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Toshodai-ji Temple was built in 751 for Ganjin, a Chinese priest who traveled to Japan at the invitation of Emperor Shomu. At that time, Japanese monks had never received formal instruction from a Buddhist monk. The invitation was extended by two Japanese monks who had traveled to China in search of a Buddhist willing to undertake the arduous and perilous journey to Japan.
It seemed that Ganjin would never make it to Japan. On his first journey some of his disciples betrayed him. His second journey resulted in a shipwreck. During the third trip his ship was blown off course, and on his fourth trip government officials refused him permission to leave China. Before his next attempt, he contracted an eye disease that left him blind. He persevered, nonetheless, and finally reached Japan in 750. Ganjin shared his knowledge of Buddhism with his adopted country and served as a teacher to many Japanese abbots as well as Emperor Shomu. He is also remembered for bringing the first sampling of sugar to Japan. Every June 6, to commemorate his birthday, the Miei-do (Founder's Hall) in the back of the temple grounds displays a lacquer statue of Ganjin that dates from 763.
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