Gigaku mask of Garuda

The Nara period is also known from a cultural point of view as the Tenpyo era. The name was taken from a period between 724 and 749 during Emperor Shomu’s reign, and it came to represent the entire Nara period and beyond due to the flourishing of Buddhist culture. Contact with Tang Dynasty China increased during the Nara Period (710-784). Paintings and sculpture during the period came to be modeled closely on the style of the contemporary T’ang dynasty. The Tempyo Period ended when Emperor Kammu moved the imperial capital back to Nagaoka in the suburbs of Kyoto in 784.

The Nara Period (Tempyo Period) is known for the many Buddhism-inspired arts. It was a time when Buddhism in the form the ritsuryo state religion influenced Japan both politically and culturally. Many missions and students were sent to Tang Dynasty China. The students who returned from China played important roles in the Japanese government. Many many state-sponsored temple complexes were built only in the capital of Nara but also in outlying provinces. At the centre of the Buddhist universe was Todai-ji Temple with its Great Buddha statue. [Source: Heritage Japan website, ]

The Nara period was a golden age for Japanese sculpture with Nara-period sculpture is regarded as the finest examples of the artform in Japan. Masterpieces from this period include the Yakushi Triad, which can be viewed at Yakushi Temple in southern Nara and the Ganjin statue at Nara’s Toshodaiji Temple. The wooden statue of Miroku Bosatsu, one of the treasures of Koryu-ji Temple, is regarded as an outstanding example of beauty and purity in Japanese art. Outstanding religious cave murals were also produced in these period.

Websites on Nara- and Heian-Period Japan: Essay on Nara and Heian Periods ; Wikipedia article on the Nara Period Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on the Heian Period Wikipedia ; Essay on the Japanese Missions to Tang China ; Kusado Sengen, Excavated Medieval Town ; Kojiki, Nihongi and Sacred Shinto Texts ; Imperial Household Agency; List of Emperors of Japan ; Nara Nara Prefecture site ; Temples and Shrines in Nara Park: Kofukuji site; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website; Todaiji Temple Wikipedia Wikipedia UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website; Nara and Heian Art Sites at the Metropolitan Museum in New York ; Heian Art at the British Museum ; Nara Art at the Tokyo National Museum ; Early Japanese History Websites: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website,; Japanese Archeology ; Ancient Japan Links on Archeolink ; Good Japanese History Websites: ; Wikipedia article on History of Japan Wikipedia ; Samurai Archives ; National Museum of Japanese History ; English Translations of Important Historical Documents

Nara-Era Literature

Some of Japan’s literary monuments were written during the Nara period, including the Kojiki and Nihongi, the first national histories compiled in 712 and 720, respectively; the Man'yoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), an anthology of poems; and the Kaifuso (Fond Recollections of Poetry), an anthology written in Chinese by Japanese emperors and princes.

The Kojiki and Nihon shoki were historical literary works that interwove collected myths of ancient Japan into the representations of the history of the founding of the mythical age of the gods to the Yamato state centred around the lives of the emperors. The accounts of the early Kofun-Yamato years are a combination of legends, mythology, some fabricated or distorted events as well as actual facts based on earlier historical texts now lost to modern-day Japan. Accounts from the 7th century onwards are regarded as fairly reliable. The other significant Tempyo published literature was the Manyoshu (The Collection of Myriad Leaves), a collection of poetry written between the Yamato and Tempyo periods. The earliest fragments of poetry from the Manyoshu date back to the Asuka Period. [Source: Heritage Japan website, ]

Shoso-in Treasures from the Nara Period

Shosoin Repository
The Shosoin Treasury--a collection of 600 Nara-era items that exists today--was put together by Empress Komyo to honor husband Emperor Shomu at a memorial service 49 days after his death. The Shoso-in treasures from the Nara Period are extraordinary both for their great age and because their beauty has been preserved nearly undamaged.

The Shoso-in Repository possesses many different musical instruments, ceramics and decorative works that not only show the Buddhist influences but also the cosmopolitan influences of the times. Many of the collected pieces were actually from China, India and the Middle East during the Tempyo (Nara) Period.

