Agyō and Ungyō Statues

When you visit temples and shrines in Japan you will usually see statues in twos along either sides of pathways and within gates. If one statue has its mouth open and the other its mouth closed, you are looking at agyō (mouth open making the sound “ah”) and ungyō (mouth closed making the sound “un”) statues. At shrines you will often see animals such as foxes or lion-dogs (shishi or koma-inu), at temples Deva Kings are most common though there are lion-dogs at temples as well. These statues are meant to protect the temple or shrine. There are several possible reasons behind the open and closed mouthes, you can read an explanation of some of the possible meanings here in this article on Niō Guardians.

Below you can see the guardian statues that stand watch in Chū-mon. Now that we’ve gotten the introduction of agyō and ungyō statues taken care of, expect some posts introducing other versions of this pair from around Ninna-ji!

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Bird’s-eye View of the Temple

Ninna-ji Temple

You have to be some distance away from the temple to get a view like this! It is easy to see that Ninna-ji is truly at the base of a mountain in this picture. I’ve tagged several of the structures that appear in the photograph, see which buildings you can identify! There is a large copy available on Flickr, click the image to go to Flickr and download the larger size.

Chū-mon: The Middle Gate


Standing between Nio-mon and Kon-do, Chū-mon serves as the entryway to the heart of the temple grounds where the five-storied pagoda and Kannon-do are found. This gate was built during the reconstruction of the temple in the early 17th century. Compared to Nio-mon and Chokushi-mon, Chū-mon may seem relatively simple in design, but it is a prime example of early Edo period architecture.Ceiling of Chū-mon
Fearsome statues can be seen on either side of the gate. On the left stands the Deva King Guardian of the West, and on the right the Deva King Guardian of the East.

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西方天 東方天