by Ji Myounghun (MJ)
Fukagawa is located in Koto, Japan and was first known for the concentrations of the trading posts and merchants. Through the river lines along the Sumida River to the sea, many ports were seen near the woods stocks from the blooming lumber industries. Through several sea merchants flowing by Fukagawa, entertainments/habitats were vastly invested and developed. Similar to Yoshiwara district but foremost, Fukagawa engaged in prostitution and flourished earlier. Some of them started from dressing up like boys, emulating and mimicking male performers in the kabuki theatre. Later the development of the city, several rich merchants sent their children for dancing lessons and manners along with performances on a festival stages.
Foods related to Fukagawa, such as Fukagawa-meshi, often include various seafoods due to Fukagawa’s old location being near the sea side. What’s quite interesting in the Fukagawa is that the city now still holds the absence of olden Edo period through various preservation practices. For instances, through the allies or designated areas, several households share similar appearances as old infrastructures and the general vibe within those areas give off the atmosphere of Edo period. Not limited to the architectural aspects, places for commemoration of a poet, Basho, or Hachiman festival held in Hachiman-gu Temple is also included within the concept of preservation in Fukagawa.
However, with not only the culture and traditions, Fukagawa also involved itself in preservation of nature and environments mostly from the aspect of the importance in the lumber industry previously. Within civilizations, Fukagawa incorporated the harmony between keeping the interactions of the city and environment along the Sumida riverway and parks. Nowadays, complains regarding construction sites and its dust issues were raised but appropriate measures were continued to be researched for the proper managements and balances.
- The Gei of Geisha: Music, Identity and Meaning ”Yoshiwara: The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan
Changes of Fukagawa Districts
Fukagawa is in downtown Tokyo, or Shitamachi. The name comes from a man who was a pioneer at Fukagawa, Fukagawa Yarouuemon, or 深川八郎右衛門.
The picture below is a map of Fukagawa in Edo era. Although just viewing this map might be fun, but if you know how to look at this map, it will be more interesting.
First, the map is colored by the type of the land usage at this time.
White refers to a place where samurais were living, yellow refers to places that were a road or bridges, red refers to shrines and temples, blue refers to water, gray refers to merchant’s house, and green refers to parks and forests. There are some houses with family crests and dots. If there was a family crest on the map, that means a feudal lord and living, if there was a square shaped dot, that means the descendants of a feudal lord was living, and if there was a round shaped dot, that means that it is a secondary resident. As you can see on the map, the letters are facing a lot of directions, but there is a meaning to this; the letters are facing the doorway.
Fukagawa was famous for its rivers and its industries. Most of the rivers in Fukagawa is man-made and since the river run across Fukagawa vertically and horizontally, it became a large product distribution center. If you look at the map above, you can see that in the North of Onagi-river, which is also a man-made river, there are a lot of houses where samurais live. However, if you look the south of Onagi-river, there are a lot of buildings for merchants.
There is an Inari Shrine at number 3 on the map below. It is a shrine that worships Matsuo-Basho, who is a famous poet in Japan. Basho lived in a small hut at this place. Since Fukagawa was not included in Edo, some people think that Basho lived a secluded life. Nonetheless, if you look at the place where Basho Inari Shrine stands, you can see that there are a lot of wholesale stores and warehouses. This means that this place was a lively world. In addition, there was a bridge that connected Fukagawa and Edo, so this place was never suitable to have a retired life.
The large yellow section in the South on the map above is Tomioka-Hachiman. It is indicated on the map below as number 8. It was established in 1627 as the largest Hachiman-shrine in Tokyo, and was favored by the local people. There were a lot of entertainments like food stands and fund-raising sumo tournaments that are known as Kanjin-Sumo. It is said that Kanjin-Sumo started from this Hachiman shrine.
Fukagawa Historical Landmarks
Fukagawa is a neighbourhood east of Nihombashi, at the other side of the Sumidagawa river. It started out as a lumber district in the 17th and 18th century and rose to prominence as a shipping centre for rice, salt and fertilizer. Fukagawa has been widely featured in many Ukiyo-e in the Edo period (1603-1868), making it a very famous spot in Edo (see Lumberyard, Under Mannen Bridge, Sanjusangendo, Tomigaoka Hachiman Shrine, Nakasa and Ohashi Bridge).
1. Tomioka Hachimangu
Birth place of Sumo wrestling tournaments and home to one of the largest Shinto festivals in Tokyo. The shrine was bombed during World War II and the current shrine building dates from 1956. The festival associated with this shrine is considered as one of the three great festivals of Edo.
