Nara’s most famous temple is also one of the most impressive in Japan

09 April, 2012 by

If I were to recommend just one temple or shrine to visit in Japan, it would be Nara’s Todaiji. As the head temple of the region, Todaiji makes for the Japanese equivalent of the Vatican and quite possible the single most impressive place of worship in Japan.


Translated as the Great Eastern Temple, Todaiji was founded in 728 and is one of Japan’s oldest temples. In its original incarnation, Todaiji could had been easily considered one of the greatest wonders of its time. Sadly, the original temple and many of its structures had been lost by natural disasters over the years.

However, the current rebuilt Todaiji still dates back to 1709, making it one of the oldest surviving temples in Japan. Despite being smaller than the original, the main Daibutsuden building of Todaiji is actually the largest wooden building in the world and also houses the largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan.

Visiting Todaiji

Todaiji occupies a huge temple grounds in the former capital city of Nara. It is surrounded by Nara Park, which contains a number of other significant temples. It is said that the Japanese emperor at the time had to relocate the capital in fear of the growing influence of the temples in Nara.

Todaiji is 2.5 kilometers and approximately 30 to 40 minutes from Nara Station on foot. There are clear signs pointing you in the right direction all the way. While a rather lengthy walk, there are enough interesting sights along the way to be enjoyable.

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At Todaiji

Apart from its cultural value, Nara is also better known among travelers for the great many free roaming deer. We’ve previously highlighted the Nara Deer in an article of their own but I’ve included some pictures for reference.

Perhaps due to the cracker stands outside the temple, the largest concentration of deer in Nara call Todaiji home. Most of them hang around on the outside. The deer seem to have evolved to be rather intelligent at Nara and they know better than to disturb the gift shops here. Tourists are free game though.

Many a deer.

Harassing visitors.

Cute but dangerous.

Most of the deer are nice enough to keep out of the main temple grounds.

There is a donation box outside and you’ll be able to sneak a peek at the Daibutsuden through the gate but to get into Todaiji proper you’ll need to purchase a ticket. Think of it as a donation. The entrance can be found at the far left end of the gate (just beside the park’s toilet).

Entry to the main temple grounds costs 500 yen.

Majestic temple.

Also the largest wooden building in the world.

Even from a distance, Todaiji’s Daibutsuden is dwarfing. Moving in closer, the discolored, dust coated building clearly shows its age. However, this lends itself to Todaiji’s charm and it felt like we were genuinely experiencing a piece of living history.

The temple's age shows.

The size of the hall makes Todaiji feel a lot more open than other temples. It is perhaps for this reason that photography is not prohibited inside the Daibutsuden. Though the same signs that say that it is alright plead for visitors not to use any flash.

Immediately at the front of the hall you’ll find the 15 meter tall bronze statue of the Vairocana Buddha. For reference, the average height of one floor in a building is 3 meters, so you can imagine how huge it is. It is larger than even Kamakura’s popular statue that stands at 11 meters.

It houses the largest bronze Buddha.

Aged interior.

Smaller Kanon statue beside.

Immediately beside you’ll find a slightly smaller statue of Kanon. There are a number of other objects inside the temple, some of which were preserved from the original. There is also a model of the original Todaiji temple, with a comparison to the current version.

As customary of all Japanese temples, you’ll also find a stall selling Japanese Charms and other souvenir goods. Proceeds go toward the upkeep and preservation of the temple so it’s always nice to show one’s support.

Other statues and remnants of the old temple are stored inside.

For a more detailed first hand look at Todaiji, check out the previous photo tour of Nara here.

Images by Wilson.

Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.

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Supermerlion's Webmaster and Editor-in-Chief. Singaporean Nikkeijin with over 12 years of experience in the media industry. Producer at a Japanese entertainment company. Former Web Developer, Graphic Designer, Multimedia Programmer, Manager and Consultant. Shoots with a Canon 5Dmk2 and Sony RX100-2.