Tokugawa Funerary Temples

Welcome to my New Series!

(update: sorry about the footnotes. when you click nothing happens. but if you scroll to the bottom of the article you can manually find the footnotes.)

The Tokugawa family crest - one of the most easily identifiable logos in the country.
The Tokugawa family crest – one of the most easily identifiable logos in the country.

There are two Tokugawa funerary temple complexes in Edo/Tōkyō and a third extra-ordinary[i] funerary temple complex in Nikkō. The clan had many branches and relatives and so there are others, but for this series’ purpose, we’re talking about the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa shōgun-ke, the male heads of the Tokugawa line established by the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

In the early Edo Period, two temple construction projects were started by the shōgunate which built major temple precincts in the north-east corner of Edo (Kan’ei-ji) and south-west corner of Edo (Zōjō-ji). The locations were determined by 風水 fū sui feng shui and conformed to standards of urban planning of the time. Feng shui says these directions are inauspicious and so temples are often built facing these directions to keep the bad influences from coming in. Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji served the duel purposes of protecting Edo Castle and thereby protecting the city of Edo. By enshrining the shōguns here, the Tokugawa could be thought to have been waging a spiritual battle against evil to protect the citizens of Edo even in death. All of the shōguns except for Ieyasu and Iemitsu are interred in these two precincts.





northeastern direction, unlucky



ura ki-mon

under demon-gate

southwestern direction, unlucky



In Japanese, this kind of temple is called 菩提寺 bodai-ji (family temple, literally Bodhi temple). Bodhi is a Buddhist term for “awakening” – the idea being that upon death, a person awakens to “enlightenment.”

Very little remains of Kan'ei-ji which became Ueno Park .
The main temple of Kan’eiji.
All of these buildings were destroyed in the Battle of Ueno (1868).
Later the area was turned into Ueno Park.
Shiba Daimon - The Great Gate of Shiba. The gate is still standing. But if you want to match the shots from the Edo Era, you'll probably get hit by a car.
Shiba Daimon – The Great Gate of Shiba.
The gate is still standing.
But if you want to match the shots from the Edo Era, you’ll probably get hit by a car.

A few more things about funerary temples

Each shōgun was given an 諡号 okurigō a Buddhist posthumous name. I don’t know a lot about Buddhism, but it seems like there are two kinds of Buddhist posthumous names, 戒名 kaimyō and 諡号 okurigō. The Emperor bestowed a name upon each shōgun upon his death. A kaimyō is pretty long[ii]. The okurigō is shorter. In the Tokugawa cases – as it ends in 院 in temple – this name could also double as a temple name. Each Tokugawa mausoleum was effectively a sub-temple of the main 菩提寺 bodai-ji family temple in which precinct it was built. The main gate to each mausoleum is called 勅額門 chokugaku mon imperial scroll gate. These gates would feature a plaque (chokugaku) supposedly hand written by the emperor (then embellished by artisans) which announced the name of the funerary temple.

Just to add to the confusion, there’s another classification of these posthumous names; 院号 ingō an ‘-in’ name[iii].

The Ueno Daibutsu. Usually when people think of "Big Buddhas," they think of Nara and Kamakura. Well, Edo had one, too. The head fell off in the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923). The face is still on display in Ueno Park. Most Tokyoites have never heard of it.
The Ueno Daibutsu. Usually when people think of “Big Buddhas,” they think of Nara and Kamakura. Well, Edo had one, too. The head fell off in the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923). The face is still on display in Ueno Park. Most Tokyoites have never heard of it.

Each Tokugawa mausoleum was an architectural gem compared to other graves of the time. These bodai-ji were sites of pilgrimages and veneration by commoner and daimyō alike. The mausolea of Ieyasu and Iemitsu in Nikkō were artistic wonders of their day as well as centers for Buddhist teaching.

