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Tales of Old Japan



Of the many fair scenes of Yedo, none is better worth visiting than the temple of Zôjôji, one of the two great burial-places of the Shoguns; indeed, if you wish to see the most beautiful spots of any Oriental city, ask for the cemeteries: the homes of the dead are ever the loveliest places. Standing in a park of glorious firs and pines beautifully kept, which contains quite a little town of neat, clean-looking houses, together with thirty-four temples for the use of the priests and attendants of the shrines, the main temple, with its huge red pillars supporting a heavy Chinese roof of grey tiles, is approached through a colossal open hall which leads into a stone courtyard. At one end of this courtyard is a broad flight of steps—the three or four lower ones of stone, and the upper ones of red wood. At these the visitor is warned by a notice to take off his boots, a request which Englishmen, with characteristic disregard of the feelings of others, usually neglect to comply with. The main hall of the temple is of large proportions, and the high altar is decorated with fine bronze candelabra, incense-burners, and other ornaments, and on two days of the year a very curious collection of pictures representing the five hundred gods, whose images are known to all persons who have visited Canton, is hung along the walls. The big bell outside the main hall is rather remarkable on account of the great beauty of the deep bass waves of sound which it rolls through the city than on account of its size, which is as nothing when compared with that of the big bells of Moscow and Peking; still it is not to be despised even in that respect, for it is ten feet high and five feet eight inches in diameter, while its metal is a foot thick: it was hung up in the year 1673. But the chief objects of interest in these beautiful grounds are the chapels attached to the tombs of the Shoguns.

It is said that as Prince Iyéyasu was riding into Yedo to take possession of his new castle, the Abbot of Zôjôji, an ancient temple which then stood at Hibiya, near the castle, went forth and waited before the gate to do homage to the Prince. Iyéyasu, seeing that the Abbot was no ordinary man, stopped and asked his name, and entered the temple to rest himself. The smooth-spoken monk soon found such favour with Iyéyasu, that he chose Zôjôji to be his family temple; and seeing that its grounds were narrow and inconveniently near the castle, he caused it to be removed to its present site. In the year 1610 the temple was raised, by the intercession of Iyéyasu, to the dignity of the Imperial Temples, which, until the last revolution, were presided over by princes of the blood; and to the Abbot was granted the right, on going to the castle, of sitting in his litter as far as the entrance-hall, instead of dismounting at the usual place and proceeding on foot through several gates and courtyards. Nor were the privileges of the temple confined to barren honours, for it was endowed with lands of the value of five thousand kokus of rice yearly.

When Iyéyasu died, the shrine called Antoku In was erected in his honour to the south of the main temple. Here, on the seventeenth day of the fourth month, the anniversary of his death, ceremonies are held in honour of his spirit, deified as Gongen Sama, and the place is thrown open to all who may wish to come and pray. But Iyéyasu is not buried here; his remains lie in a gorgeous shrine among the mountains some eighty miles north of Yedo, at Nikkô, a place so beautiful that the Japanese have a rhyming proverb which says, that he who has not seen Nikkô should never pronounce the word Kekkô (charming, delicious, grand, beautiful).

Hidétada, the son and successor of Iyéyasu, together with Iyénobu, Iyétsugu, Iyéshigé, Iyéyoshi, and Iyémochi, the sixth, seventh, ninth, twelfth, and fourteenth Shoguns of the Tokugawa dynasty, are buried in three shrines attached to the temple; the remainder, with the exception of Iyémitsu, the third Shogun, who lies with his grandfather at Nikkô, are buried at Uyéno.

The shrines are of exceeding beauty, lying on one side of a splendid avenue of Scotch firs, which border a broad, well-kept gravel walk. Passing through a small gateway of rare design, we come into a large stone courtyard, lined with a long array of colossal stone lanterns, the gift of the vassals of the departed Prince. A second gateway, supported by gilt pillars carved all round with figures of dragons, leads into another court, in which are a bell tower, a great cistern cut out of a single block of stone like a sarcophagus, and a smaller number of lanterns of bronze; these are given by the Go San Ké, the three princely families in which the succession to the office of Shogun was vested. Inside this is a third court, partly covered like a cloister, the approach to which is a doorway of even greater beauty and richness than the last; the ceiling is gilt, and painted with arabesques and with heavenly angels playing on musical instruments, and the panels of the walls are sculptured in high relief with admirable representations of birds and flowers, life-size, life-like, all being coloured to imitate nature. Inside this enclosure stands a shrine, before the closed door of which a priest on one side, and a retainer of the house of Tokugawa on the other, sit mounting guard, mute and immovable as though they themselves were part of the carved ornaments. Passing on one side of the shrine, we come to another court, plainer than the last, and at the back of the little temple inside it is a flight of stone steps, at the top of which, protected by a bronze door, stands a simple monumental urn of bronze on a stone pedestal. Under this is the grave itself; and it has always struck me that there is no small amount of poetical feeling in this simple ending to so much magnificence; the sermon may have been preached by design, or it may have been by accident, but the lesson is there.

