Kyoto is a traveller’s paradise for Buddhist temples and shrines (like Kinkakuji) and heralded as the Traditional Capital of Japan, the number of tourists flocking to these historical places of worship just keeps climbing. A prime example is ‘金閣寺’ (きんかくじ or Kinkaku-ji), a photographer’s heaven for instant photogenic gratification, aka the Golden Pavilion in English. It is officially known as 鹿苑寺 (ろくおんじ or Rokuon-ji) which means ‘Deer Garden Temple’, yet in reference to its yellow-tinged metallic finish, the golden name stuck. It serves as a popular tourist spot and is listed as a World Heritage Site, and is considered an integral part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.
Built in the late 14th Century, this Zen Buddhist temple has been around some 700 + years, exchanging numerous hands, being levelled several times from the atrocities of war and going through quite a few renewals, till its most recent revival in 1955.
Details of the Golden Pavilion
The shrine currently stands at 3 stories tall or 12.5 m high, with the top two stories are covered in pure thin gold sheeting, commonly known as ‘gold leaf’. The first storey is built in a time that resembles the 11th Century of the Shinden Palace style architecture. The second story is reminiscent of the older Samurai era, similar to the style used for warrior aristocrats. Finally, the third storey is built in the theme of traditional Chinese Zen Buddhism.
The pavilion itself serves as a sacred housing for relics of Buddha and holds his ashes inside. The building itself is also a template for the similarly named 銀閣寺 (ぎんかくじ or Ginkaku-ji) meaning the ‘Silver Pavilion’ and 相国寺 (しょうこくじ or Shoukoku-ji) shrines, situated on the outer skirts of Kyoto.
After viewing the main shrine from across the small lake, you can continue along the path experience more of the grounds which have held their original form and shape from the initial days of building. You can also see the former head priest’s quarters, plus a pond that is always full of a number of statues people offer coin donations to for good luck.
Finally, towards the exit of the site, you can buy souvenirs from the gift shop, drink matcha tea and other sweets from the small teahouse or check out the small Buddha hall.
How to get there?
Entry to the grounds is 400 yen, and is open between the hours of 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day. The closest station to the shrine is Kitaoji station, via the Karasuma Subway line from Kyoto station, this costs 400 yen and takes about 15 minutes. From there you can catch one of the local buses or take a short cab ride right up to the entrance.
For more information, feel free to check out the Official Kinkaku-ji website too.