Jomyo-in, the Jizo Temple

I rode my bicycle past Jomyo-in Temple hundreds of times on my way to work, never suspecting that it might be worth visiting until last year they started doing construction on it, and I got a look inside because one of the walls was torn down. It’s actually pretty interesting because its filled wall-to-wall with thousands of Jizo sculptures.

Before the Meiji Restoration, all of Ueno Park and a lot of it’s surroundings were one huge temple called Kan’ei-ji, and Jomyo-in was one of its 36 sub-temples. Kan’ei-ji was closely associated with the Tokugawa Shoguns, and Jomyo-in is named for the mother of the fourth Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna.

The temple was renamed Jomyo-in in 1723. The front gate is said to date back from this time.

The jizo thing was started by a monk called Myoun, who became the chief priest of the temple in 1876. He was originally from Osaka, and at the age of 25, while living as a hermit at a temple in Nikko, he came have great faith in Jizo. He started out with the idea of making a thousand jizo statues, but when they were finished, he started thinking big and decided to go for 84,000. The temple and some sites that I checked seem to indicate that there really are 84,000 jizo statues there, but there clearly aren’t.

There’s a really cool 360 degree panoramic photo of the temple here:,-9.07,110.0

And a video here:

The temple is right next to the entrance of the Yanaka Cemetery.

There’s a very good map and detailed access information on this PDF:

Here is the temple’s official homepage, in really difficult to read Japanese:


Fearsome Nio at Entsuu-ji Temple

Entsuu-ji is a kind of a cheesy-looking Zen Temple near Minami-senju Station in Tokyo, but it has some really cool Buddhist sculptures.

These are kongo rikishi, the “power lords of the diamond realm,” and they stand guard at many Buddhist temples in Japan. Bare-chested, sneering deities, the kongo rikishi are not your average Buddhas. Unlike the serene Kannon, Amida and Jizo statues, their ferocious faces and body-builder physiques are meant to frighten off evil spirits from the temple grounds, and in fact, they’re not true Buddhas at all, but rather protectors of the Buddha.

Kongo Rikishi also represent the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Look closely at their faces and you’ll notice that one, the Missha Kongo (the secret-knowing Kongo) always has his mouth closed, and one, the Mishabe Kongo, (the secret-speaking Kongo) always has his mouth open.

Entsu-ji probably isn’t worth a special trip, but you might want to combine it with a visit to the Yoshiwara former red-light district or the Kotsukappara Execution Grounds.

Here is the temple’s homepage (in Japanese only)

Getting there: From Minami-senju Station, go out of the West Exit, turn left, and walk to the stop lights. Turn right and walk north to the next set of lights. Turn left, and walk to the second set of lights, which is a big road called Nikko Kaido or Route 4. Cross the street, and turn left. Entsu-ji will be on your right. You can also take Exit 3 from Minowa Subway Station, turn right, and north on Nikko Kaido/Route 4. Coming from Minowa, Entsu-ji will be on your left.Address: Tokyo, Arakawa-ku, Minami-senju 1-59-11 (Japanese: 東京都 荒川区南千住1-59-11)

TEl. 03-3891-1368

These are Kongo Rikishi (aka Nio),Kongo rikishi, the “power lords of the diamond realm,” stand guard at many Buddhist temples in Japan. Bare-chested, sneering deities, the kongo rikishi are not your average Buddhas. Unlike the serene Kannon, Amida and Jizo statues, their ferocious faces and body-builder physiques are meant to frighten off evil spirits from the temple grounds, and in fact, they’re not true Buddhas at all, but rather protectors of the Buddha.

Kongo Rikishi also represent the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Look closely at their faces and you’ll notice that the one on the left, the Missha Kongo (the secret-knowing Kongo) always has his mouth closed, and the one on the right, the Mishabe Kongo (the secret-speaking Kongo) always has his mouth open.

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Ameyoko-cho Mask Shop

This little shop in Ueno’s Ameyoko-cho market district sells rubber celebrity masks. They only cost 2,000 yen or so and would certainly make a unique souvenir of Japan. It’s call the Ueno-ya, and the masks page is here.

Hatoyama Yukio Antonio Inoki
Kinnikuman Kuidaore Clown
Eyeball Ozawa Ichiro
Asashoryu Buddha
Anime character (This one costs
13,000 yen)

To get there, go out the North Exit of Okachimachi Station and turn left, walking along the JR tracks. Turn right at the second corner and you’ll see it immediately on the right.
The address is 6-3-9 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo (Japanese: 東京都台東区上野 6-3-9). Tel. 03-3831-0631
The masks can also be bought online.

