Horyuji Temple in Nara is one of Japan’s most important temples. It was founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku, who is considered to be the patron saint of Japanese Buddhism. It is one of the oldest temples in Japan and home to some of the country’s rarest treasures. Horyuji was one of the Seven Great temples of Nara, which was the first permanent capital of Japan before the capital was moved to Kyoto at the end of the 8th century.
A visit here is like taking a step back in time to the Asuka Period of Japan where Nara flourished from the mid 6th century to the early 8th century.
The sprawling grounds of the temple complex (over 1km wide) include no less than 20 gates and buildings designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. The temple complex is divided into two parts, Sai-in Garan (West Precinct) and To-in Garan (East Precinct).
The Sai-in Garan contains the Kondo (Main Hall), Goju no To (Five Story Pagoda) and Chumon (Central Gate). These date from the 7th century and are some of the oldest surviving wooden structures in the world.
The To-in Garan contains the Yumedono (The Hall of Dreams).
What to See at Horyuji Temple
Chumon Central Gate
The Chumon, Central Gate was built in the late 7th century and marks the entry into the inner sanctum of the temple complex. It contains two nio guardian statues on either side of the gate, which are the oldest in Japan.
Kondo (Main Hall)
The Kondo, Main Hall of Horyuji was completed in 680 and was influenced by Chinese culture of the 6th century. The hall is believed to be the oldest wooden building in the world, and contains priceless statues and national treasures. The most famous is the original Medicine Buddha for which the temple was built, the Shaka Triad, a bronze image of the historical Buddha, cast in 623 by the famous sculptor Tori, and bronze Yakushi and Amida Nyorai statues.
Goju no To Pagoda
The Gujo no To Pagoda, which is next to the Kondo was built just after the main hall in the late 7th century. It is truly magnificent and is the oldest pagoda in Japan. The Pagoda stands at 31.5 meters in height and is the archetype of a Japanese pagoda.
Daikodo Great Lecture Hall
The Daikodo was reconstructed in 990 and is one of the largest buildings at Horyuji. It was originally built for Buddhist monks to pursue their studies as well as a place in which to conduct memorial services.
The Kyozo (Sutra Repository) was built in the early 8th century. It was originally constructed as a place to store sutras.
Kudara Kannon do Hall
The Kudara Kannon do Hall houses the Kudara Kannon, a statue of Guanyin made of gilded camphor wood during the Asuka Period. It is unique in Japanese art, and is regarded as one of the most important works of ancient Japan.
The Yumedono Hall of Dreams
The main hall of To-in Garan (East Precinct) is the Yumedono, Hall of Dreams. The building is an elegant octagonal shape and was built in 739. The Yumedono was built on the ground where Prince Shotoku once had his private palace. The hall acquired its name of the Hall of Dreams from a legend, which says a Buddha arrived as Prince Shotoku meditated in a hall here.
History of Horyuji Temple
Horyuji Temple was founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku. The temple started as a vow by Emperor Yomei who promised to build a temple and an image of Buddha as a form of prayer for his own recovery from a serious illness. A vow he never fulfilled as the emperor died shortly after his promise. His son, Prince Shotoku and Empress Suiko fulfilled the emperors wish by building a temple and a statue of a Buddha, to which the temple was dedicated.
Over the years the temple’s wooden buildings have withstood fires and earthquakes to become some of the oldest surviving wooden buildings in the world.
Horyuji Temple 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. The treasures are considered to be a time capsule of Buddhist art from the 6th and 7th century. The frescoes, statues, and pieces of art contained within the temple, as well as the building’s architecture show a strong cultural influence from China, Korea and India.
Horyuji Temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the first in all of Japan.
Horyuji Temple is open from
8:00 am to 5:00 pm (22 February – 3 November)
8:00 am to 4:30 pm (4 November – 21 February)
Admission to the Temple is 1000 yen
How to Get There
Take the JR Kansai Line from JR Nara Station to Horyu-ji Station. It takes about 11 minutes and costs 210 yen. From Horyu-ji Station you can take bus 72 to Horyu-ji Monmae bus stop which takes 8 minutes and costs 180 yen.
Alternatively, take bus 52 or 97 from either JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station and get off at Horyu-ji Monmae bus stop. It takes about 1 hour and costs 760 yen.
Address: 1-1 Horyuji Sannai, Ikaruga-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara 636-0115
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Best Time to Go
Horyuji Temple can be visited all year round but Nara is truly spectacular in late March to mid April with the beautiful cherry blossoms, and from October to early December with the backdrop of bright red maples leaves.
Tip: If you have two days to spend in Nara, spend one day exploring the temples of Southwest Nara such as Horyu-ji, Yakushi-ji and Toshodai-ji, and the other day in Nara koen with Todaiji Temple, Kofuku-ji and Kasuga Taisha Shrine.