Japan Temples and Shrines

Shitenno – the four heavenly kings

The Shitennō are Buddhist protectors of the four directions. They ward off evil, guard the nation, and protect the world from malicious spirits, hence the Japanese term Gose Shitennō, literally “four world-protecting deva kings.” Each represents a direction, season, color, virtue, and element.

They are almost always depicted wearing armor and holding weapons, and are sometimes referred to as Generals. They will sometimes be found in the four corners of a temple’s main altar. Lined up alongside other deities flanking the temples main statue is also quite common.

Sometimes Shitenno will be found in the main gate of a temple, two in the front bays and the other two in the inner bays.


Often known also as Bishamonten, Tamonten is probably the best known of the Shitenno and the one that you are likely to find without the other three.

Sometimes called a God of War, he was to a certain extent adopted by samurai. Guardian of the North, his associated element is Earth, and the color white.

His season is winter. All-knowing and all-hearing, Tamonten is associated with wealth, and is usually depicted with a small stupa (pagoda) in one hand.


Jikokuten means Guardian of the Nation, and he usually carries a sword and a staff. He guards the east and his element is water. Associated with strength his color is either blue or green and his season is spring.


Guarding the south, Zochoten is associated with both prosperity and spiritual growth. His season is summer, color is red, and his element is fire. Usually depicted with one hand resting on his hip and the other holding a pole weapon.


Guardian of the west, he sees all and sees through evil. Komokuten is usually depicted carrying a scroll and a brush. His season is the autumn, his color white and element metal.

This blog was written based on articles in https://www.japanvisitor.com.

The image below is of Tamonten. Together with the image of Komokuten, above, and the busts of Zochoten and Jikokuten, at the top of the page, they are the four heavenly kings on display at Todaiji Temple in Nara. The latter two figures, were never completed, and therefore only the busts are on display.

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