After writing about the famous Todaiji Temple (東大寺) last time, let me introduce you to another wonderful and incredibly old temple in Nara (奈良). Horyuji Temple is as ancient as it gets: It houses the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures. They date back to the early 7th century, when Buddhism started to thrive in Japan (日本).
Prince Shotoku, a very important figure that highly influenced the promotion of Buddhism in Japan, founded this temple in year 607. Together with the Todaiji Temple, it was meant to be a place to experience and learn the ways of Buddhism.
In spite of its amazingly old age, Horyuji has only suffered minimal damage throughout history, thus giving it the title of “world’s oldest surviving wooden structure”. We learned that Todaji is the largest wooden structure which makes it clear that Nara houses important, record breaking pieces of ancient culture.
In 1993, Horyuji Temple was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, adding to the already long list of sites Japan has to offer.
Horyuji Temple grounds
Horyuji Temple is composed of two precincts, a Western and an Eastern one.
The western precinct is where the main emphasis lies. Here, the aforementioned oldest surviving wooden structures can be found. They consist of the main hall, the central gate and a five-story Pagoda. While they have undergone renovations throughout history, they still remain in their original form.
The temple itself is of amazing age, as are the statues of important figures and those of Buddha inside of Horyuji Temple. You can actually explore the early history of Buddha statues, from the point of introduction (around the 7th century) in Japan to the 11th and 12th century.
Horyuji Temple’s western precinct is an impressive site and an important part of history, which is why authorities try their best to preserve its beauty. Keep this in mind when visiting and be respectful to the temple and its surroundings. You can find a comprehensive guide on how to properly visit a Japanese temple and do a prayer here.
Towards the East
The eastern precinct is about a 5-minute walk to the right side of the temple grounds. It is quite a bit smaller than the western one but also houses an important building. Here, you can find the Hall of Visions (Yumedono) which is dedicated to Horyuji Temple’s founder, Prince Shotoku. Inside, lots of statues of the prince himself as well as Buddha and monks can be admired.
The last important piece of Horyuji’s temple grounds is the Gallery of Temple treasures that is located right between the western and eastern precinct. This gallery was not originally part of the temple grounds and was added in 1998. This means that well over 1000 years have passed since the temple’s construction.
As the name suggests, inside of this gallery you can find various old treasures of Horyuji Temple, mainly consisting of its huge art collection and statues.
To the east of the eastern precinct lies Chuguji Temple, an independent temple that requires its own entry ticket to visit. The temple is open from 9:00 to 16:30 and costs 600 Yen (4,76€/$5.41) to enter.
Opening Hours & Admission Fee
- Opened every day from 8:00 – 17:00 (until 16:30 from November through February)
- There are no closing days throughout the year
- Entrance fee is 1,500 Yen (11,90€/$13.51), which is quite expensive for a temple visit. You pay for the immense age and incredible history behind the temple though which is held dear by the locals.
How to get to Horyuji Temple
Horyuji Temple is a little off the usual area most people visit in Nara. It’s roughly 10 kilometers away from the city center, towards the south. There are good connections available though:
The train is the most convenient and fastest option. From JR Nara Station, take the Yamatoji Line to Horyuji Station for 12 minutes and 220 Yen (1,75€/$1.98). From there, take the bus number 72 that leads you directly to Horyuji Temple. One way takes about 20 minutes and costs 190 Yen (1,51€/$1.71). The bus stop where you need to get off is called Horyujimon-mae bus stop.
Alternatively, if you’re not in a hurry and enjoy longer bus rides, you can take the bus number 97 from JR Nara Station and get to the temple in one go. The trip takes about an hour and costs 760 Yen (6,03€/$6.85).
Horyuji Temple is as old as it gets in terms of temples in Japan. If you’re looking for the origins of Japanese Buddhism, this is a great place to start. Together with Todaiji Temple, Nara offers intensive insight into the early days of Buddhism in Japan.
But even if you’re not that interested in the religion, seeing the world’s oldest surviving wooden temple structures might be of interest to you. 1,500 Yen might be a little heavy on the wallet, but history enthusiasts gladly pay this price to witness Horyuji Temple in person.
If you have the time and budget for it, I highly recommend it as part of your Nara itinerary.
That’s it for Horyuji Temple, I hope you enjoyed it!
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See you there!