Buddhist Architecture In Nara And Asuka Period

Buddhist Architecture In Nara And Asuka Period

The Asuka period and Nara period are important to the Japanese art. Japanese art and sculpture changed considerably during the Nara and Asuka period due to the introduction of Buddhism in Japan.  Japanese first learned Buddhism from Korea, but the following development of the country’s Buddhism and Buddhist sculpture resulted from china.  China influenced the Buddhist sculpture and Buddhism in Japan. Buddhism was introduced to the country in +552 by Yamato.  Yamato send a Buddha statue, Buddhism scripture and message praising Buddhism.  The introduction of Buddhism in Japan influenced the Japanese architecture as artists and sculptors integrated the Buddhism in their artwork. Japanese Buddhist architecture refers to the architecture of Buddhist temples in Japan. The Japanese developed the Buddhist temples using different architectural styles from China.

The structure of Buddhist temples consisted of columns and lintels that supported a big and gentle curved roof.  The walls are thin and movable.  The temples have no arches and barrel roofs. The temples have gable and eave curves gentler than one used in china.  The Chinese architectural style or Buddhist architectural style has continued to influence the construction of temples in Japan. The temples have features of Buddhist architecture that makes them unique from other temples in the country and around the world.  The Japanese temples have a special arrangement and consist of numerous buildings that perform different functions. Some of the buildings include pagoda, Kondo, lecture hall etc.


Temples are areas dedicated to the worship of Buddha. They also act as areas where nuns and monks live, train and study. Lay worshipers also go to worship in the temples and hence there are different sections for every area of temple life (Knafelc 2005). The Japanese temples do not act as worship places only like churches. People do not go to the temple daily to worship as the main purpose of the Buddhist temple is to store sacred objects and display them when necessary. The layout varies from one temple to another, but all temples have 7 main buildings.  Japanese temples are Buddhist temples found in Japan.  Some of the Japanese temples were developed 1200 years ago.  Some of the temples still survive, but others got destroyed by fire, lightening and earthquake. Others have been reconstructed. Though the Buddhist temples were established 1200 years ago and perform different functions, they follow the same principles utilized in architectural buildings, in Japan., The main architectural elements entailed the use of wooden columns. The Japanese placed these columns on big stones to balance the whole structure. Many Japanese temples still have a slope roof. The upside down corners distinguished the old temples of Japan.  The Buddhist temples developed during the Nara and Asuka period had a certain pattern in its architectural design (McCallum 2009).

The Japanese temple architecture of the Asuka and Nara period depended heavily on the influence of Chinese style. The Chinese architectural style had as profound influence on Japanese temple architecture. The temples developed using the Chinese architectural style were complicated, unlike the Shinto shrines. The temples had complicated construction methods and decorations.  The Japanese admired the Chinese culture and incorporated it in the development of temples.  The temple layout during Nara and Asuka period was strictly prescribed and adhered to the mainland style.  The Japanese temple had a specific arrangement that distinguished them from other temples in different countries.  The temples had 7 buildings.  The Japanese temple consisted of a main gate that faced south. They also had a sacred place enclosed by a semi enclosed roofed corridor known as kairō. The kairo is accessible via the middle gate called chūmon. In addition, the Japanese temples have a pagoda. The pagoda serves as a reliquary for holy objects.

Also, the temples have a main hall known as kon-dō.  The sophisticated Japanese temples have other structures apart from the above structures.  The temples have lecture hall called kō-dō and a belfry shōrō. Other structures include kyōzō, priest quarter, monk quarter and bathouses.  An ideal temple has a heart created by 7 structures known as shichidō garan(seven hall temple).  The construction of the temples spread to other areas. The Japanese developed the temples in areas preferred by the perfects of Chinese geomancy. The arrangement of temples depended on buildings, mountains and other geographical features.  The features determined the direction of the temples and location of the buildings.  The main hall had a sacred statue of Buddha saint. The Buddhist images show the Buddha’s life.  The worship hall and the Gojū-no-tō have sculptures developed in Asuka and Nara period like Sakyamuni triad.  The Triad depicts the Buddha Shakyamuni and has a lengthened head.  The amitabha and Baisajyaguru serve the Buddha (Reiber 2012).


