Not all temples or shrine in Japan are famous. The vast majority of them are left more or less in peace, overlooked by tourists and tourism boards all over the country for the more attractive big name temples. The Joganji overlooking a hill facing the city of Ome in Tokyo’s western parts is one of these historic temples with no major attractions apart from itself, the surrounding nature and some much needed peace and quiet.
The Joganji temple was founded in the year 1300 AD as part of the Jishu sect. The little alley and street leading up the temple stairs is quite cute and also has a proper rail crossing, a rarity in Tokyo these days. I was there during the major Ometaisai, the grand festival of the city in May. The stairs can be a bit challenging for less than fit visitors but if you are in the area with time to spare it is a nice walk and a chance to take in some history and nature!
One of the greatest tourist attractions in Japan is the Nara Daibutsu, a huge buddha statue housed in the famous temple of Todaiji in Nara City, Nara Prefecture. Apart from the big statue itself there are plenty of smaller statues scattered around the main hall of the temple. The atmosphere is fantastic, air thick with incense smoke, prayers bells and the sunlight filtering in through the high windows. Well, at least if you go off season and on a weekday. Weekends and high season tends to get quite crowded especially recently with the absolute boom in overseas tourism.
There is statuary of all kinds of materials, millennium old wood carvings, bronzes and clay to name a few materials. If you have the opportunity to visit, spare a few minutes for the “other” art treasures of the Todaiji!
It is March 18th 628 A.D., and two fishermen, Hinokuma Hamanari and his brother Takenari are out fishing in the Sumida River when their accidentally pull up a strange statue. The village headman identifies it as a statue of the important Buddhist deity Bodhisattva Kannon. The headman took vows and devoted his life to the preaching of buddhism and even his home was remade into a buddhist temple. This is the foundation story of today’s massive Sensoji in Tokyo’s Asakusa district and the background to the equally massive Sanja Matsuri attracting millions of tourists and participants in Tokyo each May.
To commemorate the actual spot where the statue was pulled up a smaller temple was founded, the Komagatado, that exists in the same location this side, with its back towards the river, facing west. The temple has been destroyed in many fires and wars, and the structure we see today was built in 2003. Apart from the 19th of every month when the temple is open to visitors, nothing much goes on here despite it being such a historic spot. I passed a couple of times in the last couple of months and tried to get some photos worthy of showing you, but alas, I think this historic woodblock print by the master Hokusai (1760-1849) is as atmospheric as it will ever get (see the last image).
Since the history of this Sensoji and the Sanja Matsuri ties in with this little temple and the festival takes place later this month I thought now would be a good time to introduce it!
Tokyo’s north eastern Taito ward is dotted with temples, dozens of them, and most of them are the earliest temples to be located in the Tokyo area. One of them is Matsuchiyama Shoden, located just next to what was once a ferry crossing of the large Sumida river to the east of the temple. It was famous for being a beautiful spot several hundreds years ago and the temple can be found in many old drawings and prints. You can find a 19th century drawing and photograph here. These days it is famous for its daikon, giant radishes, that are still grown on the temple grounds. I also found the many symbols representing treasure and great fortune, the sacks! Even the large censer in front of the temple is in the form a giant sack!
The temple itself survived quite a lot only to be burnt down in 1923 and again in 1945, the present building was erected in 1963.