Visiting the Todaiji Temple and Other Attractions in Nara, Japan

The Nara Prefecture is one of the places that foreign travelers should visit at least once in their lives. Given that the prefecture’s Nara City served as Japan’s first ever permanent capital, tourists have plenty of attractions to explore for a taste of Japanese history, architecture, and culture.

Among the best places to start off one’s trip to Nara, Japan is the Todaiji Temple – a famous landmark of the city and one of the most significant temples in Japanese history.

Brief History of the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan

Todaiji literally translates to mean the Great Eastern Temple in English. Construction of the temple started in 738 and was completed during the year 752.

It served as the most powerful temple that headed the other Buddhist temples in Japan’s provinces. In fact, it came to be so great that the capital had to be moved from Nara to Nagaoka to limit the interaction between government affairs and the temple’s influences.

The temple houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha which weighs about five hundred tons and measures 15 meters in height. The wooden building that serves as the shelter of the massive statues is, likewise, the largest one in the world.

At present, the Todaiji temple is included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites and is among the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, along with the seven other places listed below:

  • Kofuku-ji Temple

  • Kasuga Shrine

  • Gango-ji Temple

  • Yakushi-ji Temple

  • Toshodai-ji Temple

  • Heijo Palace

  • Kasugayama Primeval Forest

Interestingly, deer, which are believed to be the gods’ messengers according to Shinto, freely roam the temple grounds.

Todaiji Temple’s Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) – Architecture and Daibutsu

The Daibutsuden, also known as the Big Buddha Hall, is the main hall of the Todaiji Temple. As previously mentioned, it is the largest wooden building in the world.

This hall had undergone two reconstructions after it suffered a horrible fire. The final reconstruction was completed during the year 1709, with the hall measuring 57 meters in length and 50 meters in width. Although it stands to be the world’s largest, the reconstructed hall is actually thirty percent smaller than the original structure.

Similarly, the massive Buddha statue known as the Daibutsu has also undergone several recasts due to damages from earthquakes and the like. The original construction of the statue lasted for three years before being completed in 751. The hands of the Daibutsu were repaired during the Momoyama Period (1568 – 1615), while its head was reconstructed during the Edo Period (1615 – 1867).

The dimensions of the Daibutsu are as follows:

  • Height: 14.98 meters

  • Head: 5.33 meters

  • Ears: 2.54 meters

  • Nose: 0.5 meters

  • Eyes: 1.02 meters

  • Shoulders: 28 meters (across)

  • Golden Halo: 27 meters (diameter)

Ungyo and Agyo – The Nio Guardian Statues of Todaiji Temple

At the Nandaimon, the Great South Gate of the Todaiji Temple, tourists can also view two other massive statues that serve as the temple’s guardians. These statues are known as Nio guardian statues and come as a pair collectively referred to as the A-un pair.

According to tradition, the A-un pair of Nio guardian statues consists of a statue called Ungyo which features a closed mouthed expression and has his right arm raised, and another called Agyo which features an open mouthed expression and his left arm raised. Each statue measure 8.5 meters in height.

Other Attractions included in Todaiji Temple’s Floor Plan/Complex

The Todaiji Temple grounds cover the majority of Nara Park’s northern section. It is so spacious that tourists have plenty of other halls and interesting sites after maximizing their visit to the Daibutsuden. Some of the other attractions located within the complex include:

Todaiji Museum

The Todaiji Museum is located right beside the Nandaimon. It houses the temple’s collection of cultural artifacts, treasures, and religious items.

Hours: Opens 9:30 AM and closes at the same time as the Daibutsuden

Admission Fee: 500 yen per person

The Path Leading to the Nigatsudo Hall

The path that leads up to the Nigatsudo Hall offers tourists a stunning street lined with stone walls.

Nigatsudo Hall

The Nigatsudo Hall can be reached by taking a short walk east from the Daibutsuden. This hall features a balcony where visitors can enjoy pleasant views of Nara City.  

