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Benten Shrine       Maps     Video

In the southwest section of Ueno Park, a former marshland is now a key recreational area for Tokyo residents, and one of the largest bird sanctuaries in the city. The most prominent landmark is a small Buddhist hall of worship, called the Benten-do.

Ueno Toshogu
Approach to Benten-do
The structure was originally built by a daimyo (feudal lord) named Mizunoya Katsutaka. The first priest is said to have been Tenkai. Early in the 17th century when Edo became the political capital of Japan under the Tokugawa Shogunate, Mizunoya ordered the construction of a man made island in the marshes adjoining Ueno hill, where Tokugawa Hidetada (son of Ieyasu and second shogun) had founded Kaneiji temple, to protect Edo from the plague and pestilence thought to come from the unlucky northeast.

Ueno Toshogu
The main hall
Seemingly floating in the middle of the waters, this temple is dedicated to Benten (also known as Benzaiten) who is the goddess of the arts, knowledge and wisdom. The bronze Biwa instrument (a string instrument used in China that resembles a medieval lute) is associated with her. Now that we are in the 21st century, the goddess for knowledge and wisdom brings large numbers of visitors praying for success in exams or with money.

Ueno Toshogu
Mizunoya made the hall a subsidiary of the famous Benten at Hogon-ji temple on beautiful Chikubu island in Lake Biwa (in what is now called Shiga prefecture). Building subsidiary temples was not unusual, as can be seen by the example of the nearby Kiyomizu Kannon-do, a (much) smaller version of the famous Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. Records indicates that early visitors to the temple made their way across by boat, but sometime late in the 17th century a stone bridge was constructed, reducing the cost of visiting and greatly increasing the popularity of the temple. The modern causeway developed around the foundations of this stone bridge.

Ueno Toshogu
"Aoi" Tokugawa crest
The current hall is a reconstruction. Built in 1958, it replaced the original which had been protected as an important cultural asset but was destroyed during the air raids of 1945. It is believed that the current hall is as close to an exact replica as possible. Inside the hall if you look up at the ceiling, you can see a painted Kinryu (golden dragon). This work is also a replica, one of the most difficult of arts, and was painstakingly finished by the painter Kodama Kibo.

Ueno Toshogu
Lantern & Decorations
The magic of Benten-do is due to its location. The former marshland is now three ponds. The largest of these is Shinobazu-no-ike, which is on your left as you cross the causeway to the temple. Shinobazu-no-ike is at its most beautiful in the late summer, when it is covered in lotus flowers. The water plants provide a safe year round environment for birdlife, including up to 10,000 ducks and cormorants during the winter. A different kind of wildlife can be seen on the adjoining pond behind the Benten-do, called Boto-no-ike.

Ueno Toshogu
Praying at Benzaiten
In the warmer months, particularly the pleasant spring and autumn months, the Tokyo variety of homo-sapien can be observed rowing boats and manouvering pedal boats around the pond, overlooked by the unusual architecture of the Sofitel Hotel tower. Boats can be rented, and at 300 yen for 30 minutes the cost is not as much as some of the other attractions Ueno Park has to offer. The third pond is called Suijoudoubutsu-no-ike - and is part of the Ueno Zoo. This is on your right as you cross the causeway to Benten-do temple, and as with Shinobazu-no-ike it is filled with lotus and other waterplants.

Benten can be enjoyed at any time of year. Probably the best way to enjoy the area is to take in a walk covering the approach from Ueno Park to the Benten-do, then walk along the path separating Shinobazu-no-ike and Boto-no-ike walking towards the Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Gardens. If you don't have time to visit the gardens (about 200 meters from the edge of the park), turn left and continue to follow the path around the Shinobazu-no-ike until you reach the Shitamachi Museum. From there, you can either return to Ueno Park or in a short walk reach the Ameyoko arcade shopping areas south of JR Ueno station (Yamanote line).

Ueno Toshogu
Boto-no-ike, Boating & Sofitel
Tours - Japan Discovery visits the Benten temple.
Click here for more information regarding when Discovery visits this destination.

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