Todai-ji Temple: Temple Grounds and Iconic Buildings

When it comes to Todai-ji, everybody is transfixed by the giant Buddha statue, the Daibutsu. However, there are many other interesting things on the wide expanse of at Todai-ji. There are a number of iconic buildings and Japanese National Treasures that you shouldn’t miss out on when you are there!

Make sure to read out previous post on the main area of Todai-ji and the great Daibutsu!

Todai-ji Temple: Temple Grounds and Iconic Buildings 

Nigatsu-do [二月堂]

Because it is on top of a hill, Nigatsu-do has a great vantage point of Nara City. The temple is even open at night, so it’s a peaceful place to watch the city at night.

View from Nigatsu-do

The Nigatsu-do is on the east side of Todai-ji. Nigatsudo is famous the Shuni-e festival it hosts every February, which started in 752. During the festival they have a ritual called omizutori where monks light giant torches along the balcony of the temple. These embers supposedly have healing properties, and can cure any illnesses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this ritual caused a massive fire in the early Edo Period and reduced Nigatsu-do to ash. The temple was soon restored and is a Japanese National Treasure.

Sangatsu-do [三月堂]

Aalso known as Hokke-do, the Sangatsu-do stands right next to Nigatsu-do.Sangatsu-do at Todai-ji temple


The left part of the Sangatsu-do dates back to when since Todai-ji was built and thus it is not only a Japanese National Treasure but also one of the oldest building in Todai-ji. Inside of Sangatsu-do is a Buddha statue museum. There are many national treasures including a statue of Hukukenjyaku Kannnon from Kinshu-ji, the predecessor of Todai-ji Temple. Entrance fee is 600 yen.


Kaidan-in [戒壇院]

The Kaidai-in is the first national ordination hall and register for monks in Japan. Headed by the famous Chinese monk Ganjin [鑑真] in 755, the Kaidan-in was the government’s first attempt to regulate who was and was not a monk. The building itself might not look than impressive but it actually contains a number of precious and interesting things. For example, the Kaidan-in contains rare ancient statues of the Shiten-no, the four guardians of Buddhist teachings.

Entrance to the Kaidan-in at Todai-ji Temple
Entrance to the Kaidan-in

For more information about Ganjin, see our post of Toshodai-ji!

Bell Tower [鐘楼]

Another Japanese National Treasure, Todaji’s bell tower is one of the temple’s most iconic structures. The tower itself dates back to the Kamakura Period, and the bell is from 752.

Bell tower of Todai-ji Temple: The architectural style is a combination daibutsu-yo and zenshu-yo

This massive 200kg bell is one of the iconic bell in Japan and still is rung at 8 clock every day.

Todai-ji Temple’s bell

Tegai-mon [転害門]

The Tegai-mon Gate is a bit far away from the main temple area, located to the west of Todai-ji. Though few people walk by this gate, it is one of the oldest building in Todai-ji – dating back to the Nara period. It is another one of the few buildings that did not burn down in one of Todai-ji’s many fires.

Tegai-mon Gate

The reason this gate could survived probably because it is indeed a bit far away from the main Garan.

Shoso-in [正倉院]

Emperess Komyo made the Shoso-in to store the collection of the riches amassed by of her husband, Emperor Shomu. The collection contains roughly 9,000 artifacts, some of which Shomu obtained from countries like China, India, and even the Middle East. Another of the things that is truly amazing about the Shoso-in is that is has survived many fires over the centuries and is actually very well preserved.


The architecture of Shoso-in is azekura-zukuri, a style commonly used for store houses and granaries in the Nara Period. This style is characterized by triangular shaped logs joined together on an elevated foundation. These buildings are very efficient in keeping out moisture and vermin.

characteristic triangle shaped joined logs of the shoso-in at todai-ji temple

In the fall every year, the Imperial Palace displays items from the Shoso-in in the Nara National Museum.

Coming next time,
The resting place of one of Japan’s most important monks; Ganjin and Toshodai-ji Temple

The adventure continues…


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