Gessho-ji Temple, Hydrangea and Giant Tortoise

Located just west of Matsue Castle, Gessho-ji Temple is referred to as the ‘Hydrangea Temple’ – flower that blooms from mid-June to mid-July. One of the main temples of Matsue, Gessho-ji serves as the family temple for the Matsudaira clan, the longest family of feudal lords who reigned over Matsue domain, between 1638 and 1871. It is also famous for its large stone sculpture of a tortoise, which was rumored to take nightly strolls about the town wreaking havoc. The temple offers great discounts for international visitors. There is also a tea room if you want to indulge in the tea and wagashi culture of Matsue while enjoying a view on a Japanese garden 🙂

Gessho-ji Temple, Hydrangea, Matsue City, Shimane, Japan - 松江市月照寺
The tombs of the Matsudaira

The vast temple is home to nine graves of the Matsudaira Clan, one the most important clan of Matsue domain. The tombs and their gates remain as they were in feudal times.

In 1664, Matsudaira Naomasa (grandson of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu), then lord of Matsue, decided to bury her mother, Gesshoin, on the grounds of the temple, which was renamed after her. After Naomasa died, his son built in turn a tomb for him there, making it the family temple for the Matsudaira clan. Gessho-ji means the Temple of Moonlight (月照寺).

Gessho-ji Temple, Hydrangea, Matsue City, Shimane, Japan -月照寺The picture above shows Naomasa’s grave, the largest of all and the only one surrounded with water. Even though it is a Buddhist place, there are also Shinto shrine gates (鳥居, torii) at each entrance. Each grave is also surrounded with hundreds of stone lanterns (灯篭, toro). The picture below shows its perfectly preserved gate, which features an architectural style called Karamon (唐門).

Gessho-ji Temple, Matsue City, Shimane, Japan - 松江市の月照寺 1What is interesting is that each of the gates and graves of the nine generations of the Matsudaira clan represent a different period in the progression of Edo era architectural craftsmanship. It also reflects the financial state of Matsue domain at the time, and is thus an important place for understanding Matsue’s history.

Plan du temple de Gesshô-ji: L'entrée se trouve en bas à droite. Au fond à gauche se trouve la tombe du premier seigneur Matsudaira.

Map of Gessho-ji Temple. The entrance is in the bottom left corner. Matsudaira Naomasa’s tomb is in the upper left corner.

The tomb that is located straight after the temple’s main entrance is the one of Matsudaira Harusato (1751-1818), commonly known by his tea-master name Fumai (不昧). During his reign, he managed to bring his domain back from the brink of bankruptcy and shaped Matsue as we know it today through revolutionizing the administrative system, and improving industry and trade. He is particularly known for his promotion of the tea and wagashi culture of Matsue. [Fumai is quite an important historical figure in Japan: See Wikipedia]

Gessho-ji Temple, Tomb of Matsudaira Fumai - 松江月照寺

The entrance to the tomb of Matsudaira Harusato (Fumai), seventh lord of the Matsudaira clan.

Gessho-ji is strongly associated with Fumai. Every year, to commemorate his death,  a ritual called chasen-kuyô (茶筅供養) is held. In this ritual, all the old tea whisks (chasen) used for preparing Matcha green powdered tea are put on fire – a way of thanking them for their hard work! It takes place on the closest Sunday of April 24.

There is also a tea room where you can enjoy Matcha tea and wagashi (Japanese confectionery) while seated in front of a beautiful Japanese garden. Gessho-ji Temple is one of the three important places associated with Lord Fumai and the city’s tea culture, along with Meimei-an Tea House and Kangetsu-an Tea house, both located near Matsue Castle. BTW, Matsue Castle can be seen from Lord Fumai’s grave!

Gessho-ji Hydrangea Temple - Garden Contemplation - MatsueGessho-ji Temple, Japanese Garde, Tea Room, Matsue JapanLord Fumai was not only about tea and wagashi. In addition of all the economical reforms he achieved, he was a wealthy patron who took care of local artists and champions.

Raiden Tameemon - Japanese Sumo Wrestler - Gessho-ji Temple - MatsueHe thus patronized Raiden « Thunder bolt » Tameemon (雷電為右衛門), which is said to be the strongest wrestler in Japanese Sumo history. One can see the handprint of this massive Sumo wrestler in the commemorative stone located at the entrance of the temple. He was said to be 182cm tall at age 13. [More info in his Wikipedia article]

Another figure who was patronized by Fumai was Kobayashi Jodei 小林如泥 (1753-1813). Born in Matsue, Jodei was a woodcraft artist whose works can be seen all around Matsue. He made the openwork in the shape of his master’s favorite fruit – grapes – that can be seen on the gate of Lord Fumai.

