Have you read any Yukio Mishima? He wrote a book, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. It’s a fictionalised account of a moment in Kinkakuji’s history. In October 2010, we went to look at this fabulous temple in the northern part of Kyoto.
In a moment of madness, following our adventure on the mountain at Fushimi Inari, we decided that we hadn’t had enough looking around shrines and temples. After our late lunch of kitsune udon and zaru soba, we left Kyoto train station and caught a 205 bus from the bus station outside. This was our first journey on a bus in Japan. We read all of the information on the electronic sign at the stand and learned that the fare was a flat fee of 220円. As we boarded the bus, we saw signs that told us we should pay the fare as we got off. The journey through the western part of Kyoto took around 45 minutes and went past Nishi Honganji. We had worked out from the route map at the bus stop which stop we needed to leave the bus at for Kinkakuji. When we left the bus, we dropped our fare into the machine and did that tourist thing of watching while it counted the coins. The bus driver looked at us quizzically.
The weather was taking a turn for the worse and a light drizzle started to fall. I foolishly hadn’t prepared for this, and was without an umbrella, so my husband kindly lent me his. The rain started to fall more heavily as we walked up the street towards Kinkakuji.
Kinkakuji isn’t the temple’s real name. Its official name is Rokuonji. The Golden Pavilion which gives the temple its popular name isn’t even the main temple, which fell into ruin and no longer exists. To the north east of the Golden Pavilion is the Fudo-do, a hall dedicated to the god of fire, and there’s also a sub temple called Shin-un, but that’s about it for sacred buildings.
The site was originally a villa that belonged to a nobleman called Kintsune Saionji. The Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu took the villa for his retirement residence and rebuilt it with a zen garden and a beautiful gilded building called Shariden. When Yoshimitsu died, the site was converted into the Rokuonji temple and Shariden became Kinkaku.
The Golden Pavilion has been burnt down a few times, sometimes in war, and then in 1950 by a monk. This latter incident forms the basis for Mishima’s story.
The pavilion was rebuilt in 1955 and further restoration work was carried out in 1987. In 1994, it became a World Cultural Heritage site.
We walked through the temple grounds to the ticket office, where we bought our entry tickets. They were works of art in their own right, covered in kanji and stamps from official seals. We followed the crowds to the Golden Pavilion along the edge of the Mirror Pond (Kagamiike). Even on a drizzly day, the pavilion was stunning. The layers of gold leaf on the two upper stories were irridescent. Along with everyone else, we went mad photographing the building from every available angle, and waiting patiently for our turn in the prime spot where we could take each other’s picture with the pavilion in the background.
We then followed the path round through the gardens, past other buildings, such as the Abbot’s quarters, plus a pine tree that has been shaped to resemble a boat and a small shrine with a bowl in front of the statues. Many people had tried to get items of small change into the bowl and failed. My husband also made an attempt. He hit the side of the bowl a couple of times, but didn’t manage to get a coin in.
Because it was October, the autumn leaves were starting to change colour. There was one view in particular, across the second pond at the back of the pavilion towards a stone pagoda, that was particularly nice with the range of colours in the leaves.
It was too wet to encourage a leisurely stroll right around the site, so we didn’t linger at the Shin-un temple or the Galaxy Spring. We paused to take photographs at the Ryumon Taki waterfall, but that was all. At the end of the stroll path, we went into a gift shop where we bought souvenirs. After the beauty of the pavilion and the relative tranquility of the gardens, the gift shops and food stalls at the end of the trail seemed a little incongruous.
This is another spot in Kyoto that I would like to go back to again, at a different time of year, so that I can hopefully see it out of the rain. It was worth the trip in the autumn, though. The pavilion really is stunning.