Kan'ei-ji is a Buddhist temple that is far more pivotal to the history of Japan than is apparent from the few remaining buildings in a residential neighborhood on the outer edge of Ueno Park in Tokyo.
Six of 13 of the Tokugawa clan who became shogun are buried in the temple's graveyard
There is a five-story pagoda by Shinobazu Pond
A statue of Meiji Restoration leader Saigo Takamori graces the grounds
The temple is located in central Tokyo, and can be reached by train or taxi.
Kan'ei-ji Temple is located within Ueno Park, though in a far corner, beyond Ueno Zoo, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts. You can get there by walking through Ueno Park, but it is much closer to Uguisudani Station. Uguisudani Station is one station from Ueno Station on the JR Yamanote Line.
All of Ueno Park used to be part of Kan'ei-ji Temple. It was centered around Shinobazu Pond then, near where the Kiyomizu Kannondo and the five-story pagoda still stand.
Built in 1625, the temple had Tokugawa clan support from the beginning. In fact, its land was donated by Tokugawa Hidetaka, the third son of Ieyasu and the second shogun. The temple continued to be an important funeral temple, which is why six of the Tokugawa clan's leaders are buried here.
The most critical historical event at Kan'ei-ji took place in 1868, however. It was here that the forces of the last Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, were defeated by the revolutionary forces loyal to the Emperor.
The bronze statue of Saigo Takamori in Ueno Park is one of the most famous objects in Japan. One of the leaders of the rebellion supporting the Emperor, he was the leader of the Satsuma clan from Kagoshima, a key part of the Imperial forces.
During the Battle of Ueno, the Satsuma troops attacked the main gate of the temple head-on. They suffered tremendous casualties, but this bold move helped end the conflict quickly. Saigo's statue is near the main entrance to the park, almost on the opposite end from Kan'ei-ji.
When you visit Kan'ei-ji, walk from the temple grounds through Ueno Park via Shinobazu Pond. You'll be able to pass by Kiyomizu Kannondo, see the five-story pagoda inside of Ueno Zoo, and see the statue of Saigo Takamori.