Coordinates: 34°41′21″N 135°50′23″E / 34.68917°N 135.83972°E / 34.68917; 135.83972
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Great Buddha Hall (daibutsuden), a National Treasure
DeityBirushana-butsu (Vairocana Buddha)
Location Japan 1 Zōshi-chō, Nara, Nara Prefecture
Geographic coordinates34°41′21″N 135°50′23″E / 34.68917°N 135.83972°E / 34.68917; 135.83972
FounderEmperor Shōmu
Date establishedEarly 8th century
Completed1709 (Reconstruction)

Tōdai-ji (東大寺, Todaiji temple, "Eastern Great Temple") is a Buddhist temple complex that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples, located in the city of Nara, Japan. Though it was originally founded in the year 738 CE, Tōdai-ji was not opened until the year 752 CE. The construction of the temple was an attempt to imitate Chinese temples from the much-admired Tang dynasty. The temple has undergone several reconstructions since then, with the most significant reconstruction (that of the Great Buddha Hall) taking place in 1709.[1] Its Great Buddha Hall (大仏殿 Daibutsuden) houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, known in Japanese as Daibutsu (大仏). The temple also serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism. The temple is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara", together with seven other sites including temples, shrines and places in the city of Nara.


A model of the garan of Tōdai-ji at the time of its foundation, seen from the north side, a part of 1/1000 scale model of Heijōkyō held by Nara City Hall.
Map of the Tōdai-ji complex with a number of buildings that do not exist anymore, such as the two pagodas, and the library, lecture hall, refectory, and monks' quarters behind the main hall


Record of temple lands in Echizen Province in 757 (ICP); as head of the national network of Provincial Temples, Tōdai-ji's privileges included a large network of tax-exempt estates[2][3]

Emperor Shomu (r. 724–749) ordered the monk-architect Roben to build a temple at Nara between 728 and 749.[4] This decree represented an attempt to imitate Chinese temples from the much-admired Tang dynasty.[5] Todaiji is well-known for the Nara Daibutsu, also known as "The Great Buddha of Nara," which is an image of the Buddha Birushana.[4] The current Buddha was repaired after suffering significant damage in 1692.[4] Under the leadership of Abbot Shunjobo Chogen (1121–1206), numerous structures at Todaiji were rebuilt in 1180 in the fashion of the Southern Song dynasty of China.[4]

During the Tenpyō era, Japan suffered from a series of disasters and epidemics. It was after experiencing these problems that Emperor Shōmu issued an edict in 741 to promote the construction of provincial temples throughout the nation. Later in 743 during the Tenpyō era the Emperor commissioned the Daibutsu to be built in 743.[6] Tōdai-ji (still Kinshōsen-ji at the time) was appointed as the provincial temple of Yamato Province and the head of all the provincial temples. With the alleged coup d'état by Nagaya in 729, a major outbreak of smallpox around 735–737,[7] worsened by several consecutive years of poor crops, followed by a rebellion led by Fujiwara no Hirotsugu in 740, the country was in a chaotic situation. Emperor Shōmu had been forced to move the capital four times, indicating a certain level of instability during this period.[8]

Role in early Japanese Buddhism[edit]

"Tōdai-ji" in kanji
Japanese name

According to legend, the monk Gyōki went to Ise Grand Shrine to reconcile Shinto with Buddhism. He spent seven days and nights reciting sutras until the oracle declared Vairocana Buddha compatible with worship of the sun goddess Amaterasu.[9]

A Model of the Kondo (Great Buddha Hall) at the time of foundation. The original hall was larger than the one built after it.

Under the Ritsuryō system of government in the Nara period, Buddhism was heavily regulated by the state through the Sōgō (僧綱, Office of Priestly Affairs). During this time, Tōdai-ji served as the central administrative temple for the provincial temples[10] and for the six Buddhist schools in Japan at the time: the Hossō, Kegon, Jōjitsu, Sanron, Ritsu and Kusha. Letters dating from this time also show that all six Buddhist schools had offices at Tōdai-ji, complete with administrators, shrines and their own library.[10]

The Great South Gate (nandaimon), a National Treasure (13th century)

