, is a Buddhist temple complex located in the city of Nara, Japan. Its Great Buddha Hall (大仏殿 Daibutsuden), the largest wooden building in the world, houses the world's largest statue of the Buddha Vairocana, known in Japanese simply as Daibutsu (大仏). The temple also serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism. The temple is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site as "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara", together with seven other sites including temples, shrines and places in the city of Nara. Sika deer, regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, roam the grounds freely.
The main gate into Tōdai-ji
The beginning of building a temple where the huge Tōdai-ji complex
sits today can be dated to 728, when Emperor Shōmu
(金鐘山寺) as an appeasement for Prince
, his first son with his Fujiwara
Motoi died a year after his birth.
During the Tenpyō
era, Japan suffered
from a series of disasters and epidemics. It was after experiencing
these problems that Emperor Shōmu issued an edict in 741to promote
the construction of provincial
throughout the nation. Tōdai-ji (still Kinshōsen-ji at
the time) was appointed as the Provincial temple of Yamato Province
and the head of all the
provincial temples. With the alleged coup d'état by Nagaya
in 729, an outbreak of smallpox
around 735–737, worsened by consecutive
years of poor crops, then followed by a rebellion led by Fujiwara
no Hirotsugu in 740, the country was in a chaotic position. Emperor
Shōmu had been forced to move the capital four times, indicating
the level of instability during this period.
Role in early Japanese Buddhism
Under the Ritsuryō
government in the Nara Period
was heavily regulated by the state through the . During this time,
Tōdai-ji served as the central administrative temple for the
provincial temples for the six Buddhist schools in Japan
at the time: the Hossō
. Letters dating from this
time also show that all six Buddhist schools had offices at
Tōdai-ji, complete with administrators, shrines and their own
Japanese Buddhism during this time still maintained the lineage of
and all officially licensed monks
had to take their ordination under the Vinaya at Tōdai-ji. In 754,
ordination was given by Ganjin
, who arrived
in Japan after overcoming hardships over 12 years and six attempts
of crossing the sea from China, to Empress Kōken
, former Emperor Shōmu
and others. Later Buddhist
monks, including Kūkai
took their ordination here as well.
During Kūkai's administration of the Sōgō, additional ordination
ceremonies were added to Tōdai-ji, including ordination of the
Brahma Net Sutra
esoteric Precepts, or Samaya
, from Kukai's
own newly established Shingon
Buddhism. Additionally, Kūkai added an Abhiseka
Hall for the use of initiating monks of
the six Nara schools into the esoteric teachings. by 829.
During its height of power, Tōdai-ji's famous Shuni-e
ceremony was established by the monk Jitchū,
and continues to this day.
center of power in Japanese Buddhism shifted away from Nara to
Hiei and the Tendai sect, and
later when the capital of Japan moved to Kamakura, Tōdai-ji's role in maintaining
authority declined as well.
In later generations, the Vinaya
lineage also died out, despite repeated attempts to revive it, thus
no more ordination ceremonies take place at Tōdai-ji.
, Emperor Shōmu issued a law in which he
stated that the people should become directly involved with the
establishment of new Buddha temples throughout Japan. His personal
belief was that such piety would inspire Buddha to protect his
country from further disaster. Gyōki
with his pupils, traveled the provinces asking for donations.
According to records kept by Tōdai-ji, more than 2,600,000 people
in total helped construct the Great Buddha and its Hall. The 16 m
(52 ft) high statue was built through eight castings over three
years, the head and neck being cast together as a separate element.
The making of the statue was started first in Shigaraki
. After enduring multiple fires
and earthquakes, the construction was eventually resumed in Nara in
, and the Buddha was finally completed in
. A year later, in 752
the eye-opening ceremony was held with an attendance of 10,000
people to celebrate the completion of the Buddha. The Indian priest
performed the eye-opening for
Emperor Shōmu. The project nearly bankrupted Japan's economy,
consuming most of the available bronze
original complex also contained two 100 m
pagodas, perhaps second only to the pyramids of
Egypt in height at the time.
These were destroyed
by earthquake. The Shōsōin
storehouse, and now contains many artifacts from the Tenpyo period
of Japanese history
Reconstructions post-Nara Period
Nandaimon, the Great Southern
The Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden
) has been rebuilt twice
after fire. The current building was finished in 1709
, and although immense—57 m long and 50 m wide—it
is actually 30% smaller than its predecessor. The Great Buddha
statue has been recast
several times for
various reasons, including earthquake
damage. The current hands of the statue were made in the Momoyama Period
), and the head was made
in the Edo period
The existing Nandaimon (Middle Gate) is a reconstruction of
end-12th century based on Song Dynasty style
dancing figures of the Nio
, the two 28-foot-tall
guardians at the Nandaimon, were built at around the same time by
workshop members. The Nio are known as Ungyo, which by tradition
has a closed mouth, and Agyo, which has an open mouth. The two
figures were closely evaluated and extensively restored by a team
of art conservators between 1988 and 1993. Until then, these
sculptures had never before been moved from the niches in which
they were originally installed. This complex preservation project,
costing $4.7 million, involved a restoration team of 15 experts
from the National
Treasure Repairing Institute
Dimensions of the Daibutsu
Daibutsu of Tōdai-ji.
