Tenryuji-bune refers to official trading vessels of Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), dispatched to Yuan Dynasty in order to raise funds to build Tenryu-ji Temple during the period of the Northern and Southern Courts. They were called 'Zo Tenryu-ji sosen' in those days.
The Emperor Godaigo of the Southern Court (Japan) passed away in 1339. Regardless of the side, Takauji ASHIKAGA, the seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") of the Northern Court decided to erect Tenryu-ji Temple in order to pray to Buddha for the happiness of the deceased emperor at Muso Soseki's suggestion (it is said that Takauji might be afflicted by the Emperor Godaigo's vindictive spirit). Then, he decided to change Kameyama-dono Palace, Sagano, which was originally a detached palace of Daikakuji-to (imperial lineage starting with Emperor Kameyama), into a Zen temple and found as Tenryu-ji Temple placing Muso as kaisan (a founder of temple as the first chief priest). He also decided to contribute Kudomi no sho manor in Hyuga Province, and so on as jiryo (estate of temple). Moreover, Emperor Kogon also donated Yuge no sho manor, Tanba Province. In the beginning, the revenue from the Imperial estate of Aki and Suo Provinces was planned to cover the construction expenses. However, the newly founded Muromachi bakufu was financially pressed from conducting the battle with the Southern Court, and the land tax from manor and Imperial estate was delayed. Therefore, squeezing out a large amount of building expenses was difficult.
Vice-Shogun Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA agreed to Tenryu-ji Temple construction as a reconciliation policy of the profit conflict concerning the territory of the samurai class, the court nobles, and temples and shrines due to the disturbance of the Northern and Southern Dynasties. He consulted with Muso and considered sending trading vessels to Yuan in order to raise funds to build the temple, following an example of the Kamakura bakufu. He invited comments from hakase (teachers) of Myogyodo (the study of Confucian classics) and Myobodo (the study of Codes) of Imperial Court, and so on; there were various dissenting opinions from the bakufu and Imperial Court. Moreover, in those days, Yuan officials rigorously restricted entry or departure of the port, regarding any Japanese ship, which entered Neiha city (Mingzhou, later Ningbo), as a pirate ship after the Wako Incident from 1335 to 1336. Sailing between Japan and Yuan had been suspended. On February 7, 1342, Tadayoshi complied with Muso's repeated earnest request and proposed that two vessels would make a voyage in fall in the following year, and that the profit gained from the trade would cover the expense for constructing Tenryu-ji Temple. Then, Muso decided to dispatch one vessel first. He recommended Hakata merchant Shihon (his citizenship is unknown) as captain. Shihon was promised 5000 kanmon (approximately 50,000 yen) on his return regardless of the outcome of trade; he sailed to Yuan in September 1342, the following year, as scheduled.
The vessel arrived in the Mingzhou in November and was regarded as a pirate ship sure enough. Although the vessel was alerted, they were eventually allowed to land and succeeded in trade. It was for the first time in a decade as a trading vessels dispatched to Yuan from Japan in order to raise funds to build a temple or a shrine since Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine zoeiryo tosen (trading vessels dispatched to Tang-Dynasty in order to raise funds to construct Sumiyoshi-taisha shrine), which was dispatched in 1332. Moreover, interaction between Japanese and Yuan Zen monks flourished in those days. Minki Soshuns, Jikusen Bonsens, and so on had visited Japan previously. The Zen monks who were disciplined by them aspired to study in Yuan. Approximately 60 Zen monks, including Shokai Reiken, Unbo Eitaku (雲夢裔沢), Nankai Hoshu (南海宝洲), Tennen Koun (天然興雲), and Guchu Shukyu, boarded the Tenryuji-bune. However, many were hindered by the constituted authorities of Yuan, and it is said that only 11 of them, including Guchu, could enter Mingzhou.
Tenryuji-bune returned to Japan having made an immense profit. Construction of Tenryu-ji Temple was started with the profits of the trade, and it was completed in November, 1343. The dedication ceremony was held on October 3, 1345 in accordance with the Emperor Godaigo's sixth anniversary of his death.