In the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, where modernity thrives, the echoes of history can still be heard within the serene walls of its ancient Buddhist temples.
This upcoming article will serve as a guide to uncovering the hidden gems of Tokyo’s historical landscape – a handpicked collection of revered Buddhist temples that offer a retreat from the city’s dynamic pace.
Each temple holds a unique story and architectural marvel waiting to be discovered. As visitors traverse these sacred grounds, they’ll witness the rich tapestry of Tokyo’s past seamlessly blending with its present.
But our exploration doesn’t end here. Stay tuned for another enlightening article, where we will shift our focus to Tokyo’s Shinto shrines.
Sensō-ji, officially known as Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji, also referred to as Asakusa Kannon, stands as an ancient Buddhist temple nestled in the heart of Asakusa, Tokyo. This venerable temple not only boasts the title of Tokyo’s oldest but also commands a position of great significance in the city’s cultural tapestry.
Originally associated with the Tendai sect of Buddhism, its independent stature emerged after the conclusion of World War II. The temple’s devotion is to Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, and it reigns as the most visited religious site globally, with a staggering annual influx of over 30 million visitors.
Adjacent to the temple’s premises, a five-story pagoda stands tall, accompanied by the presence of the Asakusa Shinto shrine. Furthermore, the bustling Nakamise-dōri accommodates numerous shops adorned with traditional goods, creating a lively atmosphere for visitors.
Sensō-ji’s historical significance is underlined by its architectural details, including its distinctive titanium-tiled roof that maintains both historical charm and enhanced durability.
The temple’s inception lies rooted in legend: a statue of Kannon was discovered in the Sumida River in 628 AD by two brothers, Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari. Their village chief, Hajino Nakamoto, recognized the sanctity of the statue, leading to the establishment of a small temple in Asakusa.
Over the years, Sensō-ji has weathered challenges, including destruction during World War II, only to be rebuilt as a symbol of rebirth and peace. Its iconic Kaminarimon or “Thunder Gate,” along with its Nakamise-dōri shops and the serene garden within, stand as testament to Tokyo’s rich spiritual heritage, welcoming countless visitors from across the world.
Zōjō-ji, a distinguished Jōdo-shū Buddhist temple in Tokyo, carries deep historical and cultural significance. Serving as the main temple of the Jōdo-shū Chinzei sect of Buddhism in the Kantō region, the temple holds the mountain name of San’en-zan.
Notably entwined with the Tokugawa clan, rulers of Japan during the Edo period, Zōjō-ji is the resting place for six Tokugawa shōguns within the Taitoku-in Mausoleum on its grounds.
Zōjō-ji’s history is interwoven with revered figures such as Shūei, a disciple of Kūkai, who founded its precursor, Kōmyō-ji. The temple’s significance expanded during the Edo period when it became the Tokugawa family temple. Zōjō-ji’s historical evolution is marked by challenges, including fires, natural calamities, and World War II bombings that razed the original buildings and structures.
Situated within the Shiba neighborhood of Minato, the temple’s ambiance is complemented by the adjacent Shiba Park and the iconic Tokyo Tower. The temple maintains its vibrancy as the central nembutsu seminary for priests and novices, standing as an enduring testament to the philosophy of Jodo shu.
Notable architectural features include the impressive Sangedatsumon gate, revered for its symbolic representation of liberation from worldly desires. The gate is the oldest wooden structure in Tokyo, dating back to 1622. The temple complex also features the serene and contemplative garden reflecting traditional Japanese aesthetics.
Zōjō-ji stands as a poignant reflection of Tokyo’s history, resilience, and spiritual traditions, inviting visitors to explore its hallowed grounds and immerse themselves in its profound cultural legacy.
Established in Minato, Tokyo, the Hōtōzan Hōju-in Daishin-ji, commonly referred to as Daishin-ji, stands as a significant Buddhist temple affiliated with the Jōdo sect. Its origins trace back to 1611 when its founder, Ryō-kō Shōnin, was granted a plot of land in Minami Hatchōbori by the Tokugawa shogunate to establish the temple.
Initially named Hōtōzan, the temple underwent a move in 1635 to its current location in Mita 4 chōme, a decision made by the government to accommodate Edo’s expanding urban footprint.
A historical highlight is the burial site of Ishimura Genzaemon, renowned as Edo’s inaugural shamisen craftsman, within the temple grounds in 1636. Subsequently, eleven generations of the Ishimura family found their resting place there, rendering the temple the moniker “The Shamisen Temple.”
Today, Daishin-ji remains an emblem of spiritual heritage amid Tokyo’s bustling modernity, preserving a legacy that spans centuries.