Gessho-ji Temple, Wooden Carving - 松江月照寺The Hydrangea Temple

With its 30,000 hydrangeas that blossom in June during the rainy season, Gessho-ji is referred to as the Hydrangea Temple of the San-in Region. It is not to be missed in June if you are around!

Gessho-ji Temple, Lanterns and Hydrangea, Matsue JapanIn Japanese, Hydrangea is written using the characters for purple, sunshine and flower (紫陽花). It is pronounced Ajisai, and Gessho-ji is sometime called Ajisai-dera, for Hydrangea Temple. Interesting fact: the hydrangea’s color ranges from white to blue to pink and purple, determined by the acidity level of the soil.

Please find more pictures of Gessho-ji Temple in our post here:
Gessho-ji, The Hydrangea Temple (June 2014)

Gessho-ji Temple, Hydrangea Path - 松江月照寺Gessho-ji Temple is in fact blooming with wonderful colors all year long:  sasanqua (山茶花) in January, camellia (椿) in February, cherry blossom (桜) in the end of March, azalea (ツツジ) in April, iris (杜若・花菖蒲), wisteria (藤), dogwood (花水木) and water lily (睡蓮) in May, hydrangea (紫陽花) in June, crape myrtle (百日紅) in late July, Momiji (紅葉) red and yellow leaves in Autumn.

Gessho-ji Temple, Flowers, Bell Tower, Matsue Japan

A bell tower called Shuro (鐘楼) behind a dogwood in blossom, in May

Gessho-ji Temple, Flowers, Iris, Matsue JapanThe Giant Stone Tortoise

One thing that you can’t miss when you visit Gessho-ji Temple is the large, stone obelisk bearing tortoise in front of the sixth Matsudaira’s tomb. The Giant Tortoise appears in a story mentioned in Lafcadio Hearn’s essay ‘Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan’.

According to the legend, the tortoise would take nightly strolls about the town wreaking havoc. The large stone pillar was then summoned on his back by a priest to bring a halt to its nightly rampages.

You can easily find this story thanks to Gutenberg’s Project: Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan First Series – Chap. 11, Notes on Kitzuki – Sec. 7.

Gessho-ji Temple, Giant Turtle Turtoise, Matsue Japan

The giant tortoise stands 5 meters and 10cm tall.

Gesshouji Temple, Giant Turtle Turtoise and Luc  - 松江市月照寺

This dude will surely live long!

Tortoise is a symbol of longevity. It is said that if you rub its head, you can live a long life! 🙂

This statue is called Juzohi-no-Okame (寿蔵碑の大亀), or ‘Longevity Monument of the Giant Tortoise’.


Affiche publicitaire pour la bière Guinness, qui n'est pas sans rappeler la tortue de temple Gesshô-ji et l'origine irlandaise de Lafcadio Hearn :)

A funny commercial that reminds of both Gessho-ji Temple tortoise and the Irish origin of Lafcadio Hearn, who was the first to introduced this story to the Western world  🙂

Because it is a sacred site known for its architectural and decorative masterpieces and that it is closely associated with the history of one clan, it would be safe to say that Gessho-ji Temple is to the Matsudaira Clan what the shrines and temples of Nikko are to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Even though Gessho-ji is not  a UNESCO World Heritage Site like Nikko and is smaller in scale, it still is designated as a National Historical Site and definitely worth a visit. Plus, it offers great discounts for international visitors 🙂

Gessho-ji is a peaceful and beautiful place with many wonderful sights to see, whatever the season you may visit it.

And the giant stone tortoise needs your love ❤
It just wants to be pet! So don’t be shy to come and say Hi!

– Useful info –

  • Access

Gessho-ji Temple is located 1500m west of Matsue Castle, just north of Matsue Shinjiko Onsen. Check it out on Google Map.

If you use the Lakeline bus, please get off at stop #15, « Gessho-ji-mae ». See the map on

  • Hours and admission fee

Open 7 days a week
April – October, 8:30am – 5:30pm
October – March, 8:30am – 5pm

Discounts for international visitors:
¥500 (50% OFF) →¥250

The matcha and wagashi serving is an additional ¥400.

  • Useful links

>Gessho-ji Temple on

> »Flower Viewing: Hydrangea » and « My Neighbor T-T-T-TORTOISE« , articles about Gessho-ji by San’in Story

>A nice video introducing the Hydrangea Temple on You Tube.

>An article from

>More info in Japanese on

* * *
All our articles about Matsue

Welcome to Matsue (homepage)

Have you ever heard of Matsue ?
Discounts for International Visitors

・What’s Hot? Ongoing and Upcoming Events・
Event information in Matsue – April/May/June 2014
Matsue City Guide Newsletter
Event Calendar

Matsue Castle

Cruising the Castle Town

Shiomi Nawate Street

Lafcadio Hearn, aka Koizumi Yakumo

Matsue History Museum

Gessho-ji Temple

Lake Shinji

Shimane Art Museum



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