“Nowadays, eels are one of the endangered species, but there were many broiled eel restaurants around there for lumber dealers in the Edo period. That was why the area used to be called Kabayaki-cho, which means broiled eel street. Actually, some of them seemed to serve catfish or snakehead fish instead of eels,” said Mr. Masao Fukada, the owner of a historic Japanese-style restaurant, Tsutamo, which celebrates its 100th year in business this year.
I took part in an interesting class for learning the history of Nagoya last Saturday with some of my friends. The class included the restaurant’s boxed lunch and a walking tour. The presenter was Chris Glenn, who is a popular DJ of ZIP-FM, one of Nagoya’s local radio stations, and is the deputy director of NITA (Nagoya International Tourism Association), the organizer of the class. Kyoji Kikuchi, a TV personality in Nagoya, was also in the class. The participants learned many historical trivia about Nagoya’s downtown, Sakae, and had delicious lunch and an interesting walking tour. I had a great time!
The history of Nagoya City started with the castellation of Nagoya Castle in 1612. The center of this area was Kiyosu located in the north of Nagoya until then. There was a massive movement of people from Kiyosu to Nagoya to make a new town. Not only people but also almost all temples and shrines were redeployed. The exodus is called Kiyosu-goshi. The street where Tsutamo stands became an entertainment area at that time.
According to Mr. Fukada, the name of his restaurant derives from the protagonists’ names of a drama called Ippon-matsu-dohyo-iri, which is a touching-human story of (O) Tsuta, a waitress, who helps Mohei, who has been fired a sumo-wrestler. It was popular when his grandfather started business.
Nagoya’s downtown was a water-rich area which was a reservoir of the Kiso River in the Edo period. There used to be a river called “The Murasaki” and many springs around there. Tsutamo still has three wells, and the water, which is always 17 degrees, is used for their ponds inside. The Murasaki River had been a fresh stream in the Edo period, but it had stagnated by the Meiji period. So, somewhere down the line, people started to call it “The Shirakawa” to wish its restoration. Shirakawa means white river literally, and its name remains still now, such as Shirakawa Koen Park.
Speaking of Shirakawa Koen Park, it is an urban oasis which houses Nagoya City Science Museum and Art Museum now. But the place was an enclave called Amerika-mura, or the American Village, for the families of American soldiers in Nagoya after the war until 1958. Mr. Fukada would often get food or money with his friends by shouting “Give me chocolate!” to them. He was also able to enter the area and was amazed by the difference in the lives of GIs and Japanese people those days. “Their futon had four legs!”
Now, why did the river have the name of the Murasaki? Murasaki means purple in Japanese. Actually, it seemed to have nothing to do with the color. There is an apartment building near Tsutamo, but the place used to be a temple named Denko-in with a stone monument called “Murasaki Shikibu-no-hi” until the end of the war. The temple was moved with the monument to Meito-ku in the east of Nagoya because of the town relocation project in the postwar period. According to a legend, the river’s name was derived from the monument.
Murasaki Shikibu was a Japanese female novelist at the Imperial court in the 11th Century, and is well known as the author of The Tale of Genji. Why did the stone monument with her name exist in the temple? She lived in Kyoto far from Nagoya in her time. Actually, there is an interesting story:
One day, a noble-looking woman passed by this area and was taken into care by villagers. She told them that her mistress had died in the capital and she was on her way home. But she decided to stay there for a while to mourn her lady because she was moved by their kindness and the purity of water in the village. After three years, she drowned herself in a stream leaving a message: The period of mourning for my mistress is over. I’m going to her place. Villagers built a monument for her by the river and named it Murasaki Shikibu-no-hi because the person whom she had served was Murasaki Shikibu…
(To be continued…)