Gokokuji, located in Bunkyo Ward in Tokyo, is a temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, founded in 1681 by Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the fifth shogun of Edo. It was built at the request of his birth mother, Keishōin, on a large area of land that had been used as a medicinal herb garden by the shogunate. Later, it became a prayer temple for the shogun family’s longevity and fortunes of war.The main deity of the temple is Nyoirin Kannon, a bodhisattva that Keishōin worshipped. Preserved within the precincts of the temple are many buildings built with the best of Edo period construction technique.With its rich nature despite being located at the heart of Tokyo, and its vestiges of Edo, Gokokuji has been and still is a beloved place.
When you exit Gokokuji Station from Exit 1 and turn around, you will see the Niōmon (Niō gate). An important front gate for the Tokugawa shogun’s prayer temple, it separates the bustling Otowa Street from the temple grounds.The Niōmon dates back to the Genroku period. Its appearance is imposing, with statues of Kongorikishi enshrined on both sides.
Go straight through the Niomon and you will find the Furomon, built in 1938. It was modeled after the gate of Kurama-dera in Kyoto. At the top of the front side of the gate are the letters ‘Furo (everlasting youth)’ written by Tokugawa Ietatsu, the 16th head of the Tokugawa family.Before the Furomon there is a washing place. Purify your hands before going up the stone steps and through the gate.
The highlight of Gokokuji is the main hall, which was completed in 1697 during the Genroku period. It was built with the best of architectural techniques of the time. The tip of the joint connection is decorated with delicate carvings of lions, bakus(tapir-like mythical creature), and elephants.
It has survived the Great Kanto Earthquake, the Tokyo Air Raids, and other fires and war damage, and remains in its original state. It is the oldest wooden building in Tokyo and is designated as an Important Cultural Property by the government.
The 50 zelkova pillars that support the main hall are over 50 centimeters in diameter. They are said to have been procured by Kinokuniya Bunzaemon, a wealthy merchant of the Genroku period. They have supported the hall for 330 years without change, and so is considered to be a ‘pillar of fortune’, that will bring you luck if you hug it and make a wish.
To the left of the main hall is Gekkoden (Moonlight Hall), which was moved from Otsu (Shiga Prefecture). It was built in the Momoyama period and is also a nationally designated Important Cultural Property.
Originally built as a yakushido(hall of bhaisajyaguru), it was moved to its current location after a major fire in 1926 and became daishido(hall of grand masters). It is a precious building with little ornamentation and a solemn, uncluttered impression, respecting high prestige and medieval tradition.
To the left of the Taishido is the ‘Hitokoto (one word) Jizo Hall’. As the name suggests, it is said to grant wishes of just one word, so be selective about what you ask for.
To the left of the Furomon is the tahoto (many-jeweled pagoda). It was modeled after the tahoto of Ishiyama-dera in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, which is a national treasure. A statue of Dainichi Nyorai is enshrined here.
At the far end of the temple grounds is a cemetery. The cemetery contains the graves of many famous people, including Okuma Shigenobu and Yamagata Aritomo, but after the Meiji period, the relationship with the Tokugawa family was severed, and a cemetery was built for the general public.