The History of Todai-ji Temple (東大寺の歴史)

In this article, the history of Todai-ji Temple is described. Located in Nara City, Todai-ji, now the head temple of the Kegon sect, is a large temple built during the Nara period. This temple is well known for its statue of Birushana Buddha called the Great Buddha of Nara.


This temple has not been called Todai-ji since the foundation, and it is in "Todai-ji shakyosho no ge" (Details of the Sutra Copying Office of Todai-ji Temple), one of the Shoso-in archives dated February 2, 748, that the word 'Todai-ji Temple' was referred to for the first time. Around the same time, the expression of 'Todai no ji' was also used occasionally. The name represents a large public temple located in the east of the Heijo-kyu Palace, but this is not sure. The name 'Todai-ji' is considered to 'have been used spontaneously' during the construction of the Great Buddha.

Over its 1200-year history, Todai-ji Temple has had great influence not only on Japanese temples but also on the country itself. According to Jokai HIRAOKA, there are the following four perspectives on the history of Todai-ji Temple. That is, the first is political history, the second is religion, the third is temple history, and the last is art history.

Seen from a viewpoint of political history, Todai-ji Temple was founded expecting protection of the nation by belief, and even in crises of decline due to two wars and natural disasters, Todai-ji Temple tried to maintain its large temple complex by soliciting contributions with support from the dynasty and the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). The power of the monks (Buddhism) of Todai-ji Temple was too great to be ignored together with that of Kofuku-ji Temple located next to Todai-ji Temple, and their visits to the capital Kyoto had bothered the man in power since the Heian period. Sometimes that triggered war.

From a religious point of view, Todai-ji Temple was characteristic of ancient Esoteric Buddhism inherited from one of its predecessor temples, Konshu-ji Temple (mentioned in detail later in "Predecessor Temples"). In addition, Todai-ji Temple was regarded as a place for learning about the six sects in Nanto, and then as the center of the Kegon sect or study on the Kegon sect, on which emphasis was put in the Heian period and thereafter, when the temple was called a place for 'interdisciplinary study on the eight sects' including the Tendai and the Shingon sects, by attracting attention from people in power of the times and the common people with its principal image representing the philosophy, the statue of Birushana Buddha.

Seen from a perspective of temple history, Todai-ji Temple maintained earnings through the management of its manors, and repaired the temple buildings by using the wood cut down from its own forests.

The repair of the temple buildings was managed by the Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction, the successor organization of the Agency of Todai-ji Temple Construction that was responsible for the foundation of the Temple. But the organization was integrated into the Office of Administration as the repair section in order to put much effort into maintenance and repair of the deteriorating temple buildings since much attention had been paid to the priests' private quarters due to the power transition to individual monks during the mid Heian period. In addition to its manors scattering throughout Japan, the province that was designated to offer its wealth for major repair supplemented the resources depleted from its existing lumber production forests. However, during the Edo period, Todai-ji Temple declined even further since the bakufu deprived the Temple of its manors, and the Temple was not integrated into the bakufu system of governance using temples, subsequently in the Meiji period, Tonan-in Temple, an influential branch temple (in Nara City) was ruined. Although Todai-ji Temple had belonged to the Jodo sect, it became independent in 1886 as the head temple of the Kegon sect and has been maintained through tourism revenues and so on.

From a standpoint of art history, sculptured masterpieces during the Nara period are placed in the Hokke-do Hall (Sangatsu-do Hall and Kensaku-do Hall) of Todai-ji Temple, which was established during the Nara period (for details, see "Predecessor Temples"). An array of sculptures were produced by Buddhist sculptors from the Kei school, who were esteemed highly by Chogen in the revival period of the Kamakura era, and they are regarded as very important today together with those from the Kofuku-ji Temple.

Predecessor Temples

It is confirmed that there were several temples, including Konshu-ji Temple, Fukuju-ji Temple, Tenchi-in Temple (Horen-ji Temple), there before Todai-ji Temple was built. Research on the Konshu-ji and Fukuju-ji Temples has been going on with the study of literature and the excavation of the sites in order to clarify their relationships with Todai-ji Temple built later.

Konshu-ji, 金鐘寺, is also written as 金鐘山房, 金鍾寺, 金鷲寺 or 金熟寺. This temple is generally called 'Konshu-ji' or 'Konju-ji,' and customarily 'Kinshu-ji,' which is particularly familiar at Todai-ji Temple. "Todai-ji yoroku" (The Digest Record of Todai-ji Temple) says that Konshu-ji Temple was built by Roben in 733, but the negative theory advanced by Toshio FUKUYAMA has become popular now. In addition, Sadakichi KITA also says that the description in "Todai-ji yoroku" was forged later. Another theory mentioned in "Zoku nihonshoki" (A Sequel to the Chronicles of Japan) is that FUNYA no Kiyomi, grandson of Emperor Tenmu, built the temple while he was director for construction of the temple, in order to pray to Buddha for the happiness of Crown Prince Motoi, the only son between Emperor Shomu and Empress Komyo, who died young in 728. This view is considered to be more likely. Shinji YOSHIKAWA and Tetsuo HISHIDA theorized that the West Maruyama ruins in the Maruyama area had been the precincts of Konshu-ji Temple according to their research and excavation on the site.

It is viewed that Empress Komyo was deeply involved in the foundation of Fukuju-ji Temple. As for the year it was founded, Towao SAKAEHARA supposes that it was in March or April 738 according to the planning or construction was implemented from the interpretation of the Shoso-in archives, where the name of the temple was referred to for the first time. In the Fukuju-ji Temple, there was an office for copying complete Buddhist scriptures (according to the Shoso-in archives dated April or May 741). It seems that this office was the Sutra Copying Department of the Queen-consort's Household Agency relocated to the temple. Based on these descriptions in the Shoso-in archives, the construction work seems to have been completed in April or May 741 as shown in the documents.

