The Kohfukuji Temple Complex

The History of Kohfukuji

In the eighth year of the reign of Emperor Tenji (669 CE), Kagami no Okimi, consort of the statesman Nakatomi (Fujiwara) no Kamatari, founded a Buddhist chapel on the family estate in Yamashina Suehara (in modern-day Kyoto Prefecture) to pray for Kamatari's recovery from illness. In this temple, which came to be known as Yamashinadera, Kagami no Okimi enshrined a Shaka triad (Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, along with two attendant Bodhisattvas) that had originally been commissioned by Kamatari. In the wake of the relocation of the capital as a result of the Jinshin Rebellion of 672, the temple was disassembled and moved to Umayasaka in Nara prefecture, where it was re-erected and named Umayasakadera.
Shortly after the establishment of the Heijo Capital in 710, Yamashinadera relocated to its present location in what is now the city of Nara. The temple, now called Kohfukuji ("The Temple that Generates Blessings"), grew rapidly in size under the patronage of successive emperors and empresses, as well as continued support from members of the powerful Fujiwara family. Over time, it developed a particularly close connection with the "Northern House" of the Fujiwara clan, under whose sponsorship it accumulated sufficient wealth and power to rank as one of the "Four Great Temples" of the Nara Period (710-784) and one of the "Seven Great Temples" of the Heian Period (794-1180).
In the Heian Period, Kohfukuji assumed virtually complete control over the Fujiwara tutelary shrine of Kasuga, and gradually rose to become the dominant political power in Yamato Province. In the Kamakura (1185-1333) and Muromachi (1336-1573) Periods, the Shogunate appointed Kohfukuji the overseer of the province of Yamato, but both the financial resources and the political influence of the temple eroded gradually over the course of the 15th and 16th centuries. Following a comprehensive land survey in 1595, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536/1537-1598) stripped the temple of the last vestiges of its secular power by confiscating its remaining estates, and replacing them with an annual endowment of over 21,000 koku of rice. Although this amount was sufficient to pay for the maintenance of existing temple buildings, a catastrophic fire in 1717 that destroyed most of the central temple complex left Kohfukuji financially destitute and reliant on the local populace for its survival.
Already severely weakened by centuries of financial neglect, the Kohfukuji-Kasuga complex became one of the primary targets of the anti-Buddhist policies of the early years of the Meiji Period (1868-1912). As the result of a government ordinance ordering the separation of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, the centuries-old tie between Kasuga and Kohfukuji was forcibly severed, leading to the abandonment of the temple by the last remaining Fujiwara scholar-monks. In the wake of the temple's abandonment, the majority of Kohfukuji's property was confiscated by the government, resulting in the destruction of innumerable buildings, and the loss of many valuable cultural artefacts. Eventually, the temple was given permission to reestablish itself as a religious institution, and continues to this day as a head temple of the Hosso Sect.

The Religion of Kohfukuji

Kohfukuji is one of the two head temples of the Hosso ("Characteristics of Phenomena") Sect of Buddhism. Also known as the Yuishiki ("Representation-only") School, the Hosso Sect represents one branch of a larger Indian Buddhist philosophical tradition known as the Yogacara ("Practitioners of Yoga") School. The teachings of this sect were brought to China from India by the Tang Dynasty monk Genjo (Ch. Xuanzang, 602-664), whose journey across central Asia along the silk road was later fictionalized in the famous Chinese novel The Journey to the West (Ch. Xiyouji). Genjo transmitted the doctrines he had mastered in India, summarized in a text known as the Treatise Establishing the Doctrine of Representation-Only (J. Joyuishikiron), to his disciple Jion Daishi (Ch. Cien Dashi, 632-682), who is considered the founder of the Hosso (Ch. Faxiang) School in China. The teachings of Jion and his successors were introduced to Kohfukuji by the monk Genbo (d. 746), and have continued to be transmitted and practiced at the temple to the present day.

