World heritage sites
I was able to visit some temples, three in Nara and one in Kyoto, that date from the time of the earliest introduction of Buddhism into Japan. At that time, the location of the capital was shifted from time to time, for reasons such as geomancy, perceived threats or because of inauspicious accidents or disasters. Therefore, the seven major temples of Nara are pretty spread out over the area, and it is a challenge to see several at once. I wanted to see Horyuji, because it was one of the earliest ones, and Yakushiji, because I had seen two of the statues, Gakko Bosatsu and Nikko Bosatsu, when they were on display at the Tokyo National Museum. I added Toshodaiji to the list because it is within walking distance of Yakushiji. That was about the limit in terms of time (most of the temples close at 4:00 or 5:00 PM with entrance only until thirty minutes before closing, and also in terms of endurance, walking and seeing so much on such a hot day.
I jumped on the bullet train (shinkansen) in Tokyo around 7:00 AM, and got to Kyoto by around 9:00. It took another hour to get to Nara and then I took a bus to a different train station for a 12-minute ride to Horyuji station. I arrived there around 11:00 and checked the bus stop, but it was so hot I splurged on a taxi to the temple. The temple was founded early in the seventh century. The 'worship fee' is rather high, at ¥1000, but the images and buildings require museum-quality care, so it is reasonable. It is a lot cheaper than Disneyland, for example.
Yakushiji is not on the same train line as Horyuji, so I went to the bus stop to check on a bus. The next one was a 45-minute wait, so I headed to a noodle shop for a great, reasonably priced lunch of udon, rice, and vegetables. The bus to Yakushiji took about 30 or 40 minutes, but the bus stop was only about five minutes from the temple. Yakushiji was founded around 710, but was moved to the current location in 718 or so, because of one of the capital moves. The capital moved on again, and the temple today is in a very rural landscape of rice paddies and villages. This temple is the head temple of Japan's oldest Buddhist sect, Hosso.
It is only a short walk to Toshodaiji, the head temple of the Ritsu sect. The temple was established in 759 by Ganjin Wajo, who came from China to teach Ritsu to the Japanese. This temple is less splendid (it is not one of the 'big seven')--it has only one small pagoda, and the other buildings are fairly modest. But the objects of worship in the Kondo main hall include at least eight works designated as National Treasures (I didn't count them). It is a very quiet, green environment which seemed very ancient, and also relatively cool on such a hot day. The train station, Nishi no Kyo (western capital) seems to indicate a capital that has since moved. From there it was about an hour back to Kyoto.
The next day I headed for Toji, a temple in southern Kyoto, that was built around 794, when the capital was moved to Kyoto. There is a station called Toji, one stop from Kyoto on the Kintetsu line. Toji means 'east temple' and originally there was also a west temple (or maybe just plans for one); these were supposed to guard the southern approach to the city. However, Buddhism in Japan underwent a major shift when the monk Kukai, Kobo Daishi, returned from China, bringing Vajrayana Shingon Buddhism with him. The emperor was very impressed with Kukai, and entrusted Toji to him.
So I was happy that I could see four temples in just 1.5 days. I will put up more details on each temple in following posts.
The first pic shows the central garan of Horyuji, with the Kondo main hall and five-story pagoda. 'Kondo' means 'golden hall' perhaps it refers to the fact that Buddha statues are usually gilded. The second pic is the gate looking into the garan of Yakushiji. There are two three-story pagodas in this yard, but they have extra eaves on each story, so they look like they have six stories. The third pic is Toshodaiji, with the Kondo to the left, the Kodo (lecture hall) in the background, and a small tower, the Shariden next to a larger building that was originally monks' quarters.