eyeballing old photos, besides judging by quality of the image, you can tell a photo is post war because the signage is written left to right, not right to left.

This was probably one of the more boring parts of the Yamanote circle, but it grew in importance since the 1980’s when the 埼京線 Saikyō-sen Saikyō Line began servicing the station. The Saikyō Line is a south-north train that goes from Ōsaki to 大宮 Ōmiya in 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture. Sure, Saitama isn’t very exciting, but the station had to be completely rebuilt. After all, you saw the previous picture, right? Can be handling a population boom in the city and host 2 busy train lines with a shack like that, son.

osaki south gate

Ōsaki Station’s South Exit today.

And even though it was home to Sony’s head office for many years[i], the station area underwent a total redevelopment in about 2006 when a new shopping center and business district opened there and the area is now thriving as a commercial district. Unfortunately, it’s starting to eat up the former 下町 shitamachi low city that flourished since the end of WWII. In the side streets and areas where the shinkansen tracks pass you can still feel the shitamachi vibe. Most of Ōsaki is residential.

Check Out Some Related Articles for Details:

soapland

Gotanda is where Shinagawa’s sex industry retreated to.

五反田
Gotanda

If I hadn’t worked for a year or two in Shinagawa, I’d probably have no reason to go to this place. The first time I had to go here was because they had a CitiBank. I needed to go there to access my old American bank account and at the time this was one of the few places to access international bank accounts 24 hours[ii]. What I discovered was a red light district that pretty much seemed to be an outgrowth of the Edo/Meiji Period bayside culture of Shinagawa – lots of drinking & whoring, lots of hostess clubs, and karaoke[iii]. One very noticeable difference was Chinese streetwalkers operating openly in flagrant disregard for the laws restricting the sex industry to established shops that “kept the streets clean.” This kind of unlicensed prostitution has been under a crackdown in the build up to the 2020 Olympics, I don’t expect you’ll see them for the next few years. I’ve noticed a big “clean up” in 鶯谷 Uguisudani and 歌舞伎町 Kabukichō, two other red light districts; I just haven’t visited Gotanda at night in about 10 years so I can’t say for certain. If anyone has, I’d like to hear what you know about the area.

hatakeyama.jpg

The Hatakeyama Memorial Museum is technically located in the affluent Shirokanedai neighborhood, but it is accessible from Gotanda Station… if you’re willing to walk the distance.

For the average tourist or history buff, there isn’t much reason to visit the area. If you’re up for a 10-15 minute walk from the station (or a 5 minute taxi ride), you can visit the 畠山記念館 Hatakeyama Kinenkan Hatakeyama Memorial Museum of Fine Art which specializes in tea ceremony utensils. The museum rests on the former site of a detached residence of the 島津家 Shimazu-ke Shimazu clan, the lords of 薩摩藩 Satsuma Han Satsuma Domain[iv]. If you’re interested in 茶道 sadō tea ceremony and 侘寂 wabi-sabi a traditional Japanese aesthetic and world view, you’ll probably love this museum! If not, you’ll probably be bored to tears looking tea cup after tea cup after tea cup.

tamales.jpg

Whoa. Wait. Are those tamales? (don’t get your hopes up too high, fellow tamale lovers)

Anything else I’m forgetting? Ummmm, oh yeah! There’s a theater that puts on Broadway musicals. I loathe musicals with every fiber of my being so I haven’t been here and can’t speak to their quality, but they’ve put on some major shows like Miss Saigon, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Mama Mia, and The Lion King. If you’re into that sort of thing, knock yourself out. Oh yeah, one more thing, the Brazilian embassy is located in the area so a Mexican friend and I came here to visit a small grocery store that specialized in South American ingredients. I don’t know if it’s still there – this was like 10 years ago – but we could buy corn masacorn masa, the key ingredient to making tamales. We looooove tamales and couldn’t find any places in Tōkyō to get them, so we decided to make them ourselves. Hopefully the shop is still there.

Even though these 2 station may seem a little boring on the surface, both areas are fascinating to me. Please read the “related articles” for more info and most importantly, please join me for the rest of the series. We’re gonna hit some major areas of Tōkyō, so it’ll be fun to have you all along for the ride (see what I did there?)

