Andrew’s world in Japan 2017/December

Artist & researcher based in KL since 2009, passionately exploring the creative process & connecting with other creative people.

A Visit to Nara – Part 5
A Great Buddha Visit
Around the grounds of Tōdai-Ji Kouedō

Where we stood now, facing what was once the world’s largest wooden building, still look magnificent although a shadow of the original. Suffering earthquakes, fires and even a typhoon, the Tōdai-Ji Kouedō still stands as one of the seven great temples. This Buddhist temple complex has the hall housing the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha figure known in Japanese as Daibutsu(大仏). On the complex grounds, along with the sacred deer, are a number of national treasure structures still standing tall. Some, like the library, lecture hall, monk’s quarters, refectory and two prominent pagodas have been lost. We had the added benefit of sakura blossoms in full bloom making for a poetic scene.
I tend to walk the grounds in a counterclockwise direction visually appreciating and mentally noting elements of construction and design that catch my eye. Looking up, seeing the sculptural elements along the roof, Onigawara roof tiles, admiring them from afar. Or noticing the textures, cracks and grain of the massive wooden beams that make up the building. Breathing in deeply I attempt to transport myself back to one of the times when men were moving these pieces, assembling the structure now before me. I listen to the sounds and words of others admiring this historic place.
Stepping into the inner sanctum of the main hall brings you face to face with The Great Buddha, known here as Daibutsu. The current building completed in 1709 after one of the fires stands about 30% smaller than the previous reconstruction. Even the statue has needed to be recast several times after severe damage during earthquakes. The hands have been maintained since 1568 and the head was likely made during the Edo period. My inexperienced untrained eyes don’t really notice any of these aspects. I’ve just noted them from general research. My struggle was to capture a photo in the dimly lit space that projects the immensity of this space. I definitely left unsatisfied with my images but calm and excited to continue exploring.
If you’re curious for more details, it’s interesting to note that researchers date the temple constructions beginning in 728. This went on during a rather turbulent time period where the Japanese society encountered numerous outbreaks of smallpox, poor crop yields, rebellions and even an attempted coup d’état the year following initial construction in 729. Emperor Shōmu moved the capital four times. This was a very unstable period. Let’s juxtapose this with some simple but impressive figures. With a height of 49 ft 2 in and ears much taller than me at 8 ft 4 in, this massive 500 tonnes Great Buddha can’t help but weigh on your mind. The Daibutsuden and other surviving structures at Tōdai-Ji are architectural master-works definitely worth spending time with. I look forward to a day to return, holding a greater appreciation of the historic significance. For now, I will look forward to sharing an artist painting these heritage structures and the nearby waterfalls and hikes.