Chumon Gate, Kasuga Taisha

Chumon Gate, Kasuga Taisha

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A History of Natural Balance in Japanese Shinto Architecture

The Shinto shrine of Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha, Mount Fuji. The site’s most important shrine, it was first constructed in 806 CE, although by tradition, it was originally founded during the reign of Emperor Suinin (29 BCE – 70 CE) at another location at the foot of the mountain. The shrine’s current building, with its unusual two storeys, dates to 1604 CE. / Photo by わたり鳥, Wikimedia Commons

Balance and harmony with natural surroundings and an aesthetic of elegant understatement were always essential considerations for the ancient Japanese architect.

By Mark Cartwright / 06.07.2017

The architecture of the 80,000 Shinto shrines in Japan varies depending on geographical location, the deity worshipped, and the date of foundation. The earlier Shinto shrines tend to be simpler and less decorative affairs than those which came after the introduction of Buddhism and Chinese architectural styles in Japan from the 8th century CE onwards. Later shrines are brightly painted and have more sculptural elements, but there are many common features to all Shinto shrine complexes from the distinctive torii gateways to the gently sloping gabled roofs of even the smallest structures. In addition, balance and harmony with natural surroundings and an aesthetic of elegant understatement were always essential considerations for the ancient Japanese architect charged with creating a home on earth for the spirit of one or more of the Shinto gods.

Nara (Japan) - Kasuga Taisha Shrine of Lanterns

Date of Exploration : 2 Apr 2016

It wasn't easy to break free from the adorable deer of Nara Park but when we finally managed to break free from their disarming cuteness through restraint from taking any more photos of them, we finally made our way to Kasuga Taisha (Kasuga Grand Shrine 春日大社 ).

A key attraction in Nara City, Kasuga Taisha Shrine is famous for the thousands of stone and bronze lanterns that crowd its vicinity as well as within its walls. The number of lanterns I came across was truly bewildering!

Through its countless lanterns, Kasuga Taisha Shrine shines as one of Japan's most unique devotional expression of Shintoism.

Established in 768AD, the shrine has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 and stands today as a living architectural record of the period where Japan began to move out of the shadow of China.

Getting Here - Follow the Path of the Stone Lanterns

Getting to Kasuga Taisha Shrine takes about 30 minutes on foot cutting across Nara Park from the Kintetsu Nara Station. However, our journey took triple the time because we fell under the charms of the park's free ranging deer, stopping often to snap photos and buying special deer biscuits to feed them.

It also took us a bit of asking around to get on the right path to the shrine because while there maps around the park, there weren't many signposts to point the way. Or perhaps we missed the signages because we were constantly distracted by scouting for photo opportunities with the deer. The way to Kasuga Taisha Shrine is pretty straightforward and we knew were on the right path when we started spotting the shrine's iconic stone lanterns.

Follow the path of the stone lanterns that line a rustic trail leading to Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
More deers along the way milling in and out of the forest and stone lanterns. When you come to a split road, take the path on the right to reach the front entrance of Kasuga Taisha Shrine. The path on the left is for people who are leaving the shrine.

I told myself no more deer photos but couldn't help shooting more as the scenery changes from Nara Park's forested setting to the ancient frame of Kasuga Taisha Shrine's stone lanterns to lens the deer in. This buck poking its head out amongst the stone columns is so kawaii hor? :o)

Entering the Realm of the Kamis

Kasuga Taisha is a Shinto shrine that is dedicated to four minor folk spirits / deities (kami in Japanese) :

Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto (god of thunder) - Also known as Kashima-no-kami, he is often depicted as subduing a giant catfish that causes earthquakes
Futsunushi-no-mikoto (spirit of swords) - Priests performing rituals and rites typically bear a Nihonto sword

Amenokoyane-no-mikoto (ancestor of the Nakatomi clan) - He is the protector deity of the clan and a guardian appointed by the goddess Amaterasu omikami to guard a divine mirror and he is enshrined with a Himegami (female consort deity)

* The suffix "-no-mikoto" is an honourary title given to a spirit or venerated person that connotes 'winged being'

Jinja Architecture (神社建築)

Structures of Jinja typically seen today consist of honden (main sanctuary hall), heiden (offering hall), and haiden (worship hall). When you visit a shrine, you see the worship hall haiden building situated on the same axis as the main sanctuary honden toward the front with a saisen (offertory) box being placed at the front. Haiden is a place where ceremonies like purification rites or prayer services are held.

The honden, a main sanctuary hall which is located in the rear of the haiden, contains shintai, or an object believed to contain the spirit of a deity. The haiden is considered to be the main building to see, by most visitors, because Honden is situated at the rear of the shrine building complex. As for architectural styles, nagare-zukuri and kasuga-zukuri are the most typical in some cases, an oiya, or a covering roof is constructed over a small-sized honden as a protection from the elements.

A heiden is typically built between the haiden and honden on the same axis it is not uncommon for these buildings to be joinder. If you walk to the side of the building, you'll see the heiden and honden at the rear of haiden.

As the honden is regarded as the sacred place where a spirit of kami or deity dwells, it is often enclosed by wooden fences, or protected by the oiya structure built over it, keeping the honden from being seen by public during ordinary times. In some shrines, a haiden is located directly at the front of shintai, or objects believed to contain the spirit of the deity, instead of having a honden in the middle, such as in Omiwa-jinja Shrine and Kanasana-jinja Shrine. It is considered that shrines without shaden or pavillions are of a more archaic style.

Architecture of shrine is believed to have emerged under the influence of ji-in, or Buddhist pagoda, reviving ancient architecture, and in the course of subsequent developments, design elements of Buddhist nature were considered to be intentionally eliminated. Shrine architecture is characterized by a strong emphasis on form. The major Shinto shrines including those designated as Ichinomiya shrines adopted and retained distinctive architecture, contributing to the preservation of unique traditional styles. Understanding architectural style of a shrine gives important clues about the characteristics of saishin, or the deity of a shrine.
A shrine is often built in a style based upon the roots of a particular shrine from when it was first established

Honden: a pavillion which houses shintai, or objects believed to contain the spirit of kami. Honden is not intended to be built for people to enter and stay inside therefore, it tends to be smaller than haiden. It used to be that only one deity was enshrined in one pavillion today, it is not uncommon to have many deities enshrined in one pavillion. A honden may house Goshintai, which is an object of worship believed to contain the spirit of a deity (e.g., a mirror).

Haiden: a pavillion for worship and prayer. The building which visitors typically see when they visit a shrine is the haiden. In most cases, worship takes place by clapping hands at the front of haiden in some cases, such as for purification ceremonies, people may enter the haiden building. It is also a place for Shinto priests and priestesses to sit during worship. Haiden is typically built larger than honden and have raised floors of timber in some cases, however, the center of the building has earthen floors with vaulted ceilings, a structure called wari-haiden, to allow people to pass through. A well known example can be found in Sakurai-jinja Shrine, Sakai City, which is designated as a national treasure. In some shrines, haiden serves also as a place for mai-den or kagura-den, a place for floor dancing performance, or shamusho, a shrine office. Some shrines including Kasuga-taisha Shrine and Ise-jingu Shrine do not have haiden others including Fushimi Inari-taisha and Meiji-jingu Shrine have two haiden halls. When there are two haiden halls, the one toward you is called ge-haiden, or outer haiden, and the one at the back nai-haiden, or inner haiden. There may be waniguchi, or a medal shape steel drum, or suzu, a bell with a cord.

Heiden: a pavillion for having ceremonies and presenting offerings made of paper or silk cuttings, called heihaku. In some shrines, heiden is built as an independent structure more commonly, however, heiden shares the building structure with haiden. Some shrines do not have a heiden structure.

Heiden may have additional features including: kaguraden, or kagura hall, chozubachi, a basin for water to purify before entering a shrine, toro, a lantern, and komainu, guardian dogs.

Characteristics of shrine architecture: honden

The following characteristics have been pointed out as features of honden architecture:

Gabled roofs
Highly raised timbered floors
Absence of tile used for roofing
Absence of earthen walls
Simple and not decorative

Having tsuma, or a gable pediment, at each end of the roof, is a feature of kirizuma-zukuri, or gable style, which is the dominant style of shrine architecture with the other style being irimoya-zukuri, a gabled hipped roof style. Irimoya-zukuri is derived from Buddhist style of construction. As can be seen from the lack of non-gabled styles such as yosemune-zukuri or hougyo-zukuri, the irimoya-zukuri is considered to have been willingly adopted as an architectural style maintaining the values of Shinto shrine architecture, over passively influenced Buddhist styles.

Whereas the meaning of gabled roof in shrine architecture is not clear there seems to be little doubt that it was of great religious significance. The religious importance is evident, for instance, in the hardware parts of tsuma, or gabled pediment, which are specially treated, and mounting them during periodical occasions when moving shintai to a new shrine was carried out as a secret ceremony at the Shoden of Ise Jingu, and in nagare-zukuri pavillions jointed side by side in rows, each pavillion has chidori-hafu, a dormer bargeboard at the front side to differentiate the pavillions from each other.

A highly raised floor presents a sharp contrast to doma, or earthen floor, a basic element of Buddhist architecture.

However, some ancient shrines, like sumiyoshi-zukuri structures, have earthen instead of timbered floors.

It is considered that tile roofing was not used appropriately to distinguish Shinto architecture itself from Buddhist architecture, or even to avoid it. In principle, roofing material in shrine construction is wood (wood strip roofing or cedar bark roofing) later on, in the modern era, copper sheeting became a material of choice. However, there are exceptions to the rule in honden roofing in Okinawa, for instance, shrine buildings are commonly roofed with traditional red tiles. Similarly, earthen walls are not used.

Simplicity in decoration can be interpreted as a result of shrines preserving the styles of ancient Japanese architecture. Traditional Japanese design elements were incorporated to distinguish itself from Buddhist architecture because a shrine is a place for Japanese deities.

These characteristics however do not always apply to all structures of shrine architecture, which also changes from time to time.

Origin of honden

There were no shaden, or pavillion structures in the ancient days. Kami or deities were believed to dwell not in shaden, but in mountains and forest, and not in any single, definite location. Kami were believed to visit specific rocks and trees with special shapes, and therefore worship to kami was conducted at such places. These places are called iwasaka or iwakura, both of which refer to an area a deity sits, and are found all over Japan. Deities, however, were not believed to live there rather, deities were invited to the place only when worship took place.

Later, people started to set up temporary alters at ceremony sites. The alters are considered to be so called himorogi. Himorogi were placed above the worship site at the time of the ritual. Later, himorogi is considered to have developed into a substantial structure and subsequently became shaden, a shrine pavillion.

It is the process of a temporary alter developing into a permanent structure called shaden and then the existing construction style was later incorporated into the pavillion structure. However, there are probably inconsistencies between the beginning date of an architecture style and the beginning date that particular style started to be used for shrine construction. This is because it is likely that traditional techniques and styles, which were archaic in those days, were adopted in a revivalist manner when the pavillions were built as shrines. Furthermore, the time pavillion construction emerged saw a culmination of Buddhism architecture, suggesting that it is likely that pavillion construction may have been affected by Buddhist architectural styles. The idea of an architectural structure being the object of worship per se may have originated in Buddhist influence.

It is considered that construction of the jinguji affected the establishment of shrine architecture. Jinguji are temples which were built within a shrine it emerged at an early phase of the syncretic process of Shinto and Buddhism. After jinguji temples had started being built, Shinto Shrines were exposed to the influence of Buddhist architecture however, having been built side by side, differentiation of shrine and Buddhist architecture from each other became rather desirable.

Origin of haiden

Establishment of haiden postdates that of honden. Today there are many old shrines that do not have a haiden, such as Ise Jingu, Kasuga Taisha, Usa Jingu, and Matsuo Taisha.

Haiden is now a place for ceremonies for kami that are worshiped at a specific shrine however, originally, the ceremonies were performed outdoors. Honden, which was originated as an alter, used to be an object of ceremonies instead of a place for having ceremonies. Prior to the establishment of haiden, shrine ceremonies were held at outdoor ceremonial places in the front of a honden. Priests and priestesses were seated on the left and right sides of the ceremonial place, from which they moved to the center of the place to perform a ceremony.

Later on, when ceremonies began taking place indoors, the central part of the ceremonial place became haiden the places which used to be the seats for priests and priestesses became kairou or corridors. A two-storied gate or romon was built at the entrance of a corridor.

As we have seen, the original forms of ceremonies were developed into the structures of romon, corridor, and heiden on the other hand, a small size shrine, which was not big enough to have all the sections, subsequently consolidated all the features into a single pavillion. This is haiden. Haiden was therefore established by squeezing together all the functions of romon, corridor, and heiden.

Types of classic shrine architecture (honden)

Classic shrine architecture (honden) can be categorized as follows:

Structures that have sills under posts. Structures that have shin-no-mihashira, or non-structural symbolic post. Structures that have two divided rooms. The first type of structures with sills under posts is represented by nagare-zukuri and kasuga-zukuri architectural styles. In this type of structure, a timber grid is formed on the bottom of the pavillion, on top of which posts are placed, instead of placing posts directly onto the ground or building a foundation with stone. The structure assumes the pavillion to be mobile which is considered to be a trace of ceremonies practiced in ancient times when a pavillion was placed only at the time of ceremony and the rest of the time it was not set up. It has been suggested that a temporary alter in ancient times called himorogi was developed into a permanent pavillion structure.

