(Divine Prince of Strict Existence)
4th Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Ietsuna

Tokugawa Ietsuna – the first boring shogun, yet he was born early enough in the Edo Period to make him kinda cool.

UPDATE: Don’t forget I have an overview of Tokugawa funerary temples. This series is meant to be read in order, so if you’re confused about terminology, please go back and start at the beginning. Yoroshiku!


OK, I’ve got good news and bad news.

First the good news; I didn’t think I’d be able to post anything today. It’s Friday the 28th here in Tōkyō and it is literally my first day off in, well, 28 days. Recently, I’ve been publishing every day Monday thru Friday and I didn’t want to break that momentum, but I started getting behind and… well, I spent most of the last 2 nights looking for today’s pictures and just staring at my notes blankly. I figure you’d forgive me if I skipped a day and just enjoyed my day off. I managed to get home a half hour before usual and got a little sudden burst of energy so I managed to pull off a little miracle and I finished the 5th installment of this series.

Now for the bad news.

Believe it or not, we’ve already crossed the line. From here on out there is a deplorable lack of information regarding the graves of the shōguns. Daitokuin was completely burnt to the ground, but at least it was often photographed. In Nikkō, Tōshō-gū and Taiyūin are perfectly preserved in their scenic mountain environment. Many of the minor Tōshō-gū worth preserving are still with us today in some form or another.

But I’m sad to say that we have almost nothing to show for the 4th shōgun’s funerary temple. Even more frustrating is that except for the imperial scroll gate (chokugaku mon)[i], the few remaining pieces are usually off limits to the general public.

I couldn’t even find simple map of the layout or any ukiyo-e prints of the area. I can’t find any explanation for the lack of existing images. Granted Kan’ei-ji was a big and bustling temple with many great things to see, but surely someone would have drawn a picture of the site. And if not in the Edo Period, then surely in the Meiji or Taishō or Showa eras when there was a renewed interest in Japan’s samurai past. Surely someone made a record of it.

This is the only old print I could find of the site. Not very helpful.
This is the only old print I could find of the site. Not very helpful.
UPDATE: Finally tracked down the full print. As gorgeous as it is, I'm sad to say this is NOT Gen'yuin. It IS, however, Ietsuna. He and his entourage are visiting Nikko Toshogu.
UPDATE: Finally tracked down the full print. As gorgeous as it is, I’m sad to say this is NOT Gen’yuin. It IS, however, Ietsuna. He and his entourage are visiting Nikko Toshogu.

All I can do is speculate as to why there is nothing.
Maybe it was more or less closed off from the public for the whole time.
Even today, Kan’ei-ji basically keeps the so-called 霊屋 tamaya graveyard off limits.

So I’m writing this with a bit of uncertainty – so please bear that in mind as you read. I’m researching each funerary temple individually as I go along. If I was a scholar, I’d be dragged out back, shot in the head, and kicked into the river behind my house for approaching the topic this way. But I’m not a scholar and I’m not getting paid for this and I don’t have any free time, so sue me (lol). I’m venturing to say that the grave type changes from Ietsuna’s time. The first 3 shōguns have special, private areas for their 宝塔 hōtō (2-story pagoda shaped urns) and no one else is buried with them[ii]. I’m betting that from here on out we will see more group burials. Let’s see what happens later in the series, shall we?

Before we go any further, let’s look at the catalog of items at 厳有院 Gen’yūin[iii].

