A personal favorite and undoubtedly one of the most famous temples in Japan, Kinkakuji draws massive crowds throughout the whole year – and for good reason.
This artistic and historical treasure originally built in 1397 was almost lost to the world when a deranged monk burnt it down in 1950. However, completely restored and made even better, the site now continues to flourish. The temple with its top two floors covered entirely in gold leaves is truly a sight to behold but is only one of the many spots worth stopping by. Give this guide a read and make sure you don’t miss anything.
Though Kyoto’s train line is not as extensive as in other big cities such as Tokyo or Osaka, it is a very well-organized city that has obviously thought about the welfare of tourists and popular spots such as Kinkakuji are easily accessible by bus. From Kyoto Station, you can take buses number 101, 205 and 102 and get off at Kinkakujimichi – about 40 minutes away. Kyoto buses have a flat rate of ¥230 for adults and is not covered by the JR Pass. Alternatively, you can purchase a City Bus All-Day Pass for ¥500. You may also travel through a combination of train and bus rides by taking the Kurasama subway line to Kita-Oji Station. From Kita-Oji’s bus terminal, you can then take bus number 205 to Kinkakujimichi.
Upon getting off the bus, just follow the throng of people taking the 3-minute walk to the temple.
Kinkakuji opens from 9:00-17:00 all days of the week and admits adults for ¥400.
The Complete Kinkakuji Experience
You enter Kinkakuji through the characteristically Japanese gate called Somon (総門). To its left, check out the Syuro (鐘楼) bell which dates back to the Kamakura period (1185-1333). The building on the right is called the Kuri (庫裏) which is an excellent display of Zen architecture and thought to have been built around the end of the 15th century.
While walking the grounds, be sure to pay attention to the flourishing beech trees (櫟樫). Typically found in the Shikoku and Kyushu areas of Japan, these trees are rarely found in Kyoto and are actually designated as natural monuments. On your way to finally witnessing the marvelous main temple, don’t miss the impressive details of the splendidly made Karamon (唐門) to your right.
Walking on, take a few moments to take in the beauty of the actual Shariden Kinkaku (舎利殿 金閣). The building’s first story is known as Hossui-in and built in the shinden-zukuri style. The second floor’s architecture on the other hand, was done in the buke-zukuri style common among samurai houses in the Kamakura period. Lastly, the third floor is in the style of Chinese Zen temples. The harmonious unification of these different styles is an example of architecture in the Muromachi period. The second and third floors are designed with pure gold leaf. The entire structure is then topped by a shining phoenix – a symbol of good fortune.
Fronting the temple is the Kyoko-chi pond (鏡湖池) home to picturesque rock formations and small islands such as the Ashihara-jima (葦原島). It’s going to be a long time before you would be ready to move on from this view but once you do, you can pass by Hojo (方丈) which is the head priest’s former living quarters and known for its painted sliding doors called the fusuma. North of the Golden Pavilion is the Kobyo Shin’un (榊雲) where the temple’s deity, Kasuga Myojin, is enshrined.
Along the Kobyo Shin’un are the Gingasen or Milky Way Spring (銀河泉) and Gankasui which are said to have been used by the temple’s creator Yoshimitsu for his tea-making and hand-washing. Also on this path and often missed by tourists is the remarkable Ryumontaki or Ryumon Falls (龍門滝). This small falls is topped with a rigyoseki or carp stone in reference to an ancient Chinese legend where a carp scaled the falls and transformed into a dragon. On the left side of the Ryumon Falls is a stone bridge called the Kokeiyo (虎渓橋) and the style of the bamboo fences on each of its sides is the model for the popular and aptly named Kinkakuji-gaki.
The other pond you will find in the vicinity is the Anmintaku (安民沢). Surrounded by deep forest, it never dries up even during droughts and is considered a sacred place where people pray for rain. On the unmissable small islet inside is a five-ringed stone pagoda known as the Hakuja-cho (白蛇 or White Snake Mound.
From Anmintaku, you will climb a mountain path to reach Sekka-tei (夕佳亭). This tea room was built during the temple’s restoration in the Edo Period for the benefit of Emperor Go-Mizu-no-O. It’s name means ‘Evening-Sun Stop’ because the sunset over the Golden Pavilion is breathtaking from this spot.
As you exit the facility, drop by the Syuinjo (朱印所) for amulets and other official temple products. Up ahead are other souvenir and gift shops. Sample the goodies on offer but don’t forget to drop by the Fudodo (不動堂) which houses a stone statue built by Kobo Daishi of Fudo Myo-o and widely believed to have miraculous powers.
Outside, there is also a resting area where you can sit outdoor and enjoy tea, ice cream and wagashi sweets.
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