For me, the most frustrating this about finding Tokugawa graves is that most of these structures in Edo/Tōkyō were wiped off the face of the earth during the firebombing of Tōkyō during WWII. Most of the blame lands on the Americans, but not all of it. The Japanese themselves destroyed much of Kan’ei-ji in the 上野戦争 Ueno Sensō the Battle of Ueno (literally the Ueno War), when the last pockets of hatamoto resistance made a stand against the new Meiji Army. Unfortunately for us, the samurai chose this symbolic Tokugawa stronghold as the place to make their last stand which ultimately resulted most of the temple complex being burnt to the ground. Most of the Tokugawa graves were spared, only to be destroyed in WWII.

The Kuromon - "Black Gate" of Kan'ei-ji. Imperial forces routed the shogitai (holed up in the temple precincts). The imperial army entered the area through this gate with fast breech-loading rifles and cannon. The shogitai were armed with swords and traditional weapons. This gate and the other structures that survived the Battle of Ueno are riddled with bullet holes that you can still see today -- even in this photograph!
The Kuromon – “Black Gate” of Kan’ei-ji. Imperial forces routed the shogitai (holed up in the temple precincts). The imperial army entered the area through this gate with fast breech-loading rifles and cannon. The shogitai were armed with swords and traditional weapons. This gate and the other structures that survived the Battle of Ueno are riddled with bullet holes that you can still see today — even in this photograph!


Where were the 15 Tokugawa Shōguns interred? 





of Mausoleum

Now where are the remains?


Tokugawa Ieyasu


法号安国院Hōgō Onkokuin

[iv], Kunōzan

Tōshō-gū, Nikkō

Excellent Condition


Excellent Condition



Tokugawa Hidetada


Daitokuin, Zōjō-ji


imperial scroll gate has been restored

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Iemitsu


Taiyūin ,


(now a sub-temple of Rin’nō-ji)


Tokugawa Ietsuna




only the imperial scroll gate remains

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Tsunayoshi


Eikyūin, Kan’ei-ji

Partially preserved
(usually closed to the public, but the scroll gate is usually accessible)



Tokugawa Ienobu


Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji


the 中門 nakamon gate remains and marks the entrance to the Tokugawa Cemetery

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Ietsugu




only the gate remains

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Yoshimune


Enshrined at Eikyūin as an austerity measure

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Ieshige



no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Ieharu



no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,





no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Ieyoshi


Bunshōin, Zōjō-ji

no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Iesada



no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Iemochi



no mausoleum

Tokugawa Cemetery,


Tokugawa Yoshinobu

Buried according to State Shintō, no okurigō.



no mausoleum


UPDATE: If click the links in the “Where are they located today” column, it will take you my article on their original mausolea and the condition thereof.

Zojoji's main temple as it looks today.  At dusk. Bad ass.
Zojoji’s main temple as it looks today.
At dusk.
Bad ass.

There’s a lot more to say about these places.

But first I want to explain a few points about my chart. When I first came to Japan, the Tokugawa Cemetery in Zōjō-ji was off limits except for during the cherry blossom season. In 2011, NHK ran a Taiga Drama series called based on the life of Tokugawa Hidetada’s wife (a daughter of Oda Nobunaga). Since 2011, Zōjō-ji has kept the Tokugawa Cemetery open.

Kan’ei-ji has been a bit douchey about not letting visitors in. In 2008, NHK ran a drama called Atsu-hime based on the life of the wife of Tokugawa Iesada. She was buried next to Iesada in Eikyōin. The temple didn’t open the Tokugawa graveyard to the public, but instead opted to put a plaque in front of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s imperial scroll gate that said she was buried inside. I’ve heard that once a year, the area is open to the public, but I have never had a chance to go inside myself.

Off Limits.  No shogun graves for you, biaaaatch.
Off Limits.
No shogun graves for you, biaaaatch.

Tokugawa Ieyasu & Tōshō-gū

An entire book could probably be written on this subject (and I’m sure there has been in Japanese), but I’m trying to be as concise as I can. That said, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Iemitsu’s graves are in the extra-ordinary locations. I want to talk about why these two guys are separate from the rest of the family.