Among the thousands of objects preserved in the Shosoin, are cut-glass bowls, cups and pitchers from Persia, cups of Indian rhinoceros horn, musical instruments made by artisans of Tang China, inlaid with mother-of-pearl from the South Seas and lapis lazuli from Turkey, boxes of persimmon and mulberry wood, crowns of silver and gold, burlap bags and silk brocades, tables and chests of drawers, tax records and population surveys, More significantly for Japan’s heritage, the Shosoin houses artifacts connected to Emperor Shomu (701-756) and Empress Komyo (701-760), as well as arts and crafts of the Tempyo period of Japanese history. These Shosoin exhibits thus provide a rare glimpse into the daily life of Japan’s imperial court and the sophisticated splendours of an ancient age. [Source: Heritage Japan website, ]

Shosoin Incense Burners and Toys

Shosion incense burner

The items in Shosoin Treasury include the “Odo no Gosu” , a brass bowl with a pagoda-shaped lid used as an incense burner; the “Midori Ruri no Junikyoku Chohai”, a 12-lobed oblong cup of green glass with floral designs on surface that look like tulips; “Summie no Dankyu bow” , a toy designed to shoot balls instead of arrows; and the “Koge Bachiru no Shaku” a red-stained ivory foot rule decorated with designs or animals, birds and flowers.

The treasure that drew the most attention at the Shosoin exhibition in 2011 was the Ojukuko, a piece of agarwood, better known as Ranjatai, which contains three kanji that represent Ojukuko and another three characters that represent Todaiji temple. Ojukuko, 1.56 meters long and weighing 11.6 kilograms, is an aromatic wood called jinko in Japanese. Although believed to be indigenous to mountainous areas in central Laos and Vietnam, many details--including how it came to be treasured in Shoso-in--remain unclear. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 22, 2011]

When it is burned, resin in the wood emits a unique smell. Small chips are cut from it and burned for fragrance. The piece had been a symbol of elegance and power adored by powerful people throughout history. Slips of paper pasted on the wood bear the names of Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490), the eighth shogun of the Muromachi shogunate; warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582); and Emperor Meiji (1852-1912), indicating they had a chip cut from the piece.

Shosoin Objects with Buddhist Connections

Shosion mirror inlay

The “Kujakumon Shishu no Ban” is a Buddhist ritual banner embroidered with a peacock design that was displayed on the temple grounds during religious rituals. The banner is 81 centimeters long and 30 centimeters wide. It is believed to be have been made by court ladies but because there were no peacocks in Japan at the time it was made the design is thought to have come from abroad . Some of the cloth and textile pieces are in amazing condition considering how old they are.

The “Shiro Tsurubami Ayanishiki no Kijoku” is a mat that was placed under Buddhist offerings. It was woven with a most unusual technique, and its pattern is also very interesting. Two lions stand on their hind legs on either side of a date palm tree and two men, stripped to the waist, are standing behind the lions. They've got curly hair and look like lion tamers. The “Rokechi no Byobu Zoki” is a folding screen panel decorated with an elephant and tree. The treasures include many folding screens. Many of them bear images of animals that didn't live in Japan.

Among the objects displayed at the 63rd Annual Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures in October and November 2011 were priest robes made of several pieces of cloth and fine silken threads. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Shichijo Shokusei Juhishoku no Kesa, a quilted priest robe made of seven mottled strips and adorned with beautiful arabesque patterns, is believed to have been used by Emperor Shomu after he devoted himself to Buddhism. Kesa robes are made from pieces of cloth that Buddhist followers donated to temples, and are characterized by silken threads and elaborate tapestries. Shichijo Shokusei Juhishoku no Kesa is listed in the opening part of "Kokka Chinpo Cho," which hints of Empress Komyo’s fondness of the robe. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 22, 2011]

Shosoin Objects with Links to Korea and Tang Dynasty China

Among the Shosoin objects from ancient Korea and Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907) China are a wooly Kasen rug, covered with floral designs; the “Mokuga Shitan no Kikyoku” , a red sandalwood go board; “Shichijo Shino Juhishoku no Kesa”, a quilted priest’s robe made of seven strips of molted colors that was worn by Emperor Shomu; “Saikaku no Nyoi” , a stick made of rhinoceros horn decorated with ivory, crystals, pearls and lapis lazuli; and the “Ruri no Tsubo” , a lazurite jar with a funnel-shaped mouth with beautiful cobalt blue glass originally used as a spittoon.