Yūtenji, nestled in Nakameguro, Meguro, Tokyo, is a sacred temple representing the Pure Land Sect of Buddhism. Situated just a brief 5-minute stroll from Yūtenji railway station along the Tokyu Toyoko Line, this temple exudes tranquility within the bustling urban landscape.
With its roots tracing back to 1718, during the 3rd year of the Kyōhō era, Yūtenji emerged as a shrine honoring Yūten, the 36th monk of Zōjōji. Yumi, one of Yūten’s devoted disciples, constructed Yūtenji as a testament to his legacy, thus becoming its revered founder.
The temple’s precincts encompass distinct halls of reverence, each holding its unique significance. The Main Hall stands as a sanctuary for a statue of Yuten Shonin, while the Amida-do hall enshrines the revered figure of Amida Nyorai.
The Niomon Gate serves as a guardian adorned with the statues of Kongo Rikishi (Nio), crafted by Iwami, as well as the revered figures of Jikokuten and Masuchoten. Another space of reverence is the Jizo-do Hall, devoted to a statue of Jizo Bodhisattva.
Yūtenji stands as a testament to the spiritual heritage woven into Tokyo’s fabric, inviting visitors to embrace its serenity and historical significance.
Zenpuku-ji, also known as Azabu-san, stands as a testament to Tokyo’s rich historical and spiritual landscape. Situated in the Azabu district of Tokyo, it is an ancient Jōdo Shinshū temple with origins dating back to the 9th century.
Originally established by the revered Kūkai in 824, Zenpuku-ji commenced its journey as a Shingon temple. However, during the Kamakura period, its affiliation shifted when Shinran, a prominent figure in Buddhist history, visited the temple, integrating it into the Jodo Shinshu sect.
Zenpuku-ji is further distinguished by its association with the United States of America. Following the 1859 Treaty of Amity and Commerce, the temple became the location of the first Tokyo legation of the United States, presided over by Consul-General Townsend Harris. A monument to Townsend Harris and the First American Legation in Tokyo stands as a historical marker within the temple premises.
The temple’s features include a remarkable 750-year-old ginkgo tree, affectionately named “the upside down tree,” purportedly planted by Shinran himself. This tree, registered as a National Natural Monument, is an enduring symbol of the temple’s history.
Additionally, a well on the shrine’s approach holds historical significance, as it is believed to have been struck by Kukai’s bishop’s staff. This well served the community during both the Great Kantō earthquake and the Great Tokyo Air Raid, underlining the temple’s role as a steadfast source of support during challenging times.
Zenpuku-ji is also associated with notable individuals like Henry Heusken, whose fate brought him to the temple after an attack. Masuda Takashi, founder of Mitsui, began his journey at Zenpuku-ji as a young interpreter, adding another layer to the temple’s historical tapestry.
Nestled in the Setagaya ward of Tokyo, Zenyōmitsu-ji emerges as a tranquil haven of Buddhist spirituality. This sacred temple, a mere 15-minute stroll from Todoroki Station on the Tokyu Oimachi Line, carries a profound history dating back to the early Edo period.
Founded in the Keian period (1648-1651), Zenyōmitsu-ji relocated from Fukasawa village to its present abode, enriching its spiritual legacy. Guided by the Shingon creed of Vajrayana Buddhism, the temple’s devotion to the origins and evolution of Buddhism permeates its teachings.
The spiritual heart of Zenyōmitsu-ji beats with reverence for the Kongokai Dainichi Nyorai, an awe-inspiring wooden carved and lacquered sitting statue towering over four feet. This figure stands as the cornerstone of worship within the temple’s sacred precincts.
Embracing its role as a guardian of heritage, Zenyōmitsu-ji houses a remarkable assemblage of genuine artifacts hailing from India, Central Asia, and China. Particularly noteworthy is its exceptional collection of art from Gandhara, thoughtfully curated over two decades under the temple’s stewardship.
Gracing the temple’s surroundings is a magnificent Kaya tree, a living testament to time itself. With a rumored age of 700 to 800 years, this venerable tree holds a cherished spot in the temple’s history. Its significance is so profound that it earned the esteemed title of a natural monument of Tokyo in 1964.
Zenyōmitsu-ji encapsulates the essence of spiritual devotion, cultural preservation, and historical significance. As visitors tread its serene paths, they become part of a legacy spanning centuries, experiencing the sacred wisdom of Buddhism in a modern world.
Renkō-ji, a Tokyo Buddhist temple, is widely believed to house the ashes of Indian revolutionary Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose since September 18, 1945. Established in 1594, this Nichiren sect temple reveres the Lotus Sutra for human salvation.
According to the G.D. Khosla Commission’s findings, Bose’s ashes were placed in a box in Taipei after his cremation, and he passed away at Taihoku Army Hospital on August 18, 1945.
