To-ji means East Temple, there used to be Sai-ji, West Temple, but for various reasons it was abandoned and torn down around 400 years ago. To-ji was built in 796 two years after the Imperial family moved the capital from Nara to Kyoto. The city was built on the Chinese plan, with the streets laid out in a grid pattern and oriented to the 4 cardinal directions. This wasn't a city built for defense, but for showcasing beauty and harmony.
All of the buildings at To-ji have been rebuilt numerous times due to fires. The pagoda was last rebuilt in 1644 by the Third Tokugawa Shogun. Due to the building methods for pagodas, they are impossible to knock over in earthquakes. When the Kobe earthquake leveled large buildings and smaller apartment buildings all of the 3 story pagodas remained standing. Here is a very interesting link explaining why they won't fall down. However, like anything built out of wood, especially very old wood they are extremely susceptible to fire. So everywhere you see signs about no smoking, and stacks of water filled buckets. The stand in the back is for umbrellas.
What makes To-ji remarkable is that Kondo Hall houses Buddhist treasures of great worth, both monetary and emotionally to the followers of Shingon Buddhism.
To-ji is a living breathing temple, with many people praying at the various shrines within the grounds. And because of this, no photography is allowed in two halls, and signs reminding visitors to be quiet and respectful of worshipers. I've never wanted to break a "no photographs" rule so bad in my life. The statue of the Medicine Buddha was amazing. But after a quick look at Google, turns out some people aren't so respectful, so I've grabbed a photo for you.
At night the pagoda is lit with yellow lights, something we'd like to take the time to go see. It looks as if it's carved out of solid gold.
Kobo Daishi was the monk who brought Shigon Buddhism to Japan and he is a highly revered figure in Japan's Buddhist community. Legend has it he died on the 21st of the month and his life is celebrated each month on the 21st with Mideo being opened and prayers offered. And where there are pilgrims can merchants be far behind? So, there is a huge flea market that operates once a month. If we go, we'll be sure to post pictures.