The Hall of the Lotus King

Sanjūsangen-dō (三十三間堂) or Hall of the Lotus King, is a Buddhist temple in Higashiyama District of Kyoto, Japan.

The temple hall is considered to be Japan’s longest wooden structure. The name Sanjūsangen-dō literally means “33 intervals”, derived from the number of intervals between the support columns of the building.

Rengeo-in.| Hideyuki KAMON

It is a traditional Japanese method of measuring the actual size of the building.

The 390-foot long temple was built in 1266 and is officially known as Rengeo-in. The center of the main hall houses the large wooden statue of the Thousand Armed Kannon or Senju Kannon.

The statue of the main deity of Sanjūsangen-dō was created by the well-known Kamakura sculptor Tankei and is one of Japan’s National Treasures. The Senju Kannon is flanked on each side by 500 life-sized statues of Thousand Armed Kannons, 10 rows and 50 columns, totaling a thousand on both sides.

Thousand Armed Kannon.| Chris Ubik

124 statues were rescued from the fire of 1249 from the original temple, while the rest of the statues (876 statues), were made during the 13th century. The statues are made from Japanese cypress and clad in gold leaf.

Tara no Kiyomori was consigned by Emperor Go-Shirakawa to construct the temple, and was finally completed in 1164. After Sanjūsangen-dō suffered a fire, only its great hall was rebuilt. In January of 1250, the temple initiated the event known as the Rite of the Willow (柳枝のお加持), where worshippers are touched on the forehead with a sacred willow branch to prevent and cure headaches. The archery tournament Tōshiya (通し矢), another much anticipated event, is also held at the temple by the West veranda each year since the Edo period. The duel between Yoshioka Denshichirō, leader of the Yoshioka-ryū (a koryū Japanese sword-fighting martial art), and Miyamoto Musashi is also said to have been fought outside Sanjūsangen-dō in 1604.

The Hall of the Lotus King is run by a member of the Tendai school of Buddhismt sect, the Myoho-in. The 1000 life-sized statues that guard the 11 foot tall principal deity have origins that can be traced to Hindu mythology. The Thousand Armed Kannon has 11 heads that are said to better witness the suffering of humans.

1000 Kannon statues.

It also has 1000 arms to help fight suffering. The actual Kannon statues have only 42 arms each. Subtract the two regular arms and multiply the 25 planes of existence to get the full thousand arms.

Each of the Sanjūsangen-dō’s 1001 Kannon statues are said to have their own unique expressions if you look closely.