Shosoin lacquered ewer

The “Seihanseki no Betsu Gosu” is a piece of serpentine finely crafted into the shape of a turtle. It has an eight-lobed dish that detaches from underneath. Its eyes are deep-red pieces of amber, the pattern on its shell is a mirror image of the Big Dipper. The “Ginko” silver-gray jars feature a hairline engraving. The engraved depiction of a hunting scene is said to have originated in Persia.

The “Shuju Yaku Cho” is a list of 60 Chinese medicines Empress Komyo dedicated to the Todaiji Buddha in 756. About 40 of the medicine remain in the Shoso-in repository. Among the medicines is a fossilized tooth from an Elephas naumanni — a prehistoric creature better known as the Naumann elephant that lived as 300,000 to 12,000 year ago in Japan. Shavings from the fossil were used as sedative and painkiller. A statement attached to the medicines said they should be given to anyone in need of them, indicating the Empress Komyo’s kind nature and how she contributed to social welfare.

The Koge Bachiru no Shaku (red-stained ivory measuring ruler) exemplifies the ancient bachiru technique of carving designs into red-stained ivory. Records tell us that each year during China’s Tang dynasty, subordinate warriors would present such a ruler to the emperor. Koge Bachiru no Shaku suggests similar ceremonies might have occurred at the imperial court of Heijokyo, currently in Nara Prefecture, which was established as the capital of Japan in 710. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 22, 2011]

Byobu Screens and Feathered Tang Ladies

Byobu screens were an extremely popular item with the Nara period court, but relatively few examples exist today. The four- and six-panel screens were assembled by means of cords through holes in the panel frames according to the Chinese method but materials and other clues show that the screens are definitely Japanese. According to the Nihon Shoki, the first folding screens to reach Japan came during the reign of the emperor Tenmu (672-86) as gifts from the Korean kingdom of Silla. “The Record of Offerings to Todaiji Temple which dates from the mid-8th century lists over 100 folding screens among the imperial household articles donated to the Shoshoin. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

One of the "Ladies Under Trees"

The most famous byobu screens known as “Ladies Under Trees” (Torige Risujo), depicts a Tang beauty on each of its six panels and was originally decorated with colourful bird feathers; another has Chinese calligraphy, again done in bird feathers; the other two have nature scenes executed in wax-and press-resist dyeing techniques. Though the panels’ designs and expressions created through the women’s makeup apparently are heavily influenced by the Tang dynasty culture, a document dated “the fourth year in Tenpyo Shoho period” (752) was used in the panels’ lining, indicating that they were produced in Japan.

“Torige Ritsujo no Byobu” (Screen Panels with Bird Feathers Decorating a Lady under a Tree) was the star of the 66th Annual Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures at the Nara National Museum. Torige Torige Ritsujo no Byobu, bird feathers (tori-ge) used to be pasted on the lady’s clothes which explains the name. Of the six panels, which are believed to have been a prized possession of Emperor Shomu (701-756), four are on display at the Nara National Museum. The remaining two are being shown at the “National Treasures of Japan” exhibition at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo.

“The latest Tang dynasty fashions and culture were believed to have been brought to Japan by Japanese envoys to the dynasty and used in various items decorating the court. “Clothes decorated with feathers were all the rage in the Tang dynasty court. I believe the dynasty’s latest trends were imported to Japan,” said Akio Donohashi, professor emeritus at Kobe University.

The actress Rei Dan told the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Plump reddish cheeks that suggest exaltation, red lips, distinctly outlined eyebrows and a green “flower inlay” on her forehead — I’m fascinated by this woman’s face even from a distance. Her face and body are rounded, unlike the slender women called beautiful today, but I think her plump figure represents beauty back then. I was surprised to learn that feathers from a copper pheasant had been pasted on the panels. What a novel idea! I wish I could see the panels in their original condition. Although they were made in Japan, I’ve heard that clothes using feathers came into style during the Tang dynasty in China. Judging from the woman’s makeup and clothes, it’s obvious that Japan was influenced by China in various ways during the Nara period (710-784) I wonder if the woman is lifting her face at the sound of a bird singing, or turning around at someone calling her. . [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 26, 2014]

