Entryway to Rinno-Ji temple in Tōkyō.

Travel in Japan
Tōkyō — Rinnō-ji Temple

Rinnō-ji Temple

I have one free day during a business trip to Japan, and I'm visiting Tokyo. I am in Ueno Kōen or Ueno Park, where there are many things to see and do. I am about to pass through the main gateway of Rinnō-ji Buddhist temple, just outside Ueno-kōen.

I have to admit to being somewhat confused about just precisely what this temple is...

Rinnō-ji seems to be the proper name for the temple, at least now.

The area now occupied by Ueno Kōen was once part of the grounds of the Kaneiji Temple, which covered today's park plus some surrounding ground. More formally, this was Tōeizan Kan'ei-ji Endon-in, with Kan'ei-ji sometimes Romanized as Kan'eiji or just simply Kaneiji.

The Kaneiji Temple was founded in 1625 by Tenkai, a priest of the Tendai sect. This was during the Tokugawa shōgunate, six of the 15 Tokugawa shōguns were buried here. The temple was enormously wealthy and powerful, and the temple complex included over 30 major buildings.

I believe that it's correct to say that today's Rinnō-ji Temple was once a part of the large Tōeizan Kan'ei-ji Endon-in temple complex, lying toward its northwestern corner. Now it is an independent temple just outside the park's perimeter.

Let's go in and have a look around!

Main gateway of Rinno-ji Buddhist Temple in Tōkyō.

We have walked up the main path toward the temple. Directly ahead is a large green bronze incense burner. To the left is the prayer rack.

Incense burner and prayer rack at Rinno-ji Buddhist Temple.

The Boshin War, fought from 1868 to 1869, was a civil war between the ruling Tokugawa Shōgunate and forces seeking to return power to the Imperial court. The Boshin War or Boshin Sensō, also called the War of the Year of the Dragon, was the military conflict within the Meiji Restoration or Meiji Ishin, the restoration of imperial rule to Japan.

The Battle of Ueno was a part of the Boshin War, occuring on July 4, 1868 in the western calendar, or Meiji 1, 15th day of the 5th moon in the Japanese calendar in use at the time.

This battle almost completely destroyed the temple complex, and its site was confiscated by the Imperial government.

The Meiji restoration is often romanticized as a "bloodless revolution", but it was in fact just as violent as one should expect from a civil war within a nation whose culture revered warrior figures. There were, at the very least, 120,000 troops and 3,500 casualities. Western military technologies including the Gatling gun, ironclad warships (such as the Kotetsu), Armstrong howitzers and Minié rifles played roles.

By early July, 1868, the revolutionary forces had occupied most of Edō, today called Tōkyō, and the Tokugawa troops had already surrendered Edo Castle.

One group of about 2,000 Tokugawa Shōgunate fighters had barricaded themselves within the Ueno complex. These were members of the Shōgitai, a unit of Tokugawa Shōgunate military retainers. They were holding the Kaneiji abbot as hostage, and this had kept the revolutionary forces from attacking.

Main entrance gateway of Rinno-ji Buddhist Temple.
Incense burner and prayer rack at Rinno-ji Buddhist Temple.

On the early morning of July 4th, artillery rounds fired from Hongo's heights began falling on Ueno. In the late afternoon, revolutionary forces broke through the defensive lines. Meanwhile, most of the artillery rounds had fallen astray, causing fires that destroyed most of the Kaneiji temple complex and about one thousand homes.