Religion is one of the primary entities in the world that is followed by billions of people. There are several religions in the world and one of the most famous ones is Buddhism. Buddhism has touched the lives of various people living in several countries. One of the countries that have been heavily influenced by religion is none other than Japan. This can be seen in the history and culture of the country. Japan also houses several monuments that prove the significance of Buddhism in the lives of the Japanese people. These monuments include the Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area.
An Overview of the Area of Horyu-ji in Japan
Literally translating to the “Temple of the Flourishing Law,” Horyu-ji is a Buddhist temple that can be found in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture. This temple once served as a member of the famous and powerful Seven Great Temples. The full name of the temple is Horyu Gakumonji, which translates to the “Learning Temple of the Flourishing Law.” The complex itself is used as a seminary as well as a monastery.
The address of the temple is 1-1 Hōryū-ji Sannai, Ikaruga-chō, Ikoma-gun, Nara Prefecture. It is affiliated to Shotoku. The deity of the temple is Shaka Nyorai or Śākyamuni. Completed in the year 607, the temple was founded by Empress Suiko and Prince Shotoku.
The pagoda found in the temple complex is widely recognized as among the most ancient buildings made of wood that still exists in the world. Moreover, Horyu-ji is also among the most celebrated temples in the country. Together with Hokki-ji, Horyu-ji was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both temples were under the name Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area.
Numerous artifacts, sculptures, and structures found in the Horyu-ji area are also designated as National Treasures by the Japanese government. In fact, a study of the shinbashira of the temple, which is the central wooden column that can be found suspended inside the To, was conducted in the year 2001. Results show that the structural itself is actually a century older than what was initially perceived.
A wide range of buildings located in Horyu-ji and Hokki-ji is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area. These buildings received their designation in the year 1993. This came together with the landscape that surrounded the buildings given certain criteria. Some of the buildings included in this designation actually date back to the 7th and 8th centuries, which makes them some of the most ancient surviving wooden buildings in the world.
Most of the monuments in the area also serve as a depiction of the powerful influences of Buddhism in Japan back in the day. The structures included in the designation include those in the Horyu-ji East Temple, West Temple, Hokki-ji, and other monasteries and buildings.
The History Behind the Area of Horyu-ji
Initially, it was Prince Shotoku who commissioned the temple. During this time, the temple was known as Ikaruga-dera, which is sometimes still referred to until today. It is said that this temple was completed in the year 607. The temple was built in dedication to Yakushi Nyorai, who was the Buddha of healing. Horyu-ji was also built in honor of the father of the prince.
In the year 1939, excavations were performed. As a result, it was found that the Ikaruga-no miya, which was the palace of Prince Shotoku, was located in the area where the To-in is currently standing today. This location is in the eastern portion of the present temple complex. Other discoveries include the ruins of a temple complex that was situated to the southwest of the palace of the prince.
The original temple known as the Wakakusa-garan, as named by several archaeologists and historians, could no longer be found. Some say that it may have been burned to the ground following its lightning hit in the year 670. Nonetheless, the temple was rebuilt though a little bit reoriented to the northwest. Many believe that this reconstruction was finished around the year 711.
There were many repairs and reassembly that were made to the temple through the years. Some of these occurred in the early 12th century, in the year 1374, and in the year 1603. The temple disassociated itself from the Hosso sect in the year 1950. At present, the temple is considered as the headquarters of the Shotoku sect.
There has been a controversy surrounding the reconstruction of its current precinct, as ignited by an architecture historian known as Sekino in the year 1905. Ultimately, the conclusion made in the year 2006 is that the present precinct is not the original but just a reconstruction. The proof that supports this conclusion is the older temple site that was discovered in the excavation in the year 1939. This included architectural remnants of a Kondo as well as a pagoda.
The Most Notable Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area
There are several Buddhist monuments in the Horyu-ji Area. However, there are definitely notable ones that are worth taking a look. The first Buddhist monument to check out is, of course, the present complex, which is the current temple. It is composed of two areas with one located in the west and the other located in the east. The area located in the west is known as the Sai-in. It consists of the Kondo, which is also known as the Sanctuary Hall, and the well-known five-story pagoda.
On the other hand, the area located in the east is known as the To-in. This was where the original palace of Prince Shotoku used to stand. It consists of the octagonal Yumedono Hall, which is also known as the Hall of Dreams. This structure is 122 meters away from the Sai-in area. The complex also houses lecture halls, dining halls, libraries, and the monk’s quarters.