Renkō-ji was intended for his funeral, but Rev. Mochizuki, the Chief Monk’s father, preserved the ashes for safekeeping. Every August 18, Bose’s associates commemorate his death at the temple.
Renkoji attracts Indian officials paying homage to Bose’s remains in the small golden pagoda. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s 1957 visit initiated this tradition, followed by President Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Indira Gandhi. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the former Indian Minister of External Affairs, Jaswant Singh, also paid their respects during official visits.
Renkō-ji serves as a solemn repository of Bose’s legacy, enveloping visitors in the echo of history.
Tōkai-ji, situated in Shinagawa, Tokyo, is a Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple under the Daitoku-ji branch. Established in 1639 by Shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu, it’s a short walk from Shimbamba Station on the Keikyū Main Line.
The temple’s history is intertwined with the “Purple Robe Incident,” where a dispute over imperial appointments led to Takuan, a former Daitoku-ji abbot, being banished. After Iemitsu’s succession, he admired Takuan’s wisdom and built Tōkai-ji in 1639 for his guidance.
Takuan passed away in 1645, leaving behind a legacy that’s still felt today. His grave at Tōkai-ji was declared a National Historic Site in 1926. After a fire in 1694 destroyed Shinagawa-juku, the temple was rebuilt through the patronage of Keishō-in, Shōgun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s mother.
This period saw expansions, including the construction of the existing temple bell. However, the Meiji Restoration led to property loss and a separation between the main temple grounds and the cemetery.
Tōkai-ji remains a testament to Takuan’s enduring influence, its history richly connected with the heart of Japan’s Zen culture.
Genkū-ji, nestled in Tokyo’s Higashiueno neighborhood, is a Jōdo-shū Buddhist temple, housing a statue of Hōnen as its central focus. A brief stroll from Inaricho Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line leads to this spiritual haven.
The temple’s origins trace back to 1590 when it began as a modest chapel in Yushima, now a part of Bunkyō. Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun, granted land for its expansion in 1604. The devastating fires of 1657 razed Edo, including Genkū-ji, which was subsequently rebuilt. Its relocation followed the urban renewal plan of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Despite enduring calamities like fires in the Genroku era and the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, Genkū-ji was resurrected each time. The temple’s bonsho (bell), contributed by Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1636, resonates with historical significance.
The temple’s cemetery serves as the resting place for notable figures like Inō Tadataka, a renowned surveyor, and Takahashi Yoshitoki, an accomplished astronomer, both designated as National Historic Sites in 1928. Other luminaries like Tani Bunchō, a distinguished artist, and Banzuiin Chōbei, a street tough, are also interred here, shaping Genkū-ji as both a spiritual refuge and a repository of history.
Ikegami Honmon-ji Temple
Ikegami Honmon-ji stands as a Nichiren Shū temple located south of Tokyo, marking the revered site of Nichiren’s passing. This temple also holds significance for Nichiren’s disciple, Nikkō, who spent his remaining years here. The temple grounds encompass the administrative center of Nichiren Shū.
A brief stroll from Ikegami Station (Tōkyū Ikegami Line) or Nishi-Magome Station (Toei Asakusa Line) leads to Ikegami Honmon-ji, home to several structures, most of which have been reconstructed following the 15th of March, 1945 bombing.
Notably, the five-story pagoda, a designated Important Cultural Property built in 1608, the kyōzō (repository of religious writings) constructed in 1784, and the hōtō (treasure pagoda) erected in 1781, where Nichiren’s cremation occurred, grace the temple complex. Several buildings have been newly erected or reconstructed post-1945.
Although currently situated in Ōta-ku, suburban Tokyo, Ikegami Honmon-ji was previously distanced from the city until the mid-20th century. Described by Basil Hall Chamberlain and W. B. Mason in 1907, the temple’s exceptional setting and splendid woodwork earned it a reputation as one of Tōkyō’s most appealing destinations.
The passage between the station and the temple transforms into a vibrant celebration during the O-Eshiki festival, observed from the 11th to the 13th of October. This event features mandō (a detailed lantern stand representation) and matoi, drawing thousands of devotees to the temple’s sacred grounds.
Shibamata Taishakuten Temple
Shibamata Taishakuten, also known as Daikyō-ji, is a cherished Nichiren-shū Buddhist temple nestled in Katsushika, Tokyo. Established in 1629, its central deity is Taishakuten.
Recognized for its auditory harmony, the temple and its ferryboat were designated as one of Japan’s 100 Soundscapes by the Ministry of the Environment in 1996. Furthermore, it was honored as one of the 100 Landscapes of Japan in the Heisei era in 2009.
Serving as Shibamata’s core, the temple stands as a jewel at the culmination of the main shopping street. The intricately adorned Nitenmon Gate, constructed in 1896, extends a warm welcome to the temple’s precincts. The temple’s present structure, raised in 1929, remarkably survived the ravages of World War II.