The temple gives the following dimensions for the statue:
The statue weighs .
Temple precincts and gardens
Various buildings of the Tōdai-ji have been incorporated within the
overall aesthetic intention of the gardens' design. Adjacent villas
are today considered part of Tōdai-ji.
Some of these structures are now open to the public. The time spent
visiting one or more of these less well-known buildings can only
enhance an appreciation of the temple complex itself.
Over the centuries, the buildings and gardens have evolved together
as to become an integral part of a unique, organic and living
Japanese National Treasures at Todai-ji
The architectural master-works are classified as:
Major historical events
- 728: Kinshōsen-ji, the forerunner of
Tōdai-ji is established as a gesture of appeasement for the for the
troubled spirit of Prince Motoi.
- 741: Emperor Shōmu calls for nationwide
establishment of provincial temples; and Kinshōsen-ji appointed as
the head provincial temple of Yamato.
- 743: The Emperor commands that a very large
image Buddhist statue shall be built—the Daibutsu or Great
Buddha—and initial work is begun at Shigaraki-no-miya.
- 745: The capital returns
to Heijō-kyō, construction of the Great Buddha resumes in
Nara. Usage of the name Tōdai-ji appears on record.
- 752: The Eye-opening Ceremony celebrating
the completion of the Great Buddha held.
- 855: The head of the great statue of Buddha
suddenly fell to the ground; and gifts from the pious from
throughout the empire were collected to create another, more
well-seated head for the restored Daibutsu.
Tōdai-ji has been used as a location in several Japanese films and
television dramas. It was also used in the 1950s John Wayne
movie The Barbarian and the
when Nandaimon, the Great South Gate, doubled as a
UNESCO-sponsored music festival
May 20, 1994, the
international music festival The Great Music Experience
was held at Tōdai-ji, supported by UNESCO.
The Tokyo New
, X Japan
, Bon Jovi
, Bob Dylan
, Roger Taylor
classic Japanese drummers
, and a Buddhist monk
choir. This event, organised by British producer Tony Hollingsworth
, was simultaneously
broadcast in 55 countries on May 22
File:TodaijiNandaimon0185.jpg|Sika deer in front of the the Great
Southern Gate (Nandaimon
), a National Treasure
century).File:Todaiji-Tegaimon-M6820.jpg|The Tegai-mon is also a
National Treasure (8th century).File:NaraTodaiji0252.jpg|Hokkedo is
also a National Treasure (8th
century).File:Todaiji07s3200.jpg|Nigatsudo is also a National
Treasure (17th century).File:Daibutsu-den in Todaiji
Nara02bs3200.jpg|Frontal view of Main
from grounds of Tōdai-ji.File:Todaiji13s4592.jpg|A guardian
watching over Tōdai-ji and its precincts.File:Tōdai-ji left
statue.jpg|The left figure, one of a pair of
guardiansFile:Toudai-ji bonsyou.jpg|Bronze bellFile:Todaiji Syunie
Nara JPN 001.JPG|Shuni-e held March 1
.File:Onigawara 3 kaidan-in
tilesFile:NaraTodaijiDaibutsu Incised Images0.JPG|Bodisattvas
Incised on Lotus Petal of the throne of the main Buddha, 8th
century.File:ONJYO BOSATSU Todaiji.JPG|Openwork playing flute
Bodisattva in Octagonal Lantern Tower (8th century).File:Todaiji
sorin.jpg|SōrinFile:Nio guardians by Unkei in Nara.jpg|Agyo, one of
two great Nio gate guardians within Nandaimon, was created by
in 1203File:Todaiji02s3200.jpg|The main
hall, with festival decorationsFile:NaraTodaijiL0219.jpg|A
supporting post in the Daibutsuden
has a hole apparently
the same size as one of the Daibutsu'
s nostrils. Legend
has it that those who pass through it will be blessed with
enlightenment in their next life.
- The temple has acquired this name by the fact it was located to
the east of the Heijō-kyō.
- JNTO Website | Find a Location | Nara | Nara-koen
Park (Todai-ji Temple), Japan National Tourist
Organization, retrieved on February 5, 2009
- Hall, John W., et al., eds. (1988). The Cambridge
history of Japan, pp. 398–400.
- The same record keeps track of some prominent persons, among
many others, being involved in the construction. E.g. Kuninaka-no-muraji Kimimaro,
whose grandfather was an immigrant from the Baekje Kingdom on the Korean peninsula, is
believed to have directed the construction of the Great Buddha and
the Hall. Takechi-no-sanekuni is believed to have directed the
- The height of the original Buddha.
- Brown, Delmer et al. (1979). Gukanshō, p.
- Sterngold, James. "Japan Restores Old Temple Gods".
The New York Times. December 28,
1991. Accessed 25 March 2009.
- Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki, pp.
- Titsingh, Isaac. (134). Annales des empereurs du
japon, p. 72; Brown, p. 273.
- Titsingh, pp. 72–73.
- Titsingh, p. 74; Varley, p. 142 n59.
- Titsingh, p. 114; Brown, p. 286.