There is little difference between the three shrines, all of which are decorated in the same manner. It is very difficult to do justice to their beauty in words. Writing many thousand miles away from them, I have the memory before me of a place green in winter, pleasant and cool in the hottest summer; of peaceful cloisters, of the fragrance of incense, of the subdued chant of richly robed priests, and the music of bells; of exquisite designs, harmonious colouring, rich gilding. The hum of the vast city outside is unheard here: Iyéyasu himself, in the mountains of Nikkô, has no quieter resting-place than his descendants in the heart of the city over which they ruled.

Besides the graves of the Shoguns, Zôjôji contains other lesser shrines, in which are buried the wives of the second, sixth, and eleventh Shoguns, and the father of Iyénobu, the sixth Shogun, who succeeded to the office by adoption. There is also a holy place called the Satsuma Temple, which has a special interest; in it is a tablet in honour of Tadayoshi, the fifth son of Iyéyasu, whose title was Matsudaira Satsuma no Kami, and who died young. At his death, five of his retainers, with one Ogasasawara Kemmotsu at their head, disembowelled themselves, that they might follow their young master into the next world. They were buried in this place; and I believe that this is the last instance on record of the ancient Japanese custom of Junshi, that is to say, "dying with the master."

There are, during the year, several great festivals which are specially celebrated at Zôjoji; the chief of these are the Kaisanki, or founder's day, which is on the eighteenth day of the seventh month; the twenty-fifth day of the first month, the anniversary of the death of the monk Hônen, the founder of the Jôdo sect of Buddhism (that to which the temple belongs); the anniversary of the death of Buddha, on the fifteenth of the second month; the birthday of Buddha, on the eighth day of the fourth month; and from the sixth to the fifteenth of the tenth month.

At Uyéno is the second of the burial-grounds of the Shoguns. The Temple Tô-yei-zan, which stood in the grounds of Uyéno, was built by Iyémitsu, the third of the Shoguns of the house of Tokugawa, in the year 1625, in honour of Yakushi Niôrai, the Buddhist Æsculapius. It faces the Ki-mon, or Devil's Gate, of the castle, and was erected upon the model of the temple of Hi-yei-zan, one of the most famous of the holy places of Kiyôto. Having founded the temple, the next care of Iyémitsu was to pray that Morizumi, the second son of the retired emperor, should come and reside there; and from that time until 1868, the temple was always presided over by a Miya, or member of the Mikado's family, who was specially charged with the care of the tomb of Iyéyasu at Nikkô, and whose position was that of an ecclesiastical chief or primate over the east of Japan.

The temples in Yedo are not to be compared in point of beauty with those in and about Peking; what is marble there is wood here. Still they are very handsome, and in the days of its magnificence the Temple of Uyéno was one of the finest. Alas! the main temple, the hall in honour of the sect to which it belongs, the hall of services, the bell-tower, the entrance-hall, and the residence of the prince of the blood, were all burnt down in the battle of Uyéno, in the summer of 1868, when the Shogun's men made their last stand in Yedo against the troops of the Mikado. The fate of the day was decided by two field-pieces, which the latter contrived to mount on the roof of a neighbouring tea-house; and the Shogun's men, driven out of the place, carried off the Miya in the vain hope of raising his standard in the north as that of a rival Mikado. A few of the lesser temples and tombs, and the beautiful park-like grounds, are but the remnants of the former glory of Uyéno. Among these is a temple in the form of a roofless stage, in honour of the thousand-handed Kwannon. In the middle ages, during the civil wars between the houses of Gen and Hei, one Morihisa, a captain of the house of Hei, after the destruction of his clan, went and prayed for a thousand days at the temple of the thousand-handed Kwannon at Kiyomidzu, in Kiyôto. His retreat having been discovered, he was seized and brought bound to Kamakura, the chief town of the house of Gen. Here he was condemned to die at a place called Yui, by the sea-shore; but every time that the executioner lifted his sword to strike, the blade was broken by the god Kwannon, and at the same time the wife of Yoritomo, the chief of the house of Gen, was warned in a dream to spare Morihisa's life. So Morihisa was reprieved, and rose to power in the state; and all this was by the miraculous intervention of the god Kwannon, who takes such good care of his faithful votaries. To him this temple is dedicated. A colossal bronze Buddha, twenty-two feet high, set up some two hundred years ago, and a stone lantern, twenty feet high, and twelve feet round at the top, are greatly admired by the Japanese. There are only three such lanterns in the empire; the other two being at Nanzenji—a temple in Kiyôto, and Atsura, a shrine in the province of Owari. All three were erected by the piety of one man, Sakuma Daizen no Suké, in the year A.D. 1631.

Iyémitsu, the founder of the temple, was buried with his grandfather, Iyéyasu, at Nikkô; but both of these princes are honoured with shrines here. The Shoguns who are interred at Uyéno are Iyétsuna, Tsunayoshi, Yoshimuné, Iyéharu, Iyénori, and Iyésada, the fourth, fifth, eighth, tenth, eleventh, and thirteenth Princes of the Line. Besides them, are buried five wives of the Shoguns, and the father of the eleventh Shogun.