From pettiness to nothing, from pride to humble, from ignorance to wisdom. Do this daily and you ease your suffering and cause happiness to yourself and others too.
(Amitabha Buddha, Amituofo)
Hundreds of temples and shrines spread throughout the city of Tokyo, and while the number falls behind that of Kyoto, there are some notable ones tucked within residential neighborhoods. Joshinji Temple in Kuhombutsu (or Jiyugaoka) in Setagaya ward is one of them. The three-minute walk from Kuhombutsu station (or ten-minute walk from Jiyugaoka station) leads you to a long, narrow pathway “Sando,” lined with tall trees before the approach to the South Gate entrance. Joshinji Temple is a huge complex of several halls dating back to 1678. “Joshinji” was known to have been derived from the nearby mountain with the same name that belonged to the Jodo Buddhist sect. The name connotes truth and purification; thus, every three years on August 16, the “Welcome to the Pure Land” festival is held here, which has been designated as an intangible cultural treasure. The festival honors the Amida Buddha and his 25 attendant bodhisattvas that guide their believers to the “pure land” during their dying moment.
The massive grounds were previously occupied by the Okusawa Castle in 1678, reign of the 4th Emperor Shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna. Historical artifacts remain, including the “earthwork” construction during the Kamakura era (1192-1333). The castle itself tells of a tale about the castle lord’s daughter Princess Tokiwa who became a concubine of the Setagaya Castle Lord Kira Yoriyasu, and was entangled in a love conflict with the other lord’s concubines that she consequently took her own life. Her lover Shirasagi is said to be buried beneath the castle. Although the buildings had been horribly affected by earthquakes in the middle of the 19th century and the great Kantō earthquake in 1923, careful repair and regular maintenance throughout the centuries have brought back the original splendour of the land.
At the South Gate entrance, there is a group of charming stone sculptures of Jizo gods, who in Buddhism serve as protectors of children or unborn children and travelers. Jizo gods come in different forms but are usually miniature monk-like figurines wearing a red bib or cap. The temple grounds, which consist of five halls, cover about 120,000 square meters, making it one of the most spacious temples in Tokyo.
Before entering the main grounds, you pass through the Main Gate guarded by two statues of Amida Buddha and 25 attendant bodhisattvas by the Purple Cloud Tower. The gate is also called the Gate of the Two Deva Kings, built in 1793, and also installs the statues of the God of Wind and the God of Thunder. The role of the gods was to oversee the safety of the temple grounds.
The Main Hall is designated as a national cultural treasure and was originally hand constructed by the temple monk Kaseki Shonin. Despite several reparations over time, the exterior appearance of the original hall remains the same. Two large cranes guard the entrance of the building, which is constructed in symmetrical fashion. The other three halls across the Main Hall house the Three Buddhas built in 1698-1699 that guard the entire property. These amazingly preserved Buddha statues, sculpted by the monk Shonin, each show varying hand positions. The monk Shonin vowed to create nine different manifestations of the Amida Buddha when he was only 18 years old. He completed the ninth statue when he turned 51, proving his endeavor to be a lifetime achievement. Each of the halls, including the Main Hall consists of 36 round pillars. There are also 36 intervals between the Three Buddha halls and the Main Hall. This number was based on Amida Buddha’s 36 vows, and was deliberately assigned to the lot area of 36,000 Japanese tsubo (Japanese measurement for a land area). Such an auspicious connection with the religious beliefs strengthens the people’s firm relation with the temple.
Apart from the buildings, there is also a beautiful Japanese garden with a small pond, which exudes picturesque scenery in autumn or spring. You can take a quiet stroll around the vast complex and feel its deep history, surrounded by ancient trees, such as a kaya tree known to be 700 years old, Japanese horse chestnut tree tochi, Chinese black pine tree maki, and a Ginkgo tree icho, under which the Buddha was said to have attained enlightenment. Perhaps, this time of confusion and uncertainty beckons such a moment of spiritual contemplation.