The “Shrines and Temples” category of the Tokyo Shitamachi Guide presents Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Tokyo’s Shitamachi area, which is the area along and east of the Sumida River.
Each time, we recommend an engaging location for your sightseeing experience in Tokyo. In this article, we will focus on Jokanji Temple, a Buddhist temple of the Jodo sect in Minami-Senju, Arakawa Ward.
Jokanji Temple is famously known as a “throw-away temple.” The reason behind this name is that when a courtesan passed away in the Yoshiwara Yukaku, a legal red-light district located nearby, her body would be discarded at this temple without any form of dignity or respect.
Jokanji Temple has many historical sites related to the Yoshiwara Yukaku. Some examples include Shin-Yoshiwara Soreito, which holds memorial services for courtesans, and the grave of Wakamurasaki, a high-ranking courtesan from the Meiji period.
This article will provide clear and easy-to-understand information on various topics related to Jokanji Temple, including:
- Historical background
- Enshrined deities
- Transportation options
Reading this article will help you gain a better understanding of Jokanji Temple. You can use it as a reference when you visit the temple.
This article is also available in Japanese. You can access it at the following link:
- Enshrined Deity
- Other Useful Information
- Related Blog Posts
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 Nihonzutsumi.
In 1617, the Tokugawa Shogunate granted permission for the establishment of a Yukaku, a red-light district, in Nihonbashi. All brothels in the city were consolidated into a single area enclosed by walls.
This Yukaku was named Yoshiwara. This is the beginning of the Yoshiwara Yukaku.
The Tokugawa Shogunate had two primary reasons for permitting the establishment of the Yoshiwara Yukaku:
- To ensure public morals and safety in Edo (present-day Tokyo) by centralizing brothels in a single location.
- To streamline the tax collection process by having the landload manage the Yukaku.
In 1655, the Tokugawa Shogunate issued an order for the Yoshiwar Yukaku to move to a different location. The shogunate had two main reasons for this decision:
- As Edo expanded, Nihonbashi became the bustling center of the town.
- The Great Fire of Meireki in 1657 destroyed a significant portion of Edo.
In 1657, the Yoshiwara Yukaku relocated from Nihonbashi to Nihonzutsumi. Nihonzutsumi is an area near Asakusa and just a 10-minute walk from Jokanji Temple.
Yoshiwara Yukaku in Nihonbashi was known as 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.
One of the Great Ansei Earthquakes was the 1855 Edo Earthquake. This earthquake caused serious damage to Edo and its surrounding areas. More than 7,000 people died as a result.
The 1855 Edo Earthquake devastated much of Edo. The fire also severely affected Shin-Yoshiwara. Tragically, over 500 women who worked in Shin-Yoshiwara lost their lives.
The women from Shin-Yoshiwara who died in the 1855 Edo Earthquake were buried in Jokanjij Temple in the neighborhood without any respect or dignity. That’s why people called this 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 one.
The main Buddhist deity of Jokanji Temple is Amida Nyorai.
Amida Nyorai is a Buddha known for bringing happiness after death and peace of mind in this world. The main blessings associated with this Buddha are:
- Gokuraku Ojo: Rebirth in the Pure Land (the celestial realm) after death
- Gense An’on: A peaceful and incident-free life in this world
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
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.
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 article below:
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
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
- 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.
- Minami-Senju 2-1-12, Arakawa-Ku, Tokyo 116-0003
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)