In 1610, Ryonan-zenji founded it at Akasaka and in 1636 it was relocated to its present location. The temple was located directly on the Tokaido Road to the sea, and for that reason it was named Kaijō Zenrin (literally, "the Zen forest above the sea"). The words were emblazoned prominently on the Sanmon, or main gate, which disappeared long ago. In the Edo period, Tōzen-ji was considered the family temple of various clans, including the Date clan of Sendai, the Ikeda clan of Omi province, the Inaba clan of Usuki Domain in Bungo province, the Suwo of Shinshu, the Tamura of Ichinoseki, and the Mori clan of Saeki in Bungo.
After the bell of the main bell-tower was swept away by the 2011 tsunami, this bell has been recovered and brought back to its original place. A ceremony was held on June 7, 2018.
In 1859, the first British legation in Japan was opened in the precincts of the temple. In 1860, the native interpreter of Rutherford Alcock, Consul-General in Japan, was murdered at the gate of the legation, and in the following year the legation was stormed by a group of rōnin from the fiefdom of Mito Han, whose attack was repulsed by Alcock and his staff. Diplomats George Morrison and Laurence Oliphant were both wounded in the attack and returned to England for recuperation shortly thereafter. Sword cuts and bullet marks in the attack of the samurai of the Mito Han remain in the pillar of the Okushoin (the drawing room in the back) and the genkan. Rutherford Alcock, the first British Minister to Japan, recorded his impressions of Tōzen-ji in his book, The Capital of the Tycoon (1863).
In May 1862, Lieutenant Colonel Edward St. John Neale assumed duties as Chargé d'affaires in Japan during Alcock's period of extended home leave. A further attack on the legation on the morning of 27 June 1862 which resulted in the death of two British Marines from H.M.S. Renard, prompted the temporary relocation of diplomatic personnel and the establishment of an expanded British Military Garrison at Yamate, in the treaty port of Yokohama.
- Touzenji jiken 「東禅寺」
- Cortazzi, Hugh. (2000). Collected Writings of Sir Hugh Cortazzi, Vol. II, pp. 210-211.
- Alcock, Rutherford. (1863). The Capital of Tycoon, pp. 146-158.
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