Don’t be fooled by Sanjusangendo’s austere exterior; concealed within these dark wooden walls are a 1001 statutes of the Goddess of Mercy, all built to human scale.
Sanjusangendo, also called Rengeo-in, is a Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. You wouldn’t know it from the outside but the elongated hallway secretly houses 1001 life-size armed Kannon, the Japanese goddess of mercy, in a sight that’s as impressive in scale and detail as China’s Terracotta Warriors.
The name Sanjusangendo refers to the number “thirty-three,” a sacred number in Buddhism that also happens to be the same number of intervals between the wooden pillars that support the interior 120 meter-long hallway.
Inside, Kannon statues stand shoulder to shoulder in a total of ten rows of fifty columns, armed not with weapons but with 40 magical armaments held by 40 arms in a mission of mercy to soothe human suffering.
Intricately carved out of wood and coated in gold leaf, no detail is spared in the fashioning of these goddesses, each possessing a slightly different facial expression and body type.
Aside from being the lodging grounds of these peaceful deities, Sanjusangendo is also guarded by 28 fearsome legions of the Kannon Army, including the mythological gods of lightning and wind, Raijin and Fujin.
Sanjusangendo also hosts the annual Toshiya Matsuri, an archery festival held in January that is not only a test of arrows, but also one of endurance. A whopping 2,000 participants come to draw their bows, mostly young men and women who are coming of age in the year the competition is held. Dating back to the Edo Period, it is said that no one—not even the master archers—has been able to break the 17th century record of firing 8,132 arrows across the signature eaves of the elongated temple hall.