I read somewhere that you can visit a different temple or shrine in Kyoto every day for a month and still have plenty left over. I’m not particularly religious, but I admire art and beauty–and the amazing thing about these Kyoto temples and shrines is how unique each one is.
From outside, this is an unassuming temple. Long, wooden, painted in simple dark brown and white, it doesn’t inspire wonder.
But like Fushimi Inari with its thousands of torii, Kiyomizu-dera with its viewing platform, and the golden Kinkaku-ji, Sanjusangen-do has its own singular draw. Inside this long Buddhist temple, 1000 life-sized images of Bodhisattva Kannon are neatly arrayed in 10 rows. At the very center is a gigantic figure of Kannon. Also within are 28 guardian deities, based on the original Sanskrit, as well as Fujin and Raijin, gods of wind and lightning.
Photos are not allowed inside the temple, but here is a photo by Wikipedia contributor Jorobeq:
The statues are all fairly similar and share commonalities like the 11 faces, the halo around their heads, and their 42 arms–all characteristic of Kannon. However, each figure is also unique. Even in this photo you can see the differences in their dress, jewelry, and facial details. I can’t imagine how long and painstaking the process was to build 1000 different statues!
The gold leaf is fading and the statues are pretty dusty…it’s likely they’ll require some sort of restoration soon. At least I hope so, because this temple was certainly a unique experience.
The temple grounds
The other nice part about Sanjusangen-do is its grounds. The temple area is expansive, like most. In fact, a big draw of this particular temple is an archery competition that has been going on for over 600 years.
Around the main temple is a nice walking path that meanders through a pond, the now-familiar vermilion of sacred structures, and lots of beautiful flowering plants. We were there on a cool, gloomy day but it was still a pleasure to stroll under the cherry blossoms.
I will admit this temple wasn’t as high on my list as the others I mentioned above, but I was glad we found time in our frenetic exploration to visit here. For those who are Hindu or Buddhist, the temple is very much an active place of worship as well, so feel free to say a prayer or purchase a wooden plaque to be burned at Kannon’s feet. For those not religious, enjoy the serenity of the temple, the amazing statues, and the culture that permeates Kyoto!