Buddhism in Nara: Toshodai-ji & Yakushiji

Date: 29th March 2016


It was my 3rd and last day in Nara before heading to Kyoto. Today’s itinerary covers another few important temples in Nara.

First up is Toshodai-ji, located roughly 20 minutes away if you are taking the train from Nara Station. The nearest station is the Nishinokyo station, from which the temple can be reached in 5 minutes on foot. It is located amidst a residential area, so use Google Maps when in doubt.

I was here pretty early, before 8.30 a.m. Gotten used to waking up early being in Japan. The temple opens at 8.30 a.m. and few of us were waiting – it is nice to be the first ones, less crowd.

Tourist / worshiper waiting to enter at Nandaimon (Southern Great Gate)

Admission fees is 600 yen, worth the money as you will see later.

UNESCO World Heritage Site – as part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

Toshodai-ji was founded by Ganjin (yes, remember that name as it will be mentioned many times in the post), a high priest from China who was invited by Emperor Shomu to teach Buddhism in Japan. No, at that time, it was not easy to just go to another country when the Emperor invites you. Ganjin took twelve years and even lost his eyesight before arriving Nara at his sixth attempt. His struggles are described in “The Roof Time of Tempyo” by Yasushi Inoue.

Though he first taught at Todai-ji, he later had Toshodai-ji constructed and was there for four years until his passing.

The Kondo (Main Hall) went through major renovation works from 2000, and was only re-opened in late 2009.

Kondo (Main Hall)

Toshodai-ji is a fairly large complex, you should take your time strolling around in serenity amidst the lush greenery.


Kodo (Lecture Hall)
Korou (Drum Tower)

Walking all the way to the back (east), I found myself at the Mausoleum of Ganjin. The tranquility I felt here was one of a kind – I thought I crossed to the other world.

Green moss at Mausoleum of Ganjin


Next is Yakushiji, which is only roughly 1km on foot from Toshodai-ji. The admission fees is 1100 yen. Though the temple dates back to the 7th Century, you would feel as if the temples are new, as the main hall was reconstructed in the 1970s, the Genjo Sanzoin Garan was only built in 1981, and the East Pagoda is currently under renovation works, which is estimated to complete in 2020. No worries though, the Yakushiji temple complex is large enough to make this a worthwhile visit.

Scaffolding of the East Pagoda, on the left of the main hall

Yakushiji was built (or was intended to be built) by Emporor Tenmu to pray for the recovery of his sick Empress. The temple was originally built in Asuka, but he died before the construction of the temple was completed. Instead, the Empress saw through the temple’s completion and later on the temple was moved to its current site. However, the temple was heavily damaged by fire, natural disasters and even during the civil war, hence the few re-constructions mentioned above. Thus, many parts of the temples are not actually the original.

Kondo (Main Hall)
Kodo (Lecture Hall)
Saito (The West Pagoda)
East Wing

The Genjo Sanzoin Garan was only built in 1981 (as mentioned above), dedicated to Genjo Sanzo (recognize the name? – Journey to the West!). Note that this complex is closed at certain times of the year, thus check when planning a visit here.

Entrance to Genjo Sanzoin Garan on the left
Genjo Sanzoin Garan Octagonal Hall



2 thoughts on “Buddhism in Nara: Toshodai-ji & Yakushiji

  1. Pingback: Kurama-dera, the Mystical, One-of-a Kind Buddhist Temple – Japan Wonders

  2. Pingback: The Lost Capital: Heijo-kyo and Kofukuji, Nara – Japan's Wonders

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