Strolling in a dream

by Sumiko Enbutsu

This 1830s woodblock print by Edo artist Hasegawa Settan shows the vast precincts of Tokai-ji, a Zen temple in Shinagawa. Built by Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-51) and donated in 1638 to Abbot Takuan Soho (1573-1645), Tokai-ji prospered as the third-largest temple in Edo, second only to Kan’ei-ji in Ueno and Zojo-ji in Shiba.

The picture shown here, which actually comprises three woodblock prints, is the left half of a six-part rendering by Settan, focusing on Tokai-ji’s main hall and inner sanctum.

On the hilltop to the left, a low rectangular fence marks the burial place of Abbot Takuan. A river running from under the hill to the bottom right is largely obscured by horizontal lines drawn to represent clouds in a technique peculiar to Japanese-style painting. Midway along the stream, a bridge spans the river amid clusters of subsid iary temples on both sides. Off to the right of the bridge is the double-roofed main hall. The river is the Meguro-gawa (mentioned in this column last month) and the bridge is called Yojin-bashi.

The temple’s precincts used to occupy a huge tract of 155,000 sq. meters (about the size of present-day Hibiya Park), including space in the picture’s unseen right half. On its northeastern border a shrine was dedicated to Gozu Tenno, a guardian deity. Standing on the Shinagawa Upland, the temple was oriented toward the sea in the East, overlooking the Tokaido highway running along the coast.

However, size was to offer no security to the serene Zen monastery. Soon after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, its precincts were carved up and land apportioned to railroads, factories and schools. All was lost, except for a few of its subsidiary temples and Takuan’s tomb. The temple’s rapid demise may perhaps have been foreseen by the abbot, who left a single character, “Dream,’ brushed on a piece of paper with the last ounce of his strength before dying.

The shrine of Gozu Tenno, now called Shinagawa-jinja, has preserved the remnants of the formerly splendid temple complex. To get there, alight at Shimbamba Station on the Keihin Kyuko Line (where the walk described in last month’s column finished) and cross Route 15 toward the thickly wooded hill visible from the station’s North Exit.

As you enter through a stone torii gate entwined with a pair of dragons, notice the rather unusual rugged rocks on both sides of the stairway, which are lava boulders brought from Mount Fuji. The left-hand hillside is cleared to build a miniature replica of the famous mountain, where local worshippers, dressed all in white, gather every July 1 to conduct a ritual and mock ascent in a ceremony popular since the mid-18th century.

On the hilltop, mature ginkgo, zelkova and Himalayan cedars provide shade. Old-fashioned stone lanterns, torii and porcelain ainurdian dogs — all of them dating from the 17th century — speak of the generous patronage of samurai lords of the time. The shogun himself donated a large oshi (portable shrine), which is carried around the locality during the summer festival on the first weekend of June.

Leaving the shrine from the front gate, turn right, cross the intersection with Yamate-dori and go right. The first left turn takes you to the cherry tree-lined Meguro riverside walk. A bridge off to the right is the present-day Yojin-bashi at the same location as in the 1830s illustration. On the other side of the bridge is Seiko-in, a former subsidiary temple of Tokai-ji, which has preserved the quaint graveyard of two daimyo families, the Okudairas and the Nagais.

Turning right at the bridge, however, you reach a stop light on Yamate-dori. Pause briefly to imagine the main hall of Tokai-ji, which stood straight ahead where there are now two public schools.

The current Tokai-ji, located off to the right on Yamate-dori, is a former subsidiary temple called Gensho-in. Its narrow approach is bordered with kiinese juniper; iperus chinensis)se small, scale-like leaves seem to press themselves onto the twigs. Often seen as a hedge, the evergreen trees are here planted in rows, clipped into round-headed cylindrical shapes that bring to mind Zen practitioners deep in meditation.

Inside the serene garden, a rectangular stone monument by the hedge of tall eba shiisania lis)dedicated to the victims of the 1945 atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with stones from the respective blast sites set on either side.

The main hall on its right is small, but is beautifully designed in the authentic Zen architectural style, graced by almost spherical bushes of hydrangea now in bloom.

Back at Yamate-dori, cross the highway and turn left. A polished granite slab on the roadside commemorates the beginning of glass manufacturing in Japan in 1873. A path leads along rail tracks to the Oyama Cemetery of Tokai-ji via a flight of several stone steps on your left.

Takuan’s tomb, marked by a round natural stone, occupies an atoll of calm amid the hissing of passing bullet trains, surrounded as it is by a clutter of old tombstones moved from long-lost subsidiary temples.

According to legend, the abbot invited Shogun Iemitsu to lunch one day in response to a question the young epicurean shogun asked about the best delicacy in the world.

Takuan’s treat, served after a four-hour wait, was a bowl of plain boiled rice with slices of pickled radish, which the starved shogun wolfed down hungrily. Awakened to the profound taste of this simplest of meals, Iemitsu listened gratefully to the Zen master’s admonition about material affluence — and later urged the populace to enjoy pickled radish, too. Called uan-zuke,just uan, preserved, salted vegetable was thereafter commonly made in the home, using a stone of the same shape as that at the abbot’s tomb.

The walk with a flavor of Zen ends here. To return to Shimbamba Station, simply backtrack to Yamate-dori and turn left.