Japanese Buddhism during this time still maintained the lineage of the Vinaya and all officially licensed monks were required to take their ordination under the Vinaya at Tōdai-ji. In 754 CE, ordination was given by Ganjin, who arrived in Japan after traveling over 12 years and six attempts of crossing the sea from China, to Empress Kōken, former Emperor Shōmu and others. Later Buddhist monks, including Kūkai and Saichō received their ordination here as well.[11] During Kūkai's administration of the Sōgō, additional ordination ceremonies were added to Tōdai-ji, including the ordination of the Bodhisattva Precepts from the Brahma Net Sutra and the esoteric Precepts, or Samaya, from Kukai's own newly established Shingon school of Buddhism. Kūkai added an Abhiseka Hall to use for initiating monks of the six Nara schools into the esoteric teachings[12] by 829 CE.


As the center of power in Japanese Buddhism shifted away from Nara to Mount Hiei and the Tendai sect, and when the centre of political power in Japan moved from the emperor's capital to the shōgun's base in Kamakura in the aftermath of the Genpei war, Tōdai-ji's role in maintaining authority declined. In later generations, the Vinaya lineage also died out, despite repeated attempts to revive it; thus no more ordination ceremonies take place at Tōdai-ji.


Initial construction[edit]

The belfry at Tōdai-ji

In 743, Emperor Shōmu issued a law stating that the people should become directly involved with the establishment of new Buddhist temples throughout Japan. The Emperor believed that such piety would inspire Buddha to protect his country from further disaster. Gyōki, with his pupils, traveled the provinces asking for donations. According to records kept by Tōdai-ji, more than 2,600,000 people in total helped construct the Great Buddha and its Hall, contributing[13] rice, wood, metal, cloth, or labour, with 350,000 working directly on the statue's construction.[14][15][16] The 16 m (52 ft)[17] high statue was built through eight castings over three years, the head and neck being cast together as a separate element.[18] The making of the statue was started first in Shigaraki. After enduring multiple fires and earthquakes, the construction was eventually resumed in Nara in 745,[14] and the Buddha was finally completed in 751. A year later, in 752, the eye-opening ceremony was held with an attendance of 10,000 monks and 4,000 dancers to celebrate the completion of the Buddha.[19] The Indian priest Bodhisena performed the eye-opening for Emperor Shōmu. The project cost Japan greatly, as the statue used much of Japan's bronze and relied entirely on imported gold.[20] 48 lacquered cinnabar pillars, 1.5 m in diameter and 30 m long, support the blue tiled roof of the Daibutsu-den.[21]

Maps that include some of the original structures of Tōdai-ji are rare, though some still exist today. Some of these structures include, the two pagodas, the library, lecture hall, refectory, and the monk's quarters located behind the main hall. Tōdai-ji functioned not only as a place of worship and Buddhist practice, but as a place of higher learning and study. Much of what contemporaries now know about the original layout of the temple comes from the writings of monks who lived and studied there.

The original complex contained two 100 m pagodas, making them some of the tallest structures at the time. They were located on either side of the complex, one on the western (西塔) and one on the eastern side (東塔).[22] The pagodas themselves were surrounded by a walled courtyard with four gates.[23] These were destroyed by an earthquake. One of the sōrin finials survived and is standing at the spot where one of the pagodas used to stand.

The Shōsōin was its storehouse, and now contains many artifacts from the Tenpyō period of Japanese history.

Reconstructions post-Nara Period[edit]

A model of the Kondo that was rebuilt in the Kamakura period
The Great Buddha (Daibutsu) in the main hall

The Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden) has been rebuilt twice after fire. The current building was finished in 1709, and although immense—57 metres (187 ft) long, 50 metres (160 ft) wide and 49 metres (161 ft) high—it is actually 30% smaller than its predecessor, being reduced from 11 to 7 bays wide due to lack of funds. Until 1998, it was the world's largest wooden building.[24] It has been surpassed by modern structures, such as the Japanese baseball stadium Odate Jukai Dome, amongst others. The Great Buddha statue has been recast several times for various reasons, including earthquake damage. The current hands of the statue were made in the Momoyama Period (1568–1615), and the head was made in the Edo period (1615–1867).

