Muhoto (Stone Pagoda) (無縫塔)

Muhoto is a stone pagoda (Buddhist pagoda) mostly used as a priest's tomb tower.
Muhoto is characterized by its egg-shaped body, so it is also called an 'egg tower.'
Moreover, the graveyard is called an 'egg tower grave.'


There are two types of structures, one of which is to place the lotus-shaped support of a pagoda finial on the base and place a slightly rounded, long, egg-shaped pagoda body upon it. Another type is to place a pedestal called a Rokkaku pole (hexagonal pole) or a Hakkaku pole (octagonal pole) on the base and put Chudai (literally, a stand in the middle), the lotus-shaped support of a pagoda finial and an egg-shaped pagoda on the pedestal. The egg-shaped pagoda in the first type is higher, and the one in the latter type is shorter. Legs and Kaeribanaza (a lotus-petal design carved around the lower base of a pagoda) are often placed beneath the base. In some cases poles, Chudai and the lotus-shaped supports are decorated with foliate panels. The egg-shaped pagodas vary slightly in shape, depending on their respective eras. Because this egg-shaped pagoda is seamless (made of just one stone), it's called Muhoto (Chinese characters used for Muhoto have the meaning "seamless").

There appeared various new, elaborately shaped types of pagodas in the medieval period, chiefly because the quality of the materials in use had changed; hard stones such as granite and Anzangan rock (andesite) were substituted for a fragile stone called tuff (volcanic tuff); a mason of the Okura group entered the Kanto region and actively worked; the technologies advanced; and the Kamakura New Buddhism (new schools of Japanese Buddhism founded during the Kamakura period), including the Zen sect from the continent, evolved. In the Heian period, Gorinto pagodas (gravestones composed of five pieces piled up one upon another) were built, and in the Kamakura period the construction of Hokyoin-to pagoda, board monuments and Komainu (a pair of carved stone guardian dogs) appeared.

Muhoto and the Zen sect arrived in Japan from the Sung Dynasty in the Kamakura period, and Muhoto, which was constructed in the same style as the original one, still exists in China. Muhoto, which was initially built in the Chinese Sung style, was used for the tomb tower of a great priest, particularly Kaisanso (a founder of temple as the first chief priest). Beginning in recent times, Muhoto was used by any religious sect and was also used as a tomb tower for people other than priests.

If egg-shaped towers still stand together in the graveyard of a temple, the towers should be the graves of the successive chief priests.

Representative relics

The Kaizanto of Sennyu-ji Temple (Kyoto Prefecture) is a tomb tower of Shunjo KAISAN (Fukaki Osho, a high priest as Daiko Shobo Kokushi (National Master Daiko Shobo)). Among the type of Muhoto with poles, it is thought to be the oldest one known to exist, having been built in or around 1227. In addition, there are 45 Muhoto towers in the mausoleum of the successive chief priests of Sennyu-ji Temple. There are several towers that are very similar to the type of Muhoto in Sennyu-ji Temple--mainly in the Kansai area--having the rounded, lotus-shaped support of a pagoda finial.

The Kaizanto at Daitoku-ji Temple (Kyoto Prefecture) is a tomb tower of Shuho Myocho kaizan (Daito Kokushi). Among the type of Muhoto without poles, it's the oldest one known to exist. It was built in about 1337.

The Kaizanto at Kencho-ji Temple (Kanagawa Prefecture) is a tomb tower of Doryu RANKEI Kaizan (Daikaku Zenji (Daikaku, a Zen priest who was sufficiently esteemed, learned and virtuous)), who left China during the Sung. The Kaizanto is in the mausoleum at the rear of the premises and can't be seen. It was built in 1279, a year after his death.

[Original Japanese]