A variety of buildings built with the cutting-edge technology of the time
The area with a group of buildings including Japan’s oldest wooden structure is collectively called Horyuji. Recognized for its exceptional historical and cultural value, Horyuji is Japan’s first World Heritage site.
On the 187,000 square meters premises of Horyuji stands the Saiin Garan (the Western Precinct) built in the Asuka Period (7th century) and an array of buildings built in subsequent years with the cutting-edge technology of the time they were constructed in. There are more than 2,300 buildings and treasures of which approx. 190 items have been designated as a National Treasure or an Important Cultural Property. This land has been vigorously protected since its establishment in 607 as the site where the first nation state of Japan was formed; it is a place of extreme historical and cultural value.
The temple consists of the Saiin Garan (the Western Precinct) which includes the Five-Story Pagoda–Horyuji’s landmark–as well as the Main Hall, and the Toin Garan (the Eastern Precinct) which includes the Rokkakudo (the Hexagonal Hall). While all the hidden treasures of Horyuji are either a National Treasure or nearly as valuable as a national treasure, the Guze (Kuse) Kannon statue enshrined in the Yumedono (the Dream Hall) is known as the most mysterious Buddhist statue owned by the temple. For more than 200 years during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), it was believed that this statue should not be viewed by anybody, even by monks. The statue was wrapped up in a white cloth layer after layer, and was stored away as a “secret statue (a Buddhist image that is normally withheld from public view).” However, the statue was discovered in the 19th century by an art history scholar Tenshin Okakura and an American scholar Ernest Fenollosa. They had been commissioned by the Japanese government to conduct research for the purpose of preserving the cultural heritage unique to Japan to prevent any further loss amidst the promotion of modernization and Westernization of Japan. The two scholars overrode the resistance from the monks who feared divine punishment, and managed to reveal the statue for public view. While many explanations have been presented, it is still unclear why a Buddhist statue, which is supposed to save people, was hidden away and feared. The Guze (Kuse) Kannon statue has since been registered as a national treasure. Today, the statue is revealed for public view for limited periods during spring and fall.
Contrastingly, there is an adorable lucky charm that is available at Horyuji. Taking from the name of the hall where the Guze (Kuse) Kannon statue is enshrined, the Yumedono (the Dream Hall), the tiny charm features the word “dream” on it. We encourage you to look for this charm while you are at the temple if you have a dream you are determined to achieve.
While Horyuji is full of intriguing historical facts and mysteries, it is not a place of extravagance. The lack of glittering decoration is more than compensated by the virtuous and serene atmosphere exuded by the simple, sophisticated beauty from the old times. The temple is of course beautiful during the cherry blossom season in spring and the fall foliage season, but there is also a subdued beauty to the sound of Horyuji’s bell when you listen to it in the cold air of late fall or winter. Visit Horyuji and immerse yourself in the wonders and splendors of the temple’s 1,400 years of history.