It wasn’t difficult for me to decide which was my favourite tourist attraction in Japan. It has been my favourite since the first time I went there eleven years ago. The tourist attraction I’m talking about is Todaiji, a Buddhist temple complex in the city Nara. But it’s not my favourite place because of the deer, which is what most people seem to love the most. It’s my favourite place because of the huge wooden building and Buddha statue.
Todaiji is a large Buddhist temple complex in Nara, Japan. The name means Eastern Great Temple in Japanese – even the name itself conjures images of magnificence. The huge, wooden building has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. The Great Buddha Hall is the main towering structure here, and it houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Great Buddha. Here are few of the cool things about this popular tourist attraction.
There is so much history surrounding this ancient building. The original construction of the temple is dated backto 728 by Emperor Shōmu during the Tenpyō era. The temple first served as a central administrative centre for other Buddhist temples. Buddhist monks used to have to take their ordination at Todaiji, though not anymore.
Nara was the center of power in Japanese Buddhism, but it’s role in maintaining authority declined when the capital of Japan moved to Kamakura. The fact that this place was so important and revered gives it an air of solemn reverence, it almost feels disrespectful to wander around snapping pictures without truly savouring the magic. The dusty smell of the old, wooden building is pleasant and relaxing.
I’m no architect or construction worker, but I don’t think that means I can’t appreciate a beautiful building. The colours of the building are perfect, and I love how the white contrasts with the natural dark colour of the wood. You simply can’t walk through the Great Buddha Hall without marveling at the size of the structure. From a distance it is already huge. As you walk closer to it, you being to feel insignificant as the walls tower above you.
Inside, you can walk all the way around the Buddha and examine the detail of the construction while looking at other statues and interesting artefacts. From the outside, the roof is so high, the doors are so tall, the rivets are so huge, the details are so beautiful, and the people are so small.
The Great Buddha statue
Walking into the Great Hall, you are immediately face-to-face with the Great Buddha. Towering before you, hand outstretched, he stares peacefully ahead, golden halo behind. The Great Buddha statue was also damaged several times and recast as a result. Currently, the Buddha’s hands are from the Momoyama period (1568-1615), and the head is from the Edo period (1615-1867). The statue is 14.98 m tall, 28 m across at the shoulders, and weights a whopping 500 tonnes.
X-rays of the statue have found pearls, swords, jewels, mirrors, and even a human tooth (!) inside the knee of the Great Buddha. These items are believed to be treasures of Emperor Shōmu, though I’m not sure about the tooth… This old, giant Buddha must have some stories to tell. How many delicious secrets it must be keeping…
The temple complex is also home to hundreds of deer, since it is right next to Nara Park, which is affectionately called Deer Park. The deer are wild but tame, and they roam through the park and temple complex freely. You can even buy snacks to feed them while you pose for pictures with them. Just remember, they are still wild animals, and they may bite you or head-butt you.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love animals, and the deer are cute. But in comparison to the Great Buddha Hall, I could do with or without the deer.
The size of the building
This is the main reason why I love Todaiji so much. Many places in Japan have history, Buddhas, and animals, but there are no old, huge, wooden buildings like this anywhere else. When you finally stop taking pictures from far away and make your way to the entrance, you will truly begin to understand the height and massive size of the building. The Great Buddha Hall was rebuilt twice after being burned to the ground by fire.
The current structure was reconstructed in 1709, and is 30% smaller than the previous buildings. Until 1998, the building was the world’s largest wooden building, and it is really a site to behold. It’s already immense when you are standing in front of it, I can’t image what it would have been like being even bigger than this:
My first and second visit to Todaiji
The first time I went to Todaiji was in 2006. The second time I went here was in 2015. I went to Todaiji because it’s beautiful, and I really wanted to see it a second time. Plus, I hoped I was a bit better at taking photos now, so I wanted to see what I could do with my camera. When the time is right, I want to go back to Todaiji for a third time.
If you have only seen pictures of Todaiji, or don’t really know what the fuss is all about, prepare to be amazed. If it is your second or third time, I hope you will still think it is beautiful. The wooden building really is very large – the size of it alone is awe-inspiring. Add to this the contrast of the green grass, the clear blue sky, and the white concrete walkway, and it is truly picturesque. The Great Buddha inside will take your breath away.
Getting to Todaiji
Todaiji is easily a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, and even Nagoya. From Kintetsu Nara Station: walk 30 minutes From JR Nara Station: walk 45 minutes. Or, take a bus from either station to Todaiji Daibutsuden, walk 10 minutes. It costs ¥1000 for joint entrance into the Great Buddha Hall and Todaiji Museum.
Is Todaiji one of your favourite places in Japan?