Not only the head temple of the Shingon Risshu sect of Japanese Buddhism, Saidaiji is also proud to be one among the seven great temples of the ancient Nara including Todaiji, Gangoji, Daianji, Kofukuji, Horyuji, Yakushiji and Saidaiji itself. Saidaiji in Japanese literally means the Great Western Temple. Located on the western side of Heijo Palace, the temple was built to be a counterpart of the Todaiji, known as the Great Eastern Temple of the ancient Nara. Nowaday, over centuries, compared with the great Todaiji with reputation spreading over the whole Japan, Saidaiji seems to lost its tantamount position. However, the physical devastation can not take spiritual values which lie deeply in the soul of the temple away.
More than 1000 years ago in about 765, the Empress Koken built Saidaiji temple to pray for peace for her husband Prince Shotoku. Originally, it is said that Saidaiji was designed to be a huge complex of more than 100 establishment covering an area of about 48 hectares,once rivaling in size and importance with Todaiji temple. This magnificent structure had been destroyed significantly by war and fire. However, the importance of the temple actually decreased after Japanese capital was moved to Kyoto. Luckily, the reputation was brought back by the priest Eison who took over the administration of the temple in 1238 during the Kamakura Period. He was also the founder of Shingon Risshu sect and choosing Saidaiji as the head temple of this sect.
The approach to Saidaiji temple is dotted by several traditional shops on the both sides. Despite of lying close to the bustling station of Yamato Saidaiji, the temple holds such a tranquil atmosphere mingled with cool steam of some small pond surfaces wrapped in a tight system of sound wall. Almost all the buildings you can see now at Saidaiji dated from Edo period. Inside the Main Hall Shakado built in 1752, there is a standing wooden statue of Sakyamuni with about 1.7 meter in height, born during the time of Eison in 1249. An Eleven Headed Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and the Four Heavenly Kings Shitenno can be found inside Shiodo constructed in 1674. Aizendo houses the top attraction of Saidaiji temple, the small but fierce red faced Aizen Myoo statue, the deity of spiritual enlightenment. Visitors can admire many treasures from Heian, Kamakura or Edo periods inside the Treasure Hall Shuhokan. There used to be a five storied pagoda but all remaining is a stone foundation. In addition, there are about 20 other establishments scattered around the temple precinct.
On every third Saturday of February, Saidaji temple holds Eyo, also called Naked Man festival, one among Japan’s three oddest festivals. There will be around 9000 men wear nothing but a a traditional Japanese loincloth, grappling with the others excitedly for a sacred sticks called Shingi. An other famous festival held at Saidaiji is Ochamori, a unique tea ceremony taking place three times in January, spring and fall on the second Saturday and Sunday of month. What makes it special is that the teacups reach the size of a man's head with 40 centimeters in diameter and 7 kilometers in weight. Once taking part in this great ceremony, you may need help from others to lift your cup to mouth while they keep laughing friendly and excitedly.