Zojoji Temple: One of the Great Main Temples of Jodo-shu Buddhism

Known for its rich history and tradition, Japan is a hot spot for people who like to travel and to explore the ancient times and its remnants in the world. Throughout history, various pieces and artifacts have been uncovered to prove how the culture and tradition of Japan have evolved through the years. One of its many developments was religion. Among the leading religions in Japan is Buddhism. Its history is evident not just in documents and relics but also in their buildings and structures. Various temples have been built all over the country in dedication to their beliefs and traditions. One of these temples is Zojoji Temple.

Basic Facts on Zojoji Temple: Map, Accessibility, Near Tokyo Tower

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Also known as San'en-zan Zōjō-ji in Japanese, Zojoji Temple was founded by Yuyo Shoso. A Buddhist temple located in the Shiba neighborhood situated in the Minato ward in Tokyo, Japan, its main image is that of Amida Buddha. Zojoji Temple is recognized as the Great Main Temple under the Chinzei branch of Jodo-shu Buddhism. Serving as the head temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism in the region of Kanto, Zojoji Temple is located beside Tokyo Tower. Hence, most people clump the two structures together as part of their list when visiting the area.

Constructed in the year 1393, Zojoji Temple was selected as the family temple of Tokugawa Ieyasu. This selection prompted him to move the temple to its current location in the year 1958. As the family temple of the Tokugawa clan, a mausoleum of the family was built on the temple grounds of Zojoji Temple, which still exists up to this day. Most of the buildings in Zojo Temple were reconstructed in recent years. However, the main entrance gate of the temple, known as the Sangedatsumon, remains the same since the year 1622, having survived several destructions such as fires, earthquakes, and even wars.

Zojoji Temple was formerly a huge complex that consisted of 48 subsidiary temples with more than 3,000 priests and 150 temple schools. However, due to the various calamities, times have changed what used to be Zojoji Temple. At present, the temple occupies only a portion of its previous area. Still, several of its buildings still date back to the 1970s.

As the family temple of the Tokugawa clan, Zojoji Temple was closely related to the family that ruled the nation during the Edo Period, lasting from the year 1603 to the year 1868. It served as a residence to the mausoleums of six Tokugawa Shoguns, accompanied by their family members. These mausoleums were located behind the iron gate that had fearsome dragons as decorations.

One of the attractions in Zojoji Temple is its high gate, the Sangedatsumon. Standing since the year 1622, it is 69 feet high. It serves as the only remaining structures of the original temple. Furthermore, many say that the gate is also the oldest wooden structure in the Tokyo metropolis.

Open from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, Zojoji Temple has no closing days. Guests are free to enter without admission fees. The exact address of Zojoji Temple is 4-7-35 Shiba-koen, Minato-ku with postal code 105-0011. The temple is a great place to visit for children, students, couples, groups of friends, families, and seniors. From the temple, guests can also view the Tokyo Tower.

Due to its importance as part of the rich history of Japan, Zojoji Temple has many cultural properties. These include National Designated Cultural Properties, Natural monuments/Special Natural Treasures, Tokyo Designated Cultural Properties, and Tokyo Designated Historical Buildings.

Zojoji Temple is easily accessible. For people who would be driving their own vehicles, the temple is only 5 minutes away from the Shiba-koen Ramp of the Metropolitan Expressway. For people coming from Haneda Airport, the temple is only a 15-minute walk from Hamamatsucho Station on the Tokyo Monorail. The temple can also be accessed by train. Zojoji Temple is only a 3-minute walk from Onarimon Station on the Toei Mita Line, a 7-minute from walk Daimon Station on the Toei Oedo Line or Asakusa Line, and a 15-minute walk from Hamamatsucho Station on the JR Yamanote Line.

Looking Into the History of the Temple

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Founded in the year 1393, Zojoji Temple was considered as an orthodox as well as a fundamental nembutsu seminary for Jodo-shu Buddhism. Specifically, its purpose was served in the region of Kanto, which is located on the eastern side of Japan. The founder of the Tokugawa shogunate who went by the name of Ieyasu Tokugawa relocated the temple in the year 1598, where it stayed since. The relocation occurred after Ieyasu entered Edo, which is now known as Tokyo, in the year 1590 wherein he wanted to establish his provincial government.

Only after the Edo period began did Ieyasu choose Zojoji Temple as the family temple. It was also after Ieyasu became the Tokugawa shogunate that went on to rule Japan did he choose Zojoji Temple. After which, a grand cathedral was constructed.

Aside from serving as the family temple of the Tokugawa clan, Zojoji Temple also had other purposes. For one, it was also considered as an administrative center whose purpose was to overlook the religious studies and activities of Jodo-shu Buddhism. During this time, the total area of the precincts of the temple amounted to 826,000 square meters. These precincts consisted of 48 smaller attached temple as well as 150 grammar schools. They also served as the residence of as many as 3,000 priests and novices.

However, the Tokugawa regime came to a close after some time. As the Meiji period began, an anti-Buddhist movement was established. The cathedral, temples, and the mausoleum of the six Tokugawa Shoguns were destroyed during this era, as they were burned down by air raids caused by the Second World War. Suffice it to say, Zojoji Temple was greatly affected by not just politics but also social circumstances.

