In 1625, the learned priest Tenkai erected, at this present location called Ueno, a group of temples known by the overall name of Toeizan Kan’ei-ji in consultation with the shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, for the purpose of protecting the northeastern gate “Kimon”* of the Edo Castle, known today as the Imperial Palace. The Kan’ei-ji Temple, under the strong and favorable patronage of the Tokugawa Shogunate, soon became the general headquarters of the Tendai-shu (one of the oldest sects of Buddhism in Japan).
Soon after that, they installed an imperial prince as the head priest. They called this priest, “Rinno-ji-no Miya” or “Ueno-no Miya.” “Miya” means “Prince.” Then many feudal lords under the Tokugawa Shogunate contributed in competition toward the building of the temples and holy structures affiliated with the Kan’ei-ji Temple. Most of these magnificent temples and holy buildings, which once symbolized the prosperity of the Tokugawa Shogunate, were destroyed in the Ueno Battle of 1868. Now, only the Five-Storied Pagoda, Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple, Kaizan-do Temple, the front gate of the old Rinno-ji Temple, and the cemetery of the successive Tokugawa Shoguns are vaguely reminiscent of the old grandeur of the Kan’ei-ji Temple.
*Japanese have particular meanings for directions. “Kimon,” meaning the “Evil Gate,” is in the Northeast, the direction from which evil things come.
In 1698, Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, gave an order to build the Kompon Chu-do (Central Hall), and after its completion, Emperor Higashiyama, had an imperial placard made written in kanji, “Ruriden” (The Palace of Yakushi Nyorai), and had it hung on the Central Hall, which remains there to this day. This Chu-do Hall was the biggest of all Buddhist halls in Edo at that time.
Unfortunately, the original Chu-do Hall was burnt down in the Ueno Battle, a part of the Restoration of 1868. One of the halls of the Kita-in Temple in Kawagoe (where priest Tenkai had been the head priest before he was invited to Ueno) was moved to the present location in 1879, where the Dai-ji-in Temple was standing, one of the small temples affiliated with the Kan’ei-ji Temple, and is now even smaller than the original, and was then renamed the Kompon Chu-do.
In the Chu-do Hall is enshrined the principal image of this temple, Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru), deeply enclosed in golden doors in the center with two images on both sides. It is known as the Buddha of Medicine and Mercy.
This mausoleum is the same in form as those at Nikko and Shiba. It was burnt down in World War II and since restored.