> About Gangoji > About faith
The Daishi faith cherishes the memory of Kobo Daishi Kukai, the sense of reverence deepening the faith. It is the epitome of a faith representing the common people (irrespective of status).
Bishop Kukai (774-835) was the founder of the Shingon sect. With his death in 835, he was relocated to Mt. Koya. He was considered a saint and his spirit was said to be immortal. In 857, he was made an archbishop posthumously. In 921, he was given the posthumous name of Kobo Daishi. People recite the sutra “Namu Daishi Hengo Kongo, and pray to “Odaishi-sama,” who is now elevated to the status of a Buddha.
Kukai was not only the founder of the Shingon sect designated by Sougou, a priest who was in charge of managing other priests at the behest of the dynasty, but also a Dendo-daiajari, Achrya or senior teacher of Esoteric Buddhism, known as Shingon-hasso (eight patriarchs of the Shingon mission), succeeded from Dainishi Nyorai (Vairocana) to Kongosatta (Vajrasattva), and Eka-osho (Huiguo, a teacher of Kukai). Daish Shinko, the faith in Kobo Daishi, is similar to the faith in a Jizo deity that guards over children or Fudo Myoo-o (Acalathe God of Fire), but it is sometimes faith in Daishi Nyorai (Vairocana) itself.
In other words, this faith has gradually deepened and spread because of the guardianship of elites and believers and the occasional Buddhist priests. And, looking back historically based on each memorial occasion, the faith gathered strength as civilization built up around it.
Historical truths and truths of the faith mixed together to give this common faith its typical characteristics.
The historical connection between Gangoji and Kukai begins during the precept-conferral ceremonies at the ordination platform at Todai-ji temple, where the highest officer of Gangoji, Yasunobu, was in presence. Yasunobu accompanied Jianzhen and thought a Tang Buddhist monk when he came to Japan.
Then, at the Kanjo Rekimei (a list of important ceremonies in the esoteric Buddhism) at Takaosan Jingo-ji temple, priests named Kenei, Taihan, Enbu and Eikei were present.
Among them, Yasunori used to be a favorite pupil of Denkyo Daishi Saicho, but later he became a pupil of Kobo Daishi Kukai. It is said that this scholar priest induced the discord between Kukai and Saicho. Moreover, “Shoryoshu,” a collection of prose and poetry written by Kukai, includes the poetry sent to Gomyo Sojo at Gangoji to celebrate his 80th birthday, and the remission to Chuukei at Gango—ji, that show the close relationship between Kukai and Gago-ji.
At any rate, the Nanto Buddhism and Shingon sect were in amicable relationship, but they were often in opposing to Tendai sect. These two schools were sometimes blended together with Three Treatises.
According to the chronological tables of the seven great temples, Shingon sect priests from Gangoji are prominent.
In Kyoto, Nanto and Mt. Koya, interest toward Daishi faith rises greatly around the 400- and 450-year memorial services. Ancestral worship, faith in Varicana (the Great Buddha), the Nyujo-Shinko faith, faith in the God of Fire and other branches of Estoric Buddhism have been permeated.
The statue of Kobo Daishi at Gangoji is also thought of as being built in honor of his 450th memorial.
The “Gangoji Gokuraku-bo Engi Emaki narrative scroll stored at Gangoji branch temple” edited during the Edo Period shows the origin of the room of treasures, Zenshitsu Yougono-ma. When Kukai was praying to the Nemoto Chiko Mandala (a diagram that depicts Buddhist deities) placed in this room, he noticed that the Kasuga Daimyojin deity appeared there. Feeling honored, he depicted the scenery in Kasuga Mandala enshrined there. At that time, Kukai carved a portrait of himself as statuary and placed it in that room. Based on this origin, Zushi-iri Chiko Mandala (Chiko Mandala with miniature shrine), Kasugashika Mandala, and the image of Kobo Daishi were enshrined together in this room.
