Miotsukushi 澪標

Today Somemaru and I were walking through Nipponbashi on our way to a meeting at the National Bunraku Theater. On the sidewalk I noticed a steel plate, perhaps the cover for a water gauge. On it was the symbol for Osaka City, which I recently learned the significance of. I couldn’t recall the name in Japanese, so I asked Somemaru. He told me it is called a miotsukushi, or channel marker.

I commented that I thought the miotsukushi is a perfect symbol for Osaka given the city’s long heritage of shipping and mercantilism. Osaka is today recognized as one of the world’s great aquapolises, next to Amsterdam and Venice. Indeed Osaka lives up to its early modern nickname of “city of 808 bridges.”

Somemaru told me that, yes, Osaka’s senba (pier, dock, boat landing, place of shipping, etc.) heritage was likely a significant factor in the choice of miotsukushi for city symbol, but it was most certainly chosen, too, for its presence in popular folk songs, multiple meanings (puns, such as mi o tsukushi, or “to give all of oneself” to something or someone), and literary connections, to works such as Man’yôshû (Collection of Ten-thousand Leaves, ca. 759 [book 14]) and other poetry collections, and to the chapter of the same name (Miotsukushi) in Genji monogatari (Tales of Genji, ca. early 11th century). There is even an incense with the name miotsukushi. It is of importance that Osaka’s symbol represents “skewers in [marking] the pulse of the water,” but also of great significance is its deep connections to traditional cultures.





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