Have you ever thought of the origin or meaning of your town’s name? “It’s not good to change the names of towns and streets to new modernistic ones at the land readjustment. We should preserve the old names to pass history down generations through them,” Mr. Hajime Kobayashi, a local historian in Nagoya, said enthusiastically at a class of “Nagoya study”, which I had taken since January to March 5th, in Meito Lifelong Learning Center. By curious coincidence, I read an article about the movement for preservation of the name of a town on March 5th and another article about the action for restoration of the names of old streets in Nagoya on March 8th in the newspaper.
The first article was that some citizens of Yashio City in Saitama Prefecture and specialists began appealing to the city for conservation of the name of a place “Gake” because the authority was planning to change its name to new one with the land readjustment. The reason why the protesters are demanding to preserve the name is because of not only its sound and meaning but also its Chinese character “垳”. The character is only used there in Japan. Another article was that some people in Nagoya had started bringing some old streets’ names back to renew the local history and Mayor Kawamura showed interested in the movement and mentioned setting a project team in the assembly on March 7th.
I might have even noticed those two articles if I hadn’t taken the forenamed class. I studied the relations between Nagoya Castle town and the eastern area, and whose historical structure from Edo period to the present age in the course. I’ve decided to join in the class because I live in Meito-ku, an eastern town of Nagoya, but I don’t know little about my town. There were six classes in the course, in which the first four were lectures in the classroom and the last two were field studies. I’m going to write about the course here, mainly the last two classes out of doors.
The first field study was held on February 20. It was cold but a beautiful day for walk. The participants, we were about 40 people, walked from Kakuozan to Higashiyama Zoo. But we didn’t walk through the main street named Hirokoji-dori. Instead we tried to trace the old route called Takabari-Michi as possible as we could. Takabari Michi was a route for bringing rice and horses as farm rent (tax) to the center of the castle town from eastern villages in old days. Some participants needed their walking sticks, and so did our teacher. He is 81 years old. So, he said, “Let’s walk slowly like a procession of oiran (courtesans).” But he shuffled very quickly and the pace was amazingly fast.
We started off at Kakuozan Station. Kakuozan is famous for Nittai-ji Temple, but the name is a kind of the title of the temple. The area used to be called Tsukimi-zaka, which means the hill of seeing the moon. How romantic! But most citizens don’t know the name. Now there is a sign directing the old route of “Takabari-Michi” at the entrance of Tsukimi-zaka, near the station. Because the present main street used to be a mountain, people had to climb up and down Tsukimi-zaka, which was steeper than at present. Nowadays it’s a quiet residential area.
At the traffic intersection of Suemori, we slipped into an alley, which used to be a main road. There’s a small shrine called Kobo-do in the route. Unfortunately we couldn’t see the inside because it was on someone’s property. Kobo-do enshrines Kobo Daishi aka Kukai, a Buddhist priest about 1200 years ago, inside. There are a lot of same legends about him all over Japan that he poked the ground with his cane and suddenly pure water began well up. So, probably the shrine has the similar story and relates to water.
We went through the northern alley behind the present main street Hirokoji-Dori and came to Motoyama, which had been formed as a village when Suemori area had been damaged by the flood in 1767 and villagers had moved in. The area used to be called Honyama, not Motoyama. Both of Honyama and Motoyama are written in the same Chinese Character “本山”. “Hon” means the main. That is, the main function of the village was there. The new name of Motoyama can’t bring down the history.
We went across the main street and took a back road to Togan-ji Temple. Now the main entrance of the temple is open to the main road named Yotsuya-dori, but used to be in the back street, where a great image of Buddha sits and welcomes you. Togan-ji Temple isn’t an ordinary Buddhist temple. It has not only the Big Buddha but also a grave of the father of a famous samurai commander Nobunaga Oda, a statue of sleeping Sarasvati, a faith of linga, and Lama religious and so on.
After the temple we met another Kobo-do nearby. It is blend in present town, and people who live in the neighborhood might not know its existence. The untouched original route of Takabari Michi remains about 100 meters near Higashiyama Zoo. Today, it looks just a dark alleyway, but I became happy to be able to walk the road, imagining of the bustle of old days when I was walking through.
We arrived at Higashiyama-Koen Station and dissolved there. I was overwhelmed by longtime people’s lives in the route I had walked with my classmates and by the idea of that I was a just tiny spot in our long history. The next class-walk was on March 5th and we started off at Higashiyama-Koen Station. I’m going to write about it later on.