The Thousand Armed Kannon, Sanjusangendo

Sanjūsangen-dō (三十三間堂, lit. thirty-three ken (length) hall) is our main local Buddhist temple, a mere three minutes away from the house.  And yes, we named our home from this temple, Sanjusan Machiya.


The temple name literally means “Hall with thirty three spaces between columns”, describing the architecture of the long main hall of the temple.

The main hall of Sanjusangendo





Sanjūsangen-dō is for me one of the most awesome of all the temples in Kyoto, with its one thousand life-size statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy (actually a bodhisattva — a being who puts off entry into nirvana in order to save all souls still suffering in the world.)  These stand on both sides of the main statue in 10 rows and 50 columns. They are definitely as amazing to watch as the Chinese Terracotta army in Xian.

The 1000 statues of Kannon, Sanjusangendo


The main deity of the temple is the Thousand Armed Kannon (Sahasrabhuja-arya-avalokiteśvara). The statue of the main deity was created by the Kamakura sculptor Tankei and is a National Treasure of Japan.

Of the 1,000 Kannon statues, 124 statues are from the original temple, rescued from the fire of 1249, while the remaining 876 statues were constructed in the 13th century. The statues are made of Japanese cypress clad in gold leaf.

Around the 1,000 Kannon statues (Heian – Kamakura period) stand 28 superb statues of guardian deities as well as statues of the Thunder god and the Wind god  (Kamakura period).

The beauty and the life realism of these statues are truly amazing.  A lot of National Treasures and Cultural Properties in this temple.

If you’re in Kyoto around mid-January, don’t miss the archery competition taking place at Sanjūsangen-dō.


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