Toji Temple

Osaka Castle
Osaka Dome
Osaka Grand Cube
Universal Studios Japan
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Shukkeien Garden
Golden Pavilion
Heian Shrine
Kasuga Taisha
Toji Temple
Nishi Hongwanji
Toshogu Shrine
Irohazaka Drive
Meiji Shrine
Asakusa Kannon
Girl with Red Shoes On
Hikawa Maru
Marine Rouge Cruise
Kaiko Promenade
Yokohama Museums

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:

In conformity with the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Kyo-o-Gokokuji Temple is inscribed on the World Heritage List as a Historic Monument of Ancient Kyoto. It is thus internationally recognized as a place of exceptional and universal value: a cultural heritage site worthy of preservation for the benefit of all mankind.

Kyo-o Gokokuji Temple, better known as Toji Temple, was one of the state-sponsored temples constructed for the pacification and protection of the nation in the course of establishing the Heian-kyo (Kyoto) capital. In 823, the reigning emperor conferred the abbotship of the temple on the great Buddhist teacher Kukai, who made it a seminary for the practice of Shingon-sect esoteric Buddhism, as a result of which the temple compound took on a genuinely monastic appearance.

Destroyed by fire time and again during civil wars and insurrections, Kyo-o-Gokokuji Temple was rebuilt on each occasion by the government of the time, under whose patronage it remained through the centuries. The temple buildings comprise the Minami Daimon (South Gate), the Kondo (Main Hall), the Kodo (Lecture Hall), the Jikido (Refectory), and the Kita Daimon (North Gate), laid out along a north-south axis, with a five-storied pagoda to the southeast and the Kanjoin (Kanjo Ceremony Hall) to the southwest. As this configuration reflects the original layout at the time of the temple’s establishment, it is significant as a standard for Heian-kyo restorations.

The Kondo, rebuilt in 1603, displays a magnificence and majesty characteristic of Momoyama-period architecture. The five-storied pagoda, reconstructed in 1644, was clearly designed to call to mind an earlier period. The tallest of all extant pagodas, it has become a familiar symbol of the Kyoto landscape. The Daishido, built as a residence for Kukai, was destroyed by fire in 1379 and rebuilt the following year. The Raido (Hall of Worship), which enshrines a statue of Kukai, and its lobby, added later, reflect in their elegance of form the shinden-zukuri style of traditional domestic architecture.

Date of Inscription: Resolved on December 15 and inscribed on December 17, 1994.

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.

The pagoda from a distance.

This sort of deterrent might help to explain why we did not see as much as we might have liked: the sign reads, “DONT COME IN.”

The 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.

The 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 extinguishers).

A closer view of the pagoda. Inside are placed the images of Four Buddhas and their followers, the eight great Bosatsu.

The 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.

The pagoda reflected in Hyōtan Pond.

View across the pond toward the Kondō.

An egret in the pond.