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Hōryūji: A Brief History

The grounds of Hōryūji (Hōryū Temple) house the world's oldest surviving wooden structures, conveying images of Japan as it existed more than 1,300 years ago, during the Asuka Period (A.D. mid 6th - beginning of 8th c.). The story of Hōryūji's founding can be discovered in the historical writings engraved on the back of the halo of the Yakushi Nyorai Buddha statue, located on the eastern side of the room in the temple's Main Hall, and in the official inventory of Hōryūji property holdings recorded in 747.
According to these records, the emperor Yōmei vowed to build a temple and an image of a Buddha as a form of prayer for his own recovery from illness-a vow he was never fated to fulfill, for he died shortly thereafter. These same writings state how Empress Suiko and Crown Prince Shōtoku fulfilled Emperor Yōmei's deathbed wish by building in 607 a temple and a statue of a Buddha, to which the temple was dedicated. The Buddha statue was of the Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru)―literally, "arrival as a healer"―and the temple was named the Ikaruga Temple (after the name of the location), or Hōryūji ("Temple of the Flourishing Law [of Buddhism]")
On the fateful night of April 30 in the year 670, however, a great blaze swept through the temple grounds, leaving "not a single building" standing, as it is recorded in the ancient Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki). However, historians in the latter part of the 19th century began to cast doubt on the accuracy of this account of Hōryūji's destruction and to question whether or not the fire truly did occur. Although there are many questions that remain unanswered to this day, one thing certain is that Hōryūji boasts an illustrious 14 centuries of continuous observance of tradition since established by Prince Shōtoku, the great statesman and founder of Buddhism in Japan.
Today, Hōryūji is composed of the Western Precinct (Saiin Garan), which is centered around the Five-Story Pagoda (Gojū-no-Tō) and the Main Hall (Kondō), and the Eastern Precinct (Tōin Garan), which is arranged around the Hall of Visions (Yumedono). Throughout the 187,000-square-meter grounds are irreplaceable cultural treasures, bequeathed across the centuries and continuing to preserve the essence of eras spanning the entire journey through Japanese history since the 7th century. In fact, Hōryūji contains over 2,300 important cultural and historical structures and articles, including nearly 190 that have been designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. In December of 1993, Hōryūji, as a unique storehouse of world Buddhist culture, became the first treasure of any kind in Japan to be selected by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage.

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