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What does Shinanomachi mean?

In Japanese History on May 12, 2015 at 5:42 pm

信濃町
Shinanomachi (Shinano Town)

station

Today’s place name is really easy, so I thought I’d take a little time to review some ideas that pop up from time to time. Hopefully this is a good refresher for long time readers and a way to bring new readers up to speed.

I’m constantly referring to a variety of administrative units and geographical areas, most commonly: 国 kuni provinces, 藩 han domains, 郡 gun districts, 村 mura villages, and 町 machi towns. The meanings of these terms changed over time. Since JapanThis! tends to focus on 江戸東京 Edo-Tōkyō, the last term 町 machi generally referred to tightly controlled towns made up of commoners or low ranking samurai that centered around a specific trade or activity. 郡 gun districts and 村 mura villages were more loosely defined and referred to larger areas with a less cohesive concentration of residences – districts being much, much larger than villages, naturally[i]. The first two terms, 国 kuni and 藩 han are a bit more specialized.


kuni, koku
province


han
domain

令制国 ryōsei koku administrative provinces (also called 律令国 ritsuryō koku) were established sometime between 645 and 701. This is the birth of the “province.”

During the Muromachi Period, the large provincial territories came to be superseded by the protectorates of 守護大名 shugo daimyō (for lack of a better translation, “military governors/protectors of specific fiefs”).

By the time of 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ancient provinces were merely archaic boundaries on the map. Actual political authority was held by daimyō over their lands, ancestral or recently acquired. This situation continued through the Edo Period – the real power being controlled by local daimyō whose fiefs were now called 藩 han domains.

After the rise of the han system, the provinces existed as geographical borders – but not political borders – until 1871 when the imperial edict 廃藩置県 haihan-chiken was promulgated. The name means “abolition of domains, establishment of prefectures.” [ii]

Today provincial names are used as nostalgic nicknames.

国司
kokushi, kuni no tsukasa
provincial governors

Governor is a somewhat weak translation, but it’s good enough for our purposes. But in short, with the establishment of provinces, kokushi were the officials granted control the provinces. The position weakened in the Kamakura and Marumachi Periods.

Kokushi titles came in 4 flavors. They consisted of a province name plus a rank. From highest to lowest, those ranks were 守 kami protector, 介 suke caretaker, 掾 jō officer, 目 sakan overseer[iii]. (The translations of those kanji are my own and just meant to give my non-kanji reading readers a general idea.)

As the geopolitical importance of provinces faded away, kokushi titles became mere courtly titles. In the Edo Period, these archaic titles were prestigious in the courts of the shōgun and emperor, but the people bearing the titles wielded no power over the territory. It was strictly a formality.

So why did I bother going through all of that? Well, as I said before, it never hurts to review a few important concepts. Also, there are new readers joining all the time and I want to make sure they’re all onboard. And lastly, the concept of 国司 kokushi is important to this place name.

信濃国 Shinano no Kuni[iv] Shinano Province was located inside present day 長野県 Nagano-ken Nagano Prefecture. The name of 信濃町 Shinanomachi is derived from this place name and is connected with the kokushi title 信濃守 Shinano no Kami Protector of Shinano.

Shinanomachi is located in Shinjuku Ward.

Shinanomachi is located in Shinjuku Ward.
“Why have I never heard of this place?” you’re probably asking yourself.
Simple, no one fucking lives there. As of 2010, the area claimed to house a mere 979 residents!!

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So, Whose Title Was This?

永井尚政 Nagai Naomasa was a daimyō who was active at the dawn of the Edo Period. He was born in 1587; the same year 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi began expelling Christians from Japan. His father, 永井直勝 Nagai Naokatsu, was a retainer of 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu. As such Naomasa was along for the ride at many of the major events that catapulted Ieyasu to the position of shōgun – ie; the military campaigns that defined both the beginning of the shōgunate and the end of the Sengoku Period.

In 1600, at the ripe old age of 13, Naomasa is believed to have accompanied his father Naokatsu to the 関ケ原の戦い Sekigahara no Tatakai Battle of Sekigahara. In 1602, he became an attendant of 徳川秀忠 Tokugawa Hidetada, who would soon become the 2nd shōgun. Needless to say, this was an extremely prestigious position for a boy of his age.

A famous screen depicting the Battle of Sekigahara. I actually recently saw the real thing at the Great Sekigahara Exhibit at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. It was pretty freaking impressive.

In 1605, the newly installed 2nd shōgun, Hidetada, granted him the honorary title 信濃守 Shinano no Kami. Having received this title directly from the shōgun, this new name became far more well-known than his real name. However, his new status within the shōgunate ranks came with responsibilities and so from winter 1614 to spring 1615, he fought alongside the retired shōgun Ieyasu and shōgun Hidetada at the 大坂の陣 Ōsaka no Jin Siege of Ōsaka. Years later, the 3rd shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu sent him to protect the imperial city of 京都 Kyōto during the 島原の乱 Shimabara no Ran Shimabara Rebellion from winter 1637 to spring 1638[v]. These last 2 campaigns are often said to have put out the last serious threats to Tokugawa hegemony.

In his career as a chief retainer of the first 4 Tokugawa shōguns[vi], Shinano no Kami’s life spanned the last gasps of the Sengoku Period and saw the birth of the so-called Pax Tokugawa[vii]. The shōgunate changed his domains 3 times, which meant his status as a daimyō was elevated 3 times.

