Nara park is a large open space with temples, museums and gardens enough to keep most tourists entertained for several days, especially if you work in a few rounds of feeding the deer. But the biggest attraction of the park is the Todaiji Temple – a complex of several buildings, the most famous of which is the Daibutsu-den or the Great Buddha Hall. There are often queues to get into this historic building but any wait is well worth it. Todaiji is a place steeped in history and bound to inspire awe in all who visit it.
Some might be confused into thinking that the big, central building is called Todaiji. Actually, the big building is known as the Great Buddha Hall; Todaiji refers to the whole complex, which encompasses much more than just the famous wooden building. Also part of Todaiji is the Hokke-do (statue hall) which is the oldest of the Todaiji buildings, the Bell Tower, the Nigatsu-do (known as the second month hall), the Kaidan-do (a hall where many monks have taken their vows), the tegai-mon gate, the site of the old lecture hall, the great south gate and the Todaiji museum.
The Great Buddha Hall is famous for being the largest wooden building in the world – it stands at about 50m tall, 50m wide and nearly 60m in breadth. However, it used to be bigger. The current building stands at only two-thirds of its original height; the first building was completed in 752 but then burnt down in 1180 along with half of the Todaiji complex during an attack by Taira no Shigehira. Restorations began the following year.
However, in 1567, it burnt down again during a battle between two clans. With the surrounding area at war, restoration was impossible and the best they could do was to coat the head of the Buddha statue in copper to protect it. It wasn’t until the mid Edo-period when restorations finally began and the hall was finished and dedicated in 1709.
What the Great Buddha Hall houses is a large statue of Buddha, measuring 15m tall and almost 30m across the shoulders. It has nearly 1,000 decorative curls on its head and weights 500 tons. Recently, it was discovered by using x-ray that hidden within the knee of the Buddha are some relics of Emperor Shomu which include mirrors, pearls, swords, jewels and, most peculiarly…a human tooth. Unlike the Daibutsu at Kamakura (which remained unscathed through earthquakes and typhoons) the head of the Daibutsu at Todaiji fell off during a major earthquake in 855, but was speedily repaired.
Entrance to the Daibutsu-den and the Todaiji Museum are both 500 yen (300 yen for primary school students) or you can buy a combined ticket with entry to both for 800 yen (or 400 yen for children.) Viewing of the two gates, the bell tower, and Nigatsu-do are all free of charge.
Note: As of January 1st 2018, the entrance fee of Daibutsu-den and Todaiji-museum will be changed to 600 yen, and primary school students’ fees will be still 300 yen. A combined ticket will be changed to 1000 yen (400 yen for children).
There are so many religious buildings to see in Nara Koen – those within the Todaiji complex only scratch at the surface and there are plenty of other temples besides. However, even if you only spend one day in Nara Koen, that’s enough time to make your way around the temple and see all the beautiful things it has to offer. I highly recommend the view from Nigatsu-do, and the statues in Hokke-do are really splendid (but the hall can get rather cold so make sure you have a sweater with you.) Todaiji is a fine example of a traditional Japanese temple and even if you feel like you’ve seen a million temples before and they all look the same to you, give it a go anyway. There is something quite unique about the beautiful buildings nestled into the serene atmosphere of the park.