If you know the Yamanote Line well, where do you think we’re going next?

Check Out Some Related Articles for Details:

 

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[i] Sony City still remains in the area. I was actually in the old Sony HQ a couple of weeks ago and it was a lot of fun to hang out in their visitors’ section. I got to help test some new prototype technologies and learned that the company cafeteria’s food is shit – didn’t taste it myself, but that’s what I was told by the people who work there.
[ii] Except for 新生銀行 Shinsei Ginkō Shinsei Bank and 7-11 ATM’s, Japanese banks/ATM’s don’t accept foreign ATM cards. In the build up to the 2020 Olympics, this is expected to change but it hasn’t yet. That said, there’s a 7-11 on almost every corner and I dare say 90% of them show up immediately on Google Maps – something I’ve learned very quickly now that I’m giving personalized guided tours of Tōkyō.
[iii] This is a vibrant residential neighborhood; but both high rises and old shitamachi (low city) culture exist side by side.
[iv] Their suburban palace was located in 田町 Tamachi, our final destination when we complete the Yamanote Line Loop.

Yamanote Line: Shinagawa

In Japanese History on April 25, 2016 at 5:29 am

品川
Shinagawa (river of products[i])

Station.jpg

One feature of the Yamanote Line is the presence of regularly occurring hub stations. These stations feed into other train and bus networks and handle an extremely high volume of commuter traffic. Shinagawa Station connects 5 trains lines and 1 新幹線 shinkansen high speed line[ii]. The reason the station is an important hub, is actually historic and goes back to the area’s importance as a coastal distribution center and one of the main access points to Edo for travelers coming from western Japan.

shinagawa station inside

品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station is the first station on maps issued by JR East Japan for the 山手線 Yamanote-sen Yamanote Line. In 1885 (Meiji 18), when the train was a simple route from former 江戸湾 Edo-wan[iii] Edo Bay to the northernmost suburbs of 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō City, this was the logical start of a south-north train route, for both commercial traffic and commuter traffic. The final destination was 赤羽駅 Akabane Eki Akabane Station on the border of southern 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture. It was also the logical starting point of train traffic from the previously shōgunal/now imperial capital to 横浜 Yokohama (a port city) and 京都 Kyōto the former imperial capital[iv]. Shinagawa was the perfect hub by sea and by land. By the 1950’s when Japan debuted its groundbreaking high speed rail system, the shinkansen, the area’s importance as a hub town since feudal times, made it the obvious choice for high speed train service and early plans to incorporate Shinagawa into the projected shinkansen network began early.

Etymology

Popular etymology says that the name refers to an ancient location where 品 shina goods were delivered from the bay via a 川 kawa river (ie; the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River). This etymology is somewhat suspect, as an older written form 品ヶ輪 Shinagawa is attested in the 1200’s. The older writing isn’t so different, though. It basically implies tying up boats and unloading goods.

Related Resources:

old station.jpg

Until the 1950’s, Shinagawa was located on the shore of Edo-Tōkyō Bay. The modern Yamanote Line and 京浜東北線 Keihin-Tōhoku-sen Keihin-Tōhoku Line tracks literally mark the old coastline. The area east of the tracks is called 港南 Kōnan the South Bay but is all landfill and There’s even an abattoir that still exists in the area – testament to how far outside of the city center this area once was.

In fact, if you walk out of Shinagawa Station’s old exit, the Takanawa Exit, you’ll find the terrain hilly. If you walk out of the Kōnan Exit, you’ll find the terrain flat. That’s because the Kōnan area is the old beach and ocean floor. Shinagawa in the Edo Period was perched up on highlands that bordered 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay. A simple walk through the area today shows you how much of the elevation differed and still differs to this day.

