The magnificent Middle Gate marks the entrance to the inner temple area where the Five-storied Pagoda and Main Hall are located. Two fierce guardian deities known as Kongo Rikishi (Nio) flank the gate. These statues were erected to protect the temple and have stood guard for more than a thousand years.
There are actually two entrances to the Western Precinct within the gate. They stand side by side, forming what is known as a “split entrance.” The entrance is said to reflect the positioning of the buildings within the precinct. It is also said that unlike other temples of the time period, in which the buildings stood in a straight line, one behind the other, the Main Hall and the Five-storied Pagoda at Horyuji stand side-by-side, almost as if mirrored by the gate’s split entrance design. There is a pillar in the middle of the gate, which is unusual, but it is thought to be there because an extra pillar was required to support the large size of the structure. Other features of the gate include its large, overhanging eaves and a complex system of brackets designed to support them. These brackets are in the shape of clouds, a feature unique to the architectural style of the Asuka period (593–710).