This historically significant temple got its name from the fact that its first abbot, Ganjin, was from Toh, of the Tang Dynasty in China, and that it was founded as a place for Buddhist training under his guidance. This was the first temple in Japan to be dedicated to one of the Chinese Buddhist denominations, the Nanzan school.
Located in the outskirts of Nara, the Tooshodai temple’s location is where central Nara used to be when it was the capital of Japan 1250 years ago. Today, the temple is considered the head temple of Japan’s Ritsu-shu denomination of Buddhist teachings.
Ganjin is revered for his role in the development of Buddhism in Japan. He was the high priest at Daimeiji Temple in China and founded Toshodaiji after he was invited by Emperor Shomu to teach Chinese Budddhist precepts in Japan. It took him 12 years and in the process, the loss of his eyesight, to finally cross the ocean and arrive in Nara in 754. He was ordained at Todaiji, and constructed Toshodaiji Temple after he resigned from the former. A statue of him, built around the time of his death in 763 at the age of 76, is recognized as a national treasure and is open for public viewing a few days a year on May 5-7 and June 5-7 and the days before and after.