Sunday, May 28, 2006

Shiwa :: 紫波

Shiwa Chuo Station Sign
[Shiwa Chuo train station sign]

Today Shiwa is a small town in central Iwate just South of Morioka. It has been a wonderful garden paradise but is now rapidly transforming itself into a sprawling suburb of Morioka. It still ranks number one in the nation in the production of Mochi Rice and number one in the prefecture in the production of grapes, apples and pears!

shiwa grapes
[Shiwa grapes]

The name Shiwa is very old and comes from the Emishi people who lived there before the Japanese took over. The first official Japanese settlement in this area was Fort Shiwa in what is now Morioka. It dates from 804. But before this fort was established, Emperor Kammu (782 - 806) declared all the lands of Honshu his and all the inhabitants thereof his as well! He then had maps drawn and names put on all the lands. The land of the Shiwa Emishi was designated Shiwa County before ever the Yamato army had conquered it!

The first Chinese characters that were used to write this Emishi name were -
(type 1) 子波  as in  子波郡  [Shiwa County]
The characters could be translated as 'CHILD + WAVE' where 'wave' refers to the movement of water and not of hands!

Then, in 804, Fort Shiwa was built and the Shiwa Road was opened from Fort Isawa to Fort Shiwa. For this different Chinese characters were used -
(type 2) 志波  as in  志波街道  [Shiwa Road]
    and  志波城  [Fort Shiwa]
This new character gives the fort a more military feel I suppose. It can be rendered as 'AMBITION + WAVES'

Next, in 811, the spelling of Shiwa County was changed to -
(type 3) 斯波  as in  斯波郡  [Shiwa County] 
These are also the same characters a local military hero, Ienaga Shiwa used to spell his name. He died at the tender age of 17 in 1339. This new Chinese character is now obsolete. It was used in words with meanings like 'thus' and 'so'!

A new pairing of Chinese characters were used when the local Inari Shinto Shrine was established in 1057 -
(type 4) 志和 as in 志和稲荷神社  [Shiwa Inari Jinja]
These characters might be translated as 'AMBITION + PEACE'. One wonders if the Shinto priests were encouraging a new attitude! Much later, in 1591, Shiwa County again changed the way it's name was written, copying the shrine's name. There is also a small area (not a village, town, city or county), in the West of present day Shiwa Town that was created at the same time and still exists with this same spelling!

A look at any modern day map of the area will show that the name of the present city, several schools and the train station use still a different Chinese character -
(type 5) 紫波  as in  紫波町  [Shiwa Town]
Here the characters can be translated 'PURPLE + WAVES' which are thought to refer to the waves on the Kitakami River! I am told that the elementary school's song makes reference to this.

So, there are five ways at least to write Shiwa, four of which can still be found in use in Shiwa Town today.

Shiwa Town has a Japanese language home page here.


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