When the Konrenji Midado was rebuilt in 1954, the clay tiles then being used for roofing were replaced with the original cedar shingles and a small room was added to the east side, restoring the hall to its original appearance. Before the master builder began work, he traveled around Japan studying other Amida halls to make sure the Midado would be rebuilt faithfully.
The Midado, a small Buddha hall in the precincts of the Soto Zen temple Konrenji, is nestled like a simple yet elegant jewel amida dense forest. It is said to have been erected in 1186, but its architectural style is typical of the mid-Kamakura period (11851333). The oldest extant building in Aichi Prefecture, it was designated a national treasure in 1955.
Konrenji is located at the mouth of the Yahagi River in Kira Town. Once upon a time the sea came almost up to the temple gate, says the chief priest, Koshun Tomatsu. Its seaside location made the area easily accessible, and beginning in the late Heian period (7941185) it was developed as an aristocratic domain known as Kirasho. After the Jokyu Disturbance of 1221 (the retired emperor Go-Tobas unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Kama-kura Shogunate) it came under Samurai rule and was governed by the shogunate-appointed constable in charge of the province of Mikawa.
After Minamoto no Yoritomo, founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, had restored peace to the land, wishing to rule by Buddhism, he ordered the constable in charge of Mikawa to build seven midado [Amida halls] for the repose of the spirits of the war dead, explains Tomatsu. The Midado of Konrenji was one of these.
It became fashionable for individuals to build small Buddha halls and temples to fulfill personal vows in the 11th century. Of the countless such edifices erected, only 20 dating back to the Kamakura period remain nationwide.
The core of the Midado is a small square space, typical of medieval Japanese architecture, housing images of the buddha Amida (Amitabha) and his two attendant bodhisattvas on a dais. This is the plainest style of Buddha hall, similar to priestly and aristocratic dwellings of the period. Various elements of contemporary domestic architectural design can be seen, including the cedar-shingled roof, the latticed ceiling, the squared-off pillars, and the curved eave supports. The open, guileless beauty of the Midado, with its gently curving roof and wide wraparound veranda, has a soothing effect on visitors.
The sea breeze on the veranda feels good in summer, says Tomatsu. In the old days the nearby farmers would come here to cool off and to dry the mulberry leaves used to feed silkworms, he recalls.
The Midado, beloved of the local people for 1,000 years, retains its dignified beauty and still tugs at the heart.
(Sachie Mutsuda; photos by Hi-roshi Ohashi)