An image of an audience with 3rd shogun Iemitsu. The shogun is seated in the dais at the top center of the picture. He is flanked by 2 attendants. The term attendant (koshō, in Japanese) is actually a somewhat erotically charged term. But to the best of my knowledge Hidetada didn't have an established sexual relationship with Naomasa. He probably just acted as an assistant and secretary.

An image of an audience with 3rd shogun Iemitsu. The shogun is seated in the dais at the top center of the picture. He is flanked by 2 attendants.
The term attendant (koshō, in Japanese) is actually a somewhat erotically charged term. But to the best of my knowledge Hidetada didn’t have an established sexual relationship with Naomasa. He probably just acted as an assistant and secretary.

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OK, So This Guy Is Cool and All, But Why Is There a Place in Tokyo Called Shinanomachi?

According to the rules of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance[viii], Nagai Naomasa (Shinano no Kami) was required to build 3 palaces in the shōgun’s capital at Edo. He built his下屋敷 shimo-yashiki lower residence[ix] in an area between modern Shinanomachi and 四ツ谷 Yotsuya. The title Shinano no Kami was hereditary and since all of the daimyō living in that palace were called Shinano no Kami (and indeed, this title is written on maps, not Nagai), it’s clear the local economy that popped up to service the Nagai daimyō and their retainers came to be called 信濃町 Shinano Machi “Shinano Town.”

Spoiler alert.  Nagai Naomasa becomes a monk.

Spoiler alert.
Nagai Naomasa becomes a monk.

Nagai Naomasa’s Final Days

In 1632, shōgun Hidetada died, and Naomasa was one of the daimyō in charge of overseeing the construction of the lavish funerary temple, 台徳院 Daitoku-in[x] at the Tokugawa 菩提寺 bodai-ji, family temple 増上寺 Zōjō-ji in 芝 Shiba[xi]. By the time of his retirement in 1658, his imperial court rank had been raised from 従五位下 ju go’i no ge Lower Junior 5th Rank to 従四位下 ju shi’i no ge Lower Junior 4th Rank[xii]. After retirement he became a Buddhist monk and changed his name to 信斎 Shinsai which means “holy truth” but preserves the first kanji from his courtly title. He eventually died in 1668 and then his body was interred at 興聖寺 Kōshō-ji Kōshō Temple in Kyōto.

Koshoji in Kyoto, final resting place of Nagai Naomasa - Shinano no Kami.  Not a bad place to go into that good night, right?

Koshoji in Kyoto, final resting place of Nagai Naomasa – Shinano no Kami.
Not a bad place to go into that good night, right?

In the popularized tales of samurai lore, Nagai Naomasa isn’t particularly well known. But I think you can appreciate that he was living in one of the most exciting times a Sengoku samurai could have lived in. He lived through the very tail end of the Sengoku Period – and definitely witnessed and participated in warfare. But he also lived to be an old man who saw the most stable regime anyone had seen in 100 years. It reminds me of the scene in Game of Thrones, where Bronn says “I’ve had an exciting life. I want my death to be boring.” Naomasa was of the first generation that made that dream a reality. He had grown up in a time full of violence but the dawn of the new age had afforded him the luxury of dying a peaceful death. Such a death was a luxury that would become a norm for the samurai of the Edo Period.

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[i] 郡 gun is sometimes translated as “county.”
[ii] By the way, why does Japan have prefectures and not states?
[iii] Two famous examples from the Edo Period are 吉良義央 Kira Yoshihisa – usually portrayed as the villain in the 47 Rōnin story – whose titles was 上野介 Kōzuke no Suke Guardian of Kōzuke Province – and 勝海舟 Katsu Kaishū – whose title was 阿波守 Awa no Kami Protector of Awa Province.
[iv] The short name for the province was 信州 Shinshū. By the way, the kanji for Shinano – like most provincial names – is most likely ateji. That is to say, there is no meaning.
[v] We talked about the Shimabara Rebellion the other day in my article on Fuda no Tsuji.
[vi] Ieyasu, Hidetada, Iemitsu, Ietsuna.
[vii] A pseudo-Latin term that means “Tokugawa Peace” based on the real Latin term Pax Romana “Roman Peace” – referring to the establishment of the Roman Empire under Augustus Caesar.
[viii] You should probably know the basics of alternate attendance.
[ix] A daimyō’s lower residence was often the largest estate. It was generally suburban and served as a refuge in case of disaster or if said daimyō just needed to get away from it all.
[x] Sometimes Romanized as Taitoku-in. Here’s my article about it.
[xi] Hidetada’s mortuary temple was one of the grandest examples of Edo Period funerary architecture, next to the mausolea in Nikkō, was probably one of the most unique graves of a Tokugawa Shōgun – without a doubt, it was the greatest example in Edo itself.
[xii] Don’t even ask me to explain the court rank system. I can’t! lol

What does Myogadani mean?

In Japanese History on March 10, 2014 at 7:25 am

茗荷谷
Myōgadani (myōga valley)

Myoga growing on Myoga Hill in Myogadani.

Myoga growing on Myoga Hill in Myogadani.

I wanted this to be a short blog post, but it turned into another epic tale of… fuck… I don’t know what happened. Today, in addition to the etymology of this place, you’re getting two extra worthless bits of Japanese history trivia. One is about Japanese ginger. The other is about Japanese dialects[i].

No, wait, what am I talking about?! This is going to be one messy ride through history, botany, kanji, and linguistics. Edo Period government bureaucracy is going to come up, too[ii]. And as always there is a lot of additional information in the footnotes, so don’t skip those. They are clickable. And there are about 25 of them.

