Stand face to face with the world's largest wooden structure, home to a 500-tonne Buddha
Where: 45 minutes by train from Kyoto, Japan
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> Woolloomooloo Bay Wharf in Sydney, Australia
The Daibutsu Hall at Japan’s Todai-ji Temple may be the largest wooden structure in the world but, ironically, it is the treasure inside that blows the visitor away. For it is home to a 500-tonne Buddha – The Daibutsu.
The figure was originally built in AD752 by Emperor Shomu and, at 16m high, it is one of the largest bronze figures in the world. Even one of its ears, at nearly 2.5m long, would dwarf a person.
Nara was once the capital of Japan, and it was during this period, in the 8th century, that many of Nara’s splendid temples and shrines were built. The giant Buddha was intended to unite the Buddhists of the country.
Today, Nara attracts a huge number of day-trippers to the various World Heritage Sites scattered in and around the small city. Many are found in the city’s large park, also home to sika deer.
Once considered messengers of the gods, and now designated national monuments, the deer roam the park and roads, mugging young children of anything that looks like food. You can buy special biscuits to feed them in the lane that runs up to Todai-ji.
Entering through the 19m-high Nandaimon gate, some visitors miss the two stunning guardian statues flanking its side. Once inside the compound, many people light an offering, and there is a chozuya, a traditional water trough, for purification before heading up the steps of the Daibutsu Hall. The present structure was rebuilt in 1709 and is a mere two-thirds the size of the original.
Inevitably there is a gaggle of awe-struck visitors blocking the doorway to the Buddha hall. You can walk clockwise around the Buddha. Behind it is a wooden pillar – the ‘healing pillar’ – with a hole (the size of one of the Buddha’s nostrils) bored in. Queues form as people try to squeeze through the hole in the belief they will attain Nirvana. This is recommended only for the child-sized – unless, that is, you want to become a statistic yourself!