Of all the temples in the city of Nara, Yakushi-ji, along with temples such as Todai-ji and Toshodai-ji, is one of the most well-known.
It is also one of the temples called Nanto Shichidaiji, or the Seven Great Temples of the Southern Capital, and is the head temple of the Hosso Sect together with Kofuku-ji. Like Kofuku-ji and Todai-ji, Yakushi-ji, too, is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.”
In 680, which is a year in the Hakuho period, Emperor Tenmu decided to found a Buddhist temple in the hope of curing his consort, who was later to be enthroned as Empress Jito as his successor.
Emperor Tenmu passed away in 686 before Yakushi-ji was completed, and the task was passed on to Empress Jito. It was eventually accomplished in 688 in modern-day Kashihara City.
When the capital was moved from Fujiwara-kyo to Heijo-kyo in 710, Yakushi-ji was also moved to where it stands now. On the previous grounds, there had been a temple called Moto-Yakushi-ji, whose name means “Previous Yakushi-ji”, until the 11th century.
As the name of the temple says, it is dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, a Buddhist divinity worshiped as a god of medicine.
The statues of Yakushi triad – Yakushi Nyorai, Nikko Bosatsu and Gakko Bosatsu – placed in the temple’s Kondo, or the main hall, are assumed to be created in the Hakuho period and are National Treasures.
Carved on the pedestal of these statues are arabesque and such designs which came from Greece, Persia, India, China, etc. via the Silk Road.
Of the temple complex, Toto (the east pagoda), assumed to be erected in 730, and Toindo, completed in 1285, are National Treasures, and some others are Important Cultural properties built before the Meiji era, but buildings such as Saito (the west pagoda), Daikodo (the lecture hall), and Kondo (the main hall) were constructed after WWII.
Toto and Saito look like as if they were six stories high, but in fact they are three-storied pagoda. In a similar way, Kondo seems like as though it were four stories high, but actually it’s a two-storied building.
Where to eat around Yakushi-ji
This restaurant is known to those in the know. It offers proper traditional course dinner. It serves lunch also, and if you want to live it up a little, this is the place for you.
Gateau Des Bois Laboratoire
Gateau Des Bois Laboratoire is a Western confectionery store popular among locals. The store within a 10-minute drive from Yakushi-ji is a branch, and its main store is located in the Saidaiji district. You can have the sweets inside, or you can take them out.
Where to stay around Yakushi-ji
Hotel Nikko Nara is a hotel in front of JR Nara Station. Though it’s an economy hotel, it has a large common bath.
Asukasou is a high end ryokan-style inn which is a 10-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station and is 4.6 km (2.9 miles) away from Yakushi-ji. From its modern Japanese-style rooms, the five-storied pagoda of Kofuku-ji can be seen. There’s an open-air bath with a splendid view, too.
Tenryukaku, which is 4 km (2.5 miles) away from Yakushi-ji, is a shukubo (temple-run inn) operated by a pretty famous temple called Ryosen-ji. Meals and rooms are satisfying and the bath is herbal. There’s an original course dinner named Bara-muso which uses plenty of rose petals.
It will take pretty much time just to see Yakushi-ji alone. There are many places to see around Nara, so narrowing down the list of the attractions you want to go is important.
There are many accommodation facilities in Nara, but so are the tourists. Once you decide where to go, making reservations for inns and hotels as early as possible is recommended.