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NVC Walking Tours | Route F

The Secret Path to Todai-ji Temple

We have compiled some walking tours for our guests, leaving from NARA Visitor Center & Inn to some of the major sites around Nara and also some places and activities that might ordinarily fly under the radar.

Kohfuku-ji Temple - Home to the 5 story pagoda; a Nara icon

Nara Koen Bus Terminal - Modern building: events, exhibitions, Starbucks & amenities

Yoshiki-en Garden - fabulous traditional Japanese garden with free entry

Nandaimon Gate - The Great Southern Gate of Todai-ji. The biggest of its kind

The Great Buddha Hall - Constantly voted in the top 3 sites to visit in Japan

The Daibutsu - The Big Buddha of Nara

Nigatsu-do Hall - Magical ambiance & amazing views

Rokumei-en Tea House - Charming tea house; lunch and desserts

Map - Visual overview of the walking route

NArA Visitor Center & Inn Walking Tours Route F

Route F takes you from NARA Visitor Center & Inn, through Kohfuku-ji Temple to the roof top of the newly built Nara Koen Bus Terminal. Here, you can enjoy some panoramic views of the city with the 5 story pagoda of Kohfuku-ji Temple to the right and the roof top of the Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji Temple to the left.

From there, we recommend you take a lesser know path to Todai-ji Temple via some charming back streets with a stop off at Yoshiki-en Garden.

Finally, make your way to Todai-ji Temple and take in the beauty and majesty of Nandaimon Gate, The Great Buddha Hall and Nigatsu-do Hall. On your way back to the city, recharge your batteries at Rokumei-en Tea House with some seasonal delicacies, a hearty lunch or Japanese sweets.

No words can fully explain the awe inspiring experience that is Todai-ji Temple;

you have to see it for yourself.


Kohfuku-ji Temple

NARA Visitor Center & Inn Kohfuku-ji Temple

Kohfuku-ji Temple was the family temple of the powerful Fujiwara clan. in 710, having been instrumental in moving the imperial court and the capital to the newly created city of Heijo-kyo (Nara city) the head of the clan, Fujiwara-no-Fuhito also decided to relocate his family temple from its previous location in the former capital of Fujiwara-kyo to where it stands today. The temple was rename Kohfuku-ji, which means “The Temple that Generates Blessings.”

The temple grew in size and stature until the 15th century when a period of decline culminated in 1717 with a catastrophic fire which all but destroyed the entire complex. The temple suffered further indignations during the Meiji period with most its land and several buildings confiscated by the pro-Shinto, anti-Buddhist government.

Since the end of WW2 and the granting of religious freedoms, the temple has been slowly restored and once again its cultural heritage and treasures are on display for the public at large to appreciate and enjoy.

The Central Golden Hall

NARA Visitor Center & Inn Kohfuku-ji Temple

Reconstructed and consecrated in October 2018 with an elaborate series of rituals, the Central Golden Hall is both Kohfuku-ji Temple's newest and the most important structure in the temple complex.

The term “golden hall” refers to a structure whose primary function is to enshrine one or more Buddhist icons. As these statues are usually gilded, the soft light given off from the candles and oil lamps offered to them produces a golden glow as it reflects off their bodies. This golden glow is likened to the teaching of the Buddha - illuminating the world with the light of wisdom.

This new Central Golden Hall, the first full-scale reconstruction in more than three centuries remains faithful to both the dimensions and architectural style of the original from the Nara period and is now open to the public.

The 5 Story Pagoda

NARA Visitor Center &Inn Kohfuku-ji Temple 5 story pagoda visit nara

At 50.1m high, the 5 story pagoda of Kohfuku-ji Temple dominates the Nara skyline and is the second tallest pagoda in all of Japan. Originally built by Empress Kōmyō in 730, the pagoda has been razed to the ground by fire no less than 5 times. The current reconstruction dates back to 1426. The architectural style of that time, a time (the Muromachi period: 1136–1573) was rather dynamic and ostentatious, but great efforts were taken to reconstruct the pagoda to incorporate architectural motifs of the Nara period

Pagodas are used to enshrine the relics of the historical Buddha and serve as reminders of the continued presence of the Buddha’s teaching in this world.


