Complete Guide: Jokanji Temple (Arakawa, Tokyo)

Jokanji Temple (Arakawa, Tokyo) Shrines and Temples
Jokanji Temple (Arakawa, Tokyo)

Tokyo Shitamachi Guide’s “Shrines and Temples” category introduces Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Tokyo’s Shitamachi area (the area along and east of the Sumida River).  We select a must-see shrine or temple for your sightseeing in Tokyo.

In this blog post, we will focus on Jokanji Temple. Jokanji Temple is a Buddhist temple of the Jodo sect in Arakawa Ward, Tokyo.

The principal image of Jokanji Temple is Amida Nyorai, the Buddha, who promises peace in your afterlife. The divine virtues of this Buddha are peaceful death, peaceful life, and others.

Jokanji Temple is also known as a throw-away temple. When a courtesan died in Yoshiwara Yukaku, her body was thrown into this temple without dignity or respect. Yoshiwara Yukaku is a legal red-light district that once existed near this temple.

As its alternate name, “the throw-away temple,” indicates, Jokanji Temple has many historical sites related to Yoshiwara Yukaku. Some examples are Shin-Yoshiwara Soreito, which holds memorial services for courtesans, and the grave of Wakamurasaki, a high-ranking courtesan from the Meiji period.

This blog post contains helpful information about Jokanji Temple, such as its history, highlights, and transportation options. Please refer to this blog post when you visit Tokyo’s Shitamachi area, especially the Asakusa area, for sightseeing.

This blog post is also available in Japanese. You can refer to it at the following link:

History

According to Jokanji Temple, its origin dates back to the 17th century. And its history is closely related to that of Yoshiwara Yukaku, a legal red-light district that once existed near this temple.

The Beginning of Jokanji Temple

The year when Jokanji Temple was founded is uncertain. According to its official website, this temple was built either in 1629 or in 1655. Whichever year it was, a Buddhist monk named Junha built Jokanji Temple. It is also unknown why he built the temple in this neighborhood.

Birth and relocation of Yoshiwara Yukaku

Jokanji Temple is closely related to Yoshiwara Yukaku. Yoshiwara Yukaku is Japan’s largest red-light district, which once existed in Nihonbashi and Nihondutsumi.

In 1617, the Tokugawa Shogunate permitted the establishment of Yukaku in Nihonbashi. This is the later Yoshiwara Yukaku. Yukaku is a red-light district surrounded by walls and moats.

The Tokugawa Shogunate had two major reasons why they allowed Yoshiwara Yukaku:

  • The government wanted to protect public morals and safety in Edo (now Tokyo) by concentrating brothels in one location.
  • The government wanted to collect taxes efficiently by making the landlord manage the Yukaku.

In 1656, the Tokugawa shogunate planned to relocate Yoshiwara Yukaku to another place. In 1657, Yoshiwara Yukaku moved from Nihonbashi to Nihonzutsumi, near Asakusa. Nihondutsumi is about a 10-minute walk from Jokanji Temple.

The reasons why the Tokugawa Shogunate relocated Yoshiwara Yukaku were the following:

  • Nihonbashi became the center of the town as Edo grew.
  • The Great Fire of Meireki in 1657 burned down most of Edo.

Yoshiwara Yukaku in Nihonbashi was called Moto-Yoshiwara (the former Yoshiwara), and one in Nihonzutsumi was called Shin-Yoshiwara (the new Yoshiwara).

Becoming a Throw-Away Temple

In the 1850s, a series of large earthquakes struck Japan. This series of earthquakes is called the Ansei Great Earthquakes.

In 1855, the 1855 Edo earthquake, the third Ansei Great Earthquake, occurred. This big earthquake caused great damage to downtown Edo.

The 1855 Edo earthquake burned most of Edo. Shin-Yoshiwara was also one of these areas where the fire spread. As a result, more than 500 women who worked in Shin-Yoshiwara died.

