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Kyoto's Sanjusangen-do Temple

A site renowned for 1,001 Buddhist statues and a history of archery

Dating from 1164, this temple in the heart of Kyoto is renowned for its 1,001 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of compassion. Its official name is Rengeo-in, but is commonly referred to as Sanjusangen-do, which literally means "a hall of 33 ken" (a historic unit of measurement equivalent to 1.8 meters).

Lined up along the entire length of the hall are 1,000 of the statues, each with its own distinctive facial expressions. One gigantic statue of Kannon sits in the center of the space.

Taking photos is prohibited in this sacred place; please see the temple’s website at the end of this article for some images.

The building has another claim to fame; it was the site of the historic Toshiya archery competition, held annually for 255 years until 1861. Archers would shoot arrows in rapid succession along the outside of the hall, from south to north. At 120 meters long, the temple provided a useful guide for measuring the archers' abilities. Today, arrow marks remain in the walls, and the building is still the longest wooden structure in Japan.

Meticulous records of the competition are on display in the hall. To honor that ancient practice of archery, the temple holds an archery competition to mark Coming of Age Day, when young people celebrate turning 20, held in mid-January each year.

Willow trees are dotted around the grounds. Their green branches, which hang low to the ground, are used in a purifying ceremony called the Rite of Willow, held annually in January. Worshipers are touched on the head with a willow branch, a charm believed to cure and prevent headaches.

The Sanjusangen-do complex also has beautiful traditional gardens featuring various plants and flowers as well as interesting ornaments, making pleasant surroundings for a relaxing stroll.

Throughout the year you can expect to see lots of children as this location is considered an important place to visit for schools in Japan.

More information

Sanjusangen-do Temple is about a 20-minute walk from Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

Opening hours: 8:30 – 17:00 (closes 16:30 from mid November to the end of March)

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