Heritage of Cebu Monument (Cebu City, Cebu)

Heritage of Cebu Monument

The Heritage of Cebu Monument, a visually and contextually interesting tableau of concrete, bronze, brass and steel sculptures in the historic Parian District, shows scenes of significant and symbolic events in the history of Cebu back from the time of Rajah Humabon to the recent beatification of the Cebuano martyr, Pedro Calungsod.

Battle of Mactan

It was built on the site of the St. John the Baptist Church which was demolished in 1875 by the diocese of Cebu.  This work of art stands on a traffic circle, with narrow streets flanking the sides. Across the street is the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House.

Check out “Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House

Galleon Trade

The late, multi-awarded Cebuano sculptor Eduardo Castrillo designed and conceptualized the monument and, with the late Senator Marcelo Fernan, together with donations from other private individuals and organizations, funded the construction of the monument.

Plaque

Construction began in July 1997 and, after three years, the monument was inaugurated on December 8, 2000.

Magellan’s Cross

The structures carved into the huge monolith are the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, the St. John the Baptist Church, the Magellan’s Cross, and a Spanish Galleon while scenes depicted are the baptism of Rajah Humabon and his followers to Christianity, the local revolution against the Spanish rule, a procession of the Santo Niño, a Roman Catholic mass, and the April 21, 1521 Battle of Mactan between Lapu-Lapu and Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. The persons depicted in the monument include the late president Sergio Osmena Sr. and St. Pedro Calungsod.

Spanish Galleon

Heritage of Cebu Monument: Sikatuna St., Plaza Parian, Cebu City, Cebu.

How to Get There: Jeepneys along Colon Street, with the signboard showing “SM” and “Pier,” pass by the monument. You may also take a taxicab as most drivers are familiar with the place. From Ayala Center or SM, it is a 15-20 min. taxi ride.

The Jesuit House (Cebu City, Cebu)

The author at The Jesuit House

The grand opening of One Central Hotel & Suites had just ended and, as we still had a little over an hour to make it to the Jesuit House (claimed to be the oldest dated house in the Philippines), Rona, Rhea and I took a taxi to quickly get there. However, the driver only spoke Cebuano, which none of us spoke, and, coupled with that, didn’t know the destination.  But, thanks to Waze, we were able to make our way there.

Check out “Hotel and Inn Review: One Central Hotel & Suites

The entrance to the Jesuit House (also called Museo de Parian sa Sugbo) was through the main gate of Ho Tong Hardware along Zulueta Street. A streamer, with the words “Welcome To The Jesuit House of 1730,” hangs on the hardware gate. Most people, including us, would probably  have just passed by the area, ignorant of the historical treasure inside as a towering fence, built to protect it from theft (it still is a warehouse for the present owner’s business),  hides the house from street view.

At the office, we paid the admission fee and waited, at the adjoining coffee shop, for museum curator Christian Joseph Bonpua who was to guide us through the museum. The knowledgeable and versatile Christian was well versed in the history of the Jesuits in relation to the Philippines (considering he was a graduate of the Dominican-run University of Sto. Tomas), sharing a lot of historical and current facts. 

Museum curator Christian Joseph Bonpua

He  presented a birds eye view of the history of the Jesuit house during the Spanish and American periods of history via a video presentation.  The Jesuit House is actually two houses connected by a bridge.

“Ano de 1730” plaque atop the entrance (photo: Ms. Rhea Vitto-Tabora)

During our guided tour, Christian pointed to a low relief plaque, bearing the date “Año 1730,” on the inside wall above the main house’s entrance door, an artifact in itself. However, the house’s history remains murky, even contentious.  Some historians argue over the exact year of the house’s construction, some saying that the date on the relief plaque was not 1730 but 1750, pointing out that the third number from the left resembled “5” more than “3.” One piece of evidence hints that the house was built even earlier.

Airconditioned ground floor gallery

In his book Pictorial Records and Traces of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines and Guam prior to 1768, published in 1936, Fr. William Repetti, S.J. (1884-1966), a seismologist (he was Chief of the Section of Seismology and Terrestrial Magnetism of the Manila Observatory, 1920 to 1936) and archivist of the Jesuits, noted the existence of this house, identifying this old structure as the “Jesuit House of 1730.”

It is also widely believed that a tower once stood beside the house. An old, badly damaged painting of the house showed that it was attached to what is believed to be a watchtower for spotting seafaring raiders. In his book, Fr. Repetti also included a reproduction of this old painting of the house. Today, pictures of Fr. Repetti’s visit as well as a framed drawing of that painting hangs on the Jesuit house wall.

However, recent restoration works proved that the house could even be older than 1730. A coin, found buried in one post of the original house, was dated to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).  Broken ceramics, also pointing to the Ming Dynasty, were also dug out.

Display of pottery shards

It gives the idea that the house may have gone through a number of transformations and that its first owner may  have been Chinese (the Chinese were among the early settlers in the area). In her book Life in Old Parian, memoirist Concepcion G. Briones happily noted that the house has now come full circle – somehow it is back to Old Parian hands (as the current owner is Filipino-Chinese).

Japanese porcelain shards

Chinese influence in the house construction can be seen in rafters that feature a design resembling a pagoda plus the intricate carvings on the trusses also show that Chinese artisans may have worked on it.  Sy believes the Jesuit house is even older than the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House because its second level, like the ground floor, is still made of cut coral stones, indicating it was built before a Spanish decree disallowed this practice.

Statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola

The decree, indicating that the second level of all houses should be made of wood, was made to prevent the loss of life after a number of houses using coral stone on both floors were destroyed and many lives were lost during a strong earthquake.

Check out “Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House

The remarkably preserved house, sitting on around 2,000 sq. m. of land, served as the residence of the second highest official of the Jesuit society in the Philippines.  Other priests of the order or deacons going to or coming from other provinces for missions were also received here. Historians say that the Jesuits were indeed in possession of the house until 1768 when, following their suppression in Europe, they were expelled from the Philippines. The Jesuits are credited to have introduced masonry construction to the Philippines.

Old movie projector

In 1910, after having been built and occupied by the Jesuits, this huge stone-and-tile mansion bordered by two streets on a lot in old Panting, adjacent to Parian, was bought by Don Luis Alvarez y Diaz, the Alvarez family patriarch.  The Alvarez family, originally from Asturias (Spain), settled in Cebu via Lawis, Leyte.

Scaled model of a Chinese junk

Who Don Luis brought it from is still mystery but, based on a lead provided by Edwina Link-Harris (Don Luis’ granddaughter), it is surmised that it may have been from Don Cristobal Garcia, a Spaniard and a Tabacalera agent of the then municipality of Cebu who returned to Spain. At one point in time, Don Jose Alvarez leased the house to Gov. Sergio Osmeña who used it as a meeting place for Cebu’s elite. The Alvarez family are the current owners of Montebello Villa Hotel.

Diorama of the the old Parian area, showing the now non-existent Church of St. John the Baptist, the Jesuit House and other landmarks.

During World War II, the house was also used by the American forces.  In the 1960s, the house was leased to Peping “Jap” Rodriguez, an Alvarez kinsman, for use as a club. Within the decade it again changed hands, this time going to the Sy family. Jaime “Jimmy” Sy, the current owner, inherited the property from his father.  Jimmy, who operates Ho Tong Hardware, is married to the former Margie Vaño of the Old Guard, related to the Sanson-Velosos, the Coromina-Fortiches, and the Escaños.

Stairs to second floor

Dr. Michael Cullinane (associate director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies), an American historian on the Philippines, has a different version of the house’s history. Unearthing the earliest record on the house, he revealed that it once belonged to the pious Villa family of the Chinese mestizo principalia (local aristocracy). Around 1880, the Villas gave the house to the Jesuits on certain conditions, including one on the dedication of specific prayers for living and dead members of the family.

