Walking and the pedestrian environment
September 21, 2006
Drug Mortar Rise (Tokyo)

薬研坂 やげんざか
Yagenzaka, Drug Mortar Rise

Between Akasaka 4-17 and 7-1

This article is part of the special feature Akasaka on the Rise. Check it out in my Live Maps Collection.

The official description:

1707 map of Drug Mortar Rise中央がくぼみ両側の高い形が薬を砕く薬研に似ているために名づけられた。付近住民の名で何右衛門坂とも呼んだ
The name derives from the similarity to a druggist's mortar, with its depressed center and high ends. It also used to be called "Kaemon-zaka" (Kaemon Rise) after a nearby resident.

Unofficial explanation:

The rise already bore this name in the 1600's, when it was labeled "yakensaka." (Pictured map is from 1707).

Full View of Drug Mortar RiseDrug Mortar Rise starts at Aoyama Boulevard (青山通り, Aoyama Doori), which in Edo times was the the Atsugi Ooyama Highway (厚木大山街道, Atsugi Ooyama Kaido). The top of the rise is opposite the Akasaka Imperial Grounds (赤坂御用地, Akasaka Goyouchi), formerly the Kii Estate (紀伊州屋敷, Kii-shuu Yashiki), right in between Akasaka Garden City and Sony Computer Entertainment. It runs south past new construction and ends at the top of Entsuu Temple Rise. Continuing straight south will take you to Three Bit Rise.

View from north end of Drug Mortar RiseView of new sidewalks on Drug Mortar RiseAkasaka Garden City (赤坂ガーデンシティ, Akasaka Gaaden Shiti) is a 20 story office tower recently completed at the north end of the rise. Although the massive structure has drastically changed the character of the neighborhood, at least a good job was done of making the walk on the rise pleasant, with a double sidewalk straddling trees on the east, office side of the street. With the upcoming "Drug Mortar Rise south urban renewal project" (薬研坂南地区市街地再開発, Yagenzaka Minami Chiku Shigaichi Saikaihatsu) and its towering condominium structure, the days of daimyo estates are long gone.

View from south end Drug Mortar RiseA yagen is used in making Chinese herbal medicines, which was the basis for Japanese medicine. [Photo is from south end of the rise.]

Death of Columbia JapanAnother name for this street is Columbia Lane (コロムビア通り, Koromubia-doori), because the home of Columbia Records Japan (日本コロムビア, Nihon Koromubia) sat in the bottom of the mortar. Columbia Records Japan was founded here in 1910, and only recently moved to a new space in a Mori Building in Roppongi, near the new Tokyo Midtown. Their old home, and several surrounding structures, has been demolished to make way for a 30-odd story condominium buliding. I hope Columbia did this as a desparate cost-cutting measure, because they left behind a neighborhood that they anchored, and moved to become just another tenant.

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at September 21, 2006 6:26 PM
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