Yakushi-ji Temple (薬師寺)

Yakushi-ji Temple is a Buddhist temple located in Nishinokyo-cho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture, which is a Daihonzan (Head Temple) of the Hosso sect along with Kofuku-ji Temple. This temple is one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara. It worships Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru, Buddha able to cure all ills) as Honzon (principal object of worship at a temple). The founder of this temple was Emperor Tenmu. Regarded as a part of "{Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara}," this temple has been registered as a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) since 1998. The present chief priest is Eiin YASUDA.


First established in Asuka (now Kidono-cho, Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture) at the end of the seventh century, Yakushi-ji temple was transferred to the present place in the beginning of the eighth century following the transfer of national capital to Heijo. Meanwhile, temple buildings of the original Yakushi-ji Temple in Asuka (called Moto-Yakushiji Temple) is believed to have existed until around the tenth century.


According to the "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), Emperor Tenmu founded Yakushi-ji Temple in Asuka in 680 to pray that Empress Uno-no-Sarara, the later Empress Jito, might recover from an illness. There is a similar description in 'Toto Satsumei,' inscription on the Sorinto Pillar (pillar of the metal pinnacle on the top of pagodas) that is on the roof of East Pagoda in Yakushi-ji Temple. However, as the Emperor Tenmu died in 686 before this temple was completed, Empress Jito and Emperor Monmu took over the construction work. There is a description in the "Nihonshoki" that an event called "Mushadaie Festival" was held at Yakushi-ji Temple in 688, which suggests that the temple buildings had been completed to some degree by that time. According to "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicles of Japan Continued), the construction work had almost been completed in 698, which enabled Buddhist priests to live in the temple.
The ruins of Yakushi-ji Temple in Asuka have remained in Kidono-cho, Kashihara City, lying midway between Mt. Unebi and Amanokaguyama hill--both of which are counted among Three Mountains of Yamato--to be designated as the Special Historic Sites 'The ruins of Moto-Yakushiji Temple.'

Relocation to Heijo

Afterwards, following the transfer of the national capital to the Heijo-kyo in 710, Yakushi-ji Temple was transferred from Asuka to a place facing Rokujo-oji Street of Heijo-kyo, where Yakushi-ji Temple is now standing. According to "Yakushi-ji Engi" (The History of Yakushi-ji Temple) compiled in 1015, Yakushi-ji Temple was relocated in 718.
In the chapter of March 29, 730 of "Fuso Ryakki" (A Brief History of Japan), there is a description of 'East Pagoda of Yakushi-ji Temple was established.'
This description shows that the East Pagoda (a three-story pagoda) was completed in 730, and that the construction work had lasted until that time.

Meanwhile, the original Yakushi-ji Temple (Moto-Yakushiji Temple) in Asuka existed for a while even after the relocation to Heijo-kyo. According to historical materials and excavation research, the original Yakushi-ji Temple had apparently existed until around the tenth century, or during the middle of the Heian period. However, it was later abandoned. Kon-do Hall (main hall of the Buddhist temple), a foundation stone of the East Pagoda, and the central base of the West Pagoda have remained in the ruins of Moto-Yakushiji Temple. It turned out that the flat size of the hall and pagodas, the distance between them are almost the same as that of Yakushi-ji Temple in Heijo-kyo.

Yakushi-ji Temple in Heijo-kyo lost a lot of buildings in a fire that broke out in 973, as well as in a fire caused by war in 1528 that was set by Junko TSUTSUI. Today, the East Pagoda is the only building standing from the Nara period.

There is a dispute over whether the East Pagoda and statues were transferred from the original temple or not

It has been controversial since the Meiji period that whether the East Pagoda and Honzon Yakushi Sanzonzo (three statues that comprise the Yakushi Triad) in Yakushi-ji Temple in Heijo-kyo were transferred from Moto-Yakushiji Temple in Asuka, or whether they were newly produced in Heijo-kyo. Although it is widely believed that the East Pagoda was newly established at Heijo-kyo today in the twenty-first century, the dispute has not been settled yet.

