Historic Road in Nara – 1: Hokke-ji, Kairyuo-ji, Heijo Palace Site & Akishino-dera Temple
Once upon a time when Japan’s capital was in Nara (710-794), there was a main street called Ichijo-oji in Nara. Its remnant still exists today, from Tegaimon Gate of Todai-ji Temple via Hokke-ji, then skirting the northern side of Heijo Palace Site to Saidai-ji. There are many individually unique sightseeing spots along this route, including Hokke-ji, Kairyuo-ji, Heijjo Palace Site, and if you continue on a little further, then Akishino-dera.
Are you wondering if there are other interesting places to visit, since you have already seen the Nara Park area, Todai-ji, Kofuku-ji and Kasuga-taisha, the famous sightseeing spots in Nara?
We are introducing the historic road “Sakiji” this time, a choice sightseeing route in Nara, just for you.
This time we are guiding you to Hokke-ji and Kairyuo-ji as Part 1 of the route, and the next time in Part 2, to Heijo Palace Site and Akishino-dera. It is a journey to ruminate the ancient past by visiting quietly standing temples, leaving the bustling Nara Park area filled with tourists.
Let’s head for Hokke-ji first.
Todai-ji is the head temple of state-supported provincial temples throughout Japan, constructed by the imperial decree of Emperor Shomu (reigned 724~749). In contrast to it, Hokke-ji was founded at the request of Empress Komyo as the head temple of provincial nunneries. It is known as one of monzeki nunneries, where members of imperial family have served as the head nun from generation to generation.
When Hokke-ji was originally constructed, it was a large temple in a stately style befitting of the head nunnery of the nation, however, no vestiges remain today. Now it is a modest existence with quiet atmosphere, appropriate to be called a nunnery. Information: Map
When you least expect it in the landscape, you find gentleness suitable for a nunnery.
The principal deity’s statue is “Juichimen Kannon (11-faced Kannon)”, a National Treasure. It was made from one log of a Japanese nutmeg tree, and it is said to be modeled after the beauty of Empress Komyo. The statue is usually not open for the general public for religious reasons. Only March 1 through 8 in the spring and October 25 through November 10 in the fall, the door of the statue’s miniature shrine is opened for public view. You can, however, visit a replica identical to the original National Treasure on other days.
Empress Komyo is known to have established welfare facilities such as Hiden-in and Seyaku-in. This one here is a steam bath called “Karaburo”, and the legend goes that the empress helped wash the bodies of a thousand patients with incurable diseases using her own hands. The current building was rebuilt during the Edo Period (1603-1868), and it is designated as a Cultural Asset of Japan, not as a building.
Could you feel presence of Empress Komyo in the whole of Hokke-ji? Well, let’s head for Kairyuo-ji next.
Kairyuo-ji is located back to back with Hokke-ji, and it is only a step away on the east side.
Priest Genbo traveled to China (717-735) to study as a member of Japanese envoy to China during the Tang Dynasty. When his return was approaching, Empress Komyo renovated a temple in her palace to wish for his safe return and successful infusion of latest Buddhism into the country. This is how Kairyuo-ji’s history has started and why the large ema (wooden plaque) includes a picture of a ship, an envoy’s ship to China.
Honeysuckle is tangled over earthen wall, spreading sweet scent.
As we go on the approach, there is “Nishi Kondo” located right in front of us. This hall was built during the Nara Period (710-794) and designated as an Important Cultural Property today. Gojushoto is located within the building and being a small National Treasure at a height of 4.01m, you can look at it closely. Its designation of National Treasure is as a building, not as a craft product.
It is a rare place to be appreciated that we can look at a National Treasure so closely and take photos freely, and I felt really happy. (However, use of flash and tripods is banned.)
Speaking of Kairyuo-ji, I must not forget writing about the head priest Jugen Ishikawa. Illustrator Jun Miura, who published “Kenbutsu-ki” on various Buddha’s statues, has made the priest famous by calling him a handsome priest. Since then Jugen Ishikawa became another attraction of this temple with many female fans. He is occasionally sitting at the reception area, so please look forward to seeing him! As he is a very friendly person, you can greet him and strike up a conversation. Information: Map
Well then, we will continue our guide tour of the historic road, starting with Heijo Palace Site in Part 2.
Historic Road in Nara – 2: Hokke-ji, Kairyuo-ji, Heijo Palace Site & Akishino-dera Temple