Japan is famous, worldwide for its monuments and its fascinating architecture and gardens, able to sooth the soul at the mere vision, giving a calm and peaceful atmosphere to everything that surrounds it. Of the many examples that can be given for this unique styles, one of the most important and popular ones, is definitely the Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion, in Kyoto, one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto named by the UNESCO for this World Heritage Site.

History of the Kinkakuji

The Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺 Temple of the Golden Pavilion), or Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺 Deer Garden Temple), was built in 1397, by order of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The Golden Temple itself was the only building in its complex that survived the Onin War (1467 – 1477), as all the others were burnt down. Unfortunately though, the Kinkaku-ji was burned down on July 2, 1950, by Hayashi Yoken, a young monk. The Golden Pavilion of Kyoto was rebuilt in 1955, based on the original plans, and in 1984 a new coating and gilding was applied as the original was found to be a little decayed. The roof was restored in 2003.

Exterior of Kinkakuji

Exterior of Kinkakuji

Architecture

The Kinkaku-ji is a three-story building, of which the top two stories are covered with pure gold leaf. Each floor of this temple is representative of one style. The first floor, The Chamber of Dharma Waters, is in shinden-zukuri style, the style for domestic architecture used in the Heian period. Designed as an open space, with verandas and natural, unpainted wood, it emphasizes the surrounding landscape. The second floor, The Tower of Sound Waves, is built in Buke-Zukuri, the style of warrior aristocrats. With a Buddha Hall and a shrine to Kannon, the bodhisattva of mercy and compassion, the second floor creates a feeling of impermanence, key to the warrior’s way of thinking in Medieval Japan. The third floor, or Cupola of the Ultimate, is built in traditional Zen style, or zenshu-butsuden-zukuri, giving a more religious ambiance to the pavilion as a whole. The roof is a thatched pyramid with shingles, topped with a bronze phoenix.

The Garden of the Golden Pavilion

The Golden Temple is built over a Mirror Pond (鏡湖池 Kyoko-chi) with the specific function of reflecting the building itself. This pond contains 10 “islands”, set in a specific composition to represent the Japanese islands, the Isle of Eternal Life from the Chinese mythology and other literary references to the Japanese and Chinese folklore.

The area surrounding the Kinkaku-ji itself, is a Japanese strolling garden (回遊式庭園 Kaiyu-shiki-teien), that implements the borrowed scenery technique, consisting in creating a whole panoramic view able to borrow from what is actually the land outside the area of the Golden Temple, intertwining the two.

The garden of the Golden Pavilion was built on the description of the Western Paradise of the Buddha Amida, illustrating harmony between heaven and earth, and it is a perfect example of the garden design of the Muromachi Period, bent on integrating landscapes and structures artistically.

The Garden of the Golden Pavilion

The Garden of the Golden Pavilion

Literary References

The great fire of 1950 that destroyed the Kinkaku-ji has been retold by Yukio Mishima, one of Japan’s most prominent writers in the 20th century, in his novel “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion”. Mishima’s novel sees the event from the eyes of Mizoguchi a young accolite, obsessed by the Golden Pavilion’s beauty, to the point of setting it on fire.

Picture of Kinkakuji in 1950

Picture of Kinkakuji in 1950

Conclusion

The Golden Pavilion in Kyoto is definitely one of Japan’s landmarks, and it’s structure is one of the images the country is often associated with. It is definitely the place to see in Japan, and once there, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the calm and tranquility its grounds will provide you with.

Kinkakuji

Address:
1 Kinkakuji-cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

Admission Fee:
400 yen for adults, 300 yen for 15 years old and younger

Hours:
9:00 a.m – 5:00 p.m

Website:
http://www.shokoku-ji.jp/top.php#
* Japanese only

Please refer to the official website for the latest information.

Other articles about attractions in Kyoto

The Best Temples in Kyoto: Kiyomizu Dera

A guide to the Attractions of Kyoto: Arashiyama

A Beginner’s guide to Kyoto: The Ancient Capital of Japan