Sanjusangendo temple / Why so many Kannon statues?


"Kannon Statue Forest" would spice up your Kyoto trip!

Aren't you getting bored just visiting same kind of temples or shrines in Kyoto?

This temple is a very unique one which will provide you a "surprising" experience.
But why was this eccentric place made?

Just knowing a few stories (history, culture, food, souvenirs, etc...) will make your visit completely different! Please check the articles!

Read in Japanese (はじめに)





Exterior of the hall Sanjusangendo temple Kyoto

Exterior of the hall(本堂の外観)

Historical stories to enjoy the visit

1.Main hall / 400 feet wooden building and the Kannon statue forest to show off the authority!!

When and why was Sanjusangendo temple built?

Sanjusangendo temple was built is 1165 as a part of the huge imperial villa site of Ex-Emperor “Goshirakawa-in(1127-1192)” .

The original temple included some other buildings and even a five-story pagoda. But the whole of it was burned down in 1249. In 1266 only the main hall was rebuilt.

It is said that the ex-emperor “Goshirakawa-in” was always troubled with headache.
However after the temple foundation, he got rid of this trouble.

Since then Sanjusangendo temple has been known as the temple of headache blocker.

It just looks like an old temple. But, at the time of foundation, the surface of the exterior was painted in vermilion. Inside of the hall was decorated with richly colored flowers and cloud patterns. Today just a part of it remains on the ceiling. Don’t miss checking it out!

By the way, what's the meaning of Sanjusangendou?

Sanjusangendo means the Hall of thirty-three bays!

  • 三十三 sanju san = 33
  • 間 gen = bay (the space between pillars)
  • 堂 do(u) = hall

Sanjusan(33) is derived from the story that Kannon Buddha transforms to 33 figures when it appears to help the people. When you walk in the hall, try to count it !

Then why was such a super looong temple built?

The ex-emperor wanted to show off his authority by the number of statues!

Actually, there are many opinions about the reason, and this is what we like the most.
“Goshirakawa-in” wanted to show off his authority by building an extraordinary temple.

But in the 8th century, a really huge Buddha had already existed in Nara, ex-capital (710-784). So in Kyoto he thought of an idea to build a temple which is unique in number of statues, not in size.

Eventually to put the statues, the hall got soooo long.

Like the pyramid in Egypt or the Trump tower in US, human being builds an enormous building to show off their power forever and ever...

Kannon statues forest at Sanjusangendo temple Kyoto

Kannon Statues(千手観音立像)Kusakabe Kimbei 1364 Sanjiu" by Kusakabe Kimbei - bingabangaboom. Licensed under パブリック・ドメイン via ウィキメディア・コモンズ

big buddha at Todaiji temple Nara

Big buddha at Todaiji temple, Nara prefecture

How many statues are enshrined in the Sanjusangendo temple.

1,001 statues are steadily enshrined in Sanjusangendo temple.

As soon as you enter the hall…. Wow…you will see a breathtaking view!!

Overwhelming numbers of life size Kannon (Buddhist Saints, or Goddess of Mercy) statues will make you feel astonished. It is just like a forest !

Keep going along the forest, a BIG BOSS statue, a seated figure of Kannon Buddha that is the principal image of this temple, suddenly appears on your right in the middle of the hall.

This Boss is flanked by 500 Kannon statues on each side and 1 in back adding up to 1001 in total. Each statue has an individual face. It is said that there is a statue which is similar to each of you all. Why don’t you try to find it, or try to find your favorite one ?!

Read in Japanse (権力を誇示するための300フィートのお堂!)

質問: 三十三間堂はいつ、何のために建てられたのですか?





質問: 三十三間堂とはどういう意味ですか?

三十三 sanju san = 33
間   gen = bay (the space between pillars)
堂   dou = hall
つまり「柱と柱の間が33あるお堂」という意味なのです。(”Hall of thirty-three bays”)。なぜ33かと言うと、観音様は、人々を救うために33種類の姿に変身して現れると言われており、その数字にあやかっているとのことです。お堂の中を歩く時、数えてみてくださいね。

質問: なぜこんなにも超長い建物を建てたのですか?



それでは数で勝負! というわけで、こんなにたくさんの観音像を置くことになり、建物がこんなにも長くなってしまった・・・と言われています。


質問: 三十三間堂には、何体の仏像が祀られているんですか?


お堂に入ったとたん・・・すごい・・・息を飲むような光景が広がります。ウソのような数の観音像にビックリ仰天です。 まるで森のよう!


これらの観音像はひとりひとり違う顔をしていて、必ずアナタに似た観音さまがいるはず、と言われています。 アナタに似ている観音さま、あるいはお気に入りのお顔をした観音さまを探してみるのも楽しいですよ。

2. Long veranda / 24hours endurance race!!

I heard that some kind of competition was held at Sanjusangendo temple. What is it?

A archery competition was held at Sanjusangendo temple.

Many people in the Edo era (1603-1867) enjoyed archery, and many competitions were held, with the most famous one at Sanjusangendou-temple.

