Kofukuji (興福寺) Temple is a Buddhist Temple, which was one of the Seven Powerful Great Temples in Nara. It is one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage site listed in Nara and is popular as the second largest wooden pagoda in Japan. Kofukuji is a five-storey pagoda and stands at 50 metres. It is Japan’s second tallest, about 7 metres less than the five-storey pagoda at Toji Temple, Kyoto. It was first constructed in 730 and rebuilt in 1426.
The highlight of visiting Kofukuji, which is both a landmark and symbol of Nara, is its National Treasure Museum. The Museum is home to the temple’s great art collection and a Must for lovers of Buddhist Art.
It was rather nice to walk around the temple grounds after the rain. Less crowd, no rush and gentle freshness to the air. It was quiet, peaceful and serene.
Walk around the temple grounds are free but entry to the museum 700 Yen.
On the opposite side of the park to Todaiji, across the road is the Kasuga Taisha (春日大社) shrine, dedicated to the deity that protects the city. Legend has it that Takemikazuchi no Mikoto, travelled from Ibaraki, northern Japan on a white deer all the way to Mt. Mikasa, a holy mountain, to reside on its summit for the prosperity and happiness of the nation. She is one of the four deities enshrined here since the shrine was built in 768 by the Fujiwara clan.
The walk along the footpath in the atmospheric forest is serene and peaceful, lined with hundreds and hundreds of stone lanterns and many nestled in the woods. You can feel the quietness as you approach the impressive Shinto shrine with cute little sacred deer peeking from behind these stone lanterns every so often where you will want to stop and take some pictures. Near the entrance to the shrine, there is the Museum which is home to the most impressive and important swords, suits of armour and various other items dedicated to the deities since the 8th century.
The Kasuga Taisha is popular for its many stone lanterns that lines the path, and many more in the woods and bronze lanterns which you will see hanging along the wall of the buildings all throughout the shrine. The North cloister where the Fujinami-no-ya hall is situated, behind the main shrine is filled with hundreds of lanterns. These lanterns are lit twice a year, in February and August during the Mantoro Festival. It gives you a certain feel when you just imagine, the beauty of the paths through the forest and the lanterns hung throughout the shrine when these 3000 flickering lanterns are lit up from sunset. The beautiful contrast of the shrine itself, the bright orange red, with white walls and the hinoki cypress bark roof as against the green of the ancient woods just paints a serene beauty.
The Shrine is also famous for about 200 of its wisteria trees which blooms from late April to early May. You can find some of these around the shrine, but a large part of the Shinen Manyo Botanical Garden is dedicated to these beautiful flowers. The Garden is close-by to the Shrine and displays about 250 kinds of plants, described in Manyoshu. Manyoshu is a collection of Japan’s oldest poems which dates to the Nara period.
From Kasuga Taisha, there are paths leading through the forest park to Mt. Wakakusa. Behind the Kasuga Taisha shrine is the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, a sacred area which is closed to the public and remained untouched for over 1000 years. Both the Kasuga Taisha and the Kasugayama Primeval Forest are jointly designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
If you are planning to walk, like I did, from Todaiji Temple to Kasuga Taisha Shrine, then you will probably do the following route:
If you walk from the Kintetsu Nara Station, it will take about 35 to 40 minutes and your route will probably look like this:
Todaiji (東大寺) meaning “Great Eastern Temple”, is a landmark of Nara and is situated in the northern part of Nara Park. It is one of Japan’s most historic of temples which was originally constructed in 752, during the Nara period, by Emperor Shomu to bring peace to the country. It was the head temple of all Buddhist temples in Japan and played an influential role in government affairs at that time. However, it was destroyed by fire, twice, in 1180 and in 1567. The present structure was constructed during the Edo period under the direction of monk Kokei.
The approach to Todaiji Temple is through the Nandaimon, the Great Southern Gate. This, large wooden gate, guarded by two fierce looking Kon-go-Rikishi guardian statutes representing the Nio Guardian Kings are designated as national treasures. The Todaiji Hall or the Main Hall (kondo), Daibutsuden is the largest wooden building in the world and was reconstructed in 1692, representing only two-thirds of the original temple hall’s size. The hall is home to 15m (50ft) high seated Buddha with two Bodhisattvas on each side.
Walking along with the crowd inside of the hall, there are some Buddhist statutes and models of old buildings. What caught my attention and many around me was a pillar with a hole in its base. I saw children and a few adults going through one end and coming through to the other. The hole is said to be the same size at the Daibutsu’s nostrils and that those who can go through this opening will receive enlightenment in their next life. It was interesting and fun to watch!
Daibutsuden Hall [600 Yen] – Opened all year round
Opening times: 07:30 – 17:30 (Apr – Oct)
08:00 – 17:00 (Nov – Mar)
Todaiji’s grounds are spacious and is also home to several other buildings such as the
Todaiji Museum [600 Yen] – Opens from 09:30
** I did a combined ticket for Daibutsuden Hall and the Museum for 1000 Yen.
– Nigatsudo Hall – Stays open, free admission
– Hokkedo Hall [600 Yen] – same opening hours as Daibutsuden
– Kaidanin Temple [600 Yen] – same opening hours as Daibutsuden
As mentioned earlier, Todaiji is located in the north of Nara Park. It takes about 20 minutes to get here from Nara Kintetsu Station or 35 minutes from JR Nara Station.You can also take a bus, but I would recommend that you walk as there is another historic temple between Kintetsu Nara Station and Todaiji which is the Kofukuji Temple.