Tokyo Daytripper: The 47 Rōnin At Sengakuji Temple

With a big Hollywood actor now starring in the forthcoming ‘47 Rōnin‘ movie the story of these 47 loyal samurai will be taken to an all-new and much bigger audience. Unbelievably, its one of those rare films which gets its worldwide release here in Japan whilst the UK and USA have to wait till Christmas time for its release. Keanu Reeves has top billing and he’s ably supported by Rinko Kikuchi of ‘Babel‘ (2004) and ‘Pacific Rim‘ (2013) fame. Hiroyuki Sanada from ‘The Last Samurai‘ (2003) is also cast.

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For anyone wanting to get a real feel for this story they really ought to make their way down to Sengakuji Temple which possesses the burial ground of the 47 loyal samurai who  (WARNING: plot spoiler coming up for anyone who doesn’t know the story!) set out to avenge the death and dishonour of their leader by raiding the chief instigators castle where they ruthlessly and violently beheaded him. Their following collective action was to commit suicide which was seen as an honour.

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Arriving at Sengakuji you encounter the outer gate (above left) and then the inner gate (above right) and just to the right of that is the statue of Ōishi Yoshio (below); the real leader of the 47 rōnin.

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To be honest I’d never really had too much affection for Sengakuji Temple despite having been there three or four times! However, that was before I begun to realise its deep history rather than just checking it off a list of sights to get round as part of some of my Tokyo cycling challenges. These have included cycling Tokyo’s Top 25 Sights in one daywhere I didn’t even go inside, and last year I learned a bit more about the place as I cycled there on a themed tour of Tokyo’s most haunted sights.

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Once you’ve gone through the inner gate there is a path on the left which will take you towards the graves of the 47 rōnin. There is a tiny hut selling postcards, candles and incense sticks and just beyond that is the map which indicates where each warrior, who was willing to die for their lord, is buried though sadly its only in Japanese.

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No less than six films have already been made about the forty-seven Rōnin. I haven’t seen any of them and I can’t say that the trailer really got me too excited. It all looks a bit like a coming together of ‘Gladiator‘ (2000), ‘Lord Of The Rings‘ (2001), ‘Attack Of The Clones‘ (2002) and ‘The Last Samurai‘ (2003) but who can really tell from just two minutes of fast paced and cleverly edited footage.

This fantasy adventure and martial arts story of the 47 warriors who seized eternity was filmed in Budapest, London and the Isle of Skye in Scotland. We were originally told that it was not shot in Japan at all but sources are now saying that filming did indeed conclude here. We will find out very soon for sure!

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Sengakuji Temple is at 2-11-1 Takanawa in Minato-ku and ‘47 Rōnin’ is released in Japan on the 6th December 2013

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Tora-san Meets Me In Shibamata!

I’d never heard of this place until I saw it mentioned in one of my film travel books a couple of years back. Little did I know that it was just down the road from Kanamachi on the Tokyo/Chiba border where I worked on Saturdays when I first came to Japan many many years ago. After a trip down memory lane to our old neighbourhood, fellow blogger Gideon (of Gideon Davidson Photography fame) and I decided to finish the day in Shibamata which is less than 20 minutes walk from Kanamachi station. Of course it has its own station but I didn’t want to transfer to the Keisei-kanamachi line just to go one stop whilst paying another 130 yen to do so!

If you think the 007 series of films is impressive by number then thats nothing compared to the ‘Otoko Wa Tsurai Yo‘ (It’s tough being a man) series which consists of 48 films  made between 1969 and 1995. Shibamata is the home to the main protagonist Tora-san and his family and friends which it is why its included in my book. Now I’m no expert on these movies but Tora-san is seemingly an optimistic guy who is unlucky in love as he travels back and forth between his beloved hometown and some remote place where he plans to peddle his wares to the locals. He generally meets a woman there who then by miraculous chance goes to Shibamata and bumps into the clumsily charming Tora-san. Of course its never a straight-forward romance though and chaos and hilarity often ensue with the main man invariably ending up heartbroken and walking off to his next destination.

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There’s a statue of Tora-san outside the station and just round the corner and across a road is the main shopping street lined with traditional Japanese souvenir, sweet and snack shops which all seem to have some kind of Tora-san merchandise or displays. There aren’t too many places left in and around Tokyo where you can escape the hustle and bustle of modern city life but this place, along with Kawagoe, is one such place to sample the more traditional side of Edo period Japan.

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It’s quite a short street and at the end you can see the Taishakuten temple quarters which looked quite nice covered in snow (but would have been even better a few days before) but because of that and the fact that it was late afternoon it was absolutely freezing walking around the buddhist temple gardens boardwalk which has to be done without shoes. Slippers are so often provided in Japan for so many different inside places and boy could we have done with them here!

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Behind the temple is the Tora-san museum which sadly we didn’t have time for but hopefully, like Tora-san himself, I will return to Shibamata to pay the place a visit.

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