Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Kofukuji Temple

On 4th May, hubby and I visited Kofukuji Temple. Kofukuji is a Buddhist temple located in Nara City of Nara prefecture. The temple serves as the national headquarters of the Hosso school of Buddhism in Japan. The origin of Kofukuji Temple dates back to 669 AD when Kagami-no-Okimi, consort of the statesman Fujiwara-no-Kamatari, established a temple at the family estate in Yamashina Suehara (present day Kyoto prefecture) to pray for the recovery of Kamatari's illness. This early Fujiwara tutelary temple was first known as Yamashina-dera. In the temple Kagami-no-Okimi enshrined images of a Shaka triad that had originally been commissioned at the behest of Kamatari upon his defeat of the Soga clan in 645. In 672, the temple was moved to Umayasaka near Fujiwara-kyo, the ancient imperial capital of Japan located in Yamato province (present-day Kashihara in Nara prefecture), and the temple was renamed Umayasaka-dera. In 710, the national capital was transferred and established in Heijo-kyo, the present-day Nara City. So the same year the temple was dismantled yet again and Kamatari’s son Fujiwara-no-Fuhito moved the temple to its current location in a central block of Nara City. The temple was renamed Kofukuji and grew rapidly in size and wealth under the patronage of successive emperors and empresses, and members of the powerful Fujiwara clan. The temple developed a particularly close connection with the northern branch of the Fujiwara clan, under whose sponsorship the temple gained considerable power. The temple ranked as one of the Four Great Temples of the Nara period (710-794), and one of the Seven Great Temples of the Heian period (794-1185). During the Heian period, Kofukuji exercised virtual control over Kasuga Shrine, and became a dominant political power in the Yamato province. The temple prospered, but when the Fujiwara clan’s power gradually faded in the 12th century, the temple lost its influential patrons and began to decline. In the Kamakura (1185-1333) and Muromachi (1336-1573) periods, the Shogunate made Kofukuji the protector of Yamato province. But the resources of the temple were eroded during the latter years of the Muromachi period. In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu attempted to revive Kofukuji as a purely religious establishment, which made possible the renovation and reconstruction of many temple buildings. The temple was severely affected by the anti-Buddhist policies of the early years of the Meiji period (1868-1912), at which time Kasuga Shrine became independent under the government ordinance forcing the separation of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The majority of the property of Kofukuji Temple was confiscated at that time, but the temple managed to recover and continues today as a head temple of the Hosso sect of Buddhism. The temple was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998 and forms part of the ‘historic monuments of ancient Nara’ listing.


Kofukuji Temple was damaged and destroyed by civil wars and fires many times. The destruction by the Heike civil wars (Genpei War) in 1180 was devastating, during which the Taira clan, the rivals of Fujiwara clan, completely destroyed all the original temple buildings from the Nara period. After the Minamoto clan’s victory in the war in 1185, many of the temple buildings were rebuilt in the 13th and 15th centuries, and were copies of the Nara period originals. Afterwards the temple gradually started eroding but fortunately Tokugawa Ieyasu provided a grant to the temple in the early 17th century to allow many of the buildings in the complex to be restored. Again there was a fire at the temple premises in 1717, and many of the important buildings were lost but most of them were not rebuilt. Additionally the policy of separation between Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples by the Meiji government abandoned this temple in 1868. The temple was allowed to rebuild in 1881, and the buildings were repaired. However, many of the buildings and gates were never reconstructed, so the current temple complex is without gates and fences. Today only a handful of the temple's original 175 buildings remain standing, most of which date from the 13th to 15th centuries. Many of the buildings and the sculptures that they contain have been designated as national treasures by the Japanese government.


As I wrote in the previous post, hubby and I first visited Todaiji Temple in Nara Koen Park on 4th May. After seeing various buildings and statues inside Todaiji Temple premises, we left the temple and started walking along a paved pathway with many tourists all around us. After about 20 minutes of leisurely walking, we reached right in front of Kofukuji Temple premises. In fact, Kofukuji Temple is located just 1.3 kilometers southwest of Todaiji Temple, and is located midway between Nara Koen Park and Kintetsu Nara Railway Station. Since many buildings and structures of Kofukuji Temple were burnt in fires during wars in the medieval era and many of them were not rebuilt, the present-day temple complex is not enclosed. With no entrance gates or fences, visitors can enter the temple complex from any direction. We entered the temple premises from the north-northeast and directly reached into the grounds of the temple premises. And we saw two majestic adjacent wooden buildings right in front of us. The buildings are named Tokondo or the Eastern Golden Hall and Gojunoto or the five-storied pagoda. We appreciated the architecture of the two buildings for some time and clicked a few photos of the buildings from various positions and angles. In the next two paragraphs I will write in details about these two buildings.
Hubby standing in front of a map of Kofukuji Temple premises

