Historic Road in Nara – 2: Hokke-ji, Kairyuo-ji, Heijo Palace Site & Akishino-dera Temple
This is the second part of our stroll on the historic road in Nara. In the previous part we introduced highlights of “Hokke-ji” and “Kairyuo-ji”, and we are continuing on to “Heijo Palace Site” and “Akishino-dera” this time.
Heijo Palace Site
Writer’s Photo: Daiichiji Daigokuden (Restored), Map
I walked about 10 minutes from Kairyuo-ji Temple. First thing that jumped into my sight was a stately building, being about 44m wide at the front, 20m wide on the side, and 27m tall from the ground. This was “Daiichiji Daigokuden (Daigokuden in Earlier Period)”. This building was restored in 2010 commemorating the 1300th anniversary since Japan’s capital was moved to Nara.
The restoration was extremely difficult because no blueprints and drawings of the time remain today. However the project was completed based on little literatures available and using contemporary temple buildings as reference, such as Horyu-ji Kondo and East Tower of Yakushi-ji.
Daiichiji Daigokuden functioned as a place for the most important ceremonies of the nation at the time, such as coronation of an emperor or imperial meetings with foreign envoys.
In the center of Daigokuden, there is Takamikura, the place emperors used to sit. You can closely look at the splendid detail that radiates noble atmosphere.
The building walls are lined with many Japanese-style paintings with themes of four mystic animal gods guarding four directions and 12 zodiac animals. The paintings were done by Atsushi Uemura, a prominent figure in the world of Japanese art. Exquisiteness of timberwork is outstanding, and the place is filled with very noble atmosphere.
This is Suzaku-mon gate seen from Daiichiji Daigokuden. Suzaku-mon is well over 20m high, but it looks so small, thus you can easily imagine how large Heijo Palace used to be.
Writer’s Photo: Suzaku-mon, Map
This is the front gate of Heijo Palace, Suzaku-mon, which we have seen earlier. It is about 15 minute walk from Daiichiji Daigokuden to Suzaku-mon. Many people used to gather in front of this gate, welcoming or sending off foreign envoys, holding an event to exchange poetries of love, etc. Sometimes emperors would come out to this gate and lead celebration on New Year’s Day. Earthen walls start on the left and right of the gate and they are as high as 5.5m, surrounding the palace compound, which is a total of 130 hectares (about 321 acres).
Heijo Palace Site is truly huge, and it is an empty place with only the wide open sky up above. Hence shedding mundane worries from our mind, it helps us keenly focus on what is important.
Now our next destination is Akishino-dera.
Ayanomiya, the second prince of Showa Emperor, took the name of “Akishino-nomiya” from this temple, after his marriage (1990). Akishino-dera is a temple with such distinguished pedigree.
Along the approach from the south gate, moss garden stretches like a carpet. You might feel the beautiful green washes your heart clean.
The main building of Akishino-dera was built during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), and it is a representative masterpiece of a hall built at the time. In this building on the left side from the entrance, the statue of “Gigeiten Ritsuzo” is placed. It’s a famous statue in Japan to the extent that a mention of Akishino-dera reminds many people of this statue immediately. This statue’s meditative facial expression and graceful poise struck many people’s hearts and made them fans.