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The View from Above

Known as Rengeō-in (蓮華王院), or the Hall of the Lotus King, Sanjūsangen-dō is a temple built in 1164, which is currently one of the most picturesque sights in Japan. It is situated in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto, right opposite the Kyoto National Museum. Entrance per person costs¥600 per person ($5.5) while the impression is priceless.

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Sanjusangendo – ‘A pavilion with 33 spaces between columns,’ 16 x 12 x 120

The view from outside is not very promising. A typical Japanese architecture – 35×5, single-storied, kirizuma style, with a 7 ken step canopy, non-painted wood material, curved up hongawarabuki roof, rather long than deep body as a temple complex.

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The Main Hall of the Temple

The entire length of the long wooden (wood is the main building material in Japan) structure is 33 ken (120 meters). The building was larger before a fire incident, after which only the main hall was reconstructed. What makes this temple rather an astonishing sight is what’s inside.

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10 Rows & 50 Columns of Senju Kannon

Sanjusangendo houses a statuary with precisely 1000 gold-leafed, in-the-round, life-size statues of bodhisattvas of mercy and compassion. 124 statues among these are originals which survived the fire in 1249, the rest were commissioned in 1266.

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Right Side View
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Left Side View

While these deities are arranged in 10 rows and 50 columns, 28 statues of guardian deities line up the front row.

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The Japanese God of Lightning and Thunder, Raijin
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A Guardian
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Ashura
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The Japanese God of Wind, Fujin

All of them flank and protect the principle deity, the 11-headed and 1000-armed and 1000-eyed Buddhist bodhisattva Sahasrabhuja Arya Avalokiteśvara – Juichimen Senju Sengen Kanzeon. Let’s simply call her Kannon.

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11 feet (3.5 meter) tall seated Kannon, made by Kamakura sculptor Tankei. Designated as a Japanese National Treasure

The statue of the Goddess of Compassion, Kannon in her 1000-armed (the statues in the pavilion have only 42 hands, each holding a Buddhist symbol, an item of help) incarnation is the major object of worship. She is thought to incessantly watch over humankind and save people’s lives whenever needed.

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The Serene Courtyard Pond Outside the Hall

The temple is surrounded with lush vegetation and holy shrines.

Sources & Further Reading:

1. More about Sanjūsangen-dō: https://www.discoverkyoto.com/places-go/southern-higashiyama/sanjusangen-do/

2. The Worship of Kannon Across India, China, Japan: http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/kannon.shtml#senju

3. The Myth of Attaining a New Body Form – 11 Heads, 1000 Arms & Eyes: http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/guanyin.htm

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