What makes Sanjusangen-do Temple remarkable is not the rather bland looking - elongated building, but what is remarkable our the 1,001 Kannon statues displayed inside the building. The temple was first created under Emperor Goshirakawa for his fealty to the Bodhisattva Kannon and his efforts in trying to create peace for Japan by spreading Buddhist faith. Unfortunately, the original hall burnt down, but it was rebuilt in the exact same fashion by order of the new Emperor Gosaga in 1266 C.E.; this is the current version as seen today. According to the booklet sold at Sanjusangendo Temple, the name Sanjusangendo translates roughly into, "A Hall of Thirty-three Bays." It is believed that Kannon can disguise himself as 33 different figures in his attempts to save the worlds. From this belief the architecture of the building and alter was derived and constructed resulting in 33 bays (a bay between each pillar).
On the main altar sits the main image of Kannon. His main statue shows him with eleven faces and 20 pairs of arms. Again, according the booklet from Sanjusangendo, "[Each arm] symbolizes 1,000 arms because each saves 25 worlds." The complexity of this gold-covered wooden statue is impressive, but its grandeur is only magnified by the flanking 1,000 images of Kannon an effort that consisted of over 70 different sculptors under the guidance of sculpting masters that took 15 years to complete. These 1,000 statues are simpler and smaller than the main image of Kannon, but it is here that the true meaning of the temple resides. Because Kannon can disguise himself in 33 different images, the 1,001 statues represent 33,033 images of Kannon, providing the viewer with a closer relationship to Kannon and the belief that in the 33,033 images one should be able to find a face of a loved one.
This temple was impressive, but unfortunately we were not able to take pictures inside of the temple or of any of its statues to share on this web site.
Written by: Tayln Cox
Bibliography: National Treasure: Sanjusangen-do. (Booklet Sold at Sanjusangen-do Temple)