Kenchū Keimitsu

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Kenchū Keimitsu (堅中圭密?) was a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk and diplomat in the Muromachi period. He was the chief envoy of a mission sent by the Ashikaga shogunate to the court of the Yongle Emperor in Nanjing. He would return to China at the head of four subsequent missions to the Chinese Imperial court in Beijing.

Tenryū-ji abbot[edit]

In 1403, Keimitsu was the chief abbot of Tenryū-ji monastery.[1]

During the 1430s, the temple entered into a tributary relationship with the Imperial Court of Ming Dynasty China. Chinese imperial policy at the time forbade formal trade outside of the Sinocentric world order, and both the Japanese imperial court and Ashikaga shogunate refused to submit to Chinese suzerainty. This arrangement with the Tenryū-ji allowed for formal trade to be undertaken between the two countries, in exchange for China's control over the succession of chief abbot of the temple.[2] This arrangement gave the Zen sect, and Tenryū-ji more specifically, a near monopoly on Japan's legitimate trade with China. In conjunction with the temple of the same name in Okinawa, as well as other Zen temples there, Tenryū-ji priests and monks played major roles in coordinating the China-Okinawa-Japan trade[3] through to the 19th century.

Missions to China[edit]

The economic benefit of the Sinocentric tribute system was profitable trade. The tally trade (kangō bōeki or kanhe maoyi in Chinese) involved exchanges of Japanese products for Chinese goods. The Chinese "tally" was a certificate issued by the Ming. The first 100 such tallies were conveyed to Japan by Kenchū Keimitsu in 1404. Only those with this formal proof of Imperial permission represented by the document were officially allowed to travel and trade within the boundaries of China; and only those diplomatic missions presenting authentic tallies were received as legitimate ambassadors.[4]

Year Sender Envoys Chinese monarch Comments
1403–1404 Yoshimochi Keimitsu Yongle Returned with Ming ambassadors Zhao Juren (趙居任) and Chang Hung (張洪 a/ka/a Zhang Hong);[5] also accompanied by monk Daocheng (道成); conveyed "Yongle tallies"[6]
1406–1407 Yoshimochi Keimitsu Yongle Tribute mission of gratitude to the Ming; returned with Ming ambassador[6]
1407 Yoshimochi Keimitsu Yongle With an embassy of 73, Keimitsu paid tribute and returned captured pirates[6]
1408–1409 Yoshimochi Keimitsu Yongle the large mission party consisted of 300;[7] Keimitsu presented tribute, offered captured pirates, and returned with Ming ambassor Zhou Quanyu (周全渝)[6]
1410–1411 Yoshimochi Keimitsu Yongle Bringing news of installation of Shogun Yoshimochi; returned with Ming ambassador Wang Jin[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Verschuer, Charlotte von. (2006). Across the Perilous Sea : Japanese Trade with China and Korea from the Seventh to the Sixteenth Centuries, p. 113.
  2. ^ Kerr, George H. (2000). Okinawa: The History of an Island People, pp. 137-139.
  3. ^ Kerr, p. 100.
  4. ^ Fogel, Joshua A. (2009). Articulating the Sinosphere: Sino-Japanese Relations in Space and Time, p. 27; publisher's blurb.
  5. ^ Goodrich, L. Carrington et al. (1976). Dictionary of Ming biography, 1368-1644, Vol I, p. 85.
  6. ^ a b c d e Fogel, pp. 110-113.
  7. ^ Verschuer, p. 114.