A tour of the final resting site of Tokugawa shoguns

Deep within the Toeizan Kaneiji temple lies the final resting site of successive generations of mighty Tokugawa shoguns. Off the beaten path and away from the bustling throngs of parkgoers, in this installment, we take a sneak peek at the Tokugawa mausoleum, a serene site that is normally off-limits to the public.

By Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture

Kan'ei-ji Kompon Chu-do hallUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

A temple tied to the Tokugawa clan

The Toeizan Kaneiji was built for the geomantic protection of Edo Castle. Although famous today as one of the bodaiji, or funeral temples, for the Tokugawa clan after the Zojoji in Shiba. Kaneiji was originally considered a holy site for prayer, modeled after Hieizan's Enryakuji temple.  Not somewhere initially intended to be sullied by a funerary pall, it seems an exception was made for the Tokugawa. Ultimately, six of the fifteen Tokugawa rulers were interred in the family mausoleum: 4th shogun Ietsuna, 5th shogun Tsunayoshi, 8th shogun Yoshimune, 10th shogun Ieharu, 11th shogun Ienari, and 13th shogun Iesada. 

Aoi crest in Kan'ei-jiUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The three-leafed Tokugawa crest can be spotted throughout Kaneiji.

Stone lantern and Aoi crestUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

This lantern even bears the Tokugawa crest.

Inside view of Kompon Chu-doUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

A golden curtain emblazoned with the Tokugawa crest is seen in the Konpon Chudo hall.


Photo courtesy of Kaneiji temple

Emperor gateUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Jyoken Inrei Byo: Mausoleum of the 4th and 5th shoguns

Although it is off-limits to the public, I was given a rare tour of the mausoleum of Ietsuna and Tsunayoshi. Passing under the impressive Imperial Scroll Gate, upon setting foot in the hallowed precincts, I felt a chill down my spine as if being purified by the rarefied air. The site was originally populated with a haiden worship hall, bell tower, and perambulatory cloisters. But after the passage of centuries, all that remains of the former splendor, apart from the stone funerary towers for each shogun, are the Imperial Scroll Gate and the chozuya, a decorative trough holding water for ritual purification.

ChozuyaUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The chozuya in the mausoleum of Tsunayoshi.

Stone lanternsUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

A procession of stone lanterns donated by feudal daimyo lords lines the pathway. Of the 2,000 lanterns which once lined the site, only 100 or so remain today.

Tsunayoshi's treasure towerUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

A karamon gate in the auspicious “tortoise shell” pattern. The funerary pagoda of Tsunayoshi is seen in the background.

Karamon PhoenixUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

A phoenix perches on the right side of the karamon gate.

Kirin of KaramonUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

A mystical kirin prances on the left side of the gate.

Yoshimune's treasure towerUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The funerary pagoda of Yoshimune, an advocate of frugality in his lifetime, is made of austere stone. 

Iesada's treasure towerUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

A portal to paradise

Rumor has it that the Land of Pure Bliss can be found inside the mausoleum, a capsule of Buddhist paradise on earth. Even as war and natural disaster felled the other structures which once stood on the Kaneiji grounds, the funerary pagodas survived with hardly a scratch, perhaps through divine intervention. The mausoleum contains the graves of 5th shogun Tsunayoshi, 8th shogun Yoshimune, and 13th shogun Iesada, along with one of Iesada's wives, Tensho-in, also known as Atsuhime. ''During Yoshimune's time, the shoguns were prohibited from erecting opulent new mausoleums,'' explained Toeizan Kaneiji priest Ryogaku Ishikawa. ''They were only allowed to build these funerary pagodas, sharing mausoleum real-estate with their ancestors.'' 

Tensho-in Atsushi's CemeteryUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

The funerary pagoda of the 3rd shogun Iesada stands next to the grave of his wife, Atsuhime.

Ishigawa Ryogaku, Steward, Toeizan Kan'ei-ji TempleUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Toeizan Kaneiji priest Ryogaku Isihkawa.

Tokugawa's Mortuary tabletUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Visitors can pay the respects to the main line of the Tokugawa clan to the left and the collective “three-houses” to the right.

Scenery inside the mausoleum 1Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture

All eyes on Edo Castle

Curiously, the graves of the Tokugawa shogun all face the same direction. ''The graves were situated to face Edo Castle; it seems that back in those times, people were in the practice of orienting graves in a direction that was meaningful to the deceased.'' He adds that the shoguns were reportedly buried seated directly underneath the stone markers, still garbed in their regal vestments. Even in death, the shoguns watch over their city for eternity.

Scenery inside the mausoleum 2Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture

It is a testament to the skill of the Edo period craftsmen that the stone enclosure stands resolute after centuries of earthquakes and war.

Exterior of Kompon Chu-doUeno, a Global Capital of Culture

Kaneiji is the idyllic final resting place of successive generations of Tokugawa shoguns.

Credits: Story

Courtesy of Implementation Committee for New Concept "Ueno, a Global Capital of Culture” (Ueno Cultural Park) 

Special Thanks to the Toeizan Kaneiji temple
Photos: Tadashi Okochi
Text: Emi Iwamoto
Editing: Sayaka Tsukuda

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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