Structure Name Description Condition Status
Main temple Destroyed

Like an outdoor hallway, portico Destroyed

Middle gate
(gate to the main temple)

A latticework fence common at shrines Destroyed[iv]

ai o ma
The middle building between the front hall (haiden) and the main hall (honden) in the gongen-zukuri style we’ve seen so far in this series. Destroyed

chokugaku mon
Imperial scroll gate (bears the okurigō gifted by the emperor upon the deceased; bears the shrine’s namesake) Decent condition Open to Public
Worship hall Destroyed

Entrance portico Destroyed

Side porticos (literally, left & right) Destroyed

I have no idea what this was, but it was sounds like a gate Destroyed

Bell tower Destroyed
(see next item)

Copper temple bell Excellent condition Belle is visible at Kan’ei-ji
oku no in karamon
“Chinese gate” that leads to the inner sanctum/funerary urn. Decent condition Accessible
oku no in hōtō
2-story pagoda style funerary urn Decent Condition Off limits
Water basin for ritual purification Shitty condition Sometimes Accessible

Copper & stone lamps for illumination at night Contrary to popular belief, many survived. However, most were destroyed or repurposed. Off limits

Imperial Scroll Gate

We’ve seen this in every funerary complex so far. The emperor (supposedly) writes the posthumous name of the shōgun on a scroll. The scroll is made into a painted wooden plaque. The plaque is put on an ornate gate away usually far from the main street. How this beautiful gate survived is beyond me. To the left and right of the gate you can see 透塀 sukibei a latticework fence. Presumably this sort of wall would have enclosed the 拝殿 haiden worship hall and its courtyard.

Accessing the gate is no problem. From Uguisudani station, you can walk there in about 5-10 minutes. On a normal day, that’s all you’ll have access to. Even trying to see the backside of the gate might be a problem if you don’t have Japanese people with you because on the other side of the fence/wall is a very active cemetery. You may be asked why you are there and if you can’t give a good reason, you’ll be asked to leave.

Front of the imperial scroll gate.
(Note there is no imperial scroll.)
Back of the imperial scroll gate.
Back of the imperial scroll gate. The area is now part of Kan’ei-ji cemetery.
A close up of the back of the imperial scroll gate at Gen'yuin.
A close up of the back of the imperial scroll gate at Gen’yuin.

An interesting side note about the imperial scroll gate. In 1957, while doing restoration work, they found markings that led the team to believe the gate was actually repurposed from Iemitsu’s temporary funerary temple. I mentioned in my article on Taiyūin, that Iemitsu was temporarily interred at Kan’ei-ji before being permanently relocated to Nikkō. More about this later.

Gen'yuin as looked after restoration in the late 1950's.
Gen’yuin as looked after restoration in the late 1950’s.

Water Basin

Another remnant you may not be allowed access to is the water basin. When you enter a Shintō shrine, you have to ritually purify yourself with water. The basins never had running water so, I figure that after the advent of plumbing and sewage to Tōkyō, such basins were a pain in the ass to maintain. That’s probably why this basin’s fate has been so tragic. It survived earthquakes and conflagrations and it even survived the firebombing, but it never got a restoration job and it’s basically out site. Even if you visit Gen’yūin, you probably won’t get to see it.

Water basin at Tokugawa Ietsuna's Grave
Yup, that’s a water basin.
A close up of the roof of the water basin.
A close up of the roof of the water basin.

The Bell

The 梵鐘 bonshō temple bell is usually not included in the list of surviving pieces of this temple, but I’m including it. On the one year anniversary of his death (ie; 1681), the bell was installed at Gen’yūin. The bell maker was a famous coppersmith who apparently had close ties to the shōgunate, as his bells appear in locations scattered across both Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji. It’s believed that the bell was moved to its current location in the early Meiji Period. More about this later.

Yup, that's a bell.
Yup, that’s a bell.

The Chinese Gate and the Funerary Urn and the Lanterns

Up to this point I could tell you about Gen’yūin with a fair amount of confidence. Now we’re stepping into the most mysterious realm. In the first shōguns, second shōgun’s[v], and third shōgun’s temples, there were special sections called the 奥院 oku no in, the inner sanctuary, which is the area that surrounds the actual remains of the deceased. The Nikkō graves were exposed and marked off by so-called “Chinese gates”[vi]. From what is extant at Ietsuna’s grave at Kan’eij-ji, the actual grave itself is raised up on a hill reinforced by stone and fenced off. The entrance point is a copper gate. This seems to be the norm for all subsequent shōguns.

