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Posts Tagged ‘yamato takeru’

What does Oshiage mean?

In Japanese History on August 27, 2015 at 6:09 am

Oshiage (push up)

oshiage station

Whenever I make the arduous journey to and from 成田空港 Narita Kūkō Narita Airport, I pass a station next to Tōkyō Skytree called 押上 Oshiage. Every time I pass it, I think, “hmmmm, I should write about this place name” but then I soon forget because of all the excitement of traveling. Every time I pass it on the way back home, I think, “hmmmm, I should write about this place name” but then soon forget because I’m so exhausted and it takes like 3 hours or some shit to get home from Narita[i]. Today I can finally talk about this place name that I’ve been dying to talk about for a long time.

Most people take a train to the station so they've probably never seen this sign. lol.

Most people take a train to the station so they’ve probably never seen this sign. lol.

First Let’s Look at the Kanji


push, compel, be diffused (light/water)


go up, raise, tide comes in, land a boat
Oshiage in the 60's-70's

Oshiage in the 60’s-70’s

Most of the theories about this etymology focus on the verb 押し上げる oshiageru which means “to push up,” but I included some other nuances of the kanji above that might be useful in understanding the etymologies we’ll be looking at today.

Sadly, I could only find 3 theories, all of which stand on shaky ground, in my humble opinion. All of them are based on the kanji. Kanji usually leaves much to be desired with pre-Edo Period names. But in this case, the kanji seem to be consistent with Kamakura Period documents[ii]. There’s nothing earlier than that.

Today you can visit Tōkyō Sky Tree from Oshiage Station

Today you can visit Tōkyō Sky Tree from Oshiage Station

Let’s Talk Etymology, Baby.

Before 徳川家康公 Tokugawa Ieyasu-kō Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu came into the area, there was already a district called 押上村 Oshiage Mura located on the east bank of the Sumida River.  So where did that name come from? Interestingly, nobody set out to ask and answer that question until the Edo Period – or at least nobody bothered to write anything down until then.

Sumidagawa Shrine

Sumidagawa Shrine which houses the kami (deity) of the Sumida River.
(click the picture to see more photos of the shrine)

The Sumida River Did It

Anyone who has read my articles about the Sumida River and any of the lands[iii] along 江戸湾 Edo Wan Edo Bay knows, the shape of the Sumida River and the shape of the bay have changed dramatically over the centuries. In the days when the river emptied directly into the bay, it’s said that the gushing freshwater torrents would crash into the salty waters of the bay at high tide. The turbulence created at the mouth of the river was said to create 押し上げられた潮 oshiagerareta shio salt water currents/splashes[iv]. Today, the bay is quite some distance from this area because it’s been built up with landfill since the Edo Period until quite recently.

A 2nd similar theory states that the force of the river hitting the waters of the bay created an embankment on the east side of the Sumida River as it pushed up sand, mud, and debris over the years. This 押し上げられた土 oshiagerareta tsuchi pushed up ground eventually became usable and was reclaimed by the locals. Thus the area was named after the land created by the meeting of river and bay.

The first version is interesting because it echoes a sentiment we’ll see in the 3rd theory – a much more mythical story. The 2nd version is interesting because we just saw a similar etymology based on reclaiming land created by the Sumida River in my last article on Mukōjima – located a stone’s throw from Oshiage.

yamato takeru captain japan

Captain Japan Did It

Long time readers should be aware that 大和武尊 Yamato Takeru Yamato Takeru Captain Japan often shows up in Kantō etymologies. He’s a semi-legendary character who is most famous for his 東征 Tōsei Eastern Expedition[v] which is purported to have taken place in the early 1st Century. A famous story that took place during the Eastern Exhibition is when his boat encountered rough waters off the coast of the 三浦半島 Miura Hantō Miura Peninsula[vi]. His concubine[vii], 弟橘姫 Ototachibana-hime Princess Ototachibana, knowing that Captain Japan had fallen in love with another concubine, decided to perform a final act of selflessness. In order to appease the local 海神 kaijin sea god, she committed 犠牲死 giseishi sacrificial suicide, by jumping into the ocean and drowning herself. The local deity was satisfied[viii] with the sacrifice and allowed Captain Japan and his army to pass the waters safely.

