Shinobazu, then and now: Bentendo in visual media (1)—the vanished torii gate

Numerous places around Shinobazu Pond have disappeared in the flow of history. A previous article discussed the horse racing track that encircled the pond, and this article will draw on visual sources to introduce the evolution of the gates of Bentendo that were erected on the causeway leading to Benten Island.

First let’s look back on the origins of Benten Island. The island in the middle of Shinobazu Pond was created sometime between 1624-44. Mizunoya Katsutaka (1597-1664), lord of the Hitachi Shimodate domain, worked together with Tenkai (?-1643), a Buddhist monk deeply involved in shaping the shogun’s policy towards the imperial court and the planning of Edo, to construct a hall to worship the goddess Benzaiten on an island in the pond, modeling Shinobazu Pond after Lake Biwa and Benten Island after Lake Biwa’s Chikubu Island (Yanesen Kobo 1989, 6-7). Other scholars have suggested that the pond and its central island were modeled after West Lake in Hangzhou, China (Hara 2015, 49-50). According to the Shinobazu Pond Encyclopedia published by Yanesen Kobo, when the island was first constructed, it was not connected by a bridge and worshippers visited by boat. In the mid-17th century, a stone bridge was constructed as a path for worshippers. Later, in the mid-18th century, a four-span bridge was constructed behind Bentendo that came to be known as the “Eight bridges” (Yatsu hashi) due to its reflection in the water, which became a symbol of Ueno (Tokyo-shi shiko 1936, 300). The first teahouse was also constructed on the island during this era.

After the construction of Bentendo, Benten Island became a famous place of worship in Ueno. The principal diety of Bentendo is Happi-daibenzaiten-choju-fukutoku-no-kami (八臂大弁財天長寿福徳の神), alongside sub-dieties Tamonten and Daikokuten. Benzaiten is the goddess of fertile land, happiness, music, and eloquence, and since the Edo period many commoners and geisha praying to improve their craft visited. Several sources in the collection of the Edo Tokyo Museum attest to the temple’s popularity. An image by Hashimoto Shuen from 1893 (Fig. 1) clearly reflects the connection between Shinobazu Benzaiten and the arts, while Utagawa Kuniyasu’s portrayal from 1811-1814 (Fig. 2) depicts a bustling area filled with worshippers.


Fig. 1 「見立十二支 巳 不忍弁財天」,橋本周延,明治26年 (1893年)。江戸東京博物館収蔵。


Fig. 2 浮絵「不忍辨財天之図」,歌川国安,文化8年-11年頃(1811-1814)。江戸東京博物館収蔵。

A torii gate was prominently positioned on the path to Benten Island, amplifying the presence of Bentendo. At the eastern edge of the island, first a wooden torii was erected, followed by a bronze version, and in 1724 a framed sign of calligraphy with the characters “Tenryuzan (天龍山)” written by Hosoi Hirosawa was displayed. This frame can also be seen in the Utagawa Kuniyasu’s depiction of Benten Island (Fig. 2). At the beginning of the Meiji era, the anti-Buddhist haibutsu kishaku movement led to the separation of Buddhism and Shinto, and Bentendo, with its Shinto torii, faced separation from Kan’eiji. Kanei’ji argued that Benzaiten is a Buddhist diety, and was able to avoid separation by removing the torii (Mori 1989, 10). A photograph taken in the 1890s by Baron Raimund Stillfried-Ratenicz, a member of the legation of the North German Federation (Fig. 3), shows that the torii has been removed.

Fig. 3 不忍池弁天堂, 1890年代, スティルフリードBaron Raimund Stillfried-Ratenicz 撮影, 日本カメラ博物館所蔵。谷根千工房, 『上野の杜事典:上野のお山を読む』, 2006, 表紙。

Fig. 3 Bentendo and Shinobazu Pond in the 1890s, photographed by Baron Raimund Stillfried-Ratenicz, in the collection of the Japan Camera Museum. Yanesen Kobo, Ueno no mori jiten: ueno no oyama wo yomu, 2006, cover image.

In the Taisho era, the new Tenryu Gate designed by Ito Chuta was constructed at a site on the path nearer to Bentendo than the original torii. This gate will be the focus of the next article.

Works cited

Yanesen Kobo, Shinobazu Pond Encyclopedia (Shinobazu no ike jiten), 1989.

Mori Mayumi, “Bentendo to minarikin,” Shinobazu Pond Encyclopedia, 1989, p.10.

Hara Yuichi, “West Lake landscaping in Shinobazu Pond (Little West Lake) and Daimyo manors,” Heisei 27 nendo nihon zoen gakkai kanto shibu taikai kogai/jirei/kenkyu hokoku shu, 33, 2015, pp.49-50.

Ed. Tokyo city, “Ikehata Tsukiji,” Tokyo-shi shiko yuenhen dai 2, 1936, pp.298-302.

作成者  | 2016-08-13 (土)
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