Ancient Kyoto: Daigo-ji Temple
Location: Kyoto, Japan, Asia
Theme: Places of Worship
Daigoji’s classic pagoda, the oldest wooden structure in all of Kyoto, is fronted by glorious cherry blossoms in spring.
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Ancient Kyoto: Daigo-ji Temple
Kyoto was the main centre for the evolution of religious and secular architecture and of garden design between the 8th and 17th centuries, and as such it played a decisive role in the creation of Japanese cultural traditions which, in the case of gardens in particular, had a profound effect on the rest of the world from the 19th century onwards. Buddhism had already been introduced from China and Chinese culture was having a profound influence on Japan when the capital was moved from Heijo-ko (Nara), after 10 years at Nagaoka, to Kyoto, under the name of Heian-ko, in AD 794. The city plan was modelled on Chinese cities such as Changshan, capital of Tang China. It was the heart of the aristocratic society that clustered around the imperial court for the four centuries of the Heian period (794-1192). For most of this period there was a prohibition on the building of Buddhist temples inside the city, apart from the two imperial temples (To-ji and Sai-ji).
Properties on the World Heritage site that date from the foundation of Heian-kyo are Karmwakeikauchi-jinja (Shinto shrine), Amomioya-jinja (Shinto shrine), Kyo-o-gokoku-ji To-ji (Buddhist temple), Kiyornim-dera (Buddhist temple), and Enryaku-ji (Buddhist temple); the two large Buddhist temples of Daigo-ji and Ninna-ji are representative of the early Heian period. By the end of the Heian period the military samurai class was growing in power, and the resulting unrest, coupled with the fact that the world would enter its final years, according to Buddhist doctrine, in 1052, led to an increase in religious fervour. The Buddhist temple of Byodo-in and the Ujigami-jinja date from this period.
A civil war in 1185 led to the establishment of a samurai military regime at Kamakum; however, the imperial court remained at Kyoto. The Sekisui-in at Kozan-ji is the best example of the residential architecture of this period, which ended in 1332 with the establishment of the Muromachi Shogunate. This period saw the building of large temples of the Rinzai Zen sect, such as Temyu-ji, and the creation of Zen gardens, of which that at Saiho-ji is a representative example.
At the end of the 14th century, the Muromachi Shogunate reached the apogee of its power, and this is reflected in buildings such as the villa of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, which later became the Buddhist temple Rokuon-ji. The villa of a later shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, built in a more refined style in the mid-15th century, was also converted into a temple, Jisho-ji. Garden design was refined into pure art, as demonstrated by the garden of the abbot's residence at Ryoan-ji. Much of Kyoto was destroyed in the Onin War (1467-77), but it was rebuilt by a new urban merchant class, who replaced the aristocrats who had fled during the war. In 1568 Oda Nobunaga seized power, and he was followed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified the country and built a 23 km wall round Kyoto. The centre of power moved to Edo (present-day Tokyo) when a new shogunate was established under Tokugawa Ieyasu. The authority of the Tokugawa Shogunate was given material form in Kyoto with the construction of the strong castle of Ngo-jo at the heart of the city. At the same time Hideyoshi's defences were dismantled.
The political stability of the Momoyama period (1573-1614) saw a new spirit of confidence among both the military and the merchants, reflected in the opulence and boldness of the architecture, represented by the Sanpo-in residential complex and garden at Daigo-jo and the prayer and reception halls at the Buddhist temple of Hongan-ji, moved from Osaka to Kyoto as a symbol of the city's revival. The beginning of the long Edo period (1615-1867) saw Heian temples and shrines, such as Kiyomimdera, being restored in traditional style. During this period the supremacy of Kyoto as a centre of pilgrimage became established. After the Meiji restoration of 1868 the capital and the imperial court moved to Tokyo.
One of the results was the adoption of a modernization policy that led to the transformation of Kyoto into a modern city. This caused the city's cultural heritage to be neglected; however, the national government was aware of what was happening, and introduced the first ordinance for the protection of antiquities in 1871. This was superseded in 1897 by the important Ancient Shrines and Temples Preservation Law, which marked the beginning of the protection and conservation programmes of modern Japan.
Daigoji temple, located southeast of Kyoto along the road that leads to Nara, has been an important stopping place for pilgrims and other travelers since the tenth century. They come to worship, to admire the temple’s lovely, five-story pagoda, and in spring to see the thousands upon thousands of cherry blossoms in bloom.
The temple was initially established high atop Mount Daigo in 874 after a Buddhist monk named Shobo built a hermitage there, and discovered what he believed was a sacred well. Later, friends of Emperor Daigo helped to build the temple complex, named for him, near the mountaintop. This was a “Chokugan-ji Temple,” a temple built by the Emperor’s will, which gave it great importance. In fact, when the ailing Emperor Daigo became ill and abdicated the throne, he moved to Daigoji, where he died, at the age of 46, and was buried. Later, temple buildings were constructed much lower down the mountain.
In 1598, one of the most important people in Japanese history, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a general and politician who unified Japan, visited the Daigoji temple complex. He went to the complex’s sub-temple, Sanpo-in, became fascinated by it, and spent a great deal of money restoring it, and filling it with important pieces of art, wall murals, and framed paper sliding doors. He was so important that the time when he was in power is often called the Momoyama Period, named for his castle.
The temple’s Sanboin Garden, which Hideyoshi used as his own private retreat on the property, has an extraordinary collection of artistically placed rocks, which also date back to the Hideyoshi era, when his feudal lords presented the stones to him as a gift.
While Daigoji was in full flower during the Hideyoshi era, it predates that time by many centuries.
The temple’s five-story pagoda, built in 951, is one of only two in Japan that date back to the Heian era, when the Japanese court was at its most powerful, and Buddhism and Taoism were both in full flower.
It is possible to climb well beyond the main temple buildings, to Kami Daigo (upper kami), a hall that houses a Kannon (the goddess of mercy) image, putting the temple at number 11 on a map of 33 Kannon temples that pilgrims often follow.
Daigo-ji Temple is the head temple of the Shingon-Daigo sect of Buddhism.
〒601-1325 Kyoto 22 Higashioji-cho, Daigo, Fushimi-ku
Tel: 0081 75-571-0002