Tokondo (left) and Gojunoto (right) buildings as viewed from the northwest

Hubby standing inside the temple premises along with the two buildings in the background

Tokondo (left) and Gojunoto (right) buildings as viewed from the west


Tokondo or the Eastern Golden Hall was originally constructed at the behest of Emperor Shomu in 726 for a speedy recovery of the ailing Empress Gensho. The current building was built in 1415. It is wooden rectangular building having a width of 25.6 meters and a depth of 14.1 meters. The building was constructed in Yosemune-zukuri architectural style and covered with hipped roof of Hongawara-buki formal tiles. The front facade of the building is open like a verandah and is marked by thick wooden columns with no enclosing parts. The inner sanctuary is enclosed. The building maintains an ambience of the original Nara period structure and is designated as a national treasure. This hall building has a display of first-rate collection of many Buddhist statues. The principal deity enshrined inside the hall is a large image of Yakushi Nyorai or the Healing Buddha. In addition, images of Nikko Bosatsu (Bosatsu of sun), Gakko Bosatsu (Bosatsu of moon), Monju Bosatsu (Bosatsu of wisdom), Four Heavenly Kings Shitenno, Twelve Heavenly Generals Junishinsho, and a mortal sage Yuima Koji are also enshrined inside the hall. The images of Yakushi Nyorai, Nikko Bosatsu, and Gakko Bosatsu are designated as important cultural properties. The images of Monju Bosatsu, Shitenno, Junishinsho, and Yuima Koji are designated as national treasures. There is an admission fee of 300 Yen per person to enter inside this building but we skipped entering the hall to see all these images this time as we were not having enough time that day. We appreciated the building architecture for some time and took a few photos from various positions and angles.
Tokondo Hall as viewed from the front (west)

Hubby standing in front of the hall building

The hall as viewed from the southwest


Next we saw Gojunoto or the five-storied pagoda situated adjacent to (south of) the Tokondo Hall. This wooden pagoda is a landmark and symbol of Nara. It was constructed by Empress Komyo in 730. The current building is a restoration completed in 1426. In fact, the pagoda had burnt down five times before this 15th century restoration. It is 50.1 meters tall and is the second tallest pagoda in Japan, just five meters shorter than the five-storied pagoda of Toji Temple in Kyoto. All the five roofs of the Kofukuji pagoda have Hongawara-buki formal tiles and the projection of the eaves of the roofs is deep. The building maintains an ambience of the original Nara period structure and is designated as a national treasure. This pagoda currently houses four Buddha triads (Buddha and two attendants). Enshrined around the central pillar of the first story of the building are a Yakushi (Healing Buddha) triad to the east, a Shaka (Historical Buddha) triad to the south, an Amida (Buddha of the Western Paradise and Infinite Life) triad to the west, and a Miroku (Buddha of the Future) triad to the north. We appreciated the building architecture for some time and took photos of the pagoda from various positions and angles.
Gojunoto or the five-storied pagoda as viewed from the northwest

I am standing in front of the pagoda

The pagoda as viewed from the front (west) while standing near it

The pagoda as viewed from the front while standing a bit far from it


We leisurely walked inside the temple premises and next saw an octagonal wooden building named Nanendo or the Southern Octagonal Hall. The hall is significant because it is temple number nine of the West Japan thirty-three Kannon temple pilgrimage route. The hall was founded and first constructed in 813 by Fujiwara-no-Fuyutsugu. However, the hall building was destroyed several times by fires of war, and the present building is the fourth one since its foundation. In fact, the present building is a reconstruction dating from 1789. The building has Hongawara-buki tiled-roof architectural style. Each wall of the octagonal hall is 6.4 meters wide, and the face-to-face diameter of the walls of the octagonal hall is 15.5 meters. The hall building is designated as an important cultural property. The principal image enshrined inside the hall is that of Fukukensaku Kannon or the Bosatsu of Unfailing Fishing Line. In addition, statues of the six patriarchs of the Hosso School as well as the Four Heavenly Kings Shitenno are also enshrined inside. All these statues are national treasures. The hall is open to the public only once a year, on October 17th. We loved seeing the detailed architectural style of the octagonal building and clicked a few photos of the hall building.
Nanendo Southern Octagonal Hall as viewed from the front (east)