The pagoda in Horyu-ji is quite unique in comparison to other pagodas found in the country. Standing at 32.45 meters high, which is equivalent to 122 feet, the five-story pagoda can be found in the Sai-in area. It has a width of approximately 20 inches on each side. It is also considered as one of the most ancient wooden buildings on earth. By using a dendrochronological analysis, it was estimated that the central pillar of the structures was actually felled in the year 594.
With a huge foundation stone, the central pillar can be found three meters below its surface as the pillar rests on the ground. It is said that a bone fragment of Buddha is enshrined at the base of this pillar. Four sculpted scenes surround the pillar depicting the life of Buddha. These scenes face the north, south, east and west. Even though the pagoda consists of five stories, it cannot actually be accessed inside. Instead, the pagoda serves only as an inspiration from the outside.
The next structure to check out is the Kondo. Standing right next to the pagoda, the Kondo is also one of the most ancient wooden buildings on earth. The hall has a length of 18.5 meters and a width of 15.2 meters. The hall is composed of two stories with the first one having a double roof called mokoshi. Its roofs are curved in the corners, making the hall have a more distinct look.
The building suffered serious damages on the 26th of January in the year 1949. This was due to a fire breaking out and burning the building, especially its first floor as well as the murals. Restoration was made and completed in the year 1954 though only a certain percentage of the original Kondo materials from the 7th century remained in the buildings.
The charred members were then removed and transferred to a different warehouse that is fireproof for research purposes. One of the main features of the hall is its well-known Shaka Triad. The hall also houses a bronze Yakushi statue and Amida Nyorai statue as well as other national treasures. The Kondo also features wall paintings that were replicas from the year 1967.
Last but certainly not the least, check out the Yumedono. Also known as the Hall of Dreams, the Yumedono is among the primary constructions in the area of To-in. The structure stands on the ground where the private palace of the prince was once built. An incarnation of this hall was constructed in the year 739 in order to appease the spirit of the prince. The name of the hall was obtained during the Heian period.
It was said that a Buddha presented itself as Prince Shotoku. As the prince, he meditated in a hall that used to exist in this structure. In addition, the Yumedono also houses the well-known Yumedono Kannon, as well as the Kuse Kannon and the Guze Kannon. The Yumedono Kannon only sees the light of day at specific times of the year.
Other National Treasures Located in Horyu-ji
The area of Horyu-ji also contains several National Treasures as designated by the Japanese government. These treasures are seen as the reflection of Buddhist art that dates back to the 6th century and 7th century. These pieces of art that can be found on the temple grounds show the strong cultural influence of China, India, and Korea. It also shows the links of these countries to Japan since the beginning of time.
In the year 1878, Horyu-ji donated more than 300 items to the Imperial Household. At present, these objects can be found displayed in the Tokyo National Museum. These items are also available for research as part of the digital collection of the Tokyo National Museum. However, not all of the objects are on public display.
One of the most notable National Treasures that can be found inside the temple grounds is the Kudara Kannon. Literally translating to “Naekje Guanyin,” this is one of the Buddhist sculptures in the area that best represents the Asuka period. This sculpture is accompanied by the Guze Kannon in Yumedono. With a height of 209 centimeters, this sculpture was made in the 7th century.
Another prominent figure is the Shaka Triad. Its main characteristic is its front view. However, this statue is actually meant to be seen from a side. Most of it is made using Cinnamomum camphora. Before, certain parts of the statues like its bare body were finished with lacquer and had vibrant hues. However, these are now severely damaged. Despite its fame, the origin of the statue is actually uncertain.
Some of the murals in the complex are also considered as National Treasures. The Kondo itself is composed of 50 walls including 4 huge walls, 8 walls of moderate size, and 38 small walls. They initially consisted of original murals until these were removed in the year 1949 following a fire incident due to damage. At present, these murals are kept in a treasure house that is not accessible to the public. Reproductions of these were made can be seen inside the building, accompanied by 20 more small wall paintings that were not damaged by the fire.
Last but certainly not the least is the Yumedono or Guze Kanon. It is said that this statue represents Prince Shotoku. Standing at approximately 197 centimeters high, which is equivalent to about 6 feet and an inch, it is said that the statue depicts the actual height of the prince. Made of gilded wood, some say that this statue was created to appease the spirit of the prince.
Unlike the other structures and artworks in the temple, this statue is in great condition. Wrapped in 500 meters of cloth, this statue can be found in the Dream Hall, where sunlight does not touch the statue. The statue is also believed to be sacred and is an essential piece of the temple. The figure of the statue is also believed to be based on the Tori Busshi style as suggested by art historians. There are several other National Treasures that one can look into when visiting the temple complex. Truly, touring around this area would be great for people fascinated by Buddhism and its teachings.