A Visit to Tōdaiji

Tōdaiji is a Buddhist temple located in Nara, Japan, and was founded in 728, when Emperor Shōmu established a predecessor temple on the spot to honor his son, Prince Motoi, who died while still a baby.

Today, the temple is best known (at least outside of Japan) as the location of an enormous bronze statute of the Buddha Vairocana (in Japanese, Daibutsu).

16H22 Daibutsu

While not the largest bronze Buddha in the world (or even in Japan), Tōdaiji’s Daibutsu is one of the best known and most frequently visited. Rising almost 15 meters (49′) in height, the statue weighs 550 tons (500 metric tonnes), and is housed in a hall called–not surprisingly–the Kon-dō or Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall):

16H22 Daibutsuden

The Nandaimon, or Great Southern Gate, stands some distance south of the Kon-dō, and is the first sight visitors encounter on their way to the temple precinct. The current Nandaimon dates to the 12th century, and was rebuilt after storms destroyed the original.

 16H22 Nandaimon (Todaiji)

Two guardian statues stand inside the Nandaimon.

 16H22 Nandaimon guardian

One has an open mouth while the other’s mouth is closed, forming a traditional A-un pair (something frequently seen in lion-dog guardians at other Buddhist sites).

Beyond the Nandaimon, a tree-lined path stretches toward the temple:

 16H22 Todaiji Entry

At the end of the path, visitors turn right and enter the temple grounds through a smaller doorway in the cloisters:

16H22 Todaiji entrance

Upon emerging from the other side, visitors receive their first good look at the Kon-dō:

 16H22 Tofukuji Daibutsuden

(The structure is actually visible through slats in the gate, for visitors who choose not to pay the admission price – though like most Japanese shrines and temples, admission is only a couple of US dollars.)

The Kon-dō, or Great Buddha Hall, measures 187 feet (57 meters) in length and 160 feet (50 meters) in width – and is still about 30% smaller than the largest previous version, which was destroyed by fire.

Inside the Great Buddha Hall, visitors come face to face with not only the Giant Buddha:

16H22 Daibutsu

flanked by a pair of golden Bodhisattvas:

16H22 Bodhisattva at Daibutsu

but with another pair of giant, impressive temple guardians:

 16H22 Buddha guardian (Tamonten)

This one is called Tamonten.

Visitors will also find a number of historical displays inside the Daibutsuden, including a life-sized (or, in this case, possibly larger-than-life-sized) replica of the Buddha’s hand:

16H22 Buddha's hand

and models of the original Tōdaiji (which featured a pair of stupas that measured 300 feet–100 meters–high):

16H22 Original Todaiji Model

and a model of the larger, older version of the Daibutsuden:

 16H22 Model of Older Daibutsuden

Visitors can also attempt to pass through a life-sized model of the Buddha’s nostril, which is cut into the base of a pillar. There’s a reason people want to try…but for that, you’ll have to wait for Thursday’s post.

Have you ever visited Tōdaiji? Would you like to see it, if you’re ever in Japan?