Koganji Temple (Togenuki Jizo) in Sugamo

Koganji Temple Hondo main hall.

On the northern and less crowded part of the JR Yamanote Line in Tokyo is Sugamo Station. Sugamo is famous for the Jizo-Dori shopping street near the train station. Dubbed the “Grandma’s Harajuku,” Jizo-Dori is supposedly where the elderly do their fashion shopping. Although shops do cater to the older generation, it is also lined with about 200 restaurants, confection shops, and other businesses for local residents. It still feels more like a local neighborhood than a touristy one.

Entrance to Sugamo Jizo-Dori shopping street.
Jizo statue at Shinshoji Temple, a Shingon Buzan School Buddhist temple.

About 800 meters long, Sugamo Jizo-Dori street (巣鴨地蔵通) was named after the large Jizo bodhisattva statue at Shinshoji Temple (眞性寺) at Jizo-Dori’s entrance. Cast in 1714, this Jizo was one of the “Six Jizo of Edo” placed on the main gateway roads from Edo (Tokyo) during the 18th century as a protector of travelers against illness. Sugamo was along the old Nakasendo Road to Kyoto. In 1891, another Jizo was added to Jizo-Dori when the famous Koganji Temple moved here.

Jizo statues at Koganji.

Jizo is popularly known as the protector of children (especially deceased children who died before their parents), travelers, and firefighters. He is also the saviour of souls suffering in the underworld or hell. Commonly found in Japan on roadsides and graves, Jizo statues are usually depicted as a small Buddhist monk with a shaved head, halo, and staff. There are actually many kinds of Jizo with different powers, and a unique one is at Koganji Temple, nicknamed “Togenuki Jizo.”

Koganji’s Sanmon front gate built in Sept. 1980.

Koganji Temple (高岩寺) is a short walk from the entrance of Jizo-Dori street and Sugamo’s main attraction. Although it’s not a huge nor architecturally significant Buddhist temple, it’s very popular and famous as a healing temple backed by intriguing Jizo stories of health miracles.

Koganji is a Soto Zen Buddhist temple with its own congregation, but most worshippers are outsiders. Jizo-Dori and Koganji see 8 million visitors annually. Over 100,000 come on the temple’s Ennichi festival days (縁日) held monthly on the 4th, 14th, and 24th when they have food and souvenir stalls along Jizo-Dori street. The Ennichi festival aims to have people attain a closer connection with Jizo. It originated when the temple decided to allow souvenir stalls along the path to the temple to attract visitors since Sugamo was still a backwater when Koganji moved here in 1891. These souvenir stalls morphed into the many shops and eateries now on Jizo-dori street.

The temple has nine priests including the head/resident priest and four live-in college trainees who are studying to take over their own temples back home. The main temple hall (Hondo) is open from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm (or until 8:00 pm on festival days).

Jizo-Dori shopping street crowded on one of the Ennichi festival days.
Souvenir stalls in front of Koganji on an Ennichi festival day.

One thing you need to know is that the temple is strictly non-smoking. In fact, the entire Jizo-Dori street prohibits smoking, thanks to the tireless efforts of Koganji’s head and resident priest, Rev. Akinori Kuruma. When I first requested an interview, the first thing he told me before anything else was, “Smoking is not allowed at Koganji. Are you okay with that?” I don’t smoke so it wasn’t a problem. More about him later.

Koganji’s nice public square with benches and “No smoking” symbols.
People can take a break and relax at Koganji.

Koganji Temple is most interesting for its legends, stories, and beliefs about promoting good health and prolonging human life. It’s what everyone wants, so no wonder it’s such a popular temple. Originally established in Kanda in 1596 as a Soto Zen Buddhist temple, Koganji was consumed by the Great Meireki Fire in 1657 and moved to present-day Ueno where it started to worship Jizo. Due to urban redevelopment, it was later forced to relocate to its present location in Sugamo in 1891. The temple was destroyed during the war in 1945 and the current Hondo main hall was rebuilt in 1958.

