|1 hours 30 mins|
|09:00 AM - 04:30 PM|
Temple & Monument
Gangoji Temple is good for
- Highly recommended by fellow travellers.
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Why Gangoji Temple is special ?
Gangō-ji is one of a handful of temples in Japan that retain architecture from the Nara period (奈良時代), which lasted from 710 to 794. According to the Gangō-ji temple website, Gangō-ji was first founded in the late 6th century by Soga no Umako (551? - 626) in the Asuka area of Takaichi county, Nara. Although the temple was dubbed Hōkō-ji local residents referred to it as Asuka-dera temple instead. The temple remained at Asuka until 718 when it was moved to its present location following the transfer of the capital from Fujiwara to Heijō-kyō (today's Nara). Even as Gangō-ji prospered in its new locale Asuka-dera functioned in a diminished capacity and its Main Hall still contains an important cultural treasure -- the Great Buddha of Asuka-dera, the oldest Buddha statue in Japan, traditionally attributed to Kuratsukuri no Tori from the year 606.
The Gangō-ji of the Nara period was one of the pre-eminent temples of the capital, located on the east side of the city in an area immediately to the south of Kōfuku-ji temple. As a first-tier, or national temple, it occupied nine square blocks in a 3 x 3 grid, each block measuring about 120 meters to a side. In such a setting the layout of the temple was quite different from what survives today. The temple's pagoda, which is no longer present, stood at the southeast corner of the site in its own enclosed area (see plan below). To the left of it and somewhat to the north stood the Golden Hall which was enclosed within another courtyard defined by a lecture hall to the north and wrap-around corridors extending southward. Ancillary buildings such as the refectory and monks' quarters stood to the north. This configuration was perhaps unique in Nara--it was the only major temple to have a Golden Hall standing alone within a courtyard, the more common arrangement being to pair it with one or even two pagodas to the south (as was the case at Yakushi-ji, another pre-eminent temple). Its unusual design may have been an homage to temples of earlier eras where this layout was more common.
Gangō-ji grew in size over the centuries but its present state is much diminished from periodic fires. At present the only structures that survive from the Nara era are the Hondo (本堂, Main hall) and the Zenshitsu (Zen room), along with a miniature 5.5 meter model pagoda. Unfortunately, both the Hondō and the Zenshitsu were heavily remodeled from older structures in 1244, during the Kamakura Era (1185-1333), so it is not possible to determine what functions the buildings originally served or even how they looked.
What to explore at Gangoji Temple?
About 2 km to the east on the JR Nara Station, the temple is situated in Naramachi that retains the atmosphere of long ago though it is lined with souvenir shops for tourists. Asuka-dera, the oldest temple of Japan that was built to the south of Nara City around 600 was moved to the city following the capital relocation to Heijo-kyo and changed its name to Gangoji.
Today we see Gokurakudo and a Zen room in its wide precinct, which are used for monks' activities. They are registered as World Heritage site as part of Historic Monuments of the Ancient Nara. One of the key features of the Gokurakudo and the Zen room that are National Treasures is their beautiful roofs. Japan's oldest tile roofing called "Gyokibuki" is constructed by partially overwrapping roof tiles of folding-fan shape, which creates varied and quaint expressions.
Hozo situated south of Gokurakudo houses a miniature five-story pagoda. This is a precious reminder of the architectural style of the Tenpyo Period. The 5-meter tall small structure is designated as a National Treasure not as an artifact but as a building. Gangoji is also famous as a temple of bush clover. In fall, flowering bush clovers make the temple a gorgeous place attracting many photographers.
How to get to Gangoji Temple?
(Train) A 20-minute walk from Nara Station on the JR Kansai Honsen (one hour from Shin Osaka). (Car) 15 minutes from Horai Interchange on the Daini Hanna Toll Road.
- A must for historical religious buildings lover
- As Old as it Gets
- A Quiet Temple with Deep Historical Signficance
- The first Temple in Japan
- The main attractions in Nara Park.
11 Chuincho Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8392 Japan
Tips for you
This temple is well described in the one other English review from last year and I will concur that it is a very serene place. This largely comes from the fact that it is located in the back streets of the old merchant quarter of Naramachi and as such is visited by significantly less people than the main attractions in Nara Park. The narrow streets of Naramachi are well worth visiting to stroll round an area which still retains architecture and feeling from old Japan. The only issue is that it is not very Gaijin friendly in that there are very few English signs. In one way this is good because it keeps that traditional Japan feel , but is bad in the fact that you get to miss a lot of the history and culture. Fortunately for this visit we had hired one of the free English speaking ‘goodwill guides’ from the Nara YMCA who provided factual and historical information that I had missed out on when visiting on my own and took us into places I had completely missed on my first visit such as a couple of the open Merchant houses and a couple of hidden museums in the back streets..