As for the location in the precincts, Ikuo MORI identified the site of the Amida-do Hall, one of the Fukuju-ji Temple buildings, around the site of the building called "bussho-ya" (where offerings to the Buddha were prepared) of Nigatsu-do Temple through excavation and research done on that site. This is because the view that the temple was in the Jo-in area, where Nigatsu-do Temple is now situated, is widely accepted.

Then, Konshu-ji Temple and Fukuju-ji Temple were integrated into a state-supported provincial temple of Yamato Province, which was called Yamato no kuni Kinkonmyo-ji. This is the direct predecessor of the Todai-ji Temple. The decree to build provincial temples was issued from the Shigaraki no Miya Palace on March 9, 741. For reference, the decree to make a wish for the construction of the Great Buddha was also issued from the Shigaraki no Miya Palace on November 9, 743, two years and a half after that. Unlike other provincial temples, Kinkonmyo-ji Temple in Yamato Province was not newly built, and the existence of its predecessor temple was confirmed. The integration is considered to have been done around August 742 since there are documents showing the name change from the complete Buddhist scriptures copying office of Fukuju-ji Temple to that of Konmyo-ji Temple.

By the way, where was the Kon-do Hall (where the principal image was placed) of this Konmyo-ji Temple located?
This issue has been intensively argued, but in recent years the theory of Mahito UEHARA, where the Hokke-do Hall (the Sangatsu-do Hall and the Kensaku-do Hall) was regarded as the Kon-do Hall of Konmyo-ji Temple, has been attracting attention. Focusing on the roof tiles of the Hokkedo Hall, Uehara estimated that the foundation of the hall was some time between early summer of 741 and August 742, and presented a theory that this hall was the Kon-do Hall of Fukuju-ji Temple and then used as the Kon-do Hall of Konmyo-ji Temple. Pointing out the discrepancies and unnatural points of this theory, Shinji YOSHIKAWA refers to another potential site of the Kon-do Hall due to a possibility that the Fukuju-ji Temple may have been merged with the Konshu-ji Temple.

Kinkonmyo-ji Temple's appearance had not been maintained since its predecessor temple, began expanding its scale before constructing the Great Buddha as the principal image. If the provincial temple was constructed mainly by the provincial government also in Yamato Province like in other provinces, the issue is that how the provincial government actually functioned as the leading administrative body in Yamato Province is unknown. The actual political system in Yamato Province of those days is not known, and it is not clear how the provincial government was involved in the construction plan of Kinkonmyo-ji Temple in Yamato Province. The description in the year 743 of "Shoku nihongi" (A Sequel to the Chronicle of Japan) says, 'a commendable association was organized specially at Kinkonmyo-ji Temple in Yamato Province as a good example to the world,' shows that special treatment was given to Kinkonmyo-ji Temple in Yamato Province as an influential temple, putting aside the Great Buddha.

However, there is another theory that the provincial temple in Yamato was Kokubun-ji Temple now located in Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture ("Yamatoshi" [Topography of Japan] in 1734, etc.), not Todai-ji Temple and its predecessor temple, and historical dictionaries also adopt these two theories as for the location of the provincial temple in Yamato. For example, "Kokushi daijiten (Showa-jidai)"(Great Dictionary of National History [Showa Period]) published by Yoshikawa Kobunkan Inc. says in the section of 'Provincial Temples' (author: Kaoru INOUE [historian]) that Todai-ji Temple was the provincial temple of Yamato while "Heian jidaishi jiten" (Dictionary of the Heian Period History) published by Kadokawa Group Publishing Co., Ltd. states in the section of 'Provincial Temples' (author: Bunei TSUNODA) that Kokubun-ji Temple was the provincial temple of Yamato.

Construction of the Great Buddha

Construction of the Great Buddha, the center of Todai-ji Temple, started in 745, which was planned separately from the construction of the provincial temple. The combination of these two big projects in Todai-ji Temple was not intended from the beginning. The Great Buddha construction plan originally started in the Shigaraki no Miya Palace, but there were several possible backgrounds. First, in 737, a smallpox pandemic broke out, and many people suffered terribly regardless of age, sex, and rank. The victims included the four Fujiwara brothers; FUJIWARA no Muchimaro, FUJIWARA no Fusasaki, FUJIWARA no Umakai, and FUJIWARA no Maro, who took control of the government while backing up Empress Komyo. Because of this, it is said that Empress Komyo strongly advised Emperor Shomu to construct the Great Buddha. In addition, it is said that Emperor Shomu was greatly influenced by the large statue of Buddha when he visited Chishiki-ji Temple in Oogata County, Kawachi Province in 740. As its name represents, this Chishiki-ji Temple was built with money raised by the Chishiki group (a group of people who had the same faith), who solicited contributions, and this system was reflected in the process to found Todai-ji Temple.

The decree to make a wish for the construction of the Great Buddha was issued from the Shigaraki no Miya Palace on November 9, 743, two and a half years after that. In the initial plan, the Great Buddha would be placed in Koga-ji Temple, which temporarily became the provincial temple of Omi, located near the Shigaraki no Miya Palace used as an imperial villa. For the Great Buddha construction plan, Gyoki, whose overwhelming popularity among the people sometimes annoyed the government, was appointed to a responsible person in order to acquire centripetal force. Now, the remains of Shigaraki no Miya Palace has been excavated, and as a result, it was considered that the Palace was located in a place today known as the Miyamachi site in Oaza-Kinose, Shigaraki-cho, and the ruins of the Shigaraki no Miya Palace designated as a historical spot was determinately the site of Koga-ji Temple. However, for some reason, the construction plan was cancelled, and in 745 Emperor Shomu announced the transfer of the capital from Kuni-kyo back to Heijo-kyo (although at that time most of the administrative affairs were conducted at the Shigaraki no Miya Palace). As its possible causes, earthquakes occurring frequently and resistance from the opposition power are pointed out, but the main cause that forced them to abandon even the Great Buddha under construction is not well known.