At Gangoji, the wooden seated statue of Kobo Daishi, designated as the important cultural property, is settled in the Horin-kan hall. This statue has no particular memorial inscription, but the inscription of the sutra transcribed very quickly at Yamato Hannya-ji temple in 1325 and “Engi-komyo-jo”, a list of priests who formed a connection with Amida Buddha, written in 1345, are stored inside the statue.
However, judging from the sculpture style as well as the history of the other items placed inside the statue -- the directly transcribed Hannya Rishukyo, the Buddha’s ash stored in its head, a piece of a picture depicting Aizen Myoou that wraps the Buddha’s ash -- it is presumed to be made in 1285 by the Nanto Busshi, Zenshuu sect for the 450-year memorial service for Kobo Daishi. Either way, it is an important piece in the early times of Kobo Daishi faith rising in Nanto.
The 5th sacred site of Saigoku Yakushi pilgrimage in the Kansai region
Asuka-dera temple (Hoko-ji), referred as “the place where the first Buddhist temple was built in Japan”, was transferred to Sakyo Shijo Shichi-bo in Heijo-kyo. As being distinguished from the new Gangoji (new Asuka-dera) located in Heijo-kyo, the original Asuka-dera in the hometown was renamed as Hon Gangoji, This temple was originally built for praying for the prosperity of the Soga clan, but it became a state-sponsored temple that has been associated with Prince Shotoku, and the temple name was finally changed to Gangoji.
Hon Gangoji (Hoko-ji) is the first authentic temple in Japan, and was built based on the temple layout introduced from the ancient Korean kingdom, Goguryeo, consisting of 1 tower, 3 golden halls and 1 auditorium. In the middle golden hall, the existing Great Buddha of Asuka (the seated statue of Shaka Nyorai) was enshrined as the principal image. However, it isn’t certain which Buddhist images were enshrined in the east and west golden halls or in the auditorium. Considering from the existing Asuka Hakuho style Buddhist image, it is assumed that Miroku Nyorai Maitreya and Bhaisajyaguru were enshrined there. This configuration suggests the further addition of Shaka and Amitabha, to line up the “the Four Buddha of the Esoteric Buddhism” in the future.
Gangoji in Heijo-kyo which was announced as relocation actually turned out to be a total new construction with completely different layout from its original. The principle image in the golden hall was the seated statue of Miroku Nyorai Maitreya, and the seated statue of Bhaisajyaguru was for the auditorium. The original statue of Shaka Nyorai (The Great Buddha of Asuka), remained in the previous place, Hon Gangoji. At the new Gangoji, Miroku Nyorai Maitreya pausing the lower birth mudra was enshrined as a fundamental principle image. And behind it, Bhaisajyaguru was enshrined as the principal image to gain public respect and praise. For that reason, Bhaisajyaguru has the nature to gain benefits in this life. It also attained Buddhahood in the past life. It was probably influenced by the trend of the Bhaisajyaguru faith symbolized in Yakushi-ji temple in Fujiwara-kyo. The ideology was widely spread, believing Buddha existing beyond time, from the past, present and future. With any reason, at the government-sponsored temple praying for the spiritual protection of the state, the Four Buddha of the Esoteric Buddhism consisting of Shaka, Maitreya, Bhaisajyaguru and Amitabha were enshrined as principle images.
After the middle of the Heian Era, the prosperity of Gangoji was declining gradually. The statues of Maitreya in the golden hall and Bhaisajyaguru in the auditorium were afflicted by peasant uprising in the Muromachi Era, and led to being perished. Since the Asuka Era, Gangoji had been the place where the original Buddhism teaching has been inherited from Sanron and Hoso sects. However, this fact shows the declining of people’s interests in the Buddhism teaching. Gangoji was dissolved internally and externally, the temple grounds grew into a town. In the process of that collapse, the remained temple buildings and towers were supported individually by the nameless commoner class of people.
