If you make a pilgrimage to Nara and find yourself in Nara Koen (the park) there are countless things to see in the extensive grounds. At Kohfukuji there are three golden halls, the Eastern one (Tohkondo) having been rebuilt six times due to destruction by fire. The original building (built in 726) was commissioned by Emperor Shomu in the hopes that it would speed the recovery of Empress Gensho. The current building dates to 1915, and is considered to be a national treasure.
Much more well-known than the Eastern Golden Hall is the Five Storied Pagoda that is also close-by in the Kohfukuji complex. Emperor Shomu had the hall built and his wife had the pagoda built. These two buildings used to be joined by a covered corridor, linking the two buildings together and representing the ideal of marital harmony.
Inside the hall are many important cultural properties, as well as designated national treasures. One such treasure is the Seated Monju Bosatsu, a wooden statue almost a meter tall dating back to the 12th century. It is popular for aspiring scholars to come and worship at this statue as it is said to impart wisdom, and so many students visit before taking their exam to gain entry to university.
Another national treasure is the Seated Yuima Koji, another 12th-century wooden statue, measuring 88cm tall. As with the first statue, this one is also made in the ‘assembled wood-block technique’. Taking the form of a real person as opposed to a celestial being, the sculpture is considered a great piece of its time.
Other pieces include the Standing bronze statues of Nikko Bosatsu and Gakko Bosatsu (both from the 7th – 8th century), the seated bronze of Yakushi Nyorai from the 15th century, the four Deva Kings carved of wood and lacquer from the 9th century, and finally the twelve Divine General from the 13th century, carved of wood and brightly coloured, each with a differing style suggesting that they were made by different artists.
The hall is open daily from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Entry is 300 yen or you can purchase the combined ticket for 900 yen which also grants you access to the Kohfukuji Temple National Treasure Museum. There isn’t a huge amount to see in the hall but it is of cultural interest and is especially worthwhile if you get the combined ticket. If you happen to plan your visit around the Setsubun festival on February 3rd at 7.30pm or the Monjue (Manjusri in Sanskrit) Celebration on April 25th, be prepared for big crowds as these are popular worship days.