Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kinkaku-ji...Not All That Glitters Is Gold - But Sometimes It Is!

24th October, 2006 - Heading out early in the morning by bus, we arrived at Kinkaku-ji: The Golden Pavilion. Actually - it's official name is "Rokuon-ji". The first thing that you realise when you arrive is that it's going to be busy... there are any number of tour buses lined up at the front gate, and the people are milling everywhere...

Possibly the most famous of sights in Kyōto today, the Golden Pavillion Temple (Kinkaku-ji) started out very differently - it was originally a villa built in the 11th century. And no - there was no gold then. The villa slowly fell into ruin, and was then taken over by the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358 – 1408 AD).  Actually the Temple's official name comes from Yoshimitsu's posthumous Buddhist name Rokuon-in.

As with the cloistered emperors before, he retired to his new home and ruled from behind the scenes, whilst nominally giving power over to his nine year old son (Ashikaga Yoshimochi). Yoshimitsu was a devotee of Zen Buddhism, going on to establish the Shōkoku-ji temple, which we posted about previously. After he died, the villa was converted into a temple, with the famous Musô Sôseki (1275-1351) as its first Abbot.

The temple (like many in Kyōto) has definitely had it's hard times. It was almost (but not) destroyed in the Onin Wars. After 1868, the temple lost it's official sponsorship, and indeed with the Meiji Restoration there was a concerted effort to degrade the role of Buddhism all over Japan. Below is an actual photograph from 1886... Not exactly the same picture post-card scene that we're familiar from today. 
(care of Wiki-commons)

The Golden Pavilion itself is generally viewed from across the large Kyôkochi Pond, beautifully fenced by a boundary of green  - and the living barrier of 100's if not 1000's of camera-wielding tourists (thankfully not in shot).

The pavilion and pond were meant to inspire imagery of the Buddhist paintings known as the Seven Treasure Pond. The golden pavilion itself is quite small, measuring only 33 feet by 40 feet by 42 feet high. The golden building is actually not a temple as such, but rather the relics hall (Shariden) of the larger Rinzai Zen temple that sits on-site.

The pavilion itself is designed to reflect three very different architectural styles; each floor calling harking back to a previous era. The ground floor is the Heian-era shinden-zukuri style (similar to the palace buildings of that period), replete with a boat landing platform. It is known as Hôsuiin ("Temple of Dharma Water"). The second floor recalls the bukezukuri style favoured in the Kamakura period, and was reserved for private meetings with the ex-shogun. It is known as Chôondô ("Grotto of Wave Sounds"). The third floor, in the Chinese influenced Zen temple style, was where Yoshimitsu would escape for private tea-ceremonies. It is known as Kukkyôchô ("Superb Apex"). 

On top of the pavilion is mounted a metre high gold covered bronze phoenix statue.

Whilst you can't normally enter the Shariden, you can get a pretty good look all around...

Almost all of the original buildings have since been lost to time and decay. The Gold Pavilion had withstood the many wars and fires that beset Kyōto, however, in 1950 an obsessed monk burnt the building entirely to the ground. This tale is told well in Mishima's book, The Temple of The Golden Pavilion. The resulting building is an exact replica. Today the temple, as with it's twin Ginkaku-ji, is still controlled by the Shōkoku-ji Rinzai Zen school.

The back looks quite a bit different... but still recognizable.

Around the grounds of the Kinkakuji lie lush green gardens, in which one can find little treasures and moments of tranquility.

Tranquility Pond (Anmintaku) is a small pond that is reputed to never dry up, regardless of drought. It is therefore also known as a place at which people pray for rain. Across the pond sits the stupa known as the White Snake Mound (Hakuja no Tsuka) - which may indeed date back to the family estate prior to the acquisition by the Ashikaga.

The Dragon Gate Falls is definitely underwhelming as far as "waterfalls" goes... the  name comes from the legend that should carp manage to swim up the waterfall, they would transform into a dragon. The large rock is meant to represent this transformation of the carp into a dragon as it ascends towards the heavens.

You follow a set path around the gardens - yet thankfully the crowds thin out dramatically. It appears many people just come to take a photo of the "Golden Pavilion" and then jump back on the bus. A shame for them, but great for those who are able to spend time to wander around.

And if you've got time, it's definitely worth strolling around the gardens. Very pleasant. Whilst some of the trees were starting to turn when we were there, it was still too early in Autumn to see much colour. Then again... it also gets busier exponentially with the more colour on the trees.

Atop the hill lies the Sekkatei Teahouse (or Favourable Sunset Teahouse)... the result of one of the influential Abbots of the Edo-period, Hôrin Jôshô. It is positioned to allow the occupants to gaze down at the reflections of the setting sun across the pond.

And speaking of tea - you can purchase some Matcha.... this is a very thick powdered Japanese tea used for the tea ceremony (by the way Uji Matcha is considered the best).

It's normally served with a small sweet (o'chauke).... Kawaii!... that's cute. This particular type is called Rakugan.

And of course, it wouldn't be a temple without some place for worship. This is the Fudô Hall - dedicated to Fudô Myôô, who is also known as Acala. The destroyer of delusion and protector of Buddhism. Hmmm - delusion huh?... just don't tell me that was the Fool's Gold Pavilion!

After a great walk around the Golden Pavilion grounds, it's time to move on. O'Mighty Phoenix... point the way to our next destination. Ryoan-ji. Arigatou!

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  1. Its so weird pictures of the building with the yellow 1st and 2nd floor come pre-installed as desktop background pictures on my MacBook. So awesome you actually go to go there!

  2. free advertising for Mac here ?;p

    It's really one of the iconic sights in Kyoto - a must see... but have to say - there's thousands of other tourists that are doing just that. Every day.

  3. Beautiful photos. Someday I'll get to Kyoto.

  4. ooh man these photos are beautiful, I have to get to Kyoto when I visit Japan.

  5. That is a gorgeous sight!

    The matcha! I don't know if I can stomach that again. (@_@)

  6. Yeah... but the matcha is not normally what you think of when you think tea. It's the pea soup of drinks. Then again - in such a nice environment, who could resist?