Azotea

Jimmy questioned this claim, saying that, even before 1880, the house was already in the possession of the Jesuits as indicated on the Jesuit seals, carved in two separate places in the house, which are definitely in the 18th-century style, as well as the legend “1730,” which is definitely in 18th-century calligraphy. Fr. Rene Javellana, SJ, a Jesuit art historian and professor based at the Ateneo de Manila, supports Jimmy on his contention as the Jesuit presence in Cebu was not reestablished until the erection of Our Lady Queen of China, Sacred Heart Parish in 1952, debunking the 1880 deed.

The two-storey house, along the defunct main entrance on narrow Binakayan Street, has cut coral stone walls with original molave (tugas) hardwood floors of alternating planks of dark and light shades, carved decorative corbels that support the ceiling, stout posts made from the trunks of trees, and a terracotta clay tile roof (a double row of tiles, with each row with a tile atop the other, facing down and cupped by a single tile facing up in the kulob-hayang pattern).

Antique sala set and television

The ground-level interior space (zaguan) has terracotta flooring.  It has 3 m. high ceilings and big door and window openings. Its second floor is connected, by a covered wooden walkway, to a smaller house.  The smaller house is the building we entered. A bipartite building, the smaller house’s lower storey is of coralline limestone while the upper portion is wood, typical of Fil-Hispano colonial houses.

Antique cash register

Antique typewriter, cameras and telephones

According to a 1989 essay written by Fr.  Javellana, the smaller house is believed to have served as an azotea or recreation area.  Another possible explanation, according to Sy, for why this structure was built separately but close to the main house and connected to it at the second level through a wooden bridge, is that it could have functioned as a kitchen situated outside of the house in case of fire.

Jukebox

This house annex, though still retaining its original wood reliefs, the corbels that support the ceiling, the huge, uncut tugas posts and big planks of tugas floorboards lined side by side, already has a galvanized iron roof and renovated modern walls. The presence of disjointed smaller corbels indicates that the ceiling was much higher today than when it was first built.

Tugas (molave) post and coralstone wall at second floor

The original wooden staircase leading up to the livable space on the second floor, described by Fr. Repetti as having a newel post and decorated with intricate carvings or motifs (similar to the monastery of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño), is also gone. It is said that, when they left, the Alvarez family brought the banister and post with them and used these in a house they had built in Bohol.

A towering concrete fence, resting on the original fence of coral stone (said to be older than the house), hides the house from street view. The original entrance to the property, through a narrow road called Binakayan near Colon, has been closed off to protect, on the gate’s lintel, the monograms of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Though the Sys do not live in the house anymore, they turned the house into a semi-public museum in 2008, making it as a repository of antique furniture and other items (including a jukebox, old GE electric fan and an antique payphone) they’ve collected over the years, thus preserving it as a testament to Cebu’s rich cultural heritage.

Kitchen

In addition to the antiques collected by the Sy family, the museum also features a diorama showing the house during the Spanish era as well as the old furniture owned by the previous owners and items (Ming Dynasty coins, pottery shards, animal bones, etc.) that were unearthed at the location and displayed at the airconditioned ground floor gallery.

Cross at fence

Typical of its time, everything about the house was generous, almost grand and made to last generations. Even with the clutter of warehouse items, the innate importance of the Jesuit House was immediately apparent to us visitors.

Bas relief at the coralstone fence

The Jesuit House: Hotong Hardware, 26 Zulueta St., Brgy. Parian, Cebu City, 6000 Cebu. Tel: (032) 255 5408.  Admission: PhP50/pax (PhP15 for students). Open daily, 8 AM – 12 noon and 1 – 5 PM.  The museum is one of the stops of the annual Gabii sa Kabilin where locals and visitors alike can take a tour of the rich heritage of Cebu City.

How to Get There: The Jesuit House, across the Heritage of Cebu Monument built right on the old Parian plaza, is a few steps away from the obelisk that marks the start of Colon Street at its northern end. Taxi drivers may not be familiar with the Jesuit house so just say you want to go to the Parian Fire Station, which is 10-15 mins. away from Fuente Osmena.  From Ayala Center, take a 13C jeepney and drop off at the Heritage of Cebu Monument. From Colon, take the 01K jeepney and also drop off the monument. 

Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House (Cebu City, Cebu)

Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House

After breakfast at One Central Hotel, we still had time to kill before the 1 PM grand opening of the hotel, so I, together with lady media colleagues Maria Rona Beltran, Rhea G. Vitto-Tabora and Javelyn J. Ramos, decided to do some museum sightseeing.  Outside the hotel, we hailed a jeepney that took us to the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House, part of the Casa Gorordo Museum Complex.

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After paying the PhP50 admission fee to a lady receptionist clad in old Filipiniana dress and logging our names in the visitors’ logbook, we were toured around the house by a well-versed guide.

L-R: Ms. Maria Rona Beltran, Ms. Rhea G. Vitto-Tabora, Ms. Javelyn J. Ramos and the author

The Spanish-Colonial era Yap-San Diego Ancestral House, in Cebu City’s Parian District (founded in 1590 after the arrival of Chinese traders), is said to be the first Chinese house built outside of China.

Listening to our guide explaining the history of the house

Often referred to by the locals as the Balay nga Bato ug Kahoy (“House of Wood and Stones”), this ancestral house was built, sometime between 1675 and 1700, and is considered as one of the oldest existing residential structures in the country and a proof that the Parian district in Cebu City was a bustling barangay where houses are often designed with a second storey.

The house was originally owned by Don Juan Yap, a Chinese merchant, together with his wife, Doña Maria Florido.  They had three children, namely: Maria, Eleuterio and Consolacion.

Portrait of house owners Val and Ofelia Sandiego

In the 1880’s, their eldest daughter, Maria Florido Yap, married Don Mariano Avendano San Diego from Obando, Bulacan, who was, at that time, the Parian’s cabeza de barangay (district head). Since then, the structure had become a busy center of activity in Parian.

In 2008, the house was handed down to the aforementioned Val Mancao San Diego, Doña Maria’s 10th generation great great grandson, and his wife Ofelia Zozobrado-San Diego.

An art collector, one of Cebu’s famous choreographers and a heritage icon, Val believe that this ancestral house was part of Cebu’s history and heritage so he carefully restored his ancestor’s home and turned it into a private museum.

Fine china

And though there have been offers to buy the house from him, he still continues to ignore such proposals and vows never to sell this historical house in his lifetime, no matter what the offer is.

Religious statuary

Though Val and his family don’t live in this house, every so often, during weekends, they still come over to stay at the house. This ancestral house was been featured in the book Chinese Houses of Southeast Asia of noted Chinese cultural historian Ronald G. Knapp (2010, Tuttle Publishing)

An antique harp

This 2-storey house, its design combining Spanish and Chinese architectural influences, has a ground floor built with coral stone, glued with egg whites, and a second floor built with tugas (molave) and balayong wood. The curving roof was made of tisa (red terra cotta clay tiles) from China, each piece weighing 1 kilogram.

Four-poster beds

Outside is a beautiful garden (a boat from the 1800s is currently being used as a flower bed) and a still functional old well (its water is only used for the plants).

The beautiful garden

The ground floor was unpaved (since it was only used as a warehouse or kamalig) but, before we ascended the second floor’s creaking staircase, we had to wear shoe cover booties to protect the hardwood floor upstairs from scratches.

