Seitenkyu Temple in Sakado in Saitama Prefecture is Japan's largest Taoist temple. Seitenkyu Temple was part-financed and built by the Taiwanese businessman Kang Kuo Den.
Seitenkyu Temple, Sakado, Saitama Prefecture
聖天宮 坂戸市 埼玉県
- Seitenkyu Temple History
- Seitenkyu Temple Architecture and Features
- Cosplay and Period Dramas
by Johannes Schonherr
Located in the flatlands of central Saitama Prefecture, the Wakaba neighborhood of Sakado City consists of large housing projects and factories, including the plant where dairy giant Meiji produces its milk chocolate. Further out vegetable fields open up the view to a forest of high-voltage transmission towers. A typical landscape on the fringes of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area.
Outer Gate, Seitenkyu Temple, Sakado, Saitama PrefectureSeitenkyu Temple, Sakado, Saitama Prefecture
Yet in the midst of those drab environs sits a fairy-tale like colorful Taiwanese Taoist temple with yellow roofs, the Seitenkyu. It is very richly decorated with an incredible number of dragon and bird sculptures, amazing stone carvings and inside, lots of paintings depicting scenes from ancient Chinese legends. In fact, the Seitenkyu is Japan's largest Taoist temple.
Seitenkyu, the Japanese name of the temple, translates to Holy Celestial Palace. In Chinese the name of the temple can be pronounced either as Xien Ten Gong or Sheng Tian Gong, depending on the dialect. The meaning of the name is the same in all three versions.
Main Hall of Seitenkyu Temple, Sakado, Saitama Prefecture
Seitenkyu Temple History
How did this unlikely temple get there?
It all started with a Taiwanese merchant named Kang Kuo Den. Kang made a fortune trading with mainland China in the early 1970's, a time when such exchanges were very difficult to handle due to the political differences between the two countries. Still, he was a devout Taoist.
Kang fell ill with an illness considered incurable when he was in his early 40's. He prayed for his recovery many times every day to the three main gods of Tao and after seven years in hospital, he was eventually released as cured.
To show his gratitude to the gods, Kang became a Taoist priest. He also claims that the gods ordered him to construct a temple to spread the wisdom of the way of Tao. The gods told him where to build the temple, he says, what to name it and the general outline of the temple's design. Kang obliged and construction of the temple started in 1981. The temple was ready to open in autumn 1995.
Most of the construction was done by Taiwanese companies, most building materials were imported from there. Taiwanese artisans provided all the intricate artwork visible at the temple.
The temple was however not fully financed by Kang. He laid the groundwork. Many Taiwanese were then more than happy to donate money for a grand Taoist temple to be erected in Japan.
Taiwan was ruled by Japan from 1895 to 1945. Though various insurrections took place against the Japanese administration at the time, many Taiwanese developed a great admiration for Japan. An admiration that is still ongoing today. In no other country in Asia is Japanese culture / pop culture as popular as in Taiwan.
In contrast, local Saitama farmers were at first opposed to the plans of building the temple. They feared that a strange and aggressive new religious cult would erect its headquarters in their neighborhood. Patient negotiations convinced them that that was not the case.
Dragon carving on a pillar of the Main Hall, Seitenkyu Temple
Yin Drum Tower, Seitenkyu Temple
Seitenkyu Temple Architecture and Features
Enshrined in the temple are the three main deities of Taiwanese Taoism, collectively known as the Sansei Douso in Japanese and as San Chin Tao Tzu in Chinese. Those are the gods that represent the "pure origins of the Tao."
Though rather new, the temple is a very fine example of traditional Taiwanese temple architecture. It is very, very colorful. It features an incredible amount of detail-oriented artwork including multiple wood and stone carvings of dragons, birds and other creatures. The temple claims that 5,000 dragons are on display in various forms - mainly as sculptures and carvings.
The Seiten, the Holy Heaven, has been visually recreated on the ceiling of the Main Temple Hall, using about ten thousand pieces of colored glass.
To the left and right of the temple stand the Yin Drum Tower and the Yang Bell Tower, respectively. They both provide excellent views over the temple grounds.
At 3 pm every day, the drum and the bell will play off their sounds against each other in a refined yet very loud tune. Signs at the towers warn against staying on top of either tower at the time. But when listening from the courtyard of the temple, it feels like sounds of ancient Asia washing over, providing an additional spell to the colorful temple environs.
A vending machine on the ground floor of the Yin Drum Tower offers various Taiwanese soft drinks and snacks.
View from Yang Bell Tower, Seitenkyu Temple
Colorful bird sculpture contrasting with the central Saitama landscape, Seitenkyu Temple
Cosplay and Period Dramas
The fairy-tale-like qualities of the temple have not gone unnoticed by the Cosplay crowd in Tokyo. So much so, actually, that the temple rents out its grounds to cosplayers on a regular basis for photo shoots. Expect to encounter some wildly dressed people on your visit.
The same goes for TV period dramas. A 16th century Portuguese missionary genuflecting in front of the king of an imagined ancient Asian country? Scenes like that are shot at the temple frequently.
Those photo / film shoots take place during regular opening times. Visitors are allowed in at the same time. In most cases, it's possible to take a few photos of the proceedings from a distance. Just don't walk into the space covered by their camera angle while they are at work.
Seitenkyu Temple serving as set for a period drama, Sakado, Saitama Prefecture
Though the Seitenkyu Temple is in Sakado City, the train station to access it is Wakaba Station (若葉駅).
Take a Tobu Tojo Line train from Ikebukuro Station to Wakaba Station. Rapid, Express, Semi-Express and all local trains stop at Wakaba.
Walking: Go out of the East Exit of Wakaba Station, then follow the main road starting there. The road is lined with trees and it's a pleasant stroll to the temple, taking about 30 minutes (2.5 kilometers).
Bus: Take the 若01, 若 02, 若03 or the 東坂03 bus from the East Exit of Wakaba Station to the Tomiya Kousaten-mae stop. The bus stop is about 300 meters from Seitenkyu Temple. Buses are frequent in the daytime.
Opening times: Daily from 10 am to 4 pm, no closing day.
Admission 500 yen
Tel: 049 281 1161
Address: 51-1 Tsukagoshi, Sakado-shi, Saitama-ken
Website seitenkyu.com (in Japanese)
View to Yin Drum Tower from Seitenkyu Temple Garden