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 Buddhisttemples 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.
Until recently, Todaiji's main hall, the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall), held the record as 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 200 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:
Hours: 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.
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.
Approach to Nigatsudo Hall
The side approach to Nigatsudo Hall is a quiet and picturesque street that is not far from the back of the Daibutsuden Hall. Stone walls flank the side of the street, and the Nigatsudo can be seen at the end of the path.
Hours: Same hours as the Daibutsuden Hall Closed: No closing days Admission: 700 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.
Closed for about three years from July 1, 2020 for renovation works
Rebuilt in the Edo Period, the Kaidando Hall originally dates back to the 8th century when it served as Japan's most important ordination hall. Today, it houses celebrated clay statues of the four heavenly kings (shitenno).
Hours: 10:00 to 15:00 Closed: Weekends and national holidays, December 28 to January 4 Admission: Free
The Shosoin is a large storehouse constructed in the 8th century. Located a five minute walk behind the Daibutsuden Hall, the building is elevated on stilts and used to store the treasures of Todaiji Temple and the Imperial Family. It can be viewed by tourists from the outside only.
Former site of the Lecture Hall
The former site of the Lecture Hall can be found directly behind the Daibutsuden Hall, on the way to the Shosoin. All that remains of the former temple building are some stone foundations in the ground.
Site of former east pagoda
In the past, Todaiji's Daibutsuden Hall was flanked by two seven-storied pagodas that were about 100 meters tall. In 2015, the exact location of the former east pagoda was ascertained. The excavated area (shown on the photo) has since been covered up, and there are plans to rebuilt the pagoda to its former glory.
Getting there and around
Todaiji is located in the northern part of Nara Park. It is about a 30 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, or about a 45 minute walk from JR Nara Station. It can also be reached by bus from either station. Get off at Todaiji Daibutsuden from where it is a 5-10 minute walk to Todaiji's main building.