Annual Rituals of Kohfukuji Temple

January 2: New Year's Rite at Kasuga Shrine (Kasuga Shrine Inner Sanctuary and Wakamiya Shrine)
Early February, on Setsubun: Demon-Expelling Rite (Eastern Golden Hall)
February 15: Nirvana Rite Commemorating the Death of the Buddha (Kohfukuji Temple Office)
March 5: Memorial Rite for Genjo (Kohfukuji Temple Office)
April 8: Rite Celebrating the Buddha's Birth (Southern Round Hall)
April 17: Life-releasing Rite (Hitokoto Kannon Hall)
April 25: Monju (Skt. Manjusri) Rite (Eastern Golden Hall)
Third Friday and Saturday in May: Takigi Noh Performance (Foundation of the Southern Great Gate)
July 7: Benzaiten Rite (Three-Storied Pagoda)
October 17: Revolving Reading of the Great Perfection of Wisdom Scripture (Southern Round Hall)
November 13: Memorial Rite for Jion Daishi (Temporary Lecture Hall)

The Association of Friends of Kohfukuji

The Association of Friends of Kohfukuji is open to anyone who wishes to develop a closer relationship with the temple and strengthen his or her ties with the Buddhist tradition. Members receive complimentary passes to exhibitions, four issues of the temple newsletter a year, and invitations to annual ceremonies and events at the temple. If you are interested in joining, please contact the temple for further information. Annual dues are \ 3000.

Kohfukuji Lecture Series on Buddhist Culture

Specialists in various subjects related to Buddhism and Buddhist Art are invited to the temple on a regular basis to give public lectures in their areas of expertise. The lectures are held from 1 pm to 3:30 pm on the second Saturday of every month in the Kohfukuji Meeting Hall, and are free of charge. (Please note that the lectures are in Japanese only.)

The Kohfukuji National Treasure Hall

The Kohfukuji National Treasure Hall was erected in 1959 to house images, paintings, ritual artefacts, and historical documents that were originally enshrined in temple buildings that no longer exist. By displaying these temple treasures, many of which have been designated Japanese National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties, in a setting that combines the best features of a Buddhist hall and a modern museum, the temple seeks to foster a deeper understanding of the Buddhist tradition and a heightened appreciation of Buddhist material culture among members of the general public. The permanent exhibition includes such National Treasures as the dry-lacquer sculptures of the Eight Kinds of Mythological Beings (including the world-famous Ashura), and the Ten Great Disciples, the Hakuho-period head of Yakushi Nyorai (Skt. Bhaisajyaguru), and the colossal image of Senju Kannon (the Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara).

Please note that the Kohfukuji Temple National Treasure Hall will be closing for one year beginning on January 1st, 2017, for renovations aimed at improving the building's earthquake resistance. It will reopen to the public on January 1st, 2018.
We apologize for any inconvenience this closure causes our visitors, but ask for your understanding as we strive to protect Kohfukuji's priceless artefacts for future generations.
A number of Kohfukuji's most important national treasures, including the dry-lacquer images of the Eight Kinds of Mythological Beings and the Ten Great Disciples, the Kongo Rikishi (Vajra Warriors), and the Gong known as "Kagenkei," will be exhibited in the Temporary Lecture Hall from March 15th through June 18th, and from September 15 through November 19th, 2017.

Entrance Fees
Adults and University Students \ 600 (\ 500)
Junior High and High School Students \ 500 (\ 400)
Primary School Students \ 200 (\ 150)
*Prices in ( ) are for groups of 30 or more.
Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Parking is available.
Combination Ticket
(Kohfukuji National Treasure Hall & Eastern Golden Hall)
Adults and University Students \ 800
Junior High and High School Students \ 600
Primary School Students \ 250
(Please note that there are no group discounts for Combination Tickets.)

The Central Golden Hall (Scheduled for Completion in October 2018)

The Central Golden Hall is the most important building in the Kohfukuji temple complex. Initially constructed between 710 and 714 at the behest of the original patron of Kohfukuji, Fujiwara no Fuhito, it fell victim to fire a total of seven times over the course of its 1,300-year history. The most recent of these fires occurred in 1717, following which more than a century passed before a scaled-down, temporary structure could finally be erected in 1819. This temporary hall began to show such extensive damage due to leaking roof tiles and warping timbers that it had to be demolished completely in the year 2000. In preparation, the various icons enshrined in the building were moved to a Kari-kondo ("Temporary Golden Hall") erected immediately to the north of the Central Golden Hall on what was once the site of the Lecture Hall. These images include the principal icon, a seated image of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni, as well as images of the Bodhisattvas Yakuo (Bhaisajyaraja) and Yakujo (Bhaisajyasamudgata), the deities Kisshoten (Laksmi,) and Daikokuten (Mahakala), and the Four Heavenly Guardian Kings, all of which -with the exception of the principal icon-, are designated Japanese Important Cultural Properties.
Following the completion of the Central Golden Hall, these images will be returned to this building, and the Temporary Golden Hall will be re-designated the Temporary Lecture Hall. It will continue to serve in this capacity until the Lecture Hall (which was also lost to fire in 1717) can be rebuilt.
The Central Golden Hall is scheduled to open to the general public following its dedication in October 2018.