In a notebook of history and materials in the Nara period, cited in "Yakushiji Engi" (The History of The Yakushi-ji Temple) compiled in the eleventh century, there is a description; 'Of four pagodas established in Yakushi-ji Temple, two pagodas are in the original temple.'
Koichi MACHIDA and others regard this description as an authority to believe that the East Pagoda and statues were not transferred from the original temple by interpreting the description as follows: Yakushi-ji Temple in Heijo-kyo and that in Asuka had two pagodas each until a certain period. The fact that the existing East Pagoda has no traces of being dismantled and reconstructed strongly supports the theory that the pagoda was newly established after the temple was relocated to Heijo-kyo, as mentioned in "Fuso ryakki." However, it is difficult to say that the all the temple buildings in Yakushi-ji Temple at Heijo-kyo were newly established without including any of the old structures transferred from Asuka, because old style roof tiles similar to those found at the ruins of Moto-Yakushiji Temple have been excavated from the precincts of Yakushi-ji Temple at Heijo-kyo.

Excavation researches revealed that the designs for the cloisters of Yakushi-ji Temple in the Heijo-kyo were changed in the course of construction from the initial single corridor (pillars form two rows) design to the double corridor (pillars form three rows, and passages are two lines) design. Therefore, there is also a theory suggesting that the initial plan to relocate part of the structures of Moto-Yakushiji Temple may have been changed in the course of construction.

As for the Honzon Yakushi Sanzonzo in the Kon-do Hall, attaching importance to the description in "Nihonshoki" of 'Mushadaie Festival was held at Yakushi-ji Temple in 688,' a theory suggests that those statues had already been produced by 688, and then they were later moved to Yakushi-ji Temple at Heijo-kyo. However, another theory insists that the Yakushi Sanzonzo was newly produced after relocation to Heijo-kyo in terms of style and casting technique, etc. used in producing such statues. The dispute over whether East Pagoda and statues were transferred from the original temple or not is still unsettled.

Reconstruction of Kon-do Hall, West Pagoda, etc. Yakushi-ji Temple had shown a wretched atmosphere in the Kon-do and Kodo Halls (lecture halls) until the mid twentieth century, both of which were reconstructed provisionally during the end of the Edo period,. Only the unburned East Pagoda was all that remain of the magnificent temples from the days when Yakushi-ji Temple was first built. Taking a leading part, Koin TAKADA known as an odd chief abbot, promoted the Hakuho Garan (the Buddhist temple of Hakuho culture) Reconstruction Project through Shakyo-Kanjin (soliciting for contribution in exchange for copying a sutra) since the 1960s. As a result, following the reconstruction of Kon-do Hall in 1976, the West Pagoda, Chumon (inner gate), a part of cloisters, Dai-kodo Hall (great lecture hall), etc. were reconstructed one after another. Reconstructed in the precincts of Kofuku-ji Temple as a provisional Chukon-do Hall (middle hall), the old Kon-do Hall exists now, even though its appearance has changed.

Temple buildings

The layout of this temple is referred to as 'The Yakushi-ji Temple style arrangement of temple buildings,' arranging Kon-do Hall in the center of the precincts, two pagodas in the east and west separately in front of the Kon-do Hall and Kodo Hall behind the Kon-do Hall, with cloisters surrounding these entire structures.

South Gate (designated as Important Cultural Property)

This is a small-scale four-legged gate located at the south front of the precincts. It was constructed in 1512, in the Muromachi period, which had originally been a gate of Yakushi-ji Sai-in (the western part of Yakushi-ji Temple).


It was reconstructed in 1984. From the Chumon, the cloisters extend to both sides.

Kon-do Hall

It was reconstructed in 1976. Honzon Yakushi Sanzonzo is enshrined in this hall, which is regarded as one of the most excellent Buddhist sculptures from the Nara period (Yakushi Sanzonzo is described later).

Dai-kodo Hall

It was reconstructed in 2003. This hall is the largest structure in the temple, measuring 41m wide by 20m deep by 17m high. The bronze statues of Sanzonzo or Triad (designated as Important Cultural Properties), the Honzon of this hall, count among great works, whose principal statue measures about 267cm high. However, these statues are mysterious; When they were produced? Where they came from? etc. Called 'Yakushi Sanzon' like the Honzon in Kon-do Hall in the past, the statues have been called 'Miroku Sanzon' (the Maitreya Triad) in the temple after the reconstruction of Dai-kodo Hall.

