When we traveled in Nara, I brought my kids to Chuguji Temple to see Bosatsu Hankazou statue in the west of Nara. Bosatsu Hankazou is said to be made in the Asuka period (7th century). In that period, people from China and Korea introduced politics, arts, new lifestyles and beliefs to Japan. Japanese tried to imitate, copy and learn from them. The expression of arts in the Asuka period has a mixture of cultures. I wanted to show it to my kids and went to Chuguji Temple.
I didn’t want to overwhelm my kids by showing them too many old temples and causing confusion of which one is which. However, I couldn’t resist to see Bosatsu Hankazou. Bosatsu Hankazou is beautifully carved and has a slender body. It is in the half-lotus position and shows an archaic smile in deep thought while reflecting on how to save people. I can still remember my first impression of Bosatsu Hankazou when I saw it. My memory might be mixed and overlapped with pictures, books, articles and other media, but I always kept a passion to see it when I had a chance.
Chuguji Temple is located just behind Horyuji Temple. Chuguji Temple was founded as a temple for nuns by Shotoku Taishi who was a politician in the 6th century who centralized the country, gaining political power and adopting Buddhism from China. Chuguji Temple is very small compared to Nara’s other big temples, but it is well constructed.
I could enjoy taking in the process on the way to entering the main building to see Bosatsu Hankazou. In the front of the main building, there is a small pond with lotus. We walked through a small corridor next to the pond and went up to the main building with the stairs. The building was reconstructed in 1968 with deep belief. When you enter the building, you will see Bosatsu Hankazou. It has a beautiful design with a gentle smile that conveys deep consideration.
The Bosatsu Hankazou statue was built in the 7th century. It has been said that the Japanese are sensitive to small-scale beauty, I felt this would have been started in the Asuka period. People of the Asuka period were so keen to learn things from the rest of the world. You will find Japanese aesthetic precision, care, subtlety and simplicity at work in the statue.
Horyuji Temple was founded in 607 by Shotoku Taishi, a legendary politician of the Asuka period (from the end of the 6th to the beginning of the 8th centuries). In 670, it was destroyed by fire and had to be reconstructed. After that, Horyuji Temple escaped from domestic war for over 1000 years and today is a fine example of the tradition of the Asuka period architecture.
Entering through the Chumon-gate, you see Kondo on your right side and a five-story pagoda on your left side. A corridor was arranged around the site. The balance of buildings and corridor was well designed. The five-story pagoda height is about 30m which is twice as much as Kondo. I felt as if I had visited a theater to see a stage performance. The structure was solid.
Treasure House at Horyuji Temple
If you visit old Japanese temples, you have a chance to view the treasure house containing secured valuables. Usually, the treasure house is small and 10-15 mins are enough to see around. However, Horyuji Temple’s treasure house had the same impact as the National Museum for me. The total volume is different, but the excellence is the same.
My main purpose was to see Chuguji Temple’s Bosatsu Hankazou, so I planned to stop by briefly at Horyuji Temple. However, it took over 2 hours to see the buildings and enjoy the special treasure exhibition which takes place only during Spring and Autumn seasons.
At the treasure house, my kids were eager to see old statues. I was busy to read each description, but my kids never read them nor followed the suggested routes to see the old statues. They walked inside freely. I was scared to show them too many statues because I thought they would be easily bored, but they walked around and participated with passion.
Design of Horyuji Temple
I enjoyed the architecture of the buildings and great statues at Horyuji Temple. The design was influenced by Greek architecture which came through from China and Korea. The Japanese at that time replicated the techniques which they had learned from other countries.
The old temples had been painted in a vermilion mix of red and orange when they were constructed. The color has sacred meanings, but I still prefer the atmosphere of old and solid given by a wooden brown color. Hopefully, brown and darkish colors have more photogenic impression, though. This page has started to be full of brown images.
How to get there: It takes over one hour from the center of Nara City to Horyuji Temple by car. Public transportation is available, but if you are a good driver, rent-a-car is the best way to see around in Nara.