Tag Archives: Japanse temples

How to Appreciate Ancient Buddhist Temples in Japan.

(Image: 1




Ancient atmosphere still remains.


A full course dinner usually consists of hors d’oeuvre, potage, poisson, granite, viande, fromage, and dessert. Without one of them, we could not enjoy authentic French cuisine. When a waiter serves dishes, he simply explains each of them, saying “These are salmon meuniere and caviar. This kind explanation somehow improves the taste.


Knowing that it may sound imprudent, but to put it plainly, I would like to compare large-scaled Buddhist temples to French cuisine. Like a full course dinner, basically it is necessary for Buddhist temples to complete a set of seven important architectural structures named “Shichidō garan”. The knowledge of each meaning and derivation makes your sightseeing tour of ancient Japanese temples more enjoyable. You can see tall towers, a big bell, and a main hall where Buddha’s images are enshrined. In this article, as a handsome waiter, I add explanations to the photos of “full course seven halls”. When you visit those temples in Japan with your friends or a lover, you must get respect from them because of your extensive knowledge.




Take Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara for Example!



(Image: 2



Plan of Yakushiji Temple’s seven important architectural structures.


A: The Second Gate after the First Gate to the South

B: Cloisters

C: Main Hall

D: Pagodas

E: Lecture hall

F: Campanile

G: Sutta pitaka



The photo of the Image 1 is the Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara which was the ancient capital from 710 A.D. to 794 A.D. There are various theories as to when this temple was moved from the prior capital, but it is now accepted that the foundation in Nara (A link to the location) was 718 A.D.


The east pagoda is the same as it was when the temple was founded and is designated as a national treasure. And also, Yakushi-ji temple itself is the well-known World Heritage site. The arrangement of halls varies from temple to temple, but that of Yakushiji-temple is simple and easy to understand. So I’ll explain point by point.




A: The Second Gate after the First Gate to the South



(Image: 3)

(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


A: The Second Gate after the First Gate to the South




(Image: 4)


(Photo by (c) Photo AC)

After going through the gate, here is the central part of the temple. Bright red color soon gets in your eyes. The materials of the color at that time include mercury which not only serves as insect deterrent and preservatives but also was believed to be a charm against evil spirits.


The statue inside the gate is the guardian of the temple. It was originally one of the ancient deities in India. Buddhism has assimilated various Indian deities who have an important role in serving Buddha. The guardian with a formidable face embodies the posture to protect Buddhism from the evil.


B: Cloisters


(Image: 5)


(Photo by (c) Photo AC)

(Image: 6





Public Domain


This imaginary picture is not the Yakushi-ji Temple. However, we can see walls surround the whole temple.




The most important parts of the temple is surrounded by cloisters in a rectangle shape. The second gate above mentioned is not literally the first gate. See the Image 2 and you may think it is the whole temple precinct. However, there are a first gate and solid walls outside the cloisters in the Image 6. For this reason, airy but seemingly low-security buildings have no problem.




C: Main Hall



(Image: 7



A main hall at Yakushi-ji Temple



(Image: 8



Public Domain


(Image: 9



Public Domain


The main hall, as its name suggests, is the most important building where the principal image of Buddha is enshrined. Comparing it to a full course dinner, the main hall is parallel to poisson or viande though I cannot tell which is poisson or viande. In the famous Horyuji Temple, the oldest wooden structure in the world, a mural in a main hall dating from the time of its founding remains. The mural over 1,300 years ago, of course, is a good deal discolored, but the interior depicted and embodied the colorful images of the Buddhist world like the Image 8.


The central Buddha is named Bhaisajyaguru who originally disabused human beings from the source of worldly desires, Avidyā or mumyo (ignorance or delusion) in Japanese. In more recent years, popular belief has been spread and Bhaisajyaguru is believed to be able to cure all human ills. Though an enshrined Buddha in the center varies from temple to temple, Yakushiji was set up by an emperor with a wish for his empress to recover from her illness. For this reason this temple is named after Bhaisajyaguru or Yakushi-Nyorai in Japanese.


Two statues at the sides are Bodhisattva who symbolizes sunlight and moonlight illuminating human’s mind in darkness.




