In the north of Asakusa is a temple that was once a top scenic spot in Edo. Matsuchiyama Shoden (also called Honryūin Temple) is positioned on a hilltop overseeing the Sumidagawa river and was immortalized in one of Hiroshige’s famous Ukiyo-e. This temple of the Tendai Sect of Buddhism was established in 601 according to legend (some sources even state 595). Yes, that is older than Sensō-ji (which was established in 645).
I often tell people to get away from Sensō-ji as fast as possible as it is full of tourists. Matsuchiyama Shoden is nearby and well worth your visit. Unfortunately, this temple too was destroyed during the war and rebuilt in 1961, a couple of years after Sensō-ji.
View of Matsuchiyama from the series Famous Places in the Eastern Capital by Utagawa Hiroshige. Source: Museum of Fine Arts
The temple made its reputation in the early 19th century when famous Ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige made his series Famous Places in the Eastern Capital (1830s). One of the woodblock prints in this series shows Matsuchiyama Shoden on top of the hill with in front the Sumidagawa river. Today the urban sprawl took over, but you still see the temple from far away, especially if you approach it from the sakurabashi bridge. I visited this temple on my way from Mukōjima to Asakusa and I stopped by because the temple really stood out in the city scape.
There is one thing for which Matsuchiyama Shoden is quite known: daikon (Japanese radish). Daikon is seen as a symbol of harmony between married couples, matchmaking, and fertility. Daikon are emblazoned on lanterns, stone plates and wood carvings. You can even buy them in order to give them as offering.
Matsuchiyama Shoden holds each year a daikon festival on 7 January when people come to pray for the well-being of their families and success in business. When a daikon is offered, you receive cooked Japanese radish (furofuki daikon) and sacred sake (omiki). Next to daikon there is plenty of imagery of pouches. They signify success in business.
Praying to the daikon, you can see the white daikon wood carving in the nook of the main temple building
Another thing that is rather special here is oil-bathing (yokuyu kitō), a rare ritual to honor Kangi-Ten, which is the God of Bliss. Bathing will result in the prompt fulfillment of all the wishes of the believer. How it is exactly done is not very clear as there is few information about it. What is sure is that it does not involve actual undressing and bathing in oil. One session costs JPY 3500.
The temple is rather small but has various nooks and niches with jizo, kannon statues, a small pond and even a piece of a tsuijihei wall from the Edo period. The hill is accessible at one side with an ultrashort monorail dubbed The Sakura Rail, a fancy word for an elevator.
Tsuijihei wall with in the background the Tokyo Sky Tree
7-4-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Asakusa Station (main metro station) – 10 minutes walk from exit 7 (Asakusa line, Ginza Line, Tobu Skytree line)
Name in Japanese: 待乳山本龍院