Toshodai-ji Temple (唐招提寺)

Toshodai-ji Temple, located in Gojo-cho, Nara city, is noted in connection with Jianzhen. It is the sohonzan (the head temple of a Buddhist sect) of the Ritsu sect, one of the nanto rokushu (the six sects of Buddhism which flourished in ancient Nara). Its honzon (principal image of Buddha) is Vairocana, and its kaiki (patron of a temple at the time of its founding) is Jianzhen. Jianzhen from Tong Dynasty China, a monk who became widely known through a novel entitled "Tempyo no Iraka" (Roof Tiles of the Tempyo Period) written by Yasushi INOUE, spent his later years in this temple. The temple has many cultural assets including its Kon-do Hall (main hall) and Kodo Hall (lecture hall), both founded in the Nara Period.

Origin and History

"Shoku Nihongi" (The Chronicles of Japan Continued) and other sources say that Jianzhen, a priest, was granted a former residence of Imperial Prince Niitabe (the 7th prince of Emperor Tenmu) by the Imperial Court in 759 to make it into a temple. The "shodai" contained in the temple name is a Chinese word originally from Sanskrit which means "four corners" and "wide." Like words such as "tera," "in," "shoja" and "ranny,a" the word "tosho" was used as a general noun to identify Buddhist temples (including private temples). That is to say that the origin of the temple's name is said to derive from "a temple for the priest of Tang, Jianzhen, Ganjin-wajo."

Jianzhen's visits to Japan and the introduction of religious precepts

The life of Jianzhen (688 - 763) is described in detail in "Daiwajoden" written by Shitaku, a disciple who accompanied Jianzhen, "Todaiwajo Toseiden (The Eastern Expedition of the Great T'ang Monk)" written by OMI no Mifune based on "Daiwajoden," and "Tempyo no Iraka" by Yasushi INOUE, among others.

Jianzhen was invited to Japan to be a teacher of kairitsu (the religious precepts of Buddhism) to Buddhist followers. "Kairitsu" means "norm" or "rules," a set of things for the followers to practice in their daily life. It consists of Bosatsu-kai (Bodhisattva Precepts) for general followers of Buddhism and "Gusokukai" for proper monks. A renunciant monk had to be taught "Gusokukai" by a qualified monk in a facility called "Kaidan" in order to become a proper monk. At that time (in the early eighth century) there was no officially established Kaidan in Japan and an insufficient number of monks were qualified to teach precepts. Fusho and Yoei, who went with a Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty China in 733, had been ordered by the Imperial Court to invite a suitably qualified person to Japan to establish an official kairitsu. They met Jianzhen, a high rank monk in Yangzhou (present-day Jiangsu Province) for the first time in 742. Jianzhen accepted their offer to visit Japan, but he failed to reach Japan by boat, a life-threatening journey at that time, as many as five times over twelve years. At his fifth attempt he was forced to sail to Hainan at the southernmost tip of China, and after losing Yoei who had accompanied him so far, he also suffered the burden of losing his eyesight. In 753, on his 6th attempt, he was eventually successful in reaching Japan. On this occasion, he also had to break a ban on entering the country for his journey on board a Kentoshi Ship from Japan. He was already 66 years old at the time.

After Jianzhen reached Satsuma (though some suggest it was Ryukyu) in December 753, he eventually made land in Naniwa no tsu (Naniwa Port in Osaka) in February 754. He taught Bosatsu-kai (Bodhisattva Precepts) to Emperor Shomu, Empress Komyo, Empress Koken and others in front of Daibutsu-den Hall (the Great Buddha hall) at Todai-ji Temple in the same year. After he spent five years, the first half of his ten-year stay in Japan, at Todaiji Temple, he was granted the site where the current Toshodai-ji Temple stood in 759.

Building and Maintenance of the Buddhist temple

Toshodai-ji Temple, located at Nibou Gojo Ukyo in Heijokyo, was where Imperial Prince Niitabe once lived and covered an area of 400 acres. The remains of the former building considered to have been the residence of Imperial Prince Niitabe were detected as a result of excavations of the precinct. In addition, among the old tiles unearthed from the precinct, tiles of simple geometric design (a combination of hollow semicircular tiles of Jukenmon (concentric circle design) and plain rectangular tiles of Jukomon) are assumed to have been used in the mansion of Imperial Prince Niitabe. The kyozo (sutra repository), one of the two azekura-zukuri style warehouses that still exist in the temple, is considered to be have been used as a warehouse in the mansion of Imperial Prince Niitabe, rebuilt at a later date. No other buildings of the mansion of Imperial Prince Niitabe have remained.

