NARA

 Todaiji temple

In 743, the emperor Shomu ordered the building of a giant Buddha. Japan had been suffering from smallpox and drought, and the emperor hoped to settle unrest and unite the people with the relatively new ideas of Buddhism. The almost 15-meter high Buddha, cast in copper and coated with gold, was completed in 752. The structure housing it, known as the Daibutsu Den, is possibly the largest wooden building in the world, despite the fact that the present structure was rebuilt in 1790 at two thirds its original size. The official dedication took place by painting its eyes with a giant paintbrush, and the ceremony was presided by a visiting priest from India. Many important people attended this event, some from overseas, all bearing splendid gifts. Many of these items are stored in the Todaiji’s treasure house, the Shosoin, which is currently administrated by the Imperial Household. Understandably, a great portion of the structures and artifacts are designated National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. The Daibutsu Den is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ko-fukuji temple

Originally founded in Kyoto in 669 by Kamatari Fujiwara’s wife to pray for his health, Kofukuji Temple was moved several times before settling in its present location in 710. Support by the Fujiwaras, and the Imperial family made it one of the wealthiest and most powerful temples in the country, and virtually swallowing Kasuga Taisha, it exercised great political power even after the capital moved to Kyoto in 794. Its wealth became depleted during the late Muromachi Period, until in 1600 Ieyasu Tokugawa granted an annual endowment enabling renovations of many of its structures. Today, many of what is left are designated National Treasures, the most notable being the 5-storey pagoda. There are also the Three-storeyed Pagoda, Middle and Eastern Golden Halls, and the North and South Octagonal Halls, each of which enshrine (or originally enshrined) various Buddhas and holy figures. Many of these artifacts are on display in the Kofukuji National Treasure Museum. Kofukuji is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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