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The Nara Lotus Road



Welcome to the Nara Lotus Road, a mesmerizing journey through Nara City that unveils the enchanting beauty of lotus flowers at four remarkable temples: Saidai-ji, Kiko-ji, Toshodai-ji, and Yakushi-ji.


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The Lotus Road is unsurprisingly a popular beat for photographers, but also offers a delightful contrast to conventional hiking trails, as it weaves through Nara City's suburban landscape, presenting a refreshing alternative to the more typical mountainous routes. The Lotus Road provides a perfect blend of suburban Japan, natural beauty and historical significance.


The event is on from June 15th to August 16th.




The Meaning of the Lotus in Buddhism


The lotus holds immense significance in Japanese Buddhism, where it serves as a powerful symbol of spiritual enlightenment and purity. It is prominently featured in various aspects of Buddhist culture, including art, architecture, and rituals. Many grand Buddhist statues, such as the renowned Big Buddha of Todai-ji Temple, often incorporate the lotus motif, signifying the importance of this iconic flower in the Buddhist tradition.


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The symbolism of the lotus lies in its remarkable growth process, where it rises gracefully through muddy waters to blossom into a pristine and exquisite flower. This journey from darkness to maturity mirrors the spiritual path to enlightenment in Buddhism. Just as the lotus emerges unblemished from the murky depths, the Buddhist seeks to transcend worldly attachments and lead a life of compassion and virtue to ultimately attain spiritual awakening.



 


Saidai-ji Temple


Saidai-ji Temple, (Great Western Temple) holds a significant place in Japan's religious history. Empress Shotoku initiated its construction in the eighth century, envisioning it as a counterpart to the renowned Todai-ji Temple in Nara. (In this instance, "Sai" means west and "To" means east.)



The temple complex boasted an impressive scale, with around 110 buildings, including two magnificent pagodas, covering an extensive area of about 48 hectares. Sadly, various natural disasters during the Heian period caused substantial damage, leading to the loss of most original structures. In the Kamakura period, a revival took place, spearheaded by the influential Buddhist priest Eison. He transformed Saidai-ji Temple into a seminary for the Shingon Ritsu movement, introducing traditions that have endured for over 700 years. Today, Saidai-ji Temple remains the head temple of the Shingon Risshu (真言律宗) sect of Japanese Buddhism, attracting visitors seeking to explore its historical significance and spiritual teachings.



A unique event at Saidai-ji Tempe is the Ochamori, an extraordinary tea ceremony held on the second Saturday and Sunday of April. Participants partake in this ritual by drinking matcha green tea from a bowl about the size of a man's head (weighing approximately 7kg), a feat that often requires assistance to lift.



The Ren-en (Lotus Garden) is located behind the Aizen-do hall (on the west side) and features approximately 100 lotus flowers arranged around the vibrant Peaceful Kannon statue and the remains of the West Pagoda.



Address: 1-1-5 Saidai-ji Shiba-cho, Nara 631-0825

Hours: 8:30 – 16:30

3 minute walk from Kintetsu Yamato Saidaji Station

Fee: Free to enter the grounds. ¥800 to enter the temple halls




 



Kiko-ji Temple


Kiko-ji Temple, located just a 15 minute walk from Saidai-ji Temple, is a serene and historically significant Buddhist temple that offers visitors a glimpse into Japan's rich religious heritage. Founded in the Nara period (710–794) by the esteemed priest Gyoki, Kiko-ji Temple was originally known as Sugahara-dera Temple. Legend has it that Emperor Shomu visited the temple in 731 and witnessed a wondrous ray of light emanating from its honzon (principal image of Buddha), which led to the renaming of the temple to Kiko-ji, meaning "Temple of Pleasure and Light."


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In the medieval era, Kiko-ji Temple served as a branch temple of Kofuku-ji Temple and was later rebuilt after experiencing significant damage during the Sengoku period (1467–1603). In the Meiji period (1868–1912), it became an associate head temple of Yakushi-ji Temple, a status it holds to this day.




The architectural marvels of Kiko-ji Temple add to its allure. The Hondo (Main Hall), an Important Cultural Property, was reconstructed during the early Muromachi period (1336–1573). Unique in its design, the Hondo is one-tenth the size of Todai-ji Temple's Daibutsu-den (Great Buddha Hall) and is sometimes referred to as the "Trial of the Great Buddha's Hall." It is believed it was designed as a precursor to Todai-ji Temple. Inside the Hondo stands a remarkable wooden statue of Amida Nyorai, an embodiment of the Buddha of Infinite Light, dating back to the late Heian period (794–1185). This exquisite statue, also designated as an Important Cultural Property, stands tall at an impressive height of 233 cm.



The temple grounds are not as large as most, but the impact of the main hall as you enter through the main gate transports you into serence spiritual world. Access is also possible by a leisurely 12-minute walk from Kintetsu Amagatsuji Station on the Kintetsu Kashihara Line. Whether you seek spiritual enlightenment, cultural appreciation, or simply a peaceful retreat, Kiko-ji Temple offers a memorable experience that connects you with Japan's spiritual past and present.



