Visited: Sept, 2012
Site Type: Cultural
Background and Opinion:
Horyuji was inscribed as Japan’s first UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. Its central pagoda is widely viewed as the oldest wooden structure in the world, dating back to the early 7th century. Many relics from that era, remarkably, still remain making it one of the most important temples in Japanese Buddhism.
I had one of the best experiences in my life trying to get to this temple. I hopped on a train from Nara to Horyu-ji when an old Japanese man approached me and asked if I was American. I thought he wanted my seat as he was an elderly person, but that wasn’t the case. He turned out to be very friendly and just wanted to chat because America was his dream destination. Although he was 80, had never left Japan.
After chatting for a bit, I found out he is from the town where Horyu-ji is located and he offered to show me around. A few minutes later, we run into six middle schoolers (three girls and three boys) who were also heading there for a school project and were lost. You guessed it, they joined the posse. So me, an 80 year old man, and six Japanese kids waltzed through town turning heads at every corner, trying to get to this 1400 year old temple.
1) Completeness and Originality (13 out of 15): What remains today is centuries old and for a wooden structure, that is simply amazing. The central pagoda has been proven to be a reconstruction, but is still from the 7th century CE.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (4 out of 15): The temple is not very large at all and you can see most of it in about two hours.
3) Cultural Significance (16 out of 25): The pagoda is a phenom of architectural history by itself. Furthermore, this is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan, less than a century after it was introduced by the Korean Baekje Kingdom.
4) Personal Impact (6 out of 15): If it wasn’t so close to Nara and Kyoto, I am not sure I would go out of my way to get here. My whole experience with the old man and the kids definitely left a very positive impression I will not soon forget.
5) Logistics (3.5 out of 10): Getting here from Nara is super easy as it is only a few stops away by train. What is a bit ridiculous, however, is the cost of getting in. Most of the temple is free, but if you want to see the main hall and pagoda, it will cost you 1000 yen. That’s more than any other temple or castle I visited in the entire country!
6) Uniqueness (13 out of 20): Oldest wooden structure in the world, hard to beat that. Temples are a dime a dozen, but few with this much history and significance.
Combined Score: 55.5/100
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