Ieyasu died in retirement while keeping an eye on Hidetada, the second shogun[viii]. In his lifetime, the third shōgun, Iemitsu came into adulthood. At first, Ieyasu was interred at Kunōzan near his retirement castle in Sunpu. On the one year anniversary of Ieyasu’s death, Hidetada transported his remains to a new mortuary at Nikkō. The third generation shōgun, Iemitsu, who idolized Ieyasu, expanded the Nikkō site. The 4th shōgun, Ietsuna, expanded the site one more time to include enshrine Iemitsu next to his grandfather.

Along with sankin-kōtai, daimyō were expected to contribute financially to the construction of Ieyasu’s shrine, called 東照宮 Tōshō-gū (something like “Illustrious Eastern Prince”). The shōgunate conducted mandatory processions to the shrine via the Nikkō Highway. Since these processions could be quite taxing on the smaller domains, various Tōshō-gū were established to save travel costs. For example, both funerary temples in Edo had (and still have) Tōshō-gū. In Ueno Park, you can find Ueno Tōshō-gū and in Shiba Park, you can find Shiba Tōshō-gū. I’ve even seen portable Tōshō-gū in Hino! Basically, Tōshō-gū are located throughout the country[ix].

The first shrine I fell in love with. The beginning of my love affair with Japanese history. Ueno Toshogu. It's in terrible shape today, but I reckon that's what it looked like for most of the late Edo Period.
The first shrine I fell in love with.
The beginning of my love affair with Japanese history.
Ueno Toshogu. 

Since there were 15 Tokugawa shōguns, I will be writing 15 separate descriptions of each mausoleum.  Even though most of these sites have been destroyed, I think visiting them is still well worth the time. When I first became interested in Japanese History, I wished there had been some easy resource to answer all my questions about these places in English. Now 10 years later, there still ain’t shit written on the subject. So I’m just gonna go ahead and do it myself. I hope you enjoy this 16 part series. Yoroshiku o-negai shimasu.




One depressing indicator of how bad things are at Kan'ei-ji... Most of the stone lanterns and other stone debris that survived isn't kept at Kan'ei-ji. It's all stored in Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture. WTF&SMH.
One depressing indicator of how bad things are at Kan’ei-ji…
Most of the stone lanterns and other stone debris from Tokugawa Ieharu’s grave that survived isn’t kept at Kan’ei-ji. It’s all stored in Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture. WTF&SMH.

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[i] Extra-ordinary is not the same as extraordinary. For the record, extraordinary means “remarkable, great, noteworthy.” Extra-ordinary is a religious term and means “a deviation from the normal system, an exception to the rule.“

[ii] Kaimyō are long. Ieyasu’s kaimyō was 東照大権現安国院殿徳蓮社崇譽道和大居士 (with an alternate 安国院殿徳蓮社崇誉道和大居士 (I’m not going to attempt to transcribe those, sorry). His okurigō is 東照大権現, his mausoleum is 東照宮.

[iii] More about ingō later, but I think you’ll see the distinction is quite clear by the end of this article.

[iv] The other shōguns have ingō, names ending in in. Ieyasu’s shrines end in . This character implies that the person enshrined is a member of the imperial family. It can also mean just “shrine” but a connection to the imperial family might still be implied by the average person. However, Ieyasu did have an ingō. It is listed in the chart: Hōgō Onkokuin.

[v] The mausolea in Shiba were destroyed, but the metal and stone graves that housed the physical remains were consolidated into one area at Zōjō-ji, now called 徳川将軍家墓所 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Bōsho Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery. For many years this area was not open to the general public, but after the Taiga Drama it has remained open. There’s a permanent-looking ticket box now, so I think they plan to keep it open for a while.

[vi] I’m under the impression that the metal and stone 2-story pagoda style graves that housed the physical remains in Ueno were moved and consolidated in the former grounds of Tsunayoshi’s grave for convenience’s sake. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm this because this cemetery is generally not open to the public. But the area is now called 徳川将軍家墓所 Tokugawa Shōgun-ke Bōsho Tokugawa Shōgun Family Cemetery.