Hours: Always open

Admission Fee: No admission fee

Hokkedo Hall

By No machine-readable author provided. Fg2 assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Hokkedo Hall, which also goes by the name Sangatsudo, is among the oldest structures of the temple complex. It houses several Buddhist guardians that are placed in such a way that they surround a statue of Kannon.

Hours: Same opening and closing times as the Daibutsuden

Admission Fee: 500 yen per person

Kaidanin Temple

The Kaidanin Temple was originally built in the 8th century and served as the country’s ordination hall. It was rebuilt during the Edo period and now houses the shitenno (the four heavenly kings) statues.

Hours: Same opening and closing times as the Daibutsuden

Admission Fee: 500 yen per person

Shosoin Storehouse

The Shosoin Storehouse dates back to the 8th century. It is just a short walk away from the Daibutsuden. The structure is elevated through the use of stilts and houses the Todaiji Temple and the Imperial Family’s treasures. Unfortunately, tourists are not allowed to enter the building.

Hours: 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM, from Monday to Friday

Admission Fee: No admission fee

The Lecture Hall’s Former Site

The Todaiji Temple originally had a lecture hall located behind the Daibutsuden. At present, the only remnants of the hall that can be seen at the site are its stone foundations.

The East Pagoda’s Former Site

During the earlier years of the Todaiji Temple, two seven-story pagodas stood at either side of the Daibutsuden. The location of the east pagoda was finally determined during the year 2015 and has since been enclosed for future reconstruction.

Important Tourist Information about Todaiji Temple – Map & Access, Hours, Etc.

The Todaiji Temple can be accessed from the Kintetsu Nara Station by taking a 30-minute walk. From the JR Nara Station, tourists would have to take a longer walk of about 45 minutes.

For those who want to save some energy for exploring the temple grounds, buses are available from both stations. The temple has its own bus stop called the Todaiji Daibutsuden, where tourists should get off at then take a short walk towards the main hall.

Hours: 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM, daily (November – February); 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, daily (March); 7:30 AM – 5:30 PM (April – September); 7:30 AM – 5:00 PM (October)

Admission Fee: 500 yen per person

Possible Side Trips within Nara, Japan

Horyuji Temple

The Horyuji Temple dates back to the year 607 when it was established by Prince Shotoku, an iconic Japanese figure who served as regent for Emperor Suiko during the Asuka Period. Given that Prince Shotoku was responsible for Japan to embrace Buddhist doctrines and practices, the Horyuji Temple serves as one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the country.

Hours: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, daily

Admission Fee: 1,500 yen per person

Address: 1-1 Horyuji Sannai, Ikaruga, Ikoma, Nara Prefecture 636-0115

Isuien Garden

The Isuien Garden is one of Nara’s most spectacular Japanese gardens that allows visitors pleasant views of the Nandaimon Gate of Todaiji Temple and Mount Wakakusayama from afar. When translated to English, Isuien literally means “a garden constructed on water”, which is appropriate since the garden does feature several ponds that are filled with the waters of the Yoshikigawa River.

Visitors can enjoy several tea houses that are scattered throughout the two parts of the Isuien Garden.

Hours: 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM, from Wednesday to Monday

Admission Fee: 900 yen per person

Address: 74 Suimoncho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8208

Nara Park

Nara Park serves as the most popular tourist attraction of Nara, Japan. Its massive complex includes the Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Taisha, Kofukuji Temple, and Nara National Museum. To top it all off, the park is also home to hundreds of tame deer that freely roam around the area.

Tourists can even purchase deer crackers at different areas of the park to get try and get closer to the deer. Interestingly, some of the deer have even learned to bow as a means to ask humans for food.

Hours: Varies from area to area

Admission Fee: Varies from area to area

Address: Nara, Nara Prefecture, Japan

Kasuga Taisha

The Kasuga Taisha is the most celebrated shrine of Nara, Japan. Given that it was founded at the same time when the capital was established, the shrine is dedicated to the god responsible for protecting the city. Furthermore, the shrine also served as the Fujiwara Clan’s tutelary shrine for the majority of the Nara Period and Heian Period.