Then, the Great Buddha was to be built at Todai-ji Temple. The above is a summary of how two different projects of constructing the Great Buddha and building Kinkonmyo-ji Temple in Yamato Province were integrated into one big project. The Office of Kinkonmyo-ji Temple Construction cast the Great Buddha by using copper produced from Naganobori, Suo Province and gold presented for plating by Kyofuku KUDARANOKONIKISHI, Governor of Mutsu Province. The ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha by inserting the pupils was held on May 30, 752. It was Bodai Senna, the ceremony leader, who painted the pupils in with an ink brush, that was stored in the Shoso-in Treasure Repository until the next ceremony to consecrate the revived Great Buddha. Five-colored strings were tied to this brush, and people rushed to the long strings running out of the Great Buddha Hall in order to have a relationship with the Great Buddha. This episode clearly shows the power of Todai-ji Temple, in which many people had faith regardless of rank, age, and sex. According to "Todai-ji yoroku," the Kon-do Hall (the Great Buddha Hall) was completed one year before, but it is doubtful whether the Great Buddha Hall could be completed in such a short period with an ongoing project to improve other temple buildings since we can suppose the construction work itself was an enormous project. There are various conjectures about to what extent the construction project really progressed after the ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha was conducted seven years after the planning.

We can imagine the actual appearance of the Great Buddha before its loss at the end of the Heian period only through a picture in "Shigisan engi" (The Legends of Mt. Shigi) (a picture scroll possessed by Chogosonshi-ji Temple) although it was painted later during the Heian period. This picture shows the solemnity of the Great Buddha Hall, of which even rafter and square timber butt ends were gilded. A monk named Meiren living on Mt. Shingi had a sister, who was a nun, and she came to Yamato to meet her brother from Shinano. However, she could not meet him, not knowing where he was. For praying, the nun shut herself up in the Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji Temple, where she had pledged herself to strictly observe the Buddhist commandments. Then, the Great Buddha gave her an oracle that his brother Meiren was on a mountain located southwest, of which the top is covered with flowing purple clouds. In the end, she met her brother safely, and they lived happily together, this is the story illustrated on this picture scroll. In the scene where this nun shut herself up in the Great Buddha Hall for praying, the original hall is painted.

Establishment of Kaidan-in

It was in 753, one year after the ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha, that Jianzhen (Ganjin) arrived at Naniwa from Tang, suffering so many hardships and trouble that it caused him to become blind. At the request of Japan, where there had been no formal systems for vowing to observe the Buddhist commandments, Jianzhen came to Japan and established Kaidan-in on the west of the Great Buddha Hall, to perform pledging rites for Emperor Shomu and many monks. Although the monks of Todai-ji Temple had been working at Kensaku-do, those who learned the Buddhist laws directly from Jianzhen started their activities also at this Kaidan-in, at the end of the Nara period, when the necessary facilities were completed in the precincts.

As one of the three major pledging sites in Japan including Yakushi-ji Temple in Shimotsuke Province and Kanzeon-ji Temple in Dazaifu, Kaidan-in of Todai-ji Temple produced so many official monks together with Kaidan-in of Enryaku-ji Temple, which developed in place of Shimotsuke Yakushi-ji Temple since its foundation in the Heian period. This formal pledging system greatly influenced Japanese Buddhism, and the monks who went to China were treated also as formal Buddhist priests there. In addition, the number of years after pledging oneself to observe the Buddhist commandments, which was called horo or kairo, resulted in producing the seniority system, and this was regarded as a powerful 'weapon' to move up the ladder, pursuing a career in the temple.

As a Place of Education and Learning

Todai-ji Temple became widely known as a place to learn the six sects of Buddhism. The Hosso sect (Hossho sect), Sanron sect, Kusha sect (Sabbata sect), Jojitsu sect, Kegon sect (Kagon sect) and Ritsu sect, called as the six sects, were introduced to Japan from China, where they originated. At that time, the sect was a school of Buddhist principles rather than a religious community. This is because such an interdisciplinary learning place was created. This cross-disciplinary study approach was very popular among the temples in Nanto.

The features of this interdisciplinary learning place for the six sects (later turned into the eight sects, including the Shingon sect and the Tendai sect) still remain in Todai-ji Temple even today.
Among these sects, the Kegon sect was emphasized so that the Great Buddha, the principal image of the Temple, represented the teachings of the Kegon-kyo Sutra,

The Heian Period and the Rise of Daishu (monks residing in the zendo)

During the Heian period, the structures built in the precincts of Todai-ji Temple began to deteriorate, and damaged temple buildings were becoming a serious problem. This is not only because these were huge wooden buildings, but also the internal self-governing system of Todai-ji Temple began to function poorly.

Dissemination of the Shingon sect into Todai-ji Temple further accelerated this tendency. In other words, the monks individually performed incantations and offered fervent prayers under close relationships with nobles and other persons in authority, which resulted in focusing on private lives in the residential facilities, to which they belonged. In addition, the monks and their lodging facilities were individualized, decentralized and secularized further with development of private residential spaces for each monk. As a result, it became hard to control the entire Todai-ji Temple. Furthermore, at the end of the tenth century, the governor monk of the Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction (successor to the Agency of Todai-ji Temple Construction) began to neglect his work, which resulted in collapse or almost collapse of terribly deteriorated structures, including the Nandai-mon gate, the twin treasure houses of Kensaku-in, and the back door of the Great Buddha Hall.