Ototachibana’s personal effects were said to have washed ashore in this area and the place where those items 押し上げられた oshiagerareta were pushed up on the beach came to be known as 押上 Oshiage. This etymology is almost identical to the etymology of nearby 吾妻橋 Azumabashi which literally means “my beloved wife” bridge[ix].

Princess Ototachibana drowning in the ocean. (interestingly, this is a common theme in yakuza tattoos)

Princess Ototachibana drowning in the ocean.
(interestingly, this is a common theme in yakuza tattoos)

Interestingly, while I put zero credence in this particular Captain Japan Theory, the rapid, thrusting current of the Sumida River combined with its wide girth pounded hard into the warm, salty waters of Edo Bay when the tide was high[x]. This kind of turbulence would have made traveling through the mouth of the river very hard. A person could easily have been thrown off a boat into the rough waters and their body and personal effects could have easily been discovered at low tide or have washed up ashore as the tide came back in. Some belongings of a woman or a person of either gender could have been found and ascribed to Princess Ototachibana. That, I think, is plausible. Would that warrant a place name? Who knows. But I think this is a very unlikely origin of the place name Oshiage. Still, the proximity to Azumabashi is intriguing.

So there you have it. Did you find any of those explanations compelling?

I found them interesting. But I can’t help but wonder whether or not this is a much more ancient place name and the kanji are ex post factō 当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic value rather than meaning. This would have happened because the meaning was either forgotten long before the place name was written down or because the place name was actually a word belonging to the people who lived here before the Yamato State took the area by force[xi].

Tokyo Skytree and Mt. Fuji

Tokyo Skytree and Mt. Fuji

If you’re interested, here are a few related articles:

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[i] Not including all the time I wasted going through immigration. I always end up in line behind complete morons who take forever.
[ii] Much of Kantō’s history is shrouded in myth and legend before the Edo Period when the Tokugawa Shōgunate was established in the area. However, the earlier eras aren’t a complete blackhole. The Kamakura Shōgunate left many documents that shine a light on much of the mysterious eastern regions – if only for a moment.
[iii] There are too many to list, but off the top of my head, Tsukuda, Tsukiji & Tsukishima, Shinagawa, etc…
[iv] The connotation being “rough waters.”
[v] This is essentially a literary description of the Yamato State’s eastern conquest of 本州 Honshū, the main Japanese island, which had up to that point been populated by Yayoi peoples described as アイヌ Ainu or 蝦夷 Emishi.
[vi] In modern 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture.
[vii] By some accounts, his wife. I referred to her as his wife in my article on Azamabashi.
[viii] In the earliest texts of Japanese mythology, human sacrifices to sea deities are fairly common.
[ix] There are places all over Japan where her belongings were said to have washed ashore. When they did, the local people buried them in mounds called 吾妻塚 Azuma-zuka “beloved wife mounds.”
[x] And holding on. I’m gonna be your number one♪
(and the waters of Tōkyō Bay aren’t particularly warm, btw).
[xi] The Yamato State, having adopted Chinese Learning, spread kanji throughout their holdings.

What does Azumabashi mean?

In Japanese History on January 1, 2015 at 3:18 am

Azumabashi (my wife bridge, but more at “Azuma Bridge”)

Azumabashi?! What the fuck is Azumabashi?! Ohhhhhh!!! That bridge!!! Now I remember!

Azumabashi?! What the fuck is Azumabashi?!
Ohhhhhh!!! That bridge!!!
Now I remember!

Today we’re going to look at one of Tōkyō’s most iconic bridges in one of Tōkyō’s most popular tourist destinations near 浅草 Asakusa and 東京スカイツリー Tōkyō Sukaitsurī Tōkyō Skytree. Stand on the bridge and take in the sight of the 隅田川 Sumida-gawa Sumida River. I guarantee you’ll be in awe of the river that gave life to this part of the city. You can watch it flow out into the bay that also made this area an important part of town as far back as the Kamakura Period.