Hubby standing in front of the hall

I am standing near the entrance area of Nanendo Hall


From the Nanendo Hall area, we saw Sanjunoto or a three-storied pagoda located downhill in the southwest corner of the temple premises. Sanjunoto pagoda was built at the behest of the consort of Emperor Sutoku in 1143. The pagoda was destroyed by a fire in 1180 but was soon rebuilt at the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1333). The present building is this 12th century reconstruction, and is one of the oldest buildings in the temple premises. The pagoda is 19.1 meters tall and has Hongawara-buki tiled-roof architectural style. It is designated as a national treasure. On the first story of the pagoda are four Buddhist paintings on wood depicting 1000 images each of Yakushi Nyorai (east), Shaka Nyorai (south), Amida Nyorai (west), and Miroku Nyorai (north). Standing at the Nanendo Hall area, we noted that there were quite a few steps along the walkway leading to the pagoda building. We were a bit tired due to walking the entire day visiting various sightseeing places, so we skipped going to Sanjunoto pagoda building and enjoyed seeing the three roofs of the pagoda from the Nanendo Hall area.
Sanjunoto three-storied pagoda


Next we walked towards the northern direction inside the temple premises, and after a couple of minutes we reached right in front of another octagonal wooden building named Hokuendo or the Northern Octagonal Hall. Hokuendo was originally built by Empress Genmei and Empress Gensho in 721, to honor the first anniversary of the death of Fujiwara-no-Fuhito. The current building is a reconstruction which dates from approximately 1210. This building is one of the oldest buildings in the temple premises. The building has Hongawara-buki tiled-roof architectural style. Each wall of the octagonal hall is 4.9 meters wide, and the face-to-face diameter of the walls of the octagonal hall is 11.7 meters. The hall building is designated as a national treasure. The building houses some of the temple’s treasured images and artifacts. The main alter image of Miroku Nyorai (Buddha of the Future) along with the images of Hoonrin Bosatsu, Daimyoso Bosatsu, Mujaku and Seshin Bosatsu (traditional founders of Hosso School), and the Four Heavenly Kings Shitenno are enshrined inside. The images of Miroku Nyorai, Mujaku Bosatsu, Seshin Bosatsu, and Shitenno are designated as national treasures. Hokuendo building is open to the public only for a few days during special viewing periods in the spring and fall. We loved viewing the architecture of the building and clicked a few photos of the building. While appreciating the building, we noted that a notice was put up near the building which indicated that it was open to the public during the time we visited the temple. So we were very fortunate to be able to see the display of all the above-mentioned historic images inside Hokuendo. We paid 300 Yen per person as admission fee to enter inside the hall and enjoyed viewing the various images. Unfortunately photography was not allowed inside the building, and so we clicked a couple of photos of the advertisement notices put up outside the building.
Hokuendo Northern Octagonal Hall as viewed from the front

Hubby standing in front of the hall

Images of (1) Hoonrin Bosatsu, (2) Mujaku Bosatsu, (3) Miroku Nyorai, (4) Seshin Bosatsu, and (5) Daimyoso Bosatsu

Image of Mujaku Bosatsu


We noted that a building named Chukondo or the Central Golden Hall is currently being reconstructed. Chukondo Hall is the main building of the temple. The original hall was built in 714 by Fujiwara-no-Fuhito but it was destroyed by a fire in 1717. Although a replacement hall was built on a smaller in 1811, the original Chukondo was not reconstructed. Later the replacement hall was also damaged due to heavy rain and rendered unusable. Therefore in recent years, it was decided to rebuild the original Chukondo Hall in its full former glory. Reconstruction work is currently ongoing and scheduled to be completed in 2018. We only saw a scaffolding structure covered with shrink wrap sheets. We hope to visit the temple again after the Chukondo Hall is opened to the public.
Chukondo Hall under reconstruction as viewed from the west


At this point, we finished the tour of Kofukuji Temple. We loved viewing various buildings and artifacts inside the temple premises. We noted that there were a few more buildings in the temple premises but we skipped seeing them this time.


6 comments:

The Untourists said...

What a gorgeous 5emple, so full of history!

Jyotirmoy Sarkar said...

Loved reading this post, it contains so many details....very nice presentation through lovely shots.

Sapana Vibhandik said...

I remember my visit to Kofukuji Temple. Loved the Deers in Nara. There is another old temple in Nara where all deers are roaming, whats the name of that temple?

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thank you very much for your comment 'The Untourists'

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thank you for your nice comment Jyotirmoy Sarkar...

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thank you very much for your comment Sapana Vibhandik...Yes, I guess you are talking about the nearby Todaiji Temple as well as Nara Koen Park. These places are full of deer and visitors are allowed to feed them...I have written about them in the previous two posts. Here are the links to the posts...

http://lipikazuo.blogspot.com/2016/08/nara-koen-park.html
http://lipikazuo.blogspot.com/2016/09/todaiji-temple.html