One of the best attractions in Sendai that is scenic all year round is Zuihōden (瑞鳳殿), the mausoleum complex of Sendai Domain’s first lord, Date Masamune and his heirs. Not only is the temple’s precinct filled with stunning nature, but the buildings are also intricately decorated with vivid colors and various auspicious images. In fact, when Hanyu Yuzuru was asked for recommended places to visit in Sendai in an interview, the famous figure skater immediately thought of that spot!
Date Masamune, the 17th head of the Date clan, was one of the most famous feudal lords in the Sengoku period (1467 – 1615). He is commonly known as the One-Eyed Dragon Masamune (Dokuganryū Masamune, 独眼竜政宗) due to losing his right vision as a result of smallpox at a young age.
After the Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い), Masamune was awarded massive lands that covered the entire Miyagi Prefecture, south of the Iwate Prefecture, and a part of the Fukushima Prefecture. This was the origin of the Sendai Domain.
According to Masamune’s will, Date Tadamune (伊達忠宗), the second lord of the Sendai Domain, constructed Masamune’s mausoleum in Keigamine (経ケ峯) in 1637, a year after Masamune left the world. Tadamune and Tsunamune (綱宗), the third lord of the Sendai Domain, were both buried in the Zuihōden complex.
Zuihōden was designated a national treasure in 1931. Unfortunately, all buildings in the precincts were desecrated in the Second World War. The current Zuihōden we have today was rebuilt in 1979.
In 2001, renovation work was completed to restore the mausoleums to their past glory.
Zuihōden’s Luxurious Decorations
As soon as one of the three mausoleums appears in front of you, we are sure you will be stunned by its magnificence. The splendidly built halls were one of the charms of Zuihōden, befitting the powerful feudal lords of the Date clan, who was one of the most powerful leaders in the Edo period (1603 – 1867).
The mausoleums were constructed in the typical Azuchi-Momoyama style, reflecting the history at the time. As many of the castles and mansions were constructed by emerging feudal lords and wealthy merchants, the style became extremely luxurious looking as a way to show off their power and wealth.
It is said that the European culture brought into Japan by international trades and missionaries also influenced the Azuchi-Momoyama style.
From the Bus Stop to Zuihōden
Getting to Zuihōden is easy. Sendai Sightseeing City Loop Bus, Loople Sendai (るーぷる仙台), has a bus stop just next to the temple’s approach. You will hike up a hill covered by a quiet forest from the bus stop.
It is said that when Date Masamune visited the forest named Keigamine, he was seeking the nightingale’s songs. Impressed by the scenery in the forest, he ordered his grave to be constructed there.
Shortly after passing Zuihōji Temple (瑞鳳寺), the approach formed by a stone pavement will split into two. Please head to the left pavement. The staircase on the right is for those returning from the trip.
While some may find hiking up the slope and climbing the 100 or so staircases tiring, it really isn’t all that bad! You can always take a brief break when needed, so reaching Zuihōden shouldn’t be a hard task.
The Nehanmon Gate (涅槃門) and Zuihōden
Zuihōden is located close to the temple’s reception atop the staircases. Before heading to the mausoleum, remember to purify yourself at the water fountain. You will also find the Date clan’s family crest engraved on it.
Nehanmon is the main gate of Zuihōden. Nehan is the Japanese for the state of Nirvana. The gate is also gorgeously decorated.
Although Hehanmon remains closed at all times, visitors can still go beyond the gate by following the small passageway to adore Zuihōden at the top of another set of stairs.
Along the way, there is a museum that you can stop by for the weapons and cultural properties found in Zennōden after it was burnt down in 1945.
Beyond the staircases, you will first encounter Zuihōden’s Haiden Hall (拝殿).
People in the past worshipped Masamune from the Haiden Hall to show their respect. While you can see Zuihōden clearly from Haiden, this was not the case in the past. During the reconstruction, the Haiden was simplified to provide visibility of Zuihōden from the worship hall.
Another architecture that differs from its original look is the Karamon Gate (唐門), standing just in front of Zuihōden. The original Karamon was of the same lavish Momoyama-Azuchi style as Zuihōden.
Once you reach the front of Zuihōden, the Date clan’s golden family crest on Zuihōden’s doors will surely catch your attention. You will also find eight dragon statues guarding the mausoleum at the side of the roof.
The Junshi-sha Kuyō-tō (殉死者供養塔)
On both sides of Zuihōden, you will notice 20 small stone pagodas. They are known as the Junshi-sha Kuyō-tō, the memorial tower for the martyrs.