The Eastern Golden Hall (National Treasure)

Historically, Kohfukuji Temple featured three "Golden Halls" that were identified according to their location in the temple complex. As its name implies, the Eastern Golden Hall is located to the east of the Central Golden Hall, and originally faced the Western Golden Hall, which was located directly across from it in the temple compound.
The original Eastern Golden Hall was built at the behest of Emperor Shomu to pray for the convalescence of his aunt, the retired Female Emperor Gensho. Prior to its completion in 726, a triad composed of Yakushi Nyorai (Skt. Bhaisajyaguru, literally the Buddha "the Master of Medicine,") and two attendant bodhisattvas was installed on the main altar, and the floor of the hall was lined with green tiles to evoke Yakushi's pure land, the Pure Beryl Radiance Realm.
Over the centuries, the Eastern Golden Hall fell victim to fire a total of five times, most recently in 1411. The current building, a Japanese National Treasure, was consecrated in 1415. Although this technically makes it a Muromachi-period structure, archaic architectural features, such as the covered porch stretching the full width of the front face of the building, the three-stepped bracketing supporting the roof beams, and the classic hipped (as opposed to pitched) roof, were consciously employed to evoke the aura of the original Nara-period building.
Enshrined in the current Eastern Golden Hall are a seated copper-alloy image of Yakushi Nyorai (the principal icon, and an Important Cultural Property), standing copper-alloy images of the Bodhisattvas Nikko and Gakko (Suryaprabha and Candraprabha, both Important Cultural Properties), seated wooden images of Monju Bosatsu and Yuima Koji (Manjusri Bodhisattva and the Layman Vimalakirti, both National Treasures), and standing wooden images of the Four Heavenly Kings and the Twelve Divine Generals (National Treasures).
Entrance Fees
Adults and University Students \ 300 (\ 250)
Junior High and High School Students \ 200 (\ 150)
Primary School Students \ 100 (\ 90)
*Prices in ( ) are for groups of 30 or more.
Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Parking is available.
Combination Ticket
(Eastern Golden Hall & Kohfukuji National Treasure Hall)
Adults and University Students \ 800
Junior High and High School Students \ 600
Primary School Students \ 250
(Please note that there are no group discounts for Combination Tickets.)

The Five-Storied Pagoda (National Treasure)

The five-storied pagoda was originally erected in 730 by Empress Komyo, the daughter of Kohfukuji's founding patron, Fujiwara no Fuhito. Over its long history, the building burned down a total of five times, with the current reconstruction dating to around the year 1426. At a total height of 50.1 meters, it is the second tallest wooden pagoda in Japan today. Famous for its deep eaves, the structure successfully blends references to Nara-period architecture with the dynamic architectural style of the medieval period.
The original Nara-period building is thought to have risen to a height of around 45 meters, making it the tallest man-made structure in Japan at the time. Miniature pagodas made of rock crystal, as well as various sacred texts, are recorded to have been enshrined in each story. Initially, the first story featured a set of four tableaux depicting the pure lands of Amida (Skt. Amitabha), Miroku (Maitreya), Yakushi, and Shaka (Sakyamuni). At some point in the long history of the pagoda, these tableaux were replaced with four Buddha triads featuring the following Buddhas and attendant Bodhisattvas:
   West: Seishi (Mahasthamaprapta)-Amida-Kannon (Avalokitesvara)
   North: Daimyoso-Miroku-Hoonrin
   East: Gakko-Yakushi-Nikko
   South: Fugen (Samantabhadra)-Shaka-Monju
This arrangement, known as the "four Buddhas of the four directions," symbolizes a distinctly Mahayana Buddhist conception of time and space. The North-South axis represents the progression of time, with the Buddha of the past, Shaka, to the south, and the Buddha of the future, Miroku, in the North. The East-West axis, meanwhile, represents space, with Amida, Buddha of the Western Realm of Ultimate Bliss to the West, and Yakushi, lord of the Eastern Pure Beryl Radiance Realm to the East. The intersection of these two axes stands for the present time in this earthly realm. This location is occupied by the central pillar, which rests on a stone foundation in which a vessel holding Sakyamuni's relics is interred. Both this pillar, and the building it supports, proclaim the continued existence of the Buddha's legacy -his teaching- in the world.

