Author: Richard Perkins
Photos/Videos Taken: 2021/07/11
Address: 7-41-3 Okusawa, Setagaya-ku,
九品山唯在念佛院浄真寺 (kuhonsan yoanenbutsuin jōshinji) is a Buddhist temple in the Setagaya ward of Tokyo that’s part of the Jōdo sect of Buddhism. This temple was founded in 1678 by the holy priest Kaseki and became a branch of 三縁山広度院増上寺 (sanenzan kōdoin zōjōji), another Buddhist temple that’s located in the Minato ward of Tokyo, back in 1698.
The 九品 (kuhon) in the name of this temple is said to express the nine levels of dying an easy (and peaceful) death, 九品浄土 (kuhon jōdo), in the Buddhist religion. These nine levels are split into three main levels: 上品 (jōbon), 中品 (chūbon), and 下品 (gebon). Inside of these three main levels are 上品上生 (jōbonjōshō)、上品中生 (jōbonchūshō)、上品下生 (jōbongeshō)、中品上生 (chūbonjōshō)、中品中生 (chūbonchūshō)、中品下生 (chūbongeshō)、下品上生 (gebonjōshō)、下品中生 (gebonchūshō)、and 下品下生 (gebongeshō).
Kuhonsan Yoanenbutsuin Jōshinji temple is said to be located in one of the few areas of scenic beauty in Tokyo. That beauty is without a doubt what makes this temple a pleasure to visit. One step into the grounds here and it’s as if you’ve stepped into the middle of a forest. In the spring cherry blossoms bloom, in the summer the grounds spring to life with fresh green leaves and shrubbery, and in the fall the autumn foliage is absolutely beautiful. If it snowed here in the winter, the grounds here would undoubtedly become even more of a divine and awe-inspiring atmosphere.
As you can see by the photos, the grounds of Kuhonsan Yoanenbutsuin Jōshinji temple are quite large. There are several temples on the grounds here, one of which is 閻魔堂 (enmadō). 閻魔大王 (enma daiō), the king of Hell, is worshipped at Enmadō temples, and here his statue is enshrined too. A 賽銭箱 (saisenbako) is a box for placing offerings of money (usually ¥5) before praying, and there’s one here set up in front of Enma Daiō. Upon placing money inside the saisenbako advice that you can put to use in your daily life is given (in Japanese) from Enma Daiō himself.
In the same location years before Kuhonsan Yoanenbutsuin Jōshinji temple was built stood 奥沢城 (okusawajō) or Okusawa castle. The ruler of this castle was Ōhira Dewa-no-kami. Ōhira Dewa-no-kami had a daughter by the name of Princess Tokiwa, who when became old enough to get married became the concubine for Kira Yoriyasu, the ruler of 世田谷城 (setagayajō) or Setagaya castle. Kira Yoriyasu fell in love with Princess Tokiwa, finding her to be beautiful. After other concubines heard about how much Kira Yoriyasu loved Princess Tokiwa, they started an untrue rumor about how Princess Tokiwa committed adultery with somebody else. After hearing this rumor several times Kira Yoriyasu began to believe it and started to steer clear of Princess Tokiwa. Princess Tokiwa became upset at this, so she wrote a letter explaining the truth, tied it to the leg of a white heron (a bird she’d loved since she was a child), and sent it off in the direction of Okusawa castle. It so happened that at that time Kira Yoriyasu was hunting near Okusawa castle and happened to catch sight of the white heron. He shot down the white heron, and when doing so noticed the letter that was tied to its leg. Upon reading the letter he became aware of the truth about Princess Tokiwa and quickly ran off to Setagaya castle where she was. However, Kira Yoriyasu was too late as Princess Tokiwa committed suicide. Later on, the white heron that Kira Yoriyasu had shot down was buried and given a memorial service near Okusawa castle where it had been shot down. In the spot where it was buried a flower resembling that of a white heron eventually bloomed. The flower that bloomed is known as the さぎ草 (sagikusa) or the "heron plant" and is now the official flower of the Setagaya ward of Tokyo.
Based on this legend, there is now a statue of a white heron on the grounds of Kuhonsan Yoanenbutsuin Jōshinji. Just like the white heron that Princess Tokiwa sent off with a letter attached to its leg one can buy a 絵馬 (ema), or a wooden tablet on which one writes their prayers, and tie it to the leg of this statue.