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Horyuji Temple and Pagoda in Nara Japan - Oldest Wooden Structure in the World

Updated on April 8, 2011
Oldest wooden building in the world
Oldest wooden building in the world

Flourishing Law Temple

The oldest wooden buildings on earth are at Horyuji. There are many structures remain from the Asuka era (around 552 – 710) at the cusp of Japan’s written history. Those relics are not the insignificant pavilions or tiny sheds but central pieces of the ancient temple. Intact for more than 13 centuries, it is a miracle that typhoon, fire, earthquakes and war have not destroyed them.

Horyuji temple (full name: Horyu Gakumonji) is a Buddhist temple in Ikaruga, in the Prefecture of Nara. Since the architecture serves as both a monastery and a seminary, the temple is also called as Flourishing Law. Horyuji is of great historical importance: Buddhism blossomed and spread throughout Japan from this place. There, the atmosphere is serene and authentically ancient – it was therefore selected as Japan’s first World Heritage Site (designated 1993).

Horyuji Pagoda

Horyuji Pagoda
Horyuji Pagoda

Buddhist Monuments in the Horyuji Area

The temple’s pagoda is also widely acknowledged to be one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. Horyuji was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (together with Hokkiji) in 1993 under the name Buddhist Monuments in the Horyuji Area. Its structures, artifacts and sculptures were listed by the Japanese government as their National Treasures.

Horyuji Temple and Pagoda

Horyuji Temple and Pagoda
Horyuji Temple and Pagoda


Buddhism had arrived in Japan 50 years before the temple was built. Located in the eastern side of the temple’s main hall, there is a Buddha statue of Yakusi Nyorai (the Buddha of healing) and you can see the story and history of Horyuji that is engraved on the back of the halo of the statue. Emperor Yowei was the one who vowed to build the temple (according to the story chronicled there) as his form of recovery prayer for the healing Buddha. But unfortunately he died even before he can fulfill this and the Empress Suiko and the son were the ones who continued the construction of the temple.

In fact, the original temple was burned down in 670 (probably being hit by lightning) but it was gradually rebuilt until the early 8th century. However, several buildings from this early rebuilding period still survive until today, making Horyuji the oldest surviving Buddhist temple in Japan.

Kondo Golden Hall

Kondo Golden Hall
Kondo Golden Hall

At present, this temple is comprised of 2 areas – the To-in of the east and Sai-in of the west. The west part holds the Golden Hall or the Kondo (one of the oldest wood buildings extant in the world) as well as the temple’s famous five-story pagoda. The pagoda and the kondo are located side by side in Sai-in. In the To-in area you can find an octagonal Yumedono Hall or Hall of Dreams. Built on the ground, Yumedono was once the Prince Shotoku’s private palace. The Horyuji temple also holds some lecture halls, dining halls, monk’s quarters and libraries.

Even though the reconstructed buildings are influenced greatly by the architectural designs ranging from the Eastern Han to the Northern Wei of China as well as the Three Kingdoms of Korea but its pagoda possesses designs that is unique to the style of Horyuji. Being considered as one of the revered two oldest architecture on earth, the base of the pagoda houses the enshrined fragment of Buddha’s bone. The other interesting view is the statue in the north alcove, depicting the Buddha entering nirvana and watched by a small, quite realistic crowd.


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    • Susan Wong profile image

      Susan Wong 6 years ago

      I was searching for interesting pagodas from any country so i came across this unique look of pagoda from Japan. I do like their culture too as it is interesting and beautiful.

    • profile image

      pregnancybyweek 6 years ago

      Interesting Hub. The architecture is beautiful. Do you by chance have information about the cities or city that are underwater of the cost of Japan?

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Very interesting hub, wonderful pics. Great job! Thank you.