Step inside ancient Japan.
Horyu-ji Temple is one of Nara’s most important cultural sites and one of the three must-see temples in the prefecture, together with Kofukuji and Todaiji. What is truly special about Horyu-ji is that this temple complex is home to the oldest wooden structures in the world. As one of Japan’s oldest temples and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, it’s an excellent stop in Nara.
The temple was founded in 607 by Crown Prince Shotoku, and today the spacious nearly 19 hectares (46 acres) grounds are divided into a Western Precinct (locally known as Sai-in Garan) and Eastern Precinct (also known as To-in Garan). Between the two is the modern Gallery of Temple Treasures, which houses an impressive selection of the temple’s Buddhist artwork and treasured artifacts.
The Western Precinct at Horyu-ji Temple is the largest of the two, and here you’ll find the world’s oldest wooden structures: the central gate (or Chumon), the main hall (called Kondo) and a five-storied pagoda. Decorating the central gate are two towering clay guardian deities (also known as Nio or Guardian Kings), the oldest of their kind in the country. The temple’s main statues, however, are kept in the main hall, some dating all the way back to the Asuka period (538-710).
In the Eastern Precinct, which is a five-minute walk from the other precinct, are several other temple buildings clustered around the octagonal Hall of Visions (Yumedono), which is dedicated to Prince Shotoku. It contains a number of ancient statues, including a stunning life-size image of the prince himself. Other treasures of Yumenodo include a statue of Kudara Kannon (the goddess of mercy) and a lacquerware sculpture of monk Gyoshin.
Just behind the Eastern Precinct is Chugu-ji Temple, a separate temple which offers discounted entry for people with a ticket to Horyu-ji Temple. Even though this next door temple is small, it is well known for hosting two National Treasures and the beautiful statue of a sitting Buddha.