Koganji Temple’s principal object of worship is Togenuki Jizo. “Togenuki” literally means “thorn extraction,” an attention-grabbing name for a one-of-a-kind Jizo. Surprisingly, Koganji’s Togenuki Jizo is not a statue. And it’s not the stone statue you see people washing right outside the temple hall.

Koganji’s thorn-extraction Jizo legend (or truth) starts in May 1713 in Koishikawa, Edo (Tokyo) with the Jizo believer wife of a samurai named Tatsuki (or Tatsuke) Matashiro (田付又四郎). After giving birth to a boy, she fell ill and was near death. Doctors couldn’t do anything. On her deathbed, she confessed that a vengeful spirit had cursed her family so the women in her family would not live beyond age 25. Even her older sister had died at 25.

Husband Matashiro kept praying for her until one night a black-robed monk appeared in his dream. The monk told him to imprint a Jizo image on 10,000 small pieces of paper to be floated on the river. When he awoke from the dream, he found a small wooden stamp at his pillow which he used to imprint the Jizo image on the paper. This paper talisman was called “omikage” (御影). While praying, he floated the 10,000 imprinted pieces of paper from Ryogoku Bridge over Sumida River.

Next morning, his wife told him that she saw the God of Death being booted out by a black-robed monk with his staff. The wife gradually got better and recovered completely by November the same year. She never got sick again. It was essential to sincerely believe in the healing powers of Jizo, otherwise there would be no miracles. Both the wife and husband were devout Jizo believers.

Later, Matashiro talked about his wife’s miraculous recovery at an acquaintance’s house where a Buddhist priest named Saijun (西順) was there. Saijun asked for a Jizo-imprinted omikage paper talisman, and Matashiro gave him two. This priest happened to be a regular visitor to the Edo residence of the famous Mori samurai clan from Choshu (Yamaguchi Prefecture).

One day in 1715, a housemaid working at the Mori clan’s Edo residence accidentally swallowed a broken needle she had put in her mouth while sewing. The needle caused her much pain in her throat and stomach. The doctor could do nothing. Priest Saijun then came and told her to swallow the small, Jizo-imprinted paper talisman with a cup of water. The housemaid did so and soon threw up and out came the little paper talisman with the needle stuck in it. This where the name “Togenuki” comes from since it literally means, “thorn extraction.” This story was actually written by Matashiro himself in 1728 and the temple has a written record of it. So it could well be a true story. This Jizo is also called the “Life-Prolonging Jizo.”

The temple soon started offering these tiny omikage paper talismans imprinted with a Jizo image. Koganji’s miracle stories spread throughout Japan, and small woodblocks were made to imprint the Jizo image on small paper pieces. The ritual of floating 10,000 Jizo paper talismans on waterways spread.

Koganji Togenuki Jizo altar area inside the main worship hall. On the left, the small, top chamber keeps the Togenuki Jizo behind closed doors.
Small envelope containing the omikage Jizo paper talismans.

And so Koganji Temple’s main object of worship is just a tiny imprint of Togenuki Jizo’s likeness on a piece of paper smaller than a postage stamp. It is housed in a small chamber at the top of the temple’s main altar. A “hidden Buddha” not shown to the public. The good news is that the temple offers Jizo paper talismans imprinted with the same Togenuki Jizo image. Inside the main worship hall, ask for “omikage.” Open the small envelope and find five Jizo paper talismans. (Not to be shown online or publicly.) You can stick it on your body where you have pain or even swallow it. Remember, you need to believe in Jizo for it to work…

Arai Kannon at Koganji.

Koganji’s more visible object of worship is the Arai Kannon (Washable Kannon 洗い観音) standing outside on left side of the Hondo worship hall. People might mistake this as the Togenuki Jizo since it is usually crowded with people and it is an outdoor stone statue like a Jizo. But if you look carefully at the head, it is not shaven. It is a female-like (unisex actually) Kannon statue. You may see a line of people waiting to wash and wipe the Arai Kannon with water and a towel. They are washing the part of the Kannon’s body where they want to heal their own bodies.