After you go up the stairs you will enter the private cemetery of Ietsuna. His grave is a stone 宝塔 hōtō 2-story pagoda styled urn.

Ietsuna's funerary urn and Chinese style gate after restoration in 1957.
Ietsuna’s funerary urn and Chinese style gate after restoration in 1957.
Ietsuna's grave and Chinese style gate as it looks today.
Ietsuna’s grave and Chinese style gate as it looks today.


Just as the copper bell rarely makes the list of surviving pieces; the surviving stone lanterns never get listed. But the bell survived. If you go to Kan’ei-ji today, there’s a plaque stating as much in Japanese AND in English.

As for the lanterns, the average you and me don’t normally have access to the site. It’s not a tourist spot and Kan’ei-ji safeguards it as a private Tokugawa-family cemetery. But in that site there are some interesting artifacts.

A row of stone lamps at Gen’yuin.
An individual stone lamp in the oku no in. The ishigaki (stone wall) is also original.
Stone monuments generally survived the firebombing, so the lamp in the front may have been destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.
You can clearly see the word 厳有院殿 (Gen’yuin-dono) written on the lamp.
A better shot.
You can clearly see the word 厳有院殿 (Gen’yuin-dono) written on the lamp.
another lamp in the oku no in
another lamp in the oku no in
Some bits and pieces of lamps
Some bits and pieces of lamps
Lamps and graves living together...
Lamps and graves living together…

The Lantern Confusion

A few stone lanterns inscribed with the 3rd shōgun, Iemitsu’s funerary name, 大猷院 Taiyūin, were also noticed at the site. Whether Iemitsu’s temporary mausoleum was appropriated for Ietsuna’s use or whether certain structures were just repurposed is unclear. However, we do know that a sub-temple dedicated to the deified Iemitsu existed at Kan’ei-ji until 1720 when it was destroyed by fire. There are a few noticeable stone lanterns labeled Taiyūin scattered across the area, in particular near Kan’ei-ji’s 本堂 hondō main worship hall[vii]. Certain lanterns were thought to have been repurposed after the fire. But the ones that exist near the cemetery of Ietsuna (4th shōgun) and Tsunayoshi (5th shōgun) seem to beg the question, were these mortuary temples meant to be combined from the beginning or had funerary ideas changed in the first 4 generations of the Edo shōgunate and were these changes the effect of fires or austerity or just a cultural shift?

What’s this you say about combined mortuaries?

More about that at the end.

A stone lamp dedicated to Iemitsu that was found at Ietsuna's grave. You can clearly see the name 大雄院 (Taiyuin) inscribed.
A stone lamp dedicated to Iemitsu that was found at Ietsuna’s grave. You can clearly see the name 大雄院 (Taiyuin) inscribed.

There are a few other stone lamps dedicated to the third shogun Iemitsu scattered around Kan'ei-ji. The mystery is: was Iemitsu's grave converted into Ietsuna's or were pieces just borrowed?
There are a few other stone lamps dedicated to the third shogun Iemitsu scattered around Kan’ei-ji. The mystery is: was Iemitsu’s grave converted into Ietsuna’s or were pieces just borrowed?
taiyuin_ueno2_destroyed in 1720
Another Iemitsu (Taiyuin) lamp.
Daitokuin?? I thought that was Tokugawa Hidetada's temple at Zojoji???!!!!!!
Another mystery is this stone lantern dedicated to the 2nd shogun, Hidetada (Daitokuin). It’s unlikely it wasa transported all the way from Zojoji to Kan’ei-ji, so the prevailing theory is that there was a small shrine built for Hidetada here too.
But once again, nobody bothered to write any of this shit down.

I just mentioned a fire in the temple complex in 1720. If there was small Daitokuin at Kan’ei-ji, it’s assumed it would have been destroyed in this fire. But that wasn’t the only fire to hit Kan’ei-ji.