Shosoin Objects with Silk Road Connections

Shosoin screen panel

Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: Nara’s founders, the Fujiwaras, modeled their new capital after the T’ang era (619-907) capital Ch’ang-an (now Xian), then the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Despite distance and the slow method of travel, the nobility in Nara and Ch’ang-an stayed in relatively close contact, and both cities reflect the multiculturalism of the Silk Road culture of their time. The Shosoin treasures include many objects imported from the Asian continent and often show distinct elements of Tang Chinese culture, which greatly influenced Japan at that time, as well as those of Central Asia and the Near East, via the Silk Road. These objects demonstrate how Japanese culture had international influences at that time. Komyo, a Fujiwara similarly to Shomu’s mother, and born in the same year as the emperor, was the first commoner chosen as imperial consort. The couple rarely parted company and Shomu proclaimed that his wife would help during his rule, “My consort shall have affairs to govern.” [Source: Heritage Japan website, ]

“The treasures preserved in the Shosoin reflect not only Japan’s direct relations with the kingdoms of eastern Asia, but, through the Tang empire of China, contact with the arts and riches of Central and Western Asia as well. Many of the exotic objects in the Shosoin are thought to have come through China from the farthest reaches of the Tang empire. In addition to preserving so much of the life of the imperial court in eighth-century Japan, the Shosoin remains one of the most valuable records of trade between East and West along the Silk Road. Persian bowls and pitchers, lutes made in China of exotic materials, Chinese silks that display strong Near Eastern influence are stored side by side with objects crafted in Japan using skills and sometimes materials imported from the continent. Archaeologists and art historians still have their hands full sorting out the origins of many of these treasures.

“The Shosoin’s collection of over nine thousand objects naturally reflects the borderless cultures that made up the Silk Roads, which borrowed from each other in multiple directions, creating an ancient intercultural discourse and exchange that reflects not only the travel of goods, but also of faith traditions, music, art, folk stories, and theatrical plots, along the Silk Roads, between Africa, Rome, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, China, the kingdoms of the Korean peninsula and nascent imperial Japan. The Shosoin collection is thus not just a “Japanese,” but a world heritage collection that breathtakingly makes visible for us these threads of interpenetration in the arts, religion and other cultural forms, that reached the point of fusion in many instances throughout the Silk Roads, reminding us of the commonalities of our shared world heritage.”

Musical Instruments of the Nara Period

Nara period musical instruments, many of them used to produce music of Tang dynasty China, are preserved in the Shosoin Treasure house. Many of these have been kept in complete form; others have been restored. Copies have been made for various museums for viewing. From these instruments experts have learned a great deal about the musical system of the time. The instruments were played at court and at temple ceremonies and their use was described in the Dedicating Record of Todaij. [Source: Heritage Japan website, ]

The instruments played in the Nara period found in the Shosoin include: 1) kin (chin in Chinese) seven stringed zither; 2) biwa (pipa) four stringed lute; 3) genkan (juan-hsien) four stringed guitar; 4) shakuhachi (chipa) flute; 5) oteki (heng-ti) flute; 6) sho (sheng) mouth-organ; 7) u (yu) large mouth-organ; 8 ) gogen-biwa (wu-hsien pipa); 9) so (cheng) thirteen-stringed zither; 10) shitsu (se) 24 stringed zither; 11) kugo (kung-hou) harp; 12) sho (hsiao) panpipe; 13) hokyo (fang-hsiang) metallophone.

A wu-type musical instrument piece made of 17 small bamboo pipes set on a wooden receptacle with a pipe-like mouth piece with images of celestial children, birds in heaven and butterflies;

Shosoin Lutes

musical instrument
kept in Shosoin
A rare round-bodied lute from China, called a “Kuwanoki no genkan” (mulberry wood lute) is one of the more popular attractions. Only two “Genkan” round-bodied lutes are believed to exist in the whole world and both are in the Shoso-in collection. The other “Genkan” is also housed in the Shoso-in. What is distinctive about the “Kuwanoki no Genkan” is its round body, which features an image of people playing a game of go at the center. The instrument is named after one of the seven sages during the Chinese Jin dynasty (3rd to 4th century) who was known to have loved playing it.

