Kinkaku-ji Temple, THE GOLDEN TEMPLE

#kinkakuji #Ashikagayoshimitsu #zeami #noh

Kinkaku-ji Temple, THE GOLDEN TEMPLE(金閣寺:鹿苑寺)

Since ancient time, in many cultures, gold has been considered a precious metal. Its colour is the colour of the sun. It is associated with the sun and worshiped for its generous blessings of light, warmth, life, and its power. In Buddhism, gold is an important colour too. It is used to represent enlightenment or an enlightened being. Therefore gold colour or gold leaf is used to cover Buddha statues. In Japan, as in many other Buddhist countries, you can often see the use of gold in paintings, decorations, on statues.. and building! Kinkaku-ji, is one of the few existing golden temples in the world. Visiting it is really a rich experience!

The main gateway of Kinkaku-ji

I went to Kinkaku-ji with my colleagues. The day before we were guessing about the weather. Mr. Matsumoto ensured us that it would be fine because he is “Hare otoko”, fair weather man, or better, the man who brings fair weather. When we met at the gateway of Kinkaku-ji it was cloudy and cold indeed. I teased him. The gateway was still closed but we were excited thinking about the Golden Temple looked like. If you visit it for the first time, you cannot imagine what is waiting you behind this simple wooden gateway. We were the firsts visitors, but behind us there was already a big group of Japanese students.
When we arrived in front of Kinkaku-ji, the building shimmered with its eclectic beauty all against a backdrop of white clouds and green hills. The pond “Kyoko-chi”, Mirror pond, gently reflected this treasure on the surface of the calm water dotted with small islands of trees. I stopped teasing Mr. Matsumoto because Kinkaku-ji showed me its another aspect. Doubtless, Kinkaku-ji is one of the most iconic images of Kyoto, regardless the weather.

Kinkaku-ji and Kyoko-chi pond

Kinkaku-ji, Golden Temple or the Temple of Golden Pavillion, was a retirement retreat of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, (足利義満:1358-1408), the third Shogun of Muromachi period (1134-1573). The original building was constructed in 1397. Yoshimitsu was fond of Chinese culture, especially of that of Sung dynasty in which Zen had its roots. He was also the patron of Zeami(世阿弥), a Noh actor. Noh is a kind of art imbued with Zen aesthetics. Zeami performed it on the Noh stage at Kinkaku-ji, for Yoshimitsu’s pleasure.
Kinkaku-ji and its garden’ s style are built to represent the Pure Land of Buddha in this world. I think the gold leaf was used precisely to show how the Buddhist paradise was. It was commonly imagined with its golden and shining buildings.
As you can notice, the first floor maintains the wooden structure and white walls as a normal temple, making so the contrast with the two gold coated upper levels is more vivid.

Buddhist images at the first level of Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji features three styles of architecture, due to the eclectic sense of aesthetic of Yoshimitsu and the Muromachi period influence. The first level is in Shinden-zukuri or Palace style, of the imperial aristocracy during the Heian period (794-1185). Here Yoshimitsu welcomed guests. The second level is in the Buke-zukuri, or Samurai house style of the Kamakura period (1185-1333). This level was used for private meetings of Yoshimitsu. The third level is smaller than the others below, giving a feeling of intimacy. It is built in Chinese Sung style, or Zen temple style, with the bell-shaped windows. Yoshimitsu used it for tea ceremony, contemplation, and shared good time with its close friends, I guess!

The boat-shaped pine tree on the right side of Kinkaku-ji building

The rear side of Kinkaku-ji

We walked around Kinkaku-ji and enjoyed the Zen walking garden. Its sight expands from its precincts to the surrounding beautiful hills of Kitayama. There is a spring from which the water was used for tea ceremony. Then there is a little waterfall with a carp-shaped stone, on the way to ascend it.

Ryu-mon-baku waterfall and carp-shaped stone

Ryu-mon-baku waterfall and carp-shaped stone

Following the stone steps path you will find a dainty tea ceremony house, called “Sekka-tei”. It was built in 1600. Its simplicity of architecture, the thatched roof, the bare room express Zen. The Sekka-tei, Place of evening beauty, is a good place to spot Kinkaku-ji at sunset time, as its name means.

Sekka-tei tea ceremony house

Sekka-tei tea ceremony house

Then we passed a walled garden. You can have a rest here drinking a cup of green tea at the shop or in the garden.
The tea and souvenir shops are in the same place where Fudo-do Temple is located. Many people stop here to pray and to purchase amulets or fortune oracle from an automatic machine. Yoshimitsu will laugh about it?

Interior of the Sekka-tei, tea ceremony house

The outside of the tea shop

The harmonious roof of Kinkaku-ji and the topped Phoenix

After the death of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, this villa was changed in a Zen temple in accordance with his will and named “Rokuon-ji”, after his posthumous Buddhist name. When we were waiting outside the gateway, we noticed a wooden sign with ink brush hand writing “鹿苑寺”, Deer Garden Temple. It is believed that deer are messengers of god.
The Golden Temple marks the Kitayama culture, as years later the Silver Temple built by Yoshimitsu’ s grandson Yoshimasa marks the Higashiyama culture (the Silver temple has never been coated with silver leaf as designed). The gold and the silver temples, the sun and the moon, the yin-yang…A phoenix is standing on the top of the roof of both temples, symbol of regeneration or rebirth. What this an attempt to ensure a new vision of life and death? Was this an attempt to keep the Ashikaga’ supremacy to reborn again from the ashes of his predecessor, like the phoenix does?

My mind was full of questions and thoughts. Fortunately today Mr. Matsumoto joined us in our discovery of Kyoto. He has a lot of knowledge about Kyoto’s history. But first I teased him again as it started to rain.