Hiroshige02_shinagawa.jpg

Pre-Modern Japanese people didn’t go to the beach to suntan and play in the surf. Well, at least the samurai class didn’t[v]. But in towns like Shinagawa, which would have been a day’s walk for most Edoites, landlubbers could get access to the freshest 江戸前寿司 Edomae zushi Edo Style Sushi[vi]. The shore wasn’t lined with beach goers, it was lined with 茶屋 chaya tea houses that offered spacious, open rooms with a view of the bay and the pleasure boats that jetted off here and there. It offered a view of the open sky and before the sunset, views of mountains in other provinces that were inaccessible to most people. At night, special rooms designed for 月見 tsukimi moon viewing allowed guests and geisha to gaze at the moon and stars in the sky and their shimmering reflections in the still waters of the bay. Its reputation for seafood, seaweed, and 飯盛女 meshimori onna prostitutes who worked in the teahouses on the bay was almost unparalleled on the Tōkaidō[vii].

gyorutu2.jpg

Shinagawa-shuku. Note the 2 stone mounds in the foreground with grass on top. We’re going to talk about those later. But note how the road is lined with shops and inns. Also note the bay and the hills in the background.

A Post Town

Shinagawa was located on the 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō Old Tōkaidō Highway linking Edo[viii] with Kyōto[ix]. Travelers from the west could enter the city via this route and after a hard day’s walk, they could take a load off their feet, get a decent meal – most likely local seafood – and watch the moon set over the bay. Drinking & whoring, ever an option in Edo, were no exception here. But as the name and location implies, it was a major fishing area with close ties to the sea. It was ingress to the city for locals. Keep in mind, in the Edo Period, only shōgunate approved daimyō were allowed to come in and out of Edo Bay.

Related articles:

 

Shinagawa Today

If you’re a history nerd, you could easily spend a day walking 旧品川宿 Kyū-Shinagawa-shuku Old Shinagawa Post Town, you could do a 七福神巡り Shichi Fukujin Meguri a pilgrimage of the 7 gods of good luck (popular during the New Year holiday), or continue the walk from beyond the former post town along the Old Tōkaidō quite a distance.

In the Edo Period, the area along the highway itself was lined with inns, teahouses, and local businesses catering to travelers, but as you got farther from the post town you’d come to the farthest outskirts of Edo, where the execution grounds were located. Mixing killing with the local populace was not just spiritually unclean, it was hygienically unclean – a concept the Japanese seemed to have been aware of to a certain degree since the days of old[x]. But if that’s your thing, the killing floor of the local execution ground is located in the area. I like visiting the area because, yeah, that’s my thing.

Related articles:

nantsuttei

Shinatatsu

Originally, billed as a “rāmen stadium” that was home to 6 or 7 rāmen joints, the space was later expanded to include a “donburi stadium.” 丼ぶり donburi refers to a large bowl of rice with a variety of different toppings. I’ve eaten at quite a few of the rāmen shops there, most are pretty average. Good, but nothing that stands out like なんつッ亭 Nantsuttei which is an exceptional shop that specializes in 豚骨 tonkotsu rāmen[xi]. The owner got his start in 九州 Kyūshū, famous for tonkotsu rāmen while learning the art in 熊本 Kumamoto. The broth is particularly heavy, so I don’t recommend it on hot summer days, but Nantsuttei’s unique point is the use of マー油 māyu a special blend of garlic that is overcooked in 胡麻油 goma abura sesame oil until it turns black. While tonkotsu rāmen is usually milky in color, this broth turns a heavy black color and has a deep, robust flavor that is completely unique among rāmen styles. The shop has won many awards and is not only the most famous rāmen shop in Shinatatsu, it’s one of the most famous shops in all of Japan.

Related links:

shinagawa life

Shinagawa-shuku

The name 品川宿 Shinagawa-shuku literally means Shinagawa Post Town. The 旧東海道 Kyū-Tōkaidō old Tōkaidō Highway that connected the imperial capital of 京都 Kyōto with the shōgun’s capital of 江戸 Edo ran through this area. The Tōkaidō was arguably the most important highway in the country at the time and reports by the few foreigners who saw it at the time marveled at how busy it was compared to European roads. A post town in the Edo Period consisted of inns, baths, shrines, temples, and other businesses that catered to travelers that lined both sides of the highway in the officially designated post town[xii].