Inside the sanctuary, elaborate wooden panels illustrate facets of Buddha’s life and teachings. Crafted by local artists between 1915 and 1929, these panels exhibit remarkable detail and emotional resonance. Impressive dragon carvings support the lower levels of the structure. Climate-controlled and shielded by glass, the inner sanctuary remains accessible year-round.
Connected by an elevated walkway, an exquisite garden graces the temple’s guesthouse. Inside, fusion-style tatami rooms feature a blend of Japanese and Western art and furnishings. You can savor refreshments before stepping into the classical Japanese gardens, enclosed by a sheltered walkway for all-weather enjoyment. This haven provides access to both the temple’s front and the Yamamoto-tei historic house, along with the Katsushika Shibamata Tora-san Museum through its rear exit.
Situated in Bunkyo, Tokyo, Kisshō-ji, also known as Kichijō-ji, stands as a significant Buddhist temple with origins dating back to 1458, during the Muromachi period. A mere 5-minute stroll from Honkomagome Station leads to its serene precincts.
In 1592, the temple’s grounds saw the inception of the “Sendan-Rin” School for Buddhist monks. This institution evolved into Soto-shu University in 1905, later becoming Komazawa University in 1925.
Notable in history, the temple became the final resting place of Enomoto Takeaki, interred here in 1908 at the age of 72.
Previously adorned with seven halls, the temple faced the ravages of the Great Tokyo Air Raid, resulting in fire-induced destruction that left only the temple gate (constructed in 1802) and the Kyozo (erected in 1804) surviving.
Today, meticulous restoration has brought back its former splendor, with the main hall, reception hall, and kitchen adorning the revitalized grounds.
Mangan-ji, situated in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, is a significant Buddhist temple also known as Todoroki Fudō, named after a renowned image in one of its chapels.
It holds distinction as the 17th destination on the Kantō region’s Bandō Sanjūroku Fudōson Reijō pilgrimage route, dedicated to Fudō Myōō, reflecting its affiliation with the Shingon-shū Chisan-ha school of Japanese Buddhism.
Founded in the Heian period, Mangan-ji’s early years were marked by decline. However, in 1470, it was rejuvenated as a chapel for Todoroki Castle, an outlier fortress of Setagaya Castle.
Evolving into a seminary temple, it relocated to its present site during the Tenbun era (1532 to 1555). In the Edo period, it received a stipend from the Tokugawa shogunate for maintenance.
Although its mountain name and primary object of worship shifted over time, Mangan-ji became renowned for its statue of Jizo Bosatsu, believed to grant a single wish to each worshipper.
Notably, it houses the grave of Edo period Confucian scholar Hosoi Kōtaku (1658-1736), a National Historic Site. The temple’s Main Gate plaque bears his distinctive calligraphy, adding to its cultural heritage.
Tōzen-ji, situated in Takanawa, Minato, is a prominent Buddhist temple affiliated with the Myōshin-ji branch of the Rinzai school of Japanese Zen. Recognized as one of Edo’s four great Zen temples, it holds historical significance as the site of the first British legation in Japan during the Bakumatsu period.
This location witnessed several events involving pro-sonnō jōi samurai, reflecting the complex socio-political landscape of that era. In recognition of its historical importance, the temple’s precincts were designated a National Historic Site in 2010.
Founded in 1610 in Akasaka by Ryōnan Zenji, the temple’s name pays homage to the Dharma name of Itō Sukenori, the daimyō of Obi Domain in Hyūga Province (present-day Miyazaki Prefecture).
Its relocation to its current site occurred in 1636. During this time, the temple stood directly on the shores of Edo Bay, earning it the moniker “Kaijō Zenrin,” which translates to “the Zen forest above the sea.” This physical connection to the bay undoubtedly played a role in shaping the temple’s historical context and role during the Bakumatsu period.
Jindai-ji Temple, nestled in Chōfu within Tokyo Prefecture, is a venerable site aligned with the Tendai school of Buddhism. Its roots trace back through centuries, with its origins intertwined with the mystical currents of esoteric Buddhism, particularly associated with the water deity Jinja Daiō.
According to temple lore, a love story involving Sato Osaukon’s daughter and Fukuman led to the temple’s foundation in Tempyō 5 (733), dedicated to Jinja Daiō in gratitude for facilitating their union.
During the Jōgan era (859–877), the temple embraced the Tendai school’s teachings, and today, it venerates the Amida Buddha as its principal deity.
Nestled on a hill, the temple offers a serene retreat. Its entrance, marked by a temple gate rebuilt in the Yakui style after a fire in 1695, leads to an engaging ensemble of structures.
The main hall, reconstructed in the early 20th century with an innovative copper plate roof, stands at the heart of the complex. To its left, the ‘Gansandaishidō’ beckons, a haven for seeking life’s blessings.
