written 鈎欄 or 勾欄, the latter said by some scholars to be the correct characters.
But, 高欄 is the more common, popular usage. A balustrade or railing which
adds a decorative element to temple and shrine architecture. It can also
refer to the railings that surround a veranda or to the handrails placed
on each side of the steps leading to a veranda or directly to the entrance.
This type of railing is called noborikouran 昇高欄 or 登高欄. A small railing
attached at an angle to the lower end of the noborikouran is called
The cylindrical upper part of a *tahoutou 多宝塔 (a type of two-storied pagoda), is encircled by a railing called mawarikouran 廻高欄. Balustrades are also positioned on the *shumidan 須弥壇, a platform on which Buddhist images are placed. For practical reasons kouran are used on bridges and wherever needed to prevent people
from falling. Kouran generally, are composed of three horizontal
members: the top rail *hokogi 架木, the middle rail *hirageta 平桁 and the bottom rail *jifuku 地覆. Vertical posts or struts *tsuka 束 are often topped with bearing blocks *masu 斗 to carry the top rails, and decorated according to the style of the period.
On early kouran, the top rails were perfectly straight, round beams
with their vertically cut ends extending beyond the corner posts. By the
8c the extended ends began to curve slightly upward. One example of this
type of railing is found on the Miniature five-storied pagoda at Gangouji Gokurakubou
元興寺極楽坊 (8c) in Nara. There were exceptions in the shape of the
top rail. For example, Yakushiji Toutou 薬師寺東塔 (8c) in Nara, had a weathered top rail that appeared to have been octagonal in
cross section. In the 13c after the introduction of Zen style architecture
the top and middle rails were sometimes decorated with lotus leaves and
their extended ends had strong upward curves. Sometimes they even looked
like an s-curve and were ornamented with arabesques or other patterns. The
middle rail hirageta is rectangular in cross-section with the wider side running horizontal
to the ground. The ends extend beyond the corner posts and were cut straight
off in the early periods. Like the top rails, they are completely straight.
But the middle rails of the miniature pagoda at Gangouji Gokurakubou, although
a little shorter than the top rails, curve up in the same way as the top
rails. The bottom rail is almost square and thicker than
the middle or top rails. Between the Heian and Muromachi periods, the top
surface was generally arched slightly. It usually has a *mizuguri 水繰, a relatively long, low opening on the underside for the purpose
of drainage. Posts and struts are named according to their type and placement.
Those which support a bearing block are called tozuka or masuzuka 斗束. The top rails fit into the bearing blocks adding strength to the entire
balustrade. Tozuka may be found on corner posts only, or on all the
struts in between. In some cases, a short strut is placed between the bottom
and middle rails at the corners in line with the corner bearing block and
is called toori tatarazuka 通りたたら束, although this is really synonymous
with tozuka, tatarazuka たたら束, komi tatarazuka 込たたら束 or kirizuka 切束. *Yomezuka 嫁束 is also a strut placed at the center of each side, and does not port
a bearing block. Balustrades themselves are also named according to certain
characteristics. The type with a straight rail is called kumikouran 組高欄. Those with slightly curved rails projecting beyond the corner posts
described above are called hanekouran 刎高欄. The oldest extant kouran is found on the *Kondou 金堂 and *Gojuu-no-tou 五重塔
at Houryuuji Sai-in 法隆寺西院, in Nara. It exemplifies a style brought from
Yangang (Jp: Unkou 雲岡) China and has characteristic 7c the decoration between
the middle and bottom rails. This fretwork was called *manjikuzushi kumiko 万字崩組子 which is somewhat reminiscent of the swastika shape. During the
8c-11c, a horizontal lath yokorenji 横連子, was set between the rails.
Examples: Kairyuuouji Gojuu shoutou 海竜王寺五重小塔 (early 8c) in Nara;
Murouji Gojuu-no-tou 室生寺五重塔 (early 9c) in Nara, and Byoudouin
*Hououdou 平等院鳳凰堂 (1053) in Kyoto. When the corner posts are large,
have thick necks with entasis, and are surmounted by teardrop or onion shaped
ornaments *giboshi 擬宝珠, the balustrade is called *giboshi
kouran 擬宝珠高欄. This type appeared in the 12c-13c. The oldest extant
examples are at Houkaiji Amidadou 法界寺阿弥陀堂 in Kyoto, and on the interior
of Ujigami Jinja Honden 宇治上神社本殿 in Kyoto. Both types are referred to as *ｗayou
kouran 和様高欄 and were used throughout the 13c. There is also a more
elaborate balustrade with larger and higher corner posts, also occasionally
centered. These posts oyabashira 親柱 or houjubashira 宝珠柱
are capped with carved, inverted lotus flowers called *gyakuren 逆蓮 (posts crowned with inverted lotus flowers are also called gyakurenbashira 逆蓮柱). The cross section of this type of post is usually circular but is
sometimes square or chrysanthemum-shaped, and has bearing blocks carved
with lotus leaves. This type of bearing block is called *nigirihasu 握蓮. Short struts carved with flowers or leaves are called rengezuka 蓮華束 or *kayouzuka 荷葉束.
This type of strut is thought to have originated with the Zen style in the
Kamakura period. Aside from the embellished Zen style of kouran *zenshuuyou kouran 禅宗様高欄,
a simpler type continued to be used in the wayou style until the
late 16c. It is characterized by its small giboshi, small in proportion
to the posts. Example: Jyoumyouji Hondou 浄妙寺本堂, Wakayama prefecture. Here
the posts are elaborately lacquered in black and ornamented with mother-of-pearl
*raden 螺鈿 and have gilt
bronze fittings, kondou kanagu 金銅金具.