Bentendo Temple stands on an island in the middle of Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park, Tokyo. During the Kenai period, when Ueno Park was the grounds of the Kaneiji Temple and subtemples, Archbishop Tenkai (founder of the Kaneji Temple) built an island in Shinobazu Pond, modelled on Chikubu Island in Lake Biwa. He then built a temple on the island and enshrined an image on Benzaiten (Sarasvati) in it to pray for the peace of the state and for the prosperity and welfare of its people.
Benzaiten is an Indian Goddess, who is considered to be a symbol of longevity, good fortune, happiness and prosperity. In Japan, Benzaiten is believed in as the Goddess of Music and Entertainment.
The image of Benzaiten enshrined in the temple on Shinobazu Pond has eight arms, each holding a holy weapon to defeat the Asuras and is worshipped as the Goddess of Great Love for Salvation and Great Wisdom for Health and Longevity.
The Suvarna Prabhas-Ottamaroja-Sutra teaches that upon listening to this sutra one will be bestowed by Benzaiten with wonderworking wisdom, which helps one attain improvement of skills, spiritual enlightenment, living comfort and longevity.
At that time, worshippers would visit the temple by boat. Lotuses were planted in the pond and fish, waterfowels and tortoises were released into the water. It gained the name “Pond of Release” and the people were taught how to purify their sins by setting the creatures free.
Later, an overland bridge was built, which formed the front approach to the main hall. Teahouses were opened to line the approach attracting large crowds of worshippers to the temple.
The main hall and other temple buildings that had survived the Meiji Restoration were destroyed in the last Pacific War in March of the 20th year of Showa (1945). Fortunately the principle image survived and was enshrined in the present main hall, which was of Japanese style ferro concrete construction and completed in the 33rd year of Showa (1958).
In the 41st year of Showa (1966), “Ryu” or “Dragon”, a masterpiece painting by Great Artist Kibo Kodama, and other famous paintings reflecting the four seasons by great masters under his school were dedicated to the temple to decorate the ceiling of the main hall.
The hall of Mahakala, the God of Wealth, was rebuilt in the 43rd year of Showa (1968). Other temple buildings, such as the guest hall and priest’s living quarters, were reconstructed one after the other in the 47th year of Showa (1972), followed by the dedication of the Torii Gate (sacred archway).
Today the bridge and pathway leading to the temple’s main hall are lined with food stalls. Surrounding the temple are many unique monuments, including “The Monument of Glasses”, “The Kitchen Knife Grave” and “The Monument In Memory of Fugu”.
Bentendo temple is open from 7:00 to 17:00 and entry is free. Photographs may not be taken inside the temple.
- Information sign at Bentendo Temple