A noteworthy discovery occurred in 1900 beneath this hall – a group of bronze sculptures named the ‘Three Hakuhō-Buddhas,’ denoting their origin in the Hakuhō period (673–686). Designated as National Treasures, these sculptures now grace the separate Shakadō building.
Monks’ quarters and guesthouses dot the landscape to the right, while the ‘Kaisandō’ shrine at the temple’s rear pays homage to its founder. Above, the temple’s cemetery stretches westward, a place of rest and reflection.
Gōtoku-ji Temple, located in Setagaya, Tokyo, is an iconic institution revered for its deep-rooted spiritual significance and historical legacy.
As a distinguished site within the Tendai school of Buddhism, Gōtoku-ji’s history traverses the epochs, revealing a profound connection with esoteric Buddhism and its mystical currents, particularly embodied by the water deity Jinja Daiō.
A poignant love story, entwining Sato Osaukon’s daughter and Fukuman, is believed to have sparked the temple’s creation in Tempyō 5 (733), dedicated in gratitude to Jinja Daiō’s role in uniting the lovers. Amid the Jōgan era (859–877), the temple embraced Tendai teachings, nurturing its spiritual identity. Today, it venerates the Amida Buddha as its principal deity.
Nestled harmoniously on a hill, the temple offers a sanctuary of tranquility. An intricate temple gate, reborn in the Yakui style after a fire in 1695, marks the entrance, ushering visitors into a captivating world of architectural wonders.
The main hall, rejuvenated in the early 20th century with an innovative copper plate roof, takes center stage within the temple’s landscape. Adjacent lies the ‘Gansandaishidō,’ beckoning devotees seeking life’s blessings.
A pivotal historical discovery unfolded beneath this hall in 1900 – a collection of bronze sculptures known as the ‘Three Hakuhō-Buddhas,’ hailing from the Hakuhō period (673–686). These sculptures, now designated as National Treasures, grace the distinguished Shakadō building.
In this sacred space, the monks’ quarters and guesthouses grace the right side, while the ‘Kaisandō’ shrine at the temple’s rear pays homage to its founder. Above, the temple’s cemetery stretches westward, offering a serene haven for reflection and repose.
Musashi Kokubun-ji Temple
Musashi Kokubun-ji Temple, situated in Kokubunji, Tokyo, stands as a testament to the rich spiritual heritage of Japan. Rooted in the Shingon-shu Buzan-ha sect, it holds the legacy of the erstwhile Nara period provincial temple of Musashi Province, which faded into obscurity during the Kamakura period.
This temple complex echoes with history, its significance recognized by its designation as a National Historic Site since 1921, with subsequent extensions as archaeological endeavors unearthed more remnants of its ancient splendor.
Emperor Shōmu’s decree in 741, aimed at establishing monasteries and nunneries across provinces after a devastating smallpox epidemic, laid the foundation for kokubunji, including Musashi Kokubun-ji.
Stretching over 1500 meters from east to west and 1000 meters from north to south, this sacred site held the Tōsandō highway, an ancient route connecting the capital to northern Japan.
The original complex, constructed between 750 and 760 AD, boasted structures like the Kondō, Lecture Hall, North Chapel, East Chapel, Middle Gate, and Seven-story Pagoda, mirroring the grandeur of Nara’s Todai-ji.
Despite its scale, it fell to the ravages of time, destruction striking in the 14th century during the Battle of Bubaigawara.
Today, the temple’s modern incarnation stands on part of the site, a testament to resilience. Rebuilt by Nitta Yoshisada in 1335, its Yakushi Nyōrai main image, a remnant from the original era, exudes a timeless aura.
Recognized as a National Important Cultural Property, it embodies Japan’s enduring spiritual essence. Musashi Kokubun-ji’s historical narrative, woven through layers of time and excavation, invites all to journey into its hallowed precincts and connect with the spiritual tapestry of the past.
Koyasan Tokyo Betsuin Temple
Kōyasan Tokyo Betsuin, often referred to as the “Kōyasan Tokyo Branch Temple,” graces the landscape of Minato Ward, specifically at Takanawa 3-15-18, along Nihonenoki dori, in Tokyo.
Rooted in the Kōyasan Shingon school of Japanese Buddhism, the temple finds its spiritual focus in the veneration of Kūkai. The esteemed Kongōbu-ji in Wakayama Prefecture serves as the head temple of this branch. Standing in proximity to the Takanawa Police Station, the temple’s presence is a tranquil juxtaposition to the bustling cityscape.
With its origins tracing back to the Keicho era (1596-1615), the temple’s establishment at Asakusa Nichirin Temple marked its initial connection to Edo’s spiritual landscape.
