Where Did the Name “Tsukuba” Come From?
Tsukuba City Hall recently upgraded its Japanese website and has made it a bit easier to navigate. They have also added some new pages about the history of the Tsukuba area. One of the new pages gives some possible explanations for the name “Tsukuba”.
According to the Hitachi no Kuni Fudoki (常陸国風土記, a kind of almanac for the Hitachi area — present day Ibaraki) which was written in the Nara Period (710 to 794 AD), Tsukuba (筑波) was originally called “Ki no Kuni” (紀の国). The first administrator of the Tsukuba area, an emissary from the Yamato court, was called Tsukuhako no Mikoto (ツクハコの命). During the reign of Emperor Sujin (崇神天皇, third or fourth century), Tsukuhako no Mikoto decided to change the name of Ki no Kuni to “Tsukuha no Kuni” so that his name could be remembered by future generations. Over the years, Tsukuha became Tsukuba.
Another story, this one from a book written by a Mt. Tsukuba monk in the Edo era (1603 to 1868 AD), says that during the reign of Emperor Jimmu (神武天皇, legendary Emperor of Japan, 660-585 BC), the Eastern Sea swelled and threaten to inundate the country. However, Mt. Tsukuba was very tall and it stopped the wave (波), therefore protecting the parts to the west of the mountain from flooding. From this, the name Tsukuba (築波, meaning built-up wave) was given to the mountain.
Finally, the word “chiku” (筑, also pronounced “tsuku”) refers to an instrument that is similar to the koto. Amaterasu (天照大神), the sun goddess born of Izanagi and Izanami, was playing the chiku to comfort her parents. Doing this cause a wave (波) from the Kashima Sea to reach (着く, pronounced “tsuku”) the peak of Mt. Tsukuba, so the mountain was then called Tsukuba (着波, or reach-wave). Another explanation was that the sound of the chiku (筑) brought the wave (波), so the mountain was named Tsukuba (筑波).
(This information comes from a book called “Tsukuba no Mukashi Banashi” which is published by Tsukuba Shorin and available to be purchased through Ibaraki Zusho. If you are interested in purchasing the book, please see the Tsukuba Mukashi Banashi page on the City Hall website.)
There are many possible explanations and we may never know for sure why this area was given the name Tsukuba, but these historical accounts make for interesting reading (and good history lessons).
If you want to practice your Japanese while reading about Tsukuba, click on “♪音声で聞く” (written in red at the top of the page) on the City Hall page to hear someone read the explanation in Japanese.