Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area (1993)
Japan

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There are around 48 Buddhist monuments in the Horyu-ji area, in Nara Prefecture. Several date from the late 7th or early 8th century, making them some of the oldest surviving wooden buildings in the world. These masterpieces of wooden architecture are important not only for the history of art, since they illustrate the adaptation of Chinese Buddhist architecture and layout to Japanese culture, but also for the history of religion, since their construction coincided with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan from China by way of the Korean peninsula.  

The grounds of Horyuji (Horyu Temple) house the world's oldest surviving wooden structures, conveying images of Japan as it existed more than 1,300 years ago, during the Asuka Period (A.D. mid 6th - beginning 8th c.). 

Japan. Map of Prefectures. The Horyu-ji area is located in the Nara Prefecture, No. 28 on the map.  Japan 2002. Souvenir sheet. Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji area.

The story of Horyuji's founding can be discovered in the historical writings engraved on the back of the halo of the Yakusi Nyorai Buddha statue, located on the eastern side of the room in the temple's Main Hall, and in the official inventory of Horyuji property holdings recorded in 747. 

According to these records, the emperor Yomei vowed to build a temple and an image of a Buddha as a form of prayer for his own recovery from illness -- a vow he was never fated to fulfill, for he died shortly thereafter. These same writings state how Empress Suiko and Crown Prince Shotoku fulfilled Emperor Yomei's deathbed wish by building in 607 a temple and a statue of a Buddha, to which the temple was dedicated. 

Japan 2002.Views of Toudaiji Temple. Great Buddha hall. Japan 2002.Views of Toudaiji Temple. Great South Gate. Japan 2002.Views of Toudaiji Temple. Engraving on Lotus Petal. Japan 2002.Views of Toudaiji Temple. "Koumokuten", one of the four heavenly kings at the Ordination Hall. Japan 2002.Views of Toudaiji Temple. The Lotus Hall.

The Buddha statue was of the Yakusi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru) - literally, "arrival as a healer"- and the temple was named the Ikaruga Temple (after the name of the location), or Horyuji ("Temple of the Flourishing Law [of Buddhism]"). 

On the fateful night of April 30 in the year 670, however, a great blaze swept through the temple grounds, leaving "not a single building "standing, as it is recorded in the ancient Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki). 

Japan 2002.Views of Koufukiji Temple. Five-storey Pagoda. Japan 2002.Views of Koufukiji Temple. North Round Hall. Japan 2002.Views of Koufukiji Temple. "Ashuka", Buddhist Guardian Deity. Japan 2002.Views of Koufukiji Temple. Head of Buddha. Japan 2002.Views of Koufukiji Temple. Oni (ogre) putting dragon lantern on its head.

However, historians in the latter part of 19th century began to cast doubt on the accuracy of this account of Horyuji's destruction and to question whether or not the fire truly did occur. Although there are many questions that remain unanswered to this day, one thing certain is that Horyuji boasts an illustrious 14 centuries of continuous observance of tradition since established by Prince Shotoku, the great statesman and founder of Buddhism in Japan. Today, Horyuji is composed of the Western Precinct (Saiin Garan), which is centered around the Five-Story Pagoda (Goju-no-To) and the Main Hall (Kondo), and the Eastern Precinct (Toin Garan), which is arranged around the Hall of Visions (Yumedono). 

Throughout the 187,000-square-meter grounds are irreplaceable cultural treasures, bequeathed across the centuries and continuing to preserve the essence of eras spanning the entire journey through Japanese history since the 7th century. In fact, Horyuji contains over 2,300 important cultural and historical structures and articles, including nearly 190 that have been designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. 

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in Japan (on this site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section Japan for further information about the individual properties. 

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Revised 21 jul 2006  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus
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