By LISA VOGT/ Special to Asahi Weekly
April 6, 2021 at 07:00 JST
How angelic! A village of wings? Or is it feathers? I recently helped a friend move from the middle of the metropolis to Hamura, a western Tokyo suburb.
“With the same rent, my apartment is twice the size. And right outside my bedroom window are bushy green leaves and branches, so I may not even need curtains! And hear this, the view from the living room floor-to-ceiling window is a meandering river. How much better can it get?”
My friend’s excitement was palpable. People whose livelihoods are teleworkable have suddenly found themselves with options.
I explored the area and along the Tamagawa river came to a statue of the Tamagawa brothers, Shoemon and Seiemon. I noticed that the river and the brothers are both named Tamagawa, but with different kanji.
Strange, I thought--is it a coincidence, or is there a story here? I love a good mystery, so I put on my detective cap and, with a magnifying glass in hand, went in search of an answer.
The brothers were responsible for building a 43-kilometer freshwater canal from Hamura to Yotsuya to ease a water shortage in the Edo Period (1603-1867). Upon successful completion of the task in a Speedy Gonzales 14 months, their reward was the last name “Tamagawa” given to them by the authorities.
Well, OK. And the kanji? Five ways to write Tama seem to be used haphazardly: Tama (brothers and canal), Tama (river), Tama (train station), and Tama (Plaza). Oh, well, some mysteries are not meant to be solved unequivocally.
Hamura is a beautiful place. There are cherry trees along the river, and in the spring, people stroll under the blossoms filling their stomachs with stall food and taking in the sound of the flowing river and scent of the sakura (and food, probably). The town is also famous for a tulip festival.
The main store of one of my favorite supermarkets, Fukushimaya, is in Hamura. I love its dark chocolate with orange peels and made a trip to get my fix. On the way back, just near JR Hamura train station, I checked out “Mai-maizu well at Gonokami.” What’s that, you ask? I had the same question when I saw the sign.
It was a well dug during the Daido Era (806-810) (betcha didn’t know that), and its approach looks like a "mai-mai," which is baby talk for a snail. It’s located on the precincts of Gonokami shrine, which has five enshrined deities. Yes, Hamura is celestial, indeed.
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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the March 7 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.
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