Nara Temples: Horyuji Temple
Horyuji Temple 法隆寺
Horyuji Temple, located about 10km south west from the center of Nara, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the first to be so designated in Japan) and is home to some of the world's oldest surviving wooden buildings.
History of Horyuji Temple
Horyuji was founded, according to the wishes of his dying father, Emperor Yomei and the Empress Suiko (554-628), in 607 by Prince Shotoku (573-621). Emperor Yomei wished to build a temple and an image of Buddha as a form of observance and prayer for recovery from illness. The emperor died before his wishes could be completed and were thus carried out by his son and consort.
Horyuji ("Temple of the Flourishing Law") burnt down in 670 and was then rebuilt; the ancient wooden structures in the temple complex are thought to date to the time of that reconstruction.
Horyuji can be considered the cradle of Japanese Buddhism and contains some of its most beautiful artistic treasures. The buildings exhibit cultural and architectural influences from China and Korea from where Buddhism was transmitted to Japan.
That the 45 most important buildings at Horyuji have survived the various vicissitudes of fire and earthquake over the succeeding ages is a testament to the quality of their construction and design. The Five-Story Pagoda was dismantled during World War II and reassembled when the conflict ended.
Horyuji Temple Buildings
Horyuji consists of two precincts: the Toin-garan (東院) or Higashi-no-in (Eastern Temple) grouped around the Five-Story Pagoda and the Saiin-garan (西院) or Nishi-no-in (Western Temple) centered around the Yumedono (Hall of Visions).
Visitors enter the Saiin of Horyuji through two gates: the Nandaimon (Great South Gate), rebuilt in 1438, then the Chumon (Middle Gate), with its impressive, muscular Nio guardians, one painted red, the other black.
The Main Hall (Kondo) is a National Treasure and one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. The Kondo contains the main sacred statues of the temple. These priceless Buddhist images include a bronze Shaka Triad showing the historical Buddha and two bodhisattvas (Yukuo and Yakujo), dating from 623. To the right is the Yakushi Nyorai - the Buddha of Healing - to which the temple is dedicated. This historic statue was cast in 607. A 12th century Amida Buddha commemorates Prince Shotoku's mother. The walls of the Kondo are decorated with frescos that have been restored following a fire in 1949.
The 32.5m-tall Five-Story Pagoda (Goju-no-to) is the oldest five-storied pagoda in Japan dating from 607. Inside the building is a collection of clay statues from the Nara Period (710-794). To the north of the Five-Story Pagoda is the Daikodo (Lecture Hall) containing a Yakushi Trinity in gilt wood, reconstructed in 920 during the Heian Period from the original. Near here are the Kyozo (Sutra Library) and Shoro (Belfry) both designated as National Treasures.
The Shoryoin (Sacred Spirit Hall) holds an 83cm seated statue of Shotoku Taishi. The Kofuzo is an art repository of important Buddhist sculptures donated to the temple.
The Daihozoden (Gallery of Temple Treasures) consists of two ferro-concrete buildings first built in 1941 in azekura (storehouse) style and then completely rebuilt in 1998.
The Gallery of Temple Treasures house important Buddhist works including the Yumetagai Kannon, as well as a sandalwood statue of the Nine-headed Kannon plus ancient masks, frescos, bronzes and other Buddhist altar pieces.
The eastern precinct (Toin Garan) added in 739 is entered through the Todaimon Gate and contains the octagonal Hall of Visions (Yume-dono). This delightful, wooden building contains the Kuse Kannon (Avalokitesvara), said to be a life-size statue of Prince Shotoku, measuring 1.8 meters and covered in gold leaf.
Other important structures in the eastern precinct include the Dempodo (Sermon Hall), the Shoro (Belfry), the Raido (Prayer Hall), Eden (Picture Hall), and Shariden (Buddha's Ashes Hall).
Next door to Horyuji Temple is Chuguji Temple, a nunnery founded in 621 which was the residence of Shotoku Taishi's mother. An image of the Miroku Bosatsu is the main draw, now housed in a modern hall along with a piece of embroidery thought to be the oldest in Japan.
1-1 Horyuji Sannai
Nara Prefecture 636-0115
Tel: 0745 75 2555
To reach Horyuji Temple, which is located in the Ikaruga district, take a JR Yamatoji Line Osaka-bound train to Horyuji Station and then walk the 20 minutes to the temple of take a local #72 bus. Alternatively, take a #97 bus from Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station to Horyuji-mae bus stop. Bicycles can be hired at the information office near the bus stop on National Highway 25 at the entrance road to the temple.
Access - how to get to Nara
Airport limousine services to Kansai International Airport or JR train and change at Tennoji Station in Osaka.
Access to Osaka on JR West (about 45 minutes on the express) or Kintetsu Line from Namba and Tsuruhashi. Access to Kyoto on either Kintetsu Railways (35 minutes on the Super Express Tokyu) or JR West (40 minutes on the Miyakojima Express).
There are overnight bus services to Shinjuku in Tokyo.
Tourist Information Center
Nara City Tourist Information Office
Tel: 0742 24 4858
Kintetsu Nara Station