Japan’s 2nd Buddhist Temple: Horyuji

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages
By Epoch Times Staff
Epoch Times Staff
Epoch Times Staff
March 21, 2021 Updated: March 22, 2021

From 594 to 622, Prince Shotoku ruled Japan. He certainly lived up to his name, for “sho” means sacred and “toku” means virtue. 

During his reign, he promoted Buddhism in Japan, so much so that he is popularly known as the founder of Japanese Buddhism. After his death, many even called him “Japan’s Shakyamuni.” A historical figure of India, Siddhartha Gautama became known as Shakyamuni after his enlightenment, and his teachings became the foundation for Buddhism.

The second Buddhist temple Shokotu commissioned was Horyuji, in Nara Prefecture, southern Japan. The temple is a significant part of Japan’s art, architecture, and spiritual heritage.

Buddhism had only just emerged in Japan from China, via the Korean peninsula, when the wooden buildings of Horyuji Temple were built. Japan’s first Buddhist temple, Shitennoji, still exists, but its buildings were later rebuilt, therefore, the temple buildings of Horyuji, are Japan’s oldest surviving Buddhist structures. Several of the Horyuji Temple buildings date from the late seventh or early eighth century, making them among the world’s oldest surviving wooden buildings.

Each building in the temple complex is based on traditional Chinese Buddhist architecture adapted to Japanese tastes, marking the emergence of Japanese Buddhist architecture.

According to the UNESCO website, the buildings were constructed using the Chinese bay system, a type of post-and-lintel construction, with ornate brackets and large columns bearing the immense weight of the tile roof.

UNESCO lists some of the temple’s architectural highlights; for example, the columns’ cloud-shaped brackets and the application of entasis to the columns. Entasis is a technique whereby the columns have been gently tapered for aesthetic, and often weight bearing, purposes. 

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The middle gate (Chumon) is the main entrance to Horyuji Temple. (Luciano Mortula – LGM/Shutterstock.com)
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The Golden Hall (Kondo, L) and the five-storied pagoda (Goju-no-To) of Horyuji Temple. (RPBaiao/Shutterstock.com)
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The Golden Hall (Kondo), the main place of worship at Horyuji Temple. (Joshua Hawley/Shutterstock.com)
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The Golden Hall (Kondo, L) of Horyuji Temple, and part of an ornate incense burner in the foreground. (Urban Napflin/Shutterstock.com)
The Golden Hall (Kondo) of Horyuji Temple was once adorned with Buddhist murals similar in style to those of the Ajanta caves in India and Dunhuang caves in China. In 1949, a fire damaged a substantial number of the Horyuji murals. In this photograph, taken before the fire, a seventh-century mural shows Buddha Amitabha’s paradise. (Public Domain)
The Golden Hall (Kondo) of Horyuji Temple was once adorned with Buddhist murals similar in style to those of the Ajanta caves in India and Dunhuang caves in China. In 1949, a fire damaged a substantial number of the Horyuji murals. In this photograph, taken before the fire, a seventh-century mural shows Buddha Amitabha’s paradise. (Public Domain)
A statue of Shotoku Taishi, created in 1121, shows the prince dressed in the court style and holding a scepter. The statue is housed in the Shoryoin, a temple dedicated to worship of the prince. (Public Domain)
A statue of Shotoku Taishi, created in 1121, shows the prince dressed in the court style and holding a scepter. The statue is housed in the Shoryoin, a temple dedicated to worship of the prince. (Public Domain)
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A Buddhist statue displaying a mudra, a sacred hand gesture, at Horyuji Temple. (Kit Leong/Shutterstock.com)
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The octagonal Hall of Dreams (Yumedono, R) of Horyuji Temple. (Picotan/Shutterstock.com)
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The wooden columns at Horyuji Temple are examples of the application of entasis, where the columns are gently tapered for aesthetic effect and sometimes for weight bearing purposes. (663highland/CC BY-SA 3.0)
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The light of the sunset on the rooftops of one of the Horyuji Temple buildings. (Leonid Andronov/Shutterstock.com)
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A komainu, known as a lion-dog, protects the temple and wards off evil. The komainu is similar to the Chinese guardian lion that originated in the Tang Dynasty. (Oleg Ivanenko/Shutterstock.com)
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The Great Lecture Hall (L) of Horyuji Temple was where the priests once studied. The hall was also used as the temple refectory. (Various images/Shutterstock.com)
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One of the many Buddhist statues in Horyuji Temple. (Kit Leong.Shutterstock.com)
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For over 1,000 years, two fierce guardians, called Kongorikishi, have flanked the entrance to the middle gate (Chumon) of Horyuji Temple. Each guardian vocalizes a Sanskrit grapheme (the smallest writing unit that can be expressed as a sound): One utters the first, and the other the last. When the two graphemes are spoken together, they represent the beginning and end of all creation. (Marimos/Shutterstock.com)
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For over 1,000 years, two fierce guardians, called Kongorikishi, have flanked the entrance to the middle gate (Chumon) of Horyuji Temple. Each guardian vocalizes a Sanskrit grapheme (the smallest writing unit that can be expressed as a sound): One utters the first, and the other the last. When the two graphemes are spoken together, they represent the beginning and end of all creation. (Wako Megumi/Shutterstock.com)
Epoch Times Staff
Epoch Times Staff