Sengakuji is one of Tokyo’s most important temples, but a visit there is about its cemetery. More precisely, it is about the graves of the men who had central roles in one of Japan’s most famous stories, 47 Ronin. Even though its events happened 300 years ago, it is one of the country’s most famous tales. Movies, books, TV dramas, and Kabuki plays have told it many times. I doubt a single Japanese person today hasn’t heard of it.
While the temple is a prestigious Buddhist institution, most people only give it a glance. They want 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 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 blossoms trees. For such a historical place, things don’t get much 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 old wooden statues of the men who participated in the attack. They are both 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.
It is incredible. All the people (except Kira) who took part 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 has not forgotten.
By the way, there are no problems with photography. You don’t need permission. No one will stop you or ask questions, provided you don’t annoy anyone. The only place cameras aren’t allowed is in the museums, which is a real pity because they have great exhibits.
There is a curator’s office. You can buy incense if you want to make an offering to the men. Postcards are also available. If you wish to know more about the story itself, you can follow this link to Wikipedia. It will give a background of the basics, at least.
Is the 47 ronin story true?
Yes, it is a historical story. But, some of the details of the 47 Ronin are unknown. We have to remember much was written long after the events. And we also need to realize that many tales were fictional. But, somehow, they have become accepted as the truth. Who were the good guys, and who were the bad? That is something we will probably never know. For some extra reading, you might want to read this article from KCP International Japanese Language School. It is interesting for students of Japanese history. You need to approach it with an open mind.
Where is Sengakuji?
The graves are at the temple of Sengakuji in Tokyo. There are two ways to get there:
- Take the Toei-Asakusa subway line to Sengakuji station. Leave via the A2 exit and look to the right. Up the hill and across the road will be the temple. It is a few minute’s walk, or;
- You can walk there from Takanawa Gateway Station, which is on Tokyo’s Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku lines. That takes about five minutes.
Here is a Google map:
- The cemetery is open from 7 am until 5 pm, but until 6 pm during the summer months.
- Both museums are open from 9 am to 4 pm and closed on February and August’s last Wednesdays.
- Entry to the graveyard is now ¥300 but you will also receive incense to place on the graves
- Entry to both museums costs 500 yen for adults.
Is Sengakuji temple large?
No, it’s not. It’s not anywhere close to the size of Sensoji or Meiji Shrine.
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 there is a lack of historical evidence to support this. If you go to the east side of Tokyo where he lived, you’ll find his reputation is quite good.
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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 the story. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.