Daian-ji Temple (大安寺)

Daian-ji Temple, located in Nara City, Nara Prefecture, is a Buddhist temple of the Koya-san Shingon Sect. Its principal image is Eleven-faced Kannon (Goddess of Mercy). Its Kaiki (founder) has been said to be Prince Shotoku. The temple, counted as one of the Seven Great Temples, was a big temple comparable to Nara Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple in size.


In the Nara period, Daian-ji Temple, which had a large complex with various buildings, including two seven-storied pagodas in the east and in the west, was a huge temple comparable to Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple. Its another name was 'Nandai-ji' Temple. Among the Seven Great Temples of Nara, only Todai-ji Temple and Daian-ji Temple had a seven-storied pagoda. Daian-ji Temple in the Nara period had many historically noted monks, including Bodai Senna from India who served as doshi (Lead Chanter) in the kaigan ceremony (eye-opening) of Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple. The temple played an important role in Japanese history of Buddhism. However, it gradually fell into a decline after the Heian period. After its principle buildings and pagoda were burnt down in a fire in 1017, it never recovered its past prosperity.
The existing temple buildings were all rebuilt in and after the end of Edo Period on an extremely reduced size
The remains that date back to the Nara period are only nine wooden statue of Buddhas, which are considered to have been built around the end of the 8th century.

Prehistory to Kudaradai-ji Temple

The history of Daian-ji Temple mainly relies on the descriptions of official history books, "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan) and Shoku Nihongi' (Chronicle of Japan Continued), as well as the temple's construction records, "Daian-ji Garan Engi narabini Ruki Shizai Cho" (The notebook of the history of Daian-ji Temple and the record of the materials.) compiled in 747. (A written copy of the "Shizai Cho" was previously owned by Shoryaku-ji Temple and now owned by National Museum of Japanese History. The "Shizai Cho" describes that Daian-ji Temple is originated from a Buddhist monastery, Kumagori-shoja founded by Prince Shotoku in present Yamatokoriyama City, Nara Prefecture.
Every time the temple was relocated, its name was changed repeatedly to 'Kudaradai-ji Temple,' 'Takechidai-ji Temple,' and then 'Daikandai-ji Temple.'
And following the relocation of the national capital to Heijo (present Nara City), it was moved to the new capital and renamed as 'Daian-ji Temple.'

The "Shizai Cho" describes that Daian-ji Temple is originated from Kumagori-shoja Monastery built by Prince Shotoku. It is said that Prince Shotoku on his sickbed ordered Prince Tamura (later Emperor Jomei) who came to visit him to promote Kumagori-shoja Monastery to a full-scale temple. Prince Tamura fulfilled the Prince Shotoku's will and built a temple in the vicinity of the Kudara River in 639 and named it Kudaradai-ji Temple, after he ascended the throne. Some believe that Kumagori-shoja Monastery was built in Nukatabe, Yamatokoriyama City, on the site where Kakuan-ji Temple is currently located, but some show skepticism about the location because its name is not found in any historical materials other than "Shizai Cho of the Daian-ji Temple." It is commonly considered in the academic world that the episode was a tradition derived from a public whish to suppose that Prince Shotoku, who was believed to be the forefather of Japanese Buddhism, was also the founder of the temple.. Regarding the Kudaradai-ji Temple, although there is a temple called Kudara-ji Temple in Koryo-cho, Kita-Katsuragi County, Nara Prefecture, a relationship between the Emperor Jomei and the temple is unknown. No remains that suggest the past existence of a temple founded by the emperor have been found in the neighborhood. In 1997, Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (present Nara Research Institute for Cultural Properties) announced its observation that the ancient site of Kibiike Temple found in the southeast of Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture (east of the site of Fujiwara-kyo) can be the site where Kudaradai-ji Temple once stood. Its excavation revealed that Kibiike Temple had a Horyu-ji-style temple layout with Kondo (main hall) in the east and a pagoda in the west. Judging from the style of the excavated old roof-tiles, there is a high posibility that this temple is Kudaradai-ji Temple which was build in 639.