Both in the nagarezukuri and kasugazukuri styles, the space under the floor is surrounded by a wall. Generally, the feature which is common in shrine architecture is the idea that the point of connection between the pavillion and the ground is sacred. In other words, the sacredness of a pavillion stems from the place where it is located. This supports the view that pavillions originate in himorogi, in which a temporary alter was placed in a sacred area or on the large rock to invite kami to descend.

Misedana-zukuri, a small pavillion style, which is characterized by the absence of steps that are present in nagare-zukuri and kasuga-zukuri, and by the presence of a shelf instead the misedana-zukuri probably is closer to the original form of shrine architecture rather than being a simplified version of a normal size shrine building.

As we have seen, the origin of these styles go back to ancient times, and the structure having sills under the posts are considered to be one of the oldest shrine architectural forms.

Structures that have shin-no-mihashira, or non-structural symbolic post are shinmei-zukuri style and taisha-zukuri style. These styles are characterized by having hottate-bashira, or earthfast posts, such as shin-no-mihashira and munamochi-bashira. Shin-no-mihashira, which is in the center of a pavillion structure, is a non-structural post, and is considered to have been yorishiro, an object originally capable of attracting kami. In shinmei-zukuri, shin-no-mihashira is completely separated from the body of the structure. Munamochi-bashira is a post which directly supports the ridge, unlike other posts that support the beam in the main part of the building.

All the posts, including munamochi-bashira, are hottate-bashira, which are erected by excavating a posthole to insert and secure the post without using any foundation stones. (Note: Today's Izumo-taisha Shrine is built on a sill.)
Hottate-bashira was used in structures throughout history since prehistoric times when it was used in primitive dwellings.

Structures that are divided into two buildings are sumiyosi-zukuri and hachiman-zukuri styles. In both styles, the honden structure consists of two buildings, one in front of the other. Sumiyosi-zukuri differs from hachiman-zukuri in that in the former, the building situated in the back has kamiza, or a place for the deity, and in the latter, the front and back buildings have daytime and nighttime places for the deity, respectively however, sumiyoshi-zukuri and hachiman-zukuri share a commonality in that the two buildings were not developed from one building. It is considered that these styles include otori-zukuri style structures and daijo-gu, a temporary shrine prepared at the palace for Daijo-sai festival, which is held only once in an emperor's lifetime after his succession, or his first "niiname-sai."

Architectural styles of honden

There are various architectural styles for shrines shinmei-zukuri, taisha-zukuri, and sumiyosi-zukuri are considered to be the oldest. The styles commonly seen in general shrines are nagare-zukuri, followed by kasuga-zukuri. While there are varieties of architectural style names, each shrine has a distinctive style, which creates a huge number of styles, thus making the classification rather meaningless shrine architecture is therefore simply classified by the various forms of the roof. The architectural styles for shrines should be treated separately from the complex styles of shrine pavillions.

Shinmei-zukuri (Ise-jingu Shrine, Ise City, Mie Prefecture)

Kirizuma-zukuri, hirairi (i.e., a style in which the entrance is located in one of the sides parallel to the ridge of the roof)
In principle, kirizuma-zukuri uses hottate-bashira posts, which were erected by excavating a hole in the ground and being secured directly in the ground. Kirizuma-zukuri have munamochi-bashira, posts which directly support the ridge. Hafu-ita, which are gable boards, extend to become chigi. Many shrines built in Meiji period and later have a shinmei-zukuri style. The honden of Ise-jingu Shrine, in particular, is called yuitsu-jinmei-zukuri, literally, the unique shinmei-zukuri style. Tsuriyane, or a hanging roof above the dohyo (sumo wrestling ring) is classified as shinmei-zukuri style.

Taisha-zukuri (Kamosu-jinja Shrine and Izumo-taisha Shrine, in Shimane Prefecture)

Kirizuma-zukuri, tsumairi (i.e., a style in which the entrance is located in one of the gabled sides of the building. The kirizuma-zukuri structures have munamochi-bashira, or posts which hold the ridge. The entrance is located either on the right or left side instead of in the middle because the front is two-bays wide.

Sumiyosi-zukuri style (Sumiyosi taisha, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture)
Kirizuma-zukuri style, tsumairi. Some shrines that are related to Sumiyoshi-jinja in Kansai Region have this style. Internally, the structure is divided into two buildings. The structural similarity with the buildings which were built at the time of Daijo sai has been suggested.

Otori-zukuri style (Otori-taisha Shrine, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture)

Kirizuma-zukuri style, tsumairi. A simplified version of the sumiyoshi zukuri-style with half the standard depth.

Kasuga-zukuri style (Kasuga-taisha Shrine, Nara City, Nara Prefecture)

Tsumairi. A style in which an eave is added at the front of the main building. This style is widely seen all over the Kansai Region.

Oji-zukuri style (or alternatively called Kumano-zukuri style) is a variation of kasuga-zukuri tsumairi style.

Nagare-zukuri style (Kamo-jinja Shrines, encompassing Kamigamo-jinja and Shimogamo-jinja in Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture)

Kiritsuma-zukuri style, hirairi. A style in which an eave is added at the front of the main building. This style is seen all over Japan.

Ryonagare zukuri (Itsukushima-jinja Shrine) is a variation of kasuga-zukuri hirairi style.

Hachiman-zukuri (Usa-jingu Shrine, Oita Prefecture Iwashimizu hachimangu, Hachiman City, Kyoto Prefecture).

Internally, the honden structure is divided into two buildings, in the front and back, and each building has a roof independent from the other.

Irimoya-zukuri style is considered to have been established in medieval times under Buddhist influence.
Hie-zukuri style (or alternatively called shotei-zukuri style or sanno-zukuri style) is a variation of irimoya-zukuri

Oki-zukuri style (Mizuwakasu-jinja Shrine)

Kibitsu-zukuri style, other name: hiyoku-irimoya-zukuri (Kibitsu-jinja Shrine, Okayama City)

Oda-zukuri style (Tsurugi-jinja Shrine, Echizen Cho, Fukui Prefecture)

Owari-zukuri style (Masumida-jinja Shrine, Tsushima-jinja Shrine, and Owari Okuninotama-jinja Shrine)
A particular unique shrine is Oagata-jinja Shrine, which is specifically called ogata-zukuri, or mitsumune-zukuri.

Mikumari zukuri (Takemikumari-jinja Shrine, Chihaya Akasaka Village, and others)
A style, in which a roofed passage connects the honden in the middle, which is kasuga-zukuri style, and the two buildings, which are nagare-zukuri style, located one on the right and the other on the left. This style is typically seen in shrines which enshrine Ameno mikumarinokami.

Shrine pavillion complex styles

The honden and haiden buildings are under one large roof.

Gongen zukuri (Kitano-jinja Shrine, Nikko Toshogu, etc)

The honden, heiden, and haiden buildings are connected together.

Sengen-zukuri (Fujisan Hongu Sengen-taisha Shrine).

Upper story is the honden, which is nagare-zukuri style, situated on top of the pavillion.

Architectural styles of haiden

Haiden can be classified into three types:

Yoko-haiden (literally, a wide rectangular prayer hall)
A structure in which a beam runs parallel to the front and rear sides. Yoko-haiden is one of the most typical styles. Yoko-haiden is structured in the way that those who pray are seated to face the honden.
The styles can be kirizuma-zukuri, irimoya-zukuri

Tate-haiden (literally, a deep breadth rectangular prayer hall)
A structure in which a beam runs parallel to the right and left sides. Tate-haiden serves as a passageway to the honden, and the space toward the end of the long axis of the haiden serves as heiden, or offering hall. The corridor style heiden, which had been common in olden times before haiden was established, is believed to have been developed into tate-haiden.

Wari-haiden (literally, a divided prayer hall)
A structure in which there is a passageway in the center with vaulted ceilings, and there are raised timber floored rooms in both sides separated by the passageway. It is considered that the chumon, or middle gate and the corridors on the right and left in the corridor style structure were developed into the form of wari-haiden. Today there are only few structures that retain the form of warihaiden style, such as: Omiwa-jinja Shrine, Isonokami Jingu Sessha Izumo Takeo-jinja Shrine, and Osaki Hachimangu Shrine.

© A. C. Yu &mdash Generated from the Japanese-English Bilingual Corpus of Wikipedia's Kyoto Articles which is translated by the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) from Japanese sentences on Wikipedia, used under CC BY-SA.

Todai-ji Temple (東大寺)

Sango (Mountain Name): None
Denomination: Kegon
Jikaku (Status of the Temple): Daihonzan (Main Temple)
Venerated image of Buddha: Birushana-butsu (Vairocana) (National Treasure)
Founded: First half of the eighth century
Founder: Emperor Shomu
Formal Name:
Other Name(s): Konkomyo shitenno gokoku no tera
Fudasho (temples where amulets are collected) etc.: Daibutsu-den (the Great Buddha Hall) - First of the Nanto Shichi Daiji (the seven great temples of Nanto [Nara]) Sashizu-do (the hall to the west of Daibutsu-den) - 11th of the Honen Shonin Nijugo Reiseki (twenty-five places which relate to Honen Shonin) 14th of the 'shinbutsu reijo junpai no michi' (150 pilgrimage routes of Buddhist and Shinto holy places)
Cultural Properties: Kon-do Hall (Daibutsu-den), Nandai-mon Gate, Birushana-butsu (the great image of Buddha) etc. (National Treasures) Chumon Gate and Stone Lions (Important Cultural Properties)

Todai-ji is the main temple of the Kegon sect of Buddhism in Zoshi-cho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture in Japan. The current Betto (administrator) (Todai-ji Betto and chief priest) Dozen UENO is the 219th Betto.

The temple, also called 'Konkomyo shitenno gokoku no tera,' was erected by Emperor Shomu using all the nation's power in the Nara period (eighth century). The principal image there is Birushana Buddha, known as 'the Todai-ji rushanabutsuzo,' and the Kaizan (the first Betto) was Roben Sojo.

In the Nara period, there was a large Buddhist temple including the Great Buddha Hall (Kon-do Hall) at the center and two Nanajunoto (seven-story pagodas estimated height 100m) on the east and the west sides, but most of the buildings were burned in two fires caused by wars after the Kamakura period. The existing Great Buddha's pedestal retains only one part from the original, and the current Great Buddha Hall was reconstructed in the Edo Period, early 18th century it is just two-thirds the size of the original hall. As the temple of 'Daibutsu-san' (Mr Big Buddha), the temple has attracted many religious people since ancient times up to the present day and this had a great effect on Japanese culture it was placed as 'So-Kokubunji,' the head temple of the Kokubun-ji Temples that Emperor Shomu ordered to be built in 60 Provinces of Japan at that time. For more about the Great Buddha of Nara, refer to The Statue of Birushana Buddha in Todai-ji Temple.


For more about the Great Buddha and the history of its hall refer to The Statue of Birushana Buddha in Todai-ji Temple.

Foundation of the temple and construction of the Great Buddha

The predecessor of Todai-ji Temple dates back to slightly before construction of the Great Buddha, and by the first half of the eighth century the preceding temple had been built to the east of the Great Buddha Hall, at the foot of Mt. Wakakusa. According to the "Todai-ji Yoroku" (The Digest Record of Todai-ji Temple), Konshu-ji Temple (金鐘寺 or 金鍾寺) built at the foot of Mt. Wakakusa in 733 was the predecessor of the Todai-ji Temple. On the other hand, according to the official history book "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued), in 728, the 45th emperor, Emperor Shomu and Empress Komyo set up a 'San-so' (mountain retreat) at the foot of Mt. Wakakusa to pray to Buddha for the happiness of the prince who died young, and they made nine priests live there this is said to be the predecessor of the Konshu-ji Temple. From records it is known that by the mid eighth century, Kensaku-do Hall and the Senju-do Hall were already built in Kinshu-ji Temple, and the Kensaku-do Hall is believed to be the predecessor of the current Hokke-do Hall (= Sangatsu-do Hall the principal image there is the Fukukenjaku Kannon [Amoghapasa] [manifestation of Amalokitesvara]). In 741 an imperial edict for the establishment of the Kokubun-ji Temples was issued, and in 742 Konshu-ji Temple was included as a Kokubun-ji Temple the name of the temple was changed to Kinkomyo-ji.

The construction of the Great Buddha began around 747 and it is believed that the Jigo (temple name) of 'Todai-ji' also began to be used from that time. "Zou Todai-ji Shi," the name of the office for the construction of the Todai-ji Temple, first appeared in historical records in 748.

Prior to this, in 743, Emperor Shomu issued an edict to construct the Great Buddha. At that time, the capital was moved to Kuni-kyo (Kamo-cho, Soraku District, Kyoto Prefecture) but the Emperor was residing at Shigaraki no Miya Palace (current Shigaraki-cho, Koga City, Shiga Prefecture) and construction of the Great Buddha also began there. The Emperor Shomu repeatedly transferred the capital within a short period, but in 745 he moved it back to Heijo-kyo and decided to restart construction of the Great Buddha in the current location of Todai-ji Temple. To promote this huge project the Emperor needed wide support from the people, so he appointed Gyoki, who was oppressed by the Imperial Court, as the Daisojo (High Priest) and asked for his co-operation.

After a long and hard construction, the casting of the Great Buddha was completed and in 752 the Kaigan-e (ceremony of "kaigan," to enshrine a newly built Buddhist image and to put in a spirit to open eyes to Buddhism) was conducted with the priest from India Bodai Senna as the ceremony leader. After completion of the casting of the Great Buddha, the construction work for the Great Buddha Hall started the hall construction was completed in 758.