5 bridges spanned the Sumida River in the Edo Period. Azumabashi was the last one built. In 1769, a local merchant and priest headed a group that petitioned the shōgunate to build a privately held bridge as an alternative to the 竹町の渡し Takechō no Watashi Takechō Ferry Crossing[i]. The shōgunate approved the project and after 5 years of construction, the first wood bridge was completed in 1774 during the reign of Tokugawa Ieharu[ii].

Two geisha on Azumabashi throwing a bunch of crap into the river or something. Littering is bad, mkay?

The bridge was initially called 大川橋 Ōkawabashi Ōkawa Bridge a reference to the 大川 Ōkawa Big River, one of the popular names of the Sumida River[iii]. Edoites, who seemed to have nicknames for freaking everything, casually called it 東橋 Higashibashi (which can also be read as Azumabashi) which literally means “the east bridge.” Interestingly, it was a toll bridge. It cost 弐問 ni mon 2 mon[iv] per person to cross… unless you were a samurai, then it was free. Bitches love samurai.

Remember. Ukiyo-e isn't about truth in advertising, it's about a feeling... much like Japanese advertising today. Those boats are about to crash into the bridge and lives will be lost if you read this painting literally.

Remember. Ukiyo-e isn’t about truth in advertising, it’s about a feeling… much like Japanese advertising today.
Those boats are about to crash into the bridge and lives will be lost if you read this painting literally.

Anyhoo, the “East Bridge” was said to be extremely well built. In fact, in 1786 the Sumida River flooded; one bridge was damaged and 2 others completely destroyed, but the East Bridge withstood the flood and didn’t sustain any damage. As a result, shōgunate rewarded the people who designed and built the bridge. It’s said that around this time, the kanji and pronunciation 東 higashi/azuma (east) were informally changed to 吾嬬 azuma which means “my wife” but can also refer to the east. The name is a reference to a nearby shrine called 吾嬬神社 Azuma Jinja Azuma Shrine.

The view of Senso-ji and Mt. Fuji from a boat.

The view of Senso-ji and Mt. Fuji from a boat.

In 1876 (Meiji 9), the bridge was renovated and the name was formally registered as 吾妻橋 Azumabashi Azuma Bridge[v]. Coincidentally, this was the last wooden incarnation of the bridge. In 1885 (Meiji 18), there was a massive flood that ripped the 千住大橋 Senju Ōhashi Great Senju Bridge from its base and sent the bridge down the river at full speed until it smashed into Azumabashi causing irreparable damage. Daaaaaaang.

I can't find an actual photo of the wooden bridge. This is the latest illustration I could find of the wooden bridge (from the Meiji Period).

This is the latest illustration I could find of the wooden bridge (from the Meiji Period).

This is the last photo I could find of the wooden bridge.

This is the only photo I could find of the wooden bridge.

In 1887 (Meiji 20), a modern truss bridge built of steel was erected. This was the first of its kind on the Sumida River – evidence of how important the bridge had become over the years. Originally built for pedestrians, a signal system and tracks were later installed to allow pedestrians and trolley service to utilize the bridge. In 1923, the wooden portion of the bridge was burnt away in the 関東大震災 Kantō Daishinsai Great Kantō Earfquake. The bridge was maintained in a temporary state on a shoestring budget while Tōkyō rebuilt herself. Finally, in 1931 the current steel and concrete bridge was built and stands to this day.

The truss bridge. It looks like shit to modern eyes, but I imagine Meiji people walking through it like a kid in a car wash.

The truss bridge. It looks like shit to modern eyes, but I imagine Meiji people walking through it like a kid in a car wash.
Notice they have viewing walkways on both sides of the main thoroughfare. That was for viewing the city and the far off mountains.

Azumabashi after the Great Kanto Earfquake.

Azumabashi after the Great Kanto Earfquake.

So What About That Shrine?