"Shodaiji Konryu Engi" (The history of Shodai-ji Temple), included in "Shoji Engi Shu" (a book describing the history of every temple), lists the names of the buildings of the temple and describes who had each of them built. It says that Nyoho (date of birth unknown - 815), who visited Japan with a disciple of Jianzhen, had Kon-do Hall built, the FUJIWARA no Nakamaro family donated the Jikido dining hall to the temple, and the FUJIWARA no Kiyokawa family donated Kensaku-do. It also says that Higashi Choshuden (the government workers' building) was moved from Heijo-kyu Palace and rebuilt as Ko-do Hall. It is estimated that Kon-do Hall was built in the Hoki period (770 - 780). If this estimate is accurate it was built after the death of Jianzhen.

The building of the Buddhist temple was continued by the generation of Jianzhen and Nyoho's disciples, and the subsequent generation of the grandson-disciple, Buan. It fell into decline after the Heian Period but was revived by Kakujo (1193 - 1249), a monk who lived in the Kamakura Period.

The Buddhist temple

The Toshodaiji Temple Kondo is under repair and has been dismantled, and a celebration of the reconstruction is scheduled for 2009.
The following describes what each of the buildings was like before the repair:

Kon-do Hall (national treasure)

It is the only Kon-do Hall structure from the Nara Period that exists today.
(Although the Hondo of Shinyakushi-ji Temple is a structure from the Nara Period, it was originally not designed to be the Hondo.)
It has a one-story yosemune-zukuri style roof and has a shibi (ornamental ridge-end tile) on both the left and right sides of the roof.
(The west side of the shibi is original but that on the east side was made in the Kamakura Period.)
The front is 7-ken in width and the sides are 4-ken in length ("ken" is not a unit of length but refers to the number of pillars). A feature of this structure is its 7-ken X 1-ken open-air space (without walls and door fittings) at the front. Eight large round pillars that stand in a line at the front of the hall are a point worthy of note in this structure. The structure was repaired in 1270 and from 1693 to 1694 and the roof is of early-modern style.
(The original building was 2.8m shorter in height than the current building, measured to the roof.)
Nara Prefectural Board of Education announced in 2005 that the Kon-do Hall was of Japanese cypress cut in 781, suggesting that it was built in the same year or later. Three statues are enshrined in the hall: a seated statue of Rushana Butsu stands in the center, a statue of Yakushi Nyorai to the right, and a statue of Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara to the left. In addition, statues of Bonten and Taishakuten stand to the right and left at the front and statues of the Four Devas stand in the four corners of Syumidan.

Kodo Hall (natural treasure)

It was originally the Higashi Choshuden (government workers' building) moved from Heijo-kyu Palace and rebuilt. Higashi Choshuden has an open structure with few walls and door fittings. Its roof was originally of kirizuma-zukuri style (an architectural style with a gabled roof) but was rebuilt in irimoya style (with a half-hipped roof) with door fittings. It is viewed as precious as it is the only ancient structural remnant of court architecture of the Tenpyo era, although it was rebuilt in 1275 in the Kamakura Period. Enshrined in the hall are the principal statues of Miroku-nyorai (an Important Cultural Property of the Kamakura Period) and Dhrtarastra and Virudhaka (an Important Cultural Property of the Nara Period). Many statues had been enshrined in the hall by the time the new hozo (treasure house) was completed in 1970.

Other structures

Kyozo and hozo (both national treasures), structures that stand in a line at the east side of the precinct. Both are warehouses in the azekura-zukuri style, built in the Nara Period. The kyozo is considered to have been built out of a warehouse belonging to the mansion of Imperial Prince Niitabe, and was built before Toshodai-ji Temple was founded. The hozo, on the other hand, is estimated to have been built after the temple was founded.

