Yakushiji is one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara and the head temple of the Hosso sect of Japanese Buddhism. It features a rare 7th-century pagoda as well as ancient statues of the Healing Buddha and Kannon.
History of Yakushiji
Yakushiji was founded in Kashihara and moved to its present location in Nara 20 years later. The temple was established by Emperor Temmu in 680 to pray for the recovery of the Empress Jito from a serious illness. It seems it's the thought that counts — the temple was actually constructed by his recovered empress, who outlived the emperor.
Yakushiji was finally completed in 698, and moved to its present location in 718, after the capital was moved to Nara in 710. Due to its original purpose, the main image of Yakushiji is of Yakushi Nyorai, the Healing Buddha. Yakushiji is one of several temple in Nara that UNESCO designated as a World Heritage Site in 1998.
What to See at Yakushiji
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.
Admission to Yakushiji includes the Genjo Sanzo Complex behind the temple grounds. Built in 1981, it enshrines the relics of Genjo Sanzo (Hsuan Tsang), a Chinese priest who lived in the 7th century and is credited with first expounding the Hosso teachings (his disciple Jion-daish is considered the founder of the sect). The bones of Genjo Sanzo were taken from China by Imperial Japanese army units stationed in Nanjing in 1942 and brought to Yakushiji, the head temple of Hosso Buddhism.
Quick Facts on Yakushiji
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||34.668909° N, 135.784256° E|
|Address:||Nara Prefecture, Japan|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Yakushiji|
- Yakashiji temple - Yamasa Institute
- Yakushiji Temple, Nara - Planetware
- Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara - UNESCO World Heritage List
- Photos of Yakushiji - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Yakushiji, Nara Prefecture
Below is a location map and aerial view of Yakushiji. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.