Take in the beauty of Nara’s townscape at sunrise and sunset
What is your favorite spot in Todaiji Temple? Many people you ask will answer Nigatsu-do. Many will also tell you, that looking out from Nigatsu-do is the best. Enter through the South Gate, and walk past the Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsu-den), and climb the ancient stone pathway lined with stone lanterns to reach Nigatsu-do, standing proudly on the slopes of the mountain. You can then take in the beauty of Nara from the temple corridor that feels as if it were connected to the sky. Dusk is the most popular time for people to visit to enjoy the view – looking out over the quiet evening landscape is an experience of exceptional beauty. People of the Nara period also looked out on the same view of Mount Ikoma being submerged in sunset from this very spot. It is a location where you can truly experience the deep flow of time. The most luxurious time, however, is early morning, when only a small number of visitors are present. The temple grounds enveloped in fine morning mist create a solemn atmosphere that cannot be experienced at any other time of day. Climbing to the top of the corridor, you will be rewarded with a sparkling view of the morning sky and clouds warmed by the rays of sunrise and the roof of the Great Buddha Hall shining in the morning light. It is a view that will encourage you to take a deep breath of meditation.
Enjoy a special experience of illusion at Nigatsu-do in the evening
For approximately 1300 years, Nigatsu-do has been the location of one of Nara’s most important rituals Water Gathering (Shuni-e). In March every year (second lunar month), priests known as Rengyoshu repent for the wrongdoings of all living things. They also pray for peace and prosperity, and a bountiful harvest. Nigatsu-do was burned to the ground in the 17th century, but rebuilt two years later. From that point, its unchanging form is a magnificent national treasure. Nigatsu-do is also a location that can be visited all 24 hours of the day, even in the night or at midnight. Evening is popular and morning is luxurious. Midnight at Nigatsu-do, however, offers a special experience of a different nature. The temple grounds are silently bathed in the pale gentle moonlight. Turning when you notice a faint presence, you may find a deer gazing back at you. Avoiding to break the deep silence, you press on towards the Buddha with the deer, and are greeted with a vision of Nigatsu-do floating in the darkness. Gentle light glows from hanging lanterns and a unique, large round lantern. The beautiful glow of these lanterns combine to create a scene of otherworldly beauty. The view from the temple corridor is also unforgettable, with the silhouette of the Great Buddha Hall surrounded by the sparkling lights of Nara.
A trip back to ancient Nara on Nigatsu-do’s picturesque temple road
So, what is the most picturesque spot in Todaiji Temple? If you ask Nara residents once more, many will tell you the Nigatsu-do temple side-street. It offers the most quintessentially Nara view. Walking east along the road on the north side of the Great Buddha Hall, you will find a gentle slope leading to Nigatsu-do paved with stone flags and surrounded by an earthen wall. This is a quiet side-street lined with the sub-temples where the priests of Todaiji Temple live. An earthen wall embedded with ancient roof tiles faces a white stucco wall, framing the stage of Nigatsu-do beyond. While the main temple road bustles with temple-goers, this place is a quiet refuge. It is the perfect spot for visitors seeking a leisurely stroll. Surrounding yourself in this picturesque atmosphere in quiet solitude allows you to feel as if you have travelled back in time to ancient Nara.