Godōtenrin'ō, One of the Ten Kings of Hell


Godōtenrin'ō, One of the Ten Kings of Hell

Paintings / Muromachi

Muromachi period, 15th century

Color on silk



There is a Buddhist belief that says we will be judged for our sins after we die. The deities doing the judging will be the Ten Kings of the Buddhist Hells. From the first day to the 49th day of our passing, we will be judged by a different king every seven days. These initial seven kings are Shinkoo, Shokoo, Soteio, Gokano, Enmao, Henjoo, and Taizano. If no conclusion is reached, we will then be judged by Byodoo on the 100th day, by Toshio one year after our passing, and by Godotenrino three years after our passing. This process will determine whether we go to the Pure Land, a Buddhist paradise, or are sent to the Buddhist Hells.

These pictures depict the souls of the deceased being dragged out before the Ten Kings and tortured by demons. These types of paintings were used during Buddhist memorial services and other ceremonies. They probably served as a warning to the living to behave and avoid sin.

There is actually a way to avoid judgement by the Ten Kings. It is said practitioners falling or about to fall into hell can be saved by the Bodhisattva Jizo. As such, Jizo became deeply connected with the Ten Kings, particularly Enmao, with belief in the Ten Kings flourishing alongside faith in Jizo.

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