The town name, Yakushido-cho is derived from the fact that there was Yakushi-do on the east of the Great South Gate during the Middle Ages. The principal image, the seated statue of Bhaisajyaguru, was made in the Kamakura Era and transferred and worshipped at Tokuyu-ji temple of Yuzu Nenbutsu sect in the modern times. This statue is related to the Honjibutsu (original Buddhist divinity) of Goryo shrine in Yakushido-cho.
The whole area around Todaito-in (its five-storied pagoda and Kannon-do) was one of the representative scenic places of Gangoji, until destroyed by a fire. Now it is named as Gangoji, Kegonshu sect, but it protects the historical site of the Gangoji tower remains. It still enshrines the eleven-faced Kannon statue designated as an important cultural property and the standing statue of Yakushi Nyorai designated as the national treasure (the both are currently entrusted to Nara National Museum). Unfortunately, the history of this Yakushi Nyorai statue is unknown, but it is well-known with its divine beauty. Carved from one solid piece of wood brings a massive feeling. It is definitely one of the representative artworks made in the early Heian Era. This statue also suggests the history that the Esoteric Buddhist faith has been associated with the Yakushi faith in Nanto.
Within the remaining priests’ living quarters of the previous Gangoji, four parts on the east room of the south floor (Higashi-muro Minami-kai Daibou) was reconstructed into the Zen Room, and three parts into the Gokuraku-do Hall. Both are designated as national treasures. It is now named as Gangoji belonging to the Shingon sect, and registered as one of the cultural assets of ancient Nara under the World Cultural Heritage program. It used to be a famous temple in Nanto known as the sacred place where the Jodo sect and the Esoteric Buddhist faith were revitalized in the Middle Ages.
The principal image of Gangoji designated as the 5th sacred site of Saigoku Yakushi pilgrimage in the Kansai region is the wooden seated statue of Bhaisajyaguru made with a piece of wood. This typical Kaikei-style statue made in the Kamakura Era was enshrined in the previous Taishi-do hall before, but now is placed in the Horin-kan hall. This status has an unusual mezzo-relievo having a five-tier stone grave marker as an aureole, which describes the Eastern Ruriko Pure Land. And it is assumed that this was inspired by the Chiko Mandala (the Western Pure Land).
A group of the wooden seated statues of Bhaisajyaguru possessed by Chuin-cho are enshrined in the miniature shrine placed at Goto in the Gokuraku-do Hall. This statue was made during the Genroku Era (1688-1704). Although the statue is rather small in size, it is accompanied with Nikko and Gekko Bosatsu (the deity of the sun and moon), and the Twelve Divine Generals. The statue was originally enshrined in the Yakushi-do hall jointly operated with the Hakusan Shrine. It is a valuable material representing the fork religion in Nanto Naramachi.
There are many Bhaisajyaguru statues that remain in the old temple buildings in Gangoji. The Yakushi faith was derived from syncretization of Shinto with Buddhism during the ancient times. These venerable statuses are proof that they have been supported by the commoners within the social class, through significant change in its background.
After Saigoku Yakushi, pilgrimage in the Kansai region was established and Gangoji was designated as a World Cultural Heritage site. Three cornerstones, left in the place where the Yakushi-do hall stood was excavated and were placed in the garden before the Horin-kan hall. The Bhaisajyaguru statue, preserved in Chuin-cho, was moved to the national treasure Gokuraku-do hall and was on public display.
After regaining the statue of Bhaisajyaguru, invisible and mysterious powers can be still felt.
A Jizo Jippuku is mentioned in “Jizo Hogankyo”, a Jizo wearing protective glasses or “Enmei Jizo-kyo”, the life-prolonging sutra. If one makes a pilgrimage to 10 temples with Jizo, it’s said that the person will receive 10 pieces of good luck. The pilgrimages could be made from June 2011.
Gangoji, Jurin-in, Fukuchi-in, Obitoke-dera, Denko-ji, Ryosen-ji, Kongosan-ji (Yata-dera), Shorin-ji, Ono-ji, Muro-ji
The stamp booklet will be provided for free.
