Tokyo CHAPTER 1: The Neighborhood of Ebisu.

Ebisu is said to be Tokyo on a more human scale, full of low-rise buildings, shopping arcades and down-to-earth eateries and bars. None of the major Tokyo touristy sights can be seen in this neighborhood, yet an afternoon wandering around is the perfect antidote to taking a break from bouncing from sight to sight in central Tokyo. Nevertheless, the sights that are found in Ebisu are rewarding to experience.

SENGAKU-JI (Sengaku Temple): The Ako Incident

Perhaps the most famous story of avenge and loyalty in Japanese history is the Ako Incident which took place between 1701-1703.

Asano Takuminokami, Feudal Lord of Ako, was appointed by the shogunate to entertain the imperial envoys visiting Edo from Kyoto. He was to seek directions from his official advisor, Kira Kozukenosuke. But Kiro disliked Asano and treated him with malice and disgraced his honor as a samurai.

Unable to tolerate Kira’s insult anymore, Asano drew his sword on him in the Edo Castle at what is known as “The Pine Gallery (Corridor) Incident.” Asano managed to cut Kira on his forehead and shoulder but failed to kill him.

It was strictly forbidden to draw one’s sword within the Edo Castle at that time and Asano was immediately arrested. There was also a law termed “equal punishment for quarrels” which punished both samurai’s involved in a fight, so both Asano and Kira were expected to be punished. However, while Kira received no punishment, Asano was sentenced to death by seppuku (ritual suicide by self-disembowelment) in a garden of another lord’s residence on the very same day without proper investigation. Seppuku outside in a garden was for a felon and inappropriate for someone of Asano’s standing. Further, the Asano estate was confiscated and his family line was dethroned from the lordship.

The loyal retainers of Lord Ako, better known as Ako Gishi, were indignant of this judgment and pleaded for an amendment of the order and the reinstatement of the Asano house. But their requests were dismissed.

Almost two years after the fateful incident, 47 samurai’s of Ako assembled under the former chief retainer, Oishi Kuranosuke, to avenge their lord’s death and the injustice imposed by the shogunate. On December 14th, 1702, they attacked and killed Kira at his residence. Then they marched to Sengaku-ji to present Kira’s head to Asano’s grave and reported their accomplishment to their late lord.

The Gishi turned themselves in to the shogunate right away and were sentenced to seppuku the following year on February 4th.

The avenge of the Ako Gishi has been made into various plays and is now commonly called “Chu-shin-gura” (The Story of the Loyal Retainers). It is a popular tale and one that still touches the Japanese heart even after 300 years. The chivalry of the loyal retainers and the themes of “Gi” (justice) and “Chu” (loyalty) are still highly esteemed by the Japanese.

The 300 year-old graveyard of the 47 samurai:

Middle (or Second) Gate: The Middle Gate was reconstructed in the late Edo period under the 35th abbot in 1836.
Middle (or Second) Gate: The Middle Gate was reconstructed in the late Edo period under the 35th abbot in 1836.
The script above the gate "Banshouzan), written by a Chinese Monk, is Sengakuji's mountain name and means "mountain of many pines."
The script above the gate “Banshouzan), written by a Chinese Monk, is Sengakuji’s mountain name and means “mountain of many pines.”
Bronze statue of Oishi Kuranosuke: The leader of the Ako Gishi or 47 loyal retainers who led the attack on Kira's residence. The statue was built in 1921. He holds a roll listing the names of the loyal retainers.
Bronze statue of Oishi Kuranosuke: The leader of the Ako Gishi or 47 loyal retainers who led the attack on Kira’s residence. The statue was built in 1921. He holds a roll listing the names of the loyal retainers.

