Originally, I wanted to be at Kinkaku-ji as early as possible, but when I woke up to drizzle coming down from an intense grey sky, I decided to postpone my visit. The sun is out when I walk north from the train station. I know that the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, or Rokuon-ji or Deer Garden Temple, as Kinkaku-ji is officially called, is one of the prime sights of Kyoto, and I dread the crowds. To my surprise, there are no lines, and I can walk directly to the lower pond. Here, the golden pavilion rises above and reflects in the mirror-like water, Kyoto-Chi (Mirror Pond), in which islets with trees and pagodas add to the man-made beauty of the place. Built at the end of the 14th century, the temple was constructed in the age when Japanese garden design sought a perfect natural setting for buildings.
At this far corner of the small lake, there is a crowd, and fortunately, as long as you keep close to the waterline, you have unrestricted views of the beauty of Kinkaku temple in its context. To my dismay, it is not possible to walk around the lake and see the pavilion from all sides: you can only walk counter-clockwise towards the building. Access is not allowed, and there are only a few spots with direct views of the shiny building. Is it a way to protect the building from destruction? After centuries of surviving wars and earthquakes, the original pavilion was burned down by a monk in 1950, and what we see today is but a replica with more gold than before. The sheridan used to house the ashes of Buddha, but I wonder what happend to those after the building was burned to the ground. Apart from being impressive, the gold coating of the building also has a symbolic meaning: it supposedly has a purifying effect on negative thoughts; which could not prevent the young monk to carry out its act of destruction. Again, the path around the lake is closed after the pavilion, and the only way from here is up. So up I go, past small statues of Buddhas, past a smaller pond with an islet inside, and views of the top of Kinkaku-ji.
Further up, there is a temple where people burn incense and pray, there are shops, and then, suddenly, I am out and cannot go back anymore. Fortunately, it turns out to be easy to get in again, so I walk the entire circuit through the temple gardens again. At the viewpoint of Kinkaku-ji, I wait until everyone is gone, but even then, the friendly guard does not allow me to walk around the lake. So I will have to do with the views I already had before, which I now do not have to share with others anymore. I now have the peace to have a closer look at the fantastic building, and the details that make this building unique. Every floor has a distinct style, the windows, beams, and roof are all covered in gold leaf, and the pyramidal roof is topped with a phoenix. On the west side, I can now see warm afternoon light falling on the gold of the building, but trees prevent a full view. By now, the guards are gently urging the remaining visitors to continue walking the path: there can be no turning back, and I have to say goodbye to the half hidden pavilion of gold.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Kinkaku-ji (Japan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Kinkaku-ji. Read more about this site.