This popular Arai Kannon originated in 1657 when Koganji Temple member Yaneya Kiheiji (屋根屋喜平次) donated the statue to the temple in memory of his wife who died in the Great Meireki Fire that year. Worshippers eventually started to believe that the part of the statue they washed would heal that part on their own body. They used a hand brush and water to wash the Kannon statue. Over the centuries, the statue became worn and it was finally replaced with a new Kannon statue donated in November 1992 by the late temple patron and Buddhist merchandise seller Nakahori Yoshie (中堀義江) and sculpted by Yatsuyanagi Naoki (八柳尚樹). To reduce wear, worshippers now use a towel (sold for ¥100 on site) instead of a brush to wash the Arai Kannon statue. The original Arai Kannon statue is kept in a small chamber right behind the current statue. The face is totally worn out.

Rev. Akinori Kuruma, Koganji’s head priest holding an AED.

The next health story is more modern and recent, centering on Rev. Akinori Kuruma (来馬 明規), Koganji’s 29th-generation head and resident priest. A licensed medical doctor specializing in cardiology, Rev. Kuruma graduated from the renown Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and once did research at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, so his English is quite good. He originally had no intention to take over the temple from his priest father, but as fate had it, he left the medical profession and became a Buddhist priest in 2005 after his father died.

“I wanted to somehow incorporate my medical background in my new occupation,” he says. He promptly started a no-smoking movement and pushed for the installation of AEDs (automated external defibrillator) along Jizo-Dori street. Smoking was banned at Koganji, but it took a while to convince the merchants of Jizo-Dori to ban smoking.

The restaurants feared that they would see fewer customers if they went smoke-free. However, as Jizo-Dori slowly went smoke-free, they noticed that more mothers with young children started visiting. That convinced shop owners to go smoke-free and even the tobacco shop was shuttered and cigarette vending machines removed. Rev. Kuruma has done such an admirable job.

Koganji’s anti-smoking uchiwa fan. It basically says, “Extract the tobacco thorn to prolong your life and be happy.” (Including vaping.)

But outside Jizo-Dori, it’s still an uphill battle against smoking. Rev. Kuruma openly protested against Toshima Ward (where Koganji is located) having an ineffective outdoor smoking area on the east side of Ikebukuro Station in June 2013 even though Toshima Ward had been designated as a World Health Organization-certified Safe Community in Nov. 2012. Also, many priests in his own sect and other Buddhist sects in Japan and around the world smoke as well, much to his disdain. Rev. Kuruma continues to be an anti-smoking activist and lectures all over Japan as a medical doctor and priest about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.

AED at Koganji Temple.

Rev. Kuruma was also an early adopter of AEDs in 2005 when they were still rare and not many people knew about it. It was in 2005 when Japan allowed non-medical personnel to also use AEDs. That’s when it started to spread and AEDs were soon installed at Koganji and Jizo-Dori. Jizo-Dori became an AED model case for other shopping neighborhoods that followed suit.

In 2007, Koganji started AED/CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) classes at its social hall. Rev. Kuruma is a certified AED/CPR instructor and hundreds of local merchants and residents have taken Konganji’s AED/CPR classes. Word has spread and he also conducts AED/CPR classes for other organizations including Buddhist temples. The temple’s AED has even once saved a life or two on Jizo-Dori street.

Since 1959, the temple also has a free counseling center manned by lawyers, social workers, priests, psychologists, and other professional counselors to help with people’s problems. Many people find a solution just by talking to someone about their problems. Rev. Kuruma believes that Buddhist temples must integrate with the local community and help people while they are still alive. (Buddhist temples are typically viewed as a place for the deceased only.)

By religiously and medically advocating good health and prolonged life, Rev. Kuruma has really taken Koganji’s mission up to a new level. The temple has become a bastion for good health and longer life. A rare Buddhist temple indeed.

