Chokushi-Mon (Gateway of the Imperial Messenger) is a four-fifths replica of the Gate of Nishi Hongan-ji (Western Temple of the Original Vow) in Kyoto, Japan.
Japanese Gateway at Kew
Created for the Japan-British Exhibition held at White City in London in 1910, The Japanese Gateway was then dismantled and reconstructed on Mossy Hill, near the Pagoda in 1911. Ornate gateways like Chokushi-Mon are historically a symbol of authority in Japan, and can be often found at entrances to fortresses, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.
The Gateway is the finest example of a traditional Japanese building in Europe. Built in the late-16th century architectural style of the Momoyama (or Japanese rococo) period, Chokushi-Mon has finely carved woodwork, depicting stylised flowers and animals. The most intricately carved panels portray an ancient Chinese legend displaying the devotion of a pupil to his master.
The mound on which it stands was once the site of a mosque designed by Sir William Chambers, hence the name of ‘Mossy’ Hill.
Restoration and conservation
Initial detailed repair work was carried out in 1936 and 1957 by the Japanese wood-carver Kumajiro Torii who settled in Britain after the Japan-British Exhibition. However, by 1988 Chokushi-Mon was badly dilapidated and careful examination showed that it required a major – and painstaking – restoration.
With generous support from Japan and elsewhere, this eventually took place in 1994-5, using a combination of traditional Japanese skills and newly developed techniques.
Today, Chokushi-Mon is seen in rather more than its original splendour, because as part of the restoration the original lead-covered cedar-bark roof shingles were replaced with traditional and more visually dramatic, copper tiles. It stands within a traditional Japanese Landscape that was designed to complement it and opened in 1996.