At Todai-ji Temple, the four people Roben, Emperor Shomu, Gyoki and Bodai Senna are called 'Shisho' (The Holy Four).

The Todai-ji Temple and TACHIBANA no Naramaro

The large construction projects like those of the Great Buddha and of the Great Buddha Hall showed that Emperor Shomu never thought about the large sums of money they would cost the country and how this would worsen the nation's financial affairs. In reality, while the nobility and temples became wealthy, an increasing financial burden was placed on the peasantry in Heijo-kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Nara), many became homeless and died from starvation and in some regions the Soyocho tax system almost collapsed, showing the wide inconsistency of the government under the Ritsuryo codes.

On June 8, 756, Emperor Shomu (the retired Emperor Shomu at that time) died. The Revolt of TACHIBANA no Naramaro occurred in August of the same year. When TACHIBANA no Naramaro was arrested on August 8, he said to FUJIWARA no Nagate "Many people are suffering because of the construction work such as Todai-ji Temple. I plotted a rebellion because the government is outrageous." Nagate replied "The construction of Todai-ji Temple started when your father (TACHIBANA no Moroe) was around so it is none of your business. You have no reason to grumble, it is nothing to do with you," and Naramaro was stuck for an answer. The revolt of TACHIBANA no Naramaro was poorly planned so it can be described as ill-advised. However, the fact that Todai-ji Temple was even used as an excuse for a rebellion shows that construction of Todai-ji Temple was a large project aiming only to realize the Emperor's wish while totally neglecting other issues such as actual working conditions and financial affairs.

Todai-ji Temple in the Nara and Heian Periods

In the temple of Todai-ji in the Nara Period, Nandai-mon Gate, Chumon Gate, Kon-do Hall (the Great Buddha Hall) and Kodo Hall were all in a line in a north to south direction, and on the north side of the Kodo Hall the priests' living quarters were layed out in a U-shape to the east, north and west and on the left and right sides between the Nandai-mon Gate and Chumon Gate, there were two sets (east and west) of Nanajunoto (seven-story pagodas, approximately 100m tall) and corridors surrounding them. It took almost 40 years from the beginning of construction in 745 to the completion of the whole temple.

In the Nara Period, the so-called 'Nanto Rokushu' (Six sects of Buddhism: Kegon, Hosso, Tutsu, Sanron, Jojitsu and Kusha) were more like 'school sects' rather than 'religious sects' the concept of 'religious sects' was established after the medieval period. Therefore, at that time, it was normal to study a few different religious sects at the same temple. As for Todai-ji Temple, since the Meiji Period, temples have been required to clarify their religious sects and Todai-ji Temple is in the Kegon sect but in the Nara Period, Todai-ji was a 'Rokushu Kengaku no tera' (Temple of syncretic study of the six sects of Buddhist learning) and inside the Great Buddha Hall, there was a 'Rokushu-zushi' (a cupboard-like case with double doors) in which textbooks of all the sects were kept. In the Nara Period, Kukai opened the Shingon sect within the temple and in the Heian Period, together with the Tendai-shu sect brought by Saicho, Todai-ji became a 'Hasshu Kengaku no tera' (Temple of syncretic study of eight sects of Buddhist learning).

In the Heian Period, Todai-ji was affected by the Emperor Kanmu's Nanto Buddhism Oppression Plan, and due to the plan the Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction was abolished, and there were incidents such as the Kodo Hall and Sanmen Sobo (priests and monks dormitories constructed to the north, east and west of the Kodo Hall) being burnt from an accidental fire, the Saito (Western Tower) being hit by lightening, and the Nandai-mon Gate and the Shoro (Bell Tower) being broken in a storm but later on, from reverence, the Imperial family and nobility donated private estates including the Kuroda-no-sho and Todai-ji Temple developed them. Todai-ji Temple became well-known inside and outside the region as an influential group in Nara holding many warrior monks, Todai-ji Temple directly petitioned other temples such as Kofuku-ji.

After the Medieval Period (after the Kamakura and Muromachi Periods)

Todai-ji Temple, together with its neighbor Kofuku-ji Temple, suffered devastating damage from a fire caused by TAIRA no Shigehira (Nanto Yakiuchi [the Incident of Heishi's army setting fire to the temples in Nanto]) on January 15, 1181 and lost many buildings including the Great Buddha Hall. A 61-year old priest Chogen SHUNJOBO was appointed to the position of Daikanjin (priest to collect contributions) toward reconstruction of the Great Buddha and the Halls. Due to Chogen's great efforts, the Kaigen-hoyo (ceremony of "kaigan," to enshrine a newly built Buddhist image and to put in a spirit to open eyes to Buddhism) was conducted in the presence of people such as Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa in 1185 in 1190, the reconstruction of the Great Buddha Hall was completed and the opening ceremony was conducted in the presence of MINAMOTO no Yoritomo and others.

However, on November 10, 1567 of the Sengoku Period (the Warring States Period), there was a fire caused by the Battle of Miyoshi and Matsunaga, and the main buildings of Todai-ji Temple including the Great Buddha Hall were again burned (See "warrior clashes at the Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji temple"). A temporary hall was built but collapsed due to strong winds in 1610, and the Great Buddha was left sitting in the open air. The repair of the Great Buddha was completed in 1691 with the efforts of Kokei Shonin (1648 - 1705) and donations by Shogun Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA, his mother Keishoin and others, reconstruction of the Great Buddha Hall was completed in 1709. The third Great Buddha Hall (the current one) has the same height and depth as the original, but the width is 30% smaller, reduced from 20m to 12.7m. The Kodo Hall, Dining Hall and the east and west Nanajunoto (seven-story pagodas) were not reconstructed after early-modern times and now only foundation stones are left at the places where they used to be.

The Temple

The temple was listed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site and as a part of the cultural property of Ancient Nara in 1998.

On New Year's Day every year, the Chumon Gate (Important Cultural Heritage) is open to the public between midnight and 8am, and people can enter the Kon-do Hall (the Great Buddha Hall: National Treasure) with admission free (normally 500 Japanese yen for an adult and 300 yen for a child). Visiting the temple to pray is allowed after 7:30am.

Nandai-mon Gate (National Treasure)

The current gate was reconstructed in the Kamakura Period in 1199 after being broken by a typhoon in September 962 in the Heian Period. It is famous because it used architecture of the Daibutsu-yo style (Buddhist architecture style also called 'Tenjiku-yo' [Indian style]), that the restorer of Todai-ji Temple Chogen SHUNJOBO is believed to have brought from Sung Dynasty China. The characteristics of the Daubitsu-yo style are, for example, the use of many horizontal braces through vertical posts called Nuki to make the structure solid, and showing of construction material as decoration without covering with a ceiling, etc. Inside the Gate, there are a pair of statues of Kongo Rikishi (Nio, Guardians of the Temple) and a pair of stone lions (Important Cultural Property).

The wooden standing statues of Kongo Rikishi (National Treasure)

They are 8.4m tall, gigantic wooden statues. Ungyo is placed on right of the gate with his mouth closed, and Agyo is placed on the left with his mouth open. Their positioning is opposite to the normal positioning of Nio statues. Between 1988 and 1993 the statues were taken apart and repaired for the first time after their construction, and many goods and ink writings were found stored inside. According to the writings, the Agyo statue was made by master sculptors Unkei and Kaikei with 13 disciples and the Ungyo statue was made by master sculptors Jokaku and Tankei with 12 disciples. This is different from the traditional theory stating 'The Agyo statue had Kaikei and the Ungyo statue had Unkei as the main sculptor' but nonetheless, it would not be wrong to say that Unkei was the executive manager of the whole project.

Chumon Gate (Important Cultural Property)

It is a romon gate (two-storied gate) of the Irimoya-zukuri (building with a half-hipped roof) style in front of the Kon-do Hall (the Great Buddha Hall). It was reconstructed around 1716. There is a U-shaped corridor running from both sides of the Chumon Gate to both sides of the Kon-do Hall.

Kon-do Hall (Great Buddha Hall) (National Treasure)

For more about the Kon-do Hall and the principal image of Birushana Buddha, refer to The Statue of Birushana Buddha in Todai-ji Temple.

The sedentary statues of Cintamani-cakra (manifestation of Avalokitesvara) and Akasagarbha Bodhisattva (Important Cultural Property)

They are placed on both sides of the Great Buddha as attendant figures. Unlike the Great Buddha (a bronze statue), they are made of wood. They were made by the two families of sculptors of Buddhist statues led by Junkei YAMAMOTO of Kyoto and Kenkei TSUBAI of Osaka and it took them more than 30 years they are representative Buddhist sculptures of the Edo Period. The sedentary statue of Cintamani-cakra was completed in around 1738 and the sedentary statue of Akasagarbha Bodhisattva was completed later in 1752.

Kondo Hakkaku-Toro (gilt-bronze octagonal stone lantern) (National Treasure)

This is a stone lantern standing in front of the Great Buddha Hall. Although it has been repaired often, it is basically the original one made in the Nara period. On the Hibukuro (the place where the fire is lit) there are embossed carvings of Bosatsu (Bodhisattva) playing musical instruments.

This is the hall to enshrine the restorer of the Great Buddha and the Great Buddha Hall in the Kamakura Period, Chogen SHUNJOBO. The current hall was reconstructed in 1704. The principal image, sitting statue of Shunjo Shonin (National Treasure) is thought to have been made directly after the Shonin died at the age of 86 and is a masterpiece of image sculpture of the Kamakura Period.

This is a hall enshrining the statue of Gyoki, who was a famous priest of Nara Prefecture and contributed greatly in the construction of Todai-ji Temple.

Nenbutsu-do Hall (Important Cultural Property)

This is architecture of the Kamakura Period. It enshrines the sitting statue of Jizo Bosatsu (Important Cultural Property), also of the Kamakura period.

Shoro (bell tower) (National Treasure)

It was built in the early 13th century in the Kamakura Period. The Bonsho (the bell) (National Treasure) hanging there was made in 752, the same year as the eye-opening of the Great Buddha, and is the largest Bonsho of the premedieval eras (height 385cm, diameter of the mouth 271cm). In December 2002, there was an incident in which a subcontractor of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) drove a nail into it.

Hokke-do Hall (Sangatsu-do Hall) (National Treasure)

This is situated in the east side of the precincts of the Temple at the foot of Mt. Wakakusa. It is one of the few pieces of architecture remaining from the Nara Period and is known as the treasure house of the Tenpyo Buddhas. It was built as the Kensaku-do Hall of Konshu-ji Temple, the predecessor temple of Todai-ji Temple according to records, it was completed by 743. Two-thirds of the north side of the building (on the observers' right from the approach), where the Buddhist statues are placed, is architecture of the Tenpyo era (from the end of the seventh to the mid eighth centuries) and the Rai-do (worship) Hall, the south part of the building, was reconstructed around 1199 by removing the decrepit original Tenpyo architecture. There are many statues enshrined inside the hall among those, nine of the dry-lacquer statues (papier-mâché statues made of hemp cloth and lacquer) including the principal image, the standing statue of Amoghapasa (manifestation of Amalokitesvara), and five earthen images (clay statues) including the Shukongoshin-zo statue, were created in the Nara Period. Although there are many theories in regard to the exact year of making and where they were first enshrined, it is generally believed that the nine dry-lacquer statues and Shukongoshin-zo statue have been enshrined from the beginning and the other four earthen statues are Kyaku-butsu (which were moved from other Hall later on).

Dry-lacquer standing statue of Amoghapasa (National Treasure)

This was made in the Nara Period. It is 3.6m tall. This Kannon statue has three eyes running vertically on her forehead and eight arms. The coronet on her head is splendid with silver Amida Nyorai-zo (the statue of Amitabha Tathagata) on the front and many pieces of jewelry and fretworks as decoration although we cannot normally see the statue closely, it is known as one of the best industrial arts of the Nara Period.

Clay standing statues of Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu (Bodhisattva) (National Treasures)

These were both made in the Nara Period. They quietly stand on each side of the principal image, the statue of Amoghapasa, with their hands pressed together in prayer in front of their chests. They were famous as representative works of Tenpyo sculpture but the details of their construction and original names are unknown (The name 'Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu' were used later on and they were originally Bosatsu, attendants of Yakushinyorai (Bhaisajyaguru, Buddha able to cure all ills)). The surfaces of the statues are now almost white but they were colored when they were first made. There is a theory that their original names were Bonten and Taishakuten (Brahma-Deva and Sakra devanam Indra).

Dry-lacquer standing statues of Brahma-Deva and Sakra devanam Indra (National Treasures)

These were made in the Nara Period. They are large 4m tall statues placed on each side of the principal image, the standing statue of Amoghapasa, and have an overwhelmingly relaxed and tranquil atmosphere.

Dry-lacquer standing statue of Kongo Rikishi (National Treasure)

Dry-lacquer standing statue of the Four Devas (National Treasures)

These are the four deities placed in the four corners of the Shumidan (a platform) of the Hokke-do Hall for protection splendid illuminated patterns still remain on them, conveying the flamboyance of the Tenpyo era.

