Upon telling friends that I was heading to Kyoto, I received a lot of suggestions about which gardens warranted a visit. “Kinkaku-ji,” “The Gold Temple,” or “The Golden Pavilion” came up a lot. Common sentiment: “Yeah, a lot of people go there and it’s really busy, but it’s worth it.” Having now visited, I wholeheartedly agree. The place is stunning.
Kinkaku is properly known as Rokuon-ji Temple, but it is better known by the phrase that refers to the famous gold building set alongside a reflective pond. It was built as a villa for Kintsune Sainoji in the 1220’s, and like so many old villas in Kyoto, it was converted to a temple long ago. Kinkaku received a facelift in 1987 and remains bright and shiny to this day.
Simply walking along the path to the garden, I knew I was in for a treat. Massive trees and splendid Japanese maples in fall color lined the way to the ubiquitous kiosk where I paid a few hundred yen to enter.
Large tree with great roots
Old and moss-covered trunk
The biggest of the bunch right outside the garden’s entrance
Maples and moss – a great combination
Once inside, a brief walk through a courtyard and passage through a Chinese style gate reveals the Kinkaku.
Kinkaku – the Golden Pavilion
I couldn’t have asked for better weather. The air was still, allowing the Kyoko-chi pond to provide a great reflection of the bright gold building on its shore.
Kinkaku is formally known as “Shariden.” The first floor is built in palace style (Shinden-zukuri), and is named Ho-sui-in (The Chamber of Dharma Waters). The second floor is built in the style of a samurai house (Buke-zukuri) and is named Cho-on-do (The Tower of Sound Waves). The third floor is built in the Karayo or Zen Temple style and is called Kukkyo-cho. A bronze phoenix adorns the roof. The second and third floors are coated in Japanese lacquer and covered with a thick layer of gold leaf. (Notes courtesy Rokuon-ji Temple brochure and Wikipedia.)
The grounds are equally beautiful. A path leads visitors around the pond, alongside the Golden Pavilion, and up a small rise before leading back toward the entrance.
Path along Kyoko-chi Pond’s southern shore
Small pine island
A beautiful setting for a not-so-subtle building
Like so many tourist destinations in Japan at the height of the fall color season, I was not alone.
One guess what they were looking at.
Behind the temple, an old pine with a great first branch peeked out between two buildings.
Check out that first branch!
Super pines like these covered the shoreline and most islands in Kyoko-chi Pond
Enjoying the fall color
An isthmus along Kyoko-chi Pond
Behind the temple buildings, garden workers were busy sweeping leaves from a surprisingly steep hillside.
Roots holding the hillside together
After leading visitors past the Pavilion, the path revealed shrines, statues, the spring that feeds the pond, and a small waterfall.
Ryumon taki waterfall
Stone figures and offerings
Maples and moss again
A second pond, An-min-taku, surrounded a small island with a stone pagoda called Hakuja-no-tsuka (the mound in memory of the white snake).
The roof of the recently renovated tea house, Sekka-tei, was already covered with light green moss and lichens that provided a nice complement to the orange maple foliage.
Sekka-tei Tea House
Even the walk away from the temple provided great views. At one point I looked over my shoulder to see Kinkaku rising above pines and red maples.
Kinkaku, matsu, momiji
Tomorrow: Notes from the Daitokuji Temple complex.
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