Kofuku-ji Temple (興福寺)

Kofuku-ji Temple is the head temple of the Hosso sect, one of the Nanto rokushu (the six sects of Buddhism which flourished in ancient Nara), located in Noborioji-cho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture. It is counted among the Seven Great Temples of Nara. This temple is associated with the founder of the Fujiwara clan FUJIWARA no Kamatari and his son FUJIWARA no Fuhito, and it is the uji-dera temple (temple built in order to pray for the glory of a clan) of the Fujiwara clan. It was a dominant local force from ancient to medieval times, and neither the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) nor the Muromachi bakufu were able to place a provincial constable in Yamato Province. Nanen-do Hall is the ninth temple on the 33 Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage.
It is a part of the world heritage site '{Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara}.'


The temple was originally Yamashina-dera Temple which was founded by Kagami no Okimi, the wife of Fujiwara no Kamatari (614-669), who was the founder of the Fujiwara clan, in Yamashina (Yamashina Ward, Kyoto City), Yamashiro Province in 669; at Kamatari's behest it has Shaka Sanzon statues (statues of the Shakyamuni triad) as its principal image, and was established in order to pray for cure of a disease he suffered from. In 672, during the Jinshin War, Yamashina-dera Temple moved to Fujiwara-kyo (Fujiwara Palace, the ancient capital of Fujiwara) and was called Umayazaka-dera temple after the place Umayasaka, in Takaichi-gun.

When the capital was transferred to Heijo in 710, Kamatari's son Fujiwara no Fuhito (659 -720) moved Umayazaka-dera temple to its current location, Sakyo in Heijokyo, and named it Kofuku-ji Temple. It could be said that 710 is the actual date of the foundation of the temple. It appears that the construction of Chukon-do Hall was started shortly after transfer of the capital to Heijo.

Other doto (temples and pagodas) were built and improvements were made by emperors and empresses, and the Fujiwara family, at a later date. In 720, when Fuhito died, an administrative institution called the 'Office of Constructing a Buddha Hall in Kofuku-ji Temple' was established, and the construction of Kofuku-ji Temple, which had originally been a private temple of the Fujiwara clan, came to be done by the government.

Nanto-Hokurei (South Capital and North Mountain)
Kofuku-ji Temple was counted among the four great temples of the Nara Period and the Seven Great Temples of Nara in the Heian Period, and was given special protection because it had a close relationship with the sekke (line of regents and advisers), Fujiwara-Hokke (the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan). In the Heian Period it held the real power of Kasuga-sha Shrine, owned most of the private estates throughout Yamato Province, and became the virtual kokushu (head of provincial governors). Due to the strength of its power it was called 'Nanto-Hokurei' together with Enryaku-ji Temple on Mount Hiei. Many sub temples called tatchu were built around the temple and there were more than one hundred at the height of its prosperity. Above all, Ichijo-in Temple (founded by Josho in 970) and Daijo-in Temple (founded by Ryuzen in 1087) flourished as monzeki temples where children of the imperial family and sekkan-ke (the families which produced regents) entered the priesthood.

Even when samurai governed during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, the bakufu was unable to place a provincial constable in Yamato Province because it had enormous power and armed priests. Therefore Yamato Province continued to be under the control of Kofuku-ji Temple. It bowed to the Shokuho Government (the government of Nobunaga ODA and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI; "shoku" and "ho" represent the initial letters of Oda and Toyotomi) in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, and consolidated the chigyo of Kasuga-sha Shrine; Kofuku-ji Temple being determined to be more than 21,000 koku in the land survey of 1595.

Destruction by fire caused by TAIRA no Shigehira
There are many instances of fire at Kofuku-ji Temple but it was reconstructed on every occasion. The damage from the fire caused by the Taira no Shigehira battle during the Genpei War in 1180 was most extensive, this being known as Nanto Yakiuchi (the incident of Heishi's army setting fire to the temples in Nanto).

