suien 水煙
CATEGORY: architecture / general terms
 
Four decorative metal pieces attached at right angle to the metal sheathing that covers the tapered extended central pillar, *shinbashira 心柱, that forms the core of the finial on Buddhist pagodas, *tou 塔. The suien is the third element from the top of the finial, *sourin 相輪, and is often flame-shaped. There is considerable variation in the open work design of the suien. The characters mean "water" and "fire" and therefore the suien may have symbolized protection from fire. Originally called kaen 火煙 meaning a blazing flame, but fire had a horrifying connotation for the Japanese, and thus the word kaen was dropped and replaced by suien. Example: Yakushiji 薬師寺 East Pagoda, Toutou 東塔, early 8 c, in Nara.
 

Yakushiji Toutou 薬師寺東塔 (Nara)

 
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