While most Japanese temples contain just a single nationally recognized treasure, Kofuku-ji contains four: a five-story pagoda, a three-story pagoda, the Hoku-endo, and the Tokon-do. In addition, it has received recognition by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site.
Nara Park is a short walking distance from the train station. Trains to Nara run regularly from Osaka and Kyoto, as well as other major destinations.
Kofukuji temple is an easy five-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, or a 20-minute walk from JR Nara Station.
If you arrive at the JR station, there is a loop bus which will save you the walk to the park. The number 2 bus or any of the buses bound for Kasuga Taisha will stop at Kencho-mae bus stop, which is a short walk from the temple.
Kofuku-ji temple was founded in 669 by the powerful Fujiwara clan. In those days Kofuku-ji was known as Umayasaka-dera and was based in nearby Asuka. When the city of Nara was built, it was moved to Nara and renamed.
If you like pagodas, you will love Kofukuji temple. At 50 meters tall, the five-story pagoda is the second largest in Japan. The tallest pagoda can be found in neighboring Kyoto.
While this one may not be the tallest in the country, it makes up for it with impressive age, dating back to the 12th century.
Two of the curiousities of the site are the octagonal halls, Hoku-endo and Nan-endo, created in wood by Buddhist monks. Although the mound-like stupa typically have a smooth, round shape, the unusual shape of these halls has made them a popular part of the temple.
The East Golden Hall, Tokon-do, is the only one of three original golden halls that remain standing today. However, the main Central Golden Hall is currently undergoing a full scale reconstruction, and is scheduled for completion in 2018.
Kofuku-ji is filled with priceless relics from the days when Nara was the capital of Japan. Many of these are displayed in the Kokuhokan, the Kofukuji National Treasure Museum.
The statues are made from a variety of materials, such as the dry-lacquer Ashura statue, gilded wooden images of the bodhisattvas, the bronze head of the Medicine Buddha, as well as the golden Buddha.
The way that each of these ancient images was crafted using different tools and techniques is a fascinating reminder of how important religion was in ancient Nara. You can expect to spend a couple of hours at Kofuku-ji to see the magnificent architecture and the many treasures in the temple's collection.