Shinyakushi-ji Temple (新薬師寺)

Shinyakushi-ji Temple is a Buddhist temple of Kegon sect in Fukui-cho, Takabatake, Nara City. The principal image of Buddha is Yakushi Nyorai (the Healing Buddha) and the Kaiki (patron of the temple in its founding)is Empress Komyo or Emperor Shomu according to legend.
Sango (the name of a group of Buddhist temples to which the temple belongs) is Nichirinzan (but ancient temples did not have sango and it was named later)
During the Nara period, it was one of ten great temples in Nara, and though the scale was lower during the Heian period, the temple has preserved a number of cultural assets including the national treasure Hon-do (main hall) and Juni Shinsho-zo (the statue of twelve protective deities) in the Nara period.

History

Foundation

It is located to the southeast of the urban district of Nara City and to the south of Ni no torii (the second archway) of Kasugataisha Shrine. At its peak, the temple owned about 440 square meters of land and the precincts extended over the current campus of the Nara University of Education. It is said that the Chinese character 'shin,' which generally stands for 'new,' means "remarkably miraculous efficacy" in the temple's name.

There is no doubt that Shinyakushi-ji Temple dates back to the Nara period, but there are various views on it's inauguration. According to "Todaiji Yoroku" (The Digest Record of Todai-ji Temple), Empress Komyo built the temple and enshrined Shichibutsu yakushi-zo (statue of Seven Buddhas of healing) in 747 praying for the recovery of her husband, Emperor Shomu. However, Emperor Shomu's disease was apparently not serious at that time, there is a different view that the Empress Komyo vowed to save the emperor from a disease (written in the "Shoku Nihongi" or Chronicles of Japan Continued) in 745, two years earlier than the first theory. Also, in a different legend, Emperor Shomu built it in 745 to pray for the recovery of Empress Komyo from an eye disease.

It is also known from records and excavations that there was a temple called Kozen-do or Kozenyakushi-ji Temple built at the wish of Empress Komyo on Mt. Kasuga situated to the east of Shinyakushi-ji Temple. It is said that the Kozen-do Temple was the predecessor of Shinyakushi-ji Temple and was later combined with Shinyakushi-ji Temple at the foot of a mountain. Regarding Kozen-do Temple, ruins of the temple were confirmed by an excavation of the site on the mountain ridge near the source of Saho-gawa River in 1966, and tiles which date back to the time of the construction of the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple were unearthed there. In a pictorial diagram called 'Todaiji Sankai Shii-zu (painting of mountain border of four path to Todai-ji Temple)' dated 756, both 'Shinyakushi-ji Temple' and 'Kozen-do Temple' were specified, therefore, their coexistence at that time is apparent.

In 2008, excavation was carried out before remodeling the buildings of Nara University of Education, and ruins of a large structure which seems to be the Kon-do (golden hall) of Shinyakushi-ji Temple were discovered on the grounds. According to the announcement made by Nara University of Education on October, 23 of the same year, the ruins of the structure had a stylobate estimated to be fifty-four meters wide and twenty-seven meters long, and platy tuff which apparently comprised the stylobate and structural remnants of spreading stones which apparently supported the cornerstones of the pillars, were unearthed as well. The site is situated about 150 meters west of the present Shinyakushi-ji Temple, and is estimated to be the structural remnants corresponding to the Yakushi-do Hall of Seven Buddhas of Healing written in the above mentioned 'Todaiji Sankai Shii-zu'.

Declination and restoration

At the time of the foundation, Shinyakushi-ji was a large temple with seven major structures including Kon-do Hall and the East and the West Towers standing side by side on the compound. "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicles of Japan Continued) said that the West Tower was burnt down by lightning in 780 and several temples were also destroyed in the spreading fire. According to "Nihongi Ryaku" (Summary of Japanese Chronologies) and "Todaiji Yoroku" (The Digest Record of Todai-ji Temple), main buildings including the Kon-do Hall were destroyed by a typhoon in 962. Although it was restored later, the scale was never the same as that of the past. The present Main Hall was built during the Nara period, but it is not the original Kon-do Hall, but one converted from another one. It is believed that the principal image, Yakushi Nyorai-zo does not date back to the time of foundation judging from the style and technique, but was made around the end of the eighth century.

A wartime fire caused by TAIRA no Shigehira burnt down main buildings of Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji Temples in 1180, but Shinyakushi-ji Temple escaped the fire. During the Kamakura period, Myoe, the restorer of the Kegon sect of Buddhism, temporarily entered the temple and tried to restore it. The existing main buildings, except for the Main Hall, date back to the Kamakura period.

Buddhist temple

Hon-do (main hall) (National treasure)
The hall is an Irimoya-zukuri (building with a half-hipped roof) and looks low and flat. There are seven hashirama (spaces between two pillars) and three out of the seven were designed for the entrance, and two hashirama left on both sides have no windows, which makes the white walls seem larger. The sides and the back have only doors only and have no windows.
Inside the hall, the floor is earthen and structural materials such as taruki (the simplest type of rafter extended from the ridge to the end of, or beyond the eave) are visible because no ceiling has been installed, and this is called 'Kesho-yaneura.'
The round-shaped plastered Buddhist alter is placed at the center of the hall, and the principal image of Buddha, Yakushi Nyorai-zo is enshrined at the center of the altar, and Juni Shinsho-zo (the statues of twelve protective deities) stand around the Yakushi Nyorai-zo facing outward. This building is not the original Kon-do hall but one converted from another one (it was a dining room according to a theory), but it is still valuable as one of few existing structures built during the Nara period.