This evil practice began to be improved in the middle of the eleventh century. Developing a sense of crisis from the terrible conditions of the precincts, the monks devoted themselves to refurbishment. Therefore, the financial sources of the Temple were unified while the Office of Todai-ji Temple Construction put under complete control was reorganized as the Office for Todai-ji Temple Repair. Although this reorganization required downsizing, the new organization functioned better due to complete transfer from the government to the administrative board. This renovation started in the middle of the eleventh century and ended with reconstruction of the Nandai-mon Gate in the 1160's with many temple buildings in the precincts repaired or renovated. Repair and mending proceeded further under orders from the Imperial Court in 1096. Sponsored by the national government, a major refurbishment of the Great Buddha Hall started in 1110 after reorganizing the Agency of Todai-ji Temple Construction in the previous year (although the focus of the project shifted again to renovating the temple buildings after this major refurbishment). During this project, the world called Todai-ji Temple 'the place where the sound of chopping wood was produced all the time' ("Okagami" [The Great Mirror]), and the temple also expressed itself by saying that 'the world considers the sound of chopping wood will never stop at Todai-ji Temple' in response to this.

Takashige ARAI explains that this major renovation period enabled Todai-ji Temple to develop into a medieval temple in Japan with transition to a manorial economy.

Jisho-Juei War and Revival

For more information on the war, refer to "Fire Set to Nanto."

On June 2, 1180, the rebellion of Prince Mochihito broke out. Dissatisfied with the accession to the imperial throne by Emperor Antoku led by the Taira clan, Prince Mochihito, the son of Retired Emperor Goshirakawa, was developing a plan of rebellion jointly with MINAMOTO no Yorimasa, a patriarch of the Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan). However, the conspiracy was discovered in the preparation process, and the prince escaped to Onjo-ji Temple (Mii-dera Temple) in Omi Province. On his way to Kofuku-ji Temple, which responded to his request for cooperation, the prince fought against the Taira clan blocking the path, and died in battle in the end.

In those days, monks residing in the zendo and warrior monks, who often went to the capital Kyoto for strongly making pleas, had such great strength that the Taira clan tolerated the power of influence of the temples in Nanto and Mt. Hiei. In that year, the Taira clan was being driven into a corner due to devastating defeat in the Battle of Fujigawa against the Minamoto clan, in addition to turbulence in the Kinai region. Therefore, the Taira clan decided to strengthen the foundation in the Kinai region by beating the temple in Nanto (Kofuku-ji Temple in Nara). Unlike the temple in Mt. Hiei (Enryaku-ji Temple), the temple in Nanto had never been directly attacked with weapons due to the careful protection directly from the Imperial Court. After gaining control of Omi, Iga, and Ise by January 9, 1181, operations to mop up Nanto were started.

On January 19, 1181, TAIRA no Shigehira, who was the first son of TAIRA no Kiyomori, head of the Taira clan, headed for Nanto leading his solders. After defeating the defending warrior monks, the core force of Shigehira's troops invaded Nanto finally on January 22, 1181. Using Shigeyoshi TAGUCHI as an advance guard, Shigehira broke through the defenses built up on the Hannya Slope by the monks residing in the zendo to protect Hannya-ji Temple, and won a crushing victory by setting fire to Nanto. The document prepared by the monk Eishun says as follows (the archive of Todai-ji Temple).
On January 22, 1181, during the battle between Kofuku-ji Temple and the government solders, the fires set here and there by the solders gradually grew fierce and spread to Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji Temples, where everything was destroyed by fire, as well as the outside of the temples.'
"Heike monogatari" (The Tale of the Heike) also depicts how temple buildings and their Buddha statues collapsed by merciless fire spreading widely due to a strong wind, and how people died screaming and crying in flames. Kanezane KUJO, minister of right, who gave much assistance to restoration of Nanto later, lost words when he heard of this devastation ("Gyokuyo" [Diary of Kanezane KUJO]).

It was Chogen that worked hard for reconstruction of Todai-ji Temple, that was terribly devastated and hanging almost by a thread, by soliciting for contributions. The process to reconstruct Todai-ji Temple by its great fund raisers is described here in the following three periods. They are; construction of the Great Buddha (the first period), rebuilding of the Great Buddha Hall (the second period), and carpentering for other temple buildings and producing Buddhist statues (the third period). Fully utilizing his practical capabilities, Chogen, who was regarded as 'giving top priority to preparations' ("Honen shonin gyojo eden" [Illustrated Records of the Activities by Honen Shonin]), successfully reconstructed Todai-ji Temple.

The surrounding conditions of those times were confrontation among the Imperial Court, the Kamakura regime and the Oshu regime, and following warfare, as well as famines and earthquakes, and competition with other temples in renovation. Under such difficult circumstances, this solicitation for contribution was favorably accepted by the people as salvation of the times. The Kabuki play "Kanjincho"set in this period was created with the people's devotion to the Great Buddha in the background.

Originally, Chogen was a monk who had no relationship with Todai-ji Temple. Known as the founder of the new branch temple in Koya (Senshu Ojo-in Temple), Chogen was an experienced priest walking around the provinces, who entered the priesthood in his early teens and was proud of three visits to the Southern Sung Dynasty with support from FUJIWARA no Moroyuki. When he was appointed to the post of great fund raiser in 118, he was already over 60 years old.

The Imperial Court established two offices: the Agency of Todai-ji Temple Construction and the Agency of Great Buddha Repair
The Agency of Great Buddha Repair was established in order to intensively repair the damaged Great Buddha, of which the head was in particularly terrible shape.

The post of director for construction of Todai-ji Temple was assumed by FUJIWARA no Kanemitsu (later, director for construction of Kofuku-ji Temple), then FUJIWARA no Yukitaka, and then FUJIWARA no Sadanaga while Tamenobu MIYOSHI took the post of deputy director, Motoyasu NAKAHARA the third-highest ranking post, and Yukimasa MIYOSHI the forth-highest ranking post. The posts of director for repair of the Great Buddha were assumed concurrently by Yukitaka and extraordinarily by OTSUKI no Takamoto, who was in the lower official position while OTSUKI no Ariyori took the post of deputy director, Kunimichi OE the third-highest ranking post, and Sukehiro NAKAHARA the forth-highest ranking post.

