Where Ācala is protecting the wisdom of the Shingon school of Buddhism
No, it is most likely not one of the tourist features every visitor from abroad is going to see, but is is definitely a place one should have seen. It is also neither the oldest temple in town, nor the biggest one, but it is not far-fetched to call it one of the most extraordinary ones. And it is definitely not a poor one: The Fukagawa Fudōdō (深川不動堂 / ふかがわふどうどう). Sometimes it is also called Fukagawa Fudōson (深川不動尊 / ふかがわふどうそん), nevertheless, its complete name is “Narita-san Tōkyō Betsuin Fukagawa Fudōdō” (成田山 東京別院 深川不動堂 / なりたさん とうきょうべついん ふかがわふどうどう) – perhaps it’s understandable, if even those who practice the patience of Buddhism have problems getting used to such a long name.
May I confess right upfront: There will be no pictures of the most gorgeous parts of this temple (at least not on this site), as these are located in the various halls of the temple’s buildings where taking pictures is prohibited (and I usually abide by these limitations). You will have to take my word for it when I say, that I am not exaggerating the splendour of this temple.
The Fukagawa Fudōdō is a “branch” of one of the most important temples of Shingon Buddhism, the Narita-san Shinshō-ji (成田山・新勝寺 / なりたさん・しんしょうじ), located in Narita, a city in the prefecture east of Tōkyō, in Chiba (千葉 / ちば). And it is, just like its main temple, dedicated to Fudō Myōō (不動明王 / ふどうみょうおう) – called “Ācala” in Sanskrit, which is a bit less of a tongue twister. This powerful protective deity can be recognised by its fierce and often snarling look that is supposed to reliably scare off any kind of enemy. A particularly impressive wooden version of this “Ācala” made by the great sculptor Seikō Sawada (澤田・政廣 / さわだ・せいこう) (1895-1988) is greeting visitors right at the entrance to the old main hall of the temple. The wood from which this statue of a height of eight “shaku” (尺 / しゃく) (i.e. 2.5 metres) was made is said to have come from a 500 year old tree.
The temple itself has its origin in the Edo-period (founded in the year 1703). The old main hall which you can see nowadays is regarded as the oldest wooden building in the Kōtō district – which sounds like a little wonder in itself, as the original main hall has not survived the air raids of World War II. But the miracle is easily explaned: Instead of re-building the temple after the war, another temple building from the Chiba prefecture was brought here – and this building dates back to the year 1862.
More unusual and surely also a bit more breathtaking is the new main hall of the Fukagawa Fudōdō, which was erected just next to the old main hall’s west wing in the year 2011 (well ahead of time to celebrate the 310-year-anniversary of the temple’s foundation there). The unusual design of the building is characterised by its cubic shape and the ornamental facade consisting of black and golden Sanskrit letters. This hall houses now the main ceremonial facilities, combining modern architecture with traditional buddhist elements.
Nevertheless, it is the slightly oversized 4-storied building on the back (north)-side of the old main hall, which enwraps to biggest surprises. The facade of the building which was built in the year 2000 may only remotely resemble the traditional style of the old temple buildings, the interior, however, turns out to be a treasure chest. There are various sites of pilgramage. E.g. a gallery on the 2nd floor that represents the 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage (四国八十八箇所 / しこくはちじゅうはっかしょ) – donations and prayers offered here are supposed to have the same effect as those carried out on the actual, about 1,200 km long pilgrimage in the southwest of Japan (the “original” pilgrimage follows the footsteps of the founder of the Shingon-Buddhismus, Kūkai (空海 / くうかい)). Don’t let it confuse you, should you find the installation here a touch too colourful and feeling more like a dedication to LED-lighting.
Among the numerous gorgeous rooms and installations in this huge building, the treasure house of the Dainichi- or Sun-Buddha (大日如来 / だいにちにょらい) on the 4th floor might be the most impressive one. Not only the zillions of golden Buddha statues in all conceivable sizes give his hall an atmosphere of overwhelming splendour, but also the awsome ceiling painting by Chinami Nakajima (中島・千波 / なかじま・ちなみ) (born 1945), who might be more famous for his formidable paintings of cherry blossoms, represents “Buddha & Lotus” in a way that appears to be modern and traditional at the same time.
As mentioned above: I’m not showing pictures of this marvellous installation – but this hall alone makes a visit to the Fukagawa Fudōdō worthwhile!
How to get there:
- Take the Tōkyō Metro Tōzai line (東京メトロ東西線 / とうきょうメトロとうざいせん) to Monzen Nakachō (門前仲町 / もんぜんなかこう), Exit 1 (from there about 2 minutes walk) or
- take the Toei Subway Ōedo line (都営大江戸線 / とえいおおえどせん) also to Monzen Nakachō (門前仲町 / もんぜんなかちょう), Exit no. 6 (from there about 5 minutes walk)
Daily from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm (on days of the temple’s festivals to 8.00 pm)
The ground floor of the main building can be entered from 9.00 am to 5.45 pm (on days of the temple’s festivals to 7.45 pm). Floors 2 and 4 are open from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm (on days of the temple’s festivals to 6.00 pm).
No admission fee
And since you’re in this corner of Tōkyō , why don’t you have a look here:
Fukagawa Edo Museum (深川江戸資料館)
– A trip back in time to the old Edo
Tomioka Hachimangū (富岡八幡宮)
– Deities’ palanquins and Sumō wrestlers
Kiyosumi Teien (清澄庭園)
– The rather unknown one among the feudal gardens