Please pick it up at the first temple you visit on the pilgrimage. The stamps cost 300 yen each. Admissions fees differ from temple to temple.
The Jizo Bosatsu is the most popular with the citizenry among the many buddhas, and is rated as the longest-running faith. The statues have been in fashion in Japan, especially in the Nanto, the current Nara area.
Where did they come from, and where were they placed? Let’s find out by looking at the Jizo diety in Gangoji.
The Jizo diety’s name is derived from the Sanskrit word Ksitigarbha, meaning “earth” and “womb.” These Jiyu Bosatsu are known as ones that spring from the earth. Bosatsu means Bodhisattva. Bosatsu are people who have achieved satori, or enlightenment. In other words, they are people who become buddhas. A Boddhisatva is someone who is almost a buddha. In Mahayana Buddhism, which puts an emphasis on Bodhisattva’s practice. They remain as Bodhisattva and represent the mercy of the Buddha and are considered hotoke, or Buddha.
Majushurih, Avarokiteashuvalla, Maitoleya and other faiths revolving around bodhisattva made the statues popular in the Mahayana region, giving them a magnificent presence in Japan.
Looking at the remaining statues of bodhisattvas, one big difference with the Jizo statues is that Jizo has the same shape, a shaved head and is wearing a cloth. It’s a statue distinguished by its round, shaved head. He’s carrying a sacred gem and a staff and is usually wearing shoes.
Jizo secretly hides the practice of Bodhisattva inside, and his exterior takes the shape of someone listening to the teachings of Buddha or preaching about them. He’s a real Budddha disciple being depicted in the activities of a priest. It is thought that Jizo led an existence closer to people than Tathagata and the aristocratic bodhisattvas.
Once Buddha has entered a death state, in the time when there w as no Buddha while a maitreya was becoming a maitreya Buddha, Jizo worked to save us. With the world in a sinful age, Jizo saves us from the base of hell with its endless circle of transmigration in the six posthumous realms (preta realm, animal realm, Asura realm, human realm and blissful realm). He’s the type of buddha who leads us reliably no matter what sort of hell awaits on Earth.
He’s called an Inro Bosatsu. He’s known to carry a stick and appear in countless guises, sometimes behind the Great King Yama and also by the roadside because of his desire to help people.
A medieval Buddhist collection of parables called Shasekishu (Sand and Pebbles) says that many Jizo’s virtuous miracles occurred in Nanto. Major examples include Chisoku-in, Fukuchi-in, and Jurin-in temples, where Jizo, and Ichino Jizo are enshrined. In Nara, there are many attractive and unique Jizo statues left in various temples, showing that the faith was strong here. Also, Jizo statues owned by the town, a public cemetery and roadsides offer glimpses of what’s left from the Middle Ages. The remains in Nanto are a little different from those in Kyoto. The third god of Kasuga-sha shrine, the Honjibutsu (original Buddhist divinity) of Amenokoyane no Mikoto (which has a very Buddhist feeling), or Kasuga-sha shrine’s Jihi Mangyo Bodhisattva are the same as Jizo Bosatsu’s long-cherished desire.
There are many Jizo statues left at Gangoji. First, an Inso Jizo (Shihoya no Jizo) that has no belongings, made by a sculptor, Shukuin Busshi Sadamasa dating from the Muromachi Era. And then, a cute three-dimensional sculpture of a thousand-bodied Jizo, a Jizo designated as important tangible folk-cultural property, such as Itae Jizo, Itanuki Jizo and Inbutsu Jizo, Sekizo Jizo, Jizo accompanying Amitabba, a five-tier stone grave marker and two-storied Buddhist tower with Jizo carved into them, and a five-tier stone grave marker with Jizo’s seed syllables cut into it. There is plenty of evidence that Jizo flourished here.
