Tokyo: Zojoji Temple and Tokyo Tower
In the Minato ward of Tokyo are two sites worth visiting: the Zojoji Temple and the Tokyo Tower. These two sites, respectively representing the traditional and a more modern side of Japan, are located adjacent to each other, so you may just have a walk to one of them after visiting the other.
Zojoji Temple is the head temple of the Jodo sect of Buddhism in the Kanto plain, located in Minato district of Tokyo, right beside the famous Tokyo Tower.
When we arrived at the site in the late summer afternoon, the sky is almost overcast and the winds blew cold. It adds to the eerie atmosphere, especially when you learn that it is also a funeral temple of one of the most powerful clans in feudal Japan, the Tokugawa clan.
The temple was founded by Shuei during the 9th century in Kaizuka, in what is now the present-day Kojimachi in Chiyoda ward in Tokyo. It was converted to Jodo school by Yuyu Shoso in 1393. In 1598, the future Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu moved the temple to its present site and made it his funeral temple (called bodaiji in Japanese).
You may have noticed this familiar symbol that is emblazoned in several spots in the temple grounds. If you are familiar with Naruto, each clan depicted in the manga/anime series has their own symbol. This is the same in real-life Japan. In this case, what you are seeing is the family crest of the Tokugawa clan.
Most of the structures of the Zojoji are concrete reconstruction of the original that was decimated during the Allied firebombings of the Second World War.
The only original structure that miraculously survived that brutal firebombing is the Sangedatsu Gate (三解脱門 Sangedatsu Mon). The original structure dates back to 1622, and aside from the Second World War it also survived numerous fires and earthquakes. It has been designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan. It is believed, that whoever passes through this gate will be freed from three passions of greed, hatred, and foolishness.
From the Sangedatsu gate is a concrete road running outward, and you might notice an Eastern-style gate standing in the middle of it. Only later that we knew that it is also part of the Zojoji, and it is the temple’s main entrance, named the Daimon (大門 “Great Gate”). It is the ferroconcrete reconstruction of the one that was destroyed by the Second World War.
One of the most interesting views of the Zojoji is the Main Temple with the Tokyo Tower behind it. It is probably a testament to the Japanese on blending the traditional with the modern times.
Being one of the two funeral temples of the Tokugawa clan in Tokyo, several members of the clan, including six of the fifteen Tokugawa shoguns, were buried here. There had been mausolea whose structures were built with splendor, but most were burned down during the Second World War.
Access to the temple grounds itself is free. If you are willing to spend 1,000 yen, you can access to the Tokugawa mausoleum and museum.
Zojoji Temple also has a section dedicated to the unborn children, including those aborted, miscarried and stillborn, represented by rows of small children statues. Parents can select one of the statues and adorn them with clothes and toys. Usually, a small gift is placed by the statue, intended for Jizo, the guardian of unborn children in Japanese culture, to assure their safe passage to the afterlife.
Sometime in life, we may have seen it among Japan’s postcards or in photos about Japan, and wondering if one of those photos have somewhat, it must not be there. We might be referring to a structure similar in shape to the famous Eiffel Tower of Paris.
Make no mistake, this is the Tokyo Tower. And yes, it is deliberately designed after the Eiffel tower. It is constructed during Japan’s postwar boom when private companies started their own television broadcasting after national broadcaster NHK successfully made their own. This shows how superb Japanese urban planning is, even from the ashes of the Second World War, they are imagining a flurry of broadcast towers rising all over Tokyo, one for each of these companies, and they disliked it. Why not make a single broadcast tower for all of Tokyo’s broadcast networks? This is how the Tokyo Tower came to be. Aside from addressing the broadcast needs of the entire Kanto plain, Japan wants to show the world something that would symbolize their rise from the ruins of war into a global economic superpower.
The original proposal is having the tower taller than the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the world at that time at 381 meters. But due to financial and resource constraints, the final height was cut to 333 meters, determined by the height requirement for (analog) TV signals to reach the entire Kanto plain. The new structure is also to withstand earthquakes and very strong typhoons. The Tokyo Tower was completed in 1958.
The tower is painted orange and white, in compliance with air safety regulations. The tower is repainted once every five years, with the entire repainting job taking a year.
Tokyo Tower has two observation decks, one at 150 meters, and the higher but smaller one at 249.6 meters.
The tower became one of the prominent landmarks and symbols of Tokyo and is frequently made as a reference point amongst the often confusing Tokyo skyline. It also frequently appears in films and animes to depict Tokyo, including a number of Godzilla films where it is often shown destroyed by the giant monsters.
Tokyo served the Kanto region effectively for half a century. But with Tokyo’s ever-rising skyscrapers, effective television reception is increasingly becoming a problem. Especially during the introduction of digital television broadcasting, which is more susceptible to interference compared to old-school analog broadcasting, it is learned that Tokyo Tower is no longer effective to completely serve the region primarily due to its height. Unlike in the 1950s, Japan already has the resource and money to build a much taller structure suitable for digital television transmission serving the entire Kanto plain. The Tokyo Skytree, almost double the height of the Tokyo Tower, was completed in 2012.
- Zojoji Temple: Free
- Tokyo Tower:
Y900 yen (main deck only)
Y2800 yen (both decks)
The closest subway stations to Tokyo Tower are Onarimon Station on the Mita Subway Line, Akabanebashi Station on the Oedo Subway Line and Kamiyacho on the Hibiya Subway Line, which are all about a 5-10 minute walk from the tower. Alternatively, you can reach the tower in about a 15-20 minute walk from Hamamatsucho Station on the JR Yamanote Line or Daimon Station on the Asakusa or Oedo subway lines.