Kyoto's Five-Story Pagoda at Toji Temple

Kyoto's Five-Story Pagoda at Toji Temple

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There are many temples and shrines in the historical city of Kyoto,
Among those places, Toji Temple is one of the World Heritage Sites in Kyoto along with the temples such as Kiyomizu Temple、Kinkaku Temple、Ginkaku Temple located very close to Kyoto station.

The symbol of Toji Temple, the National Treasure "Five-story Pagoda" is the tallest wodden structure in the nation, and we can view it through the bullet train "Shinkansen. "

"Toji Temple" is the oldest temple in Japan, which was constructed in 794 to protect Heiankyo at the time of "Heian Period." .

It is the temple that was built more than 1200 years ago.
It is really amazing.

It is told that Buddhist Kobo Daishi "Kukai" used the temple as the headquarter site for the Shingon-Mikkyo school.

Today, it is a very popular sightseeing spot that exhibits many National Treasures and Important Curlural Properties , there are many visitors not only from Japan but also from all over the world to see the heritage of the oldest Japanese history.

In addition, Toji Temple is known for the beautiful cherry blossoms in spring, especially the weeping cherry called "Fuji-zakura," which is a must-see.

In the fall season of colored leaves, the trees turn to beautiful autumnal colors that contrast with the Five-story Pagoda.
In spring and autumn, illumnation events are held in the evenings and the beautiful collaboration of cherry blossoms/autumnal leaves with the World Heritage structure is a special treat.

There is another interesting event held at the temple: the antique market called "Kobo-ichi" named after Kobo-Daishi, which is held on the 21st of every month,
Local people call it "Kobo-san" and many people from all over Japan visit to find lucky finds.

World Heritage Site Toji Temple is located in a convenient location close to Kyoto station. You will be able to experience the historical atomosphere of Heian Period, observing the tallest wodden structiure of the nation "Five-story Pagoda."

Here is the detaild information of "Toji Temple," including its history and the festivals held.

Toji Temple

Rising from the city skyline, Japan’s tallest pagoda at Toji is an elegant reminder of Heian Kyo, ‘the capital of peace and tranquility’ and now a symbol of this beautiful ancient city.

The arrival of the imperial court in Kyoto in 794 brought with it the new Heian Jidai and the building of a new city, renamed “The Imperial City of Heiankyo” (the former name for the city of Kyoto). During this time, Toji, meaning the East Temple, was built alongside the new south entrance to the city, and an huge avenue running directly north towards the Imperial Palace was built. The large temple flanked this new Heiankyo entrance, marked by the great Rashomon Gate, along with Saiji, the West Temple, which sadly no longer exists today. Both temples were established for the protection of the nation and ancient capital and Toji now serves as a beautiful reminder of Kyoto’s millennium spent as the powerhouse of Japan.

The historical figure most strongly associated with Toji Temple is Kobo Daishi, known as Kukai during his lifetime, who was the founder of Shingon Buddhism. In 823, Kobo Daishi became the head of Toji and made it Kyoto’s headquarters of this particular sect of the religion. Now a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site, Toji is a treasure trove of Japanese Buddhist art, culture and history. Many of its beautiful constituent structures and buildings hold the designation of National Treasure, including the famous five-story pagoda which burnt down no fewer than four times and was most recently rebuilt in 1644. The pagoda, standing nearly 55 meters, is the tallest in Japan and has come to be a much-loved symbol of Kyoto.

What’s even more impressive is the temple’s incredible collection of items that also hold National Treasure or Important Cultural Asset status. The collection is renowned throughout Japan and features, amongst others, stunning calligraphy from the hand of Kobo Daishi himself, beautiful scriptures and statutes brought by him from China and intricate ink paintings showing the great swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.

Toji’s two other famous structures, the Kondo and Kodo halls house a number of the temple’s interesting artefacts. Toji’s main object of worship, a large wooden statue of the Yakushi Buddha, surrounded on either side by his two attendants, the Nikko and Gakko Bodhisattvas is situated in the Kondo Hall, an original building that was destroyed by the 1486 fire and reconstructed according to the early Edo architectural style of the time. The Kodo Hall, also lost to the same fire but reconstructed sympathetically in its original style, has a wonderful collection of 21 Buddhist images and statues, the layout of these forms a unique sort of three-dimensional “mandala world” conceived by Toji’s famous founder Kobo Daishi. The aura of the hall is undeniably easy and the spirituality sinks in to your soul.

