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Published on January 1, 2017

The hill of Ueno has been a place of faith since the Edo Period.


View of the five-storied pagoda in Ueno Park.

The hill of Ueno has been a place of faith since Kan-eiji Temple was founded in 1625 by Jigendaishi Tenkai, a Buddhist priest of the highest rank, who was followed by the three successive shoguns: Ieyasu, Hidetada, and Iemitsu Tokugawa. Tenkai built Kan-eiji Temple in the hill of Ueno located to the northeast of the Edo Castle, and named it "Toeizan Kan-eiji Temple" after Hieizan Enryaku-ji Temple, praying for the peace of the Tokugawa shogunate and residents of Edo. The precincts of Kan-eiji Temple reached a maximum of 100 hectares, centering around the present-day Ueno Park. Its imposing inner temple, measuring 45 meters across, 42 meters deep and 32 meters tall, stood in at a place where is now the center of the park and there is a fountain, and the head temple at a place where the Tokyo National Museum is now located. Kan-eiji Temple also boasted its large-scale precincts in which, in addition to the head temple, 36 branch temples were built with donations from feudal lords.
Most branch temples of Kan-eiji Temple were burnt down during the Boshin Civil War (Battle of Ueno) fought at the hill of Ueno in 1868 between Imperial troops and Shogitai that tried to protect the Tokugawa shogunate. Later, the Meiji Government issued the Edict for Separation of Shintoism and Buddhism so that syncretic fusion of Shintoism and Buddhism was abolished, adopting the anti-Buddhist policy that led to the destruction of many Buddhist temples. With the Cabinet decree in 1868 as a turning point, a movement to abolish Buddhism was initiated, and Buddhist images and altar fittings were destroyed. Buddhist rituals and events were also banned. Kan-eiji Temple's precincts were confiscated, causing devastating damage on the temple. However, the reconstruction of Kan-eiji Temple was approved in 1879, and the temple was rebuilt at the present location (the site where Daiji-in, a branch temple, previously stood) with Honjido as its inner temple which was moved from Kita-in in Kawagoe. The temple status of "Rinnoji Monzeki" was also revived in 1885, and Kan-eiji Temple invited a high-ranking priest in the Tendai sect of Buddhism as its Rinnoji Monzeki head priest.
Kan-eiji Temple had been a family temple of the Tokugawa shoguns so that six shoguns are enshrined in its precincts. A new cemetery for the Tokugawa shoguns was also built after the Second World War. Kan-eiji Temple now has precincts of approximately 99,000 square meters in which the inner temple, main temple, Kaizando, Bentendo, a pagoda, a mausoleum of the Tokugawa family, Kiyomizu Kan-nondo, and 19 branch temples stand. Kiyomizu Kan-nondo, the front gate of the Rinnoji Monzeki main temple, and the Chokugaku Gate of the Tokugawa shoguns' mausoleum, which escaped the fire in the Boshin Civil War, are designated as Important Cultural Properties, and still retain the flavor of Edo at that time. (continued in the lower column)


Ueno Park crowded with people enjoying cherry blossoms


Kan-eiji Temple's inner temple

In the precincts of Kan-eiji Temple, there are historic relics and Buddhist temples, including the inner temple, Kaizando (Ryodaishi), Kiyomizu Kan-nondo (a nationally important cultural property), the Tokugawa shogun's mausoleum (a nationally important cultural property), the front gate of the former main temple, the hall of the Great Buddha (a pagoda), Jishodo (Tokino-kane), Tenkai Sojo Mohatsu-to, the five-storied pagoda and Asamayama Kan-nondo (Azuma County in Gunma Prefecture), and 19 branch temples that are Shinnyoin, Kanshoin, Rinkoin, Kichijoin, Senryuin, Syuzenin, Genryuin, Kenmyoin, Fukujuin, Hongakuin, Genkoin, Tozanin, Kakujoin, Shunshoin, Togakuin, Yojuin, Shinryoin, Enjuin and Gokokuin.

For the history of Toeizan Kan-eiji Temple, see "Visiting Kan-eiji Temple."


Ueno Imperial Gift Park is a place where residents can relax and enjoy themselves. Many cherry-blossom viewers visit the park in the cherry season. Facilities, including museums and zoo, have been built in the park since the early Meiji Period. The park has been a cultural center in Japan. (Ueno Park, Taito City)