Hours (Outer Area): 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM, daily from April to September; 6:30 AM – 5:00 PM, daily from October to March

Hours (Inner Area): 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM, irregular schedule

Admission Fee: No admission fee for the outer area; 500 yen per person for the inner area

Address: 160 Kasuganocho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8212

Toshodaiji Temple

The Toshodaiji Temple dates back to 759 when it was established by a priest from China known as Ganjin. This priest was invited by the Emperor of Japan to visit the country to improve Japan’s understanding of Buddhism and train each monk and priest of the region.

Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM, daily

Admission Fee: 600 yen per person; additional fee of 200 yen per person for the treasure house

Address: 13-46 Gojocho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8032

Yakushiji Temple

The Yakushiji Temple was built in the seventh century by Emperor Tenmu for the miraculous recovery of his sick wife. It is considered to be among the oldest temples of Japan and features a perfectly symmetric layout consisting of two halls and two pagodas.

Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM, daily

Admission Fee: 1,100 yen per person

Address: 457 Nishinokyocho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8563

Shin-Yakushiji Temple

The Shin-Yakushiji Temple was established sometime during the Nara Period in the hopes of saving an ailing emperor. As such, the temple is dedicated to Japanese Buddhism’s patron of medicine, Yakushi Buddha.

Although it used to be a large complex filled with several buildings, only the main hall of the Shin-Yakushiji Temple remains standing. Here, twelve life-size guardian statues surround the seated Yakushi Buddha statue which measures about two meters in height. The guardian statues were made using clay, while the Yakushi Buddha statue was made using wood.

Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, daily

Admission Fee: 600 yen per person

Address: 1352 Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8301

Nara National Museum

The Nara National Museum houses plenty of Japanese Buddhist art for visitors to view. It was founded during the year 1889 and is located within Nara Park. Foreign travelers do not have to worry about the language barrier as English translations are available throughout the entire museum.

Hours: 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM, from Tuesday to Sunday

Admission Fee: 520 yen per person

Address: 50 Noboriojicho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8213

Kofukuji Temple

The Kofukuji Temple served as the Fujiwara Clan’s family temple throughout the majority of the Nara Period and the Heian Period. At the peak of the clan’s success in being the most powerful family in Japan, the Kofukuji Temple had more than 150 buildings within its vicinity.

At present, only a handful of structures remains standing including a 50-meter tall, five-story pagoda (the second tallest pagoda of Japan) and a shorter, three-story pagoda.

Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, daily

Admission Fee: 300 yen per person

Address: 48 Noboriojicho, Nara,  Nara Prefecture 630-8213

Heijo Palace

The Heijo Palace served as the imperial family’s home during the Nara Period, when the city of Nara was regarded as the country’s capital. It is among the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Nara Japan.

Interesting structures for tourists to view and explore include the Daigokuden (Former Audience Hall), Suzakumon (Suzaku Gate), Toin Teien (East Palace Garden), the Excavation Site Exhibition Hall, and the Nara Palace Site Museum.

Hours: 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM, from Tuesday to Sunday

Admission Fee: No admission fee

Address: Sakicho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8577

Must-See Events in Nara, Japan


Omizutori refers to a series of events held at the Todaiji Temple during the first fourteen days of March. Different Buddhist rituals for repentance can be witnessed by tourists. This grand occurrence has been practiced by the community for more than 1,250 years and serves as Japan’s oldest Buddhist event.

Wakakusa Yamayaki

By 名古屋太郎 [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Wakakusa Yamayaki is one of Nara’s annual festivals that absolutely should not be missed. It involves the grass of Mount Wakakusayama’s hillside being lit on fire. Given the magnitude of the event, it can be seen from nearly every part of the city.

It takes place on the 4th Saturday of January but is sometimes delayed when the weather is bad. The Kasuga Shrine, Kofukuji Temple, and Todaiji Temple all take part in the ceremonies of the Wakakusa Yamayaki, as well.