Toji is only a 15 minute walk southwest of Kyoto Station, or a 5 minute walk from Toji station, which sits on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line. Every month, on the 21st, there is a vast antiques and craft market with vendors on the plaza and in the surrounding park selling all manner of authentic items from scrolls to ceramics to kimono. I often find myself getting lost here for a good few hours each month.

Travel Advice

Flea market (also called Kobo-san)

A popular flea market is held on the 21st of each month at Toji Temple from 5 am until around 16:30 in the afternoon.

Traditionally Japanese have believed that the deities or the Buddha have had relationships between their world and ours at the festivals of temples or shrines. Therefore people believe that they gain more merit when they visit shrines or temples on festival days. During the Heian era, the priest Kukai, who was the abbot of Toji Temple, died on March 21st. To commemorate this great man’s passing, people started to hold an outdoor market festival on the 21st day of each month.

In the market, 1,200 to 1,300 venders selling a variety of antiques, art, clothes, pottery, some food, and typical second-hand flea market goods. By far the largest Kobo-san is held on December 21, as it is the last of the year. Every month, more than 200,000 of local people and visitors from all over Japan and around the world visit Toji Temple to enjoy its market festival in the shadow of the great five-storey pagoda.

A similar market is held on the 25th of every month at Kitano Tenmangu, also called Tenjin market. A Kyoto proverb proclaims, "Fair weather at Toji Temple market means rainy weather at Tenjin market," calling to mind Kyoto's fickle weather.

A smaller, less-crowded, antique-oriented market is held at the Toji Temple grounds on the first Sunday of each month.

Saiji Temple

Both Toji Temple and Saiji Temple occupied a square site of approximately 300m by 300m situated symmetrically on both sides of the Suzaku Avenue (Suzaku-oji, present-day Senbon-dori), just north of the great Rashomon gate along the southern edge of the city. It is considered that the layout and the scale are the same. While Toji Temple has survived (albeit rebuilt) into modern times, Saiji Temple was burnt in 990 and 1233, then abandoned and never rebuilt. Now a small park in Minami-ku, Kyoto, commemorates the temple at the site, a little west and north of the intersection of Kujo street and Senbon street.

Enryakuji temple(延暦寺)

In 788, Saicho(最澄) , who began Tendai sect Buddhism(天台宗), built the main hall for Yakushi nyorai on Hieizan. It is the origin of Enryakuji. He framed a system of studying for Buddhism in 12 years. Especially, the high priests in Kamakura Period including Honen(法然), Shinran(親鸞), Dogen(道元), Eisai(栄西), and Ippen(一遍) received the teaching of Buddhism.

But the temple was burnt all of the mountains by Oda Nobunaga because the monks sheltered his enemies. After he dead, Toyotomi Hideyoshi(豊臣秀吉), Nobunaga’s servant, ordered to construct the structures again.

The area of Enryakuji is divided into three, the east pagoda, the west pagoda, and Yokokawa.


Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) was built at the end of the 14th century by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who was drawn to opulence and splendor. The center of the temple is a three-story wooden gilded structure with two or three layers of gold leaf, and a golden phoenix on the rooftop. The reflection of the Golden Pavilion in Kyokochi Pond is very impressive.

Arashiyama is a scenic area that displays the natural beauty of the mountains and rivers, where aristocrats were known to enjoy boating and viewing the autumn foliage during the Heian period. Recommended points of interest are the wooden Togetsukyo Bridge, which blends into nature with fresh greenery cherry blossoms in the spring the colorful autumn foliage the forest trails that lead you to green bamboos growing so high that they cover the sky and Tenryuji Temple, with its Japanese garden built in 1339 that incorporates the grandeur and grace of nature. In addition, the Mifune Festival is held in Arashiyama, every year in May. The event is a lively re-creation of the boating parties of the aristocrats of the Heian period.

Saihoji Temple, also known as the Moss Temple, was founded in the 8th century by Gyoki, known as the creator of the Great Buddha in Nara, and was rebuilt in 1339 by Muso Soseki. It has an exceptionally beautiful garden covered with more than 120 species of moss, where visitors can enjoy the beauty of the four seasons, such as the fresh green, rainy season, and the turning of the autumn leaves.

