Gangôji monastery, (in) Nara, Nara Prefecture, JP

Raw data

Gangôji is one of Nara’s “Seven Great Temples.” Originally built in Asuka by Soga no Umako, it followed the imperial family to Nara around 718. In other words, that which constitutes the “soul” of a temple (its sacred objects, for instance) was relocated to Gangôji from its antecedent Asukadera, when the center of power left Asuka.

Gangôji is associated with Nara state Buddhism, which ended when the capital moved to Heian-kyô in 794. it aligned itself with Tôdaiji and Kôfukuji, the largest centers of monastic power in Nara. Yet, it declined in the Kamakura period (1185–1333); its halls, pagodas and treasures were redistributed elsewhere. What remained of the monk’s quarters, the Kokurakubô, became the main hall (renamed Kokurakudô) of a now smaller temple belonging to the Shingon-Risshû sect, under the management of Kôfukuji’s Daijôin cloister. This hall contains the Pure Land Mandala of the Nara-era monk Chikô of the Sanron school of Buddhism.

“Shingon-Risshû Gangôji,”

Today, Gangôji is divided into two temples by the same name, both in Nara: one at Shibanoshinya-chô, and this one at Chûin-chô (a World Heritage site, located southwest of Tôdaiji and the Nara Deer Park). The oldest buildings are the main hall (Hondo) and the Zen Room (Zenshitsu), reconstructed in the Kamakura period. There is an indoor five-storied pagoda (5.5 meters, roughly 18 feet high) that has survived since the Nara period.

– “JAL Guide to Japan: Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara”

Surviving records indicate that Gangôji struggled to maintain its estates (shôen) during the Heian period, as did other monasteries. One of its holdings, Echi shôen, located in Ômi province, was surveyed in 859 by Empô, the temple’s representative, in response to a conflict over the amount of rent that tenant cultivators owed the monastery from. It comprised about ten chô of mostly rice paddies (though it would grow much larger in the 11th century). There was a local superintendent (bettô), and “two field managers (tato) who rented fields in the shôen for cultivation.” - Shively & McCullough, eds (1999: 293). These managers came from the local elite. They were not monks, and “their interests conflicted with those of the temple, and they and the other renting cultivators on the shôen took every possible opportunity to increase their own holdings at the temple’s expense and to minimize rent payments” (294). They appear to have been pretending that some of the land did not actually belong to the temple but was in fact newly reclaimed land or “public fields,” which means that the temple could not collect revenue from it.

In the 9th century, Gangôji’s holdings were registered with Ômi province officials as “chishiden” to be rented for one-fifth the expected yield of produce. By the 11th century, the local government could no longer keep up with the different grades of land, and all land appears to have been taxed at the same rate.

- Shively & McCullough, eds. (1999: 293-4)]

Input by: Lizbeth H. Piel, Jun 23, 2010

Final data (and their sources)

Last updated: 01 Mar 2013

Lat/Long coordinates' accuracy:
The monastery in question is assumed to be situated actually no farther than 200 m from the point defined by the coordinates below.

Location of Gangoji monastery, JP.

General location of the Gangoji monastery, JP.
Lat 34.6778 Long 135.8312
Mapping & images: Falling Rain Genomics (, 2010.

Google Map link:,%20JP)&ll=34.6778,135.8312&spn=05.0,05.0&t=k&hl=en

Final data - explanatory notes

1. Monastery's name

  • Gangôji 元興寺. Alternative English spelling: Gangô-ji, Gangoji, Gango-ji

2. Monastery's modern country & province

  • Japan: Nara Prefecture

3. Monastery's alternative/historical names

4. Monastery's lat/long coordinates

  • Approx., Lat 34.6778 Long 135.8312, based on visual identification of the monastery in maps, - tmc, 24 Jun 2010.

5. Other known nearby Buddhist monasteries

6. Modern name of the known nearest city, town, or village

  • Nara-shi (Nara City), Chûin-chô

7. The settlement's alternative/historical names

  • Heijô-kyô

8. The settlement's coordinates

9. Monastery's major Buddhist tradition

  • Mahayana

10. Monastery's Buddhist sub-tradition

  • Sanron, Shingon-Risshû

11. Date-early

  • MBM chrono-tag 0700-32c - tmciolek 01 Mar 2013
  • 0700-32c 0733-66c 0767-99c 0800-32c 0833-66c 0867-99c 0900-32c 0933-66c 0967-99c 1000-32c 1033-66c 1067-99c 1100-32c 1133-66c 1167-99c 1200=> dated-el

12. Date-intermediate

  • [missing data]

13. Date-late

  • MBM chrono-tag 1200=> - tmciolek 01 Mar 2013

14. Details of contacts with other monasteries

15. Type of evidence regarding the monastery

  • Documents, architecture, artifacts

16. Additional notes

  • [missing data]

17. Corrections & addenda to this page were kindly provided by

  • [missing data]

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