The Origin of Kyoto’s Street Names

April 14, 2008

by Maki Kawai; Mia Kyutoku

About The Origin of Kyoto’s Street Names
~From Two Kyoto Nursery Rhymes~

If you have been to Kyoto and have used the buses, you have discovered that the names of many of the bus stops are made up of the two streets which cross each other nearby. And you have also found that there’re many streets in Kyoto which have names while in other Japanese cities only a few streets have names.

Actually, many of the street names in Kyoto were composed long ago, during the Heian Period [794-1185]. After that period, many other streets were added, and the nursery rhymes sung in Kyoto by children learning the city’s streets include some of them.

In this article we’d like to introduce the origins of names using two Kyoto nursery rhymes. Some of the origins of street names are unknown because they were composed long ago and there are no clues to explain them. Here let us tell you what is known.

First of all, let us introduce some general points about street names.

ü In the Heian Period, the layout of the city’s streets was planned with nine main streets called 大路 [oji] which run from north to south parallel to 朱雀大路 [Suzaku Street], and nine streets [一条通/ Ichijo St., 二条通/ Nijo St., 三条通/ Sanjo St., 四条通/ Shijo St., 五条通/ Gojo St., 六条通/ Rokujo St., 七条通/ Shichijo St., 八条通/ Hachijo St., 九条通/ Kujo St.] and two other streets which run from east to west. We can’t explain the origin of the latter streets because they’re like divisions of the layout.

ü Every street has the same kanji attached at the end, 通 [tori], and this means “street” in English.

ü Some streets have the common kanji 小路 [koji] or 大路 [oji]. The difference between them is the width of the street when it was made; “oji” is wider than “koji.”

□ 丸竹夷≪MaruTakeEbisu- the streets from east to west≫

The first Kyoto nursery rhyme is called “Marutakeebisu” with the first kanji of three streets put together. As we wrote in the introduction, there’re some street names whose origins are unknown, or we couldn’t find out. Anyway, look at the lyrics below, please:

丸竹夷二押御池 [Maru Take Ebisu Ni Oshi Oike]

    • 丸太町通 [Marutamachi Street/ 丸太…logs, 町…town]
      Long ago, there were many lumberyards along this street, and people could see many logs piled there.
      竹屋町通 [Takeyamachi Street/ 竹…bamboo, 屋…store, 町…town]
      There were many stores which dealt in bamboo or bamboo containers along this street, and these bamboo products were used in Nijo Castle and in Kyoto’s Imperial Palace.
    • 夷川通 [Ebisugawa Street/ 夷川…Ebisu River]
      This name originates from the name of a river which runs along the street.
    • 二条通 [Nijo Street]
      A division of the city layout.
    • 押小路通 [Oshikoji Street]
      Dating from the Heian Period, and the origins are unknown.
    • 御池通
      [Oike Street/ 御…a kanji which you use for someone you respect, 池…a pond]
      This street runs to an imperial lake used for outings, and the pond was called 神泉苑 [Shinsen-en].
    • 姉三六角蛸錦   [Ane San Rokkaku Tako Nishiki]
    • 姉小路通 [Anekoji]
      Dating from the Heian Period, and the origins are unknown.
    • 三条通 [Sanjo Street]
      A division of the city layout.
    • 六角通 [Rokkaku Street]
      [Rokkaku Street/ 六…six, 角…angle]
      This street name originates from 六角堂 [Rokkakudo] of 頂法寺 [Chohoji Temple].
      The temple is located on this street.

[Picture1: 六角堂/Rokkakudo]

[Picture2: 六角堂/ Rokkakudo]
 

