Situated on the periphery of Ueno Park in Tokyo, the Kaneiji temple (as it’s commonly called) was built in 1625 and is historically important to the city of Tokyo and the nation of Japan. It was here in 1869 that supporters of the Emperor attacked the forces of the last Tokugawa shogun.
I didn’t know much about the history of Japan before my trip, but I’m finding it fascinating as I research for these blog posts.
Here are a couple of terms I’ve heard all my life but didn’t really know the true definition until now: (I’ve only included a brief definition)
Shogun – military dictator of Japan from 1185 to 1868 (with exceptions).
Samurai – middle and upper echelons of the warrior class
I found out during this research that this temple marks the final resting place of 6 of the last samurais.
I had no idea at the time why these statues wore scarves, but later in the week I walked around with a friend who was born and raised in Tokyo, and she told me that it is common for people to knit bibs or hats for statues out of reverence, as a way to protect the statues from the elements. An alternate version is that some of these statues are believed to be divinities and the person who knits something for the statue is asking for protection for/from whatever deity the statue embodies. Buddhism is a very complex religion and I don’t pretend to understand it. I was lucky that my friend imparted some bits of knowledge to me so that I would at least know what to google when I got home! (Thank you, Chisa!)
If you can’t read the sign that’s posted in the photo above, let me write it here:
“MUSHIZUKA: A tomb for insects at which a Daimyo (Lord) of the Edo era, who was skillful at sketching insects, interred and held a memorial service for the insects”
OF COURSE I had to know more about that! Turns out, Atlas Obscura (love them so hard!) had already written an article about it. Here is an excerpt:
In 1821, aristocrat Sessai Matsuyma ordered the erection of the monument. Its purpose was to console the spirits of the flies, crickets, and grasshoppers that had been killed in the production of a scientific text — an anatomical study of insects that Matsuyama himself had commissioned. Although the book, the Chuchi-jo, would become famous for its realistic rendering of the insects, it seems Matsuyama was plagued by guilt at having caused the deaths of so many fellow living creatures. Or perhaps he simply wanted to honor the bugs for their contribution.
Today, the simple monument he built to honor insects sacrificed for science is designated as a historical monument by the Tokyo City government.
(That’s kind of adorable in a weird sort of way, dontcha think?)
A truth I could not deny when I was in Japan, is that everything they do is artful. The details are exquisite on most everything seen. I loved the copper work on this pillar:
I wish I could have been present when a monk rang that bell. (Reminds me of the movie 2012) I bet it was something, to behold the seriousness and feel the vibrations in your chest. I had to settle for seeing the earliest beginnings of cherry blossom season.
I was excited to see the pink blossoms, but I think I found out later that some of the trees I thought were cherry were actually plum. Oh well – they were still pretty!
I visited more temples and even took part in a purification ceremony to enter the temple with my friend. Come back soon for posts on that!