The “Raden Shitan no Gogen Biwa” — five-string lute, red sandalwood lute — is one the best-loved of the Shoso-in treasures. The techniques used to produce the treasures include raden, in which beautiful shells are broken and the pieces are arranged into patterns, and mokuga, in which music instruments and boxes are decorated with flowers and birds fashioned from gold, silver and various types of wood.

The “Raden Shitan no Gogen Biwa” believed to be the only five-stringed, lute-style wooden biwa in existence (most biwas have four strings). The lute bears an image of a Persian playing a biwa lute while riding a camel, as well as birds and a tropical tree in mother-of-pearl inlay on the pickguard. The back of the instrument is decorated with a gorgeous Chinese-style flower pattern, elaborately depicted also in mother-of-pearl inlay.

Stringed instruments from the period were usually strung with wound silk which is said to have a very warm sound. Scratches have been found on the tortoiseshell pickguard, which appears to indicate the instrument was actually played with a plectrum.

On the Shoso-in five-string sandalwood biwa violinist Iluku Kawai told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “This is a breathtakingly beautiful, graceful lute...The elaborate, elegant design featuring a camel and tropical plants in the lute’s mother-of-pearl inlays portrays culture from the continent. The lute conveys to me the dedication of the craftsmen who painstakingly created a lute that also is a piece of artwork.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 27, 2010]

“I get excited just imagining how performers from the Tenpyo times (from the end of the seventh century to the mid-eighth century) would have played this instrument. Compared with a four-string lute, a five-string one has a wider range — from masculine bass to delicate soprano. I believe this lute would produce a deep, heavy, melancholic sound. I love the tone and rhythm of music from the Silk Road. Just listening to it stirs up eerie feelings inside me.

Shoso-In Swords

Among the objects displayed at the 63rd Annual Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures in October and November 2011 were swords decorated with silver and gold made using a technique similar to that used for makie lacquerware. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “One prominent treasure of the collection is the gorgeous sword Kingin Denso no Karatachi. Its sheath, decorated using the makkinru technique, which uses makie-like methods, depicts beasts and birds, clouds and arabesque patterns. Makkinru craftsmen paint objects with coarse flour gold then coat a fine lacquered layer on top; grinding designs into the lacquer exposes the vivid gold color underneath.”

"Kokka Chinpo Cho," a list of Shoso-in items treasured by Emperor Shomu that, upon his death, were dedicated to the Great Buddha statue at Todaiji temple by Empress Komyo (701-760), suggests Kingin Denso no Karatachi came from China’s Tang dynasty (618-907).

Upon the occurrence of the Fujiwara no Nakamaro rebellion in 764, 100 swords associated with Emperor Shomu were removed from the Shoso-in storehouse and used as weapons. Only three have been found, including Kingin Denso no Karatachi.

In 2010, two ancient swords discovered buried under the pedestal of the Great Buddha statue at Todaiji temple about a century ago were confirmed as Yo no Hoken and In no Hoken. The discovery of the swords, missing for about 1,250 years, heightens the possibility that others from Shoso-in could be found.One question stirs the imagination: Why were items decorated using methods so similar to the makie technique--widely believed to be originally Japanese--apparently used to make Chinese objects ?

Step-Stupa Pyramids of Nara and Sakai

An earthen pyramid called Doto is a kind of Buddhist stupa, where relics of Buddha are supposedly stored. Also known as the Sakai pyramid in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture — is the largest earthwork stupa in Japan, according to a local cultural assets official. The original structure is believed to have been built on the orders of the priest Gyoki (668-749) and is designated as a historic site. It is thought to stand on the site of the Onodera temple, which was built by Gyoki in 727. [Source: Asahi Shimbun, March 28, 2009 -]

A similar pyramid stupa, called Zuto, stands in Nara city, but its base measurements are 20 meters shorter. Dated to the 8th-century, Zuto is Mahayana Buddhist monument comprised of seven square platforms. It reaches a height of 10 metres and is decorated with 22 relief panels.