The bridge takes its name from an ancient shrine called 吾嬬神社 Azuma Jinja Azuma Shrine on a road and river route to the east of the bridge. Apparently, it was quite a splendid shrine with excellent pedigree in those days. However, today it’s a shadow of its former glory.

Azuma Shrine (labeled Azumasha).

Azuma Shrine (labeled Azumasha). The shrine was located in a large grove of trees called Azuma Mori (Azuma Forest).

The shrine claims a mythological provenance. It’s located in 墨田区立花 Sumida-ku Tachibana – said to derive from 弟橘姫 Ototachibana-hime Princess Ototachibana, wife of 大和武尊 Yamato Takeru, or as I like to call him, Captain Japan[vi]. In Japanese mythology, Captain Japan embarked on a triumphant 東征 Tōsei Eastern Expedition to conquer Eastern Japan in the name of the Emperor. Long story short, his wife, Princess Ototachibana, had to throw herself into the sea to appease the 神 kami spirits of the Pacific Ocean to ensure Captain Japan’s safe passage. When her personal effects washed ashore, people would bury them in small mounds called 吾妻塚 azumazuka “my wife mounds.” Many of these mounds became 吾妻神社 Azuma Jinja Azuma Shrines, literally “my wife shrines.” These mounds and shrines can be found all over Japan. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what kind of personal effects the shrine claims to have washed ashore in the area, it was a small shred of her clothing[vii].

Hi! I'm Yamato Takeru but you can call me Captain Japan.

Hi! I’m Yamato Takeru but you can call me Captain Japan.

Azuma Shrine today

Azuma Shrine today

Alright, so that’s it. The first article of the year. Hope you liked it!


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The Takechō Ferry was where most men would begin their trip to Yoshiwara. Even though the bridge was built, ferry service seems to have continued right up to 1876 (Meiji 9).
[ii] For those of you scratching your head, he was the 10th shōgun.
[iii] The name Sumida River wasn’t officially applied to the whole river until after the Edo Period. See my article here.
[iv] I’m not sure how to convert mon into modern currency, but this was just pocket change at the time. Samurai Archives has a great article on currency and it mentions that 8 mon would buy one piece of low quality sushi (today that would be about ¥100-¥120 yen). 16 mon would get you a bowl of soba (today that would be about ¥200-¥400 in front of a train station for shitty soba). Now the part I’m curious about, 300-500 mon would get you one night with a prostitute in 宿場町 shukuba machi a post town (today 40 minutes at a ピンサロ pinsaro pink salon in 静岡県沼津市 Shizuoka-ken Numazu-shi Numazu City, Shizuoka would set you back between ¥4000-¥8000 depending on the quality of the establishment and girls). I have no idea if comparing those things is even realistic, but whatever…
[v] If you’ve been a long time reader, you’ll be aware that the Tokugawa Shōgunate wasn’t really in the business of going around assigning official names to things.
[vi] Rest assured, I’ll go into more detail when I write about Tachibana.
[vii] Is it just me or does this sound like people were venerating trash that washed up on the beach?

What does Komagome mean?

In Japanese History on September 21, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Komagome (Crowd of Horses)

Komagome Station

Komagome Station

There are a few place names around Tōkyō that reference horses. I covered one, 高田馬場 Takada no Baba, in an article in March.[i] Today we have a rather odd one. It’s also a bit of a mystery.

The name, first documented in the Sengoku Period, consists of two kanji:




swarming, huddling, amassed, crowded,
“in bulk”[ii]

If you know a little Japanese, two things will stick out immediately.

One, the Japanese word for horse is 馬 uma.
Two, is read as komi, not gome.

Let me address the horse thing first. In modern Japanese, the kanji 駒 koma is classified as a variant of horse. It’s a rare variant that usually only shows up in a few places, ie; names of animals or plants (which are usually written in katakana anyways) and in shōgi idioms. 将棋 shōgi is Japanese chess. The original meaning of the kanji in Chinese was 仔馬 ko-uma a small horse, a colt, or a pony. However, in Japan it has always been just another word for horse[iii].