In 1868, the face-off between the Tokugawa supporters and the new Meiji imperial army, now known as the Battle of Ueno cost Kan’ei-ji most of its holdings. In an effort to force the 彰義隊 shōgitai out into the open, Saigō Takamori and his army of douche nozzles lit fire to many of the buildings[viii]. Depictions of the battle show fighting in the midst of a massive conflagration. It’s not clear if the funerary temples were damaged or not. My guess is that they weren’t destroyed, but probably suffered some damage. The reason being that in the transition of Kan’ei-ji’s holdings into a public park[ix], the 梵鐘 bonshō temple bell, being the most well produced in the area, was moved a mile or so over to the new main temple of Kan’ei-ji . This move subsequently saved the bell as it luckily was unaffected by the American air raids in the 1940’s. It is said that a few other portions of the temple had been dismantled after the Battle of Ueno, which makes me think they had become unsightly due to fire damage. However, no one bothered to write this stuff down in detail – or at least the records don’t exist today.

This famous photo shows the striking aftermath of the Battle of Ueno. The debris has been cleaned up, but all that remains are a few isolated structures. (look ma! more water basins!)
This famous photo shows the striking aftermath of the Battle of Ueno. The debris has been cleaned up, but all that remains are a few isolated structures.
(look ma! more water basins!)

There is another fire connected with Tokugawa Ietsuna. In the 6th year of his regency (1657), the Great Meireki Fire[x] burnt Edo to the ground. Famously, this fire burned the 天守閣 tenshukaku main keep of Edo Castle. For more about conflagrations, see my article on how fires shaped Edo-Tōkyō.





OK, I promised that I’d say something about the combined graves.
The 10th shōgun, Tokugawa Ieharu, and the 11th shōgun, Tokugawa Ienari, were later interred at Gen’yūin. Ieharu died about 100 years after Ietsuna.


UPDATE: It’s a pain in the ass to modify my chart once a blog is published… But, I recently learned that there was a main gate (総門 soumon) also called a 二天文 nitenmon (2 god gate). This statues from this gate still exist. When the main gate was disassembled in the Meiji Era, the statues were sent to Sensō-ji in Asakusa and installed in the nitenmon there.


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[i] To add insult to injury, the scroll gate survived but the scroll itself is gone.

[ii] 2nd shōgun, Hidetada’s Daitokuin being the exception, his wife, 江 Gō, had a separate, personal funerary temple built on the premises.

[iii] Which, ironically, is taken from a list of things destroyed by the American air raids during WWII. Why didn’t anyone make this list and photograph this shit in DETAIL before the firebombing???
FFS, people. Get it together!

[iv] Technically speaking, 2 panels of the sukibei are still intact. You can see them on the left and right sides of te imperial scroll gate.

[v] Hidetada’s Daitokuin was unique in that his wooden funerary urn was housed by an octagonal structure. After Ietsuna, stone or copper urns seems to be the norm

[vi] Other than that in these mortuaries, the “Chinese Gates” have been made of stone and metal, I have no idea what a “Chinese Gate” actually is. I would love for an art historian to school me on this because… it’s one of the most confusing points for me about temple construction. A Google search by the kanji just turns up a bunch of Japanese gates the look like every Edo Period gate I’ve ever seen…

[viii] The fact that a statue of his Supreme Douchiness, Saigō Takamori, stands at the entrance of Ueno Park is freaking slap in the face to the people of Edo-Tōkyō, if you ask me.

[ix] ie; Ueno Park

[x] Of which there was nothing great. The fire sucked giant donkey balls. 100,000 people died and it took 2 years to rebuild, but countless architectural treasures were lost forever.

4 thoughts on “Gen’yuin

  1. Dogs and cats, living together!

    I thought this would be a short post because you said there’s not much left, but it’s actually really long.

    Don’t work to hard.

    And by the way, not complaining but the end notes don’t work.

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