DAY three in the ancient capital and I moved closer to the Kyoto Station where the New Ginkaku Inn was a short block away from it. It was a strategic location to be at with all the city buses making the station its first and final stop, not to mention I will not have to rush to catch my Shinkansen ride back to Tokyo.
The first order of the third day is to visit another UNESCO World Heritage Site not far from where I was—the To-ji Temple. From Kyoto Station it’s about a 30-minute walk, shorter if you take a train.
I took a Kintetsu Line and alit at the Toji Station, which was 200 meters away from the Nandaimon Gate off the To-ji Temple.
Dateline: 794, the Heian Period, the capital of Japan was moved from Nara to Heiankyo (the former name of Kyoto), and upon the arrival of the imperial court, the city was renamed, “The Imperial City of Heiankyo”.
At the center of the symmetrically designed city is the Imperial Palace.
To reach it, one must cross the monumental Suzaka Avenue, an 84-meter wide street that runs directly south of the palace.
At the southern end of the avenue is the Rajomon, the main city gate.
Alongside it, two huge guardian temples were built, the To-ji and Sai-ji (literally, East Temple and West Temple, respectively). These were built two years after the capital was moved to Heiankyo, in 796. Only the To-ji remains today.
In 823, Monk Kukai was honored by the Emperor Saga by giving him the To-ji Temple.
After making the temple into the central seminary of the Shingon (or Esoteric) Buddhism and adding buildings and the pagoda, To-ji became the headquarters of the Shingon sect of the Japanese Buddhism.
To-ji Temple is a treasure chest. Housed in its major buildings are ancient artworks.
What’s to see in To-Ji?
Kodo. The Lecture Hall, standing at the center of the Toji precinct, is inscribed as an Important Cultural Property from the 16th Century.
The Kodo we see today was built in 1491 and retains its original style of architecture. According to records, the original structure was built around 835. It underwent several repairs after incurring damage caused by natural calamities.
Inside the Kodo: The mandala is central to Shingon Buddhism. Inside Kodo, Buddhist statues arranged according to a mandala. Not just any mandala but a three-dimensional version of it, with Dainichi Nyorai, the principal Buddha (also known as the Cosmic Buddha), in the center.
Kondo. The Main Hall, the largest structure in To-ji, is a national treasure from the 17th century.
Like the Kodo, the Kondo was reconstructed after the original building, which built in the eighth century, was burned. The building we see today was built in 1603.
Inside Kondo: Buddhist statues arranged as a physical representation of the cosmology of Buddhism with the 1603 statue old Yakushi Nyorai, also known as the Buddha of Medicine, standing in the center.
Flanking Yakushi are the attendants— Nikko Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of the Sun) on its right and the Gakko Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of the Moon) on its left.
Miedo. The residence of Monk Kukai is a national treasure from the 14th century.
The Miedo was the residence of the founder of Shingon Buddhism. Unlike the architecture of the other To-ji structures, this building utilizes the aristocrat-residence design style.
The present building was built in 139o after the original 1379-built building was burned down.
Five-Storied Pagoda. The national treasure from the 17th century, said to be a form of Dainichi Nyorai (the Cosmic Buddha) himself, is the highest pagoda in Japan at 55 meters high and an architectural wonder.
The original structure was built in the 9th century. It got burned down four times and the present pagoda is the product of the 1644 reconstruction.
It may have fought a losing battle against fire but the pagoda can withstand earthquakes even if the pillars only stand on stone foundation (none extend into the ground). The trick is in the construction of its interlocking parts. This design, which makes each level move independently of each other, absorbs the vibrations caused by the shaking, which is gradually damped as it moves higher. Think: snake dance.
Inside the pagoda’s ground level: Surrounding the main pillar are four Buddha statues facing different directions. Painted on the pillars and walls are Buddhist pictures and motifs.
Entry to the pagoda is only allowed during special openings.
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