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Toji was founded in 794 when emperor Kanmu moved the capital from Nara to Kyoto, and was thus one of the earliest Buddhist temple.

Toji literally means East Temple, although its location is in the South-West corner of Kyoto. There once was a Sai-ji 西寺, West Temple, and both temples stood alongside the Rasho-mon Gate 羅生門, Kyoto's biggest and most famous gate during the Heian period 794-1185.

In 818, the emperor Saga gave the temple to Kukai 774-835, also known as Kobo Daishi, founder of the esoteric Shingon sect. Toji's formal name, Kyo-o Gokoku-ji, means "protector of the nation".

Its five-tiered pagoda is 57m tall, making it the highest wooden tower in Japan. It was last built in 1643 after having burned five times.

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