Sanjusangendo Hall

More than 1,000 statues put on a mindboggling show

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There are some pretty amazing statistics when it comes to this major attraction. If the thought of more than 1,000 life-size wooden statues carved in the 12th and 13th centuries doesn’t excite you, perhaps the fact that they’re housed in the world’s longest wooden building will.

In any case, this is probably the most visually stunning assemblage of statues I’ve ever seen (disclaimer: I have not been to Xian), fifty rows of statues, each 10 deep. Carved out of Japanese cypress, each statue has 40 arms, symbolizing the ability to save 25 worlds. That’s because they all represent Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion and mercy, but they’re small compared to what they’re paying tribute to–a large seated Kannon in the middle, carved in 1254 by Tankei, one of Japan’s most famous sculptors from the Kamakura Period. There are also 28 statues guardian deities standing in front of all those Kannon, declared National Treasures because it is exceedingly rare to find a whole surviving set like the one displayed here.

As for the hall housing them, it stretches an impressive 400-some feet long (about 120 meters). Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, to learn that its length proved irresistible and has been put to good use for centuries, for archery competitions. Take a look, if only to imagine how difficult it must be to let an arrow fly and hit a sacred cloth secured to the opposite end.

Unfortunately, and unfortunately not unusual, no photos or videos are allowed inside the building.

Bus: 100, 206 or 208 to Hakubutsukan Sanjusangendo-mae.

At A Glance

657 Sanjusangenndo-mawari-machi (Shichijo Dori)
¥600 adults, ¥400 junior-high and high-school students, ¥300 children
Mid-Nov through March 9am-4pm, April to Mid-Nov 8am-5pm

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