Clay standing statue of Shukongoshin (Vajrapani) (National Treasure)

This is standing on the Zushi (a cupboard-like case with double doors where the principal image Statue of Amoghapasa is kept), facing north, behind Amoghapasa. It is a warrior statue who threatens enemies with a Vajra (a tool to brush off enemies of Buddha) in his right hand and fury in his eyes. Because it has been withheld from public view, it is still keeping the original colors well. Shukongoshin is a statue showing the image of Nio-zo. It is said that the founder (first chief priest) of Todai-ji Temple Roben kept this statue beside him at all times, and it is known from the legend of TAIRA no Masakado it has been a famous statue since ancient times. According to legend, when TAIRA no Masakado started a war in Togoku (Kanto provinces of Japan), the edge of the paper hair tie on the statue turned into a bee and flew to torment Masakado with stings. In fact, one of the edges of the statue's tie is still missing. The statue is normally withheld from public view and is only on display on December 16, the anniversary of Roben's death.

Clay standing statues of Kisshoten (Laksmi) and Benzaiten (Saraswati) (Important Cultural Property)

These were both made in the Nara Period. They are enshrined inside the Zushi in the Hall. They are made in the shape of well-rounded ladies similar to the female burial figurines found on Tang Tricolor Ceramics. Kisshoten has two arms and Benzaiten has eight arms. The chips on the statues are quite noticeable but this enables us to see the structures of the clay statues they are valuable resources in terms of art history.

Wooden statues of Fudo (the God of Fire) and Two Children (Important Cultural Property)

These were made in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts of Japan. They are small but well-made fine works.

Wooden sitting statue of Jizo Bosatsu (Important Cultural Property)

This was made in the Kamakura Period.

Nigatsu-do Hall (National Treasure)

The name (Nigatsu means 'the second month') comes from the event called 'Omizutori' (Shuni-e) (Water-Drawing Festival) which was carried out in the second month of Japan's old lunisolar calendar. Nigatsu-do Hall survived two great fires from the incident of TAIRA no Shigehira (1180) and the battle of Miyoshi and Matsunaga (1567), but was burnt in an accidental fire during an Omizutori ceremony in 1667 and the current hall was rebuilt two years later. The principal images are two statues of Juichimen Kannon-zo (Eleven-faced Kannon) called 'Big Kannon' and 'Small Kannon' but they are kept strictly out of public view. The building was registered as a national treasure in December, 2005.

This hall enshrines the statue of Kaisan (founder, the first chief priest) Roben. The Naijin (the inner sanctum) was built in 1200 and Gejin (part of the main sanctuary outside the Naijin) was built in 1250 together with the Nandai-mon Gate of Todai-ji Temple, they are pieces of the few existing Daibutsu-yo style posthumous works. The principal image, the wooden sitting statue of Roben Sojo (priest) (National Treasure) is a sculpture created in the early Heian Period (ninth century) and is only displayed on December 16, the anniversary of Roben's death.

Sanmai-do (Shigatsu-do) Hall (Important Cultural Property)

The hall enshrines the principal image Senju Kannon-zo (statue of Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara) (Important Cultural Property) and the seated statue of Amida Nyorai (Important Cultural Property).

Oyuya (Big Bath House) (Important Cultural Property)

This is architecture of the Kamakura Period. There is an iron bath tub (Important Cultural Property) remaining inside the building.

Kanjinsho (Office for Raising Funds)

The restorer of Todai-ji Temple, Chogen, made this the headquarters for Kanjin (collecting donations toward the restoration of Todai-ji Temple). It is located in a section west of the Great Buddha Hall surrounded by walls, and includes the Amida-do Hall, Hachimanden and the Kokei-do Hall.

This enshrines the Gogo-shiyui-Amida statue (Important Cultural Property).

Built in 1201, this enshrines the sitting statue of Sogyo Hachiman created by Kaikei (National Treasure). It was originally the sacred object of Tamukeyama Hachimangu Shrine, the place for the Shinto religion of Todai-ji Temple, but after separation of Buddhism and Shintoism in the Meiji Period, it was moved to Todai-ji Temple. It still keeps the original colors and is a representative work of Kaikei. It is only publicly displayed once a year on October 5.

This enshrines the statue of Kokei Shonin (Important Cultural Property) who contributed to restoration of the Great Buddha Hall in the Edo Period. The statue was made a year after the Shonin's death in 1706.

This is the facility where renunciant monks receive the religious precept (to officially become monks), and was founded by inviting Ganjin-wajo (Jianzhen) in 755. The current building was reconstructed in 1733. Inside, Hoto (treasure pagoda) based on the Chapter of the Hokke-kyo Sutra, The Appearance of A Stupa (Kenhoto-hon), stands in the centre, protected by the Four Devas statues.

Clay standing statues of the Four Devas (National Treasures)

Together with the statues of Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu of the Hokke-do Hall, they are masterpieces of art of the Nara period. They have remarkable emotion in their facial expressions: Jikokuten and Zochoten show their anger and Komokuten and Tamokuten frown in an effort to hide their anger. According to records, the original Kaidan-in statues of the Four Devas were bronze, so it is obvious that the current ones were moved from somewhere else later on.

Tengai-mon Gate (National Treasure)

This is an eight-legged gate in the north-west of the temple precincts, to the west of Shosoin Treasure House. It is one of the few building within the Temple which survived both the fires caused by TAIRA no Shigehira (1180) and the Battle of Miyoshi and Nagamatsu (1567). Although it was repaired in the Kamakura Period, it is basically a building of the Nara Period. Since around 2004, excreta and scratching by wild cats has been an issue.

Historic Sites

The large estate of approximately 12 hectares, including the current precincts of the temple, is designated as the state's historic site as 'The Old Precincts of Todai-ji Temple.'

National Treasures

Color silk painting of Kusha Mandara (Mandala of the Ahbidharmakosa Tradition)

Color paper painting of Kegon 55-sho Emaki (Scroll of 55 famous places associated with the Avatamsaka Sutra)

Bronze sitting statue of Birushana Buddha (enshrined in Kon-do Hall)

Dry-lacquer standing statue of Amoghapasa (manifestation of Amalokitesvara) (enshrined in the Hokke-do Hall)

Dry-lacquer standing statue of Brahma-Deva and Sakra devanam Indra (enshrined in the Hokke-do Hall)

A pair of dry-lacquer standing statues of Kongo Rikishi (enshrined in the Hokke-do Hall)

Dry-lacquer standing statue of the Four Devas (enshrined in the Hokke-do Hall)

Clay standing statues of Nikko and Gekko Bosatsu (enshrined in the Hokke-do Hall)

Clay standing statue of Shukongoshin (Vajrapani) (enshrined in the Hokke-do Hall)

Clay standing statues of the Four Devas (situated in the Kaidan-do Hall)

Bronze standing statue of Shakyamuni at the birth and ablution basin (deposited in Nara National Museum)

A pair of wooden standing statues of Kongo Rikishi (situated at the Nandai-mon Gate)

Wooden sitting statue of Shunjo Shonin (enshrined in the Shunjo-do Hall)

Wooden sitting statue of Sogyo Hachimanshin by Kaikei (enshrined in the Hachimanden)

Wooden sitting statue of Roben Sojo (enshrined in the Kaizan-do Hall)

Box with flower and bird design

Kondo Hakkaku-Toro (octagonal gilt bronze lantern) (situated in front of the Great Buddha Hall)

Leather with arabesque grape pattern

Kengu-kyo (the Sutra on the Wise and the Foolish) 15 volulmes (467 lines)

Todai-ji Monjo (100 rolled scrolls [with 979 mounted letters]), 8516 single-sheets

A set of ritual objects within the foundations of the altar of the Kon-do Hall

Important Cultural Property

East and West Rakumon (gates)

Hokke-do Temizuya (handwash basin)

Hokke-do Kitamon (North) Gate

Nigatsu-do Sanrojo (the place where priests can retire alone to pray)

Nigatsu-do Busshoya (the place used to prepare ritual food offerings)

Kanjinsho (Office for Raising Funds) Kyoko (storehouse)

Stone Gorinto (five-ringed tower) (situated in Kawakami-cho, Nara City)

Color silk painting of Kajo Daishi and color silk image of Joyo Daishi

Color silk painting of Kegon Kai-e Zenchishiki Mandara Zu (The Good Friends of the Avatamsaka Ocean Assembly)

10 color silk paintings of Kegon 55-sho-e (The Fifty-five Visits (of Sudhana) as narrated in the Avatamsaka-sutra)

Color silk painting of Xiangxiang Dashi

Color silk painting of Juichimen Kannon (designated as Important Cultural Property in 2005)

Color silk paintings of Shisho no Mie (images of the Holy Four) (Kencho era and Eiwa era versions)

Color paper painting of Todai-ji Daibutsu Engi (History of the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple) by Rinken SHIBA

(Enshrined in the Kon-do Hall) Wooden statue of Nyoirin Kannon (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) & sitting statue of Akasagarbha Bodhisattva by Junkei, Kenkei, Ryokei, Ikei, etc.

(Enshrined at Nandai-mon Gate) A pair of stone Shishi lions

(Enshrined in the Shunjo-do Hall) Wooden standing statue of Amida Nyorai by Kaikei and wooden sitting statue of Aizenmyoo

(Enshrined in the Nenbutsu-do Hall) Wooden sitting statue of Jizo Bosatsu

(Enshrined in the Hokke-do Hall) Clay standing statues of Saraswati and Laksmi, wooden statues of Fudo (the God of Fire) and Two Children and wooden sitting statue of Jizo Bosatsu

(Enshrined in the Jikido [Dining Hall] of the Sanrojo [the place where the priests pray] in the Nigatsu-do Hall) Wooden sitting statue of Kariteimo (The Japanese name of the Indian deity Hariti)

(Enshrined in the Sanmai-do Hall) Wooden statue of Senju (Thousand Armed) Kannon, wooden sitting statue of Amida Nyorai

(Enshrined in the Kokei-do Hall) Wooden sitting statue of Kokei Shonin

(Enshrined in the Amida-do Hall of Kanjisho [Office for Raising Funds]) Wooden sitting statue of Gogo-shiyui-Amida

(Enshrined in the Senju-do Hall of Kaidan-in) Wooden Senju Kannon and standing statues of the Four Devas in the Zushi (a cupboard-like case with double doors), wooden sitting statue of Jianzhen, wooden sitting statue of Aizenmyoo

(Situated at Chusho-in) Wooden standing statue of Bosatsu (Bodhisattva)

(Situated at the Shingon-in) Wooden standing statue of Jizo Bosatsu, wooden standing statues of the Four Devas (handed down from Shinzen-in)

(Situated at Chisoku-in) Wooden standing statue of Jizo Bosatsu

(Repository) Wooden standing statue of Sho Kannon, wooden standing statue of Juichimen (Eleven-faced) Kannon, 2 wooden Gigaku-men masks, 3 wooden Gyodo-men masks (Haeharai), 2 Wooden Bosatsu-men masks

(Deposited at the Nara National Museum) Wooden sitting statue of Shaka Nyorai (previously from Sashizu-do Hall), wooden sitting statue of Miroku Butsu (previously from Hokke-do Hall), wooden sitting statue of Amida Nyorai (previously from Kanjinsho Office), wooden standing statue of Jini Shinsho (previously from Tennoden [The Guatdian Kings Hall]), wooden standing statue of Jizo Bosatsu by Kaikei (previously from Kokei-do Hall), bronze boat-shaped halo (from the back of the principal image in Nigatsu-do Hall), bronze statue of Cintamari-cakra (manifestation of Avalokitesvara) in semi-lotus position (Bosatsu in semi-lotus position), wooden standing statue of Jikokuten (Dhrtarāstra), wooden standing statue of Tamonten (Deity who hears much), 29 wooden Gigaku-men masks, 1 dry-lacquer Gigaku-men mask, 9 wooden Bugaku-men masks, wooden lion head, wooden sitting statue of Enmao (the lord of death) and wooden sitting statue of Taizanfukun (Chinese deity of Mt. Taizan)

(Deposited at the Tokyo National Museum) wooden standing statue of Shomen (Blue-faced) Kongo

Kujaku Monkei (Buddhist ritual gong with peacock relief)

Shoko (small gong used in gagaku), (Chosho 3rd [1134] inscripted)

Shoko, (Kenkyu 9th [1198] inscripted)

Iron hanging lantern (situated in the Hokke-do Hall)

Iron bath tub (situated in the Oyuya Bath House)

Dotsukasa Rei (A ritual article)

4 Copper Kozuishaku (long-handled water ladles)

Copper bowl with a gilt bronze tray

Waniguchi (medal shaped steel drum)

Bonsho (temple bell) (for the dining hall of the Nigatsu-do Hall)

Unpo-sokin-kyobitsu (gold-inlaid chest box)

3 red-lacquered fusatsu tubs (basin used to catch water while washing hands with water from a jar)

2 black-lacquered hand drums

Black-lacquered table with mother-of-pearl inlay

Wooden decorated hand drum

Wooden decorated hand drum

Nyoi (priest's staff) engraved with five lions (Attributed to Shobo [Master Rigen])

Tortoiseshell nyoi (priest's staff)

11 Nigatsu-do Rengyo Shuban (trays)

2 wooden black-lacquered oil pots

Wooden West Dai-mon Gate imperial scroll

Stone lantern (situated in front of Hokke-do Hall)

Kegon-kyo (Avatamsaka Sutra): Vols. 1, 4, 5, 6, 9 and 11

Ganmon Shu (collection of Shinto or Buddhist prayers)

