During the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate placed clusters of temples around Edo’s periphery, which resulted in temple towns. This was done so that the temples could also be used as forts in the event of a military invasion. Luckily, the temples in Yanaka survived, unlike almost anything else in Tokyo.
Strangely, the temples in Yanaka are not very known. In my opinion, this is mainly due to their modest size. Nevertheless they are worth a visit. They might be small, but are quite beautiful. I introduced before my 18 favourite temples in Yanaka. In this article, which is a digest of the previous article, I will introduce you to my 5 most favourite temples that I consider to be the best for a visit.
Established in 1274, it is the oldest temple in Yanaka. Even though it was initially a Nichiren temple, at the end of the 17th century it was forced to convert to Tendai, as their particular type of Nichiren was deemed anti-regime. Tennōji used to be a major temple in this area as evidenced by the huge cemetery (Yanaka Reien) next door that was part of this temple, but when the cemetery was nationalized in 1873, Tennōji also lost some of its glory. Its temple grounds used to be 10 times the size of what it is now. It was also one of three temples in the Edo period (1603-1868) that was authorized to hold lotteries, making it a very popular temple. However, these lotteries were eventually banned in the 19th century. These days, the beautifully maintained garden, with bronze buddha statue (cast in 1690) is the main thing to watch for.
Tennō-ji temple with bronze buddha statue.
Name in Japanese: 天王寺
This Tendai temple was established in 1666 and was first the residence of one of the priests of the Kan’eiji temple nearby, before becoming a temple in its own right. It is worth passing by due to its 84000 Jizo statues (guardian deities of children), very impressive to look at. Read more about Jōmyōin in my full article.
Jizo at Jōmyōin temple.
Name in Japanese: 浄名院
To reach this temple you first need to cross an empty lot that is being used as a parking space, but once you get inside of the gate it is quite amazing. This Rinzai school temple was established in 1630 and moved to its current location in 1681. It contains some very old memorial stones from the time when commoners were not allowed to have their own grave. You can find them on the left around a smooth granite stone.
Rinkōji and its lush surroundings.
Name in Japanese: 臨江寺
4. Enjuji Nikkadō
Enjuji Nikkadō is a Nichiren temple that was set up in 1656 and enshrines a 14th century monk called Nichika that will protect walkers/strollers. Inside of the dark wooden building you can find depictions of traditional walking shoes. Especially runners come to this temple to pray. It is very close to Yanaka’s famous Himalaya cedar.
Inside of Enjuji
Name in Japanese: 延寿寺日荷堂
Nichiren temple famous for its monument stone dedicated to Osen, a beautiful girl who used to work in a tea house and model of Suzuki Harunobu, a renowned ukiyo-e artist of the 1760s, who is remembered in the same monument. It is unclear when exactly it was established, but documents go back to the late 17th century. Read more about Daienji in my full article.
Name in Japanese: 大円寺