This introduction provides an overview of the four Buddhist temples discussed in this volume—Asukadera, Kudara Ōdera, Kawaradera, and Yakushiji—by far the most important architectural projects of the initial phases of Buddhism in Japan, during the seventh century (i.e. last decade of the sixth and the first decade of the eighth centuries). It analyzes two problems of the early Buddhist period that have most occupied scholars: the dating of the west compound (saiin) of “Hōryūji” and the status of the Yakushi triad and east pagoda of Heijōkyō Yakushiji. In both cases, reliance on the documentary sources and other existing data led essentially to an impasse prior to archaeological investigation. The chapter also presents a historical background prior to the Four Great Temples.
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