If you are exploring the island of Sado, and want to discover a little more about its history during your trip to Japan, then Seisui-ji Temple, Sado's oldest temple, would be a good place to start. Also, check out the Edo style houses of Shukunegi along the bay, and explore the famous five-storey pagoda of Myosen-ji. Here are the three best historical sights of Sado:
Seisui-ji Temple which was established in 808 is Sado’s oldest temple of note which has existed since the Heian Era. At the time, Emperor Kammu, who deeply worshiped the Thousand-Armed Kannon which was the principal image enshrined at Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, took into consideration the people of Sado who couldn’t make the trip to Kyoto to pray there and started the building of a temple which resembled Kiyomizu-dera. A Buddhist monk who had been searching for the appropriate location for the temple to be built nearby on the island discovered something shining in a flowing river and found the river’s source which would become the area where the temple would be built. The kanji for both Kiyomizu-dera and Seisui-ji 「清水寺」 are identical with the former being the name for the temple in Kyoto while the latter would identify the Sado temple. Although small compared to Kiyomizu-dera, the main hall of Guze-den which was built to resemble the Kyoto temple is a beautiful structure filled with dignity and character to evoke the image of a forest sanctuary. There is a wonderful view to be seen from the hall and the murmuring of the sacred river echoes within the tranquility of the area.
Seisui-ji Temple which stands on a slope of a small mountainous hill surrounded by countryside and rice paddies has an attractive unique mysticism which melds nature and the cultural properties. All of the properties have been registered as civic cultural assets and include the profound Niomon Gate which greets visitors to the temple, the luxuriant sando path lined with cedar trees that are several hundred years old, the Chuumon Gate leading to the wide front garden, the bell tower and Guze-den Hall. As well, you can also view valuable buildings on the grounds such as the beautiful plaster scripture house with the dragon carving and the lecture hall. Since its foundation in 808, these cultural properties were repeatedly rebuilt once every 200 years and preserved. The current buildings were rebuilt in 1730 as mid-Edo Era structures.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Seisui-ji Temple
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Seisui-ji Temple
- Tours of Seisui-ji Temple
Myosen-ji’s five-story pagoda was built in the latter half of the Edo Era and is one of only 22 such precious structures to survive in the country. This pagoda was completed in 30 years by father-and-son temple carpenters from the Mozaemon family. At a height of 24.11m with each side measuring 3.6m, this Edo Era pagoda is notable for every floor from bottom to top basically having the same dimensions with a beautiful carving of an elaborately-designed dragon’s head. It is believed that the pagoda was built to resemble a similar splendid structure in Tosho-gu Shrine in Nikko, and has been designated as a National Important Cultural Property.
Besides the five-story pagoda, there are many valuable cultural properties surviving within the temple grounds. Numerous beautiful examples of architecture which should be seen abound such as the oldest structure in the temple, the Niomon Gate built in 1677; the largest building on Sado Island, the Hondo main hall; the splendid Kuri temple kitchen with its 15.5m pillars; and the beautiful Soshi-do Hall with its connecting arched passageway. In the Japanese garden pond, there are summer blossoms of water lily which bring color to the peaceful temple.
In the cemetery behind the Hozo repository, the gravestones that dot the gentle slope seem to melt into the scenery of the surrounding cedar forest. The graves of famous figures in the history of Sado Island can be seen here with the oldest being the grave for the founder of Myosen-ji, Abutsubonittoku Shonin. Initially serving under Emperor Juntoku, he had been exiled along with the emperor to Sado Island where he continued to serve him until the emperor’s death after which he became a Buddhist monk and subsequently served as an apprentice under the Nichiren monks who had also been exiled to Sado. Furthermore, you can also view the grave of Suketomo Hino, the chief retainer of Emperor Daigo, who was also exiled to the island for planning the overthrow of the Kamakura shogunate.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Myosen-ji Temple
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Myosen-ji Temple
- Tours of Myosen-ji Temple
Developed in the Edo Era as a port of call for the shipping industry moving commodities and linking the island with the capital, Shukunegi, which was at the height of its prosperity, has retained its original appearance of a community that had been built by people in the shipping industry. In one corner of the bay, more than 100 buildings were established in dense formation with a distinct landscape of narrow alleys and stone paving, and the scenery of outside walls built from wooden boarding has been retained. That exterior can be seen as being quite simple. However, the interiors are deeply interesting for their luxurious construction which brings to mind the lifestyle of well-to-do people due to the shipping industry through examples such as black-lacquered central pillars, sculpted Buddhist altars and chests of trick construction to store money and other valuable items. The streets filled with the houses and structures built by shipwrights have been designated as an Important Preservation District of Historic Buildings by the nation and have been tended to as a town property relating the valuable history of Sado.
Within the preservation district of Shukunegi, currently 2 private houses have been opened to the general public (admission required). One house, Seikurou House, is a 200-year-old residence. The simple boarded exterior gives way to unbelievably beautiful rooms of lacquered cedar doors, Japanese zelkova floors, hearths that bespeak of the old houses, high open ceilings and other features of an old Japanese home which has been lovingly preserved as if time had stopped. Also, there are many other sights to see on the old streets such as the other open private house, Kaneko House, Sankaku-no-Ie (Triangle House) which was built to fit in with the shape of a corner lot alleyway and the old-fashioned Yosute Lane.