Nara Two: Todaiji

Todaiji is home to the Nara Daibutsu, the world’s largest bronze statue,
which is housed in the Daibutsuden, the largest timber building in the world.


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Todaiji is in the following Gallery (Direct Link) —

Japan: Nara Temples
Horyuji, Todaiji


(Eastern Great Temple)

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Founded by Emperor Shomu, Todaiji was constructed beginning in 728, when the original temple
(Kinshosen-ji) was built after Emperor Shomu’s son (Prince Motoi) died at the age of one. After a
number of disasters in the 730s (including an outbreak of smallpox 735-37) and several coups and
rebellions during that decade, Emperor Shomu established a series of Provincial temples with the
Kinshosen-ji as the head of all provincial temples. In 743, a new law was issued stating that people
should become directly involved with the establishment of new Buddhist temples across Japan. This
is when Todaiji was created, when more than 2.6 million people helped construct the Great Buddha
and its hall. The enormous statue was completed in 751 and the ‘eye-opening’ ceremony was in 752.

The casting of the statue consumed most of the bronze in Japan, and nearly bankrupted the country.

The original complex also contained two 100 meter pagodas (almost twice the height of the
largest pagodas today, and nearly as tall as the Great Pyramid in Egypt). These were destroyed
in an earthquake. The Shosoin storehouse contains numerous 8th c. artifacts and is a very early
environmentally-controlled building, having been built to combat the humid climate of Japan. It
was used as the Imperial Repository until recently being replaced by a concrete building.


Nara Park Deer 9773

Now, who could resist that face?
Especially when it’s right in yours...

Todaiji is in Nara Park, which is literally swarming with thundering herds of Sika deer.
The deer walk up to people and either give them the forlorn look this fellow has practiced
oh so well, or they bow to the target, knowing they will be fed shika senbei (deer crackers).

A cute story I heard in Nara Park was one lady telling her child: “Don’t you eat those crackers!
See those deer out there? Half are people who couldn’t read the directions and ate the crackers”.

See... the crackers turn unsuspecting humans into deer. Oh... you got that? Of course you did.

These deer are so smart (at least about this), that they watch for someone going over to
a cracker vendor, then after he buys crackers, the deer swarm the hapless individual.
Once the crackers are gone, the fickle ungulates wander off, looking for the next
unsuspecting tourist. They are sort of like little waifs. You can’t resist them.

Deer in the Nara Park area have been considered sacred for more
than a thousand years... the Sika Deer have roamed the Kasuga
Hills since at least the Neolithic period. Legend says that a
Shinto deity (Takenomikazuchi-no-mikoto) was invited
 to Kasuga Shrine from Kashima and rode a deer.
Since then the deer have been considered
to be the messengers of the gods.

The deer were protected by the local authorities, and
killing one was a capital offense until 1637. After WWII
the deer lost their sacred status and became protected as
National Treasures. There are 1200 deer roaming in Nara Park.


Nara Park Deer Crackers 9749

The cracker routine: the deer come up to you and bow,
then you bow back to the deer and hand over a cracker...


Nara Park Deer Crackers 9754

... and the next thing you know you have two more. I could
show you someone getting swarmed, but you get the idea.

(Great South Gate)


Todaiji Nandaimon 9811

The Todaiji Temple Nandaimon (Great South Gate) is a National Treasure.

Built in 1199 in the Tenjikuyo style with floating wooden beams (the original gate was
destroyed by a typhoon in 962). The two story gate is supported on eighteen 63-foot pillars.

The Nandaimon uses a multi-tiered bracketing system and floating beams. The image
below right shows the bracketing system and floating beam details. The gate was built using
techniques brought back from China (the Daibutsuyo (Great Buddha) style) by priest Chogen during
the major rebuilding after the destruction of the Nara Period temple by fire (beginning in 1181). The main
feature of this style is the use of several layers of brackets to support a massive roof. This was used
effectively in the construction of the enormous Daibutsuden, the world’s largest wooden building.
The Nandaimon is one of only two examples of original architecture using the style (originally
  called tenjikuyo (literally, Indian style, although it has nothing to do with India). A short
bracket (inserted directly into the pillar) supports one bearing block, which then
supports a longer bracket arm which holds two bearing blocks, and so forth.


Todaiji Nandaimon detail 9812c

Detail crop of the center of the gate. The spaces to the
left and right are occupied by the Nio (guardian deities
called kongorishiki (link opens an image of Ungyoh and
Agyoh, the Nio at Horyuji, which are the oldest in Japan).
The Nio sculptures at Horyuji were carved in 711 AD.

The Nio in the Nandaimon are more than 8 m (26 ft.) tall,
and were carved in 1203 by Unkei, Kaikei and Tankei of
the famed Keiha school of sculptors. Unkei was the most
important sculptor in the Kamakura era, and introduced a
new realism and power to his sculptures. The Keiha school
made a great number of statues, many still survive today.


