Todaiji Temple (東大寺) is Nara’s (奈良) most impressive landmark. It’s a giant wooden temple, the main hall spanning over 50 meters in every direction, making it the world’s largest building made out of wood entirely. Inside the Daibutsuden (大仏殿), the temple’s main hall, there is a giant Buddha statue made of Bronze which is also the biggest one in said material.
Todaiji dates back to year 752, when Nara was still Japan’s (日本) capital. Emperor Shomu had it built to serve as the head temple of all Buddhist temples throughout Japan.
As such, Todaiji grew to immense power and started influencing political affairs, which is one of the reasons why Nara ceased to be Japan’s capital.
Unfortunately, as with many Japanese temples and castles, the temple’s main hall is not the original from 752. As it is completely made out of wood, it burned down twice throughout history. The current reconstruction dates back to around 1700 which is still an impressive age.
Todaiji Temple Grounds
It is said that Todaji’s original main hall was about a third larger than today’s one.
To the left and right of the giant Buddha, two more amazing statues (Boddhisattvas) find their place. The Buddha statue, being completed a couple of years after the temple itself, is about 15 meters high. Due to earthquakes, it suffered from some damages, particularly parts of it falling off, which had to be repaired along the way.
Upon entering the spacious temple grounds of Todaiji, which houses lots of other smaller buildings as well, you pass through the Nandaimon Gate, which is an impressive construction itself from the 12th century. It is accompanied by two 8,5 meter tall guardian statues.
Todaiji Temple is located in the northern area of Nara Park, where lots of deer freely roam around (I’m sure you’ve heard about this! 🙂 ). I’ll cover the park in a separate article very shortly! Because of this location, you can usually find deer roaming around right in front of the temple’s main gate. This adds a nice touch in my opinion.
Other temple buildings
There are many other buildings and halls on the premise of Todaji Temple. Let me cover some of them:
This hall is located to the east of Todaji’s main hall and is free to enter. Here, annual ceremonies are held.
Right next to Nigatsudo Hall lies Hokkedo Hall, one of the oldest structures of the Todaiji Temple complex. Unlike the first hall, this one has an entrance fee of 600 Yen (4,76€/$5.45; exchange rate as of March 2019). It houses really old statues and the likes so it’s worth it if you’re interested in the history of the temple.
The Shosoin Storehouse is located behind the main hall and can be reached after a 5-minute walk. Sadly, you cannot enter the house but it’s an interesting sight nonetheless. It used to house the treasures of the temple and the Imperial family.
This fairly new museum (opened in 2011) houses various treasures and arts from Todaiji Temple. It is a pure exhibition-based museum, meaning that it is closed in-between exhibitions. Opening hours start at 9:30 and end whenever the Todaiji closes. Admission fee is 600 Yen (4,76€/$5.45), but you can get a combination ticket for 1,000 Yen (7,94€/$9.09) for both the temple (also 600 Yen) and the museum.
Opening Hours & Admission Fee for Todaiji
- Opened every day from 7:30 – 17:30 (April through October) and 8:00 – 17:00 (November through March)
- There are no closing days throughout the year
- Entrance fee is 600 Yen
How to get to Todaiji Temple
Todaiji is located in eastern Nara on the northern side of Nara Park.
You can travel there by bus from either JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station (see my Nara Travel Guide for info on these) which takes about 5-10 minutes, depending on the station. The bus stop where you need to get off is called Todaiji Daibutsuden.
Alternatively, and I highly recommend this, you can walk to the temple. It takes about 25 minutes from Kintestu Nara Station and 40 from JR Nara Station, but it’s totally worth it! Along the way, you can explore some of Nara’s city and walk through Nara Park.
There, you can see many other temples and shrines and feed the deer as you make your way to Todaiji Temple. If you have the time and willpower to walk the distance, definitely do so!
Todaiji Temple is easily a highlight that you do not want to miss! Its size and history are very impressive, even more so in person. Combined with the surrounding Nara Park and other temples, it makes a daytrip to Nara worth it with just that.
As I already mentioned in my Nara Travel Guide, the city does have a similar vibe to Kyoto (京都) in terms of the traditional feel. As it is under an hour away from either Kyoto or Osaka (大阪), it’s a must-see for every Kansai itinerary (if you have the time).
The entire complex of Todaiji temple is very spacious and makes for a pleasant walk. Inside the temple, you can buy your usual temple goods like Omikuji and other souvenirs (they have impressive miniatures and the likes).
That’s it for Todaiji Temple, I hope you enjoyed it!
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Stay tuned for the next article where we’re going to talk about Osaka’s popular entertainment district Dotonbori!
See you there!