Here are the best Temples in Nara, with travel tips and more, according to LIVE JAPAN, a top-class travel website for visitors to Japan. Our ranking is based on the most popular pages viewed by foreign visitors in a given category.
For instance, Todai-ji Temple, Kairyuoji Temple, Toshodaiji Temple and other related spots will be listed. Be sure to check them out during your visit to Nara!
Commanding the northern end of Nara Park is Todai-ji Temple, established on the order of Emperor Shomu in the eighth century. The temple's principal image is Rushana Daibutsu, or Daibutsu-sama, one of the world's largest bronze Buddhist statue standing 15 meters high. The statue sits serenely in the Great Buddha Hall, well known as one of the world's largest wooden building that measures 57 m wide, 50 m deep, and 48 m high. Standing guard on each side of the pathway to the temple are the two statues of Kongo Rikishi, housed in the 25.5-m-high Nandai-mon gate, and komainu (imperial guardian lions) to keep away intruders. Many of the temple structures and treasures have gained the status of National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties. What's more, the temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of the eight Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.
Surviving two wars, Daibutsu-sama has continued to brighten the world with the light of mercy
In 752, a ceremony took place to consecrate Daibutsu-sama. On the orders of Emperor Shomu, who wished for the happiness of everyone, the temple was built through the cooperation of 2.6 million people, around half of Japan's population at the time. People rallied again to repair the statue when wars at the end of the Heian period and during the Warring States Period had damaged it. The present pedestal and lap have remained unchanged since the Nara period.
Todai-ji Museum, the home of precious cultural assets
The museum introduces you to a variety of temple treasures ranging from paintings to sculptures made during about 1,300 years of history, stretching back through the Edo, Kamakura, Heian and Nara periods. The Buddhist statues include the statue representing the birth of Buddha (National Treasure) from the Nara period and a figure of Senju Kannon Bosatsu, or Thousand-Armed Kannon Bodhisattva (Important Cultural Property) crafted in the Heian period.
Hokke-do Hall (Sangatsu-do Hall), the oldest building in Todai-ji Temple where Buddhist statues from the Nara period are enshrined
Believed to be founded in 740, the Hokke-do Hall (Sangatsu-do Hall) is the oldest existing building in the Todai-ji Temple complex. All ten of the enshrined Buddhist statues, including the principal image Fukukensaku Kannon (Kannon of the Never-Empty Lasso) and a hidden Buddhist image Shukongojin (a gate guardian), are National Treasures made during the Nara period.
Nigatsu-do Hall, a photogenic spot with a panoramic view of Nara
At Nigatsu-do Hall, Shuni-e (Omizu-tori, or Sacred Water-drawing Festival) takes place to herald the arrival of spring in Nara. Resting at the foot of the mountain in the ground’s eastern section, the hall presents a panoramic view of Nara city from its veranda jutting out to the west. Don't miss the spectacle of a sunset over Mt. Ikoma.
Kairyuoji Temple is also referred as Sumidera Temple (corner temple), since it stood at the northeast corner of Heijo-kyo (Nara). The temple was built in 731 by Empress Komyo to pray for the maritime safety of Japanese missions to Tang China. The temple's principal image is a golden standing statue of the eleven-faced Kannon Bosatsu, which was created by a Kei-school Kamakura-era sculptor and was based on the Kannon Bosatsu carved by Empress Komyo. The temple is also a famous spot for Thundberg's meadowsweet flowers.
Chinese monk Jianzhen was given the former residence of Niitabe Shin-no (the Emperor's son) in 759, after deciding to leave Todaiji Temple. There, he opened a school to teach Chinese Buddhist precepts. At the time, the site was merely a scripture house remodeled from a former residence and lecture hall. With time, it gradually began to develop into a formal temple. In the second half of the 8th century, Jianzhen's disciple Nyoho completed the Kondo Hall. It lived through the fires of war in the middle ages and anti-Buddhist policies in the Meiji era, and has continued to showcase numerous Tempyo-era structures and cultural properties to this day.
Empress Komyo built this temple at the site of her father's (Fujiwara no Fuhito) home to serve as a head convent for nuns. It is one of three Yamato convents. The temple's principal image, an 11-faced Kannon Bosatsu, was carved from a single red-tinged birch tree. It is said to be modeled on the figure of Empress Komyo by a teacher from India. After being destroyed by a war-related fire and an earthquake, Toyotomi Hideyori and Lady Chacha made a contribution to rebuild the main hall in 1601.
After Emperor Heizei abdicated the throne, he turned this area into a secluded residence. His descendant, Ariwara no Narihira, inherited the land and started a temple here by enshrining a statue of Kannon that he carved himself. The site is home to designated important cultural properties including the statue of Kannon created by Narihira, a statue of the Five Great Myo-o, the main hall, and other structures. The temple grounds bloom with seasonal flowers such as carmellia and kadsura vine to commemorate Ariwara no Narihira.
This is the center for the Koshin Shinko religious sect, famous for hanging charms that will divert ailments and misfortune from their user. The inside of the hall enshrines a standing statue of Shomen-kongo known as Kojinsan, along with Kissho Tenyo, Mizuko Jizo, and Sentai Jizo statues.
In 718, following the transfer of the capital to Heijo-kyo (now known as Nara), Hokkoji Temple was relocated, becoming Gangoji Temple. During this period, Gangoji Temple stood amongst other great temples such as Todaiji Temple and Kofukuji Temple. The grounds of the temple stretched from what is now the southern end of Saruzawa Pond and encompassed the entirety of Naramachi. Though the temple gradually lost prominence in the Heian period, following the rise of the Jodo Shinko sect (Pure Land Faith) worshipers began to gather at the temple's Gokuraku-do Hall to see the Chiko Mandala illustrated panel. After the Kamakura period, in addition to attracting visitors to the Chiko Mandala, the temple became a site for worshipers of Shotoku Taishi and Kobo Taishi. Additional facilities were gradually added starting in 1943, leading to its present form.
Built as a great western temple in the second half of the Nara period, Saidaiji Temple boasts size equal to that of Todaiji Temple. Though the monk Eison worked to restore the temple in the Kamakura period, presently the only remaining structures are the main hall, Shio-do Hall, and Aizen-do, which were built in the Edo period. The O-chamori Tea Ceremony is held three times a year here, in which tea is consumed using a large, 30-centimeter bowl.
This is the head temple of the Buzan school of the Shingon sect, and the eighth stop on the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage. It was built in 686 by a priest named Domyo to pray for the health of Emperor Temmu. There are numerous attractions to see, including a main hall built in the same style as Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto, along with a five-story pagoda and a traditional stairway. The temple is gaining popularity for its beautiful flowers, which include peonies and cherry blossoms.
This temple is believed to have been built at the end of the Nara period. Surrounded by Mt. Muro's verdant greenery, this temple complex consists of Kondo Hall, which is built on an incline, a main temple structure built in the tenjiku style, and the country's smallest five-storied pagoda. Numerous national Buddhist treasures are housed here, including the standing statue of Shakanyorai, which is Kondo Hall's principal image. The site is popular as a vault of Buddhist art.
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*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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