Monzen-Nakacho : Eitai bridge, Fukagawa Fudo, Tomioka Hachiman
I'll start the story with Eitai Bridge. Since the Tokugawa Shogunate was established in Edo at the beginning of the 17th century, the city Edo started to develop from a tiny rural settlement. The development soon spread to Fukagawa on the east bank of the Sumida River and bridges were built across the Sumida River. The Eitai Bridge is the fourth bridge over the Sumida River and was built in 1698 to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of Tsunayoshi, the fifth shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
In the Edo period, Eitai Bridge was the place where criminals who were sentenced to exile, second only to death, left Edo for the remote islands of Izu. The bridge was also associated with the 47 samurai who succeeded in avenging their lord. They headed for Sengakuji where their lord rest from Kira's residence in Fukagawa through the Eitai Bridge.
After the Meiji era, the bridge changed from wooden to steel, and after being damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake, a tied-arch bridge modeled on the Remagen bridge in Germany (famous for the battle at the end of World War II) was completed in 1926, and is in use till today.
Eitai Bridge was named after Eitai Island, which was a sandbank on the Sumida River, where the bridge spans, and Eitai-ji Temple
, which had a vast precinct there. In 1627, a monk named Chosei-Houin invited the deity of the Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine
, which is in Yokohama and founded a shrine of the same name on Eitai Island. Since the introduction of Buddhism, the syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism has progressed in Japan, and it was not unusual for Buddhist monks to build shrines. "Hachiman deity" itself, which has been famous as the guardian deity of the Genji clan since the Middle Ages, is a deity having the Buddhistic honorific title of "Daibosatsu" meaning "Great Boddhisattva", and was at the forefront of syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism.
Main entrance of Tomioka Hachiman-gu with Torii gate. Red coloring came to be used for shrines under the influence of Buddhist architecture.
Since Buddhist monks of Eitai-ji Temple ran Tomioka Hachimangu, Eitai-ji Temple had a wider precinct than Tomioka Hachimangu. However, it seems that Hachimangu Shrine was more popular with the people of Edo, and the streets around here were developed around Hachimangu. This is the origin of the current place name "Monzen Nakacho" meaning "Nakacho in front of the Gate".
Hachimangu Shrine has a deep connection with sumo wrestling.
In 1684, the first commercial sumo matches, which led to the present-day grand sumo wrestling, was held on the grounds of Hachimangu Shrine. Because of this relationship, upon the proposal of the 12th yokozuna Jinmaku Kyugoro (1829-1903), the last yokozuna in the Edo period, the Yokozuna Sumo Wrestler Monument
was erected in 1900 in the precincts of Tomioka Hachimangu. Since then, every time a new yokozuna is born, it has become customary for him to perform a ring-entering ceremony on the precincts and his name to be engraved on the stone monument.
Yokozuna Sumo Wrestler Monument in the precincts of Tomioka Hachimangu
In 1703, not long after the Eitai Bridge was built, at the request of Tsunayoshi's mother, Keishoin, the Fudo Myo-o image of Naritasan Shinsho-ji Temple, the deity which Kabuki superstar Danjuro had faith in, was displayed to the public on the precincts of Eitai-ji Temple. This kind of display was called "dekaicho" and thanks to the advertisement made by Danjuro's Kabuki play featuring Fudo Myo-o, the first dekaicho was extremely successful. It was then followed by more than 10 dekaicho till the end of the Edo period and the economy of Naritasan Shinsho-ji Temple flourished.
When the Meiji period started, a policy was launched to clearly separate Buddhism and Shintoism. Because temples and priests were used as a means of the Shogunate to govern the people and enjoyed certain privileges in the Edo period, they were not wholeheartedly accepted by the people. Under such circumstances, the new policy gave a big impetus to the fanatic movement from among the people to tore down everything related to Buddhism.