The women of Shin-Yoshiwara, who died in the 1855 Edo Earthquake, were buried in Jokanji Temple near Shin-Yoshiwara with no dignity or respect. For this reason, people called this Buddhist temple a throw-away temple.

In the Asakusa area, there are several throw-away temples for Shin-Yoshiwara, such as Shookuin Temple in Hashiba and Daionji Temple in Ryusen. But Jokanji Temple is the most famous.

Enshrined Deity and Its Blessings

Amida Nyorai

The principal image of Jokanji Temple is Amida Nyorai, the Buddha, who promises peace in your afterlife. The divine virtues of this Buddha are peaceful death, peaceful life, and others.

Highlights

Shin-Yoshiwara Soreito

Shin-Yoshiwara Soreito at Jokanji Temple (Arakawa, Tokyo)

Shin-Yoshiwara Soreito is a memorial tower for women who worked and died in Shin-Yoshiwara. This memorial tower was originally a memorial mound built in 1753. Jokanji Temple rebuilt it as Shin-Yoshiwara Soreito in 1929.

Shin-Yoshiwara Soreito was originally dedicated to the women of Shin-Yoshiwara who died in the 1855 Edo Earthquake. This tragedy killed more than 500 women in Shin-Yoshiwara.

Today, Shin-Yoshiwara Soreito is dedicated to people involved in Shin-Yoshiwara who were buried in Jokanji Temple during the 380 years of Shin-Yoshiwara’s history. Besides that, this memorial tower is also for those who died in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.

According to Jokanji Temple, Shin-Yoshiwara Soreito is dedicated to more than 25,000 people.

Hanamata Kasui’s Senryu Poem

Kasui’s Senryu Poem at Jokanji Temple (Arakawa, Tokyo)

You can find a senryu, a Japanese form of poetry, on the wall of Shin-Yoshiwara Soreito. This poem is by Hanamata Kasui, a senryu poet from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.

This senryu poem says, “Born in hell, buried in Jokanji Temple.” It expresses how hard the women’s lives at Shin-Yoshiwara were. They had extremely difficult lives. They had no dignity or respect, even when they died.

Wakamurasaki’s Grave

Wakamurasaki’s Grave at Jokanji Temple (Arakawa, Tokyo)

You can find Wakamurasaki‘s grave near the inner gate of Jokanji Temple. Wakamurasaki was an Oiran, the high-ranking Yujo at Shin-Yoshiwara, in the late 19th century. And Yujo was a woman who served male customers.

There is a very sad story about why Wakamurasaki’s grave was built here.

Wakamurasaki was a very beautiful, well-educated, and affectionate woman. Therefore, she got her name from “The Tale of Genji,” Japanese literature written in the 11th century.

In addition, Kadoebi-Ro Brothel, where Wakamurasaki worked, was one of the most prestigious brothels in Shin-Yoshiwara at the time. According to Wikipedia, successive prime ministers even visited this brothel.

As she was so popular, she was able to complete the contract as Yujo in five years, which was the shortest period for Yujo. She was going to marry her longtime lover after quitting the brothel.

It was just five days before Wakamurasaki’s last day at Shin-Yoshiwara. A man visited Shin-Yoshiwara. He was in love with a Yujo and wanted to commit suicide with her. But he found “his Yujo” was with another customer.

When the desperate man looked at Kadoebi-Ro Brothel, he found Wakamurasaki walking in the brothel. He approached her and cut her neck with a knife. She died at the age of 22 because of it.

People took pity on Wakamurasaki and built her grave at Jokanji Temple. It was in 1903.

For reference, Kadoebi-Ro Brothel was near the intersection of Nakanocho-Dori and Kyomachi-Dori Street in Shin-Yoshiwara. And you can find several memorial monuments dedicated by this brothel at Yoshiwara Benzaiten Temple.

