Horyu-ji Temple (aka Ikaruga-dera Temple)

UNESCO World Heritage Site near Nara

Horyuji Temple is one of the most significant Buddhist shrines in Japan, located in Ikaruga that is about ten kilometers from Nara in the northwestern Nara prefecture. Also known as Ikaruga-dera Temple, this temple literally means the ‘Temple of the Flourishing Law,’ as the temple complex was once both a seminary and monastery.

Besides being one of the seven great temples of prefecture and the seat of the Shōtoku sect of Buddhism – Horyuji temple is credited to be the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Japan.

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History of Horyuji Temple

An engraving that chronicles the history of the temple can be found on the rear of Buddha statue placed in the temple’s main hall. As per the engravings, Horyuji temple was erected in 607 by the then Prince Shotoku to fulfill the last wish of his father to construct a Buddhist temple devoted to the Medicine Buddha. But it was destroyed by fire in 670 and was reconstructed at the present site of Western Precinct, which at the same time was finished in 711. The temple further underwent renovations during the 16th and 17th centuries under the benefaction of the Toyotomi and the Tokugawa Shogunate. Later during initial years of the 20th century, the government took serious steps to renovate the temple.

As an outcome of these constant efforts, Horyuji temple holds the distinction of boasting of some of the oldest wooden structures in the world, with a history that date back to more than 1,300 years ago. The temple is now one of the country’s prominent religious centres and is hailed as the temple of Prince Shotoku, who is acknowledged as the apostle of Buddhism in Japan.

Highlights and Features of Horyuji Temple

There is a surprising amount of artifacts, rituals and ceremonies awaiting you at Horyuji temple. In fact, the temple is a treasure trove of ancient Buddhist art, with more than 2,000 articles and structures of cultural and historic significance. About 200 of them have been declared as Important Cultural Properties. A beautiful pathway that is flanked on both sides by refreshing pine trees leads you to the temple’s first gate – Nandaimon, literally meaning ‘the Great South Gate.’ There are also many other gates within the temple, such as Chumon or Middle Gate that enables you to enter the inner sanctum of the Western Temple and Todaimon or East Great Gate that once served as the temple’s entrance and now stands as a mark to segregate the east and west sections of the temple complex.

The temple ground consists of two sections: the Western Temple (Sai-in or Nishi-no-in) and the Eastern Temple (To-in or Higashi-no-in). Among more than 30 buildings in the Western temple that deserve a special note are Kondo – a squat Asuka-era structure that has on display some amazing frescoes and statues, Gojuto – a five storied pagoda that is the oldest of its kind in the country, Daikodo or the Great Lecture Hall that trace back to the Heian era and Daihozode, which exhibit a wide assortment of wealth that have been collected over a millennium. On the eastern temple is its main building – Yumedono that is constructed on the site where once the Prince Shotoku lived as well as meditated, in addition to 13 other buildings.

Formerly the palace of the Prince Shotoku’s mother, Chuguji Temple is also within the complex and is now home to nuns of a Buddhist sect. A stone monument that has been constructed to memorialize the temple’s declaration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, can also be seen within the temple complex. Apart from these, there are several remarkable images sculpted across the structures as well as gates of the temple – the prominent being the images of Nioh on the either side of the gate and the ascending and descending dragons attached on the posts of temple’s structure.

  • Opening Hours: every day from 08:00 to 16:30
  • Address: Ikoma-gun, Nara Prefecture 636-0115
  • Tel: +81 745 75 2555
  • Price Range: The admission fee to the temple is ¥1000. A separate fee of ¥500 has to be paid in order to gain access to Daihozoden or the Great Treasure Store Hall. You’ll also have to pay a fee of ¥500 to enter Chuguji Temple that is on the temple complex’s north-eastern tip.
  • How to get there: The best way to reach the temple is to take a bus or train from Nara, which is just ten kilometers away.
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