Nara Koen Bus Terminal

NARA Visitor Center & Inn Nara park Bus Terminal

The recently built Nara Koen Bus Terminal offers tourists an extra stop off point on their way to Todai-ji Temple by providing a roof top observatory, exhibition and event space, amenities, souvenir shop, Starbucks and a restaurant.

The bus terminal was primarily built to help reduce congestion in the area, in part by allowing a convenient drop off point for tourist coaches from outside the prefecture.

Located immediately adjacent the Nara Prefectural Office, the stylish design and functionality of the building has greatly added to the area.


Yoshiki-en Garden

This classical Japanese garden is named after the Yoshikigawa River, a small river that runs beside it. Beautiful in all seasons, the garden is arguably at its best in autumn when red leaves dramatically contrast with the wooden tea house.

The garden consists of 3 parts; The Pond Garden, The Moss Garden and The Garden of Tea Ceremony Flowers.

The site upon which the garden sits is said to have once been home to a sub-temple of Kohfuku-ji Temple. When Japan entered the Meiji Period (1862 - 1912) the site became privately owned. The current garden and buildings were built in 1919 and were used for a time to welcome VIP guests.

NARA Visitor Center & Inn Yoshiki-en Garden

Yoshiki-en Garden is open from 9am to 5pm and is free to enter with a foreign passport.

The garden is closed between Feb 24th and Feb 28th.


Nanadaimon Gate

NARA Visitor Center & Inn Nandaimon Todai-ji Temple

The Great South Gate, originally erected during the Nara period was rebuilt during the Kamakura period after being destroyed in a typhoon.

The ridgepole was raised in 1199 and the structure was completed in 1203 along with the statues of the muscular guardian deities, the Two Ni-ō housed in the gate. The giant sculptures, each measuring 8.4m in height were completed in just 69 days under the direction of the sculptors Unkei and Kaikei, 2 of the leading sculptors of the late 12th and early 13th centuries.

NARA Visitor Center & Inn Nandaimon Nio Statue

The eighteen giant pillars that support the roof measure twenty-one meters and the entire structure rises 25.46 meters above the stone plinth on which it rests. The Great South Gate is the largest temple entrance gate in Japan, suitable in scale to the Great Buddha Hall.


The Great Buddha Hall

NARA Visitor Center & Inn Todai-ji Temple at night

Todai-ji Temple was founded by Emperor Shomu in 752 as the state temple for the capital city. Emperor Shomu turned to Buddhism after the nation was ravaged by a major outbreak of smallpox. A long drought added to the woes of the nation leading to food shortages and rampant crime.

Although Buddhism had been introduced into Japan some 200 year prior, it was wasn't until Emperor Shomu dedicated his life to the Buddha that the religion swept the country through his edicts. The Emperor firmly believed that only Buddhism could save the nation from further disaster.

NARA Visitor Center & Inn Daibutsuden

The size of The Great Buddha Hall is truly overwhelming. It measures 57m in width, 50.5m in length, and 48.7m in height. It still remains one of the largest wooden structures in the world and this is despite having been rebuilt in 1709 after a fire at two thirds of its original size.

One can only imagine the splendor of the original.

Daibutsu - The Big Buddha

The official name of the Big Buddha is in fact Vairocana Buddha, which means the sun or light in Sanskrit. Vairocana Buddha is seen as a universal, cosmic Buddha, a personification of the dharmakaya and the illumination of wisdom.

