Forever the landmark of Kyoto
It is believed that Toji was built when Emperor Kanmu relocated to the ancient capital (the present day Kyoto, then called Heiankyo) in 794. It was later given to a monk named Kukai, who had returned to Japan after studying new Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism in China, by the subsequently enthroned Emperor Saga. This is how Japan’s first Esoteric Buddhist temple came into existence. Since its establishment, it has continued to prosper as the headquarters of Esoteric Buddhist practices in Japan and still exists as one of the most visited sites of Kyoto. Must-see buildings at this temple are kodo (the Lecture Hall), kondo (the Main Hall) and the five-story pagoda.
The first building you want to view at Toji, a temple with more than 1,200 years of history, is the kodo (the Lecture Hall); it is the center of Toji as well as the central building for Esoteric Buddhist practices in Japan. At this temple, it is said that Kukai dedicated his life to spreading the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism. The three dimensional mandala designs express those teachings visually. Mandala designs, which express the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism in simple terms, were made into a three dimensional display by Kukai to add more reality to the teachings. With a statue of Dainichi Nyorai–a celestial Buddha which symbolizes the cosmos–at the center, the three dimensional mandala consisting of 21 Budda statues is an extraordinary dynamic display. An outstanding work of Esoteric Buddhism sculpture and surpassing the term spectacular, this group of Buddha statues is so powerful that it almost pulls you into another world. It is extremely rare that you can experience a feeling quite this strange and mysterious. Kondo (the Main Hall) at the south side of kodo is also definitely worth viewing. The building that was built in 796 burned down in 1486. It is said that the current kondo was completed in 1603 by the order of Hideyori Toyotomi. Enjoy the spectacular, dynamic architectural styles of the building such as the design of the roof with its lower part cut off at the front – a design also seen on the Hall of the Great Buddha of Todaiji temple. Visitors are allowed to view the interior of the kondo as well.
Kyoto’s landmark, the five-story pagoda
The five-story pagoda, also referred to as the landmark of Kyoto, is also a building you’d want to observe up close. The pagoda is approximately 55 meters high. It is considered to be the highest pagoda among the existing historical wooden pagodas. The interior features a space expressing Esoteric Buddhism in bright colors. The pagoda’s interior is usually closed to the public but part of it can be viewed by visitors for five days from New Year’s Day until January 5, and during the treasure chamber special opening periods in spring and fall. If you happen to visit the temple on the 21st, you will encounter the monthly open market called Kobo-san. Nearly 1,000 stalls cover the area in front of the gate as well as the grounds of the temple. It is fun just to look around the booths displaying everything in no particular order from plants, antiques, traditional ceremonial tools, daily sundries, used stamps, Chinese medicine to takoyaki (octopus balls).