Translated by Shinji Takaramura
The Resurrection Of Ancient Nara - A Visit To Kofukuji Temple
Written by UCHACA
An important Buddhist site and part of the UNESCO recognized Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, Kofukuji Temple's Central Golden Hall has been undergoing a massive reconstruction, but you can see just how it's built if you visit now!
Kofukuji is the headquarters of the Hosso sect, one of the oldest Buddhist sects in Japan, and as such is its most important temple.
It is also listed as a part of the UNESCO World Heritage "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara" grouping and has a distinguished tradition, celebrating its 1300th anniversary in 2010.
Since its foundation, Kofukuji has played an important role in the development of various cultural movements in Japan such as Yogacara (an influential school of Buddhist philosophy), Noh theater, the Keiha school of sculptors, represented by famous masters like Unkei, Japanese food culture such as tofu, miso, and refined sake.
These are highly regarded aspects of life, and have come to be regarded by people around the world as being a part of the unique culture of Japan. They were all nurtured at Kofukuji Temple.
Rebuilding the Central Golden Hall: Resurrecting Ancient Kofukuji Temple
Since 2010, a new era began for Kofukuji. The Central Golden Hall (Chukondo) is being rebuilt. It used to be the main building of Kofukuji, a shrine which held the Buddhist statues, but was destroyed by fire. The Central Golden Hall was built in the Tenpyo era (710 to 794 A.D.), and it will be rebuilt in its original style, scheduled to be completed in 2018. This article will show you what it's like at the site during the reconstruction.
The Concealed Site
The site is enclosed in protective covering. Let's take a look inside.
The route for the conducted tour is marked for the visitors.
The Exhibition Facility
Before entering the site, visitors are guided into a white tent next to it. A one-twentieth scale model of the Central Golden Hall is displayed inside. Even though the actual site is concealed during the construction, you will soon be able to understand how the Central Golden Hall was built just by looking at the model.
Kumimono, a roof-supporting structure attached to the column, is also displayed in this tent. The supporting part, which looks like an extended arm is called masukumi. As this type of kumimono is triple-decked, it is called a mitesakai kumimono (triple-handed kumimono).
A replica of shibi, an ornamental ridge-end tile, is also on display. They are made in pairs, and will be set on the roof facing each other.
Many photographs are displayed as well. Kidan, the foundation of the Central Golden Hall, can be seen only in photographs now. It is the original from the days the temple was first built, and a precious cultural asset. The photographs of the ongoing construction, such as the setting of the columns are also on display, and they are a topic of great interest to the architects visiting the site.
Here you can see a craftsman demonstrating how to use a yariganna, which looks a bit like a spear. Many carpenter's tools from the Tenpyo era have been used during the rebuilding of Central Golden Hall. Although the author of this article has lived in Japan for a long time, this was their first encounter with a yariganna.
In Japan, a tool called kanna (plane) is used to shave the wood.
The shaved wood is paper-thin, and the tent was filled with the fragrant scent of hinoki (Japanese cypress).
Into the Reconstruction Site!
Next, visitors are guided to the third level of the Central Golden Hall.
It may be difficult to see from this photograph, but the gray mass is the roof of Central Golden Hall. You can see how huge it is.
From one end of the scaffolding, you might be able to see the whole roof, but it's still difficult to see the edges. The two places covered in white are where the aforementioned shibi will be set. Most traditional Japanese architecture use kawara, a clay tile, to cover the roof. At this site, you will be able to observe these roofing tiles up close.
This is an onigawara (ogre tile), an ornamental tile, which comes with a scary design. It is used to ward off the evil beings.
Since the scaffolding is quite high up, the Nan-en-do (Southern Octagonal Hall) and the Five-Storied Pagoda can be seen from a unique angle from this level too.
This is the second level. You can see the aforementioned mitesaki kumimono firmly supporting the eaves from here.
You can also see the part of the roof where the kawara tiles haven't been set just yet as well. It makes you wonder whether these wooden coverings will ever see the sky again.
These are the kawara tiles waiting to be set on the roof. Many people, even the Japanese, think that they are glued to the roof. But in reality, a thin copper wire threads through a tiny hole in the kawara to hold it down. This kind of meticulous craftsmanship has helped to preserve many Japanese structures for hundreds of years.
It will take three more years to fully complete the reconstruction of Central Golden Hall. What will it look like when it is finished? People from both near and far are anxiously awaiting 2018 and the completion of this incredible undertaking. If you will be traveling to Nara in the near future or in 2018, you can enjoy sights that few Japanese people, let alone international travelers can enjoy just by paying a visit here.
If you happen to visit Japan, please go to Kofukuji to experience both the past and future, and the perpetual flow of time, in Japanese architecture.