Possible ruins of ancient pagoda found

The excavation site of what is believed to be the site of a five-story pagoda at Saiji temple in Kyoto. Japan News-Yomiuri photo

Japan News

KYOTO, Japan — Architectural remains of foundation supports found at the site of the former Saiji temple in Kyoto are believed to have prevented the pillars of a large building from subsiding, the city government has announced. That building may have been a pagoda.

The temple was built in Kyoto together with the Toji temple, a World Heritage site, following the transfer of the capital to Heian-kyo in 794.

According to records, Saiji had a five-story pagoda in the same style as the one at Toji. Judging from the location, size and date of construction, the city thinks there is a high possibility that the architectural ruins are of the five-story pagoda at Saiji.

Based on the historical document “Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku” (The True History of Three Reigns of Japan), past excavation survey records and other sources, it is thought that Saiji and Toji were built symmetrically on either side of the Rajomon grand gate of Heian-kyo. It is reported that most of Saiji was burned down in a fire in 990 and the remaining five-story pagoda was also destroyed by a fire in 1233.

Since September, the city has been investigating an about 95-square-meter plot that is thought to be the site of the pagoda.

At the excavation site, 12 oval-shaped holes up to about two meters in diameter form a grid pattern. It was confirmed that the holes were made in part by alternately tamping down layers of pebbles and clay, apparently to enhance the strength of the foundations before placing foundation stones for the pillars.

Judging from earthenware that has been excavated, the pagoda is thought to have been built in the mid- to late ninth century, which coincides with descriptions from records that indicate the Saiji pagoda construction started in 882. The distance between the pillars, measuring three meters to 3.5 meters, and the design were almost the same as those at Toji.

However, as there is no trace of supports for the type of central pillar peculiar to a pagoda, the city said that the possibility cannot be denied that the remains are simply those of a warehouse.


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