Stairway

The house was filled with well-crafted life-sized statues, religious icons and images of santos, especially of the Sto. Niño (including one sitting on a rocking chair) and angels, in every size and material imaginable (the family was known to be deeply religious).

Dining Area

There’s also an impressive array of new contemporary and ancient artworks; priceless, century-old antique pieces; a wooden harp; fine china and cutlery; antique décor; clay jars for storing water and Cebuano-made native period furniture made of balayong, tugas and narra.

Most the old items which were preserved here came from Carcar, Cebu. The front door has a knocker that came from a Chinese temple.

The bedroom had a four-poster bed and a wooden baby crib. Also at the second floor is a banggerahan with its rack for drinking glasses and cups. Having survived natural calamities and earthquakes, the house has retained over 90% of the original structure.

Yap Sandiego Ancestral House: 155-Lopez Jaena corner Mabini St., 6000 Parian District, Cebu City, Cebu. Open daily, 9 AM – 7 PM. Admission: PhP50 per person.  Tel: (032) 514-3002, 514-3003 or 253-5568. Facebook: www.facebook.com/Yap-Sandiego-Ancestral-House-214835631903226/

How to Get There: From Marina Mall, ride a multicab or jeepney that carries a ‘highway’ signage and tell the driver to drop you off at Maguikay. From there, ride any Mandaue jeepney (with a “Catedral” or “Colon” signage) that will take you to Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral or Colon Street. Upon reaching these landmarks, The Yap-San Diego Ancestral House is just a walk away. At SM Cebu or near Radisson Blu Hotel, you can ride a jeep with 01K code. Go down at Shamrock and take a short walk to the right where you’ll find the Parian Plaza and its Heritage of Cebu Monument. The house is just a few steps away from it.

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10,000 Roses Café (Cordova, Cebu)

10,000 Roses Cafe

Part of One Central Hotel & Suites-sponsored tour of Cebu City

The 10,000 Roses Café, opened last February 6, 2017, is one of Cebu’s newest craze.  It has a stunning garden in the open area of the facility that are “planted” with 10,000 artificial white roses that are filled with LED lights, the first in the Philippines.

About 3 feet tall, these roses dance with the sea breeze during day time.   Around 6 PM every night, they are lit and transformed into magical lights that glow at night. That’s why it’s best to go there before sunset until closing time.  Because of its unique theme, it instantly became a hit and is, undeniably, the most popular and most sought-after café.

Cordova Tourism Center

Lantaw Floating Restaurant

Located at the end of Cordova Tourism Center, just next to Lantaw Floating Restaurant, many visitors frequent the place to have their pictures taken in a different kind of setting.  It is owned by interior designer Miguel Cho who was inspired by the more than 25,000 LED Roses of the famous Dongdaemum Design Plaza in Seoul, South Korea.

View of the 10,000 Roses from the Cafe Viewdeck

A perfect spot for photographers, the café, situated on a reclaimed wharf property, has a viewing deck, surrounded by glass walls, that offers an amazing view of Mactan Island, the skyline of Cebu City, the neighboring cities and municipalities, the island’s mountain range, the sea and, of course, the roses.

10,000 Roses Cafe

The coffee shop and restaurant serves drinks, pasta, panini, sandwiches, potato fries, nachos with salsa, cheese plate, fruits plate, salad and varieties of coffee, teas and beer.  The ground floor has a modest indoor dining area, with modern and stylish seating, which can accommodate 20 to 25 customers.  The alfresco dining area can accommodate additional 40 to 60 customers.

Indoor Dining Area

Al fresco dining area

The 10,000 Roses Café: Brgy. Day-as, Cordova, Cebu.  Tel: (032) 496 7023. Open daily, 10:30AM to 11PM. Admission: P20/person.

One Central Hotel & Suites: Cor. Sanciangko and Leon Kilat St., Cebu City 6000, Cebu.  Tel: (+6332) 888-8000, 888-8111 and 888-8168.  E-mail: info@onecentralhotel.com. Website: www.onecentralhotel.com.

Asakusa Shrine (Tokyo, Japan)

Torii (Japanese gate) leading to Akasusa Shrine

The Asakusa Shrine (浅草神社 Asakusa-jinja), one of the most famous Shinto shrines in the city, is also known as Sansha-sama (Shrine of the Three gods, san means “three” and sama means “shrine”). The shrine. popular among the public, stands only a few dozen meters to the left of the main hall on the east side of Sensō-ji Temple, down a street marked by a large stone torii.

Akasusa Shrine

Part of a larger grouping of sacred buildings in the area, the shrine honors the three men who founded the Sensō-ji. According to legend, on May 17, 628, two fishermen brothers, named Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari, picked up a bosatsu Kannon statuette of Sensoji Temple caught in a fishing-net in the Sumida River.  Hajino Nakatomo, the third man, was a wealthy landlord who, upon hearing about the discovery, approached the brothers.

Shrine Pavilion

He delivered an impassioned sermon about the Buddha to the brothers who were very impressed and subsequently converted to the Buddhist religion and devoted their lives to preaching the way of Buddhism. Nakatomo consecrated the Kannon statue in a small temple. These three men are worshiped here as Sanja Gongen.

The shrine, commissioned by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, was built in 1649 during the Edo Period.  It was integrated with Sensoji Temple until the Edo period.  However, when the Gods and Buddha separation ordinance was promulgated in the Meiji period, it was separated from Sensoji and renamed Asakusa Shrine. Its beautiful, vermillon-lacquered shrine pavilion was built in the same style as the Nikko Toshogu, in the gongen-zukuri style of Shinto architecture.

Statue of Lion-Dog (Kumainu)

Unlike many other structures in the area, including the Sensō-ji Temple, the shrine, along with the Nitenmon Gate, where the only two buildings in the area to survived the  World War II Tokyo air raids of 1945.  In 1951, because of this rich and long history, both were designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese Government.

Nitenmon Gate

The Niten-mon Gate, located to the east of the main hall and to the right of Asakusa Shrine, was erected in 1618 (the current gate was said to have been rebuilt in 1649) as a shrine gate, with statues of Toyoiwamado no Mikoto and Kushiiwamado no Mikoto placed on either side.

Ablution Fountain

The gate was left standing after the deity enshrined in Toshogu was moved to Koyozan, inside of Edo Castle. After the separation of the Buddhist and Shinto religions during the Meiji Restoration, Shinto deities were removed to Asakusa Shrine. In their place, a statue of Tatenmon was enshrined, but this has subsequently been lost. This massive, 8.13 m. wide (at the beam) structure has 8 pillars and was built in the mitsumune zukuri style with a tiled roof in built in the kiritzuma zukuri style.

Prayer Wall

The shrine‘s annual,  popular Sanja Matsuri festival, one of the Three Great Festivals of Edo (the old name of Tokyo), is held in late spring for 3 days (Friday to Sunday) every third weekend of May. which takes place over 3–4 days .  During the festival, the surrounding streets are closed to traffic, from dawn until late evening.  Well known for the “soul swing,” the festival vividly demonstrates the traditional Edo style, depicted in the old saying “fights and fireworks are Edo’s flowers.” During the festival, portable shrines called mikoshi are wildly swung around in a wild parade, reaching a climax when three mikoshi called ichi-no-miya, ni-no-miya and san-no-miya leave and return to Asakusa Shrine.  The procession includes 120 mikoshi from a total of 44 parishioner associations affiliated with Asakusa Shrine, making it Tokyo’s most spectacular festival.

A mikoshi (portable shrine) on display at Asakusa Station

Asakusa Shrine: 2-26-1, AsakusaTaitō-ku, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan. Tel: 03-3844-1575.  Website: www.asakusajinja.jp/english/

How to Get There:  The shrine is a 7-min. walk from Asakusa Station (Toei Asakusa Line, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Tobu Isesaki Line, Tsukuba Express.