In 2009, the Sakai Pyramid was restored to the way it looked 1,300 years ago after a five-year restoration project. The new structure measures 53.1 meters on each side and stands 8.6 meters. It is adorned with 50,000 reddish-brown tiles. The pyramid had been reduced to a mere “heap of earth” before the city conducted a survey from fiscal 1998 to 2003 and started restoration work in fiscal 2004. -

These stepped pyramid stupas have been linked with Borobudur in Indonesia. Takashi Sakai wrote in Nihon Kôkogaku, “Zuto in Nara, with Doto in Sakai and Kumayama stone monument in Okayama are classified as special stupas of the Nara Age. They were constructed as stepped pyramids with an emphasis on a horizontal orientation. And these stupas, without internal space, are very different from the common Japanese stupa. Such a condition certainly has a close connection with Buddhism, because there are many relief Buddha images at Zuto.” [Source: Takashi Sakai, Nihon Kôkogaku, May 20, 2008 /=]

Borobudur, in Central Java, also has a stepped pyramid shape. “A stepped pyramid shape without an inner space as found at Borobudur is found in neither India nor Sri Lanka. And there are no stupas with that similar shape in Southeast Asia prior to Borobudur. Similar shaped monuments are found only in South Sumatra etc. This type of monument, originating from the mountain religions of Megalithic culture that predated the introduction of Buddhism continued through the Historical Age. Borobudur can be seen as a massive monument of this origin, decorated in Buddhism style. ?=\

“The formation of the Huayen Tsung/Gandavyuha religion in the Tang Dynasty was accomplished due to the large role of ljing, who stayed for a long time in Srivijaya while traveling to India by the sea route of Southeast Asia. The establishment of Vajrayana in the Tang was achieved largely by Vajrabodlxi and Amoghavajra, who came by way of Southeast Asia. Because of this, it can be thought that it was Indonesian local mountain religion, mixed into Huayen Tsung and Vajrayana, that developed into the Buddhism of Nara. It is for this reason that both Borobudur and Zuto etc. are shaped in the form of a stepped pyramid. This is an interesting demonstration of archaeology showing the diffusion of Buddhism as a contact among long distance cultures.

Largest Wooden Buildings in the World

Daibutsuden (within Todaiji Temple) is the world’s largest wooden structure. Built to house the world’s largest Buddha, it is a masterpiece of wooden architecture. Many of the criss-crossing beams are positioned without nails. In addition to the Buddha there are towering 30-foot-high wooden statues of warriors and gods. One large wooden pillar contains a small hole large enough for some people to crawl through and is about the size of one of the Great Buddha’s nostrils. The pillar shows that the structure is imperfect and has room for improvement. It is said that those who crawl though it will receive enlightenment and have all their prayers answered. Nearby is Kaidan-in Hall, which was once used for ordination ceremonies and contains clay images of the Four Heavenly Guardians; Sangatsu-do-Hall, the oldest building in the Todaiji Temple complex; and Nigatsu-do Hall. The two stone lions at the temples south gate are believed to have been made in China.

In 2008, officials at Nara University of Education reported that the ruins of a large building believed to be the Kondo main hall of the eighth-century Shin-Yakushiji temple in Nara had been excavated on the university’s campus. Based on the ruins, the university said, the ancient building–which was destroyed for a second and final time in 962–was as big as the Great Buddha Hall in Todaiji temple in Nara, which dates to the Edo period (1603-1867). [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 24, 2008]

“The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: The foundations of the ancient building are estimated to have stretched 54 meters from east to west and 27 meters from north to south. Because there are few known remains of the Shin-Yakushiji complex, the discovery is of major importance in understanding the famous temple’s original structure. According to records of Todaiji temple, Shin-Yakushiji temple was built in 747 by Empress Komyo, who prayed for the recovery of her ill husband, Emperor Shomu (701-756), and is believed to have had several buildings on its spacious grounds, including the Kondo main hall, two towers and a lecture hall.

“The original temple complex was destroyed by fire started by lightning in 780. The complex was rebuilt, but the Kondo hall was again destroyed, along with other buildings, by strong winds in 962. The Kondo hall of Shin-Yakushiji was never again reconstructed. In the recent excavation, stones with a diameter of about 50 centimeters–believed to have formed the foundations on which pillars stood–have been unearthed from four locations.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website,; Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo++; Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University ~; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; Library of Congress; Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO); New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; Daily Yomiuri; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016

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