Located in north Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion, is a zen Buddhist temple which is an ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto’ World Heritage Site and has become an icon of Japanese architecture, with many images of it’s incredible golden colour appearing on scenic prints and postcards of the region.
A designated National Special Historic Site, Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion is one of Japan’s most popular buildings and is a fantastic example of garden design from the Muromachi period. A classic age of garden design, the aim was to incorporate the building into the landscape in an artistic way, bringing a minimalistic approach to recreating large landscapes in small scale.
The temple was originally known as Rokuonji and was where the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu retired, becoming a Rinzai sect Zen temple according to his will after his 1408 death. An impressive building overlooking a spacious pond, Golden Pavilion is the only structure left of the shogun’s retirement complex.
Built in the Kitayama culture which embraced extravagance within wealthy aristocrats, Golden Pavilion gets its name from its top two floors which are entirely covered in gold leaf. Each floor of the Pavilion embraces a different architectural style, with the first floor representing the Shinden style intended for Heian Period palace buildings.
The second floor follows the style of Bukke, which was used in the residences of samurais. The exterior of the second floor is completely covered in gold leaf, as is the third and uppermost floor which represents the style of a Chinese Zen hall. Completely gilded inside and out, the third floor is capped off by an impressive golden phoenix.
Although the Golden Pavilion is not open to the public to enter, viewing it across the pond offers a spectacular sight with its incredible gold leaf exterior reflected in the calm, sparkling waters. Through the gardens, visitors will pass the former living quarters of the head priest and the Anmintaku Pond which is said to have never dried up. There are also statues in the gardens which people throw coins to for good luck.
There is also an Edo Period Sekkatei Teahouse, small tea garden where you can actually enjoy tea and refreshments, souvenir shops and a small temple hall which is home to a Fudo Myoo statue, protector of Buddhism and one of five Wisdom Kings. Rumoured to be carved by Kobo Daishi, it is one of Japanese religious history’s most important figures.
Kinkakuji or Golden Temple can be easily accessed from central Kyoto in about 25-40 minutes via train or bus.