Seitenkyu: Japan’s largest Taoist temple in an unlikely place
Congratulations! You won a ticket to one of the most colorful temples in Japan!
Welcome to the fairy-tale Seitenkyu Temple.
In stark contrast with architecture of most Buddhist temples in Japan, Seitenkyu is incredibly elaborate and extremely colorful. Literally every piece of the wall, the roof, the pillars, every corner has an intricate decoration typical of temples you would usually find in China, or in this case, Taiwan.
Seitenkyu — with its Chinese name Sheng Tian Gong (which in translation means “Holy Celestial Palace”) — is the largest Taiwanese Taoist temple in Japan. It’s located in Sakado City, Saitama Prefecture.
The founder is Kang Kuo-Den, a Taiwanese merchant who made a fortune trading with mainland China in the 1970s. When he was in his early forties, he was stricken by an illness that was considered incurable. He found his salvation by praying to the three main gods of Tao. After seven years of hospitalization he was cured and decided to become a Taoist priest. Kang claims that gods ordered him to build a temple, where to build it and what to name it.
Eventually, the construction started in the spring of 1981 and after 15 years, the temple was opened to public in 1995.
Most of the construction was done by Taiwanese companies and most of the material was brought from there. All the detailed artwork, carvings, decorations, paintings, sculptures, everything was provided by the Taiwanese artisans.
Many decorations and sculptures like this bird…
…are made of colored glass.
At the time construction, many Taiwanese people were happy to donate money for this temple to be erected right here in Japan. There is a reason for this — in the past, Taiwan was ruled by Japan from 1895 to 1945. During that time, many Taiwanese developed great admiration for Japan which is still ongoing today.
It is said that 5,000 dragons in various forms are on display in this temple.
On the left and right side of the temple are two towers, called Yin Drum Tower and the Yang Bell Tower. It’s possible to walk upstairs and have a great view of the temple grounds.
Every day at 3pm, the drum and the bell play off their sounds against each other in a loud tune.
Walking around the temple garden, you will stumble upon a stone turtle.
Off the main hall, you will find a room with some comfortable seating and vending machines offering snacks and drinks from Taiwan.
Of course we can’t forget about restrooms, located outside in the temple garden, clearly marked with these illustrations.
Because of its lavish architecture, Seitenkyu is sort of an entertainment venue as well. It’s a popular place for photo shoots and many kinds of events. It’s been used as backdrop in TV dramas and provided a setting for various music videos (just like this one, or this one, and this one).
If you looked closely at the above photos showing the view from the towers, you probably noticed regular houses in the background. Interestingly, the temple is located in a very unlikely place — in a spread-out residential area, surrounded by houses, several factories (among them the well-known Meiji chocolate factory), and a lot of rice fields.
As such, local farmers were at first opposed to the plans of erecting the temple in this area. They were concerned that some kind of a new religious cult would build its headquarters in the neighborhood. Fortunately, negotiations convinced them that was not the case.
Now, after looking at all those colors and shapes, your eyes must be hurting! To fix this, all you have to do step out of the temple, exit through the main gate, and you will see a relaxing panorama of the Saitama flatlands!