Kokuzo-kyo (Kokuzo Sutra): Vols. 1 to 8

Kon Komyo Saisho-O kyo Chushaku (Commentary on the Golden Light of the Most Victorious Kings Sutra): Vols. 5 and 9

Kongo Hannya-kyo Sanjutsu (The Script of the Kongo Hannya-kyo Sutra), Volume 1 (with white dots for punctuation marks)

6 kinds of Kosoden (biography of high ranking monks) written by Sosho

Korai-ban Kegon-kyo Zuisho Engi Sho (The Subcommentary of Korean Kegon-kyo Sutra)

Konshi Kinji Kegon-kyo (Kegon-kyo Sutra in gold letters on dark-blue paper)

Konshi Ginji Kegon-kyo Zankan (remaining part of Kegon-kyo Sutra in silver letters on dark-blue Paper) (also called Nigatsu-do Yakegyo)

Saiji Kon Komyo Saisho-O kyo (Golden Light of the Most Victorious Kings Sutra in small writings): Vols. 6 to 10

Zoku Kegon-kyo Ryakushu Kanteiki (The Sequel of Abridged Subcommentary to Kegon-kyo Sutra) Vols. 2, 9 - 1 & 2 and 13 - 1 & 2

Daiitoku Daranikyo (Great Majesty Daranikyo Sutra): Vols. 1-10

Daihatsu Nehangyo (The Nirvana Sutra): Vols. 1-40

Daibibasharon (Mahavibhasa Sastra): Vol. 23

Daihoto Daishu Bosatsu Nenbutsu-zanmaikyo (Sutra): Vols. 1-10

100 Honen Yusho (100 Secret Excerpts of Honen) Vol. 1-2 (with red dots for punctuation marks)

Hokke Toryaku (Collection of the Commentaries of Hokke-kyo) : Volume 1

Yugashijiron (Discourse on the Stages of Concentration Practice): Vols. 12, 13, 14 & 17

Ensho Shonin Gyojo-ki (Book on Ensho Shonin) by Byonen

Todai-ji Gyonen Senjutsu Shoshorui Jihitsu-bon (Todai-ji Selection of Commentaries on Buddhist Scriptures etc. by Gyonen) (9 types)

Todai-ji Sosho-hitsu Shogyo narabini Shoroku Bon (Todai-ji Collection of Buddha's Teaching and Excerpts written by Sosho) (24 types)

Todai-ji Yoroku (The Digest Record of Todai-ji Temple)

Todai-ji Yoroku Zokuroku (The Second Edition of 'Todai-ji Yoroku' [The Digest Record of Todai-ji Temple])

Kengokyo Shihon Bokusho Makimono (Scroll of Kengokyo Sutra with ink on paper)*

* Although 'Kengokyo Shihon Bokusho Makimono' was designated as an Important Cultural Property in 1897 (formerly a National Treasure), its whereabouts are unknown. Not even a photograph of this exists.

(Ancient documents and historical materials)

Certificate of the present of Chinese calligraphy ink brushes written by Eisai: dated July 24, 1207

Report from the rice field inspector of Echizen Province (Nos. 2 and 3 on Kuwabara-no-sho estate)

Letter of temple solicitation written by Chogen Shonin in 1205

Record of Kaka (confession) fees and materials of Amida-do Hall

Order of fields (of rice and other crops) from Amida-ji Temple of the Suo Province dated December 1200, with the Chogen's stamp

Imperial Decree dated October 23, 805 written by Mamichi SUGAN, Daijokan (Grand Council of State) Decree dated April 2, 805

Suggested words of prayer for memorial services for a priest before his death, written by Jokei, May 29, 1198

Todai-ji Daikanjin-so Gyoyu Jihitsu Shojo (A handwritten letter from Todai-ji Chief Kanjin [fundraising] Priest Gyoyu to Nenyo Goshi [secretary monk who during this time took responsibility for running the actual affairs of the various central government offices]) dated September 16

Todai-ji Nuhi Genrai Cho (The Records of the Characteristics of the New Todai-ji Slaves)

Nigatsu-do Shini-e Kiroku Monjo (The Records of Sacred Water-drawing Festival of Nigatsu-do Hall)

Todai-ji Kaidan-in Sashizu (Instruction of Todai-ji Kaidan-in)

Annual Events

January 1: Joya no Kane (bell ringing out the old year) (Shoro Bell Tower).

January 1 - 3: The first three days of the new year (Great Buddha Hall and Nigatsu-do Hall).

January 7: Shusho-e (New Year's Service) (Great Buddha Hall): Keka Hoyo (the Buddhist memorial service for keka [a confession of one's sins]) is held.

February 3: Setsubun (Bean-Throwing Festival) and Hoshi Matsuri (Star Festival) (Nigatsu-do Hall): 'Gengu' and a bean-scattering ceremony celebrating the coming of spring are held during the day. Gengu' is a ceremony during which old talismans and good-luck charms are burned. The bean-scattering ceremony is performed from the stage of the Nigatsu-do Hall. Hoshi Matsuri' is a Buddhist mass praying to the stars to 'repel evil and bring happiness'.
In the evening, the Manto light is lit in the main hall of Nigatsu-do and mass is held by putting up the 'Hoshi (Star) Mandala.'

March 1 - 14: Shuni-e (Omizu-tori or Sacred Water-drawing Festival) (Nigatsu-do Hall): see Shuni-e for reference. It is one of the main rites and festivals of Todai-ji Temple, started by Jicchu Kasho in the Nara Period. 11 Buddhist monks called Rengyo-shu religiously purify themselves by abstaining from eating meat and hold a training camp, confess their sins to the principal image of Nigatsu-do Hall Juichimen Kannon-zo (Eleven-faced Kannon) and pray for the security of the state and affluent life for the nation. In the inner sanctum located in the hall, they read family registers of deaths and events called Hashiri-no-gyoho (the running ritual) and Dattan-no-gyoho (the Dattan ritual). Otaimatsu', the ceremony of swinging around big pine torches at Nigatsu-do Hall, is held every evening from March 1 onward. Omizutori' (Water-Drawing Festival), collecting water from Wakasa-i (Wakasa Well) to take it to the principal image is conducted at midnight on March 12 (before dawn of the 13th). Shuni-e of 2007 was the 1255th ceremony.

March 15: Nehan-ko: A Buddhist memorial service for Buddha's entering into Nirvana is held.

April 8: Bussho-e (Great Buddha Hall): celebration of Buddha's birthday.

April 24: Kegon Chishiki Ku (Kaizan-do Hall): Buddhist monks in the area gather at Kaizan-do Hall, chant Kegon-kyo Sutra and carry out a mass by putting the Kegon 55 Seizen Chishiki (Good Deeds and Knowledge) Mandala in front of Zushi where the statue of Roben Sojo is sitting.

May 2 & 3: Shomu Tenno Sai: The Buddhist memorial service for the Emperor Shomu.

May 2: Rongi Hoyo (Debate Memorial Service) at Tenno-den (the Guardian Kings Hall). A group of monks and chigo (beautifully dressed children) parade from the city center to the Great Buddha Hall. After their arrival, the Emperor Shomu's memorial service called Kyosan Hoyo is held. A Bugaku (Japanese court dance and music) is also offered.

May 3: Misasagi Sai (Prayer at the Great Buddha Hall and Sabo Goryo [Imperial mausoleum]): Buddhist monks of the area leave the Great Buddha Hall and visit Sabo Goryo, dedicated to Emperor Shomu, to pray. Upon returning, there is a ceremony of Kencha (tea offering to Gods in shrines) at the Great Buddha Hall.

July 5: Shunjo Ki (Shunjo-do Hall): A memorial service for Chogen SHUNJOBO who revived the Great Buddha in the Kamakura Period.
After the service (which finishes around 11am), the sitting statue of Chogen-shonin (National Treasure), the image which is normally withheld from public view, is put on public display until 4pm

July 28: Gejo-e (Great Buddha Hall): A Buddhist memorial service and Chinowa-kuguri (passing through a hoop made of kaya grass [plants of the sedge family]) are held.

August 7: Great Buddha Ominugui (Great Buddha Hall): Approximately 200 Buddhist monks and others purify their bodies at the bath house of Nigatsu-do Hall from early morning and gather at the Great Buddha Hall in white clothing and straw sandals after taking out the Great Buddha's soul, they chant together and clean his body.

August 9: Oyoku (Nigatsu-do Hall): Visiting the Hall for a prayer on this day is believed to give people the same virtue as 46,000 visits.

August 15: Manto Kuyo-e (Great Buddha Hall): On the evening of August 15, the last day of the Urabon Festival (a Festival of the Dead), many Toro lanterns are offered to Great Buddha. This began in 1985, and people who cannot return home can visit there and pray for their ancestors at festival time.

September 17: Jushichiya (The Seventeenth Night) (Nigatsu-do Hall): A festival day of Kanzeon Bosatsu (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) and Bon Festival Dance is held in the open space in front of Nigatsu-do Hall as well as a memorial service.

October 5: Tegai-e: The rite and festival of Temukeyama Hachiman-jinja, the Shinto shrine of Todai-ji Temple.

October 15: Great Buddha Autumn Festival (Great Buddha Hall).

December 14: Butsumyo-e (Nigatsu-do Hall): 3000 images of Buddha are put up and worshiped by calling their names to remove sins for the year.

December 16: Roben Ki (Kaizan-Do Hall): A memorial service for Roben Sojo, the founder of Todai-ji Temple. The sitting statue of Roben Sojo, an image normally withheld from public view, and the standing statue of Shukongoshin (Vajrapani) are publicly displayed.

December 16: Hogo-e (Hokke-do Hall): An oral examination called Kengaku Ryugi is held. Those who are studying Kegon (Huayan) and Three Shastras (Three Treatises) of the Temple to become a Gakuso (scholar monk) are required to pass the examination. It has now become a formality.

December 18: Kozui Sagewatashi: The water collected from Wakasa-i (Wakasa Well) at Omizutori (Water-Drawing Festival) is distributed to the believers.

Since the Year 2002, 'The Great Buddha Symposium' is held in December every year. The purpose of this is to analyze and review various issues in regard to Buddhism with a strict academic approach and a wider vision to clarify their significance.

Social Work
Todai-ji is the temple where the Empress Komyo established Hiden-in and Seyaku-in which became initiatives of social work so there is much social work done even today.

Todai-ji Medical and Educational Center

Facilities include 'Todai-ji Seishi En,' the center for orthopedically-impaired children, 'Todai-ji Komyo En,' the center for severe mentally and physically handicapped children, and 'Hananoakari,' the day-care center for severe mentally and physically handicapped children they provides special education for children with disabilities. It also provides an out-patient clinic for orthopedics etc., and in-hospital surgery and rehabilitation services.

This provides a unified lower and upper secondary school education. The first principal was Kosho SHIMIZU, who was also a Betto (administrator of the Temple). It used to be on the west of Nandai-mon Gate inside the precincts of the Temple, but it was moved to Misasagi-cho Town. There is a kindergarten (three-year education) on the west of the Great Buddha Hall.

A collection of mainly Buddhism related books, Buddhist art, old books, ancient documents and archaeological materials are kept and the general public have access to these.

How to Get There

8 minutes from JR West Nara Station and 4 minutes from Kintetsu Nara Station of Kinki Nippon Railway Company by the Nara Kotsu City Loop Bus Sotomawari (outer loop) get off at "Daibutsuden Kasuga-taisha mae," 5 minutes walk. Alternatively, you can walk from either train station.

© A. C. Yu &mdash Generated from the Japanese-English Bilingual Corpus of Wikipedia's Kyoto Articles which is translated by the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) from Japanese sentences on Wikipedia, used under CC BY-SA.

Did Buddhism Flourish During the Nara Period?

From a cultural viewpoint, the Nara period is also known as the Tenpyo period of classic Japan. Its name was from a time between 724 and 749 under the reign of Emperor Shomu. The period also came to represent the whole Nara era and beyond. This was due to flourishing and developing Buddhist culture .

During the Nara period, the government supported Buddhism. With that, large temples appeared at vital areas in the capital. These were structures established to protect the state and its emperor.

Baekje introduced Buddhism to the country in the 6th century, yet it had a mixed reception until the Nara. This was the time when it was completely embraced and accepted by Emperor Shomu. The emperor and his consort were devout Buddhists and spread of the religion. It became the guardian of the state and one way of strengthening the institutions in Japan.

During Shomu’s rule, the Todai Ji temple emerged. Inside it, the Great Buddha Daibutsu, was set there. It was a gilt bronze statue that was 16 meters high, and identified with the Sun Goddess. With that, Shomu called himself the Servant of 3 Treasures of Buddhism.

In classic Japan, the central government created temples or Kokubunji in provinces. The Kokubunji of Yamato province was the Todai Ji.

The Nara era ended when Shomu moved the capital to several locations until he chose Kyoto. This was to diffuse the Buddhist elite’s power of that time. The family sometimes considered the Buddhist clergy as meddlesome and a threat.

A List Of Best Things To Do In Osaka

1. Historical Places

For many people who love history, castles, and historical buildings, visiting these tourist attractions below may be one of the best things to do in Osaka as it can fill them with nostalgia.

1.1. Osaka Castle

Osaka castle which is located in Osaka Castle Park is, undoubtedly, one of the most famous historical places in Japan.

