Designated as a National Historic Site on September 9, 1951
Gyokusenji Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple of the Soto sect with its history older than 430 years over 27 generations, used to be a thatch hut belonging to the Singon sect, another sub-sect of the Zen Buddhism, which was converted to Soto sect in the 1580s by Priest Ichirei shunei. The present main hall was completed in the days of its 20th Priest Suigan Bimo.
In March 1854, The Japan-U.S Treaty of Peace and Amity was concluded and Shimoda was opend to foreign shipping. When The Shimoda Treaty was appended to it in May 1854, Gyokusenji Temple was officially Designated as a resting place as well as a cemetery for American sailors.
Two years later in 1856, the consul general Townsend Harris, with his secretary-interpreter Henry Heusken, landed in Shimoda on U.S. vessel San Jacinto and opened the first U.S. consulate general in Gyokusenji Temple. For two years and 10 months following the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes in its front garden, it acted as the central stage of Japanese history of opening to the world in the last days of Tokugawa shogunate.
Prior to this,negotiation took place in Gyokusenji Temple when Vice Admiral Putyatin of the Imperial Russian Navy landed in Shimoda for conclusion of Russo-Japan Treaty of Peace and Amity. Putyatin and high officials of Russian frigate Diana stayed at Gyokusenji Temple, so did German merchant Rudolph.
There are graves for five sailors of Commodore Perry's squadron, three sailors of Russian Diana and one belonging to Askold in the precincts of the temple.
On September 3, 1856, Townsend Harris left his vessel San Jacinto and entered Gyokusenji Temple to establish the first U.S. consulate general in Japan. On September 4, when the Stars and Stripes was hoisted in the precincts of the temple, harris wrote down the following in his diary; "At last, get a reinforcement from the ship, flag staff erected. Men from a ring round it, and half past two p.m. of this day I hoist the first Consular flag ever seen in this wmpire. Grave reflections, ominous of change, undoubted beggining of the end. Query-if for real good of Japan." This was only a beginning of all his hard works.
On June 27, 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited Gyokusenji Temple with his wife and a daughter. They visited Townsend Harris Monument and prayed at the graves of U.S. sailors belonging to Commodore Perry's squadron.
Harris Memorial Hall boasts of a number of articles used regulaly by the late consul general, relevant materials and old documents. In particular, the diary of Yoheiji Hamada, then the headman of Kakizaki village, proves to be a good tool to inquire into happenings of those days when Gyokusenji Temple acted as the consulate general. Articles belonging to the late Shoin Yoshida who successflly tried to sail out of Japan on an U.S. black ship, article belonging to Ofuku who served Heusken, Japan's oldest daguerreotype taken by Russian Diana officer Mozhaisky and many other historic materials are also exhibited in this first-class museum.
Address: Postcode 415-0013, 31-6 Kakizaki, Shimoda City, Sizuoka 0558-22-1287