Ah, the dilemma. Should I write about Tōkōji and Daishoin together, or separately? They are virtually twin temples/cemeteries here in Hagi, but they were built at opposite ends of the city. There are some slight differences though, and to help me keep them separate in my own mind, it makes sense to blog about them separately too.
So, Tōkōji. This is an old temple, built in 1691, and belongs to the Obaku school of Zen Buddhism (as is Sofoku-ji in Nagasaki) – the most basic aspect of this form of Japanese Buddhism is its Chinese influence. And you can see that a bit in the main gate, which looks somewhat Japanese but is coloured red in the Chinese style. In fact, most of the buildings here draw from Chinese Buddhism architecture styles. However, this temple is most famous for its cemetery that lies at the back of the temple compound, slightly up the hill.
The cemetery is the final resting place of half the feudal lords (daimyo) who once ruled most of the Western part of Japan until their defeat to Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1600, when they were forced to move from Hiroshima to Hagi. The Mori clan needed a temple to be the place for all of the family graves, and they chose a fairly derelict one at the time – Daishoin. The 1st, 2nd, and then the 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th lords are buried there. All of the odd-numbered lords of the Mori clan are buried at Tōkōji (3rd to the 11th). Their graves are at the top of the hill, but they are not what stand out – what people really come here to see are the 500 stone lanterns that line the paths up the hillside. Most of these lanterns were donated by vassals of the Mori clan. They are quite stunning to see, especially given the location on the side of hill surrounded by trees on all sides. This is considered the more famous and popular of the two cemeteries, yet even when I was there only a handful of people stopped by to visit.
There were a lot of other graves to the sides of the cemetery, but I’m not sure who these belonged to. They were much more atmospheric though, as these side areas were quite shaded which meant for a lot more moss on the lanterns. I was also happy to see lots of blue dragonflies and huge brown and black butterflies flitting about. Spiders too, have a happy home there, as evidenced by the numerous webs I saw strung up between the lanterns. Overall this was a great place to visit, with all of the buildings open and the fresh, tranquil atmosphere of the cemetery itself.
Monuments: The lanterns are the real draw here, and if you are ever in Hagi on August 15th, they light up all of the lanterns which makes for a really magical atmosphere.
Grounds: The cemetery itself is on a slight hill, but the paths are wide and the stairs are easy to navigate. The side sections are a little more wet and mossy. Lots of insects here, so bring bug spray.
Visitors: A few people (including a couple of small groups) came by when I was here, but it’s a huge site and most don’t linger long.
Photographer notes: The light here can be really contrasty, so a bright overcast day would be best. Tripods are allowed here, and as mentioned above, coming for the lantern lighting in August would be great for photos.
Cemetery: Tōkōji Temple (東光寺)
Internments: The lords of the Mori clan, plus others
Location: It’s in the eastern part of the city, near Shoin Shrine. From downtown Hagi you can cycle there in about 10-15 minutes, walk it in half an hour (that’s what I did), or take the blue (east) loop bus which runs right by it. The blue bus will take you from there to Daishoin temple if you so wish.
Hours: 08:30 – 17:00 daily. 300 yen entrance fee.