Nara Temples: Kofukuji Temple
Kofukuji Temple 興福寺
History of Kofukuji Temple
Kofukuji Temple was founded in 669 by the powerful Fujiwara family of court nobles in Heian Period Japan. At its peak the complex comprised around 175 buildings, only a precious few still remain.
Kofukuji Temple was moved from Yamashina, now a suburb in the east of Kyoto to its present location in 710, when Nara became the new capital of the Yamato state. Along with Horyuji and Todaiji, Kofukuji Temple is important in the establishment and acceptance of Buddhism in Japan at this time. Kofukuji was known as one of the four great temples of the Nara Period and one of the seven great temples of the Heian Period in Nara: Daianji, Gangoji, Horyuji, Kofukuji, Saidaiji, Todaiji and Yakushiji.
However, none of the buildings date from the Nara Period (710-794), with most of the structures having been built between the 12th-18th centuries. Tokugawa Ieyasu provided a grant to the temple in the early 17th century to allow many of the buildings in the complex to be restored.
Kofukuji Temple Buildings
Kofukuji is noted for its fine 50m-tall Five-Story Pagoda, a Three-Story Pagoda and the Tokon-do (東金堂) and Kokuhokan (国宝館; Kofukuji National Treasure Museum), which house beautiful collections of priceless, Buddhist art and statuary.
The rather drab, concrete Kokuhokan (Admission, 600 yen) contains arguably the best collection of Japanese sculpture in the world. A set of guardians, including a standing dry-lacquer figure of a three-faced, six-armed Ashura (one of the Buddha's eight protectors) and the bronze head of Yakushi Nyorai (the Healing Buddha) are standouts.
The "Eastern Golden Hall" or Tokondo (Admission, 300 yen), a 15th century building north of the Five-Story Pagoda, has more Buddhist statues including a large image of Yakushi Nyorai flanked by three Boddhisattva, the Four Heavenly Kings (shitenno 四天王) and the Twelve Heavenly Generals (junishinno 十二神王) plus a beautiful seated image of Yuima Koji (the Indian Buddhist sage Vimalakirti).
The Five-Story Pagoda, which was completely restored in 1426, is the second tallest pagoda in Japan at 50.1m, behind the 55m-tall pagoda at Toji Temple in Kyoto. The pagoda had burnt down no less than five times before the 15th century.
The Three-Story Pagoda dates from the early 12th century and houses some important Buddhist paintings.
The original Central Golden Hall (Chukondo) at Kofukuji was destroyed by fire in 1717 and although a smaller reconstruction was built in the 1800's a completely new full-scale replica is under construction, due to be completed in 2018.
The Kofukuji temple complex has two octagonal buildings containing yet more ancient Buddhist treasures: the Hokuendo (Northern Octagonal Hall) and the Nanendo (Southern Octagonal Hall). Both have restricted opening hours to the public.
The Oyuya or bath house has an earthen floor and dates from the Muromachi Period. The bath house at Kofukuji has two large iron cauldrons. The practice of cleanliness at Buddhist temples influenced the growth of the bathing culture in Japan seen in the popularity of sento and onsen.
Tel: 0742 22 5370
Hours: 9am-5pm though the grounds are open around the clock
Admission 600 yen for adults to the National Treasure Museum; 300 yen for the Eastern Golden Hall (800 yen combined ticket).
Access - how to get to Nara
Airport limousine services to Kansai International Airport and Itami 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).
Take a yellow Nara City Loop Line Bus #2 from JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station, though it is only one stop from Kintetsu Nara Station. Get off at Kencho-mae. Buses #70, #72, #97, #160, #50, #51, #53, #82 and #92 all stop at Kencho-mae.
There are overnight bus services to and from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo and day time Meitetsu buses to Nagoya.
Tourist Information Center
Nara City Tourist Information Office
Tel: 0742 24 4858
Kintetsu Nara Station