Todai-ji is not only one of the most important temples in Nara, but in the whole of Japanese Buddhism. As well as being home to the biggest bronze Buddha in the world, it also serves as the headquarters of an entire school of Buddhism known as Kegon.
Todai-ji is accessible from JR Nara Station, but is much closer to Kintetsu Nara Station.
From there, it is a walk of around 15 minutes.
Alternatively visitors can take the bus from either JR Nara or Kintetsu Nara stations to the Daibutsuden-Kasuga-taisha-mae bus stop.
The gateway leading into the temple is famous for its guardians. Representing the Nio Guardian Kings, these muscle-bound figures are terrifying, standing over eight meters tall and heavily muscled. These famous 13th century statues protect the Buddha in the Main Temple. While their stance may suggest aggression, their body position is supposed to suggest movement and even dancing. Despite this love of dance, they are known for defeating demons — proof that dancers should never be underestimated.
Amazingly, it took ten massive cyprus trees to make these powerful entities, so they literally are a strong as a tree — ten of them.
The temple's main attraction is its bronze Buddha, the largest bronze Buddha in the world. The peaceful face of the Buddha looks serenely down at you from 15 meters up; the face itself is over five meters tall. At an estimated 500 tons, the original construction was an incredible feat given that it was completed in the eighth century.
While most of the statue is metal, using x-rays it was discovered that a human tooth — likely from Emperor Shomu — is encased inside. Alongside this unusual finding was a treasure trove hidden inside the leg of the Buddha, including pearls, mirrors, swords and jewels.
Because the Buddha takes most of your attention, it is easy to overlook some of the other attractions in the main hall. Near to the giant statue, there is a large pillar with a hole that people can crawl through. By squeezing yourself through the hole, it is believed you can humble yourself enough to gain enlightenment in your next life.
The main hall itself is the world's largest wooden building. This is even more impressive, since this current 1692 reconstruction is 30% smaller than the original.
While at Todaiji, do not miss the chance to walk up the hill and visit the less-visited Sangetudo (Hokkedo). There is also the Todaiji Culture Center to see more of the temple's treasures.
While the Buddha is one of Nara's most important sights, don't miss the neighboring Nark Park where the deer congregate. This is a great chance to interact with these unusually tame speckled beauties.
Nearby Todai-ji is a museum holding more Buddhist art and helps you gain an understanding of the vast religious history of the area.
Set aside an hour to view Todai-ji, the Great Buddha, and the guardians at leisure.