Temple Structures to be Registered as Tangible Cultural Properties

Chokushi-monRecently a survey of the buildings at Ninna-ji has been completed and 7 structures within Goten and 1 outside of Goten are slated to be added to the Japanese Government’s list of Registered Tangible Cultural Properties in the coming months. Buildings to be registered include: the entrance hall, Shinden, Shiro-shoin, Kuro-shoin, Reimeiden, Chokushi Gate, Kōzoku (Imperial Family) Gate, and Reihō-kan.

This pending registration does not involve any changes for visitors to the temple, however. Structures registered as Tangible Cultural Properties are eligible to receive some government assistance for maintenance and repairs. When the pending registration is complete it will be that much easier for the temple to keep its properties in peak condition for visitors for years to come.


Raised Floor in Shinden

Raised Floor in ShindenAs you look into each room in Shinden, you’ll notice the different paintings that depict one of the four seasons, and you’ll notice that the last room is more embellished than the others. The last room, the “Upper Room” (上の間 jō no ma), was the abbot’s chamber and is splendidly decorated from floor to ceiling.

What you may not notice is that the floor of the room is actually raised up considerably from the level of the other rooms.  Recently, Shinden was open for the ikebana event and the sliding doors were opened, revealing the step up into the last room more than usual.

While you might not be able to observe the difference as easily as you can in this picture, it is also possible to see the difference in height from outside of the rooms. Usually visitors are too busy appreciating the paintings and other embellishments in the room to notice it initially, but the raised floor is one more detail that makes the Upper Room a more formal space than the others.

Aoi Festival

Painting of Aoi Festival
On the wall opposite of the Mifune Festival painting in the middle room of Shinden there is a painting of Aoi Festival as a representation of summer. Aoi Festival is one of the three big festivals in Kyoto (the other two are Gion Festival in July and Jidai Festival [Festival of Ages] in October). “Aoi” means “hollyhock,” and the namesake of the festival can be seen in the form of hollyhock leaves adorning both people and animals in the famous procession. The festival is held annually on May 15th, and features many people in Heian Period costumes and even horses and oxen. The procession starts at Kyoto Imperial Palace and continues on to Kamigamo Shrine after passing through Shimogamo Shrine. You can find a map of the parade course and times of arrival here (English & Japanese).

This weekend is a busy weekend for Kyoto! If you end up picking another event over Aoi Festival, feel free to come to see the painting at Ninna-ji in Shinden for a little glimpse of what you missed…

Mifune Festival

Mifune Festival Painting in Shinden

The three main rooms of Shinden (the residential quarters inside of Goten) all feature wall-paintings that depict one of the four seasons. On the left-hand side of the center room, the above painting can be seen depicting an autumn scene. The festival illustrated by the painting is Arashiyama’s Mifune Festival. Long ago, when Emperor Uda visited Arashiyama, the people of the area held an event on the river for him, and that event would eventually be the inspiration for Mifune Festival. The original event was in the fall, but now the festival is held by Kuruma-zaka Shrine in May. The festival is held on the 3rd Sunday of May, this year on the 15th. The festivities start at high noon at the shrine, and continue into the afternoon with a parade of people in Heian Period costumes and old-fashioned boats on the river. You can find more about the festival at the shrine’s website here.

After learning about Mifune Festival here at Ninna-ji, I think I’ll try to go this year. If you can’t make it to the festival in person, come to Ninna-ji to see the painting in Shinden for a taste of the festival any time of year!

Hajitomi: Latticed Shutters

Shitomido & South GardenAt Ninna-ji, latticed shutters like those on the left can be seen on three buildings: Shinden in the palace grounds, Mie-do (the Founder’s Hall), and the main hall of the temple, Kon-do.  These shutters are called “hajitomi” (半蔀 “half lattice”) or “shitomido” (蔀戸 “latticed shutters”) in Japanese.  When the weather is nice, the hinged upper half of the lattice is lifted up and held in place with long metal hooks that descend from the ceiling. During inclement or cold weather, the shutters remain closed and help to keep out the elements. The lower half of the shutters can also be removed, making it possible to open up an entire wall if one so desired.

Hajitomi originated in the Heian Period (794-1185 ) and were an important architectural element of palaces and aristocratic residences. They are, therefore, a relatively uncommon sight at a temple. To the left, you can see the shutters on Shinden that face the South Garden. Shinden was the main residence of the retired emperor and the inclusion of hinged shutters adds to the aristocratic-feel of the architecture.

That these shutters can also be found on two buildings intended for religious purposes, Mie-do and Kon-do, is more unusual. The reason for their distinctively aristocratic architectural style is that both Kon-do and Mie-do were given to Ninna-ji by the Kyoto Imperial Palace. These buildings were originally built at the Imperial Palace, but in 17th century both were taken apart, carried to Ninna-ji, and reconstructed on the temple grounds. The hajitomi on these buildings serve as a reminder of the buildings’ original purposes and of the close ties Ninna-ji long maintained with the Imperial Palace.