Kinkaku-ji – The Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji HDR Sunset

Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) is to Kyoto what the Empire State building is to New York- a quintessential piece of architecture that defines the area. It is pretty rare to see a mention of Kyoto in a web site or magazine without at least one picture of this beautiful, gold-covered building.

But what is Kinkaku-ji and why was it built? And if you’re planning to visit, what camera gear should you take to get the best shots?

What’s in the Name?

Two Women in front of Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion

The first Japanese kanji kin in Kinkaku-ji stands for gold (you’ll also find it, appropriately enough, in the Japanese word for money – okane). The second kanji stands for pavilion while the last kanji is for temple. So Kinkaku-ji literally means The Gold Pavilion Temple.


Kinkaku-ji Geisha

Kinkaku-ji was built in the 1390s as retirement home for the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Ashikaga was probably best known for resolving the sixty year rift that had split the Japanese court along the North and South. Although the North Court (located in Kyoto) held all the power, the Southern Court (Mount Yoshino) had something special in its possession – The Three Sacred Treasures.

The Three Sacred Treasures (a sword, mirror, and jewel) were the Imperial Regalia of Japan, so even though the Southern Court was in exile and held no real power, they were still considered the legitimate rulers of Japan until Ashikaga could convince them to return the imperial insignia to Kyoto in 1392.

I guess this must have taken a lot out of Ashikaga, because shortly after (1394), he retired and turned his attention to the construction of his retirement villa.


The Golden Pavilion Kinkanku-ji in the fall

What makes the pavilion so striking is its two top stories that are encased in pure gold leaf. The pavilion is also perched over a small pond that serves as a mirror reflecting back the glory of the gold building and makes for some stunning views.

Photo Opportunities

Kinkaku-ji in the winter

Whether sparkling in the summer sun or delicately surrounded in fresh layer of snow, Kinkaku-ji is worth a visit any time of year.

As you enter the moss-covered park you’ll be taken on a walk around to the right of the pond and pavilion. If you’re packing a DSLR camera you’ll want to bust out your zoom and wide angle lenses, as some of the best views of Kinkaku-ji can be taken at this spot. By the time you get closer to the temple you will be behind it, so take as many pictures as you like while you walk towards it.

A nice feature of the walk is that it doesn’t wrap completely around the pavilion so you won’t have people in your photos while shooting the pavilion from the right.

The Tea House

Kinkaku-ji teahouse

After you leave the pavilion you’ll have an opportunity to see Sekka-tei – the teahouse constructed in 1874. It affords an excellent view of the setting sun reflecting off the golden pavilion.

If by this time you are ready to enjoy a taste of the cha-no-yu (the Japanese tea ceremony), you will definitely want to stop and relax at the Visitors Teahouse.

Now, although you won’t be getting the authentic Japanese tea ceremony, you will get a chance to sample the frothy green tea while kneeling on tatami mats and enjoying a traditional tea ceremony sweet. The sweet is accented with real gold foil as a nod to the pavilion.

How to get there

Girl in front of Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion

In Kyoto the bus reigns supreme. To visit Kinkau-ji you’ll want to take any bus that stops at the Kinkakuji-michi Bus Stop. That will mean taking either Bus 12, 59, 101, 102, 204, or 205. The pavilion is open 365 days a year from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Photo Credits: Splash picture by-manolinlao, Japanese women with pavilion by – SanSuiSo, Geisha by Regina Suzuki, Kinkaku-ji in fall by – alexanderbot, Kinkaku-ji in the Winter by – azkin, Teahouse by – kdmurray, Girl at Pavilion by – ting0308.

One Response to “Kinkaku-ji – The Golden Pavilion”

  1. sak  on August 5th, 2009

    I think this pavilion was the most incredible sight of my short trip to japan.

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