Sunday, August 29, 2010

Toji - Now The Carnival is Over

29th October, 2006 - Our plans had more or less worked out so far on our holiday (apart from the small matter of T-chan being pregnant). Today was going to be our return trip to Tō-ji , scheduled for the morning... However as T-chan was busy getting intimate with the porcelain (so to speak) with morning sickness, she thought it a good time for me to do some sight-seeing by myself. Thankfully Tō-ji was only about 20mins walk away (the other side of Kyōto Station), and so was an easy trip on foot.

Why return to Tō-ji, I hear you ask? Well - we first went during the famous market day (the 21st of each month), which whilst a very good idea to do if you're planning on visiting Kyōto, it does have a downside that you don't get to see the temple for what it is. One of the oldest existing temples in Kyōto. So I put on my walking shoes and set in tow.

Now just a quick reminder - Tō-ji was one of two temples that stood either side of the grand boulevard into Kyōto (Tō-ji being the eastern one). It was first constructed with the birth of the city in 796, but the oldest building remaining dates from 1491 (though the statues are near original). The temple is associated with the the famous monk and founder of the esoteric form of Shingon Buddhism in Japan - Kūkai.

The most physically prominent feature of the temple complex is the five storied pagoda which, like the nearby Kyōto Tower, can be clearly seen from quite a distance all around. This is now the highest pagoda in Japan, at some 187 feet (or about 55 metres), and was originally constructed in 826 AD. Like much of the temples of Japan, it has suffered mishap, having been burnt down a total of five times. The present pagoda dates from 1644, re-constructed on orders from Tokugawa Iemitsu. There are recorded references to seven story pagodas (standing at over 100 metres tall), however, these now no longer exist.

The design of the pagodas are nothing short of amazing when set against the environment of one of the most earthquake prone countries on earth  (and a good technical description can be found here). Essentially, each tier of the pagoda can be considered a separate (i.e. independent) box structure, of progressively smaller dimensions as you go up. The structure is built upon 12 outer pillars - each inset further with each story.

The heavy overhanging eaves actually act as a counter-weight to the weight of the next story... and therefore the size of the eaves is dependent on the height (and weight), and vice versa.

Of course - the topmost level eaves are not balanced by a higher-story, but instead by a very heavy iron spire - which serves to anchor the top-story.

The pagoda itself remains locked for most of the year, so the artwork and Buddhist statues remain out of sight. Yet still it remains one of the most visited sites in Kyōto.

The Kon-dō building (below) holds the Yakushi (Healing) Triad, made up of the Yakushi-nyorai and the two attendants, Nikkō and Gakkō Bosatsu. The building also contains the 12 Sacred Generals.
The Kondo or Main Hall

The most important religious feature of the temple is the Kō-dō, or Lecture Hall, which contains the 21 statues placed according to the Mikkyō Mandala. The statues placement is based on mandalas brought from China by Kūkai. Originally completed in 835, the present structure dates from 1603. The statues centre around the image of Dainichi Nyorai, around which are the four Kongokai (Daimond World) Buddhas: Ashuku; Hosho; Fuku; and Amida. To the left are the Godai Myo-o, the Five Radiant Kings, and to the right the five Bodhisattvas – each surrounding a central figure. At the four points, are the located the four Shitenno, or Deva, that protect the world from evil.

Alas - as they don't allow cameras in here, you will need to come to Tō-ji to see it, or alternatively pop into some other very good sites, such as this one.

The Jikido Hall with Kyoto Tower in the distance

A view through the southern gate
Like many temples in Japan, there have been many significant changes, especially due to the constant threat of fire and earthquakes. Many of the structures were destroyed during the Onin Wars (1467-77). The Great South Gate (above) was actually moved from the nearby Sanjusangendo temple, in 1894 - and the current precinct is only a quarter of it’s original size.

Whilst I walked around Tō-ji, I couldn't help but feel a little empty. My constant companion (through life and through this trip) was back in our apartment suffering morning sickness. This place seemed deserted now (especially compared to the throngs of the 21st when the flea market is on) - and it perhaps left me a little cold the second time around. The pagoda is one of the symbols of Kyōto, and therefore it's almost unmissable on any itinerary. Also, it's easy walking distance from the main station, and stands as one of the foundation temples of this city of temples. Still, I wonder if the temple - much like the basis of the Shingon sect itself - is just a little too esoteric for the likes of us mere mortals. When the crowds have gone, you realise that this place is not a place for people, but a place where the city marks time.
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