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Main Hall (Japanese Buddhism)

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Tōdai-ji Kon-dō

In spite of its name, Tōdai-ji's "Daibutsuden" is a 9x7 bay Kon-dō (Japan's National Treasure)

Main hall is the term used in English for the building within a Japanese Buddhist temple compound (shichidō garan) which enshrines the main object of veneration[1]. Because the various denominations deliberately use different terms, this single English term translates several Japanese words, among them Butsuden, Butsu-dō, kon-dō, hon-dō, and konponchū-dō[2].


The kon-dō (金堂?), literally "golden hall" is the centerpiece of an early non-Zen temple's garan. The origin of the name is uncertain, but it may derive from the perceived preciousness of its content, or from the fact that the interior was lined with gold[3]. This is the name used by the oldest temples in the country[2].

Unlike a Zen butsuden, it is a true two-story building (although the second story may be missing), it has a 3x2 central core (moya) surrounded by 5x4 bay aisles (hisashi (?) and by an external 1-bay wide mokoshi, for a total of 9x7 bays[3]. The second story has the same dimensions as the temple's core at the first story, (3x2 bays), but has no mokoshi[3]. Some temples, for example Asuka-dera or Hōryū-ji, have more than one kon-dō, but normally only one exists and is the first building to be built[2]. Because of its limited size, worshipers weren't allowed to enter the building and had to stand outside [3]. The kon-dō and a pagoda were usually surrounded by a corridor called kairō.

The use of kon-dō declined after the 10th century, when it was replaced by a hon-dō divided in naijin (内陣?) (inner sanctuary reserved to the deity) and gejin (外陣?) (space for worshipers, like the nave in a church)[2]. The term remained in some use even up to the Edo period, but its frequency decreased drastically after the appearance of the hon-dō in the Heian period [3].


The term hon-dō (本堂?), literally means "main hall" and it enshrines the most important objects of veneration[3]. The term is thought to have evolved during the 9th century to avoid the early term kondō, at the time used by six Nara sects called the Nanto Rokushū (南都六宗?)[3]. It became common after the birth of the two Mikkyo sects (Tendai and Shingon)[3].

Structurally, the hon-dō is an evolution of the kon-dō, but is less strictly defined, has a space for worshipers called gejin (see above) and is more Japanese in style[3].

Butsuden or Butsu-dō


This single storied Zen butsuden at Myōshin-ji seems to have two stories because of its mokoshi.

The Butsuden or Butsu-dō (仏殿・仏堂?), literally "Buddha Hall", is the main hall of a temple of one of the three Zen schools (Sōtō 曹洞, Rinzai 臨済, and Obaku 黃檗)[3]. It can belong to one of following three types.
  • The simplest is a 3x3 bay square building (where "bay" is the space between two pillars, a unit of measurement in Japanese architecture called ken (?) in Japanese and equivalent to between 181 cm and 197 cm) with no mokoshi (裳階?) (a mokoshi being an enclosure circling the core of the temple covered by a pent roof, usually one bay in width[3].
  • The second type is also 3x3 bay square, but has a 1 bay wide mokoshi all around the core of the temple, making it look like a two-story, 5x5 bay building as in the case of the butsuden, visible in the photo on the right[3].
  • It is also known that during the 13th and 14th centuries very large butsuden measuring 5x5 bays square having a mokoshi were built, but none survives[3]. Large size 3x3 bay butsuden with a mokoshi however still exist, for example at Myoshin-ji (see photo in the Gallery section below)[3]. Some hon-dō (see below), for example Daitoku-ji's, are also known as butsuden[3].


Konponchū-dō (根本中堂?), literally "main central hall" is a term used only for the main hall at Mount Hiei's Enryaku-ji, which measures 11x6 bays, of which 11x4 are dedicated to the practitioners[3]. The Tokugawa funeral temple of Kan'ei-ji, which had been built explicitly to imitate Enryaku-ji, also had one, which however hasn't survived[4].


See also

  • Shichidō garan for details about the main hall's position within a temple compound.
  • The Glossary of Japanese Buddhism for terms concerning Japanese Buddhism, Japanese Buddhist art, and Japanese Buddhist temple architecture.


  1. Kōjien Japanese dictionary
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Iwanami Nihonshi Jiten
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 JAANUS
  4. Watanabe (2005:30)


  • Iwanami Kōjien (広辞苑?) Japanese dictionary, 6th Edition (2008), DVD version
  • Iwanami Nihonshi Jiten (岩波日本史辞典), CD-Rom Version. Iwanami Shoten, 1999-2001.
  • Japanese Art Net User System Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology, Butsuden, Kondou, Hondou entries. ccessed on May 6, 2009
  • Watanabe, Hiroshi (April 25, 2001). The architecture of Tokyo. Edition Axel Menges. ISBN 978-3930698936. 

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