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Many people who have visited Toji‘s wonderful temple markets will be astounded by this rural image of tea fields with the the five-story pagoda of Toji in the background. The tea fields have long since dissapeared and the temple is now surrounded by busy roads and modern buildings.
In the middle of this photo, believed to have been taken before 1895 (Meiji 28), the roof of the Kondo (main hall) can be seen, with the Kanjouin (灌頂院), used for special rituals like prayers for the emperor’s safety (天皇の安泰を祈願する儀式), to its left. In front of these two buildings are a row of minka (traditional houses).1
Located near Kyoto Station, Toji (literally East Temple) is a Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect. Together with Saiji (West Temple), it flanked the road to the entrance gate to Kyoto known as Rashomon (also: Rajomon). The two temples were meant to protect the capital from evil. Sadly, Saiji was destroyed by fire in the 13th century and not rebuilt. Toji also succumbed to fire several times, but was rebuilt each time.
The temple was established in 796, just two years after the capital was moved to Kyoto, but construction did not proceed smoothly. In 823, the important Buddhist scholar and monk Kobo-Daishi (also: Kukai) was asked by Emperor Saga to finish the project. This decision would eventually ensure the establishment of Shingon as an independent Buddhist movement. Therefore, Toji plays an important role in Japanese Buddhism.
Kobo-Daishi built the pagoda in 826. However, it burned to the ground after being struck by lightning. It was rebuilt three times and struck again and again. The pagoda on this photo was built in 1644 by Tokugawa Iemitsu. It is still there. At 57 meters high, it is the tallest wooden tower in Japan.2
Toji is a wonderful place to visit when the temple markets take place. There are actually two. A big one on the 21st of each month, featuring everything from food, plants and used kimono to antiques. And a smaller one focusing on antiques, on the first Sunday of every month.
During the market, the pagoda is a great place to escape the milling crowds. Surrounded by a neatly kept traditional garden with a pond filled with koi, it allows you to relax and while away the hours.
Along with 16 other locations, Toji was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994 (Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto).
1 白幡洋三郎 (2004). 幕末・維新彩色の京都, 京都: 京都新聞出版センター, 86, 87. ISBN 4763805312
2 弘法市～東寺縁日, 東寺教王護国寺. Retrieved on 2008-03-28.