If you are interested in visiting these sites, please refer to the blog post below:

Sunflower Jizo

Himawari Jizo at Jokanji Temple (Arakawa, Tokyo)

In front of Shin-Yoshiwara Soreito, you can find Himawari Jizo (Sunflower Jizo). As its name indicates, this Jizo statue is a Ksitigarbha with a sunflower.

There once was an area called San’ya in the neighborhood of Jokanji Temple, in addition to Shin-Yoshiwara. Many poor day laborers used to live in this area. Some people say San’ya was one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tokyo at the time.

Among the people living in San’ya, many ended their lives alone. Himawari Jizo of Jokanji Temple was dedicated to them, praying for peace after their deaths.

According to Jokanji Temple, the sunflower held by Himawari Jizo symbolizes day laborers who spent their lives working under the sun.

Nagai Kafu’s  Brush Mound

Nagai Kafu’s  Brush Mound at Jokanji Temple (Arakawa, Tokyo)

You can find Nagai Kafu’s Fudezuka (the brush mound of Nagai Kafu) next to Himawari Jizo.

Nagai Kafu was a writer from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. He lived in Tokyo’s Shitamachi area and published several novels set in Sumida Ward and Taito Ward.

Nagai Kafu frequently visited Jokanji Temple to commemorate the women of Shin-Yoshiwara who were buried in this temple. According to Wikipedia, he even wanted to be buried at Jokanji Temple. But his wish was not fulfilled, unfortunately.

After Nagai Kafu’s death, his friends and Jokanji Temple built a brush mound in his memory in 1963. They placed two of Nagai Kafu’s teeth and one of his favorite pens in this brush mound.

Every April 30th, Jokanji Temple holds a memorial service called Kafu-Ki. The temple also hosts a memorial lecture on this day, which is Nagai Kafu’s death anniversary.

On the side wall of Nagai Kafu’s brush mound, you can find a memorial poem titled “Shinsai,” which means “earthquake disaster” in English. This poem is from his poetry collection, “Henkikan Ginso,” published in 1948.

Other Useful Information

Opening Hours

  • Summer time (March to November): 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Winter time (December to February): 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

TEL

  • 03-3801-6870

Address

  • Minami-Senju 2-1-12, Arakawa-Ku, Tokyo 116-0003

Google Map

Public Transport (Train)

  • a 2-minute walk from Minowa Station (Exit #3) on the Hibiya Line
  • a 5-minute walk from Minowa-Bashi Station on the Toden Arakawa Line

Public Transport (Megurin Bus)

  • a 2-minute walk from Minowa-Eki Stop (Stop #14) on Megurin North Route (Asakusa)
  • a 2-minute walk from Minowa-Eki Stop (Stop #5) on Megurin North Route (Negishi)
  • a 2-minute walk from Minowa-Eki Stop (Stop #6) on Megurin North-South Route

Megurin Bus is a community bus service operated by Taito Ward. This bus service is very convenient for sightseeing in Taito Ward. For more information on Megurin Bus, please refer to the blog post below:

Public Transport (Toei Bus)

  • a 5-minute walk from Minowa-Eki-Mae Stop on Toei Bus Route 草 43 (Kusa 43)
  • a 5-minute walk from Minowa-Eki-Mae Stop on Toei Bus Route 草 63 (Kusa 63)
  • a 5-minute walk from Ozeki-Yokocho Stop on Toei Bus Route 草 63 (Kusa 63)
  • a 5-minute walk from Minowa-2-Chome Stop on Toei Bus Route 草 64 (Kusa 64)
  • a 5-minute walk from Ozeki-Yokocho Stop on Toei Bus Route 草 64 (Kusa 64)
  • a 5-minute walk from Minowa-2-Chome Stop on Toei Bus Route 里 64 (Sato 64)
  • a 5-minute walk from Ozeki-Yokocho Stop on Toei Bus Route 里 64 (Sato 64)

Public Restroom Availability

  • Unconfirmed (But there is a public restroom in front of the temple)

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