Yakushi-ji Temple is located in Nishinokyo in Nara City, Nara Prefecture, and one of two head temples of the Hossou religious sect. The principal image of Buddha is Yakushinyorai. Yakushi-ji Temple is the first temple of the Yakushi Pilgrimage of 49 Temples in Western Japan. The temple is also one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara. It was built by the Emperor Tenmu in 680.
Tou-tou or the East Pagoda, towering inside the temple complex, is 33.6m in height. The pagoda is believed to have been renovated in 730 to make it a good counterpart to the West Pagoda. This was done when the capital was relocated to Heijyou-kyo and the whole temple was moved to the capital. The East Pagoda has been designated as a National Treasure. The most notable feature of the East Pagoda is that, although it has three stories, its three additional lean-to roofs called mokoshi, make it look as if it has six stories. On the upper part of the tower, there is an openwork ornament called Suien (the Water Flame). There 24 heavenly beings were carved, some of which are playing flutes or planting flower seeds and some offering prayers. Suien is a charm to protect the pagoda from fire.
The East Pagoda of Yakushi-ji Temple is the only structure that has survived intact for a very long period of time, since the original foundation of the temple.
In the south of the center of Nara City, Nara is the area developed around the Gankou-ji Temple, an area vibrant with old houses and temples. This area is called Nara-machi and it is the oldest town in Nara. Nara-machi is designated and preserved as an Area of Traditional Buildings.
The town escaped the fires of the Second World War and it carefully preserves its landscape and old, charming buildings, which were built during the end of the Edo and Meiji periods.
Nara-machi was initially developed as a suburb with some significant temples in the northeast area of Heijyou-kyou. Heijyou-kyou had been the capital city of Japan from 710 to 794. When the capital was transferred to Nagaoka-kyou, Heijyou-kyou declined, but the temples remained and the people who worked for those temples continued to live in the area around Toudai-ji Temple and Koufuku-ji Temple. The residents eventually developed it into a merchant district called a “gou”.
Within Nara-machi, is Nara-machi Shiryoukan, a museum of Nara-Machi’s history, which exhibits such items as the daily utensils used in the old times. Another notable building is Nara-machi Koushi-no-ie, a lattice-worked building that has a traditional building layout with a small frontage and deep interior. Walking through the buildings and the streets, visitors can enjoy the appearance of the city as it was originally.
On top of Mount Torigata in Asuka-mura, Nara, sits Asukaniimasu Shrine.
Asukaniimasu Shrine traces its origins to the mythological age when Ookuninushi-no-kami dedicated the spirit of Kanayaruno-mikoto, a guardian god of the Imperial Family, to Ikazuchinoka mountain. This is considered to be one of the holy mountains to which a god might descend. In 829, as directed by an oracle, the spirit of Kanayaruno-mikoto was transferred to Mount Torigata.
The shrine was burned down in 1725 and its structure was restored to its current state in 1781 by Uemura Ietoshi, the head of the Takatoshi Clan.
On the first Sunday of every February, an event called The Onda Festival takes place at the shrine to pray for a rich harvest and family prosperity. The festival is a religious ritual that represents life and it is one of the “Three Unusual Festivals” in Western Japan.
At the beginning of the performance, two men wearing masks of Tengu, the mythological goblin, and Okina, an old man, both holding a bamboo stick called “sasara”, begin chasing the audience around- adults and children alike, and whacking them on the behind. Once the men come back to the stage in front of the shrine, they perform the ritual of the rice harvest including prowling the rice paddy and planting rice. This is followed by the wedding of Tengu and Otafuku, representing a woman.
The Katsuragi-mitoshi Shrine is located in Gose City, Nara, and it honors Mount Mitoshi, a beautiful mountain located right behind it. Its deity is known to govern harvests and guard rice grown in the alluvial fan at the foot of Mount Kongou.
The deity Mitoshi was said to have been first named at the Toshigoi Festival, which is held in the Imperial Court in February, to pray for rich harvests.
Katsuragi-mitoshi Shrine was one of the shrines where the Kamo family held religious rituals for generations. There are three such shrines in Gose: Takakamo Shrine, also known as Kamigamosha (Upper Kamo Shrine), Kamotsubajin Shrine, also known as Shimogamosha (Downtown Kamo Shrine) and Katsuragi-mitoshi Shrine, also called Nakagamosha (Middle Kamo Shrine), or Nakagamo-san - affectionately.
The current main building is painted vermillion and it was transferred from the Kasuga Taish Shrine.
During the first three days of the New Year, to invoke good health, visitors to the shrine receive mochi rice cakes called “otoshidama” which have been blessed by the deity Mitoshi.
The current New Year’s customs of presenting mochi rice cakes to a household shrine and giving “otoshidama” (now, with small amount of cash inside) to children are said to be based on rituals from the Katsuragi-mitoshi Shrine.
