Two Kings @ Niō-Mon

The first gate, where visitors to Zenkō-ji pass, is Niō-mon.
This all timber gate is 14m high, 13m wide and 7m deep.
Niō means “two kings”, and at the gate, giant wooden statues of two angry looking kings are on display. They are warrior guardians of the temple which protect the compound from enemies of Buddhism…


The original gate was built in the mid 18th century and it was destroyed by a powerful earthquake in 1847. 17 years later, the replacing statues were curved in Edo (present Tokyo) and carried on a wheel cart over a distance of 230km. In 1891, the gate was again destroyed by fire – one major drawback of timber structure, and it was restored in 1918 to the present form. This time, the figures, 5m in height, were created by Takamura Kouun and his protégé, Yonehara Unkai…


The statue on the left is called Naraen Kongō – 那羅延金剛 and has his mouth open to utter the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, which is pronounced “a”…



The right statue is called Misshaku Kongō – 密迹金剛 and has his mouth closed, representing the last letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, pronounced “um”…



These two letters (a-un in Japanese) together symbolize the birth and death of all things.
By the way, the figures at Zenkō-ji’s Niō-mon are rather unconventional. For some reason unknown to me (I did google about the subject but so far found nothing about this mystery), their positions are placed reversed right to left – normally, Naraen Kongō is placed on the right and Misshaku Kongō on the left.

Above the opening of the gate, there is a frame “Jougakusan”, dedicated by one of the imperial princes…


Straw sandals, “waraji”, tied to the wooden fences around the statues…


They represent wishes of the worshippers, praying for safe journeys.

The side-view of the gate…


Behind the Niō warriors, there are two additional figures. One is a statue of Sanpoukoujin – 三法嵐神, the protector of three treasures of Buddhism, Buddha, the teaching of Buddhism and priests and another one is Sanmendaikokuten – 三面大黒天, a god of war with three faces, to ward off evil spirits…


The sight of the statues inspires wonderment to anyone beholds them. How master sculptors breathed life into mere timber? Especially the two warrior kings, their rippling torsos are so beautifully curved, they look as if they are about to move!

After admiring Niō-Mon, I headed towards Higashinomon-cho…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

5 thoughts on “Two Kings @ Niō-Mon

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