Strictly speaking, Shinagawa-shuku referred to the stretch of the old Tōkaidō that ran from present day Shinagawa Station to… well, it depends who’s talking, I suppose. Strictly speaking, the inn town existed in the area near 北品川駅 Kita-Shinagawa Eki Kita-Shinagawa Station, but as this was one of the busiest post towns of the Edo Period, the town came to span quite a long stretch of the highway – quite far outside of the officially designated area. It petered off about the time you reached the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River and 江原神社 Ebara Jinja Ebara Shrine, but if you explore the area, you should probably keep walking as far as 大森海岸 Ōmori Kaigan the Ōmori Coast where 鈴ヶ森死刑所 Suzugamori Shikeijo Suzugamori Execution Ground was located. Exploring this area can take you anywhere from half a day to a whole day depending on how deep you want to go. Shinagawa-shuku and the old Tōkaidō’s clearly 下町 shitamachi low city atmosphere is a huge contrast from the ultramodern hustle and bustle of the Shinagawa Station area. Shinagawa-shuku was home to more than 90 旅籠屋 hatago-ya inns, 1 本陣 honjin, and 2 脇本陣 waki-honjin. Honjin were special accommodations for daimyō and high ranking shōgunate officials. Waki-honjin were for lower ranking shōgunate officials.

Related articles:

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Remember the stone mounds with grass growing on them? Those were the remains of the Takanawa Ōkido.

Takanawa Ōkido

To be fair, this site is located between the largest gap between stations on the Yamanote Line. It’s pretty much the middle point between 田町駅 Tamachi Eki Tamachi Station and Shinagawa Station. Until the new station is built between these stations, it’s a bit of a hike if you’re interested in seeing it.

In the Edo Period, Tamachi was home to the suburban palaces of many 大名 daimyō feudal lords. It had direct access to the shōgun’s court at 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle by a number of routes. Shinagawa, on the other hand, was located directly on the sea and was an inn town and port town. Shinagawa was much more rural and home to many commoner districts, especially those areas associated with seafood and distribution. Nevertheless, most of the traffic in and out of the shōgun’s capital came via the Tōkaidō. In the early days of the shōgunate, 3 official check points were established to monitor travelers. These check points were called 大木戸 ōkido, literally “big wooden doors.” If you wanted to enter Edo via the Tōkaidō, you had to show your traveling papers at the 高輪大木戸 Takanawa Ōkido Takanawa Check Point. If you wanted to leave via the Tōkaidō, you had to do the same. As the so-called Pax Tokugawa Tokugawa Peace of the Edo Period came to be accepted as a day to day fact of life, security at the 3 main ōkido of Edo became lax and they were eventually abandoned. They were, however, not torn down as they could be reused if need be at a later date and served as useful landmarks to travelers and locals. The stone base of the Takanawa Ōkido remains partially intact[xiii]. It’s not much to look at today, but its presence in art from the Edo Period and Meiji Period attest to its importance as a local landmark. It also puts into perspective something that I’m always mindful of: Edo was the world’s most populous city at one time, but it’s just a tiny corner of the modern 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis today.

Further reading:

shingawa shrine.jpg

Shinagawa Shrine

Our next station is a little less famous, but no less interesting. I hope you’ll stick around for the next article. There are currently 29 Yamanote Line stations and we’re just getting started. Let’s do the whole loop together. 1 down and 28 to go!

 

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[i] Take this meaning with a grain of salt. I want to return to this topic, but in my original 2013 article, I looked at some of the possible origins. I will revisit both place names in detail later.
[ii] Sometimes translated as “bullet train,” but I hate that word. Just call it “shinkansen” and understand what it is.
[iii] At that time 東京湾 Tōkyō-wan Tōkyō Bay.
[iv] Keep in mind, Shinagawa Station serviced western Japan as a commercial route, not passenger route. Passenger traffic from Meiji Era Tōkyō to western Japan began at 新橋 Shinbashi (located in present day 汐留 Shiodome). Service was later moved to 烏森 Karasumori (present day Shinbashi). It’s complicated, but that article is coming soon. So don’t worry too much about it now.
[v] And any class who imitated them.
[vi] By the way, Edomae (Edo Style) means the usual sushi you eat today, minus those fucked up California rolls you eat in America. You can call that sushi if you want to, but it’s not Edomae. Also, today, Edo/Tōkyō Bay is the last place you’d want a fish from today. But I just want to emphasize, Edomae refers to the style of sushi created in Edo that has become the standard for Japanese sushi nationwide.
[vii] Many of these prostitutes had been sold into sexual slavery by indigent farmers in the surrounding countryside.
[viii] Under the control of the 幕府 bakufu shōgunate.
[ix] Under the control of the 朝廷 chōtei imperial court.
[x] To a certain extent. They still had no germ theory.
[xi] Tonkotsu literally means “pork bone” and refers to the rich, milky スープ sūpu broth made by cooking the hell out of pork bones and pork fat. Tonkotsu rāmen is often called 博多ラーメン Hakata rāmen because it was supposedly developed in Hakata, an area of 福岡 Fukuoka in Kyūshū.
[xii] Yes, post towns were officially designated by the shōgunate or local lords, although unofficial post town also existed out of convenience and necessary, mostly to deal with overflow.
[xiii] And largely ignored by the business people who walk past it every day going to lunch or coming to and from work.