As for the komi/gome discrepancy, long time readers of Japan This! should already be familiar with the two phenomena going on here. The first is a very regular morphological change in Japanese compound words called 連濁 rendaku (see the Wiki article). Long story short, often in compound words you get a euphonic change to make a difficult word easier to pronounce. In this case, when you combine koma + komi it will become komagomi[iv]. The second thing that is happening is confusion between the phonemes /i/ and /e/, something that is very common in Japanese dialects, particularly in the old dialects of the Kantō area[v]. We’ve seen this vowel confusion before, most notably in my article on Akabane.

OK, now with the kanji and the linguistics out of the way, let’s get down to the etymology. There are basically 6 theories as to the origin of this place name, a few of which overlap. And let’s get this out in the open before going any further; there is not a shred of evidence to support any of these claims. Except for one, all of them are based on the kanji, which we’re starting to see are less than reliable in pre-Edo Period Kantō.

The Traditional Explanations

The “Seems Reasonable” Theory
This theory has for a long time played it safe and went with the 駒 koma means horse and 込 komi means crowded literal reading. This was an area of the Musashi Plain where a lot of wild horses flocked together.
(horses flock??)

Horses flock?

Horses flock?


The “Captain Japan Did It!” Theory
Two emergent patterns I keep seeing here at Japan This! are Iemitsu Did It™  and Captain Japan Did It™. The story goes that when 日本武尊 Yamato Takeru no Mikoto aka Captain Japan made his 東征 tōsei Eastern Expedition[vi] he saw his local ally’s troops with a shit ton of horses. He was all like, “Whoa, it’s full of horses!” and so the name stuck[vii].

Captain Japan!!

Captain Japan!!

The “Somebody Just Totally Made This Up” Theory
This theory states that a ko or ko (little) + mago grandchild + め me (an untranslatable pejorative suffix) = a komago-me once lived here, that is to say, a worthless little grandchild[viii].

Bad grandchild!

Bad grandchild!

The Modern Explanations

The “No Frills” Theory
If we take the kanji at face value, they seem to refer to a place where horses were herded into a confined space, perhaps a large stable of a local noble. If this is to be accepted, then it’s not a far leap given the fluidity of the Kantō dialects from こまごみ komagomiこまごめ komagome. This theory relies on the use of in some of the uses mentioned in the footnotes which have associations with “barging in” or “going into crowded spaces.”

That's a lot of horses...

That’s a lot of horses…

The “Sorry, We Don’t Have a Fucking Clue” Theory
In Hon-komagome, Jōmon Period artifacts were found which have lead a few people to speculate that the place name may be a borrowing from a pre-Japonic language (Ainu or whatever language Jōmon people of this region spoke) and that would make the kanji ateji and the original meaning of the word would then be lost to time.

I don't know.

I don’t know.

Additional Information

In the past,  豊嶋郡駒込村 Toshima-gun Komagome-mura Komagome Village, Toshima District was located where present  本駒込  now stands (they’re neighboring areas even though today Komagome is in Toshima Ward and Hon-komagome is in Bunykō Ward).

Is Hon-Komagome the Original Komagome?

No, it isn’t.

When the same place name has variations, the kanji is sometimes read as moto “source” (in place names, often “old, original.”[ix] But Hon-komagome is different. In the former Tōkyō City, there was an ward called 本郷区 Hongō-ku Hongō Ward but in 1966 administrative units were re-assigned when the city became the Tōkyō Metropolis. At that time, Bunkyō Ward and Toshima Ward found themselves both in possession of areas called Komagome. The area in Toshima (the former Toshima District) kept the original name Komagome. The new Bunkyō Ward merged the former Hongō Ward name with the old name and so it became Hon(gō) + Komagome = Hon-komagome. So the meaning is not “Original Komagome” as some might think, the original Komagome is the area still called Komagome.

In conclusion, I think all I can say is that I don’t know. The kanji evidence all points to horses, but my gut instinct is to side with a possible non-Japonic source (which basically commits to very little in this case). If someone finds a mass grave of horses or post holes in a pattern of stables or anything like that, I may be persuaded to the horse story side.

