Sanmon (large triple gate to temple) (三門)

The term Sanmon refers to a gate located in front of a temple. Sanmon is assumed to represent Sangedatsumon (Three Gates of Liberation), which consists of three gates symbolizing three mental states, that is, kumon (gate symbolizing emptiness), musomon (gate symbolizing formlessness) and muganmon (gate symbolizing desirelessness), to pass through before reaching the Buddhist paradise.

From the viewpoint of architectural history, it is said that a main gate facing the south and two auxiliary gates facing the east and west, respectively, as provided for temples in ancient times, were called Sanmon. In more recent years, temples were provided with a large outer gate accompanied by side gates on the left and right sides, and later, temples came to have a large outer gate only; however, it is assumed that such a large outer gate remained to be called Sanmon.

There are several theories as to the derivation of the term Sanmon, including the following: that the term symbolizes the gates one has to pass through in order to be delivered from the three evil passions of avarice, anger and stupidity; or that the term symbolizes the gates to the three paths to Buddhahood of Shomon (learning), Engaku (self-attained enlightenment) and Bosatsu (bodhisattva).

In some cases, Sanmon do not have a door. It is said that this represents Buddha's deep compassion which does not deny the entry of sentient beings into the Buddhist priesthood. Some temples have gates that are referred to using the Japanese kanji "三門" (pronounced "sanmon", the literal meaning of this term is "three gates") in addition to gates that are referred to using the Japanese kanji "山門" (also pronounced "sanmon", the literal meaning of this term is "mountain gates").

Three Greatest Gates
Three Greatest Gates in Japan
There are two opinions about which gates are three greatest gates in Japan.

First Opinion
One of the Chionin Temple (in Higashiyama-ku Ward, Kyoto City)
One of the Nanzen-ji Temple (in Sakyo-ku Ward, Kyoto City)
One of the Kuon-ji Temple (in Minobu Town, Yamanashi Prefecture)
Second Opinion
Nandaimon (the great south gate) of Todai-ji Temple (in Nara City)
Nandaimon (the great south gate) of Horyu-ji Temple (in Ikaruga-cho, Nara Prefecture)
Yomeimon Gate of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine (in Nikko City)

Three Greatest Gates in Kyoto
One of Nanzen-ji Temple
One of Chionin Temple
Goeidomon Gate of Higashi Hongan-ji Temple