First Period

The first period starts in 1181 and ends in 1185. Chogen opened a branch temple on the precincts of Todai-ji Temple as the base for soliciting contributions. According to "Todai-ji zoryu kuyoki" (Records of the Service to Celebrate the Construction of Todai-ji Temple), this building was originally a donation from Shigeyoshi TAGUCHI mentioned before, and then used as a branch temple of Todai-ji Temple.

On November 10, 1182, casting was started from the Great Buddha's tightly-curled hair knots, and on February 4, 1183, people worked harder to fire the furnaces on June 17, 1183. Chogen collected metal and charcoal from Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa and FUJIWARA no Seishi and from the general public. They were used as casting materials, after melting down. For smooth casting, Sung's advanced technique were also introduced. A merchant from Sung, CHIN Nakei, who stayed in Hakata due to wreck of his ship, was hired by Chogen as a leader. In addition to CHIN, casters with the family name of Kusabe including Koresuke (是助) KUSABE, who did not belong to the organization under the Office of Imperial Household Logistics, were also appointed. According to "Azuma kagami" (The Mirror of the East), on June 23, casting was completed, and polishing was finished on June 23 according to "Todai-ji zokuyou roku" (A Sequel to the Digest Record of Todai-ji Temple). Under the circumstances, finally on July 28, the Taira clan was defeated by MINAMOTO no Yoshinaka and exiled from the capital. Under the reign of Yoshinaka over the capital, the Agency of the Great Buddha Construction was reinforced with additional personnel (Ariyori OZUKI [小槻有頼] in the second-highest ranking post, Kunimichi OE in the third-highest ranking post, and Sukehiro NAKAHARA in the forth-highest ranking post as mentioned before) on February 22, 1184, and subsequently, they have to request cooperation from the eastern provinces and Oshu for gold plating. It was TAIRA no Yorimori and Imperial Princess Akiko that negotiationed with the eastern provinces, and it was Saigyo that solicited Oshu for contributions in 1186 after the ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha. On April 15, 1185, 10,000 koku (approximately 1.8 million liters of crop yield) of rice, 1,000 ryo of gold and 1,000 hiki (approximately 10,600m in length and 340m in width) of quality silk, including annual tribute from the confiscated territory of the Taira family, were delivered from the eastern provinces. Owing to these offerings, the Great Buddha was plated with gold except the head, but the contribution was not delivered timely from Oshu, an another reliable source. As a result, the day of the ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha finally came although the construction work was not completed.

On September 25, 1185, the containers where Buddha's ashes or their alternatives, such as Buddhist scriptures and jewelry, were placed were put into the body of the Great Buddha. These were offerings from Kanezane KUJO, Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa and other influential figures who gave facilities for construction of the Great Buddha, which totaled to more than eighty according to "Namu Amidabutsu sazenshu," the book where Chogen's great achievements are recorded. With everything prepared, the ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha by inserting the pupils were held on September 30, 1185.

The main guests of this ceremony were Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa, FUJIWARA no Tsunemune, Nakahara no Chikayoshi, FUJIWARA no Yoshimori, TAIRA no Naritada and MINAMOTO no Masachika while FUJIWARA no Muneie, Tsunefusa YOSHIDA, FUJIWARA no Kanemitsu, FUJIWARA no Yukitaka, KIYOHARA no Naritada and Kunimichi OE were appointed to the magistrates. The Cloistered Emperor painted the pupils of the Great Buddha supported by Johen, administrator of the Temple, Shinen, invocation reader, and Kakuken, ceremony leader. According to "Daigo zojiki" (Records of the History of Daigo-ji Temple), 'hundreds of millions of' excited people gathered, in addition to one thousand monks.

Since it started raining heavily on this day, many of the nobles went home in the middle of the ceremony while the common people flocked to the very long 'strings of good' seven-cho (approximately 763.63m) in length, which were tied to the ceremony brush, in order to form a relationship with the Great Buddha. In addition, there was a woman who cut off her hair on the spot to become a nun, and a man who threw a sword on the stage. MINAMOTO no Masayori expressed this excessive frenzy negatively, saying that he could never regard this ceremony as an official event organized by the Imperial Court.

Second Period

The second period was from 1185 to 1195. For the Great Buddha Hall, the framework raising ceremony was held in 1190 and the Buddhist service was performed in 1195.

Thus, the ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha was finished, but this was not the end of the reconstruction plan. There were still hard projects to rebuild temple buildings including the Great Buddha Hall, as well as to repair Buddha statues. Chogen, who had been soliciting contributions during the Bunji era, faced new problems.

In addition to a big one of confrontation between Cloistered Emperor and Yoritomo over treatment of Yoshitune, there were some others such as Kanezane's assumption of the post of regent, deaths of Gyohen and Gyoko (行隆), as well as dismissal of Takamoto. Kanezane, who was eager to reconstruct Todai-ji Temple, became a key person in the national government, which also worked favorably for Todai-ji Temple. However, Kanezae, who became head of the Fujiwara clan at the same time, had to put much effort into reconstructing Hojo-ji and To-ji Temples with a focus on Kofuku-ji Temple built by his clan. To break through this stagnant situation, Chogen visited Ise Shrine with his colleagues to transcribe the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra for the service, to skim through the sutra aloud and show their dedication. Fumihiko Gomi points out that this is because Chogen needed help from the god in Ise to get through the difficulty of soliciting for contributions, being influenced by Banna, a powerful fund-raising priest, in addition to the aim to attract more attention to Todai-ji Temple from the eastern provinces and the Imperial Court.

On May 2, 1186, Suo was designated as the province to bear the expenses to reconstructing Toda-ji Temple. In Iga Province, the mountains owned by Todai-ji Temple were devastated since all available trees had been cut down. Accordingly, looking for quality wood, Chogen already visited Yoshino and Ise only to fail in fulfilling his mission. Therefore, the Imperial Court provided Suo Province, where good wood still remained. Since the Imperial Court permitted to exempt Suo Province from taxes imposed on its earnings, all available sources, in addition to wood, were dedicated to Todai-ji Temple. Extraordinarily, Chogen voluntarily started controlling Suo Province. His practical management capabilities were as excellent as Moroyuki. At that time, the people in Suo Province were suffering famine under the devastation caused by a series of wars, which finally ended. In addition, it was also a big task to obtain aide from local powers in Suo Province, where local bureaucrats and influential families owned manors, which had been the estates possessed by the national government offices, while the estate managers dispatched by the bakufu had great power.

