Gorinto (five-ring tower) (五輪塔)

Gorinto are a type of Buddhist pagoda used as a tomb tower or for memorial services. They are also called Gorin Stupa (五輪卒塔婆) or Gorin Gedatsu (enlightenment) (五輪解脱).


Gorinto consist of five rings which are symbolic of the elements of the universe in ancient India, or Godai (five elements) in Japanese: from the top to bottom, the Hoju shape (a lotus flower, Ku-rin = the ether ring), the crescent shape (Fu-rin = the air ring), the pyramid, or hat or roof shape (Ka-rin = the fire ring), the sphere shape (Sui-rin = the water ring), and the cube shape (Chi-rin = the earth ring).

This structure comes from the philosophy of Esoteric Buddhism especially of Kukai (in his work "Sokushin jobutsu gi" (Attaining Enlightenment in This Very Existence)) and Kakuban (in his work "Gorin kuji myo himitsu shaku" (Secret Explication of the Mantras of the Five Wheels and the Nine Syllables)). Each section is often inscribed with the Shuji (種子) (Sanskrit letters) or Chinese letters from top to bottom, kha (void, or 空), ha (air, or 風), ra (fire, or 火), va (water, or 水), and a (earth, or 地), and in Nichiren and Tendai sect temples sometimes Gorinto are inscribed with the five Chinese letters '妙法蓮華経' (the Lotus Sutra).

Gorinto are usually made of stone, but some are made of wood, metal, crystal, or are line carvings on a rock (an example is Kiyomizu Magaibutsu Buddha Statue). Their shapes are slightly different depending on the periods or times when they were built.

The theory of Godai (five elements of the universe) was born in India, and the development of Gorinto shows the deep influence of Esoteric Buddhism which reconstructed this Indian philosophy. Building Gorinto in Japan is thought to have started in the second half of the Heian period. The oldest examples of Gorinto are Yukei Gorinto (half way between a Gorinto and a Hoto, a two-storied Buddhist tower) at Chuson-ji Temple Ganjojuin in Hiraizumi-cho, Iwate Prefecture, and the Gorinto (inscribed with the year 1169) at Chuson-ji Temple Shakusonin in the same town. Building Gorinto became common from the Kamakura period, and through the Muromachi period and the Edo period to today, they have been made as tombstones and memorial towers for soothing the souls of the deceased.

Meaning of Gorinto

Buddhist towers are called stupa (卒塔婆), which bear meaning similar to Busshari (Buddha's relics). However, small Gorinto, Hokyointo towers and Tahoto (made of stone) were probably made as tombstones or memorial towers from the beginning. Some Gorinto built in the medieval era contain remains of the deceased in their earth rings. Many Gorinto serving as tombstones or memorial towers exist all over the country, and Gorinto from the medieval era are often found in pieces or buried in the woods close to villages. Tombstones forming rectangular columns modeled after ancestral tablets that are commonly seen in many cemeteries have been made since the middle of the Edo period, but Gorinto are still found in many temples and graveyards today.

Gorinto in the Kamakura Region
The graves called "Yagura" from the medieval era common in the Kamakura region house Gorinto made of stone serving as tombstones and memorials, and some Gorinto are reliefs on the walls. At Ninsho's grave in Gokuraku-ji Temple in Kamakura City, there is a huge Gorinto called "Ninshoto Tower" which is 306 cm tall. Ninkoto tower at the side of it is 289 cm tall. Kakukento tower on the hill in Ogigayatsu Izumigayatsu, where Taho-ji Temple used to be, is the tallest in the Kamakura region, measuring 326 cm tall. Many other Gorinto are found in Kamakura. The material of those Gorinto is Anzangan rock (andesite) from Hakone or Manazuru.