Bunkyo ward seems to have a lot of temples. Gokokuji is one of them, and while it is a little off the beaten track, for anyone with an interest in Tokyo’s history, its architecture and traditions it should be on your bucket list. Actually, I’m going to give you a list of reason why I like this place and, why you should visit it too.
The first reason why I like Gokokuji is because, simply speaking, it is usually quite empty of people. Whenever I’ve been there I’ve only ever seen a few worshippers and no tourists. Every time you go there, you can just walk around and take your time to explore. It’s great, unlike fighting your way through crowds at Sensoji or Meiji Shrine.
Second, the temple was founded in 1681 by the fifth shogun Tsunayoshi Tokugawa, in honour of his mother, so it is of historic significance. Third, from what I understand, Gokokuji is rather unique in Tokyo in that it has survived three centuries of fires, earthquakes and wars (including the bombings of World War II). It therefore offers a rare look at Edo Period structures and their architecture, because many temples in Japan were rebuilt only decades ago.
Fourth, the walk from the main gate and up the azalea-lined steps to the Furomon Gate is especially memorable as it is quite steep - quite unlike most temple entrances in Tokyo, which are usually flat. Just remember to look back when you reach the top, as the view is quite good. Then, it is into the courtyard.
Fifth, from the courtyard you can see main hall in front of you which has been designated an “Important Cultural Property” . There are also other buildings, a great statue of the Buddha and (two-storey) pagoda. The pagoda, is probably the newest building on the grounds, having been built in 1938. This area, between all the main buildings seems very spacious probably due to the fact that there are usually so few people there.
Sixth, Gokokuji is also famous for its flowers as it has cherry blossoms and zelkovas. It also has a flower festival in April to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday. If you are a flower lover, it certainly is a good place to go. I’ll have to admit though, I haven’t been there during that festival yet (but of course it is on my bucket list).
Lastly, the cemetery at Gokokuji is interesting. Temple contains the graves of many famous people including English architect Josiah Conder, one of my favourite people associated with Tokyo, as he designed many buildings in the city (including Kyu-Furukawa and Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens). You’ll even find the graves of Keizo Ogawa and his wife Sachiko, the founders of the cake shop, Cozy Corner. The architecture of some of the graves is incredible. And, as with many cemeteries, you will find local cats that have taken up residence in it.
Gokokuji might be a little out of the way for some, but if you are temple-lover, I highly recommend it. The buildings are beautiful as is the cemetery, and both are of high historical significance. If you want to see the temple’s website please follow this link here, as the pictures on it are very high-quality!
How to get to Gokokuji
Gokokuji station (Yurakucho subway line) is very close to Gokokuji. Leave by the number 3 exit (you’ll be next to a FamilyMart convenience store) and the temple is just over the road. Here is a Google map to help you:
The grounds of Gokokuji are open twenty-four hours.
If you enjoyed this article you might like these too:
Bunko Civic Hall - one of Tokyo lesser-known observatories but one that deserves a visit
Fukagawa Edo Museum - a small museum in Kiyoseumi, where you can learn about old Tokyo
Meguro Sky Garden - a park with a difference. It’s on top of a busy road junction!
Tama Cemetery - one of Tokyo’s big cemetery and this one is of very high historical value!
Yushima Tenjin - one of Tokyo’s important shrines and famous for its plum blossom garden