During the Tempyō era, Japan suffered from a series of disasters and epidemics. It was after experiencing these problems that Emperor Shōmu issued an edict in 741 to promote the construction of Provincial temples throughout the nation. Tōdai-ji (still Kinshōsen-ji at the time) was appointed as the Provincial temple of Yamato Province and the head of all the Provincial temples. With the alleged coup d'état by Nagaya in 729, an outbreak of smallpox around 735 - 737, worsened by consecutive years of poor crops, then followed by a rebellion led by Fujiwara no Hirotsugu in 740, the country was in a chaotic position. Emperor Shōmu had been forced to move the capital four times, indicating the level of instability during this period.
In 743, Emperor Shōmu issued a law in which he stated that the people should become directly involved with the establishment of new Buddha temples throughout Japan. His personal belief was that such piety would inspire Buddha to protect his country from further disaster. Gyōki, with his pupils, travelled the provinces asking for donations. According to records kept by Tōdai-ji, more than 2,600,000 people in total helped construct the Great Buddha and its Hall. The 16 m (52 ft) high statue was built through eight castings over three years, the head and neck being cast together as a separate element. The making of the statue has started first in Shigaraki. After enduring multiple fires and earthquakes, the construction was eventually resumed in Nara in 745, and the Buddha was finally completed in 751. A year later, in 752, the eye-opening ceremony was held with an attendance of 10,000 people to celebrate the completion of the Buddha. The Indian priest Bodhisena performed the eye-opening for Emperor Shōmu. In 754, ordination was given by Ganjin, who arrived in Japan after overcoming hardships over 12 years and six attempts of crossing the sea from China, to Empress Kōken, former Emperor Shōmu and others.
The project nearly bankrupted Japan's economy, consuming most of the available bronze of the time.
The statue weighs 500 metric tonnes.
The current building was finished in 1709, although immense, is actually 30% smaller than its predecessor. The original complex also contained two 100 m pagodas, perhaps second only to the pyramids of Egypt in height at the time. These were destroyed by earthquake. The Shōsōin was its storehouse, and now contains many artifacts from the Tempyo period of Japanese history.
The dancing figures of the Nio, the two 28-foot-tall guardians at the temple entrance, were closely evaluated and extensively restored by a team of art conservators in 1991. The Nio are known as Ungyo, which by tradition has a closed mouth, and Agyo, which has an open mouth. At that time, these twelfth-century sculptures had never before been moved from the niches in which they were originally installed. This complex preservation project, costing $4.7 million, involved a restoration team of 15 experts from the National Treasure Repairing Institute in Kyoto.
Some of these structures are now open to the public. The time spent visiting one or more of these less well-known buildings can only enhance an appreciation of the temple complex itself.
Over the centuries, the buildings and gardens have evolved together as to become an integral part of a unique, organic and living temple community.
Tōdai-ji includes architectural master-works which are today classified as National Treasures:
|Kon-dō (Daibutsuden)||金堂 (大仏殿)|
|Hokke-dō (Sangatsu-dō)||法華堂 (三月堂)|
Amongst other artists participating in this concert were the Tokyo New Philharmonic Orchestra, X Japan, INXS, Bon Jovi, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Tomoyasu Hotei, Roger Taylor, classic Japanese drummers, and a Buddhist monk choir.
This unprecedented event brought the world to Todai-ji, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that Todai-ji was brought to the world. In 55 countries, the musical performances were simultaneously broadcast on May 22 and May 23, 1994.