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Exploring Tokyo and Kagurazaka Through Their Old Place Names

Updated: 5 days ago

Old map of Kagurazaka

Do You Know Why Tokyo Is Called "Tokyo"?

Have you ever wondered why Tokyo is named "Tokyo"? Even many Japanese people pause to think when asked this question. Let's delve into the answer and explore the origins of Tokyo and Kagurazaka through their old place names.

Tokyo" is written in Kanji as "Eastern Capital (Kyo)," signifying a capital established in the east. This differentiates it from "Kyoto," the former capital, which means "Capital City. Before being renamed "Tokyo" in September 1868, it was known as "Edo," a period ruled by samurai. In today's terms, the Edo period could be considered the Tokyo era.

Edo Ukiyo-e

Do You Know the Origin of the Name "Kyoto"?

On the other hand, "Kyoto" is written as "Capital City" in Kanji, reflecting its status as the emperor's residence and the nation's capital in East Asia historically. The oldest document referring to the then newly relocated capital in Heian-Kyo as "Kyoto" dates back to 988 in the "Owari no Kuni Gunji Kosho Et Al. Resolution."

Before Heian-Kyo, the capital was in Heijo-kyo (present-day Nara) from 710 to 784, which was referred to as Nanto or "Southern Capital" in contrast to the northern location of Heian-Kyo. The term "Nanto" was used, for instance, in the Nanto Yakiuchi (The Nanto Arson) of 1181, when temples like Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji in Nara were attacked under the orders of Taira no Kiyomori. The Nanto Bank, still operating in Nara, carries this historical reference in its name.


"Kagura" Refers to the Music and Dance Performed at Shinto Shrines

Kagurazaka is written with the characters for "god," "music," and "slope." "Kagura" refers to the music and dance performed at Shinto shrines to entertain the deities. The name Kagurazaka comes from a slope where the music from such shrine performances could be heard.

Kagurazaka and Ushigome gate by Ukiyo-e

Was Kagurazaka a Cow Farm?

The surrounding area of Kagurazaka has many places named "Ushigome," which appeared in Utagawa Hiroshige's ukiyo-e depicting Edo Castle's Ushigome gate and Ushigome-Kagurazaka station of Tokyo Metro. The name "Ushigome" means a place where cows gather. According to the Taiho Code of 701, government pastures were established across the country, and one of these was in the Kagurazaka area, then called Ushigome.

In Tokyo, the character for "gome: gather" is found in other place names, indicating locations where animals congregated, such as Komagome (Toshima Ward, Tokyo) and Umagome (Ota Ward, Tokyo), referring to places where horses were abundant.

The History of Kagurazaka Is Older Than the Edo Era

The name "Ushigome" is crucial in recounting Kagurazaka's history. It is said that the development of Kagurazaka began around 1300 when a powerful clan from the south of Mt. Akagi in Gunma (modern-day Maebashi's Ogo area) built Ushigome Castle in the vicinity of today's Koshoji Temple. This was about 300 years before Tokugawa Ieyasu established the Edo shogunate.

The prominent Akagi Shrine in Kagurazaka, which attracts many worshippers today, was reportedly founded when the Ogo clan, upon relocating to Ushigome, enshrined a division of their ancestral Akagi Shrine there. The Ogo clan later adopted the surname "Ushigome."

Akagi Shrine

Was the Geisha District an Arsenal?

A town name from the era of the Ushigome clan is "Hyogo-cho," still known today as Hyogo Alley, symbolized by its cobblestone lanes. Hyogo Alley is home to high-end restaurants like Yukimoto, where guests can invite Kagurazaka's geisha for entertainment. "Hyogo" is written as "army warehouse (arsenal)" in Kanji, indicating a location where military supplies were stored.

Yukimoto at Geisha district

Old Place Names Provide Fresh Surprises

By analyzing the history of Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, and Kagurazaka through their place names, we can gain a deeper understanding of their stories. For foreign travelers, asking Japanese people about the origins of "Tokyo" and "Kagurazaka" during your visit might lead to surprising discoveries and enriching conversations.

Let's Walk With Us in Tokyo and Kagurazaka Through Their Old Place Names

Our company organizes enjoyable Kagurazaka walking tours that delve into the history and place names of this fascinating area. We warmly invite you to join us.

Kagurazaka Street Walk

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