A day after visiting the center of the Shingon sect of Buddhism I made a quick trip out to Nara, the nation's first 'permanent capital' and the center of the Kegon school of Buddhism (and five others). My visit occurred on an overcast day, since the main sights of Tōdai-ji were located in the interior and not lit very well I didn't find my excursion very satisfying. It also didn't help that i was visiting during a pretty dormant period, summer and winter photos of the surrounding area made the temple grounds look much better than the sight I saw.
On arrival, you'll notice that the park area which encloses most of the main attractions in Nara is overrun by rodents called Sika deer. Regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, they are allowed to roam the grounds freely, hassling visitors for food. Keep any important pieces of paper tucked safely away, these rodents aren't too bright. I saw a few chewing on the metal chain lining the path. They make the place smell like a zoo.
Tōdai-ji's daibutsuden is impressive, it's the largest wooden building in the world, rebuilt numerous times with the current version being 30% smaller than its predecessors. But I thought the two dancing figures at the entrance gate and the two guardians on either side of the daibutsu were more interesting.
Walking through the gate, you'll be flanked by two 28-foot tall guardians, the dancing figures of the Nio. The one with the closed mouth is Ungyo and the one with the open mouth is Agyo. When you finally reach the interior of the daibutsuden, you'll face the Great Buddha. It's over 50ft., made of 437 tons of bronze, 286 pounds of pure gold (puts the Golden Pavilion to shame), 165 pounds of mercury (isn't this stuff toxic? It was used in the Terminator 2 movie to depict T-1000), and 7 tons of vegetable wax. The head on it was replaced a few times, once after it fell off during an earthquake and a few times after it melted from the daibutsuden burning down around it. It's so huge that one of its fingers is the size of a human, and you know what that means, you could probably fit through it's nostril but more on that later.
On the right side of the Great Buddha, you'll find a column with a hole bored through it. It's the size of the Great Buddha's nostril. According to popular belief, if you can manage to crawl through this opening, you'll be sure to reach enlightenment. I didn't bother trying to fit my big American rear through it, I've heard of people getting stuck.
Flanking the Great Buddha are two huge guardians watching over Todai-ji and its precincts. The lighting was pretty bad so I didn't get any real good shots of them. But they were pretty huge and just as cool as the dancing figures of the Nio out at the front gate. There's also a freaky wooden statue outside the daibutsuden, not sure what the story is behind that one.