The Spring Cherry Blossom Fest at Zojoji Temple Tokyo
Origin of Zojoji
Tokugaya shogun was the one most powerful samurai leader in whole of Japan. He was the real ruler, the chief of army. The reining monarch in Kyoto was monarch by title only. Shogun ruled from Edo, a region far away from the then capital Kyoto. Edo changed over the years into the modern city of Tokyo.
Shogun took up Buddhism. His estate set up the grand Zojoji temple complex. It was to be the presiding deity of Edo Tokyo, by whose alter the mighty Samurais took oath of knighthood. The last remains of the deceased lord and his family also rest here.
It is said that the temple originally was built more than 700 years ago. Then moved to current location by orders of Tokugaya shogun. At its peak it housed a huge monastery complex with 3000 monks living in the precincts. But much of that complex was burned down by allied bombing during the world war. The main gate, rising 21 meters up, is the remaining original wooden structure.
Zozoji is approachable from several metro stations – Akabanenashi on Oedo line, Kamiyacho on Hibiya line, Shiba Koen on Mita line. Also it is a short walk away from JR hamamatsucho station. The entire complex is on a well preserved wooded hill, with real estate development chipping away only on the Kamiyacho end.
On Kamiyacho side at the top of the hillock, Tokyo tower was established in the sixties. A copy of Eiffel tower but higher, it is a telecommunication tower as well as a tourist site on its own. From Tokyo tower, the path descends down via a small wooded path towards Zojoji. If approaching from Akabanebashi station, then walk towards Tokyo tower that is visible right out of the station and take a right as you approach the tower. Or, you can take a right turn crossing the 4-way crossing right outside Akabanebashi and walk by the outer walls of Tokyo Prince Tower hotel. The tree-covered road winds through a beautifully maintained open garden, crosses over a narrow stream with boulders strewn around, and opens into a wide courtyard adjacent to Zojoji.
A small temple stands at the corner of the courtyard; you pass by it as you approach Zojoji. The landscape, the red wooden gates and the small temple all lend themselves to photography. If approaching From Shibakoen station though it is the closest walk;, the main entrance door being almost right across the station on the other side separated by a busy road.
Entering through the main gate one reaches the temple courtyard. Straight in front up several flight of stairs is the main building. There are valuables from yesteryear preserved in the downstairs museum. The tombs of shogun and his family rest at the burial ground behind this main building, locked behind heavy gilded bronze doors. On the right side of approach to the main building is the bell tower. Next to the bell tower is a Tea ceremony room. To the right of the main building is the shrine dedicated to Black Amitabha Buddha, the protector of the shogun in many a battles. The way right of this shrine winds into a garden with smaller shrines. Footpath adjacent to the boundary wall leads to Tokyo tower. In this garden there are statues of baby Buddhas dedicated to the memory of unborn children. Grieving parents visit here to tend to the statues, offering flowers and incense.
A wooden board with threads running across have number of paper scrolls hanging from the threads – each one a prayer from someone for someone.
Walking over to the back side following the garden path one reaches the burial ground. Farther past, the path leads to monks quarters. The path turns back, ends at the wide arena surrounded by Zojoji administrative quarters, cultural complex and other buildings normally not accessible to common people.
The temple premises are open twenty four hours, though the shrine doors close by evening 5:30 pm. Regular festivals are held in the premises as per annual calendar. Cultural shows like Noh dance under moonlight are a big draw.
The Spring Cherry Blossom Festival
During spring the temple complex area gets covered in cherry blossoms. On a designated day in the 1st week of April, an elaborate procession led by the Shrines high priest, followed by ornately dressed teams of dancers walk into the temple. Monks in a procession head towards the sanctum up the stairs, with assistants holding colorful umbrellas following closely. Gongs of Drums and bells announce the beginning of the occasion. In comes groups of representatives from different high ranking families and clans in their regalia. Audience on the two sides are allowed to take photos, and offer their prayers if one desired. The entire set of rituals are orchestrated in solemn religious manner, in the backdrop of lush pink and white cherry blossoms covering the horizon.
Follow the link below to view a recording of the event in YouTube
For more details on annual set of events please follow the official homepage below
Despite the air of grandeur still evident at Zojoji, the post war changes in local cultural mores have dealt a subtle dent in the prominence originally enjoyed by this temple. Buddhism was shunned by the new government in favor of Shintoism. Meiji Jingu became the official guardian deity of Tokyo. But that has not dimmed the blessings accorded to Zojoji by nature every spring. Rather the dimming in its religious stature has perhaps been more than compensated by the recognition of Zojoji as one of the finest piece of heritage and beauty in this side of Japan. If you are in Tokyo for Cherry Blossoms, then Zojoji should be one the top 2 points to visit. The other being Ueno Park, for details of which please follow this URL below.
Catch you up soon. Ciao