Unfolding a history from street names

Text: Kenji Tsuchihashi / Photo: Hirotaka Mitsukawa

Higashi Nakasuji-dori runs east west between Nishinotouin-dori and Aburanokoji-dori, and to north south between Bukkoji Temple and Shijo-dori. It is well known as Tenshitsukinuke-dori and has a beautiful narrow stone path from Takatsuji-dori till north. This romantic name meaning a street where angle goes through, is said to be started used with much irony by the people upset with Hideyoshi Toyotomi's, powerful samurai in the late 16th century, construction plan of the Kyoto City.

Gojotenjinja, a shrine worshiping gods of agriculture and medicine, is located nearby. The shrine is also said to be where Yoshitsune Minamoto and Benkei, a famous samurai & his warrior pair, has first met. When Hideyoshi Toyotomi had gained power to unify the nation, he rolled out a construction plan of Kyoto including building a huge path to connect upper and lower Kyoto. This path had planned to go through Gojotenjinja, therefore people being upset by it penetrating the sacred shrine started calling it the path going through angle. There are number of other path named with 'tsukinuke' meaning 'going through', like Yashirotsukinuke-cho and Ooharaguchitsukinuke-cho.

The origin of backstreets in Kyoto can be categorised to 2 types. One is a path that was forced to be made under the reconstruction plan, like this Tenshitsukinuke-dori that was added and others that was originally built as path inside temple/shrine but was left behind after the temple/shrine was forced to move away. The other that was built by the people to create more convenient path around the city. Ryoton-zushi is a good example of this. Tea master Ryoton Hirono had allowed people to build a path through his premises as convenient public path.

Not everything regarding backstreets are old. For example, the stones laid beautifully on the path of Tenshitsukinuke and some other alleys are recycled stones from rail track of former trams that were abolished in 1978. It gives a kind of dignity to the ground and matches the scenery of Kyoto. I fell it a pity that some are being replaced with ordinary street coatings lately.

You can also find Inari-roji at the east of Tenshitsukinuke-dori, where many terrace houses remain. These houses were the homes of craftsmen and there is a inari (statue of fox which is one of the most important figure in success of industry) placed at the end. Today, one cloth dyeing craftsman lives here who still takes care of the inari statue. Contradictory to Tenshitsukinuke-dori, this Inari-roji carries love with its name.