Attraction 457 Nishinokyocho Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8563 Japan Published on: 29-06-2016
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Why Yakushiji Temple is special ?
Yakushi-ji was built in the year 680 by the Emperor Tenmu, praying for a cure to the illness of Uno-no-Sararahime-Miko (Empress under Emperor Tenmu, and later the Empress Jito). The temple was originally located in Fujiwara-kyo (the capital city from 694 to 710). In 718, it was moved to its present location in the capital at Nara. Due to numerous fires, including the flames of war, the only building that remains of the temple of that period is the To-to (the eastern pagoda, of the two pagodas situated on the east and west). This pagoda is designated as a National Treasure. The Kon-do (the hall that enshrines the main deity) was restored in 1976. The Sai-to (the western pagoda) was restored in 1981, with the Chu-mon (the gate situated between Nandai-mon and the main buildings) being restored in 1984, and a portion of the corridor being restored in 1991.The To-to pagoda, which has three roofs, is a three-storied pagoda. This pagoda is especially noteworthy for the small roof-like eaves on each story, which make it look like a six-storied pagoda. The Yakushi-sanzon, which is housed in the Kon-do, is a leading Buddhist image of the 7th century. It was greatly admired by Ernest Fenollosa, an American who contributed to the restoration of traditional Japanese fine art in the 19th century.
What to explore at Yakushiji Temple?
Yakushiji has a symmetric, Chinese-style layout, with the main and lecture halls standing on a central axis, flanked by two pagodas. Most of the original buidings of the temple were destroyed over the years by fires, wars and earthquakes. One notable exception is the East Pagoda, which is the only architecture from the 7th-century Hakuoh period to survive in Japan.
The Toindo (East Hall) was last rebuilt in the Kamakura period (1185-1333). All the other buildings were reconstructed only a few decades ago, and are easily distinguished from the older ones by their red-and-white paint.
Rebuilt in 1976, the Kondo (Main Hall) displays a bronze Yakushi Triad from 697 AD. The Yakushi Nyorai, or Healing Buddha, is seated between Nikko (bodhisattva/bosatsu of the sun) to the right and Gakko (bosatsu of the moon) to left. Originally covered with gold, they are now a rich black due to a fire in 1528.
Yakushi Nyorai normally holds a medicine pot in his left hand, but here he is sitting on a medicine chest instead. The chest is decorated with intercultural designs inspired by the Silk Road experience: a Grecian grape-vine scroll pattern along the top edge; a Persian lotus design; barbarians crouching in the archways, representing India; and a dragon on the east, phoenix on the south, tiger on the west, and tortoise on the north, together representing China.
The East Pagoda (Toto) dates from around 698 and has many fascinating elements. Although it looks like it has six stories, it actually only has three; the others are additional roofs (mokoshi) and are a bit smaller. This roof style is rare and is know as "frozen music" because of its rhythmical appearance.
More difficult to appreciate due to its height is the roof ornament of the East Pagoda, called the Sorin. Made of bronze, it is 10 meters high and weighs 3000 kg. Adding stability and serving as a lightning rod, the Sorin is also full of religious symbolism. It is composed of six elements: Hoju (the Sacred Jewel), Ryusha (the Dragon Vehicle), Suien (the Water Flame, a charm to protect against fire), Kurin (the Nine Rings, representing the Buddhist deities), Fukubachi (the Lotus Flower), and Roban (the Inverted Bowl).
Near the East Pagoda is the Toindo (East Hall), originally built in the Yoro Period (717-724). The current building dates from 1285 and stands on columns to protect it from water damage.
The Toindo enshrines the Sho Kannon (Merciful Goddess), the bodhisattva of compassion. The statue dates from around 600 AD and was a gift from the king of Korean.
Kannon is protected by the Shi Tennon (Four Heavenly Kings), which embody the evolution of Buddhism as it traveled from India to Japan via China. Originally Hindu devas, they were later mixed with the Chinese gods that represent the four corners of the world and the four colors of blue, red, white and black. The guardians are the green-faced Jikokuten in the East, red-faced Zochoten in the south, white-faced Komokuten in the west, and black-faced Tamonten in the north.
How to get to Yakushiji Temple?
The temple is located right beside Nishinokyo Station, which can be reached from Kintetsu Nara Station by taking the Kintetsu Nara Line to Yamato-Saidaiji Station and transferring to the Kintetsu Kashihara Line. The entire trip takes about 25 minutes and costs 260 yen.
Buses number 70, 72 and 97 travel about three times an hour to the temple from JR Nara Station (15 minutes, 250 yen) and Kintetsu Nara Station (20 minutes, 250 yen). Buses 70 and 72 stop at Yakushiji bus stop when traveling to the temple, but stop at Yakushiji-higashiguchi bus stop when traveling in the direction of central Nara. Bus 97 always stops at Yakushiji-higashiguchi bus stop.
- See great Buddhas
- World Class World Heritage Site
- One of Japan's oldest temples
- Unique and beautiful pagoda
- Many important Buddha statues
457 Nishinokyocho Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8563 Japan
Tips for you
If you visit Toshodai-ji, which you definitely should, it makes sense to take a brief walk S along the picturesque National Road to Yakushiji Temple as well. I much preferred Toshodai, but you might prefer this one. If you bring children, they probably would. I would rate it 4 stars to Toshodai's 5, but I definitely am making this one 5 stars through December 5th. Yakushiji is, like Toshodai, a historic temple of great antiquity. Unlike Toshodai, however, the actual buildings of Yakushiji-ji are much newer, due to lightning strike, wars, and the usual suspects. Don't get me wrong: many of the buildings are about 400 years old, they're big; they're colorfully painted in the chinese 5 primary colors: black, white, red, green, gold. There are some beautiful, beautiful statues, and great cultural artifacts. If you could some transport the entire complex to Denver, Danzig, Dijon or Darwin, it would immediately by one of the top attractions. But in Kyoto/Nara, it's a tough. Nothing wrong with Fra Lippo Lippi, but if you're in the Uffizi, walking out of a roomful of Botticellis, into a room with Fra Lippos, you can't help comparing the padre's work to the Birth of Venus. Same deal here. So why am I giving it a rating of Excellent down the line, due to expire down to Very Good midnight on December 5th? Here's why. The National Road makes a 90 degree left turn (east) just before the ticket booth for Yakushiji. The primary temple buildings are all to south of the road. But your 800 yen ticket has two stubs. The first one gets you. The basic tour of the temple complex. The second stub you use across the road, where there are several more buildings. One is a circular shrine in the middle of a square coutyard framed by another building. This is Genosanzoin. Nice, but nothing too exciting in and of itself. However, from now through December 5th, the Nippn Satsuki Bonsai Association is holding a bonsai exhibition. I've seen bonsai; interesting stuff; like origami. But this bonsai is absolutely stunning. Bonsai Botticellis. I will post a few pics of the temple buildings and a few of the bomsai. Get there December 6th, and you still get the temple. Note: there are scenic bicycle / walking paths on both sides of the canal running N-S to the east of both Toshodaiji and Yakushiji. Quite pleasant if you have some time.