Todaiji (東大寺, Tōdaiji, “Great Eastern Temple”) is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. The temple was constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan and grew so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to lower the temple’s influence on government affairs.

Todaiji’s main hall, the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) is the world’s largest wooden building, despite the fact that the present reconstruction of 1692 is only two-thirds of the original temple hall’s size. The massive building houses one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha (Daibutsu). The 15 meters tall, seated Buddha represents Vairocana and is flanked by two Bodhisattvas.

Several smaller Buddhist statues and models of the former and current buildings are also on display in the Daibutsuden Hall. Another popular attraction is a pillar with a hole in its base that is the same size as the Daibutsu’s nostril. It is said that those who can squeeze through this opening will be granted enlightenment in their next life.

Along the approach to Todaiji stands the Nandaimon Gate, a large wooden gate watched over by two fierce looking statues. Representing the Nio Guardian Kings, the statues are designated national treasures together with the gate itself. Temple visitors will also encounter some deer from the adjacent Nara Park, begging for Shika senbei, special crackers for deer that are sold for around 150 yen.

Todaiji’s grounds are spacious and cover most of northern Nara Park, including a number of smaller temple halls and sites of interest around the Daibutsuden Hall. Below are some of the other attractions that can be found in the Todaiji temple complex.

 

Todaiji MuseumHours: 9:30 to closing time of Daibutsuden Hall
Closed: between exhibitions
Admission: 600 yen (museum only), 1000 yen (museum and Daibutsuden Hall)
The Todaiji Museum was opened to the public in 2011 just next to the Nandaimon Gate, along the main approach to the Daibutsuden Hall. Rotating exhibitions from the temple’s large collection of religious art and cultural treasures, including large Buddhist statues, are held at the museum.

 

Nigatsudo Hall

Hours: Always open
Admission: Free
The Nigatsudo Hall is a short walk on the hill east of the Daibutsuden Hall and offers nice views of the city from its balcony. The hall is the site of the spectacular Omizutori ceremonies, held in March every year.

 

Hokkedo Hall

Hours: Same hours as the Daibutsuden Hall
Closed: No closing days
Admission: 600 yen
The Hokkedo, also known as the Sangatsudo, is one of the oldest surviving structures in the Todaiji temple complex. It is a short walk east of the Daibutsuden Hall, beside Nigatsudo Hall. The building houses a statue of Kannon, surrounded by Buddhist guardians.

 

Founded in 745 by the Emperor Shomu, the vast temple at Todaiji was constructed as a symbol of imperial power, and took over 15 years to complete at great expense.

The main hall, which houses the colossal bronze Buddha statue within, remains the world’s largest wooden building, though the present structure – rebuilt in 1709 – is only two thirds the size of the original.

The designer of the original Buddha was a Korean artist from the Paikche Kingdom, Kuninaka-no-Kimimaro.

Todaiji is the headquarters of the Kegon sect of Japanese Buddhism and Vairocana Buddha is considered by followers of the sect to be the spiritual body of the historical Buddha – Gautama Buddha or Sakyamuni in Japanese terminology.

After achieving enlightenment in what is now the small town of Bodh Gaya in Bihar, northern India, the Buddha sat for a week in deep meditation and it is this pose that is represented in the giant statue.