Hoki-ji Temple (法起寺)

Hoki-ji (also pronounced as Hokki-ji) is a temple of the Shotoku sect located at Okamoto, Ikaruga Town, Ikoma County, Nara Prefecture. In the old days, it was also called Okamoto-dera Temple and Ikejiri-dera Temple.

Its sango (literally, "mountain name"), which is the title prefixed to the name of a Buddhist temple, is 'Okamoto san' (however, temples established before the Nara period did not originally have sango; if such a temple has sango now, that is the one given at a later day). The principal image is Eleven-faced Kannon (Goddess of Mercy). Sometimes the temple is counted as one of the seven major temples Prince Shotoku erected, but in fact, the temple was completed several decades after Prince Shotoku's death.
The temple is registered as a World Heritage as a part of 'Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area.'
This temple had been called 'Hokki-ji' in documents up to the end of the 20th century, but currently the official name admitted by the temple authority is 'Hoki-ji.'
This decision is made by Ryoshin TAKADA, the chief abbot of Horyu-ji Temple, when Horyu-ji and Hoki-ji were registered as the World Heritage at the same time, with the intention that the readings of the first Chinese character commonly used in the names of Horyu-ji and Hoki-ji should start with the same pronunciation 'ho' in a consistent manner.
Even now, many people are accustomed to calling it by the traditional name 'Hokki-ji.'


In the Ikaruga area, where World Heritage Horyu-ji Temple is located, in addition to Hoki-ji, there are many other old temples that have connection with Prince Shotoku, such as Horin-ji Temple (Ikaruga Town), Chugu-ji Temple, and others. Due to this fact, we can see that this area was a center of the Buddhist culture since ancient times. Hoki-ji Temple is in Okamoto area, at the foot of a mountain on the northeast side of Toin (East Precinct) of Horyu-ji Temple. This place is considered as the old site of Okamoto Palace, where Prince Shotoku preached the Hokke-kyo Sutra (the Lotus Sutra). It is said that the origin of Hoki-ji Temple goes back to the time when Prince Yamashiro no oe, Prince Shotoku's son, converted Okamoto Palace into a temple according to his father's will.

As a result of the archaeological studies conducted around the temple, the remains of an ancient structures that had dug-standing pillars (a construction style in which pillars are erected directly against the ground, without using foundation stones) were found. This means that another building had already existed on the site before Hoki-ji Temple was established. When Hoki-ji Temple was constructed, the complex had a similar layout to that of Saiin (Western Precinct) of Horyu-ji Temple with the Kondo (main hall of Buddhist temple) and the pagoda arranged side-by-side (east-west). However, in contrast to Horyu-ji Temple, its Kondo was placed in the west and the pagoda was in the east.
This layout design is called the 'Hokki-ji–style temple layout.'
Among the original structures, the only building in existence is the three-storied pagoda.

When the three-story pagoda was established and how the temple was constructed are shown in a historical material called 'Hokki-ji Sanjuno Robanmei' (the description carved on the base of the pagoda finial of Hokki-ji Temple) which was cited in a medieval document titled "Shotoku Taishi denshiki" (the Private Recollections of the Life of Prince Shotoku) (written by Kenshin in 1242. According to this, Okamoto Palace was converted into a temple following Prince Shotoku's will. In 638, the Kondo was constructed by the direction of a priest called Fukuryo, and Miroku-butsu (Miroku Buddha) was enshrined as its principal image. The construction of the pagoda started in 684 by the direction of Priest Eshi and finished in 706. This shows it took several decades from the start of the construction of Kondo to the completion of the pagoda. An architectural historian Tadashi SEKINO (1868-1935) and others advocated that the 'Hoki-ji Sanjunoto Robanmei' was a counterfeit. However, according to the research conducted later, it is now considered to be a substantially reliable historic material. From the viewpoint of architectural style, it is also considered appropriate to estimate the completion period of the Hoki-ji Temple pagoda to be around 706.

Three-storied pagoda

The period of completion is stated above. The pagoda that measures 24 m tall is the oldest three-storied pagoda in Japan. It is also said to be the largest three-storied pagoda in Japan, except for Yakushi-ji Toto (East Pagoda of Yakushi-ji Temple) that has a peculiar style. As a general rule, a wooden pagoda in Japan is constructed with hosangen method (a construction method to use four pillars and to create three areas between the pillars on every side). However, this temple has a special style; there are three areas between the pillars in the first and second layers, while there are two areas between the pillars in the third layer. The five-storied pagoda in Horyu-ji Temple, constructed around the same time, also has this two-area style on its top fifth layer. It is also pointed out that the sizes of the first, second and third layers of Hoki-ji Temple are almost the same as those of the first, third and fifth layers of Horyu-ji Temple. The pagoda was modified greatly in the medieval time and the number of the areas existed between the pillars on the third layer were also changed into three. However, during the disassembly and restoration in 1970-1975, the pagoda was restored to its original state, based on the traces left on the structural members. The handrails in the second and third layers were also restored during this repair.

Structures in the temple

Three-storied pagoda: described above

Kodo (lecture hall): restored in 1694

Shotendo (a hall dedicated to a deity Shoten [Ganesha]): restored in 1863

Front gate: restored at the beginning of Edo period; four-legged gate

Cultural properties

The precincts are designated as a national historic site.

National Treasure

Three-storied pagoda

Important Cultural Properties

Wooden standing statue of Eleven-faced Kannon: in storage (not open to the public)
It is 3.5 m tall. It is considered to have been made in the latter half of 10th century.

Bronze standing statue of Bosatsu (Bodhisattva): considered to have been made in the latter half of the 7th century. It is deposited in Nara National Museum.


1873 Oaza Okamoto, Ikaruga-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara Prefecture 636-0100


Nearest station: Horyuji Station (West Japan Railway)

[Original Japanese]