The imposing Sanmon Gate stands at the entrance to the temple. While the main gate to most Buddhist temples is called the "Sanmon Gate," using the Chinese characters for "mountain gate," at Tofuku-ji Temple, the "Sanmon Gate," is an abbreviation for "San Gedatsu Mon," using the Chinese characters for "Gate to the Three Stages of Emancipation from Worldly Attachments."
Standing about 22 meters high, the Sanmon Gate remains just as it was when the temple was rebuilt by Ashikaga Yoshimochi in the Muromachi Period (1392-1573). Accordingly, this is both the largest and oldest Zen Sect Sanmon Gate still standing, and it is designated as a national treasure. In addition, it is said that Ashikaga Yoshimochi wrote the framed tablet at the top of the gate. The Chinese character for "Myou" in this tablet, the "Myouunkaku," is based on the Zen practice of closing temples to women, with the character itself compiled of sub-characters for women and gates. While the construction of the buildings, the turned up roofing, and the gates of the temple are in the orthodox Zen temple style, in fact, there are characteristic differences to be seen everywhere. For example, the columns, girders and eaves, etc., are in the Daibutsuyo architectural style employed at the Great South Gate at Todai-ji Temple in Nara, and the eaves on the upper levels of the gate are in the Wayo style employed in Japan before the Daibutsuyo style was transmitted to Japan from China.
The various architectural styles employed at the Sanmon Gate illustrate the history that has carried Tofuku-ji Temple down the generations to the present. Why don't you come and stand in front of the Sanmon Gate, where you can sense the flow of history from long ago.