Saturday, January 12, 2013

Japanese Gate Typology (10)

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 think there it would be great to bring more awareness to a western audience as to the tremendous diversity in forms and types of Japanese gates. This series hopes 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
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In the previous post we looked at yaguramon, a type of 2-story timber gate associated to castles. Today we will look at another gate which continues the 2-story theme -- sort of.

Rōmon (楼門)

The characters mean the cherry tree () gate (). The character for 'cherry tree' is more often read as 'sakura', and for quite a while I would read the characters '楼門' as "sakuramon". No, this pairing of characters takes a 'Chinese' reading, 'rō', for ''.

Rōmon are gates which associate to both temple and shrine complexes, and appear to be two stories tall. Technically, however, they are not considered two stories in the Japanese way of thinking, for the second story is not accessible nor does it have a separate roof.

Let's take a look at one example before getting into this further:


You can see that this gate is built more or less like a bridge, standing on a pair of 4-legged 'pontoons' on each side. The eight legs mean the gate could be simply classified as an eight-leg gate, or hyakkyakumon (八脚門). Are all rōmon eight-legged? No, they're not. Also, if you look at the 'second' story, you will see windows, in the classic flickering flame pattern, a set of doors, and a walkway railing. Sure looks like a second story, and there may even be a floor - however it is non-usable. Generally these gates do not have doors and stand over a central path into the shrine or temple.

The 'Cherry gate' may be four-legged or eight-legged. You might recall another four-legged gate we covered previously, the yotsuashimon. In that gate, there were two main posts and four outrigger support posts, and the post count was based only on the four outrigger posts despite the fact that there are 6 posts contacting the ground. In the case of the four-legged rōmon this counting method is thrown out the window and 4 - or 6 - posts may contact the ground in total.

A four legged rōmon:


A four-legged rōmon with six actual posts:


As you can see, this classification is a bit confusing. The main point is the appearance of a 2-story structure, with only the first floor actually accessible.

This 'four-legged' gate has a post support structure more like the classic yotsuashimon:


Another four legged rōmon, this one with only four actual posts:


A classic eight-legged rōmon, Udo Shrine in Miyazaki:


Another shrine with a grand rōmon, the west gate of Yasaka Jinja in Kyoto:


Another view:


One last rōmon for good measure, at Yōsenji, in Akita Prefecture, the gate dating from 1865:



Some rōmon also serve as bell-towers. We'll take a look at those in next post. Thanks for your visit to the Carpentry Way. On to post 11

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