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Five Story Pagoda in Asakusa

April 14, 2008

Five Story Pagoda in Asakusa

Pagodas first appeared in Japan in the 6th century when Buddhism was introduced from China and India.  They can range in height from one to thirteen tiers. On the grounds of the Senso-ji temple in Asakusa you will find an beautiful example of a five storied pagoda which is the most common.

In the west pagodas are symbolic of Asian architecture but the spiritual aspect of the structure is often overlooked. Pagodas were originally built to house Buddhist relics and the remains of prominent Monks. In Japan most pagodas can be found on the sites of Temples and are often secondary in importance to the Temple itself where the Buddha statue is enshrined.

On top of the pagoda you can see an antenna like structure. It is a finial or sourin that combines many symbols of Buddhism. The brass sourin at the Five Story Pagoda in Asakusa has the following elements (from top to bottom with the Japanese term in parenthesis):

  • Sacred Wheel (houju) – This is believed to have the power to expel evil, cleanse corruption, and fulfill wishes and is often shown cupped by lotus leaves.
  • Dragon Wheel (ryuusha)
  • Water Flame (suien) – A charm to protect the pagoda from fire.
  • Sacred Rings (horin) – Nine rings representing the Buddhist deities.
  • Flower Bowl (ukebana)- Usually an open, upturned lotus flower with 8 petals.
  • Reverse Bowl (fukubachi)
  • Dew Basin (roban) – This has a very practical purpose. It is to prevent the pagoda from leaking where all the roof elements are joined.

The finial or sourin also functions as a lightning rod.

The next time you see a pagoda take time to enjoy the beauty of the architecture but also take a moment to reflect upon its spiritual symbolism.

Photo Credit: Personal Collection & Source: JAANUS, Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System