Sensō-ji Temple (Tokyo, Japan)

Senso-ji Temple

It was our last day in Tokyo but we still had time for sightseeing before departing on our evening flight back to Manila, so we visited the Sensō-ji (金龍山浅草寺 Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji) Kannon temple, an ancient Buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu (the Bodhisattva of compassion who is believed to take away the people’s suffering and make their wishes come true).

Jinrikisha (Ricksaw)

“Senso” is an alternative reading for Asakusa and “ji” means temple. Asakusa (浅草) is the center of Tokyo‘s shitamachi (literally “low city”), one of Tokyo’s districts.  Here, an atmosphere of the Tokyo of past decades is said to survive. From our hotel, we walked to the nearby Akasaka-Mitsuke Station and took the train to Asakusa Station. The trip took all of 30 mins.

Strolling into Asakusa

Outside Asakusa Station was a number of jinrikisha (literally “man powered vehicle”). A 30-min. tour, for two persons, on board these rickshaws costs around JP¥9000.  The temple was a short 10-min. walk from the station.  Surprisingly, even for a Monday, there were lots of people on the street.  Adjacent to the temple is a five-story pagoda, a Shinto shrine, the Asakusa Shrine, as well as many shops with traditional goods in the Nakamise-dōri. Some visitors buy the charms sold at the temple.

Check out “Asakusa Shrine

The author at the temple grounds

The temple’s official name is Kinryuzan (Mountain of Golden Dragon), but it is also known as Asakusa Kannon and the residential building is called Denpo-in.  During the 10 March air raid on Tokyo in World War II, the temple was bombed and destroyed but was rebuilt later.  Today, it is a symbol of rebirth and peace to the Japanese people. In the courtyard there is a tree that is a similar symbol to the temple itself.  During the air raid, it was hit by a bomb but has regrown in the husk of the old tree.

Residents in traditional kimonos

Here are some interesting trivia regarding this temple:

  • Founded in 645 AD, it is Tokyo’s oldest temple and one of its most significant. In the early years of the Tokugawa shogunateTokugawa Ieyasu designated Sensō-ji as tutelary temple of the Tokugawa clan.
  • According to legend, two fishermen, the brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari, found a statue of the bodhisattvaKannon (Avalokiteśvara) in the Sumida River (Miyato River) in 628. Hajino Nakamoto, the chief of their village in Asakusa, recognized the sanctity of the statue.  To enshrine it, he remodeled his own house into a small temple so that the villagers could worship Kannon.
  • Formerly associated with Hiezan Enryakuji, the head temple of the the Tendaisect of Buddhism, it became independent as the head temple of the Seikannon sect after World War II.
  • With over 30 million visitors annually, Sensoji is the second most widely visited spiritual site in the world after the Vatican.
  • In the New Year, it ranks among the top 10 temples in Japan for the number of visitors.

Kaminarimon Gate

Dominating the entrance to the temple is the vermillon Kaminarimon (“Thunder Gate.”)  In 942, it was built as the main gate of Sensoji Temple by Kimimasa Taira in Komagata, rebuilt in 1635 but burned down in 1639. In 1649, Iemitsu Tokugawa donated the main hall, Niomon Gate (Hozomon), the five-story pagoda, and Kaminarimon Gate. Over the years, Kaminarimon Gate was destroyed by fire several times, the last time in 1866.

Nakamise-Dori heading towards Kaminarimon Gate

The existing gate dates from 1960. Konosuke Matsushita, a founder of Panasonic Corporation, contributed to its reconstruction.  An imposing Buddhist structure, its official name is Fujin- Raijin Gate.  It features a chochin, a massive paper lantern dramatically painted in vivid red-and-black tones, suggesting thunderclouds and lightning. When facing front, on the left is the statue of Rajin-sama, the god of thunder and lightning, while on the right is the statue of Fujin-sama, the god of wind. Facing the rear, on the left is the statue of Tenryu while on the right is the statue of Kinryu, both dragon gods in human form.

Hozomon Gate

Beyond the Kaminarimon is Nakamise-dori, with its shops, followed by the two-storied, dynamic Hōzōmon  which is bigger than Kaminarimon Gate and provides the entrance to the inner complex. The Hozomon, called Niomon Gate since the olden days, was destroyed by fire in 1631, rebuilt by Iemitsu Tokugawa in 1636 but burned down in the massive air raids of 1945.  In 1964, it was rebuilt with a donation from the late Eitaro Otani, third chairman of the Asakusa Tourist Federation.

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Cochin of Hozomon Gate

It houses a pair of Ni-Ou figures in front, both guardian deities. It is said that the models for these fierce looking deities where 1960’s sumo wrestlers Kitanoumi (on the left) and Myobudani Kiyoshi (on the right).

Ni-Ou

The chicken wire keeps people from touching the statues.  The gate’s upper storey houses the temple’s Buddhist sutras that include Hokke-kyo (Lotus Sutra), which is designated as a National Treasure, and the Issai-kyo, a complete collection of Buddhist scriptures that is an Important Cultural Property. This is why the gate is called Hozomon Gate (“Treasure House Gate”).

O-Waraji (Straw Slipper)

At the back of the gate is a huge, 4.5 m. high pair of o-waraji (traditional straw slippers) weighing 2,500 kgs. Symbolic of the power of Ni-Ou, they are charms against evil. Before visiting the Main Hall, cleanse your hands and mouth at the ablution fountain of the Omizuya (generally called as Chozusha). It has a bronze statue of Sakara, the King of Water, designed by Kotaro Takamura.

Ozimuya

Within the precincts are a stately, eye-catching five-storey pagoda (Gojunoto) built, together with a lecture hall, in the new toinzukuri style in 1973; and the main hall (Hondo, also called Kannondo), devoted to Kannon Bosatsu.

Five-Storey Pagoda

The 53.32 m. tall pagoda is the second highest in Japan after the 56-m. high pagoda of Toji Temple in Kyoto. The original pagoda, built in 1648 on a different site, was destroyed by an air raid in 1945. The top of the pagoda houses Buddha’s ashes ceremonially transferred from a temple in Sri Lanka. You can’t go inside the pagoda as it is a graveyard that contains memorial tablets of thousands of families and individuals.

Main Hall (Hondo)

The impressive Main Hall, with its high-pitched roof, enshrines a principal image of Buddha, known as Kannon Bosatsu (Kannon Bodhisattva). Built in 1644, it was destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt with the same design as the old one in 1958.

Jokoro, the main incense censer, is a large bronze vessel filled with sand and ash. Bundles of incense sticks, about 2 cm in diameter and 15 cm long, are lit here. Pilgrims stop here to wave the cleansing smoke, “the breath of the gods,” over their face and body.

Giant vase with a gold Buddhist manji cross.  It is the reverse of the right-facing German swastika.

On the west side of the Main Hall is Yogodo Hall where Buddhist divinities who support Kannon Busatsu are enshrined.  At the left side of the hall is a hexagonal building (Rokkakudo), the oldest wooden structure (it was built in the 16th century).

Yogodo Hall

The Yogodo’s quiet contemplative garden, kept in the distinctive Japanese style, features an old stone bridge, the oldest in Tokyo (it was built for the Asakusa Toshogu Shrine in 1618), that spans a small pond stocked with colorful koi and fed by a rushing stream.

Stone bridge (the oldest in Tokyo) over a koi-filled pond

At many places on its approach and within the temple itself are o-mikuji stalls where, for a suggested donation of JP¥100, visitors may consult the oracle and divine answers to their questions.

