Continuing our trek to Tokyo Tower on foot, we exited the Hamamatsucho business district and entered Shiba (Minato, Tokyo), and in the process stumbled onto what would be my first taste of Japanese religion proper – the Zojoji temple complex that serves as the principle temple of the Chinzei branch of Jodo-shu Buddhism.
Stepping through the massive wooden Sangedatsumo main gate (the front face of Zojoji and whose name literally means to escape/be delivered from three earthly states of mind – greed, anger and stupidty), one enters this tranquil complex that is made up of a number of striking buildings and amazingly detailed stone statues.
Originally founded in 1393, Zojoji was only relocated to this current location in 1598 after Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, entered Edo (present-day Tokyo) in 1590 to establish his provincial government. After the start of the Edo Period when the Tokugawa shogunate ruled Japan, Zojoji became the family temple of the Tokugawa family and also served as an administrative center to govern the religious studies and activities of Jodo shu.
Although mostly destroyed through the air raids of World War II, many of the building have subsequently been restored, including the impressive Daiden (main hall) and smaller Ankokuden (home of the black Image of Amida Buddha, which was deeply worshiped by Ieyasu Tokugawa).
This is an active temple and as such is called home by many worshipers, and indeed, a heavy religious air does linger over this historically important place.
Amongst the fascinating pieces of history is the giant bell Daibonsho, which was completed in 1673 and took as many as seven castings to get right. It has a diameter of 1.76 meters, a height of 3.33 meters and a weight of 15 tons, and is renowned as one of the Big Three Bells of the Edo Period.
Zojoji is also the mausoleum of the Tokugawa Shoguns – the tombs of six Tokugawa Shoguns (as well as resting places for their wives and children), and that of Imperial Princess Kazunomiya (wife of Shogun Iemochi) are all situated and accessible here.
One part of this temple that was particularly hard to walk through was the eerie Garden of Unborn Children, which contains row upon row of child-sized stone statues, each decorated with toys and clothes left behind by the parents remembering their miscarried, aborted or stillborn children.
Having had our fill of the melancholy attached to this last garden, we grabbed a quick refreshment (truly, Japan is the land of the drinks vending machine), and hit the road once more, edging ever closer to our goal of Tokyo Tower…
Related Link: Zojoji Buddhist Temple