Kinkaku-ji, or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is the iconic temple of Kyoto. Dating from the late 14th century, the temple was originally the retirement villa of the shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. After his death in 1408, in accordance with his wishes, it become a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect.
The temple is built over 3 floors with each floor representing a different style of architecture. The first floor, housing statues of Yoshimitsu and Shaka Buddha, is built in the Shinden style which was used for palace buildings during the Heian Period, which predated the Muromachi era (1336-1573). The second floor is built in the Bukke style used in samurai residences. The samurai, whilst originally warriors, increasingly became more and more powerful setting up a military government in 1192 and ruling over the country for the next 700 years. The second and third floors are covered in gold leaf – hence the name The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. The third floor is built in the style of the Chinese Zen Hall, and is also gilded inside and capped with a golden phoenix.
The Golden Pavilion, built in the early years of the Muromachi era, continues the Heian garden prototype with ponds and islands. During the Heian period the intention was that the temples and gardens were viewed from boats; and there are contemporary records recording boating parties and festivities. In the Muromachi era the intention was that the garden was viewed from specific points from within the temple; at this time the chisen kaiyu teien ‘pond-spring-strolling-garden’ was developed. Contemporary records show that the Golden Pavilion was intended to be viewed from boats, as in the Heian era, although the garden could be admired from the three storeys of the Pavilion whose geometric proportions means that any view was harmoniously framed.
The pond on which the Pavilion is sited has an inner and outer pond; the outer pond has a couple of small islands and in addition there are two larger turtle islands facing in opposite directions.
Having passed the Golden Pavilion the visitor is taken up a windy path past the Anmintaku Pond, which it is claimed never dries up.
The light on the day we visited was extraordinary causing the most wonderful reflections in the pond and the sun really made the pavilion sparkle. We were grateful that we hadn’t visited two days before when we spent the day under heavy skies and dodging the rain.
A striking feature of the majority of the Japanese gardens we saw was their tidiness. There was rarely a leaf out of place and as you can see from this photo the moss is being raked for some unknown purpose. We also saw moss and lichen being trimmed and other very labour intensive approaches to horticulture which made our issues with lawn edging seem quite pedestrian.
Being Kyoto we couldn’t avoid encountering a group of young ladies all dressed up in traditional dress who were only too happy to pose for us, subject to a high level of bowing and smiling.
This is the key photo opportunity area and as you can see it is incredibly busy. However, with their usual efficiency, the Japanese manage the visitors in such a way that you don’t really feel that you have been managed, everyone gets their chance to take any photos they want, and there is no pushing or frayed tempers.
The Golden Pavilion is, in many people’s view, the Taj Mahal of Japan and you can see why this might be so given its opulence and stunning setting. I too thought it was stunning, however, I don’t think I would go as far as saying it was my highlight of the trip – I much preferred the quieter more modern gardens which weren’t so obsessively managed.