Todai-ji Temple Nigatsu-do is located inside the vast Todai-ji Temple complex in Nara City, Nara Prefecture, just north of Hokke-do. Since it is highly significant historically,
it was designated as a national treasure in 2005.
Formally named Kannon-do, it became known as Nigatsu-do (hall of the second month) because it holds the Shuuni-e religious ceremony every February of the lunar calendar.
The temple was built in 752 and the first Shuuni-e was celebrated the same year, an annual tradition that has continued until now without interruption.
In 1667, Nigatsu-do was destroyed by a fire caused by Otaimatsu, a fire-carrying ritual that is part of the Shuuni-e ceremony. Two years later, it was restored to what it is today.
The principal images of Budda are two statues: Oogannon and Kogannon, both of which are Juuichimen Kannon, or eleven-headed gods. These Buddha statues are not shown to the public.
Nigatsu-do is an impressive and serene presence that enchants visitors with its more than 1200 years history.
The Todai-ji Temple Omizutori or Water Drawing Ceremony is one of the rituals that takes place during Shuuni-e religious services at Nigatsu-do, located inside the Todai-ji Temple complex. Because it is regarded as the most significant, the Omizutori ceremony has become almost synonymous with the Shuuni-e services. These are held for two weeks, beginning with the first day of March.
Shuuni-e is formally called “Juuichimen-keka-hou” (which, translated literally, means eleven headed repentance). It is a memorial service in which priests at the Todai-ji temple forgive people’s sins and pray to Juichimen Kannon, the eleven-headed goddess and principal image of Budda at Nigatsu-do for the nation’s peace and prosperity.
Shuuni-e is said to have been started by a Priest named Jichu in Februrary of 752. This is even prior to Daibutsu Kaigen, another well known ceremony at the Todaiji-Temple that was first held in April of the same year. Since then, it has been continued for more than 1,200 years without any interruption.
In the Omizutori ceremony, priests scoop up sacred water from the Wakasai Well at midnight on March 12th and present it to the Kannon. The other famous ceremony is Otaimatsu in which priests carry burning torches and run through the balcony of Nigatsu-do.
Omizutoi is also a ceremony to bring Spring to the people of Nara. By the time the ceremony is finished, the cherry trees have begun to blossom and Spring has arrived.
The Kofuku-ji Temple, located in Nobori Ooji-cho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture, is a head temple of the Hosso-shu Buddhism sect and it was a private temple of the Fujiwara Clan. The principal image of the Buddha is Shakanyorai. The temple is 9th in sequence of the 33-temple Kannon pilgrimage and 4th of the 49-temple Yakushi Pilgrimage in Western Japan.
Koufuku-ji Temple was originally built in 669 by the wife of Fujiwara Kamatari under the name of Yamanashi-dera in Yamashina-ku, Kyoto City. It was transferred by Fujiwarano Fuhito to its present location and renamed Koufuku-ji.
Ooyu-ya is a medieval style bathhouse standing in the east of the Gojyuuno-to, or Five-story Pagoda. It is not known in which year the bathhouse was built, however, the current building was reportedly restored in 1426. It is now designated as a national important cultural property.
The bathhouse is 7 meters wide north to south and 7 meters wide east to west with a Hongawara tile roof. The west side of the bathhouse has the Irimoya roof style and the east side has the Kirimoya roof style. Inside the bathhouse are two gigantic iron pots that are used to make steam for a steam bath.
After the Middle Ages, the bathhouse was also used as a meeting place for public uprisings.
The bathhouse is tremendously valuable as an example of bathhouse architecture from the Middle Ages.
Sairinji Temple is a Shingon sect temple located in Furuichi, Habikino City, Osaka Pref. The principal image is the standing statue of Yakushi Nyorai. According to the temple record, it originates in Kogenji Temple established by the Kawachi no Fumi clan, the descendents of a Confucian scholar Wang In of Baekje.
The excavated tiles and other items indicate that the temple was established at some time during the Asuka period (the late 6th C. to the early 8th C.). The foundation stone of a pagoda placed in the garden of the temple is nearly 2 m tall and over 27 tons in weight. It is the largest foundation stone of a pagoda identified with the Asuka period. The formal seven buildings had been completed by 679 and it is confirmed that those buildings had existed until 743. Most of the buildings and the pagoda were destroyed by the battles in the Warring States period (1493-1573) and Haibutsu Kishaku (the anti-Buddhism movement) in the Meiji period (1868-1912).
As one of the Kawachi Asuka Shichifukujin (Seven Gods of Good Fortune) temples, Sairinji Temple worships the deity Ebisu, who wears the Kazaori Eboshi (a tall hat) and the Kariginu (hunting garment) with holding a fishing rod and a red sea bream. Sairinji is a temple with a long history since the ancient times.