The Zutō (頭塔) site is an earthen pagoda located in Takabatake-chō, Nara City. The seven-storey step pyramid measures 30 metres in length and 10 metres in height. The pagoda was built in the Nara Period (710-794) and designated a National Historic Site on 8 March 1922.


Zuto Pagoda

Zutō is one of the very few pagodas of its kind in Japan; it is covered in stones and has 44 stone Buddha statues on each level.

According to the "Tōdaiji Digest" (東大寺要録 Tōdaiji yōroku), the pagoda was built in 767 by Jitchū (実忠), a monk of the Kegon school. The Digest refers to the pagoda as Dotō (土塔). Later, when Kōfukuji Temple (興福寺) was expanded, it became part of the temple precinct. Legend has it that the pagoda was the head mound of the monk Genbō (玄昉). Genbō was the leader of the Hossō sect and an adversary of Fujiwara no Hirotsugu. Hirotsugu's vengeful spirit is said to have caused Genbō's death.

Eventually, Dotō came to be called Zutō; likely, the Chinese characters 頭塔 (atama-tō, "head tower") were applied in reference to the legend of Genbō's head mound. In the Showa period, Ishida Mosaku (石田茂作, 1894-1977), a renowned Japanese archaeologist specialised in Buddhist history, concluded that the pagoda was the most advanced on the late Nara Period.

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Reliefs of Buddhas can be found on each level; thirteen of them were designated Important Cultural Properties in 1977. In 2002, nine of the fourteen stone buddhas found in later excavations were added to the list. The Buddha statues on the east, west and north sides have been restored and placed in covered niches, but the stone Buddha statue on the south side was relocated to the ground level.

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After the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties conducted surveys in 1986, the northern part of the pagoda was restored and preserved, while the southern part was left in its original state. The fundament of the pagoda consists of a square earthen platform made of slabs. Each side of the platform is 32 metres in length and 1.2 metres in height. The top platform measures 6.2 metres in length. The size of the odd-numbered platforms is 1.1 metres, that of the even-numbered platforms 60 centimetres. The height from the base of the platform to the top platform is about 10 metres.

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The pagoda resembles that at the site of Ono-ji Temple (大野寺) in Sakai City.

The present pagoda was built under the direction of Jitchū. However, excavations by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties excavated a three-storey earthen pagoda on a lower level older than the present pagoda. It was believed that another person built it around 760. The temple was built on top of a destroyed 6th-century tomb. Jitchū's construction seems to have been an expansion of the original tomb, with the body of the pagoda itself almost completely dismantled and rebuilt before being completed. Jitchū's renovation was preceded by the construction of a levee and a pond in Kasuga-Dani, south of Tōdai-ji, in 765 on the orders of Rōben, the clerical founder of the Tōdai-ji, and the development of the entire hill south of the original boundary of the precinct, to expand the temple area to the south of Tōdai-ji.

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View of Zutō from the now-demolished hotel

Address: 921 Takabatakecho, Nara, 630-8301; phone: 0742-263-171.

Access: some 2 kilometres southeast of Kintetsu Nara Station, a 25-minute walk from the station; a 5-minute walk from Wariishi-cho (破石町) bus station.

Admission: 300 JPY, reservation required at least one day in advance.


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