There are many amazing things about Tōdai-ji and the Daibutsuden or “Great Buddha Hall” in Nara, Japan, such as the gigantic bronze Buddha, which nearly bankrupted Japan in 751, or the fact that this massive Buddha sits in what was once the world’s largest wooden building (surpassed in 1998 by a Japanese stadium). There are also the ancient treasures such as an octagonal lamp from the 700s, but the most surprising sight at the temple is the deer.
Known as Sika Deer, they wander through the temples, sleep in corners, and generally stand around as tourists take their pictures. Once considered sacred messengers of the Shinto gods, and protected, they were later hunted to near extinction. Though they have been variously protected and hunted throughout their history in Japan, their population is strong today. Many are tame and established themselves in cities and touristy areas, eating from the hands of delighted visitors. They are even known to come up and bite visitors gently on the buttocks signaling that they desire crackers and they will steal bags from the unwitting.
Despite having been damaged and destroyed multiple times due to fire, earthquakes, and accident (the Buddha’s head fell off in 855) both the buildings and the statues have been continually repaired. Today Tōdai-ji, or the Great Eastern Temple complex, and the Great Buddha Hall it contains are in excellent shape.
The entryway to the temple is massive, with two towering guardians on each side protecting the great Buddha. The Buddha itself, the world’s largest statue of the Buddha Vairocana (or “Birushana” in Japanese) is seen as the universal aspect of the Buddha, a sort of all-in-one Buddha. The statue weighs some 500 tonnes and is a towering 49 feet tall, with a 17.5 foot-long face. His hair is made of 966 individual bronze balls. Creating this massive bronze Buddha occupied much of Japan’s bronze production during the 700s.
Inside the giant temple there are numerous artifacts worth seeing beyond the Great Buddha. As Nara was once the capital of Japan, a lot of history sits in this place. Among the many things to see are miniature replicas of the temple and the grounds, various Buddhist statues, and the (somewhat unfair to the overweight) healing pillars, wooden columns with a hole in the bottom that bring good luck, or you allow you to reach enlightenment in your lifetime and some even say entrance to heaven, if you can squeeze through it.