East Pagoda (designated as a National Treasure)

Among several structures remaining in the precincts of the temple, this is the only structure constructed during the Nara period (Tenpyo era). The height is 34.1meters in total (including Sorin [metal pinnacle on the top of pagoda]). This is the fourth highest pagoda after To-ji Temple five-storied pagoda, Kofuku-ji Temple five-storied pagoda, Daigo-ji Temple five-storied pagoda, all of which were built before the Edo period.

At a glance, the pagoda appears to be a six-story pagoda having the six roofs. However, it is structurally a three-story pagoda because the first, third, and fifth roofs from the base are Mokoshi (pent roof). This pagoda boasts an incomparable elaborate design for Buddhist pagoda architecture. Openwork carving of the statue of a Flying Apsara was applied to the bronze Suien (the Water Flame) decorating the Sorin on the top of the pagoda, passing on to present generations the outstanding craftsmanship of the Nara period. There is an inscription called 'Toto Satsumei' on the lowest part of the center Sorin pillar, which explains in classical Chinese the foundation of Yakushi-ji Temple and the purpose of producing Honzon. As for the date of the pagoda's construction, there are two theories; one theory suggests that the pagoda was transferred from Moto-Yakushiji Temple in Asuka after being dismantled and then reconstructed, and the other theory suggests that the pagoda was newly constructed at the Heijo-kyo. At present, as described in "Fuso ryakki," the latter theory--that the pagoda was newly constructed at Heijo-kyo in 730--has gained strong support. Initially, a series of earthen images were enshrined inside the first story of the East and West Pagodas, representing the Shaka Hasso (eight principal events in the lifetime of Buddha). However, only fragments and wood cores are separately kept now.
It is often called ' frozen music.'
The origin of this phrase is often attributed to the fact, 'Ernest FENOLLOSA visiting this temple during the Meiji period referred to the pagoda as frozen music.'

However, the phrase 'Architecture is frozen music' had been used in Germany before FENOLLOSA used the phrase 'frozen music.'
The phrase ' frozen music' (erstarrte Musik) was used in the dialogue between Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Peter Eckermann (on March 23, 1829). Some people believe that the first appearance of this phrase was in "Philosophy of the art" of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (used in 1802-03). Koichi MACHIDA, Ryu TERASAWA and others criticize that the theory, "Ernest FENOLLOSA referred to the pagoda as 'frozen music'" is false.

West Pagoda

The West and East Pagodas were constructed symmetrically. The old West Pagoda was damaged by war and burnt down in 1528. The present pagoda was reconstructed in 1981 in conformity with traditional style and construction technique. These west and east pagodas resemble each other in design, but there are also differences; for example, the outer walls sustaining the pent roofs are white in the East Pagoda, while they are decorated with Renji-mado (window with vertical or horizontal wooden laths or bamboo) in the West Pagoda. Originally decorated with Renji-mado, the walls in the East Pagoda were replaced with white walls during the restoration work. The West Pagoda appears to be somewhat higher than the East Pagoda. It is believed that the difference in height results from warping in the wood and subsidence of the foundation in the East Pagoda while 1300 years have passed. Namely, the reconstructed West Pagoda is so fresh that it has resisted deterioration, and therefore the West Pagoda appears to be a little higher than East Pagoda. According to Tsunekazu NISHIOKA, an engineer conserving culture properties and in charge of reconstructing the West Pagoda, the height of the West Pagoda and that of the East Pagoda will become equal 500 years later.

Toin-do Hall (designated as a National Treasure)

It is located in the east of the precinct, and outside the cloister. The predecessor of the Toin-do Hall was the Tozen-in Temple built under the instruction of Imperial Princess Kibi during the Yoro era (717-724) for Empress Genmei. The present Toin-do Hall was constructed in 1285 during the Kamakura period. The standing statue of Sho-Kannon (Aryavalokitesvaraand), the Honzon of this hall, is enshrined inside Zushi (a cupboard-like case with double doors within is an image of Buddha, a sutra, or some other revered object kept at a temple) in the hall.

