Tokyo – a Taste of History with Temples and Shrines


Buddhist Temple Tokyo

Tokyo – A Taste of History

Every hundred steps leads to a temple or shrine.  The first morning we walked by many without knowing what exactly we were looking at.  Fortunately, A little bit of help from the internet, and we gained some factual knowledge. For example, the red hats on the statues are generally gifts to bring luck or to ease suffering at the loss of a child.

Shrine or Temple

“The two primary religions in Japan date back thousands of years.

The Shinto religion is a spiritual ideology from the feudal days of Japan and is based on the belief that powerful deities called kami (gods) inhabit both heaven and earth. The Japanese refer to Shinto as kami no michi (the way of the gods) but the pronunciation of the Chinese ideographs that for the words is shin tao or Shinto.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China and Korea in the sixth century and gained wide acceptance in the following century when it was endorsed by the nobility. The Japanese word for Buddhism is bukkya which is a combination of two words: butsu meaning Buddha and kya meaning doctrine.

Most people in Japan practice both faiths and there are no restrictions against doing so.  Shinto is viewed as the religion of earthly matters and shrines are often used to host weddings and are where one would go to pray for success in life or business.  On the other hand, Buddhism is considered the religion of spiritual matters and temples usually host funerals and are where you would go to pray for your ancestors.”

Shrine near Tokyo Tower

The Shinto Shrine

You always enter a Shinto shrine through a torii gate.

Shinto shrines use the suffix  jingu, as in Meiji Jingu.

A pair of guardian dogs or lions, called shisa or komainu, often sit on each side of the entrance to a Shinto shrine

There is a purification fountain near the entrance to a Shinto shrine where you cleanse your mouth and hands before prayer.

The Buddhist Temple

Temple near Sheraton Miyako Hotel

Buddhist temples use the suffix ji in their name.

A Buddhist temple always houses an image of the Buddha.

A large incense burner is usually at the front of a temple which produces healing properties.

There is often a pagoda on the premises of a Buddhist temple.

Kobo Daishi

Statue at Koyasan Tokyo Betsuin

The statue of Kobo Daishi is located on the grounds of the Koyasan Shingon Temple in Minato district of Tokyo.

Kobo Daishi is the posthumous name of a Buddhist monk known as Kukai who established the Shignon sect of Buddhism over 1,200 years ago on Mt. Koya in Wakayama Prefecture.

The statue shows  a robed monk with his sleeping mat tied to his back, wearing a straw hat and carrying a walking stick and a small bowl to collect offerings along the route perhaps on the Shikoku pilgrimage

The Imperial Palace – East Gardens

Original piece of the Large Gate to Edo Castle from 1657


Edo Castle is home to the Imperial Family.  The East gardens are accessible to the public and showcase the rich history of Tokyo.

The Ote-mon Gate was the main gate of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s Edo Castle.  Daimyos (feudal lords) used to come to attend ceremonies held inside the castle through this gate.  The decorative acquatic animal placed in the square was once on the roof of the lost larger gate (destroyed by air raids during the Second World War and rebuilt in 1967).  The inscription on the head of the sculpture reads the year 1657.


A yagura is a defence tower that is placed on corners and important points of the castle. Only three of the yaguras built for Edo Castle remain.  The first Fujimi-yagura,  was burned down in a major fire in 1657.  The current one was built in 1659. It served as substitute for the main tower of the castle which burned to the ground in the same fire and was never rebuilt.  Some Tokugawa Shoguns saw Mt Fuji from this tower which is over 135 km away.

Coy in the Imperial Garden

A tranquil spot that was cool with the mist from the waterfall and had a gentle breeze.

Pond at the Imperial Gardens 

Sengakuji Temple – Resting Place of the 47 Ronin

Main Temple Square


Sengakuji Temple,  built by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1612 to study the teachings of the Buddhist priest, Dogen. Within 30 years, it was devastated by fire which led to a reconstruction at the present site in the Minato precinct of Tokyo.

The temple is the final resting place of the 47 Ronin.  In  1701, Asano Takuminokami, feudal lord of Ako, entertained the imperial envoys visiting Edo from Kyoto by appointment from the Shogun.

In response to an insult, Asano drew his sword on Kira Kozukenosuke and the two men fought with Kira receiving minor wounds.  Drawing a sword is forbidden in Edo Castle and Asano was immediately arrested, his estate confiscated and title removed.  He was sentenced to death by seppuku (‘hara-kiri’ which is ritual suicide) outside in a garden which was a major insult for someone of his stature.  Kira received no punishment although he was equally guilty of drawing a sword.

The loyal retainers of Lord Ako (known as Ako Gishi), were furious at the  judgment.  They pleaded for change to the order and the reinstatement of the Asano house. They were denied.

Two years after the fateful incident, 47 samurai of Ako assembled, attacked and killed Kira at his residence. They marched to Sengakuji to present Kira’s head to Asano’s grave and report their accomplishment to their late lord.

The Gishi committed seppuku, as punishment, after reporting to the Shogunate.  The graves of the 47 samurai are in the Temple.

Sawaki Kodo Roshi

Zen Master of the 20th Century

Kodo Sawaki (1880-1965), known as ‘Homeless Kodo’ due to his constant movement throughout Japan, was a Zen priest and the teacher of the late Kosho Uchiyama Roshi and Gudo Nishijima Roshi.

Holy cow! This post was already too late in coming. And now it’s a novel. Stay tuned for the lighter side of Tokyo including what you won’t believe about Godzilla and some Mario Super Cart action.

2 Replies to “Tokyo – a Taste of History with Temples and Shrines”

    1. Hi Don, I watched the TV series and I took the History of Japan in University.

      The temples we have visited are generally free although certain sections may ask for money which we skip over. We are not allowed to take photos inside a temple.

      I sent you an e-mail a couple of days ago. Please reply. If you did not get it – send me an e-mail so we can setup a FaceTime session.


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