Horyuji Temple was built 1,300 years ago and is a mysterious wooden building

Horyuji temple is the oldest wooden building and was established by Prince Shotoku. It was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993. Nara’s Todaiji Temple was built during the Nara period (710 to 794) and is more famous, but Horyuji temple actually has older history dating back 1400 years, and was influenced by early Buddhist arts and the Asuka period (592 to 710). The Asuka period has international features that were influenced by Greece, India, and China. The Horyuji Temple is known in Japan for its mystery as well as Prince Shotoku. Today, I’d like to introduce the myths of this temple!

2016-07-05 Wasabi   Destinations, Nara,

Horyuji Temple


【CONTENTS】
Who is Prince Shotoku?
The meaning of the fish-shaped stone in front of the Nandaimon Gate
The oldest statue in Japan: Kongorikishi-zo
The architecture of Greece can be seen 1,400 years ago in Nara!
The 7 myths of the Horyuji Temple
Who is in behind the curtain! The extinction of the family is a mystery.
The technique of ancient craftsmen will inspire you!

Who is Prince Shotoku?

title_houryu

He is a legendary politician from the Asuka period (592 to 710) in Japan. He led the country by making the emperor the leader, promoted Buddhism, and established the first constitutional law of “Wa”, the Japanese idea of grouping. He also created a system to hire talented people no matter where they were from and regardless of their family origins. The Prince and his family lived in Ikaruganomiya. After his death, his son Prince Yamashiro was attacked by the Soga family and the Yamashiro family committed suicide. Yumeden Hall in Horyuji is said to be built for the Prince. There is a Kyuuse Kanon statue that is the same height as the Prince’s statue, built inside the Yumeden Hall.

Nandaimon Gate
Nandaimon Gate

The meaning of the fish-shaped stone in front of the Nandaimon Gate

If you walk 200-meters through the pine tree area, you’ll see a big Nandaimon Gate. This gate is the entrance to Horyuji Temple. You’ll also find a stone that looks like a fish under the gate.
This stone is called the Carp stone, and is one of the 7 myths that have been passed down since the Edo period (1603 to 1868). It is believed that, no matter how much it rains, the water level will never rise beyond this stone. It’s believed to be a barrier for fish who might try to enter the temple.

In the distance, you can also see the Chumon Gate and a 5 tiered tower.

Nandaimon Gate

The oldest statue in Japan: Kongorikishi-zo

On the right and left sides of the Chumon Gate there are 2 Kongorikishi-zo statues.

Kongorikishi-zo
Akeizo
Kongorikishi-zo
Unkeizo

Both of them were built in 711. There are two types of statues; one with an open mouth and one with it’s mouth closed. Akeizo is made of clay, and Unkeizo is made of wood with a clay head, because his wooden head rotted away from rainfall.

You might wonder the reason why the Chumon Gate has a pillar in the middle of the gate. This gate is actually to stop the curse of the Prince’s family from leaving.

The architecture of Greece can be seen 1,400 years ago in Nara!

The architecture of the Chumon Gate is the same as Greece’s Parthenon.

Parthenon
Parthenon

The same architecture can be seen in the Hondo and corridor as well. Horyuji is made of Hinoki wood, and the upper and bottom parts narrow towards their ends. If you look it at from the bottom, it looks like it’s stable. The mystery is how the architecture from Greece influenced Japanese architecture. If it came via China, you could see similarities in China. Some even say it is unique architecture that was born in Japan.

5 tiered tower
5 tiered tower

The 7 myths of the Horyuji Temple

There are a total of 7 myths from the Horyuji Temple.

  1. Spiders won’t make webs in Kara (the building), and birds won’t defecate on it.
  2. There is a big Carp stone at the Nandaimon Gate.
  3. 4 farming sickles are notched in the upper part of the 5 tiered tower.
  4. There are 3 storages in the yard.
  5. The frogs in Yorukanoike pond don’t have an eye.
  6. The chair used by a monk in Yumeden is wet.
  7. Rain drops falling from Amadare don’t create holes in the ground.

There are some myths that don’t match reality, but these were born to respect the Prince and his legend.

Horyuji Temple

Who is in behind the curtain! The extinction of the family is a mystery.

Horyjji is said to be built in 607, and rebuilt in 670 by the Fujiswara family. However, the exact era is still in mystery. Also, the fact that the Shotoku family is extinct is still in mystery. Some say the Fujisawa family is a black curtain who killed the Prince, because the Soga family was killed by Fujiwara even though Soga killed Prince. The temple is built to calm the curse of Prince according to one theory. The Kyuse Kanon enshrined in Yumeden Hall had been kept closed for 1,100 years until a historian from America, Fenollossa, requested to open it up for his research.

Hinoki
Hinoki

The technique of ancient craftsmen will inspire you!

Horyuji existed for about 1,300 years through the many earthquakes of Japan. Horyuji is made of Hinoki wood, and it increases its strength by 30% over 300 years, but it decreases after 500 to 1,000 years. The 1,300-year-old temple now has about the same strength as new Hinoki wood. It’s impressive that craftsmen at the time built something with keeping in mind, it’s longevity.

Map

1-1 Hōryūji Sannai
Ikaruga-chō, Ikoma-gun, Nara-ken 636-0115
Japan〒636-0115

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AUTHOR

kyoami

kyoami

Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.

Information

Address 1-1 Hōryūji Sannai, Ikaruga-chō, Ikoma-gun, Nara-ken 636-0115, Japan
Hours 2/22~11/3:8:00 to 17:00
11/4~2/21: 8:00 to 16:30
Price 【General】
Adult:1,500yen/ Elementary school pupils: 750yen
【Group(More than 30 ppl)】
Adult:1,200yen/ University and High school students: 1,050yen/Junior high school students: 900yen/ Elementary school pupils: 600yen
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Access From JR Horyuji Station, it’s a 15 min walk, or 5 minutes by the NC bus.
Phone 0745-75-2555
Website http://www.horyuji.or.jp (Japanese text only)