Kōfuku-ji was founded in Kyoto in 669 and relocated here in 710. The original Nara temple complex had 175 buildings, though much has been lost over the years to fires and periods of medieval warfare. Of those that remain, the most impressive are the Tōkondō and the temple's two pagodas: the three-storey pagoda dates to 1181 and is a rare example of Heian-era architecture, while the 50.1m five-storey pagoda, last reconstructed in 1426, is Japan's second-tallest pagoda.

The Tōkondō is a National Treasure dating from 726; rebuilt in 1415 (but paying homage to older structures), it houses several important Buddhist statues. The temple's Chūkondō (Central Golden Hall) was rebuilt in 2018 – the first time it had been properly rebuilt since it burned down for the seventh time in 1717; that said, it does look a bit out of place among Kōfuku-ji's more historic structures.

The temple grounds are free to visit, though admission is required to enter some of the structures. If you have to pick just one, make it the Kōfuku-ji National Treasure Museum, which houses the most outstanding pieces of the temple's vast collection of art.

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Nearby Nara attractions

1. Kōfuku-ji Tōkondō

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Kōfuku-ji's Tōkondō is a National Treasure dating from 726 and rebuilt in 1415 (but paying homage to older structures). It houses several important…

2. Kōfuku-ji Nanen-dō

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Kōfuku-ji's southern octagonal hall, first built in 813 (and most recently reconstructed in 1789), enshrines an image of the bodhisattva Kannon.

3. Kōfuku-ji Hokuen-dō

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Kōfuku-ji's northern octagonal hall was first built in 721. The current reconstruction is c 1210, making it the second-oldest structure at Kōfuku-ji.

5. Kōfuku-ji National Treasure Museum

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Reopened in 2018, this compact museum houses Kōfuku-ji's most important works of art, many of which date to the 8th century (and have managed to survive…

6. Kōfuku-ji Three-Storey Pagoda

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Kōfuku-ji's oldest structure is this often-overlooked, elegant three-storey pagoda built in 1181, a rare example of Heian-era architecture.

7. Nara National Museum

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This world-class museum of Buddhist art is divided into two sections. Built in 1894 and strikingly renovated in 2016, the Nara Buddhist Sculpture Hall &…

8. Yoshiki-en

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This garden was once part of Kofuku-ji and since 1919 has been a public garden, laid out in traditional fashion along paths around a pond. Most attractive…