Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

May 25, 2009

Phantoms of Temples in Okazaki Park (Kyoto, Temples)

Once upon a time, Okazaki Park, now known for its museums and zoo, as well as of course the Heian Shrine and its garden, was filled to the brim with with the most beautiful temples of the land...

No, there is nothing left of them, the Six Temples or Rokushoji of late Heian times - history has been at its most cruel here. Shirakawa, the first politically active Retired Emperor (In), began building the first of the six in 1075, in the Shirakawa district of Kyoto, northeast of the Imperial palace - where we now find Okazaki park.

[Heian Shrine]

In the next century, six huge temples and two residences were built here by the successive emperors Toba, Sutoku and Konoe. As these so-called Retired Emperors had replaced the Fujiwara regents as the "power behind the throne" (with a young child emperor) the temples were also centers of government.

As a sign of the times, they all carried the Chinese character "sho" or "katsu," victory, in their names. The temples were not simply established as acts of piety, but rather as ways of protecting income from imperial estates and a certain way of life, as John W. Hall says in Medieval Japan. The building of these large temples served as a way to extract support from aristocratic families as well as to justify to use of public taxes for the imperial house.

[Heian Shrine]

In historical order, the six temples were:


Hosshoji, officially dedicated after two years of building activities in 1077, by Emperor Shirakawa. At Hosshoji, the main hall opened on a lake and consisted of a large center chapel flanked on each side by corridors of many bays - a bit like Byodoin. The main image here was a 9.5 meter tall Vairocana Buddha as in Nara's Todaiji. The Lecture Hall housed a Shaka Trinity, the Godaison Hall statues of the esoteric Five Kings of Light.

On the opposite side of the pond was an Amida Hall with nine Amida statues as in Joruriji. Later a Yakushi Hall was added and on an islet in the pond a spectacular octagonal pagoda soared nine stories skyward. There was also a sutra repository containing a copy of the complete Buddhist canon.

Hosshoji stood at the location of the present Kyoto Zoo and the school grounds north of it. Initially, the temple flourished greatly as the family temple of the Imperial House. The downturn began in 1208, when a thunderstorm caused a fire. This was followed by the weakening of the Imperial power after the Jokyu Disturbance of 1219. The Onin War added the finishing touch, leaving no trace of the wonderful architecture and marvelous statues and other art treasures.


Sonshoji, in 1102 by Emperor Horikawa. Sonshoji was laid out on a plan similar to Nara's Kofukuji. It stood in Okazaki Park at the location of the present Kyoto Kaikan. This was the second largest of the six, after Hosshoji. Besides a Golden Hall, Kodo and Middle Gate there were a Kannon hall, a Yakushi hall and a Godai Hall (again dedicated to the Five Kings of Light). Like Hosshoji, this temple started weakening in the middle Kamakura period.


Saishoji, in 1118 by Emperor Toba. Characterized by the presence of three pagodas, besides the usual Golden Hall, Yakushi Hall and Godai Hall. Stood along the road to the present Heian Shrine. This temple was destroyed by fire in 1219.


Enshoji, 1126 by Taikenmonin, the wife of Emperor Toba. This temple also had three pagodas - a five-storied pagoda flanked by two three-storied pagodas on an east-west axis. The Main Hall was dedicated to the Five Buddhas, there was a Yakushi Hall and a Godai Hall. Stood where now the Kyoto Municipal Museum is. The temple's fortunes weakened from the mid-Kamakura period.


Seishoji, 1139 by Emperor Sutoku. The details about this temple are vague, although there were at least a Golden hall, Lecture Hall, sutra repository and bell tower. The temple was destroyed by fire in 1219.


Enshoji, 1149 by Emperor Konoe. This temple counted a Golden hall, pagoda and Ichijikinrin Hall (One Syllable Golden Wheel was an esoteric Buddhist deity). In 1163 a hall with nine Amida statues was added. The pagoda and Golden hall burned in 1219, the whole temple was lost in 1225.

Try to dream up Okazaki Park in the late 12th century: six huge temples with in total at least eight soaring pagodas, halls with magnificent statues, of the quality of Byodoin and Joruriji... A Buddhist art paradise... and nothing whatsoever is left of it. Why? The temple's power in the politics of the day was too prominent, they were bound up with the fate of the system of government by Retired Emperors that was replaced by shogunal rule in the Kamakura period. To destroy a political system also its symbols had to be destroyed...