YES, the two floors of the three-storey pavilion are gilded in gold. On a sunny day, when the pond reflects the pavilion on its still surface, opulence is doubled.
It's the Kinkaku, literally translates to The Golden Pavilion, and it’s a “shariden”, a Buddhist hall housing the relics of the Buddha of the temple complex formally known as the Rukuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple), or more commonly called, Kinkaku-ji, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
The pavilion was originally the retirement home of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Upon his death on 1408, the building was converted into a Zen temple in accordance to his wishes.
In its history, fire devastated the complex, twice during the Onin War, and in 1950, when a fanatic monk set the pavilion on fire.
The present pavilion, the only structure left of the shogun’s original retirement complex, was rebuilt in 1955. It exudes a look that may have stayed loyal to the original building built in the 14th century, when visual excesses and extravagance was predominant with the wealthy aristocratic set of Kyoto, thus, the gilding of Kinkaku. The original structure though is said to be not as extensive as today’s version, which was completed in 1987.
Three distinct architectural styles are utilized on each of the levels of the Kinkaku—shinden, samurai and Zen.
The first floor is called “The Chamber of Dharma Waters”. Here, the shinden style common to Heian period imperial palaces is employed: open spaces with adjacent verandas, the use of natural, unpainted wood and white plaster. The design and materials help to emphasize the surrounding landscape. Here, statues of the Shaka Buddha and Yoshimitsu are stored and can be viewed through the windows (if opened) from across the pond.
The second floor is called The Tower of Sound Waves and built in the Bukke style used in the residences of samurais, and the exterior is covered entirely in gold leaf. This floor houses a Buddha Hall and a shrine dedicated to Kannon Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy.
Built in the style of traditional Chinese Zen Hall, the third floor is called the Cupola of the Ultimate, and is gilded on the interior and exterior, and the roofing is topped with a golden phoenix.
The trail leads to the temple’s gardens, also an excellent design example of the Muromachi period (considered as the classical age of Japanese garden design), which empathizes the correlation between structures and its settings.
In the garden are these points of interests: the hojo, the former living quarters of the head priest; a pond that is said to never dry up—the Anmintaku Pond; and statues, which coins are tossed at for luck.
Further down the garden’s path is the Sekkatei Teahouse, which was added to the complex during the Edo Period.
Exiting the temple complex’s paid area, there’s also a small tea garden where matcha tea and sweets are offered, and a small temple hall called the Fudo Hall, which houses a statue of Fudo-myo-o, one of the Five Wisdom Kings and protector of Buddhism.
After To-ji, Kinkaku-ji was the second stop of my third day in Kyoto. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is designated as a National Special Historic Site and a National Special Landscape. It’s also one of 17 sites making up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, which are World Heritage Sites.
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