Also, in the back-door area of the national treasure, Gokuraku-do Hall, there is a bronze thousand-bodied Jizo Bosatsu by Koichi Mizushima that has been newly deified in this cineration space, and a wooden Jizo from the end of the Heian Era that is owned by Kasasagi-cho. From 1985 to 1988, tombstones and stone Buddhist images were placed in an orderly fashion in the temple’s south garden to hold services. There are about 1,500 tombstones and stone Buddhist images in the area called Futoden.
These tombstones and stone Buddhist images were placed here to be cherished forever, but unfortunately, at some point, they lost their original purpose and were left neglected, without having anyone to take care of them. However, when looked at closely, their overwhelming presence impress their viewers.
The comprehensive memorial service is held every year on August 23rd and 24th. Some people donate small plates or lamp cores for votive candles, some support the memorial service by pouring oil into votive candle plates. At the Gokuraku-do Hall, many votive lanterns sponsored by notable people from various fields throughout Japan will be lit up. In the silence, the votive candles illuminate something that is invisible but important, and the burning flame makes people feel the presence and warmth of their ancestors and the Jizo-son. On August 23rd, the “Yomise” (festival stalls) which is fun for children will be held. And on the 24th, the Japanese traditional music dedication performances will be held. Please visit with your family.
Gangoji became known as a scholar’s temple in the Asuka Era because it was the place where the original buddhism teaching has been inherited from Sanron and Hoso sects. However, in the Heian Era, after Kukai went to China to seek teachings, the Shingon faith was allowed, and he aggressively supported it, producing many followers of the sect. Looking at Kobo Daishi Kukai’s records, first, during the precept-conferral ceremonies at the ordination platform at Todai-ji temple, the name of Yasunobu, who was the highest officer of Gangoji appears.
In Daishi’s “Shouryoshu,” we can sense the deep friendship with Gomyo Zosho Chukei of Gangoji, Taizen from Sanron sect who launched the Monjue, a Buddhist service for Monju Bodhisattva which is related to Daishi’s teacher, Gonsou Soujou of Daian-ji temple,
And the unforgettable scholar priest Taihan who was Saicho’s pupil and one of the ten great pupils.
After Daishi dies and is made a buddha, the Kongo Busshi pupils such as Shobo, Engyo, Jougyo, Doushou, Ryukai, Dougen, Taishun, Enkai, Enshou, GEnchou, Gyouen, Eien, Kanjin and Doujaka belonged to Gangoji, which shows how long the temple has been associated with the Shingon faith.
We cannot find the description of statuary at Gangoji related to Fudo-son. But in a Heian Era collection the name of painter and priest Asuka-dera Gencho appears. Asuka-dera was today’s Gangoji, so perhaps he was a sculptor of buddhist statues at the Nanto Gangoji. It is presumed that Gencho was a master. The National Treasure of Twelve Divine Generals, wooden carvings shown at Kofuku-ji, are the works of Gencho. And are kept as old possessions in Gangoji’s Yukushi Hall. Gencho had a great ability to create vivid images of Buddha, and there are signs that the images of the trendy subject of that day, Fudo, caught a lot of attention.
Fudo-son was the embodiment of the Shingon Estoric Buddhist ascetic, and he was highly esteemed because he answered to all wishes. In detail, Fudo-son was also known as Daisho Acala, and elevated to Myoujou. Next, People pray for Fudo’s gratitude in an unusual memorial service. There is a holy fire platform for his noble image (pictures or objects). The flame and smoke are symbolic for the Buddhism practice where the sound, color and smell are mixed, the San Mitsu Gyo of body, mouth and zeal, and the activation of thought, transfer and action.
Fudo-son, a passionate ascetic, is depicted with his body turning black, red, blue and gold. He has a pigtail with Nanasunatabusa or a lotus flower on his head, and threatens evil by displaying his swords and cord. His widely opened eyes and teeth have a special fierceness.
Speaking of Fudo (Myo-o), was he supposed to be sitting or standing and emphasizing action? “Fudo” means immovable, so he is traditionally depicted as sitting. But at Nan-in temple on Mt. Koya, which is highly esteeemed, the faith is related to the standing statue of Namikiri Fudo-son.
