April 12, 2004

by By Naomi Ueda , Atsue Onishi & Madoka Shimizu

Main Building

It has a strong power

It takes about ten minutes from Kyoto Station to Sanjusangen-do by taxi. The official name of Sanjusangen-do is “Renge-ouin.” The reason why it is called Sanjusangen-do is because of the number of intervals made by the facing pillars. “Sanjusan” means thirty-three in Japanese, and “gen” means intervals. That is why we call it Sanjusangen-do

The original structure was destroyed by fire. The building we can visit now was built in 1266, and it has stood for over 730 years. How long a time that is! It always shows us a magnificence though it has experienced many catastrophes like earthquakes.

In 1995 when the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck many buildings were damaged even in Kyoto. But Sanjusangen-do stood strong. That is because it has special earthquake-proof construction. For example, under the building, there are many layers of clay and sand that absorb shocks. People who lived a very long time ago made it!

What impressed me after visiting there is how long the building is. When I saw Senju-kannon, I did not notice the building’s length because the statues caught my eyes, but when I looked back at the room and when I saw the building from the outside, I was amazed. Although we can read information about the length or the number of Senju-kannnn, you will be surprised at their power to move visitors when you see them for yourself. Seeing is truly believing.

The 1,001 Statues of the Buddhist Deities, Juichimen-senju-sengen Kanzeon (Kannon)

No Words to Express this Amazing World of Buddha

How many Buddhist images have you ever seen before? 10? 20? You will see 1,001 kannon images -three-meter seated figure and 1,000 life-sized statues- in this hall. 1,001! Why are there so many kannon images?

The 77th Emperor, Goshirakawa, succeeded to the throne in 1155, but the revolt of Hogen broke out in 1156. In 1159, the revolt of Heiji broke out. It was a time of war. Then the powerful warrior-politician Taira-no-Kiyomori helped him. He gained the confidence of the retired emperor. One day, Goshirakawa asked Taira-no-Kiyomori to erect a temple which was to be dedicated to the thousand-armed kannon. He was a religious emperor and often visited Kumano where it was said the deities live. When he visited there, he dreamed that the thousand-armed kannon would protect him. He also believed that 1,001 kannon would give us infinite mercy. Kiyomori succeeded in building the temple in only four years as a result of his power.

The 1,001 eleven-faced and thousand-armed kannon actually represent 33,033 kannon. The reason why is that it is said a kannon appears in this human world to help us in 33 ways (1011 × 33 = 33,033). A thousand-armed kannon has 40 arms actually, but they help 25 kinds of worlds in the wheel of life (40 × 25 = 1,000). Later on, it was found out that each of the kannon had dozens of wood block prints of the Buddhist image. Goshirakawa was really particular about numbers.

In 1249 AD, because of a big fire in Kyoto, Sanjusangen-do was burned down. Then about 800 kannon were also burned. Two years later in 1251, hundreds of sculptors gathered to recarve the kannon. It took them about 16 years to finish the task. It is amazing that they carved about 800 kannons again.

When you walk in this hall, you will be impressed by 1,001 kannon. Each of them has a different face. It is said that you may find a face that looks like someone whom you know. Please take your time exploring this amazing panoramic world.

The Twenty-eight Guardian Deities of Kannon and the Statues of the Thunder God and Wind God

The interesting points are not only the thousand-armed kannon

In front of the thousand-armed kannon are twenty-eight guardian deities and the statues of the thunder god and wind god. The twenty-eight guardian deities guard especially the thousand-armed kannon and the believers of them. The statues of the thunder god and wind god were originally considered bad by people because they made inclement weather, but the twenty-eight guardian deities defeated them, and then they became followers of the twenty-eight guardian deities.

The twenty-eight guardian deities are unique. While some of the guardian deities are strong and muscular, others are very thin, but their eyes and their moods are very strong. One of them has a beak and plays the flute!

The statues of the thunder god and wind god are very powerful. They stare down and bare their teeth. Some pictures representing the statues of the thunder god and wind god exist, but regarding old sculptures, only these statues exist, so they are very rare and are national treasures.

Please spend time looking at the twenty-eight guardian deities of kannon and the statues of the thunder god and wind god as well as the thousand-armed kannon.

The South Gate and the Roofed Earthen Fence

A bit difficult to find…

There other important cultural assets on the grounds of Sanjusangen-do, such as the south gate built by Hideyori Toyotomi (the son of Hideyoshi Toyotomi) and the roofed earthen fence built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. It is a bit difficult to find them because they blend with the surroundings easily.

An Archery Competition

How about Japanese archery during the New Year?

An archery competition takes place from the morning of January 15th. Many good archers gather here to compete. They shoot an arrow from one end of Sanjusangen-do to the other, a distance of 118 meters. In the old days, people competed to see who could hit the target with the most arrows in 24 hours. The highest number is 8,133 arrows by one person!


Believers will be saved

“Yanagi” means a willow tree, and “okaji” means to pray for divine protection. Yanagi-no-okaji is an event to heal headaches by offering special water to visitors. It is the biggest ceremony of Sanjusangen-do and is held in the middle of January. About 20,000 people come expecting to receive the divine grace.

Stopping crying in the night

A monk found a spring

There is a legend that a monk received a message in a dream and found a spring in 1165 AD. The water from this spring is said to be effective for stopping infants from crying in the night. Praying at Sanjusangen-do, you can receive a special bib.


Via JR, Kintetsu Railway
Take City Bus 206 or 208 from the D2 bus stop to the “Hakubutsukan Sanjusangen-do mae” bus stop
Via Keihan Railway
Get off at Shichijo Station. Walk east along Shichijo Street to Sanjusangen-do (about 7 min.)
Via Hankyu Railway
Get off at Kawaramachi Station. Walk east over the bridge to the Keihan Shijo Station. Take the Osaka-bound Keihan train to Shichijo Station. Walk east along Shichijo Street to Sanjusangen-do (about 7 min.)


Adult: 600 yen
High school/ Junior high school student: 400 yen

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