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Genkaku-ji, a temple for bad eyes

Quirky temple time!

This one is a gem: small but beautifully maintained, with dozens of interesting bits crammed into a small space near the Bunkyō Ward Office and Tokyo Dome. It's called Genkaku-ji (源覚寺), and this is where you go if you want to cure an eye problem. Or pile extra salt onto a precariously tilting salt tower. Or ring the Pacific Peace Bell.

Ema with Enma (that sounds funny)

Genkaku-ji was built in 1624. Soon afterwards a wooden statue of the god of hell, Enma-ō (閻魔王), was found in a nearby pond. It was placed in the temple and largely ignored, but then people started noticing an old woman who visited every day with an offering of konnyaku.

"Why are you giving konnyaku to Enma?" was the perfectly reasonable question everybody asked.

She told them that her eyes had become weak and all medicines had failed, so she asked Enma for help. One day, as she was praying before the statue, he said to her, "I will gouge out one eye and give it to you." She looked up and saw that one of his eyes was gone, and blood was running from the empty socket. When she glanced around her, she realized that she could see everything clearly.

She wanted to thank Enma, but she was so poor that she had nothing to give him. She decided to stop eating her favourite food, konnyaku, and offer that to him instead. To this day you can buy konnyaku at the temple and ask the god of hell for protection against eye disease.

Enma's statue was probably carved in the Kamakura period (1185–1333).

Photo credit: www.genkakuji.or.jp

Pacific Peace Bell

The temple's bell, called the Pacific Peace Bell, has an interesting history. It was cast in the Genroku period (1688–1704) and used at Genkakuji for a century and a half. When fire destroyed the temple in 1844, the bell was placed in storage until 1937, when it was loaned to a temple in Saipan. It stayed there throughout World War II, but when peace arrived, the bell had disappeared, apparently stolen by American soldiers. It was eventually found in Odessa, Texas, in 1974 and returned to Genkaku-ji.

Pacific Peace Bell

Jizō

Genkaku-ji also has one – actually, two – of the most unusual Mizuko Jizō I've seen. I assume there are statues of Jizō hidden underneath, but two narrow columns of salt, tilting lopsidedly, reach upwards towards the roof of the small wooden structure. (Salt is believed to ward off evil.)

While I was there, a young woman arrived to pray. I noticed that she was crying, so I left her in peace and wandered through the cemetery at the back of the temple until she had left. I had to stay amongst the graves for quite a while.

Lopsided piles of salt

Fires of old Edo

If you look carefully, you'll spot a stone half-hidden behind plants. It's a special memorial to victims of the Great Fire of Meireki on 2 March 1657, in which 100 000 shitamachi residents lost their lives. It also commemorates the victims of various other fires as well as the American fire-bombing of World War II.

If you're wondering why there are so many fire memorials in Tokyo, may I suggest this Wikipedia post? Fire has wreaked havoc in my beloved city.


Sōseki's link to the temple

The temple features in Natsume Sōseki's famous novel Kokoro:

十一月の寒い雨の降る日の事でした。 私は外套を濡らして例の通り蒟蒻閻魔を抜けて細い坂道を上って宅へ帰りました。

"It was a cold, rainy day in November. I walked home as usual through the grounds of the temple of Konnyaku Enma and up the narrow lane that led to the house."

Nickname

The temple is also known as Konnyaku Enma, and the street crossing in front of the temple is Konnyaku Enma Mae ("mae" means in front of).

The statue of Enma is inside this building. 



You can buy konnyaku at the temple and offer it to Enma.

The peace bell

The peace bell from the cemetery next to the temple

I spotted this in a remote corner behind the temple: an old part of the temple bell.

Bell detail

Ema with Jizō

The Jizō temple under a beautiful cherry tree

Detail at Jizō temple

Salt and sakura


Discarded sotoba? New ones? Who knows.


Dragon detail

Baku

Onigawara

Road sign in front of the temple

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