Genjo Sanzo-in Temple

Constructed in 1991, the temple is located north of the main temple buildings, enshrining Xuanzang. The Great Tang of the Western Regions painting,' a wall painting 2.2 by 49 meters (the total size of thirteen pieces), is decorating the insie of the temple, produced by a Japanese-style painter, Ikuo HIRAYAMA taking thirty years to complete.

Yasugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine (designated as an Important Cultural Property)

It is situated on a lot across a thoroughfare from the South Gate. This shrine is the Chinju-sha shrine (Shinto shrine on Buddhist temple grounds dedicated to the tutelary deity of the area) of Yakushi-ji Temple. The present main building of this shrine was donated by Hideyori TOYOTOMI in 1596, in the Momoyama period.

National Treasures

Bronze statue of Yakushi Sanzonzo

These statues were produced during the Nara period. The principal statue in the group is Yakushi Nyorai, which is attended by Nikko Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Sunlight) and Gakko Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Moonlight). These statues have been famous from olden times as supreme masterpieces produced during the Nara period when Buddhist sculpture in Japan attained its original classical style while being influenced by the Six Dynasties of China and the Tang Dynasty China, which is proved by a dignified appearance of the principal statue, natural carriage of attendant statues, good proportion of each statue, and so on. Various motif such as a grape-patterned arabesque, exotic portraits and four gods (Seiryu [Blue Dragon], Byakko [White Tiger], Suzaku [red Chinese phoenix] and Genbu) having the roots in Greece, Persia, India, and China and others are carved on the pedestal of the principal statue, which can be regarded as the traces of the Silk Road. As mentioned in the section of 'History,' there are indecisive three theories over the issue concerning the production age of these statues: the first theory suggests that these statues had already been completed by 688, the second theory suggests that they were produced in 697 because there is a record in "Nihonshoki" that Kaigan-hoe (ceremony of "Kaigan", enshrining newly built Buddhist image and to put a spirit as opening eyes to Buddhism) was held at Yakushi-ji Temple in 697, and the third theory suggests that these statues were newly produced after the relocation to Heijo-kyo.

East Pagoda (mentioned above)

Toin-do Hall (mentioned above)

Standing bronze statue of Sho-Kannon

This is the Honzon of Toin-do Hall. The statue is about 189 centimeters high. Like Yakushi Sanzonzo enshrined in Kon-do Hall, this statue counts among the most important hard metal Buddha statues from the Nara period. The designated title 'Dozo Kannon Bosatsu Ryuzo' (standing bronze statue of Kannon Bosatsu) is officially used in the list of National Treasures.

The wooden seated statues of Sogyo Hachimanshin, the Empress Jingu, Nakatsuhime-no-mikoto

These statues were produced during the early Heian period. Each statue is a small-sized sculpture of over thirty centimeters in height, produced as a Shintai (an object of worship housed in a Shinto shrine and believed to contain the spirit of a deity) of Hachiman-gu Shrine, the Chinju-sha shrine of Yakushi-ji Shrine. In Japan, sculptures of deities were first produced from the influence of Buddha statues. These statues of three Japanese gods in Yakushi-ji Temple count among the oldest existing sculptures of deities. They are deposited in the Nara National Museum.

Mafuchakushoku Kichijoten-zo (portrait of Kichijoten)

This portrait was produced as the Honzon of Kichijokeka-e (reverence for devotional meetings) on the basis of the "Golden Light of the Most Victorious Kings Sutra," regarded as one of very few valuable paintings produced during the Nara period. A halo depicted behind the Kichijoten's head shows that the portrait is a Buddhist painting, but at a glance, it appears to be a Bijinga (Beautiful Woman Picture) from the Nara period. The delicate feel of clothes waving in the wind is elaborately depicted. This portrait is open to the public at Daihozoden (Treasure House) in the temple on fixed dates in spring and autumn, etc.

Kenpon Chakushoku Jiondaishi-zo (a portrait of the Jiondaishi statue colored on silk)

This is a portrait of the founder of the Hosso sect in China. This was produced in the eleventh century.

