pagoda ［塔］ ( tō): A tower-like structure usually associated with temples or monasteries in East and Southeast Asia. The English word pagoda derives from the Portuguese pagode, the origin of which is unclear, but which also indicates this kind of structure. The pagoda developed from the ancient Indian stupa, which was dome- or mound-shaped and housed the remains or relics of kings, sages, or holy persons. After the death of Shakyamuni Buddha, stupas were built to house the Buddha’s ashes, which were divided among the various Indian states. As Buddhism spread through India and made its way into other countries, new forms of stupa, or pagoda, architecture developed. Initially, the pagoda was the focal point of a temple compound, housing sacred relics believed to be those of the Buddha. In China, the pagoda came to house the Buddha’s teachings, rather than his relics, in the form of sutras. The pagoda dates back to the fourth or fifth century in China, where they were built of brick, wood, or stone with multiple stories. A great wooden pagoda was built at Yung-ning-ssu temple in Lo-yang in 519. The oldest surviving wooden pagoda in China is the five-storied pagoda of Fo-kung-ssu temple in Shansi Province, built in 1056. The oldest standing brick pagoda was built in 520 at Sung-yüeh-ssu temple in Honan Province, and the oldest remaining stone pagoda is that built in 544 at Shen-t’ung-ssu temple in Shantung Province.
Pagoda architecture and construction techniques came to Japan through the Korean Peninsula with the transmission of Buddhism. There, as in China, wooden pagodas of three, five, seven, and nine stories were built, though the majority were either three or five stories. Seven-storied pagodas were erected at Tōdai-ji temple and provincial temples, but in Japan today none above five stories remains. The oldest among the remaining pagodas is the five-storied pagoda at Hōryū-ji temple, built in the late seventh century. The oldest standing three-storied pagoda in Japan is the one built in 706 at Hokki-ji temple. The three-storied pagoda at Yakushi-ji temple was built in 730. These oldest structures are located in Nara, the ancient capital of Japan. Pagodas of various designs can be found throughout East and Southeast Asia. One example is the ancient Shwe Dagon pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, which was rebuilt in the eighteenth century and towers approximately a hundred meters.