The Northern Round Hall (National Treasure)

Following the death of the founding patron of Kohfukuji Temple, Fujiwara no Fuhito, in the year 720, Retired Female Emperor Genmei and Female Emperor Gensho jointly commissioned Prince Nagaya to construct a memorial chapel that would eventually become known as the Northern Round Hall. The original hall was consecrated on the 3rd day of the 8th month of the year 721 as part of the rites commemorating the first anniversary of Fuhito's death. Its octagonal structure was the result of recreating the round structure of a Buddhist stupa using wooden architecture, and denoted its status as a mausoleum or memorial hall. After the original building was lost to fire in 1049, it was quickly rebuilt, only to be destroyed once again during the "Burning of the Southern Capital" by the troops under Taira no Shigehira in 1181. Having been rebuilt once more, and consecrated in 1210, the hall survived major fires in 1327 and 1717 to become one of the two oldest structures in the Kohfukuji temple complex today (the other being the Three-storied Pagoda).
In the wake of the hall's destruction in 1181, the task of carving the various images to be housed in the reconstructed building was entrusted to the workshop of the renowned Kamakura Period sculptor Unkei. Three sculptures (all of which have been designated National Treasures) dating from this time remain in the hall today: a seated image of Miroku Nyorai (Maitreya Tathagata), and standing images of Mujaku (Asanga) and Seshin (Vasubandhu).
According to Buddhist tradition, Maitreya is the immediate successor of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni, and will be born in this world in 5,670,000,000 years to become its next Buddha. Although usually depicted as a bodhisattva (a gorgeously dressed "Buddha to be"), the principle icon of the Northern Round Hall depicts Maitreya as a Tathagata, or fully awakened Buddha, foreshadowing his future appearance in this world. The principal icon is flanked by gilded wooden images of the bodhisattvas Hoonrin and Daimyoso that date to the Muromachi Period.
Asanga and Vasubandhu are a pair of famous scholar-monks who lived in North-western India during the fourth and fifth centuries, and are traditionally considered to have been brothers. They are venerated by the Hosso School (of which Kohfukuji is the head temple) as two of its founding patriarchs.
The central group of icons are surrounded by dry-lacquer images of the Four Heavenly Kings that were completed in 791, and housed at Daianji Temple before being transferred to Kohfukuji in the medieval period. Known for their vigorous poses and exaggerated facial expressions, these images are among the finest extant examples of Japanese dry-lacquer sculpture, and have been designated Japanese National Treasures.
This building is open to the public during special viewing periods in the spring and fall. (The dates of these periods vary from year to year. Please inquire further for details.)

The Southern Round Hall (Important Cultural Property)

Most famous as the ninth station on the pilgrimage route of the "Thirty-three Kannon Temples of Western Japan," the Southern Round Hall was initially constructed in 813 by Fujiwara no Fuyutsugu in memory of his father, Fujiwara no Uchimaro, who had passed away the previous year. The rite consecrating the foundation of the hall was supervised by one of the most famous monks in Japanese history, Kukai (also known by his posthumous title Kobo Daishi), the founder of the Japanese Shingon School.
Since its founding, Kohfukuji has served as the family temple of the most powerful aristocratic clan in Japanese history, the Fujiwara. Over time, one of the many branches of this large family, the Hokke, or "Northern House," began to accrue such political and economic preeminence that it was simply referred to as the Sekkanke, or "House of Regents." Since the Sekkanke venerated Uchimaro and Fuyutsugu as ancestral founders of their lineage, the Southern Round Hall became the de facto tutelary temple for this powerful family, leading it to attain a special status distinct from the rest of the Kohfukuji temple complex. The fact that the principal icon of the hall was depicted wearing a deer skin draped over its shoulder, moreover, caused it to become identified with the deity of the tutelary shrine of the Fujiwara, Kasuga, which is famous for its sacred deer to this day.
Like all buildings in the Kohfukuji temple complex, the Southern Round Hall was destroyed by fire multiple times following its initial construction. The present hall is the third reconstruction, and was built between 1741 and 1789. Although the building therefore dates to the Edo Period, its architectural style harkens back to that of earlier periods, suggesting that it was modeled on the Northern Round Hall (which was completed in 1210).
Enshrined in the hall are the principal icon, a seated image of Fukukensaku Kannon, as well as standing images of the Four Heavenly Kings. Fukukensaku Kannon (Skt. Amoghapasa Avalokitesvara, "Avalokitesvara with the Infallible Snare") is one of the so-called "transformation forms" assumed or manifested by the Bodhisattva Kannon in order to assist sentient beings. The name of this deity derives from the snare (i.e. a weighted rope or lasso) that he holds in his hand, and with which he is variously said to rescue sentient beings, protect them from harm, and fulfill their wishes and desires.
The principal icon of the Southern Round Hall was constructed by the Buddhist sculptor Kokei and his disciples over a 15-month period, and completed in 1189. Its massive body and dignified facial expression indicate that the sculptors consciously imitated the sculptural styles of the Tenpyo (i.e. Nara) and early Heian Periods.
Originally, the Southern Round Hall also housed a set of six sculptures of Japanese patriarchs of the Hosso School that were constructed during the same time period. These images are currently on display in the Kohfukuji National Treasure Hall.
The Southern Round Hall is open to the public one day a year, on October 17th.

