Monzen-Nakacho Area

Taiko drumming fire ceremonies in an old-fashioned neighborhood

FudoFireCeremony2

This Old Tokyo shitamachi neighborhood has a temple where we can watch a fire ceremony with taiko drums, a dragon fountain that grants wishes written on dissolving paper, and is one of the most beautiful and uncrowded places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

This is a true undiscovered gem of an Old Tokyo neighborhood. Let’s start by going to a fire ceremony at the Fukugawa Fudo temple, and end up under the cherry blossoms!

Fire Ceremonies are held in the traditional temple building to the right; the hall of 10,000 fudo figures is in the modern building to the left. The characters on the outside are Sanskrit, and they spell out the Fudo Sutra.
Fire Ceremonies are held in the traditional temple building to the right; the hall of 10,000 fudo figures is in the modern building to the left. The characters on the outside are Sanskrit, and they spell out the Fudo Sutra.
If you think Buddhist ceremonies are all about serenity and Zen, it's time to meet the wild and wooly fire-breathing, taiko drumming version!
If you think Buddhist ceremonies are all about serenity and Zen, it’s time to meet the holy roller taiko drumming version!
Patrons pay to have the priest send their prayers to Fudo-san by tossing them on the bonfire in front of the altar.
Patrons pay to have the priest send their prayers to Fudo-san by tossing them on the bonfire in front of the altar.

Fire ceremonies are held five times daily (at 9:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:00 and 17:00). Let’s take off our shoes (we can carry them in one of the plastic bags provided), then sneak in and watch from the back, where we can look down on the altar area. The ceremony takes 30-60 minutes, and is filled with taiko drumming, chanting, the blowing of conch shells and the tossing of wooden prayer sticks into a bonfire that blazes up quite spectacularly in front of the altar.

Usually there are a group of dignitaries who have paid handsomely to sit in the middle seats and get special benefits from the service, but if we're lucky, eventually we'll see ordinary people around us getting in line to get their purses and wallets waved through the smoke from the flames. Let's join them, and get ourselves some good luck!
Usually there is a group of dignitaries who have paid handsomely to sit in the middle seats and get special benefits from the service, but if we’re lucky, eventually we’ll see ordinary people around us getting in line to get their purses and wallets waved through the smoke from the flames. Let’s join them, and get ourselves some good luck.

Afterwards, let’s go into the big modern cube next door, the one with the Fudo sutra written all over the outside in giant Sanskrit characters.

Inside is a fantastic winding corridor lined floor to ceiling with 10,000 crystal figures of Fudo-san. See the 108 giant round beads on the wall? It's a huge Buddhist rosary, and the devout can pray as they walk along, beneath the gaze of the many Fudo-sans.
Inside is a fantastic winding corridor lined floor to ceiling with 10,000 crystal figures of Fudo-san. See the 108 giant round beads on the wall? It’s a huge Buddhist rosary, and the devout can pray as they walk along, beneath the gaze of the many Fudo-sans.
The ten thousand tiny statues are carved from the same 700-year-old cedar as the giant Fudo figure at the entrance. Each of these crystal figures can be sponsored as a memorial for a departed loved one.
The ten thousand tiny statues are carved from the same 700-year-old cedar as the giant Fudo figure at the entrance. Each of these crystal figures can be sponsored as a memorial for a departed loved one.
Now let's detour upstairs and see the room with the glow-in-the-dark gods.
Now let’s detour upstairs and see the room with the glow-in-the-dark gods.
Every one is different (that fiery guy is a representation of Fudo-san himself). Beneath each painting is an offering box and a prayer wheel you can spin.
Every one is different (that fiery guy is a representation of Fudo-san himself). Beneath each painting is an offering box and a prayer wheel you can spin.
The temple is filled with other truly gorgeous traditional representations of Buddhist deities, as well as the many figures of Fudo-san.
The temple is filled with other truly gorgeous traditional representations of Buddhist deities, as well as the many figures of Fudo-san.

Back outside, let’s not leave before we make a wish at the dragon fountain!

The three Shenzen dragons are said to grant wishes written on special paper you can buy for ¥100, if they dissolve completely in the fountain. See the ones floating on top of the water, near the end?
The three Shenzen dragons are said to grant wishes written on special paper you can buy for ¥100, if they dissolve completely in the fountain. See the ones floating on top of the water, near the end?
The table for buying paper and writing wishes is to the left of the fountain.
The table for buying paper and writing wishes is to the left of the fountain.

And if we happen to be in Monzen Nakacho at the right time of year (late March – early April) we can walk to the bridges crossing the canal by the station to see one of the best displays of cherry blossoms in all of Tokyo.

Here's how they look during the day...
Here’s how they look during the day…
...ad here's how they look at night, under the light of the lanterns strung through the trees.
Strolling along the canal under the cherry trees is a real treat – gorgeous and uncrowded – especially at twilight when they light the lanterns strung through all the trees.

Note: It’s fine to take photos of the inside of the temple hall between ceremonies, and perfectly okay to take shots of the outside and the dragon fountain, but taking photos or video of ceremonies is strictly forbidden (it’s not only rude, but also extremely bad luck). Believe me, I know how tempting it is, because the rather fuzzy shots I used up above are from the temple’s official website and they’re not very good, are they? (><) The best thing is to go experience it for yourself!

DIRECTIONS & MAP

Nearby destinations: Edo-Tokyo MuseumKiyosumi Garden

Jonelle Patrick writes mysteries set in Tokyo

The #1 hostboy at Club Nova makes a handsome living, whispering sweet nothings in the ears of women who pay him a fortune for the privilege. But the party’s over when Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura is assigned to investigate the death of one of Hoshi’s customers…read more

 

 


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