Koganji Temple’s Major Events

  • Ennichi Festival Days: On the 4th, 14th, and 24th of every month. (Major festivals [Taisai] on Jan. 24, May 24, and Sept. 24.)
  • Early Morning Prayers every morning at 6:30 a.m.–6:45 a.m. in the temple.
  • New Year’s services (30-min.) on Jan. 1st (6:00 a.m.) and 2nd–3rd (6:30 a.m.).
  • Setsubun Bean-Throwing Festival on Feb. 3rd at 4:00 p.m.

*Special thanks to Rev. Akinori Kuruma for his kind cooperation for this article.

Website: https://www.sugamo.or.jp/prayer_detail01.html

*This article is an expanded version of my article published in via magazine, the onboard magazine of the Airport Limousine bus in the Tokyo area and lobby magazine at all branches of Mizuho Bank in Japan.

Other Tokyo Temple articles:

Koganji Temple, Sugamo (Winter 2019)

Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple (Autumn 2018)

Asakusa Sensoji Temple (Summer 2018)

Zojoji Temple (Spring 2018)

Visiting Toyosu Market

Visited the new Toyosu Market on the second day (Oct. 15, 2018) it opened to the public. It’s proving to be massively popular among the curious and sushi lovers. This blog post is for people who plan to visit the market. So you know what to expect.

Toyosu Market is near Shijo-mae Station (seen on the left above) on the Yurikamome Line that runs between Shimbashi and Toyosu Stations.

Shijo-mae Station is connected directly to convenient pedestrian overpasses leading to the three Toyosu Market buildings/blocks. (That’s Block 6 in the distance.)

The official website provides this very basic map of Toyosu Market. There are three blocks/buildings all connected to each other and to Shijo-mae Station via pedestrian overpasses. The red lines on this map show the pedestrian overpass to each block. All three buildings have a long tourist corridor with picture windows to see inside the market.

When the market is open (closed on Sun.), tourists can tour the three Toyosu Market buildings from 5 am to 5 pm. However, there’s not much market action after late morning.

Besides the markets, there are sushi restaurants. The problem with this map is that it doesn’t show where the restaurants are. They are in Blocks 6 and 7. Very crowded though.

Block 7 is where the tuna auctions are held, but the public won’t be able to see the auction area until next Jan. But if you come here by 6 am or so, you should be able to see some tuna being hauled away on the floor. This block also has some restaurants.

Block 6 is the largest building of the three. This is where the sold tuna is carved up. This building also has a large sushi restaurant area that is not indicated on this map. The upper floor also has little shops (Uogashi Yokocho Market) for people who work at the market. They sell knives, tea, etc., and also sell to the public, but the shops close by 2 pm or so.

Block 5 is the fruit and vegetable market. Least crowded. No restaurants inside.

This is Block 7 where the tuna auctions are held. Let’s enter here first. Notice the pedestrian overpass going into the building.
Directional signs for tourists are in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean.
Block 7 has this small exhibition room with photos of the old Tsukiji fish market and other things.
Exhibition room in Block 7.
Tuna display in the small exhibition room in Block 7.
Toyosu Market’s official mascot: Itchi-no.
Information desk in Block 7’s exhibition room. Lots of questions from foreigners to staff who couldn’t really speak English.
Another crowd-pleasing tuna display in Block 7. Life-size model of the biggest tuna ever sold at Tsukiji fish market in April 1986. 2.88 meters long, 496 kg. Didn’t say how much it sold for.
Block 7’s tourist corridor with glass windows to see the tuna floor.
View of the tuna floor in Block 7. The floor was painted green for better contrast with the tuna’s red flesh to assess the quality. We visited around 2 pm, so nobody was here. You have to come here by 6 am or 7 am to see some action.

Nice bilingual (Japanese and English) explanatory panels in the corridors. At 2 am, they unload the tuna here. At 4 am, buyers examine the tuna and assess the bid price. At 4:30 am, auction starts. At 7 am, the buyers are busy hauling away the tuna.

