Japan’s First Capital: Nara and the Todai-ji Temple

The Todai-ji Temple

On holiday one goes to so many sites within the space of one day that after two days you feel like you’ve seen so much, experienced so many things and nourished your senses. Yesterday I went to visit Nara, founded in 710 as the first capital of Japan and it is definitely a site not to be missed. There are eight Unesco Heritage Sites in Nara alone and the best part is that a lot of them are within walking distance (though make sure you have comfortable shoes.) I like it because it doesn’t have the large bustling atmosphere of a modern city. I can feel its history in the air.

The main sites are located in Nara Park which is an area so large you would probably need an hour or so to walk around. Being someone who loves to just soak in the atmosphere of the place, I took longer, much longer. I spent at least two hours walking around. I couldn’t help but just stand and look at the large wooden columns that towered over the entrance of the Todai-ji Temple. On each side of the towering gate were two enormous wooden guardians fiercely guarding the entrance to Japan’s largest Daibutsu (Great Buddha). It reminds me of the fierce giants standing guard over the temple entrances in Bangkok. I suppose buddhist countries all have similarities.

The Daibutsu (Great Buddha)

I like this temple not only because it houses Japan’s largest buddha, but because its completion set the capital as the center of buddhism and ensured that the religion would prevail. This was the start of Japan as we know it today. Its amazing how decisions over 1,300 years ago can have so much impact on millions of lives.

Hoards of tourists walk in and out of the temple as if there was a big festival going on. I am so busy taking photos, soaking in the atmosphere and trying to capture the roaming deers on video I feel like I should have another pair of hands. I spot parents out with their children brought along in a little buggy cart, I see students on class trips walking in orderly lines, and I watch elderly couples walking together to see this great buddha.

Upon entering the large wooden hall you cannot help but feel how insignificant you are next to this Great Buddha. How short our lives are compared to eternity. Although only two-thirds of the original cast in 746, the present buddha was built in the Edo period and is still a staggering 16 meters high! Can you imagine that?? I stare up at this huge buddha image made of 437 tonnes of bronze and 130 kgs of gold and wonder how heavy it must be, how expensive it must be at today’s prices.

So big yet so peaceful is this great buddha. Size doesn’t mean you have to be large and fierce. You can be large and gentle. Large and calm, large and at peace.

With a Messenger of God

Heads of black, brown and blonde bob up and down around the Great buddha, taking pictures exclaiming sounds of joy and all sorts of languages can be heard. In previous times, this place must have been a place of worship. It must have been so austere and terrifying. It must have been accessible only to a selected few. Now it is for all to see and worship.

I’m lucky these past two days the weather has been absolutely divine. The sun is out, the sky is clear and a soft breeze blows. I walk slowly down the walkway, playing with the “messengers of gods” (the deers) and succumbing to their big doe eyes. How incredible sweet and tame this animals are. How lucky they are to live in such a beautiful place. I wonder if they will be reborn as humans many many many lives from now. I wonder if they know they are the messengers of god.

Family Outing