Well, alright… I’m going to bed now.
Love you all, leave a comment below so I know anyone is actually reading!

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[ii] This kanji appears in a lot of compound words, for example; 詰め込み tsumekomi cram into, 押し込み oshikomi push into, crowd into, 入り込み irikomi barge into, break into, 申し込み mōshikomi application, 吹き込み fukikomi blow into, 追い込み oikomi herd into, 売り込み urikomi to sell, 立て込み tatekomi tied up, busy, crowded, バンパイヤの心臓に杭を打ち込み banpaiya no shinzō ni kui wo uchikomi drive a wooden stake through a vampire’s heart… just to name a few.
[iii] Just think about how many words there are in English for horse. Off the top of my head I can think of horse, stallion, steed, mare, nag, sarah jessica parker, mustang, colt, foal, filly, pony, bronco. And I’m sure there are more. I’m not sure what the nuance of  was throughout the evolution of pre-modern Japanese, but today the kanji is hardly used even though it’s only a level 8 kanji for native Japanese.
[iv] The Wikipedia article is actually quite good at explaining the phenomenon. If you really want to get nerdy about what’s going on underneath the hood of the Japanese Language, here’s a fascinating treatment on the subject from a linguistics perspective.
[v] The same phenomenon happened with Latin dialects. Compare the Latin cominitiare and the French commencer (commence), and the Latin oleum with the Italian olio (olive oil)
[vi] 東征 tōsei, the so-called Eastern Expeditions, appear in various myths about the founding of Japan. Yamato Takeru is not the only one said to have subjugated the east, the most well-known tōsei is the 神武東征 Jinmu Tōsei Emperor Jimmu’s Eastern Expedition. Jimmu is the legendary first emperor of Japan.
[vii] The story specifically uses an Old Japanese phrase 駒込たり koma komitari “horses be all up in this bitch, yo.”
[viii] I totally just made this up by the way. Blame it on the booze.
[ix] For example 元麻布 Moto-Azabu “Old Azabu.”

What does Adachi mean?

In Japanese History on July 16, 2013 at 12:29 am

Adachi (Standing Legs)

Map of the Tokyo Metropolis. Adachi Ward is highlighted in red.

Map of the Tokyo Metropolis.
Adachi Ward is highlighted in red.

We had a 3-day weekend here in Japan, yesterday was 海の日 Umi no Hi Sea Day which celebrates the, um, sea which surrounds Japan and from time to time wreaks great havoc and tragedy upon this fair group of islands. I spent all of my spare time with Mrs. JapanThis and so I had no time for researching and writing. But I’m back and ready to jump into an area of  Tōkyō I don’t think I’ve covered yet. I hope this is a good segue from my last place name post.

Adachi is a very ancient name that most likely pre-dates the 大化ノ改新 Taika no Kaishin Taika Reforms of the mid-600’s. I mentioned the Taika Reforms a few times, but I think the most I’ve ever talked about it was in my article on Mita, which also linked to the Wiki page on the subject. Be sure to read that article. You’ll see how much JapanThis has changed.

Anyhoo, one of the major outcomes of the Taika Reforms was the creation of the system of 国 kuni provinces, including our beloved 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province. In my article on Musashi, I talked about districts within Musashi Province. If you were paying attention, I mentioned 足立郡 Adachi-gun. So this name is on the books from some of the earliest eras of Japan’s historical record[i].

The Japanese apparently sucked at using kanji in this era – or more likely, hadn’t figured out how to adapt it to their own language yet – so they wrote things in ateji. This type of early ateji is called 万葉仮名 man’yōgana. The earliest form of Adachi that we have was written out phonetically as 阿太知 Adachi Adachi. Later the word becomes standardized as 足立 Adachi Adachi. Since the name began its life in such antiquity, it’s impossible to tell what the real meaning is[ii]. But that hasn’t stopped people from speculating since the old days to the present days. So let’s take a look at some of the theories and try to evaluate them.

