Gesshoji Temple

Japanese Temples: Gessho-ji Temple

Gesshoji Temple 月照寺, Matsue

Nestled against a wooded hillside in a quiet neighborhood about 800 meters from Matsue Castle lies Gessho-ji, the family temple of the Matsudaira clan, lords of Matsue Domain.

This is the final resting place of nine generations of lords who ruled over Izumo and Oki for a little over 200 years. The tenth and final Lord of Matsue moved to Edo (Tokyo) after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and was buried there.

A run-down Zen temple already stood here in 1664 when the Matsudaira's took over the domain and castle from the Horio Clan. They appropriated the temple and renamed it Gessho, which means "lit up by moonlight" that was the name of the mother of Matsudaira Naomasa, first Matsudaira lord of Matsue.

Each of the nine lords buried here has their own "compound" with rows of stone lanterns, donated by loyal vassals and retainers, and fronted by an ornate gate. The grandest compund belongs to the first Matsudaira lord of Matsue, the aforementioned Naomasa, a grandson of Ieyasu. Each of the nine gates, constructed a generation apart, reflect changes in architectural style and craftsmanship during the Edo Period. Some of the later gates have quite intricate carvings.

Gesshoji Temple, Matsue, Shimane, Japan.
Entrance gate to Gesshoji Temple in Matsue, the burial place of the Matsudaira clan
Gesshoji Temple, Matsue.
The "Monster Tortoise" of Gesshoji - so described by the American essayist Lafcadio Hearn

Possibly more well known than any of the lords buried here is another resident of Gessho-ji made famous by Lafcadio Hearn. In his Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894) written while he lived in Matsue, Hearn wrote of the "monster tortoise of Gessho-ji", a giant statue of a tortoise in front of the sixth lord's grave.

The head of the tortoise stands almost 2 meters high, and on the back of the tortoise is a huge stone block, placed there to stop the tortoise from moving as apparently it used to visit the pond in the grounds to drink, and some say even used to wander the streets of the neighborhood at night.

Hearn was fond of this temple, and enjoyed the peace and quiet here, and things have not changed much as the temple gets very few visitors. Chances are if you visit you will see no-one else, unless you visit in June when more than 30,000 hydrangea blossoms are in bloom.

There is a small museum at the temple but with a quite small collection of artifacts, mostly related to tea ceremony as the sixth Lord, Fumai, was a renowned expert.

There is a pleasant garden behind the study, and for 400 yen you can sit and sip matcha while enjoying the view.

Gesshoji Temple, Matsue.
Wood carving at Gesshoji Temple, Matsue in Shimane Prefecture
Gesshoji Temple, Matsue, Shimane.
Japanese garden seen through a door at Gesshoji Temple, Matsue

Access To Gesshoji Temple

179 Sotonakabara-cho, Matsue City
Shimane Prefecture
Tel: 0852-21-6056

Open 8.30am to 5.30pm. Entrance 400yen (excluding tea)

Take the Lake Line Bus from Matsue Station.

Text + images: Jake Davies

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