The existing Nandaimon (Great South Gate) was constructed at the end of the 12th century based on Daibutsuyō style, after the original gate was destroyed by a typhoon during the Heian period. The dancing figures of the Nio, the two 8.5-metre-tall (28 ft) guardians at the Nandaimon, were built around the same time by the artists Unkei, Kaikei, and their workshop staff. The Nio are an A-un pair known as Ungyo, which by tradition has a facial expression with a closed mouth, and Agyo, which has an open mouthed expression.[25] The two figures were closely evaluated and extensively restored by a team of art conservators between 1988 and 1993. Until then, these sculptures had never before been moved from the niches in which they were originally installed. This complex preservation project, costing $4.7 million, involved a restoration team of 15 experts from the National Treasure Repairing Institute in Kyoto.[26]

Dimensions of the Daibutsu[edit]

The temple gives the following dimensions for the statue:[27]

  • Height: 14.98 m (49 ft 2 in)
  • Face: 5.33 m (17 ft 6 in)
  • Eyes: 1.02 m (3 ft 4 in)
  • Nose: 0.5 m (1 ft 8 in)
  • Ears: 2.54 m (8 ft 4 in)

The statue's shoulders are 28 meters across and there are 960 six curls atop its head.[28] The Birushana Buddha's golden halo is 27 m (87 ft) in diameter with 16 images each 2.4 m (8 ft) tall.[29]

Recently, using x-rays, a human tooth, along with pearls, mirrors, swords, and jewels were discovered inside of the knee of the Great Buddha; these are believed to be the relics of Emperor Shomu.[30]

The statue weighs 500 tonnes (550 short tons).

Temple precincts and gardens[edit]

South Gate utilized in Isuien Garden.

Various buildings of the Tōdai-ji have been incorporated within the overall aesthetic intention of the gardens' design. Adjacent villas are today considered part of Tōdai-ji. Some of these structures are now open to the public.

Over the centuries, the buildings and gardens have evolved together as to become an integral part of an organic and living temple community.

The Tōdai-ji Culture Center opened on October 10, 2011, comprising a museum to exhibit the many sculptures and other treasures enshrined in the various temple halls, along with a library and research centre, storage facility, and auditorium.[31][32][33]

Japanese national treasures[edit]

The architectural master-works are classified as:

National treasures
Romaji Kanji
Kon-dō (Daibutsuden) 金堂 (大仏殿)
Nandaimon 南大門
Kaizan-dō 開山堂
Shōrō 鐘楼
Hokke-dō (Sangatsu-dō) 法華堂 (三月堂)
Nigatsu-dō 二月堂
Tegaimon 転害門

Major historical events[edit]

The temple originally had two large pagodas on either side of the complex, which used to be among the tallest structures of its time.
  • 728: Kinshōsen-ji, the forerunner of Tōdai-ji, is established as a gesture of appeasement for the troubled spirit of Prince Motoi.
  • 741: Emperor Shōmu calls for nationwide establishment of provincial temples,[34] and Kinshōsen-ji appointed as the head provincial temple of Yamato.
  • 743: The Emperor commands that a very large Buddha image statue shall be built—the Daibutsu or Great Buddha—and initial work is begun at Shigaraki-no-miya.[35]
  • 745: The capital returns to Heijō-kyō, construction of the Great Buddha resumes in Nara. Usage of the name Tōdai-ji appears on record.[36]
  • 752: The Eye-opening Ceremony celebrating the completion of the Great Buddha held.[37]
  • 855: The head of the great statue of the Buddha Vairocana suddenly fell to the ground; and gifts from the pious throughout the empire were collected to create another, more well-seated head for the restored Daibutsu.[38]

In popular culture[edit]

Matsuo Bashō refers to the Great Buddha statue in a haiku (1689–1670): 初雪や / いつ大仏 / の柱立.
"First snow!/ When Buddha's great statue/ pillar-erection"[39]
"First snow and / there stands the great Buddha / a pillar of strength"[40]

Tōdai-ji has been used as a location in several Japanese films and television dramas. It was also used in the 1950s John Wayne movie The Barbarian and the Geisha when Nandaimon, the Great South Gate, doubled as a city's gates.