Adachi Ward is pretty much all Tokyo shitamachi. In the Edo Period, this area fell well outside of the city of Edo, it was a sleepy suburb of the bustling capital.

Adachi Ward is pretty much all Tokyo shitamachi.
In the Edo Period, this area fell well outside of the city of Edo, it was a sleepy suburb of the bustling capital.

The most reasonable etymology I’ve come across is this one. As wetlands were common in this area[iii], there was a plot of land or area where many reeds were growing (ie; 葦が立つ ashi ga tatsu reeds are standing). Thus the name would have originally been 葦立 Ashidachi, but over time the pronunciation changed to Adachi[iv]. During the Taika Reforms, when the imperial court in Nara was taking inventory of the provinces they claimed dominion over, they had to render many backwater areas into kanji. Hearing the name Adachi, they chose to transcribe the name as 足立 Adachi.

The other theory I heard, is one of those ridiculous mythological stories that until I heard the story of Daita, I would have dismissed outright as sheer stupidity. I’ll probably dismiss this one outright as well, but before that, let’s at least take a look at it.

Captain Japan

Captain Japan

The story goes that this is place where 日本武尊 Yamato Takeru no Mikoto (or as I like to call him, Captain Japan) stood up and took his first steps. Either that, or this is the place where Yamato Takeru recovered from an illness or an injury[v].

The same story is told of another dude. This time, instead of Captain Japan, the story revolves around 坂上田村麻呂 Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (or as I like to call him, the guy whose name I can’t be arsed to remember). The general idea behind these legends is that Yamato Takeru or Sakanoue no Tamuramaro’s 足が立った ashi ga tatta “(their) legs stood up.” Ridiculous folk etymology, if you ask me.

Just for those who care, Yamato Takeru was a legendary transvestite prince and son of the legendary 12th emperor. There is no reason to believe he or his father ever really existed, especially in light of his ridiculous name, which literally means Japan Warrior[vi]. Sakanoue no Tamuramaro was most likely a real dude. They say he was the 2nd person to ever receive the title shōgun. According to legend, he received this appointment for subjugating the indigenous peoples of the Tōhōku area and forcing them up into Ezo (modern Hokkaidō) for Japanese lebensraum on 本州 Honshū the main island.

Both of these etymologies are lacking in my opinion, the real meaning of the word most likely obscured by ateji in the 600’s. That said, taking the etymology of a modern Japanese place name (in the Kantō area, no less) all the way back to the 600’s is a pretty impressive feat. Of all the place names we’ve covered so far on JapanThis, only a handful fall into this category.

As a result of the Taika Reforms, 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province was created. 安達郡 Adachi-gun Adachi District was created with the province. The name has been preserved in the modern 足立区 Adachi-ku Adachi Ward in the northern Tōkyō Metropolis.

This is a map of Musashi Province.

This is a map of Musashi Province.
The highlighted area is the Adachi District.
The bright red area is modern Adachi Ward.

One last thing, among snobbier Tōkyōites, Adachi Ward has a somewhat less than desirable image as a bastion of ヤンキー yankī yankee culture. Yankees are Japan’s version of white trash. I’ve heard it put to me once this way, “Yankees are the Jersey Shore of Japan. Like a bunch of people from Ōsaka and Saitama moved to Tōkyō and interbred.”

Ouch! Even if you’ve never been to Japan, there should be enough colorful cultural commentary in there to keep you thinking for days.

Tokyo's Jersey Shore?

Adachi Yankee Family.
Tokyo’s Jersey Shore?

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[i] And by historical, I mean written history.

[ii] When the imperial court chose to transcribe names with kanji, they generally ignored the original meanings and just applied the kanji as one character per syllable (ateji).
Although there is no meaning to ateji, if you must know what the characters mean, here’s the breakdown:
阿 a nook/shadow 太 ta fat 知 chi wisdom.
足 a foot/leg 立 tachi standing

[iii] What?! Another “wetlands” etymology in Kantō? I’m shocked.

