Kinkakuji was one the my highlights during my first ever trip to Kyoto. It is a Zen Buddhist temple and is famously a resplendent gold in colour.
You will see from maps of Kyoto that Kinkakuji is quite isolated from most of the other main tourist attractions in the city. However, the length of time it takes to get there is certainly worth all the effort, as I believe alongside the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kinkakuji is one of the ultimate highlights of not only Kyoto, but of all Japan.
I woke up early one morning and left my hotel for the bus station, which fortunately was right outside Kyoto Station. From here I got on the 205 bus which took me to Kinkakuji for around 200Yen, although it was quite a long ride (around 40 minutes). However, to make matters worse today, it was raining. Hard. I did wait an extra hour or two before leaving my hotel in the hope that the rain would dissipate, yet this was not the case. Luckily, my hotel (Hotel Hokke Club Kyoto) was very kind in lending me one of their umbrellas, so off I went to Kinkakuji hoping that the umbrella would save me and my camera! Admission to Kinkakuji costs 400Yen per person, and this is fairly common charge for entrance to most temples in Kyoto.
The site on which modern-day Kinkakuji stands was originally filled with just a simple house, but in 1397 the land on which this house stood was purchased by the Saionji Family and subsequently converted into the Kinkakuji Complex, complete with its golden pavilion. Astonishingly, in the 1950s, the golden pavilion was actually burnt down by a monk who was attempting to commit suicide. He survived and was admitted to prison, but the damage had been done to Kinkakuji. Thus is was then restored at great cost to its former glories in the years that followed. The pavilion is three stories high, each of around 12 foot, much of which is covered in bright gold lacquer. Incidentally, the site is so-called due to ‘Kinkaju’ being the name of the golden lacquer in which it is covered, and in Zen Buddhism gold has a special meaning in that it is considered a powerful colour and will negate any negative feelings of death or depression. I think for most visitors this colour scheme certainly works a treat, as surely not even the most hardened of souls can be depressed while walking around this incredible golden pavilion! Incidentally, the sister pavilion to Kinkakuji is Ginkakuji, which is known as the “Silver Pavilion” – but isn’t actually silver!
It won’t surprise you to learn that the main reason everybody comes here is to get some pictures of the Golden Pavilion. Despite the rain. that’s precisely that I set out to do myself, and there are many vantage points around the eastern side of the temple compounds. For some reason, you cannot walk around the western aspects of Kinkakuji (or at least not when I was there), but you can get good photos from the southern, eastern, and northern directions. Another cool little thing I noticed was a small collection of statues – as you can see in the photo above – whereby visitors threw coins and presumably made a wish. I did not try to do so myself, but I curiously observed others partaking in this ritual.
There are beautiful gardens around the temple which date back to Muromachi Period. Everybody walked around the entire circumference of these gardens, which enabled us to get even better views down at the Kinkakuji temple, as there are slight elevation changes amidst the gardens. Despite the poor weather, I really enjoyed myself walking around these intricately manicured gardens. Of particular interest was the Anmintaku Pond which surrounds the golden pavilion, and it is said this pond never dries up. Towards the end of the walk around the temple compounds, there were a few shops and tea houses, plus a small temple hall called Fudo Hall, where guests could tug on vertical ropes to ring bells. I have seen this practice throughout Kyoto but I am at a loss as to what it signals.
For more information on Kinkakuji, check out the ever-reliable Japan Guide!