On May 20, 1994, the international music festival The Great Music Experience was held at Tōdai-ji, supported by UNESCO. Performers included the Tokyo New Philharmonic Orchestra, X Japan, INXS, Jon Bon Jovi, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Tomoyasu Hotei, Roger Taylor, classic Japanese drummers, and a Buddhist monk choir. This event, organized by British producer Tony Hollingsworth, was simultaneously broadcast in 55 countries on May 22 and 23, 1994.

The 2007 animation series Mononoke (モノノ怪), which is a spin-off of the 2006 horror anthology series Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales, references the Tōdai-ji, particularly the treasure room Shōsōin, in Episodes 8 and 9.

The Tōdai-ji is used as the Japanese wonder in Age of Empires II.

The Tōdai-ji is the subject of the 2003 novella "A Mountain to the North, A Lake to the South, Paths to the West, A River to the East" ("Északról hegy, Délről tó, Nyugatról utak, Keletről folyó") by László Krasznahorkai.

International outreach[edit]

Following the catastrophic Notre-Dame de Paris fire in April 2019, Japanese authorities declared plans to expand fire prevention measures at several historic locations, including Tōdai-ji in Nara, partly by hiring new, younger employees in a context where temple and shrine staff are aging.[41] Custodians of Todaiji temple also installed a donation box, stating "Let's Rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral", in the hallway behind the Great Buddha statue.  In June 2019, a sign next to the box, in Japanese and English, explained why Tōdai-ji, as headquarters of the Kegon sect of Buddhism, was soliciting funds in this way. The English version declared, "Todai-ji temple has been reconstructed every time it burned down by big fires thanks to the significant effort of many people.  We sincerely express our deepest sympathy for the tragedy that hit the Notre-Dame de Paris. Going beyond the creed, we would like to ask everyone for your support to reconstruct the cathedral."


