Ienari’s Sloppy Seconds – A Different Side of Japan

The Scandalous Story of the 11th Shogun

Okay, now that I’ve basically scared off all my female readers with a title like that, let’s get down to the dirty business. I don’t think I need a disclaimer if you’ve gotten this far so just know the following article is probably not safe for work. Today we are going to be taking a look at one of my favorite historical figures. Known as Tokugawa Ienari, this stud was the 11th shogun to rule during the Edo period (1603–1868). Out of all of the Tokugawas, Ienari was the longest serving shogun to come from the dynasty and his reign lasted from 1787–1837. I was originally introduced to this character by fellow blogger and Edo historian Japan This! Since then, I’ve been an avid member of #TeamIenari. If you’re interested in joining in on the fun, just look up the hashtag on Twitter (again, this is NOT safe for work).

One of Ienari’s biggest claims to fame is that he gave the order to move many of the capital’s temples from the city center to the outskirts. As you can imagine, halls of worship that continually burn incense are a real danger in a urban setting made entirely of wood. Up until Ienari stepped in, many of these perpetual fire hazards resided adjacent to where Tokyo’s Imperial Palace sits today. At Ienari’s behest, the temples were disassembled and moved to present day Nippori. Though quite urban now, the Nippori area was on the very edge of the city during the 19th century. Ironically, though the temple’s former plots were left vacant as firebreaks the area near the palace fell victim to many a fire. Nippori, on the other hand, never did. Strange…

Alas, as you may have gleaned from the title, saving Tokyo’s temples is not the main deed Ienari is remembered for. You see, the 11th shogun was known as a bit of a degenerate (though he was well liked by his subjects). Doing away with the euphemisms, Ienari basically drank and whored the Tokugawa shogunate to the brink of financial collapse. Allegedly, the Edo government’s vast coffers never recovered from the repeated poundings of Ienari’s antics. Indeed, I’d be hard pressed to fault the historian who made a causal link between this one man’s addiction to the flesh and the compromised state of the shogunate in the latter half of the 19th century. For this reason, we often like to refer to this king of all players as “the party shogun” in honor of his sexual escapades.

By now you must be wondering just how much of a pimp was Ienari? Well, he officially had a single wife yet the whoremonger was said to have had anywhere between 16 and 27 concubines. In addition to these choice few, Ienari supposedly had enough ladies on standby to make even the most promiscuous of historical figures blush. The shogunate’s harem literally numbered in the thousands at its peak. The man was said to have never gone a night in his adult life without having sex at least once. In addition to his fleshy pursuits, Ienari also had a penchant for getting absolutely sloshed. The nightly debacles at Edo castle usually involved several of Ienari’s women and even more vials of booze. Talk about a party!

Tragically, Ienari’s orgy finally came to an end when he passed away at the ripe old age of 67 years(quite a long life for the time). Though he was said to have been unsurprisingly riddled with syphilis for years, Ienari managed to father as many as 56 children. In fact, many of his offspring went on to be important luminaries who played critical roles in the Bakumatsu and Boshin War. If you want to learn more about Ienari’s antics, I highly suggest you check out this post by my buddy, Japan This. The part where he compares his own sexual accolades with those of the legendary playboy will almost certainly leave you in stitches!

Ienari’s Legacy

Scandalous background aside, if you visit the area around Nippori today, you can actually see many of the results of Ienari’s decree. Known as Yanaka, this part of Tokyo is one of my all-time favorites (here’s my guide on the area). While most of the city was leveled in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1932, and then again in World War II, this section is one of only a few to survive largely unscathed. Those temples that Ienari moved back in the 19th century? Yeah, those are all still doing fine and dandy. It’s quite strange that the shogun most remembered for his drinking and whoring would be the one to save all these sacred halls of worship. Whodathunkit!

Now, since I know you’re dying to ask, I don’t actually know which of the many temples in the Yanaka area are the ones Ienari was directly responsible for relocating. The area is rife with so many small temples that it’s just difficult to fathom. Many temples are hidden in residential nooks and not exactly advertising themselves as tourist destinations. I tried inquiring for more details at Tourism Information Center (which has some great cultural experience on offer by the way) but was told that I probably know more about this particular historical thread than any of their staff. Ah, the challenges of being a trailblazer…

Anyway, while I cannot comment as to whether a particular selection from the following list is directly linked to Ienari or not, I’d wager to bet that at least one or two are connected. If you visit the area, why not consider a quick visit to a handful of these small but charming temples?

  • Tenno-ji
    First established back in 1274, this temple holds the rank as being the oldest within the area. During the Edo period (1603–1868) the complex originally stood three times bigger than today’s structure. What’s more, Tenno-ji was one of only three temples that were eligible to hold lotteries. As you may imagine, this special privilege made Tenno-ji quite popular. If you stop by, be sure not to miss the bronze Buddha statue which was cast in the year 1690.
  • Rinko-ji
    Though somewhat confusing to find, this charming temple is quite amazing when you actually reach it. First established in the year 1630, the structure was said to be moved to its current location sometime thereafter ( whether it has ties to Ienari remains unknown). Rinko-ji’s grounds sport some ancient memorial stones dating back to a time when commoners were allowed to have their own graves.
  • Enju-ji
    Enju-ji enshrines the 14th century monk, Nichika, who was known as the protector of pedestrians. Inside the dark wooden building, you’ll find depictions of traditional Japanese walking shoes. Enju-ji is said to be very popular with runners.
  • Jomyo-in
    The Jomyo-in facility was established back in the mid 1600’s. Home to over 84,000 Jizo statues, this temple is definitely worth checking out if you have some time. The sight of all those Jizo statues will surely make your jaw drop.

Note that the above locations are just a few of the many spots to explore in Yanaka. If you’re interested in learning more, I suggest that you stop by the Tourism Information Center. You can pick up map here that contains a list of over thirty recommended places to visit. The suggested locales have been neatly curated into a nice walking tour that is easy to follow along.

Other Attractions

While I highly suggest that you spend a good bit of time in Yanaka, the area is also located close to Ueno Park. In addition to having a great zoo, Ueno Park is home to a number of cultural attractions. Personally, I’m of the belief that it offers the best one-stop, smorgasbord experience of any place within Tokyo. As if the park itself weren’t enough, the shopping street of Ameyoko is a nearby former black market that dates back to the post-war occupation. Should you pay a visit to Ueno Park, you’ll definitely want to check out Ameyoko too. Just note that both can be pretty crowded with tourists…

Looking for something a little bit more low key? Why not check out the remnants of Kan’nei-ji. This temple is a former funerary of the Tokugawa shogunate and once was so massive that the temple occupied much of what is now Ueno Park. In fact, the pagoda that now resides in Ueno Zoo used to actually belong to Kan’nei-ji. Today, the temple complex is but a shadow of its former glory due to having been burned to the ground in the Boshin war. Still, if only to explore a relic of Tokyo’s history, it’s well worth making a quick stop.


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