Bussoku-seki (stone)

It can be seen in the Dai-kodo Hall. Bussoku-seki is a stone with Buddha's footprints carved on it, used as an object for praying. There is a lengthy inscription on the side. BUNYA-no-Mahitochinu had the Buddha's footprints copied in stone as a memorial of his dead wife, which was brought to Japan by KIBUMI-no-Honjitsu who had copied the footprints during Tang Dynasty. The Bussoku-seki is believed to have been produced in 753.

Bussokuseki inscription

It is located in the Dai-kodo Hall. It was introduced along with Bussoku-seki, but it is uncertain as to whether the inscription and the stone was made as a set from the first. Twenty-one poems including a poem praising the Buddha's footprints were engraved by using Manyo-gana (early Japanese syllabary composed of Chinese characters used phonetically) on the 194cm tall stone monument.
Every poem engraved on the stone monument has one more verse than the common thirty-one syllable (5+7+5+7+7) Japanese poem, namely thirty-eight syllables of '5+7+5+7+7+7' called the 'Bussokusekka style.'

Important Cultural Properties

South Gate
Three shrine buildings of Hachiman-jinja Shrine
The shrine building of Wakamiya-sha Shrine
Six pieces of Itae Choshoku Shin-zo (portrait of the God statue painted on the board) produced by Gyogen in April 1295
Bronze statues of Yakushi Nyorai and both-side attendants (enshrined in Dai-kodo Hall)
*In the temple, 'Yakushi Sanzon,' these statues, have been renamed 'Miroku Sanzon' as of 2003.

The standing wooden statue of Eleven-faced Kannon (designated as Important Cultural Properties in 1897, 165.5cm in height) (deposited in the Nara National Museum)
The standing wooden statue of the Eleven-faced Kannon (designated as an Important Cultural Property in 1902, 191.5cm in height) (deposited in the Nara National Museum)
The standing wooden statue of the Eleven-faced Kannon (designated as an Important Cultural Property in 1921, 180.3cm in height) (deposited in the Tokyo National Museum)
The standing wooden statue of Jizo Bosatsu (Jizo Bodhisattva, deposited in the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art)
The standing wooden statue of Jizo Bosatsu created by Zenen (at the Tokyo National Museum)
The seated wooden statues of the image attributed to Imperial Prince Otsu (at the Nara National Museum)
Three statues among the standing wooden statues of Shitenno (Four guardian kings) deposited in the Tokyo National Museum)
The seated wooden statue of Monju Bosatsu (Manjusri)
The seated wooden statue of Miroku Bosatsu (Maitreya Bodhisattva, deposited in the Nara National Museum)
The standing wooden statue of Kichijoten (deposited in the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art)
The remains of a series of earthen images representing Shaka Hasso
160 pieces of wood cores from earthen images in the East Pagoda
fifty-two fragments of earthen images in the West Pagoda
Addition: a number of fragments of earthen images, twenty-five pieces of the remains of wooden statues, one earthen pagoda, the remains of two Wado-kaichin silver coins, one jade bead
The remains of a wooden halo
A pair of wooden Koma-inu (guardian dogs) (deposited in the Tokyo National Museum)
A bronze bell (temple bell)
Thirty-three volumes of the Dai-hannya-kyo Sutra
The fiftieth volume of the Zoitsu Agon-kyo Sutra
The sixteenth volume of the Nirvana Sutra
The Dun Huang Sutra produced during the Northern Wei period

Three pieces of masu (a measure) of Yakushi-ji Temple

Historic site

The remains of Moto-Yakushiji Temple in Kashihara City, designated as a Special Historic Site, while the old precincts of Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara City are designated as a historic site.

Annual events
December 31-January 1: Etsunen Shakyo-e (at Shakyo-dojo Hall [hall for copying the Sutra])
General followers copy the Sutra all night at Shakyo-dojo in the Etsunen Shakyo-e.

January 1-15: Shusho-e Kichijo-keka Hoyo (at Kon-do Hall)
Revering the portrait of Kichijoten as Honzon, the temple provides visitors with Hoyo (memorial service) so that they can pray for Kissho Shofuku (for good luck) and universal peace, and ask forgiveness for their sins, etc. throughout the year. This event has continued for more than 1,000 years since 771.

