Hōryū-ji Temple in Ikaruga City, Nara Prefecture, houses the world’s oldest wooden structures, many of which have stood for well over 1,400 years. It’s believed they were constructed sometime between 552-710, undergoing various repairs and renovations over the centuries. A pine tree-lined avenue leads to the towering main gate.
Beyond that gate is the temple’s courtyard. This is where the main hall or main temple and a five-story pagoda are located. The pagoda is the oldest structure at the complex. The wood reportedly came from a tree cut down in 594. An octagonal “Hall of Dreams,” a memorial chapel constructed around 739, is the oldest octagonal hall still standing in Japan.
Hōryū-ji’s longevity is attributed to its craftsmanship. During the 7th-century, architects had the foresight and knowledge to choose Hinoki or cypress wood known for its resilience and durability for construction. It’s said, Hōryū-ji is as strong today as it was when it was first hewn.
The temple was founded around 607 by Prince Shotoku, a dedicated and devout Buddhist who made Hōryū-ji central to the spread of his faith throughout the world. Today, Hōryū-ji remains the stronghold of the Shōtoku sect of Buddhism, visible in the abundance of very early Buddhist sculptures, relics, and art. There are said to be about 2,300 of these prized pieces inside, including some of Japan’s oldest statues of Buddha. Hōryū-ji also serves as a monastery.
In 1993, Hōryū-ji became the first monument in Japan to be registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. It’s not on popular tourist maps and has few international visitors. The town is quiet and homely, but explorable complete with small forested woods, farmlands, and the old streets where the temple’s craftsmen once lived. Some of their residences are still going strong.
Know Before You Go
Horyuji is about 7 miles (12 kilometers) from Nara.
Take the Yamatoji Line from Nara Station to Horyuji Station, about 12 minutes. Then walk for 30 minutes or take bus 72 from Horyuji Station. There are directional signboards just outside the station.