Osaka Castle (Source:

The castle tower was constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (known as “Napoleon of Japan”) in 1585, which took two years to be completed. It is surrounded by spectacular citadels, gates, turrets and impressive walls. The main castle, seen from the outside, has 5 stories, yet has 8 stories inside, which are built on a higher ground than other constructions. From the first floor to the seventh floor is the display of a variety of weapons, armor and folk items of the last century. The 8th floor is designed as an observation and sightseeing deck. The roof of 8 floors is designed in traditional Japanese style and all are gilded with gold.

The castle tower is now completely equipped with modern facilities (such as elevators). In the framework of Osaka Castle, there is a museum of information about the history of the castle and the person who built the original Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Osaka Castle in Lantern Festival (Source: Ian Collins, Osaka. which was uploaded on January 16th, 2019)

Located at the heart of Osaka city, Osaka Castle Park is a huge park that witnesses the ups and downs of its history. This is an attractive tourist destination of Osaka, attracting a lot of tourists to Japan, especially those who love to visit the castles. The park, which is about 2 square kilometers covered with lots of green space, is also the most popular spot for sight-seeing in cherry blossom season. The cherry blossoms here are the most beautiful compared to other regions of Japan. Tourists will see an ancient castle nestling in the middle of a forest of light pink flowers which is neatly surrounded by a lake located in the middle of the park with the distant view of modern skyscrapers.

In early April, when the festival of the cherry blossom takes place, there is a large number of visitors flocking here to see the impressive sight of cherry blossom garden which is one of the best things to see in Osaka.

1.2. The Osaka Museum Of Housing And Living

The museum is the first of its kind which focuses on the tradition and culture of housing and living.

The Museum in daylight (Source:

The museum has re-created the classic street ambiance that shows what life was like in Osaka from the 17th to the 19th century. This is the best chance for visitors to travel back in time and walk through the streets of Osaka in the late Edo period.

The Museum at night (Source:

Rather than just reading books about Osaka history, tourists are teleported to old towns to have vivid experience by themselves.

1.3. Shitennoji Temple

Shitennoji is one of Japan’s oldest temples which was built by the government.

Shitennoji Temple in cherry blossom season (Source:

According to a historical document called “Japan Shu Qi” compiled in the Nara period, this temple was officially built in 593 with its history dates back to more than 1400 years. The temple is said to have been designed and built in the ancient architectural fashion.

However, Shitennoji temple was devastated by fires and war, thus losing some special architectural features. This temple was founded by Prince Shotoku, who contributed to the propaganda of Buddhist and its development to Japan. Although many of the temple’s constructions were burned during the war, the temple has been carefully refurbished to retain its original design.

At the front gate of the main hall (Source: Wikipedia)

The external area of the temple charges no fee, but you have to pay to visit the Gokuraku-jodo Garden inside. There is a five-story temple in the courtyard, which is also the main temple tourists can visit and go sightseeing on the highest floor.

The Impressive Architecture Of Shitenniji Temple

The corridor of Shitennoji temple has 3 entrances (Deva gate, Western Gate, and East gate). When you enter the temple, you must put off the slippers.

It is noticeable that on the walls of the staircase are the paintings that symbolize the souls of the dead whose funerals are held at the temple.

A short walk from this temple is the Gokuraku-jodo Garden, which is based on the description of the Western Paradise of Amida Buddha.
In spring, this garden becomes a spring garden with blooming cherry blossoms, the lotus petals bloom in summer, and in the fall it is covered with the purple color of the orchid, the branches are wrapped by white snow in the winter. The vegetation here every season brings a diversity of picturesque scenes which become an indispensable tourist attraction in the Japanese tours.

1.4. The National Museum Of Ethnology

This is the largest research institute in the field of humanities and social science in Japan. The National Museum of Ethnology has a collection of very valuable ethnographic documents.

Inside the museum (Source:

Visiting the museum, tourists can also learn about many regions all around the world, from Japan to Oceania, China to Southeast Asia in many fields such as agriculture, various ethnic culture, art and lifestyle of people. Therefore, this is a favorite destination in Osaka, especially for travelers who are passionate about history.

1.5. Hozen-ji Temple

Hozen-ji Temple (Source: Osaka Japan Photography Blog)

Hozen-ji Temple (Mizukake Fudo) is the temple of Jodo, located in Namba, Osaka Prefecture. It is a quaint temple that hides among the bright neon signs of Dotonbori.

Fudo Myoo (Source: Photo by jpellgen)

Hozenji Temple is most famous for its statue of Fudo Myoo, known as Mizukake Fudo by the locals. After praying for a successful business, or perfect love relationships, people will splash the statue with water, so over time it is covered from head to toe in moss.

Lanterns in Hozenji Temple (Source: Genki Mobile Blog)

As usual, when night falls, the temple is covered in tranquil and golden shade emitted from dozens of the old fashioned swinging lanterns, creating a spectacular sight and making you feel like back in time to Japan a hundred years ago.

1.6. Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum

Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum (Source:

Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum is a private art museum located in front of Hozen-ji Temple in Namba, Osaka, the only art museum in the world that regularly displays Kamigata Ukiyo-e paintings. It is a beautiful compact art museum with a 4-story structure. From the 2nd to 4th floor, there are events special exhibitions of the Kamigata Ukiyo-e such as crafting tools, actual woodblocks photo exhibition of Dotonbori street in the early Showa period Ukiyo-e painting crafting process. The exhibition is scheduled to display 30 Ukiyo-e changed every 3 months. There is a museum shop on the first floor where visitors can buy Ukiyo-e paintings or picture records at the exhibition.

Introduction To Kamigata Ukiyo-e Painting

Ukiyo-e print (Source:

Kamigata Ukiyo-e is a type of Ukiyo-e wood carvings mainly painted in Osaka in the second half of the Edo period (1603-1868) until the early Meiji period (1868-1912), most of which depict actors in Kabuki dramas in Dotonbori, there is almost no “scenery” or “beauty”. Their typical feature is that it is depicted with humanity rather than beautifies the actors.

1.7. Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Kasuga Taisha is Nara’s most celebrated shrine which was established at the same time as the capital in 768.

Kasuga Taisha Temple (Source:

There Are Many Amazing Places In The Shrine To See:

Chumon / Oro Gate (place of ancestor worship)
The Chumon Gate is opposite to the main hall, about 10 meters high and is currently considered as an important national asset. Oro extends from the Chumon gate to the left and right in 13 meters like a bird spreading its wings. It is the place where the head of the temple sits during festivals in the main hall.

Osugi cedar tree in front of the temple
Osugi is an ancient cedar tree that is thought to have a life span of 800 – 1000 years. Its perimeter is more than 8 meters and it is up to 25m in height.

The main hall
Deep inside the Chumon gate is the main hall of Kasuga-taisha temple. This is a block of 4 houses built implementing Kasuga-zukuri architecture. The first offering hall worships Takemikazuchi no Mikoto the second one for god Futsunushi no Mikoto the third god Amenokoyane no Mikoto and the fourth Himegami.

Kasuga-taisha Shinen (Manyo botanical garden)
The 3-hectare courtyard is divided into many areas like Manyoen Gokoku no Sato Tsubaki-en Fuji no En. Visitors will be amazed by the beauty of many plants during four seasons. Especially, there are about 200 Fuji trees including 20 species in Fuji no En this is the most famous place of Manyo botanical garden. Entrance fee for adult is 500 yen, children are 250 yen.

In Kasuga-taisha shrine, there has been a custom of hanging lanterns to pray for rain since the Heian period. Over time, the purpose of the custom also gradually expands with many different prayers. Therefore, people brought a lot of lanterns to hang in the temple to make their wishes. In the Meiji period, people often used lanterns like night lamps every evening, but nowadays lanterns are only lit twice in the early February and in mid – August, which is called “Lantern Festival”.

Explore this high-quality video to have more practical experience of this shrine.

1.8. Tenmangu Shrine

Osaka Tenman-gu Shrine worships the Sugawara no Michizane, the main temple was built in 1845. In addition to the main shrine, there are 7 other temples. The people of Osaka used to call Osaka Tenman-gu Shrine the name Tenma no Tenjin-san.

Tenmangu Shrine (Source:

On the north of the courtyard is a lake called “Hoshiai no ike” meaning “the gathering place of the stars”, surrounded by tea trees. There are many Ume trees (Japanese apricot flowers) around the lake, blooming very beautifully from the end of February to the middle of March.

In addition to “Hoshiai no ike”, there are a number of attractions and historical sites such as “Tōryūmon” on the right and left of the main shrine “Ebisu-mon” in the southwest of the courtyard “Kanko Engi” – depicting Sugawara no Michizane’s life with Hakata dolls.

1.9. Sumiyoshi Shrine

Sumiyoshi Taisha Temple (“Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine”) is one of Japan’s oldest temples which was built in the 3rd century before Buddhism was born. The temple implements the unique architecture of Sumiyoshi-zukuri (not influenced by Asian culture). It has a long and repected history which is dedicated to the Sumiyoshi Sanjin – the three gods of the sea

Sumiyoshi Shrine (Source:

Inside the temple, there are three auxiliary shrines Owatatsumi-jinja, Funatama-jinja, Wakamiya Hachimangu, Shikaumi-jinja. At Sumiyoshi-taisha, stone tower architecture, music stage and southern gate are recognized as ancient cultural heritages. In the stone tower, there is usually a dance performance during the Unoha Shinji event, which takes place in May every year. There is also the famous arched bridge Sori-bashi, selected as one of the 100 most beautiful night view places in Kansai region.

Check out 50 things to do in Osaka in the video below:

2. Amazing Things To Admire

2.1. Osaka Aquarium

Now you have come to one of the top things to do in Osaka: Visiting Osaka Aquarium.

Osaka Aquarium (Source:

Osaka Aquarium is also known as Kaiyukan, located at Tempozan harbor of Osaka Bay. Kaiyukan is designed in two themes “Pacific Ring of Fire” or “Ring of Life”.

The aquarium consists of 15 main zones and each represents different environments of the real Pacific Ring. It is home to 620 species and 30,000 marine animals from the Pacific Ring.

Kaiyukan focuses on displaying all kinds of creatures in their natural habitats in order to introduce visitors to their natural shapes and natural living habits. Therefore, there are not any dolphins or sea lions performances like other places.

Kaiyakun (Source: Official website of Osaka Aquarium)

Once inside Kaiyukan, you will first go through a fish tank shaped like a tunnel, called “Fish walkthrough Gate Aqua”, then move on the escalator to the highest floor – level 8 which recreates the Japanese ecological forest, called “Japan No Mori”. And from this area, visitors will descend down on spiral staircases to the central area called “Pacific Ocean”. This level owns a 9 – meter deep and 34 – meter long fish tank which is home to a large number of species including the world’s largest fish, the whale shark. However, when traveling along the route, tourists will be amazed by the “Aleutian Island” – home of the Otters “Monterrey Bay” of the sea leopard and California sea lion “Panama Bay” of porcupine fish “Tropical forest” – the territory of the water hamster and the scallop fish “Antarctica” – the cold land of king penguins “Kasuman Sea”, “Great Barrier Reef”, “Seto Domestic Sea” and “Japan Sea area”.

2.2. Universal Studios Japan

Want a ticket back to your childhood? Welcome to Universal Studio Japan, a magical world is waiting for you!

Universal Studio Japan was officially open in 2001, and has expanded greatly and added many new and exciting games. There are eight sections, the most popular are Jurassic Park and Universal Wonderland and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter recreates the world of Harry Potter in the most vivid fashion. There are Hogwarts Castle covered with “fake” snow, King’s Cross station, the Diagon Alley and so on. This place is definitely noted on Potterheads’ list of Osaka’s things to do.

Hogwarts Castle (Source:

There are many other popular sections like “Jurassic Park” – you can explore the tropical rainforest where the dinosaurs reside “Jaws” – experiencing the adventure in the sea with fierce sharks “Water World” – which recreates extreme performances on the water “Backdraft” – the area where visitors can experience explosive scenes appearing in movies.

Additionally, visitors can enjoy many other amusement rides such as carousels, roller coasters, etc often based on popular movies like Spiderman, Terminator 2,…

If you come to Osaka, you can’t go without visiting Universal Studio Japan. Discovering a magical world is, undoubtedly, one of the best things to do in Osaka.

2.3. The Kobe Port Tower

Kobe Port Tower is a tubular – structured tower whose design is one of a kind in the entire world. With the “hyperboloid structure”, it is shaped like a Japanese hand drum. The tower is also known as “Steel Tower Beauty” – owning the gentle beauty of a lady and becoming the symbol of Kobe city. When night falls, the whole tower is lit with LED lights, creating a sparkling and fanciful scene.

Kobe port tower is 108 meters high with 5 observation decks and 3 ground floors. Ground floor 1 is the ticket office, displaying models of Japanese towers and a souvenir shop Osakaya where unique imported gifts are sold.

There are restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops on Ground floor 2. The 3rd floor is decorated as a historical gallery with many historical documents of Kobe’s development displayed on the walls.

Kobe Port Tower (Source:

Observation floor 1 is at 75 meters above the ground. The floor here is made of transparent tempered glass, providing the view below the tower. The ceiling is equipped with LED lights to create spectacular glowing effects. Observation Deck 2 is a narrow observatory because this is the knot of the hyperboloid structure. Observation Deck 3 is a rotating tea room, with a cycle of every 20 minutes, providing 360-degree views across the city.

From the observation floor 4, you can see Awajishima Bay and Osaka Bay, sometimes see aircraft taking off from Kobe airport. Observation level 5, the highest floor of the tower, is a huge observation area, which can cover the entire view of Kobe city.