Yamanote Line Extravaganza (intro)

In Japan, Travel in Japan on April 23, 2016 at 2:21 pm

山手線
Yamanote-sen (the High City Line)

yamanote-line-map

After my Ōedo Line Extravaganza back in June 2015, I got a few requests to do a Yamanote Line Extravaganza. One message was hilarious and too long to quote in its entireity here, but the author said (and I quote):

How could you do the Oedo Line before the Yamanote?
It’s an upstart and a poseur. It’s not even a real loop.

He ended the email with:

You are dead to me, sir. Dead.

I don’t get a ton of mail, but gems like that keep me going. If you’re that on board with my JapanThis! style, then by all means, send emails! Well, it’s actually better to leave a comment. I take back the email thing. Leave comments for the sake of my inboxes. But either way, let’s be friends! Also, bonus points for spelling poseur correctly.

YOU-RE-DEAD-TO-ME

Just kidding, I love you all!

Anyhoo, the reason I started with the 大江戸線 Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line is because I’d already covered a lot of the areas it services and because the name 大江戸 Ōedo literally means the Greater Edo Area and was a nice way to wrap up some articles I had written previously to that series.  Also, just including the word 江戸 Edo in the name was enough to make it first. Furthermore, I hadn’t re-written my looooong reference page about Yamanote vs. Shitamachi. I couldn’t very well write about the Yamanote Line without first exploring what those loaded terms meant, could I?

yamanote line.jpg

So What is the Yamanote Line?

The Yamanote Line has been described as Tōkyō’s most important train. It’s just a train line that runs in a circle around some prominent neighborhoods in Tōkyō. And just like the 大江戸線Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line, it runs in a loop around much of the old Edo city limits. However, unlike the Ōedo Line, it is in fact a true loop line that runs in an uninterrupted circle around the city center.

The word 山手 yamanote high city is the opposite of 下町 shitamachi low city. In the Edo Period, it referred to the secure high ground upon which the 大名 daimyō feudal lords and the 武家 buke samurai families lived. These days, residential addresses inside the Yamanote Line loop are seen as prestigious because they lie in the true center of Tōkyō. Owning or renting an apartment within the “Yamanote Line Loop” is generally expensive, but owning actual real estate[i] puts you into a unique segment of the city’s population. Sometimes you’ll see very old wooden houses within the loop that look run down and often decrepit. The owners may not have a lot of money and their houses may not look like much, but they’re the owners of a small plot of ancestral land that is literally worth a fortune. These families try to keep their land and live traditionally, passing on the plot to the next generation. Sometimes some son or daughter gets rich and knocks down the house and builds a modern domicile, but there are a few who resist and try to maintain this disappearing style of home – the idea being that if the head of the family falls into financial ruin, they could sell the ancestral plot for a huge sum of a money and recover the family’s inheritance.

sibadaimon-1.jpg

The train line currently services 29 stations and in terms of passengers per day it puts most cities’ entire public transit systems to shame[ii]. A new, 30th station and business center will be added between 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station and 田町駅 Tamachi Eki Tamachi Station before the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics. This is the first route update to the Yamanote Line since 1971 and it will make use of an old trainyard and maintenance center that is being phased out by JR East, the company that operates the Yamanote Line. Incidentally, it will also give quick access to the 高輪大木戸 Takanawa Ōkido, one of the three original access points to the shōguns’ capital of 江戸 Edo.

