San Ju San Gendo Temple, also known as Rengeo-in Temple, is located in the heart of Kyoto City. This temple can be reached about fifteen minute walk from the JR Kyoto Station. Even if you are in Kyoto city briefly, on a layover, I suggest you visit this temple without fail because, not only it is close to the JR station but this temple will give you an idea of how enchanting and spiritual a temple visit to Japan can be.
This temple was established by the powerful warrior-politician Taira-no-Kiyomori in 1164.
The original temple building was lost in a fire, but the building was reconstructed in 1266. That structure has remained unchanged for 700 years since then with four great renovations during that period.
San Ju San Gen do Temple Seal
The long temple hall, which is about 120 meters long, is made in the Wa-yo (Japanese) style architecture. As there are thirty-three spaces between the columns, this temple came to be called "Sanjusangen-do" (a hall with thirty-three spaces between columns).
The principal images of Sanjusangen-do Temple are the 1001 statues of the Buddhist deity, Juichimen-senju-sengen Kanzeon, which is often called by the simplified name, "Kannon". (See above in the heading). When you walk into the main hall of this temple, you will astonished to see these statues.
It is one of the most unbelievable sights of my life. In the middle of the 1000 standing Kannon statues, there is one gigantic seated statue of the Kannon Bosatsu. This seated Buddha statue has 11 small faces on his head and 20 pairs of arms.
The Seated Buddha Statue
This symbolizes one thousand arms because each saves 25 worlds. The height of the image is 131 inches. This most graceful and refined image was carved by Tankei, one of the most distinguished sculptors in the Kamakura period when he was at the advanced age of 82. The 1000 standing statues of Kannon are situated on both sides of the central image. They are wooden statues and fashioned in the same carving style as the principal image. They are smaller in size (around 65 inches) and simpler in appearance than that of the principal image. These 1000 images are joint works by 70 or more sculptors under the command of the great master Tankei; the whole construction-period extended over fifteen years. It is believed that Kannon Bodhisattva can transform himself into 33 different figures. Therefore, one might look upon the total 1001 images as the appearance of 33,033 Kannons.
In addition to the Kannon statues there are beautiful statues of deva kings and the gods that are essential part of the Hindu mythology and integral part of the Japanese Buddhism.
The west veranda of the main hall is known to host Tohshiya (archery contest). The origin of the contest dates back to the 16th century. The man who shrt the largest number of arrows from one end to the other won the contest. Today, there is an exhibition contest, that is held every year in January. If you are in Kyoto city during January, do not miss this exhibition.