Where there’s a well…

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

 

Sayama has a number of places with the character “mizu” (), meaning “water” in them.  The most notable example is Mizutomi (水富), which used to be a village prior to it merging into the new city of Sayama in 1954.  Mizutomi sits on the western bank of the Iruma River and its tributaries, and also receives plentiful water from the springs in the surrounding hills; this is reflected in its name. 

An aerial photo of the Mizutomi area, with the Iruma River in the eastern section.

 

Southeast of the Iruma River is the Furo River (不老川), which flows from a small lake in Mizuho, Tokyo to the Shingashi River in Kawagoe.  The Furo was originally known as Kotama River (古多摩川), literally “old Tama River” and also as the Toshitorazu River.  Both Furo and Toshitorazu have the same meaning – “unaging” – and folklore says that the river didn’t age because it dried up before the new year (in older times, ages were counted by the number of new years that one passed through).  Another story says that if a person spent New Year’s Eve under a bridge on the dried-up river, they wouldn’t age.  Interestingly, both “Furo” and “Toshitorazu” were written with identical characters.

The river rarely dries up today because of the amount of run-off that flows into it, but in the past this was poorly monitored and controlled, and lead to the Furo receiving the dubious title of “Japan’s Most Polluted River” for three consecutive years from 1983.  Government and community projects have stopped sewerage from entering the system, and today’s river – albeit with the ubiquitous concrete banks – is home to ducks and fish.

A map sign in front of the Irumano Shrine showing the Kamakura Kaido route from the upper reaches of Saitama to Tokorozawa

 

Next to the Furo River and the old Kamakura Kaido route is an old well, the Nanamagari-noi- (七曲井).  This is of the maimaizuido design, named after the spirals on a snail shell.  The spirals act as a ramp for people to make their way down to the mouth of the well.  The surrounding area was once known locally as Horikane-no-i, but is now read as Horigatai (堀難井), literally “hard to dig well”.

There are two other wells of this design in the nearby Horikane area, the Horikane-no-i (堀兼之井) and the Hachikenya-no-i (八軒家之井), but the latter is on private land, and neither of them is equal to Nanamagari-no-i in size – 18 metres wide, 26 metres long and 11.5 metres deep.

The Nanamagari-no-i from ground level. Left unattended for any length of time around summer and autumn, it looks messy and unimpressive…

(This aerial photo gives a better indication of its size.  That’s the Furo River immediately south-south east of the well)

It is not known exactly how old Nanamagari-no-i is.  The last major reworking of the well was in the mid-18th century.  14th century poems mentioning Horikane-no-i could easily be referring to this well.  (Apparently, “Horikane-no-i” could also refer to the maimaizu design in general, so it is not certain if these poems were alluding to any specific well)  Folklore says that it was originally dug by the semi(?)-mythological hero Yamato Takeru.  I guess we’ll never know for sure.

A chart showing the design of the well.

 

Near the Iriso and Horikane areas is Mizuno (水野).  Whereas the afore-mentioned Mizutomi’s name is apt, Mizuno’s is something of an irony.  It was one of the last areas in the old Kawagoe fief to be developed, largely due to its lack of available water.  It is said that farmers had to wipe the day’s filth off with grass and that they bathed in water that had been used to wash rice, so unreliable was their water source.

Within Mizuno, there are two other locations with water in their name.  One of these is Mizuoshi (水押).  Mizuoshi proved to be quite enigmatic while I was researching this.  I couldn’t find any one specific location with that name, just several scattered addresses.  The meaning was also unclear – the word is used to describe the prow in Japanese boat design, which didn’t make sense, given the location.

The other is Nigemizu (逃水), which proved much easier to understand.  Local legend tells of a traveller walking the route from through Mizuno to Tororozawa (modern Tokorozawa) on a hot day.  The traveller wasn’t carrying any water on him and soon felt parched.  On the fields in the distance he saw running water.  He rushed towards the water, but it retreated from him.  Further along he saw another stream of water, but it too disappeared before he could reach it.  This went on until the traveller had run all the way to Tororozawa, light-headed and giddy.

The water, of course, had been a mirage.  Nigemizu literally means “water that runs away” and a variation of it (逃げ水) is used to describe mirages on roads.

 

Sayama has a rich collection of folklore, and I hope to find out more, plus more about Tokorozawa.

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