Ginkakuji: Searching for Silver

All is not what it seems at the marvellous Ginkakuji, the so-called Silver Pavilion. This Zen temple from the Muromachi Period is not actually made from silver. Rather the name comes from the promise that one day the temple would indeed be painted silver, yet never was.

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My first sight of the not-so-silver temple
My first sight of the not-so-silver temple

Ginkakuji was not among my top 3 or 4 intended locations when coming to Kyoto for the first time. I always wanted to visit the amazing Kinkakuji, Fushimi Inari, and Kiyomizu-dera, but Ginkakuji and nearby Nanzenji would always have to wait until I had visited the other three. On one sunny afternoon, however, I finished up in Gion earlier than I had expected as I couldn’t find Nishiki Market. Rather than try to ask for directions, I headed back to the bus stop and made the most of my Kyoto Day Pass and got a ‘free’ ride a little further north in the city to Ginkakuji – the so-called Silver Pavilion. Ginkakuji was always on my list of places to visit while in Kyoto, but it wasn’t a priority. However, it was still nice to spend the final couple of hours of this sunny afternoon here and at Nanzenji. The admission price to Ginkakuji was 500 Yen, which is a little steep, but what the heck, I still paid it.

Amazing scenery here at Ginkakuji
Amazing scenery here at Ginkakuji

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What surprised me a lot about Ginkakuji was the fact it was not hidden at all, and as soon as I entered the temple complex I walked around the corner and saw the magnificent wooden pavilion right before me. Of course, I knew the pavilion was not silver – I could tell that even by looking at photos years ago – but the wooden structure was actually very impressive, and it looked full of history. As you can imagine, there were lots of people crowding around to try and get the picture-perfect selfie, so it was difficult to get a clear shot of the pavilion, although I think I did well, all things considered. Although it was very bright sunshine, it was early April, so the temperature was still cool, and this provided a quite eerie feeling when walking through the grounds of Ginkakuji – with even haze, dew, and lens glare affecting my photos.

A bamboo forest on the way up...
A bamboo forest on the way up…
A great view from up top
A great view from up top
Mossy terrain on the way down...
Mossy terrain on the way down…

Much like at Kinkakuji, there is a picturesque walking trail around the pavilion, which itself sits on a serene pond. However, unlike at Kinkakuji, it was not raining today, so I had more opportunity to enjoy the scenery and make the most of my admission fee. The walking trail led me up from the pavilion and then back down again. At the top, there was a great chance to get a glimpse of downtown Kyoto (just like at Kiyomizu-dera on the wooden pagoda) from up there, but what impressed me the most was the bamboo forest that I saw just outside of the walking trail perimeter. It was a shame we could walk through this bamboo forest, as I did not get the chance to visit Arashiyama when in the city. On the way back down towards the wooden pavilion, I nearly slipped a few times on the slippery stone steps, many of which were covered with green moss.

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I would always suggest going to Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion) before you come here to Ginkakuji, as it is slightly more impressive with its golden reflections on the pond. And while the wooden structure here does not have the same magical presence, the scenery and gardens which surround it are still very much worth a look, and if you can fit it into your schedule when in the Philosopher’s Path area of Kyoto, than a good 45 minutes is all that is needed.

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8 thoughts on “Ginkakuji: Searching for Silver

  1. I also prefer Kinkakuji, because it’s different and impressive with its golden reflection. (I also couldn’t find Nishiki Market the first days, now I’m a regular :)).

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    1. I think you mean Kiyomizu. Yeah I was there for the beginning of cherry blossom season about 6 or 7 weeks ago. I thought Ginkakuji though had the best gardens and grounds of all the temples in Kyoto I think.

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  2. Ah man, Ginkakuji. Reading Donald Keene’s Yoshimasa and the Silver Pavilion turned me onto this place and visiting there some years ago confirmed my imaginations of this most beautiful site. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. The story of Ginkakuji is very enlightening, but the tales behind Kinkakuji are even more weighty! Like the monk who tried to commit suicide and ended up burning down apart of the temple but not succeeding in killing himself.

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      1. Ah, what a story. Well then, I guess the Golden Pavilion wins! I just liked the ironic story of the Shogun who ditched the country to be a monk while Kyoto burned. But could’ve at least finished the silver, huh?

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