Kamiyodo Haiji, Sakaiminato, Japan | CruiseBe
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Kamiyodo Haiji

History and museums
sightseeing, history, culture, church, temple

Kamiyodo Haiji (上淀廃寺) is a ruined Buddhist temple and national Historic Site in Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, Japan. Excavations between 1991 and 1993 uncovered temple buildings of the late Asuka period (end of the seventh or beginning of the eighth century). The complex, which has an unusual plan, appears to have been destroyed by fire during the tenth or eleventh century. From the site of the kondō, hundreds of fragments of early Buddhist wall painting have been recovered. These were at the time identified as the earliest in Japan, alongside the wall paintings of the Hōryū-ji kondō. The paintings show a considerable sophistication of decoration despite the remoteness of the site, far from the political centre in the Yamato plain.


Temple complex

The compound includes a kondō that measures 14.8 metres (49 ft) east to west by 12.4 metres (41 ft) north to south. Unusually, the foundations of three pagodas have been identified to the east of the kondō, arranged from north to south. The site of what appears from its size, foundation stone, and fallen tiles to have been a further, three-storey pagoda has been uncovered to the west of the kondō. Behind were a number of further buildings. 5,500 fragments of wall painting and 3,300 fragments of sculpture were recovered from the site, together with a large quantity of roof tiles and items of iron and bronze.

Wall paintings

Among the fragments of painting are the heads of a heavenly general and bodhisattva, a cuirass, sections of robe, flowers, grasses, lotus petals, part of a decorated canopy, and a mountain with three peaks emerging from the clouds, the precursor of later landscape painting. The paintings were executed upon an earthen render, the lower layer comprising clay and chopped straw, the upper more sandy soil with finer vegetable fibres; the surface was prepared for painting with a white clay ground. The range of pigments as much as the subject matter shows the impact of foreign culture from the mainland: unlike the limited pallette of the decorated tombs before the introduction of Buddhism, the painting fragments show the use of vermilion, red ochre, minium, yellow ochre, massicot, malachite, azurite, white clay, and lampblack ink.


An area of 25,560 square metres (275,100 sq ft) encompassing the excavations was designated a National Historic Site in 1996. In 2006/2007 the site was relandscaped at a cost of ¥111.3 million. In 2009 the excavated artefacts were designated a Prefectural Tangible Cultural Property. The nearby Kamiyodo Hakuhō-no-Oka Exhibition Hall opened in 2011; exhibits include fragments of the wall paintings and a reconstruction of the interior of the kondō complete with paintings and sculptures. The fragments of painting themselves have been consolidated with an epoxy resin.

Early temple wall painting

Initially the paintings, understood to be coeval with the construction of the kondō in the late Asuka period (end of the seventh or beginning of the eighth century), were hailed as the earliest temple mural painting in Japan, alongside the wall paintings of the Hōryū-ji kondō. During excavation in 2004 of the Wakakusa-garan, however, the old Hōryū-ji complex before the 670 fire, hundreds of fragments of wall painting dating to the first half of the seventh century were unearthed, with heat-induced pigment alteration. Two fragments of fire-damaged plaster recovered from excavations of Yamada-dera in 1978 have also been recently attributed to a wall painting, of mid-seventh century date. Late Asuka-period wall paintings are now known from Hiokimae Haiji (日置前廃寺) in Takashima, Shiga. Fragments of red plaster have also been recovered from the site of the pagoda of Daikandai-ji, constructed in 698 and destroyed by fire in 711. Wall paintings of a similar date were uncovered in the five-storey pagoda of Hōryū-ji in the 1940s; these suggest the use of stencils and have been designated an Important Cultural Property.


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