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southwest of nara: toshodaiji & yakushiji temples   4 comments

Friday, August 4:  This morning, my second day in Nara, I take bus #70 for 20 minutes to two temples south of Nara proper: Toshodaiji Temple and Yakushiji Temple.

Toshodaiji Temple is the headquarters of the Ritsu Sect of Buddhism. It was established in 759 when the Chinese priest Ganjin Wajo (688 to 763), a high Buddhist priest of the Tang Dynasty, opened what was originally called Toritsushodai-ji Temple to help people learn the Buddhist precepts. He was invited by Japanese Buddhists studying in China to teach the Imperial Court about Buddhism. In 753, overcoming the hardship of losing his eyesight, he arrived in Japan during his sixth attempt to cross the ocean.

Toshodaiji Temple

The Kondo (Golden Hall or Main Hall) houses the principal seated Rushana Buddha, the standing Yakushi Tathagata statue and the standing Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara National Treasure.

Kondo (Golden Hall or Main Hall) at Toshodaiji Temple

Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara National Treasure

Photography isn’t allowed inside the halls, but below are three postcards of the Buddhas at Toshodaiji Temple.   Click on any image for a full-sized slide show.

The Kondo, from the 8th century (Nara era) at Toshodaiji Temple is simple, but elegant, as are most Japanese temples.

Kondo (Golden Hall or Main Hall)

The Koro (Multi-storied building) from the 13th century (Kamakura era) is also called “Shariden (reliquary hall) because Buddha’s ashes brought by Ganjin Wajo were enshrined here. In the Zushi (miniature shrine) within the building, the Kinki (golden tortoise) is enshrined. This is also a National Treasure.

Toshodaiji Temple

The Rye-do (Chapel), from the 13th century, was originally the sleeping quarters for monks and is an important cultural property.

Rye-do (Chapel)

The Kodo (Lecture Hall) is from the Nara era.  It is a building removed from the Heijo Palace and reconstructed, where the principal seated Maitreya Tathagata statue (important cultural property), the standing Jikoku-ten statue, and the standing Zojo-ten statue are enshrined.  It’s another national treasure. I don’t have any pictures of these magnificent statues, sadly, as photography is not allowed.

Kodo (Lecture Hall)

A path leads through Toshodaiji Temple to another leafy path.

walkway at Toshodaiji Temple

It’s a welcome relief to find some shade on this hot and sultry day.

path at Toshodaiji Temple

At the end of the path, I find a lovely moss garden with dapples and shadows.

moss garden at Toshodaiji Temple

At the far end of the moss garden is the Kaizan Gubyo, or the Grave of Ganjin, the Founder of Toshodaiji Temple.

Grave of Ganjin, the Founder of Toshodaiji Temple

Toshodaiji Temple is far from Nara proper and its crowds, so it is quite serene here.

Toshodaiji Temple

the Kondo of Toshodaiji Temple

On the way to the Kaidan (ordination platform), a garden of lotus blossoms beckons.

Toshodaiji Temple

Toshodaiji Temple has a few beautiful lotus blossoms, even in the heat of the day.

lotus at Toshodaiji Temple

lotus at Toshodaiji Temple

In looking at my map of these two temples, which are close to each other, I decide instead of taking the bus, I’ll walk to Yakushiji Temple.  Though the map says it’s only a half kilometer, it seems longer than that, especially in this heat.

Yakushiji  is the headquarters of the Hosso sect of Japanese Buddhism.  The actual founder of the Hosso sect is Jion Daishi, but much of the Hosso Sect descends from the “Yugayuishiki” (Yogacara) teachings of Hsuan Tsang (600-664), a famous priest in the T’ang era in China. He studied Buddhism for 17 years in India.  After returning to China, he translated 1,335 volumes of important Buddhist writings, and then taught them as well.