  • 蛸薬師通 [Takoyakushi Street]
    Takoyakushidou is a building of Myoshinji Temple, and the name of this street comes from the temple.
  • 錦小路通 [Nishikikoji Street/ 錦…brocade, 小路…street]
    Many craftsmen who wove brocade for kimono lived along this street in the past.
  • 四綾仏高松万五条   [Shi Aya Buttaka Matsu Man Gojo]
  • 四条通 [Shijo Street]
    A division of the city layout.
  • 綾小路通 [Ayanokoji Street]
    Dating from the Heian Period, and the origins are unknown.
  • 仏光寺通 [Bukkoji Street]
    There’s a temple which faces this street and is called “Bukkoji.” However, the temple’s kanji 佛光寺 is different from the street’s name, 仏光寺.
  • 高辻通 [Takatsuji Street]
    Dating from the Heian Period, and the origin is unknown. But it was called 高辻小路 [Takatsuji koji] in the Heian Period.
  • 松原通 [Matsubara Street]
    Long ago, there were fields of pine trees in the area west of Teramachi Street, and since “fields of pine trees” means 松原 [matsubara] in Japanese, the street was named for this reason.
  • 万寿寺通 [Manjuji Street]
    There was once a temple called Manjuji [万寿寺] on this street. But now it has moved to a different place.
  • 五条通 [Gojo Street]
    A division of the city layout.
  • 雪駄ちゃらちゃら魚の棚 [Setta Charachara Uo no Tana]
  • 雪駄屋町通 [Sekidayamachi Street]This street was called 楊梅小路 [Yamamomo Koji], and now the street is called a similar name, 楊梅通 [Youbai Dori/ Street]. Yamamomo is a kind of tree, and the name might have come from the fact that there were many of these trees along the street in the Heian Period. The reason why this street was once called Sekidayamachi Street is because there were many shops which sold a kind of footwear, “sekida.” It is an old-style sandal made of bamboo with metal on the heel. Now the first street name has been restored: Youbai Street.
  • ちゃらちゃら [charachara]
    This is not a street name, but it expresses the sound of something.
  • 1. 鍵屋町通 [Kagiyamachi Street]
    Kagiya are stores which sell keys and locks.
    2. 銭屋町通 [Zeniyamachi Street]- Zeniya is a money exchanger.
    The sound of metal coins rubbing together is called “charachara.”
  • 魚の棚通 [Uonotana Street]
    “Uo” means “fish” in English, but this expression is a bit old, and “tana” means “shelf.” In the past, there were people who sold fish for their living in a part of this street, and there were shelves where they displayed the fish.六条三哲とおりすぎ   [Roku Jo San Tetsu Torisugi]
  • 六条通 [Rokujo Street]
    A division of the city layout.
  • 三哲通 [Santetsu Street]
    The origin comes from the name of a person Shibukawa Santetsu who founded a temple called Ritsuganji [立願寺] which is on this street.
  • 七条こえれば八九条   [Shichi Joh Koereba Ha Kujou]
    A division of the city layout.
  • 八条通 [Hachijo Street]
    A division of the city layout.
  • 九条通 [Kujo Street]
    A division of the city layout.
  • 十条東寺でとどめさす  [Ju Joh Touji De Todomesasu]
  • 十条通 [Jujo Street]
    A division of the city layout.
  • □ 寺御幸≪TeraGokou- the streets from north to south≫
    The second Kyoto nursery rhyme is called “Teragokou.” Here we go:寺御幸麩屋富柳堺 [Tera Goko Fuya Tomi Yanagi Sakai]
  • 寺町通 [Teramachi Street/ 寺…temple, 町…town]
    In the Azuchi-Momoyama Period [1568-1603], Toyotomi Hideyoshi [豊臣秀吉], a famous warlord, made a policy in Kyoto. Because of this policy, one-third of all the temples in Kyoto were gathered along this street.
  • 御幸町通 [Gokoumachi Street]
    First of all, we’re going to tell you the meaning of 御幸; it means that “a retired emperor goes out.” This street was also made by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He used this street when he visited the Imperial Palace from Fushimi Castle with his followers.
  • 麩屋町通 [Fuyamachi Street/ 麩…a breadlike food made of wheat, 屋…store]
    It is said that there were some stores which had sold 麩 [fu], a breadlike food made of wheat, on this street.
  • 富小路通 [Tomikoji Street]
    This street was made by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, too. The origin of this street is this: there was a court noble whose name was 富小路 [Tomikoji], and the court noble lived at the southern area of this street. It’s a fact that a street which had the same name [富小路] existed in the Heian Period, but its location was different.
  • 柳馬場通 [Yanaginobanba Street]
    Oda Nobunaga, another famous warlord, chose which horses were best-suited for battle and trained those horses near this street. This is called 馬揃え [Umazoroe]. Anyway, it is said that this street name, originated from the practice.
  • 堺町通 [Sakaimachi Street/ 堺…boundary, 町…street]
    The riverside of Kamogawa reached this street. It was the boundary between the riverside and the city, thus the street name became this.
  • 高間東車屋町 [Taka Ai Higashi Kurumayacho]
  • 高倉通[Takakura Street]
    Dating from the Heian Period, and the origins are unknown.
    However, the street was once called 高倉小路 [Takakura Koji].
  • 間之町通[Ainomachi Street/ 間…between]
    This street was also made by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in line with his policy. The origin is that this street was made between Takakura Street and Higashinotouin Street.
  • 東洞院通[Higashinotouin Street]
    There was a famous nobleman called 藤原道長 [Fujiwara Michinaga] and his mansion was called 東洞院土御門殿 [Higashinotouintsuchimikadodono]. The street name originates from the mansion. It is said that the mansion became the Imperial Palace.
  • 車屋町通
    [Kurumayacho Street/ 車…car, or Japanese old-style rickshaw, 屋…shop]
    This street was also formed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s policy. This street was convenient when people used Japanse old-style rickshaws, thus there were many shops which rented them.
  • 烏両替室衣 [Karasu Ryougae Muro Koromo]
  • 烏丸通 [Karasuma Street]
    Dating from the Heian Period, and the origins are unknown.
    However, the street was once called 烏丸小路 [Karasuma Koji].
  • 両替町通 [Ryougaemachi Street/ 両替…exchange, 町…town]
    There were many stores which dealt with money and finance, especially between Nijo Street and Sanjo Street.
  • 室町通 [Muromachi Street]
    This street was called 室町小路 [Muromachi Koji], and it was changed to 室町通 [Muromachi Street]. There is a period called 室町時代[ the Muromachi Period/1336-1573] in Japanese history, and the reason why the street is called this is because one of the famous generals of that period, who was called 足利義満 [Ashikaga Yoshimitsu], built his palace near this street.
  • 衣棚通 [Koromonotana Street/ 衣…robe, 棚…shelf]
    This street was also constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. There were many stores along this street which sold Kimono with small imperfectations, and this is the origin of the street name.