Takechidai-ji Temple and Daikandai-ji Temple

"Nihonshoki" describes that Mino no Okimi and Ki no Katamaro were appointed to take Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction on December 17, 673February 1, 974 (表記の変更), suggesting that Takechidai-ji Temple is the present Daikandai-ji Temple. "Shizai Cho of the Daian-ji Temple" describes that Mino no Okimi (the same pronunciation as above but written in Chinese characters) and Ki no Katamaro were appointed to take Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction on the same date, when the temple was moved from Kudara to Takechi. It is pointed out that the year 673 is the following year of Jinshin War won by the Emperor Tenmu and fell on the 32nd anniversary of the death of his father, the Emperor Jomei, as well as the twelfth anniversary of the death of his mother, the Empress Saime.

"Shizai Cho" also says that Takechidai-ji Temple changed its name to Daikandai-ji Temple in September 677. Opinions on the relationship between Takechidai-ji Temple and Daikandai-ji Temple differ from researcher to researcher: some suggest only the name was changed and others suggest the change of name is accompanied by relocation.

Site of Daikandai-ji Temple

The site where Daikandai-ji Temple once stood still remains in Koyama, Asuka-mura, Nara Prefecture, and it is designated as state's historic site. Mt. Kaguyama, one of Yamato Sanzan (the three appreciated mountains in Yamato Province) lies on the north of the site and the ruins of Asuka Kiyohara no miya Imperial residence extends on the south of the site. It is hard to say that the site of the temple is well conserved; for example, the foundation stone of the Kondo is missing.
(The stone is said to have been taken away during the construction of Kashihara-Jingu Shrine in the Meiji period.)
The temple has a layout in which Chumon gate was placed in the south and the Kondo in the north of corridor. A pagoda was located on the east of the square area surrounded by the corridor (the right hand side of the Kondo). Any remains of the buildings have not been found on the west side of the corridor (the left front side of the Kondo). It is not clear whether the plan to build a set of pagodas in the east and the west was canceled, or whether the original plan was to build only one pagoda. The pagoda is a large quadrilateral structure called Ho-Goken (there are six columns on each of the four sides, with a space of five ken [about nine meters] between each column on the base layer) and it is highly possible that this was a nine-story pagoda as the tradition describes.

A large amount of burnt soil and tiles were found in the excavation conducted by Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties between 1973 and 1982, revealing that the temple had a fire soon after the completion or when it was still under construction. In addition, the chronology of excavated earthware suggested that the temple's buildings were constructed from the final years of the Emperor Jito's reign and the early years of Emperor Monmu (the very end of the 7th century). For all of these reasons, Daikandai-ji Temple does not chronologically match Takechidai-ji Temple, which was built during the Reign of Emperor Tenmu as mentioned above. It is the most convincing that Takechidai-ji Temple and Daikandai-ji Temple were located in different places.

After relocation to Heijo-kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Nara)

Among temples built in the Asuka area during the 7th century, temples such as Hoko-ji Temple (Gango-ji Temple), Yakushi-ji Temple, and Umayazaka-dera temple (later Kofuku-ji Temple) were moved to the new capital along with the transfer of the capital to Heijo-kyo. Daikandai-ji Temple was also moved to Shibo, Rokujo, Sakyo, Heijo-kyo, and was renamed Daian-ji Temple. There is no description about the time when the temple was moved in the official history "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued). There are several views but the most commonly-accepted one is that the temple was moved in 716. The basis of the theory comes from a description in "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued) meaning "Gango-ji Temple was moved to and rebuilt in Shibo Yoncho, Rokujo, Sakyo" and its interpretation that "Daikandai-ji Temple" should read "Gango-ji Temple." Additionally, "Fuso Ryakki" (A Brief History of Japan) says that Daikandai-ji Temple in the Asuka area had a fire in 711, the year following the relocation of the capital. The above mentioned excavation carried out in the site of Daikandai-ji Temple also confirmed that there was a fire.

The streets of Heijo-kyo were arranged like the intersections on a Go board at an interval of 1 cho (about 109 m). The east-west streets which run every four cho (approximately 436 m) were called Ichijo-oji, Nijo-oji and so on, while the north-south streets were called Ichibo-oji, Nibo-oji and so on. Nandai-mon gate, which was the main gate of Daian-ji Temple, stood facing Rokujo-oji Street. The temple has a large dimensions extending up to the south of Rokujo-oji Street and measured 3 cho from east to west and 5 cho from north to south. The layout of the temple stand out the location of the east and west pagodas (seven-storied pagodas), which were considerably detached from the Kondo and located outside Nandai-mon gate (on the south of the temple's precinct).
This style is called 'the layout of Daian-ji Temple style.'

