Toshodaiji Temple, Nara, Japan
Buddhist Temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Toshodai-ji in Nara (Japan), is currently undergoing large-scale repairs and restoration work. Fortunately, with the cooperation of Toppan Printing Co., Ltd and Sharp Electronics, a virtual reality LCD theatre has been installed within the temple for the duration of the restoration project, enabling visitors to explore and experience in an interactive manner, the grandeur of the entire temple area including detailed temple structures and architecture. The theatre screens images of both the exterior of the temple as well as the giant Buddha which it houses using a computer graphics virtual reality application developed by Toppan. Visitors may view the VR contents via an LCD projector which uses Sharp’s latest LCD technology. This means that not only can visitors “virtually” visit the temple even during the repairs project, but it also stresses the significance of the restoration project to the public.
The large-scale repairs project centred around Toshodaiji’s Main Hall (the Kondo) began at the temple in May 2000. The large seated Buddha which is a National Treasure, the Yakushi Nyorai or Healing Buddha statue, and the Thousand Armed Kannon statue have all been temporarily removed and will undergo major restoration work. The main hall itself has been enclosed in another temporary structure so that the entire structure inside may be dismantled and restored.
Toppan has created a virtual reality high-definition software which gives the viewer a virtual tour, as if they are actually walking through the main hall and viewing the exceptional Buddha statues and architecture. Before the temporary structure enclosing the Main Hall was erected, a DVD version of the application was played in the cafeteria of the complex.
In 2001, after the temporary structure had been completed, Toppan and Sharp installed a theatre within the structure itself where the virtual reality software could be screened. This way, visitors are able to sense the atmosphere of the Main Hall throughout the entire restoration period.
The ‘Toshodai-ji Main Hall LCD Theatre’ consists of a rear projection type theatre where the software is played through a DVD player onto a large screen using an LCD projector.
Toppan produced the virtual reality application as part of the METI’s (Ministry of International Economy & Industry) Contents Market Environmental Improvement Project (Pioneering Archive Film Development Assistance). The DVD version enables the viewer to feel as if they have entered through the main gates, walked toward the Main Hall, gone inside and then viewed the various statues housed in the hall before heading to another hall, the Miedo. (Visitor access to the Miedo is strictly limited to 3 days a year, however, within a virtual reality environment many more people can visit the Miedo and experience the beauty of the famous screen paintings inside).
The Heisei restoration project at Toshodai-ji began in January 2000 and is estimated to take approximately 10 years to complete. The virtual reality software will continue to be screened at the theatre for the duration of the restoration project. This VR contents was awarded the First Digital Archive Award by Digital Frontier Committee Kyoto, 1999.