Photo/IllutrationA large audience gathers at the completion ceremony for the reborn Central Galden Hall at Kofukuji temple in Nara on Oct.7. (Takaharu Yagi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NARA--The Central Golden Hall at Kofukuji temple here has proved time and again that it will always rebound from destruction, although its latest comeback required a painstaking 301 years to complete.

The work on the temple’s core facility, which burned down in 1717 during the Edo Period (1603-1867), has been called the “newest and last great restoration.”

The general public will be able to bask in the hall’s restored magnificence starting on Oct. 20.

Tagawa Shunei, chief priest of Kofukuji temple, which was founded in 710, used a Japanese proverb, “Fall down seven times, get up eight,” to emphasize the fortitude of the hall.

“(The hall at) Kofukuji temple has burned down seven times and been built eight times,” he said.

The hall was originally built in the ancient Heijokyo capital in 714 during the Nara Period (710-784).

The first fire occurred in 1046, and the hall was rebuilt two years later.

After the subsequent fires, the rebuilding periods took seven, seven, 14, 23 and 20 years.

Various factors forced the latest rebuilding period to be extended over three centuries, including financial problems, an anti-Buddhist movement in the early Meiji Era (1868-1912), and difficulty in obtaining wooden building materials.

To maintain the philosophy of the temple’s foundation, the Central Golden Hall has always been rebuilt on the original podium, or base, produced under the ancient Tenpyo culture.

The seated statue of the Buddha Sakyamuni, which was created in 1811 and is about 2.8 meters high, has been enshrined as the principal icon for the hall.

It is surrounded by Bodhisattvas Yakuo (Bhaisajyaraja) and Yakujo (Bhaisajyasamudgata), each about 3.6 meters high, which were produced in 1202 and are government-designated important cultural properties.

Furthermore, 2-meter-high national treasure statues called the Four Heavenly Guardian Kings, which were carved in the 13th century and are attributed to distinguished sculptor Unkei, were moved from the Southern Round Hall to the Central Golden Hall.

To fill the vacancy at the Southern Round Hall, another set of statues, also called the Four Heavenly Guardian Kings, was transferred from the Temporary Golden Hall. These statues, each about 2 meters high, are believed to have been carved in 1189 by Kokei, Unkei’s father.

The four statues were recently designated by the government as national treasures.

The principal icon for the Southern Round Hall is a seated image of Fukukensaku Kannon, another national treasure attributed to Kokei.

Members of the reconstruction project were resolute in making the Central Golden Hall a wooden structure that faithfully replicates the architecture in the culturally defined Tenpyo Period (710-794).

Logs 10 meters long and 77 centimeters in diameter were essential for rebuilding the hall. But such materials were in short supply in Japan.

It took temple staff almost 20 years to find suitable wooden materials overseas, including Apa and Doussie lumber from Africa for pillars, and Canadian hinoki cypress timber for support joists.

Therefore, the “Central Golden Hall of Heisei,” which was completed in the twilight of the Heisei Era (1989-2019), restored the Tenpyo culture, which borrowed heavily from overseas.

The scale of the reconstructed wooden building can be compared favorably with the First Daigokuden at the Heijokyu palace ruins in the city.

The reborn Central Golden Hall measures 37 meters from east to west, 23 meters from north to south, and is 21 meters in height, the same dimensions as the original one.

Excavation work revealed the dimensions and details of the podium after a temporary hall built in the 19th century was demolished to make room for the latest rebuilding project.

It turned out that the original podium measured 41 meters from east to west, 27 meters from north to south and 1.8 meters in height. There were also signs that eighth-century workers used 66 foundation stones and fixed 66 pillars.

The hall has maintained the original shape but was reinforced to withstand earthquakes.

Takigawajisha Architects Co., located in Sakurai in the prefecture, applied two techniques to strengthen the structure.

One was to create half-sphere convexity in the foundation stones and concave shapes in the bases of the logs. With the tight connection between the stones and logs, the chance of slipping during shaking in an earthquake has been greatly reduced.

The other technique was mounting 2,318 stainless steel boards each 625 square cm into the lattice structure of wooden walls to disperse the energy of possible jolts.

This technique was also used in the restoration of the First Daigokuden.

Starting on Oct. 20, the Central Golden Hall will be open to the public seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission will be 500 yen ($4.42) for adults, 300 yen for students at junior high and high schools and 100 yen for elementary school pupils.