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Kanei-ji - Tokyo Tourist Guide

Kan'ei-ji

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Toeizan Kan'ei-ji Endon'in

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          Great works always seem to start at the hands of a single person and Kan'ei-ji is an example thereof. During the beginning of the Edo Era the Buddhist priest Nankobo Tenkai achieved the highest rank in priesthood of Daisojo. He had the trust of Tokugawa Ieyasu and became a liaison between the Imperial Court in Kyoto and the Tokugawa Shogunate set up in Edo, present day Tokyo. Tenkai was born in 1536 and died at the ripe age of 107 in 1643. During his long life he served also under the next two Shogun after the death of Ieyasu in 1616. Ieyasu had asked him in his last will to arrange his funeral and following two Shoguns, Tokugawa Hidetada and Iemitsu, asked him to built a temple complex.

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          Historically, Japan used to give names to a certain period of time according to the Chinese Zodiac. The period that started in February 1624 and finished in December 1643 in the Western calendar was called Kan'ei. The characters Š°‰imean "leniency" or "generosity" for Kan and "enternity" for Ei. Since the construction of the temple complex started in this period, it was called Kan'ei-ji.

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    The temple complex was upon their wishes established northeast of Edo Castle for two reasons. The first one was protection for Edo Castle; a temple could easily be converted into a fortress if needed. Further, North-East was regarded as unfavorable and unlucky; plague, pestilence and evil spirits come from that direction.

     The total area stretched from the area where Ueno Station now stands to the hills east and north of Shinobazu Pond. It housed more than 30 buildings and had enormous prestige and power because of the protection of the Shogunate it grew into the center of Buddhism in Japan. Its stature got raised even more when Shoguns began to choose the temple as their last resting place. Six of the 15 Shoguns were buried here.

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          Tenkai liked Lake Biwa very much and copied Shinobazu Pond and its island in the middle as an imitation of Chikubushima. Bentendo was then built on the island.  The most important was however the Yakushirurikō Nyorai, the Master of Healing or Medicine Buddha. Unfortunately, in spite of all its might and wealth the temple was not spared from disasters. In 1657 the great Mireiki Fire destroyed a great number of buildings. A new hall was constructed in 1698. When the Tokugawa Shogunate collapsed during the Boshin War, the temple and surrounding buildings were destroyed during the Battle of Ueno under leadership of Saigo Takamori on 4 July 1868. The buildings were never restored.

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          The former main hall of this temple that used to stand around the fountain across the present Tokyo National Museum was burned down in 1868 in the Ueno War in the late Edo Era. The present hall, that can seen in the picture below, was transferred from Kita-in,  in Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture between 1876 and 1879. This is the temple where Nanboko Tenkei had once been a priest and it is said to have been built in 1638.

          The building is 17.4 meters wide and deep. Neither paint nor coloring was used for the doors and walls. The construction and the design are conform the building styles uniquely Japanese.

          The floor in the main room where the altar stands was originally made of clay according to the style of the Buddhist Tendai Sect. The bombardments during the Second World contributed highly to the further destruction. However The Five-Story Pagoda, Bentendo and the Toshogu Shrine were among the most remarkable buildings and they have remained this way until today.

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