The song of the Phoenix
In the shadow of the hills of northwestern Kyoto sits a jewel of the ancient capital: Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. Tucked away at the foot of the mountains, this famous temple hosts some of the largest numbers of visitors per year in Japan. You will quickly understand why...
Get your sunglasses ready, this is one dazzling temple! At the door of the temple, an entry ticket, a slip of Japanese calligraphy, well worth its price, allows you entry to an immersive and poetic experience. A tree-lined road leads you to the pond, in the middle of which stands Kinkakuji, showing off its golden light. Despite its small size, the majesty of the building is undeniable. Perched on this three-storey building is a phoenix, which dazzles the people coming to admire the monument.
Kinkakuji is far from the usual sobriety of Buddhist architecture. Its walls, covered with gold leaf, are perfectly reflected in the surrounding pond; a truly mesmerizing scene. Along the body of water, the walk leads to the foot of the building and has even more beautiful scenery to see as its rocky islets unfold into arrangements following the rules of zen aesthetics. Unfortunately, the building itself is closed to visitors, hiding its many secrets from ordinary mortals.
Then you are greeted with a garden that immerses you in the heart of a miniaturization of the Amida Buddha's paradise. The path leads you to foothills of the mountains, the top of the golden pavilion flashing in and out of sight, so you won't know where to look. If you're feeling flush, go ahead and throw a few coins at the feet of the Buddhist effigies for good luck. Your tour will end at the tea house located at the end of the route, where you can enjoy a green tea while admiring the view for 500 yen; or by making a wish in front of the altar dedicated to the deity Fudo, which protects from hostile powers.
An immortal symbol
Wishing to establish a strong image of power in the imperial capital, the shogun Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA (1358-1408) built the Golden Pavilion in 1397 for his personal use when traveling to Kyoto. After his death, the residence was transformed into a Zen temple, Rokuonji. The name Kinkakuji only started being used later in history.
Destroyed by fire many times throughout the centuries, this phoenix always rises from the ashes. The present building dates from 1955, after a fanatical monk burned it to destroy this symbol of beauty. For lovers of literature, this dark episode in the life of the monument was captured in The Golden Pavilion, one of Yukio Mishima's (1925-1970) most famous works. Today designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco, this site reflects perfectly the Japanese aesthetic of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
Whether in the snow in winter or gently adorned with spring and summer vegetation, the Golden Pavilion regales the eyes as it does the mind.