This legacy was further solidified in the first year of the Meiriki Era (1655), when the Shogunate bestowed the temple with land in Nihon enoki, Shiba. This auspicious moment led to the temple being named Kōyasan Edo Zaibansho Kōya-ji.
The temple’s current main hall, a magnificent testament to its enduring spirit, was erected in 1988. As a cornerstone of Kōyasan’s teachings in Tokyo, the Kōyasan Tokyo Betsuin invites visitors to connect with its sacred aura, bask in the teachings of Kūkai, and experience the serene harmony it brings to the bustling urban tapestry.
Tsukiji Hongan-ji Temple
Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a radiant haven of Jodo Shinshu Buddhist teachings, graces the vibrant district of Tsukiji in Tokyo. Positioned conveniently adjacent to Tsukiji Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, this temple has etched its spiritual presence amidst the urban landscape.
The temple’s lineage traces back to the Edo-Asakusa Gobo, built in 1617 under the guidance of the 12th monshu, Junnyo Shōnin. However, adversity struck in the form of a citywide fire in 1657, followed by a refusal from the shogunate to allow reconstruction in Asakusa.
Determined followers, living at nearby Tsukudajima, reclaimed a new land along the Sumida River, giving rise to Tsukiji Gobo, named for the “reclaimed land”. Yet, the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 left its mark, levelling the temple to the ground.
The present Tsukiji Hongan-ji, born from the visionary mind of Itō Chūta of the University of Tokyo, rose between 1931 and 1934. Its architectural splendor, a captivating blend influenced by Indian temples, stands as a unique hallmark.
The temple draws pilgrims seeking solace in its precious relics of Prince Shotoku, Shinran Shonin, and Shonyō Shōnin, the 23rd monshu, whose legacy of spreading Jodo Shinshu teachings is enshrined within.
Tsukiji Hongan-ji echoes with history’s whispers and modern tributes. It hosted the farewell of rock legend Hideto Matsumoto in 1998, while also commemorating the wake of Hiroaki Shukuzawa in 2006. With its spiritual sanctity and architectural grace, Tsukiji Hongan-ji continues to be a luminous beacon in Tokyo’s bustling heart.
Ekō-in, nestled in the historic Ryōgoku district of Tokyo, stands as a profound symbol of compassion and solace. The temple, also known as Honjo Ekō-in, follows the Pure Land Buddhist tradition, emphasizing the benevolence of Amida Buddha to all living beings.
Its formal name, Shoshūzan Muen-ji Ekō-in, encapsulates the essence of spreading Amida Buddha’s compassion to souls across the spectrum of existence.
Rooted in history, Ekō-in’s origins trace back to the aftermath of the devastating Great Fire of Meireki in 1657. Shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna, seeking to commemorate the uncountable souls lost, erected the Banninzuka monument and established a temple devoted to Amida Buddha’s teachings.
This temple, Ekō-in, became a haven for souls untouched by surviving relatives, encompassing victims of natural disasters, prisoners, and even animals.
During the Edo and Meiji periods, Ekō-in played an intriguing dual role as a sumo wrestling venue. The temple hosted the kanjin-zumō, a charitable fundraising event that marked the inception of professional sumo, from 1768.
The period between 1833 and 1909, known as the “Ekō-in sumō,” witnessed sumo matches within a substantial two-story temporary facility constructed beside the temple.
In 1909, Ryōgoku Kokugikan, a modern arena within the temple grounds, replaced the temporary structure, transforming the landscape of sumo. This innovation allowed for tournaments regardless of weather conditions, nurturing the sport’s popularity.
Nearby, the Chikara-zuka monument, erected in 1937 by the Sumo Association, commemorates past wrestlers and remains a site where aspiring wrestlers pray for strength.
Today, Ekō-in preserves its legacy of compassion and cultural significance. The temple stands as a testament to the fusion of spirituality and sportsmanship, coexisting harmoniously amidst the vibrant fabric of Tokyo’s Ryōgoku district.
Reigan-ji, situated in Tokyo’s Kōtō-ku district, resonates with the hallowed echoes of centuries past. This Buddhist temple, an embodiment of the Jōdo-shū sect of Japanese Buddhism, venerates the majestic Amida Nyōrai as its central divinity.
In 1624, Reigan Shōnin (1554-1641) unveiled the temple on Reiganjima, a reclaimed marshland near Nihonbashi. A remarkable priest and son of an Imagawa clan retainer, Reigan Shōnin embarked on a journey to restore dilapidated temples nationwide.
His commendable endeavors garnered accolades from Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu, leading to the temple’s construction under the patronage of Tokugawa Hidetada, and its recognition as one of the Kantō Jūhachi Danrin, a constellation of 18 seminary temples for the Jōdo sect in the Kantō region.
