The Arms of Sanjusangendo

Seeing the many arms of the Goddess of Mercy at Sanjusangendo Hall in Kyoto is an interesting and slightly intimidating experience! When I am thinking to myself or trying to speak to somebody else about Kyoto, it is Sanjusangendo Hall that always leaves me tongue-tied. I just cannot seem to pronounce or spell it correctly! I always used to call it “Sangendo”, but fortunately I have now learnt from my mistakes!

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Sanjusangendo Hall is known for its collection of 1001 statues of Kannon – the Goddess of Mercy. It was built in 1164 but then destroyed in a fire not long afterwards. A century later, Sanjusangendo was rebuilt pretty much to what you see before you in Kyoto today. It is one of the city’s most important tourist attractions and located only a five minute bus ride away from Kyoto Station.

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Intricate carvings on the walls of Sanjusangendo Hall
Intricate carvings on the walls of Sanjusangendo Hall

At Sanjusangendo, you will notice the temple hall made out of wood, and it is in fact the largest wooden structure in Japan! How’s that for a pointless titbit?! Another interesting fact you may not know is that the name Sanjusangendo actually means “33 intervals”, as there are 33 gaps in between the structure’s support columns. Most people come to Sanjusangendo Hall to see the interior of this temple and the many statues of Kannon. If truth be told, the exterior of the temple was not that impressive, and didn’t really contain too many photographic portions either.

Kannon and her army of arms
Kannon and her army of arms

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Inside the temple there is the giant statue of Kannon, which is made of wood and is said to have 1000 arms (although there are not literally 1000 arms on this statue; there is a weird way of working it out, which to be honest I didn’t follow all that well). Beside the giant statue of Kannon, there are a further 1000 statues of 1000-armed miniature statues (500 on each side of the giant wooden Kannon). That’s a lot of arms but it looks really cool! The 1000-armed Kannon are each equipped with 11 heads so they can more eagerly observe the suffering of Humans.

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3 thoughts on “The Arms of Sanjusangendo

  1. Still can’t believe we didn’t make it here last time we were in Kyoto – we were staying literally around the corner. It’s top of my list for next time. These pictures are great!

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