[vii] Yoshinobu, the last shōgun, lived his life in a kind of voluntary exile from public life after abdicating from the position of shōgun. He is buried with his wife in a Shintō grave typical of that era in Yanaka cemetery. There are other Tokugawas relatives interred at Yanaka, but for whatever reason, Yoshinobu was not included among the other shōguns. I’m still researching to find out why, but one source I found suggested that because he was from Mito, which was famous for its loyalty to the Emperor mixed with the rise of State Shintō, he opted for a Shintō style interment.

[viii] It’s said that Ieyasu was disappointed with Hidetada. Hidetada supposedly married for love (a sign of weakness in Ieyasu’s eyes) and he arrived late to the Battle of Sekigahara (utterly unacceptable). But because of Hidetada’s age, Ieyasu was forced to keep him around to establish a stable dynasty. The next youngest son would have become a puppet.

[ix] Wikipedia claims that there were 500 Tōshō-gū in the Edo Period and that there are about 130 now. I’ll buy that for a dollar.

20 thoughts on “Tokugawa Funerary Temples

  1. Great post! You just gave me a great idea for where to visit when I go to Tokyo this Fall.

    Can’t wait to read the next one.


  2. Another very informative post! BTW, I’ve heard that the idea of 鬼門 is a uniquely Japanese flavor of feng shui. Have you seen any thing like that?

    1. I have no idea. To be honest, I’ve found reading about feng shui so contradictory that I just decided to go with the standard line that I’ve always heard.

      It seems like every direction is both lucky and unlucky. For example, I read that Ieyasu chose Nikko because it was northwest of Edo, which was unlucky. Then I found feng shui articles that state that northwest is an auspicious direction. Then I found another article that said the north in general is unlucky.

      Since it’s all woo, I think it’s best to just accept the fact that people had some whacky and seemingly contradictory geomancy model and in the end these buildings got built where they got built.

      In short, feng shui is really frustrating and I want to ignore it. lol

  3. Actually, I totally get where you’re coming from. i was going to do a feng shui and castles article once but gave up for some of the same reasons. They also say the Nikko location was selected as an extension of the Kanei-ji kimon line/direction to protect Edo Castle.

    1. That’s more than I could find, actually.

      Hmmm… I wish there was a book, “Japanese Feng Shui For History Nerds” that just laid everything out in clear and simple terms with examples.

      I just don’t want to be the guy who has to do the research, hahaha.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

      I wish there were an accessible book (in English) on this subject, The lack of info on this particular subject was the impetus to start this series. It’s been very educational for me, I hope it is for you (and everyone else) as well!

  4. So, I visited Zôjô-ji the other day. Turns out they’re only opening the Tokugawa cemetery on weekends and holidays 🙁 boo.

    I don’t know how long it’s been on that schedule, or for how much longer it will be. But, for anyone coming across this post – the cemetery is accessible, just only on certain days! Try to look into it to figure out the schedule before making your way all the way out to Hamamatsuchô!

    1. really?? oh wow. that’s a recent change. a sad change. no reason to close it off imho.

      did you at least walk the grounds of the park to find the remaining structures? the sōmon of hidetada’s mausoleum is well worth the trip!

      1. I did poke around the rest of the grounds to a certain extent… and was excited, for example, to find a tree planted by President Grant! Don’t think I happened upon anything marked as being associated with Hideyoshi though…

        I really haven’t been very good about doing my research this summer – that is, in the sense of researching what historical sights or (relatively) obscure points I should be looking out for at various sites. Generally, I’ve just been going to sites, e.g. temples, and looking around and finding whatever I find. And I’ve definitely missed a lot of stuff that way… from here on, I definitely need to do my research better.

      2. *Headdesk* lol. yes, of course. Hidetada, not Hideyoshi.

        Also, had I gone and re-read your blog post, I would have known to look for that. Drat. But, on the plus side, at least, leaving Zôjô-ji a bit earlier means I had a bit more time to spend at the Edo-Tokyo Museum….

  5. Hey – I visited the Tokugawa cemetery in Ueno last month. One of the monks told me that the reason Yoshinobu was buried in Yanaka rather than in Ueno was that he renounced his position as head of the Tokugawa family as part of the deal that Kaishu Katsu negotiated when power reverted to the Meiji emperor. The cousin who took that role is buried at Kanei-ji, while Yoshinobu was interred in Nishi-Nippori…

    Great blog. Thanks for writing.

