The Daijōkyū

The Daijōkyū

Today it was cold and raining heavily, and I went to see the Daijōkyū. The Daijōkyū is the complex of buildings in which the Daijōsai is held; it is built specially for the ceremony, and demolished again soon afterwards. However, for a few weeks it is possible for anyone who happens to be in Tokyo to go to see it. The Daijōkyū was first opened yesterday, when it had, according to the news, 20,000 visitors. One advantage of going in the cold and the rain was that there were not quite as many visitors, meaning that there were a number of places where I could stop, and look, and take photographs. The disadvantage, of course, was that I got cold and wet.

It is not possible to enter the complex of buildings, much less enter the buildings themselves, but you can walk around three sides of the complex, and see quite a lot of what is within. Although photography is permitted, commercial photography is not, so I am afraid that I cannot put any of my photographs on this blog. Instead, you will get my observations. These are unlikely to make a great deal of sense unless you know about the Daijōsai, possibly by reading my Patreon essays on the subject.

The first thing that struck me was the size of the Yukiden and Sukiden. They are much larger than I imagined, I think because the floorplans that are reproduced in most discussions actually make the room too small. The bed does not take up that much of the space, although it is still puzzling as to why it is in the middle.

The Yukiden, Sukiden, and Kairyūden are still, it seems, built with tree trunks from which the bark has not been removed. The walls between the pillars also seem to be made of woven straw, in accordance with the instructions surviving from over 1100 years ago. The Yukiden and Sukiden, but not the Kairyūden, have chigi and katsuogi on the ridepole. Chigi are, in this case, X-shaped pieces of wood that rest at each end of the roof, with two arms upwards, while katsuogi are roughly cylindrical wooden blocks that rest on the ridgepole, perpendicular to it. Each of the Yukiden and Sukiden has eight katsuogi, but the arrangement is interesting. There is one at each end of the roof, just inside the chigi, and then the other six are placed in pairs, evenly spaced, but with the two members of each pair touching each other. This is not something I have seen anywhere else, as far as I recall: katsuogi are normally individual and separate.

The whole complex is surrounded by a low brushwood fence, with three bars of what looks like bamboo holding the brushwood in place. Small leafy branches, which I am pretty sure are sakaki, were stuck behind the bamboo, and are presumably symbolic of the boundary between the Daijōkyū and the secular world. There are four gates through the fence, one in each side, and each gate has a torii, which is also made of tree trunks with the bark still on. There are also brushwood barriers across each gate, a short distance either outside (in the east and west) or inside (in the north and south). These are also part of the symbolic separation of the sacred area.

The Kairyūden was outside the brushwood fence. This is in keeping with the ancient traditions, but as there was no substantial outer fence this time, it was very clear that the Kairyūden was not part of the central sacred complex.

I’m very glad that I managed to get to see the Daijōkyū before it was demolished, as I will probably be in my eighties the next time there is one. But I do hope that the next one has thatched roofs.


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