 

新町釜座西小川 [Shinmachi Kamanza Nishi Ogawa]

  • 新町通 [Shinmachi Street/ 新…new, 町…town]
    This street connects the area around the Imperial Palace with an area which had many markets. As time went by, not only the market area, but also the area between became lively, and a new town was born. This it the origin of this street name.
  • 釜座通 [Kamanza Street/ 釜…kettle]
    This street was also established by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. There had been many craftsmen who made kettles since the Heian Period. The area where the craftsmen lived was called 釜座 [Kamanza].
  • 西洞院通 [Nishinotouin Street]
    Dating from the Heian Period, and the origins are unknown.

However, the street was once called 西洞院大路 [Nishinotouin Oji].

  • 小川通 [Ogawa Street/ 小…small, 川…river]
    This street was also made by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Its name derives from a small river which ran from 一条通 [Ichijo Street].

油醒井で堀川の水 [Abura Samegai de Horikawa no mizu]

  • 油小路通 [Aburanokouji Street]
    Dating from the Heian Period, and the origins are unknown.
  • 醒ヶ井通 [Samegai Street]
    This street was also constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. “Samegai” comes from the name of a famous well which provided people with good water, 佐女牛井 [Samegai], but the kanji is different from what we see these days: 醒ヶ井.
  • 堀川通 [Horikawa Street]
    This street originates from the name of a river which runs along this street.

葭屋猪黒大宮へ [Yoshiya Ino Kuro Oomiyae]

    • 葭屋通[Yoshiyamachi Street]
      The origins are unknown.
    • 猪熊通[Inokuma Street/猪…boar, 熊…bear]
      Dating from the Heian Period, and the origins are unknown.
      However, the street was once called 猪隈小路 or 猪隈小路 [Inokuma Koji].
    • 黒門通[Kuroganemon Street/ 黒…black, 門…gate]
      This street was also made by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He built a luxurious mansion which was called 聚楽第[Jurakudai], and its gates were on this street.
    • 大宮通
      Dating from the Heian Period, and the origins are unknown.
      However, the street was once called 大宮大路 [Omiya Oji].

        松日暮に智恵光院 [Matsu Higurashi ni Chiekouin]

    • 松屋町通[Matsuyacho Street]
      The origins are unknown.
    • 日暮通[Higurashi Street/日…a day]
      After Toyotomi Hideyoshi built 聚楽第 [Jurakudai], people came to see the view along this street, and it was so beautiful that people would stay until sunset. Also, there was a gate called 日暮門[Higurashinomon] on this street.
    • 智恵光院通[Chiekouin Street]
      It originates from a temple’s name.
    • 浄福千本さては西陣 [Joufuku Senbon satewa Nishijin]
    • 浄福寺通[Joufukuji Street]
      It also originates from a temple’s name.

    • [Picture3:浄福寺/Joufukuji Temple]
    • 千本通[Senbon Street]
      Dating from the Heian Period, and the origins are unknown.
    • 西陣[Nishijin]
      This is not a street name, but the name of an area famous for its weavers and textiles.
    • In conclusion, we found that there are many street names which are connected to history, and it was interesting to know the background of each street. We hope you will remember this when you visit Kyoto.

Picture 3: Map of Heian Period Kyoto

[References]
http://www.kankokeizai.com/image/top/080913_08.pdf
http://kyotoshugakuryoko.jp/study/history01.html
http://www.kotomeguri.com/k_mame/toori_song.html
http://www.pref.kyoto.jp/shiryokan/ref17.htm
The Heian Period map
http://www.kyoto-arc.or.jp/kyouzu.html
(財団法人京都市埋蔵文化財研究所ホームページ)

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