koya-san IV: daimon


The Daimon (i.e. “Great Gate”) was once the main entrance to Koya-san. On either side of the gate are the two Nio guardian dieties who protect the mountain. The figure on the left, with the closed mouth, is called Ungyo. This figure sounds the “um” or “om” sound that signifies death. The figure on the right, with the open mouth, is called Angyo. This figure sounds the “ah” sound that signifies birth. Together they guard the temple grounds to keep out thieves, demons, and general ills.

The Diamon itself is huge, and orangey red, and would seem to have it’s own power to keep out demons, if it really wanted to. The current structure dates from 1705.

Here’s a closer view of the Daimon, with Ungyo on the left and Angyo on the right. If you look at the larger view of this image you can easily see the intricate woodwork and op-art colorings that mark the experience of entry into Koya-san.


A closer view of one of the elaborate paintings above the main entrance.

The Daimon is currently in the process of renovation. Luckily, when Jess and I arrived it was only the back that was covered in scaffolding, and not the front. In order to ‘hide’ the renovation efforts, a screen of ‘natural foliage’ has been installed that is so bright and glaring that it simply can’t be missed. Nothing like a huge blast of chartreuse un-nature to make for a fine portrait background. I call this one “Jess Bemused Among the Fauves.”

In its current articulation, the Daimon actually sits as a kind of lonely monument to a path of entrance that is no longer taken. The train and bus route that Jess and I took puts you square in the center of Koya-san and the Daimon ends up being the last stop, rather than the first stop, of one of the two major walking routes. The “ah” has become an “um.” The gate is now circumvented by one of the main roads — technically a highway in fact — that brings visitors in cars and motorcycles into the main precinct of the temple grounds. While Jess and I were at the Daimon, only one other visitor came during the time that a string of cars and motorcycles passed by, or else parked to look at the view of the distant mountains without stopping to investigate the great gate.


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