Hand signals to indicate numbers at auctions.
By far, tuna is the biggest product the fish market handles annually at 21,692 tons (as of 2015).
Block 7 has a restaurant section (not indicated on the official map). All crowded.
Next is Block 6 where the fish is carved up and sold to sushi restaurants and supermarkets. This is the largest building of the three.
Block 6 has this small entrance to the restaurant section.

Block 6’s restaurant section is the larger one at Toyosu Market. However, all the restaurants were totally crowded with people by 1:30 pm. Many restaurants that were at Tsukiji moved here or opened a branch here. Wanna wait 1 to 2 hours for sushi?? Nope, but these people don’t seem to mind.

If you want sushi and don’t want to wait in line, go to the Tsukiji Outer Market instead.

Long lines everywhere for sushi. The restaurants usually sell out by 2 pm, then they close. The huge crowd is either here for the novelty of a new attraction or they may be a strong sign of Toyosu Market’s massive popularity.

I’m afraid the Tsukiji Outer Market will soon be marginalized by Toyosu Market. The market is the heart and soul, and it’s now in Toyosu. The fishmongers in Toyosu are very gung-ho now and really want the Toyosu brand to exceed the old Tsukiji brand.

Only this coffee shop was not crowded. So we gave up having a sushi lunch at Toyosu Market. There are plans to build larger restaurant facilities in buildings adjacent to the market. However, they won’t open until 2023.
After seeing the Block 6 restaurants, we walked along this long corridor and entered the market part of the building.
Block 6’s market entry hall had two turret trucks on display.
Anybody could get on the turret truck and pose for photos.
Also in the corridor, bilingual explanatory panels for identifying fish.

Block 6 has many windows for tourists, but you can hardly see anything. We can see just a small slit of the market floor. Just a pathway for the people and turret trucks, you don’t see the sellers. However, I was later told that there is also a viewing deck on the first floor where there is a better view.

Block 6’s upper floor has a section of shops called Uogashi Yokocho Market. (This section is not indicated on the official map.) These are small shops catering mainly to market workers. They also sell to the public. However, by 2:00 pm most of the stores were closing.

Cutlery shop in Uogashi Yokocho Market.
Map of Uogashi Yokocho Market in Block 6. Lots of little shops.
Many of the shops had congratulatory flowers for their grand opening.
Lastly, this is the fruit and vegetable market, Block 5.
Entrance to the fruit and vegetable market.
The observation corridor for tourists inside the fruit and vegetable market. Lots of windows, but they don’t show much.
Each observation window was color-coded and named after a fruit or vegetable. A nice touch.
Not much to see though.
Corridor wall also had panels explaining the history of the food and vegetable market in Tokyo.
Better view of the fruit/vegetable market toward the end of the corridor.
Hauling green onions.
At the end of the corridor, there’s this big observation deck where you can see the wholesale section of the fruit and vegetable market.
Not much action in the fruit and vegetable market since it was in the afternoon.
The fruit market’s biggest item is mikan (tangerines), then citrus.
The vegetable market’s biggest item is cabbage, then daikon.
Across the water from Toyosu is the Tokyo Olympic Village under construction.

Since we couldn’t eat sushi at Toyosu Market, we took the train to Toyosu Station two stops away and had a late lunch there instead. Near Toyosu Station is a restaurant called Cafe Haus. It’s a good restaurant. At least we ate in Toyosu.

On a street corner near Toyosu Station is where 7-11’s first store in Japan opened in 1974. It’s still operating here in the same building. Toyosu is quite a new, modern town. Lots of construction still going on. It’s turning out quite well.

Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple

With the world-famous Tsukiji fish market moving from Tsukiji to Toyosu in October 2018, Tokyo’s Tsukiji area is undergoing major changes. After 83 years of Tsukiji being synonymous with Tokyo’s fish market, a glorious chapter in Tsukiji’s history has ended.

But every ending has a new beginning. The former fish market’s popular Outer Market with sushi restaurants and shops has been enhanced and will stay put to continue the Tsukiji brand. Also spreading its wings in Tsukiji is the venerable Tsukiji Hongwanji Buddhist Temple (築地本願寺), almost next door to the Outer Market.

