The Best of Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji Temple
“Beauty is truth, truth is beauty”
Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is one of the three most stunning and unforgettable sites in Kyoto. Like two other famous Kyoto places, Fushimi Inari and the Bamboo Forest, Kinkaku-Ji’s photos are iconic. Luckily for you, you can get an amazing even in bad lighting.
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English Name: Golden Temple
Cost: ¥400 ($3.60 / €3.18 / £2.77)
OPEN: 9:00 – 5:00 pm
Type of Temple: Zen Buddhism of the Rinzai school
Main Features: a three-story temple, pond, garden, and teahouse
What is Kinkaku-
Kinkaku-ji used to be the retirement villa of the Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. When he died, his son turned it into a temple.
It’s actually part of a larger temple complex officially called Rokuon-
The temple needed to be completely rebuilt from the ground up. You can learn more about the story in Yukio Mishima’s novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, or in the movie, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.
How to get there?
The best thing to do is to download the app for Japan’s transportation system called Navitime. It usually tells you the correct bus or subway to take. You can find out how to get the app in this terrific article, 13 Things You Need to Know Before Going to Japan.
- Kyoto Station: Take buses 101 or 205
- Downtown Kyoto (Kawaramachi Sanjo): Take buses 59 or 205.
- Ryon-Ji Temple: Take bus 59. This is the closest famous temple to Kinkaku-
- The Bamboo Forest: Take bus #11 to its last stop, and then switch to bus #59. It’s easier than it sounds. Just follow the other tourists.
What to see and do at Kinkakuji?
After you pay your ticket fee, you’ll walk along a path with the other tourists to a viewing area where you can see the Golden Pavilion across from a pond. As I mentioned before, you cannot enter the temple. This is pretty much as close as you are going to get to the pavilion and this is going to be the best chance to get a good photo of it. So spend some time here.
The pavilion is a single three-story temple structure. The first floor is made of simple white plaster and unpainted wooden beams and pillars. It’s designed in the court style of the
The second and third floors are what make Kinkaku-
The second floor is designed in the Samurai style. Inside is a Buddha Hall with a Goddess of Mercy statue (Bhoddisatva). Unfortunately, you can’t see it.
The third floor is in the Zen style. I haven’t been able to find out what’s inside.
On top of the temple is a statue of a phoenix.
After taking a million photos of the temple from across the pond, walk around the pond toward the back of the pavilion. On your way, you’ll see the former head priest’s living quarters, which you can’t go into, so keep on walking. Towards the back of the temple is a deck jutting out into the water where one can moor/park a boat.
To tell you the truth, I kind of felt like I was part of a herd of cattle being led by some imaginary force around the pond and through the garden. Don’t expect a leisurely stroll. However, there are lots of other temples in Kyoto where you have the chance to go at a slower and more contemplative pace.
After seeing the back of the temple, you’ll walk through a garden that will take you gradually
The only other place of importance is a tea house. I didn’t go inside as I’d already experienced a Japanese tea house twice before.
When I was there, it was really, really hot.
You might be interested in these Japan travel posts:
What time to visit Kinkaku-ji?
I went in the afternoon and sure the crowds were bad, but they didn’t get in the way of my photos because all anyone does is look at the Pavilion from across the pond.
How long to spend there?
Because there’s just the one structure to see, it’s a super quick trip. You could do it in an hour only because the walk to and from the pavilion takes time.
What is your favorite site in Kyoto? If you’re planning a trip there, what are you most looking forward to seeing?
Much of the historical, religious, and architectural information in this article came from Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto: A Guide to Kyoto’s Most Important Sites by John Dougill.
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