Travel Magazine

Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City

By Mustachio @mustachio2011
November 25, 2016
Friday
PM
This day is filled with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, five to be exact. After spending my morning visiting more-than-a-millenium-old wooden structures in Horyuji and Hokkiji in Ikaruga Town, I return to Nara City to visit two temples and a palace (or more accurately, its remains).
The bus lets me and two Japanese women alight at the bus stop for Yakushiji, by a large but near-empty parking area. 'Ah, good', I think to myself, 'not too many tourists here.' I follow my map and walk by a dozen vending machines all in a row and two small Shinto shrines (Yasumigaoka-hachimangu and Magotaro Inari) devoid of worshippers and visitors before I reach the south gate of Yakushiji.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityIf you have some yen, you'll never get thirsty here
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityYasumigaoka-hachimangu
Yakushiji
薬師寺
Daily 830AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 1100 yen (800 yen when Genjo-sanzoin Garan is closed)
* Genjo-sanzoin Garan is closed from mid-January to February, July to mid-September, and December
Emperor Tenmu started the construction of Yakushiji in the year 680 in Asuka (a town south of Nara), as an offering and prayer for the recovery of his wife, but, ironically, it was he who died first. His empress continued the construction of the temple and it was completed in the year 698. When the capital was moved to Nara in 710, Yakushiji was also moved to the present site eight years later.
Typical of temples, Yakushiji too has gates, main hall, lecture hall, and pagoda (Yakushiji has two). But unlike Horyuji and Hokkiji, the two temples I visited in the morning, the buildings of Yakushiji were painted in red and white and with green windows.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityYakushiji's Main Hall
Because of fires and wars, most of Yakushiji was destroyed in 1528 and only the east pagoda and the Yakushiji Triad (the temple's principal Buddha images) survived. (I wonder how the east pagoda looks. It is currently under a huge tent undergoing renovation and is scheduled to be completed in 2020.) The current Kondo (main hall) was built in 1976, the west pagoda in 1980.
The Yakushiji Triad, a national treasure, can be viewed in the Kondo. It was originally covered with gold, but because of the fire in 1528, it is now black and shiny. In the center is Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Healing. Flanking the Yakushi Nyorai are two bodhisattvas: Nikko Bosatsu and Gakko Bosatsu.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityYakushi Triad (Photo from Fudo Myo-o)
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City West Pagoda
In the Daikodo (great lecture hall) are more religious national treasures like images of buddha, a stone with an imprint of buddha's feet, and a tablet inscribed with verses.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityYakushiji's Great Lecture Hall
There are a few more buildings but they don't look interesting to me. I proceed to Genjo-sanzoin Garan, a separate walled area a short walk north of Yakushiji.
Genjo-sanzoin Garan is only open seven months a year and I am lucky it is open on this visit. I was impressed with Yakushiji's main hall and pagoda, and, though small and recent (built in 1981), am impressed by Genjo-sanzoin Garan, too. There was something about this small complex that made me linger there.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityGenjo-sanzoin Garan
Toshodaiji
唐招提寺
830AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 600 yen (+200 yen for Treasure House)
Just a short 500-meter walk north, I find another world heritage site: Toshodaiji, founded by Ganjin Wajo, a Chinese Buddhist priest, in the year 759.
The first building I see after entering Toshodaiji's gate is the main hall. I take a peek inside and see Buddha statues of different sizes.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityToshodaiji's Main Hall
Behind and to the right of the main hall is the Koro, a small hall containing relics (but I don't see it as the Koro is closed). Directly behind the main hall is the Kodo (lecture hall) which is actually a building from Nara/Heijo Palace and is the only surviving building of the former palace.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityKoro
Also in the temple grounds are the Rye-do where memorial ceremonies are held; Higashi-muro, where monks sleep; Kyozo, a storehouse for sutras and also the oldest building in Toshodaiji; and Hozo, a storehouse for treasures.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityHozo (storehouse for treasures)
Northeast of the temple grounds I find a path shaded by trees. This path leads me to the Kaizan Gobyo, a memorial for the founder of Toshodaiji.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityTowering trees shade the path to Kaizan Gobyo
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityA lantern at Kaizan Gobyo
From Toshodaiji, I go to the nearest bus stop, a 5-minute walk. It is a bright and sunny autumn afternoon and the temperature is perfect. The short walk gives me a glimpse of this local neighborhood, of locals whiling away time by the river fishing.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City A peaceful neighborhood
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City Gone fishing
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityA path by the river
Nara/Heijo Palace Site
Tuesdays to Sundays 9AM to 430PM
Free admission
A grand red and white gate (Suzaku Gate, reconstructed in 1998) welcomes me to Nara or Heijo Palace Site. When Nara was the capital of Japan, this was where the emperor's residence and the government offices were. I walk through the gate and find a vast area of grass and one solitary building in the middle that looks so small because of the distance.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City  Suzaku Gate
I walk and walk and walk until the small solitary building becomes bigger and bigger and bigger. This building is the Former Imperial Audience Hall, which was the largest and most important building in the palace. The current building is a reconstruction and was completed in 2010, the 1300th anniversary of the Nara Capital. The reconstruction took nine years and it was based upon archaeological and architectural studies. Inside the building are exhibits about its reconstruction.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City
The grassy areas around are not all grass, there are foundation stones protruding, the only remains of the buildings in the palace.
Kansai Diaries, Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara CityBuilding foundations
On the southeast corner of the palace grounds is the East Palace Garden, a reconstruction completed in 1998, but I skip this. I go instead to the northwest side and find the Excavation Site Exhibition Hall. Inside are excavation sites showing visitors archaeological digs in situ. From the Excavation Site Exhibition Hall, I go to the west side, where the Nara Palace Site Museum is. This museum showcases unearthed artifacts such as roof tiles, ornaments, etc.
The Palace Site is so vast that going from one end to the other end made me too tired to go back to the Suzaku Gate. I find the nearest exit and ask the guard if there is a bus stop nearby. Thankfully there is one just a hundred meters away and I find it without a problem. I wait for bus #12 or bus #14 in an open shed where a stooped Japanese grandma joins me.
Had I been short on time, I would have skipped these places. I am glad I started early in the day which gave me enough time to visit these oft–ignored (by tourists) world heritage sites. I love how quiet these places were. I look forward and kind of dread tomorrow when I visit the popular tourist sites in Nara City: Nara Park and Todaiji.
Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan
From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes
Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1½: West Side of Koya Town
Wakayama: Koyasan Sidewalk Shorts
Wakayama: Days 1¾–2: Okunoin, Three Times
Nara: Sleep, Eat, and Explore Nara City
Nara: Day 3: Horyuji, Hokkiji, and some Japanecdotes in Ikaruga Town
Nara: Day 3½: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City (you're here!)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado

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