Tsukiji Hongwanji (築地本願寺) is the major Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple in the Tokyo area. Hongwanji just means Temple of the Primal Vow [by Amida Buddha to help all beings], and many Jodo Shinshu temples are called Hongwanji. The name Tsukiji refers to the district in Tokyo by the way.
Anyways, as mentioned in a previous post, I visited a number of famous temples in the Tokyo, Kamakura and northern areas, but Tsukiji Hongwanji really stood out in a special way, so I wanted to talk about it in a separate post. I went there on a cloudy but muggy day with my wife, Baby, and my mother-in-law whose a devout Jodo Shinshu Buddhist. Across the street we enjoyed lunch at a really great Soba shop.*
From the start I would describe Tsukiji Hongwanji as a whole as nice and warm. Not in a cultish “we’re going to suck you in” way, but rather in the sense that staff and followers really cared about the place, and took pride in it. My wife and I both noticed this, and talked about it later. Some of the other temples we had visited felt kind of cold, and stodgy, and almost felt like it was museums soliciting donations.** Tsukiji felt like a real religious community and family.
The main hall, or hondō (本堂), in Japanese, was amazing! Imagine a huge cathedral-like hall, with Indian-style pillars, but the whole thing is tastefully done with Japanese aesthetics.
I think Tsukiji has the most beautiful hall of any temple I have ever seen. It was subtle, warm, but really grand at the same time. We came in the middle of a weekday, so there were a lot of empty chairs. We picked a good spot near the middle aisle, while I wandered the back and sides with a sleeping baby strapped to my chest.
I remember seeing one old man sitting way in the back corner peacefully taking a nap, as well as old ladies making prayers. However, to my surprise, there were also younger businessmen who had obviously stopped in for lunch, and even one teenage Japanese schoolgirl (sailor uniform and all) came in with her rosary and sat down too. You could really feel the devotion among these folks.
The overall layout of the main hall is very similar to the Jodo Shinshu temple I go to at home in Seattle, but on a much grander scale. The colors are the same too. Jodo Shinshu temples use lots of gold color in the altar area, symbolizing the Light (光明 kōmyō) of Amida Buddha. For comparison, I noticed that Shingon Buddhist temples use more red and black lacquer.
In any case, the best part was that we came just before a service. The service began when about 15 young men about my age came out, led by an elder, and lined up in front of the altar. They played very traditional Japanese music, and then began chanting some hymns written by Shinran back in the day.
Later, I went to the next door office and bought a Buddhist altar there. Keep in mind that up to this point, I have been using a homemade altar I built using a box lid and an image of Amida. I’ll talk about it in a separate post.
Anyways, after the service we all were in a good mood so we went to Cafe de Shinran. In the corner of the vast parking lot sits a modern cafe named Cafe de Shinran:
Their iced mocha was quite good, and really hit the spot before the long train ride home.*** I found out later the cafe is only there for a limited time, so if you’re going soon, don’t miss out.
I think I would describe the day at Tsukiji as warm, spiritual and just a really good day. I was really glad to have made the pilgrimage to Tsukiji****, and it made me feel more confident about my own faith as a whole, particularly since Jodo Shinshu Buddhists are such a minority even in the American Buddhist community. I think it was a religious experience if there ever was one.
For the upcoming 750th anniversary of Shinran’s memorial in 2012 (see bottom of link), my wife and I definitely have planned another pilgrimage here.
Namo Amida Butsu
* – If you’re facing the entrance to Tsukiji, go left down the block. Across the street, right at the corner is the soba shop. Look for the word そば (soba) in big, cursive letters on the sign. They don’t speak English, but their tempura soba was just awesome.
** – Tsukiji had the ubiquitous donation boxes too (they all have wooden grills at the top to throw coins into), but I also noticed that near the main hall entrance were donation boxes to help with disaster relief. I never saw this at another temple I visited. I know my temple in Seattle makes donations for disaster relief, but it was really reassuring to see that Tsukiji does too.
*** – In Japan, people don’t drive as much. It’s all about vast the train system. It’s great except when you have to take 3 train lines to go where you want, like we did going to Tsukiji. Overall though, the train system is awesome, and you can get pretty much anywhere. My in-laws happen to live near a station that isn’t popular, so it’s hard to get on a good train line without transfering at least once.
**** – Tsukiji is a major pilgrimage site for Jodo Shinshu Buddhists.