Todaiji Temple – Nara, Japan

December 7, 2012

The city of Nara Japan is known for two things: Deer and the Big Buddha at Todaiji Temple.

Which is why their mascot looks like this:

nara mascot

Nara’s mascot – Buddha with deer antlers

My last big sightseeing trip in Japan was to the Todaiji Temple in Nara. Maiko and I took a train from Osaka to Kintetsu.  We missed the train going to Nara, so we had to wait twenty minutes for the next one to arrive.

It was cold outside, so to keep myself warm, I bought a hot bottle of milk tea from the vending machine (That’s right, there are hot drinks in Japanese vending machines).

vending machine

Vending machine

Well, that’s my excuse anyway. The truth is, I’d have gotten something from the vending machine regardless of the weather. Japan has vending machines on almost every block—and I love that they offer hot drinks during winter.

The train finally arrived. An hour later, we made our way from the Nara station and out into the city proper.

The first thing I said as I stepped out from the station was, “Oh my God! It’s freezing!”

It was so cold I couldn’t feel my face. I couldn’t take a proper breath. I felt like I was breathing in ice instead air. In fact, it was so cold Maiko and I couldn’t even speak as we made our way down the street.

A few minutes of walking warmed me up a bit, and I was able to utter my second sentence for the day: “Look! ADeer!”


Oh deer!

Deer clopped casually down the street, sometimes sniffing out people who passed them by, but otherwise going about their business.


More deer

I found a few signs along the street warning tourists about the deer. I thought the signs were funny—and also very effective in making me paranoid about being headbutted by a deer.

warning signs

warning signs

We passed some vendors on the way to the temple. Most of them sold crackers for 150 Yen—but these weren’t for human consumption. The shika senbai or crackers were for the deer. Tourists could buy a bundle and feed the many deer who were milling about.

cracker vendors

Deer crackers vendor

One vendor we came across sold steamed sweet potato, and Maiko bought one for us to share. Eating the hot root was one way for us to warm ourselves, since we were still pretty much freezing despite the lack of snow.

sweet potato vendor

Buying some steamed sweet potato

Half an hour later, we reached the temple. We paid the 500 Yen entrance fee and made our way toward the temple gates.

The Nandaimon Gate has two fierce looking statues on either side, representing the Nio Guardian Kings. Along with the wooden gate, the statues are designated as a national treasure.

nandaimon gate

Nandaimon Gate

A Little Bit of History:

Todaiji Temple or the Great Eastern Temple was built at the height of Buddhism in 743. Todaiji was constructed as the head temple for the religion. It’s influence on government affairs became so strong that the capital was actually moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 so the government could establish its independence from Todaiji.

Todaiji is a composed of many different buildings, but it is most known for its main hall. At a height of 157 feet (or 48 meters), the Daibutsu-den (Big Buddha Hall) is the world’s largest wooden building. What’s more impressive is that the current structure of the Daibutsu-den is only two-thirds of the original main hall’s size.

todaiji temple

Todaiji’s Daibutsu-den

The Daibutsu-den houses Todaiji’s most important relic—the 15 meter tall bronze statue of Vairocana Buddha (Daibutsu). Two Bodhisattvas (wisdom beings) flank the big Buddha on either side.

big buddha

The Big Buddha

The main hall houses other Buddhist statues, as well as a model replica of different versions of the temple as it was built and rebuilt throughout the centuries.

temple replica

Model buildings -replicas of the various stages of Todaiji’s construction

On one side of the hall was a steep & narrow stairway which the monks used in ancient times to climb up to the rafters. The stairs are no longer in use, of course, and instead serve as a reminder of how the monks used to live in the old days.

steep stairs

Steep and narrow steps to nowhere

One attraction which seemed to draw a lot of locals was a pillar with a hole at its base. The hole is the same size as the Buddha’s nostril, and it is said that all who can squeeze through the opening would be granted enlightenment in their next life.


