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Yakushi-ji (薬師寺) is one of the most famous imperial and ancient Buddhist temples in Japan, that was once one of the Seven Great Temples of Nanto, located in Nara. The temple is the headquarters of the Hossō school of Japanese Buddhism. Yakushi-ji is one of the sites that are collectively inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, under the name of "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara."
The main object of veneration, Yakushi Nyorai, also named "The Medicine Buddha", was one of the first Buddhist Deities to arrive in Japan from China in 680, and gives the temple its name.
The Jinshin Wars in Japan in 672 resulted in moving the capital from Otsu, and back to Asuka. The movement of the capital was due to family disputes over money and power inevitably leading to civil war between Prince Naka and Prince Ōama. Prince Ōama desired power over Prince Naka’s son, who was favored by his father to take the throne after his rule. After disagreements between Prince Ōama and Prince Naka’s son, Prince Ōtomo resulted in Prince Ōama’s victory over his brother and nephew. Prince Ōama, as Tenmu, was responsible for moving the temple from Otsu back to Asuka in 672. The original Yakushi-ji was built in Fujiwara-kyō, Japan's capital in the Asuka period. The Fujiwara capital was built during this time reflecting a Chinese-style capital with hopes of improving economic stability and centralization of government as well as a strong military. Yakushi-ji was commissioned by Emperor Tenmu in 680 to pray for recovery from illness for his consort, who succeeded him as Empress Jitō. This act of building temples in devotion to Buddhist figures was a common practice among Japanese nobility when Buddhism was first imported from China and Korea. Emperor Tenmu had died by the time Empress Jitō completed the complex around 698; and it was disassembled and moved to Nara eight years after the Imperial Court settled in what was then the new capital. The Nara Period (710–794) began with the transfer of the capital to Nara in 710 from the Fujiwara Capital. This was due to a similar reason for the movement of the capital to Fujiwara, which was the desire to build a strong, centralized government in the capital of Nara. Emperor Shōmu instigated the construction of the "Seven Great Temples": Tōdai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, Gangō-ji, Daian-ji, Yakushi-ji, Saidai-ji, and Hōryū-ji.
It has been long believed that the temple was moved to its present location in 718, following the move of the capital to Heijō-kyō known today as Nara. However, excavations of the Fujiwara-kyō Yakushi-ji site in the 1990s suggest that there may have been two Yakushi-ji at one time. The Fujiwara-kyō Yakushi-ji is also referred to as Moto Yakushi-ji (元 moto, original).
Fires destroyed most buildings of the complex in 973, and the main hall in 1528. Much hard work has been put into restoration: the main hall was rebuilt in the 1970s, and the entire temple is now completely restored.