Who are those martyrs? They were Masamune’s vassals, who committed Seppuku upon his death. It was a custom in the early Edo period to demonstrate one’s loyalty that one would not serve another lord.
Apparently, approval from the lord is required to be a martyr at the time. One would not receive respect if they simply ended his life without the lord’s consent.
Kansenden (感仙殿) and Zennōden (善応殿)
Close to Nehanmon, there is a Condolence Monument (弔魂碑) for those who lost their lives in the Boshin War (戊辰戦争).
Boshin War was the civil war that ended the Tokugawa shogunate and, thus the Edo period.
Following the approach, you will soon arrive at Kansenden, Tadamune’s mausoleum. His mausoleum is also of the same style as Zuihōden. There were 16 martyrs when Tadamune passed away, just slightly lesser than his father’s!
Like his father, Tadamune was also a great leader and loved by his people. From building a legal system, cultivating new paddy fields, and developing flooding controls to building ports, an enormous amount of effort was put in to ensure the Sendai Domain had a solid foundation to prosper.
At the left of Kansenden, Tsunamune’s mausoleum, Zennōden, is also of the same splendid style. It is said that Tsunamune was artistically talented from a young age.
The Myōunkaibyō Temple (妙雲界廟) on Zennōden’s right is the mound of Sendai Domain’s 9th and 11th lords. Atsuhime (芝姫), the domain’s 11th lord’s wife, was also buried here.
Why did the scale drop from the spectacular mausoleums to gravestones? Because of the Domain’s fourth lord, Tsunamura’s (綱村) will, he only wanted a tombstone covered by a roof.
Zuihōji Temple (瑞鳳寺)
On the way back to the bus stop, let’s visit Zuihōji Temple if you have some spare time! It is the memorial temple dedicated to the first three lords of the Sendai Domain, erected by Tadamune. The main image, Gautama Triad (釈迦三尊), was relocated from the Motsuji Temple (毛越寺), Hiraizumi Town in Iwate Prefecture.
The temple’s Sanmon Gate is said to imitate the gate of the Date Residence in Tokyo’s Shinagawa. Following the approach, you will soon reach the main worship hall, Hondō.
At the side of the donation box, there is a temple bell (梵鐘). The bell was made under the order of Tadamune for Masamune’s memorial service. It is currently an important prefectural cultural property.
The small path on Hondō’s left leads to a teahouse. It was gifted by the Urasenke tea school in honor of Masamune’s 300th-anniversary service.
The Required Time to Explore Zuihōden and the Best Time to Visit
- It will take around 40 to 60 minutes to explore Zuihōden.
- Spring is a good time to visit Zuihōden for the fresh green color and bird songs.
- Zuihōden’s cherry blossom season usually starts around early April.
- Nightingales usually sing around a week before the cherry trees start blooming.
- Zuihōden’s fall foliage season peaks in late November.
- The light-up event takes place from 3:30 pm to 4:50 pm.
Zuihōden’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information
- Zuihōden is open from
- 9 am to 4:50 pm from February to November
- 9 am to 4:20 pm in December and January
- The last admission is 20 minutes before the closing time.
- On the 31st of December, the entire complex is closed, and on the 1st of January, only Zuihōden is open.
- The admission fee is
- 570 yen for adults
- 410 yen for senior high school students
- 210 yen for elementary and junior high school students
Tip: Show your One-Day Transportation Pass that covers Zuihōden for a discount on the admission fee!
- From Sendai Station, catch either Sendai Sightseeing City Loop Bus, Loople Sendai (るーぷる仙台), and get off at Zuihōden-mae (瑞鳳殿前).
- You can also catch either Sendai Bus’s Route 11 or Miyagi Kōtsū’s Route 12 and get off at Tamaya-bashi Zuihōden-iriguchi (霊屋橋・瑞鳳殿入口). Zuihōden is then a 10-minute walk away.
- If you plan to catch the subway, get off at Tōzai Line’s (東西線) Ōmachi Nishikōen Station (大町西公園駅). It is then around a 15 to 20-minute walk.
Discover Other Fantastic Attractions in Sendai
You might not be aware of it, but Sendai, the Tōhoku region‘s biggest city, receives more than 20 million tourists each year!
So if you want to find out how Sendai managed to attract so many people to visit it, refer to our article on Sendai, which is filled with historical, cultural, and natural attractions (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.