2.4. The Tower Of The Sun

The Sun Tower (Tower of Sun) was designed by artist Taro Okamoto in 1970. This building is 230 feet (about 70 meters) tall with steel – framed and solid concrete structure. On the surface of the tower visitors can see 3 different faces with specific symbolic meanings: the top of the tower is “golden face” symbolizing shining in the future, the front is the “face of the sun” representing the present, and behind the tower is a “black sun” that means the past.

The tower of the Sun (Source:

Inside the tower there is a “Tree of Life” about 41 meters high made of steel, with 292 sculptures of large and small creatures attached to stems and branches, representing the evolution of all species ranging from larvae to reptiles, dinosaurs, and humans.

2.5. Scale Abeno Harukas

Standing at 300 meters, Abeno Harukas in Osaka is Japan’s tallest building.

The observation deck, also known as “Harukas 300”, occupies the top 3 floors of the building (from the 58th floor to the 60th floor). The 60th floor, which is decorated with transparent glass panels from floor to ceiling, offers the entire view of the magnificent Osaka city.

Abeno Harukas (Source:

Besides, there are the Abeno Harukas Art Museum offering green space to relax on the 16th floor and the Harukas Kintetsu Department Store which is the largest department store in Japan.

2.6. Umeda Sky Building

Umeda Sky Building is a high-rise building located in Shin-Osaka Prefecture, Osaka City, Japan.
The construction of this 173-meter tall building was completed in 1993. It consists of two towers “Tower East” and “Tower West” that are connected by the “Floating Garden Observatory” on the 39th floor.

Umeda Sky Building (Source: osaka-info)

The observation deck offers visitors a panoramic view of Osaka city. This area is the tourists’ favorite destination, and also an ideal place for couples.

3. Festivals

If you are a party lover, engaging in traditional festivals is definitely one of the best things to do in Osaka.

3.1. Tenjin Matsuri Festival

Tenjin-sai (literally means the Festival of the Gods) is one of the 3 major Japanese festivals which is held at Osaka Tenman-gu Shrine and honors its principle deity Sugawara Michizane, the deity of scholarship. Every year from the end of June to 25 July, ceremonies are held for one month. The Yomiya travel event on July 24 and Honmiya prayer ritual on July 25 is the most famous among them all.

The two main events of Tenjin-sai held in Honmiya main hall are “Rikutogyo” – a land processional lifting the palanquin with the deity sitting on and marching across the streets, and “Funatogyo”, sailing the boat carrying the deity across the river.

Rikutogyo (Source:

The Tenjin Matsuri festival is peculiar to Osaka style. Anyone can join in, wear a yukata and geta, and enjoy the celebration.

3.2. Osaka Light Festivals

Osaka Light Festivals, also known as Osaka’s winter illuminations, is worth being noted on the list of top things to do in Osaka.

The festival includes two main events Midosuji Illumination and Osaka Hikari-Renaissance.

The Midosuji Illumination takes place from 4th of November until 31st December. The Midosuji street is brightened up with dozens of red and blue LED lights. The stores of famous brands such as Apple, Luis Vuitton, Dior, … will be brightened during 50 days of the festival, making a light – filled space with iris domestica trees meticulously decorated with lighting devices.

Midosuji street (Source: WOW! JAPAN)

Hikari-Renaissance is a 3D lighting program held at City Hall and Nakanoshima Park. The spectacular 3D light performance will have 4 shows every night from 17h to 22h, especially on weekends, there will be 6 shows, lasting from December 14th to December 25th.

Osaka Castle (Source: JW Web Magazine)

Besides, there is Osaka Castle Illuminage that features the Japanese historical treasures held at Nishinomaru Garden in Osaka Castle. The 150 – year history of Japan from the Edo Period to Meiji Period will be displayed with over 3 million colorful LED lights. Tourists will also experience the magical and magnificent moments of the “Blue Light Sea”, or “Pyramid of 3D”, and the Christmas – featured performances.

4. Shopping And Entertainment

4.1. The Pokemon Center

The Pokemon Center is on the 13th floor of Daimaru Department Store in Umeda, Osaka. If you are a huge fan of Pokemon, this place is for you.

The Pokemon Center (Source:

You can purchase all of the Pokemon items such as pen boxes, keychains, bags, hats … and so on. In addition, you can also participate in Pokémon contests with Nintendo, and Pokémon cards (Pokémon TCG).

4.2. Dotonbori Street

Dotonbori Street is located along the Dotonbori River in Osaka City. This is a bustling street located on the south bank of the Dotonbori River stretching from Nihonbashi to Daikokubashi. There are a lot of restaurants, famous shops with typical buildings and signboards such as Gurikoneon, Kani Doraku Dotonbori Honten, Tsubaraya.

Dotonbori Street (Source: Travel Bugs)

People usually take photos with Glico’s running man signboard in the background. This signboard is very famous, which is Osaka’s symbol.
In addition, there is the Dotonbori canal right in the heart of the town, the north bank of the canal is full of restaurants and teahouses. Tourists can try a 20 – minute Tonbori River cruise along the canal to sense the bustling atmosphere of Osaka’s most bustling street.

If you are a shopaholic, you should definitely try Shinsaibashi which is one of Osaka’s longest arcades. You can find many famous brands here such as H&M, Zara, Forever 21 and so on. Besides, there are many food restaurants and flashy bars worth being explored.

4.3. Round 1 Stadium

Round 1 Stadium (Source:

Round 1 Stadium is an arcade located at the start of Dotonbori street. It consists of 2 full stories of amusement, karaoke rooms (some rooms up to 30 people), billiard tables, etc. It is home to many Japanese’s favorite recreational activities such as bowling, baseball, and karaoke.

4.4. Namba (MINAMI)

Namba is the most crowded area located at Minami district in Osaka with dozens of restaurants and fashion stores.
There are many places worth being visited such as Amerikamura, Namba Park, etc.

“Amemura” means American Village, owning a wide variety of American-style shops. This a popular spot among youngsters who want to discover American fashion and pop culture.

Namba Parks (Source: osaka-info)

Namba Park is a celebrated shopping mall whose design looks like a canyon in a very “strange” and “unique” style, bringing a sense of deep nature in a colorful urban area to visitors. Namba Park consists of 120 shopping areas including cinemas, theaters, and a small garden on the terrace.

5. Famous Dishes To Eat

Enjoying Japanese cuisine is another checkbox on the list of best things to do in Osaka.

5.1. Fresh Foods At Kuromon Market

Kuromon Ichiba Market has a 170-year history as Osaka’s cultural and traditional food store. It is also known as “Osaka’s kitchen”. The market specializes in the freshest and best quality meat, vegetables, eggs, etc.

There are a wide variety of fresh finest seafood (salmon, tuna, octopus, etc) that visitors can enjoy.

Fresh Seafood (Source: Yi Reservation)

You cannot miss the opportunity to enjoy grilled scallops. Japanese tourists can choose a small stall in the market with lots of scallops washed and baked, then grilled on the blister after being seasoned with butter and soy sauce, creating a delicious and attractive scallop sauce. The grilled scallops taste so delicious that it is hard to resist – tender and chewy meat with natural sweetness with the combination of soy sauce and delicate taste of butter.

In addition, visitors can try salmon sushi, ramen, and other local delicacies.

Check out this video right away to discover more kinds of fresh seafood in Kuromon Market!

5.2. Takoyaki

Takoyaki, also known as grilled octopus balls, is extremely popular in Osaka.
Takoyaki was born in 1935. This cake is inspired by Akashiyaki cake – a small dumpling with octopus and eggs. “Tako” means octopus, and the word “yaki” originally comes from “yaku” meaning fried or grilled.

Takoyaki (Source: Arigato Japan Food Tours)

The main ingredients for making takoyaki are only wheat flour, dashi powder, chicken eggs, and boiled octopus. Although the recipe is simple, making the takoyaki balls round, smooth, golden and crispy outside and hot and scrawny inside requires the chef to be very skillful and patient. After that, takoyaki will be sprinkled with sauce and takoyaki mayonnaise, a bit of seaweed and traditional Japanese thin-boned tuna.

Today, takoyaki is modified with meat, sausage, and so on to meet the diverse tastes of diners everywhere.

Takoyaki costs from 400 to 500JPY (3.35 $ – 4.18 $).

5.3. Ramen

Ramen is Japanese delicacy, long, golden noodles with refined broth will make it difficult for customers to resist.
In Osaka, there a lot of ramen restaurants you can try. Here are the list of some famous ones: Kamukura Ramen, Menya Ageha, Ryukishin RIZE, etc.

5.4. Okonomiyaki

If you love Japanese cuisine, then surely you will not miss Okonomiyaki pancake.

Okonomiyaki (Source:

Okonomiyaki – Osaka’s Soul food means “Cook anything you like”. The name Okonomiyaki is the combination of the word “Okonomi” which means “something you like” and the word “Yaki” meaning “baked”.

Okonomiyaki is believed to have been originated from funoyaki – invented by a historical figure named Sen no Rikyu during the period from 1573 to 1603.

Okonomiyaki, also known as Japanese pizza/pancake, is a “pancake” made from a variety of ingredients such as dough, cabbage, sliced pork, seafood, eggs, bean sprouts … At the end of the processing, Okonomiyaki is sprinkled with sweet sauce, green seaweed aonori, grated tuna, ginger red salt, and Japanese mayonnaise.

Okonomiyaki In Osaka Culinary Culture

The main material of Osaka’s Okonomiyaki is usually wheat flour, grated tubers, dashi broth, finely chopped cabbage, bacon, octopus, shrimp, squid, cheese, red ginger, … mixed together then fried. Then it is covered with mayonnaise sauce and grated fish. It is noticeable that the sauce of Osaka’s okonomiyaki is a bit spicy.

5.5. Kushi-katsu

The name “Kushi-katsu” is combined between the word “Kushi” meaning a traditional bamboo skewer and “katsu” meaning a deeply fried meat.

Kushi-katsu (Source: tsunagu Japan)

Kushi-katsu is a famous specialty in Osaka, which is made of meat or vegetables that have been cut in mouthful portions, then skewered on a bamboo stick and sprinkled with a layer of bread powder, fried right in front of your eyes. Kushi-katsu is dipped with salty and spicy – flavored TaruTaru sauce that which makes the dish tastier.

When eating Kushikatsu, there is a rule that you need to comply with. The sauce at Kushikatsu restaurant will be shared among customers, for hygienic reasons, you are not allowed to dip the meat sticks that are already eaten into the sauce. In all Kushikatsu restaurants, there is a sign saying “Don’t dip twice”.

6. Relaxing

After going sightseeing, visiting famous tourist attractions, hanging out, eating, etc, relaxing in onsen and spa may be the final on the list of best things to do in Osaka.

Onsen, or Hot Springs, is very famous in Japan, and in Osaka, there is an onsen complex that is popular among Japanese and foreign tourists, offering a hot springs complex of many nations all over the world, it is “Spa World”.

Located in Shinsekai district, Southern Osaka, Spa World is a very unique center that offers not only onsens and saunas but also swimming pool, gyms, food courts and other relaxation areas.

Spa World includes two main sections: European Onsens and Asiatic Onsens.

European Onsens is on the 4th floor of the center, offering western styled baths organized by themes: Ancient Rome, Mediterranean Sea, Greek baths, saunas from Finland, Azura Cave (Blue Grotta), Spain and Atlantis.

Ancient Roman baths (Source:

Ancient Roman bath is a Jacuzzi-style bathhouse and surrounded by cathedral poles like Roman architecture. Overlooked by a sculpture of Trevi fountain, this bath will definitely make visitors have the experience like having a bath in Rome, Italy.

In Greek medicinal bath, the walls of bathrooms are decorated in ancient Greek style with brick walls and ionic columns. A statue of an Erechtheion goddess stands over a herbal bath. Herbs are used for meditation by the ancient Greeks.

Atlantis bathhouse whose design is inspired by the ancient Atlantic remains and Doric columns and is decorated with green lights and glowing fish tanks.

Azura Cave is decorated with blue stalactite-like the famous Blue Grotto in Capri, Italy.

In the Mediterranean Sea, there is a bathing pool as warm as the real Mediterranean Sea with a roof above and a beige – colored wall.

Finland sauna house (Source:

Asiatic Onsens is located on the 6th floor of the center housing a series of oriental baths from ancient Persia to Japan and from the Middle East to Southeast Asia.

Japanese outdoor bathhouse (Keiryu no Yu) is an open onsen with pebbles along the bank of the river.

Islam bathhouse (Source:

Islam bathhouse is a traditional sauna in the Middle East. It is designed following the architecture of the mosque, decorated with colorful tiles.

Persian bathhouse was inspired by the palace at Persepolis.

Bali bath is decorated with tropical plants and designed as a luxury resort.

Best Time to Go

Horyuji Temple can be visited all year round but Nara is truly spectacular in late March to mid April with the beautiful cherry blossoms, and from October to early December with the backdrop of bright red maples leaves.

Tip: If you have two days to spend in Nara, spend one day exploring the temples of Southwest Nara such as Horyu-ji, Yakushi-ji and Toshodai-ji, and the other day in Nara koen with Todaiji Temple, Kofuku-ji and Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

Catbird in japan the land of temples and what-nots

Saturday, August 5: This morning, I leave Nara for the convoluted three-hour journey to Mount Kōya. I take the Yamatoji Line from Nara Station, and at Tennoji Station I change to the Osaka Loop Line to Shin-Imamiya Station, where I take the Nankai-Koya line to Hashimoto Station, about a 45-minute ride. From Hashimoto, I stay on the same line for another 50 minutes to Gokurakubashi Station, where I take the Nankai Koyasan Cable Car up to Mount Kōya. It’s only a 5 minute ride up the cable car.