Most temples, including Todai-ji Temple, were completely burned down. At this time, Shinen, who assumed the position of bettoshiki (the office of head administrator) right after its destruction by fire, together with Gedatsu Shonin Jokei, made great efforts to restore Kofuku-ji Temple. All the existing buildings of Kofuku-ji Temple were rebuilt after the fire. Many of the temple's treasures, including Buddha statues, were also lost and many of the existing ones were produced after this fire in the Kamakura reconstruction period. Buddha statues created by Keiha School sculptors such as Unkei who were based in Kofuku-ji Temple were created in large numbers during this period.

After the fire of 1717 during the Edo Period large scale reconstruction was not done, partly due to the changing historical backdrop, and Saikon-do Hall, Kodo Hall, and Nandai-mon Gate (great south gate) that were destroyed at the time were never reconstructed.

Destruction due to Haibutsu-kishaku (a movement to abolish Buddhism)
The Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism issued in 1868 triggered a movement for the abolition of Buddhism, and Kofuku-ji Temple, whose beliefs were shared by Kasuga-sha Shrine, suffered a direct blow. As a result all branch temples were abolished, temple estates were confiscated, priests became Shinto priests of Kasuga-sha Shrine, the walls around the precincts were removed, trees were planted in the precincts, and the temple was integrated into Nara Park. At one point it became of abolished status and even the five-storied and three-storied pagoda were up for sale. Prior to this, the chief priests of Ichijo-in Temple and Daijo-in Temple (both sub temples) who retained control over Kofuku-ji Temple were forced to return to secular life as members of the Nara peerage.

In 1881, as people began to view the Buddhism abolition policy as excessive, the reconstruction of Kofuku-ji Temple was finally permitted. In 1897, when the Law for Preserving Old Temples and Shrines, the predecessor of The Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, was issued, the temples and pagoda of Kofuku-ji Temple were renovated and the appearance of the temple has been continuously gradually improved.

However, the fact that Kofuku-ji Temple has no walls and is located in a park and that because of this there is no 'flow line of belief,' is one remaining scar from that time.

Monzeki (temples in which members of the nobility or the imperial family resided)

Ichijo-in no Miya
Ichijo-in, which is the head of several sub temples, was originally a sekke-monzeki (temple headed by members of the sekke, the line of regents and advisers) where members of the Konoe Clan (the Konoe family and the Takatsukasa family) worked, but in the early Edo Period it became a miya-monzeki, a temple headed by imperial princes (at the end of the Edo Period members of the Konoe family became monzeki again). There were keishi (household superintendents) exclusively for the Ichijo-innomiya family called shodaibu (part of the aristocracy lower than kugyo) which were effectively court nobles.

As well as the residences in Nara there was a Kyoto residence called 'Nanto Ichijo-in no miya misatobo' between the Katsuranomiya mansion and the Imperial Palace in Imadegawa in Kyoto.

Successive members of the Ichijo-innomiya family
Imperial Prince Sonkaku, the Prince of Emperor Goyozei
Imperial Prince Shinkei, the Prince of Emperor Gomizunoo
Imperial Prince Sonsho, the Prince of Emperor Reigen
Imperial Prince Sonei, the Prince of the Imperial Prince Kyogokunomiya Yakahito
Imperial Prince Sonsei, the Prince of the Imperial Prince Fushiminomiya Sadayoshi
Imperial Prince Sonjo, the Prince of the Imperial Prince Fushiminomiya Sadayoshi
Ichijo-in monzeki
Noriaki, a child of Tadahiro KONOE and the last Ichijo-in monzeki

Daijo-in monzeki
Members of the Kujo Clan (the Kujo family, Nijo family, and Ichijo family) held the position successively.

Takayoshi was a child of Hisatada KUJO and the last Daijo-in monzeki.

It was a custom that the chiefs of Ichijo-in and Daijo-in temples served alternately as Kofuku-ji betto, the highest ranking position at Kofuku-ji Temple.

