Nara Park & Todai-ji Temple
Nara Park is the largest of its kind in Japan (1300ac). Within the park, finely wooded with ancient trees, are many historic old buildings, and a further attraction is provided by the large numbers of tame roe deer which live here. To the right of the entrance is Sarusawa Pond (circumference 1200ft/ 360m), with the five-story pagoda of the Kofukuji Temple reflected in its waters. At the northwest corner is the Uneme Shrine.
Todaiji Temple (Great East Temple) is one of the "Seven Great Temples of Nara". It is the principal temple of the Kegon sect of Buddhism and takes the leading place among the provincial temples (kokubunji) erected following Shomu-tenno's edict. The central tenet of the Kegon sect - one of the oldest in Japan - which was founded by a Chinese priest, Dozen, in 736, is that every man can attain Enlightenment. The sect reveres the Rushana Buddha (Vairoçana), the original Buddha.The building of the Todaiji Temple was begun in 745 at the behest of the Emperor Shomu, an ardent supporter of Buddhism. The statue of the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) was cast at Nara in 745-749, after the failure of earlier attempts made at the Shigaraki Palace south of Lake Biwa.After its completion the temple was dedicated in 752 in the most splendid ceremony of the century, attended by Shomu (who by then had abdicated) with his wife and his daughter the Empress Koken, the entire Court and some 10,000 priests and worshippers. The head of the Buddha figure was broken off in a severe earthquake in 855 but was restored in 861. In 1180 Taira Shigehira destroyed the Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden), and the head and right hand of the statue were damaged by fire. The statue was restored under the direction of Abbot Chogen, and the completion of the work (1195) was celebrated in a ceremony attended by the Emperor Gotoga and the Shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo. In 1967 the Buddha Hall was burned down during a rising led by Matsunaga Hisahide. The statue was restored in 1692, the hall in 1709.The temple precinct is entered by the Nandaimon (Great South Gate), a two-story structure borne on 18 columns. Originally erected towards the end of the Nara period, it was destroyed by a typhoon in 962 and rebuilt in 1199. It is in the massive Tenjiku-yo style, which originated in India. In lateral niches in the external walls are two Nio statues (guardian figures) 26ft/ 8m high, attributed respectively to Unkei and Kaikei and to Tankei. In the niches in the rear wall, standing on stone bases, are two koma-inu figures (dog or lion-like animals), typical examples of Chinese Sung art, which are said to be the work of a Chinese sculptor named Chinnakei.Leading from the gate a path passes the Kagami-ike Pool (performances of Bugaku music at the Shomu-shai festival) to the Hall of the Great Buddha (Daibutsuden). Although this has been rebuilt, following its repeated destruction, on a smaller scale (some two-thirds of the original size), it is still the largest timber building in the world (187ft/ 57m long, 166ft/ 50.5m wide, 160ft/ 48.7m high). Like the South Gate, it is in the Tenjiku-yo style. At the ends of the roof-ridge are shibi (talismans designed to protect the building from fire). Within the hall is the Great Buddha (Daibutsu), the Original Buddha, the work of a Korean sculptor, Kuninaka-no-Kimimaro. The bronze base (circumference 68ft/ 20.7m) is in the form of a lotus flower with 56 petals. The seated figure is the largest Buddha statue in Japan (53ft/ 16.2m high), 437 tons of bronze, 286lb/ 130kg of gold and 7 tons of wax were used in its casting. The raised right hand is in the semui-no-in position (mudra), the "promise of peace"; the left hand in the yogan-no-in position, the "fulfillment of wishes". The gilded wooden halo with representations of the 16 incarnations of the Buddha was added in the 17th C. The two figures in front of the statue, Nyoirin-Kannon (fulfiller of all wishes, on the right) and Kokuzo-bosatsu (divinity of wisdom and good fortune, on the left), date from the same period. In the rear part of the hall are statues of the two of the four Celestial Guardians - to the left Komokuten, ruler over the West, who is depicted trampling on a demon who symbolizes all that hampers the Buddhist faith; to the right Tamonten, in a similar pose. Beside the figure of Komokuten is a model of the original temple; in front of Tamonten is a massive wooden column with a rectangular hole at ground level. It is the popular belief that anyone who can creep through this opening is sure of admission to paradise.Outside the Buddha Hall, to the right, is a seated figure of Binzuru, which is believed to cure any ailment if the patient touches the statue with one hand and the affected part with the other. In front of the hall is a masterpiece of Late Nara art (Tempyo period), an octagonal bronze lantern with fine relief decoration.West of the Buddha Hall we reach the Kaidan-in Temple, founded in 754, several times destroyed by fire and rebuilt in its present form about 1730. In the center of the temple are statues of Shakyamuni and Taho-nyorai, in the corner statues of the four Celestial Guardians in full armor. Keidan was originally the name given to the terrace on which priests were ordained, incorporating earth brought from China by Ganjin. Five hundred monks are said to have been ordained as priests here.The treasury (Shosoin), with the Azekura-zukuri method of "air-conditioning". In this building (normally not open to the public) are preserved art treasure of inestimable value, which originally belonged to the Emperor Shomu and after his death were presented to the Todaiji Temple by his widow and daughter. Many of the pieces of jewelry, weapons, pictures and sacred vessels come from the Middle and Near East. At the end of October and beginnings of November the Treasury is ventilated and during this period some of its contents are displayed in the National Museum in Nara. Adjacent is two modern reinforced concrete extensions.To the east of the Buddha Hall stands an old belltower, with a bell cast in 749, badly damaged in a typhoon in 989 and re-cast in 1239; it is the second largest bell in Japan (height 13ft/ 3.9m, diameter 9ft/ 2.8m). Still farther east, on higher ground is the Hall of the Second Month (Nigatsu-do), built in 752 by a priest named Jitchu, a disciple of Roben (first Abbot of the Todaiji, 689-773) and rebuilt in 1669 after a fire. The hall (not open to the public) contains two statues of the Eleven-Headed Kannon. It takes its name from the Omizu-tori water drawing ceremony, which takes place in the second month of the lunar calendar (at present between March 1 and 14). Adjoining, to the south, is the Hall of the Third Month (Sangatsu-do), the oldest surviving building within the temple precinct, erected by Roben in 733. The Prayer Hall (Raido) was added about 1200 (Kamakura period); the two buildings can be distinguished by the form of roof construction. The name of this hall comes from the reading of the "Hokke Sutra" (which is preserved in the hall) in the third month of the lunar calendar. In the center of the hall is the 12ft/ 3.6m high Fukukenjaku-Kannon, a dry lacquered statue attributed to Abbot Roben, with a crown decked with 20,000 pearls and precious stones. It is flanked by pottery figures of the Nikko-bosatsu and gakko-bosatsu (Nara period). To the side are statues of Bonten and Taishakuten, also in dry-lacquer technique. Flanking the statue of Bonten are wooden statues of Fudomyoo and Jizo-bosatsu. In the four corners of the hall are Celestial Gardens (dry lacquer).In the rear chamber can be seen two portable shrines (mikoshi) with figures of Benzaiten, goddess of love, and Kichijoten, goddess of fortune, and four guardian figures (dry lacquer). A pottery figure of Shukongo-shin by Roben is kept behind the Fukukenjaku-kannon is shown only on the anniversary of Roben's death (December 16).
Nara Park & Todai-ji Temple Pictures
Map of Nara Attractions