Japanese Gate Typology (23)

Today marks –  uh, well, a couple of days belatedly in truth – the 4th anniversary of the Carpentry Way!! After 611 posts, and more than 643,000 page views,  this is still going strong. I would like thank my regular readers for their support over the years, and hope you will continue to visit regularly in 2013.


This is a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (). 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:

  1. Heijūmon 
  2. Kabukimon 
  3. Kōraimon 
  4. Yakuimon 
  5. Yotsu-ashimon 
  6. Munamon 
  7. Commentary
  8. Uzumimon 
  9. Yaguramon 
  10. Rōmon
  11. Shōrōmon
  12. Taikomon
  13. Nijūmon
  14. Sanmon 
  15. Niōmon 
  16. Nitenmon
  17. Sōmon 
  18. Wakimon 
  19. Chokushimon
  20. Onarimon 
  21. Tansōmon 
  22. Zuijinmon 


 Miyukimon (御幸門)

The first character means honorable (), the middle means good fortune/happiness () and the last character is gate (). Putting the first two characters together, 御幸, means honorable good fortune, literally – – but what it actually means is: visit/attendance by the emperor. One can readily see how the literal meaning associates to the extended one. This is a type of gate originally used only by the emperor, and is generally of the yotsuashimon pattern, with two principal posts and four secondary support posts, hikae-bashira, or of the munamon pattern, with two principal posts and two support posts, the ridge centered over the main posts. While the original function of this gate was a rather narrow one, in time it also came to be used in front of the mansions of princes and other aristocrats, and in front of certain shrines and temples.

As you may imagine, some miyukimon were fairly elaborate in style. If we were to start with an example with the ‘volume turned to 11’ it would have to be the miyukimon at Nikkō Tōshōgū (日光東照宮), a gate otherwise known as a karamon:

A view from the side with the doors open:

This gate has the cusped gable on all four sides.

Take a gander at the underside of the cusped gable:

The small sculptures along the bottom in the picture depict a Chinese fable called “The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove“. The Seven Sages stressed the enjoyment of ale, personal freedom, spontaneity and a celebration of nature  -sounds like a bunch of fellows I’d like to hang with!

If one were to imagine the polar opposite to the gate above, it would be something incredibly rustic, using unpeeled logs even. Well, say hello to the next miyukimon, located at the Katsura Imperial Palace, or Rikyū-den (桂離宮), also home of the most famous example of sukiya architecture in the country. The emperor’s gate here is certainly a contrast in style to the one at Nikkō:

Hope that transition wasn’t too severe.

This miyukimon was built on the occasion of the visit of the retired Emperor Go-Mizuno-o, the 108th Emperor of Japan, in the mid-17th century. The thatched gable roof in the kirizuma form is supported by bamboo rafters, and the pillars and beams are made of oak with a cork-like bark. Since the cork tree is a variety of oak, this should not come as too much of a surprise.

Building with unpeeled logs is termed kuroki-zukuri. It’s not a recommended technique if you are looking for longevity, as these sorts of constructions don’t tend to last much past 20 years. Not such an issue when the budget is essentially a blank sheet however.

Here’s a look at the spartan framing of this gate:

So you can see that this gate is essentially a thatched munamon type of gate.

A view from the inner courtyard:

The adze-worked faces of the hikae-bashira are worth pointing out.

Another example of a simple looking miyukimon, this one at Shugakuin Rikyū (修学院離宮) on the outskirts of Kyoto, also the site of one of Japan’s most famous gardens:

This villa complex was created by the same Emperor mentioned above, Go-Mizuno-o, and dates from 1656. it has an incredible collection of stone lanterns and is not to be missed on any tour of traditional Japanese sites.

This gate is another example of what is otherwise a munamon:

The doors have some pleasing pierced tracery:

All for this round. More to come in this series – thanks for your visit. On to post 24

2 thoughts on “Japanese Gate Typology (23)

  1. Chris.

    This topic is pretty inforamative. I think that as I look at some of the pictures of the more elaborate and fancy gates that these projects spared no expense or effort….reflecting on a time when the values and appreciation to design were very different than today. By contrast our ho hum…throw away culture seeks to crank out everything out as cheaply and quickly as possible…with little regard to taste and character.

    Another thought; that being said even today in Japan the classical looking gates with the temple/shirine scale and scope are probably rarely built any more….do to expense and lack of demand.

    Last point; as a carpenter I always suspected that the craftsman who have worked on these structures were doing the work for themselves as much as the client or patrons….driven to express themselves and be absorved with a passion for thier work.

  2. ward,

    great to hear from you and apologies for the delayed reply. The attention and effort put into most forms of Japanese material culture, especially traditional architecture, generally puts what we do in this culture, as you note, in a less-than flattering light.

    While fewer of these sort of gates are being commissioned these days, the Japanese do invest in infrastructure and culturally significant gates will be rebuilt and maintained.

    And you're right, we can see the creativity and ingenuity of the master carpenter in such works. I wish those carpenters weren't so nameless!


Anything to add?