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Todaiji

Todai-ji was founded by Emperor Shomu in 745 to protect against the horrible epidemics which were commonplace at that time, and to consolidate the power of the Imperial throne. The temple took more than 15 years to build. The main hall is still the worlds largest wooden building, even though it was rebuilt in 1790 at only two-thirds of the original size.

The main entrance to the temple is inside the Nandaimon, or Great Southern Gate. The Nandaimon was rebuilt in the 13th Century and features two guardian Kings (Nio), each more than 8 meters tall. Once you go through the gate, the sweeping horned roof of the Daibutsuden comes into view. The Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall), houses the largest bronze statue in Japan. The 15 meter tall, blackened figure sitting on a lotus throne depicts Rushana, later known as Dainichi Nyorai(The Cosmic Buddha). This statue is commonly know as the "Great Buddah of Nara" and is perhaps the city's most famous attraction. The completion of the statue was an extraordinary achievement. After several attempts at casting the statue failed, it was finally dedicated in 752. The Emperor Shomu, his wife the Empress Komyo, and the reigning Empress Kogen all gathered to dedicate the statue by "opening his eyes". An Indian priest stood on a specially built platform and painted in the eyes, using a gigantic brush. From the end of this brush were hung colored strings which ran down to the VIP's below, enabling them to take part in the ceremony as well. Also in attendance were local monks, numbering in the hundreds, as well as ambassadors from China, India, and more distant places. The guests brought a dazzling assortment of gifts. Many of them have been preserved in the Shoso-in treasury, along with the original paint brush.

Great Buddha
Great Buddha of Nara
The Todai-ji Buddha has not had an easy go of it over the years. In the ninth century, an earthquake knocked over his head. Then on two separate occasions, first in 1180, and again in 1567, his right hand was melted in a fire. Each time, the statue was repaired, but, as a result of these disasters, little remains of the original figure. However, the Great Buddah is stilll impressive for its sheer size and for the technological victory at the time of its original construction. As you walk around the hall, don't be shocked to see people attempting to squeeze through a hole in one of the rear support pillars. The Japanese believe that if one is successful in squeezing through, they are guaranteed a place in Heaven. As you leave the Daibutsuden, take a minute to look at the Octagonal Lantern at the bottom of the steps. It is one of the oldest treasures in the temple dating from the founding of Todaiji. The lantern is supported by a post enscribed with an excerpt from a Buddhist text discussing the merits of lighting lanterns.

Located to the west of the Daibutsuden section is the Kaidanin. The Chinese high preist, Ganjin, established the Kaidanin in 754 as Japan's first and principle ordination hall. The hall was rebuilt in the Edo Period and includes stautes of 8th Century representations of the Four Heavenly Kings. These small clay figures are beautifully carved. They each stand on a different fiendish beast, while protecting a small buddha in a wooden pagoda. Behind the Daibutsuden is the Shoso-in which, at first glance, looks like a log cabin on stilts. It was constructed in the 8th century to store the treasures of Todai-ji. For whatever reason, the building has preserved them in perfect condition. Now the treasures of Todai-ji are kept in a specially designed concrete storehouse.

Hokke-do
The Hokke-do is significant because it is the oldest structure at Todaiji and was probably built between 740 and 747. The hall is compsed of the Sho-do (Image hall) and the Rai-do (Worship hall). These halls were of great importance in the Kinsho-ji Temple, the predecessor to Todaiji. It is believed that the first lectures in Japan of the Avatamsaka Sutra were given here. The Original name of this hall was Kensaku-do, originating from the main image housed here, the Fukukensaku Kannon. The name of the hall was later changed to Hokke-do (Lotus Hall) when the Hokke-e (Lotus Sutra) ceremony was held here every March. Other important statues housed here include the bosatsus Nikko and Gakko, Kichijo-ten, Bezai-ten, two Kongo Rikishi, the Four Divine Kings, Fudo Myo-o and bosatsu Jizo.

Nigatsu-do and the Shuni-e (Omizutori) Ceremony
The Nigatsu-do (Second Month Hall) gets its name from the fact that the Shuni-e Ceremony, more commonly know as "Omizutori", is held here during February. The hall was built by the monk Jitchu during the eighth century, however the original structure burned down in 1667 during the Omizutori ceremony. The current structure dates from 1669 and is know for its excellent accoustics. The Omizutori ceremoy began 752 as a rite of repentance to the Juichimen Kannon (Eleven-headed Kannon) for human qualities of greed, anger and ignorance. These "offenses" of human nature contaminate the spirit, making people ill and unable to see truth. Through the ceremony people can repent their misdeeds, cleanse their spirits and obtain well being. When this ceremony was first practiced, it was a ritual performed for the state. At this time, illness was broadly interpreted to mean natural disasters, epidemics, and rebellions. The ritual was held as a state affair to guarantee the welfare of the people, and therefore Shuni-e or "Omizutori" was devised as an impressive and large event.

Eleven monks participate in the ceremony and are called Rengyoshu. Their responsibilites are divided into five categories. The senior catagory is made up of the Wajo who administers the Buddhist laws to the group, the Daidoshi who chants the prayers and essence of the religious texts and leads the whole ceremony, the Shushi who determines the sacred boundaries of the ritual space, recites the daranis (secret incantations) and performs mudras (symbolic gestures), and finally the Dotsukasa who makes sure the whole ceremony runs smoothly. The other seven participants are know as Hirashu. The Rengyoshu represent the people and repent on their behalf. They act as the intermediaries between the public and the Kannon and therefore must have great religious insight.

Before the ceremony there is a preparation period called Bekka between February 20-28. This is a time for the Rengyoshu to cut themselves off from usual lives in order to purify their minds and bodies. Among their many preparations, they make the paper for the paper garments (Kamiko) worn only for the ceremony. Bekka ends in the afternoon of February 28th. At this time the Rengyoshu move to the Shelter of Reclusion below the Nigatsu-do where they will live for the duration of the ceremony. That evening is the beginning of the main ceremony which lasts two weeks. These two weeks are divided into the "Former Seven Days" and the "Latter Seven Days". Each day is divided into six periods know as the "Observance of the Six Hours": Noon Watch, Sunset Watch, First Evening Watch, Mid-evening Watch, Latter Evening Watch, and Dawn Watch. The Rengyoshu chant a different sutra for each period. The chant of the First Evening Watch is particularly important because it is associated with a legend that is the source of the common name of the ceremony, "Omizutori". During this chant the names of all the kami (shinto gods) are read in the belief that when they hear their names they will come to the temple to bless and protect the ceremony. According to legend, one of the kami was late in arriving and promised to provide lustral water to appologize for his lateness. Shortly thereafter, a black and a white cormorant appeared, shattered a great boulder and water gushed from a spring in the ground. The water from this spring is sacred and is offered to the Kannon after midnight on the twelfth day of the ceremony. This practice is know as "Omizutori", the drawing of water. Other rituals of the ceremony include hashiri when the participant monks tuck up thier robes and run in a cirlce around the inner sanctum, dattan when a great pine torch is swumg about the inner sanctum, and the presentation of the names of the dead.

Important Yearly Events
January 1 First Worship of the New Year
January 7 Ceremony of the First Month
FebruaryFestival of the First Day of Spring
March 1-14 Ceremony of the Second Month (Omizutori)
April 8Ceremony of the Buddha's Birth
May 2 Memorial Service for Emperor Shomu, Tenno-den
May 3 Visit to Emperor Shomu's Tomb
July 5 Memorial Service for Priest Chogen, Shunjo-do
July 28 Ceremony of Purification
August 7 Cleaning of the Great Buddha
August 9 Day of Special Merit
August 15 Festival of Ten Thousand Lanterns
October 5 Ceremony Celebrating the Protection of Hachiman
October 15 Festival Commemorating Shomu's Vow to Create the Great Buddha
December 16 Ceremony of Expounding on the Avatamsaka Sutra

How to get to Todai-ji

From JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara station, it is about a 10 to 20 minute walk east on either Sanjo Dori or Hanna Road towards Nara Park. When you get to Nara Park, look for sign posts pointing the way toward the Nandaimon and Todaiji. Todaiji is in the north of the park.

Tours - The Japan Discovery Tours visits Todai-ji
Click here for more information regarding when Discovery visits this destination.

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