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abbot's quarters (hōjō 方丈)

1. The term hōjō, literally "ten feet" ( 丈) "square" ( 方), comes from the Vimalakīrti Sūtra (Yuima kyō 維摩經), where it refers to the ten-foot-square room in which the layman Vimalakīrti was miraculously able to host a vast assembly of bodhisattvas for a debate on ultimate truth. By the tenth century in China, the term had come to signify the private quarters of the abbot in a Buddhist monastery.

2. In medieval Japanese Zen monasteries that were built on the Song Chinese model, the abbot's quarters was a multi-building walled compound reserved for the use of the abbot and his invited guests. The compound was located to the north of the dharma hall and was usually connected to it by a covered corridor. Buildings within the compound included: (1) an inner abbot's quarters (oku hōjō 奧方丈 or nai hōjō 内方丈), also called the abbot's private quarters (shindō 寢堂), that served as a bedroom, dressing room, and study; (2) an outer abbot's quarters (omote hōjō 表方丈), where the abbot entertained lay patrons and government officials, consulted with monastic officers, held small convocations (shōsan 小參) for instructing disciples, and met individually with disciples who "entered the room" (nisshitsu 入室) for individual consultation (dokusan 獨參); and (3) a kitchen-residence (kuri 庫裡), used to prepare meals for the abbot and his guests and to house the abbot's staff of acolytes (jisha 侍者) and postulants (anja 行者). The entrance to the outer abbot's quarters was in a portico (genkan 玄關), the name of which literally means "gateway" (kan 關) to the "occult" or "profound" (gen 玄). Within the walls of the abbot's quarters compound, adjacent to the buildings and visible from inside them, were meticulously manicured landscape gardens, which often used rocks and gravel as well as trees, shrubs, and moss. The buildings themselves were decorated with fine art (paintings and calligraphy) and the best furnishings. The opulence and refined aesthetics of the abbot's quarters enhanced the prestige of the monastery and provided amenities that were appreciated by VIP patrons and officials when they came to visit the abbot.

3. During the Muromachi period (1333-1573), the abbot's quarters compounds of major Zen monasteries in Japan were replicated, albeit on a smaller scale, in hundreds of mortuary sub-temples or "stupa sites" (tatchū 塔頭) that were built to enshrine the stupas of former abbots and to serve as the ancestral mortuary temples (bodaiji 菩提寺) of wealthy lay families. The so-called abbot's quarters (hōjō 方丈) of the typical sub-temple housed the mortuary portrait (shin 眞, chinzō 頂相) of the founding abbot (a former abbot of the main monastery) and the spirit tablets (ihai 位牌) of patron's ancestors. Although named "abbot's quarters," the facility was used mainly for memorial services. The other building in a sub-temple compound was the kitchen-residence (kuri 庫裡), where the current abbot of the sub-temple and his staff of monks lived. Their duties were to attend the enshrined ancestral spirits and entertain lay patrons when they came to memorial services. Such sub-temples typically had fine works of art and gardens in and around their "abbot's quarters" building, similar to (but smaller than) those found in the abbot's quarters compound of the main monastery (hon garan 本伽藍). "mortuary sub-temple."

4. In the Edo period (1600-1868), the Tokugawa shogunate established the so-called parishioner system (danka seido 檀家制度), under which every household in Japan was required to affiliate with and support a Buddhist temple where its family funerals and ancestral rites were to be performed. A huge number of mortuary temples were built, most of them patterned after the sub-temple compounds found at large Zen monasteries. As a result, virtually every Buddhist temple in Japan (including ordinary temples belonging to the Soto school) came to have an "abbot's quarters" that is basically a mortuary hall, and a kitchen-residence where the abbot (and, in modern times, his family) actually lives. At present, such "abbot's quarters" are commonly referred to as main halls (hondō 本堂). Because ordinary temples do not have separate buddha halls or dharma halls, all the observances that are supposed (according to Standard Observances of the Soto Zen School) to take place in those facilities are actually held in the main hall, i.e. the "abbot's quarters."

5. Standard Observances of the Soto Zen School uses "abbot's quarters" (hōjō 方丈) to refer to whatever building(s) or set of rooms are set aside for use by the abbot of a monastery, including a semi-private place for entertaining visitors and meeting with disciples, and a private area that usually includes a bedroom, study, bath, and toilet. The two head temples, Eiheiji and Sōjiji, are the only Soto monasteries that still have an abbot's quarters compound of the sort that existed in medieval Japanese Zen.