Kuden (Zushi) (宮殿 (厨子))
Kuden is a kind of Buddhist altar case called 'Zushi' to contain a Buddhist object of worship such as a Buddhist statute, an image of patriarch, or the like. Kuden is not clearly distinguished from 'Zushi', but generally those made like real shrines and temples in their structures, models, forms, and techniques are called 'Kuden-style zushi' or 'Kuden'. Kuden is usually written as 宮殿 but sometimes as 空殿 as a substitute characters.
The word 'Zushi' was not used in Japan before the Nara period, and the Buddhist alter cases in the form of a temple were called 'Kuden'. The oldest existing Japanese Kuden-style zushi is 'Tamamushi no zushi' in the Horyuji Temple and the second oldest one is 'Tachibana fujin nenjibutsu zushi' in the same temple.
Difference between sects
Each branch of Jodo Shinshu sect has its own regulation for the Buddhist altar case. In the regulations, the form of the main temple is considered the proper form so that the subsidiary temples and patrons of the temple follow the form for their Buddhist altar. The sects other than the Jodo Shinshu do not have regulations in particular.
Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha branch (Nishi Hongwanji)
The single-layered gabled roof, the pillars gilded with gold leaf: designed after the Hall of Amida Buddha of the Hongwan-ji Temple
Shinshu Otani-ha branch (Higashi Honganji)
The double-layered tiled roof, the black lacquered pillar with metal fittings, the vermilion-lacquered balustrade with the ornamental railing knob gilded with gold leaf: the black pillar is designed after the Amida Hall of Higashi Honganji, and the double-layered roof is designed after the Daishido Hall
Kuden of a Buddhist altar
While Kuden of a temple usually consists of a single room, Kuden of a Buddhist altar generally consists of three rooms: a room for enshrining the principal image and two rooms on both sides for enshrining Kyoji (attendants statues). As a gilded Buddhist altar originated as a small temple, its Kuden also precisely designed after that of a temple. Kuden of a Buddhist altar usually consists of a roof and pillars but doors and is part of the altar more than a Buddhist altar case. Kuden is placed on the pedestal called Shumidan for the statue as it is generally considered to represent a magnificent palace in the Pure Land. In some producing center of gilded Buddhist altars, there are artisans specialized in Kuden called 'Kudenshi' other than the artisan for making wooden parts, and some of them may make Shumidan.
Particular structures are shown below.
Kuden with a hinged door attached to the room on the right facing the Buddhist altar to be looked like a Buddhist altar case. This is generally seen in the Buddhist altars known as Mikawa Butsudan and Nagoya Butsudan for Shinshu Otani-ha branch.
Movable Kuden consists of a single room designed after a Kuden of a temple. It is considered to be made for escaping with the main object of worship in case of disaster. As it requires much time in making this Kuden, this is only used for quality Buddhist altars.
Kuden without pillars to make the main object of worship seen from outside. This is used for some sects other than Jodo Shinshu sect.
As Kuden is a feature of the Buddhist altar, it is generally not seen in western furniture style Buddhist altars.
Kuden as the objects held in the hands of Buddhist images
Kuden is found among the objects held in the hands of the thousand-armed Goddess of mercy. It is called Kekuden in the sutras and considered to mean the place where Buddha is born.