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Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), also known as Rokuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple) is a Zen Buddhist temple located in Kyoto, Japan (Kyoto was the capital of Japan from 794 until 1868). Kinkaku-ji was originally a villa called Kitayama-dai owned by Japanese statesman Saionji Kintsune. It was purchased from Saionji by Shogun (title of any hereditary military dictator of Japan who ruled until the revolution of 1867-68) Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in 1397 who rebuilt it into the Kinkaku-ji garden complex. According to Yoshimitsu will, after his death the villa was turned into a Zen temple.
Kinkaku-ji was built as a retirement mansion for Yoshimitsu with gardens and service structures surrounding the main house. The beautiful main house built in pagoda style on the bank of a large pond is the only building left of Yoshimitsu's former retirement complex. It was built of wood and burnt down numerous times throughout its history (including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto). The last time it happened in 1950 when a fanatic monk set building on fire. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.
The Golden Pavilion with its gardens reflecting in the pond was designed according to the images of the Seven Treasure Pond of the Buddhist Paradise. There are stones and islands in the pond which represent nine mountains and eight oceans according to the Buddhist story of world creation. The lotus plants, the flower of the truth in Buddhist religion, rise from the depth of the pond to the surface as the truth always must do in the real world.
During Yoshimitsu's times, the wealthy aristocratic circles of Kyoto enjoyed the extravagant Kitayama culture which had a strong China influence. It can be seen in black and white drawings and Kinkaku-ji pagoda building style. The Golden Pavilion is a three-story structure. It is 42 feet (12.8 meters) high, 33 feet (10.0 meters) wide, and 40 feet (15.2 meters) long. Each floor reflects a different style. The first floor built of natural wood with white plaster walls and wood columns represents the Shinden style used in palaces in 10th century Japan. There are statues of the Shaka Buddha (historical Buddha) and Yoshimitsu on the first floor which you can see only through the open windows (visitors are not allowed inside the pavilion). Exteriors of the second floor (built in the Bukke style used in samurai residences) and the third floor (in the style of a Chinese Zen Hall) are covered with gold leaf. In addition, the third floor is gilded inside, and a golden phoenix crowns the roof. Though all three floors are designed in different styles the architect found a balance where each of them complement the other.
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What Makes It Special
The Pavilion covered with gold leaf and its gardens are considered to be a beautiful representation of Muromachi period garden design. (The Muromachi period 1392–1573 is the time span when members of the Ashikaga family occupied the position of Shogun in Kyoto. It is designated as a National Special Historic and a National Special Landscape Site.
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Directions To Destination
Most intercontinental flights to Japan arrive at either Narita Airport (NRT) near Tokyo or Kansai Airport (KIX) near Osaka. All airports are far from their city centers but are linked to nearby destinations with regional rail networks and bus services. Both Narita and Kansai airports are generally easy to get through if you avoid main holiday periods - New Year (end of December - beginning of January), Golden Week (end of April - beginning of May), and Obon (Mid-August), when things are more hectic and expensive.
Kyoto (where Kinkaku-ji is located) does not have its own airport. The nearest international gateway is Kansai International Airport, 73 minutes away from Kyoto by the fastest train. Most domestic flights land at Osaka Itami Airport, one hour away from Kyoto by bus.
From Tokyo you can reach Kyoto (all prices below are 2011):
- By train: Tokyo and Kyoto are connected with each other by the JR Tokaido Shinkansen. It takes about 140 minutes by Nozomi trains to reach Kyoto from Tokyo, Hikari trains make the same distance for about 160 minutes and Kodama trains about four hours. The one way regular ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto is $155 (¥12,710) for non-reserved seat on any train. It will cost you $160 (¥13,200) by reserved seat on Hikari or Kodama trains and around $165 (¥13,500) by reserved seat on a Nozomi train.
- By bus: one daily bus from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Fukakusa via the Tomei Expressway. The bus from Tokyo to Fukakusa leaves at 9:40am, and the bus from Fukakusa to Tokyo leaves at about 11am. $52 (¥4200) each way. Additional departures on Fridays, weekends and holidays.
Although it is possible to reach Kyoto by car (via the Meishin Expressway between Nagoya and Osaka), we do not recommend this because of the problems with parking. Most attractions are in places built well before the existence of automobiles, and the availability of parking varies between extremely limited and nonexistent. Where parking is available, it is very expensive. Because of this, you'll have to park your car on the outskirts of the city and use public transport to get around.
Once in Kyoto, you can get to Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion by bus from Kyoto Station. Kyoto Station is the city transportation hub served by Japan Railways (including the Tokaido Shinkansen), Kintetsu Railways and the Karasuma Subway Line. Kyoto Station is also the site of a large bus terminal for city buses and long distance and overnight highway buses). To go to Kinkaku-ji take direct Kyoto City Bus #101, #102, #204 or #205. The trip takes about 40 minutes and costs $2.70 (¥220). Kinkaku-ji is within walking distance from the bus stop.
Your other options in Kyoto to reach Kinkaku-ji is to use subway or taxi. Karasuma Subway Line is faster and more reliable: take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station (15 minutes, $3 or ¥250). Taxi ride will take about 10 minutes and will cost $11 (around ¥900).
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Best Time To Go
All year round. Every season gives the Golden Pavilion a new, unforgettable background.
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Where To Stay
- Hotel Chrysantheme Kyoto - rates from $65 or ¥5,250 single room/night. The hotel is 2 bus-stops (0.5 miles) away from Kinkaku-ji but far from other sites.
- Jijuden Guest House Kyoto - rates from $290 (¥24,000) per person/night - distance from Kinkaku-ji is 0.2 miles. Jijuden Guest House is a perfect blend of traditional Ryokan and B&B.
- Kyoto Brighton Hotel - a five-star hotel near Kyoto Imperial Palace offering 182 luxurious rooms and suites. Rates are from $330 (¥28,000). Hotel provides easy access to the business and entertainment districts of Gion and Kawaramachi, 2.1 miles from Kinkaku-ji. Hotel has a good reputation for discreet and efficient services although its location is a bit far from most attractions in Kyoto.
Research and book hotels in or near Kyoto, Japan
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
Kinkaku-ji is opened daily from 9am to 17pm without closing days. Admission fee is $4.80 (¥400)
Our advice - arrive early to escape the crowds and school groups, otherwise it can ruin the experience.
If you take a bus from Kyoto station, the Golden Pavilion is only a short walk after getting off the bus. Having purchased an entrance ticket, you need to follow the assigned path, one way only.
Visitors are not allowed inside the temple( at least in 2010) You can only admire this structure while walking around the pond called Kyoko-chi, which means "Mirror Pond". The path gets crowded very soon. Make sure you have your camera ready. The crowd moves along the path in a steady rate. There is no possibility to stop too long to take pictures. After viewing Kinkaku-ji from across the pond, visitors pass painted sliding doors (fusuma) of the head priest's former living quarters (hojo). The quarters are not open to the public either. The path again passes Kinkaku-ji from behind and then leads through the temple's gardens. The gardens have a few spots of interest including Anmintaku Pond that is said never to dry up, and statues that people throw coins at for luck.
Continuing through the garden takes you to the Sekkatei Teahouse added to Kinkaku-ji during the Edo Period. Outside the Golden Temple area there are souvenir shops, a small tea garden where you can have matcha tea (traditional Japanese ceremony tea handmade from Gyokuro, Japanese green tea) with sweets and Fudo Hall. The latter is a temple with the statue of Fudo Myoo, one of the Five Wisdom Kings and protectors of Buddhism. Kobo Daishi, one of the most important personalities in Japanese religious history, is said to carve the statue.
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