There are innumerable tourist destinations to visit in Kyoto – if you’re only there for a few days it’s almost impossible to whittle the list down to an achievable total. However, one thing that should be included on everybody’s list is Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. This beautiful structure is one of the most stunning things you’ll see in Japan, and its design is entirely unique when compared to other works of the same period. A trip to Kyoto without seeing Kinkaku would be a sore mistake.
The Golden Pavilion is a Buddhist hall that houses relics of Buddha. The Rokuon-ji Temple (now sometimes known as the Kinkaku-ji Temple or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion) is a Zen Buddhist temple, and the pavilion is an integral part of it.
At first, on the grounds was a villa that was bought during the Muromachi period by the third shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. In 1397, he built his own villa and called it Kitayama-den. The gardens and the buildings in the grounds were built around the Golden Pavilion, which is supposed to represent the Pure Land of Buddha on earth. Many members of the nobility were entertained there. After the death of Yoshimitsu the villa was turned into a temple and given the name Rokuon-ji. In 1994, Rokuon-ji was first registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site.
During the Onin War, all other buildings within the grounds were burned down. However, a similar fate befell the pavilion in 1950 when a 22-year-old novice monk burnt it to the ground and attempted suicide, which he survived. He was sentenced to several years in prison but released on grounds of mental illness and died five years later from TB – during the same year in which the temple was rebuilt. Yukio Mishima’s 1956 book ‘The Temple of the Golden Pavilion’ fictionalizes these events.
As the name suggests, the Golden Pavilion is a lustrous, shimmering gold color. The top two levels of Kinkaku are coated in gold foil which glints and sparkles in good weather. The shingled roof is topped with a glistening golden phoenix. Each of the three levels are built in a different style. On the top floor, it is built in the Chinese senshu-butsuden style, which is very in-keeping with the Muromachi period, a time in which trade between China and Japan was flourishing. The middle floor is in the warrior aristocracy style known as buke, and the bottom floor is done in the shinden style typical of an imperial aristocracy.
As well as basking in the beauty of the Golden Pavilion, the gardens of the grounds are designed for taking a relaxing stroll, so walk around and enjoy the manicured surroundings. The pond which surrounds the pavilion is particularly striking, as are the decorative rocks that were donated by provincial lords of the Muromachi period.
With bustling tourist attractions such as Kinkaku-ji where there are crowds of people visiting it every day of the year, you may shy away from visiting at the thought of all those people and the impossibility of getting a good photo of it. However, due to the thoughtful layout of the grounds it is relatively easy to take nice photographs of the structure, despite the crowds. At the time of my visit there were hundreds of other people swarming around, yet I managed to take many beautiful photographs of the pavilion, so don’t be put off.
Kinkaku-ji is open from 9 am – 5 pm and tickets cost 400 yen for adults and 300 yen for children. The beauty of this spot is unrivaled, and if you want to have a preview before you visit, check out the live camera stream on the kinkaku-ji website below before you go.