About To-ji

History of To-ji Temple

In 794, the capital of Japan was transferred from Nara to present-day Kyoto. With the arrival of the imperial court, the city was renamed "The Imperial City of Heiankyo" (the former name of the city of Kyoto). From the entrance of Heiankyo, an 84-meter-wide avenue ran directly north to the Imperial Palace, in the middle of the city. The city was arranged symmetrically on either side of this grand avenue and all streets ran precisely north-south and east-west in a grid pattern. The layout of old Heiankyo is still visible in the rectilinear pattern of modern Kyoto's streets. Two huge guardian temples were built on the east and the west sides of the main entrance of the Imperial City of Heiankyo. Unfortunately, the temple on the west side no longer exists, but To-ji, which literally means "East Temple", has survived to the present day.

In 823, the Emperor Saga honored the Monk Kukai and gave the temple to him. Kukai made To-ji the central seminary of Shingon (or Esoteric) Buddhism and added various buildings such as the pagoda and halls. Since then, To-ji has been the headquarters of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. The major buildings were damaged by earthquakes and fires but have been rebuilt to retain the original layout and the architectural styles. Many magnificent treasures such as statues, carvings, paintings and artworks are housed in these temple buildings.

Imperial City of Heiankyo and Kyoto

Statue of Monk Kukai

Statue of Monk Kukai (Kobo-Daishi)
in Miedo
A national treasure (13th century)

Monk Kukai (also known as Kobo-Daishi)

The Monk Kukai first boarded a boat to China in AD 804 with members of a Japanese envoy to the Tang Dynasty. He studied not only Esoteric Buddhism but also cultural arts and civil engineering in China.

In 816, Kukai established a religious community on Mt.Koya (Koya-san in Japanese) as a place of ascetic practice and later the emperor entrusted the state temple of To-ji to Kukai.

He also established the first private school in Japan. Kukai is one of the most famous religious figures in Japanese history. He is also known as a scholar, a prominent calligrapher and an educator.

Shingon Buddhism

Shingon Buddhism is often referred to as Esoteric or Tantric Buddhism.

Shingon teaches that enlightenment is a real possibility within the life of the believer, which can be achieved by properly training and disciplining the body, the speech and the mind. It is based on the notion that the performance of special rituals, syllables, yoga and concentration will allow the practitioner to achieve the spiritual state of the Buddha.