Although at its best during cherry blossom season, this walk through Tokyo’s Minato Ward can be enjoyed at any time of year. It will take you to a number of important shrines and temples, a completely overlooked observatory, and a beautiful garden that few visit due to its proximity to a larger, more famous, neighbor.
Start at Kamiyacho Station and make your way to the Atago Jinja. Climb the 86 ‘stone steps of success’ (or take the elevator!) to what was once the highest point in Edo (in the early 1600’s, before Shinjuku even existed).
People pray to deities here for business prosperity and happiness in marriage. Other ‘kami’ help ward off bad luck and/or disasters, especially those related to fire. Enjoy a cup of amazake at the on-site ‘tea house’.
Beside Atago Jinja is an impressive temple, Seishoji, which was founded in the fifteenth century by priests of the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism and was moved here in 1600.
Be sure to explore all corners of the temple grounds as there is a lot hidden from obvious view. The vast temple compound includes a bamboo grove, Chisyoan – a tea house and multi-purpose hall, and a statue of Horin Dai-Kannon, the goddess of compassion.
There are also a surprising amount of ‘cute’ Buddhist statues, all created by Satoshi Yabuuchi – a famous sculptor and Tokyo University professor. It is interesting to note, with a prior reservation, this temple offers opportunities to practice Zen meditation.
Next, make your way over to Shiba Koen and famous Zojoji Temple. Zojoji is the main temple of the Jodoshu Sect of Buddhism and was one of the Tokugawa family’s main temples (6 of the 15 Tokugawa Shogun are buried here).
Purchase the 1000 yen combo ticket to see the Mausoleum of the Tokugawa family and the temple’s underground ‘Treasure Gallery’ museum.
Enter the Ankokuden to view the Kurohonzon, a black Amida Buddha statue that was deeply revered by Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa. It is said that its power guided him to victory and saved him from disaster. Followers visit the image to pray for their own luck in winning or protection from misfortune.
Also spend some time in the Daiden (great hall) to view the temple’s principal image, a statue of Amida Buddha. From in front of the Daiden, visitors can take interesting photos of traditional and modern – as Tokyo Tower stands right behind Zojoji.
Exit the temple through the Sangedatsumon (main gate), which dates back to 1622, and is the only remaining structure from the early Edo period. This gate’s name, Sangedatsumon, means, ‘getting delivered’ (gedatsu) from three (san) earthly states of mind – greed, anger, and stupidity, gate (mon). On this walk we did not enter this gate, so you should probably turn around and walk back in again!
Walk straight down the street away from the temple for about 10 minutes and you’ll reach Daimon Station, and beside it, Tokyo’s World Trade Center Building. For a bird’s eye view of the area, visit the building’s 40th floor observatory. As it is not well known, you may be one of the only visitors. Relax and take in the view over a cup of coffee.
After taking in the view from above, head back outside, pass under the train tracks beside Hamamatsu Station in order to visit Kyu-Shiba Rikyu Garden, which, in 1678, was the official residence of an official of the Tokugawa shogunate. Most of the time, the garden’s visitors are local business people who want to eat their lunch outdoors in a lovely setting.