As the family and I won’t be traveling this year to Japan to visit family, I wanted to post some old photos from past visits. I enjoy the nostalgia, and it’s nice to revisit some moments that I had forgotten.
One of the places we visit almost every year is the Buddhist temple of Zojoji, which is about a block away from the famous Tokyo Tower:
Zojoji is one of two head temples (daihonzan 大本山) of the Jodo-Shu sect of Japanese Buddhism. Jodo-Shu is a Buddhist sect and populist movement that started in the 12th century under the influence of Honen (法然 1133 – 1212), and grew to be one of the largest Buddhist sects in Japan even today. Jodo-Shu has two head temples, the first being Chion-in in Kyoto, Japan1 and the second in Tokyo at Zojoji that was founded during the late-medieval Edo Period as the family temple of the Tokugawa Shoguns.2
Zojoji is a pretty large temple within Tokyo, so it’s hard to miss. It’s main hall (hondō 本堂) is clearly visible as you pass through the gate. Inside the main hall is the central altar devoted to Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and central figure of Pure Land Buddhism:
Note that the temple is not always open for photography, especially if a memorial service is underway (would you allow people to take photos of your relative’s funeral?), so if you visit, make sure to pay attention to signs. The Chion-in homepage has more details on temple etiquette and other interesting information.
Each side of the altar is flanked by a statue: one of Honen, the founder of Jodo-Shu Buddhism, and the other (not shown) of Chinese Pure Land Master, Shan-dao (善導 613 – 681), whom Honen was inspired by:
After exiting the main hall, there is a gift shop to the right, which is actually a temple annex with a famous Buddhist altar of its own featuring a black, carved statue of Amitabha Buddha in the center:
Outside the gift shop/annex is a small cemetery and stone path. If you follow the stone path, you’ll come behind the temple to the mausoleum of the Tokugawa Shoguns:
The early generations of the Tokugawa shogunal family are buried in a great mausoleum up in Nikkō, but later shoguns are interned here. It was interesting to see the graves of these shoguns who in the past were the leaders of Japan during the Edo Period (1600-1868).
About two blocks away, behind the temple, is the famous broadcast tower of Tokyo Tower (tōkyō tawaa, 東京タワー) which was built in 1958. At the time, it was the largest broadcast tower in the world, though it has long been surpassed by other towers. Nevertheless, it remains a cultural icon.3
Tickets up to the observation tower are cheap and include many nice views.
One last thing we like to do at Tokyo Tower is to see try the limited edition “Tower Burger” by Mos Burger:
Despite the picture, the burger is actually somewhat smaller than expected (and it’s a actually a chili burger), but it’s quite good:
Zojoji Temple and Tokyo Tower are a pair of sites we regularly visit every year and always have a good time as a family.
Hopefully, after the lockdown, you all can someday visit too. 🗼
1 I visited Chion-in way back in 2005, and it had a big impression on me at the time leading to my eventual interest in Pure Land Buddhism, but Zojoji was something I only started visiting recently. Despite my recent rant about Jodo Shu Buddhism, the reality is is that it still has a special place in my heart and Zojoji Temple is just a great temple to visit, regardless of who you are. My wife and I regularly joke that it’s our spiritual “power spot”. 😊
2 Contrary to popular belief, samurai as a whole were not devotees of Zen Buddhism. The relationship between the samurai class and Buddhism is long and complicated, but suffice to say different warlords had their preferences and patronized different temples according to those preferences.
3 It even has its own emoji! 🗼