Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto, Japan


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The Kinkaku-ji Temple, Japan Most Famous Temple

When it comes to Kyoto, from Japanese students on school trips to first-time visitors to Japan, everyone goes to the Kinkaku-ji. Along with Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Fushimi-Inari Taisha, the Kinkaku-ji is one of the most famous tourists’ sites in Japan. The Kinaku-ji is a very attractive building, but it is also interesting from a historic perspective.

Previously, we discussed the history of its creator, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, so be sure to check that out too.


Places to Visit in Japan: Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto's Golden Gem

In the shadow of Kyoto's northwestern hills, sits a jewel of the ancient capital: Rokuon-ji temple, better known as Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion. Discover this beautiful building and its secrets.

The Magic of Kinkaku-ji

Well hidden at the foot of the mountains of Kyoto, this famous Buddhist temple welcomes some of the largest numbers of visitors per year.

Get your sunglasses ready, this is one dazzling temple! At the door of the temple, an entry ticket, a slip of Japanese calligraphy, well worth its price, allows you entry to an immersive and poetic experience.

A tree-lined road leads you to the pond, in the middle of which stands Kinkakuji, showing off its golden exterior. Despite its small size, the majesty of the building is undeniable. Perched on this three-storey building is a phoenix, which dazzles the people coming to admire the monument.

The Architecture of Kinkaku-ji

Kinkakuji is far from the usual sobriety of Buddhist architecture. Its walls, covered with gold leaf, are perfectly reflected in the surrounding pond which makes the place particularly photogenic in all seasons. The pavilion brings together three types of architecture: the ground floor follows the style of the palaces of the Heian period (794 - 1185), the first floor that of the houses of the samurai, finally the second floor respects the style of the Zen temples.

Along the stretch of water, the walk punctuated by pine trees leads you to the foot of the building and where you will see magnificent landscapes as the rocky islets are revealed, arranged according to the codes of Zen aesthetics. Unfortunately, it is impossible to enter the pavilion, which hides its many secrets from ordinary people. The building houses relics of Buddha.

The Gardens of Kinkaku-ji

Then you are greeted with a garden that immerses you in the heart of a miniaturization of the Amida Buddha's paradise. The path leads you to foothills of the mountains, the top of the golden pavilion flashing in and out of sight, so you won't know where to look.

Ponds, thickets of dense forests, moss gardens . The landscapes are numerous in this garden which goes up and down. If you're feeling flush, go ahead and throw a few coins at the feet of the Buddhist effigies for good luck.

The roof of the pavilion seen from the heights

Your tour will end at the tea house located at the end of the route, where you can enjoy a green tea while admiring the view for 500 yen or by making a wish in front of the altar dedicated to the deity Fudo, which protects from hostile powers.

The History of Rokuon-ji

Wishing to establish a strong image of power in the imperial capital, the shogun Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA (1358-1408) built the Golden Pavilion in 1397 as a personal villa. After his death, the residence was transformed into a Zen temple for the Rinzai school and named it Rokuon-ji. The name Kinkakuji only started being used later on.

Destroyed by fire many times throughout the centuries, this phoenix always rises from the ashes. The present building dates from 1955, after a fanatical monk burned it to destroy this symbol of beauty. For lovers of literature, this dark episode in the life of the monument was captured in The Golden Pavilion, one of Yukio Mishima's (1925-1970) most famous works.

Today designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994, this site reflects the Japanese aesthetic of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries perfectly. Since 1956, it has also been listed as a Special Historic Site of Japan and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty.

The golden pavilion was renovated in 1987: it received a new layer of gold leaf.

Whether in the snow in winter or gently adorned with spring and summer vegetation, the Golden Pavilion regales the eyes as it does the mind. A very popular place and especially appreciated by Chinese tourists, it is often crowded with many visitors, which is why we advise you to get there as early as possible in the morning.


History of Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji Temple

Kinkaku-ji Temple (completed in 1398 and now officially called Rokuon-ji Temple) is usually translated as &ldquoTemple of the Golden Pavilion.&rdquo Although we tend to focus on the gorgeous building there called Kinkaku, the whole area is actually very special.

