Japan: Visiting the Big Buddha at the Todai-ji Temple


On our official first day in Japan, we had to wake up early to take our breakfast before we leave our hostel. The good thing with Piece Hostel Kyoto, aside from the fact that it’s a 3-5 minute walk from the Kyoto train station, is that they also offer free unlimited breakfast. So after stuffing our tummies with too many carbs we could handle, because that’s the only variety of food they serve for breakfast unless you consider miso soup as food, we went our way to the Kyoto station. We were to visit Nara and Osaka on our first day in Japan.

It was drizzling that morning. Our hostel provides free use of their cutesy transparent umbrellas so it was a delight to know that we didn’t have to buy one to get on with our trip. Thinking that my coat has a hood, I didn’t bother getting an umbrella.

Three of my friends were to proceed to Kanagawa that afternoon as they arrived 2 days earlier than us. They have finished touring Kyoto and this would be their last day to visit the Kansai Area. Because of this, they thought it best to bring all their stuff instead of leaving it at our hostel’s care, which offers free luggage storage by the way.

coin lockers at the Kyoto Station
the girls, renting coin lockers of different sizes

They decided to leave their luggage at the available coin lockers inside the Kyoto Station as it would be tedious to drag along those heavy weights while touring Nara and Osaka. That way, they can conveniently collect those before taking the Shinkansen bound for the Kanagawa Prefecture.

Buying our Train Tickets to Nara

Once done, we proceeded to find the ticket booth to buy our tickets. Although we all had JR passes that would cover our train commutes within the Kansai Area, we were to take a private rail line, thus the need to buy tickets to get to Nara.

buying our train ticket to Nara
our friend Debbie showing us how to buy tickets

To determine how much you need to pay for your train ticket to the Todaiji Temple, there’s a huge sign board at the top of the ticket booths where you can see how much you need to buy to get to a certain station. But if you are OC and wants to know ahead of time how much you need to spare for this leg, you can visit http://hyperdia.com for train schedules and and the best route to take or check Google Maps. We had to pay 610 yen, which covered 2 train transfers from Kyoto to Kintetsunara.

Walking in the rain

Once we arrived at the Kintetsunara Station, we immediately found our exit that would take us to Nara Park. But we were not going inside the park. Instead, we are headed to one of the famous temples in Nara, the Todaiji Temple, which is on the northern part of the huge park complex. It would be my first temple in Japan. I didn’t have a clue yet how temples in Japan looks like and I didn’t want to set my expectations high.

It was still drizzling as we walked the street where Nara Park is located. I didn’t think the light rain showers would harm me and I didn’t mind it. The air was chilly yet dry. My bubble jacket was actually doing a great job in keeping me warm.

sign markers leading to Todaiji Temple
helpful signage showing us the way

It would take 20 minutes to reach the temple from the Kintetsunara station, 45 minutes if you are coming from the JR Nara Station. But you can choose to take a bus. In our case, our host/tour guide opted to walk and so we did. In fact, we were walking as if we were part of a marathon competition. They walk too fast like they were in a hurry. Technically they were. They need to catch the 4:20pm Shinkansen from Kyoto, you see. I guess I was slowing them because as I walked, I pause once in a while to take photos of the area.

Just as I looked to see how far I needed to catch up, I started seeing deers. At first there were just 1 or 2 grazing at the pedestrian lanes. Soon I started seeing more. The deers were freely roaming the streets surrounding Nara Park.

deers roam the streets of Nara
Sikha deers freely grazing on the streets of Nara, Japan

At first I was hesitant to get near one because they might be aggressive. But as it turns out, they were not.

When we finally reached the point where we had to cross the street to get to the road leading towards the temple grounds, more deers greeted us. The herd was all over the place. There was a long line of different establishments that cater to tourists going to the temple; and at the far end, somebody was selling crackers to feed them deers.

deers greet you on your way to the temple
a Sika deer delighted to have a selfie

In Shintoism, Japan’s primary religion, deers are deemed as messengers of the gods. After World War II, those deers in Japan were stripped of their sacred or divine status. But they are designated as national treasures by the Japanese. To me, they are the untouchables. So it is no wonder that they are allowed to freely roam anywhere. What’s surprising is the fact that the herd of deers that welcomed us on our way to the temple were tamed. I even had the delight of patting their heads. Such cute creatures! From time to time, those deers would take turns ransacking my camera bag as they try to get their prying nose inside looking for food.

Finally reaching the temple grounds

Anyway, we need to get on with the trip so we started heading towards the temple’s first gate, called the Nandaimon Gate. As I walked towards it, I couldn’t help admire the massive wooden pillars of the gate.

the Nandaimon Gate
the Nandaimon Gate leading to the Todaiji Temple

I would have dropped my jaw if not for my mouth’s joints and reflexes. Grazing at the pillar, it made me think how the Japanese built the structure in the olden times.

