Japanese Scenery (VII): Kinkaku-ji
As you step into the enchanting realm of Kinkaku-ji, a scene of pure beauty unfolds before your eyes. The air is filled with tranquility and reverence as you walk through a meticulously manicured Japanese garden, surrounded by vibrant greenery, gentle rustling leaves, and the soft trickling of a nearby stream. Stone lanterns line the pathway, casting a warm glow as sunlight filters through the branches above. Emerging from behind the trees, the shimmering golden facade of the pavilion reflects perfectly on the peaceful pond, creating an otherworldly spectacle. Surrounded by nature, the harmonious composition of the golden structure, lush greenery, and tranquil waters transports you to a dreamlike realm where beauty and serenity reign supreme. It is a scene that captivates the senses, leaving an indelible mark on your heart and mind, forever cherishing the memory of this remarkable place.
Kinkaku-ji (literally the Golden Pavilion) is a Zen Buddhist temple situated in Kyoto, Japan. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple's main attraction is its stunning golden pavilion that reflects in a tranquil pond surrounded by lush greenery and gardens.
Kinkaku-ji's design is inspired by the Chinese Zen architectural style, with a three-story structure that features different styles on each level. Each floor of the Golden Pavilion is covered in gold leaf, which gives it a striking appearance that reflects beautifully on the surrounding pond and garden. Visitors can admire the pavilion from different angles and viewpoints, including across the pond, from the Kyokochi (mirror pond), and from inside the temple.
First Floor: The first floor of the Golden Pavilion is designed in a Shinden-zukuri style, which was popular during the Heian period. This architectural style features an open floor plan with pillars and beams that support the roof without interior walls. This floor houses a Buddha Hall where visitors can see a statue of the bodhisattva Kannon.
Second Floor: The second floor of the Golden Pavilion is designed in the Bukke-zukuri style, which was commonly used in samurai residences. This architectural style features a simple and functional design with wooden latticework on the windows and sliding doors that allow for natural light and ventilation. This floor features a small altar with a statue of the god of mercy.
Third Floor: The third floor of the Golden Pavilion is a Chinese-inspired style called Karayo, which translates to "Chinese style." It is designed as a smaller version of the upper floors of Chinese palaces. This floor is adorned with a majestic phoenix statue and features a beautiful balcony that offers a panoramic view of the surrounding garden and grounds.
History of Kinkaku-ji
The history of Kinkaku-ji dates back to the 14th century when it was built as a residence for a shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. After his death in 1408, according to his wishes, the building was converted into a Zen temple and named "Rokuon-ji". The name Rokuon-ji means "Deer Garden Temple" and refers to the surrounding gardens and grounds. Kinkaku-ji is actually officially known as Rokuon-ji, though most people know it as Kinkaku-ji.
The temple complex suffered from several fires throughout its history. The first fire occurred during the Onin War (1467-1477 AD), which destroyed many of the buildings on the temple grounds. The temple was later restored by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the grandson of Yoshimitsu, who rebuilt the pavilion in 1489 and named it Kinkaku-ji.
In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a powerful daimyo, took control of Kyoto and acquired Kinkaku-ji. He considered converting the pavilion into his personal residence, but he decided to keep it as a temple instead. In 1605, a monk named Hayashi Razan renovated the temple and added several new structures, including a tea house and a Shinto shrine.
In 1950, a novice monk named Hayashi Yoken set fire to the Golden Pavilion and destroyed it. The incident shocked Japan and caused widespread outrage. However, the temple was reconstructed and restored in 1955, using the original design and materials.
Garden of Kinkaku-ji
Aside from the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji features beautiful gardens and landscapes. The garden spans over 12 hectares and features a variety of trees, plants, flowers, and water features that change with the seasons. Cherry blossoms bloom in the spring, creating a sea of pink and white petals that shower the garden, while vibrant foliage attracts tourists in the autumn months. In the winter, the snow-covered trees and pond create a magical winter wonderland and in th summer, lush greenery provides shade and relief from the heat. The gardens are meticulously maintained, providing a serene and peaceful environment for visitors to relax and enjoy nature.
The garden is designed in a traditional Japanese style known as kaiyu-shiki-teien, which means "strolling garden." This design encourages visitors to take leisurely walks around the garden while enjoying the scenery and discovering new viewpoints and perspectives.
One of the most striking features of the garden is the Kyokochi pond, also known as the Mirror Pond. The pond reflects the Golden Pavilion's image perfectly, creating a breathtaking view that attracts visitors from all over the world. The pond is surrounded by a variety of trees, including pine, Japanese cypress, and maple, which provide shade and add to the stunning scenery.
Another notable feature of the garden is the Sekka-tei teahouse, which was built during the Edo period. The teahouse is situated on a small hill overlooking the pond, offering visitors a peaceful and serene view of the surrounding landscape.
Throughout the garden, visitors can find several other buildings and structures, including a small waterfall, stone bridges, and rock formations that are carefully arranged to create a harmonious and balanced environment. The garden is also home to several statues of Buddha and other religious figures, adding a spiritual dimension to the already peaceful atmosphere.