Toji Temple

1 (8) 2 (7)Points of View
(1)A pagoda over the surrounding outer walls
(2)Rooftops in silhouette
(3)Strong presence of images

On a late winter afternoon after visiting Toji Temple, I came out of the main gate and headed to the bus stop. While waiting for the bus, I turned around to face the complex and saw the pagoda towering over the external clay walls. The structure, which is the highest five-story wooden pagoda in Japan, exerts a dominating presence, especially when seen over the walls. Within the temple, the appearance of the buildings and the images housed in the main hall gives a strong feeling of presence, quite unlike any other temple in Kyoto. Now, let’s go and see them.

Usually, visitors enter this complex from the south gate. Incidentally, in most temples the main gate is located on the south side. In the precinct, there are other buildings besides the large pagoda. A cloudless blue winter sky is cut along the curving outlines of the roofs, and their structures are sandwiched between the clear sky and the gravel on the ground, both of which enhance their presence.

Seen from the outside, the buildings appear to consist mainly of gray and silver tile roofs. As the buildings are wider, their massive roofs make their presence strongly felt. Roofs are used and designed to prevent rain and wind, but those of Japanese temples have something more than this inherent function. They have the refined beauty of curved roof lines, which is without doubt one of the main aesthetic appeals of old Japanese architecture. Carpenters have developed their skills and a range of technologies simply in pursuit of this kind of beauty. Roofs are therefore a very important factor both functionally and aesthetically.

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Looking up to the eaves from below, you can see how weight is conveyed from the roof to the columns. Rafters, arranged at a certain distance under the roof, bear the weight of the roof, and the weight is in turn transmitted onto brackets via purlins (a kind of beam under the rafters), and finally into columns via brackets. Tile roofs, rafters, purlins, brackets and columns are integrated organically and naturally. A clear sky in winter definitely offers the best enjoyment of the delicate, elegant outlines of the architecture as well as the integrated combination of structures.

In a large auditorium known as the Koudou, twenty-one statues are stored. For images of Buddha, this building is one of the most important houses in the whole of Japan. The images are vivid and full of energy, and have an outstanding feel even as works of art. Walking around in the auditorium, you can see various images with many different kinds of face. Some faces are quite modest, while others look rather angry. The images with modest faces are gods that save people; the angry ones are those angry with people who have committed crimes, and are for correcting their ways.

Most of the images were made when the temple was built more than 1,200 years ago, and are exactly the same as when they were made. Every statue is excellent and impressive, but instead of harmony between them, each creates a dominating presence. They are exactly like the football players of Real Madrid in Spain at their best.

In this complex, each presence surpasses harmony: the presence of the tower over the outer wall, that of the buildings in the site, and that of the statues in the auditorium. They have a sense of presence (a feature of temples in Nara, which is an older city than Kyoto) rather than harmony, which is one of Kyoto’s aesthetic features. This complex is one of the oldest in Kyoto, and was built 1,200 years ago in the days of ancient Japan, mainly for the purpose of protecting Kyoto city. The buildings have, however, been reconstructed since that time. Some temples in Kyoto were rebuilt 600 to 800 years ago at most, while others were rebuilt less than 400 years ago. The presence of this complex represents the essence of ancient times.