A kara-mon at Nijō Castle

The kara-mon or kara-kado (唐門) is a type of gate seen in Japanese architecture. It is characterized by the usage of kara-hafu, an undulating bargeboard peculiar to Japan. Kara-mon are often used at the entrances of Japanese castles, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, and have historically been a symbol of authority.


Further information: Kara-hafu

Although kara (唐) can be translated as meaning "China" or "Tang", this type of roof with undulating bargeboards first appeared in Japan during the late Heian period.[1] It was named thus because the word kara was associated by the Japanese with any type of ornate architecture regardless of origin.[2] The karahafu developed during the Heian period and is shown in picture scrolls to decorate gates, corridors, and palanquins. The oldest existing karahafu is found at Hōryū-ji temple.[1]

Initially, the kara-hafu was used only in temples and aristocratic gateways, but starting from the beginning of the Azuchi–Momoyama period, it became an important architectural element in the construction of a daimyō's mansions and castles. The kara-mon entrance was reserved for the shōgun during his onari visits to the retainer, or for the reception of the emperor at shogunate establishments. A structure associated with these social connections naturally imparted special meaning.[3]

Kara-mon would later become a means to proclaim the prestige of a building and functioned as a symbol of both religious and secular architecture.[4] In the Tokugawa shogunate, the kara-mon gates were a powerful symbol of authority reflected in architecture.[5]



A Mukai-kara-mon at Kitano Tenman-gū

Mukai-kara-mon (向唐門) is the most common form of kara-mon, and features two kara-hafu at the front and back of the gate. This type of gate may incorporate a kara-hafu in the middle of the roof, or the entire gable itself may be a curved structure.[6]


A hira-kara-mon at Daigo-ji

Hira-kara-mon (平唐門) are distinguished with two kara-hafu on the left and right sides of the gate. This type of gate was originally used at palaces, and was once called miyuki-mon (御幸門).[7]


Yōmeimon, a kara-yotsu-ashi-mon at Nikkō Tōshō-gū

Kara-yotsu-ashi-mon (唐四脚門, "Four-legged gate") is an ornate style of kara-mon that features four undulating gables on all sides of the gate. A good example of this type of gate can be found at Nikkō Tōshō-gū. This kara-mon is decorated with 611 sculptures, including the Seven Lucky Gods and the Eight Immortals.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b "karahafu 唐破風." JAANUS. Retrieved on June 12, 2009.
  2. ^ "karamon 唐門." JAANUS. Retrieved on June 12, 2009.
  3. ^ Sarvimaki: Structures, Symbols and Meanings (2000), 18/2000, 82–84, 178.
  4. ^ Sarvimaki: Layouts and Layers (2003), Vol 3, No. 2, 80–108.
  5. ^ Coaldrake (1996), 197
  6. ^ "mukaikaramon 向唐門". JAANUS. Retrieved on June 12, 2009.
  7. ^ "hirakaramon 平唐門". JAANUS. Retrieved on June 12, 2009.
  8. ^ 日光東照宮・唐門


  • Coaldrake, William. (1996). Architecture and Authority in Japan. London/New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-05754-X.
  • Sarvimaki Marja. (2000). Structures, Symbols and Meanings: Chinese and Korean Influence on Japanese Architecture. Helsinki University of Technology, Department of Architecture. ISBN 0-521-36918-5.
  • Sarvimaki Marja. (2003). Layouts and Layers: Spatial Arrangements in Japan and Korea. Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies, Volume 3, No. 2. Retrieved on May 30, 2009.
  • Parent, Mary Neighbour. (2003). Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System.