[iv] Keep in mind these names most likely pre-date the use of kanji among the masses in the area (which was essentially the boonies of a “country” which was essentially the boonies).

[v] We first came across Captain Japan in my article about Kasumigaseki.

[vi] Hence, the “Captain Japan” translation.

What does Kasumigaseki mean?

In Japanese History on May 2, 2013 at 1:26 am

Kasumigaseki (Fog Gate)

It's name is a mystery-tery-tery-tery-tery-tery....

Kasumigaseki was the traditional administrative center of and borders the Imperial Palace (Edo Castle) and is near the National Diet of Japan.

The word is made of 2 kanji:*
霞 kasumi fog, mist, haze
関 seki barrier (gate)

There are competing theories about this place name.

1) It was the place where the land that separates clouds and fog from the solid land.

2) It was a place where you could look down and view the clouds or mist.

3) There was a 関所 sekisho highway-checkpoint here on a road that allegedly became the 奥州街道 Ōshū Kaidō Ōshū Highway. There is a reference to a 霞ノ関 kasumi no seki in the 1360’s in the region.

4) It was the boundary that separated the Yamato  people from the “Eastern Barbarians” in the “Eastern Country” by the mythological 12th emperor 日本武尊 Yamato Takeru. Thus implying that on the other side of the 関 seki border, there was 雲霞 unka clouds & haze, barbarianism, (barbarian) swarms.

This a reconstructed "seki" check point....

This a reconstructed “seki” check point….

There is another 霞ヶ関 Kasumigaseki in Kawagoe, Saitama. The place names may be related, but we can’t say definitely. In my personal opinion, all four sound a little fishy.

1) All land is separated from clouds – why would you need a name a special place for that?

2) Kasumigeki isn’t so elevated that you could look down on clouds or fog; and even if you could, it would still be foggy there too so you couldn’t see anything.

3) The presence of a military checkpoint on the road is not unimaginable, but it doesn’t really explain the kanji  fog.

4) The Yamato Takeru thing is the most difficult to prove or disprove since we’re dealing with a mythological Emperor. But by the time the place name got written down on maps that we still have today, there would be no way to confirm or disprove the claim. And even at that, it still sounds made up to me. Come on, the dude’s name was 日本武尊, we might as well translate it as “Captain Japan.”

Well, as long as we’re just throwing out random theories, I’m gonna throw some of mine out there. Anyone can play this game!

The kanji appears in some other words, 霞草 kasumi sō (baby’s breath, a flower), 霞石 kasumi ishi (nepheline, a mineral), 霞桜 kasumi sakura (Korean hill cherry, a tree). Any of these plants or stones might have been in the area. Also, if the name predates the Edo Period, there is always the possibility of it being a local name which may have origins in the local dialects (which disappeared during the Edo Period or even later by the creation of 標準語 Hyōjungo Standard Japanese in the Meiji Era). Sadly, I fear we may never know the true origin of this place name.

This is Kasumi Sakura - Korean Hill Cherry. It looks pretty foggy/hazy to me. This could totally be the origin of this place. (See what I did there? That's called folk etymology)

This is Kasumi Sakura – Korean Hill Cherry. It looks pretty foggy/hazy to me. This could totally be the origin of this place. (See what I did there? That’s called folk etymology)

In the early Meiji Era, the Fukuoka Domain’s estate was confiscated and re-purposed as the new government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Imperial family also used some of the land for a palace.

Upper Residence of the Daimyo of Fukuoka, the Kuroda Family.

This is the entrance to Fukuoka-han’s Upper Residence in Kasumigaseki. The Daimyo’s family name was Kuroda. SInce the Edo Period, the lot has been used as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The detached palace at Kasumigaseki. I don't know the details about this building, but it seems to have been short lived. Definitely didn't survive WWII.

The detached palace at Kasumigaseki. I don’t know the details about this building.

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* The middle character , read “ga” is shorthand for a classical Japanese genitive particle. An alternate particle can be rendered as and (no) and in modern Japanese by , (no).

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