Tokyo Series Day 8: Sanjusangendo

Editor’s note: I’ve had the great opportunity to visit Japan twice in the last five years, first in 2016 and again in 2018 and with the start of the Olympic Games in Tokyo I wanted to revisit those trips and share some of the pictures that I may or may not have already.

Sanjusangendo was founded in 1164 and is known as the “Temple of 1,000 Buddhas” because of its large main hall featuring chiliad statues.

The Buddhist temple is more than 390 feet long and features more than 158 large wooden pillars. It and other structures on the grounds burned down in 1249. Of the 1,001 gilded statues, 124 were saved. In 1266 the main hall was rebuilt, the only structure to be. At this time 876 statues were also commissioned. Father and son sculptors Unkei and Tankei created the originals. A group of three sculptors made the replacements over 16 years. They are made from Japanese cypress and covered in gold leaf. No two are alike.

The 1,001 statues stand guard in front of an 11-foot tall, seated Senju Kannon. In addition to the Kannon sculptures, which are rooted in Buddhism. There are also 28 statues of Hindu gods guarding the main Kannon.

It is one of a few places where shoes and photos inside were prohibited. The statue image and main hall exterior photos (first and third images in the gallery above) here are from a pack of photos available at the gift shop.

Gardens on the temple grounds feature willow trees. Branches from the trees are used during the annual Rite of the Willow festival held in January. Believers receive a blessing when they are brushed with a branch.

For more than 250 years the temple was also the site of a popular archery contest, Toshiya. Participants would fire arrows the length of the 390-foot hall over a period of 12 or 24 hours. Meticulous contest records were kept and wooden certificates adorn the walls of the hall listing winners by name, age and amount of arrows they drew. The competition was ended in 1861.

The history, sheer size of the building and awe-inspiring statues are more than enough reason to visit, just make sure to remove your shoes before going in.

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