    1. That’s a very interesting comment.

      And by very interesting, I mean it just totally made me question the way I frame the issue of Yoshinobu’s separate interment. Thank you for blowing my mind and bringing up more questions. This is what makes Japanese History so fun!

      The monk you spoke with was absolutely correct that Tokugawa Yoshinobu gave up his position as head of the 徳川将軍家 Tokugawa shōgun family. He was later granted the right to establish a new branch of the family, known as the 徳川慶喜家 Tokugawa Yoshinobu Family.

      The person who replaced Yoshinobu was 田安亀之助 Tayasu Kamenosuke (his name changed to 徳川家達 Tokugawa Iesato upon becoming family head). If I’m not mistaken, he was about 5 or 6 years old when this happened. He is apparently buried at Kan’ei-ji and everything I’ve seen in Japanese or English says “at the Tokugawa Graveyard at Kan’ei-ji.” This kind of phrasing is ambiguous to me. There is a “Tokugawa Graveyard” at Kan’ei-ji which are the combined spaces of Gen’yūin and Eikyūin which houses the graves of the shōguns and a few other family members. At Yanaka Cemetery there are other “Tokugawa Graveyards.” I’m curious if the monk you spoke to mentioned specifically where Iesato was buried?

      On the other hand, the next successive head of the former shōgun family, Tokugawa Iemasa, is buried at Yanaka Cemetery (naturally in another “Tokugawa Graveyard”. The current head of the family is Tokugawa Tsunenari. He is still living – though I think he’s past 70 now. Zōjō-ji seems to no longer be used actively for interment, but Kan’ei-ji is. Iesato was the grandfather of the current head of the family so he’s still in living memory; that is probably the reason the Tokugawa Graveyard at Kan’ei-ji is still off limits.

      Tsunenari is actually a pretty interesting dude who has worked hard to revitalize interest in the Edo Period and to preserve and display art and documents of the Tokugawa shōgun family. If he’s the reason Kan’ei-ji doesn’t open the Tokugawa shōgun family graveyard, I’d be disappointed. But that might change later. Not to sound morbid or anything, but I’m curious where he wants to be interred. My guess is the shōgun family grave at Kan’ei-ji, but it’s seems more realistic to do it in Yanaka. Only time will tell – or just asking him directly, which again, is just morbid. lol

      But back to what the monk told you. I don’t know enough about Buddhism and its various sects. Each group has discrete rules about certain things. Some allow this, some allow that. Some prohibit this, some prohibit that. Yoshinobu was from the Mito branch of the Tokugawa family and later adopted into the Hitotsubashi branch of the Tokugawa family (one of several active branches in Edo). His time as head of the shōgun family was basically one year, and in the eyes of his contemporaries it was a failed tenure. It seems like there are so many reasons he could have been discriminated against by the temple, by the family (Iesato plainly said Yoshinobu destroyed the Tokugawa shōgun family), or by the general mores of the time. There is some evidence that no discrimination at all went down and that is his root in Mito. This is backed up by his choice of grave – which is clearly Shintō. It’s the only grave of this type of a Tokugawa shōgun family head that I know of. So it seems he either wanted to do this as a sign of humility to the Emperor (which was actually a way of protecting the family and himself) or a way of separating himself from the family (which was a way of protecting the family), or an actual religious belief that he held which meant he couldn’t be interred at Kan’ei-ji legally because of newly enacted laws which separated Buddhism and Shintō. Keep in mind, the Meiji Era saw the rise of State Shintō.

      Anyways, thank you for reading my blog. Thank you for commenting. I apologize for making such a long response, but your comment really got me thinking. If you got the name of the monk that you spoke to, I’d love to know it. I have so many questions for him.

      1. Hands down, that was the best comment I’ve ever gotten on this blog. It totally pushed me into a new way of approaching my attitude and research on the Tokugawa graves at Kan’ei-ji.

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