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 in the story happened over 300 years ago, it has become one of Japan’s most famous tales. So 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.
While the temple itself is one of Tokyo's most revered it is also a very prestigious Buddhist institution, being on rather small it doesn’t draw as many visitors as say Sensoji or Meiji shrine. Here, the overwhelming majority of people 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.
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. 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.
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