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Main (or Third) Gate: Rebuilt in1832 under the 34th abbot. On the upper floor there are 16 statues of "Arakan" or Buddhists saints. A bronze dragon can be seen on the ceiling of the ground floor.
Main (or Third) Gate: Rebuilt in1832 under the 34th abbot. On the upper floor there are 16 statues of “Arakan” or Buddhists saints. A bronze dragon can be seen on the ceiling of the ground floor.
Surrounding temple part.
Surrounding temple part.
Open area between the Main Gate and Main Hall of the temple.
Open area between the Main Gate and Main Hall of the temple.
Landscaping.
Landscaping.
Hondo (Main hall of the temple): The original building was destroyed in WWII. The present construction was built 8 years later.
Hondo (Main hall of the temple): The original building was destroyed in WWII. The present construction was built 8 years later.
People making their first visit of the year to the temple.
People making their first visit of the year to the temple.
Statue of the late Sawaki Kodo Roshi: Late Sawaki Kodo Roshi is one of the leading and most influential Zen masters of the 20th century. He dedicated his life to the propagation and revitalization of Zazen as an authentic and fundamental Buddhist practice.
Statue of the late Sawaki Kodo Roshi: Late Sawaki Kodo Roshi is one of the leading and most influential Zen masters of the 20th century. He dedicated his life to the propagation and revitalization of Zazen as an authentic and fundamental Buddhist practice.
Bonsho (bell): Constructed in 1913 under the 41st abbot. The bell sounds during morning Zazen and in the evening when the gate is closed.
Bonsho (bell): Constructed in 1913 under the 41st abbot. The bell sounds during morning Zazen and in the evening when the gate is closed.
Pathway up to the Samuari graves. In the distance you can see the Gate to Ako Gishi's Graves. The gate was originally at Asano's residence but was relocated to the present location during the Meiji era.
Pathway up to the Samurai graves. In the distance you can see the Gate to Ako Gishi’s Graves. The gate was originally at Asano’s residence but was relocated to the present location during the Meiji era.
Kuni-Arai Well: After the retainers accomplished their revenge by killing Kira, they marched to Sengakuji to report to their lords grave. When they arrived, they first washed Kira's decapitated head (kubi) at this well and then laid it in front of their lord's grave and announced their success.
Kubi-Arai Well: After the retainers accomplished their revenge by killing Kira, they marched to Sengakuji to report to their lords grave. When they arrived, they first washed Kira’s decapitated head (kubi) at this well and then laid it in front of their lord’s grave and announced their success.
Looking back at the pathway to the graves from the gate.
Looking back at the pathway to the graves from the gate.
Ako Gishi's Graves: The graveyard of the Ako Gishi. They were buried here after their seppuku on Feb. 4th, 1703. The gravesite is 300 years old!
Ako Gishi’s Graves: The graveyard of the Ako Gishi. They were buried here after their seppuku on Feb. 4th, 1703. The gravesite is 300 years old!
Map of the layout of the graves.
Map of the layout of the graves.

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The smell of these burning incense surround the temple.
The smell of these burning incense surround the temple.

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History of Segaku-ji:

Sengaku is a famous and popular Buddhist temple known throughout Japan. There are numerous Buddhist lineages and Sengakuji belongs to the “Soto” Zen school. Soto Zen has two large main temples. Zen Master Dogen introduced the Soto lineage to Japan and founded one of the main temples. Master Dogen’s main written work, “Shobogenzo,” expresses his understanding of Buddhist practice and doctrine.

Buddhist teachings inform that all of us can actually live
as Buddha by acting sincerely and being guided by all embracing wisdom and deep compassion. Master Dogen taught that Zazen (Buddhist meditation), when practiced beyond discriminating consciousness, is the very present realization of Buddha. He widely recommended Zazen and it was his firm belief and cherished wish that this practice could form the base of an authentic “Way” or means of salvation.

Sengakuji was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of Edo era, in 1612 near Edo castle as an establishment of Dogen’s tradition. However, after only 30 years, it was devastated by fire and this led to a reconstruction at the present site. Sengakuji is now regarded as a temple closely related to the Ako Gishi, but it was in fact one of the three principle temples of Edo (old Tokyo) and known in its own right as a prestigious Buddhist institution. Many dedicated monks gathered from all over Japan to deepen their practice and study. To this day this tradition continues. Numbers are considerably less, but young training monks still practice her whilst studying Buddhism at a university.

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Lindsay View All →

Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!

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