The quiet grounds of Gessho-ji Temple house the graves of the Matsudaira Clan, feudal lords who once ruled Matsue city and its surrounding domain. The temple is not simply a gloomy graveyard, however. Carefully tended gardens, intricately decorated gravesites, and a local ghost story make Gessho-ji a unique historical site that displays Matsue city’s natural beauty and traditional culture.
Guarded by a ghost story
The most famous feature of Gessho-ji Temple is its giant turtle statue. Turtles are a symbol of longevity in Japan, and it is believed that touching this statue’s head will bring good luck and long life. However, this turtle is also the center of one of Matsue’s most famous ghost stories. Allegedly, when night falls the turtle will come to life and consume any trespassers it finds. This is supposedly why a pillar rests on the turtle’s back–to prevent it from wandering too far from the temple.
The graves of nine Matsudaira clan lords are under the turtle’s protection. Each of these gravesites is uniquely designed to fit the lives or personalities of each lord. For instance, the wooden gate preceding the grave of Lord Matsudaira Naritsune features carvings of sake (rice wine) gourds because he is said to have loved sake.
Lord Matsudaira Fumai, Matsue city’s patron of tea culture, is also laid to rest here, and next to his grave sits a memorial that honors matcha tea whisks that have grown old and been retired from making tea. The temple grounds also maintain a spring of water that Lord Fumai often used for brewing tea.
Tea and flowers
Nestled in a forest of trees and bamboo, the grounds of Gessho-ji are lovely at any time of year. However, the most popular time to visit is in June when dozens of hydrangea bushes bloom throughout the grounds. Some of these bushes have grown as tall as people, and they bloom in a variety of colors, creating an environment that photographers can not resist.
After exploring the grounds, guests can take a moment to relax in the main building, which is decorated with classic paintings and artwork and looks out onto a small pond garden.
For an additional fee, fresh matcha and a locally-produced traditional tea sweet can be enjoyed here. Matsue is one of Japan’s top tea culture cities, so why not take a minute to try this local specialty?