東寺 Golden Guardian of the Night

During the peak of the cherry blossoms I finally went to a light up! I had seen posters for them during the Autumn but I never managed to get to one. Not only did I go to a light up, I also got to go to a temple I’ve been meaning to go to since I spotted its pagoda from Kyoto tower early on in my year abroad. All in all, a visit I had been hoping to do for a long time.

The temple in question was Toji 東寺, which means East Temple. Toji was founded in 796, just after the capital was moved from Nara to Heian-kyo (ancient Kyoto). Toji is one of only two temples that was permitted to be built in the city itself, along with its partner temple Saiji 西寺 (West Temple). The reason for this exclusion of Buddhist temples from Heian-kyo was the increasing influence of Buddhist sects over the imperial court in Nara; the Emperor felt the need to escape the political influence of the Nara sects and start afresh. Only Saiji and Toji were built either side of the main gate to Heian-kyo to defend the capital from evil spirits. Toji used to be a temple tasked with the defence of the whole nation; it has always been rather important.

P1070770 P1070771 P1070775 P1070779 P1070795

This exclusion of other sects meant that those that controlled Toji and Saiji gained considerable power simply by being closer to court. The sect that gained Toji was the newly created Shingon sect, founded by Kukai, who was put in charge of Toji by Emperor Saga. Saga himself was supportive of Buddhism while also recognising the importance of keeping most sects away from the capital. It was Saga that decreed the consumption of meat (aside from fish and birds) illegal, cementing the Japanese diet as such until Europeans reintroduced the consumption of other meats in the 1800s.

P1070781 P1070801 P1070804P1070798 P1070819P1070796

Toji is the only surviving temple from this period; its partner temple, Saiji, ran out of money due to a bad harvest in its district and was forced to close. There is a story that Kukai and his counterpart monk at Saiji, Shubin, were both praying for a good rainfall. Only Kukai succeeded and Shubin became angry and shot an arrow at Kukai but an image of Jizo appeared and took the arrow for Kukai, saving his life. Near the original gate to Heian-kyo (now just a single stone marker) there is a Jizo statue which is chipped where the arrow hit it.

P1070807 P1070808 P1070817 P1070813P1070798P1070833P1070799P1070830

Toji has the tallest wooden building in Japan, the pagoda, originally built by Kukai and recontruted in the Edo period. It measures 57 metres and it was beautifully lit in gold, making it appear metallic rather than wooden. The pagoda is a marker for the storage of Buddhist treasures and sacred relics. The pagoda at Toji houses some Buddhist treasures but it is closed to the public for most of the year.

P1070810 P1070822P1070840 P1070839 P1070837P1070793P1070791

The light-up itself was spectacular and not that busy – it was open from 6 – 10 and cost 300円 per person. The grounds were lit up spectacularly as well as the pagoda. They had also opened the halls to allow you to see the Buddhist statues. Toji’s main object of worship is Yakushi Nyrai, the Buddha of medicine. I would definitely recommend visiting Toji regardless of whether or not it is sakura season. It’s also a world heritage site, so clearly UNESCO agree with me. This temple also has a famous flea market on the 21st of every month. I’m definitely going to go and check it out at some point.

2 thoughts on “東寺 Golden Guardian of the Night

  1. My name is Joe Pinzone and I’m casting an international travel show about expats moving abroad. We’d love to film in Japan and wanted to know if you could help us find expats who have moved there within the last 15 months or have been there for 3-4 years, but recently moved into a new home. The show documents their move to a new country and will place the country in fabulous light. The contributors on the show would also receive monetary compensation if they are filmed. If you’d like more information, please give me a call at 212-231-7716 or skype me at joefromnyc. You can also email me at joepinzone@leopardusa.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Joe Pinzone
    Casting Producer
    P: 212-231-7716
    Skype: Joefromnyc

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s