The Zojoji Temple is not one of the most visited temples in Tokyo. And that’s a pity, because this sacred place has a lot to offer. First of all, the Zojoji Temple is an oasis of peace compared to the crowded Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. It is located in the Shiba park and one of the main attractions in the area is the
Eiffel Tower … the Tokyo Tower.
But what really makes the Zojoji Temple a special place is its history. Apart from the fact that one of the oldest gates of Tokyo is located on this site, this sanctuary was also considered to be the most important temple of the city. To know more about the Zojoji Temple, we go back to the 17th century. When Tokyo (under the name Edo) grew to a city of 150,000 inhabitants….
Fact: The Tokyo Tower is 333 metres high. The design is derived from the Eiffel Tower in Paris. But the difference is the color and the height. The Tokyo Tower is 33 meters higher and colored red and white. Just like the Tokyo Skytree it is possible to visit the platform for beautiful views. Prices start at 900 yen per person.
The Tokugawa family relocated the Zojoji Temple
The Zojoji Temple was first built in 1393 as part of the Jodo Shu Buddhism. In 1598 the new ruler, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), moved the temple to its present location. The Zojoji Temple was needed to bring protection against intruders from the south. Ieyasu Tokugawa was ruler of Japan, but the country was still divided by its landlords.
In the 17th century the Zojoji Temple grew to an area of 65 hectares with 48 sub-temples and 150 other religious buildings. More than 3000 priests and followers stayed here. It became a religious centre where the teachings of Jodo Shu were taught. But what exactly does this kind of Buddhism mean?
Jodo Shu and the Pure Land Buddhism
Like the Christian faith, Buddhism also has various movements. Jodo Shu is part of the Pure Land Buddhism, one of the most important Buddhist movements within Japan. The creator of the Jodo Shu was Honen Shonin (1133-1212). He believed that enlightenment could be achieved through the pronunciation of the Nembutsu instead of meditation.
Nembutsu is the pronunciation of the vow of Amida (Amida Buddha, she believes!). Amida is the most important god within the Pure Land Buddhism. The pronunciation of the Nembutsu was a radical change from what people were used to. Not Meditation, but pronunciation was the key!
Shonin therefore did not want his teachings to become known before his death. However, it happened and the political elite was quite angry on him. Honin Shonin was exiled and some followers were sentenced to death.
Reading tip: Would you like to visit another temple in Tokyo? Read here about the Sensoji Temple Tokyo? 5 historical facts you should know.
What to see at the Zojoji Temple?
The complex of the Zojoji Temple is large and a number of places are worth a visit! Just start with the street of the many colourful Jizo statues. These are the patrons of deceased children. Parents dress these statues so that their deceased child is brought to the next world.
Another important sight is the Daibonsho. This is a large bronze bell from 1673. It is considered to be one of the three most important bells (ding-dong) of the Edo period.
The Sangedatsumon gate
But the most impressive building of the Zojoji Temple is the Sangedatsumon Gate. While many areas of Tokyo were destroyed by the bombing during the Second World War, this gate remained proudly untouched. It dates from 1622, is 21 metres wide and almost 18 metres high. It is no coincidence that the Japanese government regards it as an important cultural heritage.
About the Tokugawa… again
Because of its size and location, the Tokugawa family considered the Zojoji Temple to be the city’s most important sanctuary. They visited the complex regularly. It has even led to a number of members of the family being buried behind the temple. 6 members to be precise and for a small fee you can visit them.
But after 250 years, as the family reigned for so long, the temple fell into a state of decay after 1868. In 1909 it was set on fire by a crazy individual. The temple was reconstructed. And again it was reconstructed after de bombing of Tokyo during the Second World War. The current prayer hall dates from 1974, but fortunately not all historical traces of the Zojoji Temple have been destroyed…
Tip: Combine the Zojoji Temple on a day trip with the Imperial Palace. That’s quite easy, the distance is only 2 kilometers. To the west of the temple is the district of Roppongi. This district is known for its museums with modern art and lavish nightlife.
The Shiba park is one of the oldest parks in Tokyo. Its official status was recognised in 1873. A visit to the relaxed Shiba Park, the ‘important’ Zojoji Temple and the views from the Tokyo Tower is a good combination during a visit in Tokyo…
Plan your visit to the Zojoji Temple in Tokyo
How do I get there?
The Zojoji Temple is located in the district of Minato in the Shiba park. It can be reached via the Koen or Onarimon metro stations on the Mita line.
Google Maps: Zojoji Temple Shiba Park
The complex is free to visit, except for the nearby museum (700 yen) and the mausoleum (500 yen).
Would you like to read more about Tokyo?
- Tokyo Travel Guide | 10 historical attractions
- Edo-Tokyo Museum | 400 years of history in a special museum
- Imperial Palace, Tokyo | Follow the road along the former Edo Castle
- Meiji Shrine, Tokyo | A tribute to emperor Meiji in a beautiful park
- Sensoji Temple Tokyo? 5 historical facts you should know
- Shibuya Crossing and Hachiko | The most loyal dog in the world?
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