From late April to mid May, the garden of the Nezu Shrine bursts into life, as thousands of azalea bushes bloom, dabbing the green hills with their rainbow-colored foliage. This garden is over three hundred years old and contains a hundred different species of azalea.
The Maneki Neko, or “Beckoning Cat,” is one of Japan’s most iconic images. Thought to bring luck and prosperity to their owners, these cats are frequently found outside businesses and within homes. And in the neighborhood of Setagaya, we found the Gotoku-ji temple, where the Maneki Neko plays a starring role.
On a wintry night in 1703, the 47 loyal retainers of Lord Asano fought their way into the home of Lord Kira and struck him down. With the decapitated head of their enemy in tow, they marched slowly back through the streets of Edo, headed for Shinagawa and the Sengaku-ji temple, where they would lay Kira’s head at the foot of Lord Asano’s grave. Their mission of revenge complete, the ronin would soon take their own lives.
Nagatacho is the administrative center of the Japanese government. Ark Hills is a massive complex combining condominiums, shopping and entertainment. And the Hie Shrine is a peaceful place of worship on a wooded hill. We visited these three adjacent, but completely different, spots during one long day in south-central Tokyo.
By lunch, the historic neighborhood of Fukagawa had already provided us with a surprisingly entertaining day, and we still had a couple things to visit after eating. The Fudo-do Temple dates from 1703, and the nearby Tomioka Hachiman Shrine is famous for its connection to the world of sumo.
Today, it’s hidden in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower, but the temple of Zojo-ji was once among the grandest in Japan. This was the Tokugawa clan’s favored place of worship, and the resting place of many shoguns. We visited the temple on Buddha’s birthday and, afterwards, took time to check out the nearby Shiba Detached Palace Garden.
There was a time when one could see the entirety of Tokyo, or Edo as it was then known, from atop Atago Hill. Today the view is obscured by a wall of skyscrapers, but climbing the steep hill is still worth the effort, thanks to the presence of the Atago Shrine and the adjacent NHK Broadcast Museum.
We only visited Meguro because of its reputation as a great spot to view cherry blossoms. But while there, we figured we should see more, and embarked on a walk that took us to four of the neighborhood’s temples.
Directly across from one of Tokyo’s craziest areas (Harajuku) is one of its most serene. Built to guard the spirits of Emperor Meiji and the Empress Consort Shōken, the Meiji Shrine is tucked away in a large evergreen forest, which neither the city’s noise nor stress can reach.
Tokyo’s oldest temple is the Sensō-ji, constructed in the year 645. Like almost everything else in this city plagued by earthquakes and fire, it’s been rebuilt multiple times, but has always been an important place of worship.