The Original Route

The predecessor of the modern loop line was built in 1885 (Meiji 18) and started in 品川 Shinagawa (a seaside port area important for distribution, but relatively rural), then continued to 目黒 Meguro, then 渋谷 Shibuya, then 新宿 Shinjuku, then 目白 Mejiro, then 板橋 Itabashi, and terminated at 赤羽 Akabane (on the border of present day 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis and 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture, at the time a rural area near a river begging for industrial revolution pollution). This was the beginning of a new definition of 山手 yamanote high city. This was when the suburban and rural areas west of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle (then 東京城 Tōkyō-jō) came to be called “yamanote.” Of these stations, none qualified by Edo Period standards as yamanote. Sections of those towns were indeed home to a handful of daimyō, but for the most part they were the outermost suburbs of the shōgun’s capital.

The train line was eventually connected to form its present day loop in 1925 when Akabane was dropped from Yamanote Line service. Like most loop trains in major cities, the Yamanote Line had come to be one of the most efficient ways to get around the city. It united business centers, cultural centers, and the associated red light districts[iii] for maximum economic impact. Tourists tend to find themselves on the Yamanote all the time given the train’s access to major hub stations and hotel districts. Think of a major destination in Tōkyō, it’s probably on the Yamanote Line: 渋谷 Shibuya, 新宿 Shinjuku, 原宿 Harajuku, 代々木 Yoyogi, 上野 Ueno, 秋葉原 Akihabara, 東京駅 Tōkyō Eki Tōkyō Station, and 有楽町新橋 Yūraku-chō/Shinbashi. For residents of the city, almost every station is necessary throughout the year.

I hope you’re excited about this series, because I am. Keep reading and keep watching this spot because I have a special announcement coming up very soon!

Further reading:

 

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[i] In terms of housing, this generally means the plot of land has been passed down the family for generations.
[ii] Yes, you heard me. This single line does more business than most cities’ entire transit systems.
[iii] For, as long time readers know, drinking & whoring.

Irugi Shrine

In Japanese History on January 23, 2016 at 4:34 am

居木神社
Irugi Jinja (Irugi Shrine)

DSC02831edit

So the other day, I wrote about 大崎 Ōsaki and I mentioned a shrine called Irugi Shrine. It’s not too far from my home, so I decided to check it out and take some pictures. Before I went, I looked into the history of the shrine a little. Visually, it’s a little unimpressive when nothing’s going on and it’s 5°C with strong winds, but it’s a pretty interesting place historically-speaking.

Just some quick notes about the spelling. Some of the English signs on the shrine precinct use the spelling Iruki. While this pronunciation is technically possible, all of my Japanese sources say Irugi. In the Edo Period, the village was famous for a kind of pumpkin called 居留木橋南瓜 Irugibashi kabocha Irugibashi Pumpkin[i]. This is 当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic qualities, not meaning. The extra character was inserted for legibility. The local people knew how to read the name of their village, but other people might have been confused as to the pronunciation. Also, before the post WWII spelling reforms, the first kanji 居 iru was not thought of as いる iru but as ゐるwiru/yiru – all 3 pronounced the same, as /iɺɯ̥/.

 

1bdc37277f26dbef86c5a22dba62bafb.jpg

Most nondescript bridge EVER.

Details about the foundation of this shrine are unclear, but it most likely predates the Edo Period. That said, in the early Edo Period, there seems to have been a bridge crossing the 目黒川 Meguro-gawa Meguro River at the location of current 居木橋 Irugibashi Irugi Bridge. Apparently, the shrine was vulnerable to storms and floods damage due to its proximity to the river and so the villagers of 居木橋村 Irugibashi Mura Irugibashi Village re-located the shrine and its associated temple, 観音寺 Kannon-ji to the top of a hill, where it now stands. The entire village was actually moved to the high ground, which is why the bridge that was the namesake of the village and shrine is actually located quite far from this spot.

The area was famous for 雉子 kiji green pheasants so originally, the shrine was called 雉子ノ宮 Kiji no Miya Green Pheasant Shrine but in 1872 (Meiji 5), the shrine was renamed Irugi Shrine[ii]. The current structure dates from 1978. In 1889 (Meiji 22), the 5 villages in the area were combined to make 大崎村 Ōsaki Mura Ōsaki Village. This is when the place name 居木 Irugi disappeared[iii].

