Sengakuji Temple, a Buddhist Temple of the Soto Zen School was initially built by Tokugawa Ieyasu (the first Shogun of the Edo Period) in 1612 near Edo Castle. It burnt down in 1641 and was rebuilt on a bigger scale on its present site in Takanawa (Minato).
It is famous for having a close connection with the Ako Incident (1701 - 1703) and for being the grave site of the Ako Gishi, the 47 Ronin.
Opening times and admission
Sengakuji Temple is open all year round from 7 am to 5 pm and the Memorial Hall/Museum daily from 9 am to 4 pm.
Admission to the temple is free, while an entry ticket for the Museum is 500 Yen.
The museum is divided into two parts - a small room showcasing objects and a separate room for which you will need to exit this one and walk up some stairs directly opposite, where you can see sculptures of each of the 47 Ronin and learn a bit more about them individually. Photography is not permitted in either of these rooms and at the time I was there (March 2023), entrance was cash only.
How to get there
The Temple is a 4-minute walk from Sengakuji Station on the Asakusa Line or a 15-minute walk from Takanawa Gateway Station on the Keihin-Tōhoku Line.
I would suggest setting aside at least an hour to visit Sengakuji Temple and the Museum.
The story of the 47 Ronin is one widely known in Japan (and not only). There are numerous paintings, Kabuki and Bunraku plays as well as movies depicting the events.
As a side note, for anyone wondering why they are called the 47 Ronin and not Samurai - a samurai without a lord or master, or whose master has died is called a rōnin.
The Ako Incident
Asano Naganori (Takumi No Kami), the daimyo (feudal lord) of Ako, attacked but failed to kill Kira Yoshinaka (Yosuke No Suke) who was a high-ranking official at Edo Castle, after being insulted by him.
Drawing one's sword inside Edo Castle was forbidden, so Asano was ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). The law at the time meant that both parties should have been punished, but Kira received no reprimand.
Asano's retainers decided to avenge their daimyo's honour and kill Kira.
After plotting for nearly two years, they managed to kill Kira and then went to Sengakuji Temple with Kira's head, washed it in the well and went to their lord's grave, to present their offering.
They turned themselves in afterwards and were sentenced to commit seppuku.
As well as the graves you can also see the well used to wash the decapitated head of Kira. In the picture below, on the right-hand side of the well, you can see the stairs that lead to the annexe containing the sculptures of the ronin.
A festival gathering huge crowds takes place annually on the 14th of December at Sengakuji Temple, to commemorate this event.
When I was there in April 2023, it was possible to buy a bunch of incense sticks just before you entered the graveyard, so you could pay your respects by placing incense in front of each grave. I'm not entirely sure about the price of the incense but most likely around 300 Yen.
If you're interested in Japan's history, temples and samurai stories, I would highly recommend adding Sengakuji Temple to your list of fascinating places to see in Tokyo.
Just please bear in mind that this one is not your typical touristy place where everyone is taking selfies or where you can buy fantastic souvenirs.
Have you ever been there? If so, I would love to hear about it, in the comments below.
I hope life is treating you well.