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Kamakura period wooden sculptures of the Shitennô, Freer Gallery of Art.
  • Japanese: 四天王 (shitennou)

The Shitennô, lit. "Four Heaven Kings," are a group of Buddhist figures who serve as symbolic guardians of the four directions. They originated as folk religion figures in Central Asia, before being incorporated into the Chinese Buddhist pantheon, and as such take the form of armored horse-riding warriors. The Four Heaven Kings were particularly revered by the imperial court in the earliest centuries of Japanese Buddhism, as gurdians of the State.[1]

The four are:

  • Tamonten 多聞天, also known as Bishamonten 毘沙門天 (Guardian of the North)
  • Jikokuten 持国天 (Guardian of the East)
  • Zôchôten 増長天 (Guardian of the South)
  • Kômokuten 広目天 (Guardian of the West)

The term Shitennô has also been used historically to refer to certain figures' most trusted four generals, or to group and elevate other figures. Some examples include:


  • Gallery labels at Freer Gallery of Art, F1976.12,19,20,28.
  1. Gallery labels, "Izumo and Yamato," special exhibition, Tokyo National Museum, Feb 2020.