Nio Guardian Kings at the Nandaimon Gate
the Nio Guardian Kings of the Nandaimon Gate

When I finally reached the roofed gate, I saw 2 scary and fierce-looking giant statues standing on opposite sides as if carefully watching each passersby. I was thankful we didn’t have to pass through those gates on a terrorizing night of thunderstorms or I would instantly have a heart attack when the statues’ faces lights up when lightning hits the area.

the view of the Nandaimon Gate from inside
the view of the gate from the other side

Seeing the Nandaimon Gate left me speechless. Thinking that I’ve just only seen the gates roused my curiosity more on what lies ahead.

Within the temple complex, you can also drop by the Todaiji Museum if you are into that stuff. There’s an entrance fee to get inside though.

deers in love
deers in love

Deers are still everywhere even after you pass the gate. There are also ample signs warning people not to be complacent with deers as they could attack any moment. The picture warnings are amusing though. hehehe

The famous Todai-ji Temple of Nara

After walking towards what looked like the main temple gates, we had to pass by the side entrance and paid 500 yen to enter the temple grounds.

our entrance ticket to see the great buddhas of the Todaiji Temple
our Admission Ticket to enter the main Todai-ji Temple at 500 yen per person

the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan

There it was, the Todai-ji (Eastern Great Temple) proudly sitting at the middle of the huge lawn. To say that the whole structure is huge is an understatement.

The temple is actually listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

the massive entrance to the Todaiji Temple
the massive building that is the Todaiji Temple

Looking at the height of the Todai-ji Temple can easily take one’s breath away, not because of how exquisite it is but because of how it was able to withstand time. Although the temple was built in 752, its reconstruction in 1692 is just 2/3 of the original hall. It’s beauty, I think, lies in seeing how authentic and old it is yet it still stands proud allowing Shinto believers the opportunity to pay tribute to Buddha while at the same time providing locals and tourists the chance to see one of Japan’s legacy.

I just can’t comprehend how such humongous structure survived time considering that the entire building is made of wood. The hard work and labor of each Japanese who took part in the construction of this national treasure is very admirable.

an incencse holder outside the temple doors
an incense holder sitting outside the temple doors

As I walked the flight of stairs to reach the entrance, the image of the Great Daibatsu (Buddha) greeted me. This statue of Buddha is considered as one of the largest bronze buddhas in Japan, and the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha Vairocana.

Big Buddha or Daibatsu
the Daibatsu at 15 meters high

The main hall of the Todai-ji temple, also known as the Daibatsuden or Big Buddha Hall is actually the world’s largest wooden structure.

a smaller version of the Buddha
this smaller buddha, has a twin statue (I think) which sits on the other side of the great Daibatsu

the buddhas of the Daibatsuden Hall

To give you an idea of how big the Daibatsu at the Todaiji Temple is, visitors had to crane their necks and look up to get a good view of the Big Buddha.

huge statues at the Daibatsuden Hall
more statues inside the Daibatsuden

Inside the hall, one can see smaller buddhas, different statues and a replica of the old temple to show how it looked like before.

Another popular attraction inside the temple is that it has this pillar with a hole. It is said to be the same size as Daibatsu’s nostrils. It is also believed that those who could fit inside the hole will be granted enlightenment in their next life.

pillar with a hole

There was a small crowd on that side and we caught one tourist squeezing her way through the whole. I didn’t bother finding out if I could fit in there. I don’t want to destroy the ancient pillars if I get stuck, you know. 😆

souvenir shops inside the temple

A souvenir shop is also nestled inside the hall where tourists can buy mementos and religious items. After my companions bought souvenirs, we started heading back as we still have to visit Osaka Castle. And it was still drizzling.

outside the grounds of the Todaiji Temple

But just before we left, we took the time to look at the beautiful view of the temple from across a small pond for the last time. It would be lovely to see the temple grounds once spring comes.

How to get to Todaiji Temple from Kyoto:

From the Kyoto Station, we bought train tickets worth 610. This will cover our 2 train ride transfers from 1) Kyoto Station to Yamatosaidaiji Station and 2) Yamatosaidaiji to Kintetsunara Station. Once you arrive at the Kintetsunara Station, you’ll have to walk for 20 minutes to reach the Todaiji Temple.

Kyoto to Nara train schedule
following Hyperdia, this is the train schedule we took to get to the Todaiji Temple from Kyoto Station

In order to check on other train schedules + cheapest train fares that would take you to the Todaiji Temple from anywhere in Japan, please visit http://hyperdia.com or you can also browse through your Google Maps app in your android phones.

To return to the train station, you can walk back to the Kintetsunara Station or ride a bus that will take you to the JR Nara station. Bus fare is 200 yen.

the Great Daibatsu
the Big Buddha or Daibatsu

Hours of Operation of the Todai-ji Temple in Nara, Japan

0800H up to 1630H – November to February
0800H up to 1700H – March
0730H up to 1730H – April to September
0730H up to 1700H – October

Open from Monday to Sunday

Admission Fees of the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan

500 yen – Daibatsuden Hall
500 yen – Todaiji Museum
800 yen – Daibatsuden Hall and Todaiji Museum


Discounted Accommodations in Japan



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