A retired Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) constructed a private villa for himself named Kitayama-dono. It included the Kinkaku pavilion, and was used as a guesthouse for the Emperor, foreign envoys, and nobles. As a politician, Yoshimitsu rendered two remarkable services to Japan. First, he brought to an end the more than fifty-year conflict (1336-1392) between the two Imperial Courts. Second, he revived diplomatic ties and international commerce with the Ming Dynasty. It was the first official contact between the two sides in 500 years, since the days of the Tang Dynasty. Yoshimitsu might have built Kinkaku as a way of expressing his success and power.

The villa became a branch of Shokoku-ji Temple after Yoshimitsu's death, but was still a very popular place to have parties among noblemen. The highlight was of course Kinkaku, but people in those days also enjoyed walks around its double-layered garden, boating in the large pond, and the amazing view from the bridge over the pond.

Luxurious parties held at golden pavilion

From 1402 to 1407, Yoshimitsu entertained the envoys from the Ming Dynasty every year here in Kitayama-dono. In 1408 Emperor Go-komatsu visited Kitayama-dono and stayed for three weeks. During that time, Yoshimitsu held a reception party and entertained the Emperor with Mai dance shows, Sarugaku operas, Kemari football games, Renga or Waka poetry competitions, and boating in the pond.

The diary of a priest of Shokoku-ji Temple describes the villa as being,

&ldquo. almost like heaven this fascinating villa is talked about among people all over the city. There are some very tall structures, a fascinating pavilion, and splendid buildings with beautiful paintings and carvings. They are scattered in the precincts, as if they were stars in the sky.&rdquo

Another diary written 200 years later in 1638 by a priest of Kinkaku-ji Temple says,

"We enjoyed green tea at a teahouse, and walked up the hill to eat lunch and drink a bit of saké​. After that, we came back to Kinkaku and took a boat ride. We enjoyed it. Later, we had udon noodles and rice mixed with various ingredients."

Details of the golden pavilion

The pavilion is a three-story building. The first floor consists of a wide room called Shinden-zukuri the second floor has two rooms divided by paper sliding doors and a balcony, called Buke-zukuri and the third floor includes a box containing Buddha&rsquos bones. The room is bordered by arch-shaped windows, called Zenshu-yo. The outside of the first story is of a dark wood. In contrast, the upper two stories are wrapped with brilliant golden walls. As the pavilion is on the edge of a large pond, the mirror image of the building flickers on the water. The dark colored first story, which most people don't even notice, offsets the shining upper stories.​

History of the garden

The original owner of this land was Nakasukeo (1157-1222), a court noble. And the highest-ranking court noble, Saionji Kintsune (1171-1244) bought it and built a huge family temple and villa, and named it Kitayama-dai. He built a fabulous excursion garden walkway around the pond with artificial falls and lots of nice rocks. And he also constructed a stone chamber for a Buddhist statue on the hill. According to the diary of nobleman and poet Fujiwara no Teika, Teika enjoyed the fantastic gardens and worshiped a new Buddhist statue in Kitayama-dai. Teika wrote: &ldquoNothing can surpass this.&rdquo But the beautiful gardens came into ruin when the Saionji Family lost their power.

In 1397, Yoshimitsu obtained the land from the Saionji Family and reproduced the splendid Kitayama-dono villa in it. He modeled the villa after Saiho-ji Temple. Saiho-ji had a double-layered garden combined with a lower pond excursion garden and a dry upper garden. The lower garden had a two-story pavilion by the pond, while the upper garden was constructed in and around an old cemetery. It is well known that Yoshimitsu admired Zen Priest Muso Soseki and often visited Saiho-ji Temple, a temple that Muso Soseki had regenerated 50 years before. Yoshimitsu even stayed all night at the temple for his own Zen practice.​

Double-layered garden in Kinkaku-ji

The pond excursion garden including Kinkaku is the first layer of the garden. It suggests the existence of a paradise in this world. When the sun is setting, the golden walls of the pavilion are lit up with sunshine. Kinkaku was once connected with the east side of the pond by an arched bridge. At that time, standing on the top of the bridge which was very close to the pavilion, we might have been able to see both the brilliantly illuminated Kinkaku and shining reflections of it on the pond's surface. Buddhists believe that Pure Land Paradise is in the west. So, the bridge acted as an intermediary between a paradise in this world and the Land of the Pure.