The standing Fudo-son statue enshrined in Horin-kan Hall shows the Japanese style of Gencho and Enshin. It seems to be a popular style prevalent from the early Kamakura Era to the late Heian Era. Because the statue was constructed with pieces of wood, the subject’s eyes were directly carved on the face, and the cut gold were widely used for color.
In Nara, Hozan-ji (Mudo-ji) on Mount Ikoma is famous as the holy ground for Fudo-son. Showa Chukokaizan Taien Wajo, the monk at Gangoji who restored the temple, was a pupil on Mount Ikoma. The monk who revived Takayama-ji was Hozan Tankai Risshi, who climbed the mountain in 1678. Hozan Tankai Risshi experienced a pilgrimage on Mount Koya and Senshu Ooshima Jinpu-ji temple. He did more than incantations too, being an artist and sculptor.
The sitting Fudo-son statue made by Denchisho Daishi and inherited by Gangoji is thought to be one of early works of Tankai. When Tankai Risshi entered the Saidai-ji temple group, it was dedicated to Shunshiki Wajo, the chief priest at Gokuraku-in temple, but later became the 51st senior reverence at Saidai-ji temple.
Of the two standing stone statues of Fudo Myo-o the temple grounds, one located in Futoden at the south side of the Zen Rroom is an unusual mezzo-relievo having a five-tier stone grave marker as an aureole. The other one is located among the stone statues at Kainoduka at the south of the East Gate made by Renge-bo in 1615 carved into it. It stands 120cm with a fiery halo in mezzo-relievo. It gives expression to the 19 views of Fudo and is a very strong piece.
For the Fudo-son memorial service, Goma Kuyo, the Buddhist rite of cedar-stick burning, is conducted on the dirt floor in Shoshibo on the 28th of every month, The Kaiduka Fudo-son memorial service is on July 28th, Setsubun-e, the start of a new season, is held on February 3rd, and Saito Oogoma-ku, a big scale Buddhist rite, is also held outside.
The Kannon faith in Gangoji since its construction in the Nara Era basically has grown around scholarly Buddhism. According to the “Gangoji Engi” and “Konjaku Monogatari,” a Japanese collection of over one thousand tales written during the late Heian period, the principal image, Maitrya Buddha, was enshrined in the Kon-do golden hall, accompanied by two bodhisattva statues representing Mujaku and the Seshin brothers, the thousand-armed Kannon, and Shitenno (the Four Devas). Moreover, “Shichidaiji Junrei Shiki, pilgrimage record of the seven major temples”, tells that Nakamon Kannon enshrined at the inner gate was miraculous. This Kannon has eleven faces, made by the imperial order of Emperor Koken, to console the spirits of Emperor Shumu and Empress Komyo. Using the same wood as the Kannon at Hasedera temple, Keimon-e and Keishukun, who were both Buddhism artists during the Nara Era, carved out this eleven-faced Kannon statue.
The eleven-faced Kannon statue, enshrined in the current Gangoji temple belonging to the Kegonshu sect, is done in the Hasedera style. The highway passing through the area of the Gangoji tower remains (the remains of Kannon-do hall) is called “Kannon Road”, also known as “Ise Kaido”, which connects the Nanen-do hall at Kofukuji temple (the 9th sacred site of Saigoku Sanju-sansho, pilgrimage of 33 Buddhist temples in the Kansai region) and Hasedera temple (the 8th sacred site of the same pilgrimage route). While the prosperity of Gangoji was declining and the grounds it possessed were growing into a town, the Kannon faith was changing shape and spreaded throughout the town. Therefore, most of the Kannon statues remaining in Nara-cho are related to Nigatsu-do hall or a pilgrimage of Kinki region.
Many stone sculptures remain in the historical site of Gangoji Gokuraku-bo hall, but there is only one Kannon statue. This Kannon is an eleven-faced Kannon in the Hase-dara style. It used to be possessed by Minami Hijitsuka-machi along the Ise Kaido highway. Part of the head is damaged; it was made of Izumi sandstone in the late Edo period.
