Adventures at Zojoji and Tokyo Tower

One of the highlights of our trip to Japan was a visit to a famous temple in Tokyo named Zōjōji (増上寺).  This is one of the main temples of the Jodo Shu sect, which is closely related to Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, but different in subtle ways.

The story behind this trip was interesting.  I was actually doing some work during my vacation by visiting the local office, which was located in Toranomon (虎ノ門), a high-class business area of Tokyo.  My wife, kids and a good friend went to nearby Tokyo Tower to wait for me.  Once my meeting was done, I changed my clothes (it was sweltering that day in business casual clothes), and walked about 20 minutes to Tokyo Tower.  By then I was sweating all over again.  :-p

Tokyo Tower is a large transmission tower and symbol of the city of Tokyo, but has been eclipsed in recent years by the Tokyo Sky Tree, which we’ve also seen.

Tokyo Tower

Here’s a view of Tokyo Tower.  By the time I got there, everyone already had lunch, so I quickly grabbed Mos Burger’s special “Tokyo Tower Burger”:

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It was, not surprisingly, smaller than advertised, but still too tall to fit in my mouth:

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Mos Burger was delicious as usual though. The burger had a nice chili-burger taste and the fries were awesome. 

Anyhow, by early afternoon we were ready to walk a few blocks down to nearby Zojoji Temple.  We ended up arriving through the back entrance, but were treated with an excellent view of the main temple building:

Zojoji Temple

Some parts of the complex seemed closed and covered up.  I think they were either preparing for a festival, or were cleaning up after one, I couldn’t tell.

Zojoji Temple

The main building was open, and unlike many temples in Japan, they openly allowed photographs (except during memorial services of course).  Here’s the main hall:

Zojoji Temple

When I see this hall, it kind of evokes the image of Amitabha Buddha sitting in the Pure Land amidst lotus ponds and other imagery from the Amitabha Sutra.  It was quite beautiful.  I am not sure if that was intended, but that’s certainly what came to mind.

To the left and right of the central were images of Jodo-Shu’s founder Honen, and I believe of Shan-tao the famous Chinese Pure Land master and inspiration for Pure Land Buddhism in Japan.  I believe this is Honen, but I might be wrong:

Zojoji Temple

After this we went to the gift-shop next door, and picked up some omamori charms, and got our travel books stamped and signed.1  Here’s the smaller altar in the gift shop, which was also lovely:

Zojoji Temple

Afterwards, we went behind the main building and saw this gate:

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Inside there was a mausoleum to some of the ancient Tokugawa family that ruled Japan for 268 years during the Edo Period.  The founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and other immediate family members were interned further north in Nikko, but here you can see the later generations of the Tokugawa family and shoguns:

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The mosquitoes here were terrible, due to all the stagnant water in and around the tombs, so we couldn’t stay too long.  Little Guy and Princess were covered in bites around their ankles by the time we got home.  Luckily, I was wearing jeans that day, but I feel bad for my kids. But it was a really interesting piece of history to see some of the Shoguns interned there.

On the way backed, we passed through the Roppongi (六本木) district where a lot of foreign expats live.  You definitely see some interesting girls hanging out there. Not the kind I would take home to my parents.  Still, daytime wasn’t bad, and although Roppongi has both a glitzy and shady reputation, there is still lots of good things to see.

We stopped at a branch shrine (bunshi 分祠) of the famous Izumo Grand Shrine way out in Shimane Prefecture.

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We made our obeisance, got our books signed again and returned home happy.  It was a tiny shrine, and they didn’t allow photos (sigh).  Interestingly, per tradition at Izumo Grand Shrine, you are supposed to clap four times, not two.

Zojoji as a temple was great.  There was something about the vibe there that reminded me many years ago when I went to Chion-in Temple in Kyoto (another Jodo Shu temple) and saw a monk chanting to Amitabha Buddha. That was in 2005 and I visited again in 2010. It was an old feeling, but also a warm, familiar one. That is what first brought me to Buddhism more than 10 years ago.2

Also, as it is really close to Tokyo Tower, you can easily make it a day trip to both. 

1 This is something you never find at Jodo Shinshu temples.  Charms and such are never sold there, because as Shinran taught, once one is grasped by the compassion of Amitabha Buddha, good luck charms, Shinto shrines, merit from traveling to temples and such is simply unnecessary.  Amitabha Buddha’s compassion is much greater and therefore sufficient.  I get the point, but I’ve always felt it’s a little one-sided, and maybe a bit puritanical.

2 Sadly there are no Jodo Shu temples anywhere near here.

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

2 thoughts on “Adventures at Zojoji and Tokyo Tower”

  1. Your feelings about Jodo Shinshu doctrine being “one-sided” and “puritanical” mirror my own. At first, Shin’s antipathy towards superstitious and merit-accumulating practices, intercessionary deities, and other mumbo jumbo was appealing to me. On one of my first visits to the temple I attend, I asked the minister what prayers they use the nenju for and he flat out told me, “We don’t pray.” The lack of practice seemed very rational to me, in spite of Shin’s otherworldly emphasis. However, now I find the lack of practice and conduct stultifying. While I’m not necessarily looking for more mumbo jumbo, Shin considers so much unnecessary that it doesn’t leave a lot in terms of stimulation.

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    1. Hi Jacob and welcome! My apologies for not replying back sooner.

      Yes, I know exactly what you mean. JSS seemed more rational at first, but over time I’ve realized that really it was a kind of puritan approach to Pure Land Buddhism that frankly doesn’t appeal to me. I have always had an ecletic, broad view of Buddhism, and Jodo Shinshu definitely does not suit this.

      Hope you find what you’re looking for though.

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