Nagoya's oldest building: Arako Kannon

Nagoya's oldest building: Arako Kannon

Added In: Articles › History

James F. Goater

When the famed Buddhist monk, and compulsive wood-carver, Enku ,took up residence at the Arako Kannon temple (Kannonji, in today’s Nakagawa Ward) in 1676, this venerable temple was already over 900 years old, having been established in the early Heian period of the 8th century. Housing one of the region’s most important Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) statues, Arako Kannon has retained its pre-eminence in the district to the present day.

Of additional interest is the fact that of the various structures on-site when Enku arrived, one is still in existence. The two-tiered Tahoto (treasure) Pagoda had already been standing for 140 years in 1676, and it is still there in 2008 – a Muromachi Period building designated as a national cultural asset, and by far the city’s oldest structure.

Records indicate that, in 1536, the pagoda was rebuilt by local carpenters, partially from materials from an earlier structure on the same site.  Despite the periodic fires which have devastated most temples at one time or another during their histories – as recently as 1994 the main temple building of Kannonji was destroyed by fire – the Tahoto Pagoda has so far remained safe from this scourge for 472 years!

Just so we can all reconcile that with our Western historiography, in 1536, England’s Henry VIII’s second wife, the unfortunate Ann Boleyn, was beheaded; Cortez was exploring lower California while his compatriot Pizarro was foraging in Peru; Frenchman Jacques Cartier, having sailed across the Atlantic and down the St. Lawrence river, claimed Canada for France; Ivan “the Terrible”, having ruled Russia for 2 years, was just getting into his stride; the Ottoman Turks were busy strengthening their hold over Iran (Persia); Michelangelo was busy painting The Last Judgment, and the Moguls in India were consolidating their dominance following Babur’s invasion. Folks, this structure is OLD.

During his residence in the temple, Enku completed around one thousand wooden figures, ranging in size from a few centimeters to the huge 3 meter figures which act as temple guardians, situated in the temple’s main gate. Most of these figures, however, were lost to history from the time immediately after Enku’s departure. Amazingly, it was 300 years before they were found – nestling in carefully-packed boxes, covered in dust, located in a recess within the Tahoto Pagoda. In 1972, Arako Kannon’s then chief priest opened these ancient boxes and made the discovery. A museum was set up within the temple precincts soon after, containing 1,255 wooden figures. It is worth a visit, as is the oldest building in Nagoya nearby.

Arako Kannon lies due southeast of Takabata subway station at the western end of the Higashiyama subway line. Continue south from the major crossroads with Yagumo-dori, a large sign indicates the left-hand turning to reach the temple, which is a few hundred meters along this street, on the south side. (tel: (052) 361-1778).

Nagoya's oldest building: Arako Kannon
Arako Kannon
Nagoya's oldest building: Arako Kannon
Nagoys oldest building