In the early 8th century, Japan was going through many difficulties including a long drought, rampant thievery, political turmoil, and above all, the smallpox epidemic brought in from the continent, which reduced more than one third of population. The 45th Emperor Shomu, a devout Buddhist, decided to unite the nation through Buddhist faith. Todai-ji (UNESCO World Heritage) was founded as the Central State Temple in 752, together with a state temple and a state nunnery in every one of the 66 provinces.
The structure above is Nandai-mon Gate, or Great South Gate, National Treasure, rebuilt in 1203. The 8th century original was destroyed by a typhoon in 962. It is the largest wooden temple gate suitable in scale to the existing largest wooden structure in the world, Todai-ji Buddha Hall (National Treasure) where Vairocana Buddha is enshrined. The construction is based on timber-frame joinery, composed of several different pieces of timber. Each piece is dovetailed. It reflects Chinese Sung style architecture, a double roofed, one-story structure with no ceilings.
Great South Gate, Inner Gate, Buddha Hall, and Lecture Hall (now ruins) stand straight on a central line of the precincts from south to north.
Buddha Hall seen through the Inner Gate
The current Buddha Hall was rebuilt in 1709. Due to a shortage of funds and materials, the size was reduced to two-thirds of the original width, and an arch-style gable was added.
Back of the Buddha Hall is relics of Lecture Hall, where only foundation stones remain.
Since its foundation time, Todai-ji was not only a center for rituals of the nation but also a center for scholar monks to learn Buddhism beyond different schools. After Meiji Restoration, temples had to choose. Todai-ji chose Kegon.
The Kegon text says that the songs of birds, the colors of flowers, the flowing of water and the forms of clouds, are all the Vairocana Buddha's teachings, serving as divine inspiration to all living beings.
According to one of the monks, "ke" of "ke-gon" means "flower". "Each of us has a seed within us. Buddha is the one who has grown the seed to flower beautifully. What we are supposed to do is only to do our best to grow a seed into a flower. "