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)

Visit to Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture

In Oct. 2018, I visited Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture for the first time. Famous for the Oriental white stork, Toyooka turned out to be a great tourist town with lots to see besides the beautiful storks. Toyooka is about a 2.5-hour express train ride north of Osaka or Kyoto Station.

First on my list for Toyooka was the Hyogo Park of the Oriental White Stork (兵庫県立コウノトリの郷公園). The Oriental White Stork Park is a short bus ride from JR Toyooka Station (JR San’in Line). Free admission. http://www.stork.u-hyogo.ac.jp/

The Oriental White Stork Park is in the middle of rice paddies near some mountains. It is a bird sanctuary, college research facility, stork museum, and tourist attraction (gift shops).

Once found all over Japan, the Oriental white stork (“kounotori” in Japanese) became extinct in the wild in Japan in 1971 despite preservation efforts since 1955. Toyooka was where the last living Oriental white stork in Japan died in 1986. Pesticides in rice paddies (where they feed) and other environmental problems caused their demise.

In 1985, six wild Oriental white stork chicks from the USSR (Khabarovsk) were acquired to be raised in Toyooka. From 1989, the birds from Russia started to breed successfully in captivity in Toyooka every year. From 2005, the park started releasing Oriental white storks into the wild in Toyooka, which was a great celebration. The birds then started to breed and reproduce in the wild. They’ve been releasing only a few birds (fewer than 5) almost every year.

As of Oct. 2018, Japan has over 140 Oriental white storks in the wild. They are also successfully breeding in Tokushima, Shimane, and Kyoto Prefectures. It’s still an endangered species, with only slightly over 2,000 of them in the Far East.

Open cage
Open cage with paddies.

The Oriental White Stork Park keeps nine storks in an open cage (no roof), but their wings have been clipped. So all park visitors are guaranteed to see storks here.

One half of the open cage has these terraced paddies where the park feeds the birds once a day. The storks are carnivores, feeding on fish, frogs, snakes, rabbits, mice, etc. The park feeds them mainly fish.

The best time to visit the park is during the feeding time 9:30 am–10 am. Park staff throw small dead fish into the paddies. The storks then go to the paddies and feed. A few wild storks also fly in to feed.

Feeding time at the open cage for Oriental white storks.
Flying in for some grub.
Fighting grey herons.

The storks’ feeding time also attracts unwanted birds like the grey heron (always fighting each other), crows, and black kites trying to steal fish.

The park and adjacent area have nesting platforms. Each nesting platform has a video camera monitoring it 24/7 especially during the egg-laying and hatching season in spring. More Oriental white stork photos here: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=1038

If you take a local bus from JR Toyooka Station to the Oriental white stork park, you may ride a bus that looks like a bag. Toyooka is a major producer of bags. It even has a street named “Caban (Bag) Street” with a number of bag shops.

My next stop in Toyooka was Kinosaki Onsen (城崎温泉), only a 10-min. train ride from JR Toyooka Station. It’s one of the best onsen I’ve ever visited in Japan. It’s picturesque, and the main highlight are the seven public hot spring baths (sotoyu 外湯). They are all distinctly different, the baths, decor, etc. A few of them look palatial. Guests who stay at a ryokan in Kinosaki Onsen can visit all seven public baths for free. But daytrippers like me have to pay admission for each one, costing ¥600 or ¥700. However, they have a public bath day pass for only ¥1,200 (外湯めぐり券). Use it to enter all seven. Great deal! Definitely one of the best bargains in Japan!

Kinosaki Onsen has a long history of 1,300 years. A favorite hot spring for centuries. Lots to see and do. All the attractions are within walking distance from Kinosaki Onsen Station. Compact hot spring town.

Ichinoyu, perhaps the most famous public bath in Kinosaki Onsen. Looks like a kabuki theater. 一の湯
Ichinoyu’s outdoor bath is in a small cavern.
Kinosaki Onsen Ropeway goes to Onsenji Temple.
People are encouraged to stroll around Kinosaki Onsen while wearing yukata.
You can soft-boil your onsen eggs yourself in hot spring water.

More photos of Kinosaki Onsen: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=1042

Shinkoro Clock Tower in Izushi. (辰鼓楼)

Another must-see in Toyooka is Izushi (出石), a short bus ride from JR Toyooka Station. Izushi was town that merged with Toyooka. There’s the Shinkoro Clock Tower, Izushi Castle, and Eirakukan kabuki theater. Izushi soba noodles are also the local favorite. Many soba shops. All the major sights are within walking distance from the Izushi bus terminal.

Izushi Castle (出石城跡)
Eirakukan kabuki theater, the Kansai Region’s oldest kabuki theater built in 1901. (永楽館)
At Eirakukan, you can also go underneath the stage and see the revolving stage. It’s rotated by hand.
Izushi soba is famous for having cold soba served on five small plates. Dip the noodles in the broth while adding different garnishes like grated yam, onions, and raw egg. (出石そば)

You should spend at least two days in Toyooka. The Oriental white stork park and Izushi on one day, and Kinosaki Onsen on another day. Toyooka Station also has the Kyoto Tango Railway that runs to Amanohashidate in northern Kyoto. Lots to see and explore in this area.

More Izushi photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=1040

More Toyooka photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/index.php?cat=363

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.

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