Hōryū-ji (Temple of the Flourishing Law) is a Buddhist temple that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples, in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture, Japan. Its full name is Hōryū Gakumonji or Learning Temple of the Flourishing Law, the complex serving as both a seminary and monastery.
The temple's pagoda is widely acknowledged to be one of the oldest wooden buildings existing in the world, underscoring Hōryū-ji's place as one of the most celebrated temples in Japan. In 1993, Hōryū-ji was inscribed together with Hokki-ji as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name Buddhist Monuments in the Hōryū-ji Area. The Japanese government lists several of its structures, sculptures and artifacts as National Treasures. A study of its shinbashira, the central wooden column almost suspended inside the Tō in 2001 led to a conclusion about the structure being older than previously thought by a century.
The temple was originally commissioned by Prince Shōtoku; at the time it was called Ikaruga-dera , a name that is still sometimes used. This first temple is believed to have been completed by 607. Hōryū-ji was dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing and in honor of the prince's father. Excavations done in 1939 confirmed that Prince Shotoku's palace, the Ikaruga-no-miya , occupied the eastern part of the current temple complex, where the Tō-in sits today. Also discovered were the ruins of a temple complex which was southwest of the prince's palace and not completely within the present temple complex. The original temple, named by modern historians and archaeologists Wakakusa-garan was lost, probably burned to the ground after being hit by lightning in 670. The temple was reconstructed but slightly reoriented in a northwest position, which is believed to have been completed by around 711.The temple was repaired and reassembled in the early twelfth century, in 1374, and 1603
The present complex
The current temple is made up of two areas, the Sai-in in the west and the Tō-in in the east. The western part of the temple contains the Kondō (sanctuary Hall) and the temple's five-story pagoda. The Tō-in area holds the octagonal Yumedono Hall (Hall of Dreams) and sits 122 meters east of the Sai-in area. The complex also contains monk's quarters, lecture halls, libraries, and dining halls.
The reconstructed buildings embrace the architectural influences ranging from Eastern Han to Northern Wei of China, as well as from the Three Kingdoms of Korea, particularly those of Baekje. With its origin dating back to early 7th century, the reconstruction has allowed Hōryū-ji to absorb and feature a unique fusion of early Asuka period style elements, added with some distinct ones only seen in Hōryū-ji, that were not found again in the architecture of the following Nara period.There are certain features that suggest the current precinct of Hōryu-ji is not simply representative of the pure Asuka period style.
One of the most notable is its layout. While most Japanese temples built during the Asuka period were arranged like their Chinese and Korean prototypes—the main gate, a pagoda, the main hall and the lecture hall on a straight line—the reconstructed Hōryū-ji breaks from those patterns by arranging the Kondō and pagoda side-by-side in the courtyard.
The lecture hall
Another example found through the excavations at Yamada-dera, a lost temple originally dated 643, is the difference in the style of the corridor. Whereas Yamada-dera had thicker horizontal poles placed much more densely in the windows, those at Hōryū-ji are thinner, and placed at larger intervals. On the other hand, major Asuka style characteristics seen in Hōryu-ji, and resembling designs found in the Yungang Grottoes (Northern Wei) are:
the railings, decorated with repeat-patterned swastika (卍 manji kuzushi koran), and placed below are the inverted "V" shape support (ninji gata warizuka)
the entasis columns.The other notable Asuka style element that is only found in Japan to-date, and with the only surviving originals in Hōryu-ji is:
cloud-shape hybrid bracket supporter (a kumimono (hybrid) of kumoto & kumohijiki).These Asuka characteristics are not seen in Nara period temples.
The five-storey pagoda, located in Sai-in area, stands at 32.45 meters in height (122 feet) and is approximately 20X20 in width and is one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. The wood used in the center pillar of the pagoda is estimated through a dendrochronological analysis to have been felled in 594. The central pillar rests three meters below the surface of the massive foundation stone, stretching into the ground. At its base is enshrined what is believed to be a fragment of one of Buddha's bones. Around it, four sculpted scenes from the life of the Buddha face north, east, south and west. Although the pagoda is five-storied, it does not allow one to climb up inside, but it is rather designed to inspire people with its external view.
The kondō, located side-by-side to the Pagoda in Sai-in, is another one of the oldest wood buildings extant in the world. The hall measures 18.5 meters by 15.2 meters.The hall is two storied, with roofs curved in the corners but only the first story has a double roof (mokoshi). This was added later in the Nara period with extra posts to hold up the original first roof because it extended more than four meters past the building.
Due to a fire incident that broke out on January 26, 1949, severe damage was caused to the building, mainly its first floor, and the murals. As a result of the restoration (completed in 1954), it is estimated that about fifteen to twenty percent of the original seventh century Kondo materials is left in the current building, while the charred members were carefully removed and rebuilt to a separate fireproof warehouse for future research.
Through a recent dendrochronological analysis carried out using the materials preserved during the restorations done in the 1950s, it has turned out that some of them were felled prior to 670, suggesting a possibility that the current kondō was already under construction when "the fire in 670", as recorded in the Nihon Shoki, burned the former Wakakusa-garan down.The hall holds the famous Shaka Triad, together with a bronze Yakushi and Amida Nyorai statues, and other national treasures. The wall paintings shown today in the Kondō are a reproduction from 1967.
Yumedono (Hall of Dreams)
Yumedono is one of the main constructions in the Tō-in area, built on the ground which was once Prince Shōtoku's private palace, Ikaruga no miya. The present incarnation of this hall was built in 739 to assuage the Prince's spirit. The hall acquired its present-day common name in the Heian period, after a legend that says a Buddha arrived as Prince Shōtoku and meditated in a hall that existed here. The hall also contains the famous Yumedono Kannon (also Kuse or Guze Kannon); which is only displayed at certain times of the year.