Sekitei is defined as a garden made of rocks, stones, and sands, without the use of trees. The most famous sekitei is the Ryoanji Stone Garden. It is said that the flat garden with 15 stones on the paved white sand expresses the state of Zen. There are also other wonderful stone gardens in Kyoto located at Daitokuji Temple, Shodenji Temple, Tofukuji Temple, and Nanzenji Temple.

The Temples and Shrines of Japan: Part 1, Kyoto

Travelers to Europe often complain of church fatigue. Everywhere you go, you see old churches and castles and after a while they all sort of just blur into each other. In Asia, the equivalent would be Shrine and Temple fatigue. No place I’ve visited so far suffers more from this than the greater Kyoto area.

Kyoto is packed full of history. It is like going to Rome or London. This is the where the former capital of Japan was located and it was intentionally spared from bombing during WWII because of the historic structures there. There is so much stuff in Kyoto that after several days, I still felt as if I didn’t see everything. Throw in the sites of nearby Nara and Horyuji, and it was a lot to digest in a short period of time.

I’m going to break up the discussion of the historical shrines and temples of Japan into three different posts. The first will deal with Kyoto, the second with Horyuji and Nara, and the last with Nikko. This will easier to digest for you and easier to write for me.

I’m also only going to touch on what I found interesting. Two of the big attractions in Kyoto for example, are Nijo Castle and the Imperial grounds. I didn’t really find Nijo that interesting and tours in the Imperial household had to be scheduled in advance, so I didn’t bother. I do have photos of both places, however. If you’ve been to Kyoto and think I missed something special, feel free to mention it in the comments.


Kyoto was the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868. The Imperial grounds in Kyoto are in fact still owned and controlled by the Japan’s Royal Family. Having been the capital for over 1,000 years is what makes it the epicenter of Japanese history.

Unlike Hiroshima which was destroyed in the war and totally rebuilt, Kyoto was spared from bombing during the WWII. Since WWII however, most of the older houses and structures in the city have been razed and replaced with modern buildings. At first glance, Kyoto doesn’t look any different than any other Japanese city. (and they really all do sort of look the same, but that is another post). When you arrive in Kyoto by Shinkansen, there is only one building of historical note that you can see: the five-story pagoda at Toji temple.

One of the books I read in Japan was “Dogs and Demons” by Alex Kerr, who is an expat who lives in Kyoto. He really had nothing good to say about the development of modern Kyoto. Unlike many major historic cities like Paris, Kyoto destroyed and rebuilt most of the old housing and in the process destroyed the feel which the city had. While many of the historic buildings were preserved, they were preserved in neighborhoods which are indistinguishable from what you would find in Tokyo or Osaka. This isn’t to say Kyoto didn’t need to modernize but really lacks any unique vibe. You walk away from the train station and the first thing you are hit with are gaudy pachinko parlors. That is the reality of modern Kyoto. (I should also note that Kyoto is the home of Nintendo)

The Golden Pavilion

The one thing in Kyoto I just had to see was the Golden Pavilion. One of my favorite movies is Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters by Paul Schrader, about the life of Japanese author Yukio Mishima. One of the four chapters featured snippets of his 1956 book, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. In the movie, a young Buddhist acolyte with a stutter and a limp develops a hatred for everything beautiful and burns down the Golden Pavilion. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest movies ever made and probably the most overlooked.

Anyway….I really wanted to see the Golden Pavilion. The Golden Pavilion is sort of the poster child for Kyoto. The photos of the Golden Pavilion are one of the iconic images in Japan. What I was completely unaware of until I got there was that the story of a young monk burning down the pavilion….was true! In 1950. a Buddhist acolyte burned down the Golden Pavilion. It was a huge scandal at the time in Japan. The building which currently sits was a replica of the original building and was constructed in 1955. (Actually, like most historic buildings in Japan, the pavilion had burned down several times previously)

The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji in Japanese) was built to house relics of the Buddha on the grounds of a former Shogun. The building is literally covered in gold leaf.

If you ever come across other photos of the Golden Pavilion, you will notice that almost everyone is taken from the exact same angle. You can’t enter the pavilion. There is a pond in front and across the pond there is a place for taking photos. Looking at the structure from across the pond is about the totality of the Golden Pavilion experience. There is a nice Japanese garden nearby, but there are no tours of the building.

