Base for giant pagoda could be first proof of mystery temple

February 10, 2017 at 17:50 JST

Trench digs at the Higashi-Yuge site in Yao, Osaka Prefecture, revealed the possible foundation of a pagoda where Yugeji temple is said to have stood in the eighth century. The foundation, marked by the white lines, is 20 meters by 20 meters. (Provided by the Yao education board)

YAO, Osaka Prefecture–Archaeologists have found a square foundation believed to have supported a towering pagoda that was part of a mysterious temple built by a powerful Buddhist monk in the eighth century.

The discovery at the Higashi-Yuge archaeological site was announced on Feb. 9 by a cultural property research group originally founded by the Yao city government.

It could be the first archaeological evidence proving the existence of Yugeji temple, which is said to have been built here in the Nara Period (710-784) by Dokyo, a Buddhist monk.

Dokyo rose in power after winning the favor of Empress Shotoku, one of the few female rulers in Japan’s history.

Her reign started in 764 and ended with her death in 770. Dokyo fell from power after she died, and he was relegated to what is now Tochigi Prefecture. The year of his birth is not known, but records show he died in 772.

Only a few historical documents mention Yugeji temple.

The research group and the Yao education board consider the square foundation, about 20 meters by 20 meters, as invaluable evidence in the search for Yugeji temple. They are now working to preserve the site.

The foundation was found in stratum dating back to the latter half of the eighth century.

According to Kazuhisa Hakozaki, a researcher of ancient Buddhist architecture at the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, the sheer size of the foundation indicates that a relatively large pagoda stood on top.

“The find was compared with remaining foundations of seven-story pagodas built as a part of official temple complexes around the country, as well as the foundation sizes of existing wooden five-story pagodas,” he said. “The square foundation with sides 20 meters long could have possibly held a 60-meter class, seven-story pagoda.”

A copper fragment believed to have come from a large “sorin” finial of the pagoda was also found nearby. The researchers said the entire piece would have been bowl-shaped with a 90-centimeter diameter.

“Shoku Nihongi,” an official history book on the Nara Period published by authorities during the Heian Period (794-1185), contains an account of Yugeji temple. It says people involved in building the pagoda in 770 were given court ranks.

Hitoshi Minamoto, head of the cultural property department of the Yao education board, said, “Historical documents say there was a palace site called Yuge-no-miya (also known as Nishi-no-kyo) that was founded by Empress Shotoku near Yugeji temple, so we would like to continue our research.”

(This article was written by Toru Furusho and Kunihiko Imai, a senior staff writer.)


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