The pagoda refers to a tiered tower developed in the traditions originating from East Asia. Most of the Pagodas The pagodas had religious functions. The Japanese situated the pagodas in the temple or near the temple. They originated from the stupa during the 3rdcentury. The stupa acted as a commemorative monument linked with housing of sacred objects.  The stupa surfaced as a different style of newari architecture.  Various regions adopted the stupa including southeast and East Asia. The stupa became common in south East and East Asia and acted as a Buddhist monument for enshrining sacred relics.  The Chinese tower architecture and pavilions integrated into the pagoda architecture and spread to Southeast Asia.  The Japanese used the pagoda to store relics and sacred texts.  The Japanese temples have a pagoda.  The pagoda is not a centerpiece of the temple, but a secondary building.  In japans, the pagoda did not house the Buddha statue instead the main hall in the temple housed the statue.  The Japanese changed the purpose of the pagoda like the Chinese.  They also changed the architectural techniques.  The Japanese pagoda differed from other pagodas in China and India.  The Indians developed pagodas using stones. In addition, the Chinese developed the pagodas using wood and stones. Most of the pagodas in china were made from stones. However, the Japanese developed pagodas from wood. Stones were used to develop small pagodas used in the gardens (Young & Young 2007).

Additionally, the Japanese pagodas differed from Chinese and Indian pagodas in terms of size.  The Chinese pagodas had smaller over hangs on their roofs than Japanese pagodas.  The overhangs of the Japanese pagodas increased considerably. The Pagoda is either three storied or five storied.  Several temples in Japan have a pagoda and main hall.  The Hōryū-ji, temple has a mainhall and a pagoda. The mainhall is placed behind the pagoda interfering with the symmetry of the initial layout.   The pagoda was placed at the left side of the main hall after the temple was rebuilt.  The Hōryū-ji has a five story pagoda situated in the Sai-in area.  The pagoda is 32.45 meters high and 20*20 wide.  The pagoda is one of the oldest wooden building globally; the central pillar rests 3m below the surface of the immense foundation stone and stretches into the ground.   At the base are Buddha’s bones. Also, around it, there are four sculpture scenes facing north, west, south and east showing Buddha’s life.  Though the pagoda is 5 storied, no one is permitted to climb up inside. However, the pagoda is designed to motivate people with the external view (Eimer & Harper 2010).


Japanese temples also have a main hall. Main hall refers to a building inside a Japanese temple compound.  The main hall preserves the main objects of worship.  The main hall consists of different sacred items such and statues. The main halls are known as Kondo. Most of the Buddhist temples have the main hall   as they stored sacred objects.  The term Kondo was used during the Nara and Asuka period to refer to the main hall.  A Kondo is a center piece of an old Buddhist temple’s garan in Japan. Most of the temples have more than one main hall such as Hōryū-ji, but only one exists, the first building to be developed.  Worshippers were not permitted to enter the building because of the limited size and stood outside.  The Kondo of the Hōryū-ji is situated side by side to the pagoda in Sai-in.  The Kondo is one of the oldest wooden buildings that exist. The hall measures 18.5 by 15.2 meters.  The main hall of the Hōryū-ji is two storied and has roofs curved in the corners only the first floor has a double roof.  The second roof was added during the Nara period using additional posts to support the original roof as it is more than 4 meters beyond the building (Young & Young 2004).


In conclusion, the Chinese culture influenced Japanese architecture considerably.  Before the arrival of Buddhism, Japanese developed temples using Japanese architecture. However, this changed after the arrival of the Chinese culture and Buddhism.  Buddhism influenced Japanese art, architecture and sculpture during the Nara and Asuka period. Buddhism arrived from china during this time, and Japanese admired the Chinese style of architecture and culture. They integrated the Chinese style or the Buddhism architectural style in their architecture. After the arrival of Buddhism, Japanese started developing temples as they needed places to practice buddies and worship.  The Buddhism architectural style and Chinese culture influenced the construction of temples.  The Buddhists developed temples several temples using the Buddhist architecture. The temples had several buildings.  That is the Kondo, pagoda, lecture hall, bath hall among others. The buildings performed different purposes. The main hall and pagoda housed sacred objects and writings.  The temples had a similar arrangement with an entrance, pagoda, Kondo and other buildings. Hōryū-ji shows the arrangement of temples in Japan during the Nara and Asuka period.  The temple consists of Kondo, pagoda, main gate, bath hall, lecture hall and other buildings.


Eimer, D., &Harper, D. Lonely Planet Beijing. 2010. Lonely Planet, p 45

Knafelc, K. Tokyo. 2005. Lonely planet, p1-274

McCallum, D.F. The Four Great Temples. 2009. University of Hawaii, p 1-328

Reiber, B. Frommer’s Japan. 2012. John Wiley & Sons, P1-672

Young, M., &Young, D. Introduction to Japanese Architecture. 2004. Tuttle publishing, p1-128

Young, M., &Young, D. Art of Japanese Architecture. 2007. Tuttle publishing, p1-35

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