This is a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (門). If you look at the preceding kanji more closely, you can think of it as a picture of a pair of swinging doors, reminiscent of saloon doors in a wild west movie. I thought that it would be a nice idea to bring more awareness to a western audience as to the tremendous diversity in forms and types of Japanese gates. This series intends to be a gateway to gates.
Previous posts in this series:
The gate (門) of the Zuijin (随). The two kanji of the term ‘zuijin‘ break down as ‘随‘, originally meant ‘collapsing earthen wall’, which over time came to mean follow, go with (as in a trail of falling dirt). Jin, also read shin, ‘身‘, means ‘body’. So a zuijin refers to something which follows or accompanies a body, in the sense of having a thing on one’s person. It also means a person who follows another ‘body’ and waits on them – an attendant. Zuijin actually has a more specific historical reference in this particular case, referring at one time to bodyguards for the Emperor of Japan. Later, the term came to mean divine warrior beings, and representations of them.
A zuijinmon is a type of gate featuring statues of these divine warrior beings on each side, very much like the niōmon and nitenmon gates looked at earlier, which are seen at temples The zuijinmon is essentially the same gate, however it is used exclusively for shrines, and the zuijin figures are different in various respects to the figures seen at the other types of gates. This arrangement of flanking figures at a shrine entry gate is also termed kado-mori no kami (門守神), or ‘gate with protective divine beings’.
Let’s check out an especially grand zuijinmon – this one is at Nikkō, which has a special name otherwise, the Yomeimon (陽明門):
An extremely elaborate structure, highly ornamented with some 500 sculpted figures – and eight-legged rōmon if looked at purely on the basis of structural type.
Let’s have a closer look at one of the corner bracket complexes on this Zen-style building:
Click on the image for something a bit larger. Not too shabby eh?
We’re interested here though in the two figures seen as one enters the gate, shown below in a side-by-side photo:
So, unlike the niō figures, these two are not grimacing or trying to look scary. Unlike the figures we saw in the nitenmon, these figures do not stand upon demons. They are generally to be seen in the sitting position, looking fairly relaxed – but vigilant. The two figures above look very similar to one another in this case, and the sole obvious difference is that one is younger (left) and the other is older (right). The beards give it all away. Both men carry bows and have a quiver of arrows slung on their back.
It is helpful to look at these sort of entry gates as being like a car. When you come to the gate, intending to pass into the shrine, it is as if you are standing at the front of a car. And just like with a car, the orientation of which side is left and which is right is determined from the perspective of the car’s occupants. In North America the driver operates the vehicle on the left side, while the passenger is on the right. So, when you are facing a zuijinmon, the figure you see on the left is the right side figure, and the figure on the right is the left side figure. Got that?
The elder zuijin sits on the right side when you are looking at the gate, and is therefore the left figure, and is named sadaijin (左大臣). The younger zuijin, which you see on the left when looking at the gate from the outside, is the right side figure, and is called udaijin (右大臣) or sometimes yadaijin (矢大臣).
Let’s look at another gate example – here’s the zuijinmon at one of my favorite shrine complexes in all of Japan, Dewa Sanzan (出羽三山) at Haguro Mountain (羽黒山) in Yamagata Prefecture:
As a structure, this gate is of the single-story tansōmon form we looked at in the previous post. A most pleasing copper shingled irimoya roof.
The figure on the left side of the gate is the younger right hand man, udaijin (右大臣):
And on the right we have the left hand man, sadaijin, (左大臣), the elder:
With these two figures, if you look closely you will note that udaijin has his mouth closed, while sadaijin has his mouth open. This is the same idea as we saw with the other figures in the gates examined previously, in that the open and closed mouths symbolize the first breath in and the last breath out, the cycle of birth and death. I presume the borrowing here was from the continental Buddhist iconography into the Japanese.
Here’s the zuijinmon at Musashi Mitake Jinja (武蔵御嶽神社), atop a mountain not too far from Tokyo:
This view gives us a glimpse of the figure on the right as one enters:
This is the elder figure, or sadaijin, mouth open:
And the younger figure, udaijin, mouth closed:
Now, udaijin had a specific meaning in the Heian Era (794~1195) – it means ‘Minister on the Right‘. Sadaijin is the ‘Minister on the Left‘ and is the senior of the two ranks, udaijin being his deputy. These were government positions of considerable importance – both of these ministers oversaw all functions of government. The zuijin figures are also dressed in Heian-era clothing and depict other Heian period cultural norms, such as powdered faces and the male courtly ideal of of a faint moustache and thin goatee.
Here’s a zuijinmon at the second most important shrine in Japan, after Ise Jingu, the Usa Hachiman Shrine (宇佐八幡宮) in Ōita Prefecture:
In terms of structural form, this gate is a rōmon, and is referred to at the shrine as the south rōmon (南楼門).
Coming closer up, we can espy one of the zuijin:
As you can see in this pairing of figures, udaijin does not carry a bow or quiver full of arrows, while sadaijin does. This explains why the sadaijin also goes by the name of yadaijin (矢大臣), or arrow (矢) big (大) retainer/subject (臣), if translated directly.
All for this one – thanks for coming by. more post in this series coming up. On to post 23