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World Heritage / Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area

Criteria: (i) (ii) (iv) (vi) | Date of Inscription: 1993 | Location: Nara Prefecture | Justification for Inscription

UNESCO

Description

Unifying both Japanese and foreign culture, the great Prince Shotoku was the founder of Horyu-ji temple and like his own lifetime, the buildings in the Horyu-ji area are full of mystery and legend.

It is believed that Horyu-ji Temple was founded by Prince Shotoku in 607AD. Due to this antiquity, some of the remaining structures in the Horyu-ji area are said to be the world's oldest wooden buildings.
Prince Shotoku was Imperial Regent to Empress Suiko from the 6th to the 7th century and is well known as an innovative politician who sent an envoy to China and imported mainland culture, including Buddhism and art to an emerging nation.
According to ancient records, the construction of Horyu-ji Temple was initially planned to celebrate Emperor Yomei's recovery from illness. However, as he died before completing the project, his son Prince Shotoku, and the Empress Suiko, (an aunt of Prince Shotoku) in succeeding him erected the temple and set in place its main image, "Yakushinyorai." Today, this tale is accepted in Japan as the founding story of Horyu-ji Temple. To add a twist to the tale though, the "Nihonshoki," a very early Japanese historical chronicle, says the temple was burnt down in 670AD. Given this information, experts now say the present temple itself was built between 672AD and 689AD.
Horyu-ji covers an area of 187,000 square meters and contains many structures and works of art from the Asuka and subsequent eras in Japanese history. Some 2300 items in Horyu-ji are designated as national treasures or important cultural properties.
As it has now been in existence for over 1300 years, Horyu-ji has of course had its effect on current architecture and art and for its cultural and historical value Horyu-ji Temple was designated as one of Japan's first World Heritage Sites in 1993.
History Lost
A 1949 fire in the Kondo (Main Hall) directly brought about legislation to create the Cultural Properties Protection Law after the blaze destroyed the precious wall paintings of this national treasure. The only silver lining of this most regrettable of accidents was then the triggering of a movement to review Japan's fire protection systems for cultural properties and this in turn led to the establishment of the Cultural Properties Protection Law.
Was it or wasn't it? Reconstructed that is.
According to the "Nihonshoki" Horyu-ji Temple was, in 670AD, destroyed by fire. Since the Meiji era therefore, historians have been debating the authenticity of these claims and in 1939, remnants of what is believed to be the original Horyu-ji Temple were found. This discovery confirmed the theory that it was rebuilt at least once and in 2004 the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties announced data provided by high-accuracy digital cameras indeed supported the reconstruction theory.
The genuine craftsman, Tsunekazu Nishioka
Tsunekazu Nishioka (1908 -1995) was once called "the last great carpenter of temples and shrines." He worked as chief carpenter during a large-scale restoration that started in 1934 and his uncompromising attitude regarding materials and techniques to be used are said to have contributed greatly to restoring the temple to its Asuka era former glory.
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