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Gate marking the entrance to the path up to Seiken-ji
Grave of Prince Gushichan Shô Kô, erected by Prince Ginowan Chôshô in 1790
  • Established: 679
  • Other Names: 巨鼇山清見興国禅寺 (Kogouzan seiken koukoku zenji)
  • Japanese: 清見寺 (Seiken-ji; Kiyomi-dera)

Seiken-ji is a Rinzai Zen temple of the Myôshinji sect in Okitsu 興津 in Suruga province, just east of Sunpu, now part of Shizuoka City of Shizuoka prefecture. It dominates an important point on the Tokaido Highway, and so has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The current main hall dates to 1702.

The temple is believed to have been originally founded in 679, as a temple associated with, and protecting, the barrier checkpoint at Kiyomi-ga-seki[1] The temple was re-established as a Rinzai Zen temple in 1261-1262, by Zen master Muden Shôzen, and significant sections of the foundations of the current temple still date to that time. The temple was restored once again by Shogun Ashikaga Takauji in 1342, and its garden was officially named a "famous site" (meishô[2]) in the early Edo period.

Seiken-ji has also been host to many prominent historical figures. According to temple tradition, when he was a child, Tokugawa Ieyasu accompanied his tutor Abbot Taigen Sessai 太原雪斎 on his visits to Seiken-ji.[3] Toyotomi Hideyoshi stayed there while his headquarters were being completed for the 1590 siege of Odawara; he is said to have been impressed by the sound of the temple bell, and requisitioned it for use during the campaign. Seiken-ji also saw the visits of shogun Tokugawa Iemochi, who stayed there briefly in 1862 while on his way to Kyoto, and of Emperor Meiji, who stayed there seven years later while on his way to the new capital of Tokyo.

Seiken-ji maintains an important connection to the Ryukyuan embassies to Edo, as it is the site of the grave of Crown Prince Shô Kô, younger brother to King Shô Nei, who died at Okitsu in 1610, while a hostage of Shimazu Iehisa following the Shimazu invasion of Ryûkyû the previous year. Ryukyuan embassies to Edo customarily stopped to visit his grave during the remainder of the Edo period. There are records of stops in 1710, 1714, 1749, 1764, 1790, 1806, 1832, and 1850. In 1790, Prince Ginowan Chôshô (also known as Shô Yô) erected a new gravestone next to the original one, both of which still stand today. A framed piece of calligraphy by Ginowan Chôshô donated to the temple at that time hangs inside the temple's main hall (hondô), along with a pair of wooden plaques inscribed with a poetic couplet in calligraphy by Itoyama peechin Shô Teiyoku (seishi shisan, or Assistant to the Lead Envoy, on the 1790 mission and a relative of Prince Shô Kô)[4] as well as a number of similar plaques associated with Korean embassies to Edo, which typically lodged at the temple overnight while passing through Okitsu on their journey.[5] Objects related to the Korean missions include a folding screen inscribed by a member of a Ryukyuan mission with poetry written by the three chief envoys of the 1607 Korean mission, who stayed at Seiken-ji on their way to Edo.[6]

The grave of another Ryukyuan individual, Nakanishi chikudun, is also located at Seiken-ji. Following his death in Hamamatsu on 1710/11/2, and his burial, Seiken-ji exchanged a number of letters and gifts with the Ryukyuan temple of Chôju-ji.[7]

Other objects held by the temple and associated with Ryûkyû include a set of bronze lanterns, six scrolls of memorial writings prepared between 1710 and 1752, eight scrolls of memorial writings prepared between 1764 and 1850, an old sanshin (shamisen) today displayed in the zashiki (parlor) of the temple's main hall, and a number of tenmoku ceramics and lacquerwares today held in the temple's Treasure House.

Seiken-ji is probably best known to Westerners through Oliver Statler's book Japanese Inn, which centers around an inn in Okitsu. Statler got much information about the temple directly from temple officials.



  1. The "Seiken" of the temple's name (清見) is an alternate reading of the characters for "Kiyo-mi" in Kiyomi-ga-seki.
  2. 名勝
  3. Statler p. 30;清見寺.
  4. Shirarezaru Ryûkyû shisetsu 知られざる琉球使節, Fukuyama-shi Tomonoura rekishi minzoku shiryôkan (2006), 87.
  5. Timon Screech, Obtaining Images, University of Hawaii Press (2012), 110.
  6. Shirarezaru Ryûkyû shisetsu, 92.
  7. Miyagi Eishô 宮城栄昌, Ryûkyû shisha no Edo nobori 琉球使者の江戸上り, Tokyo: Daiichi Shobô (1982), 209.

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