Tsukiji Hongwanji is the Tokyo headquarters temple of the Jodo Shinshu Pure Land sect (Hongwanji School 浄土真宗 本願寺派), Japan’s largest Buddhist sect with over 10,000 temples in Japan and over 7 million adherents. It is also the largest traditional Japanese Buddhist sect outside Japan with about 200 temples and groups overseas, mainly in Hawaii (30+) and North and South America (100+). The mother temple is Nishi Hongwanji (World Heritage Site) in Kyoto. Tsukiji Hongwanji employs about 70 priests headed by Ohtani Kojun (大谷光淳 1977– ) who is also the sect’s 25th head priest (Monshu 門主) and descendant of sect founder Shinran (親鸞 1173–1263).

It is not to be confused with Higashi Hongwanji belonging to the Jodo Shinshu Otani School. (Note that “Hongwanji” is pronounced “Honganji.” It is spelled “Hongwanji” because that’s the way it was archaically romanized in the late 19th century when the sect started propagating overseas. It was before standardized romanization [Hepburn system] was popularly adopted in Japan and the sect has not changed this original spelling which remains the official spelling in English.)

Barrel vault roof shaped like a Bodhi tree leaf.

Enter Tsukiji Hongwanji’s front gate and behold an imposing Indian-style building unlike any other Buddhist temple in Japan. This is the main worship hall (Hondo) with the center roof having a barrel vault, shaped like a Bodhi tree leaf containing a lotus flower design. The design is similar to the Ajanta Buddhist Caves (Cave 9) in India. It is complemented by stupas on the left and right ends of the building.

Built in 1934 in ferroconcrete, the Hondo was designed by Ito Chuta (伊東 忠太 1867–1954), a renown architect who also designed Meiji Shrine, Yushima Seido, Heian Shrine, Haiseiden, and many other buildings. He had studied architecture in India, China, and Turkey. Tsukiji Hongwanji is one of his greatest masterpieces blending Indian, Western, Islamic, and Japanese design elements. He included many interesting little features like winged lions, animal sculptures, stained glass, and Islamic arches.

Go up the center steps to enter the main temple hall.
Winged lions at the bottom of the steps.

The original temple was first built in 1617 near Higashi Nihonbashi and called “Edo Asakusa Mido.” It was destroyed by the Great Meireki Fire in 1657, then relocated and rebuilt on reclaimed land aptly named “Tsukiji” (“built-up land”) in 1679. Called “Tsukiji Gobo” (築地御坊), it was a Japanese-style temple that faced what is now the Outer Market. The Outer Market area was originally a temple town with many secondary temples. Tsukiji Gobo was consumed by fire in 1923 caused by the Great Kanto Earthquake.

The temple was then totally redesigned and rebuilt in 1934 facing the direction it faces today, away from the Outer Market area where only three temples remain today. Tsukiji Hongwanji and the Outer Market have had a long joint history.

During World War II in March 1945, the Hondo luckily missed being firebombed. The Indian-style temple has thus survived to this day. In 2012, the temple’s official name was changed from “Hongwanji Tsukiji Betsuin” to “Tsukiji Hongwanji.” In practice though, people have always referred to it as “Tsukiji Hongwanji.” The nickname is now the official name. It has retained the archaic English spelling of “Hongwanji” (vs. “Honganji”) as part of its official name in English as do the sect’s temples in Hawaii. In 2014, the Hondo, temple gate pillars, and perimeter stone walls were designated as National Important Cultural Properties.

To enter the Hondo, pass the winged lions and go up the center steps to the second floor. The interior is impressive with an ornate ceiling, a large golden altar area, and a huge pipe organ in the back. Instead of tatami mats, there are 550 chairs. No need to take off your shoes. The interior blends Japanese, Jodo Shinshu, Indian, and Western design. Anyone can enter the Hondo for free (open daily 6:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.). An English brochure is also available.

