Tue, Sep 1, 2020

Kongoji Fudo-do hall: Hino’s centuries-old architecture reminiscent of medieval Japan

Japan’s beauty in the eyes of CIRs

Bean Roasting Ceremony in front of the Fudo-do hall
By Linnea Willing / CIR for Hino, Tokyo

The Buddhist temple Takahata-Fudoson Kongoji in Hino, Tokyo, is home to several national cultural properties. Among them is one of the temple’s halls, the Fudo-do hall, designated as an important cultural property of Japan over 70 years ago on Nov. 29, 1946.

The Fudo-do is estimated to be over 600 years old. The building’s style and architecture are reminiscent of the Nanboku-cho period (14th century), more commonly known as the early Muromachi period, but its history is thought to go back even further. Engravings and writings on various temple artifacts suggest that Takahata-Fudoson Kongoji had a hall for worshiping the deity Fudo Myo-o in the nearby hills during the Kamakura period, until it was destroyed by a typhoon in 1335. Sometime in the following years, the Fudo-do was reconstructed in its current location at the hills’ base.

Fudo-do hall as seen from the side

Since its construction, Fudo-do underwent three major renovations in 1550, 1703 and 1738, noticeably changing the building’s exterior appearance. In 1957 and 1958, just over a decade after the hall’s designation as a cultural property of Japan, the hall was restored to how it would have looked when it was first built.

The restoration was meaningful, given that one of the main reasons for the hall’s designation was to preserve medieval Japanese architecture for generations to come. The hall is interesting in that it wasn’t just an architectural copy of a contemporary Chinese structure. Japanese architects of the time had thoroughly adapted old Chinese influences to the point that they could no longer be called Chinese, developing a new distinctively Japanese style, as can be seen in the Fudo-do’s design.

Fudo-do has a square frame around 9 meters long and wide. The hall is topped with a traditional Japanese irimoya roof, which has a shape similar to a hip-and-gable roof. The roof extends an extra 1.8 meters outwards in the center-front of the building to cover the entryway. The jutted-out entrance and overhanging portion of the roof are collectively called a kohai, and are a common feature of Japanese temples.

Bean Roasting Ceremony up close

The courtyard in front of Fudo-do is often used in events and local festivals. For example, the space is decorated in the fall for the temple’s Chrysanthemum and Lantern Festivals. In late January, crowds gather to help roast beans for setsubun in a large pot in front of the the hall (pictured), and again on the day of setsubun itself for bean-throwing festivities. Guests of any religion are welcome to participate in events, and the temple is open to visitors year-round.

Not only is Fudo-do visible to the general public as an example of medieval architecture, it is still regularly used for public religious services today. Takahata-Fudoson Kongoji holds daily goma rituals inside the hall before a large statue of the temple’s primary deity, Fudo Myo-o.

Goma inside the Fudo-do Hall (Photo Courtesy of Takahata-Fudoson Kongoji)

As Goma involves use of ritual flames inside the building, the Heian era statue of Fudo Myo-o originally used in the Fudo-do is now kept on display in the temple’s Okuden building to protect it from discoloration or potential damage from prolonged exposure to smoke. The statue currently used in the hall was built during the recent Heisei period. Visitors to the hall can see how smoke has darkened many parts of the hall’s interior, a testament to centuries of use.

Being located in Tokyo right by the Takahatafudo train and monorail stations, Takahata-Fudoson is easily accessible to visitors of the capital. In addition to Fudo-do, the temple also has several other national cultural properties on display, such as works of art and centuries-old artifacts of Buddhist worship.

(Photos courtesy of Linnea Willing unless otherwise indicated)

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(Cooperation: Council of Local Authorities for International Relations)

Profile

Linnea Willing

Linnea is a Southern Californian currently living in Tokyo, where she works as Hino city’s Coordinator for International Relations. In Hino, she has been writing about local history and events since 2017. She has been studying Japanese for over 10 years with a focus on translation, and also enjoys translating literature as a hobby.

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