There are the South Gate, the East Gate, Jizo-do Hall and Shoro (bell tower) (each one of them is designated as an important cultural asset.

It is also known as Temple of Japanese Bush Clovers.

Cultural asset

National treasure

Hon-do (mentioned above)l

Wooden seated statue of Yakushi Nyorai (the Healing Buddha)

The principal image of Buddha in the temple
It is generally believed that the temple does not date back to the time of the foundation judging from the style and technique and was built around the end of the eighth century. It is a seated image, nearly two meters tall and is basically an Ichiboku-zukuri (wooden figure carved from one tree). It is made of raw wood with no coloring or gilding except black ink-colored eyebrows, pupils, mustache and beard and red-colored lips.
It is characterized by larger eyes not seen in those of ordinary images of Buddha, and the size of the eyes might be related to the legend that 'Emperor Shomu prayed for the recovery of the Empress Komyo from an eye disease.'
Eight volumes of the Hokke-kyo Sutra were discovered during research in 1975 and were designated as 'tsuketari' (attachments, appurtenances) of a national treasure. There are six Kebutsu (the Artificial Buddha) arranged in the halo, and with the principal image, there are seven images in total, which might come from the legend of Shichibutsu yakushi zo (statue of Seven Buddhas of healing). And the halo has decorations believed to be the leaves of a plant called Acanthus that comes from the Silk Road.

Eleven statues of "standing statues of twelve protective deities, molding"

Juni Shinsho, the twelve protective deities are kenzoku (disciples or followers) of Yakushi Nyorai (the Healing Buddha). They stand surrounding the principal image of Yakushi Nyorai at the center of the round Buddhist altar. Unlike the principal image (wood carving), they are plastic images which were frequently made in the Nara period. Although the reasons behind making the images are not necessarily clear, they are believed to have been made in the Tenpyo era judging from their styles and the fact the word 'Tenpyo' written in black ink was found on the pedestal of one of twelve images. Compared with the Shitenno-zo (Image of the four guardian kings) of Todai-ji Kaidan-in, which is known as a masterpiece of molding, they are formed with a little emphasis on formality including kacchu (armor); therefore, they are believed to have been made later in the period than the images of Todai-ji Temple. Among the twelve, only one image (called Haira Taisho (the Captain of Haira) in the temple legend and designated as a national treasure under the name of Kubira Taisho) was destroyed by an earthquake at the end of the Edo period. Supplemental works were created by Jiraku HOSOYA in 1931, but are not designated as national treasure. The image standing next to the principal image on the observers' right (the Captain of Basara in the temple legend, but is designated as a national treasure under the name of Captain of Mekira) is well known and the terrible countenance is often used in posters promoting Nara tourism. It is also famous as the design of a 500-yen stamp.

Nanmon (the South Gate)

Kamakura period

Tomon (the East Gate)

Kamakura period

Shoro (belll tower)

Kamakura period

Jizo-do Hall

Kamakura period, Otama Jizo is enshrined.

Bronze statue of standing Yakushi Nyorai

This is a gilt bronze statue of Buddha commonly called 'Koyakushi,' but it was stolen in 1943 and is still missing. It can be only seen in pictures or as imitations.

Statue of Fudo Myoo Nidoji-zo Statue

Heian period
It is deposited in the Nara National Museum.

Wooden statue of Eleven-faced Kannon, standing.

Heian period
It is deposited in the Nara National Museum. One of two statues of the Goddess of Kannon once enshrined as 'Statues of Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu' on the left and the right of the principal image of Yakushi Nyorai.

Kenbon Chakushoku Butsu Nehan-zo (the statue of Buddha, colored on silk)

Between the end of the Heian and the Kamakura periods
It is deposited in the Tokyo National Museum.

Bronze bell (temple bell)

銅手Shakujo (a priest's staff)

Important cultural assets formerly in the possession of Shinyakushi-ji Temple

Standing statue of Eleven-faced Kannon

One of two statues of the Goddess of Kannon once enshrined as 'Statues of Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu') on the left and the right of the principal image of Yakushi Nyorai.
It is now in the possession of the Nara National Museum

Wooden Statue of Juntei-kannon

After the Second World War, it left the temple and is now in a private collection (on display at the Nara National Museum).

Access

13 minutes by City Loop Bus from JR Nara Station/Kintetsu Nara Station to 'Takabatake-cho,' and 10 minutes walk from the stop.

Information about nearby sightseeing spots

The former residence of Naoya SHIGA (Takabatake, Nara city)
Fuku-in Temple
Kasugataisha Shrine
Nara Park
Irie Taikichi Memorial Museum of Photography Nara City