This temple is the jewel in the crown of classical Japanese architecture. In the morning, elderly locals on their way to work pray in front of the temple with an intensity the younger generation usually displays toward manga and puri-kura (photo stickers). Founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku (573–621), Horyu-ji's original wooden buildings are among the world's oldest. The first gate you pass through is the Nandai-mon, which was rebuilt in 1438 and is thus
a relatively young 500 years old. The second gate, Chu-mon (Middle Gate), is the 607 original. Unlike most Japanese gates, which are supported by two pillars at the ends, central pillars support this gate. Note their entasis, or swelling at the center, an architectural feature from ancient Greece that traveled as far as Japan. Such columns are found in Japan only in the 7th-century structures of Nara.
After passing through the gates, you enter the temple's western precincts. The first building on the right is the Kon-do (Main Hall), a two-story reproduction of the original 7th-century hall, which displays Buddhist images and objects from as far back as the Asuka period (552–645). The Five-Story Pagoda to its left was disassembled in World War II to protect it from air raids, after which it was reconstructed with the same materials used in 607. Behind the pagoda is the Daiko-do (Lecture Hall), destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 990. Inside is a statue of Yakushi Nyorai (Physician of the Soul) carved from a camphor tree.
From the Daiko-do, walk past the Kon-do and Chu-mon; then turn left and walk past the pond on your right. You come to two concrete buildings known as the Daihozo-den (Great Treasure Hall), which display statues, sculptures, ancient Buddhist religious articles, and brocades. Of particular interest is a miniature shrine that belonged to Lady Tachibana, mother of Empress Komyo. The shrine is about 2½ feet high; the Buddha inside is about 20 inches tall. The Todai-mon (Great East Gate) opens onto Horyu-ji's eastern grounds. The octagonal Yumedono (Hall of Dreams) was so named because Prince Shotoku used to meditate in it.
To get here, take a JR Kansai Main Line train to Horyu-ji Station (¥210). The temple is a short shuttle ride or a 15-minute walk. Alternatively, Bus 52, 60, or 97 to Horyu-ji is a 50-minute ride from the JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station (¥760). The Horyu-ji-mae bus stop is in front of the temple.