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Todaiji". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  2. ^ Farris, William Wayne (1985). Population, Disease, and Land in Early Japan, 645–900. Harvard University Press. pp. 84 ff. ISBN 0-674-69005-2.
  3. ^ Hall, John Whitney; Mass, Jeffrey P (1974). Medieval Japan: Essays in Institutional History. Stanford University Press. pp. 97 ff. ISBN 0-8047-1510-6.
  4. ^ a b c d William E. Deal (2006). Handbook to Life in Medieval & early Modern Japan. pp. 216–217. ISBN 0-8160-5622-6.
  5. ^ William E. Deal (2006). Handbook to Life in Medieval & early Modern Japan. pp. 216–217. ISBN 0-8160-5622-6.
  6. ^ Jien, 1155–1225. (1979). The future and the past : a translation and study of the Gukanshō, an interpretative history of Japan written in 1219. Brown, Delmer Myers, 1909–, Ishida, Ichirō, 1913–2006., 石田, 一良(1913–2006). Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520034600. OCLC 5145872.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Kohn, George C. (2002). Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence: From Ancient Times to the Present. Princeton, New Jersey: Checkmark Books. p. 213. ISBN 978-0816048939.
  8. ^ Hall, John W., et al., eds. (1988). The Cambridge history of Japan, pp. 398–400.
  9. ^ Mino, Yutaka (1986). The Great Eastern Temple: Treasures of Japanese Buddhist Art From Tōdai-Ji. Garland Publishing Inc. p. 22.
  10. ^ a b Abe, Ryuichi (1999). The Weaving of Mantra: Kukai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. Columbia University Press. pp. 35, 55. ISBN 0-231-11286-6.
  11. ^ Hakeda, Yoshito S. (1972). Kūkai and His Major Works. Columbia University Press. p. 35. ISBN 0-231-05933-7.
  12. ^ Abe, Ryuichi (1999). The Weaving of Mantra: Kukai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. Columbia University Press. pp. 35, 55. ISBN 0-231-11286-6.
  13. ^ NARA Prefecture. "1300年前に海を渡ってきた文化は奈良から日本各地へと広まった" [The culture that crossed the sea 1300 years ago spread to Japan]. The general Supervisor of the Giant Buddha is a craftsman from Baekje, In the construction of Todai-ji Temple, a craftsman from Silla was in charge of the general supervision. And The stone lion making was of the craftsman from Southern Song. like this Many Chinese and Korean and those descendants contributed to the construction of Todai-ji Temple and the construction of the Giant Buddha.
  14. ^ a b "Official Tōdai-ji Homepage" (in Japanese). Retrieved March 11, 2007.
  15. ^ Huffman, James L. (2010). Japan in World History. New York: Oxford University Press.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  16. ^ The same record keeps track of some prominent persons, among many others, being involved in the construction. E.g. Kuninaka-no-muraji Kimimaro, whose grandfather was an immigrant from the Baekje Kingdom on the Korean peninsula, is believed to have directed the construction of the Great Buddha and the Hall. Takechi-no-sanekuni is believed to have directed the sculpture part.
  17. ^ The height of the original Buddha.
  18. ^ Brown, Delmer et al. (1979). Gukanshō, p. 286.
  19. ^ Mino, Yutaka (1986). The Great Eastern Temple: Treasures of Japanese Buddhist Art From Tōdai-Ji. Garland Publishing Inc. p. 34. ISBN 0-253-20390-2.
  20. ^ Dresser, Christopher (1882). Japan: Its Architecture, Art and Art Manufactures. New York and London. p. 89.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  21. ^ Mino, Yutaka (1986). The Great Eastern Temple: Treasures of Japanese Buddhist Art From Tōdai-Ji. Garland Publishing Inc. p. 33,40. ISBN 0-253-20390-2.
  22. ^ お探しのページは移動もしくは削除されてしまった可能性があります
  23. ^ お探しのページは移動もしくは削除されてしまった可能性があります
  24. ^ "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara – UNESCO World Heritage Centre". Whc.unesco.org. Retrieved August 15, 2012.
  25. ^ Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System (JAANUS), "Niou" (仁王); "A un" (阿吽), 2001, retrieved 2011-04-14.
  26. ^ Sterngold, James. "Japan Restores Old Temple Gods". The New York Times. December 28, 1991, retrieved 2011-04-14; excerpt, "The Nio are known as Ungyo, which by tradition has a closed mouth, and Agyo, which has an open mouth. The figures, which appear in some form in many Buddhist temples, are powerful bare-chested gods, wielding heavy cudgels to ward off evil spirits. Ungyo was restored first. The more delicate parts were removed, including the long ribbon streaming from its top knot. Then the statue was swathed in thick layers of cotton, laid on its back and rolled slowly to a large metal shed built for the conservation. Ungyo was replaced this year and then Agyo was removed to the shed for restoration, a process that is likely to take two years."
  27. ^ "大仏さまの大きさ". Archived from the original on February 19, 2012.
  28. ^ Dresser, Christopher (1882). Japan: Its Architecture, Art and Art Manufactures. New York and London. p. 94.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  29. ^ Dresser, Christopher (1882). Japan: Its Architecture, Art and Art Manufactures. New York and London. p. 89.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  30. ^ Ruppert, Brian D. (2000). Jewel in the Ashes: Buddha Relics and Power in Medieval Japan. Harvard University Asia Center. pp. 61–62. ISBN 0-674-00245-8.
  31. ^ "Todaiji unveils museum to show ancient treasures". The Japan Times. October 12, 2011. Archived from the original on August 4, 2012. Retrieved April 20, 2012. Alt URL
  32. ^ 東大寺総合文化センター [Tōdaiji Culture Center] (in Japanese). Tōdai-ji. Retrieved April 20, 2012.
  33. ^ "Nara's Todaiji Cultural Center Completed". Nagata Acoustics. February 25, 2011. Retrieved April 20, 2012.
  34. ^ Varley, H. Paul. (1980). Jinnō Shōtōki, pp. 141–142.
  35. ^ Titsingh, Isaac. (134). Annales des empereurs du japon, p. 72; Brown, p. 273.
  36. ^ Titsingh, pp. 72–73.
  37. ^ Titsingh, p. 74; Varley, p. 142 n59.
  38. ^ Titsingh, p. 114; Brown, p. 286.
  39. ^ Basho, Matsuo (February 2012). Basho's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho. ISBN 9780791484654.
  40. ^ "WordPress.com". WordPress.com.
  41. ^ Nippon.com (April 22, 2019). "Notre Dame Fire Heightens Vigilance at Historic Sites in Japan". Nippon.com. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  42. ^ "В столице остается все меньше деревянных зданий". Newstube.ru. Retrieved August 15, 2012.

External links[edit]