Tōshōdai-ji was established in 759 by influential Chinese priest Ganjin (Jian Zhen), recruited by Emperor Shōmu to reform Buddhism in Japan. The main building, the Kondō (Golden Hall), dates from the 8th century and houses an impressive 5m-tall Thousand-armed (possibly literally) Kannon (Buddhist goddess of mercy), among other National Treasures. Behind it, the Kōdō (Lecture Hall), also built in the 8th century, was actually originally part of Nara's Imperial Palace – today it's all that remains of it.

By train, take the Kintetsu Nara line to Yamato-Saidaiji Station and transfer to the Kintetsu Kashihara line for Nishinokyō Station (¥260, 20 minutes). The temple is about 500m north.

Bus 78 departs from stop 8 at Nara Kintetsu Station and stop 6 at JR Nara Station for Tōshōdai-ji (¥260, 15 to 20 minutes, twice hourly 7am to 4.40pm). Bus 98 also departs from the same bus stops for Tōshōdai-ji Higashi-guchi (¥260, 15 to 20 minutes, hourly), at the temple's east entrance. Returning to Nara, take bus 77 or 97 from the Tōshōdai-ji Higashi-guchi bus stop. Bus travel to/from Tōshōdai-ji is covered by the Nara Park Nishinokyō one-day bus pass (¥500).

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Nara attractions

1. Yakushi-ji

0.64 MILES

Yakushi-ji was established by Emperor Temmu in 680 as a prayer for his ailing wife (who actually outlived him to accede to the throne). With the exception…

2. Kōfuku-ji Three-Storey Pagoda

2.76 MILES

Kōfuku-ji's oldest structure is this often-overlooked, elegant three-storey pagoda built in 1181, a rare example of Heian-era architecture.

3. Kōfuku-ji Hokuen-dō

2.78 MILES

Kōfuku-ji's northern octagonal hall was first built in 721. The current reconstruction is c 1210, making it the second-oldest structure at Kōfuku-ji.

4. Kōfuku-ji Nanen-dō

2.79 MILES

Kōfuku-ji's southern octagonal hall, first built in 813 (and most recently reconstructed in 1789), enshrines an image of the bodhisattva Kannon.

5. Naramachi Monogatari-kan

2.81 MILES

This traditional-style house is now a community arts centre, with exhibitions and occasional live performances.

6. Naramachi Kōshi-no-Ie

2.84 MILES

This well-preserved merchant's house in Naramachi, with its lattice front, beamed ceilings, old kitchen, tansu (chest of drawers) stairs and inner garden,…

7. Kōfuku-ji

2.85 MILES

Kōfuku-ji was founded in Kyoto in 669 and relocated here in 710. The original Nara temple complex had 175 buildings, though much has been lost over the…