Sengakuji is one of the most important temples in Tokyo, however, a visit there is rarely about the temple. The majority of people who go there, go to visit the graves of the people who are associated with one of Japan’s most famous stories, 47 Ronin. Even though the events of that story happened over 300 years ago, it has become one of Japan’s most famous tales. Many movies, books, TV dramas and Kabuki plays have retold it. I doubt there is a single person in Japan today who doesn't know the story.
As you walk through the front gate, there are a couple of souvenir shops and then another gate with a courtyard and the main hall behind. Benches there seem to be occupied only during lunch times when workers from nearby companies use them to eat outside.
The cemetery of the ronin, found on the left side of the complex, is small. I really need to stress small because it is! And it is an austere place. Nothing colourful or unnecessary about it. It 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.
On either side of the path to the cemetery, there are 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 to think that the people who took part in one of the biggest and most important stories in Japanese history, are right before you. They and their story are still celebrated even to this day. Every December 14, a parade of reenactors dressed in full gear, marching to the temple recreating the events of that day so long ago. Yes, this temple is still very important.
Until November, 29 2019, Asano’s grave is undergoing maintenance work and is placed behind a protective sheet and therefore cannot be viewed.
How to get to Sengakuji
Use the Toei-Asakusa subway line to get to Sengakuji station. 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.
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The Railway Museum - a great place to learn about Japan's railway history
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building - the best FREE observatory in the city