OWL Magazine Korea

Nara, UNESCO World Heritage Site – Gango-ji

Gango-ji is a temple located in the heart of Naramachi in Nara. It can be read in Sino-Korean pronunciation as “Wonen-ji.” This ancient Buddhist temple is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Naramachi’s focal point, Gango-ji, was originally established in 596 AD in Asuka, the ancient capital, as Asukadera, Japan’s foremost (head) temple, following the relocation to its current location in 710 AD during the Heian period (present-day Nara region). The name Gango-ji was given during this move. Although the grandeur of the expansive grounds and elegance of the past are no longer visible, the main hall, Gokuraku-do (極楽堂), and the Zen room, as well as the five-story pagoda, still showcase roof tiles crafted by artisans sent from Baekje, an ancient Korean kingdom, at the time of its construction.

“Gokuraku-do – The Best Preserved Building at Gango-ji”

The most well-preserved part of the temple is Gokuraku-do. Alongside other temples and shrines in Nara, it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, representing the cultural heritage of ancient Nara. The temple boasts three Japanese national treasures:

  • Main Hall (Hondo) or Gokuraku-do
  • Zen Room (Zenshitsu)
  • Five-story Pagoda (Gojunoto)

While during the Nara period, Gango-ji was among the significant temples like Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji, it gradually declined after the medieval period, dividing into two separate temples. The part with Gokuraku-do, designated as a cultural property of ancient Nara, belongs to the Shingon sect, while the other part is affiliated with the Hossō sect.

“Admission Fee of 500 Yen for Gango-ji”

For Gango-ji, an admission fee of 500 yen is required. Payment can be made at the entrance, and in return, visitors receive an admission ticket.

Gango-ji was the first historical site I visited during my trip to Nara. The decision was straightforward as it was conveniently located near my accommodation, forming part of my plan to explore northward one place at a time.

However, the scale of the temple was not as substantial as I had anticipated. Perhaps the incomplete restoration played a role in this impression. Moreover, photography was prohibited inside the temple, leaving only visual appreciation, which added a sense of regret.

The structures consisted of the main hall and a small annex beside it. From the annex, one could observe a pagoda in the center.

“World Cultural Heritage, Yet…”

Since Gango-ji was my first visit to a historical site in Nara, I didn’t hesitate to explore. However, after visiting Todai-ji, one of Nara’s major cultural assets, I couldn’t help but think that it might not have been necessary to visit Gango-ji. Although Todai-ji required an entrance fee of 600 yen, its impressive scale justified the cost, making it a more worthwhile destination.

While Gango-ji emanated a similar atmosphere to Todai-ji, the 500-yen entrance fee seemed relatively high, and the number of visitors appeared lower compared to Todai-ji. Despite this, the early morning visit allowed for a serene exploration of the temple with almost no other visitors.

“Nara, Gango-ji (Wonen-ji Temple)”

  • Address: 1 Chuincho, Nara, 630-8392, Japan
  • Phone: +81742231377
  • Website: Gango-ji Official Site
  • Operating Hours: 9:00 – 17:00