Yushima Seidō (湯島聖堂) is the only Confucian temple (聖堂 seidō, "sacred hall' or "cathedral") in Japan. It is located in Bunkyō Ward, Tōkyō, just across Kanda Myōjin. In Japan, Confucian temples are also known as taiseiden (大成殿).

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The origins of Yushima Seidō can be traced to the Kōbun-in (弘文 院), a private educational institution founded under the aegis of Tokugawa Iemitsu by the Neo-Confucian scholar Hayashi Razan (林羅山, 1583-1657), advisor to the first four Tokugawa shōgun. In 1630, Razan, this time supported by the Owari-Tokugawa, established a place of worship in his residence in Shinobugaoka (present-day Ueno) called Senseiden (先聖殿).

Razan was influenced by the Neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi (朱熹, 1130-1200), who tried to blend the teachings of Confucius, Buddha, and Lao Tzu. Zhu Xi's views were very controversial in China, where an anti-Buddhist variation of Confucianism gained the upper hand. The same development unfolded in Japan: Confucianism was used as a philosophical vehicle against Buddhism and Shintō. However, in the late Edo and Meiji periods, it became an instrument to append philosophical essence and legitimacy to Shintoism and imperial rule.

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Nyutoku Gate: the only wooden gate inside Yushima Seidō. The tablet says "Nyutokumon" (入徳門).

In 1657, Senseiden burned to the ground in the Great Fire of Meireki, which destroyed two-thirds of Edo. Razan died in the same year and was succeeded by his son Hayashi Gahō (林鵞峰, 1618-1680). The fifth shōgun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, moved Senseiden to its present site in 1690 where it became the Taiseiden (大成殿) of Yushima Seidō. The Hayashi School of Confucianism was relocating at the same time.

The great fires of 1703 and 1772 brought the Hayashi family's academy to a virtual standstill. After the promulgation of the Kansei edict in 1790, Neo-Confucianism became the official philosophy of Japan. In 1797, the Hayashi School came under the control of the shogunate which established the first institution of higher education in Edo called Shōheizaka Gakumonjo (昌平坂学問所) or Shōheikō (昌平黌). Shōhei is the Japanese reading for the birthplace of Confucius (孔子, pronounced Kōshi in Japanese). Most students were hatamoto, who received formal training in administration and other subjects. Those students, called keikonin (稽古人), were candidates for positions in the shogunal bureaucracy.

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Kyodanmon (杏壇門). Kyodan refers to the school where Confucius taught.

After the Meiji Restoration, the Ministry of Education, the Tokyo National Museum, and several educational institutions that would later become Tsukuba University and Ochanomizu University were housed on the grounds of Yushima Seidō. The site of the former school is now home to the Tokyo Medical and Dental University.

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View of the Taiseiden through Kyodanmon.

When the Taiseiden was rebuilt in 1799, the hall was repainted in black lacquer. The original colours were said to be verdigris and vermillion as an accent. The Taiseiden was designated a National Historic Site in 1922. The entire compound except for the Nyontoku Gate was reduced to rubble in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. The present reinforced concrete structure was built by the architect Itō Chūta (伊東忠太, 1867-1954) in 1935.

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View of Kyodanmon from Taiseiden (大成殿).

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Standing 4.75 metres tall, Yushima Seidō boasts the world's largest statue of Confucius. The Lions Club of Taipeh donated it in 1975.

The Taiseiden is open at weekends and public holidays. The photos below were taken inside the main hall. The statues on display are those of the Four Sages, Yan Hui, Zeng Shen, Zisi, and Mengzi.

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The gabled roof is adorned with mythical Chinese figures: the fish-like kigintō (鬼犾頭 (きぎんとう)) and the tiger-like kiryūshi (鬼龍子(きりゅうし)). Just like the Shintō shrines dedicated to Sugawara Michizune the temple is very popular with students who visit to pray for help with entrance exams. Nowadays, the temple is run by the Shibunkai (斯文会), an academic society founded in 1880 that operates as a non-profit organization and organises the annual Confucius Festival at the end of April.

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Yūza no ki (宥座の器), the "Moral Analogy of a Vessel", is based on a famous anecdote (called 欹器図 Kikizu in Japanese) about the first time Confucius saw a tilting vessel (欹器 qīqì in Chinese): when the suspended vessel is empty it hangs slightly tilted. Once you start filling it up with scoops of water it will straighten up; the more water you add the more it will tilt again and eventually tip over and spill all of the water. Confucius' anecdote refers to the golden mean and the premise that moderation is key.

Information:

  • Address: 1-4-25 Yushima, Bunkyo City, Tokyo 113-0034; phone: 03-3251-4606.
  • Admission: free; 200 JPY for the Taiseiden, English brochure available.
  • Open daily 09:30-17:00, the Taiseiden is open to the public at weekends and public holidays.

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References:

  • Joseph Cali with John Dougill, Shinto Shrines - A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion, University of Hawai'i Press 2013
  • Tae Moriyama, Tokyo Adventures - Glimpses of the City in Bygone Eras, Shufunotomo 1993
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