"Shizai Cho of Daian-ji Temple" written in 747 describes that as many as 887 monks resided in Daian-ji Temple as of the same year. Daian-ji Temple in the Nara period has many noted monks including Bodai Senna from India, Doji who had studied and stayed in Tang Dynasty of China for 16 years, and other monks who studied in foreign counties or who were naturalized. Bodai Senna is known as a monk who served as doshi (Lead Chanter) in the kaigan ceremony (eye-opening) of Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple. Doji was a learned priest of the Sanron sect (Madhyamika school founded originally by Nagarjuna). He played an important role in Japanese history of Buddhism, for example, by bringing to Japan a new translation of "Golden Light of the Most Victorious Kings Sutra," a sutra valued during the Nara Period as a Buddhist scriptures to safeguard the country in the Nara Period. The following monks served at Daian-ji Temple as well: Fusho and Yoei who were dispatched to China in the Tang period to invite Priest Tang Jianzhen to Japan, Gonso who was the master of Kukai, and Gyohyo who was the master of Saicho. Daian-ji Temple played an important role in the ancient Japanese history of Buddhism, but it gradually fell into a decline after the capital was transferred to Heian-kyo (ancient Kyoto). A fire that occurred in 1017 completely destructed the temple except for its principal image, the statue of Shaka Nyorai, and the east pagoda. Afterwards, it had never recovered its original magnificence. It was damaged by an earthquake in 1596, and it is said that only one small hall had been left in the early-modern times.

The dried lacquer statue of Shaka Nyorai, which is registered in "Shizai Cho" as the principal image of Daian-ji Temple, was a statue built at the wish of Emperor Tenchi and known as one of the masterpieces.
A travelogue "Shichidaiji Junrei Shiki (Private Journal of a Pilgrimage to the Seven Great Temples)" written by Chikamichi OE, who visited various temples in the southern capital (Nara), describes as follows: 'the principal image of Yakushi-ji Temple is an excellent work, but it is far behind from Shaka zo (statue of Buddha) of Daian-ji Temple.'
It is known that Jocho, a busshi (sculptor of Buddhist statues) who completed the Japanese sculptures style at the end of Heian period, also made a replica of the statue of Buddha enshrined in Daian-ji Temple. However, this statue of Buddha has lost and we can not see it.


All the buildings including the main hall and Inanagido on the temple's ground (although the complex is designated as a national historic site) are modern constructions.

Hondo - The main hall where the principal image, the standing statue of eleven-faced Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) (Important Cultural Property) is enshrined. The principal image is a treasured Buddha and it is opened to the public only in October and November.

Inanagido- A hall where Standing statue of Bato Kannon (Horse-headed Kannon) (important cultural property) is enshrined. It is a treasured Buddhist image placed to the public only in March.

Sangyo-den - It is a ferroconcrete repository built in 1963, and seven wooden statues including Mokuzo Yoryu Kannon Ritsuzo (The wooden image of the standing Kannon holding the branch of a willow to eradicate illness) (important cultural property) is enshrined.

Cultural properties

Six items and nine statues are designated as national cultural properties.
These statues believed to have been made in the late Nara period are all considerably damaged
Almost of the arms of each statue are replaced by those made in later years. The fact that no descriptions on these statues are found in "Shizai Cho of the Daian-ji Temple" written in 747 suggests that they were built at a later time. It has been pointed out that these wooden statues were similar in style to the statues of the Kodo (main hall) of Toshodai-ji Temple.

Important Cultural Property
Wooden standing statue of eleven-faced Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) - the principal image of this temple
Its head was replaced by the one made later.

Wooden standing statue of Bato Kannon (Horse-headed Kannon) - Designated as an Important Cultural Property in the name of "Wooden Senju Kannon ryuzo"
Wooden standing statue of Amoghapasa (manifestation of Amalokitesvara)
Wooden standing statue of Yoryu Kannon (Kannon having the branch of a willow to eradicate illness)
Wooden standing statue of Sho Kannon (Holy Kannon)
Wooden standing statue of

[Original Japanese]