Todaiji, “Great Eastern Temple”, is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples. Construction started in 728 AD and was completed in 752 AD. It served as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan until it grew so powerful that the capital had to be relocated from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 AD. This was done to mitigate the temple’s influence in government affairs.
The Great Buddha Hall, Daibutsuden, at Tōdai-ji, houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, known as Daibutsu in Japan. The Daibutsuden is the world’s largest wooden building. The present reconstruction of 1692 is only two thirds of the original size of the temple hall.
The seated Buddha is 15 meters tall and is flanked by two Bodhisattvas. His open hand is as tall as a human being. Another significant though rather popular attraction is a pillar with a hole in its base that is the same size as the Daibutsu’s nostril. It is said that those who can squeeze through this opening will be granted enlightenment in their next life.
Along the approach to Todaiji stands the Nandaimon Gate, a large wooden gate watched over by two fierce looking statues. Representing the Nio Guardian Kings, the statues are designated national treasures together with the gate itself.
Approaching the temple, from adjacent Nara Park, visitors will encounter numerous deer, hungry for special crackers (shika senbei) sold to feed the deer. The deer are not aggressive but do become very insistent if they smell the crackers or hear you break the paper ribbons around them. They will butt you to get your attention and grab the crackers out of your hand. Most tourists are afraid of getting bitten, and one should be cautious, so they drop the crackers on the ground. I like the feel of their snouts and muzzles against my hand.