Zojoji Temple is a Buddhist temple located in the Minato area of Tokyo. The original temple was built in 1393 and was relocated to its present location by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1598. Zojoji Temple has a strong association with the Tokugawa family, who ruled Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1868), and was the family temple. It is home to the mausoleum of six Tokugawa Shoguns. The temple complex once contained 48 subsidiary temples, over 3000 priests and 150 temple schools.
What to See at Zojoji Temple
The Daimon Great Gate
The Daimon Gate was the original main gate of Zojoji and is located about 200 meters from the famous Sangedatsumon Gate, which served as the inner gate. The original gate was destroyed during World War II with the present gate a concrete reconstruction. It is the first indication that you have reached Zojoji Temple and is now located on a street that has cars passing under the gate.
The Sangedatsumon Main Gate
The Sangedatsumon Main Gate is the front face of Zojoji Temple. It was built in 1622, and is the only remaining original structure at Zojoji. It is the oldest wooden structure in Tokyo and offers an architectural reminder of the original Zojoji during the early Edo Period. It is designated as an important cultural property. The gate has an interesting name, “Sangedatsumon”. “San” means “three”, “Gedatsu” means “Moksha” or liberation/freedom, and “Mon” means gate. The gate was designed in three sections to symbolize the three stages that one must pass through to achieve nirvana. If you pass through the gate, it is believed that you can free yourself from the three passions of greed, hatred and foolishness. The gate catches your attention as soon as you see it and is both majestic and magnificent in its appearance. Constructed with wood, the two-story vermilion lacquered gate measures 21 meters in height and is 28.7 meters wide.
The Daibonsho (Big Bell)
The Daibonsho bell was completed in 1673 and was renowned as one of the “Three Great Bells of the Edo Period”. The bell weighs 15 tonnes and is rung twice a day (early morning and evening) and serves to purify the one hundred and eighty earthly passions.
The Kyozo was built in 1613 with financial aid from Tokugawa Ieyasu. It served as a storehouse to keep important cultural documents and contains octagonal-shaped revolving bookshelves at its center. It has been designated as an important cultural property by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
The Daiden Great Hall
The Daiden or Hondo (Main Hall) forms the core of the temple structures at Zojoji Temple. It was rebuilt in 1974 by combining a blend of traditional Buddhist temple architecture with modern architecture. Enshrined in the hall is the Amida Buddha, which was made during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573).
The Ankokuden Hall
The Ankokuden is located to the right of the Main Hall of Zojoji Temple. Enshrined in the hall is the Black Image of Amida Buddha, which was deeply worshiped by Tokugawa Ieyasu. During the Edo Period, it was widely revered as a Buddhist image which brings victory and wards off evil. For this reason, the hall is also used as a prayer hall. The Black Image of Amida Buddha is shown to the public 3 times a year on January 15th, May 15th, and September 15th.
The Tokugawa Graves
Zojoji Temple was the family temple of the Tokugawa’s and you can find six of the fifteen Tokugawa shoguns buried there. The Mausoleum of the Tokugawa Shoguns is located at the rear of the temple. The graves of Hidetada, Ienobu, and Ietsugu have been designated National Treasures of Japan. You can find additional graves located in a cemetery behind the Great Hall.
The Unborn Children Garden
To the right of the Great Hall you will find a garden at the cemetery lined with Jizo statues, which are the guardian of unborn children. These rows of Jizo statues represent the unborn children of Japan. Parents can choose a statue in the garden and decorate it with small clothing and toys. The statues usually have a small gift to ensure that the children are brought to the afterlife.
History of Zojoji Temple
The forerunner of Zojoji Temple is believed to be Komyo-ji, which was founded in the 9th century. Zojoji Temple itself was built in 1393 by the Jodo shu school of Buddhism as its central monastery in the Kanto region. The temple was relocated to its present site in 1598 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, when he entered Edo to establish his provincial government. At the start of the Edo Period when the Tokugawa shogunate ruled Japan, Zojoji Temple became the family temple of the Tokugawa’s. During the Edo Period the temple served as an administrative center to govern the religious studies and activities of Jodo shu. The temple complex once contained 48 subsidiary temples, over 3000 priests and 150 temple schools.
The temple and most of the associated temple buildings were destroyed during air raids in World War II. Today, however, its main hall and other structures have been rebuilt, and Zojoji continues to serve as the main temple of the Jodo shu.
The Temple is open from 6:00 am to 5:30 pm
The Temple Grounds are always open
Admission to the Temple is free
How to Get There
The temple is a short 10 minute walk from Hamamatsucho Station which is on the JR Yamanote Line. You can also get there from Onarimon or Shibakoen Station on the Mita Subway Line, or Daimon Station on the Oedo Subway Line.
Address: 4-7-35 Shiba Koen, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Best Time to Go
The best time to visit Zojoji Temple is either in late March or early April for the beautiful cherry blossoms, or Autumn for the colourful leaves. I also recommend a visit in the evening, where you can admire the temple with an illuminated Tokyo Tower in the background.
Tip: Zojoji Temple is located next to Tokyo Tower, so I would also recommend a trip to Tokyo Tower after your visit. You can also get some cool pictures with both the temple and Tokyo Tower in the same shot. It is a great contrast of the modern and old, which is what Tokyo is all about.