Chogen also built a branch temple there (Suo-bessho, of which the temple name was Amida-ji [Hofu City]) as a management base to start activities. Chogen transported cut-down trees by utilizing pulleys and rafts while creating civil infrastructures by clearing paths and installing weirs ("Todai-ji zoryu kuyoki" [Records of the Service to Celebrate the Construction of Todai-ji Temple]). For these activities, it was not easy to secure a labor force, which annoyed Chogen. Although there were some like-minded vassals such as Takatsuna SASAKI, it seemed impossible to complete the project without imposing levies or labor service on households. In 1187, FUJIWARA no Yukitaka, director for construction of Todai-ji Temple, died so that even hemp ropes to pull wood ran short. FUJIWARA no Sadanaga, retired Emperor's courtier, assumed the post of director, succeeding Yukitaka. Although Sadanaga was not as eager to renovate Todai-ji Temple as Yukitaka was, he was an appropriate person to obtain support from the Imperial Court and the bakufu as its director. However, Yoritomo was unwilling to call out vassals in the western provinces so that Chogen had to depend on the vassals who voluntarily offered their assistance, including Takatsuna.

In 1189, the Battle of Oshu broke out, and Oshu fell under the control of the east government. In the same year, Chogen removed the hill created behind the Great Buddha at his own discretion without obtaining permit from the Imperial Court.

This hill had been functioning as a scaffold for workers and a support for the Great Buddha since its creation in 827 for repair work. However, Chogen had been requesting removal of the ugly-looking hill covering the back of the Great Buddha, which hindered the repair of the halo including condition checks. Concerned that the Great Buddha might collapse by losing its support, the Imperial Court opposed the removal, but Chogen resorted to force, using his position to take the lead in the repair work. In 1190, the framework raising ceremony took place. Kanezane and Cloistered Emperor attended the ceremony while Yoritomo did not. In these days, the Great Buddha Hall construction work began to proceed smoothly with full financial support from the eastern provinces led by Takatsuna. In 1192, Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa passed away. After this, the Imperial Court was controlled mainly by Kanezane. In 1193, Harima and Bizen were designated as the provinces to bear the expenses required for reconstruction of To-ji and Toda-ji Temples, for which Mongaku had been soliciting for contributions. In Oobe no Sho (manor) of Harima Province, a branch temple (later Jodo-ji Temple in Ono City) was built while Chogen directly controlled Bizen Province, exercising the usufruct. Chogen restored order and built temples ("Namu Amidabutsu sazenshu" [A Collection of Good Deeds by Namu Amidabutsu (Chogen)]), and the financial resources of the two provinces with a focus on Bizen were put into the restoration of Todai-ji Temple.

In addition to the Great Buddha Hall, renovation for other facilities also proceeded further, and in 1194 the halo was produced by the masters of the In school led by Inson. In the same year, the service to celebrate the restoration of Kofuku-ji Temple was performed, and the next service was expected from Todai-ji Temple. Yoritomo was supposed to attend this service to be held on a large scale. In the previous year, Yoritomo went to the capital Kyoto accompanied by many of the vassals in the eastern provinces, who responded to his order. Finally, on April 30, 1195, the service to celebrate the completed Great Buddha Hall was performed. Like the ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha conducted before, it rained so heavily on this day that the ceremony was shortened. To prevent the disorder caused in the previous ceremony, Kanezane prohibited commoners from entering the site, which resulted in calm and smooth progress. Later in the ceremony, awards were offered to those who had made great achievements. The rank Great Osho was granted to Chogen following the Jianzhen case, and the rank Hogen to Unkei, sculptor of Buddhist statues while CHIN Wakei received a prize from Yoritomo.

Third Period

The third period was from 1195 to 1203. In 1203, a general service to make offerings to Buddha was conducted on a large scale.

At this time, constructed were the Nandai-mon Gate with a Nio statue sculptured by masters of the Kei school put inside, in addition to Tamukeyama Hachimangu Shrine and its principal image, the statue of Hachiman (God of War). On January 10, 1204, the general service was performed with Emperor Tsuchimikado attending. Three years later, in 1207, Chogen passed away. Living considerably long back in those days, he died at the age of eighty-six.

Restoration by Eisai and Gyoyu

The restoration project went on even after the death of Chogen, and the post of great fund raiser was transferred from Chogen to Eisai and Gyoyu TAIKO. As Eisai put much effort into reconstruction of the nine-story pagoda of Hossho-ji Temple, which was destroyed due to a stroke of lightning in 1208, it was Gyoyu, the third great fund raiser, that worked hard for Todai-ji Temple.

Although Eisai was a powerful monk, on whom Emperor Gotoba relied, Eisai's assumption of the post as great fund raiser (in office from 1206 to 1215) brought hardship to Todai-ji Temple. At that time, Eisai was also putting effort into the reconstruction of the nine-story pagoda of Hossho-ji as a praying temple, which resulted in receiving much support from the Imperial Court for Hossho-ji Temple. Accordingly, not much attention was paid to Todai-ji Temple, which decelerated the restoration project. To the contrary, Suo Province, which had been obtained as a key financial source during the Chogen era, was taken away to provide for Hossho-ji Temple. The reconstruction of this nine-story pagoda continued until 1213.

It was Gyoyu, the third great fund raiser (in office from 1215 to 1241), that saved Todai-ji Temple facing hardship.

The Period of the Northern & Southern Courts and the Muromachi Period

During the Muromachi period, some of the temple buildings were destroyed due to disasters. In February 1362, the east tower and a branch temple named Shingon-in were destroyed by the strike of lightning while Kaidan-in and the lecture hall were destroyed by fire in February 1446 and in 1508 respectively.