Surrounding the main hall, approximately 80 varieties of lotus flowers are in full bloom. The small garden located behind the main hall has a pond and is also dotted with lotus plants. It was in this area where the 2 headed lotuses were discovered.


2 headed lotuses are quite rare, occuring once out of every 10,000- 20,000 plants. As you would imagine, the 2 headed plants at Kiko-ji Temple created quite a buzz on social media this year.


Address: 508 Sugaharacho, Nara, 631-0842

Take the number 161 bus from JR Nara station. Get off at Sugahara-higashi bust stop (17 mins)

10 minute walk from Kintetsu Amagatsuji Station

Hours: Usually 9:00 -16:30

(July: Saturdays, Sundays, holidays 7:00 – 16:30)

Fee: ¥500




 


Toshodai-ji Temple

Toshodaiji Temple, located on the outskirts of the city, was once a central part of Japan's capital over a millennium ago. Founded in 759, it earned its name from the Chinese origin of its first abbot, Ganjin, who established it as a center for Buddhist training. This temple became the first in Japan dedicated to the Nanzan school of Chinese Buddhist teachings, and it remains the head temple of Japan's Ritsu-shu denomination.



Ganjin's journey to Japan to teach Buddhist precepts, despite multiple failed attempts and the loss of his eyesight, left a profound impact on Japanese history and culture. His statue, constructed by his disciples using the hollow-core dry-lacquer technique is an exceptional National Treasure. It is enshrined in Toshodai-ji's Meay-do Hall which is open to the public on special occasions.



The temple boasts 17 National Treasures and over 200 Important Cultural Properties, exemplifying the Tempyo Era culture of the 8th century. The grand Kondo, or "Golden Hall," stands behind the Southern Great Gate, showcasing the exceptional architecture of that era. Once used for general learning and assembly, the Kodo Lecture Hall remains a miraculous survivor from the past. Despite its humble and subdued aura, Toshodai-ji Temple holds a rich history and cultural significance that makes it a temple beyond comparison.



Toshoda-ji Temple has one of the more impressive "natural" lotus displays among the 4 temples. There is a pond to the right of the main gate that is home to some impressive foliage and large lotus flowers. The temple grounds are vast and invite visitors to explore at their leisure. You'll find lotus flowers throughout, including the pond next to Ganjin's tomb, just past the tranquil moss garden.






Address: 13-46 Gojo-cho, Nara, 630-8032

Take a bus bound for Rokujo-yama from either JR Nara Station | Kintetsu Nara Station | Kintetsu Nishinokyo Station. Get off at Toshodai-bus stop.

10 minute walk from Kintetsu Nishinokyo Station.

Hours: 8:30 – 17:00

Fee: ¥1,000





 



Yakushi-ji Temple


Yakushi-ji Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple that holds a significant place in the country's history as one of the Seven Great Temples of Nanto and the headquarters of the Hossō school of Japanese Buddhism. Its UNESCO World Heritage status highlights its cultural importance. The temple's main deity, Yakushi Nyorai or "The Medicine Buddha," arrived in Japan from China in 680, giving the temple its name.





The temple's origins trace back to Emperor Tenmu, who commissioned its construction in 680 as an offering for his consort's recovery from illness. Emperor Tenmu's reign marked the Nara Period's beginnings, during which he initiated the construction of the "Seven Great Temples." The original Yakushi-ji was built in Fujiwara-kyō, the capital during the Asuka period, following the Chinese model to improve the economy, centralize government, and strengthen the military.



Yakushi-ji's relocation to Nara around 718 coincided with the move of the capital to Heijō-kyō, where the temple now stands. Fires took a toll on the complex over the centuries, but significant restoration efforts ensured the preservation of its historic structures. Among the remarkable features is the East Pagoda, a three-story architectural masterpiece from the Nara period, which underwent restoration work in recent times.


The temple's layout follows the "Yakushiji style," exhibiting symmetry with two main halls and two three-story pagodas. The Golden Hall stands at the center, flanked by two pagodas. The temple's Yakushi Triad holds immense cultural significance, representing a "Medicine Buddha" worshipped for its healing powers. Its wooden sculptures, including Yakushi Nyorai without a medicine jar in the hand, are some of Japan's iconic artifacts and early examples of T’ang style influence.



As a place of historical and architectural marvels, Yakushi-ji Temple attracts visitors and history enthusiasts eager to explore its cultural legacy. During the Lotus Road event, the temple grounds are adorned with approximately 200 pots of lotus flowers.



Address: 457, Nishinokyo-cho, Nara city

18 minutes by bus from JR Nara and Kintetsu Nara Stations. Get off at "Yakushi-ji" bus stop. Immediately in front of Kintetsu Nishi-no-Kyo Station.

Hours: 8:30 – 17:00

Fee: ¥1,100




 


The Nara Lotus Road Map


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Author: NARA Visitor Center & Inn

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