The Tōji Temple brochure provides the following information:
In the thirteenth year of Enryaku (794), the Emperor Kammu transferred the capital of Japan from Nara to Kyōto and built, after the model of Changan, the then capital of China, two huge guardian temples on the east and west sides of the Rajyō-mon, which was the south gateway to Kyōto. They are Tōji (East Temple) and Saiji (West Temple).
About thirty years later, the Emperor Saga honored Kūkai (774~835, founder of Shingon Buddhism) with Tōji Temple and gave it the official name Kyō-ō-gokokuji, which means “the temple that guards the capital and the land by virtue of Ninnō-gokoku-kyō (the main sutra of the Shingon sect).” Kūkai made Tōji the central seminary of esoteric Buddhism and added various other buildings to it. It retains the original layout and architectural style and is known as a treasure house of esoteric Buddhist art, due to its large number of cultural assets brought back from China, such as old Buddhist statues, carvings, magnificent paintings, artistic handicrafts, etc.
A sign on the grounds of the temple records the temple’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site:
Given its proximity to our hotel, not to mention the opportunity to add to our list of superlatives (“tallest pagoda in Japan”), we could not pass up the chance to see this temple. Although we did pay a ¥500 entrance fee, we did not see the interior of any buildings, nor was there any indication that any of them were open to the public, even for a fee. According to one Web site, “During the span of centuries a treasure trove of statuary, calligraphy and paintings has been collected at the temple, now housed in the various historic buildings making up the temple complex. The statues include a six-metre-tall Senju Kannon (thousand-arm Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) carved in 877.” We saw none of these treasures.
Looking over the brochure we got at the
entrance to the enclosed portion (which includes only the Kōdō, Kondō, pagoda,
and ponds), and especially at the very clearly labeled plan of the temple
compound, it is hard to understand why we were wandering around without much
clue to what we were seeing, though admittedly most of the buildings were
encountered before we paid our admission fee and got the brochure. It is
hard now to cast my mind back to that time and recreate a sense of the daze in
which we experienced so much of this tour. In the case of temples, shrines, and
other attractions that were part of the guided tour, the speed with which we
were rushed through is some excuse, but in this case we had all the time in the
world to see and enjoy the site (and indeed we did, relaxing by the pond for
some time), yet our inexperience (and inability to read or speak Japanese)
undoubtedly prevented us from getting the full benefit of the visit.
Kōdō (Lecture Hall), an Important Cultural Property of the Momoyama period. The
building was begun by Kūkai in 825 and completed in 835. It was heavily damaged
by typhoons and earthquakes and repaired many times. It was burnt down in 1486
but reconstructed by Toyotomi Kitanomandokoro during the Keichō period
(1596–1615); it retains its original elegant appearance.
famous pagoda, tallest in Japan (187 feet) and a National Treasure of the Edo
period. It was built by Kōbō-daishi in 826 and burned down four times after
being struck by lightning. The present pagoda was built by the third Tokugawa
Shōgun Iemitsu in 1644 (and is very heavily endowed with lightning rods and fire
Kondō (Main Hall), a National Treasure of the Momoyama period. This building was
first erected in 796. It was burnt down in 1486 and reconstructed by Toyotomi
Hideyori in 1603. The double-roofed irimoya-style Kondō is the largest building
in the Tōji complex. The raised central part of the lower roof offsets the
regularity of the front view of the building. Here the Tenji-ku (old Indian)
style is introduced into the traditional Japanese architectural style.