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Soba and ghastly ghosts at Jindaiji

Mukashi-mukashi, a long time ago, a rich lord named Ukon, his wife and their beautiful daughter lived in a village near Tokyo. One day a young stranger from afar, known as Fukuman, arrived in the area. He fell in love with Ukon's daughter, but this angered Ukon so much that he banned his daughter to a small island in a lake.

Fukuman promised Jinja Daiō (a guardian god of water in esoteric Buddhism) that if he could rescue the fair maiden, he would build a temple in the god's honour. Before his prayer finished, a giant turtle appeared and carried him to the island. This impressed Ukon so much that he allowed Fukuman to marry his daughter. Soon a boy was born. He grew up to become a Buddhist priest, studied in China, returned to his village – modern-day Chōfu – and built Jindaiji (深大寺) in 733. It's the second-oldest temple in Tokyo, after Sensō-ji in Asakusa.

Jindaiji's main temple. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

"Fukuman's name suggests that he was an immigrant from either the Korean peninsula or southern China," says Sumiko Enbutsu in her book Water Walks in the Suburbs of Tokyo. "The story might represent integration of an indigenous tribe and foreign newcomers." (Hat tip to Tall Gary for this story.)

I visited Chōfu last week with tree destinations in mind: Jindaiji, the wisteria in Jindai Botanical Gardens and another thousand-year-old wisteria in nearby Fuda. The temple is interesting but terribly touristy; the first wisteria was a non-event and the second wisteria was a disappointment. Such is the fate of the nomad.


The first thing that struck me about this temple was the lack of English information about it, as well as the limited information on the temple's own Japanese website.

The second fact I unearthed during my research is that the area is probably more famous for its soba than its religion. Its soba reputation started in the Edo period, when peasants paid their taxes in rice. Chōfu, however, is not a good area for growing rice, so farmers were allowed to pay taxes in buckwheat instead. It is said that both the third Tokugawa shōgun, Iemitsu, and the high priest of Kan'eiji in Ueno loved Chōfu's soba, and they helped to spread its fame beyond the village's borders.

Soba restaurants at 10 am

Today the temple is surrounded by soba restaurants. It's very pretty, but very touristy. I'd say it's worth a trip, but not a second visit. It feels a bit like a movie set, which brings me to …

GeGeGe no Kitaro

Mizuku Shigeru is famous for his manga GeGeGe no Kitaro, which has been filmed numerous times. His life was dramatized in a television drama called GeGeGe no Nyōbō, which was based on his wife's diary and filmed in … Chōfu. A shop with décor based on Shigeru's work can be found in the road leading towards the temple. It's very weird and very cute.

GeGeGe no Kitaro

A TV drama as well as a full-length feature film were based on the diary. You can see the movie trailer here.

Jindaiji Botanical Garden

I went to Jindaiji Botanical Garden to see its wisteria trellis, but I was too late. Only a few shrivelled racemes remained, although they were still frantically photographed by all and sundry. I was very disappointed: I expected a massive trellis with many different species, but it's not big at all. Even in full bloom it cannot possibly rival Kameido Tenjin's glory. Oh, ignore me, I'm just incurably a shitamachi fan.

Wisteria trellis in Jindaiji Botanical Garden

Fortunately the azaleas were in full bloom, which lifted my spirits somewhat.

Saturday was the only day with good weather during this entire Golden Week, and the temple and the garden were good places for a walkpedition on a warm spring day. I did my usual hit-and-run approach: in by 9 am, out by noon. The soba restaurant area was so crowded by lunchtime that you could barely move.

Kokuryō Jinja

My last destination was Kokuryō Jinja (國領神) in neighbouring Fuda, because it has a wisteria called Sennen no Fuji (千年の藤) or thousand-year-old wisteria.

The thousand-year-old wisteria at Kokuryō Jinja

It was an anti-climax. The wisteria grows at a small shrine that isn't particularly well maintained, and it might be very old, but it's not particularly impressive. It does have a heavenly fragrance, and that in itself made the detour worth it.

Access and expenses

An express train on the Keio Line will take you from Shinjuku Station to Chōfu Station within 20 minutes. To get to Jindaiji (first map below), take bus 34 from bus stand 14 at the station's north exit. It takes 20 to 30 minutes depending on traffic and costs ¥200. (I considered walking, but thank heavens I didn't. It's quite far, and I had a lot to cram into one morning.)

Jindaiji is free, but Jindai Botanical Garden is ¥500 per adult. That's quite expensive for a park.

Kokuryō Jinja (second map below) is in Fuda, one stop from Chōfu. I returned to Shinjuku on a local train from Fuda. I like local trains: they take twice as long, but they're almost empty. Don't you agree? Why is everybody always in such a rush? Speed is only essential on the internet and when I realize that I don't have any chocolate supplies left.

PS: Lina, happy about the possible Korean connection in this story?

Road leading to Jindaiji, very early in the morning

GeGeGe no Kitaro's shop

Jindaiji's main temple

Beautiful white dogwood  (ミズキ) at Jindaiji

Daishidō (大師堂) at Jinjaidi

Soba restaurant

Water wheel

Carvings of Daikokuten (right) and Ebisu (left), two of the seven lucky gods

Wooden carving

Azaleas at Jindaiji Botanical Garden

Wisteria at Kokuryō Jinja

Kokuryō  Jinja

Kokuryō Jinja

Kokuryō Jinja

Kokuryō  Jinja

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