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Nara: The Cradle of Japanese Buddhism

Japan's imperial capital of Nara (710-794) is the home to some of the country's most iconic architectural monuments, including the Nanto Shichi Daiji, the seven Buddhist shrines that date back to the introduction of that faith to Japan.

Buddhism originated in India around 500 BCE and spread across Asia along the Silk Road to Korea and China and ultimately across the sea to Japan in the middle of the 6th century CE.  Despite initial resistance from the established Shinto religion in Japan, Buddhism became established thanks in large part to the patronage of the Emperor's son Shōtoku (572-622), who prayed to the Buddha when his father fell ill then, seemingly miraculously, recovered.  

Shōtoku, who renounced any claims to the throne but served as regent, was a sincere follower of Buddha but also recognized the religion's potential as a potent political instrument for unifying the country and improving the efficiency of Japan's government.  He successfully adapted Chinese systems of bureaucracy and codified a Constitution, which was based on Buddhist principles. 

In the mid 7th century, construction began on the famed seven temples of Nara, including the Tōdai-ji, which is still active today as the centre of Kegon school of Buddhism.  Although the capital was moved from Nara to Kyoto in 794, relegating Nara to the status of Japan's secondary or "southern" capital, it remained an important religious center.  Visitors still make the pilgrimage to Nara's monuments, particularly Tōdai-ji, with its famed statue of Birushana Buddha: the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world at 49.1 feet high and weighing 550 tons.  The wooden structure housing has twice been rebuilt after fires.  Until 1998, the current temple, constructed in the early 18th century, was the largest wooden structure in the world, a record still held by Japan with the construction of the wooden 100,000 seat Jukai Dome stadium in Odate.

Visit the Great Buddha and other highlights of historical Japan on Alexander+Roberts's popular Japan itinerary, the small group tour From Japan’s Inland Sea to the Alps.

Posted: 1/22/2016 2:15:09 PM by Alexander + Roberts