Among the myriad ancient temples that form a great part of the attraction of Kyoto is Toji, located in the center of the city. If you have a guidebook, it's sure to point out that Toji's history dates back to right after the capital was relocated to Kyoto in 794.
Two temples were built by imperial decree to guard the capital--on the east and west sides of the city's main gate, which is itself long gone. Toji, literally meaning east temple, is one of them.
After Toji was transferred to the care of Kukai (774-835), also known as Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan, it became the main monastery-temple for the sect.
Although the temple's influence deteriorated, it regained its prosperity and prestige under the patronage of rulers Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616).
Today, Toji is a treasure house of arts and crafts related to esoteric Buddhism, more than 20 of which are designated as national treasures.
The existing pagoda and halls retain their original size and positions within the temple compound despite having undergone reconstruction and repairs many times over the centuries.
The other temple built on the west side of the gate burned down in the late 10th century and was never reconstructed.
The 21st of every month, marking the day Kukai died, is a busy time at Toji.
Religious services are held and more than 1,000 stalls are open on the premises selling everything from food and plants to antiques.
Also popular is the flea market held on the first Sunday of every month, though it is smaller in size than the monthly market. These two markets have become a fixture at Toji and shouldn't be missed.
Within walking distance from JR Kyoto Station, Toji is easily accessible.
Also close to the station is Higashi-Honganji, the head temple of the Shinshu Otani branch of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism.
Its main hall, rebuilt in 1895, is believed to be one of the biggest wooden structures in the world, along with the great Buddha hall at Todaiji temple in Nara.
Also nearby is Nishi-Hongwanji, the head temple of the Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji branch of the Jodo Shinshu sect, which was put on the World Heritage List in 1994.
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Toji temple is a 15-minute walk from Kyoto Station, or 10 minutes from Kintetsu Toji Station.
Higashi-Honganji is a 7-minute walk from Kyoto Station or 5 minutes from Gojo subway station on the Karasuma Line.
Nishi Hongwanji is a 15-minute walk from Kyoto Station.
Check out (kyokanko.or.jp) and (www.pref.kyoto.jp/visitkyoto/en).
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