Shinobazu, then and now: Bentendo in visual media (2)—the lost Tenryumon gate

Continuing from the previous article on Bentendo’s torii gate, this post will introduce the Tenryumon Gate that once stood at the entrance to Bentendo in the center of Shinobazu Pond.

Bentendo’s torii gate was removed during the early-Meiji era movement to separate Shinto and Buddhist traditions. Afterward, a Chinese-style gate known as Tenryumon stood for only thirty years between 1914-1945 at a location somewhat closer to Bentendo than the old torii.

Shinobazu Pond soon came to be known as a place to enjoy nature, famous for “cherry blossoms in the spring, lotuses in the summer, the moon in autumn, and snow in winter” (Shinobazunoike jiten 7). Moreover, the temple’s role shifted from a place to pray for good fortune to a more active public place when a national exhibition descended upon Ueno. As part of the exhibition grounds, Benten Island was improved with reinforced bridges that led to numerous new structures and pavilions. Tenryumon gate was one of the new additions, and frequently appears in ukiyo-e images and on postcards from the era.

The Tenryumon gate was a special project for designer Ito Chuta. Bentendo was bereft of a torii gate between the late 19th century until the 1910s, so the priests at Kanei’ji commissioned Ito to design a new gate. Ito’s student Kishida Hideto recalled that the request was unusual because the clients “had a good understanding of artists and architects, and left everything to Ito, never making difficult requests.” With a free reign, Ito designed an edifice that was Oriental style down to the details, reflecting the impact of Ito’s visit to China in 1901-1902 and his philosophy of architectural progressivism (Fig. 1, Fig. 2). Ito’s architectural progressivism drew upon organic metaphor, rejecting the Western style of architecture that sought to completely imitate Europe. Looking to the future of Japanese architecture, Ito wrote that he wanted “to create a form of stone civic architecture that preserves traditional Japanese style as the foundation but builds upon it in a way that can capture the Japanese public’s imagination” (Sato 2006, 261).

Research by Kuramata Shusuke shows that Ito’s plans from 1911-1912 in the collections at the University of Tokyo and the Meiji Mura Museum differ little in overall structure and detail from the actual structure built (Fig. 3), confirming that the gate was built faithfully according to the plans (2002, 283). This confirms the belief that there were few additional requests made by Kanei’ji. In terms of construction materials, the archway is made of white tiles and granite panels, the roof of bronze, and the wooden portions covered in red lacquer. While not actually made of stone, the gate’s use of granite reflects Ito’s ideal of stone civic architecture. Perhaps because he was able to implement his plan according to his wishes, Ito told Kishida that he was most satisfied by this structure among his works.

The construction took place over the course of a year between 1913-1914, in time for the opening of the Tokyo Taisho Exhibition at Ueno from March 20-July 31, 1914. The next article will show how the Tenryumon Gate appeared in visual media during the exhibition and in the early years of the Showa era.

不忍弁天堂天龍門 立面図,「伊東忠太建築作品」, 伊東博士作品集刊行會, 東京: 城南書院, 1941, p. 62.

Fig. 1. Elevation of Shinobazu Bentendo Tenryumon , Ito Chuta Kenchiku Sakuhin, Ito Hakase Sakuhinshu Kankokai, Tokyo: Jonan Shoin, 1941, p.62.

Fig. 2 Upper details of Shinobazu Bentendo Tenryumon, Ito Chuta Kenchiku Sakuhin, Ito Hakase Sakuhinshu Kankokai, Tokyo: Jonan Shoin, 1941, p.62.

Fig. 3不忍弁天堂天龍門 外景,「伊東忠太建築作品」, 伊東博士作品集刊行會, 東京: 城南書院, 1941, p. 63.

Fig. 3 View of Shinobazu Bentendo Tenryumon, Ito Chuta Kenchiku Sakuhin, Ito Hakase Sakuhinshu Kankokai, Tokyo: Jonan Shoin, 1941, p.63.

Works cited

Yanesen Kobo, Shinobazu Pond Encyclopedia (Shinobazu no ike jiten), 1989.

Kurakata Shusuke, “On the early architectural process of Ito Chuta—Ito Chuta’s designs as seen in early-Meiji plans, part 1,” Nihon kenchiku gakkai keikakukei ronbunshu dai558go, 279-284, August 2008.

Ito Chuta Kenchiku Sakuhin, Ito Hakase Sakuhinshu Kankokai, Tokyo: Jonan Shoin, 1941.

Suzuki Hiroyuki, ed., Ito Chuta wo shitteimasuka, Matsudo: Oukokusha, 2003.

Kishida Hideto, Kenchiku Gakusha Ito Chuta, Tokyo: Kangensha, 1945.

作成者  | 2016-08-22 (月)
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