Temples and cultural properties

Once there were three Kon-do Halls (main halls): Chukon-do Hall (Middle Golden Hall), Tokon-do Hall (Eastern Golden Hall), and Saikon-do Hall (Western Golden Hall), and many Buddha statues were enshrined between them. In the central area of the temple compound Nandai-mon Gate, Chumon Gate (Inner Gate), Chukon-do Hall, and Kodo Hall were aligned from north to south, and on the eastern side of the precinct the five-storied pagoda, Tokon-do Hall, Jiki-do Hall (Dining Hall) were aligned from the south, and on the western side of the precinct Nanen-do Hall (Southern Round Hall), Seikon-do Hall, and Hokuen-do Hall (Northern Round Hall) were also aligned. In addition to these, a three-storied pagoda was built on a sunken area at the southwestern corner of the precinct and the Oyuya (Bath House) was built in the southeastern area of the precinct. There are many instances of fire within the temple grounds but any damaged buildings were reconstructed on every occasion. In the Meiji Period the precincts of Kofuku-ji Temple were integrated into Nara Park, and the walls and the Nandai-mon Gate which marked the boundary were lost, so it is hard to imagine the original location of temple buildings in the Tenpyo Period.

Chukon-do Hall

It is believed that the erection of Chukon-do Hall began right after the transfer of the capital to Heijo in 710, it being a central building of the temple which enshrined the Shaka Sanzon statues at the wish of Fujiwara no Kamatari. It only came to be called Chukon-do Hall with the completion of the Tokon-do Hall and Seikon-do Hall buildings. The temple was repeatedly rebuilt following fires, but after its destruction by fire in 1717 it took more than a century to reconstruct the buildings, and it was only in 1819 (Bunsei era) when they were finally reconstructed thanks to contributions by benefactors. The temple built during the Bunsei reconstruction was a temporary one and slightly smaller than the previous temple, and many Buddha statues including a 5.2-meter high statue of Senju Kannon (Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara) were enshrined there until the Kofuku-ji Temple Museum of National Treasures opened in 1959. Because the building was painted red, it was popularly known as 'Akado' (Red Hall). Because it was built to be a temporary building, pine timber, which is cheap but not suitable for long-term use, was used, and rain damage due to aging became a serious issue, leading to the construction of a temporary Kon-do (Golden Hall) behind Chukon-do Hall in 1974, by rebuilding the former Kon-do Hall of Hakushi-ji Temple in Nara at the site. Due to the effects of time it was determined that it would be impossible to reuse or reconstruct the Bunsei Chukon-do in a different location, so it was completely demolished in 2000 except for some timbers which were saved for future use. The construction of a new Chukon-do Hall and improvements to the precinct are currently in progress to restore the buildings to their condition at the time of the original construction, and this is scheduled to be completed in 2010, 1300 years after it was originally built.

Other than the wooden seated statue of Shaka Nyorai (reconstructed in the Edo Period) which is the principal image of Kofuku-ji Temple, the following Buddha statues are enshrined in the temporary Kon-do Hall.

Wooden statues of Yakuo Bosatsu and Yakujo Bosatsu (an Important Cultural Property), 3.6-meters high. They are currently enshrined on both sides of the principal image of Chukon-do Hall, the Shakyanyorai statue, but were originally constructed in 1202 in the Kamakura Period as attendant figures of the Shakyanyorai statue, the principal image of the Saikon-do Hall that was abolished.

Wooden standing statues of Shitenno (four guardian kings) (an Important Cultural Property), originally enshrined in Nanen-do Hall. These were constructed by the family of Kokei, Unkei's father, in the Kamakura Period.

Tokon-do Hall

Tokon-do Hall (National Treasure) was constructed in 726 as a hall to enshrine the Yakushi sanzon (Yakushi Triad) at the wish of Emperor Shomu in order to pray for a cure for Gensho Daijo-tenno (ex-Emperor Gensho). After it was damaged by fire caused by war in 1180, the armed priests of Kofuku-ji Temple snatched the statues of the Yakushi Sanzon, the principal image of the Kodo Hall of Yamada-dera Temple in Asuka (present-day Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture), and installed them as the principal image of Tokon-do Hall. Tokon-do Hall and the five-storied pagoda were damaged by fire in 1411, and the current building was constructed in 1415. Although it was built in the Muromachi Period it is of a size and style similar to halls in the Tenpyo Period.
The following Buddha statues are enshrined in the hall:

Bronze statue of Yakushi Sanzon (Important Cultural Property); the principal statue of the three was remade in the Muromachi Period after the fire in 1411. Attendant figures, Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu statues, constructed in the Nara Period and rescued from the fire in 1141.

