The weathered, wooden halls in Tōshōdai-ji‘s (唐招提寺) shady compound are superb examples of late eighth-century architecture. The temple was founded in 759 by the eminent Chinese monk Ganjin – he of Nara’s Kaidan-in – when he was granted permission to move from the city to somewhere more peaceful.

The first thing you’ll see on entering the south gate is the stately Chinese-style Kon-dō (main Hall), which has recently been restored. Craftsmen who accompanied Ganjin from the mainland are responsible for the three superb dry-lacquer statues displayed here. The Kō-dō (Lecture Hall) behind the Kon-dō also dates from the late eighth century, and is more Japanese in styling. During the Nara period, this hall was a major centre of learning and religious training. On the compound’s east side is the concrete Shin-Hōzō, where, each spring and autumn, Tōshōdai-ji’s treasures go on display. Again, these are mostly statues, of which the most celebrated is a headless Buddha known as the “Venus of the Orient”. Just once a year – on June 6, the anniversary of Ganjin’s death – the doors of the Miei-dō (Founder’s Hall), in the northern section of the compound, are opened to reveal a lacquered image which was carved just before he died in 763 at the grand age of 76. He’s buried next door, in the far northeast corner of the compound, in a simple grave within a clay-walled enclosure.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Japan features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Eating Kyūshū: a guide to Japan's secret foodie hotspot

Eating Kyūshū: a guide to Japan's secret foodie hotspot

Kyūshū, the most southerly of Japan’s four main islands, is pretty much left alone by tourists. Yet, the island – only a bullet-train ride from Tokyo –…

29 Mar 2017 • Ros Walford insert_drive_file Article
The best places to go in spring

The best places to go in spring

Springtime is beautiful, with its big blue skies and flowers in bloom, so there may be no better time to travel. If you're thinking about getting away, here are…

14 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world's most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you're looking to wander l…

01 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month