Tsuwano (津和野): Yōmei-ji (永明寺) (Engl.)

The Domain Lord’s Temple

Tsuwano (津和野), Yōmei-ji (永明寺)

Tsuwano (津和野), Yōmei-ji (永明寺)

Eine deutsche Version dieses Artikels finden Sie hier.
A German version of this posting you can find here.

Not to worry, my small series of postings related to the Tottori prefecture (鳥取県 / とっとりけん) has not come to an end yet! It just so happened that I had a chance to visit the Shimane prefecture (島根県 / しまねけん) in January and don’t want to miss the chance to at least give a little glimpse of what this region has to offer.

The old castle town of Tsuwano (津和野 / つわの), close to the southern border of the Shimane prefecture, that is also (and very rightfully) calling itself “Little Kyōto“, has been twinned with Berlin’s Mitte district in 1995 (so, don’t be surprised if you occasionally meet the famous “little lamp man”, called “Ampelmann” that made the transition from the old East German traffic lights to those in unified Germany’s capital).

Tsuwano (津和野)

Tsuwano (津和野)

Naturally, the town of Tsuwano has a much longer history. From the 13th century onwards the city was protected by a mighty castle – initially to guard off Mongolian invaders. Only at the end of the Tokugawa shōgunate the castle was slighted. In our days the impressive foundation walls of the complex on top of Tsuwano’s landmark mountain still let us have an impression of the historical significance of the place.

If you know a bit about Japanese literature and military tradions of the late 19th and early 20th century, you may have encountered the name of one of the sons of the town (especially, if you are German), Ōgai Mori ( 森鷗外 / もりおうがい). More about this extraordinary person in Japanese history can be learnt from the following posting (sorry, it’s in German only):

Ōgai Mori (森鷗外)
Literatur, Medizin, 27.000 Tote & Goethes Faust

But let’s return to today’s topic.

The particularly mystical temple Yōmei-ji (永明寺 / ようめいじ), located in the northwest of Tsuwano’s skirts of the forest, is one of the kind that immediately strikes the visitor by transporting him/her into another world. One really gets the impression of being confronted with a building that has remained untouched throughout the centuries since its erection in 1420. It is probably the gorgeous thatched roof of the main hall of the temple, but also the outstanding style of the belfry (it may as well have provided the pattern for Kyōto’s (京都 / きょうと)  famous “Temple of the Silver Pavilion” (銀閣寺 / ぎんかくじ) (properly: Jishō-ji (慈照寺 / じしょうじ)) that foster this impression.

The Yōmei-ji was the family temple of the Domain Lords of Tsuwano – the families of the Yoshimi (吉見 / よしみ) until 1601, the Sakazaki (坂崎 / さかさき) from 1601 to 1617 and the Kamei (亀井 / かめい) from 1617.

During the Edo period (1603 bis 1868) the temple was one of the two largest of the Zen-Buddhist Sōtō sect. At that time the Yōmei-ji had 77 sub-temples in the region – with the one we are seeing here as their head quarter. However, during the rule of the last Daimyō of the Kamei clan towards the end of the Edo period the importance of the temple went into a decline, when the Kamei decided so follow Shintō rites and ceremonies henceforth.

Interesting – but maybe also just a bit confusing – is the fact that the Yōmei-ji also features a tomb of Ōgai Mori. If you are one of those readers with a strong memory, you may remember from the posting linked to above that the grave of the author of “The Dancing Girl” can be found in Tōkyō’s Mitaka distict (三鷹 / みたか) at the graveyard of the Zenrin-ji (禅林寺 / いぇんりんじ) in Shimo-Renjaku (下連雀 / しもれんじゃく). In both locations the tombs do without any of the honorary titles of the deceased and with just stating his birth name, Rintarō Mori (森林太郎 / もりりんたろう).

In the meantime I was able to shed some light on the mysterious double grave. Are you interested in the dramatic details? Here they are:

Ōgai Mori’s mortal remains were entombed on 13 July 1922 at the graveyard of the Kōfuku-ji (弘福寺 / こうふくじ) in Tōkyō’s Mukōjima (向島 / むこうじま). As the temple was victim of the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 and heavily devastated, the grave was moved to the Zenrin-ji (禅林寺 / ぜんりんじ) in the western district of Mitaka (三鷹 / みたか). The grave remained there, even after the Kōfuku-ji was re-erected in 1933.

In the early 50s there was quite some boom about eveything related to Ōgai Mori’s lilfe and work. And together with this, also his native town thought it should have a grave of its great son. After consultations with Mori’s oldes son, Otto, the former mayor of Tsuwano (at that point of time he was the director of the museum of local history and the head of the association for the preservation of the memorials and art treasures of Tsuwano) travelled to Tōkyō. On 24 May 1953, in a ceremony of “dividing the bones” (分骨 / ぶんこつ) part of Mori’s remains were transferred into a separate urn and brought to Tsuwano, where the formed mayer was welcomed on 31 May 1953. This urn was entombed on 9 July 1953 (31 years after Mori’s death) at the Yōmei-ji.

However, it is known from Otto, Mori’s oldest son, that there were actually no bones of Mori taken from the grave in Mitaka, but only part of the earth; the representatives from Tsuwano were obviously satisfied with such a more “symbolic” gesture.

How to get there:

I’m going to restrict myself to transportation by train:

Should you start your trip from the region, consider travelling by Japan Rail from Masuda (益田 / ますだ) to Tsuwano station (津和野駅 / つわのえき) (travel time roughly 30 minutes).
Should you approach Tsuwano from other areas in Japan, you might take Japan Rail from Shin-Yamaguchi (新山口 / しんやまぐち) (it is a regular shinkansen stop) to Tsuwano station (津和野駅 / つわのえき) (travel time about one hour).

You can reach Shin-Yamaguchi by shinkansen from the Tōkyō area in about 4 1/2 hours. From the Ōsaka area travel time is not even 2 hours.

Please observe: If you are travelling by Japan Rail Pass, shinkansen travel times might be a bit longer, as you won’t be able to enjoy the faster trains of the “Nozomi” class of the shinkansen.

The temple itself is conveniently located 450 southwest of Tsuwano station.

Opening hours:

Daily from 8:30 am to 5 pm
No fixed closing days

Admission fees:

Adults: 300 Yen
Middle school students (and older): 200 Yen
Elementary school students: 150 Yen

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5 Responses to Tsuwano (津和野): Yōmei-ji (永明寺) (Engl.)

  1. […] englische Version dieses Artikels finden Sie hier. An English version of this posting you can find […]

  2. […] Tsuwano (津和野): Yōmei-ji (永明寺) – The Domain Lord’s Temple […]

  3. Fede says:

    My boyfriend, who often trvels to Japan, everytime tells me that Tottori prefecture has nothing much to see so I must use your article to make him change idea on Tottori ahaha the temple looks very nice and it is also very curious that they also feature the Ampelmann ahaha so cute 🙂

    • Thomas Gittel says:

      Yes, I know, everybody says that. But it is absolutely not true. However, the temple you can see here, is not in Tottori, but in Shimane. I will be writing more about Tottori in the future (so far I have only posted my artictles on Kurayoshi and the Sand Museum. The great sand dunes for sure need to be introduced, the pretty towns of Wakasa and Kotoura, the gorgeous Ishitani residence… just to name a few. Not forgetting their delicious seafood! But there will also be more on Shimane and Yamaguchi. I just wish I had more time.

      • Fede says:

        Woooow it seems there are s lot of attractions there too! I read the article aboit the sand museum, very nice, I liked! I look forward to more than 🙂 good work!

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