Ueno Hill, Kan’eiji, and vanished slopes

Kan’eiji Temple was a major religious institution during the Tokugawa Period, occupying most of the Ueno Hill. The temple played an important role for the Tokugawa Shogunate, and was greatly damaged during the Battle of Ueno during the Boshin War. Following the Meiji restoration, much of the hill was repurposed, and the presently existing museums were established. While Kan’eiji now occupies a fraction of the total area of Ueno Hill, there are certain spatial continuities and changes we can observe.

S3 Figure 1
Figure 1: Koto Toeizan Kan’eiji Chizu
Source: National Digital Archives of Japan, Keyword “江都東叡山寛永寺地図” (Retrieved June 4, 2014)

This map, the Koto Toeizan Kan’eiji Chizu was published in 1755, and is part of a large collection of maps produced by Mori Koan (1748 – 1763) held by the National Archives. Along the lower left hand of the map is Shinobazu Pond, with Benten-do Island; at that time, it was only connected by one land bridge. One thing about this map that is remarkable is just how much of the general shape of the park (and zoo) still seems to reflect the main paths of this map. For instance, near (the shrine near Bentendo), two paths are shown. Now, one is a footpath to the shrine, and the other has become a paved street for cars. In some places, roads have been added, and it is doubtful that the original map showed every path and walkway through Ueno Hill.

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Figure 2: Detail showing Bentendo, from Koto Toeizan Kan’eiji Chizu
Source: National Digital Archives of Japan, Keyword “江都東叡山寛永寺地図” (Retrieved June 4, 2014)
出典:国立公文書館デジタルアーカイブ、江都東叡山寛永寺地図”(取得日 2014年6月4日)

Referencing the “Bunken Enkyo Edo oezu: zen,” which was published in 1748, we can get a sense of how the Ueno Hill connected with the surrounding area. In this map, north is on the right hand side. The area north of Kan’eiji is shown as empty and labeled as “field.”

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Figure 3: Detail showing Ueno Hill, from “Bunken Enkyo Edo oezu: zen”
Source: Japanese Historical Maps: East Asian Library – University of California, Berkeley (Retrieved June 4, 2014)

One interesting points of the Koto Toeizan Kan’eiji Chizu map is that it shows the slopes leading down from Ueno Hill to Shitaya. This is also interesting, as much for what slopes are shown as for what are not. On the east side of Ueno Hill, there are three slopes marked with names: Shinanozaka (信濃坂), Byōbuzaka(屏風坂)、and Higashizaka (東坂). These are the only named slopes on this map, though on the west side of the hill, there are also steep grades to climb up, but they are not named.

Bearing in mind that streets and paths are urban feature that tend to be retained, how have these slopes faired with the development of the train tracks? Shinanozaka, which was behind Jigando (慈眼堂) and was “a small slope exiting down to Shitaya.” Other sources write that it was between Jigando and the mausoleum. The slope is gone according to the blog Tokyo Sakamichi Sanpo. Another blogger writes that Byōbuzaka is gone, replaced by Ryodaishibashi (両大師橋).

One question that we can ask about Ueno Hill is how the train tracks developed around it, and how that development changed access routes. Now, to walk from the Shitaya area to Ueno Park, the pedestrian must find a bridge over the train tracks that hug the Eastern and Northern sides of the hill. For instance, approaching Ueno Hill from the Uguisudani direction, there is a large overpass over the JR lines. For this reason, it is hard to imagine how the urban space of the area “felt” in Edo. There, any path that night have existed is lost under the development of the over pass. Riding from Ueno to Uguisudani on the Yamanote Line, I looked very carefully for evidence of any old slopes or routes up the side of the hill. I spotted one, visible in this Google Map. There is a staircase visible, though of course it is within JR’s perimeter fencing, and it is not publicly accessible.

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Figure 4 Detail of a staircase
Source: Google Maps (Retrieved June 4, 2014)
出典: Google Maps(取得日 2014年6月4日)

Perhaps this is some vestigial trail left in the cityscape or it might be a left-over portion of Shinanozaka. It is hard to say. What we can say is that even though the slopes are gone, the current bridges and footbridges seem to follow the general path that the slopes would have followed. That being the case, in some ways we can see continuities in the pedestrians flow from the Edo period today, though pedestrians must now climb stairways to access the footbridges rather than climbing a slope. Now, the space occupied by Ueno Station and the train tracks is not easy to transverse by foot, creating a barrier to negotiate. As Lynch pointed out in his work The Image of the City, barriers like train tracks can become hard borders in our mental maps.
(Susan Taylor)

作成者  | 2014-09-30 (火)
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