Altar inside Tsukiji Hongwanji’s air-conditioned Hondo main worship hall.
Hondo main worship hall’s maximum capacity is 1,000 including standing room.
Carved ranma transoms in gold leaf. 欄間
There are English instructions on how to pray and offer incense.
A standing statue of Amida Buddha at the altar’s center.

The large altar is gold to symbolize the Pure Land. The gold leaf was completely redone in 2012 for the first time since the temple was built. The principal object of reverence is a standing Amida Buddha statue in the center. On the left and right of the main altar are secondary altars and sub-chambers for other subjects of reverence. On the right are a secondary altar for sect founder Shinran and a sub-chamber for Prince Shotoku Taishi (574–622) who introduced Buddhism to Japan.

On the left is an altar with a scroll painting of Shonyo (勝如上人 1911–2002), the sect’s 23rd Monshu (during 1927–1977) and former head priest of Tsukiji Hongwanji who widely spread the teachings even overseas. His real name was Kosho Otani (大谷光照), a cousin of the late Emperor Hirohito and the grandfather of the current Monshu. The left sub-chamber has the Seven Jodo Shinshu Patriarchs (scroll paintings) named by Shinran as the key Buddhist monks in India, China, and Japan who helped develop the Jodo Shinshu religion. It is typical for temples of this sect to have secondary altars for Shinran, Shotoku Taishi, and the Seven Jodo Shinshu Patriarchs.

Shinran on the immediate right of the main altar.
Seven Jodo Shinshu Patriarchs in Tsukiji Hongwanji.
You can see priests chanting in front of the altar daily at 7:00 a.m. (45 min.) and 4:30 p.m. (15 min.).
Tsukiji Hongwanji’s pipe organ pipes. The organ is on the lower right in the photo.

The back of the Hondo has the huge pipe organ with 2,000 pipes. It was donated by the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai Buddhist propagation society and installed in 1970. Played for weddings, services, and lunchtime concerts on the last Friday of the month at 12:20 p.m.–12:50 p.m.

Lotus flower stained glass above the Hondo’s front door.
Marble statues of Buddhist-related animals along the stairway to the Hondo’s 1st floor.
Memorial table for hide (X Japan) on the 1st floor lobby of the Hondo.

Another must-see “altar” is the memorial table for hide (pronounced “hee-day”), the legendary guitarist for the heavy metal band X Japan who died at age 33. Ever since his funeral was held at Tsukiji Hongwanji in May 1998 (attended by 50,000), fans have been paying tribute here by leaving memorabilia, letters, photos, and notebooks filled with handwritten messages even in English by foreigners. Perhaps this is the only major temple in Japan to have something like this for a rock star.

On the left of the Hondo, entrance to Mombo Hall.
Mombo Hall (聞法ホール)

On the left of the main temple hall is Mombo Hall (聞法ホール), a small worship hall. This is where the English Service and fellowship is held on the last Saturday of the month at 5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. Check their web page for the exact schedule and guest sermon.

In 2017 for its 400th anniversary, Tsukiji Hongwanji started a new outreach project (“Tera to Project” 「寺と」プロジェクト) to make itself more integral, relevant, and helpful in the community. Indeed, their summer bon dance celebration is now a huge outdoor food fest attracting 80,000 over four evenings. People fill the chairs and tables spread over almost the entire area in front of the temple. Lots of people dance around the yagura tower too. The food booths are popular and a few are run by eateries from the Tsukiji Outer Market.

Tsujiki Hongwanji bon dance in early Aug. 2018.
Costume Night at Tsukiji Hongwanji bon dance. Also watch the hilarious video below.

A major part of this outreach project is the Information Center that opened in November 2017 left of the Hondo. It houses mainly Cafe Tsumugi (open every day 8:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.) along with a multilingual information desk, temple gift shop, lecture room, and bookshop (2nd floor). During the bon dance, the rooftop is open for diners like a beer garden.

Information Center opened in Nov. 2017.
Inside the Information Center, Cafe Tsumugi (open 8:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.) .
Cafe Tsumugi’s Japanese Breakfast with 18 Dishes (18品の朝ごはん).