Maigo-shirase Sekihyo (Mark Stone for Lost Child). Carved with “Namu Daijihi Kanzeon-bosatsu Mayoiko-no Shirube,” it had been used for exchanging information about lost children in the Edo period.

Querents shake labelled sticks, from enclosed metal containers, and read the corresponding answers they retrieve from one of 100 possible drawers.

An 8 m. high, bronze Hokyoin-to, a tiered tower or pagoda, was cast by Fijiwara Masatoki in 1761. The largest one left in Tokyo, it was damaged during an earthquake in 1855 but was restored in 1907 to commemorate Japan’s victory in the Russian – Japanese War.

Saibutsu Itabi, raised from the late Kamakura period to the early Muromachi period, measures 217.9 cm. high and 46 cm. wide. It is the largest Aoishi Toba (blue stupa) in Tokyo.

Statue of Amitabha Tathagata

The Tori No Ichi Fair, held for over 300 years in front of Sensoji on the days of the rooster in November (according to the Chinese zodiac calendar), is an interesting special event held to sell kumade bamboo rakes which are supposed to be lucky for business.

Seated bronze statue of Kannon Bodhisattva, attendant of Amida Buddha, sitting on lotus pedestal.

The Clock of Peace, a gift of the Lions Club International, originally had a square Seiko clock mounted on the pagoda but has been replaced by an ordinary National Panasonic clock.

Attracting a large number of local small business owners, when a rake is sold, the buyer and seller perform a tejime (a ritual hand clapping ceremony) together.

Hato Poppo Song Monument. Hato Poppo, is a children’s song written by Rentaro Taki and Kume Higashi. Kume came up with the lyrics for the song as she observed children play with pigeons on the grounds of Sensoji Temple. In 1962, a monument was raised at Sensoji in honor of this famous Japanese nursery song. The monument is inscribed with the words and the score for the song, with lifelike bronze pigeons resting on top.

Sensō-ji Temple: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tokyo, Japan. Open daily, 6 AM to 5 PM (6:30 PM, October to March).  Admission is free.

How to Get There: The temple is a 10-min. walk from Asakusa Station which is served by the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toei Asakusa Line and Tobu railway lines. It is also a 10-min. walk from Tawaramachi Station on the Ginza Line.

Samurai Museum (Tokyo, Japan)

Samurai Museum. L-R: Bryan, Cheska, Kyle, the author, Grace and Jandy

The Samurai Museum (侍ミュージアム), an urban entertainment museum centrally located in the Kabukicho district of Tokyo’s Shinjuku (an area known more for its nightly entertainment than cultural facilities) ward, displays, under dramatic lighting, more than 70 examples of samurai armor, kabuto helmets and weapons gathered from Japanese and foreign collections.

A row of yoroi sets of armor

The rooms here are as Japanese as the museum creators can make it, with tatami mats, paper screens, very atmospheric lighting, Japanese music, etc..

The author beside a set of armor

The museum has two areas.  At the ground floor is the gift shop, the reception desk and an array of very beautifully arranged rows of yoroi sets of armor, mostly from the Muromachi (1336-1573) and Edo (1600-1868) periods.

Armor Sewn with Dark Blue Thread with 2-Piece Cuirass (Edo Period)

Facing them is a traditional painting depicting the Battle of Sekigahara. As soon as we entered the museum, we were transported into the world of Japan’s samurai culture.

Armor Sewn with Navy-Blue Thread (End of Muromachi Period)

At the first floor (or “second floor” in Japanese) are six smaller areas specializing in the Kamakura period.

Brown-Lacquered Armor (Beginning of Edo Period)

On display are swords and other bladed weapons, kabuto helmets, yoroi armor, matchlock guns and the passage to the modern era.

Brown-Lacquered Armor (Beginning of Edo Period)

The enthusiastic English-speaking guide first demonstrated a number of samurai sword moves and, for good measure, lets out a blood-curdling scream. The detailed explanation included information on the weapons on display.

Chiossone (Samurai helmet)

The actual number of exhibits wasn’t that big but it was enough to illustrate some of the main points of the history of the samurai. 

Copy of Iron Armor with 2-Piece Cuirass of Yukimura Sanada (Heisei Period)

We learned the meaning of the word “samurai;” what differentiates a samurai’s katana from other kinds of swords; that guns were also used in Japan during the time of the samurai; what was bushido (the “way of the samurai”); which animals and colors were thought to represent strength and why the samurai shave their heads.

Copy of the Armor of Kanatsugu Naoe (Heisei Period)

The guide also cleared some basic misconceptions regarding the samurai.  We learned that samurai warriors used disposable blades (after a few strikes, the blade was no longer sharp); that the sword was not “the soul of the samurai” (the bow and arrow was) and how important firearms were for the samurai who actually went to war. 

Gold Lacquered Armor with 2-Piece Cuirass (Late Edo Period)

Description of Armor Wearing

We also learned what was happening in Japanese history at the time of the rise of the samurai, including the Mongol invasion of Kyushu in the 13th century. We found out more about Japan’s three most famous samurai (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu); learned what kind of armor each wore to battle and how the style of each has been expressed through haiku poetry.

Image of Ieyasu Tokugawa

Golden Armor of Ieyasu Tokugawa (Heisei Period)

Portrait of Nobunaga Oda Shihon Choku Shoku

Copy of the Armor of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (Heisei Period)

Image of Hideyoshi Toyotomi

Even for someone who is somewhat familiar with the subject, some of the exhibits were indeed very interesting and friendly to the casual visitor, especially to us who came from abroad (about 60% of the museum’s visitors are Westerners, 35% are Asians and only 5% are Japanese)

Gold Lacquered Armor with 2-Piece Cuirass (Late Edo Period)

The exhibitions displayed in the second floor were in chronological order and so, to easily understand and appreciate the artifacts, each item on display had detailed descriptions written in English, Chinese and Korean.

Cheska and Bryan

The super popular Samurai Photo-Shooting corner was the piece de resistance of the tour. Jandy and Bryan had their pictures taken wearing a samurai helmet (kabuto), battle coat (jinbaori) then wielding a sword and trying their hands in Samurai cosplay.  Cheska wore a kimono.  Unfortunately, there were no outfits for Kyle.

Bryan

Jandy

Overall, the Samurai Museum was a fun way for young people and parents to spend a couple of hours to further understand what it truly means to be a samurai, one of the most well-known icons of Japanese culture, rather than for serious scholars of samurai culture and history.

Gold-Lacquered Saddle Seat with Unryu-zu (Ise Ise No Kami Sadamune)

As it was already late in the evening when we visited, we missed the 10-15-min. special afternoon performance of a quite intense and realistic sword battle featuring the instantaneous drawing of the sword (if you’re lucky you can catch a glimpse of a ninja).  Started since March 12, 2016, it was performed by professional actor Shinichiro Matsuura. Show times were 2PM, 3PM, 4PM and 5PM.

Katana (Japanese Sword, Oumo no Kami Tadayoshi, Middle of the Edo Period)

Japanese Sword (Dengassan, Middle of Muromachi Period)

Every Tuesday and Thursday, calligrapher Ms. Shiho Kurabayashi, designer of the logos for both the movie Sadako 3D as well as the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, will give Japanese calligraphy lessons, an art form practiced, through the centuries, by samurai and nobles. Ink, paper and writing brush will be provided.

Mutsu no Kami Yoshiyuki (Heisei Period)

Nagamaki -Sword Blade with a Long Hilt (End of Edo Period)

Visitors who will take this course will learn the fundamentals, including how to hold a brush, the right posture for writing calligraphy, how to write three kinds of letters used in Japanese language (Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji), the meanings of some Kanji characters, and your name in Japanese letters. Afterwards, they can take their work home as a souvenir.