The Marunouchi Line at Myogadani Station.

The Marunouchi Line at Myogadani Station.

Alright, let’s get started, then.

There are basically 2 conflicting arguments backed up by so much controversial evidence that I have to apologize upfront: I’m sorry, I can’t give you any determination on this place name. There is a popular theory and there is a less popular theory.

Most Popular Theory: ginger
2nd Most Popular Theory: guns

Think that’s disparate?

We haven’t gotten started. It seems that various local groups have picked their preferred derivations and stood their ground by adamantly insisting the other derivation is just wrong. But from my point of view, there is no “smoking gun” evidence for either etymology. But we’ll learn lots of good stuff along the way. So let’s get down to business, shall we?

map

As written today the kanji are easy. They mean “myōga valley.”

茗荷 myōga

myōga

tani

valley

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What is Myōga?

It’s a kind of ginger. And believe me, we’re gonna go into this ginger thing in a little bit. But from a literalist reading of the kanji, one would assume that this place was famous for many wild myōga plants or was actually a center of production for myōga. This is by and far the most popular theory. Some supporters of this theory point at 茗荷坂 Myōgazaka Myōga Hill next to the Myōgadani Station as the original site of the myōga farms, although there is absolutely no evidence to back this up. Oh, and in Japan, there are generally two types of ginger.

茗荷 myōga

Japanese ginger Zingiber mioga

生姜[iii] shōga

Regular ol’ ginger Zingiber officinale

Because we’re dealing with two types of ginger, I’m only going to use the words myōga and shōga for this article, because otherwise the word ginger is just going to be repeated ad nauseam.

Myoga

Myoga

Myōga 茗荷 myōga myoga (also known as Japanese ginger) is an indigenous woodland plant that grows wild in the hills and fields of Japan. Because it’s frequently used as a garnish, it’s also popular for people to grow at home in their gardens. Oh, and the best thing is that it’s thought to be an anticarcinogen. Yay! Because fuck cancer[iv].

Anyhoo, there’s an old wives’ tale 茗荷を食べると物忘れが酷く成る myōga wo taberu to monowasure ga hidoku naru “If you eat myōga, you’ll get really bad at remembering things.”[v] Of course, this isn’t true at all. Myōga is a really healthy plant to eat and – at least according to Wikipedia – studies have shown that the aroma of myōga and regular ginger actually help with concentration and memory recall.

Shoga

Shoga


What is Sh
ōga?

Shōga生姜 shōga ginger came to Japan in the 2nd or 3rd century from China[vi]. It was cultivated a little in the Nara Period and was in wide use by the Edo Period. The same old wives’ tale exists about this form of ginger. Traditional Japanese cuisine is often very subtle. Myōga has a strong taste and so does shōga. It’s probably because of a general distrust of vivid flavors, that people say “if you eat shōga, you’ll get really bad at remembering things,” too. But have no fear. It’s safe.

There’s a popular story that the 11th and 12th shōguns, Ienari[vii] and Ieyoshi[viii] respectively, loved shōga. When one of the most powerful 老中rōjū senior councilor of the shōgunate named 水野忠邦 Mizuno Tadakuni Mizuno Tadakuni[ix] passed a sweeping set of sumptuary laws targeting extravagance known as the 天保之改革 Tempō no Kaikaku Tempō Reforms[x]. On the list of prohibitions was – you guessed it – shōga! And when shōgun Ieyoshi started to notice that shōga wasn’t being included in his dishes anymore, he enquired about it. He was soon told that the plant was banned. Ieyoshi flipped out and stripped him of his positions and domain and banished him to 山形藩 Yamagata Han Yamagata Domain – a very, very cold place in the winter.

OK, I said there was another theory. And believe me, this one is a doozie.

stupid map

The Name Has Nothing to Do With Ginger

There is another theory. This one says there was never any myōga growing in the area. Instead this theory claims the name derives from 冥加 myōga a Buddhist term that means divine protection[xi].

On the other side of the tracks from Myōgadani Station is an area called 小石川 Koishikawa. This area was a very elite area in the Edo Period because the Mito Tokugawa clan had a massive residence here[xii]. There were other daimyō residences and samurai residences located in the vicinity. The residence of the 簞笥奉行 tansu bugyō the magistrate of the shōgun’s arsenal was also nearby, as were the barracks his samurai staff[xiii].

The idea is that the samurai who lived in the barracks town of 御箪笥町 Go-Tansu Machi would make offerings at the 稲荷神社 Inari Jinja Inari Shrine at the top of Myōgadani Hill (where the station stands today) and pray for good luck in marksmanship[xiv]. The shrine was called 冥加稲荷神社 Myōga Inari Jinja Shrine of the Inari of Divine Protection. Since this area was the valley where Myōga Inari Shrine was, the locals called it 冥加谷 Myōgadani.

Here’s where it gets weird. This theory states that the Meiji government changed the kanji. After winning the Boshin War against the last Tokugawa supporters, they kicked out all of the samurai and daimyō from the area and began repurposing the land. They hated the association of the name with the Tokugawa Shōgunate and so they changed the kanji from 冥加谷 Myōgadani Valley of Divine Protection to the less “confrontational” 茗荷谷Myōgadani Valley of Japanese Ginger.

Take that bakufu!!

koishikawa ward

Former Koishikawa Ward.
Also pictured: Ushigome, Yotsuya, and Okubo.
Okuba was famous for its shooting range.

This story comes off strong. Definitely, it has the most historical background. It talks about what the neighborhood was like in the Edo Period and references other neighborhoods and incorporates the shōgunal administration. But there are a few problems with it[xv].

First of all, the only place called Myōga Inari that still exists and is located on the compounds of 吉祥寺 Kichijō-ji[xvi] in Bunkyō Ward. However, Kichijō-ji is a 30 minute walk from its namesake in Myōgadani[xvii], also in Bunkyō Ward – but still 30 freaking minutes away on foot. Also, the name of this Inari is 茗荷 myōga ginger not 冥加 myōga divine protection.

At Kichijō-ji, Myōga Inari is enshrined together with another kami named 聖徳稲荷 Seitoku Inari (Inari of Virtuous Virtue) a mysterious kami that nobody seems to know much about except there appears to be a connection between this kami and 大権現 Daigongen, which anyone who read my series on the funerary temples of the Tokugawa Shōguns would know is none other than Tokugawa Ieyasu himself.

The shrine seems to have no connection with samurai, and these days it’s most famous for people who come to pray against infectious diseases[xviii] – or perhaps quitting myōga (because it makes you forgetful, remember?), and oddly today, it’s biggest claim to fame is curing hemorrhoids[xix].

So in short, the Tansu Machi theory is at conflict with itself on a few points:
From Suidōbashi to Myōgadani is also a 30 minute walk.
From Ushigome Tansu to Myōgadani is also a 30 minute walk.
From Koishikawa Station to Myōgadani is a 30 minute walk.

In the Edo Period, this wouldn’t be a long distance to walk. And a name transfer wouldn’t be impossible, but it’s such a local name that it seems kind of  really. Furthermore, the existing shrine uses the kanji for myōga and not “divine protection.” And while the early Meiji Government did in fact change the writing of 大坂 Ōsaka to 大阪 Ōsaka[xx], 江戸 Edo to 東京 Tōkyō and changed a lot of other names when they abolished the Han System and establish the Prefecture System, I’m not so sure that they were just running around changing names of small, local areas out of spite.

There must be some mixing up of stories going on here. Or if this second theory is true, the name was applied to a larger area originally. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any records from the Edo Period and the name didn’t appear on maps until the Meiji Era.

I told you at the beginning this was going to be messy. 

Myoga Inari Shrine. Very tiny.

Myoga Inari Shrine.
Very tiny.

Let’s Talk a Bit About Japanese Dialects

The reading of the kanji (valley) in place names is distributed differently across Japan.



ya

More common in the east


たに
tani

More common in the west

There is a linguistic divide that occurs somewhere in Gifu Prefecture. This is also evidenced by the fact that there is a major dialect divide that cuts through Shizuoka and Aichi – compare the Mikawa dialect with the Nagoya dialect. This is thought to be part of the same “gray zone” that is part of a major split in dialects, most famously dividing the Kantō dialects and the Kansai dialects[xxi].

Distribution of Japanese Dialects

Distribution of Japanese Dialects

So why is a Western Japanese Place Name Occuring in the Shōgun’s Capital in the East?

The reading たに tani appears in only two Tōkyō place names (as far as I know). According to some, this reading supposedly signals an Edo Period place name based on the assumption that a valley would have never been named something + tani because the word didn’t exist in the local dialect. Therefore, the assumption is that it would be either (a) an affected form (b) a place name given by people from western Japan.

Looking at the old maps of daimyō residences in the area, there are two 藩邸 hantei domain headquarters in the area from western Japan. The two domains are 加賀藩 Kaga Han Kaga Domain and郡山藩 Kōriyama Han Kōriyama Domain. Kōriyama Domain was located in modern 奈良県 Nara-ken Nara Prefecture, and one can imagine the dialect having some prestige due to Nara being a former imperial capital. Kaga Domain was located in modern Ishikawa and Toyama Prefectures. Neither of these residences was particularly close to modern Myōgadani station, but they were within walking distance. Could samurai from western Japan have influenced the naming of this area? It’s possible, but it’s hard to prove. Bear in mind that Edo residences maintained by daimyō were basically embassies and naturally they brought their local goods and culture with them to the capital.

Could it have been an affected form? Perhaps the local Edoites saw some value in using a western form as it seemed exotic.

Could the influx of samurai from all over Japan that was making Edo a melting pot of Japanese culture have exposed native Edoites to readings of kanji they didn’t normally use? Certainly.

Could the reading, although not common in eastern Japan, still have been lurking like a latent gene, just bubbling up to the surface from time to time?[xxii] I don’t see why not. But it seems that the most likely case is that this name does not pre-date the institution of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance. It doesn’t help us determine which of the two etymologies I mentioned above are true. But it does illustrate a very important fact about the Edo Period.

While Edo wasn’t an international city, it was the closest Japan had to one at the time in the sense that every area of Japan was bringing goods and ideas into and out of the shōgun’s capital. People tend to think that the Tokugawa Shōgunate was just a top down machine pushing a new Edo Culture onto the rest of the 天下 tenka realm. But it really wasn’t like that at all. The other domains were importing culture into Edo as well. In the place name “Myōgadani,” we may be looking at a footprint of that exchange, crystallized and preserved forever as a place name. How frickin’ cool is that?

As mentioned earlier, myoga grows wild in Japan.

As mentioned earlier, myoga grows wild in Japan.

Final Words

If you’re still reading, all I have to say is “thank you!” I said from the outset that this was going to be a messy story, but bear with me just a little bit longer.

Until 1966, an area existed called 茗荷谷町 Myōgadani-machi Myōgadani Town. At that time the town was merged with 文京区小日向 Bunkyō-ku Kohinata Kohinata, Bunkyō Ward. As such, no official postal address exists for Myōgadani. Today, only the area around the 茗荷谷駅 Myōgadani Eki Myōgadani Station is referred to as Myōgadani. There is a big hill called 茗荷谷坂 Myōgadanizaka Myōgadani Hill which, besides the station name (built in 1955), is the only link to the past. A local organization has planted myōga in the area as a reminder of the past (and also to piss off the “divine protection” faction).

Myogadani Station in the 1960's-1970's.

Myogadani Station in the 1960’s-1970’s.

In nearby 深光寺 Jinkō-ji Jinkō Temple, the author of 南總里見八犬傳 Nansō Satomi Hakkenden the Tale of Eight Dogs 馬琴 Bakin Bakin is buried[xxiii]. Interestingly, there is a small stone lantern hidden on the side of the temple called the 切支丹灯籠 Kirishitan Tōrō the Christian Lantern. It uses the word Kirishitan which is a direct reference to the Christians of Pre-Modern Japan. I’m not sure if this monument has been commemorating them since the Edo Period or if it’s a recent thing. Judging from pictures, the statue doesn’t seem very old – but it could be a replacement.

Even more curious is that another nearby temple, 徳雲寺 Toku’un-ji, which seems to make most of its money off funerals, offers a キリスト教プラン Kiristo-kyō Puran Christian Plan. At first, I thought this was related to the hidden old Kirishitan monument at Jinkō-ji, but then I saw it came under the heading 無宗教キリスト教のプラン Mushūkyō/Kiristo-kyō Puran non-religious/Christian plan[xxiv].

Shit just got real, son.

Shit just got real, son.

UPDATE:

I figured out the connection between the Myōgadani temples and Christianity.

Christianity is so rare here – like 1% of the population or something – that this immediately jumped out at me. One small Christian monument maybe raises an eyebrow, but two in the same area sets off my spidey sense. Well, it turns out that much of the area was the former 小石川牢獄 Koishikawa Rōgoku Koishikawa Prison, but is usually referred to as the 切支丹屋敷 Kirishitan Yashiki the Christian Mansion – which was anything but a mansion.

There were 3 major efforts in Japan to expel foreigners and annoying Christian missionaries. One, by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Two, by 2nd shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada. Three, by 3rd shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu (though Kirishitan occasionally pop up as late as the reign of 5th shōgun, Tokugawa Ietsuna).

The first shōgun, Ieyasu, was relatively lax about Christianity. He didn’t like it, but he tolerated it to ensure trade with countries that offered technological benefits to Japan. His son Hidetada was much more skeptical of the intentions of Catholic missionaries who saw Japan as fertile ground for conversion. By the time we get to the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu, the shōgunate was definitely out of the honeymoon phase and enacted an all out ban on Christianity. They rounded up many suspected Christians and sent many of them to the “Christian Mansion” for interrogation – and possibly (read ‘probably’) torture and execution. You can read more about this site and others here.

And on that happy note, thanks for reading and have a great day!

                                   

 

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[i] I’ll save the dialect info until the end.
[ii] As is par for the course.
[iii] Could also be written 生薑 or , but I’ve never seen this except in a dictionary.
[iv] Seriously, fuck cancer.
[v] It’s an old wives’ tale that apparently gets repeated ad nauseam in rakugo
[vi] Or possibly Korea.
[vii] Otherwise known as, “the party shōgun.”
[viii] The “I can’t deal with foreigner because I’m a pussy” shōgun.
[ix] You can read about the Tempō Reforms here. Needless to say, this is just a made up story. Tadakuni’s problems were waaaaaay bigger than an unlikely ban on shōga. The reforms pissed off the merchants and artisans and a fair portion of the samurai class, but when he started confiscating parts of the domains immediately surrounding Edo and Ōsaka, he pissed off a fair chunk of the daimyō class – who btw, were already paying through their teeth due to the economic strain of their sankin-kōtai duties. Tadakuni easily goes down in history as one of douchiest daimyō of the Edo Period.
[x] In an attempt to bolster the economy, he thought prohibiting people from buying luxury items would be a good idea. Here is the link to the Wikipedia page on “idiot.”
[xi] Don’t worry about the meaning of the kanji, which literally mean “increasing/adding darkness.” Like most religious terminology, Buddhist kanji is more or less gibberish.
[xii] Just a reminder, the Go-Sanke were the three families that could provide an heir to the shōgun family were Mito, Kii, and Owari).
[xiii] If none of this is ringing a bell, please refer to my article on the topic.
[xiv] But wait, you said Buddhist term, so why is there a Shintō shrine here? I’ve talk about this before, but you can catch up here.
[xv] The problems derive from the fact that the Edo Period locations in question and the modern place names don’t quite align.
[xvi] Kichijō-ji is a story unto itself – see here.
[xvii] Some people say the shrine stood where the station stands today. The kanji for the shrine is myōga (ginger) not “divine protection.” Also, why is it now preserved 30 minutes away? Kichijō-ji claims that the Myōga Inari has always been in their precinct. Here’s where we start to realize the areas are connected, but there’s no solid evidence for any of there explanations. Arrrrrrrrrrrgh!!!!
[xviii] By the way, praying doesn’t do anything. JapanThis does not endorse praying to cure diseases. We highly recommend you see a competent doctor.
[xix] I bet a cream works better for that.
[xx] The original writing contains the kanji 坂 saka hill, but if written sloppily looked like 大士反 which the new Meiji government interpreted as “great samurai uprising.” Clearly, they didn’t like this one.
[xxi] But it’s really much more complicated than that.
[xxii] If my gene analogy is off, sue me. I sucked at genetics in high school and willfully forgot everything.
[xxiii] His name is difficult, but most people call him Bakin these days. His real name was 滝沢興邦 Takizawa Okikuni, but wrote under the name 曲亭馬琴 Kyokutei Bakin. I don’t know anything about him, but my Japanese sources refer to him variably as Takizawa Bakin and Kyokutei Bakin. I think Bakin is just easier to use. If you want to know more about Japanese names prior to the Meiji Restoration, check out this article.
[xxiv] btw, 無宗教 mushūkyō means non-religious/secular as opposed to 無神論 mushinron atheism. Yours truly prefers mushinron.

What does Yotsuya mean?

In Japanese History on November 29, 2013 at 6:00 am

四ッ谷
Yotsuya (“4 Valleys,” but more at “nobody fucking knows…”)

Yotsuya Station in the future.... "A train in every moat" - Tokugawa Ieyasu

Yotsuya Station in the future….
“A train in every moat” – Tokugawa Ieyasu

When I first started writing about Tokyo place names, I wanted to tackle Yotsuya right away. I assumed it would be an easy target. Three or four paragraphs and… done!

It’s an interesting area even if just viewed from the windows of the 丸ノ内線 Marunouchi Sen Marunouchi Line as you wait at the station. Just peering out the window of the train, you’ll immediate notice that the subway has magically stopped in a valley. The train didn’t emerge from the depths of the earth. The lay of the land dropped down below the subway level. If I’m not mistaken, when you see the tennis courts and the steep incline of the hill, what you’re looking at isn’t just a natural valley, this was once the outer moat of Edo Castle.

I'm in a moat!

I’m in a moat!

Anyways, when I first started this blog, my articles were much shorter and – looking back – not as well researched as they are now. But back then, a topic like Yotsuya, which goes into dialects and may be related to other place names, turned out to be extremely daunting. Just considering this topic at that time was biting off more than I could chew. I wanted to write an article in 1 or 2 hours.

Now, even though it takes a lot more time to cover a topic, I’m not afraid to come to dead ends[i] or take the extra time to do my research right and make my explanations clear. And while I might lose readers going further in depth, I’d rather offer quality over quantity. I’m also a lot more confident in my ability to cover these topics.  And so, at JapanThis! it’s balls to the walls Tōkyō Place Names. No turning back, son.

Balls to the walls, son.

Balls to the walls, son.

Most people seem to think the name Yotsuya is old. Old as in it pre-dates the Edo Period. But one thing that is consistent in most of the etymologies is the first kanji, 四 yottsu four. Much of the mystery of this place name seems to come from the final character. That said, the “number 4” character is also suspect. So let’s be skeptical, shall we?

Oh yeah, I’ve also identified 2 categories for most of these theories: the “4 things group” and the “valley group.” These are just categories I’ve invented for organizing this article so they don’t reflect any legitimate linguistic groupings, but I think they’re good for our purposes here.

“Four Things Group”

四つ yottsu no ya four houses were here[ii]
四つ yottsu no ya four shops were here[iii]
四つ yottsu no ya four valleys were here

“Valley Group”

On this blog, I keep harping on yamanote and shitamachi and how fluid the terms have been through history. But the basic meaning derives from the Sengoku Era practice of putting the samurai families on the (literal) defensive high ground. I feel like a broken record always babbling on and on about hills and valleys. I blame Jin’nai Hidenobu for this. But I think he’s absolutely correct: if you want to understand Edo-Tōkyō, you have to pay attention to the hills, valleys, rivers, and plateaux[iv]. I can’t unsee the world his book, Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology, turned me on to.

So let’s look at two words that will come often in the future, both of which we should keep in mind today.

台地 daichi plateau, elevated area
谷地 yachi lowlands, basin

 。

etymology_header

 。

OK, so let’s talk some etymology, yo.

Theory 1

Yotsuya means 四つの家 yottsu no ya four houses. Of course, the kanji can mean house and family or family business. Presumably this pre-dates the Edo Period, so you can imagine 4 bad ass noble families chilling in their fortifications on 4 hills in the area. It seems like pure conjecture to me, but this is not an unreasonable etymology.

Theory 2

Yotsuya means 四つの屋 yottsu no ya four shops. This is a reference to four teahouses located on the 甲州街道 Kōshū Kaidō (the road to 甲府 Kōfu – present day Shizuoka). The names of the teahouses have been preserved.

梅屋 ume-ya
保久屋 boku-ya
茶屋 cha-ya
布屋 nuno-ya

These 4 teahouses were not all in operation at the same time until the Gen’na Era (1615-1624)[v] which places the origin of the name at the beginning of the Edo Period. This is at odds with the other theories which claim a place called “Yotsuya” existed before the coming of the Tokugawa. Again, not an unreasonable etymology but more recent than many other explanations.

Theory 3

There were originally 4 valleys with 4 hamlets each. The explanation is easier with a visual.

English meaning Japanese meaning Pre-modern spelling Extant names Rōma-ji
first valley 一の谷 *一谷 市ヶ谷 ichigaya
second valley 二の谷 *二谷
third valley 三の谷 *三谷
fourth valley 四の谷 四谷 四ッ谷 yotsuya

The words with * in front of them are hypothetical. That is to say, there is no documented case of those words. For the explanation about Ichigaya, see my last article. I don’t really buy into this theory for a few reasons. One, the etymology of Ichigaya is suspect. Two, there’s no trace of the other place names anywhere. And three, Yotsuya lacks the genitive particle which seems to be present in Ichigaya. If these names were a set, you’d think they’d be preserved as a set. Now, in defensive of this theory, if these names were especially ancient and written without any genitive particles and 2 of the names fell into disuse, the mental connection between the 2 remaining names could have been lost due to writing system. For example, Tōkyōites read 山手 as Yama no te, but no is not written. People from outside Tōkyō might read it as Yamate. Both readings are technically correct depending on where you live. So while I’m not a big fan of this etymology, I can at least imagine some conditions under which it could be true.

So now let’s look at some more of what I call the “Valley Group.”

.

Theory 4

As mentioned before 台地 daichi means plateaux and 谷地 yachi means lowlands. The idea is that the original place name was 谷地谷 Yachiya Lowland Valley. The name was corrupted and became Yotsuya and the kanji were subsequently changed to better reflect the pronunciation. The kanji for the number 4 was chosen to make 四谷 Yotsuya Forth Valley match nearby 一ヶ谷 Ichigaya First Valley. It makes a nice pattern and it could be true. But we don’t have place name Yachiya documented, nor do we have strong evidence that Ichigaya’s original first kanji was the number 1. So again, pure conjecture.

Theory 5

This is a variant of theory 4. The difference is this says the name does derive from 谷地谷 Yachiya (which has ridiculous looking kanji and is redundant), but from 萢谷 Yachiya.  萢 yachi means wetlands/bog. The name was corrupted and became Yotsuya and the kanji were subsequently changed to better reflect the pronunciation. Apparently, in Ibaraki there are two places called Yotsuya. Both are said to have come from this word. Today those places written 四ツ谷 and 余津谷. Because one place has the same spelling with the number 4, this leads me to think there might be no connection with other numbers. The number thing might just be totally made up or a coincidence at best.

Theory 6

Yotsuya originally represented a larger area that consisted of four valleys.

千日谷 Sen’nichidani
茗荷谷 Myōgadani
千駄ヶ谷 Sendagaya
大上谷  (狼谷) Ōkamidani

This theory postulates that the meaning of the word is not “the 4th valley,” but “the 4 valleys.”

The red pin is Edo Castle. The green pin is Yotsuya Station. The northernmost pin is Myogadani Station. The easternmost pin is Yoyogi-Uehara Station (Okamidani)

The red pin is Edo Castle.
The green pin is Yotsuya Station.
The northernmost pin is Myogadani Station.
The easternmost pin is Yoyogi-Uehara Station (Okamidani)

As you can see I the picture, Sen’nichidani and Sendagaya are really close to Yotsuya – just a short walk, really. But Myōgadani is about an hour’s walk from Yotsuya. Ōkamidani (present day Yoyogi Uehara) is not just over an hour’s walk away, it was totally outside of Edo at its height. If the name predates the Edo Period, I don’t know why that valley or Myōgadani would have been included in this “4 valleys” area. People of the Edo Period themselves who commented on this derivation also seemed to have taken it with a grain of salt.

Grave of Hattori Hanzo - ninja extraordinaire.

Grave of Hattori Hanzo – ninja extraordinaire.

To be honest, I’ve never done anything other than change trains at Yotsuya Station, but the area is pretty famous for a number of things. History lovers may want to check out 西念寺 Sainen-ji Sainen Temple and the remains of 四谷見附 Yotsuya Mitsuke. This temple is most famous for the grave of  服部半蔵 AKA Hattori Hanzō, the trusted vassal of Tokugawa Ieyasu and namesake of Edo Castle’s 半蔵門 Hanzō Mon Hanzō Gate (and subsequently the Hanzōmon Line subway). You can read more about him here. A little known fact is that there is a tower on the temple grounds honoring Ieyasu’s first born son, Nobuyasu. I don’t know much about the dude, but Nobuyasu was married to one of Oda Nobunaga’s daughters and was accused of plotting against Nobunaga. Nobunaga wasn’t having that shit and to confirm Ieyasu’s loyalty, told Ieyasu to order his son to commit seppuku. Nobuyasu seems to have been kinda cunty, but still, no father wants to order their son to slit his own belly and die. Nevertheless, Ieyasu made the command like a Sengoku badass. The thing that’s interesting about this to me is that (1) the first born son was the most important child to a family in those days so this had to be hard (2) Ieyasu seems to have held a grudge against his 2nd son, the second shōgun, Hidetada, for a number of reasons. I can’t help but wonder if this was one of them.

Yotsuya Gate during the Edo Period.

Yotsuya Gate during the Edo Period.

Very little remains of the 四谷御門 Yotsuya Go-mon Yotsuya Gate and 四谷見附 Yotsuya Mitsuke. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about what I’m looking at when I visit Japanese castles. But recently, I took a walk around the remains of Edo Castle with Eric from Jcastle.info and I’ve started looking at castles in a whole new light. I’m pretty into mitsuke now and Edo Castle had 36. Gotta catch ‘em all!

Yotsuya Gate Ruins

Yotsuya Gate Ruins

And lastly, I’d be an asshole if I didn’t bring up the legendary 四谷怪談 Yotsuya Kaidan The Ghost Story of Yotsuya. As you know, telling scary stories has been a national past time in Japan since time immemorial. This is one of the most famous ghost stories in Japan because it was originally immortalized as a kabuki play, but has been retold time and time again in various genres. Here’s Wikipedia’s article on the story.

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[i] And we will – once again – come to a dead end today.

[ii] “Houses” in the historical sense of families. Think Game of Thrones or any histories that you’ve read. The House of Caesar, the House of Charlemagne, the House of Tokugawa, the House of Kardashian.

[iii] More about this later, of course. But the previous “four families” could also be taken as “four shops” in that in the Edo Period (and indeed before then) because professions were inherited so in some ways 家 ya family and 屋 ya shop were interchangeable. Just look at the kanji for the fast food chain Yoshinoya 吉野家 Yoshino-ya which uses the kanji for family and not shop. (It’s generally assumed that this is not a family name but a reference to the hometown of the founder of the company). Either way, this illustrates a certain amount of flexibility with the kanji and meaning.

[iv] His book Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology is a fantastic look at the lay of the land and its impact on the growth of the Edo-Tōkyō. I can’t recommend it enough.

[v] The Genna Era is considered by some to be the “Golden Age” of the Edo Period. I’m not sure if I agree with that assessment, but that’s just personal taste, now isn’t it? Anyhoo, this is probably the most exciting part of the Edo Period because we see the succession of the first three Tokugawa shōguns, the most dramatic expansions of Edo Castle, the rise of Edo as the premier city in the realm, and gradual closing off of Japan. This era really sets the tone as a “Tokugawa Era.”

What does Ushigome Tansu Machi mean?

In Japanese History on September 26, 2013 at 2:31 am

牛込箪笥町
Ushigome Tansu Machi (Crowd of Cows Dresser Town)

Welcome to a part of Tokyo that in 8 years I have never been to. Need to rectify that situation somebody.

Welcome to a part of Tokyo that in 8 years I have never been to.
Need to rectify that situation some day.

Yesterday I talked about Ushigome.

When normal Japanese people think of the word 箪笥 tansu traditional dresser, they will think of this:

Tansu - a traditional Japanese chest of drawers (dresser).

Tansu – a traditional Japanese chest of drawers (dresser).

And indeed, that is what the word (kanji and all) means. But why would this end up in a place name?

Good question.

Well, it turns out that in this case, tansu doesn’t refer to furniture. It refers to weapons.

Wait. Whaaaa?

Well, it turns out that in the Edo Period the general term for the arms, armor, and ordnance of the shōgunate was 箪笥 tansu.

In 1713, this area was entrusted to a local magistracy and a 町 machi town was developed. The original name of the town was 牛込御箪笥町 Ushigome go-tansu machi. By the way, 御箪笥 go-tansu is the honorific term for 箪笥 tansu.

The title of the magistrate who oversaw the private arsenals of the shōgunate was 簞笥奉行 tansu bugyō[i]. His office managed the full sets of armor, bows and arrows, and lances of the shōgunate. The people who worked under this office weren’t only in charge of weapons, though. The broad office title of 御納戸役 o-nandoyaku store room service referred to the mid-level samurai[ii] who would fetch and file and take inventory and maintain the clothes, supplies and furniture of the shōgunal family. They might also do the day to day work of managing the transactions of the shōgunal coffers. When gifts had to be given to lords or (god forbid) foreign emissaries, these were the samurai clerks who made it happen. Whether the magistrate or the warehouses themselves were in this area isn’t really important. The name derives from the fact that dormitories, 武家屋敷長屋 buke yashiki nagaya long houses, and the homes of other officials associated with this type of work were based here. So while this name is confusing to us now, in the Edo Period it was a way of designating what work and what class of samurai were living in the area[iii]. A samurai clerk of this level would make a stipend of 100-200 koku[iv].

Typical samurai residences.

Typical samurai long houses of the type we might expect to see in Ushigome. As hatamoto, Notice the greenery in front of the houses to make the homes more private. As residents of the yamanote (the high city) I reckon this would have been the norm for hatamoto of this status. Some larger detached domiciles must have been located there too.
All in all, not a bad place to raise a family in the Edo Period.
(this picture isn’t from Tokyo, by the way… in Tokyo nothing like this exists anymore)

In Tōkyō, there are a few areas that still exist with this unique place name:

Azabu Tansu Machi
・ Shitaya Tansu Machi
・ Ushigome Tansu Machi
・ Yotsuya Tansu Machi

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[i] Edo period → modern Japanese .

[ii] Mostly hatamoto, but not always. I think in modern Japan, this would be the equivalent of a “normal” salaryman in middle or upper-middle management. It would have been a lot of “yes man” work and kowtowing, but it would afford you a very decent lifestyle.
The word 納戸 nando has a few meanings: back room, closet, storage room. Once we understand the meaning of the word nando the nuance of the word tansu starts become apparent.

[iv] Someone has calculated what they think is a conversion rate for koku, arriving at the conclusion that 1 koku = about $750. If that’s the case these samurai were at an income level of $75,000-$150,000 a year. Plenty of spare cash for gallivanting about[v] in Yoshiwara.
[v] Footnote of a footnote says: “gallivanting about” is a polite way to say “drinking and whoring.”

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