The annals of Reigan-ji’s history bear witness to tribulations. The ravaging flames of the Great Fire of Meireki in 1657 razed Edo, engulfing Reigan-ji and claiming thousands of lives in the vicinity. However, the temple’s phoenix-like resurgence saw its revival in 1658 at its present site as an integral element of the Tokugawa shogunate’s urban revitalization blueprint for Edo.
A conduit of spiritual and social roles, Reigan-ji became a key crematorium during Edo’s bygone era and a cherished bodaiji for illustrious daimyō clans, including the Matsudaira, Imabari, and Honda clans.
Enshrining the legacy of Matsudaira Sadanobu, a pivotal figure behind the Kansei Reforms, Reigan-ji stands as a beacon of history and spirituality. The revered grave of Matsudaira Sadanobu, acknowledged as a National Historic Site since 1928, adds a profound layer to the temple’s significance.
Kappa-dera, also recognized as Sōgen Temple, weaves folklore and spirituality in the vibrant fabric of Tokyo’s Kappabashi region. Embracing the enigmatic kappa, a legendary figure of Japanese tradition, this Zen Buddhist temple is a testament to cultural fusion.
Originally established in 1588 as a Sōtō Zen temple within Marunouchi, Kappa-dera journeyed through multiple relocations. It sought solace in Yushima Tenman-gū in 1591 due to Edo Castle’s expansion, only to face the conflagration of the Great Fire of Meireki in 1657.
Rising from the ashes, the temple found its current abode in Matsugaya, a district near Asakusa marked by its struggle against the recurrent floods from the Sumida River.
Legend intertwines with reality as the tales of Kihachi Kappaya, an umbrella and raincoat merchant, intersect with the temple’s story. Kihachi’s determination to battle flooding birthed a unique system, bolstered by controlled canal drainage and bridges. Folktales whisper of assistance from the mythical kappa, a creature both mystical and mischievous.
Today, Kappa-dera echoes these legends through its moniker, nestled within the Kappabashi district. The temple’s realm is adorned with myriad kappa statues and vibrant depictions, celebrating the mythical figure. Within the temple’s grounds lies a mummified kappa hand, a testament to its captivating legacy.
Zenshō-an, a serene Rinzai Zen temple nestled in Taitō, Tokyo, boasts a distinctive collection of Japanese yūrei paintings. These intricate paintings, which were likely safeguarded by families during the Edo period as shields against malevolent forces, offer a mesmerizing glimpse into Japan’s spiritual heritage.
The temple’s rich history is woven with the threads of influential figures, with luminaries like Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Nakasone Yasuhiro among its admirers. Founded in 1883 by Yamaoka Tesshū, the temple’s sway extended into Japan’s political landscape throughout the 20th century.
At the heart of Zenshō-an’s allure lies its unparalleled collection of ghost paintings, dating back 150 to 200 years. Collected by Sanyu-tei Encho, a rakugo artist and storyteller, these 50 silk paintings offer insight into a spectrum of spectral encounters.
As August ushers in O-bon, a festival venerating ancestors, the temple’s yūrei paintings come alive. August rituals seek to welcome ancestral spirits, harmonizing with the tradition of sharing ghost stories during the season.
Sengaku-ji, a serene Buddhist temple nestled in Tokyo’s Takanawa neighborhood, is a revered sanctuary of the Sōtō school of Japanese Zen. Notably one of the three principal Sōtō temples during the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo, Sengaku-ji gained enduring fame through its association with the Akō incident involving the valiant forty-seven Rōnin during the 18th century.
Initially founded as a modest chapel by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1612, Sengaku-ji saw a phoenix-like rebirth after the Kan’ei Fire of 1641. Ordered by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the daimyō clans of Mori, Asano, Kutsuki, Niwa, and Mizutani collaborated to reconstruct the temple on a grander scale in Takanawa.
Eternalized in history, Sengaku-ji houses the tombs of Asano Takumi-no-Kami Naganori and the renowned forty-seven Rōnin, central figures in the Akō vendetta. These samurai avenged their master’s death, capturing hearts through the Kabuki classic “Chūshingura.” Each year on December 14, the temple commemorates their valor with a poignant festival.
A museum within the temple’s precincts showcases personal artifacts of the forty-seven Rōnin, inviting visitors to delve into the annals of their heroism. The temple’s hallowed ground also cradles the resting places of Asano Naganori’s widow, Yozen-in, and his successor Asano Nagahiro.
Sengaku-ji stands as a testament to honor, sacrifice, and fidelity, where the echoes of samurai valor resound through time.
Jōkan-ji, an enduring Buddhist temple situated in Tokyo, holds within its sacred grounds a poignant testament to the human stories of a bygone era.
