Temples & Shrines: Toji
Toji Temple 東寺
The elegant pagoda of Toji Temple (Kyo-o-gokukuji) can be seen from the Shinkansen (bullet train) as you come into Kyoto. Toji (lit. "East Temple") is a short subway ride south of Kyoto Station or it is possible to walk to Toji from the south east of the station.
Toji Temple, which dates from 794, is known for its high pagoda tower (the tallest in Japan) and for its lively flea markets on the 21st of every month (called "Kobo-san" locally). Get there very early for the best buys, which include fine textiles, ceramics and tansu furniture.
Toji Temple was founded in 794 on imperial orders from the Emperor Kammu to pray for national peace and in 823 was given to Kobo Daishi (aka Kukai), the founder of the Shingon school of Japanese Buddhism.
The plain, wooden main hall (Kondo) dates from 1603 and was built by Hideyori, the son of warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi in a combination of native, Chinese and Indian styles. This building contains statues of the Yakushi (Healing Buddha) and his assistants Nikko and Gakko.
Toji Temple's five story pagoda originally dates from 826 and was then rebuilt in 1644. The 55m tall tower is the largest in Japan. The interior of the pagoda is opened for a short period over New Year and has Esoteric Buddhist (Mikkyo) illustrations within.
Toji Temple is illuminated at night and makes for a lovely sight on the road into the city from the south.
The red-lacquered Lecture Hall (Kodo) contains a number of images influenced by Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, dating from the Heian Period and arranged in a sacred mandala with five Buddha images at the center, each carved from single blocks of wood and surrounded by Boddhisattvas, the Godai Myo-o (Five Fearful Kings), the Shi-Tenno (Four Heavenly Kinds) and other Hindu deities. The original was built by Kukai in 825, though the present building is 16th century.
Toji's main gate on Kujo Street is called Nandaimon Gate. The original burnt down and was replaced by this eight pillared gate, which was brought from outside Sanjusangendo Temple in 1894.
Indeed Toji Temple (East Temple) is one of the oldest temples in Kyoto and along with Sai-ji (West Temple), which no longer exists (it burnt down in 1233), stood on either side of the Rashomon Gate that guarded the main southern entrance into Heian-kyo (Kyoto).
The pagoda at Toji Temple is an icon of the city and clearly visible from the Shinkansen as you approach Kyoto
Toji's pagoda, the largest in Japan, is illuminated at night
The azekura storehouse, built from wood entirely without nails in 1197, houses a large collection of Buddhist art, some of which is thought to have been brought from China by Kobo Daishi himself.
Other buildings in Toji Temple grounds registered as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties include the Rengemon Gate (1191), the Lecture Hall (1598) and the Founder's Hall (1380) or Meido, where Kobo Daishi himself is reported to have lived and where a 13th century of the great man is on display on the 21st of each month when Kobo Daishi's death is commemorated.
The modern, concrete Homotsu-kan displays many of Toji's treasures in special exhibitions in two seasons: March 20 to May 25 and September 20 to November 25.
Kujo Subway Station (Karasuma Line).
Toji is a short walk or cycle ride west from Kujo subway Station along Kujo Street. Buses #202, #207, #208 and #19 pass by the main entrance to the temple.
Toji Temple is close to Umekoji Park to the west but there is little of other interest in the area south of Kyoto Station.
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