Up in the northern part of Nara Park is the city’s largest and most popular tourist attraction, Todaiji Temple. The main approach to Todaiji is through the Nandaimon Gate at the southern edge of the temple grounds. Inside the gate is a pair of guardian spirit statues that keep watch over people entering and exiting.
As I approached Todaiji I passed by a large group of Nara’s famous deer. The deer of Nara roam freely around town and I’ll write more about them in a future post.
Beyond Nandaimon are a large pond and the middle gateway that leads up to Todaiji’s main hall. This part of Todaiji is free to explore but if you want to go inside and visit the main hall you’ll need to purchase a ticket, which was 600 yen when I visited.
After paying for my entry ticket I went inside the middle gateway and took in the sight of Todaiji’s massive main hall. Todaiji was first built around 752 and the original main hall was even larger than the one we see today, which is a reconstruction that was finished in 1709. Interestingly, Todaiji’s monks became so influential in national politics that Japan’s capital had to be moved from Nara in 784 in order to curtail their power. Though Todaiji’s fortunes waned after 784 it remained a very important temple and to this day its main hall is still one of the largest wooden buildings on the planet.
Inside the main hall is a massive bronze Buddha statue that is flanked by two smaller statues. Because of its occupants, the main hall of Todaiji is known as the Daibutsuden, which means Big Buddha Hall. The central Buddha is about 15 m (49 ft) tall and the giant halo behind it is about 27 m (87 ft) tall.
Although the large Buddha statues get most of the attention, there are also several other notable things inside the main hall. In the back corners of the hall are statues of guardian spirits, such as the one in the photo above.
In the rear of the room is a model of the original Todaiji Temple. The old temple had a pair of tall pagodas and the main hall was over 30% larger than the current one. It is believed that Todaiji’s original pagodas collapsed during an earthquake.
Off to the side you can find a replica of one of the ornaments on the roof of the main hall. This gives you a better idea of just how large the building is.
One of the pillars inside the main hall has a hole at its base that people try to squeeze themselves through. The hole is roughly the same size as one of the nostrils on the giant Buddha’s face and if you can crawl through it is said that you will achieve enlightenment in your next life. As you can see, the hole isn’t that large, so only children, younger teenagers, and small adults can complete the challenge.
On my way out of Todaiji’s paid area I stopped to get a photo of the mail hall’s doors, which reminded me of some of the big wooden doors on European cathedrals. As I slowly headed towards the exit I stopped several times to get another view of the main hall. For me, Todaiji is the highlight of visiting Nara and truly one of the greatest ancient buildings in all of Japan.