Location: Nara, Japan
Date Opened: 752 CE
The Todai-ji Temple (meaning Great Eastern Temple) is a key Buddhist landmark of Nara. It dates from the period when Mahayana  Buddhism first started to arrive in Japan via China and Korea at the start of the 7th century CE.  The most prominent early converts were the Empress Suiko (592-628 CE) and Prince Shotoku (573-621 CE). Nara also witnessed the period of the ‘Six Sects’ covering the debates between the Jojitsu, Kusha, Ritsu, Sanron, Hosso and Kegon sects , and this Todai-ji Temple served as the administrative temple covering all six Buddhist schools in Japan.
The first temple construction was initiated by Emperor Shomu around 728 CE but soon after, Japan would struggle through a major smallpox outbreak around 735 CE, and earthquakes in various regions. The Emperor then put greater emphasis on temple construction in Japan to protect the population from threats and epidemics. The Todai-ji Temple was opened in 752 CE as the primary Buddhist temple of Japan at the time, when Nara was the first capital city of Japan. The capital would soon move to Kyoto due to the growing influence of the Buddhists of Nara being considered as a threat by the government of the time, and then as the centres of Buddhism shifted to other regions in Japan, the influence of Todai-ji declined.
The main hall holding the huge statue of Buddha (as) (said to be the largest in the world) was, for a long time, the world’s largest wooden structure. The current structure was rebuilt in 1692, and the original was even larger. The great statue is claimed to have involved 350,000 people in its construction. The temple complex also consisted of two huge pagodas (tiered towers), a library, lecture hall and monks’ quarters. So this was not just a place of worship, but also a place of learning.
- Mahayana (Great Vehicle) Buddhism lays greater emphasis on the texts (sutras) containing Buddhist teachings, and also the concept that those who achieve Nirvana would also help those still struggling on the journey.
- John Bowker, World Religions – The Great Faiths Explored and Explained, (UK: Dorling Kindersley, 1997), 78.
- Mircea Eliade, The Eliade Guide to World Religions (USA: Harper Collins, 1991), 38.