Naginata – Pole Sword (Hakuryu Yoshikazu)

Tachi (Sword, Middle of Kamakura Period)

Started since December 17, 2015, the approximately 1-hour lecture starts at 7PM. Shiho taught Japanese calligraphy (shodo) at an elementary school in the U.S.  She won a prize at Mainichi Shodo Exhibition and a special award at Taito Shodo Exhibition in Tokyo. Her prize-winning pieces also appeared on the Saitama Newspaper.

Large Armor Sewn with Red Thread (Heisei Period)

Satsuma Armor Sewn with Navy Blue Thread (Edo Period)

A Japanese sword lecture is also presented by Mr. Paul Martin, former curator at the British Museum and an expert on samurai swords.  He will teach you about Samurai history, as well as how to handle swords correctly. The talk lasts about 45 mins., with 45 mins. for viewing and additional questions.

Zohyo Monogatari (Stories of Common Soldiers)

Chiyoda no Oooku Ukiyoe (Japanese Woodblock Print)

For an additional fee of JP¥32,000 – 44,000 (depending on the armor chosen), visitors can opt for a “Sengoku” style, fully armed, photo shoot which includes photos as well as a CD-ROM containing the images. 

Matchlock Gun

Smith & Wesson, II – 32 Pistol (Heisei Period)

The Gift Shop offers a full range of original samurai gift items (authentic Japanese swords, sword stands, sword fittings, samurai armor, etc.) and samurai-themed souvenirs (dolls, replica swords, etc.)for sale as well as kitchenware, Japanese cooking knives and T-shirts.

Battle of Kawanakajima Ukiyoe (Japanese Woodblock Print)

A Crisis of Japan (Kano Seiseinin)

Samurai Museum: 1/F Eiwa Dairoku Bldg., 2 Chome-25-6 Kabukicho, 160-0021, Shinjuku, Tokyo.  Tel: +81 3-6457-6411.  Admission: JP¥1,900 (adults) and JP¥800 (children under 12 years of age).  Children 3 years old or under enter free if accompanied by an adult.
The sword show and samurai costume are included with museum admission. Open daily, 10:30AM to 9PM. (No admissions after 8:30 PM). Admission to the Japanese sword lecture (starting time: 7PM)and calligraphy lessons is JP¥5,000 (museum admission included). Advance reservation of two or more required. Website:  www.samuraimuseum.jp.  Gift Shop email: info@samuraigift.jp. Facebook: www.facebook.com/samuraimuseum.jp.

How to Get There: The museum is an 8-min. walk from Shinjuku Station’s East Exit on the JR Yamanote Line, a 4-min. walk from Seibu Shinjuku Station, a 6-min. walk from Higashi-Shinjuku Station Exit A1 and a 10-min. walk from Shinjuku Sanchome Station.

Meiji Jingu Shrine (Tokyo, Japan)

The Meiji Jingu Shrine

As we delved deeper into Yoyogi Park, we soon came across the entrance to the Meiji Shrine. Located directly in front of the entrance to the shrine was the temizuya (font), a cleansing station where visitors used wooden ladles to spiritually cleanse themselves by pouring water over their hands (left before right) and rinse mouths with their left hand.

The temizuya (hand wash pavilion)

The Meiji Shrine (明治神宮 Meiji Jingū), the largest and one of the Japan’s most popular Shinto shrines, is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji (the shrine, however, does not contain the emperor’s grave, which is located at Fushimi-momoyama, south of Kyoto) and his wife and consort, Empress Shōken.

Torii (Japanese gate) at the entrance of the Meiji Jingu Shrine.  Devotees usually bow once here upon entering and exiting the shrine.

After the emperor’s death in 1912, the Japanese Diet passed a resolution to commemorate his role in the Meiji Restoration, choosing an iris garden, in an area of Tokyo where Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken had been known to visit, as the building’s location. The building of the shrine, a national project, mobilized youth groups and other civic associations from throughout Japan, who contributed labor and funding. In 1915, construction began under Itō Chūta.

The Minami-Shinmon Gate

The shrine, built in the traditional nagare-zukuri style, primarily uses Japanese cypress and copper. On November 1, 1920, eight years after the passing of the emperor and six years after the passing of the empress, it was formally dedicated and completed in 1921.  Its grounds were officially finished by 1926. Until 1946, the Meiji Shrine was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines.

The author at Minami-Shinmon Gate

During the Tokyo air raids of World War II, the original building was destroyed and the present iteration of the shrine was funded through a public fund raising effort and completed in October 1958. The shrine has been visited by numerous foreign politicians, including U.S. Pres. George W. Bush, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Kyle, Grace and Jandy in front of the Honden (Main Hall)

The entrance to the shrine complex, marked by a massive torii gate (one of the largest in Japan) in the Myojin style, constructed from a more than 1,500 year old hinoki (Japanese cypress from Taiwan), leads through the Jingu Bashi bridge. Upon entry into the shrine grounds, the sights and sounds of the busy city are replaced by a tranquil forest and Meiji Jingu’s buildings, at the middle of the forest, that have an air of tranquility distinct from the surrounding city.

A lady worshiper praying at the Main Hall. In front of her is an offertory box where coins are dropped

Visitors to the shrine can take part in typical Shinto activities – making offerings at the main hall, buying charms and amulets, writing out one’s wish on an ema (piece of paper) and tying them on a prayer wall, etc. On the first days of the New Year, Japanese usually visit a Shinto shrine to prepare for the Hatsumōde (初詣), the year’s first prayers, and the shrine is the most popular location in Tokyo for this, regularly welcoming more than three million visitors. During the rest of the year, traditional Shinto weddings can often be seen taking place there.

Visitors shopping for omamori (lucky charms, talismans and amulets for all kinds of occasions) or ofuda (emblems bearing the name of the shrine or enshrined deities distributed by the shrine)

The shrine itself is composed of two major areas – the Naien and the Gaien. The Naien, the inner precinct, is centered on the shrine buildings, dating from 1958. The buildings, all great example of Japanese Shinto architecture, are made from Japanese cypress wood from the Kiso region of Nagano (regarded as the best in Japan) with green cooper plates used for the roofs.

Interior of the main hall

It consists of the honden (The Main Hall, the main shrine building proper and the innermost sanctuary of the shrine), noritoden (The Prayer Recital Hall where Shinto liturgy is recited), naihaiden (The Inner Shrine Hall), gehaiden (The Outer Shrine Hall), shinsenjo (the consecrated kitchen for the preparation of the food offerings) and shinko (The Treasure House).

A prayer wall where ema are hung on hooks. An ema is a wooden tablet, obtained at the juyosho (amulet offices), where wishes are written.  There are two main types of ema – Kigan-Ema (bear the crest of the shrine on their front and the word Kigan on their back) and the Eto-Ema (depicting this year’s Eto  or zodiac).

The Treasure House, at the northern end of the shrine grounds, was built in the Azekurazukuri style one year after the shrine was opened.  It displays many interesting personal belongings of the Emperor and Empress, including the carriage which the emperor rode to the formal declaration of the Meiji Constitution in 1889. The Museum Annex Building, just to the east of the main shrine buildings, displays temporary exhibitions.

Kaguraden (Hall of Shinto Music and Dance). Goshuin (Meiji Jingu Memorial Seal), to remind you of your visit to Meiji Jingu,  are stamped and hand-painted here.

The quite beautiful, simple and classic Minami-shin Mon, the main shrine gate to the inner precinct, was built in 1921.  Made entirely of Japanese cypress, it has a copper plate roof. You reach it upon passing the final myojin torii gate. This gate and one of the amulet offices (shukueisha) were the only constructions in Meiji Shrine not destroyed by the World War II raids.

