The temple of Sengakuji is one of the most important in Tokyo, however, a visit there is rarely about visiting the temple, it is about visiting the men who lie in its cemetery. You might have seen them in the Keanu Reeves movie, 47 Ronin. The story was created about 300 years ago and has become one of Japan’s most famous tales. It has been made into many, almost countless, movies, books, TV dramas and Kabuki plays. I doubt there is a single person in Japan who doesn't know the story.
Sengakuji is one of Tokyo's major temples and it is also a very prestigious Buddhist institution. While it seems to have a constant flow of visitors to it, their number doesn't approach anywhere like those seen at Sensoji or Meiji shrine. I think it would be fair to say that the overwhelming majority of visitors come to see the graves of the ronin, their leader Ooishi Kuranosuke and the Daimyo, Naganori Asano.
As you walk in through the front gate, there are a couple of souvenir shops and then just inside the main gate is a courtyard with the main hall. The benches there seem to be occupied only during lunch times when workers from nearby companies use them to eat outside.
It is a great little cemetery. I really need to stress little, because even though the story is ultra-famous in this country and a Hollywood movie has been made about it, it is quite an austere place. Nothing colourful or ostentatious about it. The cemetery is basically a square-shaped area with graves arranged along the sides and in the middle. Asano is outside the square, as his grave was created first of course, and next to him lies several members of his family including his wife and grandmother. There is also a curator's office where you can pick up some postcards and even buy incense if you wish to make an offering to the men, but the cemetery is pretty much just that.
Sengakuji also has two museums (in which no photos are allowed unfortunately), both of which are just before the cemetery, one on each side of the path. One is filled with implements, letters, weapons, armour etc. that were connected with the story. The other museum is filled with statues of the men who participated in the story. In front of them is the actual well where Kira's head was washed before it was presented to Asano.
It is quite incredible that the people who took part in one of the most important stories in Japanese history, are right before you. You are so close to one of the biggest stories in Japanese history. It is a simple place, but a very important one in this country and is still celebrated today with a parade of the ronin marching to the temple every December 14. You can see the temple's website here and if you wish to know more about the story itself, you can follow this link here.
How to get to Sengakuji
Use the Toei-Asakusa subway line to get to Sengakuji station. The Toei-Asakusa line can be reached by several lines along the Yamanote line (Gotanda, Shinagawa, Nihonbashi and Shinbashi stations). Leave Sengakuji station using the A2 exit and look to the right. Up the hill and across the road will be the temple. It is just a few minute's walk from the station. You can also walk there from Shinagawa station (which is on the Yamanote line), which takes about 15 minutes along Dai-Ichi Keihin road.
Here is a Google map to give you some help:
The cemetery is open from 7am and is open until 5pm, but until 6 during the summer months.
Both museums are open from 9am to 4pm, closed on the last Wednesdays of February and August.
The cemetery is free, but the entry to both museums costs 500 yen for adults.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:
Hama-Rikyu Gardens - one of Tokyo's most beautiful parks
Imperial Palace - you won't see the Emperor but you will see where he lives
Omiya Hachiman - a local shrine in Tokyo
The Railway Museum - a great place to learn about Japan's railway history
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building - the best FREE observatory in the city