Horyuji and Todaiji

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Hōryūji (Temple of the Exalted Law), located in Ikaruga Village (Nara) and first founded by Prince Shōtoku (574–622), was rebuilt after a 670 fire under royal patronage. Long associated with Hossō (Faxiang school) teachings, the temple owes its survival to its celebration of Shōtoku's memory. Hōryuji's west and east precincts contain an extraordinary number of ancient buildings, images, and treasures dating from the seventh, eighth, and later centuries. Several seventh-century images at Hōryūji are associated by inscription or legend with the prince: gilt-bronze representations of Yakushi (Bhaiṣajyaguru) and Shaka (Śākyamuni) on the primary altar, a gilded wood image of Kannon (Avalokiteśvara) in the Dream Hall, and a seated Miroku (Maitreya) at neighboring Chūgūji. A large eleventh-century hagiographical painting of Prince Shōtoku drew visitors to the Painting Hall (Edono), while memorial rites before his portrait were conducted at the Shōryōin.

Todaiji (Great Eastern Temple), located in the former capital Heijō-kyō (Nara), was begun in the mideighth century by the sovereign Shōmu (r. 723–749) as a state-supported centerpiece to a Chinese-style provincial temple system. Tōdaiji served as headquarters of the Kegon school (Huayan school), but in fact functioned as the central venue for ordination and study of Buddhism more broadly. Shōmu commissioned for its central icon a colossal gilt-bronze Rushana (Vairocana) dedicated in 752. After Shōmu's death, his consort Kōmyō offered their massive collection of precious and imported objects to the temple, much of which survives. Burned twice in civil wars (1180 and 1567), Tōdaiji has been repeatedly revived. Several precincts and storehouses preserve sculptures from the eighth and thirteenth centuries, as well as temple treasures, documents, and books.

See also:Japan, Buddhist Art in; Monastic Architecture; Shōtoku, Prince (Taishi)


Cunningham, Michael R., ed. Buddhist Treasures from Nara. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1998.

Guth, Christine M. E. "The Pensive Prince of Chūgūji: Maitreya Cult and Image in Seventh-Century Japan." In Maitreya the Future Buddha, ed. Helen Hardacre and Alan Sponberg. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Kurata Bunsaku, ed. Hōryūji, Temple of the Exalted Law: Early Buddhist Art from Japan. New York: Japan Society, 1981.

Mino, Yutaka, ed. The Great Eastern Temple: Treasures of Japanese Buddhist Art from Tōdaiji. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1986.

Sugiyama, Jirō. Classic Buddhist Sculpture: The Tempyō Period, tr. Samuel Crowell Morse. New York: Kodansha International and Shibundo, 1982.

Karen L. Brock