The reception and registration area of the Kaguraden Hall

The Kaguraden (Hall of Shinto Music and Dance), built to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Meiji Jingu, was started in 1990 and completed in October 1993. This 3-storey building (one floor is above the ground and the other two floors below ground level) follows the traditional Irimoya-Nagarezukuri architectural style The front entrance, with the reception and registration area, is slightly below ground level. One flight of stairs leads down, and another flight of stairs leads up to the waiting area and the hall for ceremonies.

The Gaien, the outer precinct, includes the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery (housing a collection of 80 large murals illustrative of the events in the lives of the Emperor and his consort); a variety of sports facilities, including the National Stadium (Meiji Jingu Gaien Stadium and later, since 1956, on the same site, Tokyo Olympic Stadium); the Meiji Kinenkan (Meiji Memorial Hall).  The latter, originally used for governmental meetings (including discussions surrounding the drafting of the Meiji Constitution in the late 19th century), is now used for Shinto weddings as well as meeting rooms for rent and restaurants services.

The Meiji-jingu Gyoen (Inner Garden), a large area of the southern section of the shrine grounds, becomes particularly popular during the middle of June when the beautiful irises here are in bloom. Kiyomasa’s Well, a small well located within the garden visited by the Emperor and Empress while they were alive, was named after a military commander who dug it around 400 years ago. The well has become a popular spiritual “power spot.”

Meiji Shrine: 1-1, Kamizono-chō, YoyogiShibuya-kuTokyo 151-0053.  Open daily, from sunrise to sunset.  Admission to the shrine precinct is free. The Inner Garden, open from 9 AM to 5 PM, requires an entrance fee of JP¥500 to enter.

How to Get There: From JR Tokyo Station, get on the Yamanote Line and get off at the busy Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line or Meiji-jingu-mae Station on the Chiyoda and Fukutoshin Subway Lines. It is about a 25 minute train ride. The approach to Meiji Shrine starts a few steps from Harajuku Station.  The main complex of shrine buildings is a 10-min. walk from both the southern entrance near Harajuku Station and the northern entrance near Yoyogi Station.

Yoyogi Park (Tokyo, Japan)

Yoyogi Park

Yoyogi Park (代々木公園 Yoyogi kōen), adjacent to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, is located in a forest within the densely built-up city.  A popular Tokyo destination, it covers an area of 54.1 hectares (134 acres).  The park is covered by an evergreen forest that consists of 120,000 trees of 365 different species, which were donated by people from regions across the entire country when the shrine was established.

The author under the park’s massive, 40 ft. high torii (Japanese gate)

This popular Tokyo destination stands on the site where, on December 19, 1910, Capt. Yoshitoshi Tokugawa made the first successful powered aircraft flight in Japan. Later, the area became an army parade ground. From September 1945, during the Allied occupation of Japan, the site housed “Washington Heights,” the military barracks for U.S. officers.

In 1964, the area was used for the Tokyo Olympics, housing the main Olympic village and the distinctive Yoyogi National Gymnasium (designed by Kenzo Tange, it hosted the swimming and diving, with an annex for the basketball). On October 20, 1967, most of the area north of the gymnasium complex and south of Meiji Shrine was turned into Yoyogi Park.

On Sundays, the landscaped park, with its picnic areas, bike paths, cycle rentals and public sport courts, is especially busy when it is used as a gathering place for Japanese rock music fans, jugglers, comedians, martial arts clubs, cosplayers and other subculture and hobby groups. During hanami, thousands of people visit the park to enjoy the cherry blossoms.

Street performer at Jingu Bashi Bridge

Rock band performing at same bridge

The forest is visited by many as a recreation and relaxation area in the center of Tokyo and the spacious shrine grounds offer walking paths that are great for a relaxing stroll.

Cheska and Bryan admiring the colorful karadizu, wrapped in straw and having wonderful unique graphics, containing sake

Along the path to Meiji Shrine is a great wall of colorful kazaridaru (which means “decoration barrels”) containing saké (Japanese rice wine), all wrapped in straw and having wonderful unique graphics. These sake barrels, offered every year to the enshrined deities at Meiji Jingu Shrine, were donated by sake brewers from around Japan. The sake is used for shrine ceremonies and festivals.

Across are barrels of wine to be consecrated at Meiji Jingu.  These have been offered by the celebrated wineries of Bourgogne in France on the initiative of Mr. Yasuhiko Sata, Representative, Hourse of Burgundy in Tokyo, Honorary Citizen of Bourgogne and owner of the Chateau de Chailly Hotel-Golf.

Provenance of the Bourgogne Wine for Consecration

Yoyogi Park: 2-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, ShibuyaTokyo 151-0052, Japan.  Tel: +81 3-3469-6081.

How to Get There: The park is located near the JR Line’s Harajuku Station or Yoyogi Station, or Tokyo Metro’s Meiji-Jingumae Station. 

Zōjō-ji Temple (Tokyo, Japan)

Zojo-ji Temple

It was our fourth day in Tokyo and, after breakfast at the hotel, we visited the San’en-zan Zōjō-ji (三縁山増上寺), a Jōdo-shū Buddhist temple located in the Shiba neighborhood of Minato.  The main temple of the Jōdo-shū (“Pure Land”) Chinzei sect of Buddhism in the Kantō region, it was founded in 1393 as the sect’s eastern Japan seminary.

Daimon Main Gate

During the Edo period, Zōjō-ji, together with Kan’ei-ji, were notable for their relationship with the Tokugawa clan, the rulers of Japan.  Zōjō-ji was the Tokugawa‘s family temple and six of the 15 Tokugawa shoguns were buried in the Taitoku-in Mausoleum in the temple grounds. Kazu-no-Miya ChikakoTokugawa Iemochi’s wife, is also buried in Zozo-ji. Tokugawa Ieyasu had the temple moved, first to Hibiya and then, in 1598, at the time of expansion of Edo Castle, to its present location.

Approaching the Sangedatsumon

With the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, the grounds took on the character of a public park. Parts of the former grounds of the temple are now occupied by a park and two hotels. The 65-hectare Shiba Park, Japan’s oldest public park (designated as such in 1873), is built around the temple, with the Tokyo Tower standing beside it.

Shiba Park

At its peak, the temple grounds covered an area of 826,000 sq. m. and contained 48 subsidiary temples, over 3000 priests and 150 temple schools but, following the decline of Buddhism during the Meiji period (1868-1912), the temple’s original buildings, temples, mausoleums and the cathedral were destroyed by fire, natural disasters or burned in air raids during the Bombing of Tokyo in World War II.

Tokyo Tower

After the war, reconstruction began.  In 2015, a Treasure Gallery was opened on the underground level of the Daiden.  Currently, it houses paintings of Kanō Kazunobu and a model of the Taitoku-in Mausoleum. Additional graves are located in the cemetery behind the Daiden.

A concrete myojin-style torii just to the right of the daibonsho

From our hotel, we walked to the nearby Akasaka-Mitsuke Station and took the short, 12-min train ride to the Hamamatsucho Station on the JR Yamanote and JR Keihin-Tohoku Line. The temple was a 10-min. walk from the station. It is the first indication that we have reached Zojo-ji Temple is the Daimon Gate, the concrete reconstruction of original main gate of Zojo-ji destroyed during World War II. As it is now located along a street, cars pass underneath it.