Wooden statue of a seated Yuimakoji (Vimalakirti) (National Treasure), enshrined to the left of the principal image of Yakushi Nyorai (the Healing Buddha). It was constructed in 1196 in the Kamakura Period by Jokei. Yuima is a legendary person who appears in Buddhist scriptures, but is expressed realistically as an old man.

Wooden statue of seated Manjusri Bodhisattva (National Treasure), enshrined to the right of the principal image of Yakushi Nyorai, and paired with the statue of Yuimakoji. Although the creator is not known for sure, it is believed to have been created by Jokei at about the same time as the statue of Yuima was made. It depicts the scene of a dialog between Monju and Yuma over the Yuimagyo (Vimalakirti Sutra).

Wooden standing statues of Shitenno (National Treasure), enshrined at the four corners of the hall. They are older than the other statues and are of the massive scale of the early Heian Period.

Wooden statues of the Juni Shinsho (twelve protective deities), statues of twelve messengers of the gods who protect Yakushi Nyorai. It was constructed around 1207 in the Kamakura Period. A celebrated aspect is the dynamic posture of each statue and the varied expressions of the twelve statues.

Five-storied pagoda

The five-storied pagoda (a national treasure) was constructed at the wish of Empress Komyo in 730. The existing pagoda was reconstructed around 1426. It is 50.8 meters high and the second tallest wooden pagoda after the five-storied pagoda in To-ji Temple.

Hokuen-do Hall

Hokuen-do Hall was reconstructed by Prince Nagaya at the order of two empresses, retired Empress Genmei and Empress Gensho, in 721, the first anniversary of the death of Fujiwara no Fuhito. The existing building was reconstructed around 1208, which makes it the oldest among the existing buildings in Kofuku-ji Temple. Like the Yumedono (Hall of Dreams) in Horyu-ji Temple, it is a Hakkaku-en-do with an octagon-shaped floor.

Seated wooden statue of Miroku Butsu (national treasure), completed around 1212 by Unkei in his later life, as head of his family of sculptors of Buddhist statues.

Wooden statues of Hoonrin Bosatsu and Daimyoso Bosatsu in a semi-lotus position, attendant figures of Miroku Buddha, but constructed in the Muromachi Period.

Wooden statue of Mujaku Bosatsu and Seshin Bosatsu (national treasure): the brothers Mujaku and Seshin were the founders of Yuishiki Kyogaku (studying the theory that all existence is subjective and nothing exists outside of the mind) who were active in India around the fifth century, are respected by the Hosso sect to which Kofuku-ji Temple belongs. They were created by the family of Unkei at around the same time as the principal Miroku statue. This is a work that is regarded as being one of the best realist sculptures of the Kamakura Period and is highly valued as one of the masterpieces of Japanese sculpture.

Wood-core dry lacquer statues of the Shitenno (four guardian kings) in a standing position, older than the other Buddha statues and created in the very early Heian Period. According to an inscription made during the repair of 1285, they originally belonged to Daian-ji Temple and were made in 791.

Nanen-do Hall

Nanen-do Hall was constructed by FUJIWARA no Fuyutsugu of the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan as a memorial for his father Uchimaro. The existing building was rebuilt in 1789. The principal image when it was first constructed was the statue of Fukukensaku Kannon that was originally enshrined in the Kodo Hall of Kofuku-ji Temple. This statue was created in 748 as a memorial to FUJIWARA no Fusasaki, who died in the previous year, by his wife Muro no Okimi, his son FUJIWARA no Matate, and others. Although there is a constant stream of worshipers in the hall as it is the ninth temple of the thirty-three temple Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage, the doors of the hall are always closed except on October 17, the day of an event called Daihannyakyo (Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra) tendokukai (the reading of the sutras), although there were special open days in the fall of 2002 and 2008.

