Samurai and Sutras

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Jōkōji Temple






akebono ya – kiri ni uzumaku – kane no koe



fog circles in

the sound of the temple bell

                                                          Matsuo Basho, 1689, July 11

Jōkōji Temple is just round the river bend  (I know…I’m sorry.  Now you have that tune stuck in your head!).  It is not an easy walk, but a nice drive in October.  It is autumn in central Japan.  The evenings are cool and new bugs sing us to sleep.

We went to Jōkōji Temple Saturday afternoon.  I was afraid we’d run into lots of people, but there were very few.  The leaves are just beginning to change, and people haven’t begun their annual pilgrimage to see the leaves of autumn 「秋の 紅葉」.

Hidden behind the beauty of Jōkōji Temple is a story of a daimyo and his samurai.  Yoshinao was the son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate who ruled Japan from 1600 to 1868.  350 years ago,  Yoshinao Tokugawa was the governor of the Owari province and was the guy who helped build the Nagoya Castle. One day while enjoying nature, as one did as a daimyo in Japan,  Yoshinao visited Jōkōji Temple.  He liked this countryside and the temple so much, that he gave orders to have his mausoleum built there.

On May 7, 1650, Yoshinao died of natural causes when he was only 51 years old.  Admittedly, dying of natural causes in those days was quite an accomplishment., but 9 of Yoshinao’s loyal samurai were so shocked by their daimyo‘s death that they committed seppuku (oibara).  Their nine graves sit on the right side of Yoshinao’s mausoleum.   Perhaps they are still protecting their daimyo even in death.  I wonder if they know about iPads and iPhones?  How could a samurai today serve his master without social networking?

Sorry, I didn’t see any ghosts or lost samurai.  But I do find it interesting that a very powerful daimyo who ruled over much of Japan was buried at this temple in an isolated, almost forgotten piece of Japan.  Just goes to show…we all end up at the same place.  Yoshinao’s dirt just looks like dirt.  He does have a nice temple, though.


As we walked around the temple, we enjoyed the perfect temperature and the spectacular grounds.  When we came down from our climb to the mausoleum, a young Buddhist monk and his assistant invited us to have some tea and mochi.

After telling our customary tale of where we came from and what we do, we chatted with the assistant and her sensei, the young monk.  So, we had lived in Estonia?  Did we know about the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who had saved many Jews during the Holocaust?  Did we know about Japanese fortune telling?  My number is 3, meaning “happiness.”  The Dalai Lama says that happiness is the goal of life.  He wrote, “I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.” Don is “calm and peace.”  A nice fit, I think.

As we finished our green tea, gave our thanks and got up to leave, the young monk shyly asked us if we would like to join him for a special blessing.  Curious, we followed the boy up a rocky trail where a small wooden shrine was nestled against the hill.  We climbed up some rickety steps, took off our shoes and entered a little room.  “Please make yourself comfortable,” he said.   I balanced my large frame on a small cushion.   I looked to my right at the young man who with his wool cap and casual manners was just a teenage boy.    The boy lit some candles and some incense.  Folding his knees under himself, seiza style, our young friend took off his woolen cap and took out a thin accordion like book.  He was no longer the shy young Japanese boy who could have been one of my students.  Chanting sutra in a deep melodious voice, he became transformed.  He became timeless.

Buddhist prayer, unlike Christian prayer, is not a supplication to a supernatural being.  Instead it puts us in a place where we can awaken our compassion and inner strengths.  The chanting of the sutras is a form of meditation that works to replace negative thoughts with calm and energy.


DIRECTIONS: To get to Jōkōji: The temple located on a small mountain, “Oumusan” (Mt. Oumu) about 0.7 miles east of the JR Chuo Line Jōkōji Station.  This is one stop north of Kozoji Station.

ADDRESS: Aichi-ken Seto-shi Jokoji-cho
TELEPHONE: (0561) 48-5319

Webpage (in Japanese):

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