Having enjoyed a particularly fruitful time of taking in an assortment of both splendid and grandiose sights the previous day (a castle, a temple, a shrine, a pavilion, and a manga museum), we kicked things off on our final day in Kyoto with a long walk to Sanjusangendo, the informal name for Rengeo-in, a Buddhist temple which is famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.
It was a particularly long, long walk to get there, but we took the back roads which meant a lot of narrow streets, some nice surprises in terms of things bumped into, and then eventually the massive reward of reaching our intended destination without having got completely lost! (Google Maps is awesome.)
Belonging to and run by the Myoho-in temple, which part of the Tendai school of Buddhism, the Rengeo-in temple was founded in 1164 and then rebuilt a century later after the original structure had been destroyed in a fire.
Measuring an impressive 120 meters, the temple hall is Japan’s longest wooden structure. The name Sanjusangendo (literally “33 intervals”) derives from the number of intervals between the building’s support columns, a traditional method of measuring the size of a building.
In the center of the main hall sits a large, wooden statue of a 1000-armed Kannon (Senju Kannon) that is flanked on each side by 500 statues of human sized 1000-armed Kannon standing in ten rows.
(Note that the actual statues have only 42 arms each. Subtract the two regular arms and multiply by the 25 planes of existence to get the full thousand.)
Ryan and I entered the working temple and despite neither of us being particularly spiritual, the scene in front of you is quite surreal. Row upon row of statue, eerily standing there in front and looking down on you made for quite a disturbing sight!
Obviously we weren’t allowed to take any photos of this inside of the temple, which means I’ve turned to Google to provide you with a hint of what we saw:
Outside of the statues, the temple also has a few other things going for it. In January, the temple has an event known as the Rite of the Willow, where worshippers are touched on the head with a sacred willow branch to cure and prevent headaches.
A popular archery tournament known as the Tōshiya has also been held here, beside the West veranda, since the Edo period.
Also, the duel between the famous warrior Miyamoto Musashi and Yoshioka Denshichirō, leader of the Yoshioka-ryū, is popularly believed to have been fought just outside Sanjūsangen-dō in 1604.
We strolled around the gardens, took in the sights, and with that, we both decided that we had now seen enough ancient temples and shrines to last us for a while, meaning that next up was something completely different – a trip to the aquarium!