Todaiji Temple, situated a short walk from the center of Nara, in Nara Park, is probably the city's biggest draw and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Todaiji, along with Kofukuji and Horyuji, make up the "Big Three" must-see temples of Nara.
Founded in 745 by the Emperor Shomu, the vast temple was constructed as a symbol of imperial power, and took over 15 years to complete at great expense. The main hall, which houses the colossal bronze Buddha statue within, remains the world's largest wooden building, though the present structure - rebuilt in 1709 - is only two thirds the size of the original.
Visitors enter the temple through the massive Nandaimon Gate - rebuilt in the 13th century - and known for its giant guardian gods or nio, 7m-tall wooden statues protecting the temple within from evil.
The Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden) houses Japan's largest bronze statue - a darkened figure of the Cosmic Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai). The statue weighs 500 tons and is 16m tall - a masterpiece of Tempyo Period (729-764) art.
Several attempts at casting the Buddha failed before success was finally achieved in 752. Ambassadors from as far away from India, Persia and China attended the dedication ceremony and the gifts they brought with them were kept in the Shoso-in treasure house, behind the hall.
Little remains of the original 8th century statue, however, which has been damaged in fires and earthquakes and subsequently re-cast. West of the Daibutsuden is the Kaidanin, which was set up in 754 as Japan's premier ordination hall for new monks. The present building dates from the Edo Period (1603-1858) but it contains some ancient and exquisite clay statues.
Todaiji is a walk from Kintetsu Nara Station north east of Kofukuji and north of Nara National Museum. Opening hours are 8am-4.30pm or 5pm daily from November to March and 7am-5pm or 5.30pm April-October. Adults 500 yen.
Tel: 0742 22 5511
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Saturday, January 31, 2009