Tōji is one of the 13 temples in Kyōto on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Its iconic five-tiered pagoda rises to 54.8 metres, making it the tallest wooden tower in Japan. It has withstood well the test of time since it was last built in 1643, after having burned five times prior to that (it was first erected in 826). The temple contains some of the finest esoteric sculptures in the country, as well as an inestimable collection of scriptures, traditional paintings and Buddhist statuary, sheltered in the Kō-dō, Kon-dō and Hōmotsu-kan Halls.
The Kōbō-san flea market is held on the temple's premises on the 21st of each month. It is named in honour to the great Buddhist priest Kōbō Daishi, who died on 21st March.
Tō-ji was founded in 794 when Emperor Kanmu moved the capital from Nara to Kyōto, and was thus one of the earliest Buddhist temple in the city.
Tō-ji literally means "East Temple", notwithstanding its location in the south-west corner of Kyōto. There once was a Sai-ji (西寺) or "West Temple", and the twin temples stood on each side of the Rashō-mon Gate (羅生門), Kyōto's biggest and most famous gate during the Heian period (794-1185).
In 818, the Emperor Saga confided the temple to the Buddhist priest Kukai (774-835, also known as Kōbō Daishi), founder of the esoteric Shingon sect. Tō-ji's formal name, Kyō-ō Gokoku-ji (教王護国寺), means the "Temple for the Defense of the Nation by Means of the Sovereign's Doctrines".
Beside the five-storied pagoda lies the Kō-dō (講堂), or Lecture Hall. This white hall crossed by reddish framework looks its venerable 500 years of age. Under its majestic sloped roof are concealed 21 gilded Buddhist statues arranged according to the Mikkyō Mandala. In the middle are five statues of Buddha. They are surrounded by five Bodhisattvas to the east, and five "Fearful Kings" (五大名王 "Godai Myō-Ō"). At each corner is one of the Four Heavenly Kings (四天王 "Shi-Tennō"). Between them are the Taishaku-Ten (riding an elephant) and the four-headed, four-armed Bon-Ten (riding four geese). All the statues are over 1000 years old.
The grander Kon-dō (金堂), or Main Hall, with its two-storied roof, is plainer on the inside. Its vastness is reserved to Yakushi Nyorai (薬師如来), also known as the "Medicine Buddha" or "Healing Buddha". He is assisted in his task by Nikkō and Gakkō, and protected by the Twelve Heavenly Generals.
The Miei-dō (Founder's Hall), where Kōbō Daishi is said to have lived, has become a shrine to the famous priest. It houses a 13th-century statue of Kōbō Daishi, only revealed to the public on the 21st of each month.
The remaining treasures of Tō-ji are guarded inside the Hōmotsu-kan Museum. It is only open for four months of the year, from 20 March to 25 May, and from 20 September to 25 November, and exhbits vary at each season.
Opening Hours & Admission
The temple is open everyday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm.
Entry to the temple's grounds is free, but visitors should pay ￥500 to approach the Main Hall (Kondō) and pagoda. Entry to the Hōmotsu-kan is an additional ￥500, but you can purchase a combined ticket for ￥800.
How to get there
Tō-ji stands about 500 metres south-west of Kyōto Station. There are two entrances, one on Ōmiya-dōri, the other on Kūjō-dōri. Coming from Ōmiya north of Kyōto station, it is preferable to take a bus, as the bridge crossing the railway does not have a pedestrian area.
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