An often overlooked temple, Gangoji has many secrets waiting to be revealed. Deceptively simple from the outside, there is fantastic mandala art and mischievous ogre statues hidden around the grounds. The temple is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The temple can be easily accessed on foot 15 minutes from Kintetsu Nara station.
Approximately 25 minutes from JR Nara Station on foot, or take any bus that stops in Naramachi.
Gangoji was originally in Asuka, however, the Emperor Gemmyo ordered that the entire temple be moved to Nara and reconstructed. Though the temple has officially been renamed Gangoji, it is still sometimes refered to as the Asuka of Nara.
The main attractions of the temple are found in the main hall. These include four mandalas, Buddhist works of art. The largest of these pieces features scenes of paradise with children on lotus flowers and treasure trees.
If this leaves you in a contemplative mood, next to the mandala is a large Sanskrit letter representing the letter "a" in front of which visitors are encouraged to meditate.
Also in the main hall are almost 200 statues of the Buddhist bodhisattva known as jizo alongside the statues of the 12 divine generals.
To the left-hand side of the main hall is also the smaller hall which is used as a museum. Inside are some of the most important heritage items belonging to the temple.
Immediately on entering, your eyes will be drawn to the small pagoda which was likely used as a model for building larger pagodas. This is the only 5-story pagoda of any size to survive from the zenith of the Nara period.
In addition to this priceless statue, there are numerous wooden statues known as mokuzo. The most prominent of these is the large statue of Amida Nyorai which is covered in gold lacquer and dates back to the 10th century.