Todaiji Nandaimon 9813

(Great Buddha Hall)


Todaiji 9817

The Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) at Todaiji was originally completed in 751 CE, and was larger than
the current building, which was rebuilt in 1692-1709 after the original burned during the Sengoku Wars.
Even though the current building is only 2/3 of the width of the original, this one is still truly enormous.
The original building was 86 meters wide (282 ft.), and was even more spectacular than this one.
There were issues finding the materials in Edo-period Japan to make an exact reconstruction.

The original building was built in the style of a Chinese palace, with huge red columns,
a yellow ceiling, green window frames, white walls and a black tile roof. The Daibutsu
was cast first (after workmen dug down 8 ft. to firm ground and built the platform
and a wooden framework, covering the framework with two clay molds), after
which the 62 giant columns were raised and the building was constructed.


Todaiji 9816

At the ends of the roof-ridge are Shibi, curved
talismans intended to protect the building against fire.


Todaiji 9857

Daibutsuden is the largest timber building in the world.

The original Nara period temple had the Daibutsu flanked with two 100-meter pagodas.
These pagodas were very likely the tallest buildings in the world when they were built
These 328 foot shichijunoto (7-story pagodas) were destroyed in an earthquake.


Todaiji 9819

The size of the people by the doors give a sense of scale to this monumental wooden building.
It is also built in the massive Tenjikuyo style, like the Nandaimon (Great South Gate, above).

The Daibutsuden is 187 feet (57 meters) wide, 166 ft. (50.5 m) deep and 160 ft. (48.7 m) tall.
The enormous roof weighs over 3020 tons, and is covered with 112,000 roofing tiles.
62 massive pillars support the structure, each roughly 25 feet in circumference.

The two critical kouryou (arched transverse tie beams, called rainbow beams) for the section over the Daibutsu had to be 23.1 meters (76 feet) long, and required a dedicated search all over Japan for pine trees of the correct size, strength and quality. More than 100 people died digging out the roots before carefully felling the trees (so the trees would not be damaged). Transportation of the huge beams from the shrine in the mountain of Kobayashi where the trees were felled was very difficult.

Todaiji was essentially destroyed in 1180 by Taira no Shigehira and his army, when he ordered the burning
of Nara after the Battle of Uji, when some monks helped Shogun Minamoto no Morimasa fight the Taira. Warrior
monks from nearly every monastery opposed him in the Siege of Nara, but the Taira’s cavalry were superior to
the archers and naginata warrior monks (pole-arm, curved blade). The Taira burned nearly every temple.

By the way, the Battle of Uji (which began the Genpei War) was the scene of the first historical use of
seppuku, when Prince Mochihito chose seppuku as an alternative to surrendering to the Taira.


Todaiji Octagonal Lantern 9821

The 8th century octagonal lantern is from the first
temple, and is one of the oldest temple treasures.
click here for a high contrast detail crop of the lantern


Todaiji detail 9822

Detail of the brackets and beams supporting the
eaves and the Kara Hafu gable (Kara = China, but
it also denotes elegance and noble appearance).

More detail is shown in the image directly below.


Todaiji detail 9824

Here, you can see the layered brackets, supporting ever-larger sets up to the beams supporting the eaves.

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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Todaiji is in the following Gallery (Direct Link) —

Japan: Nara Temples
Horyuji, Todaiji



Nara Daibutsu
(The Great Buddha)


Todaiji Daibutsu 9826

For this shot and the next, I actually tried to shoot the entire scene. The dark Daibutsu is in a dark hall, and in front is a table with white and orange cover with  shiny accoutrements.


Todaiji Daibutsu 9827

The table is so bright that exposing for the interior and the Daibutsu badly overexposes the foreground, and exposing for the foreground yields severe underexposure of the Daibutsu.

As a result, the two shots above are detail crops... 9827 on the right is a tight crop.

When you see title blocks with rather small text, they are resized down from the
VLG originals. Some of the images on this page are detail crops from XL or SXL
(these are various sizes of the images that are available). If the text is larger,
the image was prepared specifically for this web-page. That does not mean
that a specific image is not available (they all are), but that the image was
prepared with dedicated titles specifically for presentation on the web.


Todaiji Daibutsu 9828

The last of the images where I cropped out the foreground to avoid blinding us both.
The images following are selected from shots taken from several aesthetically-pleasing angles.


Todaiji Daibutsu 9832

The Daibutsu was cast on site using nearly all of Japan’s bronze production for years. A wooden
framework supported by a giant pillar was built, then was covered with clay to form a basic statue.
Bronze was then poured in from the base into the space between the outer and inner molds.

