photo source: Wikipedia

image source: Kidder, p. 59

Five-Story Pagoda

Horyuji Temple
Ikaruga, Japan

The stories of Horyuji's pagoda decrease in size from bottom to top. The 100-foot-tall structure is built around a massive internal post that was cut from a single tree trunk, although Kidder (p. 64), writes that "If anything, the pagoda supports the pole, not the pole the pagoda."1

The pagoda form was originally derived from Chinese watchtowers. However, unlike the Chinese pagoda, this early Japanese example does not have functional upper floors (the balconies are merely decorative, you can't climb up there and look out). The stone platform that supports this and other temple buildings is also derived from Chinese models. Amazingly, all of this impressive and beautiful temple architecture was recreated from illustrations in Chinese picture-books, without direct knowledge of the Chinese originals.

The temple's kondo, like its pagoda, has a false upper story and a doubled lower roof. This is actually a later interpolation of a roofed portico into the original design.

Over 90 stunning miniature clay statues (dated 711 A.D.) are displayed in four alcoves that are set into the outside of the pagoda's walls. At present (2000) these statues can only be seen unsatisfactorily, as the niches that contain them are very dark.


1Horyuji's Pagoda is one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world, but what does this actually mean? Down through the centuries, it was lovingly rebuilt according to the original plans, while reusing as much of the original material as possible. It is like the idea that a human body replaces its cells, yet in some sense it is still the same body; or that new water always flows through a river, yet in some sense it is still the same river.