Yakushiji was planned around 680 by Emperor Temmu to pray for the recovery of his Empress from a serious illness. During the long construction period, Temmu died and his Empress acceded to the throne and was called Jito.  The dedication ceremony for enshrining the chief Buddha, Yakushi Nyorai (the Buddha of Healing or Medicine Buddha) was held in 697.  The entire compound was completed in 698 in the south part of Nara, in the Fujiwara Capital. Ten years later, the Capital was moved to the north of Nara (in 710) and Yakushiji was moved to its present site in 718.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yakushiji Temple

Yakushiji was burnt down and destroyed by fires, wars, or natural disasters several times.  The most damage was caused by the civil war in 1528.  Today only the Yakushiji Triad in the Kondo, the Sho-Kannon in the Toindo and the East Pagoda recall the grandeur of its original features.

Today, sadly, some major parts of the compound are under construction.

Kodo, or Great Lecture Hall, at Yakushiji Temple

Kondo, or Golden Hall, at Yakushiji Temple

Sadly, because no photography is allowed of the famous Buddha statues, I purchase a couple of postcards of the images.  Neither the postcards, nor any photos, could do them justice, as they are imposing and sit within the beautiful Kondo, or Golden Hall. Between the Buddha statues at Toshodaiji Temple and here, at Yakushiji Temple, I’m in awe.  These are truly magnificent pieces of art.

Postcards from Yakushiji Temple show the famous Yakushi Triad: the Yakushi Nyorai flanked by the Bodhisattvas of the sun and moon.  These are arguably some of the most beautiful statues in all of Japan.

The postcard on the left shows Yakushi Nyorai, a bronze statue (225 cm, or 7.4 feet tall) that is a National Treasure from the Hakuho Period (645-710); he is the Buddha of Healing and the Lord of the Emerald Pure Land in the East, who vowed to cure diseases of the mind and body.  He was already popular in Japan before the 7th century. He is also worshiped in order to achieve longevity. Though Yakushi Nyorai usually has a medicine pot in his left hand, this one does not.

The postcard to the right shows one of two Bodhisattvas – Nikko Bosatsu, who attends Yakushi Nyorai on the right side.  Gakko Bosatsu (not pictured), stands on the left side. Both are about 320 cm, or 10.5 feet tall. Nikko means the sunlight and Gakko means the moonlight.  They are impressive because of their twisted bodies, their graceful features, and the free flow of their robes.

Yakushi Nyorai is similar to the doctor of mind and body and Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu are the nurses.

“Pagoda” means grave in Pali, the ancient Indian language, and it was called “stupa” in Sanskrit.  Pagoda means the grave of Buddha.  Yakushiji is the first temple that had twin pagodas on its grounds.

Unfortunately, the original West Pagoda at Yakushiji Temple was burned down in 1528.  After the reconstruction of the Kondo, the West Pagoda was rebuilt in 1980.  The East Pagoda (not pictured), which miraculously survived the fire that destroyed Yakushiji in 1528, is the only surviving architecture of the Hakuho Period in Japan. Unfortunately for me, the East Pagoda is under renovation and is covered in scaffolding today.

West Pagoda at Yakushiji Temple

Buddha image at Yakushiji Temple

The Middle Gate stands between the South Gate and the Kondo, or Golden Hall.  You can see a hot wind is blowing.

Middle Gate at Yakushiji Temple

The Golden Hall at Yakushiji Temple is truly magnificent, especially with those spectacular Buddha statues inside.

Golden Hall at Yakushiji Temple

West Pagoda

Buddha at Yakushiji Temple

After my visit to both of these fabulous temples and their resplendent Buddha images, I catch bus #70 to return to Nara.  Back at the train and bus station, I search inside a big supermarket for kakinoha-zushi, which translates as “persimmon leaf sushi.”  The Nara region is famous for this delicacy.  I am able to show the name in Japanese to one of the supermarket employees, who points out the package.

Kakinoha is individual pieces of sushi wrapped in persimmon leaf, shown below.  You’re not supposed to eat the persimmon leaves. I sit outside on the front stoop of the supermarket with a bunch of other people enjoying this treat, although it’s a little awkward opening up the persimmon leaves and eating them while holding them on my lap.

kaki-no-ha

After I finish eating, I’m on my way by another bus to Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Wakamiya Jinja Shrine, and Kofuku-ji. 🙂

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