Located in a nook just below Minami-Senju Station in little-traveled Arakawa, Tokyo is Enmeiji Temple. The temple, just down a sidestreet beneath the station, is located in the southeastern part of Tokyo’s northern ward of Arakawa, one of the poorest sections of the city. A few blocks to the east of the Sumida River in between which lay the disavowed neighborhood of Sanya, the home of Sanyukai–the largest free medical clinic in Tokyo. Being located in the northeast of Tokyo’s predecessor, Edo, a main cause of the modern-day poverty dates back to the fourteenth century when the Edo rulers believed that evil spirits came from the northeast, and as a result only those known as the Burakumin–executioners, undertakers, slaughterhouse workers, butchers and tanners–those with kegare (穢れ or “defilement”) attached to them, were able to live there.
Kubikiri Jizo – Decapitation Buddha – Enmeiji Shrine
Recently popular as an underground tourist destination, due to its cheap hostels, Minami Senju was once more infamous for Kozukappara Execution Grounds, one of the three sites in Edo, where the Tokugawa Shogunate (1650-1873) executed criminals. Anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 people were executed at Kozukappara for crimes ranging in seriousness dependent on the whims of the laws of the current shogun. Apocryphally, medical students and doctors studied anatomy here by dissecting the remains of fresh corpses. And although executions were stopped during the Meiji period to coincide with the westernization of Japan and the death knell of Bushido, traces of the past continue to slip through the veil of denial where today, the vast majority of the grounds, once the size of a football field, are covered by railway tracks: the new death sentence for the modern defiled.
That veil is Enmeiji Temple, which goes as far back as that of the the creation of Kozukappara itself. Created in order to bury the bodies of those executed, the temple is a small nook compared to what it once must have been. Watching over and offering solace to the departed souls of the executed, erected in 1741, a 3.5 meter tall Buddha statue called “Kubikiri Jizo” stands in the temple compound, smiling its Mona Lisa smile, surrounded by lesser Jizo and other Buddhist carvings and inscriptions.
Knowing that you stand on soil that has had the blood of 200,000 “criminals” soaked into it, standing in the entrance of Enmeiji a strange sentiment comes over you, if anything comes at all. Distracted by the wind whipping by and the interminable click-clacking of the trains, not much else ever happens here anymore. Just the silent stare of the stone Buddha and the sun and rain. But maybe that’s why it has a kind of beauty, admittedly desolate, but true nonetheless.