Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion) 金閣寺
Kinkakuji is perhaps the most well-known temple in Japan. The main pavilion is covered in gold leaf and shimmers in front of a pond - kyoko-chi (Mirror Pond).
Kinkakuji is situated at the foot of Kinugasa Hill and in the north west of Kyoto, a short walk north from Hirano Shrine and Waratenjin Shrine.
The current building only dates to 1955 with a thicker layer of gold leaf added in 1987. The ancient original was burned to the ground in 1950 by a disgruntled priest. The incident was immortalized in the Yukio Mishima novel - The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. The wooded grounds are extensive and lovely to walk.
Kinkakuji belongs to the Shoku-ji branch of Rinzai Zen and was founded by Muso Soseki (1275-1371) in the Muromachi Period.
The temple was originally built in 1397 as a villa for court noble Kintsune Saionji and greatly improved by its second owner, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who converted it to his retirement home and spent the latter part of his days there, away from the troubles of the state. His son, Yoshimochi, converted the building into a Zen temple, (then called Rokuonji), according to his father's will. It was destroyed by fire several times during the Ōnin War.
Yoshimitsu was an admirer of Chinese culture and incorporated various Chinese motifs into the pavilion and garden - note the pine covered islets in the pond. Kinkakuji is beautiful throughout the year, but particularly so after snowfall and in the autumn with the leaves turning red.
Visitors enter through the Chumon Gate along a pretty path shaded by ancient pines and maples, ablaze with color in the fall. The upper two walls of the 3-storey Kinkakuji Pavilion are covered with gold foil and there is a bronze phoenix on the shingle roof.
The first floor of white plaster walls and wooden beams is built in Heian Period shinden style while the upper floors are in bukke samurai style. Though the interior is closed to the public it is possible to make out statues of the Buddha and Yoshimitsu on the first floor. The second floor contains more Buddhist images including one of Kannon while the third floor is gilded both inside and out. A fishing pier the tsuridono juts out into Kyoko pond from the west of the main building to break the square outlines of the pavilion.
Walking around the pond in a clockwise direction, visitors can make out Mt. Kinugasa in the background and finally exit through the rear gate in the low key Upper Garden, where there is a small temple dedicated to Fudo Myo-o, a wrathful Buddhist deity.
Also of interest in the garden is the Sekkatei Teahouse renovated in 1874 and containing a stone lantern (toro), basin and seat brought from Muromachi Palace, Anmintaku Pond, which legend has never dries up and some small stone statues that visitors throw coins at for luck.
Kinkakuji Hours and Admission
Kinkakuji is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day.
Admission to Kinkakuji is 400 yen for adults, and 300 yen for children up to junior high school age.
Bus #101 or #205 from Kyoto station, #59 from the downtown Shijo Kawaramachi area. The Raku Buses #101 and #102 from Kyoto Station both stop at Kinkakuji. The nearest train station to Kinkakuji is Kitanohakubaicho, the starting point for the Kyofuku Line to Arashiyama.
1 Kinkaku-ji-cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto.
Tel: 075 461 0013
Bicycle is a good way to visit Kinkakuji, Ryoanji and Ninnaji temples in western Kyoto.
Attractions Near Kinkakuji
Kinkakuji is a good place to find a waiting taxi or there is a cycle hire shop on the east side of Nishioji. Walking south on Nishioji there is also a good public bath (sento) on your left as you head towards Hirano Jinja. There are a number of restaurants on your approach to Kinkakuji including traditional Japanese food and more European-style family restaurants.