Tucked among the buildings in a little alley that is too narrow even for the Google Street View Car, just at the bottom of the steep Otokozaka stairs up to the famous Yushima Tenjin Shrine, you’ll find the tiny temple of Shinjouin. Founded in 1694 the temple manages to pack in one of the ancient holy wells of Edo, the Yanaido, as well as a fantastic miniature garden complete with turtles and gold fish in what can’t be much bigger than some western people’s living rooms. Although the well is long gone the holy waters survive in the form of a fantastic Suikinkutsu, a water koto or “water chimes”. A Sukinkutsu is an ancient garden ornament, used to give visitors a delicate and pleasant surprise when they use the nearby water basin to wash their hands before praying at the temple. The water that falls in the middle of the black stones will drip through the stones into a large buried unglazed jar hidden underneath. The jar has a small hole on top and when the water pours through it hits a hidden pool of water inside the earth, creating a very peculiar and unworldly sound. It is said to be really difficult to get it set up and working correctly, and especially in the city the faint sounds of the underground pool is easily missed, so this Suikinkutsu has a hollow bamboo pipe stuck among the rocks: by placing your ear to it you can easily hear the fantastic sounds of the water. There’s quite a few of these placed around gardens and even indoors in some fancy restaurants or restrooms, but some are very difficult to find, others, like this one at the little temple are helpfully pointed out to visitors. Naturally the best Suikinkutsu are said to be in Kyoto but there must be more good ones here in Tokyo. Any reader have any favorites? There’s said to be a few water chimes with two buried pots giving a double chamber sound from the water, but I have never seen on in real life, I can imagine it must terribly difficult to set up a double!
By the way, one of the things the temple is know for is that it answers prayers for people who want beautiful hair.