Seyaku-in (施薬院)

Seyaku-in (the pharmacy institution), which was established in the Nara period as a ryogenokan (extra statutory office), was a rescue facility for common people as well as a garden of medicinal plants. The description is made in this section.

Seyaku-in was a facility that Prince Shotoku, based on the Buddhist philosophy of mercy, had allegedly erected within the premises of Shitenno-ji Temple, where medical herbs were cultivated to relieve people who suffered from injuries or diseases. Tradition has it that in 593, when the Prince Shotoku erected Shitenno-ji Temple in Osaka, which was the original kanji (state-sponsored temple) in Japan, he erected the Seyaku-in as one of the Shikain (four institutions) which included Hiden-in, Keiden-in, Ryobyo-in and Seyaku-in. The Seyaku-in has occasionally been described as the beginning of social welfare and actually marked the establishment of housing facilities. Today there exists the Aizen-do Hall of Shoman-in Temple in Tennoji Ward, Osaka City, at the site where Seyaku-in used to be, and Shitennoji Hospital stands where Seyakuryobyoin once was.

Seyaku-in, which was established in the Nara period as a ryogenokan, was a rescue facility for common people as well as a garden of medicinal plants. Apparently for no reason, the first character of 'se (施)' is often silent, and Seyaku-in has been generally referred to as 'Yakuin' since the medieval period.

In 730 Seyaku-in and Hiden-in were established together based on the wish of Empress Komyo to accommodate, provide relief and dispense medicine for sick people and orphans. Seyaku-in provided to the poor, without a fee, medicinal plants that had been presented from all over Japan. Seyaku-in offered medical plants including ginseng and cinnamon cortices, which had been stored in the Todaiji Shosoin. According to a legend, Empress Komyo nursed sick people by herself.

On the other hand, it is said that beggars crowded asking for help, and sometimes people who really needed assistance were considered to be beggars and were treated bluntly.

Following the death of Empress Komyo, two directors were installed; after the transfer of the national capital to the city of Heian-kyo, the Seyaku-in was also moved to the neighborhood of Gojo-Muromachi in order to continue the work; consequently, a private medicinal plant garden was established in Otokuni-gun, Yamashiro Province. In 825, an office-rank system was instituted, consisting of a groom, an administrator, a secretary, a clerk and a doctor, and this system was described in the Engishiki (an ancient book for codes and procedures on national rites and prayers).

During the middle ages, the Seyaku-in declined and gradually lost its substances. After the eleventh century, the administrator was hereditarily succeeded by the Tanba clan. Subsequent to the Kamakura period, the Wake clan also became to succeed it, causing conflicts between the two families. But the administrator lost all content and became merely a pro-forma rank. During the Warring States period, Zenso YAKUIN, a descendant of the Tanba clan, served Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI as a close adviser and was appointed as the Yakuinshi by Emperor Ogimachi as an imperial order so as to reconstruct the Seyakuin that had lost its substances. At this time, he took 'Seyakuin' as his family name. After the Edo period, the Seyakuin clan succeeded to the administrator for generations.

[Original Japanese]