Nara's Kofukuji Temple has recently finished rebuilding its Central Golden Hall that has been absent from the temple for centuries. The new building, which is built to the specifications of the original hall in all its glory, is beautiful and grand, and is open for the public to enter as of October 20, 2018.
Kofukuji is one of the oldest and most important temples in the ancient city of Nara, and once served as the family temple of the Fujiwara, who were the most powerful clan throughout much of the Nara and Heian Periods. The Central Golden Hall originally stood in its current position until it was last destroyed by fire in 1717, and between then and now a replacement hall was built, but never to the same scale or with the same majesty as the original. This has all now changed with the opening of the new Central Golden Hall, making my visit here very exciting.
Kofukuji is located just a short walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, and accordingly I made the jaunt over to the historical complex, passing some of Nara's famous deer residents on the way as they basked in the morning sun. The temple's grounds are open around the clock and free to enter, with the exception of some of the buildings, including the Central Golden Hall, which have paid entry.
Upon arrival in the temple grounds. I made my way straight to the Central Golden Hall. Admission to the hall costs 500 yen and includes entry inside the hall itself and a spacious area outside of the hall from where good, unobstructed photos can be taken of the impressive building. Inside, the original Central Golden Hall contained a statue of the Shaka Nyorai (the historical Buddha), protected by two guardians, and similarly, the new hall contains a beautiful golden Shaka Nyorai from the Edo Period flanked by two guardians and other sacred figures dating from the Kamakura Period.
The hall lets in plenty of sun to reflect off its light-colored interior walls, and this creates a pleasant, tranquil atmosphere about the place. It is worth noting that photography is prohibited inside the hall. Note also that from October 20 to November 11, the exterior of the hall will be illuminated from 17:30.
Following my exploration of the Central Golden Hall, I sauntered around the temple's spacious grounds, taking in its other impressive features. Among others, I took time to admire the Eastern Golden Hall, which houses a large statue of the Yakushi Nyorai (Yakushi Buddha), and the adjacent Five-Storied Pagoda which, at a height of 50 meters, stands proudly as the second tallest of its kind in Japan.
I finally made my way to Kofukuji's National Treasure Museum, for which visitors also must pay to enter. The museum is highly esteemed for its impressive collection of Buddhist art including the iconic three-faced and six-armed Ashura statue, one of Japan's most celebrated statues. Having heard great things about this museum my expectations were high but I wasn't disappointed.
It was fascinating to stroll around the medium-sized museum and take in the incredibly beautiful and complex sculptures, some of which date back as far as the eighth century. The pieces on show consist mostly of representations of sacred figures but other artifacts like old temple lanterns and tiles are also on display. One of the highlights of my visit, I recommend the museum, especially for those interested in Buddhist art.