Sengakuji Temple

Having some time to kill in the morning I decided to head off to Sengakuji, the temple housing the graves of the 47 rōnin, as well as that of lord and lady Asano.  The tale of The 47 Ronin is quite a well known and famous story, for those who don’t know it’s essentially the story of how a group of samurai, banded together as rōnin to avenge the death of their master lord Asano, after he had been cornered into committing seppuku.  I won’t try to recount the tale here as I’ll no doubt make a hash of it, and there are many detailed accounts of it online you’d be better off reading.

The temple is located only a few minutes walk from Shinagawa station, a small side road leads up to the temple, gradually narrowing as it reaches the main temple gate.  Despite being near the main road, it’s set back far enough that you can’t hear the rest of the city.  On this particular rainy morning no one else was around, and all I could hear was the rain beating down on the floor and my umbrella.

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Through the main gate is the temple courtyard and main temple, relatively small in comparison to many other temples I’d seen, yet still a beautiful sight with the shine of the standing water on the slabs of the courtyard, and the small trees in each corner.  Various small statues of different leaders from the incident were scattered around the courtyard edge.

DSC_0849.JPGTo the left hand corner of the courtyard from the main gate was a small path leading towards the grave site, a narrow path lined with a stone fence and some sakura trees, where the petals had started to fall, leaving a pink trail along the path.  On one side is a small well, which is the well where the rōnin washed the head of Kira before presenting it at their masters grave.

DSC_0852.JPGWandering down the pathway I made a slight detour into the two smaller museums on each side of it.  As there wasn’t any entry fee to the temple or graves, 500 yen for access to the museums seemed like a good donation, in addition it gave me some respite from the rain.

The museum building to the left is a small hall, full of various relics and artifacts from the story, ranging from the actual weapons and armour of some of the rōnin, to the scroll where they all signed their names.  There was also a small presentation recounting the tale, which to my surprise was actually in English.

The small museum building to the right of the path is an older building, housing some remarkably well carved wooden statues of each of the rōnin.

After the museum exhibitions I headed back out and up the path, climbing a couple of steps and passing through the small temple gate of the grave site.  I was greeted with the site of a man under a covered section with a large tray of incense smoking in front of him.  Approaching nearer it became clear they were being sold for people to pay their respects by planting them at the graves, only 100 yen per bundle just to cover the costs of the incense.  Having brought a small bamboo tray full I proceeded into the grave site.

DSC_0874.JPGWith the rain still beating down the site was still fairly empty, only two other people where there, a Japanese man in a suit who was just leaving, and an older Japanese man I’d met in the museum section.  We got talking briefly about the weather and where I was from, but my limited Japanese prevented me from talking about much more than that for now.  It was quite a strange and surreal experience talking to two random strangers in a small but significant grave site in the middle of Tokyo, while holding a bamboo container of incense, with the heavy rain falling around us.  It felt like quite a moving and special moment somehow.

Eventually the other two bid their farewells, leaving just me at the site.  I continued to pay my respects at each grave, planting incense at each one.  The site was in two small areas, on one section were the graves of the 47 rōnin (I think I read actually a bit less, as some didn’t make the trip back, so some aren’t graves, but memorials).

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To the side of these was a small area containing the graves of lord and lady Asano, as you would expect given their status these graves were larger in presence that those of the rōnin.

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After taking in the solitude of the place, I placed the last of my incense, returned the empty container and headed slowly back toward the station, reflecting on the mornings rather strange experience.  I’m glad I decided to visit on such a rainy day and quiet day, I think I was quite lucky to be there when I was.

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