Nara’s Todaiji Temple: An Exploration Guide

The Nara Todaiji Temple, also known as the Great Eastern Temple, is one of the most important and historical landmarks in Nara.

Todaiji Temple is a UNESCO world heritage site and is by far the most popular tourist attraction in Nara. The sheer size of this temple alone is enough to make any visitor understand why this temple is so popular with travelers and even locals.

The enormous temple also holds an important place in Japan’s cultural history, making it a point of interest for both historians and tourists alike.

 Great Buddha Hall in Todaiji Temple housing the world s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana

The temple itself is not a singular building but is actually a complex consisting of the large main building along with several smaller buildings on the same property site.

In fact, the large main building is one of the largest wooden structures in the entire world, standing at 157 feet tall. This is where you will find the giant buddha statue located.

Todaiji temple (location of Great Buddha) in Nara

Whether you are traveling to Nara as a tourist on the lookout for some of the best sites to see or you are a budding historian looking to deeper understand the rich culture of Japan and its history keep reading to learn more about Nara’s Todaiji Temple. 

History Of Todaiji Temple

The impressive Todaiji Temple was originally built as a show of imperial power in 745 by Emperor Shomu. The actual construction of the temple cost a great deal of money and was not completed until 15 years later.

Although you may be in awe of the main building it is worth bearing in mind that what you will now see is actually a reconstruction of what was constructed in 1709. The modern-day main building is actually only two-thirds the size of the original wooden structure. 

 Great Buddha Hall at Todai-ji temple

The main building is home to the large statue of the Buddha which was designed by the Korean artist Kuninaka-no-Kimimaro and stands at 49 feet tall. 

This statue holds particular importance for the Kegon sect of Buddhism in Japan as it is thought to be the Buddha’s spiritual body. The pose depicted in the statue is the pose that the historical Buddha remained in for one week straight while meditating.

Todaiji Temple and the old hole at the pillar of the temple

There are also other smaller statues of the Buddha dotted around the Temple as well as a large pillar with a hollow center which is said to bring enlightenment to those who can squeeze through it. 

Attempting to squeeze thru the hole in the temple pillar said to bring enlightenment

Areas of interest in the Temple

Along with the main building and large Buddha statue, there are also a number of points of interest inside the temple that are popular with visitors.

Nandaimon gate

As you enter the temple grounds you will pass through the Nandaimon gate which is a very large wooden gate guarded by fierce-looking statues. These statues are there to represent the Nio guardian beings (26 feet) who, along with the actual gate itself, are considered national treasures.

Guardian inside the Great Buddha Hall at Todaiji Temple

As you enter the grounds you may even come across deer that have wandered into the grounds from the neighboring park. You can buy food for the deer at a price of approximately 200 yen.

Deer standing at the Nandaimon gate

Todaiji museum

The Todaiji temple museum is open from 9:30 am and the price of admission is 600 yen if you only wish to enter the museum, or you can buy a combined ticket with entry also to Daibutsuden Hall for a total of 1000 yen. 

Opened to the public in 2011, the Todaiji museum can be found right next to the entrance gate (Nandaimon gate). There are always temporary exhibitions on a rotation displaying some of the most interesting art and artifacts that the temple has to offer. These can include Buddhist statues, religious art, and other historical treasures.

Todaiji Museum Official Website (Google Translated Needed)

Hokkedo hall

The Hokkedo hall is open every day of the year and is always open as well as Daibutsuden Hall. The price of admission here is 700 yen. 

Hokkedo Hall at Todaiji Temple

Hokkedo hall also referred to as Sangatsudo, is one of the oldest buildings within the temple complex that has managed to survive to the present day.

The main attraction of this building, apart from the historical importance of the building itself and its architecture, is the Buddhist statue of Kannon located within it which is surrounded by guardian statues. 

Hokkedo Hall Official Website (Google Translate Needed)

Nigatsudo hall

Admission to Nigatsudo hall is free and the building is open at all hours of the day. This building can be found just a few steps away from Daibutsuden Hall. It is located on the east hill. 

This hall is particularly famous thanks to its inclusion in the Omizutori ceremonies, which are held every March.

Nigatsudo Hall Official Website

Nigatsu-do Hall at Tōdai-ji, located at the east of the Great Buddha Hall

Kaidan-do hall

Built in the 8th century and reconstructed during the Edo period, Kaidando hall was an important ordination hall in Japan. Today it is home to four clay statues of the 4 heavenly kings.

Kaidan-do Hall Official Website

Kaidan-in at Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara

Lecture hall

Unfortunately, not all of the original buildings of Nara’s Todaiji Temple have survived until the modern day. Although several of them have been rebuilt over the years there are some that have been lost forever and the lecture hall is one of them. 

Todaiji Temple Guide Map (Downloadable PDF)

However, the grounds where the lecture hall once stood are still open to the public and are marked by the remaining foundations of the building. These can be found just behind Daibutsuden hall.

The east pagoda

The east pagoda is another building that unfortunately no longer stands within the temple grounds. The exact location of the east pagoda was not known until 2015 when the groundwork of the building was discovered and excavated. 

Todaiji Temple in Nara as seen from the adjacent pond

It is known that the Daibutsuden hall was surrounded by two 328 feet tall pagodas (seven stories tall). Currently, the foundations of the east pagoda are hidden away from the public view but luckily there are plans to rebuild the pagoda and return the site to its former glory.

Opening hours

If you are planning to visit Nara’s Todaiji Temple then it is a good idea to check the opening hours and admission fees ahead of time as the temple interior is not always open or readily available to the public. For the Daibutsuden hall the details are as follows:

Ticket Sales At Todaiji Temple

From April until October: 7:30 am to 5:30 pm

From November until March: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm

Open every day (365 Days Annually)

Admission price: 600 yen 

For certain buildings, there are additional admission fees and different opening hours.

Todaiji Temple Official Website

Final Thoughts On Exploring Todaiji Temple

Nara’s Toadiji Temple is quite the sight to behold and its importance in Japanese history both in terms of architecture as it is the largest wooden structure in Japan, as well as its importance in Buddhism, marks it as an interesting location and point to visit for many people.

Incense burns slowly in a burner outside Todaiji Temple

The temple is made up of many small additional buildings as well as the famous large main hall which is home to the famous statue of Buddha. Around the grounds, you can find many interesting things such as religious artifacts, building foundations as well as spiritual points of enlightenment, and Buddhist artifacts. 

Although the main hall of the temple is open every single day of the year please keep in mind that it still adheres to strict opening and closing times. The other buildings located within the temple grounds run according to their own schedule within that of the temple grounds. There are some additional entrance fees required.

Virtual Tour Of Todaiji Temple

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.