Our day excursion to Nara (奈良) started before dawn. We get up at 5am in the morning, and took a 6:15am Nara-bound JR train from Kyoto Station. Our plan was to make a transfer from Nara JR Station to Horyuji Station (法隆寺駅) and visit Horyuji Temple (法隆寺) in suburban Nara, then returned to Central Nara and spent the rest of the day to check out the Nara Park attractions including Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha.
Founded in AD 607 during the Asuka Period (飛鳥時代), Horyuji (法隆寺) is one of the oldest temples in Japan. In this UNESCO World Heritage site, the Five-storey Pagoda is widely believed to be the oldest timber structure in the world. The architecture itself was largely influenced by the styles of Korea and China. The large temple ground is divided into two main precincts, the Western Precinct (西院伽藍) where the ancient pagoda and Kondo (金堂, Sanctuary Hall) are located, and at 122m further east the Eastern Precinct (東院伽藍), where the octagonal Yumedono (夢殿, Hall of Visions) is situated.
From Horyuji Station, it was a 20 minute walk via an ordinary suburban road to the Horyuji Temple. The setting changed dramatically as we turned into the tree-lined approach route in front of the temple entrance.
As we approached the entrance, the staff were sweeping the forecourt of Nandaimon (南大門, South Gate) under the yellow morning sun.
After Nandaimon, the stone path led us towards the Chumon (中門, Middle Gate), which was unfortunately covered with scaffolding.
On our approach to the Chumon (中門, Middle Gate) we passed by the peaceful stone route leading towards the Todaimon (東大門, East Gate).
Beyond the scaffolding of Chumon (中門, Middle Gate) we entered the temple courtyard and the magnificent timber colonnade surrounding the yard.
The beautiful timber Cloister (回廊) was constructed in the Nara Period (AD710 – 794). It was relaxing and peaceful to walk along these ancient timber columns.
The 32m Five-Storey Pagoda is one of the oldest timber buildings in the world. Tree ring dating suggested the central pillar was fell in AD 594. Despite named as Five-Storey Pagoda, there is actually only one usable level (the bottom level). The upper levels were inaccessible.
The 7th century Kondo (金堂) is another one of the oldest wooden architecture in the world. The building houses a number of precious Buddhist statues and murals. Unfortunately much of the original murals were destroyed by fire in 1949. The murals in the today’s Kondo are reproductions from 1967.
The dragon ornament at the upper section of the Kondo is a magnificent piece of handcraft.
The Kondo (left), Five Storey Pagoda (right), and Chumon (centre with scaffolding) are three of the oldest buildings in the compound built in Asuka Period (飛鳥時代).
We walked to the back of the Kondo and Five-Storey Pagoda to reach the Daikodo (大講堂, Lecture Hall).
Built in AD920 during the Heian Period (平安時代), the Daikodo houses the Yakushi Trinity in gilt wood.
After some time wandering in the cloister of Western Precinct, a large group of school students showed up.
Eastern Chambers (東室) from the Nara Period (奈良時代) was the former residences for monks.
Walking through the Todaimon (東大門, East Gate), we left the Western Precinct (西院伽藍) for the Eastern Precinct (東院伽藍).
Entering the Eastern Precinct (東院伽藍), the East Court Bell Tower (東院鐘楼) stood prominently for the past 800 years since the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代, 1192 – 1333).
In the Eastern Precinct (東院伽藍), the most impressive building is the octagonal Yumedono (夢殿, Hall of visions). It houses some important statues as well as monk’s seating for prayers.
Beautiful timber corner detail of Yumedono (夢殿, Hall of visions).
The Yumedono is surrounded by another peaceful timber cloister and atmospheric trees.
We headed back to the Western Precinct (西院伽藍), and passed by a number of vivid maples on the way.
Also octagonal, the Saiendou (西円堂, West Round Hall) stands atop a hill at the northwest corner of the temple compound.
Sandwiched between the cloister of the Western Precinct and hill of Saiendou stands the impressive Sangyoin (三経院).
Despite the architectural beauty from the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代, 1185 – 1333), our focus was shifted to the two cute cats sitting right by the entrance stair.
The two cats often interacted with each other.
After a thorough visit of the temple compound, we were ready to walk through the Nandaimon (南大門, South Gate) once again and found our way back to the local train station.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan