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Art Of Japan: The Temple Of Todaiji Essay, Research Paper

Art of Japan: The Temple of Todaiji Commissioned during the reign of Emperor Shomu in 743 CE, the temple of Todaiji is the world’s largest wooden structure in existence today. Shomu initially constructed Todaiji to house a tremendous bronze Buddha statue he was having built. The statue of the Vairocana, or Supreme, Buddha reached a height of nearly 60 feet when completed, and depleted the nation’s copper supply sufficiently as to make bronze sculpture impossible for centuries. Todaiji itself is a massive structure, measuring 157 feet high by 187 feet long currently. It is estimated that the original structure was a full third larger, as the building has been burned down twice in its history and was last reconstructed during the Kamakura period of the twelfth century. The construction of Todaiji was similar to that of Horyuji and several other temples of the period, but on a far grander scale. The finished compound consisted of the gigantic image (kondo) hall, two pagodas that reached to over 100 meters high each, a refectory and the monks’ dormitories. The front of the temple was comprised of eleven bays stretching for 73 meters, and attached to 154 additional bays.

To this day, Todaiji remains the world’s largest wooden structure. It is estimated that approximately 50,000 carpenters and over 370,000 metal workers were employed to build the temple between the years of 745 and 752 CE. At the height of the project a full 10 percent of the Japanese population was involved in some way with the construction of Todaiji. Shomu specifically intended that his Great Buddha Hall be of such mammoth proportions in order to fulfill two distinct purposes. He saw the construction of Todaiji as a way to both ensure the good favor of the Buddha and to demonstrate the power of the Japanese State. The formal name of Todaiji is “Temple for the Protection of the Nation by the Golden Effulgent Four Divine Kings”, and accurately reflects both aspects of Shomu’s motivation. Todaiji literally dominated the city of Nara, dwarfing even the hills from which it was carved. Ultimately the great power conveyed upon Buddhist religion by the temple would impede the secular government, and prompt leaders to move the capital away from Nara.


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