Nara (奈良市) is the capital city of Nara Prefecture in the Kansai region
of Japan. The city occupies the northern part of Nara Prefecture,
directly bordering itself to Kyoto Prefecture. Seven temples,
shrines and ruins in Nara, specifically Tōdai-ji, Saidai-ji, Kōfuku-ji,
Kasuga Shrine, Gangō-ji, Yakushi-ji, Tōshōdai-ji and Heijō Palace
Remains, together with Kasugayama Primeval Forest, collectively form
"Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara", a UNESCO
World Heritage Site.
Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784, giving its name to Nara
period. The original city, Heijō-kyō, was modeled after the
capital of Tang Dynasty China, Chang'an (present-day Xi'an).
According to the ancient Japanese book, Nihon Shoki, the name "Nara"
derived from the Japanese word narashita meaning "made flat".
The temples of Nara remained powerful even beyond the move of the
political capital to Heian-kyō in 794, thus giving Nara a synonym of
Nanto (lit. meaning "South Capital") as opposed to Heian-kyō, situated
in the North.
Tōdai-ji (東大寺) (meaning the Eastern Great Temple), is a Buddhist temple
complex located in the city of Nara, Japan. Its Great Buddha Hall
(大仏殿 Daibutsuden), reputedly the largest wooden building in the world,
houses a colossal bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, known in
Japanese simply as the Daibutsu (大仏). The temple also serves as
the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism. The
temple is a listed UNESCO World Heritage site as "Historic Monuments of
Ancient Nara," together with seven other sites including temples, shrine
and place in the city of Nara. Sika deer, regarded as messengers
of the gods in the Shinto religion, roam the grounds freely.
The beginning of building a temple in where the huge Tōdai-ji complex
sits on today can be dated back to 728, when Emperor Shōmu has
established Kinshōsen-ji (金鐘山寺) as an appease for Prince Motoi, his
first son between his Fujiwara clan consort Kōmyōshi. Prince Motoi died
only after a year from his birth.
During the Tempyō era, the people, and the Emperor suffered from
disasters and epidemics. It was after having experienced the waves
of troubles, that Emperor Shōmu issued an edict in 741 to promote the
construction of Provincial temples throughout the nation. Tōdai-ji
(still Kinshōsen-ji at the time) was appointed as the Provincial temple
of Yamato Province, and the head of all the Provincial temples.
With the alleged coup d'etat by Nagaya in 729, the smallpox at around
735-737, worsened by consecutive years of poor crops, then followed by a
rebellion led by Fujiwara no Hirotsugu in 740.
In 743, Emperor Shōmu issued a law in which he stated that the people
should proactively be involved into the making of the new Buddha to
protect themselves. He believed Buddha's power could help the
people. Gyōki, with his pupils, had traveled provinces asking for
donations. According to records kept by Tōdai-ji, more than
2,600,000 people in total helped construct the Great Buddha and its
Hall. The 16 m (52 ft) high statue was built through eight
castings over three years, the head and neck being cast together as a
separate shell 12 feet high. The making of the statue has started
first in Shigaraki. After having met multiple casualties as fires
and earthquakes, the construction was eventually resumed in Nara in 745,
and the Buddha was finally completed in 751. A year later, in 752,
the eye-opening ceremony was held with an attendance of 10,000 people to
celebrate the completion of the Buddha. The Indian priest
Bodhisena performed the eye-opening for Emperor Shōmu.
In 754, ordination was given by Ganjin, who arrived in Japan
after overcoming hardships over 12 years and 6 attempts of crossing the
sea from China, to Empress Kōken, former Emperor Shōmu and others.
In spite of Emperor Shōmu's original wish, however, having consumed most
of Japan's bronze production for several years the country was left
The statue has been recast several times since for various reasons
including earthquake damage, and the Daibutsuden rebuilt twice after
fire. The current hands of the statue were made in the Momoyama
Period (1568-1615), and the head was made in the Edo Period (1615-1867).
The current building finished in 1709 although immense is actually 30%
smaller than its predecessor. The original complex also contained
two 100 m pagodas, probably the tallest buildings in the world at the
time behind the pyramids. These were destroyed by earthquake.