The Warring States Period and the Great Buddha Hall Bursting into Flames

For more information on the battle, see the section of "Warrior Clashes at the Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji Temple."

In 1567, the Miyoshi triumvirate (Nagayuki MIYOSHI, Masayasu MIYOSHI and Tomomichi IWANARI) fought against Hisahide MATSUNAGA, and locked themselves together with Junkei TSUTSUI in the Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji Temple. At that time, Hisahide, who was in Tamon Castle, strove fiercely. As a result of a series of batt;es with fire from Mt. Tamon and fire set by Hisahide on November 20, 1567, many religious facilities in Nanto were destroyed by fire, including Hannya-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple and its subtemples, as well as catastrophically damaging Todai-ji Temple. Kaidan-in, the Jodo-do Hall, the Chumon Hall, Tozen-in, the Great Buddha Hall and many other facilities burned down, and the number of lost temple buildings exceeded that of remaining ones. Since then, the Great Buddha had been exposed to rain without cover until the restoration in the Genroku era.

Doan YAMADA, who was a ruling family in Yamabe County, Yamato Province, was one of the people who took action for the Great Buddha placed in such a devastating condition. In 1568, Doan started repairing the head of the Great Buddha and finished in 1572. Praised for his achievement, a letter of the emperor's order issued by a secretary to the emperor was presented to Doan.

However, the restoration of Todai-ji Temple was not completed. In 1568, Seigyoku, the chief priest of Amida-ji Temple located on the west bank of the Hori River in Rakuhoku, solicited for contribution, receiving a letter of the emperor's order. In addition to Seigyoku's solicitation, Nobunaga ODA, Hisahide MATSUNAGA and Nagayuki MIYOSHI also offered assistance, but things did not progress smoothly. As features of this solicitation, Yoshihiko AMINO points out a strong dependence on support from daimyo (Japanese feudal lords).

Solicitation in the medieval period gives the strong impression that it depended on religious devotion of the common people and fund raisers wandering from place to place as social activities. However, from the Warring States period to the Azuchi Momoyama period, fund-raising priests were apt to be called 'gannin bozu' by using the discriminatory term for humiliation. The solicitation by Seigyoku represents the feature of the times, which is pointed out by Amino, that the philosophy of 'muen' (to break off the relationship with the outside world) diminished.

The Edo Period and Reconstruction of the Great Buddha Hall

It was the Kyoto City Magistrate that placed the Nara Magistrate established in the city of Nara in the Edo period under its control. The Kyoto City Magistrate controlled Nara's administration and justice by issuing commands while the Nara Magistrate was in charge of temples and shrines having domains authorized by the bakufu.

It was Kokei that worked hard for the restoration of Todai-ji Temple, including the reconstruction of the Great Buddha Hall, in the Genroku era. Kokei was born in Miyazu in Tango Province (now Miyazu City) in 1648. He grew up at Suimon-go (水門郷) in the precincts of Todai-ji Temple, and entered the priesthood at this temple. Then, in 1685, he started soliciting contributions focusing on large cities such as Edo, Kyo, and Osaka with authorization from the bakufu. In 1688, he was appointed to "kanjin shonin" (fund-raising virtuous priest). Working hard at Choju-in Temple as the base in Edo and at Ryusho-in as the base branch temple founded by himself on the precincts of Todai-ji Temple, Kokei completed renovation of the Great Buddha's head in 1690 and Hachiman-gu Shrine (Tamukeyama Hachiman-gu Shrine) of Todai-ji Temple in 1691. Although the repair of the Great Buddha Hall was not completed, the ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha was temporarily performed in celebration of the reconstructed Great Buddha in 1692. Cloistered Imperial Prince Saishin, the administrator of the Temple, was the priest leading the consecration ceremony, and Cloistered Imperial Prince Shinkei, the chief priest of Ichijo-in of Kokuji Temple, who cooperated in solicitation, was the priest leading the service while Dojo (道恕), a chief priest of the Kegon sect and the chief of Sonsho-in Temple, served as ceremony leader on the day when the wish came true.

From various districts, many people came to Nara for the ceremony held at Todai-ji Temple, where a wide variety of treasures stored in Shoso-in Treasure Repository were displayed. Nara was so crowded with people visiting also Gango-ji Temple, Jigen-ji Temple, Yakushi-ji Temple, Toshodai-ji Temple and Akishino-dera Temple, where treasures were also exhibited. "Daibutsuden saiken ki" (Records of Reconstruction of the Great Buddha) says that the number of people who gathered for this ceremony was more than 200,000.

For reconstruction of the Great Buddha Hall, further assistance was needed from the bakufu. By utilizing connections with Takamitsu, with whom he got acquainted, Kokei was able to obtain support from Keisho-in and her son, Shogun Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA. Although the bakufu required Kokei to reduce the size of the Great Buddha Hall from eleven ken (approx. twenty m) to nine ken (approx. sixteen m), they were willingly to offer support. The bakufu provided large amounts of gold and silver for Todai-ji Temple, and requested feudal lords to offer human and financial resources. In 1696, the system was reinforced by appointing Morimasa UCHIDA to the Nara City Magistrate and Yoriyasu TSUMAKI as a person in charge of Todai-ji Temple for control by two supervisors. Kokei constructed temple buildings one after another. In the precincts of Todai-ji Temple, Kokei proceeded with repair of Nenbutsu-do Hall, reconstruction of Tonan-in and construction of Tosho-gu Shrine (now Tenno-den) while he visited Suo Province to construct Shunjo-in in memory of Chogen, whom he admired. In 1703, for decorative beams of the Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji Temple, which had been a pending issue, the wood cut down on the mountainside of Mt. Kirishima in Hyuga Province was transported to the Temple with difficulty, taking much time until 1704. When Kokei died in 1705, a funeral service was performed with all monks of the Temple attending, and his disciples of Kinmori, Kintoshi and Yokun (庸訓) assumed the post of fund raiser. In 1709, a general service was performed at Todai-ji Temple in celebration of its reconstruction completed by Kokei and his disciples on a large scale.

