Horyuji Temple in Nara is one of the oldest temples in Japan, founded by Prince Setoku, the progenitor of Buddhism in Japan. Its main hall, five legendary pagodas, and central gate all date back to the 7th century and are the oldest surviving wooden structures in the world. The main attraction of the Eastern Zone of Yumedono Shrine is the Hall of Visions. In 1993 Horyuji Temple was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Horyuji Temple is the only surviving Buddhist monastery of the Asuka period in its original form. The temple complex consists of the 48 oldest wooden buildings in Japan, including a five-story pagoda. Inside the buildings are many ancient Buddhist sculptures, including some of the oldest bronze and wooden figures made by Japanese and Korean sculptors.
The history of the x ram began during the reign of the legendary Prince Sotoku (594-622 AD), who became regent of Empress Suiko in 593 and helped spread Buddhism throughout Japan, which came from Korea in the mid-6th century AD. During his reign, Buddhism became the state religion. He oversaw the construction of many Buddhist temples, but the only temple that survived is Horyuji. History mentions a fire in 670 AD and damaged several buildings, but by 710 AD they were rebuilt and regained their former appearance. The area of the temple complex is divided into two connected sections: “Sai-in” (western) and a little later formed “To-in” (eastern), they are covered with white sand, and enclosed in walls, which symbolically separates the place of God’s grace from the mortal world.
The wooden buildings of Horyuji are rare examples of early eastern Asian architecture characteristic of the Asuka period (538-710 AD). The architectural features of the period are the platform with double beams on which the structure stands, they have a slight curvature and are covered with wooden boards which allow them to carry the heavy weight of the tiled roofs. The temple complex underwent major restorations in 1374 A.D., 1603 A.D., and in the mid-20th century A.D.
Looking at the temple in detail, we can start with the main hall of the Kondo (aka Golden Hall) of the complex, which consists of a two-story wooden building with a gabled tile roof in the West section (Sai-in). The wood exterior of the hall is decorated with winged dragons. From ancient times dragons were considered the deity of water, they ruled the water elements and protected against fires. The banisters on the second level are decorated with inverted V-shaped uprights, typical features of Asuka architecture.
The interior of the hall emphasizes the Buddhist incarnation of paradise through brightly colored murals on the four walls. Twelve separate panels, each measuring 3 meters by 2.6, depict scenes with the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. The style can be compared to the frescoes in the Ajanta Cave in India. But the original wall paintings from the 8th century were destroyed by fire in 1949 A.D., and jewelry restoration work was carried out with a precise restoration of the panels. The floors are of compacted clay and the ceiling is decorated with images of lotuses. There are also four celestial guardians, bronze Buddhist sculptures, and the most important object of worship is the Shaka Triad sculpture.
The Shaka Triad is a cast bronze and gilded sculpture of a seated Buddha created by the famous sculptor Tori Bussey, as evidenced by his signature in the center. The back of the sculpture is dated AD 623, with a long prayer for health and an afterlife in the Land of Bliss engraved here for Prince Sotoku and his family. On either side of this Shaka Triad are two Buddhist sculptures of the same size, one on the left side dates from A.D. 607 and represents Yakushi, the Buddha of healing. All three sculptures are set under elaborate carved wooden canopies, and behind them is an ancient wooden sculpture of the Bodhisattva Kannon and a bronze statue of Amida Buddha.
The five-tiered pagoda is also of interest; it stands next to the Main Hall and was built to house the valuable relics of the place. The central column is more than 35 meters high. Inside and outside the pagoda is covered with red lead oxide. On the first floor you can see clay sculptures that date back to 711 A.D. and depict four scenes from the life of the Buddha. About fifty of the original figures, considered national treasures of Japan, have been replaced by copies.
To the east of the Main Hall stands the Treasury or Daihozoden, which holds equally valuable treasures such as portraits of Prince Sotoku, the famous Kudara Kannon statue, and a group of small ivory Buddhas.
Also in the Western section is the one-story lecture hall or Daikodo, a long rectangular building that was built in 990 CE after the original was destroyed by fire. Inside are two statues of Bodhisattvas, Nikko and Gekko, with figures of Yakushi Nerai, the Buddha of healing, on either side.
Between the lecture hall and the Main Hall stands the Shoro Bell Tower. The structure is uniquely shaped and contains a bell from the Nara period (710-794 AD).
The Hall of Dreams or Yumedono is located in the Eastern Territory (To-in). It was built in 739 CE on the site of the Sotoku Palace. The distinctive octagonal building is on a stone base and houses its treasure, a wooden gold leaf-covered statue of Kannon. The Hall also houses the “hidden Buddha,” known as the Guze Kannon. For centuries the statue was wrapped in a silk cloth to hide it from view and preserve its special powers. It was not until 1884 CE that the veil was removed from the gilded sculpture, the statue displaying the features of Prince Sotoku. Yumedono also keeps a portrait of Prince Sotoku, which is exhibited for one month in the spring and fall.
How to get to Horyuji Temple: Horyuji Temple is located 12 km from the center of Nara. Take the train from Nara station on the Yamatoji line to Horyuji station (12 min.) and walk 20 min. to the temple when you arrive at the station or take bus #97 from Kintetsu Nara station to Horyuji mae station (1 hr, 760 yen).