kyoto’s kinkaku, or golden pavillion


Kyoto was quite a surprise. I didn’t know much about the city except that it was the location for the the UN climate change conference that became known as the “Kyoto Protocol,” an international treaty that set binding obligations on industrialized countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. I was pleasantly surprised by the city – it’s the kind of city that grows on you, and I found something new to discover every day. Interwoven among those new discoveries are some fabulous cultural sites and temples. One of the most iconic and unique Golden Pavilion or the Kinkaku as it is known, part of the Rukuon-Ji Temple complex.

The Kinkaku [The Golden Pavilion], is a shariden, a Buddhist hall containing relics of Buddha. The pavilion is part of the temple that is formally named Rokuon-ji Temple but commonly called Kinkaku-ji Temple or Temple of the Golden Pavillion. The area around the temple was originally the site of a villa called Kitayama-dai and owned by a statesman and third shogun of the Murimachi period [1337 to 1573 C.E.]. The garden and buildings, centered on the Golden Pavilion were said to represent the Pure Land of Buddha in this world.

Gold foil on lacquer covers the upper Two levels of Kinkaku and a shining phoenix stands on top of the shingled roof. The first level is built in the shinden style of the 11th-century imperial aristocracy; the second level is in buke style of the warrior aristocracy; and the top level is in the Chinese zenshu-butsuden style. The villa also functioned as an official guesthouse, welcoming Emperor Gokomatsu [reigned 1392-1412] and other members of the nobility. Trade with China prospered during the Murimachi period and the villa reached its height of glory as the heart of what became known as Kitayama culture. In 1994, Rokuon-ji was registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

The temple complex was quite popular with local tourists, and as I was there on a weekend, it was packed as tightly as rice in a Japanese rice ball. This made it a survival of the fittest game to see if I could snap a picture with the iPad mini without having a human figure ruin it. My years of doing the rush hour New York City subway two-step came in handy, and I aggressively pushed my way through the crowds and got my photos of this zen place. Yes I get the irony.