Thursday, October 29, 2015

Kyoto : Toji temple

On our most recent trip to Kyoto, one of the temples we visited was the To-ji temple. This trip was to visit few temples and shrines that we had skipped on our earlier trips to Kyoto. While we had never been to Daigo-ji temple or Uji's Byodoin temple, we had been in the vicinity of the To-ji temple during our very first trip to Kyoto in 2010. We could not visit the temple on that trip as we had reached just as it was closing for the day. However having seen the lit up wooden Pagoda of the temple, we had decided that some day we will make it to the temple. 

The story behind the construction of the To-ji temple is interesting. In 794, the capital of Japan was transferred from Nara to Kyoto. Two years after this, two huge guardian temples were constructed on the east and west sides of Kyoto (then known as the Imperial City of Heian kyo). Sai-ji, the temple constructed on the west side no more exists but To-ji temple is the surviving temple of Kyoto's east side. The name of the temple 'To-ji' translates to East Temple. The formal name of the temple is 'Kyo-o-gokoku-ji' which translates to ' The Temple for the Defense of the Nation by Means of the King of Doctrines' 

To-ji temple has been one of the important temples of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It has been the headquarters of the Shingon Toji-ha branch from 823 when the Emperor Saga honored Monk Kukai (Kobo Daishi) by handing the temple to him. Many additional buildings and the wooden pagoda were added at the time. The original buildings have suffered damages due to fire over the centuries but have been rebuilt and can be visited now. 

The Five story pagoda of To-ji is 55 meters high and is the tallest wooden tower in Japan. The original pagoda was built in the 9th century but was burned down 4 times due to natural disasters. The current pagoda was constructed in 1644 (Edo period) by the order of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third Shogun. The Pagoda is considered to be a symbol of Kyoto. Visitors cannot enter the Pagoda, except on certain days each year. 

The central Hall of the temple, 'Kondo', is the largest structure in the To-ji complex. The original building was built in the 8th century but was destroyed in a fire in 1486. The current building dates back to 1603. A statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Medicine, is placed in the centre of the hall. The statue is surrounded by two smaller statues of Nikko Bosatsu and Gakko Bosatsu, the Bodhisattvas of the Sun and Moon respectively. 

In the centre of the temple complex, stand the Kodo, the lecture hall. The original building was built in 835 but having suffered substantial damage in natural calamities, the structure had to undergo several repairs. The present building dates back to 1491. The 19 statues inside the Kodo are placed in line with the ' Mandala', which represents the world of enlightenment. The principal Buddha statue is that of Dainichi Nyorai (Vairochana) .  The statue is surrounded by statues of Bodhisattvas, The Myoo ( Wisdom Kings) and the Tenbu ( guardians of the remaining statues). The statues are said to have been brought by Kobo Daishi from China. 

Near the Nishimon gate, stands the 'Miedo', Founder's Hall with a statue of Kobo Daishi. It stands at the site of the residence of Kobo Daishi. 

The temple grounds feature a typical Japanese style garden complete with a pond in which turtles and Koi (carp fish) swim. 

On the 21st of every month, a flea market is held on the grounds of the temple. This market is popular and visitors flock to the market for antiquities, art works, clothes, pottery among other things. The largest market is held on the 21st of December. Parking lots around the Toji area have higher prices on 21st of each month.  

Address: Kyoto Prefecture 601-8473, Kyoto shi, Minami ku, Kujo-cho, Toji 1

Opening Hours: 8:30 hrs - 17:00 hrs (closes 16:00 hrs from mid Sep-mid March)

Admission Ticket: Adults 500 yen ( 300 yen extra when Pagoda is open to public on special                                days )

Closing Days: None


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