2. Kiyosumi Garden
This garden goes way back and has been linked to Kinokuniya Bunzaemon (1669–1734) who was a merchant during the Edo period (1603-1868) specializing in citrus, lumber, and salmon, among other goods. The garden stands out not only by its crystal clear pond with beautiful reflections of the greenery surrounding it, but also by its large display of stones. The Iwasaki family brought stones from all over Japan to Tokyo with their steamships and arranged them in the garden. It has several stepping stone pathways (iso-watari) set in the water and a wide range of peculiar stones in all kind of shapes and sizes.
Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694) was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan (1603-1868). Fukagawa is the place where he wrote many of his masterpieces and was the starting point for his many travels through Japan. There are many places in Fukagawa associated with him.
4. Fukagawa Fudō-do
Fukagawa Fudō-dō is a bit of a mishmash temple, not very beautiful, even though the wood carvings on the main building are rather nice. This temple is part of the Chisan group in the Shingon school of Buddhism (one of the major schools of Buddhism in Japan) and practices Esoteric Buddhism. At this temple we have the goma fire rituals at which wooden sticks are burnt during a ceremony several times a day in order to give Fudōmyō-ō (the god revered as this temple) the fighting force he needs (he is the god of justice, who fends of evil with his sword and menacing look).
5. Fukagawa Edo Museum
The Fukagawa Edo Museum is a museum dedicated to old Tokyo. It is a replica of a village during the late Edo period (1603-1868), with various types of houses and features a canal and a fire watchtower.
References: Places to visit in Fukagawa. (2017, September 19). Retrieved December 13, 2017, from https://old-tokyo.info/fukagawa-area-guide/
How Fukagawa Was Primed For Geisha
Fukagawa may have only been a small district in the history of geisha in Tokyo, however there are several historical aspects that make the Fukagawa geisha stand out, such as how the very beginning of female geisha is said to have originated within this districts borders. This major aspect of Geisha history makes it important to understand the culture and circumstances under which the birth of female geisha was possible in the first place.
Fukagawa in the Edo era was an area that was ripe for female entertainers to work for multiple reasons; the physical location of Fukagawa, demographics, and social circumstances.
The town of Fukagawa was a “Shitamachi” area, meaning it resided near sea level. Furthermore, Fukagawa was situated adjacent to the river Sumida, which allowed the area to flourish as an industry for lumber and, on a smaller scale, kimono. The presence of an active and successful lumber industry was possible due in part to the river Sumida. Before motorized vehicles like trucks that could haul logs quickly were developed, one of the only feasible ways to transport lumber on a commercial scale was by boat, as the buoyancy of a raft on water would combat the intense weight of its cargo. This industry was most prominent supporting factor that transformed a relatively rural Fukagawa into a suburb. Additionally, running water enabled artisan tailors to practice their craft, as the creation of kimonos required a source of running water. And where there could be kimono shops, geisha houses could more easily exist. Thus the Sumida river determined a large portion of why Fukagawa would become a prime location for one of edo’s greatest geisha districts.
Not all of the tatsumi geisha’s success was due to to Fukagawa’s geographical structure however. The presence of the Hachimangu shrine for example, was of crucial importantance. Because Fukagawa was a sort of suburban area that was inconvenient to access, particularly if one didn’t have any business crossing the river, the town may have remained an essentially industrial had it not been for the shrine and the decision of a few government officials. At the time, the shogunate government had strict regulations about everything, including prostitution and the kind of jobs women could hold. These regulations should have made it impossible for Fukagawa to house brothels or geisha as it was not a licensed district like Yoshiwara. Fortunately for geisha and prostitutes though, the government had a few conflicting interests. The officials overseeing Fukagawa were sympathetic to pilgrims to the shrine who would have to travel far from of their paths without much else to occupy them just in order to pay their respects. In the interest of increasing the shrines attendance and popularity the officials claimed to be merciful and, for the most part, allowed prostitutes to conduct their business without being immediately shut down. This, in combination with the fact that Fukagawa location somewhat distant from the capital encouraged police to be more lax with law enforcement made Fukagawa an environment in which red light workers and eventually geisha could prosper for much of the edo era.
- Downer, L. (2005). Geisha: the secret history of a vanishing world. London: Headline.Fukagawa. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2017
- Fukagawa Edo Museum, Koto City, Tokyo. Accessed November 25, 2017.