The upper garden on the hill is the second layer of the total garden, suggesting the land of those who have passed. This is because the former owner of the land had a family temple and a cemetery there. Yoshimitsu made clever use of the old cemetery in planning the garden and tried to show the contrast of the brilliant golden pavilion with the world of the dead.

About this series

In 1339, Priest Muso Soseki designed and constructed a double-layered excursion garden in Saiho-ji Temple. It is still famous and admired today. The contrast between the elegant lower pond garden and the severe upper dry garden must have been quietly powerful. Almost 700 years have gone by, and the garden has changed completely. Now we can enjoy the charm of a garden that is covered with a beautiful moss carpet.

Because they greatly admired Muso Soseki and his work, people of power in the generations that followed modeled their own gardens on the double-layered garden of Saiho-ji. In this series, I would like to look at three special gardens in Kyoto and consider their beauty from the perspective of their use of space.

    Moss carpeted, Zen practice garden
  1. Kinkaku-ji Temple: Shining golden pavilion and its spacious party garden Delicate silver pavilion and its moon-viewing garden

If you're interested in visiting these threes temples in a tour, please visit this page.


Kinkaku- ji Temple

English Name: Golden Temple

Cost: ¥400 ($3.60 / €3.18 / £2.77)

OPEN: 9:00 – 5:00 pm

Founded: 1408

Main Features: a three-story temple, pond, garden, and teahouse


The Amazing Golden Pavilion Temple: Kinkaku-ji/金閣寺, Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺): The Golden Pavilion Temple is by far the most famous landmark of Kyoto (if not all of Japan) and is the most well known of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto.

This short video was taken during my visit in summer, a long 6 week holiday free of work and teaching in Japan…

History of Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji was built in the Kamakura period (between 1185 – 1332) as an aristocrat’s country estate. In 1397 it was taken over by a retired shogun who transfored the temple into an elegant recreational villa. He had aspirations of becoming a dynastic figure, hence the gold leaf gilding.

Panasonic DMC-LX3 (5.09mm, f/3.2, 1/500 sec, ISO80)
A wide view of the temple and pond from the main photo spot (HDR photo)

Taken from the very edge of the main photo spot.

When the shogun, Yoshimitsu, died in 1422 it was converted into a Zen Buddhist Temple. After death, this shogun was awarded the name “Shari-den Kinkaku” (金 = kin/gold). That’s why today the temple is commonly refered to as Kinkaku-ji (or Golden Pavilion) and not its real name of Rokuonji Temple.

Design of the Golven Pavilion Temple

The temple has a very interesting design which is the inspiration for Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion Temple).

The brilliance of the temple in real life just can’t be done just through photos, even HDR photos.

The first floor (ground floor) contains 2 statues and is built in the court noblemen’s residence style, reflecting an era of around 1000 years ago.

1st floor – you can just make out the statues inside.

The second floor (gilded in gold leaft) is designed in the samurai warriors house style and contains 2 statues.

The third floor (also gilded in gold leaf) is built in a Zen temple style. It also holds ashes, said to be those of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism.

3rd Floor, including the Golden Phoenix on top.

On top of the temple is a golden figure of “ho-o” – a classical Chinese mythical phoenix bird.

Close-up of the golden 2nd and 3rd floors and the “ho-o” mythical bird.

The surprising thing about Kinkaku-ji, aside from the sheer brilliance of the temple itself which pictures cannot do justice, is the garden of the temple grounds.

The garden utilises the sight of a local mountain and specially selected rocks have been placed in the pond. There is also a lookout area along the path.

Anmintaku Pond in the temple grounds.

Somewhere along the strolling garden path.

Taken from the lookout area.

There are also various buildings such as halls and tea houses in the temple grounds. And of course, a souvenir shop to buy lucky charms and other standard stuff.

Visiting Kinkaku-ji

The grounds of Kinkaku-ji are relatively smalled when compared to other sites in Kyoto. Your visit would last around 45 minutes, with plenty of photo taking time and a liesurely stroll through the entire garden.

From Kyoto station it is a 15-20 minute bus ride to the entrance of the temple grounds. You’ll find signs in English at the station as well as a screen inside the bus telling you where you are and when the stop to Kinkaku-ji is coming up.

If you’re spending the day in Kyoto, be sure to grab the 500 yen all day bus pass. The buses run to all the major historical sites and areas and a one way trip usually costs 200 yen. There are vending machines for these passes at the bus stops in front of Kyoto station, if you have trouble finding them, go to the information center inside the station where the English speaking staff can help you.