The Meiji Period and Thereafter

In the Meiji Restoration, the new government formulated a policy causing an anti-Buddhist movement, which further deteriorated the management of Todai-ji Temple. Its 3,200 koku (596.77 cubic meters of crop yields) of authorized domains were taken away. The post of great fund raiser for Todai-ji Temple and Tonan-in Temple were also lost, and Shoso-in Treasure Repository was put under the control of the national government. Todai-ji Temple, which had belonged to the Jodo sect since 1868, became independent as the head temple of the Kegon sect in 1886. In 1896, Todai-ji Temple Library was established, and the foundation of Kangaku-in (Todai-ji) was approved. Kangaku-in, which scholar monks not only from the Kegon sect, but also from a variety of sects visit as instructors and learners, becomes an educational institution appropriate for learning the eight sects of Buddhism.

Also after the Meiji period, the temple buildings were repeatedly repaired. In fact, the design of the Great Buddha Hall reconstructed in the Edo period was not proper so that the hall had been remarkably damaged. Therefore, the Great Buddha Hall was overhauled in 1903. For this major repair, solicitations for contributions were smoothly permitted by the national government owing to much effort made by the two administrators of the Temple, Senkai KOSAKA (鼓坂荐海) and Hideki SUGANUMA, and then the project proceeded. With Western ironsmith techniques introduced, this big project, which totaled to 720,000 yen in the end, took seven years to finish.

Later, in 1927, the Nandai-mon Gate was overhauled. After being managed by the Ministry of Interior, the Local Finance Bureaus of the Ministry of Treasury, and then the Nara Prefectural Government, the precinct land, which was reduced to one fifths of its original space, was sold to Todai-ji Temple in 1951. Then, the Great Buddha Hall was repaired on a large scale during the Showa period. This repair was implemented for the hall, where wind and rain damages accumulated from the Taisho period. Accordingly, this major repair, which focused on the large roof, totaling more than 3.4 billion yen, taking seven years from 1973. In addition, the statues of Kongo Rikishi placed in the Nandai-mon Gate, which were overhauled from 1989 to 1994, unveiled the new facts about the statues.


741-Emperor Shomu issued the decree to build provincial temples.

743-Emperor Shomu issued the decree to construct the Great Buddha.

744-Started constructing the Great Buddha at Koga-ji Temple.

745-The capital was transferred from Kuni-kyo to Heijo-kyo.

752-The ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha took place.

755-Kaidan-in was built.

836-Kukai founded Shingon-in Temple.

855-The head of the Great Buddha fell, and was repaired

934-The west tower was destroyed by fire caused by a strike of lightning.

1000-The west tower was lost due to fire.

1031-Shinkaku founded Sai-in.

1120-Kanzeon-ji Temple in Dazaifu became a branch temple of Todai-ji.

1180-TAIRA no Shigehira set fire to Nanto. Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji Temples were terribly damaged.

1185-A service to celebrate the completion of the Great Buddha was performed.

1195-A general service to make offerings to Buddha was performed at Todai-ji Temple.

1331-Emperor Godaigo secretly visited Tonan-in Temple, and then Kasagi-dera, a branch temple.

1567-Todai-ji Temple, including the Great Buddha and its hall, was ctastrophically damaged due to warrior clashes at the Great Buddha Hall.

1568-Started repair of the Great Buddha's head by Doan Yamada and fund raising by Seigyoku.

1688-Started fund raising by Kokei and reconstruction of Todai-ji Temple.

1692-The ceremony to consecrate the Great Buddha took place.

1868-An ordinance to distinguish Shinto and Buddhism was issued.

1872-Todai-ji Temple was integrated into the Jodo sect.

1879-Started renovation of the Great Buddha Hall.

1883-Became independent as a temple of the Kegon sect.

1915-Performed the service to celebrate the rstored Great Buddha Hall.

1973-Started the major repair during the Showa period.

1980-Completed the major Showa repair.

Historical Materials

The historical materials required for deep understanding of the history of Todai-ji Temple are as follows.

"Todai-ji Temple archives"-One of the most important sources among the many maintained at the Japanese temples. The materials included in "Dai nihon komonjo" (The Archives in Japan) were complied by the Historiographical Institute at the University of Tokyo.

"Todai-ji yoroku" (The Digest Record of Todai-ji Temple)-Completed at the beginning of the eleventh century.

"Todai-ji zoku yoroku" (A Sequel to the Digest Record of Todai-ji Temple)-Completed during the Kamakura period. The materials included in "Zoku-zoku gunsho ruiju" (A Sequel to the Classified Documents Continued).

"Todai-ji zatsushuroku"-A book on Todai-ji Temple complied during the Edo period. Included in "Dai nihon bukkyo zensho" (Compendium of Buddhism in Japan).

"Todai-ji betto shidai"(History of Todai-ji Temple Administrators)-Included in "Gunsho ruiju"(Collection of historical documents) compiled by Hokiichi HANAWA).

"Todai-ji nenjugyoji" (Todai-ji Temple Annual Events)

"Daibutsu-den saikoki" (Records on Restoration of the Great Buddha Hall)

"Namu Amidabutsu sazenshu" (book about Chogen's works) - Included in "Dai nihon shiryo" (the Historical Materials of Japan) complied by the Historiographical Institute at the University of Tokyo. Namu Amidabutsu means Chogen, and this book records how Chogen did good deeds in his life.

"Todai-ji zoryukuyo ki" (Records of the Service to Celebrate the Construction of Todai-ji Temple)-This record, completed in the Muromachi period or thereafter, admires Chogen for his soliciting for contributions, but truths and falsehood are mixed.
Included in "Gunsho ruiju"(Collection of historical documents)

[Original Japanese]