marky star

Posts Tagged ‘yanagicho’

Ōedo Line: Ushigome-Yanagichō & Ushigome-Kagurazaka

In Japanese History on June 4, 2015 at 2:15 am

牛込柳町
Ushigome-Yanagichō (crowded with cows – willow tree town)

The alleged site of the Shieikan, Kondō Isami's fencing school and incubator for the most elite members.

The alleged site of the Shieikan, Kondō Isami’s fencing school and incubator for the most elite members.

I covered this place in 2013. In short, it’s the merging of 2 former place names in order to make a unique station name. That is to say, the area isn’t called Ushigome-Yanagichō, just the station is. The actual address is 新宿区原町 Shinjuku-ku Haramachi Haramachi, Shinjuku Ward. It’s a residential area with a few 下町 shitamachi low city features. The station gives you access to the alleged location of the 道場 dōjō martial arts school of 近藤勇 Kondō Isami, where much of the core leadership of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi trained[i].

I’ve never been to this station, so I can’t say much about what the area is like, but I’m assuming it’s primarily residential.

★ Wanna read my original article about Ushigome-Yanagichō?
★ Wanna read my original article about Ichigaya?

In the 60's and 70's, this valley was one of the most polluted areas in Tokyo.  See the original article for more details.

In the 60’s and 70’s, this valley was one of the most polluted areas in Tokyo.
See the original article for more details.

牛込神楽坂
Ushigome-Kagurazaka (crowded with cows – Shintō music hill)

Ushigome Bridge as seen from the base of Kaguarazaka.

Ushigome Bridge as seen from the base of Kaguarazaka.

I wrote about both Ushigome and Kagurazaka a few years ago. To a modern person visiting Tōkyō, this area seems really far from Edo Castle[ii]. But the fact is that the outer moat system extended to Ushigome and Kagurazaka. A modern bridge stands where 牛込橋 Ushigomebashi Ushigome Bridge crossed the outer moat[iii] and you still see the stone walls that were the base of a great gate to Edo Castle. The moat is still there too, but now a train runs along the castle side. Once you cross the bridge, you can begin your ascent up the Kagura Hill. In the Edo Period, this area mainly consisted of samurai residences.

The station is located at a major thoroughfare with a lot of car and pedestrian traffic. But off the main road, it’s actually a quiet residential area that is peppered with specialized Japanese restaurants and 料亭 ryōtei high end, formal Japanese restaurants. It preserves a feeling of Edo’s yamanote mystique and some ryōtei even feature 芸者 geisha – a bit of a rarity in Tōkyō. I highly recommend just taking the train to this area for the sole purpose of getting lost in hopes of finding a cool, tiny restaurant. Trust me. You’ll love it.

★ Wanna read my original article about Ushigome?
★ Wanna read my original article about Kagurazaka?

Tomochiyo, a young geisha who debuted in Kagurazaka in 2010. She's dressed casually in this informal shot, but I like the photo because it looks like she isn't wearing a wig, but is using her natural hair. I think she's pretty cute. How about you?

Tomochiyo, a young geisha who debuted in Kagurazaka in 2010. She’s dressed casually in this informal shot, but I like the photo because it looks like she isn’t wearing a wig, but is using her natural hair. I think she’s pretty cute. How about you?

Please Support My Blog
It Don’t Write Itself™
 Click Here to Donate 
(I’ve begun making exclusive videos for patrons)
⇨ Bitcoin: 18xSJyYwRRP8bJccHiG7KxWgPKZdd5HKk2 

.

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

________________________
[i] Who were the Shinsengumi?
[ii] Present day 皇居 Kokyō Imperial Palace, but we don’t use that word here at JapanThis.
No, we never ever use that word. It’s Edo Castle. Don’t you forget that.
[iii] Today the moat is a pathway for a train.

What does Ushigome-Yanagicho mean?

In Japan, Japanese History on September 27, 2013 at 6:28 am

牛込柳
Ushigome-Yanagichō (Crowd of Cows Willow Tree Town)

Some of Yanagicho's shitamachi vibe (low town)  still exists.

Some of Yanagicho’s shitamachi vibe (low town) still exists.

Will someone please stop the Ushigome insanity??? I wanna get off. I’m starting to feel dizzy.