Iga Hijiri was a wandering pilgrim of "Honcho Shinshu Ojo-den" (New collection of hagiographies of those born in the Pure Land). There is the Sho Kannon statue with 36cm in height bestowed from the priest Dojo of Gangoji. Among antique art dealers, this Kannon statue with less than 50cm in height is referred to as one of “Gangoji one-thousand Kannon Bodhisattva”. It also has another nickname, “dried bonito”, because it looks like a block of dried bonito before shaving. This statue is related to wandering pilgrims and was motivated by the “Tasu Sazen Shiso theory” (a belief that good deeds will bring them more blessing) in the Fujiwara Era.
Next, within the worship to Prince Shotoku, Nyoirin Kannon (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) drew attention. Today in Gangoji, there is a printed Buddha and a figure made out of many kinds of wood. The printed work is derived from the Song Era in China. “Onnatake, is inscribed on the back in 1224 . It is a nationally designated important tangible folklore assets to know the framework technique at that time. Therefore, it is a nationally designated important tangible folk cultural property. The Ono Daigo within the Shingon sect puts extreme emphasis on the Nyoirin Kannon chant. Basically, there must be some connection to the fact that the land of Prince Shotoku gave way to the Nyoirin Kannon.
The wooden sculptures are made with plain wood in the Danzon style using a fragrant tree have a feminine touch. A group of Kosei Bosatsu Eison of Saidai-ji temple actively promoted the prevalence of the word of Buddha and monastic rules, and encouraged the esoteric Buddhist faith and Bosatsu-gyo practice. Among those activities, the faith to Buddha, Buddha’s ash, Prince Shotoku, Kobo Daishi, and Nyoirin Kannon (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) are laid special press.
At Gangoji temple, the Prince Shotoku and Kobo Daishi faithful got involved in the restoration of Gangoji in the Bunei Era (1264-1274) and Koan Era (1278-1287). The Nyoirin Kannon (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) made for the restoration of Gangoji by Jishin Osho, the 2nd senior priest at Saidai-ji temple, drew the attention as a principle image of Nanto Minami-ichi. But after that the Nanto Minami-ichi was transferred to Kofuku-ji Minami-ichi later, and the principle image was changed to enshrine Ebisu, the god of wealth, where it became Ebisu shrine. This statue might have been a former principle image in Minami-ichi made in the 14th century. Prince Shotoku and Kobo Daishi had some links to the Nyoirin Kannon, and designated Gangoji temple as a sacred site.
And in recent years,Koichi, Mizushima(1907～1982)a sculptor from Kyoto-kaseyama. His sculpture is made of camphor wood and it is enshrined in Yuhua Gangoji. The models of this image who made of bronze were left behind, and one of them is enshrined in General facilities related by Gangoji. And there is a Noukotusenntai-jizo (made of bronze) at Main temple rear door, sculptued by Koichi, Mizushima.
The historically significant Prince Shotoku was the child of Emperor Yomei and Anahobe no Hashihito no Himemiko, a princess of Emperor Kinmei. But soon after his death, his great character was blown out of proportion, and admiration for him soared so that despair over his loss sublimated the faith.
As seen in “Jougu Shotoku Hoo Teisetsu, a biography of Prince Shotoku”, or “Nihon Shoki, the Chronicles of Japan”, as well as “Prince Shotoku Denryaku”, “Nihon Ojo Gokurakuki, a collection of biography about peaceful death”, or "Dainihonkoku Hokekyo Genki, or Hokekyo Genki", the prince was Japan’s first Buddhist and temple founder, and he was worshipped like a hotoke.