Operated by the Pronto coffee shop chain, Cafe Tsumugi has an extensive menu for meals (Japanese and Western cuisine), drinks (including alcohol), and confections. They even have power outlets for laptops, tablets, etc. For breakfast served 8:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m., I had to try their “Japanese Breakfast with 18 Dishes” (18品の朝ごはん). The picture on the menu makes it irresistible. A colorful assortment of 18 dishes including rice porridge, miso soup, and flavorful bite-size dishes like salmon roe, eggplant, tofu, duck, and matcha jelly dessert. A few of the dishes like the fried egg and fish cake were made by famous eateries at the Outer Market. The number “18” refers to the 18th and primal vow (hongan) of Amida Buddha. Hot or cold tea is included. Definitely social media material.

Note that Cafe Tsumugi has become very popular for breakfast (8:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m.). They now distribute reservation tickets (seiriken) to the first 110 people in line for breakfast. It’s less crowded for lunch and dinner when no reservation tickets are required.

Temple gift shop inside the Information Center.

Tsukiji Hongwanji has other notable buildings, facilities, monuments, and even graves. The Hondo building has a modern building on both the right and left ends. The building on the right end is the Daiichi Dendo Kaikan (第一伝道会館) open to the public. It houses a tea lounge, restaurant, meeting rooms, and temple lodging facilities (3rd floor).

The left end has the Daini Dendo Kaikan (第二伝道会館) mainly housing the Rengeden worship hall (蓮華殿) for smaller funerals, weddings, etc., for up to 200 people.

On the right end of the Hondo, the Daiichi Dendo Kaikan (第一伝道会館).
Daini Dendo Kaikan (第二伝道会館) on the left end of the Hondo.
Rengeden worship hall (蓮華殿) in Daini Dendo Kaikan.

The left stupa houses the temple bell. On New Year’s Eve, the public can enter the left stupa to ring out the old year or ring in the new year. The right stupa is currently not used for anything.

Tsukiji Hongwanji’s left stupa houses the temple bell.
Temple bell inside Tsukiji Hongwanji’s left stupa (not open to the public).
On New Year’s Eve at Tsukiji Hongwanji, the first 350 people can enter the left stupa and ring out the old year from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. (Joya-e).
Hanamatsuri (Buddha’s birthday) on April 8 is another major event with a neighborhood parade led by a white elephant.

Next to the Information Center, the Goudoubo (合同墓) is like a communal gravesite opened in Nov. 2017. Compared to conventional cemeteries, it is a low-cost way to keep and maintain a grave for yourself and to assure that priests will keep praying for you.

Goudoubo (合同墓) communal gravesite and worship hall.
Temple gate pillars at the front gate (photo) and side gates are National Important Cultural Properties.
Perimeter stone walls are National Important Cultural Properties.
Statue of sect founder Saint Shinran, built in 1975.
Monuments and graves along the front perimeter. English provided.

With the fish market gone, Tsukiji Hongwanji and the Outer Market are destined to take the helm and continue working together for the betterment of Tsukiji and its visitors. I look forward to seeing how Tsukiji’s new era will unfold.

Tsukiji Hongwanji is closest to subway stations Tsukiji (Hibiya Line), Higashi-Ginza (Asakusa Line), Tsukiji-shijo (Oedo Line), and Shintomicho (Yurakucho Line). 
Map: https://goo.gl/maps/LocKLpvtNvs

*Special thanks to Tsukiji Hongwanji and Cafe Tsumugi for their kind cooperation for this article.

Website: http://tsukijihongwanji.jp/

*This article is an expanded version of my article published in via magazine, the onboard magazine of the Airport Limousine bus in the Tokyo area and lobby magazine at all branches of Mizuho Bank in Japan.

Other Tokyo Temple articles:

Koganji Temple, Sugamo (Winter 2019)

Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple (Autumn 2018)

Asakusa Sensoji Temple (Summer 2018)

Zojoji Temple (Spring 2018)

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