January 5: Hatsu Genjo Sanzo-e and Heiwa Kigan Festival (at the Genjo Sanzo-in Temple)
As the anniversary of Xuanzang's death falls on February 5, Hatsu Genjo Sanzo-e is held on January 5 regarding the day as the first monthly anniversary of the death of the year. At the same time, the Heiwa Kigan Festival is held to pray for peace throughout the year.

January 8: Hatsu Yakushi Ennichi and Dai-hannyakyo Sutra Tendoku Hoyo (at Kon-do Hall)
Fixing the monthly festival day of Yakushi-ji Temple on the eighth day every month, Yakushi-ji Temple holds Dai-hannyakyo Sutra Tendoku Hoyo (a memorial service reading part of the "Dai-hannyakyo Sutra" to followers) on January 8 as the day of Hatsu Yakushi Ennichi (the first monthly festival of the year).

January 15: Ceremony related to Kichijoten for enjoying incense and Japanese tea (at Shakyo-dojo Hall, etc.)
On the expiration day of Shusho-e Kichijo-keka Hoyo, followers pray to Kichijoten for Kissho Fukutoku throughout the year while holding a tea ceremony and burning incense.

February 3: Setsubun-e Hoshi-matsuri Festival (a service to pray for a good luck, held on the day before the Vernal Equinox Day)
March 28: Ominugui (a ceremony for dusting Buddha statues)
March 30-April 5: Shuni-e (or Hanae-shiki)
This is a Keka Hoyo (the Buddhist memorial service for confessing one's sins) that has lasted since the Nara period, in which people beg Yakushi Nyorai's forgiveness. It is also an event in spring to pray for national prosperity and a huge harvest, etc. The Shuni-e in Yakushi-ji Temple is also called 'Hanae-shiki' (literally, flower ceremony), because ten kinds of artificial flowers are offered to the Honzon, which has become a special feature of Nara in spring. Oni-oi-shiki' (a ceremony to exorcise evil) held on the night of April 5, the final day, puts an end to the Buddhist memorial service. Refer to the section on "Shuni-e."

May 4: Saisho-e
This event was revived in 2003 for the first time in about 500 years. This is a Buddhist memorial service to pray for national prosperity and a huge harvest, etc. and also the place where state examination is held to become an official monk. Priests took an oral examination held in front of the Buddha.

May 5: Genjosanzo-e Taisai Festival
This is a Buddhist memorial service to praise Xuanzang, the founder of the Hosso sect. Gigaku (an ancient pantomime in which performers wear masks) and Gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music) are performed, and after the sunset, Manto Kuyo-e (an event of offering many votive lights to Buddha) is held.

August 1-6: Terakoya school in the summer vacation (Terakoya was originally operated as an elementary school during the Edo period)
This event provides elementary and junior high school students with an opportunity to study etiquette through activities that they can hardly experience in real life, such as reciting sutras, copying sutras, listening to a sermon made by priests.

August 8-10: Lecture at dawn
After devotional exercises starting at 5 AM, priests give a sermon.

August 13-15: Urabon-e Festival (a festival of the Dead or Buddhist All Souls' Day)
August 23: Jizo-bon (an event to commemorate Jizo as the protector of children)
September 25: Kangetsu-kai (moon-watching party)
October 8: The anniversary of the Emperor Tenmu's death and Manto-e Festival (an event of offering many votive lights)
Buddhist memorial service held for thinking about the goodness of the deceased Emperor Tenmu.

December 29: Ominugui
In the morning, priests pound steamed rice into cakes for offerings for the New Year. Then, priests purify the Buddhist statues by wiping them with hot water used in cooking rice cake. Following the Ominugui of the statues of Yakushi Nyorai, Nikko Bosatsu and Gakko Bosatsu in Kon-do Hall, the statues in Dai-kodo Hall, Toin-do Hall and others receive the ritual of Ominugui one after another.

December 31: An event of bell ringing out the old year starts around 11:45 PM.

Branch temples

A branch temple in Tokyo (Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo)

A branch temple in the East Kanto region, Choon-ji Temple at Mt. Suiun (Itako City, Ibaraki Prefecture)


Near the Nishinokyo Station of Kintetsu Corporation Kintetsu Kashihara Line

[Original Japanese]