To-ji, also known as Kyoogokoku-ji, is the head Buddhist temple of To-ji Shingonshu school. It was at first a state-run temple created by Emperor Kanmu in 796 but was later granted to Kukai, thus becoming famous as a temple of Kobo-daishi (Kukai).
The most noteworthy thing in the precincts is Goju-no-to (five-storied pagoda). This pagoda, along with Kinkaku-ji and Nijo-jo, is thought to be a symbol of Kyoto. It is 54.8 meters (180 feet) high and is the tallest wooden structure in Japan.
The first Goju-no-to was erected in the late 9th century, and had it survived, it would be more than 1,000 years old now. It was destroyed by thunder or fire several times and the present tower is the fifth one rebuilt in 1644, which means it’s standing here for more than 370 years.
Usually, you can observe the pagoda only from outside, but sometimes its inside is opened to the public. If you’re lucky enough to be in Kyoto on such occasions, I recommend visiting here.
This pagoda is no doubt the most outstanding thing in this temple, but there are many more things to see here. Kodo (the lecture hall), initially constructed in 835 and reconstructed in 1491, is the central piece of To-ji. There are 21 figures of Buddhist divinities placed in Kodo and each one of them is either a National Treasure or an Important Cultural Property.
Considering that Kodo itself is merely an Important Cultural Property, the things stored inside are more valuable than the storage building. Unlike Goju-no-to, Kodo is open to the public every day.
Other than these, there are buildings such as Kondo (the main hall), Mieido (the hall dedicated to Kukai), and Kanjo-in (a hall for rituals), and most of them are designated as a National Treasure or an Important Cultural Property, making To-ji one of the Buddhist temples with most valuable historic buildings in Kyoto.
Where to eat around To-ji
Sairai is a famous tuna restaurant. It has tuna sashimi, tuna fry, tekkadon (a dish which puts tuna sashimi on vinegared rice) on the menu. These dishes use plenty of tuna though prices are low – most of them are lower than 1,000 yen.
Where to stay around To-ji
Sakura Terrace the Gallery
A hotel we recommend around To-ji is Sakura Terrace the Gallery. It’s standing in a convenient place close not only to To-ji but also to Kyoto Station. Its room rates are low considering its coziness.
This hotel is equipped with a large common bath with a sauna for each gender and a budget restaurant serving nice meals. Its neat, spacious guest rooms cost 5,000 to 13,000 yen a stay, which are considerably low for a hotel situated in Kyoto proper.
Note that this hotel is designed in a multi-cultural style – if you are hoping for a traditional kind of experience, you might as well drop here from your consideration.
Hotel Anteroom Kyoto
If you do not care for a multi-cultural style hotel, then we would like to recommend Hotel Anteroom Kyoto to you. This hotel, too, is in an excellent location for using trains.
This hotel is also cozy, stylish, and room rates are reasonable. Rates will be from a little more than 3,000 yen (without meals) to around 10,000 yen.
To-ji is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” and is very famous as a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, together with Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera. Its five-storied pagoda is the tallest wooden structure in Japan and is a symbol of Kyoto.
It also possesses many Buddhist statues designated as National Treasures by the government. If you’re interested in traditional art works, it’s a place worth a visit.