Hannya-ji Temple (般若寺)

Hannya-ji Temple is the Shingo Risshu sect's temple located at Nara-zaka (also called Nara Kitamachi) in the northern part of Nara City. Its sango (a title given to a Buddhist temple) is Hosho-zan, and its honzon (principal image of Buddha) is Monju Bosatsu (Japanese Manjusri). It is also known as Cosmos Temple.

History

Hannya-ji Temple is located to the north of Daibutsu-den Hall (the Great Buddha hall) of Todai-ji Temple and Shosoin, at the very top of an upward slope called Narazaka slope. The road in front of the gate of Hannya-ji Temple which runs north to south is called 'Kyo-Kaido Road,' and it was an important road that connected Yamato (Nara Prefecture) and Yamashiro (Kyoto Prefecture). This road was also an extension of the street called Higashi Shichibo Oji (used as a border of Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple), which ran along the eastern end of Heijo-kyo from north to south.

Foundation

The background of the foundation of Hannya-ji Temple and the year of the establishment are not stated on any historiography, and the founder is also unknown as there are various opinions about it. However, this temple certainly existed in the Nara period, because old roof-tiles of the Nara period were excavated from the precincts of Hannya-ji Temple, and the name of Hannya-ji Temple appears in the Shosoin monjo (documents of Shosoin) of 742.

According to a legend of this temple, the temple was founded by Ekan, a monk from Goguryeo, in 629, and in 735, Emperor Shomu erected a Buddhist temple and built a thirteen-storied stone pagoda to enshrine the Dai Hannyakyo sutra written by him, but there is no historical material to support this theory. Another story has it that SOGA no Himuka no Omi founded this temple in 654 in order to cure Emperor Kotoku's illness ("Jogu Shotoku Hooteisetsu" [The Biography of Shotoku Taishi] book-end notes). It is said that Kangen (854-925), a disciple of Shobo (a monk of Shingon sect, the founder of Daigo-ji Temple) restored it at the beginning of the 10th century in the Heian period, but the history between this and the end of the Heian period remains unclear. In 1180, Hannya-ji Temple was burned down together with some other temples such as Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple during the fire of the southern capital by TAIRA no Shigehira, and it is said that the temple remained abandoned for awhile after that.

Kamakura Period

Once the Kamakura period began, a monk called Ryoe and some other people began to reconstruct the thirteen-storied stone pagoda, which can be said to be a symbol of Hannya-ji Temple, and they completed it in around 1253. After that, the restoration of the honzon and the Buddhist temple was conducted by Eison, a monk from Saidai-ji Temple (in Nara City). Eison was the founder of Shingo Risshu sect, whose head temple was Saidai-ji Temple, and he is well known for his hard work to restore the precepts of Japanese Buddhism and his social work such as relief of the poor and the sick. The northern region of Nara City where Hannya-ji Temple is was the area where the sick and the poor lived who were called 'hinin' (one group comprising the lowest rank of Japan's Edo-period caste system) and discriminated during the medieval period, and near Hannya-ji Temple, there was an institution called 'Kitayama Ju Hachi Kento' (national historic site) that accommodated patients of incurable illnesses such as the Hansen's disease. Eison started to build a statue of Monju Bosatsu, the honzon of Hannya-ji Temple, in 1255, and he held a ceremony to consecrate a newly made Buddhist image in 1267. This statue of Monju is a colossus on a lion, and it actually required 12 years for its completion.

After the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States)

The main Buddhist temple was burned to ashes due to the fire in 1490 and the fire caused by the war at the Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji temple lead by Hisahide MATSUNAGA in 1567. It also suffered a great damage during Haibutsu-kishaku (a movement to abolish Buddhism) in the early Meiji period. After the Meiji period, the temple was dilapidated without permanent stationing chief monks, and the head temple Saidai-ji Temple did the maintenance for a short time, but after the World War II some halls were repaired and precincts were maintained.
In addition, its kyakuden (guest hall) was relocated to Shiroganedai, Minato Ward, Tokyo by a businessman Issei HATAKEYAMA (1881-1971), and it is currently used as a Japanese-style restaurant called 'Hannyaen.'

Buddhist Temple

Hondo (main hall) (cultural property designated by Nara Prefecture) - Erected in 1667.

Romon gate (national treasure) - It faces the western side of the Kyo-Kaido road where private houses line. The Romon (two-story gate) with Irimoya-styled roof (building with hip-and-gable roof) was erected during the Kamakura period (late 13th century).

Kyozo (sutra repository, designated as an important cultural property)
Shoro (bell tower) - Erected in 1694.

National Treasure

Romon

Important Cultural Property

Thirteen-storied stone pagoda with12.6 meter height
It is one of the typical Japanese pagodas, and this was erected around 1253 by a stone mason called Igyomatsu, who came to Japan from Southern Sung. As this pagoda is in front of the Romon and is also facing to the south of the Hondo, it is the main object of worship for most people who visit this temple.

Kyozo - One of the scarce structural remnant repositories of the Kamakura period.

Bronze standing statue of Yakushi Nyorai (healing Buddha) - Deposited to Nara National Museum.

Wooden statue of Monju Bosatsu riding the lion - Enshrined at Hondo. It was made by Koshun, a sculptor from the Keiha school of Buddha statues, in 1324.

Wooden Jimon tablet - It is said to be an imperial letter written by Emperor Saga. Deposited to Nara National Museum.

Stupa in a miniature temple - Deposited to Nara National Museum.

Shihon Bokusho Eison Ganmon (prayer of Eison inked on paper) - Deposited to Tokyo National Museum.

Two Kasatoba (stone tablet with a stone hat) - Stone tablet erected by Igyokichi, a son of Igyomatsu, who built the thirteen-storied stone pagoda. Currently, it is in front of Hondo on the right hand side, but it was located at the entrance of the grave outside of the temple when it was built.
It is designated an important cultural property as 'archaeological materials.'

Set of articles placed inside the thirteen-storied stone pagoda - Articles taken out of the thirteen-storied pagoda when it was taken apart and repaired from 1964 till the following year. There are a standing bronze statue of Shaka Nyorai of the Nara period, a small Buddha statue, a stupa, the Sung version of Hokke-kyo Sutra (the Lotus Sutra), and so on.

Other Cultural Properties

Wooden standing statue of Shitenno (Four guardian kings) - Enshrined at Hondo, made in the Muromachi period.

Wooden statue of the seated Fudo Myoo - Enshrined at Hondo, made in the Edo period.

Ishi-doro (stone lantern) - Stands in front of the Hondo. Made in the later years of the Kamakura period.

Karabitsu (six-legged Chinese-style chest) - Kyobako (a box in which Buddhist scriptures are kept) of Dai Hannyakyo sutra from the Kamakura period, and it is said that Imperial prince Daitonomiya Moriyoshi of Nancho (Southern Dynasty) (Japan) concealed himself to escape from danger when he was fleeing from Kasagi to Yoshino.

Flower Calendar

Japanese rose (April)
Hydrangea (June - July)
Cosmos (June - November)

Access

Take a Nara Kotsu Bus from JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station and get off at Hannyaji.