Wooden statue of Fukukenjaku Kannon (Kannon of the Never Empty Lasso) in a sitting position (national treasure), constructed by the family of Kokei, Unkei's father, and completed in 1189. It is a huge seated statue with a height of 3.36 meters.

Wooden statues of the Shitenno (national treasure), constructed in the Kamakura Period. These statues of the Shitenno were for a long time believed to have been created by the family of Kokei, Unkei's father, like the wooden statue of Fukukenjaku Kannon, the principal image of Nanen-do Hall, but advances in research in the late twentieth century revealed that the Shitenno statues currently enshrined in Chukon-do (the temporary Kon-do) were created by Kokei and originally placed in Nanen-do Hall, and the Shitenno statues currently enshrined in Nanen-do Hall were brought there from another hall.

Three-storied pagoda

This pagoda was constructed by Kokamonin, the second consort of Emperor Sutoku, in 1143. The existing pagoda was rebuilt shortly after the big fire in 1180 during the Kamakura Period.

Remains of Saikon-do Hall

Saikon-do Hall was constructed in 734 as a temple to enshrine Shaka Sanzon statues by Empress Komyo on the first anniversary of the death of her mother TACHIBANA no Michiyo. After it was lost to the fire of 1717 it was never reconstructed.


This building is located to the east of the five-storied pagoda. Like the five-storied pagoda it was reconstructed around 1426.

Bodai-in Omi-do

It is a branch temple of Kofuku-ji Temple located to the south of the five-storied pagoda on the opposite side of Sanjo-dori Street. The existing hall was reconstructed in 1580 and enshrines the principal image, a seated statue of Amida Nyorai (Important Cultural Property).

Honbo (a priest's main living quarters)

It is located in the eastern area of the precinct. It is closed to the public.

Wooden statues of Sho Kannon (an Important Cultural Property), the principal image of Honbo Jibutsudo Hall (Daiendo). It was constructed during the Kamakura Period. It is generally not on display to the public, but was shown in public for the first time during the exhibition of the national treasures of Kofuku-ji Temple held at Tokyo National Museum in 1997, and was put on display to the public in the temple from October 20 to November 25, 2007 for the first time. The temple history describes it as a statue of Sho Kannon, but it was originally made to be a statue of Miroku Bosatsu by the sculptor Kaien in 1253.

Museum of National Treasures

The Museum of National Treasures is a storage and exhibition facility of cultural properties, constructed on the site of the former Jiki-do Hall and completed in 1959. It is a ferro-concrete structure, but it is in the style of temple architecture modeled after the former Jiki-do Hall. Jiki-do Hall was abolished in 1874, when Kofuku-ji Temple suffered damage from the Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism. Inside the building, a huge statue with a height of 5.2 meters of Senju Kannon that was the principal image of Jiki-do Hall is enshrined at the center and many of the temple's treasures including Buddha statues are on display.

Dry-lacquered standing statues of the eight deities who keep sutras (national treasure), constructed in the Nara Period. They were originally one set of the statues which were enshrined around the principal image of Saikon-do Hall, the Shakyanyorai statue. The eight statues of Gobujo, Sakara (Shagara), Kuhanda, Kendatsuba, Ashura, Karura, Kinnara, and Hibakara all remain today, but the statue of Gobujo is severely damaged and the section below the chest is lost. The statue of Ashura with three faces and six hands is most famous. The statue of Kinnara is kept in Nara National Museum.

Dry-lacquered standing statues of the Ten Chief Disciples of Buddha (national treasure), constructed in the Nara Period. Like the statues of the eight deities, they were originally one of the groups of statues enshrined around the principal image of Saikon-do Hall, the Shakyanyorai statue. Naturally there were ten statues when they were created, but four of them were lost and only six statues, those of Sharihotsu, Mokukenren, Subodai, Furuna, Kasenen and Ragora currently exist. Sharihotsu and Mokukenren are kept in Nara National Museum.

