During the Sakura season we set out to Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, to explore some of the famous world heritage sites and enjoy the blooming Sakura blossoms. We weren’t disappointed in the photo department – the beautiful Sakura trees mingling among the ancient Japanese buildings provided the perfect backdrop for many spectacular photos. You can approach Kofukuji temple from either the main street (where all the deer are) or from the site of the Sarusawa Pond. We, for one, went from the pond side, and as we gradually climbed up the path, we began to see hints of the first pagoda.
There were some pretty Sakura up there, blending in beautifully against an octagonal temple named Hokuendo which is painted a nice reddish color. The Hokuendo is one of the three ‘Golden Halls’ at Kofukuji, which are named by their positions. Hokuendo – ‘hoku’ meaning ‘north’ in Japanese – is in the north, and a National Treasure. The other two come into view as you continue climbing the steps higher.
There was some construction going on at the Chukondo – one of the two main temples in Kofukuji – which obstructed the view – the treasures inside the Chukondo have been temporarily moved to the Kari-Kondo – Temporary Golden Hall – which is directly behind the Chukondo. As you enter the main compound, you can see a wooden structure on your right, the Tokondo; the second of the main temples. This National Treasure was rebuilt in 1415 and holds several famous Buddha statues. To the left of the Tokondo is the second highest pagoda in Japan, at 50.1 meters, the Five Storied Pagoda, also a National Treasure. To the right is a wooden structure, the Kokuhoukan, which is a museum open to the public, built in 1959, and made in hopes to contribute to a deeper understanding of Buddhism and Buddhist cultural artifacts.
To the other side of the main compound, deeper in, are the Nanendo and Three Storied Pagoda, of which the Pagoda is a National Treasure and the Nanendo the number nine of the West Japan thirty-three temple pilgrimage route.
The temple grounds are very spacious, and as you go on further to the main streets you can find the Nara Park with its deer and ideal picnic spots.
Kofukuji is one of the nine constructions of ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara’ and designated as a World Heritage Site. The temple was founded in 699 by the wife of Kamatari Fujiwara, Kagami-no-Okimi, wishing for her husband’s recovery from illness. The original temple was built in Kyoto – known as Yamashino at the time – then moved to Fujiwara-kyo in 672, the first artificially planned capital in Japan. Then again, in 710, it was moved to its current residence on the east side of the newly constructed capital, Heijyou-kyo, which is present-day Nara. Kofukuji ranked as one of the ‘Four Great Temples’ of the Nara period and one of the ‘Seven Great Temples’ of the Heian period.
This temple was damaged by fire and civil wars many times, and was rebuilt as many times as well, though to this day some parts of the Nandaimon, Chumon, and the corridor were never repaired. In addition, the policy of separation of the Buddhist and Shinto shrines by the Meiji government abandoned this temple in 1868.