A to Wa of Japan: Week 31

It’s time for A to Wa of Japan again! Last week’s post was about things beginning with  へ (he) and we looked at Heian Jingu (平安神宮).This week we are looking at things beginning with ほ (ho). A big thank you to those who joined in with suggestions this week:

Chika Falconer suggested Hokkaido (北海道 / Japan’s north island), Horyuji (法隆寺 / a temple in Nara), Haruomi Hosono (細野 晴臣 / a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra), houjicha (ほうじ茶 / roasted Japanese green tea)、and hokke (ほっけ / mackerel); norikothesweetmaker also suggested houjicha; Zooming Japan suggested Hokkaido, and Horikita Maki (堀北 真希 / an actress); Japan Australia suggested Horyuji, hotaru (ほたる / firefly), and Hoba Miso (朴葉味噌 / a specialty dish of Takayama in Gifu); and Paul suggested horumon (ホルモン / a dish of beef or pork offal).

There were some very interesting suggestions this week, and in the end I decided to write about…

Horyuji (法隆寺)

Horyuji (法隆寺)

Horyuji (法隆寺)

(Image source)

Despite having been to Nara a number of times, I have never been to Horyuji. Horyuji is famous for its pagoda, which is known to be one of the oldest wooden structures in the world, and it is one of the most celebrated temples in Japan. In fact, I’m not quite sure how I’ve managed to miss going there! I guess the fact that it is about 12km outside of central Nara has probably meant that it just never quite made it on to my radar, but I should certainly add it to my list of places to visit.

Horyuji's pagoda

Horyuji’s pagoda

(Image source)

Here’s what the official Horyuji website has to say about the history of the temple:

The grounds of Horyuji (Horyu Temple) house the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures, conveying images of Japan as it existed more than 1,300 years ago, during the Asuka Period (A.D.mid 6th-beginning of 8th c.).

The story of Horyuji’s founding can be discovered in the historical writings engraved on the back of the halo of the Yakusi Nyorai Buddha statue, located on the eastern side of the room in the temple’s Main Hall, and in the official inventory of Horyuji property holdings recorded in 747.

According to these records, the emperor Yomei vowed to build a temple and an image of a Buddha as a form of prayer for his own recovery from illness–a vow he was never fated to fulfill, for he died shortly thereafter.

These same writings state how Empress Suiko and Crown Prince Shotoku fulfilled Emperor Yomei’s deathbed wish by building in 607 a temple and a statue of a Buddha, to which the temple was dedicated.

The Buddha statue was of the Yakusi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru) -literally, “arrival as a healer”-and the temple was named the Ikaruga Temple (after the name of the location),or Horyuji (“Temple of the Flourishing Law [of Buddhism]”).

On the fateful night of April 30 in the year 670, however,a great blaze swept through the temple grounds, leaving “not a single building “standing, as it is recorded in the ancient Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki).

However, historians in the latter part of 19th century began to cast doubt on the accuracy of this account of Horyuji’s destruction and to question whether or not the fire truly did occur. Although there are many questions that remain unanswered to this day, one thing certain is that Horyuji boasts an illustrious 14 centuries of continuous observance of tradition since established by Prince Shotoku, the great statesman and founder of Buddhism in Japan. Today, Horyuji is composed of the Western Precinct (Saiin Garan), which is centered around the Five-Story Pagoda (Goju-no-To) and the Main Hall (Kondo), and the Eastern Precinct (Toin Garan), which is arranged around the Hall of Visions (Yumedono). Throughout the 187,000-square-meter grounds are irreplaceable cultural treasures, bequeathed across the centuries and continuing to preserve the essence of eras spanning the entire journey through Japanese history since the 7th century.

In fact, Horyuji contains over 2,300 important cultural and historical structures and articles, including nearly 190 that have been designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. In December of 1993, Horyuji, as a unique storehouse of world Buddhist culture, became the first treasure of any kind in Japan to be selected by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage.

There’s not much I can add to the above, except to say that Horyuji certainly looks like a temple worth visiting! To get there, you can take a train from JR Nara Station to Horyuji Station, which takes about 12 minutes. From there it is a 20 minute walk to the temple.


Next week we’ll start with ま (ma), so please leave a comment below suggesting a topic for things beginning with ま. Topics can be anything, as long as they are connected to Japan – food, places, people, characters, whatever you want to hear about! Just remember that the words you suggest must be Japanese words.

I look forward to hearing your suggestions!  (*^_^)v

6 thoughts on “A to Wa of Japan: Week 31

  1. Horyuji is very impressive and definitely worth a visit. It is a bit harder to get to than the temples located around Nara Park. I recommend a visit in late March to mid April with the beautiful cherry blossoms, and from October to early December with the backdrop of bright red maples leaves.

    A few suggestions for next week are:

    Matsumoto Castle (One of the best 3 Japanese Castles)
    Magome (A stop on the ancient Nakasendo)
    Matsuri (festival)
    Matsue (The water city in the Chugoku area of Japan)


  2. Can I suggest:


    Mamachari bicycles – now taking the world by storm!

    (Crown Princess) Masako – modern woman in an ultra-traditional role.


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