Floods of people pass through the entrance to of Tōdai-ji everyday, all there to enjoy the amazing sights of . The entrance path is lined with several colorful souvenir shops and is the pit stop for rickshaw carts. You can usually see deer wandering the streets freely, so make sure that all pamphlets and anything made of paper is hidden securely away (small rice crackers called Shika Senbei – ‘shika’ means deer – are sold for relatively cheap prices in nearby stands if you want to feed the deer).
The Great Southern Gate, Nandaimon!
After you enter one of the main entrance gates (Great Southern Gate, Nandaimon) you’ll notice two great, grotesque statues flanking the wooden gate. These statues are known as Agyo, two of the great Nio gate guardians within Nandaimon, created by Unkei in 1203. When you pass through the gate you will see in the distance another gate, the Tegai-mon – a National Treasure built in the 8th century – and on your right a large pond, the Kagami (mirror) Ike.
The temple grounds of Tōdai-ji are very large, and even aside from the main temple and great Buddha, there are beautiful adjacent forests where a peaceful stroll can be taken at leisure.
To enter Tōdai-ji Daibustu-den you have to pay a small fee; you will then be allowed into the inner shrine. The main hall is very impressive. Along the large lawn leading up to the main structure, there is a water basin for purification and a few statues lining the road. A few steep steps lead up to the temple and beyond.
As you enter the Daibutsuden, said to be one of the largest wooden buildings in the world, the main massive Buddha figure – usually known as Daibutsu –jumps into your vision, flanked by smaller ones to the side. To your right you will see Pindola, one of the sixteen arahtas, who were disciples of the Buddha. You will note that Bishamonten , the Japanese name for Vaisravaa – a Buddhist deity who is watching over Tōdai-ji and its precincts and Komukuten – is one of the pair of guardians in the Daibutsuden. This is one of the rare sites that you are allowed to take pictures of, although it is slightly dark inside.
While walking around, you may see two small square-shaped holes in the base of the support pillars; it is said that if you successfully squeeze through one of these ‘healing pillars’ you are guaranteed a place in heaven. You can walk all around, and as you made a perfect 360 degree turn, the exit is lined with some souvenir shops. There is also the omikuji, where one picks a number and is given their fortune (they come in English as well).
The buildings on both sides of the shrine are very artistically built, and the manner in which the arches are constructed is very beautiful. This is definitely a nice photo opportunity!
The whole compound of Tōdai-ji is stretched out over a large area and there are many sites still to visit.
The original complex contained two 100 meter high pagodas, probably the tallest buildings in the world at the time, though they were destroyed in an earthquake. Outside the Daibutsuden at the bottom of the steps is the bronze Octagonal Lantern, one of the oldest treasures of Tōdai-ji, dating from the original building. The Shosoin, a long flat building, was the storehouse of the temple and now contains many Japanese treasures from the Tenpyou era.
Tōdai-ji was built by Emperor Shomu in 728. During the Tenpyou Era, Japan was experiencing a series of epidemics and disease, and because of these problems, Emperor Shomu issued an edict in 741 to promote the building of provincial temples throughout the nation. Tōdai-ji, known as Kinshosen-ji at the time, was appointed as the Provincial temple of the Yamato Province and head of all the provincial temples.
In 743, Emperor Shomu declared a law which stated that the people should become more involved in building the new Buddha temples throughout Japan. He believed that such piety would inspire the Buddha not to inflict further disaster in Japan. Gyoki, a Japanese Buddhist priest, traveled around the country with his pupils collecting donations from the people. According to records kept by Tōdai-ji, more than 2,600,000 people in total helped construct the Great Buddha and its Hall. The statue was cast eight times over three years and finally completed in 751; the eye-opening ceremony was preformed by the Indian priest Bodhisena in 752 with an attendance of over 10,000 people. The project nearly bankrupted Japan’s economy, consuming most of the available bronze of the time.
The Daibutusuden has been rebuilt twice after fire, and the Buddha statue has been recast several times for various reasons, including earthquakes.