Sangedatsumon

About 200 m. past the Daemon Gate is the temple’s  famous, 21 m. (69 ft.) high, 17.6 m. deep and 28.7 m. wide, 2-storey Sangedatsumon (仏殿), which serves as the inner main gate.  San means “three,” gedatsu means moksha or liberation/freedom, and mon means “gate.” Dating from 1622, it is the temple’s only original structure to survive the Second World War and is, therefore, the oldest wooden building in Tokyo. It has been designated an Important Cultural Property.

Entering the temple via the Kuromon (Black Gate)

The majestic and magnificent, vermilion lacquered gate was designed in three sections to symbolize the three stages that one must pass through to achieve nirvana. If someone passes through the gate, he can free himself from the three passions of greed (貪 Ton), hatred (瞋 Shin) and foolishness (癡 Chi).

Bryan, Grace, Jandy, Kyle and Cheska at the Ji-unkaku Hall

On the upper floor of the gate are enshrined an image of Gautama Buddha (Shakyamuni), flanked by Samantabhadra and Manjusri (two attendant bodhisattvas), and statues of the Sixteen Arhats (disciples of the Buddha), all created by Buddhist image sculptors of Kyoto when Zojo-ji was built.

Image of Shoso Shonin

We entered the temple via the  Kuromon (Black Gate) which dates back to the mid to late 17th century. Immediately to the left is the Ji-unkaku Hall.  It has a multi-purpose hall on the ground floor.  A long flight of stairs brought us to the Kaisando on the second floor.  It enshrines an image of  Shoso Shonin, the founder of Zojo-ji.

Daiden (Main Hall)

The Daiden (Great Hall), rebuilt in 1974, is a blend of traditional Buddhist temple architecture and modern architecture. It enshrines the main image (honzon)  of the Amida Yosai Buddha which was made during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573).  To the right of the Amida Buddha is an image of Great Teacher Shandao, who perfected China’s Jodo (Pure Land) Buddhism), while at its left is an image of Honen Shonin (who founded Japan’s Jodo Shu).

The author beside the Shoro (Bell Tower)

Other structures within the grounds include the Ankokuden, the Kyozo (Sutra Repository), the Shoro (bell tower), Enko Daishi Hall and Koshoden. The Enko Daishi Hall enshrines Enko-daishi, another name of Honen, who is the sect founder of Jodo Buddhism.  The Dai-Nokotsudo (or Shariden), made with stone in 1933, is where the bones of the deceased are stored.

Bryan, Kyle and Cheska at the Dai-Nokotsudo (Shariden)

The Koshoden, a lecture hall and seminary for “cleansing soul and fostering the vigor to live,” has a coffered ceiling features pictures of flowering plants, donated by 120 pious Japanese artists and fitted into coffers.

Ankokuden Hall

The Ankokuden, located to the right of the Main Hall of  the temple, was built in 2010.  It enshrines the Black Image of Amida Buddha, a Buddhist image deeply worshiped by Tokugawa Ieyasu which brings victory and wards off evil.

Interior of Ankokuden Hall

The hall is also used as a prayer hall. The image is shown to the public 3 times a year (January 15, May 15 and September 15).

Black Image of Amida Buddha

The Kyozo, built in 1613 with financial aid from Tokugawa Ieyasu, serves as a storehouse where sutras (important cultural documents) are stored on red, octagonal-shaped revolving bookshelves at its center. It has a thick wall to resist fire and its door is usually closed. The Kyozo has also been designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

The Kyozo

The Shoro, just inside the grounds on the right after you enter the Sangedatsumon gate, houses the daibonsho, a huge 15-ton bell completed in 1673 (after repeating casting work as many as seven times).

Daibonsho

With a diameter of 1.76 m. and a height of 3.33 m., it chimes the hours and is tolled twice a day (six times each in the early morning and in the evening).  Renowned as one of the “Three Great Bells of the Edo Period,” it serves to purify the 180 earthly passions (bonno), which lead people astray, through an exhortation, repeated six times a day, to profound equanimity.

The Himalayan cedar tree planted by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

Himalayan cedar tree, between the Daibonsho bell and the Sangedatsumon gate, was planted by General Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States, when he visited the temple as a guest of the nation in 1879.

Sentai Kosodate Jizo (Unborn Children Garden)

The Sentai Kosodate Jizo (Unborn Children Garden), in one particular garden at the cemetery, has rows of 1,000 jizou stone statues of children representing unborn children (miscarriedaborted, or stillborn), lined up about 30 m. long and each wearing a red knitted hat and holding a small colorful windmill that spin around as the wind blows, creating a beautiful scenery.

Prayer Wall

Here, parents can choose a statue in the garden and decorate it with small clothing and toys. To ensure that they are brought to the afterlife, the statues are usually accompanied with a small gift for Jizō, the guardian of unborn children. Occasionally, stones, meant to ease the journey to the afterlife, are piled by the statue.

Incense Burner

Annual events held in the temple are Hatsumode (New Year’s visit) in January; Kurohonzon Prayer Ceremony on January 15; the Setsubun Tsuina-shiki/Nehan Ceremony (Nirvana Day) in February; the Spring Higan Ceremony in March; the Gyoki Ceremony/Buddha’s Birthday (Flower Festival) in April; the Kurohonzon Prayer Ceremony on May 15; the O-bon/Kaisan-ki/Bon Odori in July; the Peace Prayer Ceremony in August; the Autumn Higan Ceremony/Takigi Noh in September; the Kurohonzon Prayer Ceremony on September 15; the Juya Hoyo (Ten Nights of Prayer) in November; and the Jodo Ceremony (Bodhi Day)/Butsumyo Ceremony/Joya no Kane (New Year’s Eve Bell Ringing) in December. Monthly events include the Sutra copying, on the 14th (except July and August) of each month and the Betsuji Nembutsu on the 24th of each month.

Gate of the Tokugawa Mausoleum

In popular culture, the Zōjō-ji Temple was depicted multiple times, during the 1920s and 30s, in the art work of the Shin hanga artist Kawase Hasui.  It was also shown in several ukiyo-e prints by Hiroshige, in particular twice in his famous One Hundred Famous Views of Edo series from 1856–1858.

Zojo-ji Temple as seen in the movie Wolverine (photo: www.tokyofox.net)

Rila Fukushima (Yukio) and Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) – photo (www.tokyofox.net)

In the 2013 movie ‘‘The Wolverine,”  Zojo-ji Temple’s mail hall was used for Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) old friend Mr.Yashida ‘s (Hal Yamanouchi) funeral. Though badly damaged in World War II, Zojo-ji still retains the air of a major temple.

Cemetery at the back of the temple

Zōjō-ji Temple:  4 Chome-7-35 ShibakoenMinatoTokyo 105-0011, Japan.  Tel: (81)3-3432-1431. Website: www.zojoji.or.jp.  There is no admission fee for visitors to enter the temple complex. Treasure Gallery Museum Admission: JP¥700. Though the temple grounds are always open, the temple itself is only open from 6 AM to 5:30 PM. While not immediately obvious, the temple grounds are somewhat wheelchair accessible if entering from the side street instead of the main gate. The best time to visit the temple is late March or early April (for the beautiful cherry blossoms) or autumn (for the colorful leaves). In the evening, you can admire the temple with an illuminated Tokyo Tower in the background.

How to Get There: The entrance is at a 10-minute walk from Hamamatsucho Station on the JR Yamanote and Keihin-Tōhoku Lines, a 6-min. walk from Daimon Station on the Toei Asakusa and Toei Oedo Lines, a 3-min. walk from Onarimon and Shibakoen Stations on the Toei Mita Line, and about 500 m. from the Shibakoen exit of the Shuto Expressway. If you are getting there from Daimon Station, there is a big gate of the Zojo-ji Temple, located in front of the station, which will lead you straight to the front gate of the temple.