The temple’s cemetery stands as a silent witness to the lives of approximately 25,000 souls, encompassing both the fire-stricken victims of the Yoshiwara district during the Edo period and the destitute prostitutes who once tread its streets. These individuals, often marginalized and forgotten, found their final refuge here.
Founded in 1655, the temple’s history is interwoven with the stories of these marginalized individuals. Contrary to a common misconception, Jōkan-ji’s nickname, Nage-komi-dera (Throw-away temple), did not stem solely from the practice of disposing of bodies at its entrance.
Rather, it emerged from the hasty mass burial of around 500 prostitutes following the devastating Great Ansei earthquake of 1855, undertaken to curb the spread of disease.
The temple stands as a memorial to the lives that once thrived within the bustling Yoshiwara quarter, where fire and fate dealt their decisive blows. In the Meiji era, a memorial was consecrated to honor the departed, an enduring tribute to their struggles and resilience.
Tōeizan Kan’ei-ji Endon-in, often spelled as Kan’eiji or Kaneiji, is a significant Tendai Buddhist temple in Tokyo, established in 1625 by Tenkai during the Kan’ei era. Inspired by Kyoto’s Enryaku-ji, it’s dedicated to Yakushirurikō Nyorai.
The temple’s name references its positioning like Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei’s eastern slopes and its establishment era, mirroring Enryaku-ji’s naming tradition. As a Tokugawa bodaiji, it shares close ties with the Tokugawa shōguns and holds the remains of six shōguns.
Formerly vast, it encompassed the area north and east of Shinobazu Pond, now part of Ueno Park, boasting wealth and over 30 structures. Ravaged by the Meireki fire in 1657, a new hall was erected in 1698. The Boshin War’s Battle of Ueno led to its near-total destruction, with only remnants like the five-story pagoda and Ueno Tōshō-gū shrine surviving.
Kan’ei-ji’s legacy extends to Shinobazu Pond, home to Bentendō Temple on Benten Island, echoing Lake Biwa’s Chikubushima. Although the original temple was lost in WWII, the current Bentendō is a reconstruction.
Kan’ei-ji’s enduring significance resonates through its surviving structures, a testament to Tokyo’s historical and spiritual landscape.
Ryūsenji, also known as Meguro Fudō, is a prominent Buddhist temple in Tokyo’s Meguro area, affiliated with the Tendai school. Dedicated to Fudō-myōō, it ranks 18th on the Kantō Sanjūroku Fudō pilgrimage route of 36 temples devoted to Fudō-myōō in the Kantō region.
Legend states that Ennin founded Ryūsen-ji in 808 while journeying to Mount Hiei, though its true history is often uncertain. The temple’s history spans the early Heian period, appearing in records in 860, later aligning with Kanei-ji.
In 1615, a fire razed its main hall, rebuilt in 1630 when it became a subsidiary of Kanei-ji. Popular in the Edo period, Ryūsen-ji housed a renowned lottery. The temple district’s name, “Meguro,” references Ryūsen-ji’s black-eyed Fudō-myōō statue.
Notable for its romantic grave of Hirai Gonpachi and Komurasaki, its structures largely modernized after a 1978 fire. Surviving structures include the Seishi-dō chapel, a Designated Tangible Cultural Property.
The temple’s cemetery also hosts the grave of Aoki Konyō, known for popularizing sweet potato cultivation in Japan, designated a National Historic Site. Ryūsen-ji’s historical, cultural, and spiritual significance enrich Tokyo’s tapestry.
Shōfuku-ji, known as the Temple of Correct Fortune, is a revered Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple situated in Higashimurayama, Tokyo. Notable for its 15th-century Jizō hall, a registered National Treasure of Japan, it stands as a prime example of Kamakura period architecture, celebrated for its age-old integrity.
Founded during the Kamakura period in 1270, Shōfuku-ji’s Jizō hall was constructed in 1278 under Kamakura Regent Hōjō Tokiyori’s patronage, according to tradition. Although some historical accuracy questions this account, official support from the Kamakura shogunate significantly contributed to its establishment. The current Jizō hall, reconstructed in 1407, remains faithful to its original structure.
The Jizō hall boasts innovative architectural techniques developed during the Kamakura era, exhibiting strength and artistry. Its curved hip roof, open interior, and upturned eaves demonstrate Japanese cypress’s elasticity, functional brackets, and advanced construction methodologies. The building’s distinction earned it the title of a National Treasure in 1952.
Shōfuku-ji, representing Kamakura architecture, holds an annual festival on November 3, allowing entry to laymen. Notably, the temple holds wooden dolls believed to aid in curing illnesses. These dolls are taken home by the ill person’s family and returned, along with a new one, upon recovery.
Shōfuku-ji’s Jizō hall is a remarkable, intact testament to the Kamakura era’s architectural prowess, reflecting both history and healing traditions.