Your man in Japan, online since 2009. I used to live in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, and travel to Japan at least once a year for three weeks.


History of Kyoto's Kinkaku-ji Temple

Kinkaku-ji Temple (completed in 1398 and now officially called Rokuon-ji Temple) is usually translated as &ldquoTemple of the Golden Pavilion.&rdquo Although we tend to focus on the gorgeous building there called Kinkaku, the whole area is actually very special.

A retired Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) constructed a private villa for himself named Kitayama-dono. It included the Kinkaku pavilion, and was used as a guesthouse for the Emperor, foreign envoys, and nobles. As a politician, Yoshimitsu rendered two remarkable services to Japan. First, he brought to an end the more than fifty-year conflict (1336-1392) between the two Imperial Courts. Second, he revived diplomatic ties and international commerce with the Ming Dynasty. It was the first official contact between the two sides in 500 years, since the days of the Tang Dynasty. Yoshimitsu might have built Kinkaku as a way of expressing his success and power.

The villa became a branch of Shokoku-ji Temple after Yoshimitsu's death, but was still a very popular place to have parties among noblemen. The highlight was of course Kinkaku, but people in those days also enjoyed walks around its double-layered garden, boating in the large pond, and the amazing view from the bridge over the pond.

Luxurious parties held at golden pavilion

From 1402 to 1407, Yoshimitsu entertained the envoys from the Ming Dynasty every year here in Kitayama-dono. In 1408 Emperor Go-komatsu visited Kitayama-dono and stayed for three weeks. During that time, Yoshimitsu held a reception party and entertained the Emperor with Mai dance shows, Sarugaku operas, Kemari football games, Renga or Waka poetry competitions, and boating in the pond.

The diary of a priest of Shokoku-ji Temple describes the villa as being,

&ldquo. almost like heaven this fascinating villa is talked about among people all over the city. There are some very tall structures, a fascinating pavilion, and splendid buildings with beautiful paintings and carvings. They are scattered in the precincts, as if they were stars in the sky.&rdquo

Another diary written 200 years later in 1638 by a priest of Kinkaku-ji Temple says,

"We enjoyed green tea at a teahouse, and walked up the hill to eat lunch and drink a bit of saké​. After that, we came back to Kinkaku and took a boat ride. We enjoyed it. Later, we had udon noodles and rice mixed with various ingredients."

Details of the golden pavilion

The pavilion is a three-story building. The first floor consists of a wide room called Shinden-zukuri the second floor has two rooms divided by paper sliding doors and a balcony, called Buke-zukuri and the third floor includes a box containing Buddha&rsquos bones. The room is bordered by arch-shaped windows, called Zenshu-yo. The outside of the first story is of a dark wood. In contrast, the upper two stories are wrapped with brilliant golden walls. As the pavilion is on the edge of a large pond, the mirror image of the building flickers on the water. The dark colored first story, which most people don't even notice, offsets the shining upper stories.​

History of the garden

The original owner of this land was Nakasukeo (1157-1222), a court noble. And the highest-ranking court noble, Saionji Kintsune (1171-1244) bought it and built a huge family temple and villa, and named it Kitayama-dai. He built a fabulous excursion garden walkway around the pond with artificial falls and lots of nice rocks. And he also constructed a stone chamber for a Buddhist statue on the hill. According to the diary of nobleman and poet Fujiwara no Teika, Teika enjoyed the fantastic gardens and worshiped a new Buddhist statue in Kitayama-dai. Teika wrote: &ldquoNothing can surpass this.&rdquo But the beautiful gardens came into ruin when the Saionji Family lost their power.

In 1397, Yoshimitsu obtained the land from the Saionji Family and reproduced the splendid Kitayama-dono villa in it. He modeled the villa after Saiho-ji Temple. Saiho-ji had a double-layered garden combined with a lower pond excursion garden and a dry upper garden. The lower garden had a two-story pavilion by the pond, while the upper garden was constructed in and around an old cemetery. It is well known that Yoshimitsu admired Zen Priest Muso Soseki and often visited Saiho-ji Temple, a temple that Muso Soseki had regenerated 50 years before. Yoshimitsu even stayed all night at the temple for his own Zen practice.​

Double-layered garden in Kinkaku-ji

The pond excursion garden including Kinkaku is the first layer of the garden. It suggests the existence of a paradise in this world. When the sun is setting, the golden walls of the pavilion are lit up with sunshine. Kinkaku was once connected with the east side of the pond by an arched bridge. At that time, standing on the top of the bridge which was very close to the pavilion, we might have been able to see both the brilliantly illuminated Kinkaku and shining reflections of it on the pond's surface. Buddhists believe that Pure Land Paradise is in the west. So, the bridge acted as an intermediary between a paradise in this world and the Land of the Pure.

