Sengakuji Temple – resting place of the 47 ronin
Sengakuji Temple is known for its cemetery. It’s a special one. In it are the graves of the 47 Ronin. This group participated in one of Japan’s most famous yet tragic samurai stories. To say it has high cultural and historical significance would be an understatement. This is my photo guide.
It’s hard to believe the events of this story happened more than 300 years ago. Movies, books, TV dramas, and Kabuki plays have told it many times. I doubt a single person in Japan today hasn’t heard of it. If you haven’t, read about it on Wikipedia. That would be a good place to start.
Sengakuji Temple is a prestigious Buddhist institution. But most people come to see the cemetery. That’s where the men who exacted revenge on Yoshinaka Kira for the daimyo Naganori Asano are. Their leader Yoshio Ooishi, and his son Chikara, who participated in the raid, are there too.
To enter the temple grounds, you’ll pass through two gates. At the first one are some souvenir shops. Here it is nothing special. It is a small local place.
Pass the second gate is a courtyard with the temple’s main hall. It has benches if you need a rest. Workers from nearby companies often eat lunch there. It only gets noisy during festivals.
To enter the cemetery, you walk a short path. It is beautiful in spring with its plum and cherry blossom trees. For such a historical place, things don’t get better than this.
On either side of the path are museums. The more modern one displays implements, weapons, armor, etc., used during the raid. You can also see letters and scrolls connected with the story. In the other building are wooden statues of the men who participated in the attack. Both are worth visiting.
The cemetery of the ronin (masterless samurai), found on the left side of the complex, is small. I need to stress small because it is! And it is an austere place. There is nothing colorful or unnecessary about it. It is square-shaped, with the 47 Ronin’s graves arranged along the sides and in the middle. Asano’s grave is outside the square. Near him are the graves of some family members, including his wife and grandmother. Of course, Ooishi lies close to his master.
Sengakuji Temple is incredible. All the Ronin who participated in it are there. The story is still retold today. Every December 14, there is a parade, the Gishisai Festival. Reenactors dressed in the costumes of the 47 Ronin walk through the city to the temple. They relive their final march. Japan hasn’t forgotten.
There is a curator’s office. You can buy incense if you want to make an offering to the men. Postcards are also available.
Is the 47 Ronin story true?
Yes, it is a historical story. But some details are unknown. We have to remember:
- No one who wrote about it witnessed the events.
- Due to Shogunate policies, the story was censored.
That hasn’t mattered. Everything has become accepted as the truth.
Who were the good guys, and who were the bad? That is something we will probably never know. For extra reading, read this article from KCP International Japanese Language School. It is interesting for students of Japanese history. Approach it with an open mind.
Sengakuji Temple details
See this information about the temple’s opening hours and location on the official website.
Is the temple large?
No, it’s not. It’s much smaller than both Sensoji and Meiji Shrine.
Is photography allowed at Sengakuji Temple?
There are no problems with photography. No one will stop you or ask questions, provided you don’t annoy anyone. It’s only the museums where cameras aren’t allowed.
For similar photo spots to Sengakuji Temple, look at:
47 Ronin FAQ
- Was there a half-breed in the 47 Ronin? Not like in the movie.
- Is the 47 Ronin a true story? Yes, it is. But many of the facts aren’t exactly known.
- What is the meaning of 47 Ronin? Ronin means masterless samurai. So it means 47 masterless samurai.
- What happened at the end of the story? The government forced the men to commit seppuku (ritual suicide).
- Was Yoshinaka Kira a bad guy? So the story goes, but little historical evidence supports this. On Tokyo’s east side, where he lived, his reputation is good.
Sengakuji Temple and its cemetery are great for those interested in Japanese history. And you can get some great shots of the graves of the people who were directly involved in this famous samurai story. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.