Todaiji is a landmark in Nara, it is one of the most famous and historical temples which was built in 752 and now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Todaiji is located near Nara Park and Kusagai Taisha Shrine so you also see a lot of deer wondering in this area as well.
This is my second time to visit Todaiji temple, I was here many years ago when I was a student in Japan and I was here during the school excursion with my Japanese teacher.
Guess the two golden things on the rooftop of Todaiji Temple
My guessing was horn but the answer was not correct. The two gold thingy at the top of the rooftop represents fish, not horns. Reason being the building was destroyed by fire multiple time so building that has a pair of fishtail symbolize water to protect against fire.
1. Free English Speaking Guide
There is free guides service at the entrance of Todaiji temple so I asked for one. She is a retiree who speaks English and offers free guide service. If you are interested to learn more about Todaiji, please look for one at the entrance and it is free. The guide will explain the architecture, history but she will not go inside the temple with you.
2. Todaji is a Buddhist Temple
Todaiji is a Buddhist temple, not a Shinto shrine so you will not find any “Torii” or the Japanese red gate at the entrance.
3. World’s largest wooden structure
Todaiji Temple is a complex of buildings that has the world’s largest wooden structure which can house a huge bronze Daibutsu (Great Buddha) inside the temple. The “Daibustu” or Great Buddha is in the lotus sitting position. The Daibutsu is made of copper and bronze, his intricate hairstyle is made of 966 bronze balls.
4. Why Build Todaiji?
Emperor Shomu (724-749 AD) is the one who asked to build this huge temple complex, his motives are a mix of the spiritual and the pragmatic. He wished to unite various Japanese clans and at the same time promoting spiritual unity. So Todaiji became the chief temple and national rituals were performed here. This is an expensive building built to impress and show power and the emperor made his people pay a high tax to pay for this stunning architecture. People were actually suffered from the construction of the Todaiji Temple.
5. Kokuzo Bosatsu, Todaiji
A statue of the bodhisattva Kokuzo Bosatsu (above) in gold color is also seen near the Daibutsu, this is a deity of wisdom and memory.
6. Bronze Octagonal Lantern – Treasure!
There is a stand-alone bronze octagonal lantern located at the center of the wide pathway between the Daibutsuden and Chumon Gate. This is one of the treasures that remains until today. Many of the treasures coming from India and China were destroyed by the earthquakes but this bronze octagonal lantern is one of the surviving items.
7. Healing Pillar – Fun to squeeze through only if you slim enough
You see a huge pillar with a hole at the bottom and there is a line to squeeze through this healing pillar. Most of them are young children. It is believed that if you are successful in squeezing through this hole, you will be granted a place in heaven and plenty of luck.
8. Binzuru Wooden Sculpture with his red Bib & Cap
Don’t be alarmed by the look of this sculpture, it is called Binzuru, seated in the lotus position and usually wearing red bibs and children’s cap. It can be seen in Todaji too, but the Binzuru here is bigger than the other one I saw in Japan. According to belief, if you rub the part of the sculpture that corresponds to the part of the body that is ailing, it will be cured.
9. Chozuya – How to use Hand washing station
Chozuya is the hand washing station at the temple. One should clean their left hand, right hand, mouth and finally the handle of the water ladle to purify themselves before approaching the main temple. It is usually seen in Shinto shrines but in Japan, you can also see “chozuya” washing station in the Buddhist temple.
The student in Yellow cap
If you are visiting Japan, students in the yellow hat can be seen everywhere and some in the red hat. Primary 1 usually wear a yellow cap as it is more outstanding and people pay more attention to them especially when crossing the road etc.
10. The Great South Gate (Nandaimon) – Treasure
This is the National treasure of Todaiji and please do not miss this important gate. The original gate was destroyed by a typhoon during the Heian period and the current structure was built during the Kamakura period and based on Song Dynasty Chinese models.
11. Guardians at the Nandaimon – Treasure
There are two giant guardians standing at the side of Nandaimon, both are built from cypress wood and stand over 8 m tall. Do look out for these pair of treasures when you are crossing the Nandaimon Gate.
12. Where to eat?
There are several restaurants in Nara Park or near Todaiji Temple so we just randomly choose one and go in.
The sweet tofu skin is called “kitsune” and udon is one of the comfort food in Japan. Cheap and found everywhere.
Chicken Karage Set
Deep fried chicken with special marinated sauce with raw cabbage and some “tsukemono” (in pink) – pickles. Children and students love this set.
Unadon is a short form for unagi donburi also known as “eel bowl”, this is one of the popular dishes which consist of steamed white rice and topped with fillets of eel/”unagi” grilled with special sweet sauce. Sometimes they called it “kabayaki”. Unadon set is slightly more expensive than the Udon noodles and Chicken Karage set. Usually price Over 1000 -1500 yen (USD 9.05-13.50)
Glad to have a free English speaking guide to explain the history and architecture of Todaiji temple. The number one thing you may want to try is to squeeze through this healing pillar to get a place in heaven and also good luck. And don’t forget to play with the roaming deer, feed them and hug them!
What do you like most about Todaiji temple? And why?