A little excursion into Japanese history – or: A treasure hidden behind Tōkyō’s Zōjō-ji
Everybody who has a little interest in Japanese history, may know the gorgeous shrines and temples in Nikkō and the gravesites there, protecting the worldly remains of the probably most famous Tokugawa-shōguns. And even if you don’t have the faintest idea about all that, the term “shōgun” ought to be one you have heard of.
But even those who have had the chance already to put their feet on Japanese gounds, may not know that there was a time (which is not that long ago) when also Tōkyō was home to the most splendorous mausoleums for some of the shōguns. And these memorials were so gorgeous that they didn’t have to fear comparsion with the almost baroque grandeur of those in Nikkō. The comparatievely humble gravesite of the last of the Tokugawa-shōguns I’ve just shown recently („Tōkyō Tennō-ji – 東京天王寺”).
Even today, there is quite a number of those graves you can mavel at at the Zōjō-ji (増上寺 / ぞうじょうじ), in Tōkyō’s Minato ward (港区/ みなとく). This temple beneath the Tōkyō Tower (東京タワー) is maybe – even though not by its own doing – one of the most famous in the whole country, because many picture cards and books show it, accompanied by the Tōkyō Tower, as a symbol of Japans symbiosis of (appearant) age-old tradition and modern spirit. The Zōjō-ji, which was founded in the late 14th century, is still the main temple of the Jōdo buddhism. From the early days of the reign of the Tokugawa clan (end of the 16th century) it was for almost 300 years one of the “family-temples” of this clan, from which, for the same period of time the military and political rulers of Japan were recruited. No wonder that this temple enjoyed a great deal of sponsorhsip and was, together with the Kanei-ji (located in the North, on the other side of old Edo) one of the most grandiose temples of the capital.
When imperial power was restored (Meiji Restoration, 1868) not only the power of the Tokugawa-shōguns came to an end, but also the influence buddhism had taken on the process of political decision-making. Many temples and monasteries were distroyed during that period of upheaval, or at least badly affected. However, what even religious or militant fanatics couldn’t destroy, was, just a little later, accomplished by the thorough bombardement by the US air forces: The remains of the symbols of a grand history were wiped off the face of the city. And with them also the mausoleums of the Tokugawa-shōguns at the Zōjō-ji, together with most of the temple’s buildings which had survived the troubles of the Meiji Restoration.
At the area, where, in the years before that, the grandest of the mausoleums stood, in 1964 the Tōkyō Prince Hotel was opened. However, the mortal remains of the Tokugawas had been secured to their present sites of memorial.
The Tokugawa mausoleums
Six of the all together 15 Tokugawa-shōguns were burried at the Zōjō-ji. I couldn’t find a complete list of all six of these shōguns, but I also thought I shouldn’t push too hard on history here. Nevertheless, four of the tombs are to be taken a closer look at, as they are registered Important Cultural Assets of Japan. It’s the gravesites of the following historical persons:
- Tokugawa Hidetada (徳川秀忠,1579 to 1632), the second Tokugawa-shōgun (1605 to 1623)
- Sūgen’in (崇源院, 1573 to 1626, also called Oeyo (於江与), Gō 江), Ogō (小督) or Satoko (達子), the wife of Tokugawa Hidetada
- Tokugawa Ienobu (徳川家宣, 1662 to 1712), the sixth Tokugawa-shōgun (1709 to 1712)
- Tokugawa Ietsugu (徳川家継,1709 to 1716), the seventh Tokugawa-shōgun (1713 to 1716) – and if you have calculated the time span, you may be a bit puzzled, but yes, you are right: Ietsugu was only four years old when he became shōgun and died in a not less tender age of 7 years.
It may also not be entirely uninteresting that, contrary to present customs in Japan, the corpses of the shōguns were usually not cremated. Hence, the memorial tombs contain the mortal remains of the deceased (those of the juvenile Ietsugu were, however, already before the time of their removal to the present location, badly damaged by water).
You may get a t least a glimpse of the original splendor of the old mausoleums, as the two doors protecting the small burial site for the Tokugawa family are the only remains of the pre-worldwar-buildings.
And if you are of the opinion that you simply have to see these sites, please have a look at the further details below.
It goes without saying that the Zōjō-ji is worth a visit just a well – maybe there will be an article about it on this website in the future. But since the Zōjō-ji is being described in virually every guidebook, this website is probably not the prime site you would be looking for such information.
Address of the Zōjō-ji:
Jodo Shu Main Temple
4-7-35 Shibakoen Minato-ku,
Tokyo 105-0011 Japan
Website (English): http://www.zojoji.or.jp/en/index.html
Sightseeing at the burial place / timetable / admission fees:
Open on weekends and holidays from 10 am to 6 pm.
Admission fee: 500 Yen per person.
During the week only open for groups (more than 10 persons) after making an appointment with the Zōjō-ji’s administration office.
Admission fee: 500 Yen per person.
On dedicated occasions the burial site is open to the public, free of charge. Please have a look at the website stated above for those special days in 2014 or later (this part of the website is in Japansese only).
In 2013 the following days were such days of general admission: January 15th, April 2nd, April 8th, May 10th, May 15th, September 15th, October 2nd, October 12th, October 13th.
How to get there:
Take the Toei Subway (都営地下鉄) Mita line (三田線) to Shiba Kōen (芝公園) (exit A4) and from there about 200 metres in northern direction.
Or take the Toei Subway (都営地下鉄) Ōedo line (大江戸線) or Asakusa line (浅草線) to Daimon (大門) (exit A6) and from there about 350 metres in western direction.