Bronze Buddha head (national treasure), created in the Nara Period, and although only the head section currently exists, it is a hallmark of Hakuho culture. Some say it was originally the former Buddha head of Yamada-dera Temple. It was originally the head section of the principal statue of Yakushi Sanzon, the principal image of Kodo Hall in Yamada-dera Temple in Asuka (present-day Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture), as stated above, and located in Tokon-do Hall, but the head section was the only part narrowly rescued from the fire in the Muromachi Period. This head section was placed inside the pedestal of the newly constructed principal statue and remained hidden for a long time, before being rediscovered in 1937. At the same time a rare arm of a silver Buddha statue (an Important Cultural Property) was also discovered.

Wooden Buddha head (Important Cultural Property), the head section of the former principal image of the destroyed Saikon-do Hall, the Shakyanyorai statue. It was made in the Kamakura Period. Other than the head section, both arms of the statue, a statue of Flying Apsara with a halo, and Kebutsu (a small Buddha statue) also still exist. Traditionally, they were supposed to have been created by Seicho, a senior apprentice of Unkei, but recently a theory suggesting it was created in January 1186 by Unkei has become widely accepted based on the description in the diary of Shinen, the head priest at Kofuku-ji Temple.

Wooden statues of Kongo Rikishi (national treasure), originally enshrined in Saikon-do Hall. It was made in the Kamakura Period.

Wooden statues of Tentoki and Ryutoki (national treasures), originally enshrined in Saikon-do Hall. Tentoki holds a big lantern on his shoulder and Ryutoki holds one on his head. This sculpture is a masterpiece of the Kamakura Period, and expresses imaginary existence realistically and humorously. The statue of Ryutoki was created by Koben, a son of Unkei, and that of Tentoki is assumed to have been created by the same person or a sculptor around him.

Wooden statues of Hosso Rokuso, constructed by the family of Kokei, Unkei's father, in the Kamakura Period. They are statues of the six high priests of the Hosso Sect: Genpin, Gyoga, Genbou, Shinei, Joto and Zenshu. They were enshrined around the principal image of Nanen-do Hall. The statue of Gyoga is kept in Nara National Museum.

Wooden statues of Senju Kannon (national treasure), originally the principal image of Jiki-do Hall. Currently, it is enshrined in the center of the Museum of National Treasures located on the site of former Jiki-do Hall. It is a huge 5.2-meter-high statue and is supposed to have been completed around 1229 based on inscriptions found on goods stored inside the statue. According to records, it took a quarter century from the beginning of the construction of this statue of Senju Kannon to completion. Seicho, who was in charge of construction of the statue at first, was a senior apprentice of Kokei, father of Unkei, and he was a more legitimate successor of the Keiha School than Kokei. It is supposed, however, that Seicho died before the completion of the statue of Senju Kannon because sources suggest he was sickly. After that, the statue was abandoned, but construction was started again for some reason and the statue was completed by different sculptor. It seems that the material of the statue was exposed to the elements while construction was discontinued, as the inside wood surface has been heavily damaged.

Wooden standing statues of Juni Shinsho (national treasure), constructed in the Heian Period. It is a kind of Buddha statue in relief rare in Japan, and it was originally colored, but the color has peeled off. All twelve reliefs exist in complete condition.

Kondo-toro (national treasure), a bronze lantern that used to be located in front of Nanen-do Hall, and currently exhibited at the Museum of National Treasures. It has an inscription of the year 816, in the early Heian Period, which makes it the oldest lantern with a dated inscription in Japan. The letters on the hibukuro (burning place of toro) are valuable as clues to the calligraphy of the period.

Bonsho (national treasure), a large temple bell with an inscription of the year 727, in the Nara Period. This is the second oldest temple bell after the bell in Myoshin-ji Temple where the year of construction is known.

Cultural Properties

In addition to the current precinct the former part of the precinct extending to Nara Park is designated as a national historic site.


Seven minutes on foot from Kintetsu Nara Station on the Kintetsu Nara Line
The precinct is open to the public. The Museum of National Treasures and Tokon-do Hall are open all year round (there is an entrance fee). Hokuen-do and the temporary Kon-do Hall are open to the public during a limited period in the spring and fall. Nanen-do Hall is open to the public only on October 17.

[Original Japanese]