History of Tōji Temple:
Tōji Temple (東寺) in the south-eastern part of Kyoto is a large complex with a history dating back more than a 1000 years ago. In the year 794 Emperor Kanmu moved the capital from Heijō-kyō (平城京-Nara) to Heian-kyō (平安京-Kyoto). He wanted to have two guardian temples to protect the new capital, one in the East and another one in the West. Tōji Temple is the East one and the only one surviving today. A few decades later, Emperor Saga donated the temple complex to Kūkai (空海), also known as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師), founder of the Shingon or “True Word” school of Buddhism.
The sprawling complex of Tōji Temple is quite large and several of its buildings are classified as “World Heritage” and “National Treasures” of Japan. The famous five story pagoda (五重ノ塔) is perhaps the most celebrated landmark of Kyoto through the ages. It is the tallest wooden tower in Japan and dates from the Edo period, when it was rebuilt by order of the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu in 1644.
Inside the Kon-dō (金堂) is a statue of Yakushi Nyorai (薬師瑠璃光). Yakushi is called the medicine Buddha in English. The Chinese characters have the following meaning：薬-Medicine and 師-Teacher. He is cherished in Japan as he is the master of the Eastern Pure Land and helps people in this mortal life by granting them relief from illness.
The Kō-dō (講堂) is another prominent hall, construction was started by Kūkai in 825 and completed in 835. Over the years typhoons and earthquakes damaged the building until it was completed destroyed by fire in 1486. Toyotomi Kita no mandokoro, better known as Nene (she was the principal samurai wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi), rebuilt it during the Keichō Period (慶長年号-1596-1615).
Then there is the Hyotan pond (ひょうたん池) it is surrounded by many flowers, koi and turtles swim in it. Year round you can see people sitting along its banks and enjoying the view of the pagoda reflecting in the waters of the pond.
Sub-Temples of Tōji Temple:
There are also several sub-temples, of which the Daishi-dō (大師堂) or Miei-dō (御影堂) is perhaps the most important. Inside is an image of the temple’s founder Kūkai (空海), also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師). This is were Kūkai used to live and pray.
The Chinju-Hachimangu (鎮守八幡宮) has some significance and its placement here is strategically important. As you enter through the Nan-daimon (南大門) gate, its on your left. In Japanese mythology (courtesy Wikipedia), Hachiman (八幡神) is the Japanese syncretic god of archery and war. Although often called the god of war, he is more correctly defined as the tutelary god of warriors. He is also divine protector of Japan and the Japanese people. The name means “God of Eight Banners”, referring to the eight heavenly banners that signaled the birth of the divine Emperor Ōjin. His symbolic animal and messenger is the dove.
So far I have been twice to Tōji, once while the pagoda was open to the public and once during the sakura season. The entrance fee is a bit more expensive than other world heritage sites, the good news is you can spend a fair amount of time in a relaxed atmosphere.
Although I haven’t been to one of its famous flea markets, from all I can gather its something you would not want to miss. Its being held on the 21st of each month in honor of Kōbō Daishi, who died on March 21. I’ll try to have a look here soon. See all Pictures here!
So close to Kyoto station, Tōji is a place you want to make sure to visit. [fblike url=”http://www.kyotodreamtrips.com/2014/06/toji-temple-guardian-bastion-for-heian-kyo/” style=”standard” showfaces=”true” verb=”like” font=”arial”]