Joshinji Temple

Joshinji Temple (a bit of redundancy there, as ji is actually temple) or 九品仏浄真寺 (Kuhonbutsu Joshinji)  is a large temple in Southwest Tokyo's Setagaya ward, not a stone's throw from Jiyugaoka station.

One doesn't have to go to Kamakura, or Kyoto/Nara, in order to see temples. Good, quiet temples are littered throughout Tokyo. Some are tiny, and some are so huge you cannot believe you've not yet visited. Such was our impression of Joshinji.

We were all set to get into the zen of the tranquil and vast surroundings, when a team of construction workers started up their diesel generator, and even sent the crows scurrying. 

Oh well. It only lasted a few minutes. I did think at the time, that perhaps they only fired it up because they had it available. They didn't seemingly do much of any worth, and continued milling around until closing time (5pm, for those of you interested).

The temple gardens are home to several large buildings (unfortunately, mostly covered in construction men/scaffolding/cones right now), with at least one of the buildings housing a giant golden buddha. Unfortunately, the curtain promptly closed, and I could not get a shot. Another reason to visit again, perhaps?

Behind the buildings, the path curves around to a vast cemetery. It's definitely worth having a stroll through there, as it's very quiet and peaceful. It's also extremely interesting to see, as a Westerner, how the Japanese deal with the issue of burial. 

Those are not giant lollypop sticks – they're called sotoba. These wooden tablets contain the posthumous names of the family's deceased. Each stone area is the family's "house" 家 (e.g. House of Irwin), and these sotoba are similar to the tablets made for the family shrine (if they have one) but not as elaborate.

Apparently, the posthumous names, the kaimyou, are written in kanji but read in sanskrit; so most Japanese nationals aren't able to read their family's sotoba. The grave markers are not so much to hold the remains of the deceased but a place for the living to gather, which is why the Japanese generally have a family's gravestone rather than individual ones. Traditional families will keep the remains in a jar within a silk pouch with Buddhist charms in their family shrine (which is kept by the eldest male heir, chounan).

Nabbed elsewhere from the internet, is the following:

"It's not unusual for the posthumous names - kaimyou - to be more expensive than the graves themselves. Most of the times, each kanji will cost a few hundred thousand yen. Modern Japanese thought considers the kaimyou a waste of money but they're actually a reflection of the amount of spiritual training, shugyou, the deceased has gone through in life. For each time you commit and go through shugyou, you are entitled to an extra kanji character added to your kaimyou by that Buddhist sect if the monk(s) believe you have achieved another step towards enlightenment. The payment system was employed for the old lords and court to achieve the same status and has somehow lasted this long. Essentially, a monk can only make a kaimyou, the posthumous name, that is as long as the amount of spiritual training they, themselves, have achieved. So paying really is an appreciation of their efforts too"

"The cremation period is shorter in Japan than it is in other countries. When Japanese do cremations in other countries, a lot of crematoriums are familiar with the Japanese customs and know to remove the remains before the bones become ash as well"

"Prior to the funeral, we have what's called an Otsuya. Essentially, it's a vigil that's left behind from tradition. The family stay with the deceased for a night and a bowl of rice is prepared for the deceased with their two chopsticks stuck upright. Traditionally, death was a pretty hit-and-miss business and this was to prevent the cremation of someone who was, say, just unconscious. Once the otsuya is complete, the deceased's chopsticks are then broken so no one is able to use them again (at home, most people have their own chopsticks). This is why sticking your chopsticks into food and leaving it there is a faux pas as well"

Well, there we go!

We'd recommend Joshinji – it's another one of those places in Tokyo where one forgets one is in Tokyo.

And sometimes, that's just the ticket.