Sengakuji, a Soto Zen temple located in Minato Ward, Tokyo, was founded by Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founder of the Edo Shogunate. It is a Soto Zen temple and is one of the three major temples of Edo, along with Seisho-ji and Sosen-ji.
The temple is associated with the Forty-Seven Ronin, the famous warriors of the ‘Chushingura’. Their graves are located in the precinct, and many fans visit the temple.
Founded in 1612 by Tokugawa Ieyasu in Soto-Sakurada (present-day Chiyoda Ward), the temple was destroyed by the great Kan’ei fire of 1641. The shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu, ordered five feudal lords, including the Asano family of the Ako Domain, to rebuild it in its present location. The relationship between the Asano family and Sengakuji dates back to this time.
The temple is widely known for the graves of the Forty-Seven Ronin, but since the day it was built it was also famous as a temple complete with seven Buddhist halls, and where nearly two hundred priests from all over the world studied.
The Ako Loyal Retainers
The Ako domain is famous for the episode of ‘Chushingura’, in which Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio and forty-six former Ako samurai (Ako ronin) were ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment) after they avenged their master by executing Kira Kozunosuke. The Ako loyal retainers were praised for their loyalty to their master, and after their death they are called Ako Roshi.
The Ako loyal retainers are buried at Sengakuji and their cemetery is open to visitors. Although they are known as the forty-seven retainers, in Sengakji there are forty-eight tombs, including a memorial tower for Kayano Shigezane, a vassal of the Asano family who committed suicide before the attack. The graves of the samurai are arranged according to where they were sent to be put under guard, after the attack.
Statue of Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio
There is also a bronze statue of Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, the chamberlain of the Ako domain, who is considered as the main character of the Chushingura.
It was cast at the request of rokyoku (traditional Japanese narrative singing) master Tochuken Kumo’emon and was dedicated to Sengakuji, where it was unveiled on December 14, 1921.
Wearing a Genroku style Hakama, a traditional dress of the time, he is holding a letter of alliance and glaring at the eastern sky where Edo is located.
It was rebuilt in 1832. The second floor houses the Sixteen Arhats, and the ceiling of the first floor is inlaid with a large coiling dragon carved in copper, one of the ‘Three Edo Dragons’.
The old main hall was destroyed in an air raid during World War II. The current main hall was inaugurated on December 14, 1953, and is built in Kamakura style.The ‘lion’s roar’ plaque on the front reads ‘shishiku’ and is a metaphor for the way the Buddha preaches. It represents his imperturbable attitude while preaching to the masses.The main deity of the temple is Shakyamuni Buddha, and it also houses Zen priests Dogen and Keizan, the founders of the Soto sect of Buddhism, and Marishiten (not on public view), the guardian deity of Oishi Kuranosuke.
The main hall is where the abbot and training monks solemnly practice Zen meditation and sutra reading.
Bell and Belfry Hall
The temple bell was built in 1913. It sounds in the morning zazen (seated meditation) time and in the evening when the temple closes. The bell, which was used from the Edo period to the Meiji period, is now in the collection of the National Museum of Ethnology in Vienna.
Chikara Plum Tree
These plum trees were planted at the residence of Oki no kami (Governor of Oki) Matsudaira in Mita, where Oishi Chikara committed seppuku.
It is said that Horibe Myokai, a nun who tended to the graves of the loyal retainers, transplanted the potted plum trees given to her by Yozen-in.
Blood Stained Plum Tree and Blood Stained Stone
It is said that this plum tree and stone was bathed in the blood of Asano Takumi no kami when he committed seppuku. It is said to have been moved from the garden of the residence of Tamura Ukyo-dayu.
This well is said to have washed the head of Kira Kozunosuke, who was killed by Takebayashi Takashige as revenge for Asano Naganori. Afterwards, it is said that Kira’s head was offered in front of the lord’s grave to report their success.
Every year, the Gishi Sai, a memorial service for the righteous samurai, is held to coincide with December 14, the day of Ako loyal retainers’ raid. Many visitors from all over Japan come to the festival and offer incense stick to each of the loyal retainers. This traditional event includes a sutra reading ceremony in front of the graves, a tea offering ceremony where matcha is offered to the gods and Buddha, and a procession of the righteous warriors. The festival is also held in April.