DSC02859

This kind of long approach to a shrine is called an 表弾道 Omote Sandō. Pretty sure I have an article about that. Yeah.

As I said, the shrine was built on a plateau. The shrine has 3 approaches that I could find. These are called 参道 sandō which means “road to visit a shrine.” The main approach is a long street that runs directly up the hill to main entrance. The left side of the steep stairway is flanked by a man made stone mountain made of lava called 富士塚 Fujizuka Fuji Hill. Fujizuka are artificial “Mini Mt. Fujis” and can be found all throughout Tōkyō (you can see here). Climbing Mt. Fuji has long been considered a kind of spiritual pilgrimage. Those who can’t make the journey to the volcano itself can climb a Fujizuka and earn the same spiritual points. Irugi Shrine’s Fujizuka was built in 1933. At the time of construction, a startling discovery was made. This section of the hill was actually a 貝塚 kaizuka shell mound that dated back to the 縄文時代 Jōmon Jidai Jōmon Period. No proper excavation was carried out, however, until 1968[iv]. Archaeologists determined that the site actually dated all the way back to the early Jōmon Period (4,000–2500 BCE)[v].

jomon housing edit.jpg

Jōmon peeps keepin’ it real all thatch hut stylee

What’s a Shell Mound?

In 1877 (Meiji 10), Edward S. Morse famously spotted a shell mound – also called a midden – while riding a train from 東京 Tōkyō to 横浜 Yokohama[vi]. His work was so groundbreaking in Japan that he is considered the Father of Japanese Archaeology. A shell mound is essentially an ancient trash dump that consists of mostly shells, but also bones, pottery, and other human refuse. Morse called the pottery he discovered “cord marked pottery” because of the way it was decorated. The Japanese word 縄文 Jōmon is a literal translation of his description of his term. Today, the top of the Fujizuka features a traditional 灯篭 tōrō Japanese stone lamp made out of excavated earth and shells.

The site is designated as one of the 100 Scenic Spots of Shinagawa, a sort of Japanese History Nerd Pilgrimage that may take you more than a day or two to visit every spot (it’s easy to get distracted along the way because the area is so rich in history). I’ve explored the area extensively and I still haven’t seen all 100 spots. In fact, this was my first time to visit this spot.

DSC02864edit

A stone lantern made from shells

Despite being a local shrine, it’s quite active. I visited it on a Friday afternoon around 1 PM and while the shrine itself wasn’t doing anything, there were quite a few people coming and going. The shrine office, which sells お守り o-mamori talismans and other paraphernalia, was open for business[vii]. The shrine performs the usual set of Shintō purification rituals, but its main business is doing traditional, Shintō weddings. The local people and local businesses regularly visit the shrine on special holidays. It’s particularly busy during the first 2 weeks of January when local the employees of local companies come for 初詣 hatsumōde the first shrine visit of the new year.

Further Reading

 

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___________________________
[i] An interesting note about the Japanese word for pumpkin: The word カボチャ kabocha derives from the Portuguese word for Cambodia which the Japanese of the 1500’s heard as カンボジャ Kanboja. With the ban on Christianity and expulsion of the Portuguese the word was corrupted to its present form.
[ii] If you walk 10-15 minutes to 五反田 Gotanda, you can find a shrine called 雉子神社 Kiji Jinja Kiji Shrine which preserves the reference to green pheasants. By the way, I have an article about Gotanda.
[iii] 居留木橋カボチャ Irugibashi Kabocha Irugibashi Pumpkin was still a 名物 meibutsu famous food until the end of the Meiji Period. The kanji 南瓜 is actually Chinese, not Japanese.
[iv] The shrine was destroyed in the Firebombing of Tōkyō in March, 1945. It wasn’t fully rebuilt until 1978, after the excavation was completed and enough funds were raised to properly resurrected the shrine to its former glory.
[v] Read more about the Jōmon Period here.
[vi] See my article on the 大森貝塚 Ōmori Kaizuka where he made his important discovery.
[vii] I had some questions about the history of the shrine and the area, but sadly, the staff couldn’t tell me anything that I couldn’t find online.

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