As the story of Prince Shotoku, “Taishi-den”, and the development of Buddhism arts and statues including “Taishi-e-den” and “Taishi-zo” spread far and wide, it finally brought an image of a patriarch. However, interpretation varies depending on temples and sects, and some historical persons such as Emperor Shomu, Denkyo Daishi Saicho, Kobo Daishi Kukai, and Rigen Daishi Shobou were considered as the reincarnation of Prince Shotoku. In some cases, Taishi was regarded as the first person who went back to the Buddha’s Pure Land. He was also sometimes seen as the incarnation of Kannon, Daruma Bodhidharma Amitabha, or a founder of Hokekyo Kodo. Based on their own interpretation, people took advantage of Prince Shotoku when founding a new religious sect, claiming there was a relationship. Therefore, the venerable temples are attempting to establish authority by connecting the foundation of the temple to Prince Shotoku.
Gangoji is one of the 46 temples that Prince Shotoku built, and it is in the lineage of Kandai-ji temple. As a token of its good lineage, Gangoji contends that it was constructed by Prince Shotoku under the behest of Emperor Suiko, and it had a very close relationship with Sogano Umako and Prince Shotoku. As a base of the rise of Buddhism designated by Sogano Umako and Prince Shotoku under the order of Emperor Yomei and Emperor Suiko, Asuka-dera and Ikaruga-dera temples were renamed Hoko-ji and Horyu-ji, respectively. Due to this movement, the temple was allowed to call itself “the place where the first Buddhist temple was built in Japan” after the capital was transferred to Heijo-kyo. When the Genpei War, a battle between the Taira and Minamoto clans, was over, the reconstruction of Nanto was conducted extensively in the Kamakura Era. During that time, the reconstruction of Gangoji was also promoted.
The independence of the Gokuraku-bo is probably one of the major incidents, and is the substantial proclamation of the Prince Shotoku faith. In other words, the establishment of the standing statue of Prince Shotoku, “Koyou-zo”, was designated as an important cultural property, the Namu Buddha Taishi standing statue designated as a cultural property by Nara prefecture, and the Taishi-do hall (perished in the Meiji Era).
The items stored inside the “Koyou-zo” statue revealed that the temple solicitation started on April 8, 1268 at the Flower Festival to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. 5,000 priests and secular people formed a connection by establishing this Prince Shotoku statue made by Busshi, Zenshuu. It was probably established in 1275 in commemoration of the 700-year anniversary of Prince Shotoku’s birthday.
The inside of the Namu Buddha Taishi standing statue hasn’t been revealed yet. As the inscriptions remained in other temples show, it is assumed to be founded in 1325 in commemoration of the 750-year anniversary of Prince Shotoku’s birthday.
It is said that Taishi-do hall was constructed in the Ouei Era for the commemoration of the 850th anniversary of the founding of Gangoji, which fell in 1425, as well as its 800-year memorial service. Since then, it started that Taishi-do hall in Nanto, which was referred to as Gokuraku-bo hall in Gangoji temple.
Now, Taishi-do hall and Taishi-den (the story of Prince Shotoku) have not remained there, but the existence of the excellent “Koyou-zo” and “Namu Buddha Taishi” are telling us that the interest in Prince Shotoku faith rose at that time.
The Koyou-zo statue depicts a 16-year-old boy with Mizura hair (an ancient hair style where a bunch of hair is wrapped round and hangs beside the ears), wearing an official uniform with a priest’s stole hanging on his right shoulder while holding an incense burner with a handle.
This statue can be interpreted into two different ways. While one can assume that it depicts a figure praying for his father (Emperor Yomei) to recover from illness, the other thinks that he is attending his father’s funeral. The true intention is not clear, but it depicts both a priest and a secular person.
The Namu Buddha Taishi statue, an infant with only a loincloth worshiping with folded hands, depicts Prince Shotoku at 2 years old. This statue suggests not only the Buddha’s death on February 15th, but also the birth of Buddha, “Namu Buddha”, beginning and ending. It imagines Nirvana Day after the Buddha’s death.
Set in the land of beginnings with a history spanning 1,300 years,
Gangoji is a National Treasure and World Heritage Site of Nara.