Toji Temple

From the outside, the most stunning and prominent feature of Toji Temple is the five-story pagoda. Not only is it the tallest wooden structure in Japan (57m) but it is also the largest structure of any sort in the immediate area. No matter where you go in Japan you will see a sea of two and three story buildings (this is because of earthquakes. Until recently, the engineering to build tall, earthquake proof buildings didn’t exist.) It is really odds to see a wooden building stick out as the tallest structure in the area. As I said earlier, it is the only historic structure I was able to see from the Shinkansen as it entered Kyoto from Osaka.

The temple, however, is more than just the pagoda. There are two large wooden structures on the grounds in addition to a Japanese garden. The other building serves to house large statues of the Buddha. It was in these buildings that for the first time on my trip I got the real feel for something being old. The wood inside was ancient. You could feel it and you could smell it. Prior to this point, the oldest man-made structures I’ve seen were either made from stone (Easter Island and Nan Madol) or were masonry buildings no more than 400 years old (Vigan and Intramuros, Philippines). Toji was in a different league of old, at least as far as the senses were concerned.

The temple is of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, a subject which I feel not in the least bit qualified to discuss further. In many of the temples I’ve been to Asia have belonged to different sects and I can’t say I really know enough to describe the differences between them. I think that will be something I will have to research for a post in 2008 from China or Thailand.

Fushimi Inari-taisha

If this looks familiar it is because I used it as a daily photo a few weeks ago. It is a Shinto shrine to the fox deity Inari. The mountain which it is located (also called Inari) is significant because its paths are lined with thousands of wooden gates (torii). The wooden gates are sponsored by individual and are continuously being built. Walking up the mountain surrounded by gates is sort of surreal experience. Every so often you’d run across a guy who works for the shrine installing or painting a new gate. At several spots on the mountain, you would find small shrines with miniature gates. There is a small gate industry in the area as you can purchase gates and put them on the shrines.

There is a scene from the recent movie Memoirs of a Geisha which takes place here.

If you manage to make it up the mountain, you have a beautiful view of Kyoto all its sprawling, gray glory. Along the way, they have small stores and places for pilgrims to buy things. I really had no idea that Fushimi Inara existed before I arrived in Kyoto, but it was probably the highlight of my time there. The fact that I walked for over an hour from my hotel to get there made it all the better when I finally arrived. (Finding a train station just a few blocks away from the entrance which I could have used for free with my JR rail pass made me sad on the way back, however).

In my next installment, I’ll be talking about the oldest and largest wooden buildings in the world in Horyuji and Nara.

4 thoughts on &ldquoThe Temples and Shrines of Japan: Part 1, Kyoto&rdquo

Two more cool places to check out the next time you find yourself in Kyoto:

The “pair” to the golden pavilion Kinkaku-ji is Ginkaku-ji. It was built by a shogun who wanted to build a silver version of the gold-leafed Kinkaku-ji, but construction was halted due to war and it was never covered in silver leaf. Ginkaku-ji both complements and contrasts Kinkaku-ji based on the same design, Ginkaku-ji sports aged wood rather than Kinkaku-ji’s shiny, new gold leaf.

Within walking distance of Kinkaku-ji is Ryouan-ji, a zen temple which sports one of the most famous rock gardens in Japan. There are 15 boulders amongst the raked gravel, but only 14 can be seen from any angle other than from above. The last boulder is said to be seen after obtaining enlightenment.

The Textiles and Antiques Highlighting the Market

The visitors entering from the Keigamon gate will be greeted by vivid-colored textiles.

Most of the products are for the Japanese kimono and obi(kimono sash belt).

Lively colors, such as vermilion and gold, takes your breath away.

The price also varies widely. Some products are so expensive that you hold your hand back, while some can be purchased at the cost of a T-shirt.

There are shops that handle yukata(informal cotton kimono for summer wear), which makes a good souvenir, as well as textiles.

The ceramic shops boast a wide variety of saucers, cups, bowls, and vases. Ceramic ware from various places, such as Okinawa and Gifu, are gathered here. They all have different textures, according to their place of origin.

Most of these shops are run by the artists themselves, so the customers can directly ask how the their work is created.

This work was created by a married couple, with the wife as the potter and the husband as the painter.
According to the artists, the design is inspired by the spring flowers near their workshop back home.

