A short distance from Nihonbashi, just to the north of the high-class shopping districts occupied by the leading merchants, Mitsui Echigo-ya, Ise-ya and Maru-ya, the land rises suddenly from the flat, low-lying districts of the shita-machi (downtown) area to a green, tree-studded plateau. This is the Kanda district, which marks the southwest fringe of the Yama-no-te, the hilly half of the city, where most wealthy samurai have their estates.
When Edo was first built, there was a very large hill in this area known as Kanda-yama. It was the highest point in the entire area, rising above even the neighboring hill where Edo Castle now sits. Tokugawa Ieyasu had his men level this hill, and use the excavated earth to fill in the marshes along the shores of the bay. That is how the downtown area was reclaimed from the sea. Today, all that is left of Kanda hill is a low, flat-topped plateau that overlooks downtown Edo. Since it is located close to Edo Castle and also close to the center of town, many of the leading officials in the Shogun's government have their homes in Kanda. One of these officials is my master, Lord Matsudaira, who is a member of the six-man committee which directly advises the Shogun.
Matsudaira is a very noble family name, since all members of the Matsudaira clan are closely related to the Shogun. In order to ensure that there are no serious squabbles over the succession to the position of shogun, everyone who is more than two generations removed from the current shogun must give up the name Tokugawa and choose another name. Many of the people who had to choose a new family name -- particularly those that were closely related to the first shogun (Ieyasu) or the third shogun (Iemitsu) -- took the name Matsudaira. Although they no longer are considered members of the Shogun's "family", the Matsudairas all maintain close links to the central government, and many of them hold top positions in the bakufu (military government), or in the government of Edo.
Lord Matsudaira's estate is in the center of a neighborhood known as "uchi-Kanda" (inner Kanda). About fifty years after Kanda hill was leveled to build downtown Edo, workmen dug a canal through the middle of the plateau to carry water from the rivers to the northwest of the city into the Sumida river. This was part of the elaborate water system that now supplies Edo with drinking water. The canal was named "Kanda-gawa" (the Kanda river) and since it split the plateau in half, the part closest to Edo castle acquired the name "uchi" (inner) Kanda and the part on the opposite side of the river took the name "soto" (outer) Kanda.
The Matsudaira estate, like most of the manors maintained by influential samurai, is entirely surrounded by a high wall, whitewashed on the outside and surmounted by an overhanging tiled roof. The roof serves two purposes -- it helps reduce the impact of rain on the packed-earth-and-plaster walls, and it makes it harder for an intruder to climb over the wall. The front gate to the residence is also very solid and imposing. A guardhouse is located right near the gate, and the quarters of the Daimyo's personal guard are right nearby. All high-ranking samurai are allowed to maintain their own private corps of guards at their residences, though there are strict rules on how many men a certain daimyo can employ and how many are allowed to travel with him through the city streets when he goes out.
The wall, the guardhouse and the private bodyguard are all relics of the old days, when leading warlords did not yet trust one another. During the period of civil war, a daimyo's residence was like a small fortress, and the defensive measures were often put to use. Competing daimyo frequently tried to raid one another's manors in Kyoto or one of the other major towns. The rules on the size of each "private army" in Edo were designed to ensure that the daimyo felt safe at home, but would not have enough men to organize an effective revolt against the Shogun. Nowadays, though, the rules are largely ceremonial, and the number of men in the private bodyguard are simply a mark of a person's rank and status.
Once inside the imposing wall, the Matsudaira estate looks like a park. There are acres of beautiful, carefully tended gardens filled with flowers and dotted by ponds and streams. The estates of the major samurai are meticulously maintained by gardeners and servants, and in some cases, these beautifully landscaped gardens almost seem like a paradise. Most of the land inside the estate is actually taken up by these gardens.
Matsudaira yashiki (Matsudaira's manor) is an ornate, sprawling building with many wings leading off in different directions, yet it looks small compared to the vast sprawl of the estate. The building is located next to a small pond, which provides a fine view from the main building. Originally, though, it also had a more practical function, as a line of defence against attack, and a source of water in case the manor came under seige.
The building has dozens of rooms, walkways and semi-detached apartments, since it is home to not only the entire Matsudaira family, but all their servants and retainers as well. The complex can be divided into several sections on the basis of their function. At the center, and facing the front gates, are the rooms where the daimyo meets visitors and conducts business. The household staff lives in small rooms on the wings that lead off from these large, central meeting halls.
To one side of the central halls are the kitchens and storerooms. These are usually located close to the quarters where household staff sleep. These two parts of the house tend to be the busiest. There are people bustling to and fro all day. The guards, as well as visitors to the manor, never go into the private apartments at the rear of the manor; therefore, the main halls and the servants quarters are where most people in the household spend their time. The kitchens are often huge halls detatched from the main buildings. A daimyo's manor needs to have a big kitchen. Since there can be well over a hundred people living on the estate of a high-ranking daimyo, it is a full-time job for several cooks and assistants just to keep everyone in the household fed. Behind the large building at the the front of the manor, and attached to it by long corridors or covered walkways, is the main residence. There are several wings, each occupied by one of the daimyo's wives or one of his elder children. Their private rooms, as well as the quarters of their personal servants, are clustered together. The rooms are arranged with communal living space, kitchens and guest rooms in the front, and the women's quarters furthest back.
Also located near the back ofthe manor complex are the washrooms and toilets. These are usually at opposite ends of a corridor in the rear of the building. The baths are a very important part of a daimyo's manor. The Japanese love to soak in a hot o-furo (bathtub) at the end of a long day. Nothing else is quite so relaxing in the evening as a nice, hot bath.
Although some of the central buildings are quite impressive, with high, soaring roofs of ceramic tile, most of the manor has only one story, perhaps with a loft for storage or for the servants to use as sleeping quarters. This is largely a practical matter. Although two and three-story buildings are quite common in the downtown area, the upper rooms of large buildings can be unbearably hot in the summer. One-story structures with wide doorways and breezeways are much more comfortable during the long, hot summer months.
There are few furnishings inside the manor. The main meeting rooms are covered with tatami (straw mats), and there is hardly any furniture apart from cushions to sit on (zabuton) and perhaps a small table or a wooden armrest for the daimyo to lean on. When guests eat in these halls, portable wooden table-trays are brought in with the food already on the table. After the guests finish eating, the tables are taken away, along with all the dishes.
In the private apartments, there are a few more furnishings. The women, in particular, may have a number of small tables or stands to put trinkets and jewelry. The daimyo's wives and daughters will probably have small tables in their bedrooms, a large chest or a rack for hanging kimono and a vanity table where they can put on their makeup.
In the evening, the servants will bring in a few lanterns. These are wooden or metal stands with a small oil lamp on top, and a large paper shade on top to block any wind that might blow out the lamp. The only other piece of furniture that is commonly found in people's homes are folding screens, made of wood frames covered by paper. These screens are used mainly for decoration, and they are usually painted with beautiful scenes in vivid colors. The screens are also used to provide a measure of privacy. There are many people in the manor, and particularly in the summer time, all of the sliding doors (shoji are left open to provide a breeze. Therefore, when people are changing clothes or sleeping, they set the folding screens around their bed to provide some privacy.