Only got room for one temple on your itinerary? Make it Todaiji.
Before Kyoto and Tokyo were even thought of – Nara used to be the Big Apple of ancient Japan. Todaiji dates back to this period (752 to be exact), aptly named the Nara period (700~) making it over 1,200 years old. So if you’re only going to see one temple on your travels, it may as well be one of the most famous and oldest in Japan.
After surviving earthquakes, fires and political mayhem – Todaiji became the most influential Buddhist temple in Japan. Its 15-meter-tall giant Buddha and band of dedicated followers led to its rock star-like influence becoming too much for people. So much so that it was the main reason that Japan’s capital was moved away from Nara.
Is it really such a big deal today though? The answer is a resounding “yes”. People are still flocking to Todaiji to visit the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) housed in the world’s oldest wooden structure. The exterior is extraordinarily beautiful in its serene symmetry; step inside and crane your neck to look up at the giant bronze statue – an undeniably spiritual experience.
As you approach the Nandaimon Gate, you’ll notice flocks of sacred deer that happily frolic around the inner grounds. These ridiculously cute creatures have themselves become an icon of Nara, famous for eating senbei out of unsuspecting tourist’s hands and then chasing them when they’ve run out.