(Temple of the Lucky Omens)
OK, my friends…
This is a bit of a weird one.
The place name of Kichijōji means “Temple of Auspicious Omens.”
It’s a temple’s name and yet…. there is no temple of that name here.
What could have possibly happened?
The name of the temple supposedly dates back to 1458
When the Sengoku Era warlord, Ōta Dōkan, came into Edo and began expanding Chiyoda Castle[i], he put a few temples and shrines on the premises. One of the temples he included was 吉祥寺 Kichijō-ji Temple of the Lucky Omens[ii]. He must have liked the kanji 吉 kichi/yoshi because he also included 日枝神社 Hie Jinja Hie Shrine which was actually a branch shrine of the Kyōto shrine called 日吉神社 Hiyoshi Jinja Hiyoshi Shrine which includes the same character. Hie Shrine still exists in Akasaka.
The story goes that when Ōta Dōkan was fortifying his estate and they were digging the moats, they pulled some water from a well near the 和田倉 Wadakura Mon Wadakura Gate. They found 金印 kin’in a gold stamper inscribed with the words 吉祥増上 kichijō zōjō. Kichijō means “auspicious” or “lucky omen” and so they chose the first word as the name of the temple. The second word, zōjō, is identical to the zōjō of Zōjō-ji, the Tokugawa funerary temple in Shiba. Not sure if there’s a connection, but it’s intriguing[iii]. Anyhoo, the original temple was built in 西之丸 Nishi no Maru the west enclosure of Edo Castle[iv].
In 1590, the 太閤 taikō, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, transferred Tokugawa Ieyasu to Edo Castle. In 1591, during his first expansion and rebuilding phase, Ieyasu for reasons that are not clear[v], moved Kichijō-ji temple near present day 水道橋 Suidōbashi (near Tōkyō Dome) in 文京区 Bunkyō-ku Bunkyō Ward.
As I’ve mentioned before, in old Japan, towns would spring up around temples. These towns were called 門前町 monzen-chō towns in front of the gate[vi]. So, near Suidōbashi a town called 吉祥寺門前町 Kichijōji Monzen-chō popped up. The town had a pretty sweet location near the river and main water supply of Edo.
Then Some Shit Went Down
- In 1657, the Meireki Fire happened.
- Edo was burnt to shit.
- Kichijō-ji itself was burnt to shit.
- The town of Kichijōji Monzen-chō was burnt to shit.
Because of its sweet-ass location, the shōgunate wanted to repurpose the land for daimyō mansions. So they offered monetary incentives to the residents of Kichijōji Monzenchō to entice them to move to 多摩郡 Tama-gun Tama County[vii]. Under the purview of some 浪士 rōshi masterless samurai, most of the community was moved to present day Kichijōji. They brought the name with them but they couldn’t bring the temple.
The shōgunate relocated the temple Kichijō-ji to nearby 本駒込 Hon-Komagome, also in modern Bunkyō Ward. The temple was rebuilt and it still stands today.
These days, it’s not a well-known temple around Tōkyō. Most people have no idea that “the real Kichijōji” is here. But the local residents definitely know about it. And the temple cares for a decent sized cemetery, which includes the grave of Ninomiya Sontoku, an Edo Period “peasant economist” dude whom I’ve never heard of, but I’ve seen countless statues and representations of him all over the place. Never realized who he was until today. Wow. Ya learn something every day, huh?
Of course, today when you say Kichijōji, everyone thinks of the vibrant city in Mitaka famous for reasonable shopping, a quasi-Bohemian lifestyle, and the fabulous 井ﾉ頭公園 Inokashira Park[viii]. But we know better now, don’t we? The real Kichijō-ji is in central Tōkyō and that famous Kichijōji is a freaking poseur. And now you’re armed with enough useless trivia about this subject to shock and bore Japanese people to pieces at parties[ix].
I haven’t been to Kichijōji in about 2 years. I used to live in Nakano and was so easy to get there that I often headed out that way just to relax and explore the town. Writing this has made me feel a little nostalgic for the area and all the time I spent there. May have to head out there again soon[x].
[ii] Henceforth, I shall refer to the town as Kichijōji and the temple as Kichijō-ji.
[iii] Maybe someone who knows more about Japanese Buddhism in the early modern era could help me out here. Yoroshiku ne!
[iv] If you’re a long time reader of Japan This, you’ll know what a maru is. If you’re new to here, you might want to see my article on Marunouchi. You might also want to check out the explanation at JCastle.info and his Edo Castle Project – which is totally bad ass. Japanese Castle Explorer also has a nice piece on Edo Castle.
[v] My guess is expanding the castle was a priority and he probably saw having temples and shrines on the castle grounds as security risks. The reigns of the first 3 shōguns weren’t the most stable of times.
[vi] Literally 門前 monzen in front of the gate 町 chō town. See my article on Monzen-Nakachō.
[vii] Pronounced /ˈist ˈbʌtfʌk / for you linguistics nerds.
[viii] And yes, some people think of the Studio Ghibili Museum which we’re not going to talk about. Sorry, Ghibili nerds.
[ix] Kind of like my party trick of listing all 15 Tokugawa shōguns in order. And my new party trick of listing their posthumous names in order after that for added effect.
[x] But definitely not to see the Ghibili Museum.