This article is about a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. For other uses, see Tōji.

Five-story pagoda of Tō-ji, a National Treasure
Basic information
Location 1 Kujōchō, Minami-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
Affiliation Tōji-Shingon
Deity Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaiṣajyaguru)
Country Japan
Website http://www.toji.or.jp/
Architectural description
Founder Emperor Kammu
Completed 796

Tō-ji (東寺 Tō-ji) (East Temple) is a Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect in Kyoto, Japan. It once had a partner, Sai-ji (West Temple) and, together, they stood alongside the Rashomon, gate to the Heian capital. It was formally known as Kyō-ō-gokoku-ji (教王護国寺 The Temple for the Defense of the Nation by Means of the King of Doctrines)[1] which indicates that it previously functioned as a temple providing protection for the nation. Tō-ji is located in Minami-ku near the intersection of Ōmiya Street and Kujō Street, southwest of Kyoto Station.

Tō-ji was founded in the early Heian period.[2] The temple dates from 796, two years after the capital moved to Heian-kyō. Together with its partner Sai-ji, and the temple Shingon-in (located in the Heian Palace), it was one of only three Buddhist temples allowed in the capital at the time, and is the only of the three to survive to the present.

Tō-ji is often associated with Kōbō Daishi (Kūkai). Though Tō-ji began to decline in the end of Heian period, it came back into the spotlight with the rise of Daishi Shinko (worshipping of Kōbō Daishi) in Kamakura period. The well-known Buddhist priest was put in charge of Tō-ji in 823 by order of Emperor Saga. The temple's principal image is of Yakushi Nyorai, the Medicine Buddha. Many religious services for Daishi are held in Miei-dō (御影堂) (or Daishi-dō (大師堂), in another name), the residence of Kōbō Daishi.[3]

Five-story pagoda

The Five-story pagoda of Tō-ji stands 54.8 m high, and is the tallest wooden tower in Japan. It dates from the Edo period, when it was rebuilt by order of the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu. The pagoda has been, and continues to be, a symbol of Kyoto. Entrance into the pagoda itself is permitted only a few days a year.


The Kondo or Golden Hall is the main hall of the temple, and contains a statue of Yakushi from 1603.


The Miedo is dedicated to Kobo Daishi, also called Kukai, the temple's founder. It stands on the location of his original residence. The hall is opened on the 21st of each month, when a memorial service is held for Kukai.

Temple grounds

The grounds feature a garden and pond, in which turtles and koi swim. The grounds also house an academically rigorous private school, Rakunan, from which many students are sent to elite universities.

Recognizing the historical and spiritual significance of Tō-ji, UNESCO designated it, along with several other treasures in Kyoto Prefecture, as part of the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto" World Heritage Site.

Flea market

On the 21st of each month, a famous flea market is held on the grounds of Tō-ji. This market is popularly called Kōbō-san, in honor of Kōbō Daishi, who died on March 21. The flea market features a variety of antiques, art, clothes, pottery, some food, and typical second-hand flea market goods. By far the largest market is held on December 21, as it is the last of the year.

A similar market is held on the 25th of every month at Kitano Tenmangu, also called Tenjin. A Kyoto proverb proclaims, "Fair weather at Tō-ji 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 Tō-ji grounds on the first Sunday of each month.


The Rashōmon was formerly situated to the west of Tō-ji, though now only a marker remains, reachable a short walk west along Kujō street. A little further west was Sai-ji (West Temple), though now only a small park remains.

Tō-ji and Sai-ji were built at the southern edge of the capital, and were the only Buddhist temples officially allowed in Heian-kyō at the time. Sai-ji disappeared in the 16th century. The reason was bad irrigation of Ukyō-ku and the lack of funds to maintain it.

A legend says that at the time of a great drought, Kūkai, the priest at Tō-ji, and Shubin, his colleague at Sai-ji, were both praying for the rainfall. Kūkai succeeded where Shubin had failed, and Shubin, envious, shot an arrow at Kūkai. At that time a Jizō appeared and took the arrow instead of Kūkai, saving his life. You can find the Jizō in question near the ruins of Rashōmon. It has been chipped where the arrow hit it.


On July 7, 2007 one of the Live Earth concerts (held to raise awareness of the earth's climate) was staged at Tō-ji; artists who played included Bonnie Pink, Michael Nyman, Rip Slyme, UA and the Yellow Magic Orchestra.

See also


  1. Hakeda, Yoshito S. (1972). Kūkai and His Major Works. Columbia University Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-231-05933-7.
  2. Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1956). Kyoto: The Old Capital of Japan, 794-1869, p. 111.
  3. http://www.toji.or.jp/mieidou.shtml


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Coordinates: 34°58′50″N 135°44′52″E / 34.98056°N 135.74778°E / 34.98056; 135.74778

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