437 tons of copper, 8.5 tons of tin , 968 pounds of gold, 2.5 tons of mercury
(used in a plating amalgam) and 7 tons of wax were used to make the Daibutsu.


Todaiji Daibutsu 9830

After the Daibutsuden was burned in 1567 in the
 Sengoku War, the Daibutsu stood unprotected for over
100 years, until the hall was rebuilt beginning in 1692.


Todaiji Daibutsu 9854

The Daibutsu is a representation of Rushana
(Birushana) Nyorai, a form of Dainichi Nyorai,
the Cosmic Buddha (Vairocana in Sanskrit).


Todaiji Daibutsu 9844

This is one very, very large statue (it is the world’s largest bronze statue).
A remnant of the ancient gilded finish can be seen on the knee and the base.

Daibutsu is 49.1 feet tall. The face is 17.5 feet tall, the eyes are 3.3 feet across,
the nose is 1.6 feet long, and the ears are 8.3 feet long. My, what big ears...

The palm of the hand is 30% larger than a king-sized bed.

The statue weighs 500 metric tonnes.


Todaiji Daibutsu 9849

Daibutsu has experienced a number of disasters. In 855 an earthquake
broke the statue’s head off (restored in 861). In 1180 and 1567, fire melted his
right hand. Due to all of the repairs which were made over the years, the sculpture
does not have the same character as the original. The hands were cast in the late 1500’s
and the head was recast in the 1600’s, reflecting the styles of the times in which they were cast.


Todaiji Daibutsu 9856

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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Todaiji is in the following Gallery (Direct Link) —

Japan: Nara Temples
Horyuji, Todaiji



Deva Kings
(and other monumental sculptures)

Below are two of the four Shitenno (Deva Kings), who protect the four directions in Buddha’s realm.

Komokuten means wide-eyed or expansive vision. Tamonten means renowned, the well-known one.
Komokuten sees through evil, punishes evil and encourages enlightenment. Komokuten statues often
show him with brush and scroll (for writing sutras), or clenching the right fist, the left holding a spear.

Tamonten is all-knowing, hears everything, and is completely versed in Buddha’s teachings. Tamonten
protects holy places and carries a  pagoda treasure house in his left hand. The right holds a spear
(Tamonten is also God of War, protector of the righteous, and the Buddhist patron of warriors).


Todaiji Komokuten 9837

Lord of Limitless Vision, Komokuten has a
third, all-seeing eye. Guardian of the West,
he sees through evil and encourages
aspirations for enlightenment.


Todaiji Tamonten 9842

The most powerful of the Shitenno, Tamonten
is Guardian of the North, all-knowing, always
listening and hears everything. He guards the
Earth’s treasures (note the treasure pagoda).


Todaiji Komokuten 9836c

I have provided detail crops from the above two images
and two others, taken from slightly different angles. The
light was rather difficult for these shots as the side
opposite the slat windows was in deep shadow..


Todaiji Tamonten 9839c


Todaiji Komokuten 9837c


Todaiji Tamonten 9842c


Todaiji Nyoirin-kannon 9852

The fulfiller of all wishes, Nyoirin-Kannon
is one of the six forms of Avalokitesvara.

Often shown in the Shingon version (six arms),
Nyoirin-Kannon holds the wish-fulfilling jewel
(this 2-armed version holds it in the left hand).


Todaiji Kokuzo Bosatsu 9834

Kokuzo symbolizes the vast and boundless Buddha wisdom permeating the universe. Introduced in the late Nara period as part of a rite to improve one’s memory, Kokuzo was one of the first Buddhist deities to arrive in Japan. People also pray to Kokuzo to improve their technical and artistic skills.


Todaiji Nyoirin-kannon 9852 detail

A close detail crop of the image directly above.

Nyoirin Kannon and Kokuzo Bosatsu are on either
 side of the Daibutsu, and date to the Edo period.


Todaiji Nyoirin-kannon 9845


Todaiji Nyoirin-kannon 9845 L 5x4

I am providing two detail crops of the upper part of the Nyoirin-Kannon.

The one above is 1420 x 1200
(a 5x4 landscape crop with title bar).
The one below is 1600 x 1600 with title bar.


Todaiji Nyoirin-kannon 9846c 1600


Todaiji Monk 9810

A mendicant monk near the Nandaimon.


Todaiji Koma-inu 9858

We went out the back way from Todaiji, via the 8th c. Tamukeyama Shrine,
through the Tamukeyama maple forest and the Kasugayama Primeval Forest
to Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine. The Koma-inu (lion-dog) shown above guards
Todaiji from any and all dangers which may be approaching from this direction.

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Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Todaiji is in the following Gallery (Direct Link) —

Japan: Nara Temples
Horyuji, Todaiji


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