Please have a look where the Tohshiya competition was held during the Edo era. It was on the long veranda of the western side of the main hall of Sanjusangendou.

It was called "Tohshiya".

'Tohshi' (通し) means 'through', 'Ya ' (矢) is 'arrow'.

So ‘Tohshiya’(通し矢) is a kind of archery in which an archer shoots an arrow at a target through nokishita(between the roof and the floor of a veranda). They competed for the number of arrows they could shoot through the target.

Toshi-ya Archery at Sanjusangendo temple Kyoto

Tohshiya painted 1772–1781. Edo era(通し矢)By 哥川豊春 Toyoharu Utagawa (From here) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What's the difference with the archery as of now.

The distance and the competition time were incredible!

One of surprising things about Tohshiya is that players shot arrows from end to end of the long veranda which is 121.5m. (400feet) This length is very long compared to today's archery contest which is 60m.(200feet)

To further surprise, the competition lasted 24 hours, beginning at 6pm.
Can you believe it?
Archers kept shooting such a looong distance for 24 hours! Wow! Incredible!!

It is said that the ultimate champion named Daihachiro Wasa shot 13,053 arrows (9 arrows every minute!?) and hit 8,133 targets in 1686. What an amazing number!! Also it is said that some of the archers, who didn’t succeed have died because of the fierce battle. It was a bit overdo competition…

It could be like Le Mand 24hours(automobile competition) today! haha

Is the competition in Sanjusangendo temple held even now?

NO. This kind of fierce competition is no longer held now.

Instead it changed its style and takes place on the coming of age day as the Big target festival.

20-year-old beautiful girls who are 1st dan level or higher in Kyudo(Japanese archery) wearing beautiful furisode (a type of long-sleeve kimono) gather at the temple. They shoot the arrows one after another making wish to their future.

Big target festival at Sanjusangendo temple Kyoto

Big target festival(大的大会)

Read in Japanese (長いベランダ/24時間耐久レース!!)

質問: 三十三間堂で何からしか競技が行われていたと聞きましたが、どんなものですか?














3. Battle of Miyamoto Musashi / The strongest Samurai!!

Please tell me about the famous samurai battle held at Sanjusangendo temple?

There was a battle between 2 samurai both known as the ultimate experts of Japanese sword.

It is said that the battle took place at the long veranda of Sanjusangendo temple.

Their names are “Musashi Miyamoto(1584-1645)” and “Denshichiro Yoshioka(Date of birth and death unknown)”

Who is Musashi Miyamoto and what was so special about him?

He is very popular as the Strongest Samurai and Two swords master.

He often appears in novels, TV programs, etc…and the most popular one in these days is the Manga ”Vagabond” which is a one featuring this samurai’s tumultuous life.

Manga Vagabond MIyamoto Musashi Sanjusangendo temple Kyoto

Manga "Vagabond"(漫画「バカボンド」)
"Vagabond21" by Manga cover scan. Via Wikipedia

There are many anecdotes about him. One unique one is that he was able to catch a flying fly with his chopsticks. Wow!!

What about the other one Denshichiro Yoshioka?

He was the Boss of the strongest sword play group.

“Denshichiro Yoshioka” belonged to “The Yoshioka clan” which was a famous clan teaching swordplay to the Shogun and the feudal government members. The Yoshiokas had pride and identified themselves as the strongest group for it.

How was the battle at Sanjusangendo temple?

Miyamoto Musashi won an overwhelming victory and Denshichiro Yoshioka was killed.

When there are two champions at the same time, people get eager to know which is the strongest.

The story was like this…
Before the fight at Sanjusangendo temple, ”Denshichiro Yoshioka” ‘s elder brother ”Seijuro” who was the head of the Yoshioka clan, fought with “Musashi”  and got killed by him.

Because of this defeat, the authority of “Yoshiokas” was fading away. The young brother had to revenge his brother for the authority and pride of “Yoshioka family”. It was a fight he can't lose….

This is the battle which occurred in this temple.

But...the result was not a happy end for "Denshichiro". He was killed too by “Musashi” and his desire to defeat him didn’t come true.

This battle at Sanjusangendou is written in the popular novel and the movie “Musashi Miyamoto”. Though, to tell you the truth there is no proof that this battle was held here... It could be a fiction.

But no problem !!
The solemn mood will make you consider that it is a real story.
Let’s imagine “Musashi” scampering on the veranda and “Denshichiro” chasing him around. You might be able to hear their footsteps !!

The veranda of Sanjusangendo temple Kyoto

The veranda of Sanjusangendo temple(三十三間堂の廊下)

Read in Japanese (宮本武蔵の決闘/最強の侍!)
三十三間堂へ来たら、その長い長い縁側(約120m 約2400フィート)を見て行ってください。
質問: 三十三間堂で行われた決闘について教えてほしいです。



質問: 宮本武蔵って?



彼にはその有名さもあって、様々な逸話が残されていますが、最もユニークなのが・・・動くハエを箸でつかむことができた!! なんて逸話です。凄い!

質問: もう一方の吉岡伝七郎は?



質問: 決闘の結果はどうなったんですか?











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