For those traveling around Japan’s Kyoto and Osaka, it’s worthwhile to make a short trip to nearby Nara which is located less than an hour away. It’s Japan’s first permanent capital so consequently, it takes pride in a bunch of historic treasures, including some of Japan’s greatest temples like Kofukuji and Todaiji. Both of which are part of UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Kofukuji Temple was established all the way back in 669 AD by the wife of Fujiwara no Kamatari for the purpose of praying for Kamatari’s recovery from an illness. It was ranked as one of the “Four Great Temples” of the Nara period and one of the “Seven Great Temples” of the Heian period. However due to many wars and fires it experienced through the years, much of the temple’s other structures have been destroyed. Even so, a few have survived and were rebuilt so you can still visualize how grand it must’ve been during its heyday.
Most of Nara’s attractions are near each other so walking is definitely the most convenient way to make your way around the city. Just a few miles away from Kofukuji stands Todaiji or the Great Eastern Temple. It’s located right in Nara Park so don’t be surprised if you meet a bunch of deers along the way. (Actually, you’ll see plenty deers everywhere you go in Nara.)
The main entrance to the temple is through this gate called Nandaimon or the Great Southern Gate. Once you’re by the gate, make sure to look to your left and then to your right to see the two giant guardian statues–each more than 8 meters tall with faces that are kinda scary.
This is Todaiji’s main temple building called the Daibutsuden or Great Buddha Hall. It’s only two thirds of its original size and yet, it’s said to be the largest wooden building in the world.
The Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) houses the largest Buddha statue known as the Nara Daibutsu or Great Buddha of Nara. It weighs 250 tons, stands 30 meters tall and is made of copper and bronze. Would you believe its intricate hairstyle alone is made of 966 bronze balls? No wonder it took up most of Japan’s bronze production for several years and left the country almost bankrupt! According to legend, around 2,600,000 people helped construct the Great Buddha–either by donating materials, money or labor.
It’s not photographed here but another interesting structure inside the Daibutsuden are the rear support pillars which have holes through the bottom. I noticed a long line of people gathering around them, waiting for their turn to squeeze through the holes. Apparently, it is believed that those who successfully squeeze themselves through one of these “healing pillars” is guaranteed a place in Heaven. Wish I knew that before I visited Todaiji!
Compared to Kofukuji, Todaiji definitely has more of that wow factor. It is said to represent the culmination of imperial Buddhist architecture and you can clearly see that in the remaining structures.
There are ponds and gardens around Todaiji which make this historical site even more beautiful so make sure you check them out before you leave. In my opinion, it’s a great way to end the tour, especially with pops of pink here and there due to the cherry blossom season. If not for our jampacked day, I could’ve stayed here forever.