As a child, I loved to look at Asian architecture in picture books. I loved the curved roofs and yearned to see a temple with my own eyes. When you visit Japan, you’ll see a lot of temples and shrines and after a while, you might even get a little bored, because they all seem to look alike. But actually the buildings are all different. Especially Zojoji temple, one of the biggest temples in Tokyo, is a unique experience!
Walking from Daimon Station towards the main gate of the Zojoji temple, the view is absolutely gorgeous! But the most interesting point for an architecture geek is in the “Zojoji Treasure Exhibition Chamber”.
A once lost mausoleum rediscovered
The “Zojoji Treasure Exhibition Chamber” is an underground museum adjacent to the main hall of the temple.
The Museum displays a 1:10 scale model of the Taitoku-in Mausoleum, which was built to inter shogun Hidetada TOKUGAWA in 1632. The Mausoleum was once located within the grounds of the temple but was destroyed by fires during World War II. The most beautiful buildings – in any country – are always built for either religious reasons or to show off the power of a ruler.
Unfortunately, when this National Treasure was lost, all that was left were some black and white photos. But as would luck have it, the city of Tokyo had commissioned a model of the mausoleum to be displayed at the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London. After being kept in the Royal Collection of Queen Elisabeth II for over 100 years – the model was returned to Zojoji in 2015, where it is on display now.
Taking pictures is not allowed inside the exhibition, but you can get a rough idea of the model looking at the official homepage of the temple. The architecture geek I am, this exhibition was “architecture heaven”! During our visit, there was also a special exhibition showing treasures of the TOKUGAWA clan: Every item in display had the TOKUGAWA family crest on it. And I learned something new – every shogun, made slight alternations to the crest– to leave his very own mark on history.
Strolling around the temple grounds
The exhibition of course is not everything and of course, there is much more than great Japanese architecture. The temple grounds are very big (for Tokyo) and well worth a stroll around the temple grounds.
The day my friends and I visited Zojoji was an important day for the temple. They were celebrating the “Gyokidaie Ceremony”, a special memorial service for Honen, the religious founder of the first independent branch of Jodo-shu Buddhism, or in translation “The Pure Land School”. Yes, Buddhism has different branches, in fact, there are plenty of branches called “sects”. Keep this in mind, when you come to Japan – experts can tell the sect from the entrance gate.
The area in front of the main temple building was bustling with small food stands getting ready for the ceremony giving the view more festival-feel.
Many women were wearing a kimono to attend the temple ceremony – had it not been for Tokyo Tower dominating the view, it would have felt like a time slip to the Edo Period.
We also payed a visit to the TOKUGAWA clan grave and enjoyed the various food stands. If you are an architecture geek like me, you should definitely visit Zojoji temple when you come to Japan. The best time is definitely when a ceremony or festival is going on – the atmosphere with Buddhist chants, kimono-clad women and bustling food stands is unforgettable!
|4-7-35 Shibakoen Minato-ku, Tokyo|
|● Metropolitan Subway Oedo Line|Akabanebashi Station Akabanebashi Gate| 10 minute walk
● Metropolitan Subway|Mita Line Onarimon Station Exit No. A1| 10 minute walk
● Metropolitan Subway Asakusa Line| Daimon Station Exit A6| 10 minute walk
● JR Hamamatsucho Station| North Exit | 10 minute walk
|9:00 to 17:00|
About Minato Tourist Information Center:
You can find the “Minato Tourist Information Center” at the concourse of the Tokyo Monorail Hamamatsu-cho station.
Our staff speaks Japanese and Thai and starting in April, there will be a tablet with a video translation service available. Supported languages are English, Chinese, Korean, Thai and Russian.
We would love to help and inform you about the tourism highlights of Minato City.
You can get a ID/PASS CARD for free WIFI spots around the city, or buy a SIM card.
Feel free to come by before exploring Minato City