Gogatsu Ningyo, the Dolls of Boys’ Day

Japan has some of the most amazing dolls in the world, and when I went to visit my wife’s family during Golden Week, I was surprised to see that one of the rooms in the house had been taken over by an enormous display of gogatsu ningyo (literally ‘May dolls’) in honor of my new son.

The official name of the holiday being celebrated is Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day, and it comes on May 5th, every year, but it used to be called Tango no sekku, and was originally just for boys. The festival is centuries old, and no one knows exactly where it came from or how it originated, but there are some theories here.

Anyway, it’s basically a day to wish for the health and happiness of male children, and there are a lot of masculine symbols associated with it, like the above tiger and the below carp.

These are irises, the flower that gives the festival its old name, Shobu no Sekku. Irises were used in purifying rituals, and because the word for iris, shobu, sounds like the word for military spirit, it also became associated with samurai virtues.


If Nokogiri-yama was in Kyoto, it would almost certainly be an A-list tourist attraction. It has a huge daibutsu (great Buddha statue) that is twice as big as the more famous versions in Kamakura and Nara, and also an incredible image of the Kannon Bosatsu carved into the side of a cliff. There are also about 1,500 rakan butsuzo on the mountain, and it offers wonderful views of Tokyo Bay.
Unfortunately, though, Nokogiri-yama is out in Chiba in the middle of nowhere on the Boso Peninsula, and it takes about 2 1/2 hours to get there from Tokyo. I visited Nokogiri-yama back in December, and it was one of the most impressive places I’ve seen in Japan in years.

This is the Hyakusatsu Kannon, a monument to soldiers killed in World War II. It was completed in 1963. It’s 2-dimensional, but somehow the way the cliffs tower over you and the lines created by the layers in the rock make it incredibly powerful. You really have to see it with your own eyes to appreciate it..

This is an image of the Yakushi Nyorai, the medicine Buddha. It’s 31-m tall and was carved in the late 18th century.

Mt. Fuji from across Tokyo Bay. The area is incredibly scenic, and it’s worth having a wander along the seashore or a walk through the fields before or after you’ve seen the mountain.

There are about 1,500 images of Rakan, the disciples of Buddha, on the mountain. Some of them are in pretty bad shape, but there are some that are really beautiful.

View from the top.

Getting there: From Tokyo Station, take the Sobu Line to Chiba. Make sure to get on an express train or it will take forever. At Chiba, change to the Uchibo Line. Get off at Hamakanaya or Hota Station. The fare is 1,890 yen and the trip takes about two hours and ten minutes. The trains are infrequent, so plan ahead.
If you want to take the cable car, get off at Hamakanaya. The cable car is 500 yen one way and 900 yen return. If it is windy, the cable car often closes down early.
Most people who are not using the cable car get off at Hoka, see the Great Buddha, climb up the mountain to where the Rakan are, see the Hyakusatsu Kannon, and climb down to Hamakanaya.
Admission to the Great Buddha and Hyakusatsu Kannon costs 600 yen, bringing the grand total for the day to over 4,000 yen without the cable car. Yes, it’s really expensive and difficult to get to, but you’ll be glad you went.

Nihonji Temple homepage: (Japanese)
Map of the mountain: (Japanese)
Nokogiri Video at Must Love Japan:

Hina Doll at the Awashima Shrine in Wakayama

Hina doll at Awashima Jinja in Wakayama prefecture. Many Japanese people believe that dolls have souls, so instead of throwing them in the garbage, they take them to a shrine where they are blessed and ritually burned or thrown into the sea.

