東大寺 Todai-ji - World Heritage in Japan

 World Heritage in Japan


I’ve lived my whole life as a Japanese person, but when I went overseas I realised I know practically nothing about Japan. So now I’m learning about Japan’s World Heritage Sites, from oldest to newest. Those who are interested, and even those who are not, come along for the ride.

東大寺 Todai-ji

撮影協力 / メルボルン総領事館 Thanks to the Consulate-General of Japan, Melbourne


 ○○○○○ 東大寺 平和な世を願い気宇壮大な国家事業で建てられた寺院 ○○○○○ 


そして東大寺といえば、なんといっても大仏。もしかしたら寺そのものより認知度が高いのでは? 大仏の正式名称は、『盧舎那仏(るしゃなぶつ)』といい、世界を照らす仏・ひかり輝く仏の意味だそうです。『華厳経』には、釈迦(しゃか)の身長を10倍することによって、無限大の宇宙を表現することが説かれていて、この大仏は宇宙を表しているそうです。スケールの大きな話ですよね。もちん大仏と呼ばれるだけあって実質的なスケールも大きい。高さは、像高14.98mで、像の下にある蓮華座高を入れると18.02mになります。745年に製作が始まり、完成したのは7年後の752年。当時、今のような重機がなかったことを考えると、かなり速いスピードで完成したのではないでしょうか。

個人的に、大仏の頭に付いている粒々に目が行ってしまうのですが、皆さんはどうでしょうか? あの粒状の物は『螺髪(らほつ)』と呼ばれるもので、髪の毛を表しているそうです。ひとつの螺髪の重さは約1.2kg。それが、966個付いているので、髪の毛だけで1,159.2kgもあることに! そんな大仏ですが、度重なる戦や天災などで破損・焼失し、何度も修復されてきました。現在、奈良時代から伝わっている部分は、台座、ひざ頭の一部のみとなっています。





○○○Todai-ji: a temple built to pray for peace on earth○○○

For many, Todai-ji brings to mind the Daibutsu (Giant Buddha), which may even be more famous than the temple itself! Its proper name is ‘Rushana-butsu’, meaning ‘the shining Buddha’. In the Avatamsaka Sutra the infinity of the cosmos is explained, and the giant Buddha statue at Todai-ji represents the cosmos itself. As you might guess from the name, the Daibutsu is enormous. The statue is 14.98m high, and 18.02m if you include the lotus it sits on. Construction began in the year 745, and was completed seven years later in 752. That’s pretty fast, if you consider that they didn’t have the sort of heavy machinery we do nowadays.

When I look at this Daibutsu my eye is drawn to the little balls covering his head. Known as ‘rahotsu’, they are supposed to represent curls of hair. Each curl weighs 1.2kg – and there are 966 of them, which would make the just the statue’s hair 1159kg in total! This Daibutsu has been repaired many times due to damage from war, fire, and natural disasters. Of today’s statue, it is thought that only the pedestal and knees are originals.

The great hall containing the Daibutsu burnt down and has been rebuilt twice, once in the Kamakura period and once in the Edo period. On the latter occasion, suitable wood for the pillars couldn’t be found so sadly the frontage was reduced from its original 86m to 57m. Despite this, it remains the world’s largest wooden building. That reminds me, I recall hearing while on a school trip that in one of the pillars is a hole the same size as the Daibutsu’s nostril, and if you pass through it you’ll get smarter... which may or may not be true.

Todai-ji’s grounds are extensive, including many more things apart from the Daibutsu: Hokke-do, the oldest structure of Todai-ji; Nigatsu-do, enshrining Buddha statues forbidden from public view; Kaidan-do, the location of the first official Buddhist ordination in Japan; Nandaimon, the largest temple gate in Japan; and Tengaimon, a good example of Tenpyo period temple architecture. Hokke-do and Tengaimon were both altered when repaired in the Kamakura period, but are original Nara period structures that escaped damage from wars and natural disasters. It is because of the many national treasures on the site and because it is still used today as a place of faith and religious events throughout the year that Todai-ji become World Heritage listed.

Next time we introduce one of the ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto’: a temple called Kiyomizu-dera.