Hōryū-ji was founded in 607 by Prince Shōtoku, who is considered by many to be the patron saint of Japanese Buddhism. Legend has it that moments after his birth, Shōtoku stood up and started praying. Hōryū-ji is renowned not only as the oldest temple in Japan but also as a repository for some of the country's rarest treasures. Several of the temple's wooden buildings have survived earthquakes and fires to become the oldest of their kind in the world.
The temple is divided into two parts, Sai-in (West Temple) and Tō-in (East Temple). The entrance ticket allows admission to Sai-in, Tō-in and the Great Treasure Hall. A detailed map is provided and a guidebook is available in English and several other languages.
The main approach to the temple proceeds from the south along a tree-lined avenue and continues through the Nandai-mon and Chū-mon gates before entering the Sai-in precinct. As you enter, you'll see the Kondō (Main Hall) on your right and a pagoda on your left.
The Kondō houses several treasures, including the triad of the Buddha Sakyamuni, with two attendant Bodhisattvas. Though it is one of Japan's great Buddhist treasures, it's dimly lit and barely visible – you will need a torch (flashlight) to see it. Likewise, the pagoda contains clay images depicting scenes from the life of Buddha, which are barely visible without a torch.
On the eastern side of Sai-in are the two concrete buildings of the Daihōzō-in (Great Treasure Hall), containing numerous treasures from Hōryū-ji's long history.
Given the cost of admission and the time it takes to get here from central Nara, we recommend that you give careful thought to committing at least half a day to visiting this temple.