Todai-ji, located close to Nara Park, is a very popular attraction among tourists. Founded in the 8th century, Todai-ji is one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara and is registered as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.” Six out of eight component sites of the Site are temples and a shrine which possess a lot of cultural assets designated as National Treasures, and as one of them, Todai-ji is a must-see attraction with plenty of valuable cultural assets.
Todai-ji is the head temple of the Kegon sect. Kegon sect is one of the Six Nara Buddhist Sects, but unlike newer sects which emerged after these, they place emphasis on the study of doctrine rather than on practices to save people’s souls.
Todai-ji is famous for its Daibutsuden (the hall of the Great Buddha), one of the largest wooden constructions in the World, and Daibutsu (the Great Buddha), the 15-meter(49-foot)-high statue of Vairocana inside the hall. Since the first Daibutsuden was completed in 758, it was destroyed by fire twice, and the present one was rebuilt in 1709.
Though the present Daibutsuden is 30% smaller than the previous one, you will be astonished by the size of the building and the statue inside once you see it. Nandaimon, or the great south gate, is the main gate of the temple constucted in 1199 and is also huge, with two statues of nioh under its roof.
These are no doubt the most wonderful things in the precincts, but we would like to recommend visiting the area to the east of Daibutsuden also. There are Nigatsudo, Sangatsudo, Shoro, and Kaizando in this area, and all of these are designated as National Treasures, along with Daibustuden and Nandaimon.
Nigatsudo is a construction resembling Kiyomizudera in Kyoto, and it offers a splendid view – if you look west from here, you can see the roof of Daibutsuden and the downtown of Nara beyond.
The view of Daibutsuden over the pond in front of Chumon, the gate in front of Daibutusden, is also notable.
Viewing Todai-ji from the top floor of the Nara Prefecutural Government Building is also nice. It is opened to visitors, and you can observe the roofs of the temples popping up from among the trees, which is quite a different view from the one you can see from the ground.
By the way, there is a temple which is said that its first main hall was built in 712 as a sample of the Daibutsuden of Todai-ji.
This original building was lost and the present hall was reconstructed in 1544, but it’s still called ” the prototype of the Great Buddha Hall.” If you have time, walking from Saidai-ji to Toshodai-ji via the Suinin Tennno Ryo (the tomb of Emperor Suinin) and Kiko-ji may be a good idea.
Where to eat around Todai-ji
In the past, there was a joke in the Kansai region saying that “there’s nothing good to eat in Nara,” but now there are many nice restaurants.
But if you are going to see Kofuku-ji, Todai-ji and Kasuga Taisha around Nara Park, which are must-see destinations in Nara, and to take lunch during this process, you don’t have so many options.
Here we would like to recommend Edosan, a ryokan and restaurant near the first torii of Kasuga Taisha. You can have lunch in thatched, detached buildings. Our pick is Mahoroba Kaiseki, which costs about 6,000yen, and it’s better you make a reservation.
Any way, if you’re going to use a restaurant around here, it will be crowded with visitors at lunch time, so it’s best to stagger your time a little.
Where to stay around Todai-ji
Nara Hotel is a prestigious hotel founded in 1909. Its building is a sophisticated wooden edifice situated on an elevation in Nara Park. It’s a luxury hotel with nostalgic atomosphere designed by renowned architect Tatsuno Kingo, who designed JR Tokyo Station and Bank of Japan.
Nara is said to have limited number of accomodation facilities compared with that of visitors. If people visit the Kansai region, many stay in Osaka or Kyoto, not Nara. Nonetheless, there are certain number of facilities including business hotels around Nara Stations.
Overview of Todai-ji
Though the area around Daibutsuden may be crowded with tourists, the eastern area is not that much. In this quieter situation, you will be able to enjoy the great cultural assets of this ancient capital.