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Ōedo Line: Daimon

In Japanese History on June 30, 2015 at 3:47 am

大門
Daimon (the great gate)

Shiba Daimon (literally, the great gate). Once you crossed this gate you would have officially entered the central precinct of Zōjō-ji. Continue along this street and you will soon arrive at the iconic Sangedatsu Gate which still stands today.

Shiba Daimon (literally, the great gate). Once you crossed this gate you would have officially entered the central precinct of Zōjō-ji. Continue along this street and you will soon arrive at the iconic Sangedatsu Gate which still stands today.

The Great Gate refers to the huge gate marking the beginning of the 参道 sandō main approach to a temple or shrine. This particular road actually begins at Edo Bay and follows a straight line directly to the 大門 daimon great gate that marked the territory controlled by 増上寺 Zōjō-ji a funerary temple of the Tokugawa shōgun family. Walk 5 more minutes and you arrive at a greater gate, the 三解脱門 Sangedatsu Mon Sangedatsu Gate, which marks the entrance to temple grounds proper. It’s one of the most impressive temple entrances in all of Japan and it’s without a doubt the most recognized surviving temple entrance of Edo-Tōkyō[i]. Most of Zōjō-ji burned in the firebombing of WWII, but a few important structures here and there survived. If you know where to look, there are stone walls and relics of the original temple complex scattered all over the Shiba Park area[ii]. Even immediate area surrounding the temple you can find bits and pieces of the Edo Period structures that once decorated this once wooded area. I often come here to explore and reflect upon the great architecture that once stood here until 1945.

Built in 1622, the Sangedatsu Gate has been a symbol of this Zōjō-ji. This photo is taken from within the temple grounds and in the distance you can see the Daimon. (Photo by Rekishi no Tabi. Click the photo to check his amazing photos of Japan)

Built in 1622, the Sangedatsu Gate has been a symbol of this Zōjō-ji. This photo is taken from within the temple grounds and in the distance you can see the Daimon.
(Photo by Rekishi no Tabi. Click the photo to see his amazing photos of Japan)

It goes without saying, that Tōkyō Tower is just amazing. And yes, yes, yes. Tōkyō Skytree is a marvel of engineering – and if I’m not mistaken, the 2nd highest structure in the world. And yes, it looks pretty freaking cool[iii]. But there’s almost no meaning behind Skytree. It’s a colossal monument built by a rich country that foresees a failing economy and needs to attract tourist money well into the future.

Tokyo Tower. Classic. (Click the photo to see my Flickr page)

Tokyo Tower. Classic.
(Click the photo to see my Flickr page)

Tōkyō Tower, on the other hand, is a symbol of post-war Japan. The country had been nuked twice, the capital city and all of its treasures burned to the ground never to be replaced – not to mention the unquantifiable cost in human lives at the close of the Pacific War. Japan had been brought to her knees, humiliated, occupied by a foreign power for the first time, and… well, I could go on and on. In short, Japan recovered and wanted to show the world a new face, a new Japan, a post-war Japan. They began picking up the ashes of a burnt out Tōkyō and in part of their showcasing of the city to the world in the 1964 Summer Olympics, they built Tōkyō Tower to be symbol of recovery, pride, and leadership that would outlast the one summer of the Olympics[iv]. The meaning of Tōkyō Tower is truly profound. There are a few things that really stir up feelings in my heart when I see them: Edo Bay, the rivers of Edo, and Tōkyō Tower. Of course, there are a myriad of other things, but they are subtler. These 3 stick out in my mind as true symbols of the city.

Tofu-ya Ukai may be one of the closest you can come to the lively yamanote culture of Pre-WWII Tōkyō.

Tofu-ya Ukai may be one of the closest you can come to the lively yamanote culture of Pre-WWII Tōkyō.

Oh, and I’d be remiss to mention a certain restaurant next to Tōkyō Tower. If you’d like to eat traditional seasonal food presented as a course lunch or course dinner in a gorgeous traditional setting complete with gardens and trees that absolutely evoke the esthetic of the high city of Edo[v], I recommend 豆腐屋うかい Tōfu-ya Ukai. During the cherry blossom season and the autumn colors season, you can get seated, but the prime viewing times are difficult in the private rooms (last I spoke with them, they took reservations up to 3 months in advance for those times). Even for the economy seating (which isn’t crappy at all, but it’s not private), you’ll probably need a reservation at least a month and a half in advance. I highly recommend this restaurant, so book a private room in advance.

There’s so much in the area that one of these days I should organize a small tour for readers.

Graves of the chief priests of Zōjō-ji.  Good luck finding this on a map, but it's in the area.

Graves of the chief priests of Zōjō-ji.
Good luck finding this on a map, but it’s in the area.
(Click this photo to see my photos of Japan)

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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

______________________________
[i] Many of the other gates were destroyed in WWII. The other Tokugawa temple, Kan’ei-ji, also had a unique gate, but that was destroyed during the Meiji Coup of 1868.
[ii] Shiba Park is actually a cluster of parks.
[iii] I know some will disagree with me, but I actually like Skytree.
[iv] They also needed a radio tower.
[v] And high city prices! It’s not cheap.

  1. Reblogged this on Flight of the Hamsa and commented:
    The Daimon is the ONLY structure in Tokyo still standing from the Edo period.

  2. […] the area, you should definitely check it out[xiv]. You’re also even closer to the Ōedo Line’s Daimon Station which gives you access to Zōjō-ji’s Great Gate and the destroyed mausolea of the Tokugawa […]

  3. It is worth noting that 豆腐屋うかい is a relatively NEW restaurant, but beautifully done in a traditional style, complete with gardens. When we moved to the area in the late 90’s, a bowling alley stood there. When it was torn down, I didn’t imagine something like that to be put up in its place.

    • Yeah. Tōfu-ya Ukai was part of a the ward’s attempt to reclaim the entire Shiba Park area from its post-war existence. My understanding is that Zōjō-ji sold off as its most precious real estate (the shōguns’ graves) to rebuild the main temple after the firebombing in order to look ok for the ’64 Olympics. The gate to Hidetada’s mausoleum, which still looks great, was restored in the 90’s, so you’ve seen a huge transformation of that area. If you have photos from that time, I’d love to see them! 🙂

      • Alas, my photos are all generic ones of my kids playing in local parks. But I heard some of my neighbors have old photos of Tokyo Tower under construction!

  4. Remember, in the 90’s, we didn’t have cameras in our phones….

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