Below are some views as we climb the mountain.

The sacred mountain of Kōyasan wears a mantle of mystery and holiness. Situated south of the Kinokawa River in Wakayama Prefecture, Kōyasan sits in a basin on a mountain 820 meters above sea level. Kūkai (774-835), a Japanese Buddhist monk posthumously known as Kōbō-Daishi, sent his disciples to explore Kōyasan beginning in 816. It was granted to Kūkai as a place of meditation by the Imperial Court 1,200 years ago. Kūkai was also a civil servant, scholar, poet and artist who founded the Shingon, or “True Word” school of Buddhism. Practitioners at Kōyasan try to identify themselves with the Buddha by spiritual unification.

Ever since the monastic center was formed, Kōyasan has been a holy pilgrimage destination, and also home to unique cultural assets. In 2004, UNESCO designated Mt. Kōya, along with two other locations on the Kii Peninsula, Yoshino and Omine, as well as Kumano Sanzan, as World Heritage Sites: “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.”

From Kōyasan Station, I must take a bus to Kongo Sanmai-in, where I’ll be staying overnight in a Buddhist temple. Upon my arrival at the temple lodging, I find it’s too early to check in, so I leave my bags with an elderly monk at the front gate and go out to explore Kōyasan. As it’s nearly 1:00, my first order of business is to find lunch, but I find long lines at the few lunch places available. I finally find a restaurant that has some space, and I sit at the counter and enjoy my g0-t0 lunch in Japan, a tempura prawn set meal.

After I finish lunch, I go out back to a small outdoor waiting area to use the toilet. There are four available toilets, but only one is Western, so I opt to wait behind four little Japanese girls for the one Western toilet. I find it funny that even the Japanese girls don’t want to use the Japanese squat toilets, but opt to wait for the one Western one. I have to say, I get a little annoyed by this, as the girls take their sweet time to move along.

I walk some distance to Danjo Garan, also known as Dai (Great) Garan, the central temple complex of Mount Kōya. Shingon Buddhism training has been taking place here from the 9th century to the present day.

I pass a red bridge over a lotus pond that echoes a Monet painting. The Lotus Pond is the largest pond on Kōyasan, and goes back as far as the Heian period (794 to 1185). Originally known as the Kondo pond, it was named the Lotus Pond because of the lotuses growing here. Until the first quarter of the twentieth century, the surface of the lake was entirely covered with lotuses, but because of repairs and construction, the pond’s ecology changed. Hardly any lotuses remain today.

One gate to the Danjo Garan is called the Chumon, or Middle Gate. The original construction of the Chumon dates back to the founding of Kōyasan. Originally, there was a torii-shaped gate here. After repeated fires and reconstructions, it was rebuilt as a two-story gate with five bays. During the Edo period (1603 – 1868), it is known to have been destroyed by fire three times, and the foundation stones from the before the fires are buried underground.

The Chumon burned down in 1843 and was not rebuilt for 172 years. Only the foundation stones were exposed at the site until it was reconstructed to commemorate the 1200th anniversary of the founding of Kōyasan in 2015. The images of Dhritarashtra and Vaisravana in the font of the gate date from the reconstruction of 1820.

The Kondo, or main hall, was central to Kūkai’s vision for an esoteric Buddhist monastery secluded in the mountains, flanked by stupas (pagodas) to the hall’s east and west. Though construction began in 819, it wasn’t finished until after Kōbō-Daishi entered eternal meditation in 835. Many rituals and ceremonies are held here.

The Kondo enshrines a statue of the Medicine Buddha that is not displayed, flanked by two large hanging mandalas, each with its own separate altar. Wall paintings show the eight offering bodhisattvas in the corners, and a large mural of the Buddha’s enlightenment is on the north side of the Kondo.

Inside the Kondo are wall paintings and murals.

The hexagonal shaped Rokkaku Kyozo was built in 1159 to house a complete copy of the Buddhist scriptures, written in gold ink. The building was lost in the fire of 1843, was rebuilt in 1884, and was lost again in the fire that destroyed the Kondo in 1926. The existing building was rebuilt in 1934. The 1884 building could be revolved, but only the present building’s outer rim can be revolved.

Konpon Daito, or the Great Fundamental Pagoda, is the tallest building in Kōyasan. After Kūkai was granted the use of Kōyasan by Emperor Saga in 816, he decided to build the first monastic complex entirely dedicated to the teaching practice of Esoteric Buddhism. He planned to construct two large two-story pagodas diagonally behind the Kondo in the eastern and western directions. Plans called for the Konpon Daito to be about 48.5 meters high, and because of its great size it was finally completed in 876, about 40 years after Kōbō-Daishi entered eternal meditation.

Konpon Daito, the stupa on the east side of the Kondo

Shoro Belfry at Dai Garan

In later centuries the Konpon Daito was destroyed in fires caused by lightning strikes five times, and rebuilt each time. After the great fire of 1843, only the foundation stones remained. The existing building was rebuilt in 1937 of ferro-concrete with wooden overlays painted in vermilion because of the long history of fires. The building was last renovated in 1996.

The body of the pagoda is circular, with a square lower story with an attached pent roof and walls. The majestic Konpon Daito has the exact dimensions today was when it was first built. It enshrines a three-dimensional mandala, with large gilt wooden statues of Dainichi Myorai (Mahavairocana) of the Taizokai (Matrix Realm) surrounded by the Four Buddhas of the Kongokai (Diamond Realm), with the Sixteen Great Bodhisattvas painted on the sixteen pillars around them. Sadly no photography is permitted.

Konpon Daito is known as a symbol of Kōyasan.

The Tōtō (Eastern Stupa) was completed in 1127 at the wish of the retired Emperor Shirakawa. The main deity enshrined is Vikiranosnisa, who is flanked by two wrathful deities. The pagoda that had been rebuilt in the Edo period burned to the ground in 1843, and the present building was reconstructed some 140 years later, in 1983.

a monk walks by the bronze lantern

Myō-jinja is home to Niu-myōjin, the royal mistress of Mount Kōya, and her son Kariba-myōjin, hunter guardian of the mountain’s forests. Most of Dai Garan is shaded by soaring black cedar trees.

torii at entrance to Myō-jinja

The Saito, or Western Stupa, was originally built in 887, according to the instructions of Kōbō-Daishi. The present structure is the fifth reconstruction of the original building, and was built in 1834. The 36 pillars inside, plus the central pillar, represent the 37 deities of the Kongokai Mandala. Five Buddhas are enshrined here, with the central Buddha being Mahavairocana of the Kongokai surrounded by four Buddhas of the Taizokai. This demonstrates the teaching of the non-duality of the two mandalas.

I always love the older buildings that haven’t been rebuilt in ferro-concrete, like this one, although I know fires have destroyed these wooden buildings many times.

The Saito, or Western Stupa

The Saito, or Western Stupa

I wander over the red bridge to the islet in the center of the Lotus Pond.

On the small islet is the Zennyo Ryuo Shrine, which enshrines a queen of the Naga, or dragon gods, believed to be most powerful in answering prayers relating to water and rain. This shrine originated when a monk prayed to the queen for rain during the drought of 1771.

Situated at the west end of the basin of Koyasan, the Daimon, or Grand Gateway, is the western entrance to Koyasan from Kinokawa Valley and Aritagawa Valley. The gateway was reconstructed in 1705. It was recently repaired when the motorway opened.

The Daimon, or large entrance gate, to Dai Garan

Inside the two main pillars of the gates are fierce looking Niō statues, guardians of this sacred area.

Temple Stay at Kongo Sanmai-in

After exploring all around Dai Garan, I walk back to Kongo Sanmai-in, where I can check in for the night.

Temple lodgings, or shukubō, are Buddhist temples that offer overnight accommodation to pilgrims and tourists. Open to both practitioners and non-practitioners, shukubō offer travelers a chance to experience the austere lifestyle of Buddhist monks while staying in historic temple buildings. In addition, visitors are usually invited to watch or participate in activities such as morning prayers or meditation ( Temple Lodgings). Of 117 temples on Koyasan, 52 of them offer lodging for overnight guests.

Kongo Sanmai-in is also considered a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. It has a bathhouse, multi-course dinners, communal spaces where guests can relax, and rooms with woven-straw flooring and futon mats.

The temple was built in the year 1223 by a widow named Hojo Masako, wife of the feudal lord Minamoto Yoritomo. She is said to have been the most powerful woman in Japanese history. Madam Masako became nun Nyojitsu after her husband died. She protected Kongo Sanmai-in Monastery by appointing a head priest, donating manors to the monastery, and encouraging Buddhist learning by establishing a school for learning. Yasumori, her vassal, supplied the priests with scriptures and commentaries on wooden block printing.

Kongo Sanmai-in is one of the most expensive places I stay during my time in Japan. It costs me 14,540 yen, or

$134. Dinner and breakfast are provided, and we are able to participate in the morning Buddhist ceremony. I have a small tatami-matted room to myself with a private bathroom. The whole experience is well worth the price.

After I settle into my air-conditioned room with private bath, I walk around to explore the grounds before dinner. I find the beautiful two-story Hato tower, dating to the 13th century.

The black cedar trees at Kongo Sanmai-in are ancient and majestic.

cedar trees at Kongo Sanmaiin

cedar trees at Kongo Sanmaiin

The Shisha Myojin Honden Shrine, a Shinto shrine housing the tutelary deity of Kongo Sanmai-in Temple, is inscribed with the date 1552.

Kongo Sanmaiin Temple Shisha Myojin Honden Shrine

Kongo Sanmaiin Temple Shisha Myojin Honden Shrine

Like the stupa, this scripture repository building was also built in the Kamakura period. It is a rare example of the traditional azekurazukuri style, a simple wooden construction used in buildings like storehouses (kura), granaries, and other utilitarian structures. It is characterized by joined-log structures of triangular cross-section, and is commonly built of cypress timbers.

I walk through the polished wooden halls of Kongo Sanmai-in and then through the interior courtyard garden. This is truly a comfortable and serene temple for a temple stay!

painted screen at Kongo Sanmaiin

I finish walking the grounds of Kongo Sanmai-in.

flower pots on the steps of Kongo Sanmaiin

After my stroll around the grounds, I buy a beer from a vending machine and relax in my room while waiting for dinner. I had been wondering if alcoholic beverages would be served in a temple, so I’m pleasantly surprised to find several vending machines offering an array of choices.

At dinnertime, I join the other guests in a communal tatami matted room, where we’re served a Buddhist vegetarian meal or shojin-ryori. I enjoy tempura vegetables, miso soup, seaweed, beans, steamed vegetables, hot noodles, tofu, rice and mushrooms, all artistically presented. For dessert, watermelon and kiwi.

vegetarian meal at Kongo Sanmaiin

After dinner, I take an evening walk in Koyasan. The streets are pretty deserted at this hour.

Nara (Japan) - A Day Trip to Nara Park

Date of Exploration : 2 Apr 2016

When we planned a day trip to Nara Park, my intention of coming here was to see the park's famed tame deer. But at the end of my visit, I can't help but marvel at the buffet of experiences I had been served. The park has a unique and delicious mix of natural, cultural, and architectural flavours that few places in Japan, or anywhere else in the world can emulate.

Our excursion to Nara Park was part of the Osaka leg of my first trip to Japan's mainland, which also covered Tokyo and Kyoto. On the intended day of our Nara Park day trip, the weather in Osaka was rainy and gloomy so we checked the Japan MET forecast, saw that the following day was sunny in Nara, and decided to switch our plans to go Nara Park the next day. Boy were we glad we did. Visiting the park during a beautiful day of spring was sublimely splendid! So check the forecast before you visit and retain some flexibility in your itinerary to respond to the weather condition.

Getting to Nara Park (from Osaka)

Nara Park is at the centre of Nara City within Nara Prefecture and it is easily accessible from Kyoto or Osaka. The city of Kyoto, Nara and Osaka form sort of a triangle relative to each other with Nara in between the other two cities.

There are two main train services that link Kyoto and Osaka to Nara. One is the Japan Railways (JR) train and the other is the Kintetsu train. Where possible, choose the Kintetsu railway service as the station is located closer to Nara Park (about 10 minutes walk) while it takes around 20 minutes to walk to Nara Park from the JR Nara Station.

Nature, Culture and Architecture

This post is a brief summation of my visit to Nara Park with an overview of what I encountered and experienced. Key attractions and activities at Nara Park include deer feeding, visiting Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, Nara National Museum and enjoying the lush gardens throughout the park. We didn't managed to cover everything and you can click on the highlighted links above of what we managed to do for more detailed information.

We left our hotel at about 10am to go to Nara Park and ended the visit at about 5pm so plan for a full day trip and go even earlier than us in order to see everything at the park.

The first thing that made my heart skip were the free roaming deer we came across as we got closer to one of the entrances of Nara Park. I didn't expect to see a deer so soon and thought it would be a matter of luck to see them but no, they were everywhere! And if you bought their favourite snack (shika sembei deer biscuit) from one of the street vendors, you won't be left alone.

Watch the video: Kasugataisha Shrine1300 years historyNara Japan


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