Eitai-ji Temple was then forced to be abolished. However, the chief priest of the temple was at the same time the chief priest of Hachimangu Shrine, and the site of Eitai-ji Temple was simply taken over by Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine. The interests of the priests of the Eitai-ji Temple were not damaged. Now, we can find a small building called Eitai-ji in the corner of the street leading to the Fukagawa Fudo. One of the sub-temples of the former Eitai-ji Temple, Kichijoin, took over the old name of Eitai-ji in 1896 and thus the name of once powerful temple was preserved.
The old Eitai-ji Temple disappeared, but the belief in Fudo Myo-o, who had been familiar to the people of Edo through dekaicho, did not decline even in the Meiji era. Naritasan Shinsho-ji was allowed to rent the land of the former Eitai-ji Temple permanently and free of charge and built there a branch temple of Shinsho-ji Temple. That was the beginning of Fukagawa Fudo-do
At the entrance of Fukagawa Fudo-do. There is a small Fudo Myo-o image on the left hand side.
Currently, the front gate area of Fudo-do is livelier than Hachimangu, and many worshipers are visiting. It seems that Shinsho-ji's business-savvy genes from the time of dekaicho have not yet been lost. I am really impressed, how they are good at attracting people to their temple.
For example, "Goma Gyo", a typical Buddhist service specific to the Shingon sect to which Shinsho-ji belongs, is held four times a day at the Fudo-do and accessible to everybody without an admission fee.
It is an overwhelming spectacle of sutra, music and fire. During the service, flames reach the high ceiling as sutras are chanted, powerful roar of four huge drums shake the body and conch shells and metal bells sound ear-piercing. Setting aside what Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, would think if he saw this, this spectacle without doubt lures not only Japanese people but also many foreign tourists.
4.5 tonns heavy mikoshi sleeping in the warehouse.
The portable shrines of Tomioka Hachimangu are an unforgettable remnant of the madness of the bubble economy around 1990. Splendid mikoshi donated by the legendary wealthy merchant Kinokuniya Bunzaemon (1669 - 1734) were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Hiroyasu Watanabe (1934-2004), the then president of Tokyo Sagawa Express, arranged in lieu of his big boss Mr. Sagawa the donation of two mikoshi (portable shrine) that were astonishingly gorgeous. He presumably wanted to pose as a modern-day Kinokuniya Bunzaemon.
There are two types, one large and one small, and the larger one weighs 4.5 metric tons. The eyes of its phoenix and the flames are inlaid with nine large diamonds, including 7-carat and 4-carat diamonds, and 2,010 rubies are used for the entire decoration. Because it is so heavy, it was carried once during the large-scale unveiling parade mobilizing many Fukagawa geisha, but after that only the smaller mikoshi participates in the parade during annual festivals. The larger one has been sleeping since then in the warehouse, because it is too heavy for people to carry around safely.
Hiroyasu Watanabe, who donated the mikoshi, died soon after being sentenced to imprisonment due to his troublesome relationships with politicians such as Shin Kanemaru (1914-1996) and Ichiro Ozawa (1942- ), as well as the Inagawa-kai yakuza.
Tomioka Suisan, fish monger, runs a restaurant speialized in fish dishes. On the right is the entrance to the restaurant "Tomisui".
In 2017, a sensational incident occurred involving Tomioka Hachimangu. A female chief priest at that time was killed by her younger brother, the former chief priest, with a Japanese sword on a public road near the shrine. The younger brother then committed suicide in the precincts of the shrine along with his accomplice's wife. This former chief priest had been dismissed from his position due to his bad behavior, such as spending the shrine's rich income on entertainment. His aged father, though once retired, resumed the position after dismissal of his son. When the father passed away his eldest daughter, older sister of the dismissed priest, took up the position of chief priest. Then, her brother resented her and murdered her.
There are many well-known shops and restaurants full of old town atmosphere in the temple town of Hachimangu Shrine and Fudo-do. One of my favorite shops is Iseya
, a Japanese sweets shop. It just so happens that there is a branch in Hamadayama, where I live, and it is also popular there. Fukagawa is famous for Fukagawa-don, rice cooked with clams, and there are many restaurants specializing in this dish. Not only clams, but also popular and delicious fish restaurants are there. Today, I had lunch at "Tomisui", which is run by Tomioka Suisan, one of the fishmongers.