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:
We’ve seen a few of these already in this series, going by other names. Mukai (向) means ‘facing’, and karamon (唐門) means ‘Chinese’ gate. It does not derive from any actual Chinese gate form that I’m aware of – it is called ‘Chinese’ in the same way that an American at some point in the past might call something fancy and exotic, ‘European’. This type of gate has an undulating, or ‘cusped’ gable roof, and is by far my favorite form of roof on a smaller gate. Structurally, the underpinnings are as for the yotsuashimon type, two main posts with four auxiliary support posts. Six legs on the ground but it is nonetheless a ‘four-legged’ gate. These gates associate more to temples than shrines, and are considered a ‘high class’ gate form by the Japanese. Feudal-era nobleman’s houses might feature this form of gate, and only members of the very upper crust were permitted by sumptuary law to have this gate form.
In the ‘mukai’ form of karamon, the cusped gable end faces you when you approach the gate front-on. Let’s look at an example, from the very large and elaborate Zen temple compound of Sōji-ji (總持寺) in Yokohama Prefecture:
A massive gate, I think the largest of this kind in Japan.
From the inner courtyard looking out:
The imperial Chrysanthemum marks each of the doors:
Next, a grand gate at Nigitsu Jinja (饒津神社) in Hiroshima:
This one has the more ‘pure’ form of karamon roof, without any crosswise gables.
You’ll notice that the barge boards have a small point on their lower surfaces in the middle of their climb:
Picture courtesy of JAANUS. Those small points, or cusps, are called ibara (茨) in Japanese, which means ‘thorn’.
Next one is also at a shrine, Tsutsujigaoka Tenmangu (榴岡天満宮) in Miyagi Prefecture:
A look up at the undulating gable:
The decorative rafters, shaped similarly to the barge boards, are termed ibara-daruki.
We’re just getting warmed up with these! Consider this example, located at Engaku-ji (円覚寺) in Kamakura, founded in 1282:
Some stunning carving on this gate:
How about a closer look at that panel?:
The other door is no slouch either in the carving department:
Maybe a bit more of this carving is worth a look at?:
What’s a gate without a dragon?:
A gilt and black-lacquered masterpiece, with a shingled copper roof. Doesn’t get much better than that! Kenchōji, founded by the same patron as Engaku-ji, is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. Funny how most westerners associate Zen with austere minimalism when the architecture of Zen temples is anything but that.
Inside the courtyard the gate continues to shimmer:
A near-side view, showing the sublime proportions, sinuous roofline, and, hey, this one actually IS a four-legged gate!:
Okay, let’s switch gears and look at a much more humble and subdued example of the front-facing karamon. Here’s the gate fronting the park at Ichijōdani Asakurashi Iseki (一乗谷朝倉氏遺跡) in Fukui Prefecture:
This ‘park’ is actually the ruins of the Asakura clan castle town, razed to the ground in 1573 after coming out on the losing side in a war with Oda Nobunaga.
That is a cherry tree in the background of the gate in the first picture – in spring it bursts into flower:
A closer look at the gate:
A view from the castle ruin grounds side:
One more for good luck – a side view:
More gates to come in this series! Thanks for your visit. On to post 26