Tōdaiji Temple

Located in Nara province, Tōdaiji, the “Great Eastern Temple” is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples.

The temple was built in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan.

It grew so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 to try and reduce the temple’s influence on government affairs.


Todaiji’s main hall, the Daibutsuden ( AKA Big Buddha Hall) is the world’s largest wooden building, even more incredible is that the present version is only two thirds of the original temple hall’s size.

The massive building houses one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha (Daibutsu).

The 15 metres tall, serene seated Buddha represents Vairocana and is flanked by two Bodhisattvas. It’s an impressive sight as you head into the dim exterior of the hall.

The statue’s shoulders are 28 meters across and there are 960 six curls on its head.

Below we can see another huge wooden statue, this time of Pindola Bharadvaja (or Binzuru in Japanese).

There is a belief that if you have a bodily ailment, you must rub the corresponding  part of Pindola, then rub the same part on yourself and it will be cured. Hence the somewhat weathered condition of this old deity.

It’s an impressive place, especially in the gorgeous sunshine – shame I am gurning hideously – it somewhat detracts from the lovely building behind us!!


Shrines and sushi

Follow us as we trot around the quaint little streets of Takayama, chock full of gorgeous old buildings and quirky sights.

Takayama gained importance as a source of high quality timber and highly skilled carpenters during the feudal ages.

Consequently the city was put under direct control of the shogun and had quite a bit of prosperity despite its remote mountain location.

Takayama’s old quarter (called “Sanmachi”) is known for the beauty of its lattice-lined buildings, along which waters flows through the canals on either side of the street.

With lots of sake breweries and souvenir stores, the area is as bustling as it is beautiful.

Next up we wander to the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine.

The origins of the shrine date to the time of the Emperor Nintoku, when he requested Prince Takefurukuma no Mikoto to destroy Sukuna – an incredible beast.


Before undertaking his task, the warrior enshrined his father, the Emperor Ohjin, as the deity of this shrine and prayed for the success of his mission.

More than 1.5 million people visit the shrine annually but we had the place to ourselves.

Lots more to see from this beautiful little town, watch this space.


Deeper into Nikko

As we wander further into the beautiful world heritage site of Nikko we’re overwhelmed by the decoration and religious details.

Below is the Mizuya, a stone building sheltering the water basin used for purification before entering the temple buildings.

Below are more details of the Kyōzō, the shrine’s storehouse for sutras or holy scriptures.

I love the weathered deep red contrasting with the old gilt detailing around the windows and the roof rims.

Below are a wall of wooden prayer sticks and a verdigris temple bell. All the colours are muted and misty on the grey day that we visit, adding an extra air of mysticism.

Beautiful carvings line the walls of the inner courtyard close to the second gate of the complex known as Yomeimon.

The richly decorated Yōmeimon is also known as “higurashi-no-mon.” The name means that one could look at it until sundown, and not tire of seeing it.

However, as Tokyo prepares for the Olympics in 2020, the gate was sadly covered in scaffolding so we couldn’t get much of a view! Above are the only two glimpses we got!

Above and below are details from the final gate of the complex, known as Karamon, the Chinese gate, it leads into the Haiden.

A full-fledged Shintō shrine is typically a two-part structure: the Haiden, or oratory, before which worshippers say prayers and the Honden, or inner sanctum, the main dwelling of the shrine’s deity.

Plus there’s an enjoyable wall of ornate Sake barrels for me to happily snap away at too.

There’s plenty more to be seen in the Nikko complex so watch this space!

Moss strewn and mysterious

The UNESCO World Heritage Site Shrines and Temples of Nikkō includes 103 buildings and the stunning natural setting around them.

The buildings belong to two Shinto shrines (Futarasan Shrine and Tōshō-gū) and one Buddhist temple (Rinnō-ji)

Above is Ishidorii, the imposing stone Tori gate at the entrance to the temple complex.

Torii literally means Bird Perch and shrines always have Torii gates  to demarcate the sacred area inside the shrine.

Once inside the temple complex, one of the first things we find is Gojūnotō a colourful, ornate five storied pagoda. It’s a beautiful gilded spectacle with layer upon layer of decoration.

The brightly painted red Outer Gate (Omotemon) is complete with huge statues of the guardian gods.

These two huge Niō or Kongōrikishi statues are two wrath-filled and muscular guardians of the Buddha and can be found at the entrance of many temples in the form of huge wrestler-like statues.

Here’s another view of the Outer Gate and its gigantic guardians.  On one side are Niō statues and on the other side are Chinese Lions (Karajishi).

One of the most striking sights for me in Nikko is the veritable army of lanterns or tōrō that are to be found dotted around the site.

Whether wrought iron or weathered stone covered in moss, they are a sight to behold.

Below are the famous Hear no Evil, See no Evil, Speak no Evil Monkeys carved into the Shinkyū – the Stable for sacred horses.


Below are details from Kami-jinko, an ornate storehouse in the Toshogu Shrine, other beautifully decorated storehouses include Shimojinko and Nakajinko.

The colourful details are intriguing, especially the interesting interpretations of elephants!

As usual there is a plethora of colourful wooden Ema wishes to be found swaying in the breeze.

Below is  the temple’s Kyōzō – in Japanese Buddhist architecture this is a repository for sūtras (scriptures) and chronicles of the temple history.

You can also see more examples of tōrō – the lantern, in particular the type known as dai-dōrō (platform lantern) which are used along the approach of a shrine or temple.

Thanks to Wikipedia I now know that in its complete, original form, like the pagoda, the dai-dōrō represents the five elements of Buddhist cosmology.


The bottom-most piece, touching the ground, represents chi, the earth; the next section represents sui, or water; ka or fire, is represented by the section encasing the lantern’s light or flame, while fū (air) and kū (void or spirit) are represented by the last two sections, top-most and pointing towards the sky.

The segments express the idea that after death our physical bodies will go back to their original, elemental form.

So much more to see! This might take a few posts . . .