Koro Tower (national treasure), a small two-story structure that stands to the east of the Kon-do Hall and the Kodo Hall. It was built in 1240 in the Kamakura Period. It is also known as Shariden Hall (a hall which houses a relic or bone of the Buddha), because it contains the ashes of Buddha brought by Jianzhen.

Rai-do Hall (a worship hall), an elongated structure running from north to south that stands to the east of Koro Tower. It was originally used for priests' living quarters and rebuilt in 1283. It is a structure in which people pray before the ashes of Buddha enshrined in Koro Tower (Shariden Hall). The Seiryojishiki Shakyanyorai-zo (Seiryo-ji Temple-style statue of Shakyanyorai, an important cultural property and hidden Buddhist statue) is enshrined in the building.

Kaidan (Buddhist ordination platform), stood at the west side of the precinct. This is the place where the ceremony to receive the religious precepts was held for renunciant monks to enable them to become proper monks. The Kaidan-in was not rebuilt after being burnt down in a fire in 1851, at the end of the Edo Period. Only three stone steps remain. A hoto designed to resemble the former Sanchi Stupa in India was placed on the altar in 1980. Some suggest that the Kaidan of Toshodai-ji Temple has been there since the temple's foundation, while others claim that it was originally built in 1284.

Goei-do Hall (the hall dedicated to the founder of the sect), an important cultural property, enshrines a sculpture of Jianzhen (a national treasure), and is made public from 5th through 7th of June on the Kaizan-ki (anniversary of the temple-founder's death). The building is an ancient structural remnant of Ichijo-in Temple, now destroyed, a noted branch temple of Kofuku-ji Temple. It was used as an office building of the District Court until 1962 and moved to Toshodai-ji Temple in 1964. "Huangshan Mountains in Morning Mist," a wall painting drawn by the Japanese-style painter Kaii HIGASHIYAMA, was painted in memory of Jianzhen.

New hozo, a storage room of reinforced concrete, completed in 1970
It is only open to the public for a limited period in spring and fall every year. A group of statues carved from ichiboku (one tree) called "a group of wooden Buddhas of the former Kodo Hall" created between the late Nara and early Heian periods and once temporarily placed in Kodo Hall, and a wooden statue of the seated Dainichi Nyorai (an important cultural property) once placed in Kon-do Hall are both stored and some of them are exhibited here.

The site of the East Pagoda, where a five-story pagoda once stood. The "Summary of Japanese Chronologies" ("Nihongi Ryaku") states that it was built in 810. Lightning hit and burned it down in 1802.
(Some historical sources suggest that a western pagoda once stood here but this is not clear.)

Cultural properties

The precinct is designated as a historic site.

Events

Bonmoe (Uchiwamaki) (a gathering held to read the Bonmo-sutra and pray for happiness), on May 19, is an event to remember the Kakujo Shonin who restored Toshodai-ji Temple in the Kamakura Period
Kakujo is said to have abided by the sessho-kai (the Buddhist precept of the prohibition of killing living things indiscriminately) so strictly that he did not kill even a mosquito. The event is said to have started when the Buddhist nun from Hokke-ji Temple remembered his virtues by placing a round fan on the altar so that he could swat away mosquitoes.

At 3pm, from Koro Tower three-thousand heart-shaped fans are scattered and thrown to visitors. These fans are regarded by those visitors who can catch one as a valuable object that will bring good fortune. It is also regarded as having divine favor in protecting the holder from harmful insects and lightening. The fans are hand-made in the temple.

Kaizan-ki (the anniversary of the founder of the temple's death), from June 5 to 7; as the anniversary of Jianzhen's death falls on June 6 the statue of Jianzhen (national treasure) is available to view at Goei-do Hall (the hall dedicated to the sect's founder) for three days before and after the anniversary. The wall painting by the painter Kaii HIGASHIYAMA is also on display during the three-day period.

Kangetsu Sanbutsu E (a gathering held to watch the moon and praise Buddha), 14 to 16 August depending on the lunar calendar; the Kon-do Hall is open to the public during the night and the silhouettes of the Sansonbutsu (three Buddhist deities) stand out sharply against the light.

Access

An eight-minute walk from Nishinokyo Station on the Kintetsu Kashihara Line, run by Kinki Nippon Railway Company