The Hitokoto Kannon Hall

This building, relocated to its current site from one of Kohfukuji's former sub-temples during the Meiji Era, houses a secret image of Hitokoto Kannon, the "Kannon who responds to even a single word." This name derives from the belief that if a devotee sincerely utters even a single word of prayer, Kannon (literally: "He who perceives the sounds of the world") is sure to respond to his or her request for assistance.

The Fudo Hall

Newly constructed during the Meiji Era, this building enshrines an image of Fudo Myo'o (Acala Vidyaraja, the "Immovable King of Radiant Wisdom"), a wrathful form manifested by the cosmic Buddha Dainichi (Skt. Mahavairocana) to destroy evil passions and lead sentient beings to the proper spiritual path. A fire offering ceremony, or goma kuyo, is performed in this hall on the 1st, 15th, and 28th day of each month.

The Three-Storied Pagoda (National Treasure)

The three-storied pagoda was originally built in 1143 at the behest of Fujiwara no Kiyoko (better known as Kokamon'in), the consort of Emperor Sutoku. The present building was erected shortly after the destruction of the entire temple complex in 1181, making it one of the oldest two structures at Kohfukuji today (the other being the Northern Round Hall).
Rising to a total height of 19 meters, it is famous for its airy and graceful appearance, which makes it an outstanding example of Heian-period Buddhist architecture.
The first story contains a set of four murals painted on wooden panels that each depict 1000 images of one of four Buddhas: Yakushi (facing east), Shaka (facing south), Amida (facing west), and Miroku (facing north). The pillars and lintels of the inner sanctuary, as well as the ceiling, inner walls, and inside faces of the four doors were richly decorated with floral arabesque patterns and paintings of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, pavilions, and what appear to be depictions of patrons.
In addition, an image of the goddess Benzaiten (Skt. Sarasvati) is enshrined on the eastern face of the central pillar surrounded by images of fifteen attendants. On the crown of this eight-armed deity rests a coiled snake with the face of an old man that is surmounted by a Shinto-style torii gate. This indicates that the image is a conflation of the Indian Buddhist goddess Benzaiten with the native Japanese deity Ugajin.

The Great Bath House (Important Cultural Property)

The existence of this bath house is first mentioned in records dating from the Heian Period. Like the rest of the temple complex, it burned down on several occasions. The current building is thought to have been completed at the same time as the five-storied pagoda, that is to say around the year 1426. Its asymmetrical structure, which features a hipped roof on the western face of the building and a simple pitched roof on the east, has led scholars to hypothesize that it was originally attached to another building located to the east of the present structure. Inside the bath house are two giant iron cauldrons for heating water that rest on an unfinished earthen floor.

The Bodai'in Omido Hall

According to legend, the Omido Hall was built during the Nara Period as a memorial hall for the monk Genbo, who passed away in 746 after establishing the Hosso teachings at Kohfukuji. The building also appears in various Heian-period tales describing the origins of a miraculous image known as Chigo Kannon ("Kannon as a Young Boy") that is still enshrined in the hall today. Recent archeological evidence suggests that a building the size of the current hall was first erected on this site sometime in the Kamakura Period. The present structure dates to around the year 1580, and enshrines a central seated image of Amida Nyorai (an Important Cultural Property), along with standing images of Yakushi Nyorai, Fukukensaku Kannon, and the aforementioned Chigo Kannon.


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