Gojunoto Tower: Oldest Wooden Building in the World

Located in Nara, Japan, the Gojunoto Tower of Horyuji Temple is the oldest wooden building in the world. Its center was made of a tree that fell nearby and not one nail was used in its construction. Moreover, the Gojunoto makes use of the special Hinoki to stop decay and mold.


Prince Shotoku of the Asuka Era was the one who founded the temple. While there are different views on how long it took to finish the building, all sources indicate that the temple took its final form by the first half of the 7th century. Further excavations showed that the temple actually was a part of the prince’s royal residence.

gojunoto tower and modern kyoto buildings
Fuhito Takase

The Gojunoto is more than 30 meters tall which makes it more impressive considering that no nails were used to hold the blocks together. The pillar in the center of the tower goes through each story. Therefore, it absorbs the seismic energy whenever there is an earthquake nearby and helps the temple stand still and unharmed.

gojunoto tower road
Keihan Railway

However, destruction came in the form of a fire. Shortly after its construction, a wave of fire nearly destroyed the temple altogether. Renovations during the early 14th century returned the temple to its former state. Since the Meiji Emperors were not supporters of Buddhism, the temple again fell into a bad shape during this era.

the tower entrance

Many treasures of the temple were sold in order to pay for its maintenance and further renovations. Although these stopped due to WWII, after the end of the war the renovations continued until 1985. Today, the temple is in good shape and is one of the most-visited temples in Japan. The temple’s importance was also acknowledged by UNESCO which put the temple on their heritage list in 1993.

the tower and kyoto in contrast
Riko Watanabe

Moreover, the temple is in a peculiar site. While everyone knows that Japan experiences a lot of earthquakes, the land of the temple also receives a lot of lightning. In fact, the lightning was so much in the 12th century that the Japanese put special ornaments and prayers to stop it from destroying the temple. Nowadays, lightning rods protect the Gojunoto Tower.

the pagoda during the night
Brittany Szczesny

Buddhists believe that the temple stores a very unique and important relic. They believe that a small amount of a historical Buddha’s ashes are buried somewhere in the temple. Moreover, there is also a display of four tableaux which depicts the story of this event. The tableaux consist of 97 clay figurines representing Buddha and his followers.

the tower and the flowers nearby

However, due to their gentle nature and historical value, the Japanese government replaced the original sculptures with copies. Another intriguing aspect of the temple and the Gojunoto is that it contains the Treasury or Daihozoden which consists of statues and paintings that are centuries old further showing that the Gojunoto Tower and Horyuji Temple are surely some of Japan’s most important historical sites.

gojunoto tower during the day