Comprehensive Disaster Restoration to Facilitate Civic Usage of Kosan-ji Temple, a Buddhist Temple that is also a World Heritage Site

 The view from National Treasure Sekisui-in Hall (2020)
The view from National Treasure Sekisui-in Hall (2020)

The temple grounds seen from the main path (2020)
The temple grounds seen from the main path (2020)

In Japan, repair and restoration work for cultural properties is divided into two categories: 1.) work responding to deterioration over time and 2.) work responding to damage from disasters and other emergency situations. This article provides a general overview of disaster recovery work performed by Ueyakato Landscape in response to damage done to the temple by a typhoon in 2018.

Kosan-ji Temple is an independent temple belonging to the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It is in the mountains northwest of Kyoto City and is known for its autumn leaves. St. Myōe, a Kegon sect monk and reformer of Buddhism in the thirteenth century, restored the temple to prosperity and built the temple’s hall where he spent his later years. It is generally known as the temple that houses some of Japan’s earliest drawing of animals, Chōju jinbutsu giga (Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Humans). In recognition of the importance of the tens of thousands of historical documents housed there, it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple grounds include National Treasure Sekisui-in Hall, which still exists in the same form as when St. Myōe trained there. It also has Japan’s oldest tea field—said to be where tea shrubs were first grown in Japan—and Ikō-an Garden, a tea garden that is a designated Place of Scenic Beauty of Kyoto City. The entire temple grounds are a nationally designated Historic Site of Japan.

To these grounds of Kosan-ji Temple came heavy torrential rains on July 5-6, 2018. Then, on September 4, there was a major typhoon. Damage from typhoon winds was especially serious, and there were large broken branches all over the temple grounds, particularly on the northern slope of the tea fields. The damage included approximately 300 trees that had been blown down; and that’s just counting the trees with thick trunks alone.

表参道から見た境内地の様子(2020年現在) Damage on the main path

Fallen trees also damaged buildings, such as the Main Worship Hall (Kondo Hall) and Founder’s Hall (Kaisando Hall), stone walls, stone stairs, and the paving of the main path. Kaisando Hall’s eastern slope collapsed, and heavy rains led to the collapse of the valley bank on the west side of Sekisui-in Hall. The stone walls included some areas created as early as the Kamakura period (1185-1333), and are regarded as having extraordinarily high cultural value.

表参道から見た境内地の様子(2020年現在) Stone wall damage

表参道から見た境内地の様子(2020年現在) amaged areas around Kondo Hall

To repair this damage, Ueyakato Landscape’s work mainly consisted of cleaning up fallen trees, repairing stone wall areas, and performing restoration work for drainage canals, the main path, and stone stairs, and the valley bank on Sekisui-in Hall’s west side.

For tree cleanup, we removed fallen trees that posed a danger of causing even more damage immediately following the typhoon. Then we secured a temporary path for temple visitors before embarking upon the main repair work.

表参道から見た境内地の様子(2020年現在) Removing fallen trees

For stone wall repairs, first we gathered stones broken apart by fallen trees and other factors. In places where rebuilding was necessary due to a wall leaning to one side or for other reasons, we took records of the wall and then dismantled it.

表参道から見た境内地の様子(2020年現在) Number labels on each rock before temporarily dismantling the wall to rebuild it

We then rebuilt the wall by replacing each stone as close to its original position as possible. In places that had collapsed to the point that their original form could not be recognized, we rebuilt the wall by following the piling patterns in remnant areas to avoid destroying the atmosphere of the stone walled area.

Stone wall area before repair Stone wall area before repair

Stone wall area after repair Stone wall area after repair

So even when emergency repair work unexpectedly arises due to disasters or other factors, contemporary artisans rebuild cultural properties so that the impression they make can be carried on and continuously passed down to the future.

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