D: Pagodas


(Image: 10



The East Three-Storied Pagoda at Yakushi-ji Temple




(Image: 11)

(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


The Five-Storied Pagoda at Horyu-ji Temple




Of various buildings at temples, pagodas are most prominent for tourists. The deceased Buddha’s body was cremated. The remains and ashes were spread around the world, in particular, South and East Asia. To enshrine those, pagodas called stupas were constructed. They can be referred to graves of Buddha. Leaving aside the question of Buddha remains’ authenticity, sutras and so on are placed inside if Buddha’s ashes is not available.


Yakushiji-temple has two pagodas, west and east one. They seem six-storied pagodas, but are actually three-storied. It is because the pagodas have decorative pent roof called “mokashi” between true roofs. The east pagoda was built in the 8th century and remains as it was. Most unfortunately, however, we cannot see the pagoda because it is now under repair in full scale. The Image 11 was the five-storied pagoda in Horyu-ji Temple which is the oldest wooden structure in the world. Which one do you relish further beauty?




E: Lecture Hall



(Image: 12



Lecture hall at Yakushi-ji Temple




Buddhism may reminds many people of Zen discipline but, in the 8th century, the study and research on Buddhism were emphasized. As a result, classroom lecture by a high priest to ordinary monks was common. It can be said that it was almost the same as modern lectures at universities. Come to think about it, this learning method has long continued in all countries. I wonder if monks studying there had a nap like me when I was at collage.




F: Campanile

G: Sutta pitaka



(Image: 13)

(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


Belfry at Yakushi-ji Temple



(Image: 14



Copyright © 2015 京都の写真フリー素材|すべて無料 Plazahotel-photos.com. All rights reserved.

This is one of the biggest bells in Japan which is located at Chion-in Temple in Kyoto




(Movie: 1


Monks sound a big bell at Chioin Temple.



A campanile and sutta pitaka at Today’s Yakushi-ji temple were moved from the original places of the Image 2. In the age when public announcement system did not exist, the bell told the hour of events or ceremonies to monks. It would serve as a clock to announce the hours for common people.


A sutta pitaka stores the uncountable sutras of Buddhism. The clear difference between Christianity and Buddhism is the number of sacred books. Needless to say, the New Testament is a sole and absolute book for Christians. On the other hand, there are countless sutras in Buddhism which have no hard numbers. The reason is the posture of Buddha to preach. It is often compared to a philosopher and psychiatrist who prescribes a wide variety of drugs for each ill person falling to various diseases. To put it simply, in my opinion, Buddha said to a man who is troubled over fatness, “Don’t worry, it is OK to be fat or to another man who is too thin, “It is not bad for your health” This is my speculation of Buddha’s preaching style.


As further generations organized series of Buddha’s words, huge quantities of books which insisted to derive from Buddha were collected. The sutta pitaka is like a library at today’s collage.




Then Temples Move to Mountainous Areas.



(Image: 15



無料の和風壁紙倉庫 京都の壁紙ドットコム

The main hall at Murou-ji Temple in Nara Prefecture built in late 8th century



(Image: 16



無料の和風壁紙倉庫 京都の壁紙ドットコム

The five-storied pagoda at Murou-ji Temple



In the 8th century when Nara was the capital of Japan above mentioned, Buddhism was fully sponsored by the nation. Instead, it even superseded sovereignty. That is why large-scaled temples were built one after another in the capital.


Buddhist monks came to wield enormous power and the capital was moved to Kyoto to escape from “the fat cats”. You may say Kyoto has a lot of temples. Yes. However, those in Kyoto were not constructed using the national budget. Most of them were sponsored by aristocracy and common people later.


Japanese Buddhism went through changes like that and was transformed into “discipline” Buddhism from “learning” Buddhism. Mountainous areas were chosen as a training monastery and the plans of important architectural structures were also changed. The location was not orderly arranged in a plain field as it was. Main halls and pagodas were sporadically set out in the mountain slope like the Image 15.


Temples in Kyoto is recommendable for some who are fond of quaint atmosphere. When you enjoy large-scaled and full-fledged temples built in ancient days like a full course dinner, Nara is the best. Nara is smaller city than Kyoto but it preserves ancient architecture over 1,200 years ago.




Why is bright red color used?