Yakushi-ji & Shinyakushi-ji Temples
Medicine and Mystery.
While there are plenty of temples that have fascinating stories behind them, the story behind Yakushi-ji remains one of the most interesting. According to local folklore, when the consort of Emperor Shomu became ill, the Nara prefecture temple was ordered to be built in order to aid her speedy recovery.
To this end, a medicine Buddha — known as Yakushi-sanzon — was installed in Yakushi-ji as this entity is known for curing life-threatening illnesses. This Buddha is so old that it is one of the very first statues to be imported from China and is dated to the late 8th century.
Later, a sister temple was created called Shinyakushi-ji, which also contained a medicine Buddha as well as some Shinsho-ritsuzo statues which are believed to be the oldest examples of this type of statue remaining in Japan.
While the history is the most interesting aspect of these temples, recently they have become just as famous for their architectural attractions. The highlight is undoubtedly the pagoda at Yakushi-ji as the ancient building was built using an optical illusion to make it appear to have many more stories than it does. By using the eaves in creative ways, the illusion is created that the pagoda has six stories instead of the three that it actually has.
Strangely for a temple that is under the protection of a Buddha, the area has seen its fair share of misfortune. Shinyakushi-ji (Map), for example, was virtually destroyed by lightning and a lot of its buildings are recreations. Bizarrely, not all these threats were physical as the bell in the temple is covered in scratches which, according to local legend, were supposedly a left-over from an attack by an enraged demon.
With these stories of romantic love, ancient statues, acts of god and horrific monsters, the Yakushi-ji temples are rare examples of buildings where the stories and lore are almost as interesting as the buildings themselves. While the temples are a little outside the main area of Osaka, visitors to Koriyama castle will find them a worthwhile side trip since they are in the same neighborhood.