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” ?
- Kiknkakuji temple and Kitayama period/culture(北山文化)
- What to see in Kinkakuji temple?
- Autumn colors in Kinkakuji temple
- Kinkakuji temple in snow
- Okuribi and Kinkakuji temple
- General information of Kinkakuji temple
- How can we enter Kinkakuji temple?
- Souvenir of Kinkakuji
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 enlisted 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) !
Kiknkakuji temple and Kitayama period/culture(北山文化)
Kitayama period/culture was established as a fusion of cultures of court nobles, samurai-warriors. Of course it has an influence of Buddhists who learned the Buddhism overseas but it was rather small. As we discussed in the last chapter, “Shariden” is a mixture of these cultures. The Kitayama culture/period is important because led the following “Higashiyama culture/period” which is the origin of the Japanese cultural inheritance like tea-ceremony, Noh, Kado (Japanese flower arrangement), dry garden, and so on. (The picture above is the dry garden in Tenryuji temple. It is one of the most popular garden of Kitayama period.)
What to see in Kinkakuji temple?
An approach to “Shariden”, the golden pavilion
An approach of Kinkakuji. (1 in the map) It is a prelude to “Shariden”, the golden pavilion. We have many maple trees along it.
In autumn time, we can admire one of the most beautifuk autumn colors in Kyoto.
At the front gate (2 in the map), “Five Commandments of Kinkakuji”.
1) You shall not kill anything which has life.
2) You shall not want anything you are not given.
3) You shall not commit adultery.
4) You shall not tell lies.
5) You shall not indulge in Sake.
“Shariden”, the golden pavilion
3 in the map
“Kyo-ko-chi” pond (鏡湖池)
A pond located in front of Shariden. (3 in the map) It makes “Shakkei” of the mt. Kinugasa and even Shariden. “Shakkei” is a technique of Japanese traditional garden building. It “borrows” the scenery behind the garden. A good example of fine garden of Kitayama period.
The Dry garden (方丈庭園)
It is an underrated dry garden in Kinkakuji temple. (4 in the map)Many visitors pay scarce attention to it. In the north side of it, there is a ship shaped pine tree called “Riku-syu-no-matsu (The pine-tree ship on the ground).
Ginga sui (銀河水)
Ashikaga Yoshimitsu used to draw water for tea ceremony from the small well. (5 in the map)
The cascade was named after an old Chinese anecdote: A carp crawling up to the top of the cascade became a dragon. In the East, dragon is God of water an rain though it means something evil in the West. The stone in front of the cascade means a carp. (6 in the map)
There used to be a villa of the Saionjis. Now we can see a small pagoda and satues of Jizo, the Buddhist deity who saves people in suffer.(7 in the map)
You ka tei (夕佳亭)
“Yuka-tei” means “The hut in which we can have a good view in the twilight”.(8 in the map)
The “Tokobashira (Indicated by arrow in the 1st picture)” made of Nanten tree indicated in the picture is so rare because Nanten has always thin tree (The tree in the 2nd picture).
The oldest building in Kinkakuji. It was built in the 16th century. Acla (The deity in Shoigon traditon) is enshrined.(9 in the map)
Autumn colors in Kinkakuji temple
In front of Shariden, we have scarce autumn leaves. We better adore them from the back yard.
The approach is one of the best place to admire the autumn colors in Kyoto. Vermilion and pink stand out in green.
If you were interested in Autumn leaves in kyoto, see the video above.
Kinkakuji temple in snow
Kinkakuji in snow take your breath away. We have only 1 or 2 snowing days in a year. If you were in snowing days, you better rush to Kinkakuji.
Okuribi and Kinkakuji temple
The mountain behind Kinkakuji, we have bonfire called “Okuribi”. In the mid-August, we believe our ancestors who passed away come back to us and stay with us in short period of time. When they go back where they belong, we wave our good-bye with Okuribi. (The fire in the picture and the following video is a “Migi-daimonji” and not the bonfire made in the mountain near Kinkakuji. )
The bonfire tells Kyotoite summer was nearly ending.
Okuribi completed, 合掌
General information of Kinkakuji temple
Address 1 kinkakuji-machi, Kita-ku, kyoto 〒603-8361
Phone +81 075-461-0013
Shokokuji web site (In side of Shokokji site, there is a Kinkakuji site.)
Opening hours 9：00～17：30
Admission fee Adult and high school student 400yen
How can we enter Kinkakuji temple?
1s are bus stops. 2 is a main entrance. At 3, we pay an admission fee.
We have this amulet in exchange. It works as a ticket.
At 4, a monk is waiting for us. Let him see the amulet ticket.He gives us a brochure written in Japanese, English. After that, we pass through a gate and enter the Kinkakuji field.
Souvenir of Kinkakuji
We have three souvenir shops in Kinkakuji. The following are my recommendation.
Kinkakuji guide book
A guide book written in both Japanese and English. 550 yen.
Kinkakuji post cards
You can see inside of the Shariden. 310 yen.
Access from Kinkakuji to Ginkakuji
From Kinkakuji to Ginkakuji, we have many buses to take. We take no.204 bus. No.204 is a loop line. We have clockwise no. 204 and anticlockwise no. 204. We take anticlockwise 204 because it is less crowded. Go to the bus stop(Kinkakuji michi bus stop) indicated in the map shown above.
Get off the bus at Giknkakuji michi bus stop.
Access to Kinkakuji temple
From JR Kyoto station
Take Subway Karasuma line for Kokusai kaikan.
Get off the train at Imadegawa station and get out of the station from entrance no.3.
Take the bus no.59 at Karasuma Imadegawa bus stop.
Get off at Kinkakuji mae bus stop.
From Gion shijo sta. and Kawaramachi sta.
At Shijo kawara-machi bus stop, take bus no.12.
Get off at Ginkakuji mae bus stop.