The Todadji Temple

Constructed between 745 and 752 BC by Emperor Shomu to mark the adoption of Buddhism as a state religion. Buddhism was imported from China along with so much else, including the language. At this point in time, Nara – today by Japanese standards a small town – was the capitail of Japan or leastways, where emperor Shomu chose as his seat of power. Shomu was striving to emulate the example of the Chinese emperor and create a powerful centralised state with he and his familyl at the top.

The Todaji Temple, even by today’s standards a large temple, was in its day one of the largest temples in the world with the largest statue of Lord Buddha. It was in other words, an architectural declaration of the Emperor’s power and preeminence. In the meantime, many other temples were built in the precincts of Nara – which can still be visited today ( of the orginal Emerpor’s palace only the gateway remains).  Intended to underpin the rule of Emperor as the supreme leader of Japan, the Todaji Temple was in its time, the largest temple ever built. However grafting the Chinese tradition on to Japanese society ultimately failed. The centralised rule of the emperors collapsed before the rebellion of powerful landlords – backed by a new class of warriors unique to Japan: the samurai. 

Todaji became a magnificent relic and Nara slipped into the mists of anonymity. Today the Todadji Temple is one of Japan’s ‘must see’ sights and this year, with Covid now a memory, it will be visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors, especially during the summer. Besides the main temple – a commanding wooden structure – there are extensive surrounding grounds with other impressive temples and thousands of deer. 

To see the temple and surrounding grounds at an optimal time, Anya and I got up early one morning in late March and walked to the temple at 7am. 







The presence of hundreds of deer in the surrounding grounds of the Todaji complex is a great drawcard for the tourists and especially the children. 

That the deer have always been a part of the temple complex is attested to by these ancient columns inscribed with early Japanese scrift (borrowed from China) with carvings of deer at the bases. 


In mating season however Bambi is somewhat less friendly as these signs, posted around the Todaji grounds indicate…..

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