Thinking of Japan, you think of samurai and ninjas, of course! But is there still a place where one can still find traces of the samurai in modern Japan? The answer is yes! This time I would like to introduce you to the Sengakuji Temple and a certain Japanese candy. Why that? Well, I bet you’ll be surprised!
Recently, I was approached by a foreign tourist: “I would like to visit the Harakiri Temple. Do you know where I can find it?” What does he mean? What’s this? I wondered if there was a temple with such a temple. I thought for a while. Then I knew: he was looking for the Sengakuji temple!
The 47 Ronin and Sengakuji Temple
Arriving at Sengakuji, the first thing you will see are two magnificent gates. When you pass the first gate, you will see some retro shops with small gifts and souvenirs for tourists on the right side of the street. I found that the selection of items was completely different from other shops. The souvenirs were funny and cute. And moreover: everything had something to do with ninjas or samurai. There was a paper knife that looked like a small samurai sword and a ninja throwing stars (shuriken).
I passed the main gate and entered the temple grounds. Sengakuji is a Zen temple built in the early 17th century. Because war and fire destroyed one gate and the main building, the temple had to be rebuilt. Therefore, the buildings themselves are relatively new. Nevertheless, the atmosphere at the quiet temple felt very. You can feel the history here.
In a corner of the temple grounds is a cemetery. Here you can find the tomb of Lord Asano Naganori (Asano Takuminokami) and the tombs of the world-famous “Akoroshi” (the “masterless samurai from Ako”). You probably know the “Akaroshi” under the name “47 Ronin”. The 47 Ronin took revenge for the death of their lord, Asano Naganori. They were sentenced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide – an honorable death for a samurai). This story of the “47 Ronin” is also known outside Japan and their story has been an inspiration for several movies. It is best to watch one of the movies before coming to Japan. Then, you will have even more fun when visiting Sengakuji.
By the way, there is an area called “Bloodstained Plum Tree and Stone” on the right side of the slope leading to the graveyard. Lord Asano Naganori injured Kira Yoshinaka and was punished. He had to commit seppuku. It is said that when his head was cut off, his blood sprayed of this plum tree and stone… … In addition, there is even a comment on English and a museum that holds the weapons of Ako Ryoji. A temple with a deep relationship with the legend of a samurai is very rare in Japan and I think it is a special existence.
If you are interested in seeing weapons and other items actually used by the 47 Ronin, there is a small museum where you can learn more about their story.
(※ Note: In English, we often say “harakiri”, but in Japan, people use the word “seppuku”!)
47 Ronin sweets?
Shimbashi in Tokyo is known as a Salaryman’s Mecca. Here, you can find a small sweets store with a long history that sells Japanese confectionery. At “Shinshodoh”, you can buy “Yokan” with Akoroshi motifs on the packages and “Seppuku-Monaka.” But why does this store sell Japanese sweets related to Akoroshi? “I asked Mr. Watanabe, the owner of Shinshodoh!
When Shinshodoh opened in the Taisho era (1912 to 1926) it was located in the immediate vicinity of the mansion where which Asanouchi committed seppuku. The shop sold monaka: adzuki bean paste sandwiched between two thin rice cookies.
Mr. Watanabe, the third-generation shop owner, came up with the idea of developing a new type of monaka that had something to do with the samurai history of his neighborhood. Usually, the adzuki bean paste is hidden inside the rice cookie sandwich. Mr. Watanabe thought that it would be funny if the adzuki beans filling would be coming out of the cookie sandwich – just like your guts would come out of your belly after committing seppuku…
From a taboo to the perfect gift
Everyone tried to stop Mr. Watanabe from producing those grotesque Seppuku-Monaka. Nobody could imagine any customer wanting to buy this type of confectionery. But Mr. Watanabe was unstoppable. After some time selling Seppuku-Monaka, grotesque Japanese confectionery became a bestseller – but for a completely unexpected reason…
One day, a Japanese office worker made a huge mistake. He had to apologize to his business partners. In Japan, you apologize directly to your business partners and hand them a small gift (like sweets). The businessman felt so sorry for his mistake that he would have committed seppuku had he lived 300 years ago. Since this isn’t possible these days – and that’s a good thing! – he bought “Seppuku-Monaka” to express his deep regret and make an apology in a humorous way. His gift was a great success! And he was forgiven!
Soon, other businessmen came to “Shinshodoh” to buy Seppuku-Monaka to apologize to someone. Sometimes, they even line up in front of the shop to wait until the opening. Mr. Watanabe told me that he knows if someone buys Seppuku-Monaka for an apology by looking at the customer’s facial expression.
How do Seppuku-Monaka taste? On the outside, the rice cookies are very crisp. But inside, the adzuki bean paste is soft, not too sweet, and tastes really nice! You can eat monaka outside the shop on a bench. If you are lucky, you even get “adzuki bean tea” for free. Because the expiration date is not so long, if you want to take it as a souvenir, you should buy it at the end of the trip. (However, since shepherds take longer, it’s okay not to worry too much about the expiration date!)
Because the expiration date of the Seppuku-Monaka is rather short, you should buy it at the end of your trip if you want to take some monakas home as a souvenir. (However, in case of “yokan” you don’t need to worry about the expiration date!)
Sengakuji and Seppuku-Monaka are something you should check out if you are a Chishingura (samurai story) fan. However, I think that you will still have a lot of fun, even if you don’t know all names of the 47 Ronin^^ See you at Sengakuji!
2-11-1 Takanawa, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Summer (4/1 – 9/30) 7: 00 – 18: 00
Winter (10/1 – 3/31) 7: 00 – 17: 00
Akogishi Kinenkan (Memorial Hall)
Summer (4/1 – 9/30) 9: 00-16: 30
Winter (10/1 – 3/31) 9: 00-16: 00
Shinshodoh (Japanese Sweets)
4-27-2 Shimbashi Minato-ku, Tokyo
9: 00 – PM 7: 30 (Monday – Friday)
9: 00 – PM 5: 00 (Saturday)
(Closed on Sundays and national holidays)