When you visit Kyoto city, Japan’s old capital, you won’t be short of things to see, especially when it comes to temples. You have Higashi Honganji, Nanzenji, Kiyomizu-dera to name a few, and the list of shrines is just as long.
One temple that’s worth a visit, especially in Spring or Autumn, is Toji Temple and with its five-level pagoda stretching up over the hustle and bustle of the city, it’s pretty hard to miss. Kyoto is a city famous for its Autumn leaves with people travelling from all over Japan and all over the world to see the city in its reddy-brown leafy scarf.
For anyone getting muddled between a temple and a shrine, don’t worry I’m here to help. A shrine, or ‘jinja’ in Japanese, was originated in Japanese Shintoism. A temple however, or ‘tera’ in Japanese, sources outside of Japan and links to Buddhism. For more help, have a look at this Japan Web Magazine article.
Toji Temple literally translates to ‘East Temple’ and it is the headquarters for Japan’s Shingon Buddhism. I learnt from the temple’s website that Shingon Buddhism is also known as Tantric Buddhism, whose main teaching is that you can reach enlightenment with the right lifestyle.
I would recommend visiting Toji Temple in Autumn or Spring for a reason other than the nice weather…the illuminations! These illuminations happen in both seasons for different reasons. (I’m a poet and I know it!)
The 2019 Autumn Illuminations were absolutely breathtaking. I visited this temple with my amazing host family, and their company was as golden as the Buddhist statues hidden away inside. The second you enter the grounds, you’re hit with the grandeur of the pagoda and the rich beauty of the Autumn leaves, with their colours reflecting clearly in the water within the temple grounds.
You can wander pretty freely around the grounds and if you’ve got a perfect insta boyf you can get him to take pictures of you looking extremely interested in one particular Autumn leaf, or being so interested in your shoes that you didn’t even notice the giant, illuminated tower behind you. If you don’t have said insta boyf you’ll just have be like me and take your own photos, just stare out over the water and explore the usually unavailable temple halls, acting like Lara Croft as you creep around giant statues of gold.
There are 4 main temple halls in the Toji Temple grounds; Miedo, Jikido, Kondo and Kodo. The latter two are usually unavailable to members of the public and I can definitely say the contents of these halls are worth protecting. During the illuminations they are available for entry and I felt really lucky to be able to enter.
The Autumn event was held from 27th October until 9th December (sorry guys you’ve just missed it for this year!) The temple is pretty accessible, with nearby rail and bus links and entrance is 1000 yen, so just under a tenner for GBP users. While this price seemed steep at first, after visiting I’d argue it’s definitely worth the money. It’s a beautiful place, captured at an amazing time and the vibe is perfect.
If you’re not feeling the Autumn event, the Spring event is coming soon and supposed to be pretty awesome too. Pictures of a giant weeping cherry blossom tree at the foot of the pagoda has got me edging to visit. Full bloom is usually around 31st March so a potential Spring Holidays trip is on the cards.
Which one sounds best to you, Spring or Autumn? I guess it depends if you’re more into woolly hats and the oranges, browns and reds of a cool Autumn or the pinks, whites and greens of a fresh Spring. Personally I’m more of an Autumn girl, so I think I made the right choice.