As of today, many of these structures, including the cathedral, have been reconstructed. News about this reconstructions was also published. At present, Zojoji Temple is recognized as the main temple of Jodo-shu Buddhism as well as the central nembutsu seminary for priests and novices. As a grand Buddhist temple located in the Tokyo metropolis, Zojoji Temple is now well-loved by the locals. Also serving as a hub of religious as well as cultural activities, the temple is quite popular among the masses.

Key Features of Zojoji Temple: Main Gate, Big Bell, and Statues


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Zojoji Temple has many key features that tourists may be interested in. There are usually guides in information centers that provide this knowledge. The first and foremost part of the temple that is famous is its main gate. Known as the Sangedatsumon, the gate serves as the front face of Zojoji Temple. Standing at 21 meters high, many find this gate both majestic and magnificent. Built in the year 1622, the gate is 28.7 meters wide and 17.6 meters deep. Made of wood, this main gate is the only living architectural piece that hailed from the early days of the Edo period when the original temple was built on a massive scale.

Due to its rich history and meaning to the country, the State designated the Sangedatsumon as an important cultural property. Its name translates to “a gate getting delivered from three earthly states of mind,” with the three earthly states standing for greed, anger, and stupidity. Lacquered in vermillion, the gate is a two-storey structure. Figures of Shakyamuni Buddha, Samantabhadra and Manjusri bodhisattvas are enshrined in the upper story. Moreover, the figures of the 16 arhat disciples of Buddha can also be found in the upper story of the gate, as created by Buddhist image sculptors hailing from Kyoto when the temple was constructed.

The next key feature of Zojoji Temple is the Daibonsho. Translating to “Big Bell,” this bell is also quite popular in Zojoji Temple. Completed in the year 1673, the casting work for the Daibonsho was repeated for as many as 7 times. The Daibonsho is famous and recognized as one of the Big Three Bells of the Ego Period. With a diameter of 1.76 meters, the bell is 3.33 meters high. Due to its large size, it is no wonder that it has a massive weight of 15 tons.

Tolled twice a day, the Daibonsho is tolled 6 times in the early morning then another 6 times in the evening. The purpose of the bell is not only to chime the hours but also functions as purification of 108 earthly passions known as bonno in Japanese. It is believed that these earthly passions lead people away from the right path. Hence, the bell does its job through an exhortation, which is repeated six times in a single day.

Another key feature of the temple is the Kyozo, also known as the Sutra godown. Built in the year 1613, the building was constructed with the financial help of Ieyasu Tokugawa. However, it was greatly remodeled and relocated in the year 1800. A Japanese storehouse, the Kyoto has revolving bookshelves in its center inside, which are shaped like an octagon. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government designated the Kyoto as cultural property.

The Main Hall of Zojoji Temple is called the Daiden. Also known as Hondo, the Daiden shapes the center of the Buddhist structures of the temple. Reconstructed in the year 1974, the Daiden is a combination of the traditional architectural style of Buddhist temples and modern architecture. A huge main image, known as honzon in Japanese, of Amida Buddha is enshrined in the Daiden. This image was created during the Muromachi period.

This huge image is accompanied by two others on its sides. The image on its left is that of Honen Shonin, who is known to have founded Jodo-shu Buddhism in Japan. On the other hand, the image on its right is that of the Great Teacher Shan-tao, who is known to have perfected the Jodo (Pure Land) Buddhism, in China. These images are prayed to by followers who worship at the temple.

A lecture hall, the Koshoden is also another key feature of Zojoji Temple. It also serves as a seminary for “cleansing soul and fostering the vigor to live” with the 21st century’s advent. The huge hall contains a coffered ceiling that shows images of flowering plants. These pictures were donated by 120 Japanese artists who were also pious. Fitted into coffers, these pictures provide a great display that is highly appreciated, as it gives off a sense of piety and bliss.

One other key feature of Zojoji Temple is the Ankokuden. The building houses the enshrinement of the Black Image of Amida Buddha, which is believed to be heavily worshipped by the first Tokugawa Shogun. This image was believed to have provided wonders and have saved Ieyasu from the many dangers that he faced while ruling Japan. It was also said that the image helped Ieyasu win his several battles. Seen as an image that provides victory and fends off evil forces, this belief has been present since the Edo period.

Sakura or Cherry Blossom Festivals at the Temple at Night

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While Zojoji Temple can be visited any time of the year, probably the best time to visit the temple is in early April. As the spring season arrives, Zojoji Temple provides a picturesque view. With cherry blossoms, also known as sakura in Japanese, the pink flowers give off a serene look to the temple. It is also during this season that the folks of Japan celebrate the blooming of this seasonal flower.

Cherry blossom festivals are celebrated during the day and even at night. Accentuated by quaint night lights, the view is just spectacular. Hence, many people stay in a hotel near the temple during this season to catch this beauty. Nonetheless, Zojoji Temple still gives off a great view any time of the year, whether it is in January, March, July, August, October, November, or December.

Zojoji Temple holds much history and tradition since the early days. Having undergone destructions and various periods, the temple has remained standing and relentless. Thankfully, Zojoji Temple is recognized as a cultural property, as it holds great meaning in relation to the history of Japan. Zojoji Temple is a must-visit, especially for people who would like to be immersed in the history of Japan, as the temple embodies its traditions and culture. If one visits on a Sunday, there are also other places in the city to go to after the temple, such as art museums, parks, and places in Odaiba.