The upper garden on the hill is the second layer of the total garden, suggesting the land of those who have passed. This is because the former owner of the land had a family temple and a cemetery there. Yoshimitsu made clever use of the old cemetery in planning the garden and tried to show the contrast of the brilliant golden pavilion with the world of the dead.

About this series

In 1339, Priest Muso Soseki designed and constructed a double-layered excursion garden in Saiho-ji Temple. It is still famous and admired today. The contrast between the elegant lower pond garden and the severe upper dry garden must have been quietly powerful. Almost 700 years have gone by, and the garden has changed completely. Now we can enjoy the charm of a garden that is covered with a beautiful moss carpet.

Because they greatly admired Muso Soseki and his work, people of power in the generations that followed modeled their own gardens on the double-layered garden of Saiho-ji. In this series, I would like to look at three special gardens in Kyoto and consider their beauty from the perspective of their use of space.

    Moss carpeted, Zen practice garden
  1. Kinkaku-ji Temple: Shining golden pavilion and its spacious party garden Delicate silver pavilion and its moon-viewing garden

If you're interested in visiting these threes temples in a tour, please visit this page.


Seasonal scenery of Kinkaku-ji

(Spring) Cherry blossoms reflacted in the water of Kyokochi pond.

photo by flickr/Annie Guilloret

(Summer) Shining Golden Pavillion set off against the blue sky.

photo by flickr/sorimachi.tw

(Autumn) Golden Pavillion and Kyokochi pond with beautiful colored leaves.

photo by flickr/jocelyn.aubert

photo by flickr/np&djjewell

(Winter) Golden Pavillion covered by snow.

photo by flickr/lscott200

photo by flickr/chottotesuto


Climate

Kyōto is most beautiful in spring and fall. The rainy season (June–July) lasts three to four weeks summers are hot and humid. Winter brings two or three light snows and a penetrating “chilling from below” (sokobie). The yearly mean temperature of Kyōto is about 59 °F (15 °C) the highest monthly mean, 80 °F (27 °C), is in August, and the lowest, 38 °F (3 °C), is in January. The average yearly rainfall is about 62 inches (1,574 millimetres).


Extra fun!

While you can’t actually go inside the temple, there is more to see after passing it along the pathway. You will see statues that designate a coin toss to gain luck and good fortune. Then you will reach a large open teashop, where you can sit and sip traditional-style. The air smells of incense and green tea, the aura of the whole area is so memorable.

You’ll also see more shops for food and souvenirs and a smaller temple for praying, and I highly recommend the flavored peanuts if they are still selling them. They had every flavor from curry to wasabi, and they give free samples of course! The coolest sample I had, though, was definitely the gold-infused green tea. I couldn’t believe I actually got a free cup of tea with drinkable gold flakes.

Wherever you go in the world, you need to visit Japan. And wherever you go in Japan you should visit Kyoto but wherever you go in Kyoto, you must visit Kinkaku-ji. I would have to say this is a must-see based on its beauty, history, and excitement for everyone.

Slowest and easiest route:
Bus #101 or #205 from Kyoto station, about 40 minutes, ¥230.

Fastest route:
Karasuma line train to Kitaoji, 13 minutes, ¥260. Then take bus #101, 102, 204, or 205 to Kinkaku-ji, 10 minutes, ¥230.

You will then see a signs in English and Japanese as well as a crowd leading to the gate approx. 5-10 minute walk. Taxi from Kitaoji station, 10 minutes, ¥1000-1200.


Watch the video: Kinkakuji - Golden Pavilion Temple - Kyoto, Japan - Summer


Comments:

  1. Humayd

    What necessary words ... Great, a brilliant idea

  2. Girard

    The jokes aside!

  3. Shakakus

    A very funny message



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