Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Upside-down pillar wards off evil for 400 years

Built as a memorial to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Toshogu Shrine in the city of Nikko is today famous for its many exquisitely crafted architectural wonders. One of the most lavishly made structures there is the Yomeimon Gate, whose 12 wooden pillars are engraved with a curled pattern known as gurimon.

The pattern on one of these pillars is inverted compared to the others; such a post is called a sakabashira (inverted pillar) and is intended to ward off evil spirits.

This custom is related to the old Japanese saying, “Once a building is completed, its destruction begins.” By installing a pillar upside-down, the builders of Toshogu Shrine may have thought they were permanently postponing the shrine’s completion. That nearly all of the shrine’s structures are still so well preserved 400 years later could be a testament to the inverted pillar’s effectiveness.

The exquisite Yomeimon Gate.

—Mellow Monk

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