Buddhist Shrines of Horyu-ji (World Heritage)

The world heritage includes the Buddhist Horyu-ji temple complex south of Nara. The oldest preserved wooden buildings in the world and numerous valuable cultural assets are located on the site. The nearly 50 temples were built from the 7th century and are testimony to the religious and architectural development of Japan.

Buddhist Shrines of Horyu-ji: Facts

Official title: Buddhist shrines of Horyu-ji
Cultural monument: Horyu-ji – the monastery consisting of 45 buildings, also called the »Temple of the Exalted Law« and the seat of the Shotoku sect after 1945 – with a western district, including a. the two-story Golden Hall (Kondo), the Middle Gate (Chumon), the five-story pagoda (Goju-no-to), the Sutras Hall (Kyozo), and with an eastern district, there the »Dream Hall«
Continent: Asia
Country: Japan, Honshu
Location: at Nara
Appointment: 1993
Meaning: Architecture from the time of the spread of Buddhism in Japan, masterpieces of wood construction in Buddhist tradition

Buddhist Shrines of Horyu-ji: History

585-87 Reign of Emperor Yomei
593-710 Asuka time
607 Start of construction of the temple complex
623 Completion of the Buddha figure flanked by Bodhisattvas (Shaka triad) inside the Golden Hall
670 Destruction of the wooden structures by fire
710/11 Completion of the reconstruction
739 Construction of the octagonal »dream hall« (Yumedono)
990 Construction of the lecture hall (Dai-kodo)
1439 Construction of the Great South Gate (Nandaimon)
1939 archaeological research
1941 Construction of the “Great Treasure House” (Daihozoden) to store important art treasures
1949 Destruction of the frescoes in the Golden Hall by fire

A prince’s monastery

The scroll painting shows a father – Shotoku Taishi, “Prince Shotoku” – with his two sons. It is considered the oldest surviving example of Japanese portrait painting and hangs in the “treasure house” of Horyu-ji, in the “monastery in which Buddhist teaching flourishes”. Its establishment goes back to the initiative of this prince, to whom Japan owes a lot: the adoption of the Chinese script, the Chinese calendar and Chinese administrative procedures, the introduction of a constitution and, in particular, the acceptance and implementation of Buddhism in its specifically Sino-Korean form.

According to topb2bwebsites, Japan experienced a “paradigm shift” twice in its history: in the last century, under the Meiji Emperor, Japan succeeded in joining the industrial nations of the West, while twelve centuries earlier Prince Shotoku enabled backward Japan to develop into a high culture by making the achievements of the thriving civilizations of the mainland – China and Korea – took over.

In Horyu-ji, the »Yakushi Nyorai«, the »Buddha of healing«, is at the center of worship. He heals the believers from the usual ailments – but above all from hatred, greed and the most fundamental of all diseases, ignorance, in other words: ignorance of Buddhist teachings.

When Emperor Yomei fell ill, he asked his sister and son, Prince Shotoku, to build a monastery for the Medicine Buddha to promote his recovery. Although the monastery was donated, the monarch succumbed to his illness. After a fire caused by a lightning strike, the Prince’s supporters rebuilt the main hall, middle gate and pagoda within three decades. Today, in addition to parts of the surrounding corridor, they not only form the core of the oldest monastery complex in Japan, but also the oldest wooden buildings in the world.

What is unusual about the Mittlere Tor is the lack of a third passage reserved for the nobility – the other two are for women and men. This indicates – in the sense of the prince – the equality of all people. The main hall, partly built using preserved material from the previous building and exactly half the height of the pagoda, contains three groups of sculptures: in the center is the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, created shortly after the death of Prince Shotoku. It is said of him that he has the features of the prince. Its “halo” encloses flanking beings and thus refers to the comprehensive character of Buddhist teaching. To the east is the Buddha of Healing Art, made for Emperor Yomei. The figure placed to the west is the Buddha Amitabha, lord of the (western) paradise,

Political conflicts led to the extermination of the Shotoku family. For fear of the deceased prince’s revenge, it was decided in 739 to convert his residence into a monastery, which today forms the eastern district of Horyu-ji. The Yumedono, the “dream hall”, rises in it. Shotoku here in a dream became clear to incomprehensible passages of Buddhist scriptures. The symbolic content of the hall – octagonal, four staircases, a Buddhist deity in the center – allows it to be interpreted as an architectural mandala, as a compressed pictorial representation of Buddhist teachings.

The immediately adjacent residence of the prince’s mother also became a monastery after her death. Here a Miroku, a »Buddha of the future«, is shown, which is stylistically clearly influenced by Korean style and which experts consider to be a high point of Buddhist art from the Far East.

Buddhist Shrines of Horyu-ji