Kinkaku-ji officially named Rokuon-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan.
The name Kinkaku-ji literally means the Temple of the Golden Pavilion and the official name Rokuon-ji literally means the Deer Garden Temple.
Kinkaku-ji’s history dates to 1397, when the villa was purchased from the Saionji family by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and transformed into the Kinkaku-ji complex.
Yoshimitsu intended to cover the exterior of the main building of Kinkau-ji with gold, but only managed to coat the ceiling of the third floor with gold leaf before his death.
After Yoshimitsu death in 1408, the building was converted into a Zen temple by his son, according to his wishes. [Painted photograph of the Golden Pavilion in 1885, below]
During the Onin war (civil war that lasted from 1467 to 1477), all of the buildings in the complex
aside from the pavilion were burned down.
On July 2, 1950, the pavilion was burned down by a 22-year-old novice monk, Hayashi Yoken, who then attempted suicide on the Daimonji Temple hill behind the building. He survived, and was subsequently taken into custody. The monk was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released because of mental illnesses (persecution complex and schizophrenia) on September 29, 1955; he died of
tuberculosis shortly after in 1956.
The present temple structure dates from 1955, which was rebuilt true to the original except for a
significant enhancement: both upper stories are covered in gold leaf, in accordance with Ashikaga’s
The golden pavilion functions as a shariden, housing relics of the Buddha (Buddha’s Ashes).
In 1987, the temple was re-covered in gold leaf five times thicker than the original coating! Additionally, the interior of the building, including the paintings and Yoshimitsu’s statue, were also restored. Finally, the roof was restored in 2003.
The pavilion is three stories high, approximately 12.5 meters (41 feet) in height.
The pavilion successfully incorporates three distinct styles of architecture which are shinden, samurai, and zen, specifically on each floor. Each floor of the Kinkaku uses a different architectural style.
The first floor, called The Chamber of Dharma Waters (Hou-sui-in), is rendered in shinden-zukuri
style, reminiscent of the residential style of the 11th century Heian imperial aristocracy. It is evocative of the Shinden palace style. It is designed as an open space with adjacent verandas and uses natural, unpainted wood and white plaster. This floor was used as a reception hall for welcoming guests in the days of Yoshimitsu.
The second floor, called The Tower of Sound Waves (Chou-on-dou ), is built in the style of samurai
houses, buke-zukuri style. On this floor, sliding wood doors and latticed windows create a feeling of
impermanence. The second floor also contains a Buddha Hall and a shrine dedicated to the goddess of
mercy, Kannon. On this floor Yoshimitsu held his private meetings with honored guests.
The third floor, called The Cupola of the Ultimate (Kukkyou-chou) is built in zen style. It has round-headed windows and is more richly ornamented than the other floors. Inside, it shelters an Amida triad and 25 Bodhisattvas. This floor is only about two square meters (23 square feet) and was used for intimate meetings with friends and tea ceremonies.
On the roof of the pavilion is just over a meter (3.7 feet) tall bronze statue of a phoenix that is also leafed in gold.
From the outside, viewers can see gold plating added to the upper stories of the pavilion. The gold
leaf covering the upper stories hints at what is housed inside: the shrines. The outside is a reflection of the inside. The elements of nature, death, religion, are formed together to create this connection between the pavilion and outside intrusions.
The Golden Pavilion is set in a magnificent Japanese strolling garden.
It situated picturesquely in the garden at the edge of a lake. This layout is typical of the Shinden style of the Heian period and is intended to suggest a position between heaven and Earth.
The pavilion extends partially over the pond and is beautifully reflected in the calm waters.
The pond contains 10 smaller islands. The zen typology is seen through the rock composition, the bridges, and plants are arranged in a specific way to represent famous places in Chinese and Japanese
The largest islet in the pond represents the Japanese islands.
A small fishing deck is attached to the rear of the pavilion building, allowing a small boat to be
moored under it.
Kinkaku-ji is designated as a National Special Historic Site and a National Special Landscape, and it is one of 17 locations comprising the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site.
It is also one of the most popular buildings in Japan, attracting a large number of visitors annually.