牛込 ushigome a crowd of cows
柳町 yanagi-chō willow tree town

Every explanation seems to be “there used to be a bunch of willow trees here.”

Well… duh… yeah… that’s what the name means. Willow Tree Town all night long, baby.

Willow trees. Yanagi.

Willow trees.
Perhaps Yanagicho once looked like this in the greener, more river-y Edo Period.
(btw – this is not Yanagicho)

So, there are places called 柳町 yanagi machi or yanagi-chō all over Japan[i] because there are lots of willow trees in Japan. But generally, we can associate willow trees with riversides and low water-rich environs. This area fits that profile. So at one time, there may have been an abundance of willow trees.

This particular place name is a merging of a few elements.

Before the reshuffling of special wards in Tōkyō, the name of the town was 市谷柳町 Ichigaya Yanagichō[ii]. After the reshuffling[iii], parts of Ushigome Ward and Ichigaya Ward were merged into the newly created Shinjuku Ward. When a station was built here the station name became Ushigome Yanagi-chō.

Ushigome-yanagicho is just another train station. You might not even notice it.

Ushigome-yanagicho is just another train station. You might not even notice it.

A Little Bit About the Area

After the 明暦大火 Meireki Taika the Great Meireki Fire, many victims were relocated to this area. This area is located in the 下町 shitamachi the low town. In the Edo Period it was an area for commoners and merchants. It was also famous for candle shops. Woo-hoo.

While we have said that Ushigome is a traditionally 山手 yamanote high city area, there was a 下町 shitamachi low city element too. Yanagichō was that element.

Because it was shitamachi, the main intersection is located in a deep depression. By the 1970’s people started noticing that exhaust fumes from cars was supposedly getting trapped here. Residents were turning up with symptoms of lead poisoning and there was a brief media scare about a lead poisoning problem. The government banned trucks over a certain size and took a few other measures to reduce traffic in order to remedy the problem. Supposedly the area is cleaned up now. (I hope TEPCO wasn’t involved in this project or it’s probably worse…)

Yanagicho intersection in the 1970's.

Yanagicho intersection in the 1970’s.

Yanagicho intersection these days.

Yanagicho intersection these days.

The Shinsengumi Connection

A train geek stamp for the Oedo Line's Ushigome-Yanagichou Station.Note Kondo Isami on the left and the Shieikan marker in the middle.

A train geek stamp for the Oedo Line’s Ushigome-Yanagichou Station.
Note Kondo Isami on the left and the Shieikan marker in the middle.

But the area’s real claim to fame, in terms of Edo-Tōkyō History, is that Yanagichō is where 試衛館 the Shieikan was located. Bakumatsu and seppuku lovers alike will recognize this name as the dōjō of 近藤勇 Kondō Isami, leader of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi[iv] – some of the biggest bad asses of the final days of the Tokugawa shōgunate.

Today the dōjō is gone; it disappeared from the historical record[v] in 1867. This is no doubt due to the shame the Meiji Government tried to cast on the samurai who supported the shōgunate – in particular, the Shinsengumi – and especially Kondō Isami, who was essentially rounded up and tried in a kangaroo court of imperial loyalists to be disgraced and put down like a sick dog.

Bastards.

Recently some have suggested that the location where the historical marker is today may not be in the correct location.

Marker of the place where the Shieikan once stood.

Marker of the place where the Shieikan once stood.

If you go past the marker and down the hill, there is a small shrine.

If you go past the marker and down the hill, there is a small shrine.

Wanna Support My Blog?
Click Here to Donate
Click Here to Buy Awesome Nerdy J-History Goods


[i] If you don’t believe me, here’s a small list.
[ii] Let it be noted, I haven’t covered Ichigaya yet.
[iii] In short, old Ushigome Ward + old Ichigaya Yanagi Town → Ushigome-Yanagi Town.
[iv] The Shinsengumi were an elite force of swordsmen who were in charge of taking down any anti-shōgunate terrorists in Kyōto. They had an extraordinary will to power and an unsurpassed propensity to kill according to a certain book on the topic that just repeats those phrases until the reader wants to slit their own belly just to make it stop.
[v] At least the records that I have access to.

%d bloggers like this: