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Posts Tagged ‘zenpukuji’

Ōedo Line: Azabu Jūban

In Japanese History on July 2, 2015 at 6:57 am

麻布十番
Azabu-Jūban (Azabu #10)

Azabu Jūban Shrine has never been a major shrine, but it had much more land prior to WWII. Today, the shrine is an echo of its former self.

Azabu Jūban Shrine has never been a major shrine, but it had much more land prior to WWII. Today, the shrine is an echo of its former self.

In the early days of the Edo Period, the Furukawa river was tamed a bit and a series of bridges were built along it to encourage growth of the local villages that had existed in the area. The construction team that worked in this area was apparently called Azabu #10. The name stuck. There’s even a shrine called Azabu-Jūban Inari Shrine.

Today, very little remains of Azabu Jūban Shrine. (click the photo to see more of my photos of Japan)

Today, very little remains of Azabu Jūban Shrine.
(click the photo to see more of my photos of Japan)

Azabu’s reputation is glamour, fashion, expensive shops, ridiculous rent, international jet setters, and playground of the rich and beautiful. But history nerds can find a lot in this area. If you have a copy of Tōkyō: A Spatial Anthropology by Jin’nai Hidenobu and some good maps, you’ll find yourself weaving in and out of former daimyō residences, commoner towns, samurai homes of every rank, and temples and shrines affiliated with various military houses.

Even the yamanote (high city/samurai areas) of Azabu have shitamachi (low city/commoner areas)

Even the yamanote (high city/samurai areas) of Azabu have shitamachi (low city/commoner areas)

A walk in any direction out of Exit 4 will send you on an adventure illustrating how yamanote and shitamachi were actually intermixed and interdependent. But I recommend following the Furukawa River towards Tōkyō Tower or heading down the shopping street towards Roppongi Hills or Moto-Azabu. Check the maps first and don’t be afraid to hit the side streets.

This oven produces some of the best pizza outside of Italy. No joke.

This oven produces some of the best pizza outside of Italy. No joke.

You can see where Henry Heusken was killed, where Kiyokawa Hachirō was killed, where the first American Embassy was, and much, much more. Oh, and did mention that there are a handful of shops that have been in operation since the Edo Period? I recommend Sarashina Nagazaka and Sarashina Horii (both are soba shops family owned since the Edo Period)[i]. I also recommend Savoy for one of the most authentic napoletano pizzas in Tōkyō[ii].

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

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[i] Both soba shops are excellent. Sarashina Horii seems to be more popular and has a wider variety, but Sarashina Nagazaka is just as good and less cramped and crowded. Sarashina Horii’s big plus for me is that they have history books about soba shops in Edo-Tōkyō sitting around that you can read while you wait for your food. Sarashina Nagazaka has a stone monument commemorating the location and a photo from the 1860-70’s of the original shop and the shopping street. In short, you can’t go wrong with either shop.
[ii] The chefs can speak fluent Italian so if you can speak the language they seem pretty eager to interact. As a result, from time to time you’ll find Italians here (including diplomats who work at the embassy, which is about a 20 minute walk from here – on, you guessed it, a former daimyō residence).
[iii] The 上屋敷 kamiyashiki upper residence of the Mōri clan was located here. There’s a plaque commemorating the 毛利甲斐守邸跡 Mōri Kai no Kami Teiato Remains of the Mansion of Mōri of Chōfu Domain (a branch family of main Mōri clan in Chōshū). A handful of the 47 Rōnin were held in custody here (and if I’m not mistaken, committed seppuku on the site). The nearby National Art Center Tokyo sits on the former site of the Uwajima Domain (in modern Ehime Prefecture). Tōkyō Midtown sits on the former site of the middle residence of the main branch of the Mōri clan, lords of Chōshū.

What does Ogikubo mean?

In Japanese History on October 21, 2013 at 3:43 am

荻窪
Ogikubo (Silvergrass Basin)

Ogikubo's abandoned residential complex. Tokyo's mini-Detroit was demolished earlier this year.

Ogikubo’s abandoned residential complex. Tokyo’s mini-Detroit was demolished earlier this year.

The western terminus of the 猿ノ内線 Marunouchi-sen Marunouchi Line is a station called 荻窪 Ogikubo. Many Tōkyōites know this station as a hub station that will take them to Kichijōji. The entire area is official called Ogikubo and there are similarly named postal codes and train stations in the immediate vicinity.

First let’s look at the kanji:

ogi silvergrass
kubo basin

In 708[i], a 修行僧 shūgyōsō ascetic monk[ii] was carrying a statue of 観音 Kan’non the goddess of mercy on his back[iii] and happened to pass through the area. Mysteriously, the statue grew heavier and heavier until the monk couldn’t carry it anymore. He thought this image of Kan’non was linked to this area by fate and so he built a humble shelter in the area. To make a thatched roof, he harvested 荻 ogi silvergrass and used it to top off his tiny abode in which he enshrined the goddess. Ogi, as you may or may not have guessed, is a grass indigenous to parts of Asia – including Japan.

The small hut was called 荻堂 Ogidō.

Some funky monk-y babies

Some funky monk-y babies

This is a play on words. A grass hut is 草堂 sōdō, but 堂 dō also is used in Buddhist words to refer to sacred buildings. So Ogidō means something like “Silvergrass Temple[iv]” – or at the very least, “a place of contemplation that is made of silvergrass.”

Another theory says that the area was a small 窪地 kubochi basin covered in ogi (silvergrass). This derivation says the word is simply 荻 ogi (silvergrass) + 窪 kubo (basin). Silvergrass tends to grow in wetlands or near rivers; a basin would do the trick.

silvergrass

Real Japanese Ogi!!!!!

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But Let’s Look at What’s Going on Here

The 善福寺川 Zenpukuji-gawa Zenpuku Temple River runs through the area which does, indeed, create a basin and this area may very well have been carpeted in silvergrass at one time.

Although the history isn’t well recorded, it is sometimes said that the largest landholder in this rural area had once been Zenpuku-ji[v]. The temple isn’t well attested except in place names; for example, 善福寺公園 Zenpukuji Kōen Zenpukuji Park and 善福寺川 Zenpukuji-gawa Zenpukuji River. Over the years the temple had waned in influence until it was insignificant. After it was destroyed by fire in the Edo Period it was never rebuilt. But the place names still remain. However, if there is a connection to Zenpuku-ji, it would be hard to prove since the temple no longer exists.

Zenpukuji Park

Zenpukuji Park

But let’s go back to the story of the monk carrying the statue of Kan’non. That story has been preserved by a small temple that still exists in the area, 光明院 Kōmyōin. The temple claims to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Ogikubo and that they are directly descended from the original thatched hut. Coincidentally, Kōmyōin happens to be located on the high ground above the Zenpukuji River basin. The primary object of worship is a 千手観音 Senju Kan’non thousand armed goddess of mercy. The temple claims that the area was named after the thatched hut.

One take on the 1000 armed Kan'non.

One take on the 1000 armed Kan’non.

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Buddhist temples with statues of Kan’non are a dime a dozen, but if we combine the two derivations, it isn’t too big a stretch to assume that an ogidō (silvergrass temple) existed in or near an ogikubo (silvergrass basin). Which temple was truly associated with the area is etymologically irrelevant then[vi]. In this case, the only remaining question would be “Which came first, the place name or the temple name?”

My money is on the place name[vii].

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[i] I love how these monk or Buddha statue stories like to get detailed with precise years and stuff.

[ii] This is often translated as a “monk in training.” Both translations seem to be correct to my Buddhism-ignorant eyes. My understanding is that Buddhist monks in training had to live according to very austere rule and minimalistic living, often in temporary isolation; often begging – later they could forego the hard lifestyle. But some monks chose to live their whole lives in this way. I’m not sure which meaning is implied in this case.

[iii] Religious stories love little details; for example, “on his back,” and of all the Buddhas out there this one just happened to be Kan’non.

[iv] I also found references to 荻寺 Ogidera, literally Ogi Temple.

[v] Fans of the Bakumatsu may clamor and say that there is a Zenpuku-ji clear across town, near the bay. There are claims that the temple that once stood in Suginami Ward was related to the temple in Minato Ward. One theory in particular states that the area stretching from Edo Bay to modern Suginami Ward were once holdings of the same temple that were broken up during the violence of later ages. Others say these names are totally coincidental. “Hey, JapanThis!, which story do you believe?” And to that I will say this: “I don’t fucking know.”

[vi] While etymologically irrelevant, from an historical perspective it would be nice to know the truth.

[vii] Oh, the first station to bear the name Ogikubo was opened in 1891 (Meiji 24) and was located roughly in the middle of the now defunct 甲武鉄道 Kōbu Tetsudō Kōbu Railroad. The reason a station was put here in 荻窪村 Ogikubo Mura Ogikubo Village was that the town was located on the 青梅街道 Ōmekaidō Ōme Highway. This road was a supply road which originated in 内藤新宿 Naitō-Shinjuku and terminated in 甲府藩 Kōfu Han Kōfu Domain (modern Yamanashi Prefecture).

Two Famous Murders in My Neighborhood (part 1)

In Japanese History on April 2, 2013 at 1:00 am

I’ve stayed/lived/whatevered in 3 places in Tokyo. When I first came here I lived in Uguisudani for about 3 months. It’s a pretty historical place and taking walks around Taitō-ku sparked my interested in Japan History. Then I lived in Nakano for about 6 years. It’s not a very historical place, but it has its own charms and I really liked it there. Now I live in Mita, which is an area steeped in history, some of it going back as far as the Taika Era (or so we are told).

Anyhoo, I’m really happy in Mita for the time being because the area was important in the Edo Period and was also the scene of a lot of action during my favorite period in Japanese History, the Bakumatsu.

Anyways, right behind my house there is a river called the 古川 Furukawa “the Old River.” In fact, as I look out the window right now, I can see it flowing all the way down a hill where it disappears under 赤羽橋 Akabanebashi. If there weren’t tall buildings blocking the way, I could probably watch it go past Shiba and the Tokugawa funerary temple of Zōjōji.

I live between two bridges. One is called 一ノ橋 Ichi no Hashi (“the first bridge”) and the next is called 中ノ橋 Naka no Hashi (“the middle bridge”). Both bridges were sites of murders of two well-known names of the Bakumatsu: 清川八郎 Kiyokawa Hachirō and ヒュースケン Hendrick Conrad Joannes Heusken (better known as Henry Heusken in the anglosphere).

Henry Heusken

A Japanese depiction of Heusken. He loved riding on horseback, an act reserved for high ranking samurai — this pissed off low ranking, racist samurai.

Going in chronological date of their murders, we’ll start with Henry Heusken

First of all, if you’ve seen the 2004 NHK Taiga Drama 「新撰組!」 (Shinsengumi), you will know this scene well. If you haven’t watched that drama… well, you should watch it. It’s awesome! If you remember the scene when a young Kondō Isami and Hijikata Toshizō hear about a group of anti-foreigner samurai planning to assassinate a foreign translator and Isami sits down and talks with the guy about how much he loves Japan and Japanese women, that would be the event we’re talking about now. Except that scene was fiction and Kondō Isami probably never met Henry Heusken. (I actually doubt Kondō Isami ever met a foreigner ever).

But I digress… (who me??)

From

From “Shinsengumi!” – Heusken meets Kondo Isami and Hijikata Toshizo and Nakakura Shinpachi. (This never happened in real life).

Back to Henry Heusken. Who was he?

Henry Heusken was born in Holland. His family immigrated to the US in the 1850’s (maybe he was in his 20’s then?). Because he could speak both English and Dutch he got the gig of a lifetime in 1856: He went to Japan as personal secretary and interpreter to Townsend Harris on America’s first embassy to Japan in (公使館 kōshikan “legation” as compared to 大使館 taishikan “embassy”). Apparently he could speak French and German well enough for those days and he picked up Japanese quickly.

Zenpukuji - Home of the American Legation.

Zenpukuji – Home of the American Legation.

He was apparently a pretty ballsy guy and felt confident in his ability to speak Japanese or other languages to get by in most situations.  He was bangin’ a few Japanese bitches around town like Charisma Man and actually knocked on one up.  It also seems like he was a fairly high profile foreigner in Edo (at a time when there weren’t many foreigners at all — and most foreigners stayed in their secure diplomatic enclaves). Townsend Harris had apparently told him not to come back after dark because anti-foreign attacks were becoming increasingly common at the time.

A view from Akabanebashi. If you look closely at the middle right side you can see a wooden bridge. That's Nakanohashi. Heusken was killed on the right side of the river... I'm not sure why Beato took this picture from here, but whatevs...

A view from Akabanebashi. If you look closely at the middle right side you can see a wooden bridge. That’s Nakanohashi. Heusken was killed on the right side of the river… I’m not sure why Beato took this picture from here, but whatevs…

Anyways, the American legation was staying at 善福寺 Zenpukuji (“Zenpuku Temple”) in Azabu-Jūban. As Heusken came home late one night, he approached the guardhouse near Naka no Hashi (the bridge). A bunch of dirty rōnin jumped out from an alley on the side of the guard house and attacked him. Accounts vary but he may have lain in the street for close to an hour before he was carried back to Zenpukuji. The attackers aimed for his heart but most of his wounds were in his belly. Apparently he was spilling guts everywhere and it was really gross.

At Zenpukuji he was visited by a doctor and some high ranking Japanese officials. A photographer was there, too, who snapped a picture of him right after he died. Ironically, this may be the only photo of the dude (at least I’ve never seen another photo of him).

Heusken's corpse.

Heusken’s corpse.

Heusken's common law wife (in Japan she was considered his common law wife, out of Japan she was just his bitch...)

Heusken’s common law wife (but notice she’s wearing 振袖)

Heusken's wife, o-Tsuyu, with their child.

Heusken’s wife, o-Tsuyu, with their child.

He is buried in 光林寺 Kōrinji in 南麻布 Minami Azabu (South Azabu), a 20-30 walk from Azabu-Jūban Station.

His assassins were never captured, but a certain Kiyokawa Hachirō was implicated in the attack at the time. Even today most people point the finger at him.

(continued in part 2)

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