Kinkakuji temple a.k.a. as the golden pavilion in Kyoto is one of the best place to see in Kyoto. Let us learn about what to see like the pavilion, dry garden, and its history.
- What is Kinkakuji (金閣寺)?
- The Short History of Kinkakuji
- The construction of Syariden
- How do we enjoy “Shariden” ?
What is Kinkakuji (金閣寺)?
Kinkakuji temple a.k.a. Rokuonji/Shariden
Kinkakuji’s official name is “Hokuzan Rokuonji”. The “Golden pavilion”, the temple in the picture above is called “Shariden”. It is a sub-shrine of Shokokuji and was built by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 3rd Shogun of Ashikaga Shogunate. After his death, it is named “Rokuonji” after his Buddhist name and became a Buddhist temple of Rinzai school. Kinkakuji and the garden adjacent to it represent so called “Kitayama period/culture” and was designated as a World Heritage site in 1994.
First of all, see the video above (Not in English, sorry).
The Short History of Kinkakuji
The place now Kinkakuji is located was called “Saionji temple” which belonged to the Saionji family, one of the most prosperous court noble clan in the Heian period. In the 13th century, Saionji Kinmune planned to invite the Emperor Godaigo to Saionji temple and to assassinate him for the purpose of overthrowing the Shogunate (A Shogun was a kind of delegate of the emperor. If the emperor has ceased to exist, Kinmune could had overthrow the Shogunate). His plan failed and he was executed and his property, including Saionji temple, was confiscated.
After the incident, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu bought Sainoji temple when his political career was at the zenith. He constructed “Kitayama-den” as his residence. This is the origin of Kinkakuji (Shariden). At that time, there was a pavilion called Tenkyo-kaku. It is believed that a roofed wooden bridge connected these pavilions. He exercised his political power though he had gave up his “Shogun throne” to his son many years ago. Shariden also worked as “Kasiyo”. Kaisyo is a place where people gather. Yoshimitsu invited people there for cultural enjoyments.
In the 15th century, “Ohnin-no ran”, the largest civil war in the middle ages in Japnan was broke up. The war burned down the whole Kyoto city but Kinkakuji escaped narrowly these fires.
In the 19th century, the Meiji government ordered the separation of Shinto and Buddhism (In Japan, Shinto and Buddhism had been fused for centuries.) and Kinkakuji, as same as other temples, lost the privileges they had.
Due to these incidents, Kinkakuji fell into decline. In 1950, a trainee monk put a fire on Shariden. The fire burned Shariden and the Buddhist statues inside of it down to ashes.
After the fire, Shariden was rebuilt in 1952.
Why is “Shariden” called “Kinkakuji” temple, the golden pavilion?
Kinkakuji glitters gold. Kinkakuji (Shariden) was plastered with gold actually though Giknakuji was not plastered with silver as we discussed before.
As you can see, Shariden is a 3 story pavilion. At the reconstruction, the surface of the 2nd and 3rd floor was plastered with gold though only the surface of 3rd floor had been plastered with gold (Inside of the floor had been also plastered with gold.) before the fire. About 45lb., 200 thousand of sheets of gold was prepared.
The construction of Syariden
We are not allowed to enter the Shariden. The pictures of the inside of the pavilion are the photos of postcards I bought at a souvenir shop in Kinkakuji temple.
Hossui-in (法水院), the 1st floor
The 1st floor is called “Hosui-in”. The wall (It is a kind of door precisely) of the floor reveals that it was built in “Syoin-zukuri’ fashion, the style of residence for the court nobles. The wall is called “Haji-tomi” (The picture above is the Haji-tomi of Daikakuji temple.). In summer time we can take the lower part out of the pillars (It is installed into the ditches of the pillars), in spring and fall we can open only the upper part, and in winter time we put the lower part into pillars and close the upper part. It is so thick and heavy that it needs servants to remove, install, and open and it. It is suitable for the four seasons in Japan. This shows a good example about our idea on house. We, Japanese, do not tell the “outside” from the inside of house exactly.
In side of it, there are statues of the clowned Buddha and Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. You can see them in front of Shariden over the pond. Suspecting from the kanji letters, the word “Hossui” means the buddha’s teachings. You can see them in front of Shariden.
The small hut adjacent to Shariden is called “Sosei-in”. We can only see it from back yard.
Chyo-on-doh (潮音洞), the 2nd floor
The 2nd floor is called “Chyo-on-doh”. It was built in “Buke-zukuri” fashion, the style of the residence for the warriors. The door called “Maira-do”, the sliding door. It is so light that warriors can open it easily. It is suitable for warriors because they have to get out of their room with their swords right away when the enemy break into their residence.
Inside of it, there are statues of Kannon and her guardians. The word “Chyo-on-doh” means “the echo of the truth”.
Kuttu-kyo-cho (究竟頂), the 3rd floor
The 3rd floor is called “Kukkyo-cho”. It was “Zensyu-butsuden-zukuri” fashion, the style of Zen temples. “Kaoh-mado” is a typical style of “Zensyu-butsuden-zukuri”. In side of it, the walls, pillars and ceiling are plastered with gold and the floor was lacquered the “Urushi”, the Japanese traditional lacquer. They consist the sheer supremacy in Zen. The ceiling was plastered with about 3,000 sheets of genuine gold. Only one person put them on the ceiling in 1 day.
“Kyttu-kyo-cho” means “Spream” in the Buddhism. The “Hengaku”, the board these Kanji is written on escaped the fire in 1950 because it was in the other place. The emperor Gokomatsu wrote the Kanji letters on it in the 14th century.
At the top of the roof, there a statue of “Ho-oh” (Phoenix in the East.). It is an imaginary sacred bird and stands for power and eternity. The statue also escaped the fire.
Did the construction of Sahriden represent Japanese society?
As we discussed, Sahriden has 3-story pavilion and each floor has different style. It is believed that the intention of Yoshimitsu’s is to show his ideal hierarchy in Japan. Top is Zen Buddhism (He was a great advocator of Zen), the second is the warrior class he belong to, and the third is the court nobles on the decline.
How do we enjoy “Shariden” ?
Shariden on “Mizukagami” (水鏡)
“Mizukagami” means “the mirror on the water”. We consider a surface of pond as a mirror, and enjoy the reflection on it. That’s the way we admire something beautiful like autumn leaves. (The picture above is the pagoda of Toji temple.)
In front of Shariden, we have a pond called “Kyo-ko-chi”. Let us adore the reflection!
Turning around to “Kinkaku” (見返り金閣)
We can have a amazing back view of Shariden. It seems as if it was floating around the clouds of green (in fall, red and orange) !