Tourist squeezing through the hole 

A big stall selling souvenirs like magnets, charms, and other little trinkets was located at the back of the main hall. We made our way toward it to buy some souvenirs before heading back toward the main hall’s entrance.

souvenir shops

Souvenir shop inside the main hall

On the way out, we saw another stall where monks sold actual charms, blessed and prayed over by the monks of Todaiji temple. There were charms for wealth, happiness, success, fertility, and even one specifically for students taking exams. (I bought a charm for success, because hey, you can never get enough good luck.)

charms monks

Monks selling a variety of good luck charms

Eager to get back to the warmth of the house, and away from the bitter cold of Nara city, Maiko and I quickly made our way down the temple steps. We stopped only long enough to take a picture of this beautiful red arch before walking back toward the train station.

pagoda arch


And that’s the end of my Japan adventures. Osaka, Kyoto and Nara were all beautiful cities in their own right, and despite the freezing weather, I enjoyed my stay in Japan.

I’m already missing the vending machines and the automatic toilets with a seat warmer, bidet, and all sorts of buttons for one’s convenience.

One day I hope to return, maybe in the spring, so I can enjoy the cherry blossoms and a milder climate.

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22 Responses to “Todaiji Temple – Nara, Japan”

  1. The model was really impressive!
    Deer can be vicious. Ever see the commercial for “When Animals Attack?” This deer attacks a hunter and his wife films the whole thing.

  2. mooderino says:

    I wonder if I could fit through Buddha’s nostril.

    I do like Japanese vending machines.much more inventive than what we have.

    Moody Writing

  3. Allison says:

    Cool! I’d love to visit Japan, even if only for my love of Japanese anime.

  4. I love deer, but I always thought they were skittish. I guess these are used to being around people.

  5. That is so cool! My husband lived in Japan for a few years, but he never mentioned free-ranging deer anywhere. That’s definitely something I’ve got to check out when I get to Japan some day!

  6. I bet those are some spoiled deer! They’re cute, though. :)

  7. Nas says:

    I find it intriguing that the deers move around on the streets like this. Thanks for sharing the lovely photos.


  8. One thing I never thought I’d see is Buddha with deer antlers… quite amazing :-)

  9. The temple is gorgeous, but those stairs freaked me out. So steep and no handrail.

    I loved the photo of the two deer with the cracker vendor. It looks like they’re plotting. The crouched one says, “OK, Roy. I’ll knock her over. You grab the crackers and run. I’ll be right behind you.”

  10. Morgan Shamy says:

    Oh my gosh! What a fun post! And I’m LOVING all the pics!!!

  11. Jemi Fraser says:

    Wow – having deer just wandering around the city is pretty cool! Love the pics :)

  12. Laura Eno says:

    I would love to see deer wandering around the streets (and them not getting hurt). :)

  13. tara tyler says:

    wow, what a cool adventure! i would like to see japan some day…
    we vacationed out west and visited a historic western ghost town that had donkeys roaming the streets. they were friendly tho, no warning signs! ha!

  14. spacerguy says:

    Judging from the last photo its cool to see Japan is largely mountainous and forested. That grove of trees looks perfect for exploring!

  15. Deers and cold weather are something I expect where I live. I never expected to find those things in Japan.

    Toilet seat heaters sounds nice. :)

  16. Cherie Reich says:

    Oh, wow! I wish we would get some of those vending machines over here! Love the deer pictures. The deer warning signs made me laugh, although you do have to be careful around them.

  17. deniz says:

    Ooh, deer! There’s so cute! But maybe I should pay more attention to those warning signs…

  18. deniz says:

    Darn, I posted a comment and it got lost. Something about the adorable deer – but maybe I should pay more attention to those warning signs…

  19. Jay Noel says:

    Love your pics. I’d love to visit Japan someday. The deer warning sign cracked me up…made me think there are WORSE things a deer could do to an unsuspecting person.

  20. I loved these pictures! I learned so much about Japan from this post. I had no idea about the vending machine or all of the deer. Wow! It sounds like a great, but cold trip. :)

  21. Akoss says:

    Vending machines dispensing hot drinks are an absolute win.
    It was a delight reading about your Japan adventure. I do hope you can go back again so I can read about it. :)

  22. Carina Olsen says:

    Ahh! I’m jealous :) Japan seems like such an amazing place. I have lately gotten to love a lot of Anime movies, and it seems like everything can be bought in Japan. Wish to go there someday :) Sounds like you had an awesome time! Glad you did 😀 And ohh. The deer all looks so cute. <3 Hih 😀 Thank you for sharing :)
    Love, Carina @ Carina’s Books

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