Other posts with pictures of Awashima Jinja:

The Green Tokyo Gundam Project

Tokyo’s giant Gundam is currently attracting millions of visitors who come to see the giant steel robot rising up over Shiokaze Koen in Odaiba. It’s official name is the Green Tokyo Gundam Project, and it’s part of a plan to promote Tokyo’s campaign for the 2016 Olympics – they’re trying to make things greener and more environmentally friendly for the games. It’s easy to be cynical about using a giant steel robot to promote the environment, and how there’s nothing really “green” about the souvenir shops and the way it’s set up. When you go there, there are no environmental messages or other things you’d expect from “green Tokyo” campaign. The Tokyo Olympic committee is working with a for-profit company, Bandai, helping them to promote their products in Tokyo’s bid to host the games so that the city can get prestige and the economic stimulus that comes with being a host city.
But maybe this is the future of environmentalism. They’re going to use the money raised from selling souvenirs to plant trees and put lawns in school grounds. If people come and see the Gundam and have a good time, do they need to learn about the environment? If they are encouraged to consume, to buy gundam models and souvenir booklets, as long as the money is going to the environment, you can argue that it’s doing more good than harm. And a green Olympics is better than a polluting one, even if the organizers are doing it as part of their promotion strategy, right? I guess I can’t really convince myself completely, but it is something to think about.





love-hotel-coverBy the way, my book, Love Hotels: An Inside Look at Japan’s Sexual Playgrounds is finally available on, as well as I spent years visiting Japan’s kinky, sex-oriented hotels, interviewing love hotel designers, owners and staff, and wading through Japanese sources on sex and love hotels to bring you this book.

It’s 182 pages of information about their history, the people who design and operate them, their place in Japanese society, crime, and much, much more. There’s also a love hotel guide with information on how to get to the best hotels in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama, Sapporo, and Fukuoka.

For more information about love hotels, please visit my newly updated love hotel page at:

To order or find out more about the book, please visit: There’s also a smaller guidebook, with just the hotel information for 500 yen:

There are more love hotel-related posts

Sasakawa Ryoichi Statues

I’ve seen these slightly-creepy statues of a guy carrying his mother in various places in Japan, and always wondered what they were. They’re called kouyou no  zou (filial-piety statues), and it turns out they’re of a guy named Sasakawa Ryoichi, whose name will probably ring a bell if you’ve read David Kaplan’s book Yakuza.
He was a fascist and was arrested as a class A war criminal after WWII. Despite having run a huge fascist organization and recruited a 150,000 man army that plundered China, trafficked in opium, and committed war crimes, he was let go because there was not enough evidence against him (although some say it was because America wanted to use the right-wingers to fight communism). He also had a lot of tie-ins with the yakuza, and was a drinking buddy of the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Kazuo Taoka. Sasakawa was affiliated with the Moonies too, was one of the most powerful men in the LDP (even helping choose cabinet ministers), and once called himself “the world’s wealthiest fascist.”
So by now you’re probably asking yourself why there are statues of the guy all over Japan. Well, the reason is that after getting released from prison, he used his money and political influence to get motor boat racing legalized as a form of gambling. Motor boat racing (kyotei) is one of only four types of gambling that are legal in Japan, and earns billions of dollars every year. The money goes to the Nippon Foundation, and does do a lot of good charity work, supporting the United Nations and many important charities in the country. Another thing it does, is put up these weird statues of Sasakawa and his mother all over the country. They’re outside every motor boat racing track, and also in front of a lot of the museums and cultural facilities that the the Nippon Foundation finances. This one is in front of the Maritime Museum in Tokyo’s Odaiba district.
The statues are just as odd as the man. Most of them were put up while Sasakawa was still alive, and he was present at the unveilings of many of them. Many Japanese people still remember the TV and newspaper ads he bought, ostensibly promoting family values, but many people got the impression he was more interested in promoting himself. The statues appear to be his idea, and all of them have a tear running down his face as he carries his mother up the 785 steps of a temple in Shikoku. If you look him up on the Internet, about half the information will be about his charitable work, featuring photos of him jogging with Jimmy Carter or chatting with the Pope. The other half will be his mug shots, or him having a good time with Mussolini.

Here’s a video of Sasakawa at the unveiling at one of his statues:

Wikipedia article on Sasakawa:

Fascinating excerpt from David Kaplan’s book, Yakuza via Google books:

Sasakawa, a Respected War Criminal, an interesting article by a French journalist, who, despite being unable to spell ‘yakuza’ properly, has some interesting information about his life:

Rakan Butsuzo


Some Buddhist statues are serenely beautiful. Others are terrifyingly ferocious. But every once in a while, you’ll come across a cute or funny one. Rakan Butsuzo, images of the disciples of Buddha, are often depicted pulling funny faces, with humorous features, or in bizarre poses. For more information about the bizarre statues at Otagi Nenbutsu Temple, click here.web analytics

There are more photos of Otagi Nenbutsu-ji here.