Zojoji is beautiful. The temple is close to the heart of Tokyo in more ways than one. It is in the middle of the city and has influenced the city’s cultural and religious life for many years. When the city was called Edo, it was a vast complex. What remains today is smaller in size but is still an important place. A visit there can give you a little glimpse of what it might have been like in its heyday. It can also get you some great photographs!
Walking into the grounds through the main gate, Sangedatsu always gives me a thrill. In front of you will be the main hall of Zojoji with Tokyo Tower behind, towering over it. It is a picturesque scene. The two seem to be in a strange kind of partnership! It is difficult not to have the Tower in any photos taken from that area! Every time I go there, I take a shot or two of the famous pair.
By the way, Sangedatsu is one of the few original structures at Zojoji. It is huge and painted red. Passing through it is supposed to rid you of greed, hatred, and foolishness. It is a very imposing structure.
There is another gate, named Great Gate (or “Daimon”) in Japanese. It is about five hundred meters away from the entrance. Even though this one is a concrete reconstruction, it is popular for photos. Why? Because Tokyo Tower is visible in the background here too! It is a little special as further down the road is Daiichi-Keihin. Daiichi-Keihin is a road that follows the approximate route of the historical “Tokaido.” That was the main highway between Kyoto and Edo.
On the grounds, under the main hall, is a gallery. It houses a beautiful 1/10 scale model of the Taitokuin mausoleum that once existed on the grounds. The mausoleum housed the remains of the Shogun Hidetada Tokugawa. Unfortunately, the bombings of World War Two destroyed it in 1945. The miniature replica you’ll see is incredibly detailed. Some fantastic wall hangings surround it.
The temple even has two unique trees. Ulysses S. Grant (the 18th American president) planted one, and George H. W. Bush did the other. Near the trees is a memorial to the people who lost their lives in the Hotel New Japan fire in 1982.
What is to photograph at Zojoji?
- Cherry blossoms (2022 photos here)
- Rows of jizo statues (guardians of children, travelers, and firefighters);
- temple architecture
- Kumano Shrine with its famous crow
- Daibonsho bell
- smaller halls
- Tokyo Tower
- Tokugawa graveyard. You can see the graves of six of Japan’s fifteen shoguns, along with some of their wives and concubines. The tombs are magnificent.
Notes on the Zojoji and Tokyo Tower view
The Zojoji-Tokyo Tower pairing is a classic Tokyo photograph. Thousands of people, including myself, have taken it many times. Unfortunately, a new building is now visible on the right side of the frame.
Some, including myself, consider the new structure a blemish on what was once a great photo. So what you can do, is try to hide it (to some extent). On the left side of the temple is a courtyard. The new building will be mostly hidden if you take your pictures there.
Events at the temple recommended for photographers
- New Year’s Day (Hatsumode) – January 1
- Setsubun (Bean Throwing Festival) – February 3
- Tanabata (the Star Festival) – July 7
Before going, please check the details on the website. Sometimes events might have last-minute changes or might even be canceled.
Where is Zojoji?
The closest JR station is Hamamatsucho, about a ten-minute walk away. Please look at the map for other options:
You can enter the temple from 6 am to 5:30 pm, but the grounds are open 24 hours a day.
Zojoji Treasures Gallery is open from 10 am to 4 pm and is closed on Tuesdays.
The Mausoleum is open on public holidays and weekends.
Other photo spots in the area
- Atago Shrine
- Shiba Park (2022 plum blossom pics here)
Entry to the grounds is free, but the mausoleum costs ￥500, as does the gallery. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a discount for buying both tickets.
For anyone wanting to photograph one of Tokyo’s most famous temples, Zojoji might be the place to go. It is big, beautiful and has many things to keep anyone with a camera happy. And you have Tokyo Tower in the background. While that view might not be what it once was, it still looks pretty good.