Chogen (重源)

Chogen (1121 - 19 July, 1206) was a Buddhist monk from the end of the Heian period to the Kamakura period. His priest title was Shunjobo. As the Daikanjin (chief fundraiser) of Todai-ji Temple, he restored the temple after it was destroyed by fire in the Jisho-Juei War.

Place of origin and Career

Chogen was born into the Ki clan as the son of KI no Sueshige. In 1133, he entered the Buddhist priesthood aged 13 years at Daigo-ji Temple of the Shingon Sect. He later studied under Jodo (Pure Land) Sect founder Honen. He also practiced in various places including Shikoku and Kumano. It is said that he visited China (Southern Song Dynasty) on three occasions (although there are other theories).

The majority of Todai-ji Temple was destroyed during TAIRA no Shigehira's Siege of Nara. The daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) burned for a several days, and the Great Buddha statue (Birushana) suffered heavy fire damage.

The restoration of Todai-ji Temple was hampered by many financial and technical problems but in 1881 after Chogen came to inspect the damage, he made a proposal for the temple's restoration to Emperor Goshirakawa's messenger FUJIWARA no Yukitaka, who agreed and appointed him Todai-ji Temple Daikanjin. Chogen was aged 61 years at the time.

Todai-ji Temple Daikanjin

It was permitted that the taxes collected in Suo Province could be used to cover the reconstruction costs of Todai-ji Temple but Chogen personally assembled and organized fundraising monks, civil engineers and artists as well as soliciting donations to raise the funds required to rebuild the temple before proceeding with reconstruction work. Chogen also personally requested donations from individuals including Emperor Goshirakawa and FUJIWARA no Kanezane in Kyoto and MINAMOTO no Yoritomo in Kamakura.

It is said that Chogen himself also studied architecture and civil engineering in China, and he guided the construction workers with the cooperation of Chinese engineer CHEN Heqing. He is said to have developed a method of transporting large trees from the mountains to Nara. In addition, he built bessho (remote religious facilities separate from a main temple) in Iga Province, Kii Province, Suo Province, Bicchu Province, Harima Province and Settsu Province from which he conducted religious and construction activities.

He faced several challenges along the way. The greatest of these was the issue of what to rebuild after the reconstruction of Great Buddha Hall, and Chogen was faced with a difficult situation in which his wish to build a sub-temple was opposed to the opinion of the monks who had lost their living quarters. During the reconstruction of Todai-ji Temple, Chogen charged Saigyo with soliciting donations in the form of gold dust in the Ou region (Mutsu Province and Dewa Province).

It was the overcoming of these many difficulties as well as the work of Chogen and all of those working under him that resulted in the reconstruction of Todai-ji Temple. A ceremony to consecrate the new Great Buddha statue was held on 30 September 1185, the Great Buddha Hall was rebuilt in 1195, and a joint ceremony was conducted in 1203.

The sutra hall of Daigo-ji Temple in Kyoto was also constructed in 1195 by Chogen but was destroyed by fire in 1939.

These meritorious deeds led to Chogen being granted the title Daiosho (great preceptor).

Following Chogen's death, Eisai, known as the founder of the Rinzai Sect in Japan, took over the position of Todai-ji Temple Daikanjin.

The Shunjo-do Hall at Todai-ji Temple is dedicated to Chogen and houses the 'Seated Statue of Priest Chogen' (National Treasure). This Kamakura period sculpture is renowned as a masterpiece for its striking realism. Statues of Priest Chogen remain at Jodo-ji Temple (Ono City) (bessho of Harima Province), Shindaibutsu-ji Temple (bessho of Iga Province) and Amida-ji Temple (Hofu City) (Suo bessho).


Chogen wrote "Namuamidabutsu-sazenshu" (book about Chogen's works) around 1203. It is said to be due to the influence of Chogen that the posthumous Buddhist name Amidabutsu (Amida Buddha) came to be used today.

After the Great Buddha Hall

The Great Buddha Hall reconstructed by Chogen was once again burnt to the ground by Hisahide MATSUNAGA in his conflict with the miyoshi sanninshu (three chief retainers of the Miyoshi clan) in 1567 during the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States).

The current Great Buddha Hall was rebuilt during the Hoei era in the Edo period (1704 - 1711).

Structures dating from the time of Chogen that remain standing at the modern Todai-ji Temple consist of Nandai-mon (great south gate), the Kaisan-do (Founder's hall) and the Hokke-do Rei-do (ceremony hall).

The Jodo-do hall (Ono City, Hyogo Prefecture) at Jodo-ji Temple (Ono City) which was built at Harima bessho in 1197 remains standing today and has been designated a National Treasure.

Daibutsu-yo Architectural Style

This architectural style used in the Great Buddha Hall rebuilt by Chogen as well as in other buildings is highly distinctive and was once called 'Tenjiku-yo' (lit. Indian style) but this was misleading as it has no connection to India, so is therefore now referred to as 'Daibutsu-yo' (lit. Great Buddha style).

It is said to be related to the style used in Fujian Province during Song Dynasty of China. According to the history of Japanese architecture, China was highly influential during the Asuka period the Tenpyo period (729 - 749) period, but Japan went on to develop its own style during the Heian period before China once again came to exert an influence on the country. Structurally, the style incorporates a horizontal beam known as a nuki (penetrating tie beam), which is used in combination with pillars to reinforce the structure. Decorations called kurigata (a molding) are also used on the ends of the nuki.

[Original Japanese]