(Image by Natalie Maguire via https://www.flickr.com/photos/natalietracy/43633700072/)
The origins of the Zojoji temple date back to the 9th century and it is said it was founded by a disciple of Kukai (Shingon sect), near Hirakawacho a little bit up to the north. The temple was transferred to the Jodo Pure Land sect in 1393 and became one of its most important locations in the east of the country.
(Image by Guilhem Vellut via https://www.flickr.com/photos/o_0/13842949654/)
Tokugawa Ieyasu received the eastern provinces in 1590 and chose Zojoji and Kaneiji to be hereditary temples (菩提寺 bodaiji) for his clan. A pagoda and the Toshogu pavilion, both in Ueno Park, are the only remains of Kaneiji, and Zojoji was relocated where it is currently standing in 1598. To this day, it still shelters several tombs of the Tokugawa dynasty shoguns, housing the tombs of six Tokugawa shoguns. Its main gate, Sangedatsumon, stands out as an imposing representation of traditional Buddhist architecture in the middle of central Tokyo, and the only temple structure to have survived the bombings of WW2.
Visit The Tiny Museum In The Basement
The small museum in the basement of the temple main hall focuses primarily on the previous manifestation of the Tokugawa Mausoleum, which included ornate buildings before it was severely damaged during World War 2. In addition to various documents, the museum includes a video about the mausoleum’s construction and a detailed 1:10 scale model of the former buildings.
Built To Be Resilient After Past Tragic Incidents
Most of the buildings were destroyed either by fires (especially in 1873 and 1909), or by 1945’s bombings, therefore the current days pavilions were constructed over the second half of the 20th century. Three new buildings were even added between 2009 and 2011:
- Enkodaishido to honor Honen, the founder of the Pure Land school,
- Gakuryo, the living and training quarters of the school’s future monks; and,
- Ankokuden, the new shelter for the Buddhist image worshipped since Ieyasu’s times: Kurohonzon Amida Nyorai (黒本尊阿弥陀如来 “the black Amida Nyorai”)
In 2021, the roof of the main hall Daiden was renovated and covered with 60,000 titan tiles, in an unheard-of world-class project, to improve its durability and its resistance to fires, typhoons and earthquakes while preserving its traditional look.
Attend A Buddhist Monks Ceremony, And Then Visit The Hundreds Of Jizo Statues
The most interesting thing to do in Zojoji is probably to attend a Buddhist monks’ ceremony. Unfortunately, there’s no fixed schedule for prayers but if you go on a Sunday morning, you’re most likely be able to attend a sermon, opened to the general public. Moreover, some celebrations attract even non-religious people, such as Hana Matsuri commemorating Buddha’s birth every April 8.
(Image by er Guiri via https://www.flickr.com/photos/sermarr/14257273092/)
Located in the heart of a business district, Zojoji is quite unmissable, all the more as it is close to the Tokyo Tower, that has lost attractiveness since the opening of the Tokyo Sky Tree. In the temple’s grounds, you will also find a hundred of Jizo statues for soothing the deceased children’s souls and an exhibition room dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu and the temple’s treasures.
By JR train
Yamanote or Keihin-Tohoku Line, Hamamatsucho Station and 10-minute walk
By Subway (Tokyo Metro)
Asakusa or Oedo Line, Daimon Station (A09 or E20) and 3-minute walk
Mita Line, Shibakoen Station (I05) or Onarimon Station (I06) and 3-minute walk
Opening Hours (Zojoji)
6am – 5.30pm
No closing days
Admission (Tokugawa Mausoleum & Museum)
500 yen (mausoleum only), 700 yen (museum only), 1000 yen (both)
Opening Hours (Tokugawa Mausoleum & Museum)
Mausoleum: 11am – 3 pm (10am to 4pm on weekends and holidays)
Museum: 10am – 4pm
Closed on Tuesdays (except national holidays)