NARA – The results of a new study prove that the five-story pagoda at Horyuji Temple was rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 670, according to officials at the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.
While the temple, located in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture, is thought to have been built originally in 607, the timbers’ yearly growth rings show that the pagoda, which is a national treasure, was built later than 663, officials at the Nara-based institute revealed last week.
The issue of whether the temple, founded by Prince Shotoku, a statesman in the late sixth century and early seventh century, has retained its original form or was rebuilt after the 670 fire has been a focus of academic debate since the Meiji Era (1868-1912).
The debate was renewed in 2001 when the central pillar of the pagoda was said to date back to 594. Such an early date suggests that Horyuji’s Western Precinct (the Saiin), a major compound in which the temple buildings are primarily arranged, was not rebuilt.
Until this revelation, it was widely held that the Saiin had been rebuilt, with remnants of what is deemed to be the original Horyuji Temple having been found in 1939, according to experts.
In the wake of the latest finding, experts may now assume that the pagoda was rebuilt using timber cut in different years, institute officials said.
The institute examined 14 pagoda timbers, including two rafters confirmed to have been cut in 663 and 631. The latter conclusion was drawn from the fact that the white part inside the bark or the newest ring remained unshaved, they said.
The institute judged that the timbers had not been replaced in the period covering less than a century from the temple’s founding in 607, the officials said.
Former institute chief Kakichi Suzuki said the reconstruction of the pagoda is estimated to have started around 680, adding that its central pillar may have been left cut in the mountains until then.
The institute is examining other timbers for more evidence, Suzuki added.
The fire in 670 is recorded in Nihon Shoki, Japan’s oldest official history document. It covers events from the mythical age to the late seventh century.