There is also a shop which handles ornamental hairpins made from tortoiseshells.

. and a shop selling dried fish products.

The shops vary widely, and you feel like you can walk around for hours and hours, as every shop offers a taste of Japanese tradition and culture.

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

Foundations for vanished 9th century Buddhist temple hall discovered in Kyoto

KYOTO -- The stone platform upon which a 9th century Buddhist lecture hall once stood have been unearthed at the site of Saiji temple, demolished centuries ago, Kyoto city officials announced on Oct. 24.

The foundation for what is thought to have been a five-story pagoda was also discovered.

According to Kyoto's department for the protection of cultural assets, this is the first time that structural remnants of the vanished temple's main buildings have been discovered. The platform stones are the first building remnants ever found from the ancient Japanese capital of Heian-kyo, as Kyoto was known during the Heian period (794-1185).

"These are very valuable findings to know about what it was really like at Saiji temple, a major temple which along with its counterpart Toji temple was one of Heian-kyo's signature structures," city officials emphasized. The "sai" in Saiji means "west," and the "to" in Toji means east.

Toji temple is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Saiji was abolished during the Kamakura period from the 12th to 14th centuries.

City authorities began the temple dig at two sites at the end of September. One consisted of two excavations totaling about 152 square meters in a park at the center of the former temple. The other extended about 174 square meters across three excavations in a residential area that was once the southwest corner of the ancient complex.

Researchers found the about 1.5-meter-tall platform stones, traces of the lecture hall's front steps, a cornerstone, four holes where cornerstones were missing, and foundation stones for walls and other structures. The platform is thought to have been built in 832.

Kindai University archaeology professor Nobuya Ami commented on the discoveries, "I was surprised that structural elements of Saiji temple remain in such good condition. It is an epochal find for understanding Heian period buildings."

Spirit tours

Toji Temple with 3D mandala and the highest pagoda in Japan.
KYOTO Specials
Visit Kyoto Imperial Palace

Located almost at the center of Kyoto, the Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho京都御所) used to be the residence for the Japanese Imperial family until 1869, before the capital was moved to Tokyo. The site includes one of the most important hall called Shishinden, where the Meiji, Taisho, and Showa Emperors held their enthronement ceremony respectively. The current building was rebuilt as of the Heian period style (9th century) and the Emperor&rsquos and Empress&rsquo Throne are place inside. Inside of the Imperial Residential Palace, the actual living quarters of the Emperor, there were 15 rooms. One of them was the sleeping chamber and the room where the Sacred Sword and the Seal (two of the Imperial Regalia of Japan) were kept. We can appreciate the seasonal beauties of the Japanese garden long been enjoyed by the Imperial family.

-What is the Imperial Regalia?

-The origin and the history of the Emperor?

-Why Kyoto was chosen as the next capital city after the Nara period?

-See where the famous Meiji Emperor spent his childhood.

Toji Temple with 3D mandala and the highest pagoda in Japan <UNESCO World Heritage site>

Toji Temple is famous for its Five-story Pagoda (Japanese National Treasure) which is a symbol of Kyoto. With the hight of about 55 meters, it is the tallest old pagoda in Japan, though it is actually is the fifth reconstruction.

Located at the South edge of the capital city, Heian-Kyo (present-day Kyoto), two temples, To-ji (East Temple ) and Sai-Ji (West Temple) were planned to be built to protect the state.

Kukai (空海: also known by the posthumous title Kobo Daishi, and as a founder of Koyasan ), a great religious leader and scholar was put in charge of Toji by the Emperor Saga. They shared cultivation and tastes, and Emperor Saga agreed to Kukai's ardent insistence on making Toji a fundamental studying and training center for Shingon Esoteric Buddhism.

Kukai said that Shingon Esoteric Buddhism cannot be conveyed vocally. Therefore, usually, the mandala (in plain picture form) is an essential tool. In order to understand the essence more clear, direct and easier way, he decided to make a multidimensional mandala with 21 Buddhist statues suitably arranged inside of Kodo (Lecture Hall).

No building from Kukai's time is surviving today, but a group of statues housed in the Kodo (lecture Hall) remains. Many of them are Japanese National treasures.

Watch the video: Kyoto To-ji East Temple Walking - World Heritage Site, Five-story pagoda 4K POV