Temples & Shrines: Tennoji Temple, Tokyo
Tennoji Temple, Yanaka, Tokyo 天王寺 谷中
Tennoji is the oldest of the numerous temples that fill the Yanaka area of Tokyo, and is a temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. It was founded in 1274 and now lies on the edge of Yanaka Cemetery overlooking Nippori Station.
Tennoji temple is surrounded by Yanaka Cemetery, which used to be a part of the temple premises. The temple today is surrounded by a tasteful wall of modern design, enclosing its simply but beautifully landscaped grounds, the focal point being the large, several centuries old, bronze Buddha.
Tennoji began life in 1274 as Choyosankannoji-sonjuuin (長耀山感応寺) temple, built to house a Buddha statue carved by nationalist sage Nichiren.
At the order of the Shogunate in the late 17th century, Tennoji was closed down for alleged heresy, but reopened in 1699 as a branch temple of the then-massive Kan'eiji Temple, a Tendai sect Buddhist temple in nearby Ueno. Little now remains of Kan'eiji Temple after its destruction in the 1868 Battle of Ueno.
Upon its becoming a Tendai sect temple, Tennoji became the seat of the deva Bishamonten (Vaiśravaṇa), which in Japan is considered a god of resources and bravery.
In the Edo Period, several temples were permitted by the government to hold lotteries for the purpose of fundraising. Tennoji Temple, Yushima Tenman-gu Shrine, and Ryūsenji (AKA Meguro Fudō) were the three main temples in Tokyo that held lotteries.
However, from 1728, official permission to hold lotteries was denied to all but Tennoji. Until permission was eventually withdrawn from Tennoji, too, in 1842, Tennoji was the Tokyo temple regularly thronged by townsfolk eager to strike it lucky. The temple environs and the road leading up to the temple - what is now the tree-shaded "Cherry Blossom Avenue" through Yanaka Cemetery - was a hive of commerce and entertainment.
Yanaka Cemetery which surrounds Tennoji was once belonged to Tennoji temple. However, one policy of Japan's modernization after the Meiji Restoration was the nationalistically inspired separation of "imported" Buddhism from "native" Shinto. Shinto funerals became more common as a result (a very short-lived phenomenon). To facilitate the holding of Shinto funerals, the Meiji government confiscated Tennoji's cemetery and made it public, a move which was never reversed.
The large, bronze, seated image of Buddha was constructed by Ota Kyuemon in 1690 and was known as the "Tennoji Daibutsu" by locals.
Yanaka Seven Gods of Fortune
Tennoji Temple is home to one of the famous Yanaka Seven Gods of Fortune, the god Bishamonten (Vaiśravaṇa). Tennoji is the only one of the seven Yanaka Seven Gods of Fortune temples that is actually located in Yanaka itself. The full list of temples on the pilgrimage route are, from north to south: Togakuji Temple (Fukurokuju), Shounji Temple (Ebisu), Shushoin Temple (Hoteison), Tennoji Temple (Bishamonten), Choanji Temple (Jurojin), Gokokuin Temple (Daikokuten), Shinobazunoike Bentendo (Benzaiten). Find these temples by searching for "Yanaka Seven Gods of Fortune" in JapanVisitor's Tokyo Map.
Five-storied Pagoda Ruins
A 35m, five-storied pagoda dating from the late eighteenth century used to stand on what were then the temple grounds but is now in Yanaka Cemetery. The pagoda was infamously burnt down in 1957 when a young seamstress and her older (married) lover committed suicide by setting themselves and the pagoda alight to atone for their adultery. Only the granite foundations now remain of what was once one of the largest pagodas in the Kanto area, in an unremarkable fenced off plot with a placard.
Access - Getting To Tennoji
7-14-8 Yanaka, Tokyo, 110-0001
Tel: 03 3821 4474
Google Map to Tennoji Temple Yanaka