Five-storied Pagoda (Goju-no-To)
The Five-storied Pagoda at Horyuji Temple is the oldest pagoda of this type in Japan and one of the oldest surviving wooden towers in the world. It was erected during the Asuka period (593–710) to enshrine sacred relics of the Buddha. The bones and ashes of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, were distributed among his followers after he died some 2,500 years ago. A portion of these remains are said to be entombed about three meters below the base of the pagoda today. The base displays a series of four tableaux depicting scenes from the Buddha’s story. On the north side, he is depicted passing into Nirvana while his disciples surround him in mourning.
The pagoda is approximately 32.5 meters tall from the base and its central pillar is made from a Japanese cypress tree felled in 594. This pillar runs through the tower’s five tiers which use flexible wooden joints to help the structure absorb the seismic energy of Japan’s frequent earthquakes.
A unique feature of the pagoda, and one of the “seven mysteries” of Horyuji, are the scythes attached to the uppermost roof. Lightning was once considered a celestial monster, so swords and implements with sharp edges were added to the pagoda as it was said that this would prevent the celestial monsters from alighting on them. The pagoda was struck by lightning during the Kamakura period (1185–1333), but was unharmed. Later, talismans were hung on each level to protect against future strikes. Today lightning rods protect the building.