The official name of Kyoto temple Sanjusangendo is Rengeoin, and it is registered as a National Treasure by the Japanese government. It was established by the powerful warrior-politician Taira-no-Kiyomori in 1164. The original temple building burned down in a fire, but the building was reconstructed in 1266. That structure has not changed for 700 years since then, with four great renovations during that period. Its claim to fame are the 1001 Kannon statues on its premises.
The long temple hall, which is about 120 meters long, is built with the ‘wayo’ (Japanese) style architecture. As there are thirty-three spaces between the columns, this temple came to be called ‘Sanjusangendo’. This literally means ‘a hall with thirty-three spaces between columns’.
Other noteworthy objects in this temple are the roofed earthen fence and the South Gate, which are registered as Important Cultural Properties. They have a connection with regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi and reflect the aesthetics of the 16th century.
The principal images of the Sanjusangendo temple are the 1001 statues of Buddhist deity, Juichimen-senju-sengen Kanzeon. She is often called by her simplified name, Kannon. One thousand standing statues of Kannon and one gigantic seated statue (all National Treasures) that is placed at the center of the standing statues are housed in the temple hall. The statues are made of Japanese cypress. Among the standing statues, 124 were made in the 12th century when this temple was founded. And the remaining 876 were made in the 13th century when the temple was renovated.
The powerful-looking statues of the Thunder God and the Wind God are placed at either side of the temple hall on cloud-shaped raised pedestals. The images of these gods were derived from people’s fear of and gratitude for nature in the old days. People worshiped them as deities who controlled rain and wind and brought about good harvests. These statues are representative masterpiece sculptures of the Kamakura period (12th-14th centuries).
The twenty-eight images placed in a straight line in front of the 1001 Kannon statues are guardian deities that protect the Buddhist deity as well as pious Buddhists who believe in her. Sanjusangendo is one of the most must-see temples when you visit Kyoto.
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Access: From Hakubutsukan-Sanjusangendo-Mae bus stop
Entrance fee: Adults 600 yen, Junior and Senior high school students 400 yen, elementary students 300 yen
Hours: From April 1 to November 15: from 8.30 am to 5 pm
From November 16 to March 31: from 9 am to 4 pm