Kyoto gold and silver: Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji


Kyoto, formerly the imperial capital of Japan, is well-known for its fascinating history, castles, shrines and temples. There are lots of shrines and temples – over 2,000 to be exact. It’s a challenge to see them all even if you live there and, sadly, we only had three days in Kyoto and barely scratched the shrine-and-temple surface. So, kicking off the Kyoto portion of the holiday blogs, let’s look at the Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) and Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion).

Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. It was built in the late 1300s in the style of the extravagant Kitayama culture favoured by the wealthy elite of that time. It was also the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, then became a Zen temple after his death in 1408. Each of the temple’s three floors represents a different type of architecture; the Shinden style from the Heian period, the Bukke style of samurai residences and the third in the style of a Chinese Zen hall, gilded inside and out and topped by a grand phoenix statue. Visitors can’t see inside the temple but can still admire it from the beautiful gardens.

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Despite the throng of tourists jostling for prime camera position (I unfortunately dropped my camera at this point despite the strap around my neck), Kinkaku-ji is incredibly serene. The mirror-image reflection cast over the pond’s still waters is a beautiful sight. It’s easy to imagine it’s actually a 14th century temple that has majestically stood the test of time, but it has actually been burned down numerous time, most recently in 1950 when a fanatic monk set fire to it.

As you walk through Kinkaku-ji’s gardens, you’ll pass Anmintaku Pond, which allegedly never dries up, the Sekkatei Teahouse, where you can take a break overlooking the gardens, Fudo Hall, and a lucky coin toss game (which I was predictably rubbish at).

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Next on our temple tour was Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, which is apparently (and very unfairly) considered to be less impressive than Kinkaku-ji. If anything, Oana and I actually preferred Ginkuku-ji slightly more because of its beautiful mossy gardens. You can take a 40 minute bus between the two temples (a lovely elderly Japanese man took it upon himself to direct all the tourists at the stop to the right bus), or do them on separate days if you want to cut down your bus time.

By the time we reached Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, it was absolutely chucking it down so we had to do a lot of our viewing from the safety of umbrellas. Despite the name, the temple isn’t covered in silver but is believed to have earned its name from the moon light reflecting on its dark exerior, which used to be covered in black lacquer. Initially less spectacular to look at, Ginkaku-ji is modelled on Kinkaku-ji and was in fact the retirement villa of Ashikaga Yoshimasu, the grandson of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Yoshimasu was an art-obsessed shogun living in the Higashiyama culture, under which a number of traditional Japanese arts were developed.

Ginkaku-ji is still well-worth visiting because of its beautiful moss gardens and dry sand garden, known as the sea of silver sand. If anything, these were even more wonderful to explore in the rain. You follow a circular route around the ground and get a fantastic view of the grounds. Also, unlike Kinkaku-ji, Ginka-kuji has survived several fires and earthquakes but is very well-preserved.

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We rounded off our trip to Ginkaku-ji with some absolutely delicious matcha and sakura-flavoured cream puffs. There are a couple of tiny cafes serving sweets outside the entrance of the pavilion, so make sure you stop and take a look!

Next on the blog… we’re taking a trip down the Philsopher’s Walk!

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3 thoughts on “Kyoto gold and silver: Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji

  1. Pingback: Philosophising on the Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto | Sophie's Japan Blog

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