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Bottoms and Mouths – Japanese Place Names

September 12, 2011

Remember I wanted to write a post about the interesting chat we had with the owner of the tiny restaurant in Karuizawa? Well, here it is 🙂

When we went to Karuizawa by train I noticed some places contained the kanji for bottom which is shiri (尻) in Japanese. For example Shiojiri (塩尻). While I wondered if this was supposed to mean that we’re now at the arse end of Japan, my boyfriend took the chance to ask the restaurant owner about the real meaning.

He happened to be quite interested in this kind of question and happened to have read a book on Japanese place names so he could tell us a lot about it. In the case of shiri the name indicates an end. For example the end of a river which is its source. Of course you would say a river begins at its source but speaking of the place where the river flows into the sea as the river mouth calling the other end the bottom makes sense. There’s a place called Umijiri (海尻) which would be just this: The bottom of the sea – umi no shiri.

Shiri could also hint to the end of a road as it is the case in Shiojiri. Since Shiojiri is located in the mountains of Nagano there is no sea from which to gain salt, so salt had to be brought from the Pacific Ocean or the Sea of Japan. Shiojiri marks the point where the salt routes from both seas meet and come to an end. Thus it’s the end of salt – shio no shiri or Shiojiri.

The restaurant owner also told us about other place names like for example Managashi (馬流). People used to cross the river at this place with their horses but apparently many horses were flushed away by the current so the place got its name: Horse flush.

Do you know other stories behind Japanese place names? I’d love to hear them 🙂

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 17, 2013 23:18

    Many thanks for sharing this fine piece. Quite fascinating concepts! (as always, btw)

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