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Black is beautiful at Yushima Seido

Yushima Seido is a temple that was built in 1630 in Ueno.  The fifth shogun, Tsunayoshi, moved it to its current location in 1690.  Compared to many of Tokyo’s temples, it is quite different.  This one is Confucian!  The government once ran it as a school.  You won’t find another like this in the city.  And in its black paint, you won’t find any cooler!

altar and doors or Yushima Seido

These days, students place ema (votive tablets) there in the hope of passing exams. But that wasn’t for me.  Why did I go? I just went for the photos of the temple.

Yushima Seido temple

Most people don’t know, but the building was originally vermillion. It was later painted black in the belief that it would become fireproof. Unfortunately, that line of thinking was flawed, as was found out during several big fires. Pity.


The first time I photographed there, I found it tricky. Getting the doors in a picture with everything correctly aligned was difficult. It was a matter of gently moving the camera around to try and get the sides in the frame correct.  Then I took a photo and checked it in the camera’s viewfinder. I had to repeat the process many times until I got the shot I wanted.  It was hard to get something that looked right.

Yushima Seido door panels

And it was very frustrating, as I could only get things close, not perfect. Even using the Transform window in Adobe Lightroom, it was impossible. But, at least I was able to get something good enough.

Japanese round window

Where is Yushima Seido?

The temple is a few minutes’ walk from Ochanomizu Station (JR Sobu line).  Here is a Google map:

Who was Confucius? 

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher and politician born in 551 BC.  According to literature, he is the oldest of four great sages – Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus Christ. He spent his 74 years preaching about how good moral character can lead to cosmic harmony.  Some people say he was responsible for creating the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”   

After he died in 479 BC, his disciples put his teachings into a book, “The Analects.”  This collection of writings became the foundation of Confucianism. Eventually, it made its way to Japan, which had a massive influence on the Tokugawa government.

Yushima Seido black doors

For more articles about Yushima Seido, look at:

Other great temples in Tokyo:

2 Bonus Tips

  1. Next to the temple is one of the world’s largest statues of Confucius. It’s an interesting place but doesn’t attract many visitors during the week. 
  2. On Saturdays and Sundays, the doors to the temple are open to the public and can be entered for a small fee.
gate to Yushima Seido

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