Kinkakuji, Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is a Zen Temple in the ancient Japanese city of Kyoto whose top two floors are entirely covered in gold leaf. It is designated as a National Special Historic Site and is one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site.
The view was perhaps the most awe-inspiring sight on my visit to Kyoto. Beyond that is an education and immersion into one of the world’s best examples of artistically creating a structure in harmony with the landscape. Kinkakuji is set in a traditional Japanese strolling garden and extends over a pond which provides beautiful reflections of the golden structure. Did I mention the koi fish? The rock gardens, bridges, ponds and vegetation are truly zen in every way.
Some say that the most stunning view of Kinkakuji is in the winter when it is covered in snow…. it snowed there one day after I left!
The gold used on the temple has a symbolic meaning; it was believed that the gold purified any negative thoughts and feelings towards death. I found that interesting, also knowing that the grounds were designed to illustrate harmony between heaven and earth.
Kinkakuji was built in 1393 as a retirement villa for Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga. Through history it has burned down several times, most recently having been rebuilt in 1955. Due to the immense historic buildings in the ancient city of Kyoto, the city was spared much of the destruction of World War II. Statues of the Shaka Buddha and Yoshimitsu are stored in the first floor. While it’s not possible to enter the pavilion, you can view them from across the pond as the front windows of the first floor are usually kept open….. they were not open when I visited.
After you exit the temple area, you’ll see Fudo Hall where people line up to ring the bells (to awaken the gods) and say a prayer. This small temple is home to a statue of Fudo Myoo, one of the Five Wisdom Kings and the protector of Buddhism. The statue is said to have been carved by one of Japan’s most important religious figures in history.
Tips for Visiting the Temple of the Golden Pavilion:
Here you can access what I found to be the most useful Kyoto travel guide.
Where to Stay When Visiting Kyoto:
I recommend the Almont Hotel where I stayed, which is about 3 blocks from the Kyoto Station, the major hub for getting anywhere in the city and beyond. It was clean, comfortable and their location is great. I liked that they have traditional onsen (mineral pools), free wifi and a business center (all of which I made use of). Book through Agoda for the best rate.
If you enjoy the Japanese aesthetic, you might be drawn to my own cool eBay collection of Japanese items.