NARA Visitor Center & Inn The Big Buddha

The ailing Emperor Shomu, fearful he would not get to witness the completion of his vision

brought the opening ceremony forward, even before the gold leaf could be applied to the statue. The Opening Eye Ceremony, as it was called, was the largest ever event in East Asian at the time with some 10,000 monks gathered in the forecourt chanting sutras.

The eyes were painted in by the distinguished Indian Buddhist scholar, Bodhisena who was responsible for establishing the Kegon school of Buddhism in Japan, of which Todai-ji is the head temple. A long cord was attached to the brush he used to paint in the eyes so Emperor Shomu and his consort, Empress Kōmyō, could hold on to it and also symbolically partake in the ritual themselves.

NARA Visitor Center & Inn The Daibutsu Size

Weighing in at 50 tonnes, the seated Buddha measures 15m in height, 18m, if you include the plinth on which it sits. The shoulders measure 28 meters across and there are 960 six curls atop its head.

The positions of the fingers and hands, known as mudra also have religious significance. The up-facing palm mudra of the left hand signifies the granting of wishes while the mudra of the forward facing right hand, signifies granting ease of mind.

According to records kept by Tōdai-ji, more than 2,600,000 people in total helped construct the Great Buddha and its Hall; contributing rice, wood, metal, cloth, or labor with 350,000 working directly on the statue's construction.


Nigatsu-do Hall

NARA Visitor Center & Inn, Todai-ji Temple Nigatsu-do Hall of the Second Month at night

Nestled against the hillside, resting on large wooden posts and filled with magical looking lanterns, Nigatsu-do Hall (lit. Hall of the Second Month) is flamboyant in the sunshine and positively other-worldly lit-up at night.

The view from Nigatsu-do is considered to be one of the best in all of Kansai. Watching the sun set below Mt. Ikoma in the west, with the roof of Todai-ji Temple in the foreground and the twinkling lights of Nara city down below is a reverential experience which soothes the soul.

As the hall is accessible 24 hours a day, the night views are just as spectacular as they are in the day. If you do plan on enjoying the night views from here, we recommend you take a small flashlight with you as the paths to and from the hall are not illuminated.

NARA Visitor Center & Inn Nigatsu-do at night

Nigatsu-do Hall was built in 752 as a prayer for the return to health of Emperor Shomu, a return to health from the very same illness that had him bring forward the opening ceremony of Todai-ji Temple itself, lest he not live long enough to see the realization of his grand plans. The Emperor went on to renounce his royal title and lived the rest of his years as a monk and finally passed in 756.


NARA Visitor Center & Inn Omizutori

First observed in 752, Omizutori was originally held in the second month of the lunar calendar, and this is what gives Nigatsu-do its name. Apart from the one mishap, the present form of the ceremony has been held every year since 1260. Omizutori is the final rite in the 2 week long Buddhist Shuni-e cleansing ceremony, which is held from March 1st through March 14th every year to cleanse people of their sins.

The most spectacular event of the Omizutori is the dance of the taimatsu pine bough torches. At 7 o’clock on every night of the ceremony (6:30 on the final night), ten 6m long taimatsu are carried 2 at-a-time up to the balcony of Nigatsu-do by young monks and rolled, twirled, and danced around. This act purifies Nigatsu-do and spreads the blessings on those who have come to view the festival.

It is one of the most anticipated events of the calendar year, not only for the visual spectacle but for the demarkation of the end of winter and the start of spring and the promise of new beginnings.


Rokumei-en Tea House

On your way back to the city, recharge your batteries at Rokumei-en Tea House with some seasonal delicacies, a hearty lunch or Japanese sweets.

There are also a few vegan options on the menu.

They are open from 10am to 6pm - last order is at 5:30pm

Please check out their webpage or Instagram for more details on their menu


Route Map

Download the PDF overview of the walking tour.

NVC Walking Tour Route F
Download PDF • 1.33MB

*Exact times, dates and fees may vary . Please check the official websites.

If you have any questions regarding this suggested walking tour, please get in touch and we will do our best to assist you.

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