Tōkyō’s great Buddha statue
When people speak about great Buddha statues in Japan, most of them think about the daibutsu (大仏) in Kamakura or its even mightier “brother” in Nara. But only a few know that Tōkyō has its own daibutsu. With its giant size of 13 meters in height it is even the third-biggest in the country. It resides on the grounds of the Jōren-ji (乗蓮寺 / じょうれんじ) in the north-westernmost of the city’s central wards, Itabashi (板橋 / いたばし). And it is, even though there is little to be read about it in the standard travel guides (or maybe just for that reason), it is worth more than just a visit.
The Tōkyō Daibutsu is a bit further away from the center of the city (i.e. it’s about 30 minutes from Shibuya by subway) and it takes a little walk from the closest station (which can, of course, be shortened by taking a bus). But the Jōren-ji and its daibutsu are absolutely worth the effort. The whole area of the temple is so lovely that it has become one of my dearest places in Tōkyō; it is a place for all those who want to see more that just something pretty, but also want to unwind.
And in addition to that, the Jōren-ji looks back to a “moving” past – in the very meaning of the word. The temple was founded about 800 years ago during the Kamakura era (1185 to 1333) next to the busy Nakasendo highway. This exquisite location made it well-known throughout the country.
During the Edo era (1603 to 1868) the Jōren-ji was a preferred resting place of the Tokugawa shōgunes. It is said that the temple still keeps the elegant tableware of that time.
When the old highway was converted into a modern expressway in 1973, the complete temple had to be transferred to a new location (i.e. its present location). It was decided that the temple’s buildings should find their new grounds at the spot where the castle of Akatsuka had stood; a place of heavy combat in old days. In the north of the temple’s compound you will find a public park called “Akatsuka Jōshi Kōen” (赤塚城址公園 / あかつかじょうしこうえん) on top of a hill – this park still lets you imagine the sheer size of the ancient castle:
In order to appease the souls of the soldiers fallen in combat here, the great statue of a seated Buddha was erected in 1977. It is said that it was of golden colour at that time – but nothing of that can be noticed today. In fact the statue is absolutely evenly dark grey, like graphite, almost black.
The 22 tons of the sculpture emanate tranquility and an even temper.
You’ll also find all seven lucky goods (Shichifukujin / 七福神 / しちふくじん) on the grounds of the Jōren-ji.
And there is also a particularly happy Hotei and a rather creepily looking statue of the “demon of patience”.
The very neat site also features a small pond, home to the most cheeky carps of the city – you only have to approach the pond, and they will almost jump out of the water. In the middle of the pond that is surrounded by a rocky garden, there is a small golden shrine.
But, naturally, also the main building of the temple is a small (well, not THAT small…) gem of its own:
And while the temple’s main attactions are quite overwhelming, let’s also not forget the smaller, but charming ones:
How to get to the Tōkyō Daibutsu?
It’s probably easiest, if you take the Tōkyō Metro’s Fukutoshin line (副都心線 / ふくとしんせん) or the Yūrakuchō line (有楽町線 / ゆうらくちょうせん) respectively, which share the same stations from Ikebukuro (池袋 / いけぶくろ). In either case take a train that goes to Wakōshi (和光市 / わこうし) and leave the train at Chikatetsu Akatsuka (地下鉄赤塚 / ちかてつ あかつか). Take the exit in the north-east (end of the train) and turn left when you leave the station and then left again at the next crossing (i.e. from the Kawagoe Kaido (川越街頭 / かわごえかいとう) to the Akatsuka Chūō Dōri (赤塚中央通り / あかつかちゅうおうどおり). After about 100 meters you’ll cross the tracks of the Tōbu Tōjō line (東武東上線) next to the line’s station Shimo-Akatsuka (下赤塚 / しもあかつか). From there you just walk straight following the Akatsuka Chūō Dōri. After roughly 1.5 km follow the signs directing you to the Akatsuka Botanical Garden (板橋区立赤塚植物園) that will lead you to the temple and the Tōkyō Daibutsu (東京大仏).
On your way, shortly before you reach the Tōkyō Daibutsu you’ll pass a temple that is also absolutely worth seeing, the Shōgetsu-in. You won’t regret a small detour to this temple before you continue to the daibutsu.
Opening hours of the Jōren-ji:
April to September: 8 am to 4.30 pm
October to March: 8 am to 4 pm
No admission fee
Also just around the corner:
Akatsuka Botanical Garden (板橋区立赤塚植物園)
March to November: 9 am to 4.30 pm
December to February: 9 am to 4 pm
No admission fee